Sunday, August 21, 2016

Olympic memories

     Tonight the Rio Olympics come to a close after two weeks of international competition and physical and mental accomplishments.  I watched a great deal of the events over these two weeks, and was distressed by some bad behavior but inspired by even greater sportsmanship and cooperation.  Our swimmers, our young women gymnasts, the medal winners were wonderful to watch, even if there were heart stopping moments.  Enfleshing the Olympic Spirit was the scene of the women runners who collided and fell, with the one helping the other, injured one, to finish the race.

     These two weeks brought back memories, for twenty years ago I had the good fortune to attend the second week of the summer Atlanta Olympics.  Good friends, Mary Ann and Bill Newhouse and their children invited me to join them for the trip to Atlanta.  We stayed with friends of theirs just outside the city, were able to attend a number of events - track and field, women's volleyball and a baseball game - tour Atlanta, and have an enjoyable time.  It was an experience that I will not duplicate in my life, and I cherish the memories with gratitude.

     We were also encouraged in the Scriptures of these last few weeks to see the Olympic spirit as an image of our personal journey of faith.  Paul last Sunday spoke of persevering in running the race, of keeping before our eyes the goal, the prize - not a medal of gold or silver or bronze or a wreath of garland - our relationship to Jesus Christ and a crown of eternal glory.  This week we were encouraged in the opening prayer at liturgy to be single minded in our purpose and to seek after that which the Lord promises us as our destiny.

     The Olympics can remind us not only of the greatness of nations and their athletes, not only of attaining fame and prestige, but most importantly of the need to focus on what is most important in life, and to strive unceasingly to attain that goal of oneness with the Lord that brings with it eternal glory.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A role of service

     Yesterday was the feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr of the Church.  He was one of the seven deacons of the church of Rome during the reign and the persecution of the emperor Valerian, and served with the Holy Father, Pope Sixtus II.  He was martyred, tradition says, by being roasted on the gridiron or grill, but some think that like so many others, he was beheaded.  The roasting account makes for good drama, and it is said that he told to his captors that he was done on the one side and that it was time to turn him over.  Whatever is the truth of the manner of his death, the reality is that his courage and bravery strengthened the lifeblood of the Church and brought his life of service to its ultimate completion.

     His service as a deacon allows me to reflect upon the gift that the Church possesses in the diaconate and especially the permanent diaconate of more recent years.  I served as a deacon for a brief time in my journey toward priesthood, for about a year as I continued my studies and had a number of pastoral experiences.  I served a summer at Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale (where I later served as associate and then pastor), part of the summer at Saint Mary in Export, and a semester at the Newman Center at IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania).

     The permanent diaconate is relatively new in our Diocese, and the number of deacons are few.   When the diaconate was reestablished following the Council, the late Bishop Connare was cautiously watching the programs in other dioceses, and never established a program here.  He was followed by the late Bishop Anthony Bosco whose major emphasis was on the role and empowerment of the laity.  When Bishop Lawrence Brandt came, he established the diaconate in the Diocese, and set up a formation program that went though many developmental phases and a very thorough and long process.  We saw two classes of deacons - first two and then the second class.  We look forward to the next class.

     The deacons that we have are exceptional men of faith and dedicated service.  They and their wives and families are deeply committed to the Church and her people, and they give of themselves unselfishly.  One in the first class is a high school classmate of mine, Dr. Bill Hisker, and two of the next class are very good friends, Bill Newhouse and Jeff Cieslewicz (Jeff is a parishioner of our parish and a cousin of mine).  During my recent illness, Jeff (with the permission of his pastor) has been a major service to the parish and help to me in providing weekday communion services when I was not available for Mass.  Our parish family enjoys his preaching and are grateful for his ministry, as am I.

     Finally, on this day following the feast of Saint Lawrence, I offer my thoughts and gratitude to our former bishop, Lawrence Brandt, for his service and for establishing the diaconate program.  Happy name's day, Bishop Brandt.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Prepared, Faithful Servants

     The Psalm response for this Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time states: "Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own".  We live in a world fraught with fear and mistrust.  We are bombarded these days on the political level with politicians and parties that affirm that we have much to fear - from each other and from the unknown.  The blame is always placed upon the other, and the name calling and negativity borders on the uncivil, not to mention the unchristian.  Whether we believe that the world is on the verge of collapse or that things could not be better, we are told that one candidate or the other can remedy the situation.  I mentioned last Sunday that the Scriptures remind us that when we acknowledge the goodness and love of God, his presence and power in our lives (a theme echoed this Sunday), we are able to work together and conquer all that confronts us, not out of fear or indignation, not with an attitude that centers upon the "I", but with a respect for God and of each other that allows us to work for the common good, to be that faithful and prudent steward whom the master will call to service.  But key to this happening is to acknowledge and place ourselves within the loving hands of our loving God.

     Recently,on his trip to Poland for World Youth Day, Pope Francis visited the death camps.  His visit was quiet and reflective.  He prayed in the death cell of Maximilian Kolbe, and was moved by the brutal moment in our recent history that allowed politicians and regular people alike to allow or overlook what was happening, because God had been placed on the perifery of life or relegated to Sunday morning.  Some were directly responsible, but countless others were quietly unaware of this barbaric attitude that pervaded the human heart.  Many should have sought out the truth, and all of us should have learned a critical lesson which would have lessened our present fears and isolationism.  But we are slow learners.  We easily speak of the desire for peace, but we too often fail to trust in the Prince of Peace to strengthen and guide our efforts.

     So today, remember what the psalmist said: "Blessed are the people the Lord has chosen to be his own".  Count your blessings ... share your blessing ... be a blessing.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Too long of an absence

     As those of you who know me and others may be aware, these last four months (since April 1st) have been a bit of a challenge for me physically.  As I might have mentioned, I awoke that morning with cellulitis of the right leg coupled with a fever, a sepsis infection, and developing wounds on the leg.  After a stint in the hospital and a month of intense antibiotics (with accompanying reactions), the infection cleared, but the wounds continued to be dealt with at the local wound clinic.  Five were healed when a sixth developed, which we are working on at the moment.  That developed another infection with more antibiotics, and now there is an elevated kidney function that we are dealing with.  I realize two things: that this was a serious condition, especially with the sepsis; and that what I am going through is nothing compared to the crosses that others have to bear.  And yet, these four months have wiped me out, limited my ability to do what I was used to, and given me a longing for the retirement which the age of seventy will bring me next May.  It has also lessened my ability to focus, thus my absence from the computer and from the blog.  But it is time to come back.

     One thing that these four months have reminded me of (although I really did not need reminding) is how wonderful and kind people are - parishioners, friends, family.  Highest among them is my sister, Janie.  Since April 1st, she has been my caregiver and champion.  Having retired last June, she left her home in Uniontown and moved in with me, learning how to administer IV's, change dressings, question and challenge doctors, and advocating on my behalf.  I took her home today for a while, to check on the house and pay the bills and meet her friends.  She has only been home a few times over these months, even though friends have "checked on things at home" and kept her informed.  She has a liking for angels, and that is one reason that I can call her my angel in these challenging times.  We have always been close, but since I was ordained forty three years ago, we have become best of friends as well.  She is a treasure!  People often ask me if I realize how lucky I am to have her ... and I answer ABSOLUTELY!

     I hope to reboot my commitment to Journey Thoughts.  Pray for me.  Pray for blessings for Janie.  And pray every day for those who are more in need of our prayers.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Peter and Paul

     Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, who are the foundational blocks of the mission of the Church.   Both were martyred in Rome sometime during the persecution of Nero, around 64 AD.  Both are instrumental in laying the groundwork for the message of the Gospel: Peter to the House of Israel and Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles.  Both are remembered and honored at their place of death and burial by two awesome churches.   And it is on this feast that the Church recognizes the primacy of Peter and his successor, the Bishop of Rome.  His symbol are the keys of the Kingdom entrusted to him at the time of his declaration of faith.

     Peter died by crucifixion (at his request, upside down because he was unworthy to die as did Jesus) on Vatican Hill at the circus located there.  He was buried in the adjoining cemetery, and his grave was marked and venerated from the beginning, although in secret.  When Constantine converted and built a church over his grave, the first Saint Peter's came to be.  The present basilica was built over the same spot, with Peter's tomb located in the necropolis below the crypt and under the main altar.

     Paul, a Roman citizen by birth, was brought to Rome to be judged by the emperor.  Found guilty, he was condemned to death as well, but since crucifixion was beneath the dignity of even the worst Roman citizen, he was beheaded just outside the city walls.  This is the sight of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.  His ministry was to preach the Gospel message to the Gentile community, and his symbol is the two edged sword, which Scripture describes as the Word of God.

     The Preface proper to this feast is very beautiful, mentioning that Peter is "foremost in confessing the faith" and established "the early Church from the remnant of Israel".  It says that Paul is the faith's "outstanding preacher ... master and teacher of the Gentiles".

     A number of years ago I had the honor of celebrating Mass in the Clementine Chapel which is at the tomb of Peter and under the high altar.  I also had the opportunity to be a part of the Scavi tour of the underground necropolis that has been excavated since the 1940's, I believe, and leads to the bones attributed to be those of Peter.

     As pastor of the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg, we were looking for an image of Paul for our letterhead, and I chose Paul holding the sword.  Many wondered at that, until they became aware that this sword represents the Word of God.

     On this Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, please pray for Peter's successor, Francis, and those who share the ministry of the Apostles, including our own Bishop, Edward and our retired Bishop, Lawrence.  Pray for those who form the rock solid foundation of Faith and who preach unceasingly the Word of God.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Shepherd's Heart

     A week ago Friday the Church celebrated the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  I mentioned at Mass that the Heart of Jesus that gives us the love of God invites us to join with him and become holy, sacred.  And while we call the heart of Jesus a Sacred Heart, it is also the heart of a shepherd, the Good Shepherd ... a loving, caring heart of mercy and compassion.

     The following day, on that Saturday morning of June 4th, Bishop Edward Malesic ordained to the priesthood for the Church and the Diocese Greensburg a young man by the name of Ryan Ravis.  He is a delightful man of faith and love, of enthusiasm and great expectations.  His story has been told in interviews that can be found in our Diocesan Newspaper, The Catholic Accent, and on the Diocesan website.  It is a great story of how God is the one in charge of the direction in our lives, and we are truly blessed that the Lord has led him to ministry in priesthood.  I hope and pray that he has many year - "Multos annos" - and happiness and service with the heart of a shepherd. 

Pictures courtesy of the Diocese of Greensburg facebook site

     There is a hymn that we sing whose first verse goes something like this: "If you love me, feed my lambs.  Be my heart, my hands, my voice.  If you love me feed my sheep.  And for my part, I give you the heart, of a shepherd."  May Ryan continue to love the Lord. May he be the hands and the heart and the voice of Jesus to all he meets.  May he feed the lambs and sheep entrusted to him.  And may he find the gift of the Heart of a Shepherd as promised by the Lord.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Tuesday story

     I would like to tell you of a great experience in my life this past Tuesday, but first I want to acknowledge and congratulate a young man, Father Ryan Ravis, who was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Greensburg yesterday morning (Saturday) by Bishop Ed Malesic.  I wish Ryan many years of happy and fruitful priesthood.  More on his ordination at another time.  Pray for him ... and pray for priestly vocations.

     This past Tuesday afternoon I had the opportunity to host a small luncheon for our parish staff and a group of individuals who have been extremely helpful during my recent illness.  A great part of the group of about twenty-five that gathered for lunch were members of our Christian Mothers, who every other day graciously brought meals to the rectory for my sister and myself.  They were delicious and I suggest helped with the healing process.  We gathered at a local establishment and shared food and fellowship in a relaxed setting.  I am most grateful to all who visited, helped, sent cards and greetings, and prayed for my recovery.

     My sister and the staff at the parish also transformed this gathering of thanks into a birthday celebration for yours truly (the birthday was on Monday, May 30th).  A good time was had by all.

     Tuesday was the feast of the Visitation, when Mary visited her cousin, Elizabeth, who was also with child.  I pointed out, both at Mass and at the luncheon, that this feast is a model of what we can be and need to be for others.  In the little things, like a visit or a prepared meal, we not only do something good and perform a work of mercy, but like Mary, we bring with us the presence of Christ to those whose lives we touch.  And when we, on the receiving end of things, realize the blessing that has come our way, we rejoice and our hearts leap for joy at the presence of our Lord in the life of another.  I experienced that presence and that love, and for that I count my blessings.  That is why this little lunch was so important for me.

     We have a very talented and creative person on staff who is a musician, Diana Mikash.  She composed a little "dittie" that all sang to me to the tune of "Hello Dolly".  I thought that I would share this "Ditties by Di" selection with you.

Hello Lenny
I said hello Lenny, well hello Lenny,
It's so great that we can all be here with you.
You're lookin' swell, Lenny, we can tell, Lenny,
That you've followed doctor's orders
and nurse Jane's, too!
We've missed you so, Lenny.  Don't you know, Lenny
that there's no one who could ever take your place so
Welcome back, Lenny.
Things can now get on track, Lenny.
Everything will be just fine.
You're still young, you're sixty-nine!
Lenny, don't ever go away again1
Hey don't you fret, Lenny.  We can bet, Lenny,
You'll be back to doing things you like to do.
You'll be in church, Lenny, on your perch, Lenny.
and hit all the local eateries that missed you, too!
Just one more year, Lenny, that you're here, Lenny,
and we've got so much to do before you go, now
don't you fear, Lenny,
we'll get you through your final year, Lenny.
So just look at it this way, 70's just one more year away!
May God bless you on this special day!!!