Dear Parish Family:
I have to be honest, I’m not looking forward to this weekend (I’m writing this column on Wednesday evening). Like some of you, this will be one of the “firsts” - the first Father’s Day without my dad physically present with my family and me. I am sure, like you, I’ll get through it. I would rather things be the way they were.
I actually remember last Father’s Day. We gathered at an Italian restaurant in Babylon and, looking back, can see that the struggles for my dad were not getting any easier. The months that followed did not change those realities. And last December, things radically changed.
Father’s Day can be tough for a lot of us for a lot of reasons. For some, like me, we’re mourning. For others, it’s a reminder of a loss from years ago. For others, it a reminder of the brokenness or weaknesses of our dads. For others, we harbor a pretty big “father wound”, as some spiritual writers have termed it.
This year, I have been pulled a little bit because of the Solemnity we celebrate today—the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. It comes on a good day for us to not only reflect on the importance of the cele-bration of the Eucharist but also how it touches and heals us, strengthens and empowers us to be more Christ-like in our everyday lives.
I think of that because of my dad’s great devotion to the celebration of the Mass. When I entered the Seminary, my dad started to go to daily mass each day at Our Lady of Lourdes in West Islip. I know why. He knew the importance of celebrating the Eucharist. He served as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and read at Mass even after battling the effects of cancer and its treatment. He knew how important it was to serve at the altar. I even remember how bothered he was when they were going to have a few Sunday masses with no music. That did not go over well! He knew how important it was to pray fully at Mass. I remember him making sure he was at many of the “bigger” masses at which I presided — Easter, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and the like. He often had a few observations about the presider after mass too :)! There came a time when my dad could no longer receive the host or receive from the chalice. He still made great efforts to attend mass or to watch on TV or even to come here to SJE a few weeks before his passing. He knew the importance of praying in the midst of the assembly.
I realize more clearly that the celebration of the mass is another place for those sacred encounters be-tween heaven and earth. When I preside at Mass or concelebrate, the words in the Eucharistic Prayer, when we remember the dead, mean a little more. When I hear that someone requested that my dad be prayed for at mass, I pause for a bit. When I hold my chalice or wear my alb –which my Mom and Dad both gifted me with — they have a greater positive weight. All reminders of the intimacy that the celebra-tion of the Eucharist, of the Body of Christ, offers each one of us as individuals and as the community of faith, in heaven and on earth.
So on this day when we pause to reflect considerably on the gift of the Eucharist, let’s pray that we will not only receive the body of Christ but more fully become the Body of Christ. We might just find that it is the healing and transforming encounter with Christ that we need. Maybe today, Father’s Day, won’t be too bad of a day after all. Maybe the same for you.
Dear Parish Family:
This weekend is a weekend of mystery in the life of the Church. The Holy Trinity is often a source of many questions and, truthfully, questions that are not entirely able to be explained. Even more truthfully, I am not going to be able to answer them. There’s something engaging about living in the mystery of the Trinity. We try to embrace it, allow ourselves to be embraced by it and use the “clues” the Scriptures and the Church’s teaching give us.
I have a feeling the situation of our Church building is becoming a bit of a mystery. Some people are wonder-ing why it is going to take so long or what’s the status of the building or what can we do. Let me try to an-swer a few of the questions, then if you have others, I’ll answer those in the weeks ahead.
Why is it taking so long?
The major damage to the Church was not damage related to fire but to smoke and the effects of the various chemicals used to attempt to start much larger fires. Basically, we are going rebuild the entire interior of the Church. This includes the replacement of all pews (they could not be refurbished), new duct work throughout the Church (this will require going into some walls), replacement of the ceiling and recently installed light fixtures, a new organ, a new sound system, a new floor and likely a few more things. (We seem to find more problems as we go along.)
What are we doing now?
Right now, the primary work has been the removal of many of the items above and related cleaning. The soot and smoke damage seeped into just about every part of the Church. We have met with an architect and are in process of working with the Town of Brookhaven to secure the necessary permits. The process of arranging different contractors and coordinating these various ser-vices will naturally add to our time.
Was anything salvageable?
Yes! All of our liturgical furnishings (altar, ambo, Presider’s Chair) and the statues are all in relatively good shape. The reredos was not damaged nor were the Stations of the Cross or the stained glass windows. Everything is in need of a good cleaning but we’re working on that.
How can I help?
Right now, we’re in a place where not too much can be physically done. Certainly, we are in need of help with our auditorium set up and clean up and will likely need help with more projects in the months ahead. I promise I will let you know if and when help is needed. People have asked about making dona-tions and certainly donations are most welcome. We will use that money toward the rebuilding efforts. I am hoping not to have to undertake a capital campaign or fundraising campaign for this rebuilding project.
Are we going to be OK? Absolutely. No question about that.
P.S. Starting next Monday, June 19, our daily mass schedule will change. Daily masses will be celebrated at 7 a.m. and noon each day. Please check the bulletin each week to find out if mass will be celebrated in the convent or the auditorium.
Dear Parish Family:
As I write today (Wednesday before Pentecost Sunday), I want to talk to you about some practical realities of our parish in these days. These are some of the “normal” things we need to talk about in the midst of parish life and some that take on heightened importance in these days.
Because of some of the changes that the repair of the Church will require, I want to alert you to some events and changes in our parish calendar.
Vacation Bible Camp 2017.
After looking at the calendar and the uncertainty of space availability in July, we have made the decision to not hold Vacation Bible Camp in 2017. We will issue refunds to those who have signed up. The dates for VBC 2018 are already set—July 23—27, 2018. So mark your calendars today!
Fr. Suglia’s Farewell Celebration.
Save the date—Sunday, June 25—12 Noon Mass. We will gather for a special 12 Noon liturgy followed by a reception as we wish Fr. Suglia well in his new assignment as Parochial Vicar of St. Kilian’s in Farmingdale. Please make every effort to attend.
2017-18 Calendar Dates. Just a reminder to all ministry leaders that all calendar dates for the 2017-18 year were due this past Thursday to email@example.com. Any dates submitted after this point can not be assured of a space as we working to finalize our calendar in the month of June.
It wouldn’t be abnormal for a pastor to speak about collections and money, right? Honestly, we need to have a little conversation about that. In these days when the upcoming rebuilding of the Church will impact our budget as will the regular expenses of ministry and service here in the parish, I ask you to please be as generous as you can in the Sunday collection. I am unsure if we will take on a campaign for the rebuilding of the Church at this point. I will rely on the Finance Council for some direction on this in the weeks ahead. While we will surely accept donations that will be applied to the rebuilding of the Church (and have), the best way you can support St. John’s is through your consistent generosity in the Sunday collection. Regardless of insurance coverage, which I hope will assist us, the rebuilding of the Church is going to dramatically impact our annual budget. It is ONLY because of your generosity that we can continue to move forward in our efforts of outreach, evangelization and mission. Can I ask you to consider this in the weeks ahead and perhaps even “step up” your generosity in the Sunday collection particularly as we are heading into the summer and the end of the fiscal year? Without your support—financial and otherwise—we will soon find ourselves in a desperate financial situation.
Next Sunday, I hope you plan to come to our Parish BBQ! Before I arrived here, Father Walter had told me this is the event of the year. The truth—we need a good community building, fun event! So please make every effort to attend. I have asked that we not take up a collection for the BBQ this year. If you would like to make an offering or a donation you’re most welcome. Most important, for me, just come and get together, let’s have a great day as a parish community.
Though what has happened to us in these days is admittedly a bit overwhelming, I have been even more overwhelmed by how we have come together to witness to the power of Pentecost in our midst! So many of us have shed tears of sorrow over what has happened in our beautiful church. Pentecost reminds us that we will shed tears again, but this time tears of joy for what the Holy Spirit has done for us!
Come Holy Spirit, enkindle the hearts of your faithful here at SJE!
Dear Parish Family:
“What did I just go through?”
This question was asked by a young adult client of mine who had visited me in my last parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Knowing that a funeral was about to end and so was our session, we walked over to the Sacristy to visit the guest celebrant. I knew what was about to happen to this young man. In a span of about five minutes, he was asked why he was not a priest, told he should consider ending the relationship with the girlfriend (“we can take care of ending that”), told to shave and informed that the person who was speaking to him had celebrated mass just about every day of his adult life. What did that young man just go through? He had just met Msgr. James M. McDonald.
On Wednesday, I received an encouraging email from Msgr. McDonald about our Mass for Healing on Tuesday. He offered his support and expressed his great love for St. John’s. He wrote me, “You will find, however, that there are no people like those of St. John. Even more - our Blessed Mother will help you as she did me.” Is anyone surprised that he would write this to me? Today, at his present parish of St. Aidan’s in Williston Park, Msgr. McDonald will celebrate his 50th anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood. Whenever I think of him it is always with great awe and admiration.
Our paths have crossed in different ways over the years. He interviewed me before I entered the seminary. We both served at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lindenhurst. When I learned of my assignment here, he was one of the first people I called. (Are you surprised that he had already heard about the assignment?)
Whenever we meet each other, there are often jokes back and forth about different things. I have been told that I am a “delayed vocation” and am “renewed” (not sure that’s a compliment). Any of you who attended the funerals of Ernie Vigliotta and Ben Pirraglia this past November know what I am speaking about. I often have a few quips back too! But he always, always, always ends with words of admiration, love and support and comments, “You’re not that different than me” (I think that’s a compliment).
One of the first people I thought of when I learned of last Friday’s events was Msgr. McDonald. I know of his love for Center Moriches and all of you at St. John’s. I also know how instrumental he was in getting our present building established and, yes, I know it was a challenging time for him and for the parish. My heart broke for him as I realized what was happening to the church building. My heart broke because I don’t think I know a more dedicated and committed priest or human being than Msgr. McDonald. He is often the first to write a note or send an email. If you’re sick or in the hospital, he’s there regardless of where you might be ailing. Calling others to the sacraments like no other. Supporting people through the annulment process. Celebrating weddings, funerals and baptisms wherever needed. Committed to celebrating of the Eucharist like no other.
Encouraging vocations anywhere and everywhere. Before he even knew me personally, he saw me a few times as a student and campus minister and asked, “Why aren’t you a priest?” While I did not know him well then, he certainly made an impression. I think of him during these difficult days at St. John’s. These days that are, at times, pretty overwhelming. I recall his amazing devotion. I remember his commitment to the people. I even smile at some of his classic lines and phrases. His presence helped to transform this parish through some pretty difficult times. His presence here on Tuesday was a good reminder that, indeed, we’re going to be OK!
In Jesus and Mary, let us pray in thanksgiving for the priestly presence of Msgr. McDonald. May today’s celebration be a source of joy and celebration for him as it is for the church.
In the second reading at mass this Sunday, St. Peter tells us to be sure to "give reason for our hope". As I write today about our parish, at first glance, it might seem hard to give reason for our hope.
A life has been a lost. A building seriously damaged. A local community shaken. A parish community broken. Yet, we are a people of hope. It's what the season of Easter is all about. We find light in darkness. We rise in death. We discover hope in despair.
Our parish community has been rocked in these past few hours. No question. But we will come through this because of the faith that makes us Catholic, a faith that transcends any building, that overcomes any tragedy.
We find reasons for hope in the many acts of goodness we have been recipients of in these hours. The hundreds of people who came to St. John's wanting to do something. The OLQA community for taking good care of our students. The staff at St. John's for working tirelessly to guide local officials. The incredible and amazing outpouring of service from the Suffolk County Police Department. The presence of Bishop Perez all day at SJE and the support of Bishop Barres - plus so many others who reached out to provide resources and express support. Yes - good reasons for hope.
Let us pray for and with one another in these days. Let us pray too for the man who barricaded himself in the church and whose life was lost today. Pray for his family and friends too. Prayer. Another good reason for our hope!
Our Lady Queen of the Apostles, pray for us. St. John the Evangelist, pray for us. Please be patient.
Dear Parish Family:
As we move closer and closer to the feast of Pentecost, the Gospels draw our attention to the working of the Spirit. In today’s Gospel, Jesus assures us of the presence of the Advocate who will come and will never leave us as orphans (John 14). We seek and pray for the coming of the Spirit to not only comfort and console us but to inspire us to be advocates for one another.
This week, I want to share some good news about and for our parish family. After consultation with the Sister Ann, the Pastoral Team and the Finance Council, I am excited to announce that Alex Finta has been hired as the new Associate Director of Parish Social Ministry at SJE! This is indeed good news and, to take from today’s second reading, another reason “for our hope” at St. John’s (1 Peter 3:15). Alex has served here over the past year as a social work intern. Since his arrival in the parish and in the school, he has gently made an impact on the lives of many. Recognizing Alex’s talent and his deep desire to minister to the poor and vulnerable, as a parish we did not want to miss this opportunity for Alex and for St. John’s.
As the Associate Director of Parish Social Ministry, Alex will focus his work on the “peripheries”, the “going out” of the Gospel. A few years ago, Pope Francis said, “….we must open ourselves to the peripheries, also acknowledging that, at the margins too, even one who is cast aside and scorned by society is the object of God’s generosity. We are all called not to reduce the Kingdom of God to the confines of the “little church” — our “tiny little church” — but to enlarge the Church to the dimensions of the Kingdom of God.” This will be Alex’s focus in ministry. As he has done with our rapidly expanding Street Ministry, I expect Alex to carry this same vision and energy into some of our existing ministries and draw on his experience and wisdom to create more ways for you and me to bring the Gospel to those in need. This will be in many obvious and not so obvious ways as he tries to expand the ministerial dimensions of our parish.
We do an amazing job of ministering to those who come to our doors. For example, over the past two months, St. John’s served over 1200 individuals through our Outreach work, the Food Pantry and the Thrift Shop. We are indebted to Sister Ann and the hundreds of volunteers who make all of this happen. Alex has worked with Sister Ann pretty closely throughout his internship. With these existing ministries already in place, we hope to be able to do even more for the poor, vulnerable and marginalized in our parish community. Look for some new programs and ministries developing in this area as well as ways St. John’s will be more present in the local community, particularly to those on the peripheries.
It’s pretty clear why we are making this addition to our staff. How are we doing this? Well that part is because of you! Through your presence, generosity and financial support (particularly in the Sunday collection, the Parish Social Ministry Collection and the Poor Box) you demonstrate that caring for the poor and vulnerable is a priority for you and for our parish. This is another concrete action we are taking to care for those on the peripheries.
On a personal note, it has been a privilege to work and serve with Alex throughout this year. He is a man of great passion, witness and humility. Not only has he shared his many gifts with our parish community, but he has been open to the wonderful spirit that makes SJE the amazing parish that it is today. I am a better person because of his presence here. I am pretty sure you will be too!
With the help of the Advocate (John 14:16), I look forward to being an advocate with Alex and with all of you for those who are most in need.
Come Holy Spirit!
Dear Parish Family:
In my first months as a priest, I remember talking to a mother of two adult children. One of her adult sons was giving her a hard time. (We sons can be a handful!) She was getting a little upset and I said, “Oh, Mary, I’m so sorry you’re going through all of this. I hope everything will be OK.” Without missing a beat, she looked up at me and said, “Don’t worry about me, Fr. John. They make us mothers tough for a reason.” She’s right! They make mothers tough for a reason.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers of the Church today! While I cannot help but think of my own mom and the amazing woman she is, our thoughts and prayers, today, are with all of the mothers of our parish community. When I think of my own mom, particularly over this past year, I’m in awe of the selfless and humble sacrifices she has made for my dad and for our family. Not easy but no complaints. It is what mothers
For so many women, in the spirit of the Blessed Mother, they offer their gifts for the good of our parish in so many various ways. How blessedare we as we give thanks to God for mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, stepmothers, mothers to be, and all the women of our lives who make God’s presence known to us.I cannot help to also think of those who find this day difficult. I think of and pray for women who have struggled to have a child or faced the sickness and loss of a child. I think of and pray for women who have suffered through a miscarriage or have endured difficulty and challenge in raising their children. I think of the moms who pray and battle and struggle with their children battling addiction. I think of and pray for the mothers who have had to make the difficult decisions that love requires, even when it means putting in some boundaries and limits.
Indeed, they make mothers tough for a reason. And we are all better because of it! Let us give thanks to God this day and always, through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, for the gift of mothers in our lives and the life of the Church.
P.S. I want to thank you for your prompt and generous response to the Catholic Ministries Appeal. In our latest report, we have raised over $113,000 which is 114% of our diocesan goal. This is more than we raised in total last year. We reached the diocesan goal in about two months making one of the first twenty parishes to reach the goal. Last year, we were still trying to reach the goal in October. So thank you! I cannot tell you how happy and, honestly, how relieved I am that we have made our goal. While we are still short of our Challenge Goal of $130,000, this will be the last mention of the Catholic Ministries Appeal for this year. I will write to previous year’s donors who have not made a pledge and we will leave it at that. I have asked the diocese to no longer send letters to anyone and we will not include any additional envelopes in the Fall, as the practice has been in the past. If you haven’t made a pledge yet and planned to do so, can I ask you to please follow up as soon as you can? Again, I am so grateful for everyone’s support. It means a lot and makes a great difference