Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

By Deacon Paul Kurmay
Deacon Paul has served as a Deacon at St. Mark Parish in Stratford since 1985. He founded Bethlehem House in 2000 (a transitional home for homeless families). He also founded the Lord’s Kitchen.

Let me tell you a little story. One day a priest went to the hospital to give a dying parishioner the last rites. When he got there, the man’s wife was relieved to see him and offered to wait outside the door so they would have some privacy. The priest saw that the man was conscious but could not speak. He said to him, “Harry, I know it’s hard for you to speak so let me give you a pen and paper so you can give your wife your final farewell message. With that, the man hurriedly wrote down a few words and gave it to the priest who put it in his pocket. As he was administering the Sacrament, Harry quietly passed away. He blessed him and went out to console his wife. “Marge,” he said, “Harry wanted to give you his last message.” He then gave her the piece of paper. “What did it say?” he asked. As she opened it, her face blushed as he repeated Harry’s last words:” Take your foot off of my oxygen line!”

Ah yes, I bet you didn’t expect a little gallows humor! Actually, before you think I am totally insensitive and callous, there really was a spiritual message in that story. Without even being aware of it, we have the power to stand on the Holy Spirit’s lifeline and to cut off the spiritual oxygen to our souls. And the result can be catastrophic, just as it was for poor Harry.

This weekend, we’re celebrating Pentecost, one of the three most important solemnities of the year, along with Christmas and Easter. In the eye witness account from the Acts of the Apostles, we can vividly experience the miracle as it took place. A driving wind mysteriously fills the inside of a closed room. Tongues of fire, bright red, descend on each person’s head and they all begin to pray in different tongues. Jews from every corner of the world can understand the various languages spoken by foreigners. And they are all filled with wisdom, peace and fortitude. They had truly become one in Christ.

This was in stark contrast to the story of the Tower of Babel taken from the first pages of Genesis when human pride and ambition sought to acquire the power and glory of God Himself, and when, in response, God took away their ability to understand one another. They were no longer a united people, but a badly divided one.

Today, in our nation, we have reverted to the days of Babel. By stepping on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are no longer united as at Pentecost but terribly divided and no longer able to understand one another, no matter what the language spoken.

Our society is suffering from a frightful case of extreme angst and anxiety, resulting in agitation, impatience, irritability and intolerance. We look for scapegoats everywhere, to blame for what ails us. If only they would go away and go back to where they belong, there would be peace and harmony in the valley again. To justify our thoughts, we enter a vast social media echo chamber in which the like-minded applaud one another for their wisdom and despise everyone else! The result is bitterness, anger and hatred, leading to both verbal and sometimes physical warfare — the exact opposite of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

So, what is the antidote for this spiritual and social disease? What are we to do as followers of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit? Surely the Lord is not calling us to engage in more verbal warfare. That’s precisely what Jesus came to save us from! But the world doesn’t want a Savior, does it? You’d have to admit that you need saving in order to want a Savior, and that is something the egotistical mind can’t imagine or accept. The world wants a conqueror, to redress the terrible wrongs committed against it. It doesn’t want peace and reconciliation. It wants conquest and victory. And how does the world see victory? — not in harmony and peace based on mutual understanding and respect, but by the annihilation of our enemies, domestic and foreign. That is the medicine the world has prescribed for its angst, and its side effect is spiritual death. Thomas Merton once remarked: “It may make sense for a sick man to pray for health and then take medicine, but I fail to see any sense at all in his praying for health and then drinking poison!” That is exactly what we are doing when we swallow Satan’s lies.

The famous Franciscan spiritual author, Fr. Richard Rohr, put it this way: “if a voice comes from accusation and leads to accusation, it is quite simply the voice of the ‘Accuser,’ which is the literal meaning of the word ‘Satan.’ Shaming, accusing or blaming is simply not how God talks. It is how we talk.” Merton made it even clearer: “In the devil’s theology, the important thing is to be absolutely right and to prove that everybody else is absolutely wrong. *** It means that everyone wants to be absolutely right himself or to attach himself to another who is absolutely right. And in order to prove their rightness they have to punish and eliminate those who are wrong.” Sound familiar? I heard two Congresswomen verbally attacking each other on the House floor the other day. To say that they were acting like two year olds is to insult two year olds! I fear what would have happened if they were wielding pistols instead of vicious tongues.

The Holy Spirit acts in the exact opposite way. He is the loving Advocate, defending each one of us from attack and false accusations. In sharp contrast to Satan’s deadly medicine, the Holy Spirit offers us His life-giving medicine: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. St. Paul told us long ago: “You must know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. *** You are not your own. You have been purchased, and at a [great] price. So glorify God in your body.”

In the little book, God Calling, filled with spiritual lessons given to two British women in the 1930’s, Jesus offered this sage spiritual advice: “All agitation is destructive of good. All calm is constructive of goo, and at the same time destructive of evil. When man wants evil destroyed so often he rushes to action. It is wrong. First be still and know that I am God. Then act only as I tell you. Always calm with God. Calm is trust in action. Only trust, perfect trust, can keep one calm. Never be afraid of any circumstances or difficulties that help you to cultivate this calm. As the world, to attain, has to learn speed, you, to attain, have to learn calm.”

Each of us has a choice: to swallow and promote Satan’s poisonous lies or to take the Holy Spirit’s life-giving medicine. Which medicine will you take? If you listen carefully enough, you might even hear the good Lord whisper to you: “If you really want to live, take your foot off of the Holy Spirit’s life line and follow me!”

By Deacon Bob Salvestrini

Before the Wright brothers’ first manned flight, Dr. Samuel P. Langley had successfully flown some models of heavier-than-air machines. However, when he attempted to fly his invention with a pilot aboard it failed several times. Discouraged by his failures and from much public criticism, he stored his machine and moved on to other projects.

A few days after Dr. Langley’s last failure to fly the Wright brothers made the historical first successful manned flight. Sometime after the first successful manned flight the famous aviator Glen Curtis retrieved and repaired Dr. Langley’s machine and successfully flew it, attempting to demonstrate that Dr. Langley deserved credit as the inventor of the first manned aircraft. One can only imagine what changes there would have been if Dr. Langley had persisted in his attempt at manned flight.

Persistence is a trait necessary to succeed in any endeavor and is especially true for lengthy undertakings. Spiritual growth is a lifelong endeavor and requires persistence throughout our lives. Too often discouragement can arise when our prayers aren’t answered as we would like. We pray for healing, a change in behavior, or many other things, and don’t see the result, we anticipate we become discouraged. We confess the same sins repeatedly, hoping for change; when change doesn’t occur, we become discouraged. Distractions creep in while at prayer or at mass and we are frustrated.

Discouragement and frustration are enemies of persistence. They lead us to focus on failure instead of success. For most growth spiritually occurs in small increments over time. There are very few ah-ha moments involving spiritual growth. We can discover those small increments and see how much our spiritual life has grown by looking back. Look back one year, or five years, or ten years or more and honestly compare your spiritual practices then versus now. The steps may be small but be assured they will be there, and you can take comfort that you overcame past frustrations, and discouragements because you were persistent.

By Dr. Patrick Donovan

Thirty years ago this month, the people of Rwanda experienced a tragedy my western American mind could not fathom. Over the course of 90 days or so, members of the Tutsi minority ethnic group, as well as some moderate Hutus, were killed by armed Hutu militias. Neighbors killed neighbors. Family members turned on other members of their family. Even ministers, gathering their flock into the Church, betrayed the faithful and saved themselves.

By the time it was over, nearly one million people were dead. Most of the world, including the U.S., just watched.

Because justice was such a slow process – and in an attempt to heal the communities – the Gacaca courts were established. These trials, to put it simply, allowed those who were willing to admit their part in the killings a chance for early release. There were conditions: if they showed where bodies were buried, and if the communities were willing to take them back, people who had participated in the atrocities could be released from jail to return home. Nearly two million trials were held and though the system was plagued with problems, nearly a million people were released.

Ten years after the genocide and eight years before the Gacaca courts were shut down, I was in Rwanda with a small group from Catholic Relief Services. We were there to witness, among other things, what micro-finance programs had done to reestablish small businesses, restore dignity to the people – especially women – in the years after the genocide. We were also there to pray with the people, visit the mass graves, and talk about what the country had been through. It was then, and likely will always be, one of the great honors of my life. It was also deeply disturbing.

After several days in the city of Kigali, the group was split up and my friend, Anthony, and I traveled to the far western part of the country to the Diocese of Cyangugu. There, we visited parishes, prayed with the residence, played soccer with the students, and visited refugee camps (the people fleeing Congo). Mostly, we listened to their stories.

It has been 20 years since our visit, but several conversations remain in my mind as though they occurred yesterday. On one particular morning, we were sitting with less than a dozen people, listening to their stories of the days of the genocide. We heard how people hid from neighbors. They spoke about never finding the bodies of loved ones. They spoke of darkness, fear, and what it was like to run for your life.

Then, unexpectedly, one man introduced himself and said he had participated in the genocide. He had killed many people. He had been jailed. Then, through the Gacaca courts, he had admitted to what he had done, revealed the mass grave to his town, and been freed – welcomed home, returned to his family, and was now sitting across from me.

I think my shock surprised them. My limited capacity to love could not comprehend how this person was free. He had killed people. We had been to that mass grave. I vaguely remember saying something, more to myself than anyone in the room, “How does that happen?”

The elderly woman sitting next to me took my hand. I can still feel her small, wrinkled fingers on top of mine. Through our interpreter she explained.

“If we do not forgive, hatred wins.”

That was it. That was her explanation. For her, it was just that simple. Either you forgive or you rot inside. Suddenly, the loss I had experienced in my own life – losing grandparents, a brother, friends – my own struggles in life – all rearranged in my head. My loss was nothing compared to theirs. My life was easy compared to theirs. My whole world needed a reboot. All these years, I had believed forgiveness was something you gave to others, but this woman, still holding my hand, reminded me that, often, forgiveness is something you give yourself.

The alternative is you can let hatred win. You can let yourself be eaten from the inside out with the anger, disillusionment, frustration, and lament.

At the cross, Jesus loves hatred to death. His “yes” to God gives hatred a space to die. This man who is not owed forgiveness, forgives others. He sees what is happening around him and knows the world needs saving. He knows, at his core, if we do not forgive, hatred wins.

I think about the people of Rwanda all the time. I am still challenged by the words of that old lady and I am still struggling to forgive as she had, as her community had. But each day, I feel like I get a little bit closer.

This week, let us strive to forgive those little things around us. May our perspective be rearranged so we understand injuries as inconveniences and people who irritate us as opportunities to love other people more sincerely.

Most of all, may we love the hatred around us to death so that new life can begin again.

This article originally appeared on the personal blog of Patrick Donovan, director of the Institute for Catholic Formation. To read more, visit https://fiveminutesonmonday.com

Fr. Joseph Gill, the host of Restless Catholic Young Adults, partnered with Veritas Catholic Network to release a Divine Mercy Sunday Special explaining the Divine Mercy Chaplet, Image, and Feast Day.

He also shares stories about saints that illustrate God’s gracious Mercy.

My personal favorite was a story about Pope St. John Paul II and a former priest in Rome.

The humility of the Pope in this story made real the mercy of our Father in Heaven…

We hope that you will enjoy this special presentation.

By Rose Brennan

Against my own will, something happens to me every Good Friday. And unfortunately, knowing it’s coming doesn’t make it any easier.

I walk through the doors of my home parish. The altar is bare. And the sight that causes me to involuntarily gasp every year: the tabernacle is open—and worse, it’s empty.

When I see the open tabernacle with nothing in it, I feel nothing short of distress. Dramatic? Maybe. But allow me to explain.

There is a certain feeling that comes over me whenever I enter a Catholic place of worship: parish, shrine, chapel or otherwise. I feel a deep and abiding sense of calm and peace. And much of that is tied into the True Presence in the Eucharist. Whether the host is in a monstrance, on the altar or even in the tabernacle, Christ is with me when I am there.

Imagine, then, not feeling that. That sense of peace, gone. Only an open, empty tabernacle.

That absence was one that followed me this Holy Thursday. For the first time, I had the opportunity to undertake a seven church pilgrimage with several other young adults in the diocese, visiting the altars of repose at seven different parishes throughout the city of Bridgeport. And at each of them, an empty tabernacle greeted us.

Many of the parishes had beautiful altars of repose, decorating the repositories where the hosts would remain until Easter. I tried to direct my attention to them, to reflect upon Our Lord’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, recalling his humiliation at the hands of Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate and the crowd as he neared the hour of his crucifixion. But every so often, my eyes would wander to the empty tabernacles, and that feeling of distress would return.

It didn’t get easier with each church I visited. Each time, the same words would come back to me: “He is not here.”

We try to recognize the presence of God in every moment and every aspect of our lives, but there’s something to be said for his True Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. And when he’s not so easily located, it can be very distressing indeed. Especially so when you experience it seven times over.

At about midnight, we found ourselves at the last of the seven churches on our journey. The altar of repose was particularly breathtaking, truly fit for Our Lord as we awaited his resurrection. Once again, the same words came to mind: “He is not here.”

This time, I allowed myself to think and pray more on those words. What might they mean? They surely meant something, if I kept thinking of them.

And then, I recalled what was to come in just a few days. How those exact words– “he is not here” – would come into play for the women at the tomb. The stone rolled back, the burial cloths lying on the ground, and the tomb empty.

Those women must’ve felt the same level of distress I did during the Triduum—perhaps even more so. But unlike the women at the empty tomb, we know how the story ends.

The emptiness of the tomb is a promise fulfilled. The disciples didn’t know Jesus really meant it when he said he’d raise the temple again in three days. Maybe they thought he was being allegorical, as he was known to do.

But no. He kept his promise. And that’s what I remembered when I entered my home parish for Good Friday services this year. Yes, I was still taken aback at the initial emptiness of the tabernacle, but now I had a new perspective.

With the sorrow and bitterness of Christ’s death we commemorate every Good Friday, there is still a promise of the joy to come on Easter Sunday. And in the same way, the emptiness of the tabernacle becomes a promise of the emptiness of the tomb.

By Father Joseph of St. Jude Parish

The writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible seems quite depressed. Perhaps most people know that book through the famous Byrds song “Turn, Turn, Turn” but the book itself is far more despairing of the human condition. Consider this opening of the book:

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!

What profit have we from all the toil
which we toil at under the sun?

One generation departs and another generation comes,
but the world forever stays.

The sun rises and the sun sets;
then it presses on to the place where it rises.

Shifting south, then north,
back and forth shifts the wind, constantly shifting its course.

All rivers flow to the sea,
yet never does the sea become full.

To the place where they flow,
the rivers continue to flow.

All things are wearisome,
too wearisome for words.

The eye is not satisfied by seeing
nor has the ear enough of hearing.

What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun!

Indeed, it does look like time is cyclical, even meaningless. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously quipped, You can never step into the same river twice, because all is constant change, a cycle that we are trapped in but can never break free.

But there is a way out of the seemingly-endless cycles of nature and life. And that is to take the cycle and go deeper. Life is not a circle; it is a corkscrew. It goes around and around, but also hopefully goes deeper with each passing year.

I was thinking of this in reference to two things this past week. One, of course, is the beginning of a new Spring (my favorite season!). Yet another season passes—but it’s not meaningless if I am able to more deeply appreciate, enjoy, and learn from the passing season. Recently someone said to me, “Just think—I only have 40 more Christmases!” It was a sobering thought—how many more Springs will we get to enjoy? Rather than feeling drudgery at the return of the cycle of seasons (and the cycle of life), we ought to feel grateful that we get to experience it again and again, going deeper each time into the mystery of the rhythms of life.

But the other thing on my mind is Easter. It’s a bit mind-boggling to consider that there have been less than 2,000 Easters in history—and we get to celebrate another one in a few weeks. But rather than this being an exact carbon-copy of last Easter (and the fifty Easters before it), will we be “going deeper” into the mystery of what Christ did for us in His death and Resurrection?

How can we dive into the Paschal Mystery (Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection)? The best way is to attend all three Triduum Liturgies. Triduum, meaning “Three Days”, are the Holy Thursday Mass, Good Friday Service of the Lord’s Passion, and Easter Vigil. I believe wholeheartedly that you cannot understand Christianity unless you participate in the Triduum. They are Masses unlike any other.

At Holy Thursday, we wash the feet of parishioners to symbolize what Christ did for His Apostles. At Good Friday, we kiss a cross to recall Christ’s sacrifice. At Easter Vigil, we begin with a bonfire and a darkened church, lit only by candles. If you want to have a rich Easter where you can truly enter into the mystery, please come to the Triduum—it will absolutely change the way you see your faith.

It is a real gift that we have solid, unchanging, cyclical “touchstones” such as seasons and feasts. Without them, we would feel adrift in the modern world. Perhaps this is why so many people who have jettisoned religion and live in a digital world feel ungrounded, aimless, lost. Once I attended a Walk For the Cure walk-a-thon at a local park with my pastor. They had a beautiful ceremony where they lit luminaries and had music playing with pictures of those who are fighting cancer battles projected onto a screen. My pastor turned to me and said, wisely, “See how the human heart needs rituals!”

Rather than the meaninglessness that the author of Ecclesiastes writes about, the cycles of nature – and the cycles of the Feast Days of our Catholic Faith – are the solid rhythms upon which we build our lives. We fast and we feast; we rejoice and we repent; we remember and we look forward. Every year we have the opportunity to deepen our understanding of – and participation in – the mysteries of the coming Feasts. Will you prepare your heart for a rich Easter by engaging in the Triduum liturgies this year?

STRATFORD—Every year, baseball enthusiasts and historians make a pilgrimage to St. Michael Cemetery in Stratford to pay tribute to the most famous ballplayer to come out of Bridgeport — Jim O’Rourke, one of the first 19th century players who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.

James Henry O’Rourke, born September 1, 1850, was a professional ballplayer in the National Association and Major League Baseball who was primarily a left-fielder. He is one of 14 pro-baseball players buried at St. Michael, which is believe to be the highest number of any cemetery in the state.

A statue of O’Rourke, who later became a lawyer and was known as “Orator Jim” is at Harbor Yards. Born in East Bridgeport, he worked on the family farm and played in the youth league and semi-pro baseball during his early years. He made his professional debut with the Middletown Mansfields in 1872 and joined the National Association team as a catcher.

After the Mansfields folded, he was offered a contract with the Boston Red Stockings and played with them until 1878. O’Rourke was the first person in the National League to record a base hit on April 22, 1876.

During his career, he also played for the Providence Grays, the Boston Red Caps, the Buffalo Bisons, the New York Giants and the Washington Senators and managed for several seasons with the Bisons and Senators. In 1880, he was the National League home run leader.

O’Rourke graduated from the Yale School of Law in 1887 and practiced in the city when he wasn’t playing ball. According to the Sporting Life, O’Rourke “earned the nickname ‘Orator Jim’ because of his verbosity on the field, his intellect and his law degree—uncommon in a game regarded as a rough immigrant sport at the time.”

He and only 28 other players in baseball history had careers that spanned four decades. Even though he left the major leagues in 1893, he played in the minors until he was more than 50 years old. While he was an executive for a Bridgeport team in the Connecticut league in 1895, O’Rourke hired the first African American minor league ball player.

When O’Rourke was 54, he became the oldest player to take the field in the National League for his final appearance with the New York Giants on September 22, 1904. At 60, he caught a complete game in the minor leagues. Primarily a left fielder, he also served as catcher and first baseman. His lifetime batting average was 311, he had 2,643 hits, 62 home runs and 1,208 runs batted in.

Several legends surround O’Rourke, who was the son of Irish immigrants and married to a woman born in Ireland. According to the Sporting Life, he was asked to drop the “O” from his name when he signed with Boston and he reportedly responded, “I would rather die than give up my father’s name. A million dollars would not tempt me.”

In addition, it is said that one condition for O’Rourke to sign his first contract with the Mansfields was that management had to get someone to do the chores on the family farm. John O’Rourke, his older brother, and James O’Rourke, his son, also played in the major leagues.

Jim O’Rourke died at 68 on January 8, 1919 in Bridgeport and was buried at St. Michael Cemetery. Very often, his enthusiasts and fans honor him and keep his memory alive by leaving behind baseballs, balloons, cards, rosaries and even a spatula and wooden spoon at his grave.


By Joe Pisani

By Fr. Joseph of St. Jude Parish

Two big leaps in technology happened in the last few weeks. The first is Neuralink’s announcement that it has successfully implanted its first brain-computer interface chip, which purports to allow a seamless connection between technology and the human person. This could potentially allow a person to control a computer through their mind, and allow a computer to augment a person’s brain activity, as well.

The second leap is Apple’s “Vision Pro”, which came out – and it touts itself as a game-changer, up there with the iPhone in terms of a radical cultural shift. Now, for the first time, we have “spatial computing” – no longer a computer in our pocket disguised as a phone, it’s now a 3-D, totally immersive event where we can actually leave this world with our five senses, and enter a new one.

There are four huge, huge problems with this. First, we are becoming ever more disconnected with the real world. As a blogger wrote, “We are living in unreality!” As we continue to blur the lines between what is real and what is only digital, we are apt to miss the “sacrament” of this world – that this physical world, with all of its rainy days and stubbed toes, family dinners and squirrels frolicking, is actually a medium through which God communicates Himself to us. The beauty of nature, the way in which we see Providence at work, the very fact that we live in a creation far vaster than we can ever imagine or discover, is itself a revelation of God. To detach from the real world and instead inhabit, more and more, an unreal world which we ourselves have created, will continue to alienate us from God.

Second, it alienates us from one another. Imagine trying to have a conversation with someone who is wearing Vision Pro – you have no idea if he’s paying attention to you or a cute cat video he found on the internet! One may say, “But it doesn’t have to be used that way!” But who among us hasn’t seen people sitting across from one another at a restaurant, each buried in their own screens and completely ignoring the living, breathing Image of God across the table? San Mateo County in California just declared “loneliness” as a health emergency. As we retreat into our digital worlds, will this not continue to increase?

Third, living amongst such “augmented reality” makes actual reality seem flat, boring by comparison. This was the insight shared by a writer from “Vanity Fair” who had tried the Vision Pro – he found that real life was boring, because he had become so accustomed to the constant dopamine-hits of novelty and control that he had while wearing the headset. This constant stimulation fragments our attention span, so that we can’t have sustained quiet, prayer, or study. Reading a book becomes tremendously boring. Mass is not nearly as thrilling as watching a 3-D movie. We wonder why it’s hard to have a prayer life, or why many young adults would rather retreat to the world of video games and porn than actually have a dating life – because real life is not as thrilling and doesn’t offer as much novelty or dopamine as the “augmented reality” promised by this new technology.

And, of course, ultimately it’s the age-old temptation – we seek to become gods who have the power to create reality as we want it. Rather than receiving reality as a gift and uncovering the hidden truths and principles that God has written upon the structure and the wonders of this world, we want to write our own meaning in the worlds we are designing.

There are so many other dangers that we could write about (how many “ads” will pop up in our headset or brain with this technology, proving that really all is for sale? Will these technologies be vulnerable to hackers? Etc). But suffice to say that this is a huge step away from a truly Christian society, and all Catholics serious about a relationship with God and with one another ought to avoid such technologies, or at least be exceptionally wary of their dangers.

By JOe Pisani

I did something totally insane — or inane — after I saw that Mark Wahlberg Super Bowl ad for Hallow, urging us to join the Lenten 40-Day Challenge to pray along with him, Jonathan Roumie and others.

Hallow, the #1 prayer app worldwide, was being offered free for three months, and Wahlberg was asking us to take Lent seriously and pray the rosary, read Scripture, meditate, say daily devotions and go to confession. The ad so overwhelmed me with fervor that I got the app and paid for a year’s subscription.

Then, still overwhelmed with fervor, I did the unthinkable. Maybe it was the Holy Spirit working in me or maybe it was my lifelong desire to get my family members into heaven even if I have to drag them by the ears, kicking and screaming.

Anyway, I sent out a group text message with a link to the Lenten Challenge to everyone in my family — not just my wife and four daughters and their husbands, but my sisters, their husbands, their kids, their boyfriends and girlfriends. I sent it to anyone who would listen and a lot more who would not listen. Almost 20 people. With this note: “Let’s do this together. Look at the ad. I will pay for a subscription for you if you join me.”

I was so proud of myself as I pressed the send button that I sat back with a cup of coffee and waited for the responses. And waited and waited … and I’m still waiting. The silence was deafening.

To be honest, my wife replied in her usual fashion, with words of wisdom: “Why do you do things like that when you know what’s going to happen?” Great question, and I had no answer.

In her defense, she already has the Hallow app and took the challenge last year, and she’s doing it again this year. I admit I was disappointed. I mean since I invited so many people, I expected some kind of response, even if it was, “Please stop bothering us for crying out loud.” Or “Did you forget my husband’s Jewish?” Or “Thanks, great idea. We’ll look into it … not.” Or “You live your life and let us live ours.”

The possibilities were endless, but the only response was no response.

I should add that these family group texts are common: “Hey, we’re having a cook-out on Friday. Everyone’s invited!” Or “Please join us for So&So’s graduation.” Or “We’re opening the pool on Saturday. C’mon over!”

More than once I’ve been tempted to send one out that says, “Anyone up for Eucharistic adoration Friday night?” But I’ve restrained myself.

Let me say this. I know Jesus is always at work and every spiritual action has a spiritual reaction, even though we may never know the result of our prayers until the next life. But Jesus doesn’t waste prayers, so you can be sure something good’s going to happen.

That having been said, I confess that I understand how St. Monica must have felt when she was approaching the 30th year of praying for her husband with no results. At least she saw results with Augustine after 17 years.

Here’s the thing. What I witnessed is pervasive worldwide, more widespread than COVID was. It’s indifference to Jesus, which is probably worse than animosity toward Jesus. Our friends, family members, neighbors and strangers have no idea that Jesus has all the answers to all their problems. Or they just don’t care. Or maybe some of them are afraid of people who seem to be pushing religion. (I’m guilty as charged.) Still others have never been told Jesus is the way. The only way.

I suppose when it comes to spreading the Gospel, the best advice is to take Jesus’ advice: “Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” But keep moving on to the next person.

The other lesson I learned is that my faith is an unimaginably wonderful gift, the best gift possible … and that’s something people who don’t have it can’t comprehend.

By Monsignor Kevin Royal, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Ridgefield

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and so, Lent begins. Let’s reflect.

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

I know someone who lived his Catholic faith throughout his early life and college years. He was faithful in practice, but not in spirit. He observed Lenten fasts and abstinences, but to no real transformative end.

For him, Lent was just giving something up for forty days. When Easter came, he overate what he had given up. Lent was successful, but in reality, he didn’t come though it any closer to Christ and his neighbor than before.

Maybe, to some degree, this describes you.

“Repent and be faithful to the gospel.”

A turning point came when one Ash Wednesday, the familiar words spoken at the impositions of ashes seared themselves into his heart, mind, and soul: “Repent and be faithful to the gospel.”

This is Lent, turning away from sin, being faithful to the gospel.

Fasting, prayer and almsgiving are means to that end when offered in right intention. “Lord, I fast from (chocolate, wine, etc.) to hunger more for you, your word, your righteousness. I fast so I can stop sinning and unite with your fasts. I give alms so to help the poor and to offer penance for my sins. I pray so that my heart, mind, and soul will be attentive to you and your spirit more than to anything else.

Repenting and turning away from sin and being faithful to the gospel isn’t easy. It requires grace and perseverance.

Plan your prayer, charity, and fasting for Lent (along with spiritual reading). Follow the advice of St. Benedict. Do these in moderation because right intention means more than the acts themselves. It also avoids temptation to pride. Lenten practices in moderation more easily allow for right intention and do not set us up for failure by doing something beyond our capability.

Saints Speak of Lent

“The true purpose of our Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. But fasting, prayer, alms and every good deed done for the sake of Christ is a means to the attainment of the Holy Spirit. Note that only good deeds done for the sake of Christ bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit.” — St. Seraphim of Sarov

“It is not a simple matter of living through forty days. Lent is the epitome of our whole life. Lenten fasts should not be as for a diet; they should be to partake in the sufferings of Christ…temperate in eating and drinking…. [most importantly] I am not asking what food you abstain from, but what you love. Do you love Justice? Well, let your love be seen!” — St. Augustine

“Lent is a time of going very deeply into ourselves… What is it that stands between us and God? Between us and our brothers and sisters? Between us and life, the life of the Spirit?… We can do without those unnecessary things which become habits, cigarettes, liquor, coffee, tea, candy, sodas, soft drinks and those foods at meals which only titillate the palate. We all have these habits, the youngest and the oldest. And we have to die to ourselves in order to live, we have to put off the old man and put on Christ. That it is so hard, that it arouses so much opposition, serves to show what an accumulation there is in all of us of unnecessary desires.” — Dorothy Day

“Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism for what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes but bite and devour our brothers.” — St. John Chrysostom

 

By Deacon Paul Kurmay

This liturgical year, most of our Gospel readings are being taken from St. Mark, who received much of his material from St. Peter himself. His is the first and shortest of the Gospels, but no means the least. With Mark, it’s not so much about what Jesus did or said, but about who Jesus was and is — the Messiah, the Son of God, God Himself.

Unlike the other evangelists, the first miracle that Mark records is not a healing or the transformation of water into wine, it’s an exorcism, because Mark wanted to stress that in the person of Jesus, Satan would be driven out of the world and that in the person of Jesus, sin and evil and death itself would be destroyed. Jesus was not just a sign that the Kingdom had come; Jesus was the embodiment of the Kingdom itself. That’s why, in today’s Gospel, Mark stresses that unlike the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus spoke with authority — not an outside authority which he adopted or quoted, but his own authority, an authority that even evil spirits would recognize and obey.

Today it’s not very fashionable or politically correct to speak about the devil, so naturally, that is exactly what I intend to do! The devil is often the subject of jokes and benign humor. Some of us remember the hilarious black comedian, Flip Wilson, and his delightfully-sassy character, Geraldine. She was a very naughty girl and instead of ever admitting that she was a little risqué, she would always say with a sly smile on her face: “The devil made me do it!” And, of course, we would all laugh.

I also remember an episode from Seinfeld with the zany character, Elaine Benes, and her on-again, off-again clueless boyfriend, David Puddy, who had the body of an athlete and the brain of a snail. He also had the moral character of a toad, who even made atheists look like saints. Well, in that episode, they jokingly pretended to be the devil and made horrible faces and gestures at each other, sarcastically trying to scare the other person into submission. Then they mocked each other for their apparent belief in the devil. Of course, the scene was hilarious and everyone laughed, but what got to me was how these fictional characters (and the wider audience listening to them) thought the devil was only a cartoon character and the product of an overactive imagination and a deranged childhood! That he was actually an evil, fallen angel, the prince of darkness and the author of lies, chaos and mayhem never even dawned on them.

You know, we can look around the world today and even our own country and think that the evil and chaos we see is all man-made, the product of individual and group corruption — and that would certainly be true in part. But it doesn’t explain the depth and utter depravity of it. It’s uglier and deadlier than any human being could imagine or create. The mass shootings we see almost daily — more than 400 last year alone, with many of the perpetrators committing suicide afterwards; the slaughter of millions of unborn babies every year, the glorification of blatant lies, the indiscriminate killing of innocent men, women and children in Israel and Gaza; the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians in Ukraine and the bitter in-fighting within the Church itself — all these things are unmistakable signs of the work of Satan and his legions.

There are so many strident and dysfunctional voices in the world today. They’re everywhere and they come at us all the time — 24/7, 365 days a year, year after year. They tell us what to buy, what to wear, how to look and what to feel. They even tell us what and how to think, and who and what to believe. They tend to demonize those who disagree with them and glorify those whom they acclaim, while minimizing or ignoring God completely — or even worse, attributing to God the worst lies imaginable. Now, THAT is the work of the devil himself — and millions, if not billions, have swallowed his lies — hook, line and sinker. The question the Lord asks us today is “Will we too?” Whose voices are we listening to, God’s or Satan’s??

Satan is the prince of lies, the great deceiver, who will do anything, say anything, become anything to entrap us and destroy us. His biggest lie is that God doesn’t exist, that He’s a child’s fantasy. If that doesn’t work, he then tells us that we are so bad that God won’t forgive us, that He doesn’t care about us or listen to us or love us, that He can’t be trusted and that He wants to punish us for the slightest lapse. And because He doesn’t care about us, we shouldn’t care about Him. We should glorify our senses and seek pleasure, power and prosperity more than anything else. We should look out for number one and forget those beneath us, because they are suckers and losers who don’t deserve our friendship. If it feels good, do it. Don’t trust those who don’t look or act like you. Don’t keep their company; avoid them like the plague. Grab as much gusto as you can and don’t worry about breaking a few rules. Don’t be kind or forgiving towards others; that’s for sissies. Be tough, aggressive, belligerent; destroy your enemies before they destroy you. These are some of Satan’s most common lies and from what I can see, he’s doing a pretty good job of selling them to an unsuspecting world.

You know, we will never solve the problems of the day all by ourselves, through our own efforts or the forces of the world. Satan laughs at our feeble efforts and mocks us. He does everything in his power to isolate us from God and his saints. It isn’t happenstance that in the midst of the evil all around us that Bishop Caggiano and other bishops around the world would re-introduce the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel and encourage the daily recitation of the Rosary, invoking the power of Our Lady to crush the head of the ancient serpent.

A friend of mine, whom I know and trust completely, told me a time when she was praying alone in another church. It was so quiet and peaceful. As she was leaving, she saw an image just of a face in the back of the church. It was terrible to behold: ugly, fierce, angry and terrifying. As she turned around and faced the altar, she saw the same repulsive face and then ran out in a panic. As she told me this story, I could actually see that face in my mind. It was as real as if I were there myself. Yes, the devil is real alright, but he cannot harm us at all if we remain united to our Lord and listen to Him. He is Truth itself and He will never lead us astray. He is our life, our hope and our peace.

The only thing that Satan needs to win is for the world to believe that he doesn’t exist. The only thing that Satan dreads is that the world will come to believe that Jesus alone has the power and authority to defeat him — once and for all.

When some of Jesus’ followers were abandoning him by the drove because he told them that he was the living bread come down from heaven, He turned to Peter and asked, “Will you too leave me?” Hurt that Jesus thought that Peter could ever abandon him, he said in reply:”Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.”

If only our nation and the world believed that too.

Deacon Paul Kurmay is a retired Probate Judge who has served as a Deacon of St. Mark Parish in Stratford since 1985. He founded Bethlehem House in 2000 (a transitional home for homeless families). He also founded the Lord’s Kitchen in 2011, with St. Mark volunteers and those of 10 other area churches. He is the leader of St. Mark’s Contemplative Prayer Group and Ministry to the Sick, serving those at Lord Chamberlain, Atria and Bridgeport Hospital. Deacon Paul is a graduate of Fairfield Prep, University of Virginia, and Georgetown Law Center.

FAIRFIELD—If you knew Father Charles Allen, you felt better about life. But he wasn’t Father Charles to us. He was quite simply “Charlie” to those who knew him.

The first time I met Charlie was when I was a young teacher working for the Jesuits at Fairfield Prep.
Charlie held the position of guidance counselor. The first thing about Charlie that you learned is that he never forgot your name, or your wife’s name, or your children. He had a rolo-dex in his mind that was crammed with vital information and he accessed it by touching the rim of his glasses and calling it to mind.

By remembering the names he showed you that you mattered to him and that your family was just as important. It always made me feel at home to be greeted by him. He was a mild mannered man with a ready laugh and a quick wit. He didn’t take himself too seriously. He once told a group of teachers that he became a priest “because there was no heavy lifting required.”

It wasn’t the first laugh Charlie got. What surprised me most was how a soft-spoken man turned into one of the best after-dinner speakers I have ever heard. It didn’t matter whether he stood in front of a crowd of thousands or worked a small room. He put people at ease with gentle humor, and even a few outrageous comments that nobody ever held against him.

When my daughter Rose graduated from St. Vincent’s Nursing College Charlie was the commencement speaker. He gave a remarkable talk about service that was crafted for an audience of young women. I sat there amazed at how many different groups he was able to communicate with. Always with humor and compassion. How could a quiet man be so at home with crowds of strangers? The answer was simple. No one was a stranger to Charlie.

For a while Charlie was the headmaster at Prep, but I don’t think he enjoyed being boss. He bore patiently with all the daily conundrums that a high school principal has to adjudicate, but his forte was being with people. In Charlie it became a high art. When he returned to Fairfield University his talents flowered, and he became legendary.

Sometimes I would see him with his sprightly walks around campus. We would stop and chat awhile always sharing a laugh before he hustled on to another meeting.

Besides being a toastmaster supreme, Charlie was the great tour-guide of the Fairfield Jesuit community. So when I saw that he was offering a visit to Ireland I signed up with the group.

Touring with Charlie was a little like walking on water. You couldn’t imagine yourself to be in a safer place and among better people. Charlie was the center of the good feelings and Christian love. The small masses he said at the end of each day lifted my spirits.

One of the memorable days on that trip was when Charlie and I walked from downtown Belfast to the National University where I had studied one summer a few years before. I wanted to show him the old buildings and greens. I was afraid that he would out walk me on the two mile hike, but I soon realized that he was having a little difficulty with the long walk.

Years ago, pointing to his white hair Charlie once said to me, “Bare, it’s good to look old in your forties because then for the rest of your life people will tell you how good you look for your age.”

We had our lunch at the campus pub and reminisced about the old days at Prep. He told me that he liked to read my columns in the Fairfield Citizen and recited some of my best lines. But Charlie wasn’t trying to stroke my ego. He had the capacity to enjoy other people and ask nothing for himself.

I took the check in hand and he insisted upon paying. Never say no to a Jesuit.

The best thing you can say about any man is that you will dearly miss him. Charlie, you should’ve lived forever and kept us all laughing and traveling the terrain of faith in our own passages through life.

A private funeral Mass for Father Allen will be livestreamed on Wednesday, January 17 at 10 am.

A memorial Mass, open to all, will be celebrated on Saturday, January 27, 2024, at 10:30 am at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Fairfield, Conn. A reception on the campus of Fairfield University will immediately follow.


By Barry Wallace

Barry Wallace taught English and served as chair of the English Department at Fairfield Prep for many years prior to his retirement. He also wrote a popular column in the Fairfield Citizen News.

 

DARIEN—Women faithful from St. Thomas More Parish and St. John Parish in Darien gathered together for a candlelight evening of faith, fellowship and welcoming the Advent season on Tuesday, December 5.

The keynote speaker was Sue Stone, a parishioner at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Greenwich. Her talk was titled “Pause, Notice, and Encounter,” all prominent themes of the Advent season.

The evening also included music from the Madrigal Singers: Ana Lucia Bowles, Gianna DeBono and Grace Galvin. They were accompanied by Neil Flores, principal organist at St. John’s.

During the evening, the women were able to reflect on the prayer “The Manger of my Heart,” which reads in part: “This Christmas, Lord, come to the manger of my heart. Fill me with your presence from the very start. As I prepare for the holidays and gifts to be given, remind me of the gift you gave when you sent your Son from heaven.”

BRIDGEPORT– Writer and author of hymn texts, Anna Bendiksen of Fairfield, has released a hymn , “Blessed Mary Ever Virgin.”

She says the hymn works for many of Our Lady’s feast days, including the upcoming solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Friday, December 8. The hymn begins with the words, “Blessed Mary ever Virgin, Rose of Israel in full bloom; Mother to a world of sinners, Theotokos in Thy womb.”

“I wrote the text several years ago. The tune is familiar to Catholic congregations: it is ST. THOMAS (written by the 18th-century composer J.F, Wade) to which the lyrics “Tantum ergo” are usually sung. The text was inspired by an RCIA video about Mary, including the four Marian dogmas, shown to us by Deacon Toole as part of the RCIA program,” she said

Her work has been sung around the country. The Blessed Mary Ever Virgin” hymn was sung at a Catholic church in Virginia and will be sung this Friday at another Catholic church in Indiana.

In November, 2022, Bendiksen published “O Mary by Thy Fiat,” after reflecting on “how badly we need Our Lady” in a world “that is cold and spurns Thy son, our King.” The text is set to the 19th-century tune “Unde et Memores” by William H. Monk (1823-1889), an English church musician who was influenced by the Oxford Movement, in which St. John Henry Newman played a leading role. Please click here for the full piece of music.

A native of Detroit, Anna Bendiksen spent her childhood in the Midwest, learning piano, viola, and voice as a schoolgirl in Brookings, South Dakota. Having moved to Rochester, New York, she studied voice in the Preparatory Division of the Eastman School of Music and began taking Russian at Brighton High, the public high school from which she was graduated. It was at Brighton High that several great teachers inspired me to take poetry seriously both as a reader and as a writer.

She earned degrees from Bryn Mawr College (A.B. in Russian summa cum laude), where she served as director of the Bryn Mawr-Haverford Russian Choir, and Yale University (M.A., M. Phil. in Slavic Languages and Literatures). She is also trained in teaching English to speakers of other languages (certificate from Teachers College, Columbia University). A convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism, she is a Fairfield resident along with her husband and son, and member of the Parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Trumbull.

For more information about Anna Bendiksen’s sacred music compositions, visit: www.annabendiksen.com.

Reflection from Fr. Joseph

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving next week, it’s a good time to look back at the founding of our country and the essential role that Catholicism had in our nation’s early years.

The first Catholic Mass in America was held in the Spanish Mission of Florida in 1526. Since the Spaniards and French were significantly more Catholic than the British, the territories they colonized brought our Catholic Faith well before the Thirteen Colonies. Already there were Franciscan missions in California by the 1760s, while Catholicism came into French Canada in the late 1600s (which included parts of modern-day America such as Michigan and New Orleans).

Among the Thirteen Colonies, Catholicism was centered in Maryland. The first Mass in the colonies was celebrated by Fr. Andrew White in 1634. Shortly thereafter, the Jesuits set up missions in southern Maryland along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River, christening St. Mary’s City as the capital of the new Catholic colony. Ostensibly, Maryland was named after the British Queen Henrietta Maria – but that was the “official story” told to placate the Protestant king of England who granted the land charter. In fact, Maryland was actually named after Our Lady: Mary’s Land.

Maryland was the only Catholic colony – there were penal laws throughout much of the rest of the 13, which prevented Catholics from owning property, voting, or building churches or schools (although Pennsylvania was also pretty lenient toward Catholics). But Maryland was the primary place for Catholics to settle – founded by Catholics who were exiled from Great Britain (including the family of John Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence). Maryland was also the only colony to pass a law officially tolerating every faith – from which our Declaration would take its “freedom of worship” inspiration.

Meanwhile, back in New England, the settlers were preparing to share a feast of Thanksgiving with their Native American neighbors, through the help of a man who was probably himself a Catholic – Squanto, the Patuxet man who served as an intermediary between the Pilgrims and the Natives. Squanto had been sadly captured by the British on an earlier expedition and brought to Spain to be sold into slavery, but was rescued by Franciscan monks in Spain, who freed him and gave him an education in the Catholic Faith. It is said that he believed and brought his faith back with him to the New World. On his deathbed, Squanto asked “the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen’s God in Heaven” (as recorded by Governor Bradford, who became close friends with Squanto).

From the very beginning of our nation, Catholicism has graced our land with its rich blessings and traditions. Since the word “Eucharist” means “Thanksgiving”, then truly every Mass is a celebration of one of our most treasured holidays!