Monthly Archives: September 2020

Faithful Citizenship

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By: Father Mark Watson

The election for President of the United States has begun a vibrant national debate concerning the direction of our country.  An aspect of our faith includes being involved in the political process.  The Bishops of the United States assist us in this process through publishing, every four years, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.  This resource presents Catholic teaching concerning current political issues.  The following article summarizes Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.

 THE RIGHT TO LIFE AND THE DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON
Human life is sacred.  Direct attacks on all innocent persons are never morally acceptable.  Human life is under direct threat from abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty.  The taking of human life through abortion and euthanasia, human cloning and destructive research on human embryos must always be rejected.  Threats to innocent life also include torture, the targeting of innocent civilians in war and the treating workers as mere means to an end. While Catholics do not vote based on one issue, we are called to not vote for candidates who support an intrinsic moral evil such as abortion or racism.

CALL TO FAMILY, COMMUNITY AND PARTICIPATION

The human person is not only sacred but also social.   Full human development takes place in relationship with others.   The family – based on marriage between a man and a woman – is the first and fundamental unit within society and is a sanctuary for the creation and nurturing of children.  Respect for the family should be reflected in every policy and program.  “Wages should allow workers to care for their families.” (#70)

RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES

Human dignity is respected and the common good is fostered only if human rights are protected and basic responsibilities are met.  The common good is that which makes society thrive.  Every human being has a right to those things required for living a decent human life, such as food, water, shelter, health care, housing, freedom of religion and family-life.  Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities – to one another, to our families, to our places of employment, to co-workers and to the larger society.

PREFERENTIAL OPTION FOR THE POOR AND VULNERABLE

While the common good embraces all, the Church has a preferential love for those who are weak, vulnerable, and most in need.  A basic moral test for any society is how it treats those who are most vulnerable.  “Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (Laudato Si, no. 139)   This includes offering affordable and accessible health care.

DIGNITY OF WORK AND RIGHTS OF WORKERS

The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Employers contribute to the common good through the products or goods they provide and by creating jobs that uphold the dignity and rights of workers—to productive work, to decent and just wages, to adequate benefits and security in their old age and to the right to organize and join unions.

SOLIDARITY

We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic and ideological differences.  Loving our neighbor has global dimensions and requires us to eradicate racism and address the extreme poverty and disease plaguing so much of the world.  The United States should welcome the stranger among us – including immigrants seeking work – by ensuring that they have opportunities for a safe home, education for their children and a decent life for their families.  Catholics must work to avoid war and to promote peace throughout the world.

CARING FOR GOD’S CREATION

God has called us to be stewards of God’s creation.  Care for the earth is a duty of our faith and a sign of our concern for all people.  This is especially true since the degradation of the environment most often hurts those who are most poor.   Extreme consumerism brings about this degradation.  In his Encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis has recently lifted up pollution, climate change, lack of access to clean water and the loss of biodiversity as particular challenges.

 

Mary’s Mission: Beloved Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows

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By: Mary Arcement Alexander

God did not bless me with children, but He did bless me with 14 amazing nieces and nephews whom I adore. The thought of watching any one of them suffer is unbearable and yet that is exactly what Mary endured. She watched her beloved Son not only die on the Cross, but also suffer unspeakable acts of torture and violence. I truly cannot imagine the pain she felt. In the movie, The Passion of Christ, there is a scene where Mary is reminiscing about Jesus as a child. The film shows Jesus, roughly age three or four, playing while Mary watched on. The entire movie made me sob, but that one scene did me in, for it showed the humanness of both Mary and Jesus. It showed how He was not only our Savior dying for our sins but also her baby boy whom she loved beyond imagine.

Our Blessed Mother suffered seven sorrows throughout Jesus’ life. Among them are: the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, the loss and finding of Jesus in the Temple, holding Jesus after He was taken down from the cross, and His burial.

The Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt

“The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Matt. 2:13

Can you even imagine giving birth to your first child, falling in love with him, only to later find out he is in grave danger? Your sweet, innocent infant child in danger of being killed? That alone would be enough for me. However, Mary took it all in stride for she knew when she said yes to the Angel Gabriel she was also saying yes to more than she could fathom.

The loss and finding of Jesus in the temple

“Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Lk. 2:48-49

In my 20’s I worked as a nanny for two small girls. When Mary Taylor was about three years old, I took her to the mall and for one brief moment, which felt like an eternity, I “lost” her. Thankfully, she had not gone far but all I felt in those brief moments was fear and panic. Jesus was gone for three days, three days! I am sure if I could ask Mary she would say those were three of the longest, most terrifying days of her life.  I imagine she did a lot of pacing, crying, biting of her nails and slept very little. The sheer joy she must have felt when she was finally able to hug her little boy on that fateful day in the Temple.

Mary holding Jesus after He was taken down from the Cross

His lifeless body lay in her arms. The same arms that first held him as an infant. The same arms that hugged him and held him when he fell down as a boy. The same arms he ran to as a small child. The same arms that bathed, fed, cared for him throughout his childhood. He came into the world in her arms and He left it in a similar way. As I close my eyes, I can see Mary gently caressing Jesus’ blood-stained face. I can see her push back His long hair. I can see the tears of grief stream from her weary eyes. I can see our Mother hold her Son, our Lord and Savior.

The Burial

“They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom.” Jn. 19:40

I remember my paternal grandfather’s burial vividly.  The moment they began to lower his casket into the ground was heart wrenching. It still brings tears to my eyes.  Placing her son in the tomb and then watching as they closed it up had to be even more heart wrenching for Mary. I like to think as Mary held Jesus after his crucifixion she savored every moment of having him in her arms one last time before they took him away. I like to think she memorized every line of his face, the shape of his eyes, the softness of his skin, and the feel of his hair as it fell on her arms.  I like to think that although her heart was broken, she was also able to find peace in knowing she would spend eternity with him. I like to think that she would do it all again.

 

Mike’s Meditations: From Pro-Life to Prostitution

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By: Mike Van Vranken, Spiritual Director

Jesus lumped prostitutes and tax collectors together (Mt 21:31 NAB) when speaking of sinful ways. God’s Wisdom compels us not to be lured by prostitutes (Proverbs 9:13-18).  As adult Catholics, we realize that “prostitute” in the bible has a much larger meaning than some pelvic sin. It refers to any time we sell our physical, spiritual or emotional body for some type of financial, material or physical gain. As an example, if I put my prayer life, family and/or friends to the side while I work too many hours for financial security, I’m a prostitute.  If this workaholic lifestyle causes pain and disease to my body, I’m also a prostitute.

Over 17,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the last 6 months; many very painfully and alone. We struggle with decisions of keeping more people safe and yet helping those who have lost income, jobs and businesses. In making these decisions, are we diligent in seeking God’s wisdom and not the world’s?

It seems the Catholic Pro-life movement has been very quiet where Covid-19 is concerned. Where are the outcry’s for the lives of the 5 million Americans who have tested positive; many with terrible pain and suffering, many with seemingly long-term damage to their bodies, and the many, mentioned above, who have died?  Where are the Pro-life voices demanding safer conditions for those in nursing homes and retirement facilities?  Where are our Pro-life Catholics, crying out for safer environments in our prisons and jails?  Where are the Pro-life advocates for our tireless doctors, nurses, first responders and other health care workers?  And, of course, where are the Pro-life concerns in our parishes to financially help those who are unemployed, who can’t pay their rent or mortgage payments, and for many, whose jobs will not return?  Why do we not hear Pro-life demands for the Church and for Congress to help so many Americans around the country?  And remember, it was announced February 13th, before the reality of the virus had reached our consciousness, that American credit card debt was at an “all-time high.”  In other words, the economy was nowhere near as strong as people have told us.

I have, of course, heard many Pro-life cries to “open up the economy.” And yes, I agree, we need to get as many people back to work as quickly as healthily possible, and as soon as healthily possible. But, if we make “opening the economy” our focus, haven’t we put the financial aspect ahead of our Pro-life beliefs?  How many of us would argue that not one unborn child should ever be destroyed?  Yet, are we willing to put a small percentage of living Americans at risk so we can “open the economy?”  Are we putting dollars ahead of lives and justifying it by saying it gives people an income again?  Truthfully, are we prostitutes; believing that the virus is dangerous, and yet allowing others to be at risk so money can freely flow again?

In a graphic image of the early Church, we read that not a person was needy, they shared everything in common, and no one said: “that’s mine, you can’t have it” (Acts 4:32-34). Talk about a Pro-life Church!  They helped each other; they shared their goods, including their money. Should the Church be paying rent and groceries for those who have lost income, lost jobs, lost businesses, and lost a loved one who was also their breadwinner? Should the church be helping re-design prisons, jails, nursing homes, retirement centers, schools, workplaces and anywhere that people congregate because of our Pro-life beliefs?  Or, have we aborted these Pro-life values for the value of the U. S. dollar?

In this month of September, I urge you to ask these questions to God himself, rather than request someone’s human opinion. What is God’s take on this?  Will you dare to sit with God in the silence each day this month and ask him:  God, am I Pro-life; or am I a prostitute? Tell him how it makes you feel to even ask the question.  Does it make you squirm a little?  Ask where that “squirm” is coming from. Sit and listen for his answers. Not only during your prayer time, but throughout your day, and maybe even in your dreams at night. But, be ready, because he will answer you?  In a paraphrase of Deuteronomy 30: 15-19, hear God saying: “The commandment I am giving you today isn’t too much for you.  I set before you Pro-life and prostitution; choose life, that you and everyone else, may live.”

 

Embracing the Mission to Evangelize

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By: Mark Loyet, Director of Pastoral Ministry

Despite the pandemic and the plethora of restrictions and challenges to ministry it has brought, pastoral leaders across our diocese have been working hard to continue to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to their communities. However, this is no easy task amidst the ever evolving landscape of safety protocols that our entire world is facing. One positive change that has come out of the shift from in person to mostly online meeting is that connectedness among leaders has actually increased…and that is not only good, but also new.

Before the pandemic, no matter what part of the country you looked at, typically, dioceses consisted of large numbers of parishes that pretty much existed like islands of ministry which were mostly disconnected from each other. But now that leaders everywhere have been thrust into completely uncharted ministry waters, cross-parish collegiality and collaboration have become more important than ever. Now it really matters what other parishes are doing. No one knows whether or not a new ministry strategy will work, but when sharing ideas and outcomes with colleagues, success spreads fast and mistakes can be avoided.

To help foster this collegiality,  the Office of Pastoral Ministry hosted the first ever Convocation for Pastoral Leaders all across the diocese on August 4th. The theme was “Trading in Old Wineskins: A Missionary Approach to Ministry.” The Convocation was attended via Zoom by almost 60 pastoral leaders including priests, deacons, Directors of Religious Education, youth ministers, RCIA coordinators, social justice ministries, and volunteers from various backgrounds. Over 30 more viewed the recording online at a later date.

The convocation began with an invocation given by our very own, Bishop Francis Malone. Bishop Malone chose to give an invocation that was given at the beginning of every session of the Second Vatican Council. This set a beautiful tone as he invoked the Holy Spirit to come to us and help us each use the Gifts of the Spirit we have received through our Baptisms and Confirmations.

I then gave an introduction to the convocation and introduced our guest speaker, Matt Schwartz, who is a trainer and coach with the Parish Success group, which has succeeded in empowering parishes all across the United States to maximize the effectiveness of their ministry.

During the course of the main presentation, Matt highlighted areas in which the Church is primed for new strategies and how the Church has increasingly been calling pastoral leaders everywhere to evolve with the changing culture and needs of the people.

To summarize the overarching message of the day, the Church today is no doubt facing challenges that are 100+ years in the making, and unfortunately there are no 6 month solutions. In fact, there are no guaranteed solutions at all—that is with respect to programs, new strategies, and innovation. What we know is that our mission, to “…make disciples of all nations…,” (Matthew 28:19) has not, and will never change. However, our delivery system needs updating. We need to move away from using programmatic solutions to spiritual, relational, and pastoral problems. Now is the time to do what our church documents have been urging us to do for three generations: embrace our mission, empower families, and evangelize.

Now that being said, I would like to speak for the leaders across the diocese, and invite YOU into the mission field. Our Church cannot change the world without you. Our priests, deacons and parish staff cannot do it alone. They need your gifts…yes, YOU have gifts! My prayer is that if you are reading this article, you will take time to pray and ask God to show you where your gifts can be used at your parish. Make an appointment with a leader at your parish and ask how you can help. Your time equals spreading the Gospel, which in turn equals the salvation of souls—and that is why the Church exists.

 

Blessed Elisabetta Renzi & How Her Legacy Lives On in Shreveport, Lousiana

Sister Martinette Rivers, OLS

By: Kierstin Richter, Editor

“Adhere et lucere,” or to “burn and to light.” This is the motto Blessed Elisabetta Renzi attributed to her order – that we must burn to give light and warmth to our brothers and sisters. “Contemplative life is not enough,” she says. “Active life alone is vain. Together, contemplation and action are perfect. This is our life.”

Nestled away down Norris Ferry Road in Shreveport, Louisiana, surrounded by trees and gardens and incomparable peace, the women of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows not only serve the Shreveport community through education, but also travel worldwide to the order’s other locations such as Italy, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Brazil to expand their ministry. Well traveled and well spoken, each sister is fluent in multiple languages, specifically Italian.

Their foundress, Maria Elisabetta Renzi, born and raised in Saludecio, Italy, was on her way to beatification from a young age. “Even as a child,” her brother said, “Elisabetta opened herself up to silence and prayer…a ray of light shining on pure gold; she did not acquire beauty from the wealth around her, but everything precious around her. She herself made beautiful with her great goodness and sweetness.”

Renzi entered the monastic life at the age of 21, but her time was cut short after the storm of the Napoleonic Revolution, sending her home to stay with her family for the next fourteen years. She was later invited to the Conservatory at Coriano, where she realized her vocation was to be an educator. She soon became the directress of the conservatory and purchased the property. To improve the reputation damaged by the Masons, she chose a deep spiritual life as the foundation for the community.

In 1839, she founded the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows, and soon her own niece came to Coriano as a boarding student and joined the order.

A little over a century after her death, Renzi’s beatification process began after a miraculous healing of Sister Agostina Galli, OLS in 1965. Galli suffered from a dry bilateral pleurisy, and later, tubercular peritonitis, unable to eat solid foods. After development of cardiovascular problems as well, doctors gave her hardly any hope of recovery. She received her last rights while on oxygen, but  through it all, she says she was “convinced [she] was not going to die.” She and her sisters prayed to Mother Elisabetta for a miracle, and sure enough, after her profession of the restoration of her health, she immediately sat straight up and walked around the room like nothing had ever happened. After this miraculous healing, Elisabetta Renzi was declared venerable in 1988 and beatified in 1989.

In partnership with Donna Service, a local artist, the Shreveport sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows designed an after school program for at-risk youth called the Renzi Art & Education Center, a free program that gives children the opportunity to “explore, learn and create under the guidance of professional teachers and artists.” As well as studying music theory, language arts, graphic design and dance, this summer, the kids also had the opportunity to work with local filmmakers and artists to create a music video for a local band.

The Sisters also own and operate the OLS Cookie Jar in Alexandria, proudly claiming “there are NUN better.” From brownies to cinnamon rolls to mini-cheesecakes, these ladies have got you covered.

Renzi’s legacy lives on in the lives of these children and sisters who guide them, carrying on her life and spirit right here in Shreveport, Louisiana.

From the Bishop September 2020

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By: Bishop Francis I. Malone

Dates are important – both the good dates, like birthdays and anniversaries; so are bad dates, like November 22, 1963 or September 11, 2001.  There are some dates that are forever etched in our minds that we could never forget them.  In particular, I am thinking of those dates that resulted in a sense of being overwhelmed to the point of feeling so totally lost or abandoned that recovery from whatever it was that happened eludes or evades us.

Fortunately, I have had only one of those overwhelming dates in my life, God has been so good to me.  But I know the feeling of being overwhelmed, and I have encountered too many people in my life who felt the same way. Have you one of those dates, an event, a memory that stays with you because it overwhelmed you at the time?  Have you ever encountered a person in such a condition?

The frustrating part of encountering someone who is overwhelmed is trying to help them get through it – or past it.

2020 has been quite an unusual year for us all.  As a nation we have had to face the reality of issues related to the inequality of race relations, and the violence that followed, and continues to surface.  We watch the news, or we talk to those negatively impacted by such events, and we can see their hurt and hear about their pain, and we know they are overwhelmed…lost…abandoned.

Then the Coronavirus comes our way – and not just our way, but globally infects most of the world.  No one seems to be immune to it, and it doesn’t take much to observe the sick, their families, those on the front lines of health care. Without a vaccine and in the face of increased numbers of the sick and the dying – so many become overwhelmed by this pandemic that seems to have no end.

Then nature raises its ugly head in the form of a Hurricane.  How odd that we give them names instead of numbers, as if personalizing them makes them seem less ominous.  Hurricanes are not new to us – we even have a “season” dedicated to when they are most likely to come our way.  Hurricane “Laura” came to Louisiana in the last week of August, and left in its wake the kind of destruction from which people do not recover easily. In the aftermath of the storm, the news reports have us listening and watching the devastation it left behind.  Simply put, those who call Lake Charles “home,” have been overwhelmed.  2020 has given us more than we could ever have anticipated, and for those of us who escaped the catastrophic results, we are left to ponder the situation with a question, “what can I do for those who are overwhelmed?  They are, after all, our Louisiana brothers and sisters.

In the early 1990’s, in the face of the increased terroristic attacks in our country and in the world, our daily news gave us front row seats to some of the most overwhelming events we will ever witness in our lives.  There was an interview on a news program of Mr. Fred Rogers by a reporter who asked Mr. Rogers what we should tell our children when they see these events on television.  “How should we counsel them?” the reporter asked.  Mr. Rogers’ response was, “tell the children, ‘look for the helpers…look for the helpers in those terrible images.’”  His counsel then, remains the best advice we can hear today in the face of racial tension and violence, in the pandemic that challenges those in the health care field, in the rush of first responders in the aftermath of a hurricane.  For our part in the Diocese of Shreveport, we have been taking up a collection to aid Lake Charles, we have been collecting much needed tarps to cover homes from continued water damage, we have supplied thousands of bottles of water for those without water to drink.  I asked our diocese to help in these ways because I am confident in your response – but also because I knew that the stuff of what you are made as a community of faith places you in the body of “helpers” who, when all is said and done, will alleviate the sense of being overwhelmed in our brothers and sisters.  Your response makes me so blessed to be your bishop, and in the name of the overwhelmed, to thank you.

What’s Your “Fiat”?

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By: Kierstin Richter, Editor

What’s your fiat?  No, not the little Italian car.  The word “fiat” comes from the Latin “let it be done.”  Mary’s “fiat” was saying yes to God, or “let it be done to me” as it is written in Luke 1:38. To know your “fiat” is to know your “yes.” What are you saying yes to? What are you letting God do in your life?

We say no to things from fears of inadequacy, failure, or even other people’s opinions. Despite what God puts on our hearts, we still try to take control. Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, whom this issue is dedicated to, said yes to a heck of a lot. Who would say yes to bear a child as an unmarried woman in a time you could be stoned for such a situation? Who would say yes to watch your own child be tortured and crucified? Who would say yes to hold the lifeless body of your only child in your arms after you’ve seen him executed like a common criminal?

Your fiat won’t always be easy. Your fiat may be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done. But I can say it’s worth it. It’s worth every bit of pain because pain is what transforms us.  All good theology is what we do with our pain.

Being a Catholic can be painful. Our faith asks a lot of us. It asks us to trust, to give up control, to jump into the unknown with the knowing that even where we fall, we are still enveloped in the goodness of God’s grace – the grace that keeps us at peace even when our world is falling apart.

2020 is no doubt a year of growth. It’s been a year of waiting, uncertainty, unpredictability and immense animosity between a whole lot of people. But these are the times when our faith is tested. These are the days that build our hearts for something greater. Learning to wait. Learning to let go. Even learning to love the people who are sometimes very hard to love.

“To live without a faith,” Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati once said, “without a heritage to defend, without battling constantly for truth, is not to live, but to ‘get along.’ We must never just get along.”

To answer your “fiat” is to step into uncertainty with a sense of peace. It is what it means to be Catholic. It’s not to do everything right. It’s not to know all the answers. It’s to tread into unknown waters with the faith that you will not sink. And if you do, God’s hand is there to pull you up again.