Dear Brothers and Sisters,
You may have noticed that the past few days I was not in the parish. I have not gone away, or isolated because of Covid. I was part of a pilgrimage that the members of the Neocatechumenal Way organized for the youth of the whole United States. The youth have gone to various parts of the country in preparation for a vocational meeting with the Apostolic Nuncio in Gettysburg, MD.
Our group from the parish was made of 30 youth and a few adults that accompanied as chaperones. We joined other groups of Boston making a group of 80 people. Together, we brought the youth to a different pilgrimage than what we are used to. Instead of visiting churches made by human hands, we visited the beautiful shrines that were made by the hands of God. We visited the Southwest of the United States, including the Grand Canyon and other National Parks.
Being the first time that I visited that area, I was left speechless looking at it. I have gone to many different parts of the world, including the city of Petra, the Pyramids of Egypt, but nothing is like what we saw. I was very amazed looking at the beauty of each place, at how God crafted all of it only for us! All the geological formation of those parks were something spectacular. At the Grand Canyon, we had an opportunity to spend 30 minutes in silence in contemplation of God’s work. Again, there was nothing like that. All the paintings and buildings in the world, there is nothing like what we saw. Just imagine that God spends millions of years preparing for the moment which we spend in adoration of his creation. There Psalm 8 came into my mind, especially where it says, “O Lord, our God, how great is your name above all the earth…When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you arranged. What is man that you think of him, mortal man that you care for him?” That moment that we spent there, I thought to myself, why would God create such marvel in nature? Looking at that size of the Canyon, what is a human being, like myself, compared to that immensity. The only answer that I thought was, God made this out of love for me. We all know that God loves us, but looking at it, I realized that He really, but really really loves me/us!!!
This pilgrimage altogether helped me to refocus in God’s love. I have said many times that realizing God’s love helped me to go ahead with ordination, but this trip helped me almost fall in love for God again. Many saints have said that each day we need to fall in love for God. Each day He comes looking for us. The danger we have is since he is always near us, we may take him for granted. But again, looking at Bryce Canyon in Utah, how those rocks were carefully designed, we can’t think anything other than the love of God. St. Thomas Aquinas explains God’s creation by the beauty of nature. It is so beautiful that is impossible to be created by chance. We know looking at it that someone must have created purposely all of it. And once again, why? Sheer love for us.
The pilgrimage also helped me to study in more depth the evangelization of the Southwest of the US. The brave men and women who ventured into those lands for no reason other than for the love of God. In a special way, it struck me how the Navajo tribe was evangelized. The Navajo language is especially hard to learn. So difficult that, the sheer fact that the missionaries were able to learn the language, it opened their ears to hear their message. A few weeks ago, the Church celebrated Saint Jose Anchieta, a Jesuit from Spain who also learned the native language spoken in Brazil. These men were able to learn the language better than anyone, but only because of God’s grace. In many parts of the world, the best grammar for the native languages were written by missionaries, in an effort to spread the Gospel of God. This is particularly encouraging to know how God is always close to us and gives us the graces necessary to fulfill the mission that He gives us.
I hope that sharing a bit of experience helps you to always search for God’s love in an ever renewed way, so that we may never grow tired or bored of him, but may experience him in different and more profound ways.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The summer is a good time to relax, visit our friends and relatives, travel around, and PRAY! We don’t necessarily need to do one thing or the other, but this letter will give a few suggestions of some holy sites to visit.
The closest shrine we have is the North American Martyrs Shrine (Our Lady of Martyrs) in Aurisville NY, near Albany. This place reminds us that there were many men and women who gave their lives as martyrs killed at the beginning of the colonization of the United States. Isaac Jogues and his companions arrived there in the mid 1600s to evangelize the Huron. After being captured by the Mohawks, they were brought to this location where they gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel. There are some verses of his last moments in which, although he knew he was going to die, he was praying for those people. We know that his blood was not shed in vain, as it bore fruit through St. Kateri Tekakwitha. We can pray there to ask the Lord to help us to be constant in our faith and be able to be a witness of God’s love to those around us.
In the north, there is the Our Lady of Ephesus House of Prayer located in Jamaica, VT. It is an exact replica of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s house in Ephesus, where she lived in prayer with St John in the last years of her life. The replica is one of four in the whole world, and it sits on a 190-acre prayer ground. The original house, according to the tradition, was transported by angels to Loretto, Italy during the Arab invasion. Today, there is a famous shrine there. It is always such an incredible experience to see that the Blessed Mother did not live in a palace, but in a humble abode.
For those going to New York, there are two holy attractions there. The first one is the house of Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint. Before she moved to Emmitsburg, Pennsylvania where she founded a religious order to care for the Native and Afro-Americans, she lived right in front of Battery Park. Across the street from the Staten Island Ferry, you can find her house that sits between two high skyscrapers. The second holy site in New York is the Shrine of Mother Cabrini, the first saint in America. Mother Cabrini founded many orphanages across the US and abroad to care mainly for immigrants and poor children. Located near Cloisters in Washington Heights, there is a chapel where her remains can be found. St. Patrick Cathedral is also a great place to stop and say a prayer contemplating such a beautiful church.
For those staying in Massachusetts, there are a few places that are accessible on a one-day trip. The first place is the Divine Mercy Shrine. Located in Western Mass, by the shires, Stockbridge offers a beautiful and peaceful place to rest, contemplate, and pray. There one can touch the mercy of God, who out of love created us and is willing to forgive anything and everything. Another place, also a Divine Mercy Shrine, is the recently opened John Paul II Shrine in Salem, MA. There, in the midst of the historical site of the beginnings of the colonization of Massachusetts, sits a relic with the blood of Saint John Paul II. I remember when I saw him at the World Youth Day in 2002 in Canada. Towards the end of his life, when his Parkinson was very advanced, one would expect him to speak with a soft voice that was very feeble. Instead, he spoke about God with a great strength and zeal. Salem is no longer known by the witches, but also for the home of the relic of JP II.
We do not necessarily even need to go beyond Boston for a holy trip. The recently renovated Cathedral of the Holy Cross is certainly a place that we all must visit. Not only is it the mother Church of Boston, but it is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the US. Even for those who have been before, it is certainly worth a second visit.
I hope this encourages you to look for the Lord while having fun and traveling around! As Christians, we never take vacation from prayer or from the Lord. May the Blessed Mother protect all of us during these weeks and may she bring us together again after the summer.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Please see the letter below from Leonardo Orellana who is a seminarian in the Archdiocese of Washington.
My name is Leonardo Orellana and I am a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Washington. Fr. Steven has asked me to share a little bit of my life with the parish as my vocation began here.
The first years of life were spent in Marlborough, where my family shared an apartment with my uncles and aunt. Soon after, due to my mother's wish for me to enter elementary school without waiting an additional year, we moved to Worcester. It was there that a significant portion of my history was written.
My life from an outsider's point of view seems almost ideal: an older sister and a younger brother, both parents present, a house for ourselves and on top of it faith. However, my life was a bit more complicated than that. I had some difficulties relating to my sister, my parents' relationship was not doing any better, to the point of divorce. Up until this point, the "religious life" was there; we went to mass every Sunday here at Immaculate Conception, portraying the happy family while at the same time hiding our many defects. I was left in doubt, questioning what purpose the Church served in my life.
I began to live a double life, attending Church with what remained of my family while simultaneously trying to live my life in the world. I stayed out of the house as much as possible, doing sports, hanging out with my friends, anything that would get me away from my reality. My grades in school were plummeting, yet I kept reassuring my mom that it was under control, that I could handle it on my own. As much as I believed this to be true, the reality was that I was lost, that I had no sense of where this life was taking me.
Then, one day I was brought to a series of talks from the Neocatechumenal Way, that announced to me the news that God loved me as I was. I had no immediate response to this for I still could not fully comprehend the weight of these words, but my ears began to open and from that moment I began slowly to listen to the voice of God. With only listening, I began to understand, not scripture or theological dissertations, but my life. I could now see the events of my history with more clarity, that God did not make a mistake but every moment of my life was necessary for me to have an encounter with God. I became more involved in the Church, I wanted to know where God would lead me and soon enough, it was evident that God wanted me to do more than listen. During a pilgrimage, I found myself being called by God to the vocation of the priesthood. Although, I knew that he was asking me, I doubted for a time, not knowing if for sure God was calling me and if I wanted to put my life in the hands of God. This precariousness was new for me, to leave all my securities behind, afraid of what my friends would think. Nonetheless, God gave me a free will to say no and was patient to wait for me to give him an answer. I knew the answer I should give, and that time of discernment was needed for me to understand that I do not need to worry because it is God who will take care of everything. In a single moment, I said to God "do it quick before I turn back" and the next moment I found myself being sent to the seminary in Washington. Although I am in the seminary, there are temptations and struggles that everyone goes through. My vice rector makes it clear what the problem is: "it is not a question of vocation, but a question of faith." I give thanks to God for having me in the seminary, in this way I am alone with God to have an intimate dialogue with him, I can reconcile with my history and overall I am taught to be a Christian and to lean on Christ. Coming back to Massachusetts on this summer break also helps me to appreciate everything that God is doing for me. If in a leap of faith God brought me to the seminary and has helped me a lot, I can't imagine what other marvels he can do in my life. I do ask you to please pray for me, as I pray for you.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
There are many Traditions in the Church that dates back to the very beginning of the church. One of them is the name of the parents of Mary, Joachim and Anne. They don’t appear in the scriptures, but early writings and churches named after them in the first centuries confirm that tradition. Since they were the grandparents of Jesus, in the Church, their day was always seen as “Grandparents’ Day,” although never official…until now! And there is plenary indulgence granted under the usual conditions (confession, communion and praying for the Pope) for anyone who devotes “adequate time to actually or virtually visiting their elderly brothers and sisters in need or in difficulty (such as the sick, the abandoned, the disabled and other similar cases.)
Back in January, Pope Francis announced the institution of World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which will take place each year on the fourth Sunday in July, close to the feast of Saints Joachim and Anne. He expressed the importance of this celebration by saying that “grandparents are often forgotten, and we forget this wealth of preserving roots and passing on what the elderly have received.” Since Pope Benedict, the Church has always spoken against the “throwaway culture.” As everything in society nowadays that is no longer needed, or it has become “obsolete” becomes disposable and it is thrown away. Unfortunately, this is not limited to consuming goods only. Slowly our society has become Utilitarian, in which the value of things or people is defined by the amount of benefit it brings to a majority or if they are useful. Because of that mentality, many of the elderly are being pushed aside from society and often also by family members. Instead of being a wealth of wisdom, they are labeled as “burdensome.”
In the Christian tradition, as many other ancient cultures around the world, the elderly have always had a place of honor. Not only because of their wisdom and life experience, but also, as the Pope says, they “remind us that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between the different generations, to pass on to the young the experience of life.” It is so important to value everything that the elderly have learned in their lifetime. Even though one may argue that society has changed since their time and what they say is no longer relevant, however, our moral values have not changed. Life lessons are always precious, because difficult situations arise regardless of the culture. Not only that, but now history avoids us repeating the same mistakes as those who came before us have done. As Winston Churchill once said, “those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”.
There is one more important factor of the presence of the elderly in our lives. Often, they are one of the greatest examples of faith in our families. Whether our own grandparents or the elderly attending mass, they have always been the strongest people our churches. I imagine that most of us have memories of our grandparents praying the rosary every day, attending mass regularly and dressing their Sunday best, going to confession every first Saturday and so on. Therefore, this connection with the elderly is more than just treating others with love, it is a great source of help for our own salvation.
I would like to say a brief word for the grandparents and the elderly. Please be proud of who you are!!! Do not try to fit in with today’s culture or to measure yourselves by today’s standards. It is like a vintage car or a vintage wine that is rare and is valued much more than something brand new and it cannot be compared with it. Do share your life stories, growing up in a different times, the difference between now and then, the famous Blizzard of ‘78. Also, do not be shy to invite them to pray, to share the wealth of your spiritual life with them as well. Today the kids don’t really have super heroes anymore, so be their heroes! I think that just by saying that in your times there was no cellphones and flat screen TV’s you will already make it!
May the Blessed Mother always accompany you, and, by the intercession of St. Joachim and Anne, may God be always your companion to strengthen and console you! Count always on our prayers.
Father Steven Clemence