Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A Memorable Retreat Remembrance

     Before I begin this post, I would like to acknowledge with gratitude the milestone of reaching 150,000 pageviews of this blog, Journey Thoughts since 2011.  A "pageview" represents the number of times that the blog was looked at and read.  150,000 is small when compared to the tremendous responses on social media these days, but for me it is a significant and humbling response to this priest's attempt to share his journey.   Thank you!

    As I mentioned previously, I am on retreat at the Christ Our Shepherd Center in Greensburg with a number of my brother priests.  The September Retreat is a good time to gather, and there have been many significant moments over the years.

     One memorable remembrance occurred eighteen years ago this morning, on the morning of September 11, 2001.  We had breakfast and morning prayer when word came of a plane hitting the World Trade Center.  The director of our place found us a television and set it up in the plaza outside the chapel.  Like so much of the world, we watched with sadness and then unbelief as the second plane hit the other tower and then a third hit the Pentegon.  I believe the morning conference was cancelled as we watched and prayed.
     In those years our facility also housed an office of the Attorney General of the State, and we saw them close up shop and leave the grounds.  A little later the PA State Police which used this site as a regional training facility, suddenly and quickly ran to their cars and swiftly took off.   We soon learned of the crash in Shanksville, PA, which is not that far from our location and demanded the police attention.  These were frightening times.
     We were scheduled for Mass at 11:00 that morning and we were joined by the administration and staff of our Center here as we prayed for the uncertainty of what was happening and the loss of life.
     I think that we all remember where we were and what we were doing.  It is one of those dates that live in our memories.  For those of our generation we remember Pearl Harbor ... Kennedy's Assassination ... the Challenger disaster ... and 9/11.

     Eighteen years later we are once again on retreat.  The world is different and so are we.  But the one thing that remains constant and secure is the truth of God's love and compassion, his mercy and grace, which allows us to take the challenges and blessings that have come our way over the years and move forward with hope and with renewed commitment to the message of the Gospel.   The Kingdom that we share and that we build is much greater than any earthly kingdom that we find ourselves a part of and whose values we profess, good as they are.  

     Always remember ... and pray!

Monday, September 9, 2019

A Time to Reflect

     The Diocese of Greensburg recommends that the priests make at least one week long retreat within a year.  This is a good practice for the spiritual journey.  In years gone by the Diocese scheduled three weekly retreats to choose from - one in April, June and September.  Today we have only the September retreat ... which began this evening.  The reason for the reduction in the scheduled retreats came from a reduction in the number of clergy and also from the availability of private retreats elsewhere.  One year I made a retreat at a Jesuit Retreat House - "Manressa" - in Annapolis, Maryland ... and for a few years I went to the Trappist Retreat House in Berryville, Virginia.

     Our retreats throughout the years have varied greatly.  A few have been outstanding with wonderful spiritual guides leading us.  Most were good, solid moments of "retreating" - stepping aside from the normal routine and schedule of life to relax and renew that spiritual dimenion of our ministry.  There have been a few which I have found to be "duds" ... but chances are that it was because I was not of the right frame of mind and heart to enter that journey.

     Today we began our diocesan priests' retreat for 2019.  We are being shepherded by Father John A. Pavlik, OFM, Cap.  He is a member of the Saint Augustine Province of the Capuchin Franciscan Order based out of Pittsburgh.  Father John is a native of the diocese, born and raised in New Kensington ... and is presently serving as weekend ministry at the Partner Parishes of Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale and Saint Joseph in Everson.
Those of us who entered into this retreat tonight look forward to the Lord's blessings and renewal in our ministry.  Please pray for us. Please pray for all priests.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Intersecting of Good and evil

     These few days in August provide us with a glimpse of the mystery of life.  It entails an intersecting of tales of evil that are touched by the goodness of Faith.

     On August 6, 1945, a bomb fell on Hiroshima, Japan unlike any ever used before.  In an instant, 80,000 people died, and by the end of that year the number reached 140,000.  That atomic bomb, with another on today's date, August 9th, 1945 on the city of Nagasaki (killing 40,000 immediately and 74,000 by the end of that year) effectively brought about the end of the war with the Empire of Japan that the United States and others had been fighting.  You may argue the morality and the justification of our actions at that time, but you cannot ignore the tremendous loss of life and the fear that we have lived with ever since - in the Cold War and beyond.

     It is interesting that August 6th in the Church is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.  In that instance Jesus took his closest friends, Peter, James and John, to the mountaintop and was transfigured before their eyes.  They saw Jesus in all of his glory as the Son of God ... in a blinding light and with a power that had never been seen before.  This awesome experience was life-changing, and from it came hope and deep faith in the goodness of God and a glimpse of the glory that we are all called to share.  It was life-giving.  I have always found it ironic that on this day when the power and glory of God brought life and hope and peace to humanity, we saw a demonstration of the power of man unleashed that brought with it death and fear and continued warfare.

     Today, August 9th, was the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan.  There was a substantial Catholic presence in that city.  In fact, a few years earlier, in 1930, Father Maximillian Kolbe, a Fransican priest from Poland, lived and worked there before returning to his native Poland.  At a time of terrible persecution of Jews, intellectuals, priests and others considered undesirable by the Nazi's, he was arrested briefly in 1939, and then again in 1941, and was sent to the camp at Auschwitz.  He died on August 14th, 1941, by lethal injection after surviving an attempt to starve him.  He had stepped forward and offered his life in order to save another prisoner who had a family.  He has been declared a saint, a martyr and a faithful witness to the glory of God.

     Auschwitz was also the place of death of another saint of the Church whose feast is today - Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross - who was put to death on August 9th, 1942, a year after Saint Maximillian Kolbe.  Sister Teresa Benedicta was put to death because she was born in Germany of the Jewish faith.  Her given name was Edith Stein. She was a learned woman, a philosopher and professor, who after the devastation of World War I converted to Catholicism and entered the Discalced Carmelite Community as a Religious Sister.

     The last written words of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross before being sent to the gas chamber are these: 

"The Savior hangs before you with a pierced heart.  He has spilled His heart's blood to win your heart.  If you want to follow him in holy purity, your heart must be free of every earthly desire.  Jesus, the Crucified, is to be the only object of your longings, your wishes, your thoughts … He wants your life in order to give you his." 

     The evil of hatred and bigotry, of war and genocide, of all things contrary to the revelation of God are overshadowed by the knowledge of our faith in an awesome, loving and life-giving God and the champions and friends that he places before us as models of sacrifice and of holiness.  It may seem like a stretch .. it may seem impossible ... but Good does overcome evil ... life triumphs over death ... and true power and glory comes from the Lord alone.  Hold on to that reality.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

An Encouraging Word

     When I was growing up in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, there was a Franciscan Friary in the town.  The priests there assisted the local parishes, and shared the charism of Saint Francis of Assisi with the local community.  They hosted a Third Order Secular community at the Friary.  In my high school years I had already entered the seminary on my journey to priesthood.  I remember during the summer months joining with the Friars and being invested as a Third Order Secular Franciscan.  You had to choose a "religious" name, and I chose Jean Marie, after the Cure of Ars, Saint Jean Marie Vianney.

     Last Sunday, August 4th, was the feast of Saint John Mary Vianney.  He died on that date one hundred and sixty years ago this year, in his parish in the village of Ars in France.  His story is an interesting one, one that I could relate to as I studied for priesthood and then ministered as a priest in the life of the Church.

     Pope Francis on Sunday issued a "Letter to Priests" in the Universal Church to commemorate this anniversary, for the Cure of Ars was proposed by Pope Pius XI as "patron of parish priests throughout the world".  In the introduction, Pope Francis states: "Like the Cure of Ars, you serve 'in the trenches', bearing the burden of the day and the heat (cf. Mt 20:12), confronting an endless variety of situations in your effort to care for and accompany God's people."  He goes on to give an encouraging word: "I want to say a word to each of you who, often without fanfare and at personal cost, amid weariness, infirmity and sorrow, carry out your mission of service to God and to your people.  Despite the hardships of the journey, you are writing the finest pages of the priestly life."

     It is refreshing to hear a word of encouragement from the Holy Father.  We are fortunate to hear such words often from Bishop Edward Malesic of our diocese.  So many of the faithful have also shone their support of priests through their prayers and friendships and encouraging words.  These are difficult days in the priesthood for many reasons, not the least of which are the allegations of sexual abuse of minors by some priests.  Next week marks the one year anniversary of the Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania that labelled the Church and her priests as "predators".  The desire for justice for the victims of abuse cannot negate the rights and reputations of the Church and of those accused.  Justice is required for all, but so is truth and the rule of law rather than the rule of the news cycle and prejudice.

    The Cure of Ars gave his life and his heart in quiet, faithful service to his flock.  So do our priests!  Like him we struggle and fall at times ... like him we know our shortcomings and sinfulness ... and like him we strive toward that goal of holiness and eternal life that is a gift of mercy from the Father.   I mentioned this a while back, but my greatest concern is that our response to the crisis does not seem to come from the gospel message of Repentance ... Reconciliation ... Renewal and Restoration.

 The Relic of the Heart of Saint John Mary Vianney

An icon of the Saint.

     The relic of Saint John Mary Vianney's incorruptible heart was brought to our diocese on the Wednesday of Holy Week this year, through the efforts of the Knights of Columbus.  It was a blessing and joy to be able to pray with the people of God at Our Lady of Grace Church, so close to this pastor whose heart was poured out for the service of God's People of one hundred and sixty years ago.

     Please pray for your priests and pray for the Church.  Saint Jean Marie Vianny, pray for the Lord's priests and his people.  

Monday, July 29, 2019

Martha's gift

    Summer is a time when things often slow down.  Summer for this retired priest is a time when very few noteworthy things happen.  But I've had a few special moments recently.

     Today is the feast of Saint Martha.  She was the sister of Mary and their brother Lazarus whose family were close friends of Jesus. We met them the Sunday before last in the gospel passage from chapter 10 of Luke, when Jesus stopped by their house for a visit.  It was Martha who was busy with the things of hospitality.  In fact, that is one of her noteworthy traits, for the Church recognizes her as a model of hospitality and a faithful disciple of Jesus.  She is also the patron of housewives, waiters and waitresses.

     Yesterday my sister Janie came to Greensburg for a visit.  We get together often, but she hadn't been here for a few weeks.  She came early in the morning and we drove over to my former parish of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church for the 11:30 Mass.  It was good to be back home, and to be welcomed so warmly by many parish family members and friends, including my cousin, Deacon Jeff Cieslewicz and his wife Rose Ann, as we celebrated with the parish.  Even Father John Moineaux extended a word of welcome at the end of the liturgy.  It has been two years since I retired, and although the inevitable changes that have taken place since I left made me nostalgic for the old days, the warmth and faith of these good people has never changed.  It was good to be home.

     Last Tuesday the Benedictine Community of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe hosted their yearly "Priests' Day" at the Archabbey.  This annual event held each summer gathers alumni of the Seminary as well as priests from the local dioceses.

     The day began with a Mass celebrated at the Basilica Church, this year with our own bishop, Bishop Edward Malesic as presider along with Auxiliary Bishop Winters of Pittsburgh and our host, Archabbot Douglas Nowicki.  Monsignor Larry Kulick preached the homily.  Following Mass is a reception and then an excellent  sit-down dinner.  The afternoon is free and the concluding event is a wonderful cook-out in the Monastery Gardens.  The crowds this year were not what they once were ... but neither are the number of priests today compared to the days of old.  Martha and Mary's gift of hospitality, along with that of the Rule of Saint Benedict, is very evident in the life of our local monastic community.  Our thanks to Archabbot Douglas, Father Earl, the Prior, and the entire Benedictine Community.

     And for me, a few weeks ago two very special and long time friends invited my to join them for dinner at a local restaurant, Rizzo's.  With Mary Ann and Deacon Bill Newhouse I enjoyed good food, a relaxing evening and continued lasting friendship.  It occurs to me that I may not have thanked them properly for the evening, and I resolve to do so ASAP.

     God's goodness is beyond measure, and my blessings are too numerous to be counted.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019


     July 3rd in 1863 marked the end of a three day battle of the American Civil War that took place in the small town of Gettysburg.  Located in south central Pennsylvania (about a three hour drive from my home) Gettysburg was transformed from a sleepy country town to the scene of one of the bloodiest battles to take place in the United States.  The army of the South came to this crossroads town from the Northwest while the Northern army came from Maryland in the South (one of the little ironies of the battle).

     July 1, 2 & 3 marked the encounters, with the unsuccessful Picket's Charge on the afternoon of the 3rd turning the tide in favor of the North.  One hundred and fifty-six years ago at this time Lee's army was retreating to the South, and even though there would be two more years of bloodshed before the war's end, this battle marked a turning point.

     Growing up in grade school we read about the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg, and I remember learning the Gettysburg Address by heart [I can still recite the Address].  But it was in 1992 that I was reintroduced to this peaceful place of carnage through a good friend, Mike Ripple, who knew the place well.  He had a relative [I believe it was his great grandfather] who stood in reserve outside of Gettysburg during those three days.  My interest was aroused and I have visited often, read much, and collected some powerful battle artwork over the years.

     My interest was less in battle tactics and more in terms of the human costs of this struggle of brother against brother.  There is much to remember and to honor in this struggle, on both sides, but there is also much to learn.  We cannot learn the lessons of life taught in this terrible civil war if we desire to change history or deny the struggle that touched the hearts of those from the South and from the North.  It pains me that we are changing names and tearing down statues and finding offense at what were things of the past.  We still do it in our day, judging the past by the standards and sensitivities of our day.  If we have not grown or moved on, then that judging may be valid.  But if we have learned from the mistakes of the past, then we must focus on looking ahead to celebrating our accomplishments and re-establishing our goals.

     On this anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg we must remember that while it was brother against brother [sometimes literally] it was a struggle of a family for her freedom.   That freedom is not yet perfect in our experience, but it is the best that we have and worth the ongoing struggle to make it more perfect.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Tempus Fugit

     "Tempus fugit" is an old Latin saying that translated means "Time flies".  There is another old adage that hints that as you get older, time moves by more quickly than you would want.  I find truth in both of these sayings.

     Yesterday, July 1st, we entered into the second half of 2019!
Unbelievable!  And yet it is clear that this year is flying by with great speed.  I thought that in retirement things would slow down, but no such luck.

     The month of June saw many things happen.  It saw our diocese bidding farewell to one of our priests.  Father Tom Lukac, a priest of the Greensburg Diocese for fifty-six years, was laid to rest with a funeral Mass on Tuesday, June 18th, at Saint John the Evangelist Church in Latrobe, his last assignment as pastor.  He had retired from active ministry in 2008 and in these last years had suffered from the loss of memory and recognition of others.

     Father Tom was a quiet and gentle man who was born and raised in Uniontown, my home town.  (There have been many vocations to the priesthood from the four parishes of this Fayette County town).  He served in three parishes as a Parochial Vicar and then as pastor in six parishes during his active ministry.

     He was a true gift to the faithful of this diocese and his memory will live long in the hearts of many of his family and friends.


     But as we said good-bye to Father Tom on Tuesday, on the following Saturday we welcomed into the clergy of this Diocese Deacon Mark Dunmire, who was ordained at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral to the transitional Diaconate.  Mark will be ordained to the priesthood next year, God willing.  

     Mark's home parish is Saint Margaret Mary Parish in Lower Burrell.  He has been participating in a Pastoral Year at Mother of Sorrows Parish in Murrysville, under the guidance of Msgr. James Gaston.  Mark is completing his studies at Saint Mary Seminary in Baltimore.

     The ordination ceremony was wonderful.  Our Shepherd, Bishop Ed Malesic, once again led the celebration with ease and prayerfulness and joy.  I watched Mark uncomfortable at the center of attention and saw how the bishop put him at ease.  I also saw the pride and joy of his family, especially his Mom and Dad, as they saw their son embrace this call to service.  We continue to pray for Mark and look forward to his joining the presbyterate of our diocese.