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New year, new liturgical seasons

By Josh Perry

As we began Advent, the Church throughout the world ushered in a new liturgical year. We began again the annual observances with which we are very familiar. Advent, a time of hopeful waiting, gives way to the joyous celebrations of Christmas. Soon enough we find ourselves in the Lenten Season, with its disciplines of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. In the midst of spring, we celebrate the Resurrection of
Jesus at Easter, extending our feasting 50 days until Pentecost where we especially celebrate the Holy Spirit in our Church and in our lives. The long span of Ordinary Time follows; it is this time that points us to the life of Jesus Christ in all its aspects — not just His birth, not just His Passion, not just His Resurrection — but all of His life. And the cycle of the year comes — once again — to winter, and we find ourselves entering another Advent. Another Christmas. Another Lent. Another Easter. The cycle continues.
 
The occasion of the new year encourages us to look back on the year just passed and ahead on the year to come. We recall the past year — the joys and sorrows that we faced, the rights and wrongs that we may have done. Many of us then resolve to do something different in the coming year. A little more exercise. A better diet. Being nicer to siblings or children or parents. Maybe we resolve to go to church more, learn more about the faith or go back to confession. One of the most important reflections we can make is on how God was present in our lives in the past year and how might we respond to God’s presence in the year to come.
 
This process of looking back and looking forward is, I believe, essential to our personal growth and our growth as a Church. Without this reflection, the cycle of the liturgical year remains simply that — a cycle. If you “draw” the liturgical year on a piece of paper, you get a circle. But this process of looking back and looking forward — of reflecting on the past and making resolutions for our future — transforms that
circle. The circle becomes a spiral.
 
You see, a spiral is cyclical, but it doesn’t end up in the same spot. We celebrate Advents and Christmases, Lents and Easters year after year, but we are not the same people. Our past has shaped us, and our future might give us reason to hope (at least for a few weeks before we break our resolutions). I am not the same person I was five years ago, 10 years ago. My experiences have shaped me. Herein lies the beauty of observing the liturgical year. Passages from Scripture are repeated every three years both at Christmas and at Easter. The themes and disciplines of Advent and Lent do not change. But you and I have changed. And perhaps we will experience those same stories and experience those same disciplines in a different way, simply because we are different.
 
The upcoming diocesan synod is an extraordinary time for our Catholic Church in Vermont to reflect on its past and look forward to its future. In order for the synod to be fruitful, however, we need to take seriously the call to reflect on past, present and future. We can’t leave all this work simply for other people to do, just as we can’t delegate our own personal reflections over our lives in the new year (and
God forbid we have someone else make New Years resolutions for us!). As a Church, we reflect together with the help of the Holy Spirit. That reflection may lead to difficult conclusions and challenging resolutions ahead — just as our personal reflections might lead to challenging resolutions in our lives. Without these reflections as a Church, however, we can only hope to remain stuck in the same circle.
 
In this new liturgical year — and beyond — my prayer is that all of us are resolved to be involved in the life of our Church. It’s the time to reflect. As Church, where have we been? Where should we be going? And how shall we get there?
 
--Josh Perry is director of worship for the Diocese of Burlington.
--Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of 
Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

Welcoming New Americans

Our commitment to host a refugee family in our home and to acclimate them to American life was to last one week.
 
In 2004, my husband, toddler son and I waited at Burlington Airport as a Somali-Bantu woman named Zahara Arbow came though the arrivals door with a baby knotted to her back. Behind her trailed four youngsters, ages 3, 5, 7 and 9, shuffling in oversized Keds supplied by the resettlement agency.

At the 23rd hour, Zahara’s husband stayed behind in the Kenyan refugee camp where she bore each of her children. So she came as a single mother to Vermont, a name that meant nothing to her other than a place of safety where her children could be educated.
 
This stoic woman became excited during one of our first drives around town. A translator communicated her question posed to me as she pointed out the window: “Is that the school where my children will go?”
 
In those first days, I helped round up coats and boots, and prepped the family for the impending cold. The only explanation of the winter season they received prior to resettlement was to hold a small block of ice during an orientation session in the camp.
 
I recall the eldest daughter, Madina, phoning me after the first snowfall, asking if it was safe to go outside; they feared they might die of exposure. We ferried the family to doctor appointments and grocery stores until Zahara got a driver’s license and purchased her own van. My husband arranged mentors for each of the children.
 
Through the years, we attended parentteacher conferences, graduations and college tours and even provided refuge for two of the girls when they got kicked out of the house by their new stepfather.
 
Why I ever imagined that our hosting commitment would last a week, I don’t know. Thankfully, our connection has continued strong for 13 years to the present day. Our encounter with this refugee family (they are American citizens now) has been nothing short of life changing for our family.
 
We acknowledge the “First World problems” we used to fuss over, such as dropped cell service or a stained favorite T-shirt. Our expectations about what constitutes a meaningful life have shifted — from acquiring things (we downsized our home recently) to engaging with people; from fulfilling wants to serving needs.
 
We fail miserably at times. Still, our relationship with this New American family keeps us anchored in what’s most important as followers of Jesus. At no other time in human history have so many people been forcibly displaced throughout the world — some 65.6 million people, with an increasing 20 people per minute.
 
One of Pope Francis’ signature themes in recent years has been to encourage people of faith to create “cultures of encounter” with refugees and migrants, to fight indifference in ourselves and to share the journey with people outside of our normal lives.
 
The pope predicts an inner transformation of sorts; I can say with utmost humility, I know of what he speaks.

By Marybeth Christie Redmond

 
Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
 
  • Published in Parish

Supporting women means upholding dignity of all life

By Carrie Handy
 
A little-known fact about the women’s movement is that it did not begin with the pro-abortion agenda that characterizes it today. Suffragettes of the early 20th century were concerned primarily with obtaining the right to vote, not the right to abort their children.
 
According to Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, “Early leaders of the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S. believed that the rights of mother and child are inextricably linked and that the right to life and the right to vote are rooted in the inherent dignity of each human person.”
 
Nearly 100 years after women won the right to vote, the movement has transformed from its early focus to one which effectively places women in competition with their children and at odds with their fertility. Modern feminist ideology promotes the dangerous notion that women “need” abortion and contraception as solutions to such problems as poverty, hunger, domestic abuse and single parenthood. Pro-life advocates who work to prioritize the protection of the unborn are sometimes accused of ignoring the social and economic causes that lead women to seek abortions.
 
In fact, to be “pro-life” has always been to be pro- “all life.” Whereas there are some such as Charles Camosy (“Beyond the Abortion Wars”) who describe the unborn as “innocent aggressors,” whose right to life is subordinate to that of their mothers, Catholic moral teaching views the lives of mothers and their unborn children of equal dignity and worth and supports a “both-and” approach to solving the problems that lead to abortion. That is, we work both to protect the unborn and to solve economic and social problems that threaten families.
 
A nationwide movement known as Women Speak for Themselves has emerged whose mission is to challenge the prevailing notion that women “need” access to abortion and contraception, focusing specifically on “how women are disadvantaged respecting dating and marriage, particularly because of contraception and abortion, and about how to reconnect sex with marriage and children for the good of all people.”
 
Inspired by Women Speak for Themselves founder Helen Alvare, who is a nationally known speaker, writer and attorney Joanna Bisceglio of Waterbury was moved to organize a chapter in Vermont. “As a Vermont professional, mother, wife, athlete and a Catholic, I am amazed at the abuse women often put themselves through by not standing up for ourselves and each other in this throwaway culture that devalues women constantly,” Bisceglio explained.  “We women often don’t support each other enough and stand up for how we were made to be treated, in God’s divine image.”
 
She said her goal is to bring women together around topics of mutual concern with the hope that even on those issues about which there is disagreement, they can work toward greater understanding and respect. “I truly believe that what unites us is greater than that which divides us,” she said.
 
The emergence of groups like Women Speak for Themselves is evidence that the false dichotomy underpinning the modern women’s movement is increasingly giving way to a more authentic “both-and” approach to women’s issues that recognizes pro-life and pro-woman goals as mutually supportive, not mutually exclusive. As Catholics, we are called to throw the full weight of our creative and moral energy behind policies and reforms that uphold the dignity of all, born and unborn.
 
The Respect Life Speakers Bureau 2017-2018 features several talks related to this topic.
 
Carrie Handy is the respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.

Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne’s statement on the death of Cardinal Law

"As a bishop of the Province of Boston, I join Cardinal Seán O’Malley and the Archdiocese of Boston in prayer upon the passing of Cardinal Bernard Law, and with them I entrust his soul to God’s unending mercy.
 
 “The world at large will rightly have much to say at Cardinal Law’s passing from this life. Like each of us, the measure of his days had its fair share of light and shadows. While I knew him to be a man of faith, a kind man and a good friend, I respect that some will feel otherwise, and so I especially ask them to join me in prayer and work for the healing and renewal of our Church.
 
“May Cardinal Law rest in peace. And in these days when, as Christians, we celebrate the Child who restored God’s goodness to our broken humanity, may we all recommit ourselves to making Christ’s Church a worthy, welcoming home for all, especially those most vulnerable and in need.” 
 
  • Published in Nation
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