Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

God Doesn’t Explain

The religion I grew up with had a preoccupation with saving one’s soul, avoiding hell, shortening purgatory. Religion was identified with rules, regulations, customs. A certain punitiveness and pettiness was projected onto God. The childhood image I had of God was that of a Super Bookkeeper. I experienced religion as a rulebook. There was a spirituality of good works and merits. Billy Graham noted that “the trouble with many people is that they have just enough religion to make them miserable.” I struggled with excessive fears of eternal punishment, and legalism.

Spirituality was devotional. There were devotions to this saint and that saint. As I remember, I rarely, and maybe never, came across saintliness. The Mass in those far off days was in Latin. The school year opened with the Mass of the Holy Spirit.

I never thought my childhood religion as ruining my childhood. It made me feel cared for.

Like many, I have problems concerning God. Let me hear someone speak of God’s unbounded love and mercy, and images of the Holocaust and Hiroshima appear before my eyes—no divine intervention. Hitler and, for the most part, those who ran the death camps were baptized Catholics.

How could it possibly be good and loving to slaughter the first-born Egyptian children who did nothing wrong? And there’s that description in the book of Joshua of what Joshua, under the direction of God, did to the Canaanite cities of Jericho, Ai, and Hazor. “They butchered every living thing in the city, all the men and women, all the babies and old people, all the oxen and sheep and donkeys, not sparing anything that breathed” (Joshua 6:21).

At different times, we burned heretics and witches, forbade scientists to look through telescopes.

I don’t understand why God allows children to suffer. I cannot grasp why God created pain, why so much pain, such raging pain. I don’t know what is happening and what it means. As the Book of Job reveals, God doesn’t offer an explanation. God doesn’t explain.

There are two sayings of John XXIII that influence me. His motto was “In essentials unity, in nonessentials, liberty, in all things, charity.” The other saying is the reply John XXIII gave to the question “what should the Catholic religion do?” He answered “to make the human journey on earth less sad”—marvelous. There’s Theresa of Lisieux fascination statement that “in order to be holy, the most essential virtue is energy.”

One of my favorite Old Testament tales is the wrestling match between Jacob and God

(Genesis 32:24-31). Jacob wrestles with a divine being till the break of dawn. The divine being says “let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob says, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” The divine being says “you have contended with the divine and have prevailed. Jacob then asked “What is your name? The divine being answered “Why should you want to know my name?” With that he bade Jacob farewell and blessed him… And Jacob called the place Peniel: for “I have seen God face to face, and my life was spared.” Jacob boasted that he had wrestled with God and survived. What does it all mean?

When I examine my life, there have been a few unmistakable and precious moments when God revealed Himself. For example, there was a time when I was hurrying home, alone, shriving under a downpour of rain. Another time I was on a train staring thoughtlessly at a gray overcast sky. In both situations I suddenly felt a “holy sadness” accompanied by a yearning for the Eternal. I’ve written before how there were a couple of times when I felt, all of a sudden, and only for a few seconds, an experience of God. There was a special consciousness of the Divine Presence, an intuitive contact. These were what Thomas Merton called “low-grade mystical graces.” And Karl Rahner held that all people have these mystical moments. Indeed, Rahner. In the 1960s, famously said that the Catholic of the future will be a mystical or s/he won’t be anything at all.” Theologians speak of “the universal vocation to mysticism.”

The Lord leads each person on the individual’s own path to God. As Teresa of Avila pointed out, “Different people are led by different paths.” There is the variety of ways people encounter God. God treats us individually and differently. Each of us has a unique relationship with God. There are as many paths to God as there are people living in the world. But God divides His graces unequally. He does not give everything to everyone. To some He gives more, to some less. There are a couple of mysterious Bible quotes: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious; and I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy” (Ex.33:14). And there’s “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me” (Isa.65:1). How does one explain these?

God will draw near in His own time. God is not predictable. He is not bound by our rules. Yet, I sense He is closing in again, and I yearn to call out to Him.

The greatest destroyer of peace today

There is a famous photo from the Vietnam era of a teenage girl holding a flower up to a phalanx of National Guardsmen with their bayonets drawn during the 1967 anti-war protest in Washington D.C. The photo came to define the cause for peace. 

I think of that photo when I see the tireless marchers who go to Washington every year to march for life. They, too, are a few, protesting a system that promotes death. 

I think of that photo and I’m reminded of St. Mother Teresa, who delivered her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize 40 years ago.

Watch the video. A diminutive sister who lived among the poor, the sick and the dying is surrounded by the world’s culturally elite. It’s obvious that her plea to end abortion made the assembled dignities very uncomfortable. She wasn’t a professional speaker but she was an impassioned one, inspired by the Holy Spirit. She, too, was protesting a war. She was protesting  what St. John Paul II called the “war of the powerful against the weak” in his encyclical The Gospel of Life.

His vision was prophetic: “It is a problem which exists at the cultural, social and political level, where it reveals its more sinister and disturbing aspect in the tendency … to interpret crimes against life as legitimate expressions of individual freedom to be acknowledged and protected as actual rights.”

In a Commonweal interview, Pope Francis said: “In the world of finance, it has seemed normal to sacrifice [people], to practice a politics of the throwaway culture, from the beginning to the end of life. I’m thinking of prenatal selection. It’s very unusual these days to meet down syndrome people on the street because when the tomograph [scan] detects them, they are binned.”

In America, abortion is a multi-billion dollar business that takes the lives of more than 800,000 children every year. We subsidize it, we export it, and we permit it even up to birth.

But our political leaders are out of touch with the average person. A Marist Poll sponsored by the Knights of Columbus found “a strong majority of Americans wants to elect candidates who support substantial abortion restrictions and that most Americans still reject the Supreme Court’s reasoning in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case.”

According to the poll, “a notable proportion (41 percent) of those who identity as pro-choice are more likely to vote for candidates who support restrictions, as are more than nine in 10 who identify as pro-life (96 percent).” 

In her acceptance speech, St. Mother Teresa said that many people are concerned about children in India and Africa who die of malnutrition, “yet millions are dying deliberately by abortion, and this is the greatest destroyer of peace today.” She said a culture that encourages abortion inevitably becomes a culture of violence.  

“I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion because it is a war against the child—a direct killing of the innocent child,” she said. “And if we accept that a mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching people to love, but to use violence to get what they want.” 

Her words have come true.

In a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. in 1994, she expressed hope that America would become an example for the rest of the world, a place where all life is sacred. 

“If we remember that God loves us and that we can love others as He loves us, then America can become a sign of peace for the world,” she said. “From this country, a sign of care for the weakest of the weak—the unborn child—must go out to the world. If you become a burning light of justice and peace in the world, then really you will be true to what the founders of this country stood for.” That was her vision. Is it the vision of our political leaders?

Self-care is holy

In Luke Chapter 5, Jesus heals a man afflicted with leprosy. This passage falls in between Jesus calling the disciples to Himself and healing the paralytic. Right in the middle of all of this, Luke 5:16 states, “but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.”

Jesus Himself understood the importance of creating boundaries amidst His ministry and taking time to refresh Himself. We should look to His example, especially in our busy world today.

If we don’t take time to make sure that we are healthy and well, how can we expect to give of ourselves to others? A good friend always tells me, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” I am realizing more and more how true that really is.

We can only truly be present to others if we first take care of ourselves. This care may look different for each one of us. It helps to think of the things that refresh our soul. For me, it’s a good book, a long walk and making sure I am eating well and staying active. When I notice my focus slipping, or I start to get irritable, I know that I haven’t been fully caring for myself. I have to take a step back and do something that refreshes me, or else I won’t get what I need to do done. If I simply stare at the screen forcing the work to get done, it either won’t get done or it will get done poorly.

We want to give all we can to our lives at all times. We want to be fully present in our work life, in our social life and to the ones we love. But if we aren’t paying attention to what our bodies and minds need, it will become harder and harder to give others the attention they need from us.

We are doing others a disservice if we just push through these feelings, because they won’t be receiving us at our best or to our full capacity. Setting boundaries in our lives is of the utmost importance, especially now, when we are not only dealing with the normal stressors of everyday life, but also the added stress of a global pandemic, political upheaval and living through a new “unprecedented moment in time” every day.

It is more than understandable that we would need to take more time to care for ourselves during these days ahead, especially as we retreat from the holidays into the remainder of winter. We need to be increasingly understanding of when others say that something is just too much for them at this time. If we try and push others, instead of trusting and accepting their need to set boundaries, it could adversely affect all parties involved.

Lest I say it again, we are living in unprecedented times. We need to give ourselves some grace and give others the grace we wish would be bestowed upon us. Take the time. It will improve your life, and you can watch as it improves the lives of those around you. Be present, and when you can’t, say so and explain why. If we have the self-awareness to explain why we can’t be there fully for someone or something, it may give them the vocabulary to set boundaries as well. It may give them permission to do something they didn’t know they could do.

There is no rule book, but there is an example—“What would Jesus do?” He would retreat to the mountains to pray. That’s all the permission you need.

May We Appreciate the Passage of Time

The texts came chiming in from friends one after another as early as 3 pm on New Year’s Eve: “Happy 2021!” and “Soooo glad 2020 is coming to an end!” and “We finally made it!”

I responded to each in similar fashion, mentally replaying the challenges, too numerous to mention, that we had all faced. Even my oldest friend, who always checks in on January 1, barely said hello before uttering, “Goodbye and good riddance 2020!” as I pictured her flipping her hands in the air on her back deck in Georgia. We couldn’t help but rehash the year that had just passed, for what else was there to say now that 2020 had settled into our collective memories?

Time to move on, we decided. Time to bid farewell and time to look ahead. Yes, what a time this year was. Saying this felt odd to me though, as I was never one to wish the time away, preferring to hold onto the present and reflect on the past, all the while looking forward to the future but never wanting it to come at lightning pace. And still today, as my children anticipate the next episode of their favorite series and my students count down the days until the next vacation, I relish the moments of the here and now. This year, however, like so many others, I really was ready to wish that time away.

With all these references to the abstract idea of time, along with images of stopwatches ticking down the minutes of 2020 and the cuckoo clock that popped up on the Google doodle, I kept coming back to a line of prayer that our priest voiced in mid-December as he lit the rose candle of the Advent wreath: “May we appreciate the passage of time.”

Until then, I had never thought about pausing to appreciate the way time passes, especially during this year when it seemed time could not pass quickly enough. As our Advent season of waiting and hoping came upon us, it seemed all we wanted to do was hurry it along, not only in anticipation of Jesus’ coming on Christmas but to get as far from 2020 as we could—as fast as we could.

So how could we come to appreciate this time? I didn’t grasp it, until that time had indeed passed and we were on the other side of the year we wished away. For if we didn’t bear witness to it, what would we have missed? Our heightened concern for one another, our days apart that made coming together all the more special, our understanding of the importance of inclusion and gratitude, our enduring trust in God to lead us through each challenge. Ecclesiastes tells us that “He has made everything beautiful in its time”—and this was our time, along with the gift to make of it what we could, even if it was no more than an appreciation.

As the New Year’s messages slowed and my family and I shared our hopes for 2021, I vowed that this year, even if I don’t fulfill all my other goals and intentions, I would appreciate the passage of time.

How Father McGivney touched one family

Venerable Father Michael McGivney will be beatified during a special Mass October 31 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford. Earlier this year, Pope Francis signed a decree that recognized a miracle through Father McGivney’s intercession, allowing his beatification. Here is a story about how he touched one family.

Seven years ago, on August 14, the anniversary of the death of Venerable Father Michael McGivney, Phyllis Sullivan visited St. Thomas Church in Thomaston to pray to the priest who helped her family in their greatest need. It was the last parish the founder of the Knights of Columbus served at before dying of pneumonia in 1890 at 38 years old.

Mrs. Sullivan believed her youngest son Dennis survived a massive heart attack because Father McGivney answered their prayers and interceded before the Throne of God.

For many years, as a gesture of gratitude, she tended the McGivney family grave at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Waterbury, where the priest’s parents and his two brothers, who were priests in the Diocese of Bridgeport, are buried.

On October 29, 2006, Dennis, 41, went into cardiac arrest for 26 minutes after driving himself to Waterbury Hospital. Eighty percent of his heart was damaged. The doctors counted him as lost and yet…

When Sister Veronica Mary of the Sisters of Life arrived at the hospital and saw her brother’s condition, the thought came to her they should pray to Father McGivney. “I told my mother, ‘We need to go to the tomb of Father McGivney and pray for a miracle.’”

Sister left the emergency room with her brothers John and Jim and drove to the Church of St. Mary in New Haven, where the priest’s remains lie in a marble sarcophagus.

The group gathered around his tomb and prayed, begging Father McGivney to help save Dennis.

They stayed for noon Mass and when it ended, she was alone in the pew. “I prayed like I never prayed before,” she recalled. “And then I heard it.” It was a clear, distinct, unmistakable voice that said simply, “Tell me what I need to do.”

She knew immediately it was Father McGivney, and Sister Veronica, a former nurse, gave him specific instructions about the medication, the insulin drip, the stents and sugar levels. When she finished, the priest had left, and an amazing peace came over her.

“I sat up and thought, ‘Dennis is going to be all right.’”

When they were returning to the hospital, they received a call from a friend, who said, “You got your miracle. There’s no brain damage—he’s going to be OK.”

In the years that followed, Mrs. Sullivan visited the McGivney family grave. She planted flowers, she prayed, and she thanked Patrick and Mary McGivney, whose son had saved her son.

Dennis Sullivan died two years ago on July 1, twelve years after his miraculous recovery. At his funeral Mass, Father Jim Sullivan said, “Dennis’ life was completed in a beautiful way with those additional 12 years.”

During those 12 years, Dennis watched his daughter grow up, get accepted to college, pursue a career, and give him a grandson. He lived those 12 years to the fullest, in hope and in gratitude for the gift God had given him.

On that August 14, when Moira Sullivan Shapland took her mother to St. Thomas Church, something special happened.

She, her daughters Erin, Hannah and Margaret, and Mrs. Sullivan walked into the empty church lit only by the light from the stained glass windows. They knelt in a pew near the altar and prayed.

“Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my mother turn her head toward the aisle,” Moira recalls. “She kept looking and then nodded and turned to me and said, ‘He seems so nice.’” The rest of them saw no one, but Mrs. Sullivan was smiling and staring at the altar.

A few moments later, she turned to Moira and repeated, “He seems so nice.” Then, she told them about the young dark-haired priest who walked to the altar and genuflected, and as he was leaving, stopped at their pew and smiled at the women.

When they got to the car, Moira reached for her copy of “Parish Priest,” the biography of Father McGivney, and showed her his picture and asked, “Is this who you saw?”

Mrs. Sullivan tapped the picture with her finger and said, “That’s him!”

Morning Ride

In this time of working from home, distance learning, and “remoting in,” I consider myself fortunate for the opportunity to drive to work every morning. It’s not just because I truly enjoy my job and am thankful to have it, but because the process of getting there eases me into the routine each day, something I was unable to do for almost six months.

Like so many last spring, my 25-minute morning commute from home to work changed to my 25-step morning walk from the kitchen to the family room where I set up a Chromebook and welcomed students on Zoom. Convenient? Sure. Satisfying? Not really. It was not the rising before dawn that I missed or the hastily-eaten breakfast and certainly not the parkway traffic. It was the journey itself—and what I didn’t experience when I wasn’t on it.

Much of my ride to school takes me through a generally rural community whose winding roadways seem to effortlessly inspire peaceful reflection, even at 7 am. Such a perfect setting for a decade of the Rosary, a moment of meditation, a short podcast on Spotify, and a chance to witness God’s glory in the continual change of seasons.

Driving the same route every day for many years, I have tried to notice even the smallest transformations, especially in nature. I didn’t realize until recently though how much I missed not only the emergent greening of front lawns last spring or the gradual blooming of tiny buds but also the time each day to acknowledge it. This all happened, of course, but I didn’t have the privilege of seeing the arrival of new life. This autumn, I vowed to appreciate its departure. As the leaves that appeared from those tiny buds during quarantine transformed in their brilliance and began to wither, I traveled those roads once more, awed.

I saw, as if for the first time, the magnificent crimson of burning bushes lining the walkway of an old Colonial, the mini pumpkins settled into the crevices of a meandering stone wall, and the blanket of golden leaves forming a perfect circumference around a longstanding maple. This drive, consistent though never boring, awakens me to how God is revealed in nature’s beauty and how He gives us what we need just when we need it. For me, it is those 25 minutes, those quiet moments of solitude and reflection which, when absent, left me with an emptiness that has just now been restored.

Like the branches of the tallest trees, some already bare and extending skyward, we reach for respite in these times, finding comfort in the routines that once appeared mundane. I for one am happy to settle in and enjoy the ride.

The forgotten value of suffering

I’ve never been a person who could endure suffering without complaining. Even a little suffering. I wish I could learn from saints like Padre Pio, who lived with the stigmata for 50 years, or Therese of Lisieux, who died at 24 from tuberculosis after terrible suffering.

Or the 14-year-old martyr St. Jose Sanchez del Rio, who defied the Mexican military with the cry of “Viva Christo Rey!” as they led him to his death. Or St. Josephine Bakhita, a religious sister who had been kidnapped from Sudan at 7 years old and was sold into slavery. I look at their lives and realize that kind of strength could only come from Christ.

We’ll all suffer in this life. No one is exempt. It’s part of the human experience, a result of original sin and living in an imperfect world. Suffering leads some people to anger and others to despair. Suffering leads many to atheism, and a privileged few to a deeper understanding of Christ’s Passion.

Suffering is a mystery we’ll never fully grasp in this life; however, it’s a spiritual certainty that our suffering offered to God can do miraculous things. I first encountered that idea a long time ago, not in my college theology classes but in my fourth-grade catechism lessons with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Shelton.

“Offer your suffering to Jesus, and he’ll do amazing things with it,” Sister told us young Catholics. “If you scrape your knee, offer it up. If you have a stomach ache, offer it up,” she said. It may sound juvenile, but Sister taught us that our little sufferings when united with Christ’s Passion would do wonderful things for people who needed help. Years later, I realize she was right.

Back then, I wasn’t sure what the “amazing things” could possibly be, and even now I sometimes wonder, although I’m certain I’ll find out in the next life and never regret offering up my pains, sorrows and trials. I’ll probably wish I’d done more for Jesus.

That doesn’t mean I welcome suffering. I dread it, especially when the pain has been excruciating, like that case of shingles or those kidney stones. My first words weren’t “I offer it up,” but rather a desperate plea something like, “Get rid of this pain PLEASE because I can’t take it!”

The coronavirus pandemic has been a time of suffering for many people, who faced illness, anxiety, loneliness, abandonment, or dying without their loved ones.

You don’t have to look far to see the face of suffering in the world. One of my friends spends the day in pain and he’s not even sure of the cause. Another cares for a child with cancer. Another is carrying the cross of addiction. Another is living with someone else’s addiction. Another is a caregiver for a spouse with chronic illness. Another lost her job and is facing eviction.

My mother did her share of suffering. She had cancer and eventually developed Alzheimer’s. What set her apart was she never complained. I’m convinced her suffering helped bring down a lot graces for family members and friends who might otherwise never have known Christ.

When I look at the picture of the Little Flower on my bureau and recall her short life, I ask for only a fraction of the strength she had. That strength, of course, came from Jesus, who though divine took the form of a man and shared our suffering … and embraced it so we could have eternal life.

Our only hope lies in Christ. Sometimes he shares his cross with us, and sometimes we share our cross with him. Years after Sister told us about the redemptive value of suffering, I read St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, in which he said, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…”

Such a curious concept, such a wonderful concept that another person’s conversion or salvation can be made possible through our willingness to carry a cross.

There’s only one place to go when your life is afflicted with pain, emotional or physical. Sit in front of the tabernacle. Words aren’t even necessary. Jesus understands everything. And always remember to turn to Our Lady of Sorrows, who endured suffering in a way we never will and who is always there to comfort us.

With Gratitude

“So, what have you been up to?” I asked my neighbor when we happened to meet at the mailbox one misty afternoon last week. The rain had been falling most of the day, and it was a welcome break to venture out, even just fifty feet from the front door. After sharing the usual quarantine talk about playing Bingo on Zoom and cleaning out the garage—again, she said, “Oh, and I started a gratitude journal.” Well, she had one up on me. “It’s just the little things,” she said, “but I can’t believe how much I’m finding to be grateful for.” I nodded, skeptical, as I wasn’t feeling all too grateful at the moment.

A typically positive and upbeat person, I had found myself struggling. While trying to keep students engaged during distance learning, I felt devastated for my seniors missing out on graduation. When talking to a friend, I heard the lamentation in her voice over the loss of contact with her disabled brother, who had become despondent in his group home without her weekly visits. Like so many others, my family had suffered illness, job loss, missed milestones, and lost opportunities due to the pandemic, though I knew there were others facing far worse than we were. The countless little things that comprised the mundane yet beautiful life we had just months ago seemed so far out of reach.

But what did my neighbor say? “It’s just the little things…” While I was acknowledging all that we were missing, she focused on all that we weren’t—all that we had before our lives shifted so abruptly but still continue to have, the ones that don’t change in the midst of our suffering but are actually enhanced because of it.

Still thinking about her journal, I remembered a line from a Jane Kenyon poem about enjoying life’s moments that I often share with students: “I ate cereal, sweet milk, ripe, flawless peach. It might have been otherwise. . . . I took the dog uphill to the birch wood.” Though we don’t have a dog, the sight of our cat sleeping lazily by the front door in a sliver of sunshine makes me smile, as does my first sip of hot coffee each morning, the sounds of playful banter from my husband and daughters as they work on their “Star Wars” puzzle, the smell of lilacs blooming at last in the backyard. Such riches, such blessings.

I found myself thinking: When we look back on this season of challenges, what will we remember most? Though the difficulties we faced may linger, it is the gratitude that I hope endures. As our lives begin to recapture some normalcy, I want to embrace the way we notice what is often missed, the way we celebrate those “little things,” the way we pause to feel the goodness of God’s graces surrounding us, sometimes in the most unexpected moments, like the chance meeting of a next-door neighbor, who reminded me that even a quick trip to the mailbox can shift our perspective—with gratitude.

Nana, Papa, everybody up there, pray for us!

Sometimes I look up to heaven in frustration and grumble about the way things are in the world, my country and—let me not forget—my family.

I have relatives and family members who are so far from Christ that I find myself complaining, “Mom! Dad! What the heck are you doing up there? Stop enjoying yourself and think about us down here! How about some prayers! Get to work, PLEASE!”

Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating…but not much. I’m sure they’re praying for the rest of us, but just in case they’re asleep on the job or not giving 150 percent, I want to remind them to get going because if there’s anything our world needs now more than ever, it’s prayer. Don’t believe what the secularists and the media say. Pray works.

Down in this vale of tears, we need all the help we can get, which is why I try to spend as much time as possible appealing to the saints for their intercession because they understand firsthand how much life can be a struggle and they have a direct line to God.

I’m always asking the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph for help, along with my own group of personal favorites, who include my guardian angel, St. Michael, St. John Paul II, St. Ann and St. Joachim, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Joseph Barsabbas, Blessed Margaret of Castello, St. Martha, Venerable Fr. McGivney, Blessed Solanus Casey, Servant of God Vincent Capodanno, St. Padre Pio, Servant of God Chiara Corbella Petrillo, St. Jeanne Jugan, St. Josephine Bakhita, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Blessed Mother Clelia, St. Joanna, St. Mother Teresa, Servant of God Dorothy Day and St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who lost her family in a small pox epidemic.

I try to pray the Litany of Saints every day and petition everyone from Saints Peter and Paul to St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Mary Magdalen to “pray for us.” Last week, I had another idea that I thought might help during this time of crisis. I sat down at my typewriter and started to put together what I call a “Litany of Family and Friends” to my deceased loved ones.

The private litany I compiled included grandmothers, grandfathers, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, classmates, coworkers, nuns, and priests like Father Ed Coyne, who helped countless people in recovery when he was alive. Pray for us!

My litany also included teachers, professors and friends who made a difference in my life, including the most devout journalist I ever knew, the late Hugh Mulligan of Ridgefield. Pray for us!

If they did so much while they were alive, just imagine what they can do now. I’m convinced they’re waiting for us to call on them, so I encourage you to compile your own list and appeal to them by name for their intercession…every day.

I ask for help not just from saintly people I knew, but also from the less than perfect ones, and there are many. I figure they’re like the bungling angel Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and are always looking for opportunities to earn their wings.

The veil between heaven and earth is a thin one, and our beloved deceased family members and friends are always praying for us. While I never doubt that, it gives me enormous consolation to ask them for prayers.

Like Jesus and Our Lady, they’re watching over us, directing us and praying for the graces we need during these troubled times. Only when we see them again in heaven will we understand all they did for us during our earthly exile, and we’ll owe them a great debt of gratitude.

One last thought. Don’t forget your grandmothers. I’m convinced a grandmother’s prayers are one of the greatest forces in the universe. Don’t believe what the scientists, the secularists, the media and the atheists tell you. Politics, science and the press are nowhere near as powerful.

Someday when Jesus is handing out the Most Valuable Player awards, I bet there will be a long line of mothers and grandmothers standing in line to be honored. For all eternity, they’ll be recognized for what they accomplished for us with their prayers.

Disssolution into the Universe

Atheism has emerged in our times as an outlook held by many people from diverse backgrounds, especially the young. The claim is made that atheism equips people to live life more freely and fully.

A common idea among atheists is that death is a return to Nature. Death involves a dissolution into the universe. One becomes one with the stars, the plants, the animals, the whole cosmos. In 1819, the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, published a book titled The World as Will and Idea. Schopenhauer wrote that in death the “Universal Mother Earth” receives humans into her arms. Also, according to Schopenhauer: “if one knocked on graves, and asked the dead whether they wished to rise again, they would shake their heads”.

More specifically, the view is that, after death, the atoms of one’s body will eventually reveal themselves perhaps in the brilliant yellow of a dandelion, in the wetness of a rain drop, or in the throat of a giraffe, and certainly in the hearts of some people as well. It is therefore appropriate to scatter one’s ashes in the wind or on the sea, or to bury them in the forest at the roots of an ancient tree, ideally in a biodegradable urn. There are owners of some forested areas who, for a price, allow people to bury remains on their property. The family and friends of the deceased can console themselves with the thought that the organic remains of the deceased person will one day reach out to the sun in the whispering leaves of the trees.

Thus, today ashes are strewed over the sea, or swept from the top of a mountain by the wind, or buried in “forest cemeteries.”

The Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book No Death No Fear writes: “everyday I look deep at everything around me: the trees, the hills. I see myself in them and I know I shall not die, I will continue in many other forms.”

In the movie Houseboat, Cary Grant, in a scene where a boy asks him what happens when people die, Grant gives a dissolution into the universe response.

Today’s obituaries commonly express the idea of the self’s return to nature. Above the obituary is not the cross, but a broad-branched tree.

I am not the least bit consoled by the idea that my physical energy may live on in strawberries or Rhinos. Nor am I satisfied that “something” goes on and that I will continue in many other forms. I want to live on in my own person. I have no interest in being recycled in a cosmic way, like plastic bottles. The meaning of “dissolution into the universe” would seem to be that we live, we, die, we become compost, and all those vitamins, minerals, and nutrients help a path of ragweed grow big and strong and cause allergy problems for countless sufferers. Is that consolation?

The Christian Creed says: “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Our bodies are destined for resurrection. John 6:40: “Everyone who believes in me has everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” The resurrection is not a metaphor, for example, that the dead live on in the memory of their loved ones. The resurrection of Jesus was the beginning of the General Resurrection (cf. Acts 26:28).

Christ is the first fruits of the great harvest that is to follow and there will be the annihilation of death itself. The omnipotence of God “will swallow up death for ever and will wipe away the tears for all faces” (Isaiah 25:18).

I will be made into “Immortal Diamond”, not some fertilizer for the universal greenhouse.

Let me leave you with something to think about. Karl Rahner, the elite theologian of the 20th century, stated: “No one is in danger of defending as a heresy if he maintains the view that the single and total perfection of a human being in body and soul takes place immediately after death”

(Theological Investigations, XVII, 120). In other words, Rahner is saying that being a human being calls for the union of body and soul. This calls for a body immediately after death. This body will be perfected at the General Resurrection. I can’t think of anything that I would like less than to be a disembodied spirit.

A man you don’t meet everyday

They called him Hambone.

His real name was James, but few called him that. The priests at Assumption Church did, as did the teachers at the Maple Avenue School. At home he was Jimmy. Everywhere else he was Hambone.

As a child I resented my dad’s nickname. I thought it made him seem small, like he was a joke, like they were all having a laugh at his expense. Over time, I came to realize that it was a good nickname. It was a great nickname, in fact, capturing something about Jim Hennessey’s personality that got to the heart of who he really was.

He was a ham. He loved to be the center of attention, whether it was cracking wise in the back of a classroom or holding court in the little bar business he and my mother built over 30 years. His voice could boom like an opera singer’s when he wanted it to. He could quiet a crowd. He could hold a room.

The bar business is tricky. To succeed you need to have people skills. Jim did well because he cared about the drinkers and seekers who gathered in his place. Many considered it a second home. Some treated it as their primary residence.

But it was Hambone’s joint and he ran it his way. If he wanted to give an elderly patron a permanent discount, he did it. The break wasn’t transferable. If, in your generosity, you wanted to buy an old timer a drink, you paid full price for it.

And Hennessey’s wasn’t a place where welcomes were overstayed. When dad felt you’d had enough, he sent you on your way, often calling the cab himself.

“Bye now,” he’d say while washing your glass and mopping up your spot at the bar. “Safe home.”

Some drinkers consider it an injustice when they’ve been cut off. They argue. You didn’t argue with Hambone. It would’ve been like arguing with the priest about your penance. What good could come of it?

If your drinking was becoming a problem, Hambone was someone who could help. He called alcoholism “the Irish Disease.” He knew the cure because he’d taken it himself. He’d sobered up before he bought the bar.

For all his success, my dad went to work six and often seven days a week. He didn’t do it because he loved cutting lemons and pulling pints. He did it because he loved his family. He’d rather have been a historian or an archaeologist, maybe even a draftsman like his own father. He was an insatiable reader and a skilled sketch artist.

“Matt,” he said. “Sometimes when people are talking to me across the bar my mind is a million miles away.”

When I got behind the bar myself I knew exactly what he meant. It’s a long day’s work when you’re paid to be a captive audience. Only then did I understand what he sacrificed for us.

Hambone wasn’t the only Morristown original with a nickname. His running buddies were all called things like Itsy or Snuffy or Doc or Muzz. He spoke of neighborhood guys like “Fooey” Cullen and “Dingy” Foran. All the brothers in the Kenny family were for some reason called “Darb.” The entire Pelligrino family was known as “Green Bananas.” One fellow in town was nicknamed “Bungalow.”

“You know why they called him that?” my dad asked me once.

“No.”

“Because there was nothing upstairs.”

Hambone loved a good wake. He was what you might call a regular. When he wasn’t hanging out at Hennessey’s, he was hanging out at Doyle’s, the local funeral home that his cousins owned. He loved wakes because he loved people.

He never missed an evening of remembrance for someone he knew, and there weren’t many people in Morristown he didn’t know.

When someone died, dad usually got the news before everyone else. He had the catbird seat in the upstairs office at Doyle’s. Bartenders and undertakers, he liked to say, rarely hurt for customers. People drink in good times and bad. Death comes for us all.

It came for Hambone on April 17. He was 85. As much as he loved a good wake, he won’t be getting one. You know the reason why. It’s a pity. He would’ve had no problem holding the downstairs room at Doyle’s. I wonder if it would’ve held him.

Jim Hennessey was a local legend, a ham for all seasons, a man you don’t meet every day. I was blessed to call him my father.

Bye now, dad. Safe home.

Will we ever take these things for granted again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We Had God’s View”: Diocese Blessed in Flyover Mission

TRUMBULL—Clear skies and light winds made Tuesday the perfect day for an inspiring mission of hope and healing—abroad a Cessna 172. Accompanied by the Blessed Sacrament encased in a monstrance and a statue of the Blessed Mother, Father Brian Gannon, pastor of St. Theresa Church in Trumbull, and associate pastor Father Flavian Bejan bestowed prayers of protection as the plane flew above the Diocese of Bridgeport, a spectacular flight meant to calm the faithful amid growing anxiety over the coronavirus.

Departing mid-morning from Sikorsky Memorial Airport, the four-seater traveled the border of Fairfield County, north through Newtown and Danbury, down to Stamford and the shoreline, and over Trumbull, before returning to Stratford. This whole experience, Father Gannon said, was a call for God’s grace to enter our souls.

“We offered blessings on all people of the diocese,” he said. “It wasn’t just a bird’s-eye view. We had God’s view.”

This mission, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Council 8013, was the third of its kind for pilot John DeCastra, son-in-law of Tom Monks, a member of the St. Theresa Knights. A lieutenant in the U.S. Coast Guard, DeCastra earlier this month initiated similar flyovers in the dioceses of Camden, NJ and Harrisburg, Penn., taking time out from his position at a base in Atlantic City to inspire others.

“He uses his talents for God,” Monks said of his son-in-law. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, something you never forget.”

Prior to take-off, Father Gannon led a brief ceremony in the airport’s hanger, praying for a safe flight as those present knelt before the Eucharist. Dressed in the traditional black cassock and white surplice, he also wore a yellow gold cope, a cape-like vestment for special liturgies outside of Mass, and a biretta, a three-sided black cap. “I wanted to wear the proper vestments (for the occasion),” Father Gannon said. “We can never pay God back for all He has given us, but we can give Him the best from us.”

A thousand feet over Fairfield County, the priests held close the monstrance and Blessed Mother statue, continuously reciting prayers for people afflicted with COVID-19 as well as blessings on those striving to find a cure, healthcare workers, and anyone facing anxiety.

“God has an avenue to reach us,” said Dominick Angiolillo, Deputy Grand Knight from St. Theresa who was present when the Cessna took flight. “I believe this ‘flyover blessing’ is comforting. This is a message of hope and peace.”

Adding to their intentions for the protection and good health of God’s people, Father Gannon encouraged everyone to turn to Him in these uncertain times.

“When we feel fear and suffering, we remember how the Lord suffered in the flesh,” he said. “He walked as we do. We trust in Him—the source of all love and purpose—and feel His presence now.”

By Emily Clark

The best advice I ever got

I gave my public speaking class a homework assignment to write a speech on the topic, “The best advice I ever got.” Students know a lot more than adults give them credit for…especially if they got their wisdom from their parents. OK, I admit I’m biased. I’m convinced that more young people should listen to their parents, although I probably didn’t as much as I should have.
We all have advice we’d like to share, some good, some bad. Some of us can’t stop giving advice—to the chagrin of our family members and friends—and many of us don’t listen to advice anyway.
I’ve certainly heard enough of it from my mother, my father, my grandmother, my teachers, priests, professors, the pope, every boss I’ve had, and countless blowhards I’ve encountered throughout my life who shall go unnamed. And I’ve given my share of it to my kids, who occasionally listened, and my wife, who rarely listened. The older I get, the more they want to give ME advice.
My brain is teeming with advice, most of which I let go in one ear and out the other, as my mother would say.
My father, who lived the last 25 years of his life sober, was always passing along AA wisdom like “A day at a time” and “Live and let live.” The advice that got him sober and kept him sober was pretty simple: “Don’t drink and go to meetings.”
One valuable tip I often ignored came from my stock broker, who said, “Buy low and sell high.” Easier said than done. It was usually too late by the time I bought and even later by the time I sold. My 401(k) still hasn’t fully recovered from the trauma.
Throughout history, sages like Ben Franklin spouted adages like “He who lies down with dogs shall rise with fleas,” “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” “We may give advice, but we cannot give conduct,” “Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices,” and this classic, “There are three faithful friends—an old wife, an old dog and ready money.”
Another source of wisdom is the Book of Proverbs, which contains gems like “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” And this timeless proverb, which all husbands should memorize: “A wife of noble character is worth far more than rubies.”
I recently bought a book titled, “The Best Advice I Ever Got, by Katie Couric, who observed, “I never learned anything when I was talking.”
As I leafed through the pages, I found advice from many famous people, including the usual platitudes like “Do your best,” “Don’t be afraid,” “Work hard,” “Take risks,” and “Follow your dreams.” A few tidbits left me scratching my head in amazement. For example, Bill Cosby prophetically said, “Don’t be your own worst enemy.” As my mother would say, “He should have listened to his own advice.
Before his fall from grace, Matt Lauer said, “Sometimes you gotta go off course.” He sure did. Valerie Plame—remember her?—opined, “Life is unfair.” Echoing Socrates, Ellen DeGeneres said, “Be true to yourself.” And pre-presidential Donald Trump said, “Know everything you can.”
I was amazed that not one person mentioned God. However, one famous actor who isn’t afraid to mention God is Denzel Washington. In his commencement address at Dillard University, he told graduates, “Put God first! Put God first in everything you do!” That’s certainly worth remembering.
The best advice I ever got is better than everything in Katie Couric’s book. It’s a simple and yet life-altering piece of wisdom. It’s advice I try to remember every day: “ALL the answers lie in the tabernacle.” One more time. ALL the answers lie in the tabernacle. Not a few, not some, not many. ALL.
Are you troubled about money, your marriage, your kids, your job, your health, your country? Are you sick or depressed or unhappy or confused or lonely? Sit in front of the tabernacle. Talk to Jesus in the silence and then listen to Jesus in the silence, and he will speak to your soul.
All the answers lie in the tabernacle. Go there even if you don’t think you’re looking for answers because you’ll find consolation, peace and joy. You’ll find everything you need.
“All the answers lie in the tabernacle” is the best advice I ever got…or gave.

Time changes the places that knew us

March is such a welcome month. There is the quickening that glows with promise, life triumphant. The first migrant robins and red-winged blackbirds arrive, and soon the returning birds will sing their ancient songs. Blue deepens in the sky, and a violet dusk folds gently over the earth and fades slowly. A line of geese is likely to be seen returning north. Another spring begins.

Yet, almost three months that make up this year have already passed. I believe we are allotted a certain period of time in this world. “And in Your book were written all the days that were ordained for me” (Psalm 139:16). As we get older, the days seem to get used up quickly, one by one. If I could stretch out the days like a rubber band, I would pull them out and out – and out!

How small a period time we share. This drums the certainty into one’s mind—the unique treasure of each moment; to take each day and treat it carefully; to savor the moments.

For me, March and Spring are times when the past comes to life again, vanished places, faces and voices. A while ago, to test my memories against the reality, I went back to my old block and neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. My home was a four-room flat. The rooms led into one another and thus were called railroad flats. There were six such flats in my building which was three stories high.

That flat left memories of pleasant excitement, of happy adventures, of warm sleep on howling winter nights, and joyous awakenings on summer mornings. I wonder about all the lives that have been in those rooms. How many lives have the rooms sheltered down the long years before welcoming my family? Who lived there since we left? How many? Were they happy there? I’ve prayed that things went well with them. Those railroad flat rooms were rooms in which some of the best things in my life took place.

There are the names of streets that marked the boundaries of my youth—Stockholm, Onderdonk, Gates. From Seneca Ave., one could see the distant spires of New York City. I walked to school every school day, and I can remember store by store, home by home, on those familiar streets I walked.

Time changes the places that knew us. I think everyone revisiting any scene of childhood invariably feels how smaller everything looks. The tree my brother and me used to climb is no longer so tall. The little grocery store my mother used to send me when she discovered she was out of butter, or rice or baking soda is gone. The vacant lot where I played fungo has apartments on it. Today, the kids on my block are Black. “Things are all changing; the world’s rearranging” (Willie Nelson duet song)

I recall those dear friends of childhood who were my elementary school classmates. To think of them can bring tears to my eyes.

I find myself remembering small events, so small I’m surprised to remember them. Katie sitting on the stoop; the girl with the mouth that turned up at the corners when she smiled; a drizzly November day; jump-rope chants; sounds of boys playing punch ball in the street.

There’s those giants of my childhood, the people who loved me and shaped me, who taught me things. How they live on. Above all, it is my mother who lives on in me.

How well I remember the melodies of my childhood:

Smile the while you kiss me sad adieu
When the clouds roll by I’ll come to you…
So wait and pray each night for me
Till we meet again.

“Night and day, you are the one, only you beneath the moon and under the sun.”

That Brooklyn neighborhood had become my place, that spot on earth which, as Horace says: “above most others ridet mihi.” It was the spot that nurtured me.

The years have spilled since Brooklyn. We move on, but the past is always with us. When I dip back into the past, I have a sense of something hidden at work—a God who works secretly and humbly. I believe a benign Providence was at work, a mysterious love and protector.

Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

There was God’s hidden but attentive care. “I greet Him the days I meet Him,” wrote Gerard

Manley Hopkins, “and bless when I understand.”

Oft, in the stilly night
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Fond Memory brings the light
Of other days around me:
The smiles, the tears
Of boyhood’s years,
The words of love then spoken;
The eyes that shone,
Now dimm’d and gone,
The cheerful hearts now broken!
(Thomas Moore, “Oft, In the Stilly Night”)

I sigh for lost years, its vanished summers. Those dear, dead days.