Even Jesus had a belly button…

By Cory J. Howat

Although it seems that many of my posts read like a transcript of the old show Kids Say the Darndest Things, my children certainly offer unique insights that cause me to reflect. This time, enter my four-year-old son. Recently, toward the end of Mass, I had to hit the eject button from the pew in order to calm our newborn. My four-year-old was a little restless, so he joined us in the vestibule or lobby of our church. In our parish, we have a beautiful and fairly large Pietà in the vestibule… child-level. While I was bouncing the baby back to sleep, my four-year-old calls me over to the Pietà.With his finger depressed into Jesus’ stomach, he proclaimed that “even Jesus has a belly button!” With a slight chuckle, I affirmed this and added that Jesus was human just like us. My son’s naval findings brought on a deeper reflection this Lent that I often overlook – the humanity of Jesus.

Probably the most well known "Pieta" by Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s Pieta

Explaining to my son that Jesus had a belly button and was born to Mary was easy. I love sharing that Jesus was connected to his mother Mary the first nine months of his life. I often find it easy to see his humanity as an infant, but why was it so easy to forget this humanity when Jesus was about to face his own death?

In my Christian journey, I sometimes struggle to understand the final reward of sacrifice. Sacrifice is not easy and sometimes leads to embarrassment or unworthiness. Sacrifice is often framed with failure and weakness. So, how can we be okay with all of our human shortcomings? Well, the answer is the life of Jesus. Jesus showed us how in his humanity. Yes, we are human! Yes, we are weak. We do fail. In all of this humanity of ours, the Lord loves us intimately. This coming weekend, the Gospel of John touches on the fear and trepidation of Jesus before his suffering.

“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?
‘Father, save me from this hour’?
But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.
Father, glorify your name.”   – JN 12:27-28

Jesus was troubled, even perhaps terrified of what was to come, even unsure of God’s plan for his life. He pleads to his Father in Mark 14:36 to “take this cup away from me.” I feel that sometimes while living as disciples of Jesus Christ, we tend to hold up that a Christian life is a pristine journey by someone who has all the answers all the time. But really, Jesus shows us in his own humanity that it is o.k. when life’s path is not so clear-cut and when sometimes there is doubt in our hearts.

Through Jesus’ Passion, we receive an example of the human challenges that we face in living out God’s plan. As disciples of Jesus, we need to allow ourselves and each other the room to fear, the room to have trepidation, the room to doubt. We are human. In that same spirit, we ask God that any suffering we do face becomes part of our purpose here on earth. We also pray that during suffering, we can glorify His name, just as Jesus did in the Gospel.

Take a moment this weekend to take the Gospel to heart. Can we think of areas of our own humanity that we often fight instead of embrace? Do we sometimes suppress our heartfelt questions to God thinking they may not be appropriate? Try to pause and ask yourself instead, what is God trying to reveal to you? Can we recognize just as Jesus did, that there are times of fear, but with that moment, God’s grace can help us carry through to fulfill the plan God has lovingly provided.?????????????

God sent His son to be as human as we are, to show us the way. Let us reflect this Lent on the humanity of Jesus and let it influence how we plead to God from our hearts. After all, we need to remind ourselves that we are human, broken and fallen. Just look down at your belly button to be reminded.

C Howat Headshot 8-12Cory J. Howat is the Director of Stewardship for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.  His love for traveling, culture and adventure provide a unique perspective on life and the universal Church. For more about this blogger, click here.

St. Joseph, most chaste

By Fr. Kyle Sanders


St. Joseph’s Day Altar of St. Louis Cathedral at St. Mary’s Italian Church in the French Quarter.

Tomorrow is St. Joseph’s Day. In New Orleans, what comes to mind are the many beautiful St. Joseph altars lovingly built by parishes, pious families, and Sicilians (sometimes those are the same). Fava bean, blessed bread, and spaghetti with meatless red sauce are a staple. We learned in grammar school about the famine in Sicily and how the Sicilians prayer for help from St. Joseph, who sent rain and consequently food. When the Sicilians arrived here in New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th Century, they set up altars on his feast day in yearly thanksgiving for that gift.

St. Joseph is often forgotten and in the background, due to the large (and rightly so) devotion to his Immaculate wife. Joseph sits in the background even in the gospel of Matthew, the only gospel in which he appears. His story is in relation to Mary and Jesus, primarily in a protecting role (a good fatherly thing indeed).

st-joseph-childWhen mentioned in the Divine Praises used at the end of Eucharistic Adoration, the phrase is “and blessed Joseph, her most chaste spouse.” The Church, especially in the liturgy, doesn’t use superlatives lightly. It’s of great note, then, that Joseph is ‘most chaste.’ In chastity, we (when I say we, I mean me, but you’ll understand) think of saint like Agnes or Lucy or Maria Goretti or Thomas Aquinas who had great and virtuous stories of preservation of chastity. Above all those though, is St. Joseph, the most chaste.

Chastity “provides for the successful integration of sexuality within the person leading to inner unity of the bodily and spiritual being.” It is no secret that in our current age, chastity is in great need. Too often, sexuality is set apart from morality, from personhood, and is seen only in the fulfillment of pleasure. This then effects our ability to reason, which then creates a vicious cycle. Disregarding chastity, in my opinion, is the root of many of the moral and intellectual evils of the 21st Century, precisely because it clouds reason, and therefore, debilitates the person from living a fully human life.

Here’s where St. Joseph comes in and here I want to draw an analogy. At least in New Orleans, when you’re Catholic and you loose something, your first though is to call on St. Anthony. “Good St. Anthony, look around, something’s lost and can’t be found.” We put our trust in his intercessory power. Why can’t we do the same for St. Joseph? Just like the prayer to St. Anthony, run to St. Joseph. Run into his shop filled with tools he can use to protect you. Run to him in prayer and abandon yourself to his intercession, the prayers of the most chaste, who is God’s grace, remained chaste throughout his life. Run into the arms of the man who protected Jesus from Herod, who sought to destroy him. Run into the protection of the man the Father entrusted to care for the spouse of the Holy Spirit and the Ark of the New Covenant. He will be our shield and shelter against temptation.

So I leave you with a prayer:

Prayer of St. Joseph for Purity
Guardian of virgins and holy father St. Joseph
To whose faithful custody Christ Jesus, innocence itself
And Mary, virgin of virgins was committed:
I pray and beseech you
By these dear pledges, Jesus and Mary,
That being preserved from all impurity
I may with spotless mind,
Pure heart,
And chaste body,
Ever most chastely serve Jesus and Mary
All the days of my life.

photoFr. Kyle grew up in Kenner, graduated from Archbishop Rummel High School, and entered the seminary after graduation. He has been active in blogging since 2007 over at reverencedreading.com where he co-writes about seeing God in the mundane. He’s appeared as a guest on several other blogs and podcasts and is a part-time participant in the podcasts Steampunk Chesterton and SportsFathers. He was ordained a priest in 2012. He is the parochial vicar at St. RIta of Cascia in Harahan and is the chaplain at Cabrini High School. He loves to read, play music, write fiction, and collect fountain pens. You can contact him at ksanders@arch-no.org. Check out Fr. Kyle’s other projects at:


New on the Blog! Welcome Dumb Ox Ministries!

KatieSanders-blog - CopyWe’re sending out a warm welcome to the newest member of our blogging team, Katie Sanders of Dumb Ox Ministries! Today, here’s a little more about Katie and Dumb Ox Ministries….

Dumb Ox Ministries is a non-profit Catholic ministry that works with teens, young adults, and families; cultivating their authentic masculinity and femininity through the Theology of the Body, helping them to prepare for, discern, and pursue their unique vocations to love. Dumb Ox Ministries’ initiatives include Theology of the Body, Abbey Youth Fest and Ignite, just to name a few!

Katie is a native New Orleanian. She enjoys laughing, reading, and being with people! She currently works as the Director of Development for Dumb Ox Ministries. Dumb Ox has been working in the Archdiocese of New Orleans for over 15 years.


Who is the “Dumb Ox”?

St. Thomas Aquinas, at the age of nineteen, felt the call to join a new and flourishing religious order called the Dominicans. However, because of his family’s nobility, the custom was to follow in his uncle’s footsteps into the local Benedictine Abbey. Nevertheless, Thomas was resolved to follow what he felt the Lord was calling him to. His family desperately tried to dissuade him from joining the Dominicans, and in a last stich effort, imprisoned him for two years in the local family castles. While he was imprisoned there, his brothers reportedly went as far as hiring a prostitute to lure him into sin and draw him away from his vocation. However, Thomas remained faithful and was strengthened in his resolve to remain celibate. After seeing that their efforts were futile, his family arranged for his escape and he was allowed to pursue his calling to join the Dominicans. During his formation, Thomas was noted for being a large man, but with a great, quiet humility. St. Albert the Great, a Dominican saint and scholar, reportedly said, “We call him the dumb ox, but in his teaching he will one day produce such a bellowing that it will one day be heard throughout the world.”

Dumb Ox Ministries affectionately takes on St. Thomas Aquinas, “The Dumb Ox” as a patron and model in our ministry because of his passion and desire to live out the virtue of chastity and pursue God’s call in his life. Because of his fidelity and cooperation with God’s grace, the Church has received one of the greatest saints and theologians who has ever lived.

We look forward to sharing your NOLA Catholic Experience, Katie!

Lessons from the Buffet Table

By Sr. Judy Gomila, MSC

The family!

The family!

My family was in town from Maryland to go on a cruise. The day before the departure, our extended family met at Harrah’s buffet. We were thirteen husbands/wives, cousins, in-laws, sisters/brothers at a long table. There was lots of conversation, laughter, picture showing and immediate photo opps…and eventually eating!

This was my first venture to such a huge buffet with foods to entice every taste bud. Before picking up a plate, I surveyed the scene of colorful, well organized and labeled offerings. It was the Saturday before the First Sunday of Lent and I surely did not want to over-eat nor did I want to waste food.

Several of the experiences and sights around the steam tables have developed into insights for this blog. From the beginning I paced myself, selecting salad offerings and enjoying conversation with family back at table. Eventually, I returned to the large outer rim buffet knowing what meat, starch and veggies I would select in moderation. I returned for a simple dessert – a McKenzie’s look alike/taste alike “turtle” with a cup of coffee.

That buffet was a graced lesson… slow down, survey the options, make meaningful choices. Even after all these years in religious life, I sometimes jump into Lent without a lot of forethought – following the laws of fast and abstinence to the extreme. I am ashamed to say that frequently, three or four weeks into Lent, those good intentions have faded.

buffet pray fast give

That next day, the First Sunday of Lent, I spent time yearning to pace myself. “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.” (Ps.86) At the buffet, instead of devouring food non-stop, I appreciated the opportunity to catch-up with folks – to offer a listening ear, a word of encouragement or enjoy a mutual memory. Perhaps that is a form of alms-giving at its best, giving the gift of genuine presence. (But by all means, use those Rice Bowls knowing that what you sacrifice can change lives.) Moderation (without excess) and balance (busyness with serenity; community with solitude; the ordinary with adventure, etc.) are essential in all facets of our interior and exterior lives. In hindsight, I made some wise and delicious choices that were healthy for my body and so it seems – nourishing for my soul at the start of this Sacred Season. How sweet it is!

One last thought from the meandering buffet steam tables. Each return required a clean plate. The whole season of Lent is that call to conversion – to take a clean plate, to let go of sin, to be our best selves to approach Easter joy! “Accept the grace of Christ’s Resurrection! … enable the power of his love to transform your lives, too.“ Pope Francis, Easter, 2013


HS_JudyGomilaSr. Judith Gomila, MSC is a Marianite Sister of Holy Cross. She holds a Masters in Theology and Religious Studies from St. Paul University, Ottawa, Canada. Sr. Judy has served the Church in education/evangelization/mission outreach for 50 years. Currently she coordinates the Public Relations and Communication ministry for the Marianite Congregation and is co-director of the Marianite Associates, an organization for lay women and men who identify with Holy Cross spirituality. For more about this blogger, click here.

iAm Free: 4 ways to experience Lenten Grace

By Dr. Tom Neal


Lent is upon us and Ash Wednesday thrusts us into the midst of things, opening for us the riches of this season of grace.

This day of well-disguised fasting, secret alms, private prayer and bright mourning finds us signed with ashes, recommitting ourselves to the daily work of dying to sin and rising in grace. Lent re-binds us to that old rugged and death-ward facing Cross, while at once awakening us to the God-ward facing Resurrection of Christ who alone makes us free.

Are you ready?

Are your resolutions worthy of a true, lasting and Christ-inspired change?

iAm Free

In the spirit Pope Benedict’s 2013 letter on social media, I highly encourage all to examine their technological habits and cultivate a techno-asceticism that draws technology into the ambit of Jesus Christ, God the Father’s Word and Icon-made-flesh.

To encourage virtuous liberty in our use of technology, I propose here the cultivation of Four Freedoms for Lenten observance. Many more could be proposed, but these are the ones that sprang first to mind.

neal21.) Freedom from inner compulsion that binds me slavishly to haphazard, time-wasting, duty-evading, mind-numbing and frivolous engagement with electronic devices and new media, atrophying my ability to be wholly present and faithful to the just demands of my present state in life.

2.) Freedom from the cyber-culture of gossip, slander, vulgarity and calumny that wreaks havoc on truth, justice and charity and cripples the power of our Christ-witness. This includes freedom from recklessly airing the dirty laundry of others, freedom from cursing enemies and employing, in the name of Jesus, the violent power of sardonic humor in order to gleefully skewer those with whom we disagree.

3.) Freedom for the use of technology in service to the God-given demands of my vocational state in life and to the primacy of face to face relationships. Using technology in a manner that builds others up, that discerns with care the ordering of time in daily use of technologies, including a regimen of periodic “fasting” from screen-gazing that manifests and deepens self-discipline and impulse control.

4.) Freedom for creating a cyber-culture that is worthy of the mind and heart of Christ; that is cognizant of the creative and destructive power of words; that is committed to cultivating intelligent dialogue in search of truth; that is characterized by thoughtful prudence in posting and forwarding; that promotes the joy of Christ; that does justice to human dignity; that refuses to curse the darkness but instead kindles a light; that reveals to those we disagree with the greatness of a hope that impels us to will the well-being of our enemies.

An Anecdote

I’ll never forget the day, seven or eight years ago, when one of my children came up to me one evening when I was working intently on the computer. As he spoke, I continued to type, periodically saying “uh-huh,” or “sure.” He came at me relentlessly, “Dad, Dad, Dad!” Finally, losing my patience, I barked back, “I’M LISTENING!” He replied, without missing a beat, “But your face isn’t.”

I stopped, turned off the screen and looked at his face and he said, “Finally.”

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” – 1 Cor. 13:12

TomNeal-HSDr. Tom Neal is originally from Rhode Island. He has lived over the years in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Florida, Iowa and is now proud to be a NOLA Catholic! His wife and four children live in Metairie, LA and they love being called to be saints among Saints.  Dr. Tom Neal presently serves as Academic Dean and Professor of Spiritual Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana and has a particular passion for exposing the unlimited potential of theology to offer the faithful a deeper sharing in the mind and heart of Jesus

For Valentines Day… For your marriage!

By Dana Doyle

ringsThis week is National Marriage Week! As you are probably well aware, Valentine’s Day, February 14th, is swiftly approaching. It is one saint feast day that most know by heart! :)  It is a day that we show our love and affection for all of the important people in our lives – especially our boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife.

In a world where marriage is portrayed as being all about the perfect dress, venue and honeymoon, Catholics know that it is ever so much more! We are taught to pray for our future spouses as teenagers, when we are just beginning to dream of “Mr. or Mrs. Right.” We are taught that one of the most important jobs a husband or wife will ever have is that of helping his/her spouse get to heaven. We are taught that marriage is a vocation – a special calling from God.

Some may think that marriage is not as noble or “holy” a vocation as the religious life. In fact, we are all called to holiness – religious, consecrated and married alike. Marriage is unique in that it is the vocation through which all other vocations are born. Husbands and wives have the crucial role of fostering vocations within the family. Creating fertile ground – environments of prayer and support – cannot be minimized or underestimated.

Not only is marriage a vocation, but it is a sacrament as well. Sacraments impart special graces to those who receive them. It is important that a husband and wife remember that there are not “two” in a Christian marriage, but “three” – God, husband and wife. Marriage can be difficult at times, but we are never alone. God is always with us to help us through the tough times. The key is in putting Him first in our marriages.

These Valentines are sweet, but consider a spiritual gift for your Valentine this year, too!

These Valentines are sweet, but consider a spiritual gift for your Valentine this year, too!

With that in mind, consider giving your spouse/loved ones spiritual gifts this Valentine’s Day– in addition to the flowers or chocolates! Praying with your spouse, attending mass or adoration together can strengthen your marriage.

Our archdiocese offers other wonderful opportunities for marriage enrichment that couples may enjoy! Marriage retreats are offered periodically through the Family Life Apostolate. Some offer alone time and inspiration for couples, and others offer help for marriages that are troubled. Willwoods Community holds married couple retreats, Supper and Substance dinners, and provides inspirational marriage presentations for events. In the past couple of years, our Archdiocese has also instituted a low cost counseling program for couples that need assistance.  That information can be found on the Family Life Apostolate page of the Archdiocese of New Orleans website. Find some great articles and resources at For Your Marriage, too!

Saint John Paul II said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and the whole world in which we live.” We owe it to ourselves, and more importantly, to God to cherish the sacrament and vocation of marriage.

Dana Doyle is a teacher and religion coordinator at Lady of the Lake School in Mandeville, a wife, a mother of three, an author and an avid blogger. Visit her blog, “Catholic Working Mom” at www.danardoyle.wordpress.com. Read more about this blogger here.

What a blessing!

By Dr. Ansel Augustine

Bishop-Elect Cheri, Archbishop Aymond and I!

Bishop-Elect Cheri, Archbishop Aymond and I!

At 6:25 AM on Monday, January 12, my phone rang. The voice on the line said, “Sorry to call you so early, bro, but I have some news for you.”

In my raspy morning voice, I replied, “What’s going on Fr. Ferd?”

“I’m going to be appointed the new Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans,” said Fr. Fernand Cheri.

His response had me thinking I was still dreaming! I was ecstatic! That morning, “everyone and their momma” was calling and texting  to confirm if what they were hearing about Fr. Ferd was true. Later, when I arrived at the Chancery for the press conference announcement, Archbishop Aymond greeted me with a big smile on his face knowing that I heard the news.

This is truly an exciting time in our archdiocese! Bishop-Elect Cheri will be an asset to the archdiocese. He is passionate about vocations, the welfare of his brother priests and education of the laity, just to name a few.

Brother Benedict and Bishop-Elect Cheri

Brother Benedict and Bishop-Elect Cheri

Fr. Ferd’s longtime friend and associate, Friar Benedict Gerard Kelley, FBQ, offered up this reflection on the announcement:

 At a retreat in St. Louis, MO for the St. Alphonsus Catholic Church choir, I encountered a little man clad in a brown robe who gave a wonderful presentation on the history of negro spirituals and contemporary gospel music. It was clear that this man possessed a passion for Black Catholic spirituality. It was here that Friar Fernand Cheri and I became friends. Over the years, he has given me much wisdom and insight. Ultimately, it was Friar Cheri who encouraged me to seek the Lord in discerning His will for my life and vocation. As a result of Friar Cheri’s great witness to the Franciscan life, I have joined the ranks of many who follow the poor man from Assisi. It is with great peace and joy that I commit to pray for and support my brother and friend Bishop-Elect Fernand Joseph Cheri, OFM. Hallelujah!

His ordination on March 23 at St. Louis Cathedral (2pm) will be a joyous celebration for our community. You will be able to watch the ordination via live-stream on the archdiocesan youtube channel and on their website! Now, it’s up to us to step up and support him in his new role. With this year marking the 50th anniversary of the ordination of Bishop Harold Perry, the first African-American Bishop, this is truly an affirmation that God is still in the “blessing business!”

HS_Ansel-FORMALAnsel Augustine is the Director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries. He has also served as the Associate Director/Coordinator of Black Youth & Young Adult Ministry for the CYO Office of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.  He is also on the Faculty of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana. Read more about this blogger here.