St. John The Evangelist
R.C. Church, Center Moriches, N.Y.
Inspired by our patron, St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Center Moriches seeks to bring the light of Christ to a world in need, so that as Christ has done, we may also do. From the celebration of the Eucharist, we are sent forth to serve God and neighbor through ministries of formation, education and outreach.
The Way, The Truth, The Life: WHERE ARE WE GOING?
Dear Parish Family:
The first line in today’s Gospel, at various times, causes me to look up to the heavens with an eye roll. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Seriously? Do you not see what is happening here? It is a Gospel reading that is chosen frequently for funerals. I often feel the same in some of those moments. In this time of grief, “do not let your hearts be troubled” can seem like some simple, trite line of comfort. Thomas feels it too, no? Jesus gives us this beautiful reflection and assurance. Don’t worry. I am the way and truth and the life. Thomas isn’t totally buying in yet. My paraphrase: “What do you mean? We have no idea where you’re going. How can we know the way?”
I feel a lot like Thomas these days. My prayer, and even at times my work, is often sharing some of those feelings. Where are we going Lord? What is going to come from all of this? What do you want of me? How will we be as a country and world? Will we lose our focus on the gift of life for the sake of material security? How many more will be in need because of illness, unemployment, abandonment, marginalization? Will we ever see a time when unity might really happen in our world and our country as people start to take their sides in one debate or another? How about our Church? Even now, some of the same old divisions are creeping in. How are we going to come together? How different will our celebration of the Eucharist be in the months ahead and when? When will be able to offer the sacrament of reconciliation regularly again? How are we going to keep our focus on mission—of coming to know Christ more deeply so we can bring his Light to the world? How can we care for those who cannot get here now and those who will not be able to be here in the future because of this pandemic? What about the increasing need among us while the resources are a little more limited than they used to be?
I pray the worries my worries about young people. Virtual learning is working but there are vital components missing in the teaching relationship. There is a powerful strain on families and teachers and students (and principals :)! How do Catholic schools—who are doing an exceptional job in these days—come through this? What will September look like? I see the struggle in myself and in others. I see the longing for people to no longer be distant and feel it in myself. I see the risks of isolation for people young and old. I hear the strain these times put on families and friendships and relationships.
I have encountered the agony caused by pain and violence and abuse in these days. I hear regularly of the anxiety and financial strain on so many. I see the pain of a complicated grief that can’t be ministered to in our regular ways. Indeed, the Lord and I are having a good go around in these days. Perhaps, like you, sometimes I just want to avoid the conversation. Yet, I find myself drawn to it.Sometimes it’s when I go to lock the Church at night or just sitting quietly in Seton Chapel when going from one building to another or sitting early in the morning in my room in the Rectory or walking alone in the community. I don’t get answers. Neither did Thomas. There was no plan, no working group, no commission to discern the way. It’s pretty simple, “Follow me. You’ll be OK. I’m all you need.” Start there and together we can figure out the rest. Then, I’m a little better able to see. A family reaches out and says “Come to our ‘Social Distance Around the Fire’ gathering tonight, Fr. John. The phone rings and there is time to talk to someone. The third grade in the school donates tons of meat so we can serve the poor this week (picture to the left). A friend reaches out at just the right time. A silence brings peace.
No answers to the questions. They are signs of consolation that the Lord is walking with us showing us the way, the truth, and the life. Let’s keep praying - pray for each other in these days.
Bridging to Mary, Mother of the Church - 5/3
Dear Parish Family:
On Friday, the Church in the United States and in Canada renewed its consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Mary, Mother of the Church. It has brought forth a lot of images in preparation for Friday (I’m finishing this on Wednesday.) This past summer I joined with many of you in the Preparation for the Total Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I found it enlightening, challenging, overwhelming, demanding, and inspiring all at the same time.
I thought of that experience this week as we celebrated the feast of St. Louis de Montfort. In the morning prayer with the school, we prayed together with Fr. Frank Pizzarelli, SMM, the Founder and Executive Director of Hope House Ministries. He spoke about what drew him to be a Montfort Missionary and about St. Louis de Montfort’s passion about calling others to Marian devotion. I think about the image of Pope Francis praying at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome before he leaves and after he returns to Rome. I see the dedication of those committed praying the Miraculous Medal Novena. I think of the incredible devotion of the women and men who pray every Thursday afternoon as part of the Legion of Mary and then go forth to carry out many, many good works.
I am challenged whenever I see that statue of Our Lady of Lourdes in the IHM Meeting Room in the convent building. It is a reminder of my home parish that formed me. Hidden away but a constant challenge to try to heal. I am in awe of the living saints so committed to praying the Rosary after Daily Mass here at SJE. I empathize with those who come to light a candle by the Blessed Mother statue in the Church. They ask the help of a Mother who understands. I am comforted by the statue of Mary that hangs unassumingly in Seton Chapel, quietly looking down on those who look toward it. I think of a priest - a little more outwardly radical than most—who encouraged me in a difficult times, “You’re going to be surprised hearing this from me but ask Mary for some help. Trust me.”
I am grateful to know a young person in the school who was struggling with a lot of fear and worry. On a tough day, I gave him the Rosary beads from the Holy Land that I use that were in my pocket. (I had a duplicate set in my room.) He would be sure to show me whenever he walked by, usually with a smile and some peace. I miss that. These images come to mind as we enter the season of May—the month of Mary. It is not a month for us to focus on a devotion to Mary. Rather, like all devotions it leads us not to her, but to her Son.
Our prayer seeking Mary’s help is not limited to time or space or places or statues or locations. Like our relationship with Jesus, it is not prevented from growth, devotion, friendship or dialogue by the limitations of this present moment. I sort of think it was similar for Mary, at times, too. How often was Mary not with Jesus on his journeys? Yet, did she fail to pray for him or long for him or desire for him to be closer to her? I don’t think so. As we long for Jesus in the celebration of the Mass and in our physical presence of one another, let us unite that longing with Mary and the images of our own hearts. In a particular way, I ask you to make an effort to pray the Rosary every day in this month of May in a special way seeking God’s help for the strength and courage we need in these days of pandemic. Pope Francis has asked us to pray two additional prayers at the end of the Rosary in May. They are found on page 9). Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us! Please, if you can, say a prayer for me. Father John.
From Fear to the Font Where’s Your Well? - 3/15
Dear Parish Family:
We are in the midst of Year A of the liturgical cycle. There are three years - A, B and C—which begin with the First Sunday of Advent and conclude with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Each year highlights a certain set of readings and focuses on a different Gospel. During Year A we read primarily from the Gospel of Matthew. The readings for Advent, Lent and Easter are often unique to the year as well. The readings in Lent during Year A are also the readings the Church requires when we pray with the Elect—those to be baptized at the Vigil—present.
Traditionally, we celebrate the Scrutinies with the Elect on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Sundays of Lent. This year, as it is Year A, we hear from these readings at every Sunday Mass. So what is it about these readings that the Church wants those coming to the font for the first time to reflect upon? What are those already baptized called to consider in these days? We’ll consider this over the next three weeks with each of these Year A readings which come from the Gospel of John during Year A. The Samaritan woman is a character that strikes me. I’m not sure it’s one thing. I think it is her desire to avoid (coming midday to the well), her willingness to engage with Jesus (what Samaritan woman would speak to a Jewish male?), her direct responses to Jesus, her awareness of her sin, her willingness to leave it all behind (that jug does not go with her), or her role as a prophet telling all about Jesus. It is all of those things. She is real. So she comes to this well thinking water is all she really needs to get through the day.
She leaves knowing that the physical thirst is really the least of her worries. It is the deeper desires, the deeper longings that no husband (or wife) or person or object or thing of this world can satisfy. Too bad I struggle to buy it. I don’t know about you. I find myself donating a lot of things these days. Clothes, extra prints/posters of things, books, etc. At some point or another, those were easily big deals to me. I wanted this or had to have that or must read this. This letting go of things is good, I think. It is part of that work of detachment we prayed about during the Novena of Grace. I think I am fooling myself at times. I know it, actually. You see I can get rid of clothes but clearing out my heart of struggle and hardness is not always on my list. I can get rid of old posters and pictures but can clutch on too tight or be too tough on people. I can donate old books but still fill my mind and heart with bad ideas and thoughts. I can convince myself that these “things” are enough—the thoughts, the relationship, the control, etc.
They easily become wells where I go to fill myself up. Momentarily or even for a little longer than that I feel like I am good, that I have all I need. It is a false satisfaction. So where is your well? Where do you keep going back to? What sin? What vice? What addiction? What person? What activity? Where do you go thinking you will be fulfilled? Be honest about it and talk to the Lord from the heart. Don’t be cagey like the Samaritan woman at first (“I don’t have a husband”). Let it out. He already knows! Ask the Lord to help you to love him even more in word and in action. We know that the more and more we fall in love with Him the more and more we will try to love like him. We will become those witnesses because the brokenness will be healed by the most incredible healer—Jesus! Then, we inspire more and more to come to the Lord and “many others will come to believe in him” (John 4:39).
Please say a prayer for me. Father John
Overlay Stoles—Volume 2 Down the Mountain - 3/8
Dear Parish Family:
On the Second Sunday of Lent, we read the story of the Transfiguration from one of the Gospels. The mountain is an image used so often in Scripture. It is here that so many encounter God. It is above the “everyday”, it is removed from the “in and out” of everyday life, it is a place that appears to be moved from so many distractions. As I write this second column about our prayer at the liturgy, I think there are some great comparisons to be made between how we pray at Mass and in the various liturgies we celebrate and the story of Jesus, Peter, James and John (and Moses and Elijah!) in today’s Gospel. They are intensely focused in this moment. They do not, if you will, take their eyes off of what is happening. Isn’t that the posture we should have at Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament (and even our times of quiet and individual prayer)? We should be so focused, so intensely focused on what is happening that we do not miss a thing.
This is especially true of our participation at the Celebration of the Eucharist. Do you and I pay attention to what is happening? When the Church speaks of full and active participation in the liturgy it has much less to do with “doing something” and much more about being “present” to the moment. What can help you to be less distracted? What about trying to come a few minutes earlier and getting yourself into a “place of peace”? This is why we have a few minutes of silence before Mass most Sundays. What about removing what might distract you during Mass (for example if you’re reading this right now during Mass this is a good distraction to think about getting rid of!)? Maybe consider turning your phone off or not bringing anything that might distract you into the church? I have been trying to leave my cell phone in my office in the rectory on weekends.
I realize how easily it can be a distraction. Not only when I am using it but when I have to process what I read or who I spoke to, etc. Leaving it back home frees my mind. It is a help. It is also good to pray not to be distracted by Mass. Let me explain. Sometimes we may not like a hymn or the way a certain presider speaks or how a reader reads and so on. We can get caught on that or distracted by it. Let God speak to you even in those moments to bring you calm and maybe even see His presence in that moment.
Now what happens with Jesus, Peter, James, and John? They have to come down the mountain! They cannot remain at the mountain. They must go back into the “real world” and face the everyday life of discipleship. So do we. What’s the difference? If we were paying attention, if we really entered into the moment, then we had better be different! If we really have encountered the risen and glorified Christ in the Word and the Eucharist (at the mountaintop, if you will), how can we come down the mountain the same? We must be changed. How can we pray the prayers of the Church and remain the same when we pray Evening Prayer or Morning Prayer? How can our encounter with the Lord in our devotions (Exposition, Rosary, Chaplet, etc.) not transform us? Even moments like the Novena of Grace should draw us in so we can go out. Here are some things to consider.
Are we kinder? Are we more open to the presence of God? Are we filled with more desire to care for the poor? Are we offering forgiveness or more actively seeking to become more humble? If we’re not, we’re probably not paying attention. We might be distracted. We might be too caught up in ourselves! We’re missing it!
On Day Four of the Novena of Grace, we prayed, “Lord, before I ever came into being you knew me and loved me. You have knit me together the way I am, and given me life and laughter, friends and the faces of kind strangers, and a world of wonder and new discovery. Grant me the freedom and the courage to discover you anew each day in the people I meet, in the places I go, in the sounds I hear and the things I see.” May this be true most especially in our liturgical and communal prayer. Father John
Novena of Grace THIS WEEK! - 3/1
Dear Parish Family:
During Lent, many parishes are offering Parish Missions or evenings of reflection. We have done that over the past years here at SJE. This year, after talking with members of the Pastoral Team, we are going to do something different. We are going to participate, as a parish I hope, in the Novena of Grace. Tradition has it that the Novena of Grace traces back to 1633. A Jesuit priest, Father Marcello Mastrilli sought the intercession of St. Francis Xavier. In a message from St. Francis Xavier, Father Mastilli heard, “All those who implore my help daily for nine consecutive days, from the 4th to the 12th of March included...will experience my protection and may hope with entire assurance to obtain from God any grace they ask for the good of their souls and the glory of God."”
March 12th is the date of St. Francis Xavier’s canonization. Over the nine days of the Novena of Grace, we are going to implore the help of St. Francis Xavier through acts of prayer, community, and service. (An image of St. Francis Xavier is found about the South Vestibule doors.) It is my hope that this prayer will help us grow stronger as a parish and allow each one of us to know more intimately the passionate love God has for each one of us. So how does this work? It’s pretty easy! This week, at the doors of the Church, special booklets are available for all to use. We have worked to provide some reflections for each day of the Novena. We will begin the Novena with a Solemn Evening Prayer THIS WEDNESDAY at 7:00 p.m. in the Church. I ask you to come, if you are able.
We will pray the Liturgy of the Hours, led by our Music Ministry. At that service, each one of us will be asked to place a particular intention before the Lord as part of the Novena. It may be a prayer intention for you or for someone you love or for the Church or the world. This will help us to focus our prayer each day. Each day of the Novena, I ask that you follow in the book that will be provided. There are directions, reflections and prayers. Please commit to take some time each day to pray the Novena. In addition to the prayers, we ask that you consider being a part of some or all of the “events” of the Novena. You do not have to be part of any of them….but I hope you will. There is more information in these pages, but let me draw you attention to a few of the “event” type things: Solemn Evening Prayer—This Wednesday. We will begin the Novena this Wednesday. Please try to come and pray with us at 7 p.m. in the Church. Day of Service and Mercy —This Thursday.
We would like each member of SJE to do some spiritual or corporal work of mercy. Did you forget them? Don’t worry—they’re on page 7 of this bulletin. It may be as part of an organization or something you do individually. Whatever you do, remember you do it in the service of the Lord and His people. Day of Fasting—This Friday. We ask all parishioners to fast this Friday. To fast is to refrain from something, usually food but not limited to that. (How about that smartphone?) This absence links us to the poor and the vulnerable. It also reminds us that ultimately it is God alone who provides, not the things of this world. We ask everyone to fast and pray especially for victims of child abuse. As a church and a local community, we have seen this pain.
Let us turn it all over to the Lord. Day of the Cross—Monday, March 9th—We welcome Creative Ministries to SJE for a presentation of Journey, Cross and Crucifixion. This will take place in the Church at 7:30 p.m. on Monday. FROM THE PASTOR’S DESK March 1, 2020 St. John the Evangelist www.sjecm.org Page 4 Day to “Catch Up” - Tuesday, March 10, 2020—Did you forget to fast? Failed to do your acts of charity and mercy? No problem. Use this day of the Novena to catch up or to fast and serve a little more! Day of Spirit—Wednesday, March 11, 2020—A special call out to our young people for this great 3 on 3 tournament. See the enclosed flyer for more info! East End Holy Hour—Thursday, March 12, 2020—This will conclude the Novena. We welcome Fr. Jim Donovan, S.J. to lead and preach at the Holy Hour. There is part of the bulletin - page 6—which you can “cut out” and hang in place to remember all of this! I hope you can create the time and space needed to enter more fully into this Novena of Grace.
The hope for us as individuals is that we might receive answer to our prayer—God’s answer, not ours. Our hope, too, as a parish is that great fruit will be born from this Novena of Grace. You can see signs of it— desire for more people to be part of Exposition of the Blessed Sacraments, the beginning of plans for 2023 and more. As you can probably relate, I have a connection to this Novena. Bishop Murphy ordained me to the priesthood on the 3rd of December, the feast of St. Francis Xavier. Someone introduced the Novena of Grace to me soon after and, honestly, it has made a major impact in my personal, spiritual, and pastoral life. I hope the same will be true for you! Our Lady Queen of Apostles, pray for us! St. John the Evangelist, pray for us! St. Francis Xavier, pray for us!
All holy men and women, pray for us! And, if you can, please say a prayer for me. Father John
Lent 2020 …DESPITE YOU - 2/26
Dear Parish Family:
Last Tuesday, I traveled to Philadelphia to concelebrate the Installation Mass of now Archbishop Nelson Perez. Bishop Perez served as the Auxiliary Bishop of Rockville Centre when I was assigned to be the Pastor at St. John the Evangelist. He visited SJE a few times. In 2017, on the day when the church building was destroyed in the fire, he was one of the first ones here (see picture to the left). He was and is a great role model and example for me of a servant and of pastoral leadership. The Installation Mass last Tuesday overwhelmed me on many levels. Philadelphia is an amazing city. Someone I came to know on some level is now the Archbishop of Philadelphia.
The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Peter and Paul is tremendous. The liturgy itself inspired me with its diversity and reverence. Archbishop Perez’s presence and homily offered me some hope and consolation. He provided as a theme for the liturgy “Jesus, Our Hope for the World”. He concluded his homily with a refrain he says he uses quite often. He said, “Never underestimate the power of the Spirit of God working in you, through you, and despite you!” The last part of the sentence made the entire cathedral laugh. It made me sit up. The Holy Spirit works in each one of us and through each one of us. These days of Lent are good days to remember this. Each one of us is endowed with the gift of the Spirit in the sacrament of Baptism.
No exceptions. There are times when we feel that may not be the case. Perhaps it’s a reason you’re reading this letter. We are down on ourselves. We are overwhelmed. We are filled up with all of these other things—good and not so good—that we may feel we don’t leave much for room for the Spirit. We can even feel like the presence of God is absent from us. We want to walk away. We want to give up on faith. That is probably true for a lot of us on a day like Ash Wednesday. If this is you, happy Lent! These are good days for us.
We remember that despite all of our failures and weaknesses, God still works. The Spirit moves and dwells in each one of us whether we think we are in control or not. (We’re not in control, by the way!) For in these days, we bring it all back to Baptism. We celebrate with those preparing to receive the sacrament of Baptism at the Great Vigil. We are honest about the areas in our lives where we are not living as the beloved of God. We recall the various images and symbols of baptism in these Lenten days. These days of Lent are good days to do some things (make a Lenten sacrifice, set more time for prayer, offer your time in one of our ministries, or donate time or resources to the good works of charity and the Church and so on). Read the pages of this bulletin and you can find many opportunities.
Perhaps, too, it’s a good time to slow it down a bit, to be quiet, to trust a little more, to believe that with God “all things are possible” and see that the Spirit is going to work despite us. We can do it “the hard way or the easy way” as my parents used to remind me. It might be a good time to consider the ways we can better cooperate and better open ourselves to the Spirit. This openness will get us on the right path. It will show us an easier way. Let’s pray that despite us God’s Spirit will continue to dwell.
If you can, please say a prayer for me. Father John
Liable to Judgement? HOLY ANGER - 2/23
Dear Parish Family:
I recall attending an Evening of Prayer for Priests a few years ago. The presenter, addressing priests specifically, asked, “What are you doing with your anger?” Then he said, “Please note: I did not ask if you had any anger. We know that answer, don’t we?” I didn’t like the feeling of either comment but I had (and have to admit) he was correct. Anger often shows itself in the negative. We say something hurtful. We become violent in word or action. We post something in fury. We jump on the bandwagon of hate against this group or that one.
I don’t believe that anger is always bad. We see, in the Scriptures, times when Jesus was angry or extraordinarily frustrated, to say the least. It is true that anger can often inspire us to make change – within ourselves or in the world in which we live. Recently, in our community, we are so angered by the death of Thomas Valva. We show some signs that anger may bring about some positive change. However, anger can often be a blaze that quickly fades or becomes its own focus or subject. We find ourselves always angry – even if we keep it under wraps. I suppose there is a call to transform that anger into a holy anger, an anger the drives us to more Christ-like action. How does that happen? I wish I had a clear answer.
The words of today’s psalm gave me some thoughts to share. Now, I just have to work on following them myself! First, we need to pray. Period. End of sentence. Hear the words of the psalm - Be good to your servant (119:17). In moments of anger – whether justified or unjustified – we need to bring that to the Lord. I am not always so sure a big list of words or prayers is needed. Sometimes just being quiet and taking time to contemplate is all that is needed. He helps us to keep things in perspective. Ask the Lord to be good to you in the midst of the moment of anger you are facing. Ask him to help you go deeper. Second, ask the Lord for the vision to look within. Here, again, the words of the psalmist, “Open my eyes, that I may consider” (Psalm 119:18). A priest I sometimes listen to was speaking to a group and offered this tag line as part of a larger talk, “if you don’t look in you’re going to lash out.” Ask God to help you get that inner vision so you may see what is really upsetting you. I find it’s often not the external thing that I am reacting to in my angry responses. There’s something deeper in me that I am not letting the Lord touch. Third, pray the Lord will “give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart” (Psalm 119:34).
Ask the Lord to help you take the next steps. How can I make this moment of anger holy? How should I respond? What should I do? And sometimes nothing is a good answer! Let me share an example. A few months ago, someone came up to me after Mass livid. He was angry about one part of a homily I delivered at that particular Mass. His finger was loudly in my face. It was definitely a “closetalker” moment. What did I do? I reacted. I did not respond in love. I shot back one better in my own anger. There was nothing holy about it or me in that moment. I should have put my head down and let him walk away. My angry response did nothing to help the situation. I have not seen that person in church since. I find it is better for me to take a step away.
Let God’s spirit help me to respond. Not every action needs an immediate reaction – either in person, on the phone, via email, etc. A little time and a little space for God’s grace to work can go a long way. It allows us to take the long view. To move from an immediate, short-term reaction to a reaction of depth and reflection. So what are you doing with you anger? Maybe with God’s help it can lead you to deeper holiness! Father John
Isaiah 58: Making Light Shine: 2/9
Dear Parish Family:
The way the liturgical year works light has been prominent over the past three weeks from the 3rd Week in Ordinary Time, the Presentation of the Lord (celebrated on a Sunday this year) and the readings from this Sunday. I do not know if it’s because of the liturgy alone or perhaps my own need to feel more of Christ’s Light these days but is definitely impacting me. I have always loved today’s first reading. It’s part of the reading we proclaim on the Friday after Ash Wednesday (so come to Mass on February 28th to hear more!).
The prophet Isaiah speak very clearly about what happens when light shines. Can I share some thoughts—admittedly my own and probably not the best—that might be a help? Might be a good pre-Lenten check up for you and certainly for me? So “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them”….and then your light will shine! If you are reading this bulletin you know this parish works pretty hard to do these things. What would make them even better would be if even more people engaged in these activities!
How about these ideas? What about donating a percentage of your food budget (maybe 2 or 3 or 10%) to Ernie’s Place or our Street Ministry? How about each time you get a new item of clothing you donate an existing item to our Thrift Shop? (How many t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, etc. do we need?) What about getting involved in our Street Ministry or Community Meal who serve many who are in need of shelter? How about volunteering in our Parish Social Ministry as we are constantly seeking housing for individuals and families? Then, your light shines. Actually, the Light of Christ shines through you!
After all this then “your wound shall quickly be healed” when the light shines. There is something about this isn’t there? When we move out of ourselves, particularly in moments of struggle, and go out of our way to be there for others we are lifted. We pray this in the Prayer of St. Francis when we say it is in “giving that we receive.” Our giving helps the other. When we allow God to use us for the good of the other, don’t we become a little more of God’s healing presence? Further, Isaiah writes, “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech...then the light shall rise for you in the darkness.” This focus moves us from exterior action to interior reflection. For the words we speak, the oppression we allow or encourage, and the false accusations we consider so often come from an interior darkness. We can quickly judge, condemn, castigate, slander, or destroy one another pretty quickly. We do this with the words we speak, the thoughts we hold, the posts we make, and bandwagons we jump on. As we approach the days of Lent, could we consider removing those internal weaknesses that so quickly lead to external destruction? What’s common in all cases here? It involves a real letting go.
We need to let go of so much of the “stuff” we hold on to. You and I know that, in many cases, we can do with less so others can have a little more. As we let the healing Light of Christ touch our wounds, we become stronger. When we speak less, think less negatively and are more open, do we not encounter the presence of Christ in the other, even the one we may have judged wrongly or too quickly? Know what the next verses are “Your people shall rebuild the ancient ruins; the foundations from ages past you shall raise up ‘Repairer of the breach,’ they shall call you, ‘Restorer of ruined dwellings’.”
It just takes a little light. Father John
Senior Ministry: OLD PEOPLE - 2/2
Dear Parish Family:
I remember when my grandmother lived by herself in New York City we encouraged her to consider attending a local senior center or community center. She refused saying “Those things are for “old people, not for me”. My grandmother was 87. I think of her today as we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. We see the encounter of two “old people” - Simeon and Anna.
They remain in the temple all day, waiting and praying, longing and desiring for the coming of the Lord. It is Simeon and Anna who recognize the presence of God in their midst. How come? I like to think it has to do a great deal with their wisdom and experience, their perspective and status. I always ask myself if I give enough honor and respect to the elderly in my life. I think sometimes I take people for granted. It is not intentionally disrespectful. It is just sort of one of those “they’ll always be there, right?” things. My dad’s passing sort of shook me from that. I probably was not shaken up enough. Pope Francis in reflecting on a passage from the Letter to the Hebrews writes: “The remembrance of our ancestors leads us to imitate their faith. It is true that old age is at times unpleasant, because of the illnesses it brings. But the wisdom of our grandparents is the inheritance we ought to receive. A people that does not care for its grandparents, that does not respect its grandparents, has no future since it has lost its memory.” We try hard to respect our wisdom figures here at SJE. First, we are in their debt. So many of our ministries are coordinated, “staffed” and led by seniors.
They bring that wisdom and experience, that perspective and status to so many things in our parish life. I worry some times that we are not grateful enough. Honestly, I worry that sometimes as Church we take the elderly for granted. In a formal way, we attempted to address this a few years ago. Sister Ann came forward to develop a ministry to seniors in our community. (Please note: It’s not for old people! :)) How can you not be amazed at all that has happened here in the past few years with the people of wisdom of our parish. From opportunities for prayer, weekly scripture reflection, bereavement groups (not just for seniors), visits to the sick, retreats, field trips and more, the variety of opportunities for seniors is significant and it is growing. Sister Ann doesn’t stop...and I do what she tells me!
Second, we work to care for the elderly particularly through our outreach ministries. We bring communion to many who have become homebound, we make efforts to minister in hospitals and nursing homes and we provide for their needs in the midst of ever increasing costs. It is never enough but it is another effort. We do have a challenge with the variety of senior ministries.
They are not being utilized enough. Sister Ann can be working much harder (I’m only teasing!). We have so many opportunities for our wisdom figures to grow more deeply engaged in the life of this community. For them to share with our community, while I hope we can share with them. Can you help us find some “Simeons” and “Annas” in our midst? What about a parent or a grandparent, a neighbor or a fellow parishioner? More than finding them, can you bring them and even accompany them to an opportunity that is offered here in our parish? The journey of Simeon and Anna is one of fulfillment. They come to know the presence of God in their midst. They are at peace. I hope for those who come to pray with and minister to us in any of the ministries in our parish, particularly through our senior ministries, come to know the presence of God as well.
Let us pray for the ongoing work of our senior ministry! If you can, please say a prayer for me. Father John
Letting Go of the Nets: FOLLOWER - 1/26
Dear Parish Family:
I love to read. One of my problems it that if I read one book and that author cites or recommends another book I usually get that book and then if that author recommends a book I get that book….and well they start to fill up my bookshelf. I wish I could say I get to them all. It’s a work in progress. In reading a book recently the author recommended a writer I have always found challenging and, honestly, overwhelming—Henri Nouwen. He died a number of years ago but efforts have been made to go through his writings.
The latest book entitled, Following Jesus: Finding Our Way Home in an Age of Anxiety, has pushed, prodded and pulled me. There are times I read certain sentences and I have to catch my breath. You probably have a few authors like that too. Fear and anxiety are inevitable, I suppose.
There are times we are stopped in our tracks. Now what? Where do I turn? How do I take the next step? How will I ever get through this? Over the past few years I find I struggle more with anxiety than I care to admit. Part of it is the responsibility of the work I am involved with. Part of it is that I probably care too much. Part of it is that the unknown is already a little fearful. Part of it—and probably the largest part—I don’t trust enough.
Writing about a similar passage to today’s Gospel, Nouwen writes, “The disciples had a mentality of scarcity and so do we...when we are concerned that there isn’t enough, our first response is to start hoarding. We start hoarding the bread, the fish. Hoarding honor. Hoarding affection (people/ relationships), hoarding knowledge. Hoarding ideas” (38-39). Are you a hoarder? I’m not. I give things away. I don’t have a lot stuff (except the books!). Or am I a hoarder after all? Do I hold on to too much of what I am about or who is in my life or my status or position or whatever it may be? Truthfully, if I am holding on to those things there is often no room for me to grab on to Christ. So you know the next step, right? Letting go. Speaking of himself he says, “If I hold on to a friend or if I hold on to an idea, I find myself anxious and nervous. Why do I choose this? Do something different! Something happens. Something totally new” (42). I do not know if I want something new. Sometimes fear and anxiety almost become too comfortable, become what we’re used to living with. How can I not be possessive or afraid or overwhelmed or fearful? What’s the answer? It’s in verse 19 of the gospel passage— “Come after me…”.
It is not about imitation. It is not about dramatic turns. It is not about self righteous behavior. It is not about turning to a different time and place. Simply it is “about a movement that comes from the heart...from the deepest place of our person” (47). It is not a cookie-cutter response. It is a unique response for each of us. For some it might mean getting out of a boat or dropping our nets. For others it is giving space to someone we love. For others it is letting go of something we are working so hard to control. For others it is about looking to the Lord instead of everywhere else. It is about asking Jesus to help us find our own unique way to fully follow, to fully trust Him. In the school, we teach a lot about being a leader, not a follower. It’s a good concept and important for each one of us to consider in this world in which we live. In the spiritual life perhaps a little bit more following (and trusting) and a little less leading (and managing) might bring us some peace. It might just set us free.
Please pray for me. I promise the same.
The Catholic School in Center Moriches: CALLED TO HOLINESS - 1/19
Dear Parish Family:
It is hard for me to believe that I am beginning my 17th month as the Principal of Our Lady Queen of Apostles Regional Catholic School. I have written before and will say it again. Never did I imagine I would be back in a school. It has been overwhelming, exhausting, challenging, exciting, exhilarating and scary – usually all at the same time.
I have seen some pretty amazing “things” – i.e. initiatives, programs, and developments happen here. From the establishment of the Middle School Academy to our new Young Apostles Program, from STREAM (Science + Technology + Religion + Engineering + Arts + Math) to Project REACH (Research + Education + Academics + Catholicism + Hope) with St. Joseph’s College, from rising test scores to increased engagement in the local community, from a new relationship with Jimmy Osborne Music giving young people opportunities to use their gifts to new initiatives in Math and Science helping young people be better prepared for high school, from a new parent organization (FUN), to a reinvigorated and renewed school board, there are many wonderful things happening here (and that was quite a run-on sentence!). We are blessed with an incredible staff, wonderful families, awesome students and outstanding community support. What a gift!
What I just wrote about are signs of good things happening and good opportunities for our students and families. The truth? If I took religion out of the last paragraph you would not see too much difference between this and other schools— public or private. What makes OLQA different is the influence of the Catholic faith and values that infiltrate those who come to our community. Not every member of the community is Catholic and, Lord knows, we’re not all saints, starting with the Principal! There is something about the sense of community that is formed when the Catholic faith is involved. Can I share with you one sign to me that the Spirit is alive? In my months as the Principal, we have seen an overwhelming engagement in the life of the faith in the local parishes. I think we have 25 altar servers from OLQA and our young people are serving as sacristans and in the liturgical life of the Church.
They are involved in the Street Ministry and helping organizations of the parish. They pray each morning, pray the Angelus before lunch each day and seek Mary’s intercession as they are sent forth at the end of the day. They pray at Mass each week. They raise money, collect food, serve meals. They, for the most part, look out for one another. Most hope-filled for me is the number of students and their families who have come back to the life of the Church. By the end of this month, we will have baptized nearly ten students (from Grades 2 to 7) and received numerous students and their families into the Catholic Church from other Christian traditions. The Church is growing in this part of Center Moriches because of the community of faith we—and I hope every Catholic school —are trying to build.
This is the way Catholic schools are supposed to work. By belonging to a strong community of faith, staff, students and families seek to grow deeper in that faith while bringing it far outside the walls of the school. It is how the Kingdom of God is built here and now. By no means is the Catholic School in Center Moriches without its faults. We are always seeking to grow. Good disciples are always looking for those ways to grow. I hope you will take some time to visit one of our Open Houses, whether you have a school-aged child or not. Come and see the difference a Catholic school can and will make. Then, think about how you might become part of the Catholic School in Center Moriches. Please pray for me. Father John
Baptism of the Lord: UNCONDITIONAL - 1/12
Dear Parish Family:
Recently, a young person I work with and I went at it. We have a pretty long history of going back and forth. I was not happy with some of his decisions, his lack of respect for his mom, and was direct about it. It wasn’t pretty. He shut down and I understood (and get it). I ran in to him as I was walking into the school this week. He saw me coming and put his head down. I walked over and talked to his hood for the first minute or two. (The hood went up when he saw me coming.) He said he was sorry for letting me down and said he knew what he had done was frustrating to me. We talked for a bit and sorted things out. I reminded him that I only want the best for him and wasn’t giving up on him (even if he’s killing me!). I tried to explain to him that my care for him was unconditional, even if I am unhappy with a decision or direction. The hood came down, he gave me a hug and we are going forward.
Today we conclude the celebration of the season of Christmas as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. On this day, we hear about the “servant whom I uphold”, the “chosen One”, the “anointed”, the “beloved”. These are beautiful titles and images for us to consider as we recall the Baptism of the Lord and, I hope, our own baptisms as well. We enter into this unconditional bond of love in the celebration of Baptism. We are the chosen ones, the “grasped” (see the 1st reading), the beloved. How quickly we forget it! As we take some time this week to recall the significance of our own baptisms, I want to ask your help in getting some more people involved in the process of Baptism. Belonging.
This weekend, members of our Belonging program are going to speak to us before Mass, asking for some more involvement and support. Each month, members of the Belonging Ministry welcome, meet with, encourage and form parents who are bringing their child to the Church for Baptism. They become the “face” of the Church to these parents who are often returning to the Church for the first time since Confirmation. We are in need of members of this Belonging process. We need parishioners to greet, prepare hospitality, make phone calls, assist with a presentation, attend the Baptism practice, and, eventually we hope, assist at the celebration of the sacrament itself. You will hear more this weekend. Please think about it! It is not an incredible commitment of time. You will, though, be impacting the lives of those who come and the future of the Church in great ways. Adult Baptism and Confirmation. Baptism isn’t just for kids!
Do you know we have a vibrant team of parishioners ready to welcome those who desire the sacrament of Baptism as adults as well as those who are seeking to complete their sacraments of initiation (most times, Confirmation)? We just need participants. Do you know someone who would like to be baptized? Do you know someone who desires to become part of the Catholic Church (from another Christian tradition)? Invite them to find out more. There is information in other parts of the bulletin about how to get involved. We hope to form a new group of inquirers (those who are interested in learning about Baptism soon) and Fr. Michael is organizing our plans for the Adult Confirmation process. Please help spread the word. Your invitation will make the difference! Helping others come to know the unconditional love of God, helping them to know they are the “beloved” of God is essential to the evangelizing mission of the Church. We have the opportunity to do this in many ways—particularly when we pray for one another, serve one another, care for one another and, yes, bring others to the font through ministries like Belonging and the RCIA. Did I mention that I baptized that young person a few years ago?
Please say a prayer for me. Father John
Sleeping St. Joseph: KEEP DREAMING! - 12/22
Dear Parish Family:
Last Saturday, I had the chance to be part of the Center Moriches Christmas Parade of Lights with Our Lady Queen of Apostles—the Catholic School in Center Moriches. As I was walking to our starting off point, I passed by the office of Dr. William Savino and Dr. Judith Savino. You may know that Dr. William Savino died suddenly this past summer. His passing was a shock to so many. As I passed his office, I met his wonderful wife who took some time to show me their beautiful office window. It is filled with Nativity scenes from throughout the world. They depict the vision of the Nativity from peoples of all different lands, languages, and nationalities. I urge to you take some time to visit there in these days of Christmas.
Pope Francis recently wrote to the Church about the importance of the Nativity scene in his Apostolic Letter, Admirable Signum. It is a beautiful (and short) letter about the importance of the Nativity scene. Take some time to read it (before or after you walk by the Savino’s Office). Near the conclusion of his letter, he writes: Standing before the Christmas crèche, we are reminded of the time when we were children, eagerly waiting to set it up. These memories make us all the more conscious of the precious gift received from those who passed on the faith to us. At the same time, they remind us of our duty to share this same experience with our children and our grandchildren. It does not matter how the nativity scene is arranged: it can always be the same or it can change from year to year. What matters is that it speaks to our lives. Wherever it is, and whatever form it takes, the Christmas crèche speaks to us of the love of God, the God who became a child in order to make us know how close he is to every man, woman and child, regardless of their condition. I had the privilege to preside and preach at Dr. Savino’s funeral.
Honestly, I did not know about the Nativity scene tradition of his office. I tend to walk with my head down, I guess. At his funeral, I preached about St. Joseph and I used the Gospel we pray with at mass this weekend. I talked about the statue of the Sleeping St. Joseph. The tradition is that when you have a problem or situation that is trouble, write about it on a piece of paper and let St. Joseph “sleep on it” if you will. I have one of these statues in my room near my bed and in both of my offices. I find throughout the day if something is getting at me or I can’t seem to get through something I write it on a piece of paper or a Post-It note and place it under the statue. I would be dishonest if I said things suddenly get solved of if things immediately got better. It serves as a reminder that other people are praying for me and ultimately I’m not in control. St. Joseph had to let go of and trust a lot that God was in charge.
We all probably need to do the same. When writing about St. Joseph in Admirable Signum, Pope Francis says, “Joseph treasured in his heart the great mystery surrounding Jesus and Mary his spouse; as a just man, he entrusted himself always to God’s will, and put it into practice.” As we break open the Scriptures this weekend (and at the Christmas Vigil Mass when we hear the same reading), let’s pray that we, too, will always entrust ourselves to God’s will. In light of my walk this past Saturday, let’s also remember those who will physically be without a loved one this Christmas for the first time. May they join St. Joseph and all of our loved in praying for us!
Working Through Darkness: Finding Christmas: 12/25
Dear Parish Family:
Merry Christmas! Truthfully, I am writing this a week and a half before Christmas because of the bulletin deadline!
Once a month, we have the privilege to celebrate Mass at IGHL (Independent Group Home Living Program). It is a simple celebration which takes place in the Cafeteria. Its simplicity, I believe, allows the sacred to shine even brighter. Each time I am able to pray there I am in awe of how God works and how God is revealed through so many people there. You may know about the work of IGHL and other agencies like it. Their mission is to “to develop and implement innovative programs, services and supports for people with intellectual disabilities, so that they can realize their full potential, and become contributing members of their community.” Accompanied by our social work intern Joe Conklin, I journeyed for our Advent/Pre-Christmas Mass.
Together, we listened to God’s Word, shared the eucharist, and encouraged one another with a little bit of the spirit of Christmas. I also tried out my Christmas homily. (They had numerous suggestions about what I needed to do better. I hope their advice pays off!) After Mass—and even a few times during it—they shared their hope for Jesus’ coming. Their concert is tomorrow and plans are being made with family members and friends. I heard all about it. It was refreshing to hear. Maybe you’re like me? Christmas can be a challenge some times, especially over the past few years.
Caught up in finding the darkness of winter tough or the darkness of some aspect of my life overwhelming, or the craziness of these days, it can be hard to find the real Christmas spirit. I think especially of those mourning the loss of someone they love this Christmas or who are celebrating Christmas in a place or situation – physical or spiritual—they did not expect to find themselves. It is not always “the most wonderful time of the year”. The excitement and the awareness of the coming of Christ in those I prayed with today woke me up. (It might have been our singing at Mass too. I was told I was probably not good enough to be in the Christmas concert :).) I guess sometimes I make it all too complicated. We celebrate Christmas to remember that the Light of Christ shatters the darkness of our lives.
A baby breaking in is about much more than manager. It is about a change in life’s meaning for “today a Savior has been born to us”, especially if things are pretty tough for you or me. My friends at IGHL get it. By their example they told me, “Keep it simple, Fr. John. Jesus enters the world for you and me. We’re going to be OK.” I hope you can come through this Christmas enlightened and excited. For God sent his only Son for you! He loves us so much that he would have it no other way. Now, it is up to you and to me to respond! Do we stay in the darkness or the apathy or the lack of caring or the selfishness? I hope not. Let love God and show that by loving our neighbor. Let’s follow the message of Jesus, “As I have done, so you must also do” (John 13:15).
Please take some time with this bulletin. There is a lot here for you to consider and possibly to share. Many have worked on this so you might consider the ways God is inviting you to respond. I hope you know you have a place here at SJE! We are happy you are praying with us. So is Jesus!
Always Looking for Another: Are you the One? - 12/15
Dear Parish Family:
A number of years ago God blessed me with a pretty good friend. It has never been a journey of faith, necessarily. Our paths have crossed and re-crossed over the years for a lot of reasons. This friend is Catholic in name (and I don’t mean that disrespectfully) and trying real hard to embrace the Catholic faith on a deeper level. Over the past few encounters our conversations have been become more spiritual, more religious. It is nice to see.
However, it challenges me to be more of aware of where I am on this journey of faith and the work I need to do. My friend asked me about my own Catholic faith. “Why are you part of the Catholic Church?” was the question posed. Jesus established it, I responded. As we continued our conversation, my friend spoke about the struggle he had with accepting Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, as the Savior. I can often hear that fear of taking a risk, the concern if he is wrong, the worry about making that leap of faith in my friend’s words and emotions. I pray for my friend every day. Considering this friendship, I can hear my friend’s voice a little in the person of John the Baptist at the beginning of this Sunday’s Gospel.
John sends followers to Jesus with a simple question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Matthew 12:3). I feel like my friend is at the place of that question. To be honest, as I look at my own life and how I live it, I guess at times I’m not too far away from that stage either. Maybe the same for you? I recommended a book to my friend that was shared with me years ago by a spiritual director. Written by Sister Ruth Burrows, OCD, To Believe in Jesus sort of set me straight when I first read it years ago. I hope you will keep reading as I share two reflections.
First, “As Christians, Jesus must be our addiction. Is he?” (p. vii) This is a good Advent question. Is Jesus your addiction? Is it He who you long for before anyone or anything else? Do we really want Him? Or do we pay lip-service to such claims while our lifestyle, time in prayer, desire to care for the poor and vulnerable fail to match our words? Second, she writes, “For many, venture to say most, there would be no significant difference in their religious attitude if the incarnation had not taken place...We have formed our own ideas of what God wants us to be like and are earnestly striving for self-perfection. We are really reversing roles. We are trying to be God in making him better off through what we give him. We want to make him a present of our own perfect selves. This has nothing to do with holiness. Only Jesus is holy, the only one pleasing to his father. Only allowing him to communicate his holiness to us can we be pleasing to God (17).”
For you and me, does the Incarnation matter? Does God breaking into world make a difference in how I live my life or how I face the darkness of the world or the struggles of my own brokenness? Am I allowing Jesus to communicate his holiness to me? It is the Third Week of Advent. We might come to these days—especially after reading these words I shared—that we’re not really where we need to be at this point. No one of us is probably where we need to be. It reads like John the Baptist wasn’t quiet there yet either in the midst of a difficult and dark time in his own life. So how does Jesus respond?
He tells John’s followers to look around and see all that Jesus Christ has done in the time. I think that is probably some good advice for each one of us, especially in those moments of darkness or imprisonment or despair or even everyday life when we take Jesus for granted. Let’s take a look around. Let’s take some time to see—even each day—the ways the “inbreaking of God” is impacting each one of our lives. My friend and I presently read this book about Jesus together. I think it is helping my friend. I know it is helping me to re-orient the way we live our lives each day. My friend’s excitement and enthusiasm and wonder is inspiring me with a little more of the Christmas spirit. I hope these final weeks of Advent can do the same for each of us.
Please say a prayer for me. Please say a prayer for my friend, too. Father John
Eight Years: Just Crazy - 12/8
Dear Parish Family:
I write this on the evening of December 3rd. Eight years ago—December 3, 2011— Bishop Murphy ordained me to the priesthood in the Cathedral of St. Agnes. On the morning of the 3rd, a person reached out to me via text. I wrote back to him, “Hey. Became a priest eight years ago. One of the highlights of this great (and crazy) life is coming to know you and your family.” The past eight years have been great and, at times, have been pretty crazy. I think of that word in my preparation for this Sunday’s homily. We encounter St. John the Baptist. Descriptions of him probably caused those of his time to say, “He’s crazy”. When we read about him, it looks like he led a crazy life. Likely he had to take leave of his parents Elizabeth and Zechariah. He had to separate from what was known to go to the unknown. He dressed and ate differently. He called people out where conversion was needed, unafraid of the consequences. Eventually, he called people to Christ. Crazy, right?
In the seminary, I recall reading an article for one of my classes. The class and the author of the article escape me at the moment. The conclusion of the writer was that John the Baptist was a great model for Catholic priests. This is not because he wore camel hair and ate locusts. Rather, he sought to get out of the way in helping to encounter Jesus Christ. As St. John the Baptist said, “He must increase. But I must decrease” (John 3:30). In the midst of this great (and crazy) life, it can be easy to lose that focus. I wonder if that happened to St. John the Baptist at times. We see by their actions that it sometimes happened to the Apostles. Priesthood is not different. It is so easy to make it about me and what I do and how hard I work or how much I have to do. We risk, at times, becoming “gods” to people either by our own doing or by a misplaced focus by others. When we look at some of the roots of the sex abuse scandal, the impact of clericalism, among other factors, is usually present in some capacity.
John the Baptist calls us to remember our place, to keep it real. You know who helps this priest remember his place and keep it real? You. As a priest we are privileged to work with and come to know some of the most amazing pilgrims on this journey of life. People like you. Your witness calls me to more. Your example can set me on the right path. Your honesty inspires me to remove all the fakeness I can hide behind. Your courage encourages me to become stronger. Your pain provides an opening for me to fully realize the healing nature of Christ. Your prayer—whether together at eucharist or in your own way— sustains me. Your perspective and at times just and challenging criticism—and family is even better for this—quickly puts me in my place. There is no doubt there are crazy days and times in this life. I laugh when I find myself doing thigs that are not always so priestly, like pushing all the garbage down in the dumpster so they’ll take the dumpster or arranging animals for a pageant (it’s pretty funny when the animal farm owners call me to ask, “Fr. John are you booking again this year?”) but these are just the things that come across my path. Actually these two things happened today.
I am overwhelmed by the immensity of this life and that is not about a number of jobs or responsibilities. I am awed by the trust people place in me and the way they have allowed me into their lives. It’s just crazy—and pretty awesome too! In a special way, this parish community has helped me to better know myself as a priest in ways I would never have imagined. From welcoming me here to consoling me after the passing of my dad to rebuilding and restoring the church building to supporting the Catholic School in Center Moriches to putting up with me day in and day out, I have been blessed. You have shown me how to live out this vocation (and how not to!) in ways I never would have imagined. It’s just crazy that God has blessed me in so many ways, in a large part through each of you.
Thank you. Please say a prayer for me. Father John
Comings and Goings: Overlay Stoles - 12/1
Comings and Goings Overlay Stoles—First Edition: Dear Parish Family: In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and other documents that followed, the Church is pretty clear the stole (the garment that hangs over the priests’ neck) is to be covered by the chasuble the large outer garment the priest wears when he celebrates Mass (. Honestly, I like overlay stoles (see the picture to the left). I think they more clearly represent the office of the priest. Many are works of art with beautiful religious symbolism. I will even admit I have celebrated Mass a few times wearing one. I am wrong.
You see when I preside or participate during Mass, it is not about me. It is not about my preference or desires. It is not about what I think is right. It is the communal act of the Body of Christ and I am called to worship as the Church calls me to worship. Does it involve a dying to myself? You bet. Can it be frustrating when I think I have a better way? Sure. When we celebrate the Eucharist we do so as one body. “(The People of God) are to form one body, whether in hearing the Word of God, or in taking part in the prayers and in the singing, or above all by the common offering of the Sacrifice and by participating together at the Lord’s table. The unity is beautifully apparent from the gestures and bodily postures observed together by the faithful” (GIRM, 96). This week, we are celebrating the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It is the end of the liturgical year. As we end one liturgical year and prepare for another one, I will try to look at some aspects of our liturgical life at SJE throughout the next months in this Overlay Stoles column. (This will not be the topic each week.).
Some of the points you might agree with and others not so much. The same is true for me. I find, though, when I work to conform myself to how I am called to participate in worship life of the Church, I link more closely to the “sacrificial nature of the Mass” (GIRM 2). None of these topics will be of my own opinion but will always be based in the liturgical documents of Roman Catholic Church. If I express an opinion, like I did in the first paragraph, they will be few and far between and I’ll be sure to make sure I tell you why. Let’s start off with an easy one, OK? It involves our comings and goings related to the celebration of the Eucharist. First, as the People of God we should work to be prepared for the Mass.
Here are some things to consider about “comings”...
• Have I looked over the readings for the Mass before I come?
• Have I fasted for at least one hour before receiving Communion (unless a medical conditional dictates otherwise)? This fasting hopefully creates a deeper hunger for the eucharist!
• How do I dress for the Mass? Is it the same as what I would wear on the football field or at a night out with my friends?
• Do I get to Mass early or am I always running in at the last minute?
• Do I enter into a place of quiet contemplation before Mass? (That’s why we ask for quiet before each liturgy.) Here are some things to consider about our goings:
• Am I rushing out at the end of Mass? (Leaving before the closing hymn is finished or even immediately after receiving communion.)
• Do I take some time to quietly prayer after Mass is over to reflect more on the gift of the eucharist I have received?
• Do I take my sending forth (Go forth. The Mass is ended.) seriously? Do I seek to be part of the building of the Kingdom of God here and now (see pages 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12)?
World Day of the Poor: At the Same Time - 11/17
Dear Parish Family: These are pretty busy days here at SJE. To be honest, I don’t know too many times when there aren’t busy days around here. I suppose that is a good thing. Each day people are praying, working, learning, serving, worshiping, seeking support and assisting others in need. Good reasons to be busy in the building of the Kingdom of God. In these days, after the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation, it seems a large part of our busyness is found in the area of Parish Social Ministry. (Again, to be honest, I’m unsure there are too many times when it is not busy with something going on in this area of the parish). In these days of Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas,
Parish Social Ministry is busy preparing meals for families in need. At the same time, we are working in collaboration to provide a meal on Thanksgiving Day. At the same time, we are getting ready for the work involved in the Advent Giving Tree. At the same time, we are working to organize Christmas gift distribution for what will likely be over 100 families. At the same time, we are working with more and more individuals and families seeking case management support navigating the “system” each day. At the same time, we are completing renovations on Ernie’s Place while allowing guests to now shop for themselves. At the same time, we are serving between 50-80 people each night through our Street Ministry. At the same time, we are preparing for our monthly Community Meal as more people are coming for a meal. Today, we celebrate the World Day of the Poor. Pope Francis established this day as part of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy. In his letter for the 2019 World Day of Poor, he focuses on Psalm 19. He writes that “the setting of the Psalm is tinged with sadness at the injustice, the suffering and the disappointment endured by the poor. At the same time, it offers a touching definition of the poor: they are those who ‘put their trust in the Lord’ (cf. v. 10), in the certainty that they will never be forsaken.
In the Scriptures, the poor are those who trust!” (#3). Whenever I have the chance to be part of any of the efforts of Parish Social Ministry, I am challenged and humbled by the perseverance of so many who come to seek support. Often, they don’t stop. (I mean this in a good way). They seem to keep fighting for their own survival, against injustice, even at times against the ministers here as they strongly advocate for themselves and for those they love. Jesus calls us to this in Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 21:19). At the same time, I am overwhelmed by the perseverance of so many who work and offer their time and talent through Parish Social Ministry. It so often happens behind the scenes when no one would notice. It is the late night meeting at the Red Barn or the food drop off to someone’s home or the quiet visit to a parishioner in a nursing home to the every day interactions between guests and volunteers and workers at the Thrift Shop, Ernie’s Place, the Community Meal, Street Ministry, Senior Ministry and more. While serving and providing for needs, at the same time, they offer an important hope.
Pope Francis writes, “Hope is also communicated by the sense of fulfilment born of accompanying the poor not for a brief moment of enthusiasm, but through a constant commitment over time” (#7). While meeting people in the moment, they accompany the poor in their midst often through challenging and overwhelming times. Today, as we celebrate the World Day of the Poor, can you consider the ways you might be even more involved for caring for the poor in our midst, particularly through Parish Social Ministry?
Maybe it involves volunteering in a ministry or participating in one of our many efforts or supporting Parish Social Ministry through We Share or learning more about the ministry of the Church or even something else. At the same time, please pray for the poor and for those who work so hard and humbly to care for those on the margins here at SJE. (At the same time, please say a prayer for me!)
Moving Deeper: Steadfast Steps - 11/10
Dear Parish Family:
The verses of the psalm for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time contain some good words for us to consider. The psalmist writes with confidence about his relationship with the Lord and about what that relationship calls forth from him.
We can see many signs of steadfast steps (Psalm 17:5) in our parish, signs of women and men moving deeper in their relationship with Christ and the Church. Let me share a few:
RCIA. This week our RCIA team has started to meet in planning and preparation for the formation of our parish’s inquirers, catechumens and candidates. These women and men are studying the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and working on good practices to work with those considering joining the Catholic Church or being received into the Catholic Church. If you know someone who has considered becoming a part of the Catholic Church, it is a great time to explore that consideration. Let us know! You can email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Rectory at 631.878.0009.
Level 7. Our new Confirmation process continued on Monday. Remember that young people in this group of candidates requested to be part of this program and applied to be part of it.
With the help of SJE Parish Social Ministry, our seventh graders reflected on the Gospel of John (Chapter 13) and then partici-pated in service projects to help our Street Ministry, Ernie’s Place, the Advent Giving Tree, military service women and men and residents of OASIS. To see 160 young people and their small group leaders come together to transform the lives of others is a pretty amazing encounter. We’re off to a great start.
Sacrament of Confirmation. On Tuesday, we celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation at SJE. Bishop Robert Coyle came to our parish to administer the sacrament. It was a beautiful day for our young people and their families, our parish and the Church. There was a beautiful spirit at each of the liturgies. We pray that is only a sign of our young people growing closer to the Lord and to his Church. Thank you to Michelle Pirraglia and our Faith Formation staff for their hard work in preparing our young people for this day.
Deacon Paul. This weekend we are privileged to join with Deacon Paul Clores as he serves and preaches at the 12 Noon Mass. We were blessed to be part of Deacon Paul’s pastoral year experience at St. John’s. There is no question he shared a lot with our parish community and we hope, in some way, we have been a positive part of his own “steadfast steps” moving closer and closer to the Lord.
All of these steps take place in the context of a parish community. These responses to God’s love would not happen if it were not for the presence of the Spirit that dwells in each one of you. Thank you!
Please pray for me! Father John
State of the Parish: Weekend Mission of Mercy - 11/3
Dear Parish Family:
This weekend, I am preaching at all of the Sunday Masses, part of which will center around our Parish Annual Report. Most years I tease by saying, “If this is the first day you’re coming back to church in a long time, I’m sorry,” as at first glance it can appear to be a talk about money. While undoubtedly the finances of the parish are important, the weekend is about much more.
Last Sunday, I journeyed to St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre to celebrate with Michael and Eve O’Brien. They are our parish’s recipients of the St. Agnes Medal. This is an award given out to lay leaders in parishes in recognition for contributions made to the life of the parish. When the names of Mike and Eve were raised at a summer staff meeting, the response was pretty quick and adamant. Mike and Eve, like many others in our parish, embody the Gospel vision on which we want our parish to thrive. Like many others, Eve and Mike are involved in many aspects of our parish’s life. Two specific areas stand out though. Mike has led the Food Pantry—Ernie’s Place for many years. Eve is one of the founding members of the Ministry of Consolation. Both are involved in a mission of mercy. So should each one of us.
It is in that spirit, particularly in light of today’s readings and the annual financial report, that I want to present some things for your consideration: Always Gratitude. A parishioner who is a freshman in college sent me a gift this week (to the left). Let me start there. Thank you for your consistent support and generosity. From Summer Appeal to Spirit Day to regular Sunday offerings to incredible support for Parish Social Ministry, thank you. Indeed, always gratitude. This is our first year of a somewhat “normal” budget. We have some issues still to resolve with the church building but this is a year without too many large revenue or expenditures. The numbers are huge in the two prior years because of our work in rebuilding and restoring the Church. Without your consistent support, we would be lost. Thank you for allowing us to carry out our mission of mercy. Related to this part of our parish life, I want to strongly encourage you to consider electronic giving. Some have reached out to me and commented that the collections are declining. That’s not the case. We report electronic giving monthly and our regular collections weekly.
We’re working to find a more consistent way to report. Thank you to those who have made the commitment to electronic giving. Already we are seeing the benefits of consistent giving. If you have questions about this, please contact the Business Office at SJE. Gratitude Leads to Growth—Inside and Out. To carry out this mission of mercy requires that we don’t stand still. Like Zacchaeus in today’s Gospel, we must continue our efforts of going out, even if it means tree climbing and risk taking. That growing is happening at SJE because of so many of you. Looking over the past year, we see new ministries forming in Children’s Liturgy of the Word, Parish Social Ministry (The Giving Garden, Chicken Ministry, new models in the food pantry and renovations in Ernie’s Place and the Thrift Shop), Faith Formation (new Level 7 program and a new RCIA model forming), Spirituality (increased times of Exposition, Women’s Prayer Group, Senior prayer experiences) and more.
This “going out” must continue to be nurtured from a deeper place, a place of intimacy with Jesus Christ. Without this, true and lasting growth will never take place in our Church. This starts with the eucharist and how we engage in the liturgy each Sunday (and Daily Mass). It continues with opportunities for personal prayer and times of quiet contemplation. It should continue in our communal prayer with the Liturgy of the Hours and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and more. Gratitude for Future Opportunities. In today’s second reading, St. Paul writes, “We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith.” This requires that we keep looking forward. The years ahead will be different ones for the Church on Long Island. Our Pastoral Council and Pastoral Team will help to lead us in these times. As a parish we need to look forward.
Remember, where do you want SJE to be in 2023? As we finalize the restoration of the church building (yes, there is still some limited work to do behind the scenes with final permits and the like) it calls us to look forward. There are practical and temporal needs. There are ministerial and spiritual needs that must be considered. The year ahead will hopefully see our parish setting a path for the future. Wherever we head, I hope the example of this year’s St. Agnes Award recipients inspire us to make sure that everything we do is done in the mission of mercy the Gospel calls us to live out each and every day of our lives. Please pray for me. Father John
Not as Far Away as You Think The Cries of the Poor - 10/27
Dear Parish Family:
It is hard to believe the end of October is upon us! The Church asks a lot of us during the month of October—as it should and as it always does! I want to draw your attention to three different October themes that linked together send us forward in mission to November, December and 2020 and far beyond. Extraordinary Mission Month—Baptized and Sent. Pope Francis, called for this recognition in observance of the 100th anniversary of Pope Benedict XV’s Maximum Illud. (This translates to That Momentous...linking to “that holy and momentous charge” taken from the end of Mark’s Gospel where we are commanded to “Go and preach to all the nations…” (Mark 15:16).
We often think of missionary work as the work carried about by those who travel to different parts of the world. While this is an incredible vocation, the missionary work of the Church begins at home. This work begins in our efforts to care for the poor and the vulnerable in our midst. We take that work seriously here at SJE. Over the past few months I have had a lot more in and out of the Thrift Shop and Ernie’s Place in large part because of construction projects. The amazing volunteers in these places are missionaries. I see the those who serve in the Street Ministry carrying out the missionary work of the Church by carrying the Gospel to those we meet in our local community. I encounter the missionaries in the volunteers who greet our clients and work to make sure those in need have fresh vegetables and more. This missionary work, this “hearing of the cries” starts with you and me. How do we respond? Are we ready to be “momentous” missionaries in our families, our schools, our parish, our friendships and so on!? Respect Life Month—Christ Our Hope in Every Season of Life.
During the month of October, we celebrate Respect Life Month. The Church in the United States asks us to consider the gift of life in every season of life—from the womb to tomb, from natural conception to natural death. It is easy for us to say that those issues are important for bishops, legislators and the like. We can easily say “I can not do anything to end abortion” (or the death penalty or euthanasia or homelessness and so on). That is not true. The issues related to life—and there are many of them–must touch the fiber of our being. If we cannot be concerned about or bothered with the dignity of God’s gift of life, what does this say about as individuals, community, country or world? How can we not be enraged when abortion is encouraged or assisted suicide condoned or the death penalty praised? If we’re professing to be Catholic and are not concerned about these issues, we keep the Pharisee in good company (Luke 18:11-12). The Month of the Rosary. In considering both Extraordinary Mission Month and Respect Life Month we turn to another October tradition in the Church—the praying of the Rosary.
Actually, resources provides for planning of both encourage the praying of the Rosary when it comes to the missionary work of the church. We seek the intercession of Mary who offers us the gift of Life and reminds of the God who for “The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:53). We turn to her to seek her prayers and inspiration so we can be sent to carry out the work of the Church, most especially in those who are so often marginalized, overlooked and taken for granted. Let’s pray that we may listen well to “the cries of the poor” and respond as momentous missionaries in October and far beyond.
Please say a prayer for me.
Moses and Mission Hands Held Up - 10/20
Dear Parish Family:
There’s a pretty beautiful image in the first reading today. The community has to come together to support Moses and their own victory in battle. Even Moses could not do alone. As I write today, I think of many of those moments in our own parish community. I consider the experiences of this week in the parish and see many of those signs. To be honest, we can use some more support too...maybe you could help us too!
This morning, I had the chance to walk through the Thrift Shop. It looks great and we’re putting some of the final touches on this building. So many people were there shopping and so many hands there to help them too. It was pretty awesome to see such a crowd. It’s a parish at work together. I see the new things happening in Ernie’s Place. We’re entering the final stages of reconstruction there. Now clients will have the chance to shop on their own with the helping hands of our parish volunteers. I will see the next time I can check out the Street Ministry. Hands are shaken and embraced as our broken spirits are fighting a range of challenges and struggles. Like the friends of Moses, so many help others to stand when they are weighed down by injustice, weakness or tragedy. I see it in hands and spirits being held in the incredible work of our Ministry of Consolation. We have had a number of funerals in the past few weeks.
Ministers have met with the grieving and lifted them up in spirit (and sometimes literally) in navigating the first few days after the loss of a loved one. There are really helping hands who work behind the scenes preparing worship aids and booklets and providing some comfort food for a family in need. Like the friends of Moses, the saints of this ministry hold others up who are weighed down in mourning. I see it in the midst of young people who are guided by great catechists (classes begin today) and teachers in our school. Being a kid is not easy. It is so easy to fall behind, to slip, to lose your place, to give in. So many parents, teachers, catechists and friends holding one another up in the midst of an overwhelming and challenging world. Like the friends of Moses, young people are lifted up by the witness of so many God has placed in their path.
Honestly, we are always in need of more hands in the life of the Church, particularly at St. John’s. I recently finished reading a biography of St. Peter Faber (The Quiet Companion). In reading this work, I was taken by his constant return to the Lord in gratitude for all that has been asked of him. He trusted that God called him to wherever he went, to whomever he served, to whenever he was asked. Each invitation to serve was a reason for gratitude and thanksgiving to God. It never read as anything being an obligation or a requirement. He wrote, “I resolved, if such were God’s will, to devote my life to that kind of pastoral work, which had just been represented to me as contemptible and trivial, I felt an increase of humility. I saw too, clearer than before, the value of all done with a right intention…” For him, simply it was an opportunity to walk with the Lord in the service of his people. Where is the Lord inviting you to walk with Him? Who is the Lord inviting you to meet? Who, in the privilege of ministry, is the Lord asking you to hold up in prayer or service?
How to find out? How about putting those hands together? How about spending some time to ask the Lord again and again where He wants you and I to go? (NOTE: This is different than asking him to agree with you about where you want to go!) Take some time in quiet prayer in the Church or in Seton Chapel, pray the Rosary (during this month of the Rosary), pray with the Scriptures or quietly talk to the Lord as one loving friend might speak to another. You might be surprised what is asked of you. You might just be asked to lift up another. Trust if God is asking you to do this. He is going to give you and me all we need to respond. Please say a prayer for me.
One of the nine? GRATITUDE OR TAKEN FOR GRANTED? - 10/13
Dear Parish Family:
This weekend we listen to a story that speaks to us about thanksgiving or gratitude. Often we hear this reading at the Thanksgiving Day Mass. It shows us the depth of Jesus’ saving and healing love. An outcast and broken man is made whole. He knows the difference that this healing and saving love made in his life. Where were the other nine? Probably with me. I find myself among the nine perhaps for some of the same reasons I consider they did not return to Jesus. I think many times I fail to see how much healing I need.
I convince myself that I’m fine. The limp of sin or the pain of sadness or the wound of abandonment is fine. It does not hurt that bad. I will be OK. The ten lepers did not even realize they had been healed. I wonder if they didn’t even think they needed such a thing. Or maybe they were with me (and maybe you, too?) in my taking the presence of God in my midst for granted. I sort of know Jesus does all of these things for me. I even expect it. I just always presume he will always come through. I take his presence for granted. In my own life, I can find myself feeling the same in my efforts to reach out to others. How can this person really believe they do not need the help of the Church? How can they not accept the food they need from Ernie’s Place? What are they waiting for before entering rehab or end this abusive relationship?
At times, in addition to or in place of, the feeling of being taken for granted can grab hold. Don’t they know how hard we’re working for them? We have been working to make so many accommodations to make their lives better? How can they not even offer some gratitude or thanks? (In these moments, consider praying that Litany of Humility.) I think it is all connected in a wrap around sort of way.
When we take time to reflect and consider the many reasons we have to be grateful to God, we worry less about how our actions are received by others. Is it not true that when we know we are responding to what God wants we are at peace, regardless of whether we are taken for granted or responded to or considered? If we can be more the like the one who returns, perhaps we can accept with humility the moments we feel like asking where are the other nine? In the Consciousness Examen of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius calls us to begin in a place of gratitude. Fr. Mark Thibodeaux, SJ writes: “I begin by giving God thanks for all the things I’m grateful for today. I allow my mind to wander as I reflect on the ways God has blessed me on this particular day. I allow big things and small things to arise—everything from the gift of my faith, to the gift of my marriage, to the easy commute to work today.” Creating a real attitude and spirit of gratitude allows us see the healing presence of God in our lives so we may more freely offer that healing to those we encounter regardless of their desire or level of appreciation. Even when we are broken—perhaps in those moments more than ever—we must seek to find the reasons for gratitude.
As I write this to you at the end of a long and exhausting Wednesday, I do so aware of the many reasons I have to be grateful—from the encounter with a second grader having a bad day, to the eighth grader who said, “You’re not so bad a principal, Fr. John….I’ve seen worse”, to an experience of teaching that was challenging to a quiet conversation with a Pastoral Team member to the chance to share with our Confirmation candidates to a reassuring conversation with a young man about to take leave from me to the quiet peace of Vespers to an appreciation of my need for Jesus to heal me. Blessings given to me. May each one us seek to be a blessing of healing to those we meet.
Please say a prayer for me.
Surrounding Saints VINCENT AND MICHAEL - 9/29
Dear Parish Family:
It is a few days prior to the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul (September 27th) and the Feast of St. Michael as I write this letter. (We do not celebrate the feasts of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels, because of the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time today on September 29th this year.) I find myself caught in between the images related to these saints. Let me share. Evil. I am preparing this letter after another evening about the Letter to the Suffering Church. (Our last presentation is this Monday. I hope you can make it.)
Over the past three weeks, we have tried to piece together the impact of evil upon our Church, so often carried out by its ministers. The image to the right is the opening image of Bishop Barron’s book. Evil depicts itself as the hand of God. So many of us pray the prayer seeking the intercession of St. Michael the Archangel that we be kept safe from evil—from being an agent of and/or a victim of it. We have certainly seen this in the life of the Church in the abuse of young people and the ensuing cover up of that abuse. So much so that many, guided by leaders, looked the other way or felt unconfident or were made to feel irrelevant in raising concerns. It’s not just those priests or those bishops or this perspective or this background that has brought us to this place.
The work of Bishop Barron as well as the presenters at each Monday night’s reflection have offered us varying insights and perspectives. There has been a great deal to pray about and consider as members of the Catholic Church. It must also cause us to take these varying perspectives and insights and look into our own hearts. If we don’t, another chance for conversion is missed. I am concerned about where we go from here as individuals. I hope the reflection on Letter to a Suffering Church can move us to a place of continued vigilance and greater healing. For if we stay in the places of anger and resentment, doesn’t evil win again? If we stay in our “corner” and fail to see the good in the others, doesn’t division reveal a sign of the Evil One at work? If we are less faithful, doesn’t the presence of God become less visible? If we stop working at responding to the Spirit’s promptings in the life of the Church, don’t we and all we surround become less aware of the light of Christ? We look at suffering in our lives hoping we can avoid what led us there.
We also hope we can rejoice that this awareness renews us, restores us, rebuilds us. It is the Paschal Mystery. We face the evil and the scandal of the cross and go through it. We go through it not to remain in death or pain or resentment or anger. We pray we can be brought to new life. I am praying for this in the life of our Church. St. Michael help us! If we need a lesson in how to endure suffering, turn to the poor. They will show us. St. Vincent de Paul writes, “...if you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor” (Office of Readings, September 27th). What can the poor teach us about suffering? They teach us how to endure. They teach us how to accept.
They teach us how to accept humiliation. The “poor” is not just a term for those who are financially or materially in need. The poor are those who do without much more than this. Some of the poorest people I know have more money and material objects than most. What do they teach us? They often teach us to reach out to others in need. They teach us to get off our high horse of judgment and condemnation. They teach us that many of the labels, categories and ideologies we hide behind are pointless. They teach us to embrace what is and to seek to move from there. They teach us to keep trying even if that effort may not get us everything we think we deserve. They teach us not to dwell on what has happened. They teach us that there is nothing, without reliance on God, that we cannot move through.
St. Vincent de Paul, inspire us. There is no doubt the presence of scandal is going to make us a poorer church in many ways. We will likely feel these effects pretty clearly in the years to come here in our own area. At first glance, we may be filled with fear and anxiety. Perhaps, though, it is this poverty of spirit we are called to embrace. It will free us from many of the material, spiritual, occupational and social comforts and distractions that allowed the hand of evil to stir in our Church, and if we’re honest, the hand can stir in each one of us. Let us pray that we will continue to discern all that God is asking of us in these days. Free from temptation and more open to good Spirit, may we respond wholeheartedly to Christ and his Church, most especially to the poor and vulnerable among us.
St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us! St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us!
The Sound of Music and Dancing and Teaching? “CAUGHT SIGHT OF HIM” 9/15
Dear Parish Family:
The father in today's Gospel is searching. He is looking for his long lost son. He “caught sight of him”, which implies he was looking. He got a glimpse. He ran to him and pulled him in. I first heard this reflection on the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Pope Francis but have since seen many commentators and spiritual writers —before and after him—build on this idea. Like the father in the parable, God is constantly on the lookout for us, even from the beginning (take a read in Genesis 3). How do we respond? I hope with great enthusiasm in all that God is asking of us.
Can I offer two ideas for your consideration? Level 7 Facilitators. I would like to ask you again this week to consider looking and searching with me and with our parish. We need to be looking for the “lost” as well as those seeking to return home. This brings me to the work we are doing to transform our Confirmation program, particularly with our seventh graders. Did you know they had to apply for the program by stating clearly why this was important to them? Did you know their parents did the same? It looks like 70% of families who were in our Level 6 program are desiring something more.
That return rate is higher than we anticipated and this is a very good sign for our parish community. (You can read some excerpts of their essays on page 6 of the bulletin.) We need you! We are looking for women and men, young and not so young, to work as facilitators and small group leaders with a group of 8 to 10 to 12 young people. Will they still be lost? You bet! Will they make every small group time easy? Nope. Will it be smooth sailing after the meeting? Probably not. It was not that simple or easy for the father in the parable. I imagine after the party they had to have a good sit down about how things were going to go from that point forward. They had to keep walking together, keep growing, keep working it out. This is what we are asking for from you. Would you consider taking some time (probably 15 Mondays throughout the year) to walk with our young people as we help them find an even deeper place in the life of the Catholic Church? Please think about it!
Consider inviting a family member or friend to join you. Music Ministry. What does this loving father do when he meets his son? He throws a party and there was the “sound of music and dancing”! He celebrates with a feast and what would a feast be without good music?! This weekend, Andrew McKeon, our Director of Music Ministries and other musicians from our parish will be inviting you to join one of our choirs and ensembles. Many people who visit SJE, including visiting priests, often comment about the great spirit present in our liturgy.
One said to me, “John, the people in your parish know how to sing!” Credit for that goes ultimately to God for blessing us with so many gifts. It also goes to great leadership and witness. How blessed is our parish with the leadership of Andrew McKeon and the many others who work with him to lead us in prayer! This week, would you take some time to think about sharing your gifts and talents in one of our choirs or music groups? Maybe you have been holding back and now is your time to take a step forward? Has God given you a gift you might be able to use to give Him even greater glory and honor?
See page 11 of today’s bulletin or speak to one of our music ministers after Mass. So this week, let’s keep looking and searching. Let’s look within to see where God might be calling us to move and more powerfully respond to his call—perhaps as a Level 7 Facilitator or a Music Minister? Then, let’s look out as the father does and seek the lost among us and find them. It’s a great reason to throw a party with “music and dancing”.
Please pray for me. Father John
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year...for some! BACK TO SCHOOL 8/25
Dear Parish Family:
This week we are getting ready for the opening of school at OLQA, the Catholic School in Center Moriches. We’re preparing to have a reception for new families on Monday, our first Faculty Meeting on Wednesday, and during the week we will be welcoming kids back to school to put their books away. There is an excitement to this time of year. I want to share with you some updates about Our Lady Queen of Apostles, our Catholic school here at St. John’s.
Summer Happenings. It’s been a hectic summer. Our gym floor has been re-done, new entrance way work has been completed (with some more work to do), some new investments in technology are on the way, security enhancements have been made, and parts of the building have been refurbished. As you probably know, everything takes longer than you think...so we’ll be carrying out a few projects in September too. We are welcoming some great new teachers to OLQA who will only further the mission of academic and spiritual excellence we desire for our students and families. We are also working on some new programs for our school this year. Our REACH project, which will allow our students to connect with St. Joseph’s College, will expand and be enhanced this year for the Mission.
We are integrating a STREAM curriculum (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) throughout every grade level. This year, each class will work with a ministry or local charity organization in the community to better learn about the Church’s mission for the poor and vulnerable. Also, students at OLQA will now have the opportunity to be part of a comprehensive band and choral program (in school) through a new partnership with Jimmy Osborne Music! (In the past, band was only an after school option.) As you read, I hope you recognize that great things are happening at the Catholic School in Center Moriches and we are constantly on the move! What about you, Fr. John? Many of you have asked me about my own position at OLQA. After much consultation with our School Board, fellow pastors, and the Education Department of the Diocese of Rockville Centre (and a lot of prayer and reflection) I will return as the Principal this year. It was not an easy decision for me as the weight of this work and the work of the parish are, at times, overwhelming.
As part of that decision, we hired an Assistant Principal to serve at OLQA. Mrs. Dawn Waller, a member of the faculty at OLQA and long time educator in Catholic schools, will serve as the Assistant Principal in the 2019-20 school year while continuing to serve on the faculty. She will help to carry out many of the day-to-day administrative responsibilities of the school. In addition, Mrs. Grace Halversen, whose dedication and commitment are so known to many of us, will change titles from Office Manager to Administrative Assistant. Mrs. Halversen does much more than manage the office, I assure you. In addition, this past year I formed a leadership team of teachers who help to manage different parts of the school community: Catholic identity, finance, student activities, athletics, special education services, early childhood endeavors, etc. They will continue on in the year ahead. Is it a lot? You bet! Am I doing it alone? Absolutely not! In the winter, we will form a Principal’s Search Committee to hire a new Principal for 2020-21 school year and beyond. This will give us time to find the best candidate for this position and allow for a smooth transition in leadership—something OLQA has not had in a while.
Enrollment. Like every Catholic school and private school on Long Island, enrollment has been, is, and likely will always be, a challenge. We have made great strides in “getting the word out” about OLQA and many of you have commented about this. We are seeing some “fruit from our labor” but it will always need to be an ongoing task. Please help us to spread the good word about OLQA. Share the news with family members and friends, even strangers! Someone came up to me after Mass last week and said “I heard them talking about your school in the diner...it was all good!” Those, believe it or not, are positive signs. People have asked if we have room for more students for the 2019-20 school year? We do in some grade levels and waiting lists in others. Please call today at 631.878.1033 or e-mail to email@example.com.
Always gratitude. This phrase became sort of a “mantra” for me throughout the year. I think I need to always bring myself to recognize the many reasons to be grateful, especially when overwhelmed by the tasks and ministries of this past year. (Some of the 8th graders teased me often about that phrase!) I meant it though.
I share the same gratitude with you. Thank you for all of your support of OLQA and of me. So many of you have taken time to express support, to compliment the kids on their connection to the parish, and to check in on me— “You doing ok Fr. John?” I hope you know the great difference it makes. Never doubt that!
Our Suffering Church - 8/18
Dear Parish Family:
I am writing this letter nearly nine days before you will read it. I will be away from the parish as the bulletin deadline passes. By the time you read this, I hope you will have read Bishop Barres’ letter and I’m sure this week will be filled with news reports as the Child Victims Act moves into another phase this week. There is a certain unknown about what the weeks ahead will bring.
I must be honest. The past year or so has been tough to be a priest, on some levels. (Overall, it’s amazing to be priest!) News reports are not generally all that positive about the vocation. To meet, work with or try to minister to young men and women who were abused by priests is heartbreaking. Watching priests being accused and removed immediately – so an investigation can take place - is jarring. It’s so easy to become disillusioned and defeated. I think I have written about this some other time. Last Sunday, August 4th, every priest in the world received a letter from Pope Francis. I teared up as I read it. I almost felt like he was writing to me. He wrote to priests as “an older brother and father”. It was kind of what I needed. He wrote about four different areas of focus that I think are not just relevant for priests, but for each of us in these days and times. Let’s look at these four: Pain. These are days of pain for the Church. I’m not sure we have ever come through the initial outbreaks of scandal in 2001 and certainly not from all that was revealed last summer. We share the pain of victims. We share the pain of those who are accused. We share the pain of even those perpetrators who are guilty as we pray for mercy.
I think we can – at least I can – spend a lot of time avoiding the reality of the pain of all of this (and other things too!). This journey, particularly over the past year, has put me through it. I know I am not alone. Maybe that’s what I needed. The pain can be so heavy and disheartening. It makes me better see the need for God’s healing, for me and you and the Church to be rescued “from hypocrisy, from the spirituality of appearances. He is breathing forth his Spirit…”. Physical and deep emotional pain often takes our breath away. Think of a punch in the gut or the hearing of tragic news. As our breath is taken away, a new breath – the Spirit at work – is possible. Gratitude. Pope Francis writes, “Only if we are able to contemplate and feel genuine gratitude for all those ways we have experienced God’s love, generosity, solidarity and trust, as well as his forgiveness, patience, forbearance and compassion, will we allow the Spirit to grant us freshness that can renew (and not simply patch up) our life and mission.” The scandal of abuse and coverup is heart wrenching on more levels than you can imagine for me. Probably for you too. It so easy to lose the sense of God in the midst of it all.
You know who helps me to remember all of this – you! As Pope Francis writes, I am grateful for the People of God who shepherd and care for me. In you, I find “support and encouragement”. I hope we can be grateful for the many ways God is working through us – often in spite of us – in many, many ways. Encouragement. Pope Francis writes, “One good way of testing our hearts as pastors is to ask how we confront suffering.” My initial answer to that is not always a good one. I can slip into despair and defeatism, pity and pain. That’s the presence of evil. I know it when I come out of it. You and I cannot find encouragement in this priest or that one, this bishop or that one, this pope or that one, this parish or that one and so on. Our source of joy, hope, endurance, perseverance and peace is in Jesus Christ. At times, it takes us time to find Jesus in the midst of all of this. It is not because he is not there. We can be blind in those moments of perceived abandonment. Who helps with this? You! On the worst of days, I never find myself discouraged when praying with you, serving with you, learning from you, listening to you and even being challenged by you. We do this for each other. We encourage, we lift one another up! We cannot stop doing this! Praise. Maybe you have been trying to prepare for the Total Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It has been a challenging journey for me. As of today, I’m hanging in there with it.
I have been using Preparation for Total Consecration to Jesus Christ Through Mary: According to St. Louis de Montfort by Fr. Hugh Gillespie. I’m probably not where St. Louis de Montfort wants me to be, but we see in Mary a reason to never stop giving praise. When we find ourselves failing to give praise, Pope Francis writes, “let us look to Mary so she can free our gaze on all the ‘clutter’ that prevents us from being attentive and alert, and thus capable of seeing and celebrating Christ’s love in the midst of his people.” I see now, more than ever, the need for each one of us to turn to Mary.
To allow her “perfect yes” to help our “imperfect yes” as a fellow priest shared with me. As you read this, I’m not sure what the past week will have brought us. Regardless of some of the inevitable pain and despair, I hope we can make some room for gratitude, encouragement and praise. I hope, too, it’s not just about finding it in the pain of the Church’s scandals. I hope we can find it in the pain of our own lives. In these places more than ever, we need to find those reasons for gratitude, encouragement and praise. I want us to keep walking through this together. This week, I ask each parishioner to take a copy of the book Letter to a Suffering Church by Bishop Robert Barron. It is free. (If you want to make an offering, donate something to the Poor Box.)
Beginning September 9th, we are going to begin a five-week class on Monday evenings at 7 p.m. in the Auditorium or the Church. I am working on scheduling speakers and I hope it will be good time for us to find that gratitude, encourage and praise. Let’s continue to pray for and with one another.
Please say a prayer for me. - Father John
Our Lady of the Island, pray for us! SIMPLE SACRED SPACES - 7/28
Dear Parish Family:
The Gospel readings from this Sunday and last link to the importance of prayer and contemplation. With the great hope that our action (Think Martha! Think about that Good Samaritan!) comes from the depths of that prayer. Re-read the readings today. Abraham is in dialogue with God. He’s not backing down. He’s having a go of it with God as the Lord “remained” with him. The images in the Gospel perhaps at first seem a bit odd (Scorpions, eggs, climbing over everyone to answer the door, etc.) but speak to that same need to call out, to cry out confident the Lord answers.
If you listen to my preaching or even take some time with these letters, you can probably pick up that prayer can be hard for me. I mean I can preach and teach about it. I struggle. I struggle to find the time. Don’t you know all I have to DO? I can find myself rambling through psalms and prayers. Did God just hear me pray that? I am easily distracted. Wait - was that an email? A holy hour. Every day? How about a few solid twenty minute blocks? (I’m holding on to the Preparation to the Total Consecration but I can, at times, feel it slipping. Maybe you too!). Since moving out to SJE over three years ago I find the Shrine of Our Lady of the Island to be one of the sacred spaces and places that helps, especially when I’m distracted and weighed down. I hope you know about it. If you’re new to the area or maybe find things a little later than most (like me), I encourage you take some time. It is about ten minutes from the parish.
The Shrine offers wonderful experiences and opportunities for prayer. There are peaceful places to walk and quietly pilgrimage. There are two nice chapels to make a visit and take some time for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Mass is celebrated daily and there are opportunities for confession. You can find more information by visiting ourladyoftheisland.com. I find great peace and consolation there. I hope you will too. Between Vacation Bible Camp (see page 10) and the beginning of some construction work in our parish (see page 7), I have had some time to walk through the grounds regularly these days. If the Shrine is a little far for you on some days, explore some of the “sacred space” here at SJE. Here are some ideas. Maybe it is about taking some time at Our Lady’s Chapel in the church building or Seton Chapel in the white convent building? How about walking the Stations of the Cross and sitting quietly in the Peace Garden (on the eastern end of the school grounds)? Perhaps it is just sitting quietly in the church building when there is not too much happening?
Maybe say a prayer before the statue of St. Teresa of Calcutta by the Red Barn or stop to pray part of your Rosary at one the Marian statues by the Rectory, Church or school building? We have some beautiful spaces here at SJE. Take some time to explore. It calls us, too, to find some of the sacred spaces in our places. We are fortunate to have a Blessed Sacrament Chapel here in the Rectory. I also have a place I am most comfortable and at peace in my room where I live. It’s a particular chair that helps me face the window or a Good Shepherd cross. It’s not a lot, to be honest. It’s simple. I find that is how the sacred is most often encountered—simply. I guess, at times, I can make it more difficult than it needs to be. Let’s pray in these summer days that we can find some more time and space to discover and re-discover the sacred. Keep it simple!
Please say a prayer for me. - Father John
Summer School - 7/14
Dear Parish Family:
So I’m in summer school. I don’t like it. I didn’t fail – I don’t think I did. I am at a two day workshop sponsored by the Catholic Leadership Institute. OLQA, The Catholic School in Center Moriches, was one of seven schools selected to be part of a pilot program as part of the strategic planning efforts of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. This relates to the Disciple Maker Index we took part in during March and April.
The work of these days is ultimately part of an effort to make our Catholic school even stronger. It is not necessarily focused on enrollment, fundraising or academic initiatives. It is pushing us, as a school community, to become even more mission focused within – among students, parents and families – so we may become stronger in our missionary and evangelizing work. Honestly, I find this frustrating. Since becoming the Principal of the school, I have been overwhelmed by important practical realities. Enrollment is always a challenge in a Catholic school and with declining population in this area even more challenging. Budgeting and finances are constant areas of concern while trying to offer the best we can for our students. I found myself saying, “Come on, we have a lot more important things to work on.” Then, I prepared to celebrate Mass today at 12 Noon. The Gospel sort of hit me in the head (Matthew 10:1- 7). Jesus sends out the disciples first to lost sheep of Israel before “making disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
Work within. Build up your strength. Then go out. As we have taken time to pray and reflect in these days, I guess we have tried to do this at the Catholic School in Center Moriches. Over the past year, many stakeholders worked hard (and continue to work hard) to sure up our strengths in so many areas and address areas of concern. We are in the midst of going out to let even more people know about the good work happening here at OLQA. (Honestly, I’m counting on you to help spread that word!) Maybe it’s a good time for summer school for each of us, related to schools or not. Can these summer weeks help us to grow stronger and stronger in our relationship with Jesus? Maybe a little summer school in faith?
Here are some classes/courses/activities I’m suggesting:
- Can we try to take a little more time in quiet prayer here on the grounds of SJE, in your home or in another place of solitude?
- Can we read a book about the spiritual life or a favorite saint?
- Are you thinking about preparing for the Total Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary?
- How about Daily Mass or trying to make some time to pray the Rosary as a family or by yourself?
- Maybe visit the Shrine for a quiet day?
- How about taking time for the Sacrament of Reconciliation (here or somewhere else)?
- Can you take some time on Monday evenings, Thursday afternoons or Friday mornings for Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in Seton Chapel?
SJE – as you can tell from this bulletin – does not slow down in the summer. We continue to celebrate, to pray, to form, to serve and to renovate and repair. (It’s part of the reason we need to do things like the Summer Appeal.) The volume of things so many ministries offer and activities that happen here is overwhelming to me. I am in awe. Yet, if we are just “doing things” or “having events” or carrying out works, we risk becoming great “doers” while not creating room for God to do great things with us. (Can you tell I’m writing to myself too?) To be honest, I’m writing this letter during my summer school class. I hope I don’t get caught. These days are a reminder to me that I need to keep trying to slow it down and move deeper and deeper wherever the Lord is calling me. I probably need some more time in summer school. Maybe you too? Please say a prayer for me. - Father John
From Seminarian Raf's Desk: My Life at St. John’s - 6/30
At the end of April I found out that I’ll go to St. John Evangelist in Center Moriches, I tell you the truth - I did not know where it is… and yes, I was a little scared. Why? Because a new pastor, new people, new Church, but I was very happy that Bishop Barres sent me here for a new experience. Father John welcomed me very kindly as have Fr. Michael and Fr. Felix, and primarily YOU, my new parishioners who welcome me with soooooooooo much love. So, I started here on a new adventure. In the very beginning, I worked in the Parish Food Pantry (Ernie’s Place). I can see that the people who work there do a great job and the people who come to our pantry really need help in their lives. They not only need material things but also to speak with others. I can hear their problems or what is happened in their hearts.
I met Alex Finta who is a great man in social ministry. He really wants to help others and I can learn from him. I hope that I am helpful during Street Ministry when every Thursday we are going to give the people food and clothes. (By the way, if someone wants help us, invitation is open.) Every Tuesday I help in the Yaphank jail. I meet many different people. Many of them are young and I think that they just lost themselves in their lives and they need help. For them it is enough to speak and they feel that the person who is sitting next to will just listen. For me, it is a very good experience that the people really need God and in the jail they find God once again in their lives.
Another nice experience is the Men’s Prayer group every Saturday. We have a meeting at 9am in the convent. It is good for me to respond to this invitation. I hope that you remember that when the Apostles ask Jesus – where do You live, and He doesn’t answer there or there but says let’s go and see. Consider coming to the group and seeing how many good things you can take from this. For the first time in my life, I have led wake services here at St. John’s. It is very scary, with my heart beating, but no one (hopefully) called to Fr. John to says OMG!
It was a good experience but it is still hard for me because of language and, of course, preaching in a second language is very difficult, because I want to do this without any paper but in the beginning I am feeling better when I have something to help me or just to read – but it is my words which I prepared. So, please be patient with me and my English. From July 6 to 12, I will go to Huntington for the diocesan retreat for teenager’s named “Quo Vadis”. It is a special time with the young people who can discover their vocation or just to be closer to Jesus Christ and Mary. At the camp we not only pray but also talk with priests and guests. We have special evening time with fire and a good meal or we are walking around Huntington seminary (about 200 acres). I think that is a good opportunity for our children to be a little outside the “world” because they can’t use any devices, and they have only one hour during the day to use cellphones. They are really in good hands and God’s hand.
Between July 15-19, I will go to Stony Point NY, for a special conference for the seminarians of Rockville Centre, entitled “Celibacy and Spiritual Fatherhood”. During this time, please pray for me. It will be a good time to deeply be with God. After this time, I will go back to you for the last week. I can see that this two months of summer assignment are just gone, even I did not know where all the time went. - Seminarian Raf
Reports Cards...Rededication… Rebuilt? - 6/23
Dear Parish Family:
Today, June 23, 2019, marks the one year anniversary of the rededication of our parish church building. The liturgical calendar does not coincide with our yearly calendar. This year, two weeks after Pentecost, the Church marks Corpus Christi Sunday, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. I have no doubt the Spirit is at work in all of this. Last week, during his homily at Mass in Camerino on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, an area devastated by an earthquake three years ago, Pope Francis said, “ “The Lord instead pushes us to remember, repair, rebuild, and to do so together...without ever forgetting those who suffer”. In many ways, as a parish community, we will never forget the devastation that occurred here in May of 2017. I hope, too, we never forget the great joy and hope that repairing and rebuilding (and restoring—Pope Francis did not use this word, but we did) our church building brought this community. I hope we remember June 23, 2018 with the same intensity as we do May 2017.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, the restored church building is still in need of few “tweaks” and adjustments. Lights are a little off in places. The floor in sanctuary needs attention. Some security challenges remain. It is very similar to what we deal with in our own homes. I am pretty sure it will never be “done”. There will always be something else to work to do, areas to improve, places to rebuild. Isn’t the same true for each of us as we move through this life? We’re never done. There is always room to grow. There is always a need for healing and reconciliation. There is always another way God is calling us to grow. Something always need to be rebuilt. That’s why I am happy we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood this Sunday, one year after the rededication of the Church. Is it not the Eucharist—the most holy Body and Blood of Christ—that sustains and rebuilds us? Unfortunately, for many, I’m not sure we (or they) really believe this. Even we who attend each week need to ask that question. Am I moving through some rote ritual or am I participating in the meal and sacrifice that restores and rebuilds me and gives me life? Just as the rebuilding of the church building required the coming together of the parish, so does our celebration of the Eucharist each Sunday. It is not an individual act that you and I carry out as you or I want. It is an act that WE enter into together. It is an act of the body. It always call me as a priest to consider what I am doing when I preside at Mass. I need to remember that it can never be about me. It is not my Mass or my Communion. The truth is that we all probably need to remind ourselves of this. In our liturgical prayer, at times, can we make our own personal preferences or acts of devotion more prominent or important than the communal act of prayer we are called to by the Church? When we do this, it is not an act of the body of Christ coming together.
As I prepare this column, I have just finished reviewing most of the final report cards for students at the Catholic School in Center Moriches. It is a good time to see where students have grown and where there is room for improvement. Teachers and even “the Principal” use these as opportunities for reflection about what we can do better, where we need to focus and where greater interventions are needed. Using this as a frame, can I offer a few opportunities for reflection? Perhaps these might be some areas that each of us—including me—can focus on when it comes to our participation—before, during June 23, 2019 St. John the Evangelist www.sjecm.org Page 5 and after—in the Celebration of the Eucharist? (NOTE: Some of this might be a little bit of drain, but try to take some time with it.)
- Do I fast for one hour before Mass (unless there is a significant health issue which prevents this)? Do I allow this hunger to open me up to a deeper hunger for Jesus Christ in communion?
- Do I read the readings ahead of time? Do I let them be the focus of my prayer throughout the week?
- Do I get to Mass early and, yes, catch up with friends and parishioners? Do I also take time for silence—in word, in vision (put down the bulletin!) and thought so I can be ready for the celebration of the Mass?
- Do I try to take care of things before Mass so I can be fully present, like going to the bathroom before Mass and making sure my phone is off, etc.
- Do I need to look at how I dress? Should how I dress here be different than the beach or the lacrosse field? (The answer is yes, by the way).
- Do I sing? Do I even pick up the hymnal? Do I see that my voice, even at Mass, is part of the larger body at prayer?
- How is my posture at Mass? Do I stand up straight, sit as to pay attention and kneel as to pray?
- Do I work to listen and focus during Mass? Have I taken advantage of the hearing devices if I need them?
- Do I pray the Rosary and other devotions that should not be prayed during the Mass?
- Do I receive communion in the midst of the community, i.e. do I sing the Communion Hymn, bow before receiving the Eucharist, avoid added gestures and mannerisms that are my preferences but not necessarily those of the Church?
- Do I only respond AMEN when I receive the precious Body and Blood of our Lord?
- Do I clearly indicate how I wish to receive the sacred host –with hands appropriately extended or mouth open wide and tongue out to receive?
- Have I convinced myself that it is OK to leave Mass early (with the exception of medical or health reasons)?
- Do I work to see a connection between what I do at Mass with how I live my life outside of it?
- Am I committed to missionary work of building the Kingdom of God? Do I really go forth?
- Am I considering getting involved in the life of Parish Social Ministry (Ernie’s Place, Street Ministry, etc.)?
- Do I take time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass, i.e. times of Exposition in the parish, moments of quiet adoration in the church or in Seton Chapel? As I look through these questions, I know my report card could be better. Maybe you too? Over the past year, for many reasons, I feel in myself an even deeper reliance on and need for the eucharist. To be honest, I’m probably not dependent or reliant enough on the eucharist. Part of this deepening, I believe, is the journey of the efforts to repair, rebuild and restore the church. I don’t think we would have survived without the eucharist. Part of it is some of the challenges I have faced pastorally and personally. Part of it might be age. A significant part of it has to do with all of you. Your love and desire for the eucharist inspire and challenge and humble me again and again. As we recognize a milestone—the one year anniversary of the rebuilding and rededication of the church building—we do so on this most solemn of days. It is a reminder to me—and I hope you—that we will never be able to rebuild our lives without the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
If you can, please say a prayer for me. Father John
125 Years: Where do you want to be in 2023? - 6/9
Dear Parish Family:
I started to write this letter on Monday after being part of a meeting of parish ministry leaders in the Auditorium. It is important to come together. There were practical things that always need some discussion like the calendar and our safe environment procedures. There was time for prayer. There were times for some deeper calls like ways to better involve our ministry members in other parts of the life of the parish and how we can grow deeper and deeper in our love for Christ and His Church.
Walking to Night Prayer and Benediction on Monday night in Seton Chapel, I could not help but think of this weekend’s second reading. St. Paul tells us, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:4). There are such a variety of gifts here. There are “different forms of service, but the same Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:5). Represented at this meeting was ministries of outreach and organization, service and spirituality, prayer and presence. Indeed, a wide variety of gifts and talents.
Think of this feast of Pentecost. Think of that locked room in the first reading. Surrounded by each other, these early disciples with their different talents and gifts come together to build the foundations of the Church. They are not the same. We know they had a great disagreements. They did not see things the same way. Yet they came to-gether, for it’s the same Spirit, the same Lord. We do the same here at SJE.
This past March, I met with the Pastoral Council, the Finance Council and the Pastoral Team to begin the process of looking at the 125th anniversary of the parish. This takes place in 2023. Beginning in the late summer and early fall, each one of us is going be asked to enter into this process. Coming from a place of prayer and discernment, I hope we can look at the question above and con-sider our hopes and dreams for this parish community. These hopes and dreams may involves ministries and mission, buildings and budgets, prayer and possibili-ties. What will the answers to the question above be? I have no idea. I am excited to see where the Spirit will lead us.
Tonight, as I am finishing this column (with about an hour to spare), I am return-ing to my office after praying with our Level 7 students at the Sponsor Enrollment Prayer Service in the Church. Sponsors made a public commitment tonight to guide and mentor our next group of Confirmation candidates. It was a church filled with “different gifts” for sure. I think of them and consider what sort of parish will we need to be for them. What will they bring to make our parish even stronger in 2023?
On the way over here, I helped to set up the bread in the Convent Kitchen that will be used by members of the IGHL community tomorrow morning to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the Street Ministry tomorrow night (Thursday). What a great example—different gifts, different ministries!
In a multitude of ways, the Spirit is at work in the young person discerning the Spirit, the ministry leader preparing for a year ahead, the gifted member of IGHL serving the poor and vulnerable, the sponsor willing to take a more active role in the life of someone who needs them.
Because of your incredible response to the Spirit at work, look at how the Lord is calling us and calling us to leave our spaces (see the first reading and the Gospel) and to go out to meet Him more powerfully in prayer, service and learning. I do not know where we are going to be in 2023. If we respond then as we are trying to now, I think we’re going to be in pretty good shape. If you can, please say a prayer for me. Father John
Turn to Our Lady Queen of Apostles In Between Time - 6/2
Dear Parish Family:
Have you ever found yourself in that inevitable place of transition? You might feel something like this, “I am where I am right now but I feel I am not going to be in this space for long (the space can be a spiritual place, a job, a place in life, a physical location, etc.). I may not even know where I am going or where the next space may be.”
We are in that sort of a space right now. This past Thursday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension (Acts 1) and next Sunday, we will celebrate Pentecost. This is the space where the disciples found themselves. They are in this room. Jesus has departed as he told them he would. Now what are they called to do? If we look at our lives and the many facets of our lives, I think you’d agree we find ourselves “inbetween” more often than we care to admit.
What’s coming next? What will be asked of me? How can I take on this next thing? I need to know! So what happens? In days, the Spirit comes and touches the Apostles and empowers them to go forward. We have been reading about the impact of the Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles each week at Mass. Where does the Spirit come or where is it most recognized and needed. Perhaps it is best realized in the uncertainty, in the in-between place.
We are in the days of the Novena to the Holy Spirit. I hope you are praying with us, either here in the Church or on your own. (If you’ve missed a few days, take a booklet from one of the doors of the Church.) I hope we pray this novena, the first novena of the Church, with an honest assessment of our “in-between” places. I know I do. It’s what those Apostles did, no? They were “constant in prayer” (Acts 1:14). It helped them in these “in-between” days. It can help us too. I was looking back at some previous bulletin columns. (Wait I’m the only one who re-reads them? :)). Prior to Lent, I wrote about prayer and the opportunities for prayer offered throughout Lent. I’m glad we have had so many of these opportunities, including the Liturgy of the Hours, Exposition, First Friday Devotions, the Rosary and more. All of these opportunities are times for us to be “constant in prayer”. I am glad that we are going to continue all of these efforts.
I hope if you are not joining in some of them, you’ll consider it. I hope, too, that we’ll be able to offer even more opportunities in the months to come. Come to these moments aware of the “in-between” times and even the fear and worry that might come with them...and pray. Remember, too, who was with those Apostles— Mary, Our Lady Queen of Apostles. In these “inbetween” days let’s continue to join with Mary in our prayers to her Son, seeking her intercession and support. May she aid us in creating even more room for the Holy Spirit to dwell in you and in me.
If you can, please say a prayer for me. Father John
Our Lady Queen of Apostles, pray for us! - 5/12
I AM ALWAYS WITH YOU. I TRUST IN YOU! Dear Parish Family:
As we continue through the month of May and, this weekend, celebrate Mother’s Day, it is important for each one of us to consider our relationship with Mary. We often dedicate this month to Mary. On Friday, we celebrated the May Crowning in the school and this Monday we will do the same as a parish. Since becoming the Principal at OLQA—The Catholic School in Center Moriches, I find myself turning even more to and seeking the help of the Blessed Mother. We turn to her throughout the day in school. We pray the Angelus before lunch and conclude each day seeking the intercession of Mary. I think I am drawn more and more to the part of the Acts of the Apostles where Mary is gathered with the Apostles after the Ascension (1:14). I imagine it being a room filled with all sorts of worries and anxieties (“Can you believe he left again?!”) and Mary bringing great calm to that crew. She offers them great assurance—I am always with you. I trust in you. Maybe it’s the responsibility of my school work or wisdom or a greater awareness of my weakness. Who knows? Whatever it is, it’s a good turn. On a day like today, I can’t help but think of my own mom.
She has that calming way. In the midst of various storms and worries, she tends to keep us on the right track. When it’s a tantrum from her four year old son (some 39 years ago) or her 43 year old son today, she seems to keep things steady. I am always with you. I trust in you. As we celebrate Mother’s Day Weekend, maybe each one of us can turn a little more towards Mary. Perhaps the most obvious place to start is the Rosary. If you’re not praying the Rosary, what about taking the first steps?
Maybe pray a decade a day at the beginning. Even just a Hail Mary a day to begin? I try to pray the Rosary every day. I offer each decade for a different person or situation I am worried about. It helps me to focus. It helps me to hear—I am always with you. I trust in you. As we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, our focus is on vocations. That, however, is not a turn from the Blessed Mother. Really it’s even more of a reason to turn toward her.
We seek her intercession for the life of the Church. We can use all the prayers we can get these days, particularly in the area of vocations. Maybe that can be one of the decades of your Rosary. Hear Mary saying to the Church, “I am always with you. I trust in you.” You might be asking about the mantra I have been repeating in this article. It is not mine. It comes from the writings of Jean Vanier who died this week (picture to the left). He is the founder of the L’Arche community. I have read a number of his works and the story of his life humbles me. You would be hard pressed not to be touched by his writings and reflections. (He has a few great works about the Gospel of John.) His death saddened me this past Tuesday. I think we lost a saint on earth but gained one praying for us in heaven. I was looking through a few of my books from Jean Vanier. He had written some reflections for an edition of the Stations of the Cross. I turned to the 4th station.
This is what he wrote: “The mother of Jesus did not bury her head in the sand. She knew that he was, the beloved Son of the Father, her beloved son, her unique son. She knew about his mission of love and accompanied him to the very end. They looked at each other. With a loving and sorrowful face, Mary said to him: ‘I am always with you. I trust in you.’” It was what I needed to read and reflect upon. Maybe you too?
Happy Mother’s Day! Father John
From Father John: Seminarian Joe 'All In' - 5/5
Dear Parish Family:
This is a bittersweet week for our parish. Seminarian Joseph Catafago winds down his time here at SJE. In the next few weeks, he will move to Corpus Christi Parish in Mineola and begin hospital chaplaincy training in New York City. Things will certainly be different without him around the parish and the rectory. Whenever I pray with this Sunday’s gospel I think of the time when I met Bishop Murphy to discuss entering the seminary. I was hemming and hawing (maybe whining a little) about taking leave of the present ministries I was involved in and what a change it would be and what if it wasn’t for me and so on and so on. He finally said, “John, you just have to jump in the water. If you feel it is for you, then stay in. If not, hop out. But you’ll never know unless you jump in.” I jumped in – admittedly holding to the side a bit. I’m glad I took his advice. I think of Peter today. What does he do? He sees Jesus. He goes all in. As I pray and reflect over the past year and the many ways we have been blessed by Seminarian Joe’s presence in our parish, I think you would agree with me that he has been “all in”.
Think of what he is involved in. Wait. An easier question. Think of something he has not been involved in! He has totally turned himself over to the People of God here at SJE by doing whatever is asked, whenever asked, always with a smile and a generous spirit. From greeting after Masses to going to jail (to minister) to setting up social media and serving in the school, from caring for the homeless to preparing for liturgy, Joe has again and again showed the beauty of priestly ministry and sacrifice. What a gift! Joe might be embarrassed to read this, but he is a good model for you and me when it comes to ministry and service. Simply respond to the Lord’s call. Don’t worry about where or when.
Trust he will get you where you need to go and give you what you need to be effective. I think he jumps all in because he knows who is calling him – Jesus. The same one who calls out to the disciples today. (And like Jesus, by the way, he makes a good breakfast!) Let’s pray for Joe in these days of transition. It’s hard to move, to take leave of all of you. Even this, though, is part of the formation. As priests and seminarians, we know we do not go where we want to go, we go where the Church calls us to go, trusting we are where we need to be! Come and celebrate with us at the 5 p.m. Mass next Saturday and at a great party after (see page 2!). Joe will offer a reflection at each of the masses next Sunday so be sure to reach out to him at Mass. Let’s pray for our parish, too. We’re going to need a bunch of us to step up and fill in some of the places of ministry Joe has taken on in these months.
He’s set a good path for us to follow on. On a personal level, I’ll miss living and sharing life with Joe. Finally, let’s pray for our own generous response. Let’s pray that like the disciples we’ll listen and discern the voice of Jesus in our midst. It might take a while. It did for them. Listening and discerning that voice they are able to move closer to Christ and eventually carry out the work of the Church (see the first reading). Let’s pray the same might be true for you and me.
Please, if you can, say a prayer for me. Father John
New Appointment for SJE’s Former Pastor - 4/28
Congratulations Fr. Walter!
Dear Parish Family: As I processed out of the 11 a.m. Easter Sunday Mass, I was greeted (and surprised) by a friendly face—Fr. Walter Kedjierski. He had stopped in to see all that was happening here on his way to or from celebrating Mass in another parish. It was awesome to see the throngs of parishioners who huddled around him to welcome him back and expressed how much they missed his presence here. When I first came to St. John’s to visit on March 15, 2016, I met Fr. Walter for the first time. From that first day until this one, I have been in awe of his gentleness, humility, holiness and kindness. This parish was truly blessed to be shepherded by him for the six years he served here. You might recall, Bishop Murphy asked Father Walter to take leave of SJE to become the Vice-Rectory of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception and the Director of the Diaconate Formation Program. Last Fall, he was named the Rector of the seminary. I have reached out to Fr. Walter and am hoping we will be able to celebrate with him here at St. John’s. His assignment in Washington D.C. begins on June 3rd so time is tight but we are going to see what we can work out. Below is part of the official press release announcing his appointment. Please pray for Fr. Walter as he begins another assignment in service of the Catholic Church. Peace—
Rev. Walter Kedjierski Named as Executive Director of Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Rev. Walter Kedjierski of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York has been appointed as Executive Director of the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), based in Washington D.C. Fr. Kedjierski will begin the new position effective June 3, 2019. Msgr. Brian Bransfield, USCCB General Secretary, made the appointment. "Fr. Kedjierski brings to the Conference an abundance of knowledge and experience in the realm of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, both at the institutional and the personal levels,” said Msgr. Bransfield. "I am very grateful to Fr. Kedjierski for accepting this important position in service to the bishops and to the Conference. I am equally grateful to the Most Reverend John O. Barres, Bishop of Rockville Centre, for his kind consideration of the needs of the Conference and the Church in the United States.” Since June 2017, Fr. Kedjierski has served as Rector/President of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, New York, where he first served as Vice Rector and Director of Diaconate Formation, as well as Director of the Sacred Heart Institute for the Continuing Formation of Clergy.
Father Kedjierski is also the Director of the Diocese’s Office of Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Affairs, where he served from 2007 to 2010 as Associate Ecumenical officer in charge of Relations with Muslims and Other Religious groups, and in which role he is a member of the Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers (CADEIO), the Long Island Council of Churches, and the Long Island Multi-Faith Forum. Father Kedjierski was a member of the board of trustees of the Inter-Faith Center of the Islamic Center of Long Island, in Westbury, NY, for three years. He has participated in sessions of the USCCB’s dialogue with the Orthodox Union of Rabbis in New York and facilitated numerous ecumenical and inter-religious dialogues, the latest being a dialogue on non-violence this past fall with Indian Hindu scholar Swami Nikhileswarananda. Fr. Kedjierski attended the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, graduating with a Master of Divinity in May of 2002. After his ordination to the priesthood on June 8, 2002, he served in parish ministry until June 2016. In May 2011 he earned an Ed.D. in Inter-faith and Ecumenical Education from the Graduate Theological Foundation in Mishawaka, Indiana, and in August 2016, he earned his Ph.D. in Dogmatic/Spiritual Theology from the Graduate Theological Foundation’s Foundation House at Oxford University Program.
EASTER BREAK - 4/21
Dear Parish Family: As I write this letter, we are two days away from the Holy Week/Easter vacation. I am privileged to serve as the Principal at the Catholic School in Center Moriches, Our Lady Queen of Apostles, as well as the Pastor of St. John the Evangelist. (It’s a long story but take some time to read more about OLQA on pages 2 and 7.)
Since the beginning of April, I have found myself saying more than a few times, “Everyone needs an Easter break.” We have been in school for almost eight or nine weeks straight. Each member of our community—in their own way—is a bit on edge. You can feel it. Some students have not made the best decisions on some days. Teachers and staff members are little tired. Even the Principal has probably not handled everything as well as he could handle things. Everyone needs an Easter break.
You know today we celebrate our Easter break. It’s not a break or vacation, though some of us may get a few days off this week. It’s a different kind of a break. It’s a break from what was in the hope that something new might happen. Consider the gospels of today—either the one from the Easter Vigil or from the Easter Sunday masses. These disciples are crushed by Jesus’ death. They are doing the things we do when someone dies. Mourning. Feeling guilt. Crying. Weeping. Visiting. Caring for the body. The celebration of Easter sees a break from these things. They become a people of joy, of excitement, of hope, of mission, of commitment, of new things!
This is our hope too! With the celebrations of the Paschal Triduum and Easter, we pray that “through the renewal brought by your Spirit, (we….may) rise up in the light of life” (Collect, Easter, At Mass During the Day). So what do you need a break from and what will you turn to? I hope you find this a “breaking point” place. You might be returning to Mass today. Time to break that habit of not coming and begin to gather with us each Sunday? Do you find yourself not praying as much as you should and need to? Time to break that habit and begin to join us in times of devotion, adoration and quiet? Do you find yourself a little too self-centered? Time to break that habit and begin serving in one of our parish social ministries? Find yourself not being as generous as you can be? Perhaps time to break away and sacrifice more for the good of others? Are you caught up in a sinful habit or behavior? Time for an Easter transformative break to new beginnings?
So I think we’re all probably in need of a break. A few days off is good for a school community. For a community a faith, Easter offers a different sort of break. It is not a break that lasts a few days but can last a lifetime—in this life and in the life to come. Thank you for praying with our parish community today.
Please, if you can, say a prayer for me. Father John
Drifting, in need of... DIRECTION - 4/14
Dear Parish Family: Welcome to the holiest week we know in the life of the Church and, I pray, in our own lives too. In a special way, welcome to those returning to church today. May this day be not only the beginning of a holy week but a return to the life of faith here at SJE. I was looking over some of the homilies I preached this Lent. Some I saved. Some I have deleted hoping I can do a better job in the future.
I was drawn to the homily I preached on Ash Wednesday. I spoke about a young person in my former parish. He is a senior in high school and working on the things that seniors generally work on. I met him at a difficult time in his life and have tried to remain in touch with his family since help where I can. I challenge where I can. I do the best I can with God’s help. At the beginning of Lent, actually the night before Ash Wednesday, we were struggling to find a direction. He wanted to go to college but hadn’t filled out an application or made a visit anywhere. He wanted to drive but the trip to the DMV seemed elusive. He wanted a job but had not reached out anywhere. He was uncertain about a relationship and not sure what to do. He was drifting and moving from place to place. That’s dangerous for a teenager. It’s dangerous for any of us. For, before we know it, we may have drifted to a place we know we do not belong. Forty days later, some direction is forming. A road test has been passed. An application or two has been filed. Who knows where it will all go?
As I look back over these weeks of Lent, I have to admit I have drifted. I had grand plans on Ash Wednesday for how this Lent would be different. I made it to Thursday, the day after, on some of them before I was back to some old ways. I have not refused to carry out the practices of Lent. There has been so many things to do—good things! - that I seem to be moving from one thing to another. Drifting. This is a good week for all of us who are drifting, lingering, wandering and wondering to get some direction. Our destination is the cross and Jesus shows us the direction to take. It is to the cross directly. No need to linger or wait. Go to the cross. Go through it with Jesus. Bring new life to the places of death and drift. We know the destination. We have the direction. The church gives us great chances to decide and discern.
The bulletin today is filled with them! From times for Reconciliation (Penance/Confession) to services for children and families to opportunities to serve the poor and to form the minds of our children, there are many good paths to take here at SJE. Good paths with good directions. We just have to get on them. If you are returning to church today, I hope you find a path here. I hope it is path that brings you to a place of peace and joy in your own life and in your relationship with Christ and His Church. Take some time to reflect. Where are you drifting or lost or overwhelmed? Get on a path here. Find your direction. Know your destination is not just Easter Sunday and the end of Holy Week. We pray it will be eternal life.
Please pray for me (and say a prayer for that senior too, OK?). Father John
“Caught in the Act…” CORRECTION - 4/7
Dear Parish Family:
I try, when I can, to talk a priest from around this area. Sometimes it is just to catch up. Sometimes it is to talk through a challenging issue. Often I am seeking some advice and wisdom. I find it helpful. This week, I went to ask for some advice about some things. He brought something up I had done in the recent past and reminded me that it was a poor decision and needed to be corrected. He was kind, but direct. I needed to hear it.
When I returned to my room, I re-read the Gospel for this Sunday in the process of preparing a homily. Later that day, as I was driving back and forth to my home parish for the mission, I listened to a few commentaries about the reading. The Spirit was at work. It’s probably what I needed to hear.
I guess I could I identify with that woman a little. (It was not the same sin/error/mistake, I assure you!) Called out. Challenged. Corrected. The priest I met did not condemn me. He raised an error. He reminded me of how to handle similar situations in the future. He offered support. I imagine the woman felt the same way in the presence of Jesus. He does not question her. There is no interrogation. It is clear that this woman has violated the law. There is a call to correction. There is mercy (John 8:11).
If I am honest, I guess I can find myself at times in the situation of the scribes and pharisees. It saddens me. They are using the Law as a source of condemnation, not correction. Bishop Robert Barron commented about the phrase “caught in the very act of committing adultery” (John 8:4). This implies they were looking —early in the morning no less—and where did they need to go and search to find one caught in this act? Then, what do they do? Bring her before everyone. Make sure the whole community is aware. Shame her. Demand her life. Let them know who knows the Law.
Do we find ourselves acting the same way? Seeking out to condemn. Looking to shame. Demand people’s lives. It is not to say there should not be accountability or justice. There is no question of this truth. At times, though, can we find ourselves almost looking to catch people, show off our catch and make sure everyone knows we’re right? Catholic social media is filled with this. One statement becomes the topic of articles and comments and calls for this action or that one. It is not limited to the social media world. We can pretty tough in emails, letters, conversations, gossip, and so on. There is little room for mercy.
We take the Law (or the Scriptures or the teachings of the Church or this statement or that one that we like or don’t like) and use it as a way to catch and contain as opposed to liberate and set free. We can take it as reason to push someone further down as opposed to trying to lift them up. We often fail to try and at least understand before announcing we caught someone. (And many times we’re...well I’m….wrong when I do this.) What does it do? Does it bring about conversion? Most times, in my experience, this kind of behavior brings about just the opposite. People walk away more resistant to the conversion needed and required. Jesus gives the model today. Maybe the less said the better. Perhaps with fewer words, and at times vitriol, others might be more receptive to the direction to “go and sin no more”. Maybe you and me, too?
Please pray for me. Father John
From Father John - 3/31
Dear Parish Family:
This weekend, you won’t see to much of me at SJE. I have the privilege of returning to my home parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in West Islip to preach about the Lenten Mission I was asked to lead this week. (Thank you to Msgr. Brian McNamara, Pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes) for trading pulpit with me this week and covering some masses here.) There is something about returning home, no? It is a place of comfort and consolation, of support and sustenance. It was around this weekend some ten years ago that I announced to the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes (I think it was April 2, 2009) that I would be leaving there to enter the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception to better discern God’s call to priesthood.
I said at the end of my announcement that it was “all your fault.” For it was that parish community, that home base if you will, that formed me in the faith and helped me to better know God’s call in my own life (even if it took some thirty something years to respond). I have returned home to OLL many times since taking leave in 2009. I returned for moments of great joy including my “First Mass” as a priest, wedding and baptisms. I returned for moments of sadness too, including the funeral of my own dad two years ago. Even in those most difficult moments, there was something about being home. It is a big part of the message of today’s Gospel and the focus of the mission “Let us Celebrate with a Feast”. We celebrate this loving father who seeks (remember he was looking) the return of his son. (I assure you my return to OLL won’t be as scandalous.) In the midst of struggle and despair, he knows there is no place like home. The story of the Prodigal Son reminds us of more than a physical location (even a home parish) but an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the home we need. He is the embrace we should desire. He is the welcome to new life. If only that could be enough for me and maybe for you too?
I do not like leaving here for a weekend. This place is my home now. You show me the great love of Christ and His Church again and again. You push and challenge me. Yet, I can tell you there is a part of me that will be happy to be in my home parish. The challenges of pastoring and “principaling”, of serving and learning, of trying thrive and survive, of failing and trying to make up for own weaknesses, can get to be a lot. It can get a bit overwhelming and isolating for each one of us at times. I imagine it did for that son in the Gospel, probably for his dad too.
Weekends like this are reminders to me of our need to create a home, a place of homecoming here, at SJE. It is my hope that our parish will continue to be a place of homecoming to Jesus Christ for all who visit here. It requires you and me to continually grow deeper and deeper in our relationship with Him— through these Lenten days of prayer. That’s why we’re asking you to spend more time in prayer inside or outside the Church, join in the Liturgy of the Hours, commit to times of exposition in Seton Chapel and more. If we find a home in Him, then others will surely find their way. They, too, will “come to life again” and have “been found” (Luke 15:32).
Please pray for me. Father John
Lenten Check–In: REPORT CARDS - 3/24
Dear Parish Family:
I am writing to you in the midst of some busy Lenten days! It is hard to believe we are already three weeks into the season of Lent.
As I write to you, I am reviewing each student’s report card at Our Lady Queen of Apostles—the Catholic School in Center Moriches. We are just finishing the second trimester here. (It’s hard to believe we have completed 2/3 of the school year.) I try to look over each one and, when I can, offer a word of encouragement and challenge. It is good for me to learn more about how our students are progressing and to see what they can improve in on their end and, at the same time, how our school can provide more challenging and effective interventions. It is a “work in progress” on all sides. I think Jesus is calling us to acknowledge this in today’s Gospel. Let’s try to give that fig tree a little more time. Let’s try to give ourselves and one another a little more time.
So much of my life and work is about trying to discern the best interventions. It requires identifying what is in need of change/conversion. It requires trying to make sure the intervention is effective and can be supported. It requires follow up to see if the intervention is actually making a difference. In the social work world, it might mean a different program, more or less of something (counseling, medication, group, etc.) or a difficult decision regarding one effort or another. In the educational setting, it may mean adding opportunities like the Academic Learning Center or having a book fair or encouraging reading and so on.
I do not think it is all that different in the spiritual life. We need to think about the places in need of growth, particularly in our relationship with Christ and the Church. This Lent, we have been offered a number of spiritual interventions (from Little Black Books, more times for Exposition, the Liturgy of the Hours and some more to come). Have you tried any of the ones here or perhaps something else (fasting, increased acts of charity)? Remember, it is not about doing something. It is more about creating the space for God to do something with me and you. Are the interventions working? Is it time for something new? More of something you are doing? Removing something you have tried but is not working?
We have a tremendous opportunity for good intervention this week as we begin our Parish Mission. There is something special about the time of a parish mission. We try to cut back on many of the other good things we do in these days so we can be focused and united in prayer together. How blessed are we to welcome Fr. Rich Veras to our parish this week. He comes super highly recommended by Fr. Michael, Paul Clores and Joe Catafago from their working with him at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie. I think you will see why.
Please make every effort to attend each day of the parish mission and consider inviting someone else to come as well. (Parish missions are great welcome back opportunities for people who are searching or who have been away from the church for a while.) Maybe this is the “intervention” you need? Maybe you can better see where your Lenten report card might say “needs improvement” or “needs to make greater effort” or “easily distracted”.
This week of mission might be just what you and I need to get back on track in these final weeks of Lent so we’re ready to “move up” into the days of Triduum and Easter. Please say a prayer for me.
Please pray for me. Father John
Wherever two or three... Praying as Community - 3/3
Dear Parish Family:
The season Lent is only a few days away and I want to continue to build upon what I wrote to you about last week. If you remember, I asked everyone to consider the ways we can grow deeper and deeper in our individual prayer. Growing in that depth is so important for our own relationship with Jesus Christ and so essential for the work and mission of the Church.
Our membership in the Catholic Church is a membership in the Body of Christ. We have a responsibility for one another in both prayer and action. The mission - at least one that is Christ centered - cannot happen without that deep commitment to prayer individually and as community. I hope these days of Lent can be a time we not only grow in that individual prayer but in our prayer as a parish family.
It might sound odd but praying as a community requires us to take a step away from our selves. The Church calls us to this prayer and we are called to pray as the Church call us to do. That sometimes means we have to move away from our own preferences in prayer when we pray as community.
So this Lent, what about joining the common prayer of our Church here at St. John the Evangelist:
• Celebration of the Eucharist. The Church tells us, “The celebration of the eucharist in the sacrifice of the Mass is truly the origin and the goal of the worship which is shown to the eucharist outside Mass” (Eucharisticum Mysterium 3). If you’re reading this column, there is a good chance you are attending Sunday Mass. (You better not be reading this during Mass!) How about considering making some time during the week? There is no more powerful prayer than our common prayer at Mass. Come at 7 and 12, Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. (Spanish in Seton Chapel) or Saturday mornings at 8 a.m.
• Liturgy of the Hours. You have seen some information about this in other parts of the bulletin over the past few weeks. It is the prayer of the Church that priests and religious pray every day. All Catholics are invited to enter into this prayer. I hope you will think about it this Lent.
• Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. The Church encourages us to pray as community in times of Exposition. This act of worship should never be far from our Celebration of the Eucharist. We celebrate Exposition in Seton Chapel on Mondays, Thursdays and now Fridays. We gather in common prayer with a hymn and now usually one of the hours (Morning Prayer, Midday Prayer or Evening Prayer) of the day. At the end of each time of exposition, we conclude with a hymn, a concluding prayer, eucharistic blessing and final hymn. While there are times of quiet prayer throughout the times of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, it is a communal act of worship. Even those moments when there may be one or two of us before the Blessed Sacrament, it should never be a “me and Jesus” moment.
I hope you will consider taking an hour of prayer on one of our days of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. I hope and pray these days of Lent see us grow stronger in our communal prayer, a strength that will carry us forward as a parish for years to come.
Please pray for me. Father John
On our own... But never on our own... Individual Prayer- 2/24
Dear Parish Family:
The season of Lent is less than two weeks away. For some, this is not significant. For others, we are caught up in what we are going “to do” for Lent (give up something, some act of charity or something like that). For others, Lent is a busier time of the year than others. It sounds strange but we can be so caught up in doing that our relationship with God takes a back seat. I am hoping this Lent, as a parish both individually and communally, we can increase our focus on prayer.
This week, I am going to write about some individual invitations. Next week, we can focus more on some of the communal invitations. I am always challenged by the writings of Sister Ruth Burrows, OCD. Whenever I read one of her books I am challenged and excited, disappointed and hopeful, all at the same time. The disappointment is usually in myself. She presents such ideas of what a spiritual and holy life should be. I am forced to confront how I come up short. Yet, she gives many paths and opportunities for one to consider. I am presently reading Essence of Prayer. In it she writes (3-4), “We must remember that prayer takes place at the deepest level of the person and escapes our direct cognition; therefore we can make no judgment about it. It is God’s holy domain and we may not usurp it. We have to trust it utterly to God.” I guess we have to begin sort of like the father in the ninth chapter of Mark’s Gospel, “I believe, help my unbelief.” (We will pray with this Gospel at Monday’s daily Mass.)
Trust utterly that this is God’s work, God’s domain. Start there. This Lent, I think we can all pray a little more deeply. I am not speaking about you personally, but I am going to guess that every single one of us can pray more deeply as individuals. Remember, our prayer is never individually focused. It is in a context always of loving God and neighbor. Here are some ideas: • Make use of Scripture. Bishop Barres has published a letter for Lent. (We have not received it yet so it may not make this bulletin.) He focuses on Lectio Divina, a powerful practice of prayer using scripture.
Read this letter. Take time with this process. Allow God to use his Word to transform you and me. You can use the readings of the day or perhaps start with a Bible passage you are already comfortable and familiar with and begin. • The Little Black Book. This is a great little tool that uses Scripture and reflection. They will be available either this weekend or next. (Note: There is no fee for this book. If you can, please place a donation of your choosing in the Poor Box.) • Quiet Time. Can I ask you to think about creating a solid time for prayer? For me and for many others, it’s the early morning. People laugh at me when they get email at 5:30 a.m. I am up most days about an hour and a half earlier so I can try to make some time for quiet and prayer. It may not be the morning for you. But find a quiet time where you can just be. Again, take your time. Maybe it’s not a holy hour of quiet. It might have to be a holy 15 minutes or even 5 minutes. It’s OK. Start somewhere. Try to be consistent about it. (Please note: Even the Venerable Fulton Sheen acknowledged the need for coffee before prayer! He states, “The average American is physically, biologically, psychologically and neurologically unable to do anything worthwhile before he has a cup of coffee. And that goes for prayer too. Even sisters in convents whose rules were written before electric percolators were developed would do well to update their procedures. Let them have coffee before meditation.”
Get that coffee timer set early or the K-cup machine warmed up!) • Find a place. Time and place matter in our openness to God’s domain. Where can you be? Where can God work best with you? Is it here at SJE? Did you know the Church and Chapel are open to 6:30/7:00 p.m. each night? Have you thought about taking some time in quiet prayer here—maybe in the Peace Garden, Seton Chapel, Our Lady’s Chapel in the Church, the Church itself? Try to find a consistent place. Perhaps a “make a visit” before the Blessed Sacrament outside of our times of communal prayer? Pray the Rosary quietly before an image of the Blessed Mother? Maybe come and light a candle each day in the midst of the quiet at one the shrines? For many, coming here every day may not be possible. So find the quiet place near you. It might be a place that is only quiet certain times of the day….then find that time and place. • Finding the Expert. There are a few spiritual writers I follow—Sister Burrows is one of them. When I learn they have written or published something, I buy it and then usually about 10 other copies for others I care about. I admit I am often looking for a new way, some idea, some method that might help me get prayer right. The truth? Often I am wasting my time. The one expert you and I can come to know better this Lent is the only one we need—Jesus Christ.
Talk to him. Remember what you learned about him. Think about what you know about him. Ask him to help you. I use a book called Sacred Reading to help me. If you think it might help you, look into it. This book and these other things—good methods, spiritual writers, etc.—can help. Nothing replaces our relationship with Jesus Christ. Nothing. Sister Ruth Burrows writes later in the same work, “On our side prayer is simply being there: open, exposed, inviting God to do all God wants. Prayer is not our activity, our getting in touch with God, our coming to grips with or making ourselves desirable to God. We can do none of these things, nor do we need to, for God is there ready to do everything for us, loving us unconditionally. We all know this in theory; but how many really know it in terms of practical living” (28)? I hope this Lent finds each one of us more open to God’s domain and God’s working with us so he can better work through us knowing that is ready to do everything for us.
Please pray for me. Father John
Care for Youth - FINDING STRENGTH - 2/3
“...Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!" - Nehemiah 8:10
Dear Parish Family:
I am writing this letter on Wednesday, January 23, 2019. Yesterday, as expected, the New York State Senate passed and the governor signed a law that removes the already limited limitations protecting the unborn. To understand the gravity of this law and its changes has caused me to shudder over the past few weeks. (While the tenants of this law have been proposed for many years, it’s passing put them all into sharp focus.) Even for those who do not share the Church’s teaching on the dignity of all human life from natural conception to natural death, one must ask is all of this absolutely necessary? Really?
I am writing as more legislation is on the horizon to provide support for victims of child sexual abuse. I have written before of the pain this has caused so many in the Church. We know, too, that these acts of abuse and destruction are not limited to the Catholic Church. We see them happening in schools and families and workplaces and houses of worship and...well, very few places have been kept free from this horrific sin and crime. Yet this proposed law would limit which victims can seek some type of civil justice. So, if God forbid you were abused by a priest or a minister or a rabbi, you can file suit and be compensated. But, if God forbid you were abused by a public school teacher, a civil public servant, etc., you cannot. This proposed legislation is not fair or just to victims, not to mention institutions.
Do not read in these words any desire for the Church to be “off the hook” in accountability and responsibility for the actions or care of its members or ministers. At the same time, if we are genuinely concerned about the lives of ALL children who have lived through the scourge of abuse, this proposed law seems quite limited, perhaps even targeted.
I beg you to visit www.nyscatholic.org to learn more about both of these laws as well as others we should be advocating for in the weeks ahead. It is a way to be clear about the Church’s teaching and an easy way to make our governmental leaders aware of your opinion about these important matters.
I cannot help but link these pains related to public policy to the struggles that so many of us endure in our everyday lives. There can be a sadness that dwells among us. A sense of defeat can take hold. I have seen it in the journey of my own life over these past months. You probably can relate to the same. Maybe the stress and uncertainty of your work situation or related pressures? The grief over the loss of a friend? A friendship failing or changing? Financial realities of living and working in this part of the country? A marriage falling apart? Worry and fear about one’s powerlessness in a situation? Pain from failure and sin...and so on and so on.
I have found at times like this in my own life—and the life of the Church to which I belong— that it brings me back to the end of today’s first reading. I must work to be stronger in my relationship with the Lord. I must continue to strengthen that foundation. I must pray more. Spend more time in silence. More actively engage in the celebration of the Eucharist. Talk to Jesus about all that weighs upon me. Take more time to just be. Stop grabbing on to this ideal or that one. Start grabbing on tighter to the hand of God that wants to hold on to me.
Ultimately, will the hearts of political leaders suddenly change? Will the fears be gone? Will everything suddenly just be solved? Perhaps no. We know this. What will be stronger? We will be. We will be not because of a new prayer or ritual or because we have decided to do anything. We will be because will surrender to the love of God that seeks to enfold, envelop, empower and enable us to take the next steps in building the Kingdom of God. So, do not be saddened. Rejoice in the Lord alone and find strength in Him. Anything less will sadden.
Please pray for me. Father John
Grasped and Beloved - 1/20
Dear Parish Family: Sometimes a certain image gets a hold of you. That’s the case with me with one of the options for today’s first reading. I think it comes from when I served as a transitional deacon and my pastor then, Msgr. Thomas Harold, spoke about the ways that Jesus often held people by the hand and lifted them up.
Today’s first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah has also resonated with me for similar reasons. (Actually, I use this reading regularly whenever I preside at the sacrament of Baptism.). I think, in some ways, the lines of this reading, “I have grasped you by the hand” are a beautiful image of this sacrament as in baptism we formalize that as we become “children of the light”. There are some challenges for me—good ones—as I prepare to celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. God grasps my hand. I almost feel God saying to me, “I got you.”
It is an awesome feeling. I also realize it’s a feeling that some times I want to avoid or I find hard to accept. I think of the times when I try to pull my hand away. You know the times I want to control everything or when I get caught up in my self. Maybe it happens to you too? Somewhere it gets in my heart that I can handle it. I think I got this. It never works. You probably know that part too. Then there are the times I pull my hand away in frustration and despair. I have seen some people I love given some pretty tough hands these days. From death to sickness to relapse to suffering, I find myself looking up to the heavens sometimes saying “Really?” I know those are the moments to grab on tighter. It’s just so hard at times. We grasp too. The rest of the reading doesn’t get any easier. The Lord tells us he has grasped us by the hand to be “a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness” (Isaiah 42:7). Sometimes we’re tempted to see “me and God” as good enough. It is not. At baptism the promise made is to love God and neighbor (and not just the ones we like or are comfortable with!).
Really, Lord. I have to grasp on to others too. Yes! Baptism impels us to bring light to darkness to get rid of blindness and set those entrapped free. Like most Catholics, the news and the latest from the national and state governments is enough to make you want to walk away totally. In our own state, with the recent election results, New York State is close to passing and authorizing the so-called Reproductive Health Act, a law that would “eliminate New York's current restrictions on late-term abortion, empower non-doctors to perform abortions, remove protections against unwanted or coerced abortions, and even legalize infanticide of live born infant” (see www.nyscatholic.org). We look at our country and the rhetoric about our Latin American brothers and sisters and immigration.
Any Catholic should be concerned. While protecting a country’s borders is part of the Church’s teaching so is caring for those whose lives may be in danger in a different land. As we conclude National Migration Week, visit the US bishops website—www.justiceforimmigrants.org—for more information. On a local level, I see it in the work of those who battle addiction. Another relapse or arrest or failure (I have gone to three funeral services this week related to this) just gets so overwhelming. We can feel it’s too much. It can be hard to stay in the fight in the midst of these “life” issues. Easier to walk away, perhaps give in, even settle that laws and actions like this are acceptable or the way it is. So God holds on tight to me and to you. The prophet reminds us of this in today’s reading. Why? Because in Baptism we are the beloved. Held so tight by a loving God, how can we fail to take the risk to love one another?
Please pray for me. Father John
The Catholic School in Center Moriches A Different Kind of Epiphany - 1/7
Dear Parish Family: Today, we take another step on our journey in the season of Christmas as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany. These kings, astrologers, wise men see the sign of something greater at work - the presence of God in the newborn King. They move. They respond. Because of their move of their response, their lives are changed forever, as they go “another way” (Matthew 2:12).
Today, in a way, I’m on the move. A different kind of journey. During parts of this week and next, I’ll be speaking at SS. Peter and Paul R.C. Church in Manorville and St. Jude’s R.C. Church in Mastic Beach. These two parishes, Immaculate Conception in Westhampton Beach and our parish make up the four supporting parishes for Our Lady Queen of Apostles – the Catholic School in Center Moriches. (I’ll be journeying to Westhampton Beach later in the year.)
Over the past few months, in my roles as Principal and as the Executive Pastor of OLQA, I have spent a lot time talking to anyone I can to hear their thoughts and ideas about our school and how we can continue to build upon the great foundation that exists here. A common theme that arises – from parents to board members to local community members – is that many people don’t even know that it exists. “OLQA? Where is that?” is a common question when students (or parents) talk about where they go to school. It’s one of the reasons we try to use the phrase, “The Catholic School in Center Moriches” after OLQA so people know where we are located. It’s also part of the reason we have invested in the signs on the corner of Main Street and Ocean Avenue. This weekend and next weekend, I will be spending time in Manorville and Mastic Beach on a different kind of a journey. I’ll be trying to draw attention to another star – one that I hope will find even more students coming to know about the presence of Christ in their lives – OLQA. By attending here, young people learn about this Presence and how they must be that presence to the world beyond OLQA.
We’re embarking on a new enrollment initiative – 220 by 2020 – through which we hope to make our school even stronger. Honestly, I can use your help! Please always encourage those you know to consider The Catholic School in Center Moriches. You can read more about it on page 5. The impact of a Catholic school education is significant in the formation and develo p.m.ent of young people. It provides a profound academic and social experience grounded in a deep faith encounter. The community of faith, knowledge and service provides a foundation that is life changing. It is a foundation that will carry them through high school, college and beyond. Catholic education is a vital mission of the Church and an important mission in our parish community.
We are a better parish because OLQA is on our campus. This year, each day, I find myself journeying – frequently multiple times a day – between the Parish Office and the school. (I think I’m starting to create a path in the lawn.) It is not a reason for journey that I was looking for and, to be honest, it can be a bit overwhelming at times. I bet it was for those whose journey we remember today. Yet, I’m glad I make it. In journeying to the school each morning, I begin to see first hand that difference a Catholic education can make in the lives of the students and families who are part of our OLQA school family. I think if you consider this same journey and/or invite others to do the same you might be consoled and strengthened as the wise men were in today’s Gospel.
Please pray for me. Father John
Maybe the Gym wasn’t so bad… IT’S NOT ABOUT THE BUILDING - 12/30
Dear Parish Family: Last year, we celebrated Christmas in the school “Gymatorium” and in the auditorium at Center Moriches High School. We were in the midst of open walls and uncertainty of when the restoration of the church building would ever be completed. This year, we gather in a repaired, rebuilt and restored building (except if you were praying with me in the Auditorium at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve!). We are a little more grounded. The building itself looks good. We have made some significant improvements securing the building itself and the parish for years to come. I have been taking some time to think about what has happened over the past year. Holidays allow for that, no? We think of how far we have come. Grateful for the new friendships and connections.
Realizing the new opportunities that have developed and experiences that have occurred can bring a smile. It does for me. Does that mean it’s all been “joy to the world”? Not for me. I don’t know about you. I think of those who are not celebrating with me physically this year—those who have moved away or received their eternal reward. I think of those for who these holiday days are tough, those whose wounds are reopened each Christmas season.
I realize the work I have to do still in this relationship or that one, this struggle or another one. I see the pain this action of mine has caused and the need for reconciliation. There’s still work to do. At times, there is a part of me that found the gym— I don’t know—not so bad. We were closer together. We were united by a loss and tragedy. We were moving forward together to something new, a new place for worship and praise. We’re in a beautiful building. Is it home yet? I’m not sure. It’s still a new place. It’s getting there. Christmas is about those new places. It is about you and I being open to the restoring, repairing and rebuilding of our own lives so that Jesus might have a deeper place in it. And not that things will only look great on the outside. It is more that there will be a huge change on the inside.
Why? Because Christ has entered. So maybe you’re here and this parish is home for you. I hope so. Maybe you’re here and you feel like a guest—maybe wanted, maybe unwanted? I hope we can change that. Maybe you’re here because you feel you don’t have a choice? I hope you can turn that around. Christmas calls each one of us—you and me—to come together to create that dwelling for the presence of God in our lives. This might be a good “new place” to carry that out in. It might mean you becoming part of the incredible work of building the Kingdom of God at SJE. This building work is much harder than the rebuilding of the Church, I assure you. So get involved and engaged. Stop sitting back. Take a step. Bring your gifts and make our home even stronger.
There are pages and pages of ways to get involved here. It also might mean that you allow us to serve and minister to you. Maybe it’s through the work of the school or parish social ministry. Maybe it is allowing us to accompany you in those good times and not so bad times. The truth—I’m glad we have a restored church building, even though that’s not what it is all about. It’s becoming home. It’s taking time. I hope this place of SJE can become home for you or even just a bit more “homey” in the weeks ahead. There’s still more work to do in this church building. Maybe the same for you. Definitely the same for me. I hope we can do it together in the months and years ahead. If you can, please say a prayer for me.
The Lord Our Justice: JOIN THE SOCIETY - 12/9
Conferences are present in many parishes throughout Long Island. In some parishes, like my last assignment, St. Vincent de Paul was the Parish Outreach. It did it all. In other parishes, the conference of St. Vincent de Paul assists the larger parish social ministry with a specific aspect or area of the work. That is our intention here. A conference of St. Vincent de Paul is not replacing anyone or any thing in our present outreach effort. It is our hope that at its outset St. John’s conference of St. Vincent de Paul will work on setting up a comprehensive furniture exchange and also assist with home visitations. This work will be yet another way for us to better serve the poor and vulnerable among us and hopefully be even more effective in helping those in our local community restore their lives. You might be saying, “Why bother, Fr. John? We already have a great outreach program.” You’re right! St. Vincent de Paul offers something different for those who join.
In addition to the work of Outreach, volunteers who are part of St. Vincent de Paul enter into a process of formation in Vincentian spirituality. They come to know about the work of St. Vincent de Paul, the Vincentian charism and how this legacy impacts ministry. Meetings of a St. Vincent de Paul Conference begin any work together in prayer and reflection centered on this charism. It is from there they begin their specific discussion of work and ministry. Those who have already volunteered are beginning this process of formation. So our hope with this new endeavor in Parish Social Ministry is off to a good beginning and now we’re ready to expand in the weeks ahead. The next meeting of the conference here will be on Wednesday, December 12 at 7:00 p.m. in Lower Meeting Room of the Red Barn. If you would like to grow deeper in your faith and help us to establish even greater outreach to those in need, I hope you will come. If you cannot make it, contact Alex Finta our Director of Parish Social Ministry so we can make sure you have the latest information. Tomorrow, I will celebrate my seventh anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. I think not only of St. Vincent de Paul but also St. Francis Xavier.
St. Francis Xavier sought to bring the Gospel to missionary lands seeking to bring so many to Christ. I have been blessed in many ways over these years to be used as a pretty unworthy instrument trying to do the best I can to do the same. I have found as both offerer and recipient that the moments of vulnerability are the moments where that encounter of most meaning happens. St. Francis Xavier knew that. St. Vincent de Paul knew that. Let’s pray that together we can use this time to more powerfully bring those in need to that same encounter.
If you can, please say a prayer for me.
ALL I REALLY NEEDED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN: Sister Nancy Campkin, CSJ: 12/2
Dear Parish Family:
One of the most intimidating moments of my life as a school principal is our incredible Early Childhood Program. Give me a room of high school and middle school students and I can handle it in a few minutes. Give me a group of three and four and five year olds and I’m not sure what to do. It all goes back to Kindergarten, I guess. I’ve been thinking about those days a lot lately. I wrote last week about the passing of my childhood pastor—Msgr. William Jablonski. I had the chance to return to West Islip again last weekend for a wonderful event—the 50th Jubilee of Sister Nancy Campkin as a Sister of St. Joseph. What a privilege to return “home”! (She’s pictured in the center here at motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood.) Sister Nancy is a pretty amazing woman of faith. She spoke here at St. John’s during Summer Evening Prayer a few years ago. She has taught in Brooklyn, Queens and Suffolk.
She has coordinated a huge faith formation program for many years and has always found a way to pull others into the work and ministry in the life of the Church – including and especially me. Without her presence and influence, I’m not sure I would have recognized God’s call for me. Today, more than just my Kindergarten teacher and mentor and role model, I a.m. proud to call her a friend.
Sister Nancy also has many great words of wisdom, words that I have repeated many times. There also words that strike me as worth considering as we come to the end of the liturgical year and prepare for Advent. Here are a few:
• Always have a Plan B. I have heard Sister Nancy use those words many times in my lives. This is good advice for parish and life and ministry. It’s also good advice for us in the spiritual life. We’re about to move into the time of preparing. We often have things set in our own minds how we want things to go and are not always so ready for the twists and turns. Maybe as we approach Advent, we should think about some Plan B’s in different areas of our own lives. Is God moving us in a direction we may not want? Check out your plans…they may not be God’s.
• Anticipate. Sister Nancy would often tell me about the need to anticipate. If you do this, what can happen with that? If you make this decision, how will it impact this or that? It’s true in our own lives, too. Are we looking at the impact certain decisions can have on our spiritual well being? What will happen if I don’t make this sacrifice or give up this time or move in this direction?
• One more thing. One of the gifts given to Sister Nancy on Sunday was hours of service. She’s famous for getting people to work. (I might have picked up a thing or two :)). The young person who spoke said “we will do all of these hours moving tables, chairs, and the like and all of the ‘one more thing’s’ Sister Nancy asks us to do.” We often want to be done. I’ll deal with this issue or that situation or this crisis and I’m done. We’re never done. The beginning of the liturgical year is a reminder that there is always one more thing. We begin another liturgical cycle this year. One more thing. This “one more thing” doesn’t need to be a bad thing. It’s an opportunity for us to begin anew, to start again.
• The Journey Continues. One of Sister Nancy’s most famous lines is that “The Journey Continues”. There is always more to come. It’s not that there is just only “one more thing”. It is that we need to be open to the journey the Lord calls us to be on. It may require that we have a Plan B, that we need to anticipate and be open to doing “one more thing”. The last few weeks have seen me return to my home parish for good times and some tough ones. It reminds me of how important the life of the parish is in our lives. I have been humbled, honored, and made more holy by the people of Our Lady of Lourdes. I have seen it here in this parish over the past few years with the great love and affection offered to and received from Msgr. McDonald whenever he would return and now in the days since he passed.
Let’s pray that our parish will continue to be a place that prepares others well for this journey of life and life of the world to come. Please pray for me.
Father Bill...Joe… A Sunday of Sadness and Surrender - 11/18
Dear Parish Family:
Before the 10:30 a.m. Mass last Sunday, I received a message from Bishop Brennan that Msgr. William Jablonski died. Father Bill, as he was known, was the Pastor of my home parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in West Islip since as long as I can remember. He trained me to be an altar server and hired me to be a sacristan at OLL. When I first started meeting with one of the Vocation Directors some 20 years ago, I stopped by his parish, at the time, in East Rockaway to let him know. He was the first person I told. Years later, even though impacted by the effects of a stroke, Fr. Bill was one of the priests who vested me at Ordination on December 3, 2011.
I think, for most priests, there are a cadre of role models we give credit to for helping us to discern God’s call. I have been impacted by many. You’ve met a few of them here at St. John’s. In a time when we are so aware of the frailty that exists in the humanity of the priesthood, these men remind me why I ever thought God might be calling me to this life. It undoubtedly started, though, with Father Bill. I remember my fellow fourth graders and I as students at Our Lady of Lourdes School—he was passionate about Catholic schools too— being trained about the ins and outs of altar serving. I remember he led the effort to renovate the church building of Our Lady of Lourdes– we celebrated Mass in the Gym for over a year there too. I remember him telling me it was time to move up and become a sacristan and actually earn some money. I remember his support of me as a new campus minister and someone working with young people. I remember him agreeing to vest me and allowing me to use his chalice at my first Mass as a priest in 2011.
Fr. Bill was never cool (I don’t mean that disrespectfully). He wasn’t cutting edge. He wasn’t part of the latest movement in the church and maybe wouldn’t be the poster model for vocations. He was just a good, dedicated and humble priest who did what needed to be done wherever it needed to be done. Quietly serving. Gently (and sometimes not so gently) guiding others. And instigating others too.
That sounds like an interesting word, no? I mean it in the best sense though. Fr. Bill could “push buttons”. He could tease with a smile, and a point behind it. He could challenge you in a way you needed to be challenged. You knew, ultimately, he only wanted the best for you. As I write this letter, I’m also working on a homily. He asked if I would be one of the homilists for his Mass of Transferal and Funeral Mass. His priesthood was probably the best homily anyone could give.
Last Sunday was a tough day—and not because of the long homily I gave at all of the Masses! - and not only because of the news about Father Bill. At 2 a.m. early Sunday morning, I was contacted by a family in my last parish. (I feel asleep in my chair with the phone on my chest.) They were one of those families who weren’t overly involved but always present to the parish. Their son was involved in some of our service work there. Their dad—a man in his mid to late 40s—was dying. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2016 and had his ups and downs until a few weeks ago. They didn’t ask me to come. They didn’t have to ask.
I had the chance to pray with Joe, his wife, son and family and to celebrate the Anointing of the Sick with them at their home that early morning. It was a powerful moment for me. It brought me back to moments of my own dad’s passing. A reminder about the need to surrender. Joe died about a half hour after I left. I will have celebrated his funeral on Saturday.
It was a tough night and then a tough day. The week since has had its weight for sure. I had some time to think about a good and holy priest and the example he set. I had the privilege to be present to one so close to returning home to the place prepared for him. One who showed me what it is to be a priest. Another who gave me the privilege of serving him as one.
Say a prayer for Fr. Bill and his family and say a prayer for Joe and his family. If you can, please say a prayer for me.
Rebuilding, Restoring, Renewing: IT NEVER ENDS - 11/11
Dear Parish Family:
The words of the prophet Isaiah (58:12) served as a motto of sorts for our parish over the past 14 months. The repair of the church building certainly saw these words come to life. Something much deeper hap-pened though in these times. More than a building, the spiritual dwelling of our parish and I hope each one of us as individuals has been, in some way, rebuilt, restored and renewed.
It is in this spirit that I a.m. presenting the 2018-19 Annual Report. The financial report (on the next page) provides the basic information of our parish finances. Because of your presence in prayer and service, because of your generosity - in the spirit of the poor widow in today’s Gospel - and because of your com-mitment to SJE in trying times in the life of the Church, we are where we are today. Period. Without you, we would be lost. I will explain some things in detail at Masses this weekend, but the most im-portant words I can ever express are words of gratitude, always gratitude.
The restoration of the church building had a huge impact on our financial numbers. The end of year re-port – August 2018 – shows numbers that are a bit “off” in positive and negative directions. We are still settling our insurance claim. The entire restoration of the church building – what has been paid through insurance and what we have done through the 2017 and 2018 Summer Appeals and the Fund a Foot campaign will bring the entire project over 3 million dollars. It’s been a huge undertaking. The monies raised in those campaigns allowed us to: install a polished concrete floor, refinish our sanctuary, repair the roof and cupola damage, improve our lighting system, repair and replace our exterior lighting system, improve our sound system, reseal our parking lot, install new stained glass windows marking this time in our church’s history, and allowed us to begin the process of putting additional glass on the exterior of the stained glass windows from the original building of the church in 1998. (This work, though largely unseen, will protect the windows as well as the structure and integrity of the church building.) These projects, yes, have largely exhausted the work of the Fund a Foot campaign and the Summer Appeal. These projects are the reasons we carried out these campaigns. The monies raised achieved goals set. Again, always gratitude.
We are hoping to finish up the insurance claim in the next two months and finish all accommodations that need to be made for a Certificate of Occupancy (something the church building never had) to be issued. Once that is finished, I promise you, I will let you know. So we’re done restoring, rebuilding and renewing, right? No way.
You know as well as I do that the past 14 months saw many great things happen here in additional to the church restoration. There have been many signs of spiritual, pastoral, liturgical, and ministerial rebuild-ing, restoring and renewing. The same must be true in the months and years ahead.
Can I share a few ideas about where some of the rebuilding, repairing and renewing need to happen – in the leadership, ministerial and formation work of our parish?
Mission Statement. We are in the process of developing a parish mission statement that has tones of the Gospel of John within it. Our Pastoral Council has worked to create this statement and our Finance Council and Pastoral Team have reviewed it. I a.m. enclosing a first draft below. Soon, we’ll be asking for some feedback on this.
This will help to direct us in the future. Here is our first draft:
“Inspired by our Patron, St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Center Moriches seeks to bring the light of Christ to a world in need, so that as Christ has done, we may also do. From the celebration of the Eucharist, we are sent forth to serve God and neighbor through ministries of formation, education and outreach.”
Strategic Direction. I would like the parish to develop a strategic direction plan for the future. We’ll be relying on the Pastoral Council and Pastoral Team for this effort, an effort that will call us to examine the various aspects of parish life and where we hope to be in the future.
Automated Giving. I hope by Winter 2019 to introduce to you the possibility of automated giving. This would allow us to make our contributions electronically via a debit or credit card. This would not be mandatory in any way. It is an opportunity for you, if it makes life easier.
Youth Ministry. Fr. Michael is leading a work group on the future of youth ministry at SJE. Surveys are being completed, interviews are taking place, materials reviewed and more. Our hope is to have something in place in 2019.
OLQA. I will speak more about the school this weekend, but a.m. inviting everyone to considering be-ing part of our new enrollment campaign - 220 by 2020 - as we seek to increase awareness, oppor-tunity and enrollment at the Catholic School in Center Moriches.
So as you can see, it never ends. There’s always one more thing! Same in our common mission of bring-ing the light of Christ to a world so desperately in need. Thank you for all the ways you seek to be present and to support our parish community and thank you, especially, for your goodness and kindness to me.
Please pray for me.
Respect Life + Rosary + Bullying Prevention + Confirmation - 10/28
Dear Parish Family:
October is a busy month for the Church. There are a number of themes that run through it. Some I a.m. aware of. Some I just learned of in my new role as Principal of OLQA. These emphases are good ones. They focus and direct us. I wonder though if there is a tendency in us to say “Well...that’s over.” Let’s move on to November and all that month brings. I hope it’s not that way for you. It shouldn’t be for you or for us as a parish community.
Respect Life Month. We focus, as a church, a good deal of energy on Respect Life Month and we should. We’re probably a little distracted these days as a Church but we really don’t have time for this distraction. There are pregnant moms in need of support, unborn children in danger, poor and hungry in need, death row inmates in need of justice, the dying in need of care and so many more life issues in need of our attention. Let’s not waver. As a matter of fact, let’s get even more committed. Have you volunteered in Parish Social Ministry yet? Have you learned more about our Pro-Life group? Have you joined the Catholic Action Network yet? What are you waiting for?
Bullying Prevention. This past week at OLQA, we recognized Bullying Prevention Week. It’s not a one week process I assure you. It’s one that requires constant attention and vigilance. It’s also not something limited to kids in middle school. Adults are not much better. If you’re not so sure, hop online. There are bullies of all types, particularly Catholic ones! If I’m honest, I’m not too far away from earning that title at times. I have to watch it. Maybe you do too? We’re fortunate to be able to make the connection between Bullying Prevention and Respect Life Month. Neither should this end on Wednesday.
Rosary. I try to pray the Rosary every day. I sometimes fail. I forget, to be honest. No excuse. Sometimes I fall asleep half way through. Sometimes I look at an image of the Blessed Mother and say, “It’s not happening today. I hope you understand.” I know the difference it does make for me. If it makes that much of a difference in my life, imagine the difference it would make if we all prayed it? Pope Francis asked us to pray the Rosary, the Sub Tuum Praesidium and the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel throughout October for the Church. Does our emphasis have to end on October 31st? I hope not. Maybe it will in-spire us to pray these prayers each day. I have put in a graphic that might be worth cutting out. It’s on page 4.
Confirmation. This past Tuesday, we celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation at SJE. What a great day for our parish as over two hundred young people and their families came together to complete their initiation into the Catholic Church. What a gift for us. I a.m. a realist. I know not everyone will be back right away. I live in hope, though. I pray the seeds planted, and hopefully watered and nourished at the celebration this past Tuesday, will take root in our young people.
It doesn’t need to end this October—for them, for you or for me.
Please pray for me. Fr. John
Communion + Care + Contemplation + Commitment + Compassion
PRAISED BE THE SAINTS!
Dear Parish Family:
There are some weeks when the liturgical cycle of celebrations and saints hits you like a ton of bricks. Kind of what you need in the midst of the every day of our lives. This would be one of those weeks for me, maybe one for you? Here’s what I was thinking:
Pope Saint Paul VI. Admittedly, I don’t know too much about all of the history related to Pope Paul VI. From what I have read and learned, his quiet presence brought about some unity in the Church in the midst of times of real tumult. I think of his ability to build a communion of sorts in the midst of all that change. I think of that need in the midst of our Church today, maybe even within our parish. It’s hard, Lord knows. To see where we can come together then to grab on to what divides us or separates us isn’t always so easy. Pope St. Paul VI, pray for us!
Saint Oscar Romero. In 2000 and 2001, I had the humble privilege to visit the country of El Salvador and pray in the Chapel where now Saint Oscar Romero was murdered. There was a sense of quiet and serenity that I have felt in few places. Having the spent the weeks prior in various neighborhoods and communities of El Salvador, I came to learn a great deal about how this saint inspired a faith in Christ and His Church for so many in this wounded country. He poured out his life, literally, on behalf of the poor and the voiceless. I a.m. reminded of how quickly I walk away from the poor and the wounded when it gets tough for me or people give me a hard time for it or it’s even just inconvenient. Maybe the same for you? St. Oscar Romero, pray for us.
Saint Teresa of Jesus (of Avila). I a.m. reading the works of a Carmelite sister and I need to go easy whenever I read them. She embodies the challenges of St. Teresa in her writings. The call to contemplation, withdrawal from the everyday of life and the need to rest in the presence of God are raised constantly. Talk about a hit in the head in these days between parish, school and life. You bet there’s work to do here within me. What about you? St. Teresa of Jesus, pray for us.
St. Ignatius of Antioch. In praying with the Office of Readings today, I was taken by St. Ignatius’ willingness to do whatever is necessary—even accepting incredible death and torture –for Christ and His Church. Unwilling to stand down from his defense of truth, unafraid of the earthly consequences. How quickly I can cower from challenge and confrontation at times. Maybe the same for you? St. Ignatius of Antioch, pray for us.
St. Luke. In full disclosure, even though I a.m. humbled to be in the Parish of St. John the Evangelist, I think the Gospel of Luke is my favorite one. From start (the Canticles of Zechariah and Mary) to finish (the story of Emmaus) to all in between, Luke calls us to a certain compassionate relationship with God and one another. We see it in those beautiful parables, no? The Good Samaritan, the Lost Coin, the Prodigal Son and others. I see often the areas of my life and ministry where compassion is not evident in who I a.m. and what I do. Caught up in tasks and jobs, it’s so easy to forget persons and encounters. Almost no time to look for that coin, find that sheep, care for that beaten person or look for that lost son. Too busy on the things of my world, I can so easily forget the world beyond me. Maybe the same for you? St. Luke the Evangelist, pray for us.
So a challenging week for me. Hopefully that will get me further on the path of holiness. Maybe the same for you?
Please pray for me. Fr. John
Youth Ministry in Transition: Hope for youth- 10/14
Dear Parish Family: Becoming a principal and returning to the world of education over the past two months has been exciting, exhilarating, overwhelming and challenging (and, yes, all at the same time!). Taking on this work is a privilege. It has required me to step back from things I do outside the parish. One of those areas has been my volunteer work as a social worker. I a.m. not physically able to get to the group home as often as I would like. It’s been a loss for me. Last week, I was able to return to catch up with some of the young men I work with. The journey to recovery is never easy. So many of us know this. Yet, whenever I leave the group home it always with a sense of hope. That hope does not mean it is going to be easy for any of us. I just leave with a lifted spirit about those young people (and life, in general). That, too, is a privilege. At St. John’s we’re in a bit of a transition in the area of “formal” parish youth ministry.
Since Michael Clauberg’s departure in August, we have taken this time to study and discern where we want to go in the future. I did not want to rush in to something or into hiring someone without taking this time. I have asked Fr. Michael to lead a “work group” of parents, young people and volunteers to undergo an evaluation of where we have been, where we are and where we hope to go. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked for your opinion in the weeks ahead. In addition, the work group will meet with parents and young people, study other youth ministry programs and gather additional data. I have asked them to complete their work by the beginning of December. From there, we will make decisions as a Pastoral Team to discern our next steps. Not having a consistent youth ministry program is a change for us. I anticipate us returning to something more consistent following the report of the work group. I know this might be a reason to lose hope. While we are in an “in-between” time, there are many reasons to have hope for the role of young people in our parish. I think of all that has been shared with me over the past few days (you can see signs of it in our bulletin).
Our Scouting ministry helped to raise awareness for a scout who lost his life. Our CYO program has doubled in size over the past year. High school teens were present throughout our 1:8 Confirmation. Our Family Life Ministry is coming with great ideas to bring families together. Our Youth Service Corps continues to serve when help is needed. OLQA is alive with many new opportunities for middle school students. (I hope you and your family are open to learning more about the difference Catholic schools can make!)
We see signs of a new spirit with servers getting ready to serve at the altar. None of these are a replacement for a youth ministry “program” but help me to see the signs of the crucial role young people play in our parish. I a.m. writing to you from a Principal’s/School Leader’s meeting at the Department of Education in Hicksville (don’t tell on me!). We’re discussing a process of evaluation that will allow us to better plan the future of our school community. It is a long meeting but I hope that it allows it to better serve our young people and local community. It is part of what inspires me to keep going each day. Let’s pray for the same for the youth of our parish community.
Please pray for me. Fr. John
Novena to St. Michael the Archangel: Safeguards - 9/23
Dear Parish Family:
Many people like Pope Francis. They find him approachable, are able to take some challenging lessons from him and often are engaged by his presence. If you listen to Pope Francis or read his homilies, there are few times when he doesn’t speak about the power of evil and the presence of Satan. Just last week, he said, “Among us is the great accuser, the one who will always accuse us in front of God to destroy us: Satan. He is the great accuser. And when I enter into this logic of accusing, cursing and looking to do evil to others, I enter into the logic of the ‘Great Accuser’ who is a ‘Destroyer,’ who doesn’t know the word ‘mercy,'” (13 September 2018).
There are many places to accuse, curse and look to places of evil revenge in these days, particularly in the life of the Church. We have read articles, heard homilies, seen websites that do all of that and more! It’s this one’s fault! It’s this sexual orientation. It’s this pope’s fault or that one’s. It’s this teaching about priestly celibacy or marriage. It’s that seminary formation or formator. It’s that Cardinal, this Pastor, that priest’s commentary...and so on and so on. I have fallen into it. Perhaps you have too. I have been thinking a lot lately about the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.
I received one or two emails requesting that it be said at the end of Mass and a few others have spoken to me about it too. Fr. Michael said it at the end of Mass a few weeks ago. To be honest, my first reaction was not to go there. Part of it is that I a.m. a liturgy nerd and I really do not want anything added to the time of mass. It’s not my place or yours to touch any part of the liturgy. Another part of me — the organizer — is concerned if we add this prayer now, what prayer will we need to add later for another challenging time in the Church and the world? And a dark side of me wants to blame this one and that one. In my anger, I find myself saying, “Why pray for this strength when it’s this other person’s issue?” Shame on me for that one. This week, I wrote to Bishop Andrzej Zglejszewski, an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Rockville Centre and the Vicar for Worship. I asked him for permission to pray the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel after all of the Masses (as well as parish meetings, prayer services, events, etc.) throughout the Novena to St. Michael the Archangel whose feast day is September 29.
By the time you read this, we will have started praying the prayer on Thursday. We will pray the prayer for the last time at liturgy at the end of the 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Masses next Saturday. I have had prayer cards made. They will be given out at Masses this weekend and will also be on the ledge of the new stained glass window of St. Michael the Archangel in the church. This praying of this prayer does not take away our need to accept responsibility and to make clear and positive change in the life of the Church. I a.m. always afraid of that failure on my part. Think of the story of the First Sin in the Book of Genesis (3:10-13). Blame is placed everywhere (She made me do it...the serpent made me do it). We’re good at being those accusers, even as a Church. We need to pray and accept responsibility so that just as our church building was rebuilt, repaired and restored, our Church may be as well. Here’s how Pope Francis concluded that same homily cited above “...accuse yourself. It will do you good. The only licit accusation that we Christians have is to accuse ourselves. For others, there is only mercy because we are children of the father who is merciful...” May we be honest about our need for God’s mercy in these days and so be ministers of that mercy to others.
St. Michael the Archangel, ...be our safeguard...pray for us.
Searching for the Spirit - 9/9
Dear Parish Family:
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the feeling of defeat with all that is happening in the larger Church. Many of you identified with that but also challenged it. I appreciate that. I find myself filled with more of the Spirit in these days. I think part of it is taking time to see the incredible things happening in the Church today, particularly here at SJE. Seeing the many ways the Body of Christ is moving and transforming lives— from school to social ministry, from outreach to organizations, from ministry to mission — frankly, there’s too much good work to do to feel defeated.
I find myself not ignoring the sins of the Church. I find myself seeing more than the brokenness and woundedness. I see the healing of brokenness and binding up of woundedness. I feel I a.m. more aware of Christ’s presence in my life these days and challenged to grow ever closer to Him. I’ve been listening a lot lately to Cardinal Dolan about a lot of these things. He seems to present and approach things in a way I can connect and identify with – maybe you too? I’m putting a recent article of his from Catholic New York. It helped me in my search for a renewed spirit. Maybe you too?
Today’s Way of the Cross
By Timothy Cardinal Dolan: August 30, 2018
Yes, I know that the classical, popular devotion, the Via Crucis—reverently accompanying Jesus on His tortured journey from unjust condemnation by Pontius Pilate, to His repose in the arms of His sorrowful mother at the foot of the cross, to His burial in a donated sepulcher—is in fourteen steps. I love that devotion, especially on Fridays and during Lent. But, can I offer an abbreviated one, in only three steps, that has hit me during my listening and observing the deep hurt in the Body of Christ, the Church, caused by the nauseating news of clergy sexual abuse and gross negligence by bishops?
Many of my brother bishops and priests, as well as our lay faithful, have spoken and written about this horror of late, some thoughtfully, some less so. I myself have commented a bit, but, over the past two months, I’ve done more listening, remembering, and reflecting, than talking. Three episodes haunt me, and I consider them three steps on the Way of the Cross today.
Station #1...While I vividly and painfully remember the dozens and dozens of meetings I’ve had with victims and their families over the last sixteen years, one particularly haunts me still. There I was, fifteen-years or-so- ago, with a victim of abuse by a priest twenty years before. With him were his parents, extraordinarily sincere Catholics. “When he told me, when he was sixteen, that Father X, the popular priest in our parish, a good friend of our family, had abused him, you know what I did?” asked the dad as he looked at me. “I slapped him!”
Dad began to cry, his whole body shivering. “I slapped my own son! I screamed at him, ‘Don’t you dare say that about a priest!’” Can you imagine the remorse, the agony of that father? Can we even fathom the crushing sadness of the son, the helpless sorrow of the mom? Can you imagine my shame and sorrow?
Our victims and their families are suffering. They are cherished members of the Church as much as any priest, bishop, or cardinal. How we have wounded them! How much we owe them contrition and solidarity.
The first station: Victims and their families grievously hurt.
Station #2...She’s in assisted living now, almost ninety, still, thank God, in decent shape. She loves her Catholic faith. She has a son a priest, four other children living their faith, handing it on to their kids, her grandkids. She is always eager to talk about the Church to her friends, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
But not on the day last week I talked to her on the phone. “Tim,” she said to me, “I skipped lunch today. I’m ashamed to go to the dining room. I’m so embarrassed to be a Catholic. I don’t know what to say to anybody!” She’s my mom. Only one of the millions of faithful Catholics who today are ashamed of their clergy and bishops, of their Church.
The second station: Our faithful people mourn for their Church. Station #3...He’s one of the best priests I know, grateful for his vocation, proud to be known as a parish priest. As he prepared to take the train home after an enjoyable visit with me, he remarked, “I’m not wearing my clerical collar. I’m too ashamed. I’m afraid that people will sneer at me or shout at me.” Or the innocent priest in the southwest, beaten in the sacristy after offering Mass, the crazed man yelling, “This is for what you priests did to young people.” They’re but two of the overwhelming majority of our priests (and bishops) who live virtuous, faithful lives, who now are tarred by the vicious perversion of a
iny minority of their brethren.
The Third Station: Our Faithful Priests mourn their vocation. I’ve listened; I’ve seen; I’ve heard; I’ve read. So have you. I really don’t know what to say...except, as we pray at the Stations of the Cross, “We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee! Because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world!” Or, with St. Peter, as we heard in last Sunday’s gospel, “Lord, to whom else shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.”
NOTHING TO SAY - 8/26
This past week has one of the toughest in my nearly seven years of priesthood and beyond. I think I felt similarly in 2002 when news started to break out in our diocese. The stories of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report are not necessarily new and most of the cases are horrific cases of the past. I guess that combined with the humanity of the Church - and the darkness within parts of that humanity—I’m defeated. That’s the word that keeps coming up in my conversation and my prayer.
I find consolation that we have been praying with the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel over the past few weeks. It’s reminding me of how important the Eucharist is going to be in my own work of coming up from defeat; hopefully the Church’s too.
I feel inadequate and a.m. probably too hurt by all of this to offer any words. I felt a little less defeated when Pope Francis wrote to the People of God this week. I a.m. putting the entire letter in the bulletin. Please take some time to read it. I know it’s long. I felt even less defeated when I finished reading it. I hope you will too.
Please pray for me.
Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis To the People of God
“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26). These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons. Crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and non-believers alike. Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated. The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.
1. If one member suffers… In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately seventy years. Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims. We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away. The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced. But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity. The Lord heard that cry and once again showed us on which side he stands. Mary’s song is not mistaken and continues quietly to echo throughout history. For the Lord remembers the promise he made to our fathers: “he has scattered the proud in their conceit; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Lk 1:51-53). We feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite.
With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them. I make my own the words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger when, during the Way of the Cross composed for Good Friday 2005, he identified with the cry of pain of so many victims and exclaimed: “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to [Christ]! How much pride, how much self-complacency! Christ’s betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his body and blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison – Lord, save us! (cf. Mt 8:25)” (Ninth Station).
2. … all suffer together with it. The extent and the gravity of all that has happened requires coming to grips with this reality in a comprehensive and communal way. While it is important and necessary on every journey of conversion to acknowledge the truth of what has happened, in itself this is not enough. Today we are challenged as the People of God to take on the pain of our brothers and sisters wounded in their flesh and in their spirit. If, in the past, the response was one of omission, today we want solidarity, in the deepest and most challenging sense, to become our way of forging present and future history. And this in an environment where conflicts, tensions and above all the victims of every type of abuse can encounter an outstretched hand to protect them and rescue them from their pain (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 228). Such solidarity demands that we in turn condemn whatever endangers the integrity of any person. A solidarity that summons us to fight all forms of corruption, especially spiritual corruption. The latter is “a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness. Everything then appears acceptable: deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centeredness, for ‘even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light’ (2 Cor 11:14)” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 165). Saint Paul’s exhortation to suffer with those who suffer is the best antidote against all our attempts to repeat the words of Cain: “Am I my brother's keeper?” (Gen 4:9).
I a.m. conscious of the effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults, as well as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable. We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I a.m. confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.
Together with those efforts, every one of the baptized should feel involved in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need. This change calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does. For as Saint John Paul II liked to say: “If we have truly started out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he wished to be identified” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 49). To see things as the Lord does, to be where the Lord wants us to be, to experience a conversion of heart in his presence. To do so, prayer and penance will help. I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command. This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says “never again” to every form of abuse.
It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People. Indeed, whenever we have tried to replace, or silence, or ignore, or reduce the People of God to small elites, we end up creating communities, projects, theological approaches, spiritualities and structures without roots, without memory, without faces, without bodies and ultimately, without lives. This is clearly seen in a peculiar way of understanding the Church’s authority, one common in many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience have occurred. Such is the case with clericalism, an approach that “not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people”. Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today. To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism.
It is always helpful to remember that “in salvation history, the Lord saved one people. We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in the human community. God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 6). Consequently, the only way that we have to respond to this evil that has darkened so many lives is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God. This awareness of being part of a people and a shared history will enable us to acknowledge our past sins and mistakes with a penitential openness that can allow us to be renewed from within. Without the active participation of all the Church’s members, everything being done to uproot the culture of abuse in our communities will not be successful in generating the necessary dynamics for sound and realistic change. The penitential dimension of fasting and prayer will help us as God’s People to come before the Lord and our wounded brothers and sisters as sinners imploring forgiveness and the grace of shame and conversion. In this way, we will come up with actions that can generate resources attuned to the Gospel. For “whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world” (Evangelii Gaudium, 11).
It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable. Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others. An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion.
Likewise, penance and prayer will help us to open our eyes and our hearts to other people’s sufferings and to overcome the thirst for power and possessions that are so often the root of those evils. May fasting and prayer open our ears to the hushed pain felt by children, young people and the disabled. A fasting that can make us hunger and thirst for justice and impel us to walk in the truth, supporting all the judicial measures that may be necessary. A fasting that shakes us up and leads us to be committed in truth and charity with all men and women of good will, and with society in general, to combatting all forms of the abuse of power, sexual abuse and the abuse of conscience.
In this way, we can show clearly our calling to be “a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1). “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it”, said Saint Paul. By an attitude of prayer and penance, we will become attuned as individuals and as a community to this exhortation, so that we may grow in the gift of compassion, in justice, prevention and reparation. Mary chose to stand at the foot of her Son’s cross. She did so unhesitatingly, standing firmly by Jesus’ side. In this way, she reveals the way she lived her entire life. When we experience the desolation caused by these ecclesial wounds, we will do well, with Mary, “to insist more upon prayer”, seeking to grow all the more in love and fidelity to the Church (SAINT IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, Spiritual Exercises, 319). She, the first of the disciples, teaches all of us as disciples how we are to halt before the sufferings of the innocent, without excuses or cowardice. To look to Mary is to discover the model of a true follower of Christ.
May the Holy Spirit grant us the grace of conversion and the interior anointing needed to express before these crimes of abuse our compunction and our resolve courageously to combat them.
John 6: Living Forever - 8/12
Dear Parish Family:
You know the past few weeks – and two more weeks to go – we have been praying with the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. We do this every time we are in Year B of the Liturgical Cycle. This fills in some of the space as the Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four gospels.
I hope the weeks prior, today and ahead give us some opportunity to consider our own approach to the gift of the Eucharist. It has been a challenging few weeks, for me, in our parish and turning these pages has given me some “food for thought” if you will. May my thoughts – or better yet – the way God has been calling me out perhaps be a support to you!
“They themselves got into boats…looking for Jesus” (John 6:25). How hard are you and I looking? Are we searching for Jesus in our midst? They seek him and find him (even if they’re not quite sure how he got to where he was). Are we searching hard enough for Jesus? Are we taking advantage of enough of the times we have to “recline” (John 6:10)?
An area I hope we can get more participation in is adoration during our times of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. So far only about six parishioners have committed to taking an hour. I think we can do better than that, no? Are we looking hard enough? I would love to see each of the hours filled and a.m. more than open to adding morning hours of adoration. I a.m. hoping that Seton Chapel can become a place of extended adoration in the months to come. If you have not committed to an hour a week, would you think about it? I updated the form today to see about morning possibilities.
“Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life...” (John 6:27). Do I see the eucharist I receive at Mass linked to my eternal life? I hope you notice that each “Prayer After Communion” – the prayer that concludes the Communion Rite often contains a clear link. In today’s prayer, we pray: “May the communion in your Sacrament that we have consumed, save us, O Lord…”. Each time we gather for Mass, we do not receive practical nourishment, but nourishment that saves us, that can lead us to eternal life.
Do I see this connection? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Maybe the same for you? How easy can it be to stay on the level of the “food that perishes”, the things of this world? It’s not to say the things of this world are unimportant. But are they in the right order in my life? In yours? I often catch myself - and probably more often don’t – having things not in the right order. Concerned with details, failing to keep in mind a final destination. Remember, “whoever believes have eternal life” (John 6:47). Taking some time in adoration (see paragraph above) might help to remember well the gift that brings eternal life.
I a.m. often humbled to bring the eucharist to the homebound. I try to visit a parishioner or two weekly to pray with them and to bring communion. I think of a beautiful mom and wife who is moving closer and closer to the eternal life that Christ offers us. After reading the Sunday scripture, I minister communion. She is calmer, at peace. She knows. Perhaps her anxiety isn’t just about her illness and all that comes with this. It’s about her desire to look for Jesus and find him in the eucharist. I never fail to leave overwhelmed by her and disappointed in myself. It reminds me that I’m not looking hard enough. I’m not trusting enough. I’m failing to keep my eye on the life to come.
Let’s pray that we can be “imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). It is very hard to imitate what we don’t watch, enter into, come to know very well. Let’s consider ways we can look harder, recline in His presence a bit more and see the new life he promises us. Please pray for me.
Change in Youth Ministry - Yellow Arrows - 7/30
Dear Parish Family:
I tend to write these letters on the Wednesday before the Sunday of the “published deadline”. (You won’t be surprised to learn that the deadline was Monday.) Today, as I write, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. James. St. James is known for many things—more than can be written here. A spiritual tradition that has developed in the Church is the Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James. It’s a spiritual walk that can take as long as thirty days or more to complete. The walk is challenging with a pilgrim walking 20 to 30 miles a day. You might remember that Paul Clores walked part of the Camino last summer.
The walk is a symbolic journey. The ups and downs of the hills, the different directions taken, the need to walk with others and walk alone, embracing the hospitality of others who are on the way are just some of the reflections that many share after this journey. Yellow arrows—some big, some small— guide the pilgrim to know where to turn to get to the next part of the journey. It’s a physical and spiritual journey that I hope one day I can enter. I write today to inform you that Michael Clauberg has resigned his position as Director of Youth Ministry effective this August. Mike has been part of the SJE community for over 21 years serving in youth ministry here while also carrying out work with young people throughout his time here at Mercy High School, Our Lady of Mercy School in Cutchogue, St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, St. John the Baptist in Wading River and serving as a regional leader in Life Teen International (and that’s just part of it!). To say Mike is a force in the field of youth ministry would be an understatement. He will become the youth minister a St. Patrick’s R.C. Church in Huntington at the end of August.
I write with a bit of a saddened heart because the “yellow arrow” that brings Mike to St. Patrick’s is a loss for SJE on some levels. Whenever a leader in a parish—who has been ingrained as long as Mike has—moves on, it leaves a significant hole that, quite simply, can never be filled. For many years, Mike has shared God’s gifts given to him to bring many young people closer to Christ and His Church via programs like Life Teen, EDGE, CYO and the like. More so, Mike’s efforts at relationship with young people have made as much, if not more, of a significant impact. I hope and pray Mike’s work with the young people presently in the South Huntington area at St. Anthony’s will carry over to his work at St. Patrick’s. Mike will return to working with Msgr. Steve Camp, the present Pastor at St. Patrick’s. Then Fr. Steve Camp served here for many years at OLQA and St. Jude’s in Mastic Beach in the 1990s.
Where do we go from here? Right now, I’m not sure where the “yellow arrows” are pointing for youth ministry at SJE. There is no “replacement” for Mike and there cannot be one. I a.m. beginning to meet with the members of the Core teams of Life Teen and EDGE and hope to listen to them as we discern the next steps. After talking with members of the Pastoral Team, I think the best thing we can do is to not rush into brining someone on board to fill a position. The role is too important. This will leave us with a gap in the upcoming months in our official youth ministry program.
So the next months will be a time of transition for Michael Clauberg and for our parish community. There is a sense of deep loss for Mike, I’m sure, and for our parish without question. I know God will place good yellow arrows showing us the “Buen Camino” - the “Good Way” - in the months ahead. Please pray for Mike in these days of transition and, if you can, please say a prayer for me.
P.S. We are in the process of planning a “Good Way” celebration for Mike on Sunday, August 19 after the 5:30 p.m. mass. Check future issues of the bulletin for more info. If you would like to be part of the planning, please contact Michelle Pirraglia at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message in the Faith Formation office.
Humanae Vitae at 50: God’s Gift of Sexuality - SUMMER READING
Dear Parish Family:
You might read this headline and say, “Good grief, Fr. John. It’s summer. A little heavy, no?” Perhaps. As you can read in other parts of the bulletin, we mark the 50th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the encyclical issued by soon to be saint Paul VI about married life. It has often been reduced to its definitive teaching on contraception but there is much more here than that! Bishop Barres is issuing a pastoral letter entitled, The Supreme Gift: TheGift of Life this week and it is an opportunity to reflect on where we are at with the Church’s call to married love and human sexuality.
Last year, I celebrated Mass on a Friday in the group home where I volunteer. The readings related to chastity and the proper and improper uses of the gift of sexuality. I read from a letter from Archbishop Charles Chaput, the archbishop of Philadelphia. I may have quoted it in this column before. (It I did, it’s worth a second post!)
“What we do with our bodies matters. Sex is linked intimately to human identity and purpose. If our lives have no higher meaning than what we invent for ourselves, then sex is just another kind of modeling clay. We can shape it any way we please. But if our lives do have a higher purpose – and as Christians, we find that purpose in the Word of God — then so does our sexuality.
Acting in ways that violate that purpose becomes a form of self-abuse; and not just self-abuse, but a source of confusion and suffering for the wider culture. The fact that an individual’s body might incline him or her to one sort of damaging sexual behavior, or to another very different sort, doesn’t change this.”
I worry that just as some reduce the teaching of Humanae Vitae to its teaching about contraception, we have done the same with sexuality. We reduce it to a series of actions. We get caught up in one teaching or another. We follow some. We may ignore others. We fail to see the whole picture. That’s just not how the Church sees it. It’s not how you and are I to see it. We see this gift of sexuality as so powerful, so amazing. It’s so powerful that it can produce life if it is God’s will. How can you and I do anything that might get in the way of the will of God?
As we mark this 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, maybe it’s a good time to ask a few questions of ourselves. Here are a few:
• What is the Church’s teaching on sexuality? Do I know it? Do I desire to understand it?
• Do I see sexuality and sexual activity as part of my “higher calling”?
• Do I consider the Church’s teaching when it comes to issues related to birth control, marriage, living together before marriage, being married outside the Church?
• Have I talked to my children about the Church’s teaching about human sexuality making sure my values and the church’s values are enforced and practiced or have I chosen to look the other way?
• Do I work hard enough to resist temptations related to sexuality, like pornography, physical relationships, sexting, inappropriate conversations and the like? Do I make sure those God has entrusted to me do the same?
I worry that we have “thrown in the towel”. We deceive ourselves saying, “Look at world. How can we ever carry out these teachings?” We settle for certain behaviors in ourselves and others. In doing so, we cheapen God’s gift of sexuality. We cheapen ourselves. We wind up pulling further away from Christ and His Church.
The Chapel was quiet that day last summer. After Mass, while shaking hands, many of the men made it a point to say something to me. Most were challenged and many said, “I needed to hear that.” Maybe in the weeks ahead we can re-examine our understanding of the Church’s teaching about sexuality. We might find out that we need to hear it again too.
Please pray for me.
Wisdom and Grace: Senior Ministry
"Now that I a.m. old and gray, do not forsake me, God, that I may proclaim your might to all generations yet to come. Your power and justice, God, to the highest heaven. You have done great things…
My lips will shout for joy as I sing your praise; my soul, too, which you have redeemed." —Psalm 71
Dear Parish Family:
I have spent most of ministerial life working with young people. To this day, I commit a tremendous amount of time here to the work of OLQA and Faith Formation and do the best I can to be present to the youth ministry activities of the parish. Prior to entering the seminary, I worked as a campus minister at a high school and a youth minister in the parish. As a social worker, my primary work is with young people. As a parish and a church, we commit a great amount of resources and time to the work of youth ministry and we should and we must!
At the same time, I have always struggled with the comparable lack of resources to those at the other end of life—those persons of wisdom who are the foundation of the Church here at St. John’s and everywhere else. For sure, the needs are different. I find that we rely tremendously on older parishioners for their financial support, leadership, experience, wisdom and participation (and we should and we must!). At the same time, I do not know that we always provide enough support and encouragement, presence and resources for the seniors of the Church and, specifically, at St. John’s. I fear, sometimes, we may take older people for granted. We shouldn’t and we can’t.
Over the past few months, I have been talking regularly with Sister Ann about the possibility of starting a more official senior ministry here at St. John the Evangelist. I a.m. excited to announce that beginning today, July 15th, Sister Ann is the new Director of Senior Ministry at St. John the Evangelist. She is excited too! This will be a great opportunity for our parish as we seek to develop new ways to better engage, involve and support those people of wisdom in our parish.
In my two years at St. John’s, I have been overwhelmed by the wisdom and grace of Sister Ann. Because of her tremendous experience and deep love for the Church, I have come to rely on her advice and her presence. What a gift she is going to continue to be as she charts a new path for our parish’s future.
In taking on this new position, Sister Ann will be stepping away from the day to day of parish social ministry. Beginning today, Alex Finta (pictured left with his fiancé) who has served as the Associate Director of Parish Social Ministry will be the Director of Parish Social Ministry. In the time Alex has been here as a social work intern, Associate Director of Parish Social Ministry and the School Social Worker, he has gained a great deal from his experience here and has brought many great gifts to the life of our parish. He has worked hand in hand with Sister Ann on many projects and I have great hope that even more good things are on the horizon! And good news for him—a person of wisdom and grace will continue to be working with him in this new role (and keeping her eye on him too!).
Please pray for me.
Celebrating God’s Gift of Priesthood: Father Felix At 40
Dear Parish Family:
I first stepped foot on the grounds of St. John the Evangelist as the incoming Pastor on March 15, 2016. I came here to meet Fr. Walter and see just what exactly Bishop Murphy had gotten me into! I remember that day meeting my Spiritual Director in Blue Point (to reflect on the previous sentence) and then driving down Montauk Highway taking in what, for me, was this new part of Long Island.
I arrived early and walked into the church. As I came in I was greeted by a priest who was locking the church building in the early afternoon. He let me stay but said I had to close the door behind me tightly. He did not know who I was and I did not know who he was. However, that day was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and connection. You can probably figure out that I a.m. speaking about Fr. Felix.
On July 2, Fr. Felix celebrated his 40th anniversary as a priest. I think you agree that St. John’s has been blessed well by Fr. Felix’s presence here over the past eight years. In my time living, praying, and ministering with Fr. Felix, I have come to know a man of sage-like wisdom, incredible prayer and devotion, incredible intelligence and a deep humility that always deflects the attention away from him to the other – most often Christ.
I a.m. most humbled and amazed by Fr. Felix’s great devotion to the sick and homebound. A few months ago, we were called together to visit a sick person. He had his whole kit of things and simply said, “Follow me. I will show you.” And he did. It wasn’t what was in the kit. It was the man of deep faith who offered great consolation and hope to one who was dying. I know many call Fr. Felix and he prays with the homebound on the phone and takes time to listen all through the night. What a gift!
I a.m. most challenged by Fr. Felix’s advice and wisdom. I often ask him for it. He has a great ability to see the entirety of a situation or moment. He offers critique, encouragement, support and correction (I need all of it!). Never is it done with anything but a sincere heart and good intention (and usually a good Fr. Felix laugh!). Recently, a young person was sitting in my office waiting to see me about something pretty serious and Fr. Felix seeing him went in, sat down and called out his name and said, “…now you listen to me. I have something to tell you. You need to listen….” The kid did, commenting later, “Fr. Felix made some good points. Too bad you’re not as smart as him, Fr. John.” (The kid was proud of himself!)
A few months ago, I received notice from Bishop Barres that he accepted both my request and Fr. Felix’s request that his assignment be extended here at St. John’s. Fr. Felix’s assignment was not extended for one year but for two! We’re doubly blessed. There have been many signs of God’s grace and blessing my time here at SJE! It all started with that priest I met my first day here on campus!
P.S. This week four of our parishioners/OLQA graduates are participating in the Camp Quo Vadis, a great experience for young people, at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception. Led by some of our more newly ordained priests, women religious and seminarians, including our own Seminarian Joe, this promises to be a great week for them and, we pray, for the Church.
Gratitude...Going Forward ONGOING CONSTRUCTION
Dear Parish Family:
As I write this column, we are addressing the final details for our rededication weekend. The Novena of Spirit and Truth has given each of us much to consider in these days of preparation for Saturday evening’s Mass and our return to regular use of the church building. We come to this day filled with great gratitude for the many hands, hearts and minds that have come together over the past 13 months and 5 days to manage, organize, facilitate, encourage and empower this restoration project.
There were more than a few surprises in the process and more delays than we anticipated or expected. We are especially grateful to the Diocese of Rockville Centre for their willingness to allow us carry out this project. The Town of Brookhaven — from the Supervisor Romaine to each person we worked with — has been incredibly supportive and helpful (more than we could have ever hoped for). Our architect, project manager, general contractor and so many various contractors came to see their work here as more than a building project but the work of creating a space of prayer and worship. They got it!
At Saint John the Evangelist, we have many reasons to be grateful. The parish community as a whole has come together in the midst of all of this to find, I hope, a greater appreciation for what church is really all about. We see it in the prayer, devotion, flexibility, openness, patience, understanding and incredible hard work carried out by so many. We see it in the ongoing and growing work of ministry and mission we have been called to enter into over these months. We see it in many who have stepped up to bring about the restoration of the church building and the continuing restoration of the Kingdom of God here and now. Projects like this need a quarterback. They need someone who keeps the ball moving, if you will. I hope you can join me in expressing great gratitude to Katie Waller, our Business Manager. Katie was here on May 17, 2017 and carried us through that day. Since May 17th, she has been the driving force in getting things done at all times and days. If there was a contractor who needed to be challenged, building information needed, direction given, encouragement offered, work to be done, Katie has been the one to bring it all together (and usually with a smile and some good humor too!).
Are we done? Is the project finished? No way. While the work of the church building restoration is largely complete, we know that as a parish we have a great deal of work to do. In the Office of Readings for the Common of the Dedication of the Church, St. Augustine writes, “We are gathered together to celebrate the dedication of a house of prayer. This is our house of prayer, but we too are a house of God. If we are a house of God, its construction goes on in times that it may be dedicated at the end of time. The house, in its construction, involves hard work, while its dedication is an occasion for rejoicing.” So we have hard work ahead if we are going to continue the necessary restoration work that will carry us to the end of time. As individuals, what in you and in me needs to be restored? Where is forgiveness needed or where does it need to be offered? What ways must I grow closer to God in the days ahead? What a.m. I going to do to make that happen?
As a parish, the missionary work of the Gospel requires constant restoration. We need to continue to develop opportunities for prayer and devotion to our God. We need to look at how we can even more powerfully minister to even more of the poor and the vulnerable — both young and not so young — through Parish Social Ministry and Youth Ministry. We have a great Catholic school that needs to grow so more young people can be inspired with the faith. We need to connect to more families so they know about the great things happening here at SJE! Is what lies ahead overwhelming? I suppose some would say yes. For we who have gone through this year of restoration, the ideas above and others should not be overwhelming. To me, and I hope to you, they are reasons for hope.
Father's Day 2018
Dear Parish Family:
Today, a good friend asked me, “Are you ready for Sunday? You going to be OK?” It took me a minute to realize what he was referring to—Father’s Day. My heart sank a bit. As many of you know my dad passed away a few months after I arrived here. I dreaded last year’s Father’s Day and to be honest it was not as bad as I feared. In some ways, I a.m. finding this year’s Father’s Day a little more challenging.I find that it’s not the big things that I miss—though I do. It’s the small things that I miss the most. If you have lost a dad—through death, perhaps to divorce or separation or abandonment or neglect or whatever—you might be able to relate. You know it’s the small things that often tug strongest. For me, I remember my dad always be so gracious and humble. Never drawing attention to himself. Always looking to make sure everyone else was comfortable or at ease. Even in sickness and suffering, he never worried about himself. “What’s the latest?” I remember him asking whenever I would see him or “ Keep me posted” as I would leave. Not the scenes of dramatic movies but I think it’s those small things I miss the most. You know some of those small things too—a regular phrase, a warm gesture, a card given, a note shared and so on. It is also those small things that I can most quickly lose sight of in all areas of my life. I think that is what Jesus is getting at in today’s Gospel. God works that way, in the small and simple. We can so easily miss it. Caught in sight — what we want to see —we fail to see with eyes of faith. St. Paul reminds us, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Yet we see with human eyes, human things instead of longing for the vision to see far beyond the “things” of this world.
I hope you can see some of those mustard seed moments as we journey together through the Novena of Spirit and Truth. Through praying, fasting and even planting, we are coming together to see it is often in the small and simple ways that God makes his presence known. The week ahead we will be invited to forgiveness (Monday), fun (Tuesday), prayer and remembering (Wednesday), service (Thursday) and offering (Friday). The opportunities in this Novena of Spirit and Truth are not meant to be “big” things. They are simple mustard seed opportunities for each one of us see the presence of God here and now with those eyes of faith.
As I reflect upon the journey of this year, there have been some big moments, for sure. Some of those moments were positive and some a bit negative. I tend to let those go a little more easily than the smaller moments. I think of the altar server who asked after all that happened in the church, “What about the statues?” I remember the phone calls and texts from friends from all over on May 17, 2017. I remember people coming forward offering whatever they could in those first days. I think of the many kind, simple words to me over the year. It’s the not the big things. It is the simple, quiet moments that take hold. Those are signs of God.
For from these small moments, I pray that new life as Jesus puts forth about the mustard seed may take hold for each of us and for our parish community. Keep me posted!
Please pray for me.
Narcan...Novena of Spirit and Truth - Where are you? Part II
Dear Parish Family:
To be honest, I did not read ahead to this week’s readings when I wrote last week’s bulletin column. It’s the same title without the adorable picture. Check www.sjecm.org if you’re not sure what I’m writing about.
The first reading today begins with the question from God to Adam and Eve — “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9).
While I know the rest of the story is discouraging on humanity’s part, I always find great comfort in this opening part. God was looking. He was searching. He wanted to find them. I think he wants the same with you and me. Yet, like Adam and Eve, we’re pretty good at hiding. Pretty good at finding some place else to be. Perhaps making God’s job a little harder. I think God is asking that question of me pretty often. I hide well. “John, where are you? Come on! Let’s get things together here.” Maybe the same for you?
This week, I hope you will take some time to be found here at SJE! There are two areas I want to highlight.First, this Monday, we are sponsoring a Narcan training for all in the parish.
As you know, I a.m. a social worker. My primary area of work presently is with young men addicted to heroin. Narcan is a drug that saves lives. Period. No, it doesn’t address the larger issues and it is not a solution to the heroin epidemic. It is a life saver. I can speak of least six young people whose lives were saved because of Narcan. Many of them have turn to a life of recovery and wellness. Let God find you here doing what you can to save the lives of others.
Second, I hope you will join in the Novena of Spirit and Truth. It begins this Thursday with an East End Holy Hour. We are so happy to welcome back Fr. Walter who will preach and help us to kick off the Novena (see page 4). On Friday, we invite everyone to participate in a Day of Fasting as we remember those who struggle and battle mental illness (see page 6). Fasting can be tough. Whenever fasting gets hard on Friday, say a prayer for someone you know who struggles with mental illness. Unite your hunger with their hunger here. Let God find you as you draw near in prayer to the suffering and wounded in our midst. Then, this weekend, we need you to step and help us make our grounds look beautiful. We are looking for individuals, families and ministries to help maintain our grounds. We would like you to plant on a certain area and maintain that area. You can read more about it on page 5. Let God find you doing what you can to restore good and holy ground here at SJE!
This week, you should receive a mailing from SJE about the summer. The mailing includes a Novena of Spirit and Truth prayer card. Please begin praying this prayer on Thursday as together we pray for the restoration of our church building and more importantly that we may restored to a “building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
So when God comes looking and asking “Where are you?” you and I can respond, “Right here!”
Please pray for me.
Remembering First Holy Communion… Where are You?
Dear Parish Family:
Today we celebrate the last of our “First” Holy Communions on this Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. The First Holy Communions have been wonderful celebrations and it has been affirming to see many second, third and fourth Holy Communions in the weeks since.
I cannot help but remember my own First Holy Communion at Our Lady of Lourdes in West Islip on May 7, 1983. (I know I was adorable and you don’t have to tell me :)!). I remember weeks of practicing and preparing and the excitement of receiving First Holy Communion on a Saturday morning. We were prepared by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood and prepared we were! They were exciting days. While I’m not sure I knew any more than any other second grader, the years that followed allowed me to grow in deeper and deeper awareness of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. (By the way, glasses were big in the 80s!)
I think of our journey over the past year. There have been a lot of liturgical challenges worshiping as we presently do in a temporary space that also serves as a “Gymatorium”. It hasn’t been the easiest time. With a change in the place comes a change in routine and then often comes some disorientation with our routine and things become less reverent and easily bad habits can creep in. I know it has happened to me—maybe to you, too? As we prepare to return to the restored church building, maybe it’s a good time for a little “check-up” on our habits and preparation for Holy Communion—before, and after Mass. Each can be summed up in our answer to one question— “Where are you?”
Where are you—before Mass? How are you and I coming to Mass? Are we rushing in at the last minute? Getting there late? Or perhaps we make excuses about parking and hide behind those? How are we dressing for Mass? Is it any different than going to the local softball game? Shouldn’t it be? Yet would we ever think about being late to a grandchild’s dance recital or son’s baseball game or dressing poorly for our niece’s wedding reception? Probably not. How about praying quietly and taking some time— say five or ten minutes before Mass begins—to arrive? Have we forgotten about the communion fast and taking that time to prepare ourselves for communion? What about confession? (There are plenty of opportunities here—see bulletin page 12.) Even better, what about reading the readings ahead of time at Mass? Come prepared!
Where are you—during Mass? You ever find yourself tuned out? Maybe not listening to the readings or becoming distracted by the comings and goings of the Auditorium? Perhaps not singing because you don’t care for this hymn or that one? Maybe not even praying the Eucharistic Prayer and allowing your mind to wander? Maybe not receiving the Eucharist in a proper manner? Have we added rituals and symbols to our reception of communion that are not in line with the liturgical practices of the Church? Do we do things at Mass to get attention or notice instead of praying communally as the church calls us to pray? Have we made our reception of communion our own personal act, and not a communal act of the assembly gathered? At times, maybe we’re thinking about leaving early, convincing ourselves if we receive the sacred host, it’s enough of Mass? (It’s not, by the way!) As we enter the restored church building, let’s be fully present to the liturgy and the eucharist giving everything we have got to the celebration!
Where are you—after Mass? We are often in a rush. What if we made an effort as a parish to stay a little longer after Mass? What about a quiet personal prayer of thanksgiving in the pew (yes there will be pews! And kneelers! Yeah!) after Mass is over? By how you live, have you and I become “what we have received—the Body of Christ”? Or have we gone back to life like the Mass didn’t even happen? Be prepared to be sent forth from the Mass!
The return to the restored church building is a great opportunity for each and every one of us! We will have a new physical answer to the question, “Where are you?” Let’s pray that when it comes to the deeper call of the Eucharist, we will have a deeper answer to the question “Where are you? By responding, “Here I am, Lord, present to you.” Who knows? You might even become as adorable as that kid in the picture!
Please pray for me.
A Community Remembers and Responds
Dear Parish Family:
Last Friday, many of us came together for a powerful evening of prayer as we marked one year since the tragedies in the church building. The celebration of the Eucharist brings us to the encounter with the Paschal Mystery. I a.m. so grateful for the presence of local agencies that support the mentally ill and their families who prayed with us and offered resources.
Fr. Michael brought us great hope and reassurance in his preaching last Friday (see box below). Speaking of his visit with Pope Francis, I a.m. mindful of his words in most recent Apostolic Exhortation, “Rejoice and Be Glad”. He writes: Growth in holiness is a journey in community, side by side with others. We see this in some holy communities. From time to time, the Church has canonized entire communities that lived the Gospel heroically or offered to God the lives of all their members…living or working alongside others is surely a path of spiritual growth.” “You are living with others in order to be fashioned and tried”. (114)
I hope and pray that the days ahead will continue to see us walking side by side with one another and with Jesus. In that walking, may we continue to grow well on the path of spiritual growth.
Follow up from Fr. Michael’s homily last Friday at the Mass of Remembrance
About a month ago, I had one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I was able to go with Msgr. Vlaun and a small group from Telecare to Rome. While we were over there, we wound up having a private audience with Pope Francis, which lasted about 5 minutes. During this meeting I was able to speak one-on-one with the pope. I told Pope Francis about what happened in our parish about a month before my arrival, how a tormented man set our church on fire and took his life. I told him that we are reconstructing our church and then I asked him for a favor.
It is a custom for the pope to trade his white zucchetto (skull cap) with those who bring their own to him. I asked the pope if he would trade his zucchetto with me so that we could put one that he physically wore into our renovated church. As I was speaking with the Holy Father, he looked me in the eyes, his expression grew serious and I began to get emotional. He prayerfully took the zucchetto I had brought with me, placed it on his head, spent a moment of prayer with his eyes closed, and handed it back to me.
I a.m. happy to announce that we will be putting this zucchetto into our newly renovated church building as a tangible sign of the Pope’s spiritual closeness to our parish. In the midst of this past year, filled with great pain and frustration, we have been given as a parish family so many reasons to hope. It is my prayer that this sign of hope, given to us by the pope himself, may serve as a reminder of that personal renovation and renewal we are always called to in our own journey with the Lord.
Please pray for me.
Fruits + Funded Feet and Formed - More Signs of the Spirit
Dear Parish Family:
Today, we celebrate Pentecost. With this feast, the season of Easter draws to a close and, I hope like the disciples in the locked room, we start to move out even further to bring the power of the Spirit to all we meet. One of the reading options for today’s liturgy is St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. If you need a little checklist to see how “Holy Spirit filled” you might be in these days, see what St. Paul says: “In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
The truth? As I pray with this week’s readings, I’m not as a spirit filled as I know the Lord is calling. I could be more fruitful in my presence and practice, in my mission and ministry. From the Acts of the Apostles, we know the early disciples weren’t perfect when they left on that first Pentecost. Same for me. Maybe the same for you. Consider those signs that St. Paul gives us to consider. Maybe it’s all too much to take on. Perhaps one stands out that is most in need of work. It might be one way to see the graces and blessings of Easter all year long.
Another way to continue these graces and blessings is to make use of FORMED. This past April, the priests of the diocese were invited by Bishop Barres to consider using FORMED in our parishes. For the first year, a grant has been provided to absorb a large part of the cost of the program. Even before this meeting some parishioners had spoken of FORMED and last Fall, Fr. Michael also brought it up as something to consider. I hope you will consider using FORMED. A multitude of Catholic resources is now at your fingertips and mine! Maybe there is an area of theology or ministry you wanted to learn about but never had the time? Perhaps you’re not sure what the Church is teaching on this issue or that one? This would be a good place to turn. Let’s give it a shot as a parish and see if one sign of the fruit of the Spirit might be you and I getting FORMED in the year ahead. (Look on page 2 of this week’s bulletin and for more information in the weeks ahead!)
One sign of the many graces and blessings of the Spirit at work at St. John’s has been the generosity of so many over the past year through the 2017 Summer Appeal, the Catholic Ministries Appeal and most especially through the Fund a Foot Campaign. We would be in pretty dire straights with the church building if it had not been because of your generosity and faithfulness to the Fund a Foot campaign. Because of all the funded feet we have been able to improve our lighting system, add stained glass marking this time and beautify our church building, install a new state of the art sound system, repair our piano, increase lighting outside of the church building, make some needed parking lot repairs, repair the damage to the cupola from recent storms, examine ways to increase the number of security cameras and more (and more to come!). Without your generosity, this would never have been possible. We would likely have to deplete our savings and would find ourselves in a perilous situation with the reconstruction work of the church building.
I can find myself so often filled with fear related to many aspects of this building project — when will this get done or this product arrive or this person respond, etc. Fortunately, because of your generosity with those funded feet, that lack of fear has allowed good fruit to prosper. If I’m honest, like the early disciples, the fear related to certain aspects of ministry can leave me pretty frozen and not just when it comes to finances. Your generosity and gentleness, your kindness and love make a great difference in so many ways. Great signs of the Spirit at work. Thank you!
Please pray for me.
Remembering + Transitioning + Celebrating: A Pentecost Time
Dear Parish Family:
I hope you are as excited as I a.m. about the rededication of the Church building on June 23 at the 5 p.m. mass. The announcement itself is a bit of a “turning point” for us. We’re starting to move in a different direction with a new focus. I have formed a Steering Committee to help lead us through these days. When I first met with them last week, I divided our work into three areas: a) remembering, b) transitioning and c) celebrating.
As I reflect on these three areas, I cannot help but think of the apostles in these days during Ascension and Pentecost. I often imagine them “all in one place together” (Acts 2:1) with Mary, Queen of the Apostles (Acts 1:14) perhaps talking about what had happened from Jesus’ death and resurrection to ascension, wondering how they would change and be those witnessing (Acts 1:8) and celebrating the power of the Spirit on Pentecost.
I hope we can begin to unite our own story to the story of the early Church. That story is not only about the rededication of the church building and not only about our journey as a community. I hope it will be good ground for reflection about our journey of faith.
Remembering. Throughout the next weeks, we’ll be called to remember. I hope you can pray with us this Friday at the Mass of Remembrance and Healing. And in the weeks ahead, I’m sure we’ll remember so many who have been part of our parish’s story not just throughout this year but throughout the history of the parish. I think of the prayer cards of those who passed away who are on the inside of the church building. I hope we, too, can remember. We should be good at it! It’s what we do each time we gather for the Eucharist. Let’s try to take some time in these days and weeks to consider the many ways God’s consolation has touched each of our lives in the past year and far beyond.
Transitioning. The weeks ahead will see some times of change and transition for our parish community. We are in the process of preparing for a Novena of Prayer in the days leading to the rededication (beginning June 14th) helping us to transition well. Like the disciples, we need the help of the Spirit. So look for more information about the church building and activities bringing us together in these days. Let’s take some time, too, to make some space for the Spirit to dwell in our own hearts. If you haven't been praying the Novena to the Holy Spirit, let’s go! Pick up a book at the doors of the Auditorium or outside Seton Chapel.
Celebrating. I look forward to our prayer and coming together on June 23rd and I know you do too! The disciples leave the “one place” touched by the Spirt. What do they do? They celebrate. They celebrated by preaching, teaching, serving, building, loving, challenging. I know we’re going to have a great day on June 23rd! I’m even more excited about what June 24th and beyond will bring for our parish family. I hope you are too!
So in these “in between” days, let’s pray that as a community and as individual believers, we can remember, transition and celebrate well!
Come Holy Spirit! Our Lady Queen of Apostles, pray for us!
Saints Survey Slowdown
You might remember a few months ago — before Easter — we had the first part of our Saint Survey and hundred of parishioners participated. If you were one of them, thank you! I apologize for the delay in this second round of voting. Between Easter and some of the other things happening here this part of the restoration project did not get the attention it deserved. I want to share two updates about the potential new saints in the reredos of the Church. Both relate to an article from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. This is, if you will, the guidebook as to how to celebrate Mass and to address issues related to the Mass, including church buildings. In Article #318, the General Instruction states: Thus, in sacred buildings images of the Lord, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saints, in accordance with most ancient tradition of the Church, should be displayed for veneration by the faithful and should be so arranged so as to lead the faithful toward the mysteries of faith celebrated there. Care should, therefore, be taken that their number not be increased indiscriminately, and moreover that they be arranged in proper order so as not to draw the attention of the faithful to themselves and away from the celebration itself. There should usually be only one image of any given Saint. Generally speaking, in the ornamentation and arrangement of a church, as far as images are concerned, provision should be made for the devotion of the entire community as well as for the beauty and dignity of the images. One thing I should I have included in the original survey was the information underlined in the article above.
There really should only be one image of any given saint in the Church. Some of the saints selected were saints we already have in the Church (i.e. St. John the Evangelist, St. Joseph, St. Therese). So those were not included in the survey below. Second, I originally proposed adding three new statues for the reredos which would include moving the image of the Blessed Mother that was in the reredos to the Rectory Office area. Members of the Legion of Mary presented another idea which I think is awesome! They suggested perhaps incorporating an image of Our Lady Queen of the Apostles into the reredos. This will be a nice connection to the regional school and another image of the Blessed Mother for us to venerate. We’re in the process of trying to find a statue of Our Lady Queen of the Apostles. More to come! So below are the top six saints from our recent Saint Survey. I would ask now that you pick out your top “TWO” saints and return your survey no later than May 12, 2018.