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Christmas Message from Newtown’s Pastor

Msgr. Robert Weiss published the following in his parish bulletin this week:

Dear Parishioners,

Had I written my Christmas message a couple of weeks ago as I had planned, it would have had a far different tone than this message. We have not only witnessed one of the greatest tragedies in the world, but we as a community are called to do what we can to move forward.

I have been asked so often how do we celebrate Christmas this year. I believe that we celebrate it in its truest sense, putting aside all the secularity and simply sitting in silence and praying that the hope, healing and peace promised to us by Christ will be given to us in abundance. Perhaps, at least for us as a community, we can reclaim some of what this holyday is meant to be.

We know that some hearts in this town will be broken again on Christmas morning when that one special person is not there to open their gifts. For those whose children and spouses are with them, rather than just going right for the gifts, perhaps a hug and a prayer should come first. Prayers for those for whom this day will never be the same again and hugs for those surrounding you whose life you hold as precious. We need to know that even in these darkest hours, there is still light, light that is brighter than that great star over Bethlehem, which will take us to the place where we need to be…it will take us to the heart of Christ who will heal our brokenness, remove our anger and hurt and fill us with the peace and strength we need to not just move forward but to reclaim the life that is ours as a community in Christ Jesus. Thank you for the incredible strength that you have been for me in these days and for lifting me up in your thoughts and your prayers. I pray a special Christmas for all of us this year and for all that this holy season can hold for us as believers.

Holy Christmas, Monsignor Bob Weiss

Christmas in light of Newtown, Webster, NY…..

Maureen Dowd
New York Times Op Ed

When my friend Robin was dying, she asked me if I knew a priest she could talk to who would not be, as she put it, “too judgmental.” I knew the perfect man, a friend of our family, a priest conjured up out of an old black-and-white movie, the type who seemed not to exist anymore in a Catholic Church roiled by scandal. Like Father Chuck O’Malley, the New York inner-city priest played by Bing Crosby, Father Kevin O’Neil sings like an angel and plays the piano; he’s handsome, kind and funny. Most important, he has a gift. He can lighten the darkness around the dying and those close to them. When he held my unconscious brother’s hand in the hospital, the doctors were amazed that Michael’s blood pressure would noticeably drop. The only problem was Father Kevin’s reluctance to minister to the dying. It tears at him too much. He did it, though, and he and Robin became quite close. Years later, he still keeps a picture of her in his office. As we’ve seen during this tear-soaked Christmas, death takes no holiday. I asked Father Kevin, who feels the subject so deeply, if he could offer a meditation. This is what he wrote:

How does one celebrate Christmas with the fresh memory of 20 children and 7 adults ruthlessly murdered in Newtown; with the searing image from Webster of firemen rushing to save lives ensnared in a burning house by a maniac who wrote that his favorite activity was “killing people”? How can we celebrate the love of a God become flesh when God doesn’t seem to do the loving thing? If we believe, as we do, that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, why doesn’t He use this knowledge and power for good in the face of the evils that touch our lives?

The killings on the cusp of Christmas in quiet, little East Coast towns stirred a 30-year-old memory from my first months as a priest in parish ministry in Boston. I was awakened during the night and called to Brigham and Women’s Hospital because a girl of 3 had died. The family was from Peru. My Spanish was passable at best. When I arrived, the little girl’s mother was holding her lifeless body and family members encircled her.

They looked to me as I entered. Truth be told, it was the last place I wanted to be. To parents who had just lost their child, I didn’t have any words, in English or Spanish, that wouldn’t seem cheap, empty. But I stayed. I prayed. I sat with them until after sunrise, sometimes in silence, sometimes speaking, to let them know that they were not alone in their suffering and grief. The question in their hearts then, as it is in so many hearts these days, is “Why?”

The truest answer is: I don’t know. I have theological training to help me to offer some way to account for the unexplainable. But the questions linger. I remember visiting a dear friend hours before her death and reminding her that death is not the end, that we believe in the Resurrection. I asked her, “Are you there yet?” She replied, “I go back and forth.” There was nothing I wanted more than to bring out a bag of proof and say, “See? You can be absolutely confident now.” But there is no absolute bag of proof. I just stayed with her. A life of faith is often lived “back and forth” by believers and those who minister to them.

Implicit here is the question of how we look to God to act and to enter our lives. For whatever reason, certainly foreign to most of us, God has chosen to enter the world today through others, through us. We have stories of miraculous interventions, lightning-bolt moments, but far more often the God of unconditional love comes to us in human form, just as God did over 2,000 years ago.

I believe differently now than 30 years ago. First, I do not expect to have all the answers, nor do I believe that people are really looking for them. Second, I don’t look for the hand of God to stop evil. I don’t expect comfort to come from afar. I really do believe that God enters the world through us. And even though I still have the “Why?” questions, they are not so much “Why, God?” questions. We are human and mortal. We will suffer and die. But how we are with one another in that suffering and dying makes all the difference as to whether God’s presence is felt or not and whether we are comforted or not.

One true thing is this: Faith is lived in family and community, and God is experienced in family and community. We need one another to be God’s presence. When my younger brother, Brian, died suddenly at 44 years old, I was asking “Why?” and I experienced family and friends as unconditional love in the flesh. They couldn’t explain why he died. Even if they could, it wouldn’t have brought him back. Yet the many ways that people reached out to me let me know that I was not alone. They really were the presence of God to me. They held me up to preach at Brian’s funeral. They consoled me as I tried to comfort others. Suffering isolates us. Loving presence brings us back, makes us belong.

A contemporary theologian has described mercy as “entering into the chaos of another.” Christmas is really a celebration of the mercy of God who entered the chaos of our world in the person of Jesus, mercy incarnate. I have never found it easy to be with people who suffer, to enter into the chaos of others. Yet, every time I have done so, it has been a gift to me, better than the wrapped and ribboned packages. I am pulled out of myself to be love’s presence to someone else, even as they are love’s presence to me.

I will never satisfactorily answer the question “Why?” because no matter what response I give, it will always fall short. What I do know is that an unconditionally loving presence soothes broken hearts, binds up wounds, and renews us in life. This is a gift that we can all give, particularly to the suffering. When this gift is given, God’s love is present and Christmas happens daily.

We Really Need the Prince of Peace

We call Jesus the “Prince of Peace.” It’s there in our Christmas carols. It’s there in our church services. It’s even right there on our Christmas cards. We know who Christ is, and this time of year we repeat that phrase again and again. This year especially. After Newtown, we need the Prince of Peace more than ever. We pray, we sing, we call out to Christ asking for that peace right now.

But calling out means nothing if we are not ourselves peaceful people. Because if we call ourselves Christians, if we want to claim that Christ is the Prince of Peace, then we cannot remain silent in a culture of violence.

I know a lot of responsible gun owners. I live in a community with many hunters who practice gun safety. I have friends who have handguns and go to shooting ranges. And, while I personally don’t want any guns, I’m not judging them here.

But no one needs an assault rifle. No civilian needs something that was created for the sole purpose of killing as many people as possible as quickly as possible. These guns were constructed for one reason and one reason only: to destroy human life.

Spare me the arguments about what will happen if only criminals, and not law abiding citizens, have assault rifles. Spare me your stories of what a good shot you are, and how you could have stopped this. Spare me your arguments about why Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, yet he wouldn’t tell you to put away your AR-15. Spare me your worship of a piece of steel.

Spare me John Wayne. I want Jesus Christ.

In Advent you cannot prepare your hearts for Christmas, you cannot long in your heart for the Prince of Peace, and simultaneously continue to worship something designed to rack up the highest possible death toll. You cannot wait for the birth of a child full of promise, while simultaneously not thinking about those twenty children who were full of promise in Newtown. And you can’t sing the line “sleep in heavenly peace” if you are not willing to do everything you can to make sure that no parent ever again has to endure sleepless nights, wracked with grief, the week before Christmas.

Oh Prince of Peace, we need you. And we need your courage now. Help those of us who claim your name to also claim your demand for peace. Amen.

— Rev. Emily C. Heath (@calledoutrev) from West Dover, VT




If Jesus is the archetype of what the gift is and how a gift is given, Mary is the archetype of how a gift is received.

The amazing thing is that the Scripture says nothing especially positive about Mary. No credit rating is stated; it doesn’t say she prayed a lot or regularly went to the temple. No heroic anything. Mary seems to know she is nothing according to her own Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

She clearly knows and fully accepts she stands under the total mercy of God. Mary knows she did not earn this. It was all mercy, mercy, mercy. Divine choice says something about the chooser much more than the one who is chosen. In the spiritual world, all worthiness is given. Our only job is to fully and freely receive. Mary was a supreme receiver station.

Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM

Cokie Roberts: Help The Saints!

 By Cokie Roberts

As a girl growing up in the 1950’s I had one great advantage that most women my age did not enjoy: I was educated, raised really, by nuns who took girls seriously.  It was a radical notion in those years; it took until the 1964 Civil Rights bill to make it illegal to discriminate against women in hiring, and until 1972 to prohibit bias against women in education, including athletics.  It took a lot longer to make those statutes stick. So the nuns were well ahead of their time.

But that’s not unusual for women religious.  They have not only been ahead of the country’s time, they have pushed and prodded the nation to accept a new time since the Ursulines first arrived in my home town of New Orleans in 1727.  Sent here by the French to open hospitals for the military colonists, they soon started schools for girls, and insisted on educating free blacks and Native Americans.

Think of it!  It was the early 18th Century, hundreds of years before their ideas would be accepted by the larger society.

That story is told over and over through the history of women religious in America.  In 1810 when Elizabeth Ann Seton set up a free school for the needy girls of St. Joseph’s parish in Emmitsburg, MD, she effectively started—and then spread–what became the highly successful parochial school system in this country.  A few years later, only weeks after arriving in Missouri from France, Philippine Duchesne established the first free school west of the Mississippi River.  When the bishop refused to allow her to teach African American children in the school, she did it on her own.
As the story continues through American history, and you look to the work of Katharine Drexel, Francis Cabrini and Marianne Cope—women who worked with blacks, poor immigrants and lepers–you realize that you are reciting a litany of saints.  Each of these women religious has been canonized for her willingness to be ahead of her time—to bring those on the margins into the mainstream.
But the mainstream is way too comfortable a place for the nuns.  As Sister Pat Farrell, the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious said recently, “Women religious stand in very close proximity to people at the margins, to people with very painful, difficult situations in their lives.  That is our gift to the Church.”
What a gift it is.  Day after day these women work with the poor, the sick, the frightened, the incarcerated.  It is literally the Lord’s work. And it is, by definition, work that doesn’t pay very well in terms of money, even if it results in sainthood.  So now tens of thousands of religious women and their brother priests are left in need of cash for their care.
It’s a problem that’s only going to get worse as the population of religious ages.  So we have to pitch in.  Think how we have benefitted from them, both as individuals and as a society.  This country is a far fairer place, a place closer to fulfilling its promise for all its people because of the contributions of these determined and dedicated religious.
And who knows? The nun you help might just end up in the litany of saints.  Now there’s an opportunity you wouldn’t want to miss!

Cokie Roberts is a political commentator for ABC News.

Editor’s Note: To contribute to the Retirement Fund for Religious, visit:

Waiting with the Word is Advent Waiting

First Sunday of Advent

“Our waiting is always shaped by alertness to the Word. It is waiting in the knowledge that someone wants to address us. The question is, are we home? Are we at our address, ready to respond to the doorbell? We need to wait together, to keep each other at home spiritually, so that when the Word comes it can become flesh in us. That is why the Book of God is always in the midst of those who gather. We read the Word so that the Word can become flesh and have a whole new life in us. ”

Father Henri Nouwen

Our Wonderful Religious Sisters

How blessed are we at St. Bridget’s parish to benefit by the presence and ministry of Sisters Pat, Dorothy, Margaret & Roseann?!  These wonderful Sisters of Saint Joseph are such an important part of the St. Bridget Parish Community.  We are very grateful to God that as a parish community we are graced with the presence and ministry of these sisters.

This weekend the Sisters are speaking on behalf of the National Retirement Collection for the benefit of Religious Men and Women.

Our SSJ’s speak on behalf of the thousands of Religious who because of age or infirmity are no longer able to actively serve the Church but who now carry out the ministry of prayer.  Praying for the Church – the same Church these dedicated priests, sisters and brothers have served so generously their whole lives.

Please show your gratitude for the dedicated lives of religious by supporting this important, annual appeal.  The collection will be taken up as a second collection next weekend, December 8 & 9, 2012.

Speaking of Sisters, did you know that St. Bridget’s has two other communities of Religious Sisters living in the parish?  There is another community of Sisters of St. Joseph and a community of Religious Sisters of Mercy renting homes in the East Falls neighborhood.  We are truly blessed.  Welcome to the parish, Sisters!

On a very sad note, one of the Sisters who had just moved into the home being rented on Ainslie St., Sister Alice Edward, SSJ, died suddenly this week.  A long time – and beloved – Chaplain at Childrens’ Hospital of Philadelphia, Sister Alice Edward was known by many parishioners because she grew up in Roxborough.  And because Sister Alice has been attending the 4 PM Vigil Mass at St. Bridget’s for many years now.

We are all so very sad and we mourn Sister’s sudden and untimely passing.  Sister Alice Edward was such a nice lady!  Kind, warm, friendly, supportive, encouraging, thoughtful, are just some of the words that come to mind to describe this dedicated Sister of St. Joseph.

I know Sister Alice was very much looking forward to beginning to reside in St. Bridget’s parish.  I’m sorry we won’t have Sister Alice with us.  We are all the poorer due to her passing.  She will be very sorely missed.  RIP Sister Alice Edward, SSJ.