Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household, was the leader for the Bishops' Retreat in January. (photo: Catholic News Agency)

Prayer Before Action A Reflection on the Bishops’ Retreat

by Father Peter Mangum, Diocesan Administrator We just celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and have brought the Season of Christmas to a conclusion. May the graces of that More »

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Continuing the Mission: 2019 Annual Diocesan Stewardship Appeal

by John Mark Willcox One might ask these days, “Since our diocese is without a bishop, will we be conducting the Annual Diocesan Stewardship Appeal?” The answer to that question is a More »

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Catholics and Methodists: Working Together to Bring Christ’s Message of Love to the Poor and Vulnerable

by Tiffany Olah, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana Catholic Charities of North Louisiana (CCNLA)has been working together with area Methodist churches to fulfill its mission of bringing Christ’s message of love to More »

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Knights Raise Funds to Purchase Ultrasound Machine

story and photos by Kelly Phelan Powell One of the most encouraging signposts in the recent years of the pro-life movement is the enthusiastic involvement of men. So often shouted down and More »

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Saying Goodbye to Father Richard Lombard

by Lucy Medvec Fr. Lombard is why my family is at St. Joseph. When he baptized our son in 1995, and one year later welcomed me into the Catholic Church, our family More »

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Moving Forward in Sede Vacante

by Jessica Rinaudo Bishop Duca’s appointment to Baton Rouge earlier this year made our diocese, Sede Vacante or a “vacant see:” a diocese without a bishop, overseen by a diocesan administrator, who More »

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Praise Academy: Building Faith, Education and Community in Lakeside

by Jessica Rinaudo Every city has them – areas rampant with crime, populated by the poor, the hungry, those surviving day to day. Shreveport, Louisiana is no exception. I found myself driving More »

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U.S. Bishops Approved “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, A Pastoral Letter Against Racism”

from the USCCB BALTIMORE— The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved during its November General Assembly, the formal statement, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, A Pastoral Letter More »

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LaCaze Lagniappe Gala: Celebrating the Life of Monsignor J. Carson LaCaze

by Randy Tiller Msgr. Carson LaCaze was a force of nature in the Diocese of Shreveport, but in sharp contrast to that dynamic personality, he was also well known to collect various More »

Congratulations Seminarians

Vocations View: Why I Want to Become a Priest

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by Seminarian Nicholas Duncan

I am going to let you all in on a little secret: I never wanted to become a priest. When I was a kid, I didn’t dream about wearing brightly colored vestments, preaching homilies, hoisting chalices or blessing pets. I wanted to become a professional athlete, win a gold medal or two, and have lots of money and a beautiful wife. I was told to dream big. I could become whatever I wanted to be. Consequently, these were the goals I pursued in my youth.

Eventually, I had to lower my goals from my childhood fantasies to what was a bit more attainable. I became a good athlete – not “Olympic” level – but pretty good. I realized that happiness does not come from money, so I tossed that goal aside, and I had a beautiful girlfriend. I seemed to be doing well for myself, but I did not feel fulfilled. My focus was on myself and what I wanted: my dreams, my goals, my desires – everything was about me. Never did I stop to ask the Lord what He had planned for me.

I wouldn’t even let the thought of becoming a priest enter my mind until I was 26-years-old. And once I did, I did not tell anyone for over a year. The first person I told was a priest. We told some other priests, and eventually I let my parents know. This small group of people were the only ones who knew for another year.

When I decided I was going to seminary, I was forced to tell people. I had to give them an explanation because I was quitting my job and moving out of my apartment. This secret discernment of priesthood is an obstacle many men face. Part of the problem stems from fear of talking about the priesthood. It is something that is rarely discussed in our churches. When I started to tell people I was thinking about becoming a priest, a feeling of relief came upon me.

Another reason for this fear is that when you tell someone you are planning on becoming a priest, inevitable questions follow. “Why would you want to become a priest?” “You mean the Catholic kind of priest?” “You do know they don’t let you have sex?” “That means you won’t get to have a wife and kids.”

Sex and children are always everyone’s immediate response. I want to shout at them, “Of course I know priests are celibate!” I didn’t know how to respond to these questions. The reaction people have is a product of our sexualized culture and misplaced values.

On a deeper level, this concern stems from the fact that God has designed man and woman for each other. It is natural for a man and a woman to leave their families to unite as one flesh and create a new family. Today the family is under attack. Young adults are rejecting marriage or postponing it. Even worse are those who want to redefine marriage according to the whims of men instead of by the eternal order of God. But I think it is a positive sign that people’s immediate gut response to celibacy is that you won’t get to have a family. Even those who do not believe have this response, showing their natural inclination to the plan God has for them, despite their actions to the contrary.

I, like many people, desired to have a family. All I knew at the time was that I believed it was “possible” for me to become a priest, and that through will power and self-control I could be celibate. Additionally, I had a sense that perhaps I was not called to marriage, but to something else. This feeling is even harder to explain.

I have come to realize that this “something else” is still a type of marriage. This supernatural marriage of the priesthood is in union with Christ, the Bridegroom, and his union through his sacrifice on the cross to his bride the Church. This supernatural union is REAL; this marriage is not a meager metaphor attempting to explain Christ’s love for us. It is an eschatological reality.

This is the marriage I now feel called to. Dating is forbidden at seminary because we are already in a relationship with another: the Holy Mother Church, the Bride of Christ. We are discerning if we are called to this supernatural relationship, and She, “the Church,” is deciding if we are fit to be her spouse.

When I am ordained (God willing) I will not be called reverend or pastor or minister, I will be called father. This name is not an honorary title or a salutation. This spiritual fatherhood is real. Yes, I would like to marry and have children, but I feel an even stronger pull to become a father to young and old alike. This is why I want to become a priest.  •

Navigating the Faith: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton – Wife, Mother, Saint

by Dianne Rachal

The gate of heaven is very low; only the humble can enter it.”  – St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Elizabeth Ann Seton is the first native-born American to be proclaimed a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Elizabeth lived every role possible for a woman: daughter, debutante, wife, mother, widow, convert, grieving parent and founder of the first congregation of women in America – the Sisters of Charity.

Elizabeth was born on August 28, 1774, in New York City to Dr. Richard and Catherine Bayley. Elizabeth’s mother died when Elizabeth was three. A year later, her sister Kitty died. As a child and teenager, Elizabeth was left with family members while her father was gone for long periods. Elizabeth was 16 when she met the 22-year-old William Magee Seton; they married four years later. Elizabeth and William had five children: Anna Maria, William, Richard, Catherine and Rebecca. Elizabeth was a devout member of the Episcopal Church, joining with other young matrons in service to the poor, especially to widows and orphans. She established an organization in New York City called the Widows’ Society.

The Seton family’s shipping business went bankrupt when many ships were lost at sea during wars. Elizabeth’s husband William contracted tuberculosis, and a voyage to Italy was proposed in hopes of restoring his health. Elizabeth left four of her children behind, including baby Rebecca, and with eight-year-old Anna Maria, sailed with her husband to Italy. Upon arrival in Italy, the Setons were quarantined at Lazaretto due to Yellow Fever. Business associates of William, the Filicchi brothers and their wives, brought the Setons food and blankets during the quarantine. William died, leaving Elizabeth a widow at age 29 with five children.

The Filicchis welcomed Elizabeth and Anna Maria into their home, and it was there that Elizabeth was introduced to Catholicism. Elizabeth was impressed with Catholic piety and the Real Presence in the Eucharist. One year after her return to America, Elizabeth was received into the Catholic Church at St. Peter’s Church on Barclay Street in New York City. Alienated from her family and friends, and trying to support her five children, Elizabeth started an academy for young ladies. Rumors were spread that the academy was a Catholic school, and the venture failed.

In 1808 Elizabeth was invited by priests to start a school for girls in Baltimore on Paca Street. Within a year Elizabeth took vows as a religious. Soon other young women joined her. In 1809 the small group of religious moved to Emmitsburg, MD, to become the first American Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. Elizabeth became Mother Superior for 12 years. The order opened St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School—the first free Catholic school in America, and the beginning of the parochial school system. Revenue from the academy enabled the sisters to educate poor country children. Mother Elizabeth oversaw all aspects of the school: teachers, curriculum, discipline and taught French and religion.

The order adopted the habit of an Italian widow, and continued to grow. Mother Seton wrote textbooks, translated books from French into English, trained teachers and wrote articles on the spiritual life. During her years in Emmitsburg, Elizabeth suffered the loss of two of her daughters to tuberculosis: Anna Maria in 1812 and Rebecca in 1816. Elizabeth herself was weak from the effects of the disease. She spent the last years of her life directing St. Joseph’s Academy and her growing community. She died January 4, 1821, not yet 47-years-old.

Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton was declared Venerable in 1959 and beatified on March 17, 1963, by St. Pope John XXIII. She was canonized on September 14, 1975, by Pope Paul VI. Her feast day is January 4. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is the patron saint of seafarers, bakers, death of children, the homeless, nursing services, widows and young brides.  •

January & February Second Collections

Collection for the Church in Latin America

Announcement Dates: January 13th & 20th
Collection Dates: January 26th & 27th 

Share Your Faith: Support the Collection for the Church in Latin America.”

This new year is so ripe with wonderful possibilities. Heavenly blessings will be received, divine providence will be bestowed, unmerited mercy will be shown, and comfort and help from above will be poured into our lives. It is in light and promise of God’s goodness that I invite your heartfelt participation in the Collection for the Church in Latin America. 

The Collection for the Church in Latin America supports pastoral programs as awarded by the USCCB’s Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America. “Share your Faith” by willingly participating in this collection to ensure the strength of our Catholic brothers and sisters through the works of evangelization, formation of laity, religious and seminarians, as well as youth ministry and catechesis.

The people of the Caribbean and Latin America are still recovering from the storms of the past two summers. For so many of them, recovery is agonizingly slow. Your donation to the Collection for the Church in Latin America is needed more than ever. So many men, women and children look to the Church for whatever help can be given to them. Please Share Your Faith; give generously. Support the Collection for the Church in Latin America.

Diocesan Catholic Schools

Announcement Dates: January 20th & 21st
Collection Dates: February 2nd & 3rd 

We often say with all sincerity that our children are the future. Our children are saying they are not only the future, but also the present. In what I believe to be their divinely inspired wisdom, they tangibly remind us that the future begins today, not later. Our Diocesan Catholic Schools Collection is a concrete participation in the inspired wisdom of our children. Support for Catholic education today sets the foundation of future Catholic education. Please give generously to the Diocesan Catholic Schools Collection.  

Donating to the Diocesan Catholic Schools Collection acknowledges the present and future participation of our children in the Church and society. Whatever amount you give is the clearest sign of your commitment to them and their families. Your donation supports the Bishop’s Tuition Assistance Fund, which provides the means to support Catholic families in sending their children to one of our six diocesan Catholic schools: St. Frederick High School, Loyola College Prep, Our Lady of Fatima School, Jesus the Good Shepherd School, St. Joseph School, and St. John Berchmans School. Your gift makes so much happen for the greater glory of God and the salvation of young souls. Please give generously to our Diocesan Catholic Schools Collection.

Your sacrifice keeps the doors open to these havens where our children and youth encounter Jesus Christ, the teachings of the Church, the witness of the saints, and the missionary discipleship of our parishes. Please give gladly to our Diocesan Catholic Schools Collection.  •

Vulnerability is a Gift from God

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by Katie Sciba

Deep breath, I told myself. Play it cool. I lifted my chin, squared my shoulders, and feigned confidence walking into Sportspectrum. In the few months prior, I took up running as a light hobby and, in time, felt ambitious enough to shoot for a half-marathon; but to go for it, I had to train with the right pair of shoes, and to get the right pair, I had to ask for help. I knew absolutely nothing about brands, fit or types of support for my particular gait. I was in over my head and mortified by my ignorance. The last thing I wanted was for anyone to know I was new; mostly because I felt vulnerable.

“Have y’all had a big rush since the new year?” I made conversation with the employee. “Ha, HUGE. It’s one of our busiest times,” she laughed.  “Yeah I wondered if I had just missed all the Resolution people,” I said, looking at big gaps in the shelf, obviously cleared recently by new athletes born from the new year. Maybe if I laugh about being new, she won’t realize I don’t know what I’m doing, I thought.

So maybe, unlike me, you’re a veteran athlete with the prowess of a cheetah; but we all have some sort of vulnerability that makes us take a step or two back. Understandably, we don’t typically volunteer our shortcomings, wounds and weaknesses – they’re the parts of ourselves we’re not proud of.

In this era of social media, we typically just see the best or most beautiful shots of others’ lives. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for gorgeous Pins on Pinterest, and I’m guilty of losing track of time on Facebook. It’s fun to see and share happiness and beauty, but with just highlights visible, it’s easy to believe that others don’t have the same struggles we do. I for one don’t like feeling uncertain or incapable, so my vulnerabilities aren’t usually out there for the world to see.

Most of us have experienced the fragility of a precious newborn. Defenseless and too weak to raise his head, a baby’s life is entrusted wholly to parents to provide everything from food to love. And it’s in this form that the mightiest being of all, the Lord Himself, came to humanity. Jesus was born vulnerable and He died the same way.

Follow my train of thought for a second: 1) As the all-powerful God, He could have chosen something a bit more impressive than a babe in a manger, but such is His divine nature. God is love and love is vulnerable. 2) Because we’re made in the image and likeness of God, we’re supposed to imitate our Creator. We’re supposed to do the best impression of the Lord that we can; therefore 3) to make ourselves vulnerable, is to imitate the Lord.

Now, the Lord doesn’t exactly have the shortcomings we imperfect people have, so this is by no means a call to cast your fragile pearls carelessly before everyone. I’ve learned in recent years that sharing my vulnerabilities with a precious few, can create a stronger bond with friends, family or even strangers when they echo the same hardships back to me. The “Me too” movement is powerful. It creates understanding, compassion, solidarity and safety all at once, which are most definitely gifts from the Lord.

Whatever your resolutions this year, don’t hesitate to share challenges with one or two trusted souls. You may find that you’re in good company, and you’ll no longer feel alone.

Faithful Food: Sweetness and Light

by Kim Long

What a whirlwind 2018 proved to be for our family, and I am sure each of us can recount our own special moments which have shaped and changed us throughout the past year.

For my family there were two “enlargements:” my eldest son married a wonderful woman who brought two children of her own into our family, and another son and daughter-in-law gave birth to a baby boy, Isaac.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, on the eve of Christ the King, we gathered as a family at Holy Trinity Parish to baptize Isaac into Christ. With equal measures of joy and solemnity, we moved through the ancient rites of initiation. The priest said that if we had been able to see what had just occurred, namely that Christ had come into this child, we would be blinded by the light of God.

Years ago I attended a Mass on Epiphany. I desperately wanted to hear a life-altering message. As I listened, I heard the dates of the “moveable” feasts of the liturgical year proclaimed: Ash Wednesday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Corpus Christi and Advent. Certainly, a map was unfolded for us as the coming year was brought to mind by the voice of the priest.

I entered the Church seeking only a clue, and experienced the gift, the grace of emergence. Originating from the Latin root emergere, it means to bring to light. Modern dictionaries define emergence as the process of becoming visible after being concealed. Only years later, on the eve of Christ the King at the baptism of a child, does that homily on that long ago Epiphany make perfect sense to me.

I settle into January, heavy with the memory of holiday food and experiences. As the days come and go, lengthening ever so slightly, I begin almost unconsciously to mark time; checking the dates for Ash Wednesday, looking to see if Easter will be early or late, filling in calendars, planning for future events, and let’s not forget the dreaded New Year’s resolutions which I usually manage to break, bit by bit, until the starkness of Lent enables me to look at the considerations which January encouraged me toward.

Thinking back on the priest’s words at Isaac’s baptism, I am reminded of lines of the preface of Eucharistic Prayer IV:

It is truly right to give you thanks, truly just to give you glory, Father most holy, for you are the one God living and true, existing before all ages and abiding for all eternity, dwelling in unapproachable light; yet you, who alone are good, the source of life, have made all that is, so that you might fill your creatures with blessings and bring joy to many of them by the glory of your light.” (from the Roman Missal)

So, I ask myself: do I seek to go beyond the images of camels, kings and cakes and welcome what is waiting to emerge? That is my prayer for January, for Epiphany, and beyond.

Isaac’s Baptism Gumbo

Ingredients:

•  ½ pound bacon

•  1 large package of chicken thighs (boneless and skinless)

•  2 packages of sausage, sliced

•  2 large red onions, diced small

•  6 stalks of celery, chopped thin

•  ½ green bell pepper, chopped

•  Garlic to taste

•  2 cans of diced tomatoes

•  1 large bag of sliced okra

•  1 package Oak Grove Smokehouse gumbo mix with rice

  2 jars turkey gravy

•  4 tablespoons jarred roux (I used Savoie’s)

•  ½ gallon chicken stock

•  1 quart very hot water

Directions:

1) Cook bacon to render grease. Put into large cast iron pot.

2) Add chopped veggies and meats.

3) Let cook over low flame until chicken is cooked through.

4) In a separate pot put chicken broth, hot water and jarred roux mix. Stir until roux mix is incorporated. Simmer for about 30 minutes on low to medium flame.

5) Add cooked vegetables, meat, tomatoes and okra. Let cook for about an hour, stirring all over a low flame.

6) Add gumbo mix, two jars of gravy, and continue cooking for a couple of hours until gumbo thickens to your preferred consistency.

I have given you the recipe but not the whole story! I waited for this gumbo to “emerge” thick and nourishing. I began to think it never would –  after all roux is not my first language… no matter how many cookbooks I read.  Finally – success!

This makes gumbo for a crowd. I made this for Isaac’s baptism party. It also freezes well. Serve with crackers over your choice of rice, grits or potato salad. We like gumbo over yellow rice.

 

 

Mike’s Meditations: Are You Poor?

by Mike Van Vranken

In Luke’s gospel story, Jesus explains his ministry. He says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).

His entire ministry is for the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed – and the remainder of Luke’s gospel will bear that out. Now, at the beginning of the year, might be a good time to prayerfully ask ourselves just what this means to us, today, in 2019.

Bring Glad Tidings to the Poor. Who are the poor Jesus is talking about? Certainly Jesus came for those who are financially poor. And I think he commissions each of us to be Christ to everyone who needs financial help. But his message here is so much more. In fact, I believe that our ability to be Jesus to the monetarily poor requires our wisdom about this scripture.

I suggest you go to your favorite prayer place, some location that is quiet and alone, take some serious deep breaths, and begin by listening to the quiet. After a minute or so, recognize God’s presence with you. Softly and intimately tell the Holy Trinity that you are aware of the presence, the love and the goodness flows over and through you. If you feel like it, make a gesture; maybe bow to the presence of God; or you might make the sign of the cross. Spend a moment giving praise, glory and thanksgiving for this love relationship you have with the Creator of the Universe who loves you more than you can imagine.

In the quiet of this experience, ask God: “How do you see me right now?” And, in particular: “God, where in my life am I poor?” Then, in your stillness and oneness with God, be quiet and listen. And, by listen, I mean listen with your entire being. Hear His faint, small voice with your mind, with your mental images, and mostly, with your open heart.

When we meet God in contemplative prayer like this, we may hear Him reply that we are poor in our desire and willingness to help the needy. He may gently tell us that we are impoverished in our ability to forgive those who have wounded us. He could say we are destitute in our loving kindness to welcome the immigrant or refugee. He may lovingly respond that we are poverty-stricken in our care for the elderly. We might hear Him explain how our reservoir of compassion for the emotionally injured is bankrupt. As you might see, there are countless ways the Holy Trinity might point out where we are poor. Now, back to our conversation in prayer with God.

As you sit with God in the quiet, notice how gentle, loving and compassionate He is with you and for you. There is no judgment here. Just a loving and holy answer to your question about where in your life you are poor. In like manner, lovingly and gently receive all He has to say. Continue to sit in the quiet and allow Him to caress and embrace you. Remember, He loves you “with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

Savor the moment and do not end this prayer time too quickly. Remember Jesus came to bring glad tidings to the poor. Give him the time, space and openness to do what he came to do. He wants to relieve you of your poverty and replace it with his grace. The grace to help the needy; the grace to forgive, welcome, care for, have compassion for, and especially to love all those he puts in our paths. As he told St. Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In other words, no matter how poor we are, Jesus came so we can receive more than enough grace to relieve our poverty, and be wealthy in our love and mercy for others.

I know of no mention of New Year’s resolutions in the Bible, but I am very aware of the message of conversion and transformation. As we begin 2019, let’s make time every day this month to visit with the God of the universe, and ask Him for relief of our poverty by allowing Him to lavish us with the grace to be transformed into His true “image” and “likeness” (Genesis 1:26-28). •

 

Administering in a Climate of Transition and Church Crisis

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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 Richard III (found underneath a parking lot) when I learned via email on June 26, 2018, of the news of the impending transfer of Bishop Michael Duca to Baton Rouge. (Receiving significant news has a way of imprinting the time and place on one’s consciousness). I knew the 10 priests of the diocese that form our College of Consultors would need to select a diocesan administrator to run the diocese until the arrival of a new bishop, our third for the Diocese of Shreveport. As a matter of fact, from the time of the retirement of Bishop Friend until the announcement of Bishop Duca, we were without a bishop for 17 months. This inter regnum is a time without any major innovations meant to tie up any loose ends and to prepare the diocese for our next Shepherd. Little did I know that that task would soon fall to me.

On my way home, while in the Atlanta airport, Terminal D Gate 26, I learned of the death of Msgr. Carson LaCaze, a second date and place stamped on my memory. A few days later, I preached the funeral homily for the priest who gave me First Holy Communion, who was my pastor at my first priest assignment at St. Mary the Pines Parish, and for whom I served as pastor the last 12 years of his ministry and life.

Only three weeks later we learned that Archbishop McCarrick, already removed from public ministry for credible allegations of sexual abuse, had resigned from the College of Cardinals – the first time such a thing had happened in the Catholic Church since 1927. That was July 27, and I heard the news as I was sitting at my desk in my Cathedral office. The grand jury report from Pennsylvania investigating sexual abuse of minors by priests was made public shortly thereafter, on August 14.

I vividly recall Bishop Duca sitting in the cathedra, installed as the sixth Bishop of Baton Rouge on August 24 at 2:35pm, a significant date as the College of Consultors of Shreveport needed to meet within eight days of that event to elect a diocesan administrator. That same evening, an 11- page bombshell of a letter from the former apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Viganò, was released, alleging the cover-up of the activities of Archbishop McCarrick and ultimately asking for the resignation of Pope Francis.

The fifth of a series of five homilies based on John, chapter 6, on the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and explaining parts of the Mass, was quickly shelved for a future date. I urgently needed my parishioners to hear, not from the media, but from me, their pastor, of my disgust related to this horrifying sex abuse crisis the Church was facing, yet again, and on the cover ups by many bishops.

The transfer of our bishop, the loss of my associate and friend, the grand jury report, the news surrounding Archbishop McCarrick, the explosive letter of the former nuncio, and my urgent homily: this was the context in which I was chosen to administer our diocese. It was as if the water had reached boiling point and I was thrown in.

Within the week of my acceptance of this position, the USCCB informed me of two November meetings I needed to calendar: the USCCB General Assembly in Baltimore of this year, and the November ad limina meetings in Rome of 2019, in case no new bishop had been appointed by that time. I also learned that as a diocesan administrator, I would have the same vote as any bishop present. I was given a password to access the BishopsOnly website, and that’s when hundreds of emails and letters flooded my inbox and mailbox, mostly to prepare me for the historical, monumental vote to take place at the November gathering of this country’s bishops (and those equivalent to them in law, like diocesan administrators).

As I prepared for the meeting, security concerns began to mount. Three times the number of media outlets were credentialed to cover this momentous meeting; the world would be watching this historical event.

The conversation during my first evening of the meeting centered on one thing only – the vote of the century: on “Standards of Episcopal Conduct” and the proposal to set up a “Special Commission for Review of Complaints Against Bishops.” I participated in a two-and-a-half hour long dinner presentation and discussion for new bishops specifically on the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Adults, given by the professionals of the USCCB and the National Review Board. Others bishops were in their respective committee meetings, many having begun two days earlier, participating in plenty of behind the scenes meetings and activities.

The first day of the General Assembly was set: we would take care of some formalities then enter the Day of Prayer, hearing what would be very moving presentations by two victims of sexual abuse by priests, as well as talks related to the call to bishops to shepherd after the Heart of the Good Shepherd. Everything would culminate with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, with the most providential, unbelievably apropos of readings to be proclaimed worldwide: Titus’ exhortation on a bishop “as God’s steward… blameless, not arrogant, … temperate, just, holy, and self-controlled… [called] to exhort with sound doctrine…”  And Jesus telling His disciples:  “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the one through whom they occur…  If your brother sins, rebuke him… And the Apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’ The Lord replied, ‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’” Archbishop Hebda was sure to give a great homily.

Chimes rang to get us all to our seats for the prompt beginning of the General Assembly. First, we prayed, commemorating the feast of a bishop martyred for his tirelessly laboring for the unity of the Church, St. Josaphat. Then came the special announcement from the Holy See, delivered by the clearly rattled president of the USCCB: “At the insistence of the Holy See” the American bishops would have to delay the vote on the proposed action items on the agenda for some time, until after the February 2019 Vatican summit of all the presidents of bishops conferences worldwide. This watershed moment in the life of the Church was now delayed, for the apparent fear that this one bishops’ conferences taking such bold and needed steps could affect the whole Church.

I wanted to slam my fist down on the table! Time and place indelibly stamped on my consciousness, yet again. What was up? Does Rome not recognize the urgency of the moment with our people crying out for action? One bishop near me said it felt “like a punch in the gut.” Even the cardinal leading us said he was deeply disappointed by the news he had received the day before.  Another said: “If Francis wanted to unite us, he just found the way to do it” – through common anger and disappointment.

Catholics are angry and losing patience. I know my parishioners are.  In the midst of the meeting, several texted their frustration: “The Holy Father’s record on this was weak in Chile, and then in Honduras, and now in the United States. This is a bit like telling the paramedics to stand aside until a real doctor can arrive at the scene.”

Another simply wrote: “Unforced error” later writing, “The crisis will decimate the Church in the United States for generations to come if the episcopacy does not immediately take decisive action. Even the most faithful Catholics will not support an institution that accommodates and protects sexual predators. I will not.”

A third texted: “The bishops don’t realize how impatient and disgusted guys like me are. It’s a fine line before we are lost.” There was the clear sense from parishioners that nothing meaningful will come from Baltimore or Rome in February. All the bishops were very aware that the world outside was livid!

Over the next two days, bishop after bishop expressed grave concern, on the assembly floor and in interviews outside, desiring to get a strong message to the Vatican of the urgency of reform and needed action regarding Archbishop McCarrick. Everyone knows that the stakes for the February meeting have been raised and must result in universal, global action.

In his closing statement, Cardinal DiNardo said: “Brothers, I opened the meeting expressing some disappointment. I end it with hope… that the Church be purified and that our efforts bear fruit… We leave this place committed to taking the strongest possible actions at the earliest possible moment. We will do so in communion with the Universal Church. Moving forward in concert with the Church around the world will make the Church in the United States stronger, and will make the global Church stronger.  But our hope for true and deep reform ultimately lies in more than excellent systems, as essential as these are. It requires holiness: the deeply held conviction of the truths of the Gospel, and the eager readiness to be transformed by those truths in all aspects of life.

Even in this disappointment and pain, the Church is the only one founded by Jesus Christ, reflecting for us all the glory of Creation, yet all the corruption of the Fall. The light of truth always shines, and no darkness can overcome it. With the long view afforded by history, the Church has deeply experienced that Jesus never claimed the gates of hell would not encroach on the Church; only that they would never prevail against it. I will never – in any way – minimize the present pain and crisis, but this is not new as we know who prowls about this world. Yet in every age, God raises up reformers to challenge evil, and this time we inhabit is no different.

Being in the thick of things these past months has already affected the way I pray. I am grateful for the support I have received from the priests of our diocese as well as many lay people. As one wrote from Monroe, during the final day of the General Assembly: “You did not choose the Church abuse scandal. But you were chosen to face it.” I face it for and with all in our diocese. I minister, not in a Church I would prefer, but in the Church as I find it. I have not lost the sense of outrage at the abuse crisis and cover-ups, nor do I wish that for anyone. We must be about real reform in the Church as we find her in our individual parishes. We must take seriously Christ’s call to holiness, starting with our bishops and priests and indeed everyone! Jesus Christ truly is the Word made flesh, the splendor of the Father, the One sent to save us and give us Himself in the Eucharist and His transforming, purifying grace in and through the Church as He founded.

One of the sexual abuse victims who earlier addressed the conference, summed up her experience saying: “A surprising aspect for me when speaking at the Conference was how utterly pained the bishops are about Church-wide suffering over abuse.”  There is no doubting that.

O Antiphons

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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 is already booming about Christmas, the season following Advent.

The O Antiphons are not really well known among many of my Catholic friends and co-workers until I reference the easily recognized Advent hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” With genuine relief they say “Oh right, yes I know that song.” But those prayers hold so much more for us.

It is at this moment in our “brand new year,” that the “O’s” offer us a bridge from the last few days of Advent into the Christmas season – a bridge from the wreath with four candles, all in different heights due to the celebratory “burn” of the previous weeks observance, to the stable. They bring us from promise to fulfillment, leaving behind the frenzied rush, offering instead the opportunity to stay connected to the anticipation of Christ’s birth. And if we “bridge the gap,” we can live out those last few days of Advent with some semblance of peace rather than greeting Christmas Eve and midnight Mass with sheer exhaustion, or even worse, with the silent battle cry, that “it will be over soon and life can get back to normal.”

History: The “Great O’s,” as they are called, have been around since roughly the sixth century. Prayed in the octave of Advent from December 17 though 23, they precede the recitation of the Magnificat during Vespers. By the eighth century they were regularly used in Rome. Although they have been used more in monastic settings, the laity has full access to these prayers, both in private devotion (there is an O Antiphon chaplet) and publicly during Vespers.

Meaning: An antiphon is a verse or psalm to be sung responsively. They have a dual meaning. First that each of these antiphons is a title of the Messiah, and secondly they point us toward Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming of the Messiah. They also form a Latin acrostic, “Ero Cras” meaning “tomorrow I will come.” Acrostics are formed by using the first letters in a sequence of phrases.

Practice: What would our Christmas wish list look like if we, as adults, really gave some thought to what we are asking of God? After all, don’t we want what we ask for? Don’t we ask for what we want? In these prayers we are asking for, waiting for, hoping for the Messiah to come. What would that look like? How would He arrive? Would we recognize Him?

O Sapienta, O Wisdom

“Come with outstretched arms and redeem us.”

In the year 2000, I was working in my first church parish. The pastor ordered an exquisite statue of Mary and the child Jesus. The beauty of it overtook me; it was beyond any I had seen in a religious article. I asked him what “version” of Mary this was, and he told me “Seat of Wisdom,” Sedes Sapentiae in Latin.

She lived on my work desk for a time, and when I gazed upon her serene face I would be calmed almost at once. This came in particularly handy when our office handled calls for Christmas baskets. Each time I began to feel frustrated, there she was, seeming to tell me my heart should not be troubled. And miraculously, it wasn’t. According to Webster’s, wisdom is defined as the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships. Each day I am presented with situations, and approached by people who need answers. Be it my own family or my church family, I am so aware that my wisdom isn’t sufficient but God’s is.

O Adonai, O Lord 

“Come with an outstretched arm to redeem us.”

One of the definitions of redeem is “to free from what distresses or harms us.”  In an adult education class given years ago by the Greco Institute, our instructor told us “God is God and I am not and I am glad.” On the surface this sounds like a pithy, almost silly remark, but it is something I have considered since I first heard it. I have a friend who suffers from different levels of anxiety about nearly everything. When she asked me why I thought this was, my answer was rooted in this remark. She was not opposed to belief in God and religious practice, she was simply “unchurched.” I told her that if I had to believe everything, every decision, action, outcome depended only on me and not on God, I would probably be just as anxious as she is. She looked at me quite intently over her coffee cup and said, “You may be right, but how do I begin?” I shared the teacher’s statement with her and that sparked a genuine conversation, a true seeking of information, not just a platitude filled coffee klatch.

O Radix, O Root of Jesse

“Come and save us, and do not delay.”

Root has several definitions, but here is one worth considering: the unseen part which anchors and supports. My rootedness is something I need to reconnect with regularly. A few years ago I just “didn’t feel Catholic,” or in my estimation, not “Catholic enough.” These moments happen to us all. I longed for the feeling I had as a new Catholic where every piece of the Church’s vast history seemed like a newly discovered gemstone that I alone had mined. Every new piece of doctrine seemed like the missing piece, and now I was more complete, whole. None of those feelings were resonating with me. It seemed I had lost touch (temporarily) with my origin. I grudgingly returned to practices I didn’t “feel” like doing, ones I hadn’t thought of in years, in an attempt to reconnect. Slowly I made my way to a new feeling of connection; a path paved with things I knew to be true regardless of the “feeling” involved. In this moment I realized that my faith is not predicated on feelings alone, rather it is rooted in truth and love.

O Clavis of David, O Key of David

“Come and deliver the one from the chains of prison who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

A metal instrument by which a bolt is turned is the common definition of the word key. This holds special resonance when I am in a new place, one that I do not really want to be in. There is a situation that I know God has given me, a lesson I now see is intended to unlock a part of me I had no wish to see, much less examine. It is here in the waning darkness that I ask the Messiah, the anointed one, Christ, to thaw my frozen heart, to turn the bolt, for deliverance.

O Oriens, O Rising Dawn

“Come enlighten those who sit in darkness.”

Dawn has a lesser known definition: to begin to appear or develop and to begin to be perceived or understood. The saying “things will seem clearer in the morning,” appears to be rooted here. At the end of a horrible day my one enduring thought surfaces, “I never have to live through this day again.” When I think of my ability to understand our faith and God’s love, I often feel as though I am peeling away the unending layers of an onion. The adage of not being able to stand in the same river twice applies here. We are always changing, growing, even if we go two steps forward and one step back. As a result, we are always peeling away the layers to get to, as Matthew Kelly speaks of, the best version of ourselves. We seek the light.

O Rex Gentium, O King of the Nations

“Come and save poor man, whom you fashion out of clay.”

When my sons were young we lived on a farm whose soil I called “hateful.” There was so much clay in the soil that when wet, it seemed to be slimy, and when dry, it cracked open so much that there were places I could set my entire foot inside. It seemed, like humanity, to have a mind of its own. The boys would often come home so covered in this slime that I would make them strip down to their underwear and wash off with a hose before coming in the house to bathe – otherwise the bathtub would not drain. This picture of childhood serves as a great illustration of my own willfulness. While a water hose no longer suffices, this prayer does.

O Emmanuel

“Come and save us, O Lord our God.”

I cannot remember when I first heard the somber refrain of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I do remember where; in the living room of a small house on Ash Street, the street where I grew up. My mother played stacks and stacks of Christmas recordings on her “hi-fi.” They were wonderful, scratchy teachers. “O Come O Come Emmanuel” was one such lesson brought to us by volume two of Firestone Presents, a series of Christmas recordings. The tone of the music, its minor key sound covering me like a blanket, was something my soul seemed to need, to recognize, and it was here that they were imprinted in me. It was here that my gratitude for salvation was born. It is these prayers that help that gratitude grow.

May your Advent and these antiphons lead you into the light of the star, the warmth of the stable, and the miracle of love.

Find Harmony This Holiday Season

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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 children awoke us with shouts of delight at their surprises from Santa Claus. We would sit, all of us together in our matching Land’s End pajamas, and sip cocoa in front of a roaring fire. The children would fully comprehend (because Fantasy Husband and I are model Catholic parents, you see) that Christmas Day is not just about Santa Claus, toys and turkey but instead celebrates the birth of our Savior. Spending the day with our entire combined families, all of whom adore each other and get along perfectly at all times, would give us even more reason to praise God on this beautiful Christmas morning that would never, ever be 78 degrees with 90 percent humidity.

Except for the handsome husband and beautiful children, not one of our eight Christmas mornings together have even remotely resembled my quixotic Dream Christmas. (And I have loved each and every one of them more than I ever thought possible.)

Unrealistic expectations are just one source of stress at the holidays. Emotions run high, and even the smallest slights can become A Very Big Deal Indeed. Old family grudges, politics, religion and even child rearing are landmine conversation topics at big family gatherings. And then, of course, there are far more serious matters between family members that could include physical, psychological or sexual abuse, domestic violence, racism and bigotry. Combined, these factors make holidays into anxiety-ridden nightmares for many people.

“Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive,” says St. Paul in Colossians 3:13, but that can seem impossible when you can’t even have a peaceful Thanksgiving dinner together.

As Catholic Christians, we’re called to build strong families, and there are some things you can do, at the holidays or any time, to help smooth family interactions so that peace and love have a chance to take root and grow. Dr. Brandi Patton, an adult psychiatrist in the public sector/government in Birmingham, AL, shared some advice for less stressful family gatherings.

1. Limit alcohol. 

We may joke about needing a stiff drink when times get tough (or Uncle Lester starts pontificating about politics), but alcohol can make things significantly worse. “Too much alcohol can lead to disinhibition and send conversations in the wrong direction,” said Dr. Patton.

2. Manage expectations and acknowledge anxiety.

“Practice self-care,” said Dr. Patton. “Know your limits – don’t invite 100 people if you only have space for 20 or a budget for 10. Communicate your needs; don’t expect others to read your mind or know [what you need] instinctively. Lower your expectations. Allow yourself to accept the holiday gathering or event as it actually is, not as you want it to be or thought it would or could be. Spend time alone before or after if that’s something you know you need. Try not to over-schedule yourself, and allow for a different definition of success.” In other words, focus on “We ate dinner together and everyone was satisfied,” rather than “We didn’t have a five-star, four-course meal served on China with silver.”

3. Use humor. 

Dr. Patton suggested a joke followed by a quick subject change to something you know the other person likes or is interested in: “I’ve started my New Year’s resolutions early – and one of them is giving up talking about politics! Have you been taking your boat out a lot?”

4. Take a break. 

“Take a bathroom or other break,” said Dr. Patton. “Or say you need to check the turkey. Seriously! This can be really helpful to rearrange the conversational groups and change the mood.”

5. Have a code word. 

“Agree with your significant other or another close family member or friend ahead of time that you will ‘rescue’ each other if you anticipate a particularly problematic issue with a certain relative,” said Dr. Patton. “You serve as each other’s ‘wingman’ who can request assistance in the kitchen or whatever makes sense for the two of you.”

6. Save complex topics for another time.

If a family member brings up a sensitive subject on which you know (or strongly suspect) you fundamentally disagree, Dr. Patton suggested, say something like “I’d really like to talk about that later when we have more time and privacy,” and then move on to another topic. If they press the issue, politely point out that you have feelings as strong as theirs, but out of respect for the holiday (and the host), you’d rather discuss such a serious topic another day.

7. Know your limits.

Nearly everyone knows that family member or friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who spouts off offensively about whatever topic is at hand. Dr. Patton suggested a firm but civil response like, “I don’t insult members of other races/cultures/religions/etc., and I expect the same of others while they’re in my home.” As a last resort, “if the person will not drop the subject or suggests violence, you may need to kindly but firmly ask them to leave,” she said. “Always consider safety first and contact authorities for assistance if a dangerous situation seems to be developing.”

May we all experience peace and joy this holiday season. But if you can’t find peace, at least try to find humor. We may never have the ridiculously perfect holidays of our dreams, but thanks to Jesus, joy is always within reach.