Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

When Jesus passes by, lives change. Even people who don’t realize who he is will change because Jesus can do all things. Some people who spotted him during the Eucharistic procession last month probably thought, “There go those crazy Catholics again,” but in some way they’ll be changed by the encounter, too.

At the end of the Mass of Thanksgiving for the Eucharistic Renewal, Bishop Frank Caggiano carried the Eucharistic King down the aisles of the arena at Fairfield University, filled with several thousand faithful.

As Jesus passed them in a magnificent monstrance, old men fell to their knees, women wept, children waved, people made the Sign of the Cross and raised their hands in praise or pointed their cellphones to capture a photo. Some blew kisses, others bowed their heads or held their hands over their heart.

With the eyes of faith they saw a king. The King. Imagine for a moment, how happy Jesus must have been to see so many people giving him their hearts and homage.

I’ve watched a video of that procession dozens of times, and each time I’m moved because I see something new in the many faces looking at Jesus with adoration. I sent the video to my friends and family members, some of whom aren’t Catholic. Many didn’t respond, some opened it and others seemed to say, “That’s nice, so?”

It must have been the same when Jesus walked the Earth. Some recognized him immediately for who he is. Do you remember that annoying Canaanite woman, who kept wailing “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!” because her daughter was possessed. Jesus ignored her and then rebuffed her and then gave her what she wanted—which he’d always intended to do—and told her she had great faith.

The Mass was a reminder that we’ve been given a gift of immeasurable value, that pearl of great price Jesus talked about. It’s a gift the rest of the world doesn’t understand, so it’s our job to help them.

At the Mass, many people shared stories of their faith journeys with me. God touched their lives in a profound way, and they had a personal encounter with Christ, which is where faith begins—in the heart. From there, it spreads and becomes such a powerful force it can’t be stopped. It has to be shared, or you’ll burst because of the joy it generates.

People told me about their love of the Eucharist, their love of the Church, their love for the priests, deacons and religious who made a difference in their lives.

Barbara Scioscia Reed, who belongs to St. Margaret Shrine in Bridgeport, shared memories of her mother, Betty, whom she drove to Mass at Holy Rosary Church with her friends in their 90s. When that parish closed, Barbara took the group of seniors to St. Margaret Shrine because Deacon Don Foust was so welcoming.

“I felt empty after my mother passed,” Barbara said, but her new faith community sustained her.

Gina Fleming of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Weston recalled her mother, Maria Grazia, who planted the seed of faith in her but tragically died when her daughter was six.

“Today I am very devoted to the Sacred Heart,” she said. “I am here because Jesus is my brother, my friend, my everything, and I want everyone to know about him.”

Tuck Colangelo, who has been a parishioner at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Stratford for 42 years, praised the many priests who kept him on the straight and narrow, especially Father Nick Pavia and the current pastor, Father Peter Towsley.

“Every priest has taught me something,” he said. “I need all the help I can get… and I’m getting it.”

Michael Shea said he was leaving the celebration a different person. “I walked in with doubt but I’m leaving with hope and connectedness.”

Think about this. That same Jesus who went up and down the aisles, knew the stories, the sorrows and the hopes of every person in that arena. They looked at him with longing, and he looked back at them with love.

One last note: A special person in my video is a little boy in a red shirt no more than six years old, who fell to his knees as soon as Bishop Caggiano brought Jesus out to the crowd. And at the end of the procession, the boy was still on his knees when Jesus finally reached him. Jesus saw that, too.

Commencement (n.): a start; a beginning; the act or instance of commencing; the day for conferring degrees or diplomas. I love the power of words, but I grapple with this one each June, intrigued that a student’s graduation—the culmination of their years of hard work—is also called commencement. One cannot enjoy the beginning of one thing, however, without an end to another, the contemplative caveat of our cyclical lives. It’s one I’ve been preparing for over these last few weeks as my daughter Elizabeth, our youngest child, prepared for her commencement.

Early that afternoon, she zipped the gown, adjusted the cords, and straightened the cap, decorated with sparkling letters and tiny photos of longtime friends. As she gave a final glance in the mirror, I peeked in beside her. My mind filled with images of that timid toddler with soft ringlets as the smiling face of my confident graduate reflected back at me. “Ready to go?” she asked, interrupting my momentary flashbacks and heading for the front door. Not sure that I was, still I returned her smile, and we stepped outside together.

As a high school teacher, I’ve attended countless commencements, telling students and often their parents (who feel as bittersweet and nostalgic as I did last Monday afternoon) that this really is a commencing as the word implies, for the cliché is true about the future being theirs. But with my own child? My youngest? It was not so easy. I reminded myself to heed those same words as I climbed the bleachers with my family and settled in beside our friends on that partly sunny day. Though the bittersweet emotions and nostalgia could not be ignored, I felt something stronger as I watched these graduates process in: hope.

Their childhood was defined the struggles of a worldwide pandemic and tragedy in communities nearby and around the world, but on this day, their faces shone with joy and brilliance no late afternoon sun could ever match. I have seen kindness, hope, and empathy in the character of Elizabeth’s friends and classmates, our neighbors’ children and the ones I taught in religious ed. Though occasionally wistful, they are more than prepared to allow this time to end and another to begin, and it is our time to let them show us what they can do, as hard it is might be to let them go.

As each name was called and each graduate sent forth, I remembered the words our deacon spoke at Mass that Sunday: “For all students who are completing their academic year, that they may use the knowledge and skills they attain to serve God’s people in truth and justice. We pray to the Lord.” Though they are not all Catholic, I see in them a desire to do just that. Graduation is the moment when they begin—they commence—to live what they have learned, and hopefully, with God as their guide, to do so with infinite love and eternal hope.

Elizabeth accepted her diploma, crossed the stage, and later, with synchronized precision, joined her classmates in turning the tassels and tossing the caps. Graduation has ended, but their future has commenced.

Miracles happen when we sit before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. We get answers we need, we receive the comfort we desire, we have a friend who listens to us … and we’re healed. Yes, miraculous things happen.

Before she entered the Missionary Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and Mary Immaculate, Anna Rodriguez had a personal encounter with the Eucharistic Lord that inspired her to leave her job, and her boyfriend, for the religious life.

“I was before the Blessed Sacrament, and I wondered, ‘What am I feeling?’” she said. So she asked, “Dear Lord, what am I going to do?”

A lover of horses, she immediately thought of the blinders they wear in the mountains, so they can stay focused and not be distracted by the cliffs.

A voice told her, “Put the frame on just like you put on your horse. Look forward and not to the side, and I will be there.’”

“That’s when I said, ‘the Lord wants me to be a sister.’” Forty-two years later, she is still focused on the Eucharistic Lord, serving as the mother of her convent in Bridgeport.

***

Marie Moura would take her grandson Johnathan to Eucharistic Adoration at St. Joseph’s chapel in Shelton.

At two, he developed a special friendship with Jesus. They talked to each other, they prayed together, and sometimes they just stared at each other lovingly.

“He loves to be close to Jesus on the altar and look up at him,” Marie said. “He would get Rosary beads and kneel where Jesus was on the altar. He’d look up and show him the Rosary and said, ‘Jesus, I’m praying the Rosary!’”

When he walked into the chapel, he’d spread his arms and say, “I love you this much, Jesus!”

“You could tell he’s in the presence of the Lord, and it’s amazing to watch. I learned so much from this little boy who has so much love for Jesus, just watching him praying and blowing kisses to Jesus.”

***

Brianna Farens was convinced she’d pursue a career in medicine like her father, Dr. John Farens.

Today, she is Sister Maria Antonia of the Holy Wounds of Jesus, a member of the cloistered religious order at Poor Clare Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe in New Mexico.

“All the while, my prayer life was deepening and intensifying,” she recalled. “I was spending more and more time before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and I just couldn’t get enough. Being before the Lord and gazing at him, caught up in his love, it felt like my heart could just leap out of my chest and go out to him. He was drawing me into this divine intimacy, and the only response I could make was that of totality, anything less would not satisfy.”

One evening during Adoration, “I heard Jesus calling me so clearly in the utmost depths of my heart to the cloister. In hearing this, it was like my innermost being was illumined, and it felt like I was on fire with peace, consumed by love.”

“It seemed like from the very place within me Our Lord drew out this call, there also came all my love and therefore my response,” she said. “This profound moment of realizing my vocation was simply an encounter of love: his love meeting mine.”

***

This account is from “Real People, Real Presence” compiled by Cardinal William Keeler.

“Where do I begin to tell about the most powerful experience I have had before the Eucharist? My story starts in the late 1970s, when as an unmarried teenager, I became pregnant. In a time of doubt, fear and confusion, I committed a sin that I will regret as long as I live—I aborted my unborn child.

“Years later, I stopped at a 100-year-old church in downtown Baltimore for Eucharistic Adoration … I had prayed to the Lord about my aborted child many times before. As I prayed for God’s forgiveness again, I suddenly had the feeling I was not alone. I called God’s name and asked, ‘Is that you?’ His answer was ‘Yes.’ At that moment, a shimmering, white being came down and sat beside me. For the next 15 minutes, he and I sat in each other’s presence. From him I sensed no anger or condemnation, simply warm, unconditional love and joy.

“Then, he left my side and went away. When I told a devout friend about what had happened, she believed (as I did) that I had received a great gift from God. He allowed me to feel his complete and total forgiveness for my sin so long ago. Do I love the Eucharist? Absolutely! I have no words to truly express the peace and joy it has brought into my life.”

The skeins of yarn. The piles of fabric. The boxes of buttons.

For years, my mother’s favorite pastime had been her handiwork. In addition to all the other roles she played, she had such finesse with her hands, knitting sweaters for my brothers and sewing dresses for me throughout our childhood. An original Halloween costume? She would sew it in days. A new baby in the family? She would knit a nursery blanket. Booties for the church fair? Done again, and again. Doll clothes, pillowcases, hats and scarves. My mother’s handiwork was her trademark, and everyone she knew benefitted from those careful stitches.

As a child, I would sit beside her, watching the swiftness of her fingers as she twirled the yarn or threaded the bobbin of her Singer sewing machine. She offered to teach me her craft many times, but I was not interested, preferring books and pencils to yarns and needles. That was her domain, and I was content to simply enjoy it. How the sweaters and dresses would appear from something so simple seemed like magic to me back then. Of course, it required talent, but even more so, patterns and patience, as her fingers moved, repetitively, one stitch at a time. Designs took shape, rows took form. Nothing could be rushed.

Frustrated, she might suddenly catch a dropped stitch. Though barely noticeable to someone else, my mother knew that mistake could change the whole pattern, the symmetry she desired. Even if it meant tearing out minutes—maybe hours—of otherwise careful work, she did, wanting that special piece to be deserving of the person for whom it was intended, especially if it was a child.

When each of her grandchildren came along, she had a quilt ready as their Christening gift. Though each pattern was unique, they all included crosses embedded in the design. Everything made with her hands was a reflection of herself, she knew, and thus, a reflection of God. Though she felt accomplished with a completed piece, her greatest enjoyment came in the process itself. It was mediative, she’d say, a spiritual discipline offering her the perfect time to pray.

Today, the hands that could knit and sew with such precision have been stilled by arthritis and a lack of focus, inevitable with an aging body and mind. It is harder and harder for her to hold a knitting needle and the old Singer has long been idle. Still, I sit beside her, no longer seeing the swiftness of yesteryear in her fingers but the wrinkles, blue veins, and scars from the stabs of a needle. Whereas the skeins of yarn and piles of fabric once helped define my mother’s life, now it is the creases in the palms of her hands that do, telling a lifetime of stories.

Just as her handiwork resulted in the tapestry of her creations, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.”

The remnants of her craft continue to hang in our closets and lay folded at the foot of her grandchildren’s beds, their patterns—and her legacy—a reminder of the patience and skill that come one stitch at a time.

Every time I read the New York Times ethics column, there seems to be a sticky situation about something or other, usually inheritances—or disinheritances, which are never a pleasant topic.

The ethical possibilities are endless. Someone got an inheritance and didn’t deserve it. Someone was denied an inheritance who deserved it. A father cut his daughter out of the will because she married a scoundrel. A daughter who cared for her parents got everything, while a son who did nothing got nada and filed a lawsuit. A generous son didn’t want his parents to know he was going to eventually share his inheritance with his brother, who was cut out of the will.

When it comes to wills, things get ugly fast, especially if they’re used for retribution.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Parable of the Prodigal Son. (I wonder what the Times ethicist would say about that story.) Over the years, I’ve encountered a few cases that were so similar to the parable it was uncanny: One guy asked for his inheritance, got it early and squandered it. As fate or fortune would have it, he got another inheritance and did the same thing. I also know people who deserved a generous inheritance but came away empty-handed from the lawyer’s office. When I said, “Give me my inheritance” to my father, he promptly responded, “What inheritance?” (It’s always wise to have low expectations.)

For some parents, a will is their last chance to get even with children who did them wrong or didn’t turn out the way Mom and Dad wanted. We’ve all heard the common threat, “I’m taking you out of the will!” In fact, I may have said it myself once or 200 times.

Then, there are the self-made parents who leave their kids nothing and give it all to the Sierra Club or the ACLU, just so their offspring don’t become slackers living off their parents’ money.

The father in Jesus’ parable had an entirely different approach and behaves so contrary to our standards of fairness. Jesus always seems to upset our sense of right and wrong by inserting mercy into the equation. The parable exemplifies God’s unconditional love for us. Even when we aren’t faithful, he will always forgive us and welcome us back.

However, to my thinking, the older brother in the parable presents a compelling case. What has always troubled me is his complaint to Dad: “Look, all these years I served you, and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.”

If the father was so generous, why didn’t he give his faithful son a goat? (This sounds like another quandary for the Times’ ethicist.) I don’t begrudge the prodigal son getting the fatted calf, the ring and the robe—not to mention all the money he spent on prostitutes and riotous living—but how about throwing the faithful son a bone?

Maybe the old man was so anxious about his lost son that he overlooked his loyal son. Or maybe he figured the son and his friends had been taking a goat now and then anyway. Or maybe the answer lies in his words of assurance: “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” A father who could be so generous to a son who squandered everything would surely not take the loyal son for granted.

But life is seldom like that. Everyone has a horror story when it comes to an inheritance, and an unfair or vindictive will can cause the kind of resentment that tears apart a family forever.

I’ve seen it, and I’ve known siblings who’ve gone to the grave without talking, all because of a will.

No one seems to get what they believe they deserve, although some get more than they actually deserve—and just keep laying waste to the family fortune.

I better keep reading that parable for guidance because more than once I’ve said to my wife, “I’m leaving everything to the dog!” I’ll follow the example of the late hotel magnate Leona Helmsley, who died and left $12 million to her Maltese poodle Trouble. Not to mention an estimated $8 billion for the care and welfare of other canines, who are still barking her praises at dog shelters.

When I tell my wife that’s my plan, she usually sputters, “Don’t worry. There won’t be much left, not even for the dog.”

Just before Easter, I had dinner with an old friend, who came up to Connecticut from Georgia for the holiday and two other remarkable occasions. A couple whom she had known for years had hit a rough patch a decade ago which nearly destroyed all they had built. Through enduring faith and commitment, they reunited and planned to exchange vows once again as a symbol of their steadfast love. But that’s not all. Their story is an extraordinary one.

After 12 years of marriage and three children, Wendy and Sam, who should have been sharing their happiest years, instead saw their relationship crumble. Personal suffering and job loss led to constant arguing, betrayal and, eventually, alcohol.

Though her love for him remained, Wendy gave Sam an ultimatum: quit drinking or leave. Sam chose the latter, unable to maintain sobriety. A separation, not a divorce, resulted, for as Catholics, neither could break the sacrament of marriage. Devastated, the family prayed for reconciliation.

Sam’s drinking only increased, however. Rehab helped, but he relapsed. The craving for alcohol tempted him; the faith he once had wavered. Though baptized, Sam had not received the sacraments of Holy Eucharist or Confirmation and did not feel the deep, spiritual connection to the Church that Wendy felt. But others did, and God was working through them to reach this broken man.

At his third attempt in rehab, Sam connected with a sponsor who led a local Catholic men’s group. They bonded. Sam could not have told you why at the time, but something changed. He fought the relapses and stuck to his recovery plan. Though not living with Wendy, he called her each night with an update—and she listened. Sam listened too, not only to her and his supporters, but through them, God. He wasn’t ready to go back to Mass, but his sponsor encouraged him to join a men’s group meeting where friendships were formed over bagels and coffee and eventually attendance at the 8 am Mass.

Over time, in addition to his newfound sobriety, Sam realized a longing for that deeper, spiritual connection to God, and soon his sponsor in rehab became his sponsor in faith as he began preparation for those sacraments he never had as a child. It was this celebration, at last month’s Easter vigil, that my friend had come to share.

Sam’s own family came too, for just as he worked to prepare for his sacraments and to remain sober over the last six years, two months, and 23 days, he also worked at his marriage, knowing, that along with his faith, it was the foundation of his life. In time, Wendy saw that change in him and resolved to address her troubles as well. With a second chance before them, they planned to renew their vows, this time with their three children as witnesses. It was this celebration, a week after Easter, that my friend had come to share.

The following day, we took a walk before she headed back to Georgia. The church overflowed with joy on both occasions, she told me, with God a welcome guest at each one, for as scripture reminds us, with him, nothing is impossible.

One afternoon when I smelled spring in the air, I took the dog for a long walk around the neighborhood, and as we passed house after house, it occurred to me that we’re surrounded by a lot of caring, generous neighbors … who don’t go to church.

I suppose it’s a sign of the times. If your own family members don’t go, why should you expect your neighbors to?

On Sunday morning when I return from Mass, I see the usual suburban activity—people riding lawn tractors, brandishing leaf blowers, washing cars, puttering in the garden, going to soccer practice and shopping at Whole Foods. Sadly, church isn’t on the Sunday To-Do list.

Just to be clear, I’m not taking anyone’s inventory, although I probably should be taking my own more often. Even without doing an analysis, I’m pretty sure that except for a couple of families, the others have abandoned organized religion and became statistics in the annual Pew survey that’s always telling us about the increase in “nones,” also known as “the religiously unaffiliated.”

We’ve all seen polls that indicate organized religion has been suffering a serious decline and that the so-called “nones” are the fastest growing segment in America.

So much has changed since I was a kid, when our neighbors were Baptists, Episcopalians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and just about every other denomination, who headed to their respective houses of worship on the Sabbath.

When I got home from my walk, I asked my wife, “Are we the only ones who go to church?” She nodded solemnly. (OK, maybe we need it more than the others, but still.)

Our neighbors include a few lapsed Catholics, some Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Methodists, a Jewish family or two, a sprinkling of atheists and agnostics, and a whole lot of people who put politics before faith, which is probably a larger demographic than “nones” and “non-nones” combined.

Many of them share a common characteristic. They’re indifferent when it comes to Jesus, and their credo is probably something like: “He was a really nice guy who did good things, but I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.”

Our own return to the Catholic faith took a while, but we were young and still had enough years to get it right, at least in theory because you don’t know how much time you have left, and it’s never wise to wait.

Since then, we both realized we’ve been magnificently blessed and that we made it back because —to quote the popular spiritual —“Somebody Prayed for Me.” I don’t know who it was, but someday I want to thank those people when I meet them in the next life.

I’ve talked to many of my fallen-away Catholic friends, and everyone has a convenient excuse: A nun whacked their knuckles with a 16-inch ruler in fifth grade, they heard a boring sermon, was too much to take, the grandkids have soccer games etc. etc. The reality is they have a thousand excuses but not one good reason.

This year, in an effort to share the spiritual wealth, we kept our outdoor nativity up until Ash Wednesday. If that wasn’t a sign we’re religious fanatics, I don’t know what is. We also put an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the living room window and one of the Divine Mercy in the dining room window. No wonder the neighbors cross to the other side of the street when they walk their dogs. They probably think we’ll accost them and start preaching.

The truth is we’re really grateful because we know what it’s like living without faith. We wish everyone had the same gift, because it is a gift, and all you have to do is ask for it, and then God will be right there to fulfill your request, faster than the Amazon deliveryman.

Faith is better than hitting the Connecticut Lottery. It’s better than a promotion to the executive suite. It’s better than the grandkids winning the state soccer championship.

Sad to say, the world is suffering a pandemic of religious indifference. Can you imagine how Jesus must feel as he looks at us with the infinite love in his Sacred Heart — and sees us responding to that love with a yawn?

It’s a dark world out there, but you and I, however imperfect, are called to be the light. So let’s get to it.

For years, my mother— and my grandmothers before her—made Irish soda bread throughout the month of March in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day. It became a tradition to bake the loaves not only for the family but for the neighbors, friends, and even the priests in our parish, a way to share the love of our Irish heritage. And, I came to realize, no matter how early Ash Wednesday was or how late Easter was, St. Patrick’s Day and our bread-making always fell somewhere in between.

In recent years, the tradition has been passed to me and now my daughters, with the grandmothers gone and my mother making only a batch or two to satisfy my dad’s craving (though he has not an ounce of Irish blood in him). When my brothers and I were growing up, no one in the family could bare to “give up” bread of any kind for Lent. Instead, we “gave out,” delivering loaves in mid-March, each marked with the sign of the cross and a bright green ribbon.

Our recipe card, with its torn edges, egg yolk stains, and remnants of flour in the creases, clearly reminds the baker to “cut a cross one inch deep side to side,” not always an easy task with that sticky dough. A brief prayer of “bless this bread” was added to give thanks. Though my mother said the technical reason was so the heat could penetrate to the thickest part of the bread for more even cooking, we all thought that the other, more spiritual reason was so much better. The cross we make through the center, I was told so many years ago, is a reminder of the crucifix and the Catholic faith of Ireland that has descended, like the recipe, to us. And when lifted from the oven, today as in years past, that cross is deeply embedded into the bread, an outward and natural sign of devotion.

The girls and I started our baking last week, purchasing extra flour and a large carton of buttermilk for the task. Though we leave out the caraway seeds (a throwback to my youngest brother turning up his nose to them as a child) and add a cup of raisins, it’s otherwise as close to my great grandmother’s recipe as you can get. The crosses were visible; all I needed was some bright green ribbon. Joking that this is his favorite holiday, my husband Patrick was ready to bring a plateful into work, and I was ready for deliveries.

As much as we delight in the baking, it is the cross and the “giving out” that remains central to this St. Patrick’s Day tradition, always in the midst of Lent. In the sharing of this traditional treat, sometimes dry but always deliciously familiar, we find joy and community as we literally “break bread” with friends—many not Irish, some not Catholic—in this time of penitence and discipline. We may hold off on chocolate, social media, or trips to Starbucks during Lent, but never the Irish bread, best enjoyed warm from the oven with a touch of butter and a prayer of thanks.

MONROE/TRUMBULL— Knitting needles, colored yarn, and soft fabric. It is these ordinary items that have inspired a 10-year mission dedicated to comforting children. What began as a desire to bring solace to survivors of the Sandy Hook tragedy and their first responders has grown into a commitment of service well beyond this small community.

After Monroe resident Jeanne Malgioglio and a friend organized a collection of 37,000 green and white scarves for Newtown over a decade ago, they were amazed by the incredible outpouring of love from around the world and wanted to continue their efforts for others. That is what spurred Malgioglio in 2014 to create the first Connecticut chapter of Binky Patrol, a national non-profit organization that makes and distributes homemade blankets to critically ill and traumatized children.

A parishioner at St. Stephen Parish in Trumbull, Malgioglio understands not only the importance of serving others but people’s desire to do so. “People want to help. As kids, we learn that Jesus wants us to ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ They just need a pathway to do so,” she said.

Now, accompanied by a myriad of volunteers from around the region with their own needles, fabric, and endless skeins of yarn, she coordinates the Trumbull/ Monroe chapter of Binky Patrol, helping to bring thousands of blankets to hospitals and shelters as well as organizations such as the Center for Family Justice, Malta House, Blessed Sacrament Parish, and Room to Grow Preschool, a program of Catholic Charities. In addition to these local organizations, donations have also been made to residents of Uvalde, Texas following the school shooting there and to communities in Florida and North Carolina in the aftermath of recent hurricanes.

“It keeps growing and growing,” said Malgioglio of the program. “I almost always have a garage full of blankets!” With a delivery just after Christmas, this Binky Patrol chapter has now donated a record 19,000 handmade blankets, including knit and crocheted ones for babies as well as others for older children that are either quilted or fleece-tied, ideal for creating a cocoon of warmth and security.

“We’re always collecting because there is always a need,” she added. “Sadly, you never know when a tragedy may hit. These blankets show children that they matter and that someone cares about them.”

Those who care include groups throughout the diocese and beyond but are often concentrated within church and community organizations, including sports teams, parish youth groups, and Confirmation classes.

“Kids love making them, especially for other kids. They might earn service hours, but they do it regardless,” Malgioglio said, noting that some recipients then decide to make blankets themselves, including Trumbull resident Shane Miller.

When he awoke from surgery to repair a broken arm at age 11, Miller remembers being wrapped in a brown and white fleece binky, comforting him at that uncertain time. Soon after he recovered, Miller attended his first Bink-athon. “It’s what sparked my love for making these blankets,” he said.

Several years after his surgery, he organized an event through his youth group at St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull, making dozens of fleece blankets for young trauma victims. “I’ve had the privilege to visit places like the Center for Family Justice and meet recipients of these blankets. I see the impact they have on them,” said Miller, now a 21-yearold college student in Vermont.

His mother Sandy has seen that impact firsthand.

“Binky Patrol isn’t just people making blankets for sick kids,” she said. “It’s about connecting with a child who may be feeling lost, alone, or scared.”

Malgioglio is currently working to collect hundreds of binkies for children at the Head Start program in the Naugatuck Valley.

“We’re always looking for new groups to assist with making blankets,” she said. “We’re called to serve and help others. What better way than with the comfort of a binky?”—a tangible way to let a child feel protected, supported, and loved.

(If you would like information on how your group can assist with the Binky Patrol, contact Jeanne Malgioglio at ctbinky@gmail.com.)

I still remember that fateful evening eons ago when my father opened my first report card, for my first semester in first grade at Sunnyside School in Shelton. His eyes glanced over the grades and focused on the “C” I got in some course or other. Was it art? Was it arithmetic? Was it the alphabet? I don’t remember, and I don’t want to remember because it was a dark day in my young academic life.

He didn’t respond the way modern parents typically do, with positive reinforcement, constructive criticism or encouragement. Decades later, I recall his exact words: “We don’t get Cs in this house.” Oops. Who knew? I didn’t get the memo.

That was what you might call the first day of the rest of my life. From then on, I lived in constant fear of going home with a C or worse. From then on, my father would analyze the ups and downs of my grades as if my report card were the quarterly earnings statement of his retirement portfolio.

In my defense, I never went to kindergarten and had to learn numbers and the alphabet in the first grade, so the rest of the class was already way ahead of me. From that moment, I never got another C, although I came darn close, and if it weren’t for a few sympathetic teachers, I would have incurred the wrath of my father.

There was Mrs. McGrath at Sunnyside School, who taught grammar, which for the life of me I couldn’t understand. I probably should have failed the final, but she had mercy on me. The irony is that years later, I taught English grammar and composition.

Brother Thellen, my Latin teacher at St. Joseph High School, showed mercy too and let me squeak by with a B when I was sure I deserved a C+. I won’t even mention calculus.

It’s sad how that frightening encounter with my father left an indelible impression on me. In addition to the anxiety, I always felt inadequate and never could do well enough.

You were expected to be at the top of the class. You had to excel on standardized tests, you had to get into a good college, you had to have a great GPA and you had to be an honors student. Later in life, you had to get the promotion, earn the bonus and stand out from the crowd.

This kind of behavior only reenforced what Thomas Merton called the “false self.”

“Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self,” he said. “This is the man that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him.”

So much striving to excel. That sort of thinking can haunt you, especially when you believe God responds the same way. I was convinced God was like my father and didn’t accept Cs either. It had to be high honors on your spiritual report card if you wanted to get accepted into heaven.

But if God operated that way, the people with the longest obituaries in the New York Times would be the ones sitting in the place of honor at the heavenly banquet. How unfair would that be?

The good news is Jesus’ performance reviews are nothing like the reviews you’d get at Goldman Sachs. He doesn’t punish or penalize you if you’re not perfect.

There’s a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous that goes: “We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection,” which is a wonderful attitude to have.

Jesus doesn’t expect us to be perfect, because when we start thinking of ourselves as perfect— and act as if we’re perfect—we’re moving further from him.

He just wants us to keep trying to do better every day and asking him for help, which he’ll certainly give. With Jesus, it’s OK to be ordinary. He’ll judge us by how much we love, not by how much we know.

St. Francis de Sales said it best with words worth remembering: “Have patience with all things but first with yourself. Never confuse your mistakes with your value as a human being. You are a perfectly valuable, creative, worthwhile person simply because you exist. And no amount of triumphs or tribulations can ever change that.”

So Dad, wherever you are— and I hope it’s the good place—I guess you’ve learned by now that Jesus doesn’t mind Cs. With him, it doesn’t hurt to be an average person because he takes you where you are on your spiritual journey and helps you move forward.

Entering her living room on a recent chilly Sunday, I was warmed with a greeting of open arms and a wide smile. She remembers me, I thought, relieved, for sometimes she does not. Taking my hands in hers, she squeezed tight and commented, as she often does, that I needed warmer gloves. I told her I would get some.

“Just tell me your name again,” she said. I did.

“And you come every week?” she asked. I do.

She settled herself in the worn, tan recliner. “Ah, I thought so. Come sit.”

I first met Barbara more than two decades ago when we volunteered together through our church. Though 40 years separated us, we bonded, and I had been to this same house, sat in this same room, many times. Different commitments took us in different directions until we were reunited last fall when I began bringing her holy Communion on Sunday morning. Homebound with dementia and short term memory loss, Barbara’s recollections of me were only from the past.

As I opened my bag, she asked why I had come, despite my telling her just moments ago. She sighed and shook her head, seemingly annoyed at this disease that has robbed her of so much. Somehow, though, her wit and sense of humor remain. “So how old am I anyway?” she wondered. Ninety-two, I replied. She laughed, saying, “Well, that explains it!” A moment later, she frowned and asked, “Have I taken Communion yet?”

While I laid out the corporal and lit the tiny candle, we reminisced. I reminded her of our years working together and how my daughters—so little at the time—loved to visit and play with her hamsters. She smiled, remembering, then paused and asked. “Have I taken Communion yet?”

Opening the prayer book and placing down the pyx, I glanced at Barbara, whose mind had moved into the more distant past. She talked of her childhood home, gray with white shutters, and how she took a left when walking to school and a right when walking to church. Suddenly, she was with me again and asked for the third time, “Have I taken Communion yet?”

On my first visit months ago, I didn’t know if Barbara would join me in prayer or even if she could consume the entire host. Though she struggles to remember so much, including when her brother died, if she ate breakfast, or whether her son came by the day before, her recitation of the “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” and all responses are flawless. There is no pause, no confusion. She prays and looks heavenward, taking Communion without hesitation and reverently saying “Amen.” Her mind is not on hamsters, breakfast, or her childhood. She is fully present in her own unique way with God and with prayer. Though so much else is forgotten, Barbara retains a deep familiarity with her faith, an integral part of every one of those 92 years.

Preparing to leave, I told her that we would pray and reminisce together again soon.

“Will you be back next week?” I will.

“Have I taken Communion yet?” You have.

“Did I say all my prayers?” Perfectly.

Ihave now my full share of years. It is not an extraordinary life by any means, but luckier than many, I think, and happier than many, I think. I have experienced God’s grace and power in my life; there’s been a benign Providence. I’ve sensed the hand of God. There were genuine encounters with the Holy One. I’m confident the Lord takes a personal interest in my life. Catholic teaching tells me that. God desires to be in relationship with me (Psalm 41). My past life is brimful of God’s goodness. There were particular ways the Divine Goodness showed in my life. The victory of grace ends most of my stories. I no longer know myself apart from God.

Catholic teaching tells us that the primary purpose of our lives on this planet is to establish a relationship with the Person who placed us here. The true purpose of our existence in this world is to look for God. I’m at a point where I no longer know myself apart from God. I cannot identify myself to someone without mentioning Jesus. Like Marcus Aurelius, I say of all things and events around me, “This has come from God.” I sense the inescapable reality of God. God is present at all times and places, We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. God is everywhere, often incognito.

The victory of grace ends most of my stories.

I have a snapshot of myself aged 12 or so with my backpack and cold-weather gear. My frightened eyes are clearly in the picture. My frightened eyes are still in pictures. Some people keep getting gentler as they grow older. As I get older, I get increasingly grimmer, or more exactly, sadder; There are times when so much strikes me as unutterably sad.

My life’s timeline has two broken places. There was the death of my wife that took a lot of inner recovery; I have never fully recovered. I learned to redefine my life, but was never the same. My brother’s death has been another among the losses that define my life. I got used to being lonely. The house and I are often alone. I have deduced a few things about life; for example,

I have deduced the idea that happiness is based on generosity and love. My active means of serving God is more and more by passive gentleness and kindness and trying not to be too exacting of others.

I have a crop of inextinguishable regrets. Like many others, there are things I wish I hadn’t done, things I should have done, but there are things I’m happy to have done.

Sometimes I can grow weary of myself. As Hopkins said of himself, “I have lost interest in myself.” But I’ve never been bored. Reading is one of the greatest graces in my life, and I’m good at steady drudgery,

God is present at all times and in all places. There are places to which I would like to return.

So I worry my worries. I look forward to the years to come as a time to deepen my life with God, knowing God in a deeper way, coming to know God intuitively.

The book, The Cloud of unknowing, has the dictum that God cannot be known by thought, but only by love. The only definition of God we find in the New Testament is when it says that “God is love.”

But who ultimately knows the way of things. How do things work in God’s world? I get messages I’m never going to figure out. Things remain ineffable. Much must remain forever mystery, beyond calculation and control.

I look forward to the years to come as a time to deepen my life with God; to know God in a deeper way, intuitively

I hope I will find a heart more compassionate and less judgmental, more humble and less self-righteous, more grateful and less resentful.

But, above all, I say to God: “Thanks, thanks for everything. Praise, praise for it all.”

I’m a notorious name-dropper. There was the time I was five feet from Bill Clinton at an editors’ meeting in Washington—along with a few hundred other journalists puffed up with self-importance.

Then, there was the time I had a lunch with Bill Buckley, not to mention that dinner party with Henry Kissinger, who was pontificating about China. So what if there were 75 other people there?

And how can I forget the day I met Senator Dick Blumenthal at the country fair and told him what had to be done to straighten out Washington … along with a dozen other voters.

I guess you could say I have friends in high places.

Name-dropping, you see, is a way of life in business, politics, entertainment, and just about everywhere that peons strive to climb the ladder of success. It pays to mention a big shot in a conversation because people are impressed when they think you know someone rich and famous.

The truth is name-dropping can be pretty annoying. But there’s one name none of us drop nearly enough. In fact, many of us are afraid to mention it in public. That name is Jesus.

Jesus Christ is a name above every other name, as St. Paul told the Philippians, when he said, “At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

The Holy Name of Jesus has power, so we should say it more than we do. Why? Because you never know the people it will help, the souls it can save, and the healing it can bring.

On January 3, we celebrated the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. St. John said: “In the name of Jesus, we obtain every blessing and grace for time and eternity, for Christ has said: ‘If you ask the Father anything in my name he will give it to you.’” The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Jesus means in Hebrew: ‘God saves.’ At the annunciation, the angel Gabriel gave him the name Jesus as his proper name, which expresses both his identity and his mission.”

Unfortunately, the only time most people drop Jesus’ name is as a curse, meaning they use it in vain. For those of you who still remember those notorious Ten Commandments that Charlton Heston brought down the mountain—I never met Charlton Heston, or Moses for that matter —you’ll recall the second one was “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

I recently had a reunion with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, so long I don’t want to say because you might put me in the same age bracket as Moses. We went to high school together, back before high school kids had cell phones, back before cell phones were invented.

It became apparent during our conversation they were suffering from a spiritual hunger, even though they didn’t realize it. One fellow said that on Sundays, he goes to the “Church of the New York Times.” (I groaned in dismay.)

I sensed his need for Christ, which is a universal need many people try to satisfy with money, fame, possessions and power.

When you drop Jesus’ name, people will want to hear more. No matter whose company you’re in, don’t be afraid to get Jesus in the conversation because amazing things will happen, even if it takes days, weeks, months, or years. You see, Jesus’ name leads to miracles.

All of us can remember occasions when a friend or coworker or family member wanted to talk about faith but was hesitant. That’s exactly where my friends were, so I did a little name dropping. I didn’t tell them they had to proclaim Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, or get baptized in the Jordan River. However, by casually mentioning his name, they knew I had friends in the highest of places. They also knew it would be OK for them to talk about Jesus when they were ready.

So don’t be afraid to say Jesus’ name with reverence, with love and with hope because you might just help save someone’s soul.

By the way, did I ever tell you about the time I was at a party with the Karate Kid? Well, he wasn’t a kid anymore … and I’ve got selfies to prove it.

The season’s first snowfall came quietly, almost hesitantly, right before dusk on the evening of the Epiphany. I noticed the tiny flakes, illuminated by the porch light, just as my daughters called out in unison “It’s snowing!” with childlike joy. We had all decided to stay in that night, cancelling or postponing plans in expectation of the storm. Though only a few inches fell, it was enough to coat our neighborhood in pure, immaculate beauty, just perfect for the new year.

As night descended, the flakes did so as well, heavier at times, and we decided to head outdoors, for there are few wintertime pleasures I enjoy more than a walk in the snow, especially at night. We found hats and warm boots, dormant since last March, and stepped into a world of wonder and awe, our usually busy neighborhood transformed. No cars drove by. No residents walked their dogs. Muffled sounds of a distant plow and our feet crunching on the snowy driveway were the only disturbances to this crystalized wonderland. I glanced up at little ice particles covering the tall barren branches that reached heavenward and marveled at God’s natural creation, wondering why it always seems more powerful in winter.

As we moved down the street, the stillness remained, and we relished it. No one spoke. There was no need. The words of Psalm 46 “Be still and know that I am God” replayed in my mind as I honored the peace and beauty that he created around us. It forced us all to pause, not only our conversations but our pace as well. Clunky boots and the uncertainty of ice played a part, though any loud sound or quick movement would have felt out of place. God’s glory was at work here, and I didn’t want to miss a moment. After the hustle and bustle of the holidays and a hectic week back at work, I needed this time to soothe and refresh my active mind. Maybe my family did too.

Turning the corner, we saw the remnants of a neighbor’s Christmas display, the multi-colored lights glowing faintly under a thin layer of white. Suddenly, the wind stirred, swirling snow up and around us like tiny stars, a burst of brilliance in the shadows of this moonless night. A fitting reminder, it was, of this night so long ago when the Magi followed one brilliant star to lay prostrate before their newborn king.

Like the new fallen snow around us, a new year was beginning—clean, unblemished, albeit brief. I knew later that night, the muffled sounds of the distant plow would come closer, clearing our road and disturbing the snow, as we would the next morning with whatever accumulated in the driveway. The freshness of early January—and its purity—is fleeting, with challenges and blemishes ahead, but maybe that’s part of its beauty. We appreciate it more, knowing it can’t last.

Even after those first few inches of snow melted several days later, I retained not only mental photographs of our evening walk but the feelings of closeness with those around me, ones to keep alive long after any remaining snowflakes have disappeared.

But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the Law (Galatians 4:4). (Extra)

December—the year is fraying out. There’s a sadness when the last page of a calendar appears. The weary year has now run its race. She has known some youth and age and heartbreak and, hopefully, love. The year’s shortest days come now with their latest sunrises and earliest sunsets. There are more than fifteen hours of darkness and nine hours of daylight. Soon after three thirty in the afternoon the light begins to fade.

The woodchuck and chipmunk, the frog and turtle and snake are all hibernating. I understand the fish in a pond go down deeper for the winter and seals migrate south to wintering locations along the coast. The crows and blue-jays remain part of the winter scene.

December 21 is the longest night of the year and the time we slip into winter. It is the winter solstice; from now on the days become longer. The ancients took to measuring the shadows. If the length shortened by a finger’s breath, it proved that the days were beginning to lengthen.

The date for Christmas was chosen for its connection with the winter solstice. There is rejoicing just before Christmas at the natalia solis invicti, the birthday of the invincible sun.

December is the nativity. In the child in the manger we see God made visible. Eternity enters into time. The invisible becomes visible. The Absolute comes into history. The reality that sustains existence becomes one of us.

The Creator of the universe becomes a dependent infant. One can imagine a mother burping God on her shoulder. God slept on our earth, sneezed, coughed, and blew his nose. He walked to school and spilled his milk.

Christmas can be a special hell for those families who have suffered a major loss. Christmas is a time when we are aware of whom we lack, of who is not home. There are those of us who sit alone and cheerless at Christmas time thinking of happier times, remembering the faces of those who are dead. The Christmas of my childhood has gone. Christmas is a memory of other days.

Still, Christmas, as Titus 3:4 says, is the time when the goodness and loving kindness of God our savior appeared. Therese of Lisieux said that the meaning of the Incarnation was to make love visible.

The gift of time is perhaps the most meaningful gift. As has been noted, the most significant gift of the Magi was not the myrrh and frankincense and gold, but the time and trouble they took to bring them. The hours and efforts at crowded stores can serve as a testimony of love and a gift of self.

The philosopher, Duns Scotus, and the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins did not understand Christ’s descent into creation primarily as the reparation for sin. They saw it as an act of love which would have taken place whether there had been any sin.

The God whom earth and sea and sky Adore and laud and magnify,
Whose might they own,
whose praise they tell,
In Mary’s body deigned to dwell.

(Hymn, Liturgy of the Hours, Evening Prayer, Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

I often think about the shepherds. It says in the Gospel that the shepherds spoke with angels and became heralds. Apparently, their eyes were able to see the Divine One in the stable. What happened to the shepherds afterwards? Did they simply go back to the homely obscurity from which they came?

As time passes, I grow more enamored of God. I may even be beginning to fall in love with God. I have a growing interest in spirituality. I think that, at some point in life, we acknowledge the ache we feel deep within for something more. We know we wanted something more besides one another—quite a different kind of something, a different kind of want. There is a problem with the capacity of human love to satisfy fully the hunger of the heart.

The Scriptures tell us that mercy is the deepest quality of God’s love. There are the beautiful words of Lamentations 3:22-23: “The favors of the Lord are not exhausted. His mercies never come to an end. They are renewed every morning.” Hopkins put it this way: “Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward springs—Because the Holy Ghose over the bent world broods with warm breast and Ah! Bright wings” (God’s Grandeur) At the heart of reality is mercy.

St. Teresa of Avila used to call God a Gardener. She said she knew that the Divine Gardner paid special attention to her.

Finally, great things happen in silence. On that first Christmas Eve Jesus came in silence: “While all things were in quiet silence and the night was in the midst of its course, your almighty word, O Lord, leapt down from your throne in heaven” (Wisdom 18:14-15)