Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We still live in a society full of stigmas. Although many things came to light, and acceptance and tolerance to taboos have grown tremendously, there are still other issues that people don’t feel comfortable talking about. There are many variations, but the main problem is how to cope with suffering. Unfortunately, addiction is still one of the most common ways to deal with problems. Regardless of what kind of addiction, whether something public or not, it is still not healthy and it really does not help us with our problem. Some are indeed very harmful to us and those around us, like alcohol. Still others are even a danger to ourselves, like drug addiction. Next week, we observe the International Overdose Day.
The problem of suffering has been a topic since ancient philosophers and many people have said many things about it. Even though there could be one clear answer, it is still difficult to deal with it. I can even say based on my own experience of being a priest for 9 years, and having a serious life of prayer and having read much about the topic, it is still very difficult to go through tribulation and sufferings, regardless if it is something personal or unrelated to me. Imagine how much more difficult it is for anyone who does not have a balanced life, a loving family environment growing up, struggles with their faith. The common denominator is always flight and alienation in front of pain. We either run away from that situation, or we do something else and “pretend” that nothing is happening. Consequently, not only the problem remains the same, but it actually gets worse. And as the problem grows worse, the solution seems more impossible and life becomes unbearable. In front of what appears to be a dead end, the only mitigation is to numb the pain temporarily. That works for some time, but when the person feels the weight on their shoulders becoming unbearable, then they will start taking refuge in alcohol or drugs…and both lead to substance abuse and a worse deterioration of their lives…and it seems that there is no way out of it.
Jesus Christ left us a mandate that is the core of Christianity, that is, love of God and of neighbor (Mt 22 37-40). Then He goes on to explain how we should love our neighbor, “love one another, AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.” Now we would need to stop and see how Christ has loved us, especially when we were troubled, did something wrong, “did not follow the rules of society.” We know from Luke 15 and John 10 that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He “lays down his life for his sheep” and who goes out to look for the lost sheep, and finding it, “He sets it on his shoulders with great joy” and throws a banquet! He does not shun the lost sheep, or give her a lecture, or anything like that. So should we do to anyone who is lost. Any person who is suffering addiction has a greater suffering in their lives. As Christ goes out looking for that person and approaches with tenderness and love, so we are called to do the same. In another parable when Jesus explains how to love our neighbor, He speaks of the parable of the Good Samaritan, who shows compassion to a stranger (technically someone despicable and unfriendly).
There are MANY, MANY, MANY people out there who need our help. Whether they are poor and homeless, suffer from any addiction, are lonely and depressed…etc…Maybe we cannot help the whole world, but we can help 1 person at a time. Desmond Doss, whose story was portrayed by Mel Gibson in the movie “Hacksaw Ridge,” believed this. He enlisted himself to help at the war to help people. By helping one at a time, he saved 75 soldiers from the battlefield and provided comfort to many more who he was not able to save and died in his hands. This week we have a great opportunity to help those who struggle with opiod addiction and those who mourn for their loved ones who died from overdose. We will be hosting the yearly Candlelight Vigil for the International Overdose Awareness Day in Marlboro here at IC. It will be this Thursday, Aug 31st, at 7pm. We will light candles as we say their names and remember our loved ones with music, poems and guest speakers. It is not a matter of judgement, frowning, but loving and supporting, just like Jesus commanded us.
If someone who is reading this letter, or there is someone that you know, please be aware that you are not alone! You are not invisible. We are here to love you, walk along with you, and pray for you. There was one flyer for another event of Overdose awareness day, that said, “no one is invisible.” Although we can feel that way, it is not true. God loves you, and He is not indifferent to your sufferings. We love you, and we are not indifferent to your sufferings. Regardless whose guilt it is, we are here to love and to be loved. Please be assured of my personal prayers for you.
One last thing, please also consider joining us for the labor day parade to share this same love now with the whole city of Marlboro.
God Bless, Fr. Steven
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Please see below the letters from Janet Guzman and Paul Alcantar. Janet and Paul will be leaving next week to enter in Mission. Their experiences are below. Please keep Janet, Paul and their families in your prayers. God Bless, Fr. Steven
Hello, my name is Janet Guzman. I have been a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Parish since I was about seven years old. In my early years, my parents didn’t go to church very often. In fact, I stumbled upon the church by accident as I was outside playing with some friends. I saw young kids gathering at the church having fun! Out of curiosity, I asked an adult if they were having a celebration of some sort and to my surprise, they were just having CCD classes. From that moment forward my curiosity flourished. I spoke to my parents about wanting to receive sacraments and made them shortly after. Even then, I should have known that the Lord was calling me for something special.
Over the years, I became very involved at the parish and seeked ways to participate in different activities. I have served IC as a pre-first holy communion catechist, a confirmation catechist, as a lector, as a eucharistic minister, and even as a choir member. It always seemed that I spent more time in church than I did at home. I always searched and yearned for something to fill my void but was never able to put my finger on what it was that I was looking for. I’ve always felt the call for mission but the timing has never been right. God kept telling me to be patient; something I was never really good at. I kept trying to make myself happy with things of the world such as relationships, friendships, work, and success but it was only temporary and did not last long enough.
With the help of our Pastor Father Steven Clemence, I was better able to discern what God was calling me to. God started to align everything in my life and it began with Father Steven asking me to become the Director of Youth Ministry. At the time I did not know if it was a good fit for me but through the confidence of Father Steven I was able to take the job and give it my all. I am thankful for this opportunity in which foreshadowed this coming year. I am glad to announce that I will be leaving for mission to be a teacher in Turks and Caicos. This time in mission will strengthen my relationship with God and help me to serve those around me. As I leave for this mission, I ask for your prayers during this year so that I can enter into God’s will and not my own.
Your sister in Christ,
Hello, my name is Paul Alcantar. Immaculate Conception has always been an important part of my life. It has been my parish since I was 3 years old. I always had the desire to participate in the church in any way shape or form, whether it was altar serving, teaching CCD, and especially through music. As many of you may know, I am a musician and music has been my greatest passion since I was a child. It’s the most wonderful talent and gift that the Lord has granted me and what better way to thank him than to play and sing for him at this amazing parish, which is what I’ve done since I was 9 years old; starting with singing in the Spanish Children’s Choir, singing and playing guitar in the Youth Choir, and finally playing drums with the Adult Choir!
Unfortunately, I began to play music for the applause and recognition, principally at school and subsequently at church. I’d also start to put all my securities in other things such as work, relationships, friends and comfort before God, saying “No” to the Lord whenever He called me, completely rejecting the love that He wanted to show me. After losing all my music performances due to COVID, losing my job, my friends going off to college, and all my other idols, I found myself feeling completely alone. I realized that I had put my securities and my heart in the wrong things. I ended up thinking that I was no longer worthy to serve God, and yet, regardless of all these sins and mistakes, the Lord showed immense mercy and love towards me. He gave me new friends within the church, gave me back my old job serving and caring for the elderly, and the opportunity to play again at the parish. Even after all of this, I felt the need to give myself completely to the Lord and to live according to His will. As a result, and after saying “No” to the Lord so many times, I am happy to inform you that I have now said “Yes” to Him. Open to His will, I have accepted to be sent on Itinerancy to Washington DC to continue the mission He has prepared for me. Please keep me in your prayers as I will keep all of you in mine.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We have some changes in our Religious Education staff that I would like to share with you. I would like to recognize all that Margie Saez has done for the parish in these last years. She was able to help us in the transition of pastors and the different initiatives we have done in the past. She even ran the Office of Religious Education singlehanded for some time as part-time, while working her full time job at Bentley. For a year she has worked full time here at the Parish. With the arrival of Stephen Hanley, she was able to return to her job at Bentley while remaining with us part-time. The work of the Director of Religious Education should be a full-time job. Therefore, Margie has decided to resign from her position of DRE, but will continue fully engaged with Religious Education as a volunteer. We pray that God will give her one-hundred fold for everything she has done for all of us.
It gives me great joy to announce to you that I have hired Cecilia Melo as a full-time Religious Education Director for our religious education programs in English and Spanish. Cecilia will be responsible for the administrative functions of the religious education programs and other duties that come with this position. She will work alongside Stephen Hanley, the Faith Formation Director. By having this full-time position, it is my hope and plan to grow and consistently improve the quality of our catechetical and sacramental programs for the children and young adults of our parish. You can reach Cecilia at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 508-485-0016 x216. Please see the paragraph below from Cecilia.
My Name is Cecilia Melo. I am originally from Mexico . I moved to Massachusetts with my family 12 years ago. I received my Bachelor's Degree from Assumption College. I worked as a Spanish Teacher at Saint Bernadette Catholic School for 5 years. This summer Father Steven invited me to work in the parish as Director of Religious Education. I am very enthusiastic about serving in the parish and getting to know everyone. I always believed that the Lord will bless us when we do "All things for the love of Christ."
Please join me in welcoming Cecilia Melo to our staff as Director of Religious Education at Immaculate Conception Parish!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Please see the attached letter from Stephen Hanley, our Director of Faith Formation.
Father Steven asked me to be the Faith Formation Director of Immaculate Conception Parish fifteen months ago and share my experience with you. It certainly has been a wonderful blessing and it has been amazing to see my son Gabriel Malachi become a Deacon. When I retired as Principal of Immaculate Conception School in Revere, I would take morning walks praying the Rosary and asking the Lord about work that would proclaim and honor His Name. God had His plan and my prayer lined up with His Will. Our Blessed Lord Jesus has placed me under the protective mantle of his mother particularly under the title of the Immaculate Conception. I received my sacraments at Our Lady of Lourdes in Boston. As you may know, the apparition of the Blessed Mother to Bernadette Soubirous happened in Lourdes, France where the Blessed Mother declared, " I am the Immaculate Conception."
This call to be a Faith formation Director began very early in my life with Mom and Dad who loved me and formed me in the faith of Our Jesus Christ in the Catholic church. So, I begin with this story. I have rarely ever called a child a "kid". I learned this from my Mom and Dad who got married late in life and they could have been my grandparents. Their generation would not refer to children as kids. My Dad would say, " A kid is a baby goat. A kid grows up to be a goat. A child grows up to be a man or woman, and hopefully a gentleman or a lady." My parents were my primary educators, and the church for 2000 years has taught that the parents are the primary educators of their children. Schools can provide an education, but sadly many schools only provide knowledge, organization, and sports. They are without the other two columns of an education: wisdom and understanding. Without these gifts of the Holy Spirit; knowledge and organization become empty. I take faith formation very seriously because they bring meaning and eternal treasures to a person's soul. One meaning of religion is to " tie back the ligament." Without the ligament the bone and muscle fall apart. Catholic religion cultivates the Love of Christ Jesus in Word, Sacrament and Deed transforms the person, the family, the community and nation.
My oldest brother, Matthew Francis, who passed away to see the Lord on September 22nd told me, "Do you see what the Lord has prepared to do with your life? All your work in government and education has prepared you to carry out this mission to bring people to faith in Our Lord Jesus." His words of wisdom touched my heart. That is the wisdom that God desires to give each one of us. Because of this faith formation, I can see a child coming to class or church as I see my children and grandchildren. In addition, when I see an adult, I see my brother or sister in Christ. I am just a poor sinner, but Our Lord Jesus Christ, is an infinitely rich Savior and Redeemer who enriches us to do the impossible. When I was about five, a counselor came to my home to meet with my mother and me to discuss my speech impediment. I could always talk, but often people did not know what I was saying. This speech problem was on my health record throughout my school life. My Mom had no time to take me to speech therapy. She was a mother of eleven (11) children. My Dad would correct me and help me from time to time. I could orally read very well, but speaking became just chatter. However, my Dad told me I had a gift in speaking. My response was, "Me - speak!" He saw that my heart's desire was to speak and instructed me to pray to the Holy Spirit to receive the gift. My Dad advised me during my late teen years on Saturday evenings to orally read three or four times the two readings, responsorial psalm and Gospel. When I was ready, I would return to orally read the readings in front of him. He would turn his back to me and face the wall so he would not make me feel nervous. Around the same time, a lead English teacher at my public high school, who was in charge of appointing judges of Oratorical Eloquence at the annual Boston Public School competition at Faneuil Hall, recognized my speaking ability. He chose me to be a judge alongside a School Superintendent, College Dean, and Journalist. This was an absolute miracle. My Dad extended his faith to me because he loved me, and nurtured the gift of courage within me. Before this age, I was never asked to proclaim the Word in church or formally speak in the school. Following this miracle, the parochial vicar asked me to become a Catechist. From the beginning of my childhood, the cross I received became the means of salvation for me and anyone I would encounter.
What really matters in this life and our eternal life is what the Lord has in store for each one of us, whether we are a child or adult or on the last days of our life on earth. I cannot be a true son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, or faith formation director until I realize that "Our Father who art in Heaven" loves me dearly through his beloved Son, Jesus Christ! How do I know this? I know it because the outpouring of their sacrificial love proceeds from the Holy Spirit which gives me the ability to educate and speak. As Paul stated to the 2 Corinthians 3: 4-6, "Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God, Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us: our sufficiency is from God, who has qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life." At Immaculate Conception parish, our beloved Pastor, Father Steven Clemence has allowed the work of Christ Jesus to work in me to share with any child, young adult, adult or elder the "Good News." I pray that this enthusiasm of Jesus Christ that lives within me becomes common among all the children of God. These are the treasures and gifts that will last forever.
Yours in Christ,
Stephen Patrick Hanley
Father Steven Clemence