Dear Brothers & Sisters,
Lent is indeed a beautiful time in which the Lord invites us to return with our whole hearts to him. The early Fathers of the Church would refer to Lent as a time of betrothal with the Lord. However, we need help with this process, just as with our lives.
When we were children, the Church provided a catechism to introduce us to the ways of God. Just as in school, when we were in grammar school, we learned the basics. As adults, we learned very little about the ways of the Lord. It is as if we are now in post-graduate studies and we skipped most of our school years. Imagine if we had to do high-end calculus engineering when we barely remember the multiplication tables. Such is our situation when we have to face the hardships of life with our basic knowledge from CCD. Surely this may not be the case of everyone, but probably it’s the case of many of us. We find ourselves married, with children and no one taught us how to go from there. We also might have family and friends in this situation. How could we help others when we ourselves don’t have answers?
In its motherly way, the Church provides for all of us many possibilities to be helped. One of these ways, is through a series of talks Mondays and Thursday’s starting this Monday in the Church hall (school hall). These talks will be focused on Conversion, the Scriptures, the Eucharist, and provides an opportunity to begin a journey with God, or a school of faith if you will. God wants to give us the necessary graces for us to be enlightened of our cross, understand and be reconciled with the events of our lives, and to grow closer to the Lord. With all the approvals and seals of the Vatican, Pope Benedict has called this itinerary of faith as “a special gift inspired by the Holy Spirit”. Saint Pope John Paul II in 1988 recognized that we were living in a period of de-Christianization. He said, “it seems that the faithful, those baptized years ago, are no longer mature enough to oppose secularization and the ideologies which are contrary not only to the Church, to the Catholic religion, but also to religion in general; they are atheistic, indeed anti-theist.” Then referring to these talks he acknowledges “in different environments, [it tries] to rebuild what has been broken down”. These talks were inspired by the Virgin Mary who saw the need to create communities like the Holy Family, where they may live in humility, simplicity and praise, where the other is Christ.
Personally, I have experienced these talks in my family and in my own life. First, it has helped to bring my father to Church, where he received his first communion at the age of 38. It helped their marriage and how to raise two teenagers, even though, as you well know, I was the one giving them trouble. In my life, when all I was taught was that to be happy you had to be successful, I found myself in great anguish. I was successful in many ways, and still unhappy. Wanting to please people, I could not be myself, wearing different masks depending on the environment. Instead, after listening to these talks, I found myself in a community of different people that loved each other. I was not alone with my problems. It helped me to open my ears to listen to God, to put him first in my life. Surely there were struggles, but having a small community of truly brothers and sisters that knew each other’s difficulties made visible to me the immense love of God for me. It’s because of this that today I still believe in God, am still in the Church, and am a happy priest.
Therefore, if you or someone that you know feels lost in this world, feels that nothing changes in your lives, that God seems to be far away or we are stuck in some situation, come and listen. Christ, the good shepherd comes to rescue us, to place us with great joy on his shoulders, and to bring us back to himself. We will only find out if this is for us if we give it a fair shot to God. I did it once, and look what he did for me!!! I’m sure He will do many greater things for you as well.
Dear Brothers & Sisters,
I’m surprised how all the bad and crazy news still shocks us. Whether the massive shootings, corruption in politics, wars in some parts of the world, new studies about depression and suicide among teens, etc… I believe they shock us because it’s not normal. We know what is the good to be pursued and the evil to be avoided. However, there are times that we don’t have the strength to do what we are called to do. There appears, once again, the need of a community that supports us. As we prepare ourselves to enter into Lent, let’s reflect a bit more how much we need help.
Society teaches that we should be auto-sufficient to our needs and financially stable. Education and health are always the top priorities in life. However, we tend to sacrifice much of our lives to attend to those goals. As a consequence, we can easily isolate ourselves from our friends and family, and from God as well. Through the old saying of “you can do it”, or “I need to push harder”, we can easily end up with burnouts, depression, and other issues. I believe that the danger lies in either not attaining our goals or getting worn out. The former leads to frustration, depression, sadness, and it leads us to dangerous places, such as substance abuse and even suicidal tendencies. The latter can lead us to depression, mental illness and social isolation. Therefore, this does not appear to be a sound strategy for life.
The Old Testament is full of stories to what happens when the people of Israel tried to be independent from God. Usually they ended up conquered by one of their enemies or some other tragic fate. God, as a father, teaches the people to lean on Him. Already under Abraham, God makes the promise to give him a child and a land that He Himself will deliver for Abraham. In the whole account of the Exodus, God is the one who delivers the people from slavery, opens the Red Sea, and provides for them in the desert. There are other passages that God uses the relationship of father-child to His people to teach them to rely on him. And by rely on Him, it means to rely as a nation, as a community, not as a collection of individuals. It is the people of God that He chooses to redeem. Here we see the importance of having a community and to enter into a path to learn to lean on God and not to be independent.
This (Ash) Wednesday, Feb 22, is the start of Lent, which provides us an opportunity to seek the help from God. There are the traditional ways in which we fast, give alms, and pray, and do the stations of the cross at 6pm, but there are other ways in which we can be helped. We can also look for other opportunities to engage the community. Whether joining Saint Vincent de Paul, Bible Study, the Monday Cenacle, we are called to be together. For those that need some extra help, maybe someone who struggles to forgive, to feel loved by God or to love like God, or feels lost, or if you know someone who feels that way, We will be having a Series of Talks Mondays and Thursdays starting February 27th at 7:30pm in Meehan Hall. God cares about you. Christ is coming looking for you. Come and listen.
Slowly as we approach one another, our community will grow closer and stronger, and able to create a “new culture”, or better said, rescue our true identity as Christians on the journey to heaven. No Christian should ever be by himself, no matter what, so let’s extend our hands to help those in need or to be helped ourselves.
Dear Brothers & Sisters,
Last week we began to reflect on how the individualism of today’s society affects us and our community. This week I would like to look back at our origins and see how far we got from it.
The book of Genesis reveals that man was created in the image and likeness of God. There is an ontological unity between the human race, although there is also a distinction on the basis of identity. “Man and woman he created them” (Gn 2:27). Therefore, there is an element of unity that the created man shares with everyone else, but it is manifested differently in their masculinity and femininity. Pope Saint John Paul II uses this argument at the beginning of his famous Wednesday’s catechesis “Human Love in the Divine Plan”, which later became known as the “Theology of the Body.” A similar distinction of personhood in the unity of God can be drawn from this initial argument.
Our faith rests on the belief that there is only One God, the almighty Father, the only begotten Son, and the Holy Spirit. (Catechism 233). Although there is a distinction of persons, there is a unity in being. Although the understanding of the Trinity can be very complicated, St. Augustine makes a simple analogy that has more dissimilarities and similarities, but it helps understand a little better the mystery of the Trinity. He compares the relationship between the three persons of the trinity with a married couple who has a child. The husband and wife love each other so much that they are united into one flesh and one spirit and there is a third person as a result of that union, a child. The Father is the eternal Lover, the Son is the beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the eternal Love between the Father and the Son. This is to say that love is what unites the three distinct persons of the Trinity into one being, one God. In a family love is what unites the husband and wife with their child. Therefore, we can conclude that being created in the image and likeness of God means that we are created into a communion of persons, which can go beyond our families. There cannot be love when a person is by himself, as we see in Adam before Eve is created. The great exultation of Adam in meeting Eve is that “finally” there is someone that he can truly love.
This leads back into our daily lives. The individualistic man wants to be isolated by himself so that people would not bother him or just leave him alone. He does not necessarily need to be completely alone, but rather he can close himself in a circle of friends, household, etc. The moment in which we close ourselves to others, we start losing our identity as persons. If we are created in the image and likeness of God, and what unites each other is love, then the answer is in loving others, not in closing ourselves to others. Because of sin, we can be afraid of being hurt by others, or we are distrustful of each other’s intentions, causing a separation/barrier from each other. I should add that this can also happen inside the families, households, communities, and parishes. As we pointed out last week, we cannot love each other unless we know each other. To know a person is not to know things about him or her. I often use the example that we all know Tom Brady. However, we don’t really know him. We know things about him. There is no relationship between us and him. And without a relationship, there can be no love. Just as in the Trinity, it is the relationship between three distinct persons that makes the unity in love. Once more, if we are created in the image and likeness of God, therefore we are created for and from a relationship of love, not loneliness and isolation.
We may think that we are Ok, or that we can handle adverse moments by ourselves, but the truth is that we can’t. We need one another as a community. God created us to be in communion with one another, and not in isolation. As we can “push” people away from us as a defense mechanism, we should instead “embrace” one another. In tragic moments, our country has come together as a way to support one another, but sadly this only happens sporadically and it’s for a short time. However, these moments show us that we can be this supportive community. We can come together. On a personal scale, when our loved ones are sick, or pass away, our families come together to support one another. We do have the ability, but sometimes it lacks desire or intentionality. Building a community takes time, but if we don’t take the first step, we will never get there. Once we build the community, the relationships come together as we see St. Paul writing to the community of Galatia, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is no male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Therefore, if today you feel called to enter into a relationship of love, also known as “communion”, with Christ, then we need to enter in a relationship with one another.
Dear Brothers & Sisters,
Each day our society is becoming more and more individualistic. Surely Covid has worsened everything, but I believe that it only sped up the process. I believe that this process has deeper roots than something just outward. We also need to reflect how this individualism is also affecting our parish. I will write about it in these next weeks.
Since the early origins, the Christian community has always lived together in unity. Jesus Christ right before his Passion, he exhorted the disciples “all to be one” as He and the Father are one (Jn 17:21). In the Act of the Apostles, we hear how “they sold their goods and possessions and distributed among themselves according to what each one needed (Acts 2:45). They were not socialists, but out of love for each other and grateful to what God had done with them, they put the needs of the others ahead of their own. This is not a utopian ideal, but rather this is what we are called to be, a community of brothers and sisters who love one another as Christ has loved us. (Jn 13:34)
The first prerequisite to be a Christian community and to love one another is to be loved by someone else first. We cannot love unless if we are loved first. In a very limited way, we were first loved by our parents who out of their generosity gave birth to us. Our mothers carried us for nine months! That’s enough proof of love. Then we were loved by other people throughout our lives. But all this “love” cannot be compared to the true LOVE with which God has loved us. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. The Catechism reads that man was “the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake” (CCC 356). Therefore, we could say that this requisite was fulfilled, except that at times we don’t realize, or even don’t know, how much God loves us. The intensity and the immensity of His love is something that we don’t grasp. At times we don’t stop to contemplate it, and other times the devil will reinterpret God’s action to us that it seems he forgot us and doesn’t love us. Then maybe we can call a second prerequisite that we need to be aware of how much we are loved.
The third prerequisite is to know the other person. We cannot love someone or something we don’t know. I understand that the New England culture in general is not like the other parts of the US, where people are very warm and welcoming. On top of that, Covid made everything even worse. Now we don’t even reach out to shake hands anymore. Not too long ago someone told me, “Father, we are Catholics, we don’t greet others at church.” That’s completely the opposite of what we should be doing. We cannot love if we don’t know the other person. At masses these past days I pointed out how you might “know” the other people seating next to you, but without ever asking their names. Naturally, knowing someone’s name is not knowing that person. Surely it might be the first step. Therefore, I urge you in these next weeks to welcome each other at mass and introduce yourselves to each other. If you already know the person next to you, it’s ok also to sit elsewhere and get to know other people!!! These actions are only to become a welcoming parish. However, a Christian Community is more than that. Tertullian, in the second century, wrote in his “Apologetics” how the Romans were amazed by the witness of the love of the Christians among themselves. “See how they love one another,” he writes. Jesus Christ says that we will be recognized as Christians by the love we have for one another (Jn 13:35). This is the mission of the Church, namely, to be a visible sign of the love of God in the world. But we cannot be this if we are not aware of God’s love for us and if we don't love the neighbor. Be careful to not reinterpret the Scriptures, it doesn’t say be nice or polite to your neighbor, but to love one another as Christ has loved us. Maybe, we need a place where we can do that here in the parish, since it’s barely impossible nowadays. We need help to be formed (not intellectually) to be Christians, to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” as Jesus says this weekend. Let’s ask the Lord that He may help us to be open to follow His ways.
Father Steven Clemence