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The following is the statement by Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski regarding the plans for secondary education and the Diocese of Springfield.
Today I am happy to share with you the plan which emerged from our recent facilitated process regarding the challenges we face with sustaining Catholic secondary education.
As you know in November at my request an expedited facilitated dialogue process trying to resolve the many questions and concerns regarding Cathedral was undertaken. In late January, over two days at the Genesis Spiritual Life Center, all issues and challenges were put on the table. After much conversation, and after looking at many options, the plan which emerged as the only one which met our objectives was to engage the Holyoke Catholic community and pursue the creation of a new regional Catholic High School.
Bringing together two great legacies as a new school for what would be an exciting new chapter in Catholic education here in western Massachusetts.
As soon as that proposal came forth, seeing there were no delegated members of the Holyoke Catholic community at the problem solving session to represent their concerns, all discussion of any particulars was set aside. This includes any designation for the site of a new regional school.
I have since met personally with both schools’ boards, as well as with the Diocesan School Board and Finance Council. They have all been supportive of the plan in general terms but understand there are many miles to go in making this a reality. I have assured them that the process of creating this new school will include input from all parties.
I want to stress that no details, other than the concept of a new regional school, have been decided. Today I am presenting this plan at the 35 thousand foot level, there will be much work ahead to manage all the details and bring this in for a safe and successful landing.
In order to get this process started I have asked Dr. Paul Gagliarducci, former superintendent of schools for both Somers, CT and the Hampden/Wilbraham Regional School district, to chair this new Catholic Secondary Education Initiative.
He will be aided by a board which will be named in the coming weeks. Dr. Gagliarducci participated in the problem solving sessions and was very helpful. Most importantly he has background working with constituency groups and building new academic facilities.
Assisting him will be the educational consultants Partners in Mission. They will help with developing marketing and development strategies for the new school. Partners comes to us as a known and successful entity, having provided invaluable help to St Michael’s Academy in recent years.
Among the many early questions that must be addressed is the eventual site for the new school. The current short term goal would be to bring together the student bodies by the fall of 2016. As for the permanent site I have encouraged them to look at all possible sites certainly including the Surrey Road location. This will include a demographic analysis as to the best possible location in light of what is available on the diocesan inventory and if deemed necessary elsewhere.
In recent weeks I have contemplated and prayed over this decision quite a bit. I have recalled that throughout the history of our Church, our ability to change and adapt has been central to our mission of spreading the Good News.
While I am very excited about the possibilities this plan offers, at the same time I recognize that this new entity will mean some sacrifices and a sense of loss on behalf of both the Holyoke Catholic and Cathedral communities.
To this I hope we can take a lesson from the first Sisters of St Joseph who came to our diocese from New York and started the first Cathedral High School in a few rooms above the Cathedral Main Altar in 1883. They left behind what was comfortable and known to them, for that which was uncertain. They took a leap of faith and for over 130 years that mission has continued.
So today we have every reason to be hopeful as we embark on this new journey together. Of course the eventual long-term success of this new school or any of our Catholic schools lies with parents who will choose a Catholic education for their children and to our faithful alumni who support these school. I believe we have been guided in faith on a path which is sustainable.
By Brian and Ann Kolek
Worldwide Marriage Encounter
Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a lovely little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare life threatening disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year-old brother, who had somehow survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, “Yes, I’ll do it if it will save her.” As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, “Will I start to die right away?” Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.
Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. We’ve all been there, trying to find the perfect Hallmark card that will express our feelings for our spouse on this holiday. We’ve all gone to expensive restaurants or boxed up what we thought would be a perfect gift to express our love for them. After all, in our materialistic society, things are supposed to make us happy, and therefore, must make our spouse happy. Did we really succeed in these past efforts to show our love? Did our spouse truly feel our love and were they happier because of the things we gave them? The world around us teaches us to focus on ourselves: our appearance, our feelings and our desires. We’re taught to take care of ourselves first. The goal it seems is to chase the highest level of happiness for ourselves. Everyone deserves to be happy, right? But what if we believed it was our responsibility to get our spouse into Heaven? How very counter cultural is the idea that we make ourselves responsible for the happiness of our spouse. In reality, whatever we put our energy into becomes most important to us. What if our spouse became the recipient of all our energy?
Married couples who enjoy the full purpose of marriage are the ones who are bent on taking care of the other flawed person God gave them to share life with. Choosing to love our spouse selflessly causes us to say no to what we want so we can say yes to what they need. When we place our spouse and their needs above our own, we get to lose ourselves to the greater purpose of marriage. It doesn’t mean we can never experience happiness again because love always leads to joy. We’ve all experienced a time when we put someone else first; we weren’t trying to be noble, we simply saw something that needed to be done and we did it. And every time we’ve behaved that way weren’t we rewarded with peacefulness and happiness we didn’t expect. 1 Corinthians 13:5 – Love does not seek its own interests.
We should ask ourselves these questions: • Do I truly want what’s best for my spouse? • Do I want them to feel loved by me? • Do they believe I have their best interests in mind? • Do they see me as looking out for myself first? If we find it hard to sacrifice our own desires to benefit our spouse, we may have a deeper problem with selfishness than we want to admit. Whether we like it or not, we have a reputation in the eyes of the people around us, especially our spouse. Is ours a selfless reputation?
The Sun Never Says
Even after all this time,
The sun never says to the earth
“You owe me.”
Look what happens with a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.
Dialogue Question What barriers do I face in loving my spouse selflessly? How do I feel about my answers?
For more information about Worldwide Marriage Encounter log onto: http://wwmema.org/
Photos courtesy of Catholic News Service.
Editor’s note: The following is the homily from the Vigil Prayer Service for Bishop Joseph Maguire by Msgr. Christoper D. Connelly, vicar of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield.
“Your friend in Christ, Joseph F. Maguire, Bishop of Springfield.” With those words, the good man, the holy priest, and the endearing prelate we now remember concluded every official correspondence. So it is in a spirit of friendship, led by our bishops tonight, that we pray with the Maguire, Waystack, and Banks family. In this Cathedral church all are assured by the words Jesus spoke as he gathered at night with his disciples: “I call you my friends, says the Lord, for I have made known to you all that the Father has told me.” (John 15:15)
The month of November which comes to conclusion in a few hours is significant in the life of the Church. It begins with the Solemnity of All Saints followed by the Commemoration of All the Souls of the Faithful Departed. For our nation, it is the month we especially honor veterans and it is a time for Thanksgiving. November is also the month that Joseph Francis Maguire was installed in 1977 as the Fifth Bishop of Springfield, and in November, just one week ago tonight on the Solemnity of Christ the King, providentially the final Sunday of the liturgical year, Bishop Maguire’s deepest longings were brought to peaceful fulfillment.
So many have said with both sadness and admiration: “It is the end of an era.”
In many ways for the Church of Boston, for the Church of Springfield, for the Church Universal, it is. Consider for a moment the numbers that comprise his remarkable era: born in 1919; a member of the high school class of 1937, St. Columbkille’s School in Brighton; a scholar, athlete, and proud graduate of Boston College 73 years ago; ordained to the priesthood by his legendary mentor Archbishop Richard Cushing in 1945, and now 69 years later the longest serving priest in the Diocese of Springfield; a bishop since 1972, he was our bishop for 15 years, Bishop Emeritus even longer, 22 years; and at 95 years of age, the 4th oldest bishop in the United States, the 30th oldest bishop in the world.
With humility, but also with a smile, he often would say, “I’ve been around an awfully long time.”
Never one to draw attention, accolades, or honors toward his direction, he believed every person is sacred, and everyone deserves reverence. Many years ago his close collaborator and treasured colleague, Bishop Leo O’Neil, paid tribute to him in a homily, reminding each listener that he’s a man who prides himself in one title only, “I am Joseph, your brother.” (Genesis 45:4)
Last year at the conclusion of the Year of Faith, also occurring on the Feast of Christ the King, Pope Francis shared with the world his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. The Holy Father noted: “If we are to share our lives with others and generously give of ourselves, we also have to realize that every person is worthy of our giving. Not for their physical appearance, their abilities, their language, their way of thinking, or for any satisfaction that we might receive, but rather because they are God’s handiwork, his creation. God created that person in his image, and he or she reflects something of God’s glory. Every human being is the object of God’s infinite tenderness, and he himself is present in their lives. Jesus offered his precious blood on the cross for that person. Appearances not withstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love.” The Pope concluded: “Consequently, if I can help one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life. It is a wonderful thing to be God’s faithful people. We achieve fulfillment when we break down walls and our heart is filled with faces and names.” (274)
The Scriptures highlight the significance, the blessing, of being called by name. Gifted with a masterful memory, a keen intellect, and a gracious demeanor, Bishop Maguire knew well the sacredness of calling each person by name. It was one of the many ways he showed pastoral sensitivity, a gentle reminder that he was “your friend in Christ.” His authentic ministry ensured that people of every shape, color, economic status, and background were equally welcome in a church he loved and served so ardently. He was aware that ours is a big-wide Church, where sometimes there are problems. He once wrote: “How well we know the concerns of today’s Church – with its awesome promise and potential, and yes, with the anguish of our weakness and human frailty.” He was also aware that ours is a big-wide world where often there are disagreements. But through it all, he taught what he quietly professed all along: “Nothing is impossible with God.”
(Episcopal motto, Luke 1:37)
Personal calls, notes, visits, were reassuring reminders that a good shepherd, with a generous heart, never leaves a flock untended. He lived the words of our reading from St. Paul: “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, Rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all.” (Philippians 4:4-5) He never missed an opportunity to express gratitude to his brother priests, and he was the first to ordain permanent deacons in this diocese. His appreciation for women and men religious was obvious. In particular, for three decades on Elliot Street, Sister Patricia Francis, SSJ, was the capable administrator of the Bishop’s House. Armed with an iron and meticulous in pressing and folding, Sr. Patricia made sure her bishop looked every bit as good on the outside as she knew him to be on his inside.
It’s hard to imagine a more versatile Churchman. Bishop Maguire could talk hockey with a jittery groom before a wedding, sing a few Broadway tunes at an Over 60 Club gathering, and at 90 years of age, keep young people’s interest while giving a Confirmation homily. The late author and humorist Erma Bombeck wrote: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single talent left and could say to the Lord: I used everything that you gave me.”
Allow me to share a couple of short stories. I’ll be quick, mindful that several years ago on a ride back from a priest’s funeral, Bishop Maguire said to me: “When my time comes, I’d like you to give the talk the night before.” He then added: “With you up there, things will be sure to move right along.”
He was invited to an elementary school one December to read a story to several of the younger grades. It was a Christmas story, and watching the scene of young people piling around the gentle man, the image of the Nazarene storyteller after whom he modeled his whole life was captured in the moment: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt.19:14) To the adults and teachers watching what seemed like a move by the bishop to settle down his eager audience was really his own mischievous, hilarious way to get things rolling. He said to the students, “I’m going to start with a song and if some of the words get mixed up, just tell me, and I’ll begin again.” So began his rendition of Rudolph, the BLUE Nosed Reindeer. Some may still be hesitant to correct a bishop, second graders were not.
Bishop Maguire began the tradition at the Cathedral of distributing candy canes at the conclusion of the televised Christmas Mass. Those watching may have thought it was a savvy move because of television. It was rather just the kindness of a thoroughly good man, the same man who brought muffins with him to the doctor’s office for the nurses, chocolate bars for the bank tellers, and the best one of all: before the invention of the fast lane transponder on the Turnpike, he was coming home from one of his many cherished visits at the Cape with Grace, his only sibling who loved him the longest, the best, and the most. When he got to the Springfield exit, sensing the toll collector had a long shift that day, he handed her the ticket, the toll money, and a banana. St. Paul was right: “Your kindness should be known to all.” (Philippians 4:5)
Tonight, in the presence of the Lord who calls us friends, the Advent season invites us to quiet joy and deep peace as we gather around the Lord’s faithful servant who befriended us all, and whose prayerful waiting has been brought to fulfillment. Loved by his family, cared for by his nurses, and strengthened in the sacraments by his bishops, he goes home to the Lord, to family and friends above, and to Mary, our Blessed Mother and Queen of the Clergy.
To conclude as he so often did: “Many centuries ago, Saint Augustine said, ‘He has left life, but not my life. How can he be said to have died who lives in my heart?’” How indeed can Bishop Joseph be said to have died when we know that he lives in our hearts, our Church, and forever in our prayers.
Editor’s note: the following is the text of the homily delivered by Bishop Emeritus Timothy A. McDonnell at the funeral Mass of the late Bishop Joseph F. Maguire.
Bishop Rozanski, I thank you for the privilege of entering this pulpit once again, although I wish the circumstances were different.
On your behalf, and on behalf of the Maguire, Waystack and Banks families, on behalf of Bishop Maguire’s niece and nephews: Mary, Philip, Richard and Joseph, on behalf of all his relations, on behalf of the entire Catholic Community of the Springfield diocese, on behalf of Msgr. Christopher Connelly, the Cathedral’s Rector, and for myself, I thank everyone for being either here in the Cathedral or joining us through television.
(Archbishop Vigano, the representative of our Holy Father Pope Francis, Cardinal O’Malley) my brother bishops, priests, deacons, religious men and women, members of the Holy Sepulchre Order, Knights of Columbus, (Representative Neal, Mayor Sarno,) all you federal, state and civic officials, you first responders here today representing police and fire officers statewide, and most of all men and women, young and old, from across the Commonwealth and beyond, the memory of Bishop Maguire is honored by your presence. Thank you. God bless you.
On the altar in the Chapel of the Bishop’s Residence on Elliot Street, where for so many years Bishop Joseph Maguire offered Mass and prayed before the Blessed Sacrament – a constant devotion of his life, there’s a carving of Jesus seated at table with the Emmaus disciples. The scene is toward evening, the two disciples had invited him in, not realizing he was more than an intriguing stranger they had met on the road — until they recognized him in the breaking of the bread, and then he disappeared from their sight. They had been drained, they had been weary, they had been morose – but his presence revivified them, enlivened them. Their weariness they threw off and they rushed, rushed back as fast as their feet would carry them over the miles they had just come, rushed back up the mountain road to Jerusalem, to bring the Good News.
I think of Bishop Maguire when I think of those two disciples, rushing back – “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings.” The joy, the eagerness, the energy they expended to proclaim glad tidings are mirrored in the life and ministry of Bishop Joseph Maguire.
He was constantly someone who proclaimed Good News, Glad Tidings, Gospel joy! He was certainly always on the go. In his youngest days, when his feet carried him swiftly, gliding across the ice as part of the hockey team at Boston College or, in those same years, as he swiftly rounded the bases, sliding many a time into them, on BC’s baseball team, he was consistently and constantly a man on the go!
And when his feet landed him at the door of St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, little did he dream where they would take him; even if they did give out on him when a few weeks before ordination, sliding into home base, he broke a leg — but got the run! Did you know that he was one of the few priests in history ordained with his leg in a cast? Joe Maguire wouldn’t let a little thing like a broken leg slow him down.
The day after his ordination, cast and all, his feet mounted the sanctuary steps to celebrate his First Mass, and he continued celebrating Mass day in and day out until the last months of his life when illness made it impossible. A few weeks after ordination, in his first priestly assignment, those feet carried him around the streets of St. Joseph’s Parish in Lynn, beginning thirty-one years of service in the parishes, institutions and ministries of the Archdiocese of Boston: curate in Readville, Jamaica Plain, Milton, chaplain in the Army Reserve and the Massachusetts National Guard, secretary for nine years in turn to Cardinal Richard Cushing and Cardinal Umberto Medeiros, pastor of St. John the Baptist in Quincy, and then named auxiliary Bishop of Boston on December 1st, 1971, exactly 43 years ago today. Tirelessly on the go, the feet of one bringing glad tidings, preaching the Gospel, celebrating Mass and the sacraments, comforting the sorrowful, consoling the hurting, celebrating joyful occasions and constantly being a support in the lives of the people he served.
And yet, those who knew him came to realize it wasn’t in his nature to speak about his accomplishments. With his self-deprecating humor, he’d rather tell the tales of those times when his feet did not carry him very well. That icy, wintry day, for example, when, having seen Cardinal Cushing into the car, he started around the back to get to the driver’s seat, slipped on the ice and wound up wedged under the car, only to hear that distinctive nasal voice saying, “Fatha Joe, wheah ah ya?” With his natural aplomb, he extricated himself, got in and never averted, at the time, to what had happened.
It’s over thirty-eight years since he moved from his ministry in Boston to Western Massachusetts to serve people here in the Diocese of Springfield; yet, the impact he had as a priest and auxiliary Bishop on so many lives in the Boston Archdiocese continued in the ongoing contacts people made with him from across the Commonwealth; they long remembered his goodness to them in his priestly ministry in Boston.
The Diocese of Springfield quickly learned about Joseph Maguire, Bishop Joe Maguire, Bishop Joe, on-the-go. He arrived as Coadjutor in 1976, the Bicentennial year, and quickly manifested his deep faith, gentle demeanor, compassionate heart and prodigious memory for names and faces. To this day he has remained deeply beloved throughout Western Massachusetts. His strong legs quickly took him to every corner in the diocese and “Bishop Joe” soon was a familiar face throughout the diocese. In many ways, his ministry as bishop here in the diocese, anticipated Pope Francis’ words to bishops during last year’s World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero:
“The bishop has to be among his people in three ways:
— in front of them, pointing the way;
— among them, keeping them together and preventing them from being scattered;
— and behind them, ensuring that no one is left behind, but also,
and primarily, so that the flock itself can sniff out new paths.”
It’s a good description of Bishop Maguire’ ministry – in front of, among, and behind the flock — constantly emphasizing a priestly, prophetic and shepherding role, always seeking to model himself on Christ, the Good Shepherd, always encouraging people to come closer to Christ, especially in the Eucharist. If I’ve applied the verse “how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings,” to his time as the Ordinary of the Springfield Diocese, it might be said of him in the vernacular, that he “walked the walk and talked the talk.” He accompanied people on their spiritual journeys, he spoke in such a way that they could understand where Christ was calling them; he truly was a herald of Good News, Glad Tidings, and Gospel Joy. He was with the flock in joy and sorrow, in good times and bad. He worked at being a true shepherd to all people. When it came to light that young people had been abused by priests under his jurisdiction, he anguished over the pain those young people had suffered, pain they carried into adulthood, pain many carry still. His apologies were profound, moving and from the heart. He asked for their forgiveness, regretting that he was not more aware at the time of all that was happening, and prayed intensely each day for God to ease their pain. He continued those prayers and those regrets to the end of his life.
When, in the early 90’s, his health began to give out and he realized that he would no longer be able to accomplish all that he had been doing, he thought first of the people of the diocese, asking the Holy Father to send a new shepherd, one who would have strength of limb for the people he loved.
He was to mentor in retirement four successors, four other Ordinaries who depended on his wise counsel, gentle mentoring and pastoral heart. He was, in many ways, the institutional memory of the Diocese of Springfield and he found a new role in retirement as the diocese’s heart. In his death, it’s as if the whole diocese has lost its “Grandpa.”
In recent years there has come to be recognized what’s being called a “ministry of presence.” It basically involves being there with and for people in time of need. Bishop Maguire, in the twenty three years of his retirement, was there — in visiting patients in hospitals, in reaching out to people in homes for the elderly, in praying at wakes and funerals, in conversations and visits and phone calls, and particularly in celebrating Mass and the sacraments. His ministry of presence, and the knowledge that his prayers and his heart were with people in joy and in sorrow, helped mitigate so many sad situations and enhance so many joyous ones. The feet were no longer so swift. The speedy pace of the skater and the base-runner gave way as the years passed, to the slow shuffle of the cane and the walker; and, in recent days, those steady legs gave out just about completely so that he could hardly take a step without help.
But the spirit remained strong, the prayer life remained deep and the concern for others remained constant. He who was, for more than ninety-five years, the one who ministered to others, now found himself on the receiving end of compassion and care, and it was lovingly given and accepted with love. A very special word of thanks goes to Helen Avis and her dedicated staff who took care of him: Julie, Larry, Lee, Liz, Rose and Sonia. You were truly there for him and he was grateful, and we with him. And I have to mention Diane Guyer who, following in the footsteps of Ronnie Donohue, helped him keep contact with the outside world by newspaper, mail and phone.
In his ministry of presence, I think Bishop Maguire again anticipated Pope Francis, who loves to tell this story of his namesake. One day St. Francis of Assisi went out with a young novice saying, “Come, we’re going to preach the Gospel.” And they walked through Assisi, up the hills and down; through the streets and squares, but Francis never said a word. When they got back home, the young novice asked him, “Francis, I thought we were going to preach the Gospel?” Francis looked at him, smiled and said “We just did, you don’t always have to use words.” The ministry of presence means that the Gospel is preached by the care and the compassion, the love, the concern manifested even without words – by the presence of someone who cares. That was Bishop Joseph Maguire.
Let me illustrate what I mean from Bishop Maguire’s own words at the funeral of his beloved sister, Grace Waystack:
“What comforts us also is the knowledge that so many who are here have been touched and inspired by the life and example of Grace. Possibly some are present who are facing their own problems and cares, but maybe we will all leave this church renewed in faith – all because of the witness of one good woman whose goal in life was to reflect God’s love simply by word and example.”
As everyone here can attest, the words apply just as fittingly to Grace’s brother, Joseph, whose word and example we cherish.
“What comforts us also is the knowledge that so many who are here have been touched and inspired by the life and example of Bishop Maguire. Possibly some are present who are facing their own problems and cares, but maybe we will all leave this church renewed in faith – all because of the witness of one good man whose goal in life was to reflect God’s love simply by word and example.”
As I started with the verse, “How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet of him who brings glad tidings,” let me end with St. Paul’s words from the Second Reading, for they too apply to Bishop Joseph Francis Maguire: “I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on, the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.”
I know that, in these last months, despite his illness, Bishop Maguire was ready for the next steps on his journey, the steps into eternal life.
So, eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord – our priest, our pastor, our shepherd, our friend. May perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
By Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski
Homily for Christmas 2014
Cathedral of St. Michael
Titus 2: 11-14
Luke 2: 1-14
My brothers and sisters in Christ,
Are you ready for Christmas? How many times have we been
asked that question over the past few weeks as the days from
Thanksgiving to now have elapsed? This past September, I
remember walking into a card shop and spotting the Christmas
ornaments on display. My heart felt a bit sad that even before
the leaves had turned to their Autumn colors on the trees that
Christmas was already being thrust upon us. And yet, here we are,
the time of celebration is here, whether we are ready or not. For
these past four weeks, as a Church we have been asking ourselves
“Are we ready for Christmas?” Our readings provided us with the
great figures of Advent: Isaiah, the prophet of hope for God’s
people, Mary, in whose humility and trust we find her “yes” to
God’s invitation to become the mother of the Savior and John
the Baptist, who stirred in his mother’s Elizabeth’s womb at Mary’s
Visitation, so near was the time of salvation. In their own way, each
of these servants of God ask us if we are ready for Christmas. We
hear the poetic beauty of the first reading today from Isaiah. When
God’s people were mired in doubt and confusion during their exile,
it is this hope-filled prophet who stirs their hearts with the promise
of a time to come that will restore their relationship with God. And
their deliverance will not come from a mighty army, but from a
child born into the world. The words of Isaiah may have made the
people of his day incredulous at such a promise, but the prophet’s
words are spoken with surety in the mysterious workings of God.
Isaiah is the instrument of hope, trusting in God’s promise to his
people and assured that it would be fulfilled. Isaiah is one who is
ready for Christmas!
During the season of Advent, we have celebrated beautiful
feasts of Mary. On December 8th, we recall her Immaculate
Conception, when preserved from the sin of Adam and Eve, God
chose her to be the spotless mother of His own divine Son. And on
December 12th, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe,
Patroness of the Americas and Star of the New Evangelization.
Mary’s role in the history of salvation is assured when she accepts
the words of the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation to become the
mother of the Savior. Her life was changed forever in that instant
when she fully put her trust in the will of God, allowing herself to
become the vessel who bore the Savior into the world. Humility and
trust are great signs of Mary, who was ready to do the unexpected
for God and His people at a moment’s notice. And how touching is
this Christmas story, when Mary, with Joseph, are uprooted during
the time she is expected to give birth, not even knowing where her
baby will be born. We can only imagine the thoughts that were
going through her mind as she rejoiced at the birth of Jesus, yet
having no place to give her child a decent bed. Yet,
despite all of this, Mary was ready for Christmas, for she, with
Joseph, the shepherds and the angels, welcomed Jesus into our
The fiery prophet John the Baptist spoke to God’s people in
ways that truly pierced those who were willing to listen to his words.
When asked who he was, John’s answer is pointedly on target: “I
am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way
of the Lord.”
John’s call was to a spirit of repentance, of preparing hearts for
the coming of the Savior. He did not yield to the temptation of
being the Savior to the crowds, nor did he claim any credit for
his mission and preaching. John truly saw himself as the one
who helped others recognize that the Kingdom of God was at hand
and that they were called, not to stand by passively, but actively
bring about the work of that Kingdom through repentance,
conversion and love. “He must increase,” John says, “and I must
decrease.” What a humble man who knew what his role was
to be in salvation history and to embrace it fully. John the Baptist
also illustrates for the way to be ready for Christmas.
Are you ready for Christmas? The presents may be wrapped
so beautifully, the dinner, cookies, cakes and pies may be so enticing
for the feast and the house may be decorated just right in sparkling
lights, tree and wreaths. But are you ready for Christmas? With
Isaiah’s message of hope, Mary’s example of trust in God’s will and
John the Baptist’s humility in pointing the way to the Savior, we are
called to be ready for this wonderful feast. For whether the world
was ready or not, God has become one with our human race.
There may have been a census that caused Mary and Joseph to be
far from home, no proper place readied for the birth of a child and
no one of great position or ranking to welcome Him, yet Jesus has
cometo fulfill the hope of Isaiah, the trust of Mary and the humility
of John the Baptist. And whether we are ready or not, he has
come to us to do the same. Let us rejoice that Christmas does
not so much depend on whether we are ready or not, but that God
is always ready to reach out to us in Love, from the Baby whose
birth we celebrate today, through our loved ones who will gather
to share this feast with us and even in the stranger whom we are
called to greet as our sister or brother in the Lord.
We may not always be prepared for Christmas, but thanks be to
God that Christmas is always ready for us!
Editor’s note: Recently we published the reflections of David Peters, who went to the Holy Land with his father and other men from the Diocese of Springfield. Now, David’s Dad, Deacon Joe Peteres from St. Stanislaus Basilica Parish in Chicopee offers his thoughts which he shared with his parish on the feast of Christ the King.
Six months ago a small group of friends told me they were thinking about trip to the Holy Land and was wondering if I had any interest in going. Absolutely I said – This was something– I have always wanted to do – to visit the area where Christ lived his ministry would be a dream come true. I asked my 24 year old son to go along. David – to my surprise – was eager and willing to join the pilgrimage. This all happened three months before the most recent war broke out between Hamas in Gaza and Israel. During that conflict, our group of eight became six and finally we left on Nov 14th, returning early the morning of Nov 21st to JFK. I‘m still processing all that we saw and did — from assisting at Mass in what is traditionally considered to be Christ’s actual tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to watching Dave take a dip in the very muddy and cold Jordan river at the site of Jesus’ baptism. We learned how the Apostles would have tossed their nets on a boat modeled after those actually used in Jesus’ time on the Sea of Galilee and we stood beneath the sycamore tree in Jericho that Zachaeus climbed to get a better view of Jesus on the same day that the daily gospel I read at Mass of the day recounted Jesus calling Zachaeus down from that tree. More than a coincidence!
While I believe I have enough homiletic material for a long time I actually had to give a homily on the day we arrived back for the Feast of Christ the King. There were so many moments on this pilgrimage when we experienced our faith in very profound ways. But there were also some dramatic and unexpected experiences as you may have heard on the news as tensions continue to flare in this trouble area of the world. One of our fellow pilgrims is a deacon friend who serves on the Board of an organization called the Pontifical Mission of Jerusalem that is dedicated to preserving Christianity and the Holy Sites in the Holy Land.In addition they assist in feeding, clothing and educating the very poor Palestinians who are a struggling to find peace in a society repressed by the policies of the state of Israel.This organization has an office in Jerusalem and helped us plan our trip. Only about 1% of the 4,000,000 people who live in Palestine today are Christian. They live among the Moslems who make up the vast majority in their territory within Israel.We found them to be a very committed and resilient group of people. In the Gospel from Christ the King Sunday Jesus talks about the end time in which those who are there for the least of these will find the Kingdom that he has set out. We saw many of these “least” people during the last two days when we visited some of the many projects supported by the Pontifical Mission.These included a school for deaf children from infancy through high school, a home for the severely handicapped and an orphanage for abandoned babies,many with birth defects who are left in doorways or worse.
All of the amazing places were run by different orders of nuns who reflect Christ in every moment of their lives and struggle daily to find the resources needed to provide this desperately needed care. They get little or no help from the government. On our last day, we visited the only Catholic University in the Holy Land – Bethlehem University which is run by the Lasalle Brothers.There we met a number of students, only 25% of which are Catholic but interestingly 75% of the students are female. This University is determined to teach Christian Values in this heavily Moslem area and surprisingly there is demand. They can only accept one of three applicants. They have found that over time these values makes a huge difference in relations between the two religions. Our last visit was with a school run by Salesian Sisterswith 285 students threatened with closure because their land and convent is about to be confiscated by the Israelis to build another settlement in the Palestinian territory, which is considered Illegal by the United Nations. Will you be compensated if they take your land and buildings ?, I asked– No was the sad reply.
All of this is happening in the land where Jesus walked. Our small group came away from these two days of visiting,humbled and inspired by the work of this small minority of Christian sheep who will surely be at Christ’s right hand when that final day comes. When we hear stories of people so dedicated– it should make us wonder how we can follow their example in our own communities.
Editor’s note:Dave Peters, son of Deacon Joe Peters of St. Stanislaus Basilica Parish in Chicopee, is journeying with five others to the Holy Land. A graduate of the Elms College, Dave is offering his insights and reflections about this trip for our readers. He gives a very special reflection following a violent attack in Jersualem where two Palestinians armed with a meat cleaver and a gun killed four worshippers in a Jerusalem synagogue on Nov. 18 before being shot dead by police, the deadliest such incident in six years in the holy city. Three of the victims held dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship and the fourth man was a British-Israeli national, police said.
“There has been an event.” Deeb, our guide, said soberly after we had buckled ourselves into the van. “An attack on a synagogue in West Jerusalem early this morning; several worshipers there were shot.” Every one in the group looked around at each other in disbelief. While in one sense we all knew this was a dangerous place, the news still came as a bit of a shock because since arriving in the Holy Land we had not once felt that we were in danger. Deeb went on to explain that this attack by two Palestinian men was retaliation for the strangling of a Palestinian bus driver yesterday following a confrontation with Israeli police. Apparently, the incident had been reported as a suicide by authorities after the bus driver had been found hanged by the neck in his bus.
“I think it best that we cancel our visit of the Dome of the Rock today.” Deeb continued. “In all likelihood, the authorities will not open it to tourists anyway.” That was fine because Tony and Deeb had showed us such great experiences already, we knew that anything they offered would not disappoint.
There was no doubt about it, the mood on the streets of Jerusalem had changed overnight. Pairs of young police officers in full combat gear were stationed with assault rifles at every gate, many others patrolled the streets of East Jerusalem, the Palestinian section, stopping and demanding identification from pedestrians they passed. Tony and Deeb testified, however, it was mostly just anyone who looked Arab.
The metal detector at the Wailing Wall beeped red both times I walked through it until the guard who carried a pistol in his belt banged his palm on it, producing a green “Go.” The scene at the wall was simply other worldly. It stood sixty-two feet high and was built of large pale-white bricks. The worship area was separated with the left two-thirds reserved for males, and the remainder for females. In the male area, about one hundred ultra-Orthodox Jews grouped together busy in personal prayer. Some stood or sat at study desks draped in velveteen cloth stitched with the names of their Brooklyn benefactors. They rocked energetically while chanting, others re-wrapped black straps on their arms or adjusted the prayer boxes on their heads. Like other tourists, we donned the required cloth yarmulke provided free in bins at the entrance by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.
“Are you Jewish?” A man called out to us from a booth along the side wall. After we answered in the negative, he quickly produced a stack of historical brochures to pass out to us about the Jewish faith. We scribbled our prayers on small white squares of paper, folded them and stuck them into gaps between the foundation stones which overflowed with similar prayer intentions.
After leaving the wall, we passed two battalions of coed plain-clothed Israeli soldiers on patrol, each soldier couldn’t be much older than twenty, though they all had assault rifles slung across their backs. We finally stopped at Gallicantu, literally, “the cock’s crow.” This is a church run by the Assumptionist priests built on the site of the High Priest Caiaphas house where Jesus was imprisoned for the night following his arrest at Gethsemane and prior to his trial by Pontius Pilot, crucifixion, and death. It is also believed to be the spot where Peter denied Jesus three times.
Of all the Holy Land sites, this one is believed to have the greatest historical accuracy because it is built over a stone dungeon, actually visible from the sanctuary. Basically, it is a hole in the rock which lowers into a hand carved stone room about ten feet cubed. Prisoners of the High Priest would have been lowered into the dark ditch by ropes strung underneath their arm pits and then pulled back up the same way. Leading to the dungeon, the Assumptionists have placed a magnificent life-size bronze sculpture of a kneeling Jesus, tied at the wrists. I found this piece particularly fascinating because I feel that Jesus is very rarely depicted as the political prisoner and criminal he was executed as.
In addition to the well which displays the dungeon cell behind a glass pane, the basement sanctuary of the church also contains three icons of Peter, one of his denial of Jesus, one ofhis repentance, and one also of Peter’s Primacy, where Peter affirmed three times that he loved Jesus. While this event is the first chronologically, when read in light of the Resurrection, it is seen as Peter’s beginning as head of the Church. As Deeb explained the story on the steps outside the church, it is all about God giving humans second chances.
We celebrated Mass outside on a balcony which overlooked the valley leading down from Mount Zion. We could view the golden Dome of the Rock to the left, the Garden of Gethsemene rising along the ridge of the hill on the opposite side, and to the right was Gahena, the field of blood, which was the plot of land purchased with Judas’s thirteen silver pieces and also the site on which he hanged himself.
The afternoon was bright and cool, the wind lifted the Palestinian and Israeli flags on top of several of the roof tops which followed the contours of the hills like a warped computer keyboard. The valley was spliced by Muslim minarets which stuck up like spikes above the rooftops. A few helicopters hovered like dragon flies above the hill on the opposite side.
“With all of this violence, it’s easy to forget that we are all God’s children.” Father said during his homily. “But as Christians we need to realize that we are all part of the same family. It’s easy to forget, especially here, where the faiths of the world converge.” The Muslim call to prayer began to blast from the minarets and covered the valley. The pulse of the helicopter blades grew louder as they approached East Jerusalem. The attackers at the synagogue had been shot by police, my cell phone informed me, but the police were still searching the streets from above for accomplices. “But we do this,” Father continued, “not through converting people, not through violence, not through creating greater division. We need to see all the other kinds of people out there as they truly are, our brothers and sisters. God’s goal for all of us is simply that we may all be one.”
I started to imagine the scene where Peter denied Jesus. It happened just a few feet from where we sat, this same place where today the world seems to be coming apart at the seams like an old quilt. How desperate we all are for a second chance.
By Dave Peters
Editor’s note: Dave Peters, son of Deacon Joe Peters of St. Stanislaus Basilica Parish in Chicopee, is journeying with five others to the Holy Land. A graduate of the Elms College, Dave is offering his insights and reflections about this trip for our readers.
It is misleading that English speakers grow up naming the location where Jesus did most of his public ministry as a sea. This leads us to think that what Peter, James, and John spent their lives fishing on was some large body of salty water. This image exaggerates the grandness of stories like Jesus calming the stormy waters. But when the sun rose upon Galilee and I finally peered down from the Mount of the Beatitudes onto the Sea of Galilee, I was struck with a funny feeling. The biblical world of my imagination finally confronted reality. In that moment, the great Jesus, tsunami tamer, became yet another traveler who spent a lot of time “chillin” by a mid-sized fresh water lake. Add to this what I learned later, that Jesus didn’t speak of the blessed meek on a mountain surrounded by thousands who just wanted a glimpse of him. He spoke at the corner of two hills, as did many other preachers of the day, so that the scattered people who did show up could hear him better. Why hadn’t anyone bothered to mention this tidbit to me when I was younger?
I spent most of my morning in a fog of disillusionment, with the theme song from a New Testament-based cartoon my sixth grade teacher showed my class droning on in my consciousness: “Jesus is a star! Fa-la-lo-la-la!” It repeated endlessly as I recalled Jesus zooming by on clouds with fireworks streaming from his raised fist.
This true-God-true-man must have spent a lot of time just like the rest of us, I thought as we walked through a cloud of stagnant sewer-stench which was streaming from the basement lavatories behind the Sea of Galilee Museum. Sunk a foot deep in mud, plastic lawn chairs were scattered along the beach alongside the docked S.S. Saint Francis, a mid-sized power boat which would take us on a brief jaunt out to the sea.
The tour included a loudspeaker rendition of the American National Anthem and a modern Israeli line dance lesson, before the crew captained by a Jew named Peter (coincidence?) tried to sell us Sea of Galilee souvenirs. Please don’t misunderstand me, there was nothing wrong with Galilee, but when the foundation of your understanding is the coloring page of the children’s bulletin in which Jesus is depicted as Harry Potter, it is safe to say that reality is disturbingly average. But then again, maybe it isn’t.
As Jesus had performed most of his ministry and miracles along the shore, in towns all mutually visible to one another, churches were built along the edge of the lake, like beachfront vacation homes. While several were set up by the Byzantines several centuries following the Resurrection, a few more were built by Crusaders who invaded on doomed missions of reestablishing a Christian presence which was never a real presence. It is important to realize that much of what exists here in commemoration of Jesus’s life is funded by far away communities like our diocese in Springfield, Massachusetts, in order that travelers like us might find something familiar when we arrive on pilgrimage. This is largely because Christians have always been a small minority of the population in Palestine; currently, a mere two percent. To prove this, one need not look further than the Paul Newman face on the statue of Saint Peter beside the ruins of his home in the fishing town of Capernaum, or the donor plaque which boasts of Scotch-Irish surnames belonging to a Pennsylvania parish. At what may have been the pit of my depression, I turned to a local, someone whose family had inhabited the region for eons, Deeb, our guide, hoping for some sort of consolation for this obvious historical blunder.
“No,” he said to me flatly. “It is that strange.”
Added to the clash of cultures were the twelve tour buses blocking the gate. Each was filled Chinese pilgrims who crowded underneath the flags carried by their priest/tour guide who ushered them in various directions. One young girl from Beijing, clarified for me later that they were 800 pilgrims in total just wrapping up a ten-day pilgrimage. This made surviving our puny six-man, seven-day Holy Land trip look like a cake walk.
But it also did something else too; it made me look around at the beach where some small groups were gathered together in communion, each celebrating Mass or bowing their heads in prayer. After our group had finished its own prayer, we took some time to walk between the different groups: Indonesian, Spanish, French, Polish, Russian, Chinese, Greek, and Arabic were just some of the languages I heard being spoken.
Later that afternoon, we took the van up the windy road which lead to Mount Tabor, the site of Jesus’s Transfiguration with Moses and Elijah. The vastness of the world lay out before our feet as we gathered once again in prayer. The clouds were pink and spliced with rays of golden sunlight which streamed onto the green agricultural fields and into the rough natural landscape of thorny trees and shrubs on the slope. I took a moment by myself to wonder how even the best teacher might manage to establish a new commandment based on social justice which flipped the values of the world upside down. How had this new way come to unite such different kinds of people from all over the world each with their own set of vocabulary, unique cultures, and conflicting traditions? From this perspective, it is not shocking to see the Jesus’s nature as divine, but from my time in Galilee I know for sure how much of a dude chillin by a lake Jesus of Nazareth really was.
By Dave Peters
Editor’s note: Dave Peters, son of Deacon Joe Peters of St. Stanislaus Basilica Parish in Chicopee, is journeying with five others to the Holy Land. A graduate of the Elms College, Dave is offering his insights and reflections about this trip for our readers.
Though my father and I arrived at the Big E fairgrounds precisely one minute after 2:30, the luggage of our fellow pilgrims was already in the trunk of the large white van. When our gang (consisting of Father Warren Savage, Don D’Amour, Steve Marcus, Gene Cassidy, my father, Joe Peters, and myself) was gathered and ready to depart, a ceremonial picture was taken at the steps of the Brooks Building, and we piled into the van that would be our transport to JFK. As most of us, excluding Fr. Savage and Steve, were making our first trip to the Holy Land, the conversation buzzed with excitement and anxiety. We sped south on 91, rapidly switching topics between hopes for the sites where Jesus preached and ministered, and divulging our anxiety about the conflict in the Middle East. Still our personal lives and community concerns were never too distant, and the trouble of funding Catholic education, the stress of preparing a good homily, and the challenge of maintaining Catholic identity in the workplace crept back into the conversation frequently.
Preparing for the trip ahead of time, I often wondered how a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, or Israel, as I like to refer to it, would affect me and my faith. It seemed though, starting out, that all of us were scratching at the surface of the same problem, not knowing just how this trip would change us, but being eagerly ready and willing to accept the call for transformation. After living the past two years in Taiwan, first as a teacher and the second as a student, and recently relocating to Denver where I manage a glassblowing studio, the ground slowly shifting beneath my feet has been a familiar feeling. I could relate when on the topic Catholic education, Fr. Savage pointed out, just calling a school Catholic isn’t good enough; there needs to be something substantially characteristic in the identity of the institution. And as I ate a cup of pretzel bits at a pit stop in Norwalk, I figured the same was probably true for humans, especially each of us pilgrims; this would be a trip to discover our Christian roots in their native soil.
Church of the Annunciation:
As all good flights, Delta flight 468 was perfectly uneventful, and with the exception of passing Danny DeVito (he really is as short as you imagine) at the gate, and an unnecessary second security screening before boarding, we had nothing to complain about whatsoever. On the road to Nazareth, the late afternoon sunset shone on Deeb’s forehead when he turned from the front seat to explain to us of the difficulties for Palestinians living in the Jewish state of Israel. Deeb, along with Tony, our tour guides for the week, are both Palestinian Christians whose families have survived more than five generations in the crowded old infrastructure of Jerusalem.
“Just look at the wall,” Deeb said pointing to a fifteen foot concrete wall which sat behind olive trees along the right side of the car. “Behind that wall is the West Bank, the largest Palestinian-governed territory in Israel. It was built to keep the Palestinians inside.”
Both Tony and Deeb, who were Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, had been issued a permit, serving as their IDs. It was this permit which allowed them freedom of movement within Israel.
“If you are born inside Gaza, or the West Bank, you do not have this privilege,” Tony said. “You are trapped there.”
Nazareth was a large city bustling at six in the evening. Neon lights advertising clothing and candy shops blinked and lit up the glass windows of compact cars lining both sides of the road. Sandwiched inside a complex urban system of large concrete buildings all on different levels is the Church of the Annunciation, where the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary, asking her to bear the Son of God. The site of this event, in my memory, had always been depicted as a small grassy grove with a fresh water spring, but there we were getting hassled by the parking attendant in what could easily have been Tremont Street in Boston; Tony took the attendant by the shoulder and distracted him in Arabic while the rest of us scuttled through the steel double doors into the bright lights of the sanctuary.
The main floor was a large open space with diagonal concrete beams supporting a large white dome which resembled the tent from the scripture passage of the Annunciation. Arabic songs with church organ could be heard coming from a wide hole in the floor which revealed the ground level where Saturday evening Mass was being held. The altar was set about ten feet below the basement floor on a platform surrounded by the white stone ruins of the original Byzantine church commemorating the actual site of the Annunciation. This was then enclosed once more by another set of ruins dating from the church which was erected by the European Crusaders.
Outside, Saleem the gate keeper introduced me to the large door of the church on which was depicted the life of Jesus in six scenes. He said that over the course of ten years as gate keeper there he has seen hundreds of thousands of tourists. He gestured to the ceramic murals of the Annunciation which came from artists all around the world exhibited in and around the church.
“So many people, so many styles,” he said. Just then bells began to ring signalling the end of Mass and a haunting call to prayer came out from the next door mosque. We said a quick prayer in front of the statue of the Virgin and dashed off to the car. There was still so much more to see, but we would need to get on the road if we were to reach the Sea of Galilee before too late.
5 OCTOBER 2014
Today the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel employ the image of the vineyard of the Lord. The vineyard of the Lord is his “dream,” the project that he’s cultivated with all his love, like a farmer cares for his field. Vines are plants that require a lot of care!
The “dream” of God is his people: he’s planted and cultivated it with patient and faithful love, that it might become a holy people, a people who might bring forth many good fruits of justice.
But whether in the ancient prophecies or the parables of Jesus, God’s dream becomes frustrated. Isaiah says that the vineyard, much loved and cared for, “has produced immature fruit” while God “expected justice but here finds bloodshed, awaited rectitude yet here the cry of oppression.” In the Gospel, meanwhile, it’s the farmers who ruin the Lord’s project: they don’t do their work, but think of their own interests.
Jesus, with his parable, addresses the chief priests and elders of the people, they being the “wise ones,” the ruling class. To these in a particular way God has entrusted his “dream,” his people, that they might cultivate it, care for it, keep it from wild animals. This is the charge of the leaders of the people: to cultivate the vineyard with freedom, creativity and hard work.
Jesus says that, however, those farmers had seized upon the land; for their own greed and pride they want to make of it what they want, and remove God from the possibilities of realizing his dream for the people he has chosen.
The temptation of greed is always present. We likewise find it in the great prophecy of Ezekiel on the shepherds, on which St Augustine remarked in his celebrated discourse which we recently took up in the Liturgy of the Hours. A greed of money and of power. And to sate this greed the evil shepherds load on the shoulders of the people insupportable burdens that they themselves don’t lift a finger to move.
We too, in the Synod of Bishops, are called to work for the vineyard of the Lord. The Synodal assemblies don’t serve to discuss beautiful or original ideas, or to see who’s the most intelligent one… They serve to care for and maintain better the Lord’s vineyard, to cooperate in his dream, in his project of love for his people. In this case, the Lord asks us to take on ourselves the care of the family, which from its origins is an integral part of his design of love for humanity.
We are all sinners, eh?, and for us too there can be the temptation of “seizing upon” the vineyard, born of the greed that’s never lacking in us humans. The dream of God always clashes with the hypocrisy of some among his servants. We can “frustrate” the dream of God if we don’t let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us the wisdom that is apart from science, to work generously with true freedom and humble creativity.
Brothers of the Synod, to care for and guard well the vineyard, we need for our hearts and minds to be guarded in Christ Jesus, from whom comes “peace from God which is beyond all understanding.” So will our thoughts and our projects be conformed to the dream of God: to form a holy people that belongs to him and produces the fruits of the Kingdom of God .