Saturday, February 17, 2018

Great Lent - A Journey of Love and Truth

     The spirit of the words of the prophet Joel, which were proclaimed on our opening day of Lent this past Wednesday, calls the community of believers and each individual person of faith to stand and be counted, to gather in hope, to search heart and soul, and to turn our attention once again to the Covenant - the promise given us by our loving God.  The season of Lent is sometimes called "Great Lent", not because it is forty days long, but because it provides the opportunity to take stock, to come to grips with our reality, and most importantly to celebrate the great gift of God's love found in his promise to us.  All too often Catholics are characterized as being guilt ridden, constantly aware of our  sinfulness and failures, and wallowing in self pity.  But the real character of the followers of Jesus is a confident assurance of mercy and forgiveness, unqualified love and amazing grace given to each of us freely and without reserve by the most loving God.  So deep is that love and so all consuming is that embrace, that he sent his Son, Jesus, to give himself for us.

     On this First Sunday of Lent, the Psalm response in Psalm 25 says: "Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant."  Love and Truth are the hallmarks of the beginning of our Lenten journey.  The words of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry following upon the arrest of John the Baptizer echo in our hearts: "This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel."  Recall the words spoken to Noah in Genesis, a promise of renewed and restored life and the promise that death and destruction will not find its way into the Lord's dealing with us.  They are reassuring words that lift our hearts to the Lord our God.  They give us reason to use this Great Lent to celebrate well the death and resurrection of Christ, and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we belong to him. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Tempus fugit

     There is a Latin phrase - tempus fugit - that is translated "time flies".  The older that I get, the truer that phrase is in my life.  Today was a day of reflecting upon the rapid passage of time.

     My sister, Janie, and I got together for lunch following Mass to celebrate the birthday of our Mom.  We did the same on Friday in honor of Dad's birthday.  February is their month, with both birthdays and their wedding anniversary.  Dad was born on February 9, 1920, and would be 98 years old.  Mom was born on February 11 in 1919 and would be 99.  They have been gone a number of years now, but the milestone of those birthdays is worth noting.  Their 72 wedding anniversary will be on February 17th.

     An interesting side story about Dad's birthday lies in the fact that he celebrated that day on February 5th, until he retired at 62, got his birth certificate, and found that the 9th was the real date.  In the intervening years, he celebrated on both days.

     Happy birthday, Mom & Dad.

     The quick passage of time is marked in other recognitions.  It is already six months since I began retirement from active pastoral ministry and five months in my new home.  Today marks five years since Pope Benedict announced his plan to retire from the See of Peter.  It will be forty-five years since I was ordained, and seventy-one years since I was born.  Last evening at Mass at Saint Paul Church in Greensburg, Father Jim Morley, the Parochial Vicar, as part of his very good homily, remembered that in his seminary days, they were only allowed to have air conditioners in the last years, and had to rely on fans in the warmer weather.  As I sat there, I recalled that in my day we were not allowed air conditioners or fans, but sweltered in the heat.  In fact, we did not have cell phones or i-pads, computers or other electronic devices (we did have electricity, in case you are wondering).  How different things were "in the old days".  And yet, we were as blessed then as we are now, maybe even more so.  The Lord's love, which is timeless and limitless, continues to guide and bless our lives.

     The Great Time of Lent begins this Wednesday.  Prepare your hearts, and celebrate with joy.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

State of the Union

     This evening in Washington, DC, before a Joint Session of Congress and in the presence of the Supreme Court and the leadership of the Administration and with the nation watching, the President will deliver the State of the Union Address, a constitutional responsibility that the leader of the Nation has to the Legislative Branch.  In the address, the President expounds on his observations of the state of the condition of the nation, and with an expression of his hopes for the future.  I must confess that in my old age I have grown skeptical of the political rhetoric and find the dysfunctional Congress and Administration, rooted in party and politics rather than the good of the people, to be distressing.

     The idea of a "State of the Union" is a good one, though.  In fact, in our spiritual journey, we are encourage to take the time to reflect and daily come up with a "State of the Soul" for ourselves  in our examination of conscience (a reflection of the condition of our soul during the day), periodically as we prepare ourselves for the affirming Sacrament of Reconciliation, and yearly in the upcoming Call to Repentance that comes with Ash Wednesday's invitation to repent and believe.

     Our "State of the Soul" is our examination of conscience.  It involves a reflection upon the state of our walk with the Lord.  It affirms the blessings and joy of knowing and celebrating God's love in our lives.  It requires an honest assessment of our failures to live out the Gospel, not to create or wallow in guilt, but to encourage a return to the Lord and a renewal in grace and favor.  It  does not include a justifying of ourselves or a selling of our persona.  Rather, it demands an honest and heartfelt presentation of ourselves as we stand before the Lord, and a willingness to be loved to new life in his mercy.

     Polls and politics will evaluate the President this evening.  We are not evaluated as we present our "State of our Soul", but rather we are accepted and loved, by the only One who matters, Jesus, the Christ.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

I have returned

      It has been over a month since I have posted.  Once again, I apologize to my faithful readers, and hope and pray that all are well and that the new year is off to a great start.  I know that it has been a rapid beginning.  The Holy Father, today, has issued his annual message for World Communications Day, and so it is a fitting time to reaffirm my commitment to sharing my thoughts with you.

     In my retirement, I am attempting to "get out" on weekends and attend Mass in one of the local parishes.  Weather permitting, it places me within a larger worshiping community to share their faith and vibrant liturgies.  Last Saturday evening I concelebrated with Father Lawrence Manchas, the pastor, the weekend Mass at Saint Paul Church in Greensburg, one of my frequent destinations for liturgy.  I wanted to attend at Saint Paul, because the following Monday marked a significant moment in my priestly journey.

     It was on January 22nd in 1992, a bitterly cold day, that I departed from All Saints Church and it's mission parish of Saint Francis de Sales after offering Mass and packing the car, and headed for my new assignment in Greensburg.  Sister Mildred, the school principal, had the kids outside for a farewell greeting, a final blessing from me, and then the youngsters lined the street waving good-bye as I pulled out and turned the corner, with tears in my eyes.

     I arrived at Saint Paul Church in Greensburg just after lunch.
 Saint Paul Church was a parish twice the size of All Saints located in the suburbs of the City of Greensburg.  I was arriving as pastor along with a new Parochial Vicar, Father Stephen West.  I pulled up to the house, unpacked, and got my bearings.  The outgoing interim pastor had promised that a dinner would be prepared for my family and priest guests attending the Installation Mass that evening at 7:00.  Upon arriving I found a note announcing no dinner preparations would be underway.  So, my first task was to call the family and tell them to arrive for Mass and manage dinner on their own.   Then to call my priest friends and the neighbors and ask for a raincheck dinner invite.  A few had already committed to being there, and so we made arrangements to take them out (and get back in time for Mass).  All in all, a very tumultuous first hours.  The Mass that evening went well and was very beautiful, and so my first faltering steps gave way to a sound beginning.

     That first day was but an indication of the difficulty that I experienced in the early days of this assignment.   Let me state at this point that there were many parishioners and good people who were there for me at the beginning and throughout this assignment, and that I cherish my eight and a half years there.  But it took me nearly two years to turn the corner and win the trust of the parish family.  The reasons were complicated by history.

     Saint Paul parish had a beloved pastor for many years who the diocese decided to replace.   They removed him as pastor the previous September, and sent an interim pastor, who did little to calm the waters.   For many who loved the former pastor, the way the diocese handled the situation left a bitter taste, and they were angry.  They mistrusted me and questioned my motives in many areas simply because I was sent there by the diocese.  I realized that their anger towards me was really meant for the diocesan offices.  It took a time to earn their trust.  There were some who questioned my motives, some who doubted my sincerity, and even one who accused me of "play acting" at Mass.  And that period of time was difficult.

     I weathered the storm.   The bitter cold and difficulty of that first day and those first months and years gave way to a relationship of love and of trust, of mutual respect and genuine caring that allows me to hold Saint Paul Church (which I had unofficially designated "The Church of Saint Paul") as very dear to my heart.  The friendships that I made there, those from the very beginning and countless others over the years, have remained.  When I return to join them for Mass, they make it very clear that I am an important part of that parish family, and that I am welcome.  That love and welcome takes all of the coldness of that bitter day in January, twenty-six years ago, and makes it one remembrance on my journey, replacing it with a memory and experience of warmth and acceptance as a member and servant of this parish family.  God's grace is truly amazing, and so are his people. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Reflections

I will be leaving for home to spend Christmas
with my sister and best friend, Janie,
and will be away from the computer
for a few days.  So here is a
Christmas Reflection 
and my warmest wishes
deepest thoughts.

     Saint Augustine is a great Doctor of the Church, an outstanding follower of Christ, a bishop in Northern Africa, a convert to the faith, and by his own confession, a pagan and great sinner.  Reverse the above order of his life and you see the tremendous working of God's grace and mercy in his life.

     On Christmas Eve, in the Office of Readings from the Church's Liturgy of the Hours, there is an excerpt from a Christmas sermon by Saint Augustine.  I would like to share a short part of that letter as my Christmas message.

     "Awake, mankind!  For your sake God has become man.                   Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you.  I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.
     You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. 
     Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. 
     You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for his mercy.  
     You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death.  
     You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid.            You would have perished, had he not come.
     Let us joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption.  
     Let us celebrate the festive day on which he
     who is the great and eternal day
     came from the great and endless day of eternity
     into our own short day of time.
+  +  +  +  +
     Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace."

The prayer for Christmas Day says:
"God of endless ages, Father of all goodness,
we keep vigil for the dawn of salvation
and the birth of your Son. 
With gratitude we recall his humanity, 
the life he shared with the sons of men. 
May the power of his divinity
help us answer his call to forgiveness and life. 
We ask this through Christ our Lord."


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Advent images

      There are many images of the season of Advent, each reflecting the face of Christ which bring us into a deeper love of the Lord of Life.  These "icons", or sacred images that show us the Christ, always begin with Mary, but are found in so many other champions of the Faith present in these four brief weeks prior to Christmas.  Today is one of them, Saint Nicholas, the fourth century bishop of Myra in what is present day Turkey.

     Nicholas lived from about 270 to 343 and served as the Bishop of Myra.  Many legends grew up around him, with a great many surrounding his wonderful love of the needy and especially children.  He saw the face of Christ in these innocent ones, and most of the traditions involved his sharing his blessings with the young as he shared his love of Jesus.  Gift giving was involved, but so was gentle love and compassion.  The image of Nicholas above, as a Latin Rite bishop, is inaccurate, since he would have been of the Eastern Church Tradition, but it led to the image we have of Saint Nick as the jolly old man dressed in red and being a model of generous love.

     Many parishes in these early days of Advent share the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time with their youngsters who are preparing for their Sacraments of Initiation.  I shared in wonderful celebrations these past two days - on Monday at my former parish of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton where the kids were excited at seeing me again (even though I did not wear red, with my size and the gray beard, I probably reminded them that Santa was coming soon) - and on Tuesday at Our Lady of Grace in Greensburg.  Both were beautiful experiences of the gentle love and mercy of the Lord in our lives - for the youngsters, for their parents and families, and for the priests present.  I had an awesome thing happen yesterday as well.  A young lady needed some encouragement before receiving the Sacrament (she was nervous).  As her mom came to me to encourage her daughter she pointed out that she knew me.  She said that I had baptized her when I was an Associate at Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale and then married her and her husband when I was pastor at the same parish.  And now I had the honor of hearing her child's confession.  It is a small world, and our past moments of ministry often bring us continued blessings.

     There are many icons of Advent, many faces of Christ that bring us closer to him.  Look for them in your lives.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Friends and Family at the beginning

     Time passes so quickly.  We have now entered into a new year, not according to the calendar, but in the tradition and the practice of the People of God, the Church.  We call this transition Advent, and it leads us into a renewal of our journey of faith.  

     A week ago we acclaimed Christ to be our King, the King of the Universe and the Lord of our lives.  With that acclamation, all that had brought us to that moment was called to mind and celebrated, or reflected upon and repented of.  In the spirit of Thanksgiving, on our national holiday that precedes Advent, we paused to call to mind the blessings of the Lord.  In the Scriptures for these last few weeks of the Church year, we heard readings that spoke of the end times, of the end of an age, of a day of judgement.  In our attentiveness to the news, real and fake, we see the ever deepening needs of our society and world, of our failures in learning the lessons of life, and most importantly, our failure to learn the message of the Gospels.  We reflect upon the past year and face the challenge of the new year.  And then we begin again.

     But as we continue our journey of Faith and face the uncertainty of the new day, we do so with a spirit of hope.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul calls us to join the Church at Corinth in reflection, and in giving thanks to God always for the grace that he has bestowed upon us.  He tells us to count our blessings as we "wait" for the revelation of the Lord.  He assures us that the Lord will keep us firm to the end in our Faith.  With this assurance we can cry out with the Psalmist today, "Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved."  Paul tells Corinth that "God is faithful, and in him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."

     We forget what Paul reminds us of, and we seek the face of anyone but Christ to lead us or comfort us or be our foundation.  And all too often we repeat our mistakes because we have not learned the lessons of history and the message of the Gospel.  As we enter into Advent, break out from the pattern of repetition and move forward in grace with grace.  And may we remember the words of Isaiah the prophet: "No ear has ever heard, no eye has ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him."

     Our courage to move forward into this new year with confidence happens when we see the face of God and turn toward him.  We see the face of God in others: in Mary who is the icon of Advent, and in our friends and family.  I was blessed these past two days in spending time with family, and with friends who have become family to me.  My sister, Janie and I had lunch today with cousins, and yesterday I shared an early Christmas party with the Christian Mothers of my former parish, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.  Following the party I joined the parish for the evening Mass and was graciously welcomed by the pastor, Father John Moineau, and greeted by the parish family with warmth and love.  It was a good beginning of a new day, a new season of grace, and a new year of blessing for the Church.