Guild forms Sodality for Praise and Worship

Martin Gutierrez was in his 30s, working in finance in Manhattan and living “the good life.” He was a fallen away Catholic, dating an evangelical Protestant who regularly challenged his faith. She told him in no uncertain terms that Catholics knew nothing about the Bible, had no sense of community and didn’t know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. It was a long list.

Also see: Sacred Heart Guild’s September Newsletter

“This can’t be true,” he thought, so he googled “Bible study, Catholic, fellowship and community,” and through a series of providential events found himself at a gathering of young adults at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer on the Upper East Side … and his life changed. He experienced what he called a “reversion” and rediscovered the truths of his Catholic faith through a community of young believers.

Ingrid Abeleda had come to a point in life where her faith was routine. She went to Mass on Sunday but silently envied her Protestant friends who, she says, “talked about Jesus like they just had coffee with him that morning.”

“I felt jealous that I didn’t have that type of personal relationship,” she recalled. She was in her 20s, living in New York and touring internationally with a modern dance company, but she felt God calling her to do something else. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, she googled “volunteers, young adult Catholics, hurricane” and was led to the same church as Martin and joined the Frassati Fellowship of young adults, where she found a community of friends in faith … and a Christ she could have coffee with.

Today, Martin and Ingrid Gutierrez want to offer others the same opportunity for friendship and community in Christ. They are co-chairs of a newly formed sodality at the Guild of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Georgetown. As its inaugural initiative, the St. Maximilian Kolbe Sodality for Praise and Worship is holding a series of Eucharistic encounters with Christ at parishes throughout the Diocese of Bridgeport.

The first “Heart to Heart Night of Adoration” will be held September 24 at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Stamford, beginning at 6:30 p.m, and others will be scheduled monthly through May 2023. [See related story.]

The couple is especially grateful to Father Michael Clark, rector of the Guild, for the opportunity to do Heart to Heart and be part of the praise and worship sodality.

“We are really excited about the apostolate for contemporary music because it strikes at the heart for so many people,” Father Clark said. “We have to allow this genre to grow according to its own principles, and that is what we are experimenting with here. We want to harness the power this music has to preach the Gospel so that it harmonizes with our Catholic faith.”

The Heart to Heart nights of adoration, he said, “will give people an encounter with Christ through music, preaching, an opportunity for confession, intercessory prayer and Adoration.”

“We want the Guild to be about excellence in everything it does with a focus on details,” he said. “At the same time, we want to make it super-professional and try to shake things up a bit and open the windows a little. It is very exciting.”

For example, there will be childcare at the nights of adoration, a simple but significant “game changer for people,” Father said.

“Normally, these events are oneoffs and there is no childcare, which means one spouse has to stay home with the kids or that people without kids can’t come,” he said. “We want to give them more options and reach a broader demographic while providing something that really strikes the heart.”

The Heart to Heart nights will be very powerful, he said: “We want to encourage people with fervent emotional music at the beginning and then preach really inspiring sermons … and later calm down to encounter the Lord in the Eucharist so people can bask in his presence during those interior moments.”

Martin Gutierrez said these are experiences the average Catholic does not have, but that when you are in front of the Eucharistic Lord, “Your faith starts to make more sense.”

Ingrid compares it to returning home and says an encounter with the Eucharistic Lord is “always transformative.”

The couple also wants to encourage enduring friendships among Catholics at all stages of life.

“We know the experience of encountering Jesus in friendship is something that will be very powerful,” Ingrid said.

“Belonging to a community is very important to my faith journey,” Martin said, “and we want to create an opportunity for community for others. Christ transforms us in community, and it moves us along our holy path.”

They found inspiration in the example of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, a Catholic activist and Third Order Dominican, who died at 24 and is considered the patron for young adults.

The idea for Heart to Heart came from an initiative begun at Trinity Catholic High School in 2017, said Liz Sweeney, Communications Manager of the Guild.

“The Praise and Worship Sodality comes out of a convergence in the beautiful work of the Holy Spirit,” she said. At that time, she and Father Joseph Gill, then chaplain of the school and currently pastor of St. Jude Church in Monroe, developed Night of Unity, which she described as “an evening of praise and worship, with powerful preaching and prayer, bringing together wonderful ministry leaders from the area to speak and to lead those attending in worship.”

The Night of Unity evenings continued when Father Clark became chaplain.

“There was always the plan to find a way to relaunch Night of Unity under a new name, ‘Hear to Heart,’ which is connected to a much-beloved motto from St. John Henry Newman, ‘heart speaks to heart,’” Sweeney said. The Guild of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus supports programs centered on Christ in the arts and evangelization by focusing on artistic beauty in the Catholic tradition, Father Clark said. It seeks to inspire the faithful through sacred music, painting, architecture, pilgrimages and literature, with particular attention to the needs of young people.

He was appointed rector of the Guild by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, who first articulated his vision in his pastoral exhortation, “Let Us Enter the Upper Room with the Lord.”

Father Clark, who has been painting and singing since he was 7, studied at Cambridge University, graduating with a master’s in theology and law in 2005. He studied for and was called to the bar in 2008 and practiced law as a barrister for five years. At the same time, he was singing professionally at Exeter Cathedral and later moved to Buckfast Abbey as director of music, establishing a professional choir of men and women.

In 2012, he entered the seminary to study philosophy and theology. He received an S.T.B. from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 2016 and studied at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute.

He was ordained on October 12, 2019 by Bishop Caggiano.

Throughout his life, sacred art has led him to an intimate personal relationship with the Creator through beauty, he said.

“The Guild’s role is to help Catholics focus on the arts and how important they are to evangelization,” Father Clark said. “Whenever you encounter God, you are going to encounter beauty. Beauty is my way of accessing who God really is, and it’s not just about taste because beauty has its own language, it has its own rules, it has its own objectivity. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder…beauty is in the mind of the Creator. Beauty is how God expresses himself to us, and so it is essential to a proper understanding of who God is.”

By Joe Pisani