St. John The Evangelist
R.C. Church, Center Moriches, N.Y.
St. John's Pastor: Father John Sureau
Pentecost Sunday: June 9, 2019
“No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:3
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.
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.