Category Archives: Features

A Month Long Celebration of the Holy Rosary

by Katie Sciba

October brings an exciting month-long celebration of the Holy Rosary among the Catholic Church. October 7th is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and I can’t think of a better way to honor her than through sincere recitation of the very prayer she gave the world.

The Blessed Mother gave the Rosary to St. Dominic as a weapon against heretics in the late 1100s and since then has made promises of God’s grace to those who recite it. Indeed, praying the Rosary as a family carries with it a plenary indulgence.

The Rosary is both a Marian and Christo-centric prayer: the Our Father is a prayer from Christ Himself and the Hail Mary reiterates the words the Archangel Gabriel spoke to Mary at the Annunciation as well as St. Elizabeth’s words at the Visitation. On a more basic level, while repeating Hail Marys over 50 times, you’re also reflecting on highlights from the life of Christ within each mystery. It’s through this way that a person is drawn more closely to Christ and His Mother. Additionally, the Rosary is structurally ideal for humans to pray; we are body and soul – physical and spiritual. The two methods of prayer within the Rosary are vocal and mental and they go hand in hand with our nature perfectly. During vocal prayer, the devout meditate on the designated mystery, reflecting on the virtues within each one and on the particular story from the New Testament. That’s where the mental aspect comes in. A friend of mine described the steady rhythm of the Hail Marys as “beautiful background music” to meditation. They help keep a person physically present in prayer.

I’ve known many people, myself included, who set the Rosary aside because it feels too long, but it doesn’t have to. When I’m not faithfully praying the Rosary, my mind drudges and groans about the time it takes to “get through it”; 20-30 minutes of devoted prayer time is a small portion of my day and yet it seems like an eternity when I’m dragging my spiritual feet. There have been periods of my life, however, when I recited the Rosary eagerly and daily; and, because I was practiced, I was more able to focus on the mysteries. The time flew and the sense of burden dissolved. My sister-in-law, Erin, has noted several times that on the days when she prays the Rosary, she feels spirited and ready for whatever comes her way because of the support that Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin offer. This simple witness gives testimony to even the smallest of graces Christ offers through what He calls “My Mother’s Rosary.”

Each day offers several opportunities for prayer – a lunch break, a work out, a baby’s naptime, or after dinner and before the kids’ bedtime. Take the opportunity to pause and pray by yourself or with your family. The Rosary is an awesome prayer, bottomless in meaning. If you have questions about how to pray or meditate on it, ask your priest. Considering the graces, how it draws a person to a more intimate relationship with Christ and His Mother, and its holy origin, the Holy Rosary is the ideal devotion for every Catholic.

Katie Sciba is the author of www.thecatholicwife.net. She lives in Shreveport with her husband, Andrew, and two sons, Liam and Thomas.

Where Mary Said “Yes”

Photo: Fr. Matthew Long in front of the Basilica  of the Annunciation

by Fr. Matthew Long

I was privileged to lead a pilgrimage to the Holy Land this past spring.  As the date of departure approached I was filled with excitement that soon I would be journeying in the land where our Savior carried out His ministry and ultimately redeemed and saved us.  It was a beautiful place but as the days passed I was disappointed because I didn’t feel anything. I saw the sights of Caesarea Philippi. I went to Cana and Tiberius, but not once did I feel that burning within my heart. Then we made the journey to Nazareth. The bus ride from the Mount of Beatitudes to Nazareth was one of great expectation for me.  I recalled the words of Pope Paul VI from his homily at Nazareth that “all of us need to return to Nazareth, to contemplate ever anew the silence and love of the Holy Family.” It was with these words in my mind that I approached the city where our Blessed Lord grew into a man.

When we reached this ancient city we went at once to the Basilica of the Annunciation. There was nothing on its exterior that could prepare me for what I would encounter upon entering this holy place.  From the moment my foot crossed the threshold of this Church I was overwhelmed by the sense of the sacred that permeates her very stones.  I knew at once that it was in this place that one of the most important moments in human history occurred.  I was overcome by emotion and my heart burned within me because of the love that existed there.  As I approached the grotto where our Blessed Mother said “yes” to the request of an Angel my eyes filled with tears.  I had a desire to never leave this place.  I prayed the Hail Mary as I gazed at the little room where the words of this prayer were first spoken.  As I mounted the stairs to ascend to the upper Church the Salve Regina flowed from my lips.

Inside the Basilica of the Annunciation. (CNS photo/Gil Cohen Magen, Reuters)

I was overwhelmed by my senses, both natural and supernatural; because it was here that the first fiat of our salvation and redemption was spoken.  It was here that a young Jewish girl would answer the call of God and in so doing would forever banish the “no” Eve spoke in the Garden.  I could feel it in every fiber of my being that I was standing on Holy Ground. As we prepared to depart I prayed the Angelus and when I genuflected as I prayed “And the Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us.” I could not keep praying.  Emotion had overwhelmed me and I finally had that moment I sought.  With sadness I departed from this Holy place knowing that I was filled with grace because of the “yes” Mary spoke in this place so many years ago. “O Mary conceived without sin. Pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

Fr. Matthew Long is the Vocations Director for the Diocese of Shreveport.

A Deeper Commitment to Christ

Pictured: During the Year of Faith, Bishop Michael Duca will visit each of the diocesan churches to share the Liturgy of the Word and an evening of prayer.

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

By the month of October we are deep into the routine of fall. School is well underway and the restarting of organizations and responsibilities is now in our past and the summer is a distant memory. When I was the rector of a seminary I actually looked forward to the routine of the school year. Routine gives us a structure to order a busy life, ensures our basic vocational responsibilities are fulfilled and our values of faith shape our lives in a real way with every daily task.  Even our prayer life in the Church is ordered with the Liturgical seasons and our weekly Sunday Mass reconfirms our connection with the Body of Christ and gives witness to the centrality of our faith in our daily lives.

But our daily routine, and especially our spiritual routine, can become stale or burdened by its difficulty or our own self-centered wants. From time to time the saints remind us to break our routine, through a retreat for example, in order to examine the routine and choices of our lives so we can clear out what is sinful and recommit ourselves to the Gospel message of Jesus and the teachings of His Church.

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has proclaimed that the Year of Faith begin on October 11, 2012 to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Vatican II Council and the 20th Anniversary of the publication of the New Catechism. I will open the Year of Faith for the Diocese of Shreveport with a Mass on October 11, 2012, at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans at 6:00 p.m. This is to be a year of retreat for the Church. During this Year of Faith we should all consider some action or choice that breaks our daily routine in a way that challenges us to a deeper commitment to Christ and to reflect our faith as Catholics in the choices and actions of our daily lives.

My commitment this year will be to visit every parish in the diocese and have an evening of prayer with each Church community. We will gather for the Liturgy of the Word. It will be a time of prayer and reflection on our faith in Jesus Christ and His Church. I encourage you to invite your non-Catholic friends to join us. This will also be an opportunity for me to consider, in my fifth year as your Bishop, how I might be a better servant and consider how we might grow together in faith and faith’s response, charity.

In his letter Porta Fidei, translated “door of faith,” (Acts 14:27) the Holy Father gives a wonderful reflection, a kind of litany,  on how the faith we treasure has shaped and continues to shape the Church and ensure the proclamation of the Gospel.

“By faith, Mary accepted the Angel’s word and believed the message that she was to become the Mother of God in the obedience of her devotion (cf. Lk 1:38).”

By faith, the Apostles left everything to follow their Master (cf. Mk 10:28).

By faith, the disciples formed the first community, gathered around the teaching of the Apostles, in prayer, in celebration of the Eucharist, holding their possessions in common so as to meet the needs of the brethren (cf. Acts 2:42-47).

By faith, the martyrs gave their lives, bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel that had transformed them and made them capable of attaining to the greatest gift of love: the forgiveness of their persecutors.

By faith, men and women have consecrated their lives to Christ, leaving all things behind so as to live obedience, poverty and chastity with Gospel simplicity, concrete signs of waiting for the Lord who comes without delay.

By faith, countless Christians have promoted action for justice so as to put into practice the word of the Lord, who came to proclaim deliverance from oppression and a year of favor for all (cf. Lk 4:18-19).

By faith, across the centuries, men and women of all ages, whose names are written in the Book of Life (cf. Rev 7:9, 13:8), have confessed the beauty of following the Lord Jesus wherever they were called to bear witness to the fact that they were Christian: in the family, in the workplace, in public life, in the exercise of the charisms and ministries to which they were called.”  Porta Fidei #13, Benedict XVI

During this Year of Faith I pray our hearts will be set on fire and we will more deeply believe and willingly “confess the beauty of following the Lord Jesus.”  I pray we will bear witness to this faith in the family, in the workplace, in public life and in the exercise of the charisms and ministries to which we have been called.

There is an article on by Dianne Rachal with more information about this Year of Faith and some of the ongoing celebrations in our diocese during this year.

Year of Faith Speaker Series

Workshops for RCIA and Catechists on September 29

Everyone is invited to the first presentation for the Diocese of Shreveport’s  “Year of Faith Speaker Series” on Sept. 29 at 9:00 a.m.

In the morning there will be a presentation by Nick Wagner on The Catechism of the Catholic Church and how it forms Catholics in the faith and prepares them in ministry.

Nick Wagner is the director and founder of TeamRCIA.com. He has more than 25 years experience as a leader and trainer in liturgical and catechetical ministries. He is an active team member with the North American Forum on the Catechumenate.

Following the morning presentation, there will be lunch, included with the $10 registration fee.
Beginning at 1 pm, there will be two afternoon sessions. The first is an RCIA workshop presented by Nick Wagner. This workshop is for RCIA team members.

The second workshop is a Catechist Workshop for all Directors of Religious Education and Catechists. This workshop will be on the YouCat, the youth catechism of the Catholic Church, and presented by Shelly Bole, Director of the Office of Catechesis for the Diocese of Shreveport. Participants in this workshop should pre-order a copy of the YouCat.

Please use the form below to register for lunch and your afternoon session. Or, you can contact the Office of Worship to register at 318-868-4441 or drachal@dioshpt.org.

Seminarians Meet Up

Pictured: Seminarians John Parker, Duane Trombetta, Jerry Daigle, Jr. and Keith Garvin stand with Fr. Matthew Long outside the Catholic Center.

Building the bonds of brotherhood

The beginning of the academic year for 2012-2013 has been an exciting one for the Vocations Office because we are sending new seminarians to both Notre Dame and St. Joseph Seminaries. In preparation for this year of formation our returning and new seminarians gathered at Fairview House to attend their First Seminarian Convocation. The Convocation was scheduled for August 12 and 13. The purpose of the convocation was to build the bonds of brotherhood between our seminarians and to assist them in forming a stronger connection with the diocese.  In order to accomplish these goals we gathered in the Holy Family Chapel, located at the Catholic Center, for the celebration of the Holy Mass and to pray the Divine Office numerous times. We also invited Randy Tiller, Director of Mission Effectiveness, to give a conference on the History of the Diocese of Shreveport. Tiller’s goal was to show the seminarians that although we are only 25 years old as a diocese, the Catholic Church in our area has a rich tradition dating back to the earliest days of European discovery.  Bishop Duca and Fr. Price also joined the seminarians for meals and prayer when their schedules permitted them to do so.  There was time for the seminarians to get to know each other in less formal settings.  This was accomplished through a game night when the bishop, priests and seminarians matched wits.

One of the reasons that I decided to hold the convocation is because when you look at our record of attracting men to answer the Call of God, it is evident that we are accomplishing the goal. Over the years, however, many of the men we have sent to seminary to be formed have not been ordained. It is my hope that building community and strengthening the bonds our seminarians have with the diocese will help to lower our attrition rate. The way you can help is by sending cards and letters of support to our seminarians.  You can invite them to partake in your parish’s activities and a gift of any kind is always greatly appreciated by them. The journey to priesthood is not an easy one and it is filled with pitfalls because the enemy desires fewer priests, but when you know that you have the support, prayers and love of the people you hope to serve then it is a much easier journey to make. Please join me in assisting the next generation of priests to fulfill their vocation in life.

by Fr. Matthew Long, Director of Church Vocations

Home visits: The Crux of the Mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul

Photo: SVdP members Gale Dean and Cain Nguyen bring food and supplies to a family in need (photo by Jessica Rinaudo).

by Jessica Rinaudo, Editor

This is a story I thought I knew: the mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to serve the poor through food banks, pharmacies and home visits.

Over the course of preparing for this issue and talking to Vincentians, it became clear that the crux of what these volunteers do is visiting those in need at their homes.

Here’s how it works: those in need call a hotline and, depending on where the person lives, the caller is assigned to a SVdP group at a nearby Catholic church. The volunteers then take their assigned case file and go out to the person’s home to meet with them, talk, take care of emergency needs and help them get on the path to help themselves and their families.

To learn more, I wanted to go with some Vincentians on a home visit. I spoke to Gale Dean, head of the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans SVdP council. She eagerly agreed that I should go with her.

In my mind, I saw us stopping by houses, saying hello, delivering some food and moving on. But what happened was far more emotional than I could have imagined.

Before we left, the three of us going to visit prayed together to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and to assist those in need to the best of our abilities. Then we drove into the heart of a poor area in Shreveport.

When we pulled in the driveway there was a collective intake of breath from the three of us in the car. Outside sat a young mother with four children running through the driveway. She was alone. The house was small and in questionable condition. The mother, *Dana, invited us inside. We entered into a naked room with only a tv on a table and a mattress against the wall. Her kids, ages 5-10, gathered in around us. The five-year-old shyly told me her name and leapt into my arms for a hug. We gave them food and cleaning supplies and Gale asked the mother for her story.

Dana had come from a northern state to Louisiana for the promise of a job. Her friend told her she had one waiting for her in town, but upon arrival she found out the job had fallen through. She took all the savings she had and found her family a place to stay, a place in a bad area of town with no locks, no fridge and no food.

When asked about child support she whispered her boyfriend was “locked up” and she didn’t want him to know where she was living. He had abused her and her children and threatened their lives, finally getting busted for a drug run on which he had taken his two youngest children with him across state lines. I asked her how she had heard of St. Vincent de Paul and she told us her neighbor had referred her to the hotline. The same neighbor who had generously supplied her with a used refrigerator and was voluntarily scrubbing it in her driveway. “You don’t know how hard it is for me to ask for help,” she said in tears, “but I didn’t know what else to do.”
While the five-year-old proudly showed me her room, a small space with two air mattresses against the wall, a small TV and a plastic chair, Gale talked to Dana about enrolling her children in school. This was met with more tears and fears over obtaining school supplies and school uniforms.

I stood by helplessly as Gale counseled her on going to the Louisiana Work Force, places to call for more assistance, how to get access to food stamps and medicare for the children. She assured her we would bring more food next weekend and Dana humbly expressed her thanks.

Our next stop was at a low income housing complex. This time a mother holding a little girl my own daughter’s age opened the door and welcomed us inside. We were quickly greeted by another enthusiastic five-year-old girl, eager to tell us about starting kindergarten and her new school supplies. In this situation, the young, single mother had been laid off her job and her electricity was about to be cut off in the middle of the three-digit August temperatures. Fortunately, she had obtained another job and would be beginning in a week. She had her food and housing situation together as well, and her parents helped with the children. SVdP was able to pay the minimum to keep her power on by way of a pledge system with the electric company. When I asked her about where she heard about the Society, she told me she had been referred by a family member.

That was the second time that day someone in need had heard of the Society of SVdP through someone else who had been helped by them. It immediately brought to mind the scenes from the Gospels where the poor and diseased heard word that Jesus was coming and rushed to see him, knowing they could be helped.

The images of that day’s events have followed me since then. Afterwards I walked into my own home and was overwhelmed by how much I have, immensely thankful to God for all He has blessed my family with. More than ever, I am thankful for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the people who volunteer every day, every weekend on their days off, to meet with people and help them work to help themselves.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has almost no overhead costs. Their work is funded completely by donations and volunteers. Many of the SVdP food pantries are low right now. Please consider giving food, cleaning supplies or monetary donations to your church’s SVdP group by contacting your church office.

*Name has been changed for privacy.

Society of St. Vincent de Paul

Pictured: Vincentians at the St. Joseph Church Food pantry in Shreveport.

Continually Serving the Poor in the Diocese of Shreveport

by Kelly Phelan Powell

In 1833, French physician, lawyer, author and professor Frédéric Ozanam was moved to establish an organization to help the destitute people living in the slums of Paris. This group of seven men, which Ozanam specified “should neither be a political party, nor a school, nor a brotherhood…but profoundly Catholic at the same time as being secular” aimed to serve the poor in the tradition of St. Vincent de Paul, whom they took as their patron. To Ozanam, it was of the utmost importance that this charity should be carried out with humility, discretion, tact and respect for a person’s dignity, for to him faith without charity had no meaning.

One hundred and seventy-nine years later, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul totals some 900,000 in 131 countries on five continents. In the U.S. alone, membership numbers more than 60,000. In 2010, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the U.S. performed more than 648,000 visits to people in their homes; served more than 14 million people in need; and provided more than $595 million in tangible and in-kind services.

Many of these extraordinary efforts are taking place right here in the Diocese of Shreveport, and that’s one reason Bishop Michael Duca has declared September the Month of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. In addition to recognizing the hard work and commitment of Society members (also called “Vincentians”), the month’s activities will raise awareness of the needs of the poor and educate the faithful about the history of the Society as well as its current mission and role in the Church as a lay vocation.

“It’s part of a national effort to raise awareness of what we do…and the needs of the poor right here in our diocese,” said Brian Burgess, president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for the Diocese of Shreveport. Burgess has been involved with the Society for about 12 years now, and this year, in addition to his duties as president, he’s in charge of organizing the Friends of the Poor Walk at 9 a.m. on Sept. 29 on Arthur Ray Teague Parkway in Bossier City.

The Friends of the Poor Walk began nationally in 2008 to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The money raised by the walk funds a number of different aspects of the Society’s work, such as housing assistance, disaster relief, job training and placement, food pantries and dining halls, clothing, transportation and utility costs, care for the elderly and medicine. All of the proceeds stay within the conference where the money is raised – in this case, the Diocese of Shreveport. Burgess said 50 to 70 walkers from about six different conferences participated in last year’s walk, which raised approximately $5,000. Those interested in walking can contact Burgess at baburgess@gmail.com or 318-780-7755.

The St. Vincent de Paul Pharmacy provides free prescriptions for those in need.

Dotye Sue Stanford, the outgoing diocesan president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said the faithful in this diocese are particularly committed to the Vincentian order. With 23 conferences out of 39 churches, “we have the most conferences, percentage-wise, of any diocese in the United States,” she said. And all the conferences share resources so that collectively, they can make the biggest possible impact.

But having so many conferences within a single diocese means that in this area, the needs of the poor are immense. Every person, no matter what his or her financial circumstances may be, is able to contribute. Asked what the Society’s greatest needs are at this time, Burgess answered, “We need prayers, first of all. We need members and funds. This is a ministry that’s challenging, but it’s very rewarding.”

Burgess said the Society of St. Vincent de Paul focuses on its members’ spiritual growth, and one of the ways they accomplish that is through person-to-person visits with those in need. St. Vincent de Paul himself said, “It is our vocation…to set people’s hearts ablaze, to do what the Son of God did, to set it aflame with his love. It is not enough for me to love God if my neighbor does not love him. I must love my neighbor as the image of God and the object of his love…I must act in such a way that people love their Creator and each other in mutual charity for the love of God who loved them so much that he delivered up his own Son to death for them.”
However, home visits are not the only way to serve in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Burgess said. They need people to answer the hotline and work in the food pantries, as well as other duties. And the activities associated with the Month of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul need volunteers as well.

At 3 p.m. on Sept. 9 at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ruston, Msgr. Earl Provenza will celebrate a special Mass on the Feast Day of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.

At 6 p.m. on Sept. 20 at Jesus the Good Shepherd Church in Monroe, there will be a Poor Man’s Supper benefitting the St. Vincent de Paul Community Pharmacy, the only free pharmacy north of Alexandria and east of Shreveport. It serves about 3600 patients in 22 parishes. For more information contact JoAnn Crone at 318-381-9670.

At 5:45 p.m. on Sept. 27, St. Joseph Church in Shreveport will celebrate the Feast Day of St. Vincent de Paul with a Mass and a potluck supper afterward in the Family Life Center.

The Friends of the Poor Walk raises money for local SVdp Counsels.

From 9 to 11 a.m. on Sept. 29 on Arthur Ray Teague Parkway in Bossier City, the Friends of the Poor Walk will take place. The walk will begin at the main pavilion next to the boat launch, just south of the Shreveport-Barksdale Bridge. For more information about donations, pledges and individual and corporate sponsorships, visit www.svdpfriendsofthepoorwalk.org.

Sept. 30 will be Society of St. Vincent de Paul Sunday at all parishes in the Diocese of Shreveport. Members will be on hand to accept donations, and all the money received will remain in the conference in which it is collected (if a parish does not have a conference, the money will go to the diocesan council).

While the tireless efforts of the Vincentians have achieved a great deal, the poor in our region still need so much. Together, we, the faithful can meet their needs if we continue to contribute generously of our prayers, our time and our resources.

Catechetical Sunday

by Shelly Bole

This year, the Church will celebrate Catechetical Sunday on September 16, 2012.  The Church has set aside this day to recognize and commission all who are called to catechetical ministry:  parents, PSR catechists/teachers, Catholic School teachers, Youth Ministry Leaders, RCIA Team Members and Catechetical Leaders just to name a few!  Traditionally, the commissioning takes place during the Sunday liturgies.

A brief history of Catechetical Sunday
In 1935, the Vatican published On the Better Care and Promotion of Catechetical Education, a document that asks every country to acknowledge the importance of the Church’s teaching ministry and to honor those who serve the Christian community as catechists. The ministry of catechesis is passed from the pope to the bishops who in turn pass the ministry to the clergy, religious and laity who are charged with the responsibility and privilege of inviting others into an intimate relationship with Jesus and His Church.

Why do we have a special day set aside to commission catechists?
Catechesis is a distinct and special ministry in the Church. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear, “Catechesis is intimately bound up with the whole of the Church’s life… her inner growth and correspondence with God’s plan depend essentially on catechesis” (no. 7). This ministry of teaching in the name of the Church has a profound dignity, which is why catechists are formally commissioned by the Church. It is only fitting that we set aside a day to highlight this ministry and invite the entire church community to think about our responsibility to share our faith with others.

How are parents, the primary catechists of their children, recognized on Catechetical Sunday?
Parents are truly the primary catechists of their children. They prepare the soil and plant the first seeds of faith. On Catechetical Sunday, not only the work of catechists in parishes and schools are highlighted, but the day also commends parents and guardians and encourages them to take seriously their role of making their Catholic households a place where faith is passed on to the next generation.
Catechetical Sunday is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the role that each person plays, by virtue of Baptism, in handing on the faith and being a witness to the Gospel.  “Being a Christian is never the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and decisive direction.”  Pope Benedict XVI

Shelly Bole is the Director of Catechesis for the Diocese of Shreveport.

Bishop’s Reflection (September 2012)

Pictured: Mariela Zamora, an agronomist with Catholic Relief Services, examines the health of coffee trees with coffee farmer Rosa Amelia Centano in La Sirena, Nicaragua.  (CNS photo/Rick D’Elia for Catholic Relief Services)

Love one Another

by Bishop Michael Duca

In this month’s Catholic Connection you will find some inspiring articles on the good works of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Catholic Charities.  As you read these wonderful stories consider that these are not just organizations or clubs within the Church.  In these two communities of faith we encounter the heart of the Church’s mission. In these stories you will see some of the ways people fulfill the mission of the Church given by Our Lord to “love one another.”

Today we are surrounded by a society that is primarily self-centered. Think how often you hear the advice, “You need to take care of yourself,” “You need to look out for yourself,” “Take some time for yourself, you deserve it!” or, my favorite, “It is time for me to get MINE!”  This self-centered perspective may even shape our attitudes of faith. For example, when we ask, “What am I getting out of this Mass, or this sermon?”  Without realizing it, even our charitable giving is affected when how much we give is decided only after we have considered all of our needs and wants.  Believe me, I am not judging anyone more than myself in this regard, but if we do not let the Gospel renew our lives we will live in this self-centered fog that surrounds us and the saving words of Jesus will never penetrate our hearts.

Jesus offers us a wonderfully contradictory wisdom and truth.  He says, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)  This is a hard, challenging wisdom but it cuts through the artificiality of so much of what we hear on TV or from others. The wisdom of Jesus leads us in a counter cultural way.  He says that we must be willing to give away something that we treasure in our LIFE, that we do not want to let go of, for His sake and for the sake of love.  When we allow the need of others to touch our hearts so deeply that we are willing to give out of our want and need, then we begin to understand the depth of Love that Jesus calls us to embrace.  He promises that through acts of charity and love we will find our truest self and peaceful fulfillment in our lives.  This peace comes from realizing how blessed we are and the joy of this peace causes us to judge the success of our life by how free we are to love and not by the oppressive secular standards of wealth or influence.

I remember hearing the story of a group of Catholics who contributed to Catholic Relief Services taking a trip to South American to see the success of their giving.  They packed as typical Americans and when they arrived they surveyed proudly the work their gifts had accomplished to bring clean water to a poor village.  The people of the village were also thankful and they prepared a fiesta of roasted goat, beans and tortillas. That night after the fiesta, the guide explained to the visitors, who were having a wonderful time, that the village had only one goat for meat and that goat had been served that night to their guests as a sign of their thankfulness.  Each of the visitors was deeply humbled. Before this realization they had been proud of their gifts and their generosity, but they realized they had given from their extra and not from their need. That next day, as they were leaving the village, they emptied their pockets and left all their luggage, giving everything they had realizing how blessed they were and how this simple goat was a greater gift than any they could give because it came from the villagers’ need.

We are called to minister to the poor.  We should ask ourselves, “Where do we encounter the poor and offer real help?”  Let me put it even more concretely, “Where do we physically touch the poor, the needful of this world with loving care?”  Or maybe even more challenging and closer to the truth of Jesus teaching, ‘Where do we allow ourselves to be so caught up in the love of another that we are willing to give from our need or want?”
Be intentional in your decision to love.  Look for opportunities within your own family, in your parish and local community where you can give of yourself for Jesus’ sake and show His love to others. This may not even include giving money, but rather the giving of time or a more complete dedication of time to family or church.   We may feel the call to support Catholic Charities or to become a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The way in which each of us gives ourselves over to the demands of love will each be different, but if we are to cut through the false hope of the secular world and allow the words of Jesus to change us we must make this kind of sacrificial love part of our lives.

Pope to Visit Lebanon in September

Pope Benedict XVI (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI will present a papal document addressing the church’s concerns in the Middle East, meet with representatives of local Christian and Muslim communities, and address political and cultural leaders on a three-day visit to Lebanon Sept. 14-16. Pope Benedict’s primary task on the trip will be to present a document, called an apostolic exhortation, based on the deliberations of a special synod of bishops held at the Vatican in 2009. That two-week meeting, which was attended by 185 bishops, focused on the precarious circumstances of 5.7 million Catholics in 16 Middle Eastern countries. A document released by participants at the end of the synod called for “religious freedom and freedom of conscience” in Muslim lands, a theme Pope Benedict is likely to address on his visit.