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

https://commissionedbychrist.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/lent-cross-calendar.jpg

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

neal1

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.

“It’s all about the love”

Celebrating Catholic Schools Week! Parents say, “It’s all about the love”

By Karen Baker, originally published via Archdiocese of New Orleans

It’s all about the love.

Students at St. Mary Magdalen School

Students at St. Mary Magdalen School

That’s what parents said when invited to answer the question, “Why Catholic Schools?” They said it in different ways: This school is like my family; the teachers love my children; the principal left soup on my doorstep when I was sick; this school changed my child’s life and gave him purpose; when I drop my son off in carline, I have no worries; my little girl sees people in need and prays for them.

The list goes on and on. I was privileged to be present for the taping of these commercials, when parents were asked the question, “Why did you choose a Catholic school?” Those of us who sat and listened as one after another sat in front of the camera to give testimonials were astounded by the love and the passion for Catholic schools. For these parents, there were no options: Catholic schools are the only way to go, because they are places where God’s love is proclaimed, shared, and taught.

For these parents, and for many others, Catholic schools are all about God’s love. They made me think: If I still had small children, why would I choose a Catholic school? And then I remembered my 15-month-old red-headed granddaughter. I envision the day when I can drop her off in carline at the Catholic school where her mom went; I think about entrusting that sweet little girl to people who I know will love her (almost) as much as I do.

St. Mary's Dominican High School

St. Mary’s Dominican High School

In a Catholic school, you entrust your precious children to others who know they are precious, too. Not just by human standards, but in God’s great love.

That doesn’t mean my little girl won’t fall down and bump her little red head. It means that if she does, she will be loved. I have no doubt. That’s what Catholic schools are all about.

Watch some of our parents give their testimonials at whycatholicschools.com.

Celebrate Catholic Schools Week! Read what Archbishop Aymond and Dr. Jan Lancaster, Superintendent of Catholic Schools say about Catholic schools!

karenbakerKaren Baker is a freelance writer with a Masters in Pastoral Studies from the Loyola Institute for Ministry. She works in the Office of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and in ministry at Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mandeville.

Becoming ONE Body of Christ

By Ansel Augustine, MPS

On January 1, 2015, Bishop Edward Braxton (Diocese of Bellville) took the courageous step of writing a discussion about the “racial divide” in America and our role as people of faith in addressing it. The piece was very challenging and affirming at the same time. As Sr. Thea Bowman used to say, it spoke the “true truth.”

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For many of us, the frustrations of talking about racism is that we can only expound or discuss this very complex issue from our own experiences so when our own understanding of the way life works is challenged, our immediate reaction is to deny the other viewpoint or to ignore it all together. This causes many of the divisions that separate us today. Bishop Braxton challenges us to embrace our  differences as “gifts” from God and ultimately, join together as ONE family and ONE body in Christ.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis has selected the theme “No Longer Slaves, But Brothers and Sisters” for the 2015 World Day of Peace celebration. Human slavery can take many forms, including the literal enslavement of human beings by other human beings which, sadly, continues to exist in our world today. There are also forms of social , emotional and psychological slavery: slavery to prejudice, racism, bias, anger, frustration, rage, violence, and bitterness in the face of systemic injustices. Regrettably , these forms of slavery endure in the United States and they are born from the tragedy of the European “slave trade” that captured innocent human beings from West Africa and brought them to the Unites States to be “sold,” “bought,” and “owned” in bondage to work on the lucrative plantations in southern states. Long after the cruel evil of slavery was ended, its consequences continued to cast a shadow over our nation as a racial divide. Recent dramatic eruptions of racial conflict have made this shadow more apparent. Painful “breaking news” accounts call all Americans to rededicate themselves to the work of peace and reconciliation among our citizens of different races; ethnic origins; and social , cultural, educational, economic, and religious backgrounds. As Catholics, as members of the Body of Christ, the Church, this is more than a call; it is our vocation, born of baptism.

All of our differences show how vast and great our God is for as His word says, “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ (Isaiah 55:8-9)”

We know that it is almost impossible for a family , a parish, or even a diocese to transform nation­ wide social structures that reinforce the racial divide. The place for us to begin is with ourselves, praying that the Holy Spirit will open our hearts to live by the words of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (5, 18-19). “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran Pastor and Theologian, murdered by the Nazis for his opposition to Adolph Hitler’s slaughter of the Jewish people, reminds us that the “cost” of true discipleship of Jesus Christ requires us to reject the “cheap grace” we think we can obtain by going through religious rituals in which our hearts and souls are not involved. God’s redeeming grace requires our obedience to His law of love and our concrete actions on behalf of others.

I encourage you to read Bishop Braxton’s full letter here: http://bellevillemessenger.org/2014/12/bishop-braxton-writes-a-letter-on-racial-divide-in-the-united-states/

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.

Don’t fear the red coat…

By Cory J. Howat

IMG_1936The red coats have been on my mind recently. Even though I have tried to forget about them, they are starting to win…

I know many of you would think because of the recent bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans and the celebration of the intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, you may assume that I am thinking of the British Red Coats. Fortunately, Old Hickory, Jean Lafitte and some of those scrappy Baratarians helped remove the threat of the British Red Coats long ago.

I am speaking of a different type of red coat. In my local parish, our ushers have the most important job to help welcome people to Mass every Sunday. They hold doors, they greet, they seat, they even sometimes compete.. but that is for another post. I have to admit, it is a mostly thankless job. But one of their main trademarks is the red coat they wear.

I understand it helps newcomers or other parishioners identify them as they escort the elderly, hail the ambulance, or even become parking enforcement. But, the thing that is intriguing about the ushers to me… is that darn red coat. That coat seems as much a part of the U.S. Catholic tradition as sitting in the back pew. Many parishes use the same color coordinated technique for their ushers. Replace the color if you will: green, gaudy or gold. Regardless, this ministry is an important part of the Church.

The reason the red coats have been on my mind, is because of a certain example of service and self-sacrifice that I wanted to share. Recently at a 10 a.m. family Mass, I noticed a very dapper and well-liked parishioner in the “Red Coat.” I had to make a beeline over to him after Mass to drop a fun comment or two. What he told me in response was profound.

This well-respected parishioner with a young family first admitted that it was hard to put on the red coat. It was hard because… it was red. It also wasn’t the most-esteemed volunteer position in the parish. As I mentioned, it is often thankless. He then told me that he put on the coat to become an usher because he knew that this ministry was where his gifts would be best used in the parish. He knew that the parish needed additional hospitable faces for visitors or parishioners. He wanted a welcoming parish and he knew he had to DO something to make it a reality. Despite the color clash or being known as the guy that holds two fingers up cramming the faithful into pews, he served not for his benefit, but for his parish and fellow parishioners.

His simple but bold witness humbled me. I pray that thiIMG_3174s example of sincere and authentic service inspire each and every one of us this New Year. Can we seek New Year’s resolutions not for personal gain but for gain of others? Can we serve the Church in the capacity that best uses our gifts? Can we first identify the needs of our parish and serve there? I am now contemplating the red coat. I enjoy being a lector for our parish, but I am now asking myself if this ministry is where my gifts are best offered? It may be, but a sincere New Year’s reflection will allow me to serve more intentionally in 2015. In the spirit of Jean Lafitte, I need to see if they have a 44R because I should have no fear of the red coat!

Cory 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.