Dear Friends in Christ:
Good Shepherd Sunday…we celebrate today on this Fourth Sunday of Easter and are grateful for Jesus, our Good Shepherd. Our psalm this weekend, appropriately so, is the popular Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want." And in the Gospel this weekend we hear Jesus explaining that the shepherd walks ahead of his sheep, “and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.”
Jesus, of course, is the Good Shepherd. This was a popular image for the early Christians and a metaphor that was easily understood at the time. What does it mean today? In regard to Jesus, it means He is the One willing to lay down His life for His sheep! His love is so deep for His sheep that He is willing to lay down His very life for them. Jesus also teaches us that the Shepherd knows His sheep and they know Him and His voice. The knowledge is mutual. The more we know Christ, the more we trust Him and love Him. It is an intimate relationship between the Good Shepherd, Jesus, and His sheep, you and me! I love this drawing which hangs in my office as it reminds me of that very special relationship we are all called to have with our Good Shepherd.
In preparing for this weekend I also reflected on how the Lord Jesus has given us visible shepherds throughout our lives. I immediately, as you might imagine, thought of the Pastors of my childhood who were Good Shepherds following in the way of the Master. Father Philip Blaney was Pastor of Saint Matthew’s, my home parish, from before I was born till his death in 1987. His assistant at the time, Father Thomas Sas, Pastor in Marlborough today, baptized me on March 20, 1977 and Father Blaney gave me my First Holy Communion on March 23, 1985. Then came Father Robert Lysz who served as Pastor of Saint Matthew’s from 1988 until his murder on June 25, 1999. He was a true shepherd. He was there for my Confirmation by Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin on May 22, 1993. He was an inspiration on my own discernment of the priesthood. The way in which he lived his life, cared for his parishioners, and had such a joy and peace about him really was inspirational for many. Following his death, Father Brian Monnerat was named Pastor of my home parish. Some of you may remember Father Monnerat as he served here as Co-Pastor at the time we reopened St. Bridget School. Father Monnerat was also a true friend, a good shepherd, and a mentor to me vesting me a priest at my Ordination on June 7, 2003. The Lord provides us shepherds along the way to care for us, love us, and guide us.
This celebration also reminds me of my role as shepherd, your shepherd, here and now. I only hope that one day someone will remember me as a good shepherd. I ask God each and every day to give me the grace and strength I need to follow in the way of the Good Shepherd, to emulate the qualities of the good shepherds in my own journey, and to be faithful to my parishioners so they may know my voice!
These are tough times for all of us. It has not been easy for anyone has it? I hear daily from people. This one feels isolated and alone because they cannot leave their room at the nursing home. This one feels overwhelmed working from home and managing her children and their online learning environment. This one feels stressed to the maximum given that she and her husband as well as all the children are on the Wi-Fi at home each and every day and it is so slow due to the demand. Another is really anxious as this time of unknown, uncertainly, and self-quarantine continues and continues.
Father Federico and I feel it too lest you think we do not. We miss being with you! We miss seeing everyone! We miss the normal routines we came to acquire and that gave us structure in our ministry. Now we are challenged by this time of pandemic to go outside our comfort zones, to find creative ways to reach out to our parishioners, and to find ways to continue to call us all to a deeper relationship with Jesus the Good Shepherd utilizing the tools of today. I, no we, miss the personal interaction with you all. These have been the strangest and hardest seven weeks of my 17 years as a priest without a doubt. I do hope you know we truly do miss you! But we are here if you need us, even just to talk.
As your shepherd it is also my responsibility to manage the temporal and financial goods and realities of our parish family. I NEED YOUR HELP!
While your generosity has been remarkable, we still need your support. At a Parish Finance Council meeting on ZOOM this past Tuesday, I reported that over the period of March and April in 2019 we raised $214,814.34, whereas in March and April of 2020, in this time of pandemic, we raised $163,571.69. This leaves us with a deficit of $51,242.65 over last year. PLEASE if you have not sent in your donations to support the parish during this time please do so!
Thank you for understanding that there are still bills to be paid—lights, gas, payroll, insurance, etc. If you have donated this past week I ask that you continue to do so as you are able. If you have yet to send in your donations or offertory please prayerfully consider helping your parish family out now! Here are ways you can give to your Parish:
1. Mail in your offertory! Thank you to the many who sent in their envelopes these past few days. Your generosity makes a real difference!
2. Give online—sign-up for our Online Giving Program by clicking this link on our website.
a. Donations can be made directly from your checking account or by using any major credit card - so you can earn "points" while giving!
b. Donations can be scheduled for whatever frequency (weekly or monthly) you prefer (and if monthly, on whatever day is most convenient), or can be made on a one-time basis.
c. You can designate donations for different purposes: weekly, monthly, and holy day collections, diocesan/national collections, Easter/Christmas flowers, even Religious Education registration!
d. Your bank or credit card information is stored on secure servers contained behind firewalls and other defense systems to prevent unauthorized access. Parish staff cannot access your account information.
Want to learn more about Online Giving? Visit our website www.stbridgetcheshire.org and click the Donate button in the menu on our homepage.
Speaking of temporal goods of the parish we have had some projects completed since we entered this time of pandemic which I wish to share with you!
1. Replaced the fluorescent ceiling lighting in Saint Bridget Church with LED lights. This required an empty church due to the use of a lift and the limited open hours proved possible thanks to the efforts of our contractor. We are all amazed at how much brighter it is in the church with this new more efficient lighting.
2. As planned months ago by the Facilities and Grounds Committee, and approved by the Parish Finance Council, we replaced the deteriorating windowsills on the newest addition at St. Bridget School with new granite ones. The prefab concrete ones that were placed there in construction deteriorated over the years by the salt during the winter months being blown around by the snow blowers.
3. Rot was also noticed at the Saint Bridget of Sweden Parish Rectory around the front window. It was so bad that you could put your hand through the wood that was there. It was only a matter of time before the situation got worse so we replaced all the wood around the front window with AZEK composite building products. The window is a vinyl window so it did not need to be replaced, thanks be to God!
4. Our staff also cleaned and prepared the Saint Thomas Becket Rectory from top to bottom and set up all the furniture in case it was needed as a place of quarantine for any priests in the Archdiocese. It has not been needed yet, thanks be to God, but is ready if and when it is needed.
5. DAILY our maintenance staff has been working diligently to continually ensure all our facilities are in proper working condition, properly disinfected, and, at the same time, working to perform their normal daily tasks.
I thank the maintenance staff and our entire parish staff, most of whom are working from home, for all that they do day in and day out to serve the parish and community. We are blessed with a phenomenal group of dedicated personnel. Thank you to each and every one of them!
Last, but not least, I want to share with you a prayer! When I was in the Seminary one of my professors said that every young priest should have a spiritual Sister. I was blessed at the time to receive Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart, OP, from the Dominican Monastery of the Mother of God in West Springfield, Massachusetts, as my spiritual Sister. She and I communicate a few times a year but she prays daily for me and my ministry. This week she sent me a note and included a prayer she wrote for deliverance from COVID-19 and I wish to share it with you:
As always, remember to pray for our parish family and ask God’s blessings upon us all in this time of pandemic. With the gracious intercession of Saint Bridget of Sweden, our Patroness, may we be united with one another in prayer! Please pray for me and know that I am praying for you! Continued prayers for you all to know and experience the joy, the peace, and the hope of the Risen Christ!