Eaglet: Where do we go from here?

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The Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist

The Mother Church of Stamford • 279 Atlantic Street, Stamford, Connecticut 06901 • Phone: (203) 324-1553 • Fax: (203) 359-2660 • Email: stjc@optonline.net


"Pray for Church leaders to choose painful but real accountability. Be a man and resign if you knew something and did nothing. Start talking to authorities. Unfortunately, such abettors usually don’t. No more 'deeply saddened’ meaningless phrases. Prison for people who deserve it."

Where do we go from here?

By Fr. Brian P. Gannon, S.T.D.

A key theme at recent weekday Masses is Jeremiah’s agonizing mission. That is, warning Israelites of impending doom, should they not reform from apathy, pagan worship, and immoral sexual practices. As his reward, this holy prophet was mocked, rejected, beaten.

How many times do holy saints speak truth about God’s love and the need to reject immorality and get treated as such? It is a warning by evil forces to all who seek truth: no reward, just misery here. But Christ reminds us: do not fear those who can kill the body, but those who can kill the soul.

It is all over the news. The former Cardinal archbishop of Washington, DC has been accused at least several times of sexually abusing minors, including one for years. That was before the dam burst. Then shocking stories in The New York Times and elsewhere by very dogged reporters told of horrific immoral behavior towards his seminarians while bishop in New Jersey. Two dioceses made hidden settlements after he was made cardinal.

To paraphrase one widely-respected canon lawyer: with no denial, the McCarrick people are conceding the stories as truth. Compounding the damage is that the ex-cardinal became one of the most public faces of the bishops during the abuse uproar of 2002-2003.

Where do we go from here?

First, let history inform. During the 12th century, during a time of known corruption in the Church, great saints arose like Francis of Assisi and Dominic who founded religious orders to combat heresy and to truly live the Gospel life. With corruption among some priests and bishops in the “Reformation,” again the most effective response was not despair, cynicism, but holiness: great saints like Teresa of Àvila, Ignatius of Loyola, and Philip Neri brought many back to the faith.

Greater commitment to God, not less, is always the answer. We need to restore greater reverence to the liturgy, and much stronger catechesis for the People of God. We have a crisis of faith, and we need to respond as such.

Next: pray for Church leaders to choose painful but real accountability. Be a man and resign if you knew something and did nothing. Start talking to authorities. Unfortunately, such abettors usually don’t. No more “deeply saddened” meaningless phrases. Prison for people who deserve it.

Spiritual fathers need to assume the passions of a human father who discovers his child’s abuse: they want to grab a baseball bat. No, I don’t advocate violence, but Church leaders need not only to understand the anger, but need to react with real righteous anger. The silence from many bishops is deafening.

When, as the New York Times columnist (a Catholic convert) asserts, one realizes the extent of the evil, we logically conclude that others had to know, and did nothing. This is formal cooperation in evil. It allowed egregious sin, scandal, and sacrilege to continue.

This same reporter makes a very good point. The bishops have to decide. If they want to restore credibility, they must show powerful peer accountability. Otherwise, we risk irrelevance. This evil must be rooted out by serious investigation, and serious consequences for guilty priests and bishops who abetted such horrific behavior. One bishop has called for the ex-cardinal’s laicization. If bishops break the law, they should face prison.

As a canon lawyer writes, such horrific behavior of a bishop does not merely amount to unchastity and grave sin, but becomes sacrilege, which accords serious supernatural damage to the Church’s mission. Spiritually, because it damages the flow of God’s grace into the world. Practically speaking, it wounds more deeply the credibility of the Church.

In this day and age of such sewerage pouring out of the Internet, of public mocking of God, the Church of Christ is needed more desperately to be the Light of the world. Perhaps forefront in Jesus’ Divine mind were today’s headlines: Better for one to have a millstone wrapped around his neck and cast into the sea, than cause one of these little ones to sin.

Consolingly, the Glory of the crucified and Risen Lord can never be destroyed. We cannot despair, Christ is Victorious!! The only solution: let us recommit more deeply to Our Blessed Lord’s Holy Church. Go to the Adoration Chapel and pray!!

The more we disciples choose holiness, the more evil is diminished, and the more God’s infinite Glory shines forth to heal, give hope, and lead us to eternity.

Fr. Brian P. Gannon is Pastor of St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull. He holds a doctorate in Moral Theology from the Academia Alfonsiana in Rome.

Eaglet: The Cardinal: To be a good priest

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The Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist

The Mother Church of Stamford • 279 Atlantic Street, Stamford, Connecticut 06901 • Phone: (203) 324-1553 • Fax: (203) 359-2660 • Email: stjc@optonline.net


"Father Fermoyle discovers the one reason for a man being a priest: to remind people that God exists and is very real, lest we forget that fact, and create for ourselves a life that is merely our own myth, and that we are supreme in it."

The Cardinal: To be a good priest

By Msgr. Stephen M. DiGiovanni, H.E.D.
[First published in THE EAGLE, September 2010]

Henry Morton Robinson’s 1950 novel, The Cardinal, has a close relationship with St. John’s, as the famously popular film version was made here at the church in 1963 by legendary director Otto Preminger. In the movie (available on DVD), there are great shots of the interior and exterior of St. John’s, both upstairs and downstairs. Many of the schoolchildren in the film are still parishioners, and have fond memories of the Sisters of Mercy who chose them to appear in the movie.

Alas, as so often happens, the movie is vastly different than the novel. Mr. Preminger took much advantage of his director’s prerogative to adapt the text, inventing a variety of interesting scenes and subplots. The movie (which won the Golden Globe for Best Picture of 1963) is action-packed, and long, and covers the basic story of how a young ambitious priest fulfills his dreams and, eventually, becomes a Prince of the Church.

Mr. Robinson, on the other hand, is much more interested and thoughtful about the priesthood and the Church in his novel. This is the story of Father Stephen Fermoyle, an energetic and zealous young man who wants to be a good priest. He succeeds, superbly, and becomes, as the title suggests, a cardinal. The latter part of the book is about him as a bishop, but that merely mirrors the man who, because he had become an excellent priest, showed those qualities in his work as a very good bishop.

In his foreword, Mr. Robinson reveals that the novel is not entirely fictional:

“I cannot pretend that (Father) Stephen Fermoyle is wholly a product of my imagination. It would be truer to say that he is a composite of all the priests I have ever known – and particularly those priests who left mysterious imprints of their sacred office on my youth.”

To underscore this, he quotes two texts: “And it is Your Will that is our peace” [Dante, Paradiso, Canto III], which speaks to the heart of a priestly vocation. And, the first question of the Baltimore Catechism: “Q. Why did God make you?  A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next” [Lesson First], which speaks to everyone’s vocation and reason for existence. We exist and live for God.

The novel begins on the ocean liner Vesuvio, plying the frothy wave to Boston at the turn of the 20th century, bearing on board a recently-ordained young priest, Stephen Fermoyle, returning home from his course of seminary studies in the Eternal City. He is to take up his first assignment in a large downtown parish – in the movie, St. John’s is the stand-in.

On his return to America, this young priest slowly discovers the meaning of the priesthood he has signed up for, as his faith and ministry encounter the daily problems in the lives of his desperately-poor parishioners; the tragedies and pressures in the lives of his aging parents and siblings; the superb example of humility in his pastor; and the challenge of his
fractious, ill-tempered, pompous, and self-centered bishop, to whom he has promised obedience.

While the film version moves from sensational situation to thrill-packed scene, the novel looks more intently at the man who is a priest, and two things that become clearer to him and to the readers, about life and the priesthood.

The first reality in all reality is the primacy of God and of God’s will. Father Fermoyle discovers this slowly as it relates to his priesthood. Here is a brilliant young scholar who finds himself assigned to parish work, and the strain is overwhelming, facing his family, himself, and the reality of God in real life. During a difficult time, Father Fermoyle retreats to a Benedictine monastery to reflect on his priesthood, and is assigned to help a feeble-minded monk in his kitchen work.

One day, as Father Fermoyle is cutting onions, the monk mumbles the priest’s name. Asked why, the monk reveals that he is praying that God protect the priest’s hands, so unaccustomed to physical labor. Father Fermoyle tells him to pray for his own hands, and the monk responds: “If God wills that I cut myself, I shall accept it as a mark of His favor. But since I have placed the whole matter in His hands, it is not likely that any accident will befall.”

All the priest’s meditations about the ideal of obedience and humility, and his self-delusion that he was humble, are clarified in the words of this simple monk: “Since I have placed the whole matter in His hands. . .” And Robinson comments, “Instead of trying to outrival his earthly father or dazzle the Heavenly One, you merely surrendered yourself, trustingly, completely, to His will. Whatever happened thereafter was a mark of special favor. . . as simple as that. And as difficult.”

Father Fermoyle discovers the one reason for a man being a priest: to remind people that God exists and is very real, lest we forget that fact, and create for ourselves a life that is merely our own myth, and that we are supreme in it. Whether in the life of an individual or of a business or of a country, it is the basic reality: the primacy of God in human affairs. And we must adapt accordingly, just as one adapts to another reality: gravity.  For to deny the existence of either leads to tragedy.

The second foundational reality, more slowly revealed to the young priest and to the readers, is the effect of one’s parents on an individual’s personal and professional life. One of the first things Father Fermoyle discovers concerns his bishop: a crusty, gruff man who gets his way by bullying everyone in very loud tones – and who is just like Father Fermoyle’s own father. Behind the authoritative  exterior of both men, Stephen finds himself faced with the reality of the man he should be – and is, despite himself. His quiet, efficient, self-effacing and generous mother, who dotes on her priestly son, has instilled that sense of pity, charity, and piety so essential for the life of a man whose work is to show the compassionate Christ in the midst of a harsh world.

Father Fermoyle’s first years as a priest, while pious and filled with the faithful exercise of religious duties and obligations, are years of struggle to discover the man his parents formed, and to discover how that man must actually bend to the primacy of God and His will in daily life, in order to be an effective priest and lead others to eternity.

The Cardinal is a good novel. I think it could have ended quite well before Father Fermoyle becomes a bishop but, nevertheless, it is worth reading, for Mr. Robinson understands much about the priesthood.

– Msgr. Stephen DiGiovanni, H.E.D.

On June 28, 2018, Msgr. Stephen DiGiovanni marked his 20th anniversary as Pastor of the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist.

Eaglet: The Church needs priests!

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The Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist

The Mother Church of Stamford • 279 Atlantic Street, Stamford, Connecticut 06901 • Phone: (203) 324-1553 • Fax: (203) 359-2660 • Email: stjc@optonline.net


"The Church needs priests. That isn’t a claim made by someone afraid for his job; it’s simply true. The Church needs priests, because that is the way Jesus determined His Church should be established. This isn’t a power thing: it is the constitutional essence of His Church."

The Church needs priests!

By Msgr. Stephen M. DiGiovanni, H.E.D.
[First published in THE EAGLE, June 2010]

The Church needs priests. That isn’t a claim made by someone afraid for his job; it’s simply true. The Church needs priests, because that is the way Jesus determined His Church should be established. This isn’t a power thing: it is the constitutional essence of His Church.

In the Book of Revelation, the image of the Heavenly Jerusalem, an image of the Church, tells us that its foundation stones are inscribed with the names of the Twelve Apos­tles. What is it that those Twelve men had that made them essential to the Church? Neither political power, nor influence, nor native brilliance, nor personal charm. That which made them essential was that given them by Our Lord: “As the Father sent me, so I send you,” Our Lord told the Twelve – not to all His followers or disciples, but only to the Twelve, to whom He gave the fullness of His revelation about God; His promise to remain with them and guide them; His power to forgive sins; and His power to “do this in memory of me” by offering Christ on the Cross in the sacrifice of the Mass.

Jesus gave the Twelve a share in His power as God, not as a personal concession to His twelve closest friends, but as a gift to be shared with each generation of the Church for the salvation of the world.

The priesthood is the means Christ established through which He would continue saving souls in every place and age, even though His saving death was nearly 2,000 years earlier.

The Church needs priests because Jesus is truly present, as is the power of His Cross to destroy sin and death, through the hands and ministry of His priests. If the priesthood were not so important, the world would not have been so shocked and shaken by the recent priests’ scandal.

So, what is the priesthood, and why has the Church’s priesthood failed, as seen in the recent crisis?

There are many factors that have led the Church to her present difficul­ties. The media points to mandatory celibacy as the root of the problem. It is not.

There is one reason why the Church is in the midst of this self-inflicted world-wide catastrophe; it is at the heart of the crisis, just as its opposite is at the heart of the priest­hood: some Catholic priests refuse to submit their will to that of Christ and His Church. They refuse to hold and teach the faith of the Church, and refuse to live a life in imitation of Christ, as the Church dictates, so they are either not strong enough to be celibate, or are unwilling to be celibate. But first, they are unwilling to submit to Christ and His Church.

It is a matter of the will in most cases, not simply of the libido. At times the priesthood has failed be­cause many priests decided not to do what they said they’d do when they were ordained priests.

Let’s look at the solemn, public promises made by those ordained as priests.

Most people think that the promise to remain celibate is at the heart of the priesthood. It is not. In fact, there is no promise of celibacy in the or­dination rite of the priesthood. The man being ordained a priest already made that promise when he was or­dained a deacon. It is not repeated.

But there is one solemn promise that is repeated: the promise of obedi­ence, the promise to submit one’s personal will to the Church – not as a generalization but, specifically, to one specific bishop and to his suc­cessors in one specific diocese. The bishop repeats the same question to the man being ordained a priest that was asked earlier during the man’s ordination to the diaconate: “Do you promise obedience and respect to me and my successors?”

The crisis in the Church is a crisis of priests who have decided to break that solemn promise of obedience in both lifestyle and in faith.

The other solemn promises regard faithfully celebrating the sacraments and preaching the Catholic faith. The last is, “Are you resolved to consecrate your life to God for the salvation of His people, and to unite yourself more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered Himself for us to the Father as a perfect sacrifice?”

For the essence of the priesthood estab­lished by Our Lord is a call to imitate Him, to conform oneself perfectly to Him in all aspects of one’s daily life, both public and private, for the salva­tion of the world. The free will response of someone who wants to be a priest is his willingness to imitate Christ in his life – obedient, celibate, prayerful, and virtuous. That is why the ministry of a priest is exercised in persona Christi capitis – priests are to exist, not simply to perform a function or work, but to ex­ist “in the person of Christ the Head of the Church.” That implies a willingness to make daily sacrifices, beginning with the sacrifice of one’s ego and the natural need for human love and family.

Such a daily sacrifice of self to imitate Christ is symbolized in the essential daily action of the priest: the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass.

After the day of ordination, the most im­portant in the life of a priest is the day of his first Mass. The offering of Mass is the quintessential action of a priest: the offering of a sacrifice, and that sacrifice is Christ on the Cross in an unbloody manner: “Do this in memory of me.”

In Graham Green’s 1940 novel The Power and the Glory, set during the Mexican government’s persecution of the Church, the last priest has been chased, starved, hobbled by fever, imprisoned, stripped of everything, in­cluding his pride, yet continues because of the one thing he alone can offer people: Jesus in the Mass. In one scene, the “whiskey priest” (he is nameless, referred to only by his human weak­ness) grudgingly acquiesces to the peasants’ request for Mass. In a hovel, with no vestments or altar, the priest hurriedly offers Mass for the impoverished gaggle of people, waiting for the government troops to uncover their illegal religious observance and execute the last priest.

Greene describes the scene and the priest’s thoughts:

“The candles smoked and the people shifted on their knees – an absurd happi­ness bobbed up in him again before anxiety returned: it was as if he had been permitted to look in from the outside at the population of heav­en. Heaven must contain just such scared and dutiful and hunger-lined faces. For a matter of seconds he felt an im­mense satisfaction that he could talk of suffer­ing to them now without hypocrisy – it is hard for the sleek and well-fed priest to praise poverty. He began the prayer…

“The Latin words ran into each other on his hasty tongue: he could feel impatience all round him. He began the Consecration of the Host. . . impatience abruptly died away: everything in time became a routine but this – ‘Who the day before He suffered, took Bread into His holy and venerable hands. . .’ Whoever moved outside on the forest path, there was no movement here – ‘This is My Body.’ He could hear the sigh of breaths released: God was here in the body for the first time in six years. When he raised the Host he could imagine the faces lifted like famished dogs. He began the Consecration of the wine – in a chipped cup.”

There is another promise, written and signed by the candidate for the priesthood prior to his ordination. It is a formal profession of faith. In it, the candidate for ordination sol­emnly professes the Creed which we recite at Sunday Mass, and adds: “I firmly em­brace and accept all and everything which has been either defined by the Church’s sol­emn deliberations or affirmed and declared by its ordinary Magisterium concerning the doctrine of faith and morals, especially those things dealing with the mystery of the Holy Church of Christ, its sacraments and the sacrifice of the Mass, and the primacy of the Roman Pontiff.” The candidate must sign this, twice – once before his ordination to the diaconate, and once before his ordination to the priesthood, or he is not ordained.

The crisis of the priesthood and the Church is the result of priests decid­ing to break these essential promises of obedience and faith. The glory of the priesthood and of the Church is the result of priests deciding to remain faithful.

The essence of the priesthood is to dedicate one’s life to imitate Christ, in or­der to worthily per­fect oneself, and to save souls by actu­ally making present Christ and His sac­rifice and by teach­ing the truths of the Church to others. So important are these tasks that the priest is asked to participate in the very life of Christ. So important a reality that the betrayal of such a trust brings about the devastating catastrophe we see in the Church today around the globe.

But Our Lord promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:19), no matter how weak some priests may be. He calls even now many to come to renew the Church.

The Church and the world need priests, since that is how Our Lord established His Church to be. Now, more than ever, we need good, healthy, heterosexual men, strong enough to live a celibate life, in love with Christ, eager to submit their wills in obedience to God through His Church, for the salvation of souls.

To learn more about becoming a priest, visit www.bridgeportpriest.org

This month, Msgr. Stephen DiGiovanni celebrates his 20th anniversary as Pastor of the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist.

Eaglet: May, the Month of Mary

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The Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist

The Mother Church of Stamford • 279 Atlantic Street, Stamford, Connecticut 06901 • Phone: (203) 324-1553 • Fax: (203) 359-2660 • Email: stjc@optonline.net


"Mary brings to our relationship with God a touch of gentleness. In Mary we sense God’s tender goodness."

May, the Month of Mary

By Dr. Thomas H. Hicks
[First published in THE EAGLE, May 2012]

May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why;
Her feasts follow reason,
Dated due to season . . .
This ecstasy all through mother-ing earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation.

– Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The May Magnificat”

Gerard Manley Hopkins sees the growth and gaiety of Spring as reminding Mary of her ecstasy between the time of the conception and birth of Christ. The joy all through the earth reminds Mary, now in Heaven, of her joy during the months before Christ’s birth. Mary smiles on May.

I attended Catholic elementary school. December 8th arrived a couple of weeks before Christmas with a day off from school, the Feast of the Im­maculate Conception. Our gratitude to Mary was large, never mind that none of us had a clue what the feast day was about. We got out of school for a whole day and Mary had something to do with it. I got to go downtown with my mother to do Christmas shopping. A highlight of the day was lunch at a restaurant.

I learned from my mother to love “Our Lady.” My mother told me Mary would help me, guide me through the sorrows of this life. Mary, the woman who was “overshadowed by the Holy Spirit,” and who “pondered all these things in her heart”; the woman who spoke her great Fiat. I’m impressed that Mary didn’t play the “Lord, I am not worthy” card (cf. Luke 1:33).

Mary brings to our relationship with God a touch of gentleness. In Mary we sense God’s tender goodness.

I prefer to think of Mary without pious embellishments and myth making. A preeminent im­age I have of Mary is given by the writer Par Lagergev­ich in his novel, Barabbas. He gives a description of Mary in her most characteristic moment, standing beneath the Cross of Christ. Lagergevich writes that Mary looked like a peasant woman and from beneath her head dress there hung some sweat soaked strands of gray hair. She kept wiping the back of her hand across her mouth and running nose, in a desperate effort to hold back the tears.

Put off by the sugary and ex­aggerated representations of her time, Thérèse of Lisieux once said, “All the sermons I have heard on Mary have left me unmoved.”

Catholic devotion to Mary is viewed with hesitation by Protestants. I am not sure about the theological under­pinnings of Mariology, and I suspect I’ll never investigate them. How­ever, I do feel we can­not praise God rightly if we leave Mary out of account. I do believe we live in her protection.

Teresa of Avila said, “Whenever I have rec­ommended myself to this Sovereign Virgin I have been conscious of her aid.”

Thérèse of Lisieux put it in her simple and childlike way:

“When we address ourselves to other Saints, they make us wait awhile. We feel that they have to go and present the request to God. But when we ask a grace from the Blessed Virgin, we receive immediate help. Have you not experienced this? Well, try it and you will see.”

The Liturgy of the Hours contains a lovely hymn for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception:

Bend from your throne at the voice of our crying.
Bend to this earth which your footsteps have trod.
Stretch out your arms to us, living and dying,
Mary Immaculate, Mother of God.

The Litany of Loretto is scarcely heard anymore. Yet those melodious titles rolling out one after another remain in my memory. “Refuge of Sinners,” “Help of Christians,” “Consoler of the Afflicted,” “Mater Dolorosa.”

It seems there has been a di­minishment of devotion to Mary. Her portrait was one of the most familiar in the average Catholic home. Mary doesn’t seem to have as much place in contem­porary patterns of faith.

However, a Marian ele­ment is a blessing in our Christian lives. Mary is a metaphor for God’s ten­derness; she is a symbol of the reassurance of troubled humans.

Ave, Ave, Ave, Maria – the old cry for our Mother.

Dr. Thomas H. Hicks, a member of St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull, and Professor Emeritus of Theology and Psychology at Sacred Heart University.

Eaglet: Easter and the Empty Places

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The Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist

The Mother Church of Stamford • 279 Atlantic Street, Stamford, Connecticut 06901 • Phone: (203) 324-1553 • Fax: (203) 359-2660 • Email: stjc@optonline.net


"At Easter, memories are aroused in me and fill my heart with distant music and with loved ones who have died. 'They climbed the golden stairs,’ as I heard a Black minister say."

Easter and the Empty Places

By Dr. Thomas H. Hicks
[First published in THE EAGLE, April 2011]

In the mist of a greening and revivifying earth we celebrate Easter – our great feast of hope. This year it is an Easter that comes after a fierce winter’s long siege, and we appreciate it all the more. We feel an upsurge of reassurance. The Biblical singer of the Song of Songs (2:11-13) may best express our feelings:

“For, lo, the winter is past, the snow is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth: the time of the singing birds has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land . . . Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come.”

My understanding of Easter has changed significantly over my lifetime. I see Easter differently now, and I hear the Easter stories in a new way.

Now, at Easter, memories are aroused in me and fill my heart with distant music and with loved ones who have died. “They climbed the golden stairs,” as I heard a Black minister say.

I think of the people I knew as a child – my parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts, teachers. As a child, I thought of them as boundless. It never crossed my mind that there ever would come a time when their places would be empty. I still carry on an interior dialogue with them, and probably will for the rest of my life.

And I have the aching sense of so many other empty places – people I loved who were taken from me; loving hearts that my soul held dear, people with whom I identified myself. For me, certain lights were withdrawn from the world. I live in a kind of land of the dead, and it’s lonely.

I also realize that I’m living now in death’s immediate neighborhood. I know I’m temporary and not indispensable. I sense death stealing up softly from behind. Indeed, death, the artist, is slowly putting in his first touches.

Then there are those wonderful Spring dawns that make up the end of the Gospels. The women in the magical first light of day finding the rolled-back stone. Peter and the disciple Jesus loved, silhouetted against the first light smudging the sky over Jerusalem, running back to the tomb, and finding the burial cloths laying neatly on the stone slab.

And later, in the chill of another fragile spring morning, a figure standing on the beach . . . “It is the Lord!” The charcoal fire and that first Easter breakfast on the beach with sunshine creeping over the Sea of Galilee as joy overtakes sorrow.

“Everyone who believes in Me has everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:40

Flesh and blood will rise to eternal life. Our Christian hope is that “we will see one another again.” We will see again those whom we have lost here below. Our bodies are destined for resurrection, when the Father will change our humiliated and corrupted bodies to be conformed to Christ’s glorious body. Vanished faces and voices will return. Death will be vanquished, the graves deserted.

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the last day, I shall rise out of the earth. And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see my God . . . This is my hope laid up in my bosom.” – Job 19:25-27

Dr. Thomas H. Hicks, a member of St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull, and Professor Emeritus of Theology and Psychology at Sacred Heart University.

Eaglet: Conscience and grace: A Lenten meditation

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The Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist

The Mother Church of Stamford • 279 Atlantic Street, Stamford, Connecticut 06901 • Phone: (203) 324-1553 • Fax: (203) 359-2660 • Email: stjc@optonline.net


"If 'conscience’ can command me to use artificial means of contraception because of my life-circumstances, why couldn’t conscience permit, or even require, that I continue to defraud customers if my business is in debt and my family would suffer from its failure, even as I work my way into a better, more honest financial situation?"

Conscience and grace: A Lenten meditation

By George Weigel

The scriptures of Lent in the Church’s daily liturgy invite two related reflections. The weeks immediately preceding Easter call us to walk to Jerusalem in imitation of Christ, so that, at Easter, we, too might be blessed with baptismal water and sent into the world on mission.

The preceding weeks, those immediately following Ash Wednesday, propose a serious examination of conscience: What is there in me that’s broken? What’s impeding my being the missionary disciple I was baptized to be?

This Lent, that examination of conscience might well include some serious thinking about what “conscience” means.

That often-contentious subject has returned to the center of the world Catholic conversation, thanks to the forthcoming 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Blessed Paul VI’s prophetic encyclical on the morally appropriate means of family planning, and the ongoing discussion generated by Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation on marriage, Amoris Laetitia. In that conversation, voices have been heard urging a view of conscience that is curious, even dangerous: under certain circumstances, conscience may permit or even require that a person choose acts that the Church has consistently taught are intrinsically wrong – such as using artificial means of contraception, or receiving Holy Communion while living the married life in a union that’s not been blessed by the Church.

Those propounding this idea of “conscience” urge us to recognize three things: that the spiritual and moral life is a journey; that when the Church teaches that some things are just wrong and no combination of intentions and consequences can make them right, the Church is proposing an “ideal” to which the most “generous” response may not always be possible; and that confessors and spiritual directors should be compassionate and discerning guides along the often rocky pathways of the moral life.

No reasonable person will contest the last claim. I’m grateful that I’ve been the beneficiary of such thoughtful guidance, and more than once. But the other two claims seem problematic, to put it gently.

If, for example, “conscience” can command me to use artificial means of contraception because of my life-circumstances, why couldn’t conscience permit, or even require, that I continue to defraud customers if my business is in debt and my family would suffer from its failure, even as I work my way into a better, more honest financial situation? Why couldn’t “conscience” permit me, on my journey toward the “ideal,” to continue to indulge in extracurricular sex while my spouse and I work out the kinks in our marriage?

Inside the idea that “conscience” can permit or even require us to do something long understood to be wrong, period, where’s the circuit-breaker that would stop a couple from “discerning” that an abortion is the best resolution of the difficulties involved in carrying this unborn child to term, although under future circumstances they would embrace the “ideal” and welcome a child into their family?

The further claim being made here – that God can ask me, through my conscience, to do things that do not cohere with the teaching of the Church – fractures the bonds between God, the Church’s teaching authority, and conscience in perilous ways.

Christ promised to maintain His Church in the truth (John 8.32; John 16.3). Has that promise been broken? The Council of Trent taught that it’s always possible, with the help of God’s grace, to obey the commandments – that God wills our transformation and helps us along the way to holiness. Has that teaching been rescinded? Replaced by a “paradigm shift” into the radical subjectivism that’s emptied most of liberal Protestantism of spiritual and moral ballast?

Vatican II taught that within my conscience is “a law inscribed by God?” Is God now telling me that I can violate the truth He has written into my heart?

To suggest that the Church teaches “ideals” that are impossible to live undervalues the power of grace and empties the moral life of the drama built into it by God himself. Lent does not call us to confess that we’ve failed to live up to an unachievable “ideal;” Lent does not call us to be self-exculpatory like the Pharisee in Luke 18.10-14, who went away unjustified.

Lent calls us to embrace the humility of the Gospel publicly and confess that we have sinned, knowing that God’s mercy can heal what is broken in us if we cooperate with His grace.

George Weigel is the Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC.

Eaglet: Authority and Jesus

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The Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist

The Mother Church of Stamford • 279 Atlantic Street, Stamford, Connecticut 06901 • Phone: (203) 324-1553 • Fax: (203) 359-2660 • Email: stjc@optonline.net


"The authority of Jesus is simply the authority of the Word: The Word of truth. The Word of God made flesh. Truth Incarnate. God and man reconciled. The way, and the truth, and the life. Indeed all legitimate authority – but never tyranny – flows from Him. He is the Authority of all authority, the true King of kings."

Authority and Jesus

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky

“And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:22)

The teaching authority of Jesus is unique.

Authority is conferred in various ways. Authority comes with appointment and position, with learning and credentials, with age and experience.

The authority that comes with holding an office, position, or appointment is exercised by managers and supervisors in charge of departments, locations, projects or constituencies. The authority of office does not stand alone. It is representative of the chief executive, stockholders, or the voters. The authority of an Old Testament prophet is defined by God. The authority of a priest is defined by the Church.

Responses by those under authority can vary, ranging from servile fear and self-interest to a mature understanding of a working hierarchy. Playing well in the organizational sandbox, respecting legitimate authority, is not just a means of personal advancement, but generally is a sign of maturity and good judgment.

Some authority comes from earning academic credentials or certificates of achievement. Credentials show basic levels of knowledge and competence in various areas of expertise. Often holding a credential opens the door to a position of authority. The scribes of the Gospel probably had some kind of verbal or written credential conferring their authority as scriptural commentators.

We can find ourselves in awe of a credential or an achievement: “He has three doctorates!” “He knows 15 languages!” Or another response can be envy or scorn: “He’s a PhD but he can’t balance a checkbook.” At times, we may find ourselves relying too much on certified experts and disregarding the more truly authoritative guidance of those with true wisdom and experience. Thus the wisdom of grandparents in raising children is too often ignored, and dangerous modern innovations suggested by hallowed experts end up spoiling the kids. (Or, increasingly in our day, morally damaging and degrading the children.)

Finally, a good deal of authority flows from age and experience. A man of experience has seen and encountered many situations with success and failure. Even his failures contribute to his manifest authority based on experience. This form of authority is often underrated and under-appreciated. Most of us would not want to undergo the first operation by a newly graduated heart surgeon, despite his impressive academic credentials.

Respect for the true authority that comes with experience requires humility on the part of those holding positions of authority and those holding credentials of achievement. The ideal exercise of authority is the integration of all three: the authority that comes from office, credential, and experience. When egos are not allowed to interfere with the proper response, the exercise of these three types of authority gets jobs done in an orderly and professional way. Goods are produced and profits made, battles are won and men land on the moon.

But the authority of Christ is unique. He held no earthly office. He directed attention to His Father. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Luke 18:10) He achieved no academic degrees. He had no work experience besides that of a carpenter. He was, after all, only 30 years old when He began his public ministry. Yet all were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority.” (Mark 1:27)

Jesus exercised His authority to cast out demons, to heal the sick, to walk on water, to calm the seas. He simply spoke on His own unique authority as He forgave sins. He spoke to the woman caught He in adultery, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?  … Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” (John 8:10-11) Every one of His words is authoritative and carries out what He intends.

Perhaps the most perceptive comment concerning His authority comes from the lips of Peter. After Jesus disclosed that it is necessary to eat His Body and drink His Blood in order to gain eternal life, many of His disciples abandoned Him. Jesus does not budge from the truth. When He turns to His Apostles and asks them if they, too, will depart, Peter responds in a way that cannot be applied to anyone other than Jesus: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

The Apostles’ obedience to Christ’s authority is not servile or based on fear. The horror of the Cross was the cure for their petty self-interest. Ultimately their obedience is based on their response to love. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:10-11)

He shocked those in the Garden when He identified Himself with Yahweh: “I am” (cf. John 18:5-8). But He is not an oracle of wisdom disassociated from mankind, like the pagan gods. Early in the Gospels, St. Luke provides a clue as to the accessibility of Christ’s teachings. He tells us that Jesus as a young man “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Lk 2:52) Mysteriously, His wisdom and authority are perfectly compatible with who we are because they flow in part from His sinless humanity.

The authority of Jesus is simply the authority of the Word: The Word of truth. The Word of God made flesh. Truth Incarnate. God and man reconciled. The way, and the truth, and the life. Indeed all legitimate authority – but never tyranny – flows from Him. He is the Authority of all authority, the true King of kings.

So it is profitable to search and ponder His words and mighty deeds and to be continually astonished by His unique authority. For He alone indeed has the words of eternal life.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity degree and a Master’s in moral theology. Fr. Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines, including CatholicCulture.org Fr. Pokorsky also serves as a director and treasurer of Human Life International.

Expecting Perfection 01/23/18

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The Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist

The Mother Church of Stamford • 279 Atlantic Street, Stamford, Connecticut 06901 • Phone: (203) 324-1553 • Fax: (203) 359-2660 • Email: stjc@optonline.net


“At the moment, in this life, we are the problem. But we are not without hope because the Word was made flesh and will be forever the solution. If we courageously walk with Him with faith, true holiness and perfection will be ours for eternity.”

Expecting Perfection

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky

It’s charming to consider that Jesus, like any son, carried the physical characteristics of His mother as well as some of her – and Joseph’s – mannerisms. The Incarnation is so wonderfully human, encouraging us to approach Him without fear. As we consider the beauty of the Nativity scene, it is profitable to ponder the meaning of the Incarnation for us and our families.

The Incarnation defines all of human history. Jesus, born of Mary, reconciles God and Man in His Person and He takes all of humanity to Himself. When we are baptized into His Body, we are given the status of “sons in the Son.” We are in Christ and Christ is within us. Hence, from heaven, Mary gazes on us with the same love with which she gazed upon her Child in the manger. The Incarnation is the reconciliation of God and man and is the cause of our Christmas joy.

But if we are not careful, the Incarnation is easily misunderstood and misrepresented.
We may be secretly tempted to expect perfection in ourselves and others when we think of the Incarnation, the union of God and man.

When a man and woman fall in love and marry, and do “everything right” as Catholics, they may feel entitled to a perfect marriage with perfect love. Even the children might be expected to be perfect, obedient, never needing discipline, but only in need of kindly direction. Similarly, our priests are expected to be perfect, with the implication that the Incarnation – God walking with us – should protect us from bad homilies and impatient and rude clergymen.

Reality, of course, quickly dashes these naïve expectations. We need not look beyond our immediate experiences. A marriage “made in heaven” is an illusion. Children can be aggressive in their misbehavior even at a very early age. And even little children know enough to criticize the homilies of priests on the drive home. So the pendulum swings in the direction of disappointment and discouragement.

As a consequence, in a season like Christmas with all its beauty and splendor, we might find ourselves forlorn at the lack of perfection in our society, in our families, in the Church – in us. When we gaze at the tender Nativity scene with all its humility and innocence, we may be embarrassed to feel a touch of melancholy, even bitterness.

But such melancholy, along with our impatient demand for perfection, is misplaced and unreasonable. Expecting perfection this side of eternity because God walks with us is – not to put too fine a point on it – merely sentimental rubbish.

The holiness of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph did not free them from the trials in life. Driven by fear for their lives from the murderous Herod, they escaped to Egypt. Mary and Joseph knew the anxiety of missing a child when Jesus was lost in the Temple. Jesus wept when He received the news that his friend Lazarus had died. Jesus was justly angry with the intransigence of the Pharisees and the abuse of the Temple. The ultimate horror was Calvary, where a sword of sorrow pierced the heart of Our Lady.

Holiness does not mean one is immune from persecution and suffering, and negative emotions. But in suffering, we begin to see the real reason for the Incarnation.

There would be no need for a Savior if the world were perfect. Despite the best efforts of our modern social engineers – from the tyranny of socialism to the illusory salvation by the free market alone – we and our society will never be perfect. So we continue to suffer in flawed marriages, from eccentric and annoying (and sometimes truly evil) clergymen, with bad neighbors and our own profound if secret personal failures. If we were without sin there would be no need for the Incarnation.

On the other hand, the expectation of perfection in this life can easily result in another deformity: a malicious refusal to see imperfection and evil. We may be tempted to presume that Jesus is ready to reconfigure His life to our sinful ways, to accept us for “who we are.” Evelyn Waugh wrote nearly a century ago:

It is better to be narrow-minded than to have no mind, to hold limited and rigid principles than none at all. That is the danger which faces so many people today – to have no considered opinions on any subject, to put up with what is wasteful and harmful with the excuse that there is “good in everything” – which in most cases means inability to distinguish between good and bad. [Evelyn Waugh: The Early Years, 1903-1939]

Expecting Jesus to change His sacred design for virtuous living because we refuse to see evil in how we live is not only disrespectful, it is blasphemous.

Jesus came into the world to show us the way to eternal life and to give us confidence in pursuing his way. He has given us an overall template or game plan for a life of virtue and happiness with his grace, with heaven as our final destiny. He challenges us to be perfect as His father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). But He knows it will take a lifetime and into eternity for us to attain perfection. The fact of the Incarnation ultimately challenges us to struggle – with His grace – to reconfigure our lives to His Way.

And so Jesus, the Word made flesh, accompanies us throughout life with His sacraments, with His sacred “game plan.” We are born into and reconfigured in His grace by Baptism. Despite our repeated failures, He repairs and restores us time and again in the Sacrament of Penance. He feeds us and heals us in Holy Communion. He strengthens and enlightens us with the graces of Confirmation. He helps us govern our families and our Church in Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders. Finally, He prepares us for our final encounter with suffering and death with the Anointing of the Sick, Extreme Unction. All of this involves a magnificent and dramatic interplay between His tender graces and our (often resistant) free will.

At the moment, in this life, we are the problem. But we are not without hope because the Word was made flesh and will be forever the solution. If we courageously walk with Him with faith, true holiness and perfection will be ours for eternity.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Fr. Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines, including CatholicCulture.org Fr. Pokorsky also serves as a director and treasurer of Human Life International.

When We Are Left To Ourselves 01/05/18

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The Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist

The Mother Church of Stamford • 279 Atlantic Street, Stamford, Connecticut 06901 • Phone: (203) 324-1553 • Fax: (203) 359-2660 • Email: stjc@optonline.net


"Alas, my dear brethren, we are poor stuff, and we should count very little upon our good resolutions!" – St. John Vianney

When We Are Left To Ourselves

By Ricky McRoskey

New Year’s resolutions often come across as cute. We know the ritual: At the end of every year, in the paper’s “Lifestyle” section, tucked between articles on books and interior decorating, there’s a charming Top 10 list on how to work out more or smoke less in 2018. Usually, there are some tongue-in-cheek quotes from personal trainers or self-help authors.

It makes it easy to forget that, at its heart, the New Year’s resolution is not just something endearing or useful. If you peel it back, you find evidence in it of something far more profound: a prayer.

The first and most important thing to know about resolutions is that they speak to something greater than themselves. That we want to make a resolution at all is an acknowledgment of two things: 1) there is such a thing as goodness, and 2) we’re not perfectly good.

As trite as that sounds, it’s worth reflecting on. If I want to become a better version of myself, it means there’s some standard, some ideal, of what is good. There is such a thing as Goodness.

The second thing to know about resolutions is that they reflect what matters to us. If we looked at the vast majority of resolutions out there, we might come to conclude that Goodness consists of being kind, fit, organized, and healthy. Nothing wrong with those things. But if the only resolutions we make have to do with our blood pressure or punctuality, it tells us that these are our standard, our benchmark of goodness.

If, on the other hand, we view goodness as something bigger, harder, and wilder – like being humble, chaste, or selfless – then our resolutions should reflect that bigger view of reality. We don’t just want to learn a new language; we want to hold our tongue when gossip is easy. We don’t just want to eat more vegetables; we want to do more to feed the hungry. We don’t just want to read more books; we want to read The Book more.

Put another way, if God matters to us, He will make it into our New Year’s resolutions. If He doesn’t, it’s because we’re looking to another standard of goodness.

The third thing to know about resolutions is that, even if they aspire to something morally good (“I want to be more forgiving of my spouse”), they are worthless if they don’t come pre-packed with humility. St. Bernard of Clairvaux was once asked to name the four Cardinal Virtues, to which he replied, “Humility, humility, humility, and humility.” In other words, it’s the foundation of all other virtues.

If we can’t acknowledge how dependent we are on God – how hopeless, lazy, and weak we are without Him – then we fail to grasp the single most important principle of life: He’s God, and we are not. If we accomplish any good thing – we stop smoking, we donate blood, we fast on Fridays – it is only because God has given us that ability. All success, all goodness, all ingenuity is entirely His; we are the agents.

So as we set our resolutions, the starting point is to beg God for the strength to accomplish it. If we accomplish it, the next step is to recognize that God was entirely behind it. And if we fail in our New Year’s resolutions, we would do well to smile, shrug, look to the heavens above, and say with resignation what St. John Vianney once did: “Dear Lord, what we are capable of when we are left to ourselves!”

Ricky McRoskey is a parishioner of the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in Stamford.

Another Scarlet Jolt! Five More Red Hats 05/26/17

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The Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist

The Mother Church of Stamford • 279 Atlantic Street, Stamford, Connecticut 06901 • Phone: (203) 324-1553 • Fax: (203) 359-2660 • Email: stjc@optonline.net

"With the new additions, the electoral College of Cardinals will be restored to 121 members – one over the now-traditional limit of 120 set by Blessed Paul VI in 1975. Of the total group, 49 (40%) will have been elevated by Pope Francis."

Another Scarlet Jolt! Five More Red Hats

by Rocco Palmo

For all the tools every Pope has at his disposal, it could be said that Francis wields none more effectively than the element of surprise.

Ergo, at the May 21 noontime Regina Caeli from the Window of the Apostolic Palace, Papa Bergoglio called a Consistory – his fourth – on the vigil of Peter and Paul, June 28, for the creation of five new Cardinals, all of them electors:

  • •Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali (age 73)
  • •Archbishop Juan José Omella of Barcelona, Spain (71)
  • •Bishop Anders Arborelius OCD of Stockholm, Sweden (67)
  • •Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, vicar-apostolic of Paksé, Laos (73)
  • •Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez, auxiliary of San Salvador, El Salvador (74)

With the new additions, the electoral College will be restored to 121 members – one over the now-traditional limit of 120 set by Blessed Paul VI in 1975. Of the total group, 49 (40%) will have been elevated by Francis.

Even for their nomination today, Cardinals-designate don’t enjoy their voting rights until their names are published within the Consistory itself.

Following quickly on the heels of November’s intake of 17 new Cardinals, while some buzz has circulated over recent weeks tipping a late June encore, the rumors had foreseen what would’ve been a historic super-sizing of the voting ranks – an idea which has circulated for some time, possibly ballooning the papal electorate as high as 145 or even 150 members.

Even on just a temporary basis, there is precedent for such a move: at his first Consistory after the Jubilee Year of 2000, now-St. John Paul II had expanded the voting College to 135 cardinals by elevating 44 prelates younger than 80 – Jorge Bergoglio among them. (Speaking of John Paul, it also bears noting that each of today’s designates were named bishops by the Polish Pope.)

In any case, even if the final Biglietto is far smaller than would’ve been expected, the group strikes a fresh blow for the inclusion of the Church’s "peripheries" in the ranks of the Pope’s "Senate" – with the exception of Omella, each of the designates are the first Cardinals ever to hail from their respective countries; aside from the Spanish-speaking picks, the new crop all lead miniscule Catholic communities comprising less than five percent of their general populations.

The first native Swede named a bishop since the Reformation (after centuries of missionaries serving the country’s small Catholic community), Arborelius will be the first-ever Cardinal on duty in Scandinavia.

And in the choice of Rosa Chavez – one of the closest collaborators of Blessed Oscar Romero – at least for the first time in the post-Conciliar period, not only has an auxiliary bishop been given the red hat, but likewise a cleric currently serving as pastor of a parish (which is, of course, the historic foundation of the office, the original Cardinals having been the pastors of Rome, hence the task of electing the city’s Bishop).

As for the timing, beyond the topping up of the voting ranks, it is likely that this Consistory will see Francis convene the now-routine day-long consultation with the entire College on the eve of the elevations, which was conspicuous by its absence in November. Despite the short notice, a hefty chunk of the far-flung Cardinals already tend to be in Rome in late June as the dicasteries of the Curia wrap up their last plenary meetings before the summer exodus.

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