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So Just What is Natural Family Planning?

by Kelly Phelan Powell One of the most enduring religious stereotypes is Catholics and their outsized families. We even poke fun at ourselves a bit – we joke and say that when More »

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Seeds of Peace Program at Grace Home

No one wants to need the services of Grace Home, but for many families, hospice care for a loved one is an undeniable reality. However, we are fortunate to have a facility More »

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Annual Blessing of Cemeteries

The Church seeks to help the faithful departed, especially those souls in purgatory, by earnest prayer to God, and in particular, by remembrance of them on All Souls Day and throughout the More »

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Celebrate All Souls Day at St. Joseph Cemetery

November 2, is the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, All Souls Day. On this day we commemorate the souls of all the faithful departed, not just relatives, but all baptized Christians More »

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Navigating the Faith: Humanae Vitae

by Fr. Matthew Long, Pastor, St. Joseph Parish, Mansfield & St. Ann Church, Stonewall Pope Paul VI  became pope in 1963 and continued the work of the Second Vatican Council. During his More »

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Domestic Church: Affirming Life in Your Marriage

Happy National Respect Life Month! If there’s any assembly in the world ready to stand for life from conception to natural death, it’s Catholics. We share articles, pray before clinics and organize More »

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Get ready for the Catholic Pumpkin Patch!

October brings a stunning spray of orange that covers the lawn of Mary, Queen of Peace Parish in south Bossier.  The parishoners of Mary, Queen of Peace, under the leadership of Deacon More »

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From the Pope: Mercy is Essential

Vatican City, September 10, 2014 (VIS) – A special aspect of the “maternity” of the Church is education through mercy, and this was the subject of the Holy Father’s catechesis during September More »

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Bishop’s October Reflection: Be a Witness for Life

by Bishop Michael Duca So often today, and this will happen even more in the future, we find ourselves defending our faith from a biased and one-sided negative characterization of the Church.  More »

So Just What is Natural Family Planning?

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by Kelly Phelan Powell

One of the most enduring religious stereotypes is Catholics and their outsized families. We even poke fun at ourselves a bit – we joke and say that when you see a family with 10 children, you know they must be either Catholic or Mormon, because almost no one else has that many kids anymore. But unlike many stereotypes, this one contains a lot of truth. We can laugh at ourselves – always a healthy practice – but in reality, we know that as Roman Catholics, our attitude toward children and families is a serious matter, one that’s rooted in God’s very design of man and woman, in the authority He bestowed upon Peter and the other Apostles and in the nature of Holy Matrimony itself.

One of the Church’s most definitive and politically controversial pronouncements on the subject of marriage and birth control came in the form of Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), written by Pope Paul VI and issued on July 25, 1968. At the time, the cultural and moral compass of nearly the entire world was roiling from the effects of the Vietnam War, free love, feminism and, of course, The Pill. Not surprisingly, many criticized and even condemned Humanae Vitae as fervently as others supported it. But reading it today, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that it was published nearly 50 years ago. With phrases like “Everything therefore in the modern means of social communication which arouses men’s baser passions and encourages low moral standards…”, it’s chillingly prescient.

In 2014, artificial forms of birth control are less an issue of dispute and more a matter of course; any adult woman who’s anywhere near childbearing age knows this to be true. In a doctor’s office, one of the first questions the nurse asks when he or she comes in to take a female patient’s vital signs is, “What form of birth control do you use?” By this, of course, they always mean hormonal birth control like pills, injections or IUDs or barrier methods like diaphragms and condoms. If a woman answers that she doesn’t use any of those, then I can report from personal experience that they look at her like she’s crazy, stupid or simply bald-faced lying (“I won’t tell the pope,” one assured me). In our culture, it’s almost unthinkable that an adult – especially if he or she is married! – wouldn’t do everything medically possible to avoid having children unless they’re meticulously planned.

But why does the Church proclaim that using artificial forms of birth control is contrary to God’s will in our lives? It’s because openness to new life is by definition part of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament…By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article 7, “The Sacrament of Matrimony,” 1601 and 1652)

“A husband and wife are supposed to do everything they can to help each other get to heaven – we don’t just live for ourselves,” said Fr. Peter Mangum of the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans. So although children are not necessary to the matrimonial covenant (“Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.” 1654), “the refusal of fertility turns married life away from its ‘supreme gift,’ the child.” (1664).

Though most outside of Catholicism latched onto Humanae Vitae’s reaffirmation that artificial forms of birth control are morally unacceptable, the Magisterium actually recognized that there are a number of valid reasons why a married couple may wish to avoid pregnancy for a time:

If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained. (HV 20)

And there is indeed a way, one that’s healthier, more natural, inexpensive or even free and statistically almost as effective as the birth control pill. It’s called Natural Family Planning or NFP, and it uses a woman’s basal body temperature and observations about changes in her body to determine when she is and is not fertile. A well-conducted study performed in Germany and published in 2007 found the Sympto-Thermal Method of NFP to be 98.2 percent effective, compared to hormonal birth control’s claim of 99 percent effectiveness.

Not only is NFP highly effective at spacing births, it’s also a godsend for women who have experienced infertility. One of the most demoralizing and heart-wrenching problems a couple can face, it’s one where even many priests struggle to provide comfort and guidance. Fr. Peter admits he can scarcely imagine facing such an obstacle. But he pointed out that traditional fertility treatments often run counter to the Church’s teachings regarding the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the person. Dr. David Parker, an OB/GYN at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka, IN, explained further, “[Intrauterine insemination and IVF] do not involve acts of intercourse and violate the unitive aspect of marital intercourse. Additionally, in vitro fertilization also presents a moral quandary of producing multiple embryos that stay in suspended frozen animation, violating the dignity and personhood of the embryo.” Put simply, said Fr. Peter, “We’re playing God; there’s a picking and choosing. The sanctity of human life – we don’t tamper with that.”

Fortunately, there’s a morally acceptable alternative that’s also highly effective. Dr. Parker specializes in NaProTECHNOLOGY (short for Natural Procreative Technology, also called NaPro), the medical application of the Creighton Model System of gynecologic charting developed by Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers and others at the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, NE. Dr. Parker said that as a young gynecologist, Hilgers was inspired by Humanae Vitae to develop an effective, fertility-awareness-based method of family planning that couples could use to either achieve or avoid pregnancy. “He began to notice distinct patterns in the charts of patients who had, for example, infertility or recurrent miscarriage,” Dr. Parker said. “He began to investigate their cycles using targeted hormonal blood tests and ultrasound evaluation as well as diagnostic surgeries to look for the underlying causes of these issues. From there, he developed medical and surgical treatments to normalize the cycle, thus treating the underlying causes of the infertility.”

But does it work? It certainly does, said Dr. Parker. “NaPro is comparable in effectiveness to Assisted Reproductive Technology (traditional fertility treatments) and also does not use morally objectionable techniques. In general, the cumulative live birth rate in couples that suffer from infertility or recurrent miscarriage is about 60 percent. The cumulative live birth rate for an attempt at IVF is about 40 percent, with multiple attempts at IVF reaching about 60 percent cumulative live birth rate. There is also a much lower rate of multiple gestation pregnancies (twins and triplets) and pre-term birth with NaPro compared to IVF. This is important because multiple gestation pregnancies are at higher risk for complications and premature delivery. Premature delivery is the number-one cause of neonatal morbidity and mortality. Therefore, we should be highly motivated to use techniques that reduce these risks to newborns.”

Like all morally- and religiously-motivated courses of action, NFP and NaPro are easily misunderstood. And unfortunately, they’re also unknown to many Catholic laypeople and not entirely understood by some priests. Fr. Peter said priests learn of NFP in seminary as part of their study of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and the Church’s expectations for married couples, but still, some are unaware of its many benefits and the wide range of conditions it can treat. Dr. Parker said NaPro can be utilized for multiple gynecologic issues, including abnormal bleeding, polycystic ovarian syndrome, premenstrual tension syndrome, recurrent ovarian cysts and pelvic pain. That’s why education is so important. “If everyone had a good understanding of what NFP is, they would be more likely to try it,” said Fr. Peter.
Among those working to educate the faithful about NFP are two of the people who inspired Dr. Parker to find a way to practice obstetrics and gynecology without compromising his faith – his parents, Dr. William and Mary Frances Parker. “Having grown up in a large, happy Catholic family, I had experienced first hand how life-giving love can have a transformative effect. I am grateful to my parents for giving me the gift of my seven siblings and imparting the faith to me,” he said.

For close to 20 years, the Parkers, who are members of St. Joseph Parish in Shreveport, have taught couples, both Catholic and non-Catholic alike, the Sympto-Thermal Method of NFP, in which they are certified through the Couple to Couple League (ccli.org). Mary Frances’s philosophy regarding NFP echoes part of Humanae Vitae: “…husband and wife are ready to abstain from intercourse during the fertile period as often as for reasonable motives the birth of another child is not desirable. And when the infertile period recurs, they use their married intimacy to express their mutual love and safeguard their fidelity toward one another. In doing this they certainly give proof of a true and authentic love.”

“Why are we abstaining? Why are we putting off having children? If you desire each other and are denying yourself, you want to have a good reason for it,” Mary Frances said. “Our fertility is part of who we are. To ignore the fertile aspect of yourself is inherently disrespectful.” In other words, the decision to space births, regardless of the reason, in order to be holy, must carry with it some personal sacrifice, a self-denial. In contrast, when a person uses birth control pills, for instance, there is no self-denial necessary – in that circumstance, the couple can engage in sexual relations any time, and in doing so, they not only ignore their own and each other’s fertility, they no longer have to consider the reasons why they don’t want to have a child at this time. NFP, on the other hand, “helps you to grow in reality, because our actions have consequences – the things you do mean something,” she said.

So it’s easy to see how NFP fosters communication between couples. “It requires that they communicate,” Mary Frances pointed out. The couple must continually communicate about the wife’s cycle, when they can and should enjoy sex and their reasons for either avoiding or trying to achieve pregnancy. And this creates a connection that makes for healthy marriages, something Fr. Peter notices in the couples in his parish who practice NFP. “Their communication level skyrockets – it’s so much higher,” he said. Mary Frances agrees. “The woman and the couple are cooperating with her natural cycles. It brings a level of communication that’s not there if you’re ignoring an entire aspect of your humanity.”

Lauren Merrick, who, along with her husband, David, participates in St. Joseph Parish’s engaged couples ministry, agrees that the advantages of using NFP from a relationship standpoint are numerous. She said it makes the husband part of the process, getting him involved with charting and asking important questions. “It requires you to reevaluate monthly where you stand as to whether or not you are trying to achieve or avoid pregnancy. Having this monthly dialogue secures that you and your husband can honestly and openly discuss where you are when it comes to family planning. ‘Are we ready for a child? Financially, physically, emotionally?’” Many are initially skeptical when they learn that another benefit is increased intimacy. “Some call it the ‘honeymoon effect,’” she said, “because it remains new and exciting when periods of abstinence are practiced.” Another positive aspect of NFP is that it strengthens a couple’s relationship with God. “[You’re] trusting that God has a plan for you and your family,” she said.

But the moral implications of artificial birth control methods aren’t the only reason non-Catholics are increasingly becoming interested in learning and using NFP. “Apart from the moral issue, it’s healthy for the body,” said Mary Frances. Dr. Parker explained, “Contraceptives are composed of various chemicals, such as artificial hormones and even metals. Current research studies have shown that the use of contraceptives are linked to breast cancer, cervical cancer, stroke, blood clots and even multiple sclerosis. Also, most hormonal contraceptives are considered pregnancy category X, meaning that they have been shown to cause serious fetal abnormalities in pregnancy. When there is a method failure with hormonal contraceptives and the woman does not realize she is pregnant and continues taking the contraceptive, she is exposing her offspring to a toxic chemical.”

“Natural Family Planning is just that – natural,” Dr. Parker continued. “It doesn’t utilize contraceptives or procedures that can place the mother and baby’s health at risk. Additionally, NFP charting is a great way to monitor overall health.” Merrick agreed and added, “It’s healthy, safe, inexpensive and easy once you have learned the method.”

Fr. Peter said he wishes more NFP couples would get to know each other and support one another, a sentiment resounding almost exactly from Humanae Vitae close to half a century later:

Among the fruits that ripen if the law of God be resolutely obeyed, the most precious is certainly this, that married couples themselves will often desire to communicate their own experience to others. Thus it comes about that in the fullness of the lay vocation will be included a novel and outstanding form of the apostolate by which, like ministering to like, married couples themselves by the leadership they offer will become apostles to other married couples. And surely among all the forms of the Christian apostolate it is hard to think of one more opportune for the present time. (HV 26) •

Statement on the U.S. Senate’s Attempt to Reverse U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby Decision

by the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops

Last month, the U.S. Senate tried to do something Congress has never done before – pass legislation designed to reduce Americans’ religious freedom. This should be a grave concern to all who value our fundamental freedoms.

The new threat is a bill called the “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act” (S. 2578). Supporters say it would reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, so for-profit corporations can be forced to cover “contraceptives” (including potentially abortifacient drugs) in their health plans despite their religious objections.

In fact the bill is much broader. It states that when the federal government decides to mandate any item in health plans nationwide, no one has a right to object that it violates their religion. The government mandate will override “any other provision of federal law” that stands in the way – whether that law protects for-profit employers, non-profit charitable organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor, insurers, employees, or individual women purchasing health care for their families on our state health exchange. Just as contraceptives have been mandated as a “preventive service” to avert pregnancy, coverage for all abortions, including late-term abortions, could be mandated to avoid live births – and any federal law protecting conscience on abortion would be null and void.

Despite grave disagreements across our nation over the moral and legal status of abortion, American lawmakers have generally been able to agree that the government should not force people to take part in such evils. Here in Louisiana, health care providers are protected from being required to violate their conscience on abortion or abortifacient drugs. The new bill is a radical departure from this tradition.

Last month the Senate narrowly failed to achieve the 60 votes needed to advance S. 2578, but it can be taken up again when Congress resumes its work in September. We encourage all of those who care about freedom of conscience, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to urge our federal lawmakers to oppose this and similar legislation. We need more respect for religious freedom in our nation, not less.

Most Rev. Gregory M. Aymond
Archbishop of New Orleans

Most Rev. Michael Jarrell
Bishop of Lafayette

Most Rev. Robert W. Muench
Bishop of Baton Rouge

Most. Rev. Ronald P. Herzog
Bishop of Alexandria

Most Rev. Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles

Most Rev. Michael G. Duca
Bishop of Shreveport

Most Rev. Shelton J. Fabre
Bishop of Houma-Thibodaux

Seeds of Peace Program at Grace Home

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No one wants to need the services of Grace Home, but for many families, hospice care for a loved one is an undeniable reality. However, we are fortunate to have a facility like Grace Home, a 16-bed residential hospice designed specifically for care of the terminally ill and the only residential hospice in Northwest Louisiana, in our community. “Grace Home allowed my father-in-law to pass with peace and dignity surrounded by those he loved,” said Tanya Harville. “The staff was there to assist not only him but our entire family through the end-of-life stages. Grace Home is an invaluable asset to our area, one we are forever grateful for.”

One of the many things that makes Grace Home so special to patients and their families is the Seeds of Peace program, which provides and maintains bird feeders and planter boxes that are placed outside the patients’ windows in hopes of bringing peace and tranquility during their final days. Begun by Kay Nader at St. Joseph Parish in Shreveport, “it’s something to take patients’ minds off their day-to-day situation and enjoy nature,” said Donna Seal of the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans, which now administers the program as one of its outreach ministries.
Volunteers fill up bird feeders and weed and water the planter boxes. Airmen and personnel from Barksdale Air Force Base are among the dozens of volunteers. Not surprisingly, volunteers find themselves as blessed by the program as the patients are. As one volunteer posted in the Seeds of Peace Facebook group, “I just came out of [a room] and the patient told me how much she enjoyed watching the people work in the flower boxes outside of her room today. The birds feeding brings her much pleasure so I am able to convey to you the rewards of what the Cathedral ministry means to this beautiful child of God in the last days of her life.”

The volunteers do their best to maintain the feeders and boxes, but being wooden and constantly exposed to the elements, “they need a little TLC,” said Seal. The Seeds of Peace program is currently requesting monetary donations to offset the cost of replacing some of the feeders and planter boxes as well as birdseed and other necessities for maintenance.

If you wish to donate and help continue the Seeds of Peace program, please contact the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans at 318-221-5296.

by Kelly Phelan Powell

Matthew 25 Partnership at Catholic Charities

Have you ever had a project that began with laying a foundation?  If you have, then you know how important it is to place each stone or brick in a way that, when used together, will support your project.  Alone they won’t be the foundation needed, but all of them together can build the lasting foundation you hope for. That was what Executive Director Jean Dresley and the Catholic Charities board of directors intended when they launched the Matthew 25 Partnership last year. It is that monthly commitment, the bricks that support all six programs of assistance of Catholic Charities of North Louisiana, they had in mind. The message of Matthew 25 resounded with each of them and is the impetus for this important initiative.

At his weekly address on August 6, Pope Francis asked that we as Christians remember the beatitudes and *“impress them on our hearts.” He also reminded us that living our Christianity requires us to follow Jesus’s teachings as directed in Matthew 25.  “At the end of the world, we will be judged and what will the questions be that the judge will ask? They are listed in Matthew 25: 35-36: Did you feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the prisoner?  Living according to the beatitudes and the criteria listed in Matthew 25 should fill each Christian with joy because together they make our Christian life a beautiful and credible witness to the love of God for all the brothers and sisters we meet each day.”

When our doorbell rings at Catholic Charities and we greet an individual or family that has come to us seeking our help, we understand that God has brought us another opportunity to live Matthew 25!  The poor are accustomed to being shuffled about, ignored or mistreated and often they accept those conditions because they feel they have no choice. We see their faces full of anxiety and desperation and know the simple act of listening is important, but along with listening, we understand the significance of following the Matthew 25 teachings in everything we do for the most vulnerable among us. That is our ultimate goal and we do that by offering education to move people forward toward a life less filled with crisis and stress, one in which they have shelter, clothing, food and other basic needs met. We do it by teaching them how to budget income, how to care for their infants and small children, how to prepare healthy affordable meals for their family. We help them learn English and assist with the paperwork necessary to live and work in this country. Ultimately, all our programs and all the assistance we give measures up to these reminders made so clear in Matthew 25.

We ask that you prayerfully consider becoming a partner with us in this work and join Matthew 25.  You can learn more on our web site, www.ccnla.org or by calling 318-865-0200.

*Catholic News Service August 2014
*www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1403277.htm

by Theresa Mormino, Catholic Charities of NLA

Annual Blessing of Cemeteries

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The Church seeks to help the faithful departed, especially those souls in purgatory, by earnest prayer to God, and in particular, by remembrance of them on All Souls Day and throughout the month of November. In the communion of Christ’s members with one another, the Church obtains spiritual help for those who have preceded us in faith. This spiritual communion brings the consolation of hope to us who pray for our dearly departed with gratitude, love and devotion.  Our belief in Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the reason we commemorate our faithful departed on All Souls Day and bless their graves. We entrust them once again to the purifying, life-giving love of the One eternal God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our priests and deacons will offer prayers at our local cemeteries on the weekends closest to All Souls Day, our annual commemoration of the faithful departed, on the following dates:

Saturday, October 25
Forest Park Cemetery West, Shreveport        1:00 pm
Rev. James McLelland, Deacon Jeff Chapman,  Deacon Daniel LeMoine

Lincoln Park Cemetery, Shreveport        1:00 pm
Deacon Burt Ainsworth

Round Grove Cemetery, Shreveport        1:00 pm
Rev. Andre McGrath, OFM, Deacon Charles Thomas

Sunday, October 26
Rose-Neath Cemetery, Bossier City        2:00 pm
Deacon Freeman Ligon, Deacon Larry Mills

Forest Park Cemetery East, Shreveport        2:00 pm
Deacon Steve Lehr, Deacon Mike Wise, Deacon Daniel LeMoine

Saturday, November 1
Hillcrest Cemetery, Haughton            2:00 pm
Rev. Karl Daigle, Deacon Bill Roche, Deacon Ricardo Rivera

Centuries Memorial Cemetery, Shreveport    1:00 pm
Rev. Michael Thang’wa, Deacon Mike Whitehead

St. Mary Church, Rambin          Following 10:00 am Mass
Rev. Matthew Long

Graves at Carmel                             5:30 pm
Rev. Matthew Long

Sunday, November 2
St. Joseph Cemetery, Shreveport        2:00 pm
Msgr. Earl Provenza, Deacon John Basco, Deacon Jorge Martinez

Carver Cemetery, Shreveport            2:00 pm
Rev. Mark Franklin, Rev. John Paul Crispin, FHM

St. Ann Church, Stonewall     Following 9:00 am Mass
Rev. Matthew Long

Mansfield Cemetery, Highland Cemetery and St. Francis Cemetery (Frierson)
Following 11:00 am Mass at St. Joseph Parish, Mansfield
Rev. Matthew Long

Consult your local parish for the blessing of graves not listed here, especially at parishes that have Catholic cemeteries.

Celebrate All Souls Day at St. Joseph Cemetery

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November 2, is the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, All Souls Day. On this day we commemorate the souls of all the faithful departed, not just relatives, but all baptized Christians who are believed to be in purgatory. Roman Catholic doctrine holds that the prayers of the faithful on earth will help cleanse those souls in order to prepare them for the vision of God in heaven.

Every year members of the clergy visit most of the cemeteries in the area for the annual Blessing of the Graves. This is a right observed by the Roman Catholic Church. This year Msgr. Earl Provenza, Pastor of Holy Trinity, Deacon Jorge Martinez of Holy Trinity and Deacon John Basco, of the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans will be officiating at the Blessing of the Graves at 2 pm, November 2, 2014, at St. Joseph Cemetery.

As part of our initiative to raise awareness and interest in St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery, located at 2100 Texas Ave. in Shreveport, there will be several activities planned for the upcoming All Souls Day observance on November 2. Deacon John Basco will escort the RCIA group from the Cathedral at 12:30 p.m. for a tour of the cemetery and a short presentation on the history of the cemetery and Catholic burial services.  If you are interested, please join the RCIA group for the presentation. It will last approximately one hour.

Members of the Sons of Italy Organization are planning a group gathering and picnic to celebrate All Souls Day. In our diocese the Italian and Hispanic cultures celebrate November 2 with special observances: family and public gatherings, food and drink, visiting and remembrances of the faithful departed.

The Sons of Italy will also be presenting the cemetery with a bench in memory of the living and departed members of the Italian community. There will be a tent with chairs, courtesy of H & H Services, and bottled water, compliments of St. Joseph Broadmoor Federal Credit Union, for the Blessing of the Graves, the history presentation and the dedication and blessing of the memorial bench.

Everyone is invited to share in this wonderful opportunity to visit the final resting places of departed loved ones, to share family stories and histories as well as see the continual changes, facelift and future growth of the only Catholic cemetery in Northwest Louisiana. If anyone or a group wants to visit the cemetery or tour the cemetery please contact the Diocesan cemetery offices at the Catholic Center, 318-868-4441.

by Randy G. Tiller, Director of Mission Effectiveness

Vocations Corner: Beginning the Discernment Process for Religious LIfe

by Claire Vidrine

In addition to being a freshman at Louisiana Tech, I am one of many women going through the discernment process for religious life in our diocese. This calling is not the “easy path.” Hearing the voice of God is hard. There also seems to be a lack of information available for women who want to become religious, and there is the stigma of societal perception – this isn’t a normal profession for most people.

I know for me, the thought of religious life appears like a ball of clay. As I knead the clay in my hands, I am discovering minute details, ones which otherwise might not have become apparent if I had not taken up the clay. As of now, I do not fully accept the task being a nun, but I entertain the thought.  It is in my kneading of the idea that I keep my perseverance and maintain faith in His plan, for He will give me aid in all that is meant to be.

God’s voice is a difficult one to hear, let alone interpret. It is difficult to know what roads to take in order to obtain the longed for destination. This took time. I realized that in order to hear His voice I had to first spend as much time with Him as possible. I had to develop and mature how I prayed. I did this through many resources, but the most beneficial for me has been Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. There I am able to have an open dialogue with Christ. Once I accepted that He will only lead me to where He wants me to be, then what is there to fear?
The next step in this process was to find the most information I could about religious life. The only credible knowledge I had came in small bits from my PSR classes, annual Vocation Awareness Sundays and the wonderful example of Sr. Edith Schnell, OP at St. Paschal Parish.  So I turned to my trusty friend, Google. When I did a generalized search though, I became more confused than when I started. I then decided to look into the information my church already had in the back of the gathering space concerning vocations. To my dismay, the only good substantive material was concerning priesthood, so once again I was in a bit of a bind.

Fr. Matthew Long, our diocesan Vocations Director, was at Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish where I grew up, so I knew him well. I implored his aid in this process. He gave me some assistance and suggested a few convents I might like to look into, but women’s religious vocations is not an area of immense knowledge for him. So, I was again left with more questions, and few leads.

In prayer I was given the idea to turn to reading about the women saints. Now I know that the year 1607, which St. Jane Frances de Chantal lived in is much different than the present, but the most important aspects are all present: their call to religious life, their unwavering faith to God and all the good they were able to do for God’s kingdom.

If you are like me and discerning your vocation, I would suggest first that you pray. Then try talking to a religious or priest in your local parish. They sincerely want to help you find your calling and follow God’s path for you. Also, check websites of various religious orders to learn about their upcoming retreats for women and get in touch with their Vocations Directors. Do not feel overwhelmed. Pray for God’s guidance through the Holy Spirit, and trust in His plan for your life.

Vocations Corner: Human Life Matters

Martin Aviles-Vazquez (far left) with Hispanic youth group.

Last year the apostolic committee at St. Joseph Seminary in Covington, LA organized a pro-life rosary outside an abortion clinic in New Orleans and a visit to the Woman’s New Life Center, a pro-life center that helps women in moments of pregnancy crisis, located next to the abortion clinic. After the tour, they gave a talk that made me realize that as a Catholic I was not doing enough to defend human life and that abortion not only destroys the life of the baby, but also causes great physical and psychological pain to the abortive parents. After this experience and others, I became an activist for the pro-life movement.

I feel called to do as much as possible to defend the right to life for the unborn. I shared with Marcos Villalba, diocesan Coordinator of Hispanic Youth and Young Adults, my wish to educate young people about pro-life culture. A few days later he invited me to join him in giving a talk to a Hispanic young adult group at Christ the King Parish. We had a very good response especially because God sent us a man who gave his testimony that night. He reaffirmed what I heard at the pro-life center in New Orleans: that abortion affects both women and men. The pro-life movement is supportive and compassionate, following the example of Jesus. There are centers that offer help to both female and male victims of abortion. As Christians we have to remember God loves us so much and there is no sin He will not forgive.

The National Pro-Life movement “Priests for Life,” says on their website, “abortions are based in a double lie, denying that the ‘fetus’ is a human being, just as we are and saying that ‘abortion helps women’.” The truth is abortion hurts women, physically and psychologically. Many women harden their hearts against their baby, worrying only about themselves. Being a pro-life person means being pro-woman. The pro-life message is not about “love the baby and forget the woman.”

Finally, I want to motivate all people reading this article, to join in the pro-life movement and work together to defend human life. Statistics show that for every 50 hours a person works in pro-life activities, one life is saved. I am convinced that the pro-life movement will win out. More and more young adults are asserting that they are pro-life, as evidenced by the March for Life in Washington that takes place each January and has more and more participation of young people each year.

Martin Aviles-Vazquez is a seminarian for the Diocese of Shreveport in second year college at St. Joseph Seminary in St. Benedict, LA.

Navigating the Faith: Humanae Vitae

1014HV

by Fr. Matthew Long, Pastor, St. Joseph Parish, Mansfield & St. Ann Church, Stonewall

Pope Paul VI  became pope in 1963 and continued the work of the Second Vatican Council. During his time, he issued one of the most famous papal encyclicals: Humanae Vitae.

This encyclical was a response to a number of changes in the world: the rapid increase in population; the economic difficulty of providing for a large family; a new understanding of the dignity of woman and her place in society, and; the progress of humanity in the domination and organization of nature. (HV 2)

The headline “The Pope says no to the Pill” was how this carefully crafted and compassionate letter was introduced to the world. As a result, most have never read it in its entirety, but most believe it is simply the Church’s answer to artificial contraception. To fully understand this document, one must consider the reason for this difficult decision and the consequences prophesied by Pope Paul VI. This teaching has often been described as oppressive towards women or patriarchal. In reality this teaching applies to married couples, so it is applicable to both men and women.

The document begins with “The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator.”  This reminds us that life comes from God and its transmission is a collaborative effort between a married couple and God.

It then moves on to the moral norms regulating married life. They discuss “totality,” wherein, you look at the procreative finality of the marriage and not at each individual act of conjugal love.  This would lead ultimately to regulating the transmission of life by the intelligence and will of the married persons rather than through the “specific rhythms of their own bodies.” (HV3)

In approaching the question of human procreation there were two aspects of married love that had to be considered since they were used as justification for artificial birth control: demands of married love and responsible parenthood.

Married love is defined in three parts. 1. It is total, in that husband and wife share generously of everything. 2. It is faithful and exclusive. 3. It is fertile, which means it is ordered toward parenthood.

Responsible parenthood was the other item. Many factors should be considered when deciding whether to welcome more children or “for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts,” choose to postpone additional children.  This requires the husband and wife in “keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.” (HV10)  One of these duties is to respect the natural law, which shows the marital act to be both unitive, in that it strengthens the union between husband and wife, and procreative, which means that every act must be open to life. (HV11)

This doctrine of the natural law means that married people cannot by their own initiative break the unitive or procreative significance which are inherent to the marital act. Sexual intercourse between a husband and wife without the consent of both parties is not unitive and it offends the moral order.  In the same way sexual intercourse between a husband and wife that is not open to life, and therefore not procreative, also offends the moral order. (HV13)  Based on natural law and moral law, it was determined that artificial birth control, sterilization and abortion “are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means for regulating the number of children.”  (HV14) 

There is an exception to the Church’s position, and that is for the cure of bodily diseases even if it can impede procreation.  This exception should not be interpreted liberally, however.  It would be most applicable in situations where sterilization, such as a hysterectomy, would be necessary.  It is clear that this is only acceptable if the primary motivation is not to prevent children.  (HV15)  The use of natural methods of family planning is also allowed. (HV16)  This method is not offensive to the moral order because it relies upon the natural cycles of the body, the cooperation of both husband and wife and abstinence, which cultivates virtue .

One of the most compelling parts of the encyclical is Section 17 where the possible consequences of artificial methods are discussed. Looking back across 46 years helps us to see that many of the consequences feared have come to pass.

One of the first concerns is the effect artificial birth control will have on the faithful and exclusive aspects of married love. “Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.” (HV17)

Because of the taint of Original Sin, human beings are weak when faced with temptation. When there are no consequences when breaking the moral law, it becomes easier to yield to temptation.  A second concern was that with the use of artificial contraceptives, men would, “forget the reverence due to a woman.” Instead of seeing a woman as a partner who should be shown affection and care, she would become an object to be used for sexual satisfaction.

The last concern was that the power to artificially control birth, once exercised between husband and wife, would be used by public authorities.  “Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law.” (HV17)  This fear was well founded based on the policies already in place by some world governments. There was recognition that governments could and would not necessarily adhere to the divine law and moral law.  If this was the case, then they could require artificial birth control, sterilization or even abortion without the consent of the people.  The Holy Father felt strongly that this “personal and intimate responsibility” should belong to a husband and wife and no one else.

One need only look at the data from the past 46 years to know the grave concerns expressed by Pope Paul VI have been realized in part.  Marital infidelity and the divorce rate have risen exponentially.  The number of those engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage has also gone up.  Pornography, which has at its center the objectification of women, has become a multimillion dollar industry.  Finally, the last concern regarding governments attempting to impose artificial methods on its citizens has become all too real in the last two decades.

Pope Paul VI knew that the teaching of the Church would not be easily accepted.  He reminded us that like her Founder, Jesus Christ, she was to be a “sign of contradiction.” Following Christ has never been easy, but He gives us the grace necessary to do so if only we will live in accord with His will as expressed in our hearts, from the Sacred Scripture and through His distinctive voice in the world, Holy Mother Church.  I urge all of you to take the time to read this document.  It can be found at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html

Former Ruston Priest Passed Away

On August 26th, Fr. Gary Bernhardt, OFM was lost to this world in a tragic boating accident on Lake Taneycomo, near Branson, MO.  He was fishing with two other men at the time when their boat capsized, tossing all those on board into the water.  Fr. Gary’s two companions managed to survive the incident, but unfortunately Fr. Gary was gravely injured while being swept downstream and later died at the local hospital in Branson.

Fr. Gary served in a number of locations within the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart as Secretary of the Province, Spiritual Assistant for the Secular Franciscans, Parochial Vicar and as Pastor of several locations including our own St. Thomas Parish in Ruston where he served faithfully as Pastor from 2004 to 2008.  Fr. Gary did a great job in Ruston and was certainly loved by the Catholic community of Lincoln Parish.  He was currently serving as Director of Franciscan Charities and the Province Development Director.

Fr. Gary loved fishing, being with his brother Friars and serving the many people he met in his various ministries.  He also loved helping others, especially with his computer knowledge and experience with technology.  His cheerful presence and unselfish willingness to put others before himself will be deeply missed.

by John Mark Willcox