Category Archives: Columns

Mike’s Meditations: Are You Being Held Captive?

by Mike Van Vranken

Last month, we considered how Jesus explained the purpose of his ministry in Luke’s gospel. He said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).

We pondered his first reason for being anointed – that he came to bring glad tidings to the poor. Consequently, we contemplated how we might be poor in our desires to help the needy, forgive those who have hurt us, poor in our compassion to help the elderly, and how Jesus liberates us from all of this poverty with God’s loving grace. Hopefully, your daily prayers with this scripture helped transform your beginnings of 2019. This month, let’s consider the next reason for his ministry.

Proclaim Liberty to the Captives. Who are the captives here Jesus is talking about? Is he talking about you? As always, these are not questions to only casually consider. These are words of Jesus we want to take to God, and ask Him for His perspective about them. Sit quietly in total knowledge that God is with you. Slowly read again the passage quoted above: Luke 4:18-19. Now, say out loud: “Jesus came ‘to proclaim liberty to the captives.’” Say it again. Pay attention to your feelings inside you as you say it. Does it make you curious, anxious, joyful or sad? Whatever your feelings, take them to God and ask for His perspective on them and if they are coming from Him. And if so, ask Him to explain them. Listen quietly for His response, whether it comes as a thought, or an image or a memory of something. And remember, His response may be more quietness.

As you dialogue with God, ask Him to reveal to you where you are being held captive. And, be open to hear His response, even if it shocks you. Sometimes, we can be held captive to our long-time prejudiced thoughts about other people. Am I captive to a thought that people on government assistance are lazy or freeloaders? Am I captive to an idea that people with same sex attractions are all sinners? Am I confined to a prejudice against Muslims or Jews? Am I held back because of fear that someone in need might be faking it or taking advantage of others? Am I trapped in a cage believing that anyone in the other political party is always wrong and sometimes evil? Am I locked up in some form of dualistic thinking that causes me to feel superior or elite because of my beliefs? Am I confined to the thought that it is wonderful for Christians to travel to Central America on a missionary trip to bless those poor souls living there in crime-ridden fear and poverty, and at the same time, am I firmly convinced we should build a wall to make sure those same poor, scared people cannot come into my country? Is my thinking so restricted that I believe the sins of others are much more serious than the sins I commit? Do I think my own way of praying is better than the way others pray? Am I somehow held captive to all of these narrow and inhibiting ways of seeing the world and those around me?

Well, rejoice! Jesus came to proclaim liberty to us captives. And yes, we are all held captive to these kinds of beliefs at one time or another. But, God became human in Jesus of Nazareth and because of this incarnation, he showed us how to live in His created world. He demonstrated to us how “to love one another as” he has loved us (John 13:34, John 15:12). We cannot do it on our own. But, with his love and grace, “all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

Graciously allow God to show you all the ways you are held captive, and then faithfully ask Him for the grace to give you liberty from your captivities. Then, sit back and receive all of His gifts and graces. Be patient as they continue to unfold long after your prayer time is over. His graces will never run out; they are “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23). And one by one, you will be freed from all of your captive thoughts, words and actions. And, as we are transformed into this new liberty of freedom, we are now able to pray for and be incarnation to and for all the others who are held captive as well.

Kids’ Connection: Epiphany

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Vocations View: Why I Want to Become a Priest

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by Seminarian Nicholas Duncan

I am going to let you all in on a little secret: I never wanted to become a priest. When I was a kid, I didn’t dream about wearing brightly colored vestments, preaching homilies, hoisting chalices or blessing pets. I wanted to become a professional athlete, win a gold medal or two, and have lots of money and a beautiful wife. I was told to dream big. I could become whatever I wanted to be. Consequently, these were the goals I pursued in my youth.

Eventually, I had to lower my goals from my childhood fantasies to what was a bit more attainable. I became a good athlete – not “Olympic” level – but pretty good. I realized that happiness does not come from money, so I tossed that goal aside, and I had a beautiful girlfriend. I seemed to be doing well for myself, but I did not feel fulfilled. My focus was on myself and what I wanted: my dreams, my goals, my desires – everything was about me. Never did I stop to ask the Lord what He had planned for me.

I wouldn’t even let the thought of becoming a priest enter my mind until I was 26-years-old. And once I did, I did not tell anyone for over a year. The first person I told was a priest. We told some other priests, and eventually I let my parents know. This small group of people were the only ones who knew for another year.

When I decided I was going to seminary, I was forced to tell people. I had to give them an explanation because I was quitting my job and moving out of my apartment. This secret discernment of priesthood is an obstacle many men face. Part of the problem stems from fear of talking about the priesthood. It is something that is rarely discussed in our churches. When I started to tell people I was thinking about becoming a priest, a feeling of relief came upon me.

Another reason for this fear is that when you tell someone you are planning on becoming a priest, inevitable questions follow. “Why would you want to become a priest?” “You mean the Catholic kind of priest?” “You do know they don’t let you have sex?” “That means you won’t get to have a wife and kids.”

Sex and children are always everyone’s immediate response. I want to shout at them, “Of course I know priests are celibate!” I didn’t know how to respond to these questions. The reaction people have is a product of our sexualized culture and misplaced values.

On a deeper level, this concern stems from the fact that God has designed man and woman for each other. It is natural for a man and a woman to leave their families to unite as one flesh and create a new family. Today the family is under attack. Young adults are rejecting marriage or postponing it. Even worse are those who want to redefine marriage according to the whims of men instead of by the eternal order of God. But I think it is a positive sign that people’s immediate gut response to celibacy is that you won’t get to have a family. Even those who do not believe have this response, showing their natural inclination to the plan God has for them, despite their actions to the contrary.

I, like many people, desired to have a family. All I knew at the time was that I believed it was “possible” for me to become a priest, and that through will power and self-control I could be celibate. Additionally, I had a sense that perhaps I was not called to marriage, but to something else. This feeling is even harder to explain.

I have come to realize that this “something else” is still a type of marriage. This supernatural marriage of the priesthood is in union with Christ, the Bridegroom, and his union through his sacrifice on the cross to his bride the Church. This supernatural union is REAL; this marriage is not a meager metaphor attempting to explain Christ’s love for us. It is an eschatological reality.

This is the marriage I now feel called to. Dating is forbidden at seminary because we are already in a relationship with another: the Holy Mother Church, the Bride of Christ. We are discerning if we are called to this supernatural relationship, and She, “the Church,” is deciding if we are fit to be her spouse.

When I am ordained (God willing) I will not be called reverend or pastor or minister, I will be called father. This name is not an honorary title or a salutation. This spiritual fatherhood is real. Yes, I would like to marry and have children, but I feel an even stronger pull to become a father to young and old alike. This is why I want to become a priest.  •

Navigating the Faith: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton – Wife, Mother, Saint

by Dianne Rachal

The gate of heaven is very low; only the humble can enter it.”  – St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Elizabeth Ann Seton is the first native-born American to be proclaimed a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Elizabeth lived every role possible for a woman: daughter, debutante, wife, mother, widow, convert, grieving parent and founder of the first congregation of women in America – the Sisters of Charity.

Elizabeth was born on August 28, 1774, in New York City to Dr. Richard and Catherine Bayley. Elizabeth’s mother died when Elizabeth was three. A year later, her sister Kitty died. As a child and teenager, Elizabeth was left with family members while her father was gone for long periods. Elizabeth was 16 when she met the 22-year-old William Magee Seton; they married four years later. Elizabeth and William had five children: Anna Maria, William, Richard, Catherine and Rebecca. Elizabeth was a devout member of the Episcopal Church, joining with other young matrons in service to the poor, especially to widows and orphans. She established an organization in New York City called the Widows’ Society.

The Seton family’s shipping business went bankrupt when many ships were lost at sea during wars. Elizabeth’s husband William contracted tuberculosis, and a voyage to Italy was proposed in hopes of restoring his health. Elizabeth left four of her children behind, including baby Rebecca, and with eight-year-old Anna Maria, sailed with her husband to Italy. Upon arrival in Italy, the Setons were quarantined at Lazaretto due to Yellow Fever. Business associates of William, the Filicchi brothers and their wives, brought the Setons food and blankets during the quarantine. William died, leaving Elizabeth a widow at age 29 with five children.

The Filicchis welcomed Elizabeth and Anna Maria into their home, and it was there that Elizabeth was introduced to Catholicism. Elizabeth was impressed with Catholic piety and the Real Presence in the Eucharist. One year after her return to America, Elizabeth was received into the Catholic Church at St. Peter’s Church on Barclay Street in New York City. Alienated from her family and friends, and trying to support her five children, Elizabeth started an academy for young ladies. Rumors were spread that the academy was a Catholic school, and the venture failed.

In 1808 Elizabeth was invited by priests to start a school for girls in Baltimore on Paca Street. Within a year Elizabeth took vows as a religious. Soon other young women joined her. In 1809 the small group of religious moved to Emmitsburg, MD, to become the first American Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. Elizabeth became Mother Superior for 12 years. The order opened St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School—the first free Catholic school in America, and the beginning of the parochial school system. Revenue from the academy enabled the sisters to educate poor country children. Mother Elizabeth oversaw all aspects of the school: teachers, curriculum, discipline and taught French and religion.

The order adopted the habit of an Italian widow, and continued to grow. Mother Seton wrote textbooks, translated books from French into English, trained teachers and wrote articles on the spiritual life. During her years in Emmitsburg, Elizabeth suffered the loss of two of her daughters to tuberculosis: Anna Maria in 1812 and Rebecca in 1816. Elizabeth herself was weak from the effects of the disease. She spent the last years of her life directing St. Joseph’s Academy and her growing community. She died January 4, 1821, not yet 47-years-old.

Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton was declared Venerable in 1959 and beatified on March 17, 1963, by St. Pope John XXIII. She was canonized on September 14, 1975, by Pope Paul VI. Her feast day is January 4. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is the patron saint of seafarers, bakers, death of children, the homeless, nursing services, widows and young brides.  •

January & February Second Collections

Collection for the Church in Latin America

Announcement Dates: January 13th & 20th
Collection Dates: January 26th & 27th 

Share Your Faith: Support the Collection for the Church in Latin America.”

This new year is so ripe with wonderful possibilities. Heavenly blessings will be received, divine providence will be bestowed, unmerited mercy will be shown, and comfort and help from above will be poured into our lives. It is in light and promise of God’s goodness that I invite your heartfelt participation in the Collection for the Church in Latin America. 

The Collection for the Church in Latin America supports pastoral programs as awarded by the USCCB’s Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America. “Share your Faith” by willingly participating in this collection to ensure the strength of our Catholic brothers and sisters through the works of evangelization, formation of laity, religious and seminarians, as well as youth ministry and catechesis.

The people of the Caribbean and Latin America are still recovering from the storms of the past two summers. For so many of them, recovery is agonizingly slow. Your donation to the Collection for the Church in Latin America is needed more than ever. So many men, women and children look to the Church for whatever help can be given to them. Please Share Your Faith; give generously. Support the Collection for the Church in Latin America.

Diocesan Catholic Schools

Announcement Dates: January 20th & 21st
Collection Dates: February 2nd & 3rd 

We often say with all sincerity that our children are the future. Our children are saying they are not only the future, but also the present. In what I believe to be their divinely inspired wisdom, they tangibly remind us that the future begins today, not later. Our Diocesan Catholic Schools Collection is a concrete participation in the inspired wisdom of our children. Support for Catholic education today sets the foundation of future Catholic education. Please give generously to the Diocesan Catholic Schools Collection.  

Donating to the Diocesan Catholic Schools Collection acknowledges the present and future participation of our children in the Church and society. Whatever amount you give is the clearest sign of your commitment to them and their families. Your donation supports the Bishop’s Tuition Assistance Fund, which provides the means to support Catholic families in sending their children to one of our six diocesan Catholic schools: St. Frederick High School, Loyola College Prep, Our Lady of Fatima School, Jesus the Good Shepherd School, St. Joseph School, and St. John Berchmans School. Your gift makes so much happen for the greater glory of God and the salvation of young souls. Please give generously to our Diocesan Catholic Schools Collection.

Your sacrifice keeps the doors open to these havens where our children and youth encounter Jesus Christ, the teachings of the Church, the witness of the saints, and the missionary discipleship of our parishes. Please give gladly to our Diocesan Catholic Schools Collection.  •

Vulnerability is a Gift from God

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by Katie Sciba

Deep breath, I told myself. Play it cool. I lifted my chin, squared my shoulders, and feigned confidence walking into Sportspectrum. In the few months prior, I took up running as a light hobby and, in time, felt ambitious enough to shoot for a half-marathon; but to go for it, I had to train with the right pair of shoes, and to get the right pair, I had to ask for help. I knew absolutely nothing about brands, fit or types of support for my particular gait. I was in over my head and mortified by my ignorance. The last thing I wanted was for anyone to know I was new; mostly because I felt vulnerable.

“Have y’all had a big rush since the new year?” I made conversation with the employee. “Ha, HUGE. It’s one of our busiest times,” she laughed.  “Yeah I wondered if I had just missed all the Resolution people,” I said, looking at big gaps in the shelf, obviously cleared recently by new athletes born from the new year. Maybe if I laugh about being new, she won’t realize I don’t know what I’m doing, I thought.

So maybe, unlike me, you’re a veteran athlete with the prowess of a cheetah; but we all have some sort of vulnerability that makes us take a step or two back. Understandably, we don’t typically volunteer our shortcomings, wounds and weaknesses – they’re the parts of ourselves we’re not proud of.

In this era of social media, we typically just see the best or most beautiful shots of others’ lives. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for gorgeous Pins on Pinterest, and I’m guilty of losing track of time on Facebook. It’s fun to see and share happiness and beauty, but with just highlights visible, it’s easy to believe that others don’t have the same struggles we do. I for one don’t like feeling uncertain or incapable, so my vulnerabilities aren’t usually out there for the world to see.

Most of us have experienced the fragility of a precious newborn. Defenseless and too weak to raise his head, a baby’s life is entrusted wholly to parents to provide everything from food to love. And it’s in this form that the mightiest being of all, the Lord Himself, came to humanity. Jesus was born vulnerable and He died the same way.

Follow my train of thought for a second: 1) As the all-powerful God, He could have chosen something a bit more impressive than a babe in a manger, but such is His divine nature. God is love and love is vulnerable. 2) Because we’re made in the image and likeness of God, we’re supposed to imitate our Creator. We’re supposed to do the best impression of the Lord that we can; therefore 3) to make ourselves vulnerable, is to imitate the Lord.

Now, the Lord doesn’t exactly have the shortcomings we imperfect people have, so this is by no means a call to cast your fragile pearls carelessly before everyone. I’ve learned in recent years that sharing my vulnerabilities with a precious few, can create a stronger bond with friends, family or even strangers when they echo the same hardships back to me. The “Me too” movement is powerful. It creates understanding, compassion, solidarity and safety all at once, which are most definitely gifts from the Lord.

Whatever your resolutions this year, don’t hesitate to share challenges with one or two trusted souls. You may find that you’re in good company, and you’ll no longer feel alone.

Faithful Food: Sweetness and Light

by Kim Long

What a whirlwind 2018 proved to be for our family, and I am sure each of us can recount our own special moments which have shaped and changed us throughout the past year.

For my family there were two “enlargements:” my eldest son married a wonderful woman who brought two children of her own into our family, and another son and daughter-in-law gave birth to a baby boy, Isaac.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, on the eve of Christ the King, we gathered as a family at Holy Trinity Parish to baptize Isaac into Christ. With equal measures of joy and solemnity, we moved through the ancient rites of initiation. The priest said that if we had been able to see what had just occurred, namely that Christ had come into this child, we would be blinded by the light of God.

Years ago I attended a Mass on Epiphany. I desperately wanted to hear a life-altering message. As I listened, I heard the dates of the “moveable” feasts of the liturgical year proclaimed: Ash Wednesday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Corpus Christi and Advent. Certainly, a map was unfolded for us as the coming year was brought to mind by the voice of the priest.

I entered the Church seeking only a clue, and experienced the gift, the grace of emergence. Originating from the Latin root emergere, it means to bring to light. Modern dictionaries define emergence as the process of becoming visible after being concealed. Only years later, on the eve of Christ the King at the baptism of a child, does that homily on that long ago Epiphany make perfect sense to me.

I settle into January, heavy with the memory of holiday food and experiences. As the days come and go, lengthening ever so slightly, I begin almost unconsciously to mark time; checking the dates for Ash Wednesday, looking to see if Easter will be early or late, filling in calendars, planning for future events, and let’s not forget the dreaded New Year’s resolutions which I usually manage to break, bit by bit, until the starkness of Lent enables me to look at the considerations which January encouraged me toward.

Thinking back on the priest’s words at Isaac’s baptism, I am reminded of lines of the preface of Eucharistic Prayer IV:

It is truly right to give you thanks, truly just to give you glory, Father most holy, for you are the one God living and true, existing before all ages and abiding for all eternity, dwelling in unapproachable light; yet you, who alone are good, the source of life, have made all that is, so that you might fill your creatures with blessings and bring joy to many of them by the glory of your light.” (from the Roman Missal)

So, I ask myself: do I seek to go beyond the images of camels, kings and cakes and welcome what is waiting to emerge? That is my prayer for January, for Epiphany, and beyond.

Isaac’s Baptism Gumbo

Ingredients:

•  ½ pound bacon

•  1 large package of chicken thighs (boneless and skinless)

•  2 packages of sausage, sliced

•  2 large red onions, diced small

•  6 stalks of celery, chopped thin

•  ½ green bell pepper, chopped

•  Garlic to taste

•  2 cans of diced tomatoes

•  1 large bag of sliced okra

•  1 package Oak Grove Smokehouse gumbo mix with rice

  2 jars turkey gravy

•  4 tablespoons jarred roux (I used Savoie’s)

•  ½ gallon chicken stock

•  1 quart very hot water

Directions:

1) Cook bacon to render grease. Put into large cast iron pot.

2) Add chopped veggies and meats.

3) Let cook over low flame until chicken is cooked through.

4) In a separate pot put chicken broth, hot water and jarred roux mix. Stir until roux mix is incorporated. Simmer for about 30 minutes on low to medium flame.

5) Add cooked vegetables, meat, tomatoes and okra. Let cook for about an hour, stirring all over a low flame.

6) Add gumbo mix, two jars of gravy, and continue cooking for a couple of hours until gumbo thickens to your preferred consistency.

I have given you the recipe but not the whole story! I waited for this gumbo to “emerge” thick and nourishing. I began to think it never would –  after all roux is not my first language… no matter how many cookbooks I read.  Finally – success!

This makes gumbo for a crowd. I made this for Isaac’s baptism party. It also freezes well. Serve with crackers over your choice of rice, grits or potato salad. We like gumbo over yellow rice.

 

 

Mike’s Meditations: Are You Poor?

by Mike Van Vranken

In Luke’s gospel story, Jesus explains his ministry. He says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).

His entire ministry is for the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed – and the remainder of Luke’s gospel will bear that out. Now, at the beginning of the year, might be a good time to prayerfully ask ourselves just what this means to us, today, in 2019.

Bring Glad Tidings to the Poor. Who are the poor Jesus is talking about? Certainly Jesus came for those who are financially poor. And I think he commissions each of us to be Christ to everyone who needs financial help. But his message here is so much more. In fact, I believe that our ability to be Jesus to the monetarily poor requires our wisdom about this scripture.

I suggest you go to your favorite prayer place, some location that is quiet and alone, take some serious deep breaths, and begin by listening to the quiet. After a minute or so, recognize God’s presence with you. Softly and intimately tell the Holy Trinity that you are aware of the presence, the love and the goodness flows over and through you. If you feel like it, make a gesture; maybe bow to the presence of God; or you might make the sign of the cross. Spend a moment giving praise, glory and thanksgiving for this love relationship you have with the Creator of the Universe who loves you more than you can imagine.

In the quiet of this experience, ask God: “How do you see me right now?” And, in particular: “God, where in my life am I poor?” Then, in your stillness and oneness with God, be quiet and listen. And, by listen, I mean listen with your entire being. Hear His faint, small voice with your mind, with your mental images, and mostly, with your open heart.

When we meet God in contemplative prayer like this, we may hear Him reply that we are poor in our desire and willingness to help the needy. He may gently tell us that we are impoverished in our ability to forgive those who have wounded us. He could say we are destitute in our loving kindness to welcome the immigrant or refugee. He may lovingly respond that we are poverty-stricken in our care for the elderly. We might hear Him explain how our reservoir of compassion for the emotionally injured is bankrupt. As you might see, there are countless ways the Holy Trinity might point out where we are poor. Now, back to our conversation in prayer with God.

As you sit with God in the quiet, notice how gentle, loving and compassionate He is with you and for you. There is no judgment here. Just a loving and holy answer to your question about where in your life you are poor. In like manner, lovingly and gently receive all He has to say. Continue to sit in the quiet and allow Him to caress and embrace you. Remember, He loves you “with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

Savor the moment and do not end this prayer time too quickly. Remember Jesus came to bring glad tidings to the poor. Give him the time, space and openness to do what he came to do. He wants to relieve you of your poverty and replace it with his grace. The grace to help the needy; the grace to forgive, welcome, care for, have compassion for, and especially to love all those he puts in our paths. As he told St. Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In other words, no matter how poor we are, Jesus came so we can receive more than enough grace to relieve our poverty, and be wealthy in our love and mercy for others.

I know of no mention of New Year’s resolutions in the Bible, but I am very aware of the message of conversion and transformation. As we begin 2019, let’s make time every day this month to visit with the God of the universe, and ask Him for relief of our poverty by allowing Him to lavish us with the grace to be transformed into His true “image” and “likeness” (Genesis 1:26-28). •

 

Kids’ Connection: O Antiphons

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Vocations View: Serving in a Parish

by Jeb Key, Seminarian 

What an incredible year it has been for me. I am now beginning my fourth year as a seminarian for the great Diocese of Shreveport and I cannot believe how fast the time has flown by. It seems like only yesterday that Bishop Michael Duca accepted me as a seminarian. I have learned and grown a great deal in the past three years as your seminarian, and I continue to grow in the love of God each and every day.

Since beginning this journey, I have felt the desire to serve the people of our diocese grow in my heart. I am happy to say that this year, I have been following this desire a little more immediately by serving as a seminarian in the parish of St. Joseph in Shreveport. For this entire school year, I will remain at St. Joseph’s in lieu of returning for theological studies at Notre Dame Seminary.

During this period of time, I will be serving Masses and assisting our priests in providing the Sacraments to the people of Shreveport. I will also be able to take a more active part of the liturgical year of our diocese. My close proximity to St. Joseph School, as well as our other Catholic schools, will allow me to hopefully assist and be a part of these communities in any way that I can.

Most importantly however, this experience allows me to really think and pray more deeply with my vocation. In almost every job, you spend a certain period of time studying and learning under a more experienced person. This apprenticeship for me is teaching me the in’s and out’s of priesthood and parish life. So far I have been working with RCIA, high-school and middle-school youth groups, the parish school of religion, as well as learning from the wonderful staff at St. Joseph’s.

I’ve even spent several class periods with the middle-school religion classes answering questions and sharing my story. These experiences have given me a fresh outlook on what it means to be a part of the parish. The things that I have learned so far are things which you simply cannot learn out of a book in a school; but things which are learned by doing and being with the people of the diocese.

It is lucky that St. Joseph is one of our busiest parishes and I have many opportunities to learn about parish life. I know that my time at St. Joseph will change not only my life, but my future priesthood forever. •