Category Archives: Bishop’s Reflections

Bishop’s Reflection: Letting Go of “Mine” for the Glory of God’s Work

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

Maybe the first surprise to new parents is that children are born wild – not tame. I don’t mean this in a bad sense, but our first instincts as a child are for survival. We must be taught and formed to enter into civilized society. There are three attitudes that come from our wild side, from within us, that must be shaped and formed by parents. These attitudes are expressed by three common phrases: “Mine!” “Not fair,” and “My turn.” Each of these attitudes in their wild state are self-centered, seeing the world only from the child’s point of view even though they express some truth about life. Each of these could be a column in themselves, but today I want to concentrate on the blatantly self-centered one: “MINE!” (it seems to need the exclamation point).

The exclamation “MINE!” is of course an expression of ownership. We learned this very early in life when we received a gift or a new toy and understand that it is given to me, it is MINE! Ownership is not a bad thing, in fact in the encyclical Rerum Novarum on social justice, the Church teaches that ownership of land is a fundamental right for every person because it helps to ensure a person’s freedom and brings stability to the family. Ownership also brings order to our society. But if what is ours – our time, talent and treasure – is only understood from the childish expression, “MINE!,” then we become selfish, self-serving  and can be tempted to use our wealth, time and talent to influence and manipulate others for our purposes. We can become trapped in vanity and greed. We can surround ourselves with so much that we stop hearing the cry of the poor and become isolated from those who need our help. We live in the illusion of self-sufficiency and superficial pursuits.

The great balancer of “MINE!” when we are growing up is the exhortation of our parents to SHARE. This is not easily understood by a child who is just learning what MINE! means, but it is the lesson we need to learn. The deeper and more spiritually mature equivalent of SHARE for us as disciples of Jesus is the spirituality of stewardship. A spirituality of stewardship is founded on the understanding that a steward is not the owner, but the caretaker of something.  A good steward cares for, protects, invests, improves and respects all that is placed under his care. As men and women of faith in Christ, this means that we should develop a deep spirituality of stewardship that is rooted in the core belief that everything we own and are is a GIFT.  We are not meant to be owners of things, rather to see ourselves as stewards of what is placed under our care.

There is a big difference between saying, “This is MINE!, I earned this and I will use it as I want,” and saying, “I have earned this, worked hard for it and I thank God for all that makes this possible and I will try to be a good steward of the blessings I have received.”  Once we see our lives more as a gift, then gratitude becomes a part of our daily attitude and the idea of stewardship is a regular part of our daily decisions about time, talent and treasure.  Our decisions on how to use our gifts begin to include the awareness of the needs of others and we become more generous and hospitable. We also become more willing to contribute, even sacrificially, from the God-given gifts of our time, treasure and talents to help build up the kingdom of God and give witness to God from whom all good things come.

Hopefully we have matured beyond the self-centered attitude of MINE! to the generosity of SHARE, and finally to the spiritual truth that we are only stewards of the gifts of our lives.

In the next few weeks you will be reminded that this is the time of year for our Diocesan Stewardship Appeal. I know there may be a lot of practical reasons that brings a person to give or not, but I hope that the decision is being made as a spiritual decision and not just a monetary one.  I hope you approach our Annual Diocesan Stewardship Appeal from a spirituality of stewardship and understand that giving to the Appeal is not like paying bills or dues, but rather our SHARE in the support of the mission of the Church. I hope you will see that you are a part of our Diocesan Family and will support the programs that serve the diocese in all the churches in our 16 civil parish region.

Please, prayerfully consider a gift to the Appeal this year out of a desire to be a good steward.  Be assured that I receive them as a blessed gift and I will handle them as a good steward of your generosity for the glory of God.

Editors Note: Read more about the ministries the Annual Diocesan Stewardship Appeal supports on page 14 of this issue. A pledge card is available for your use on page 30.  •

Bishop’s January Reflection: Make Small Commitments for Big Changes

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

As you receive this Catholic Connection, I suppose we are all well into our New Year’s resolutions. Changes are tricky things because we often have a strong beginning, but in the end give up because we realize how hard it is to change. We give in to the old ways because we were not perfect in our resolve. And yet the Gospel messages call us to conversion and change as a means of reshaping of our lives ultimately in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. We are continually trying, and should be trying, to conform our lives with the teaching of the Church as it reflects what it means to love and to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. If this is so central to our Christian faith, how can we be more successful in shaping our lives, as St. Paul says, so that we might “take on the mind of Christ?”

I have a few suggestions that might guide our decisions based on a few passages of scripture.

In the Gospel we hear, “so be perfect just as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) While this passage may seem to put the achievement bar fairly high, okay, impossibly high, it is a good place to start. The truth is, and we know this deep in our hearts, that we will never be perfect as God is perfect. But that doesn’t mean that the perfect goal is wrong or that we should not set our hopes high. The goal that guides our change is as important as the bad habit or action we want to change. In fact, this goal should be the first consideration because in our striving for a particular ideal we are shaping the person we are becoming. If our desire to lose weight is really about vanity, for example, the more we strive to reach our goal the more vain we will become.

We should always seek a higher goal that reflects the perfect ideal that God has given us in the example of Jesus, which we discover in our spiritual lives through prayerful reflection on the witness of Jesus Christ, the teachings of the Church and the understanding we have of the scriptures. Those ideals guide us and, even though we will never be perfect, we keep striving for perfection because these are the values that will rightly shape our lives. We should understand that we become virtuous not in achieving the goal perfectly, but in the striving for holiness.

The words of St. James take us a little deeper into this mystery of conversion: “and let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and completely lacking in nothing.” James 1:4

Saint Paul says from a different point of view: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

Once we have the spiritual ideal that will guide us, it is important to keep trying to reach our goal. First, be honest. To make a real change we are not talking about a sprint to the finish as in a quick race. We are talking about a marathon because it will usually take a long time to affect a serious change in our lives.

As St. James says, our “perseverance should be perfect.” We must put our emphasis not on being perfect, but on the grace of God. So each day as we examine how we are doing, we should accept that each day it is not about how perfect we are in achieving our goals, but how perfectly we continue to begin over and over again to seek the mind and the heart of Christ in our lives and call upon the grace of God to help us.

In the end it is more about faithfulness than perfection. And so if you have begun your New Year’s resolution and you have already blown it – smoked a cigarette, had too much drink or cheated on your diet – the answer is not to give up and say, “well, I blew it this year, so I won’t have to start again until next year,” but rather to simply say, “I blew it yesterday, but today I begin again.” It is that faithful decision each day to pick up our cross and to follow Christ that causes us to grow in virtue.

My last humble insight is that we should take small changes except where serious sin is involved. If our spiritual need is to change our behavior and avoid serious sin, then we must make a complete break no matter how big the commitment is and depend on the mercy and love of God who will provide what we need. In other areas of our lives we should take really small steps. One of the things we often try to do is change our whole life at once. To change our life means to change more than one little behavior. A small commitment done faithfully will often have the effect of making big changes in our lives and lead us to deep spiritual insights.

It is my prayer that this New Year will be a time of conversion and holy change in your life. May we say next year that this was a good year, a year of grace and conversion.

Bishop’s Reflection: Uniting Home and Church During Advent

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

The month of December is a wondrous month in the life of the Church as we enter into the season of ADVENT with the hopeful readings at Mass leading us to the celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day. The season, filled with hopeful waiting fills my heart with abundant memories of how we celebrated this holy time within my family. One deep abiding memory is how the Advent Wreath was given a central place in our home and how it shaped and summed up how our Catholic faith, especially during Advent and Christmas, was always present in a concrete way at the heart of our family life at home.

The more I reflect upon this simple devotion, the more I realize that it contains deep wisdom about our faith and the importance of living our faith in the context of the family. The Advent Wreath is usually lit at the family meal each evening. The dinner meal in my home growing up was a constant and rock solid ritual. It was easy for our family because my father’s work was so predictable that he would return home almost at the same time each evening. Also my mother, even when she had a job to help pay the bills, was always at home in enough time to have dinner ready when my father arrived home. It was a blessing that I took for granted. Life, I know, is more hectic today with competing schedules, two parents working and a host of electronic distractions. But the Advent Wreath still speaks wisdom to our hectic lifestyles and reminds us that sharing a meal is not just about eating, but it is also a time to deepen the bond of love and unity in the family. The family meal is a needed experience to counter the dividing influences of our culture today. This meal is also important because it echoes how we gather around the altar at Mass to share the sacrificial meal of the Body and Blood of Christ. With the Advent Wreath in the center of the table we are connecting home and church, thus the spiritual message of Advent is not just experienced in church, but makes its way into the heart of the family and into our daily lives.

If you find that the family meal on a regular basis is almost impossible, then consider the Advent Wreath as a daily family prayer event where you take time to gather all the family, everyday for some time – maybe in the evening or before leaving for school – and light the candle(s) and say the Advent prayer together.

The simple beauty of the Advent Wreath is that it calls the family to prayer in the home and gives us real time to appreciate the season of Advent, which is so often overshadowed by the din of secular advertising for Christmas. The Advent Wreath calls us to consider what it means to wait and helps us slow down to consider the real meaning and heart of CHRISTmas.

The Advent Wreath is also an opportunity for children to see both their mother and father as leaders of prayer, and each child can take an active part in the prayer when it is their time to light the candle.

Even just creating an Advent wreath for your family can stand as a reminder to prayer or shine a light on how little our homes can reflect our faith in daily life. Maybe, just seeing that the candles have not been lit once can call us to prayer and slowly change the routine so that family prayer in some form becomes a part of the routine of family life.

In a world that is becoming more secular we need to make our homes an oasis of faith and connect church and home more often. I see a beautiful example of this on the evening of December 11, the day before the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, when our Hispanic brothers and sisters gather together for an evening of prayer until midnight so they can sing to honor Mary at the beginning of her feast day. As part of the celebration, families bring their statues and pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe and place their images and statues around the altar. After Mary is greeted at midnight with songs of praise, I bless the images and then they are returned to their homes. Home and church are now united. Like this event, the Advent Wreath is another way to bring home and church together.

By the time you receive this month’s Catholic Connection, Advent may have already begun. If you do not have an Advent Wreath yet, don’t worry about being late. Make or buy one and begin to establish this custom of prayer. Even if it sits as a simple sign, it will still speak volumes and may be the beginning of deepening the connection between church and family in your home. •

Bishop’s November Reflection: “The Shepherd Cannot Run”

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

On September 23, I attended the Beatification of Father Stanley Rother. I was deeply moved by Fr. Rother and how this Oklahoma farm boy became the first U.S. born martyr to be proclaimed Blessed.

Stanley Francis Rother was born March 27, 1935, in Okarche, OK. He was the oldest of four children and attended Holy Trinity Catholic Church and School in Okarche. Being a normal farm boy, he did his chores, attended school, played sports, was an altar server and lived the small town life. While in high school, he began to discern the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood. He first entered Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, TX, but his journey to ordination was halted when Stanley’s struggles with Latin led to inadequate grades and he was asked to leave the seminary.

But Stanley was allowed a second chance, and enrolled at Mount Saint Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD. He was ordained a priest on May 25, 1963. Following his ordination, Fr. Rother served as an associate pastor for five years in Oklahoma. Heeding the call of Pope John XXIII, he sought and received permission to join the staff at the diocese’s mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.

Fr. Rother’s connection with the people of Santiago Atitlan was immediate. He served the native tribe of the Tz’utujil, who are decedents of the Mayans. In order to serve his people, Fr. Rother had to speak Spanish and the Tz’utujil language. He not only learned both languages, but his working knowledge of Tz’utujil enabled him to celebrate Mass and assist in translating the New Testament into their language. Tz’utujil was not a written language until the Oklahoma mission team arrived. What he accomplished was remarkable.

As the years passed, Fr. Rother tried to live a simpler life to be in communion with his people, who were extremely poor. He ministered to his parishioners in their one-room homes, eating with them, visiting the sick and aiding them with medical problems. He even put his farming skills to use by helping them in the fields, bringing in different crops, and building an irrigation system.

While he served in Guatemala, a civil war raged between the militarist government forces and the guerrillas. The Catholic Church was caught in the middle due to its insistence on catechizing and educating the people.  Catechists began to disappear. People slept in the church for protection and death lists began to circulate in the towns. During this conflict, thousands of Catholics were killed.

Fr. Rother’s name eventually appeared on the death list after a parishioner made the false accusation that he was advocating for the overthrow of the government by preaching the gospel. For his safety and that of his associate, Fr. Rother returned home to Oklahoma, but he didn’t stay long. He was determined to give his life completely to his people, stating that “the shepherd cannot run.” He returned to Santiago Atitlan out of love for his parishioners.

Within a few months of his return, three men entered the rectory around 1 a.m. on July 28, 1981, fought with Fr. Rother and then executed him. His death shocked the Catholic world. No one was ever held responsible.

The people of Santiago Atitlan mourned the loss of their leader and friend.  Because of the affection and veneration the people of Santiago Atitlan displayed for the priest, they requested that Fr. Rother’s heart be kept in Guatemala where it remains enshrined today.

Father Stanley Rother is now Blessed Stanley Rother.  When someone is declared “Blessed,” public veneration in the Church is permitted by the pope, but only in the diocese or country, or religious community to which the Blessed belonged. A person who is named Blessed becomes a saint for the whole Church with one verified miracle attributed to his intercession.

Blessed Rother is the first official martyr of the Church from the United States, and he reminds us we are all called to be saints!  Not by doing the same things Blessed Stanley Rother did, but by living our lives with the same dedication to loving God and our neighbor as ourselves. Fr. Rother revealed his love for his people when he proclaimed “the shepherd cannot run,” knowing he might be killed when he returned to Guatemala.

It was this act of love that makes Fr. Rother blessed in our eyes.  You may think your life is not as dramatic or holy as his, but it depends on how you consider the acts of love in your life. Fr. Rother’s act of love is really not any different than that of the father or mother who faithfully gets up early for work every day to provide for their family when they would rather be doing a thousand other things, or the adult child choosing to give more of their free time to care for their aging parents, or the pastor who gets up at night for a call to the hospital, or a student who gives service hours to those in need.  As we choose to love as Christ has loved us, let us call on the intercession of Blessed Stanley Rother to make us strong, faithful and loving, and to give witness to Christ in the world by our saintly lives.

Bishop’s October Reflection: Speak Out for Our Immigrant Brothers and Sisters

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

Last month a former member of the White House staff, Steve Bannon, a Catholic, gave an interview to Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes in which he gave an assessment of the Catholic Church and their position on immigration issues in the United States.

When questioned about the opposition expressed by some U.S. bishops to President Trump’s decision to rescind immigration protection afforded under the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA), he responded: “The bishops have been terrible about this. By the way, you know why? …they need illegal aliens to fill the churches. …they have an economic interest. … As much as I respect Cardinal Dolan and the bishops on doctrine, this is not doctrine… This is about the sovereignty of a nation. And in that regard, they’re just another guy with an opinion.”

There are so many ways that this statement is disrespectful, inflammatory and simplistic in portraying the position of the Catholic Church. This response is politically motivated around the issue of immigration and the fact that the bishops continue to demand respect for immigrants living in our country and advocate for just and supportive ways to normalize their status. I believe two statements Mr. Bannon made are wrong and should be addressed so we are clear about our Church’s stand on the issues surrounding immigration.

In regards to the Church’s position on immigration, it is not based on economic interest, nor on filling the pews, but on the central command of Jesus to “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Our understanding of this text is revealed in two of the great teachings of Jesus. In Matthew 25, Jesus describes the final judgment of all humanity and reminds us, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Matt 25:35).

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, told by Jesus in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?,”  it is the foreigner who tends to the needs of the man who was robbed – and not just any foreigner. The Jews were filled with hostility and dislike for any Samaritan person. It was an animosity that was political, religious and rooted in a long history of conflict. The fact that there was such dislike and hostility between Jews and Samaritans is what gives the use of the Samaritan in the Parable of the Good Samaritan such force! (Luke 10:29-37) The Samaritan is the one who is able to rise above the bigotry and prejudices of centuries and show mercy and compassion for the injured Jew after the Jew’s own countrymen passed him by!
These great teachings of Jesus remind us that we are always to love our neighbor and that this love must work for the support of those in need and insure their just and respectful treatment. This command of Jesus to love one another certainly includes the immigrant among us. This is not an economic teaching, but rather the true reflection of the loving heart of Jesus to those among us who deserve their status to be normalized, to not have their families divided, to not live in fear of losing everything they have built in the U.S. and who deserve the respect that should be given to every child of God.

The second statement that was expressed should cause us to stand up immediately and cry out, “NO!”  He says the bishops are just “another guy with an opinion.” He is specific when he says he believes this is a political matter, not a doctrinal issue. Therefore, he believes the bishops’ teaching, the teaching of the Church, is just a political opinion like anyone else.  That might be true if I told you to root for the Cowboys and not the Saints, or if I tried to give some stock advice, but in this case the Church is teaching. The teaching of the Church is not just any other opinion, but an exhortation on how to live as disciples of Christ in this world today. We believe that Jesus is not just one opinion to be considered among many, but that He IS The WAY, The TRUTH and The LIFE.  We believe Jesus, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, speaks truth through the Magisterium of the Church, the bishops, and it is not only the “opinion of just another guy.” The bishops often state that there are many ways to find a political solution, but the Church insists that any comprehensive plan should be just, respectful, merciful and acknowledge the gifts and value that immigrants, our brothers and sisters in Christ, have to offer our country, our city and our Church.

We must speak out for our immigrant brothers and sisters who need our support. We cannot allow this to simply be a political, cold, application of law to the unknown among us. These are our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, our fellow Catholics who receive the Body and Blood of Christ with us at the altar at Mass. Our only ordination to the priesthood this year, Fr. Fidel Mondragón, is from Mexico.  This should be personal to us because it affects members of our Catholic family. Our stance is not economic; it is not just an opinion. It is simply doing what we do: showing love and solidarity with our brothers and sisters because they are children of God and because we are disciples of Christ who commands that we “love one another.”

Bishop’s September Reflection: The Resurrection of the Body

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by Bishop Michael Duca

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.

Most of us will recognize these opening words as the last line of the Apostles Creed. I remember from my youth that it was one of the longest prayers I had to memorize, but remembering it became easy as we prayed it when we prayed the rosary.

The Creeds of our Church – the Nicene Creed that we say together at Mass and the Apostles Creed – are proclamations of our most basic and important beliefs as Catholics. They hold us true to the original revelation of Jesus Christ as it has been handed down to us from Christ to the apostles, continuing on to us today.  Unfortunately we often rattle these creeds off at Mass with little thought, but they are a rich source of grace and meaning if we give some time to learn the full importance of each phrase.

Last month we celebrated the Assumption of Mary, the feast commemorating our belief that Mary at the moment of her death was immediately assumed into heaven, body and soul.  While we can understand why this honor was given to her as the Mother of God and the portal of our salvation at the moment of her death, we can draw hope from Mary as we are all promised, if we are faithful, the hope of resurrection and eternal life with God.

Reflecting on this brought me to one of the phrases of the Apostles Creed, “I believe in … the resurrection of the body and life everlasting” and why understanding this simple tenet of our faith is so important, especially in the world today.

As human beings we are body and soul, and the two together are important.  Our bodies are not just a burden to our spirit, they are an essential part of who we are as human beings.   To say we believe in the resurrection of the body is to directly reject the idea that when we die, we somehow become a spirit that is absorbed into God as a drop of water is absorbed into the ocean. This idea is what often leads people to scatter the remains of the deceased, but the Church teaches that if our bodies are to be cremated or not, we should be buried in one place to mark, “Here I lie waiting the unique resurrection of my body.”  I find this a wonder-filled and exciting belief because it means that in some way the totality of who I am, body and soul, will live forever with God.  Since it has been revealed by Jesus that we will be raised body and soul then I, Michael Duca, now Bishop of Shreveport (not sure there are miters in heaven, but probably not) will stand hopefully before God who will call my name for all eternity in love.

It also assumes that “all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel in death.” (Vigil Service for the Deceased)  We will be with the ones we love and it will be revealed how God is both a part of the love we share here on earth and the one Love we have always sought. “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”  (St. Augustine)

I know there is always the question of our body’s corruption in the earth and how it can be resurrected, which of course is still a mystery to us. We do know that the body of Jesus when resurrected was a glorified body that allowed his disciples to recognize him, to eat with Jesus and to see the nail prints in his hands, while Jesus was also able to pass through locked doors. This in some ways prefigures what we can expect at our resurrection.

This teaching also leads us as Catholics to take our bodies seriously. Catholics, and other Christians at times, are accused of being suspicious of the body, seeing the body as not holy and at times even sinful in itself.  In fact the Church teaches that the body is good, it reveals who we are in relation to others and in relation to God who fashioned us.  When we respect our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit and as reflections of the Body of Christ on earth, then we find joy and peace in our whole selves, body and soul.

This short tenet of our faith that we believe in the resurrection of the body is filled with meaning and a powerful statement of faith on how we are to live in the world awaiting our resurrection.  •

Bishop’s August Reflection: We are Called to be Missionary Disciples

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

During the first few days of July, I attended the Convocation of Catholic Leader in Orlando, FL, where the bishops of the United States, along with lay leaders (over 3,000 participants), gathered to reflect on the mission of the Church in the world today.  This gathering was a response to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, and the need for the Church to respond to the challenges it faces in the changing culture and the world.

The process for this convocation began almost eight years ago when the U.S. bishops initiated a process to begin “right brain research” on the reality of the Church today.  We have good statistical information – some encouraging, some troubling – but this information is in percentages and numbers.  The bishops wanted to know how people see the Church from the right side of their brain – that is, what are their concerns, feelings, questions and reasons for their beliefs about the Church?

The research covered traditional areas, such as social justice. Researchers found there was more agreement than expected on social justice issues among the laity, even though there were more public debates among the Church’s leaders and theologians on the topic.

One of the most insightful discoveries was from those interviewed, including believers, fallen away Catholics and agnostics, there was a deep concern and kind of angst that most carry today.  Everyone seems to be hurting, worried, burdened, less hopeful and in need of healing.  There was also a desire to know what it means to be Catholic and the reasons for religious teachings.

In response to these findings, bishops, pastors of parishes and laity have been asking what our response will be and what to bring to the needs and yearnings of the world.

The convocation presentations reminded us of the inspiration of our Holy Father who calls us to a renewed Church where we all understand what it means to be missionary disciples who carry out the mission of Jesus to “go out and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

It has become clear that it is not enough to have a strong parish that meets the needs of its parishioners.  The parish life of sacramental nourishment, support of a Christian community and the guidance of pastoral care is essential to deepen our connection to the Body of Christ, but one more step is needed to mature our faith.  Our faith is matured and complete when we realize that we are called to go out from the comfort of our parishes and be missionary disciples.  We are called to evangelize. Pope Francis calls us to be a Church in a constant state of mission.  In our imagination we may think of evangelizers as those priests and sisters who go to foreign non-Christian lands, or we may think of the preaching of the apostles.  What the Gospel calls us to and what Pope Francis reminds us is that to evangelize is an essential element to being a good Catholic.

The effect of this on the Church is that we are called to go out to those in need, not wait for them to come to us.  We are to proclaim the mercy and love of God to all we meet.  Pope Francis describes this call to evangelize by saying that we are to “go out to the peripheries, the edges, to reach out to those who have been left behind and most in need of God’s mercy and love.”

The peripheries certainly include the poor and homeless, but they also include members of our own family who have been pushed out, or the neglected elderly in our own parishes. The marginalized are everyone who needs the mercy and love of God.

In the convocation we reflected on how these changes might look in all areas of Church life, but it was obvious that the Church will be transformed first by the transformation of our own hearts to being “missionary disciples.” That term “missionary disciple” is intentional to describe not just a believer, but a believer who has been filled with the joy of the Gospel and is inspired by the Holy Spirit to reach out to others and be a witness of Christ’s mercy and love.  When this is the motivation of our hearts, our parishes will be transformed.

Missionary disciples will greet new parishioners with love and not judgments like, “they do not belong here.”  Parish organizations will look for ways to reach out to help others outside the parish. One parish in our diocese sent invitation postcards to the neighborhoods in their zip code to let them know they are welcome.  Support Catholic Charities and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul who are already reaching into the peripheries of our neighborhoods in your name.

Our convocation was just a beginning of a conversation that will, I hope, have a lasting effect on the Catholic Church in the United States and throughout the world.  Let’s start the conversation in our parishes now and let each of us reflect on what it means to be a missionary disciple.

Bishop’s Reflection: Don’t Be Afraid to Be “Religious”

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

I think it is fair to say that in today’s secular culture there is a bias against religion. Maybe the bias against it has always been there, but it is certainly more pronounced. How often have you heard a celebrity, friend or even a fallen away Catholic say, “I am spiritual, but not religious”?  It comes across as a statement that infers the spiritual path is the “higher path” and a person has somehow grown beyond religion.  This has become such a regular statement that to some it sounds profound, but I think it is just another way of stripping GOD more and more out of our culture as a binding truth.

It is true that there have been many sins committed in the name of religion, but the problem lies with individuals, not in our religion, our Catholic Faith.  The meaning of the word religion, (re-legio, Latin root) is to bind again. In the context of faith, the highest purpose and meaning of religion is to bind us back to God. In faith, we reorder our thinking so that our morality, our virtue, our prayer, the very ultimate meaning of our lives is grounded in the belief that God is the author of life, the great architect of creation and that He sent His son Jesus as the very revelation of who He is.

Often times in the business and temptations of life we forget this truth.  We may say that we believe in God, but can at the same time become functional unbelievers, stripping God out of our lives as our center and guide. We begin to act without regard for others in the attainment of success or wealth; to seek pleasures without respect for others, our own dignity or even our sacred vows. We find ourselves becoming more allied with the values of the world – becoming vain, judgmental, self righteous, envious and self-centered.  When we then stop praying and going to Church, we reach a moment when we need to ask ourselves a question: If there is no place for God at the center of my life, then what is the new center of my life? Is it my job, my search for success, my desire for more money, popularity, influence, pleasure, avoiding old age…? Whatever it is, it will not be enough.

How do we break out of this empty life, this functional unbelief?  The answer is simple: go to Church! Begin to seek out God as the center of your life. Get back into the religious practices that put you back in contact with Jesus, to help rebind yourself back to God, to remind yourself of what is good and true.  Your Catholic faith is your way to reorder your thinking and life in light of your faith in Jesus and belief in God. We do this by reconnecting with the sacraments, the teachings of the Church, the reading of scripture and prayer. We need to discover God not from within, but in the Body of Christ, the Church. It is there we will rediscover our authentic center and truth.  Some will suggest that this is an old-fashioned approach and a more spiritual approach is better and purer.

When someone says they are spiritual, and not religious, there is an unspoken assumption that they can discover God within themselves. I don’t think a Christian can make this statement.  Just think of how God revealed Himself.  The Word became flesh in Jesus Christ. The apostles had to listen to Jesus, come to know and love him, to allow Jesus to reveal to them WHO GOD IS! Jesus is not a fabrication of the human heart. He is the Revelation of God who comes from outside ourselves and reveals the deepest truth about the human heart and our identity as Children of God. To re-center ourselves we must allow God to reveal Himself to us once again.  We do not do this as simply a spiritual practice, but as a religious one, re-connecting with the Body of Christ, the Church, who continues to make known the truth and revelation of Jesus in the sacraments, the scriptures and the tradition of understanding coming from the apostles.  Once we find Jesus and discover who God is, we then begin to see spiritually the truth of Jesus revealed in our very being, finding joy, peace and a truth that resonates in our hearts.

I am aware the Church can be at times an imperfect reflection of Jesus in the everyday encounters we may have with parishioners or pastors.  Religious practices can become empty and at times self-serving.  But the heart of the Church is Jesus Christ and here we will find the true teaching and encounter with Christ. Stop worrying about being religious. Draw strength, inspiration and hope from your faith, from your religion as a Roman Catholic.  Come back to church to encounter Christ once again and reorder your life with God at the center.

Bishop’s May Reflection: Prepare for Pastoral Changes with an Open Heart

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by Bishop Michael Duca

Every year brings new challenges to a bishop. This year the challenge is the retirement of three of our priests/pastors:  Father Pike Thomas, Father Phil Michiels and Father James McLelland on June 1, 2017.  I bring this part of Church life to your attention this month because I expect there will be a rather unprecedented number of changes throughout the diocese because of the retirement of these three pastors which will affect several of our larger parishes.  In fact, by the time you receive this issue of The Catholic Connection, you may have heard some of the changes already.

When I assign a priest as your pastor, I choose them first and foremost to love you with a pastor’s love and, as a spiritual father, to nourish your spiritual life (as well as his own) through the sacraments, preaching and in his pastoral leadership of the parish. I want the pastor to build a strong parish family that has, as its mission, to reach out beyond itself in charity and give witness to Christ in the larger community.  Your pastor must also administer the temporal goods of the parish (that’s paying the bills and keeping the air conditioning on in the summer) and reach out to all members of the parish: the young, single, married, divorced, elderly, infirmed, those preparing for marriage, the doubtful, the troubled, even the mean and stubborn. In short, I ask a lot of my pastors and their parochial vicars (these are harder to find today), but I know each of them works hard and faithfully to fulfill the responsibilities I have placed on their shoulders.

Yet a pastor cannot accomplish all the above responsibilities (and more) without his parishioners.  Your place is not only to sit back and grade the pastor; no, more is asked of everyone in the parish.

Have you ever thought that it is your place to love your pastor and to contribute in an active way to make your parish family a witness to the love of God and neighbor?  Every parishioner should actively join with the pastor in building up a vital parish.  Don’t be afraid to give an honest, even differing opinion on some aspect of parish life, but do give it with love and respect.  When I was a parish priest with many pastoral responsibilities, I often needed help and input from the parishioners.  In fact, much of the success attributed to me was accomplished through the willingness of the parishioners to work with me and I with them.  Working together in this transition will be essential to a successful pastoral change.

If your parish has a pastoral change this spring, here are a few helpful tips to make the transition smoother:

Give the new pastor a chance.  Don’t believe negative gossip that you hear about him.  Social media, texting, Facebook and even old fashion gossip has often made the changes for our pastors more difficult as they are judged and either sanctified or condemned before they even arrive at a new assignment.  Most of what you hear on the parish grapevine is vastly exaggerated and social media can make the concerns of a few seem larger and more important than they really are.  Make it clear to other parishioners that criticizing a pastor behind his back is always a mistake.  If there is a legitimate concern about the new pastor, talk to him about it.  Chances are it is some misunderstanding that can be easily fixed. Give a new pastor the time to let his actions and words speak for themselves.

Remember that it takes a while for a new pastor to learn the names of parishioners and to become familiar with parish ministries.  Pastors and parishioners need to be patient with one another, listen to each other and work together for the good of the parish.

Be open to change.  Let your new pastor be himself.  Recognize that he has unique gifts and talents that he will bring to your parish.  Allow him to minister in his own way.  Don’t keep telling the new pastor how the old pastor used to do things.  Be willing to consider that the new pastor has been sent by God’s grace so the parish will be challenged to develop in a new spiritual way.  I do believe that even through all my practical considerations and consultations that the Holy Spirit guides my decisions and is at work in this process.

Of course in all things be charitable.  I pray that the changes this year will bring new life, not only to our parishes, but will also revive and challenge our priests to a deeper commitment to their priesthood and they will be nourished and inspired by the zeal and support of their parishioners.  A parish succeeds when the pastor and parishioners work together.  May Christ remain at the center of these changes in our parishes.

Bishop’s Reflection: Speak Charitably, Confidently & Joyfully

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

“CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED!
I have always been at a loss for how to greet people at Easter. I suppose the default common greeting is “Happy Easter,” but that has always seemed too small for so wondrous a Solemnity of our Faith. It is also a little secular, mundane like “Have a nice day.”  The greeting I believe is big enough is the one above that comes out of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox traditions. This Easter greeting is proclaimed as I approach the other and I say, “CHRIST IS RISEN!” and then the response of the other is, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!” This greeting is not a simple desire that the other will have a good time, but rather a PROCLAMATION that flows out of and draws us into the center of the mystery of our faith in Christ Risen from the dead for our salvation.

CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED!
This proclamation though can be hard to adopt in our lives since religion is considered a private matter in today’s world.  We may even shy away at times from bringing up a religious reason for disagreeing with a point of view in a group conversation, such as abortion and immigration, for example.  What is the religious reason that I am speaking of? It is a reason GOD has passed on to us, through Jesus Christ, for example, that we are to respect the sacredness of the human person, to welcome the stranger and to clothe the naked.  We believe that God has shown us what is good, right and wrong. Morality is not just a human enterprise, but also an application of the 10 commandments and Jesus’ command to “Love one another as I have loved you.” We can be considered naïve and behind the times, but we cannot be silent. God is being stripped out of our culture and our social morality. We must speak out, charitably, confidently and joyfully about the truths that find their source in GOD.

CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED!
Simply saying this Easter proclamation out loud, even to ourselves (out loud is important), will cause us to feel a new energy, a model of the kind of joy and courage we should have to proclaim the Good News. “Happy Easter” is a good greeting, but a somewhat generic one that can come off the tongue almost without thinking, and is certainly not expecting a substantial response.  We cannot proclaim “Christ is risen,” OUT LOUD, without being pulled into the mystery of our faith, without giving a public witness of our faith, without considering what I truly believe and how it is reflected in my life.

CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED!
To proclaim this Easter proclamation reminds us that we are called to share our faith and not be ashamed.  We are to be the SALT OF THE EARTH! The message we bring is the hope we proclaim in Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life, who was raised from the dead to save us from the darkness of sin and to take away the sting of death. In Jesus we have the true hope that gives our lives an eternal meaning, a hope that not even death can destroy. This same Lord comes to us in the celebration of the Mass as Eucharistic food, His true body and blood to strengthen us to become more like Christ each day.  This is the heart of the Church, it is our proclamation, our hope and our witness in the way we live our lives.  This is the witness that we need to bring back into the marketplace, our social lives and into the discussions we find ourselves in every day.  To be salt for the earth is to bring God back into our lives, our choices, our morality and into the policies and laws of our city, state and country.

CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED!
The challenges before the Church today are calling us to consider whether our Catholic faith is just a generic title that has little influence in our lives or whether our Catholic faith is something that we embrace with a love that influences our whole lives and that we give witness to in the way we live.  Give witness to your faith in your life.  Do not just hope for a Happy Easter, but rather pray for a faith that is willing to proclaim Jesus Risen from the dead, OUT LOUD!

“CHRIST IS RISEN!” And to that I gladly respond, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!”