Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

A “mini-course” in Mariology

Several years ago, I earned the pontifical Mariology degree from the International Marian Research Institute, a branch of the Marianum University in Rome, which is located at the University of Dayton in Ohio. Over the years, I have been invited to give talks on our Blessed Mother, most particularly in the months of May and October, and am very happy to share a mini-course which is based on the word, MARIA:

The letter “M” stands for Mother. Mary is Mother of Jesus Christ, true God and true man and was named Theotokos, God-bearer at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. She is the mother of all believers and was given to all of us by Jesus as He hung upon the Cross and said to St. John, “Behold, your mother” (Jn. 19:27).

Pope St. Paul VI named Mary the “Mother of the Church” on November 21, 1964 during his speech at the end of the third session of Vatican Council II. The groundwork had been laid by Venerable Pope Pius XII who in the encyclical, “On the Mystical Body of Christ,” on June 29, 1943, wrote: “Thus she who, according to the flesh was the mother of the Head, through the added title of pain and glory became, according to the Spirit, the mother of His members.” The Litany of Loreto, which was developed in the Middle Ages and approved in 1587, includes these titles: Mother of our Redeemer, Mother most chaste, and Mother most admirable. In 1980, Pope St. John Paul II added the title, Mother of the Church to the Litany of Loreto.

The letter “A” is for Advocate. An advocate pleads our cause to help us. Mary is nearby Her Son Jesus in the Kingdom of Heaven and intercedes on our behalf. We see the intervention of Mary at the Wedding of Cana in Galilee where her Son performed His first Miracle at her behest (Jn. 2:1-12). There was no more wine and it would have been an embarrassment to the bride and groom and their families to send the guests home. So Mary approached Jesus and simply states, “They have no more wine.” After this she told the waiters, “Do whatever He tells you.”

This was her farewell address since there will not be another spoken word of Mary recorded in the Scriptures. Even her apparitions over the centuries have reiterated this message: “Listen to my Son.” As our advocate or helper, Mary has encouraged us to pray, make sacrifices for sinners and to not offend God any more, as she told the children in Fatima in 1917.

The letter “R” in the word Maria is for Regina, Latin for Queen. We honor Mary as Queen of the Universe. Through the millennia, she has been depicted in iconography, music and devotion as a Queen. We think of the prayer that begins, “Hail Holy Queen.” This gave doctrinal substance to an idea which recurred frequently in biblical foundations, church teaching and testimony of the Fathers, beginning from the Council of Ephesus in 431 are mentioned to testify to the royal dignity of Mary.

This was made official by Venerable Pope Pius XII who established the Feast of the Queenship of Mary on October 11, 1954. In a prayer composed by him, we are reminded that the gentle reign of Mary can help each of us in the way we live our lives, “Reign over the minds of men, that they may seek what is true; over their wills, that they may follow only what is good; over their hearts, that they may love only what you yourself love.”

The letter “I” in the name Maria stands for Immaculata and represents the privilege of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. From the early centuries, the Church’s attention to Mary focused on her sinlessness. In 1830, St. Catherine Labouré received a vision of a medal, known as the “Miraculous Medal,” with the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Blessed Pius IX made this a dogma on December 8, 1854: “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.”

The last letter, “A” refers to the Assumption, or taking up into heaven the body and soul of Mary. Venerable Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950, solemnly defined the Assumption as a dogma stating that “the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This feast is celebrated each year on August 15. Her Assumption is connected to her Immaculate Conception since she, who was preserved from all sin, was also preserved from the corruption in the grave. We ask her help to help us that we too can be faithful to her Son on this earth, may we one day, like Mary, receive the crown of glory and be with Him forever in heaven.

By Rev. Matthew R. Mauriello, S.T.L.

This year we are all being called

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

St. Joseph: Model of Spiritual Fatherhood

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

A Lenten Challenge to ‘Love thy neighbor’

(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)

The Return

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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.

A young martyr with a lesson for modern times

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

May We Appreciate the Passage of Time

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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

Home for the Holidays

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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

The power of the ‘chosen family’

Jesus Himself said “no prophet is accepted in his own town” (Luke 4:24). I have begun to realize this more and more. As I use my voice to speak out against the injustices I see, it is often the people that “knew you when,” that have the biggest problem with it. Perhaps it is our inherent nature to be resistant to change…to seek reliability in our family members, thinking that they are reflections of us instead of whole persons within themselves. Enter: the importance of the “chosen family.”

Jesus’ disciples were his “chosen family.” They traveled together, ministered together, shared conversations both difficult and deep, and became each other’s closest comrades. They had to leave their families behind in pursuit of their purpose, and I’m sure they faced a lot of backlash for this decision. There is power in these close bonds, formed through a shared journey, forged in adversity.

There is great strength in female friendship (don’t worry, there is absolutely a male equivalent as well, i.e. the “wolf pack,” but I can only speak from my own experience). We need these close friends who will offer us support, cheer us on, and not only validate us but amplify our voices. When I need reassurance, I know that I can turn to my “girl squad,” always and without fail. Some of these women I’ve known since I was in grammar school. We have seen each other through many life changes, through good times and bad, and our support for each other has remained unwavering.

In her book Becoming, Michelle Obama writes about the importance of holding these friendships close and cultivating these relationships. “My friends made me whole,” she writes, “as they always have and always will. They gave me a lift anytime I felt down or frustrated…. They grounded me when I felt the pressures of being judged…and they helped me ride out the big unsettling waves that sometimes hit without notice.”

There are many strong female friendships in the Bible, as well. Mary turns to Elizabeth when she finds out she is pregnant with Jesus, and they share their joy and take care of each other. Ruth refuses to leave her mother-in-law Ruth alone after her husband passes, vowing, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay” (Ruth 1:16). The women were the ones who stayed at the foot of the cross as Jesus was crucified. They held each other up and remained strong.

My friends and I have “friendsgiving” every year—a tradition where we all bring dishes and celebrate a Thanksgiving meal together sometime before we all celebrate with our biological and extended families. It is this time of year that my heart goes out to those who are estranged from their family members, or perhaps they have lost loved ones who were their closest allies. This time of year can often be a harsh reminder of the division they feel within their families, and can cause a lot of anxiety in and around upcoming gatherings.

My prayer for those people is that they can find support elsewhere—perhaps their “chosen family.” This year has been hard enough, may we practice love and acceptance this season. As Jesus sat and broke bread with his disciples; as he welcomed the outcast, the zealot, the wayward soul. Let us open our hands and our hearts, and set our tables.

What happens when we slow down?

The pandemic has forced us to slow down. For many, this has been a challenge, especially when we were still in a state of not knowing, unable to see family and friends, and unsure of what was to come.

Now that cases have gone down, we have slowly been able to gather in small groups again, especially outdoors. This has been a saving grace for many.

I don’t want to down-play the seriousness of the pandemic, and I recognize how fortunate I am not to have lost a loved one or a job or anything else of great importance to me. I feel grateful for that every day. I will say, though, having extra time to reflect and slow-down has truly been a blessing for me.

I have learned so much about what I truly value and what is important to me. I have learned that there were things in my life that were no longer serving me.

If I didn’t have this time, I probably would have just kept blindly going on without realizing that I was carrying things that I didn’t need to anymore.

I feel like God tries to tell us these things in small ways, but when we are too busy, we tend not to notice His messages.

When we don’t stop and listen and take stock of what we’re feeling, we can get caught up in things that He didn’t intend for us. Paths that He may not have cleared for us but that we forced our way through anyway.

I don’t know what life post-pandemic is going to look like. I’ve gotten used to wearing a mask. I actually kind of enjoy it because it provides a convenient disguise when I’m running errands in sweatpants and don’t want to be seen.

I’ve been able to take stock of where my priorities lie. The question of “do I really need to go there or do that thing?” or “is it worth risking my life or the life of a loved one for that particular activity?” have helped me cut my schedule down to what is more manageable for me, which makes me a lot happier in the long-run. Things that once required a drive and a meet-up can now just be a quick phone call or an e-mail, which leaves us all with so much more time to devote to meaningful connection (for all us, “that meeting could’ve easily been an email” folks, this is a welcome relief).

I know it’s the introvert in me speaking (I’m sorry extraverts, I know this time is probably ten times more difficult for you! I hear you, I see you), but I just feel like this slower way of life is more suited to intentional living.

I don’t think He wanted us to thrive in the rat race. I think He wanted us to live our lives with intention and purpose, taking stock regularly of whether what we are doing is serving Him or whether it’s just useless noise.

I turn to one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite saints, St. Francis de Sales (the patron saint of writers and journalists, which explains why he is very near and dear to my heart). He writes, “Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.”

The whole world does seem upset. And some of that is for very good reason. And there is a time to engage in that, for sure. We have a duty as members of society and humans on this earth. But we can always return to our inner peace. We can find that grounding within ourselves and go back there when it all seems to be too much. Because only if we begin with the steadying of our own selves, can we then go out and make a difference in the world.

God’s in the backseat

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Summer just isn’t summer in my family without at least one road trip. The bikes strapped precariously to the back to the car, the bagels atop our tote bags, and even the kids jostling for more space in the backseat signify “vacation” to us as much as beach days and backyard picnics. We delight in finding the unexpected and the unfamiliar as we drive forward together down the next highway or quiet back road. In addition to all the local color we found on our travels this summer, there was something else unfamiliar on the road – my daughter.

Having turned 16 in May during the pandemic, Abigail had her learner’s permit and driver’s ed classes postponed, though we knew her initiation to the road was inevitable. Didn’t one of those bikes just have training wheels? How could she already be asking, “Want me to drive, Dad?” Impossible.

With the permit finally in her hand and a few driver’s classes on Zoom behind her, Abigail begged my husband to venture out with her one Sunday afternoon on a whole new set of training wheels. Brave man that he is, he agreed, but not before I gave her a final reminder. “Dad’s in the passenger seat. Listen to what he says,” I advised. “But who’s in the backseat?”

“Well, no one!” she replied, incredulous. “I can’t even have Elizabeth or a friend until at least…”

“No, no, no,” I said, shaking my head. “Think about it. Who’s in the backseat?”

Suddenly remembering, she nodded and said, “Oh, right. God’s in the backseat.”

Like any parent who has traveled this rite of passage with a child, we knew we couldn’t do it alone. Our daughters know that God is always with them, surrounding them, protecting them, guiding them, and loving them wherever they are – including in the backseat of the car. We reminded Abigail of this as she drove us around the neighborhood, cautiously, steadily, keeping the requisite three seconds of space behind the car in front and positioning her hands at nine- and three-o’clock as though she knew God was checking on her as much as we were. And then she learned that He was not just in our backseat, but in everyone’s.

After a friend picked her up for dinner one night, an unexpected summer storm kicked in. Thunder echoed in the distance as bursts of lightning divided the evening sky. Though her friend was a responsible driver, worry gnawed at me. What if there was flooding, hydroplaning, someone speeding past them? Then the text came that they were almost home. When Abigail walked in, I tried to hide my concern, but the tight hug I gave her betrayed me. “We were fine! Tara is a very safe driver,” she said, then added, “and God was in the backseat.”

Scripture tells us that “God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you,” a passage that comforts me as much as I hope it comforts my daughter. As we all drive forward together this summer – the 16-year-old with her learner’s permit, the families on their road trips, and our communities battling this pandemic – it’s reassuring to know that we all have a backseat driver.

By Emily Clark

Learning about myself by giving back to others

Both Abigail and Jovanka are members of CREW, a leadership program at St. Peter’s in Danbury. Teens who are a part of CREW have been volunteering on Thursdays to help make sandwiches for Dorothy Day House, and on Sundays to help with registration for next year’s classes. Every other week, some of St. Peter’s high school and middle school teens participate in a private Mass just for them. Twenty teens are allowed to be present, and some are involved in the liturgy as lectors and ushers.

Below, they share their experiences:

Abigail Barahona

I am Abigail Barahona a Senior at Danbury High School. Being a part of the CREW leadership program here at St. Peters has brought so much positivity into my life. It has helped me build a stronger relationship with God along with giving me the opportunity to help those around me. CREW is an excellent leadership program that gathers teens together to help and serve others along with helping each one grow in their faith. Being on CREW you learn and develop leadership skills that not only are applied to CREW and the parish, but also on a normal basis in our everyday lives. I personally have learned a lot about my faith about myself thanks to being a part of CREW and by giving back to others. I enjoy being a part of this leadership program because I was able to find teenagers like me who share the same interests in learning about God and giving back to our community. These past months have been hard for everyone but we still wanted to give back to our community so we gathered together to make sandwiches for the Dorothy Day Kitchen. Everyone lent a helping hand, making the process so much faster and efficient. Some of us were in charge of spreading mayonnaise on to pieces of bread while others were in charge of adding cheese and ham. Once the sandwiches were made, we brought over to Dorothy Day and were able to provide meals for over 80 people!

Jovanka Ordonez

I’m Jovanka Ordonez a Freshman Danbury High School. I recently joined CREW, a leadership program at St. Peter’s Church. In this leadership program, we are focused on growing in our faith and helping others. We work with students and we often do service projects in our hometown of Danbury. CREW has helped me grow in with my faith and grow closer to God and have better leadership skills. In CREW we do lots of bible studies and ZOOM meetings. I feel that CREW has made my faith grow. We talk weekly about our faith and how we can improve our spiritual lives. I enjoy helping others because it makes me feel good about myself. I like seeing others happy and I feel that it brings deep joy to my life when I am able to bring that joy to others. In this leadership program, we also do service projects. Recently, we made sandwiches for Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen here in Danbury. There were five stations: putting mayonnaise on a slice of bread, two where you added cheese and ham, and one where you put another slice of bread and package it together. All together we made over 80 sandwiches for those in need!

If I could but carry your cross…

As a white woman I do not have the adequate words to explain how the Black community is feeling right now. So I wish to share some words of both mine and others, to hopefully bring to light different viewpoints and perspectives and create a place for healing and understanding. May we hear one another. May we listen. May we let the words change our hearts and guide our actions.

If I could but carry your cross…
How am I supposed to put words
to the pain that you feel?
I don’t know what it’s like,
But I wish I could take some
of the burden away from you.
Can I help you carry the cross?
Like Simon helped Jesus?
I will do everything I can.
I’ll read, I’ll watch, I’ll listen.
I’ll let your words change my heart and actions.
And tell others to do so as well.
I’ll sign petitions, I’ll vote, I’ll learn.
I will have hard conversations.
I will be open to discomfort,
And know that it will never be enough
To take your pain away.
But I will continue to walk with you.
Continue to be your Simon.
In hopes that some day
It won’t have to be this way.

Two voices have stayed with me, the first being Debbie Sims, a mom and parishioner of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Bridgeport:

“How do we move on…we can’t. George Floyd’s murder broke all our hearts. It is a call to action, a call to protect the Black Community, the official catalyst for change for our country. What do we do? As an African American Mom, here is what I had to do: I had to sit down with my Black son, nephews and community sons once again and go over the rules of what to do when stopped by the police. I begged them to pray because being obedient is not enough. Even though their physical life is in the hands of the officers, the Lord has the final say. George’s murder is just one incidence that the world saw, injustices like that happen every day in our communities. I’m scared to death of sending my son outside because I’m fearful of the unknown of what lies ahead for him. Last week we hosted a conversation with moms, all hurting because George was everyone’s son, we are all outraged, disgusted, but hopeful. Psalm 139 is all about the characteristics of God. It brings me lots of comfort…we are never alone! As a people we will endure systematic racism, hatred, economic disinvestment, food, health and housing inequities, but it is not okay. ‘America…land of the free’ home of George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor and all people, because Christ our Lord said so!”

The second is our very own Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, Bishop of Bridgeport. In his most recent Let Me Be Frank podcast, the bishop and Steve Lee of Veritas Radio discussed the troubling events going on around us these days and what we can do to work for a better society.

“We have structures in society that judge people by the color of their skin or the language they speak that do not allow them the same opportunities as others. The first step in any societal change is the conversion of my own heart. Before I worry about anyone else’s heart, or society, what about me? What about when I look in the mirror? Do I consider everyone equal? Do I have racist tendencies or bigotry tendencies or discriminatory tendencies in the way I speak, the way I act, the people I deal with, how I spend my money? Am I willing to look myself in the mirror and say ‘what do I believe?’ in the end and how do I live? Do I actually live what I claim to believe when it comes to justice and equality and fairness? Because if I don’t then I am contributing to the problem, I am in fact part of the problem. Because racial equality and equal opportunity is not just something society wants because it’s a human good—it is a divine mandate. It’s what the Savior taught us. And if we are going to claim Him as out Lord and Savior and have the same title He had, being a Christian following Christ the Lord, then don’t you think that it’s our own faith that should motivate us to change? And if it does not change us then our faith is not what we’re claiming it to be.” (To listen to the full Let Me Be Frank podcast visit our diocesan social media channels).

By: Elizabeth Clyons, Fairfield County Catholic

Exiting the spiritual desert

As what some might term a “cradle Catholic,” I did not spend much of my younger years thinking about the Eucharist. Sure, I attended parish religious education, bought the white dress at the tender age of 7, got my ears pierced at the mall, and had the party complete with a magician (did I mention that I am an Italian from New Jersey?) – but the Eucharist itself never occupied much of my thoughts. As I grew, studied theology twice over, and became a liturgist and pastoral minister, I deepened in my love for the Eucharist through the beautiful writings of the Second Vatican Council and my own experience of evangelization and catechesis. Suffice to say that I thought I had a handle on the Mass and the Eucharist and its role in my life – and then a pandemic hit the United States.

Suddenly, the Church (both globally and in this nation) found itself in uncharted territory. Parishes suspended public worship; dioceses developed plans and guidance; even the Vatican had to critically examine its norms and parameters. Amongst the chaos of protecting human life, the absence of the reception of Communion yawned ever greater.

As both an employee of the institutional Church and an arguably faithful Catholic, I was prepared to “enter into the desert” to protect my own health, and to avoid being a carrier to others. I passionately debated with friends and colleagues on the benefit of tight restrictions and graciously accepted the freedom returned to my Sunday mornings. My husband and I attempted diligence in “attending” virtual Mass each weekend; the great blessing we found was the ability to “visit” parishes we normally could not, and “hear” the homilies of many priests whose friendships we cherish. As enthusiastically as our presbyterate worked to provide a sacred liturgical experience through virtual means, it was simply not the same, and over time we found ourselves faltering in our commitment to the practice. At first, I missed the Eucharist desperately, but over time, the anxieties of the pandemic and the growing unrest in our nation forced that longing into a backseat in my mind.

And yet, when the opportunity arose to attend an outdoor Sunday liturgy, with processes and restrictions in place to ensure maximal safety, my husband and I were grateful to take advantage of the opportunity. We signed up for a 12 pm liturgy on a sunny, breezy June Sunday (exactly 3 months to the day since we last attended Mass in person – aptly, Trinity Sunday!), returning to the parish where we were married with our lawn chairs, hand sanitizer, and masks. We thought it would be a “nice” experience, with admittedly simple parameters of justification: the priests in residence are our close friends, the music is spectacular, and the spacing in the parking lot would be ample. However, I found myself profoundly, inconsolably moved from the first note of the entrance hymn until the Prayer to Saint Michael. (Gratefully, masks are both a necessary protective measure in preventing the spread of COVID-19 AND an effective way to hide my messy tears!) I knew I would be emotional, but I was unprepared for the opening of the floodgates.

Simply put: no study in theology prepared me for how truly hungry I was for the Eucharist. While I cherish my theological education for too many reasons to name, it can sometimes serve as a barrier to the fullness of a spiritual experience; it is easier to put up a wall of mental analysis of the historical Jesus than it is to simply be open to encountering Christ in the breaking of the bread. When we put aside all the divisiveness in the Church and in our nation, when we forget for a moment that we are anything other than one body, the profound nourishment we can receive is more than we knew we ever needed.

Secondary to that Eucharistic hunger was the deep yearning I didn’t even know I felt for the experience of worship. As a bit of a liturgical nerd, you would think I would have been more attuned to that desire! I found myself totally swept up in the magnificence of the music, hanging on each word of every prayer and more vociferous in my responses than usual (shocking for those who have had the misfortune of sitting next to me at Mass). While the laundry list of what sets us as Roman Catholics apart from our siblings in the Christian faith is lengthy, one that resonates with me is the sense of community. You cannot simply have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ – and nothing else. It is our sacramental experience of community, bringing the joys and sorrows of the whole body into worship and prayer, which adds such richness to our faith. Although it was not in my preferred seating in the nave of the church (right-hand side, near the front, thank you), I found myself more connected to communal worship than ever.

Finally, the impact of the return to Mass has reverberated in my home ever since. My husband and I have adamantly agreed on the desire to continue to worship outside for the sake of safety, but we are no longer content with the occasional skipping of Mass due to “a busy schedule.” Having walked through the spiritual desert for 3 months to the day, this Mass was no “obligation” in the secular sense, but a filling of our own wells of spiritual nourishment for the week to come – and isn’t that what Mass should be for us all?

By: Nicole Perone

A Time of National Lament

The below reflection first appeared on the Murphy Center for Ignatian Spirituality’s website and Fairfield University Email Newsletter.
Dear Members of the Fairfield University Community,
“We are brokenhearted, sickened, and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes. What’s more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences. This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion.”
These are the opening words of the statement of May 29, from the Chairmen of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the ensuing national protests.
Repeated now so many times by civic and religious leaders from all over the globe, these and similar reactions to the senseless and brutal killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and too many others, fill us with grief, with shame, with horror. How has it come to this? How has it been permitted —and permitted still — that black lives should be treated with such callous indifference and be subjected to such cruelty and violence? How is it that our black sisters and brothers continue daily to be subjected to humiliation, discrimination in every area of their lives? How is it that our flesh and blood — our sisters and brothers — are degraded and denied equal opportunity and dignity before the law because of the color of their skin?
We are receiving this wake-up call, this summons to individual and communal conversion at just the right time.
“Right time” in the sense that we dare not wait a moment longer; no more temporizing out of prudence or caution. We dare not continue to cast a blind eye to the atrocity of racism in our communities, our criminal justice system, our churches, our businesses, our schools and universities. In our personal relationships, in our hearts. “Right time” in the sense that these sins of racism, by omission and commission, have shed too much blood, caused too much misery, excused too much injustice.
“Right time,” in the sense that we find ourselves at the point in the liturgical year when Christians celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles as they gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish festival of Shavuot, or Pentecost. (Protestant and Catholics celebrated Pentecost last Sunday; Orthodox and Oriental Christian Churches will celebrate it this coming Sunday.)
To place what we are experiencing in a liturgical context is not to “spiritualize” —to abstract or distance ourselves from the painful realities of this moment. No, the more God’s Spirit fills our hearts and minds, the more vulnerable and honest we are, and the more attentive and responsive we are to those troublesome questions of truth and meaning, of right and wrong, of good and evil. Of life and death.
With the gift of God’s own Spirit, we more and more look at the world from God’s point of view. We are taken up more and more into God’s passion that all God’s children be free, be whole, and flourish. The more God’s Spirit takes hold of us, the more our hearts ache with the pain of those who suffer, and the more our voices rise in witness to the truth of human dignity and in protest at its violation. The more God’s Spirit lives in us, the more we are able to resist hatred and violence and embrace the long, hard struggle for justice that leads to the building of Dr. King’s “Beloved Community.”
The more the Spirit moves in us and changes our hearts, the more we find ourselves people of the magis, to use that familiar Ignatian term. As my colleague from Fordham’s Theology Department, Fr. Bryan Massingale, STD, explains, “the magis is:
… that inner longing, that restlessness for that which is always out of our reach, but that which beckons us and allures us, and entices us to reach beyond where we are now. It’s that inner dynamism of spirit that leaves us dissatisfied with the way things are and always calls us forward into the deep. Into the beyond.… It is probably the most subversive concept in the Jesuit lexicon because you can never fully put your arms around it because it is always going to take you someplace new. Someplace different. Because it is going to demand that your heart becomes broken so that you’re open to that which is beyond you, especially when we are looking at issues of racial justice or ecological justice.”
In this time of national lament and grief, of division and doubt, in this Pentecost season, may God send God’s own Spirit into our hearts, making of us, wherever we are, whoever we are, women and men of the magis, lured on in hope, fortified with courage, inspired by love to labor with all women and men of goodwill for that day, when, in the words of the Book of Revelation, we will be able to say:
“I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, adorned as a bride for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Behold, the dwelling of God is with women and men. God will dwell with them, and they will be God’s people, and God will be with them. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be morning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21.1-4)
In Prayer,
Rev. Gerry Blaszczak, S.J, Vice President for Mission and Identity at Fairfield University