Category Archives: Features

Bishop Duca Reflects on Our Diocesan Stewardship Appeal

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by John Mark Willcox, Director of Stewardship

 Incredibly this May, Bishop Michael G. Duca  will mark his first decade as the second Ordinary of the Diocese of Shreveport. During his 10 years as our spiritual leader, Bishop Duca has also led our Annual Diocesan Stewardship Appeal to great success and stability. Commenting on our Appeal, Bishop Duca reflected, “I know that most of our people experience the Church through involvement at the parish community level, but I have always seen our diocese as one family, spread out over 11,000 square miles within 16 civil parishes, 40 places of worship that are intersected with three great rivers. Ten years ago I did not know what it would be like to be a bishop, but I now know that being sent to the Diocese of Shreveport has been the greatest blessing of my life and the heart of that blessing has been the support of our faithful who are strong in faith, supportive of me and our priests and the generous spirit of giving that continues to provide so much to our faith community.”

Looking at the many programs and ministries provided through Appeal support, Bishop Duca begins with Appeal sponsorship of our seminarians (1). “We have a solid group of six seminarians currently studying for the priesthood and our Appeal continues to help them achieve their goal of ordination. This is expensive work to educate and form men into good priests, but most of us would admit that a good, holy priest, well-formed who will serve our diocese for 20, 30 or even 40 or 50 years is a priceless gift. Appeal dollars prepared Fr. Jerry Daigle for ordination and he now serves as Chaplain at St. Frederick High School in Monroe and is our new Vocations Director.”

Appeal dollars also remain a mainstay of support for our retired and infirm priests (2) who are so deserving of our care. “This is another expensive area of ministry and outreach,” offered Bishop Duca. “I feel confident that our people feel as I do, that this is a necessary responsibility of the Catholics of our region. We will see the need in this area continue to grow. I can tell you as your bishop that our retired priests remain more than thankful for the many years of Appeal support that they have received.”

  

One critical need of any bishop is to have a strong, effective avenue of communication to the Catholics of his diocese. The Catholic Connection (3) fills that role within our combined faith community. Bishop Duca has always taken a prime interest in his monthly diocesan news magazine, “I’m proud of the insightful and timely information that The Catholic Connection provides to our diocese, which has always been fully funded by our Annual Appeal. This allows me the luxury as your bishop, to provide it free of charge to every known Catholic household on a monthly basis.”

Hispanic Catholics remain one of the most vibrant, active and growing communities within our diocese. For more than two decades, our Appeal has helped fund an Office of Hispanic Ministry (4) to serve this unique and special segment or our worship family. Bishop Duca is thrilled that this also resulted in a new member of our Presbyterate. “I am so pleased that our Hispanic Ministry Office, under the direction of Rosalba Quiroz, was able to make contact with a seminarian in Mexico who needed a diocese. She took our Vocations Director to meet him and Appeal dollars finished his formation here in the United States. That priest is Fr. Fidel Mondragón who now serves at St. Joseph Parish in Shreveport and the Latino community of St. Mary of the Pines.”

Appeal dollars support two agencies committed to assist the poor as both the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Catholic Charities of North Louisiana (5) provide care through home visitation, assistance with the basic necessities of life and even programs designed to improve financial planning. Bishop Duca remains pleased in the growth of both entities, “Catholic Charities is also establishing connections with other agencies serving the needs of the poor to share resources and to build relationships that will serve us well in times of a large disaster. I am also encouraged that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is sponsoring a continued outreach funded by FEMA to assist victims of the disastrous flooding that plagued Monroe and Shreveport in the past several years. Combined efforts like these allow the Church to have an even greater charitable outreach throughout our diocese.”

Appeal support is provided to Pro-Life Ministries (6) and family life outreach, as we seek to answer the Holy Father’s call to strengthen the Catholic family. This is also accomplished through Appeal support of a Catechesis Office (7) to guide and support Parish School of Religion programs to accomplish what Bishop Duca describes as “instilling the beauty of our Catholic faith with our young people.” This is the same ministry goal for our Catholic Schools (8) as they seek to offer quality formation and education to our young people. Your Appeal provides funding for our Catholic Schools Office and tuition assistance for needy families. Bishop Duca sees a bright future for our four elementary schools and two Catholic high schools in the diocese, “One of my goals as your bishop is to see more of our Catholic families choosing to use our excellent school system, and strong support of our Appeal makes that possible.”

Directly addressing our diocesan family, Bishop Duca offered these thoughts: “The ministries and programs that I ask our people to support represent part of the work of our larger family as a diocese and are important to fulfilling all the responsibilities that are part of the ministry of the Church from Lake Providence in the East, to Monroe in our center to Shreveport and the South all the way to Zwolle and Many. These ministries may not be visible to you, but many of them directly support parish life.”

Looking at the past success of our Annual Diocesan Stewardship Appeal, our bishop sees even more room for improvement. “I ask our readers to share the wonderful benefits of our Appeal with others within your own worship community,” noted Bishop Duca. “I do this because only about 28 percent of our known Catholic families contribute to this worthy cause. As we work in union with one another in stewardship, I am praying to see our number of Appeal donors increase so that we as Church, can increase what we are able to do for others. I am asking that everyone give something to our Appeal this year. We almost reach our goal of 1.5 million dollars every year with donations from only about 3,000 of our faithful Catholics. If everyone would offer support to our Church family, we would easily make and even surpass our overall pledge goal.”

Spatial considerations don’t allow for Bishop Duca to cover every Appeal program and ministry, but he concluded by adding, “I can assure you as your bishop that our Annual Diocesan Stewardship Campaign is the lifeblood of what we as Church are able to offer to our faithful and the community at large. These ministries and programs are available through no other source, so I thank you for your financial support of our Appeal.”

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

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith Partners for Progress: Catholics Charities of North Louisiana and Society of St. Vincent de Paul

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by Bonnie Martinez

 The Western District Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been awarded a $5,000 systemic change grant by the National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Inc. The grant entitled Faith Partners for Progress, is a collaborative venture with Catholic Charities of North Louisiana.St. Vincent de Paul has been referring individuals to Catholic Charities of North Louisiana’s (CCNLA) Financial Education Program, Money School, for many years because of the numerous benefits afforded to those in financial crisis. The Money School offers low-income individuals an opportunity to learn how to better manage their income. The three-hour class teaches participants how to create an individual budget, open and maintain a bank account, begin a savings account, decrease unnecessary spending and how to avoid predatory lenders.

Participants are then scheduled to attend a one-on-one session with one of the Money School case managers to receive individualized coaching based on the financial documentation provided by the individual requesting financial assistance. The individual is guided to self-determination of their financial status and is then assisted in preparing a personalized Goal Document that identifies the necessary action for the individual to improve their financial status and quality of life. However, the missing component has been follow-up and mentoring for the individual having completed this process.

Catholic Charities recognizes that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul conducts personal home visits with those they serve. So, the leadership of both local organizations, including guidance provided by St. Vincent de Paul’s National Director of Poverty Programs, began the discussion and planning for this joint venture.

A pilot program began in late 2016 that included one Western District St. Vincent de Paul Conference – Mary, Queen of Peace – and Catholic Charities’ Money School. The pilot program’s main objective was to define a long-term strategy that includes an 18-month follow-up mentoring by Vincentians for identified friends in need. Two paths of collaboration between St. Vincent de Paul and Catholic Charities were identified and approved for serving friends/families in need: (1) First-time friend/family in need requesting financial assistance in excess of the amount either non-profit can spend on one person/family and (2) Repeat financial assistance requests from a friend/family in need.

CCNLA and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul jointly participated in mentor training in November 2017. The steps of the collaborative venture were outlined and the process for sharing documentation between the two organizations was defined. Vincentians conducting home visits will identify individuals as candidates for the Faith Partners for Progress process and refer them to Catholic Charities’ Money School. Upon successful completion of the Money School process, Vincentians will follow-up with the friend/family in need in a mentoring role to provide on-going support and guidance.

The grant proceeds of $5,000 will be used to affect the lives of approximately 25 people. Faith Partners for Progress is a project designed to “move people permanently out of poverty by empowering them to make life changes and improve their lives.”

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul and CCNLA continually strive to be good stewards of your generous donations and sincerely appreciate your support of our ministries to serve the poor, both financially and resourcefully.  •

Pro-Life Events Evolving in 2018: An Interview with Bishop Michael G. Duca

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by Jessica Rinaudo

As the Diocese of Shreveport continues to support and champion pro-life efforts in 2018, Bishop Duca is planning to keep awareness of the issue at the forefront but now plans to host two events: one in support of our local pro-life ministry and one to witness to the broader issues that challenge the dignity of the human person in the world today. Our first event this spring will be a reception in support of Mary’s House – the Diocese of Shreveport’s pregnancy center, which will be held on March 20th at the Bossier Civic Center.  Another parish-centered pro-life event will be held in October to highlight all the life ministries in the diocese.

I sat down with Bishop Duca to talk about the changes in pro-life events.

Q: The Annual Bishop’s Pro-Life Banquet has been a huge success in the community. Why are things changing this year?

At last year’s Pro-Life Banquet, I mentioned that I would likely begin to change the focus of our yearly gathering event in order to not only witness to our efforts to protect human life, our stance against abortion and our desire to make it illegal, but also I wanted to affirm the many other life ministries in the diocese that support the dignity of the human person. To accomplish this I decided we needed two events: the first will be the Mary’s House reception this March.

Q: What will this spring reception that will support Mary’s House be like?

It’s going to be held at the Bossier Civic Center. It will be a reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres – a ticketed event. We have a powerhouse speaker, Abby Johnson, who is the former clinic director of Planned Parenthood and who now famously speaks out against abortion. She will be there to inspire and update us on the issues surrounding life – particularly issues of the status of abortion and the status of the Church’s ministry to the unborn.

Q: What would you say to others who attended the pro-life banquet in the past but are unsure about this new Reception?

I support this event and I will be present because our spring pro-life dinner has always been a source of support for our pro-life ministries, and in particular, for the past few years, for Mary’s House. This event is something that I support and I hope you will too. Mary’s House is presently our premier ministry to the unborn and to pregnant mothers considering abortion in the diocese. Mary’s House has always been a beneficiary of our banquet, but now we’re going to highlight the importance of their ministry in a more focused way. Mary’s House needs our support for their ongoing ministry to pregnant women and the unborn. They are expanding their ministries as well. In addition to their work with counseling pregnant women and encouraging them to have their babies, they now have a program called Embrace Grace which provides pregnant mothers with community support from our churches, with baby showers and ongoing support after the baby is born. And as they expand, of course, they need more support to keep that ministry going.

Q: So if there is a reception with food in the spring, what can we expect in the fall?

We’ll have another event that will be a celebration of the dignity of human person. It will likely be held in a parish setting with prayer, a speaker and possibly include a youth component, as well. This event in the fall will allow us to explore and witness all our diocesan ministries that work to protect the dignity of the human person from the womb to death. This will be a free event. We will highlight our family life ministries as well. These two events are still components of the original, but they are being separated so that we can focus on two aspects of the need in our diocese for pro-life ministry and assist in realizing our desire to be a witness to all aspects of the pro-life ministry of the Church.

Discerning a Vocation in College

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by Raney Johnson, Diocese of Shreveport Seminarian

Some young men discover their calling to the priesthood in high school and decide to enter the seminary right after graduating from high school. However, others choose to spend a few years in college first, or finish all four years of college before entering the seminary. Along with those who wait to enter the seminary after going to college, some young men learn about their calling to the priesthood while in college.

In my own discernment of the priesthood, I found myself deciding to go to college first instead of joining the seminary right out of high school. I want to offer tips for those discerning a vocation to the priesthood while attending college from my own experience.

The first tip is to stay faithful to attending Mass on Sundays. In the busy schedule of college life, Mass can easily fall by the wayside. There is always the temptation to put the social or academic life of college before the spiritual life, however, the spiritual life, especially the Mass, should always be the bedrock of a young Catholic’s college experience. With mom and dad no longer watching all the time, attending Mass during college becomes an intentional decision. It might help to find a friend or a group of friends to attend Mass with each week. Going to Mass every Sunday is central to the discernment of any vocation, especially the priesthood.

My second tip is to get involved with the different ministries of the Mass. Seminarians have to both lector during the Mass and serve at the altar at some point in their seminary formation. A great way to prepare and become comfortable with this part of seminary formation is to become a lector and/or an altar server during college. I did both during my time at Louisiana Tech, and my love of reading God’s word and serving at the altar helped me to discern that God was calling me to the priesthood. Some other ways to become involved are:  becoming a choir member, usher or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. These ministries will help a young man discerning the priesthood become comfortable with serving at the Mass.

My third tip is to become actively involved with the Catholic student organization on campus. Most universities have a Catholic student organization and also a campus minister. Any young man discerning a vocation during college should become familiar with both the Catholic student organization and the campus minister. The student organization will provide a great community of fellow Catholic students and offer a great environment to cultivate a vocation to the priesthood during college. Similarly, the campus minister, who might be a priest, a religious or a lay person, can be an excellent help in the discernment of the priesthood. At Louisiana Tech, the student organization is the Association of Catholic Tech Students (ACTS) and the campus minister is Brother Mike Ward. Both helped me in my discernment process in different ways.

This leads me to my fourth tip, find a spiritual director. This could be the priest who serves the university, another priest in the diocese, or another qualified individual. Brother Mike Ward was my spiritual director when I attended Louisiana Tech, and his guidance allowed me to see clearly that God was calling me to go to seminary after college.

As a side note, even if the priest assigned to the university is not the campus minister or the chosen spiritual director, it is still beneficial to develop a relationship with this priest. The priest at Louisiana Tech, Fr. Frank Folino, offered me a great role model of the priestly life and helped me in my discernment to the priesthood as well.

My fifth tip is to grow in the spiritual life during college. For example, it might help to pray the rosary more than once a week, attend at least one daily Mass every week, receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently, and visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament during adoration.

My final tip is to find a vocation director to talk to. He will be able to help determine your next step. That next step might be transfering from college to seminary, or it might be finishing college and then joining seminary. Whatever the choice, always let God be at the center of your discernment process and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

If you would like more information about the priesthood, contact Fr. Jerry Daigle, jdaigle@dioshpt.org, or call 318.868.4441

Mike’s Meditations: Courageously Ask for God’s Opinion

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by Mike Van Vranken

Someone recently asked me what he could do differently for Lent. I suggested he think of a moral issue about which he’s always had a definite opinion, and to courageously and open-mindedly ask for God’s opinion on the same issue. I gave him the following example. (Remember, this is only an example; you’ll have to prayerfully come up with your own issue).

Suppose you have always supported capital punishment for the worst offenders. For Lent, let’s take that issue to God and see what He thinks. First, pray for the grace of an openness of heart to be able to accept whatever God reveals to you with no preferred outcome of your own.

Next, begin to review some of the positions of the Church over the last 50 years and look for any suggestions that the death penalty is no longer a legitimate form of punishment. An example might be that Pope Paul VI removed the death penalty from the laws of  Vatican City in the 1960’s. You might also read in Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, The Gospel of Life, that justice must be in line with human dignity and with God’s plan for man and society. He further states that because of improvements in the organization of the penal system any specific cases requiring the “absolute necessity” for the need for capital punishment are “very rare, if not practically non-existent (56).” So, we have one pope saying that the need is practically non-existent, and another pope removing the death penalty from existing law.

You might check the Catechism of the Catholic Church and read that “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of person, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete condition of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person (2267).” Again, a common priority in all of these teachings is the dignity of the human person.

Then there is the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (27) that continually stresses the reverence for the human person. It states that whatever is opposed to life itself, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, whatever insults human dignity – these are all infamies. “They poison society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator.” This Vatican II document was influenced by the hand of Pope John Paul II, and was approved by 2,307 votes of the world-wide bishops at Vatican II.

Now you might be reminded that when Thomas Aquinas was teaching on the death penalty, he dismissed the idea that it robbed a person of their possibility of repentance. But, Pope Francis reminds us that the tradition of the Church cannot be kept in mothballs like an old blanket. In speaking of capital punishment, Francis also says it is like a torture inflicted on someone – not only death itself, but the long period, sometimes years, of waiting for their own execution can be an excruciating agony.

There are other resources you can find, but it’s now time to take this to God on a daily basis during Lent; sit with Him and allow Him to penetrate your heart. Pay attention to how you feel about the issue. Talk to Him with frank openness and love. Tell Him what you’ve learned and ask for His opinion. Then just sit quietly. Notice if He is bringing any teaching in particular to your consciousness. If so, sit with it and struggle with it if necessary. Ask Him what He wants you to learn from this prayer session.

Now remember, this issue of the death penalty was just an example. Find your own concern that you would like to lay before God and beg Him to update your opinions and beliefs. Each day during your Lenten journey, keep going back to God with this and try to spend 15 to 20 minutes a day on it. If you don’t have that kind of time, it’s fine. Just do what you can. Continually allow your conversations with Him, your reading and study of sacred scripture, and your research of Church teaching to help you form your own conscience. When you get to Easter, you may find that your former thoughts have been crucified and are now resurrected in a new and better understanding of God’s thoughts on the subject.

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

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discerning a Vocation in High School

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by Raney Johnson, Diocese of Shreveport Seminarian

High school can be a fun but stressful time. Life can easily become consumed with classes, extracurricular activities, jobs and finding moments to spend time with friends. Added to the stress of all this is the anxiety that comes with thinking about what to do after high school. It can be difficult to see where exactly discerning a vocation fits into the active life of a high school student.

I started discerning my vocation at the end of my freshmen year of high school. Some start the discernment process at the end of their time in high school as seniors. Whether a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior, it is never too late or too early to discern a vocation in high school.

Since my own vocational discernment has been to the priesthood, I’m going to focus on discerning a vocation to the priesthood in high school. However, some of the tips I will give are applicable to the discernment of any vocation while in high school.

My first tip is to find someone to talk to about discerning the priesthood on a regular basis. Thinking back to my freshman and sophomore years, speaking with someone regularly about my desire to be a priest would have been very helpful. I kept my desire to be a priest very private until around the beginning of my junior year. I waited to discuss wanting to become a priest due to a mixture of fear and feeling unworthy of the priesthood. I know other young men discerning the priesthood might experience the same emotions, but these feelings should not be a deterrent to seeking out someone to talk to. The person could be a religious education teacher, a youth director or a priest. Each diocese even has a Church Vocations Director who is specifically charged with helping to discern a vocation. In the Diocese of Shreveport, Fr. Jerry Daigle is the Church Vocations Director.

My next tip is to include mom and dad. This could be a simple heads up that discerning the priesthood is on the radar, or a sit down conversation. Bringing up discerning the priesthood with parents should happen whenever it feels comfortable to do so. Parents only want what is best for their children, so any reservations about a discernment to the priesthood are probably coming from a particular concern. So, if mom or dad react negatively to the idea of discerning the priesthood, do not feel discouraged, and if mom and dad get overly excited about the idea of discerning the priesthood, do not feel pressured. Simply ask them to be patient and understanding, and maybe even try to set up a meeting between them and the Church Vocations Director to discuss any questions or concerns.

My third tip is to visit a seminary to see what it is like to be a seminarian discerning the priesthood. St. Joseph College Seminary in Covington, LA has a Come and See retreat every year so that young men discerning a priestly vocation can visit and learn about life in the seminary. If possible, try to go to one of these retreats or another retreat that is specifically for young men in high school discerning the priesthood.

My fourth tip is probably the most important. Always keep God at the center of your vocation, and it definitely helps to also keep the Mother of God, Mary, close while discerning. Visiting Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament during adoration every so often, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a month, and praying the rosary were all spiritual practices that helped me to discern in an active way while in high school. I would encourage these spiritual practices to anyone discerning a vocation to the priesthood. Becoming an altar server and helping at the Lord’s altar is also a great way to discern the priesthood in high school. My experiences as an altar server in high school kept my desire to be a priest strong.

My final tip is to stay calm. Discernment of any vocation should always be peaceful, especially discernment of the priesthood. Never feel pressured to become a priest and always discern in freedom. Jesus stayed close to me throughout my discernment of the priesthood in high school, and any young man discerning a vocation in high school should know that Jesus will do the same for him.

If you would like more information about the priesthood, contact Father Jerry Daigle, jdaigle@dioshpt.org, or call 318.868.4441.

50th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae

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by John Parker

On July 25th 1968, Pope Paul VI issued a brief but controversial document that shook the secular and ecclesial world. The document was Humanae Vitae, Of Human Life, and within its short 31 paragraphs, the pope affirmed the truths of the Catholic Church, that same Church established on the rock of Peter by Jesus Christ, who Paul declares is the same “yesterday and today and forever.” It is through this authority, handed down by apostolic succession, that our popes have the courage to speak the truth with boldness. Paul VI did this with Humanae Vitae, and was castigated and rejected by the world and practicing Catholics alike. But what was it that we were rejecting? And what have been the consequences of our rebellion?

The world was in the throes of change when Humanae Vitae was issued to the masses. The reforms of the Second Vatican Council were in its infancy and struggling to find purpose with both clergy and laity. The sexual revolution was in full swing, and “free love” reigned. Intoxicated by the spirit of newfound liberty, we cast off the morals that anchored our culture and Christian tradition and allowed ourselves to become adrift in moral autonomy. We shared again in the sin of Adam and Eve, choosing for ourselves the definitions of good and evil. Sexual license, the devaluation of human life through eugenics, abortion and euthanasia, and the widespread acceptance of contraception – these became the new norms, the new good.
In the midst of all the mania, Pope Paul VI saw the future. Speaking of contraception, he wrote in Humanae Vitae, “this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards…[furthermore] a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”

We have seen the profound effects that these new norms have had on our world: millions of children sacrificed at the altar of convenience, the destruction of the dignity of women by pornography and rampant sex trafficking, homes shattered by divorce, children growing up without a coherent family unit, creating hurt and confusion that strikes right to our very identity, that we are beloved children of our Heavenly Father.

There has to be another way than the one the world has chosen for us, the world that tried to reduce Pope Paul VI’s encyclical to the last gasp of a dying patriarchy. But it wasn’t a dying patriarchy that proclaimed Humanae Vitae, it was the Church established by Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who loves us and shows us the way.

Fifty years later, I would like to believe that we can now look soberly at our situation. Fifty years later, I believe the words of Pope Paul VI, words spoken with the authority of the Good Shepherd, can ring true and fruitfully in our hearts.
It is with great joy that I introduce you to the 50th Anniversary of the proclamation of Humanae Vitae, Of Human Life. In commemoration of this most important document, St. Joseph Parish, Shreveport and the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans will host a series of speakers who will flesh out the meaning of Humanae Vitae and help breathe new life into this starved world. I invite you to open your hearts to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and participate in these events. You can find a list of the speakers, topics, locations, dates and times on the page to the left. Nursery care is available with a prior reservation.
May the God who is the Way, the Truth and the Life bless us on this journey. Amen!

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Navigating the Faith: The Divine Praises & Praying the Psalms

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by Kim Long

I enjoy a love/hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions. Oh I make them, but keeping them is well… another story. My prayer life needed a bump, some insight. My prayer is usually conversational, but at times I just don’t “say much.” I felt I needed a new start for a new year. To facilitate this I looked into our Catholic heritage and chose two “old standards” to get me back onto a workable routine.

The Divine Praises
I cannot recall the first time I heard this litany, but I can tell you when it stuck with me. I was on a family vacation where everyone packed the “wrong” things (read here hurts, little offenses, pride, ego, etc). I always attend Mass on my birthday and this year was no exception. So early that morning, I drove to Our Lady of the Gulf with reluctant family members rubbing sleep from their eyes and filing into the pew for “Mass as usual.” What I distinctly recall was the elderly priest coming up the aisle at the close of Mass praying The Divine Praises. God had given me a lovely birthday gift; his voice undulating as the recessional reached the back of the church had me struggling to recall each part of this prayer. So I decided to dust it off and employ it in the new year.

First penned in 1797 by Luigi Felici, a Jesuit priest, this prayer is also known by its Latin name Laudes Divinae. These “Divine Praises” are often recited after Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and before the Holy Eucharist is returned to the tabernacle. They were composed in reparation for blasphemy and profanity. Private recitation of the Divine Praises is always appropriate and, as a side note, they have been traditionally used to “ward off” or make reparations for use of foul language.

St. Thomas Aquinas once noted that the Divine Praises can increase the fervor of our devotion to God, and that thus “we praise God not for His benefit, but for ours.” This prayer reminds us of the glories of the Trinity, and of the key role our Blessed Mother, St. Joseph the angels and saints have played in our salvation as well.

The Divine Praises:
Blessed be God.
Blessed be His Holy Name.
Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true man.
Blessed be the name of Jesus.
Blessed be His Most Sacred Heart.
Blessed be Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the paraclete.
Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most holy.
Blessed be her holy and Immaculate Conception.
Blessed be her glorious Assumption.
Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother.
Blessed be St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse.
Blessed be God in His angels and in His Saints.
May the heart of Jesus, in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored, and loved with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the tabernacles of the world, even to the end of time. Amen.

Praying the Psalms
The Church has a long-standing tradition of “praying” the psalms. The word psalm means praise. The psalms, like our lives, run the gamut from petitions, laments, prayers of thanksgiving, confidence in God, penitence and extolling the royalty of God.

I decided to “retrieve” Psalm 150 for part of my daily prayers. I chose it because it is a psalm of praise, making it a natural segue from The Divine Praises. The practice of praying the psalms was given to me many years ago by Fr. John Scanlon. I was “stuck” and felt that I couldn’t pray. In his wisdom he suggested I follow many of the saints in our history and give the psalms a try. I was put off by it. Firstly the language wasn’t mine, it seemed stilted and even contrived; they did not seem relatable.

I was very young when Fr. Scanlon counseled with me. Now, I have some age, experience, heartache and joy under my belt, this practice hits a home run. Psalm 150 is an unbridled expression of joy and we can never experience too much of that. Fr. Scanlon recommended that I pray before reading the psalm once through, and then go back and slowly read it a second time allowing the Lord to show me what He had for me. It works. Here is Psalm 150 in all its glory. May your new year be filled with every good and perfect gift which is from above.

Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty expanse. Praise Him according to His excellent greatness.Praise Him with trumpet sound; Praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise Him with loud cymbals; Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.