Category Archives: Columns

Kids’ Connection: Saint Teresa of Calcutta

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Vocations View: God is Persistent: Being Accepted to the Permanent Diaconate Program

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by Mike Van Vranken

I had just turned 28 years old and was standing in the vestibule of St. Michael Church in West Memphis, Arkansas with my pastor.  Thumbing through a pamphlet explaining why the diocese was searching for men to be ordained as Permanent Deacons, I exclaimed to Fr. Barnes: “I want to do this!”  He smiled and prophesied that as I got older, I should remember this moment because God had just planted a seed.  Now, as an accepted candidate to the Diocese of Shreveport’s upcoming formation of a new class of ordained Permanent Deacons, I am both excited and humbled to finally answer God’s call.

Deacon candidate Mike Van Vranken

I’ve learned when God chooses us to do something (John 15:16), we can run, hide, and find ten thousand excuses why we are not ready. But He waits patiently until we totally surrender to His will so He can place us exactly where He wants us. And for me, I’m convinced his desire, and mine too, is to be ordained and serve as a permanent deacon.  To be in this place of surrender, to know that I have made this decision in complete spiritual freedom and to anticipate the myriad of ways I will be able to minister to the people of God ignites a sensation in my entire being that fills me with joy, peace, excitement, awe, trepidation, delight and numerous feelings that I have no words to describe.

I catch myself daydreaming (“praydreaming” as one priest puts it) about many of these opportunities as a deacon: meeting with new parents about baptizing their infant into the body of Christ; proclaiming the “gospel of the Lord” to the assembly at Mass; teaching adults, children, youth – both Catholic and those becoming Catholic; witnessing and blessing marriages, officiating at funerals, wakes and burial services; helping those in need, including the hungry, homeless, sick, lonely, divorced, lost – those who Pope Francis reminds us are on the peripheries; offering words of encouragement, inspiration, hope and love to all people in our diocese.  In every one of these “praydreams,” I fall in love with the reality that I will be accompanying Jesus in the lives of each person I encounter in so many special and holy ways. Or, to say it differently, I will have more and richer opportunities to experience the Holy Trinity in every person I meet.

In my current role as a spiritual director, I constantly encourage people to take whatever issue is on their mind and share it in a heartfelt conversation with God. They should tell Him their feelings and thoughts, asking for His input and His desires. If you have any indication that God is choosing you to be one of his ordained Permanent Deacons, I offer you the same advice:  Get alone with God in a quiet place, slowly read John 15:1-17, or maybe another scripture where Jesus calls us, and have an honest and frank conversation with Him about how this scripture touches you. Finally, let Him take it from there.

It is good to remember that God is calling each of us – male and female, young and old to be missionary disciples.  At the same time, He is choosing some for the religious life, for the priesthood or to the permanent diaconate. It is good for all of us to ask His help in showing us exactly what he wants from us. And don’t worry that you might miss what His desire is for you. He’s very persistent.

If you would like more information about the Permanent Diaconate, contact Deacon Clary Nash, cnash@dioshpt.org or call 318.868.4441.

Second Collections: The Catholic University of America Collection

by Fr. Rothell Price, Vicar General

Collection Dates: September 9 & 10  
Announcement Dates: August 27 & September 3   

T he second collection in the parishes and churches of our diocese this month is for The Catholic University of America. We ask the Catholic faithful of our diocese to join with the Catholic faithful across our country to make Catholic higher education possible. You may not have a child, grandchild, or great grandchild at Catholic University, but every student at CUA is your son, daughter, grandchild, brother and sister in the family of our Catholic faith.  When you make a gift to the students and faculty, academic and service programs, and foundation and operations at CUA, you empower The Catholic University of America community to grow and strengthen its capacity to offer a world class education unlike any other.

The Catholic University of America collection prepares and strengthens the current and next generation of apologists who explain the Catholic faith and social teaching to the rest of the world.  Your gift supports scholarships for students who need financial assistance.  Please support the next generation of Catholic leaders for our Church and nation – including those studying to become our future priests and religious men and women.

Since 1903, The Catholic University of America has been greatly blessed by the generosity of parishioners around the country through the National Collection.  James Cardinal Gibbons, the first chancellor of CUA and ninth Archbishop of Baltimore, once called this collection, “the people’s endowment.”  I ask you to take his words into your heart.  Join your contribution to that of faithful parishioners across our country to spiritually and academically prepare this and future generations of students, particularly those who have financial need.

More than 12,000 priests and religious are proudly identified as alumni of CUA.  Hundreds of priests and religious attend CUA each year furthering their charge to engage in ongoing religious formation. The Catholic University of America’s mission centers on the discovery of knowledge and truth through excellence in teaching and research, all in service to the Church – a service that is greatly needed today.  University faculty and scholars promote Catholic social teaching and through their research and discourse, help form the Church’s response to challenging social issues of our time.

Please give generously to The Catholic University of America collection. Your heartfelt participation in the second collection is joined to the generosity of CUA alumni, friends, faculty and staff.  Your donation strengthens the Catholic University’s mission and extends its reach.  Your contribution helps our national university move forward, ensuring that current students and future graduates can continue to be God’s light in our world.

Learn more at collection.cua.edu.

Navigating the Faith: Spiritual Direction

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by Dianne Rachal, Director of Worship

While our diocese does not have an abundance of lay spiritual directors, the number more than doubled in August as four more people completed two years of formation. Brenda Lites and Susan Tousignant, St. Jude in Benton;, Marie Rinaudo, Cathedral of St. John Berchmans; and Mike Van Vranken, St. Joseph in Shreveport, graduated from the Archdiocese of New Orleans Spirituality Center Formation Program on August 9, and are now certified spiritual directors. They join Joe and Katherine Bernal of St. Paschal in Monroe and Dianne Rachal of the Catholic Center.  These spiritual directors are trained in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, as retreat leaders, and in one-on-one spiritual direction.

What is Spiritual Direction?
Throughout the history of the Church there have always been men and women who listened to those wanting assistance with their prayer.  From the desert fathers and mothers of the 4th century, through numerous saints and founders of religious orders, mystics and confessors, the Church’s sacred tradition of spiritual direction has been nurtured and safeguarded, remaining a venerable and vital spiritual practice for many today.  Spiritual direction is concerned with helping a person directly with their relationship with God. Spiritual directors help people grow in their prayer life, nurture their relationship with God and enable one to become more attentive to God in daily life.  In nurturing one’s relationship with God, the most fundamental issue in that relationship is: “Who is God for me, and who am I for God?”

Spiritual direction is help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication, to respond to this communication, to grow in intimacy with God, and to live out the results of one’s relationship with God.  Spiritual direction has always aimed at fostering union with God.

What is Spiritual Direction Not?
Spiritual direction is not counseling – spiritual directors are not trained therapists, counselors or psychiatrists.  While spiritual direction can be a helpful adjunct if one is in therapy, it can never take the place of counseling or professional therapy.

Spiritual direction is not pastoral counseling provided by ordained priests and deacons, nor is it spiritual companioning where two people agree to meet and mutually support one another in their spiritual lives.

Who is Spiritual Direction For?
Everyone who is in a relationship with God would benefit from spiritual direction. Are you considering a major life change:  Vocation?  Marriage?  Career move?  Does God feel far way, even though you pray daily?  Do you feel that everyone else has a fulfilling prayer life, and that somehow you are missing out on something?  Are you troubled about the “worldliness” of your life, and concerned about the will of God for you?  Are you angry with God?  If any of these questions resonate with you, spiritual direction can help you draw closer to God and discern His will for you. A trained spiritual director helps one address God directly and listen to His response. Spiritual direction focuses on what happens when a person listens to and responds to a self-communicating God.

What is Spiritual Direction Like?
The spiritual director and the person agree to meet for a specified length of time, usually an hour, and  decide the frequency of meetings.  A spiritual director maintains complete confidentiality with respect to everything that transpires during the meeting. The person coming for spiritual direction communicates what is happening in their prayer life. Sometimes a spiritual director will give the person a scripture or spiritual writing to pray with and reflect on, and the person shares what surfaced during reflection. The spiritual director may suggest spiritual practices such as journaling, contemplation or lectio divina.

The spiritual director always listens intently, helping the person notice God’s presence, God’s movements, God’s will in the life of the person. The person coming for spiritual direction is open in sharing their prayer experiences with the spiritual director, and more importantly, open to receiving God’s communication. In spiritual direction, God is the director.

As Christians, we are a pilgrim people on a journey moving ever closer to eternal life, accompanied by Jesus Christ who shows us the way, and growing in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit who is the love of God the Father.  Spiritual direction helps us develop and deepen our relationship with the Triune God.

For more on information contacting a spiritual director, attending an informational meeting about becoming a spiritual director or taking spiritual direction classes, see the sidebar.

Domestic Church: Doubting the Truths We Learned in Youth

by Katie Sciba

It’s four years ago this month that my dad passed away. His battle with melanoma was shorter than others’ and though I’m grateful his suffering wasn’t long, it’s still painful knowing my children will grow up without knowing him.

Because I want his memory to be as present as possible, I flood the kids with stories so “Pop Pop” is a legend in their little minds. And because they know he died early in or before their lifetimes, the question inevitably arises, “Where is Pop Pop now?”

The reality is I don’t know.

I doubt seriously that my father is in hell – perish the thought – and though I hope so much that he’s in heaven among Christ, the angels and saints, I don’t know that for certain either. Andrew and I have taught our kids about Purgatory and we frequently pray for the poor souls there, often mentioning my dad “just in case.” Truly, only the Lord knows.

My four-year-old Peter recently asked me how long Pop Pop would have to wait if indeed he is in Purgatory. “When will Jesus let him out?”

“I’m not sure,” I said, taking his hand. “That’s why we have to pray for Pop Pop, so the Lord will bring him to heaven. We pray for the souls in Purgatory and then they go to be with Jesus. And if Pop Pop is already there, then Jesus takes our prayers and does something else with them.”

Peter furrowed his brow in childlike curiosity, “Can I pray for Pop Pop to get out?” After I nodded, he squeezed his eyes shut and prayed silently. Opening them a few seconds later, he grinned at me. “I did it,” he stated proudly. “You did!” I replied. “And we’ll keep praying for him.”

“No, Mama. He’s out. I prayed for him so now he is out. Pop Pop is in heaven.”

I smiled at my son’s innocence. Initially I tried to discern how to tell him it doesn’t work just like that, but I stopped myself. Why wouldn’t it? I had just told my inquiring four-year-old that when we persistently pray for the souls in Purgatory, they’re released. He prayed, he’s been praying, and now he’s sure his grandfather beholds the face of God. It was a classic example of faith like a child.

What is it about adulthood that causes us to doubt the truths we learn in our youth? Even after teaching Peter that prayer will aid in releasing souls from Purgatory, why is it still hard for me to grasp that my dad could be in heaven? I suspect at some point in our lives, our sense of trust begins to crack, so divine revelations that call for faith become harder for us to swallow. Maybe questions aren’t answered to our satisfaction or some kind of hurt leaves us asking why.

What remains firm among our doubts or hesitations is the fact that the Lord waits for us. He wants us to ask the unbelievable, the impossible of Him. He wants us to believe what He says and who He is. From faith comes certainty and from trust in the words of Christ, peace is born.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1)

Katie Sciba is married to Andrew and together they have five children. She is the author of thecatholicwife.net.

Faithful Food: Finding Balance

by Kim Long

September, usually a much anticipated month, seems to have been lying in wait and now it has caught me up. September is the month for balance as the autumnal equinox occurs around the twenty-first day of the month. Terms like equinox and solstice can put some people “off,” as they have been co-opted by many “new age” followers. I do not see it that way. God made the heavens and the earth and ordered time, so I give Him all the credit for the equinoxes and solstices and the rest.

The equinox occurs when there are equal hours of light and darkness and it happens twice in a year (spring and fall). The solstices occur in December (shortest day of the year) and June (longest day of the year).

When my children were young and school-aged I accepted, not unlike a court summons,  the pages and pages of supplies required by schools. I shopped, bargained, pleaded for a peaceful (and early) bedtime, and  when the alarm clock moved the day quite literally forward, I can see now that September was anything but balance. Happily, scripture reminds us there is a time for every purpose under heaven.

Things change, our lives, the people in them, our jobs, our roles, all change. And in those changes growth occurs and then hopefully and prayerfully, we achieve balance. I like two definitions of the word “balance,” and I find them to be companionable rather than conflicting: “An even distribution of weight enabling someone or thing to remain upright and steady;” and “harmony of design and proportion.”

September, for me, comes down to one word: balance. So, now that I have taken my life down to the basics, how can I become healthier in body, mind and soul? Balance. What that means for me is being gentle with where I am. I did not get out of balance overnight, so finding my way back to center won’t be a quick, easy or one time trip. September though, with a built-in reminder from God, assures me it is doable. In September, God reminds me to check in and see what needs to be adjusted.

In my September kitchen I cook with more intention and that includes body (healthier), mind (not blowing my budget) and soul (enjoying some “slow” food – the kind I must sit down to enjoy). I found this dish, cooked on a Sunday for family dinner “dessert,” achieved harmony of design and proportion.

Greek Yogurt with Fall Fruit Conserve

Ingredients:
• 4 pears, peeled and sliced
• 3 apples, peeled and sliced
• 1 cup dried cranberries
• 1 cup brown sugar
• Enough water to cover

Directions:
1)  Add all ingredients to heavy bottomed pot (you don’t want it to stick) and add just enough water to cover.

2)  Cook down over a low flame, stirring often so it doesn’t stick. You may need to add more water from time to time as mixture thickens. Once thickened and fruits are soft, remove from heat and cool.

3)  Dish up some plain Greek yogurt and cover with the conserve. Add a handful of oatmeal and this can easily double as breakfast.
Leftover conserve may be stored in a container with a lid (a canning jar is great but plastic containers work just as well, use what you have on hand). It will keep about a month.

In Review: Knit One, Purl a Prayer: A Spirituality of Knitting

Knit One, Purl a Prayer: A Spirituality of Knitting
by Peggy Rosenthal

reviewed by Kim Long

The truth is that all my life I have wanted to belong to that sisterhood that understood the instructive nature of the phrase “knit one, purl one” but alas no one in my immediate family knitted. My great aunt, Ruby Cumela, left as her legacy one hand knitted cardigan in what I now recognize as seed stitch, and that seemed to be enough to fuel my dream of learning to knit. My late father-in-law proved that men do it too; he learned to knit while convalescing from injuries sustained in World War II. The humidity and heat of just about any season in Louisiana did nothing to dissuade me from the desire to offer hand knit wool socks to all my relatives at Christmas. Well, I still can’t knit socks, though I have managed a few simple garments.

When I saw this book on the Paraclete Press website, I wasted no time in ordering a copy. This book does not disappoint nor does it discriminate. One does not have to knit to read it and benefit from Peggy Rosenthal’s take on prayer. In six short chapters, a big chunk of life is examined and, as an added bonus for those who do knit, there is a simple pattern at the end of each chapter.
As part of the Active Prayer Series this book brings together knitting, praying and the spirituality of life. How many times have our hands worked on a task or project while our minds (and hearts) are elsewhere and otherwise engaged?

In the first chapter, prayer is the focus. “I found that each stitch invoked a prayer as it slipped through my fingers from the left needle to the right. It was a wordless prayer – just an awareness of the Divine Presence.” She delves into the definition of prayer and gives wordless prayer its proper respect. Prayer, she suggests, is our human longing for communication with the Divine.

Peggy and her husband, George, are converts to Catholicism, both having grown up “in a happy, loving agnostic household.” She recalls feeling an emptiness on Sundays along with a restlessness and sense of longing, but not quite sure of what would fill her. During the months of their preparation leading up to baptism, they were introduced to some monks at a nearby Trappist Abbey. Contemplative prayer and the monks’ practice of chanting the psalms were intriguing. In chapter two she reflects on that practice noting that prayer is in the pause rather than the words themselves.

Chapter three talks about community. Women often sit together, knit, talk and ….yes pray! And we are not praying for only ourselves, but for the needs of others, both individuals and communities.

Chapter four is about working with patterns – in knitting, in prayer, in life. The author states, “sometimes when I am knitting I enjoy just watching the knitted pattern forming through my fingers.”

In chapter five, Peggy recounts stories of people who have purled through pain.

In chapter six, the prayer aspect she began with in the first chapter is brought round again full circle.  Why do we knit? How is it prayerful? What does this work of our hands do for our whole body, mind and spirit? Again she grapples with these basic questions. I imagine the same questions and prayers can be applied to many “jobs or activities” such as cooking or  gardening, so I see this book as a template for the merging of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, which for me have always been a guide, a pattern to be worked and reworked.

This book is worth the day or two it may take to read it. Its precepts are not brand new, but it offers a fresh perspective. I hope you will take the time to explore it.

Mike’s Meditations: Spiritual Accompaniment

by Mike Van Vranken

Has being a Christian ever seemed like a lonely journey?  Have you ever thought that you would like to talk to someone about what is going on in your spiritual life, but then you wondered who that person might be and how would you ever go about finding them?  Unfortunately, every Christian has experienced this isolation, this feeling of abandonment. It is such an important and enormous issue that many Christian leaders, and even God Himself, has something to say about it.

St. Ignatius Loyola urged that we should “speak with one’s good confessor or another spiritual person” in his famous rules for discernment.

In one Wednesday audience, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us all that having a spiritual guide “remains valid even today as everyone – priest, consecrated persons, lay people and especially the young – is invited to seek the counsel of a spiritual father (or mother) – one capable of accompanying each individual in a profound knowledge of self, and of leading him or her into an intimate union with the Lord so that their lives may be increasingly molded toward the gospel.”

In his first formal, written communication to the entire church, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel, 169,170), Pope Francis, in calling us all to be “missionary disciples,” describes “priests, religious and laity” who are trained in the “art of accompaniment.”  He says this “spiritual accompaniment must lead others ever closer to God.”

And, from scripture: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  These, of course, are the words of God Almighty, and they certainly apply to our spiritual lives today.

On the night before her final vows as a Carmelite religious, St. Therese of Lisieux felt inner turmoil.  She wrote that she sensed an interior storm like she had never experienced before.  She was in anguish.  However, when she took it to her novice mistress, her spiritual mother, the agony left her to be replaced by God’s perfect peace.

The famous Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton, had a similar experience.  He decided to talk to a wise and spiritual guide, but delayed the conversation and remained in confusion and uneasiness.  But, once he began talking to this trusted spiritual mentor, he was overcome with peace and clarity.

Of course, we don’t have to be confused and in anguish before we seek spiritual guidance. On the contrary, many of those who meet with a spiritual director, either because they are dealing with a troublesome predicament or they just want to get closer to God, experience joy, peace and consolation as a result.

To be sure, I’m not talking here about clinical counseling or therapy, neither am I referring to pastoral guidance. While all these are very important, valid and helpful resources we all may need during our lives, for our purposes here, I’m talking about spiritual direction.

Consequently, it is important to remember that spiritual directors are not counselors, clinicians, therapists or even ministers in the normal understanding of those professions. Instead, spiritual directors are trained listening companions who always turn us back to God. Their role is not to give advice, but to gently, and respectfully point us to the God – the Father, Son and Spirit – who already lives within us.  In short, they help us further develop our conscious relationship with God as they assist us in focusing more on our actual experiences with God rather than what we think about Him.  We become more aware of how God is moving in our lives and even more cognizant of the many ways He communicates to us (see page 11 for more on spiritual direction and page 29 for a list of directors).

So, the next time you feel spiritually lonely, are wrestling with your prayer life, or just want to talk about your experiences with God to a trusted, fellow Christian, pray about the idea of seeking a certified spiritual director; one who can accompany you in many and diverse ways; one who will help you further develop your relationship with God.  It may prove to be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.

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

Kids’ Connection: Saint John Eudes

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Vocations View: Discerning Marriage

by Raney Johnson, Seminarian

In encouraging others to discern a vocation to the priesthood and religious life, sometimes those called to married life might not experience the same encouragement. However, it can be difficult to go about telling someone to discern the married life. There are no marriage seminaries or monasteries where people go to meet their spouses. Those discerning married life have to live day to day in the secular world with many voices influencing them not to get married. Then how do the Catholic men and women who discern married life each day determine whether or not God is calling them to the vocation of Holy Matrimony?

My goal is not so much to offer advice to those who are single, rather I want to offer some advice in discerning married life to Catholics who are dating. First, always put God first. The ultimate goal of married life is for spouses to get each other to heaven, so the first place Catholics can start in discerning married life is determining whether or not the person they are discerning married life with is leading them closer to God.

A husband and wife are each other’s spiritual strength and should always encourage each other to grow in holiness. Couples discerning marriage can pray the rosary together, go to Mass together and attend adoration together to ask God if He is calling them to married life. Couples can also seek the help of the saints by choosing patron saints for their discernment such as the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph or St. Therese of Lisieux’s parents, Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin.

Second, find a priest to tag along on the journey. Men and women discerning vocations to the priesthood and religious life are always encouraged to find a spiritual director to help guide them in knowing if they should join the seminary or a religious order, so I think the same should be encouraged for couples discerning married life. The priest does not have to be a spiritual director per se, but could be a wise voice to offer encouragement and guidance in learning God’s will.

Third, if preparing for a proposal, have the engagement ring blessed. An engagement is always an exciting moment and what better way to start it off than by going to a deacon or priest and asking him to bless the ring before ever saying those special words, “Will you marry me?”
The fourth point is similar to the third, ask a deacon or priest to bless the engagement, which might include using the ceremony for blessing an engagement found in the Book of Blessings.

An argument might be brought up to these points that some Catholics date people who belong to other Christian denominations or who are not Christian at all. My answer to this argument is that these suggestions for those discerning the married life can help slowly and respectfully introduce the Catholic faith to a non-Catholic who is dating a Catholic, which could save the non-Catholic in the couple from any awkwardness he or she might experience on the first day of marriage prep with a priest.

In conclusion, one might wonder why a seminarian is offering advice to couples. I have two reasons. The first is that discerning married life is as exciting and important as discerning the priesthood or the religious life. The second is that the future priests of the Church receive their first formation in the homes of faithful couples, whether both parents are Catholic or only one parent is Catholic. It is not far-fetched to say that more faithful marriages will provide more faithful priests.

Interested in a vocation to the priesthood or religious life? Contact Fr. Jerry Daigle, Jr., Director of Vocations, 318-868-4441,
or jdaigle@dioshpt.org.