Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Guest Columnist

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.

theology101 baptismWhat makes a person suitable to sponsor a child for baptism?

That’s a question that faces all Christian parents of a newborn child, and the answer to that question reflects the importance the Church places on those who enter it through the sacrament of baptism.

Baptism is, after all, the gateway to Christianity. When a person is baptized, he or she dies to a life without Christ and rises to a new life with Christ. That’s why we say that a newly baptized person is “born again.”

By accepting baptism, a person is proclaiming that birth in the natural world, with all of its limitations, pales in comparison to the promise of an abundant and eternal life that is found in the way and truth of Christ. Original sin, which is the inclination to sin that we inherited as a result of our fallen nature, is removed and we are given the hope of freedom from sin that comes from being a child of God.

Baptism is the gateway to Christianity, but it is actually the first of three sacraments that bring a person fully into the Christian life.  The remaining two are confirmation and holy Eucharist. It is through the holy Eucharist that a baptized person is nourished by the very life of Christ. Christ is the bread of life that gives a person the strength to live the Christian way in a world that challenges him or her to do so every day. Through confirmation, a baptized person is given the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the tools that are essential to live the Christian life.

Progression through these three sacraments indicates that initiation is part of a journey. Just as it is necessary to have a guide when making a journey through anything, a person needs a guide when making the journey through faith in Christ. That’s where the sponsor comes in. It is the responsibility of a sponsor to be a guide, to accompany and help the baptized person to navigate his or her way through the Christian life.

It becomes the work of parents to consider thoughtfully to whom, among their family or friends, they would entrust the responsibility of being a good and reliable guide for their child. In fact, during the rite of baptism the sponsors are asked, “Are you ready to help the parents of this child in their duty as Christian parents?”

A guide can only be someone who is familiar with the journey ahead, and a guide or sponsor for a baptized person must be someone who is familiar with living the Christian life, someone who knows the hills and valleys, the strengths and joys, and who can provide useful example and welcome encouragement.

Therefore, to help a person fully embrace the Christian life, it is necessary that a sponsor be someone who has fully embraced the Christian life, as well, someone who has received all three sacraments of initiation. That person must, of course, have been baptized himself or herself, have been equipped with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and, finally, have been fed by the very life of Christ at Mass each week.

It also follows that a suitable sponsor must have some years of experience in walking the way of Christ, so the Church requires the sponsor to be at least 16 years old. Since the laws of the Church are meant to chart a person’s course faithfully to Christ, a sponsor should be someone who lives according to those laws and, if married, must be in a marriage recognized as valid by the Church.

It’s an honor to be a sponsor for a child, but it’s an honor because it’s a great responsibility. When parents choose someone to be a sponsor, it is because they find that person worthy of the role.

“Are you ready to help the parents of this child in their duty as Christian parents?” A suitable sponsor for baptism should be able to answer that question with a heartfelt “yes,” the affirmation of someone who tries to follow the way of Christ always and who wants to be a good guide to help others do the same.

 

Father John Gwozdz is pastor of St. Edmund Campion Parish in East Hartford.

Humanity is hard-wired for God. Within us is a desire for eternity and no created reality can satisfy the deep caverns of the human spirit. Ours is a nature to know and to love, and so we can never say we have enough truth or that we love enough. Truth and love transcend material existence, so we can say we are made for more. God reveals himself to humanity so that humanity might find rest, for it is in God that we are possessed by truth and love itself — the source and origin of all things. This is the good news of the Scriptures. Despite the sad story of sin, which is really the story of trying to find satisfaction in things that can never satisfy, God reveals himself as the way to true healing and peace.

In his first encyclical letter on faith, Pope Francis tells us that faith is a kind of deep remembering. Faith is sharing in the knowledge of another. It trusts in the witness of those who have gone before us who have seen the truth. Our world has forgotten the truth about God. Ours is the task of reminding people where they can find true joy, a joy that can last. Many people call this task evangelization but, in reality, it is proposing or re-proposing the Good News of Jesus to people who already desire fulfillment. We who remember God share this with our world because it’s in this deep remembering that we find salvation.

theo101 fr turner nov17 pg14Our family of faith, the Archdiocese of Hartford, has repositioned itself recently to re-propose the Gospel to our local neighborhoods. Sometimes pruning is necessary to allow new life to emerge. Coming together as one family of faith, united around Jesus, we are called to help our family and friends remember that God is real and that God matters. This is our joyful task. It is also a task that expects a great deal from us. In order to help our family and friends remember God effectively, we ourselves must be converted and convicted of the message Jesus brings. St. Peter urges us to always be ready to give an accounting for the hope that is within us. In order to evangelize, we ourselves must be in love with Jesus. We must be convinced of the message and firm in the knowledge that in the midst of the Church, we find real contact with the living Lord who is always with us.

The start of pastoral planning begins with us. Each of us must find time to remember why we have fallen in love with the Lord and then be emboldened to share that relationship found in the midst of the Church with our family and friends. If we find ourselves unsure of what we believe, we ought to spend time discovering anew the joy of the Gospel, so that others who have forgotten entirely might have the fire of divine love rekindled in their own hearts. It is not merely the job of some priest or religious to speak of the Lord each day — but it is the responsibility of each of us. As a community of faith, the Church mediates the presence of the Lord to us and teaches us like a good mother how to live with one another. Joseph Ratzinger, better known as Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, reminds us that we express the “I” of faith in the communal “we” of the Church. We recognize that the “I” of my relationship with the Lord is true and concrete only insofar as I am incorporated into the mystical body he established to communicate his living presence in our world.

As we continue pastoral planning, let’s remember that it’s always about the salvation of souls. Ours is the task of helping people find joy and fulfillment in life. We know that in Jesus we find the deepest satisfaction and meaning of life, the radical healing that is salvation. May our work of evangelization invite people to encounter Jesus and to enter his very life through the Church’s mediation, a life which well-lived endures into eternity.

Father Robert Turner is pastor of St. Ambrose Parish in North Branford.

Catholicism is under siege. What concerns me most is that the assault is not by the forces of radical or extremist religious groups, but by the effects of our secular society on my contemporaries, the millennial generation in America.

According to a 2015 Pew Research Study, the “nones,” or those American adults professing no faith affiliation, constitute 23 percent of the population. The growth of the “nones” has put them ahead of the number of professed (if not practicing) Catholics in America, which constitutes 21 percent. Pew’s previous study, in 2008, put the “nones” at 16 percent of the adult population and Catholics at 24 percent. The most troubling figures of these surveys show that, among younger millennials (birth years 1990-1996, ages 21-27), just 56 percent call themselves Christians, even though 80 percent were raised in religious homes.

Most researchers and demographers define millennials as those born from 1980 to the mid-1990s. This generation has also been called the “echo boomers,” in reference to their being the children of boomers.

As mid-generation millennials, born in the 1980s, my wife and I are building a family of our own. Our son Daniel was born in 2014, and we welcomed a healthy daughter on Father’s Day, June 18. Having spent the time and effort over a number of years developing and deepening our own Catholic spirituality, it is important to us to have godparents for her who are part of our faith community of practicing Catholics. Despite the fact that my wife has two sisters and I have two brothers and a sister, we struggled to find godparents who fit the bill.

All of our siblings left the faith long ago. We extended the search for godparents to our college friends, my law school classmates and people in our hometown, and still we have struggled. This led us to a greater conversation about what it means to be millennial and a practicing Catholic in America. Where has our family gone? Where have our friends gone? Why have they left the Church we were all raised in together? What could bring them back?
I believe that the culprits laying siege to Catholic millennials are modern spiritualism and a simplistic, fundamentalist view of Christianity.

To use a phrase from Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, I believe that the catechesis of the 1980s and 1990s in America was “beige Catholicism.” It was storybook simplistic, unassuming and wholly inoffensive. It was Catholicism, but often missed the vibrancy, beauty and earth-shaking implications of the faith.

As a result of the beige Catholicism we millennials were taught, many of us have not been exposed to the rich intellectualism of our tradition. It was only as an adult that I was exposed to some of the works of the foundational Christian authors and thinkers, like St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica or St. Teresa of Ávila’s Interior Castle. It was many years after being confirmed that I heard of G.K. Chesterton or Thomas Merton, or understood the Christian themes in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis.

It was also only as an adult that I recognized that Catholicism does not require us to abandon our critical thinking skills or ignore modern scientific developments. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. Jesus Christ and his Church are the lens through which the intelligible world is given meaning, the prism through which the natural world makes sense. Our ability to examine critically the world around us, what we know, and what we do not, is the foundation of our faith.
Moreover, while millennials of our secular society are outgoing in their support of a political candidate or a secular social cause, they shy away from public displays or acknowledgements of faith or connection to a faith-based community. They believe that equality and respect for other worldviews require a public indifference or denial of belonging to the Catholic Church.

We finally found godparents for our daughter, even with the hope that the important role that they are expected to play in her membership in our faith community will bring them, as godparents, into a deeper relationship with Christ. I will continue my (sometimes feeble) attempts to live my own faith in my communities, at home, in my law practice and among my friends and neighbors. I will also heartily pray and hope that the grace of God finds the nones among us and sets them on the path of reconciliation with Christ’s holy Church, which is calling to them: “Come home, millennials.” pray and hope that the grace of God finds the nones among us and sets them on the path of reconciliation with Christ’s holy Church, which is calling to them: “Come home, millennials.”

 

Q: Whose responsibility is it really to teach our youngsters the Catholic faith?

A: In a few short weeks, many parish religious education programs will get under way in earnest. Like our school teachers who have to deal with the dreaded “summer slump” in the first few weeks when students return to school full time, our volunteer catechists need to pick up where they left off with faith formation programs and sacramental preparation. We “drill” our kids in the Ten Commandments, in the mystery of the Trinity, in the Mass, in the essential prayers of the Catholic faith — the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, especially — and so much more. We pray that the foundation we’re giving them will be just that: the bedrock on which their faith will grow and mature just as they grow and mature.

All the work that directors of religious education and catechists (not to mention priests and parents!) do in religious education leads us to ask: Whose responsibility is it really to teach our youngsters the Catholic faith? Many have lamented the fact that there have been at least two, maybe even three, generations of Catholics who have not learned the faith and so have not passed it along adequately to their children, who have stopped practicing, stopped attending Mass regularly or stopped receiving the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness of sins in confession.

Rather than look at what’s gone wrong, let’s look at what lies ahead and at what we can do together to correct or improve the situation. The Catholic Church is clear when it comes to who should take the lead in forming young people in the faith.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way: “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children” (2223) and “Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of faith of which they are the ‘first heralds’ for the children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church” (2225). Yes, that can mean enrolling them in religious education when they are first-graders, but it really means bringing young children to Mass from the get-go, making the sign of the cross on them with holy water until they are old enough to do so themselves and much more. Formal education in a classroom is one thing; living the faith at home with prayer time, simple instruction and, above all, Sunday Mass attendance are what parents must not neglect.

But the catechism adds this: “The parish is the eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents” (2226). Note that well: “children and parents.” Parents should review their children’s religious education lessons with them weekly; it’s good for the kids and a refresher for adults as well.

In one respect, by linking religious education with the parish, the Church is keeping things local when possible — making decisions and taking care of problems at the smallest level possible. So, yes, families have as their first responsibility to teach their children the faith. But, they need to turn to, lend their support to and call upon the parish to help them in this task — not criticize and complain about schedules interfering with soccer or dance or you-name-it. Yes, these are important, but we pray our kids will be lifelong Catholics; very few of them will be all-star, lifelong soccer standouts or prima ballerinas.

Pope Francis has said time and again that pastoral work, such as a parish religious education program, must inspire and prepare the faithful to go forth and evangelize. It’s not enough to memorize names and dates and places, though these are important in their own right. In his apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis reminded us that our parishes should be places of “living communion” between the faithful of all ages and centers of “constant missionary outreach” where all members are encouraged and trained to be evangelizers (28).

So as we prepare to launch another year of parish religious education programs, let’s keep two sets of words in mind: “parents and parish” and “educate to evangelize.” Whose responsibility is it to teach our youth the faith? As Jesus instructed his disciples, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them. It is to just such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” (Mk 10:14)

millennial d.elliot pastoral plan july aug 17When I started working as an associate in the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Pastoral Planning Office, I, like some within the archdiocese, had only an elementary understanding of just what pastoral planning is. Similarly, I was unaware of why it was necessary. The statistics I learned on my first day on the job were eye-opening, to say the least: Between 1965 and 2015, the Archdiocese of Hartford saw a 27 percent decline in the number of Catholics, a 74 percent drop in the number of infant baptisms and a staggering 88 percent decrease in the number of archdiocesan seminarians.

Further actuarial statistics regarding the number of priests who will be retiring are formidable. Assuming that two priests retire before the age of 75, and two priests enter the archdiocese, which seems to be the trend, the classes retiring in the coming years will result in a loss of 67 priests by 2025, with that number climbing to a total of 96 in 2030, and a total of 109 by 2035.

I’m 29. The first three decades of my life have borne witness to a turbulent era for the Catholic Church in Connecticut. I recall that, up until my late teens, at any given church my family would attend, people who arrived fewer than 10 minutes early to a Sunday morning Mass likely would have had to stand in the back. Those same churches are only half full on a good day in 2017. While the factors that have contributed to this decline in attendance must be addressed, we must first confront the harsh realities that lay before us so that we can build a foundation that will enable the Church as a whole to be less reactive to, and more proactive about, change.

After co-hosting eight deanery meetings in front of nearly 1,000 people of the archdiocese, I have been exposed to a gamut of parishioners’ emotions. Some I expected, others I did not. By now, I have heard countless stories from faithful and concerned parishioners regarding their churches. I’ve heard from people whose great-grandparents literally laid the foundation at their beloved church, as well as from folks whose families have a rich sacramental heritage at a particular church. While these legacies should rightly burn bright in our hearts, the health of the entire archdiocese is dependent on a fruitful planning process, which,  unfortunately, can result in the closing of such churches as those. 

It is not overly dramatic to say that only through prayer and planning will the Catholic faith in Connecticut be viable. 

I have also seen the many positive impacts of pastoral planning — firsthand. I had the great pleasure of attending the Palm Sunday celebration at St. Justin–St. Michael in the north end of Hartford. Parishioners celebrated a final Mass at St. Michael and then processed through the streets of their neighborhood to St. Justin’s (roughly a mile and a half away), and had a ceremony to solidify their community. This sense of community was the most striking aspect of this merger. Parishioners from two different churches were able to unite in faith as one community, with a renewed sense of hope and with great plans to keep their new community vibrant.

My suggestion to those age 55 and up in the archdiocese (including my parents, aunts and uncles) is this: Approach pastoral planning in the same way you would approach life insurance or a will. It is natural and prudent for older people to start considering what they will leave to those who come after them. It is also natural for these considerations to focus on tangible goods. Perhaps you have an IRA set up to pay out to your grandchildren, a cookbook filled with recipes that kept your family happy and full for decades or a will that will transfer a house that your father built with his bare hands. All of these heirlooms are practical and meaningful, but have you considered which spiritual goods you will bequeath?

In 2015, a study by the Barna Group ranked Hartford-New Haven ninth among the 10 most “post- Christian” populations in the country on the basis of people’s self-identification, belief and practice. In such an increasingly secular geographic location and era, it is vital to place your trust in the wisdom and the knowledge of the pastoral planning process. Bear in mind that you have received a vibrant and thriving Church from your ancestors. Will future generations of Catholics be able to say the same about you?

David Elliott is an associate in the archdiocesan Pastoral Planning Office