Hello, Lent!

Fran Lavelle

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle
I don’t know about you, but I am thrilled to welcome Lent. Questions of what we can do to mark the season with meaning and purpose gives rise to some serious introspection. The thing is, for most of us, Spring is a marathon run at sprint speeds. From the blooming of the first daffodil in mid-February until the last pecan tree sets its leaves, the unfolding of Spring is as chaotic as it is beautiful.
The austerity of Lent is the Dr. Jekyll to Spring’s Mr. Hyde. That is, perhaps, the reason I am grateful for the season, especially this year. The speed of life really does ramp up the older one gets. Months that used to drag on forever in my youth now seem to pass with warp speed. I remember in grade school the time between Halloween and Thanksgiving seemed like an eternity. Now it feels like a few days.
The very last thing we need is to allow our Lenten observations to become check marks in our already hectic lives. Yes, Lent should have a measure of sacrifice but if our Lenten observations add to our “list of things to do” and are not opportunities to be experienced, we are merely adding cargo to the hamster wheel.
Searching for some new ideas I turned to my friend and arbitrator of all disagreements, Google. The internet is full of ideas of what to do to make Lent more meaningful, from “40 things to fast from” to “50 new things to give up for Lent” which, no lie, included falling asleep at Church. Dang, that’s deep. I’ve thought about this a lot and concluded that I will observe Lent a little differently this year. For what it is worth, here’s my list:
1) This year I am going fast from being busy. Now this does not mean that I will not get my work done or cease in being productive. What it does mean is I will be measured in my response to the work at hand. I can be Chicken Little and squawk about the sky falling, as in proclaiming my busy-ness to anyone who will listen, or I can be grateful for the opportunities for encounter with others that my work brings.
2) I am going to be intentional in accepting others where they are. I have discovered the hard way that there are difficult people in all walks of life. Our family, workplace, volunteer group, and Bible study group all have one thing in common, people. We are all created in the likeness and image of God. Understanding that we are all God’s beloved should stop us dead in our tracks. To quote Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?”
3) I’m going to spend more time with and be more present to the people I love. In the past two years, three of my contemporaries from high school and college have died. All three in their mid-fifties. Their deaths have been a huge wake-up call for me. I need to spend more time with my family and friends to laugh more, love more and enjoy one another more.
4) In spending more time with people I love, I might laugh a little harder, drink some good wine and share a delicious meal or two. There is something wholesome in gathering people around my table. I recently had a dinner for some friends who are moving. We laughed and shared stories, we enjoyed a good meal, and in all of it I was reminded that the love is real, and love is eternal. It is not a matter of excess. It is not an expression of gluttony. It is an intentional effort to be present in the moment. In hospitality, I am called to enjoy the gift and blessings of family and friends. Mind you, I will honor the time that I am alone and quieted and present to God. Those times are essential. I find great value in God’s word, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:6 However, I also see value in being present and loving well. That well may mean having salmon instead of fish sticks.
5) Last but not least, I am going to work on dumping my relationship with fear. This is a big one. More than I care to admit, I am afraid of the unknown. Too often, I fall into the rabbit hole that can lead me on an exhausting litany of “what ifs”. Fear guts my faith and disrupts my trust in God. One. Day. At. A. Time. This is the one that will be the hardest to be present to, but I am putting myself in front of the situation and opening a dialogue with God asking for help.
St. Augustine reminds us that, “Fear is the enemy of love.” If true, then love is the antidote for fear. At the end of my examination, at the end of the introspection is the voice of God calling me to love more profoundly. A bit more challenging than giving up falling to sleep in Mass. But if I am successful in even a very small way, I can’t think of a better way to spend these 40 days of Lent.

(Fran Lavelle is the director of the Department of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

The three pillars: reason, religion, loving kindness

Kneading faith
By Fran Lavelle
I often say that we stand on the shoulders of jerks and giants. From the jerks we learn important lessons of who we do not want to become. Without naming names, I had several bosses in my adolescence and post-college years who fit into this category. They were less than gracious when it came out to dealing with conflict and non-existent when it came to offering praise. These bosses gave me insight as to who I did not want to be.
Thankfully we also stand on the shoulders of giants. These are the people who, by their example, teach us how to treat others with respect, care for those in need, and provide a loving environment for those around them. I imagine you can quickly identify in your own life one or two jerks as well as several giants that have helped shape and form you for the better. My list of giants is quite large. My dad certainly tops the list. I still reflect on the lessons he taught me and find myself reaching for the phone even though he has been gone for many years.
So too in the Church we have examples of both. The stories of those who violate the trust of the faithful go back to the beginning of Church. Unfortunately, those stories have impacted far too many people over time. Thankfully the Church in her wisdom preserves the canon of Saints as a litany of giants to inspire us to live holy lives.
I was recently thumbing through book of saints and stumbled upon a saint whose feast we will celebrate at the end of January. Happily, for me, I rediscovered St. John Bosco! He is the patron saint of magicians, but more importantly he is known as the patron of school children.
John Bosco was two when his father died. He had limited opportunities for education. Eventually he did receive and education and made it a priority to educate others who had challenging backgrounds. My rediscovery of John Bosco reminded me of his role in founding a religious community dedicated to educating young people. In 1859, Bosco formed the “Society of St. Francis de Sales.” This was the beginning of the Salesians, the religious order that to this day continues his work.
John Bosco and the Salesians developed a pedagogy for educating children known as the Preventative System. The basis for the system is three-fold: Reason, Religion and Loving-Kindness. The practice of this system is based on the words of St. Paul, who says: Love is patient, love is kind it bears all things … hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4.7) This was paradigm-shifting as the norm at the time included intensive corporal punishment, little reasoning and no notion of love or kindness. We stand on the shoulders of giants.
I look around the Church today and see so many areas where we need a paradigm shift. For one, we need serious catechesis on the Role of the Assembly but that’s a topic for another time. Apathy is a comfortable response. We can become overwhelmed in our thinking that the jerks are winning and simply give up. The thing is, they are not. There are so many people who work tirelessly to educate, form and empower the faithful. They are from all vocations, backgrounds and cultures. We have all heard that if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. The giants in our lives remind us that being part of the solution is not always easy, but it is worthwhile.
As our focus turns to Catholic Schools Week, may we celebrate the saints that went before who established Catholic schools and for those who carry on the legacy of Catholic education today. Catholic schools make a difference. Ask an administrator, faculty member, staff, parent, grandparent, student, or clergy why they support Catholic education. It’s because they recognize that we stand on the shoulders of giants. They recognize the importance of the mission. They gladly make great sacrifices to pass on the light of faith, the gift of knowledge, and an opportunity to plant seeds for generations to come.
Thanks to all the unnamed people in our schools and parishes who are the St. John Bosco’s of our time. He saw a system of education that used fear and punishment to motivate young learners. He saw a way to captivate their hearts and minds and create a positive learning environment. Every bit of formational ministry is important. Thank you all for making a difference in every day in big and little ways. You have the shoulders of giants.

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Where are you called? Discerning our vocations

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle

Fran Lavelle

I remember when I was in fifth grade I wanted to learn how to play the saxophone. My parents made it clear that I would not get a brand-new saxophone until I showed I was committed to and had an aptitude for learning how to play it. I wasn’t, and I didn’t. The old saxophone that we borrowed from family friends was quickly returned and replaced with drum sticks. They used the same reasoning with my desire to buy a horse. I was able to make said purchase after I had demonstrated that I would take care of a pony that we boarded at our farm (ironically for the same family who lent me the old saxophone.) I faithfully took care of Queenie and demonstrated that I would do well in caring for a horse of my own. Wildfire the Arabian/Quarter horse was my pride and joy until the day we sold our farm and I could no longer keep her. I take this walk down memory lane to illustrate how our appetites, aspirations and ambitions develop and deepen as we age. Looking back, I see that my parents were teaching me responsibility and lessons in discernment. They were also giving me opportunities to see what I excelled at and what I struggled with – like that old saxophone.
Several years ago, I was asked to give a talk on vocations to an RCIA group. The more I thought about the subject and what insights I may have to share, the more I realized that our traditional view of vocations needed to be reexamined. Growing up, any lesson or homily on vocations would include a short description of the three states: ordained or consecrated, married, and single. It sometimes felt like one was being asked to order off a menu, “I’ll take a married vocation with three children, please.” Or worse yet, a one and done proposition, “I’m sorry you chose a single vocation in your 20s, don’t even think of getting married at 45.” Vocation Q&A sessions often included the timid individual who, with great effort, asked the question, “What if God is calling me to be a sister/priest and I don’t want to be one?” There seemed to be so much mystery and a good dose of fear in the dreaded vocation talk that everyone was happy when it was over, so they could put it out of their minds until the next time the subject came up.
Because of this many of us were not challenged to ask the question, “God what are you calling me to?” Or make the offer, “Take me Lord and do with me what you will.” I had the good fortune to have spiritual director when I was in my late 20s who invited me to make that very offer every – time I received the Eucharist. For a solid year, I did. I had thought that I may be called to a women’s religious community. About a year later I remember telling my spiritual director that I had taken his advice, but nothing seemed to be happening. He laughed, at me – not with me, and said that if I was being called to be a Sister that I would have been moved to act on it already. With an open heart and great discernment, I am confident that in that simple prayer God led me to where I am today. Mind you the clouds never parted, nor did I hear the voice of God give me directions; it doesn’t work like that. But I have been steadfast in that post Eucharist offering to this very day.
I remember a priest once asked in a homily, “What would you have if you got everything you wanted, right when you wanted it?” I looked to my friend and whispered, “At least seven ex-husbands.” We idealize love, marriage, raising children. We romanticize what our life will be like when… The reality is often quite different from what our dreams are made of. In my teens and early 20s, I truly wanted a large family. I wanted to live somewhere in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains on a large farm with lots of horses and livestock. Childless, single and writing this from my home in Starkville, Mississippi, my life does not look like anything I had expected then. But I would not change anything about my journey. Too often we need to be in control and do it Sinatra style-my way. How many times have you willfully chose what you wanted despite what you really felt God was calling you to? How many times did those decisions end in disaster?
Discernment is never a “one and done” proposition. Discernment leads us to not only honestly know ourselves, but to also allow God to guide us in our journey. In my 20s or even 30s, I could not have named my vocation. I am not sure I really need to. I have come to understand that the most important thing I can do is ask God how I can love and serve more fully. If we love well, we will live well.

“Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” CCC 2392

(Fran Lavelle is the director of the Department of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Support for catechists greatly needed

Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson

KNEADING FAITH
By Fran Lavelle
The first days of September usher in so many good things and I’m not referring to Pumpkin Spice Lattes. College football has returned as a favorite pastime, cooler temperatures are right around the corner, and our young people are back in school. Life takes on a different cadence in the Fall. In the Church, we begin our religious education programs. Every year the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops discerns a theme for the catechetical year. This year the theme is, “Enlisting Witnesses for Jesus Christ.” At first glance, I was a bit put off by the theme as it sounded so jingoistic. However, after some thought I have come to appreciate the wisdom of the sentiment.
A deeper dig led me to come to understand what the bishops were thinking. This year’s catechetical theme is meant to address a growing population of Americans today known as the “nones.” The “nones” have no religious affiliation. Unfortunately, most “nones” once were affiliated with a church. American Evangelical preacher Francis Chan hits the nail on the head. He said, “We need to stop giving people excuses not to believe in God.” And by we, he means all of us. If our faith is to grow and thrive, the church needs all baptized Christians to accompany those who are on the peripheries, all who have been dismissed, all who have been injured in God’s name, and all who have been left without hope. It is a tall order. But, left undone our churches will quickly become historic landmarks of days and faith gone by.
The single best way to ensure the propagation of the faith is to give support to our catechists and formational leaders in our parishes. We have a responsibility to equip our catechists with both the competency and confidence to teach the faith. Catechesis is more than learning; catechesis engages the whole person both intellect and heart. One without the other fails to fully form. The National Directory for Catechesis (NDC) and the General Directory for Catechesis (GDC) identify the tasks of the catechetical ministry:
• To promote the knowledge of the faith.
• To promote a knowledge of the meaning of the Liturgy and Sacraments.
• To promote moral formation in Jesus Christ.
• To promote prayer and how to pray.
• To promote living in community and participating actively in the life and mission of the Church.
• To promote a missionary spirit that leads God’s people to be the living presence of Christ in society.
In 2016, the Diocese updated the Catechist Companion: A Curriculum Guide for Catechesis and Religious Education. GDC, NDC, and other appropriate catechetical materials, the Catechist Companion is divided by grade level. The major themes include: 1) the Trinity; 2) the centrality of Christ in the Church, Sacraments, and prayer life of the Christian; 3) the treatment of the theology of Church; 4) the Sacramental life of Christ; 5) the moral and social teachings of the Church; 6) the Church’s teaching on the dignity of human life and value of a chaste life. Each of these themes should be developed on an age appropriate level with the goal of bringing children into closer relationship with God to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Every catechist in our religious education programs should be familiar with the guidelines for curriculum for their grade level. The Catechist Companion is available online. To download a copy, visit our website: https://jacksondiocese.org/staff-resources/
A goal of the Department of Faith Formation is to provide a quality certification program to help develop both competency and confidence for our catechists. We knew it had to be flexible and enjoyable. To that end, I am thrilled to announce the availability of the new on-line catechist certification program. The program completed earlier in the spring has been tested by several catechists enrolled in the old on-line program. The new program has several features that I hope make it convenient for catechists to engage in the courses. The best feature is that the courses are free and can be taken at any time. We wanted to give the catechist flexibility in when they begin a course. The classes should take three weeks to complete and we are asking that the catechist take one course at a time. However, it is not problematic if a catechist needs a little extra time to complete a class. The learning management system that we developed creates learning communities. The program is available on-line at: https://jacksondiocese.faith/. I invite priests, LEMs, DREs and CREs to email me at fran.lavelle@jacksondiocese.org and we can set up a time to do a tutorial for your catechists. We are all enlisted to be witness for Jesus Christ. Our witness can accompany, our witness can catechize, our witness can transform. It is time to take up that mantel as competent and confident Catholic witnesses.

(Fran Lavelle is the director of the Department of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Lakeside retreat renews ministry leaders

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle
It does not require much observation to recognize that in our culture chronic fatigue is worn as a badge of honor and being dizzied daily by over scheduling is a way of life. We have lost the perspective that less is more. Face it folks, we need more down time and we need to make it a priority. If we are to stay healthy (and, yes, Father, this means you too) we must take time to nurture our spiritual life. There are many obvious and not so obvious ways we find the rest we need. For me the week-long Pastoral Ministries Workshop and Retreat has been a place where I find renewed energy.
“Life is Better at the Lake,” so goes the familiar saying. I guess after spending the first week of June at Lake Tiak O’Khata in Louisville, for the past five years I must concur. One of the greatest benefits of attending the Workshop and Retreat is waking up to beautiful sunrises and a flock of gregarious geese. One of our retreatants this year shared how vital it is for her to make time for the time away. She said it was like hitting the reset button on her ministry. That notion settled in as I reflected on the retreat. And, like a computer, once the refresh button is pushed it takes us time to run the defrag program. The first day and even the first night of retreat is a settling in process. But by the next morning, the new environment, quieted spirit and reflection envelop us and allows for the good work of spiritual deepening to happen. Sounds inviting, right? We not only need to be invited but also encouraged to retreat to a space that allows for these important movements.
This year the theme of the retreat was, “Formed to Lead.” It was loosely developed using a book by Chris Lowney, “Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads.” The premise of the book looks at the relationship between the Pope’s Jesuit formation and his leadership style. The book is more than another biography. Lowney looks at leadership through the lens of the Ignatian-Jesuit principles and creates a blue print that has implications for all leaders-not necessarily just Pope Francis. During our retreat we looked at six principles that give rise to good leadership but also to discipleship and stewardship.
Commit to know yourself deeply: This is an important principle. Shakespeare said it best, “To thine own self be true.” If we do not do the hard work of knowing one’s self little else that we do can be truly authentic. There are a lot of people in this world that spend a lifetime avoiding the work of honest self-reflection. Without it we can scarcely say that we know our faults let alone our giftedness. There can be a pitfall in this principle in that too much of a good thing can be destructive. We are not called to be self-centered. That is where the second principle comes in to play.
Transcend self to serve others: Pope Francis is quoted in a Holy Thursday homily as saying, “authentic power is service.” When we transcend ourselves all service naturally becomes about the one being served. It is in recognizing the dignity of the other we not longer strive to gain power over them but to use our power to see them as God’s beloved.
Immerse self in the complex world: This principle requires that we keep our eyes and hearts open to the joy, suffering, and everyday struggles of the people in my family, community and world. That connectedness keeps us from becoming too removed from the realities of others and only focusing on our own joy, suffering and daily struggles.
Step back for daily reflection: Our immersion in the world is good but it serves nothing if we are not taking adequate time to reflect. Reflection of this nature leads us to action.
Live fully in the present and revere tradition: This principle is hard to do at times because we can find it difficult to live in the present and become blurry eyed in our nostalgia. When we learn to live in the present and revere the tradition we recognize where we are but also where we have been.
Help create the future: This principle reminds me of the Mahatma Gandhi quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It is just that. No coaching from the sidelines. We must be willing to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Lowney’s book along with the pastoral setting of Lake Tiak O’Khata set the stage for another great retreat. While the 2018 Pastoral Ministries Workshop and Retreat is in the books, but the date for next year’s workshop and retreat is set: June 2-6, 2019. Consider yourself invited!

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Dear high school graduates of the class of 2018

Kneading faith
By Fran Lavelle
Looks like you made it! Congratulations on a job well done. Many of you will be off to college or community college in the fall. The next few months will be filled with a whirlwind of preparation between orientation to dorm shopping (yes, guys do this too). For our college-bound graduates, you are joining the most studied demographic in the U.S. Social scientists and student affairs personnel make careers out of studying who you are, what makes you successful, and how colleges and universities can best serve you. Over the past decade the trends in higher education have been greatly influenced by these studies. Everything from Service Learning Communities to farmto-table options at the cafeteria have emerged based on what students expect to experience in college.
The excitement builds as move-in day gets closer and closer. Will you go through rush and join a fraternity or sorority? Do you already know your roommate? Are you going to join any clubs or campus organizations? There’s so much to think of: class schedules, getting to know your way around campus, understanding the shuttle routes, finding the cool coffee shops and places to shop to name a few. It’s easy to see in a world that quickly becomes filled with things that are so unfamiliar it is easy to forget the things that are very familiar. One important familiar part of your life that you need to stay connected with is your faith. Study after study affirms two things 1) an estimated 60-percent of college students are not affiliated with their faith tradition or any faith tradition while in school; and 2) students who do stay affiliated with their faith tradition or a faith tradition in college do better academically and have higher graduation rates. Now, I am not trying to tell you that just by going to Mass will guarantee that you will be academically successful in college. What I am saying is that staying involved with the Church and nurturing your spiritual life helps, a lot! I spent quite a few years in campus ministry. I saw a very diverse group of young people pass through the Church doors in my tenure. It is from that wisdom that I offer my top five helpful tips for staying Catholic in college.
1) If you do not already have a practicing Catholic friend at your school, make friends with a Catholic in your dorm to go to Mass with. This sounds obvious, but many young people are intimidated to attend Mass alone. You don’t have to make an evening of it, but simply having someone to go to Mass with makes going a lot easier.
2) You do not have to be 24/7 over the top Catholic (insert jazz hands) to be involved with campus ministry. Think of your college experience in the same way you see your parents witness faith. As adults, your parents go to Mass on Sunday. Your Mom may be a member of a book club or serve on pastoral council. Your Dad might be a member of the Knights of Columbus or work at the food pantry. By no means do your parents attend every meeting or participate in every activity. They choose the activities that are life-giving and spiritually fulfilling. Do the same. Make an effort to be part of the life of campus ministry but recognize you do not have to “do it all.”
3) Kick peer pressure to the curb. Look, I get it, we all want to be liked and accepted. But please do not lose your sense of self or self-worth in your quest for peer acceptance. I remember it feeling like a tribal battle cry, “Come on Franny, it will be fun!” And with those six little words I ended up in situations that I dare say were not my finest moments. You will find as you age that the opinion of those who encouraged you to make unhealthy choices no longer really matter. In fairness, my girlfriends from high school and college who chanted the “fun” refrain did not lead me to abandon my moral convictions. But, my GPA did suffer from not enough study time and too much social time.
4) Pray daily. Learn to be still. Learn to listen. God is not Santa Claus nor is he a vending machine. Grow in your prayer life that you are in tune with God’s will for you, not the other way around.
5) You are a Confirmed adult in your faith, but it does not mean you know everything. Ask questions. Read. Take ownership of your faith journey.
I have one word for the parents of these bright and beautiful young people: relax. Your job as a parent really never ends, but trust that you have given your son/daughter the two things necessary for a successful life: roots, that they may always know where they came from; and wings to fly. Let them fly.

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

New Year offers chance to dedicate time to service

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle
I got a text from our great nephew Drew the other day inquiring, “How would I request Billy Graham as a saint?” He is 11 years old and a cradle Catholic. But growing up in Mississippi he has had his fair share of friends of all faith traditions. His simple question really stirred my thinking.
I have avowed for many years that young people are telling us their truth. We saw it recently with the school walk out. The question is as adults, catechists, teachers, pastors and parents are we able to hear them? In Matthew 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” I think of the young people in my life. I think about how they are yearning for authenticity, meaning and purpose.
All generations are a product of the family and the culture. As catechists and adults responsible for the faith formation of our young people, we are called to engage and inspire our youth to live the Gospel. Hopefully they are being shaped and formed to reflect the love of God on Earth. It baffles me that adults make generalizations about an entire generation without reflecting on their own youth. Sometimes we speak of young people like they were delivered by an alien spaceship and we don’t quite know what to make of them. Or they attribute these generalizations to the “culture.” Guess what folks, we formed these young people and we are part of the culture.
That takes me back to our great nephew Drew. Drew is all boy. He goes 100-miles an hour and stops for air, food and sleep only when necessary. He loves visiting his grandparents in the country. He loves fishing, playing sports and hanging out with his family. But he is also very deeply introspective, funny, thoughtful, and smart.
A few years ago, before he made his First Communion, we were at the family pool and I asked him to tell his Opa what the epiclesis is. Without skipping a beat, he placed his hands in the proper posture and said, “It’s when the priest calls down the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into Jesus.” He was very matter of fact about it. But, in his casual reply you could tell that he not only knew this intellectually, he perceived with the eyes and heart of faith.
To his parents’ credit all three children are bright, kind, caring and faith filled young people. It is obvious that somewhere in their day they find time to think about important questions, have thoughtful conversations and are present to one another. After all, he was inquiring if I knew how one goes about getting Billy Graham canonized. This kind of thoughtfulness comes from a place where questions and inquiry are encouraged. He has not grown up in a place where everyone he meets is Catholic, far from it. And, because of that, it is entirely possible for him to see people of other faith traditions as good, holy, and virtuous examples of faith.
In my response to Drew I told him that the formal process of canonization took quite a long time and is a very detailed process. While a non-Catholic has not been formally recognized as a saint it is far from me to say it could never happen. What is most telling about his inquiry is that Drew did not question if a Southern Baptist preacher could be a saint, he wanted to know how we could go about making it happen. I assured him that the Church recognizes countless people who are uncanonized saints, those faithful Christians who have entered into the presence of God for all eternity. We see this clearly referred to in Revelation 7:9, as the “great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.” We have reason to hope that we know a lot of souls in the canon of saints. I think of my Dad and my grandparents as saints. Billy Graham too.
Drew, as well as his siblings and parents, remain in my prayers of thanksgiving. They remind me that we are not lost as long as we keep seeking God in all things, asking good questions, and looking for truth with the eyes of faith and love. “Dear young people, please, don’t be observers of life, but get involved. Jesus did not remain an observer, but he immersed himself. Don’t be observers, but immerse yourself in the reality of life, as Jesus did.” — Pope Francis, July 27, 2013 Youth Prayer Vigil at Rio. Keep asking good questions, Drew. It’s one of the best ways to stay immersed in the reality of life.

(Fran Lavelle is the director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Turning the tide on apathy

Kneading faith

Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson

By Fran Lavelle
If you are like me, you are not only fatigued by the endless cycle of retail-driven holiday hysteria (yes, I said it, it is unnatural to see Easter bunnies before Epiphany) but I am also fatigued by the endless political news cycle that slings and flings divisive prose faster than a moth to a light bulb at night. I must admit I have not always felt this way about politics. It’s time for confession, well not exactly confession rather an exercise in transparency.
My first love was politics. From an early age I showed great interest in politics and the political process. When it came time to declare a major in college I had several fields that interested me, but I chose political science because, well, it was my first love after all. My political career was off to a great start. By the age of 26 I was working in Washington D.C. as a lobbyist for the American Association of Port Authorities and handled issues of international transportation and trade. Going to Capitol Hill to sit in on hearings, contributing testimony that resides at the Library of Congress, and watching our democracy live up to the ideals of our founding fathers was a wonderful experience.
In 1993, my Dad had a fatal heart attack and in the months and few years after that defining event I started searching for greater meaning in my life. In 1996, I launched my official entrance into ministry, leaving behind the force that had driven my life up until that time.
I have kept a reasonable interest in politics over the years, as all citizens should. I recognize that my passion for democratic governance – not necessarily partisan politics – will be something that I will always value. I credit my years in Washington for helping form the passion that I now have for ministry. But let’s face it folks, the political landscape as we now know it is less than ideal and even less effective. If you find yourself wanting to shy away from anything that looks like the political process, I completely understand. There’s an old saying that laws are like sausages, it is better not to see either of them being made. Regrettably, turning away from the problem does not make it go away.
Apathy is a lot like a cozy comforter. When enough of us get wrapped up in it, we normalize it. As Catholics we cannot allow apathy to get in the way of effectively living out our faith and proclaiming the gospel values set forth by Jesus. These are not liberal values or conservative values; they are rooted in our faith of both the Old and New Testament and have been affirmed and promoted for centuries.
As Catholics we are called to advocate for the seven principals of Catholic Social Teaching. They are:
Life and dignity of the human person —”The good Samaritan recognized the dignity in the other and cared for his life.” Luke 10:25-37;
Call to family, community and participation — “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12-17;
Rights and responsibilities –“Just as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.” Matthew 25: 31-46;
Option for the poor and vulnerable — “True worship is to work for justice and care for the poor and oppressed.” Isaiah 58:5-7;
Dignity of work and the rights of workers — “All workers should be paid a just and living wage” Matthew 20:1-16;
Solidarity — “Above all, clothe yourself with love and let the peace of Christ reign in your hearts. Colossians 3:9-17;
Care for God’s creation — “God made the heavens and the earth, and it was good.” Genesis 1:1-31.
It is easy to say that our voice does not matter. It is easy to think that we alone cannot make a difference. It is not just about writing letters or visiting our representatives in local, state or national offices. There are many ways to convey Catholic social teaching in our public discourse (including social media), by our actions and how we pass those values along to the next generation. One way to exercise our concern for the people of Mississippi is joining Catholics from around the state for the Catholic Day at the Capitol on January 17th. This year our focus is on the tragic and unnecessary mental health crisis in Mississippi and the urgent need to enact legislation that will bring about needed change. Please consider registering for this important event. For more info or to register contact: Sue Allen, coordinator of social justice ministry, Catholic Charities Jackson or email sue.allen@catholiccharitiesjackson.org 601-383-3849.

(Fran Lavelle is the director of the Department of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Ordinary time offers opportunity in present tense

Kneading Faith

Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson

By Fran Lavelle
One of the things that living in the country teaches you to appreciate is daylight. In the summer months long days are a farmer’s greatest asset. My dad used to say, “You’ve got to make hay while the sun shines.” This adage reflects the reality that there is an appropriate time to do everything. It is excellent advice for all of us. It reminds me of the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3:1, “there is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens“.
I’m not sure if it is all environmental, but this time of year, as daylight hours are shorter, I find myself thinking about time. What a beautiful season of harvest, honoring the saints, remembering those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, and giving thanks for our many blessings. The evenings, once filled with a cacophony of sounds coming from insects, frogs, birds and coyotes have been nearly silenced. If one is lucky they can hear the fading sound of crickets.
Crisp fall air, the harvest moon, the smell of burning wood from home chimneys are all welcome reminders that the long hazy hot days of summer have passed. The call to come inside is not just literal. With shorter days and the time change it is as if God is calling us inside to do the interior work faith requires. Unfortunately, in our culture today we are addicted to busyness. We forget the latter part of that agrarian wisdom, “while the sun shines.” We don’t know how to embrace the darkness, the solitude, the quieted moments of life.
In my pursuit to appreciate “time” in a more significant way I found myself inspecting the events of my life. To my surprise, it was not the big events that I ended up focusing on. Rather, I was looking at the nooks and crannies where ordinary life is lived. I told a friend the other day that I wanted to put more living in my life. I was not exactly sure what I meant by this. After some thought, I realized that it is not that I want a more exciting life, a life of glamor or exotic travel. It occurred to me that I want to be more present to the ordinary. This became clear to me one particularly beautiful fall Saturday a few weeks ago I when was mowing the yard. I felt the warm sun on my skin, a gentle breeze was adrift, the smell of fresh cut grass filled the air and I felt so grateful and so alive. My thoughts were uplifted, my heart was full and I found peace in that moment. How could this ordinary event be the source of so much peace? How could I replicate experiences like this more often?
Every day we experience the ordinary. As a matter of fact, I am fixing dinner and have a load of laundry in the washer as I write this. And, no, I’m not floating on a cloud of fresh linens, rosemary or pumpkin spice anything. But it takes work to see gifts in the ordinary. After all, there is a season for everything. My “making hay” tonight looks a lot more like more like fish sandwiches and clean socks but in being present to the task at hand I am anchored in the now. Perhaps that’s the real lesson in this rumination. Perhaps the real challenge is to find ways to be more present, more intentional to the now, not worrying what is to come or what has passed. I recall sharing with a friend a long litany of what was going on in my life. I was focused on who and what needed my attention in the future. He looked at me and said, “I’m here right now.” He was right. I was so focused on what was to come that I did not see what was right before me.
The Church in her wisdom gives us different the seasons of the liturgical year. We follow the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in these seasons. Beautifully mixed between these memorable events of the life of Christ is Ordinary time. The weeks of Ordinary time are nearly over for yet another liturgical year. Our challenge is to recognize that every season, be it in the Church, nature, or our own life that we are not stringing along disjointed segments of living. If we are mindful and living in the present we find the depth and riches in all of it. The long days of summer and quieted days of winter, the abundance of life in the spring, and the bountiful harvest in the fall. Yes, even making fish sandwiches and doing a load of laundry. “Life gets mighty precious when there’s less of it to waste…” Bonnie Raitt

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

September offers new start for catechists

Kneading Faith
By Fran Levelle
There is so much to celebrate in September, kids are back in school, it’s football season, cooler temperatures return, and formation programs in our parishes get re-energized. For those of us in formational ministries (RCIA, adult faith formation, religious education, youth ministry and campus ministry) we have spent the summer planning for the new academic year. And, like the first college football game of the season, we too memorialize the return to formation programs in our own special way.
In 1971, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) designated the third Sunday of September to call forth and commission catechists in our parishes. The Church in the U.S. has been celebrating Catechetical Sunday ever since. As part of the recognition of the role of catechist in the life of the Church the USCCB also develops a theme and other useful materials. This year’s theme is, “Living as Missionary Disciples.”


No doubt, the Holy Spirit guided the bishop in their discernment of this year’s theme. I can’t imagine a more timely and needed reminder of our call to live the good news of the Gospel. If you are like me I am certain this poignant message was not lost on you as images of East Texas filled the airwaves witnessing neighbors helping neighbors and strangers helping strangers. In a catastrophic event like the massive flooding in Houston creed, color, gender, age and economic status are not factors in who gets spared by a storm or who gets saved. I am reminded that we can preach by our actions much more effectively than we can preach with mere words alone. Our response should be immediate and as generous as possible.
In the same way, our response to our call to live our lives as missionary disciples should be immediate (as in every day) and generous (as in not counting the cost). Our missionary discipleship should not be the best kept secret at our schools, our parishes or our homes. Our missionary call to lead, to teach, to proclaim and to live as disciples of Christ should be manifested in a way that others want to experience the joy we possess.
As your catechist are called forth to be commissioned and blessed this year, I encourage you to ask yourself what it is you can do in your own way to help them fulfill their role as catechist, RCIA team members, youth ministers, campus ministers, and directors and coordinators of religious education. No one is asked to do everything, but we can all do something.
My hope is that the USCCB’s catechetical theme becomes much more than merely a theme this year. My hope is that we can all see the many and varied ways we are called to live out our missionary discipleship.
In that spirit, the diocese invites everyone involved in faith formation to a day of spiritual and educational enrichment modeled after the new Pastoral Priorities. Faith Formation Day is set for Saturday, Sept. 30, at Madison St. Joseph School from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Keynote presenters include Jim Schellman, former Director at the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, who will speak on inspiring discipleship and the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. Father Joseph Brown, SJ, professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, IL will speak on diversity. Bishop Joseph Kopacz will round out the day with the closing talk on serving others.
During breakout sessions, Father. Jason Johnston, will present a session on youth liturgy; Jessica McMillan is offering a breakout called creative catechesis; Wes Williams, is set to speak on adult faith formation; Father. Joseph Brown will present, ”Plenty Good Room: Thoughts on Hospitality, Diversity and Being Catholic!;” and, Jim Schellman will present, “Evangelization the Mission, Initiation the Job Description.” A $10 registration fee includes lunch. To register or get more information, contact Fran Lavelle at 601-960-8473 or fran.lavelle@jacksondiocese.org
One of my favorite 45 records from my youth was “See You in September,” by the Happenings. I am certain I lifted it from my older brother’s collection. The lyrics express the hopes of a young man, who, facing separation from his girlfriend for the summer, reminds her that he’ll see her in September unless he loses her to a summer love. For sure, it is a love song, but the lyrics always made me think of the other reunions I looked forward to going back to school.
September, like January, can be a hard reset for activities and routines that we want to be more intentional about. It can be a time to recommit ourselves to living our faith in a more profound way. You may have taken a break from “active ministry” or you may be a pew jockey that comes to Mass on Sunday but has little involvement in the life of the Church. It’s not too late to see where your call to living missionary discipleship leads you. Wherever you find yourself, rest assured, we in formational ministries are looking forward to seeing you in September.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of the Office of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson)