Rev. Fr Joseph Ciccone, is Pastor of Saint Joseph Mission Progressive Catholic Church, Cliffside Park NJ. Please join Father Joe as he holds a Prayers of Hope service from St. Joseph’s Mission Church, Daily at 1 pm ET: https://www.facebook.com/saintjosephmissionchurch/. Father Joe is a member of our White Collar Support Group that meets online on Zoom on Monday evenings.
I have been a helper all my life, a cop for 20 years, and a teacher and college professor for another 20 years as well. Now I am a Progressive Catholic Priest, bringing the Gospel to those in the margins. Our ministry tries to help those who are lost, broken, and have been rejected by traditional religion and sometimes even thrown away by society itself. Even through all the ups and downs (and there were many) I loved going to work every single day and still do. Oddly, especially during challenging and difficult times, I felt most called and even excited about being out there making a difference. Clearly one of the most poignant times was the AIDS epidemic when I was a first responder through that entire period. I always felt I had the best and one of the more important jobs ever. I was scared, but never wavered during that time of being in my twenties and thinking I was invincible. Although a lot changed in my life and a call to service came crashing down in 2001 along with the World Trade Center which gave me the ability to start anew. Seminary would happen a few years later and now doing ministry that I hope is a true and powerful call and to really be of service to others has been a great blessing that I will be forever grateful for.
But this pandemic seems different. Maybe it is because I am older, have two of the high-risk factors, heart condition and diabetes. Plus, I am the sole caregiver for my special needs sister, after the death of our mother 3 years ago. I have always been a fearless, relentless social justice advocate fighting to make the world a better place. Now I am a social distant observer, fearful witness to a world that seems to be falling apart and I am lost. I know I am not alone as millions of Americans have lost their jobs and purpose. Countless people worldwide are in lock down. Italians are no longer singing from their Terraces and I would venture to say that almost everyone is lost and afraid.
After a quiet dinner with my sister last night, I suggested we go outside to the front porch to watch the sun starting to set. As we stepped out the UPS person had just dropped off a package. God bless those wonderful essential workers. It was a box of fresh Palms that were supposed to be given out for Palm Sunday this weekend, that will never be used to bless the world now. He had run back into his truck and I can hear him yell to me to call 911 “Hey! A blind man just fell and he is hurt – do you know him?” My sister was going to jump into action, and started to run down the stairs and I stopped her. “No, Nancy you stay here” and I moved toward him and watched him get up. He had a cut on his chin that was bleeding but seemed okay. I recognized him from the block. He is young man that I often say hello to. Sadly, I do not even know his name. I have spoken to his caregiver who helps him to be very active and independent. “Can I help you get home?” I called out. He yelled back, “No! No! Stay away from me.” To be honest, I was glad he said that because I was afraid to. We called his caregiver and all turned out okay. But I knew I didn’t do enough….and it broke my heart.
I had trouble sleeping last night and scrolling endlessly through social media I read a post from a colleague I have a great deal of respect for. Father Mike, another independent Catholic priest, operates a food truck for the hungry and a homeless shelter. He is one of my “priest heroes” long before this terrible time. His post hit a nerve, “All of the Clergy hiding in their rectories and behind cameras should be banned from ever preaching about the Martyrs and the Church Fathers ever again! You can still serve while maintaining social distancing and safe practices! Jesus Weeps.” It hit home because every day I am broadcasting a “Prayers during Pandemic” service LIVE to help give a message of hope. I added a comment about judging others, clearly I should be listening to my own words. Maybe Father Mike is right. We need to do more, we need to have more purpose, we need to use this time of world pause to help each other, and of course doing so safely. This can be the time to help our Earth heal and be better for not only tomorrow but for generations to come. But most importantly, we need to find the blessings that are hidden in these dreadful times and find those blessings that are right before us as Spring comes to the world and we must look to this re-birth of ourselves during these most challenging and quiet days. It seems the Earth is starting to heal and I just hope that all of us can do so as well.
As those palms that were delivered yesterday symbolize Jesus returning to Jerusalem after those 40 days of prayer, isolated and alone, in the desert, we too can use this time to pray and reflect. Although those palms may not physically reach the faithful this year, they will spiritually and wait patiently for Ash Wednesday next year, to be burned and start anew. Further confirmation that there is hope that the world and life will go on.
May God protect and love you all+
Rev. Dr. Joseph Ciccone a Priest in the Order of Franciscan Servants and a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York with a Master of Divinity Degree in Ministry and Pastoral Care. Here is currently assigned to Saint Joseph Mission Church, bringing the Gospel to those in the margins and to people in need wherever they may be. I have also been a Chapel Minister at Saint James Chapel at Union Seminary and specialize in traditional and non-traditional Catholic, Christian and Interfaith ceremonies. Our Mission on the Move began in New Jersey in 2016, thus far we have married nearly 400 couples, Baptized so many of the children and some of the couples we have married. We make countless hospital visits and give the anointing of the sick, bring the sacraments to the home bound, the lost and broken and those who needs Gods love but have been hurt by the traditional church.
Prayers During the Pandemic: March 23, 2020