Wednesday, July 14, 2021

INSPIRING LIVES

      I received a beautiful and inspiring tri-fold brochure in the mail today from the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh which celebrates five of their Community's Sisters who are recognizing significant milestone of their Monastic Profession.  As Sister Karen Brink, their newly re-elected Prioress, states: "Three hundred and twenty years of Benedictine living is what you will see in the faces of our Sister Jubilarians.  What a blessing their lives have been, not only for themselves but for all those whose lives they have touched through the three pillars of Benedictine Life: Prayer, Community and Ministry."

    My association with the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh began when I arrived as pastor of Saint John the Baptist Parish in Scottdale, where they served in both the school community and the parish community.

     The Sisters celebrating significant anniversaries are: Sister Rosalyn Soller, a Sister for 70 years - working with the poor in Kentucky, teaching and serving as a principal, novices and other Community services.

     Sisters Mary David Lecker and Judith Nero are professed 65 years. [No bio was given for these Sisters]

     Sister Roberta Campbell celebrates 60 years, and I came to know her in her role as Prioress which covered 12 years beginning in 1990 and overlapped my time in Scottdale.

     And Sister Audrey Quinn, also 60 years professed.  Her ministry took her, along with Sister Sue Fazzini, to Greene County where they became foster parents to more than 160 children over a period of 18 years and served in a number of Greene County Community agencies.

     These five women's lives are inspiring in themselves.  Add the fact of their Faith and their  commitment to the Way of Saint Benedict - ORA ET LABORA [Pray and Work] and they are outstanding and deserving our our well wishes and prayers.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

HISTORY- remembered , revised, found

     Within the past few weeks we as a nation have celebrated aspects of our history in ever changing times.  I am interested in history, and even though as a kid I did not appreciate the subject, as an adult I value the lessons that are to be learned.

     There are two events within our national history that I have recently discovered.  I believe that I was brought up with an open view of history, but I was surprised to learn, this year for the first time, of the June 6, 1921 Tulsa Race Riots or as it is also called the Black Wall Street Massacre.  How, after an accusation of a supposed assault on a white woman by a young black man, tempers exploded and a vicious race riot occurred in Tulsa that took 40 lives and destroyed 35 square blocks of a prosperous Black community.   How can I have not heard of this terrible act of hatred?

     And then there is Juneteenth, declared as a National Holiday this year but celebrated in many parts of the country since the mid 1860's.  This date - June 19, 1865 - was the day that the last of the slave states had their slaves emancipated, in a proclamation by Union General Gordon Granger in the State of Texas.   This came a few years following the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln.  I learned about that, but the 1965 event was not taught.  Why?

     Then on July 1, 2 & 3 we remembered the 158th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.  I have a great interest in this battle and its stories.  I had many books and some great art works - signed and numbered prints of the battle and it's participants - some of which I disposed of in my retirement downsizing.  However, some of my prints remain, and in fact grace my bedroom walls.  By happenstance, though, most of my remaining prints are of Lee and Longstreet and Confederate soldiers.  My concern is that I will be thought poorly of in this revisionist and politically correct atmosphere.  We move to tear down statues or demonize good but not perfect people who were caught up in a terrible struggle.   This narrow view of history does a great disservice to our national memory and especially to our youth.

    Then on Sunday we celebrated Independence Day where 245 years ago many of those who drafted and signed the Declaration of Independence are now being demeaned because of their flaws, owning slaves or womanizing or other failings, and the great ideas and courage and efforts to bring this nation into being are ignored.   There are no perfect people in this world, just those of us striving to do the best we can and find a better life.  To be quick to judge the actions of others without trying to understand their times and circumstances allows us to be vulnerable to the judgements of our actions.

     Let us not cover up our missteps and errors - let us learn from them.  But let us also not forget the goodness of people and actions and ideals that have brought us to where we are - let us remember them. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

WISDOM

      Not all scriptures are created equal.  In my role as a preacher of the Word, whose task it is to break open God's Word, I can attest to that statement.  All scriptures are important, but some are easier to preach on.

     The readings for this past Sunday, the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, are great readings for preaching.  They are filled with powerful words that speak of the goodness of our God.

     Verse 13 of chapter 1 of the Book of Wisdom, the first reading for that celebration, says: "God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living."

     God does not make death!

     But listen to the way we speak of God at times - "If you don't behave, God will punish you" ... "Why did God take this person, allow this child to die?" ... a natural disaster is called "an act of God".

     Wisdom 1 said: "God does not make death!"  then it continues: "For he fashioned all things that they may have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome."

    Remember the creation accounts?  At the end of each creative act, God paused and looked at what had been created, and saw that it was good.  Everything was fashioned that it may exist and have being ... a gift given by the divine being.

     But death does exist - it comes from the sin of the rejection of what was God-given in search of an empty promise of something more.

     In verse 23 & 24 of chapter 2 of Wisdom we read: "For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him.  But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world and they who belong to his company experience it."

     From the time of the Fall we have struggled to realize and hold onto our destiny, sometimes succeeding but often failing.   But then came the Word once again in time, speaking a creative word that would repair the damage done by sin and restore to God's company those claimed by the evil one.   This time the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen him and share in his glory.

     In a world still claimed by chaos and darkness, sin and death, it is imperative that we know that we have been made new and good through the redemptive action of the Cross.   And we must lay claim to that wonderful gift and give thanks.

Monday, June 21, 2021

STORMY WEATHER

      On this Monday afternoon in June much of the nation, especially in the East, has been dealing with severe weather.  Our own area has had a series of storms that have rumbled through.  The summer months are noted for these kinds of days.

     The readings for yesterday's 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time referenced storms in life.  We met Job whose storm in life was to find his security and blessings stripped away in a "bargaining" between the Lord and the evil one.  Everything that he held important, primarily his close relationship with the Lord, was being challenged.  It was not within Job's nature to doubt that relationship with God, but he came close.  In the passage from chapter 38 the Lord reminds Job just who is in charge, and how faithful God is to his promise to Job.  In the midst of the confusion and doubt afflicting Job, God says to him ... fear not - I am in charge and I am true to my promise that you are dear to my heart.  And Job found courage.

     Psalm 107 [the Responsorial Psalm of the liturgy] reminds those that sailed the seas and dealt with the storms of nature that the Lord is in charge ... that "he hushed the storm to a gentle breeze and the billows of the sea were stilled."  It ends with these words: "Let them give thanks to the Lord for his kindness and his wonderous deeds to the children on men."

    In chapter 5 of the 2nd letter to Corinth, Paul tells of the tumultuous change that entered his life when he realized the love of Christ for all.  He says that the storm of that realization "impels" him to regard everyone as a new creation redeemed by the love of Christ, and deserving of his love and resect.

     And the Gospel of Mark tells us of the storm at sea where even the seasoned fishermen who were his disciples could not cope with the storm they found themselves caught in.  Jesus was with them, but he was asleep on a cushion in the boat.  Jesus was with them, not in their fear or helplessness, but in the boat to calm the wind and the seas and calm the fears of our concerns.  He steps in to show us how loved and cherished we are.

     Remember this - while he can calm the storm ,,, end the persecution ... restore what was lost ... he is also there to give us the peace and security that we need to keep calm ... the strength we need to not only endure the hardships but to come out victorious ... and to ability to rejoice in the glory of the Kingdom of God. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

DECORATION DAY

       Yesterday the nation celebrated what has become known as the first holiday of the Summer season - Memorial Day.  Until 1971 this holiday was called "Decoration Day" because of the tradition beginning at the end of the Civil War to decorate with flowers the graves of those who lost their lives in that conflict in their honor.  It began with a proclamation on May 5, 1868, by Union General John Logan, that May 30th would be the day of remembrance and honoring.  This holiday was not adopted by the Southern States on that date, but they chose a different date to honor their fallen.

     On Sunday evening we at Neumann House where I live watched the 25th Anniversary Concert of "Les Miserable".  Taking place in Paris during the French Revolution, there is a line spoken by one of the young leaders of the rebellion that says: "The blood of the martyrs will water the meadows of France".  This is the sentiment that Decoration Day embodied, for those who died from both sides of that terrible conflict in the mid 1860's, the Civil War of our nation, provided for the freedom of a united nation, these United States of America.

     Over the years, as other wars became a part of our history, the call to recognize and honor all who fought and died for the rights of people and for  freedom and a better world were included in the remembrance.  The national holiday was moved in 1971 to the last Monday in May, this year May 31st.

     It is unfortunate that all too many do not know the origin or purpose of this holiday and see it as a long weekend off.  We must never forget ... and whether we "decorate" the graves of those who died in battle or not, we must never forget their sacrifice and we must offer our prayers of thanksgiving for those who gave "the last full measure of devotion".

     This day has always been special for me (the original day - May 30th) for I always thought that they put out the flags and had the parades for my birthday.  Then they moved it to the nearest Monday.  Oh, well.  A belated "Happy Memorial Day!"

Friday, May 21, 2021

What we are to "keep"

      I recorded the English voice over on WAOB for Pope Francis' homily for the Ascension on Wednesday of this week.  The Holy Father tells us that Jesus, in his prayer to the Father in the Gospel of John, uses the word "keep".  Pope Francis then points out that there are three things that we must "keep" to live with Christ.

     We must keep FAITH.  We do so to avoid yielding to grief or plunge into the despair of those who no longer see a way out of our difficulties.  Pope Francis says: "To keep faith is to keep our gaze fixed up to heaven ... To keep the faith is to refuse to yield to the logic of hatred and vengeance, but to keep our gaze fixed on the God of love, who calls us to be brothers and sisters to one another."

     We must keep UNITY.  "Jesus asks the Father to preserve the unity of his disciples, so that they may be 'completely one' (Jn 17:21), one family in which love and fraternity reign."  Pope Francis goes on to say that we are to be "completely one, to be a family, to find the courage to live in friendship, in love and fraternity."

    We are called to keep the TRUTH.  The prayer of Jesus is that we may be consecrated in truth as we are sent throughout the world to carry on his mission.  The Holy Father points out that "Truth, for the apostle John, is Christ himself, the revelation of the Father's love."  "To keep the truth means to be a prophet in every situation in life, in other words to be consecrated to the Gospel and bear witness to it even when that means going against the current."  He wants us to be consecrated to the beauty and truth of the Gospel so that we can testify to the joys of God's kingdom even in the dark night of grief, even when evil seems to have the upper hand.

     The Holy Father was addressing at that Mass the Myanmar Community in Rome, a people suffering tremendous violence, conflict, repression and evil.  His message encourages them, and us, to be faithful to what we are being called to be faithful to ... what we are being called to keep.  I thought that they were important words, words that touched my heart.  Maybe they will touch your heart.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

THE EYES OF OUR HEARTS


     This past Sunday, and in our area the previous Thursday, was the celebration of the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven.  The second reading for that feast is taken from chapter 1 of the Letter to the Ephesians.  Here is my reflection for that reading that I shared on WAOB.

     In verse 17 of the 1st chapter of Ephesians Paul says: "May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.  May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened."

     The Spirit that Paul speaks of is the Holy Spirit, which, before he ascended to the Father, Jesus promised to his followers.   That Spirit came upon the Church at Pentecost and remains the gift without equal that we still possess.

     In our baptism we have been given that Spirit, entrusted with the source of wisdom and revelation in order to know and understand Jesus Christ.

     For our part, there needs to be a willingness to allow the "eyes of our hearts" to be enlightened so that we may walk in his way.

     Paul tells us that our willingness to have our hearts enlightened is so that "we may know what is the hope that belongs to his call" [the call to unity with him and holiness of life creates within us a vision of what can be, what must be, in order to live in hope of something far beyond our capabilities] ... "what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones" [what a tremendous treasure has been placed within our grasp, a treasure that will never lessen in time or circumstances] ... "and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe ... which he worked in Christ."

     Our lives are not about power and earthly glory, but our life in Christ is entrusted with spiritual power and blessed with eternal glory.   When he returned to the Father, Jesus sent the Spirit, and we stepped out into a world that required our proclamation of faith.

     All of this is possible because Jesus brings the Father's love to us and shares with us a life beyond imagining.  Ephesians tells us that the mighty work accomplished in Christ our Lord is this: "raising him [Jesus] from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion ... he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fulness of the one who fills all things in every way."

     The Father gave us his Son ... a gift to the Church, which is his body.   We are that Church.   In us, the fulness of the gift of the Father is seen and experienced; for we, the Church, are the gift of hope given to a world that, although created by God in goodness has fallen upon hard times and lost its way.   We are to show that way to all who seek the path of life.

     When they left that upper room on Pentecost, the disciples went forth to proclaim that good news - a message that we are entrusted with to share.