Chaplain's Corner

Spiritual Life

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. 

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I have always had a certain kinship with Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus (also known as Saint Theresa of Lisieux and every combination thereof) and for years the reason for this bond alluded me. Most find a connection to a saint because of some aspect of the saints’ life mirrors their own or simply because they find their story to be attractive and exciting (see Saints John de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues, and companions for a clear example of what a heroic adventure of a life looks like) but Saint Thérèse’s life, while beautiful, is not exactly what most would characterize as a classic “adventure” of a life. While she did trek to Rome to ask Pope Leo XIII for a dispensation to enter the convent at an earlier age than normal, this really was the extent of her travels; she did desire to be a missionary and found herself writing letters back and forth with missionaries traveling to new places to bring the Gospel message. With a life relatively boring to the average, restless, thrill-seeking millennial, the question still remains: why exactly have I, for my entire life, been so drawn to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux?

I played soccer from the time I was in kindergarten through college and what remained a constant was that I always wanted to play on a better team; if I was on JV, I wanted to be with the varsity kids or if I was on one travel team, I longed to be on a better travel team. If I am honest, a little part of that was pride and wanting to be associated with the accomplishment of being “called up” to a more successful team playing on a higher level, but after years of careful reflection, there is another reason why this was always the case. I have always felt a connection with those who are better than myself at things: soccer, school, prayer, life! There is a unique and mysterious beauty in being around the almost supernatural talents of someone who has found that which they were made to participate in. What’s more, is that surrounding myself with those who are better than me had always called me to work harder and strive all the more earnestly for perfection in those areas, trivial or not, and when it came to finding a saint to “call my own”, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux was that saint.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux can undoubtedly attribute her desire for holiness and love for God to her parents' (who are also canonized saints, Saints Louis and Zélie Martin) upbringing but also there was something about Thérèse that was naturally holy in the same way that people seem to have a natural gift for drawing, speaking different languages, or playing a particular sport. She is holy in such a way that leaves me profoundly aware of my own sinfulness but also (and the also is so very important) calls me to desire the same level of holiness that she was able to reach in this life. I have read almost all of her writings and among my favorites is a book of short reflections from her; there is one reflection that can sum up her attitude towards like…an attitude that does not necessarily come natural to myself. She wrote:

“In the world, on awakening in the morning I used to think over what would probably occur either pleasing or vexatious during the day; and if I foresaw only trying events I arose dispirited. Now it is quite the other way: I think of the difficulties and the suffering that await me, and I rose the more joyous and full of courage the more I foresee opportunities of proving my love for Jesus, and earning the living of my children – seeing that I am the mother of souls. Then I kiss my crucifix and lay it tenderly on the pillow while I dress, and I say to Him: “My Jesus, Thou hast worked enough and wept enough during the thirty-three years of Thy life on this poor earth. Take now Thy rest…my turn it is to suffer and to fight.”

The sufferings and trials of her life are now the tinder for the fire of courage that burns in her heart, to do the good which the world so desperately needs for love of Jesus Christ, as one who longs to console Him day in and day out. I want that! We should all want that! Who would not want to see the burdens of one’s life as something that could be transformed to the good? Who would not want to wake up in the morning thinking about all the suffering’s that lie before you that day and think, “Good, more opportunities to win souls and console Jesus!”?

I cannot necessarily see into the mind of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux but as someone who has spent more time with her writings or speaking with her in prayer, I can say with absolute confidence that she was graced with a special love for the faith. She was graced with a love for Jesus that may not come as easily for some but her capacity for love, which at times is almost too much to fathom, should not be a source of frustration or envy but rather, a wellspring of hope that we are capable of loving more deeply than we may have ever before, daily. Find that saint who challenges you in ways that may not make you the most comfortable because that which you may attribute as your greatest weakness might be their greatest strength. Find the saint that calls you to holiness, to love, to greatness without words but by the very way in which they have already run the race of life. Find someone better than you, so that you may raise your eyes to heaven and say with clarity and firm purpose, “Take now Thy rest…my turn it is to suffer and to fight.” God Bless and be saints, nothing less.

In Christ & Mary,
Father Silva

What exactly does a high school chaplain do when that high school goes entirely virtual? The answer is, a little bit of everything! Besides creating google classrooms that help students find answers to apologetic questions, having office hours where students can reach out if they want to talk, or (virtually) meeting with groups of students to keep up with how everyone is dealing with quarantine, one of the great joys of the past few months has been being able to say Mass for a number of local convents in the area. Between the Sisters of Life in Stamford and Suffern, the Missionaries of Charity in Bridgeport, and the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist in Meriden, I put over 10,000 miles on my car in four months. Each time I arrived for Mass or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Sisters could not have been more grateful; they would often thank me with some sort of breakfast sandwich (gluten-free, of course), a cup of coffee, or by saying “thank you so much for coming” up to 100 times, all with a joyful smile. While I was extremely grateful simply for the opportunity to offer Mass with other human beings present (and incredibly awesome, beautiful, holy human beings at that), which many of my brother priests were not able to do, what was most striking was how in the midst of a world dealing with the struggles of being distant from so many family and friends, each day I was able to see the stark contrast between the world of quarantine and a community living together in the middle of that world of separation. What I learned most concretely was that we were made for community and it is in community that we are given life.

“A community needs a soul if it is to become a true home for human beings. You…the people must give it this soul.” Pope Saint John Paul II said this when he visited the United States for the first time in 1979; the deep longing of the human heart to belong has never been more apparent with this quarantine and even as restrictions are lifted, there seems to still be a disconnect whether it be because of continued fears, or face masks, or because we have not yet returned to how things were before the outbreak of COVID-19. A gathering of people is not yet a community and even in with our current plan of returning to school, we must not rely on proximity to another as the sole consolation that this community needs. What was apparent when visiting these various convents was that this group of women “had a soul” that was rooted in something larger than any one individual or even larger than the group as a whole. The soul of these communities animated them to overcome not being able to go on their annual home visits, or not being able to do their apostolates, or whatever trials and tribulations the quarantine brought; in the midst of a world so much suffering, these communities were overcome with joy still and it truly was infectious.

To put it as simply as possible, the soul of their community was their love for God and love for one another. On the feast of the Transfiguration, as I watched 120 religious sisters chant “The Bridegroom is here, go out and welcome Him” while two young women made their Final Vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and the vow to uphold and protect the dignity of the human person, that small chapel in Suffern was transfigured into the heavenly banquet. We were no longer living in a world wracked with a global pandemic and all the other issues plaguing our country and world, but the Kingdom of Heaven touched down in that two hour Mass because this community’s soul, which they must willingly renew each and every day, was so rooted in love that it could not help but transform the hearts of those blessed enough to be there.

Our community can only remain one if we choose to give it a soul…a soul of love. Being together is great and absolutely necessary but as restrictions are lifted we must ask ourselves if we are building up a true community or just throwing people back together in hopes that it will be enough to quell that great desire for community that each human heart longs for. After a period of time of isolation, simply being with people physically is something so beautiful but after having spent many hours with these various Religious communities, I may be grateful for being together with people but I no longer desire just that. I have seen and experienced what a true community of love can be and how truly transformative it be and it may be a lofty goal, but I desire nothing less. You and I must continue to be active in ensouling this high school with the love of God and the love of our neighbors so that we too can transform this group of people into the community that we and this world needs. God bless.

In Christ & Mary,
Father Silva

A very warm welcome to everyone who is joining us virtually for this Baccalaureate Mass offered up for our Saint Joseph High School graduating class of 2020. I do not think that we could have chosen a better gospel for today’s Baccalaureate Mass. As Christ prepared his disciples to be sent out into a dangerous world so too we prepare to send all of you out into a dangerous world wrought with unknown challenges and undoubtedly great struggles. If this year alone has proven anything at all to be true, it is that there is much work to do in order to make world into the Kingdom of Heaven that Christ so often spoke of to his followers. So the question remains, how? In the midst of so much suffering, so much injustice, so much anger and hatred, what are we to do…what are you 18 year old’s to do?

I recently saw a film called, “A Hidden Life” which was directed by Terrence Malick and it was about the real life story of Blessed Franz Jaggerstatter who was an Austrian farmer who lived a rather dubious lifestyle in his younger years but when he was older and married he encountered the beauty of the faith in a profound way that changed him drastically; when drafted to fight in Hitler’s army, refused to swear the oath to Hitler and was subsequently arrested. The film illustrates the letters that Blessed Franz wrote back and forth with his wife when he was in prison. This decision to not swear the oath to Hitler was not taken lightly but rather came from months of quiet prayer and deliberation with his wife and friends. This deliberation alone brought he and his family so much hardship, being ostracized by the townspeople whose brothers, fathers, uncles, and husbands all went off to fight in the very war that Blessed Franz had the nerve to question. Out of all the questions that Blessed Franz was asked, the most common was this, “Do you think your decision will change anything? Do you think your decision to not swear your oath will change this war?”. Blessed Franz often did not respond to this question, mirroring eerily the image of Christ silent before Pontius Pilate asking Jesus, “What is truth?”, but when asked by the judge who held Blessed Franz’s life in his hands, Franz responds with, “ I don’t know everything. A man may do wrong, and he cant get out of it to make his life clear, Maybe he’d like to go back, but he can’t. But I have this feeling inside of me, that I can’t do what I believe is wrong.” The judge responds with, “Do you have a right to do this?” and Franz responds by saying, “Do I have a right not to?”.

Blessed Franz knew that his decision to follow his conscience and refuse to swear that oath would not only lead to his ultimate martyrdom but also, that it would not change the course of the war. His heroic virtue in the face of unimaginable evil did not stop Hitler and his followers from committing some of the most horrific travesties this world has ever seen, Franz’s choice did not save the lives of all those unjustly imprisoned, and it certainly did not end the war…and yet in our heart of hearts, we are so drawn to this beautiful story that is echoed time and again by heroic women and men who are willing to give up their lives, sometimes literally, for the sake of that which is true. And this is why I bring this up today, at this Mass, in this place, to you all who we are about to send out into the world filled with wolves in sheep’s clothing. A single life of heroic virtue may not change the course of the evils which are unfolding in our time, but they no less change the course of our world.

The movie ends with a quote from the English author George Eliot, or Mary Anne Evans, that reads, “the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” Before setting off into the world, few truths are as important to understand as this: we do not do or pursue that which is true, good, and beautiful in order to effect change and to be noticed; rather, doing and pursuing that which is true, good, and beautiful effects change and gets noticed because it is precisely that which is true, good, and beautiful. If the world does not know recognize the good you do, and the suffering that you endure for the truth that you sacrifice for…that is ok. It is no less heroic because there are no eyes or ears to witness. As sons and daughters of a heavenly Father, nothing you do goes unnoticed and nothing that you sacrifice for goes to waste. This world cries out generations of people who are committed not to changing the world, but who are simply in love with the truth.

When Pope Saint John Paul II came to the United States back in 1993 for world youth day in Denver, the world thought that no one would show. Addressing over a half a million young people in a crowded Denver field, the Holy Father said this about the pilgrimage that so many young people sacrificed to make to come to world youth day that year.

“I too came as a pilgrim, a pilgrim of hope. I have always known that for the Church and for civil society young people constitute the hope of our future. But over the years of my ministry, especially through the celebration of events such as this one, that hope has been confirmed and strengthened again and again. It has been the young people themselves who have taught me to have ever new and ever greater confidence. It is not just that the young people of today are the adults of the future who will step into our shoes and carry on the human adventure. No, the longing present in every heart for a full and free life that is worthy of the human person is particularly strong in them. Certainly, false answers to this longing abound, and humanity is far from being a happy and harmonious family. But so many young people in all societies refuse to descend into selfishness and superficiality. They refuse to relinquish responsibility. That refusal is a beacon of hope.”

Our ultimate hope is in the person of Jesus Christ but I can say with great confidence that in a very real way, we the faculty, staff, and administration of Saint Joe’s, place a great deal of our confident hope in you all. That you all will leave this place and wherever it is that you end up, you will pursue the truth at every cost not because it is popular and not because it will get you recognized but because it is the deepest longing of your heart and that for which you were made. You young people are not the hope of future generations, you are a current hope and one that a great deal of pressure is put on given our current climate. I promise that if you make prayer and a daily pursuit of that which is true, good, and beautiful a priority in your lives, you will change the world.

 

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim (Acts 2: 1-4).”

The Feast Day of Pentecost was celebrated on the last day in May, thus ending the time of Easter and it begins this liturgical calendar period in the Church called Ordinary Time. Originally this “ordinary time” was referred to as “Tempus Per Annum,” or more literally translated as “Time During the Year” and it was intended to be a reflection of the reality that Christ’s time of public ministry lasted three years, during which no one could have called what He was doing “ordinary” by any means: raising people from the dead, curing the sick, walking on water, multiplying loaves and fishes to feed thousands, etc… The English translation of “Tempus Per Annum” as “Ordinary Time” is not intended to drum up a boring image of our Lord’s public ministry (as the term “ordinary” is often interchangeable with the term “boring” in today’s culture) but rather to show how it was ordered toward an end. Ordinary points to the order of Christ’s life and this liturgical period of Ordinary Time, which makes up the bulk of the liturgical calendar year, is the place where true growth happens in a lasting and meaningful way, which is why the color green is used during this liturgical period…green equals growth.

While this explanation helps shed light on the mind of the Church in calling the majority of the year ordinary, it always seems to leave the heart and the soul wanting for more, especially after following the celebration of Easter, when Jesus Christ bursts forth from the tomb to conquer sin and death! The Feast of Pentecost commemorates the day in which the Holy Spirit descended down from heaven upon the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary, marking the conception of the Church; for the first three hundred years of the Church’s existence it was fiercely persecuted under the penalty of death. The Holy Spirit came down from heaven and everything changed. What was an event some 2,000 years ago remains no different today than it was back then; the Holy Spirit is with God’s son’s and daughter’s, inspiring and strengthening them to endure the hardships that inevitably lie in living in a fallen world. The Holy Spirit came down and nothing would ever be ordinary again because it is in the light of that Holy Spirit that we are ordered to an end that without the event of Pentecost, would never have happened.

By virtue of our Baptism and strengthened all the more by the sacrament of Confirmation, we are imbued and marked by the Holy Spirit in such a way that we are given the graces necessary in today’s world to remain ordered toward our ultimate goal: to become saints! It is the most ordinary of tasks, because it remains true for each and every person, while at the same time being the most extraordinary of adventures, because there is nothing at all more attractive than holiness and a life well lived. In the midst of the craziness of the world, keeping an ordered life (ordinary life) will order you toward an end that I think we can all agree on: happiness. Be ordered, be saints, be happy, and praise God we have been given the graces necessary to fight the battle for all three. God Bless and take care! 

In Christ & Mary,
Father Silva

 

After over a month of being in quarantine, I am certain that we are all tired of reading about ways to cope, strategies to stay busy, and all things related to Coronavirus news…I know that I am! There is so much happening in the world but it is so easy to be consumed by the reality that our world has changed at great length because of this global pandemic. While I cannot imagine the real suffering that is occurring because of the illness itself, lost jobs, and the anxiety of being “locked up” at home, I must say that I have found great hope in seeing so many from our own community and beyond, who have hunkered down in hope and have made great strides in choosing joy in the midst of so much sorrow and confusion. The patroness of this particular month is accustomed to choosing joy in the midst of sorrow; Mother Mary is the patroness of the month of May and there is no clearer time than the present for her patronage to shine forth in our own lives. The month of May has traditionally been dedicated to Mary since the 11th century but it has an even more ancient background. Traditionally, the ancient Greeks dedicated the month of May to Artemis who is the goddess of fecundity and the Romans dedicated May to honor the goddess Flora, who is the goddess of bloom or blossoms, which both undoubtedly were related to the spring flowers blooming in the month of May. At some point in the 11th century, the Catholic Church turned the focus to Mary because it is in her example and through her intercession that flowers may not bloom, but something far more important.

Mary’s uniqueness was not dependent on her job, because she didn’t have one; her uniqueness was not dependent on her status or money because she was just a normal Jewish girl. She didn’t even marry into uniqueness because her hubby was just a simple carpenter. Her uniqueness, her power, her strength, and what set her apart from the rest of creation, what made her even higher than all mankind and even the angels, were none of these things, but her holiness. Holiness is real power and real strength and that is what set Mary apart. Real power and strength does not come from managerial decisions but from holiness. It is holiness given by God that prepared Mary from the time of her conception, in all her cooperation, to bring about the savior of mankind.

The important thing to remember is that God did not set Mary apart for her own sake, and the life of Mary itself did not point to her own life, but to the life of her Son: the One from whom all goodness and mercy flows. Mary said those words to the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” She was unique and set apart, yet she was radically given to the will of God; she radically gave her life away for the sake of God and for the sake of the rest of the human race. That’s where we learn what we must learn from this month’s celebration: that we are called to give of our lives in obedience to God, and only in giving our lives do we find real power and strength. When Mary gave her life at that moment, she was only fulfilling what she was created to do…what she was made for. In fact, it made her more herself by saying “yes” to God. God doesn’t call us to be boring but to be Holy! That idea often scares us because to be holy is to mean that we are not in control anymore; holiness changes us and those around us in amazing ways.

The Incarnate God, whom we celebrate and rejoice particularly during this Easter Season, who is all-powerful and who holds our lives in his hand offers us real power and real strength. What and who we celebrate this month should challenge us and the way we live because we live in challenging times. But more than ever our world, our country, your families, needs saints because only saints and only real strength and power, ultimately, only holiness will change the world. Be saints, nothing less.

In Christ & Mary,
Father Silva