February 3, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The readings from Scripture this weekend present some powerful ideas. The prophet Jeremiah is called from the womb to be a witness to the nations and to preach without fear, even when powers stand against him. St. Paul speaks of the fundamental need for the virtue of charity in all things – we can have any number of gifts or talents, but without love, we are nothing. Jesus passes through the midst of the mob and goes away when they want to kill him for speaking truthfully about their history.

We live in an era that desperately needs courage and truth. As Jeremiah was called from the womb to be a witness to the truth and to courageously bring God’s presence to his people, so the Church is called to witness the truth of the Gospel in every time and place. In a world that so often rejects the truth of the Gospel – or selects the parts of the Gospel that are most palatable and least challenging – it can be difficult to share the Gospel in a meaningful, integrated way. This is made harder when leaders in the Church struggle with courage themselves. Too often we see bishops trying to pacify everyone…and in the end saying (or doing) nothing. Too often the Church has remained silent, or insisted on silence, when what we need is the thundering voice of Jeremiah to speak the truth and bring the nation to conversion.

This is not just about the Church at the macro level. This is not an accusative finger pointed just at bishops. This is not a limited critique of a few priests. To write any of this, I must hold a mirror up to myself. How often I lack courage to say challenging things because I do not relish the negative feedback it might generate. How often I avoid certain situations because they are uncomfortable. How often I run from speaking frankly with brother priests or Diocesan offices because I am worried about my reputation or making waves. Jeremiah, known by God even before the womb, sent as a prophet to the nations, called to courageous speech no matter the opposition, must be part of the inspiration for every priest.

St. Paul’s law of charity is the complement to courage. Charity, love given and poured out unconditionally, must speak to courage. For a bishop to privately (or, if necessary, publicly) correct a Catholic politician who has supported legislation contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church (as ought to happen with Gov. Cuomo and the bishops of New York) is not only an act of courage, but an act of charity. To truly love someone is to will the absolute best for them, the ultimate good. The ultimate good is eternal salvation and our words and actions in this life can impede our progress toward heaven. It is the role of bishops to courageously and charitably guide us to our ultimate good. It is a spiritual work of mercy to correct the sinner. It is a demand of justice to protect the innocent, to help victims heal. Do our bishops have the courage and charity to correct, protect, and heal? Do I? Do you?

In a world that needs courage, charity, and truth, we are all called – every baptized person – to proclaim the truth, to be fearless in the face of opposition, to do all things with the love of Christ as our measure, and to trust that God will deliver us from every evil. Let us pray this week that as a Church, locally and universally, we would have the courage of Jeremiah and the charity of Paul so that we can bring the name, grace, and salvation of Jesus Christ into our world.

Peace,

Fr. Sam

January 27, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

On behalf of Fr. Tim, our parish staff, and Msgr. Esposito’s family, I would like to thank you all for your kind expressions of sympathy, for your prayerful presence, and for your kind gestures of support after the passing of Msgr. Ernest T. Esposito. There are so many things we can say in his memory, and for many of you, the memories of this beloved priest go back decades and are very personally entwined in special moments in your lives. His passing allows us to glimpse the profound impact a good priest can have on the world. At his funeral Mass, Msgr. James Cuneo alluded to many of Msgr. Esposito’s personality traits, but above all, he highlighted the evident love for God that Monsignor always exhibited. The priest is not here primarily to be in charge, nor is the priest meant to be only a sacramental minister, nor is the priest simply the one who leads prayer. Rather, the priest is to be a bridge who brings people into communion with God. The priest is an alter Christus, another Christ, who, like Jesus, reveals the face of God. In order to do this, the priest must first of all, live daily in this profound communion with God. Leadership, sacramental ministry, public roles…all these follow after the priest’s constant desire to live in union with God.

Msgr. Esposito made every effort to live this way. No conversation with Monsignor was complete without some reference to God’s love for us, without some discussion of how powerfully the saints lived in union with God, without some introduction of the need to pray intensely. Fr. Tim and I were privileged to witness his deep love for God in the rectory. While his hours of operation sometimes confounded us (our retired resident was very much a night-owl), we knew that much of his time was absorbed in prayer. If he was out of the house for any period of time, it was usually time spent before or after Mass at a church making a holy hour or two. He taught us by example that no ministry or role can be undertaken without prayer—prayer before, prayer throughout, and prayer after. We were truly blessed to have this kind priestly presence as part of our home.

And so I am grateful to all of you. In a special way, I thank our staff who took care of so many things while Fr. Tim and I were with Monsignor at the hospital. I thank our choir and ushers who assisted with the funeral liturgies and helped us, in the midst of sadness and long memories, to worship the God Msgr. Esposito pointed us toward. I thank all of you who came to support his family and who honored him by your presence or by sharing your memories of his life and ministry. Thank you also to the staff of the MICU at Bridgeport Hospital who treated Monsignor with such compassion and dignity.

In my experience, when a brother priest dies, while there is a certain amount of grief, it is a grief that quickly gives way to hope in the Resurrection. More immediately, it gives way to an examination of the virtues and gifts in the life of the priest. Reflecting on those priestly qualities that made the deceased priest who they are, I consistently find myself desiring to imitate those virtues. As we pray for the peaceful repose of the soul of Msgr. Ernie Esposito, please pray for me and Fr. Tim, that the virtues our brother Ernie lived, most especially his love for God, would be the inspiration for our own growth in those virtues, and that his priestly example would inspire our own priestly ministry to you and to all we encounter.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he Rest In Peace. Amen.

Peace,

Fr. Sam

January 20, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The prophet Isaiah speaks these powerful words in the first reading today: “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch.” The prophet raises his voice so that the word of the Lord will be heard, known, and understood by all people. Isaiah is proclaiming the truth of God’s power and mercy, while calling the people to follow. “For Zion’s sake” is almost Biblical-code for “for the sake of the truth” or “for the sake of justice.”

This weekend, we are reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who, for the sake of justice, proclaimed the truth that all are created equal. His fight against racial discrimination changed our nation and our culture. We are aware, too, that this battle against racism continues in many ways. Our Catholic faith calls us to acknowledge the dignity of all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or country of origin. For Zion’s sake, for Jerusalem’s sake, we cannot be silent but must proclaim and live the truth that God has endowed every human life of every race with inherent, infinite worth.

This week also marks the annual March for Life, when hundreds of thousands will gather in Washington, D.C. to stand for the right to life on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. In his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope St. John Paul II wrote “[H]uman life, as a gift of God, is sacred and inviolable. For this reason procured abortion and euthanasia are absolutely unacceptable. Not only must human life not be taken, but it must be protected with loving concern. The meaning of life is found in giving and receiving love, and in this light human sexuality and procreation reach their true and full significance. Love also gives meaning to suffering and death; despite the mystery which surrounds them, they can become saving events. Respect for life requires that science and technology should always be at the service of man and his integral development. Society as a whole must respect, defend and promote the dignity of every human person, at every moment and in every condition of that person’s life.”
With that in mind, I am reminded of a conversation I had many years ago with a volunteer at Malta House of Good Counsel in Norwalk, a home and ministry to mothers in crisis. The volunteer, explaining their mission, told me that it is one thing to say that we are pro-life and wish to see human life protected and another thing entirely to do something about it. Malta House, she said, tries to provide women a real alternative to the tragic prospect of abortion. There are many other organizations and ministries that do the same, thanks be to God! Additionally, the Church has many ministries to support women who have had abortions and to help them find hope and healing. I encourage you to visit https://www.maltahouse.org/, http://www.sistersoflife.org/, and http://hopeafterabortion.com/ to see some of the valuable work in support of families, children born and unborn, and those who are most in need.

In closing, I offer you this call from Pope St. John Paul II: “What is urgently called for is a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life. All together, we must build a new culture of life: new, because it will be able to confront and solve today’s unprecedented problems affecting human life; new, because it will be adopted with a deeper and more dynamic conviction by all Christians; new, because it will be capable of brining about a serious and courageous cultural dialogue among all parties. While the urgent need for such a cultural transformation is linked to the present historical situation, it is also rooted in the Church’s mission of evangelization. The purpose of the Gospel, in fact is “to transform humanity from within and to make it new.” Like the yeast which leavens the whole measure of dough (cf. Mt 13:33), the Gospel is meant to permeate all cultures and give them life from within, so that they may express the full truth about the human person and about human life (Evangelium Vitae).”

Peace,

Fr. Sam

January 13, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Though the season of Christmas comes to a liturgical close with today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord, this celebration is hardly the end of anything. We have spent these last few weeks reflecting on the birth of Jesus into our world. The light of the world begins to shine in the darkness, is made manifest to the nations, and now in the baptism in the river Jordan that light begins a mission of salvation.

The Incarnation happens for one simple reason: “God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son, so that all who believe in Him might not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Humanity, fallen in sin, needs a savior. Thus, the whole mission of the incarnate Son of God is to bring salvation to the world. His mission will involve both teaching and action. Teaching – He preaches the Gospel, showing us the truth of who He is, revealing the Father’s love for us, explaining how we are to live in accord with the Father’s loving plan. Action – He enters the full depth of our human suffering by dying on the Cross for love of us, and He defeats death with the power of His Resurrection. The day of Jesus’ baptism, then, is just the beginning of something great and beautiful.

In a similar way, the day of our baptism was the beginning. On that day, we received our mission. As baptized Christians, it is our mission to live as disciples of Christ, following Him in everything and to be His apostles, those sent out to bring Jesus to others. A disciple, as you know, is one who follows. So every baptized person is called to be a follower of Christ. We follow Christ by living in a relationship with Him, a relationship rooted especially in prayer and the sacraments. To be a follower means also to be a student. Thus, we must get to know Jesus in reflection and study, as well. How well do we know the story of the Gospel? How well do we understand the Catholic faith? Are we willing to ask questions and seek answers? An apostle is one who is sent out on mission. In baptism, we also became apostles of Jesus Christ, sent out into the world to bring His light and love everywhere we go. Often we think of those heroic missionary saints who went to far off lands, learned foreign languages, lived in poverty and difficulty, yet proclaimed the Gospel with courage and conviction and we wonder if we could ever do it or how we could possibly have a mission that compares. And yet the fact remains that God has entrusted each of us with a mission. The truth is that the mission is most often lived out in simple ways, through fidelity to our daily responsibilities with family, through our daily prayer, through our treatment of the people around us.

Baptism did not mark the end of our Christian journey. The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, while marking the end of a liturgical season, is in fact just another beginning. May this feast once again focus our attention on our mission in Christ, to bring His light, love, and mercy into the world!

Peace,

Fr. Sam

December 23, 2018

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” As we enter these final days of Advent, our preparation for the coming of the Lord continues. It is a hope-filled preparation. Hope implies our belief that what we expect will indeed occur. We expect the birth of our Savior on Christmas Day, we are confident that the Lord comes to save His people.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see testimony that God desires to redeem Israel, His chosen people. The covenant God makes with Abraham is renewed many times, the prophets are sent to convert, encourage, and remind Israel of God’s plan for them. Divine Revelation is full of the word of the Lord being spoken and people looking forward in hope to the fulfillment of that word. When Mary hears the words of the angel Gabriel, she understands them in this long, historical, spiritual context. She receives them as the revelation of how God will bring salvation to His people. Her faith and hope enable her to accept and say a confident “yes” to God’s plan. She believes that what the Lord has spoken, both to the whole history of Israel and to her through the angel, will be fulfilled. Truly, as Elizabeth says, Mary is blessed!

We are invited to share in this confident faith and hope of the Blessed Virgin Mary. With her, we are invited to say yes to the will of God in our lives. God renews His covenant with us again and again. This Christmas, He calls us to place our confidence in His loving plan once again. Let us use these final days and hours of Advent to prepare with joy, to open our hearts more fully, and to ready ourselves to go forth to meet Christ the newborn King!

Peace,

Fr. Sam