Bishop Michael Jarrell's Columns

February 2010  March 2010
April 2010  May 2010
June 2010 July 2010
August 2010 September 2010
October 2010  November 2010
December 2010 January 2011

 

February 2010

February may be the last month of winter, but this year it brings a bright ray of sunshine as the New Orleans Saints make history by their first appearance in the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the annual observance of Mardi Gras produces a festive atmosphere in South Louisiana regardless of the outcome of the game.

When the game is done and the parades are over, the season of Lent begins. Ash Wednesday will be observed on February 17 this year. Catholics and many other Christians will present themselves for the imposition of ashes, hearing one of the following admonitions: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” or “Remember man that you are dust and to dust you will return.” Both formulas remind us that faithfulness to Jesus calls for continuing repentance and conversion.

In his Lenten Message for 2010, Pope Benedict XVI writes, “Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel ultimately means this: To exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one's own need—the need of others and God, the need of his forgiveness and his friendship.” That one sentence contains many seeds for reflection. For example, the Holy Father writes of “the need for his [God's] forgiveness.” Spiritual writers often remind us of God's love for us. They tell us that his love is unconditional, that there are no conditions. He loves us no matter what. The parable of the Prodigal Son is an illustration of God's unconditional love. However, when it comes to God's forgiveness, we cannot say that it is unconditional. There are conditions. God does not offer forgiveness no matter what. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he included the plea to the Father: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This thought is strengthened when he adds, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

Conversion to the Gospel is the theme for the Rite of Election, a special ceremony held each year on the First Sunday in Lent. The Rite of Election is a part of the Rite of the Christian Initiation of Adults, a process of instruction and conversion for adults and children of catechetical age who wish to be baptized, or if they are already baptized, to attain full communion in the Catholic Church. For me, this is one of the most inspiring ceremonies of the year. Hundreds of catechumens (those seeking Baptism) and candidates (those seeking to be received into the Church) from throughout the Diocese gather with the Bishop to hear the Church's approval of the progress they have made on the road of conversion. At the Easter Vigil, they will receive the appropriate sacraments—Baptism, Confirmation or Holy Communion.

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is a reminder that the primary mission of the Church is to make disciples for Jesus. Generally, we do this well for children whose parents present them for Baptism and catechetical instruction. The challenge today is to invite inactive Catholics and the unchruched into participation in the sacramental life of the Church. A number of our parishes have active programs to conduct door-to-door visitation for the purpose of invitation. Every year pastors assist me in sending letters inviting inactive Catholics to “Come Home for Christmas.” Catholics are becoming more aware of the need for such programs of evangelization. Readers might want to speak to their pastors and offer to participate in a program in their parish.

I pray for a fruitful Lent for everyone who seeks to be faithful to the Gospel and to realize his need for God's forgiveness.

March 2010

In recent weeks I have received a number of inquiries about the distasteful billboards that have gone up in and around Lafayette. Many Catholics see in these billboards an attack on the Church and they are deeply offended. I have seen similar attacks for years, so I am not surprised when they appear. But, I am very disappointed. Years ago, there was great acrimony between Catholics and Protestants--the legacy of centuries of antagonism. Early in the Twentieth Century, various Protestant Churches began an ecumenical movement stressing the points of unity and the expressed desire of the Lord Jesus “that all may be one.” (John 17:21) With the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church joined the ecumenical movement. Catholics are urged to maintain their Catholic beliefs, but to look benignly on their separated brethren. Catholics are urged to pray with those of other churches on various occasions and to join with them in works of charity. The ecumenical movement has been good for the Church and for society.

Thus, when attacks are made, the ecumenical movement suffers. Every Church should engage in evangelization, but usually they are seeking to instruct and inspire their own members or to reach out to the unchurched.

I am disappointed by the appearance of the billboards, but I see them primarily as a challenge to Catholics. We are challenged to know the Bible and to know what the Church teaches. Many theology books and classes are available to Catholics who have questions. Priests, deacons and lay persons who have studied theology are available for consultation. It is all right for Catholics to have questions, but they should honestly seek answers from knowledgeable sources. To do less is either laziness or intellectual dishonesty.

For example, the billboards make reference to Matthew 23:9 in which Jesus says, “Call no one on earth your father.” What should a Catholic think about this passage? He should do three things:

   1. Look at the whole passage. It concerns the Scribes and the Pharisees in Jesus' time. We should ask what the meaning of all this is.

   2. Look at other verses in scripture. For example in Matthew 6:6, the Lord says, “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret.” Did Jesus do this? In Luke, Chapter 4:6, we read, “He [Jesus] came to Nazareth where he had grown up and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath Day.” Or in Matthew 18:9, we read, “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” These are puzzling sayings. They are meant to make us think and find deeper meaning.

   3. Learn from the experts. Read up on forms of speech in Jesus' time and learn about the customary use of hyperbole or exaggeration. Today we might look down on this manner of speech, but it was readily acceptable in Jesus' time and everyone understood that they were to go beyond the words and look for the meaning intended by the speaker. In the case of “call no man father” it is clear that Jesus is putting God in first place and that he alone is Father and teacher. On the other hand, the passage is a serious reminder to Christian leaders (bishops, priests, deacons, etc.) that they teach and minister in the name of Jesus and the Father. It is a warning against a spirit of superiority and self-importance. The Pope carries many titles, but one of them is “Servant of the Servants of God.” This title describes an important dimension of ministerial priesthood and of all who exercise authority in the Church.

All the Popes since John XXIII have supported the ecumenical movement among Christians. A few lapses here and there should not deter us from the goal of unity in Christ.

April 2010

The United State Conference of Catholic Bishops recently garnered a lot of attention because of its position on the healthcare reform bill. The bishops consistently expressed their support for many provisions of the bill, especially the extension of health insurance to many more people. Just as consistently, the bishops supported the inclusion of explicit language that would prevent the use of federal funds for abortion. In the last days of the process, there was disagreement about the claim that the final version of the bill and the promise of a Presidential Executive Order would be sufficient to prevent the use of federal funds for abortion. It became a battle of legal opinions. In the end, the bishops recommended a “no” vote on the Bill, primarily because of the abortion issue.

A nine page legal opinion from the bishops' legal counsel is available on the bishops' website (www.usccb.org). The bishops are still hopeful that adequate safeguards can be provided.

The USCCB, State Conferences of Bishops, and individual bishops frequently take a position on legislative issues. They try to keep in mind the moral teaching of the Church and the good of the whole of society. It is one way in which bishop's exercise leadership for what they believe is the common good.

Frequently individual Catholics find themselves in disagreement with their bishops. What are we to make of this situation? We must admit that it is not an ideal situation; it would be better if all were of one mind. On certain core issues, like the right-to-life, a clear and basic teaching is at stake. There can be no compromise on this principle. Sometimes there are honest disagreements on strategy. In such cases, reasonable and respectful dialogue are in order. In some cases, the Bishops must be clear in their teaching that some things are intrinsically evil and can never be supported.

The Louisiana Legislature is now in session and there is sure to be a big helping of controversy. The Bishops of Louisiana will support some bills and oppose others. For example, they are asking legislators to support adequate funding for required services for non-public schools. Not everyone will agree, but there should be reasonable and respectful dialogue.

Bills, in both House and Senate, have been introduced to prevent the sentencing of juveniles 16 years of age or younger to life without the possibility of parole. The bishops realize that this is a controversial measure. In many cases, the survivors of victims of capital crimes, who have suffered immensely and continue to feel great pain, are strongly opposed to these bills. The bishops are aware of survivors' grief, but they support the measure, partly because of what it means to be a juvenile. Citizens and legislators will grapple with this challenging issue.


Also, for years the bishops have been opposed to capital punishment basing their position on the teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The bishops know that they are at odds with the majority of Louisiana's citizens—Catholic or not. The Bishops are aware of the situation, but they try to promote reasonable and respectful dialogue.

Civil life in a democracy is often filled with disagreement and discord—even among Catholics. The Bishops hope that the disagreements which seem to be inevitable will not lead to hatred or acrimony. Is it possible for people to actually listen to each other? Louisiana's Bishops believe there can be reasonable and respectful dialogue, even on the most difficult issues.


June 2010

For many people the summer brings a change of pace. It seems that the months from September to May have a certain rhythm but the summer months are different. In my case, there is still plenty to do, but there is more time to accomplish the tasks at hand. Then there is vacation. I will take two weeks in July for the relaxing sport of fishing right here in Louisiana unless the oil spill interferes. Before that, in June, I will be attending a meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Bishops meet twice a year in November and in June for business purposes. Once every four years, there is a Special Assembly which is more like a retreat—no business is conducted. The Bishops have an opportunity to get to know one another better in a relaxed setting. I am looking forward to our Special Assembly this year.

In July, I will be attending a workshop for bishops. It is billed as an “Episcopal Ongoing Formation Session.” Formerly, the term, “continuing education,” was generally used, but now the preferred term is “ongoing formation.” The session will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina. The theme of the workshop is, “Understanding and Ministering Versatility with Our Instinctive Leadership Behaviors and Supporting Values as a Means to Better Serving and Leading God's Holy People.” Having served as a Pastor for 17 years and as a Bishop for as many, it is about time I understand my instinctive leadership behaviors. Actually, I have attended similar workshops through the years. Nonetheless, I firmly believe that there is always more to learn. Ongoing formation is expected of people of many walks of life, including the clergy.

The session is sponsored by the Catholic Leadership Institute, a not-for-profit group of laymen who offer their services for the ongoing formation of priests and bishops. The group offers quality programs at a low cost. Indeed, the workshop for bishops is free of charge.

Ongoing formation is taken seriously by priests in the Diocese of Lafayette. By attending a workshop myself, I hope to give good example concerning the importance of ongoing formation. On the diocesan level, there is an office of Ongoing Formation for Priests. The Director is Father Kevin Bordelon. He has invited the Catholic Leadership Institute to give presentations about one of their programs for priests called, “Good Leaders, Good Shepherd.” If enough priests are interested, the program will begin within the next year. This program has received good reviews in other dioceses and I believe it will be appreciated by our priests as well. Many of them have expressed a desire to have more training in the administrative side of pastoring. Little such training is given in the seminary, but more and more is being required as the real world becomes more complex and more demanding. Our priests are enthusiastic about growth in all areas of ministry.

Last year, Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, called for a Year for Priests. The Year will end on June 11, 2010, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. An International Gathering of Priests is being hosted by the Holy Father in Rome. This will be the closing ceremony of the Year for Priests. Here in the Diocese of Lafayette a day of recollection for priests will be held on June 11 at Our Lady of Fatima Church to close out the Year. The last part of the day will be a Holy Hour, which is a fitting way to end this special year. The Holy Father asked priests to pursue inner spiritual renewal. He asked the laity to pray for priests. As the Year for Priests ends, I ask for everyone's continued prayer for priests, especially those who are having health problems, the newly ordained, and those who are beginning new assignments. I hope everyone has a happy and holy summer.

 

July 2010

Weeks turn into months as the oil spill continues to pour more and more crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico causing severe impacts on coast lands, wildlife and the economy of the State. People's lives and livelihoods are being severely damaged. Nor should we forget those who died in the original explosion in April. The families of the deceased, as well as the survivors and their families, deserve our continued prayers and concern. The long-term effects are unknown in this developing situation, but anything that negatively impacts the seafood and oil industries is bound to affect all of Acadiana. Let us continue to pray for clean up of the oil and for restoration of land, wildlife and lives.

Before the oil spill in April, our attention was focused on Haiti where an earthquake in January caused widespread death and destruction. Some media have tried to keep before us the ongoing needs of the people there. They need our prayers and they need material assistance. Shortly after the earthquake struck, the churches in the Diocese of Lafayette asked for donations from parishioners. The total donated stands at $554,000. This money has been sent to Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas relief and development agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Throughout the United States, Catholics have donated over $60 million dollars to the Haiti Relief Fund. A visit to the CRS website will reveal the ways in which the money is being spent. Many governmental and non-governmental agencies are providing relief of various kinds in Haiti, including the efforts of the S.O.L.T. Haiti Mission. For decades, this mission has existed under the direction of Father Glenn Meaux, a priest of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity and a native of Abbeville. Father Meaux and his staff have been trying to respond to additional demands placed on the mission by the earthquake victims. A visit to his website (www.solthaitimission.org) has much information on the activities of the mission, as well as information for those who wish to make a donation to this worthy cause. I pray for God's blessing upon all efforts to heal the wounds in Haiti.

Closer to home, the new Saint Joseph Diner in Lafayette was dedicated and blessed on June 24. For 27 years, the St. Joseph Diner has provided over a million meals for the poor in the Lafayette area. It is one component of the Lafayette Catholic Service Centers which have been supported by the people of Acadiana for many years.

I stated above that Catholic Relief Services is an agency which provides relief and development. Relief means the provision of immediate aid, such as food for the hungry or medical treatment for the sick and injured. This is a necessary part of serving the poor and needy as proclaimed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Development means the provision of assistance so that people may provide for themselves. It may mean teaching people how to farm, or providing them with the means to launch a small business. It may mean helping a person to get training in order to find employment. Catholic Relief Services has learned through the years how to provide both relief and development, all in the name of the Lord. I might add that the Lafayette Catholic Service Centers engage in both relief and development. Catholic Relief Services and Lafayette Catholic Service Centers deserve our continued support.

 

August 2010

By all accounts, the Most Reverend Philip Hannan, Archbishop Emeritus of New Orleans, has led a remarkable life. His memoirs are contained in a book entitled, “The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots: Memoir of an Extraordinary Life,” recently published by Our Sunday Visitor Press. At age 97, Archbishop Hannan resides in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and participates in events as health permits. New Orleans has the distinction of having four living Archbishops: three retired and one active. In the minds of many, when people say, “The Archbishop,” they are talking about Archbishop Hannan. He has been a priest for 71 years and a bishop for 54 yeas.

Philip Hannan was born in 1913 at the family home in Washington, D.C. His father, Patrick Hannan, ran a plumbing business. He and his wife had eight children—seven boys and one girl. Philip was ordained a priest of the Baltimore-Washington Archdiocese in 1939 in Rome, where he completed his seminary training. After serving as a parish priest in Baltimore, he volunteered to serve as a Chaplain in the U.S. Army. He had assignments in this country and in England. In July 1944, he was sent to the mainland to join the Army's push toward Berlin. After the Battle of the Buldge began, he volunteered to serve in the 82nd Airborne Division. Contrary to popular myth, he did not parachute into France on D-Day, nor did he ever participate in a combat jump. He did complete his training jumps and won his “wings.” That feat alone deserves respect. His service on the ground, some of it in combat zones, was commendable. On various occasions he came under enemy fire. He offered Masses, heard confessions, counseled soldiers, tended the wounded, wrote letters to grieving parents and did all of the things that military chaplains do.

After the War, Archbishop Hannan returned to his home diocese. In 1947, the Archdiocese of Washington was separated from Baltimore and in 1956 he was named Auxiliary Bishop of Washington. In 1965, he became Archbishop of New Orleans. He retired in 1988.

People my age will be interested in his account of his friendship with the Kennedys—John, Jacqueline, Bobby, Ethel, etc. He was often consulted by President Kennedy on Church-State issues. After the assassination of President Kennedy, Jackie asked him to deliver the homily at the funeral. This he did on November 25, 1963 at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew in Washington. One interesting feature of the book is the reproduction of numerous letters from members of the Kennedy clan. With regard to the assassination, Archbishop Hannan believes that there was a conspiracy. “The single gunman theory simply isn't plausible,” he writes. (Page 243) Many Americans agree with him and many do not. As usual his belief is stated definitively.

Reflecting on his years in New Orleans, the author has good things to say about the Cajuns. I quote:

       “After nearly 50 years of living in south Louisiana, I can attest that Cajuns are among the most joyful, warm-hearted and warm-blooded people I have ever known. They do not blush whenever they tell you what's on their mind and they have a passion for life and for the Church that is unsurpassed.” (Page 312).

Further he writes,

       “…there is no denying the Cajuns were very generous in building churches, which was a tangible expression of their faith. In Opelousas, the Cajuns got together to build the magnificent St. Landry Church, which celebrated its first Mass in 1909 and compares favorably to any parish church in the world. Saint Charles Borromeo Church in Grand Coteau, dedicated in 1880, is another outstanding church. The Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist in downtown Lafayette, dedicated in 1919, is as beautiful a church as I have ever been in.” (Pages 312-313)

Archbishop Hannan also had good things to say about the Vietnamese community in New Orleans. I was amused to read the following: “Within a very few years of the Vietnamese community's arrival in New Orleans, many of their children, born knowing absolutely no English and having the additional obstacle of parents speaking no English in the home, were valedictorians and scholarship winners in their schools.” (Emphasis mine)

The book is a valuable record, not only of a remarkable life, but also of a significant period in the life of the Church, both in Washington and in Louisiana.


September 2010

For many years the Bishop's Services Appeal began each year in September. Storms in 2005 and 2008 disrupted the process and caused all sorts of problems. Last year, the beginning date was moved to October and that is the plan for this year and future years. Appeal letters will be sent to 78,000 households during the last week of September. On Sunday, October 3, “The Bishop's Message” will be presented in all churches either by audio or video. By means of the letter and the tape, parishioners will be informed of some of the good works supported by the Appeal. “Commitment Sunday” will be observed on October 10.

The Bishop's Services Appeal was initiated by Bishop Gerald L. Frey in 1973. Last year's total was $2,302,259. Incomplete returns for the 2009-2010 Appeal show donations of $2,378,022.56. The Appeal has been successful through the years for several reasons. I believe that God has blessed it because it supports the works of religion, good works for his people. Another reason is the generosity of the people in the Diocese. Years ago people seldom heard the word, “stewardship.” More and more people are becoming aware of the spirituality of stewardship and making it a part of their lives. Praise God! The theme of this year's appeal is, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.” It recalls the parable of Jesus about the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25) and reminds us of the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ and of mankind's unity in him. I hope every parishioner will make a donation this year, however small it might be. Great things are accomplished when the people of the Diocese work together.

At this time of year, students are returning to school and the same is true for seminarians of the Diocese, who number 28 at this time. This includes four who are entering formation this year. Of the four, one is a 2010 high school graduate, two are in college and one is a college graduate. I ask everyone's prayers for our seminarians during these years of discernment and formation. It is expected that four of them will be ordained priests on June 11, 2011.

Many people in the Diocese have been praying for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. In addition, many are trying to support and encourage religious vocations. Priests, sisters and brothers are involved, but so are many of the laity. All Catholics should be encouraging young people to consider a religious vocation and to discern whether or not that is their calling from God. Parents and grandparents especially can be helpful in this regard. For some reason, parents are often suspicious and fearful if their children are interested in a religious vocation. I suppose it is the fear of the unknown. Also, they want their children to be happy. In this regard, professional research reveals that a very high percentage of priests are happy with their priesthood—a higher percentage than practically any other professional group.

In addition to support from parents and other adults, I see a lot of support from young people themselves. Many young people are deeply religious and have strong faith and solid spiritual lives. It is deeply moving to see them encourage one another in living a Christian life and, if the inclination is there, in pursuing a religious vocation. God continues to plant the seeds of religious vocations in young men and women. It is up to all of us to see that those seeds are nourished and tended.

The Bishop's Services Appeal, mentioned above, provides funds for the education and formation of seminarians. This year's budget for the Office of Vocations and Seminarians, which includes a hefty amount for room, board and tuition, is $657,660.76. I sometimes tell parents of college-age children that I have 28 children in private college. They know exactly what I mean.

 

October 2010

Evangelization comes in many forms and has various objectives. One aspect of evangelization is the concern over our fellow Catholics who have ceased to participate actively in the life of the Church. What is the right thing to do? The Church must continually extend sincere invitations to return to the full practice of the faith. Each year the Diocese of Lafayette sponsors a program called, “Come Home for Christmas.” Parishioners are asked to submit names of family members and friends who need an invitation. Letters of invitation from the Bishop are sent and the rest is up to the Holy Spirit and the individual. There is no way to track the success of the program, except by word of mouth. Pastors have advised that they think the program is worthwhile. Also, a significant number of parishes have started the practice of home visitation as a means of evangelization.

In Lent of 2011, a new effort will be made by means of a program called, “Catholics Come Home.” A series of television ads will be aired in this area extending the invitation. Priests and members of their staffs will be trained to receive calls and inquiries. The same program will be conducted in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and in the Dioceses of Baton Rouge and Houma-Thibodaux. I ask everyone's prayers for the success of all of these activities. We should remember that people who study evangelization say that of all the techniques employed by the Church the one that is most effective is a personal invitation from a family member of friend. Those wishing more information about Catholics Come Home should check the website, www.catholicscomehome.org.

In the coming year, the Diocese will also be sponsoring an increased offertory campaign. The last one was done eight years ago. Participation by parishes is voluntary. The campaign consists primarily of letters from pastors reminding parishioners of various things: the services and activities offered by their Church, the needs of the parish and an appeal for good financial stewardship toward their paish. Before I approved the program, I consulted with the Council of Priests and the Diocesan Pastoral Council. It is interesting that the priests had some hesitation because of the economy. The Diocesan Pastoral Council, which is mostly a lay group, had no hesitation. They recommended the program wholeheartedly. The letters which are sent are always respectful of people's individual situation. It is not a hard sell. The laity realize that many people have been blessed and that they are willing to increase their offerings accordingly. I sincerely hope that no one takes offense.

A third activity in the coming year will be the preparation for the introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal. In the year 2000, the Third Edition of the Missal was approved by the Holy Father. The Missal is the prayer book of the Church, consisting primarily of all the prayers used at Mass. With the publication of a new edition, a new translation from Latin to English became necessary. There will be some changes for the congregation and more for priests. The new translation will be used beginning November 27, 2011.

We have over a year to become familiar with the wording. Workshops and printed materials will be offered explaining the reasons for the changes. In addition, it will be an opportunity for all of us to learn more about the riches of the Mass. Those who take part in the workshops, even life-long Catholics, will be surprised at how much more there is to learn about the Mass we love so much. Additional information, including the texts themselves, is available at www.usccb.org.

I close with a word of thanks concerning the Bishop's Services Appeal. Last year's Appeal realized a slight increase, and I am grateful to all donors. Most encouraging was an increase in the number of identified donors. Everyone's offering, no matter how small, is important. Sometimes I hear from people who are unable to donate in a given year because of circumstances. I am impressed and encouraged by the fact that they take the time to write. I am blessed to be bishop of a diocese filled with such wonderful people.

 

November 2010

Cremation

The month of November begins with the Solemnity of All Saints (November 1) and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls, November 2). These two observances mark November as the time for remembering and praying for the deceased members of the Church. The Doctrine of the Communion of Saints reassures us that baptismal unity lasts for all eternity.

From time to time it is helpful to reflect on developing customs having to do with wakes, funerals and burials. In our own day, the growing practice of cremation raises questions in the minds of some Catholics. Pastors should continually be assisting the faithful in considering the various aspects of cremation.

Cremation is not forbidden by the Church. At one time, it was heavily discouraged because certain groups in Europe were promoting it as a means of denial of the resurrection of the body. The Church's directive today is that burial is preferred, but cremation is permitted. The guiding principle is the Church's belief in the resurrection of the body. From this principle it follows that the human body in life and in death must be treated with respect and reverence. The Church teaches that man is a creature composed of body and soul and made in the image and likeness of God. The body is not just a shell to contain the creature. Man is body and soul. When the earthly body dies, the soul lives on, but it is incomplete until it is reunited with the body. The risen body is somewhat different from the earthly body, but it is still a body. The resurrection narratives in the Gospels tell us something about the risen body of Jesus. It was visible, but able to pass through locked doors. Thus, burial of the body as Jesus was buried is preferred, but cremation is not forbidden.

In the State of Louisiana in 1998, eight percent of the deceased were cremated, and in 2005, 15 percent were cremated. Some estimate that the number this year will be 21 percent. These percentages are somewhat less than in many parts of the United States, but the disparity is decreasing. Sometimes families choose cremation because it is often cheaper to go that route. This is understandable. There are many factors to be considered in making this important decision.

Recent changes in Church law permit the presence of cremated remains at a funeral Mass. However, a dignified container should be used.

One point that needs repetition and emphasis is that the cremated remains should be given a decent burial or entombment. The remains, which consist mostly of bone fragments, deserve the respect given to the body. The remains should not be kept on the mantle, spread over land or sea, made into jewelry or played with in any other way. For many people, sentiments seem to win out over Christian spirituality.

Pastors face a pastoral problem when families choose cremation for a deceased loved one, schedule a funeral and then make it known that they do not intend to follow the Church's directives concerning the respectful disposition of the ashes. Under these circumstances, should pastors agree to conduct the funeral? This question will be discussed by the Council of Priests and the Diocesan Pastoral Council. I will hear their advice and formulate a policy for the Diocese. For the moment, it suffices to raise the issue in the minds of parishioners and to explain the Church's position well before the death of a family member.

The following graveside prayer, taken from the Order of Christian Funerals, expresses beautifully much of what is stated or implied above:

Lord Jesus Christ,
By your own three days in the tomb,
You hallowed the graves of all who believe in you
And so made the grave a sign of hope
That promises resurrection
Even as it claims our mortal bodies.

Grant that our brother/sister may sleep here in peace
Until you awaken him/her to glory,
For you are the resurrection and the life
Then he/she will see you face to face
And in your light will see light
And know the splendor of God,
For you live and reign for ever and ever. R/. Amen.

 

December 2010

Advent is one of the seasons of the Church year and it has its own special flavor and meaning. As a time of preparation for Christmas, it is often called a season of expectation and longing. Two thousand years ago, the Blessed Mother experienced a time of expectation before the birth of her son. As members of the Church, we, too, experience a period of expectation, but with a difference. Mary was expecting the first coming of Jesus. Our expectation is two-fold: the coming of Jesus into our hearts on a daily basis and his definitive second coming at the end of time.

Advent and Christmas are based upon historical events, but are not just remembrances of the past. They are honest reminders of our real situation; namely, that we live in the between time, the time between the first coming of the Lord and his second coming at the end of time. This event is called the “parousia” which the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines as “the glorious return and appearance of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as judge of the living and the dead, at the end of time; the second coming of Christ, when history and all creation will achieve their fulfillment.” (Glossary) It is not known when all this will take place or even exactly what it means. Some things stand to be revealed only at that time.

What has been revealed is the reality of heaven. Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the foremost theologians in the Church taught that in heaven the blessed would experience perfect understanding of all mysteries. They will extend to God perfect praise, they will enjoy the perfect fulfillment of every desire, they will posses God completely and they will exist in perfect community with the saints and the angels.

Again referring to the Catechism, heaven is defined as “eternal life with God; communion of life and love with the Trinity and all the blessed. Heaven is the state of supreme and definitive happiness, the goal of the deepest longings of humanity.” (Glossary)

In the United States in the 21st century it seems that during December there is a disconnect between our lives in society and our “in-church” lives. Outside there is Christmas and celebration. There is not much emphasis on transcendence and eternity. Inside of Church there is Advent and a mood of quiet anticipation of heavenly realities. Christians have always lived in two worlds and that will never change. We should not neglect the season of Advent and the spiritual blessings it offers us, for it expresses the truth of our being far more accurately than the glittering spectacles which surround us. Our focus on the second coming of the Lord keeps our feet on solid ground and fixes our attention on ultimate reality.

Our Catholic beliefs are beautifully expressed in the prayer for the blessing of an Advent Wreath contained in the book, “Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers”:

        Lord our God,
        We praise you for your Son, Jesus Christ:
        He is Emmanuel, the hope of the peoples,
        He is the wisdom that teaches and guides us,
        He is the Savior of every nation.

        Lord God,
        Let your blessing come upon us
        As we light the candles of this wreath.
        May the wreath and its light
        Be a sign of Christ's promise to bring us salvation.
        May he come quickly and not delay.
        We ask this through Christ our Lord.
        R/. Amen.

I wish everyone a holy Advent and, when it comes, a Merry Christmas.

January 2011

The Year 2010 is now history, but it is good to pause for a few moments and reflect on some major events which affected the people in the Diocese of Lafayette.

On January 12, 2010, a major earthquake shook the island nation of Haiti and brought about great destruction, especially in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Everyone's heart went out to the suffering people of Haiti and aid began to pour in from throughout the world. In the Diocese of Lafayette, over $550,000 was contributed to the cause. Throughout the United States, Catholics contributed $147 million. The challenge, of course, is assuring that aid actually reaches the people who need it. Catholic Relief Services has been very active in the actual delivering of food, water, medicine, housing and other needs. CRS is an agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. CRS was present in Haiti before the earthquake and it remains active there today. CRS workers were rendering assistance to the people of Haiti within hours of the earthquake. Every year, on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, there is a special collection for Catholic Relief Services, which has personnel stationed in most of the third world countries. It is one of the major relief organizations in the world and it deserves the support of all Catholics.

It is difficult to pick and choose among the many events which occurred during the past year. Since the promotion of religious vocations in one of the priorities of the Diocese, I should mention that on May 23 two transitional deacons were ordained and another was added in November. These three, plus another, are scheduled for Ordination to Priesthood on June 11, 2011. Last year on June 5, four priests were ordained for service in the Diocese. I am grateful to these men for offering themselves for service to the Church and I am grateful to all who have helped them in their preparation for priesthood. Currently there are 27 seminarians in various stages of formation.

In August, our first ever Life Awareness Retreat was held in Lake Charles. It was a cooperative effort of the Dioceses of Lafayette, Baton Rouge and Lake Charles. Men and women who are discerning a religious vocation were invited to the event where they were able to learn more about vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life. All who attended expressed appreciation, not only for the information provided them, but also for the opportunity to visit with like-minded individuals and share experiences. I mention this event in order to assure everyone that the Diocese is active in promoting religious vocations. In various situations, I frequently speak about vocations and ask people's prayers in this regard. I also ask people to support religious vocations, but I am not speaking about financial support. I am speaking about what people say and do, especially in their own homes. The opinions of adults and the way they speak about life are very influential as young people form their own opinions. I pray that God may continue to bless our efforts.

Looking forward to 2011, the activity that stands out in my mind is an evangelization program to be conducted throughout the Diocese in the season of Lent. The program, Catholics Come Home, consists of a series of television ads addressed to Catholics who, for whatever reason, are not fully practicing their faith. It is simply an invitation to non-practicing Catholics. It is a statement that we, their brothers and sisters in Christ, miss them and long for their return. Those who wish to preview the ads may access them, as well as other information, at catholicscomehome.org.

Many others works of grace will occur during the Year 2011. I pray that Jesus, the Good Shepherd and his Mother may continue to watch over and care for the 320,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Lafayette. I am confident that it will be a year of blessing.

 

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