Sunday, October 26, 2014 – Saint Charles Borromeo Parish – Bridgeport, CT

After St. Michael’s I drove about 4 blocks over to catch a Brazilian Mass said in Portuguese. This was my 3rd out of 4 masses this weekend said in a language other than English!!

I got into the parking lot as the Spanish mass was getting out. I parked, walked to the front of the church and walked up the stairs. I took a step in and was totally overwhelmed! It was beautiful with a huge red altar wall with gold paintings, the stained glass above the crucifix shone through the morning light, and the wood ceiling was rich and protective. The windows were enormous and told the well loved stories of Christ’s life. I went in and took some pictures. When I turned around to look up at the choir loft, I saw the sign over the entrance/exit at the back of the church. “MOTHER OF GOD, BE WITH US ON OUR WAY.” What a nice thought to have as you leave the church….Mary is with us…what a nice image to hold onto. How nice!

There must have been over 200 parishioners who filed in as the rock band warmed up and the video system was plugged in and set up since there were no hymnal books for anyone. The whole mass was projected to the large screen.
The music was fabulous. As the priest came down the aisle EVERYBODY sang and the clapping began. It was so alive with a great family feeling.

There was such a community feeling. The adults seemed to be swapping children, cuddling them, and kissing them. Grown men openly hugged their friends and slapped each on the shoulders, girlfriends/boyfriends or husbands/wives stood and prayed with arms around each other. It was more like a celebration of a community than a mass. It was absolutely wonderful to witness.

It made me wonder what it would be like to grow up in a homogenous community…everyone the same cultural background, religion, traditions, etc. It was kind of cool. It was the same feeling I had at the Spanish masses I have been to….or the Vietnamese mass. Very interesting!

Sunday, October 26, 2014 – Saint Michael the Archangel Parish – Bridgeport, CT

This morning I went up I-95 to the same exit Lisa and I got off of last night for Mass. I went one mile in a different direction and was at St. Michael’s. It stands boldly on a side street, but when you walk in, you feel like you are in a different county. It is a Polish community, even though this mass was in English. The priest was Polish, along with the books and hymnals.

The inside of the church felt like a refuge from reality. Beautiful (mahogany??) dark wood, huge glass windows with mixed colors that blended together to create gorgeous images. The light came shining through highlighting various shades or blues and purples, shades of orange and reds and shades of greens mixed with yellows. GORGEOUS! There were details in the marble, the statues, and the wood. There was so much to look at! I wondered how old it was. The brick on the outside did not look too old, yet inside it felt like a step into history; a different time and a different place.

The priest did a beautiful homily about the statement “I love you”. He spun off from the reading about the greatest commandment and talked about how commonly the word LOVE is used. But he challenged us to think about what it really means and how we really demonstrate it on a daily basis. He said, “It is easier to talk about love vs. showing love.” I agree with him.

He asked a really important question. “Do I love all people – as Christ does?” OR “do I just tolerate a lot of them because I am supposed to?” Wow…great question! He talked about “loving someone” is a decision that you do with your heart, your soul and your mind. It doesn’t just come out of nowhere often. We have to make the decision to love others and then push ourselves so that our actions align to that decision. THAT IS HARD!!! I didn’t think I was ready to think so hard in Mass this morning, but he made me think which is good. It really is easier to say “ I love you” than to make sure EVERY action you do shows that “I love you”. (I know there have been plenty of time my words and actions did not align….especially to the ones I “LOVE” inside my house!!!! Just being honest!)

He asked us to clearly understand that when we say “I LOVE YOU”…we are really saying,

“I AM DECIDING TO LOVE YOU”….and by doing that saying to ourselves in that relationship:

“You have God’s respect through me so I only want what is good for you.”
“I feel responsible to help you even if it is at a cost for me.”
“You are worth my sacrifice.”
“Trust me, I won’t let you down.”

As I reread these statements……Isn’t that what Christ meant when he laid down His life for us because He loved us?

Saturday, October 25, 2014 – St. Mary Parish – Bridgeport, CT

Every now and then you come across a man who seems timeless and he takes you back to when you first knew him. That is Fr. Bernelli.

Lisa and I decided to go to St. Mary’s 4:00pm Mass today. We knew it would be in SPANISH, but we really hoped Fr. Bernelli would be saying the mass. We were not disappointed. Two steps into the main entrance, he met us coming from the church to get ready for Mass. A quick “Hello, it is us, Debi and Lisa Keller” and he had his arms around us!! It felt so familiar and welcoming!! In a church we had never been in before, we felt like we were home.

We quickly caught up, How is Charlie and Mary? Where are they now? How are your kids? How are your siblings? He told us he is 76 years old! He looks the same as he always has in my mind.

Then he told us he had left St. Joseph’s 35 years ago!! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?? 35 years ago I was 16 years old. That was a year and a half BEFORE I met Vinnie!! This man has been someone in the back of my mind for a time; longer than I have known most people in my world and he took me right back to my childhood. He is the priest who comes to my mind when I think of my religious foundation. He was there with me, my family, and the St. Joseph community through my adolescent years. In my heart, I know he is a good man; an ethical man of integrity, of responsibility, of kindness, and of love. It is no wonder that he has made his home so successfully in down town Bridgeport, two minutes off of I-95. The parish must just love him.

When I told him we were visiting all the churches in the Bridgeport Diocese, his response was “Why? They are all the same!” He smiled. Then later on, as he left to go get ready for Mass, he said, “The mass is in Spanish, I hope you understand.” Lisa got a great laugh from him when she said, “It will be fine….Remember, they are all the same!”

The church was spectacular and he gave us the brief rundown of Italian glass, marble, and details; the structural community that he created with his parish 25 years ago. It was simply magnificent. It felt so comfortable to be surrounded by huge stained glass windows with the saints protecting us all and depicting the well loved stories of Christ’s life along side of us and a huge mosaic Christ in front of us. Simply amazing!

Saturday, October 25, 2014 – Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish – Danbury, CT

This morning was very interesting. I went up for a 7:30am mass in Danbury. NOBODY was near the church. I waited across the street thinking I might see someone go into the church or have lights come on or something. Then, I saw someone slip into the Parish Center just next door. I decided to follow her in. I entered the Center’s main “living room” that was set up like a chapel. It was very quaint.

A nice older woman came to me. I asked if there was a mass here. She said, “Yes, but it is in PORTUGUESE.” I told her that was OK with me and asked if I could stay. She said, “Of course.” With that the 9 people total took out a book and started chanting, being led by one man next to me, in Portuguese. She leaned back over to me and said, “First we do prayers, then we will do Mass.” Sounded OK to me.

The priest came out and began the Mass. It is fascinating to me when everyone understands what is going on except me. I think it is very interesting to watch. Again, as I have experienced before, the language of a Mass is universal. There are pauses, responses, bows, stand ups, sit downs, rhythms that all make the experience familiar even without the common language.
The Mass gave me about a half an hour to just breathe and take it all in. It was so peaceful listening to the responses of the 9 people……at least 7 of them were over 65, the other 2 were about my age. It felt like we were all in one of these people’s living room. It was very nice.

At the end of Mass there was a Eucharistic Adoration. Some of the women were on their knees, some of them were standing, and I sat for a few minutes, then decided to leave them all as they prayed to the Holy Eucharist. Their faith seemed so strong to me. I don’t know one of their names or what their stories are, but I was with 9 people who truly believed Christ was in their midst on this Saturday morning. Very cool.

Sunday, October 19, 2014 – St. Roch Parish – Greenwich, CT

Liz and I went off to St. Roch’s bright and early. This is the church she was Baptized in. In fact, her whole family has a strong connection and love for this parish! It was like she was taking me home to meet her childhood. I LOVED IT!!!

The priest spoke about loyalty to Cesar (a leader and/or material things) vs. loyalty to God based on the reading that ends with “Give Cesar what is Cesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” He talked about when things are fine and everything seems balanced in your world, it is no big deal and we just go on our way assuming we are provided with what we need and give what we can give. The problem arises when a conflict in those two worlds (country vs. God, material things vs. God, a leader’s politics vs. God, etc) THEN….where does our loyalty land?? To God first??

I hate to admit it, but if I am being honest, for me the answer is not usually to God first. I like to say that God would be first, but if push came to shove, I am not sure how frequently I’d land there. Great debate to think about. I am not sure how different or how similar my decisions, which would reveal my loyalty, would be from my family and friends’ decisions. Good to think about it. I like the way he framed it all!!

The priest seemed like a very nice man, but he announced that he would be leaving the parish to go back to the hospital as the chaplain. When we were leaving we were chatting with him. He was very sweet as he said, “Please pray for me.” Made me have a moment of emotions! Very sweet!!

Then the highlight of the day came! Liz and I went out for breakfast! I love diners and so does she. We are a good pair! I had an order of corned beef hash for the first time since April….and order of my own. It was delicious!! Great morning, great mass, great food, but the best of all is a great friend!!

Saturday, October 18, 2014 – St. Leo Parish – Stamford, CT

Liz surprised me and jumped into the pew beside me right after the Gospel. She was in the back row and spotted me…she knew I’d be there! What a treat!
The priest’s message was kind of short and sweet…..Our prayers don’t go “unanswered” when we don’t get what WE want. They are just answered in ways that we didn’t expect, but they are answered as part of HIS plan for us.

Although I had heard statements such as this, it always sounded like a lame explanation that just meant you weren’t getting what you wanted, so suck it up!! Tonight, however, I heard it with a more open heart, I guess. I thought of the many times I did not get what I thought I wanted and things actually made sense or led to something better a little time after. I think if I reflect enough there are very few times I have been disappointed in the long haul. Sometimes I just think I thought I was lucky, but through this lens, perhaps God did have a better plan for me than I thought I had for myself.

HAHA….Just got a perfect example that just came across my text….I just told my niece that I am on Day 117 in my mind of doing the hike of the Appalachian Trail that I couldn’t get a sabbatical to do….her response was “That really stinks, just wasn’t meant to be right now…you’ll get to do it soon enough!”….I think even my walk will be done on God’s time….with His Plan!!

As a throw back to my childhood, the congregation sang The Our Father….same tune we used to sing at the folk mass at St. Joseph’s….so comforting to go back in time!

Sunday, October 13, 2014 – St. Gregory The Great – Danbury, CT

I darted out of Our Lady of Guadalupe to get across town to St. Gregory’s. Since it is the church where my sister-in-law grew up in and it is near my brother’s house I knew exactly where I was going. Fortunately, there was one path out of the jammed up parking lot and I was able to squeeze my way over to make it in time for the start of the mass at St. Gregory’s.

Going from a packed church to a wide open church of maybe 60 people today felt strange. It was a shame because the homily was a good one! And….it was in English so I understood it.

The priest began the homily with an analogy of a cruise ship. Plenty to eat, plenty to drink, you want for nothing on a cruise ship. All your needs are met, if you just ask. And you can go back for more food whenever you want. You can nourish the body day and night on a cruise ship.

But then he switched to the invitation to the Eucharist that nourishes the soul. He talked about preparing for His Banquet and accepting HIS invitation to be nourished day and night. He talked about the fact that time will pass whether you are prepared to accept the invitation or not. He talked about life being VERY SHORT and we don’t always get time to prepare to be prepared. He talked about the commitment of going Mass regularly as a way of accepting the invitation and the Banquet is always set for you and always waiting through the Eucharist. He explained that the offer of Mass, the invitation to the Banquet, is His Gift to each of us. He had such a nice way of explaining it all and he was so easy to listen to. Such great imagery!

He went on to talk about the fact that Life is a mystery and everything can change in a second. We need to be prepared for the Banquet by being the best human being you can be today and every day. It is a privilege to be invited to God’s table. He made me feel like I was special (and chosen to be invited) just like the priest did in the Spanish mass only an hour before.

He went on to talk about the fact that we can not accept the invitation for others….our children, our spouses, nieces and nephews, etc. This hit kind of close to home since I wish all our my kids and nieces and nephews felt connected to a church….ANY CHURCH….at this point in time…but they do not. He gave us “permission” in a way to let it go and let God work His Plan so that they will each hear, receive, and accept the invitation in their own time….with his Hand to guide them. Again, such a nice image to hear and feel.

At the end of the mass, he said something that stayed with me….it was just a slight change, but I think my heart was very focused on the kids in my world. He said, “May the Peace of the Lord be with You and Your Families”. It felt like such a nice blessing to wrap up the mass…..I felt like he was blanketing all of my loved ones with LOVE.
Very nice!

Sunday, October 13, 2014 – Our Lady of Guadalupe – Danbury, CT

This morning I debated with myself about the order of masses and which churches I would go in. I decided to head up towards Danbury and catch two masses. I am glad I did!!

As I pulled into the parking lot for Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was tucked into a little neighborhood area, I immediately guessed it would be a SPANISH mass. There were a couple of Spanish men setting up tables of hand carved Madonnas, Nativity Scenes, and Crucifixes for sale. They were beautiful!! Four other men walked past them with their guitar cases – obviously they’d be the choir.

I asked a gentle man if the masses were at 8, 10 or 12. He said, “No, but the 9:30 was going to be in Spanish.” SO I stayed. It was a pretty church. It looked like someone’s home with big windows facing into the woods. So relaxing.
The mass was packed! Young families with standing room only! It was incredible. The priest was wonderful. As I listened real closely and watched his expressive face with hands moving an a great smile, I could almost understand what he was saying. My 7 years of Spanish was kind of paying off!

He talked about being special with a personal invitation to live a life that Christ has created for each of us. He made me feel kind of “chosen” without ever saying a word in English!

It did dawn on me as the crowd responded with “Pragamos al Senor” (We pray to the Lord), that God hears prayers in every language simultaneously!! That is kind of impressive to say the least!

I guess my egocentric self thought he would hear my prayers first since they were in English, then he would have to translate everyone else’s to English as well. Sounds pretty ignorant on my part now that I put that in writing. Maybe he is translating my English prayers to Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese or something else?? Ah……Pragamos al Senor!!

Saturday, October 11, 2014 – St. Peter Church – Danbury, CT

Today was another dreary Saturday and I was driving to Danbury again. This time alone which was fine. It was a nice ride.

It was a big old stone church sitting proudly right on Main Street. I don’t know how long it has been there, but I can only imagine the history the church and that stretch of Danbury holds. Beautiful.

The priest had such a nice voice; so easy to listen to and so welcoming. It was lovely to sit there for a half hour and just breathe and listen. He said something that was awesome at the moment and now I can’t remember what it was……Argh! I hate when that happens!! Maybe it will come to me….if so, I will write it down!!

Maybe it is a lesson that I should not be so smug and I should whip out my pen and write it down ASAP so I don’t forget.

Looking around the church, the stained glass and Stations of the Cross were beautiful. I loved them. The high cathedral ceilings tapered off into perfect triangles that held stained glass circles high above everything. It really was pretty. I would imagine on a bright and sunny day, the rays that would shine through the glass would be spectacular.

Sunday, October 5, 2014 – St. Stephen Church – Trumbull, CT

So I drove about 5 miles or less to the next church to hit that mass. I am glad I did.

It was a pretty church full of YOUNG SONS (again, nothing by accident!! No coincidences)….and the moment wasn’t lost on me. In this church, today was the day the teenagers were committing to the Confirmation process. With the sadness in my heart for Johnny Soyland, I was able to witness over 40 teenagers (and a lot were boys!!) line up to sign their name in a book to commit to the process and commit to deepening their faith and their lives as Christian followers. It was nice to see and yet be a stranger just observing.

In light of this observation about our sons and their commitment to life (and Christ) and the fact that it was the Feast of St. Francis, here are the words to the prayer. How nicely the words fit to the sadness in the hearts of so many of us in Norwalk who know this family……

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

In the end, I think these types of actions words (sow love, pardon, have faith and hope, be light, give joy, console, understand, love, receive, pardon and rest in eternal life) are the only ones that really matter.

Later in the week, at the wake for this young man, I hugged his mom and said, “Leslie, I have no words for you.”
Her response was a tight hug and the words “Debi, there are no words, there really is only love.”

What a lesson for all of us.