The star of the tournament is a 98 year-old Sister

Whether or not you are a serious basketball fan, or just casually connected to the NCAA March Madness Men’s Basketball Tournament, chances are you have come across Sister Jean Delores Schmidt, BVM, the 98 year-old chaplain of the Loyola University Men’s Basketball Team.  Affectionately known as “Sister Jean”, she has been the team chaplain for 25 years.

Beginning each team prayer with the phrase “Good and gracious God”, Sister Jean prays for the team and serves as a model of faith and a trusted mentor.  Players hug her after the game.  One Loyola basketball player was even overheard at a tournament game telling Sister Jean, “It was all you , Sister.”

Sister Jean is more than a faith role model, how ever. When current Loyola coach Porter Moser arrived at Loyola as coach in 2011, Sister Jean was ready.  She provided him with extensive scouting reports on his own players, and on the other teams in the league. She continues to do so today, providing a scouting report to the coach and players before each game.  As her celebrity has risen, she even gave her last scouting report to the entire country just before the broadcast of the Tennessee-Loyola basketball team.

Sister Jean is more than a basketball chaplain at Loyola.  She is a beloved figure who has served the community since taking a job at then Mundelein College (now a part of Loyola University) in 1961.  She lives in a freshmen dormitory, and serves as academic advisor and campus minister.  So while the country may be getting introduced to Sister Jean for the first time, she is a beloved legend at Loyola.  The school even celebrated her with a “Sister Jean Bobblehead Night”.  She was featured in a student capstone project entitled “Wise Old Women.”

The Loyola University Campus Ministry website provided this biography of Sister Jean.  “After teaching for twenty years in several elementary schools in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Sr. Jean was assigned to the Education Department of Mundelein College where she served until the affiliation with Loyola University in 1991. Since that time, Sr. Jean has been an academic advisor, campus minister on LSC and WTC, Chaplain to the men’s basketball team and to Regis Hall residents.

She is responsible for the SMILE Program (Students Moving Into the Lives of Elderly), a partnership between Loyola students and residents of The Clare Retirement Facility. In her Regis apartment, she conducts a weekly Prayer Group composed of students from various halls.

Because Sr. Jean talks with students all day long and lives in a residence hall, she is provided with great opportunities for having fun and developing relationships.”

For her 96th birthday, Loyola University made the following video.

The media attention she has received has been phenomenal.  In an interview on National Public Radio she indicated it had just kind of mushroomed.  When a TV reporter referred to her as a “national star”, she quipped she was an “international star.”  She has been referenced as the most well-known person at the tournament.

Loyola is currently in the Sweet Sixteen.  Their next game is in Atlanta, on Thursday, March 22, starting at 6:07 (central time).  The game will be broadcast on CBS.

Vatican’s Prefect for Communication resigns

Pope Francis on Wednesday accepted the resignation of Mons. Dario E. Viganò, the man he had chosen to spearhead the Vatican media reform. In a letter published by the Holy See Press Office, the Pope said that after having reflected carefully on Monsignor’s Viganò’s request to step down from his position as Prefect of the Secretariat for Communication, he accepts his resignation “not without some effort”.

Read the full story here.

US Bishops launch new marriage website

WASHINGTON—In conjunction with the start of National Marriage Week USA, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is pleased to announce the launch of a new mobile responsive ForYourMarriage.org website on February 7, 2018.

Originally launched in 2007, ForYourMarriage.org is an initiative of the USCCB that began as the communications component of the National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage. It continues to play a key role in advancing the USCCB’s priority on marriage and family.

Thanks to a grant received from the Catholic Communication Campaign, the new website, developed in collaboration with Crosby Communications and Marketing, includes updated content, graphics, and a new section dedicated to marriage and family ministry leaders.

“I hope this new platform will reach many more people with the message of God’s plan for marriage and be a source of support to husbands and wives at every stage of their vocational journey,” said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, of Philadelphia, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

ForYourMarriage.org offers numerous resources on the meaning and beauty of marriage in God’s plan and provides support to couples at every stage of their journey. There are sections dedicated to dating, marriage preparation, mixed marriages, parenting and family, natural family planning, the stages of marriage, among others. A marriage resource section offers daily marriage tips, marriage help and support links, and solutions to common challenges. Finally, questions specific to planning a Catholic wedding as well as related Church documents and teachings are available on the website.

Along with these resources, the website features couples who write about their real-life experiences as engaged, newlyweds, or seasoned couples with weekly blog posts. Feature articles include book reviews, reports on current events and research related to marriage, and recent teachings about marriage and family life from the Holy Father.

Other websites hosted by the USCCB and dedicated to promoting marriage include PorTuMatrimonio.org and MarriageUniqueForAReason.org.

Chairman of U.S. Bishops’ Pro-Life Committee Issues Statement Supporting Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers as Important Free Speech Case Begins

The United States Supreme Court takes up today a case with implications concerning abortion and free speech.  The question is whether or not pregnancy care centers sponsored by faith groups and others opposed to abortion, can be compelled to provide information about abortion. As such the case is not simply about abortion, but also about the role of the first amendment and free speech.

At issue is a California law, the Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act, commonly known as FACT.  The law states that facilities that are not licensed must indicate they are not.  But also, all must post this notice as well: “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [insert the telephone number].”  It is this notice that provides the free speech question, as lawsuits filed against the law believe that being forced to post such notices amounts to forced support for abortion.

There have been cases in other states with laws similar to the FACT that have been struck down.  California claims that the FACT simply requlates professional speech, which is within its ability.  There are states, such as Illinois and Hawaii, that have similar laws that have not been tested.  A Supreme Court ruling to strike down the law would likely have the result of striking down all similar state laws.  Should the California law be upheld, it would be likely other states would adopt such laws.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued a statement concerning this important case.

“Pro-life pregnancy care centers embody everything that is right and good in our nation: generosity, compassion and love that is offered to support both mother and child. But rather than applauding and encouraging the selfless and life-affirming work of these centers, some governments want to force them to provide free advertising for the violent act of abortion in direct violation of their pro-life convictions and the First Amendment. The United States Supreme Court cannot let this happen. We pray that the Court will do the right thing and uphold our fundamental right to free speech when it decides this case.”

In addition, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and several other groups filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court supporting the pro-life pregnancy centers in this important free speech case. The other groups are the California Catholic Conference, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Christian Legal Society and Agudath Israel of America. The full text of the brief is available online: http://www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/amicus-briefs/upload/NIFLA-Amicus-2018-01-13F.pdf

School Resource Officer Engaged School Shooter; Seen as Hero

A school resource officer is being hailed as a hero after his actions engaging the shooter at Great Mills High School.  School Resource Officer Blaine Gaskill pursued and engaged Austin Wyatt Rollins, a 17-year-old shooter who shot two other students just before the start of the school day today.

According to the Saint Mary’s County Sherriff’s Office, just before 8:00am (edt), at Great Mills High School, a 17-year-old student, Austin Wyatt Rollins, fired a Glock semiautomatic handgun, shooting a 16-year-old female student, and a 14-year-old male student. According to the sheriff’s office, the gunman, Rollins, had a previous relationship with the 16-year-old female student. According to St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron, the 14-year-old male student was in stable condition, and the 16-year-old female student was in Intensive Care with potentially life-threatening injuries.

Blaine Gaskill (Courtesy of Saint Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office)

County Sherriff Tim Cameron indicated that shortly after shots were fired, the school resource office, Blaine Gaskill, pursued and engaged the shooter. Simultaneous shots were fired, and at 10:48am (edt) the gunman, Rollins, had been pronounced dead. It was not known whether Rollins was killed by Gaskill, or whether he took his own life.

Blaine Gaskill is listed as the School Resource Officer on the Great Mills High School website, and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan stated a press conference that Gaskill was “one tough guy” and a SWAT team officer.

Rollins was a senior student at Great Mills High School.  According to a local newspaper, Rollins was on the honor roll.  His Facebook page indicated a liking for NASCAR.  At this time it is not clear what his motives for the shooting may have been.

This high school shooting comes a little more than a month after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and faculty were killed.  The County Sheriff’s office is being assisted by other local law enforcement as well as the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco.  President Donald Trump expressed condolences as he was speaking to reporters.

Great Mills High School has around 1600 students and is located about 65 miles southeast of Washington, DC.  Governor Hogan issued the following statement after the shooting.

“The school shooting that took place this morning at Great Mills High School remains an active investigation, and Maryland State Police are on the scene assisting local and federal law enforcement. I want to express my deepest gratitude to the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office and all of the first responders who swiftly and bravely took action to secure the school. The First Lady and I are praying for those who were injured, their families and loved ones, and for the entire Great Mills community as they come together to heal in the wake of this horrific situation.
“But prayers are not enough. Although our pain remains fresh and the facts remain uncertain, today’s horrible events should not be an excuse to pause our conversation about school safety. Instead, it must serve as a call to action.”

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Here’s what I think: It’s a spiritual problem

Westside Middle School, Jonesboro, Arkansas.

James Parker Middle School, Edinboro, Pennsylvania.

Thurston High School, Springfield, Oregon.

Columbine High School, Littleton, Colorado.

Lake Worth Middle School, Lake Worth, Florida.

Santana High School, Santee, California.

Red Lion Area Senior High School, Red Lion, Pennsylvania.

Ricori High School, Cold Spring, Minnesota.

Red Lake Senior High School, Red Lake, Minnesota.

Campbell County Comprehensive High School, Jacksboro, Tennessee.

Platte Canyon High School, Bailey, Colorado.

Amish School, Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.

Central High School, Knoxville, Tennessee.

Discovery Middle School, Madison, Alabama.

Millard South High School, Omaha, Nebraska.

Chardon High School, Chardon, Ohio.

Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, Connecticut.

Sparks Middle School, Sparks, Nevada.

Arapahoe High School, Centennial, Colorado.

Reynolds High School, Troutdale, Oregon.

Marysville Pilchuck High School, Marysville, Washington.

Townville Elementary School, Townville, South Carolina.

North Park Elementary School, San Bernardino, California.

Freeman High School, Rockford, Washington.

Aztec High School, Aztec, New Mexico.

Marshall County High School, Benton, Kentucky.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida.

27 school shootings in the last 20 years. And this does not include suicides, gang related violence or deaths that resulted from interpersonal troubles.  Let that number sink in for a moment.  27 school shootings in 20 years.  An average of a little more than a school shooting a year.  Nowhere else in the world is there this level of violence in schools.  Nowhere.  Whatever is happening here in the United States simply does not have any other countries to compare to in terms of this issue. 

And this is just schools.  This does not include the Las Vegas shooting, the Pulse nightclub shooting or the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado.  Just schools. And the pace of these school shootings is escalating.  Fifteen have occurred in the last ten years. Ten have occurred in the last five years.  That is two a year.    

We have a school shooting problem.  We have a shooting problem.  We have an incarceration problem.  And, once again, little is likely to come from this latest school shooting.  There will be no honest discussion about a complex problem, because we will cling to our tired clichés.  There will be people who will pray, and while spiritually beneficial, all too soon there will be another incident where we will be called to pray again.  We will hear again that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  We will hear again that simply banning automatic weapons will solve the problem, when the gun responsible for the most deaths is the handgun. And once again, no meaningful search for a solution to a problem will happen.

Why? Because before we discuss solutions, we must admit the problem.  It is not just a gun problem. We have a spiritual problem.  I am not simply discussing a problem related to going to church or belonging to a religion.  We have a spiritual problem because in too many instances we sell our values for short term gain.  And it is not just Republicans.  And it is not just Democrats.  It is what arises from politics that have become tribal. It is what arises when people stop using words like evil and sin. 

When we do not believe every human being has a right to be born, we create the seeds of violence.  When we refer to immigrants as criminals, rapists and murderers, we sow the seeds of violence. When we become comfortable when almost 1 in 5 children live in poverty, we sow the seeds of violence.  When we allow schools in high poverty areas to languish, we sow the seeds of violence.  When we are comfortable with children not have equity and access to the type of education that would provide them the opportunity to succeed, we sow the seeds of violence. When we are ok with the culture that makes it possible for men to sexually harass, assault and abuse women, we sow the seeds of violence.  When we objectify people through pornography, and sexualize human beings in the interest of selling a product (I am pointing out your World Series ads a few years ago, Hardees) we sow the seeds of violence.

Bottom line.  We are our brother’s keeper.  We must see Jesus in every other human being, without exception. (This means doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.) We must welcome the stranger. We must care when people do not have access to basic needs.  We must fight for the right of every human being to be born and cared for after birth.  We must fight for a country that seeks to provide opportunity for all, regardless of income.  We must fight for an end to human trafficking, pornography and the sexual exploitation of women.  Put simply, I must emulate Jesus, in whose image I and everyone else is made.

We need to admit our spiritual problem.  A problem with the spirit.  We need to be kind to each other.  We need to be responsible for our own sins.  We need to be responsible and admit that we choose not to help others when we could.  We need to admit that we are responsible, each one of us, for sins of justice that perpetuate, and even make worse, the imbalance of opportunity among peoples in this world.  We need to understand that when we think of ourselves as over and against other human beings, and we do little to understand people who disagree with us, we make it even more likely that people will be left out and ostracized.

Saint James reminds us of this in his letter.  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

Respect for human dignity cannot be limited to certain human beings.  Respect for human dignity cannot be limited to respecting only people who look like us. It cannot be limited only to people who agree with us, or see the world like us. We must stop referring to people with whom we disagree as crazy or evil.  We must stop using belittling nicknames for our political opponents.  I have never referred to another politician with a derogatory nickname.  This is not because I am better than anyone else.  It is because I know I must respect people to have any influence on making things better.

I am tired of the same old stupid lines that come out after tragedies like this.  Yes, despite drug laws, people still do drugs.  So, should all drugs simply be legal? Gun control alone, in whatever form it takes, will not end violence.  Can we, for once, rise to the occasion of a tragedy, by demonstrating a willingness to admit we have a violence problem.  Can we put away the clichés and admit that for whatever reason, the United States is an outlier with gun violence.  Can we research to find out why? Can we have logical, evidence-based discussions to discover a solution? Can we admit that this is a complex problem that will not be easily or quickly solved?

Can we stop blaming the mentally ill? Yes, there are mentally ill people who are violent.  But people who are mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of violence, not perpetrators.  While it is estimated that one in four people will experience some sort of mental illness, 25% of people are not engaging in violent behavior.  Correlation (when something is related) is not causation (when something produces an effect). I could find correlation between being male and violence.  Does that mean then that we should pass laws to keep men from guns? Of course not. 

I do believe we need to discuss reasonable gun restrictions.  When the United States turned its attention to cars, to make them safer, cars became much safer.  I realize the Constitution does not make having and driving a car a right.  But with every right comes responsibility.  And as much as I wonder why people need an AR-15, the most problematic gun in the United States is the handgun.  We need to be able to discuss the issue of gun violence. And we need a national solution.  Yes, some cities have restrictive gun laws.  But, drive a few miles, and guns are easy to get.  We need to sit down and talk with each other about this problem, and a whole host of others.  But we won’t.  And, in fact, until we admit our spiritual problem, it will not make a difference even if we did.

Lectio Divina: Encountering God

Lectio Divina

How using the ancient practice can begin or revive a sense of prayer

DePorres Durham, OP

Lectio Divina is a way of praying with the bible.  The word literally means, “Divine Reading”. God speaks to us, and we respond to God.  So, Lectio Divina is not just reading, but rather, reading so we might encounter God, and so doing, responding to God. The roots of Lectio Divina go back to the 3rd century, to Origen.  It is thought he passed this practice of prayer on to Saint Ambrose, who taught it to Saint Augustine.  It was Saint Benedict who formalized it, and it is probably the Benedictines, and their approach to contemplative prayer that caused this practice to survive.

Almost all meditation, even the prayerful meditation of the Lectio Divina, begins by slowing ourselves down.

So just how does one go about Lectio Divina? While people discuss four parts of Lectio Divina, I would suggest there are five.  I add the importance of preparation for the encounter.  We cannot just rush into Lectio, but rather must prepare ourselves for it.  Just as a person might stretch before doing exercise, so too we do “spiritual stretching” by getting ourselves ready.

1) Preparation. Increasingly there is recognition of the power of taking some time to meditate.  Christians have been doing this for centuries.  By taking some time to relax, reflect and focus, the rest of our life can be more peaceful.

Almost all meditation, even the prayerful meditation of the Lectio Divina, begins by slowing ourselves down.  Our lives are quite busy.  Too busy, in fact.  You probably learned the secret to relaxing when you were little.  When you got too anxious, it was likely that some parent or teacher told you to “take a deep breath.” We prepare ourselves by taking a number of deep breaths.

This preparation is known as focused breathing.  Dr. Nick Lazaris suggests the following steps to engage in focused breathing.

6 Rules for Practicing Focused Breathing

1) Prior to practicing, make sure your spine is straight.

2) Inhale through your nose with a long, sustained breath

(not fast, shallow breathing)

3) As you inhale, imagine your lower stomach is filing with air (you are actually filling up your lower lungs)

4) Hold your breath for a count of 3

5) As you exhale slowly through your mouth, for a count of 6, picture tension and anxiety leaving your body.

6) Associate your focused breathing with words such as “Calm”….”Relax”. (Lazaris, 2018)

Do this a few times, releasing stress and anxiety, and filling with peace and calm. Know that this cannot be rushed, but rather, everyone needs time to let go of the stresses of the day and become focused. Since this is prayer, some find it helpful to focus on a word or two.  Often, simply saying the name of Jesus quietly can be a big help.

2)  Lectio (Read). The first step is simply to read the text, or if done in a group, to listen to the person reading it. Either way, the text should be read slowly.  As you read or hear the text, you pay attention to words or phrases that strike you. This is an exercise of listening to your “gut.” This is not an academic study. This is more an exercise of the heart rather than a task of the head. Allow a few moments of silence before reading again.

3) Meditatio. (Meditate). As you read or listen to the text a second time, you are know seeking to pay attention to the experience.  What do you feel as you hear this text again?  What emotions are coming to the surface? Are there other situations or current events that cause you to feel the same way, or is there any connection to them? And reflect on these feelings and your experience.

 4) Oratio. (Prayer). As you read or listen to the text a third time, take a moment to pray about it.  Some find it helpful to journal about it.  For others, it can simply be the case of seeking to make real the words needed to be spoken to God.

The prayer is about listening to God and responding to God. 

 5) Contemplatio. (Contemplate). Contemplation may at first seem to be no different than meditation.  Often the two words are used interchangeably.  But there is a real, if not subtle difference.  Meditation is about discovering the experience and feelings, and reflecting upon them.  Contemplation is about resting in the experience totally, resting in the presence of the Lord.

References.

Lazaris, N. (2018). Focused Breathing Tips for Reducing Anxiety. Retrieved from http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/focused_breathing_tips_for_reducing_anxiety.html retrievewd on January 6, 2018.

Manneh, E. (2017). Lectio Divina: A Beginner’s Guide. Retrieved from http://bustedhalo.com/ministry-resources/lectio-divina-beginners-guide January 6, 2018.

The Star that Leads to Jesus: Homily for Ephiphany Sunday, January 7, 2018

Readings for Today

Today we are reminded of the importance of following Jesus.  As we encounter the example of the Magi who followed the star, without knowing exactly where it led, we are reminded that our lives of faith are about following someone.  The challenge is that we can choose to follow stars that do not lead to Jesus.  We can be tempted by the allure of the popularity of social media, or the tug of consumerism, or the need to be constantly distracted so that we do not ever confront ourselves about areas where we need to convert.

And Herod in today’s gospel reminds us that we can also follow the false star of power.  It is not just absolute power like that of Herod, but the power of people who believe they can do it all themselves.  The belief that they do not need others.  They can go it alone.  People can believe they do not need God, and so they do not surrender to God. Then there are the Magi, who follow the star that leads to Jesus.  What star will you follow?

Water and blood. Baptism and Eucharist. Homily for Saturday, January 6, 2018

Readings for Today

Water and Blood.  Baptism and Eucharist. Words in the bible often refer to something other than the obvious.  Today is such an example.  Water is part of both readings.  Whenever we see or read about water, the first thought should be baptism. This is true whether we read about New Testament letters, like today, or stories from the Old Testament.  The flood in the book of Genesis points to baptism.  The faithful, those who trust in God, are saved.

Today is just such an example.  The readings remind us of the very important difference between John’s baptism and the baptism of Jesus. John’s baptism points to human effort. Jesus’ baptism points to divine salvation. The Incarnation of Jesus is not simply a nice Christmas set.  Rather, it is the miracle of God’s becoming human.  And, because Jesus is both human and divine, the sacraments lead to salvation.

It all has to do with love: Homily for Friday, January 5, 2018

Readings for Today

Love.  This word is at the center of the gospel.  Without love, little in the gospel makes sense.  However, today it is difficult to understand exactly what love is. It has been weakened so much.  Love, in popular language, can apply to just about anything.  In fact, the way it is used, love can be applied to people or things.  But someone once said, we love people, and use things, not the other way around.

At the heart of any ministry there is the call to love.  But not a sugary sweet love, but one that really challenges.  The gospel sees love as the way we are fulfilled, because God is love.