Here at St Joseph High School, each day presents many opportunities for growth and an increase in knowledge of the faith. Classroom learning, service opportunities, moments of worship and liturgical participation are all part of each student’s day to day life. This monthly blog from our Episcopal Chaplain, Fr Eric Silva, is a way to connect parents and guardians to what is going on in the spiritual lives of their children as well as present an opportunity for the parents own growth and knowledge of the faith. In a culture that often drives parents and children apart it is a way to bring those parents and guardians into the lives of their children in a small way.
A few miles north of the city of Bridgeport 138 years ago, a young 30 year old priest visits a man named James “Chip” Smith outside the walls of the jail where Chip had been imprisoned, awaiting his sentence of death by hanging; the fateful night where his sentence would be carried out finally arrived. Just four days prior, a Solemn High Mass was celebrated for the intentions of Chip and in reparation for the sin and the crime of murder that he had committed. On the night that his execution would be carried out, a sentence that New Haven had not seen in decades, Chip was seen receiving last rites from this young priest who after imparting his final blessing, turned away from Chip to be seen wiping tears from his eyes. Just before Chip passed, he uttered one final line of comfort to this priest who spent the last few weeks making visits to the jail to help Chip more aptly prepare himself for his final hour; it was in no uncertain terms that he owed his life to this priest and just before passing from this life to the next he said, “Father, your saintly ministrations have enabled me to meet death without a tremor. Do not fear for me, I must not break down now.”
For too long, many in the Church and the Catholic culture have tried to explain the priesthood by well-meaning but albeit inadequate analogies. Undoubtedly deriving the pedagogical tactic from Jesus Himself who was apt to teach by way of parables, the truth of the matter is that these analogies still do not fully encapsulate a vocation that lies in, but not of this world. Countless books, videos, and podcasts compare the vocation of marriage to the vocation to the priesthood in an attempt to help understand the supernatural vocation and while these analogies help make sense of what we do know, they also seek to try to explain away the mystery that lies at the heart of the sacred priesthood. The reality is this: the vocation to the priesthood and the vocation to the married life are two different vocations. It is understandable that young people in today’s Catholic world continue to find it difficult to see the vocation of the priesthood as it truly is, not a compilation of duties mixed with prohibitions but rather as spiritual fatherhood in the midst of a world so desperate for it. Constantly striving to know more about our world, about our surroundings, and about ourselves, we must rely on analogies to make sense of that which without the clear lens of faith, would be foolishness; but what is lost by relying solely on analogy?
An honest return to an understanding of true spiritual fatherhood may be exactly what this culture needs to inspire young men to answer God’s subtle whisper to “Follow Me”. It is in understanding how powerful, how real, and how absolutely necessary spiritual fatherhood is that we have our eyes opened to what it means to be a spiritual child. In Matthew, chapter 18, when Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” those words must be taken seriously. The actor Sir Alec Guinness dressed like a priest in France for his role in the Father Brown series was walking from the set to the hotel just as it began getting dark outside when suddenly a young boy ran up to him and grabbed his hand, skipping along until the young boy bid him farewell. The young boy had mistaken him for a priest and Sir Alec wrote that “a Church which could inspire such confidence in a child, making its priests, even when unknown, so easily approachable could not be as scheming and creepy as so often made out. I began to shake off my long-taught, long-absorbed prejudices.” Sir Alec converted to Catholicism just two years later. A brief encounter…a taste of spiritual fatherhood moved one of the world’s greatest actors to conversion, not because he saw a vocation likened to his own but because he was moved by a profoundly different experience than his own.
Innumerable canonized priests found in their hearts a commonalty, in that they did not view their parishioners as a faceless flock but rather as a multitude of spiritual children. This young priest who found himself ministering to a man who stood prepared for certain death, wept not because of his love for his fellow man who would soon depart from this life. He wept because James “Chip” Smith was not like a child to him but was really and truly his son. Blessed Michael J. McGivney whose beatification touches close to home both geographically as well as spiritually is a beautiful reminder that in seeking to solely compare one vocation to the next, how easy it is to miss out on what the vocation of the priesthood truly is. The world and certainly the priesthood does not need an analogous love, it needs spiritual fatherhood.
Happy New Year! I am aware that this is the December 2020 blog post, but it is still a New Year; the beginning of the liturgical season of Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year…the liturgical year of 2021. As far as I am concerned, we all survived 2020 and it is a new year. This may be perceived as a simple method to ignore our present sufferings, but if we, as Catholic Christians, are supposed to not just act out matters of the faith but really live them out in our lives, why should we not see this new liturgical year as a real, physical manifestation of the gifts (the gift being the end of the 2020 year) our faith provides us?
A few years ago, I was blessed to make a trip to Rome with a priest friend of mine. For an entire week, we saw beautiful church after church, each one more beautiful than the next; paintings, mosaics, marble structures, golden vessels, and monuments made in veneration of those who trod the pilgrimage of faith before us. Especially for those of us who live in a country whose foundation is only a few centuries old, seeing churches that pre-date the knowledge of our continent standing and still as beautiful as the day that they were consecrated, makes for an awe-inspiring experience.
In today’s world, there are those who believe that the grandeur of our Catholic history is but a mark on the past and something that we have moved on from. “That was something that we used to do.” Some would argue that the gold ,the marble, and the paintings only take away from the interior transformation of the heart that Jesus Christ calls for in the gospels…but is this true? Does the grandeur of beautiful physical things take away from the interior conversion that is needed to “Watch” for our Lord’s coming? In St. Peter’s Basilica, there is in the center of the church the baldacchino which is the canopy looking structure stands towering over the altar in the middle of the Church; it was created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini who created hundreds of structures throughout Rome. If you’ve ever seen the “bee’s” in Rome, that’s his symbol marking that whatever the bees are on, is his work. He was criticized heavily especially when creating the baldacchino for being one who worked not for the glory of God but simply for the paycheck. The four-pillared structure was created using the bronze from the roof of the pantheon where the many pagan rituals used to take place before the Christianization of Rome. When the final touches were being made on the baldacchino, Bernini decided to bronze his own personal rosary into the side of the back-left pillar in order to pay homage to the Blessed Mother but also to show that all of his works, the baldacchino being one of his most magnificent, all of his works were for the purpose of giving glory to the God who gave him the ability to be arguably one of the best artists of all time.
Advent is about understanding why we build great big beautiful things, why we erect statues and monuments in public places, why our faith must be made manifest not solely within the confines of our own hearts and minds…but must be incarnate. To live the faith, we must have a faith that is incarnate. To consider ourselves truly to be followers of Jesus Christ, this Advent is the time to look within our lives and to see whether or not we are following him as we ought and to be challenged to delve deeper into the incarnate faith that God has given us. An incarnate faith is not just a faith made manifest in the works of serving our brothers and sisters but an incarnate faith is also worshipping God incarnationally. God’s gifts to us are often manifested physically so is our worship and love of God a physical reality in our lives?
On the first Sunday of Advent, Isaiah’s words read, “Return for the sake of your servants”, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down”, “we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.” This doesn’t sound like someone who simply experiences God in their heart alone but is the cry of their heart bursting forth, crying out for the intervention of a God whose love was so bold that He chose to become flesh. Because if God didn’t become flesh, if He wasn’t born in a manger to the Blessed Virgin, then all of the Old Testament filled with a people crying out for their God would simply be the poetic language of a people ruled by a God who is not love. Praise Him that we do have that God. Praise Him that this advent season is about preparing our minds, our hearts, and the entirety of our lives for the coming of Jesus Christ, of God made flesh. Not a blind yearly tradition that allows us to simply celebrate but we prepare as if it was the first time He has ever come into this world.
Our faith must be incarnate and if there was someone watching you during your whole week, with the exception of Sunday, would they be able to tell that you are a Child of God, a follower of Jesus Christ. If not, that’s ok because now is the time, now is the Advent season where you can make yourself anew with a firm purpose and concrete resolutions. The greatest thing that you can do this Advent season is make the sacraments a priority: make a firm resolution to go to confession no matter what. If you have not yet considered coming to daily Mass, the event where Christ becomes incarnate in the form of bread and wine each and every day, try and make that a priority; you could pray the rosary or the divine mercy chaplet in the morning instead of listening to the radio or music. There are so many incarnate ways that you can better prepare yourself, make yourself more “watchful” for our Lord’s coming.
There is an old saying written on countless sacristies throughout the world in any number of languages: “Priest of God, offer this Mass as if it was your first Mass, as if it was your last Mass, as if it was your only Mass.” The same could be said of this Advent. People of God, live this advent as if it was your first advent, as if it was your last advent, as if it were your only advent. Happy New Year everyone!
In Christ & Mary,
Many, many thanks to our Scholarship Donors!
Matt & Mary Ellen ’83 Adzima Family Scholarship
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erbert J Bundock Memorial Scholarship
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John Craw ’69 Memorial Scholarship
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Ernest W Kaulbach & Agnes W Kaulbach Scholarship
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Meri-Lyn Raw ’06 Memorial Scholarship
Robert & Maureen O’Keefe Scholarship
James "Mindy" Olayos Memorial Scholarship
John J & Clara F Ondecko Memorial Scholarship
Wendy Petrucelli & Sons (Corey ’04 & Taylor ’07) Scholarship
James & Catherine Pezzullo Memorial Scholarship
Karen Dunford Reilly ’75 Memorial Award
Thomas J Roach Scholarship
Monsignor Richard J Shea Scholarship
Sister Catherine Fanning Memorial Scholarship
Thomas Sweeney ’75 Memorial Scholarship
Michael E Thomas Jr Memorial Scholarship
David L Wade ’69 Memorial Scholarship
Monsignor Robert E Weiss Scholarship
St. Ignatius of Loyola said that the root of all sin is ingratitude. Not simply because we are not thankful for what we have but because in a way we are denying how God chooses to reveal Himself to the world…to humanity. The lives of the saints are lives that were lived in a radical outpouring of gratitude for the gifts given them from God. They were radically lived in gratitude because God Blessed them abundantly as He chooses to Bless each of us; the saints could do nothing less than radiate Christ’s love because that is what it means to have authentic thanks, or authentic gratitude: action. Thanks-GIVING. It is an action… not a passive gesture or a pious thought. In fact, authentic thanks and gratitude is the exact way that God’s will is done and his kingdom is spread in this world.
Most of us understand that God has a plan for us and that our primary vocation is to holiness and our secondary vocation is to the priesthood or the religious life or married life, right? But all of these are under the presumption that we are living lives of gratitude. It is impossible to see and live God’s plan in our lives without that spirit of gratitude that compels us to act and through that action we can affect change in the world. I often think of how the world would look and how different it would be had Judas not abandoned our Lord. If Judas had been grateful for the life that Jesus called him to, how would the world be different? Well, he is just one man, how much change can a man who lives out gratitude for the gifts God has given him make? In India as well as other parts of Asia, Christians still refer to themselves as “Thomas-Christians” because of the witness of just one man: Saint Thomas the Apostle; here is a man who did not live out the call to witness and the call to holiness perfectly but with a grateful heart for second chances and a Lord who was willing to hear his plea, now some 2,000 years later, we still have those “Thomas-Christians”.
In the 17th chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel we read the story of Jesus encountering the ten persons with leprosy. Nine out of the ten men healed in that gospel passage failed to give thanks to the God who granted them the healing they so longed for. That doesn’t mean that God struck them down with leprosy again or gave them some other illness as a result of their lack of gratitude. What it does mean is that they failed to realize the real reason why God gives us the gifts that He does. “Stand and go up” Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you.” Jesus does not always save us from earthly ailments or worldly suffering and this year has taught us that in a very unfortunate way. What it does mean is that truly being saved refers not to something temporal but to life eternal. Our own suffering, our own problems and struggles can in fact be gifts used to both glorify God and bring about conversion in the world for the sake of eternity and no one knew this better (and continues to know this better) than the saints. The martyrs, of which there are more in the past 100 years alone than all the other centuries combined, especially know this. We too must know this. Live a life of gratitude to God in the fullest sense and be radically drawn to the God who promises us life-eternal if we live in Him. Be saints, nothing less.
In Christ & Mary,