Category Archives: Pastor’s Note


Despised and Rejected of Men
“Despised and Rejected of Men”, by the English painter Sigismund Goetze, 1905.

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for March 25, 2012)

The final two weeks of Lent are traditionally known as “Passiontide”. In these days we concentrate more intently on the sufferings of Christ as He accomplished the act of our Redemption.

The cover picture of this week’s bulletin is a painting by Sigismund Goetze (1866-1939) entitled “Despised and Rejected of Men”, phrase taken from the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy.  I am grateful to parishioner Millie Rizzo for having provided me with a copy of this picture and the explanation of its meaning.

Goetze is classified as an English Victorian Painter although he outlived the Victorian era (Queen Victoria died in 1901).  He was a devout Anglican and in this particular scene he superimposes his English society on the Suffering Christ.  In the painting Christ is tied to a pillar about to be scourged, but the pillar is an altar of an ancient pagan shrine and the people moving about are in a Greek Temple.  In the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 17, St. Paul is preaching the Gospel to the people of Athens.  There he makes reference to an altar dedicated to “THE UNKNOWN GOD”. Although the Athenians meant it to be an insurance against slighting any overlooked deities in their many-gods world-view, St. Paul used it as an opening to speak about the one true God whom they had hitherto not known by name.  Here in Goetze’s painting, Christ chained to an altar of the Unknown God is a cruel irony. Although England has been Christian for centuries, Christ remains largely unknown its present generation.  The throngs are too caught up in their own egotism to notice Him.

Goetze depicts several types familiar to late-Victorian society.  In the left-hand corner there is the lady of fashion flirting shamelessly with her escort.  Behind them is the scientist, so infatuated with his bubbling test-tube that he is blind to Christ.  Above him is the sports-enthusiast, lost in the horse-racing pages.  At the base of the altar huddles a poor mother with a sickly child.  Turned in on herself by misery, she also has her back to Christ.  To the right, a ragamuffin newsboy hawks the latest tabloid scandal sheet.  A pompous cleric walks along, eyes straight ahead.  Behind the cleric is a scheming businessman whose god is money.  Next to him a corrupt judge is pouring over his lawbooks.  In the far background a demagogic politician is haranguing the crowd.  Only the nurse looks upon Christ, and reacts with sorrow and compassion.

This religious painting is supposed to make people think: am I not also somewhere in that passing crowd?  We could easily imagine an updated version of this painting with very recognizable types of contemporary American society.  Few enough there are who recognize Our Lord Jesus Christ for who He is and try to shape their lives accordingly.

These next two weeks are the most solemn, reflective time of the year for Catholics.  If we have been keeping Lent for the past four weeks, we ought to redouble our efforts over the next two.  Dedicate yourself in these next two weeks to the recollection of Our Lord’s Passion.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Spiritual Reading

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Bulletin for March 18, 2012)

Recently one of our parishioner’s came across a book for spiritual reading entitled: Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion and Purpose, by Matthew Kelly. This parishioner liked it so much that she made a donation of several hundred copies of the book to our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes. (I would have
liked to acknowledge this parishioner by name for her generosity but she has asked to remain anonymous.)

The books are set up in the front vestibule of the church and are offered gratis. The only stipulation is that you take a copy with the intention of actually reading it or with the intention at least of passing it on to somebody who might benefit from it and who would not take it amiss. The book is written in an engaging popular style and is quite solid in its representation of the Catholic faith to our contemporary American society.

To give an example, I quote from the beginning of the chapter on Spiritual Reading:

Books change our lives. Most people can identify a book that has marked a life-changing period for them. It was probably a book that said just the right thing at just the right time. They may have been just words on a page, but they came to life for you and in you, and because of them you will never again be the same. Books really do change our lives, because what we read today walks and talks with us tomorrow. Earlier in our discussion of prayer and contemplation, we spoke of the cause-and-effect relationship between thought and action. Thought determines action, and one of the most powerful influences on thought is the material we choose to read. Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body and prayer is to the soul… The goal of spiritual reading is to ignite the soul with a desire to grow in virtue and thus become the best-version-of-oneself. Like all other spiritual exercises and activities, spiritual reading seeks to encourage us to live a life of holiness.

Matthew Kelly is making a basic but important point. The habit of Spiritual Reading is one of the building blocks of the moral and spiritual life. It is something every Catholic over the age of 14 has to take responsibility for. We are responsible both for what’s in our minds— and for what’s not in our minds, but should be. We need to continually refresh our thinking and inform ourselves by good, solid reading material that helps us to think about God and the things of God, and that in turn helps us when we seek to pray to God. Ten to fifteen minutes a day is not too hard to find in even the busiest life. If you are making spiritual reading part of your Lenten observance, well and good. But make sure that it becomes a good habit to carry over in your every-day life once the Lenten Season is done.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)


Lourdes and Lent

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Bulletin for February 26, 2012)

The Eighteen Apparitions which make up the wondrous event of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s appearance to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858 were spread out in a seemingly haphazard manner. The first Apparition was on February 11th, the second on February 14th, the third on February 18th. Then there followed a fortnight of Apparitions between February 19th-March 4th, except for February 22nd and February 26th. After the 15th Apparition on March 4th, Bernadette did not have a visitation until March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Vision revealed her name: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The next to last Apparition was on April 7th, and the final one months later, on July 16th.

The haphazardness of the Apparitions, however, seems less so once we connect them to the time of year in which they occurred. The first Apparition occurred on Thursday of Sexagesima Week, the Second on Sunday in Shrovetide, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the Third on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday. The “Fortnight” of Apparitions between February 19th-March 4th encompassed the First Sunday in Lent, the Lenten Ember Days, the Second Sunday in Lent, and the Second Week of Lent through Friday. If we look at the Catholic Liturgy for those days, in the Mass and in the Divine Office as it was at that time, we find some startling correspondence between the Apparitions and the content of faith.

For example, Our Lady directed Bernadette to dig and uncover the spring of water on Thursday, February 25th, 1858. The next day, February 26th, was Ember Friday in Lent. By then the spring water was gushing forth from the Massabielle into the River Gave. The Gospel Lesson for Mass was from John 5:1-15, which relates how Jesus healed a paralyzed man who was lying helplessly by the healing Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. The water of Lourdes points us to consider the Pool of Bethesda in the Gospel, which in turn symbolizes the waters of Baptism. Christ’s miracles of healing for physical sickness in the Gospel are given as a sign of His greater divine power to heal the soul of its sickness to sin. Just so, the healing miracles to come through the Lourdes spring are but the outward sign of the inward grace at work in bringing sanctifying grace to human souls. Significantly, Our Lady inexplicably did not appear to Bernadette on the 26th—the day when the spring’s power was made so manifest. It was as if she had stepped back to draw attention to the work of her Divine Son Jesus.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Lourdes, 1858

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Parish Bulletin for February 12, 2012)

 Apparition at Massabielle
An illustration of the Apparition of Our Lady to St. Bernadette Soubirous within the grotto of the massive rock, known by the people of Lourdes as the “Massabielle”, along the bank of the River Gave. Bernadette’s first apparition was on February 11th, 1858. She was to receive 17 more . The last one occurred on July 16th, 1858. Although the picture shows Our Lady as if visible to all, Bernadette alone saw her. The onlookers saw only Bernadette in her ecstasy.

On February 11th we celebrate the patronal feast-day of our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes. One hundred and fifty-four years ago a poor girl named Bernadette Soubirous from the town of Lourdes, France, claimed that she saw a mysterious young girl,
dressed in white, within the rocks of the Massabielle along the River Gave. The report caused a sensation and much controversy
among the Lourdais. In the course of successive apparitions, the mysterious visitor, seen only by Bernadette, revealed to the girl an underground spring by the rocks which began to flow copiously into the River Gave (the famous Lourdes spring). On March 25th, 1858, the visitor gave Bernadette her name: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” After careful investigation, the local Bishop eventually judged the testimony of Bernadette Soubirous as “worthy of belief”. The Church has incorporated a feast of the first apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes into her official liturgy.

One of the objections made to the first promoters of Lourdes was that these outside commentators were superimposing a
sentimentalized and idealized picture of life in the Pyrenees—as if Lourdes was a kind of idyllic, pristine mountain town, solid in its traditions and Christian values, uncontaminated by the currents of godless modernity. Such deliberately crafted sentimentalization, it is true, hardly does justice to the real-world suffering in which Bernadette and her impoverished family lived.

The region of the Upper Pyrenees was generally suffering from worsening economic and social conditions. In 1828, the French government tried to control access to the communal forestland, which covered a third of the mountains. Access to the communal forest, however, was crucial to the survival of the poor. Beginning in the early 1830s armed revolt spread throughout the countryside. It became known as the War of the Demoiselles. Pyrenean men dressed in white after the legendary fairy-spirits who were believed to inhabit the deep woods. They would carry out raids against the forest guards in an effort to recover their historic rights. This civil strife and the government’s attempts to suppress it lasted through the 1850s. By then the women and children carried on the fight by acts of civil disobedience, defiantly taking bundles of wood from the forests despite the penalties which included fines and imprisonment. This was the local world visited by Our Lady in 1858.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Maria Regina Mundi

(Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Bulletin for August 22, 2010)

In the summer of 1991 I was present among the 1 million pilgrims who had converged on the Polish city of Czestochowa for the celebration of World Youth Day with Pope John Paul II. The feast for the World Youth Day Mass with the Pope was the Feast of Our Lady’s Assumption, August 15th.

World Youth Day 1991

A most remarkable feature of that World Youth Day was that it was the first of these biennial events after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent implosion of the Communist dictatorships in the “iron-curtain” countries of central and eastern Europe, so there were youth delegations from all of these countries there in significant numbers, identified in the crowds by their national flags and their hand-made banners. I remember my surprise at finding myself next to two Soviet Russian girls in the throng of people greeting the Pope upon his arrival to the city, August 14th. They had very limited English and I had no Russian, but they knew enough to make themselves understood. Communism had done all it could (with massive violence) to stamp out religion, especially Christianity…and here the youth of the Communist societies had come to cheer the Pope, looking to the Gospel of Jesus and not to Marx and Lenin for their inspiration.

One of my most cherished memories is of the all-night vigil that was kept around the monastery of Jasna Gora. The night was overcast and slightly foggy, so it was difficult to see where you were going and exactly what were the surroundings. I remember marching in silence
with the procession of people trying to get closer to the shrine. It was between two and three in the morning of August the 15th.

The number of people who had come to Czestochowa had vastly exceeded both the authorities’ expectations as well as the city’s
capacity to hold them. The open space around the shrine, the roads leading to it, as well as the wooded park-space was jammed with people long before dawn. Yet, despite the crowd there was no disorder. Everything was quiet and hushed. Somewhere in the dark mist could be heard the singing of a Latin refrain:

    Maria regina mundi,
    Maria regina coeli,
    Tibi assumpta, tibi assumpta
    Vigilamus, vigilamus.

    (Mary Queen of the world,
    Mary Queen of heaven,
    To thee assumed, to thee assumed
    We keep vigil.)

Three days after the Pope’s triumphal visit to Czestochowa, the hard-line Communists within the Soviet military staged a coup d’état against the reformist leader Gorbachev, whom they placed under arrest. It looked as if all of the hopes for a peaceful, post-Cold War Europe had been misplaced. Tanks in the streets had shut down the popular aspirations for freedom from Communism as they had so many times before during the Cold War: Berlin, 1953, Hungary, 1956, Prague, 1968. But then, suddenly, the tables turned, the Communist hard-liners had to back down in the face of popular opposition, Gorbachev was released. The day that the coup d’état failed was August 22nd, 1991—the feast of the Queenship of Mary and the old feast of her Immaculate Heart.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

The Peace of Christ

One of the Messianic titles of Our Lord is “Prince of Peace”.  Wherever Christ’s spirit reigns there is an atmosphere of true peace.  This should be especially true of an individual Christian’s own inner state.  No matter what his circumstances he finds himself with peace of heart.

Unfortunately, as we know, this is often not the case.  A person can have faith and be staying out of mortal sin, and still be experiencing anxiety, sadness, and various other morbid preoccupations.  Partly this is due to the weakness of our human nature.  In other part it is aggravated by the inhumanly fast-paced, technology-driven life we lead.

In the “Providence of books” there is one book, in particular, I can highly recommend to people who are seeking to learn how to recover or maintain their peace of heart under adverse conditions.  This book was written by a Spanish Jesuit priest, Fr. Narciso Irala, in 1944. Its title in English translation is: Achieving Peace of Heart.  It has been recently reprinted by Roman Catholic Books in a hardcover edition and it is also readily available on the used books market.

Fr. Irala himself had experienced a nervous breakdown in his youth and was helped back to mental health by the Jesuit psychologist Fr. Laburu.  Not only did he personally benefit from Fr. Laburu’s skill and insight, but he also developed a deep interest in how to devise methods for dealing with human problems.  Later on in his life, he spent ten years as a Catholic missionary priest in China and gained an extensive knowledge of Oriental psychology.

One of his key insights is that so much of our mental stress problems come from an imbalance between our subjective inner world and the objective world of reality.  The practice of simple, straightforward methods to direct our thoughts to concrete outer reality (for example, focusing the mind on what our senses are perceiving in our immediate environment) has a marvelous effect of relieving us of obsessive thoughts and that tearing-ourselves-apart-inside. He writes:

Although intellectual error brings many to the precipice of evil and disgrace, wanton feelings and emotions are responsible for many more physical tragedies.

To my knowledge this is the best and most generally suitable self-help book that is out there for people who are striving to realize that peace which Christ promises in their personal emotional lives.

Your thoughts are the limit of your activities.  No one takes a single step further than his convictions.  If you imagine to yourself that you cannot do this or that, you will never do it.  “Posse quia posse videntur,” the old Romans used to say.  “They can because they think they can.”  Aside from the times when you need the ministrations or advice of a professional physician, your six best doctors are sun, water, air, exercise, diet and joy.  They are always there waiting for you. They cure your ills and do not cost you a cent.

Sacred Heart
(link added by webmaster)

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Bulletin for December 6, 2009

In The Lord’s Service

“Carthusian Monks in Meditation”, Etienne Jeaurat, 1699-1789
“Carthusian Monks in Meditation”, Etienne Jeaurat, 1699-1789

We are very pleased to be able to welcome our Cardinal Archbishop Sean O’Malley to our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes this coming Wednesday, June 4th.  The occasion is the celebration of a Mass of Consecration for a man who wishes to take perpetual vows as a religious hermit for the Archdiocese of Boston.  That man is Brother Benedict Joseph Connelly.

Brother Benedict Joseph (his religious name, in honor of St. Benedict Joseph Labré) has been accepted to take on a special vocation of solitary prayer for the good of the whole Church, while continuing to support himself by working “in the world”. One of Brother’s jobs is to help with the cleaning and maintenance of our church properties, particularly the church building. In his private life, Brother Benedict Joseph will live a Rule, which has been approved by Cardinal Sean, in the spirit of the Carthusian religious order, founded by St. Bruno in the 12th century A.D., in addition to making promises to live the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience for the rest of his life.

It is a great blessing for the Church, and in particular now for our parish, to have people like brother Benedict Joseph dedicated to a hidden life of prayer and sacrifice.  We live in a world so hectic and fast-paced, and so unrealistically demanding of immediate results in things which cannot be achieved outside of patience.  In so many ways we bury the seed and dig it up the next day in exasperation to see if it’s growing!

The vocation of contemplative prayer in the Church helps to remind us that the good things of God are not to be had like a commodity.  They are rather to be won by patient prayer, and since very few Christians, relatively speaking, are able to dedicate themselves to prayer in this degree, we rely on the support being given us by the prayers of contemplative men and women.  As the superabundant treasury of merits of the saints in Heaven comes continually to our aid, so the superabundant graces of the prayers of contemplatives are also distributed by the Divine Will to where they are needed most in the Church and the world.

May Brother Benedict Joseph find the peace and joy of Christ as he lives out his vocation.  In turn we pledge him the support of our prayers for his perseverance on his chosen path.

We welcome also this weekend Father Robert Shaldone, SOLT, a priest of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Blessed Trinity, as our new assistant priest here at Mary Immaculate. Although Fr. Shaldone’s Community is based in Texas, his origins are close by in Needham, where he grew up.  For the past two years he has been working as a Catholic chaplain at Our Lady of Fatima Hospital in Providence, RI.  I am very grateful to Fr. Shaldone (and to his Religious Superiors for their permission) for coming here to help me with the sacramental and pastoral ministry of our parish.  I know that he will receive from you a warm-hearted welcome.

Fr. Higgins
(Fr. Higgins)

Pastor’s Note from the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Bulletin for June 1, 2008