Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

We all know the story of the Three Kings who journeyed from the East to pay homage to a king born in a stable in Bethlehem. But this wasn’t any king. It was Christ the King.

Their story, which evolved over the centuries, centers on the account in Matthew 2:1-12. The wise men heard of the prophecy and followed a star. They went to King Herod in Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

Herod was distraught. This was a threat to his kingship. Matthew wrote: “After their audience with the king, they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.”

Father Dwight Longenecker, author of “Mystery of the Magi: The Quest to Identify the Three Wise Men,” said, “The three kings joining the humble shepherds to worship the Christ child symbolize the equality of Christians in the eyes of the God who became poor for our sake. The kings worship the King of Kings, and the shepherds adore the Good Shepherd.”

That brief encounter with a newborn baby changed them forever. They spent their lives spreading the news about the King of Kings and were martyred for their faith. They realized Christ’s kingship was infinitely greater than Herod the (so-called) Great’s…and any other temporal power on Earth.

There’s a lesson here, and the lesson is simple. We should give homage to Christ, not to political leaders, especially when governments increasingly promote agendas that violate our beliefs. For many Catholics, politics has become a fake faith.

At the end of the liturgical year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, which Pope Pius XI established in 1925 in response to the growing and pernicious influence of secularism. In his encyclical “Quas Primas,” he reminded the world that Christ is our real King, and to him alone we owe allegiance—not to a monarchy, not to a prime minister, not to a dictator, not to a president.

Living in the aftermath of World War I, Pius XI knew that kings rise and fall, leaders come and go, but Christ is forever.

In his encyclical, he said that “manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics…. And as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace.”

During these troubled times, we should remember that no matter the storms that rage across this land, ignited by political agendas, Jesus is in control. Jesus has always been in control and that everything is unfolding according to his plan.

A novena to Christ the King clearly states what our priority should be:

“Christ, our Savior and our King, renew in me allegiance to Your Kingship.

I pray for the grace to place You above the powers of this world in all things.

I pray for the grace to obey You before any civic authority.

I pray for the grace to fervently bring about Your Kingdom in my family and community. I pray that You will reign in my mind. O Prince of Peace, may Your reign be complete in my life and in the life of the world… Christ the King, may your kingdom come!”

Like the Three Kings, there was another martyr for Christ 2000 years later. A 14-year-old Mexican boy named Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, was shot in the head by government soldiers because he refused to renounce Christ. His crime? He was a Catholic.

The soldiers told him, “If you shout, ‘Death to Christ the King,’ we’ll spare your life.”
It was a simple choice— renounce Christ or be executed. He cried in pain from wounds they had inflicted with a machete, but he did not give in, and his last words were “Viva Cristo Rey!” Long live Christ the King! (Joe Pisani can be reached at joefpisani@yahoo.com)

I recently attended a funeral for a family friend who was my age. I have the fondest memories of us playing together when we were little. One of the things I remember most about her was her strong faith and love for God. She had many health struggles, battling cystic fibrosis her whole life, but she always carried such a light and had an aura of hope about her. She had a fiery spirit to match her fiery red hair.

She called me up last year, in the midst of the pandemic, looking for a local church that she could attend regularly. Even amongst everything that was going on in her life and in the world, she sought out a faith community. I remember having such admiration for that.

After her passing, it feels very strange to be joyful, especially at Christmas time. I am at an exciting time in my life, where doors and opportunities are opening up along with the world, which has seemed so shuttered in the past few years. But I find myself questioning why she didn’t get to continue to experience all these wonderful things as well.

I was struck by something Bishop Caggiano recently said in his homily at the Dedication Mass for the new recreation center at St. Matthew Parish in Norwalk. The Mass was celebrated on Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of joy.

The bishop said, “We are not always promised that we will be happy, but we are promised that we will have the gift of joy. For joy comes from the deep trust that we have in our hearts that no matter what happens to us, challenges before us, or suffering we face, our God will be before us.”

I immediately thought of Abby. Even as she struggled with her health, she had joy. She had a deep trust that God had a plan for her and that her suffering was a part of that plan. She lived her life unapologetically.

Similarly, as the parish of St. Matthew celebrated the dedication of their new recreation center, many missed the presence of Msgr. Orlowski, who began the project in 2018 and for whom the center is named.

Even though the parish still mourns his loss, they were able to celebrate this joyful occasion in his memory.

The bishop mentioned that although Monsignor experienced suffering and challenges, he had the gift of joy in his heart.

Abby did too. And I think she would want us to remember that most of all. There will be suffering, but there will also be joy. And perhaps the two can exist simultaneously.

The priest who said the homily at Abby’s funeral explained that God was not just a puzzle piece in her life, but rather He was the table or surface on which she put the puzzle pieces of her life together. God was the foundation on which she built her life—and that will be my Christmas this year—the understanding that Christ is close to us.

Is this why she was able to have joy even in the face of hardship? I’d like to think it was.

As I was saying goodbye to Abby’s family, her dad pulled out a small Rosary from his pocket, mentioning that she had it with her. I’d like to think it was a comfort to her, as it now will be to him.

The night before Abby’s funeral I had a dream about her. We were playing together again in the backyard, our laughter that of immense joy. I think I’ll hold on to that memory, and I think it is how I will always remember her.

Almost everybody in the world gets married—you know what I mean? In our town there aren’t hardly any exceptions. Most everybody in the world climbs into their graves married…. Yes, people are meant to go through life two by two, ‘Tain’t natural to be lonesome.” (Our Town, Act Two)

I called her Aunt Betty and him Uncle Gasper, even though they were not related to me.

These fictive relatives were two never-married people, childhood friends of my mother.

The friendships withstood the test of time, entering a new phase when my mother married and was willing to share her children with her two ever-single friends.

Betty and I shared the same birthday, and often the same birthday parties; this helped create a special bond between us. She once told me I was her nephew, not by blood, but by affection.

I have the warmest memories of “uncle” Gasper. He was a significant part of my youth. He provided me with profound and simple joys. There were fishing trips, firemen’s carnivals, trips to baseball games, walks in the woods. Nothing was too ordinary for Gasper not to notice. I would mimic him and play a game I named “Notice Things.” At times, however, I felt what Gasper wanted me to feel and owe to him a certain capacity to let life in. He left me with a legacy of allowing experiences to touch me, with a certain capacity to keep my heart in wonder at the daily miracles of life, to see the beauty in ordinary things.

About five percent of men and six percent of women over 65 years of age have never been married. The literature on older never married people is scarce, but generally it finds no differences in the mental and physical health of people who live alone and those who live with others. What makes people feel lonely is dissatisfaction with ties that they have. There is research that finds that never-married people indicate fewer symptoms of psychological disturbance and are less likely to be users of psychotropic drugs than married people (cf. Jessie Bernard, “The Paradox of the Happy Marriage,” 1972). However, some literature reveals, for instance, that never-married people tend to have shorter lifespans than married people.

During my time at Sacred Heart University, by contacting a number of agencies for the elderly, some senior citizen centers and organizations for retired people in Fairfield County, Conn.

I found 20 women and 18 men, never-married and over the age of 65, who were willing to be interviewed by me. My interviewees did not seem to feel especially lonely. Two of them pointed out that some surveys indicate that approximately 80 percent of married couples have seriously considered divorce. A few of the men who lived alone told how cooking for themselves, and eating in solitude were very difficult. A couple of the women also stated that eating one’s solitary dinner was difficult.

If my interviews are any indication, as a group never-married people seem to have come to terms with their lives, the choices they made, and learned how to adjust. Many of them spoke of having a propensity for solitude; they were comfortable with it. As one woman put it: “I’ve come to the point, maybe because I’ve had it for so long, where being alone is often a necessity for me.

For instance, I’ll go traveling with my married friends and at the end of a week I’m glad to see them go to their homes, and I’ll come to my own for the peace and solitude I have… I love my friends dearly, but to live with them, no.” A few of the women said that while they missed having children, they never missed not having a husband.

My interviews would indicate that while unmarried men, compared to unmarried women are not very socially involved with either organizations or friends, they are not a group of isolates who lead emotionally impoverished lives. The picture that emerges is that of “natural loners,” for whom such things as “keeping in touch with nephews and nieces are nonetheless very important.

They liked it when relatives came to them for help of some kind. The men would say things like, “They’re my family. If they need help, I’m there, and I’ve been paid back in all kinds of ways.”

A few of the interviewees pointed out that being single eliminated the burden of more relatives and their problems.

Almost to a person, the interviewees identified freedom as the most important asset of their life-style and establishing one’s niche in a married world as the major problem. For instance, one woman said “most of the women I know are grandmothers, and that’s what they talk about.” Under disadvantages, some men mentioned “not having had someone to share victories with. After some achievement I’d have to go home alone.”

No companionship in the evening was a problem. However, a number of women made touching observations like “so many of my friends who are my age don’t have anyone either; So many of their husbands died in their 50s. In fact, all of my girlfriends are widows, every one of them. So, they’re alone, too, That’s sad.”

A stereotype of unmarried people is that they are highly involved in church activities. That was far from true for my interviewees. The majority were negative about organized religion, but tended to believe in God and in Chesterton’s dictum about all on earth should believe they have something to give the world that cannot otherwise be given. This was eloquently expressed by a woman who said: “I firmly believe that the good Lord has a general pattern, and we all fit into it like a huge jigsaw puzzle. The whys and wherefores we’ll all know someday, but we fit into the puzzle. We get nudges, and I think I have answered the nudges that God has sent me. I fit into the pattern.”

The truth of it seems to be that the unmarried state is a many-faceted creature that has its associated losses and gains. Life is a trade-off. As my Aunt Betty once put it: “For me, being unwed is just having one set of troubles instead of another.”

The American author, John Updike, wrote the following: “Among the repulsions of atheism for me has been its drastic uninterestingness as an intellectual position. Where was the ingenuity, the ambiguity, of saying that the universe just happened to happen and that when we’re dead we’re dead? Truth has to have more nooks and crannies, more ins and outs than that.”

The current secular irreligious worldview contains an astonishing number of self-described atheists. Web sites, blogs, journals, conferences provide a growing network of support for atheists. There is The American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, and as many as 90 percent of the members of the elite National Academy of Sciences state they are “nontheists.”

A vast amount of modern fiction presents life as though there were no God, and men and women had no religious side to their personalities.

Atheists deserve to be taken seriously, not treated as children. Many atheists lead meaningful lives. They often exert themselves for a better world. Humanist atheists often strive to bring peace, kindness, social responsibility, honesty into society. They are concerned with ending war, racism, poverty, injustice, philanthropic endeavors. Many atheists seem able to make themselves at home in a world without a supernatural.

However, there’s a couple of dispositions I’ve noticed about atheists. Many seem to have decided not to deal with the “big questions,” such as: What is it all about? Why are we here? Who are we? Why is there a world? Does life have a plot? Where are we going? As someone put it: Who are we under these stars, with the wind on our faces? What should we do? What may we hope? As I hear it, atheists think you must find meaning in yourself. You develop your own goals. The main thing is to strive to realize one’s full potential. The world is sufficient unto itself. Let us enjoy while we can, salvage the best that life has to offer.

The Jewish writer, Isaac Singer, points out that if people do not praise God, they will end up praising themselves. With the denial of God, the human community mainly has itself to fall back on. A friend in an email to me sung the praises of secular humanists saying, “they’re all wonderful people, interested in family, career, social justice. You’d love to have dinner with them…” I have had dinner with them. They were everything my friend said. I found them witty and pleasant—for about an hour; then I grew tired of them. When people give God His walking papers, then all we have is us, other people. That’s not enough, at least for me. We’re all flawed. I like people, even get along with people. But without the eternal consciousness, or whatever one wants to call it, they get boring.

I remember a time being with a group of people I would call secular humanists who were defining heaven has having good friends, and being with intelligent, insightful people, complimentary of each other. I thought that according to their definition I was in heaven. The people with me were all kindly, thoughtful, intelligent, complimentary. I kept thinking then why am I getting antsy to leave heaven. We are all surrounded by finite beings, all limited in some way. It can leave us with a sense of incompleteness that never fades. I’ve concluded that people are hungering for more than this world offers. What the earth gives us is often beautiful, but it is too poor to satisfy us fully. People try to tear away from the earth more than she can rightly give. We keep sensing something basic is missing. For me, the maxim of Dostoyevsky becomes more real: “I no longer am able to picture man without Him.” Human beings are ultimately understood in relation to God.

One learns to avoid mentioning anything about death to atheists. Walter Ciszek, in his book He Leadeth me, p. 147), tells how in a communist milieu, no pomp accompanies a funeral procession, Side streets are assigned to be used for funerals, which must skirt busy intercsections or main thoroughfares, so that citizens would not be affected by the scene of a funeral procession.

One of the blessings of atheism is that it takes away any sense of Judgment, any awareness of sin. There is no God who saw, no God who knew.

Atheists commonly argue from the existence of evil that there is no loving God. There have been and are toxic elements in religion, but there is still the problem of good and a long list of positives to add to the ledger: hospitals, orphanages, schools, universities, so much of the beautiful in works of art, in music, architecture, poetry.

Most atheistic writers make use of faulty notions of God. The focus is on religious fanatics, terrorists, superstitions, fundamentalists. They do not grapple with major theologians such as Karl Rahner, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, etc.

A couple of final thoughts. Jesus never set out to prove God’s existence; it was so obvious St. Francis was astonished that a philosophy course given to his Religious was taking time to prove the existence of God. St. Paul wrote that what natural men can know about God “lies plain before their eyes” (Rom.1:19). The Protestant theologian, Karl Barth, wrote: “By the miracle of foolishness it is possible to think of God as not existing. There is the miracle of disbelief” (Prayer, p. 29).

Augustine once said that losing the remembrance of God means forgetting life. Only when this remembrance returns do we begin again to live. Atheism is not a natural state.

God pursues the soul. It is a story happening in every human life. Most atheists feel it at a point in their lives. The sense that there is Something or Someone presses in. They hear feet overtaking them, brisk and resolute. I’m certain that great numbers feel it. They are far from settling into a comfortable unbelief. The unrest continues to surface. There is St. Paul’s saying: “God made the whole prisoner of unbelief that he may have mercy on all” (Rom.11:32).

Have you ever had one of those days when you didn’t want to get out of bed? When you felt like you couldn’t face another day? When the challenges seemed so insurmountable you were discouraged about life?

Someone recently gave me a prayer written by a teenager who suffered from a debilitating illness and probably felt just like that. I keep her prayer on my nightstand so I can read it first thing in the morning and remember all that is good in this world and why I’m here…despite whatever pain and suffering comes my way. (Easier said than done.)

The prayer, along with a little emergency grace from God, certainly helps me. It says:

“Lord, let me wake up every morning and be thankful for the wonderful life that you have given me.

Help me to see the good in things.

Help me to be happy with who I am and the life I am living. Lead me down the path you have set for me.

Guide me in the way that I get to show the world my gifts.

I put all in your hands, Jesus. Use me as your vessel.

I thank you for my health, love, abilities, family, friends, and most of all this life.

I will do great things in your name.”

Nikole Drummond wrote that prayer in 2009, when she was 17 and in intense pain because of a disease she was suffering. It was a personal prayer she said to remind herself that even in her affliction, her life was a gift, and that Jesus was beside her every step of the way…and that Jesus had a plan for her life and that with his guidance, she could accomplish “great things.”

Sometimes I say her prayer more than once a day because it reminds me of fundamental spiritual truth that our secular society scoffs at: Life is a gift. All life is a gift. All life is created by God, which is why abortion is such a terrible thing.

I, too, need help looking for the good in things because it’s so easy to be predisposed to see the bad. It’s so easy to be cynical in a society that cultivates cynicism. Look around you. We have come to be defined by our anger and sarcasm—a spiritual disability made worse by the media.

We certainly need help seeing the good in things. There’s considerable goodness, and if we’re open to it, the Holy Spirit will direct us.

We all need divine help to be happy because in the end, following the plan that God has for us is the only real path to happiness. We’ll never find it in the enticements the world dangles before us—possessions, pleasure, power and prestige. They’re fake sources of happiness, and the tragedy is that so many people spend their entire lives pursuing them and never find the happiness they crave because, as St. Augustine said centuries ago, our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

Young people are programmed to achieve, succeed and acquire, but all they really need to do is follow the path God has for them. Have no doubt, God has a plan for you, and it’s a lot better than your plan.

As they say in 12 Step programs, we have to make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God. Then, we will be, as Nikole said, “a vessel” and do great things in God’s name.

Despite her physical suffering, she also understood the importance of the attitude of gratitude amid suffering.

“I thank you for my health, love, abilities, family, friends, and most of all this life” she said.

I still remember what a Sister of St. Joseph taught me in catechism class many years ago when she said three simple words, “Offer it up.” Our suffering united to Christ’s “will bear fruit in this life and the next,” to quote the Litany of Trust, which is a prayer composed by Sr. Faustina Maria Pia, SV of the Sisters of Life.

We’ll never realize the full impact our small sacrifices have until we meet Jesus face to face, and he says, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

(Joe Pisani can be reached at joefpisani@yahoo.com)

I often wish I was one of those people who could walk into Home Depot and know exactly where everything is and make a beeline right for that aisle. But, alas, I will say that I have yet to reach that level of adulthood. I usually walk around like a lost puppy until I find a representative who looks nice enough to help me.

On my most recent trip, I decided not to waste any time and went right to the person at the front of the store and told her exactly what I needed. She told me where to go and even called a representative to show me how to use the kiosk.

An introvert by nature, I tend to run my errands with my head down, on a mission to get in and get out with what I need with as little human interaction as possible. However, the woman helping me at the kiosk was so kind, I didn’t mind chatting with her while we waited for my keys to be copied. She helped me through every step of the process. She easily could’ve showed me how to use the machine and went on her way, but she was present with me the whole time. We got to chatting about the reason I was copying keys in the first place (my tendency to lock myself out of my apartment) and she shared a funny story of her own. She said “I felt like I could share that with you,” and it really made my day.

We are so used to just going about our days on autopilot, moving from one task to the next, that we often don’t stop to really be present in the moment. I’m sure this woman has a very stressful job, but she was so pleasant and that made a huge difference to me.

We all just experienced the collective trauma of the COVID19 pandemic. I don’t really think people are fully ready to be back in the world sometimes—at least I know I’m not. We see it in the way people are driving and rushing around. There is just an underlying sense of tension, and it often feels as if we are hanging by a thread. I thought maybe we would learn but it seems that “the show must go on,” whether we are all ready for it or not.

I understand why people are so frustrated, but I think that’s why this particular encounter stood out to me so much. It reminded me so much of what the Gospel boils down to.

Jesus was always present with those He was with, no matter who they were. He extended love at every turn. Even amongst crowds of people reaching out to Him, He always seemed to find the one person who needed His mercy the most.

As we approach the holiday season, although I am absolutely overjoyed to get to celebrate with family and friends again, I want to resist the urge to act like I didn’t learn anything these past couple of years. I want to be intentional about creating more moments like this one at Home Depot.

One of my favorite Bible verses is Micah 6:8. “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

It doesn’t seem like such a tall order when you read it that way. And yet, it is still exceptional when it actually happens.

I’m sure there will be times this holiday season when it will be business as usual and I find myself running through my daily activities. It is just one of the inevitabilities of life. But I want to really intentionally try to love others, even if I don’t necessarily “like” what I’m doing.

Maybe I’m an idealist but I think, as a society, it’s something we can work towards.

This year I am thankful for all the people who make life a little more pleasant each and every day. And Tracey at the Stratford Home Depot, thanks for your help!

“During his stay in Jerusalem for the Passover, many believed in him when they saw the signs that he gave, but Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all. He needed no one to give him testimony about human nature. He was well aware of what people had in them.” (Jn.2:23)

In his famous book Confessions, St. Augustine wrote about how children between the ages of 1 and 2, when put together in a play pen, will bite each other, pull each other’s hair, and rob each other’s toys, without regard for the other child’s unhappiness. In this same writing, Augustine tells how he once stole some pears, not because he was hungry, but because it was exciting to do; it demonstrated “the greedy love of doing wrong for its own sake.”

Augustine used these observations to support his idea that human nature is wounded and inclined to evil. Among early Christians, this conviction of a wounded human nature grew incrementally during the first four centuries. There was a sense that something had gone wrong with human beings. The fifth century Councils of Carthage (419) and Orange (441) adopted the term “Original Sin.” The term was linked to the account in Genesis 3 that told of a primeval event that took place at the beginning of the history of humans. A sin was committed by our first parents, and the whole of history is marked by the original fault. There is an intrinsically wounded human nature. (Cf, Catechism of the Catholic Church 390).

Pelagius, a contemporary of Augustine, disagreed with Augustine about a wounded human nature, and taught that moral evil is the result of bad example and poor teaching. Children are born innocent and if raised properly, they retain that innocence.

However, many Christian thinkers wondered why is human life so marred by so much hatred, brutality, and tragedy? Why is the created order, brought into being through divine decision and love, warped by evil? Eventually, the Council of Trent in 1563 accepted the theology of Original Sin. Trent went so far as to affirm Original Sin a central truth of Catholic faith. The Council of Trent stated that Adam’s sin “is communicated to all by propagation not by imitation.” In its Decree on Original Sin, Trent held that the Scriptural foundation for the Doctrine of Original Sin was Rom.5:12: “Sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin,” and Jn.3:19: “Men love the darkness rather than the light.” Martin Luther and other Reformers also affirmed Original Sin as a central truth of Christian faith.

In Christian tradition, the sin of Adam and Eve is described as “the Fall.” The Catholic teaching is that it caused a defect in human nature. In Luther’s judgment, Original Sin had corrupted human nature, and humans could do good only with the help of grace.

Put simply, what exactly is the teaching called Original Sin? It states that what is inherited by every human being is not only nature as created, but nature as distorted by sin.

The Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries rated human reason as the exclusive source of knowledge and regarded the idea of Original Sin as absolutely absurd. The remedy to the problem of evil is more reason. Even contemporary Catholics are uneasy with the doctrine of Original Sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “the transmission of Original Sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand.” (360).

The idea of Original Sin speaks to my experience of human life. There is a good deal of goodness and beauty to enjoy in this world. But there are all the miseries of the human situation.

All is not well. Evil seems universal and ineradicable. The first creation story says that God made the world, and it was good. Then why is it so difficult? Why does it hurt so much, Why do we die? It is not the way it was meant to be. The “Fall” is real. The world seems overcrowded with lust and crime and unhappy love.

The eminent theologian, Karl Rahner, pointed out that “the wound of sin permeates the whole of life, society and relationships, becoming part of the human reality in which the individual is immersed. Sin is within and without.” As often as Karl Rahner looked into the history of humanity, or even into individual human careers, he was filled with sorrow and even pessimism.

Therese of Lisieux surprisingly said: “Those around me are really good, but there is something, I don’t know what, that repels me.” When Flannery O’ Connor was asked about her view of human beings, she answered with one word, “fallen.” I like something else O’Connor said when she was in NYC: “Although you see several people you wish you did know, you see thousands you’re glad you don’t know.” Freud: “I have found little that is ‘good’ about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash.” Teresa of Avila: “There is no trusting these sons of Adam.” Dostoyevsky: “We are all cripples, every one of us, more or less.” I know a number of men who have said that there are times when “they must get away from people.” Pope Francis: “If you put your trust only in people, you will lose” (address to young men in Turin). If we look for any ultimate security in human commitments or human institutions, we need to be prepared for disappointment.

Human nature is also capable of courage, compassion, and integrity. The dark elements are counterbalanced by astonishing acts of compassion, forbearance, and creativity. Still, as many thinkers point out, there is the derailment of Original Sin. Humans tend to be very disappointing—notice the divorce rate.

G.K. Chesterton once noted that the doctrine of Original Sin is one of the few Catholic beliefs that can be confirmed by each day’s headlines. Chesterton wrote: “The Church’s doctrine of Original Sin is the only part of Catholic theology which can be really proved. There is something fundamentally rotten in humanity.” The Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, called Original Sin “empirically verifiable.” Open any newspaper, switch on your television and the symptoms of Original Sin are manifest.

We should not underestimate the wound of Original Sin. The doctrine of Original Sin should not make us cynical about what we can do; but it should make us modest. Finally, there is a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Ignorance of the fact that humans have a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to errors in the areas of education, politics, social action, and morals” (407). I have never heard a sermon on Original Sin.

According to Roman Catholic theology, only the Blessed Virgin Mary was born without Original Sin and remained undamaged (The Immaculate Conception). The only time Original Sin is mentioned in the liturgy is in the Easter Night Vigil, where it is called “O felix culpa,” the happy fault, the fortunate sin, because it brought us the Savior Christ.

Had I a mighty gun I think I’d shoot the human race. (Emily Dickinson)

Coming off of the pandemic years, there are certainly things that we used to take for granted that now seem almost miraculous.

I look back and remember my roommate and I celebrating Thanksgiving together, because we were both exposed to COVID19 and didn’t want to infect our families. I remember having a small, outdoor burial as we said goodbye to my grandfather. These were difficult times for many. But we made the very best of every moment, showing the resilience of humanity, as long as we worked together to keep each other safe. We’ve shown that despite it all, we can do it.

And life goes on. My cousin recently had a little baby girl, who is a wonderful addition to the family! My sister is engaged, so we are now consumed with dress appointments and flower arrangements and making plans for that much anticipated day. Some of my best friends are also getting married, celebrating new jobs, and making exciting moves.

You don’t really realize it when it’s all happening but it’s amazing to look back and think that there was a time when we weren’t sure if we would be able to have these celebrations again. But people will continue to celebrate love and life and all the things that make it all worthwhile.

There will be burials but there will also be births.

I recently read a book that’s theme focused on the reflection of life and death. A quote that stood out to me read, “It’s not always about the things you’ve done or the mistakes you’ve made. It’s about the people, and what we’re willing to do for one another. The sacrifices we make.”

As the main character reflected on the life he lived, he realized that he was so focused on success that he didn’t treat people in his life very well. Luckily, in this fantasy novel, he had the chance to make it all right again.

It really is about the people, isn’t it?

That’s always a caveat that comes up for me when I think about the possibility of moving somewhere new and exciting. It sounds nice at the time, and it’s fun to imagine travelling to exotic lands, but I feel like I would get there and want to send my family pictures so that they could experience it along with me.

I would want to share it all with the people I love.

For what is life if not to be shared?

The people we love tether us in a world which is so often full of conflict and challenges. Now more than ever.

The pandemic brought to light a lot of selfishness in people, almost shockingly so. But it also brought to light a lot of love and sacrifice, as we realized that the decisions we made greatly affected others and even the world as a whole. How doing something that made us a little uncomfortable in the moment or for a short amount of time could ensure that life could go on.

That we would be able to once again celebrate weddings and births and all the celebrations of life. We are all connected in our desire for these moments, it is the sacramental thread that runs through us all.

As we welcome a new season, I am wishing you all the joys that life brings, and the realization that through all that we experience as humans, it goes on and we can find many reasons for gratitude— particularly in the voices and presence of those we love.

Thanks to the Emperor Constantine (324-375), Christianity became the legally acknowledged religion in the Roman Empire. This came at a price for the Church. Vast numbers of people became Christians, not because they understood and accepted the Christian faith, but because it was socially advantageous to do so. The wealth, power and privilege granted to the Church was accompanied by widespread corruption.

At the same time, Roman society was characterized by decadence and futility. Many individuals came to regard the Church and Roman society as shipwrecks which had to be abandoned for the sake of one’s spiritual life. This is what led to the beginning of Monasticism. Men and women withdrew into the deserts of Arabia, Egypt and Syria. The first of these was a man named Antony, who is considered to be the first monk (monk means “alone). At the age of twenty, Antony withdrew to the desert of Egypt, where he spent eighty-five years living in solitude. He died in 356 at the age of 105. Sections of the Egyptian desert became so populated with monks they were called “cities of monks.” Antony kept moving deeper into the desert to maintain his solitude.

One might ask: What was Christian about the way Antony and those who followed him lived? After all, Jesus didn’t live in the desert. Jesus moved around a lot. He talked and ate with people, etc. Those who usually say these things are married, have children, have a 401K, and a marriage and a car. Jesus didn’t have any of those things. We need to be open to the fact that there is a variety of ways in which people have sought to imitate Jesus, focusing on different aspects of Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus did say to at least one man: “If you wish to be perfect go sell all your possessions, give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then follow me” (Mt.19:21). Jesus also said: “Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt.10:27). Jesus even refers to someone being a eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Mt.19:12). Thus, at least in specific situations Jesus called people to give up things that in themselves are good. Jesus didn’t say these things to everybody, but he did say them to particular persons. We can also recall that St. Paul urged people not to marry, to stay single, so that they can be focused on the things of the Lord (1Cor.7:27-33).

These Scriptural statements blended into what is called the Monastic life. Monasticism has lived on as a numerically small but distinguished feature of the Church’s life in our own day. It is frequently said that the Monastic Orders are what the Church depends for its spiritual power. The Second Vatican Council spoke about the certain preeminence of the Monastic Orders and encouraged their growth.

Most people reach God through the medium of a married love and bringing up children and an active life fully mixed up with the things of time and the world. Many Catholics place a strong emphasis on humanitarian activities such as social justice and social work, outreach and philanthropy, respect for nature— all good things in themselves. But as Pope Francis says: “We have an inner life that cannot be neglected.” We can learn from Monasticism something valuable about inner spirituality. At the heart of Monasticism are solitude and a certain separation from the world.

Solitude, being alone, is at the heart of Monastic life, and it is an important component at the heart of the Christian life. Solitude is the context for prayer. The challenge for most people is how to bring about this solitude? How do we make solitude happen? People answer that question in different ways.

Monastic spirituality involves a certain separation from the world. There are great forces of truth, goodness and beauty in the world. However, the world also involves a set of servitudes. The Cure of Ars used to say: “How pitiable are the poor people out in the world.” There is a whole network of needs and demands which worldly life imposes on people.

Again, here are some Scriptural verses: 1John 2:16: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father, but from the world.” In Romans 12:2 Paul states that the Christian must not be conformed to this world.” And there is the famous Mt.6:24: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” According to the Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, the contemplative Orders tell us about the importance of a certain counter-cultural perspective in our lives, living with a certain contradiction to the spirit of the age.

The wisdom of Monasticism also includes a devotion to reading, as well as detachment and renunciation in some form, a certain dying to self.

When I received my Ph.D., to give thanks and relax, I traveled to Kentucky to spend a week at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemane—the Monastic Monastery Thomas Merton made famous. Twenty years later, when I received the designation “Professor Emeritus,” I made the trip again. The number of monks at the monastery had remained solid. I treasured the week that involved Gregorian Chant, chanting psalms several times a day, silent meals, solitary walks, hours of reading, times of manual labor (I mowed lawns), the Salve Regina at the end of the day. There was the overall silence. I have spent time at other Monastic Monasteries beside Gethsemane, where there was much the same.

Many people do not respond to elements involved in Monastic seeking a deeper experience of God. The elements go against the ideas of most fellow human beings. Still, the Monastic life fascinates a number of people in the secular world. It appeals to the young.

When I gaze out across the pews at daily Mass, I see a collection of people with gray hair, thinning hair, no hair. Grandparents, widows, widowers, retirees, geezers. Some use canes or walkers, others struggle to knee and stand. There are a few middle-agers and an occasional young person.

They have one thing in common. The Eucharist sustains them, so they keep coming back. They realize another thing. The Person who resides in that tabernacle is their hope in a troubled world—not technology, science, sports, politics, celebrities or world leaders.

Most Catholics might look at the empty church and panic—as I do occasionally—and say, “We have to bring young people back before it’s too late!”

I also look out and wonder: How is it that the most important event in salvation history is taking place right before my eyes, and there’s only a few privileged individuals to witness it? It’s more important than a presidential election, the Nobel Prize ceremonies, the lunar landing, the discovery of America, the World Series, the Super Bowl. And yet there’s only a handful to celebrate this event—the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Young people can learn from these faithfully devout seniors.

There’s Anne, estimated age 93, whose joints bother her, so she doesn’t stand for the entire Gospel, although she doesn’t seem to have a problem kneeling. She’s there every morning and then goes to the Senior Center for a program that she leads.

She’s of the most joyful and exuberant people you’ll ever meet, although whenever I crack a joke, I don’t think she can hear me. Or maybe my jokes aren’t all that good. She smiles anyway and that makes my day.

Then, there’s Lucia, estimated age 94, who walks to church every day. She never misses an opportunity to tell me about her childhood in northern Italy near the Dolomites, and her long and wonderful marriage to her late husband. Together they traveled throughout Europe, Asia and Latin America. This brief time in the morning is the most important part of her day.

Many of these seniors kneel in prayer a long time before Mass begins, and they stay to pray the rosary. They’re always there for Eucharistic adoration.

I’m convinced people like them are holding the world together with their prayers. People like them will be the ones that Jesus honors with the heavenly MVP awards someday. They’ll be at the front of the line to be recognized for what they did to spread the Gospel through small, seemingly inconsequential acts of kindness, devotion, service and sacrifice.

They’re the ones who went out into the vineyard and labored, often anonymously, to harvest souls that might have otherwise been lost. I’m also convinced the countless rosaries, novenas, candles and Communions of these prayer warriors will do more to bring God’s Kingdom on Earth than all the political movements, causes and committees we read about every day.

So it would be wise for young people—the so-called Nones—to learn a lesson from their elders. Sit in front of the tabernacle and look for the answers. Make the Eucharist the center of your existence because it is only through the Eucharist that you’ll be able to do great things. But always remember: You won’t be doing them. It will be Christ doing them through you, so don’t be eager to take the credit. Yes, you can learn a lot from your elders.

A man I know who was ordained to the permanent diaconate last year told me the greatest power of example in his life, the person who inspired his vocation, was his grandfather in Puerto Rico. Every afternoon, promptly at 3 pm, the old man would retreat to his room to pray during the Hour of Divine Mercy.

Can you imagine the number of souls that fellow saved by his faithful perseverance in prayer? I’d bet Jesus gave him an MVP award too. It’s amazing the profound inspiration one person can have who lets the Holy Spirit work through him or her.

Look out at the pews during daily Mass, and you will see the people holding this troubled and decadent world together. Are you worried about the world? Then it’s time to join them. (Joe Pisani can be reached at joefpisani@yahoo.com.)

Over the years, I’ve learned that my mood and overall outlook on life are very much affected by my surroundings. So as I begin to get settled into my new apartment, I am looking forward to making it feel more like home. I am noticing that the careful placement of a plant or hanging artwork created by a friend can make a substantial difference in making a space your own.

Since my own living space means so much to me, at this time especially, I am thinking of the many Afghan refugees currently experiencing displacement. When I think of the difficulty I experienced finding an affordable place to live, I can’t even imagine the challenges these people face.

Jesus often spoke about welcoming the stranger. Matthew 25: 35-36 is well-known: “’For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’”

As Jesus and his disciples traveled throughout Judea, they had to rely on the hospitality of others along the way. Many people took them in, even when it was unsafe to do so.

Housing is such a basic human need and yet so many people go without it. Waiting lists for affordable housing are sometimes years long. Refugees worldwide are fleeing their homes in search of safety, and still, some say there is “no room at the inn.”

Whenever of think of these families, I picture the Holy Family. Would they have been turned away if people had known?

Luckily, there is some light in all this darkness. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Catholic Charities, and other faith-based groups have intensified their efforts working with the U.S. government to assist Afghan refugees who require housing and aid as they begin new lives in the U.S.

In our diocese, Catholic Charities of Fairfield County has responded to the request of Goodwin University and the University of Bridgeport (UB) to join in the effort to assist recent Afghan refugees coming to Connecticut. At the request of Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, Mike Donoghue, diocesan director of Catholic Charities, has reached out to Goodwin/UB president Mark Scheinberg to offer his support.

Bishop Caggiano said the University of Bridgeport’s initiative to offer assistance to Afghan refugees is necessary given what is unfolding in their country. “It is a commitment to stand with those who are homeless, refugees and poor. It is a pro-life issue for which I wish to express my gratitude for President Scheinberg’s leadership, vision and support. I am also proud and grateful that Catholic Charities will be joining in this important work.”

Pope Francis has encouraged faithful around the world to gather in prayer and fasting. “I believe that in this global world, every man and woman can do something,” he said. “If small groups can sow terror, small groups can sow peace. And they can do it through prayer, which, together with fasting, which is also detachment from daily life, is a ‘revolt’ against war, as well as an invocation to the Lord, the Lord of history, so that He may open up paths of peace and arouse, through His spirit, the goodwill of men, of the powerful, of institutions.”

Thinking about these refugees makes me realize how lucky we are to have a roof over our heads. This isn’t to say there aren’t difficulties in our own lives, but it puts everything in perspective when we think about those without basic needs. We can call our local Catholic Charities and offer assistance or follow Pope Francis’ call for prayer and fasting. As the pope said, “small groups can sow peace.”

“When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16)

Catholics as a whole have a general ignorance of the Bible. They have little more than a nodding acquaintance with most of the Bible. It is the Achilles heel of Catholicism; it is the Achilles heel of evangelization.

For Catholics, the Scriptures were a heritage and treasure that was left in the shadows after the struggles that divided the Church during the Reformation. Reading the Scriptures was officially discouraged in the post Tridentine era (Tridentine = the Council of Trent), mainly owing to the emphasis given to Scripture by the Reformers – Sola Scriptura. In 1692, a religious author named Pasquier Quesnel published a book in which he asserted that “the reading of Sacred Scripture is for everyone.” That comment was condemned as an error by Pope Clement XI (Constitution Unigenitus Deo Filius). The Church was worried about Bible Texts being used by “heretics.” Most Catholics simply stopped reading the Bible. On the other hand. Martin Luther told his followers to “think of the Scriptures as the richest of mines which can never be sufficiently explored.”

From the point of view of Protestants, one of the great achievements of the 16th century Reformation was that it put the Bible back into the hands of God’s people. The Bible came to be considered a Protestant book. Among Catholics, the Catechism came to be substituted for the Bible. Catholics were actually discouraged from reading the Bible.

Vatican II called for a return to the Scriptures. It called for Scripture to play a central role in Catholic spirituality, indeed. to be the primary source of Catholic spirituality. It stated that Bible study leads to a deeper and more mature spirituality. The Council spoke of the Scriptures as “the food of the soul,” and called upon Catholic peoples to become “gluttons” for Scripture.”

(Dei Verbum Constitution on Divine Revelation).

I love so much of the language in the Bible, its literary power. The American author, Thomas Wolfe, author of novels such as You Can’t Go Home Again, and Of Time and the River, wrote this about the Book of Ecclesiastes: “For all that I have ever seen or learned that book (Ecclesiastes) seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and most powerful expression of man’s life upon this earth, also earth’s highest flowering of poetry, eloquence, and truth. I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one, I could only say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known. The wisdom in it the most lasting and profound.”

It can be pointed out that the Bible writers use few adjectives and fewer adverbs. They may have attended a course in creative writing.

One can come up with a provocative list of questions from the Bible:

Mt.16:26: “What does a man profit if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his soul?
Gen.4:9: “Am I my brother’s keeper?
Jn.3:4: “How can a man be born again when he is old?
Jn.18:38: “What is truth”
Eccl.1:3: “What does a man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
Lk.10:29: “Who is my neighbor?
Lk.10:25: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?

A college student wrote this: “My college roommate, Nadine, was a Pentecostal. She studied her Bible for an hour faithfully every night after classes and before tackling her other assignments. I marveled at her fidelity to a Book I, a Catholic with 12 years of parochial school behind me, has never opened.”

The Word of God is often self-explanatory. However, parts of Scripture require interpretation. There’s often some necessary spadework. Biblical scholarship helps with a mature and profound encounter with the Bible. Pope Benedict XVI stated that he wanted us to do more than read the Scriptures. He wanted us to study them, to wrestle with them. We may commit ourselves to sustained study of a particular book, indeed, spend months with a particular book. There’s the proverb “he who desires to eat the kernel must break the shell.” These days we can study with the resources of modern scholarship which enriches and clarifies. It calls for taking some time and discipline. The Achilles Heel Potpourri By Thomas H. Hicks Thomas Hicks is a member of St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull. “When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16) Catholics as a whole have a general ignorance of the Bible.

There are some laborious and boring Biblical books one might rightly skip e.g., Leviticus, Numbers, Chronicles, Kings.

We Catholics are beginning to again become, in some small ways, a Biblical people. A poor Bible Study can be worse than none at all. It is sadly true that most Catholics still have scarcely more than a passing acquaintance with the Bible. One can be surprised to learn that well-educated people are not generally acquainted with even the most famous Bible stories.

A Biblical scholar, Daniel Harrington, wrote: “I find God largely in and through the Bible. It is for me the most important way to know, love, and serve God.” Many of my own happiest personal experiences have taken place in the academic study of the Bible. The Bible never grows wearisome or stale for me. Like Harrington, I find God largely in and through the Bible.

We cannot conduct evangelization well without studying the Bible. There’s a saying by St. Jerome: “A person who is well grounded in Scripture is a bulwark of the church.”

St. Augustine insisted that sanctity involved “soaking yourself in Scripture.”

Thus, many take the view that the church needs a massive Bible education program, and Bible study should be at the center of what we do in our parishes.

(Mr. Hicks conducts two Zoom Bible Studies. One meets on the second Tuesday of the month from 10 am-Noon. The other meets on the second Thursday of the month from 7-8:30 pm. For information email your name to Thicks@snet.net. The group doesn’t meet during July and August. You will hear from us the first week of September. We are presently studying “The Book of Job.”)

As I was walking back to my pew after receiving Communion, I spotted a fellow who was holding the host in his hand and staring at it curiously, as if he didn’t know what it was or what to do with it. Maybe he wasn’t Catholic or maybe he was one of those Catholics who think the Eucharist is just a symbol with the same efficacy as a crust of Wonder Bread.

A disturbing survey by Pew Research in 2019 concluded 70 percent of self-identified Catholics “believe the bread and wine used at Mass are not Jesus but merely symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” (I’ve often thought that those who believe it’s just symbolic shouldn’t object to receiving unconsecrated hosts.)

Some 43 percent were “unaware” of the teaching about the Real Presence and 22 percent knew but didn’t believe it. This lack of belief in the fundamental mystery of our faith has consequences that go far beyond whether politicians who promote abortion should be given Communion. At the turn of the millennium, Jesuit theologian John Hardon, whose cause for sainthood is before the Vatican, foresaw dire consequences as a result of unbelief in the Real Presence.

“I believe the center of the Church’s crisis in the Western World is the doubt and denial in an ever-widening circle of once-professed Catholics about their faith in the Real Presence,” he wrote. “As a result, we see the massive desacralization of the Mass, hidden tabernacles, iconoclasm perpetrated on Catholic Churches, reduction of hundreds of churches to mere social meeting halls and the casual handling of the Sacred Species. The future of the Catholic Church in one Western country after another is on trial. One thing I have learned is the deepest and most devastating crisis in all the 2000 years of the Church’s history is what we are undergoing now…. In one declarative sentence: Without faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, there is no Catholic Church.”

Many disbelieve the teaching, and even more just don’t care, which is one of the greatest tragedies of our age. When the priest holds up the Eucharist and says, “Body of Christ,” he really means it. And when you say “Amen,” you’re saying you believe it too.

It’s time for believers to say prayers of reparation. The Litany of Reparation to Our Eucharistic Lord says in part: “Lord, for so many unworthy communions, we offer you love and reparation. For the infidelity of those who call themselves your friends but betray you, we offer you love and reparation. For the sacrileges which profane your sacrament of love, we offer you love and reparation.”

In “The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor,” the celebrated Catholic author recounted a dinner she had with critic Mary McCarthy and their exchange about the Real Presence. She wrote: “I was once taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy. (She just wrote that book, ‘A Charmed Life.’) She departed the Church at 15 and is a Big Intellectual. I hadn’t opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but, overcome with inadequacy, had forgotten them.

“Well, the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. She said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity. Now, she thought of it as a symbol…. I then said, in a very shaky voice, ‘Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.’ That was all the defense I was capable of, but I realize now that is all I will ever be able to say about it, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”

Since the first Holy Thursday when Jesus gave us the Eucharist in the Upper Room, it has been the Sun that illuminates the Church because Jesus is really present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

If that teaching sounds unreasonable, far-fetched or preposterous to you, remember one thing: Nothing is impossible with God.

And like Flannery O’Connor, we all should say, “The Eucharist is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”

(Joe Pisani can be reached at joefpisani@yahoo.com)

It’s that time of year again— the family heads to the beach. For one blessed week, we load up our cars with beach chairs, books and sunblock, and make our way to our safe haven on the North Shore of Massachusetts.

Our little cottage has been in my extended family’s possession since the year I was born. I learned to walk in the sand here, the wide-open space perfect for little legs.

This time last year, the house was under construction due to a pipe burst, so this year it has had a bit of a facelift. It was exciting to arrive and see the newly installed floors, new countertops and bright backsplash…almost as if we were seeing it with fresh eyes. But as we sat around the table playing a round of cards, we were reminded just why this place is so special to us in the first place.

For one week a year, we set everything else aside and focus on spending time with each other. Dad can be found scanning the tide line for special shells and rocks. Mom can be found following the sandpipers’ path as they scurry along the shore. My sister and I can be found sunning ourselves on our towels, anticipating our next jump in the brisk surf. Brendan can be found skim-boarding, throwing a frisbee or playing a round of can-jam.

Family and friends come and go throughout the week, quickly acclimating to the time-honored traditions—a cook-out on the deck, a trip to the local seafood joint…and of course, the outdoor shower.

They learn that a long walk on the beach can lead to some of the most special moments and nuggets of wisdom that will never be forgotten.

Those who stay for longer, get to experience the joys of attending Sunday Mass at Star of the Sea. A beach parish true to its name. Parishioners file in in flipflops and shorts, getting to Mass early so they can spend the rest of the day in the sun and sand.

The priest, with a heavy Boston accent, keeps his homilies “short and sweet,” knowing the congregation will be anticipating reveling in God’s beautiful world just outside. A Mass on the beach was attempted…but once everyone got eaten alive by “greenheads,” that was the end of that.

Our lives are interwoven with memories of this place…a story of us. And those who get to experience the joy of it get to feel the magic first-hand.

Taking this time to rest and rejuvenate is so important. Jesus knew the value of rest. After long sermons, he would often take time to himself or with his disciples.

After what we have all been through during the coronavirus pandemic, these moments seem more special than ever. There was a time when we didn’t get to visit with family and friends. So now, we hold those we love a little closer and savor every moment of rest.

Wishing a blessed summer to all—one full of rest and special moments with family and friends.

The general view of physicists is that time started at a specific point about 13.8 billion years ago with the Big Bang. The Big Bang can be considered the “birth“ of the universe and the beginning of time as we know it. Matter, energy, space and time began abruptly with the Big Bang. Hence it can be said that time is a creature of God. Aristotle defined time as the measure of change. St. Augustine defined it as a measure of motion.

There can be no discussion of what was going on before the Big Bang, or, specifically, what was God doing before the Big Bang? There was no previous era. We are dealing with the mysterious idea of eternity.

Augustine reflected on time as a painful affair. Time was the devourer, seeking what it might devour. Time was ever working, never at rest, bringing age upon us all (Confessions, Book One). There is no conquest over time. No one can defeat time. Time will never relent. Time moves and everything comes to an end. There’s all the brightness and beauty that could not last. How innocently time eats the days – all those lost days.

The Scriptures tell us that the sovereignty of God is over the length of our lives. Job 14:5 states that “Man’s days are determined; God has decreed the number of our months and has set limits we cannot exceed.” Psalm 139:16 speaks of the “Book of Life” in which “are written all the days that were ordained for humans when none of those days as yet existed.” God is the giver of time and our term of life is fixed by Him. We are allotted a certain period of time in the world. We have an expiration date. Time belongs to God; it is not our own.

Old age is an end product deposited by time. It is the time of the body’s cruel betrayals that bring with them the indignities of old age. We disintegrate slowly. Those who have reached the evening of their lives have to adjust their lives to the limitations of aging. They reach what is called life’s “last lap,” or the “home stretch.”

There’s a haunting sense of passing time. There’s a fear of time. An old person is now well aware of how November grinds darkly on, how November leans toward December, and December slides into Winter. Children and grandchildren grow and flower, etching mortality even more sharply. The evening is drawing in. There’s a sense of time left. They find the words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus very meaningful: “Stay with us, Lord. For it is nearly evening. The day is almost over” (Lk24:29).

When he was near ninety, the art critic, Bernard Berenson, said: “I would willingly stand at street corners, hat in hand, begging passers-by to drop their unused minutes in it.”

However, many old people are ready. They have had their fill of life and seek rest from the irritations and agitations of life. There is a “ripeness” for death. There’s a sense of relief that the struggle was over. It’s coming to an end, and that’s all right.

There is a Jewish Midrash that says: “When a fig is gathered at the proper time, it is good. The owner of the fig tree knows when the fruit is ripe for plucking and plucks it. The Holy One knows when the time of the righteous has come.”

Old age brings with it the awareness that so many people you loved are gone. There’s the sudden silence. The world without those loved ones is incomplete. There is no substitute for them. Many elderly people say: “It’s not hard to die when everyone you loved is dead.” Our faith tells us we will find one another again. Many of the elderly feel like one who is waiting and waited for. There is a prayer to the angel Raphael, guide of Tobias, which says “lead us toward those we are waiting to see again, those who are waiting for us, those we are looking for.

The daily dread of all old people is—when will it all stop? How many more chances will I have to welcome the Spring? When will it be my time to be shaken from the tree?

There is the loneliness of age. As we age, we have to “let go” of more and more; one thing after another falls away. One can have the feeling of having outstayed one’s welcome in the world. Many old people often feel superfluous and unwanted. Doubtless, one of the assets of old age is the ability to enjoy being alone. Solitude is frequently the lot of the elderly. So many men, particularly, are left an old man in an empty house. They grow old and grow sad. The old sigh for lost years; weep for the short tomorrows.

Despite it all, most of the elderly regard everyday as a gift, and have a deep gratitude for life; a gratitude for all of life’s blessings.

When I think of dying, I remember my mother bending over my bed, singing in her lovely, throaty voice, “Close your eyes and you’ll have a surprise. The Sandman is coming. He’s coming, he’s coming.” To hear that voice one second before death is what I hope for.

Let me end with an anecdote about Winston Churchill that can have a religious meaning. Churchill planned his own funeral. He directed that after the final religious benediction a bugler high up in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral would play “Taps.” Churchill then directed that immediately after the playing of “Taps,” a second bugler, also in the dome would play “Reveille,” the call to get up in the morning.