Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

The Stories of Our Lives

Blog No Comments

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

Blog No Comments

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

Blog No Comments

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

Blog No Comments

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

Blog No Comments

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

Blog No Comments

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

Blog No Comments

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).

Fly To Me

My little ones, my birds, my praises sing,

My glory shines from each suspended wing.

The birds are children of the light,

gayly singing, dawn ‘til night.

And safely sleep, no fear have they,

I feed and shelter them each day.

The birds of prey are children of the night,

In silence do their wings give flight.

My children safe they will not find,

for daylight makes the searcher blind.

 

Four-legged things in burrows deep.

cannot escape the killer’s eye.

My children fair sleep in fresh air,

‘til dawn alights the sky.

My children, grow and test your wings.

A bird must fly as well as sing.

Fear not to leave the safety of the nest.

The time is right to try.

Look out and see how others pass the test,

for birds it is no trick to fly.

It takes a leap to get you off

and trust in Me.

Then gliding effortlessly out,

You’ve won a victory over doubt.

Flying is no special gift,

just stretch your wings,

and I’ll provide the lift.

It is not long ‘til you can soar

far above the earthly floor,

and rise to Me

on wings of faith.

 

And now you’ll find you’re well equipped to soar

to heights you’ve never seen before.

These heights, familiar but to Me,

I want to share with thee.

 

Poem by John J. Flynn, a parishioner of St. John Parish in Darien

Reflections from Steubenville East

“Hail Mary, full of grace…,” so went my prayer as I walked up and down the rows and aisles of the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell, sprinkling holy water and salt along with each seat. As a member of the Prayer Team for Steubenville East, I helped to bless and prepare the space for the 2300+ high school students who would soon arrive and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that they would receive.

Steubenville East is one of six Steubenville Conferences that are hosted by Life Teen each summer. Through engaging talks, opportunities for prayer and Reconciliation and powerful liturgies, high school students encounter God and are inspired to live out their Catholic faith in their homes, schools, churches, and communities.

I never attended a Steubenville Conference as a high school student—I had only heard great things about the conference. Last year, I was invited to be a part of the Prayer Team, one of the volunteer ministries available. My high school youth minister, Paola Peña, was the Prayer Team Lead, and Father Sam Kachuba, the pastor at my parish (St. Pius X) was the chaplain for the Prayer Team. I accepted the invitation, not knowing what to expect and came away from the weekend having had a very powerful, spiritual experience that inspired me to volunteer again this year. 

The main role of the Prayer Team is to intercede for the conference participants throughout the weekend. Each of us are assigned to a particular section of the arena and we pray for the teens that are entrusted to us there. Specifically, we pray for an openness of hearts, that the Word of God might penetrate and illuminate parts of their lives that need healing and peace. We also have the opportunity to pray with and for the teens during Adoration, which takes place on the last night of the conference. For some teens, this may be their first time experiencing Adoration. Whether a newcomer or a veteran, the hope is that the teens are awakened and have an intimate encounter with Jesus, who is truly present in the Eucharist. What makes Adoration at Steubenville so unique and powerful is that the priest (at this conference, it was Father John Burns) processes with the monstrance through each section. This allows the teens to see Jesus face-to-face, literally. As the priest began to process through my section, tears filled my eyes as I watched my teens respond with joy, awe and reverence as they met Jesus.

Another way in which the Prayer Team serves is through Reconciliation. An area for priests to hear Confessions is set up along the back of the concourse and a temporary chapel is located nearby. Our job is to station ourselves at various points to assist with the flow of teens going to Confession and also to minister to the teens who are in line. Some of the teens are nervous or scared to go. One of the teens to whom I talked hadn’t been to Confession since her first Confession. Regardless of the scenario, I reassured them that they would feel so much better after they went, like a weight being lifted off of their shoulders.

Prayer Team members standing near the exit clapped and cheered for the teens who had just received the sacrament. We invited each person to take a piece of chalk and put a tally mark on a poster to keep track of how many Confessions had been heard. It was truly amazing to see the peace and joy that radiated from the faces of teens who said they felt “much better” and “relieved.” Over 30 priests committed to hearing Confessions for multiple hours and by the end of the conference, we hit the mark of 1300 Confessions being heard. This was a beautiful milestone, from the dedication of so many priests who were instruments of God’s mercy to the number of souls that were washed clean and freed from the burden of sin. Our prayers were answered!

Being a Christian First

The following homily was delivered by Deacon Paul Kurmay, of St. Mark Parish in Stratford on July 28, 2019.

They say that one should never talk about politics or religion in polite company. Well, I guess I am going to be very impolite since I will be speaking about both. It is also said that religion and politics don’t mix, but that is an utter impossibility, since religion finds expression in political action, and politics is dependent on the moral values which religion teaches. They are simply inseparable.

The Catholic Church and the countless encyclicals of popes throughout the ages have made that abundantly clear. No one did so more forcefully than Saint John Paul II the Great, who linked the basic tenets of our faith with the overthrow of atheistic Communism throughout Eastern Europe. When workers were being treated like slaves during the industrial revolution, Pope Leo XIII spoke out against such abuses and outlined the fundamental human rights of all workers in his famous Encyclical entitled Rerum Novarum. It became a virtual blueprint for the world-wide labor movement of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Many condemned him for it, claiming that religion should have no part in forming labor laws and that market forces alone should dictate labor policy.

Pope Francis has spoken out courageously and forcefully about the need to save the planet from climate change and to respect the fundamental human rights of all immigrants, both legal and illegal. He also condemned capital punishment and, like all the popes before him, condemned abortion on demand, surely the hottest political issue of our time. Is there anyone here who believes the Church does not have a moral duty, imposed by Christ Himself, to speak out against every evil in our society?

So you would think that by now we would have gotten it straight. Political action devoid of basic religious principles is humanism at best and barbarism at worst. Political action devoid of divine Grace and supernatural love is simply and utterly sinful.

Two of the most contentious issues of our day are immigration and racism. Everyone knows that our immigration system is broken and that innocent children and families are suffering terribly as a result. None of us would ever want our children separated from us or held in virtual cages. It is a national disgrace that both political parties have failed to remedy the situation, each one passing the buck to the other. I fault them both, as do the American bishops. Do you think the Lord is happy with the way His children are being treated?

While we can legitimately take different approaches to the problem, from the left to the right, the Gospel demands that they be grounded in love, not hatred, trust in God and not fear of the foreigner. I think we can all agree that racism should have no part in the national debate and that we as Christians should never give tacit consent to public expressions of racism. As Cicero said ages ago, silence gives consent.

We as American Catholic Christians can hold strong and different views on any political subject, but the Church condemns the use of racially-loaded phrases like “Send them back” in promoting one policy or another. That is more than innocent name-calling. Taken in historical context, it is the classic expression of racism.

The use of that phrase comes out of the darkest pages of American history. At the turn of the 20th century, it was hurled vituperously against the Irish, Italians, Jews, Catholics, Eastern Europeans, Asians, blacks and Hispanics — in fact anyone who wasn’t a WASP, a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. How could we ever have forgotten that our own ancestors were the victims of racism and were repeatedly told to “go back to where you came from.”

Not everyone who utters that phrase is a racist. I am not saying that. Only God knows what is in each person’s heart and only He can judge them. I am not. But if someone held a gun to your head, do you think you would be asking whether his interior intentions were good? Would you be asking whether he had bullets in the chamber? No, the sight of the gun itself would be a terrifying assault on your psyche. The same with words.

In his last speech to the nation, President Ronald Regan recounted the story involving the aircraft carrier, the USS Midway, on patrol in the South China Sea. The crew spotted a little leaky boat on the horizon, crammed full with refugees from Indo-China, hoping to get to America. As the ship’s launch approached the little sinking boat, one small refugee stood up erect and called out to an American sailor: “Hello, American sailor! Hello, Freedom Man!” The President called that “a small moment with a big meaning,” one he would never forget.

As preachers of the Gospel, we have a moral obligation to preach the words and commands of Christ our Lord, whether they are popular or deeply unpopular. His most compelling commandment was this: to love our neighbor as ourselves and to treat everyone the way we would want to be treated. Is that the way the national debate is being framed, do you think?

If someone disagreed with our own individual political views, is there anyone here who would want to be told to go back where we came from? What would you think if someone didn’t like what Father Birendra said in a homily and told him to go back where he came from? Would you remain silent or speak out against such a racist slur?

The Lord told us to expect persecution, ridicule, harassment and scorn, and He condemned those who said, “Lord, Lord” and dressed themselves in the clothing of a Christian but failed to live the Gospel message of love in their lives. He said it would go easier for Sodom and Gomorrah than for them — and we know what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah!

St. John said, “the man who claims ‘ I have known Jesus ‘, without keeping his commandments is a liar; in such a one there is no truth.”

My friends, we cannot afford to be sucked into outlandish displays of raw partisanship from any quarter, from the right or the left. Our Lord expects us — commands us — to have the courage to be Christians first and political animals second.

Have we not all prayed the beautiful words of the Our Father a zillion times? Have we not prayed that His Kingdom come and that His Will be done on earth as it is in heaven? Do you think people are shunned in heaven due to the color of their skin or their criticism of perceived injustices in their nation?

If we really mean what we say to God every day, then we know deep in our hearts that love of neighbor and trust in God is the only solution to every problem in our lives, no matter how difficult or contentious, and that, in the end, Love will always triumph over hatred and fear.

So, shoot me if you like. I said what I had to say. Our Lord was the One who told me to say it.

Who is on your list?

I am in the Holy Land this week with a group of young adults. We have visited Nazareth and arrived today in Bethlehem. Our visit today to the house of St. Peter and the seaside town of Capernaum reminded me of the card in my wallet.

This card in my wallet tells a story and it started, like all good stories do, with a teacher who made a difference.

It was my junior year in high school and Sr. Judy Eby, RSM asked us to reflect on that great passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke.  You remember the story: Jesus is teaching at the house of Peter in Capernaum and some friends want to get their buddy, who is paralyzed and has spent the better part of his life flat on a mat, closer to Jesus. Unable to get through the crowd, they drag the poor fellow up a ladder and down through the roof.

Then, after we read the passage, we watched a scene of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 masterpiece, Jesus of Nazareth. The story unfolds just like it does in Luke’s Gospel: the crowds have gathered and there is no room for the men to bring their friend to Jesus. He cannot walk, so they carry him over the wall, through the thatched roof, and place him before the Teacher.

You know what happens next. The movie takes some editorial license, but after a brief conversation, the man is told his sins are forgiven. The movie version, while riveting, fails to follow Luke’s account. Jesus forgives the man’s sins because he is moved by the actions of the friends. But more on that later.

In both versions, the crowd goes nuts. “Only God can forgive sins,” they reproach Jesus. Putting yourself on the same plane as God is only going to cause trouble. To this, we get a classic Jesus response: “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?”

Think about that. Surely forgiving sins is easier. Right? To show the crowd what he’s really capable of, Jesus tells the man to get up, pick up his mat, and go home. The man obliges. The crowd goes nuts for an entirely different reason and everyone learns an important lesson.

But back to the card in my wallet.

We wrap up the reading, the watching, and the discussion about the friends who carried the stretcher, and Sr. Judy hands us all an index card. “Now,” she tells us, “write down the names of those who carry you to Christ.”

Wait. What? This just got real.

I have repeated that exercise with youth and adults alike for years.  I even used it last night with my group here. Like Sr. Judy, I challenged them to think of those who, when we are paralyzed with fear, sinfulness, and selfishness, carry us to Christ. When you cannot move, who lifts you up? When you are sick or alone or unhappy or in serious need of a friend, who do you call?

I have edited my list throughout the years. Friends come and go. People die. But my list has been there since that spring day in 1987. I have moved it from wallet to wallet. It’s a thirty-two-year-old ratty piece of paper that I carry with me everywhere. On more than one occasion, the list has saved my life, my soul, my sanity.

Yes, there is a card in my wallet that tells a story. It tells a story of salvation.

Who’s on your list?

By: Patrick Donovan, director of The Leadership Institute

This post originally appeared on Patrick’s personal blog: Five Minutes on a Monday

Like a Good Neighbor…

Within a community, other than the comfort of our families and the security of our homes, little makes us more at ease than the familiarity of our neighbors. A local insurance rep tells us that “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” Television personality Mr. Rogers always welcomed his young viewers by asking “Won’t you be my neighbor?” And of course, Jesus advises us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” But what happens when that neighbor, that familiarity is no longer there?

When the furnace expired and the basement flooded, the inevitable could not be postponed. After a few touch-ups and more than a few second guesses, the house went on the market—and came off three days later following an offer she could not refuse. At that point, no one could deny it any longer. Cathy was moving.

Cathy and her husband Bob had been our first neighbors, more than epitomizing the term neighbor as they lent us, the naïve new homeowners, their snowblower after a monstrous storm, collected the mail when we went away and stood “on-call” as babysitters for our two-year-old when her sister was on the way. And yes, we took in their mail too, checked on their black Lab that our daughters adored, and helped out here and there, though it always seemed we relied more on them than they did on us. “Love your neighbor”? That was never a problem; we seemed undeservingly blessed. As we outgrew our tiny Cape, making plans to move 12 years ago, Cathy allayed my doubts about leaving behind our beloved neighborhood with her gentle reminder that “God has a plan for us all.” What that plan was I did not know, but if she believed it, then so did I.

And now it was her turn. After losing Bob several years ago and keeping up with the house on her own, the time had come to pass it on to another young couple, ready to add new life to this neighborhood we had all at one time called home. My common sense and practicality, however, didn’t help to ease the realization that Cathy would no longer be there, but once again, she reminded me that “God has a plan for us all,” trusting that He would lead her to the right place. Though we had not been neighbors in that “next door” sense for more than a decade, we still met up in the aisles of the grocery store, chatted after Mass, and remained up-to-date on friends and acquaintances, our children and her grandchildren. And to this day, whenever I reference her in conversations with others, I do not use her full name or preface her with a vague “someone I know” but always call her “my neighbor Cathy.”

When we had our last visit (for a while) this week, I realized that is who she will always be – my neighbor Cathy. One doesn’t have to live next door, around the corner, or even in the same state to retain the privileged title of neighbor. The bonds we created over shared stories and the connections we forged through the desire for community reach beyond the confines of our former neighborhood. In that moment, I understood her mantra of “God has a plan for us all.” Part of that plan began 20 years ago when He brought her and her family into our lives—and never really allowed them to leave —as our neighbors and our friends.

As Cathy takes God’s plan to a new home, lucky those who find themselves with her living next door, expanding the sense of community she brought to us years ago. State Farm has nothing on her.

By Emily Clark

Success at Saint Catherine’s is measured in small steps

Editors Note: These comments were originally delivered by Helen Burland, Executive Director of St. Catherine Center for Special Needs on its 20th anniversary. They have been printed and posted here with her permission.

Good evening.

I am Helen Burland and I have the honor and privilege to serve as the Executive Director of Saint Catherine Center for Special Needs. I was so pleased to see so many familiar faces tonight and equally as excited to welcome our first-time attendees. This is our second year in a row that we have a full house.  This truly is a family gathering and we are so grateful to have all of you as part of the Saint Catherine family.

Tonight we have recognized some people who have made significant contributions to our mission and I add my congratulations and gratitude.

20 years ago, In 1999, the Diocese of Bridgeport and many people who are in this room tonight embraced the vision to create a faith-based education program that would welcome children whose learning needs were special. I stand before you tonight proud to say that Saint Catherine Center is a vibrant, joyful mission committed to working with people with disabilities and their families. We are founded on the belief from Catholic Social Teaching that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. That every person has a right to participate in society and a corresponding duty to work for the advancement of the well-being of all. Beginning with the belief that all life is valued, we work to provide for God’s most vulnerable individuals.

Saint Catherine Center is home to Saint Catherine Academy, a private special education school offering an alternative program to children ages 5-21. In 2014, we added an adult day program to offer an alternative for young people who had completed their formal education but still needed a structured, supervised environment. Additionally, we support services throughout the Diocese to assist parishes and schools in welcoming people with disabilities to be full participants in their communities.

If the students and young adults were here today, they would tell you that Saint Catherine’s is not as much a place as it is an experience where children and young adults learn:

  • responsibility along with side math and reading;
  • respect while they learn how to empty a dishwasher and
  • trust while they navigate a grocery store or try a new skill at a job site

They would tell you that:

  • they feel safe and respected;
  • they experience kindness and compassion while they are challenged to reach their highest individual potential.
  • It is a place where joy and gratitude go hand and hand with perseverance and hard work.

We are ordinary people on an extraordinary journey with the support of our families; a very dedicated Board, a talented and devoted staff, organizations like the Knights of Columbus and Order of Malta, numerous volunteers, and generous donors.

Sometimes it is too easy to glamorize the work we do when we talk about it on a night like this. Success at Saint Catherine’s is measured in small steps – not leaps and bounds. Sometimes it is imperceptible but we know it is there when we have a breakthrough moment. One of our students reminded me of this at graduation last week. As he approached the microphone to present a petition. He paused, took a deep breath, a proceeded to read flawlessly. It was the most beautiful prayer I have heard in a long time.

The work is very challenging; sometimes exasperatingly so – but when we get it right, it is so profoundly moving that we keep going.

We have over 40 children and young adults now receiving daily programming at the Center. Over the course of the year, they have taught us

  • how to speak without words,
  • how to better define “What is success”,
  • how to overcome the fear of water;
  • how to cook in our kitchen,
  • how to dance with joy, and

Most importantly, they taught us how to look beyond ourselves; to walk with them – we have conquered many obstacles this year –some serious health scares and some family tragedies. Saint Catherine Center is a place of consolation, peace, and healing for all who are touched by our mission.

We continue to look to the future – The need is great in our community and we continue to strive to meet the needs as they are presented to us. We continue to plan for our bakery; we are planning our future facility needs; we are excited about what the future holds for all of us.

All of these are possible because of you. Together we hold the future of these children and young people in our kind and loving hands. We are called to be the light of the world and your partnership, your commitment to vulnerable among us – provides light for all to see. Thank you for all you do for Saint Catherine Center.

I am honored tonight to introduce Bishop Frank Caggiano. We are grateful for his presence tonight and his ongoing support.

June 9, 2019

Never doubt God’s power

Lately, I’ve been pondering an expression my Father used to have when it looked like the world as we knew it was spinning out of control.

He’d say “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The older I got, the more convinced I became that Dad was right….but not completely.  I’ll explain.

While it may trouble us to see Catholics at one another’s throats, liberals vs conservatives, lay vs clergy, men vs women, gay vs straight, today’s reading from Acts tells us we’ve been here before.  St. Stephen, our parish’s patron saints, died reminding people that they, like their ancestors, had to stop opposing the living Spirit of God.  Today, Christians around the world continue paying the ultimate price for speaking truth to power. The more things change, the more they stay the same….or, at least, so it seems.

In the Gospel from two weeks ago, Jesus prayed on the night before He died that we would all be one, that the world know us by our desire to seek only the good of others in love. But sometimes it seems that the motto of our Catholic Church has become “See how they shove one another.”

Enough, already! Rather than constantly dwelling on negatives, we’ve got to make a conscious decision to desire what Jesus desired at the Last Supper: That all may be one as the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father. Notice, Jesus doesn’t say “be one with the Father as the Father is with Him. Jesus asks that we may be one in Him as He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. The goal is not simply to walk with  God, but intimate union in God, our beginning and our end.

At the first Pentecost, which we commemorated last weekend, the fire of God’s Holy Spirit was not just with Jesus’ Mother and friends, but penetrated deep within them. That fire was so intense that they proceeded to set a blaze in human hearts which still burns 2,000 years later, despite dyings like St. Stephen’s which sadly continue.

On the night He was betrayed, Jesus prayed “Father, the world does not know you.” In 2,000 years, not much seems to have changed. So right now, you and I have a golden opportunity to rewrite my father’s expression something like this: “The more things don’t change, the more things don’t have to stay the same.” Our Bishop Frank recently said “Many people see our times as troubled. I see them as moments of opportunity.” So, how might we fulfill Jesus’ wish that all people come to know the God Who created us through Him? What are some opportunities we can seize so that we can once and for all put aside the same old disunity and discord?

Jesuit Father Jim Martin suggests that we simply ask God for 3 graces.  First, ask God for the grace to be open, and truly listen to what may be going on in people’s hearts. Second, ask for the grace to give others the benefit of the doubt. Finally, ask for the grace to really trust that things can get better, for history has taught us that things are darkest before the dawn. Never doubt God’s power to bring unity out of disunity, God’s power to unite heaven and earth If God did it for the early Church, God can and will do it for us. Always remember: The more things like discord and disunity don’t change, the more you and I need not let such things stay the same.

By: Deacon Donald Ross, St. Stephen Parish

My Church Is Burning

Like many people around the world, particularly Catholics, I was greatly saddened by the terrible fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, “Our Lady” in Paris. As the fire was burning out of control, many French leaders commented about the importance the beautiful edifice had become to the Parisian people, all of France, and much of Western civilization. Comments made by Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris, in particular, made an impression on me; “It is the Catholics who make the Cathedral of Notre Dame live: it is not a museum!” He continued, “If so many people come there, it’s because it’s a living space, enlivened by the Catholics…the word Catholic comes from the Greek meaning universal. We are here to proclaim a universal fraternity based on love.”

Oh my dear Lord, I was so sad that day, as I have visited the magnificent sanctuary many times, always saying a very thorough and heartfelt confession and then attending Mass. Her beauty is marvelous and I have always felt the presence of the Christ, surrounded by the extraordinary stained-glass, the many iconic artifacts, and the obvious musty smell of old wood. Little did I know that she, “Our Lady,” was so vulnerable.

From birth, I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. I always felt, even as a small child, proud to be part of the Mother Church of Christianity. My faith grew in my early teens as I watched my paternal grandfather show his love for Jesus, the Church, the Blessed Mother, and all that we stand for. Every night before turning in or preparing for a long day of work in the morning, my grandfather would light candles on either side of a magnificent crucifix and, of course, an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He would then hit his knees and beg for forgiveness for even the most minor things, even bad thoughts or inappropriate language. He would also bring tremendous gratitude to the Almighty for his beautiful simple life and for all of us. Yes, being a Catholic, is not what I do, it is who I am!

As I started to come of age, I always stayed close to my Church but by any measure, did not live a saintly life. In many ways I have struggled through a life of addiction and consequently destroyed many relationships. It wasn’t until the fall of 2014 that I started to live a life that God had intended for me all along. Prior to this, I had enjoyed some fairly substantial success in business and had made many friends along the way, but all the time my highest priorities were seeking wealth, power, pleasure, and honor.

I was also seeking “truth” through a newfound love of the Gospels, the Beatitudes, the study of Thomas Merton, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. John Paul II, Deepak Chopra, and Wayne Dyer. But it wasn’t until I was able to surrender my will and learn how to use the tools at my disposal that I was able to understand what is really important in life, the love of all humanity and most of all my beloved family. It was Saint Paul who told us, “If I have not loved, I am nothing.”

Like the magnificence of the Notre Dame Cathedral, I view our church as the most important and extraordinary intellectual institution in the history of man. Our faith is obviously centered on Christ, but enriched by the men and women who lived with Him, ate with Him, walked with Him, and participated in his short time of ministry, culminating with His Passion and Resurrection.

Through the centuries, the richness grew through the great men and women who centered their entire lives on the Trinity alone: Saints Augustine, Aquinas, and Catherine of Siena, GK Chesterton, John Henry Newman, Dorothy Day and of course the apostle to the Gentiles, Saint Paul. The art, architecture and music added to its beauty. Just think of the masterpieces of Michelangelo, including the Pieta, the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel and the dome of St. Peter’s…Rafael, Caravaggio, Beethoven, Johann Christian Bach (himself a convert) and so many more. Although beautiful, our church and it’s leadership have never been perfect, as we have largely been led and managed by men, fallible sinners, everyone.

Indeed, though my Church is great, it’s hierarchy, the clergy, consecrated laypeople, and, frankly, all of us are equally vulnerable to the presence of evil. The multiple scandals of the last 20 years can only be explained, in my opinion, as a result of allowing the Devil to permeate the souls of the individuals that have perpetrated these horrific acts. For a “holy” man, or woman, to attack a child typifies the highest expression of evil. Covering those sins so others will not discover them is equally depraved. Yes, my blessed and beloved Church is burning! Like Notre Dame, I never realized just how vulnerable she is…

What is the way forward? Like the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Church will need to be structurally rebuilt stronger than ever. In the days and hours after the fire was under control, many institutions and individuals pledged, by some estimates, over $1 billion. Rebuilding “Our Lady” will be tedious, requiring expert sacred arts architects and the finest craftsman of the 21st century. But she will be rebuilt! While undertaking the process, her mission must be restated and clarified; she is a sacred sanctuary, honoring the fact that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the son of the living God.

I can imagine, for example, that the designers will want to maintain much of the 14th-century beauty and will use wooden roof trusses once again, yet will fortify them with steel. This steel will not be visible but will strengthen the roof and make it less susceptible to destruction in the future. This is what needs to happen in the universal church. Her mission has and should always be centered on the joy, love, and obedience to our Lord, but we must be reestablished as a far more transparent and credible institution, never fearing to expose our very soul to the world. We must all participate if we are to be successful. How can we ever regain our position as moral compass to the world, if our own houses are not in order?

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that rebuilding and strengthening the “universal” Church is possible and may already be underway. Many strong intellectual and skilled leaders are in place. This may sound naïvely optimistic, but I believe that the recent scandals, like the terrible fire may actually bring people back to the faith of their childhood. God’s Love is a blessed and wonderful motivator.

As I said, we all must participate by simply being kind and through service to our less fortunate brothers and sisters, no matter where they come from or how they worship. God loving people have a common humanity and recognition that we are to honor an awesome God. We must also redouble our efforts to love and embrace our priests who continue to obey to their vows and be of service to all selflessly. In the recent scandal, it is the obedient priests who suffer greatly, as they have devoted their entire life to consecrating the Eucharist and caring for all of us. This is not to diminish in any way the tragic impact on the many victims over the decades. Each story is heartbreaking and affirms for me the existence of evil.

Please Lord, above all, help us rebuild “The Lady” and Your Church, so we can embrace the most vulnerable around the world, and continue our mission here on earth, serving You and You alone, I will praise You with my every heartbeat, God willing, into eternity.

By Mark Castillo, St. Patrick in Redding