Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Stepping Forward with Faith

     



2020

     On this 1st day of January in the Year of Our Lord 2020, I find these words from Proverbs and this New Year's Greeting to speak from my heart.

     Our world is broken, as it has been since the Fall of Adam and Eve.
     Our peace is fragile since we live in a world touched by hatred and violence.
     Our love is challenged because we have lost the reality of a selfless love that requires sacrifice.
     Our hope is fleeting since the world places the future in its own hands.

     But on this New Year's Day we celebrate a Faith that transcends all limitations and obstacles ... a Faith that acknowledges Salvation as a free gift from God ... a Faith that follows the Prince of Peace ... a Faith that touches our lives with such pure love given us in Christ Jesus that we are redeemed ... and a Faith that tells us that "There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off."

     The Church, and Pope Francis in a homily today, places Mary before our eyes.  In verse 19 of today's gospel from Luke the Holy Father says: "The text tells us 'But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.'  She kept all these things: joy at the birth of Jesus and sadness for the lack of hospitality shown at Bethlehem; the love of Joseph and the amazement of the shepherds; the promise and the uncertainty of the future.  She took everything to heart, and in her heart, she put everything in its right place, even hardships and troubles.  In her heart, she lovingly set all things in order and entrusted everything to God.
     "Mary does this a second time: at the end of the hidden life of Jesus, we are told that 'keeping in her heart' was not something nice that Our Lady did from time to come, but something habitual.  Women typically take life to heart.  Women show us that the meaning of life is not found in making things but in taking things to heart.  Only those who see with the heart see things properly, because they know how to 'look into' each person: to see a brother apart from his mistakes, a sister apart from her failings, hope amid difficulty.  They see God in all persons and things."

     These are good words worthy of our reflection.

     May your journey be close to Mary and strengthened by the Church.  May this Year of Grace be a time of "pondering in your hearts the mystery of a life immersed in the love of God".  And may you find a deepened Faith to sustain you.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas Giving ... A Gift

     At this Christmastime I would like to extend my best wishes and assure you of my heartfelt prayers in thanksgiving for the year past and expected blessings for the year to come.

     Christmas brings many memories, much emotion and a deepening of faith.  I will be celebrating at my sister, Jane's, at our family home.  We are of the age when material gifts are of lesser importance (although there will be a few of them).  Sharing faith ... being family ... giving love are the important things.  I recently saw the thought shown below and was inspired to share these thoughts with you as a part of my gift ... along with love and respect and great hope that these words will be taken to heart.

     Have a very joyous and peace-filled Christmas celebration and share the gift of yourself with the world.


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A remarkable story

     Today, Tuesday, December 17th the Diocese of Greensburg will celebrate the passing of one of our oldest priests, Father Henry S. Preneta.  He died on the 12th of December at Saint Anne Home in Greensburg where he resided.  He served as a priest for 52 years.

     Father Preneta was born in Poland in 1926, and in his teenage years was forced to labor camp in Germany to work on German farms to free up German youth for military service.  When the war ended he came to the U.S.  Here he served in the United States Army for four years before beginning his seminary training that led to his ordination as a priest in 1967 at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.  Father Henry served in a number of parishes, spent a year in India ministering to the poor, and served as a chaplain in two Veterans Administration Medical Centers for 30 years.  He retired in 1999.
Please pray for the repose of his soul and express your thanks for his years of priestly service.

     A few weeks ago, on November 27th, we buried Father Ronald J. Rutkowski who died at the age of 82 having served as a priest for 50 years.

     These latest funerals got me thinking of the remarkable story of service that has touched the Diocese of Greensburg in our 68 years as a diocese.

    We have what we call a Necrology - a listing of those priests who have died since the beginning of the diocese, along with their dates of death.  Unfortunately this list does not give us the number of years of priestly service, so we will have to imagine.

     From May of 1951 until the present we have been served by 215 priests who have died.  162 of them have died since I was ordained in 1973.  Last year one of our Filipino priests who was assisting our diocese also died in the parish.  This 216 does not include the Religious priests who have served in diocesan parishes who have died.

     Including our Filipino and Religious priests in the parishes today, there are presently 68 active priests, with 28 men in retirement, many of whom are still ministering even in their retirement years.

     Now try to imagine the number of years of faithful service this adds up to!  It staggers the mind.  Their stories are varied and their personalities unique, but their service and sacrifice in the name of Christ and his Church is uplifting.  I know that looking back on my 46 plus years I am overwhelmed by the grace and blessings of God, to me and through me to others.  How blessed is the Diocese of Greensburg for the 310 priests who have served or are serving the spiritual needs of God's people over these 68 years.  Even though about 25 of these men have been accused (but not all convicted) of misconduct, and this causes us to pause and to prayerfully seek forgiveness and reconciliation, we can and must give thanks for the remarkable story of these countless years of faithful priestly service.  With Christmas around the corner we can reflect on the gift given by these men.

     The future may seem challenging, but looking at the past we are assured that the Lord is near ... in our midst ... and will provide for his Church.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Rejoice in the Lord always

     Years ago when I was active in the Charismatic Renewal we often sang a lively song that went like this and was sung in the round:
 "Rejoice in the Lord always,
again I say rejoice!
Rejoice in the Lord always,
again I say rejoice!
Rejoice!  Rejoice!
Again I say rejoice!
Rejoice!  Rejoice!
Again I say rejoice!

Rejoice in the Lord always,
… "

     These are the words of the Entrance Antiphon for this Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent.  They set the mood as we await the feast of the Lord's Nativity.  The reason given for rejoicing in the Lord always is simply that "Indeed, the Lord is near."

     Advent is moving fast.  This year has gone by very quickly.  Another decade is almost completed, and I for one could not have imagined welcoming in the year 2020 when I was a child.

     Rejoicing in what is and what could or will be is easier when you are young and full of anticipation and optimism and hope.  It may be easier in older age when our hope and expectation are focused on another dimension of life lived in the eternal glory of God.  However, there are more challenging aspects to rejoicing as we live our day to day existence in this world.  

     To be reminded on this Advent Sunday to rejoice is to be reminded that the coming of Jesus has already graced the world with the messianic promises made through the prophets and is echoed in the Church. The Lord has done great things for us.  We are blessed indeed.  And in that blessing we find it within ourselves to rejoice ... and to share our joy and hope with others.     


Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Seeking the Truth

     Continuing my reflection on the clergy sexual abuse scandal, I would like to share these thoughts on seeking the truth and justice for all.  Please note: these are my personal thoughts only.

     The well publicized Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report of August of 2018 made it clear that there were over 300 accusations made against priests in six of the eight dioceses in the Commonwealth (the two others had their own Grand Jury Reports previously) over the last 70 years.  With persistent requests by civil and Church authorities for victims to step forward, and with the relentless solicitation by a number of lawyers and firms, the numbers grew.  In our diocese there were, I believe, twenty-one men accused in the report, with about four additionally accused since then.  These accusations go back many years, with very few if any current in our day.  Looking at the list of priests who served in the Diocese of Greensburg since 1951 when the Diocese was formed, there have been 213 priests who served here who have died.  With the number serving or retired at this time, the number reaches just over 300.  Add the men who have left active ministry for a host of reasons over these years, and the number grows greatly.   These have been and continue to be good men of faith, dedicated to the service of the Lord and committed to living out the Gospel life.  Like all of us journeying toward our perfect union with the Lord of Life, we are sinners striving to be saints.  

      When we fall, the entire community suffers.  As sinners we are called to repentance.  We must face the consequences of our actions and make amends.  And when justice is brought about, it must be adequate and fair.  As Christians, justice must be tempered by mercy.  Only then can it lead to healing and not revenge.  And isn't this what we need ... healing and reconciliation as well as justice and peace.


     As an article from the August edition of Psychology Today by Thomas Plante which I mentioned in a previous post observes ... though most are, not every report of clerical sexual abuse is true.  There are a host of reasons for this observation.  We live in a very accusatory world.  However, every acusation must be looked at and its truthfulness determined before we pass judgement.   This must be done in civil law as well as in Church law.  The difficulty lies in the fact that so many accusations come from years ago when proof is elusive because of death or sketchy memory or lack of evidence.  That is, in my understanding, one of the reasons for statutes of limitations.  The vast majority of those accused in this diocese have accusations made long after their deaths.  The process needs to provide the one accused the ability to defend themselves and their reputations, and an unbiased court of law (Church and civil alike) to determine the truthfulness ... not the court of public opinion and the press.

     This is one of my personal problems with the Grand Jury Report (and the Grand Jury system).  It is in practice one sided.  The prosecutor seeks out whatever testimony and information they need to bring an individual to trial.  Then both sides present their cases before a judgement is rendered.  Last August the world was told that all three hundred plus men who were accused Catholic priests were guilty of terrible actions and not entitled to defend themselves against these accusations.  The news media painted them with one brush stroke, and hinted that the Church and the majority of her priests were included in that broad stroke of the brush of accusation and guilt.

     And if you will excuse a personal judgemental feeling, there were a number of lawyers and law firms that saw big bucks in attacking the institution of the Church rather than only the individual and have become a new form of abulance chasers.

     I personally have become aware of three friends who suffered at the hands of one of the accused priests from the report.  I have no doubts regarding their experience, even though I was totally unaware of these things happening.  In fact, I even served in a parish with this priest many years later without any indication that something like this had ever taken place.  I was shocked and disappointed with this priest and deeply saddened for my classmates and friends.  I heard from one yesterday who spoke powerfully of his journey from hurt and pain to the merciful and healing embrace of the Lord through the Church.  He assured me that he prays for his abuser and the bishop at the time … and that he names me and other priests in his prayers.  I am deeply moved by his generous response to the Lord's love and compassion.

    The journey ahead is only beginning and there will be challenging days ahead for the Church - the faithful and those who serve them in the name of the Lord.  But this is the Lord's Church, and he has promised to always be faithful to his covenant.  He has promised that the "gates of hell" shall not prevail against her.  He has promised us healing and love.   Rely on that promise.   

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Darkness of our times

     I am a person who delights in the daylight.  The longer the opportunity to be out in the sun the better.  Thus the beginning of the return to "regular time" which began this past weekend with the end of Daylight Saving Time does not make me happy.

     However, it is not only the lessening of daylight in our lives, but the pervasive darkness of evil in our society and our world as the years go on that concerns me even more.  There is a new program on one of the networks that is entitled "Evil".  I have not and will not watch the program for the simple reason that there is enough evil in the world today for me to deal with.  With evil comes darkness, and with darkness comes fear and from fear comes confusion and even more darkness.

     Our world is set on a path that does not reflect gospel values and therefore is often devoid of God's love and mercy.  We are self-centered and self-possesed.  We are often filled with hurt and anger and seek our "pound of flesh".  We accuse, we sue, we hate, we harden our hearts, and we are found wanting in so many ways.

     As I mentioned in my last post, the scandal that has publically rocked our Church since the terrible revelation of pedophilia and sexual abuse of minors by priests in the Boston area in 2002 and the subsequent revelations over the years has brought us to our knees.  The efforts of the Church to deal with these sinful acts of some of her ministers and the Church's failures to respond adequately continue to be ongoing as we find better ways to deal with this darkness.  The Pennsylvania Grand Jury report of last August and the growing inquiries across the nation and the world reveal a need to be vigilant in living the gospel ... the need to address those who have been hurt and devastated by these sinful acts ... the desire for justice for the accusing victims as well as for the accused victims (I include those accused because not all have been found guilty or have had their ability to defend their good names before being condemned and labeled) ... and the need to repent, to forgive, to heal and to restore dignity to all caught up in this mess.

     In my reading I have heard time and time again that the vast majority of sexual pedophiles (young children) or of adolescent teens are found in families: parents or siblings or grandparents or aunts and uncles, etc.  In an article in Psychology Today this past August it was pointed out that 4% of Catholic clerics had credible or substantiated accusations of child sexual abuse of minors in the last fifty years.  This same article mentions a U.S. Department of Education study that found that about 6% of public school teachers had credible or substantiated claims of abuse during the same time period.  It also pointed out that 3 to 5 % of all men meet the criteria for pedophilia.  It concludes that "there is simply no evidence that Catholic priests sexually abuse children or teens at rates higher than other groups of men."  This is not presented as an excuse but rather to place the crisis in a more proper framework.

     Sexual abuse is rampant in society.  The abuse of children is particularly abhorant.  The fact that men of God who minister a gospel of dignity and love are found guilty of such acts is scandalous beyond imagining.  But that the Church and her priests are part of an organized criminal activity to be singled out and made examples of is unfair and unjust.  Serious mistakes have been made in some cases by the Church in her handling of these cases, but to go after the Church, attempting to bring her down or to get big settlements is a "lawyer thing" that fuels the anti-Catholic attitude still found in our society.  When was the last time you saw a school district or other organization being accused or sued or dragged over the coals?  We have much to be ashamed of ... much to make amends for ... tremendous work to bring healing and forgiveness to devastating memories.  But we have Christ Jesus to place our faith in, to be our hope for a better and more enlightened world, and whose love is beyond any hurt or limitation or darkess that we face.

     

Monday, November 4, 2019

Greetings!

     This was the word that I used to begin this journey of sharing my thoughts on priesthood by using this blog: "Journey Thoughts".  That was on March 11, 2011 - almost eight years and eight months ago.  Since that time I have posted 1,139 times and as of the last count have witnessed 152,183 pageviews during that time period. My postings of late have been few and far between, and I believe that there are two reasons for this gap.  I'll share those in a moment.

     I have contemplated bringing "Journey Thoughts" to its completion, not because I have lost interest, but because of the remorse I feel at not being faithful to publishing my thoughts and feelings.  But every time I "make up my mind", I suffer regrets and am not ready to let go.  So, I begin today's post with the same word … GREETINGS!

     I mentioned that two things occurred in my life that have created a block to my creative spirit.  The first of these was retirement from active ministry as a pastor which occurred in July of 2017.  A priests' life in retirement, while not boring, is very different than it was in active ministry.  Your experiences are greatly lessened even though your doctors' appointments seem to increase as the years go on.

     The second factor that has affected my posts is the child sexual abuse scandal by priests that has rocked the Church.  Being a priest, albeit a retired priest, in this day and age is a challenge that covers a wide range of emotions.  There have been many days when I wanted to sit at the computer and type out my thoughts, but those thoughts were so scattered and caught up in varying emotions that it was hard to make sense of them.  Add to that putting my thoughts to written form may not be the most prudent in this crazy world in which we live.

     I hope to endeavor to do so and to make sense of my roller coaster of emotions and spiritual anguish.

     For now, as we begin this month of November, we began with the Feast of All Saints.  I shared with the men at Neumann House (our retirement residence) at Mass that morning that the day was not only a celebration of our spiritual heros and heroines who the Church has recognized as saints.  Celebrating their lived expression of holiness would be enough to inspire us and lift our spirits.

     But the Feast of All Saints is also about us ... about the universal Call to Holiness that we received in the waters of Baptism and have fleshed out over the years with the power and grace of the Holy Spirit.  It is less about setting our vision on achieving the goal of holiness by the end of our lives and more about acknowledging Jesus and walking with him on this life's journey.  Holiness is not about the end of our life ... it is about this moment in our lives.  And all of us, who begin our journey with nothing, as sinners on our knees before a just and merciful God, are, like Zacchaeus of last Sunday's Gospel, invited by Jesus to come down and open our homes ... to open our lives to him, for he desires to dine with us.  He chooses us ... he blesses us ... he embraces us with his love.  And that brings us holiness, the sanctity of the Divine transforming the human and helping us realize that we are made "in the image and likeness" of God.