Category Archives: Bishop’s Reflections

Bishop’s Reflection: What Will You Do When Jesus Knocks?

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

“Repent and believe in the Gospel.” This is one of the exhortations that can be used for the imposition of ashes and it beautifully sums up the meaning and spiritual challenge of the season of Lent.  Each year I try to renew in myself an image of the journey I hope to take during the Lenten season.  I think I have come up with one that is simple and clearly illustrates our spiritual goal during this season.

Imagine during this season of Lent that Jesus is coming to our house for a visit.  Of course the house he is to visit is within our deepest self and the question is, “How welcoming will we be?”

For some, when Jesus knocks at the door they will not even hear the sound of his knocking.  If you are truly in this state of mind then God cannot reach you.  But if we are even thinking that we might have become that callous to spiritual things, then know that you are hearing the knocking. That small concern or awareness is God breaking through and inviting you to seek Him out in prayer, to show you how to open the door to His mercy and love.

Some of us hear the knock and the call to change our lives, but instead of answering the door we turn off the lights and close the drapes telling Jesus no one is home.  This is the man or woman who does not want to change.  They like their sinful or self-centered lives.  We are all in this position at times and if this Lent we find ourselves with no Lenten practice, instead just living as we always do, then this is us. But Jesus is not just any guest who will eventually get tired and go away. No, Jesus will continue to knock, prick our consciences and, as we become empty from our superficial, self-centered lives or unsatisfied by a life of sin, eventually we will give in and give over to God, who is always waiting at the door.

The way most of us will answer the door gives us an excellent image for Lent. Most of us will be expecting Jesus and will have the living room and maybe even the kitchen all clean as we welcome Jesus in.  We will appear to be the most open host, but become a little uneasy when we see Jesus looking down the hall to another room with a closed door.  That is the room that is not clean and where we keep a part of our lives separate, a part of our life not yet reformed or likened to Christ.  Here is our favorite sin or a deep wound that fuels our shame, anger and unforgivness.  This is the room of our insecurities that fuel our vanity, the room of our self-centered pleasures, of our arrogant and judgmental nature.  This is the room of our shame, fear and where we keep the part of our life in the dark, away from the healing and forgiving light of Christ’s love.  Here is where Lent should lead us: to open this door to the eyes of Jesus so that what is in the darkness can come into the light.

Our illusion is that we keep this part secret, but remember the New Testament accounts of Jesus after the resurrection that Jesus passed through locked doors.  Jesus in fact is already there, waiting for us to trust Him.  This Lent take the exhortation of Ash Wednesday to heart and “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Choose a Lenten practice that will begin the deepening of your conversion to Christ.  If it is a serious sin, then seek out the confessional, open the doors to that closed room and let the light of Christ’s forgiving love shine in and dispel the darkness of our lives.  Then, start going more regularly to confession and stay faithful to the daily struggle to fight temptation. If you have stayed away from Church, come home again and discover the joy of being an active member of a parish and of once again receiving the body and blood of Christ into your very self.  If pride is locked in our closed off room, then ask God for humility and choose a Lenten practice of service to the poor or to someone in need in your neighborhood or your own family.   Let go of your arrogant judgment of others and find ways to understand others’ sufferings and struggles so that arrogance and judgment can be replaced with compassion and love.

Let us throw open the doors of our heart to Christ this Lent.  In prayer invite Jesus into your deepest self and ask that he shine the light of his love and mercy into those places of darkness that we keep closed and hidden. Do not be afraid!   Reform your lives and hear the Good News. Open up the room of darkness in your life and let in the LIGHT.

Bishop’s Reflection: Be a Good Steward of Your God-Given Gifts

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

This month we kick off our annual Diocesan Stewardship Appeal.  This successful yearly collection to fund the work of our diocese is a witness of the generosity of our diocesan family.

Some say Catholics don’t give as much as members of other churches who tithe, but I know they are wrong. Catholics give generously each year to faithfully support their parishes, the Diocesan Stewardship Appeal, second collections that send help throughout the world, Catholic schools, Catholic Charities, pro-life ministries, St. Vincent de Paul, and so many others.  I suppose though, since the need is great, we should reflect on how our giving should be seen as an extension of our faith and the response of a disciple of Jesus.

You may have noticed that we call our yearly collection the Diocesan STEWARDSHIP Appeal. The spiritual attitudes at the foundation of our giving are summed up in the word “stewardship.” To understand the importance of being a good steward is to fundamentally shift how we understand the relationship we have with the things we own and the blessings and opportunities we have received.  To be a good steward is to understand that our giving to the Diocesan Stewardship Appeal is not like paying a bill or dues, but rather sharing in the mission of the Church.

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. For us as disciples of Christ, a good steward is one who receives God’s gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love with others, and returns them with increase to the Lord.  Stewardship is a lived vision of a sharing, generous, accountable way of life rooted in Christian discipleship, which people can take to heart and apply to all the circumstances of their lives. Our giving should flow out of an understanding that we are good stewards. In clear terms this means that we should have a spirituality of stewardship that is rooted in the core belief in our hearts 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, “I own this, 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 you see your life more as a gift, then gratitude becomes a part of your daily attitude and the idea of stewardship is a regular part of your daily decisions about time, talent and treasure.

Viewing life as a gift makes you more attuned to your life from the viewpoint of your faith and the teaching of Jesus. Our attitude and decisions begin to include the awareness of the needs of others and we become more generous and hospitable. I also see that I am called to use my gifts, that is my talents, time and treasure, to help build up the kingdom of God, lend a hand to those in need and give witness to God from whom all good things come.

To adopt the attitude of a good steward is an invitation from God that helps free us from the temptations of things. When we see what we own only in regards to ourselves we 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 faithful disciple of Jesus, the good Catholic, sees everything as a gift coming from God. The proper response is to accept these gifts as a good steward, thankful and accountable that their use is to the glory of God.  It is my hope that every parishioner will choose to be a part of the mission of our diocese and donate to the Appeal. It is not about a tithe or how much we give, but about giving, being a good steward and supporting the larger mission of the Church. I want the donation you give to the Appeal, in fact any donation of your time, talent and treasure, to be an act of stewardship. I want us all to see how freeing it is to see our life as a gift, to live each day with a thankful heart and to know the joy of a cheerful giver who gives out of the abundant blessings that come from God. 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 for the glory of God.

Bishop’s Reflection: Renewed Hope for the New Year

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by Bishop Michael Duca

In November of last year I was uncertain if I would be able to begin this New Year with an optimistic spirit.  I have to admit that last year was full of so many state and national meetings, activities and travel that I seemed to be rushing through each month without any focus.  This flurry of activity came to a climax with a trip to India after Thanksgiving to visit the homes and religious communities of the Indian priests and sisters who serve in our diocese.  I admit I felt rather burned out as I planned for the trip, but as it is with many choices in life I found the journey to be inspiring and the beginning of a change in my spirit.

After more than 24 hours of travel I finally arrived in India. What a surprise and wonder!  During my trip I saw how dynamic and alive the Catholic Church is in India. The Sisters of the Destitute, the community of Sr. Suny, Sr. Ranjana, Sr. Jaya and Sr. Sajini who work at Christus Highland Medical Center, run inspiring ministries for the most needful and neglected people.  They are a truly joyful and loving community of religious women.

The Diocese of Kanjirappally, the home diocese of Fathers Philip and James who work at St. Francis Medical Center in Monroe, has over 200 social justice projects throughout the region as a part of their diocesan ministry. I was taken up into the mountains to see their farm co-op of hundreds of acres of farmland growing spices, and an Eden of untouched land that nurtures native plants.  They work with farmers and farm workers to encourage better profits and organic farming.

The Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, whose priests work in so many of our parishes, have large dynamic schools full of 5,000 enthusiastic students, varied social ministries, centers for dialogue among different religions and respected colleges.

I was also inspired in a way I did not expect by the founder of the order who was recently canonized, St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara (1805-1871). Fr. Philip from Rayville was my guide, along with Fr. Thomas. As we visited the holy sites that were important to the life of St. Chavara, I began to feel like I was on a pilgrimage. St. Chavara was an inspiration. In the beginning of the order he taught the poor Sanskrit, the language of education for the elite. He taught both boys and girls, irrespective of caste, creed or status. St. Chavara actively challenged the privilege of the rich and the caste system of India that divided the people into social classes. His work inspired him to establish a school at every parish they founded. St. Chavara was a priest, architect, playwright, poet, builder of ministries to the poor and homeless, educator, mediator and a great preacher. His life reminds me of the life of St. John Paul II.  He inspired me to see how much one person can do when they live their faith with zeal and conviction. How much a catalyst for good we can be when WE act from the Gospel and not from social convention?  All the Indian priests and sisters who work in our diocese bring this same vital breath of the Holy Spirit to us.  I am grateful for their presence in the Diocese of Shreveport.

I returned to Shreveport on December 7, in time to officially receive the Reliquary that contained the heart of St. John Berchmans into the diocese.  The sacred connection I felt in the presence of his heart made all the saints more real to me and deepened the effects of my pilgrimage. I feel the support of the saints even more today as we begin this New Year.

On December 10, I ordained Fidel Mondragón to the Transitional Diaconate and I was encouraged again. In the gathering of the faithful for the ordination I was uplifted by the beautiful and enthusiastic presence of our Hispanic brothers and sisters.  For the first time I celebrated the Mass and Ordination service completely in Spanish because Spanish is the first language of Fidel, his family and so many of those who were present. Spanish was important that day because even if we speak a second language, when we pray, our first language is the one we always prefer. It is the prayer of our heart. I hope all those gathered for the ordination of Fidel feel more at home here because of our prayer together that day. We are richer as a diocese because of this beautiful community within our Church and I am happy Fidel will reach out to them in the language of their hearts.

While last year with all its busyness was unsettling to me in my eighth year of being your bishop, it ended with so many graced-filled moments that I am beginning this year full of enthusiasm and hope.  I hope you will find the same hope and renewed enthusiasm in your life this year.

Bishop’s Reflection: Create a Spiritual Center for Christmas

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

Every year as Christmas draws near, I call to mind good memories of family celebrations, Christmas feasts, the gathering of relatives, the lighting of the final candle of our family Advent wreath and midnight Mass.  I am sure that many of us have these same kind of memories of family gatherings and rituals that create a deep spiritual joy that is uniquely connected to the Advent and Christmas season.  Yet as strong as these memories are, it may seem that the connection with the deep spiritual meaning of Christmas seems to fade each year and all the busyness of our Christmas celebration seems to be more disconnected from the wonder and joy we should feel as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

When I was growing up there was never any doubt for me that everything my family did for Christmas was centered on our faith.  Before the Christmas tree was decorated, we put up the manger scene. At every dinner meal for the four weeks before Christmas we lit a family Advent wreath and all our celebrations and dinners were scheduled around going to Mass and any other religious event at the church.

It is so easy to lose the heart of our spiritual joy at Christmas by losing the spiritual center of the season.  Slowly, without realizing, we make our Christmas Day family schedule THEN we decide when or whether we have time for Mass.  We may have long ago stopped planning to make time to attend an Advent penance service to prepare spiritually for Christmas.  As the activities of Christmas become more separated from a spiritual center we become more frantic, demanding and less willing to make time for prayer, quiet and for anything that will complicate the schedule.  For example, we may decide out of our stress, that there is no room for any one else for dinner especially for  “you-know-who” because they will mess things up. At this point we might be accused of sounding like the innkeeper who told the Holy Family there was no room at the inn. Our Christmas celebration becomes so self-centered that we squeeze out a space for our Savior.

We can change.  A few years ago my family decided we were buying too many presents and the frantic rush to give everyone a gift was taking the joy out of Christmas.  So we decided to choose names and only buy one gift for the one person whose name we chose. The next Christmas we were able to approach Christmas day with calm and more time to reflect upon the wonder of God’s love.

If you feel you are losing it, or you are becoming a Christmas grouch, then take time to prayerfully consider where your faith in Christ is in all this activity.  The first step is not to change what you do, it is to discover why you are doing it. When you have re-discovered Christ at the center then not only will everything find its place, but you will be free to make room for the unexpected.

You might even open your door to the unexpected or difficult guest and discover they are not in your way, but they may be THE WAY to act in a loving manner and truly celebrate the meaning of Christmas, something the innkeeper never discovered in Bethlehem.  By grounding ourselves in the deeper spiritual meaning of Christmas you are able to find hope and joy even when it is hard.

For some there are no warm memories of Christmas celebrations with their family.  For others, the easy joy of this year’s celebration has been broken by the death or illness of a loved one.  For someone who has lost their job it is difficult to create the memories that come with Christmas dinners and gifts for the family.  Especially in these moments the truest meaning of the love of God is revealed:  that our Savior came to be with us and give us hope even in these darkest moments. When we are poor and in need we discover our deepest faith and the most profound gifts that Jesus offers.

So in the end think of it this way:  If on Christmas Eve you took away every decoration, light, Christmas tree and evidence of Christmas and cancelled every gathering and dinner, on Christmas morning, when you awoke, would your heart still be filled with the joy of celebrating the birth of our Savior?  When the answer to this is honestly YES, then everything else you do will find its proper place.
I pray your Advent and Christmas will be a time of grace and blessing.

Bishop’s Reflection: Thankfulness: A Joyful Awareness of God’s Love

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

Every first of November my thoughts go to Thanksgiving Day. I think this holiday comes to mind because I have been blessed with a lifetime of happy memories around this epic family meal. I also think of this holiday because the spiritual attitude of a thankful heart is a needed remedy to some of the wounds in our world today.  If given a chance, I think I would make Thanksgiving Day a holy day of obligation.

I grew up in a family where we were taught to say, “Thank you.”  It was so ingrained in me that in particular moments when my mom would put the question to me, “WHAT DO YOU SAY?” I knew that one of the answers to that question was “Thank You.” (The other possible answers were “I’m sorry,” or “Excuse me”). But this lesson was about manners and politeness.  There is a deeper and more profound importance to being thankful which is a needed lesson in today’s world.

Thankfulness means acknowledging that we have received a gift and an undeserved blessing. Being thankful is the fruit of our faith in God. Thankfulness assumes a loving God who provides and blesses us with the good things of our lives. When we live with a foundational attitude of thankfulness, life is not about our things, our accomplishments, what we deserve or are due, but rather about the blessings of God and being stewards of the gifts we have received.

If you listen you will hear a different language being spoken today.  In response to some good thing people will say, “I deserved this,” “I am finally getting what is owed me,” “This is mine… I earned it.”  In today’s world, as more and more people push God out of their lives, nothing is seen as a blessing. Instead a successful life can only be judged by how much stuff we have, by how much money and influence we have and, in spite of our age, how young and relevant we are. Of course the wise person knows that there is no end to this frantic merry-go-round quest because there is always someone with more power and influence, with more money, and we are destined to get old. The person who always wants more will never find peace because they will never be able to answer the question, “How much is enough?” They will never be able to see the blessings they already have because they always need more.

A thankful heart, in the deepest spiritual sense, is found only when we humble ourselves before God and admit that all things come from God as a blessing, especially our very lives. The truth that brings a man or woman of faith joy and peace are not the accomplishments or the amount of things they own, but their love of God, His faithful care and the knowledge of an even better life to come. All other blessings seen in this light are blessings to be enjoyed, but also shared as God has shared them with us. When I become aware of the blessings of my life as gifts from God, then I am more willing to likewise share these gifts with others. Generosity is not based on how much we have to give away, but rather on the awareness of how much we have received from God.

This frantic searching for happiness is unsuccessful because God is not part of the equation. This is why thankfulness is a balm, a cure for a modern world that continues to seek worldly recognition. Thankfulness, beyond simple politeness, is a freeing and joyful awareness of how much God has blessed us.  With this new way of viewing the world, we can see the blessings right in front of us: our homes, family and friends, our very lives, and, most importantly, a loving God who forgives and redeems us.

This is a truth at the center of our faith. We call Mass the “Eucharist,” which is the Greek word for Thanksgiving.  Our central prayer in the Church is first and foremost a prayer of thanksgiving and praise to the love God shares with us and the priceless gift of His own body and blood. Now that I write this, I realize we do not need to have a Holy Day of Obligation for Thanksgiving, because every day is a Eucharist, a thanksgiving to God.  And the more we understand this, the more our hearts are thankful, the more we will feel satisfied and peaceful and the more generous we will be to those in need.  •

Bishop’s October Reflection: Let Us Stand Up for the Life of Every Person

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

When I was rector of Holy Trinity College Seminary in Dallas, I would regularly warn my staff that it was important that we stay sane and clear about the teachings of the Church – because if we are sane, then when someone in the seminary acts crazy, it will look crazy. BUT if the faculty is crazy, then crazy will look normal.

On September 12, 2016, a group who called themselves Catholics for Choice (CFC) put a full page color ad in many of the nation’s largest newspapers supporting the right of every woman to have an abortion funded, if needed, by the government as a part of essential healthcare. The ad placed in the Dallas Morning News pictured a young man with the caption:

“Denying someone abortion care, or any healthcare, simply because they cannot afford the procedure is an assault on their God-given dignity” Catholics for Choice.

Cardinal Tim Dolan, archbishop of New York and the Chairman of the Pro-Life Committee of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, responded:

“As the U.S. Catholic bishops have stated for many years, the use of the name ‘Catholic’ as a platform to promote the taking of innocent human life is offensive not only to Catholics, but to all who expect honesty and forthrightness in public discourse.”  CFC is not affiliated with the Catholic Church in any way. It has no membership, and clearly does not speak for the faithful. It is funded by powerful private foundations to promote abortion as a method of population control.

The organization rejects and distorts Catholic social teaching – and actually attacks its foundation. As Pope Francis said this summer to leaders in Poland, “Life must always be welcomed and protected…from conception to natural death….”

The Catholic Church’s core belief in the sanctity of life is a central teaching on which all social teachings for the care of humanity are founded. It is a belief rooted in the fact that we are created in the very image and likeness of God, and that each life is sacred from the moment it begins in the mother’s womb. In all the discussions concerning abortion, the question has never been answered legally as to when life begins. Or maybe a more secular and legal way to state the question is, “When does the human life in the mother’s womb gain the full protection of the law as any other person alive?” 

The problem with this question is that it always begs another.  If someone says life begins at three months after conception, then why not three months less one day?  Why this day is it life, but not the day before? The answer is always an arbitrary choice unless you accept the TRUTH that human life is sacred from the first moments of life in the womb and abortion is morally wrong.  To keep abortion legal, you cannot answer the question as to when life begins, because to name a date is to limit choice.  In fact, the pro-choice movement MUST always respond to the question of when human life is to be valued with an arbitrary, relative and vague response.  So, as a result, we live in a schizophrenic world where if the mother wants the life in her womb it becomes a child who is loved, and if she does not, it is a fetus and not a human being worthy of value.

This arbitrary and relative way of thinking is a great danger to our society.  Life has always been one of the inalienable rights.  This means that our “right to life” is given to us by God, not created or given to us by the state.  The state, the government, is required to protect that right.  In Roe vs Wade the right to life became an arbitrary right depending on the choice of a society of those already alive over one not yet born – a decision of the powerful over the vulnerable, the haves over the have nots. And if life is arbitrary in one stage of life, then what is to keep our society from deciding a person’s right to life as they age or become sick, or for the powerful to make more decisions over the vulnerable.

Abortion is not healthcare. Healthcare seeks to restore the integrity of the human body to its natural order, whereas abortion is a fundamental disruption of the most natural and beautiful process of creating new life. Protecting abortion rights is not social justice, but in fact abortion strikes at the foundation of social justice in denying a person their very right to life, which is the beginning point of all social justice.

Cardinal Dolan sums up the issue in his statement beautifully.

“CFC’s extreme ads promote abortion as if it were a social good. But abortion kills the most defenseless among us, harms women, and tears at the heart of families. Pushing for public funding would force all taxpaying Americans to be complicit in the violence of abortion and an industry that puts profit above the well-being of women and children.

 Finally, the CFC pits the needs of pregnant women against those of their unborn children. This is a false choice. Catholics and all people of good will are called to love them both. Consider supporting local pregnancy help centers, which do incredible work caring for mothers and children alike in a manner consistent with true social justice and mercy.”

I sometimes feel like crazy is starting to look normal. Let’s not lose our way. In all ways let us stand for the life of every person already born and every child in the womb waiting to be born. Let us be instruments of God’s mercy and keep ourselves clear on the truth so that crazy will look crazy, so that life is valued as God intended.  •

Bishop’s September Reflection: Filling the Gap – Aging Priests & New Vocations

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As I write this article we are in the “dog days” of summer, the middle of August. For me, summer is over as the regular cycle of diocesan life awakens with the beginning of the new school year.  It was a good summer break while it lasted, but now it is time to consider the routine demands and challenges of the coming year.

I am excited to begin this year with a brief but immensely important ceremony for our diocese. On September 10, at the 4:00 p.m. Mass in the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans, I will publically accept Fidel Mondragon and Duane Trombetta as “official candidates” for the Order of Priesthood for our diocese. Fidel Mondragon will hopefully be ordained to the diaconate before Christmas and to the priesthood this coming spring of 2017. Fidel is already well known in our diocesan Hispanic community where he has been assisting at the Spanish Mass at St. Mary of the Pines Parish and with the Busqueda youth retreats.  Duane Trombetta, who grew up in Shreveport, is also well known since he and his whole family are longstanding members of Holy Trinity Parish. Duane will be ordained a deacon this spring and a priest in the spring of 2018. These are both good men who will help fill a real need in our diocese for priests.  Planning for these two ordinations keeps me hopeful, because at the beginning of the summer I had a sobering experience.

This past spring, for the first time as your Bishop, there were simply not enough priests to put a pastor in every parish where there was one the year before.  This meant one parish, after the changes, would have no pastor.  To fill this gap I assigned the pastor of Jesus Good Shepherd, Father Keith Garvin, in addition to his responsibilities at JGS, as Administrator of St. Matthew Parish in Monroe.

In the next few years I expect at least five of our now active pastors to retire from parish ministry, having reached the age of 70 or above. We have a few younger priests who will be ready to move into these parishes, but the end sum is that more parishes may need to share pastors. I admit this poses a big challenge for me and our priests, but I am not discouraged because of the help God sends our way in critical moments.

The biggest help comes from the religious communities that so faithfully pastor our parishes. The Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans), the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (from India) and the Franciscan Missionaries of Hope (from Kenya), as well as two Indian priests from the Diocese of Kanjirapally, have provided an essential priestly presence in our diocese. There have also been several unexpected vocations like Father Keith Garvin, who came to us late in his seminary formation because he wanted to come back to his hometown to be a priest, and our new candidate Fidel Mondragon who came to us only needing one year of seminary and who is now ready to be ordained.  We also have an exciting cohort of eight seminarians who are a strong foundation for the future of our priestly ministry in the diocese (see page 21). There are many reasons to be hopeful in these difficult times.

Yet, while these graces and unexpected blessings are a help, more is needed from each one of us to foster more vocations to the priesthood in our diocese.  There are many things we can do. I suggest we pray in our parishes, and most importantly in our homes, for young men to answer God’s call to be a priest, religious or deacon, and for young women to answer the call to religious life.  Please also consider praying that, if it be God’s will, that the vocation come from your family.  Many may hesitate, or not want their son or daughter to enter religious life. Some would be proud but hesitant because they want grandchildren or for the family name to be passed on. I am not minimizing these feelings, but I hope you can see that possibly one of the reasons we have fewer vocations is that the unintended message children receive is that there are better choices. I know that I am a priest today because when I told my parents that I might want to be a priest, they did not discourage me or directly encourage me, but rather allowed me to imagine that possibility as a good choice, which allowed God to reveal more clearly a plan for my life. Don’t be afraid to let your child imagine the possibility of a vocation. If it is truly God’s call it will be a blessing to them, your family and to all the people in the diocese they will serve.

I will work hard to have the priests we need for the diocese, but if we come up short I hope you will work hard with me to keep your parishes strong and vital.  I ask that you support your priests who are working hard to meet the needs of the diocese, and pray for and encourage more young people to consider the vocation to the priesthood.  •

Bishop’s August Reflection: Looking for Hopeful Answers in Unsettling Times

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

On July 7th I was in Shreveport packing to begin my vacation when I was shocked to learn 11 policemen were shot in Dallas, five of whom were dead.  Dallas is where I grew up, so the tragedy feels close and personal to me. I felt sadness and a deep, unique fear that I have felt only two other times in my life.

The first time was on November 22, 1963, when it was announced at school that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. I felt that day that something had changed inside of me. And although I did not yet have the words at age 11 to make sense of it, I remember having a general feeling of fear and unease.

The second time was when I watched TV as the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11. Again I was overcome with a pervasive fear and unease about everything.  Something had changed in my world in a profound way.  I felt that same fear and unease when I heard of the attack on the police officers in Dallas. This event, as the others before it, now affected me in a profound way. It was not like other disappointments and losses in my life, no, this was a fear and unease at the core of my inner life. They were changes that were foundational to my daily assumptions about the world in which I live.

We go about our daily lives with a set of presumptions that we don’t have to think about, which create the foundation on which we live and plan for the future. Some of these assumptions are: every time I take a step I assume the earth will remain firm and that there will be air to breathe when I take a breath; in my home I am safe and terrorism is in other countries, not here.  Because these assumptions are so foundational, we are surprised when we stumble and we feel violated and vulnerable when our house is broken into or we realize, as we did on 9/11, that terrorism is now a part of our lives. When these moments happen we are disoriented and must find a new foundation on which to move into the future.

Many natural responses emerge at these times. Anger, desire for revenge, fear, overbearing sadness and loss, criticism, blame and depression are all some of our reactions as human beings because the loss and because the experience is so foundational to our understanding of ourselves, our world around us, and maybe even to our faith in God. While these responses are natural to the experience, we must not be fooled into thinking that the healing and reordering we need will be discovered in these emotions.  Terrorism will not be thwarted by revenge. Violent crime, violence against police and citizens will not end with only a show of more force and power. These kinds of emotional reactions are not big enough to truly heal our culture because they offer no hope to healing the real problems. We might accept these inadequate responses because we also believe that the causes of violence are too big to fix and the cost and sacrifice too great to make a change. We all feel this.  How many times have you said or heard said, “I don’t know what’s happening to this country. I don’t know what we can do.”  These are the words of someone losing hope.

It cannot be that way with us who believe in a God of love and that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  We must be willing to be a voice that creates and supports real solutions to the root of violence in our country and be willing, if necessary, to make sacrifices for this good work. We should be a voice that promotes programs to lift up all people so they have a quality of life that allows them to believe they have a voice and a chance in the world today.  We must not give in to despair, but always seek the hope-filled answers that show the love and respect for every person that is the defining quality of a disciple of Jesus Christ. We are to be the “salt of the earth,” bringing new answers and the hope, rooted in our faith in Jesus Christ, to a hurting world. May God give each of us the inspiration and hopeful enthusiasm to support programs that seek to break the cycle of poverty, inequality and violence in our society. May God help us in our daily conversations to encourage others to look for hopeful answers to the big problems of our society rather than speak only despairing words of blame and hatred.

These are unsettling times and we will lose our way in the darkness of despair if we do not hold on to our faith in Jesus Christ and His Church.  In Christ we will find the hope that dispels the darkness of our hearts and gives us new hope for the future and the energy to work for change in our nation and in the world. In Christ we will find the best answers to the challenges in the world today.

Bishop’s Reflection: Silence is Essential to Communication

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

As I write this article in May, I am already thinking about my summer vacation retreat in Red River, New Mexico.  I make a yearly pilgrimage to northern New Mexico, not only for the cool weather in mid-July, but also for the peace and the quiet. I think we all, in this busy and noisy world in which we live, yearn for a quiet place to heal and regain our strength. We imagine it as a place without strife or concern, but in fact going to a quiet place out of a busy world can be more difficult than we imagine.

Why is it hard? Well, think about it. When we find some time in our busy life to be silent, as soon as we sit down a flood of unfinished projects and emotional and spiritual needs we have pushed aside suddenly crowd into our minds and demand urgent attention. Even when we overcome this distraction we are left with ourselves and discover that we may not know what to do with silence, or the feelings that begin to emerge are not relaxing at all, in fact they may be disturbing. Yet even though silence can be hard, Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded us that it is essential to our lives even though we can all admit it is hard to find silence in our noisy world.

Pope Emeritus Benedict once said: “Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves.”

In our busy world we must make a real effort to find time to be quiet so we can discover the wisdom that is only found in silence. It is silence that makes real communication possible.  When we are quiet and listen to another, we have the opportunity to really understand what the other person is trying to communicate.  In silence we have the time to gather our thoughts and consider our choices from the deepest values of our lives and not be swayed by the loud shouting voices that want to force us to act against our deepest values. Silence is where we allow the voice of God to draw us deeper into the mystery of God’s love. Silence is the space of prayer. One of the deepest wisdoms of the Church and the teachings of the saints is that we should meditate on the Word of God. Meditating is making time to be quiet and, in silence, allowing the full meaning of the scripture to emerge.  This deeper understanding is only possible in quiet, and in the silence we find time to put into words the surprising feeling a scripture has evoked in our hearts.

Sometimes we judge a Mass by whether the homily was good, but if we foster a silent listening heart during the Mass, God can touch our hearts through the prayers, the readings, the grace of receiving Holy Communion and in other surprising ways. A silent heart can be fostered even in the middle of the congregation at Mass.

Summer offers time for many of us to get away, but even if we cannot, we can create moments of silence and reflection. Make a visit to the church to visit our Lord in prayer.  Take a few hours and turn off everything, even the phone, and just rest in the silence and see how God speaks to you.  I find a unique moment of silence when I drive into my garage coming back to the office. I turn off the motor (this is an important step!) and simply sit in my car for a time.  It is a very quiet place to think, feel and consider the experiences of the day.  We should not be afraid of the silence and make time to consider how God is calling us to change our lives, reconsider our choices, and discover the wisdom that comes from meditating on the Word of God.

This silent reflection does not leave us with only new personal insight, but it is also where we hear the needs of the poor and suffering and hear God’s call to mission. As Pope Emeritus Benedict said: “In speaking of God’s grandeur, our language will always prove inadequate and must make space for silent contemplation. Out of such contemplation springs forth, with all its inner power, the urgent sense of mission.… Silent contemplation immerses us in the source of that Love who directs us towards our neighbors so that we may feel their suffering and offer them the light of Christ, his message of life and his saving gift of the fullness of love.”

Let us seek out the wisdom that can only be found in silence. The quiet is often not easy to endure but “do not be afraid,” for the wisdom we discover in the silence of our listening heart is the saving words of our savior inviting us deeper into the mystery of His love.

Bishop’s Reflection: Amoris Laetitia: The Joy of Love

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.”  With these words Pope Francis begins his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, released on April 8, 2016.  An apostolic exhortation is a particular kind of papal teaching that communicates the mind of the pope on a certain topic. This new exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (AL), shares the conclusions of the Holy Father from the two synods of bishops and his reflection and teaching on love, marriage and family.

There has been, in some circles of the Church, a fear that in this document Pope Francis would change the teachings of the Church on marriage and family.  A thoughtful reading of the text shows that the Holy Father is presenting a clear reaffirmation of our understanding of marriage and family. This document also shows a keen understanding of the world today. In an insightful statement Pope Francis notes: “The fear of loneliness and the desire for stability and fidelity exist side by side with a growing fear of entrapment in a relationship that could hamper the achievement of one’s personal goals” (AL 34).  Also, spread throughout the text are beautiful descriptions of marriage that affirm the Catholic understanding of marriage. For example:

“After the love that unites us to God, conjugal love is the “greatest form of friendship.” It is a union possessing all the traits of a good friendship: concern for the good of the other, reciprocity, intimacy, warmth, stability and the resemblance born of a shared life. Marriage joins to all this an indissoluble exclusivity expressed in the stable commitment to share and shape together the whole of life.. Those who marry do not expect their excitement to fade…(they) trust that it will pass the test of time. Children not only want their parents to love one another, but also to be faithful and remain together. …it is in the very nature of conjugal love to be definitive… For believers, it is also a covenant before God…”

AND “Nonetheless, the conjugal union is ordered to procreation “by its very nature.”  The child who is born “does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment”. …From the outset, love refuses every impulse to close in on itself; it is open to a fruitfulness that draws it beyond itself” (AL 80).

Yet while the Holy Father states clearly the ideal, he makes a clear point that there are many challenges in the world to marriage and family life. We need to consider the concrete realities facing marriage today.

Pope Francis draws heavily on the final reports of the two synods naming some of the many worldwide challenges to the family. He speaks of the concrete challenges of migration, the ideological denial of differences between the sexes (“ideology of gender”), the anti-birth mentality, the lack of housing and work, pornography and abuse of minors, inattention to persons with disabilities, lack of respect for the elderly, the legal dismantling of the family and violence against women.

By taking a realistic look at families while holding up its ideal, he wants to stress a very important point. The ideals of marriage are not to be held up as a dividing line where we have perfect families on one side and broken families on the other. NO. He stresses that, “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love…  All of us are called to keep striving towards something greater… May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us.” (AL 325)

He urges us not to harshly judge or push struggling families to the periphery. Rather, Pope Francis invites us to treasure all families in all their realities including extended family as well. He encourages us to affirm the goodness and the sacredness of their vocation, accompany them in meeting the challenges they face and include them in parish life so they can draw strength from the life of the Church.

There is so much richness in this new exhortation. Everyone will benefit from a prayerful reading, especially married couples or those preparing for marriage. As always, DO NOT LET THE SECULAR MEDIA BE YOUR GUIDE TO THIS TEACHING.  Listen to your pastors, Catholic publications and visit the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website, USCCB.org, for other resources.

Prayer to the Holy Family
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendor of true love; to you we turn with trust. Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic churches. Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again experience violence, rejection and division;
may all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing. Holy Family of Nazareth,
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Graciously hear our prayer.  Amen.