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Administering in a Climate of Transition and Church Crisis

by Very Rev. Peter B. Mangum, Diocesan Administrator I was standing at the corner of Peacock Lane and Southgates in Leicester, UK, having just visited the recently excavated burial site of King More »

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O Antiphons

by Kim Long After 18 years of working for the Church, I have deemed Advent the season of quiet desperation. Our Church tells us to be reflective and prepare, while secular society More »

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Find Harmony This Holiday Season

by Kelly Phelan Powell Since I was a young girl, I’ve dreamt of the perfect family Christmas morning. My handsome husband and I would spring, totally refreshed, from bed when our beautiful More »

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Fitzgerald Named Outstanding Philanthropist

by Tiffany Olah, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana On November 7, 2018, the Association of Fundraising Professionals North Louisiana Chapter hosted their 27th Annual National Philanthropy Day awards luncheon at the Hilton More »

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Father Lombard Celebrates 65 Years of Priestly Ministry

by John Mark Willcox There are few Catholics who live in Shreveport or Bossier City that have not had their lives affected in a positive way by Fr. Richard Lombard, who celebrates More »

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The Immaculate Conception

by Fr. Matthew Long There are countless images of the Blessed Virgin Mary. No Catholic Church, hospital, school or home is complete without at least one. Her role in our redemption and More »

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Keep Christ at the Center of Your Celebrations

by Katie Sciba I sauntered through the Christmas section of a department store last year, beaming because my heart equates decorations and ornaments with bliss and glee. Ribbons, tiny pine trees and More »

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Shreveport Martyrs and the 1873 Yellow Fever Epidemic

by Fr. Peter Mangum, Ryan Smith and Dr. Cheryl White In the late summer of 1873, Shreveport was besieged by the third worst epidemic of Yellow Fever that is recorded in United More »

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St. Joseph Cemetery: Remembering & Revitalizing

by Kate Rhea In November of 1882, less than a decade after arriving in Shreveport, Fr. Joseph Gentille, the second pastor of Holy Trinity Church was contemplating a major decision. North Louisiana’s More »

Navigating the Faith: The Incarnation

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by Mike Van Vranken

Some dogmas of our faith are so difficult to understand we may fall into the temptation to believe them without serious levels of thought.  A meditative walk through the Nicene Creed helps us highlight some of those more difficult beliefs. The Incarnation is an example. Articulated in the creed as “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,” our belief in this event should cause us to stop in awe and amazement and motivate us to wonder what this means to mankind in 2013.  Before we get to its significance today, we begin with a basic explanation of what we mean when we talk about Incarnation.

Expressed in Scripture in several ways, the occurrence in human history when God became man is the event that is encapsulated in the word Incarnation. It is expressed as the act of taking on a nature in Hebrews 2:14-18. In other words, he took on our nature as humans so he could experience everything we experience. He physically appeared in history during a specific time and in specific places (2 Timothy 1:10). He appeared in human flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). This reference to “flesh” can also be a reminder that he lived in the same carnal world in which we live. Hebrews 10:5 tells us Jesus, who is God, came to us in bodily form.  And in Philippians 2:7-8, Paul tells us that he became a human in likeness and appearance and actually emptied himself of everything Godlike to become an obedient slave and die on a cross. He was a man like us in all things but sin.

While these references indicate that Jesus was fully human, we relate them to the first chapter of John’s gospel where the evangelist and apostle proclaims that Jesus is the Word, that the Word was with God and was God, and the Word was made flesh and lived and dwelled among us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains “…that the Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it.” (ccc 461) The witness of Sts. Paul and John in the Scriptures and the clear teaching of the Church expressed succinctly in the Catechism leaves us no doubt: Jesus is fully God and fully human.

Now, let’s talk about the meaning of the Incarnation in the modern world.  Again from the Catechism: “Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of the Christian faith”  (CCC 463). It goes on to say that the Word became flesh “…in order to save us by reconciling us with God, …that we might know God’s love, … to be our model of holiness, … to make us partakers of the divine nature” (CCC 457 – 460).

Marie-Dominique Chenu was a Catholic theologian and expert at Vatican II. His thoughts were prominent and were expressed by the Church Fathers in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes). In it we read: “By his incarnation the Son of God has united Himself with every man.” Chenu and the other fathers of the Council were explaining that Jesus and his Church are the answer to our questions, to our problems even today. And, if Jesus is the answer, then his humanity and his divinity are important to us today.  God so loved the world that he became a human being.  But that event was not just for those living in the first century. One of Chenu’s favorite themes was:  “God speaks today.” He taught that God became man in the world, and since the Church is in the world, we have an interest in continuing God’s presence in the world.

Chenu believed that the Incarnation continues today – in every period of history in every person. In short, you and I are now called to make Jesus present in the modern world. When we make Jesus present, we make the Word of God present – we make Jesus present in his humanity as well as his divinity. When we make Jesus present we continue the Incarnation event because it never ended. This is truly why as members of the Church, united in One Faith, One Lord and one Baptism, Christ works through us and in us and we truly become the Body of Christ alive in the world.

When we feed the hungry, when we clothe the naked, when we visit the imprisoned, when we heal the sick, when we shelter the homeless we bring the substance of the divine creator and the substance of the human Jesus to those around us. When we pray for those who are hurting, when we forgive seventy times seven times, when we smile at the lonely or encourage the depressed – all of this is the continuation of the Incarnation.

This Advent and Christmas, as we recall and celebrate God coming to live with us in the flesh, let’s be mindful the Incarnation continues through our own human interaction in the world. How is it possible? Jesus said: “… I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:20

Pictured: Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus are depicted in a detail from the Incarnation in a mosaic installed in a dome in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Vatican Canonizes New Saints

Local priest attended Kateri Tekakwitha’s canonization

by Fr. David Richter

Pilgrimages are journeys to holy places. Their purpose is to obtain supernatural help or to take part in them as a penance or an act of thanksgiving. To go to Rome is to travel to one of the most favored pilgrimage locations because it is the site of the martyrdoms of Saints Peter and Paul and the center of the Roman Catholic Church. Unless you live in Rome, you cannot begin to do it justice with a short visit. The old adage for Rome is, “for Rome, even a lifetime is not enough.”

I had an opportunity to reflect on faith and gratitude with the blessing of taking part in the Canonization Mass for Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in Rome on October 21. My friend who heads up the Black and Indian Mission Office, Fr. Wayne Paysse, had an extra seat available and told me he would pay my way to Rome for the canonization.

I have known of Kateri’s short but holy life for a long time. I had attended two of the national Tekakwitha conferences that gathered interested Native Americans and all who were hoping and praying for a proven miracle needed for Kateri to be declared a saint. Some years ago, St. Joseph Church in Zwolle, LA started a Kateri Circle to tend to families of Indian descent in need of spiritual and material assistance.

I had no reason to think I would ever attend a canonization Mass, but Saint Kateri, who has followed me around for years, provided the means.

Kateri was born in 1656 in an Indian village in now upstate New York. She had a Christian Algonquin mother and a pagan Mohawk father, as well as a brother. At age four, she lost all of them to a smallpox epidemic and she herself lost most of her eyesight. Her face was also left disfigured.

French Jesuit missionaries, some of whom were martyred by Indians, visited their village and Kateri was moved by the story of a Son of God dying for them on a cross and making it possible for them to enter a joyful future life. She was baptized at the age of 20, and later received her first Holy Communion and Confirmation. Because she was persecuted by those in her village who did not accept the preaching of the missionaries, friends took her to a village near Montreal where she would be able to practice her faith without interference.

The Catholic priest in the village very soon learned all about Kateri, as he witnessed her personal acts of charity, her early morning hours spent in prayer in the village’s chapel, and her heavy penances taken on for the conversion of her people. She also made a vow of life-long virginity at the age of 23.  She is known as “the Lily of the Mohawks.”

Kateri died at the young age of 24. As a manifestation of her holiness and purity of heart, within 15 minutes of her death her smallpox-disfigured face was restored to her early childlike beauty.

Saint Kateri responded in ardent faith to the missionaries’ call to believe, and she found ample reason to be grateful to God.  She had little, but she still expressed great love and gratitude for what she had received from God.

Embracing the Advent Season

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by Katie Sciba

Without a doubt, December is my favorite month. It’s so full of coziness, Christmas decorations and cold temperatures that I can’t help beaming with contentment. If you’re a Hobby Lobby shopper, you noticed Christmas merchandise way back in July, and by Halloween it had taken over a third of most chain stores. While I giddily anticipate Christmas as much as the next 6-year-old, this year Andrew and I are decidedly celebrating Advent as never before, and leaving Christmastime to Christmastime. There is a general tendency to disregard Advent, and even Thanksgiving, resulting from commercializing Christmas – focusing on deals and beating the rush rather than prayerfully preparing for the coming of Christ and the celebration of his birth. I’ll be the first to admit that most years I fail to get into the Christmas spirit because my focus is not actually on Christ, but on the lesser aspects known to the secular world; and those ARE the years that I skip over Advent, paying little attention to Scriptures or neglecting to strike a match at my Advent wreath.

The word Advent itself comes from the Latin adventus, which means “coming.” When expecting guests for a party, the celebration doesn’t start before they arrive, it begins with their coming; and the time of anticipation is spent preparing myself and my house for them. So it should be for Christ at Christmas. This year I want to get excited with anticipation and prepare my soul as Christ’s home. Advent provides a marvelous opportunity to dive into salvation history leading up to Jesus’ birth. Allowing myself time to understand the context and profundity of God’s physical presence on earth offers a genuinely spiritual joy for the Christmas season. It’s a chance to learn why Christ came and wonder at both the details and bigger picture of God’s loving plan for humanity.

So what will we be doing this year? I’ll resist the urge to deck the halls with reds and whites, as those are colors for the Christmas season. Rather, we will accent our evergreens with royal purples and pinks and leave our tree undecorated until Christmas Eve. Our Advent wreath will glow every night at dinner and I’m planning to make a Jesse Tree (see sidebar) to teach our children the stories of the Old Testament that anticipate Christ’s coming. Our nativity scene will sit atop the fireplace, but without the baby Jesus for the duration of the season. Why all the details? Aside from reflecting on Bible verses and stories, it’s important to have more tangible reminders to keep oneself in the mindset of Advent.

While the more common Gregorian calendar is used to mark the passage of time, the liturgical calendar marks and celebrates the sacred mysteries in the Life of Christ; his birth, life and ministry, death and resurrection. The start of our new year as Catholic Christians is December 2nd, the first Sunday of Advent, and the Christmas season begins at sundown on Christmas Eve. There is a time and season for everything and while it’s certainly exciting to prepare for the next celebration on any calendar, don’t forget to live in the present liturgical season to better participate in the delights the Church offers now.

Katie Sciba is the author of thecatholicwife.net. She lives in Shreveport with her husband, Andrew, and two sons, Liam and Thomas.

Photo: (CNS photo/Lisa A. Johnston)

Documents of Vatican II: Dei Verbum

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Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation

by Dianne Rachal

The bishops began their debate on the draft of the document on revelation in November 1962. The draft, prepared by the Doctrinal Commission under the leadership of Cardinal Ottaviani, met with widespread dissatisfaction that it was negative and defensive in tone, and that it treated Scripture and tradition as two completely independent sources of information about God. There was a call to completely reject the document, but doing so would simply send it back to the committee that drafted it in the first place. Pope John XXIII intervened by ordering the document to be revised by a new commission.

There were many issues to be resolved, but the main three issues were: 1) the relationship of Scripture and tradition, 2) the inerrancy of the Bible, and 3) the historical nature of the Gospels.  The council debated the new version of the document on revelation during the third session (1964), and the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation was promulgated on November 18, 1965. These are the opening words of the constitution:

“Hearing the word of God with reverence and proclaiming it with faith . . .”

The first three chapters of Dei Verbum address the foundational theological issues of the nature of revelation itself, the way in which revelation is handed on, and the place of the Bible in this process. The last three chapters are descriptive of the Old Testament, the New Testament and the place of Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church.

Chapter One: Revelation is not just words about God, it is a living encounter with God—God reveals God’s very self. The goal of this revelation is to invite people into fellowship with God and with one another. The Bible is the inspired testimony to the living Word of God, who is Jesus.

Chapter Two: Revelation is a cohesive whole with one source, God. Scripture and tradition “make up a single sacred deposit of the word of God.” Scripture and tradition flow from the same divine wellspring and move toward the same goal. The Church’s insight into revelation develops over time and tradition progresses.

Chapter Three: Scripture is divinely inspired and is both the work of God and the work of human beings. All the books of the Bible “firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to sacred scriptures.”  The Bible is without error with an eye to salvation; it is not without error with an eye to historical or scientific accuracy. Interpretation of Scripture is to make use of contemporary biblical scholarship: what the human authors intended to communicate, the historical context and literary genres.

Chapter Four: The Old Testament is divinely inspired and contains “the true Word of God.”  The New Testament is “hidden” in the Old, while the Old is “made manifest” in the New.  The Old Testament Scriptures have a lasting value and they serve to prepare for the coming of Christ.

Chapter Five: The general historical character of the Gospels is affirmed without insisting that every last detail of Jesus’ life is factually represented. The Gospels developed through a process of three stages:  1) the ministry of Jesus, 2) a period of oral transmission and preaching by the apostles, and 3) the actual composition of the Gospels by evangelists who drew on the oral tradition and retold the story of Jesus in light of the situation of their own churches.

Chapter Six: Reflecting on Scripture in the life of the Church, Scripture is compared to the Eucharist: we are fed from the one table of the word of God and the body of Christ.  Everyone should have access to the Bible.  New translations are encouraged, the work of Scripture scholars is affirmed and all ministers are expected to carefully study Sacred Scripture so that the faithful may receive instruction and nourishment from the word.

At one of his Wednesday audiences in November 2005, Pope Benedict XVI drew attention to Dei Verbum’s major achievements:  “The conciliar constitution Dei Verbum gave an intense impulse to the appreciation of the Word of God, from which has derived a profound renewal of the life of the ecclesial community, above all in preaching, catechesis, theology, spirituality and ecumenical relations.”

Year of Faith Saint: St. John Neumann, C.Ss.R

Missionary and 4th bishop of Philadelphia. Founded the first diocesan Catholic school system in U.S.

St. John Neumann learned pretty quickly what it meant to follow God’s will with your whole heart and soul. He was certain that he was called to be a priest, but when the time came for ordination, the bishop fell ill and the ordination was cancelled. It was never rescheduled, because there was an over-abundance of priests in Europe. Knowing he was meant to be a priest, John traveled all the way from Bohemia to New York City to be ordained. He was one of only 36 priests, serving 200,000 Catholics: his ‘parish’ stretched from Lake Ontario throughout Pennsylvania. He was the first to make his religious profession as a Redemptorist in the New World. This he did in 1842 in the Church of St. James in Baltimore. Before his elevation to the See of Philadelphia at the age of 41, he had served as rector of St. Philomena, Pittsburgh, and St. Alphonsus, Baltimore, as well as vice-provincial of this missionary order in America. He became the founder of the first diocesan Catholic School system, going from only two schools to 100 schools in his diocese.

from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops & stjohnneumann.org

Year End Giving & Appeal Sunday

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by John Mark Willcox, Director of Stewardship and Development

Year End Giving
In these times of rapid change, the end of the year can be an excellent time to review your important financial matters, especially those dealing with your desire to make any charitable gift to the Church before December 31, 2012.

One of the last tax savings opportunities within your personal control is your monetary gifts provided for the support and ministry of the Church. Naturally, the higher your tax bracket, the more your charitable Church gifts will save you. The amount you save depends on tax rates and the portion of your gifts you are allowed to deduct. Facilitating your financial incentives to give to the Church before year’s end can significantly reduce the amount of taxes you will owe next April.

Gifts of Cash
Most of the Church’s faithful give in this way by the form of cash, electronic transfers or personal checks. When you itemize your tax deductions, up to one half of your Adjusted Gross Income or AGI can be positively affected by gifts of this nature.

Gifts of Appreciated Property
Mutual funds, bonds, securities or individual stocks that have risen in value can result in tax savings. If you have owned these items for more than one year, they can be deducted from your income tax at full value.  This also gives you the added advantage of avoiding capital gains tax due on a sale instead of a gift.

Many investments have decreased in value during this year as 2012 comes to a close. Consider selling them and making a charitable gift of the cash you receive for them. This creates a loss you may be able to deduct from other income subject to taxation along with the amount of the cash donation. Remember, if you consider the amount of the charitable deduction alongside the deductible loss, this may total more than the current value of the investment. Keep in mind that any tax deductions you choose not to use this year may be carried forward for up to five future tax years.

Life Insurance Gifts
You may own an insurance policy that has accumulated cash value but is no longer needed for its original purpose. You have the option of gifting the value of that policy to the Church and benefiting from welcome income tax savings.

Estate Plans
December is also an excellent month to review your immediate and long-range estate and financial plans. Retirement accounts, life insurance policies and wills are just some of the tools of estate planning that can leave a lasting legacy to the Church. These meaningful future gifts can also generate income while providing immediate tax savings. After your loved ones have been provided for, consider leaving a specific amount or a percentage, or the residue of your estate to the Church.

Action Equals Benefits
If you want to take advantage of the strategies listed above, the month of December is the time to act. See your advisers and accountant to provide you with your specific needs and spend time right now to decide on how best to make your year-end gifts work best for you and the Church you love. For more information on how your year-end or planned gift can help both you and the Church, contact the Diocesan Office of Stewardship at 800-256-1542.

Appeal Sunday Slated for February 10, 2013
Bishop Duca has chosen the Masses of February 10-11, 2013 to launch our 2013 Annual Diocesan Stewardship Appeal Campaign. Please mark your calendars and begin to plan now how you can gift your time, talent and treasure to the good of our combined ministry to the people of this region.

Appeal highlights will be featured in the February issue of your Catholic Connection.

Generosity = Good Reading!

by John Mark Willcox

Have you ever wondered how the Catholic Connection materializes in your mail box each month? It’s simple, your gift to our Annual Diocesan Stewardship Appeal helps to provide the primary funding for this unique monthly magazine mailed to every known Catholic household in our diocese. If you are new to our Appeal or have recently signed up for the publication at your place of worship, know that because of our Annual Appeal, you receive the Catholic Connection with no subscription fee.

Because of your generosity to our Annual Diocesan Stewardship Appeal, the Catholic Connection embraces its role as the prime source of communication from our bishop to the faithful of our diocese, while providing readers like you with timely updates on the activities of our combined faith community as well as fresh, insightful coverage of our universal faith and the Catholic Church in this region and beyond. “I’m proud of the publication,” comments Bishop Michael Duca, “it really does a good job of getting the word out to our people and my brother bishops often make positive comments to me on how much they enjoy reading our Catholic Connection.”

For over 20 years, award-winning Catholic journalism and stewardship have gone hand in hand, so if you know of someone who would like to receive the Catholic Connection, please call us at 318-868-4441 or by visit us at our website:  www.thecatholicconnection.org.
John Mark Willcox is the Director of Stewardship & Development. To give to the annual Diocesan Stewardship Appeal that supports ministries like these, visit www.dioshpt.org/stewardship/stewardship.html.

Second Collections: Retirement Fund for Religious & Diocesan Infirm Priests Fund

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by Fr. Rothell Price

I imagine that you, like I, are making a gallant effort to walk through the ever open doors of faith into the Year of Faith. Bishop Duca gave us three wonderful, powerful spiritual tools to make our pilgrimage through the Year of Faith rewarding. In his homily at the Mass on October 11 in the Cathedral, our chief shepherd placed in our hearts and hands prayer, study and testimony. Our Bishop exhorted us to: PRAY, personally and communally; STUDY the Sacred Scriptures, Universal Catechism and teachings of the Church; and, give TESTIMONY to the saving presence and power of Jesus Christ in our lives. The two special collections for the month of December are firmly rooted in that renewed encounter with the Lord Jesus called for in this Year of Faith. The Retirement Fund for Religious and the Diocese of Shreveport Infirm Priests Fund give us an opportunity to honor the Lord by assisting those who said “yes” to Him in their vocation.

Retirement Fund for Religious
Announcement Dates: Nov. 24 & 25 and Dec. 1 & 2
Collection Dates: Dec. 8 & 9

The theme for this year’s Retirement Fund for Religious is “Share in the Care.”  These consecrated men and women shared their faith in Jesus Christ with us. They shared their love of the mission of the Church with us. They shared their spiritual secrets for handling the ups and downs of life. They cared about our eternal salvation, our success in the world and that we have a sound mind in a sound body. They cared AND they shared.

The Retirement Fund for Religious distributes grants to religious institutes for the retirement needs of senior religious priests, brothers and sisters. These women and men – Catholic sisters, brothers, and religious order priests, never stopped to count the cost as they educated the young, cared for the sick and sought social justice for the oppressed. Through their sharing and caring, they made an estimable contribution to the Church in the United States, establishing Catholic schools, hospitals, and social service-agencies. Please join me in supporting the Retirement Fund for Religious and in praying for God’s continued blessing on our nation’s elderly sisters, brothers and religious order priests.  “Share in the Care.”

Infirm Priests Fund
Announcement Dates: Dec.15 & 16, and 22 & 23
Collection Dates: Dec. 24 & 25

In the Christmas “event,” we celebrate the marvelous mystery of God loving us so much that He became one of us in the person of Jesus the Christ. In this Year of Faith, we are moved by the remembrance of those now infirmed priests who in the years of their vigor led us into intimate encounters with the Lord Jesus, his Holy Mother, and His Guardian Father in Sacraments and devotional prayers.
Please join me in supporting our once vigorous priests who helped us come to know, love and follow the Lord. Join me in providing much needed and greatly deserved care for our infirm priests who prayed, studied, gave testimony and continue to do so to the degree their strength allows. In expressing good wishes to the Lord Jesus on the occasion of our celebration of his birth, give him a worthy gift: the gift of care, gratitude and generosity to and for his beloved brother priests.

Fr. Rothell Price, Vicar General, is the Director of Special Collections.

No Greater Love Than This

by Mike Van Vranken

(CNS photo/John Kolesidis, Reuters)

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13 NAB). Jesus reminded us that the ultimate love for a friend is that commitment where we would die for them. And, while that’s a decision that most of us have never faced, ask yourself if you cherish your friendships so much that you would not die for them, but live for them.

Most of us will never be asked to physically die for a friend. Personally, I’m relieved by that thought. But, there is another way we can die for someone. It is in the act of dying to our own desires in order to help (or live for) someone else. Do we give our time in spontaneous or planned, set-aside prayer every time we see a need? Do we give our talents to help someone cook a meal, train or interview for a job, or repair a leaky faucet? Are we generous in sharing our monetary treasures to help someone pay their light bill or just provide their next meal?  In each of these examples, we find opportunities to die to ourselves for a friend. Or better yet, to do it for even a stranger.

St. Paul puts it this way:  “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves;” (Romans 15:1 NAB).  It is a beautiful picture of the Body of Christ working as it should. Laying down our own desires, temptations and needs to help someone else.

During the month of December, let’s look for ways to die to self and lay down our own lives for other children of God.  Let’s identify the areas where we “are strong” and use those strengths to lift up those who are weak. In Jesus’ own words: “No one has greater love than this…”

Mike started a teaching ministry after graduating from the University of Dallas’ School of Ministry in 2006 (www.mikevanvrankenministries.org). He also serves as an adjunct professor for the Diocese of Shreveport’s Greco Institute.

Celebrating the True Spirit of Christmas

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Pictured: The adoration of the Magi. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

As your receive this month’s Catholic Connection, we have entered the Christian season of Advent and are waiting with hopeful expectations for the celebration of Christmas, the Nativity of the Lord. This time of year is unique because our religious observance of the seasons of Advent and Christmas correspond with a secular observance of the Christmas holiday season.

The question we are faced with is this: Which understanding of these seasons – the religious or secular – will most deeply shape our observance of Advent and Christmas? While many of us can remember when the secular and religious observances of Christmas were not that different, today, as the secular culture continues to redefine Christmas without Christ, these two observances are really two different celebrations. They may appear to be the same because the symbols are the same, but their meanings are very different. We realize this when we feel we have to fight to remind others of the real meaning of Christmas that often times gets formalized in the Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays battle in our public encounters.

When we see this continual secularization of Christmas in the marketplace we need to take some time and remind ourselves that we are not called to fight, but to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ Birth and rediscover the joy of Christmas within our own hearts.

We should take a prayerful breath and remember it is not the responsibility of the department stores or the malls to be the keepers of the primary heart and soul of the Christmas message. No, that is our message, our holiday and OUR MYSTERY to celebrate and proclaim. We should relax and look for the wonder, joy and mystery of Christmas where it will be truly found, in the heart of the Gospel, in our personal and shared Liturgical prayers and in the charitable heart of the Church. The Gospel is the source of the story of the Birth of Jesus and we would do well to read the story of Christ’s birth from the Bible during these Advent and Christmas seasons. What a wonderful tradition it would be to read from the Gospel of Luke the story of the Birth of Jesus before we open gifts or at the beginning of our Christmas meal.

Another way to reclaim our Christ centered celebration of the season is to remember that while the marketplace around us moves immediately to Christmas, we begin with the season of Advent because part of the story of Jesus’ birth is the biblical history that chronicles the time humanity waited and prepared for the Redeemer.  The Bible also foretells the future suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. In the Word of God we are plunged into a mystery that is only complete when we hold together the waiting of the past, the joy that is present and future hope that is promised. A meaningful way to bring this Advent celebration into the family is with the Advent wreath burning at our family meals reminding us of our waiting for the coming of our Redeemer.

Finally we recover the true meaning of Christmas in our personal prayers and in our Liturgical celebrations of the Sundays of Advent and on Christmas Day. In our Liturgical celebrations, the anticipation and joy of the mystery of Christ’s birth is shared. In our shared Mass we are inspired from the heart of the mystery of Christ’s love for us (the Eucharist) and this gives us a refreshing and deeper meaning to all the decorating, gift giving and celebrating we will do this Christmas season.

This holy inspiration keeps us focused on the real meaning of Christmas, so we do not depend on the secular world to give us the Christmas spirit. Instead, we bring the Christmas spirit to the world; we bring and proclaim Christ, who is the Light and Hope of the World. This is even more clearly manifested in the charity we show to others, especially to those in need. The freely given acts of kindness, the donations to the poor and the thoughtful gifts we give to loved ones are the clearest signs that we have the true Christmas joy in our hearts. It is the true Christmas spirit because we are moved to give to others as God gave His Son to us for our redemption.

If we look back on the best memories of Christmas, we may discover that these wonder-filled moments were created with someone faith-filled. It was their faith and underlying desire to make real the love of God, revealed in the gift of His Son that was the source of joy in those moments.  Our mistake is often to try and imitate the event and forget the deeper source of joy: the parents or friends who created a joyful memory of Christmas. The real joy of Christmas is not about finding the Christmas spirit, but about being the source of that Spirit for others.