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MASS UNITES IN PRAYER THOSE COPING WITH ADDICTION
August 09, 2018
PISCATAWAY — “We are here, all of us, gathering in an intense way to raise up our need to God in what the world is telling us is a losing battle,” said Father Timothy A. Christy, Vicar General at the diocese's inaugural Mass of Healing June 28 at the St. John Neumann Pastoral Center chapel.
The Mass drew about 85 individuals of all ages to the Lord’s table, all looking for peace and strength in dealing with their loved one’s addictions, all journeying along a path none of them would have chosen.
Father Christy, diocesan Vicar General, presided and gave the homily; Father Brian Nolan, pastor, St. Mary Parish, Stony Hill, concelebrated. Deacon James Rivera of St. Augustine of Canterbury Parish, Kendall Park, and Deacon Matthew Marinelli of Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish, Perth Amboy, assisted.
Father Christy explained the Mass had been initiated at the behest of Bishop James F. Checchio, who in his pastoral letter entitled “Lighting a Fire in the Heart of our World,” wrote, “Our world is a wounded place …ultimately, we cannot be our own doctor. Into the chaos of the human condition, God sent his beloved, only begotten Son, Jesus.”
Continuing, Father Christy, who also serves as moderator of the curia and episcopal vicar for Evangelization and Communication, said, “The mission of Christ is and has always been to heal and save us.” He noted that diocesan entities such as St. Peter’s University Hospital, New Brunswick; various Catholic Charities Diocese of Metuchen sites, the Office of Family Life and Human Dignity and individual parish pastors have been invaluable in fulfilling this mission, but “it was clearly time to have a more visible presence that works to provide the pastoral care that responds to the spiritual needs of those suffering.”
In his homily, Father Christy called the disease of addiction a crisis and noted the deep need for affected families to experience spiritual healing.
“It is critically important that we, as a Church, acknowledge this very public pain, and we want to address it together,” he said, noting he knew some people had been reluctant to attend the Mass because of a societal stigma about addiction. “This is a way to break the silence. We must partner together and walk the pathway in times of pain.”
Though those caring for the addicted feel powerless at times, Father Christy declared, “We proclaim the truth that we are not powerless. In our Gospel tonight [John 15:1-5] Jesus uses a familiar metaphor: ‘I am the true vine. Unless you stay connected to me, you can do nothing.’”
Staying connected to God makes all things possible, Father Christy stated. “We can produce great fruit. In our darkest hour, our greatest pain, we recall that there is someone with us that doesn’t take the pain away but makes it possible. Jesus took on our flesh and lived according to it,” Father Christy said of the Lord’s crucifixion. “It was not the end of the story, but Jesus’ finest hour.”
Spirituality is crucial to recovery and vanquishing the feelings of hopelessness amongst family and friends of the addicted, said Father Christy, who participated in a One Voice summit entitled “The Heroin Epidemic — Healing through Faith Communities,” in Hampton in September 2016 when he was pastor of St. Magdalen de Pzazzi Parish, Flemington. One Voice brings together law enforcement and prevention professionals with leaders of the faith-based community to collaborate on addressing communities about challenges such as substance abuse, crime and keeping Hunterdon County safe.
“In this national discussion about recovery, one of the missing pieces is the role of spirituality. It is not a vague notion of mindfulness or a relaxation technique, but we must be honest enough to recognize all of us need Jesus,” said Father Christy, noting that those who have an active spirituality have a greater chance of recovery.
He concluded, “The Church does not look at someone who is addicted and shake their finger at them and speak of them as a moral failure. Our Church has a solution to the aching pain of the human heart: to know and to love the mercy of Jesus Christ. We pray that the mercy of God is brought forth from here into our world as he heals our souls and brings us consolation and hope. Jesus is the savior of the world for all who have died looking for that love.”
After Mass, the congregation gathered outside the chapel to share stories of their loved ones and speak with pastoral ministers ready to listen. A few shared memories of their loved ones anonymously with “The Catholic Spirit.”
Barbara, a member of St. Augustine of Canterbury Parish who sat with a group of fellow parishioners, dried her tears during the Mass. “They drove me here for my son who passed away this summer,” she said. “I really wanted to come and pray.”
Gail Borotto, a member of Nativity of Our Lord Parish, Monroe Township, had been a pastoral minister in her native Maryland and wanted to do so for the diocese. “I have to believe that I can help here as well,” she stated.
Another woman named Barbara, who is a member of St. Matthias Parish, Somerset, accompanied her husband. He had lost his son to addictions this past March. “I’m a Catholic, his son was a Catholic, but my husband is not,” she said, expressing relief he had accompanied her to the Mass nonetheless. “[Father Christy’s homily] really nailed it. ‘Unless you are part of the vine, you can do nothing,’ is right.”
Margaret Drozd works as a mobile health family nurse practitioner with the Woodbridge Opioid Overdose Recovery Program operating out of St. Peter’s University Hospital. She brought pamphlets about the program, whose representatives, often former addicts themselves, visit those experiencing an overdose and attempt to lead them into treatment on the spot.
“We have treated 14,000 at 315 different community sites. We see [addiction] out there,” Drozd said with sadness in her voice. “It is everywhere, all ages. We speak with all the police chiefs in the area [about the program], and the school superintendents and the chiefs of police.”
The diocese plans more of these votive Masses. The next one will be on August 31 at St. John Neumann Parish, Califon, Father Christy said.
“We hope to work with pastors, particularly in parishes where the crisis has hit the hardest, to offer additional liturgical events, so that anything we do is continuously grounded in prayer,” he said. “Ultimately, support and healing initiatives should grow organically in response to need, and our focus is always on building up particular ministries in the parishes.”
By Christina Leslie, Correspondent at The Catholic Spirit