Category Archives: Features

2017 Annual Diocesan Stewardship Appeal: Our Vision, Our Mission

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by John Mark Willcox

The coming months will see our community of faith again striving to enable the work of Christ within our diocese by supporting our Annual Stewardship Appeal.  A new year brings the promise of hope and there is no better time than the season of Lent to choose how we might provide for the needs of others amongst us.

As with each Appeal, significant funds are dedicated to providing for our retired and infirmed clergy, men who have given lives of service to this local Church and who are worthy of our combined care. Our aging Presbyterate means this area of need will always be a part of our Annual Appeal.  Replacing these men with newly ordained priests remains a high priority and your Appeal donations support the cost of educating our 10 seminarians. Our diocese is blessed to have a strong contingent of men in seminary training and this remains our largest Appeal allocation at $300,000 in 2017.

The charitable endeavors of Catholic Charities, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Pro-Life Ministry, Campus and Prison ministries still seek the Church’s assistance for people in need.

This past year of intense flooding across our diocese brought out the best in area Catholics, as donations and direct assistance made a difference in the lives of thousands.

Our ever growing and diverse Hispanic Catholics benefit from your Appeal, and our entire diocese will celebrate the ordination of Deacon Fidel Mondragon to the priesthood on June 10, 2017!  His ministry to our diocese will be a true benefit to both English and Spanish speaking Catholics throughout North Louisiana.


Your Appeal has funded recent successes in the ministry of youth and young adults which has put this group of young Catholics on solid footing. This includes the establishment of youth leadership, helping the young people in our community take ownership of their faith. This is crucial for the future of our faith community.

In the ministry of education, your Appeal dollar supports our Office of Catholic Schools and catechesis for our youth and adults in local parishes. Consistent, high quality worship also compliments our lives as Catholic Christians due to Appeal support.

Our wonderful Slattery Library, located on the second floor of the Catholic Center, continues to grow in its resources and materials with Appeal support. Additionally, our Safe Environment Program benefits from this Appeal. And, don’t forget, the very magazine you are reading, The Catholic Connection, has received most of its funding from our Annual Appeal since its inception. It is mailed free of charge to every known Catholic in our diocese and is one of Bishop Duca’s primary ways of communicating with the people of North Louisiana.

“This is an important year for our diocese,” comments Bishop Michael G. Duca.  “Nearly every avenue of our ministry and outreach as a Catholic community is impacted by our Annual Appeal and it is vitally important that we work together to keep the success of our Appeal a priority.  Our people have been so generous over the years and for that I am truly thankful.  My prayer is that more Catholics in our diocese choose to support our Appeal this year as the need is greater than ever.”

Appeal Sunday this year falls on February 26. Please take some time until then to consider your 10-month pledge to support our array of Appeal ministries. A pledge card can be found on page 30 of this issue, and you may use this to facilitate your annual gift to our Appeal. You can also give online by visiting, www.dioshpt.org.

Together we can form a vision for our diocese, a mission of walking together in the footsteps of Christ to help those in need, evangelize our community and enrich our children and teenagers in the faith. Together we can enact our vision of having more priests to serve the faithful, allowing them to train and carry out their missions from God. Please consider sharing in our vision, our mission, and take time to pray for the success of our Annual Diocesan Stewardship Appeal.

Catholic Youth Day Coming March 11!

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by Nicky Prevou

Middle school and high school youth and their adult leaders are eagerly looking forward to Saturday, March 11. Catholic Youth Day (CYD) 2017 will be held at St. Paschal Parish, located at 711 North 7th Street in West Monroe.

The schedule will include opportunities for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Reconciliation, dynamic praise and worship experiences, interactive workshops, fellowship and a Mass celebrated by Bishop Michael Duca. Hundreds of Catholic youth from  across the diocese are planning to attend the event.

Selah Storm and Nikki Tinnerello, who serve as volunteer youth ministry leaders at St. Paschal Parish, said that they are “thrilled” that their parish will be hosting this year’s fun-filled event.

“We at St. Paschal’s often get together with several of the small area parishes for retreats and other events, so we’re especially excited to have other parishes from other parts of the diocese join us for Catholic Youth Day. We are so happy that we are able to invite everyone to share in the strong foundation of faith that we offer to our Catholic youth,” said Selah.

“It’s always valuable for our young people to gather and share their Catholic faith, to enjoy the camaraderie, the prayerfulness and the excitement of the day,” added Nikki.

Both the youth leaders and their own teenage sons are especially looking forward to hearing this year’s keynote presenter, the internationally recognized Catholic liturgical musician and speaker Jesse Manibusan, whom they have previously seen in concert.

“Jesse will most definitely bring so much to our diocese,” Selah reflected. “He is very high-energy and engaging, but he is also so soulful, tender, and multi-faceted in his ability to share his faith with people of all ages.”

Kevin Prevou, Diocesan Director of  Youth and Young Adult Ministry, said all youth, grades six through 12, and their adult leaders are encouraged to register for the all-day event.

“Our team has been prayerfully preparing for March 11, and we have several hoped-for outcomes, based on the theme for the day, ‘iBelieve’,” said Kevin. “We want our young people to grow in their own sense of Catholic identity and belonging to their Catholic parish and diocesan family. We want them to connect their call to discipleship with the challenge to truly live out their faith, and we are offering an opportunity to grow in their sense of excitement and energy around their relationship with Christ.”

Christian recording artist Dave Fitzgerald will lead participants in praise and worship, and ministry leaders will offer break-out sessions on topics such as “Using Social Networks to Evangelize Others: Do’s and Dont’s”; “Catholic Teachings Every Teen Needs to Know by Heart”; and “Diving Into the Catholic Catechism: Be Not Afraid!”

Other sessions will offer opportunities to make rosaries and to create “Blessing Bags.” Dianne Rachal, diocesan Director of Worship, will lead a session on youth leadership in parishes as lectors, greeters, ushers and altar servers.

Kevin noted that members of the Diocesan Youth Council have helped to prepare the plans for the day, which will include “Interactive Faith Games,” the “My Catholic Faith Contest” and “Stump the Bishop!”

Jean Rains, who serves as the Director of Religious Education for St. John the Baptist Parish in Many, said that participation in CYD is “very important” to the youth of her parish.

“We live in an area that is predominantly non-Catholic,” Jean explained. “Our children find themselves in the position of trying to defend their faith, and that can be uncomfortable. I like for them to see that they are not alone, that they can enjoy learning with other youth of their own faith and develop friendships with kids from other parishes.”

Early registration for CYD 2017 is $30 a person through February 24. Regular registration is $35 per person February 25-March 7, and all registrations after March 7, including at-the-door, are $40. Registration includes entry into all CYD events, breakfast, snacks, lunch and a commemorative t-shirt. For more information or to register, go to www.dioshpt.org/ministries/youth-young-adult-ministry/ and click on the Catholic Youth Day icon, or contact Kevin Prevou at 318-219-7258, or kprevou@dioshpt.org, or Gabby Willis at 318-219-7257, or gwillis@dioshpt.org.

God is Calling – Diocese in Search of New Deacon Class

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by Deacon Mike Whitehead

It has been a little over 11 years since the first Permanent Diaconate formation for the Diocese of Shreveport ordained 18 men in 2005, and three years since 16 more men joined them in 2014. Currently, there are 33 active deacons serving God and the people of this diocese in this ministry.

“Feedback on their service has been very positive and Bishop Duca is asking for more,” said Deacon Clary Nash, Deacon Formation Director.
A third formation for the Permanent Diaconate is scheduled to begin in September and the Diocese of Shreveport is again seeking men who are being called to a life of service. The application and selection process is now under way. If you feel God is calling you to this ministry, now is a great time to formally begin the discernment process, open a dialogue and have your questions and concerns answered.

Deacons can reach out to the Church community in many different ways. They are called to live the Gospel in every way, every day. The function of a deacon is to serve the Church by using their gifts and talents already given them by God for the purpose of service to God in serving God’s people.

Formation is designed to enhance those gifts and prepare these men for a lifetime of service, thereby adding a quality of life for them, our Church and surrounding communities. One of the roles of a deacon is to increase the involvement of the laity by support and guidance.

St. Pope John Paul II said, “The deacon’s tasks include that of promoting and sustaining the apostolic activities of the laity. To the extent he is more present and more involved than the priest in secular environments and structures, in common service to the kingdom of God.”

The deacons of Shreveport have answered the call to service. They help make Christ more relevant, human and understood in the world. They give witness to Christian values in the marketplace as ordained ministers. Deacons are called to leadership, to find ways to promote justice and charity and support Christian values in the world, in the name of the Catholic Church.

“As a deacon for over 30 years for the Diocese of Shreveport, God has blessed me abundantly in every day of my service,” Deacon Nash said. “It has been my honor to be the director of their formations.”

Since the institution of diaconate formation in the Diocese of Shreveport, the people of God have experienced a surge of energy, evangelization, inspiration and outreach to those in need.

“One of my cherished memories is of Deacon Sonny Daigle, who with terminal cancer, had a special ministry and love to those incarcerated,” Deacon Nash said. “His frequent visits included scripture study, personal examples, encouragement and his sincere concern and love for God and all God’s people. As a result, several men had life-changing experiences, converted and were confirmed into the Catholic Church. Their new-found faith upholds, sustains and now inspires others during this period of their life. With Deacon Sonny gone now, who will take his place?  God is calling.”

To learn more about the role of a deacon in your parish, please contact Deacon Clary Nash at 318-868-4441, or by email at cnash@dioshpt.org. The deadline for inquiries into the diaconate program is Monday, April 3, 2017.   •

Community Volunteers Give Back to Catholic Charities

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by Lucy Medvec

As with any non-profit agency, the work and support from volunteers are important to the success of the organization. This is no different with Catholic Charities of North Louisiana. Since its inception in 2010, CCNLA has been blessed with a core of volunteers that assist with many of the organization’s programs on a daily basis.

GABRIEL’S CLOSET
Gabriel’s Closet opened in June 2012 as a volunteer-run “boutique” where low-income new parents could get new and gently-used items needed to care for their infants. Working with these families, our volunteers quickly began identifying other issues that needed to be addressed such as parenting skills and nutrition.  They began including a child’s book with each distribution and encouraging the parents to read out loud to their children. Today, CCNLA offers parenting classes taught by volunteer OB-GYN nurses twice each week. Class topics include well-baby care, infant CPR and first aid, nutrition, dental care and parenting skills. In addition to working one-on-one with parents, Gabriel’s Closet also has volunteers from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church that come once a week to sort the many items that are donated from the community.  Our Gabriel’s Closet volunteers worked extra hard this past fall when their storage space underwent a major renovation and items had to be packed up, stored and then moved back into the former sanctuary.

COMMUNITY GARDEN
The community garden is part of CCNLA’s Healthy Eating on a Budget Initiative in order to provide food and gardening experience to our clients. The garden has been tended to periodically by community volunteers, including those from United Way’s annual “Day of Caring.”  Employees from Edge Office Products weeded the garden last March in order to prepare it for spring planting, but a very rainy season eventually turned the garden into an overgrown jungle.  One day last fall, Earl O’Kee contacted CCNLA looking for an opportunity to give back to his community.  After many weeks of hard work, Mr. O’Kee reclaimed the community garden and planted vegetables to be harvested in the coming months.  His hard work and love of the outdoors revitalized the garden plots and he looks forward to planting even more vegetables and herbs this spring.

MEDICAL SCHOOL PARTNERSHIP
In September 2016, CCNLA entered into a partnership with the LSU Health Shreveport School of Medicine and their FACTTS (Fourth-year Academic Clinical Training and Teaching Selective) program. Every month during the school year, medical students select a community organization in which they will serve eight volunteer hours.  CCNLA is one of the selected organizations and has provided volunteer opportunities in each of its programs to fourth-year students before they move on to residency programs.  This Service Learning Activity program gives students the opportunity to learn more about social agencies in our community and how they are helping the underserved.

Catholic Charities is always looking for volunteers. Hours and opportunities are flexible and there are many ways to get involved.  Other areas include teaching one of our many classes (financial education, nutrition, parenting or English as a Second Language) or providing basic office assistance.  For more information about becoming a volunteer, please contact Lucy Medvec at lmedvec@ccnla.org or (318) 865-0200 ext. 101.

Bishop Friend’s Book Collection in Slattery Library

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by Jessica Rinaudo

The Catholic Center’s Slattery Library has recently had a huge boost to its book collection. Upon his passing, Bishop William B. Friend bequeathed his vast collection of literature to the diocesan library.

Sue Vernia, who served as Bishop Friend’s first secretary, is now the librarian of Slattery Library. She had the task of sorting through and organizing his vast collection of over 1,800 books, which included identifying and labeling their Dewey Decimal numbers with bright green tags so that they are easily identifiable on the shelves of the library.

“I look out into the library, and I can see those green tags. His books are on every row,” said Sue.

Patrons to the library can browse through Bishop Friend’s collection and quickly see that his reading was broad and varied. “It’s amazing his wide scope of interests. There’s a shelf out there that’s almost full of books on leadership and things on the future society. It’s not just religious tracks. He was into a lot of things,” said Sue. “He was curious.”

“We have some that are just reference books and stay in the library, but most of them can be checked out for two weeks,” said Sue.
Lucky library patrons may even stumble upon one of Bishop Friend’s books that he read heavily. Those volumes are laced with his own notations, underlines and scrawled notes. Most of those heavily read and examined books are from a time before he became bishop, when he had more time to read and study.

It’s these hand written notations that remind Sue of her work with Bishop Friend in 1986. The cyclical nature of working as Bishop Friend’s first secretary, and then on his book collection after his death is not lost on her. With joy and nostalgia she said, “Working on his books, seeing his curiosity and interests, has brought him more into my life.”

A special display is up in the Slattery Library highlighting some of the books in Bishop Friend’s collection.

Stop by, talk to Sue and browse through the bright green tabs and see what Bishop Friend wanted to share with the Catholics of the Diocese of Shreveport.

The checkout process is easy. Any patron to the library can browse, select the books they like, fill out a form and borrow them for two weeks.
The Slattery Library is located in the Catholic Center, located at 3500 Fairfield Avenue. It will re-open, after being closed for construction for several months, on February 1. It will be open from Monday – Wednesday, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Vocations View: Want to Change a Life? Support Catholic Education

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by Lisa Cooper

Catholic vocations in all forms, from religious and priestly to living and working faithfully as a layperson all have to start somewhere. Oftentimes that place is in Catholic schools. In 2015, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) put together a Catholic Schools Fact Sheet highlighting the numerous benefits of a Catholic education. The results were astounding.  Their findings indicate that a Catholic education impacts the lives of students far beyond graduation, possibly even for a lifetime. Among the many advantages of graduating from a Catholic school, here are a few of the most notable:

• Catholic school students are more likely to pray daily, attend church more often, retain a Catholic identity as an adult and donate more to the Church.

• Catholic schools tend to operate as communities rather than bureaucracies, which links to higher levels of teacher commitment, student engagement and student achievement.

• Students in Catholic schools demonstrate higher academic achievement than their public school peers from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

• Currently, 5 of the 8 Supreme Court Justices went to Catholic school

• Catholic school graduates enjoy higher earning potential than public school graduates.

Evan Cooper

While it’s exciting to see statistical evidence that favors Catholic education, what’s more telling is a glimpse inside the life of a student who has had experience in both non-Catholic and Catholic school environments. Evan Cooper, a non-Catholic and sophomore at Loyola, transferred from another Shreveport private school. He says being at Loyola has certainly made a difference in his life. When asked about specific differences between his experience at Loyola compared to that of his previous school, Cooper says, “The faith aspect has been a big difference. Learning about Catholicism has taught me things I have never heard before. It has given me a real sense of truth.”  When asked about how being part of a Catholic school has affected his faith, he says, “[Learning about the Catholic faith] has made me look more deeply into it.  There are lots of things that are in the Catholic Bible that aren’t in my Bible, and it makes me wonder what else is out there that I’ve never been taught.”

Changing schools has certainly come with its share of challenges. Cooper echoes this statement as he points out, “I was not used to the effort I had to make academically.  It has taken a while to get used to the time I have to put into completing homework and learning material.”  He also notes that the faculty at Loyola has played an important part in making the transition easier. “The faculty seems like they are doing more than trying to get you through high school. They really care about you, so they’re trying to make you better for life and stronger in your faith.”
He continues with advice he would give any other student making that transfer, “Loyola may not push you as hard physically, but they will definitely push you harder both in academics and in your character.”

How often do we drive by our Catholic schools without stopping to think about what’s happening inside?  We have something very special in our backyards. We have parents, faculty, students and partners working together to make something spectacular happen. We have our Catholic schools, which not only provide our children with a fantastic education, but also which sow in our children the seeds of outstanding character and strong faith that will bear fruit they need to carry them for a lifetime.

Interested in learning more about our diocesan Catholic Schools? Visit www.dioshpt.org/catholic-schools for resources.

Navigating the Faith: St. Blaise & the Blessing of Throats

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by Dianne Rachal, Director of Worship

The feast day of St. Blaise is celebrated on February 3 with the unique ritual of blessing the throats of those with throat disorders and anyone who wishes to avoid getting such a malady.

The blessing of throats is usually done by priests, though deacons may also serve, and it is considered a sacramental of the Church.
Unfortunately, very few facts are known about St. Blaise, and much of what is known about the life of St. Blaise comes from various traditions through the ages.  All sources agree that St. Blaise was the Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia who suffered martyrdom under Licinius about A.D. 316.  Even though the Emperor Constantine had granted freedom of worship in the Roman Empire with the Edict of Toleration in A.D. 311 five years earlier, persecution of Christians still raged in Armenia.

The legendary Acts of St. Blaise were written 400 years after his death.  According to the Acts, St. Blaise was a good bishop, working hard to encourage the spiritual and physical health of his people.

Legends
From here on, we rely on the traditions which have been associated with our liturgical celebrations over the centuries.  In accord with various traditions, St. Blaise was born to rich and noble parents, and received a Christian education.  He was a physician before being consecrated a bishop at a young age.

Due to the persecution of Licinius, St. Blaise received a divine command to move from the town and live as a hermit in a cave.  There he lived in solitude and prayer, and he made friends with the wild animals, healing any that were sick or wounded.  One day a group of hunters seeking wild animals for the game in the amphitheater stumbled upon St. Blaise’s cave.  They were surprised to find the bishop kneeling in prayer surrounded by wolves, lions and bears.

Legend has it that hunters hauled St. Blaise off to Agricolaus, the governor of Cappadocia, who imprisoned him. On his way there, St. Blaise encountered a woman whose pig was being seized by a wolf.  He commanded the wolf to release the pig, and the pig was freed unhurt. The woman brought St. Blaise candles in prison so that his cell would have light and he could read the sacred Scriptures.

While St. Blaise was in prison, a mother came with her young son who was choking to death on a fish bone lodged in his throat. St. Blaise miraculously cured the small boy by commanding him to cough up the bone.

Agricolaus tried to persuade St. Blaise to sacrifice to pagan idols. The first time Blaise refused, he was beaten. Eventually Agricolaus condemned St. Blaise for upholding his Christian faith rather than apostatizing (denying the faith). St. Blaise was suspended from a tree and his flesh torn with an iron comb (an instrument designed for combing wool, but used here for shredding the skin).  Finally, St. Blaise was beheaded.

Intercession of St. Blaise
By the sixth century, St. Blaise’s intercession was invoked for diseases of the throat in the East. As early as the eighth century records attest to the veneration of St. Blaise in Europe, and he became one of the most popular saints in the spiritual life of the Middle Ages. One reason for St. Blaise’s popularity arose from the fact he was a physician who cured, even performing miraculous cures.  Thereby, those who were sick, especially with throat ailments, invoked his intercession.  Eventually the custom of the blessing of throats arose, whereby the priest held two crossed candles over the heads of the faithful or touched their throats with the candles while he invoked the prayer of the saint and imparted God’s blessing.

The Blessing of the Throat
The feast of St. Blaise is celebrated on February 3.  The blessing of the throat is carried out using two white taper candles that were blessed on the previous day, February 2, Candlemas Day, the Feast of the Presentation.  The white color of the candles symbolizes purity.  Often a red ribbon will be draped over the base of the candles, the red symbolizing the martyrdom of St. Blaise.  The candles are grasped in an X-shape and held up to the throat of the person receiving the blessing:

“Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

St. Blaise is the patron of physicians, sick cattle, wax-chandlers, wool combers, wild animals and those with throat maladies.

From an article by Fr. William Saunders in the Arlington Catholic Herald, 1/3/2013.

Domestic Church: Prayer Turns Burdens to Blessings

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by Katie Sciba

Andrew has been waking me early every morning. A little nudge and a “Were you going to pray?” I croak “Mm hmm.” He goes to a corner of our room and spends time with the Lord before the kids get up.

We’ve been talking about this – how we should “parallel pray” before we start the day.And because there’s zero pretense here, I’ll tell you my response has been underwhelming. I mumble half a Hail Mary before I convince myself that what Jesus really wants for me is sleep, right? I’m tired, in-demand and pregnant.

Twenty minutes of dozing later, there’s a stampede of small feet headed for our bedroom door. Jesushelpme. Amen. I’m up!

“Mooooooom! Where are my undies?”

“Mama I need bweakfast. Do we have cookies?”

“Can we watch a show?!”

Spills. Tears. Tantrums. And the kids are worse.

After a blur of daytime hours, we get the kids down and I’m ready to cry from the emotional exhaustion.

“You know,” Andrew prodded me, “Jesus told me to sit up when I pray in the morning because I kept going back to sleep.”

So I really fought for it, the peaceful start I’ve been dreaming of. The alarm went off. Andrew prompted, “Do you want to pray?” but unlike mornings prior, I bolted up and reached for my prayer books. I rested in Jesus, who I knew at once had been waiting for me. I went over the forthcoming hours in my head, asking God to help me be generous to my children, encouraging to Andrew and charitable in all circumstances.

I have been finding all of the above challenging. Downright impossible in some cases. But the effects of this one morning of prayer were transformative. Throughout the day I was sweeter with the kids. I surprised Andrew with a cinnamon roll and coffee, leaving them next to a jotted note of encouragement. I was productive and cheerful around the house.

I felt unburdened by life. Unburdened. Most of the time I feel dry, taxed, weighed upon. But I see clearly that juggling the stress, to-dos, babies and marriage without solid time with the Lord greys the brightness of each blessing. It turns them into burdens and makes us feel like they suck our life away instead of us joyfully giving ourselves to them.

Jesus had been waiting to relieve me of this – I just had to draw near. And if, as sons and daughters made in the Image and Likeness, we’re supposed to imitate the Lord in His responses to life and people, then being intentional and vulnerable in conversation with Him will sharpen that imitation. In prayer, I give my burdens and ask for the grace to see blessings.

So here’s to the start of something new – the start of being made new. I have every intention of keeping up with Andrew’s prompting, which is absolutely the Holy Spirit working through my husband; and I can’t wait for how a build-up of days of Jesus in the morning will change our world.

Katie Sciba is married to Andrew and together they have four children (with another one on the way). She is the author of thecatholicwife.net.

Mike’s Meditations: Who Do You See?

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by Mike Van Vranken

If the man in this picture came to our country claiming to be a displaced refugee fleeing persecution, would you vote to allow him to stay?  I read that the Louvre Museum in Paris has offered to protect art treasures rescued from conflict-ridden countries such as Syria and Iraq. This is a great cultural service, but it causes me to ask:  “What is more important to us than human beings?”  How do we protect art and worldly artifacts, but not protect the treasure of the gift of life?

We say we don’t want to accept more refugees because it might allow terrorists to show up in our cities and towns. We do have a responsibility to protect our families, right? We fear that people that look like the man in the picture above might be suspect – they may harm us.  What are we to do?

“If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?  Children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and truth” 1 John 3:17-18.  It’s pretty straight forward, isn’t it?  No love for others means God’s love is not in us.  And all the flowery talk of love means nothing if we don’t love others.  Jesus himself gave us the story of the Good Samaritan; the hated Samaritan helped his enemy, the Jew. And of course, Jesus’ bottom line statement on such matters was: “whatever you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” Matthew 25:45.  Not much ambiguity there.

Of course it may be hard to see Jesus in the man in the picture above. In my role as a Spiritual Director, I often ask people how they imagine Jesus. Very few of them portray him as the Middle Eastern man that he was. We all seem to see him as resembling ourselves. It’s easier for us to love someone who looks like we do. But, how can we protect art and worldly treasures and not people?  How do we ignore human beings in trouble?

Maybe it’s not a lack of love and compassion. We all want to help others, don’t we?  Perhaps it’s fear that restrains us from demanding that our country, and all other countries as well, welcome these 60 million refugees and offer them food, lodging and an atmosphere of Christian love. After all, this is a pro-life issue, isn’t it?  But, we’re afraid we may give help to a terrorist. Or, we fear that too many refugees will destroy our ability to help the people who are already here. We even fear that this influx of humanity will hurt our economy.  “But God did not give us a spirit of fear, but rather of power and love and self control” 2 Timothy 1:7.  No, the fear does not come from God. But he does have a remedy. “Perfect love casts out fear” 1 John 4:18.

When we act in love, fear goes away. Then, we are free to believe, in faith, that God will protect us; that God will provide for us. Can we step out in faith and lovingly see Jesus in every human being to such an extent that we provide help to the needy and do it with no fear whatsoever? I believe God has promised us that we can.

I also believe when we act out of love, our eyes are opened so wide that we see Jesus in the ones we are loving. We become free to live the Gospel we preach. We destroy the shackles that hold us back.  The Holy Spirit who lives within us can then go to work. We release his power, his anointing and his love on the world. Only then can our focus move from taking no action out of fear, to seeing and encountering the risen Jesus in ourselves and in everyone else.

The man in the picture above was my great, great uncle. He was a monk and a priest in Lebanon for almost 50 years. His name was Father Bechara Abou-Mourad, and he has been given the title “Servant of God,” which means that the cause for him to be canonized as a saint by the Church has been opened.

So, again, I ask: If the man in the picture came to our country claiming to be a displaced refugee fleeing persecution, would you vote to allow him to stay?

Mike is a writer, teacher, and co-author of the book, Faith Positive in a Negative World. You can contact him at  www.mikevanvrankenministries.org

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.