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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

The Stories of Our Lives

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The term “social media” has often baffled me. I remember my parents going to the church “social” with our neighbors, and my younger brother being called the “social” one after walking into a room of strangers and leaving with ten friends. I always associated that term with getting together in a physical sense, not a digital one. Though I fully realize the benefits of today’s social media in reuniting old classmates and sharing vacation photos, those who know me best understand that I’d rather take a walk with a neighbor, meet friends for coffee, or gather around the fire pit with them all when the evening air nips with the intimation of autumn.

As change is the only constant in our lives though, such morning walks and coffee breaks seemed to become less and less frequent for us all of late. Jobs became more demanding, elementary playdates for our kids turned into middle school dances where we weren’t allowed, and the ties that had bound us started to fray. Something was missing.

When I saw my friend Terri out walking her dog one day last spring and she too lamented over the loss of our daily chats at the bus stop and time spent together at the annual school fundraisers, we knew we needed more than social media to keep us “social,” to keep us and all the others with whom we bonded a decade ago together. How did I not know her grandfather had died? How did she not know my mother had surgery? From there, on the sidewalk by the mailbox, was born our book club.

Between the pages of the latest New York Times bestseller and Reese Witherspoon’s most recent recommendation, six of us came together again. Over a glass of Chardonnay and a handful of dark chocolate almonds, we remembered why we became friends in the first place. Our love of books was just the social means necessary for this reunification – and we dove right in. The first few gatherings were full-on book talks, with Terri printing out questions for conversation and me choosing favorite quotes to discuss. Jen’s son, with a look of bewilderment, even quipped that it sounded like we were in school. “Who cares?” we laughed. This was our school, our books, our club, and we needed it to stay together – or so we thought.

Sitting around Shannon’s living room last week, Beth sought advice on her new border collie who had escaped through the screen door and bolted up the street. Send her to puppy school or endure the growing pains at home?

From there, we moved onto who knew a good algebra tutor, a reliable plumber, an honest home health aide. Jen told Shannon where to stay if she and her family decided on the Grand Canyon for Spring Break, while Terri shared with me rehearsal tips for my daughter’s piano audition. And we all sympathized with Lynn, whose father was in the early stages of dementia.

The time passed, the chocolate almonds disappeared, and the book that Shannon selected, the one we all loved and couldn’t wait to discuss, sat unopened on our laps. For tonight, that story didn’t matter; our own story did – the one of faithful friends whom Ecclesiasticus says, “when found, hath found a treasure.” In that moment, I saw how the book club brought us together but how it wasn’t what would keep us together. Shared lives, shared joys, shared struggles – those were the ties that would strengthen our bonds and hopefully keep them tight for years to come. And with our books as our “media,” we’d continue being “social” in all the ways that mattered.

By Emily Clark

Being Bold for Christ

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My friends and I started a young adult group called Catholic Adventures in May of 2018 and due to the success of our initiatives (praise God!), I began to prayerfully discern how we could evangelize the wider Stamford community (not just young adults). I expressed this desire to a friend who told me about Nightfever, a program that was inspired by World Youth Day in 2005, where a parish opens up its doors and invites passersby on busy streets to come into the church, light a candle and experience the presence of God.

Given St. John’s prime location in the middle of downtown Stamford, I didn’t see why we shouldn’t host our own version of Nightfever. I emailed the Diocese of Bridgeport to ask if there were any grants for evangelization, and I heard back from Kelly Weldon of Foundations in Faith a few days later. Kelly told me about Foundations in Faith’s St. John Paul II Fund, which provides monetary support for communal outreach efforts at parishes. With the generous backing/assistance of the priests at St. John’s, I applied for and received a grant from the St. John Paul II Fund to assist with evangelization. We then set a date for our first St. John’s Night Vigil and prepared by purchasing supplies (rosaries, pamphlets, prayer cards, candles, etc.).

Father Joseph kicked off Night Vigil with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. After Exposition, volunteers from throughout the diocese scoured the streets of Stamford. We approached people of all different ages/backgrounds/ethnicities, listened to them as they shared intimate details about their lives, prayed with them, spoke to them about Christ, and invited them to come to St. John’s to pray or to light a candle.

While street evangelization can be difficult, I’ve learned that you have to be bold for Christ. When God is asking you to do something, you need to trust that He will give you the strength to carry it out. By virtue of our baptism, we are all called to preach the good news. And part of the good news is that Christ loves us for who we are, not for what we do. In a world that places so much emphasis on productivity, wealth and vain pursuits, people need to hear that their value comes from being sons and daughters of God. We all have a God-sized hole in our hearts that only Christ can fill, and there are so many people out on the streets who are trying to fill that hole with everything BUT God. As simple as it sounds, sometimes all someone needs is an invitation to encounter Jesus.

So no more excuses! Don’t wait for others to do what you can do yourself. And if you’re worried about not knowing what to say, take this advice from St. Ambrose who urged St. Monica to “speak less to Augustine about God and more to God about Augustine.” In other words, pray and trust in God to do the work. See you at our next Night Vigil!

By: Diane Kremheller

A response to a longing

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It took me a while to fully understand this longing I had deep within me. It was a longing for Christ and to be spiritually fed. But it was also a longing for community. To find like-minded people who felt the same as me and wanted to further deepen their relationships with Christ.

It just so happened that while I was beginning to get more involved in my home parish at St. Joseph in Norwalk, the pastor there had been praying about beginning a young adult ministry in the area.

CREDO became what I and many other young adults longed for…a community. A place where together we could share our daily struggles, our daily grinds and grow together as one body for Christ.

We come together twice a month. Once for Mass and a social at one of the bars/restaurants down the street in SONO. And once for a time of in-depth prayer and spiritual renewal.

With the Mass we can worship and offer our sacrifice together at the foot of the cross. And with the in-depth prayer and spiritual renewal nights we can focus more personally on our relationships with Christ.

Credo welcomes all those in the diocese who are 21-31yrs old and asks that all parishes in the surrounding area please promote this among their young adults!

Dates for CREDO:

Oct. 2nd – Mass & Social 7-9 pm

Oct. 23rd – Spiritual Gathering Night 7-9 pm

Address for St. Joes

85 South Main St, Norwalk CT 06854

(For more information visit stjosephsono.org/credo.)

Mike Falbo is a youth minister at St. Peter’s in Danbury and an instituted acolyte. He also serves as a master of ceremony to the bishop.

Focus and Trust

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Most of us will at times (possibly multiple times) find ourselves in situations of great anxiety and uncertainty — perhaps even fear — about the future.  The causes may be financial or medical, employment-related or otherwise, and may come singly or as a “package deal.”  Whatever the cause, anxiety can sap the will, drain the spirit and paralyze action.  All too often it can lead to the feeling of drowning in hopelessness.  In those situations, if we are smart, we reach out to others for help.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column entitled “The Great Trust Fall” in which I referenced Matthew’s account (14:24-33) of Peter and the disciples in a boat at “a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it” when they saw the figure of Jesus coming to them “walking on the lake.”  I’d like to revisit that story.

Imagine that you are Peter in that boat at that moment.  You are worried that the boat may sink so far from shore and you are fearful for your life and the lives of your companions.  Then suddenly, “shortly before dawn,” you see the figure of the person you believe to be the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of God, coming towards the boat, inconceivably walking on the water.  He says “Take courage!  It is I.  Don’t be afraid.”

You say, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”  And He says “Come.”

Instinctively, without thinking, you get out of the boat and begin, inconceivably, walking on the water toward Him.  Your eyes are focused on Him, your mind occupied exclusively with the prospect of finding rescue in the face of peril, your spirit alive with the joy of the moment.

And then your mind wanders.  You lose that focus.  Your eyes, distracted by the lightning flashes, stray away from His visage towards the roiling waves.  Your ears become aware once again of the sounds of the storm, the thunder crashing, the rain pounding and the excited voices of your friends in the boat.  You feel the cold water on your feet, somehow solid as you take each step.  Your mind starts spinning, reason telling you that what you are clearly experiencing simply cannot be.  Doubt creeps in, slowly at first until it overwhelms all your senses.  Suddenly you lose sight of Him, focused only on the threats around you, and you begin to sink.

What if it doesn’t have to play out that way?  In my mind Peter is a physically and mentally strong man, and likely no stranger to patience and perseverance; as a fisherman, he would have to be so.  While his faith was not perfect (as his later actions would show), he had his “eyes on the prize,” and I would like to think that he could have made it if only he had consciously blocked out the noise around him and stayed focused on his goal.

Imagine now that you are back in the water, sinking fast. Isn’t that feeling familiar?  Isn’t it just like being anxious about the many things in life we cannot control?  Don’t you want help, someone to reach out a hand and catch you?

Very few of us are saints, but most of us can be quite stubborn when we want to be.  So, I have a suggestion: when your mind begins to race and fret with all the “what ifs” and logical obstacles and problems confronting you, summon your inner stubbornness and push those thoughts away.  Focus instead on the hope of help, even help in a form inconceivable to you at the moment.  Focus hard.  Keep your eyes on the prize.  Have patience.  Persevere.  Don’t get discouraged if you falter, but try to refocus as quickly as possible.  I believe that if Peter had done so, he would have regained his footing.

Jesus said to Peter “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  I think sometimes our tendency to doubt stems from the rather egocentric idea that we have control of our lives, and that anything beyond our experience, knowledge or reason cannot exist.  If we are honest with ourselves, haven’t there been moments in our lives that belie that assumption?

A favorite line of mine is “If you think God is your co-pilot, you are sitting in the wrong seat.”

May we all learn to take our seat, focus on the road ahead, and enjoy the ride!

By: Daniel M. FitzPatrick 2019

Lay Carmelites Reflect on Silence, Prayer and the Psalms

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The 2019 Annual Lay Carmelite Retreat was held at Enders Island in Mystic, Connecticut on the weekend of June 21-23.  Forty-five retreatants from communities throughout Connecticut and New York enjoyed four conferences on “The Psalms” presented by Father Francis Amodio, O. Carm., Provincial Delegate for the Province of St. Elias in Middletown, New York.

“Jesus prayed the psalms, and as a church, we pray the Psalms as we pray the Liturgy of the Hours. This is the prayer of the church. The Psalms are written by and for the people of God,” stated Father Francis. As Carmelites, we are called to meditate on the law of the Lord, which is the Word of God, as outlined in the Rule of St. Albert, chapter 10: “…meditating day and night on the law of The Lord and being vigilant in prayer, unless otherwise lawfully occupied.”

It is customary to have retreats for the Lay Carmelite members each year.  We have celebrated at different retreat centers, however, this year, we were able to experience God at Ender’s Island.  This location with its beautiful view of the water coupled with the quiet, serene beauty of the Island allowed the members and non-members of the order to reflect and recollect on the experience of silence.  The chapel and the grotto near the water were superb!  The staff showed a welcome spirit and the dining was the best that we have ever had on any other retreat.

“Our Lay Carmelite Retreat on Enders Island was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit and was amazing,” stated Karen Szalkiewicz from the Holy Face Community in Middletown, Connecticut.  “Being with our Carmelite brothers and sisters is only an experience that can be felt from your head to the heart.”

Carmel Brown from the Mystical Rose Community in Shelton Connecticut, expressed that there is no better place on earth than Enders Island  “… to appreciate the marvel of God’s beauty, to restore our faith in God, and to realize why we became Carmelites.”

Finally, Maria Paterno from Mary, Mother of the Redeemer Community in Groton, Connecticut, described the retreat at Enders Island as gorgeous and peaceful. “Seeing the beauty and vastness of the ocean makes you appreciate all that God has created for us. Being together in community with our Carmelite family was truly a blessing.”

The beautifully landscaped grounds and great weather created a perfect opportunity to enjoy ice cream during a Saturday afternoon discussion on prayer. Judy Gascoigne, from the Mystical Rose Chapter in Shelton, Connecticut, was especially moved by Father Francis’s reflections about silence.  Being a person who loves silence, she views it is as necessary when living in the presence of God.

Along with Father Francis, the group was blessed to have another Carmelite Friar at the retreat, Father Nicholas Blackwell, O. Carm., who delivered homilies for the Saturday and Sunday masses. Father Nicholas (aka “The Frank Friar”) is a dynamic speaker who has a Website, a Podcast, a blog, and a YouTube channel. His social media ministry brings God and the Carmelite spirituality to the world. Prayer is one of the charisms of the Carmelite Way, so the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and Adoration were prayed throughout the weekend. We are looking forward to our 2020 Lay Carmelite Retreat, which will once again be held on Enders Island on June 12-14.

The Lay Carmelites are part of the Third Order branch of the Carmelite Order.  Lay Carmelites promise to live the Gospel in the contemplative spirit of Carmel including the practice of prayer in all its forms, the Divine Office and Lectio Divina, as well as the other elements of the order’s charism—fraternal community and service. There are six lay Carmelite communities in Connecticut:  Groton, Middletown, Wethersfield, Waterbury, Shelton, and Danbury. New members are always welcome. We are looking forward to our 2020 Lay Carmelite Retreat, which will once again be held on Enders Island on June 12-14.  For further information, please contact Suzanne Henderson, Regional Coordinator, at tocregion2@carmelites.com.

The Great Trust Fall

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I recently was asked to participate in a senior executive level panel discussion on best advice for job seekers in the current economy.  Not because I am any kind of an expert on that topic, but because over the years I have had the chance to hire a lot of people at a variety of different firms and companies.  In preparing for the event, my thoughts took a somewhat unanticipated direction.

Any successful human group endeavor, in corporate form or otherwise, depends on trust.  There are other important factors for sure, but long-term cooperation cannot survive without trust, and fear is ultimately a pyrrhic motivator.  Teams are often more productive and successful than individual contributors, and many companies go to great lengths to build high performing teams.  One team-building technique which has been popular over the years, is the “trust fall.”

According to Wikipedia (the lingua franca of the social media age), “A trust fall is a purported trust-building game often conducted as a group exercise in which a person deliberately allows themselves [sic] to fall, relying on the other members of the group (spotters) to catch the person.”  The description paints the picture.  It is an image I can’t get out of my head.

There is a surprisingly large amount of literature on the topics of trust, belief and faith, and the relationships among them.  I am no philosopher or theologian and will leave the final decision to others, but in my mind trust and belief are different sides of the same coin.  Belief presumes trust in things which cannot be perceived, and trust requires belief in outcomes that cannot be assured.  Faith then is the trust and belief in a power beyond ourselves.

Faith is a (perhaps the) central theme in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.  From Noah to Abraham to Moses to Mary and through the Acts of the Apostles there are countless stories of individuals who said “yes” to requests they could not possibly understand and undertook tasks which to all the world appeared futile.  In each instance, we are told, those actions had positive consequences far beyond the powers of human imagination.

I have a favorite “trust fall” image from the Bible.  It is found in Matthew 14:25-33:

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

By a spontaneous act of faith Peter accomplished the unimaginable.  However, “when he saw the wind, he was afraid” and began to sink.  I suspect many of us can relate to that moment, when doubt, worry and negative thoughts can rob us of our confidence to move forward.  Note the final four words of the passage: “why did you doubt?”  I believe that Peter’s failure was not that he did not believe, but that he did not trust that belief sufficiently in the face of the perceived perils around him.

My takeaway from all this is that life itself is “the great” trust fall.  We are called to look beyond the issues and problems of today, filter out or ignore the voices of negativity and division, see through the mendacity that appears to dominate our media and politics, seek out, celebrate and support that which is good and true in our country, our communities and our families.  Throw ourselves forward, with abandon, into the future.  Trusting always for a safe landing.

Norman Vincent Peale, the author of The Power of Positive Thinking, had it exactly right when he wrote: “Believe in yourself!  Have faith in your abilities!  Without humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”

And of course, Jesus said: “All things are possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

By: Daniel M. FitzPatrick 2019

A Prayer for the First Week of School

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Master and Teacher,

Bless the students who will have trouble settling down this week, whose minds are still at the beach or at grandma’s swimming pool, or the amusement park or soccer camp.

Bless those who sit nervously in class: those who are new in school and those who never read anything over the summer and know a test is coming anyway.

Bless those who will struggle, those who will succeed, and those who get lost in the crowd.

Bless the new friendships that will begin on day one and bless those cherished friendships that will be renewed.

Bless them all with compassion, that they may root for the underdog, celebrate those who accomplish much, and pray fervently for each other.

Bless them with an environment free from bullying, needless competition, and petty jealousy.

Help them, Lord, to fall in love with learning.

Bless the parents of these students, their first teachers in the ways of faith. Give them patience when the homework takes too long, give them the courage to understand that their children are not perfect and give them the courage to discipline with love. May they abdicate less and partner more.

And we beg you, Lord, to bring these children safely home at the end of the day, the week, or the semester. Keep them free from violence – at home and at school – on the bus and on the streets – and guide them home to the waiting arms of those who loved them first.

Finally, Lord, we pray in the thanksgiving for the men and women who have already been hard at work straightening desks, taping names to cubbies, painting lockers, planning classes cleaning rooms, decorating bulletin boards, hanging posters, and studying test scores. Bless these servants with peace, patience, persistence, and your Spirit, that they may be Your presence to our young people, Your hands, and Your voice.

We make this prayer through Christ our Lord: teacher, servant, and source of all hope.

Amen.

Originally Appeared on Five Minutes on a Monday, a Blog by Patrick Donovan (Executive Director of the Leadership Institute).