Free Concert!

A great opportunity for Connecticuters! It's worth the drive down to Milford to hear the Saint Ann choir give an encore performance of their "United in One Spirit" concert. I attended the original concert on Pentecost, and it was so lovely. Friends of mine drove an hour to attend the concert and said it was well worth it. See info on poster below!

The Saint Ann choir, directed by Peter DeMarco.

The Saint Ann choir, directed by Peter DeMarco.

When Your Parish Is Closing and Your Heart Is Breaking

Here in the Northeast, as in other parts of the country, the Catholic Church is in transition. In my own Archdiocese of Hartford, many parishes are closing. We have fewer priests, but we also have fewer Catholics. Closing or merging one hundred parishes allows us to band together in the parishes that remain – to worship, to learn, and to be together in larger, more robust communities.

But this transition does not come without controversy and heartache. I am familiar with both. I grew up in an Episcopal parish, and the church building itself was my second home. Besides the usual liturgies and classes and youth groups, I often went there after school and did my homework. I stayed for evening prayer in the chapel. I knew the people. I was comfortable there and welcome. But all of this changed while I was in high school. Two of our priests and many families in the parish (including my own), struck out on a new adventure: we were going to become Catholics. But this meant leaving my parish, my home. It meant leaving something so beautiful and familiar to me.

I know how you feel.

The thought of never seeing that crucifix again, or walking the path of those stations, or hearing that organ, broke my heart. There would be other crucifixes and stations. There would be other organs. But there would not be that one. The thought of never sitting in that garden, or kneeling in that confessional, or laughing with a friend in that kitchen, broke my heart. There would be other kitchens and confessionals. There would be other gardens. But there would not be that one.

Places can start to fit you, like comfortable clothes. You know how the place feels. You know what happened there.  You happened there. You planted those flowers. You sorted those cans in the parish food pantry. You drank coffee there. You took communion there. You made friends and had life-changing conversations and prayed and worshiped there. You gazed out that window and sat in that chapel and lit those candles. You learned, and questioned, and accepted. That place was where you became a Christian.

Don’t let anyone tell you that buildings don’t matter. Of course they don’t matter as much as people and communities do. Of course they don’t matter as much as your faith and your beliefs do. Of course they don’t matter as much as your resilience and your resolve do. But they do matter. And losing them is like losing a friend, or a loved one, or a beautiful memory.

And so it is natural, and normal, and even necessary, to grieve and to be sad. But in this grief, do not go your own way. In this grief, turn back to your community. Turn back to your Church. Turn back toward your people, and not away by yourself.  Find the thing that grew in your heart as you lived and breathed in that building. The thing that grew in you was love. This is the precious piece, the piece you must take with you to your new home, your new building. 

For there are many gifts that human beings are given, and many attitudes that we may choose to adopt.  But there is only one that always heals and points forward. There is only one that always brings peace, even if that peace takes time. That gift, that attitude, is love. Of all the gifts our parish communities can have – all the charisms, programs, ministries and funds – there is none so great and so necessary as love. Greater even than working miracles, or leading or teaching, greater even than prophecy.  Naming these fine things, St. Paul wrote, “But I will show you a still more excellent way.”  This most excellent way is love – patient and kind, not insisting on its own way, not resenting. Love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things, hopes all things. Love never ends.

We will mourn what we leave behind. But we will go forward with our love for one another still intact. And by this love, they will know that we are Christians.

Jesus the Good Shepherd by Maurice Denis (1903). Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim. Jesus does not wish to lose a single sheep. 

Jesus the Good Shepherd by Maurice Denis (1903). Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim. Jesus does not wish to lose a single sheep. 

A Noise Like a Strong Driving Wind?

This Sunday is Pentecost, the day when we recall the dramatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the first followers of Jesus. This year as I reflected on the story from Acts, I was struck by the powerful images – the sights and sounds that accompanied this outpouring – especially how the Spirit is described as sounding like “a strong driving wind” (NABRE) or like “the rush of a violent wind” (NRSV; Acts 2:2).

We often experience the voice of God in our lives as a quiet thing – a still small voice, a whisper, a stirring of the heart, or the murmurings of conscience. And it is often a slow communication – a voice that speaks in layers as time passes, a message that takes hold slowly over the course of many years.

But the Pentecost story reminds us of other ways that God communicates. Sometimes the divine voice is loud, powerful, fast and laser-like in its precision. The NRSV’s word “violent” lingers here – not violence in the sense of harming anyone – but violent in the sense of strong enough to wreak havoc on our minds and hearts, wild enough to unsettle or even unseat us. Of course the goal of this unsettling is not ultimately turmoil but healing and life. God speaks in mysterious ways!

Will you share with me what the voice of God sounds like in your life? Is it a gentle whisper or a strong driving wind? Is there a metaphor that comes to mind to describe your own experience?

I’d love to hear from you – as a comment directly on the blog page, or as a reply to email if you receive the blog that way, or as a facebook comment if you are reading there.

Happy Pentecost!

Untitled by Kim Young Gil (1940-2008)

Untitled by Kim Young Gil (1940-2008)

Sunday's Gospel: Who Is the Advocate?

The following is republished with permission from my column in Catechist magazine. For subscription information, visit catechist.com.

May 21, Sixth Sunday of Easter, Gospel Reading: John 14:15-21

In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” (John 14–16) continues. In this short excerpt of the discourse, Jesus assures his disciples that, although he will be leaving them soon, he will remain with them. But how?

Jesus tells his followers that if they keep his commandments, the Father will send them “another Advocate.” The Greek word translated here as “advocate” is parakletos, a word that typically refers to an advocate or mediator (but is sometimes translated as “comforter”). Jesus already serves as a mediator between God and his followers, but now he is speaking of sending another mediator, one he identifies as “the Spirit of truth.”

It is clear that the Spirit is distinct from Jesus, and yet the Spirit allows Jesus to continue to be with his followers, to be revealed to them, and even to love them. Thus Jesus can say that even though the world will no longer be able to see him, his disciples will. This is the power of the presence of the Spirit of truth.

As if this were not enough to boggle the minds of the disciples, Jesus adds this mysterious nugget: “I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” The unity of Jesus with his Father is an oft-repeated theme in John’s Gospel. But now Jesus draws his disciples into this wonderful communion. It may seem that a mediator is no longer necessary if we are “in Jesus” and he is “in the Father.” Perhaps Jesus is saying that it is precisely this revealing Spirit of truth that makes this intimacy with the Father and Son possible.

We may not understand everything Jesus is saying in his Farewell Discourse, even in this small piece of it. But one message is clear: Although we cannot see Jesus with our eyes, he remains with us. He urges us to believe it.

ASK YOURSELF: Do I feel the presence of Jesus? Or is it something I must accept on faith?

ASK YOUR STUDENTS: Do you think the disciples were ever confused by Jesus’ words? Do you think they came to understand some of his teachings after he died and rose from the dead? Why? How?

PRAY: Spirit of truth, mediate for me, comfort me, and reveal Jesus to me.

LIVE THE GOSPEL: The Holy Spirit is described by Jesus as a paraclete — a mediator, an advocate, or a comforter. How can you be a mediator or an advocate for someone this week? How can you mediate the presence of Jesus by supporting or comforting someone?

In this lovely image by Charles Plessard (goache on paper), the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus as he is baptized by John the Baptist. Illustrations of the baptism of Jesus allow an artistic expression of the intimacy between Jesus, the Father and the Spirit that we read about in this passage from John's Gospel. Image courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim.

In this lovely image by Charles Plessard (goache on paper), the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus as he is baptized by John the Baptist. Illustrations of the baptism of Jesus allow an artistic expression of the intimacy between Jesus, the Father and the Spirit that we read about in this passage from John's Gospel. Image courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim.

I Can't. You Must.

One of my students, Sister Jerilyn, shared this prayer with our class last night. The prayer is attributed to Oscar Romero. 

I looked this prayer up online, and one commentator astutely noted that this prayer was Romero's personal way of praying Jesus' prayer of surrender in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Not what I want but what you want" (Mt. 26:39). 

I looked this prayer up online, and one commentator astutely noted that this prayer was Romero's personal way of praying Jesus' prayer of surrender in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Not what I want but what you want" (Mt. 26:39).