Sunday, January 20, 2019

Cana Wedding Reflection

     Last evening I shared these reflections as a part of my radio program on WAOB, 106.7 FM.  The program is an hour long  "reflection on Scriptures" that involves twelve mini-reflections on four passages of Scripture.  The following were on today's Gospel from the second chapter of John - the wedding at Cana.  For your prayerful reflection … 

     We turn to the 2nd chapter of the Gospel of Saint John where we read in the beginning: "There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding."
     We don't often find Jesus and his close friends in a setting other than that of travel and preaching or ministering to the needs of others.  But here we see them relaxing and letting their hair down on a "boys night out".  And the setting was a wedding.
     There is an image of the Church out there that portrays the Church as not being very fun loving.  But the reality is that the Church is about rejoicing and joy … about celebration.  There are moments when burdens weigh us down, but there are times where we are to celebrate.
     Call to mind some of those moments of joy and rejoicing that you have experienced and silently bask in that joy.

     We read in chapter 2 of John that Jesus attended a wedding celebration, presumably of friends.  Unlike our weddings where we often included strangers or acquaintances, I'm sure this was a celebration of the whole village or town.  The Church has always used this scriptural account to show the importance of married life and the blessings that God can bring into this new family life.  Jesus' presence and his first miracle seem to indicate the blessedness of the occasion.
     We have heard earlier in our reflections that God called his people to unity and oneness of heart and mind.  He has spoken of the blessings that come to those who join together in his name … as family … as community of faith … as Church.
     The blessings that he gives to each person, freely given and shared with another or with others, unites people and inspires them to bring forth new life and to build a home … a kingdom of peace and of joy.
     Recently we reflected upon the Holy Family … and were called to pattern our life in their image.  Like in marriage it requires love and commitment … giving and receiving blessings … and the presence of God leading us.
     Quietly welcome him into your celebration of life.

     We read in chapter 2 of John that Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana.
     They had run short, and the celebration was continuing.  When Mary became aware of this, she approached Jesus.
     We know the story … water jars used for washing and purification become the vehicles for water turned to wine for celebration and enjoyment.  And not only any wine, for we hear the steward tell the groom "you have kept the good wine until now."  And what a celebration - six water jars each containing twenty to thirty gallons … that is a lot of choice wine!
     Maybe this is the model for life:  in our establishing of ties that bind and relationships that create family and new life, we need to wash ourselves of self and open ourselves to others so that we can enter into the joy of the Lord.
     In a moment of quiet prayer, reflect upon your blessings in this life.

     

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A "lectio" reflection

     One of my ministries in retirement is radio ministry on the WAOB (We Are One Body) Radio Network broadcast locally at 106.7 FM.  There are occasions when I share reflections on the Scriptures in a "lectio divina" setting during a live program "Drawing Life-Giving Water from Jacob's Well" which is broadcast every evening from the 8:00 to 9:00 hour.  I enjoy the challenge of preparing twelve short reflections - three for each of four readings from Scripture provided to me by the station.  A reading is proclaimed and then there are three reflections, followed by a minute of silent prayer and reflection between each.

     I though that I might share with you three of the reflections from this past Saturday's program where the readings were from the next day's liturgy, which was the Baptism of the Lord.  These thoughts focused on the 3rd chapter of the Gospel of Luke.  Here they are for what they are worth.

     The gospel for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is found in this 3rd chapter of Luke.  We read in verse 15: "The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ."
     In our fast-paced news cycles of today the sense of expectation is greatly diminished.  There are very few announcements or news alerts that are not instantaneous.  I think we have lost something there.
     In the precious gift of new life, the news of a pregnancy may be received joyously or it may be unexpected.  But from that point on we can follow the progress of the child's growth … we can learn of the sex of the child … we can know the health condition of the child long before birth.  Good as all of this can be, it robs us of expectation … of the awaiting of good news.
     It is good to live in hope … to allow our expectations to guide our actions and develop our being.
     Silently pray for a healthy spirit of expectation of the Lord's blessing for you.

     We read in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 3, that John tells the people: "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.  I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
     There is a hymn that we sing that begins "Come thou long expected Jesus …"  If there ever was a time of anticipation, a time of expectation that was long coming, it is found in the prophesy of a Messiah that would save Israel.  Our scriptures tell us of that waiting over and over again.  When it finally came two thousand years ago with that birth in Bethlehem of Judea, the heavens and the earth rejoiced.
     But that birth signaled a new birth for all.  Beginning with Jesus and his ministry, begun when he rose out of the waters of John's baptism, we now set our sight and our hope on a new heaven and a new earth … a return to paradise that will be made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus.  We now live in hope … we anticipate the grace of new life awakening within us … we have an end-goal that requires of us a journey of faith.
     Joining with all of the saints and angels, let us go forth with great expectations.

     In our world we find it hard to know who to put our trust in, who to follow, where to turn.  Everyone tells us that they have the answer, that they are the one, that they are the great hope for the present and for the future.
     We read in Chapter 3 of Luke, in verses 21 & 22, "And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.' "  
     This affirmation comes from God himself.  It is directed to Jesus, to affirm the Father's love and Jesus' ministry of salvation.  It stands at the beginning of his public ministry and the ultimate gift of self-sacrifice that leads to the Cross.  It says to Jesus: You are my Son … I love you … I am proud of you … you honor me.
     It says to us: Look!  This is the long-awaited savior … this is my love given for you … this is your hope, your life, your way to eternal glory.
     Continuing our journey in the Light which is Christ, pray now for all who journey with you, that we may live in hope and joyful expectation.

Monday, January 14, 2019

A baptismal reflection

     This past Sunday marked the celebration of the Baptism of Our Lord by John the Baptist.  It brings an end to the Christmas season for the Church and marks the moment when Jesus steps up and begins his public ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  When he entered the waters of John's baptism, Jesus was affirming his acceptance of the mission entrusted to him by the Father.  He was affirmed by the Father with the words that came from the heavens: "You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased".   And he was presented to those looking for and longing for the promised Messiah.

     The baptism of John was one of repentance from sin and a change of life.  It spoke of the desire of the one seeking baptism to do something with their life, to move in a different direction.
     The baptism of Jesus is a baptism of new beginnings, of being freed from the bondage of sin and set on a course toward holiness.  Jesus baptized with water … life-giving and cleansing and refreshing … and with the Holy Spirit and fire.  For those of us who have been baptized in Jesus Christ we are a new creation, called to holiness and empowered by the Spirit to walk blamelessly in the light of Christ.

     I watched the Holy Father's celebration of the Feast from Rome as he joined the celebration of the Mass with the baptisms of twenty-seven young babies in the Sistine Chapel.  This has become a part of the Holy Father's traditional celebration.  And as I watched, it occurred to me that this is one of the things of ministry that I miss in my retirement.  I always enjoyed celebrating baptisms, and especially when they took place during Mass.  It was a tremendous way of celebrating the life of the community and of teaching and sharing the faith.  I have many happy memories of those moments.  In my year and a half of retirement, I have only celebrated baptism once while filling in at the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg, where I had served as pastor.  On that occasion, as I was meeting the parents and child and the family before Mass began, the child's maternal grandmother reminded me that I had baptized this child's mother in the same church and at the same font years before.  What a great sign of continuity.

 This little one's name is Tobias, who I baptized a few years ago at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

     The Holy Father baptized twenty-seven children, with the help of two Cardinals and a host of monsignors and priests who assisted him.  It brought back memories of my first assignment when we would celebrate the sacrament only once or twice a month and have a large gathering (sometimes over a half of church or more), with Fathers Sanesi, Gaston and myself sharing the roles of baptizing and prayers and anointing and other ritual.  They were great celebrations.  They are a part of the fabric of my memories.  At dinner yesterday one of our priests shared that at his retirement a friend had gone to the churches where he served and counted the number of baptisms in his over fifty years - a number over 1,000.  As he said, what a beautiful legacy.  I'm not sure what my numbers are, but more important than numbers are the lives that have grown from the waters of those baptisms over the years.  For that I am most grateful.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Seekers

     The world has always had seekers in her midst.  To the younger generation, they might define a seeker as the one who searches for the small, elusive gold flying object called a snitch during a game of quidditch.  But unless you are a Harry Potter fan, you wouldn't have a clue as to what I am talking about.
     But we have always had those inquisitive minds and longing souls who seek after truth - 'the" truth, or wisdom, or the mysteries of life, or the hidden treasure or purpose … or God.  Many a great story has been told about seekers and their search.  Many great characters in fiction and in the history of humankind are identified as seekers.  Hopefully you also are a seeker of that which is beyond your grasp as yet, but which your heart desires.

     We encounter three seekers in the gospel account yesterday for  the Feast of the Epiphany.  These magi came from the east and brought with them on their journey their hopes and desires as well as their hunger for truth and the meaning of life.  Magi were usually described as members of the priestly caste from Persia, sometimes referred to as kings as our Christmas carol calls them, wise men learned in the known knowledge of the ages and those who studied the heavens for signs and indications of great persons and great events.   These three in their study of the skies, saw the bright, new star at its rising and knew that it signified something tremendous, most likely the birth of a great king or someone who would change the course of history. They readily joined together in a journey of discovery, leaving everything they found security in to go into the unknown.  They became travelers, pilgrims on a great journey of enlightenment, followers of a star.

     These three came to the small nation of Israel, to the city of Jerusalem, for answers.  They heard of the words of the local Hebrew prophets about a Messiah to come, and the place of Bethlehem at his coming.  They came to Bethlehem and found Mary and her child in the house where they lodged.
      Then everything about them to that moment of time stopped, as they knelt before this child and offered him their gifts of gold which represented the wealth and power of the world fit for a king … frankincense which was the perfume and aroma offered to the gods fit for this God of gods … and myrrh, a strange gift of perfumed ointment reserved for preparing the body of a special person for their burial, foreshadowing his death which would lead to new life.   When they gazed upon him, their gifts seemed inadequate.  So they offered themselves … their homage … their hopes and dreams … their lives.  And all that they offered paled in comparison to what they had been given in return.
      Then their life began!  Scripture says that they returned home, never again to be the same.  They had received a glimpse into a new world, and these seekers were satisfied.

     We have so many hungers, so much discontent, so many uncertainties and unfulfilled hopes and dreams in this world.  But we search for the snitch, or the wealth and power of the world, or for knowledge (all too often without wisdom), for the elusive and the temporary fix.  We must be true seekers and come to that child who these magi found.  He grew in age and wisdom and as the God-man he gave himself for our sins on the wood of the Cross, bringing redemption.  And then, with the empty tomb, he revealed life eternal.  This revelation, this epiphany is his gift to us for our searching and for our gift of ourselves to him.  


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     On Friday morning, January 4th, we gathered to celebrate the funeral liturgy for Monsignor John Edward McCullough, 76, a retired  priest of the Diocese of Greensburg who served as a priest for fifty-one years.  No one locally knew him as John, but he was always Father Ed, or Monsignor Ed, or J. Edward or Ed.  He served in parishes throughout the diocese with his last being pastor of Saint Aloysius in Dunbar for over 26 years.  He served as head of the Mission Office for ten years as well as many other apostolates.
     Father Ed was a warm, outgoing, friendly guy who got along with everyone at all levels of society.  He loved to travel, loved to party and loved to be with people.  Personally I shared in his generous hospitality on a number of occasions in his home and in his travels, for which I am grateful.
     I ask that you keep him in your prayers and hearts as well as his family, his parish families, and our local Church.

May his soul and the souls of all of the faithful departed, Rest In Peace.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The passage of time

     2019 has arrived.  We have passed the threshold of the New Year.  Christmas is behind us … the Twelve Days are approaching an end … Epiphany beacons … and life goes on.

     I hope that your Christmas was a blessed time.  Mine was very different in tone this year.  This is my second Christmas in retirement, and while I enjoy the lessening of the workload, I became nostalgic for Christmas past - especially the blessing of celebrating with and ministering to the People of God in the parishes.  I did attend and celebrate on Christmas morning with my sister and our home parish family, but even that was different.  The strong Polish parish is now one of four in the town that are ministered to by two good priests with assistance and a shared liturgical schedule … a sign of the times.  Even the worship aid of Christmas carols had only one page of Polish carols (out of five) and there were only two that I knew.

     My time at home with my sister, Jane, was quiet and enjoyable for she is not only a good sister and a great cook, but a best friend and blessing.
     My Christmas was tempered by the fact that a brother priest for all of my priesthood, a friend and fellow resident of our retirement residence for over the past year, was sentenced a few days before Christmas for an incident of sexual abuse committed twenty-seven years ago in a moment of weakness.  The justice for the victim of this transgression was realized in this guilty plea and sentencing, but the penalty of eleven and a half months to five years in prison for this friend and brother and the negating of a lifetime of service to the gospel despite this sin, affected me deeply.  Despite being described as a "predator priest", here is a good man who made a terrible mistake and must now pay a price that sets an example.  What disturbs me most is that this societal justice seems to be couched in a spirit of revenge, of wanting my "pound of flesh" … in contrast to the biblical and spiritual concept of justice which is tempered by mercy.  Surely the transgressor must pay the price … but as Church we are called by the Lord to be merciful, to seek reconciliation, to restore the sinner to grace and to heal those broken by sin - sinner and victim alike.  I do not see that happening in our present crisis, and this absence is a much greater challenge and crisis for the Church than these terrible revelations of sexual abuse by clergy of years ago.  These are not easy days for the Church, and I'll speak on that later.

     But now we step into a new year, one to which the Lord desires to bring his blessings.  We must move forward in trust and in hope for the future.  This morning at our Mass, our celebrant spoke of the gift of Mary, as our Mother and the Mother of the Church, as a reassuring sign of that hope.  She says to us … my YES to the will of God brought you my son.  I give him to you daily as your Lord and Savior.  He is a just judge, but he is first and foremost a redeemer who has paid (at great price) the cost of our sinfulness in order that we may lay aside our sin and failure and grow through grace into holiness of life.  If we as Church see Jesus as Redeemer, then we serve him and each other and witness to the world with a heart filled with mercy and understanding and bring about true healing and peace.  It is a message that the world community does not understand nor want … but it is a message vital to our survival.

     May each step along the journey in this year of grace 2019 bring you joy and happiness and the deep reassurance of the enduring love that Christ has for you.  May we be strong and unafraid, and may we bear witness to the gentle mercy of the Savior.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Advent Icons

     An ICON is an image of the sacred.  Those of our friends from the Churches of the East are very familiar with icons.  Rather than statues they celebrate these stylized images into the holy.

     There are two primary icons for the great season of Advent.  The first is the image of Mary presented to us as an Advent reminder that ALL are called to the Son of Mary, that ALL are equal in the eyes of God, that ALL are pregnant with hope and anticipation of salvation and new life, and that the message of the Christ is not reserved for a few but meant for ALL.  She is an invitation to life.


     In early December we celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne.  She was chosen and prepared for her mission of giving flesh to the Son of God by being conceived without the burden and stain of Original Sin.  She was given the gift of holiness before her Son won that gift for us.  Our holiness rests in our YES to his invitation to accept the redemption that he won for us and the grace to walk in the way of holiness.  Her YES did not protect her from sin but allowed her to be strong in the resistance of temptation and to walk confidently along the path of holiness.

     On the 12th we looked to the patroness of all of the Americas in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  This feast celebrating the appearance of Mary as a young native girl with child to Juan Diego, a convert to Christianity, was an important moment in God's plan.  The fact that she appeared to a peasant, a native of the place and not the ruling class or the upper crust was shocking.  The fact that her image was that of a native person rather than that of a Spanish maiden was even more shocking.  That fact that she is carrying her child in her womb was unexpected.  All of this happened in the 1500's in Mexico and led countless peoples to embrace Our Lady of Guadalupe and her Son, Jesus.

     And now within a week we will hear the story and see the image of a young mother giving birth to her first-born son in humble surroundings in Bethlehem of Judea.  That image of Mary with Joseph and the child, Jesus, is the featured image - primary icon - of Mary.

     The other primary icon of Advent is our friend, John, the son of Elizabeth and Zachariah, the one called the Baptist.  He too points the way and makes known the savior.  He too calls us to repentance and a change of heart so that we might live in Christ.  He too is an invitation to life.

     Advent is a time of realizing who we are in Christ, of realizing the need for repentance and conversion, and a time of hearing in our own lives and becoming for others "an invitation to life".  Thank God for these two tremendous icons of Advent.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The straight path

     This fourth day of December has the Church celebrating the memorial of Saint John Damascene, a priest and Doctor of the Church.  He was born in Damascus at the end of the seventh century.  He was born of a Christian family and was a learned philosopher and theologian.  He became a monk and then was ordained a priest and lived near Jerusalem.

     It is reported that he prayed:


"Lord, do not let my heart lean either to the right or to the left, but let your good Spirit guide me along the straight path."

     The most accurate GPS navigation of our lives is found in the Holy Spirit.  Knowing that fact and being open to the Spirit is the first step at arriving at our destiny.  Having driven in some areas of northern West Virginia (not on the interstates) I know that the route from point A to point B can be confusing and very round-a-bout.  No offense to our west Virginia neighbors.
      Our path to the Lord can also carry us in the most indirect of ways.  That it is why it is important to seek the help of the Spirit of the Lord so that our paths remain straight and the way smooth.  We hear that description in the Scriptures (in fact on this coming Sunday) where we are called to prepare for the coming of the Lord and for our journey to him by leveling  every mountain and filling in every valley … we must pave the rough road and straighten every curve … so that nothing, NOTHING, will impede our progress.

     John Damascene knew this and offered this simple prayer … which could be our own.  Prepare ye the way of the Lord.