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Fidel Mondragon’s Ordination

by Jessica Rinaudo Before Fidel Mondragon landed in the Diocese of Shreveport, he spent many years in various seminaries, countries and a religious order, discerning the vocation God had planned for his More »

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Pope Francis Celebrated Mass and Canonization at Fatima Shrine

At 10:00 a.m. on May 13, the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Fátima, on the plaza of the Shrine, the Holy Father Francis celebrated Holy Mass on the occasion of More »

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Join Us for Summer Catholic Camps for Teens!

Dear Parents, As parents of teenagers, you want the very best for your children. As faithful Catholics, you want them to grow closer to the Church in their teen years, not drift More »

Left to right: Sr. Carol Shively, OSU, Superintendent; Fr. Joe Martina, Pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish; Dr. Carynn Wiggins, Principal; Shelly Bole, Director of Catechesis; Jamie Humphrey, Religion Teacher

Relgious Education Gets Boost at Our Lady of Fatima

by Bonny Van During the school year, Wednesday morning Mass for students at Our Lady of Fatima School in Monroe is much more than just a time to celebrate the Eucharist.  It’s More »

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Vocations View: The Identity and Role of a Deacon

by Duane Trombetta, Seminarian By the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a man is appointed to nourish the people of the Church with God’s Word and grace in the name of Christ.  He More »

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Faithful Food: Vulnerability and Risk

by Kim Long Words and their meanings have become causalities in our current world. It seems we can be overly casual with their meanings, “loving” everything from soda to chocolate and “knowing” More »

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Mike’s Meditations: Embracing All Prayer Types

by Mike Van Vranken I recently overheard two people discussing (maybe arguing) about whose form of prayer was best. One thought Sunday Mass was the best form of prayer because they could More »

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Bishop’s Reflection: Don’t Be Afraid to Be “Religious”

by Bishop Michael G. Duca I think it is fair to say that in today’s secular culture there is a bias against religion. Maybe the bias against it has always been there, More »

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Our Lady of Fatima Plenary Indulgence

by Dianne Rachal, Director of Worship On Saturday, May 13, the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, Pope Francis declared canonized saints, Jacinta and Francesco Marto, two of More »

Diocese Focuses on Family Life Through Media and Catechetical Fair

by Shelly Bole, Director of Catechesis

Remember that song by Sister Sledge?  “We are family, I got all my sisters with me!”?   The Catholic Church sees family as much larger, in fact Pope Francis says that the parish/church is the “family of families,” so in essence everyone who belongs to a parish/church is a family member (single, divorced, widowed, married, child, teen, etc.)  In fact in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis wrote, “There is no stereotype of the ideal family but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems.” (57)  As a single person who has spent most of my adult life in states other than my biological family, I embrace the quote, “Friends are the family we choose.”

The beauty of family life in the 20th century is the ability to connect in a variety of ways. Someone who lives far away can connect not just through calls and texts, but visually through social media. Yet even with all these ways to connect, there is nothing that can replace the actual in person, face-to-face encounter. The Church recognizes the importance of that live encounter:  think of the Sacrament of Reconciliation – it must happen in person so that there is a physical as well as spiritual connection with our Forgiving Father.  In fact all of our Sacraments must happen “live and in person.”

As family, what can we learn from this centuries-old wisdom? We can learn that in our often over-scheduled lives, we must schedule time for the live, face-to-face encounters with those we love. We can learn that like the sacraments, family time is sacred and must be protected.  We can learn that food is central to our socialization as family. We can learn that celebrations are important! We can learn that through family we experience God’s love and mercy in the context of relationships.

The Catholic Church, in her wisdom, is spending more time learning from and reflecting on families (both biological and chosen).  The World Meeting of Families last August is a perfect example.

The Office of Catechesis is also learning more about and reflecting on family life. One of the first steps for families to connect is meal time: intentional, everyone together, cell phones down, eating together.

You may have noticed and followed the Lenten Tuesdays Fast and Feasting Family Style on our app, Facebook page and in bulletins, which offered a simple question for families to talk about together.  We are continuing the Tuesday ritual with Jesus Table Talk.  Each Tuesday morning a new question is offered through the Diocesan App, CatholicConnections, our Facebook page and in church bulletins.

The questions are easy, and yet challenging: “What was the weirdest thing you said today?” “King David, of the Old Testament wrote most of Psalms, which were sung!  David loved joyful, lively music.  He was known to leap and dance for the Lord!  What song was stuck in your head today?’  The goal of Jesus Table Talk is to help start conversations that are out of the ordinary and can be discussed with anyone!

In addition to Jesus Table Talk, the annual Catechetical Fair will focus on how catechists can engage parents in the formation of their children. We will also begin offering more seminars on parenting and grand-parenting; what you should know about social media and your teen; and communication.

The Holy Family is our model for family life. And before you think, “Well, they were the Holy Family – we can’t compete,” remember they had their share of burdens: Mary was an unwed pregnant teen; Joseph was an older man; they had to travel on a donkey; the Child was born poor; the babe’s life was threatened; the Child got lost; the list goes on and on.  They struggled.  But as Pope Francis said, “Families are not a problem, they are first and foremost an opportunity” (Amoris Laetitia, 7).

Join the diocese in growing confident Catholic families through Facebook, the CathConnects App and the Diocesan Family Faith webpage:  http://www.dioshpt.org/ministries/catechesis/family-faith/ where you will find amazing resources for parenting, single parents, divorced/separated and much more.  New resources are being added weekly.  •

Relgious Education Gets Boost at Our Lady of Fatima

Left to right: Sr. Carol Shively, OSU, Superintendent; Fr. Joe Martina, Pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish; Dr. Carynn Wiggins, Principal; Shelly Bole, Director of Catechesis; Jamie Humphrey, Religion Teacher

by Bonny Van

During the school year, Wednesday morning Mass for students at Our Lady of Fatima School in Monroe is much more than just a time to celebrate the Eucharist.  It’s also much more than time spent in prayer, listening to scripture or taking a break from class work.  For the majority of the 200 students, it’s the only chance they have to experience God.

“So many of our students are un-churched, except through the school,” said principal Dr. Carynn Wiggins.  That is why a $5,000 grant from the Black and Indian Missions has been such a blessing.

Shelly Bole, Director of Catechesis for the Diocese of Shreveport, applied for the grant a year ago after a visit to Fatima School opened her eyes to the lack of religious material available for teaching.

“Ninety-five percent of the students are funded by state tuition and zero funds from the state can be used for religious material,” she said.  “I was really saddened by this and Jamie, the religion teacher, told me that many of the children had never heard about God.”

Jamie Humphrey has been the religion teacher at the school for the past 12 years.  Teaching without books and other student materials has been challenging.
“We’re trying to teach them about the Gospel and instill good moral values,” she said.

Bole says the grant, awarded just before Christmas, was a great Christmas present.

“I said let’s dream big, what do you need?”

First on the list were books.  Bole contacted a representative from Sadlier Publishing Company, which donated 20 books.  Grant money was used to buy the rest.

Money from the grant has also been used to purchase a laptop and a rolling cart so that Humphrey can move to different classrooms.

“We’ve also used the money to buy a DVD set that covers the basics of our faith and Elmo clickers which allow the kids to answer questions remotely with the SMART board,” said Bole.

“We’ve also bought portable batteries and a keyboard for Jamie, and we still have $1500 left!  We’ve been able to do so much more than we imagined.  We’re going to hold off until the fall to see what they need,” she said.

Humphrey said the materials have made a big impact already.

Some of the religious resources purchased for Our Lady of Fatima School with the aid of a Black and Indian Missions grant.

“The children are more organized and we are back on track with our catechism,” she said.  “If not for us, most of them would not know about God.”
“This really does make a difference in the lives of these children,” says Dr. Wiggins.  “I tell people all the time, you don’t have to cross an ocean to have a mission field, you simply have to cross a parking lot.”

Vocations View: The Identity and Role of a Deacon

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by Duane Trombetta, Seminarian

By the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a man is appointed to nourish the people of the Church with God’s Word and grace in the name of Christ.  He takes on a sacramental character and a share in Christ’s priesthood.  The word “ordination” comes from the Latin word ordinatio, which means “incorporation into an established, ordered, and governed body.”  Accordingly, Holy Orders are “ordered” into the three ranks of bishop, priest and deacon.

In a few short weeks, I will be ordained a deacon myself.  In this timely article, I will reflect upon the deacon’s identity (“who he is”), and his roles in the Church (“what he does”).

Though a deacon’s identity is different from that of a bishop or a priest, he does receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders – so, a deacon is a member of the ordained clergy. He is also a sharer in Christ’s mission and grace. In fact, a deacon holds this identity in a special way because his sacramental character configures him to Christ who is deacon, or servant, of all. In addition, a deacon is a sharer in the mission of the diocesan bishop. And because his respect and obedience extend to his local church, he is also a sharer in the mission of his pastor. Most of all, a deacon is a servant. This applies to his identity at the altar, in his administrative duties, to other clergy and, of course, to the people of God.

A deacon takes on some very important roles in the Church, each related to the “offices” of Christ: priest, prophet and king.  He participates in Christ’s priestly office by helping to sanctify the people – this includes assisting in the liturgy, celebrating the Sacraments of Baptism and Matrimony and presiding at Christian funerals.  A deacon participates in Christ’s prophetic office by proclaiming the Good News and by preaching homilies. Last but not least, a deacon participates in Christ’s kingly office by governing, guiding and administering within the parameters of his assignment – always submitting to the truth of the transcendent God.

It should be noted that ordination to the diaconate can be “permanent” or “transitional.”  This means that men over the age of 35, and married men may be ordained as permanent deacons to serve the diocese and a parish for life.

Alternately, suitable men who aspire to the priesthood may be ordained as transitional deacons for a short time, later to be ordained as priests. In the case of the transitional diaconate, the law of celibacy must remain, and he may not be married.  Regardless, both permanent and transitional deacons share the same identity and roles in the Church.

After six years of seminary studies and formation, I believe I am well-prepared and ready to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders and to take on the identity and roles of a deacon.  I particularly identify with the diakonia of servant.  It is my hope and prayer to enjoy many years of ordained ministry to the people of the Diocese of Shreveport.

Duane Trombetta will be ordained to the Transitional Diaconate on Saturday, June 24, at 10:00 a.m. at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in downtown Shreveport. All are invited and encouraged to attend this event and support Duane as he takes one of his final steps towards becoming a priest.

Additionally, there will be an informational meeting for interested men on the Permanent Diaconate on Saturday, June 17 at 9:00 a.m. in the Youth Room of the Catholic Life Center next to St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Ruston. For more information on this meeting, contact Deacon Clary Nash, Director of the Permanent Diaconate, at cnash@dioshpt.org.

Second Collections for June and July

PETER’S PENCE    
Bulletin Dates: June 18th & 25th     
Collection Dates: July 1st & 2nd

A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just.” – Pope Francis, Angelus, March 17, 2013.

“Let’s help the Holy Father to help others!  Your contribution, however small is important.” – The Vatican website.

“Be a Witness of Charity.”  Each year, on or near the Feast of the two great apostles, Peter and Paul, the Universal Church takes up the Peter’s Pence Collection. Pope Francis, the Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth, is called upon by individuals, families, communities and nations to help them in a time of crisis and suffering. The Vicar of Christ always seeks to respond to such cries for help with the love and mercy of the Lord through the help of the Church, you, me and the Catholic faithful from every nation around the world. This collection is taken up by Catholics around the globe and helps the Holy Father reach out to the suffering in our world, especially to those enduring the effects of war and violence, natural disasters, and religious persecution. Our Holy Father leads by example as he makes the buildings, personnel and resources of the Holy See readily available to those in need. Join him!

“Be a Witness of Charity.”  Please participate generously in the Peter’s Pence Collection.  Join our Holy Father Francis in his mission, and ours, to bring the face and love of Jesus Christ to our brothers and sisters in need of compassion, help, hope and mercy.

SOLIDARITY FUND FOR THE CHURCH IN AFRICA    
Bulletin Dates: July 9th & 16th     
Collection Dates: July 22nd & 23rd

The Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa supports pastoral projects that foster lasting peace and reconciliation in a continent often marked by division and tension.  Please participate in this opportunity to stand with the people of Africa as they face these challenges.  The Pastoral Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa of the USCCB Subcommittee on the Church in Africa provides grants to finance pastoral projects that support the maintenance and growth of the Church in Africa. Funded projects include outreach programs, schools, evangelization and the education of clergy and lay ministers.

As I was writing this article in May of 2017, I have just sent out information to our priests that 23 million people in Africa are on the brink of starvation.  That is the equivalent to the number of people living in our Episcopal Region, including the states of:

Louisiana    4.67 million
Mississippi    4.99 million
Alabama    4.85 million
Tennessee     6.6. million
Kentucky    4.42 million

Any amount you give will alleviate the suffering of millions of people and lead to solutions that could permanently eliminate hunger in Africa and throughout the world. The Church in Africa is growing, however many people still lack access to basic resources and pastoral care.  Many suffer due to high rates of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, poor education, disease and migration. Be generous in your support of the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa.  I thank you in advance for your five loaves and two fishes with which our Lord can do far more than we could ever hope or imagine!  •

Navigating the Faith: Whoever Has Ears Ought to Hear

by Cathy Cobb

In a recent speech, Pope Frances lamented the frenetic pace of today’s world and the lack of listening skills that so easily takes root in our families. Family members can become so absorbed in their smartphones, he remarked, that they fail to greet one another in the morning or don’t make conversation during meals. This can lead to a tendency to depersonalize others, which then extends beyond the family to the wider society. He encouraged listening over interrupting one another, as so often seen on television. “Where there is no dialogue, there is violence,” he said.

The solution to this problem is to work to improve our own listening skills. When children are learning to talk, parents spend time helping them develop expressive skills, but sometimes fail to instill another important basic communication skill: the art of good listening.

If your family does not listen well, try to quietly model what good listening looks like. Sit or stand still when others are talking and look them in the eye, nodding your head or giving body language indicating you are engaged. Sum up what others say to be sure you understood them correctly. Allow others to finish their thoughts before interrupting them. These small disciplines may yield great results. Pay attention to how often you must resist the impulse to interrupt others. It is perfectly okay to admit to your family or friends that you are working on becoming a better listener and to ask for help. With practice, daily conversations can take on more gracious tones.

When our kids were young, I asked my husband to help me model good listening skills for our kids. We began to make a concentrated effort not to interrupt the kids and to ask them not to interrupt us. Instead of giving them generalized lectures about communicating, we looked for specific suggestions for better listening that we could share, such as turning off the television or other background noise when someone was speaking. We asked them questions about what they were saying. When we spoke to the kids, we asked them to stop what they were doing, look at us and repeat what we had told them to be sure that we were all on the same page. To avoid non-urgent interruptions, we put a notebook and a pencil in a drawer in the kitchen to write a note of what they wanted to remember.

We quickly began to see benefits in our family life, and our new listening habits also improved how we communicated with others outside our home. My desire to be a better listener has spilled over into my prayer life. I realized I had been talking to God more than I had been listening for what God has in mind for me.

When we are willing to listen to God, we discover such wonderful Good News which is ready to come alive on our hearts if we will only allow it in. In Mark 4:9, after telling the parable of the sower, Jesus says, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.” When he makes this statement, he is encouraging us to listen not just with our physical ears, but to make ourselves present to others with our whole beings. When we talk to Jesus, he shows how to listen beyond the words that come forth from our mouths. He hears that what we are truly asking for is healing, peace and love. When we offer others this type of listening, we can be like seeds that fall on the rich soil and produce much fruit. May God grant us all ears that can truly hear.

Listening Skills to Develop

  • Body language: Look the person speaking to you in the eye. Nod your head.
  • Encourage: Let your speaker know you are interested in what they have to say. “Oh, really?” “Yes, I understand.”
  • Clarify: Summarize what you have heard to be sure you understand it.
  • Wait until you are ready to listen: If you aren’t able to give your full attention, ask your speaker to wait until you can.
  • Pay attention: Try to avoid thinking up the next thing you want to say while the other person is talking.
  • Don’t interrupt: Let someone finish their thought before jumping in with yours.
  • Manners: If you must interrupt for an urgent matter, excuse yourself and explain the urgency. Only do this for important reasons!
  • Avoid distractions: It is easier to hear what someone wants to tell you when you eliminate background distractions such as computers, mobile devices or televisions.
  • Pray: Spend time reading and praying with scripture, set aside time for listening to God. Take time to pray for the people who want you to listen to them.

 

From the Pope: The Mother of Hope

from Vatican Information Services

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

In our catechesis on Christian hope, today we look to Mary, Mother of hope. Mary went through more than one dark night on her journey as a mother. From her earliest appearance in the history of the Gospels, she stands out as if she were a character in a drama. It was not easy to answer “yes” to the angel’s invitation: yet she, a woman still in the flower of youth, answered with courage, despite knowing nothing about the fate that awaited her. Mary at that moment appears to us like one of the many mothers of our world, brave to the extreme when it comes to welcoming in her womb the story of a new person to be born.
That “yes” is the first step in a long list of acts of obedience – a long list of acts of obedience! – who will accompany her mother’s itinerary. So Mary appears in the gospels as a silent woman who often does not understand all that is happening around her, but ponders every word and every event in her heart.

In this arrangement there is a beautiful outline of Mary’s psychology: she is not a woman who is discouraged by the uncertainties of life, especially when nothing seems to go in the right direction. Nor is she a woman who protests with violence, who inveighs against the destiny in life that often reveals a hostile face. Instead, she is a woman who listens: do not forget that there is always a great relationship between hope and listening, and Mary is a woman who listens. Mary welcomes existence just as it is given to us, with its happy days, but also with its tragedies we would never have wished to encounter – up to the supreme night of Mary, when her Son is nailed to the wood of the cross.

Until that day, Mary had almost disappeared from the story of the gospels: the sacred writers leave implicit this slow eclipse of her presence, her remaining silent while faced with the mystery of a Son who obeys his Father. But Mary reappears precisely at that crucial moment, when a good number of his friends have fled out of fear. Mothers do not betray, and at that moment, at the foot of the cross, none of us can say what was the cruelest passion: that of an innocent man who dies on the scaffold of the cross, or the agony of a mother who witnesses the last moments of her son’s life. The gospels are laconic, and extremely discreet. They record in a simple verb the presence of the mother: she “stood” (John 19:25). She was standing. They say nothing of her reaction: whether or not she wept… nothing; not even a brushstroke to describe her grief: the imagination of poets and painters were to seize upon these details, giving us images that have entered the history of art and literature. But the gospels just say, she was “standing.” She was there, in the worst moment, in the cruelest moment and suffered with her son. “She stood.”

Mary “stood,” she was simply there. Here she is again, the young woman of Nazareth, now with her hair greyed by the passing of the years, still coming to grips with a God who must only be embraced, and with a life that has reached the threshold of the deepest darkness. Mary “stood” in the deepest darkness, but she “stood,” she stayed. She did not go away. Mary is there, faithfully present, every time that there needs to be a lighted candle in a place of mist and fog. Not even she knew the destiny of resurrection that her Son was at that instant opening up for all humanity: she is there out of fidelity to God’s plan, to which she proclaimed herself a servant in the first day of her vocation, but also due to her instinct as a mother who simply suffers, every time that there is a son who goes through a passion. The sufferings of mothers: we have all known strong women, who have faced so many sufferings for their children!

We find her again in the first day of the Church, she, mother of hope, in the midst of that community of disciples, so fragile: one had renounced, many had fled and all had been afraid (cf. Acts 1:14). But she was simply there, in the most normal of ways, as if it were something entirely natural: in the first Church enveloped in the light of the resurrection, but also in the tremors of the first steps that she needed to take in the world.

This is why we all love her as a mother. We are not orphans: we have a mother in heaven, Who is the holy mother of God. Because she teaches us the virtue of waiting, even when everything seems to be without meaning; she is always trustful in the mystery of God, even when He seems to be eclipsed by the evil in the world. In moments of difficulty, may Mary, the mother who Jesus gave to all of us, always be able to sustain our steps, may she always be able to say to our hearts, “Arise! Look ahead, look to the horizon,” because she is the mother of hope. Thank you.

Domestic Church: Out of Habit with Prayer

by Katie Sciba

Our two-year-old daughter Jane does not stay in bed, at least not on her own. It takes one of us parents sitting vigilantly nearby to compel her to obey and be quiet so she’ll fall asleep. Sometimes the whole process lasts hours.

For the most part I kill time with crossword puzzles or Facebook, but the wait for her to drift off can be painstakingly boring. Several weeks ago when I took my turn to watch Jane, I impulsively grabbed a rosary off the shelf and began praying. Full disclosure: this was not like me. I historically find all kinds of reasons to avoid reciting the Rosary – it takes too long, or I lose my train of thought so it doesn’t feel prayerful, or I don’t feel like it. Nearly in spite of myself, I made my way through the Glorious Mysteries, praying each decade for one of our five children.

The next night, I sat with Jane again – this time willingly – and took up my beads. I meditated on the Joyful Mysteries with my husband at the heart of my intentions. The next night I prayed again. And again the one after.

The Rosary, or just prayer in general, can feel like such a task when we’re out of habit. And, out of habit, it’s easy to give credence to even the weakest reasons to avoid it. In our busyness we say there’s no time or we’re too tired. In our frailty we say we don’t feel like it or we don’t get anything out of it.

I’ve heard that we have to make time to pray and while this is true, we can also find it hidden under seemingly innocuous habits. I didn’t realize it, but Facebook and mindless time online were in the way of what has by grace become a new devotion for me. Every day at work or at home holds natural rhythms of heightened activity and calm and it’s within the calm that we find the time to speak with Jesus. I discovered my downtime in the watch over my toddler, which is plenty of time for a Rosary. In other seasons of life, periods of quiet were shorter than five minutes, during which I could manage a couple of prayers and petitions. In both circumstances, looking heavenward was far better than anything else I could have done to fill the gap.

And once we find the time to pray, we have to push ourselves to seize it. Ask Jesus to give you the will to pray and know that he’s ready to shower you with grace to move closer to him.

In prayer and meditation, Jesus has given me a deeper understanding of his miraculous life on earth and assurance of his divine will. Another fruit of praying has been the ability to see my family through the Lord’s eyes. I see more clearly than ever that they are precious; and not only that, but I better grasp the fact that as a wife, as a mother, it’s my task and privilege to help these particular souls get to heaven. Now, where once was a dreaded period of boredom is time gladly spent with God.

Faithful Food: Vulnerability and Risk

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by Kim Long

Words and their meanings have become causalities in our current world. It seems we can be overly casual with their meanings, “loving” everything from soda to chocolate and “knowing” all who cross our paths.

Recently I attended three funeral services within a week. The pews were filled with people who were drawn by shared experiences with the deceased. Perhaps something as casual as a connection by marriage, rather than blood, a conversation from which we walked away transformed or even sitting together in shared silence.

Driving home from funeral number two, which was “out in the country,” I reflected on the concept of knowing someone else (or oneself for that matter) and the word “vulnerability” kept popping up.

Poet and storyteller Jack Shea in his talk on Christmas themes in Luke and Matthew, spoke about the vulnerability of a baby born in a stable, making the contrast that Luke’s gospel “is like an aria, everyone singing all the time” while Matthew’s gospel “is much gloomier with Herod wanting to kill the baby.”

A vulnerable Jesus did not rest well on my mind years ago when I first heard these talks. I had been taught Jesus was strong, all-knowing and all-forgiving of my shortcomings. On that drive going from what felt like one world to another, I began to realize that vulnerability cuts both ways: Jesus coming in the form of a baby and Jesus hanging on a cross. In these scenes vulnerability isn’t just encouraged, it is modeled for us by Jesus from birth to death. Jesus opened himself up to everyone, being vulnerable and taking the ensuing risk each situation offered – who am I not to follow?

Popular culture doesn’t encourage vulnerability, preferring to push the narrative of self. Jesus was so countercultural. His embrace of vulnerability is echoed in the lives of the people I knew who died that week. They lived full lives, accomplished many deeds, touched many and through those transcendent moments continue to be present in the lives of those still here.

Sitting in the pew in three different churches I realized I had been more influenced than I realized by popular culture’s love affair with self and privacy, not being vulnerable, not letting people in, not taking a risk.

For example, I will cook for the bereaved, pray for any request, serve in whatever way I can, but I seldom ask for prayer, or say I need much of anything. I seldom admit my own vulnerability. I don’t want to take any more risks, instead telling myself there is too much to lose. Driving home from one of the funerals, I realized there is so much to gain. I had wandered far from Emmaus, far from who I had known myself to be.

In the words of modern day mystic Bob Seger, “The ashes smolder and the fire is soon gone, we end up cold and only on our own. I’ll take my chances babe, I’ll risk it all, I’ll win your love or I’ll take a fall.”

While this might not seem like an engraved invitation, this is exactly that: we are invited to take the risk, be vulnerable and be amazed at what there is to be known.

“As the Father has loved me so I love you, remain in my love.”

Recipe for a Life Well-Lived

Directions:
1)  Take the life you have been given and open it carefully. You don’t want to miss the wonder it has for you.

2)  Add experiences that can be found at the intersection of vulnerability and risk.

3)  When you have enough, process the mixture with a combination of gentleness and forgiveness.

4)  To this mixture add humor (not too much of the self deprecating variety, it tends to sour the mixture). Stir well.

5)  Add blessings and burdens, laughter and sorrow. Blend well and bring this to your Creator on a daily basis.

6) Repeat these steps daily.

In Review: Mission from the Depths by Tim Rinaldi

Mission from the Depths
by Tim Rinaldi

reviewed by Marie Rinaudo

In the middle of his first year at Tulane University, Michael was struggling to stay focused on his studies.  Unhappy and dissatisfied with his friends, he was beginning to question if he really belonged in the university.  Then one afternoon when he and his friends were drinking and playing ball, Michael accidentally broke a window in the nearby Catholic Center. Faced with possible expulsion, he went to the priest to resolve the disciplinary issue.  To his surprise, the priest recommended that Michael perform service hours on the university’s spring mission trip to Honduras. Reluctant yet relieved that he would at least be able complete his freshman year, Michael accepted.

This event is the opening of Tim Rinaldi’s first novel, Mission from the Depths, a fictionalized version of his first mission trip to Honduras. Through the eyes of Michael Rhodes, we experience the Honduran land and people. The airport was outdated and unkempt, the streets had few stop lights and no visible lanes, the cars were old and in disrepair, the unpainted houses had sagging doors and broken windows and some were enclosed by concrete walls topped with barbed wire. Weeds, grass and trash lined every street. The conditions grew worse as the missionaries made their first stop to assist the homeless. Initially, the people lined up in an orderly fashion to receive their share of food and clothes; however, as the pace slowed to a halt, the crowd grew restless and several began shoving and throwing punches as they climbed aboard the truck and grabbed whatever they could carry – food, clothes, supplies.

Following that disturbing incident, Michael began to seriously question the value of the mission. He repeated silently what soon became a kind of mantra:  “What am I doing here?”

The next stop was even more troubling. The children at the Dios de Amor shelter had been diagnosed with HIV and lived in quarantined conditions.  Michael could not fathom how such a situation was possible. His growing depression soon became obvious to Abby, a seasoned missionary. As she described the next stop at an elementary school, she gave Michael simple and practical advice:  give the mission a chance, focus on the children, try to make them happy, forget about yourself.

In the days that followed, Michael threw himself into playing soccer with the kids, looking out for those who seemed sad or lonely.  As the days of Holy Week began, he entered into the spirit of the Lenten prayers and services.  The rituals filled Michael with solemnity and joy as he joined the villagers in praying Christ’s passion and resurrection.

After returning to Tulane, Michael was still under the spell of the mission, but gradually everyday life encroached and he began to sink slowly into darkness. Fortunately, Fr. Lydon recognized this and decided to take action. When he met with Michael, he told Michael to take the leadership role for the next mission.
At this point the plot begins to unspool.  Though Michael worked feverishly on plans for the upcoming mission, he loses his focus in distractions: politics, personal ambition and romantic entanglements. He almost derails the mission as he forgets for a time the purpose of the mission: to improve the life of the villagers.  It is primarily his affection for the Honduran people and land that leads to his redemption.

Anyone who has ever experienced the transformative power of a mission trip will readily understand Michael’s commitment and perseverance.
Ten percent of all sales of Mission from the Depths supports the villages that Rinaldi sponsors.

Mission from the Depths is available for purchase from Amazon.com, or www.timrinaldi.com.

Mike’s Meditations: Embracing All Prayer Types

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by Mike Van Vranken

I recently overheard two people discussing (maybe arguing) about whose form of prayer was best. One thought Sunday Mass was the best form of prayer because they could pray while hearing God’s Word, while taking communion, and while sharing the entire experience with other believers. The other was convinced that being one with God in a personal, individual engagement with the Almighty was the only way to pray. Of course, to put God in a box and suggest there is only one best way to be with Him limits our ability to experience Him in all things. In other words, it is not about pitting personal and internal prayer against vocal and communal prayer; it’s always about both. God is available to us in countless ways and forms. To limit those opportunities may be the saddest and most shallow decision we humans can make.

We know that the temple in Jerusalem and the local synagogues were important to Jesus’ faith walk. In Luke’s gospel, we are told it was Jesus’ custom to attend and even teach at the synagogue. We also find similar scriptures of Jesus in the temple.  If praying with a community was important to Jesus, it should be important to us too, right?

When we consider we are members of the Body of Christ, communal worship is a no brainer. It unites our praise and worship into a single celebration that more than just shows our connectedness as a body; it also solidifies our understanding that we are all daughters and sons of the living God. The joining together in prayer actually produces an experience of strength that reminds us we are not alone and we have comfort, support and encouragement in all the people around us.

Additionally, when we see Christ in the person next to us, we begin to realize that we have more in common with our diverse population than we first thought. It makes it easier to forgive, to assist, to feed and clothe and heal everyone around us because the Holy Trinity resides in each of us.

At the same time, even though we can and should find God in all things, especially in each other, we still have that inner desire to be one with God on a very personal and intimate basis.  Yes, we can hear about God’s love, and even feel it in other people. But, I have found there is nothing that compares to the truly knowing God’s love that comes from engaging one-on-one with the Father, Son and Spirit who is within me.  And again, if we want examples from Jesus, the scriptures are full of stories where he went off and prayed alone to the Father all night.

What did the desert fathers, the monks and the mystics all have in common?  A deep inner life of oneness with God that allowed them to experience the one who loved them first. Once they personally knew the lover, they fell in love with God in a way they didn’t know possible. They continually joined with Him in quiet, contemplative prayer. A prayer that was so devoted to the lover that they didn’t ask for favors or petitions. They talked with God, listened to Him, communed with Him and loved Him beyond their own beliefs. They realized the more personal and intimate love they gave to God, the more love they received in return. Consequently, the same love they shared with God, could now be shared with all people. And their experiences were so deeply interwoven with God, it was always hard for them to find words to communicate them.

Sometimes I’m asked how a person can begin a very personal and intimate prayer experience.  My advice is to consider a certified Spiritual Director for help. They are neither counselors nor therapists. Instead, their role is to help you with your relationship with God. You will have conversations with them about your prayer life and the ways you detect that God is moving in your life. He or she is interested in your actual experiences with God. It is as simple and as deep as that.

So, if you have limited yourself to either weekly or daily communal prayer with your church, or a regular interior and intimate contemplative time with God, I urge you to consider encountering the Holy Trinity in both forms.  Just as they were both valuable to Jesus, I believe you will find them both very beneficial to you and your relationship with God as well.  It’s not either one or the other… It’s “both/and.”

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