Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen,” my dad said as he began the blessing at Sunday dinner a few weeks ago. After the prayers were finished and the food was passed, my nephew nudged me and whispered, “Why does Grandpa always say ‘Holy Ghost’?” I nodded toward my dad and whispered back, “Ask him.” His answer? “My Catholic upbringing.” My nephew shrugged, seemed satisfied, and returned to his meatloaf.

My Catholic upbringing. An apparently simple answer but one that means something different for my parents, their children, and now their grandchildren when looking at life in the 1940s versus today. My mother’s stories of having to wear a head covering at Mass, even if it was a tissue or a handkerchief, has drawn incredulous looks from my daughters. My neighbor remembers only taking Holy Communion on the tongue, and now – at 85 – he still does. My grandfather, long passed, sang all the hymns in Latin, words that even today, I don’t always understand.

My Catholic upbringing. Different in some ways, but not in the ways of the faith. The older generations learned the same 10 Commandments, received the same sacraments, and recited the same prayers, albeit with slightly altered words as the younger generation does now. Do those different words matter? In some cases, yes, but the meaning behind them? In most cases, no.

My Catholic upbringing. My dad didn’t go into detail about theology or church teaching as he gave his grandson that answer. He didn’t need to. We all understand tradition and how once we learn something a certain way, it becomes habit and a part of who we are. For him, there is a comfort in retaining the words he remembered from his own parents and grandparents. We continue to do what is familiar and what allows us to preserve a connection to our past – be it religious or otherwise. Though my teenage daughters may (sometimes) wear jeans to church on Sunday whereas my mother at their age wore a veil to daily Mass, they all – then and now – steep themselves in the culture and tradition of their own Catholic upbringing. The words we use in prayer may differ slightly, but they have the same sentiment and are still lifted to God who hears them all.

His Catholic upbringing. Next week at Thanksgiving dinner, I wonder if my nephew will surprise us all and say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” No matter. Even if he’s wearing jeans, he’ll say the prayer and understand its meaning, whichever word he uses, for he learned it from his own Catholic upbringing.

By Emily Clark

After the morning rosary, my first thoughts were fixed on 9/11/01, twenty years ago to the day. I prayed to Jesus and Mary for the souls who perished, the families and loved ones who continue to grieve, and for the cessation of the kind of evil that caused 911 and evil that continues to cause similar events to this day.

I woke up that beautiful sunny September morning twenty years ago today and took an early train from Bernardsville, NJ to Penn Station and crossed the street to 5 Penn Plaza for another workday at my job as a producer at CNN. I was just about the first at one the office at 7:30 am and I focused on the guests and stories that would be presented on-air for the day. As I started my research and assembled the material, one of my colleagues loudly exclaimed, “come to the window and look downtown! It looks like a little plane went into a building!”

Those of us in the newsroom gathered at the large window on the south side of our office on the 20th floor where Lou Dobbs and his assistant had their desks. What I saw was a stream of smoke wafting from one of the Trade Towers as it looked as if the plane hit from the north side, our vantage point. At this time, we had no idea the size of the plane, the scope of the damage, or the magnitude of what was to come next. We all stood there motionless, speechless, holding our collective gaze at the scene a few dozen blocks south of us. Then, we soon learned the horrifying truth as another commercial airliner jet approached from the north, low and slow, and slammed into the other tower, right before our eyes! We were under attack! The managing editor started shouting, but we didn’t really know what to do or who to call so we all just lingered at the window… stunned and fixated on this tragic scene.

Then, we witnessed live – the first tower crumbling like a sandcastle right in front of us and my first thoughts were: “The humanity! Lives lost at this very second!” But why wasn’t I more outraged and sobbing at the course of events unfolding right before my eyes? Because it was surreal. It just didn’t seem real, this couldn’t be happening! I was shocked, and that fact alone of being in shock prevented me from feeling the appropriate emotions that channeled in slowly over the next minutes and hours as what really happened sunk in. The violent images we see on TV, movies, and the internet have programmed us not to feel effect because, “it’s just only a movie.” BUT THIS WAS REAL! Everyone at the window was still silent, except for one lone voice that merely dropped one word: the F-bomb. We then witnessed the second tower collapse.

At this point, I called all my family members…My husband doing business in Charleston SC…My Mother in Manhasset…My four daughters, three at college, the oldest at work. I was able to tell them to turn on the TV and that I was OK in Manhattan. Then, the phone lines went down, there was nothing we could do. I always have to do something to help in a case like this. I proceeded to walk 22 blocks to St Vincent’s Hospital on W12th St in the West Village where I was born 46 years earlier and requested that they accept my blood donation, as I have rare negative A type~~~~The sad part is the hospital was already with the gurneys, on the street even, but nobody came…victims either walked away or died.

Our country, our world, all of us, had reached the point of no return. The world changed permanently that fateful day. Many of our freedoms were lost, the world became more skeptical, guarded, and cynical because we had to protect ourselves. That single event ushered in the era of security checks and scanning machines in airports, everywhere.

Now we have covid. We got vaccinated and hoped it was over. Now the evil thing just keeps mutating, and more freedoms are lost. We can no longer travel as freely as we once did because again, we have to protect ourselves.

As we keep our loved ones close, and do the best we can, we are grimly aware that this life holds no guarantees. All we can do is consciously live WWJD lives…and pray, as prayer is our best weapon…and His Faithful will be with Him in Paradise, our next life.

-Paula Flaherty, St. Mary Parishioner

Editor’s Note: On Friday, August 27, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano hosted a reception at his Trumbull residence honoring Al and Gina Barber and Denis and Britta Nayden for their contributions to the diocesan charitable mission. We are pleased to share the following remarks from Mike Donoghue, executive director of Catholic Charities, who offered praise during the evening to both couples who have done so much to serve others in our diocese.

It’s an honor and privilege to be here to recognize the Barbers and the Naydens.

Let me start with Gina because I know that any success Al has had would not have happened without Gina by his side. Al and I share one very important thing in common—we both married way overheads and are blessed with spouses who live and breathe the mission and work of Catholic Charities. Gina—you are an incredible partner who has supported Al every step of the way. I know this will be addressed later but in addition to her support for CCFC I have seen Gina’s work at St. Catherine’s and through her creativity, energy, and unique style she has been able to reach so many individuals with special needs and to improve so many lives!

Al—I am blessed to have become friends with Al many years ago through The Order of Malta. He quickly became a role model for me with his very interesting career path. We know that Al had a very successful business career at GE but he chose to embark on a second career to give back to his community. Al could have retired to do some part-time consulting and spend time with his grandkids but instead, he chose to dig in to lead and manage one of if not the largest social service organization in Fairfield County. Tonight, it’s important for us to celebrate the impact Catholic Charities has made on our community under Al’s leadership. I’m a bit of a numbers guy and these are rough estimates but…. Over the past 16 years under Al’s Leadership, CCFC has provided critical services to well over 150,000 individuals in need, served more than 15 million meals to alleviate hunger and food insecurity, provided emergency relief services to thousands of victims of Hurricane Sandy, and the list goes on and on. What a legacy and what an impact! The hard part for me is that I literally and figuratively have extremely large shoes to fill…and Al handed me the reins right before a global pandemic.

Denis and Britta—So Al provided his time and leadership but the aforementioned impact would not have been possible without the enormous generosity, advice and guidance of you and many others here today. CCFC doesn’t exist without the time talent and treasure of so many of you here today. Denis, I wish you and Britta could see the faces and the gratitude of all the people you have assisted. I know this tent certainly wouldn’t be large enough. Others will talk more about you later but please know that We are enormously grateful for all your help and support over the years.

The next thing I’m going to say should make you all happy! Tonight is not a fundraiser but it’s a celebration of an outstanding legacy we want and need to continue. Today we are launching the Catholic Charities Fund within Foundations in Charity to help us continue the legacy Barbers and the Naydens have built.

I am going to spend a very short time speaking about the future of CCFC. We have two main goals:

  1. We provide critical basic services to fill in gaps in the safety net. Services such as our feeding programs, behavioral health counseling, affordable pre-school education for hard-working low-income families, housing assistance, financial education and low-interest loans for working families, affordable legal services to help immigrants get green cards. I’m proud of the fact that every one of our programs stayed open during the pandemic and in most cases, we saw a doubling or tripling in demand especially in the area of food where we are a county-wide leader. We serve anyone in need regardless or race religion or ability to pay.
  2. Our focus over the next several years will be to bring all these resources together with some partner agencies to help our clients move from crisis or poverty towards a life of self-sufficiency. We will work one client at a time to help our clients build a better life. I have been able to see firsthand how most government handouts don’t work. We will be the agency of “hand-ups” not hand-outs. We have several new programs focused on self-sufficiency which I would be happy to discuss at a later date.

To that end, we expect over the next 1-3 years to provide our services through Catholic Charities Family Centers in all four major urban areas of the county: Bridgeport, Danbury, Norwalk and Stamford. These Catholic Charities Family Centers will provide intensive case management to provide a host of services to help our clients attain self-sufficiency. We intend to provide services such as food, behavioral health counseling, medical assistance (with a partner), ESL, housing assistance, job training, etc. We have plans to move into a new facility for the Thomas Merton Center hopefully by year-end which will bring all of our Bridgeport-based services together in one location focused on moving our clients to a more stable, self-sufficient life. We are very excited about the prospects for this new Thomas Merton Family Center and others around the county.

So, my time is up but I will leave you with this. Fairfield County is #1 in the US in income inequality and the COVID -19 pandemic has widened that gap as so many service workers lost their jobs. The massive increase in housing costs has only made things worse. Imagine trying to make ends meet for your family if you earn minimum wage in this county. I am happy to talk with any of you in more detail about the work YOU are doing through your tax-deductible investment in Catholic Charities. To honor the outstanding legacy of the Barbers and the Naydens, they have asked that you please consider a gift to the Catholic Charities of Fairfield Fund. Thank You!

The 6th of August commemorated the 800th anniversary of the passing into heavenly glory of one of the Church’s greatest saints on that date in 1221. St. Dominic Guzman was born in Calaruega, Spain, on August 8, 1170. His father was Felix Guzman and his mother was Blessed Jane of Aza. According to his biographer, Blessed Jordan of Saxony (1190-1237), who succeeded St. Dominic as Minister General of his order, his mother was unable to have a child and went to the shrine of St. Dominic of Silos and asked his intercession.

The name Dominic means the hound of the Lord: “Domini canus” in Latin. When his mother was pregnant with him, she had a dream of a dog with the torch in its mouth, which signified the dog as ‘hounding” others to see the Light of Christ in darkness. At his baptism, his godmother saw a shining star on his forehead and this is often depicted in portrayals of him.

He studied in Palencia, Spain at the age of 14 in 1184 and in 1194, and was ordained to the Holy Priesthood. He served as a Canon of the Cathedral in Osma, Spain under the guidance of Bishop Diego de Avezedo. At that time, there was the Albigensian heresy and he worked diligently with his bishop to educate the faithful to its errors. At his bishop’s suggestion, he was sent to preach at Languedoc in France and there helped to reform the Cistercians. Subsequently, in 1206, he founded an order of sisters at Proulle, France, to combat this heresy, which received the blessing of Pope Innocent III.

The papal legate, Peter of Castlenau was murdered by the Albigensians in 1208 and Pope Innocent III (r. 1198-1216) launched a crusade against them which was headed by Count Simon IV Montfort for seven years. In 1214, this same count gave St. Dominic a castle at Casseneuil, also in France, and there he joined with six priests and founded the Order of Preachers to combat this heresy. After his death, this order has been called the “Dominicans,” but officially it is still the Order of Preachers. In 1216, this Order was approved by Pope Honorious III (r. 1216- 1226).

According to the Dominican tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary entrusted the Holy Rosary to him at Proulle in 1206 to help him with this spiritual tool in his efforts to convert the Albigensians. The development of this devotion actually owes much to the followers of St. Dominic, especially the 15th century preacher, Blessed Alanus de Rupe (1428-1475).

His order was very successful in the preaching of its members against this heresy which was combined with charitable works by its members. In 1219, St. Dominic and his companions were invited by Pope Honorius III to reside and minister at the ancient Roman basilica of Santa Sabina. Previously, they had a temporary residence in Rome at the convent of San Sisto Vecchio, which would be transformed in the 16th century into the College of Saint Thomas and then in the 20th century into the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, called the “Angelicum.”

According to his biographer, Guiraud, St. Dominic “abstained from meat, observed fasts and periods of silence, selected the worst accommodations and never allowed himself the luxury of a bed. He also wrote that St. Dominic frequently traveled barefoot and that rain and other discomforts elicited from his lips nothing but praises to God.”

St. Dominic spent the last years of his life organizing his new religious order and went throughout Italy, France, Spain and Hungary to establish various provinces and was present in 1220 invoking the first General Council of the Order of Preachers at Bologna, Italy. According to his biographers, he was at the Convent of St. Nicholas at Bologna and was weary and sick with a fever. St. Dominic asked the monks to lay him on some sacking stretched upon the ground and the brief time that remained to him was spent in exhorting his followers “to have charity, to guard their humility, and to make their treasure out of poverty.” He died, aged 51, at noon on August 6, 1221.

Cecilia Cesarini, who was received by St. Dominic into his new order, described him as “thin and of middle height. His face was handsome and somewhat fair and he had reddish hair and beard and beautiful eyes. His hands were long and fine and his voice pleasingly resonant. He never got bald, though he wore the full tonsure, which was mingled with a few grey hairs.”

He was canonized in 1234 by Pope Gregory IX (r.1227-1241) and his feast day is celebrated by the universal church every year on August 8th. Among his symbols is a dog carrying a torch in its mouth. As well, he is depicted carrying a book and a lily to represent his purity with a star on his forehead. Both the Island of Dominica and the Dominican Republic honor him and the capital of the latter, Santo Domingo, also bears his name. May St. Dominic always aid us in our earthly pilgrimage to follow Christ’s Light to help to light our own path to heaven.

By Rev. Matthew R. Mauriello

All of us know many people who, either through passive neglect or through an active, intentional decision, no longer practice their Catholic faith.  They don’t come to Mass anymore, don’t go to confession anymore, don’t think with the Church anymore; they are folks who no longer are Catholic in any meaningful sense of the term.

As you read these words, you are probably calling to mind such people in your own life.  Having children or grandchildren, neighbors or friends who were raised Catholic, but who no longer practice the Faith is truly one of the heaviest crosses carried by people who do know the Lord, and how good He is, and how beautiful it is to live a life in Christ, and that this life is short, and the life to come is eternal.

Some have drifted away because the busyness of life has gotten in the way, and a brief drift away from the sacraments has hardened into a habit of many years.  Others may never have received a sound formation in the faith, to begin with, and they misunderstand what the Church teaches about various matters, especially matters of sexuality. (Remember the wise words of St. Gregory the Great: “Anyone who does not love the truth has not yet come to know it.”) Others have been disaffected by the scandals which have plagued the life of the Church in recent years.  For others, it’s a combination or some other reason.  Whatever the reason, we haven’t seen them at Mass in a long, long time, and we miss them.  We worry for them because we love them and care about them.

And this brings up a story that St. Augustine recounts in his autobiography, the Confessions.  The young Augustine grew up in North Africa and, by the time he was a young man, he already had a reputation for being extremely intelligent and a very gifted speaker.  But faith was not important to him at all; he had not yet authentically discovered Jesus Christ.  And he decided to leave Africa and set sail for Italy, where he could embark upon an even brighter future and make even more of a name for himself.

His mother was St. Monica, and she thought that going to Italy would be extremely dangerous for her son both physically and morally.  She had been praying so fervently, for many years, that Augustine would be given the gifts of faith and virtue, and that he would come to know and love Jesus Christ.

There is a very moving scene in the Confessions, in which Monica stands at the dock, pleading with God to prevent Augustine from going to Italy.  As the boat carrying her son sails off, she remains behind, standing on the dock, weeping.

Once Augustine arrived in Italy, all the dangers Monica anticipated were waiting for him, and more.  But even more importantly, when he made his way up to Milan, he met somebody there who was just as intelligent as he, and who demonstrated to him that faith in Christ is fully reasonable and that authentic joy is not only possible through faith and virtue — but that authentic joy is only possible through faith and virtue because Jesus Christ fully reveals to us what it means to be human, and what it means to love.  So it was through this saintly Bishop, St. Ambrose, that Augustine became a disciple of Jesus Christ, was baptized, was converted to a life of faith, and virtue, and joy, and became one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church.  And it wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t left North Africa and if his mother’s prayer at the dock to stop him from going there had been answered right at that time.

When Augustine looked back on all of it as he wrote the Confessions, he thought back to his mother, weeping at the dock, who had asked God to stop him from going to Italy.  And he wrote, “O Lord, you did not do what she was at that moment asking so that you could do what she was always asking.”

The point of the story is this: it was the constancy of St. Monica’s prayer for her son Augustine – prayer for 30 years – which obtained the grace of his conversion and Baptism.  She could have given up after 10 years, or 20 years, or 29 years, but she didn’t.  God heard her prayer and rewarded her constancy.  And He answered her prayer in a way and at a time she never could have anticipated.  St. Ambrose himself said to her, “It is not possible that the son of so many tears should be lost forever.”

In Milan, at the Duomo, you can see today the excavated ruins of the octagonal baptistery in which St. Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose at the Easter Vigil Mass on April 24, in the year 387.   “It is not possible that the son of so many tears should be lost forever.”

Many years ago I happened upon a prayer to St. Monica that was published in a Catholic newspaper.  I clipped it out, and I keep it in my breviary even today. I pray regularly for people I know who have fallen away from the active practice of the Faith. It goes like this:

Eternal and merciful Father, I give you thanks for the gift of Your Divine Son, Jesus Christ, who offered His life on the Cross for all mankind. I thank you also for the gift of the Catholic faith in which I share.  Help me to grow in faithfulness to You by prayer, by works of charity and penance, and by regular participation in the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist.

You gave Saint Monica a spirit of selfless love, manifested in her constant prayer for the conversion of her son, Augustine. Inspired by boundless confidence in Your power to move hearts, and by the success of her prayer, I ask for the grace to imitate her constancy in my prayer for (N.).  

In Your mercy and kindness, O Lord, grant that (he/she/they) may be open to the promptings of Your Holy Spirit to return to Your love and mercy, in the communion of Your Church. Grant also that my prayer be ever hopeful, and that my witness be ever joyful.  And grant me, O Lord, the grace never to judge the motives of another person, for You alone can read what is in our hearts.  I ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

This is a beautiful prayer with which each of us can hold up to the Lord people we know and love who have fallen away from a life of closeness to the Lord, and who maybe even no longer believe in Him.  No one is beyond the reach of God’s love and mercy.

As you do that, remember this: Mother Teresa used say, “Joy is the net that catches souls.” St. Francis de Sales famously said, “A spoonful of honey gets more flies than a barrel full of vinegar.”

And let this be between you and God.  Oftentimes, directly addressing this matter with people, especially relatives, is counter-productive.  Needless to say, guilt trips and negativity just push people away.  A life of joyful fidelity to Christ, coupled with fervent prayer, is the very best testimony to the goodness, and truth, and beauty of our faith.

Here’s one last point: sometimes we think, “If this problem went away in my life, or if I were less busy, or if I were more settled – or whatever – then I could be joyful.”  But that’s exactly backward, because:

Rest comes not when our schedules lighten up,

but when we place everything squarely in the hands of God.

Peace and joy come not when troubles evaporate,

but when we intentionally place our trust in the Father, as Jesus did.

Fear is dissipated not when the future suddenly becomes clear and all uncertainties go away, but when we return to the truth that everything is always resolved in God’s love and that nothing escapes His watchful providence.

And remember: you and I alone cannot open people’s hearts.  Only the Holy Spirit can open people’s hearts.  God loves the people for whom we pray, even more than we do.  We may not see tangible results today or tomorrow, or even in our lifetimes.  But seeing results isn’t up to us.  Praying with trust and perseverance, as St. Monica did, is up to us.

The rest is in the hands of God.  And there is no better or safer place to be than in the hands of the God who is love.

By Father Joseph Marcello | Pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Trumbull

“I want to bake something,” my 14-year-old said on a recent rainy evening. As the baker in the family, for years Elizabeth has found comfort and purpose in the methodical mixing and measuring, following her own philosophy of “when bored, I bake,” which the rest of us don’t mind a bit. As the recipients of her creations, we have tasted them all and watched her experiment with ingredients, leading to typically delicious results with the occasional mishap. I had high hopes for the former that night.

After checking the cabinet and fridge for the basics, I expected her to reach for the boxed brownie mix or bag of chocolate chips. Instead, she pulled out the over-stuffed, three-ring binder of recipes I had collected over the years and leaned against the counter. Gently, she flipped through each section. Though it was too late in the day for “appetizers and soups,” she paused there anyway, glancing at the recipe for stuffed mushrooms, each line written in my mother’s perfect Catholic schoolgirl script. Next came “poultry” with the myriad of dishes and casseroles, including my colleague’s chicken stew, scribbled on the back of a vocab quiz and dated ten years ago. The clam chowder recipe my husband’s uncle made every July 4th stuck out of the “seafood” section, and a photocopy of my great grandmother’s notes for her original Irish Soda Bread lay tucked into a pouch under “desserts and breads.” Elizabeth eventually stopped on a page with a collage of cookie recipes, some with yellowed tape and remnants of flour in their creases. Running her hands over the clippings, she said, “I want to inherit this someday.”

As she gathered the ingredients for oatmeal raisin bars, I busied myself with the mail, pausing to watch her sift the flour, grate some nutmeg, and crack the eggs, wondering about her comment of inheriting that binder. Yes, the recipes were special, many of them decades old, but was there something more?

The history in those handwritten pages and magazine cut-outs goes beyond just recipes for special meals and scrumptious treats, something I hadn’t really thought about until my daughter spoke those words. They are the ingredients, provided by those who came before her, that have combined to create who she is today, just as the flour, nutmeg, and eggs she was combining would create tomorrow’s dessert. Elizabeth will inherit not only the recipes, I thought, but the sentiment behind them.

As Catholics, we have our own recipe – not one for oatmeal raisin bars but for an even sweeter pleasure, a virtuous life with the ingredients God has given us: the commandments, the beatitudes, His grace, His sacrifice. As humans, however, we do stray from those main ingredients, leading to our own mishaps. When followed, though, it serves to guide us, as the yellowed clippings do for Elizabeth’s baking. And His recipe is one we can all inherit – long after those oatmeal raisin bars have disappeared.

By Emily Clark

Introduction

For several years, the Diocese of Bridgeport has sponsored Reconciliation Monday.[1]  Held at the beginning of Holy Week, various parishes throughout the entire diocese offer additional time for confessions.  Thousands of confessions have been heard during these hours as many take advantage of the increased availability and confessors for one last sacramental preparation before the Triduum begins on Thursday.  Those who take advantage of the opportunity may avail themselves of the sacrament weekly or monthly already.  For some it is a chance for an annual observance.  For others, and not a small group, it is the first time celebrating the sacrament in several years or a decade or even several decades.  To the priest sitting in the places as the instrument of grace and mediator between the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ and one of his brothers or sisters, one of the tremendous joys in his ministry is when a person, after a prolonged absence from the sacrament, returns.  The increased opportunity and promotion of the sacrament on the natural level, combined with the supernatural impetus of grace, leads many to rediscover the beauty and power of the sacrament of reconciliation, yet reconciliation is offered throughout the entire year.  The purpose of this reflection on the sacrament is two-fold.  The first motivation is to teach and reflect upon the sacrament, approaching some of its basic elements as a means to help the faithful to understand it more.  The second motivation is inspiration, to inspire those who have been away for some time to return and those who have received the grace and mercy in the sacrament more recently to consider more frequent confession.  In order to accomplish these goals and carry out the reflection, we will focus upon the most powerful words in the celebration of the sacrament: the prayer of absolution.

God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.[2]

God the Father of mercies

The prayer of absolution begins by stating how any of this is possible: mercy.  “God the Father of mercies.”  The sacrament of reconciliation exists because it is offered as a gift.  Mercy is never a given, but is always a gift.  We can reflect upon personal experiences to help us appreciate the gratuity of God’s mercy.  Perhaps we have been in situations when someone wronged us severely or in a minor way and we wished to hold on to the grudge, the hurt and the wrong.  It was not something that we wished to set aside, forget or forgive.  Hopefully we made the choice to forgive in the end, but the period of consideration and deliberation about whether or not to forgive shows us that it is not to be assumed or guaranteed. It is the same with our God who promises His mercy and love, each and every time, even if offered as part of the promise.  It is a gift to us no matter where we are with our faith.  To understand the sheer gift of re-creation that is present in the sacrament of reconciliation by God’s grace, we can recall how the act of creation is another example, the primary example, of the mercy of God.

God lacks nothing. Before the creation of anything, when there was nothing, not anything at all, God was and was perfect in Himself.  Father, Son and Spirit, the eternal relations that exist within the divine nature, were perfect, satisfied and needed nothing else.  Out of the nothing, for God exists beyond the something of time and place, God created in complete freedom, without any compulsion or need placed upon Him.  God created us not out of loneliness or something that was missing and was looking for it to be filled.  God created freely, out of love, to have other beings share in the goodness of existence, life and love.  The act of creation, beginning with the universe and culminating generally with human beings and specifically with each and every one of us, is an act of God’s mercy, a free choice that did not need to happen and yet here we are.  The merciful God who creates is the same God who wants us to share in the goodness of a life in union with Him as the Trinity, who recreates over and over again in the sacrament of reconciliation.  We are not entitled to forgiveness.  It is not to be taken lightly.  The aforementioned approach or attitude can be another sin, that of presumption, by which we choose to sin or to continue sinning because we have the opportunity of forgiveness in the sacrament and will pursue reconciliation at a later point.  To recognize that our existence is itself already not necessary and a mercy and gift from our God, entitlement can be combatted with gratitude for the fact that we were freely loved into existence and freely offered the opportunity to be recreated in the sacrament over and over again.

Through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself

Every celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation is possible and has effect because of the Paschal Mystery, which is solemnly celebrated and presented to the Church during the Sacred Triduum of Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday.  At every normal offering of the Mass, the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei) is chanted or recited.  “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”  The Lord Jesus is the Lamb of God who was prefigured by the lambs offered in Exodus.  God instructed Moses for each Hebrew family to slaughter a lamb that will be consumed as a meal during the Passover and that the blood from that same lamb should be painted across the doorway to spare the deaths of the firstborn males in the homes.  The blood of the lamb will save God’s people from death.

In the New Testament, John the Baptist sees the Lord Jesus and declares, “Behold the Lamb of God!”[3]  The true lamb, anticipated in Exodus, has the power to save not simply from a natural death, but can save all those who are anointed by his blood from eternal death.  Sin, whether the lesser venial sin or more serious mortal sin, respectively, either distances one from God or breaks the relationship and communion of the person with God.  It is a choice against that which is good and the source of all goodness found in our God.  As sin separates, in order to overcome that separation one who is in communion must save and retrieve.  We find this in the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

All of humanity was separated from God by the initial sinful choice of Adam and Eve.  Since that time, man continued to affirm again and again that separation with each subsequent sin and found himself in a seemingly hopeless situation for he was unable by his own power and ability to undo the separation and overcome his weakness.  Our merciful God once again freely choose to share life with us and renew our weary nature.  By the Incarnation, the Son of God joins himself to our nature and thus to all human beings in some way and accomplishes what we could only dream to happen: to bridge the infinite chasm that was created by sin, for as the Son and in perfect communion as God with the Father and Spirit, he possessed the ability to return man to communion.  In a marvelous manner, though, he does not simply restore but recreates and renews such that our human nature is changed, granted the capacity to receive the divine life (i.e. grace) and thus not only exist in a new union with God but also possess a new ability to combat and overcome our sinful shortcomings.  The Resurrection of Easter Sunday that follows the Cross of Good Friday is the renewal of life and human nature that follows from the defeat of sin by his triumphant death.   Thus, the sacrament of reconciliation does not disappear in the Easter Season, but rather remains present and can be celebrated every single day for it is the acceptance and appropriation over and over again of the Cross and empty tomb.  When our Risen Lord appears to his disciples, he sheds light upon that which he proclaimed before his death and what was present in the Old Testament.  Forgiveness of sin does not disappear after Easter for it was precisely to save humanity from its sin that our Lord died.  “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”[4]

And sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins

On the evening of his Resurrection, the Lord Jesus appeared to the Apostles gathered in the upper room and said, “’Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’”[5]  Fifty days after Easter at Pentecost, the promised Spirit descended upon those gathered in the Upper Room and changed them.  A new force, strength, wisdom and impulse was given that impelled the disciples to go out.  The Spirit changed their lives, causing them to go out just as our Lord commanded them to do, even in the face of opposition and the unknown.  The same Spirit that serves as a new force in the lives of believers helps the Christian to embrace our Lord’s teachings and mission by helping to unite or reunite the disciple to the Lord through the forgiveness of sin.  The Spirit overcomes the separation and division brought about by sin not by overlooking it or pretending that it did not happen, rather the Spirit overcomes the negative consequences of sin by the act of mercy that forgives sin when asked and thus reestablishes communion or deepens the already existent communion with the Lord.  The disciple, having found the power of love in God’s forgiveness of sins, brings the experience and message to others so that they may be freed from the tyranny and oppression brought about by sin, especially if they fail to realize the impact upon their lives.

Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace

Forgiveness is accomplished by the Lord.  In the Scriptures, the Lord Jesus presents himself as divine by his activity of forgiving sins.  It was speaking in the name of God, who alone can forgive, that aggravated the authorities and led to claims of blasphemy.  The Lord’s will to forgive and capacity to forgive was entrusted to the Church.  “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”[6]  The Apostles accepted this gift to the Church, carried it out and passed it on faithfully.  It is through the ministry of the Church today that the gift of forgiveness of sin is accomplished ordinarily for the disciple of Jesus Christ.  Can the Lord forgive outside of the sacrament?  Absolutely, for grace is not restricted to the sacraments, rather it is promised to be offered in their faithful celebration, but what guarantee is found to the personal, private request that is made?  Likewise, how does one know for sure that his or her sins were forgiven?  In contrast, the Church has understood her privileged place as the guardian of the sacraments and guarantor of the full transmission of the divine life that is grace and in the celebration of the sacrament, the words of the priest clearly state the reality accomplished: “I absolve you from your sins.”

And I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

These are the essential words of the minister that make or break the sacrament.  The gift of forgiveness is given with these words and, without them, the sacrament does not take place.  The source and one active in the act of forgiveness is invoked and stated clearly.  It is the Blessed Trinity with the names of Father, Son and Spirit called upon to accomplish the task of reconciliation.  The work is brought about through the priest.  He is the means and instrument.  Without these words, the sacrament would be invalid, meaning that it was not celebrated.  Each sacrament has certain conditions to protect its integrity and ensure that the minimum of what is essential to the sacrament is present.  For example, the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist requires the necessary matter or material of bread and wine that was made according to certain norms and the words spoken by a priest during the Mass “This is my body” and “This is the chalice of my blood.”  While the words of absolution are necessary from the perspective of the minister, the Christian coming to receive the grace of the sacrament has certain expectations that must be met in order for the sacrament to be what it is and accomplish its purpose for existing.  In order to achieve the fullness of the sacrament, the penitent should prepare adequately and must not hold back any mortal sins and possesses contrition and a desire to stop sinning.

Adequate preparation means that the penitent has taken time to reflect upon what he or she brings to the sacrament.  All mortal sins committed since the last confession must be confessed and any venial sins may be confessed, although for the sake of completion and to help achieve along with the supernatural forgiveness healing on a natural level, it is good to bring all that one can to the confession.  If there was anything forgotten in a previous confession and remembered after the fact, it is also good to mention those forgotten sins in the current confession.  An Examination of Conscience is a tool or aid to assist the penitent to make a thorough confession.  There are many that are available, for example, “A Guide to Confession” put out by the Knights of Columbus that includes some information, a how-to of the sacrament and the examination (http://www.kofc.org/en/resources/cis/devotionals/2075.pdf). Taking the Ten Commandments and Precepts of the Church, this examination, like many others, offers questions for the person to ask and consider.  Upon completion of a review of the questions and some time considering their answers, one is ready to confess.

The need to prepare is for the betterment of the penitent.  To be as complete as possible allows for the Christian to acknowledge all the areas in his or her life, both those that need attention and growth through forgiveness in the sacrament and those that do not because the Lord has been at work there already.  Preparation is not intended to bring down the penitent but rather to liberate and uplift, both through the forgiveness that is accomplished in the sacrament and the affirmation of areas of growth already accomplished in the ongoing transformation being accomplished by the Spirit in his or her life.  In order to shed light in all areas of one’s life, as stated above, it is necessary to confess all mortal sins.  As mortal sin is the choice to carry out a significant wrong (grave matter, as proposed by the Ten Commandments) while knowing that it is wrong and still making the choice to do the wrong anyway, the restoration of union that is brought about in the sacrament requires the choice and act of the will that specifies the wrong and asks for it to be forgiven.  If one deliberately withholds a mortal sin, the sacrament will not be valid for it is as if one has gone to a doctor, only revealed part of his or her medical condition and expected a full recovery.  Not only is it better naturally and psychologically to admit, present and leave behind whatever sin is causing such shame, supernaturally is necessary for forgiveness following the logic that the Lord allows us the free choice in favor of Him or toward some lesser good.  The confession of all mortal sins is the free choice that requests forgiveness and healing and presents the ill to the Divine Physician.

The other necessary component for the penitent is contrition and a detachment from sin.  Perfect contrition is the recognition of the offense caused by one’s sin, a sorrow for it and a desire to be reconciled.  Not all or not at all times is perfect contrition present, but at least some form of contrition, even an imperfect contrition that seeks out the sacrament for fear of eternal separation from God that can occur if one were to die in the state of separation while on earth, is sufficient.  Either way, some form of contrition is necessary, just as a desire to not sin must be present, which makes sense.  It is disingenuous to apologize for something, ask for forgiveness and yet intend and plan to achieve a known sin in the near future.  We are going to fall short and sin again because of our weakness.  In fact, the more often that we celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, the more likely we will realize more occasions of faltering in our lives and opportunities that require the divine aid of the sacrament.  I cannot apologize for a future wrong that I intend to do and be genuine, thus I cannot be forgiven if the attachment to sin persists in the sacrament.  As will be prayed in some form during the act of contrition, one must possess a resolve and intention not to sin again.

Conclusion

At the beginning of the holy season of Lent, the Church hears the echoes from the prophet Joel proclaimed on Ash Wednesday.  “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your heart, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.  For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.”[7]  The context of the original words of the prophet were delivered amidst a locust infestation that harmed the crop.  The people failed to see that the harm done was a work of the Lord in order to provide the impetus for the people to choose Him in the midst of their lives and to live for Him.  The prophet’s mantle falls upon Joel in order to teach, motivate and assist the people to embrace their noble call as sons and daughters of God.  They need to move from the lesser things and instead choose God, and in this choice for Him, they will find their fulfillment and happiness.  It is not too late for them to convert and return with their whole hearts and being.  This call to repentance and ongoing conversion, while emphasized and spoken more clearly in the season of preparation that is Lent, is not reserved solely for that time, but is a treasure of the Church for all times.  For those who recently returned to the sacrament after a prolonged absence of many years or those who seek an annual fulfillment in Lent or those who go but are not sure when and why exactly or anyone, now is just as good a time as any to return to Him and receive the inexhaustible life that Holy Mother Church continues to provide in the sacraments, especially through the sacrament of reconciliation.  The Church carries out this work in fidelity to the mission given to her by her Head and Lord who showed to the Apostles gathered together in the Upper Room on that first Easter Sunday that his wounds which were consequences of sin held no power over him or anyone, for he conquered and today desires to encounter us and conquer sin over and over again in our hearts, minds and souls through the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Father Michael Novajosky

[1] Several names are used interchangeably by many to describe the same sacrament: Reconciliation, Penance, Confession.  Each of the names highlights a different aspect of the sacrament.  The penitent confesses his or her sins as part of the sacrament’s celebration.  Penance is prescribed and to be accomplished by the penitent in order to make amends for the sins and in gratitude for the gift of forgiveness.  A valid celebration of the sacrament results in the reconciliation between God and His creation.  The different names may be used in the course of this reflection but are describing the same sacrament.

[2] The prayer of absolution is different according to the older ritual.  While this reflection will focus upon the newer version, the older one is included here for reference and since it is still used by members of the clergy and lay faithful in the diocese even today.  The English translation of the official Latin prayer: May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve thee; and by His very authority do I absolve thee from every bond of excommunication, suspension and interdict, in so far as lies within my power and thou hast need of it.  Furthermore, I absolve thee from thy sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[3] John 1:29

[4] Luke 24:46-47

[5] John 20:22-23

[6] Ibid.

[7] Joel 2:12-13

Jennifer Hubbard is an award-winning journalist and regular contributor to the Catholic monthly, Magnificat. Before the birth of her children she achieved success for nine years working at a large corporation. She is currently the president and executive director of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary. This was established in memory of her daughter, a first-grader who was killed on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Hubbard has written a moving account of her days since Catherine’s death, Finding Sanctuary. This is an excruciatingly difficult book to read. The death of a child makes it necessarily so. But it is also a stirring story of discovering rich depths of spirituality. Somehow, rooted in unspeakable tragedy, this book is life-affirming.

Hubbard has the gift of establishing an almost immediate intimacy with the reader. Although we have not met, I find it much more natural to refer to her as Jennifer. Throughout the book she addresses the reader as “my friend;” even, “my beautiful friend,” when the point being made is particularly important.

Father Peter Cameron, in the book’s introduction, quotes C.S. Lewis, that “friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” The “you too” of this book is suffering. Jennifer refers to it as a person’s it— “Their own unspeakable sorrow, their life-altering moment, their it.” The reader is drawn here into a journey of suffering, but also healing. Early on Jennifer assures, “Recovery and healing are not only possible but also promised for those who offer their sufferings back to the One who suffered for us.”

Be prepared to shed tears, for Jennifer is generous and brave in sharing her experiences, however raw, in the bond of trust with her friends, the readers. Nothing is spared. The first chapter recounts her having to cancel an appointment, immediately after the tragedy, for a family Christmas portrait with a local photography studio. Another memory is of their aging and enfeebled dog having to be put down, two weeks after Catherine’s death. As her 8-year-old son Freddy makes his goodbye, he whispers to their dog, Sandy, “Tell her I said hi.”

In the book’s introduction, Jennifer explains her purpose: “My hope is that as we sit together, in some way our heavenly Father will speak to you, and that—just as I found hope in the simple and unexpected places—you will find your hope and trust renewed.”

The death of a child is a horror few of us will experience. Nevertheless, many vignettes shared by Jennifer are relatable. There is a marked ordinariness about her. She has moments of epiphany at her kitchen table, reading scripture, and at a traffic light in front of a Stop and Shop. She admits to feeling anger and later, exasperation when her suffering does not end with Catherine’s death. “I had endured plenty enough for a lifetime,’ she writes, but still, further sorrow would come with family divisions, her father’s death, and the demise of her marriage.

Father Cameron calls this an “achingly beautiful book,” because Jennifer chooses not bitterness, but trust in God. She yearns for answers, but when they are not immediately known, her faith is unwavering: “There is a purpose for me and you. He promised this for me alone and you alone. And he never breaks his promises—never.”

Lest the journey be incomplete, there is even a chapter on Forgiveness. It includes brutal honesty. Jennifer writes that “The Cross is not a comfortable place.” But she comes to reason, “forgiveness, in the purest definition, is the release of any debt due. Even when, by human standards, the debt is so egregious, it should be paid in full ten times over.” Through close reflection on Christ’s passion, she reaches perspective: “No amount of earthly wealth—material or not—can compensate for the hurt and pain any it launches on a heart. Hurt and pain cannot be repaid; they can only be healed.”

The book’s title alludes to Jennifer’s spiritual journey, as well as the animal sanctuary founded in memory of Catherine. While Jennifer is its president and executive director, her true vocation is as a writer and extraordinary spiritual guide.

Read this important book, which is a priceless aid in the navigation of our challenging lives. In her concluding words, expressed in candor and heartfelt sincerity: “Storms will gather, and when they do, I will be sheltered in the peace of my Lord God. And in that knowing, I can embrace the here and now, the joys and challenges of today, and today alone, knowing they are preparing me for whatever tomorrow may bring. And in that knowing, I am blessed. Blessed abundantly.”

by Andrew McAleer

I couldn’t find zeppole di San Giuseppe anywhere on the feast of my patron, St. Joseph. My favorite Italian bakery had closed during COVID, so for the first time in recent memory, our family went without, which was disappointing since Pope Francis proclaimed this the Year of St. Joseph. Nevertheless, I decided to celebrate a different way and text-messaged everyone on my cellphone with a simple personalized message … and it wasn’t “Got zeppoles?”

I wrote, “St. Joseph pray for (fill in the name) on your feast day today” and I included an illustration of St. Joseph and his foster son, Jesus. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. I sent out dozens of prayer intentions to people, some of whom weren’t even Catholic and others who, as far as I can tell, have no faith. What’s remarkable is that virtually everyone responded, thanking me, wishing me well, or appealing for more prayers because of an illness or family crisis. One woman was born on St. Joseph’s feast, March 19, while another couple was celebrating their anniversary that day. Three people have cancer, and prayers were just what they needed. Another is having marital problems. Even the people who I never thought prayed sent me back heartening messages and said they would pray for me, too.

That is the miraculous power of St. Joseph, “the man in shadows,” as Pope Francis describes him. He’s a man who does what he has to do and whose life exemplifies a fundamental principle — “actions speak louder than words,” as Bishop Frank Caggiano said during a Mass consecrating the Diocese of Bridgeport to him.

I watched the Mass, which was live-streamed from St. Augustine Cathedral and launched a diocesan-wide spiritual renewal. What exactly does that mean?

Bishop Caggiano said: “You and I come here not simply to ask for St. Joseph’s help, not simply to seek his protection, but to follow his example. My friends, no more words. We have had enough of the words. They have filled libraries. It is time for action, isn’t it? In this singular moment in the life of the Church, in this singular moment in the life of our world, now is the time we turn to Joseph to ask him to protect us, to guide us, to defend us, to inspire us to a grave mission that no longer needs words but faithful, humble, obedient action, for it is in our deeds that the world will see what Joseph saw. It is in our actions that the Lord will glimpse he who Joseph is carrying with his arms outstretched as a child, ready to stretch out his arms on the cross so that the love that he bore for us will set us free.”

In his pastoral exhortation, “Let Us Enter the Upper Room With the Lord,” released on Ash Wednesday, Bishop Caggiano wrote, “I will need the assistance of co-workers who will not be afraid to go out into their communities to invite people to encounter the Lord and his mercy.”

These “ambassadors” will be sent out under the direction of their pastors to invite those who have left the Church to come home. Some 140 participants recently gathered for the first online session for the Eucharistic Ambassador formation. He asked pastors to recommend candidates, based on their love for the faith and their willingness to use the months ahead to take part in spiritual formation to become missionary ambassadors and bring people back to Christ.

We all need to be part of this renewal. Look at the world around you. Look at the number of family members and friends who have fallen away from the Church. As Catholics, we can’t sit on our hands any longer. I look at my own “larger” family of aunts, uncles, cousins, children…so many who once celebrated Mass and received the sacraments and now they’re gone.

One absolute certainty in life is this: If a person isn’t moving closer to Christ, he or she is moving away from Christ. Their lives lack the fulfillment that only Christ and the Eucharist can provide, so they turn elsewhere — to political causes, to sensuality, to social media, to possessions, to careers, to achievement, to every imaginable distraction.

For years, we’ve read the dismaying statistics that say Catholics are leaving the Church, that bemoan the reality of the growing ranks of the so-called “Nones,” those young people who have abandoned faith for whatever reason. There are two young generations who for the most part don’t even realize they need Christ.

We must pray for them to return — and many of us do, especially if they’re family members — but now is the time to stop sitting on our hands and take action. And that is precisely the mission of the diocesan renewal.

I recently interviewed a young woman, Paola Pena, Director of Student Ministries at St. Pius X Parish in Fairfield, who fell away from the faith as a girl and turned to New Age spiritualism, like many others her age. However, through a series of providential events, she found Christ and with him, she found a new purpose.

She told me that now her mission is to bring souls back to Jesus. Her mission is to go out and invite people into a personal relationship with him so they can be saved. That has to be the mission for all of us, just like those 72 first disciples that Jesus sent out.

We live in a society that preaches what St. John Paul II called “the anti-gospel,” and if we aren’t willing to raise our voices for the true Gospel, no one else will. We live in a society where so many young people are wandering in darkness. If we don’t make a conscious daily effort, guided by the Spirit, to bring them to the light, who will?
Bishop Caggiano said it best. The time for words is over. Now is the time for action.

Actions speak louder than words, and the year ahead will provide countless opportunities for all of us to “save souls,” which is our true purpose in life.

St. Joseph pray for us!

Joe Pisani is a frequent contributor to Fairfield County Catholic and the Diocese of Bridgeport Website

One of the most challenging things about discerning priesthood is often the discernment of the life that goes along with it: the life of celibacy. For many young men considering the priesthood, it may very well be that celibacy is the obstacle that seems insurmountable. I recall my own discernment of priesthood and find that wrapping my head around this life of celibacy was indeed a challenge for me as well, though not necessarily for the reasons you might think.

For me, it wasn’t the idea of not having a wife and a happy marriage that gave me pause, though marriage certainly is a wonderful gift. Rather, I struggled with the idea that I would never have the gift of having children of my own. I wouldn’t have a son to teach how to throw a baseball or a daughter to teach how to ride a bike. I wouldn’t have little league games or dance recitals to go to, to be able to take pride in my children’s accomplishments or to be a person of comfort and consolation in their struggles. As I struggled with this reality, however, one figure came continually into my heart and mind as a model and an inspiration for the type of fatherhood to which I have found myself called: St. Joseph.

In the Litany of St. Joseph, he is referred to as “Foster Father of the Son of God.” This statement reminds us that, though St. Joseph raises the Christ child as his own—indeed, Jesus was often known as the carpenter’s son—Joseph was not Jesus’ natural father. Yet, that did not stop Joseph from offering Jesus and his mother every fiber of his being in love, care, and protection.

It did not stop Joseph from ultimately taking Mary into his home. It did not stop Joseph from getting up in the middle of the night to lead Jesus and his mother into the uncertain safety of Egypt. It did not stop Joseph from looking with anxious concern for the child Jesus left behind in the Temple. It did not stop Joseph from teaching Jesus the carpenter’s trade and the value of human work in providing for one’s family. It did not stop Joseph from being a physical representation, almost a living sacrament, of the Father’s love.

In St. Joseph, then, each priest finds his inspiration and model of spiritual fatherhood. Like St. Joseph, we too come to take great joy in the people entrusted to our care, rejoicing with them in the greatest moments life has to offer. We feel the same pride as the father of the prodigal son when one who has so long been lost is welcomed back into the merciful embrace of God. Our hearts break at the tragedies endured by those we have come to know, to serve, and to love.

St. Therese of Lisieux in her prayer for priests asks of God: “Bless their labors with abundant fruit, and may the souls to whom they have ministered to be their joy and consolation and in Heaven their beautiful and everlasting crown.” Priesthood lived to its fullest depths, can be immensely fruitful in producing spiritual children for our Heavenly Father to call his own. Just as Jesus remains the joy of St. Joseph, when a priest comes to the halls of heaven, it will be the souls that he has cared for in the name of God our Father that will be his greatest pride and joy.

I will never be called “Dad.” But each and every day I find new joy and new hope in being called—and being—“Father.”

By Father Chris Ford, Vocations Team Coordinator

(Below, Kelly Weldon, director of Foundations in Faith and a member of the diocesan ad hoc committee against racism, shares her experience working through a 14-day racism challenge.)

As a member of Bishop Caggiano’s Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, I strive to work daily to learn how to be an ally to people of color as well as how to work to dismantle the racist attitudes that are a part of me, as a result of my upbringing.

A friend passed along a program promoted by the Darien YMCA called the 14-day Racism challenge. I signed up as part of my Lenten intentions focusing on “Love Thy Neighbor.”

Needless to say, this is an impressive program and I strongly encourage everyone to participate. It is free and available to all. This is an easy commitment in that an overview of a specific topic (see below) is introduced each day. There are also learning options related to digging a bit deeper depending on how much time you have.

Those taking the challenge have the option to watch a short video clip, read a blog, or a more in-depth article.

I am learning a great deal and I am grateful for this program. This 14 Day Challenge could be shared among friends, family, colleges, corporations, and beyond.

(To take part in the challenge, visit: ywcaspokane.org/challenge)

Guess what came back?” my husband said after work the other day.

Hmm, I thought. The mouse in the attic? No, the Havahart trap took care of that. The poison ivy he couldn’t get rid of last summer? No, it’s February. The deli that closed around the corner? No, the owners moved to Florida.

“The eagle,” he answered. “She’s returned.”

Last March, when the pandemic struck and life seemed so uncertain, a sign of hope emerged in this majestic bald eagle that built her nest in a towering pine tree outside my husband’s office. He and his colleagues watched her daily, as she went about gathering brush and preparing her home, just as we all gathered and prepared for the unknown we were about to face. When Patrick transitioned to remote work, he lost track of the eagle’s progress after the eggs hatched but gave us updates on occasional sightings when he stopped back in. Once summer and then autumn arrived, the eaglets had fledged, and the mother had left to hunt the inlets of Southport Harbor and settle elsewhere. Until now.

Throughout this ongoing cycle of monotony that we have endured, another cycle has flourished around us. Of course, the eagle would return, I thought. Spring approaches. She’s ready to gather, prepare, and start again. And so are we. It’s time to come back. As the eagle soars with branches in her beak and the tips of tiny crocuses peek through leftover snow, so begins the return, albeit slowly, of the lives we so dearly miss. Even as the ashes were sprinkled over my head on Ash Wednesday, I felt that our priest’s words of “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return” had a renewed meaning, as we recalled quarantining in the midst of Lent a year ago. Our own preparation for Easter as well has begun again.

When I wrote about first seeing this eagle last March, at a time when we all needed the hope and beauty it represented, I titled the piece “Waiting Patiently.” And here we are now, still needing hope and beauty, and still waiting, though maybe not quite so patiently. I want to see my brothers in person, not on Zoom. I want to embrace my friends and forego the elbow bumps. I want to chat with my students face to face – literally. I want the world to emerge from this monotony with good health and a joyful spirit. But the eagle didn’t rush the construction of its nest, my husband reminded me. I know, I sighed. I know.

Though the crocuses remain beneath the snow and the smiles remain behind the masks, we do know that they remain and, like the eagle, will return.

My father once gave me some wisdom from Alcoholics Anonymous that I’ve remembered all my life…although I haven’t always practiced it.

He said, “Why don’t you take a group picture of yourself?” Why did he say that? Because I had the tendency to be all things to all people, sort of like a moral Gumby. I would avoid ruffling feathers and getting into arguments and I’d avoid expressing my beliefs, especially if they might anger someone.

With this compulsive need to please people, I should have pursued a career in politics.

I think about his words a lot lately when I look at our fractured country, where you can get called out if you don’t adhere to what the media and the masses say you should believe. In America, the secular humanists are on one side and people of faith are on the other, and there’s a rocky road ahead.

I’m not particularly political because of a lifelong belief that politics isn’t the solution to our problems, it’s often the cause of them.

The time is coming—perhaps it’s here already—when Catholics won’t be able to be fence-sitters on moral issues.

The day will always come when the Catholic faith and politics go separate ways. As it is, many of us have struggled furiously to assimilate the two, but it just doesn’t work. The choice is more fundamental than choosing between the Church and The System. The choice is between Christ and what the world represents.

When he was on his deathbed, the famous convert and author G.K. Chesterton said, “The issue is now quite clear. It is between light and darkness, and everyone must choose his side.”

In his encyclical “Spe Salvi” (Saved in Hope), Pope Benedict XVI said Christians can work for the common good in political life, but should not put their hope in politics.

We live in a secular society that is hostile to our faith, and you can make only so many accommodations. As Christians, we should be emboldened enough to say, “That’s wrong”…even if our government supports it or promotes it and persecutes those who refuse to obey it.

There was no Catholic more firm in her faith than Servant of God Dorothy Day when it came to resisting institutional immorality. She was a fierce believer, a pacifist and an activist, who did not water down the Gospel.

The first time I met her was on a cold winter night in the late ’60s, during a tumultuous time in our history. I took the subway with a Jesuit I knew to the Catholic Worker in lower Manhattan. There she was—the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement and the most enduring representative of the Catholic anti-war movement, standing in a grimy soup kitchen, making peanut butter sandwiches for the homeless.

I suppose I would have preferred a more inspiring encounter…at an anti-war rally or march for life. You see, Dorothy Day put the Gospel before the Powers That Be, regardless of how enlightened and progressive they tried to appear. She wasn’t quiet about her beliefs and she didn’t compromise them.

In my prayer book, I carry a holy card with the picture of a 14-year-old boy named Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, a Mexican boy known as Joselito, who was shot twice in the head by government forces because he refused to renounce Christ.

Before they killed him on February 10, 1928, they cut him with a machete and forced him to walk through town barefoot with bleeding feet to a mass grave where they dumped his body. His crime? He was a Catholic. He was a Catholic unwilling to compromise the Gospel.

The soldiers told him, “If you shout, ‘Death to Christ the King,’ we’ll spare your life.”

It was a simple choice—renounce his faith or be killed. He cried in pain but did not give in, and his last words were “Viva Cristo Rey!” Long live Christ the King!

St. Jose,  whose feast day is February 10, was firm in his faith in Christ. May we all be so courageous.

Servant of God Dorothy Day pray for us.  St. Jose Sanchez del Rio pray for us.

By Joe Pisani

The texts came chiming in from friends one after another as early as 3:00 pm on New Year’s Eve: “Happy 2021!” and “Soooo glad 2020 is coming to an end!” and “We finally made it!”

I responded to each in similar fashion, mentally replaying the challenges, too numerous to mention, that we had all faced. Even my oldest friend, who always checks in on January 1, barely said hello before uttering, “Goodbye and good riddance 2020!” as I pictured her flipping her hands in the air on her back deck in Georgia. We couldn’t help but rehash the year that had just passed, for what else was there to say now that 2020 had settled into our collective memories?

Time to move on, we decided. Time to bid farewell and time to look ahead. Yes, what a time this year was. Saying this felt odd to me though, as I was never one to wish the time away, preferring to hold onto the present and reflect on the past, all the while looking forward to the future but never wanting it to come at lightning pace. And still today, as my children anticipate the next episode of their favorite series and my students count down the days until the next vacation, I relish the moments of the here and now. This year, however, like so many others, I really was ready to wish that time away.

With all these references to the abstract idea of time, along with images of stopwatches ticking down the minutes of 2020 and the cuckoo clock that popped up on the Google doodle, I kept coming back to a line of prayer that our priest voiced in mid-December as he lit the rose candle of the Advent wreath: “May we appreciate the passage of time.”

Until then, I had never thought about pausing to appreciate the way time passes, especially during this year when it seemed time could not pass quickly enough. As our Advent season of waiting and hoping came upon us, it seemed all we wanted to do was hurry it along, not only in anticipation of Jesus’ coming on Christmas but to get as far from 2020 as we could – as fast as we could.

So how could we come to appreciate this time? I didn’t grasp it, until that time had indeed passed and we were on the other side of the year we wished away. For if we didn’t bear witness to it, what would we have missed? Our heightened concern for one another, our days apart that made coming together all the more special, our understanding of the importance of inclusion and gratitude, our enduring trust in God to lead us through each challenge. Ecclesiastes tells us that “He has made everything beautiful in its time” – and this was our time, along with the gift to make of it what we could, even if it was no more than an appreciation.

As the New Year’s messages slowed and my family and I shared our hopes for 2021, I vowed that this year, even if I don’t fulfill all my other goals and intentions, I would appreciate the passage of time.

By Emily Clark

Growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I knew the holiday season was upon us when my parents pulled out the cardboard record jackets and turned on the over-sized console in the living room. The familiar sounds of Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis filled the house, though my favorite was the Carpenters’ “Home for the Holidays.” Maybe it was the idea of being “happy in a million ways” or the anticipation of “homemade pumpkin pie,” but that song told me the holidays were here. Even as a child, dancing along to these tunes with my brothers, I felt the comfort and security of being “home” and of the simple joys that came with it.

Over the years, returning home continued to be a comfort for me. Whether it was traveling back there in a station wagon packed with laundry from college or taking the train into New Haven from my first job 300 miles away, I saw the idea of going “home for the holidays” as more of a certainty than a privilege. The same music would be playing, the same people would be gathering, the same prayers would be said, and the same scents of pumpkin, cranberry, cinnamon, and pine would linger in the air. Home was a constant of family and faith.

As an adult, I see how beautiful and complex this idea is and how the definition of home has changed. The places are different, though the feelings we associate with them are not. In the past year, when the familiar became even more so and the appreciation for what we cherish seemed to multiply ten-fold, our homes became our refuge. And now, “home for the holidays” takes on an even deeper meaning as we realize it’s not only the most comforting place but perhaps the safest.

That reality has been tough to handle, breaking the traditions we all knew would evolve but couldn’t imagine being without. My husband and I took a walk around the neighborhood the other night, needing some fresh air as I was feeling a bit melancholy about my brother and his family not coming for Thanksgiving. Rounding the corner back onto our street, Patrick mentioned having to do something “when we got home.” I paused. Yes, when we got home. The structure was there, but more than that, the feeling was as well. Though I won’t be arriving in my parents’ living room with my husband and children decades after I danced there with my brothers, I can still play that same music – albeit digitally and not on vinyl, create those same scents, recite those same prayers, and see at least some of those same people (though virtually) in the place we have created as a constant for our own family.

It is a privilege to be home, and I am thankful for all the places that word has defined for me and for those with whom God has allowed me to share them. Though it may not be the occasion we expected, it still feels so good to say we’ll be home for the holidays.

By Emily Clark, in her column Collecting Moments