Spiritual Reflections by Father John

Learning the Narrative

You hear sometimes people in politics and public relations talking about “controlling the narrative.”  Usually, this means trying to get a jump on a story by being the first to explain what is going on.  The hope is that a “narrative” friendly to one’s position will be established in the mind of the public so that adversaries will be at a disadvantage,Continue reading “Learning the Narrative”

Emmaus

We have come to the end of Easter Sunday.  Yes, the Solemnity of Easter was a week ago, but we must remember that Easter is such a big deal that the Church gives us eight days to celebrate it properly.  We call that eight-day period the “Easter Octave.”  The second Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday – is the final day inContinue reading “Emmaus”

Easter

Msgr. Luigi Giussani (1922-2005) was an Italian priest and professor of theology, who spent many years teaching in Milan but who is best known as the founder of the Communion and Liberation movement.   When he died in 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) preached his funeral Mass, saying: “[Msgr. Giussani] understood that Christianity is not an intellectualContinue reading “Easter”

Hosanna

It is part of the human experience that when we do something enough times it becomes second nature to us.  When it’s a good pattern of behavior, we call it virtue.  It’s it bad, we call it vice.  Even things that seem complicated and difficult at first can become, over time, so much a part of us thatContinue reading “Hosanna”

Detox

The first reading for today’s Mass is from the Book of Numbers (21:4-9).  Numbers is one of the first five books of the Bible, which together are called the Torah.  Numbers tells the story of the Israelites after their liberation from slavery in Egypt, during their 40-year period of wandering in the desert before entering the Promised Land.  In those days of wandering, theyContinue reading “Detox”

Veiled Images

There’s an old saying that “the early bird catches the worm.”  In some cases, however, the early bird is just early.  I thought of that last weekend when I realized too late that I had our volunteers veil the images in our churches too early.  My apologizes for putting a damper on your Laetare Sunday!    Traditionally, the properContinue reading “Veiled Images”

The Mysticism of St. Patrick

As saints go, St. Patrick is underrated.  I think that’s especially true at this time of year when we see him everywhere, advertising green beer and corned beef sandwiches, waving the tri-color while holding his shamrock-covered crozier.  The real St. Patrick, who was responsible for the fifth century spread of Christianity in Ireland, was one of the greatest missionariesContinue reading “The Mysticism of St. Patrick”

From the Ruins

Last weekend, perhaps overshadowed by the media coverage given to Oprah Winfrey’s interview of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Pope Francis made a historic pilgrimage to Iraq, becoming the first pope to visit that country.  The images from the visit are remarkable, especially the Holy Father’s visit of the city of Mosul.  Mosul is the second-largest city in Iraq, and was theContinue reading “From the Ruins”

Fr. Emil Kapaun

Fr. Emil Kapaun was a Catholic priest from Kansas who served as a U.S. Army chaplain in both World War II and the Korean War. During his service in Korea he was taken prisoner and died in a Korean prison camp in 1951 at the age of 35. In 2013, he was awarded the MedalContinue reading “Fr. Emil Kapaun”

True Aid in Dying

The Connecticut state legislature is debating once again a bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide, calling it an “Aid in Dying” law. Below is part of an essay by Dr. Michael Brescia, the founder of Calvary hospice, that helps us to understand the true needs of those facing terminal illness. Not poison, but presence, love, and compassion.  People ask for physician-assisted suicide because of suffering,Continue reading “True Aid in Dying”

Understanding and Misunderstanding

I’ve been re-reading a book by Caryll Houselander called The Reed of God, which is a really beautiful book filled with great insights into the spiritual life, with the Blessed Mother held up as the spiritual master par excellence.  In the chapter entitled “Fiat,” Houselander writes about the effect of our surrendering ourselves to the will of God, noting that it simultaneously brings both greater understanding and greaterContinue reading “Understanding and Misunderstanding”

The Search

Everyone likes a good movie/show recommendation.  In that spirit, I’ll share one with you.  It’s a series called The Search, which was produced by the Augustine Institute and which is available to our parishioners for free through our online FORMED account (you can access it through our parish website).  Released last spring, The Search is well worth your time.  It is a 7-part video series hosted by Chris Stefanick, with eachContinue reading “The Search”

Changed by Asking

When pagans wanted something, they always turned to their gods.  The pagan gods, of course, were fickle.  It was very easy to fall out of favor with them, which meant disaster.  So, the pagans would present their petition to the god or goddess they thought was most interested in the thing that they wanted, along with anContinue reading “Changed by Asking”

Lessons from this Longer Lent

I’m having a longer Lent than usual this year. Most years it begins on Ash Wednesday.  This year, however, it started on January 4 when I decided to join a small group of local men, including some parishioners, to participate in a program called Exodus 90, which basically extends Lent from its official 40 days to 90 days (the amount of time experts say it takes to form new habits).  So,Continue reading “Lessons from this Longer Lent”

Thoughts on Ash Wednesday

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, which is typically one of the busiest days of the year in every Catholic parish.  This year was no different.  We started with our normal 7:30am Mass, which reached maximum capacity (160) under the current COVID restriction, which was really nice.  Just after the parish Mass, we had Mass for some of the students at the Catholic Academy of Stamford. Continue reading “Thoughts on Ash Wednesday”

Who Are These People?

The Mass can sometimes feel like this: a few readings from the Bible, a sermon, a collection, the priest saying a bunch of stuff while we kneel down, the Our Father, Communion, announcements, dismissal. If this is our experience of Mass, it might surprise us that the most fascinating part of it actually takes place during the part where the priest saysContinue reading “Who Are These People?”

Learning Our Prayers

Priests have the privilege of being with people as they near the ends of their lives.  Some of the people I’ve helped prepare for death spent their whole lives active in the Church, some were less active, and a few were resistant to the idea of seeing a priest and receiving the sacraments.  I remember one gentlemanContinue reading “Learning Our Prayers”

Singing Our Prayers

Music matters in liturgy. Ever since the resumption of public Masses last summer, however, we have been using a different style of music in the parish than what we were accustomed to hear prior to the COVID shutdowns.  We can’t use the popular hymns that we’d otherwise hear at Mass because the current health protocols prohibit congregational singing during liturgies in order to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.  Because the musicContinue reading “Singing Our Prayers”

St. Blaise

February 3 (tomorrow) is the Feast of St. Blaise, a feast that always brings back memories from my days as a student at St. Theresa School in Trumbull.  It seems like every year the sisters would walk us across the parking lot from the school over to the church for Mass on the Feast of St. Blaise, and we were kind of excited because we knewContinue reading “St. Blaise”

Holy Smoke

A priest friend of mine once shared with me his take on the secret to a life well-lived: “Moderation in all things,” he said, “except incense and orthodoxy.”  I have always found his advice compelling.  You certainly can’t be too orthodox in matters of the faith, with orthodoxy being openness and adherence to all that is true and good as solid ground on which to stand, and solidContinue reading “Holy Smoke”

Expanding the Circle

In today’s gospel (Mk 10:1-9), Jesus sends out 72 of His followers to prepare the way for His visits to local towns, telling them to proclaim that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.”  They are sent out “like lambs among wolves,” with no money or extra gear.  It almost seems irresponsible of Jesus to send them out that way,Continue reading “Expanding the Circle”

Conversion through Beauty

Elizabeth Lev is an art historian in Rome and a highly sought-after tour guide to the Eternal City.  In her book How Catholic Art Saved the Faith, she writes about the tumultuous period the 16th century.  The Protestant Reformation was in full swing and Gutenberg’s printing press made it possible to disseminate information on a scale previously unimaginable.  An overwhelming amount of polemical literature appeared, usually containing new and unfamiliarContinue reading “Conversion through Beauty”

Healing Division

It’s a cliché, but by all measures we are a nation divided.  Our culture and our politics are sick, and it’s been that way for a long time.  The election last November is just the most recent in a series of presidential elections that have taken on an apocalyptic tone, exaggerating the role of electoral politics in our lives beyond what itContinue reading “Healing Division”

Baptism into Ordinary Time

This weekend we celebrate the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.  If you’ve been paying attention, you might be wondering what happened to the 1st Sunday.  In her wisdom, the Church makes the transition from the Season of Christmas into Ordinary Time with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, which we celebrated last Sunday.  This is certainly fitting, because baptism isContinue reading “Baptism into Ordinary Time”

Psalm 95

“Come, let us sing to the Lord, and shout with joy to the rock who saves us./ Let us approach Him with praise and thanksgiving and sing joyful songs to the Lord./  The Lord is God, the mighty God, the great king above all the gods./  He holds in His hands the depths of the earth and the highest mountains as well./  He madeContinue reading “Psalm 95”

Vaccines

Last November, the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca announced that they had developed vaccines that effectively prevent infection by the COVID-19 virus.  Not long after the announcement, however, questions were raised by many as to the morality of receiving these vaccines.  The issue stems from the use of a morally compromised cell line in various phases of the design & development, production, and testing of these new vaccines.  This cell line wasContinue reading “Vaccines”

Christ is Master

In the gospel for today (Mk6:45-52) we find the Apostles on the Sea of Galilee in their boat.  Jesus had stayed behind on the shore, going up the mountain alone to pray.  As evening falls, the weather gets bad, and the Apostles have a hard time rowing to their destination.  From His position on the mountain, JesusContinue reading “Christ is Master”

End and Beginning

In ancient Roman mythology, Janus was the god of beginnings and transitions.  He was depicted as having two faces, one looking ahead to the future and one looking behind to the past.  The month January is named after him because it is the time of transition into a new year from the old.  As we comeContinue reading “End and Beginning”

The Creche

The tradition of setting up a Nativity scene dates back to 1223, when St. Francis of Assisi re-created the stable of Bethlehem on the night of Christ’s birth.  As this was a novelty, Francis first sought the permission of the pope himself, and was allowed to make the arrangements in a hermitage outside the little town of Greccio, located in the Italian region of Lazio.  At midnight,Continue reading “The Creche”

The Magnificat

When the Virgin Mary consents to the news from the Angel Gabriel that God had chosen her to be the Mother of the Savior, the Gospel of Luke tells us that, after the angel departed, she made haste to the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  Gabriel had told her that her cousin was also miraculously with child.  Before this, Elizabeth had beenContinue reading “The Magnificat”

Year of St. Joseph

A couple of weeks ago, on December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis declared that 2021 would be a year dedicated to St. Joseph.  Since 1870, St. Joseph has been venerated as the Universal Patron of the Church, and the Holy Father decided that this is a fitting moment in history to “go to Joseph”Continue reading “Year of St. Joseph”

Liturgy, Part 5

Pope (emeritus) Benedict XVI is widely considered to be one of the most influential Catholic theologians of the past 100 years.  One of his most famous books is entitled The Spirit of the Liturgy, which he published in the year 2000 as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, five years prior to his election to the papacy.  Among the topics that Ratzinger examines in that book is the relationship of the liturgy to timeContinue reading “Liturgy, Part 5”

Miraculous Image

During a visit to Mexico City in 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an unscheduled stop to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  After spending a few moments looking at the image of the Blessed Mother on the famous tilma of St. Juan Diego, Clinton turned to her guide, Msgr. Diego Monroy, and asked: “who paintedContinue reading “Miraculous Image”

St. Nicholas

The Feast of St. Nicholas is tomorrow, December 6.  Because it falls on a Sunday this year, we will not be celebrating his feast day at Mass.  Nevertheless, since St. Nicholas is a fascinating character, so I thought it a good opportunity to share a few thoughts about him with you in this space.   St. Nicholas was born in a port cityContinue reading “St. Nicholas”

St. Francis Xavier

After St. Paul, the greatest of all Christian missionaries was St. Francis Xavier, whose feast day we celebrate today.  He was one of the original members of the Society of Jesus, and his passion for bringing the Gospel to the people of Asia was enflamed through the influence of his spiritual mentor, St. Ignatius ofContinue reading “St. Francis Xavier”

Liturgy, part 4

When we think of the word “sacrifice,” we might think of it as a form of delayed gratification, where we deprive ourselves of something we want now for the sake of enjoying a better thing later on.  We might also think of the sacrifices that parents make for their children, or that members of the military make for the protection of our country.  ButContinue reading “Liturgy, part 4”

Advent

A priest friend of mine recently shared with me an excerpt of a meditation on Advent by Br. Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourette, who is a Benedictine monk living in a monastery near Millbrook, NY.  Br. Victor-Antoine works on the monastery’s farm and is in charge of cooking for the community, which fosters in him a deep reverence for the differentContinue reading “Advent”

The Gift of Gratitude

Thanksgiving reminds me of my grandmother, Elizabeth. When we were little, our family used to make the trek down from Trumbull to Staten Island where she lived, braving both the BQE and the Verrazano Bridge – which is not for the faint of heart even on the best of days.  My grandmother was one of seven children born to the Fallon family in County Longford,Continue reading “The Gift of Gratitude”

Giving Thanks in 2020

Thanksgiving is a holiday filled with tradition.  Besides 5k Turkey Trots and football games, the most important tradition is to sit at a table with family and friends and share with each other a meal, at which everyone speaks about what they’re grateful for.  This year, many are likely to say they’re grateful that it’s almost 2021.  The “annus horribilis”Continue reading “Giving Thanks in 2020”

Tough Love

The Book of Revelation is filled with dramatic images of great battles between angels and demons, the Lamb of God and the terrible dragon that vainly tries to destroy the Woman who appears in the sky, “clothed with the sun.”  Usually identified with an account of the end of the world, the Book of Revelation is really more than that.  It unveilsContinue reading “Tough Love”

Bl. Jerzy Popieluszko

Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko was a priest who was active in the Solidarity movement in Poland in the early 1980s.  He became well-known throughout Poland when his homilies, which were strongly critical of the communist state, were widely broadcast on the radio.  Because he encouraged people to resist the oppressive regime, and to actively protest against it, state officials tried to intimidate him to be silent, but were unsuccessful. Continue reading “Bl. Jerzy Popieluszko”

Conspiracies and End Times

Conspiracy theories abound these days.  A conspiracy theory, according to Wikipedia, is “an explanation for an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy by sinister and powerful groups, often political in motivation, when other explanations are more probable.” By nature, conspiracy theories are extremely difficult to disprove, because proponents will use both the presence and the lack of evidence asContinue reading “Conspiracies and End Times”

Glory-Scrolling

“Doom-scrolling” is a new internet expression that seems to be growing in popular usage.  It’s defined online as: “the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing.” I would venture to guess that anyone who has a social media account on Facebook or Twitter has had the experience of lying in bed, scrolling down throughContinue reading “Glory-Scrolling”

Litany of Trust

During this time of uncertainty, which can lead us to anxiety and anger, we should renew our trust in God, professing our faith in the reality that He is in control and that He loves us.  As an aid, I share with you below a prayer called the “Litany of Trust” which was composed by Sr. Faustina MariaContinue reading “Litany of Trust”

Indulgences

The great celebrations of All Saints Day and All Souls Day traditionally come with special opportunities for what are called “indulgences.”  Indulgences are a subject fraught with misunderstanding, so it might be helpful to try to give a brief explanation in this space, especially since the pope has expanded the availability of certain indulgences for the sake of theContinue reading “Indulgences”

A Motherly Heart

I remember reading a biography of St. Maximilian Kolbe in which those who knew him during his life described him as having a “motherly heart.”  It sounded like a strange way to describe him, but, based on their accounts, to be in the presence of Kolbe was to be consoled, such that, whatever burdens you were carrying around within you were lifted away – even the terrible burdenContinue reading “A Motherly Heart”

Freedom in Small Spaces

If you’re looking for good spiritual reading that’s practical and accessible, you might want to try the works of Fr. Jacques Philippe.  He has written many books, including one called Interior Freedom, in which he explains: “Every Christian needs to discover that even in the most unfavorable outward circumstances we possess within ourselves a space of freedomContinue reading “Freedom in Small Spaces”

St. John Paul II

Pope John Paul II was the Bishop of Rome for 27 dramatic years.  Elected to the Chair of St. Peter in 1978 at the age of 58, he served the Church as the Holy Pontiff until his death in 2005.  During a post-Conciliar period that coincided with dramatic cultural upheaval, Pope John Paul II was given the reins of a Church that was suffering through a crisis of confidenceContinue reading “St. John Paul II”

Consumed and Sustained

A friend of mine, some years ago, tried to solve what was a terrible mosquito problem in his backyard by purchasing one of those bug-zapping lights.  I’m sure you’re familiar with these things.  They glow with a light that bugs find irresistible, to the point that they get so close to it that they are consumed by its blazing heat. Continue reading “Consumed and Sustained”

North American Martyrs

There is a tradition among the various national seminaries in Rome to play in a soccer tournament each year called the “Clericus Cup.”  Almost every seminary fields a team, so you’ll have games in which the seminarians from the English College play the seminarians from the French College, or the seminarians who are studying atContinue reading “North American Martyrs”

Let Nothing Disturb You

Today is the feast day of St. Teresa of Jesus, who was a 16th century Carmelite nun from Avila, Spain.  She was, by all accounts, brilliant and charming, as well as physically beautiful.  She entered the Carmelite monastery at the age of 20.  At that time, the monastic life was very lax.  There were always people comingContinue reading “Let Nothing Disturb You”

Come, Holy Spirit

There was a priest with whom I used to meet for occasional spiritual direction, named Fr. Mike.  During a conversation one day, Fr. Mike told me about a habit that he had developed over the years.  Any time he encountered someone whom he sensed was in distress or sad or anxious, or if he passedContinue reading “Come, Holy Spirit”

Pray the Rosary

Patrick Peyton was born in 1909 into a large family of 9 children, and grew up working the family farm in Co. Mayo, Ireland.  After considering a vocation to the priesthood as a boy, he later decided to emigrate to America, where he hoped to make his fortune.  But it wasn’t long after he arrived to Scranton, PA that he felt aContinue reading “Pray the Rosary”

Martha & Mary

Years ago, when I was going through my period of vocational discernment, there were times in which I felt overwhelmed by the question of what God wanted me to do with my life.  I knew there was the possibility that He was offering me the priesthood, but I struggled to accept that and to risk the possibility that the priesthoodContinue reading “Martha & Mary”

Sacramentals

Statues, rosary beads, crucifixes, scapulars, holy cards, miraculous medals, candles, palms, ashes – these are part of the “furniture” of our lives as Catholics.  Technically, we call these things “sacramentals.” Sacramentals are different than sacraments in a couple of ways.  The sacraments were instituted by Christ Himself as the seven ordinary ways in which He shares His life – His sanctifying grace – with us.  As one author puts it: “Sacraments bearContinue reading “Sacramentals”

St. Therese

Today (10/1) is the feast day of St. Therese of the Child Jesus.  St. Therese grew up in Normandy, France and entered the Carmelite Monastery in Lisieux at the age of 15, where she joined two of her older sisters who had entered the community before her (her younger sister would eventually join them there too).  St. Therese was canonizedContinue reading “St. Therese”

Archangel Michael

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Archangels – St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael.  In my last posting I wrote about St. Gabriel, whose name means: “God is my strength.”  Today, I’d like to consider briefly the Archangel Michael.  For the past several years, according to the express wishes of Bishop Caggiano, we pray theContinue reading “Archangel Michael”

Archangel Gabriel

This Tuesday is the feast day of the Archangels, among whom is our co-patron St. Gabriel.  Gabriel, whose name means “strength of God,” was the great and powerful spirit charged with bearing the message of God’s favor to the lowly Virgin Mary in the town of Nazareth, 2000 years ago.  After greeting her, Gabriel tells Mary ofContinue reading “Archangel Gabriel”

First Communion

This Saturday, as we did last Saturday, we will celebrate Masses of First Communion in our parish.  These Masses almost always happen at the beginning of May, but because of the shutdown we had to move them to September.  In every parish, First Communion is one of the best days of the year, and I’m veryContinue reading “First Communion”

St Matthew

posted 9/19/20 This Monday, 9/21, is the Feast of St. Matthew the Apostle.  St. Matthew is not just one of the 12 Apostles, he also the author of one of the Gospels, and he includes his own conversion story in his account of the life of Christ.  We know that before encountering Christ, St. Matthew worked as a tax collector for the Roman Empire.  Since it wasContinue reading “St Matthew”

Holy Matrimony

posted 9/17/20 The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is one of the most remarkable places in the world.  The current church dates back to the 11th century, and is built on the ruins of one that dates back to the 4th century.  Within this church are the sites of Our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection.  I remember the first time I wentContinue reading “Holy Matrimony”

Holy Orders

posted 9/15/20 What is a priest?  A priest is one who offers sacrifices on behalf of a group as an act of worship to God.  As long as human beings have roamed the earth, there have been priests.  We see them in the most ancient days of the Old Testament.  Adam was a priest, as were the PatriarchsContinue reading “Holy Orders”

Embracing the Holy Cross

posted 9/12/20 The Cross is the most distinctive sign of Christianity.  This is because, as we say to Our Lord during the Stations of the Cross devotion, “by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world.”  I remember the beautiful bronze Stations of the Cross that we had in seminary.  The first station, of course, depicts Pilate’s condemnation of Jesus.  There wasContinue reading “Embracing the Holy Cross”

Anointing of the Sick

posted 9/10/20 The other day I was perusing my bookshelf and rediscovered a book that I hadn’t picked up in a while.  It’s called The Faith Explained by Fr. Leo Trese, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and a best-selling author who died in 1970 at the age of 68.  Leafing through it, I was reminded how well Fr. TreseContinue reading “Anointing of the Sick”

Confession

posted 9/8/20 If you ever visit a seminary you will find that they are places where there is much laughter.  I really enjoyed the comradery I found among my classmates, which was healthy and joyful. While most of our formation sessions involved moments of levity and laughter, there was one particular experience that I remember we took with absolute seriousness, and that wasContinue reading “Confession”

Litany of Humility

posted 9/5/20 Rafael Merry del Val was a very influential figure in the Catholic Church in the beginning of the 20th Century. Born into a family of Spanish nobility in 1865, he spent much of his childhood in England before moving to Rome to study for the priesthood, to which he was ordained in 1888.  From there he began serving in theContinue reading “Litany of Humility”

The Most Blessed Sacrament

posted 9/3/20 We have come to the third “Sacrament of Initiation,” which is the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist.  While Baptism is the first Sacrament and the doorway to the supernatural life of grace, the Eucharist is the greatest of the Sacraments.  Indeed, the Second Vatican Council refers to the Eucharist “the source and summit of the Christian life…. For inContinue reading “The Most Blessed Sacrament”

Why Confirmation?

posted 9/1/20 What is the sacrament of Confirmation?  What does it do?  When Bishop Curtis confirmed me many years ago, I don’t think I would have been able to give a good answer to those questions.  I knew Confirmation had something to do with the Holy Spirit.  Even better, it meant you got presents AND you didn’t have to go to religiousContinue reading “Why Confirmation?”

Brain Heart World

posted 8/29/20 Recently, I watched a 3-part documentary series called Brain, Heart, World.  It was produced by an organization called “Fight the New Drug,” which describes itself on its website as: a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effectsContinue reading “Brain Heart World”

Why Baptize?

posted 8/27/20 Baptism is the first sacrament.  Typically, within a couple months of a child’s birth, the family will bring the baby to the church, and the priest (or deacon) will pour water over the child’s head while saying the words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of theContinue reading “Why Baptize?”

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