This uncertain season calls for us to embrace waiting

As Christians, we are no stranger to waiting. The Israelites wandered 40 years in the desert. They waited for the coming of the Messiah. The disciples spent three days believing their friend and teacher was dead. We have seasons of Lent and Advent which are centered on waiting. Our whole identity, in a way, is built around waiting, for we are the people who believe in things that we cannot see.

Therefore, we know more than most that although waiting can be uncomfortable it is also necessary and formative. Especially when it comes to the health and safety of others, shouldn’t we embrace this time of waiting more than ever, instead of fighting against it?

Of course it is uncomfortable, of course we long to hold our loved ones close, of course we yearn for the day we can once again congregate together and receive Our Lord. But, as He said to us, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18: 20). He is still with us, no matter where we are. While we remain at home in order to keep others safe and healthy, He is still with us. While we patiently wait for this storm to pass, He is still with us.

As Bishop Caggiano has mentioned in his letters and online reflections, there are many things we can do deepen our spiritual communion and to make this time of waiting fruitful—nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies and spirit. I don’t know about you, reader, but I would rather embrace discomfort and remain at home than put one more person through the suffering that accompanies COVID-19. Wouldn’t we much rather live in this temporary discomfort than aid in bringing on a much more lasting and widespread discomfort?

How can we use this period of waiting in the best way possible? How can we embrace it for the betterment of ourselves and others? Luckily, we live in an age where there are so many resources available to us. Read that series you never had time to crack open, plant the outdoor garden you’ve been wanting to cultivate, use the extra down-time for prayer, spiritual reading, or exploring the outdoors. Connect with those in your household in ways you may not have been able to before, write a hand-written letter to family members who live far away.

This time is unprecedented. But instead of pushing for a return to normalcy, let us craft this new normal in a way that can benefit not only ourselves but those around us. What is He telling us we should be doing with this time? I can almost guarantee that all He wants from us is a little bit of our time—to sit with him, to reconnect, to let Him love us.

I would love to hear from you. Let me know how you are using this time! We’ve heard from so many of our parishes about the creative, loving and spiritual service projects they have undertaken.

Maybe we can continue to inspire each other to do that next thing.

My hope is that by the end of all this, we can look back and say we did everything we could to make it better for others. That we did what we could to ease suffering—small acts of staying home, wearing masks, and remaining six feet apart. That even though it was uncomfortable, even though it was difficult, we embraced this time of waiting and we were better for it.

By: Elizabeth Clyons, Fairfield County Catholic

Where is joy to be found?

Just a word… Sixth Sunday of Easter… May 17, 2020

Each of the six Sundays since Easter has called us to celebrate the joy of Easter, of Resurrection, of renewing the earth. To celebrate that joy assumes that we have it in the first place. Where is it to be found, and what exactly is supposed to give us this joy? If we have it, in spite of the circumstances we find ourselves in, why are we not all walking around in a perpetual state of bliss?

The readings of the past weeks give us an outline for pu,ng together an answer. It all begins with the discovery of the empty tomb. From there, the first disciples, individually and as a group, meet the risen Lord. “He is alive!” they shout for joy! It is easy to imagine their joy, but hard to recapture it. But recapture it we must. Because it is not enough to accept the Resurrec!on of Jesus with our intellect, we need to feel it in our flesh. Have you, have I, found the risen Lord, as a vibrant force in our lives?

Our gospel today tells us to look within, to find signs of resurrected life within ourselves. Listen again to the promise that God, as Father, Son and Spirit, makes to us — “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I in you.” This promise makes of each of us a temple of God, alive with the presence of the risen Christ.

But, of course, there are powerful obstacles in our lives that stand in the way of experiencing Christian joy. Try peddling the idea of joy to a family who has lost a member in this pandemic; or try telling someone who has lost a job, or a business, that they should be feeling joy. It can be discouraging and disheartening, craving that joy but being overwhelmed by the circumstances of our lives.

May I offer one sugges!on from personal experience? The joy of being alive in Christ is least likely to possess me when I think that life revolves around me… my frustrations, my hurt feelings, my disappointments. Joy returns only when I turn outward, as Jesus did, to others, especially to those less fortunate images of Christ… the suffering, the addicted, the poor, the sad and the lonely. When we become a life-giving source to others, we can begin to feel the presence of God working in us and through us, and slowly, a feeling suspiciously like joy, reveals itself.

By Dr. Eleanor Sauers

Parish Life Coordinator, St. Anthony Parish

Do not be afraid, God will always remain the Good God

Faced with this difficult period that the world is experiencing today due to coronavirus, many people have their opinion on the situation. Indeed they are looking for an answer. Given the different opinions and advice that circulate around outside, it would be easy for some people to sink into an atmosphere of fear and confusion.

It is obvious that every time the world finds itself in the presence of a catastrophe whether it is natural or initiated by man himself, many people make their opinions heard, and more often come to different interpretations. For example, there were people who attributed the Louisiana Flood by storm Katrina of 2005, and the earthquake of 2010 in Haiti that claimed more than 250,000.00 lives as a response from God to superstitious cults like vodou that people practice.

Those who often tend to pass blame when a natural disaster such as an earthquake or flood occurs forget that all scientific studies have revealed a change in climate that would lead gradually to its destruction if Man does not take care of nature. For example, the majority of the damage recorded by the earthquake in Haiti was not necessarily related to the earthquake, but the houses were not solidly built. That is why now all over the world building standards must be respected to minimize the damage in the event of such a future disaster. Which explains it is useless to blame God for the misfortunes that hit us whether personal or collective.

Since the world is world, if we are sincere to ourselves we must admit that one of the great problems of man is attention. Man in general does not listen. Jesus was aware of this fact when He called Israel, His people to attention: ‘Shema Israel: hear Israel.’ The question to ask ourselves: why blaming God? Why do we always want to hold God responsible for our personal misfortunes and those who come into the world? I suspect this happens when Man becomes powerless in the face of his responsibilities or in the face of threats that upset him.

God in his essence and nature cannot be the author of personal misfortunes and natural disasters that strike the world. This perspective invites me to open the door to the most popular Bible verse in Holy Scripture, John 3: 16: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. In sacrificing his only Son for men, God showed his greatness, love and compassion for humanity. A wise reasoning is to say such a God who did not hesitate to sacrifice his beloved son to save men, cannot at the same time be responsible for his misfortunes. This misconception of man towards God unfortunately engenders fear and discouragement in many people who are seeking God and want to serve Him.

When we pray, we do not invoke God under the title of bad God, but The Good God. Man’s tendency is to place God as the author of the catastrophes of the world. It is a mischaracterization of the image of God in our society. It is a great mistake and a great confusion to make believe that God is responsible for our misfortunes.

The three years of Jesus’ public ministry among men reveal the image of this Good God that I would like to testify here. In these three years, Jesus through his messages, his love, forgiveness, compassion and healings are manifestations of God’s love for humanity. All God’s actions for man through His Son Jesus are directed in one direction: the deliverance of Man and his salvation.

We cannot underestimate that there are trials that make some people better in life … indeed, the personal sufferings and catastrophes that often strike our world are events that should invite us to draw closer to God. It is time to pay attention to listening; to The Voice of Jesus who says to us: Shema…, listen!

For example, these days we witness sadly that a number of people get sick; and many of them died due to the coronavirus. For those of us who are lucky and still breathing, this may be the time to ask the question if Jesus is calling me today am I ready to meet Him? Am I able to even pay attention to his voice? From this perspective there is a soul searching to do. In this soul searching one can discover; what we thought were important in our lives are not. In the blink of an eye, we can leave everything behind; however what is true, deep will never leave us. I mean The Good God, the true treasure, the God of everyone. He is also a personal God who takes care of each one of us. This is why he reveals himself in the history of mankind as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Without any doubt it can be said that this is the most difficult time that many generations have experienced. It is very rare not to have a family member or friend who is not affected by coronavirus. Those people we watch falling through the TV channels by this scourge certainly makes us cry. Sadder still many of them are young fathers and mothers who have left small children behind. Even when we do not know them all, but we are all affected, because as St. Paul said, ” We, Though many, Are one body in Christ, and we are all members one another (Romans 12: 5).”St. Paul reassured us of the legitimacy of this one body in 1 Corinthians 12: 26 when he declares, ” If one member suffers, all members suffer with him…”.

In the face of the suffering and the dark hours of our world, we must be assure that God is a sower of good, but not evil. We must always believe that God Is Love. The Holy Scripture says it well: His love extends from age to age, it is eternal. One must never doubt his love for us. God always remains faithful to his love. This is the time for all Christians to take refuge in the Sacred Heart of Jesus; and to realize more than ever, the time is for prayer, conversion, mutual support and complete trust in God.

Face à cette periode difficile que vit le monde aujourd’hui due au coronavirus, beaucoup de gens s’opinent sur la situation. En effet ils sont à la recherche d’une réponse. Vue des differentes opinions et conseils qui circulent un peu partout au dehors, ce serait facile pour certaines personnes de se sombrer dans une atmosphère de confusion et de peur.

C’est évident qu’à chaque fois le monde se trouve en présence d’une catastaphe que ce soit naturelle ou initiée par l’homme lui même, beaucoup de gens font entendre leur opinions, et de plus souvent arrivent à des interprétations differentes.  Par exemple, il y avait des gens qui attribuaient l’innondation de Louisiana par la tempête Katrina de 2005, et le tremblement de terre de 2010 en Haiti qui a fait plus de 250,000.00 victimes comme une réponse de Dieu à raison des cultes superstitieuses comme le vodou que pratiquent les gens.

Ceux qui ont souvent tendance à passer des blâmes quand survient une catastrophe naturelle comme un tremblement de terre ou une innondation s’oublient que toutes les études scientifiquent ont révélées un changement de climat qui conduirait à sa décadence guaduelle si l’homme ne prend pas soin de la nature. Par exemple la majorité des dégâts enregistrés par le tremblement de terre en Haiti n’étaient pas nécéssairement liés au séisme, mais les maisons n’étaient pas solidement construites. Voilà pourquoi maintenant partout dans le monde en construant les normes doivent être respecter pour minimizer les dégâts en cas de telle future catastrophe. Ce qui explique, unitil de blâmer Dieu pour les malheurs qui nous frappent que ce soit personel ou collective.

Depuis que le monde est monde, si nous sommes sincères à nous- mêmes il faut avouer que l’un des grand problèmes de l’homme c’est l’attention. L’homme en général n’écoute pas. Jésus était conscient de ce fait quand il appelait Israel, son peuple à l’attention: ‘Shema Israel: Ecoutez Israel’.  La question à nous poser, pourquoi blamer Dieu? Pourquoi on veut toujours rendre le Bon Dieu responsable de nos malheurs personels et de ceux qui viennent dans le monde? Cela arrive quand l’homme devient impuissant face à ces responsabilités ou devant les menaces qui le bouleversent.

Dieu dans son éssence et son genre ne peut être l’auteur des malheurs personels et des catastrophes naturelles qui frappent le monde. Cette perspective m’invite à ouvrir la porte au verset biblique le plus populaire dans la Sainte Ecriture, Jean 3:16: Dieu a tant aimé le monde qu’il a donné son Fils unique, afin que quiconque croit en lui ne périsse point, mais ait la vie éternelle. Dieu en sacrifiant son Fils unique pour les hommes a mis en evidence sa grandeur, son amour et sa compassion pour l’humanité. Un sage raisonnement c’est de dire un Tel Dieu qui n’a pas hésité de sacrifier son Fils Bien-Aimé pour sauver les hommes, ne peut pas être en même temps responsable de ses malheurs. Cette misconception de l’homme en vers Dieu malheureusement engendre une peur et un découragement chez beaucoup de personnes qui cherchent de lui rapprocher pour l’aimer et lui servir.

Quand nous prions, nous n’invoquons pas Dieu sous le titre de mauvais dieu, mais du Bon Dieu. La tendence de l’homme c’est de placer le Bon Dieu comme l’auteur des catastrophes du monde. C’est une mischaracterization de l’image de Dieu dans notre société. C’est une grande erreure et une grande confusion de faire croire que le Bon Dieu est responsables de nos malheurs.

Les trois annèes de ministère de Jésus parmis les hommes révellent l’image de ce Bon Dieu que j’aimerais témoigner ici. Dans ces trois années, Jésus à travers ses messages, son amour, son pardon, sa compassion et ses guérisons sont des manifestations de l’amour de Dieu pour l’humanité. Toutes les actions de Dieu pour l’homme à travers son Fils Jésus se dirigent dans une seule direction: la délivrance de l’homme et son salut.

Nous ne pouvons pas sous estimer qu’il y a des épreuves qui rendent certaines personnes meilleurs dans la vie… En effet, les souffrances personelles et les catastrophes qui souvent frappent notre monde sont des événements qui devraient nous inviter de nous rapprocher d’avantage vers Dieu. C’est le moment de prêter attention a l’écoute; à la voix de Jésus qui nous dit: Shema…, écoutez!

Par exemple ces jours-ci nous constatons tristement que pas mal de gens tombent malades; et beaucoup d’entre eux arrivent à rendre le dernier soupire due au coronavirus.  Pour nous mêmes qui ont la chance de respirer encore, c’est peut être le moment de se poser la question si Jésus m’appelle aujourd’hui, est ce que je suis près à le rencontrer.  Suis-je en mesure de même porter attention à sa Voix? Dans cette perspective il y a une recherche de soi à faire. Dans cette recherche de soi on peut découvrir les choses qu’on pensaient qui étaient importantes dans nos vies ne sont pas. Dans un clin d’oeil, nous pouvons tout quitter; cependant ce qui est de vrai, de profond ne nous quittera jamais.  Je veux parler du Bon Dieu, le vrai trésor, le Dieu de tout le monde, mais qui est aussi un Dieu personel qui prend soin à chacun de nous. Voila pourquoi Il se révèle dans l’histoire de l’humanité comme le Dieu d’ Abraham, Isaac et de Jacob.

Sans nulle doute on peut dire que c’est le moment le plus difficile que connait beaucoup de générations d’aujourd’hui. C’est très rare de ne pas avoir un membre de famille ou un ami qui n’est pas affecté du coronavirus. Ces gens là que nous regardons tomber à travers les chaines de tèlèvision par ce fléau nous certainement fait pleurer. Plus triste encore beaucoup d’entre eux sont des jeunes pères et mères qui ont laissès des petits enfants derrière. Même lorsque nous ne les connaissons pas tous, mais nous sommes tous affectés, parce que comme St. Paul l’a dit: “Nous qui sommes plusieurs, nous formons un seul corps en Christ, et nous sommes tous membres les uns les autres Romains 12:5.” St. Paul nous a réassuré la légitimité de ce seul corps dans 1 Corinthiens 12:26 quand il déclare: ”Si un membre souffre, tous les membres soufrent avec lui…”.

Devant les souffrances et ces heures sombres que connaissent notre monde, il faut nous s’assurer que Dieu est un semeur de bien, mais pas de mal. Il faut toujour croire que Dieu est Amour. La Sainte Ecriture l’a bien dit: son amour s’étend d’âge en âge, c’est eternel. Il ne faut jamais douter de son amour pour nous. Dieu reste toujour fidèle à son amour. C’est le moment pour tous Chrétiens de prendre notre refuge dans le Sacré-Coeur de Jésus; et de réaliser plus que jamais, l’heure est à la prière, la conversion, au soutient mutuel et à la confiance complète en Dieu.

Fr. Marcel is a member of the Pastoral Care department of Norwalk Hospital.

Will We Ever Take These Things For Granted Again?

I’m an introvert. I love my alone time and I love my personal space. I enjoy having time in solitude to be introspective. But what I have learned during this time of social distancing is that the more I isolate, the harder it is to socialize when the time comes. I think that’s one of my worries in all of this, besides the virus itself. It’s a great challenge—to know when to push myself and when to give myself time to grieve what we’ve lost—the sense of normalcy.

As a creative, there is also this pressure to be extra productive in this time. But I’m finding that these conditions aren’t exactly conducive to healthy creativity. The more I ruminate, the further into desolation I slide—so I find that sometimes distraction is the healthiest thing at the moment.

I want to offer words of hope but I don’t really have any. So I search for the message in the smallest of things—affirmations written in chalk on our daily walks, finding positive stories to tell in the community, discovering a swing set we never knew was there.

I am left wondering, “What could we have done to have made the outcome different?” and “What can we do to ensure that this never happens again?” I want action, I want answers, I am uncomfortable in this waiting.

What we’ve lost in this pandemic is our sense of the ordinary; we are bereft of the loss of the myriad social and personal interactions that form our day and our sense of wellbeing, even our spirituality. There is a numbness, where there should be curiosity and engagement. Does it sometimes take something being taken away from us to realize how much it really meant to us?

Will we ever take for granted these things again?
The simple touch of a hand, a hug.
Having the choice to stay or go.
A sporting event, a movie, your grandparents’ house.
Now that all we have is time to reflect, to spend with one another,
Will the life we knew before be enough?
Will we remember that there was a time when we did have time…
To go for a walk.
The work still got done,
The world still went on.
It’s bittersweet, this time.
Because in one respect,
It makes us stop and take stock
Of the things that are important and the things that really aren’t.
But will we remember what it was like?
Will we let it change us,
The way we do things,
The way we live our lives,
The things we hold in importance.
Or will we simply return to the way we were,
Until something else makes us stop
And go for a walk.

But I have to hope that, because all times of waiting are uncomfortable, and because out of discomfort comes growth, something good will come out of this. Maybe it will bring the change we’ve all been yearning for.

We’ve seen people playing instruments outside their windows as a form of entertainment, we’ve seen creatives release comforting content, we’ve seen food drives and donations, and people stepping up to fill a need wherever they see one. Is it possible to hope that perhaps this is the reminder that we needed?

To see the good in each other. To have no other choice but to take a pause in our own busy lives to check on our neighbor, offer a helping hand or remember how much value is held in a simple hug.

Sometimes we get so busy in our lives that we forget to pause and connect. My hope is that, for however long this time ends up being, I don’t let it go to waste. What is the thing that I had been waiting to do but “didn’t have the time?” I have to hope that God is somehow guiding my search to find the good in all this, and that maybe He will help me notice the ways He works in my life once again.

Elizabeth Clyons is a columnist for Fairfield County Catholic and is the Communications Associate for the Diocese of Bridgeport.

You make all things new, Oh Lord

Dear Jesus,

As I sat at mass on Ash Wednesday at St. Johns, I never anticipated that I wouldn’t be able to physically be there at the Easter Vigil. To me, the Coronavirus seemed just like anything else at the time – something that would quickly pass. Boy was I wrong. In mid-March, after a series of government ordinances, the Bishop announced that all public masses were suspended until future notice. I couldn’t believe the news. I look at the picture I took of the last weekday mass I attended at St. John’s on March 17th at 8:00 a.m., and I long for the day when I can be there again. Virtual masses have been great and I’m very appreciative that I can still participate in the sacrifice from a distance, but nothing substitutes for receiving Your body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. What a gift You have given us…a gift that I have often taken for granted.

I marvel, though, at how You work…because in this time of physical separation, I desire You more than I ever have before. The fifth reading for the Easter Vigil expresses this sentiment so perfectly: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts,” (Isaiah 55: 1-11). While we may never know if there is a reason for this pandemic, it’s given all of us an opportunity to reflect on the fragility of life and our own mortality. Sometimes it takes a complete shaking up of the universes that we construct for ourselves to remind us that we are not ultimately in control. There is a God and we are NOT Him.

For as Christians, we believe that death is NOT the end but rather a passageway unto eternal life. Just as a baby must exit his mother’s womb after 9 months to be born into the world, so we too must leave this world at the end of our earthly lives to enter eternity. And eternity is FOREVER. What a sobering thought – one that should cause us to reflect on how we are spending our time on this earth. In the busyness of life, we often distract ourselves with work, sports, social media, music, TV, technology, etc. Why? Because it’s hard to face the truth – the reality that we are imperfect, dependent, and not in control. And yet that’s precisely where You come in, oh Lord. One of the greatest blessings of this pandemic has been an increased opportunity for silence. You’ve given us the gift of time, to be used well. As I’ve sat in adoration over the past forty days, I realize how desperately I was trying to put together the puzzle of my life. I was speaking to You, but I wasn’t allowing You to speak to me in and through the silence. And what did I start to hear through this silence? I heard You asking me to trust in You, to receive your love. I told You at the start of Lent that I didn’t feel worthy of your love. I didn’t understand how you could love me in my weakness, constantly struggling with the same sins and attachments. But in the silence, I heard You reassuring me that it was never You who didn’t love me, but I who never let You love me; that you came down from Heaven and died that awful death on the cross because we need a Savior, because we cannot do this life on our own; that the cross, which was meant for death and destruction, is actually the instrument of salvation; that our suffering (physical, emotional, spiritual) united to Your own is a means to eternal glory; that we must die to ourselves and to sin in order to share in your resurrection.

Thank You for loving us despite our infidelities; for never giving up on us and always providing new opportunities (perhaps in the most unexpected of ways!) to reorient our lives and draw closer to you. Yes, the Coronavirus is scary, but You bring a greater good out of everything. Just as the Exsultet that we heard on the Easter Vigil proclaims, “O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” You make all things new, Oh Lord. Transform our hearts and minds so that one day, we may enjoy eternal bliss with You.

I love you Jesus, my Love. I am sorry for ever having offended You. Never let me offend You again. Grant that I may love You always, and then do with me as You will.

By: Diane Kremheller

Hopeful Anticipation

DANBURY—A Reflection for Holy Week from St. Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Associate, Devon McCormick:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.

– Rainer Maria Rilke

My husband, Mikey, and I often talk about how we spend too much time on our phones. In fact, one of our “family rules” is to minimize screen time, and as Rilke so magically puts it in the poem above, be present to one another and to what is happening around us. We make sure to be intentional about our phone-time, and hold one another accountable when necessary. However, I’ve found myself scrolling through my phone much, much more lately. With all of the panic, uncertainty, and fear floating around with the COVID-19 crisis, I feel the need to bury myself in what others are saying, experiencing, believing, and how they are all coping. These times are unprecedented—I have no doubt that I will be telling my grandkids about these days of quarantining and social distancing. I’m scared—I’m unsure of how to care for my 16-month-old, or how we are going to stay put in our house with a dog who constantly wants to go on a 3-hour hike.

There is another feeling lingering within me, though. Anticipation. I’m constantly checking my phone because I am constantly anticipating finding or reading something—news of another confirmed case, an order to shelter-in-place, or maybe even something positive like a magical cure. I’m always waiting for something to come, and I really don’t know what it is, but I, along with so many I suspect, feel suspended in time. It feels like we may never leave this time of uncertainty. It feels like this could just become the new norm—living with the fear of being near to others and stock-piling supplies because we just don’t know what could happen tomorrow.

Perhaps this is how it felt on Holy Saturday for all of Jesus’ friends and family. Did they feel paralyzed by the never-ending waiting? Did they shelter in place because it just felt better to be at home than anywhere else? Did they stock up on bread and milk and supplies because they weren’t sure if they were next or if it was safe to go out? Where they all of a sudden thrust into a new normal that they never signed up for? Did they feel this same weight of uncertainty and anticipation… like what they really wanted to happen may never come?

For some reason, Holy Saturday has always been my favorite day of the Triduum. Unlike Holy Thursday there is no Mass celebrated; unlike Good Friday, there is no prayer service. There is no music. There is no joy or sorrow—there is just anticipation. Holy Saturday night we come back together in joyful praise at the Easter Vigil, but until then, we wait. For me, Holy Saturday has always held a sense of hope and peace. We know that Jesus has died… we know that our Savior has left us, but still, we wait. We gather our family together, begin shopping and preparing for our Easter meal, and together we enter into hopeful anticipation that Jesus will indeed rise, and we will join together again with our community to pray and sing and dance and rejoice.

Right now, our world is telling us to panic, stock-up, and stay 6 feet away from others. There is no Mass being celebrated throughout the entire country, just like Holy Saturday. Churches are dark and empty, just like the tomb. Holy Saturday calls us into hopeful waiting. It is peaceful. It is still. Right now, God is inviting us into an extended Holy Saturday—one in which we do not have to be productive or perfect. We can just be as we are in that moment. We can take time to listen to what God is telling us, as Rilke says above. We can let both beauty and terror happen to us, and work to find God within. We can just sit with our loved ones, cook food, play games, take walks, watch movies, and revisit what is truly important —all in hopeful anticipation that our Lord is indeed coming and that the sun will rise on a brighter day in which we can all be together again. We aren’t sure when that day will come, but until then, I am going to focus on being present, remaining hopeful, and lean into the anticipation for Easter morning, whenever it may come.

Wash your hands and say your prayers

The soap dispenser next to my bathroom sink has the following words printed on it: “Wash your hands and say your prayers because Jesus and germs are everywhere!” As someone who loves Jesus and has also cultivated a fears germs ever since she learned about them in first grade, I consider this item an essential part of my home decor. The dispenser has been getting a lot of use lately (even more so than usual), given the circumstances. I connected to those words in a new way this morning, as I went to wash my hands. Usually, they’ll make me smile or chuckle on the inside, but today they opened my mind to the very reality that Jesus is everywhere.

Around the world, in our own country, and even in our own communities, people are suffering from a virus that has never been seen before. In order to prevent its spread, things are being closed and cancelled left and right. So much has changed within a week, and even within a few days. All public Masses have been suspended through the end of the month. Schools closing, restaurants closing, workplaces shifting to work from home…all of these things have changed our lives and our world so suddenly. We’ve done our best to find solutions, to make do with what we have to work with. But no Mass? This one seems to hit more deeply (it has for me, at least). Not being able to worship God in community or to receive Jesus in the Eucharist leaves us feeling disoriented. We were created for communion with God. Not being able to physically attend and participate in Mass, where this happens in the most beautiful and profound way, seems contrary to what we humans were made for.

Right before I washed my hands this morning, I watched a live-streamed daily Mass from my parish’s chapel. The first reading is especially timely for our current state of affairs. Moses says, in imaging what the other nations will say about Israel, “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7). God is closer to us than we can imagine. He doesn’t come in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire; He in the “light silent sound” (1 Kings 19: 11-12). As the priest at my parish said in his homily this morning, “even though right now we’re in a time when being physically present at Mass is not possible…when we have to keep a distance from the greatest of all sacraments (the Eucharist), that doesn’t change the fact that God desires to draw close to you and to me. Our God desires to be near us” (thank you, Father Sam!). God comes to us and makes Himself present in the sacraments, but He does so in other ways, too. He is close to us no matter what. He desires to be close to His people, to each of us individually. He desires to come into our heart and guide us, encourage us, and show us His love. In a time where so much is uncertain, this gives us great confidence.

Our hunger for the Eucharist in this time when we cannot receive it is real, and it is out of love and longing for God Who gives Himself freely to us, in a way that is tangible to us. In our hunger, we not only are in solidarity with those Catholics around the world, for whom going to Mass is dangerous and potentially life-threatening, but it also allows us an opportunity to feed others with what we do have. We know that God is with us. Even though everything else is changing, that isn’t. We have this confidence, this faith, this relationship. Let’s feed other people with it. Let’s look around us to find those in our lives who are spiritually starving. We can bring Christ to them, in our words and actions (even if it’s through FaceTime). Everything else may be cancelled, but we can still do that.

By: Michelle Onofrio

Prayer is the most powerful tool that we have

It’s no secret that the past few weeks have been focused on one thing: Coronavirus. If you’re having a conversation at work or at school, the topic will undoubtedly be “Coronavirus.” If you go grocery shopping, you’ll see carriages filled to the brim with food and supplies so people are prepared to weather this health “storm.” Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies—all are out of stock and difficult to come by. Scroll through your social media feed and you find one article or post after another with some information about the pandemic. But what information is true? I find myself asking this question, as I seek to inform myself on the situation. I look around me and wonder “Should I be more panicked than I am? Should I panic at all? Am I scared enough? Am I doing enough?”

If there’s anything this Coronavirus outbreak is teaching us, it’s that uncertainty is real. There are some things that we just cannot, in our own power, control. As a society, we have become comfortable with being comfortable. The notion of going without something is difficult, maybe even impossible, for us to grasp. Whether it be a lack of a commodity or an interruption in our daily social patterns, we don’t know what we will do if we do not have these things. Convenience is something we take for granted.

If I could pick one word to describe the theme for this past week, it would be “stopping.” Schools? Closing. Classes moved to online. Extracurricular activities and meetings? Cancelled. Work? From home. It seems as though every day, more and more things are taken from us. We can’t do this, can’t go there, can’t find this, etc., etc., etc. Our plans are being erased without our consent. 

Even in this season of despair, we are still in the season of Lent. You could say that it’s ironic that this epidemic has exploded during this particular liturgical season, but I do not believe it is merely coincidental. Lent is about simplicity—freeing ourselves from any attachments that prevent us from growing closer to God. Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we are able to make changes that conform our hearts, bodies, minds, and souls more closely to God’s will. On Ash Wednesday, we hear the words “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” or “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We might think these statements sound morbid (and they are to a certain extent), but they really do help us to put our lives into perspective. We are humans. And we will all die at some point. This is not something that we like to ponder on a daily basis, and it can make us uncomfortable when we do think about it.

 It’s times like these, when there’s a large factor that threatens our existence, that we come face-to-face with the reality of death. As humans, we want to preserve ourselves as much as we possibly can; it’s biological and psychological. This instinctual drive probably accounts for much of why people are flocking to supermarkets and stocking up on whatever they can. We want to be prepared. We want to survive. Deep down, we are uncomfortable knowing that this situation is out of our control.

As good as it is to be physically prepared for any type of global epidemic, it is just as (and even more so) important to make sure our spiritual lives are well taken care of. This is what we are called to do in Lent, and this Coronavirus crisis is enhancing the importance of doing so. People in our culture today are generally very busy. Our commitments are numerous, and it can be challenging to balance all of our priorities. Don’t get me wrong—being busy can be a good thing! It is just when it takes us away from our spiritual priorities that it can be detrimental.

 When we look at all of the things that are being cancelled (classes, extracurriculars, large events, athletic tournaments/championships), it forces us to reevaluate our own identities. We can derive our individual identities from those things in which we are involved. For example, I am a student, a club leader and a musician. Now that my classes have been moved online, my meetings cancelled and my music practices held virtually, I am left with a lot of time on my hands. That time has caused me to reflect on those things which take up much of my time and to reconsider what defines me. If all these things and more were to be stripped away from me, what would I have left? All I would have is my relationship with God, and this is ultimately what matters the most. I think others are asking themselves the same type of question, and maybe they are afraid of what the answer might be. Who or what is our “one thing?” Is it the Coronavirus? Or is it our God?

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t take precautionary measures or that we are invincible to this illness. What I do intend to suggest is that we surrender ourselves to God. All we can do is the best that we can do. We can do our part by keeping up with personal sanitation, limiting group contact, making prudent decisions, and praying for those affected by the virus. Prayer is the most powerful weapon that we have. The rest of the fighting is up to God.

By Michelle Onofrio

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 or contact local coordinators:  Chloe Hermann:, or Lenore Opalak:

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.