Monthly Archives: December 2015

Celebrating the Year of Mercy

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“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”  Matthew 5:7

n April 1, the Vigil of the Second Sunday of Easter and the Sunday of Divine Mercy, Pope Francis released Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy), the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.  The pope wrote that mercy is “the beating heart of the Gospel.”  In Jesus Christ, in his words and actions, the mercy of God has been revealed.  He goes on to illumine another facet of mercy as “the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” (MV no. 2)

Mercy is at the very heart of the ministry and vocation of Pope Francis.  He chose to make his episcopal motto his papal motto: miserando atque eligendo, “by having mercy, by choosing him.”  In the calling of Matthew, a tax collector, Jesus looked intently and mercifully at Matthew and chose him to become one of the 12 apostles.

Traditionally, every 25 years the popes proclaim a holy year, which features special celebrations and pilgrimages, strong calls for conversion and repentance, and the offer of special opportunities to experience God’s grace through the sacraments, especially confession.  Extraordinary holy years, like the Holy Year of Mercy, are less frequent, but offer the same opportunities for spiritual growth.  A Holy Year was celebrated in 1983 to commemorate the 1,950th anniversary of Christ’s death and resurrection.  “I frequently have thought about how the church can make more evident its mission to be a witness of mercy,” Pope Francis said; that is why he decided to call a special Holy Year.  Pope Francis wants this year to be a time for Catholics to contemplate just how merciful God has been to them and to understand better how we are called to be merciful to others in turn.

The Holy Year will open on December 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and conclude on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe on November 20, 2016.  The Immaculate Conception celebrates God’s choice of Mary to be the Mother of man’s Redeemer.  God responds to the gravity of mankind’s sin with the fullness of mercy. This year, December 8 marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis stresses the need to keep the Second Vatican Council alive.

Pope Francis highlights the role of Jesus as an instrument of God’s mercy:  “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.”  These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith.  Mercy has become living, and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him.  In the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), when everything had been arranged according to this plan of salvation, he sent his only Son into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, to reveal his love for us in a definitive way.  Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (Jn 14:9).  Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God.  (MV no. 1)

When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy.  Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive.  (MV no. 3)

The mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality with which He reveals his love as that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that this is a “visceral” love. It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy.  (MV no. 6)

Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who His true children are. In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us. At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart.  In the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7)—the beatitude to which we should particularly aspire in this Holy Year.  (MV no. 9)

Pope Francis asked that every diocese in the world designate a “Door of Mercy” at their cathedral. A Door of Mercy was sealed at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans on August 12.  Everyone is invited to attend the 5:30 pm Mass at the Cathedral on December 13 when Bishop Michael Duca will open our Door of Mercy. This door will remain opened for the duration of the Holy Year.

For more information on the Jubilee Year of Mercy, go to the Jubilee Year of Mercy website: http://www.iubilaeummisericordiae.va/content/gdm/en.html.

by Dianne Rachal

Mercy in Action: Students Help Catholic Charities

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During the Year of Mercy, we are taking a look at some of the tangible acts of mercy that are being done in our diocese all the time. Look for this column each month to see how others and you can be involved in making the world a better place through acts of love and mercy.

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The family has been the focus of the Catholic Church and especially our Holy Father, Francis, this year.  We hear time and again that parents are to be the primary teachers in their children’s life, not just in school work, but more importantly, in their faith life.  St. Joseph School can boast of many wonderful families who do just that every day, but one couple truly put Christ-like mercy in action with their daughter and her classmates recently by celebrating her birthday in a very unique way.  Mike and Susan Henson held a surprise birthday party for their daughter, Lauren, a sixth grade student at St. Joseph School, and invited her entire sixth grade class – all 40 of them. But if they came to the party, each guest was asked to bring canned goods, rather than gifts.

“I never decided on what kind of party I was going to have, but I decided I didn’t want people to bring presents, but canned goods. My mom told every single one of my classmates that they were having a surprise party for me and to bring canned goods. Not a single kid told me about the surprise party…. The two best parts about this Birthday were that I could spend it with my friends and that I got to help out Catholic Charities!”

And they did. All donations collected were given to Catholic Charities of North Louisiana.

Jean Dresley, Director of Catholic Charities, said, “Catholic Charities of North Louisiana is extremely grateful to St. Joseph Catholic School’s sixth grade class for hosting a food drive!  We are always in need of non-perishable items, especially this time of year.  We cannot thank them enough.”

by Polly Maciulski

Mercy in Action: Loyola’s FAiTH Marks 26th Season of Service

by Tricia Grayson

Started as a community service project in 1990, Loyola’s Flyers Aiding the Hungry (FAiTH) is preparing for its 26th season of helping feed families in the Shreveport-Bossier area. During that time, more than 10,000 families have received donated food items during the Christmas season.

“Loyola really embraced the idea and took it forward,” said FAiTH founder Ashley Glassell Rockett, a 1990 Loyola graduate who returns to the school each year to help. “There is so much work that goes into the months leading up to FAiTH distribution day,” Rockett said. “Loyola taught me about service. It’s not just something they tell you to go and do. It’s something that everyone here embodies,” she added.

This year’s FAiTH distribution day will be December 7. The FAiTH group works with local community organizations such as Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul and Providence House to identify families in need, and has collected canned foods and funds throughout the year in order to make the event possible.

If you would like to donate, call Loyola College Prep at (318) 221-2675. Cans, toys or monetary donations are accepted. Sponsoring a food basket is $20 and you can choose to donate these in honor of or in memory of friends or family.

Procedural Changes to the Annulment Process

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by Fr. Peter Mangum, Judicial Vicar

From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has consistently encouraged the Church to be a welcoming and missionary community of faith which goes out to those who live on the fringes of our communities – physically as well as spiritually. There are many causes for varied degrees of separation from the Church; among them are the challenges that are encountered by those who have experienced divorce and would like to marry another.

Divorce in itself neither excommunicates nor deprives a person of the sacraments. If a Catholic divorces and remarries outside the Church, without an annulment, he/she is not to receive Holy Communion since the Church continues to recognize the bond of the first marriage even after a civil union has ended by divorce. In order for a divorced person to validly marry in the Catholic Church and remain properly disposed to receive the Sacraments, any previous marriage must be reviewed by the personnel in our Tribunal, a part of our Office of Canonical Affairs, who will guide the petition for annulment through the appropriate process for their particular situation. (The same process is used for a divorced and remarried person who wishes to enter the Church).

The Tribunal’s ministry, in this regard, is to determine whether or not serious factors or circumstances existed at the time of the wedding which would indicate that the union was lacking essential qualities that are necessary for the union to be recognized as valid in the eyes of the Church. If this is determined to be the case, an annulment may be granted. If the evidence is insufficient, however, the annulment must be declined. If an annulment is granted, that decision never affects the legitimacy of any children born of that legal union.

On September 8 of this year, Pope Francis issued an important document, reforming some procedures used for obtaining a declaration of nullity (i.e, annulment). This document, entitled Gentle Judge Lord Jesus (Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus) becomes effective on December 8, 2015, at the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The reforms are procedural, and do not touch upon the nature of marriage or related doctrinal matters. The Church continues to uphold the doctrine of indissolubility, namely, that marriage endures until the death of a spouse.

A person seeking an annulment must still fill out appropriate paper work, submit the petition to the Tribunal, and receive an affirmative decision before entering a second marriage (or before being received into the Catholic Church in the case of a remarried non-Catholic participating in the RCIA.) An ecclesiastical judge reviewing the annulment petition must still arrive at moral certainty before rendering a decision.

The reforms only change the process used to arrive at that moral certainty. As a result Pope Francis has not made it easier to get an annulment, but rather, potentially quicker to get an annulment.

Two of the changes made by Gentle Judge Lord Jesus will significantly impact those seeking a declaration of nullity here in the Diocese of Shreveport. The first eliminates the need for a second decision in favor of the nullity of the marriage in question. In other words, after December 8, an affirmative decision rendered by our tribunal will become executive, that is, final unless one of the parties or the defender of the bond feels aggrieved and appeals to a higher court.  As such an appeal is rare, this change alone should shorten the process by several months.

Second, Pope Francis has introduced a new shorter procedure which can be used when the following two criteria are met: 1) both parties are in favor of a declaration of nullity and 2) the circumstances manifestly suggest the nullity of the marriage and therefore do not require an involved investigation. This is the so-called “45-day annulment” which has received attention in the press. Based on cases received in the past, only about five to ten percent of the petitions presented would meet these two criteria.

Our Holy Father has also expressed a desire that annulment cases be of little or no direct cost to the parties of the case so that “and the church, showing herself to be a generous mother to the faithful in a matter so closely linked to the salvation of souls, might manifest the freely-given love of Christ by whom we all have been saved” (art. vi, unofficial translation).  With this in mind, Bishop Duca has graciously declared that cases submitted during the Jubilee Year of Mercy will not require the requested donation.  Meanwhile, please, be generous toward the Diocesan Appeal and your parish!

In the weeks before these new provisions take effect, our Tribunal has continued to process cases swiftly and has become fully prepared to implement the new procedures.  If you are interested in pursuing a declaration of nullity, please contact your pastor or our Tribunal, the Office of Canonical Services.  May we all come to know and trust our Lord Jesus, the Gentle Judge.

Final Relatio of the Synod: Truth & Mercy

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by Vatican Information Services

Vatican City, October 24, 2015 – The Synod Fathers approved the final Relatio of the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod on the Family, made up of 94 paragraphs, each one of which was voted on individually. The director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., gave a briefing on the document.
Fr. Lombardi remarked that the text takes into account the many difficulties faced by the family, but also its great capacity for facing and reacting to them. The conclusive document of the Synod includes many of the amendments to the Instrumentum Laboris presented by the Synod Fathers and therefore reflects the voice of the Assembly.

With reference to the two paragraphs dedicated to complex family situations, which were approved by a very slender majority, Fr. Lombardi noted that they regard the pastoral approach to wounded families or those that are irregular from a canonical point of view and in terms of the discipline of the Church: in particular, cohabitation, civil marriage, divorced and remarried persons and the way of pastorally addressing these situations.

Fr. Lombardi underlined that the tone of the document is positive and welcoming, and that it has greatly enriched the Instrumentum Laboris. Similarly, the pope’s Motu Proprio on the reform of marriage annulment procedures made an effective and decisive contribution to the theme of the Synod.

The final Relatio reaffirms the doctrine of the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, which is not a yoke but rather a gift from God, a truth based in Christ and in His relationship with the Church. At the same time, it underlines that truth and mercy converge in Christ, which leads to welcome wounded families. Without expressly mentioning access to the Eucharist for remarried divorcees, the Synod document recalls that they are not excommunicated and refers the analysis of complex family situations to the discernment of pastors.

With regard to cohabiting couples, the text reiterates that this situation should be faced constructively, seeking to transform it into an opportunity for a path to conversion towards the fullness of marriage and family, in the light of the Gospel.

Other salient points of the document refer to homosexuality. There must be no discrimination against people with homosexual tendencies, but at the same time the text states that the Church is contrary to same-sex unions and external pressure on the Church in relation to this matter is not accepted. There are special paragraphs dedicated to immigrants, refugees and persecuted families who are often divided and whose members can become victims of trafficking. A welcoming approach was invoked for them too, recalling their rights and also their duties in their host countries.

There are specific paragraphs on women, men and children, the mainstays of family life: the text emphasizes the need for the protection and the recognition of the value of their respective roles. It is hoped that a more prominent role will be identified for women in the formation of ordained ministers, while in relation to children mention was made of the beauty of adoption and fostering, practices which reconstruct ruptured family bonds. The Synod does not forget widows and widowers, the disabled, the elderly and grandparents, who enable the transmission of faith in the family and must be protected from the throwaway culture. Unmarried people must also be acknowledged for their commitment to the Church and society.

Among the “shadows” that are frequently cast on the family, the Synod notes the presence of political and religious fanaticism hostile to Christianity, growing individualism, gender ideology, conflicts, persecution, poverty, precarious employment, corruption, economic difficulties that can exclude families from education and culture, the globalization of indifference in which humanity’s place at the center of society is usurped by money, pornography and the declining birth rate.

The Relatio therefore gathers together suggestions for strengthening preparation for marriage, especially for the young who appear intimidated by it. They are in need, says the Synod, of an adequate emotional formation, following the virtues of chastity and self-giving. In this regard, mention was made of the bond between the sexual act and procreation between spouses, of which children are the most precious fruit, since they bear the memory and hope of an act of love. Education in sexuality and corporeality and the promotion of responsible parenting would also be central, in accordance with the teachings of Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae” and the primary role of parents in the education of their children in faith.

An appeal is launched to institutions to promote and support policies in favor of the family, and Catholics engaged in politics are exhorted to protect the family and life, as a society that neglects them loses its openness to the future. In this respect, the Synod reaffirms the sacredness of life from conception to natural death, and warns against the grave threats posed to the family by abortion and euthanasia. Further paragraphs are dedicated to mixed marriages, whose positive aspects in relation to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue are underlined, while confirming the need to protect religious freedom and the right to conscientious objection in society.
It includes reflection on the need to modify the language of the Church, making it more meaningful so that the proclamation of the Gospel of the family may truly respond to the deepest human aspirations.

Finally, the Relatio emphasizes the beauty of the family: as a domestic church based on marriage between a man and a woman, the fundamental cell of the society whose growth it contributes, a safe entry to the deepest sentiments, the sole point of connection in a fragmented age, and an integral part of human ecology, it must be protected, supported and encouraged, also by the authorities.

The document concludes by a plea to the Synod Fathers by the pope, regarding the possibility of producing a document on the family. As Fr. Lombardi explains, “The Synod Fathers do not say that all is complete, but affirm that they offer the Relatio to the Holy Father to enable him to evaluate whether to continue on this route with a document, on the basis of the Synod text, to further examine the theme of the family from the perspective he wishes to offer. ‘We continue on our path.’”

Bishops Voice Solidarity in Wake of Paris Attacks, Pledge Prayers

by the USCCB

BALTIMORE—The Administrative Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) pledged prayers for those suffering from the November 13 terror attacks in Paris and support for “all those working to build just and peaceful societies” in a statement, November 14. Meeting in Baltimore ahead of the bishops’ Fall General Assembly, the Administrative Committee is comprised of USCCB’s officers, committee chairmen and other bishops representing every region of the United States.

Full text of the statement follows:
Terror always seeks to separate us from those we most love. Through their suffering, courage and compassion, Parisians are reminding us that the common bond of humanity is strongest when the need is greatest. We pledge our prayers for everyone who suffers from this horrific violence and our advocacy to support all those working to build just and peaceful societies.

To the people of France, we mourn with you and honor the lives lost from several nations, including our own. To our brothers and sisters in the Church in France, your family in the United States holds you close to our hearts. May the tender and merciful love of Jesus Christ give you comfort during this great trial and lead you on a path toward healing and peace.

‘Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography’

by the USCCB

BALTIMORE—The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved a formal statement, “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography,” at their annual Fall General Assembly in Baltimore, November 17.

“My brother bishops’ approval of this statement shows our collective concern for the widespread problem of pornography in our culture today,” said Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family and Youth (LMFLY), which led the statement’s development. “As the statement says, virtually everyone is affected by pornography in some way. So many people –including within the Church– are in need of Christ’s abundant mercy and healing. My hope is that the statement can serve as a foundation and catalyst for increased pastoral attention to this challenge at the national and local level.”

The formal statement provides a basic catechesis on human sexuality and chastity, an explanation of why the production and use of pornography is a sin, an overview of its effects in our society, a closer look at its effects on men, women, children, young people, marriages and families, and a word of hope and encouragement to those who have been harmed by pornography use or in its production. The statement’s main audiences are Catholic leaders and parents, but it is also intended to be helpful for those who struggle with pornography use and all people of goodwill who want to work together for a culture of purity and respect for all women and men.

The full text of “Create in Me a Clean Heart” will be available online at  www.usccb.org/cleanheart, along with other USCCB resources on pornography. A printed version in English and Spanish will be available in early 2016. The LMFLY Committee plans to develop supplementary material in 2016, including an abridged version of the statement and targeted resources for priests, parents and young people among others.

Kids’ Connection: Corporal Works of Mercy

This month we celebrate the Corporal Works of Mercy.

Corporal Works of Mercy tend to the bodily needs of others. The seven corporal works of mercy come from Matthew 25:34-40 and the Book of Tobit. As we begin the Year of Mercy, now is a great time to learn them and find ways to take part in helping others.

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Thanks from Msgr. Clayton’s Family

The family of Rev. Msgr. Charles Murray Clayton expresses their sincere thanks to the wonderful people of the Diocese of Shreveport and the Diocese of Alexandria.  We also want those families affiliated with St. Joseph Catholic School to know how much our family appreciates the special things you did for our uncle.

Our Uncle Murray truly loved each of you with all of his heart and soul. Our family was so very touched by the outpouring of love, affection and respect you all showed for him at this very difficult time. The kindness and caring spirit we felt will continue to be a beacon of light and a forever treasured memory that we will hold close to our hearts.

As hard as letting go can be, we thank you all for making our loss easier to bear as we became aware of the pure love which surrounded our beloved Uncle Murray, as well as the love and compassion that was shown to us. We take consolation in the knowledge that our dear Lord placed Uncle Murray in your community, where he was completely surrounded with this genuine love and kindness from his parishioners and his many friends in the Catholic faith, as well as other faiths.

We are truly blessed that he was our Uncle, and we are also truly blessed to know that he had all of you for his loving and caring friends.

Thank you, and may God bless you, one and all.
With Love and Blessings,
The Clayton Family

Reflect on the Beauty of Christmas

“And this will be a sign to you; You will find an Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12). Thus is born, JESUS, the king of this holy season.  “He came not to a throne, but to a manger. He lived not as a king, but as a servant. He chose not a kingdom, but a cross. He gave not just a little, but everything.” (Holley Gerth)

She says it all so beautifully. Let’s replace our OLD ideas about Christmas with, NEW ones this season. This is our time for new beginnings with our family and friends. A time to look beyond ourselves and reflect upon the wonderful Birth of Jesus.

The privilege to love Jesus is ours to cherish, wonder at, be happy about. We show His love to others with our lives. Perhaps this Christmas we can give a gift to a poor family, visit someone in the hospital or spend more time praying than shopping.

As Pope Francis says: “We can be signs of a different world where everyone is recognized, accepted, included, dignified and not only for their usefulness but for their intrinsic value as a human being, as daughter or son of God.” Living this message and sharing it with whomever we meet this Christmas, should become the delight of our souls.

Pope Francis said, “Every family is a light in the world,” so this Christmas, soak in the essence of your family faith, with those you love and enjoy the new light which has come to us again: the Christ child. Christmas is such a special, sacred, time of the year to celebrate family. With our busy lives, we tend to forget the most important things like Christmas gratitude, which could unlock many new doors for your aging spirits.

“We are created to share in God’s love and life for eternity.” (St Ignatius Loyola.)

Isn’t the Christmas season the perfect time to share once more in his love? It could be done as you kneel before the Baby Jesus. Imagine that you are there with Mary and Joseph in the stable, with all those animals, with the cold night air chilling the place, but warming the atmosphere of your heart, with your love, as your face broadens with a loving smile. This could bring new life and energy into your lives.

We love this newborn babe because he first loved us. It will be our privilege again to show and express our love for Him. Take the time to tell Him how much he means to you. Show his beauty this Christmas with your life’s actions, so others will say, “No wonder they love Jesus.” See what a difference it will make in your life and how much happier you will be.

During this holy season, become fully present to all around you, follow your hearts, be mindful of who you love and what you love, because there is a sweetness in the Christmas atmosphere surrounding us: crackling fires burning, children laughing and so many other things happening to keep our spirits alive. These precious moments will define us. The winds of God’s grace blow all the time so let’s set sail and move into the New Year with grace.

“Joy comes into our lives when we have something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.”(Viktor E. Frankl.)

by Sr. Martinette Rivers, OLS