Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 17, 1891 when Bishop Lawrence S. McMahon dedicated St. Bernard Church, Enfield.
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The center of the Sistine Chapel depicts an image that has been overused to the point of becoming a cliché. Nonetheless, its meaning is still worth revisiting, for it encapsulates the central drama between God and man. An energetic God-the-Creator thrusts his hand toward a reclining Adam. His intended beneficiary, however, recoils. His hand droops. His body language spells "retreat." Simply stated, he does not stretch.

The rubber band is useful only when it stretches. It is a most obedient and practical servant. It has the wonderful capacity of being enlarged. Unlike Adam, it does not have the capacity to say "no." When it is not stretched, it remains at its lowest potential, and is as shapeless as an amoeba.

The celebrated Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria" would never have been written except for a bit of stretching. "Musical ideas sprang from my mind like a flight of butterflies," wrote Gounod, "and all I had to do was to stretch out my hand to catch them."

Saint Thomas Aquinas explains why stretching is of prime importance in the very first of the 631 articles that comprise his Summa Theologiae. First, he reminds us that "God destines us for an end" (homo ordinatur a Deo). We must recognize the reality of this end, therefore, "before we can stretch out and exert ourselves for it." If there is no end, what would be the point of stretching? The realization of an end awakens and mobilizes us. It bids us to stretch.

Dominican Father Walter Farrell and Martin J. Healy, in their simplified version of the Summa, embellish Aquinas’s statement by making a distinction between the will and the body: "The road that stretches before the feet of a man is a challenge to his heart long before it tests the strength of his legs." We must choose to stretch before we engage in the actual process of stretching.

The rubber band, when stretched, exhibits a tension. One force causes the stretching; the elasticity of the band provides a counterforce, one that bids it back to rest. There are times when, being forced to stretch, all we want to do is to return to our comfort zone, which is also the level of our lowest potential. It is most tempting to surrender to the path of least resistance.

Robert Browning theologized stretching when he said that "a man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?" He would have happily endorsed the message of Aquinas’s opening article. Metaphors stretch the mind. Paul Whiteman, who conducted the premiere of George Gershwin’s "Rhapsody in Blue," said that while "jazz tickles your muscles, symphonies stretch your soul."

We need to stretch because we are going someplace. Yet, Adamic lethargy still haunts us. We withdraw, curl up into ourselves, and try to enjoy a life of comfort. Hence, the popularity of La-Z-Boy recliners from which perch one can watch endless reruns of "Seinfeld" episodes (which, not so incidentally, are about nothing), slowly morph into a "couch potato," and expire from "mad couch disease."

The saddest epitaph that would mark the end of vanished opportunities would be that one did not stretch one’s hand to help others in times of need, arms to embrace someone one loved, or mind to brush with infinity. A life of comfort is a life unlived.

"È dolce far niente"

(It is sweet to do nothing), say the Italians. The Spaniards go one better: "It is sweet to do nothing and then to rest afterwards." But inactivity leads to atrophy. Too much comfort becomes decidedly uncomfortable.

Though we are horrified to have visible stretch marks, spiritual stretch marks may be witnesses to our salvation. God will ask, "Where are your stretch marks?" You can’t get to heaven on a stretcher; in order to get beyond the pearly gates, we must do our own stretching.

"An adventure is the voluntary acceptance of discomfort," wrote G. K. Chesterton. What greater adventure is there that we can embark upon than our journey back to God? Adam took a rather circuitous route because he was, at the outset, reluctant to stretch and meet God halfway. We have been forewarned. Therefore, we should know better. We have a date with destiny and cannot meet it in a "stretch limo," but only by dint of our own heroic stretching.

Dr. Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell and Mater Ecclesiae College in Greenville, R.I

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alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.