Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

Hope Never Disappoints

I called my 93-year-old uncle in Pennsylvania the other day to see how he was holding up. I said, “Bubs, I’ve got two cases of Corona beer here with your name on it! I’ll sell it cheap! Interested?” He just laughed and told me that he and Betty were still going out dancing every week and had no intention of changing his habits. If I told him to stay inside, he’d laugh at me. I guess he figured he survived W.W. II and the Great Depression and a hundred different strains of the virus, so why change now??

Well, I wish it were that easy: just ignoring the current pandemic and carrying on life as usual. That’s simply not an option anymore. Every day and almost every hour of the day we are inundated with more details about this on-going crisis. The drip, drip, drip of the news is both exhausting and unnerving. None of us has ever seen anything like it in our lifetimes.

I attended a high-level Town meeting the other day, convened by the Mayor and our Health Director. It detailed the cancellation of numerous Town meetings and the closing of all public and parochial schools in Town, as well as the remedial steps underway to combat this epidemic. They estimated that within 6 short weeks, over 20% of the nation’s population will have been infected by the virus, although many will show no or only mild symptoms. But for the most vulnerable, it will be life-threatening. Without question, we are all to take this pandemic most seriously and take all reasonable precautions to protect ourselves and our families.

Fear is spreading even faster than the disease itself. There is panic buying at Costco’s, BJ’s and all the grocery stores, and panic selling on Wall Street. You couldn’t buy toilet paper or Purell if your life depended on it! And it may!

So, what are we to do? We’re not going to crawl under our beds in fear and trepidation and wait for the worst. No. We will do the best we can and we will survive this. The first thing to do is to remain calm and collected and to place all of our trust in God. The second thing is to pray for the containment and eradication of the virus. The third thing is to do our civic duty by carrying out the directives of our health care professionals, protecting not only ourselves but our neighbors as well.

Some skeptics out there will say that praying is a waste of time, that we should just listen to the scientists and to trust in science, not God. How foolish! Don’t they know that science and God are one?? There’s no separation between the two. The One who created every particle of the universe and each one of us knows better than anyone how all things work together. There is nothing which God doesn’t know.

Did not our Lord tell the Samaritan woman that all believers must worship in Spirit and the truth? Did not our Lord tell his disciples that He was the way, the truth, and the life? Science is truth, but it’s only partially understood by imperfect human beings.

The living water that our Lord offered the woman in the Gospel was the Truth and the personification of the Truth —- the Holy Spirit.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul said, “we boast in hope of the glory of God. *** Hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” The Lord is offering all of us hope in order to combat our natural fears and doubts.

Some believe that this pandemic is God’s punishment upon a sinful and faithless world. The Church doesn’t take that position. God certainly has permitted this epidemic but He most certainly did not create it, any more than He created the holocaust or the plague. So, where is God in all of this? He’s where He always is: in those who are suffering and are in pain. He’s with the doctors and nurses and first responders. He’s with the elderly and the most vulnerable. He’s here, with you and me.

God knows that we deserve his punishment, just as the Samaritan woman did. That’s why she came to the well at high noon, during the hottest part of the day. No one else wanted to be around her and she probably thought God didn’t either. But our Lord offered her not condemnation and punishment, but forgiveness, hope, and eternal life. He offers the same gift to us today; but, in order to receive that gift, we need faith. We need to place our trust completely in his hands, the loving and healing hands of the divine physician.

We may well face darker days in the weeks ahead, but our Lord is the Light that casts away all darkness and all fear. He offers us faith and hope where there is doubt and despair. In the midst of this earthly desert, He offers us an abundance of life-giving water.

So, drink up, my friends!! And you’ll never be thirsty or wanting again.

-Deacon Kurmay, Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent- March 15, 2020

Kairos Retreat: Community is Strengthened through Faith

TRUMBULL—The Kairos retreat program at St. Joe’s was first introduced in the fall of 2018 by our campus minister Jordan Smith. His hope was to expose our school to this idea of a community that is strengthened through our faith and love of one another. This retreat is available to all juniors and seniors and takes place for three days at a retreat house in Litchfield called the Wisdom House. 

Kairos was my first attempt at getting involved with my faith at St. Joe’s and one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I went into this weekend not knowing anything about what it would entail, and it completely changed my life in the best way possible. The first day focuses on learning about yourself, the second day is about your relationships, and the last day focuses on God. Personally I had never taken the time to reflect on my life, let alone sit in a small group and share it with others. This experience pushed me outside my comfort zone following the theme of “ taking off your mask” and allowing yourself to be vulnerable in a safe environment made up of your peers. 

It was an honest, judgment-free space where students and teachers could interact on a personal level and get the chance to witness that everyone no matter your age, gender, or grade is going through something. I’ve been blessed to attend every single Kairos retreat at Saint Joe’s and we have grown from a group of seventeen kids on the first to over fifty on the one attended a couple of weeks ago. This experience has touched so many lives, and I can see every day the love and family that grows from it at St. Joe’s. 

Kairos translates into the phrase “the right time’ which is something we all try to live by. When we go on this retreat we believe it is the right time in our lives for something to change, and we try to be open to this possibility. Another phrase we often say is LT4, which means Live The Fourth. It is a call to live everyday like its the fourth day of the retreat, which is when we go out into the world to spread everything we’ve learned from our time in prayer, reflection and fellowship. Kairos has made me more aware of the world, a better listener and a more confident leader. I know the greatest lesson I’ve learned from Kairos is that “ to love is to be vulnerable” and Mr. Smith has fostered an environment at St. Joe’s overflowing with love and support that is built off the idea of being a family for one another. 

Lauren Pleszko is a junior at St. Joseph High School.

Seeing the face of God in the comment section

Having grown up in an increasingly digital world, I have been able to see how the use of social media has changed over the years and the effect that this has had on people of all ages.

We are more connected than ever—and that can be a really good thing. Family members who live far away can now see each other whenever they want and interact in a way that is much more personal. Pictures of exciting life events can be shared with those who may not have been able to make it. You can instantly let your loved ones know that you are safe during a tragedy. Inspiring stories and heartfelt videos can unite us all in our humanity.

The downside of this digital age, though, is that we can seemingly never escape the negative. My coworkers and I see it every day in the comment sections of our pages. People who didn’t have a voice before now have one, but most days the negative ones seem to be shouting the loudest.

It can be exhausting and dehumanizing in many ways.

I often wonder if, amongst all the information that we are constantly bombarded with, there can be a chance for us to just listen. Are our comments made out of love for others, or are they made in an effort to tear others down?

When it all boils down, I feel like we all have a lot more in common than we would care to imagine. Humanity has a common thread running through it—we all have a desire to belong, to feel loved, accepted and safe. I can’t help but think that when we try to understand where someone is coming from in their opinion, we will find it comes from a heart not so different from our own.

My heart often feels heavy when I think of how divisive the climate of our world is today. It feels like we are held in this tension, just waiting for something to give.

James 1:19 says, “Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath….”

Why are we so quick to tear others down? Does it make us feel better to make others feel less than?

Do the comments we make and the way that we live our lives lead others to Christ or do they sow seeds of division, hatred and bigotry?

Proverbs 6 outlines the seven things that are an abomination to the Lord, one of those being: “the one who sows discord among kindred.”

The Bible adamantly warns against those who sow discord. Those who turn people against each other, people who are meant to be united.

The digital world can often be a breeding ground for this hatred. But would it make a difference if we were able to look into the face of the other person when we were making a comment?  So much anger is vented anonymously and irresponsibly. In a culture of blame and shame, we rush to judgment, or save our worst invective for those we don’t agree with. Can we learn to look into their eyes and see the face of Christ?

When it comes down to it, how could we not?

Are the people we rage against not also made in His image and likeness?

How can we dispel this hatred and divisiveness so prevalent in our world today? I propose something simple—seeking the face of God reflected in everyone we come in contact with. It may not solve everything, but it can surely be a step in the right direction.

What would Washington and Lincoln think of us today?

Do you remember the golden age of TV journalism when a Yes meant Yes and a No meant No? Do you remember what it was like to appreciate the truth and to trust those on TV who were telling you the truth? Do you remember the icons of TV journalism like Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, David Brinkely and Chet Huntley? We believed them. You could count on the truth of what they said.

Contrast that with today’s cable news phenomenon. In so many cases, we are tortured with a drum beat of propaganda, not actual news. The search for greater and greater market share drives each and every news cycle. Opinion has displaced fact as the most important news commodity. Truth is truly in the eye of the teller. It is whatever the commentator wants it to be.

America’s trust in the most fundamental pillars of society has been shaken to the core. Confidence in and approval of the office of President, the Congress and even the Supreme Court have reached an all-time low. Few trust what is now called “fake news.” Organized religion has suffered a similar fate. Church attendance hasn’t been this low in centuries. The only major institution that still enjoys the confidence of a majority of the public is the military, and even there, some of our top military leaders have been publicly ridiculed, mocked and maligned without cause.

The root cause of this distrust and cynicism is not just cultural or political. It’s primarily spiritual in nature. We as a nation have lost our center. We’ve lost the spiritual strength which bound us together throughout every national crisis. We’ve lost the zeal and zest to put virtue over vice, the needs of all over the needs of a few, the needs of the poor over the wants of the wealthy.

And what was the glue which held us together, the force which prevented us from splitting apart? It was our unwavering trust in God, the belief that He was always at our side, that He could always be trusted, that His ways led to life and freedom and hope and happiness. As a nation, we’ve lost that faith. Emotionally, we feel as if we are on a ship caught in a violent storm, rudderless, tossed around helplessly, without a captain to save us.

Thomas Merton spoke of this phenomenon nearly 60 years ago: “How true it is that the great obligation of the Christian, especially now, is to prove himself a disciple of Christ by hating no one, that is to say, by condemning no one, rejecting no one. And how true that the impatience that fumes at others and damns them (especially whole classes, races, nations) is a sign of the weakness that is still un-liberated, still not tracked by the Blood of Christ, and is still a stranger to the Cross.”

Climate change is bad enough. But the erosion of our spiritual values is far worse. After all, if the sea rises, you can always move to higher ground; but if the soul of the Nation is mortally wounded, who can fix it but God alone?

This past week the daily readings came from the Book of Kings and they featured King Solomon. God Himself declared him to be the wisest monarch who ever lived — that is, until he wasn’t. In his final years, his wives persuaded him to build altars to foreign gods and to abandon his faith in the one true God. The result was inevitable: His Kingdom was torn apart, forever divided. The lesson of Solomon is a lesson for us all.

In today’s first reading, Sirach puts the issue to us squarely and bluntly: “Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him. *** If you trust in God, you shall live.”

This weekend we as a nation celebrate the lives of two of our most famous presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Presidents’ Day is more than an excuse to sleep late and go shopping. It’s a needed reminder of what these two giants stood for and how their faith transformed our Nation.

Last month, we recalled the wisdom of Dr. King. Today, we are reminded of the wisdom of Washington and Lincoln, lest we ever forget. Listen first to what George Washington said:

I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.

Labor to keep alive in your breast the little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.

Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that natural morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Abraham Lincoln left us the gift of his own wisdom:

My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God/s side, for God is always right. How few today even ask what God wants.

I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light I have (from God). I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong.

And then he added these prophetic words, not just for his age, or ours, but for every age. Listen carefully:

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up among us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul said, “We speak a wisdom to those who are mature. Not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather we speak of God’s wisdom, mysterious and hidden.”

Let me ask you a dumb question: when you turn on your TV or computer, do you hear or see a “mature” wisdom? Do you hear the mysterious wisdom of God? Or, rather, the din and clatter of a world in love with itself?

At a recent meeting of the Stratford Clergy Association, representing most of the Christian denominations of the land, every single one of us decried the nature of the national dialogue and the breath-taking decline of spiritual values in America.

What can we possibly do to reverse that trend? It’s actually not hard at all. First and foremost, bear witness to the Truth, no matter what violent the push back. May your Yes to God be a firm Yes, and may your No to the world be a firm No. Pray for the conversion of our leaders, both secular and religious, that they might be filled with the wisdom of God. Pray for our beloved Nation that she returns to God with her whole heart; and finally, let us pray for ourselves that the good Lord will give us the strength and fortitude to persevere, no matter what, to never lose hope no matter how dark it becomes and to place our trust in Him for everything. I am sure George Washington and Abraham Lincoln would heartily agree. The question for us today is: do we?

Deacon Paul Kurmay serves at St. Mark Parish in Stratford

40 Days for Life: Prayer, Fasting, and Repentance

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“Cultural transformation doesn’t begin in Washington, Hollywood, or Wall Street, it begins with each one of us,” observes the founder of 40 Days for Life, Shawn Carney. Could any of us doubt the need for cultural transformation at this time? For Catholics, “cultural transformation,” proclaiming the kingdom of God and the culture of life, is a dynamic of our faith.  It is a dynamic that is sometimes neglected, and Lent providentially offers us the chance to reclaim and reinvigorate. The 40 Days for Life prayer vigil to bring an end to abortion coincides with Lent precisely for the conversion of hearts and minds, in obedience to God’s request that we turn to him in humility, prayer, fasting, and repentance, in union with Christ. By praying publicly for an appreciation of the sanctity of life and an end to abortion, we bring God’s message of mercy, grace, and forgiveness to the world. It is clear from the overwhelmingly positive responses to our vigils on Main Street in Bridgeport and Danbury, that praying openly in public touches a need in many people and is well appreciated.   The occasional negative response is also a reminder that our prayers are effective!

The results of the national, and international 40 Days for Life efforts speak for themselves:    to date, 16,742 babies saved from abortion, 196 abortion workers have quit and embraced Christ in their lives and 104 abortion centers have closed (including Summit in Bridgeport, after four years of prayer vigils at that site). Of note, the two founders of 40 Days for Life, Shawn Carney and David Bereit, originally Evangelical Protestants, have both converted to the Catholic faith as a result of their work devoted to the sanctity of life, and they are not the only ones within this movement of prayer and sacrifice who have experienced conversion.

A new 40 Days for Life campaign in Bridgeport was first launched in Lent of 2019, after learning that an abortion facility had opened within the Commerce Park medical complex on upper Main Street. So far, the Bridgeport campaign has gathered Catholics from 14 area parishes and Protestants from two local churches, of all ages and backgrounds, to witness to God’s gift of life, and pray the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet. Our prayer intentions request that God touch the hearts of those affected by abortion in any way,  that He shower His mercy upon them and that He intervene to save the lives of unborn babies threatened by abortion. We do not know who among the cars entering Commerce Park might be considering abortion, but we do know that the sight of the image of Our Blessed Mother, (we display an image of Our Lady Of Guadalupe), the sight of people caring enough to stand outside to pray, and the sight and sound of the Rosary, cannot fail to be effective.

The Danbury campaign has been going on for about five years, with participation from seven churches in the greater Danbury area, including nearby parts of Westchester county. The new leader, Chloe Hermann, fresh from Christendom College, is hopeful that there will be more participation this Lent, and especially that the pastors in Danbury will recognize the importance of this Pro-life prayer effort.

What does it take to participate in 40 Days for Life? First, let’s dispel some myths: the 40 Days for Life prayer vigil is NOT political and it is not a protest. It is a positive and peaceful outreach for the salvation of souls.

All that is required is a simple willingness to exercise the basic theological virtues: faith in the power of prayer; hope in God’s abundant mercy and love for the truth and for our neighbors. Praying on the street, however humbling, is not as frightening as some might think: we always pray in groups of two or more, and the prayer rallies, held twice per week in Bridgeport, bring out groups as large as thirty people. Most people stay for one hour at a time, some stay longer, some less; any amount of time in prayer is important. We are particularly blessed by those pastors who have taken time in their busy schedules and stepped out of their comfort zones, to lead us in public prayer and grateful for the seminarians who have stopped by spontaneously to pray with us. The presence of priests at the prayer vigil is a great encouragement to the faithful, a sign that Christ is active in the world, and underscores the unity of Christ’s shepherds with the flock.

Each of the troubled women who enter an abortion center in Bridgeport and Danbury and each of the babies they carry in their wombs is our neighbor; we demonstrate our love for each of these neighbors through this work of mercy in prayer. Participation in the 40 Days for Life prayer vigil is a simple act of obedience to God’s commandments, and as we know, “the greatest of these is Love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

Opening prayer rally for the Bridgeport 40 Days for Life will be at 3 pm on Ash Wednesday, February 26, at 4697 Main Street, Bridgeport.

(For more information about the 40 Days for Life this Lent, and to sign up, go to www.40daysforlife.com or contact local coordinators:  Chloe Hermann: 40DFLDanbury@gmail.com, or Lenore Opalak: snowdenopalak@icloud.com.)

By Dr. Lenore Opalak

The testing by fire that makes great parents — and disciples

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There’s almost nothing that changes a person as much as becoming a parent does.  When that baby arrives, it comes with no instructions, and it’s up to the parents to take that baby home and somehow keep it alive.  Witnessing that among my sisters and my friends, it’s amazing to see how, before long, they’re able to do things like change diapers and wipe noses that they would have been completely repulsed by not long before. And then you see them have a second one, and then a third, and maybe even a fourth or fifth.

The thing about parenthood is not just that you have to keep them physically alive. You also have to teach them things, things that aren’t all that easy to explain: “Why is water wet?” “Where did I come from?” “Who made God?”  If there’s something that people discover through the experience of having children, it’s that we have very little control over things in life. But giving themselves over to that of lack of control and having to figure things out has a remarkable effect.

When people look back on their lives, they often marvel at how much being a mom and dad has changed them. They are amazed at how different they have become from the totally self-absorbed and self-centered creature they had been; how hard it was to undergo the change, but also because they loved their child so much, it was kind of easy at the same time.

In today’s first reading, the prophet Malachi uses an image of refiner’s fire. In the ancient process of metallurgy, you would mine the metal ore from the ground, and you would subject it to fire.  And under the stresses of the flame, the metal would be pulled from the ore, and the contaminating minerals would be separated out and thrown away.  You’d be left with the pure silver or gold. Purified through the refining process, what had been pulled out of the earth as a piece of rock now shines and gleams and is more beautiful — and it’s because it suffered the testing of fire.

It is, in a way, what happens when a child comes into the life of a mother and father. It is a testing by fire that brings something amazing out of them — it makes them greater.

Joseph and Mary’s lives were radically changed by the presence of the infant Christ.  The Scriptures talk about how they would be amazed by things, and Our Lady would ponder on the things she experienced in her heart.

In today’s Gospel, they bring Him, according to the Law, to the Temple in Jerusalem, the place of sacrifice, for the purification rituals. It was a common thing in the life of a Jewish family. Yet, all of these strange things happen. When Our Lord enters the Temple in his mother’s arms, these two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, approach.  They have been long expecting the coming of the Savior.

Simeon, after rejoicing at the appearance of the Child, turns to His mother and shares with her a prophecy.  He tells Mary that Jesus would be “a sign that would be contradicted.” He is revealing to her that there would be resistance to her son.  He would not be accepted or welcomed by the world. But through that rejection, which culminated in His crucifixion, the Savior would save us.  Despite the pain and the suffering it presented, Our Lord embraced the cross, because He loves us. And His acceptance of the cross out of love for us led to our redemption. It opened the door to our salvation.  It changed everything.

But the prophecy of Simeon did not say that only Our Lord would suffer.  Simeon tells the Blessed Mother, “And you, yourself, a sword will pierce.”  He is revealing to her that she, who was Our Lord’s greatest follower, would not be exempted from a share in the suffering of her Lord and Savior.  To see her son, her little child persecuted, arrested, mocked, scourged and crucified must have been incredibly painful — the suffering of a thousand deaths, the suffering of her Seven Sorrows.

But yet, through her acceptance of a share in the cross, Our Lady participated in Our Lord’s act of redeeming the world.  She was full of grace from the moment of her conception. And so, she was perfectly united to the Lord and was able to offer the suffering that came because of her fidelity to Him.  This lowly handmaid of Nazareth, the sorrowful mother of Calvary, is now the Queen of Heaven — God’s most glorious creature.

So the question we must ask is what our life with the Lord is like. Because the Lord Jesus comes into our lives — He comes into our world — as a sign of contradiction. When we are confronted with this, we must decide: “Who is He to me?” “Do I believe He is who He says He is?  Do I believe that I am who He says I am?” This is the moment when we are presented with the cross, and we have to decide how we’re going to respond.  To follow Him does not come without cost.

It’s like parents who must decide to give their whole selves to the care of their child. If they don’t, they won’t be good parents, and they won’t be changed by the experience. It’s like ore taken from the ground that isn’t subjected to fire and so is never made to shine like silver and gold. In the same way, if we refuse the cross of discipleship and cannot follow Him, we cannot be changed/transformed/glorified as God desires.

But why would we refuse it?  Why do we resist taking the chance to give our whole lives and our families to Christ and to accept the guidance of the Church that the Lord gives to us? I think it’s because we’re a little (or a lot) afraid of what discipleship requires of us. We fear the loss of control over our lives, we like deciding for ourselves what is true and good, we think that faith asks too much of us and the cross it offers is too big.

A few minutes ago, I said that almost nothing changes us more than parenthood. One thing that does change us more is discipleship. Our relationship with Christ as a member of His family, the Church, transforms us most of all. And when we recognize the love of the One who took up the cross for our sake, when we really get a glimpse of Him, we find our heart opens up to Him in gratitude for what He did for us and how much He loves us.  And those crosses we thought we could never take up in life somehow become much easier to bear.

***

(This homily was delivered by Rev. John P. Connaughton at the annual “Baptism Anniversary Celebration” at The Parish of St. Cecilia-St. Gabriel on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, February 2.)

Leave the light on a little longer this year

I have a confession to make…my Christmas decorations are still up. Luckily for Catholics, we can conveniently use the excuse that the Christmas season technically lasts until The Baptism of the Lord on January 12 (or the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple on February 2, if we want to get really technical).

But something in me just did not want to take down the lights this year. There was something about their warm glow that I just didn’t want to lose, because the doldrums of winter just seem so long without them.

What is it about winter that always seems so melancholy? I know it’s coming every year and yet every year I brace against it.

Is there a way to hold on to the magic of Christmas a little bit longer? One could argue yes, of course, Jesus is always with us. But there still is something especially magical about a baby in a manger. I am almost moved to tears every time I gaze upon a Nativity scene. I don’t know if it’s the vulnerability of it all that pulls on my heartstrings, or if it is the silence, the stillness, the holiness.

My family experienced some health scares in 2019. So in 2020 my focus is on wellness—mind, body and spirit. I bought essential oils and downloaded a meditation app. I made some doctor’s appointments I had been putting off, trying to will wellness into existence with almost equal exuberance as my determination to keep the lights on.

But it’s the spiritual side that is tripping me up a bit this year. I’ve lost some trust. And maybe this is part of growing older, or maybe it’s circumstantial…or maybe it’s something else. I’m trying to do what works for me—to form an adult faith.

Is it okay if picturing the Christ child as a vulnerable baby as part of a young immigrant family in a stable is what works for me this year? Can the tears that come to my eyes be my own prayer, even if that’s all I can muster?

If Christmas lights until February works for me, can that be okay too? Can I leave the lights on a little bit longer? Can I sit in their warmth and feel held by God in the Light of Christ, if that’s the only way?

My hope is to remain in these moments, to take each of them as they come and embrace them.

There’s a beach down the road from where I live. I run to the end of the road and back every day. Some mornings I wouldn’t stop at the beach because I was in too much of a hurry but this year I am going to stop every morning. I am going to take it all in—no matter the weather.

The ocean reminds us that there are days when things will be tumultuous, but there are also days when a peaceful calm will wash over us. And we can experience each of them with the same openness.

And we can leave the lights on.

Libby Clyons is Communications Associate for the Diocese of Bridgeport. Her monthly column called “A Young Woman’s Voice” is featured in Fairfield County Catholic. 

Coffee with God

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Many communities offer a “meet and greet” with police officers and citizens at a local diner or coffee shop for a no pressure, no commitment, very casual chat to strengthen ties and understanding between the two groups. It’s called ”Coffee with a Cop,” though often there is not even coffee! I thought how similar the concept was when I attended a Eucharistic Adoration at my parish, the Church of the Holy Spirit.

I enter the church and kneel in the back pew while eyeing the Holy Eucharist in the monstrance on the altar. I have come to spend time with the Lord but almost immediately my mind wanders. Distracted already, I scan the front and side pews and guess that about ten people are there. I jerk myself to attention and ask the Lord to forgive me for my sins, to take care of my family, my friends and all the loved ones who have died and I’ve forgotten to pray for lately. Oh wait Lord! I forgot to thank you first for all the blessings of my life! My faith, my family, my health, for all the answered prayers! I don’t want to be like the nine lepers who never came back to thank you!

Now I sit back and think that the pews should be cushioned. I look around and actually count the people. Eight, but more are coming in. I wonder how long I’ll stay. What did Jesus say to his followers? “Can you not watch with me one hour?” I think I cannot sit for a whole hour. I have things to do and this pew hurts my back. Okay, I tell myself, I’ll stay just a bit, maybe fifteen minutes so I don’t look like I don’t care that the Lord is actually there, on the altar, in the church, I sit in. But I’m still not settled. I kneel again and say the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary. I think of how I pray all day and wonder if He is tired of hearing from me.

On the way to work, “Lord protect me and my family from harm and catastrophe on the roads and don’t let us hurt anyone else. Please be in my mind, my heart and my hands as I care for my patients today.”

When I arrive at work, as I work on difficult cases I pray again. Lord give me patience and wisdom right now because I need it.

Help me get this I.V. needle into this terrified child on the first try. Help me to console this daughter whose father won’t survive the hour. The wife arriving because the police have told her that her husband has been in a car crash and is horribly injured. The homeless, unkempt, emaciated man arriving unresponsive from an opiate overdose. “What you do for the least of my brethren you do unto me.” And so it goes all day long. Later I thank God for a day I was able to help and do no harm.

Back home I pray for guidance, patience with my family and less worry…much less worry! Then at night, more prayers. So I wonder if God is tired of me asking for so much, every day, every afternoon, every night, nearly every minute.

Now, still in the pew, I sit back again. Then barely without noticing, I start a very leisurely conversation with the Lord. I’m not rushing to work wondering how many sick I will be faced with in the Emergency Room. I’m not driving home saying thank you Lord and I have to stop to buy bread, eggs and what was that other thing I needed? I’m not trying to go to sleep exhausted from the day, hoping I’ll stay awake long enough to finish my night prayers. This is when it happens. Without noticing why or how, I am comfortable and deeply entrenched in a thoughtful and all-encompassing chat with my God. And now I feel I could sit there forever.

Later, I don’t know how long I’ve been there, but suddenly I know I got what I came for. I’m thinking of chores again and slowly get up to leave, knowing, somehow just knowing, it’s time. I don’t know when or how it happened, but I’m feeling satisfied, peaceful and full of God’s grace.
It’s my “Coffee with God.”

Patricia Agostino is a parishioner of Church of the Holy Spirit in Stamford.

 

It was like a calling to go and be closer

Going to NCYC was a unique and beautiful experience. At first, I was nervous because there were going to be 20,000 people but then it all goes away once you realize that you are all unified and have something in common—your faith.

At NCYC you are able to get to know and talk to people from around the world. Not only that, but I was able to get to know the people around me better as well. The village was a good place to hang out and play games with others. One experience was when these two boys were playing songs on a kazoo. I made a song request and they obliged. It was the funniest moment ever. To be able to connect with people you wouldn’t have met otherwise.

Also, The Mass was indescribable. It was the best mass you will ever have in your life because it was very emotional to connect with your faith deeply. Especially when the pope talk to us, which has never happened before, at NCYC. Another first is when we were all praying together and they had Jesus in front of us. Everyone came rushing down to the stands to get closer to Him. It was like a calling to go and be closer. It was the height of the experience of my emotions because they played songs that truly showed us we were “Blessed, Broken, Given” which was the theme of the week. Not only that, but people gave witnesses on stage about their experiences with the faith. Their stories truly resonated with me because of how personal and relatable they were. They also proved that God is real and we shouldn’t have doubts. I learned and absorbed many things to keep Catholicism in my everyday life when things get tough. Overall, I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to go to NCYC and have this experience. I will cherish and keep it in my memories for the rest of my life.

Samantha Rodriguez a member of the youth group at St. Peter’s in Danbury reflects on his recent experience at NCYC.

How can we help but be filled with joy?

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How in the world can we be expected to “rejoice” today, as the third candle on the Advent Wreath, the rose one, tells us to do? Joy can be an elusive emotion when we are surrounded by bad news…when perpetrators of crimes are younger than seems possible to believe when the technology that was created to make life easier and safer is turned against us when it is difficult if not impossible to have a civil conversation with those with whom we might disagree, whether it be about the state of the country or that of the church. “Rejoice!” we are told…bah, humbug!

But, consider this: Isaiah was speaking to people whose lives were also difficult, and he says to those who are frightened, “Be strong, fear not…here is your God who comes to save you…those whom the Lord has ransomed will be crowned with everlasting joy.” Hmm…there’s that word again…joy. St. James tells us that our hearts must be firm, we must be patient because the coming of the Lord is at hand. Well, that’s true…Christmas is coming, and the goose may be getting fat, but still…joy?

The Gospel is where the rubber meets the road. John, in jail, reaches out to Jesus through his disciples asking if he is the one to come. The response is to look at the evidence; the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear and the dead are raised. Okay,…good news, but that was then…what about now? The clue can be found in the last line… among all people born to that time, none have been greater than John the Baptist, “yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” John recognizes that Jesus is doing something new, something that will echo through creation and history, something that ushers in a new moment, and a joyful one.

In Jesus, Christians see the fulfillment of the words of Isaiah, who saw a land abloom and joyful singing. Indeed, through the Incarnation, God makes humanity God’s own co-conspirators, by showing us how to live with suffering and evil, by assuring us of how close God is to us always, and by remaining with us as a reminder that it is we who are the farmers who plant the seeds; we are the builders who lay the stones; we are the architects who draw the plans, and in our best moments, we bring good news to the poor, we heal the blind, we who have been ransomed return to Zion singing.

If we have been commissioned to help build the Kingdom of God, if by our living and our dying we are bringing that kingdom more fully into reality, then despite the troubles around us, how can we help but be filled with joy?

Dr. Eleanor Sauers is the Parish Life Coordinator of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fairfield.

I felt God right next to me

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Katelyn Negron, a member of the youth group at St. Philip Church, reflects on her recent experience at NCYC

This was my first time ever attending NCYC. I heard some of my friends from our youth team talk about how great it was, but I didn’t know if I would turn out to love it as much as they did; I didn’t know what to expect. However, as soon as I got on the bus to the airport I knew one of the greatest experiences I’d ever get to have was under way.

For a long time I had been struggling with my faith. I had gone on retreats and such with our St. Philip youth team, but something always seemed to feel like I still wasn’t 100% there. And it might sound like I’m exaggerating, but trust me when I say NCYC truly changed that for me.

I can say so much about this conference: the sessions, the singing, the speakers, but what really hit me was adoration that took place on Friday night in Lucas Oil Stadium. I’ve gone to plenty First Friday Adorations at my church, but this time was different. It wasn’t just kneeling and praying. This time, I felt God right next to me. It was a moment that words won’t be enough to describe. When all of the teens, including myself, ran down to the altar to be closer to God, it didn’t feel like something I should do just because everyone else was doing it, it felt like an instinct. During that moment, I held hands and cried with a girl that I will probably never see again in my life, but she was the one small push that I needed to finally say “yes” to God.

I can probably go on and on about NCYC, about the people I met and the memories I made, but that would probably go on for 20 more pages. What I can say is this: The National Catholic Youth Conference is something that will forever be a huge part of my religion until the day that I return to God’s kingdom. I fell in love with my faith here, and I fell in love with my God here.

(Katelyn and many other teens from St. Philip and the surrounding parishes will be participating in a 24-Hour CRS event FOODFAST 2020 raising awareness about World Hunger – Please visit www.stphilipnorwalk.org)

 

He’s by my side, always, no matter where I go

Alex Morquecho, grade 10, a member of the youth group at St. Peter’s in Danbury reflects on his recent experience at NCYC.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—Throughout my life, I was always “in the middle” when it came to my faith. I asked for help from God when I needed it most, but I only really realized it when I started high school. It showed that I was “in the middle.” My faith would increase or decrease depending on what was going on in my life, but in the end, I was still “in the middle.”

When my youth minister told me about NCYC, I decided to go, hoping that it would truly increase my faith in God. When the day came, I was excited, knowing that there were 20,000 kids just like me who have struggled with their faith in their life.

When we got to the stadium, it was completely filled with kids from all over the US. They gave us an overview of what would happen throughout the next two days—with youth sessions, the village, confession and Mass.

Friday hit me with my first youth session, with a talk given by Father Tony. He talked about dreams that not only I but everyone have that they want to accomplish. He also talked about struggles that today’s youth have, such as issues with race and gender, as well as the loss of a loved one. But he encouraged us that we always have friends that will comfort us and that’s what family is all about. And that family doesn’t have to be your parents or any immediate family member it can be your friends or even your youth group.

The third youth session was about learning how God loves you, and the speaker explained that at times we might feel like he doesn’t. When we headed back to the stadium, we participated in Adoration, a time when Jesus Christ Himself is there right in the middle of the stadium.

When the band was singing, I sang along and realized that it related so much to me and that what we were singing was true. It caused me to cry—but it was okay because Jesus knows the tears and the struggles in my life. I held those tears throughout my life, but I only let out half of it that day.

The next day we had Mass at the stadium and that’s when I released it all—because I knew Jesus wanted me to, but only when the time was right for me. It was that time my faith truly grew and my trust in Jesus increased knowing he’s by my side, always, no matter where I go.

Spiritual Entrepreneurs

Nearly a decade ago, for many different reasons and circumstances, I decided to embark in a whole new direction in a career as a full-time chaplain in healthcare, at St. Vincent’s Medical Center.  I remember being tremendously excited as well as terrified leaving all that I had ever really known for my own family’s livelihood.  It also happened right before my Dad’s health suddenly declined, leading to his own death.  I often think of a conversation that we had after I had told him of my decision to go in this new direction.  I am forever grateful for his blessing on this new journey and how he told me that he thought I was acting like an entrepreneur.  His words resonate today as he demonstrated his point to me by saying “…not many men do what you’re doing…you will make a big difference in people’s lives!”  Those words of affirmation gave me the courage to move in a new direction and lead to life that I would have never imagined for myself.  A way where the person I strive to be and my faith, are fully integrated daily, while representing the Church, my Bishop, and St. Vincent’s, at sometimes critical junctions in people’s lives.  Serving in hospital ministry is both humbling and privilege as a chaplain/deacon.  I consider myself very fortunate to be able to do what I do.

As I have been reading Bishop Sean McKnight’s newly released book about the Diaconate, one of the things that attracted me was one of his descriptions about deacons.  It immediately reminded me of my Dad.  McKnight says: “Deacons are messengers. They are go-betweens, they are intermediaries…I see deacons as spiritual entrepreneurs in getting ministries started that are needed but currently don’t exist.”

Deacons here in the Diocese of Bridgeport serve is so many different ways.  All these manifestations of what it is like to be a ‘spiritual entrepreneur’ confirm what Bishop McKnight is saying. Here are just some examples of the kinds of ministries deacons are involved with throughout the diocese: Deacons work to help get homeless people out of shelters and the streets into housing with programs like ‘Off The Streets’—or have ministries in their parishes that provide necessary food, toiletries and dignity to the homeless—deacons work full time in hospital ministry, or visit the sick in hospitals, nursing homes, in their homes, deacons serve as high school chaplains, or teach full time in our Catholic high schools—deacons work in campus ministry in colleges and universities—deacons are Certified Spiritual Directors—deacons use their financial and business background to serve as parish administrators—deacons serve meals at the Thomas Merton Center and other shelters—deacons serve in prison ministry—deacons run men’s ministry programs in their parishes—deacons serve in various capacities in social justice programs some that provide support to women and children suffering from domestic violence.  All these manifestations of ministry and many more not mentioned, plus the ones waiting to be addressed and enfleshed are examples of the endless possibilities that describe what it is to be a ‘spiritual entrepreneur’.

The diaconate has made it possible for me to serve as both a chaplain at St. Vincent’s and as the Coordinator of Diaconate Vocations in the Diocese.  These roles were not career paths that I took, they appeared along the way as a result of saying yes many times on my journey. There was a time in my life when I never could have imagined myself serving in either capacity.  I recall the afternoon when Bishop Frank asked me to consider serving as coordinator of vocations, again I felt my Dad’s presence, right there in the room with me, saying to me: “You are an entrepreneur!”

Do you wonder sometimes if you too are called to serve as a deacon here in the Diocese?  You owe it to yourself to explore that.  Come to one of our Diaconate Discovery Evenings here in the diocese.  Who knows?  Perhaps you too are called to be a ‘spiritual entrepreneur!

Dn Tim Bolton
Coordinator of Diaconate Vocations
Diocese of Bridgeport
Dnbolton@diobpt.org

Mary, who made a place for Christ

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Many of us have heard about a pacemaker. It is a medical device implanted near one’s heart to regulate heartbeats. However, there is also a place-maker. Her name is Mary. When Almighty God, our heavenly Father, according to His divine plan, decided to send His Son into the world, He needed a place a for Jesus to arrive. That place was in the womb of Mary.  At the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel brought to Mary the invitation of God, she responded that she was the handmaiden of the Lord and would cooperate with God’s plan. She made a place in her body and conceived the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

However, this brought upheaval in her life. St. Joseph wanted to quietly divorce her. Most likely, Mary thought that she would have the typical life of a Jewish woman of her day by being a support to her husband, the breadwinner. She would go to the well to get the water, cook, clean and do the household chores. So Mary made a place in her life for Jesus, she became His first and best follower and supported her Son throughout both His private and public life. Mary was there for Christ along with St. Joseph in the Holy Family of Nazareth for protecting, nurturing and teaching Him.

Our Lady and was instrumental in the first miracle of her Son at the wedding of Cana. She accompanied Him in Galilee and was there to be of support in His ministry. Jesus elevated her to discipleship when He stated, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Lk: 8:21; Mt. 12:48-50).

Our Lady was there for her Son, Jesus Christ and suffered with Him on the Via Dolorosa and at Golgotha. There, the prophesy of Simeon at the Presentation in the Temple, “a sword will pierce your soul” (Lk. 2:35) would be fulfilled. After His triumph, she was there for the apostles and disciples on the Upper Room on Pentecost, becoming the Mother of the Church.

Mary also made a place in her heart for Christ. Twice in the second chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, we hear that “Mary treasured these memories and remembered them in her heart” (Lk. 2:19; 2:51). In fact, according to the ancient tradition of the Church, it was Mary who recounted to St. Luke the early events in the life of her Son from the Annunciation to the Visitation to the Nativity and Flight into Egypt and Finding in the Temple.

We are invited to follow the holy example of Mary. We have the privilege to receive Jesus in Holy Communion at Mass. Let us make a place in our body and soul to receive Him worthily. May we prepare ourselves spiritually and arrive at Mass with happy anticipation to encounter the Lord. Like Mary, we also make a place in our lives for the Lord Jesus by making Him out best friend and the center of our lives. St. Paul tells us, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Following the example of Mary, we also make a place in our hearts for the Lord. Like her, we are invited to treasure in our hearts the memories of the Lord’s goodness and mercies upon us. Especially through the mysteries of the Holy Rosary, we have the opportunity to ponder the early events in the life of Christ, His ministry, suffering, death and triumph.

All of us are invited to be like Mary and have an important place in our bodies, lives and hearts for the Lord so that we can have abundant life in Him. And after a fruitful life with Jesus and Mary as our models, and one day, at the end of our earthly pilgrimage, may Christ prepare a place to join Him forever in the kingdom of heaven.

by: Reverend Matthew R. Mauriello

So, what is a deacon anyway?

So, what is a deacon anyway? What’s the difference between a priest and a deacon?  How long have there been deacons?  Are there deacons because there is a shortage of priests?

These are just some of the questions that I’ve heard in the past about being a deacon.  I was ordained a deacon in 2006 and in my experience I have found that ‘what is a deacon?’, is one of the common questions posed by curious people who aren’t too sure about us and what we are about. As Vocations Coordinator for the Diocese over the past year, one of the things that I’ve learned is that the identity of the deacon and education for the faithful would go a long way towards helping others come to a different understanding about questions like these.

You can trace the origin of the diaconate all the way back to the early Church, but for starters let’s first look at the recent history of the diaconate.  It was in the Second Vatican Council that was called by Pope John XXIII in 1959 that the Fathers of the Council established that the clerical major order of deacon should be restored as a permanent clerical state and that the order could be conferred on mature married men (35 years of age and older). At their Spring 1968 Conference, the Bishops of the United States petitioned the Holy See for authorization to restore the diaconate as a permanent order in the United States. On August 30, 1968, the Apostolic Delegate informed the Bishops of the United States that Blessed Pope Paul VI had granted their request.  It was 10-years later on February 25, 1978, that Bishop Curtis ordained the first class of permanent deacons for the Diocese of Bridgeport.  While each of these men expresses his life of service in various ways, all deacons share a common purpose in their ministry.

The year 2018 celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate and along with that celebration came several excellent resources that delve deeply into the theological roots of the diaconate, along with its rightful place within the hierarchy of the Church.  I will be referring to these resources in ensuing articles as a means to answer some questions, perhaps stimulate more questions, allow others to see how they too, in their works of charity for the Church demonstrate the traits of the deacon.  Who knows, perhaps this may stimulate interest in men of faith to discern their own personal call to serve the Church as a deacon?

Dn Tim Bolton
Coordinator of Diaconate Vocations
Diocese of Bridgeport
Dnbolton@diobpt.org