Good evening, brothers and sisters. My name is Jaimee Perez. My daughter and I worship between St. Patrick and St. Jude Catholic Church, depending on what time we get moving on Sunday mornings. I made Women’s Cursillo #57 in June 2014, at All Saints Catholic School, where I sat at the table of Our Lady Queen of Peace.

 

Brothers and sisters, I was asked by Jesus, through my fellow Christian Leaders on Secretariat, to give the witness talk tonight. As a collective of Christian leaders in this movement, I was given the tall task of sounding the heralding call to bring us back together as a vibrant, authentic community of Christ, to speak words that would be a healing balm to the wounds of isolation, loneliness, and grief and reignite the fire of the Holy Spirit within us…tall shoes indeed. God does not call the equipped. Rather He equips the called and when asked, He opens up the eyes and ears of the prophet to hear His voice so that His message of hope and instruction can be spoken to His people, in the time that they need, for their encouragement and for their healing. This is our history and our inheritance. As St Paul states in first Corinthians chapter 14, verses 1, 3, and 4: Pursue love, but strive eagerly for the spiritual gifts, above all that you may prophesy…one who prophesies does speak to human beings, for their building up, encouragement and solace…whoever prophesies builds up the Church.

 

So, I stand before you a prophet and I deliver a message to call us back into action as a community charged with the apostolate of our Lord.

 

We have all faced a great challenge this past year as Christians and Cursillistas. The very Life Bread that sustains our growth was stripped from us. I refer to both the Eucharist, and our fellowship opportunities as a community. In an instant we found ourselves in the very place we are warned to avoid in the Laity Rollo – on an island, alone and separated. An isolated Christian is a paralyzed Christian. We were not meant to be alone, our Creator God’s own words in Genesis reminds us of our true origin and our true end: It is not good for the man to be alone. We were made for and are destined for communion.

 

As I was preparing this witness talk, I came across an article on a Catholic site called The Young Catholic Woman (https://www.theyoungcatholicwoman.com/archivescollection/healing-from-2020-through-solidarity ). The article, entitled Healing from 2020 through Solidarity, drew some of its wisdom from a study published in a special issue of Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice. The subtitle of the special issue, by the way, is Groups in a Dangerous Time: Virtual Work and Therapy in the COVID-19 Era. The authors of the study had this to say about how the pandemic has affected us as human beings:

 

“The pandemic attacked not just individuals but also their relationships and the groups that sustain those relationships, including their families, work groups, and friendship circles. To cope, social isolation was mandated, but that mandate separated people from the groups that sustain them. As sheltering in place wore on, the isolation strained the resources of people’s remaining alliances, including their families and closest friendships. The illness was also, in many cases, a fatal one and so permanently changed the nature and structure of many people’s groups and relationships.”

 

Let us take a moment to remember our brother, Ken Peluso, who entered his 5th day as a result of COVID-19.

 

The conditions of the past year forced us into an artificial state of life, one in complete contradiction with our nature and design. We were offered consolations through virtual platforms, social media, and other digital means. For a time, these consolations sufficed. I can honestly say grouping virtually with my grouping sisters kept me sane, and I clung to that lifeline because it was a benchmark of normalcy amid societal lunacy. But despite this lifeline, the disconnect eventually happened. And I know that I am not alone in this room and as the authors discovered in their research, nor are we alone in the world. The author of the article wrote:

 

“From a somewhat backward viewpoint, a pandemic showcases the importance of human connection. The reason a virus spreads so quickly is that we are made to connect with each other. We weren’t designed to be creatures of isolation, we were designed to be friends, sons, daughters, parents, spouses, and colleagues! As stated by the authors of this article, group connection sustains us.”

 

Thrown into the mix of our prolonged isolation was the presidential election of 2020. Already stretched thin and inundated with the scary messages of the world, we attempted to manage a highly contentious election season. And then we REALLY lost sight of ourselves and each other. Reading my social media feeds, posts, and stories hurt my soul. It took out of me what little was there. Many, many times I found myself beginning to type responses, only to hit the delete button because I didn’t have the mental or emotional energy to deal with ad hominem attacks. I also could not help but see the work of the enemy, taking advantage of the isolation and fear. We were left vulnerable, and I quote:

 

“{}…mandated to isolate from one another, a door was opened through which widespread disconnection had the opportunity to sneak into our communities. Put simply, the pandemic has caused widespread disconnection and Pope Francis states that there is “increasing inequality and marginalization” as a result. Healing from such a fracturing crisis as a community requires a twofold approach: using authentic connection to alleviate our isolation and solidarity to understand and work through this dramatic experience together.”

 

In preparing this witness talk, I asked the Father to share His heart for you and us as His community and He placed on my heart the oft paraphrased version of Esther 4:14 – for we were born for such a time as this. The actual verse is more of a question, a proposition. Mordecai writes to Esther and proposes this to her: Who knows – perhaps it was for a time like this that you became queen?

 

Perhaps, brothers and sisters, it is for a time like the one we are living in that we are being challenged to really walk in the identity that we profess – royal sons and daughters of a Mighty King who invites us to participate in His plan of salvation for all humanity. I believe it is time for us, as a community, to enliven and enlarge our kingdom vision and our kingdom hearing. What the pandemic and quarantine and the presidential election has done to disconnect us, we have been endowed with a power much greater than these to help heal and bring us back together. As the author of the article states:

 

“[]…authentic connection has the power to heal the bonds that have been bruised or broken by the byproducts of quarantine, namely: isolation, disconnection, and grief.”

 

What is connection? Brené Brown offers this definition of connection in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: “...the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

 

Connection is authentic when there is an exchange of vulnerability and openness that allows members of the interaction to feel seen and heard and those qualities of vulnerability and openness are indispensable not only for connection but for healing as well. The Church proposes seven pillars of social teaching, designed to order us to our good for the common good. Solidarity is one of those pillars. The author of the article proposes that application of this teaching is what will help us heal from the collective wounding we’ve experienced as a result of the pandemic and the presidential election. Solidarity simply defined is the shifting from independence to interdependence – the dependence of two or more people or things on each other.

 

How do we build or rebuild the Body of Christ? According to St. Paul, by prophesying to each other, opening up for each other the heart of the Father for each member of the body, singing psalms and speaking words of life over each other. St. Paul instructed the Romans to “pursue what leads to peace and to building one another up” and to “please our neighbor for the good, for building up.” (Romans 14:19 and 15:2)

 

Over the course of the three days of the Cursillo weekend, we take a journey from isolation to belonging. We learn that we are not alone because we have Jesus with us always and we learn that in order to keep growing spiritually we need community. We commit to memory write downs such as “An isolated Christian is a paralyzed Christian” and “I am the Church, you are the Church, and together we are the Church.” The tools we receive are given context – community. We each can go through our sheets alone at home and there is of course benefit. The animation behind these tools, though, is what we have here tonight – community.

 

I’ve tried my best to maintain community with the restrictions placed on us. My small group reunion utilized digital platforms such as Marco Polo and Zoom to continue grouping during shut-down. We began praying the rosary via Zoom on Saturday mornings a year ago this week. We may not all always be able to join, but that rosary happens regardless and whoever can make it joins in. I also utilized my digital and virtual connections to friends that I’ve been working to bring closer to Christ. I’m in a group chat with two co-workers who have become good friends and one a very dear friend. We text back and forth daily as we go through our work day. I Christianized our virtual and digital space by sending scripture, encouraging memes and gifs, and by sharing special moments with Christ with them. At first my actions were gentle, testing the waters. I would offer to pray for them in their struggles and hardships and fortunately that risk was accepted. This opened the door for my friend Yashica to share her faith and she has been sending us some of her daily devotionals in our text stream. My friend Shannon has also felt comfortable sharing her own journey in delving in Scripture, sharing with us points from her pastor’s sermons that struck her, and asking for our prayers on days when life is hard. Granted, our text stream isn’t always positive, but I’ve observed that at least one of us will remind the others that God is with us and we are not alone.

 

Other digital and virtual spaces have not felt or been so safe. And the truth is, these mediums are poor substitutions for the real thing. In fact, these mediums were never meant to replace the real thing. They were designed to increase connection when face-to-face interaction is impossible due to distance. Our healing begins by coming back together, and that is what we are doing here tonight.

 

According to St. John Paull II, solidarity is “a way of living, respecting differences among people. It means unity in numbers.” There is unity in this room right now. The banner of Christ unifies us as a living body with many different parts, each with its own talent, gifting and function for the advancement of His Kingdom here on earth. The author of the article pointed out that solidarity isn’t just a shared experience – like the one we all have shared in this pandemic and contentious election season. She writes, “it is a type of authentic connection that drives communities to affect global change…solidarity…is a collective experience of living within the truth.” In Cursillo we learn that our sphere of influence for the Kingdom and for Christ is our square yard. We inhabit environments that can be Christianized by our words and actions. We have a power greater than any earthly power. In solidarity, as a community committed to Christ who counts on us and us on Him, we bring transformation power that changes lives for eternity because we experience living in truth as a community!

 

Brothers and sisters, we are moving ahead with the men and women’s weekends this year. We are prayerfully examining the rhythm and process of the weekend against current protocols in place here at Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center. We are aware of the local and statewide movements and changes with respect to masks, social distancing and other protocols, and we will continue to take all suggestions and recommendations into consideration as we move forward with planning and team formation. We ask for your spirit of cooperation and to extend to us the charity of Christ as well. We are adopting the following biblical approach as we do so:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these, put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians, chapter 3, verses 12-17)

 

This has been my heart through this pandemic and through the election season. I’ve wanted no other interpretation or understanding or revelation about the current events of our day than God’s. I am ready to move ahead, to move onward and to make the necessary accommodations in order to do so. We can no longer afford to remain isolated and paralyzed. It is time for healing and to step into the power of solidarity present in this community. Let’s put on love, that bond of perfection, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved and come together to cultivate the spiritual fruits of heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, patience, forbearance and forgiveness. Can we agree here this evening to no longer let the world steal our peace, but rather allow the peace of Christ to control our hearts and to bind us back together into the Body in which we were all called? I for one am thankful and I give thanks and praises to our Good Father in Heaven for dwelling in me, in you, and in this community (despite ourselves). I want him to remain in me and in you and to dwell richly in this community. The only way He will is if we begin to teach and admonish one another according to HIS WISDOM through singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and all with deep gratitude for the MANY good things He has done for us – individually and as a community. He IS in us and this community will heal and come back together as we commit every word and deed to the glory of His Name.

 

So let us do so now, let’s raise our voices together and give thanks to God our Father in heaven as his chosen and beloved ones.  AMEN! 

God bless you all.

WITNESS TALK AT ULTREYA

March 13, 2021

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