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Bishop Guillory’s Columns 2018-05-14T14:12:42+00:00

Working Together For Good In His Name - Bishop Guillory

Connect or disconnect?

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

In Romans 12:2, St. Paul tells us, “Do not conform yourself to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” How difficult it is to avoid being formed and shaped by the world instead of transforming the world with the values of the Gospel through the Church!

I am going around the Diocese confirming our young people. One of the questions I ask them is, “What are the challenges you face in trying to live the Gospel values, commandments, and the teachings of the Church today?” Generally they all have a common answer: peer pressure, alcohol and drug addiction, sex outside of marriage, fear of isolation, accumulation of material things as the source of happiness—to name only a few. The challenge they most frequently mention is social media. They see it as both good and bad, depending on the use. They say they spend too much time on social media and not enough time on prayer, forming positive relationships, or participating in the life of the Church.

In its April 23, 2018, issue TIME Magazine had an extensive article on social media and its possibility for good and bad, and how we are transformed by it or whether we transform it. For instance, all of us, but especially young people, check our phones on an average of 47 times every 19 minutes of our waking hours. It is called “eyeball time”. Not only does this leave little time for anything else, but also our young people are being transformed by what they see and hear. Some say that without discernment, social media can control our thoughts and behavior. This will take place especially if we are not connected to transcendent values, such as the Gospels and teachings of the Church. Technology is disconnected from the transcendent.

One of the initial goals of technology was to connect people globally. Unfortunately, that connection evolved into increasing divisions along racial, cultural, and ideological lines. Social media tends to remain on the surface, rather than delving deep below the surface. Jesus gave us the Church to help us go below the surface to the very depth of our souls where God is present and where transformation takes place.

In trying to help young people face the challenges of transforming the world with transcendent values, Pope Francis has called a Synod on Youth for this coming October. In preparation for the Synod, the Holy Father called to Rome 305 young adults to obtain their input for a draft document that will be discussed during the Synod. Representative young adults from around the world will participate in the Synod. Though the use of media will be part of the discussion, other topics will be discussed, such as contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation. It is the hope of the Holy Father that young people will discern these issues in light of the Gospel values and the teachings of the Church. Young people want a clear answer as to why the Church teaches what it teaches. Hopefully, the Synod will give them a better understanding so they can be better witnesses for Christ and better able to discern the worldly values that the media bombards them with every day.

Finally, besides the Synod, there will be a World Youth Day in Panama in January 2019, during which many of the Synod issues will be discussed. This coming August, our diocese will have a gathering of between 800 to 1,000 of our young people to discuss the Synod and World Youth Day issues.

These are indeed graced, Spirit-filled events to help our young people become holy in a world that does not support the values of Jesus Christ and his Church. Hopefully, our youth will transform the world by Christian values, rather than be transformed by the values of the world.

Is holiness for real?

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

“Be holy, for I am Holy.” (Lv. 11:44) God has created us in His image, which means that we ought to reflect His holiness. In fact, we can say He has created us precisely to become like Him — Holy. That is our vocation — Holiness, in the sense of authenticity, truth, wholeness, and no duplicity. Jesus ought to be able to say of us as he did to Nathanael, “Here is an Israelite … in whom there is no guile, deceit, nor duplicity.” (Jn. 1:47)

It is in that spirit that Pope Francis, in the fifth year of his Pontificate, promulgated on March 19, 2018, his Apostolic Exhortation, “Rejoice and Be Glad — On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World”. His exhortation is to remind us that our call is to become holy. Jesus, through the Church and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has given us the means to holiness. Furthermore, he addresses the concrete challenges we face today on our journey.

Vatican Council II clarified this call, “All the faithful, whatever condition or state of life, are called by the Lord, each in his or her own way, to that perfect holiness by which the Father Himself is perfect.” In other words, we become holy by who and where we are in this world. For instance, parents become holy by being good parents, workers by being good workers, teachers by being good teachers.

Think of Paul who went from being a persecutor to an apostle of the love of God. It is precisely in our human condition and grounded in God’s love, that we are enabled to persevere amid life’s ups and downs. We are also able to endure hostility, betrayal, and failings on our part and that of others.

The Holy Father continues by addressing two subtle enemies of holiness in our society today — contemporary Gnosticism and Pelagianism.

Gnosticism is the notion that one becomes holy only by a purely subjective faith and a certain experience or set of ideas. “Gnostics” do not understand that holiness is measured not by the information or knowledge they possess but by a life of charity. The Pope stated, “When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road”. A danger on the part of knowledge is to impose one’s knowledge and understanding on others. Knowledge cannot be separated from the human condition or state of life.

On the other hand, Pelagianists believe everything depends on the human will or personal effort, rather than on a merciful God. They trust only their own powers to observe the rules and feel superior to those who cannot measure up and whose human weaknesses are in need of healing. No one can demand or “buy” the gift of divine grace; we must all be able to face God empty-handed and dependent on His mercy.

Finally, the Holy Father reminds us of the riches and treasures that Jesus gave his Church to assist us on the journey to holiness — the Scriptures, prayer, sacraments (especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist), and sacramentals. He also highlights the Beatitudes as a Gospel way of life. The Beatitudes are a road map to holiness. They can be summarized as love of God with one’s whole heart, mind, soul, and of one’s neighbor.

He further elaborates on the saints, who accompany us in our anxiety, distress, and challenges. In the first All Saints’ Day Preface we read: “By their way of life you offer us an example, by communion with them you give us companionship, by their intercession, sure support so that, encouraged by so great a cloud of witnesses, we may be seen as victorious in the race before us and win with them the imperishable crown of glory, through Christ our Lord.” To me the Preface states our goal for which God created us and the means to reach that goal as we face our every-day challenges.

I highly recommend the prayerful reading of the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation. I think you will find it instructive, directional and inspirational — something we all need in these confusing and challenging times. You can access it if you Google “Pope Francis Apostolic Exhortation-Holiness.”

Unless I See…

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

During these days following Easter, I have been reflecting on the disciples and their actions following the crucifixion. We are told in the Gospels that they are afraid, worried, anxious.

While they had been traveling with Jesus, the disciples had heard Him over and over speaking of His resurrection. Now that He had risen, it was different. Jesus had appeared to some of the disciples. Some, like Thomas, had been told by those disciples that they had seen the Risen Christ. Still Thomas wanted to see for himself. He wanted to see that something had happened.

But even though Thomas had not yet seen, much had happened. Jesus was no longer in the tomb. He had risen. He lives. Things had changed even though Thomas had not seen the change.

I think in these days since Harvey’s flooding, we too might be experiencing the same need as Thomas when it involves restoration of our parishes, schools and Holy Family Retreat Center. You were told that things will be restored. Your friends may have said that they have seen some of that rebuilding. Like Thomas, you may not have seen it for yourself so perhaps you are anxious and impatient.

But, though you may have not seen results in concrete and brick, much has happened in the last seven months in the Diocese of Beaumont. As you may remember, 23 of our parishes, three of our five schools and Holy Family Retreat Center all were damaged by Harvey’s catastrophic floodwaters. We now estimate the restoration could run as much as $13 million. To help with the restoration, we are doing all we can to maximize all outside resources.

We are working with insurance people and contractors to determine damages and the resources for restoration and with and a consultant to help navigate FEMA guidelines. Those of you who have sustained damage to your homes and business know that none of this is a quick process. Many of you are still not living in your own homes or are in homes with much work yet to be completed.

We are also in process with restoration of our parishes, schools and our retreat center.Two of the parishes that received very hard blows from Harvey have already seen some restoration. St. Mary in Fannett and St. Joseph in Port Arthur had damage at every building on the parish plant. Work on St. Mary hall has been completed, and Mass has been celebrated in the hall since Christmas. Work on the church and other buildings should begin in the next two months.

St. Joseph parishioners were able to celebrate Mass in their hall for the first time this Easter. Work on the rectory and the church, which are part of one building, should also begin in the next two months.

Port Arthur was one of the cities hardest hit by the storm. Work will begin within the next six to eight weeks at three more parishes in that city – Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sacred Heart and St. Catherine of Siena.

It is good that we are experiencing some joy with the progress of restoration. But we have experienced some loss as well. Harvey caused us all to take a hard look at two parishes in cities that had already seen population shifts. St. John the Evangelist in Port Arthur was merged with Sacred Heart-St. Mary to become Sacred Heart Parish. That merger became official Easter Sunday. St. Peter the Apostle in Groves recently merged with Immaculate Conception in Groves to become the new Immaculate Conception-St. Peter the Apostle Parish.

But progress is being made in other communities in our diocese as well. Restoration of the rectories at Our Lady of Lourdes in Vidor and St. Helen in Orangefield has been completed, and both pastors are back in their homes.

Msgr. Kelly Catholic High School, Beaumont, St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School, Port Arthur, and St. Mary Catholic School, Orange, all received much damage in the flood. Remediation work is completed at Kelly High School and restoration is expected to be completed by September. We are hoping that work at St. Mary and St. Catherine will begin over the summer holiday. But again, we are doing all we can to maximize our outside resources. As you know, our children were some of the first to return to their classrooms following Harvey – much quicker than most other private and public schools in our area that had been damaged.

Many of you have had concerns about our beautiful retreat center that suffered the most devastating blow of all from Harvey, with floodwaters reaching nearly the tops of every building. Restoration on the property will have the highest price tag – likely more than $3.3 million. We are hopeful that FEMA funding will help the restoration. Work has already begun on the caretaker’s house. Our caretaker has remained on the property living in a donated construction trailer. His presence on the site is very necessary to securing the property and maintaining the buildings that are in disarray. He will also be greatly needed as we begin restoration on the other buildings.

Just as you have helped others so many times in crises, our brothers and sisters in Christ have also helped us. We have received financial support from foundations and from individuals. We are so very grateful for that.

I am remembering our Lord’s words to Peter. I have prayed that your own faith may not fail and that you will strengthen your brothers and sisters.

Our brothers and sisters across the country have been in solidarity with us, strengthening us in our time of crises. I am thankful for their gifts. I pray that now each of you will strengthen your neighbor as we go forward in Christ.

God’s Response to His Son on the Cross

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” According to the Gospel of St. Matthew, these are the last words of Jesus on the cross. From the depth of his soul, he called out to his Father for help. What makes the cry so painful is the fact that Jesus had an intimate relationship with his Father. He constantly told his followers that he and the Father are one. To know the Father, we have to go through the Son. We often see Jesus in prayer to his Father, nurturing this intimate relationship.

As Jesus hung on the cross and cried those words of desolation, it appears that the Father was absent when Jesus was most in need. We, too, have our moments when God seems absent from our lives. Faced at times with life’s challenges and tragedies, we are overwhelmed, and we feel down, immobilized, weak, and powerless. During those moments we do not even feel like praying because we feel God will not hear us – that He has left us to fight for ourselves. In that darkness, some people turn to drugs, alcohol, violence, and even despair. Yet, we, as Christians, know that through those dark moments God is mysteriously at work in us. Something unseen is taking place as we are being purified and renewed. The important thing is to cling to hope.

The Father DID hear Jesus’ cry on the cross, but the Father did not respond immediately because His plan of salvation had to take its course. Jesus himself said that he would be raised on the third day.

God responds to His people’s cries in unexpected ways. It was to Mary Magdalen and the other Mary that the angel of God broke the good news that “He is risen, rejoice!” At that time, women were not highly regarded, but God chose to reveal Himself through these lowly women.

In our dark moments, we are often surprised about where our help comes from. During the historic flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey, many people asked, “How could God let such a thing happen? Where was God when we needed Him?” If we open our eyes of faith, we will see that God was working through the countless numbers of volunteers who came with their boats to rescue those who were stranded in their flooded homes. God was at work through the relief personnel who tirelessly labored to provide shelter and food to victims. God was touching the hearts of people throughout our country and moving them to give of their resources to provide help. It may seem that God was absent in the devastation, but if we look carefully, we will see many signs of His presence.

These days of Holy Week and the Triduum immerse us in the mystery of human suffering–Jesus’s and our own. This mystery leads us to ask, “What is the final goal of history? What is the spiritual end that we are all heading toward?” For believers, if we know the final end, we can make some possible sense of the means and the path. Darkness and tragedy bring us into the human struggle in very concrete ways, but we can be consoled by remembering that Jesus already walked that human journey. He has promised to be with us as we stumble in his footsteps through our own darkness. Good Friday was not the end for Jesus. The Father heard Jesus’ cry and responded by raising Jesus from the dead. Our Father will hear our cries also and respond in ways unimaginable.

“Evil” spelled backwards is “LIVE.” Jesus overcame the evil of sin and darkness so that we, too, may LIVE. The deeper our love relationship is with Jesus, the more clearly we will see him transforming our lives from darkness to light, from despair to hope, and from death to life.

Beyond the present

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

In 1977 during my first trip to Rome, I visited a Capuchin Crypt. At the entrance of the Crypt are the words, “Where you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.” The Crypt, constructed around 1732, is decorated with human bones of over 4,000 friars and is called “the Bone Church.” You might be thinking, “How disgusting, morbid or macabre.” That was certainly my initial thought, until I understood what the Monks were trying to communicate. For them it was a meditation on the meaning of life, death, and the afterlife and a reminder that death could come at anytime. This may also be a good meditation for us as we prepare to celebrate the death of Jesus on Good Friday, and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

We are so busy in our lives that we do not reflect much on where we will be – our ultimate destination. We are more than dry bones. In Chapter 37 of the Book of Ezekiel, the Lord took him to a valley filled with dry bones. Then the Lord asked Ezekiel, “Can these dry bones live again?” Ezekiel answered, “Lord, only you know.” Then the Lord breathed His Spirit upon the bones, and they came to life.

Already in the Old Testament there was a sense that there is more to life than death, that God has created us to look beyond this world and to prepare ourselves to be with Him. If we become too absorbed in the present hustle and bustle of life, we do not look beyond the present moment. We lose the bigger picture. Life is so fragile and fleeting that if our lives are not ordered to be with God, we miss the opportunities to be with Him. The students and teachers at the Parkland, Fla., High School came to school on Feb. 14, as on any other school day. They had no idea that they would experience a mass shooting spree in the school that afternoon which left 17 dead, 14 hospitalized, and everyone else traumatized.

In The Imitation of Christ the author, Thomas á Kempis, puts it this way, “Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terror for you if you had a quiet conscience.… Then why not keep clear of sin, instead of running away from death? If you are not fit to face death every day, it’s very unlikely you will be tomorrow.” This passage helps us to understand the perspective of the Monks meditating on the bones all around them.

Through Baptism we have died with Christ sacramentally, in order to live with him forever. That is our final destination.

Jesus tells us he is the way, the truth, and the life. Through his life, good works, death, and resurrection, he re-opened the gates of heaven which had been closed by the pride of Adam and Eve.

How do we orient our lives to be with God? In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives us the answer. The rich young man who came to Jesus was asking himself what life was all about. So he asked Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus told him to keep the commandments, which are summarized in love for your neighbor and yourself. The young man responded that he had kept the commandments. For us this means that we cannot come to a point in our life and say we have arrived, so to speak. The journey of becoming holy is continuous. The young man could not let go of his possessions and share with his poor brothers and sisters.

Through his life, good works, death, and resurrection, Jesus has taken us beyond where we are. We are more than dry bones at death. Let us come to the realization of St. Ignatius of Antioch, “It is better for me to die in Christ Jesus than to reign over the ends of the earth. Him it is I seek … who died for us. Him it is I desire … who rose for us.… Let me receive pure light when I arrive there, then I shall be a man.”

That persistent nudge – guilt

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

Some years ago there was a story in the Houston Chronicle about a 29-year-old youth minister who voluntarily confessed that he had committed a murder when he was 16 years old. Fourteen years later, he turned himself in to the police and confessed to his crime. Calvin Wayne Inman, with an accomplice, was robbing a convenience store, and Inman stabbed the store clerk for cash and cigarettes. He later became a youth minister. Bothered by the crime, he decided to tell the pastor, and the pastor encouraged him to turn himself in to the authorities. It is obvious that Inman was plagued by guilt for these past 14 years.

Guilt is like a pebble in one’s shoe. It lets one know that something is not normal and nudges one to give it some attention. It is a constant irritant, and can cause a sore if it is not removed. Guilt is universal. It is an inner voice that wants to be heard. It is a gift from God to let us know when we have offended Him or someone else. It lets us know when we have broken the normal order, when we have given in to the forces of darkness. In religious terms, guilt is an indicator of a rebellion against God, a transgression of the divine law. To remove the guilt a person must be reconciled with God, make amends, and receive forgiveness.

When the guilt is genuine, the person acknowledges it and accepts responsibility for the wrongdoing and sin. The feelings of guilt are inner alienation, lack of connection with God, others, and alienation from oneself. A healthy response to guilt is not to punish oneself unreasonably or torment oneself with irrational fears but to repent, repair the damage done, make restitution where necessary, be forgiven, regain peace of mind, and continue on the journey of conversion.

In the Gospel of Matthew (5: 20-26) Jesus tells us that if we are bringing our gifts to the altar to be offered to God and recall that our brother or sister has anything against us, then we must leave our gift at the foot of the altar and go and be reconciled. Only then, can we offer our gift.

Perhaps like a pebble in the shoe, we experience an inner guilt that needs to be dealt with because we have offended God or a brother or sister. Until we are reconciled, the guilt will not go away; it will simply and persistently make our lives miserable.

We sometimes hear people refer to “Catholic guilt.” “Catholic guilt” may be related to family disapproval, but the root of most “Catholic guilt” is the knowledge that every sin committed – past, present, future – adds to Jesus’ suffering on the Cross. Many things that we do or don’t do may be a sin, and that is a heavy burden to bear. Frequently, we connect what we do with who we are, so if we do something bad, then we must be bad. This, however, is not in keeping with the teaching of Jesus or the Church. With our sacramental system and the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are formed to examine our consciences (and consciousness) and reflect on our actions to see if they are in keeping with the life Jesus has called us to. If, in the process of our examinations, we experience guilt for our shortcomings and sins, then that is a healthy Catholic guilt.

During this season of Lent in which we are called to pray more intensely, to fast, and to give alms, it is a good time to pay attention to our guilt. Take the opportunity to go to confession. Our churches have special times for confession, and many of them have Lenten missions or penance services. Or go and talk with someone, like Calvin Inman did, to seek assistance and direction.

There is a beautiful spiritual that speaks to guilt. “Are you burdened, worn and weary … is your life each day more weary – just tell Jesus, tell him all.” (Lead me, Guide me) Lent is a grace-filled time to do just that – tell him all.
(Originally printed in the ETC in Lent 2008)

Cleansing the soul

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

Pablo Picasso, the artist, said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off of our souls.” This is precisely the cry in Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, according to thy abundant mercy; blot out my transgressions. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”

It seems for the psalmist that over time dust had accumulated on his soul and he no longer felt the presence of God. He is asking God to be re-connected with Him because without Him his life is empty and lonely. The Church realizes that this can happen to us as well. Over time, some become more alienated from God than others do. For others, there is a little dusting off that needs to be done. Otherwise, over time the little dust can become hardened. So, the Church has set aside Lent, modelled after Jesus’ 40 days and 40 nights, for us to do some dusting off in preparation for Easter. To put it another way, Lent is a time to do some house-cleaning.

The Church in keeping with the Scriptures and Tradition, asks us to pray more intensely, to fast, and to give alms to the poor. By more intense prayer we are more attentive to God relating to us. It is doing more listening than talking. It is important to find quiet time and space so we can pray more intensely. We are bombarded with noise and distractions to a point that some people need noise all the time. They have to have the T.V. or radio on; otherwise, they are not at ease with themselves. They are guided by the externals, instead of the interior of the heart, where God dwells. Jesus often left the crowds to go off in quiet prayer to his Father. He prayed that we might be one with him and one another, as he was with his Father.

Fasting is also part of the Lenten preparation. I think we will all agree that consumption of food can be a distraction or obstacle to what the soul desires. When you think about it, the body needs very little food to live, but it needs healthy food. The point of fasting is to help us realize that there is a deeper hunger and thirst than our favorite foods. It is a hunger for God’s love. As Jesus told Satan, man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Then there is almsgiving, which helps us to realize that whatever we have, including our lives, is a gift from God. We are not owners of anything; rather, we are stewards. Almsgiving helps us to be better stewards. At the gates of heaven God will not ask us how much we own but rather, “Were you a good steward of what I gave you?”

If we follow the Lenten observances of more intense prayer, fasting and almsgiving, our souls will be dusted and clean like the Samaritan woman in John 4: 4-42. I suggest you read and pray over this passage.

As you know, Jesus was journeying through the desert and came to Jacob’s well, where he sat down. He was thirsty. Around noon the Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus asked her for a drink, and she responded from her dusted soul, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink of water?” It was against the law and the culture for Jews and Samaritans to associate, and she was a woman. Then Jesus told her about her life and then said to her, “If you only knew the gift of God and who is asking for water, you would have asked him and he would give you living water. The water I shall give will become a living spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Once Jesus helped her to dust off her soul so she could hear and see clearly what she was looking for, she said to him, “Give me this water that I may not be thirsty again and keep coming to this well.”

Just as our homes need periodic cleaning, our souls need it even more.

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

Our theme for the 2018 Bishop’s Faith Appeal, “Empowered to Share,” is taken from a passage in St. Paul’s letter to the community at Philippi:
“I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me. Still it was kind of you to share in my distress.”

Part of St. Paul’s letter is a thank you note to the Philippians for partnering with him in carrying out the Gospel message – especially in times of hardships. While Paul acknowledges that it is God’s empowerment that strengthens him, St. Paul also recognizes that empowerment often comes when others share their gifts.

You, my brothers and sisters, like the Philippians, have also been partners while doing God’s work in Southeast Texas. You have partnered with each other, with our pastors, with our ministries and with me while we met many challenges – especially those created by Harvey this past year.

Your gifts empowered our Catholic Charities to reach out to the distressed and devastated as they dealt with hardships following the storm. Your gifts sustained our School Office so it could work to obtain needed resources for our Catholic school students. Many of our students lost everything they needed for their school work when flood waters tried to claim their homes.

But all through the years, before and after Harvey, your gifts empowered our ministries to carry the Gospel message in hundreds of ways. Each day, diocesan ministries and Catholic Charities responded to the needs of more than 110,000 people. They visited the sick and the imprisoned, fed the hungry and comforted the grieving. Your gifts over the last several years funded the formation of 10 deacons who were ordained last August and are now serving in our parishes.

Another challenging year is ahead of us as we begin the formation of a new class of aspirants to the diaconate, prepare for a gathering of diocesan youth in preparation of World Youth Day, and help married couples strengthen their relationships through our I Do Again retreats.

Many of you have expressed concern about our Holy Family Retreat Center. We will restore it! We will not allow Harvey to claim our beautiful Retreat Center. Your gifts this year will help maintain that property while plans are made and resources secured for rebuilding. It has been a great blessing in helping with the conversion of many through our ACTS retreats and offering a place of serenity and fellowship for others.

Yes, the past year was one filled with much distress. However, we were also able to encounter the Light of Christ as He made Himself present not only in the Eucharist but also through the many ministries of the diocese.

The coming months will again be challenging. Some of our people have faced serious loss because of the storm. So those of us who have been spared are being called to do more. But our Lord will always be with us empowering us so that we can share our gifts with each other.

I ask you to work with me in meeting the challenges ahead by making a financial pledge as well as a prayer pledge to the 2018 Bishop’s Faith Appeal which helps support our ministries.

In his letter, St. Paul told the Philippians that every time he thought of them, he joyfully thanked God for them. Know that I do the same when I think of all of you. I thank God joyfully for each of you and for the kindness that you continue to show to each other.

Slow down, you are moving too fast!

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

One day after Mass I heard a mother tell her son who was running around and who bumped into someone to slow down, take his time, and pay attention to where he was going. For some reason, the mother’s statement struck me, because if the truth be told, we are all moving too fast, especially as we enter the liturgical season of Advent and prepare for Christmas. There are the parties to attend, the Christmas cards to be sent out, the gifts to be purchased, and the decision about the place where Christmas dinner will be held.

Before we know it, Advent and Christmas have come and gone, but have these seasons really transformed us? After Christmas we tend to fall into the same rut, doing the same things in the same way, which seems to imply that Christmas is just like any other day of the year.

The liturgical season of Advent reminds us to slow down and pay more attention to what we are really celebrating – the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Derived from a Latin root, Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” Traditionally it is a season of quiet and joyful expectancy with a two-fold character: a) a time of preparation for the festival of the Nativity when the first coming of God’s Son to the world is recalled and b) a period of reflection pointing us to Christ’s second coming at the end of time. It is a season for prophecy, calling us to conversion, preparation, and a constant sense of watchfulness. For us to come to a realization of what we are really celebrating, we have to SLOW DOWN. We have to look below the surface of our lives. Otherwise, we will go through this season in the same way that we flip through the T.V. channels, having only a glimpse of one program after another but not really learning the full story of any of them. Advent calls us to stay with the story of Christ’s birth for our salvation and to absorb the profound meaning it has for our lives.

The readings for the first Sunday of Advent awaken to what is really happening in our lives. “It is the hour now for you to awake… For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (Rom. 13: 11-12) For us to hear what the Lord is telling us, it is necessary to slow down, to be silent, and to listen reflectively – a listening silence that allows the Word of God to penetrate our very being and to transform us. St. Charles Borromeo said, “The season of Advent should remind us, and lead us to recommitment, that God has great mercy and love for us. Though we are sinners, his infinite love for us is shown in the gift of his Son. He sent his only Son to open the gates of heaven for us.”

In the Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent we hear, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” (Mt. 24: 42) The entire passage (vs. 37-44) makes reference not only to the second coming of Christ at the end of time, but also to our own death. By staying awake and slowing down, we can discern the presence of God in our midst and more clearly see what is really important and meaningful.

If we prepare ourselves during this season of Christ’s birth, we will also be preparing ourselves for our own passage into eternal life and for Christ’s second coming. One of the great anxieties of our modern day is the fear of our own death; thus, we tend to run away quickly from anything that resembles death. On his deathbed, St. Dominic told his brothers, “Do not weep, for I shall be more useful after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life.” St. Dominic could only have come to this conclusion by receiving the instructions of the Lord and taking them to heart.

A slowed down, prayerful, observant Advent in the midst of a fast-moving world appealing to our appetites should bring us to the observation of St. Theresa of Avila, “Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you; all things are passing. God alone remains.”

A mantle of light

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

In the Gospel of John (19:27) we read: “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son’, and then to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother.’ ” Jesus was telling all of us that Mary is our mother, too. She was a mother who loved her son to such a degree that she participated in his suffering at the foot of the cross. Just as she accompanied her son to the end, she accompanies us.

On May 13, 1917, Mary appeared as a mother to three little illiterate children in a field at Fatima. The children were Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia. On May 13, 2017, Pope Francis canonized Jacinta and Francisco at a Mass at Fatima.

One might ask why our Blessed Mother appeared to illiterate children. Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, also poor and illiterate. Perhaps we find the answer in Luke 10:21, “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children.” It is so easy for the learned to doubt, rationalize, and intellectualize a straightforward mystery of God. Furthermore, the message of Jesus is very simple.

What did Mary communicate to the children? To answer this question, it is important to understand the context of the times. She appeared right after the devastation of World War I. People were in sorrow, mourning the loss of loved ones, and trying to figure out how to move on with their lives. It was also in the midst of the war between the Spaniards and the Aztecs that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego. In her appearance to the three children at Fatima, she asked them to pray the rosary, to offer sacrifices for sinners, and to pray for peace and reconciliation. Furthermore, she asked them to attend Mass, celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and pray for the conversion of Russia and the world. Today’s world context is somewhat similar: bloody conflicts, terrorism, racial-political-social divisions. Mary reminds us that peace and reconciliation can come only through her Son, Jesus.

As we go through life occupied with our daily activities, we often forget what is important and even who God is. The dust accumulates on our souls, and if we let it remain there, it hardens. Prayer, reconciliation, the Mass, etc. remove the accumulated dust so the light of Christ can brightly shine through.

In his homily for the canonization on May 13, Pope Francis said Our Lady warned us that if we live a godless life, then such a life will send us to hell. Our Blessed Mother gave the three children an insight into hell: “Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human forms, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in conflagration. There was pain and despair which horrified us.”

At the final apparition, people gathered at Fatima with the three children. There was a downpour of rain; then, all of a sudden, the sun broke through the clouds. The people described it as the sun dancing. Jacinta told her mother that Mary enveloped them in a mantle of light as a reminder that God’s light dwells within us.

All who are still recovering from the recent natural disasters can turn to Our Lady and ask for her motherly care to help rebuild their lives. So many are trying to figure out how to move on after losing their homes, jobs, possessions. These significant disruptions in our lives challenge us to rethink our priorities and determine what is essential to a quality of life. Mary, our Mother, knows what we are going through, since she experienced similar disruptions in her life. We turn to her, asking her to wrap us in her mantle of light.

As the world goes through turmoil, conflicts, indifference, divisions, and natural disasters, let us ask Mary to intercede for us, fully aware that we have to do our part. When Our Lady appeared at Fatima to the three children, she asked them to pray the rosary, to offer sacrifices for sinners, and to pray for peace, attend Mass, and so on. She asks the same of us today. May we have the blessed assurance that our Mother, through her Son, is with us.

Homily for the Red Mass

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

In the first reading for today, the prophet Micah (4:1-4) tells us: “Let us climb the mountain of the Lord, the house of the Lord, that he may instruct us in his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” The legal community of Southeast Texas has gathered this morning in the house of the Lord, St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica, to be instructed by the Word of God, to be nourished by his Body and Blood, to be inspired and to ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse our hearts and minds by his light so that the truth may always prevail.

The law is a reflection of the truth. The law is not only based on the truth, but it also seeks to discover the truth. One of the tools the legal profession has in seeking the truth is asking questions. One can go to any trial and notice how many questions are being asked to get to the truth. Only with the truth can justice be rendered.

In the Gospel of Luke (10:25-37) the lawyer who knew the law very well was really trying to test, or perhaps, trick Jesus by his question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded, “What is written in the law; how do you read it?” The lawyer replied, “You shall love the Lord with your whole heart, strength, and mind and your neighbor as yourself.” Not getting the answer he wanted, the lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

We have that same beautiful in-depth response from Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The truth of the matter is that my neighbor goes beyond family and friendship to include anyone who is in need. Furthermore, you will be surprised whom God will use to manifest His truth of love — most of the time not someone you would expect.

Truth is realized when our thoughts, words and actions correspond to reality. The opposite of truth is duplicity. In John 1:47, Jesus said of Nathanael, “Here is a true Israelite; there is no duplicity in him.” An untruthful person is someone who says one thing inwardly but outwardly expresses something contrary.

Why is truth so important, especially today? One can read three or four accounts of something that happened and get three or four different interpretations. It is difficult to discern what is true and what is not. So many people twist or manipulate the truth to benefit themselves. Phrases such as “spin” or “fake news” have emerged. The news media, social media, twitter and Instagram also can manipulate.

For you in the legal community, it is difficult to get at the truth. How much more difficult it is for the average layperson. In the Gospels, Jesus told Pilate he had come to testify to the truth. Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” becomes our question, as well. Unfortunately, too many people today do not even ask that question, yet truth matters.

It is truth that keeps family, friends, marriages, and our society together; otherwise, it all falls apart. When the truth is not told or is manipulated, the unity of our society becomes impossible. With no truth, there is no justice.

As human beings wounded by sin, none of us are immune from withholding or twisting the truth. You in the legal community have the vocation of guarding the truth through the law. Turn to prayer often for guidance. Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit given to us by the Father will teach us everything and remind us of all that is true. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

I would recommend the prayer of contemplation. Often Jesus went to some quiet place alone to pray, especially when he had to make an important decision, like choosing his Apostles. Contemplation is an ancient form of prayer. During the Greek period, people would look to the sky and pick out a space (templum), and the gods would speak to them, imparting special knowledge. In time, from the Christian perspective, “templum” became the inner temple of our hearts. Jesus speaks to and interacts with us in the temple of our hearts. If we do not listen to the truth that Jesus speaks, then our hearts will be haunted by the question, “What is truth?”

Hope in the midst of desolation

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

A while ago, a friend of mine shared with me that he seldom watches the newscasts because there is nothing but bad news that is depressing. There is definitely some truth to his position. Sometimes I feel the same way. This year we have had a great amount of bad news, with numerous forest fires and tornados and, recently, two earthquakes in Mexico. In the past couple of months, the Texas Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi all the way to Southeast Texas experienced the wrath of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey. Hurricane Irma devastated the Caribbean islands and moved up the entire State of Florida. Then, for a second time, Puerto Rico was ravaged by another hurricane — Jose. In addition to these tragedies, yet another tragedy unfolded in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017 — the mass shooting by a lone gunman at an outdoor concert, which left 59 dead and over 500 injured.

I told my friend that there is indeed a lot of bad news, but from a faith perspective, a lot of good news emerges in the midst of the pain and suffering. With Harvey, we experienced that first hand. Strangers helped strangers; neighbors helped neighbors. People came from out of state to help the stranded to safety. First responders worked tirelessly with rescues and evacuations. With every story, there are heroes who helped victims of the flooding.

During the shooting in Las Vegas, a man lay on top of his wife to protect her. In saving her, he lost his life. Stories of bravery are now emerging. All too often, it takes a tragedy for the best of humanity to manifest itself. Hopefully, the best of our good angels will be present beyond the tragedy. All of this is a reminder that God created us to be a light in the darkness.

There is another long-term challenge that victims of all of these tragedies have to deal with — Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). To varying degrees, all experienced loss and trauma, anxiety, fear, restlessness, flashbacks. Things will not ever be the same after recovery, but there can be a new appreciation of life and friendship, a deepening of relationships, gratitude for what we have, and knowledge about what is truly essential in life. We take so much for granted. Those experiencing PTSD should seek some type of counseling to help them through their darkness. Family and friends can also be helpful and supportive.

St. Paul tells us that we should live by faith and not by sight. When a tragedy occurs, we are thrown off balance, off our routine and are not sure of our future. I have noticed during challenging times that people turn to their faith, to their Church for prayer vigils or services to remind them that God is present and that they can find consolation and support from their communities of faith. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we bring our helplessness and desolation to God and ask Him to heal our aching bodies and hearts and restore us to wholeness. This healing will enable us to face the future with hope as we try to rebuild our lives after such devastation.

Locally, after Harvey, we gathered in the Basilica to pray for all victims and their families and for the first responders. Catholic Churches from all over the country sent members and donations to help us. I was truly moved by two busloads of parishioners from St. Catherine of Siena in Metairie, La., who came to unload the four 18-wheelers of items they brought for Catholic Charities, or two busloads of young people from various youth groups from the Diocese of Biloxi, Miss., who came to help distribute items for Catholic Charities, as well as to help individual homeowners.

Finally, the Church is the Body of Christ in which the riches of Christ are shared with those in need. The faith of each person strengthens the faith of others. If one member suffers, all suffer; if one member rejoices, all rejoice. During these challenging times, we call on the saints in heaven to help us, for we are all part of the Communion of Saints. As he was dying, St. Dominic said to his brothers, “Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life.”

Remember, the Good News is found in the midst of the bad news.

Believe … Teach … Practice

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

On August 12, 2017, I ordained 10 men to the Order of the Permanent Diaconate for our diocese. This was a festive, grace-filled celebration and a witness of the call these men have answered to serve God’s people in a new way.

The permanent diaconate emerged from a need in the early Church, because the widows (poor) were being neglected. Having to attend to all of these needs would take the Apostles away from prayer and the ministry of the Word. As a result, seven men of good reputation were appointed and ordained, the best-known being Stephen (Acts 6:5). Their primary mission was feeding the poor. It was important that these seven men had the qualities that would make them credible witnesses of Jesus Christ. In 1 Timothy 3:8, the qualities are listed: “They must be respectable, not double-tongued, … no squalid greed for money; they must hold to the mystery of faith with a clear conscience.”

Many of the ministries of deacons can be carried out by qualified lay persons. However, the Church states that the Sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint (character) which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the deacon or servant of all.

The Ritual of Ordination is meaningful and hope-filled. Our candidates are individually called by name. Each one indicates his preparedness and willingness to be ordained by stepping forward and saying “Present.” Through a series of questions, the candidates promise to be faithful servants of the Church. The sacred moment of ordination is the laying on of hands and the prayer of ordination. Each one kneels before me, and in silence I lay hands on them. This is followed by the consecratory prayer, which calls upon the Holy Spirit to strengthen them with seven-fold grace to faithfully serve God’s people. I always feel a sense of inadequacy at this very special moment. It is truly the Holy Spirit acting through me, the Bishop.

While the newly-ordained deacon is still kneeling before me, I hand him the Book of the Gospels saying: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”

What are some of the ministries of the deacon? He can administer baptism, witness marriage, proclaim the Gospel, preach the homily, assist at the altar, bring Viaticum to the dying. He is also an ordinary minister of Communion.

Most people will see the deacon serving at the altar. However, from the Acts of the Apostles and from Pope Paul VI’s 1967 proclamation on the re-institution of the permanent diaconate, it is clear that the main function of the deacon is to minister to the poor and to those on the peripheries of society — to take the Gospel into the marketplace. In fact, one of the reasons why the deacon’s stole is worn on the left shoulder is to free his right hand to feed the poor. He personifies Christ who came, not to be served, but to serve. Thus, the three dimensions of the deacon’s vocation is ministry of the Word, Sacrament and Service (charity). He is in a unique position in his family, employment and interaction with people in the marketplace to witness to the Gospel.

In a special way, I want to thank the families of our newly-ordained deacons, especially the wives. The Church asked for the consent of the wives as their husbands progressed through the various stages of the Diaconate Formation Program. Several of the wives attended the days of formation; one audited the eight semesters of academic theology courses. This will support their husband’s ministry of service. For almost six years these deacons were in formation, with preparation in academics, theology, spirituality and pastoral ministries. They have made many sacrifices in order to complete the program of formation.

These men are deeply rooted in the Tradition of the Diaconate. We recall deacons like St. Stephen, who, in making Christ present, was filled with the Spirit of wisdom and courage. He proclaimed the Word eloquently and with conviction. St. Lawrence was given an order by the Prefect of Rome to turn over the goods of the Church. He responded by presenting the poor, the sick, the blind, the lepers, widows and orphans. “These are the treasures of the Church,” he said to the Prefect.

We pray that our new deacons will minister in the manner of their ancestors in faith.

Let’s get moving for Jesus!

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

Once in a while, whether as an individual, a family, an organization, or a business, it is important to stop and take stock of where we have been, where we are, and where we need to go. Are we effectively meeting the needs of the people we serve in the Church? Do we have sufficient resources?

From July 1-4, 2017, I and 13 of our diocesan leaders were privileged to attend the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel.” The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis’ Pastoral Exhortation, was the central theme of the convocation. There were 155 cardinals and bishops, priests, and religious, and 3,500 lay people in attendance, which was a broad representation from throughout the U.S., geographically, racially and economically.

We gathered to examine the challenges and opportunities that are before us in order to be a better missionary Church and better disciples. We listened to well-trained speakers who informed and inspired us and gave us direction. We also heard about research on the landscape of the Church in the U.S. and the local Churches. Then we broke into small groups to discuss the speaker’s content, learn from one another, and make plans. This was done in an atmosphere of prayer, liturgy, reflection and discernment. Everyone felt the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. All of this enabled us to recommit ourselves as disciples.

The key to the effectiveness of the convocation is to take back to our dioceses, parishes, and ministries what we learned and to make plans for implementation.

Some of the key points in the Holy Father’s exhortation are the following:

A. Encounter: Meet the person of Jesus Christ in a deeper way that strengthens our relationship with him. We encounter Christ through others and through events which give life meaning.

B. Accompany: The Holy Father says that we must accompany others. For example, it is not enough to tell someone not to get an abortion. We must be a companion to the person. It is not enough to tell someone to go to church. Rather, we must invite and accompany the person to church.

C. Peripheries: The Pope says that we must go to the peripheries (the margins) of society, where we are often afraid to go–places such as prisons, poverty areas, broken families, those addicted, those wounded by the Church, those who are exploited and face injustice. We must also go to those who have left the Church, beginning with family members and co-workers. When we share our faith on these margins of society, we connect with the other. The way we live attracts others.

D. Sourpusses: Pope Francis says that a missionary disciple does not go around with a sour face, because a disciple must give joy and hope to people.
Following the convocation, there was the National Black Catholic Congress, with 2,200 in attendance. This gathered Black Catholics to discern the landscape in the Black community and people with particular needs. The highlight of the Congress was the Nuncio and Bishops’ meeting with the African American young adults. We listened to their concerns. They are involved and feel that they have something to offer and need support and encouragement.

Finally, at the beginning of the summer, we had our annual Diocesan Youth Convention in Houston, where there were over 900 youth in attendance. The theme of the Convention was “Rise Up” — Dare to be a Disciple (Mt. 28:16-20). Another focus was “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations … and behold, I am with you to the end of the age.”

The young people in attendance were full of energy and enthusiasm. They participated in all of the talks, liturgies, and the fun activities. It was also apparent that they take their faith seriously. Some of the witnessing was moving.

In our diocese, we have so much to be grateful for. The work of sharing The Joy of the Gospel is alive. However, we do need to build on what is working and make adjustments where needed.

I close with a story told by the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. He said a little boy, the son of Julianne Stanz, who saw people in line for Communion shouted, “Come on people, let’s get moving for Jesus.” That is our baptismal marching order!

A view from the other side

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

We often hear or use the expression, “Life is fragile.” As long as we are in control and go about our daily routine, we do not give much thought to that truthful reality.

On Mothers’ Day, I was into my routine (coffee, prayer, exercise), not really thinking about the fragility of my/our life. While exercising, though, I overdid it. Within a short while, I was in the E.R. at St. Elizabeth Hospital. My heart refused to “dance to my song,” and my heart rate had escalated. The excellent doctors and health care workers at St. Elizabeth were able to restore a normal heart rate. I had to adjust to the music my heart wanted to play, rather than the other way around. The health care workers at St. Elizabeth personify the best in all health care workers.

This was truly a different perspective from the sick bed. All the years of my ministry, I was the one ministering to the sick in hospitals and their homes, visiting and praying with them and administering the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Now, I was on the receiving side.

Sickness not only throws us off our routine, but it also forces us to think about the true meaning of life. It leads us to reflect on our powerlessness and limitations. We realize how little control we really have. The thought came to me that I may be in charge of the Diocese of Beaumont, but in the hospital, I was in charge of nothing – a very humbling experience. The doctors and health care workers are in charge. For some people, sickness can lead to isolation, depression, worry and anxiety, but for others it can be a moment of grace. Sickness can help bring the person to a deeper understanding of what is important in life, what is transitory, and what is permanent. It can call one to make some necessary life adjustments. I certainly have a greater appreciation for the sick, more empathy and compassion. Finally, sickness forces one to think about death and ask questions such as: Am I ready to meet the Lord? Am I at peace with God and my neighbor? Is there some unfinished business I need to take care of? Are there fractured relationships I need to mend?

The teaching of the Church that the sick should join their sufferings to those of Christ becomes real, and one gains a deeper understanding of suffering. Joining our sufferings to Christ’s brings comfort and strength. Through his sufferings, Christ did not remove suffering but he conquered it.

While in the hospital, I very much felt connected to the Church and the community, through the prayers, phone calls, and cards expressing wishes for my speedy recovery.

I reflected more deeply on the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Over the years, I have anointed many people. What a gift we have through the Church! Pope Paul VI gives a beautiful and clear explanation of the Sacrament: “The sacrament of the anointing of the sick is administered to those whose state of health is dangerously weakened, by anointing them on the forehead and on the hands with duly consecrated olive oil and saying the following words: ‘Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Amen. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up. Amen.”

(In my column in the Mary 26, 2017, issue of the East Texas Catholic, I addressed “The Myth about the ‘Last Rites’ ” and the misunderstandings that continue. I urge you to read that article. It is also on the diocesan website at setxcatholic.org.)

When one is laying on a sick bed and realizing one’s fragility, the words of the Sacrament bring comfort and strength. The Scripture assures us that the Lord accompanies us on the journey, and especially when we are sick.

While recuperating, I also thought about family members and friends of sick persons. They spend countless hours by the bedside in prayer and support. Great loving sacrifices are made, especially where there is long-term illness. I also thought about those who do not have adequate medical insurance. Medical advancement is tremendous, but of little help if it is not affordable.

Finally, I thank all of you for your prayers and best wishes. I look upon this experience as a graced moment, a “wake up call,” if you will. It is important that we listen to our bodies and heed the warnings, that we not spend our lives in excessive activity, with little regard for the need for rest, leisure, proper diet and quiet.

I am back in the office on a limited basis until I fully recover. Yes, I am back to exercising, but in moderation and according to my age. From now on, I will dance to the music of my heart.

The myth about the ‘Last Rites’

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

One of the Scriptural foundations for the sacrament of the anointing of the sick is found in the letter of St. James: “Are there any sick persons among you? They should ask for the presbyters of the Church. They in turn are to pray over them, anointing them with oil in the Name [of the Lord]. This prayer uttered in faith will reclaim those who are ill, and the Lord will restore them to health. If they have committed any sins, forgiveness will be theirs.” (James 5: 14-15)

Church teaching and law have clearly stated that only a priest can minister the sacrament of the sick because of the connection of the sacrament to the forgiveness of sins. It is a standard teaching of theologians and canonists that a person must be in the state of grace to receive the sacraments of both the Eucharist and the anointing of the sick. Since only a priest can hear confessions and grant absolution, the restriction on the administration of the anointing to priests is pastorally necessary to allow persons in grave sin an opportunity to confess before being anointed and receiving the Eucharist.

A lack of priests need not result in a lack of liturgical and pastoral ministrations to the sick and dying, especially not to the dying. Anointing of the sick is not a sacrament of the dying; it is only administered to dying persons in exceptional circumstances (“when there is a genuine necessity, for example, when sudden illness or an accident or some other cause has placed one of the faithful in the proximate or immediate danger of death”–Pastoral Care of the Sick [PCS] #232). The sacrament for the dying is holy Viaticum. Ordinarily, the sacraments of penance and anointing of the sick should be celebrated before death is imminent. The ritual plainly states, “The sacrament of the anointing of the sick should be celebrated at the beginning of a serious illness. Viaticum, celebrated when death is close, will then be better understood as the last sacrament of Christian life.” (PCS #175)

There is a strongly rooted idea in Catholic culture that the anointing of the sick is the last sacrament (the “Last Rite”) celebrated just before death or at the point of death. The persistence of this idea is partly due to this very practice for many centuries, in keeping with a theology of the sacrament that regarded it as the extreme, or last, unction. However, the reasons for this persistence lie deeper than the practice. They lie in a deep-seated Catholic myth – the belief that, if a person is anointed just before death, he or she will go straight to heaven. This belief has no foundation in the doctrine of the Church. In both the epistle of James and the Church’s teaching, anointing is connected to the forgiveness of sins (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1520), but the Church has never taught that anointing alone is a “free ticket” to heaven.

We cannot conclude that the pastoral care of sick and dying persons will be neglected due to a shortage of priests. The Church has several liturgical rites that comprise a vital part of its pastoral care of the sick and dying. A deacon or lay minister, as well as a priest, may preside at all these rites, except penance and the anointing of the sick. The problem is not the lack of sacraments and sacramentals that deacons and lay ministers can administer to the sick and dying. The problem is the persistent myth that a priest must be summoned when a person is dying to administer the anointing of the sick as a guarantee that the dying person, who is often unconscious or too weak to confess, will have a “direct flight” to heaven. It is a serious pastoral challenge to help the faithful to see that their contrition for grave sins is absolutely necessary for salvation; the anointing of the sick is not. If no priest is available for a person in danger of death, deacons and lay ministers who cooperate in the pastoral care of the sick and dying must be prepared to help the dying person to make an act of perfect contrition.

Our pastors have tried to inform their parishioners not to wait too long for the sacrament of the sick. The optimal time is at the beginning of a serious illness, not at the end of life. That is why we occasionally publish in the East Texas Catholic a notice encouraging persons to go to their parish priest for the sacrament of the sick before entering the hospital. The same holds true for the elderly whose frailty becomes pronounced. We also clarify that, once anointed, it is not necessary to be anointed again during the same illness unless a period of several months has passed.

(This column originally ran in 2007.)

Inheritance or Legacy

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

While driving to a Confirmation the other day, I heard the song by Sean Rowe, “To Leave Something Behind.” I had heard this song before, but for some reason it caught my attention, and I listened more closely to the words. Then I found out what prompted the song. In an interview, Sean said that this song came out of the experience of the birth of his son. He realized now that he had to be concerned more about others than just himself. He had very important responsibilities, and he wanted to leave behind something that would help his son to remember his father proudly. This included values that would help his son to face the challenges of the world.

I suspect that many of us go through life thinking more about leaving behind an inheritance rather than a legacy. An inheritance is most often possessions, land, buildings and money, but a legacy is more about meaning and values beyond earthly possessions. A legacy is passed on through interrelationships and the witness of a good life. In other words, it is spiritual and intangible.

Our Savior, Jesus Christ, left us a legacy. That legacy was his witness of a simple life; hard work; obedience to his parents during the first 30 year of his life; his public ministry of caring for the least among us, teaching about God’s love for us, forgiving the sins of others and restoring them to wholeness; laying down his life as a sign of love for us. In addition, Jesus established the Church and the sacraments to draw us to holiness, to help us grow in faith, and to sustain us in difficulties.

Our legacy must also come from the witness of our lives, mirroring the unconditional love of the Father. We who believe in Christ are reborn, not in the flesh but in the Spirit. Through the word of God and the sacraments, our legacy is found especially in Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Reconciliation takes us from alienation from God and each other to integration and restoration of ruptured relationships.

Will your descendants remember you for the material things they inherited from you or will they remember you for the legacy you left behind: the witness of your life; the model of a good and loving parent; the fair and just employer who treated employees with respect and provided a living wage; the person of faith who went through many difficulties without becoming bitter but instead becoming a stronger and more loving person; the good steward of time, talent and treasure who participated in the life of the Church.

Jesus told us, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.” (John 6:27) He reminds us that even the necessities of life will surely perish. The faith we pass down to our children, the seed of hope we sow in visiting the prisoner, the song remembered in the nursing home long after we have returned to our homes – these goods endure because they are nourished by the food that gives us life – Christ himself. Unlike today’s trinkets that are discarded tomorrow, these intangible goods become a lasting treasure in God’s eternal kingdom, as well as our legacy.

When his son was born, Sean Rowe began to think about leaving him something that would be long lasting: a legacy. Upon reflection, perhaps you may be prompted to think about what you will leave behind. Many times, questions of legacy surface during life-changing times, like the birth of a child, or when we are going through difficulties, e.g. sickness, brokenness, the death of a spouse, child or friend. If the witness of our lives is not becoming our legacy, then we are just going through the routine of life and working to leave behind an inheritance.

A Gift of Life

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

After the death of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and her companions went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, as it was the custom. Imagine how they felt as they walked to the tomb. They were broken hearted and filled with fear and anxiety, for the one whom they loved had been crucified. Even though Jesus told them that he had to suffer, die and rise on the third day, it was hard for them to believe. The Scriptures tell us that when they reached the tomb, “there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. Then the angel said to the women, ‘do not be afraid, I know you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here for he has been raised just as he said.’” (Matt. 28:1-6) Then the angel told them to go tell the disciples.

The angel brought them not only hope but also new life rooted in the resurrection. Occasionally, when we think there is no meaningful life, then it comes – very often at an unexpected time and from people in whom the living Christ is present. As Jesus was present to people of his time, he is also present to us, but in a glorified state. We see that in his many appearances after the Resurrection.

We live in the midst of so much turmoil, violence and threat of war; there are divisions in our families, communities and so many are suffering. We may be asked, “Where is God? Why is He silent?” It would seem He was silent while Jesus suffered, died and was placed in the tomb, but Mary Magdalene and the disciples found out that the situation did not appear as it seemed. As he promised, Jesus is not only present but he is also comforting, healing and casting out demons.

There is the story of Rod Carew, who was inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991. At the height of Carew’s career, he visited the students at a school. There was an 11-year-old student named Konrad Reuland, who finally met his hero (Carew). Konrad went home and told his mother. He could not stop talking about meeting his idol. Carew probably did not remember meeting Konrad, who was one of many in the crowd of students.

Twenty years later at age 71, Carew had a severe heart attack, and he was placed on the heart transplant list. One day a call came in that a match had been found. The match was a 29-year-old NFL football player (Konrad) who died from a brain aneurysm. While Konrad was in the hospital, he told his mother that he believed God would let him live because God has something special for him to do. He died, however, not knowing what God wanted of him, but God’s plan did not end there. Less than 10 days before Christmas, Carew received a new heart and kidney — from Konrad! It was Konrad’s gift that enabled his idol (Carew) to live. A story like this cannot be made up. The risen Christ really is alive and present to us and working through us!

At the Easter Vigil, our local Church welcomed more than 200 new members. They, along with all of us and other people of good will, are making the living Christ present in the world.

I am beginning my season of Confirmations around the diocese. I will be conferring the Holy Spirit upon our young people so that, with the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit, they will make Christ present.

So, yes, to many people it seems that God is absent in our modern world, with all the turmoil and violence and suffering. For people of faith, we believe that Jesus has conquered death and is present to us in many and varied ways. As the risen Jesus sent Mary Magdalene and her companions to go tell others the Good News, he likewise sends us forth to be his witnesses throughout the world.

You are not alone

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

There is the story told of an acrobat who did a trick on the top floor of a very high building. He leaned out as far as he could go, supporting himself on the tips of his toes, holding his small child in his arms. Imagine the audience holding their breath hoping the child would not fall to his death. When father and son came down, someone asked the child if he had been frightened. The child, surprised at the question, responded, “No, I was not afraid because my father was holding me.”

Now, think of Jesus’ disciples on Good Friday when Jesus hung on the cross and then was placed in the tomb. They thought that it was the end. In fact, some of them began to go back to their homes, probably starting where they had left when Jesus called them. In a way, they were like the audience cautiously watching the father, hoping he would not drop his son.

But God did not abandon His Son, Jesus. His Father was very much present while Jesus hung on the cross and as He lay in the tomb. Jesus, of course, never lost faith in His Father. That is not to say that He did not doubt or express feelings of being abandoned. In Gethsemane He asked His Father to take this cross from Him if it was His Father’s will, but he never lost faith in His Father.

The resurrection is God rewarding His Son for being faithful to the very end. Our Christian tradition says, “I am risen and I am still with you! You have placed your hand upon me.” (Ps. 3) The Father says to His Son, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” (Acts 13:33) Jesus placed total confidence in His Father that He would not abandon Him on the cross or in the tomb. We could say that Jesus’ yes to the Father now becomes the Father’s yes to His Son. That same promise is also made to us – if we say yes to the Father, He will say yes to us.

Like Jesus, sometimes we feel that the Father has abandoned us. This is especially so during times of difficulties and suffering. We have that feeling of abandonment. It feels like God is really not present, like we are alone in our suffering. There is nothing but darkness all around. However, the Father is very much present to us. In fact, God is most present to us in our moments of greatest need. We often cannot see and feel His presence because we do not let go of our own desire to be in control. God can only work with us, so to speak, when we realize that we need Him. Humility opens our heart to the Father’s presence.

In the case of the acrobatic father and his son, the more acts they did, the more confidence the son had in his father. From act to act, his father did not let go of him. Of course, they always had to be on guard. Not for a moment could they be careless. This reminds me of St. Paul’s warning, “Resist evil; cling to what is good,” or “Be watchful for you do not know when your adversary will come.”

So it is with us. The more we practice our faith, the deeper our faith grows. We come to know the Father better and better and trust that He remains with us.

At the Easter liturgy, we will renew our baptismal promises. We will renew our yes to the Father. May you and your loved ones experience the deep and abiding love of the Father and of our Savior, Jesus, during this holy season.

In God, There Are No Aliens

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

In Leviticus 19:34 we read, “You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you, too, were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the Lord, am your God.” Over and over, we see the content of this passage and others reflected in the Social Teachings of the Church.

I hope the above Scripture passage helps us to pray and reflect from our faith perspective on the issues of refugees and immigration, which have become so divisive. I want us to put aside, as much as possible, our political and social views, so that, upon reflection, the Scriptures and the Social Teachings of the Church will form our views and consciences. How do we approach this issue, as Catholics and as people of good will, from the perspective of Christ?

So many of our brothers and sisters are living in fear every day. They work in the fields and factories. They attend our churches and work in our homes. Some have worked hard to earn a profession and are contributing to and giving back to our communities. The vast majority came to this country to escape persecution or to make a better life for themselves and their family. I, as well as our pastors, receive more calls from people expressing great fear of being deported and separated from their children who are U.S. citizens.

There is the heartbreaking story of a mother who has packed her suitcase with essentials in case she is arrested and deported. She keeps the suitcase in a visible location in her home. She has told her children that if they come home from school and do not see the suitcase, they will know she has been deported, and they are immediately to go over to a neighboring family where she has made previous arrangements for their care. Imagine the children having to live in that fear and uncertainty!

Let us be clear – every country has a right to secure and protect its borders. As well, everyone will agree that felons and criminals must be deported if they are here illegally. Yes – deport felons, not families; criminals, not children; gang members, not moms and dads who work hard to provide for their families and who contribute to the good of our society. Distinctions must be made between criminals and those who committed a misdemeanor. Congress must pass humane and comprehensive immigration legislation. The passage from Leviticus also calls us to have a sensitivity for the aliens among us.

Our Church in the U.S. is an immigrant Church. Except for Native Americans and the slaves, people come to the U.S. either to escape persecution or to seek a better life, especially if there is a very poor economy and few jobs in their home country. There was a time when Catholics were ostracized and experienced discrimination. The Lord is telling us there should be a kinship.

Very often, out of a crisis comes great good. Let us pray that out of this refugee and immigration crisis we will have a greater appreciation for our law-abiding brothers and sisters who are living in fear. In most cases, it is that kind of fear that drove them from their homeland in the first place. Let us pray that authorities who are carrying out their duties will do so in a humane spirit.

And for each of us during this season of Lent, let us take a fresh look at immigration, not from a social or political perspective but from our faith perspective.

Mend The Ruptures

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

Many Christians throughout the world observe the season of Lent as a time of renewal, sacrifice and simplicity. It is a time to walk with Christ on his way to Jerusalem where he died and was raised from the dead for our salvation. By suffering and dying with him, we will have a deeper understanding of his great love and be transformed by that love. So, Lent is more than losing the extra pounds or eating fish on Fridays. It is a time of more intense prayer, fasting, almsgiving, Scripture reading, making a good confession. By using those sacramentals, we see more clearly that without a loving relationship with God, we remain dust; in a relationship with God we experience his love and why he took on our humanity.

St. Athanasius put it this way: “becoming by grace what God is by nature.” If we follow the practices of Lent, we will be more transformed into the likeness of Christ, who is love.
Let us now look briefly at the elements of Lent that will help us to become more like Christ.

1. Prayer
In the Gospels during Lent we see Jesus teaching, healing and casting out demons. In the midst of addressing the many needs of the marginalized and poor, he stops to pray. He leaves the crowds and spends time in prayer and intimate union with his heavenly Father. Sometimes the crowds would discover him at prayer. In our own lives, we can become so busy with our daily activities that we put aside prayer, even omitting celebration of the Sunday Eucharist with the Christian community. Daily activities take over our lives unless we make time to nourish our spiritual lives, which is the ground of our being. I encourage all of us to make time for God during Lent.

2. Fasting
On the first Sunday of Lent we see Jesus in the desert, fasting and praying. It was while he was fasting that Satan tried to tempt him. Satan thought Jesus was at his weakest – no food, no water. However, it was precisely to combat Satan that Jesus fasted. Fasting, along with prayer, disciplines our desires and directs them away from self-fulfillment to fulfillment in Christ. Desires are good, but they must be disciplined; otherwise they will destroy us. The deepest desire is not for food, pleasure, power and glory, but for God. Only God can fulfill our greatest desire for love. Satan tempts us by leading us to believe that satisfying the immediate need will fulfill us. Sure, Jesus could have turned the rocks into bread, but that would have been only temporary. In response, Jesus said to Satan, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by the very word that comes from the mouth of God.” The common practice of fasting is from our favorite food; however, one might consider fasting from sinful behaviors, such as gossip, lying, cheating, abuse of alcohol or drugs, anger and rage, texting messages which harm the reputation of another, drinking and then driving, viewing pornography, etc.

3. Almsgiving
By giving alms (donations for the poor) more often and more generously during Lent, we are freed from worldly goods. There is always the danger of becoming possessed by our possessions. As we give alms during this Lent, pray the prayer of St. Ignatius: “Take O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me. I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.”

4. Scripture reading
During his temptation by Satan in the desert, Jesus did not fight Satan with sophisticated arguments but by simply quoting the Scriptures, which had become so much a part of Jesus’ life. When Satan took Jesus up the mountain and showed him the kingdoms of the world (power, pleasure, glory and honor) and asked Jesus to prostrate and worship him, Jesus said, “Get away Satan, it is written, ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” Spend time reading more Scripture this Lent, especially the Gospels.

5. Confession
In the Old, as well as the New, Testament there are numerous examples of God forgiving the sinner. When King David committed adultery, lied and caused the death of an innocent man, God forgave him. The prophet Nathan confronted David about his sins. David’s response is found in Ps. 51: “I know my offense; my sin is always before me.” In the New Testament when the paralytic was lowered through the roof of a house and placed at his feet, Jesus first forgave the man’s sins and then cured his affliction (Lk. 5:17-26) Sin harms, and serious sin ruptures our relationship with God and the Church. Lent is a graced time to return to God. When you sincerely confess your sins and hear the words of absolution by the priest, who represents Christ, you know you have a clean heart, and your relationship with Christ is restored. Oftentimes, this grace enables us to mend relationships with others.
The Church, imitating Christ, has put into place the above Lenten practices so that, with God’s grace, we might be transformed and made spiritually new and experience the joy of the resurrection on Easter.

Discernment For Busy People

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

There is a movie out called “Gold,” a fictional story inspired by true events of one of the biggest frauds in mining history. The movie stars Matthew McConaughey as Kenny Wells, who owns a small mining company. Wells is running out of money, so he teams up with an old contact who tells him he has found an abundance of gold in the deep jungles of Indonesia. However, Wells has to find investors. He manages to find financial backing from Wall Street investors, and he and his friend head to Indonesia to search for gold. His friend files down his gold wedding ring and puts specks of gold in the rocks. This scam is motivated by greed, and the investors get taken because they accept rumors rather than investigate and test the rock samples.

We face so many distractions and listen to rumors and hearsay, especially with the ready availability of social media, that we, too, can be deceived. We can lose sight of where God is, what God wants of us, where God wants to lead us, what is true and what is false, what is of God and what is not.

St. John warns us in 1 Jn. 4:1, “Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world … every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ belongs to God.” St. John is telling us that there are many voices trying to get our attention and convince us that they are the voice of truth, but each has to be tested.

The Spirit has given us the beautiful gift of discernment to help us from a biblical and Church perspective to hear deep within us the voice of God and to decide what is true and what is false. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, discernment is the prudent evaluation of the presence or absence of God or the presence of evil spirits in our decision-making. The spirits refer to the movements in the depth of our hearts or conscience. Discernment is asking the right questions in light of the Commandments, and the moral, social and theological teachings of the Church.

When he asked his disciples “Who do people say that I am,” Jesus was leading them through discernment. They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Their response was what they heard others say — what was outside of themselves.

Jesus then asked them, “Who do you say that I am”, and Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” True discernment must go to the heart of the matter. Truth cannot be based on rumors or hearsay, wherein there may be specks of truth (like in the movie “Gold”), because rumors and hearsay are not the real thing.

St. Ignatius developed the most authentic process of discernment called “The Spiritual Exercises” which can be adapted for busy people in today’s society. Discernment of spirits is a way to understand God’s will or desire for us in our life. Our hearts are divided between good and evil impulses. For people who are trying to live a life pleasing to God, the good spirit strengthens, encourages, consoles, removes obstacles, and gives peace. The evil spirit tries to derail them by stirring up anxiety, false sadness, needless confusion, frustration, and other obstacles.

Discernment of spirits is a challenging task. It requires maturity, inner quiet, and an ability to reflect on one’s interior life with the backdrop of the Gospel. To do so, we must take time apart from our busy-ness to reflect silently.

One element of discernment is the examen of consciousness (different from conscience). During this examen, one reflects on questions such as, “How has God been working in me this day?” “What was God asking of me?” “What in my day was not of God?” “Where was God nudging me toward conversion?” “What caused me to be thankful or remorseful this day?” “How did I cooperate with the impulses of the Spirit in my day?” “Where was my heart divided?”

I hope these few thoughts will help you to discern what is from God and what is not, so you may grow in the love of God and your neighbor. There is much available on Ignatian Spirituality, the Discernment of Spirits, the Daily Examen, and more. One resource is www.ignatianspirituality.com.

Letter from Bishop from the Bishop’s Faith Appeal Edition

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Our theme for the 2017 Bishop’s Faith Appeal – Rivers of Living Water – comes from the Gospel of John. In that passage Jesus says, “From whoever believes in Me … Rivers of Living Water will flow from within him.”

When Jesus tells us that Rivers of Living Water will flow from us, He is not just making a promise to us – He is also giving us a mandate. It’s the same mandate that each one of us receives through the waters of Baptism. It is the mandate to speak, teach and live the Gospel message – to share the joy of the Gospel.

Jesus says to us that when we believe, our faith will be visible in our actions. I believe that as we reflect on Jesus’ promise and live out our belief, we will awaken to the reality that everyone we encounter is thirsting for the Living Water of Grace. We will begin to see the many needs of our brothers and sisters especially those here in Southeast Texas. We will begin to understand why we need to be the vessels from which that Living Water flows into the community.

Alone we cannot carry the Gospel message to all those who need to hear it. Perhaps, we lack the skills to be the catechism teacher for our young. We may feel we lack the ability to inspire our college students or the time to visit the imprisoned. But together, we can respond to those needs. So I am inviting you to be my partner – in the name of our Lord and Savior – in supporting our ministries who meet those needs.

You may not realize that each day, diocesan ministries and Catholic Charities are responding to the needs of more than 110,000 people in Southeast Texas. Visiting the sick and the imprisoned. Feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty. Instructing our children by helping form catechists. They are securing the Church here in Southeast Texas by helping to form deacon candidates. They are creating a community where all are welcomed and come together to pray and grow in faith.

As bishop, I have many wonderful opportunities to see our ministries carrying out those works. I have had the profound experience of seeing our teenagers kneel in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament at a Youth Ministry event. I have gone into the prisons with our Criminal Justice Ministry and seen the conversion of so many. Last year alone 137 inmates participated in the RCIA process and another 71 were confirmed into the fullness of the faith.

Most of you will never be fortunate enough to witness these acts of faith or be involved in this work. But, by supporting our ministries with a financial pledge and a prayer pledge to the Bishop’s Faith Appeal, we all will be joined together. We will see the Living Waters flow from all of us out to thousands in Southeast Texas as they are touched by God’s Grace.

You will be in solidarity with us. And, we will remember you in prayer as we visit the sick at convalescent homes, feed the hungry at our Hospitality Center or minister to the mariners that come into our ports each year. We will be supported knowing that you are praying for us and those we serve.

Our ministries change lives and call people closer to our Lord and Savior. We can continue to do this ministry because of the Holy Spirit’s guidance and your support of the Bishop’s Faith Appeal.

Please join me again in this work by making a prayer pledge and a financial pledge to the 2017 Bishop’s Faith Appeal.

You remain in my prayers. Thank you for being a partner in grace.

Farewell, Archbishop Flores

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

About a week after Hurricane Rita, President George W. Bush came to the Jefferson County Airport to meet with the local leadership. I was invited by Mayor Guy Goodson to attend.

On my way to the airport, at I-10 and Highway 69, the National Guard had blocked off the exit. When asked where I was going, I told them I was on my way to the airport to meet with the President. I was told that no one was to exit. I responded that I was the Catholic Bishop of Beaumont and that I was invited by the mayor. Then they asked if I had a special pass. When I said I did not, I told them I could get the mayor on the phone.

One of the guards asked if I knew Archbishop Patrick Flores of San Antonio. I told him not only did I know the archbishop, but he was my boss. That guard told the other to let me go.

I delighted in telling Archbishop Flores that he was my “pass” to visit President Bush. Having a great sense of humor, he would ask me if I needed a pass to go see someone.

On January 9, 2017, the Catholic Church of the U.S., and more particularly, the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the State of Texas, lost a loving and kind Shepherd. May he rest in peace!

I still remember the first one-on-one conversation we had after my episcopal ordination. He said, “I noticed you came from a large family, larger than mine.” I shared with him that, like him, we were share-croppers and picked cotton and that we prayed the rosary daily. I told him my fingers were bigger than his; therefore, I must have picked more cotton than he did. We had a good laugh.

Archbishop Flores was the sixth of nine children, born on a farm on June 26, 1929, in Ganado, near Houston. His parents were illiterate but deeply religious. He attributed his vocation to his parents and relatives. He always wanted to become a priest. His mother was afraid that if he went to the seminary, she would not see him again because of the distance and their lack of money. His mother gave his sister permission to marry, so he went to his mother and asked her why she allowed his sister to get married but would not allow him to go to the seminary and become a priest. His mother relented.

Archbishop Flores became the first Hispanic Catholic Bishop in the U.S. As a priest and bishop, he used his experience of poverty, love of family, faith and musical gifts to preach and to teach. As they say, he had the common touch. He devoted his ministry to the poor by joining demonstrations for justice, giving scholarships to poor Hispanic kids, visiting those in prison. He could identify with those in prison for he was jailed as a young man on false charges. Though he was told he could not become a priest because he was Hispanic, he persisted and had others speak on his behalf. He was eternally grateful and spoke of them often – people like Bishop Christopher Byrne of Galveston who accepted him to the seminary, Father Frank Urbanovsky, and Sister Benita Vermeersch who encouraged him.

I was privileged to join many bishops and hundreds of the faithful on January 17, 2017, in San Antonio at San Fernando Cathedral for the funeral Mass of Archbishop Flores. He touched so many lives, including mine. He is an example and inspiration showing that, no matter one’s background, God calls everyone to share the Good News and will help each one to overcome obstacles. If the challenges and obstacles of life, which all of us face, are handled with faith, then we become stronger and better able to share the Good News.

I conclude with a quote from the archbishop’s talk he gave to an Inter-Ethnic and Faith gathering.

“May those who are at peace with one another hold fast to the goodwill that unites them. May those who are enemies forget their hatred and be healed. Awaken in our hearts the attributes, compassionate, forgiving, truthful, just and patient with each other and with those around you. Let there be peace among us, among all people, changing the world one person at a time, one family at a time, one community at a time, one world.”

May his life, good works and words inspire us during this divisive time in our country and lead us to create a country and world reflective of being created in the image of God.

Letter from Bishop for the Annual Report

My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

We – you and I together with the Holy Spirit’s guidance – did much in the 2015-2016 year to carry out the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. As we worked to do that, we were creating a Catholic community that was so vibrant that it would continue to grow long into the future. We also stretched out our arms in love to the greater community of Southeast Texas.

One of our greatest accomplishments in the 2015-2016 fiscal year came from our evangelization efforts. In the spring of 2016, 400 individuals were welcomed into the Church – almost double the number from 2015. Of those 400, 330 came through our parishes’ RCIA programs and 70 were inmates who were evangelized by our Criminal Justice Ministry. These new Catholics came to our faith because they saw how all of you carried out the works of mercy in your daily lives as you not only talked about your faith but acted on it.

Our Catholic Charities made these works of mercy very visible as it offered assistance to victims of the 2015 and 2016 floods. It also provided hot meals daily for hungry children and adults at our Hospitality Center in Port Arthur.

Many of our parishes did the same as they individually provided for similar needs in their communities. Three of them came together – as they have many times before – to provide for health screenings and referrals for those who are underserved under the banner of the St. Katharine Drexel Humanitarians. Their work was so exceptional that it received recognition at our annual Stewardship Awards.

Not only adults but also our children and teenagers performed works of mercy. Many young people evangelized to the greater community as Msgr. Kelly High School students held an active spring service day. Students at St. Anne School helped tend The Giving Fields which provided fresh vegetables for the needy.

This report is a documented representation of these efforts and the thousands of others that were made by you through our parishes, schools and ministries. Please read and share it so that these good works will be their own encouragement to “act justly and love mercy.”

Know that, in the words of St. Paul: “I give thanks to God at my every remembrance of you, praying with joy for all of you because of your partnership with me in the Gospel.”

Listen Slowly!

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

There is the story of a little girl who could not wait to get home from school to tell her parents about something that happened at school. When she got home, she saw her father working on his iPad. She went over and said, “Daddy, I want to tell you what happened at school today.” Not looking at her, he said, “What?” She saw he was not listening, and said, “Daddy, I will tell you fast.” Then he realized she perceived he was not listening to her and said, “Tell me slowly and I will listen slowly.”

In an editorial in the Nov. 27, 2016, issue of the Beaumont Enterprise the City Council was encouraged to listen more to the citizens and talk less.

In the aftermath of the presidential election we reflect on the divisions in our country and the unfortunate reality that there were/are more yelling matches going on than listening. So often, people hear others who have an opposite view, not to understand where they are coming from and why they have their particular view, but to react and defend their own view and try to convince the others to change their positions.

Listening is about being present to the other person, not so much to reply, but to understand the other and help that person to know he/she has been heard. The more we listen, the more we understand and the more present we can be to the other person.

Van Jones, a CNN political commentator who was a Democratic supporter, went to dinner in a rural town in Ohio to find out why people voted Republican. At dinner, a family told him why. “It was about jobs, and they were ignored by the Democrats.” One said, “They never came here to listen to us. They never took the time but ignored us and took us for granted.”

Perhaps we are afraid to be present and listen to another, especially if the other has views different from our own. Perhaps we think this will expose our vulnerability, our insecurities, our fears. When we listen attentively, we can often see and feel our pain with that of the other or want to fix the brokenness of the other. Most often, the other person just wants to be heard. Pope Francis said, “In a broken and fragmented world, we must communicate a healthy, free, and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one family.” In his ordeal, Job said, “Ah, if I could only find someone to hear me out.”

Too often married couples, or family members, or citizens are crying out just to be heard. Being present to the other as we listen can help to bridge the gaps of misunderstanding that exist in our families, society, and culture. God gave us two ears and one mouth, implying that we are to listen twice and speak once!

Good listening not only leads to a deeper understanding of the other but it also helps us to empathize with the other. Empathy helps us to understand the other person at a deeper level, to recognize the existence of the other and communicate that the other person is important and matters.

During Advent, which is a time of patient and prayerful waiting for the Savior of the world, I encourage you to practice the gift of attentive listening. Let us reflect on Mary’s listening to the angel, weighing the message, and responding with a “yes” to an uncertain future. Let us be perceptive like the father in the story at the beginning of this article. He was able to adjust and listen slowly, thereby recognizing his daughter’s presence and her existence. By doing so, we will see that there is so much more that unites us than divides us. Let us listen to one another’s hearts!

May Christ the Incarnate Word bless you and your families during these remaining days of Advent and during the Christmas season.

Become Reconcilers

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

There is the story of the Rabbi who asked his students how a person can tell when the darkness of night ends and the light of day begins. One student responded, “It is when there is enough light to see an animal in the distance and be able to tell if it is a sheep or a goat.” The Rabbi said, “Not so.” The second student said, “It is when there is enough light to see the trees and tell if it is an oak tree or a fig tree.” The Rabbi responded, “Not so.” Then the Rabbi said, “It is when you can look into a man’s (woman’s) face and recognize him or her as your brother or sister. If you cannot do that, then the light of day has not yet come.”

We have just come through a dark period with the election campaign, because it was divisive, conflicted and uncivil. There was more name calling than talking about the issues that face our nation and the world. Many, even family members and friends, decided not to talk about the election because it might strain or break relationships.

Now that the American people have chosen a president and other officials, we must pray for them that God will share His wisdom with them and guide and sustain them as they serve all the people of our country. For those not elected and for those who took an opposite position, we pray that they will support those elected and continue to be involved in the democratic process to make our country better. Though we may have differences of opinions and views, we must keep ever before us the common good, which includes our care for the needy and those on the margins of society.

The season of Advent is grace-filled to help us discern the will of God in these challenging times. As a nation, we must see that we are brothers and sisters to each other because we are all children of God. Advent has a two-fold purpose: to prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas and to prepare for Christ’s final coming at the end of time. If we prepare for Christmas, then we will also be better prepared for Christ’s second coming. We prepare ourselves by reading the Scriptures daily, taking quality time for prayer and reflection, and being conscious participants in the various liturgical services. Through prayer and reflection, we take a closer look at what we think is the will of God, and sometimes we discern that it is not.

Particularly this Advent, we ask God’s help to be healers and reconcilers of the division and polarization that we have witnessed (or even contributed to) during this past political campaign, even though we may have been on opposite sides of an issue. Advent helps us to see that there is something that unites us that is so much richer and deeper than politics. Politics are good, but they are not an end in themselves, and they do not hold us together. What unites us is God Himself who created us in His image and likeness. God has placed in each one of us the strong desire to be one with Him and with one another. Politics, governments, and social organizations must be guided by the command to love one another. Otherwise, without grounding in deeper values (e.g. truth, justice and peace), destruction and discord result.

In the Old Testament when the chosen people strayed from God’s commandments, they fell apart and were defeated by their enemies. Through the prophets and other messengers, God called them back. When God asked Ezekiel if the dry bones in the desert could live again, Ezekiel responded prayerfully, “Only you, Lord, can make them come to life.”

So, let us use this graced time of Advent to ask God to heal the wounds and divisions of this past election and to restore hope, as we discern and work for what will bring about the common good. We seek the light of day which reflects Christ, who is the light of the world.

I Do – Again

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

All liturgical celebrations should be informative and inspiring, but some are more so than others. On Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, at St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica the annual diocesan celebration of wedding anniversaries and the renewal of marriage vows was filled with inspiration and promise of hope. Sixty-three couples came together with family and friends to celebrate 25, 50 and plus years of married life.

When one couple celebrating 75 years proudly walked up to receive their certificate, the congregation gave them a thunderous applause. One could not help but think that marriage is a gift and a mystery from God.

It is a gift because God created man and woman out of love and calls upon them to imitate His love in relationship to one another in marriage. In Genesis 2:18 & 24 we read, “It is not good for man (woman) to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him (her) … the two shall become one flesh.” Upon seeing Eve, Adam said, “This one at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Before, Adam was alone with nature and the animals, but now he had someone he could love and with whom he could communicate.

The vocation of marriage is written on the hearts of man and woman, and the purpose is for their happiness and the procreation and education of children. This is mystery for a number of reasons. First, God brings couples together. Many times they are strangers to each other, from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and from different parts of the world. It may have been initially a physical attraction which moved to something deeper – love and a desire to spend the rest of their lives together. Marriage is a partnership to help each other to become one flesh and to grow in holiness.

As one of the couples approached me for their certificate, I asked them if they felt the same as when they were first married. They laughed and the husband responded, “No, we walk more slowly now. Then, we walked upright and quickly, and we were not quite sure what we were getting into. Today, we can look back and see we are at a different place – a much better place. Through good times and bad and with the grace of God, we better understand what true love is.”

When they married, these couples did not fully realize what lay ahead – the hopes and disappointments, the successes and failures, the pleasures and pain, the joys and sorrows – but now, through God’s grace, they have become holier.

Married couples can be an example to young people who wonder if a lifelong marriage is possible in our secular society where marriage is not supported and affirmed. It is not only possible but more than worthwhile when a husband and wife are willing to go beyond themselves and love unconditionally, through good times and bad.

Married couples can also shed light on how we might deal with the divisions and rancor that exist in our society. The common good comes about through openness and dialogue, which lead to understanding. Each individual had to learn that steadfastness in his or her own opinion goes nowhere and does not engender a “one heart and one mind.”

The Church encourages men and women to choose the vocation of marriage as a way of life to grow in holiness. In the Diocese of Beaumont, we have a marriage preparation program called “To Marry for Life” which supplements the preparation couples receive in their parishes. This program covers the sacramental nature of marriage, as well as the practical, everyday challenges.

For those who are already married and who would like to enrich their marriage, the diocese provides a program called “I Do, Again,” as well as the Spanish version, “Si, Otra Vez”. More information can be obtained from one’s parish and from the diocesan website.

We congratulate the couples on their anniversaries and hope that, with God’s grace, they will continue to grow and become one in love.

Payday Lending

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

Our Holy Father Pope Francis speaking to The National Council of Anti-Usury Foundation said, “I hope that these institutions may intensify their commitment alongside the victims of usury, a dramatic social ill. When a family has nothing to eat, because it has to make payments to usurers, this is not Christian, it is not human. This dramatic scourge in our society harms the inviable dignity of the human person.”

On Monday, October 10th, the Texas Catholic Bishops met to talk about issues to bring before the Texas Legislature. Among those topics was Payday Lenders. We have seen commercials promising speedy cash and easy loans, but perhaps what is not known is how much poor people in need are taken advantage of. There is a loophole in the Texas Law that enables Payday and Auto-Title Lenders to charge outrageous fees and interest. The industry is not regulated as other lending institutions are – banks. As a result, low income people are trapped in a dangerous cycle of debt. We are not advocating Payday Lenders go out of business, but that they charge reasonable and just interest. Charging 400 percent is not fair and just.

The borrowers are on a “debt treadmill,” and in many cases worse off than they were before receiving the loan. The debt cycle involves cooperation by the banking industry, acting as intermediaries. The average payday loan operation is a storefront in a strip mall in a poor neighborhood.

Based on contracts that individuals have signed with the lenders, banks and credit unions allow lenders to directly collect money from the bank accounts of those borrowers with accounts. This applies to the storefront operations and to online lenders.

Those that borrow from payday lenders are generally borrowing for recurring expenses (rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, food, transportation to work, medicine/health care, childcare) or unexpected emergencies. These borrowers are not looking to buy something special with the funds. Sometimes the funds are used to pay down other debts. Most people that take out payday loans are in or near poverty. Although the interest rate on the original contract may indicate 36%, once the fees and rollovers and refinancing is done, the annual rate can skyrocket to 400% or more.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has developed educational materials and maintains a complaint system to report abuses. It recently published draft federal regulations that called for limitations on interest rates, number of times that a loan can be “rolled over”, and provisions for assuring that payments are going to the loan principal and not just to fees and interest.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas, and interfaith groups from across the country commented on the regulations, thanking the CFPB for a start on making the system better. However, most recognized that there is still much to be done to insure that our brethren are protected.

Lest you think this is a victimless crime, I would like to relate the story of “Evelyn,” a local senior citizen. This story is from a couple of years ago, but things have not changed with these businesses.

“I had two daughters who died within seven months of each other. One of them was sick with breast cancer and I needed money to get her medication. She encouraged me to get a loan to get it for her and so I did. The loan was $380 and she’s been dead a year and every month I pay on it but it’s the same thing and never goes down. When you pay for five months, even though some of my notes are $85-100, then when five months are up, they tell me that I need to roll it over and it starts over as the same thing and I don’t get credit for all of the payments that I made during the five months. I might pay $85-100 but it doesn’t go on my loan. So, if you pay $25-30 over what they say is due, you still don’t get credit for it.

“I’m 81 years old. I retired a long time ago. I get my husband’s social security and widow’s pension. I would never go to one again. I’ve got to keep paying to try to pay it off. If they take money from my bank account, I won’t have money for other bills. I have no other choice but to pay it off. There are other bills that I need to pay that I can’t because of these payments. I call every month on the third to see how much I have to pay to them.”

We, the Texas Bishops are asking the Catholic faithful and people of good will to educate themselves on this issue. Also, to pray that God will touch those Payday Lenders who take advantage of the poor to be fair and just. Furthermore, contact your city council member and your legislature to pass laws that will regulate Payday Lenders so that people like Evelyn will be able to get a loan and pay it back and not get trapped.

For more information go to www.txcatholic-fairlending.org

Before you vote …

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

Every four years our country has an opportunity to study important issues, as well as the candidates’ platforms, in order to choose the one who will best lead our country as president. This should be a time of excitement and opportunity, because we have the freedom to express through our vote the direction we want our country to take.

Unfortunately, this current campaign has become an exhibition of name-calling, mudslinging, the absence of civility, and even demonization of the other candidate. One hears from others, “I will be glad when the election is over,” “I am sick of it,” etc. This is because people do not think the candidates can fulfill what is required for the next president, nor are they exhibiting the behavior worthy of such an office. The real issues facing our country are muddled by the candidates.

To assist Catholics in forming their conscience on political, social and moral issues, the Catholic Bishops published a letter: “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” The letter attempts to set moral principles by which a Catholic can be guided in forming her or his conscience on the issues and make a good moral decision in voting.

For a minute, let us look at what conscience is and how we form our conscience. “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. It’s voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment…” (CCC 1776) A person’s conscience is given by God, and God’s voice echoes in the depths of his heart.

How is the conscience formed? We form our conscience through prayer, silence and studying the issues that are before us — in this case, the political and social issues. This process is not about adjusting our moral teaching to conform with politics but rather adjusting politics to our faith. Forming our conscience requires study of the issues in light of Gospel values and the social teachings of the Church so we can evaluate which candidate can best carry them out. No one candidate meets these high standards on every issue. In the formation of our conscience, we may find that one party best addresses some issues that we are concerned about, while another party upholds other important issues. Oftentimes, there is a lot of grey in between. Before casting our vote, we have to decide which candidate least supports actions that are extrinsically evil.

There are many political and social issues before us. The Gospels and social teaching of the Church always promote the foundation principle of the dignity of the human person, for all the issues ultimately affect human life in one way or another. Human life must be protected and nurtured from the womb to the tomb. Of primary importance is the life of the unborn, but we must also be concerned with all means necessary for living life with dignity, such as concern for the poor, care for the elderly, the terminally ill, immigrants and refugees, as well as challenges, such as euthanasia, human cloning, terrorism, torture. People’s lives are affected by all of these issues.

So, you can see that forming a right conscience before casting a vote is complex and not clear cut. That is why it takes prayer, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance, studying the issues in depth (not just listening to sound bites), as well as the teachings of the Church regarding these issues, being silent so as to hear the echo of the Lord’s voice. It is also important to engage in constructive dialogue with others about the issues, but in a respectful and civil manner. One is seriously misguided if she or he thinks that forming one’s conscience is the same as forming an opinion.

The following link on the U.S. Bishops’ website (www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/index.cfm) provides numerous resources and videos to help you form your conscience in accord with human reason, enlightened by the teaching of Christ as it comes to us through the Church. Each person is responsible to make political choices based on a properly formed conscience, aided by prudence.

Hopefully, by following the direction and wisdom found in “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” you will be freed from fear, selfishness, pride, resentment and experience a freedom that engenders peace of heart and fosters the common good.

Sincere Gratitude

Letter from Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

September 30, 2016

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the Gospel that was proclaimed at our 50th Anniversary celebration on September 18, 2016, Jesus prayed, “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one.”

(Jn. 17:11)In our cultural, racial, ethnic and demographic diversity, the Catholic Community of Southeast Texas gathered at Ford Park to give thanks and praise to God for leading and guiding our Diocese these past 50 years. We are grateful to the people of other faiths, especially religious leaders, who joined us, as well as our civic leaders.

The celebration was also a time to walk back into our history and hear the voices of our ancestors in faith and see how their faith guided them through good times and bad. Having walked back, now we walk forward enlightened, inspired and strengthened to carry on the “Joy of the Gospel.”

I want to thank the staff of the diocese who worked tirelessly for the past 1½ years to plan the celebration, as well as all the volunteers who assisted them in countless ways, to carry out those plans and make the celebration so special. I also want to thank the organizations, Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre, Knights of Columbus and Peter Claver for their participation. I thank all of you who attended. I know you were inspired and strengthened. This was indeed the gathering of the community as the People of God to worship and celebrate our unity in the Eucharist. In total, there were approximately 4,000 in attendance.

Finally, I want to thank the priests, women and men religious, deacons, seminarians and deacon candidates not only for their participation but also for their deep faith and commitment.

May the Holy Spirit bless and guide all of us as we journey together into the future!

As Bishop Curtis Guillory, SVD, prepares for the upcoming celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment, he took some time to share his thoughts on his 16 years in the Diocese of Beaumont and on the Catholic Church with ETC editor, Karen Gilman

Q: In a church that is two millennia old, what was the impetus for the changes of these past five decades?

Bishop Guillory: Many of the fruits of the past 50 years really began after the Second Vatican Council. St. John XXIII, then Pope John XXIII, wanted to open the Church, to “throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in.” St. John XXIII opened Vatican II in October 1962. It was completed December 1965 in the papacy of Pope Paul VI. In those first few years after that everyone was working to put into action the spirit of the 16 documents from the Council. The Diocese of Beaumont was the second diocese established in the U.S. after the close of Vatican II, so it hit the ground running with all this inspiration.

Q: What was one of the more visible changes after Vatican II?

A: For the parishioner in the pew, one of the most visible change was the language of the Mass. The celebration of the Mass would be in the vernacular – in the language of the country. For us here in Southeast Texas, it was a change from Latin to English. And the priest no longer celebrated Mass with his back to the congregation. With the priest now facing the people the congregation now knew that they are a part of the liturgy – the people could participate consciously and more fully in the liturgy. In addition through these past 50 years, here in the Diocese of Beaumont we have developed a worship office that is a wonderful resource and leader to the parishes in liturgy. The office not only prepares for major liturgies such as Chrism Mass and special occasions like the upcoming 50th anniversary, it sponsors workshops. With the workshops the people have a better understanding of the liturgy and with a better understanding comes a fuller participation in the Mass. It is a richer liturgy. The people are better nourished spiritually.

Other changes included lay ministers taking an active role at Mass – especially women taking some of these roles. This included girls being altar servers which wasn’t allowed before Vatican II. And the Office of Worship has helped facilitate this as well. We now have trained extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, trained lectors and other ministers at Mass.

“The apostolate of the laity derives from their Christian vocation and the Church can never be without it. Sacred Scripture clearly shows how spontaneous and fruitful such activity was at the very beginning of the Church.”

Q: How has the diocese encouraged the Catholic faith in Southeast Texas?

A: Catholic schools and Catholic religious education have a long history in Southeast Texas with our first school being founded in the late 1800s. Our Catholic schools after Vatican II were opened to everybody, especially the poor. We made a strong effort to open up the doors and invite students. One way we encourage families who may struggle financially is through tuition assistance which is offered at all of the schools here in the Beaumont Diocese. I know that education is a door to opportunity – and we want all to have that opportunity. In addition, it is also a way to teach and expose people to the Catholic faith.

“To fulfill the mandate she has received from her divine founder of proclaiming the mystery of salvation to all men and of restoring all things in Christ, Holy Mother the Church must be concerned with the whole of man’s life, even the secular part of it insofar as it has a bearing on his heavenly calling. Therefore she has a role in the progress and development of education. Hence this sacred synod declares certain fundamental principles of Christian education especially in schools.”

Q: How does something that happened 50 years ago affect our families today?

A: The Second Vatican Council also emphasized ministry that would encourage and support the family. The family is the home community of faith. It is where children first learn about their faith, values and how to live a good life. Married life and family are supported, strengthened and encouraged here in the diocese. Our Family Life Ministry offers workshops and retreats for individuals and couples. We have retreats that help couples prepare for marriage. But we don’t stop there. The ministry also has retreats for married couples to help strengthen their marriages and improve communication. Young adults are encouraged to live their faith. When families may have struggles, Catholic Charities offers other ways to support them such as through the Disaster Assistance program or Elijah’s Place.

The interests of the family, therefore, must be taken very specially into consideration in social and economic affairs, as well as in the spheres of faith and morals. For all of these have to do with strengthening the family and assisting it in the fulfilment of its mission.

Q: In following what St. John XXIII said he wanted when announcing the Second Vatican Council, how has the Church and the diocese worked with the world and especially other faiths?

A: St. John XXIII wanted the church to be in dialogue and interact with the world. The church has something good to offer, the Gospel values, to everyone, no matter what religion or faith. In the 50 years since Vatican II our popes have met, held discussions and prayed with the leaders of many different faiths. In dialogue we learn about each other, and learn from each other.

Locally, after the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, we brought the Southeast Texas community together. Rabbi Barbara Metzinger of Temple Emanuel and Imam Fahmi AL-Uqdah of the Islamic Society of the Triplex joined me and together we issued the statement “Lord, Make Us Instruments of Your Peace,” one of the first statements of its kind in the United States. It was a commitment to peace by the Jewish, Muslim and Catholic communities here in Southeast Texas. This would never have taken place before Vatican II. Even in our community events religious leaders of different faiths join together. Several religious leaders are planning to attend our 50th anniversary celebration. In addition, I enjoy going to Deli Days at Temple Emanuel and welcome the rabbi and other ministers at the St. Joseph Altar held at St. Anthony.

Q: What do you see as one of the biggest challenges for the local church?

A: One of the greatest challenges for us in our local church is vocations to the ordained and religious life. We need to continue to encourage men and women to be open to religious life. And we, as a community and as individuals, need to pray.

One of the other challenges for our community is ethnic diversity. Our diocese has always been diverse. French Cajuns, African Americans, Mexicans, Italians, Czechs, Vietnamese, others from Europe and South America – and more – have settled throughout Southeast Texas. I see our diversity as a gift. We all have ideas and talents we can share with others. But to do this we need dialogue. We have racial and ethnic tension when we don’t have a dialogue. With dialogue we get to know the other. Before getting to know someone, we may evaluate that person on the perception of what we may have observed or heard but not truly experienced. After dialogue we evaluate not on hearsay or myth but rather in actually knowing that person. We see that we have a common humanity, a common faith, a common background.

Q: What are a couple of your most memorable times here in Southeast Texas?

A: What first comes to mind is when I arrived – my installation at the Montagne Center. To look out and see all these Southeast Texans, all these Catholic faithful and members of other faiths gathered to join in the celebration was inspiring. The welcoming spirit of the community was a great moment and a wonderful way to start off what has now become 16 years of ministry together as one community of faith.

Another was the renovation of the Cathedral and the dedication, followed by it being named a basilica. As we gathered to celebrate those events I was able to see the joy and enthusiasm of the people. St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica is not just a parish church, it is a gathering place for the entire diocese and all the Catholic faithful in Southeast Texas. It is a blessing and a treasure, not just for the Catholic community but the larger community as well. Many times the larger community has gathered with us in times of celebration and in times of tragedy. These times of tragedy include the terrorism of 9/11 and the more recent shootings such as what happened at the nightclub in Orlando.

Q: What inspires you?

A: The people here in Southeast Texas inspire me. The deep faith of the people, their resilience, their spirit of generosity, their ability to take on challenges. I am able to share with them – in their struggles, in their joy. I see their faith. To be able to walk with them through their lives is an inspiration. In times of tragedy I see the resilience, the faith, the response of the people in Southeast Texas willing to help. Whether it is local such as the spring floods, or a tragedy anywhere in the world, the generosity of time, talent and treasure from our Catholic faithful is overwhelming.

Q: What do you think the future holds for the church?

A: I think the future is bright for our local church. Our ministries are vibrant and active in the communities. Retreats such as ACTS enliven people’s faith lives. Our RCIA program brought in over 300 new members to the Church this past spring. Especially if we continue with the same openness and deep faith and pass that on to the next generation, that would be great.

Q: If you could have everyone hear just one message, what would that be?

A: God loves you through His Church.

Rediscover our common humanity

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

Sometimes when you think you have dealt with an issue that needed resolution it unexpectedly flares up. You say to yourself, “I thought I had dealt with that, so I moved on.”

This summer racial tensions, especially between whites and blacks, flared up or intensified. The catalyst was the killing of two black men (Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Minnesota) by white police officers. The shootings seemed unjustifiable, but the courts will eventually decide the matter. As a response to these shootings, a heavily armed sniper killed five police officers and wounded seven others in Dallas, and a skilled gunman killed three law enforcement officers in Baton Rouge.

Added to that is our tense and at times less than civil presidential campaign.

While trying to make sense of all of this and preparing to participate in two prayer vigils at our local police department, I went to the 37th chapter of the book of Ezekiel, commonly known as the passage of the dry bones. Living in captivity by the Babylonians, the Israelites had lost hope, feeling cut off from God, one another, and their land. In other words, they felt their bones were dried up.

God took Ezekiel into the desert filled with dry bones so Ezekiel could experience what the life of the Israelites had become. When asked by God if the dry bones could live again, Ezekiel cleverly answered that only God knew. God then breathed His Spirit into the dry bones, and they were once again restored in right relationship with God.

In the aftermath of the tragedies in Dallas and Baton Rouge, people of different racial, ethnic, economic and social backgrounds came together to pray, to show compassion, and to strengthen one another. Then, everyone went their own way, business as usual, until the next flare up occurs. However, we must not “wait until the next flare up,” but we must work together to create an environment of respect and collaboration so that no further violence will erupt. How do we do that?

Prayer is definitely a good beginning so that, like Ezekiel, we may realize that God gives life, enlightens and strengthens us to reflect His mercy and love. Describing prayer, St. Therese of Lisieux said, “For me prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven; it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” For us, perhaps unresolved issues flare up because we did not go to the core of the problem. Like the Israelites, we may have cut ourselves off from the source of life – God.

Prayer must be followed up with action that supports the common good. One of the reasons we still have a racial issue in our country is that we do not really know each other; we speak and act out of myths and perception. There is too little dialogue between the different racial and ethnic groups in our society.

Former President George W. Bush said it so well at the vigil for the Dallas officers who were killed: “It seems like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces building us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates too quickly into dehumanization. Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”

Conversations about race between whites and blacks can be very painful because of history, but history cannot be swept under the rug, no matter how painful. Whether we like it or not, it is a shared history. No one wants to be blamed, shamed or called a racist. It is important to come to terms with what was or is and move on. With prayer, we can move forward. ALL LIVES MATTER in the Body of Christ. St. Paul reminds us that if one member, regardless of race or ethnicity, hurts, we all hurt; if one member rejoices, we all rejoice.

One action that seems to be effective is the dialogue between the police and the community, especially communities who view the police as a threat rather than a protector. Before the flare ups, our Beaumont Police Chief was doing precisely that.

Some say that the Dallas Police Department is a nation-wide example of police-community dialogue. Early in the evening before the tragedy the police and anti-violence protestors were walking together and taking selfies.

My motto as a bishop is “All things work for the good for those who love God.” (Romans 8:28) Let us not allow even one tragedy to destroy what is good. This should be a time to intensify our efforts to dialogue.

On July 26, 2016, while he was celebrating Mass, Father Jacques Hamel, 85, was brutally killed by terrorists who slit his throat. This happened at the parish of St.-Etienne-du-Rouvray in Rouen, France. The Sunday after this tragedy, Muslims from throughout France attended Mass with Catholics to show compassion and solidarity. Hopefully, through the tragic death of Father Jacques, dialogue will lead to understanding and rediscovery of our common humanity.

Only you know, Lord, if we can have a community and a world of respect, peace and understanding!

Sell – Give – Follow

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

On Sunday, July 10, 2016, I travelled to Bensalem, Penn., with people from throughout the country, especially Native Americans and African Americans, whose lives have been touched by St. Katharine Drexel, the founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. I was honored to be the main celebrant and homilist.

I am a product of one of her many schools, St. Anne in Mallet, La. Many from the Diocese of Beaumont were educated by her Sisters at Blessed Sacrament in Beaumont, Sacred Heart in Port Arthur, and St. Therese in Orange. Unfortunately, those schools no longer exist, but the fruits live on in those who attended.

When I think about the early life of St. Katharine, I think of the rich young man in the Gospel of Matthew who wanted to know from Jesus what he needed to do to gain eternal life. Jesus told him, “Go sell what you have and give to the poor … then come follow me.” The man went away sad because he could not let go of his possessions. St. Katharine came from a very wealthy family. By the time she died at 96 in 1955, she had spent about $20 million building schools and churches for Native Americans and African Americans, including Xavier University in New Orleans.

She was born Nov. 26, 1858, to investment broker Francis Anthony Drexel and his wife, Hannah, who died after Katharine’s birth. Francis then married Emma Bouvier. The Drexels instilled in their three daughters a sense of love and care for the poor, but it was Katharine’s step-mother who helped her to have a deep love for the poor. Twice a week Emma invited the poor to their home to feed and clothe them. The Lord was preparing Katharine for His mission, though she was not aware yet what it would be. This reminds me of what the Lord told Jeremiah in his youth: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born I dedicated you; a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” (Jer. 1: 4-6)
As Katharine and her sisters traveled the Southwest with her father, she saw the destitute living conditions of the Native Americans, as well as the African Americans. She saw the isolation and racism, and she wanted to do more than just give money to take care of the immediate needs. She began to think about what she could do, not just financially, but also educationally and spiritually to break the cycle of poverty for these people.

In 1887 she and her sisters had an audience with Pope Leo XIII. She told him about the plight of the Native Americans and African Americans and asked him if he would send religious to minister to them. Pope Leo responded: “But why not be a missionary yourself, my child?” By his response, he planted the seeds of her mission to establish the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Once word spread that she was becoming a religious, many were disappointed. The Philadelphia Public Ledger wrote: “Miss Drexel enters a Catholic Convent — Gives up Seven Million.” In the minds of many, she was out of her mind. Unlike the rich young man in the Gospel, she was not possessed by her possessions.

Like many of the prophets of old, St. Katharine and her Sisters discovered that the mission would not be easy. Their experience was similar to Jeremiah who lamented when encountering much opposition: “Woe, to me mother that you gave me birth … all curse me … remember me, Lord, visit me.” (Jer. 15: 10-15)

Many did not want the Native Americans and African Americans to be educated. When the corner stone in Bensalem was being blessed as their convent, a stick of dynamite was found near the site. Sad to say, here in Beaumont in 1922, a sign was posted by local Klansmen on the door of Blessed Sacrament Church that said: “We want an end of service here … suppress it in one week or flogging with tar and feathers will follow.” A few days later, a violent storm came through Beaumont and destroyed the Ku Klux Klan headquarters. The lesson is: Don’t mess with God’s work!

Despite the many obstacles that Katharine and her Sisters encountered in carrying out God’s mission, she was united with the Lord. She would spend hours in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in her little chapel. The words of Pope Benedict XVI in 2000 addressing the youth describe well St. Katharine’s relationship with the Lord: “The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so we ourselves will be transformed in our turn. We are to become the Body and Blood of Christ, his own flesh and blood.” This is what gave St. Katharine nourishment, refreshment, and strength to accomplish her mission.

Many of the schools that St. Katharine established are no longer operative. However, her mission continues in many and varied ways. Xavier University, founded in 1925, is recognized nationally for preparing African Americans for medical school and pharmacy. In our Diocese, we yearly have the St. Katharine Drexel Health Fair, which helps hundreds of disadvantaged with basic medical needs.

The charism of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament has guided them through good times and bad and remains true today: “As Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament we believe God calls us to be a sign in the world of the power of the Eucharistic Christ to effect unity and community among all people.”

Striving for the ideal

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

On April 8, 2016, Pope Francis published the long-awaited Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love). The exhortation restates the Church’s teaching on marriage, and it also gives direction, especially for pastors, to accompany those who are divorced and remarried – those who hope to have their civil unions convalidated (“blessed”) in the Church.

Pope Francis says that the institution of marriage is a natural good which brings love and light into the lives of all who marry, as well as the children born of the marriage. God has placed in the hearts of man and woman the vocation and the capacity, as well as the responsibility, of love and communion. Love, then, is the foundation of every human being, and in this love, every person finds joy. The lifelong sacrament of marriage as a partnership of the whole of life between a baptized man and woman is the ideal, and every married couple is called upon to strive for that ideal. Becoming one through love happens in a mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfaction and longings, arrogance and pleasure. It is the grace of the Sacrament that gives the couple strength to love and to forgive and to ask for forgiveness.

Pope Francis is well aware that not every couple can attain this ideal. The Church realizes that in certain situations, such as abandonment or abuse, divorce may become necessary to remove the vulnerable spouse and young children from serious injury. In many of these cases, one of the partners made every effort to save the marriage, but to no avail.

The divorced and remarried should not be alienated. Rather, they should be approached with mercy and compassion. Every situation is different, and one rule or law does not fit every situation. The pope calls on pastors to examine each situation and pray and discern with the couple to help them find ways to remedy their situation. Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and to grow in the midst of the situation. The pastors and the congregation must not fail to minister to couples in situations less than the ideal. Those couples who struggle to live the ideal must be commended and encouraged, and they also have the responsibility to minister to other couples who, for good reason, cannot live the ideal.

To assist us all in dealing with the sad fact of marital breakdown in our society, Pope Francis wants to make sure the Tribunal cases—especially those in which a declaration of nullity (annulment) is sought—are handled in ways that do not aggravate an already tragic situation, but instead minister Christ’s own mercy. In his document titled “Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus” (The Lord Jesus, Gentle Judge), which became effective on Dec. 8, 2015, the pope made some changes in the Tribunal process. I issued a letter to all of you on May 17, 2016, explaining the major changes. That letter was in your weekend bulletin, and it was also my column in the May 27, 2016, issue of the East Texas Catholic.

In our Diocese we have a number of programs that help to strengthen couples to live the ideal of the sacrament of marriage. Every year we celebrate at a Mass the wedding anniversaries of those who are married 20, 25 and 50 plus years. Each year we have over 112 couples who come to the Mass. It is very moving to see them renew their marriage vows and walk down the aisle to receive their certificate. If I remember correctly, one couple was married 71 years! You can see in their faces the joy that comes from a life-long commitment with all its ups and downs.

The diocesan Family Life Office also has a program called “I Do Again.” This is a weekend retreat for sacramentally-married couples to celebrate, strengthen, and focus their energies and commitment toward building a better union. Over 300 couples have attended this retreat. I was touched at one of the retreats when a husband in tears knelt before his wife, grabbed her hand and said, “I know I have not been a good husband and father, but beginning now I promise to do better.” There was not a dry eye in the room.

This Office also sponsors “To Marry for Life,” which is a marriage preparation retreat for engaged couples. This retreat addresses issues such as the sacrament of marriage, raising a family, conflict resolution, communications, finances, how to sustain an interfaith marriage, family planning, etc. I try to attend as much as I am able, and I am inspired by those young couples who definitely want their marriage to work. On occasion, some decide they are not quite ready.

Of course, in our parishes, the priests and dedicated lay persons also accompany couples on their marriage journey. Some parishes have preparation programs for engaged couples, programs for couples whose marriage is in distress, and for individuals whose marriage has ended in divorce.

In regard to assisting married couples and those whose marriage has ended in divorce, Pope Francis said, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy.” He further states, “The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

I encourage all the faithful to read and reflect on the pope’s apostolic exhortation and see how his words may apply in your lives, in your families, and in our society. The Holy Father calls all of us, especially married couples, including those who have divorced, to reflect more deeply on the love of Christ which is shared in married life.

Letter from Bishop

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

May 27th, 2016

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation on Marriage and Family Life, titled Amoris Laetitia (the “Joy of Love”), is truly an inspiring document. Although lengthy, it wonderfully presents how the loving commitment of spouses in marriage can overcome challenges, find meaning and purpose in life, and build up their families and society at large with God’s grace. I urge you to pick it up and read through it. While it may take you quite a while to finish – it sure took me a while as I read and prayed through it! – I can assure you that you will find it spiritually encouraging.

Not every attempt at marital commitment, however, is successful. You may remember that late last summer the Holy Father also revised some of the canon laws of the Church to assist us all in dealing with the sad fact of marital breakdown in our society. He did that in a document titled Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, which is Latin for “The Lord Jesus, Gentle Judge.” Once again, the Pope captured the essence of what he was trying to emphasize just in the few words of the title. He wants to make sure the Tribunal cases – especially those in which a declaration of nullity (annulment) is sought – are handled in ways that do not aggravate an already tragic situation of marital breakdown but instead minister Christ’s own mercy.

We were pleased to host Father Paul Counce, the Judicial Vicar of the Diocese of Baton Rouge and a past president of the Canon Law Society of America, for a “clergy study day” to update our priests and deacons. The forms and processes have been revised. Now I am happy to bring their good work more to your attention.

The first thing everyone will notice is the reduced fees for cases. The most that will be asked for a formal case to defray our costs is $100 and no charge for all documentary processes (effective July 1, 2016) – but let me be quick to note that the modest charges do not approach the actual costs of operating the Tribunal, and no one is ever denied the services of the Church based on an inability to pay!

We hope, too, that those who bring cases to the Tribunal note an improvement in the time it will take to finalize matters. Pope Francis has decided to trust diocesan Tribunals such that the local decision will be final except in the case of a formal appeal. We will no longer have to send case decisions in favor of annulment to the Archdiocese of San Antonio for a mandatory review, which will reduce the length of the process. Our Tribunal, also, should be able to handle just about any case locally, even if the marriage or the petitioner’s former spouse’s residence is in another country.

Most significant is the emphasis by the Pope that Tribunals be more open to take the word of the parties themselves, especially when they are clearly credible, in the statements they make. It will almost always be necessary to corroborate the facts by statements of witnesses; thus the Tribunal will make every effort to contact both parties at the beginning of its evaluation of the cases so that the names and addresses of witnesses may be on record, and so that grounds for the case may be accurately set and the simplest way forward mapped out.

I want to ask you to do two things. First, pray for the ministers of our Tribunal and the people it serves. It is a challenging ministry, but one close to the heart of our Holy Father himself. While the canon laws of the Church can be very complex, in the matter of Church annulments, now Pope Francis clearly wishes that the work of the Tribunal be a ministry which truly helps people move forward. It is always a good thing to know the truth about a failed marriage, especially if it was never valid or sacramental, for then faithful Catholics can know the way that their own personal journey of faith will proceed.

Finally, if you or someone you know has suffered the pain of divorce or feels helpless to know if a new marriage might ever be possible for them, please know that their bishop wants to share not only Christ’s love for you, but encourages you to approach our dedicated Tribunal. It is usually best that you first contact your parish priest or deacon and I assure you that he will be eager to help you.

In closing, know my prayers for you and everyone in your family. May Christ, the just and gentle Good Shepherd of our souls, lead us to peaceful pastures of grace and hope!

A work of mercy

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

In September 2015, while Pope Francis was in the U.S. on a pastoral visit on the occasion of the World Meeting of Families, he visited the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. He told the inmates, “This time in your life can only be for one purpose: to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society.”

In his words to the inmates Pope Francis is telling them that they have a lot of time to reflect on their lives, that they have an opportunity to change their lives. From what I hear from inmates when I visit them in the diocese, many of them do change their lives. While in prison, they have the time to think about why they committed a crime, about their families, and about the people they hurt. Some probably think about committing more crime and how not to get caught, but many are truly transformed by the grace of God.

In our diocese we have a prison population of 25,000 inmates. The diocese’s Criminal Justice Ministry office provides a variety of ministries to the inmates, especially those who are Catholic. This past year 50 inmates became Catholic through our ministry. Some of the ministries we provide are: Mass, confessions, Bible study, prayer groups, and St. Kolbe Retreats which have proved to be very effective. Also provided are Catholic correspondence courses, RCIA, Adoration.

The office also supports and collaborates with other groups such as Bridges to Life (a 14-week faith-based Victim-Offender Program), Jefferson County Crime Victims’ Coalition which offers support for the families of inmates and victims of crime, anti-human trafficking programs, and Mobilization Network which is an advocacy for life from conception to natural death.

As you can see, our prison ministry is extensive and comprehensive, in that we minister to the victims and the families of both.

This extensive ministry would not be possible without funding from the Bishop’s Faith Appeal and the help of volunteers. It is not easy to get volunteers, but those we have are fully dedicated. I find, once a person volunteers, that the person falls in love with the ministry because not only is it one of the works of mercy, but it also gives personal fulfillment. I hope you will consider volunteering.

Since there are many and varied perspectives on prisons and because both conservative and liberal legislators are talking about prison reform, I would like to offer the Catholic perspective for your reflection.

Pope Benedict XVI said that prisoners are human beings who, despite their crimes, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. The dignity of the human person applies to both victims and offenders. People of faith believe that offenders should be separated from society and be held accountable. However, this must be done not out of vengeance but rather for the protection of society, restitution, and rehabilitation.

Distinctions must be made between violent and non-violent crimes. In too many cases, the violent, the non-violent, and the mentally ill are treated the same. It is statistically proven that minorities get harsher sentences than others. The “three strikes and you are out” justice laws were passed more out of frustration than what really works. Unfortunately, our society seems to prefer punishment over restitution and rehabilitation. Opportunities must be provided for education, trades and substance abuse treatment. Fortunately, we are becoming more aware of the mentally ill who are imprisoned.

Carol Vance, former chair of the Board of Criminal Justice and former district attorney for Harris County, has said, “Crime is caused by persons who grew up in chaotic home situations without appropriate guidance or direction, were abused as children, kept in pain throughout the lives they lead, and are trying to escape their circumstances.”
Since crime is a societal problem, society needs to look at the causes and remedies. Most prisoners come out of dysfunctional families. There is a history of the family not being intact, with drug abuse, sexual abuse and other destructive abuses. People of faith need to stress life-giving values, such as strong families, support of families and communities. Our schools must provide the best education for our young people. Jobs and living wages must be provided so wage earners can properly support their families.

Finally, our parishes must be welcoming to the inmates who have served their time, to their families, and to the victims’ families. They are often looking for a faith community so they can continue their rehabilitation journey. Our parishes must be forgiving and prayerful communities. Very often when inmates come out of prison, the people waiting for them are not family or the Church community but rather former crime partners. There is much being done by the Church, and much more can be done with your help.

Help my unbelief

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

Accompanied by friends, during Easter week I had the privilege of going through the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, celebrating the Year of Mercy, and traveling to towns where special Miracles of the Eucharist took place. I say “special” because every time the Mass is celebrated, it is a miracle.

I was particularly moved by the miracle at Lanciano that took place in 750 at the church of St. Francis. The priest doubted whether the bread and wine truly became the Body and Blood of Christ. While celebrating Mass one day, he saw the bread become flesh and the wine become blood. Those present witnessed what happened. The original host is kept in a monstrance. I had the privilege of celebrating Mass below that monstrance with friends and other priests.

In 1970, the archbishop commissioned a study by world-renowned scientists to test whether the content was truly flesh and blood. The conclusion was that it is human flesh and blood. Then in 1973, the World Health Organization arrived at the same conclusion.

The question might be asked how we could not believe, since we have the words of Christ himself. At the Last Supper, Jesus gathered with his Apostles, took bread, and after he had given thanks said, “This is my body that is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Then he took the chalice of wine and said, “This chalice is the new covenant of my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the chalice, you proclaim the death and resurrection of the Lord until he comes again.” (1 Cor. 11: 23-26)

Jesus gave the Apostles (and us) the Eucharist to leave them a pledge of his love, to always be with them and to make them sharers in his life, death, and resurrection. When we partake of the body and blood of Christ, we become his Body here on earth. We are bonded more closely to him and to one another. Furthermore, the elements that are used at the Eucharist – the bread and the wine – remind us that all things are from God and are transformed by the Holy Spirit.

Many of the special miracles I mentioned above have to do with priests. I think this is significant, because priests are called by God to continue Jesus’ sacrifice through the power of the Holy Spirit for the good of his people. If the priest does not believe, then it is less likely the people will believe.

I do not think it is that we do not believe, but rather that this wonderful gift of God can become routine and be taken for granted. Sometimes we rush through the responses at Mass as though they are just words, rather than responding prayerfully and reflectively. We forget the depth of meaning and why God gave of Himself in the Eucharist. Living in a secular and scientific society does not help. This is why ultimately it is an act of faith. Faith reveals, empowers, and enlightens what the mind cannot see and understand.

We see through history that the Lord breaks into our routines in dramatic ways, such as the Eucharistic Miracles, to make us realize He is God and is among us.

This miracle of himself challenged the disciples. In John 6:60 Jesus says to His disciples, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” They responded, “This saying is hard, who can accept it?” Some went away not believing.

One of the reasons Jesus washed the feet of the disciples before instituting the Eucharist was to give them a lesson in humility. The gift of faith comes to the humble heart.

We are not required to believe in the Eucharistic Miracles. They are not tenets of our faith; however, they have to be approved as authentic by the local Bishop. Some are approved by the Vatican, as well.

If you have doubts or take the gift of the Eucharist for granted, you may want to read about the Eucharistic Miracles to strengthen your faith. Ask God to disperse your disbelief and enable you to believe more deeply. With the father whose son was healed from an evil spirit, we can pray: “I do believe; help my unbelief.” (Mk. 9: 24)

During this pilgrimage, I prayed for a deeper understanding and appreciation of this great gift God has given us under the appearances of bread and wine – the gift of Himself in the Eucharist.

Got The Full Signal?

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

There is the story told of an army going off to fight a war.  Before they left for the shores of the battlefield nation, they were given strong support.  They knew their nation was behind them.  As they returned home, they wanted to show a sign of how they fared in battle.  A signal was sent to the shore from the ship that said “army defeated”.  The weather was very foggy, so part of the signal was missed.  The people were very downcast because their army was defeated.  They wondered what would happen to them since all of their hopes and dreams were shattered.  Then the weather cleared, and the rest of the message got through, “army defeated the enemy.”  The people went from shattered dreams to hope for the future, from downcast to high spirit.  But even though the signal indicated the army had won, some were still doubtful and had to see proof.  In other words, they would believe only when they saw and heard it for themselves.   

We can say that the disciples of Jesus were like the people in the above story.  While Jesus was on the cross and in the tomb, they only received half of the signal.  The only thing on their minds was that their hopes about Jesus were shattered.  They had left everything to follow him, thinking he would free them from their enemies, from being enslaved by the sword.  They were blind to the deeper reality of freedom through love. 

Jesus defeated Satan.  In the world there are battles between light and darkness, truth and lies, hope and despair, but Jesus came to bring light to the darkness.  The world the disciples lived in saw darkness conquered by more darkness.  Our world today often experiences no less.

When the people in the story received the full signal that their army had defeated the enemy, the good news started to spread.  After Jesus’ resurrection, it was the angel who told Mary Magdalene, “He is not here; he is risen.”  That word began to spread, and people remembered that Jesus had told them he must suffer, die, and be raised from the dead on the third day.  This was how our freedom came about.

As we entered our churches on Easter Sunday, we noticed the beautiful flowers and symbols decorating the church–very different from the environment during Lent.  The Easter candle is a symbol that life is stronger than death, good is stronger than evil, truth is stronger than lies.  Satan has been conquered by the love of Jesus and his resurrection.  Love has conquered fear and hate and brought light to the darkness. 

That is the transition the disciples had to make, as well as ourselves.  As the blind man in the Gospel was cured and able to see that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, he no longer lived in fear and darkness.  Nor was he afraid to follow Jesus, even if they threw him out of the synagogue. 

When we live in the light of Christ, we may still experience darkness, but it will be temporary.  When we get the full signal of the resurrection, we can say with St. Paul, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”

Sometimes I hear people say that it is so hard to believe in the resurrection because it happened so long ago and is so removed from our reality.  Truth be told–it is not.  Every time we gather around the altar to celebrate the Eucharist, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ are made present through the power of the Holy Spirit.  At the Eucharist we become one with the Lord; we become the Body of Christ present in this time and space.  Filled with his love, we are sent forth to bring Christ to our sisters and brothers. 

After the disciples got the full signal that Jesus had risen from the dead, they went out boldly, unafraid, and unashamed to proclaim the Good News.  I pray that you “got the full signal”, too, this Easter and are spreading the Good News as his disciples.

RISEN

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

After the death of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and her companions went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, as it was the custom. Imagine how they felt as they walked to the tomb. They were broken hearted and filled with fear and anxiety, for the one whom they loved was crucified. Even though Jesus told them that he had to suffer, die and rise on the third day, it was hard for them to believe. The Scriptures tell us that when they reached the tomb, “there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. Then the angel said to the women, ‘do not be afraid, I know you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here for he has been raised just as he said.’” (Matt. 28: 1-6) Then the angel told them to go tell the disciples.

There is a movie out called “Risen.” Joseph Fiennes, the actor who plays Clavius, said that the Bible is the most incredible story ever told. He was talking especially about the passage I quoted above. The movie is about the resurrection of Jesus as told by an unbeliever who became a believer through his investigation of the empty tomb and his encounter with the disciples of Jesus. Clavius, a Roman soldier, was assigned by Pontius Pilate to investigate the resurrection in order to negate that Jesus is the Son of God. After his in-depth investigation, he was asked if he believed Jesus had risen from the dead, and he responded that he had come to believe. Though the script of the movie is not adequately faithful to the Gospel accounts, it is worth seeing.

Through faith we, as Catholics, know that Jesus Christ has risen, but in our secular society many do not believe because it cannot be proven. The fact is, it can be proven, though ultimately it is an act of faith for us; however, it is not blind faith. Jesus was a historical figure, who interacted with real people – his disciples, as well as his enemies. The Apostles and disciples who followed Jesus, saw him executed. They saw the sealed tomb, then the empty tomb, and finally they saw the resurrected Jesus. The general public, especially religious and civic leaders, did not see the resurrected Jesus, so how could they possibly believe it to be true. The norm for human beings is to die and remain dead.
The Gospels are very clear that Jesus did rise from the dead, and the followers of Jesus were eye witnesses. In 1 Cor. 15: 5-8, St. Paul addresses the people, “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried and raised on the third day, that he appeared to Kephas and then to the twelve and then to more than five hundred brothers (and sisters).” Then he talks about his own belief by the grace of God.

After his resurrection, Jesus made numerous appearances to the disciples. At first, they thought he was a ghost. Jesus’ response was that a ghost does not have flesh and bone. To show them, he asked for something to eat, and he ate with them. Like Clavius in the movie, they came to believe. Jesus told his disciples that in carrying out his message they would also have to suffer and die. After Jesus’ appearances to them in his glorified body, which was not limited by space and time, they were willing to suffer and die. Think about it. Are you willing to die for something you do not fully understand?

This Easter it would be enlightening and refreshing to our faith to read the Scriptures carefully, and prayerfully and attentively reflect on the encounters Christ had with his disciples. This would make Easter so much richer spiritually and intellectually.

Jesus gave us the Church so that we might encounter him through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation. At the Eucharist we enter into Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we are brought into communion with him and with each other. Furthermore, just as Jesus was a man from heaven, we become a people of heaven through the Paschal Mystery. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we say: “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your cross and resurrection you have set us free.”

Through Holy Doors

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

In his article “Ethics of the Face,” the French Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, said that it is easier to malign or hate someone or to dismiss someone when you do not acknowledge their humanity and look them in the face. Our common humanity demands that we see the face of God in each other.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan we have a clear example of the Samaritan recognizing his common humanity with the man who fell into the hands of robbers. On the other hand, upon observing the man suffering, the priest and the Levite walked on the other side of the street in order not to see the injured man’s face. If they would have looked into the man’s face, then they, too, would have been moved with compassion. If someone has hurt us, how often do we not want to see his or her face? In fact, we have the expression, “I do not want to face him or her.”

On January 25, during this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis asked for mercy and forgiveness for the way Christians have behaved towards each other over the centuries. He said, “We cannot let the weight of past faults continue to contaminate relationships. I emphasize the need for enemies to forgive and walk together … walking together we become aware that we are already united in the name of the Lord.” He went on to say that, as the Bishop of Rome, he wanted “to ask for forgiveness for the behavior of Catholics towards Christians of other Churches.” Then Pope Francis invited the Orthodox Metropolitan, Gennadios, and the Anglican Archbishop,

David Moxon, to walk with him through the Holy Door of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

To set an example for Catholics and other people of good will, on February 12, 2016, at the Havana, Cuba Airport, Pope Francis sat down with the Russian Patriarch, Kirill I, after 1,000 years of not meeting face to face. They dialogued honestly about the hurts and pains that Christians had inflicted upon one another. Those wounds needed to be acknowledged and owned.

As we go through a political season in our country, there is not much face-to-face dialogue going on in order to reach the common good. Many wounds are being inflicted verbally by all which will have a long-term effect. Instead of communicating with each other face to face with respect, there is also tweeting by and to individuals who are invisible to each other. Thus, it is easier to send messages that hurt and wound others, because they do not see each other face to face as persons deserving of respect. Pope Francis constantly calls upon Catholics to reflect on their conscience in light of the Gospel and the social teachings of the Church so as to make informed and wise decisions. With a clear, honest and well-informed conscience, one can better dialogue face to face with one’s neighbor with whom one shares a common humanity. Let us pray that the Lord will find favor with us and accompany us on this journey.

I recently asked a friend about how a mutual friend was doing. His response was, “We had a falling out, and we have not seen or talked with each other in two years.” I responded, “Is it not about time to reconcile?” He said, “Bishop, I think about what Jesus said if, on your way to bring your gifts to the altar, you remember you need to be reconciled then go and be reconciled. Afterward, you can place your gifts on the altar.” He also said it is hard to forgive. My response was, “Yes, on your own, but with the grace of the Sacrament, you can.” Hopefully, a change will come about between my two friends.

The above description of my friend is not unique. Many people are alienated from each other and experience ruptured relationships. Hopefully, during this Year of Mercy reconciliation will take place, and enemies will forgive each other and walk through a “holy door” together.

In the Book of Numbers, the Lord tells Moses how he wants the priests to bless the people, “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let His face shine upon you and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:23-26)

A Clean Heart

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

In November 2015, the community of 16,000 people in Cañon City, Colo., was shocked to find out that 100 of their high school students were trading naked pictures of themselves. Parents did not think their children were into such a horrible activity, though some parents admitted later that there were clues.

Studies reveal that, by the time high school students graduate, 90 percent of the boys and 60 percent of the girls have watched pornographic material.

During our General Assembly this past November, we Catholic bishops approved and then published a pastoral letter on pornography titled “Create in Me a Clean Heart” (Psalm 51:12). We realized that this is a pervasive problem that affects and can destroy husbands and wives, children, individuals and the family.

Pope Francis said, “How much pain is caused in families because one member is in the thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography.” We see this in our own families or in families of our friends.

Pornography is disordered because it distorts the dignity of the human person and of sexuality. God has created us out of love in order that we might be loved and love others. Pornography distorts the image of God in each of us.

Sexuality is a gift from God to be exercised within the sacred bond of marriage. Marriage is about intimacy and loving the other, not love of self. So then, our bodies are not meant to be used for our own pleasure. In the context of marriage is intimacy and selfless love which strengthens the bond between the spouses and brings children into the world.

Pornography uses the other for pleasure only and afterward is discarded. Pope Francis calls it the “throwaway society” On college campuses it is called “hook up.” A boy or girl meet; there may or may not be a physical attraction; they have sex, and each goes their own way.

Today there is easy access to pornography on television, the Internet, social media, movies, and so many other avenues. It is attractive because pornography is anonymous and can be viewed in the privacy of one’s room, and the user thinks no one will know.

But it is not really private. First of all, the viewer is being negatively affected, whether he or she knows it. Their relationships with spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend, or children are being changed. Furthermore, pornography becomes an obsession, an addiction. Studies indicate that pornography can lead to other crimes, such as domestic violence, expectations that one’s spouse performs sexually as seen in pornography. Studies also indicate that more and more gratification is desired, and so the pornography must be more salacious.

The young high school students in Cañon City perhaps did not realize that these pictures can affect their lives later. For instance, when they apply for college or a job, this can come back to haunt them.

If you, a family member or a friend are addicted to pornography, then Lent is a good time to become free from the addiction through prayer, counseling, support groups or other professional assistance. Like any addiction, this will not be an easy process. During Lent, avail yourself of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. After all, using pornography is a sin because it goes against the virtue of chastity and because it destroys the user and those being used. Being free from pornography is good for all.

Parents also can be proactive and monitor the Internet, phone and computer use of their children and be in conversation with them about the dignity of the human person and the rightful place of sex – in marriage.

The pastoral letter recently published can be found on the U.S. bishop’s website at:
www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/pornography/index.cfm. On this same page, one can find many other resources about this insidious addiction and its effect on people’s lives. The Archdiocese of Omaha Anti-Pornography Task Force also has numerous resources and talking points in English and Spanish that provide practical information and assistance. Those resources can be accessed on the archdiocesan website at:
http://archomaha.org/ministries/safe-environment/anti-porn/.

Psalm 51 encourages us: “A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. Cast me not out from your presence, and your holy spirit take not from me. Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me.”

Rediscover Your Soul

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

Not long ago I was reading an article by Father Ron Rolheiser that really struck me and helped me to prepare this column on Lent. In the article Father Rolheiser referred to a story written by Tom Stella in his book, The God Instinct.

The story is about a number of men who were hired to carry heavy equipment for men on a safari. They traveled through the jungle in the heat to get to their destination. Then, all of a sudden, the carriers stopped. They would not take another step. When asked why by those who had hired them, the carriers said they were waiting so their souls could catch up with them. What does that mean – waiting for their souls?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 366) states that the soul is created immediately by God; it is not produced by the parents; it is immortal; it does not perish when it separates from the body at death and will be reunited with the body at the final resurrection. So then, union with God takes place in the soul. It is part of our innermost selves. Though soul and body are one, it is from the soul we have life, meaning, purpose and relationship with God.

Those men in the story carrying equipment were working hard and getting paid so they could provide for their families, but they realized they were missing something. We, too, live lives that are very demanding. We go from one day to the next and from one event or task to the other. From day to day, week to week we do not stop. We might pause to go to Church or to pray, but that is brief, and on the run. Yet we know we should be giving attention to our souls.

Our souls long for attention, but we keep on moving, or we say we will get back to it later. Sometimes, however, we are forced to give our soul attention because of sickness, a lost relationship, the death of a loved one, or because we are just plain tired, and not necessarily from working. There is something deep down that is missing.

Lent then is a graced 40 days set aside by the Church to give us an opportunity to get in touch with our souls – our whole selves. It is an opportunity for more intense prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
In Genesis 2:7 we read, “The Lord God formed man out of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils his breath of life, and man became a living being.” As we begin Lent on Ash Wednesday, we are reminded about who we are. The ashes are from burnt palms. Before palms are burned, they are full of life and beautiful. Once burned, the ashes are dark and dirty, a sign of sin and separation from God. This is what happens when our souls are left unattended and neglected. We begin to feel isolated from others and God.

When we are sick, we go to the doctor who prescribes medicine to help us heal. The doctor will also advise us to stop our usual activities, rest, and wait for the body to heal. Just as we take care of our physical body, so we must also take care of our soul.
So this Lent stop and enable your soul to catch up with you. Take enough time to pray more intensely, to reflect. Perhaps an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament will help you to slow down and do some “soul work.”

St. Francis de Sales remarked: “Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer each day, except when we are busy – then we need an hour.” Don’t rush through the Scripture readings; reflect on them and apply them to your life and allow the richness of the readings to go through you and nourish your soul.

Celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is a graced opportunity to cleanse your soul from sins and failings. This sacrament will also lead you to reconcile with persons you have alienated and to mend those ruptured relationships. Our daily duties force us outward; take quiet time to look inward. Regarding giving alms, take the advice of St. John Chrysostom, “After we have satisfied our needs and those we are responsible for, the rest should go to the poor.”

Fasting helps us to realize that our greatest longing is to be filled with the love of God, not to be self-sufficient. Moses, Elijah and Jesus fasted so they might draw closer to God.

Hopefully through a Lent of more intense prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we will re-connect with our souls and journey with Christ through his agony in the Garden, his passion, and death. Then, we will be able to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter and continue our faith journey with nourished souls, made whole through the Paschal Mystery, and filled with joy.

Letter from Bishop for the Annual Report

We – you and I together, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance – did much in the 2014-2015 year to build God’s kingdom here on earth. In doing so we also did much to assure that our Church would remain vibrant and continue to grow in Southeast Texas for generations to come. We did this in many ways but all can be called evangelization.

In the fall of 2014 we began to prepare for our Evangelization Conference. More than 300 people attended that spring event learning how to share Jesus’ message. Many who attended had already been doing that through Encounter Catholic and by evangelizing to prisoners.

Our prison retreat teams’ efforts were so outstanding they were recognized at the Faithful Steward Awards. And, shortly after Easter in 2015, I had the privilege of baptizing and confirming inmates at the Mark Stiles Unit.

Each day, our Catholic schools were evangelizing to our children and teenagers. Those who were not Catholic were being exposed to Christian values based on Catholic teaching. Those who were Catholic were formed in the faith. Many of those young people then evangelized to the greater community through their works as Msgr. Kelly High School students held an active spring service day.

By educating our young people through Catholic schools and religious education classes, we created future leaders for our Church. We also prepared for the future by establishing a Planned Giving Commission to ensure that these leaders of the next generation would have the resources for their evangelization work. And, we focused our attention on improving facilities management so that our current church and school buildings would last long into the next decades.

This report is a documented representation of those efforts and many others that were made by our parishes, schools and ministries. Please read and share it so that these good works will be their own exhortation to build God’s kingdom here on earth.

Know that, in the words of St. Paul: “I give thanks to God at my every remembrance of you, praying with joy for all of you because of your partnership with me in the Gospel.”

Letter from Bishop from the BFA Special Issue

In declaring this a Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has asked us to rediscover the corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry and to give drink to the thirsty. He has also asked us to remember the spiritual works of mercy: to comfort, counsel, forgive and pray for our brothers and sisters. The Holy Father has told us that this will be “a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty.” He tells us that as we carry out these works of mercy, “we will enter into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy.”

I believe that as we reflect on these works and on the Gospel, we will awaken to the reality that all of us are poor in some way. Certainly, we all are hungry for the Bread of Life and thirsty for the Living Water. We will see the many needs of our brothers and sisters especially those that are our neighbors here in Southeast Texas.

As we awaken to those realities, we may come to realize that alone we cannot feed all the hungry or comfort all those who are hurting or afflicted. But together we can carry out these works of mercy. So I am inviting you to be my partner – in the name of Christ – in these acts of mercy by supporting our ministries.

You may not realize that each day of the year, diocesan ministries and Catholic Charities are carrying out the works of mercy by responding to the needs of more than 110,000 people in Southeast Texas. They are visiting the sick and the imprisoned. They are feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty. They are instructing our children, helping form catechists and deacon candidates. They are creating a just community where all are welcomed and come together to pray and grow in faith.

As bishop, I have many wonderful opportunities to see our ministries carrying out those works. I have had the profound experience of seeing our teenagers kneel in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament at a Youth Ministry event. I have been able to go into the prisons with our Criminal Justice Ministry and see the conversion of so many. Last year alone 23 inmates were baptized into the faith and another 70 were confirmed.

Most of you will never be fortunate enough to witness these acts of faith. But, by supporting our ministries with a financial pledge and a prayer pledge to the Bishop’s Faith Appeal, you will be with us as together we carry out the works of mercy in varied ways. You will be in solidarity with us. And, we will remember you in prayer as we visit the sick at convalescent homes, feed the hungry at our Hospitality Center or minister to the mariners that come into our ports each year. We will be supported knowing that you are praying for us and for those whom we serve.

Our scripture for this year’s appeal is taken from the Prophet Micah – “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” The scripture is in response to a question concerning what God expects of us. The response tells us what our Lord requires.

Our ministries attempt to fulfill that requirement. But they and I need your help to accomplish this. Won’t you join us in doing the work that is required of all of us?

I invite you to join with us in carrying out these works and fulfilling what God requires of us – and of you – by making a prayer pledge and a financial pledge to this year’s Bishop’s Faith Appeal.

Thank you for your generosity, your prayers and your partnership. You remain in my prayers.

Enemies exchanged gifts and sang carols

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

On Dec. 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV called on the warring countries of World War I to cease fire on Christmas Day. The warring countries did not heed the pope’s request, but on Christmas Day some of the soldiers on the battle field did something amazing. They stopped fighting.

At first light of dawn on Christmas Day some German soldiers came out of the trenches and approached the British soldiers and called out “Merry Christmas.” The British thought it was a trap, but the German soldiers were unarmed. They exchanged cigarettes as gifts and sang Christmas carols. Supposedly, they played a game of soccer. A Christmas miracle!

As we approach the celebration of the birth of Christ, I find great solace and hope in this story. It reminds us that deep down inside each person there is the desire to live in peace with our brothers and sisters; it moves us outside ourselves toward our neighbors.

That desire for peace, planted like a seed in our hearts by God, is so often overshadowed by fear and anxiety. Fear reinforces Zenophobic, naturalistic and short-vision instincts. If someone believes we can only be protected by force, then that one will expect more force to be used.

Those World War I soldiers realized they had a common humanity that was so much more important that Christmas morning than fighting each other, even though the truce lasted only a few hours. For a few hours they were able to encounter each other on a human level, not as enemies but as children of God.

We need these types of encounters of hope more than ever before at this present time in our history. Fear and anger lead to retribution and destruction, to even greater payback than the pain one received. It is a vicious cycle that has no peaceful ending, no resolution, no achievement of the common good.

As I said before, ISIS needs to be condemned and prosecuted by the world community for its persecution of people for their religious or political beliefs. But we must do so without discarding our moral values and the principles of our Constitution and civil society. Otherwise, we become like the terrorists. Furthermore, the Muslims of the world must also join the world community in condemnation of those radical sects within their communities. It is not mostly Christians who are being killed but Muslims, as well.

Beneath the fear and inflammatory talk there is that fundamental desire for peace that must be brought forth by all religions and people of good will. This will indeed take courage and foresight, guided by life-giving values. In these turbulent times, somebody or some group(s) must be a light in the darkness.

During his recent pastoral visit to Africa, Pope Francis gave us that light. Just before the Holy Father left the Republic of Central Africa, he and the chief Imam, Tidiani Moussa Naibi, went to the town of Bangui, a town torn by the violent conflict between Christians and Muslims.

The Pope and the Imam rode together in the popemobile through the section of the city where the fighting has been especially heavy. When the Pope and the Imam came through, both Christians and Muslims shouted, “The war is over!” The Pope and the Imam wanted to show that there is something that binds them that is stronger than fear and hate – it is their common humanity given to them by God. It is faith over fear.

At the Central Mosque, Pope Francis said, “Muslims and Christians are brothers and sisters and must treat each other as such.” He went on to say, “Together we must say ‘no’ to hatred, to vengeance and violence, especially that committed in the name of religion.”

What does all of this mean for us? Do we view those we dislike or disagree with as enemies and dismiss them as unworthy of our respect and kindness? Do we gossip about others and spread rumors that harm the reputation of other people? Do we take revenge on someone because of something they said or did in the past? Do we harbor ill feelings and hold on to our anger toward another because we are unwilling to forgive?

The war may be “out there,” but it starts “in here” through the negative feelings we hold on to and allow to fester inside of ourselves.

Pope Benedict XV called for a truce on Christmas Day, and only a handful of soldiers responded. Pope Francis and the chief Imam together rode through the most violent and conflicted part of a Central African neighborhood to let the Muslims and Christians know that there is something deeper that unites them than their differences, and that is their common humanity.

The people who walk in darkness have seen a wonderful light. Let us, in our words and actions, ask the Lord to take us beyond our fears to the light of Christ which we celebrate in Christmas. May you and your families experience that peace and joy during this holy season.

Hatred or mercy?

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

On Friday, November 13, 2015, I arrived at the airport in Baltimore on my way to attend the U.S. bishops’ fall meeting. When I reached the baggage claim area, I saw people gathered around the TV monitor watching what had taken place in Paris. Normally, we are in a rush to get to our destination, but everyone stopped. It was as though reaching our destination could wait. Some of us said a prayer quietly for the victims and their families. Some were angry and wondered when this violence was going to stop. It is senseless to murder in the name of religion. Still, there is a sense of helplessness.

A day or two later I read in the paper the statement of a husband whose wife was one of the 129 who died in the Paris terror attacks. They have a 17-month-old baby. Antoine Leiris told ISIS, “I will not give you the privilege of hating you. You certainly sought it, but replying to hatred with anger would be giving in to the same ignorance which made you into what you are. You want me to be frightened, that I should look into the eyes of my fellow citizens with distrust, that I sacrifice my freedom for security. You lost. I will carry on as before.”

Antoine’s response to his wife’s death was filled with mercy and not hate. The world community must come together to condemn and prosecute those who persecute others solely for reasons of their faith or ethnicity. At the same time, we cannot stop responding to the refugees – children, women and men who are fleeing from religious and political persecution. Our leaders must be guided by mercy to find a way to help those genuine refugees and to protect our homeland. Otherwise, we become what Antoine said he would not become.

In response to the realities of violence in the name of religion, the 60 million refugees and migrants on the move throughout the world, the loss of the common good, the prevalence of individualism and self-centeredness instead of community, Pope Francis declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy, beginning December 8, 2015, and ending November 2016. The Hebrew word for “mercy” is the same for “womb.” Just as a mother has tender loving care for the child in her womb, how much more will the Lord pour out his love and compassion on us. Even if a mother does not care for her child, God will care for us.

The mercy of God has been a constant gift to His people. In revealing Himself to Moses, God said, “I am a God of mercy and abound in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Ex. 34:6) Many of the parables of Jesus are filled with mercy: the Prodigal Son (“My son was lost and now he is found”); the woman caught in adultery (“Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more”); the healing of the blind man. During this Year of Mercy, it may be helpful to read and contemplate these parables.

In a recently released movie, “The 33,” there is a scene which presents a challenge of mercy. Thirty-three Chilean men are trapped in a mine with little water and food to survive. As the days passed, they began to realize they may not come out alive, and they reflect on their lives. One miner said to another, “I blame my sister for abandoning me. I have not talked to her in years.” The other said, “Forgive her.” Is this not what King David felt when he realized his sinfulness: “Have mercy on me, O Lord God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (Ps. 51:1-2)

In keeping with Catholic tradition during a Jubilee Year, the Holy Father will open the door of St. John Lateran and pass through it, and he is asking people to do the same throughout the year. This will be done at St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica on the third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2015, at the 10 a.m. Mass. I invite all of you to join me as we begin the Year of Mercy. Opening the door is symbolic of leaving the world of sin behind and passing over the threshold into the mercy of God. I will knock three times on the door with a hammer. This is to remind us that Moses knocked on the rock three times, and life-saving water gushed forth. God showed His mercy to the thirsty Israelites.

More information about the Year of Mercy will be forthcoming.

All Is Gift

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

On Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, the Feast of All Saints, 400 parishioners gathered at the Elegante Hotel for “The Bishop Curtis J. Guillory Stewardship Parish Awards.” One hundred and fifty nominees were recognized for being outstanding stewards in their parish. They were nominated by fellow parishioners and approved by their pastors.

These good stewards really exemplify all of our parishioners. They came from different parts of the diocese, diverse in culture and language. As I looked out from the podium, I could not help but think of the first reading for the Mass on All Saints Day, “After this I had a vision of a great multitude, from every nation, race, people and tongue.”

There is a wonderful relationship between those gathered for the awards and the saints in heaven. At one time the saints were on earth, like us, being good stewards. It was their good and faithful stewardship that enabled them to see God face to face. In addition, the saints are interceding for us that we might be good stewards and come to be with them one day when the Lord knocks on our door.

I like C.S. Lewis’ definition of stewardship: “Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service, you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His already.” Once we are able to see that we really do not own anything, that all is on loan to us, then we can begin to be good stewards. All is gift, and we are accountable to the Giver of the gift. We are accountable to Him for who we are, what we have, and what we do with what we have.

The word “steward” comes from the Greek which means “someone who manages a household for another.” One does not own the house and its contents but manages it.

In the Gospels Jesus often tells us we must be good stewards: “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute (food and goods) at the proper time? Blessed be that servant when his master on arrival finds doing so. Truly I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property.” (Lk. 12: 42-44)

Often when we think of stewardship we primarily think of material things, like money. This is not the definition found in Scripture nor is it the understanding of the Church. Stewardship is sharing of our time, talent and treasure to continue the mission of Jesus. Each member of the Church shares in the responsibility for its mission; each is called to share God-given gifts with others. The Eucharist is the sign and center of this communion of service.

I want to congratulate all the good and faithful stewards (managers) we honored on the Feast of All Saints. Through their dedication and generosity of time, talent and treasure in their parishes, they have helped to make Christ present in an inspirational and transformative way. I want to thank them, their pastors and all the parishioners for recognizing that all is gift and all must be given back to the generous Giver.

I want to close with the prayer of St. Ignatius, because I think it captures the life of a great and faithful steward:

“Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess, thou hast given me. I surrender it all to thee to be disposed of according to thy will. Give me only thy love and thy grace, with these I will be rich enough and will desire nothing more. Amen.”

Communion – Earth, Heaven and in between

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

“The communion of saints includes the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the blessed in heaven. In this communion, the merciful love of God and His saints is always attentive to our prayers for one another here and for the souls of the faithful departed.” (United States Catholic Catechism for Adults)

In this statement on the communion of saints, there are a number of things that stand out. It says that we here on earth are part of the communion of saints. There is a relationship between us and the saints in heaven. Not only that, the saints are attentive to our prayers, for they have been where we are, and they want us to be where they are. The pagans thought that their dead loved ones would come back to harm them, especially if they had not been kind to the deceased while they were on earth. For us, however, the saints are our friends, and we want to be in touch with them and have them know and love us.

When we think of the saints in heaven, it is easy to think that becoming a saint is impossible. However, a saint is one who was a friend of God on earth. In heaven that friendship intensifies because saints see God face to face.

Saints were flesh and blood, like us. They got angry; they got upset, but deep down they allowed the deeply-planted seed of desire for union with God to grow. Some of them tried to smother that desire with earthly pleasures, power, glory and self-centeredness. Some of them made numerous attempts to seek what they thought would bring them happiness, until their hearts finally caught on fire with the love of God. You see, God and the saints are always beckoning us to move towards heaven.
St. Francis of Assisi had wandered far from God. Eventually he felt the desire in his heart to be a friend of God, and the turning point was his meeting a leper and seeing beyond the disfigurement into the face of Christ.

The Church wisely asks us (through our parents, if we are still infants) to choose a saint’s name at our baptism. This chosen saint is to be our companion on our journey to heaven. Our patron saint intercedes for us and helps us to stay on the right path. My baptismal name is “John” – for St. John the Baptist. I always admire the way he was able to speak the truth, even if his life was in danger. He was fearless.

All of us are in situations where we need to stand up for what is true and just, without fearing what others will think of us. By imitating the saints, we become like Christ, the One whom they reflect. The month of November is a good time to study and reflect on your baptismal or favorite saint and to become a friend with that saint.

Finally, it was St. Theresa of Jesus who said, “I will spend my days in heaven doing good works on earth.” What an inspiration to know that the good works of the saints can continue through us. Think of your parents who guided you and passed on to you the faith. Just as they wished you well and helped you while they were on earth, so they continue to do so from heaven. When I go to Mallet, La., I try to stop by the graves of my parents and thank them for their love and guidance. I also ask them to help me.

None of us are born perfect; we all have human limitations and leanings toward sinful actions. Nevertheless, we hear the call of God: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God am holy.” (Lev. 19:2) Through grace, each of us has the potential to become holy. Even the worst sinner unknowingly desires to become holy. In fact, his falling into sin is probably a search for something greater, as we see in the lives of persons who became saints. We all have the potential to become saints. So, as we celebrate the feast of All Saints on Nov. 1 and the feast of All Souls on Nov. 2, let us remember that we are not alone here on earth but are connected and supported through the communion of saints.

Healthy family life – healthy society

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

Many people have asked me what it was like to be with Pope Francis in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. It was an informative, inspiring and transformative experience I will never forget.

What makes him so appealing and believable is that he backs up his words with actions. For instance, after addressing Congress he skipped the lunch they had prepared for him and ate with the homeless. Instead of riding in the limo, he rode in the Fiat — though I must admit it is a sharp-looking little car. He had a grueling and exhausting schedule, but he always managed to be joyful.

The Holy Father went from Cuba to the United States and then back to Rome to preside over the Ordinary Assembly of Bishops on the Family which began on Monday, Oct. 5. His primary purpose in coming to the United States was the World Council on the Family which was a theme that ran through all of his appearances and talks.

The foundation for the family and the extended family in society is that the human person cannot find fulfillment in himself or herself. The person exists with others and for others, and this is inscribed in the hearts of everyone by the Creator.

God told Adam it is not good for man to be alone and he created for him a suitable soulmate. The animals that Adam named could not fill the void of aloneness and loneliness. When Adam put his eyes on Eve, he did not comment about her physical appearance, but said “At last flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones.” St John puts it this way, “If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12)

In our society, marriage is seen by many as antiquated, something that worked in the past but not today. Our Holy Father said that in the midst of materialism and plenty, there is a deep and growing interior emptiness, with many pleasures but few loves. The number of lonely people continues to grow, and they are caught up in selfishness, gloominess and slavery to power and malice.

In a lifelong marital relationship the couple, through good times and bad times, becomes one flesh. It is with family that members are loved and learn how to love. In the family, life giving values are passed on in words and example. The Holy Father calls upon political, social, and religious leaders to promote family life.

In his address to Congress, he reminded the lawmakers that in the words of St. Thomas, “We are political by nature, and the aim of politics is to advance the common good. The personal fulfillment and success of each one of us is bound up with it, and we cannot hope for fulfillment without accepting and contributing to the whole.”

If a person’s life is inward looking, then selfishness sets in. Barriers are built to protect one’s self interest, but that only brings emptiness and not loving fulfillment and joy.

It was at the 9/11 Interfaith Service for Peace in New York that the Holy Father was most moved. He said, “I feel many different emotions standing here at Ground Zero, where thousands of lives were taken in a senseless act of destruction.” In meeting the families of the victims, he saw in them the pain of the violent act, but also hope.

He said, “In the depths of despair and suffering, you can also see the heights of generosity and service.” When all barriers are removed, then goodness flows regardless of politics and religion, whether rich or poor.

In just about all of his talks, the Pope mentioned the essential nature of the family and that it must be promoted and supported because it is the foundation of civilization. As goes the family, so does society. I think we have plenty of evidence all around us.

As we support traditional family life, we must also reach out to those hurting through divorce, especially the children, and others suffering from broken relationships. That is the mission of the Church as well as of society. Among many efforts to support family life in our diocese, we have an annual celebration of the 25th and 50th marriage anniversary. We also provide “I Do Again” retreats for married couples, which helps them to grow even deeper and become more perfect in their married love.

Let us pray that the Synod on the Family taking place in Rome will be guided by the Holy Spirit and its fruits will strengthen married life.

Conduits of the Good News

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

From Aug. 29 to Sept. 5, 2015, I had the privilege of being on a pilgrimage to Rome with the Board and senior staff of Catholic Extension Society. As a member of the Board, I, and the others, went on this pilgrimage to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Catholic Extension Society, and our focus was to visit the burial places of the patron saints of the Society. Since Catholic Extension is a Pontifical Society under the Holy Father, the highlight of our pilgrimage was a visit with Pope Francis.

One hundred years ago Catholic Extension was founded by Msgr. Francis Kelly who was led by the Holy Spirit. Msgr. Kelly wandered into a machine shop and noticed a machine generating electricity, which was carried to other machines through a cable. Immediately he realized that God was calling him to form an organization, which, like the cable, would carry the Gospel values to Catholic Churches that did not have the personnel and necessary financial resources. In addition to providing resources, he wanted to help develop a missionary spirit in all Catholics throughout the cities and towns, in small and large dioceses.

This missionary spirit of the Church must animate the hearts of every believer. On World Mission Sunday in 2013, Pope Francis said, “…the ‘boundaries’ of faith do not only cross places and human traditions, but the heart of each man and each woman.” In other words, through our baptism we are all cables or conduits that carry the Good News.

On our pilgrimage to Rome we visited the sites where the patron saints of Catholic Extension are buried, celebrated Mass, and reviewed the history of each patron saint. In our Catholic tradition, patron saints are men and women whose spirit still animates and inspires our individual lives or that of an organization. We visited the places and Churches of the saints that continue to play an important role in the mission of Catholic Extension: Saints Philip Neri and Catherine of Siena.

St. Philip Neri was not a great theologian or spiritual writer. It is said he simply radiated the joy of the Gospel. Called the Apostle of Rome, he lived in the early 1500s when the Church was going through a time of moral laxity. The people were not only discouraged but also were losing faith in the leadership of the Church and becoming cynical about the Church. St. Philip felt the Lord was calling him to re-evangelize the Church, and he did this in a simple way. He would stand on the street corners and start a conversation with whomever passed by. He would ask about their families, etc., and gradually, after he had gained their interest and confidence, he would talk about Jesus Christ and how He could make a difference in their lives. By word of mouth, people began to flock to Philip. He became a priest, and long lines of people waited to go to confession to him. In the church we visited, St. Philip lived and formed a prayer group of mostly lay people, called the Oratorians, which to this day continues as the congregation that he founded. When I was in the Church, I thought about our evangelization efforts, such as ACTS, Encounter Catholic, Marriage Enrichment. St. Philip teaches us that, as evangelizers, we start where the person is in his or her life and become a companion to them, after which we introduce them to Jesus and His Church. The key words of evangelization are: encounter, conversation and friendship.

I had the privilege of being the main celebrant at the church where St. Catherine of Siena is buried (1347-1380). God called her to make Him present in the midst of corruption and patronage in the Church and society. Sometimes in the midst of immorality, greed and the neglect of the poor we ask where God is and whether God has abandoned the world He created. God is always present, but we often fail to recognize Him. Furthermore, He raises people from our midst to lead us back to the path of love and service.

St. Catherine was born in a wealthy family during the plague of the Black Death and when the pope had moved to France. She became a mediator between feuding popes. Eventually she convinced Pope Gregory XI to move back to Rome to be near the bones of St. Peter and the martyrs. During her struggles, she asked God, “Where were you?” and God responded, “In your heart.”

The times of St. Philip Neri and St. Catherine were not much different from our own. These two saints give us wonderful examples that we can be cables (conduits) of the Good News in the midst of a troubled world. Pope Francis has the spirit and approach to evangelization as these two saints, and so should we.

The highlight of the pilgrimage was our visit with Pope Francis. I brought him greetings from the people of Southeast Texas. When I told him we are looking forward to his visit to the U.S., he told me to ask the faithful for their prayers. Let us journey with him in prayer and, via the media, listen to him.

Through the years our diocese has benefited much from Catholic Extension. Some of the ministries that have been partially or totally funded are: Family Life, Criminal Justice Ministry, Hispanic Ministry, Catholic Schools. Were it not for the contributions of Catholic Extension, we would not be able to fully fund those ministries, if at all. Please keep the work of Catholic Extension in your daily prayers. For more information you can go to their website: www.catholicextension.org.

Wholeness to Holiness

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

All of us are called to holiness. Read Lumen Gentium, Chapter 5, “The Call of the Whole Church to Holiness.” Paragraph 40 defines holiness: “All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.” Through baptism, we have received the grace of holiness, but we have not yet attained holiness. This is attained through a life of imaging Christ day by day, struggle by struggle, loving God and others in fidelity.

“Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God am holy.” (Lev. 19:2) Each of us has the potential to become holy. Even the worst sinner unknowingly desires to become holy. In fact, his falling into sin is probably a search for something greater, as we see in the lives of persons who became saints. We all have the potential to become saints.

I would like to highlight two saints who were terrible sinners but who responded to the grace of God. Then, I will introduce to you Dorothy Day, a saint for our times, precisely because she was a sinner.

St. Augustine of Hippo is a great saint, but that was not always the case. As a teenager, he left the Catholic faith, lived a life of promiscuity, and took a mistress, with whom he had a son. Augustine gave in to all of his desires in his search for the truth. After hearing a sermon by St. Ambrose, and with the fervent prayers of his mother, Monica, Augustine returned to the Church.

After her husband was assassinated by a neighboring tribe, St. Olga massacred almost the entire tribe. Those who were not killed were made slaves. Years later she went to a church and was touched deeply by the liturgy. She took instructions and returned to Kiev, her hometown, and practiced the faith. Her feast day is July 11. Reading her life, I cannot help but think of the turmoil in the Middle East, especially the atrocities ISIS is committing.

I would like to introduce you to Dorothy Day and encourage you to read two of her books: The Long Loneliness and From Union Square to Rome. She is a “holiness” person for our time for she was a sinner who turned her life around and is soon to be canonized a saint. Her early life was like that of so many in our culture today, caught up deeply in the sensation and selfishness of the culture. Still, she had the realization that there was more than herself – that there is a God. She was seeking wholeness (holiness).

Like all of us, she made poor choices in life; she hurt people; she disobeyed God and lived by her own rules. Yet, God was calling her to holiness. She was born in 1897 in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her parents had her baptized in the Episcopal Church, but she did not participate in church life. She was burdened with a deep loneliness, a longing for something more. In order to quench that loneliness, she turned to excessive drinking, getting involved with the wrong people, especially male friends. She was promiscuous.

She always had a great love of the poor and joined the Communist Party, thinking they had the best solution to alleviate poverty. She had an abortion which haunted her constantly. With the birth of her daughter, Tamar, it became clear what she was seeking – the One who would replace her loneliness with joy and peace. She said it was when Tamar was in her arms that she received a flood of joy and love, and she experienced a need to worship, to adore.

Dorothy began a transformation from selfishness to surrender. She was inspired by the Catholic faithful. Even though she disagreed with some of the doctrines of the church, she was impressed that the church wrestled with moral problems in the world, trying to lead the faithful to sound, moral religious principles.

She attended church and prayed the rosary, read the Scriptures, fasted and went to confession. Gradually participating in the life of the Church, she went from fragmentation to integration (holiness). The Catholic Church helped her to understand her own suffering and that of others. Through her suffering and loneliness she was able to go deep within and face herself. She said the question is not so much why I suffer but what is God calling me to do in the midst of this suffering.

In 1933, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin started the Catholic Worker Movement where the poor and those who care for them live in communities. This was the domestic Church in action, where Gospel values of love and voluntary poverty, non-violence and hospitality became a concrete lived experience.

A few years ago at their November meeting, all of the American Catholic bishops voted to begin the process of canonization of Dorothy Day. She has been declared a “Servant of God,” which means the canonization process can begin.

God is always calling us to relationship with Him and one another, no matter how far we may have wandered. God always makes His grace available, often through others or events. For St. Augustine, supported by the prayers of his mother, that graced moment was the preaching of St. Ambrose. For St. Olga, it was the liturgy in church. And for Dorothy Day, it was the birth of her daughter, Tamar.

None of us should feel that he or she is too far from the Father that we cannot go to Him. God wants us to be holy as God is holy.

Our Sister Earth

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis issued a very important encyclical, “Laudato Si,” which translates “Praise be to You.” This encyclical is about what is happening to our common home – the earth. He also poses the question, “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (No. 160) Unfortunately, the encyclical did not receive much publicity in the United States because, at the same time, we had the tragic deaths of nine people in a shooting in a church in Charleston. Nevertheless, the encyclical addresses an important issue in our society and the world. I am sure Pope Francis will have more to say when he comes to the States in September.

I would hope you will take the time to read and pray over the words contained in the encyclical. The environment, and global warming in particular, affects all of us and generations to follow.

What I would like to address in this column is to highlight some of the thoughts of Pope Francis, so you will want to read the entire document yourself.

The title of the encyclical is taken from the Canticle of St. Francis, who tells us that the earth is our common home. It is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. The earth sustains and governs us and produces much fruit for our livelihood. (No. 1) St. Francis lived in harmony with God, neighbor and creation. It is also for those reasons, especially St. Francis’ love of the poor, that Pope Francis took his name. A name is not just a name, but it embodies what the person lives and stands for.

Some criticized Pope Francis for the encyclical because he is not a scientist and because they think the Church should not have anything to say about the environment – as if these matters should be left to science, economics and politics. Pope Francis responds quoting St. John Paul II, “Christians realize that their responsibility within creation and their duty towards nature and the Creator are an essential part of their faith.” (No. 64) The pope wants all people to enter into dialogue about our common home.

Turning to some of the best scientists and ecologists in the world, the pope says, “Any solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system …  Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyles, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.” (No. 23) All of us have noticed that the summers are hotter, and there seems to be an increase in tornadoes, earthquakes, drought and forest fires. It is certainly worth looking into the causes.

For a long time, there was denial that smoking caused cancer. I can remember the debates, pro and con. Finally, today even most restaurants, hotels, and work places are smoke free.

Pope Francis has often said that we have created a “throw away culture.” “We know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor.” (No. 50) This is an area where all of us are guilty. We buy more than we can eat, and children overload their plates and maybe eat half of it. Many of us were taught not to throw food away because the children in China were starving. This is an area where we, as family and as individuals, can take responsibility.

Pope Francis points out that the poor are most affected by the destruction of the environment. In many parts of the world the poor are dependent on the land and water for their survival. He says, “Every day unsafe water results in many deaths, and the spread of water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemical substances.” (No. 29) While visiting countries with Catholic Relief Services, I have witnessed first-hand where clean water is a scarcity. Industry in those countries, including ours, does not take the proper precautions to prevent pollution of water by the release of dangerous chemicals. In our local area, pollution of air and water is a challenge for the chemical plants, but these plants have made progress through increased safety standards.

Some have said that Pope Francis is against capitalism. He is not against the free market, but he is saying that any economic or political system must be guided by ethical and moral principles. Otherwise, greed takes over, and people become commodities. He goes on to say, “The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and it has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property.” (No. 93) Our society promotes immediate convenience while all else becomes secondary, and everything does not matter, including people, unless it serves one’s immediate interest.

In conclusion I want to reflect on the meaning in the Book of Genesis of the statement, “God has given mankind dominion over creation.” First of all, dominion does not mean domination. Rather, Genesis suggests, “that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor, and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our human limitations.” (No. 66)

When we lose sight that we are stewards of the resources of the earth, then we take a path of leaving a barren earth for generations to come. As Christians and people of good will, we must educate ourselves and take steps as a family, individuals, and a community to pass on a fruitful earth for future generations.

The Unchangeable Truth of Marriage

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

On Friday, June 26, 2015, in a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court extended marital rights to same-sex couples. This ruling is contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the essence of marriage as the union of one man and one woman — a teaching which is based on divine Revelation in Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1601) states: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered towards the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; the covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” At the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus raised marriage between a man and a woman to the level of a sacrament. However, holding up marriage as between a man and a woman goes back to every civilization and generation from antiquity. Civil law should only reflect a desire for marriage to continue to exist.

The Supreme Court decision redefining civil marriage has no bearing on the Catholic Sacrament of Marriage, nor does it require the Church to change its teaching. The Church retains the right to think, say, and teach what it believes about marriage. Thus, priests and deacons will not be required to witness same-sex “marriages” in the Church, nor will they be permitted by the Church to do so. Religious freedom is protected by the First Amendment. However, this cannot be taken for granted, because it is possible in the future that this freedom will come before the courts.

The Supreme Court decision gives us an opportunity to continue to pray and work to strengthen, promote, and defend marriage as God has destined. Every Catholic, especially married couples, should witness the truth of marriage. That includes learning more about marriage and speaking about its spiritual, cultural, and societal benefits. At the same time, we must be prepared for false charges of discrimination, but our responses must always be in charity. There are great challenges ahead. Today, we must make a conscious choice to live our lives as Christian Catholics. Thirty to forty years ago married couples had the example and support of family and community, and also of the government, in as much as it did not get involved. That is not the case today.

Our Holy Father and the whole Church are aware that family life is struggling. It is for that reason there will be a World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia September 22-25 and also a Synod on the Family in Rome October 4-25. I ask you to follow the deliberations of both of these important gatherings, which will be inspiring, informative and, hopefully, transformative.

In our diocese we have programs such as “Marriage Enrichment” to help strengthen married life. For enriching resources and videos on marriage, you can visit www.MarriageUniqueforareason.org or www.foryourmarriage.org, both initiatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 1997, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also put out a Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children: “Always our Children.” This pastoral message recognizes the struggles of many parents who have a homosexual child, and it offers support and a loving presence in those difficult circumstances.

On the trip back to Rome from the World Youth Day in Brazil, Pope Francis was asked what he thought of gay persons. His response was, “Who am I to judge?” Some have interpreted that statement as meaning the Pope would change the teaching of the Church. Rather, he meant that we should treat our gay brothers and sisters with respect, sensitivity, and compassion, as we are called to do with everyone. Showing respect and compassion toward a person is not the same as condoning the behaviors and lifestyle of that person. If one has compassion for and respects a woman who had an abortion, it does not mean one agrees that abortion is acceptable. Pope Francis went on to say that gay persons have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community.

I encourage Catholics to have faith in the unchanging truth about marriage, and I hope that marriage between a man and a woman will once again prevail. I also hope that love will be our guiding light in dialogue and respect for those who have differing opinions about marriage.

Sacramentals – Reminders of God

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

It is not unusual for parents to carry a picture or pictures of their children or to have them in a visible place at their work site. The purpose, of course, is to keep the family present, even during a busy day at work. The family is remembered; so, in a sense, the family is present wherever the parents may be.

In the same way, we need to be reminded of God’s presence and blessings in our lives. This is especially true in a secular society where there are few, if any, things that remind us of God. With more and more separation of Church and State, visible religious symbols, such as crucifixes, have been removed from public-funded facilities; prayer has been eliminated from public schools; and attempts have even been made to remove the name of “God” from our national pledge of allegiance.

We do, however, occasionally see a picture of Jesus or a rosary hanging on the rear view mirror in vehicles, a medal around someone’s neck, or a crucifix on the wall or religious statues in homes. By such religious signs, which we call “sacramentals,” an atmosphere of faith is created in which we are reminded that our lives belong to God.

Sacramentals are different from sacraments. Sacraments are instituted by Christ and are celebrated in liturgical rites; sacramentals are instituted by the Church to dispose believers to receive the chief effects of the sacraments. Furthermore, sacraments give grace in and of themselves, because it is Christ who is active in them. Sacramentals, on the other hand, do not give grace but motivate and inspire us toward devotion, love of God, sorrow for sin, or individual prayer, which bring us many grace-filled blessings. In addition to blessings, sacramentals include objects such as holy water, palms, ashes, candles and medals. However, the source from which both sacraments and sacramentals draw their power and effectiveness is the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Some of the sacramentals we are most familiar with are blessings for persons, meals, objects, places and special occasions. These express a person’s need for God’s blessings in the various aspects of our lives. Jesus, for instance, embraced the children and blessed them (Mk. 10:16); he laid hands on the sick (Lk. 4:40); he broke bread and blessed it (Mk. 6:4). Perhaps the most well known of the sacramentals is the rosary. St. John Paul II said of the rosary: “To recite the rosary is nothing other than to contemplate the face of Christ with Mary.” So, in praying the rosary we ask our Blessed Mother to intercede with her Son on our behalf. Furthermore, we contemplate the different salvific events in the life of Jesus. By contemplating those events, we become more aware of the Lord’s presence and of our redemption. Praying the rosary remains a popular devotion because of its simplicity and warmth.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 we read “It is God’s will that you grow in holiness.” To help us to grow in holiness, we have been given a rich heritage to assist us — the Scriptures, the sacraments, the Commandments and the sacramentals. The sacramentals help us to be aware of God’s presence and of God’s blessings every moment of every day. It is through these reminders, and our awareness, that we become more holy.

Root Causes

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

In “the Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis wrote: “Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence…. When a society — whether local, national, or global — is willing to leave part of itself on the fringes, no political programs or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility.” (#59)

The pope’s message speaks to us as we try to recover from the recent events that took place in Baltimore. The root causes of unrest in Baltimore were ignored for a long time and festered until they exploded into riots. The protests started when Freddie Gray suffered fatal injuries in police custody. This came in the wake of similar disputed arrests in Ferguson, Mo., Staten Island, N.Y., Beavercreek, Ohio, and Los Angeles. It seems all the victims were unarmed young black men. The majority of the protesters in Baltimore were respected citizens trying to cast light on what seemed like excessive force by the police in given circumstances. Unfortunately, the peaceful protest turned into rioting by some who were seeking disruption and destruction rather than justice.

No one will argue that our police put their lives on the line daily. They have to make split-second decisions when responding to dangerous situations. However, some police officers use deadly force when it is not necessary, especially in poverty-stricken areas. A few bad officers taint the reputation of the whole department. I commend our local Police Chief, James Singletary for taking steps to build trust between the police and the community by dialoguing with community leaders and hiring more minority police officers.

The protests in Baltimore and other areas are not just about the police but also about failed social policies, poor parenting, education, employment, health and housing. These are the root causes of the unrest in many of our communities. Today, it is Baltimore; tomorrow it will be another city. Underneath these protests, there is a harsh reality: 50 percent of the residents in downtown Baltimore where the protests took place are unemployed; the life expectancy is 68.8 years. The school dropout rate among minorities is around 50 percent. Studies indicate almost one in three young black men in the age group 20-29 are under criminal justice supervision on any given day — in prison, in jail, on probation or on parole. One questions whether young black men are being sent to jail for minor offenses. This is a matter for consideration by our policy makers.

After the Baltimore riots, the leadership of the state, the governor, mayor, police, religious leaders, and people from the community came together to bring back peace and calm. It is essential, however, that the leadership remains in dialogue with the people to find solutions to the problems that fester in poor communities.

One of the significant factors is that there is a high rate of single parents, usually mothers, unwed pregnancies, cohabitation and divorce. Single parents do a superb job under challenging circumstances. Missing are two-parent homes. Social science has shown an unmistakable advantage of a child being brought up in a home with both parents. The children will likely graduate from high school and attend college. The children will less likely be sexually or physically abused or be on drugs or commit crimes. Married life must be promoted and fostered.

Most of the schools in poverty areas are below the national or community standards. Those who operate the schools must provide the best education for our children, preparing them for the present and the future, and the leadership must be held accountable. Parents are the primary educators of their children, but it is the responsibility of the whole community. It is in the home that moral and religious values must be passed on to the children, and these are reinforced by the Church. An education alone is not enough to guide one to make good decisions based on moral values. Moral values serve as a compass.

Unemployment is highest among young minority men. Success is where preparation and opportunity meet. Our young people must be prepared for the job market, and opportunities must be made available for them.

Toya Graham, the mother who recognized her son participating in the riots in Baltimore, grabbed him and took him home. Earlier she had told him to stay away from the riots. In an interview she said, “This is my only son at the end of the day; I do not want him to end up like Freddie Gray.” She was a single mother who was concerned and took action the best way she knew. However, what does she tell her son in terms of his future in the given environment of under-performing schools and lack of jobs? It will be almost impossible to accomplish her God-given responsibilities as a parent with so much working against her. The larger community must form a partnership with her and others to provide moral values, good parenting, education, health care, and jobs.

In the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray and the destructive protests, the archbishop of Baltimore, William Lori, said, “For Freddie Gray’s death symbolizes the rawest of open wounds, and the only salve that will heal them is that of truth: truth about what happened to Freddie Gray, truth about the sin of racism that is still present in our community, and truth about our collective responsibility to deal with those issues that undermine the human dignity of every citizen.”

When we do not face the truth, we become restless and conflicted. Denial of the truth on a long-term basis festers and affects not just oneself, but one’s family, friends and the entire community. Let each of us resolve to face the truth, seek what will preserve the dignity of every person, and work toward improving the quality of life for our sisters and brothers in our communities and around the world.

Weeds and wheat

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

Lately, I have been reflecting on the parable of the weeds and the wheat in the Gospel of Matthew (13:24-30).

In the parable, a man sowed good seeds in his field, and while his workers slept, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the wheat sprouted up, so did the weeds. It was so hard to distinguish between the wheat and the weeds, and it was only later that the workers realized the weeds were growing side by side with the wheat. Asking the landowner if they could pull out the weeds, he told them no because they might also pull out the wheat, since their roots were intertwined. The landowner told them to let them grow together until harvest time when they would be separated, and the weeds would be burned.

This parable, of course, is about the kingdom of God, and at the end, God will do the separating.

Lately, we have been hearing about the atrocities of the past, as well as the present. Those who do good live side by side with those who wreak evil and destruction, even in our communities and families.

Think of ISIS decapitating people simply because they are Christians. A few weeks ago we observed the 100th anniversary of the genocide of thousands of Armenians by the Turkish government. We witnessed the trial of the remaining perpetrator of the Boston Marathon bombing, in which innocent people were killed or maimed for the rest of their lives.

In many regions throughout the nation there is mistrust between the community and the police. In our own families we sometimes experience anger and mistrust between family members. So, yes, the good and the bad live side by side, and sometimes their lives are intertwined.

I am currently going to various parishes to celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation. On Saturday, April 25, I baptized and confirmed 25 prisoners, who, like Judas, succumbed to doing evil things. Through their tears of sorrow and joy, I could see they realized that they had made bad choices in the past.

A confirmation student asked me if I thought good would prevail over evil. My response was that evil has already been conquered by Jesus through his death and resurrection. At times it seems like evil has the upper hand, but we know eventually good will prevail. I tell those confirmed that they must remain bonded closely to the Lord, otherwise, they, too, will succumb to the evil one.

The Spirit of the Lord is working in and through us so we can choose the good. For Catholic Christians this means being active participants in the Church, where the Spirit is present in Word, sacraments and sacramentals.

Presently, Oskar Groening, 93 years old, is on trial in Germany for assisting in the killing of 300,000 prisoners at the Auschwitz death camp. Since he was an S.S. soldier taking orders, he said he was morally complicit but not legally guilty. After testifying in horrific detail about her life at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp, Eva Kor, 81, from Indiana, stepped forward to shake the hand of Groening, who reached out and hugged the survivor and kissed her on the cheek. She said you can never tell what will happen when a victim and a perpetrator meet. She was able to see Groening’s humanity or good deep in his heart where evil previously seemed to prevail.

A few weeks ago, I was moved when Timothy Burns told Crystal Boyett that he forgave her and would pray for her. Boyett was on trial in Kountze for driving at least 155 mph and crossing the lane into the vehicle of Connely Burns, killing Connely, her unborn son, and her sister. Timothy, Connely Burns’ husband, said, “The Bible tells us we must forgive if we want to be forgiven. I try to do what is right, try to follow what I am supposed to do in order for me to be forgiven and expect any mercy from God.”

Eva Kor and Timothy Burns are good examples for us. With all they have suffered, they still found the strength to forgive. This forgiveness did not diminish or dispel the evil actions of the perpetrators, but it released these survivors from the poison of anger, resentment and hatred that could have prevailed in their lives. They knew that what they were dealing with was far beyond what any human person could handle, so they placed everything in God’s hands, knowing that in the end, God would separate the weeds from the wheat.

Be not afraid

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD

In December 2009 there appeared an article in the New York Times titled “A Mideast Bond, Stitched of Pain and Healing” by Ethan Bronner. The story was about two 8 year olds, Marya and Orel. They were next door neighbors. They talked, walked, played and watched TV together. They were the best of friends.
Orel and Marya were patients at the Jerusalem’s Alyn Hospital. Both were recovering from devastating wounds suffered in the violence that was life in their homeland.

What was amazing about these two young people was that Orel was an Israeli Jew, and Marya was a Palestinian Muslim. You would not expect those two to be friends, given the centuries of hostility. They recognized their common humanity as more important than the hostilities.

They both suffered severe physical and psychological damage as a result of the war. But they were able to connect and see what was deeper and what bonded them together. In addition, Orel and Marya, through their friendship, have been able to bring together their families from different backgrounds and cultures. Their families have become friends. The bond between these two girls has inspired and enlightened not only their parents but all the staff. Orel’s mother remarked: “The wounds of our children, their pain, our pain, have connected us. Do we need to suffer in order to learn that there is no difference between Jews and Arabs?”

These two young people broke the barrier of fear which keeps many people from facing their cross. Many stop just before picking up their cross because they feel there is nothing beyond. The resurrection of Jesus broke the back of fear, hatred, and violence.

Many people in our society are filled with worry and anxiety because of job loss and because the economy is not getting better yet. The “blaming game” goes around as people are laid off and cannot feed and clothe their families. Even after the Affordable Care Act, several million people still do not have health insurance. We are fighting two wars. Many who worked hard to save for retirement now cannot retire, and they have to go back to work. So, there is a lot of fear and anxiety as to what is going to happen.

While Jesus lay in the darkness of the tomb for three days, his disciples were also filled with fear and anxiety. “What will happen to us now? How are we to keep moving? Our leader is dead. We put all our trust in him, and they killed him.” Some of Jesus’ disciples went back home and picked up where they left off.

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other women decided to go to the tomb. They were only expecting to give the body of Jesus the proper burial care. But something had happened–something always happens for the person of faith. There was an angel, and the angel told them, “There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus crucified. He is not here, for he is risen as he said he would. Go quickly and tell his disciples.”
The story of Orel and Marya is also a resurrection story. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus removed fear and anxiety so that the real love and care which was in their hearts could come forth and blossom. In their own pain, those two little girls were able to break the barrier of fear and hate and become a little community of love and care.

To get to the fruits of the resurrection is always a struggle. Recall the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who refused to worship the gods of King Nebuchadnezzar. Their faith in God strengthened them to refuse, even in the face of the fiery furnace, and they survived against all odds. (Daniel 3:14-19)

The words “Be not afraid,” uttered by the angel to Mary and the other women at the tomb, were not rooted in human strength, nor in material or skillful success, but in the Word of God–in the power of the cross and the resurrection. May the graces of the cross and the power of the resurrection strengthen each of you as you face the uncertainties and anxieties of our time. May you stand firm in the bedrock faith that God is with you, no matter what happens.

(This is a revised column that first appeared in March 2010.)

Chrism Mass homily

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SV

In our Gospel from Luke this evening, Jesus begins his ministry by saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.”

Daniel Day-Lewis, who had the title role in the movie “Lincoln,” did a superb job in playing Lincoln. Why? Because he became Lincoln. In order to become Lincoln, he not only had to study Lincoln but he also had to get inside Lincoln – he had to live with Lincoln. He took on the personality of Lincoln so much that it took him a long time to get out of the character and be himself. He was transformed by the life of Lincoln.

My brother priests, and my brothers and sisters, we were anointed at our baptism and strengthened at confirmation. We became adopted sons and daughters of Christ. There are different callings in the Church, and tonight we focus on the Priesthood.

When Jesus was baptized by John, the Holy Spirit descended upon him and said, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” By recognizing Jesus as the Son of God who became one of us to lift us up from the pit of sin, we are transformed by the Holy Spirit to become like Jesus.

When our hands were anointed at ordination, the ordaining bishop prayed, “The Lord Jesus Christ, whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, guard and preserve you that you may sanctify the Christian people and offer sacrifice to God.”

In a few moments, I will ask you to renew your priestly promises to remind you that you have been anointed to bring the living Christ to his people. Just as Daniel Day-Lewis realized, you can only do that if you embody Christ, which means you know and love him. You don’t just know “about” him.

Lumen Gentium points out, “Priests should care for the people Christ entrusted to you through baptism.” Just as Jesus shared everything the Father shared with Him, so you must also share with His people. It is the extent we have become Christ that will determine how effective we are. Like John the Baptist, we are “pointers” – we point people to a deeper relationship with Christ.

Let us refer back to the Gospel of tonight, where Jesus says, “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” Here Jesus tells us why he was anointed and how he carried out the will of his Father. He entered the house of Simon and cured Simon’s mother-in-law who was afflicted with a severe fever. A leper came to Jesus, prostrated, and said to him, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” He told the woman caught in adultery who was about to be stoned, “If no one condemns you, neither do I; go, and sin no more.”

My brothers and sisters, people from every locale and culture in our diocese are present here tonight. The whole Church, united with Pope Francis, is present because what is happening here tonight is taking place throughout the Catholic world.

We will bless the oils for baptism, anointing of the sick, confirmation, ordination, and consecration of altars. These elements came from the earth, but through blessing and consecration they become means to a deeper relationship with the Lord. St. Paul said, “In our weakness, with God’s grace, we are made strong.” These oils will be carried to every parish and institution in our diocese so that their use in the sacraments will unite us as one Body in Christ.

Our faith is interactive, such that the strong in faith help the weak, and the weak help the strong. I am reminded of an event in 1958 when a mentally ill woman named Izola Ware Curry attempted to kill Dr. Martin Luther King with a letter opener at a book signing in Harlem. The doctors told Dr. King that if he had sneezed, he would have died because the letter opener had come that close to his heart. Of course, this made national news.

Later, Dr. King said that of all the get-well cards, phone calls, and messages from important people, the one that helped him the most was a letter from a ninth grader from White Plains, N.Y. The student wrote: “Dr. King, while it does not matter, I am white. I heard you had been stabbed, and if you so much as sneeze, you would die. I am so happy you did not sneeze.”

My brother priests, on Palm Sunday we heard from the reading of Isaiah, “The Lord has given me a well-trained tongue that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them up.” The more we embody Christ, the more will strength and healing come forth from us to enrich the people we serve.

In his pastoral exhortation, Pope Francis tells us the messengers of the Gospel should be joyful and not look like we are at a funeral. Isaiah had the same in mind when he said, “How beautiful upon the mountains [I would add “parishes”] are the feet of the messenger announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, ‘Your God is King.’” (Is. 52:7)

Can we walk the walk?

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SV

As we approach Holy Week, culminating with Easter Sunday, it might be spiritually helpful to look back at our Lenten journey with Jesus. On Ash Wednesday, we received ashes on our foreheads in the form of a cross. This signaled to us and to others that we would accompany Jesus in the desert. By accompanying him with more intense prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we would be transformed through his passion, death and resurrection.

To help your reflections, I would like to highlight some of the enlightening moments as Jesus moved toward his death and resurrection. Let us start with the focus of the first Sunday of Lent – Jesus’ temptations.

The Gospel of Mark states that the Spirit took Jesus into the desert among the wild beasts where he was tempted by Satan. Jesus was in the desert without food or drink for 40 days. I am sure he thought about water and food. It is precisely on the level of the senses that Satan tempted him.

Thomas Merton said that sensual desires for food, comfort, pleasure and sex are all like children in that they are so immediate and so insistent. Many people give up sensual things for Lent, like their favorite foods. It is precisely to help them to see that often what we crave for is really a craving for God. One can have all the pleasure in the world, but there is still a craving for something more.

Jesus responded to Satan: “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Our ultimate craving is not to satisfy the senses, but the soul. Also in the Gospel of Mark, it says that angels ministered to him. When we face our temptations, angels are sent to us by the Lord to give us the courage to do what is spiritually good and not destructive.

Instead of giving up your favorite food, might you fast from some of your private pursuits so as to become nourishment for your family and friends? Might you fast from anger, blame and retaliation so that you can feast on forgiveness, affirmation and the common good?

Let us reflect on the Transfiguration, the focus of the second Sunday of Lent (Mk. 9:2-10). Just before the Transfiguration, Jesus told his disciples that they would have to carry their cross. Then, with the Transfiguration they saw beyond the suffering and the cross what awaited them for their faithfulness. This was a deeper encounter with Jesus, and things became more clear. That intensive peep into the glory of God was not meant to be kept to themselves on the mountain but to be shared with others. Thus, they had to come down from the mountain.

Holy Thursday is packed with spiritual nourishment. In the upper room, just before instituting the Eucharist, Jesus washed the feet of the apostles to give them a lesson in humility. In society at that time, the rich and powerful ruled the world, and slaves washed their feet. Jesus turned this around by washing the feet of the powerless, indicating that he will transform the world not with power but with loving service. After this lesson in humility, Jesus gave us his body and blood for our salvation. How might you connect your almsgiving to your fasting? How can your own poverty, whatever it may be, enrich the lives of others?

The amazing gift of Good Friday is that, on the cross, Jesus defeated Satan once and for all. We are all beneficiaries of that salvific act of sacrificial love. Think for a moment that you are in a shopping center, and a man pulled out a weapon, threatening everyone. Another person was able to subdue the gunman, saving everyone.

That is what Jesus did for us. On the cross he took upon himself the sins of the world and defeated all sin. He bent down and lifted us up to be with him, thus, transforming us. “I died and behold I am alive for everyone.”

Imagine what the disciples and followers of Jesus were feeling like on Holy Saturday. They were dejected, depressed, disappointed and fearful. Some went back to their villages. The one in whom they had placed their hope and trust was buried in a tomb, and even God was silent. How might we enter into a reflective silence to ponder these Holy Days? Might you “unplug” from the TV, the iPod/iPad, and the car radio to create spaces where God’s voice can be heard?

But on Easter Sunday that silence was broken by an inconceivable and astounding reality. Mary of Magdala went to the tomb and found the stone removed from the entrance, and she encountered the risen Lord who spoke her name.

As you accompany Jesus through these various stages through Lent, Holy Week and Easter, I hope you become a better person, transformed into greater holiness.

On Tuesday, March 31, at 6:30 p.m. in the Cathedral Basilica, we will celebrate the Chrism Mass, when our priests will renew their priestly commitment. I invite you to come and support your priests by your presence.

Easter blessings upon you, your family and loved ones!

Our Lenten journey toward Easter

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SV

On the first Sunday of Lent our diocese, along with every other Catholic diocese in the world, celebrated the Rite of Election of Catechumens and of the Call to Continuing Conversion of Candidates. This Rite, which took place at St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica, celebrates a step in the faith journey of the two different groups involved in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). In the Rite of Election catechumens become the “Elect,” those chosen and called by God who will celebrate baptism, confirmation and Eucharist during the Easter Vigil. With this Rite, 61 people in our diocese began an intense period of final spiritual preparation for these Easter sacraments.

In addition, there were 154 candidates who celebrated the Rite of the Call to Continuing Conversion. Candidates in the RCIA process are those who have already been baptized but have not received the sacraments of Eucharist and confirmation. As baptized Catholics, or persons from other Christian faiths, these candidates are members of the Body or Christ and are very different from the non-baptized seeker in the RCIA process. It is for this reason that the Church celebrates their step forward in the RCIA process with a different Rite that focuses on their upcoming confirmation and ability to finally receive the Eucharist for the first time.

Lent is one of the most important seasons of the church year, because the whole purpose of Lent is to prepare for the Triduum, the three days that celebrate our salvation through Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

During the 40 days of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and continues until Holy Thursday, there are two tasks on which we should focus – it is a time for us to renew our baptism (or, for the Elect, to prepare for it) and it is also a time for penance and conversion.

The season originally developed from the period of final preparation of the catechumens, those in the early Church who were preparing to become Christians through baptism at the Easter vigil. Likewise it became a time of penance for those who had committed grievous sins and were preparing to reconcile with God and the Church before Easter. By the early fifth century Lent had become a time of preparation for all members of the Church. The Second Vatican Council went back to the roots of the meaning of Lent and stressed these two purposes when it stated that Lent was a time for recalling baptism or preparing for it, and a period emphasizing a penitential spirit (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #109).

Lent is about conversion, turning our lives more completely over to Christ and his way of life. That always involves giving up sin in some form. The goal is not just to abstain from sin for the duration of Lent but to root out sin from our lives forever.

Conversion means leaving behind an old way of living and acting in order to embrace new life in Christ. The idea of penance, or giving up something, has always been part of the Christian’s call to follow Jesus.

Our Lord told us that we are to carry our daily cross and follow him (Luke 9:23). I look at this passage as a challenge to us to daily put to death on the cross those aspects of our life that separate us from God and stop us from fully following Jesus. I trace back all of those sinful inclinations to the sin of Adam and Eve – that of wanting to be God.

During Lent we can “fast” from acting on the impulse to want to “be God,” such as when we want to be in control of everything in our life, or when we judge or criticize others, expecting them to be or do what WE think they should.

Thus the main focus for all Catholics should be to remove those things from our lives which prevent us from being what we were the day of our baptism – sons and daughters of God, living in a loving relationship with God and others. As a yearly time of renewal for God’s people, Lent has been seen for 16 centuries as a period of grace, a time for sharing more fully in the paschal mystery – the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The readings of Lent lead the elect, the candidates, and all of us on a journey towards Easter. Through the eyes of the Sunday Gospel readings, we should see this Lenten season as a wonderful way for the elect, candidates and all members of the Church to journey with Jesus to the three days of the Sacred Triduum where we will join him at the Lord’s table on Holy Thursday, die with him on Good Friday, and be raised with him at Easter. May this Lent be a blessed time of transformation and preparation for all of us.

Ashes to Easter

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SV

On Ash Wednesday we began to journey with Jesus in the desert, moving toward Easter when he emerged victorious. The ashes we received were the burned palms from last Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday Jesus marched triumphantly into Jerusalem. This was to remind us of his victory over sin.

“Lent” is an old English word that means “Spring.” People of the Northeast will have a great appreciation for Spring, especially after such a severe winter this year. Spring is a time to come out of the house where, during the winter, they were limited and confined.

Both the ashes and springtime point to something good to look forward to. During our Lenten journey with Jesus, we look toward Easter. Lent is a time of cleansing and preparation for victory.
The Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent is taken from St. Mark (1:12-15) — the temptations of Jesus. Immediately after Jesus was baptized and just before he was to begin his mission, he was driven by the Spirit into the desert. He did not necessarily want to go into the desert; he was driven into the desert to be tested in his determination to carry out the mission assigned to him by his Father.
That mission was not easy, as he would have to face many obstacles. Satan would fight him at every corner because Jesus had come to destroy Satan’s kingdom. Satan had defeated Adam and Eve in the garden, and so he was even more determined to defeat Jesus.

By being led into the desert by the Spirit, Jesus spent 40 days in the midst of evil (wild beasts). He went into the territory of Satan to confront him face to face. Put another way, Jesus looked evil in the eyes and saw its emptiness, its false promises and deceptions.

In Jesus’ temptations, Satan tried to turn the eyes and heart of Jesus from his Father to him. Sin is always attractive, because it fulfills some need we have, but it is only temporary. In the first temptation Satan wanted Jesus to use his power to turn the rocks into bread.

Such a temptation was great, because Jesus had been fasting for 40 days, but Jesus saw through Satan and said, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

In other words, Jesus was saying real life, real joy comes not from food, money, power, or pleasure but from union with God. In the second temptation Satan wanted Jesus to test his Father, and Jesus responded, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” In the third temptation Satan wanted Jesus to worship him, and Jesus responded that only God is to be worshiped.

As we enter the desert of our sinful heart which keeps us from a deep relationship with God and one another, we enter with more intense prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Like Jesus we are constantly tempted by sin, and we give in all too many times. So Lent is a graced time to do some “spring cleaning.”

Certainly, most of us pray every day, but what is the quality of our prayer life? Do we pray half-heartedly? Is it on the run or only when we have time — which is almost never? More intense prayer means that we make time for quiet and solitude so we can hear the heartbeat. Participate in the life of the Church. In your spiritual life, put Jesus first and not last. Otherwise, Satan will take his place. As an old saying goes, if you let Satan in your car, he will want to drive!

Fasting is not about losing weight, though that might be a result of good and faithful fasting. It is not an end; it is a means. Fasting helps to discipline our desires so that when the test of Satan comes, we will be able, like Jesus, to resist. If not directed, our desires will turn in on ourselves.

St. John Chrysostom said this about fasting: “After we have met our own basic needs and that of the people, we are immediately responsible, for the rest is for the poor.” The rich man in the Gospel was not condemned because of his riches but because he was possessed by his riches and became indifferent to the hunger of Lazarus. In Tobit (4:7) we read: “Set aside part of your goods for almsgiving; never turn your face from the poor, and God will never turn His face from you.”

Let us pray for each other that, as we make our journey with Christ in the desert, we may emerge cleansed and purified to celebrate the joy of Easter.

Year of consecrated life

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SV

In the Gospel of St. Matthew, 19:16-23, a young man told Jesus he had observed all of the commandments. Then Jesus said to him, “Go sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad because he had many possessions.

This year Pope Francis called for a Year of Consecrated Life from Nov. 30, 2014, to Feb. 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated Life. During this year Religious sisters, priests, and brothers are asked to rededicate themselves to God and the Church and to join the faithful in thanking God for the gifts of the past and ask God for guidance and wisdom in the future.

On the occasion of calling a Year of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis reflected that a radical approach to living the Gospel is called for on the part of all Christians, but especially by all Religious. He said that Religious men and women can awaken the world.

One might ask “awaken the world to what?” Our Holy Father means that in the midst of a world that is in turmoil, a world where all too often self-interest, political and social ideologies are the guiding principles, that Religious can awaken and witness to the world values rooted in the Gospels. This is an alternative that has been proven by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All Christians are called, through their baptism, to live the Gospel values, but Religious are called to live those values in a more radical way.

Religious are called to witness Christ in the manner that Jesus proposed to the young man mentioned in the first paragraph above. Obviously, this was too radical for the young man because he was possessed by his possessions, which all too often is how secular society operates.

Religious are united to the Lord in a more intimate way, and they witness to the world in a radical way by living the evangelical counsels of chastity, obedience, and poverty.

By embracing chastity, Religious make their own the pure love of Christ and proclaim to the world that He is the only begotten Son who is one with the Father. They give themselves to God alone, with an undivided heart. This is a radical witness to a world that puts so much emphasis on sexual pleasure.

By practicing the vow of obedience, the Religious is helped to discern the will of God, not alone, but with his or her fellow Religious and the Religious superior who is the final  authority of the religious institute. It is always about how to best serve the people of God. “Not my will be done but that of the Father.” This is a radical witness in the midst of  today’s society where so much emphasis is placed on doing one’s own thing and fulfilling one’s desires and ambitions.

Finally is the vow of poverty, leaving everything behind behind to follow Christ. Like Abraham, Religious must be detached enough to leave everything behind to go wherever they can best serve the people of God. They strive to live simply, so others simply may live.

I am deeply grateful for the Religious sisters, brothers, and priests serving in our diocese. If it were not for them, many of our parishes would not have a resident priest. But  more than that, they bring the richness of the gifts (charisms) of their particular religious institute and their own personal gifts which enrich our diocese spiritually and culturally.

Presently, we have Religious priests, not only from the United States, but also from India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Spain, Vietnam, Poland and Ghana. Our Religious Sisters and Brothers come from the United States, India, Nigeria and Mexico.

Join with me in thanking our Religious for their contribution to our diocese. As well, let us pray that God will bless and guide them and will lead others to answer the call to consecrated life.

Promises are to be kept!

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SV

 

I first want to affirm all those parents who are actively involved in the moral and religious formation of their children. The Church has consistently taught that parents have the primary responsibility for the growth in faith and Christian life of those to whom they have given the gift of life.

The Catechism (#1666) states that the Christian home is where the children receive the first proclamation of the faith, and thus the family is rightly called “the domestic church,” a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity. The Christian family forms an environment within which faith is professed and witnessed. Parental responsibility also includes selecting the most suitable means and schools for the Catholic education of their children. The Church has the duty and right to assist the parents with their responsibility, but not to substitute for the parents.

An article I read led me to reflect about the lack of participation by many of our Catholic parents in the religious formation of their children. The author wrote that as a child he spent much time with his grandmother.

He noticed that she prayed the rosary often. He asked her about the rosary and why she prayed it. She responded that she could not really explain it, but it was a habit passed down from her mother. She said that while she was praying the rosary she felt close to the Lord, and that gave her peace.

The child’s parents were not practicing Catholics, so when he went to Church, he went with his grandmother. His parents sent him to the best academic schools, and he became very successful in business and had a fairly good marriage.

But then he went through several crises, and he felt lost and in need of direction and guidance. For the first time he realized that something essential was missing in his life. He thought of his grandmother and her rosary and was grateful for her faithful witness. He began to research the rosary and learn more about the Catholic faith. Eventually, he began praying the rosary and again practicing his faith.

Unfortunately and tragically, today many Catholic parents do not provide for and are not involved in the religious formation of their children. Many of those parents do not nourish and live their own faith, and thus, do not actively form that Christian family environment where faith is witnessed and professed.

If they send their children to the parish religious education program, they often expect the parish to take their place and form and educate their children for them. These same parents are very involved in and follow the academic education of their children at school, and especially in sports events.

Would any parent shirk their responsibility to provide an academic education so their children can become successful in life? [Doing so is against the law, unless provision is made through home schooling.] Then, why would a parent neglect providing the essential religious and moral formation for their children?

St. Augustine was one of the most educated persons of his time, yet, after much searching he came to the conclusion that we can only rest in God. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You!”
In granting parents the gift of children, God also gives parents the supreme responsibility to form them in the faith–a responsibility for which parents will have to answer to God. Number 1656 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (quoting from Vatican II) states, “It is in the bosom of the family that parents are by word and example … the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children.” Parents are to help their children grow into a sacramental life, into persons of integrity, honesty, charity, and service to others by giving them a moral compass by which to live their lives.

In the Rite of Baptism, parents promise to accept the responsibility to train the child in the practice of the faith and to bring the child up to keep God’s commandments, and godparents promise to help the parents do this. Also in the Rite, as parents and godparents renew their own baptismal promises they promise to make it their constant care to bring the child up in the practice of the faith and to see that the divine life which God gives the child is kept safe from the poison of sin and grows stronger in the child’s heart. This promise is not to be taken lightly or neglected. This is a sacred promise to be kept!

Some parents, however, do their best to pass on the faith to their children, but the child, once he or she becomes an adult, leaves the Church and the practice of the faith. This can be very disheartening for parents. As long as parents have done their best to give their children a foundation in faith, then they have fulfilled their responsibility. That foundation will enrich and sustain their children in some way or another at a very important time in their life. Just as the man in the story stopped practicing his faith, he eventually found his way back when he found strength and inspiration in the example of his grandmother who gave him the foundation in the faith.

Letter from Bishop for the Annual Report

Working together
For Good In His Name
Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SV

In his exhortation to us, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis encouraged us to “embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by joy.” That exhortation came to us in November 2013 and, as you will see in this report, the Church of Southeast Texas was already acting on that exhortation.

In July 2013, we had changed the focus and name of one of our diocesan ministries to Evangelization and Catechesis and created a special diocesan commission on Evangelization. The new ministry was providing special formation for parishes on Evangelization.

Our Catholic schools were evangelizing to our children and teenagers with each school day. Those who were not Catholic were being exposed to strong Christian values based on Catholic teaching. Those who were Catholic were further formed in the faith creating strong leaders for our Church in the future.

The Stewardship and Communications Ministry’s Evangelization efforts were especially marked with a joyful presence throughout that fiscal year as the ministry helped parishes take Evangelization efforts into the community through the Encounter Catholic project at events like Southeast Texas Mardi Gras.

Evangelization took place not only through words but also through actions of our people as they reached out to those in need, by feeding the hungry, sponsoring health fairs, providing clothing and participating in special collections that provided funds for those in need.

This annual report for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 is a documented representation of Evangelization efforts that were made across Southeast Texas. I ask that you read it carefully and share it so that these good works will be their own exhortation to bring the light of Christ and the joy of the Gospel to others.

Let me close by paraphrasing the words of St. Paul: I give thanks to God at my every remembrance of you, praying with joy for all of you because of your partnership with me in carrying out the Gospel.