Faithful Step Up in Wake of Tornado Devastation

by Walter Johnson On April 25, the city of Ruston found itself reeling from an EF3 tornado that blew into the area in the early hours of Thursday morning. The vicious storm More »

Fr. Kevin Mues Ordination to the Priesthood

A Q& A with the Diocese of Shreveport’s Newest Ordained Priest During your time in seminary, what are some of the moments that have encouraged your vocation? The things that have been More »

Reflection on Minor Seminary

by Seminarian Kelby Tingle Four years ago I graduated from Loyola College Prep in Shreveport and, feeling a call to discern a vocation to the priesthood, I made the prayerful decision to More »

CCNLA and SVdP: Side by Side and Hand in Hand

by Tiffany Olah, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana At first glance, it may appear that there is a duplication of services in what the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) does More »

Pro-Life Oratory Contest Winners Announced

T he Shreveport-Bossier Pro-Life Oratory Committee has announced the local winners of its high school oratory contest. Kaiden Odell, a senior at Word of God Academy in Shreveport, won first place with More »

Pope Exhorts Young People to Be Courageous; Encounter Christ on the 56th Annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations

from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops The 56th annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations was celebrated by the Catholic Church on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 12, a More »

One Last Time: Rinaudo Bids Farewell After More Than a Decade as Connection Editor

by Jessica Rinaudo As I began to work on this, my final issue of The Catholic Connection, I looked back and counted the number of issues I’ve put together over the past More »

The Beauty of Parish Life

by Kim Long Recently I began to reflect on what God used to get my attention over 30 years ago when “becoming Catholic” began to go from a wild exotic notion to More »

On the Trail of History: France and the Priest-Martyrs of 1873

by Fr. Peter B. Mangum As many are aware, I have been working on a project over the last two years to explore and raise awareness of the lives of five remarkable More »

Senior Month: The L’s and W’s of Life

by Sr. Martinette Rivers, OLS

What makes an ‘old’ person unique?

Calling someone ‘old’, I believe, packs many different levels of meaning. You hear the phrases: crabby old person, happy old person, mean old person, kind old person and wise old person. But as the person who has lived the “L’s of Life,” live, listen, learn, love and laugh, or the “W’s of Life”, well, wise and whole, you don’t have to worry about some of the nastier adjectives applying to you.

In your mental album, you can trace the progress you have made as you became older and wiser. Have you learned to engage your body, mind and spirit in every aspect of your aging? This would have involved the three W’s.

For me, old age is the most creative, fruitful and fulfilling period of my life. It’s my special time to ponder and wonder in awe at the ‘blueprint’ God gave me at birth. These are moments to be treasured as I celebrate the month of May, which is dedicated to us agers around the world. Let’s rejuvenate our spirits, enjoy the moment and savor the best part.

“I will prove myself worthy of old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die.” 2 Maccabees.
Our aging cannot be repeated, so express it with a quiet spirit and a lasting charm. To travel across the abyss between life and death, we need to be the best agers we can now because our journeys will eventually end and we will be homeward bound to heaven.

Aging is our necessary process in order to pass on to a better world; it is not a plague. Our death is merely a brief passage, a tunnel. Dare to live until the very last. Give something of yourself to others even when it seems there is nothing more to give. Be at peace and join me in the quest for a body worthy of resurrection when God will gently set our feet on heavenly soil.

Can we truthfully say we are the aging women and men God meant us to be? Some one wrote a letter to God and asked Him, “Why do people have to grow old?” God replied, “I find your question and thinking rather puzzling, but for me, the most beautiful moment on earth is seeing old people. They are my human sunsets.” Wow! Sunsets are probably the most awesome artwork God could possibly do with nature.

Lord, God, I am one of those called by you into old age, a call not given to all, not given to Jesus, and to many of my friends gone before me. Embrace me Lord, in every aspect of my aging eyesight, hearing, weakening legs and as my walking becomes more difficult. Be with me when my mind becomes less alert and my memory fades away. May my love for you continue when my heart slows after the work of all these years and may it rest securely in your loving heart until I am lost in you. Amen.

Catholic Charities Grows with Support of Diocesan Catholics

by Theresa Mormino

Many have asked for an update on progress for Gabriel’s Closet, Catholic Charities of Shreveport’s newest program. This Closet, which will provide essentials like baby furniture, gear, clothing and bottles for low-income new moms and their small children, is fully staffed by volunteers. We are especially blessed to have volunteer nurses who will conduct parenting classes. Most recently, we’ve added a maternity clothing section that we hope will bring these new mothers to us sooner, giving us a better opportunity to assist, educate and guide those young women in need. We’ll announce the opening of Gabriel’s Closet soon! Please visit our Facebook page for updates.

Since Catholic Charities of Shreveport opened its doors in July 2010, we have seen enormous growth in requests for emergency financial assistance for rent, utilities and other pressing and often critical needs by those who come to us for assistance. Unmet need is a difficult and troubling part of Catholic Charities across our nation and within our own diocese as well. We’ve served over 2,000 individuals since opening and have added an Immigration Center to raise awareness in our community about the difficulties faced by local immigrant families and to help them improve their living conditions and promote the welfare of their children.We are also planning Financial Education classes that will become a requirement for those who have received financial assistance. It is our desire to help the poor and vulnerable toward a more self-sufficient life.

Thankfully, the Diocesan Stewardship Appeal’s support of Catholic Charities of Shreveport is enabling us to go forward with these programs. We fill a gap that many other agencies are not presently offering, especially because our programs are preventative.

Because Catholic Charities of Shreveport is still so new to this diocese, many are unaware of the enormous scope of Catholic Charities in the U.S. In fact, it is the second largest human service organization in the country!  CCUSA member agencies provide help and create hope for more than 10 million people each year. Catholic Charities of Shreveport is proud to be a member of the Catholic Charities U.S.A. network.

The average poverty rate for our diocese is above the national average and the child poverty rate for children under age 5 is staggering, at 22.98% and 36.39% respectively.  As you consider this sobering information, please remember to pray for the victims of hunger, fear, injustice and oppression and for the success of Catholic Charities of Shreveport, that we might be blessed with more funding for emergency assistance. Let us all pray for an end to higher poverty levels. That, after all, is the dream – to live to see an end to poverty.  Some say that’s an impossibility, but we know that all things are possible through the grace of God!

Second Collection: Diocese of Shreveport Retired Priests Fund

by Fr. Rothell Price, Vicar General

Bulletin Announcement Dates:  May 6th & 13th
Collection Dates: May 19th & 20th

Perhaps you are familiar with the picture of the old man giving thanks over his meal. There is a similar picture of an old woman doing the same.  Sometimes those two images are brought together in one frame. Several things capture us in that painting: the hands and devotion of that woman and man certainly speak to our hearts. In their hands that have aged with time and duties, we see grace and a mysterious strength.  In their bowed heads and serene faces, we behold devotion, thankfulness, wisdom and trust.  Such are the hands and faces of the retired priests of our diocese. Whenever we are around them we are drawn to them and their aged hands and kindly faces. The grace and strength of many years of priestly ministry are manifested in their inspiring hands and their faces speak to our hearts.  Whether it’s at a special occasion Mass, a small intimate supper, or some other gathering, we are mesmerized by old, grace-filled hands and mysteriously calm faces. They have served the Lord and us well, and they continue to do so with the strength that only a long union with God can provide when the body is tired, the mind is not quite so focused, and limitation hampers their every intention.  Please give generously to the Diocese of Shreveport Retired Priests Fund.

Let’s lovingly recall those old hands and faces, shall we?  Bishop William Friend, Msgr. Murray Clayton, Msgr. Franz Graef, Fr. Walter Ebarb, Fr. John Kennedy, Fr. Roger McMullen, Msgr. Edmund Moore, Fr. Joseph Puthuppally, Fr. Patrick Scully and Fr. Kenneth Williams. These are the lives, hands and faces behind your generosity to this collection. These men are the human incarnations in our midst of the gratitude you show to God through your heartfelt giving. And let’s not forget those other old grace-filled hands of priests who are past retirement age but who continue to spend themselves for the Lord and his people: Msgr. Carson LaCaze, Fr. Richard Lombard, Fr. Larry Niehoff and Msgr. Earl Provenza.  For their strength, comfort and tranquility in their old age, please give generously to the Diocese of Shreveport Retired Priests Collection.  Your kindness will brighten their days and carry them the whole year through.

I hope you have turned in your Operation Rice Bowls which further the work of Catholic Relief Services, and I thank you for participating in that great Lenten devotion. Thank you also for your participation in the Pontifical Good Friday Holy Land Collection, the Diocese of Shreveport Church Vocations Collection and the Home Mission Appeal Collection.  May the peace of the Risen Christ make you glad, alleluia!

St. Terence Church, Many

by Linda Webster, PhD

During the 25th anniversary year of the Diocese of Shreveport we are profiling small churches around the diocese.

St. Terence is one of the newer parishes in the Diocese of Shreveport, established in 1996 to serve the Catholics in the Toledo Bend area. Originally, St. Terence was located in Pleasant Hill until lack of attendance forced the church to close in 1992.

The church building was an old army barracks purchased from Camp Claiborne by Bishop Greco in 1948. Moved to Toledo Bend in 1994, the building was renovated but age and termite damage limited what the congregation could do.

“When the mission was relocated, there was a lot of hope and vision but no money,” wrote Buddy Polson, the parish historian. “It was a proud little church but its size soon became its biggest problem.”

About 20 people showed up for the first Mass, and then attendance skyrocketed, outstripping the capacity of the church with many faithful standing in the doorway as well as outside for Sunday Mass.  Since the building could not be enlarged due to the structural damage, parishioners began campaigning with Msgr. Buvens in 1995 for a new church. Although Bishop William Friend approved plans for a 3,000 square foot building, funding was still a large problem.

Fr. Joe Martina & Deacon Mike Sullivan distribute the Eucharist during Mass at St. Terence Church.

“We looked around the congregation and realized that most of us were retired engineers, carpenters and others who had the skills to do the actual construction,” said Polson.  “In fact, about 90% of our congregation is retired. What we needed was the money to buy supplies. We could build it ourselves.”

With a grant from the Catholic Extension Society, ground was broken for the new church exactly one year after the old barracks opened its doors. That structure still stands, serving as the parish hall.

“It was amazing,” he chuckled.  “We’d work from about 7:00 a.m. through noon, then everyone else would go home to take naps while I took the list of supplies that we needed for the next day, loaded up my truck with building materials, and came back so that we could start early the next morning.”

The church is located right on Hwy 191, which is very convenient for weekend vacationers at Toledo Bend.  It’s also a very visible location for passers-by.

“People stopped all the time while we were building.  Some wanted to make a contribution toward the construction, others offered to volunteer their time. One church group from another denomination asked if they could hire us to build their church when we finished.”

His eyes twinkled as he recounted their reply: “Sorry, but we’re all REALLY retired when this one is done!”
Creating the interior took everyone’s help.  The pews were purchased from St. Rita in Alexandria which had burned in 1994.  They needed to be cleaned and sanded and refinished as a result of the fire damage.

“We stored them in a chicken coop where the ladies of the church worked through the summer getting them ready.  It was hot – and it was smelly.  But they got the pews in great shape.”

Other items were salvaged from the original St. Terence church including the altar and the statues.  The altar of repose is crafted from an extra pew, and the stands for the statues plus the holy water fonts were made by parishioners.  The baptismal font was donated by another parishioner and the Stations of the Cross were refurbished donations, as well.

“The backbone of the church is our Women’s Club,” said Polson.  “We call them the ‘Angels of St. Terence’.”
From the beginning a group of women organized as volunteers to clean the church and to purchase supplies for Mass. They extracted dues from their members at $12 per year, solicited donations, and have organized fundraisers.  All this without regular meetings.

“They have raised thousands of dollars over the years and they reach out to help anyone in need.”

Fundraising has ranged from garage sales and raffles to saving grocery receipts and operating a religious supply store. The store is no longer operating but anyone needing a rosary or a statue or other devotional item just needs to ask – it will be ordered for them.

“They have helped many families by purchasing food, clothing and medical supplies. They’ve paid utility bills for those in need and they adopt families at Christmas with food and gifts.”

The Breakfast buffet, provided by St. Terence “Angels” is next door to the church.

Polson pointed out that those they help are seldom Catholic.  “Their unwritten creed would be to help ALL of God’s people.”

On any given Sunday, there will be visitors from all over the region who are vacationing at Toledo Bend.  Everyone is invited to the breakfast buffet next door in the “old” church where coffee, pastries, and fellowship are provided by those same “Angels.”

The St. Terence parishioners have a close relationship with St. John the Baptist in Many, served by Rev. Joseph A Martina, Jr. and Deacon Mike Sullivan, since they are a quasi-parish.  The Knights of Columbus held a very successful fundraiser at St. Terence in August even though the Knights are based at St. John the Baptist.

One area of cooperation is the music ministry. Dan and Brenda Devaney come to the 8:00 a.m. Mass at St. Terence each week but both are music ministers at St. John the Baptist. Dan cantors and conducts while Brenda provides the keyboard accompaniment. After the 8:00 a.m. Mass at St. Terence, they have a 15 mile drive back to St. John the Baptist to prepare for the 10:00 am Mass.

Even though Polson claims to be retired from the church construction business, he said that there are many Sundays when every pew is filled and the church is brimming with worshipers.

“Today, we had a light crowd,” he said of the August 14 gathering where approximately 50 people were in place prior to the beginning of Mass. “This is nothing.  There is standing room only at Christmas and Easter.  Fourth of July is packed as are Memorial Day and Labor Day because of the lake. But we welcome them all!”

From the Bishop’s Desk

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

Dear Friends in Christ:

I am both pleased and grateful to report that our 2012 Annual Diocesan Stewardship Appeal has been blessed by a strong start, and over 1.1 million dollars has already been pledged by the Catholic faithful of our diocese.  Congratulations are also in order for the eight parishes and chapels that have achieved their 2012 Appeal pledge goal!

I am encouraged that more than 83% of our Appeal pledge goal has been met in this early success by our Annual Appeal and I want to encourage every reader of our Catholic Connection to participate with a pledge or one-time gift to this important effort.

Amazingly, only around 2,800 donors or just 24% of our known Catholic families within our diocese have provided our Appeal with this success since February. Please consider adding your name to that list with a show of Appeal support and help us reach our overall diocesan pledge goal of 1.35 million dollars. Simply use the 2012 Appeal pledge card located on page 22 of this May edition of your Catholic Connection.
Know that you remain in my daily prayers and may God bless you for your support of our Appeal.

Angelic Sweetness: The Blessed Mother’s Approach to Parenting

by Katie Sciba

I have a spiritual accountability partner (henceforth referred to as SAP). Like many souls, my drive and motivation toward the prayerful life tend to fluctuate and I can’t tell you how this girl helps keep my heart above water. We check up on each other every few weeks and though our discussions frequently stray from the spiritual to the domestic, I’m always inspired at the close of our conversations. We’ve been staying in touch for just over a year now, and it’s certain that God is working through her to move my soul. The other day we were talking about disciplining young toddlers and she mentioned maintaining “the angelic sweetness of Mary” toward both her little ones and husband. Since our conversation, this phrase has been incessantly ringing in my soul. I’ve read that angelic sweetness stems from a prayer life that is constant – a life that is centered on God. What’s particularly wonderful to me personally is that my confessor recently advised me to always stay in touch with God; to bring Him everything – EVERYTHING.

I’m amazed at how God is persistently sending me this message through my SAP and confessor mentioning at the same time. I want to bring God all matters great and simple because I know that without Him, I’m nothing but bad habits on two legs.

Both of my little ones are sick and my infant is especially crabby these days. Though in the midst of his constant crying I know he’s suffering and I try to console him, the wailing in my ear is enough to make me lose my mind when all I want is a quick morning nap for myself. While he’s crying, my toddler begs for breakfast right when the phone rings. I can’t tell you how often this situation hits our house – nearly every morning – and it’s the type of thing I want to have the presence of mind to bring to Christ; asking Him to help me calm my infant with tenderness and serve my toddler sweetly. The whirlwind provides a challenge, albeit less significant than most of the troubles in the world, but knowing that Christ is present in my endeavors strengthens my will profoundly. In bringing Him everything that’s on my heart – each stress and joy – my soul will certainly obtain peace and angelic sweetness. I have long had the desire to be sweet, but could never put my finger on how to go about it. Habitual and ritual occasions of prayer help develop the virtue of constant prayer: it should be breath, always flowing in and out of my soul, receiving the love of God and offering it back to Him in addition to the morning offering, blessing before meals and Sunday Mass.

The more crucial aspect of “the angelic sweetness of Mary” is the Blessed Mother herself. Consider how sweet she is – the Queen of even God’s heart. Consider how earth-shattering it would be to have Christ physically present in your family at all times as she and St. Joseph did. Consider the quality of marriage they had; that’s what I want: to have Christ always present in my marriage and family life and to accept the certain graces He brings. To a certain degree, I’m limited because I wasn’t born without sin like Mary; but if I allow God’s grace in my soul and breathe prayer in and out, I can offer to my family so much more than what I do now. With just one person moving toward a life of prayer and virtue, things change for every surrounding life. My husband is a “man after God’s own heart” and inspires me because he actively pursues to be even more so; and my sons set a great example because they haven’t even sinned yet, so I have to catch up! The truth is that developing angelic sweetness is a feat in itself, but when I do remember to offer Christ the little on-goings of my mind and heart, there is nothing more comforting or empowering than His presence in every nook and cranny of my life. With persistence and the grace of God, this extraordinary virtue can become ordinary for my soul.

Katie Sciba is a writer for the Catholic blog

Who Does It Belong to Anyway?

by Mike Van Vranken

My employer provides a car for my use to accomplish the works they have given me to do. The car’s primary use is to perform the tasks my job requires. The company has strict rules explaining how it can be used for both business and personal needs. My responsibilities include keeping it in excellent working condition, not abusing it, protecting it from danger and harm and only using it in ways that respect its purpose. Now, I have the free will to abuse it or even damage it, but any use or care of the car that does not comply with the rules and responsibilities that come with it would be considered negligence and even immoral. The car is not mine; it belongs to my employer.

My God provides me with a physical body for my use to accomplish the works HE has given me to do. Scripture says it gives Him glory when I accomplish those works. (John 17:4).  He expects me to take care of this body, protect it from danger and harm and only use it in ways that respect its purpose. Of course, I have the free will to use it any way I want to, however, any use or care of my physical self that does not fall in line with His wishes would be considered disobedience and even immoral. This body is not mine. It is His.
God gives us clear direction concerning the use of our bodies.  We are called to specifically bring Jesus to the world. He explains how our bodies are to be used for that purpose:

• “…offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)
• “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
• “…yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)
• “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
• “For I know well the plans I have for you…” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Action plans for the month of May:
1. Save this message and read it one time every day in May.
2. Notice key words or phrases (“your spiritual worship”; “you are not your own”; “no longer I, but Christ”; “before I formed you”; “plans I have for you.”)
3. Make a commitment today to never, ever use your body for anything without first asking God His plan.
My God has provided me with a physical body to accomplish the works HE has given me to do.  But this body is not mine.  It belongs to Him!

Safe Environment Audit

by Deacon Michael Straub, Human Resources Director and Safe Environment Coordinator

The Diocese of Shreveport participates in an annual audit on its safe environment program (Protecting God’s Children). Since the program’s inception in 2002, the diocese has been found fully compliant with each of the 17 articles of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. During this past audit period, which ended June 30, 2011, we were found to be again fully compliant in our training of adults and children and our background check processes. Unfortunately we were found to be noncompliant in regards to one requirement. Our Permanent Review Board is required to meet at least once each year and they did not meet within this audit period. Upon discovering this mistake we quickly assembled our review board, as required, which placed us back into full compliance with the charter.

The Permanent Review Board is an integral part of the diocese’s response to claims of abuse of a minor as outlined by the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.  Even though the required yearly meeting was not held, the Permanent Review Board of the diocese was formed and ready to fulfill its responsibilities. This board consists of experienced professionals from law enforcement, legal council, and mental health disciplines specializing in child abuse trauma and family counseling.

In other aspects of the audit the dioceses of the United States have the option to have their audits also at the parish level. Only a third of the dioceses chose to have the audit firm enter their parishes. We are and will continue to be one of these dioceses. We have also been given recognition for our additional actions that go beyond the scope of the charter. We are recognized by the audit firm and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for our extra efforts in training and placing a Local Safe Environment Coordinator in each parish and school to help monitor safe environment compliance. These volunteer coordinators also receive annual reviews and updates and share their techniques for implementing safe environment in their parishes and schools with other coordinators.

Over the past 10 years we have trained almost 5,000 adults to be proactive in creating a safe environment for our children. We will continue to be steadfast in our efforts to provide a safe environment for our children, young people, vulnerable adults and families within our churches, schools and offices.

Bishop’s Reflection (May)

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, gives the homily during the Good Friday service, led by Pope Benedict XVI, in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 6. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A month or so ago I attended a workshop on priestly celibacy sponsored by the University of Notre Dame.  One of the presenters was Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M., Cap., who is the preacher to the papal household, that is, the preacher to the pope. This is an honored position that Father Cantalamessa has held since 1980.  If you watched the Holy Week services from Rome you will notice it was Father Cantalamessa who preached to the Pope on Good Friday. This position is a real reminder that even the Pope is in need of spiritual direction and support.

While I received many insights from this meeting, it was the words of Father Cantalamessa that struck me as profound. His message was one I knew intellectually, but his presentation made it powerfully relevant to me and I think to all of us in today’s world. He said we must remember that “GIFT comes before DUTY.”
This seemingly simple phrase takes us to the heart of our faith. Before we can fully embrace the demands of our faith, we must become aware of and appreciate the Gift of our faith.

What do I mean by “appreciating the Gift of our faith?” I mean we must be thankful for the moments of our Catholic spiritual journey when our faith is as real and as powerful as the first moment we fell in love — that moment in our relationship with God that we suddenly became aware of God’s mercy, God’s help and God’s love and care for us.

This is not just an insight of the mind but also, and maybe more importantly, an experience of the heart. We can be graced with these moments of spiritual insight at any time. We can receive this grace while watching children play, in times of prayer or adoration, even in moments of crisis or unbearable struggle.  For example, perhaps we decide to approach the sacrament of Confession and, without planning, we pour out our hearts about so much that we have been ashamed to confess and then, in hearing the words of absolution, we become overwhelmed with the undeserved but generous gift of God’s mercy and love.  In every case our hearts are filled with a deep sense of thankfulness and we are drawn more deeply into the love of God for each one of us.

In these moments we become aware of the GIFT of God’s love in our lives and when we experience this, the DUTY of our faith is surprisingly less a burden.  When we realize how much we have to be thankful for, that is, how much of our life is a Gift, then we find a new capacity for generosity that frees us to share more joyfully with those in need.   This is the source of a spirit-filled Church.  When we understand and experience the GIFT of our faith, then DUTY becomes an ACT OF LOVE!  The question then changes from a minimal one of obligation, “What do I have to do?” that just wants an answer, to a different question, “What does God call me to do?,” which requires a conversation in prayer to answer.

Father Cantalamessa reminded us of this scripture: “Love consists in this, not that we have loved God but that he has loved us first.” (1 John 4:10) If there is to be a new evangelization, if we are going to breathe new life into our hearts of faith and into the life of our Church, then it must begin here.  We must ask in prayer for hearts of flesh and not hearts of stone. We should pray to God to give us the grace of a renewed appreciation of the Gift of our faith. The New Evangelization begins in our hearts and minds. The New Evangelization begins with hearts full of love, love that comes from an understanding that the Gift, the love of God, came first, before the requirements of love. The wonderful, freeing, unexpected twist is that when we appreciate the GIFT of our faith as Catholics, the obligation of DUTY is replaced by the invitation of Love.

La Reflexión del Obispo

por Obispo Michael G. Duca

Padre Raniero Cantalamessa (CNS photo/Gregg McIntosh)

Hace alrededor de un mes participé en un taller sobre el celibato en el sacerdocio patrocinado por la universidad de Notre Dame. Uno de los presentadores fue el Padre Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M., Cap., que es predicador a la Casa Papal, o sea predicador del Papa. Esta es una posición honorifica que el Padre Cantalamessa ha tenido desde 1980. Si vieron los servicios en Roma de la Semana Santa se dieron cuenta que era el Padre Cantalamessa quien predicó al Papa el Viernes Santo. Esta posición es un real recordatorio de que aun el Papa está en necesidad de dirección  espiritual y apoyo.

Aunque recibí muchas ideas en esta reunión, las palabras del Padre Cantalamessa fueron las que me llegaron más profundamente. Su mensaje fue uno que yo ya conocía, pero su presentación lo hizo poderosamente relevante hacia mí y pienso que a todos nosotros en este mundo actual. El dijo que debemos recordar que “EL REGALO llega primero que LA OBLIGACION.”

Esta frase aparentemente simple nos lleva al corazón de nuestra fe. Antes que podamos de verdad apreciar las exigencias de nuestra fe, tenemos que estar consientes y apreciar el Regalo de nuestra fe.

¿Que quiero decir con “apreciar el Regalo de nuestra fe?” quiero decir que debemos ser agradecidos por los momentos de nuestro viaje espiritual Católico cuando nuestra fe es tan real y tan poderosa como el primer momento que nos enamoramos – ese momento en nuestra relación con Dios que de pronto nos damos cuenta de la misericordia de Dios, la ayuda de Dios y el amor y cariño que Dios nos tiene.

Esta no es solo una idea de la mente sino también, y tal vez mas importante, es una experiencia del corazón. Podemos recibir la gracia en estos momentos de revelación espiritual en cualquier momento. Podemos recibir esta gracia mientras vemos  niños jugando, en momentos de oración o adoración, aun en momentos de crisis o insoportable sufrimiento. Por ejemplo, tal vez decidimos acercarnos al sacramento de la Confesión y, sin planear, sinceramos nuestros corazones de cómo hemos tenido vergüenza de irnos a confesar y entonces, al escuchar las palabras de absolución, nos abrumamos con el inmerecido pero generoso regalo de la misericordia y amor de Dios. En todo caso nuestros corazones se llenan de un profundo sentido de agradecimiento y nos acercamos más profundamente al amor de Dios por cada uno de nosotros. En estos momentos nos damos cuenta del REGALO del amor de Dios en nuestras vidas y cuando lo experimentamos, la OBLIGACION de nuestra fe es sorpresivamente una carga menos. Cuando nos damos cuenta de cuánto debemos estar agradecidos porque nuestra vida es un Regalo, entonces encontramos una nueva capacidad de generosidad que nos libera para ser mejores gozosamente con los más necesitados. Esta es la fuente de una Iglesia llena del espíritu. Cuando entendemos y experimentamos el REGALO de nuestra fe, entonces LA OBIGACION se convierte en un ¡ACTO DE AMOR! La pregunta entonces cambia de una obligación mínima, “¿Que tengo que hacer?” buscando una respuesta, a una pregunta diferente, “¿Qué me está llamando Dios a hacer?” que para ser contestada requiere de una conversación en oración.

El Padre Cantalamessa nos recordó de esta escritura: “el amor consiste en esto, no que nosotros hemos amado a Dios sino que Él nos amó primero.” (1 Juan 4:10) si ha de haber una nueva evangelización, si vamos a respirar una nueva vida en nuestros corazones de fe y  en la vida de la Iglesia, debemos comenzar aquí. Debemos pedir en oración corazones de carne y no corazones de piedra. Debemos orar a Dios para que nos de la gracia de una apreciación renovada del Regalo de nuestra fe. La Nueva Evangelización comienza en nuestros corazones y en nuestras mentes. La Nueva Evangelización comienza con corazones llenos de amor, amor que viene de un entendimiento que el Regalo, el amor de  Dios vino primero, antes del requisito de amor. El maravilloso, liberador e inesperado giro es que cuando apreciamos el REGALO de nuestra fe como Católicos, la obligación del DEBER es remplazada con la invitación al Amor.