Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Monday, February 19, 2018

Columns

Q: Will we recognize each other and be able to talk in heaven?

It is fitting that one of the most frequently asked questions about the faith has to do with what happens after death.

The entire work of Christ and his Church is to make sure souls get to heaven. What life in heaven will be like is a great mystery, but the Church provides us with many clues as to what is to come. First, it is important to note that God has made each and every one of us for heaven. We were made to be saints, made to live with God forever in complete happiness. God created us and redeemed us; He invites us to share in his communion of love, both in this life and in the next.

This is the friendship that God forms with his people — a friendship of communion and love. We, of course, work on our daily sanctification to attain the great promise that God made to us. We want to be friends of God.

QA FrGlen art pg15As to whether we’ll recognize each other and be able to talk when we get to heaven, it is good to check to see what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about heaven: “This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity — this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed — is called ‘heaven.’ Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.” (CCC, 1024)

Heaven is not a place in the formal and literal sense; rather, it is a state of being, a state of perfect and definitive happiness. In heaven, we see God face to face, fully revealed in all his splendor, majesty and beauty. This action of seeing God is commonly referred to as the beatific vision. This is the ultimate end of each human person, to see God face to face. In seeing God, we share in his freedom from sin and suffering, free from attachment to sin and death, and truly live in complete happiness for all eternity. It is the longing of every human heart in which the great hope of our salvation finds meaning.

As the Catechism states, heaven is not a place but rather a state of being. Heaven fulfills all of our deepest longings and desires. Therefore, we do not need anything more than God in heaven. Our ability to see other people and to talk with them is not the emphasis of eternal life.

It is true that the communion of saints is a real communion, circling the throne of the Blessed Trinity. In this sense, we will be able to see and have communication with others in heaven, but it is not in the same way we relate with others here on earth.

We will see in heaven the fullness of God and we will be able to recognize who is there. Our participation one day, please God, in the communion of saints is our communication with others in heaven and participation in the life of God. We will be able to recognize and communicate with others.

Here on earth, nothing can compare to eternal life. Even the most beautiful places on earth are just mere glimpses of what is to come. We should have great assurance in the awesome promise and hope that our Lord Jesus won for us on the cross. By his suffering and death, Christ unlocked heaven for us. We must make it our constant focus and goal in life to aim for spiritual perfection, to aim to be the best friend of God that we can be so as to enjoy his friendship in this life and in the life to come. Heaven may be a mystery to us, but we do know one thing: It’s where we want to be after we leave this life!

Father Glen Dmytryszyn is parochial vicar at St. John Bosco Parish in Branford.

I spend a lot of time loitering in the halls and pathways of the criminal courts in Connecticut. When I say “a lot of time,” I mean hours each week. I usually have other work with me, trade magazines to skim (I’m that type of lawyer) or, quite often, some phone calls and emails to return. I don’t stand out as an attorney when I’m sitting around those hallways. Sure, I have a suit on, but so do many conscientious criminal defendants in different courthouses for different reasons. I am admittedly on the younger side of the bar and do have a healthy beard and mustache for most of the year. So most other people in the area just ignore me and carry on conversations or other activities around me.

In a courthouse hallway in Connecticut recently, a young man sat next to me. Shortly after that, a middle-aged man sat beside him. While I was reading a trial magazine article, they got to talking. The older man was complaining. He reported that he had been to court each month for most of this year. Most recently, he was charged with reckless driving and he was alleged to have been traveling in excess of 130 miles per hour. It’s not his fault, though, he complained; it is the fact that he drives only the priciest and highest-end cars, capable of breakneck speeds.

guarnieri art pg10The police and state’s attorney were absolutely wrong about him, he proclaimed. They didn’t use radar to track his speed, so the state has no case anyway, he claimed. He was merely following traffic. He was stopped with another car that was let go by officers at the scene without a ticket, clearly a selective prosecution because he was obviously financially well off, he said.

The older man had a lawyer, of course, but his counselor was not up to the significant task of handling such an important matter for such an important client, he explained to the younger man. If the state wanted to take this matter to trial against him, the state should just get to it, because he would never capitulate to having done anything wrong, he boasted.

More than that, if the state’s attorney wanted to force the issue to trial, the state would suffer. This is because, as reported by the older man, he owns a business in Connecticut that employs scores of people. If pressed to the limit in this case, he would simply close the business and relocate the whole operation to Aruba, merely for spite. All of those employees and their families will be fired and reduced to poverty, he claimed. The older man has a house in Aruba, he explained, and doesn’t need to work anyway, given his financial situation. Perhaps he would just retire, sell his house in Connecticut and take his luxury cars and other fine belongings to his Aruba homestead.

While overhearing the older gentleman, I felt nothing for him but loathing and revulsion. I even made a point of telling his attorney, someone I knew, that his client was a real piece of work (which, of course, he knew already).

However, reflecting later on this dialogue — and consulting my primary counselor, my wife — I was reminded of Mark 12:30-31: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. ... Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

In this passage, the Lord does not tell us to love those who love us, or who like us, or whom we can find redeeming qualities in. That would be easy, but being a follower of Christ is not supposed to be easy. As Catholics, we are called to love one another. To love is to will the good of this older man, my neighbor, who is another child of God. And I struggle, but continue to try.

Later in the morning, that older man’s case was called before the judge. His attorney had worked out a resolution in which the reckless driving charge would be reduced to a mere speeding ticket. In exchange, the man would make a $1,000 donation to a charity of his choice.

The judge asked how long the older man would need to afford this sizable donation. The lawyer knew that the man actually was not rich at all, had no high-end cars and no home in Aruba. He may have had a mental health issue or a good imagination, though.

His lawyer explained that, given his very limited income and assets, it would take the man at least six months to get $1,000 together.

Cody Guarnieri is a criminal defense lawyer with a Hartford law firm and is a member of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford.

That April morning in Manhattan when I had coffee with my friend Lenny, we discussed many things. The state of the nation, the state of the world, Donald Trump, Pope Francis, the job market, the stock market and our families.

He said his wife Denise was an agnostic and this saddened him profoundly. (I’ve often thought an agnostic is someone too lazy or too proud to ask God for answers.) Lenny went to church alone, and it was a cause of great suffering in his life. Not even his three kids joined him because their mother believed they should make their own decisions about God. How many times have you heard that? Let the kids decide whether they want to believe in God, whether they want to be baptized, whether they want to be Catholics.

Let me tell you a secret. Left to their own, they’ll make the wrong decision, which is why they have parents to direct them. Otherwise, a secular society that worships celebrities more than God will influence their decision, and it will be the wrong one.

As Lenny shared his story of family squabbles, I did the only thing I could and said, “I’ll pray for her.” I knew if Lenny told her I was praying, it would be divorce court for him and outrage for me, because saying you’ll pray for someone is verboten in America, where people believe change only comes from passing laws. Grace, though, is far more effective than rules and regulations because it comes from God.

pisani 07 0010Months passed and whenever we met, I reminded him I was praying for Denise. Large prayers and small. Novenas, Masses, rosaries. I was sure his and my prayers would make a difference, if not in this life, then in the next. Changes that come from prayer are often imperceptible because God works in his own time and at his own pace, but you can be sure he’s always at work, so never stop praying, especially for conversions.

I lost touch with Lenny until recently, when we had a few minutes to catch up on our jobs, our lives and our families. As I was about to hang up, he said, “I forgot to tell you: Denise is coming to church with us.”

We all have personal stories about the miraculous blessings Jesus showers on us when we pray. And we should share them with others, especially our children and grandchildren, so they realize from an early age that God is listening — that God is listening all the time, even when we’re not talking.

Prayer works. You may not see the results immediately, but you’ll see them. All you have to do is ask; Jesus does the rest. He answers prayers far in excess of our half-sighted expectations. It doesn’t have to be a monumental prayer.

Jesus hears them all, even simple ones like, “Lord, please help that homeless woman begging for change.” You may forget her, but Jesus doesn’t. When you intercede for someone, the person begins to change. Heavenly graces begin to flood the person’s soul. There’s hope.

It’s very simple. Ask Jesus to send graces for people. He knows their needs even before we ask him. Ask help for family members, friends and strangers who are troubled or tormented, and your petition will set in motion a heavenly rescue operation beyond your human comprehension. Saints, angels, Our Lady and Our Lord will get involved.

Just think of the joy you’ll feel someday when you meet people you prayed for in heaven and discover that Jesus took your simple appeal and saved troubled souls wandering in darkness.

For many years, I was one of those people — until changes began in my life that I couldn’t explain. People crossed my path when I needed them the most, and they pointed me toward God. Only years later, when I heard someone sing the Gospel song “Somebody Prayed for Me,” did I understand what had happened:

“I was lost and alone in a cold dark world, no peace of mind, no freedom could I see, but little did I know I had a friend somewhere ... somebody prayed for me. They had me on their mind, they took the time. They fell down on their knees and prayed for me. They had no doubt that God could bring me out, that he could change my life and set me free. I’m so glad someone prayed for me!”

Joe Pisani of Orange is a writer whose work has appeared in Catholic publications nationwide. He and his wife Sandy have four daughters.

Our lives change when our habits change. It’s that simple.

In our research at Dynamic Catholic, we have found that the single most important spiritual habit is prayer. If you want to be a better version of yourself, your growth will begin with prayer. On the one hand, that doesn’t surprise you, does it? I mean, Jesus regularly took time away, often early in the morning or late at night, and went to a quiet place to pray. But on the other hand, our research also found that most of us do not have a daily routine of prayer.

Oh sure, we pray. We pray a little here. And we pray a little there. But we quickly get distracted, or fall out of the habit, or just turn to prayer when we are in need of something in a hurry. “Oh Lord, please help me find a parking space. I’ve got a lot to do today.”

But it’s the #1 Habit. A daily routine of prayer.

The more time you spend in the classroom of silence, the more clearly you will hear the voice of God in your life.

Ten minutes a day can make all the difference in the world. Having a daily routine of prayer means having a time, a place and a structure. You will pray and you will tend to do it each day at the same time, in the same place, and in a regular way that works for you. Spending time in silence, listening for the voice and the nudging of God. Sitting in God’s presence, giving him your full attention even when you are saying nothing at all yourself. Since the average American spends more than eight hours a day in front of a screen (TV, computer, smartphone, etc.), stepping away from the noise into the silence can be revolutionary.

As you do that each day, your relationship with God will build, and your life will begin to change. Prayer works on your soul much like waves coming in day after day and slowly changing the coastline. Consistent. Powerful.

Habit experts have discovered how one habit lived well begins to change everything in your life. They usually call this the keystone habit. For example, the decision to run a 10K race will lead to the decision to run each day to get ready. That daily habit of running soon may lead to the decision to quit smoking to be able to breathe and run better. That habit may slowly cause you to eat differently and to drink differently. You are caring for your body so that it can run each day, to get ready for the race. That habit may also force you to rethink how you sleep. Again, you are slowly adjusting to the habit of running each day.

Day by day, bit by bit, your one keystone habit has opened the way for other habits and decisions that have revolutionized your physical life.

God invites you to make prayer your keystone habit. A daily routine of prayer is the ultimate game-changer. As you begin to pray consistently, you will notice other areas of your life opening up in healthy ways you never anticipated.

That time with God will spill over into multiple areas of your life. You might have more peace, experience more patience, find relationships deepening or live with more confidence. As your prayer life goes, so goes your life.

Our Dynamic Catholic team has designed a simple, straightforward way to have a conversation with God each day during your quiet time. We call it the Prayer Process.

It goes like this:

hunt pg 8STEP 1. GRATITUDE. Begin by thanking God for whomever and
whatever you are most grateful for today.

STEP 2. AWARENESS. Think about yesterday. Talk to God about
the times you were and were not the best version of yourself.

STEP 3. SIGNIFICANT MOMENT. Ask God what he is trying to say
to you today. Talk to him about that.

STEP 4. PEACE. Ask God to forgive you for anything you have
done wrong and to fill your heart with peace.

STEP 5. FREEDOM. Talk to God about some way he is inviting
you to change and grow.

STEP 6. OTHERS. Pray for the other people in your life by
asking God to guide them and watch over them.

STEP 7. PRAY the Our Father.

If you can only do one thing in 2018, let it be this: a 10-minute daily habit of prayer. Our lives change when our habits change.

Allen R. Hunt is senior advisor for the Dynamic Catholic Institute.

When I was growing up, my parents hosted some unusual parties, typically themed on a historic event that had occurred on the date of the party. I especially remember the President William Henry Harrison Day Party. President Harrison died of pneumonia a month after his bitterly cold inauguration, earning himself the dubious distinction of having the briefest presidential tenure. His entire 31-day presidency was spent in bed.

My dad wrote a lame, but hilarious, poem about President Harrison, then recorded the poem on a 45-rpm disc. (For those readers under age 50, 45s are small, old-fashioned records.) Then he mailed out the 45s, which served as party invitations. Everyone came except a woman who thought the record was junk mail.

Thus began my appreciation of unusual parties.

A generation later, when Peter and I were relative newcomers to town, we got hit with a Nor’easter that dumped 19 inches of snow in a matter of hours. Even if neighbors could clear their driveways, no one was going anywhere because the streets had not been plowed.

After being cooped up all day, it occurred to me that everyone else had been cooped up, too. On a whim, we decided to host a Blizzard Party that evening. We invited every neighbor who could safely walk to our house through the howling winds and snowdrifts.

People brought whatever they had on hand — salad, dessert, paper goods, drinks. I made a huge pot of chili, we shoveled a walkway to the door, built a blazing fire and waited for the party to start.

We had a fabulous time. Neighbors were delighted for an excuse to get out of the house and catch up with friends they hadn’t seen all winter. We ate and drank whatever victuals were provided, which turned out to be a feast. The party was a huge success, repeated many times over the years.

cram 06 0001It was a great idea, if I do say so myself.

In that same era, I again found myself cooped up, but this time it was late at night wrapping Christmas gifts away from the prying eyes of children. This led to another crazy idea. Most of my friends had young children, so they, too, had to sequester themselves for gift-wrapping. Why not do it together?

I reached out to a dozen women, inviting them to the first annual Wrapping Party. I held it two weeks before Christmas, but avoided the first night of Hanukkah. I told them to bring their unwrapped gifts and one roll of wrapping paper to swap (“Santa Claus paper”). I provided all the wrapping essentials and plenty of refreshments.

I cranked up Bing Crosby Christmas tunes, made a pitcher of margaritas and waited.

What if nobody came?

I needn’t have worried. The women loved getting out with friends, while simultaneously completing an important task. They didn’t want to go home.

I recently hosted our 25th annual Wrapping Party. Several times over the years, I’ve broached the fact that we don’t actually need to do this anymore. I mean, it’s not as if we still have small children with prying eyes.

Oh. My. Goodness. You’d think I’d stolen their secret stash of chocolate. While the wrapping element is no longer essential, the social aspect is as important as ever.

So each year, we gather with gifts in tow. We drink less than we used to, and we retire earlier, but we are just as delighted to be together.

William Henry Harrison. Blizzard parties. Christmas wrapping. It’s all about community and friendship.

Regina Cram is a writer, speaker and author. She and her husband live in Glastonbury and have four children and seven grandchildren.

 

In recent months, the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford implemented its pastoral planning process, which resulted in many parishes' being closed or merged. This unprecedented restructuring has produced a lot of upheaval in the lives of area Catholics. It also has produced a slew of letters to the editor in local newspapers.

Many people, upset that their lifelong parishes were closed, have not been shy about expressing their anger in print. Some of the letters accuse the archbishop and various clergy of being deceptive and dishonest. Other letters accuse individual pastors by name of being self-centered and unsympathetic toward the plight of the faithful, who must endure these drastic changes.

But it seems many of the angry letter-writers are being rather self-centered, too. A lot of the published complaints focus on matters of personal convenience, such as changes to the Mass times or being required to drive farther to get to Mass. By far the most common lament goes something like this: My parents and grandparents helped build this church! How dare you close it?!

However, I have yet to see a letter to the editor mention the root cause of the parish reorganization process, which also happens to be the most serious and heart-breaking issue facing the Catholic Church in New England: the fact that hundreds of thousands of precious souls have drifted away from the faith.

The statistics are undeniable — and frightening. Since the mid-1960s, weekly Mass attendance in the Hartford Archdiocese has dropped 69-percent. In other words, compared to a generation or two ago, less than one-third the number of people go to Mass nowadays.

The dramatic decrease in Mass attendance has produced a short-term, “here and now” impact: the closing and merging of parishes, and the inevitable angry letters to the editor. But the long-term, “there and then” impact is far more serious. When hundreds of thousands of people refuse to go to Mass anymore, they are clearly rejecting the teachings of the Church, which means they are rejecting the mercy and grace offered by the Lord, especially the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

To put it plainly: these people are literally putting the eternal fate of their souls in jeopardy. How can the closing of a few dozen parishes compare to thousands and thousands of souls lost for all eternity? If the letter-to-the-editor writers want to complain about the pastoral planning process, why don’t they mention this tragic situation?

OK, I know what you’re thinking: Hey Bill, aren’t you being a bit dramatic with all this eternal damnation stuff?

Well, in reply, let me ask a few questions of my own: Why does the Church even exist? I mean, why did Jesus establish the Church in the first place? Is it because he wanted us to have a place to hold weddings and funerals and potluck suppers? Is it because the Lord knew that people have an instinctive need to be part of a local community where they can socialize and complain about the leadership?

No, the Church actually exists for one simple reason: to make saints. Jesus founded the Church to spread the Good News and get precious souls into heaven for all eternity. If you still believe the Gospel message is true, when Mass attendance drops by 69 percent, it’s not an unfortunate development that requires structural reorganization. It is instead a heart-breaking, life-and-death tragedy.

So, if you are unhappy about the changes going on in the archdiocese and are compelled to write angry letters to the editor, go right ahead. But don’t forget to mention the saddest thing of all: the countless number of friends, relatives, and former parishioners who no longer are in communion with the grace and mercy and salvation offered by God.

Bill Dunn is a recovering atheist who resides in Torrington. He loves Jesus, his wife and kids and the Red Sox (usually in that order). He can be reached at MerryCatholic@gmail.com.

Dear Father Joe: Every year, Lent happens and I start off really hoping to make something of it. My intentions are the best, but it always seems like, the next thing I know, it’s Easter and I’ve missed it. Can you help me do better this year?

I believe I can help you! Let’s start with an important point: You are struggling with something that I think most people do — the inability to “get it right,” no matter how good our intentions or plans. What do we do about that?

We’ll start with St. Paul. St. Paul wrote about three-quarters of the New Testament. He was the bridge God gave us between Greek culture and philosophy and Hebrew culture and religion. He is so important to our faith that he is sometimes called simply “The Apostle.”

Yet, even with all that, he, too, struggled. Let’s peek at this passage he wrote in the Book of Romans:

fr joe pg12What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I concur that the law is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Now if [I] do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. So, then, I discover the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand. For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, with my mind, serve the law of God but, with my flesh, the law of sin. (Rom 7:15-25)

Isn’t that amazing? One of the greatest saints who ever lived ran into the same problem that you and I do, basically summed up in a simple phrase: I can’t get it right, no matter how hard I try, so I need to count on Jesus.

That’s the first step here: dedicate your efforts to Christ this Lenten season. Pause right here and now, reading this, and ask God to help you have a great Lent. Pour out your heart to him, share your past frustrations and your current hopes. Ask him to be your strength so that you are not relying on something so questionable as our human willpower.

Now for the second step: get to confession. To me, confession is one of those sacraments that we simply ignore at our peril. This is an opportunity to let Jesus “take the garbage out” and fill our empty spaces with his mercy, his love and his strength. If you are nervous and out of practice, let the priest know that. Tell him you are scared and haven’t done this in a while. Tell him why you are there. He’ll pray with you, grant you absolution and send you out the door ready to have a Christ-filled Lent.

The next step is about our attitude. We need to approach Lent with a mental attitude that we don’t get to define a “successful Lent.” Why do we do this? Because our idea of success is so much different than God’s. We tend to judge success by our performance and/or how we feel.

We cannot judge a “successful Lent” by our performance for a simple reason: that often can lead to pride, if we have a good performance, or discouragement, if we have a bad one. I imagine you’ve met people who seem to “get it right” most of the time: they know the rules, they live them well and seem to spend a lot of time focusing on how others aren’t performing as well as they are. These people, in my experience, can be some of the angriest people around and they don’t model a behavior that is appealing. This is because they have limited the idea of holiness to performance. St. Paul wrote a lot about this. You and I stand with St. Paul and recognize that judging our “spiritual success” by performance leads to arrogance or giving up. Our goal is not to be dependable for God, it’s to grow in our awareness of our dependence on him.

We also need to recognize that we can’t judge our Lent as “successful” based on our feelings because, frankly, our feelings are wildly unreliable. Often, they will unintentionally tie us to the first problem: going on our performance.
So, we’ve prayed and dedicated our efforts to the Lord. We’ve gone to confession to let Christ “take the garbage out” and we’ve let Jesus purge us of the human means of judging our Lent. What do we do now?

We embrace the purpose and mission of Lent! We fast, we pray and we give alms.

Each of these activities is geared toward the heart of it all: We treat Lent as a spiritual boot camp where we push ourselves to renounce our affection for and allegiance to this world and deepen our understanding and commitment to Christ.

As Catholics, we fast. And during Lent, we take it up a notch in two ways. First, we abstain from meat on Fridays (put that as a repeating reminder in your calendar for every Friday in Lent — all caps: NO MEAT!).

Second, most of us fast from something during the entirety of Lent, except for Sundays. A good standard here is to choose something that you will miss, but don’t need. Hint: It doesn’t need to be food. You may fast from TV or Facebook. Every time you feel that hunger pang or that draw to eat what you have given up, pray that you will hunger for God like you hunger for it. Tell God, “I give you this suffering in sacrifice for my sins and the sins of the whole world.” That’s how we fast.

Importantly, ramp up your prayer life, both communally and personally. If you don’t typically go to a weekly Mass, make sure you do once a week during Lent. Make sure you get to confession at least once during the Lenten season.

Mark those things on your calendar now so it doesn’t become a thing you do if you think about it. For personal prayer, get a daily prayer guide and use it each day. My favorite is the Magnificat. Almsgiving is caritas: love in action. This is when you and I pledge to be especially generous during Lent, to our Church, to the poor, to anyone God puts in our path. Check out your local Catholic Charities: They do amazing work and are always in need of financial assistance. In terms of your parish, consider giving more than you usually do each week. As a pastor of two parishes, I can promise you it will help!

Each of these activities is geared toward the simple premise of Lent: We push ourselves to renounce our affection for and allegiance to this world and deepen our understanding and commitment to Christ.

May God bless our Lenten season with holy dependence on him!

Father Joe Krupp is a former comedy writer who is now a Catholic priest.

guarnieri winter 300x275pxIn the wildly popular “Game of Thrones” series on HBO, based on the books by George R. R. Martin, each of the powerful families has an epithet that is particularly meaningful to the tribe, referred to as the family’s “words.” The words of House Stark, the lords and kings of the bleak and barren northern regions of the mythical land of Westeros, are “Winter is coming.” It is a constant reminder, especially in the soft warmth and promise of spring, and in the heat and plenty of summer, that the world is changing and harder times always are approaching. Moreover, the ever-present concept that winter is coming gives the northern families a shared sense of purpose; a united motivation to prepare for tomorrow and the lean days ahead.

I find a parallel between the words of House Stark and one element of the Catholic experience. While the world of Westeros is preparing to weather the storms and scarcity of the coming winter, the followers of Christ are on a perpetual journey in the wilderness.

The wilderness is not unlike the winter the Starks warn of. The wilderness is a place that is uncultivated, uninhabited and largely inhospitable to life. Few can survive in the wilderness for an extended period of time and some have perished in the attempt. But along with the desolation of the wilderness, there is also a sense of cleansing, refocusing and renewal that occurs there. In the wilderness, all of the distractions are stripped from us and only the essential aspects of our existence seem important. 

While the wilderness is a physical place, for sure, it is also a spiritual dimension; a place where one’s spiritual life is tested and hardened. It’s an environment where all of the nonessential baggage can be discarded on the road and one can continue journeying toward what is most important to one’s existence: the grace and love of Christ.

We take part of our journey into the desert together, as members of the body of Christ that is the Church. Throughout the liturgical year, we travel with Christ and his experiences of the wildernesses of his life. Before Jesus’ public ministry began, Israelites were drawn to the message of the coming of the Messiah. That message was not being broadcast by the rich, famous or powerful elite of society, but by a mere voice crying aloud in the wilderness. (Mk 1:3; Jn 1:23) Jesus himself went to the wilderness to fast and have his resolve tested by the devil. (Mt 7:1-11)

Despite our shared journey as the Church, we individually venture into the wilderness on our own occasionally and have our resolve tested. While the devil does not offer to make me king of the world, he does offer to let me sleep in on a Sunday morning when my newborn daughter has been up all night. Or tells me it is much easier to get through a hard day at the office by telling people what they want to hear, instead of telling the whole truth as my job requires. Or makes it hard sometimes to pick up that Bible at night when I’m just wondering, “What is the point of it all?”

The corollary to the Starks’ words that “winter is coming” is that on the other side of winter is spring and the return of easier times of plenty. On the other side of the wilderness is the fertile and lush spiritual life of God’s grace, in eternal abundance. As so many of Jesus’ trickier parables teach us, God’s grace is not offered by a measure of how much one deserves or needs. God’s grace overfills whatever cup it is poured into. When I’m in the wilderness, it is a comfort to think that the wilderness of suffering and grief and doubt is part of the journey. It is in the wilderness that I cast off the unnecessary encumbrances, making room for God’s grace, so that I may emerge lighter and more focused on the journey itself.

Cody Guarnieri is a criminal defense lawyer with a Hartford law firm and is a member of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford.

pisani hands clasped 300x275pxMany years ago, a little nun from the Sisters of St. Joseph would drill our third-grade class on the Baltimore Catechism, week after week, until we could recite the answers verbatim. It was as close to the Marine Corps as I ever got.

Occasionally, she’d interrupt her lesson to give us some spiritual advice. She said when we had pain or suffering in our lives, we should “offer it up” because Jesus could do wonderful things with our gift. A scraped knee. A stomach ache. A bruised elbow. Hurt feelings. No offering was too small or insignificant.

She said if we offered our suffering to Jesus, it would help him save souls wandering in darkness. It would provide relief to others in pain and despair. It seemed like such a peculiar exchange. We gave Jesus our pain and he could do incomprehensibly good things with it ... and reward us beyond our dreams in the next life.

St. Paul understood. In his letter to the Colossians, he wrote, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, the Church.”

As a child, I thought it was such a magical idea; however, as an adult, I’ve often been more self-absorbed with my suffering than with what Jesus can do if I turn it over. Rather than offering it up, I’ve been inclined to complain: “Why me, Lord?” or “Deliver me from this, Lord!” or “Lord, not again!”

I recently had some medical tests, and every day I’d say, “Do I really have to go through this?” Then, I thought of that little nun’s advice. I tried to stop whining and offer it up, hoping good would come from it. Eventually, I reached a point where instead of asking, “Why me, Lord?” I could say, “This is for you, Jesus. Help me make it through.” And Jesus helped carry the cross.

Even more amazing, every day that I was consumed by my small cross, Jesus would put someone in my path who had a considerably larger cross ... and a smile on her face.

There was the woman I saw at Mass in Manhattan whose body was wracked by cancer. She was so frail and thin it seemed a strong wind would blow her over. As she sat praying — because she couldn’t kneel — I wondered what she was saying to Jesus: “Why did you do this to me?” or “Jesus, this is for you. Take my imperfect offering and use it.”

I met a woman who had to walk with two canes because of knee surgery, and every day she traveled back and forth from the Bronx on the subway to get to her job. She smiled when I told her my problem and said she would pray for me.

And then I met a woman who shared her personal story. Five years ago, her husband of one month fell 15 feet off a ladder and suffered a traumatic brain injury. The neuro-surgeons said his injury was one of the worst they’d seen in 15 years of practice. He was in the hospital eight months before they could transfer him to a rehab facility.

 “It took nearly three years for him to fully recover,” she said. “He had to relearn how to breathe, swallow, talk, walk and sit up. He was like an infant doing these things for the first time. Today, he’s a walking miracle. He drives, he’s totally independent and he’s looking for a job.”

Then, she added, “We know that God healed my husband, and we give him all the glory.”

Jesus must have done immensely wonderful things with that offering. Perhaps one of them was to give me encouragement to go another day and offer my little cross for her and her husband. I could have never carried her cross — at least not alone. None of us can. It’s not a test of strength. It’s a test of faith and humility to be able to say, “I’m scared, I can’t do this alone. Jesus, please help me. I offer you my cross.”

We all have crosses, some are heavier than others. Offer them to Christ, and someday, far from this world of suffering, he’ll show you the miracles he performed because of your offerings.

Joe Pisani of Orange is a writer whose work has appeared in Catholic publications nationwide. He and his wife Sandy have four daughters.

cram mirror 300x275pxYears ago, my husband Peter asked me to exercise extreme caution when offering help to strangers. I understood his concern for my safety so I agreed, with a few caveats. If I pass someone in need who is elderly, pregnant, handicapped or has a small child, or if the weather is blisteringly hot or bitterly cold, I cannot, in good conscience, drive by without offering help.

I’m not sure which category applied to Angela.

I was pulling out of the Stop & Shop parking lot when I spied her. She was thin and disheveled, in baggy clothes, and she was trying to flag down passing motorists.

I ignored her. I had one minute to get to a nearby cafe where I was meeting friends. I couldn’t be late, right?

Unfortunately, the light turned red before I could escape, leaving me stopped right next to the gesturing woman.

She began calling out for me to help her. Maybe if I didn’t look at her, she would go away.

My conscience gnawed at me. Finally acceding, I rolled down my window.

“I’m 65 years old and a cancer patient and I live in Manchester and I need a ride home,” she said in one long breath. She was ghastly thin with just a hint of peach fuzz on her scalp. She couldn’t have weighed more than 80 pounds.

“Umm, well, umm ...” I stammered unintelligibly. “OK, I’ll give you a ride.” My friends wouldn’t mind if I was 10 minutes late.

She climbed into my car and strapped up. Introducing herself as Angela, she explained that she lives on a small fixed income and the social worker is trying to get her additional funds, but has not succeeded, so Angela had no food at home.

Angela was funny and needy and self-deprecating and blunt. She told of being spat upon when she asked people for help. She told of being ignored. It made her feel invisible.

I wondered what she was doing miles from home without a ride. Did she really have no food? How much of her story was true and how much was a con?

It gradually occurred to me that it didn’t matter. For those few minutes in my car, Angela was treated with dignity. We talked and laughed. Mostly, I listened as we drove to her apartment.

I gave her a bit of cash and tousled her peach fuzz hair. She hugged me and we said goodbye.

As I drove away, I wondered if, to Angela, my life looks perfect. I was wearing clean clothes, driving a working car and had cash in my pocket. Perhaps she pictured me returning to a clean, tastefully decorated home with homemade chocolate chip cookies on the counter. Maybe she thought my biggest problem is deciding which mall to shop at this week.

She would be wrong. While I am incredibly blessed, I have known great hardship. I’ve suffered catastrophic illness, severe financial pain, miscarriage and hunger. My family endured 20 years of my sister’s drug addiction as she dealt with homelessness, incarceration and shame. I know what it is to have life fall apart around me.

As I mused about these things, it occurred to me that it was the anniversary of my sister’s death that day. I recalled her gorgeous, chestnut brown hair and that crooked grin that always made me smile. Perhaps helping Angela was an appropriate way to honor my sister.

I was more than 30 minutes late when I caught up with my friends. What I missed was so little in comparison to what I’d gained.

Regina Cram is a writer, speaker and author. She and her husband live in Glastonbury and have four children and seven grandchildren.