Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

It is November, with its Feasts of All Saints and All Souls Day. On these days I do remember people who figured prominently in my life, people with whom I identified myself. Many of them were relatives, the familiar people whose faces I can picture and voices I can remember. They were the voices of home, of summertime, and Sundays and holidays, and meals together with all the simple joys. I can see before me the faces of grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins and nephews and nieces, god-fathers. Their memory bring back happy times and some situations touched by suffering. Et omnibus in Christo quiescentibus, “and for all who rest in Christ.” How much meaning these words have gathered.

So many people I loved are gone. In the language of St. Paul and the early Christians, they “fell asleep.” Mk. 5:39: “And when He had entered, He said to them, ‘why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’”

Death after death has marred my life and I find myself more and more alone. One can have a fear of some final loneliness. So much fear in the world is fear of this loneliness.
All the people who had loved the young man I once was are gone. For me, a whole world has lived and died. There’s been so many deaths, one after the other. So much is ended. It makes for a lonesome world. Sometimes a procession troops through my mind of all the people I’ve loved and were now dead. There are those who can never be replaced. With them gone, the world seems strangely empty. I thought them immortal. There are times when I catch myself looking for some of them, even expecting to see them. Sometimes I do feel a special sense of their presence in my life.

A number of times I was with a dying loved one. I learned that all of us take with us the knowledge of having loved and having been loved. Research has proven that the five last things which people most want or need at the end of their lives are:

• Granting forgiveness
• Seeking forgiveness
• Expressing gratitude
• Demonstrating love
• Saying good-bye

My Aunt Mae died without a sound, as if to spare her visitors any further trouble. She died softly and quietly. She raised her eyes to heaven, smiled with an expression of mingled happiness, surprise, and delight, and expired.

The loss that marked my life more than anything was the death of my wife, Marcy. It was as if she were going away from me and I could not hold her back. It was as if she were bidding me farewell. I’m convinced that dead she watches over my life.

I’ve often asked God to allow my dead wife to come for me on my deathbed. I often think of old men struggling on alone, experiencing the weariness of survival. Their body has become a burden and a chore for them. It feels as if their body has betrayed and confined them.

As Saint Therese of Lisieux said: “Dying is the last thing I’ll have a chance to do well.” I hope I won’t have left behind any unsaid apologies and unstated affections. The way I would like it to be would be would be no doctors, no hospitals, no sickness and shame, just a sudden step across the line. I would like to end my life giving as little fuss as possible.

There is a Jewish Midrash that says that when a fig is gathered at the proper time it is good. The owner of the fig tree knows when their fruit is ripe for plucking, and he plucks it. It is the same way with dying. God knows when the time of the righteousness has come. As Julian of Norwich said: “His wisdom and love do not allow the end to come until the best time.” I’d like to die in harness, peacefully and composed. There’s an anguish that troubles me at the thought that some day I won’t “be here.” We are all destined to have someone say of us one day, “He’s gone.”

You know, I can still vividly remember my 8th grade classmates. They are not nameless. They are known. I feel they were mine, and shall ever be. An ancient Aztec Indian prayer states that all is on loan; we are only on loan to each other for a short time.

In John 11:23-25 Jesus makes the promise that anyone bereaved of a loved one wants to hear Jesus say to him/her: “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even if they die, will live.”

As I grow older I grow more inclined to see death as the gateway into life, the end of the journey, and the arrival home. The time will come for me to weigh anchor for the final journey. I believe the promise that our death will reunite us with those loved ones who have died, that we will once again see their faces and hear their voices. St. Therese of Lisieux wrote of her parents meeting each other and their dead children in heaven.

There’s that reunion I imagine for me, a gathering of loved ones that awaits me. Sometimes I picture all the people I loved and lost marching toward me from their graves.

I’m disinclined to exit. But I surrender to the mystery of God’s love and mercy.

“One short sleep past and we wake eternally, and death shall be no more; death thou shalt die” (John Donne).

“All life death does end, and each day dies with sleep now. It is all death life does end, and each day lives forever” Enough! The Resurrection.” (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

There’s one more quote I very much like:

Because I could not stop for death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held just ourselves And immortality.
We slowly drove,
he knew no haste,
And I had put away my leisure too,
For his civility (Emily Dickinson).

When I went to the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference recently, I heard a new approach on how to increase vocations to the priesthood. An approach that we all have to embrace, not just for more priests, but to save our Church and to save our country during these troubled and desperate times.

Father Anthony Federico, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Hartford, stood before 600 men and told them: “I am here today because I am not satisfied with empty churches, and I am not satisfied when Holy Mother Church is degraded because I do not believe the Son of God died on the cross for what we see today.”

So what is he doing about it? Every night, he goes before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament on his knees and “begs him for total renewal in our Church.”

Then, he appealed to the audience and said: “I ask you to beg with me, I ask you to beg the Lord for new priests in our Church.”

To be sure, he’s doing other things besides begging Jesus, but it has to start with begging … and not just ordinary begging. We have to beg Jesus face-to-face before the Blessed Sacrament.

Our Church and our world are beset by countless intractable problems that won’t be solved by another task force, another committee, another report, another focus group, another survey, or another study, with or without artificial intelligence. Don’t get me wrong. Those things are fine, and they keep people employed, but unless we’re begging Jesus for help, they won’t mean anything.

It’s reached a time in the history of the Church and our country for us to fall on our knees in humility before the Blessed Sacrament and beg Christ to save us. We have to beg for more priests, for our family members and friends who have fallen away from the faith, for our own faith to be strengthened, for our divided country, for our divided Church, for an end to war, for an end to the anger and anxiety, and for hope and courage.

When Father Federico told his story about going before the Blessed Sacrament every night, he didn’t say, “I asked him.” He didn’t say, “I appealed to him.” He didn’t say, “I petitioned him.” He didn’t say, “I urged him.” More than once, he said, “I begged him.”

When it comes to Christ, none of us should think begging is beneath us.

Do you remember the Gospel story about that very annoying and very persistent Syrophoenician woman who approached Jesus because her daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit? She had more chutzpah than the entire island of Manhattan.

St. Mark said she fell at Jesus’ feet and “begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter.” At first, Jesus rebuffed her and said, “It’s not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Hearing that, anyone else would have crept away downcast, but she came right back at him with her famous retort:“ Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”

“For saying this, you may go,” he told her. “The demon has gone out of your daughter.”

Jesus gets it. Do you remember the parable in Luke’s Gospel about the need to pray with persistence?

Jesus said: “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time, the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me, I shall deliver a just decision for her, lest she finally come and strike me.’”

The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.”

We have to be like that widow. We have to be like that Syrophoenician woman. We have to “call out to him day and night,” as if our lives depended on it. Because they do.

We wondered if it would ever happen. While the other siblings were settled, he was the restless one. We thought he was content being “fun Uncle Dave,” as his nieces and nephews called him, but we were wrong, for all he needed was a little more time. My youngest brother, the supposedly confirmed bachelor who was known for spontaneity, a love of travel, and his city apartment, was getting married.

Though he often had a date for holidays and events—kind, engaging women whom the family welcomed—after a few months, he’d usually say that they were just not “the one.” He watched as friends around him married and settled down. Many had children. One became a priest. To an extent, he enjoyed his single life and the freedom it brought, but I knew my little brother longed for a partner, one to share his life. This became more apparent as he approached his mid-40s, and we wondered, maybe his plan wasn’t God’s plan.

Then, about a year ago, Dave confided in me that he had met Christie. From the first time he introduced her to us at Easter dinner last spring, we saw something different. The ease of their interactions. The genuine laughter between them. The moral values they shared. The way “I” quickly became “we.” Maybe she’s “the one,” we thought.

“No, he’s still just fun Uncle Dave,” Elizabeth assured us, wondering about this woman who had captured the heart of her beloved godfather. “It’s hard to even picture him married!” Abigail answered.

We felt the same, even as the dating apps and well-meaning colleagues introduced him to others looking for love. No one, though, was a partner with whom he could imagine spending his life. It wasn’t until he paused from looking and trying that a new co-worker saw an empty seat next to him at a meeting and struck up a conversation. A connection was made, and he admitted that from the start, he thought he had found “the one.”

Like my brother, Christie had rocky relationships and wondered if she was destined to remain single or to settle for someone just to please others. Even as she struggled and approached her early 40s, hope remained. Was her plan God’s plan?

It was, for them both. It just took a little longer than some.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” I have often thought of this passage from Ecclesiastes in the weeks since Dave called us to share his news. The seasons they spent apart were necessary to bring them together. God led my brother and Christie down a myriad of pathways that seemed, at times, confusing, but in reality, those experiences led them exactly where they needed to be—with each other in mid-life near that empty chair in a meeting room.

Though I think they will both retain their spontaneity and love of travel, fun Uncle Dave will now have a wife, and the city apartment will now be a split level in the suburbs, a home where we can all gather “under heaven.”

I find it hard to turn the calendar page to September. September generally brings some of the rarest days of the year, some glorious days that are among nature’s best. There are luminous days and nights that brim with stars. The calming, cooling touch of September breezes bring the relaxation from summer heat. There is the sparkling freshness of a September morning, and the special softening light of September six o’clock. Those soft September twilights fold over the land.

However, September is always tinged with sorrow. These loveliest days of the year also bring the knowledge that time moves and everything comes to an end. The poet Thomas Parsons caught the mood of September well:

The world is brighter than before –

Why should our hearts be duller?

Sorrow and the scarlet leaf.

Sad thoughts and Sunny weather!

This glory and this grief. (A Song for September)

September brings Labor Day, the day that ends the summer as surely as a period ends a sentence. Summer is relinquished, summer has lost its grip. For me, September brings a sadness that another end has come into life. Summer has come and gone, has come and gone. My heart seems to sense time moving and I become uneasy; time passing, passing like a leaf falling, time passing, fading like a flower, time passing like a river flowing, time passing. For me, September is time hastening. “I know that summer, scarcely here, is gone until another year” (Edna St, Vincent Millay, The End of Summer). I have to suppress tears each September when I leave the beach reluctantly. More and more I think of life as a series of heartbreaking good-byes, of having and letting go, embracing and parting. I’ve come to fear time itself—the slow grinding of time.

In September the sun edges south, days shorten and nights deepen. September brings the crickets and the katydids growing loud in the lengthening nights. The crickets chirp and the katydids rasp as they have chirped and rasped since long before humans appeared on this earth. They provide the music of the September night, the melancholy voice of summer’s ending, a summer gone. It is like taps for another summer. The cool weather will silence them.

September is a month that gleams with goldenrod. There is goldenrod everywhere. Thoreau called it “spilled sunshine.” But there are also the dying gardens, waning flowers living their last days. Trees begin to look withered at the tops, and the maples begin to show flashes of red and yellow September is the month when birds gather in restless flocks, migration on their minds. The swallows and orioles leave early. Their restless voices is the sound of the need to go, the excitement of migration. Others will be on their way before month’s end.

My own awareness of time has become constant and even oppressive. I’ve become very conscious of my earthly allotment of time. The sovereignty of God over the length of our lives is clearly taught in Scripture. Job 14:5 states “Man’s days are determined. You have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” There’s Psalm 139.16: “In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”

The Cloud of Unknowing states “so take good care of time, and how you spend it. Nothing is more precious than time. God is the giver of time. At the judgment there will be an account of the spending of time.” So many of the days and years of those allotted to me have passed. The Second Vatican Council, in its text Gaudium et Spes, 26, makes the interesting observation that God’s Spirit directs the unfolding of time. I wonder how many of my allotted years have passed with their thousands of days and hundreds of thousands of hours. How many more days will God’s patience still grant me? How many more chances will I have to welcome the summer.

Pope John Paul II put things well: “Time belongs to God. This is not our own. We are allotted a certain period of time in this world. Then we move into what is called God’s time—eternity. We try not to waste time, rather to use it effectively.” There is an appointed time for everything. Our days are numbered. There is an appointed end of all things. Our term of life is fixed.

In Hopkin’s “The Wreck of the Deutschland” the transitoriness of life is compared with the sand slipping inevitably through an hourglass in stanza four:

I am soft sift

In an hourglass —at the wall

Fast, but mined with a motion, a drift,

And it crowds and it combs to the fall.

In Greek mythology there is a titan named Kronos. His name means time. He was regarded as a lord of the universe. Kronos swallowed the days. He was greedy. The devourer, seeking what he might devour.

Lately I’ve a sense that it is the time for something to happen. It is the time for an event to happen, or the time for an emotion to be felt. There is the sense of a time which goes with the fullness of things.

Always I have wanted to salvage some moments from the rush of time, to be able to find ways of freezing time and preserve certain events from Kronos and the flow of time.

I’m intrigued by what John Haught says about the transient character of a moment (What is God p. 25). There is the transient character of the moment. It is impossible to hold on to it. It slips out of your grasp. Where did it go? It was present a few moments ago, but now another present has slipped into its place. Did the earlier moment slip into nothingness? Did it undergo an absolute perishing? Where did it come from in the first place?

The older I get, the more I realize you just have to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may. So here it goes:

I had a serious discussion with my wife Sandy recently. I said, “You missed your vocation. You should have been a cloistered nun. All you do is say your prayers, your household chores, tend your garden and read spiritual books. That sounds like the Benedictine life to me. Or maybe you should have been a Poor Clare so you could spend more time in Adoration.”

Not to be morbid, but throughout history, women entered the convent after their husbands passed into the Great Hereafter. A few even became saints. OK, it’s not something I’m encouraging, but you never know what the future holds. Whenever I tell her, “You missed your calling. You should have been a nun,” she doesn’t disagree. Heck, it’s one of the few things we agree on.

In the middle of the night, she’s on the Hallow app, praying her Rosary—or watching the Hallmark Channel on her iPad, which is something I’m sure they don’t do in the convent. I wish I could say we do that together, but when you’re a guy, if you’ve seen one Hallmark movie, you’re set for life.

However, I urge Hallmark to push the entertainment envelope and make a movie about a young woman who’s rejected what society has to offer and leaves it all behind to become a bride of Christ. After all, there are countless former professional women in the Sisters of Life, the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Poor Clares and other orders that are seeing an increase in candidates.

Some of the Church’s greatest saints were women whose spiritual journey took a new direction when their husbands passed. They found new meaning and purpose, and ultimately changed the world.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was 29 and had five children when her husband died, leaving the family destitute. She eventually converted to Catholicism because of her belief in the Real Presence, even though she was ostracized by friends and family members in high society. She founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s to care for the poor and sick and also began the first Catholic schools in the United States.

You’ve probably never heard of St. Monegundis of Chartes, who lived in the sixth century. She married at a young age and had two daughters, who died in childbirth. Grief-stricken, she asked her husband to let her become a recluse so she could live alone in prayer. She built a hermitage in France and became a spiritual director for women who wanted to follow Christ.

St. Paula was a wealthy Roman woman who married at 15 and had five children. When her husband died, she began to serve the poor, and moved to Bethlehem with her daughter, where they began a convent. She became a colleague of St. Jerome and assisted him in translating the Bible into the vernacular.

St. Jane Frances de Chantal married at 20 and had six children. After her husband’s death in a hunting accident, she entered the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, which she and St. Francis de Sales founded. In the following years, she established convents throughout France.

St. Rita was forced to marry an abusive husband, even though she wanted to enter the convent. This torment continued for 18 years. Her husband ultimately repented but was killed in a dispute, and Rita entered the Augustinian convent of Cascia.

Other women have followed the same path to Christ, including St. Louise de Marillac, St. Elizabeth of Hungary and St. Matilda.

Now, I don’t know for sure whether Sandy would be willing to “reinvent” herself, as they say in the professional world. Nevertheless, my point is a simple one. All of us, women and men, should embrace the principles of the religious life as much as we can in this troubled world.

It’s easy to introduce a contemplative dimension into your life, and once you do, you’ll crave more quality time with Christ. Instead of settling for the bare minimum and squeezing Jesus into our weekly schedule, we need to put him at the center of our lives. That means more prayer, more silence, more meditation and more Adoration.

So I’m going to follow the example my wife sets … and maybe I’ll even set aside a little time for the Hallmark Channel.

Six years ago, I finally relented, giving into the pleas of my daughters (and my husband), and agreed to adopt a pet. I never had a dog or cat, rabbit or hamster growing up, the result of my mother’s allergies, so I had been hesitant. However, after an hour or two at the humane society one rainy Saturday that spring, we settled on Juno, a three-year old male rescue cat with a heartshaped nose and a sweet but mischievous disposition. We adored him from the start. Why had it taken me so long to say yes?

Juno quickly became everyone’s favorite, thriving on attention as he lay on the kitchen floor when we prepared dinner, chased his shadow down the hallway, mingled with guests at our Christmas parties, or followed a repairman around the basement. He even sat with us on the couch during the pandemic as we watched Mass each Sunday. And my daughters smothered him with unconditional love, despite an occasional accident on the rug or swipe at their legs. Even for those, like my mother, who weren’t “cat people,” it was impossible not to love Juno.

His sweet but mischievous disposition began to change this summer though, as he became less playful and more lethargic. Happy purrs were replaced by weak meows. Concerned, we brought him to the vet who gave us devastating news: cancer. There was little that could be done, so we took Juno home. Though a shell of his previously energetic self, he persevered, still sitting near us as he bore his suffering quietly. We prayed that the medication added to his food each day would cure him. It didn’t. Patrick found him one morning early this fall, curled on his beanbag chair, motionless. Our lives never seemed so empty.

During times of sadness, as Catholics, we find comfort in prayer, and this time was no different. In memory of Juno, we prayed to St. Francis who loved all creatures. We remembered Noah who cared for the safety of animals. Above all, we thanked God for bringing Juno into our lives, enriching us with his companionship, and entrusting him to our care. That brought us comfort, along with the stories we told of Juno’s happy times and the sympathy we received from those who also loved him.

Soon after his death, I walked by the beanbag chair, now empty, the imprint of his little body still embedded. The girls could not bear to move it. Six years ago, I thought that grieving the loss of a pet would be short-lived, even trivial. Through Juno’s presence, I now understand the power of loving and mourning an animal. As part of our family, he showed us the importance of being playful, displaying compassion, enduring illness, and respecting life, even in death.

When friends ask if we’ll get another cat, our answer is usually the vague “at some point,” knowing this emptiness, though waning, needs to be filled. But the other day, Patrick said his coworker’s cat had just given birth. “Kittens?” Elizabeth asked, eyes wide. “They have kittens?”

Though nothing could ever replace Juno, I don’t think that beanbag chair will be empty for long.

Have you ever been swept away inside the rhythms and sounds of a piece of music that expresses what words cannot? Have the sounds of a great singer ever seemed to rise like incense as s/he sang? There are times that have a timeless quality of human existence. There are some times of sensing the “deep down of things,” as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it. There is the “more” to life than meets the ordinary eye. Behind all the ordinary stuff there are some “ultimate realities.” It is in music, art, literature that we come to respond to aspects of these realities (the word “art” is commonly used for all aspects of creative work, including, e.g., sculpture and architecture).

There are the creative persons, the creative minds, who bring sparks of enlightenment scattered through the darkness of the world. There are the creative titans: Mozart and Bach, Handel and Brahms, Shakespeare and Tolstoy, etc. who awaken us. Their names are associated with creativity and genius.

I believe we can listen to God through great music, paintings, literature, and art. We glorify God who has given such artistic gifts to human beings. Great artists are revealing God to us. As Goethe said of one of his own writings, it contains more than the author himself knew. All true art is revelation.

Great art, great paintings, sculpture, music, literature, film, poems, and other works can be marvelous aids in our journey to God. Pope Benedict XVI wrote that beautiful art is an important way to experience God.

From creative musicians, artists, painters, writers, we can experience new levels of reality, have an awareness of a deeper sense of being alive, learn to live life more fully.

Where does the creativity come from? Interestingly, creativity has traditionally been called inspiration, a word that implies a touch of divinity. There’s a beautiful Norwegian legend that before some souls are put into a body, the soul is kissed by God, and during all of its life on earth, the soul retains a memory of that kiss and relates everything to it (cf. The Holy Longing, Ronald Rolheiser, p.15). Artistic ability is a God-given blessing we marvel at.

Creativity is a lonely affair. It generally involves those who are willing to take on solitude. Creativity, such as writing, is done alone. There is the solitude and loneliness that surrounds the act of writing. Creativity is also hard work. Ernest Hemingway stated that he rewrote the concluding pages of A Farewell to Arms 70 times. He also stated that he thought it appropriate to do 100 rewrites of The Old Man and the Sea. There is often the sheer labor involved in creativity. With writing, a huge amount of time and effort may be expended on a single word or phrase. There is the power of carefully crafted words. The best plays, with their immortal lines, can evoke the big questions of our lives.

Poetry can have very important parts to play in life, and in the spiritual life. The reading of poetry is an excellent preparation for prayer. With the best poetry, the moment may come when the eyes of the blind are opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. There are the moments when a poet captures an emotion perfectly.

We need creative people in our lives: poets, painters, writers, actors, etc.—such gifted people are a precious gift. They give God a way of coming to expression. For example, Flemish painters do many paintings of home interiors, especially the way light moves about Dutch rooms. They make us see the domestic scenes with a sense of revelation—life is enhanced. Art is life-enhancing. It enables us to participate more fully in life. Plato believed that children should be taught music before anything else; in learning to pay attention to graceful rhythms and harmonies their whole consciousness would be magnified.

Most Catholics are deficient in a rudimentary appreciation of literature and the arts. In the late 19th century, Cardinal Henry Newman had to defend having literature courses in Catholic Universities.

The purpose of education and preaching is to highlight and make people more sensitive to the fact that we can listen to God through great music and art and literature. One tries to help people sense the beauty in art, music, paintings, poetry, the beauties of language. There is the power of great literature and music to change our lives. Words and music don’t merely say something, they do something. There is their awesome power. A handful of words, artfully arranged can be a magical thing. They can enable us to participate more fully in life.

Every gifted artist is a mouthpiece of God. Even great plays reveal God to us. When we read and study literature at its best, incorporate into our lives the best of creative artists, we glorify God who has given such gifts to human beings. Life is lived more intensely. There is more to life than surviving, thriving, and dying. Great art is the helpmate of religion. Gifted artists enlighten us. They can bring us face to face with some real, true reality. There is the artist’s gift of seeing things in their beauty and truth and weaving them into melodies that other people can understand. Great art evokes moods as well as ideas. So much of the common world, the hum and bustle of ordinary life, receives spiritual expression by painters, musicians, writers, etc. There are some words from Hopkins again: “For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.” There are moments when the eyes of the blind are opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

It was a typical Monday morning Mass with the usual suspects—seniors, retirees, homemakers and nonagenarians—when suddenly five minutes before starting time, a grandmother, her daughter and her daughter’s five kids, from 2 to 14, came through the door, followed in short order by another mother and her 7-year-old son, a father and his 3-year-old daughter, and a woman with her 4-year-old-niece.

The mood in church changed immediately. It could have been a screening of “Bluey,” the popular cartoon show about a Blue Heeler puppy, who lives with her family and gets into all kinds of situations.

Of course, it’s tough to have that many youngsters in one place at the same time and avoid pandemonium, and it was obvious all the adults were trying their hardest to keep the situation under control, until the youngest member of the entourage—a feisty 2-year-old, wearing blue spectacles, shorts and a T-shirt—decided to take the law into his own hands. While his 10-year-old sister held him, he started to do what 2-year-olds do best: perform.

He had no concern for social propriety or the fact that Father had just begun his homily about the Gospel story, where the mother of the Sons of Thunder, James and John, asks Jesus to let her boys sit on his left and his right when he comes into his glory.

The louder Father talked, the louder the young tyke squealed to the consternation of his mother and grandmother. The boy’s sibling caretaker hastily carried him to the back of the church to minimize the disruptions, so Father could finish his sermon and to avoid scandalizing the other adults who hadn’t seen this much excitement at Mass since the children’s choir was allowed back after the COVID restrictions ended.

The 2-year-old managed to arouse attention with his laughing and squealing and toddler hysterics, which only intensified when he broke away from his sister and started running between the pews with her in hot pursuit.

For every kid in church, his performance was more entertaining than Father’s homily. To a child, they were all focused on the back of the church to witness his lively antics. And the little guy didn’t disappoint. For someone who didn’t even know the English language, he was masterful at creating comical mayhem.

My normal grouchy grandfather reaction would have been, “Get that kid under control!” But as I watched all the kids giggling at this spectacle, I couldn’t help but smile and watch him entertain them.

I’m from that era when kids were immediately shuttled out of church at the slightest sign of commotion, and I’ve done that a lot myself over the years. However, now I’m inclined to advocate bringing all the kids in and not getting uptight if they act like kids.

How does that hymn go? “All are welcome, all are welcome in.”

As I was watching this toddler trying his hardest to get laughs, I thought of that popular saying, “What would Jesus do?”

Do you remember that encounter Jesus had with children, which is recounted in Matthew 19?

“Then, children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray,” the Gospel account says.

“The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.’” The disciples were the ones who were uptight when the kids came to Jesus. But Jesus had an entirely different attitude. He welcomed them, he wanted them to come. And you can be sure that he didn’t have any rules for good behavior when they came to him. I’m convinced he didn’t say, “Now, children, stand erect, be quiet, pay attention, be polite, don’t act goofy, and don’t act like children.”

I’m sure he loved when they acted like children, rather than children being forced to act like adults.

And so, what would Jesus do? As I watched the little boy, whose name I later learned was Patrick, having a grand old time entertaining everyone, I asked the question WWJD and immediately a thought came into my head. Jesus would be joining the kids because he loves children and he loves joy and he loves a good laugh or two.

“Did you know that in 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted for 12 hours?” asked Nathan, tugging at my sleeve.

“That’s so interesting,” I replied, guiding him toward his seat. “Let’s sit down now.”

“But I still have to tell you about the alien movie I watched last night!” He clearly did not want to sit.

“Maybe later on when class ends,” I said, hoping that would settle him. It did – for a moment.

“Why can’t I sit over there?” he continued. “It’s too cold near the window . . .”

This was the scene that often played out before religious ed class began eight years ago, when Nathan was in fourth grade and I had volunteered to teach nineyear-olds about the Old Testament and the parables—not ancient Europe, and certainly not aliens.

The students, including sandy-haired Nathan, were really a special group: inquisitive and kind, but this young boy’s autism made it difficult for him to remain seated and attentive. It was not unusual for him to ask random questions, wander the room during prayer, and tell me that Adoration was boring one week, then kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and tell me that he had just met God the next. Class was sometimes a challenge, but even when his attention was brief, I knew his faith was strong. In time, I prayed that it would flourish.

Those students and I bonded that year, so we chose to remain together in my Wednesday evening class as they moved into middle school and Confirmation prep. Soon, I watched as they all, including Nathan, were sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Some I continued to see at Mass, the grocery store, or a high school event, but not Nathan. Until one Sunday in late summer.

During the sign of peace, I glanced toward another section of the church, and there, next to his mother, stood Nathan, with that same sandy hair, but seemingly twice as tall as I remembered. After Mass, I walked toward them, hoping to say hello, and found him not in the pew but kneeling at Mary’s altar, head bowed. The boy who had trouble sitting through 10 minutes of Adoration now continued to pray long after Mass ended. When he rose and blessed himself, a smile spread across his face, and he opened his arms to me. Still full of questions, Nathan asked this time about my family and our summer travels, then shared his plans for senior year and a new part-time job.

Though I saw glimpses of that nine-year-old wandering through the classroom, this was now a young man I hardly recognized. It’s not that he just grew up. The faith he held as a child, though somewhat concealed by distractions and frustrations, flourished with an understanding of God’s love I rarely witnessed in others his age. I saw it in his eyes, in the way he spoke, in his gestures toward the altar and the reverence he displayed.

“I’ve changed a lot,” Nathan said, though that’s never what I had wanted.

“Not too much, I hope.” “Don’t worry,” he replied with a half-smile.

“I still like aliens.”

Last winter, a friend of mine started planning a new book club and asked me to join. I hesitated. I was already committed to several others—my neighborhood book club which read the latest best-sellers and my after-school book club with students who devoured the library’s young adult section. Plus, I must admit, at times I longed to read something on my own. Yet I agreed, my interest piqued, since she chose an angle for this group which was missing in the others. A faith-filled one.

Gathered on a Saturday morning in her church’s community room, we sipped coffee and offered book suggestions, an eclectic group of women from various ages and stages. Some I knew; most I did not, but we united in a love of God, a devotion to faith (and books), and, if we were lucky, a community of newfound friends.

The following month, we began with excerpts, thankfully excerpts, of what my friend called the “tome” of St. Faustina’s diary and moved onto a shorter reflection on the life of Mary Magdalene, just in time for Lent. I missed the next discussion on a classic work of the Holy Spirit, and then we found ourselves at the onset of summer. To celebrate the season with a potluck by her pool, my friend chose Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, so reflective and inspirational, a book I had enjoyed over the years.

Into the suitcase I tossed my well-worn copy as we packed for vacation. While the rest of family braved the chilly ocean waters one afternoon, I sat on the beach, iced tea in one hand and, appropriately, Gift from the Sea in the other. Never before had I read it in this locale and never before at this point in my life. Hearing the sound of waves crashing in front me, I understood even better the author’s interpretation of the ebb and flow in the tide of our lives. Seeing my teenagers and their friends searching the shoreline for sea shells, I felt her comments about motherhood more deeply than I ever could as a young adult.

As I watched and listened, I also felt, as I did in the past, God’s presence which always seems so powerful near the sea. Despite the age we are or the stage we’re in, the psalms remind us: “More than the sounds of many waters, than the mighty breakers of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty.”

As I continued reading, I wondered if the others would react as I did. What would give them pause? How would they connect spiritually? The woman in her 20s who recently started a new job. The woman in her 70s who finds joy in her grandchildren. At next week’s potluck, I imagine sharing, with a community of friends I once hesitated in joining, the stories and perspectives that emerged from this book, so different from those I realized in the past though equally valuable in a myriad of ways.

Closing the pages and preparing to brave the chilly waters myself, I lifted a prayer of gratitude for books and friends, family and faith, God and the sea.

Whenever I get discouraged— and lately it happens a lot after I read the news—I try to think of people I’ve met who are what they call “powers of example” in 12 Step programs. You could say they’re my “spiritual powers of example.”

Imagine this scenario: Several times a day, I’ll shake my head in disappointment at the way things are going in the world and wonder if it will ever get better. But that disappointment is dispelled when I cross paths with someone who brings light into the darkness. I’m convinced God sends certain people to give me encouragement, which is something all followers of Christ need from time to time in our aggressively secular society.

These “spiritual powers of example” are people of no real worldly consequence. No politicians, no celebrities, no corporate leaders, no social activists. No one of particular prominence.

They come in all shapes and sizes, but they generally share one fundamental characteristic— they “put God first in everything they do.” Those aren’t my words. I borrowed them from actor Denzel Washington’s commencement address at Dillard University, when he told the graduates the most important thing they could do in their lives was to put God first in everything. I’ve never heard a celebrity say that before.

That approach to life is a common denominator of the people Jesus sends my way to revive my hope. Some of them are young men and women committed to Christ, who make me realize that despite all the hubbub about the so-called “nones” turning away from religion, Jesus is at work, doing what he does best, making all things right. Never doubt that Jesus is always at work despite what the state of the world makes you think.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the nonagenarians, those women and men in their 90s, who after all these years are still working for Christ in the vineyard.

One fellow I recently met is turning 100 in a few weeks and still plays golf, but more importantly, he still goes to daily Mass. He’s a true hero. When he was 19, he flew bombing missions over Nazi Germany.

Another person who inspires me recently passed away at 93— Sister Catherine Theresa Sottak.

For a long time, my wife Sandy tried to track her down because we hadn’t heard from her. Then, earlier this year, she opened a letter from New Hampshire with her obituary. Sister had died February 7, 2023. The obituary, which her sister sent, told the remarkable story of woman who entered the Daughters of the Holy Spirit at 16 and spent her life without fanfare working in the vineyard for Christ, all over the world.

She taught in Alabama, where she was principal of a Catholic school, and later in Burlington, Vt., Bridgeport and other cities. She went into nursing and worked with migrants in Maryland. In 1983, she became a missionary and traveled to Nigeria, where she served in a pre-natal clinic. She was also active in a ministry to the poor in Alabama and Haiti, before returning to the provincial house in Putnam, Conn.

Sandy met Sister Catherine while she was a visiting nurse, caring for a teenager in a coma for seven years after a boating accident. They were both in a healing prayer ministry.

The obituary confirmed what she already knew, that Sister Catherine was the most saintly woman she’d ever known.

If we ever had doubts about our faith, being in the presence of Sister Catherine immediately dispelled them. She was everything we’re called to be as Catholics, but can never quite achieve.

One other thing. Everyone who knew her would always say Sister Catherine was surrounded by the scent of roses. That, the Church teaches, is called the “odor of sanctity” — a sweet and pure aroma of flowers that lets you know you’re in the presence of a holy person.

The night before she and Sandy flew to Venezuela on a pilgrimage, Sister Catherine stayed at our home. In the morning, I immediately noticed that the bedroom smelled of roses, and I couldn’t resist asking her the obvious question, “Sister, do you wear perfume?”

She smiled and promptly responded, “Oh, no. Never.” All the good she did in her life and the number of people she touched are incalculable. Only God knows for sure. But her guiding principle was simple. She put God first in everything she did.

Sister Catherine, pray for us.

From childhood on, summer and I have been the best of friends. When I look back, most of the good memories of my childhood are connected with summer.

A new summer has begun; we have the gift of another summer. God grant us the good sense to enjoy the remainder of this summer, to exult in summer. Grant us the wisdom to know that there is a time to play, a time to cease from our labors. It is a season of ease. Summer is meant to be the season of leisure days, a time to revel in life. Summer carries a sense of escape; we leave the office early on Friday and take long weekends. It is “the Good Old Summertime.” Life should be easier. I have a vivid memory of a day when I was 11 years old and it was a summer morning, and the day stretched ahead promising nothing but good and happiness. The summer morning air was streaming with the pulse of life.” As the Lebanese writer and artist Kahil Gibran put it: “to wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving”—to enjoy life while it was still fresh and new.

I love the sweet smell of summer rain, the blue skies with some cloud puffs, those long summer twilights, as John Keats put it, “what is more gentle than a wind in summer” (Sleep & Poetry). I loved the outdoor summer concerts. The world does bad things to us all. Still, the Creator intended life to be enjoyed; to enjoy thankfully all that God gives us to enjoy. There is the smiling side of life, when nothing is more important than the best choice of ice cream.

I’ve known dying people who prayed that they might have the gift of one-more summer.

There’s the words in Job 37:14: “Harken unto this, O Job, stand still and consider the wondrous works of the Lord.”

I recall a day when my family had a beach picnic at Valley Stream State Park. We were all together. It was a lovely day, and life was still in its bloom, dissolving age was far away. Why did my Mama and Pop have to grow old and die? My brother is dead too; he died of Alzheimer’s disease. But that day at Valley Stream, we were all together and happy. That day life was a very great gift. Did we realize it at the time? There’s that marvelous last line in the play Our Town:

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? No … The saints and poets, maybe— they do some.”

Summer’s lease is all too short. The summer begins to wither away. As someone put it, summer is too beautiful to stay. Dusk comes a few minutes earlier, and sunrise a few minutes later than they did a month ago. Day light begins to shorten. The season begins to wither away.

I hate to see each day end. I let each of them slip away unwillingly.

For me, a deep loneliness always comes with summer ended. I can picture September’s barren porch where leaves are gathering. The end of summertime aways brings to me memoires of many lost and lovely things.

Summer, life at the apex. It is a time to take pleasure in beauty, in friendship, in being well, in being loved, in loving

Blessings on your summer. May God grant us all blue skies this summer. Let summer in.

I would suggest an attitude which wants to use summer to instill in a child a love for living, which gives him/her the feeling it is good to be alive, it is good to be on this earth enjoying God’s gift of life.

Can people be religious and not spiritual? The answer, of course, is yes. “I’m spiritual, not religious” is a common response. Many people’s definition of religion is simply “not hurting anyone.” Many people who leave the Church say they want more from religion that rules. Pope Francis warned against defining holiness simply as strictly following specific laws. The truth of the matter is that religion is not the point, spirituality is.

The religion of my youth involved an occupation with saving one’s soul, avoiding hell, shortening purgatory. However, with time, I recognized that ordinary life was full of grace and mercy and there were “God Sightings”, times and ways in ordinary events of our daily lives when we were aware that God was making himself known. We can identify God’s loving interventions in our lives. There is a transcendent reality behind ordinary events. God speaks to us through events. Luke describes Mary “pondering all these things in her heart.”

Also with time, I developed, with many others, a consciousness that we were made for something more than we were now experiencing. There’s an emptiness ready to be filled. There’s something Simone Weil said: we are in danger of starving to death, not because there is no bread, but because we think we are not hungry. Close contact with the worldly usually arouses in me a longing for the spiritual. A writer named Selma Lager was right in warning that the soul cannot live on fun alone.

God has various ways to draw us to himself. In George’s Herbert’s poem (“The Pulley”), God says that if a human being can’t come to him through goodness, “weariness may bring him.” At this time, many feel a certain weariness with the world.

Then we are told that God expects something more from us than submission and reverence. He wants us to love him. Deut. 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” And there’s Jn. 14:21: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me, and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

God wants us to love him! I’ve been trying to figure out what loving God is all about. Soren Kierkegaard said “it is God’s passion to love and to be loved.” God’s love is not a general love. It is a love addressed to each one personally. And God’s love is to the utmost: Mt. 10:34-36: “Anyone who loves father or mother move than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”

Thomas Aquinas said we are Capax Dei—capable of God. We are creatures with a capacity to have a direct relationship with God, with the Infinite, with the One sustaining the universe.

Karl Rahner stated it is natural for humans to seek God we have an inherent orientation for Him, and it is possible to have a loving relationship with the Creator. Indeed, there is Rahner’s famous statement: “The devout Christian of the future will either be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or he will cease to be anything at all. For devout Christians will no longer be sustained by the religious customs” (Theological Investigations, NY: Herder & Herder, 1971).

I’m fascinated with Moses’ relationship with God. Moses, slow of speech and slow of tongue (Ex. 4:10) ends up speaking to God “face to face,” and one speaks to a friend (Ex. 33:11). God declares something like love for Moses – “you have found favor in my sight, and I know your name.”

I’ve been trying to figure out what loving God is all about. Spiritual writers speak of how we develop a relationship through prayer and reading; one must pray regularly and read regularly. In prayer, we speak to God; in reading, God speaks to us. Spiritual development requires time and effort.

The early Christian scholar and theologian, Origin of Alexandria (185-253), said loving God consists in becoming as much like God as possible; there is a configuration to God. This would involve taking on God’s qualities of love, compassion, understanding, hospitality, forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy, less inclined to judge others. Christian writers in general speak of love, humility, and detachment as indispensable in a love of God. One enjoys solitude more.

I’ve experienced moments of unusual closeness with God. These occurred at distant intervals; they were only passing visits. But I have never fallen in love with God. I haven’t had this kind of emotional connection. There have been some brief glimpses from time to time. Lately, I feel God closing in again, and I long to call out to him.

I’m convinced there are people who suddenly or gradually fall in love with God. One encounters this among the elderly who live lives of peaceful gratitude to God.

However, saints like Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux assert that the friends of God are few. Therese of Lisieux goes so far as to say: “Oh, how little God is loved on this earth, even by priests and religious! No, God isn’t loved very much.” Julian of Norwich (d. 1413) said: “Most people are spiritual babies.”

A book by Diana Bass gives a reason why so many people leave the Church. She notes that people will go where they are fed, and if they are not fed at church, they leave. (Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as friend and teacher)

It’s June, and the wedding season is upon us, which reminds me of our wedding, when there was so much festivity the wine almost ran out, just like at Cana.

Let me put this in proper perspective. There was so much festivity, I considered shutting down the open bar. Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.

The Wedding Feast at Cana lasted five to seven days. They knew how to celebrate in Jesus’ day. To recap, the guests were probably into their second or third day of celebration, when the wine ran out, which had the potential to become a major embarrassment for the family.

Ever-observant and attentive to the needs of others, the Blessed Mother turned to Jesus and said, “They have no wine.” And Jesus famously responded, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”

His use of the word “Woman” often startles us. I’ve even wondered what might have happened if I called my mother “Woman.” Let me speculate and take you back to Sunday dinner at the Pisani household. My father, my two sisters and I are seated around the table, preparing to feast on my mother’s famous veal parmigiana.

She’s finishing up in the kitchen, and I can’t resist tasting a forkful, but the veal is warm, so I call to her: “Woman, this veal parmigiana needs to be heated.”

Woman responds: “Then get off your lazy (word deleted) and heat it.” I guess Woman didn’t appreciate my constructive criticism.

However, to clarify, in Jesus’ time, the use of “woman,” which might be translated as “lady” or “ma’am,” was not a sign of disrespect. He used the word again as he hung on the cross and said, “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” It has also been considered a reference to Our Lady as the “New Eve.”

Back to our narrative. The Blessed Mother turned to the head steward and, “Do whatever he tells you,” which is profound advice all of us should take to heart.

The Blessed Mother wasn’t deterred when Jesus hesitated, because she knew he would grant her request. That’s encouraging to those of us who pray for her intercession. It might not have been the right time, but Jesus answered his mother’s request nonetheless, because Jesus always answers his mother’s requests.

Jesus told them to fill six large stone jars with water and said, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” When he tasted the water that had turned to wine, the waiter called the bridegroom and said, “Everyone serves good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” St. John the Evangelist tells us that “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.”

The Wedding Feast at Cana is one of the most beloved Gospel stories, frequently depicted in art. At the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury, classical painter Paul Armesto recently completed a 43-by-14-foot mural of the occasion. The second largest in the world, it covers an entire wall of the McGivney Family Center and has 72 figures.

“Next to the Resurrection, the Wedding Feast at Cana is the most celebratory event in the Bible,” rector Father James Sullivan says. “It has themes of marriage and family and the first miracle Jesus performed.”

The largest mural of Cana was painted by Paolo Veronese in Venice in 1563 and later stolen by Napoleon and brought to the Louvre in Paris, where it’s displayed opposite the Mona Lisa.

Armesto’s work has much symbolism. Light emanates from Christ, who is the central figure with the Blessed Mother. Nearby are the 12 apostles. Judas is the only one looking away from Jesus. There is an elderly couple and a dog, who is fixated on Christ, indicating all creation gives glory to God. Close to Peter is a rooster, foreshadowing his denial of Jesus three times before the cock crowed. Also included are the artists Veronese, Titian and Tintoretto.

Armesto, who spent months painting the mural, has works on display worldwide. For him, art has one ultimate purpose: “To praise God, who is the only Artist, the Creator.”

The beginning of summer brings thoughts of lazy days and firefly-speckled nights, hours spent outdoors in hopes of peace and rejuvenation. “Peace be with you,” we say to those around us on Sunday morning, wishing each one times filled with contentment.

While looking through photos on Instagram last week, I came across one of a Massachusetts harbor at sunrise. The image was so serene—sailboats in the background and a little dinghy off to the left, perfectly calm waters smooth as glass, and a sky the color of violet with sweeps of light pink in the distance. I imagined the photographer smiling as he took the picture, the sounds of seagulls and lapping waters the only distractions he likely had while capturing it that morning.

The heading read simply “This is what peace looks like.” That evening, I couldn’t agree more.

It had been an exceptionally busy day with commitments and responsibilities piling on top of each other. When one minor bit of chaos subsided, another began, so by the time I saw that photo late in the evening, I was ready to settle onto one of those sailboats and find my own little moment of peace.

Clicking to save that image, I thought about the heading. Standing on the dock that morning, that’s what peace looked like for him, but maybe a gust of wind blew by soon after or a captain started his engine, breaking the serenity. Such moments are often fleeting and finite, though we continue to find them—or they find us, sometimes intentionally, sometimes spontaneously.

On the Saturday of Father’s Day, when both the rain and our schedules had cleared, we decided to hike for the afternoon at a state park, taking advantage of the increasingly rare days all together as a family. Setting out on the orange trail, we headed for “Little Falls” but somehow ended up on the blue trail.

“It’s an adventure!” my husband Patrick said. Soon Abigail announced, “Little Falls is this way. Take a right!” Just then, the rain clouds opened again, albeit briefly. “Should we head back?” Elizabeth asked, pulling up her hood. Determined to find those “Little Falls,” we continued, until finally hearing the sounds of gushing water. As it turned out, the falls weren’t so little after all. The steep cascade, resembling a staircase, rose up before us, and after much rain, the waters flowed abundantly. We stood in awe, not another hiker in site, and gazed heavenward at this undisturbed natural formation.

After a while, I prompted them to pose for the camera. As I snapped the photo, a mosquito flew toward Elizabeth. When Abigail tried to brush it away, she knocked off Patrick’s hat in the process, causing laughter among us. I checked the picture. The “Little Falls” stood majestically behind them, and the sky was clear once again.

Within that moment of happy chaos was also a moment of peace, the beauty of nature around me and my family in front of me. Though not as perfectly serene as the boats in the harbor at sunrise, for me, that was what peace looked like.