From the Pastor – February 18, 2024

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.  (Mk. 1-12)

I always look forward to Lent.  And this year is no exception.  Now that Lent is here, I’m happy to create my own little desert of calm by the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  It’s the perfect remedy for the last two weeks of noise, feasting and excess.

One of the good disciplines of Lent is “giving something up.”  When I was in seminary, I remember my rector publicly acknowledging that he gave up cigars during Lent.  And then one Friday in Lent, I walked by his room and smelled cigar smoke.  The next day I asked him about it, and he said that he decided to do something different that year because he felt like everyone knew he gave up cigars.  He felt like he was doing it for the “crowd” rather than God.

The truth is that I’m not sure that it was necessarily a “bad” thing that people knew about it.   Today in the Gospel we hear about the 40 day fast of Jesus.  The only way that St. Mark the Evangelist would have known to write about Jesus’ fast is if Jesus had told someone about it!  Think about it.  No one was there when Christ fasted; He must have opened up his heart to tell them a little about this important moment in His hidden life.  Sharing pain can help with healing, sharing joy can bring joy, and sharing penance can give strength.  Jesus shared this story to tell us that He was tempted and He overcame.  And filled with the same Holy Spirit as Jesus, we can overcome the temptations of the world so as to focus on the reward of heaven.

People often ask me what I’m giving up for Lent.  My usual practice is to give up meat and alcohol, which for me is primarily red wine.  And I don’t mind telling people, so that it’s not a surprise if they offer me a glass of wine during Lent and I decline.  But I’m sure that Jesus had some secrets that were between him and His Heavenly Father.  They were part of the “Divine Conversation” between them.  This year I also decided to do the same – to give up something that’s just between God and me.  It’s not a big thing, but it’s part of my intimacy with Him in prayer.  My desire is to empty myself just a little bit more, so that I can be more completely filled with Him.

(Very Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty
msgr.nalty@gmail.com

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Stations of the Cross

There will be Stations of the Cross and Confessions on Fridays of Lent at the Basilica of St. Stephen with Confession at 5:30pm and the Stations at 6:00pm.  Remember that Msgr. Nalty is also in the Confessional from 3:00-3:45 pm on Saturdays and 9:00-10:15 am on Sundays.

Lenten Fish Fry

After the Stations of the Cross, the Knights of Columbus will host a Lenten Fish Fry at the rear of the Rectory consisting of fried Catfish, French fries, coleslaw, and corn for $14.00 each, or $12.00 each for purchases of three dinners or more.  Proceeds will benefit both Good Shepherd Parish and Knights of Columbus.

Lenten Guidelines

THE LENTEN SEASON
A distinction is to be made between Lent and the Easter Triduum. Strictly speaking, Lent ends with the beginning of the Triduum on Holy Thursday. The Ordo notes: “Lent runs from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord’s Supper exclusive on Holy Thursday.”

FASTING AND ABSTINENCE

Fasting is to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday by all Catholics who are 18 years of age but not yet 59. Those who are bound to fast may take only one full meal. Two smaller meals are permitted if necessary to maintain strength according to each one’s needs, but eating solid foods between meals is not permitted. Abstinence from meat is to be observed by all Catholics 14 years or older on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and on all Fridays of Lent. The determination of certain days as obligatory days of penance should not be understood as limiting the occasions for Christian penance.

MAINTAINING THE SPIRIT OF OF LENT
The Spirit of the season of Lent should be maintained throughout the weeks of Lent. The obligation to observe penitential days of the Church is a very important part of our spiritual life.  Individual circumstances must be taken into account, but in general, people should seek to do more rather than less, since fast and abstinence on the days prescribed should be considered a minimal response to the Lord’s call to penance and conversion of life.

Message of the Holy Father, Pope Francis for Lent 2024

Through the Desert God Leads us to Freedom

Dear brothers and sisters!

When our God reveals himself, his message is always one of freedom: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex 20:2). These are the first words of the Decalogue given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Those who heard them were quite familiar with the exodus of which God spoke: the experience of their bondage still weighed heavily upon them. In the desert, they received the “Ten Words” as a thoroughfare to freedom. We call them “commandments”, in order to emphasize the strength of the love by which God shapes his people. The call to freedom is a demanding one. It is not answered straightaway; it has to mature as part of a journey. Just as Israel in the desert still clung to Egypt – often longing for the past and grumbling against the Lord and Moses – today too, God’s people can cling to an oppressive bondage that it is called to leave behind. We realize how true this is at those moments when we feel hopeless, wandering through life like a desert and lacking a promised land as our destination. Lent is the season of grace in which the desert can become once more – in the words of the prophet Hosea – the place of our first love (cf. Hos 2:16-17). God shapes his people, he enables us to leave our slavery behind and experience a Passover from death to life. Like a bridegroom, the Lord draws us once more to himself, whispering words of love to our hearts.

The exodus from slavery to freedom is no abstract journey. If our celebration of Lent is to be concrete, the first step is to desire to open our eyes to reality. When the Lord calls out to Moses from the burning bush, he immediately shows that he is a God who sees and, above all, hears: “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:7-8). Today too, the cry of so many of our oppressed brothers and sisters rises to heaven. Let us ask ourselves: Do we hear that cry? Does it trouble us? Does it move us? All too many things keep us apart from each other, denying the fraternity that, from the beginning, binds us to one another.

During my visit to Lampedusa, as a way of countering the globalization of indifference, I asked two questions, which have become more and more pressing: “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9) and “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9). Our Lenten journey will be concrete if, by listening once more to those two questions, we realize that even today we remain under the rule of Pharaoh. A rule that makes us weary and indifferent. A model of growth that divides and robs us of a future. Earth, air and water are polluted, but so are our souls. True, Baptism has begun our process of liberation, yet there remains in us an inexplicable longing for slavery. A kind of attraction to the security of familiar things, to the detriment of our freedom.

In the Exodus account, there is a significant detail: it is God who sees, is moved and brings freedom; Israel does not ask for this. Pharaoh stifles dreams, blocks the view of heaven, makes it appear that this world, in which human dignity is trampled upon and authentic bonds are denied, can never change. He put everything in bondage to himself. Let us ask: Do I want a new world? Am I ready to leave behind my compromises with the old? The witness of many of my brother bishops and a great number of those who work for peace and justice has increasingly convinced me that we need to combat a deficit of hope that stifles dreams and the silent cry that reaches to heaven and moves the heart of God. This “deficit of hope” is not unlike the nostalgia for slavery that paralyzed Israel in the desert and prevented it from moving forward. An exodus can be interrupted: how else can we explain the fact that humanity has arrived at the threshold of universal fraternity and at levels of scientific, technical, cultural, and juridical development capable of guaranteeing dignity to all, yet gropes about in the darkness of inequality and conflict.

God has not grown weary of us. Let us welcome Lent as the great season in which he reminds us: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex 20:2). Lent is a season of conversion, a time of freedom. Jesus himself, as we recall each year on the first Sunday of Lent, was driven into the desert by the Spirit in order to be tempted in freedom. For forty days, he will stand before us and with us: the incarnate Son. Unlike Pharaoh, God does not want subjects, but sons and daughters. The desert is the place where our freedom can mature in a personal decision not to fall back into slavery. In Lent, we find new criteria of justice and a community with which we can press forward on a road not yet taken.

This, however, entails a struggle, as the book of Exodus and the temptations of Jesus in the desert make clear to us. The voice of God, who says, “You are my Son, the Beloved” (Mk 1:11), and “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:3) is opposed by the enemy and his lies. Even more to be feared than Pharaoh are the idols that we set up for ourselves; we can consider them as his voice speaking within us. To be all-powerful, to be looked up to by all, to domineer over others: every human being is aware of how deeply seductive that lie can be. It is a road well-travelled. We can become attached to money, to certain projects, ideas or goals, to our position, to a tradition, even to certain individuals. Instead of making us move forward, they paralyze us. Instead of encounter, they create conflict. Yet there is also a new humanity, a people of the little ones and of the humble who have not yielded to the allure of the lie. Whereas those who serve idols become like them, mute, blind, deaf and immobile (cf. Ps 114:4), the poor of spirit are open and ready: a silent force of good that heals and sustains the world.

It is time to act, and in Lent, to act also means to pause. To pause in prayer, in order to receive the word of God, to pause like the Samaritan in the presence of a wounded brother or sister. Love of God and love of neighbour are one love. Not to have other gods is to pause in the presence of God beside the flesh of our neighbour. For this reason, prayer, almsgiving and fasting are not three unrelated acts, but a single movement of openness and self-emptying, in which we cast out the idols that weigh us down, the attachments that imprison us. Then the atrophied and isolated heart will revive. Slow down, then, and pause! The contemplative dimension of life that Lent helps us to rediscover will release new energies. In the presence of God, we become brothers and sisters, more sensitive to one another: in place of threats and enemies, we discover companions and fellow travelers. This is God’s dream, the promised land to which we journey once we have left our slavery behind.

The Church’s synodal form, which in these years we are rediscovering and cultivating, suggests that Lent is also a time of communitarian decisions, of decisions, small and large, that are countercurrent. Decisions capable of altering the daily lives of individuals and entire neighbourhoods, such as the ways we acquire goods, care for creation, and strive to include those who go unseen or are looked down upon. I invite every Christian community to do just this: to offer its members moments set aside to rethink their lifestyles, times to examine their presence in society and the contribution they make to its betterment. Woe to us if our Christian penance were to resemble the kind of penance that so dismayed Jesus. To us too, he says: “Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting” (Mt 6:16). Instead, let others see joyful faces, catch the scent of freedom and experience the love that makes all things new, beginning with the smallest and those nearest to us. This can happen in every one of our Christian communities.

To the extent that this Lent becomes a time of conversion, an anxious humanity will notice a burst of creativity, a flash of new hope. Allow me to repeat what I told the young people whom I met in Lisbon last summer: “Keep seeking and be ready to take risks. At this moment in time, we face enormous risks; we hear the painful plea of so many people. Indeed, we are experiencing a third world war fought piecemeal. Yet let us find the courage to see our world, not as being in its death throes but in a process of giving birth, not at the end but at the beginning of a great new chapter of history. We need courage to think like this” (Address to University Students, 3 August 2023). Such is the courage of conversion, born of coming up from slavery. For faith and charity take hope, this small child, by the hand. They teach her to walk, and at the same time, she leads them forward.  I bless all of you and your Lenten journey.

+POPE FRANCIS

Mardi Mass Schedule

Sunday, February 4, 2024
8:00am and 10:00am

Sunday, February 11, 2024
8:00am and 10:00am

The Symbolism of the Pelican

During the years I lived in Rome, I spent a lot of time trying to decipher and understand early Christian symbolism.  It was a hobby of mine as I visited churches and saw so much iconography.  Recently, someone visited St. Stephen Church in New Orleans and asked me about an image that they saw high over the sanctuary of a pelican feeding its young.  They wondered why someone would have painted the “state bird” in church!  The question gave me a good occasion to reflect upon church symbolism.

The image of the mother pelican feeding her baby pelicans is rooted in several ancient Roman legends that precede Christianity. One version is that in time of famine, the mother pelican wounded herself, striking her breast with her beak to feed her young with her blood. Another version was that the mother fed her dying young with her blood to revive them from death, but in turn lost her own life.

Given these traditions, one can easily understand how early Christians adapted it to symbolize our Lord, Jesus Christ. The pelican symbolizes Jesus our Redeemer who gave His life for our redemption and feeds us with His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. We were dead to sin and have found new life through the sacrifice of Christ.

This tradition and others is found in the Physiologus, an early Christian work which appeared in the second century in Alexandria, Egypt. Written by an anonymous author, the Physiologus recorded legends of animals and gave each an allegorical interpretation. The legend is described: “The little pelicans strike their parents, and the parents, striking back, kill them. But on the third day the mother pelican strikes and opens her side and pours blood over her dead young. In this way they are revivified and made well. So Our Lord Jesus Christ says also through the prophet Isaiah: I have brought up children and exalted them, but they have despised me (Is 1:2). We struck God by serving the creature rather than the Creator. Therefore, He deigned to ascend the cross, and when His side was pierced, blood and water gushed forth unto our salvation and eternal life.”  This work was noted by noted by numerous authors and was popular in the Middle Ages as a source for the symbols used in the various stone carvings and other artwork of that period.

In 1312 Dante wrote in his “Paridiso” of Christ as “our Pelican who shed His blood in order to give eternal life to the children of men.”  In 1606 John Lyly wrote in his

“Euphues” of the “pelicane who stricketh blood out of its owne bodye to do others good.”  In Hamlet, William Shakespeare wrote “to his good friend thus wide, I’ll ope my arms and, like the kind, life-rendering pelican repast them with my blood.”

The pelican also has been part of our liturgical tradition. In his great Eucharistic hymn “Adoro te devote,” St. Thomas Aquinas asks the pie pelicane, Jesu Domine, (the pious pelican, Lord Jesus) to “wash my filthiness and clean me with your blood.”

Those of us in Louisiana are very familiar with pelicans.  Anybody who fishes in Lake Pontchartrain or along the coast are used to seeing pelicans flying across the water and perching themselves on pilings.  The pelican is our state bird, and the motto of Louisiana is the “Pelican State.”  Even the State Flag of Louisiana uses the image of a pelican.  But interestingly enough, the image on the flag is not that of a pelican in flight or perched on a piling; it’s the familiar image taken from the Roman legend:  that of a pelican feeding its young.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the pelican symbolism was employed on the front of the altar used for the final Mass when Louisiana hosted the 8th National Eucharistic Congress in October of 1939, in a crystal clear Eucharistic reference.

So an ancient secular legend was appropriated to symbolize a Christian mystery, and that symbol became a secular image familiar to anyone in Louisiana seeing the state flag.  As for me, understanding the symbolism of the pelican and seeing them in nature provides a ready reminder of Christ’s redemptive love and His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist., something to reflect on during this Year of the Eucharist in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

 

Our Lady of Lourdes

Saturday, February 11, the Church remembers the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes to St. Bernadette Soubirous that took place a little over 150 years ago in Lourdes, France.  Since Our Lady of Lourdes Parish down the street on Napoleon Avenue has been closed, I thought a little “refresher course” on the apparitions of Lourdes might be in order.

On 11 February 1858, Bernadette Soubirous went with two girlfriends to collect some firewood to sell in order to be able to buy some bread. As she was wading through a river near the Grotto of Massabielle, she heard the wind but did not see the trees and bushes move. As she looked toward the Grotto, she saw a light and a beautiful lady – “Lovelier than I have ever seen” – dressed in white with a blue sash fastened around her waist and two golden yellow roses on each foot. She remained in an ecstatic state contemplating the Lady until called by her friends. Three days later, Bernadette returned to the Grotto with the two other girls, who reportedly became afraid when they saw her in ecstasy. Bernadette remained ecstatic when they returned to the village. On 18 February, she was told by the Lady to return to the Grotto over a period of two weeks. The Lady said: “I promise to make you happy not in this world but in the next.” In total, there were seventeen apparitions, the last taking place on July 16 of the same year. Bernadette often fell into an ecstasy during these apparitions, which were witnessed by the hundreds of people, although no one except Bernadette ever saw or heard the apparition.

During one of the apparitions, the Lady told Bernadette to drink of a mysterious spring within the grotto itself, something unknown and unseen. Bernadette scratched at the ground, and water began bubbling up and soon gushed forth. The water was muddy at first, but became increasingly clean. As word of the “miraculous spring” spread, the water was given to medical patients of all kinds, after which numerous miracle cures were reported. The first cure with a “certified miracle” was a women whose right hand had been deformed as a consequence of an accident. However, several miracles turned out to be short-term improvement or even hoaxes, so Church and government officials became increasingly concerned. Eventually, the government barricaded the Grotto and issued stiff penalties for anybody trying to get near the spring. In the process, Lourdes became a national issue in France, resulting in the intervention of emperor Napoleon III to reopen the grotto on 4 October 1858.

Good Stewardship

Collections in our parish cover less than 50% of our parish expenses. With the costs of insurance, salaries, utilities and upkeep, we have a tough time. Without some generous benefactors donating at year’s end, we would be in bad shape! We’re a parish that is very generous to the poor, but we also need to be good stewards of our church and buildings that have been left to us by past generations.

Consider the following:  If you give less than $5 into the collection each week, perhaps you can raise it to $5.  And if you give more than $5, perhaps you can raise your contribution by 25%.

Thanks for your consideration!

Ever Wonder about the Pelican High in Our Church above the Altar?

The symbolism of the pelican feeding her young is rooted in a legend preceding Christianity that when food was scarce, the mother pelican would wound her breast with her beak and feed her young with her blood to prevent starvation.

Given this legend, one can understand why the early Christians adapted it to symbolize our Lord, Jesus Christ. The pelican symbolizes Jesus our Redeemer who gave His life for our redemption and continues to feed us with His body and blood in the Holy Eucharist.

The pelican is also part of our liturgical tradition. The image of the pelican is popular artwork for altar frontals, tabernacles and arches.  In the hymn “Adoro te devote,” (written by St. Thomas Aquinas, whose feast day we celebrate on January 28, and translated into English by Gerard Manley Hopkins) the sixth verse reads:

Like what tender tales tell of the Pelican
Bathe me, Jesus Lord, in what Thy Bosom ran
Blood that but one drop of has the pow’r to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

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