Tuesday, May 20, 2014 – St. Thomas The Apostle Church – Norwalk, CT

Today was a rough day at work. It seemed like everyone was cranky about things that just really are not that important. I needed a little piece of quiet, so I decided to go to church and just breathe for a little bit before going home. Lisa came to join me.

I have been to St. Thomas many times, but I guess I have just never looked closely enough to see how pretty it actually is. The stained glass was really pretty! And I never really paid attention to the wooden ceiling beams! Very nice.

The new pastor said the Mass. I didn’t really tune into the gospel, but something in his homily struck me. He spoke about the fact that the Catholic Church is being undermined and taken over in all parts of the world. He specifically spoke of the insurgence of Muslims into Turkey and that the churches are now mosques or museums. He begged us to “pay attention” before we lose what we know of as our Church.

I should pay attention to what is happening in the “church world” more, I suppose, but a parallel image of “being undermined and taken over” has occurred in the world of education as well! My school world seems so upside down. Laws have been suggested and passed by people who are not educators. Testing is being based on curriculum mandates and changes that are not always right for kids. And, teachers’ voices have come too late to the party to turn things around quickly. It is all so overwhelming. A few years ago, a colleague left education completely. He is a very smart educational leader who I so enjoyed working with. In his “good bye” letter, he spoke of the fact that education was changing in a direction that was “against his moral compass”. He could not stay true to himself and his educational values, in light of the direction education was moving in. That line has rung true to me in almost every aspect of my day today and for the past 2-3 years!! I admire him for having the courage to say it out loud as the rest of us just stood there, chugging along, hoping for the best.

Perhaps, I ended up at this mass just so I would hear the words……PAY ATTENTION!

I have been going through the motions, head down, chugging through the day to day stuff, and not really paying attention to the big picture as closely as I should have been. But, the scary part is I am not the only one. The tides shifted quickly on so many of us educators, while we weren’t really looking. If it can happen in our educational world, it really can happen in the “church” world too! The shift is happening in both worlds!

I really need to figure out a way to pay attention and keep my moral compass focused on the right things.

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Saturday, May 17, 2014 – St. Maurice Church – Stamford, CT

As Vinnie and I entered the church for 4pm Mass, Fr. Bert was preparing his robes in the back corner of the church. With arms wide open, I said, “Surprise! I am here. It is your turn!” He hugged me and whispered….”Glad you made it. Tonight I announce my farewell!” We laughed! It was good timing. This was now the third time Vinnie had come with me where a priest had announced his Farewell! Kind of funny!!

Fr. Bert’s homily had to do with Jesus reassuring his disciple that he was prepared to travel the journey and carry on his message even after Jesus was gone. Fr. Bert looped that notion, humbly, into the fact that he would be leaving but the good work of the past 13 years had been laid as a foundation for all the good work that the parish will continue with as he moves 2.5 miles down the road!

During the homily I thought back to when Fr. Bert had left St. Philip to gain the leadership title of “Pastor”. It was a year before I left the classroom I was teaching in, to move to the office of a “Leader” in my school. In the Gospel reading, in Fr. Bert’s parish, and in my school, and quite honestly everywhere, there can be no leader if there are no followers!! This is what Jesus was trying to tell the disciple…….the groundwork and vision have been laid, but now it is time for the work to be completed by those who will step into new roles! It is a cool concept.

After Mass, Fr. Bert proudly talked to me and Vinnie about the accomplishments of the parish. The interior had been completely renovated and restored. Clearly, he is proud of the work, the beauty, and the desire of the people to have a beautifully restored place of worship. This is the legacy of his leadership, perhaps, while at this parish! Fr. Bert’s touch is evident in the woodwork, the floor tiles, the stencils, and the decorations. He will be leaving a place he has made more beautiful through his leadership.

Jesus, too, explained to his disciple, which was retold to us in the Gospel, that He would be leaving this place to prepare an even more beautiful place for each of us. It was up to His followers, then, and even now, to continue his legacy on the earth. Even Jesus can’t lead, if no one will follow! Good thing he has followers!

I can’t help but this about what this means for me in my leadership role. I have been a “school leader” for 15 years now. I am not sure what my “legacy” will be, but I sure hope, when I leave, people will see my touch in the day to day works in my school and they will believe I had something to do with leading others to a better place for all kids!

I am so glad I made it to St. Maurice before Fr. Bert leaves. It is a beautiful place….and I wish him all the best as he heads to St. Cecilia!

Sunday, May 11, 2014 – St. Catherine of Sienna – (Riverside) Greenwich, CT

I got up early on this Mother’s Day and went off to church alone. As I drove down to Greenwich I thought about all those early Sundays I had slipped out of the house while the kids were sleeping so that I could go find some peace alone at church. When the kids were little I would call Sunday, My Body and Soul Day…I would go directly from Mass to Weight Watchers. It guaranteed me a good two to two and a half hours alone! It was my weekly renewal routine so that I could face and survive the week ahead. It was my own “Throw Back Sunday” kind of feeling.

I felt that same air of peace this past Sunday. It was a bright and beautiful Sunday morning. The storms from the previous night ended and a moist Spring morning woke as I drove down I-95 to Riverside. The peaceful ride brought me back to thinking about the kids when they were little; some sleeping, some eating cereal, Vinnie drinking coffee and doing the crossword puzzle, and me heading straight out the door looking for my space on an empty pew. That place in church was a place to breathe; my refuge from the week’s chaos of lunches, appointments, laundry, lesson plans, correcting papers, cleaning the house, etc. And I realized in my little private flashback on Sunday morning, I wouldn’t change one second of those crazy times for the entire world! As a matter of fact, some days I would go right back there in a heartbeat if I could!

I entered St. Catherine of Sienna Church and went to the fourth or fifth row on the right. It is a usual spot for me. With a light heart on this Mother’s Day, sitting in the pew in a church I have never been in before, I looked to my right. On the stained glass window, there was a passage from the bible – “I will establish peace in their homes”. I felt like this was a special message to me and I felt peaceful.

The priest came to the podium for the homily and brought the Gospel – The Good Shepherd reading -John 10:1 -10 – to LIFE!! He truly was born into a family on a farm and his own true father was a SHEPHERD to 60 sheep!! He spoke with such love and reverence as he conveyed his own father’s lessons about being a shepherd and the responsibility he had as he learned to move the sheep in to the safe boundaries through a gate. He spoke about how his father would warn him about the wolves and goats who would try to jump the wall and steal the sheep in the night. He spoke about how his father’s sheep knew his father’s voice, but did not regard his voice at all. And he spoke of the love his father had for his sheep; each of which he knew by name.

He brought the gospel to life. A beautiful image of love and protection on this Mother’s Day morning!

Saturday, May 10, 2014 – St. Catherine of Sienna – Trumbull, CT

Here it is Wednesday already and I am just sitting down to write this past weekend’s blog. Life is so busy!!

Last Friday I was in my office. Something called to me to get up and look through my book case. I was honestly looking for nothing in particular; I just needed a quick read for the weekend. A book caught my eye. I am not sure where it came from or how long it had been sitting on my shelf. It is called The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People by Kevin Leman and William Pentak. Needless to say, I pulled it out and took 15 minutes to start reading it. I am not sure what lured me to that book, but I stuck it in my bag and brought it home for the weekend. I will finish reading it this week I hope!

This past Saturday, Mom, Dad, and Vinnie came with me to Mass. Ironically, almost exactly 24 hours after I left my office on Friday afternoon, the gospel was about The Good Shepherd – John 10:1-10. The image of the shepherd always watching over his sheep is a beautiful one I have seen many times in my lifetime. It is reassuring in the thought that “all will be well”. The image of Christ watching over us for always is soothing. He knows us each by name, even when we stray or try to hide. He calls to us and He will wait patiently until we come back to Him. Pretty nice image. It makes me feel safe in this world.

As the priest, Fr. Darius, spoke of the homily, I thought about the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd and the book I took home for the weekend and it struck me how much “shepherding” I do on a given day. As the mom at home and the teacher and the administrator at work, my primary jobs focus on nurturing and protecting many individuals – kids and adults alike! I need to know their needs, their wants, their goals, their strengths, and their weaknesses. I need to know their names and the names of people they are connected to. They use me as a resource, a sounding board, and a cheerleader. They want me to give them support, guidance, feedback, and most of all…love.

I hope that I am a good shepherd to the people who rely on me to protect and nurture them every day. It is a hard image to live up to, but I have a pretty good role model to look up to!!

Sunday, May 4, 2014 – NECC – Norwalk, CT

Vinnie came with me this morning to NECC. The pastor was continuing the study of Peter 1 and 2 in his Made Strong series.
The service was nice and a girl named Gina sang a beautiful song called “OCEANS” by Hillsong United. It is on the K-LOVE radio station all the time, I love it. Here are the lyrics….It is almost like a meditation when you hear it to music…It is a beautiful song…great music! YOUTUBE it!

You call me out upon the water
The great unknown, where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep, my faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours, and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed, and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours, and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours, and You are mine

These are my favorite lyrics:
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed, and You won’t start now
It is nice to know there is a hand guiding me…and protecting me…pushing me…when I am afraid my feet may fail me………and block me from moving forward!
It is nice to think of that image….”My soul will rest in your embrace.” Just the thought of that is healing.

Saturday, May 3, 2014 – St. James – Stratford, CT

Aunt Ann and Mom came with me to church this morning. I checked Mapquest and off we went to Stratford. What I didn’t know was that the Mass at that church was moved from 8am to 9am for First Communion. So we jumped in the car and had 7 minutes to get to another church. Once we hit Main Street though, I pulled out the GPS (!) and found St. James less than a mile away.

I think we were meant to find St. James today, because it was a beautiful church, perfect sermon, and had a special blessed moment at the end. We slipped in during the first reading. After the Gospel reading, the priest (Later we found out his name was Fr. Tom and the parishioner who told us, described him as “Terrific with a capital T!”) stood at the podium to deliver the homily.

Fr. Tom started off the homily with the words “He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life”. He talked about finding the Way (Again, that GPS got us there!) and then being open physically and spiritually to the Truth. He talked about the fact that once you describe yourself as a follower of Christ, you can’t just pick out the “good parts we want to know and do” and disregard the rest. To be a true follower of Christ is an all or nothing package.

WOW! That is interesting!

I thought of all the times that I have thought about something I don’t agree with in a reading or in the Bible….I just disregarded it and openly said, “That doesn’t make sense to me” or “I don’t agree”. I need to think about that a little more! Maybe it is an ALL or NOTHING deal!?

He then went on to say, once you have found the Way, and sought the Truth, you will have Life in Christ. To be totally living a life in Christ, you have an open invitation to lay your burdens down at His feet and rest in the knowledge that He will take care of it. What a beautiful image!!!I truly need to lay the things that lay heavy in my heart down….at the feet of Christ!

In fact, as you enter the church this message is over the door for all to see: “Come to Me, all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28. It was nice to hear a homily that so totally aligned to the welcoming message.

As Fr. Tom Lynch continued the Mass following the homily, I turned around to wave peace to the other people at church. I was so caught off guard when a man, about 40+, was standing across the aisle. He had longish hair, a beard, jeans, work boots, and a Tshirt. At first glance, he could have been a bigger version of my brother, but a second look, as he turned and faced me….he kind of resembled Jesus! I turned and told mom and Aunt Ann…”If Jesus was standing here, that is what he would look like!” They agreed!!

After Mass, a gentleman asked Fr. Tom to bless his parents who were celebrating their 60th anniversary. He did better than that! He called us all back together to the center of the aisle, to pray over the couple, as they faced each other and held hands, and renewed their wedding vows! An impromptu wedding…YUP…I cried! It was beautiful!

I was so intrigued by Fr. Tom and St James church, I looked up their website. Across the top banner is their Mission Statement:
See a face, learn a name, share a story, love one another

After spending one hour there…..I had no problem believing that this is a parish that is living their faith!

Sunday, April 27, 2014 – St. Thomas Aquinas Parish – Fairfield, CT

I got up early this morning and headed off to Fairfield. WOW!! SO MANY FLOWERS! Holy Cow! Left over plants and arrangements from Easter!! Beautiful on the big wide altar. A really nice bonus was that I saw my friend/colleague from work there, Diane. I was impressed. It is always strange, but comforting when I see someone in a place I don’t expect to see them. It was nice to sit with her in that quiet place. For a 7am Mass there were a lot of people there.

Today was a very big day….St. John Paul II and another man became Saints in the Catholic Church! It was kind of cool to have new ones reach that status. I wish the priest had spoken more about that, but he did mention them and we prayed for them!

The sermon was about Doubting Thomas. The priest focused on the relationships we have of all kinds. We have friends, family, long term or short term people that come and go in our lives. We have relationships that go on forever while other relationships end abruptly, sometimes without ever knowing why. He then switched to Jesus’ relationship with the people in his life. He buddy, Thomas, doubted his Resurrection and needed proof from his friend’s visit after crucifixion.
For me, some friendships I need no proof of the loyalty and trust that exists. When it is true friendship, you just KNOW that person will be there for you, even if you have never had to test your theory. Other friendships do come and go. They seem to have their own rhythm. I remember trying to explain to my kids that we have different friends for different reasons. Whether I want to go to a movie, grab a drink, have a cup of tea, walk along the beach, or go off into the woods, I know I would call upon different friends for those different events.

Jesus needed a “doubting Thomas” in his circle of friends. Thomas, seemingly VERY concrete, needed to explore the reality of his friend’s work that needed to be done on this earth and in the afterlife for all of us. When I have friends who have died, I can still feel their presence at times, in certain places, at certain moments. Thomas’ story of needing to touch Jesus is a tangible reminder that our friends, those we have had relationships with, are still here….spiritually…even though we can not put our hands on theirs’ any longer.

It was funny to me that the priest’s sermon was about relationships and there I was sitting with Diane, unplanned, a colleague, friend of over 20 years, in a church I had never been in before.

Just by chance??

I DOUBT IT!!

Saturday, April 26, 2014 – Our Lady of Fatima – Bridgeport, CT

Mom got in last night and we headed off to 8:00 mass in Bridgeport. It was pouring rain. I had checked on Mapquest, but who knew Bridgeport did not have street signs everywhere!? We where somewhere near the church, we had passed it, missed the street, then got turned around. I pulled out the GPS and we were there in less than 2 minutes! Amazing!
Once we were in the church, we settled down and tried to listen to the priest. Between his accent and the fact that we were seated way in the back of the church, I couldn’t understand anything he was saying. My mind wandered as I looked at the beautiful glass windows….simply amazing. As I looked around, I thought of the many things we all associate with a church…and the fact that I have seen these reminders in all the churches I have been in so far….stained glass (most of them!), candles, alter, pews, Stations of the Cross, American Flag, statues, the crucifix, the priests’ robes, etc. All of those things are not Christ, yet they remind us that He is there! We are on a journey that will bring us to Christ.
In fact, these things – present in all the churches – are like the GPS to help guide us to Christ! For me, it became in interesting idea to think about.
The Church is kind of like a GPS to help us stay focused, guide us, direct us, and give us clues to where we are going as we try to get through week to week. “Church” is the physical destination that we may have to use a GPS to get to, but inside it, are all the reminders of the real destination and the journey we are on……