February 24, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Jesus is an extremist. Unfortunately, our modern civilized ears hear a statement like that and immediately become offended, though we can’t quite name the reason for offense. Extremism conjures images of violence inspired by hatred. But in the person of Jesus Christ, we find an extremist of an entirely different kind. Jesus not only exhorts His followers to an extreme life of holiness, piety, virtue, mercy and justice, but also demonstrates by His own Passion on the Cross the full meaning of the extremism of His teachings.

There are no half measures with Jesus Christ. What He says in the Gospel today, He really means. Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, turn the other cheek and so on. These are not easy platitudes! On the contrary, these are radical propositions for living a life entirely different than the world around us, even, it would seem, a life contrary to every natural instinct we possess. This extreme way of living love for God and neighbor leads to the next part of what Jesus teaches. “Stop judging and you will not be judged.” How easily we pull this one line and read it as justification for never calling a sin a sin, or refusing to correct someone for their immoral behavior. But Jesus teaches this in a big context: we can only stop judging if we first love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, if we have first turned the other cheek. If we continue reading the Gospel, we see that Jesus immediately teaches us to forgive and give generously. There is more to being a disciple of Jesus Christ than simply not judging. That particular teaching of our Lord follows from and leads to so much more!

What would happen if we, as individuals, as a parish, as a Church, became extremists according to the image of Jesus Christ? What if I took Jesus at His word and truly sought to live holiness and virtue as Jesus asks? There are no half measures with Jesus, and so there should be no half measures for any of us when it comes to living these virtues in pursuit of holiness! Too often, though, in the life of the Church, we have come to  accept half measures. If we reduce everything to “don’t judge” there is no moral force to anything we say or do because the supreme virtue becomes silence about virtue and morality. If we are silent about virtue and morality, moral license creeps in. What then? Moral scandal! Think of the horror of scandal and crime we have seen in the Church since 2002, and highlighted once again in the summer of 2018 and this past week in the laicization of former-Cardinal McCarrick. But if we call it scandal and crime are we violating Jesus’ teaching not to judge? Of course not! I cannot judge the souls of others, but I can say that their behavior and action is wrong, sinful, horrific. Where does this scandal come from? The root of this lies in our collective failure as a Church to heroically live the extremism Jesus calls for! Be an extremist for virtue! Be an extremist for holiness! Be an extremist for love of God and neighbor! If we follow Jesus as He asks, we will uproot every scandal and sin that plagues our Church and our community, and our own lives will be transformed into living testimonies of the love and mercy of God.

Remember this, too: Jesus calls us to an extreme life of love and virtue, this is true. But as I wrote a few weeks ago, perfection is not a prerequisite. The call to this extreme way of living is meant to help us grow in perfection, to be more perfect, more loving, more virtuous, more holy. The reason we follow Jesus Christ as disciples is precisely because we want to live like Him. The reason we need Jesus Christ, especially in the sacraments, is because we live like Him only imperfectly while on earth, but we hope to live in perfect unity with Him forever in Heaven. Jesus is an extremist and He calls us to the same radical life of love and holiness.

Peace

Fr. Sam

February 17, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I am away this weekend on a fact-finding mission to examine the palms we will use for Passion Sunday at the end of Lent. It is hard work, but someone has to do it. In my absence, I know that you are well cared for by Fr. Tim and our parish staff!

Though we still have a few weeks, I would like to plant a seed in your minds and hearts regarding the great and holy season of Lent. During these forty days, the Church invites us to a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, spiritual tools meant to help us prepare for the Paschal mystery of our faith. There can often be an overemphasis on fasting—what are you giving up?—that leads to the neglect of prayer and almsgiving. At the same time, in recent years, there is a tendency to say things like “You can give something up or you can do something.” But the Church’s wisdom handed down through the centuries has never suggested that the Lenten discipline is an “or” proposition. On the contrary, it is all about and. A successful Lenten season is built on the strong foundation of all three disciplines—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

It is easy enough to come up with a sacrifice of food or drink that we will undertake. It can be much harder to think through ways we can give alms, serve the poor, or engage in regular works of charity. Likewise, it can be challenging to increase our prayer…we start a devotion or prayer practice, but then schedules get in the way, we forget, and soon we have unintentionally given up the commitment to deeper prayer. Still, the Church proposes all three as pillars of a healthy and fruitful Lenten season.

As we prepare for Lent, then, I would like to suggest a few things. First, let us remove “or” from our Lenten preparations. Instead, let us embrace “and,” aware that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving all contribute to the fruitfulness of the season. Second, don’t worry about failing. The whole purpose of the Lenten disciplines is to help us practice and get better. When practicing, we are bound to fail, but that’s the whole point…failure teaches us how to succeed, how to learn from our mistakes, how to do better next time. Third, even though we can’t worry about failing in the Lenten discipline, we can make plans. Ash Wednesday is March 6, meaning we have about two weeks to carefully consider how we will live out the holy season of Lent, two weeks in which we can examine our own hearts and consciences, two weeks in which to lay out a spiritual road map for the forty days of Lent. Reflect on the ways in which you need to grow in your relationship with God, virtues you need to shore up. Invite the Holy Spirit to enlighten you, to help you hear the voice of God, to listen for the ways Jesus is asking you to follow Him and grow in holiness.

Peace,

Fr. Sam

February 10, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Perfection is not a prerequisite. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” says the first pope, St. Peter, in today’s Gospel. The prophet Isaiah proclaims himself a “man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips,” while St. Paul describes his being called “last of all” to serve and preach the Gospel. At no time does the Lord require our perfection as prerequisite for calling us to serve.

This radical method is entirely contrary to our first instinct, to successful business best practices, to almost everything we would anticipate. Under any ordinary circumstance, we seek out the most qualified candidates. We hide our flaws and share the best part of our resumes. On social media, only our best photos are shared, and if ever we share a bad photo, it comes with a caption meant to inspire. In so many areas of our lives, perfection is a prerequisite, though it is virtually impossible to attain. In society, we expect perfection from public figures such that when one fails, we virtually erase them from our collective memory. How often we find ourselves paralyzed by our own imperfections, wishing we could make a difference while convinced that our flaws, sins, or failures are an insurmountable obstacle.

God never sees it that way. He chooses Isaiah even though he is imperfect. He chooses Paul who once persecuted His Church! Jesus chooses the simple fisherman Peter, a sinful man, and gives a great mission. When God calls us it is not because of our qualifications but rather because of what He desires to do in and through our lives. The simple fact is that God has created each of us with some purpose in mind and He sends us out into the world to accomplish it, to bring His light to the world. We are all entrusted with a mission to share the story of His love and mercy. When we look at our lives and fear that our flaws take away our ability to be witnesses, we need to be reminded that Paul was the greatest of sinners, Peter begged Jesus to depart from him, Isaiah did not believe himself to be capable…yet they all allowed God to work in their hearts and so bring His message to the world. The Lord desires to do the same in you. What is more, when we allow God to call us in spite of our imperfection, He begins the merciful labor of bringing us closer to perfection. When we say yes to the Lord who calls, He makes us more than we could ask or imagine. That Isaiah, Paul, and Peter became such effective witnesses says nothing about their goodness, but rather demonstrates the greatness, mercy, and glory of our Heavenly Father who wills to do so much through the weak vessels that we are!

A family in our parish recently suffered a terrible tragedy. Last Sunday, they attended Mass. Throughout the liturgy, they struggled to hold their emotions in. As Mass ended, a woman seated behind them, not knowing anything of the reason for their great sorrow but sensing that they were in pain, tapped them on the shoulder to offer a hug. It was a simple gesture that brought great comfort to a family in need. This woman was attentive to God at work in her own heart. Her imperfect knowledge of the situation, the New England instinct to keep a respectful distance, and the natural social hesitation to approach total strangers served as no obstacle to what Jesus wanted to accomplish in that moment. For it was there, in the back pews of St. Pius X Church, that Jesus wanted to show what can happen when we say yes to Him. Her “yes” helped a family continue on, and reminded them that they are part of a parish family that loves them. The truth is that every day we are presented with similar invitations and opportunities – people in need who we can serve, a prompting from Christ in prayer that we can answer. He does not prompt us because we are perfect, nor does he give us these opportunities because of our skills. Rather, our God chooses to be glorified in our humble works. Never be afraid to place your gifts and talents, your imperfections and flaws, at the service of our Lord, for through them He is calling you to be part of His eternal work of love. Perfection is not a prerequisite.

Peace,

Fr. Sam

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