Category Archives: Bishop’s Reflections

BIshop’s Reflection: Do You Accept?

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

On June 10th, as I pulled into my garage after having just ordained Father Duane Trombetta as a priest for the Diocese of Shreveport in a beautiful ceremony at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans, my phone rang. It was an incoming call from Washington, D.C. I stared at the caller ID for a moment and my heart skipped a beat, because I knew who was most likely calling me: the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre. And I knew he was almost certainly calling me about a change of assignment. I almost did not answer the call.

I had received a similar call sitting in my office at Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas over 10 years ago. It was a different archbishop, but it was the same office and my heart had skipped a beat then, too, as I was told by the then Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, that I had been chosen by our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, as the next Bishop of Shreveport. You might imagine that at this point he would have kindly asked: “What do you think about this?,” or “Do you need some time to think about this?,” or “Does this fit into your life plan?” But the next words out of the Papal Nuncio’s mouth were simply, “DO YOU ACCEPT?”

Bishop Michael Duca serves soup for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's Poor Man's Supper at Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish in Monroe.

With this simple straightforward question Archbishop Sambi brought the matter into clear focus and asked the only important question. It was the right question, because at that point in my priestly life it was no longer about me, it was about my willingness to accept the will of God in my life.

I must admit that God prepared me for this profound question because, as I have spoken of in this column over the years, I had already come to the conclusion that I was not in control of my life any more. My priestly life had not been anything like I expected. It was a good life, but so different than I had imagined it would be. I remember talking with my vice-rector at the seminary years before my call to the Episcopacy. We discussed what would come next in our lives as priests. Surprisingly, we both said in so many words that if we were asked, we would respond, “Bishop, wherever you need me.” We had not given up, but rather learned to give our lives freely to God in our priestly vocations. (By the way, my vice-rector was Father Doug Deshotel at the time, now Bishop of Lafayette.)

At Encounter Jesus 3 diocesan youth event.

When I received the call 10 years ago naming me Bishop of Shreveport, there was only one important question, “DO YOU ACCEPT?” I immediately said, “YES,” not so much at the time to the Diocese of Shreveport, because I knew nothing about it then, but rather to the mysterious will of God. I have lived that “Yes” for the past 10 years as your bishop, but now the “Yes” is not just to the will of God, but to YOU the people of the Diocese of Shreveport whom I have come to love during my 10 years as your bishop.

So on that Saturday, about eight weeks ago, I was again asked by a different archbishop to accept the will of God. The will of God this time was for me to become the Bishop of Baton Rouge. As much as I love the Diocese of Shreveport, there was only one right answer: “YES, I accept.” The same decision that brought me to Shreveport 10 years ago now takes me away.

Bishop Michael G. Duca receives a blessing from newly ordained Fr. Duane Trombetta, the morning of the day he received the call from Washington D.C., asking him to become the new Bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

It was easy to accept this new call because it was the right answer, but it was hard to say yes because I so desperately did not want to say goodbye to my people here in the Diocese of Shreveport. I trust that we will, in the days to come, receive the blessings God intends even though they have not yet been revealed.

I am sure the next Bishop of the Diocese of Shreveport will find this diocese a blessing when he is called to say “YES” to the Apostolic Nuncio. I will always treasure my time here and count you all as my friends. I will pray for you always and I ask for your prayers for me. •

Bishop’s Reflection: Make Your Daily Routine Positive

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

We finally made it to ORDINARY TIME. We all track our lives in many ways, but for me as a bishop, I track my life by the liturgical seasons. From February 14th of this year, we have been “church-wise,” in special seasons beginning with Lent, the Easter season, the Feast of the Ascension, ending with Pentecost and then followed the past two Sundays with the Feast of Corpus Christi and last week, June 4th, the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. This Sunday, as I write this article, June 10, 2018, we are finally back to Ordinary Time.

Ordinary Time is noted with green vestments and will mark our liturgical prayer life until the first Sunday of Advent in November. I suppose it is surprising to be looking forward to the “ordinary,” especially in a culture that is always trying to entice with the new and exciting, putting down the old-fashioned, ordinary and boring stuff of our lives.

As I get older, I work hard to preserve a certain routine because my everyday life as a bishop is so different. I need some parts of the day that are predictable and regular so I can make time for prayer, Mass and some spiritual reading and study. An intentional, ordinary daily routine or schedule, when built around spiritual and eternal values, is life-giving and helps us to reflect on our lives and what is most important to us and to our families.

Growing up in Dallas, some of our ordinary family routines were: family meals together every night, going to Sunday Mass as a family without exception, chores around the house and always pasta for lunch on Sundays. My family life growing up was built around these solid routines that supported our family life. They were intentional routines that keep us connected with God and supported us in meeting the demands of love to help build a life-giving stability in our lives. Family routines also teach children the important parts of family life and help them to develop good habits for their future family.  Routine is important to creating a fruitful prayer life because we make the intentional decision to set aside a time to be quiet and create a space for a faithful conversation with God each day. This idea that during the day I can say, “This is my prayer time,” is a way to incorporate in a real way a good routine that can be transformative to the whole day.

But, routines if they are not intentional, can be a burden or even a bad influence in our lives.

We should reflect on the unconscious routines of our lives. These are all the things we do everyday without thinking, but are like the white noise of activity around us. The radio we turn on in the morning, the TV always running in the background, regularly checking our phone and surfing the internet, may all be unconscious actions that are part of our very regular but unconscious routine. While it may not be obvious, our routines in life can be choosing positive things, or we can choose activities that distract us from things we want to avoid, but would be good for us. We might, without thinking, routinely turn on a television when there is a quiet space because we are uncomfortable with quiet or with prayer.

Ordinary Time and routines are good for us, but we must from time to time examine our routines to be sure they are forming a holy and virtuous framework for our lives. Spend a day becoming aware of your own daily routine and see if you can find some activities to subtract from your schedule so you can add a new, good activity that will help you make your routine more life-giving.

Here are a few new routines you may wish to consider adding to your life to nurture your Catholic faith:

1) Learn and begin each day with the Morning Offering. Set a spiritual goal for the day.

2) Make time to pray the rosary each day.

3) Make time to go to daily Mass or make a visit to your church or adoration chapel.

4) Find a spiritual book or pick up your Bible and read a little every day.

5) Commit and schedule at least 15 minutes each day for a time of prayer.

6) Learn and pray the Angelus at 12:00 noon and 6:00 p.m. each day.

7) Make a brief examination of conscience each evening, acknowledging faults and being thankful for the graces received. Then, make a small spiritual goal for the next day to be reaffirmed with your morning offering.

Bishop’s Reflection: Live in a Way That Embraces Eternal Life

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” 2Tim. 4:6-8

Do you remember the movie, The Bucket List? The movie is about two terminally ill men who meet in a hospital room and decide to try and empty their “bucket lists” – their lists of all the things they want to do before they die, before they “kick the bucket.” Luckily, one of the men is a millionaire and they set out to do as much as they can before they die.

And while we might all have these kinds of lists and hopes, I am certain that a bucket list is not a big enough goal for us as Christians who believe in and stand in the light of the Resurrection of Christ. Just a few days ago, on the first day of this month (no foolin’), we celebrated Easter Sunday and proclaimed with faith-filled voices, “The Lord is Risen.” With this proclamation, we confessed our faith: that our lives do not end with the death of our physical bodies, but rather are reborn to an eternal life. So if this is our faith, then the motivating principle of our lives should not be “to do as much as we can before we die,” but rather we should say, “I want to do as much as I can to be ready for Eternal Life, to be ready to enter the heavenly kingdom where every tear is wiped away and I will never die again.”

This is actually a more positive and freeing way to look at life. First, we avoid the constant feeling of frustration because of the things we never got to do. We also avoid the constant sadness resulting from death approaching and robbing us of opportunity and freedom. We stop looking at death as this inevitable thief and see it though the eyes of faith as the path to our own Resurrection.

When we are focused on getting ready for our Resurrection, we do not stop living but we may live differently and live, in fact, more intentionally and integrally. Here are two attitudes that may be changed by seeing the ending of this life as the beginning of eternal life.

Sacrificial love takes on a new, positive meaning in our lives. To love sacrificially means that we need to give our limited time, energy, and maybe even treasure, to help someone we love or live up to the demands of our commitments of love. This can be hard to do if we see our time as “running out,” or that we are losing time before we die to do what we want. But if we see our life with an eternal plan, we are able to see that love is the way we get ready for eternal life, that there will be a reward for this act of love maybe in this life (and there often is), but certainly we will be rewarded in the joy of eternal life.

Living more simply, we know, allows us time and energy to be freer to concentrate on relationships of love with family, spouse, children and friends. It allows us to deepen our relationship with God and to make time for those who need our help. If we are preparing for the next life, we will tend to live more simply, choosing to lighten our load as we age instead of accumulating as though we will live forever. We will put our time and effort into the heavenly treasure we can take with us, and this lasting treasure is always gifted to us through love.

I do not want to sound like we should be happy to die, but rather I am suggesting a deeper spiritual orientation. If we are living to only empty our bucket list, then it seems like we are always running from death, even to the point of desperately trying to hold on to our youth, our stuff and our money in order to stave off death and live like we will never die. We should not live our lives as though we are running from the pursuing Death, but rather let us always be running toward Eternal Life. If we run this “good race,” as Saint Paul calls our life of faith, then we know we will pass through death, but that is not our goal and it will not slow us down. This allows us to live not in fear, but rather in HOPE. Death is not the end, but the portal, the gate to our salvation. That is the positive goal that should motivate our lives and be animated by our faith in Jesus Christ, who showed us the way when He arose from the dead. The more we believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, the more we are free to live in the freedom and joy that comes from hope in Life Eternal.

Bishop’s Reflection: Live Your Life with Trust and Hope in God’s Call

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

We are in the middle of Lent and usually I would write this article to inspire and encourage all of us on our spiritual journey toward Easter. But the Church is a busy family, and while Lent is guiding us on to Easter there are other thoughts and concerns on my mind as well. In particular, my upcoming 40th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood in April and my 10th anniversary as Bishop of the Diocese of Shreveport in May. These important milestones caused me to take time to consider all that the Lord has done in my life as a priest and remind me how much bigger is God’s will for me than any future I can imagine. Vocations are also on my mind because this is the time of the year that many young men are deciding to enter the seminary to discern their vocation, to discover God’s will in their lives.

My call to the priesthood came as a small voice within me one day in church when I thought, as I watched the priest at Mass, that “I might want to do that… to be a priest.” My parents encouraged me to explore the priesthood as a future vocation. This support was important because it allowed me to imagine myself as a priest and to become comfortable with the idea of being a priest. After high school I entered Holy Trinity Seminary and was ordained a priest on April 29, 1978 at the wise old age of 25.

When I was ordained, even though I knew I was answering God’s call, I thought I was also still in control. Yes, I was doing God’s will, but I thought I saw clearly what God’s will was for my life. I imagined quite confidently that I would be an assistant pastor for a few years, then I would pastor a number of parishes in the Diocese of Dallas before retiring in a parish and die. As simple and uneventful as this outline of a life sounds, I was happy with this plan. How naïve. What God sees in us is so much better and greater than we can imagine. I did live my first seven years of priesthood as expected. I was an associate pastor in three different parishes. But after my third assignment, instead of being named the pastor of a parish, my next assignment was as Vocations Director and Campus Minister at Southern Methodist University (SMU). At the end of this nine-year assignment I expected to be named a pastor, but instead I was sent to Rome to study Canon Law and then returned to Dallas as Rector of Holy Trinity Seminary. It was as though no matter what I imagined my life to be, God was leading me in another direction that was very different. When I was finally able to accept (i.e., I gave up) that God may have a different direction and a deeper understanding of my life, I stopped fighting and second guessing God’s will for my life. Instead I embraced His will and with that surrender came a new freedom and wisdom that allows me every day to accept with joy this wonderful call to be your bishop, even though I often feel unworthy.

I believe many of us have had this experience of fighting God’s will in our lives, and if we are wise we eventually let go and accept the challenges of the life that are ours. These challenges are the result of a life that was created both by our choices and those aspects of our life that we did not choose, but were given to us. When we live our lives with trust and hope in God’s call, we are living a vocation, we are answering the call of God in our lives to holiness and to live as his disciples. As we embrace our vocation we must often let go of and grieve our small, imagined future (one we are usually very attached to). We will be challenged to die to self a little more so we can love more deeply and we must learn not only to trust God’s will, but to find peace in being faithful to His call.

Teach your children to not just seek a career but to pray about what God’s call is in their life. Encourage your children when they inquire about a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. When your son tells you he thinks he might want to be a priest or your daughter is considering a religious life, support them and encourage their imagination so that if God is calling them, they will be able to hear the call. Teach them to live their lives in relation to God’s call to holiness and discipleship.

That quiet voice I heard as a child has led me on a journey of faith that I could not have imagined, and I thank God. The life I envisioned for myself was small and unimaginative and God’s plan, well, let’s just say God has a wonderful imagination and I am only beginning to see what He has in store for me.

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

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop’s Reflection: Uniting Home and Church During Advent

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop’s September Reflection: The Resurrection of the Body

by Bishop Michael Duca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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