Category Archives: Features

Medical Miracle: Shreveport Catholic Doctor Reaches Out to Brazilian Family Seeking Help for Their Daughter

Dr. Celso Palmieri (far right), talks with the Braga family. Palmieri was instrumental in bringing the family from San Paolo, Brazil to Shreveport, Louisiana to treat 3-year-old Melyssa's myxoma tumor. (Photo Courtesy of LSU Health Shreveport)

by Lisa Cooper

When Loyola parent and St. Joseph parishioner Dr. Celso Palmieri saw the face of Melyssa Delgado Braga while looking through online publications from his native country, Brazil, he felt compelled to get involved.  Braga’s family posted a plea seeking help to get their daughter to America, where she could find treatment for a large, rare facial tumor.  Dr. Palmieri, associate professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at LSU Health Shreveport, took a screen shot of Melyssa and sent it immediately to his colleague and department chairman, G.E. Ghali, DDS, MD, FACS, who said right away that they could help the little girl.  Dr. Ghali then contacted Willis-Knighton Health System seeking help to support the effort, and the health system agreed to provide housing for the family and to underwrite the cost of the hospital stay.

Within an hour, Palmieri found the Bragas on Facebook, and told them the good news.  In the course of his correspondence with them, Palmieri discovered that the family had been able to raise enough money through donations to cover their travel expenses.  He also discovered an underbelly of predators who sought to take advantage of the family.  “The family had people contacting them, offering their help if they could have control of the money,” Palmieri stated. From the time of his initial communication with the Bragas, he sent them links to the LSU Health Shreveport website and to his department in hopes of assuring them of his and Dr. Ghali’s credibility and sincerity.  It was on the night before the Bragas were to arrive in Shreveport, that Palmieri discovered something surprising.  Speaking of Caroline, Melyssa’s mom, he said, “She called the night before we were to pick them up from the airport and asked for a picture of me.  I realized she had never opened the links I sent.” When he asked her about why she hadn’t followed up on the information he provided, Caroline said that she never felt a need to.  She said she had a peace about Palmieri’s offer and trusted God through the entire process.

Once in surgery, Palmieri served as Ghali’s assistant in removing what turned out to be a five-pound myxoma tumor from the jaw of three-year-old Melyssa.  When asked about the possibility of the tumor’s returning, Palmieri said he is confident that there is “almost no chance” of that. Melyssa’s surgery was a great success, but she still has some time ahead of her before she is fully recovered.  After having been relieved of such an enormous weight, Melyssa is having to learn to balance differently so that she can walk fluidly again. She has a titanium plate reconstructing her mandible now, so she will have to have more surgeries in the future to replace the plate, and at the end, she will need a bone graft to reconstruct the mandible. She will also need to have implants placed so she can have teeth. “At this point,” says Palmieri, “chewing and eating is a challenge for her as well, since she has no teeth in the right side of the mandible, but she is recovering well and finding her way to eat.”

 

Before LSU Health Shreveport faculty successfully removed a myxoma tumor from 3-year-old Melyssa Braga.

Braga with her mother Caroline after successful removal of the tumor.

Although this story, which has now been covered across the globe, has pushed Palmieri and Ghali into the world-wide spotlight, Palmieri says it was the compassion he had for Melyssa the moment he saw her that prompted him to work to meet an immediate need.  He never expected such notoriety.  Sharing about how his faith prompted him to act on Melyssa’s behalf, Palmieri acknowledged that he has been “blessed with a gift and blessed to have received an excellent education and experience in Brazil, at Parkland Hospital in Dallas and here at LSU Health in Shreveport.  I felt I needed to give something back.”  For the Palmieris, giving back has been a family affair.  The Palmieri family went together to meet the Bragas at the airport, and Palmieri’s wife Ingrid, a computer analyst, would spend time she had away from work serving the Bragas and helping to make the family feel at home here.  “Because they did not have a car here, [Ingrid] would drive them to the grocery store or take them to run errands.  We also had the help of many great friends who welcomed the Bragas with us and helped them shop and run errands as well,” says Palmieri.

Noting the effect his involvement has had on his children, Palmieri says, “It’s important to me that my children see my faith through my actions and not just through my words.”  Palmieri’s son, Loyola junior, Felipe spent last summer putting this principle into practice as a volunteer at an MDA camp, where he served as the daily caretaker for a camper with MD. The Palmieris are intentional about teaching their children the importance of living their faith.  “Giving money is easy compared to being involved,” says Palmieri, “but your time and attention are what people need most.”

When it comes to living his faith, Palmieri takes a practical approach.  “I don’t worry about changing the world.  I probably won’t,” he says, “but if I can change the life of just one person, I have lived my faith well.”

Ignatius of Loyola Movie Coming to Diocese of Shreveport

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by Randy Tiller

Ignatius Press announced the new theatrical release of Ignatius of Loyola, Solider, Sinner, Saint on December 1, 2016. Due to the past relationship our diocese has with Ignatius Press, the Diocese of Shreveport was one of the first to be offered the opportunity to book a showing for this film.

Not since the release of Mary of Nazareth and Restless Heart has there been such an epic Catholic film of this scope, quality and grandeur. The last full-length feature film on St. Ignatius of Loyola was produced over 70 years ago.

Filmed on location in Spain with an extremely talented cast of Spanish actors, the story of Ignatius, his tumultuous life, passions, sinfulness, conversion and ultimately virtuous life bursts onto the screen and into the minds and hearts of the viewers, illuminating the life of St. Ignatius like never before.

The story of St. Ignatius is as relevant today as it was more than 500 years ago. And now, our diocese is able to offer an opportunity to view this powerful story in the Holoubek Theatre at the Catholic Center, located at 3500 Fairfield Avenue in Shreveport.

This outstanding Catholic film is being brought to our diocese for the purpose of evangelization and entertainment.

The diocese is offering this film on three different days and times so that everyone will have an opportunity to view it. Although there is no admission charge, donations are accepted. Your generosity makes it possible to continue bringing such events to our theatre.

Showings will be as follows:
• Wednesday March 22, at 2:00 p.m.
• Thursday, March 23, at 6:00 p.m.
• Friday, March 24, at 8:30 a.m. for middle and high school students. (The producers advise the film is not suited for under 13 years of age).

Souvenir bookmarks will be handed out at each showing as a memento of the screening. Patrons will also have the opportunity to purchase DVDs for sale at the theatre after the screening. They will only be available at the theatre, not online or at other locations until its general release after April 2017.
Some interesting facts:

In 1521, Ignatius was struck by a cannonball in the legs. One leg was merely broken, but the other was badly mangled. After suffering for a month, his doctors warned him to prepare for death. Ignatius began to improve and part of one leg was amputated. During his healing, Ignatius began to read De Vita Christi (The Life of Christ). The book would inspire Ignatius’ own spiritual exercises.

Other men joined his exercises and became followers of Ignatius. The group began to refer to themselves as “Friends in the Lord.” Pope Paul III received the group and approved them as an official religious order in 1540. They called themselves the Society of Jesus. Some people who did not appreciate their efforts dubbed them “Jesuits” in an attempt to disparage them.  Before Ignatius died in 1556, his order established 35 schools and boasted 1,000 members.
For more information about the movie, contact Randy Tiller, 318-868-4441, or rtiller@dioshpt.org.

The Harm of Pornography and Hope Beyond Addiction: Addicts

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Series written by Katie Sciba under guidance of Fr. Sean Kilcawley, STL

This is the second article in a four-piece series on pornography; the first can be found in the January 2017 edition of the Catholic Connection.

“Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties” (Catechism, 2354). Pornography is found in sexually descriptive literature, movies with explicit scenes, images and videos. Though it is more often used by men, women too can be lured into consumption.

As a multi-billion dollar giant, pornography promises fantasy, yet leaves users and loved ones in pain. Despite its distortion of humanity, there are arguments that pornography is harmless or healthy.

“It’s a problem because every human person is created in the image of God, who is a Communion of Persons; our imitation of that communion is expressed through the sexual union between a husband and wife,” says Fr. Sean Kilcawley, STL, theological advisor for IntegrityRestored.com. “Pornography is wrong because it exploits that which is sacred.”

And it’s an exploitation that attracts, confuses and harms. What can begin as curiosity or childhood exposure can develop into an addiction.

Dr. Kevin Skinner is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT) and Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT). According to his professional experience, pornography addiction is “the compulsive attempt(s) to meet legitimate emotional needs through viewing pornography and seeking sexual gratification…” It involves repeated “failure to resist impulses to view pornography,” preoccupation with “fantasy, sexualized thoughts,” acting out in spite of consequences and increased tolerance requiring “more frequent or intense pornography…”

Both consumption and addiction are on the rise with society’s increased use of technology, and researchers have become more interested in its consequential effects. The draw to “use” for a porn addict is no different than that of a drug addict. Pornography use, like cocaine, releases high levels of dopamine, a neurological chemical responsible for positive feelings and reward-driven behavior. Pornography use also releases oxytocin and vasopressin, chemicals involved in memory and bonding.

These forces of nature make pornography addiction a challenge to combat, even when the addict is desperate for sobriety. Withdrawal symptoms like persistent headaches, difficulty concentrating, irritability, depression, anxiety, jitters, low libido, insomnia and even suicidal thoughts can last from a week to several months depending on the level of addiction.

But pornography affects more than the brain. It wounds the hearts of consumers, often leading to depression, disinterest in marital intimacy, isolation, shame and loneliness – which can trigger acting out.

“Even basic connections with others become difficult,” said Matt Fradd, CEO and founder of The Porn Effect, “One guy came to me and said he couldn’t look women in the eyes anymore.”

The shame associated with porn use makes one prone to secrecy, which not only isolates a person socially, but also makes him susceptible to psychological damage, according to FighttheNewDrug.org.

“What I see most commonly is denial that it affects family,” said Fr. Kilcawley. “Addicts aren’t as in tune with their spouses or children because there’s an objectification that reduces family to just things that live with you.” But kids notice when their parent becomes clean. “One man told me his little boy said, ‘I like the new daddy,’ after he had been clean for two months. He was able to tap into a part of his fatherhood that he didn’t know he was missing.”

The harm is evident, but hope for healing is abundant. According to Fr. Kilcawley, the “three pillars of recovery” are seeing a CSAT, seeking spiritual direction, and participating in an accountability or 12-step group. A list of CSATs in your area can be found at IITAP.com and there are several sexual addiction therapists beyond state lines willing to Skype or phone-in with clients.

“There are people who pray every day and they still look at porn,” Matt Fradd said. “There is a natural component to addictions and if you ignore it, you can’t make much headway.” Which is why a healthy spiritual life coupled with therapy is a more thorough approach than one or the other alone.

“It’s not helpful to tell someone who’s clinically depressed to cheer up, just like it’s not helpful to tell a porn addict to just stop,” said Fradd. “They need professional help and support.”

One of the most important ways to heal from pornography addiction is to understand why it exists, personal triggers and associated emotional trauma. Below are resources for those seeking recovery. Every pornography addict must be assured of the hope of real healing and the love Jesus Christ has for him or her personally. God will offer the grace to step forward in recovery; and beyond the pain and challenges awaits a life of clarity and peace.

Resources – Books

Treating Pornography Addiction by Dr. Kevin Skinner

Out of the Shadows by Dr. Patrick Carnes

Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction by Dr. Mark Laaser

Integrity Restored: Helping Catholic Families Win the Battle Against Pornography  by Dr. Peter Kleponis

The Porn Myth by Matt Fradd

Resources – Online

AssessingPornAddiction.com
IntegrityRestored.com
AddoRecovery.com
SA.org (Sexaholics Anonymous)
CovenantEyes.com
•The RTribe App and the Victory App
• The Integrity Restored Podcast

Shreveport Mom and Daughter March for Life with Love in D.C.

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by Katie Aranda

Who would have imagined that my daughter and I would be at the March for Life in Washington D.C. this year?  Not me!

My best friend from college, who lives four hours from D.C., wrote on her Facebook page the week of the march that she was organizing a group to go to the march.  I jokingly wrote on her post that I wanted to go.  Then she called and I briefly entertained the idea before thinking of all the reasons I couldn’t go.  My husband teasingly said I could go… if I took all four of our kids.  As we discussed it further, we decided that it was important for our family to support those who cannot speak for themselves in the largest pro-life march in the country, especially at a time when our country is focused on marches. He had already been to a D.C. March for Life, so he graciously gave his blessing for our six-year-old daughter, Genevieve, and me to go.  After quickly arranging childcare and booking flights for a three day trip, we were off on an adventure!

It was an adventure of love…love for your neighbor, the unborn, family, stranger, young and old.  Even as we exited the plane in D.C., people immediately wanted to become friends.  Genevieve had announced on the plane to anyone who would listen that we were going to the “March for Life.” At the airport one lady from Montana gave me her number just because we would both be at the march. Groups of young people were praying in the stairwells as we walked to our hotel room the night before the march. Despite the gravity of abortion, people at the march were joyful, friendly, and peaceful.  The message for life enveloped everyone.

Energizing the crowd, speakers spoke of a “movement of love, not anger.  A movement of compassion, not confrontation.”

Vice President Pence emphasized that “life is winning in America” and gave hope to marchers.  Genevieve (who thought we were actually going to march like in a band) and I walked with my best friend Lisa, her husband, and their four children.  It was frigid, but people smiled and didn’t complain. Genevieve, my Louisiana girl, whispered as we were walking, “Mommy, I don’t want to move to D.C.  It’s too far from the equator.” Nonetheless, she marched on.

Strangers handed out snacks to help families with little ones. Songs were sung. Rosaries were prayed. There was no hatred on the streets. I saw people hugging women who held signs proclaiming, “I regret my abortion.”  I saw older people, young adults, people with disabilities, Catholics, non-Catholics, large families, small families marching for a worthy cause. There was an atmosphere of love and hope.

Genevieve and I soaked in the experience. We saw signs reminding us of the sacredness of life. Signs speaking of the beauty of adoption reminded me of our own adopted children. We thank God for courageous birthmothers and birthfathers who bless families with an incredible gift. We saw signs reminding us that everyone has value and God loves us all.  I was reminded of the girls from Heart of Hope (our local maternity home for young women) who struggle and defy all odds, and of children and adults with disabilities who are loved and love beyond measure. I was reminded of all the orphans who thirst for love. We marched not just for the unborn that day, but for all life. When I asked Genevieve “Why do we march”?  Her answer was simple, but true.  “Mommy, we march for life.”

Irish Heritage Brought to Life with St. Brigid Feast at St. Mary of the Pines

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by Kelly Phelan Powell

Kim Long, Director of Religious Education (DRE) at St. Mary of the Pines Parish in Shreveport, is one of those rare and wonderful souls who dream big, then roll up their sleeves and get to work. “I was the rabble rouser,” she laughed, describing the beginnings of the annual celebration of the Feast of St. Brigid of Kildare, now in its third year, that has become one of the parish’s most anticipated events. She and a committed group of women volunteers have carved out a fun, meaningful new tradition for people of Catholic faith and Irish ancestry.

As DRE, Long took part in planning the parish’s multicultural festival. As St. Mary of the Pines has a well-established Hispanic population, Latin and Hispanic traditions are a big part of the celebration. And while everyone enjoyed the festival, parishioners whose families were less recent immigrants of European origin felt that they had little to contribute. Long said it was parishioner Anne Eid who gave her the idea while they were discussing a St. Joseph’s altar. “When are we going to do something for the Irish? My maiden name is Kennedy!” Eid said, and the beginnings of the Feast of St. Brigid took root.

With permission from Fr. Francis Kamau, Long and a group of volunteers, including Mary Cadwell, Rachel Cobb, Jennifer Lee, Cindy McGowan and Mary Alice Owen, among others, formed a committee and began not only planning a celebration, but also learning more about their Irish heritage, language, folk songs and recipes. They referred to themselves as “Daughters of Brigid” and met regularly to practice céilí, traditional dances in which dancers arrange themselves in formations of two to 16 people.

The historical details of Brigid’s life are notoriously difficult to establish, but according to Hugh de Blacam’s essay in “The Saints of Ireland,” she was born around 450 A.D. The illegitimate child of a pagan chieftain named Dubthach and his Christian slave, Broicsech, Brigid was probably baptized and reared in the Catholic faith by her mother. At around age 10, her father removed her from her mother’s slave quarters and raised her in his own household.

Brigid took Dubthach’s riches and gave generously to the poor. Enraged, her father threatened to sell her to the King of Leinster. But the king, a Christian, understood her charity and convinced Dubthach to free his daughter. Once free, she was expected to marry, but instead, she marred her own face to make herself less desirable to would-be husbands. Brigid and her companions organized communal consecrated religious life for women in Ireland. Her community eventually settled in what we know today as Kildare, or “Church of the Oak,” after the monastery she founded there.

Long and the other Daughters of Brigid have incorporated many traditions into the feast celebration. For instance, during the Mass processional, the women parishioners of Irish ancestry form the “Court of Brigid,” with adult women wearing sashes bearing their family’s county of origin and little girls donning blue crushed velvet capes after Brigid’s own legendary “cape of blue.” The children also carry bouquets of flowers to place around the icon of St. Brigid.

The Mass for the Feast of St. Brigid includes several other uniquely Brigidine components. Included in the processional is a Brigid’s Cross, traditionally woven from rushes. Long and parishioner Roishene Johnson recited the Mass readings in both English and Gaeilge (the Irish language, often referred to as “Irish Gaelic”). The sanctuary was adorned in green, with an oak leaf, an acorn and a flame representing Kildare, the seed of knowledge and the love of Christ, respectively.

At the céilí following Mass, Long and a number of others performed the legend of Irish pirate queen Grace O’Malley as “mummers,” performers who tell a story through song, dance and rhyme. Tim Glennon and Ceara Johnson played and sang Irish songs, and the Daughters of Brigid danced a céilí as well. No Catholic celebration is complete without delicious food, and Irish favorites like Limerick ham, brown bread, cabbage, potatoes and sausage were a huge hit with children and adults.

“Brigid is very much a saint for our time,” Long said, emphasizing St. Brigid’s traditions of hospitality, environmentalism and the pursuit of knowledge, all of which are particularly important in the tumultuous present.

Anyone interested in joining the Daughters of Brigid and/or volunteering for the Feast of St. Brigid in January 2018 can reach Long at celticdre1@bellsouth.net, or (318) 687-5121.

Vocations View: My Blessings in the Diaconate

Deacon Bill Roche and Deacon Larry Mills carry in the oil for Chrism Mass.

by Deacon Bill Roche

When I was a youngster, I thought about the priesthood, but being a priest was never a serious consideration after I entered high school. I never expected to be ordained.

So admittedly, I was a bit surprised when I felt a calling to the permanent diaconate about 16 years ago. I believe that God was calling me to step out of my comfort zone and embark on a new part of the journey I had been traveling throughout my life. It was a dramatic change – one that has been very good for me personally. I believe I am a better person than I was 16 years ago, but I am still a work in progress.

I was ordained in May of 2005. I was hired as the Director of Faith Formation at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Shreveport in December of that year. I count among the many blessings of my ministry and job that I have gotten to know so many kind and caring people.

My many blessings include:
• The ACTS ministry (first adopted by St. Joseph in 2011) has been a great experience and has helped the parish.

• Through a small men’s prayer and spiritual development group, I have been able to form and develop great friendships, as well as challenge my prayer life.
It has been very fulfilling to be a part of people’s faith journeys through RCIA.

Like all Catholic Christians, deacons are called to holiness. As ordained persons, we have to be visible and prayerful. Yet, as servants, we need to be on the sidelines or behind the scenes.  We stand front and center when we baptize, officiate at weddings, proclaim the Gospel and preach, but it’s not about us. At Mass, we stand next to the priest. However, we are as much in awe of the liturgy of the Eucharist as every faith-filled person in the pews.

We may be preaching, but the message is also one that we need to hear.

God surprises me frequently, usually by the people He puts in my path. If I seem to be helping someone, I am growing through that encounter, so I am also being helped. When I seek help, there are people who are more inclined to open their doors for me because of my ordination. The diaconate has truly been a win-win situation.

Diaconate FAQ

Q: Who is a deacon?  
A: A deacon is an ordained minister of the Catholic Church. A deacon, in virtue of his sacramental ordination and through his various ministries, is to be a servant in a servant-Church.

Q: What are the various ministries of the deacon?  
A: As ministers of Word, deacons proclaim the Gospel, preach and teach in the name of the Church. As ministers of sacrament, deacons baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages and conduct wake and funeral services. As ministers of charity, deacons are leaders in identifying the needs of others, then marshaling the Church’s resources to meet those needs.

Q: May married men be deacons?  
A: Yes. The Second Vatican Council decreed that the diaconate, when it was restored as a permanent order in the hierarchy, could be opened to “mature married men,” later clarified to mean men over the age of 35. While a married man may be ordained, an ordained man, if his wife should die, may not marry again without special permission.

Q: How do I find out more about becoming a deacon?  
A: The best place to start is with your pastor, who can put you in touch with Deacon Clary Nash, Director of the Permanent Diaconate for the Diocese of Shreveport by calling 318-868-4441, or cnash@dioshpt.org.

Article adapted from nccbuscc.org/deacon

The Diocese of Shreveport is planning to begin a new formation for the permanent diaconate beginning September 2017. The deadline for inquiries into the new formation is April 3. For more information, contact Deacon Clary Nash, formation director, at 318-868-4441, or at cnash@dioshpt.org.

Navigating the Faith: Lenten Fasting Through the Ages

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by Dr. Cheryl H. White

As we enter the season of Lent, it is helpful to pause and reflect on both its purpose, how it is expressed, and to know we are joining a long tradition of Christian observance dating to the early Church. Lent has always been a time of self-examination, penitence and self-denial, and of course one of the most significant ways this has been accomplished is through fasting and other means of mortification of the flesh. Various acts of piety have developed across the centuries of the Faith, but we can trace the deliberate observance of Lenten self-denial to at least the mid-second century, to St. Irenaeus of Lyons. In his writings we find reference to this season of preparation, but he does not make it clear that the period of fasting and discipline lasted more than a few days, or if it was intended only for catechumens preparing to be baptized at Easter.

Later, we find it in the record of the Council of Nicaea (325) that the bishops formalized the familiar 40-day season as we know it. Again, however, it appears that it may have been originally intended only for those undergoing catechesis to receive the sacrament of Baptism. The significance of the 40 days rests with Jesus’ fast in the wilderness. Over time, the Lenten fast became an expectation of all within the Church. Until the late sixth century, the season of Lent always began on a Sunday. Among the liturgical and calendar changes introduced by Pope St. Gregory the Great (pope from 590 – 604), was the moving of the first day of Lent to a Wednesday (Ash Wednesday). This secured the exact number of 40 days in the Lenten season, excluding Sundays, which were feast days. Pope St. Gregory the Great is also credited with the ritual which gives Ash Wednesday its name, with the imposition of ashes as a Biblical symbol of repentance and mortality: “You are dust, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).

When Catholics today undertake a Lenten fast, it probably does not compare to the extreme expectations of the medieval Christian, who ate nothing until after mid-afternoon, and then typically only one small meal. During Holy Week, medieval Christians subsisted on what might have been no more than two or three full meals the entire week. Also, the Lenten fast for most western Christians of the Middle Ages would have involved an absolute ban on meat, as well as dairy products. Since it was the time of the “taking away of flesh” (carne levare), this seems to be the most commonly cited origin of our word “carnival,” describing the celebrations just before the beginning of Lent.

The total exclusion of meat from the diet (not just Fridays as modern Catholics might be accustomed to!) obviously required the Christian to acquire protein from other sources. Historically, fish has been allowed as part of even the strictest Lenten fasts, since in Genesis the fish and birds were created on the fifth day, with creatures of the earth on the sixth day. Social histories of Christian Europe reveal something quite interesting to the modern Church: the Lenten fast was actually shared as a community sacrifice. Entire communities came together to feast when appropriate, and there is remarkable evidence of gathering to support each other through the days of fasting. The world known by the medieval Christian was considerably smaller, therefore communities were more connected, and of course, the Church was the absolute center of society. Sharing the Lenten fast as a community only served to highlight the joy of Easter and make it all the more glorious.

Other Lenten observances have been practiced across the centuries, including more literal and extreme types of flesh mortification. From St. Jerome in the fourth century comes rather descriptive accounts of these practices, including the wearing of a “hair shirt” or the “sackcloth” mentioned in Scripture as a means of performing penance. The historical record reveals that Christians across the centuries were drawn to these practices particularly during Lent and Advent, and there are of course many rather interesting but radical examples of people undertaking such flesh mortification for extended periods of time.

So, as we enter another Lenten season, an awareness of the continuity of our practice unites us to the faithful of the centuries that came before, and this should help strengthen our resolve to place our focus more on the purpose of deprivation and sacrifice. It is to draw us into the mystical suffering of Jesus, and to live in the great mystery of our salvation once again.

Mike’s Meditations: An Experience with God

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by Mike Van Vranken

Ask most Christians why they participate in the season of Lent, and many will respond with some explanation that they want to get closer to God. A holy endeavor indeed, but how is this accomplished?  I have found that the only way to get closer to the One True God – or better yet – the only way to experience the One True God, is to annihilate all the other gods in our lives.  And this takes work, intentional effort, disciplined struggle.

Those other gods are clingy little rascals. They don’t let go very easily and they are persistent and relentless in their efforts to never leave us. We set aside these 40 days determined to destroy them so we can then be alone with our Creator and Savior, get to know Him better and yes, experience Him even in our busy lives.

Sometimes we view this journey of Lent like we do a summer vacation. We so strongly desire to be at the beach that we totally ignore the journey that gets us there. We numbly and mindlessly go through the motions of packing clothes, driving cars or riding in airplanes until we finally arrive at our destination. We waste those hours or even days of travel and often engage in them as if they are agonizing and painful. Whatever we might have gained in the journey itself is lost forever.

The same can happen as we travel through Lent. We fast, we pray more than normal; we may give generously to the poor, or help someone who is sick or disabled. We try to gossip less and forgive more and we abstain from anything from food to Facebook. And through it all, we hope to arrive at Easter with a stronger relationship with God. Yet within the process, He is begging us to experience His presence, His love and His goodness all along the way.
What are some ways we can experience the one and only God and, at the same time, crucify those imposter gods and travel toward our celebration of the Resurrection?

When you fast this Lent, each time you skip a meal, ask God for the wisdom to recognize where you have been over-indulgent in your life. Maybe it’s with food or drink, maybe clothes or cars. Whatever He shows you, experience His gentle response and ask Him to help you purge those gluttonous tendencies out of your life for good.

If praying more is a resolution, spend time each day listening to God more than talking. Ask Him what you can do for Him today rather than telling him what He can do for you. As He places thoughts and ideas on your heart, take time to feel His love, taste His goodness, see His kindness, hear His mercy and smell the aroma of His presence.

As you give to the poor, look at their many faces of need, then realize, each of these is the face of Jesus. Place yourself in their lives in such a way that whatever you are doing for them, you know you are doing for God Himself.

Gossip is a god we all need to exterminate. As you remind yourself that words can either inspire or destroy, imagine God filling you with His own words, which He has told us are life and health to those who find them (Proverbs 4:22). With the god of gossip eliminated, you have only His intimate words to share with others.

Forgiving those who have harmed you. God’s mercy is the reflection of who He is. When you show mercy, you are not only acting like God; you are experiencing His very nature. How does it feel to do what the almighty Himself does?

Abstinence. What in your life right now is so important that you engage in it even though it slowly pulls you from your communion with God?  Whatever it is, nail it to the cross this Lent. Then use the precious moments it releases back to you to visit with God and bask in His presence, allowing Him to penetrate your entire being.

This year, refrain from focusing on the process as if it is some necessary activity like riding in a car or flying across the country. Discover that it is not the activities of these 40 days that change our lives. Instead it is the experiences with God on the

journey of Lent that bring new meaning to the joy of Easter. Cherish those experiences. Relish them. Hang on to them. Learn from them. And within those experiences, allow Him to change you. Then, find yourself on Easter Sunday walking hand-in-hand down the road to Emmaus with the risen Christ – strolling through life with the Son of the living God.

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

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by Bishop Michael G. Duca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schools “Change” Lives for Catholic Charities’ Clients

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by Lucy Medvec

Spare change may not seem like a lot of money at first, but when over 1,000 Shreveport Catholic school students work together, their coins can truly “change” lives in the community.

During Catholic Schools Week in January, students from Loyola College Prep, St. John Berchmans School, and St. Joseph School collected over $2,660 for Catholic Charities of North Louisiana through their “Coins for Change” drives that were held at each school.  Classes within each school competed against each other to collect the most change with Loyola’s sophomores, St. John’s 4th graders, and two Pre-K4 classes at St. Joseph School, emerging as coin champions. All funds raised from the coin drives will go towards CCNLA’s Emergency Assistance Program which assists families with the payment of their rent or utility bills in order to avoid eviction or shut-off of utilities.

While Loyola and St. John students participated in straightforward coin collections, St. Joseph School took it up a notch by participating in a school-wide “Penny War.”  The premise was that pennies were worth positive points, while silver coins and paper money were negative points.  The class with the most positive points would be the winner, so students would donate their negative points (money) to the other classes in order to diminish their totals.  According to Greg Beauclair, Development and Marketing Director for St. Joseph School, the Penny War brought out the competitive side of SJS students.

“We had collected a total of $600 through Thursday,” said Beauclair, “but on Friday, the students had doubled that total with their donations. Everyone was waiting until the end to see who would win.”

The Pre-K4 classes at St. Joseph School donated over 7200 pennies alone, with well over 20,000 pennies collected from all three schools during the week.
Lucy Medvec, Director of Development and Communications for Catholic Charities likes the idea of student coin drives because “it shows students that if everyone gives some amount of money, no matter how much, it all goes together to create a greater impact.”

Medvec hopes to make the “Coins for Change” drive an annual part of Catholic Schools Week and to include students from schools throughout the diocese. Local restaurants Raising Cane’s and Rotolo’s Pizzeria donated prizes for the winning classes, but overall the winners of the coin drive will be the clients who benefit from the students’ generosity.