Monday, August 14, 2017

The support of friends

     One thing about my new residence at Neumann House at the Bishop Connare Center in our diocese is that we priests who are retired from active pastoral ministry are at the heart of many activities held by the Diocese of Greensburg.   One of those occurred Sunday evening when our bishop, at the invitation of the Office of Vocations and the Catholic Foundation, met with laity and priests who have shown their support of our vocation efforts through prayer and substantial giving.   Approximately one hundred and forty people gathered for Evening Prayer in the Saint Joseph Chapel, followed by refreshments and a fine dinner.  During that time, they were introduced to our four seminarians present, thanked for their generosity and encouraged by Bishop Malesic and those running the program to be as supportive as possible in these crucial efforts.  An insightful talk on the vision of priesthood of Pope Francis was given by Benedictine Father Edward Mazich, the rector of Saint Vincent Seminary, and a newly produced video from the Vocation Office was previewed. It was an encouraging evening for all of those in attendance.  This event, called the "Friends of Seminarians Dinner" is an annual event.

 The reception outside the Chapel
 Bishop Malesic addressing those in attendance
 The new Vocation Video
Benedictine Father Edward Mazich, keynote speaker


     As I sat in the Saint Joseph Chapel and prayed with these good and supportive people, I reflected upon the sacrifices made throughout the years by those who have been friends, to seminarians and priests, and who have made my priesthood possible.  The support and encouragement that I received in my formative years, by family and friends, by the Diocese and the local Serra groups, and the countless prayers of untold people throughout the twelve years of seminary and the forty-four of priesthood are an outstanding testimony of faith and action.  The very chapel we prayed in, and the facility we gathered at, are examples of that sacrifice and support.  Many of the men that have gone through the seminary programs have become priests and deacons, and an even greater number have become good, solid Catholic men of family and faith, involved in the Church and committed to the Good News of the Gospel.

     When I began this journey fifty-six years ago this Fall, we had twenty-one in our class of High School Freshmen.  I remember Bishop Connare telling us that if we get one ordination from this group, we will be fortunate.   From that group we saw two men ordained priests, with one leaving active ministry after a number of years and now one retired, and two men ordained later in life to the Permanent Diaconate, one of whom is now retired.  Not bad, four out of the twenty-one.  But the good news is the great lives of faith lived by so many of the others and the service to the Church that they have brought and continue to bring to the Church's mission.  As a side note: one of those men stopped to see me just this afternoon.  Rick Pedzwater, originally from New Ken and a classmate from the old Saint Joseph Hall days, stopped by with his grandson on their way to Steeler Camp at Saint Vincent for the day.  Rick lives in the Eastern part of the Commonwealth, and his grandson is from York, Pennsylvania.  It was a delightful surprise, and it was great seeing Rick again.

     Those Friends of Seminarians of the past and the present have laid the foundation and set the stage, and the Friends of Seminarians of the future are as vitally important as ever.  Be one of those good people through your prayers, encouragement and support of our seminarians and deacons and priests.  We need you.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Companions on the journey

     None of us journeys through life on their own.  As human beings, we are social in nature, in need of interaction and the stimulation that comes from our experiences and the giving of ourselves.   As people of faith, we are even more aware of our dependence upon God and upon those that he places in our lives as companions on the journey.

     In the life of the Church, there are many examples of such companions among the saints of God.  Some are related, like the siblings Scholastica and Benedict.  Some are inspired by the lives of their founder or patron and reflect the charisms found there.  And some are rooted in friendship, like Francis of Assisi and the saint of the day, Clare of Assisi.  Clare lived from 1194 to 1253.  Her family was well to do, and she lived near the town square of the town of Assisi.  She was a friend of the young Francis, and when his "conversion" to a simple way of life brought him to the attention of the community, she was attracted not only to the person and to his message, but also to the spiritual transformation that she saw in his life.  She desired to "give up" everything and follow this simple way, running away and entering the local Benedictine Convent.  Her family rescued her and brought her back home, insisting that she give up on this fantasy, but she persisted and eventually gave up her family and status to embrace Religious Life and eventually follow her spiritual companion, Francis.  She founded the Poor Clares, a community of nuns devoted to a simple, austere life of prayer.  Famously, she defended the town of Assisi from attack by boldly brandishing the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance before the town gate and scaring off the attackers.

     Clare is buried in the church that bears her name, and her body is visible to those who come as pilgrims, since she is an incorruptible.  While Francis is skeletal, she is incorruptible - the power of this woman of faith.   To view her body and to pray at her tomb, and that of her companion, Francis, has been a true blessing in my life.   On this, her feast, we pray: Saint Clare, pray for us!   Allow is to be grateful for our companions on the journey. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Another need

     This afternoon I responded to an invitation to join with Bishop Edward Malesic of our diocese for a Mass and Luncheon in recognition and honor of members of the Our Lady of the Assumption Legacy Society.  This event is an annual opportunity for the diocese to express its gratitude to those who have remembered the diocese in their estate planning, and to those who have given significantly to the ongoing work of the local Church over the year or years.  This gathering takes place on the feast of Saint Lawrence, who was a martyr in the early Church and a deacon entrusted with the "treasures of the Church in Rome" at the time of his death.  The Legacy Society was established by our retired bishop, Lawrence Brandt, and builds upon the Catholic Foundation established by our second bishop, William Connare.
Today's event took place at the Bishop Connare Center, our diocesan conference center in Greensburg, and my new home in retirement.   It was a great event.

     Bishop Malesic led us in prayer and broke open God's Word in his usual, pastoral way.  He spoke of the ministry and responsibility to respond to God's gift to us with the sharing of our blessings with the Church.   As I sat in the Saint Joseph Chapel and prayed today, I was keenly aware of the sacrifice of so many in the building of this place (which was my High School Seminary residence) and the support given to me in my journey toward priesthood.  What little I can give in return is inadequate in expressing my gratitude, but those who sacrificed over the years have my prayers and my deepest thanks.

     Our crowd today was small (a Thursday, early afternoon event is difficult for those who work) and I was a little disappointed with the turnout.  But then I reflected that this was my first time in attendance at such an affair (I was usually too busy or uninterested to attend), and that I should not be overly critical.

     And then another thought occurred to me.  I do not need to be "thanked" for my support or the sharing of my gifts, but there is another need - a need for the Church, through our bishop, to extend thanks for generous love and support.  The presence of those here today brings a visible component to the grateful commitment to the work of the Church.  And the prayers that we offer go out to all of those who through the living out of their faith, in their life of love and service, and in their generous support of the Church, have sacrificed much.  We have all been blessed ... and our response in whatever way and at whatever level, is our natural response. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Holy Wisdom

     There are two sources of wisdom that we as followers of Jesus Christ are called to embrace and into which we immerse ourselves.  Obviously, if we are to be leaven in the world and affect a radical transformation of a world touched by sin, we need to have a wisdom and a knowledge of what we speak of and to whom we witness.  This knowledge is more than just book learning, it requires the ability to think, to reason, to make critical decisions based in truth and not in whim.  It requires our use of one of those specific and unique qualities that defines a human being from the rest of creation - that we reason and decide, and take responsibility for our actions.

     To be truly wise, though, requires that we become one with Christ ... that his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, Wisdom, which he gives to us with deep love and affection find a place in our hearts and guide and direct our minds and hearts to choose wisely. 

     Miriam and Aaron chose badly in the first reading of today's liturgy and find themselves at odds with the Lord.  Psalm 51 show the wisdom of the repentant sinner who humbles himself before a merciful God.  And in the gospel we encounter those who need to justify themselves in the law and close themselves to the heart of the message of the great commandment of love.

     Today the Church honors Dominic, a contemporary of Saint Francis who lived between 1170 - 1221.  He founded the Dominicans - the Order of Preachers - and in his ministry and the charism that he shared with his followers, preached with power and conviction the Holy Wisdom of God united to the wisdom of this world.  He/they preached the goodness of all that God has given us, including our bodies and the things of this world.  Dominic instructed his followers to engage in rigorous academic studies so that this aspect of wisdom can be transformed by that Holy Wisdom that we are called to embrace. 

     May the Holy Wisdom of God inspire us, guide us, and enlighten us as we continue our journey.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Contrast of Power

     The following reflection I posted on August 6, 2013.  I share these thoughts again with you.

     Things were looking bad.  The end was near.  Hopelessness and despair were setting in.  It was at this juncture that Jesus took his closest friends, Peter, James and John, with him to the mountaintop to pray.  Nothing unusual.  It was at this moment that Jesus decided to give them hope, to share a vision of the divine reality, to let them know that all was not lost.  He was transfigured before their eyes.  A blinding light, immense power unlike anything ever seen before, a vision of all human existence brought together in the presence of an all powerful God as represented by Moses and Elijah - the law and the prophets.  By rights and from tradition Peter, James and John should be dead.  Very few see the face of God and live ... and if they do, they are never the same, they are transformed as were Moses and Elijah.   But this release of power brought life.  It gave hope and joyful peace to hearts.  It was a reminder that the power of God is meant to give life and transform a fallen world.   Those three came down from that mountaintop bolstered in their resolve to be disciples and strengthened to share the Good News.

     Today the Church celebrates that moment in the great feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus.   It is a celebration of the wisdom that when we are one with the source of true power and glory, we are at peace and filled with joy, we are right with the world and right with God.   May our lives always be found in this wonderful moment.

     Ironically, today the world remembers the 72nd anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb, called "Little Boy" on the city of Hiroshima, Japan.  It happened on the morning of August 6, 1945.  A second such bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki on August 9th, this one named "Fat Man".  These bombs unleased a blinding fireball of light and cloud such as the world had never seen before.  It also unleased death and destruction upon Hiroshima (70,000 to 80,000 killed outright by the blast, with between 90,000 to 166,000 total deaths) and Nagasaki (60,000 to 80,000 deaths).  Most of these were civilians.  It brought about the end of the war with Japan.

     The genius of creative minds developed this ability, and political necessity justified its use.   But the moral implications have affected us ever since.  Some power is beyond our ability to use wisely.  Just because we can do something does not mean that we should do it.   Despite the good that may have come from the actions on those two days in August, we have unleashed a power that is not our right to possess or to use in order to take life.  We have lived in fear of others possessing such power ever since.   We have made ourselves into gods, rather than bringing ourselves into the reality of the one true God.   The road to redemption is repentance, prayer and fasting, and a renewed commitment to Christ rooted in a renewed commitment to the peace found only in Christ Jesus. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

An inspiration for parish priests

     I always love looking at the book of the saints, reading of their lives, and most especially seeing what they have been named "patron" of.  Some are highly unusual, while many make great sense and are easily understood.

     The saint of the day - John Marie Vianney - is the patron saint of parish priests.  For those who serve in parish ministry, his story gives hope and his example gives inspiration.  I have found him to be a favorite of mine since seminary days.





     His story is one of struggle and difficulty in his studies.  He desired to serve as a priest, but he was challenged academically, and could not master Latin or the philosophical training required (probably why I find him so relatable).  Yet he had a deep desire and a pervading spirituality that prompted the Church leaders to train him privately and to ordain him because of his virtue.  So that he would do no harm, they assigned him to a small, backwoods village in France named Ars-en-Dombes.  Nothing much happened there, especially on the spiritual level. 

     Pere John Mary Vianney became a noted catechist, spiritual director and confessor - spending most of the day in the confessional.  As his reputation spread, the little village  of no consequence became a place of pilgrimage for hundreds of pilgrims daily ... attending his liturgies and going to confession.  They came to see the "Cure of Ars" (the pastor of Ars) and to be blessed.  He served there from 1830 to 1845.

     The challenges of priesthood today are very different from the mid 1800's, and yet even more challenging.  The apathy found in a worldly Church has become a complacency with the status-quo.  The need to be spiritual, to bring and to be Christ to others is still vital to the life of the Church,  So pray for your priests, and remember those of us who are retired.

A new responsibility

     On Monday of this week I awoke early to travel the few miles from my new home to attend an Orientation Meeting for the new Board Members of St. Anne Home in Greensburg.  The Orientation was hosted and guided by Jeff Long, the President and CEO of St. Anne Home, assisted by a number of his staff.  I have been asked and have been approved to serve a three year term on the Board of Directors.  There are four of us who are joining the Board.

     St. Anne Home is a ministry of the Felician Sisters of North America dedicated to the continuing healing mission of Jesus Christ by providing a continuum of care and supportive services to adults, their families, and their caregivers.  Originally established in 1964 by the Diocese of Greensburg and placed under the care of the Felician Sisters, in April of 1996 St. Anne Home sponsorship was placed under the Felician Sisters as a non-profit corporation.  Originally built as a 125 bed facility, St. Anne Home has continued to expand facilities and programs to meet the every growing needs of God's People.


A service in one of the courtyards.

Entrance to St. Anne Home - Villa Angela building

     The meeting was long but interesting, and the great work being accomplished there, while long known and acknowledged by those in the Church and in the civic community, is a blessing to the residents and their families.  I am honored to lend my gifts to the ongoing ministry of St. Anne Home by serving on the Board of Directors.

     I myself have spent a few days of rehab following my knee replacement about seven years ago, and received great care.  I have known many of the Sisters and some of the staff over the years, and have been able to be supportive of the fundraising efforts and pastoral ministry through the Anointing Services.

     The core values of this important ministry within the Church are these:  St. Anne Home values Personhood ... People ... Community ... Our Physical Assets plus Teamwork and Communication. Information on the program and facilities can be found on their web site - www.stannehome.org

     Also present at the Orientation was Christy Kremer, the assistant Administrator, who reminded me that I witnessed the wedding of she and her husband while pastor at the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg in 1995.  Another presentation was made by the Director of the Fund Raising Campaign who remembered me from my Scottdale days.  Her name has slipped my mind, and I do apologize.

     The Lord is good, and I entrust this new experience to his grace and mercy.