Sunday, January 8, 2017

Epiphany thoughts

     Tradition tells us that their names were Casper, Melchior and Balthasar.  They were known as magi from the East, the wise men, the three kings, as astronomers or astrologers, studying the stars, seekers, travelers from distant lands.  But what describes them best is the moniker of "wise". 

     Their wisdom is found in the fact that each of them knew enough to realize that they were not the be all and end all of all that there is.  They were not masters and lords of their lives.  They felt the void, knew the hunger, realized that something beyond themselves was necessary for happiness and satisfaction, for contentment and peace.  And they were willing to put it all on the line to search it out, to seek fulfillment, to fill the void.  They spent their lives searching the wisdom of cultures, of studying the skies for signs and portents, of listening in the quiet of their hearts for a doorway to truth.

     When they saw the star, they knew it represented a hope given to the world, that it stood for a milestone in human history, that it signified the coming or birth of a great king.  And so they set out.  And as they realized that they were not alone in their quest, they joined forces and journeyed together.  They followed the star.  They came to the cross roads of the Middle East, Jerusalem, to ask for guidance.  And they were directed to Bethlehem of Judea, where they found the young child and his mother and her husband ... in a modest house, living hardworking and simple lives, unassuming and filled with peace and joy.  They brought gifts - gold, frankincense and myrrh - expecting nothing in return.  But they went home blessed in unbelievable ways that spoke of contentment and peace, joy and the happiness of those who know that they have been touched by the love of God.  Their hunger was satisfied, their void filled to the brim, their joy complete, their searching done.

     On this feast of the Epiphany, when the manifestation of
God to the world is celebrated, may our search lead us to the Christ, Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, our Lord and our brother.  And may we find blessings beyond our hopes.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

My esteem and prayers

     Yesterday I watched the installation of Bishop Gregory Parkes as the bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida.   It was a great celebration for the diocese, part of which included a heartfelt and sincere expression of gratitude to the retiring bishop, Bishop Robert Lynch, who has served that local church for over twenty years.  He is well respected and much loved, and up to Monday of this week was a blogging bishop.  His blog, "For His Friends" has been in existence since 2008, and his "thoughts and reflections" have been one of my favorite and sought after reads.

     In his 739th and final post, entitled "It's Time To Say Good-bye", Bishop Lynch speaks of his reflections on priesthood and service as a bishop, upon his love of the Church and her role in the human family, and especially of his love for the Diocese of St. Petersburg.  He credits inspiration for his blog to Rocco Palma of "Whispers in the Loggia" fame (another of my favorite reads).  And of his blogging, he says:

"Often the Spirit worked in me by giving me first a title and then from that spur the energy to sit down and compose.  I have never used my blog to attack any person and even in disagreement (and as I aged I have become somewhat more disagreeable) I have addressed issues, which I hope and pray have been mildly topical.  When controversial you might be interested in knowing that the comments, which I always have read, which were inimical to my point or to me personally almost always came from readers outside the diocese and not from those who knew me personally as their bishop from whom I mostly derived support.  Blogs can be dangerous because they are unsupervised, unregulated and opportunities for calumny and slander and I never wanted to go there or even approach such shameful misuse.  Ideas are fair game for intelligent discourse, people are not or so I felt."

     I have always respected that in the words and thoughts of Bishop Lynch, and I try to hold to the same principles.  While his thoughts come from a finer mind and deeper intellect deserving of attention and respect, I try to be positive and affirming in the journey that we all share.  In reading him, I find a shepherd that speaks to my heart, and a good pastor of his flock.

     May he enjoy his retirement and may the doors that the Lord has yet to open for him bring him happiness.  Thanks, Bishop Lynch!

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

     In my very first assignment as a priest, at Immaculate Conception parish in Irwin, I first encountered the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill who taught in the parish school.  They were one of the Communities of the Daughters of Charity of Mother Seton, and through them I came to know of this remarkable woman of grace.  In 1975 she was canonized and lifted to the altar as the first native born saint from the United States.  If my memory serves me, it was during my time at IC, before she was canonized, that we made a trip to Emmittsburg, Maryland to visit her shrine and the places held dear to her in her ministry.  I had the honor of celebrating liturgy at the side altar over her remains (the first time I celebrated with my back to the people ... I had to try and remember the rubrics).  I also acquired a relic of the soon to be saint at the shrine.

     In subsequent years I have been blessed to serve with many of her Sisters and to befriend the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.  And then, in October of 2008, I  was assigned as pastor of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in North Huntingdon, and installed as the fifth pastor on her feast day, January 4, 2009, which that year fell on the Feast of the Epiphany.  Our retired bishop, Lawrence Brandt, did the honors, and he and now Bishop Malesic supported me in my ministry here, for which I am grateful.  So this day is one of importance to me personally and to this parish which bears her name.   That is why I chose this day to formally submit my request to be considered this coming Summer for retirement from active ministry.  I will reach the age for early retirement at the end of May, and with the challenges to my mobility and having served as a priest for forty-four years, I know that it is time.  At least that is what part of me is saying ... the other part will miss ministry to God's People and celebrating the Eucharist in the parish.  So we place all in the hands of God.

     The Entrance Antiphon today, taken from Proverbs, says ... "Behold a wise woman, who has built her house.  She feared the Lord and walked in the right path."  Elizabeth Seton was such a woman.  If you know her story, you know that this is true.  If you do not know her story, by all means look it up.  Born when our nation was born, she grew up in the Episcopal Church of a prominent family in New York, was well educated and priviledged, married a young merchant by the name of William Seton, established a family, and became a widow at a young age through the unexpected death of her husband while on a business trip to Italy.
Staying with business friends while in Italy, she encountered their Catholic faith and was introduced to the Eucharist in the Catholic Church.  Her curiosity was aroused and her hunger and desire to come to the table of the Lord at Mass led her to persue a path to the Catholic Community.  A convert, she lost her family and close friends, and established a school to provide for her children.  Encouraged to enter into Religious Life, she eventually established the Daughters of Charity and served as foundress, known as Mother Seton.  She died young, but her spiritual children live on and give life to her charisms through their mininstries.  Her life is much greater than this brief summary.  If you ever have a chance to visit the Shrine in Emmittsburg, or even the Sisters of Charity at Seton Hill, where there is a beautiful, small archive museum, please do so.

     The Prayer after Communion today states:  " ... while recalling the menory of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, we humbly ask you, O Lord, that we may be inflamed with a burning desire for the heavenly table, and by its power consecrate our life faithfully to you."

SAINT ELIZABETH ANN SETON, PRAY FOR US!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The end of the week of feasts

     Rounding out the Octave of Christmas "week of feasts" we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family on Friday of last week, the 30th of December.  This feast usually falls on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year, but with the fullest schedule of any year, this year it took its place on the 30th.

     Very appropriately at this Christmastime the Church places her focus upon the Holy Family - Mary and her child and her husband and love, Joseph, who embraced them both with love and tenderness, protection and devotion.  This family unit, simple and pure in love and commitment, is given to us as a model, and example of what family means.  It is a reflection of the beauty of the family of God of which we are called to embrace.

     On Christmas eve, a member of our adult choir, Jerry Naylor, sang a song that I had never heard before, entitled "Joseph's Song".  I found it on youtube, and it was powerful.  Joseph is such a quiet, unassuming individual whose love speaks volumes.  May the Holy Family of Nazareth inspire all families to live in love and joy.

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     Saturday the 31st is the feast of Saint Sylvester ... and then comes January 1st - New Year's Day and the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.  (Theotokos)  What an outstanding week of feasts and what a week of celebrating Christmas. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The week of feasts continues

     This past Wednesday, the 28th day of December, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents, those children "two years of age or younger" from Bethlehem and its neighborhood who were brutally slaughtered by King Herod as he sought to do away with this "newborn king" that the magi were searching for.   Herod's fear of a king greater than himself, his selfish desire to possess the power for himself, his insecurity in the face of a greater power, led him to do what so many over the centuries have done - to act irrationally, inhumanly, brutally toward others, and especially grievously, to do so to those who are innocent and have no ability to defend themselves.  In our day we look at those innocents caught up in the conflict in Syria.  In our day we look at the defenseless unborn sacrificed for a variety of reasons in abortion.  In our day we look at abuse and neglect and trafficking and violence inflicted upon our young.  In our day we look at a world filled with hatred and cynicism, hopelessness and self centeredness, evil and the lack of values and most importantly faith and love that deny the future generations a vision to follow and a goal to seek.  Quoting the Hebrew scriptures, the Gospel of Matthew spoke of Rachel lamenting her children, who were no more.

     That afternoon, I prayed with the family of a young woman, Jessica, of thirty who died unexpectedly on Christmas Day.  A heartbreaking time in their lives, this family struggles to find answers, solace and consolation.  Pray for them.  Jessica was the mother of a twenty-two month old child - the reverse of the Holy Innocents story ... this time the child lamenting his mother.  Our strength lies in our faith in God's unlimited love.

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     On the 29th we remembered Thomas Becket, the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1100's under King Henry II of England.  His is a story of conversion that led to the championing of the rights of the Church over the State - God against King.  Made into a great movie years ago starring Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole as Becket and Henry, it is a compelling historical drama that echoes a struggle that finds its way into the fabric of our lives.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

In the beginning was the Word

     "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."  With these words John begins his Gospel, which we heard proclaimed at the Christmas Mass during the day.  It is a beautiful expounding of the place of Jesus within the context of creation.  And the Gospel of John, differing from the three synoptic gospels, gives us more of a revelation of the the theology of God with us.

     Today the Church celebrates the feast of John, the Apostle and Evangelist, the Beloved Disciple, the youngest by far of the twelve and therefore the one watched over and cared for in a special way by the Lord himself.  John was also the one of the twelve that lived the longest and the one who did not die a martyr's death, although spending much time in exile.  The Scriptures credit him and his disciples with the fourth Gospel, a number of short letters, and the much misunderstood Book of Revelation.

     On this second great feast in the Christmas Octave, may our love of Scripture, our love of the study of God, our openness to his ongoing revelation of the Word, and our commitment to the Church find strength in John, the Beloved Disciple.

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     I visited my former parish of Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale this afternoon to pay my respects to the family and pray for the repose of the soul of Gene Dzambo, the former custodian of the parish (some of it during my tenure as pastor).  Gene served for about 19 years in that capacity, and served the parish well.  People in the parish and kids in the school knew and loved this man.  The Kapr Funeral Home was packed with family and friends sharing stories, comfort and love.  His funeral is tomorrow at Saint John the Baptist Church, and our thoughts go out to his wife, Ruth and their family.  May he rest in peace.

Monday, December 26, 2016

A week of joy - a sad remembrance

     This is a wonderful week of great feasts and Christmas blessings.  Today begins with the feast of the first martyr, Stephen, whose courage under the pressure of the treat on his life was an inspiration for the early Church.  His death was not touched by fear and dread, but with a joyful spirit of love for the one that he called his friend and lord, Jesus Christ.

     For the parish where I have served for the past eight years, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, this day is filled with memories that are sad yet filled with gratitude.  Twenty-four years ago on this day, the day after Christmas, a fire destroyed the rectory of the parish which was attached to the church proper.  Through heroic efforts, the church building was saved, and the young parish would continue.  However, we lost our pastor, Father William McGuire, who had died as he attempted to exit the house.  He was the second, and much beloved, pastor of this parish.  His death was a great shock and loss to the community.  I remember hearing of the fire from my young associate (who was home in Irwin for Christmas), and driving Route 30 from the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg.  By the time I arrived, the fire was contained, and I watched (and prayed) from a nearby parking lot.  I had not yet heard of the death of Father McGuire.  I remember concelebrating the funeral a few days later ... never guessing that one day I would be pastor to this parish family.

     We prayed for Father McGuire at Mass this morning, and prayed for those first responders and volunteers that helped save the church building twenty-four years ago.  And we gave thanks for the blessing that God has given us over these years.