Sorrow can lead to unity, reform

Complete circle
By George Evans

George Evans

I have struggled recently, like most of you, with the situation of clerical sex abuse and cover up in the church I love. Most thought that the zero tolerance policy adopted by the American Catholic Bishops in Dallas in 2002 had dealt effectively with the sexual abuse problem related to the Boston scandal.
Things seemed to have settled down. We were as a Church back to worship, school, good works and paying the bills.
Then came the 2018 bombshell from Washington with extraordinary facts concerning the former Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and his alleged abuses reaching seminarians and even young priests. The rumored cover up of this activity reached all the way to Rome and possibly the Pope. Cardinal McCarrick has been disciplined to a private life of prayer and repentance. The Pope has demurred from any further comment about Cardinal McCarrick. Shortly after the McCarrick episode Pennsylvania exploded with a report from its Attorney General, based on an 18 month investigation of clerical sex abuse in seven Pennsylvania dioceses.
The report found more than 1,000 child victims of 300 priests over seven decades and alleges Catholic officials constructed a
“playbook for concealing the truth.” Pope Francis responded with a letter to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics saying the church has “abandoned” its children and no effort must be spared to prevent further abuses and cover-ups.
This is the greatest scandal to hit the Catholic Church in a long, long time. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is scrambling to meaningfully respond. Significant numbers of Catholics have left the church of their birth or choice. Many others have had their trust in their leaders (bishops and priests) seriously damaged. I may be wrong, but I don’t believe the disaffection is as serious in the Diocese of Jackson as it may be elsewhere. Only time will tell.
What do we do to respond to the crisis? I think all of us – bishops, priests and laity – need to be honest about what has apparently gone on. Facts need to be acknowledged. If disclosure has not been made, now is the time to do so. Civil authorities need to be notified, if they have not been to date. If there are victims, aid must be provided to them in the form of psychological treatment and counseling assistance and even financial assistance if the situation demands it. It is my understanding the Diocese of Jackson has done these things. After all, the injury is enormous if there has been sexual abuse of a child. Jesus frequently tells us how special children are. Sexual abuse to children is not only sinful but may be criminal. Perpetrators should be held accountable be they clerical or lay. Gospel values apply to all.
If clericalism is part of the problem, as many assert, then laity should be included in whatever action is taken to resolve the problem. There are many catholic laity deeply passionate about their church with all sorts of expertise in medicine, business, law, counseling, administration, etc. who could be called on to help. It would appear to me that church leadership, being clerical could and should use the help. If clerical power is the problem or part of the problem, lay involvement should assist in the solution.
God loves our church. He knows we are hurt, embarrassed and disgusted, and rightly so. The old hymn tells us: Where Christ is, His Church is There. He will help us heal our church. We are the People of God. We must be honest, transparent, open and inclusive. If we are ready to listen to God’s voice and hear where he leads us in prayer and humility we can do what is necessary to bring our church to where it needs to be, the Body of Christ loving the Father and serving His people in need. Now is the time to join together, not to run away. Now is the time to reform the Church in action to again be the shining light on the mountain top for all to see and trust.

(George Evans is a retired pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Daddy’s letter

George Evans

By George Evans
Nine years ago, with the approval and support of our pastor, Father Michael O’Brien, I went with five other parishioners of Jackson St. Richard Parish to Phoenix to learn how to start a new St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP)conference. Phoenix had been recommended to us as the best place in the country to learn about SVDP and how to start a new conference. Our first contact occurred around a conference table where our hosts asked each of us why we wanted to start a SVDP conference in Jackson. We each responded, in so many words, that we wanted to help the poor in some form or fashion. We were told that is not what SVDP is about.
Rather, the purpose is to grow in holiness by serving the poor. We are not a social service agency. We are a spiritual development group growing spiritually in serving the poor. After recovering from this first attention getter, we gradually were formed, in the Vincentian Way, the rest of our visit.
We spent two days learning the history of SVDP and being exposed to all that Phoenix was doing. It was mind blowing. They have various feeding programs, feeding more than a thousand people a day, AA and dental and medical services, with a constant stream of patients. Reading and other educational programs relating particularly to seeking jobs, computer training, stores for clothing and furniture and numerous other services too many to enumerate. The scale of their metro operation is huge. They do have approximately a hundred conferences as their base. We were as impressed with the concern and compassion of the Vincentians, and how they related to the poor, as we were with the size of their operation.
We came home raring to go; ready to grow in holiness by serving the poor.
It took three to four years of organization and growth to stabilize our Conference with officers, community contacts to meet the needs of those who sought our aid, such as utilities and landlords. It also took time to build and earn the trust of our parishioners, who, as time has progressed, have become an incredibly generous source of support both financially and as new members of our Conference. By 2013/14 we were able to invite other parishes to start new SVDP Conferences if they were interested and ready. We were willing to help as needed for them to get started.
The first parish to act was Jackson Christ the King. They chose the name, St. Martin de Porres, for their Conference. We helped with an initial financial contribution and by bringing experienced trainers from Huntsville, Alabama, to assist with the start up along with our own members. During the last two years we also worked with St. Therese Parish in forming a conference with an initial financial contribution and other assistance in getting officers, organization details and training in the SVDP way of growing personal holiness by service to the poor.
Once we had three Conferences in metro Jackson, we were encouraged by regional and national SVDP to form a Council in the Diocese of Jackson. For many years, SVDP already existed in Columbus and Greenville. Our new council includes all five conferences in the new Jackson Diocesan Council of SVDP. Any parish interested in starting a conference is most welcome to contact me and I will get you in contact with the people who will help you take the next step.
As part of ongoing training, our new council has been blessed and honored by visits from Ralph Middlecamp, who is the recently elected national president of SVDP. Ralph discussed his vision for SVDP during his three year term and again stressed the spiritual development of members by (1) taking Jesus to the poor, (2) seeing Jesus in the poor, and (3) serving the needs of the poor, all as discovered in home visits. Through these home visits we grow in our own personal holiness and relationship with Jesus.
Additionally, earlier this summer members of all five Conferences met in Jackson with our recently elected Regional Vice President, Morgan Jellot, and long time member and trainer, Patty Schuessler for what is known as Ozanam Training. Frederick Ozanam was the leading founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris in 1833 and the training session is named after him. The half day session was well received on a Saturday with all receiving additional information for future home visits.
It was great having our trainers, both from Huntsville, Alabama, and our national president from Madison, Wisconsin, with us and assisting us to deepen our understanding of what SVDP means and what it can bring to our lives. Growing in personal holiness by serving the poor is a wonderful and fulfilling reality, and a goal never completely satisfied until our journey is completed. Jesus would certainly approve.

(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Summer presents opportunity for spiritual refreshment

Complete the Circle
By George Evans
Summer is an absolutely wonderful time for many things. God’s creation awakens fully from the darkness of winter and the frequent rains of spring. Birds chirp and tweet more loudly and constantly in the early morning, or at least so they seem to me, as I try to awaken with silent prayer and reflective readings and scripture on a screened porch not far from their tree perches. Longer days provide time to watch lingering sunsets and the soothing peace they bring as well as additional light for reading books and magazines put off for too long. God beckons us to join him outdoors in long walks or at the beach for some of us and takes the opportunity to whisper his will for us as our minds clear at least a little from the noise of cell phones, TV or other distractions of work and obligations.
A special treat summer provides is time for building relationships with those we love in a less hurried way, particularly with grandchildren free from the demands of school and activities which seem unending. We know from the Gospels how much Jesus loved children and enjoyed being around them. I think I have experienced that with my six-year-old grandson this summer in a special way while his two older sisters were away at camp. My time with him has been just with him and no other siblings. I could drink deeply of his spontaneity and energy and experience his constant talking about anything that came to his mind without any fear of depriving others trying to chime in or interrupt the line of conversation. I was struck by his sweetness and goodness and lack of pretension the lack of which so often burdens other one on one conversations. I felt God touching me through him and his honesty and openness as a reflection of the God who made him. Grace can come in many ways and sometimes in unexpected ways. The arms out embrace at the end of our time together sealed the deal. I am better for it.
I am not much of a flower person but this summer I have been touched by a blossoming agapanthus outside a window I face while using my desk top computer. Previously this flower was a nondescript and unattractive shoot which has grown since the spring. My wife told me she had planted it last year but it had done nothing until now. It has just become a beautiful blossom and more importantly a wonderful message to me from God of his perpetual gift to us of our surroundings and the concomitant burden he places on us to care for it. Pope Francis in his recent encyclical “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home” lays out carefully and beautifully what that burden entails. Summer helps us understand why.
Summer also provides a reading opportunity as things slow down somewhat. I can’t provide a list like Father Ron Rolhheiser does each year for summer reading. But I have recently read another best-seller by Pope Francis, his apostolic exhortation “Gaudete Et Exsultate: On the Call To Holiness in Today’s World.” It’s a wonderful read and short – 88 pages without notes. I urge anyone who wants to be holy to treat yourself to this summer read particularly if you think holiness is the call to every Christian not just to priests, religious and lay ministers.
I will not attempt to review the book here but rather will quote from the forward written by Pope Francis to whet your appetite.
“Rejoice and be glad”(Mt5:12), Jesus tells those persecuted or humiliated for his sake. The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints, and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence … What follows is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification. My modest goal is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us “to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Eph 1:4)
I hope you have a wonderful summer with family, friends and perhaps some folks you may not care for so much and that Pope Francis’s book with help your growth in holiness with the Spirit.

(George Evans is a pastoral minister at Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Turning frustration into positive action

George Evans

By George Evans
I finally acknowledged to myself that I am a news junkie and that it fills time with unhappiness. The more I watch and read the more concerned I get. I am afraid our country is in a rudderless free fall. Republicans are awash with Trump and don’t seem to know what to do with him. Democrats are just lost going around in circles hoping the merry-go-round stops somewhere so they can get their act together before the mid term elections in order to take back some power in Congress. It seems to me God is testing us as individuals and as a country to try to do the right thing.
What is he calling us to do? My thoughts for whatever they are worth follow. My prayer and meditation in the morning is more and more involved with begging direction for our elected leaders both in the White House and Congress. I still believe that America offers the best chance possible to make present the kingdom of God. Jesus proclaims in the gospel that the kingdom is at hand and calls us to follow him in bringing it to fruition. He gives us a blue print in the New Testament by completing and fulfilling the Old Testament. He spent three years giving us directions in the gospels. Some of those directions are very hard to follow, like turning the other cheek and giving away all we have in order to follow him more completely.
We parse a lot of what he says to justify how we try to follow him. Politically we do a lot of that to try to make things work and to get “our people” elected or reelected as the case may be. We debate taxes and economics, immigration and national loyalty, education and jobs, health and welfare, infrastructure needs and many other things. We don’t spend as much time discussing what is best for the common good or how to practically close the ever increasing gap between rich and poor. We tend to leave these latter matters to think tanks, nonprofits or religious endeavors so that answers are slow, if ever, to appear.
I like the fact my retirement account has recently done well. But I grieve over all the people I visit on St. Vincent de Paul home visits who have no IRA and are trying to live on a less than $1,000 a month disability check, a minimal social security check, or two minimum wage jobs.
There seems to be little hope that government will take any meaningful steps to help in these or similar cases. Do we then just despair and give up? No, we can’t do that. I think we have to recommit to do all we can to make a difference. We are needed to bring the best we can to politics by bringing to bear our values, gospel values and Church values to the present morass. As Pope Francis tells us we are needed in the public square regardless of how unpleasant it may be.
The deeper I search myself, I realize that I can do more through the Church or other organizations to make some difference in the gap between rich and poor, unvulnerable and vulnerable, active and homebound, established and migrant. Its not fair to just blame politicians if we are not improving on our own selfishness in not reaching out and serving those in need.
Only we can do the proper self exam in this regard. The Old Testament prophets call for this repeatedly. Jesus mandates this repeatedly and in Matthew 25 makes it a condition for salvation in the dramatic depiction of the last judgment.
Writing this column has convinced me to be less frustrated with our times and more dedicated to making a difference myself in service and compassion and I invite anyone who has been struggling with some of the same things to join me in the effort. Wouldn’t it be fun to make a contribution by what we do?

(George Evans is a retired pastoral minister from Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Go beyond admiration to imitation

Complete the circle
By George Evans
As we continue our journey in faith with the Lord there are times when familiar words of Scripture jump off the page and grab us anew. Mt. 9:9, known as the Call of Mathew, recently did that to me. Jesus “saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.” What an extraordinary event. A hated tax collector hears a call from an emerging Jewish leader, leaves his livelihood and follows an itinerant preacher, preserving for us his Gospel including the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount.
The other apostles were similarly called, perhaps not as dramatically as Matthew, but called by Jesus to follow him. They too responded to the call. As Christians we are called to follow Jesus and that can be hard. We spend our life trying as best we can to do it. Jesus himself tells us what’s required. “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:38) Our cross can be many different things: death of a loved one, incapacitating illness, financial insecurity, etc. Jesus challenges us to embrace our cross, whatever it may be, as he did his, and then be open to his help. He showed us graphically in accepting his passion and crucifixion. Our cross cannot be more demanding. Whatever it is, he will be there to help us.
Taking up our cross may sound overwhelming. A recent retreat master helped me wrestle with this concept. His point was that Jesus only asks us to follow him. He suggested that Jesus repeatedly asked those he called in the gospels to follow him. He never asked them to admire him. Jesus does not let us off the hook.
It is easy to admire someone from a distance. We do it all the time. Think of the baseball, football or basketball player that makes an acrobatic play and we sit back and admire it and wish that we could have done something like it. It would have been easy for the apostles to have admired Jesus and his incredible miracles and parables. But Jesus would not let them get away with just admiration. After training them he sent them forth two by two into the towns and villages to follow, to teach and heal as he had taught them. He taught them to imitate him not to simply admire him.
The United States Catholic Bishops add to this theology: To choose the road to discipleship is to dispose oneself for a share in the cross. It is not enough to believe with one’s mind; a Christian must also be a doer of the word, a wayfarer with a witness to Jesus.
The follower, the disciple then must not only admire but imitate Jesus. When Jesus asks Peter three times after the Resurrection if he loved him Peter answered that he did. Then Jesus told him three times to do something: feed my lambs and tend my sheep. (Jn21:15-24). It wasn’t enough for Peter to proclaim his love for Jesus. Like Peter, we must do something to be his follower. We must imitate Jesus, not just admire him.
It must start with Sunday Mass, the sacraments and prayer. Then imitate Jesus in ministering to his lambs and sheep: visit the sick, the dying, the lonely, the imprisoned; help with parish programs and schools; feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty (Mt 25), advocate for the poor and marginalized; welcome the immigrant and refugee; comfort those who seem to be left out. I name only a few ways to imitate and follow Jesus. Add your own ways. Any time you bring Jesus to another person in service of any kind then you have imitated Jesus and lifted your cross.
Fr. Ron Rohlheiser in the May, 20, 2005 edition of Mississippi Catholic adds a profound closing to my thoughts:
“We see – but we don’t see! We feel for the poor – but we don’t really feel for them! – We reach out – but we never reach across. The gap between the rich and poor is in fact widening, not narrowing. It’s widening worldwide, between nations. and it’s widening inside of virtually every culture.
The rich are becoming richer and the poor are being left ever further behind. Almost all the economic boom of the last 20 years has sent its windfall straight to the top, benefitig those who already have the most.
What Jesus asks of us is simply that we see the poor, that we do not let affluence become a narcotic that knocks out our eyesight. Riches aren’t bad and poverty isn’t beautiful. But nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.”
(George Evans is a retired pastoral minister and member of Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Lenten sacrifice can benefit Mississippi’s poor

Complete the circle
By George Evans
As Lent begins what do we do about Lenten practices, deeper conversion, spiritual growth, salvation. The Scripture readings from the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday bear some reflection.
Mark 10:17-27 presents the story of the rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. He has kept the Commandments from his youth. Jesus looked at him lovingly and said “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The young man went away sad, for he had many possessions.
The disciples were amazed when Jesus said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” Is our reaction not the same? The world tells us just the opposite. Wealth makes us happy. Things satisfy us and money lets us buy them. New cars free us and extravagant resorts pamper us. But Jesus tells us simply that neither wealth nor anything else from ourselves can possibly save us. Salvation is only possible for God.
Lent asks us to embrace this reality. We must choose God or mammon. We can’t have both. But isn’t that exactly what we want, to have both? Isn’t that our struggle, our daily temptation?
Thank God we are all still works in progress and God knows that and is merciful. He sent his son to make salvation a true possibility for us. We couldn’t do it on our own. Lent is a perfect time to embrace Jesus in order to be saved. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are traditional and proven practices to open us to embrace Jesus, to choose God over mammon.
Serving the poor among us never fails to get us out of ourselves so that we touch Jesus in the poor and thereby choose God rather than mammon. We leave a little of our selfishness behind and perhaps open ourselves enough for Jesus to come in and help our conversion to continue to mature.
Giving up something for Lent is another tried-and-true practice for deeper conversion and spiritual growth preparing us step by step for God’s salvation. Make it hurt a little. It may be alcohol if you drink or sugar if you overeat or whatever needs work in your particular situation. Make it very positive by giving the extra money saved to Catholic Relief Service (CRS) Rice Bowl. CRS serves the poor and desperate in 100 countries throughout the world and leaves 25 percent of the Rice Bowl collection in the diocese to aid the poor at home. This too is a choice of God over mammon and a step toward salvation.
In Mark’s Gospel (10:28-31) Peter, somewhat pleading, tells Jesus “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus lovingly reassures Peter and us. “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age….and eternal life in the age to come.”
Lent is the perfect time for each of us to respond more fully to Jesus’ call. He has promised us if we live our lives for the sake of the Gospel and choose him rather than mammon, we will not only have eternal life but will also be blessed NOW a hundred fold. The Kingdom begins NOW when we choose the Lord over mammon. Lent is a great time to do what is necessary to finalize that choice. We have Jesus’ promise if we do. We have his help to do it.
(George Evans is a retired pastoral minister and member of Jackson St. Richard Parish.)