Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

Articles By: Joe Pisani

The forgotten value of suffering

I’ve never been a person who could endure suffering without complaining. Even a little suffering. I wish I could learn from saints like Padre Pio, who lived with the stigmata for 50 years, or Therese of Lisieux, who died at 24 from tuberculosis after terrible suffering.

Or the 14-year-old martyr St. Jose Sanchez del Rio, who defied the Mexican military with the cry of “Viva Christo Rey!” as they led him to his death. Or St. Josephine Bakhita, a religious sister who had been kidnapped from Sudan at 7 years old and was sold into slavery. I look at their lives and realize that kind of strength could only come from Christ.

We’ll all suffer in this life. No one is exempt. It’s part of the human experience, a result of original sin and living in an imperfect world. Suffering leads some people to anger and others to despair. Suffering leads many to atheism, and a privileged few to a deeper understanding of Christ’s Passion.

Suffering is a mystery we’ll never fully grasp in this life; however, it’s a spiritual certainty that our suffering offered to God can do miraculous things. I first encountered that idea a long time ago, not in my college theology classes but in my fourth-grade catechism lessons with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Shelton.

“Offer your suffering to Jesus, and he’ll do amazing things with it,” Sister told us young Catholics. “If you scrape your knee, offer it up. If you have a stomach ache, offer it up,” she said. It may sound juvenile, but Sister taught us that our little sufferings when united with Christ’s Passion would do wonderful things for people who needed help. Years later, I realize she was right.

Back then, I wasn’t sure what the “amazing things” could possibly be, and even now I sometimes wonder, although I’m certain I’ll find out in the next life and never regret offering up my pains, sorrows and trials. I’ll probably wish I’d done more for Jesus.

That doesn’t mean I welcome suffering. I dread it, especially when the pain has been excruciating, like that case of shingles or those kidney stones. My first words weren’t “I offer it up,” but rather a desperate plea something like, “Get rid of this pain PLEASE because I can’t take it!”

The coronavirus pandemic has been a time of suffering for many people, who faced illness, anxiety, loneliness, abandonment, or dying without their loved ones.

You don’t have to look far to see the face of suffering in the world. One of my friends spends the day in pain and he’s not even sure of the cause. Another cares for a child with cancer. Another is carrying the cross of addiction. Another is living with someone else’s addiction. Another is a caregiver for a spouse with chronic illness. Another lost her job and is facing eviction.

My mother did her share of suffering. She had cancer and eventually developed Alzheimer’s. What set her apart was she never complained. I’m convinced her suffering helped bring down a lot graces for family members and friends who might otherwise never have known Christ.

When I look at the picture of the Little Flower on my bureau and recall her short life, I ask for only a fraction of the strength she had. That strength, of course, came from Jesus, who though divine took the form of a man and shared our suffering … and embraced it so we could have eternal life.

Our only hope lies in Christ. Sometimes he shares his cross with us, and sometimes we share our cross with him. Years after Sister told us about the redemptive value of suffering, I read St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, in which he said, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…”

Such a curious concept, such a wonderful concept that another person’s conversion or salvation can be made possible through our willingness to carry a cross.

There’s only one place to go when your life is afflicted with pain, emotional or physical. Sit in front of the tabernacle. Words aren’t even necessary. Jesus understands everything. And always remember to turn to Our Lady of Sorrows, who endured suffering in a way we never will and who is always there to comfort us.

Nana, Papa, everybody up there, pray for us!

Sometimes I look up to heaven in frustration and grumble about the way things are in the world, my country and—let me not forget—my family.

I have relatives and family members who are so far from Christ that I find myself complaining, “Mom! Dad! What the heck are you doing up there? Stop enjoying yourself and think about us down here! How about some prayers! Get to work, PLEASE!”

Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating…but not much. I’m sure they’re praying for the rest of us, but just in case they’re asleep on the job or not giving 150 percent, I want to remind them to get going because if there’s anything our world needs now more than ever, it’s prayer. Don’t believe what the secularists and the media say. Pray works.

Down in this vale of tears, we need all the help we can get, which is why I try to spend as much time as possible appealing to the saints for their intercession because they understand firsthand how much life can be a struggle and they have a direct line to God.

I’m always asking the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph for help, along with my own group of personal favorites, who include my guardian angel, St. Michael, St. John Paul II, St. Ann and St. Joachim, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Joseph Barsabbas, Blessed Margaret of Castello, St. Martha, Venerable Fr. McGivney, Blessed Solanus Casey, Servant of God Vincent Capodanno, St. Padre Pio, Servant of God Chiara Corbella Petrillo, St. Jeanne Jugan, St. Josephine Bakhita, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Blessed Mother Clelia, St. Joanna, St. Mother Teresa, Servant of God Dorothy Day and St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who lost her family in a small pox epidemic.

I try to pray the Litany of Saints every day and petition everyone from Saints Peter and Paul to St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Mary Magdalen to “pray for us.” Last week, I had another idea that I thought might help during this time of crisis. I sat down at my typewriter and started to put together what I call a “Litany of Family and Friends” to my deceased loved ones.

The private litany I compiled included grandmothers, grandfathers, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, classmates, coworkers, nuns, and priests like Father Ed Coyne, who helped countless people in recovery when he was alive. Pray for us!

My litany also included teachers, professors and friends who made a difference in my life, including the most devout journalist I ever knew, the late Hugh Mulligan of Ridgefield. Pray for us!

If they did so much while they were alive, just imagine what they can do now. I’m convinced they’re waiting for us to call on them, so I encourage you to compile your own list and appeal to them by name for their intercession…every day.

I ask for help not just from saintly people I knew, but also from the less than perfect ones, and there are many. I figure they’re like the bungling angel Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and are always looking for opportunities to earn their wings.

The veil between heaven and earth is a thin one, and our beloved deceased family members and friends are always praying for us. While I never doubt that, it gives me enormous consolation to ask them for prayers.

Like Jesus and Our Lady, they’re watching over us, directing us and praying for the graces we need during these troubled times. Only when we see them again in heaven will we understand all they did for us during our earthly exile, and we’ll owe them a great debt of gratitude.

One last thought. Don’t forget your grandmothers. I’m convinced a grandmother’s prayers are one of the greatest forces in the universe. Don’t believe what the scientists, the secularists, the media and the atheists tell you. Politics, science and the press are nowhere near as powerful.

Someday when Jesus is handing out the Most Valuable Player awards, I bet there will be a long line of mothers and grandmothers standing in line to be honored. For all eternity, they’ll be recognized for what they accomplished for us with their prayers.

The best advice I ever got

I gave my public speaking class a homework assignment to write a speech on the topic, “The best advice I ever got.” Students know a lot more than adults give them credit for…especially if they got their wisdom from their parents. OK, I admit I’m biased. I’m convinced that more young people should listen to their parents, although I probably didn’t as much as I should have.
We all have advice we’d like to share, some good, some bad. Some of us can’t stop giving advice—to the chagrin of our family members and friends—and many of us don’t listen to advice anyway.
I’ve certainly heard enough of it from my mother, my father, my grandmother, my teachers, priests, professors, the pope, every boss I’ve had, and countless blowhards I’ve encountered throughout my life who shall go unnamed. And I’ve given my share of it to my kids, who occasionally listened, and my wife, who rarely listened. The older I get, the more they want to give ME advice.
My brain is teeming with advice, most of which I let go in one ear and out the other, as my mother would say.
My father, who lived the last 25 years of his life sober, was always passing along AA wisdom like “A day at a time” and “Live and let live.” The advice that got him sober and kept him sober was pretty simple: “Don’t drink and go to meetings.”
One valuable tip I often ignored came from my stock broker, who said, “Buy low and sell high.” Easier said than done. It was usually too late by the time I bought and even later by the time I sold. My 401(k) still hasn’t fully recovered from the trauma.
Throughout history, sages like Ben Franklin spouted adages like “He who lies down with dogs shall rise with fleas,” “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” “We may give advice, but we cannot give conduct,” “Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices,” and this classic, “There are three faithful friends—an old wife, an old dog and ready money.”
Another source of wisdom is the Book of Proverbs, which contains gems like “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” And this timeless proverb, which all husbands should memorize: “A wife of noble character is worth far more than rubies.”
I recently bought a book titled, “The Best Advice I Ever Got, by Katie Couric, who observed, “I never learned anything when I was talking.”
As I leafed through the pages, I found advice from many famous people, including the usual platitudes like “Do your best,” “Don’t be afraid,” “Work hard,” “Take risks,” and “Follow your dreams.” A few tidbits left me scratching my head in amazement. For example, Bill Cosby prophetically said, “Don’t be your own worst enemy.” As my mother would say, “He should have listened to his own advice.
Before his fall from grace, Matt Lauer said, “Sometimes you gotta go off course.” He sure did. Valerie Plame—remember her?—opined, “Life is unfair.” Echoing Socrates, Ellen DeGeneres said, “Be true to yourself.” And pre-presidential Donald Trump said, “Know everything you can.”
I was amazed that not one person mentioned God. However, one famous actor who isn’t afraid to mention God is Denzel Washington. In his commencement address at Dillard University, he told graduates, “Put God first! Put God first in everything you do!” That’s certainly worth remembering.
The best advice I ever got is better than everything in Katie Couric’s book. It’s a simple and yet life-altering piece of wisdom. It’s advice I try to remember every day: “ALL the answers lie in the tabernacle.” One more time. ALL the answers lie in the tabernacle. Not a few, not some, not many. ALL.
Are you troubled about money, your marriage, your kids, your job, your health, your country? Are you sick or depressed or unhappy or confused or lonely? Sit in front of the tabernacle. Talk to Jesus in the silence and then listen to Jesus in the silence, and he will speak to your soul.
All the answers lie in the tabernacle. Go there even if you don’t think you’re looking for answers because you’ll find consolation, peace and joy. You’ll find everything you need.
“All the answers lie in the tabernacle” is the best advice I ever got…or gave.

A model for all grandparents

I’ve often wondered what kind of grandparents St. Anne and St. Joachim were. Did St. Anne dote over Jesus because he was her only grandchild? Did St. Joachim slip him a piece of candy when Mary and Joseph weren’t looking? Did they spoil him with gifts at Hanukkah? Did they babysit?

Grandparents play an important role in the development of every child—even the Christ Child—and although their efforts were never recorded by the Gospel writers, you can be sure Anne and Joachim did their part and can serve as an example for Catholic grandparents everywhere. After all, look at the outstanding job they did raising Our Lady.

With Baby Boomers among the growing ranks of grandparents, it’s more important than ever to step up to the plate and set a good example the way that their predecessors in the Greatest Generation did. My daughters still amuse themselves with stories about my mother and father. I only hope I can do as well, although sometimes I have my doubts.

Grandparents are fundamental to family life now that both parents are often in the workforce. I recently got stuck behind a school bus and noticed that boys and girls were getting picked up by smiling grandparents. I guess grandparents are an inexpensive resource in a competitive job market. I know from firsthand experience because my wife, Sandy, and I regularly watch our 3-year-old grandson Gabriel, although I confess it’s more work than play, and by the time we get home, I’m ready for a nap…and so is the dog.

Both my parents worked to support our family, and for a number of years I lived with my grandmother on the East Side of Bridgeport.

She was an Italian immigrant who was widowed in her early 40s. She raised nine kids during the Great Depression with no safety net, and she raised them by herself. During the years I lived with her, she would take me across the street to St. Mary Church for daily Mass, which was celebrated in a mysterious language called Latin that I couldn’t understand.

Every afternoon at lunchtime, I would lie on the floor of her apartment in front of the stove with my coloring book and crayons, while she baked two sweet potatoes, one for her and one for me. Then, she sat nearby in her rocking chair, praying the rosary. Very often, she would doze off but miraculously wake up just in time to take the potatoes out of the oven.

Years later, I still remember that simple pleasure and those moments together. And years later, I still have a devotion to the rosary because of her. Even now, in anxious and frightening times, I’ll whisper to her, “Please pray for me,” because I’m convinced of the intercessory power of her prayers. Appropriately, her name was Angelina, which means “little angel.”

Back when our children were young, our oldest daughter would stay with my parents on the weekend because four kids could be a little overwhelming for us. My mother, who was the director of religious education in her parish, would take her to Mass and make sure she knew her prayers and catechism. And every May, she had our daughters participate in the crowning of the Blessed Mother.

I confess that I could be a better power of example for my grandchildren—Lennox, Mason and Gabriel—but they tend to bring out the last vestiges of the child in me, and sometimes, it’s all about toys, candy and fooling around.

Gabriel, 3, recently told me that broccoli was his favorite food, if you can believe that—and I couldn’t. He loves broccoli so much that at a dinner party, he stole some off his uncle’s plate when he wasn’t looking. That peculiar obsession ended, however, when I introduced him to Mike and Ike candy. He would have eaten the whole box if I didn’t stop him.

Then, I asked, “What do you like better, broccoli or Mike and Ike?” His response was instantaneous—“Mike and Ike!” Hey, that’s what grandfathers are for.

I’m really proud that his parents are teaching him to say his prayers, and whenever we go out to dinner, we let him lead us in grace, to the amusement of other people in the restaurant.

Of the many things grandparents can do—from helping with college tuition to buying First Communion dresses and babysitting—the most important is setting a strong example of faith. It’s something that grandchildren will always remember.

St. Anne and St. Joachim, please pray for us grandparents and our families.

Breaking the Second Commandment

Every so often I rent a movie to watch on my iPad because I don’t own a television. We’re not Amish. We just gave up TV when we realized the entertainment industry was undermining everything we were trying to do as parents.
With four daughters, it was virtually impossible to monitor what they were watching, so in a fit of what I like to think was justifiable anger, I pulled the cable box out of the wall and went to Walmart, where I bought a set of rabbit ears, which let them watch two channels for the news, the weather and maybe “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” or “Little House on the Prairie.” No more “Jerry Springer,” no more “Dawson’s Creek,” no more “Beverly Hills 90210.” That was a while ago and things have gotten immeasurably worse.
I eschew R-rated movies although PG13 can be pretty downright vulgar too. When I’m looking to rent a film, I usually google it and ask the question, “Why is (film name) rated R?” You’d be terrified by the answers. There are generally a large number of violent acts, sex acts, deaths, dismemberments…and the requisite “pervasive language,” which in simple terms means a whole lotta swearing. They say you are what you eat. Well, you certainly are what you watch.
The other day, I came upon a few movies I thought might be appropriate and I rented what seemed like the most innocuous possibility of all—“The Bad News Bears” with Walter Matthau, a classic kid comedy that most of us have probably seen several times since it was released in 1976. Rated PG, it seemed like it would be my kind of movie, so I settled down for a predictable plot with a few laughs along the way.
Now to be sure, there was no gratuitous bloodshed or recreational sex in “Bad News Bears.” However, I found plenty of swearing and, most disturbing of all, what was once called “taking the Lord’s name in vain,” which in modern America and Hollywood is perfectly acceptable. Everybody does it, right? Well, everybody in the movie industry certainly does it.
I lost count of the times Walter Matthau took God’s name in vain or used the name of Jesus as a curse. Every time he did, I cringed and said a prayer for forgiveness.
Forgive us, Lord, for using your name as a curse, for taking it in vain, which has become commonly accepted, along with four-letter words we sprinkle throughout our conversations at work, at home, on the street, in the bar and everywhere else.
I still remember being in fourth grade when we learned the Ten Commandments from the Sisters of St. Joseph. I wasn’t quite sure what the words “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” meant, but I figured it must be a pretty important commandment if God made it number two…when murder was number five and stealing was number seven.
A few years ago, I really started to pay attention to my language and launched a major personal campaign to stop using profanity even when I was insanely angry. I got so bold that when someone used Jesus’ name as a curse, I would object. As you can imagine, I didn’t get many invitations to sports bars and rock concerts.
But this is important stuff. If we don’t tell our kids, family, friends and coworkers that we don’t like to hear God’s name tossed around like a common curse, who will?
Whenever you hear anyone taking God’s name in vain, ask for forgiveness for that person and say a prayer of reparation.
Our faith is pretty explicit on this topic. The Catechism says, “The name of the Lord is holy. The second commandment prescribes respect for the Lord’s name…and forbids the abuse of God’s name and every improper use of the names of God, Jesus Christ and also of the Virgin Mary.”
God’s name should only be used to bless, praise or glorify and not be abused in hateful words, false oaths, anger, reproaches or defiance of God.
Never forget the fundamentals: “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

A saint like the rest of us

I still remember the time I didn’t get the job. Well, actually there were a few times I didn’t get the job and I don’t like to remember them. Then, there was the time I didn’t get the girl or the promotion or the mortgage or the college acceptance or (fill in the blank).

Life is full of disappointments, and I suspect if we sat around cataloging every time we were disappointed, we wouldn’t want to face another day. Sometimes you just have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again, as the song says.

My typical response to a major disappointment is to raise my eyes to heaven, shake my head and ask, “Why, God, why? Why did this happen? Why didn’t you prevent this?” But disappointment is a fundamental fact of life that we can’t escape, and it has always been that way. As they say in 12 Step programs, “You are not alone.”

One of the most painful scripture readings for me is in the Acts of the Apostles, and we hear it every May 14 on the feast of St. Matthias. Although he wasn’t one of the original apostles, Matthias got the job after they voted to replace Judas.

St. Luke recorded: “So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas—who was also known as Justus—and Matthias. Then, they prayed, ‘You, Lord, who knows the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.’ Then, they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the apostles.”

Joseph Barsabbas didn’t get the job, and he was lost in the shadows of history, eclipsed by someone else’s success. Did he go home and brood? Did he complain to his wife and family that he was better qualified than Matthias? Did he walk away from Christ like so many others and return to his Jewish faith? Was he angry and resentful?

To my thinking, none of our disappointments can compare with not being named one of the Twelve Apostles. That’s the kind of disappointment I don’t think I could have survived … without Jesus. I’m pretty sure the same was true of Joseph Barsabbas, now known as Saint Joseph Barsabbas, who stands as an example for all of us who’ve suffered disappointments in life. He didn’t let his disappointment defeat him.

St. John Chrysostom writes, “The other candidate (Joseph) was not annoyed, for the apostolic writers would not have concealed failings of their own, seeing they have told of the very chief apostles, that on other occasions had indignation, and not only once, but again and again.”

Joseph was one of the disciples, who followed Christ from his baptism in the Jordan to his Ascension. He served Christ faithfully until the end. He became a bishop, and tradition says he was martyred at Eleutheropolis, a city in Judea, southwest of Jerusalem.

During the first century, it was a village called Betaris, which Roman forces under Emperor Vespasian attacked in 68 A.D. to quell Jewish rebels. Among the 10,000 who were killed was Joseph Barsabbas, who refused to renounce his Christian faith. There’s a relic of him in the chapel at the University of Notre Dame, and his feast day is July 20.

In our success-obsessed culture, we typically consider the guy who didn’t get the job as unworthy, or worse, a failure. God, however, doesn’t have a corporate mentality. With God, worldly titles and honors count for nothing. He’s not interested in short-term gains at the expense of long-term goals. He sees the entire picture, or more accurately, the eternal picture. And here’s a secret: We find Jesus in our greatest disappointments.

Even though God’s will is inscrutable, I like to think he knew Joseph could deal with the disappointment. I also like to think Joseph wasn’t less worthy, just that God had a different plan for him. He was a humble man, and Jesus surely considered humility one of the greatest virtues. (Let’s not forget the other St. Joseph, who was a humble man of quiet, courageous accomplishment.)

Even though he hasn’t been designated the patron saint of a particular cause, Joseph Barsabbas should be the patron saint of the disappointed. St. Joseph Barsabbas, pray for us, that we see God’s will in our disappointments.

The Divine Healer

In 2002, a prison chaplain contacted Father Larry Carew about working with an inmate who had been sexually abused by a priest. When Father met Tom, he had unruly hair and a long beard and seemed like “a wild man” consumed with anger.

He counseled him several times and shared a few minutes of prayer. Then, after a month, he decided it was time to engage in deeper healing prayer. As their session began, he told Tom to invite Jesus into the places where he hurt and give the Lord permission to remove whatever needed to be removed, including his self-consuming anger.

Even before Father finished his instructions, he saw an immediate change. “Tom’s face took on this peace,” he recalled. His eyes were closed and he was out of touch for 15 minutes. When he finally came out of that deep prayer, he said, “Jesus spoke to me in my heart and told me, ‘Tom, everything is going to be OK.’”

They continued to pray that the Lord would liberate him from despair and anger and infuse heavenly hope in his heart.

“The next time we met, I told him to let Jesus free him from the inner wounds that the abuse caused, from lies he came to believe about himself, such as he deserved what happened or that he didn’t deserve to be happy like other people or that maybe he brought it on himself,” Father said.

Once again, Tom immediately went into deep contemplative prayer for 20 minutes. For a second he opened his eyes and momentarily looked over his shoulder. When he came out of this state, he told Father, “My eyes were shut, but I could see us praying together. I could see us holding hands and I could see something else—I could see Jesus standing right behind me. He had his hand on my shoulder and he was praying, too. He was praying that I would be healed.”

Father explained, “That was why Tom had opened his eyes and looked over his shoulder … because he wanted to see with his earthly eyes what he was seeing with his spiritual eyes.” He wanted to see Jesus in the flesh.

Within a few months, this angry, wounded, depressed man changed. He smiled, he cracked jokes and he interacted with the other inmates and staff.

“It was such a clear example that the Lord wants to heal these wounds,” Father Carew said during a homily he gave at a Mass of Hope, Healing and Reconciliation at St. Joseph Church in Danbury. In his prison work, he witnessed other dramatic instances in which Jesus intervened to heal those who had been sexually abused.

“These stunningly powerful stories of how Jesus healed tragically traumatized victims of clergy sexual abuse catapulted me into a whole new level of faith in what our risen Lord is willing and able to do in the present,” Father said. “It is not enough to believe in what Jesus has done or even what he has promised to do for us in Heaven. When he proclaimed himself to be the Resurrection and the Life, he wasn’t just talking about a future reward of being raised from the dead on the last day, he was saying, ‘Get in the habit of asking me—The Resurrection and The Life—for resurrection surprises in the here and now.”

That is a message for everyone, Father says. “All of us need healing from this tragedy. Anytime we sense the weight of his kind of discouragement, we need to invite the Lord into places within us where this darkness has descended. Then, we need to give him permission to replace it with a fresh hope, a peace and a courage.”

Tom later wrote a message for the people who were taking Father Carew’s healing workshops for abuse victims titled, “Disregarding the Shame, Reaching Out for the Joy,” which hundreds have attended.

His words offered testimony of divine healing, and his message simply said, “Stay open to Jesus. He will get you past the abuse you suffer. There is no sin of mine that he hasn’t forgiven. I had to let him help me forgive my abuser. He will do the same for you.”

Back to college … defending the faith

Melissa decided to go back to college. After 25 years.

Things had changed and she had the misfortune, or dumb luck, of taking a course titled, “The Sociology of Marriage and Family,” which is a difficult topic for an orthodox Catholic in the hookup culture. Our views are countercultural on a lot of topics, but especially marriage and the family.

She found herself in a crowded classroom of young people and she wasn’t prepared for the tempest.

The first assignment the professor gave them was to write their definition of sex … and things went downhill from there. He called on an outspoken 20-something fellow who fancied himself the next Jimmy Kimmel. The young man stood up and gave a personal definition that included himself and his girlfriend and went something like this: “Sex is when …(content not suitable for a family publication, Catholic or otherwise.)

The class erupted in laughter, while Melissa sat seething in her front-row seat. Then, throwing caution and political correctness to the wind, she raised her hand and even before the professor could call on her, she blurted out, “That’s disgraceful!” The class was stunned.

“So what’s your definition?” asked the enlightened professor.

She was quick to respond:
“Sex is an act created by God that is love giving and life giving inside of the sacrament of marriage.”
“Where did you get that?”
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

Before anyone could snicker, she jumped out of her chair and pointed to the jokester in the back of the class and began upbraiding him with the vengeance of a district attorney assailing Harvey Weinstein:
“Do you have a sister???”
“Yes,” he responded sheepishly.
“Well, what would you think if …”

And so it went. During her soliloquy about respect for women, she noticed the girls in the class nodding in agreement. From that point on, students began calling her “Church Lady,” after the Saturday Night Live character. But Melissa didn’t object because she was proud of her Catholic faith.

They laughed but they listened and little by little, week after week, she noticed a change especially in the girls, who came to appreciate her views, which set her apart in a permissive and abusive society. So many young people are wandering in darkness, but when they’re shown the Truth, they’ll respond positively.

Marriage and the family are under constant assault after decades of social indoctrination that came out of the sexual revolution, which ultimately degraded the meaning of love and promoted exploitation, recreational sex and loveless relationships. Our challenge is to make sure young people understand the difference between the cheap substitute that society and celebrities promote … and the real deal.

We have to tell young people that despite what secular society says, true love and marriage are not what is portrayed in popular culture, celebrity lifestyles … and Saturday Night Live. The Catholic Church Lady wasn’t afraid to do that.

In an address John Paul II once gave to young people, he said things that are outlandish by today’s standards: “Do not let yourselves be carried away by sexual excitement, for this puts genuine human love at risk and leads to the breakup of the family.” Which is why, he said, “so-called ‘free love’ is morally unacceptable.”

George Weigel, biographer of St. John Paul II, said the pope recognized one of the most urgent questions of our age involved love and the family. As Archbishop of Krakow, he played a central role in drafting the encyclical Humanae Vitae and eventually developed the Theology of the Body, which restores a sense of sacramentality to the body, making visible the spiritual dimension of the human person.

Fundamental to John Paul II’s theology, Weigel says, is the belief that “Our love is a truly human love when it is a gift of myself to another … and not the use of another, which is the type of exploitation that characterizes the modern world’s view of sexual relations. We need to ask, ‘How do I live a life of sexual love that conforms to my dignity as a human person?’”

Sexual intimacy is sacred. That’s a truth that society, and many Catholics, have forgotten.

Shelter from the storm

When my grandparents arrived in America almost a century ago, they moved into a second-floor flat on Sherman Street in Bridgeport, across from St. Mary Church and next to the convent where the Sisters of Mercy lived.
They didn’t know what the New World would bring, but they were hopeful it would be better than what the Old World offered. They raised nine kids in that apartment. Then, my grandfather died, leaving my grandmother to raise them alone. Her name was Angelina, or “little angel,” which I’ve always believed was an appropriate epitaph for her life.
During the Great Depression, she sent the boys out to shine shoes on East Main Street and collect coal that had fallen off trucks down by the harbor. In those days, there were no social service agencies to help her. There was only the Church.
Her children went to St. Mary School, and the nuns spared no discipline when it came to my father and his brothers. On Sunday, my grandmother made sure everyone was up in time for Mass.
When I was a young boy, I lived with her for several years and we went to Mass at St. Mary’s together. I still recall its stunning stained glass windows and the beautiful image of the Blessed Mother being assumed into Heaven.
As I knelt in the quiet, the priest intoned the words of the Consecration in Latin. Beside me, my grandmother fingered her rosary beads. She was one of the little gray-haired ladies you saw so often, a Catholic icon from an earlier time, who prayed the Rosary because she believed in its tremendous spiritual power and Our Lady’s unfailing intercession.
As a child, I would lie on the kitchen floor by the stove with my coloring book while she baked two sweet potatoes for us and sat in her rocking chair, praying the Rosary. Someday I’ll learn the true power of her prayers. You see, she was one of those people that secular elitists ridicule nowadays because they pray to God for help and consolation…and because they place their faith in Christ rather than politicians and world leaders.
Years later, while I was at St. Joseph High School, we went to St. Mary School once a week to tutor students. The church was the same, but by then my grandmother was living in a nursing home in Milford.
Another time, I went to confession, and Father Ed Coyne tore into me for some adolescent indiscretion, which prompted me to come out of the dark confessional and vow, “I’m never going back to that guy!” God, however, had different plans. He later became a good friend…and I often went to him for confession. He’d always be sitting in the reconciliation room, praying the Rosary.
A while back, I visited St. Mary’s for the first time in a very long time. The school and convent were gone. The old church, which had been demolished in 1982, was replaced by a beautiful circular building with a tile mosaic of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe over the front doors. The original stained-glass windows surround the interior, and there is a large image of the risen Christ above the altar. A statue of St. Anthony, which once stood in the old church, is at the entrance along with St. John the Baptist, patron of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
An Adoration Chapel was added, where daily Mass is held with Eucharistic Adoration from 8 am to 10 pm Monday through Friday. Above the altar is a replica of the cross of San Damiano from which Christ spoke to St. Francis of Assisi and told him to rebuild his church. On the altar is a relic of Francis.
The mission of St. Mary’s is still the same—to spread the love of Christ to everyone, particularly those who are dispossessed and impoverished, spiritually and physically. That morning I met Father Rolando Torres, who introduced me to a family that had just arrived from Puerto Rico after losing everything in Hurricane Maria. Father found them an apartment, and introduced them to the parish. Their story reminded me of my grandparents’ experience as Italian immigrants arriving in Bridgeport so long ago.
In 2000 years, the mission of the Church has not changed. It is still the source of spiritual nourishment, it is still the source of charity and love, and it is forever the light that leads us to Christ in a darkened world.

One Thing, the most important thing

Every day I get emails from my non-Catholic friends about the crisis of sex abuse and accountability in the Church. They want to know: What is the Church doing about this? What am I doing about this? And why am I still a Catholic?
One article they sent was written by a man who had an outburst at his pastor during Mass and angrily concluded the Church is “beyond redemption.” I don’t believe that although I believe, to quote Pope Paul VI,  “the smoke of Satan has entered the Church of God.”
These are dark times of sexual predation, cover-ups by bishops and sexually active priests. Over the years, I’ve met people who suspected abuse or suffered abuse and went to men in positions of authority, but were ostracized, ignored and discredited. Years later, they’re still bitter, angry and hurt. They suffer devastating long-term psychological and spiritual effects, and they’re unable to forgive such a hideous and diabolical betrayal of trust.
My friends ask me what I’m going to do. Join the Congregationalists or the Unitarians? Stop putting an envelope in the collection basket? Protest on the steps of my church?
When they ask why I’m still a Catholic, I think of the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, when disciples start abandoning Jesus because He said they must eat His Body and drink His Blood to have eternal life. He asks Peter, “Do you also want to leave?” And Peter responds, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Do you remember the movie “City Slickers” with Billy Crystal and Jack Palance, who won an Oscar for his role as Curly, the grizzled and crusty cowhand? Do you remember how Curly raised his index finger, smiled enigmatically and told Billy Crystal, “One thing…” He never explained what he meant, but whatever that one thing was, it was everything to him.
As Catholics, it should be clear to us what the One Thing is. That One Thing is something we can never walk away from, and it should be the focus of our lives—not our political causes, our professions, our social circles or our material successes. It is Christ in the Eucharist. Nothing more.
In 2007, Our Lord and Our Lady began to speak to the heart of an anonymous Benedictine monk in the silence of Eucharistic Adoration. He was told to make reparation in front of the Blessed Sacrament for priests wandering in darkness and succumbing to carnal sins.
The monk, who is believed to be from Connecticut and lives in a monastery in Ireland, published the messages in a book titled “In Sinu Jesu.” Buy it, read it, meditate on the words of Jesus and Mary, sit in front of the Eucharist, and make reparation for the sins of priests.
Even though we may not realize it, Jesus is in control. Without Him, the Church will never be purified. There are many secularists who think prayer, adoration and reparation are ineffective medieval responses. But Jesus told the monk that Eucharistic Adoration chapels are “the radiant, pulsating centers of an intense Divine activity that goes beyond the walls of the place where I am adored to penetrate homes, and schools, and hospitals; to reach even those dark and cold places wherein souls are enslaved to Satan; to penetrate hearts, heal the infirm, and call home those who have wandered far from Me.
Eucharistic Adoration is “supernaturally efficacious.” He said that failure is certain for those who put their faith «in human schemes, in plans devised by the worldly-wise, and in programs drawn up along short-sighted human principles. And so they go, and will continue to go, from failure to failure, and from disillusionment to disillusionment….Woe to those who trust in purely human solutions to the problems that beset My Church! They will be grievously disappointed, and many souls will fall away because they have neglected to take up the supernatural weapons I have prepared for them in this time of spiritual combat.”
Here is a prayer He told the priest to say for his fellow priests mired in sin:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim, Lamb without stain or blemish, I come before Thy Face, laden with the sins and betrayals of my brother priests and with the burden of my own sins and infidelities.
Allow me to represent those priests who are most in need of Thy mercy. For them, let me abide before Thy Eucharistic Face, close to Thy open Heart. Through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Thy Mother, Advocate and Mediatrix of all graces, pour forth upon all the priests of Thy Church that torrent of mercy that ever flows from Thy Heart, to purify and heal them, to sanctify and refresh them, and, at the hour of their death, to make them worthy of joining Thee before the Father in the heavenly Holy Place beyond the veil. Amen.”
One Thing.

Who is God, Mommy?

​My friend’s 5-year-old son came home from school and started to share the day’s events with his mother over a glass of milk and cookies. He told her about the show-and-tell that featured a daddy who worked in the hospital emergency department. He told her about the scuffle on the playground between a bully-in-training and a soft-spoken kid. And then he told her about a discussion that left him so confused he had to ask a compelling question: “Mommy, who is God?”

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Breaking Free of TV Prison

​I feel pretty good about myself after reading that the average American wastes 13,471 hours a year fiddling with the remote control, trying to find something to watch on TV, which probably doesn’t include the time spent actually watching TV—more than four hours a day or an estimated 9 years for a person who is 65. Just thinking about it makes my brain throb.
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