Monthly Archives: September 2019

Director of Pastoral Ministry

By Randy G. Tiller

Diocesan Administration, which is often referred to as “the Catholic Center,” has always been envisioned to be a resource and of assistance to our priests, parishes, missions, schools, and the faithful of the diocese. In the past, there have been paths that were pursued in an effort to fulfill the mission.

It is with pleasure, excitement and enthusiasm that we make the following announcement of a NEW path – a new structure for outreach and ministry in our Diocesan Administration.

As of August 5, 2019,  after several discussions of what the future should hold and how it should look, we were fortunate to find an individual with the credentials and qualifications to step up to the plate and assist the Catholic Center as we begin our journey on this new path.

So what is this new role?  Seeing the need for more efforts toward our Youth and Young Adults, Campus Ministry, Hispanic Ministry and other outreach ministries; such as, Prison Ministry, Rachel’s Vineyard, Family Life Ministries, Catechesis, Vocations, Prolife, Liturgy and Worship; it became obvious to the College of Consultors, the Diocesan Administrator, the Moderator of the Curia and the Chancellor that something new and different needed to happen.

Therefore, a new position of responsibility and organization was established to enhance all “pastoral ministries.”  Mr. Mark Loyet, a staff member of Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish in Monroe, will be joining the administrative team within the next month or so to take over the reins of “pastoral ministry.”  First Mr. Loyet will be getting a firm handle on Youth and Young Adult Ministries and Campus Ministry and will then be moving into the other pastoral fields.  He will have a wonderful opportunity to overlap with Mrs. Dianne Rachal, current Director of Worship, before her retirement in December 2019, and to establish a bond and relationship with Mrs. Rosalba Quiroz who will continue as the Director of Hispanic Ministry.

Mr. Loyet has years of experience as a Youth Minister of students in both high school and junior high and recruiting, training and managing teams of volunteers.  He assisted with the March for Life in Monroe, youth leadership camps, directed Teen ACTS retreats, and organized and worked with youth leadership and advisory councils.

In the realm of Catechesis and teaching, Mark has written and implemented lessons and curriculums as well as coordinated Confirmation preparation programs and Protecting God’s Children classes.  He has worked with business managers to maintain budgets in collaboration with pastors and has engaged in extensive fund raising for all youth events. He has taught Sunday School Catechism, been a 7th grade religion teacher, and a Confirmation catechist.

Other pastoral ministries Mr. Loyet has been involved with include Prison Ministry as a Juvenile Detention and Probation Officer, involving assessments which screen for abuse, making recommendations to Juvenile Court, and conducting audits to ensure that they were in compliance with juvenile justice department standards.

Liturgy and worship involvement has included training altar servers, teaching RCIA, coordinating Youth Masses, conferring with church staff and other ministry teams.All of this experience and these skills have been developed and honed in the workplace. His education has taken him to the University of Dallas to study Western Theology and Christology; he received a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of North Texas with relevant courses including Religions of the World, Micro-Counseling, Research Methods, and Human Behavior in the Social Environment.Mr. Loyet has been accepted to pursue a Master’s Degree over the next several years from Holy Apostles College and Seminary while staying on the job and sharing his wisdom and expertise with the Diocese of Shreveport.He has extensive musical training, audio/video engineering, extensive interior and exterior home remodeling, as well as, a youth band member and band leader.

Mr. Loyet was born and raised Catholic.  He and his wife are proud parents of four sons and one daughter.  Talking with Mark, you soon realize that he is a passionate and effective youth mentor, teacher, advocate and coordinator.  “He feels his primary goals in this position should be to collaborate with, support, assist and empower priests and parishes, both their youth and youth ministers in the evangelization, formation, education and commissioning of young people to know, love and live the Gospel through evangelization, catechesis, advocacy, leadership development, service opportunities, pastoral guidance, prayer and reception of the sacraments.”

“There is an appointed time for everything…a time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to tear down and a time to build…a time to keep and a time to cast away…” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NAB).

The timing is right for the Diocese of Shreveport to begin this new journey with a fresh approach to our pastoral ministries.

Please welcome Mark Loyet!

Exploring the History of St. Matthew Church

By John Mark Willcox

Exiting I-20 in downtown Monroe on Jackson Street you are met with a beautiful sight….the majestic spire of St. Matthew Church which has stood in downtown Monroe for nearly 120 years.  Close observation reveals that all four of the clock faces of the spire are new.  “They are working and tell perfect time,” comments Pastor Rev. Mark Franklin.  “We refurbished every one and we have a man that comes twice a year to keep them oiled and in good working condition.”  Spoken like a priest who loves his parish, and that has always been the case with St. Matthew Church and the generations of Catholics who have worshipped at the second oldest parish in the diocese.  Walking through the Sanctuary with Fr. Mark as your guide takes one back to a former time and place, when North Louisiana was beginning to grow while facing the formidable challenges of frontier living.

During the mid 1800’s, Monroe was the principal city of Northern Louisiana and Shreveport was referred to as “that small village in the Northwest.”  The Ouachita River was navigable and many times steam paddle wheelers counted the city of Monroe as their final destination northward in Louisiana.

Railroads had roared in from the East and Monroe was fast becoming a commerce center and the gateway to the northern reaches of a region that Spanish missionaries and explorers had been visiting for several centuries.  Shreveport suffered with a useless main water artery in the Red River which was choked with logs and debris (the great raft) for many miles, heading into Natchitoches.

Fr. Patrick Canavan received the assignment to provide the faithful of the Monroe area a place to gather and worship in 1851.  By 1856, St. Matthew had become an established parish and was pastored by now legendary Fr. Louis Gergaud who had migrated to the area from Britanny, France. Fr. Gergaud witnessed the arrival of steam ships on the Ouachita and the rapid growth of the rail industry while he shepherded his flock through the tragedy of America’s Civil War. He spent much of his waking hours tending to the wounded in makeshift hospitals and it is said that he brought over fifty soldiers into the Church as they lay on their deathbeds.   In addition, Fr. Gergaud established a Catholic school for the parish in 1863 with a beginning roster of sixty pupils.  The impact that Fr. Gergaud had on the foundational formation of St. Matthew’s faith community cannot be overstated as his tireless efforts produced a healthy, active parish.

 In 1873, Fr. Gergaud answered the call for help from Shreveport which was mired in a devastating Yellow Fever epidemic which had already taken scores of lives on a daily basis.  He knew he was going to his death and shared that feeling with the faithful before his departure from St. Matthew.  Just five days after his arrival in Shreveport, Fr. Gergaud contracted Yellow Fever tending to the victims and died on October 1, 1873.  After one year, his body was finally returned to his beloved  Monroe where he was laid to rest in St. Matthew’s Cemetery.  “He gave everything he had to God’s people including his life,” comments Fr. Franklin as he gazes on Fr. Gergaud’s crystal white grave marker.  “The people of St. Matthew have always been proud that his grave is in our cemetery.”  Fr. Gergaud was one of five Catholic priests and two women religious who lost their lives heroically caring for the stricken people of Shreveport during the famous Yellow Fever epidemic which took the lives of a quarter of Shreveport’s residents.As the faith community increased in size, the earlier wooden structure that had served as the Church was replaced with the present sanctuary that was consecrated on December 27, 1905.  A succession of dynamic pastors lead the faithful of St. Matthew through the next century beginning with Fr. N. F. Vandegaer who grew the number of families served by the parish to over one thousand by 1919.  With the help of Bishop Charles P. Greco, Rev. John C. Marsh guided St. Matthew to the completed  construction of a school gymnasium and rectory in 1950.  There is no more beloved priest of the Eastern Deanery than the legendary Msgr. George Martinez who served St. Matthew as Pastor from 1976 to 1990 before his retirement but he never severed his close connections to a parish he first began serving in 1948, with the St. Vincent de Paul Pharmacy just down the street named in his memory.

Older structures require plenty of care, refurbishment and maintenance and St. Matthew  Church is certainly no exception.  It was only fitting that Fr. Joseph Puthuppally assumed the role of Pastor in 1997.  It was Fr. Joe who led the way to renovate the exterior and interior of the church, including the now famous cobalt blue ceiling f of the nave apse ceiling.  “People use to draw a quick breath when they first saw the roof,” comments Fr. Mark.  “But now, it seems like it has always been there.”

The parish  has also recently reacquired its former school gymnasium and now has a large gathering space for parish and community events.  When he is not using the space to build additional sacramental furniture for the church sanctuary, Fr. Mark is assessing what will be needed to make the space functional once more.  “We have over 6,000 square feet in this structure,” comments Fr. Mark.  “We are going to make it serve the parish effectively in the near future.”

The future looks bright for the faithful of St. Matthew as Mass attendance is strong and there is the benefit of new members joining the parish meaning that this beacon of the faith on Jackson Street will continue to share the light of Christ to the faithful of the region.  “We have a beautiful worship space and a fine congregation of good Catholic people,” reminds Fr. Mark.  “What more could you ask for at your place of worship!”


*Many thanks to Chase E. Machen for his detailed history of St. Matthew Church in his 2001 book of the same name which chronicles the remarkable story of this unique faith community.

How God Called Me Home

By Mary Arcement Alexander

As a child I was constantly getting into trouble for both my attitude as well as my eye-rolling. It would typically entail my mother yelling at me and telling me to go to my room. Fast forward to my later 20’s and early 30’s, and I found myself once again having a bad attitude and rolling my eyes, only this time it wasn’t in my childhood home with my parents, but rather in God’s home with my Lord.  He didn’t yell nor send me to my room, rather, He waited. He waited for my attitude to change and my eyes to once again focus on Him. “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2Peter 3:9

I grew up the last of four children in a small South Louisiana town. Everyone was Catholic, or at least that is what my child’s mind thought. I attended Catholic school K through 12, went to Mass every Wednesday and, of course, every Sunday. My family never missed Mass. Never. We used to joke that we could vacation in the Sahara desert and my parents would find a Catholic church for us to attend. This way of thinking stayed with me throughout my struggles to remain Catholic.

My first memory of questioning whether or not to remain Catholic came during college. It was primarily due to living in North Louisiana where Catholics seemed few and far between. Also, I did not like standing out. As I aged into my 20’s and 30’s my reasons shifted to the more common reasons people will give:  The Mass is boring, I’m not getting anything out of this, the Church has too many rules, the homily is boring, I don’t like the priest (to name a few). And to make my case even stronger, it was during this same time that the first scandals in the Church came to light. This is when my struggles grew even stronger. Ironically, God used those years to slowly but surely ease me back home. In my early 30’s I continued to attend Mass (almost) every Sunday, mainly due to my upbringing with a sprinkle of guilt. I would sit towards the back of church on the aisle and feel nothing but frustration and boredom. This is when my bad attitude heightened (along with eye rolling) and judgment towards the Church and priest became evermore present. I recall sitting in church at various times and asking myself, “Why? Why am I here? All I need to do is stop coming. I have free will. I can go to any church I choose. So why am I still here?” I did not know it then, but I kept going back because of God. Because He wanted me there. He had a plan, a vision for me and He needed me to stay steady despite how I felt. During these same years I would attend different churches from time to time and not one of them ever felt like home. I tried so hard to make one particular church feel like home, but it just didn’t happen. Nothing seemed to be happening, until my fateful conversation with my brother Corey.

Corey and I were riding to our parents house for the weekend, just the two of us, so I thought I would take this opportunity to pick his brain. My brother had then recently renewed his commitment to the Catholic church. I felt desperate for answers then and wanted him to give me the magic answer. Of course, there is no magic answer. Or perhaps there was? When asked, he simply replied, “Pray, Mary. Ask God for help.” Really (I thought). That’s all you have for me, brother? It was both a disappointment and a revelation all at once. I decided to take his advice and simply pray. Pray more, pray differently, pray with more feeling. And lo and behold, it worked.

I don’t remember the exact day or time, but I do remember the feeling. The feeling of sitting in Mass one random Sunday in my mid-30’s and no longer having my bad attitude nor rolling my eyes. He had waited patiently for me to once again fix my eyes upon Him. I willingly did so and I haven’t looked away since.

Labor of Love

By Kate Rhea

One important facet of restoring and preserving cemeteries involves the physical upkeep of the stones and markers representing the interred. St. Joseph Cemetery is over 125 years old and features thousands of beautiful, but timeworn gravestones in need of periodic restoration.

Regular maintenance provided by the diocese has always included grounds maintenance; road maintenance, straightening of stones, cutting grass, planting and caring for trees and other plants that have grown over time. But more recently, the diocese has been implementing a more meticulous aspect of maintenance at St. Joseph by having stones professionally cleaned.

Over the years, grave markers have been composed of different materials, each of which has a specific need when it comes to being cleaned. Marble, granite, limestone, and sandstone each require a different cleaning technique and while some family members are able to tend to the stones of their departed loved ones themselves, many markers of those interred at St. Joseph have been left needing a bit of help to stay tidy.

One need only stroll down the paths of St. Joseph to understand the importance of the beauty and reverence that emanates from a well-loved Catholic cemetery. These holy spaces were selected with care and intent by the hard-working Catholic faithful of decades past. Keeping their markers intact, legible, and clean is a duty the diocese takes seriously and with great honor.

With the ongoing restoration of the Yellow Fever priests’ graves, the diocese is still managing to develop a plan for cleaning more of the headstones in the coming months and years. Donations which specifically target this new project will be applied accordingly. The diocese is grateful for all of the support for the ongoing projects in connection with St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery. To stay informed of the progress and to be notified about upcoming events and initiatives, please e-mail Kate Rhea at: to be added to our email list.

The average cost for cleaning a stone and/or statue is $100.00 while double slab stones are $150.00. When we have to call in stone experts to re-erect or re-attach a tombstone the cost rises.  If families wish to cover the cost of these cleanings and repairs it will allow us to focus on those that do not still have family in the area.  If you would like to help support these efforts please make your tax deductible donation to Diocese of Shreveport, St. Joseph Cemetery and mail to 3500 Fairfield Avenue, Shreveport, LA 71104.

Icons – Showing Me a Way….

By Kim Long

I joked, half-heartedly, about my upcoming trip to Russia and my plan to ditch optional clothing in order to have more room in my luggage to bring back icons. I did exactly that-two tee shirts, a sweater, and one pair of leggings later my suitcase barely closed.

I have not always appreciated icons. When I encountered my first one in the 1980s, I dropped it like a hot Irish potato. They were too severe, too elegant, too honest, too much. Not understanding the point of iconography I defaulted to the familiar images holy cards sported…the manly Jesus and the almost child-like images of Mary, and the earnest and careworn saints, weary from all that interceding.

In our parish gift shop, the icons were suspended on invisible hooks, lining an entire wall. They were beginning to speak to me. Later, I bought a triptych I was particularly fond of. In the early days, I was still not completely comfortable with them so I relegated them to the Easter season, hauling them out and using them to guide me through  the fifty days. They have turned out to be very good travel companions as we navigated our return to ordinary time. A lovely silver one of the Blessed Mother which could not find a home now rests in the center of my icon wall, my nod to the elaborate and holy iconostasis in all Orthodox churches.

Twenty years later, I began to listen as the icons tried whispering again.

My mother and I had a very difficult relationship as adults; a dynamic I fervently want to avoid with my own children. After her death, I realized we had left some things too late and they would never be resolved here in this plane of existence. Therapy helped, as did confession, both with a priest and my girlfriends complete with appetizers and glasses upon glasses of red wine.

Then, something happened. I don’t recall the nature of the trigger, it could have been a song, the feel of the day, even the particular way the wind brushed my check, once surfaced, it could not be ignored. The wounded emotions, the heavy heart, my mouth quickly filling with the taste of ashy regret all ganged up on me and the day became unbearable. In an effort to regain control, I refocused and dialed down on work.

Often I seek inspiration from other church’s bulletins, my effort to think outside the box, to see what the rest of the “God business” has going on, which is exactly what I was thinking when I pulled up the online bulletin of St. Nicholas of Myra Orthodox Church in Shreveport. In it was a small blurb informing all that a miracle-working icon was to be traveling through the area and that very day it would be in Shreveport for only a couple of hours. I bolted with no hesitation and soon I walked through the door of St. Nicholas.

The priest recognized me as a visitor, welcomed me, and gave me information on this icon, known as the Kursk Root Icon, the single most beautiful item I had ever seen; sky blue enamelwork and ornate trim framed the blessed Mother and child whose eyes seemed to rest on me alone.

Suddenly the weight of this burden was completely unwelcome. I asked, begged, entreated, the Blessed Mother to help ease it. Concentrating on the sound of my breathing, an image formed in my mind’s eye-a strong, thick, green stem with tiny leaves growing from it. The whole image was vibrant with life and was glowing and slightly backlit. I would unpack this symbolism later but for now, I felt a smile break across my face and I held the image there gazing upon it, feeling peace being restored to my soul, my mind and my heart.

I cannot know how long or short a time I sat this way. When I opened my eyes the icon seemed to beckon me, this time I did not hesitate. The peace I felt remained with me throughout the day, for weeks and several months. The icon’s beauty, however, remains. This is what I wanted to bring home from Russia. I searched high and low and showed the image via screenshot on my phone to everyone. No one seemed to have seen or even heard of it before.

One of our last tours was to the oldest active monastery in Russia, Sergei Posad. I asked the tour guide if she had ever seen this icon. She immediately turned to our local guide and I saw a smile of recognition fall over the woman’s face. Yes, she knew the icon. It was dear to the hearts of Russian Orthodox in countries outside of Russia, very popular she said. I asked if she knew if I might find it and she smiled and said perhaps–ask in the shops. Later, we were given “free time” to shop or explore or walk around with our mouths hanging open, slack-jawed at the immensity of Russia’s beauty and stumble from one gilded onion dome to the next. I ducked into one of the shops. No luck. Then like Hansel and Gretel, I followed a breadcrumb trail to the next shop which was stuffed with icons of all shapes, sizes, and prices. I had nothing to lose with yet another inquiry “Do you have this icon?” I offered my phone with the screenshot of the longed-for icon. “Da Da. Yes.” “Spasiba-thank you,” I said. And there it was, the same beautiful image which haunted my prayers.

At home, I hung my new icons on my “icon wall.” Prayers of thanksgiving floated around me. Not only for the appreciation of icons and their whispered lessons but also gratitude for the faith of the people who still engage in this timeless practice. The iconographer writes the icon, as the creative process is called. Icons are a window into heaven, the doorway to the mystery. The icons have my full attention now; no longer are they too much. Instead, they center me, reminding me of the sacred wonder. Please God, never let me lose that. AMEN.


“In your presence, there is fullness of joy.” Psalm 16

Called to Obedience

By Seminarian Nicholas Duncan

This summer I was assigned to a pastoral internship at Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish in Monroe. I was active in Vacation Bible School, youth ministry, and serving the Holy Mass. The parishioners have often thanked me for assisting in their parish. This gave me a weird feeling because they thanked me as if I chose to come to their parish this summer out of all the parishes in the diocese. But, I didn’t choose to go there. I was assigned to the parish. If you want to thank somebody, thank Father Jerry Daigle, the Vocation Director and my boss. He’s the one that makes the assignments. The academic year comes and goes at seminaries like it does at any other institution of higher education. It has fall/spring semesters with winter/summer breaks. However, these “breaks” may be time away from the seminary, but they are not free. It is not time off to do whatever your heart desires. The diocese that sponsors you gives you an assignment. These may include Spanish immersion in Mexico, or summer school at the Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF) in Omaha Nebraska. My assignment just happened to be a parish assignment this summer.

I frequently get asked what am I planning to do once I finish seminary: “Will I remain in the Diocese of Shreveport?” or “Do I plan to come back to their area possibly to their church?” What they don’t realize is that I have already made my decision. I have already chosen to be a seminarian for the Diocese of Shreveport, and, God willing, in three years I will be ordained a priest. The future Bishop of Shreveport will decide what my first assignment will be, as well as the second, third, and fourth. I might be consulted on what I would like to do or what I believe my strengths are in ministry, but these decisions will ultimately be made by the bishop and his successors. The promise of obedience that is taken is actually quite freeing. I will not have to worry about where I see myself in five to 10 years or how the demographics of the business/industry are changing. I just have to discern whether God is calling me to become a priest for the Diocese of Shreveport and trust in the Holy Spirit from thereafter.

This decision is not to be made lightly. In seminary you are given a lot of time to determine what your calling is, four to five years is the minimum sometimes it is more than a decade. This is part of the reason I get so angry when I hear about priests abandoning the priesthood, such as the celebrity priest who is a contributor to Fox News, Father Jonathan Morris. He announced that he was leaving the priesthood last May after being a priest for 17 years. Many in the media and blogosphere have praised Father Morris for following his heart, but I don’t agree with that at all. It makes me angry. This response might seem to be lacking in compassion. But, if a young married man with a baby and a four year old child leaves his family because he, “doesn’t feel called” to family life and needs time to find himself, I would hope that no one would praise him for following his heart. I would like to think that as a society we would proclaim that he has a responsibility to his wife and kids, and that we should expect young men to keep the promises/vows they’ve made and to take responsibility for their actions.

People would understandably be angry with a man that has abandoned their wife and kids. I feel Father Morris, a 47 year old priest with 10 years in formation should be held be held to a higher standard. I feel compassion for those who have been affected by his public actions.

I feel upset when I hear of a priest leaving the priesthood, or when I meet people that say they know someone that “used” to be priest. I feel people do not understand the damage that is caused when people break the vows they have made to God. As I prepare to make my promises to God at my ordination, I pray that the Lord will give me the strength to be faithful and keep the promises I have made.

I pray that those who have discerned out of the priesthood will come back into the loving arms of the Church. I also pray to the Father that I will learn how to forgive those that have abandoned the call as He forgives.

Second Collections for September

By Rev. Rothell Price

Second Collection for September 2019

The Catholic University of America

Collection Dates: September 7th & 8th 

Announcement Dates: August 25th 

& September 1st   


The Catholic University of America Second Collection helps fund college for Catholics across our nation.  Our Catholic voice needs to be heard, more than ever, in our nation.  Our Catholic values need to be championed.  The light of Christ needs to be held aloft for all to see, know and follow Him.  Catholic men and women in all levels of the marketplace are an essential part of the Church’s missionary activity.  They are front-line evangelizers.  I encourage you to join with the Catholic faithful across our country to make Catholic higher education possible.  You may not have anyone at Catholic University, but every student at CUA is your child, grandchild, brother and sister in the Lord Jesus.  Participate gladly in the Second Collection for The Catholic University of America.

The Catholic University of America Collection prepares and strengthens the now and future proclaimers and explainers of the Catholic faith.  You, by helping them afford a Catholic education, ensure that the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the social teaching of the Church are carried to all levels of our economic society, from the bluest to the whitest collar.  Support scholarships for students who need financial assistance.  Please support the now and next generation of Catholic leaders for our Church and nation.

Since its establishment in 1903, The Catholic University of America has been greatly blessed by the generosity of parishioners across our nation through this national collection.  We know that many families in our country want and desire a higher education for their children.  It is a heavy but worthwhile challenge to cover the cost of education.  I ask you to willingly contribute to the sacrificial giving of Catholics across our country to spiritually and academically prepare the 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 priestly and 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. Catholic University is uniquely “our” university.  It is Catholic through-and-through.  Daily Masses, departmental Masses, special occasion Masses, other devotional services and Christian service to the Washington D.C. metropolitan area are just some of the tangible fruits of your participation in the second collection for The Catholic University of America.  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.

Help aspiring men and women. Help Catholic families.  Help spread the Good News and build-up the kingdom of God on earth.  Give generously to the second collection for The Catholic University of America.



Very Rev. Rothell Price

Traveling Mercies

By Kim Long

As one of three children of a working-class father and a stay at home mother, money was not something we treated with frivolity. Often times, summer vacations were more “imagined” than real. As a young girl our local library served as my international port of call offering the world for my taking, via the printed page.  Mr. Owen, my high school English teacher, who was so fond of Emily Dickinsin’s work often quoted this famous, and his favorite, passage“there is no frigate like a book to take us lands away.”

Of the few trips we did take we visited family. One trip I sojourned “all the way” to Alabama to stay with a cousin near my own age whose family, unlike my own, lived a very rural lifestyle. When my family came to bring me home we left laden with eggs and produce in styrofoam coolers and a “picnic” for the road. The bread was buttered and loaded with thick slabs of roast beef and strawberry milk in mason jars with the lids screwed on tight so they would be ready for us when thirst overtook us. We traveled by night with the windows down in my grandmothers huge Impala. It felt like a time machine. Sleep overtook us and soon we were being gently carried to our own beds. When we woke up the next morning we were home again, Aunt Dean’s home seemed “a world away.”

When my children were young we traveled when possible and I tried to make every trip regardless of destination an occasion. We always began with a prayer, sometimes hurried, sometimes forced and sometimes very natural for safe travel. Like my own childhood destinations, a trip to visit family was often an overnight one. Upon arrival, all the uncle, aunts and cousins would welcome us into another land. I am grateful that my grown children and I have this shared experience with family and a real lesson in traveling.

God has blessed me with some amazing travel opportunities. On my first overnight flight, I did wake up in another land, longing for coffee and the adventure which awaited me. The feeling of being in a time machine remained.

Traveling, whether real or imagined, always changes us; the degree of change often depends on the degree of openness. When we enter an unknown land, arrive at our destination, or even when we put both feet on the floor each morning it is not uncommon to ask the Lord to be with us. These prayers, known as traveling mercies, are mentioned in both testaments. Who among us has not prayed for safe travels for friends, family or self? Who among us has not “invited” God to come with us and protect us on our way?

On my most recent trip, I began to question not only the “what to bring back” to the family, but I also began to consider what changes are being made within me by this excursion and its experiences. Often I leave things behind in order to bring home what seems to matter most in the moment. In Russia it was clothing to make room for icons, in Ireland, toiletries to make a weight limit because I was bringing home knitting yarn and jigsaw puzzles, and in Israel I ditched some doubts in order to bring home a real sense of reconnection. This led me to examine whether or not I invite God on a daily basis.  It seemed normal to ask for traveling mercies when going a distance but not so much in daily life. Please do not misunderstand; I know God is always with me but I became aware that my invitation was not always forthcoming in the way it was when the pilot is taking us over the ocean or miles of land. This awareness, which was welcomed, also shocked me. How could I have been so inhospitable?

The psalmist states “you enlarge my steps underneath me and my feet do not slip.” Traveling anywhere can enlarge our worldview whether in appreciation of beauty and art or in the case of my pilgrimage to Israel, a trip to our spiritual home, as well as a walk around the block, a visit with a friend. What am I taking with me, leaving behind, what am I making room to bring home, are my travel questions now regardless of my destination.

Your Personal Salvation History

By Mike Van Vranken

One could say that reading the bible is a study of the salvation history of God and his creation. At the same time, our personal narratives, the stories of our individual experiences of life are our own personal salvation history. Throughout the existence of education, people have found it important to study mankind’s history. And as important as this has been to our evolution as a species, an even greater importance exists in our study of salvation history. How do we take the message of the bible, integrate it with our own personal narrative, and study salvation history as it pertains to the entire universe, as well as to us as individuals in that universe?

One question we might ask ourselves is:  “How has God approached me in my salvation history?”  When we are willing to take the time to research and study this history, we will begin to see who we are in God.

At the top of a sheet of paper, write the words: “People in my life who have reflected God’s face to me.”  Now ask God for the grace to be reminded of all the people from ages one through 12 in your life who reflected His face to you. Maybe you think of your parents, grandparents, priests, religious sisters, siblings or teachers. Talk to God about theses people and pay attention to what is stirring inside you as you remember them.  Now, who were the people who reflected God’s face from ages 13 to 20? What about in your 20’s, then your 30’s, your 40’s and each decade of your adult life? Who are the people reflecting God’s face to you?  As the feelings and memories stir inside you, continue your conversation with God. Ask him to show you how these people contributed to your salvation history.

Now, on another sheet of paper, write:  “What were the religious images that are important to me throughout my life?” Again, look at them through the ranges of ages one through 12, then 13 through 20, and so on. What movements are going on within you as you remember these?  How have the images changed as you matured?  Which images, if any, are still very important to you? Ask God what all of this is saying to you about your own history with him and his experiences with you.

On another sheet, which events in your life seem to show in the clearest ways how God has approached you?  Use the same age segments as you rediscover all the events of God in your life that have been so important. Talk to God about these events. What is he saying to you about them?

Let’s keep going. Do the same practice that we’ve done with people, images and events, with “songs or music” that have shaped your relationship with God.  Continue the exercises examining how God was approaching you as you recall “favorite virtues,” “enemies or troublesome persons in your past,” “places,” “books,” “tasks or work” and “gifts” you been given by God and/or shared with others.

A spiritual exercise like we’ve been discussing here could, and probably should, take about a month or more to complete. This is not a quick and easy, once and done activity. It requires a disciplined study of your personal history. And, this is not an intellectual exercise. This  is about entering in to your experiences with God throughout your life and recalling all he has done for you. This is about taking the time to reminisce with God and recall his blessings by paying attention to all that he has used to approach you, to be with you, to love you. This is about listening to God and to what he has been saying to you throughout your life; and what he is saying now.

As you peruse your own salvation history throughout this month, allow your eyes to be opened a little to see who you are to God; or as St. Paul would say, “who we are in Christ.” Do you recognize how he sees you as his  beloved daughter or son? Who has he been calling you to be?  Who is he calling you to be right now? Do you see yourself as his beloved? Do you recognize you have been his beloved since before the world began?

Yes, studying human history is an important way to grow in our understanding of God’s creation. Along with that study, a discovery of our own, personal salvation history helps us grow in our relationship with God and recognize who we are to him. Then we can discover the roles he is  calling us to play, right now, in helping him build the kingdom of God.