Category Archives: Bishop’s Reflections

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!”

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.  •