Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Saint Vincent de Paul - the man, the mission, the legacy

     Today the Church celebrates the memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, whose life was given to the service of the poor and the development of the clergy.

     Vincent was born in Gascony in France in 1581 of peasant parents who were farmers.  He was the third of six children, and showed an ability to read and write at an early age.  His folks sacrificed to sent him off for schooling to a seminary at the age of fifteen and he applied himself with such resolve that he was ordained a priest at the age of nineteen on September 23, 1600.  He continued his studies and through a very convoluted but interesting series of events began his ministry to the poor and needy in Paris.  He established an orphanage for the countless abandoned children that he found in the streets of Paris, he established a group of wealthy women from the parish in which he served into the Ladies of Charity in 1617, with the help of Saint Louise de Marillac founded the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, and founded the Congregation of the Missions who are known as "the Vincentians".  After a life of service and inspiration, he died in Paris on September 27, 1660.  An interesting note that I read is that his feast of celebrated on this day not only in the Roman Church. but also in the Church of England and the Episcopal Church.

     His mission was to see in every human being a Child of God, and thus deserving of love and respect, dignity and assistance.  His love of the poor and needy echoed the works of mercy that the Church, through the example of Christ, places before us.  And his example has become a tremendous gift to the Church.

     Recently within our diocese, the Diocesan Central Council of Greensburg held its annual dinner.  There were 240 members attending from our 33 parish conferences and ten retail stores established within the diocese, and they represent the countless hours of service given in so many ways by so many people to so many people.  The love and compassion and the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy shared in the name of the Lord and in the spirit of Saint Vincent de Paul touch lives in dramatic ways.  Among our local parishes the Saint Vincent de Paul Society does much, and spearheads our local Food Bank distribution.  To them, and to all who embrace the charism of charity found in Saint Vincent de Paul, we are most grateful.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Old Friends and other musings

     A few weeks ago I was watching a rerun of the Simon and Garfunkel Concert in Central Park from the 1980's on PBS.  It was a great concert, filled with all of their hits and many of my favorites, and it brought back wonderful memories.  They were one of the groups of my generation that provided music with both message and fancy.  And it is amazing how I remembered the words!   One of those songs was "Old Friends".

     Within the past week I encountered a few "old friends" ... not "old" as in advanced in age, but old as in longtime friends.  Yesterday I received a call from a good friend and one of our priests who has left active ministry, Mark Purnell.  He is living now in California, and while having gone through some serious health issues, is on the mend and doing well.  He has found his niche in life, and it was a pleasure sharing with him our past and our present experiences of life.  This same weekend I had a visit from another really good friend and brother, Mike Ripple and his wife, Wendy.  I have mentioned Mike before, and our relationship for the last nearly twenty-five years is a blessing in my life.  We were once a "team" at the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg.  They were in the area for a wedding.  In addition, a few of our parishioners mentioned that they had met other former parishioners and friends who inquired about me within the past two weeks.  It is good to be remembered and to be thought of.

     But old friends are to be counted even among those that I presently know and my present parishioners and neighbors.  The Sunday before last we held our annual parish covered dish picnic in our social hall, with a banner attendance.  Another moment of great food, excellent fellowship, and loads of fun.  After nearly eight years here, I look with fondness upon the young, the many young families, the stalwart, faithful, hardworking parish members, and those of a greater age who I now consider "old friends" and who bless my life.

     Hold onto your friends and count them as a blessing from the Lord.

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     School has got off to a staggered start in this area.  One district begins tomorrow.  Our local public district has two weeks in already, and our local regional Catholic School began last week.  I was out for a drive on the afternoon of the first day of school, and I ended up behind two school buses.  I smiled with warmth as I saw at least four stops where the youngster (really young girls and boys) exited the bus with enthusiasm, dressed up for the first day of school, excited to tell their stories, and were greeted in all four occasions by Mom and Dad who waited for them, hugged them, and then listened with a smile on their face as the story of the day was told.  It was a Norman Rockwell moment for me, and I felt good.

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     Yesterday the Church recognized Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a Saint.  This public proclamation of her holiness was already recognized by most in the world, even within her lifetime.  In the canonization process, the Church simply places her as a model for us and acknowledges her as a hero of charity and gentle love in our times.

     I told our people over the weekend that in the mid eighties I had the good fortune to attend an international retreat for priests in Rome.  After a prayer service in Saint Peters we were addressed by Pope (now Saint) John Paul II and Mother (now Saint) Teresa of Calcutta.  As she began to speak to us, she stated that she was in awe at being in the presence of so many holy people.  As I heard her make that statement, I was humbled and somewhat taken back that those words, spoken with such sincerity and love, came from a truly holy person.  It touched my heart and remains as a cherished memory.  Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!

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     This past Tuesday marked nine months until I reach the early retirement age for this diocese of seventy, and on Friday I spoke with the Vicar General of the Diocese regarding my intention of retiring in the June round of appointments - the first formal step of the process.  I have mixed feelings regarding retirement, but my health issues are limiting me too much to consider staying longer.  I cherish every moment of my priesthood, and look forward to continuing to serve to the best of my abilities for these next nine months plus, with the help of God and the patience and love of his people.  Pray for us all.

    

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Olympic memories

     Tonight the Rio Olympics come to a close after two weeks of international competition and physical and mental accomplishments.  I watched a great deal of the events over these two weeks, and was distressed by some bad behavior but inspired by even greater sportsmanship and cooperation.  Our swimmers, our young women gymnasts, the medal winners were wonderful to watch, even if there were heart stopping moments.  Enfleshing the Olympic Spirit was the scene of the women runners who collided and fell, with the one helping the other, injured one, to finish the race.

     These two weeks brought back memories, for twenty years ago I had the good fortune to attend the second week of the summer Atlanta Olympics.  Good friends, Mary Ann and Bill Newhouse and their children invited me to join them for the trip to Atlanta.  We stayed with friends of theirs just outside the city, were able to attend a number of events - track and field, women's volleyball and a baseball game - tour Atlanta, and have an enjoyable time.  It was an experience that I will not duplicate in my life, and I cherish the memories with gratitude.

     We were also encouraged in the Scriptures of these last few weeks to see the Olympic spirit as an image of our personal journey of faith.  Paul last Sunday spoke of persevering in running the race, of keeping before our eyes the goal, the prize - not a medal of gold or silver or bronze or a wreath of garland - our relationship to Jesus Christ and a crown of eternal glory.  This week we were encouraged in the opening prayer at liturgy to be single minded in our purpose and to seek after that which the Lord promises us as our destiny.

     The Olympics can remind us not only of the greatness of nations and their athletes, not only of attaining fame and prestige, but most importantly of the need to focus on what is most important in life, and to strive unceasingly to attain that goal of oneness with the Lord that brings with it eternal glory.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A role of service

     Yesterday was the feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr of the Church.  He was one of the seven deacons of the church of Rome during the reign and the persecution of the emperor Valerian, and served with the Holy Father, Pope Sixtus II.  He was martyred, tradition says, by being roasted on the gridiron or grill, but some think that like so many others, he was beheaded.  The roasting account makes for good drama, and it is said that he told to his captors that he was done on the one side and that it was time to turn him over.  Whatever is the truth of the manner of his death, the reality is that his courage and bravery strengthened the lifeblood of the Church and brought his life of service to its ultimate completion.

     His service as a deacon allows me to reflect upon the gift that the Church possesses in the diaconate and especially the permanent diaconate of more recent years.  I served as a deacon for a brief time in my journey toward priesthood, for about a year as I continued my studies and had a number of pastoral experiences.  I served a summer at Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale (where I later served as associate and then pastor), part of the summer at Saint Mary in Export, and a semester at the Newman Center at IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania).

     The permanent diaconate is relatively new in our Diocese, and the number of deacons are few.   When the diaconate was reestablished following the Council, the late Bishop Connare was cautiously watching the programs in other dioceses, and never established a program here.  He was followed by the late Bishop Anthony Bosco whose major emphasis was on the role and empowerment of the laity.  When Bishop Lawrence Brandt came, he established the diaconate in the Diocese, and set up a formation program that went though many developmental phases and a very thorough and long process.  We saw two classes of deacons - first two and then the second class.  We look forward to the next class.

     The deacons that we have are exceptional men of faith and dedicated service.  They and their wives and families are deeply committed to the Church and her people, and they give of themselves unselfishly.  One in the first class is a high school classmate of mine, Dr. Bill Hisker, and two of the next class are very good friends, Bill Newhouse and Jeff Cieslewicz (Jeff is a parishioner of our parish and a cousin of mine).  During my recent illness, Jeff (with the permission of his pastor) has been a major service to the parish and help to me in providing weekday communion services when I was not available for Mass.  Our parish family enjoys his preaching and are grateful for his ministry, as am I.

     Finally, on this day following the feast of Saint Lawrence, I offer my thoughts and gratitude to our former bishop, Lawrence Brandt, for his service and for establishing the diaconate program.  Happy name's day, Bishop Brandt.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Prepared, Faithful Servants

     The Psalm response for this Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time states: "Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own".  We live in a world fraught with fear and mistrust.  We are bombarded these days on the political level with politicians and parties that affirm that we have much to fear - from each other and from the unknown.  The blame is always placed upon the other, and the name calling and negativity borders on the uncivil, not to mention the unchristian.  Whether we believe that the world is on the verge of collapse or that things could not be better, we are told that one candidate or the other can remedy the situation.  I mentioned last Sunday that the Scriptures remind us that when we acknowledge the goodness and love of God, his presence and power in our lives (a theme echoed this Sunday), we are able to work together and conquer all that confronts us, not out of fear or indignation, not with an attitude that centers upon the "I", but with a respect for God and of each other that allows us to work for the common good, to be that faithful and prudent steward whom the master will call to service.  But key to this happening is to acknowledge and place ourselves within the loving hands of our loving God.

     Recently,on his trip to Poland for World Youth Day, Pope Francis visited the death camps.  His visit was quiet and reflective.  He prayed in the death cell of Maximilian Kolbe, and was moved by the brutal moment in our recent history that allowed politicians and regular people alike to allow or overlook what was happening, because God had been placed on the perifery of life or relegated to Sunday morning.  Some were directly responsible, but countless others were quietly unaware of this barbaric attitude that pervaded the human heart.  Many should have sought out the truth, and all of us should have learned a critical lesson which would have lessened our present fears and isolationism.  But we are slow learners.  We easily speak of the desire for peace, but we too often fail to trust in the Prince of Peace to strengthen and guide our efforts.

     So today, remember what the psalmist said: "Blessed are the people the Lord has chosen to be his own".  Count your blessings ... share your blessing ... be a blessing.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Too long of an absence

     As those of you who know me and others may be aware, these last four months (since April 1st) have been a bit of a challenge for me physically.  As I might have mentioned, I awoke that morning with cellulitis of the right leg coupled with a fever, a sepsis infection, and developing wounds on the leg.  After a stint in the hospital and a month of intense antibiotics (with accompanying reactions), the infection cleared, but the wounds continued to be dealt with at the local wound clinic.  Five were healed when a sixth developed, which we are working on at the moment.  That developed another infection with more antibiotics, and now there is an elevated kidney function that we are dealing with.  I realize two things: that this was a serious condition, especially with the sepsis; and that what I am going through is nothing compared to the crosses that others have to bear.  And yet, these four months have wiped me out, limited my ability to do what I was used to, and given me a longing for the retirement which the age of seventy will bring me next May.  It has also lessened my ability to focus, thus my absence from the computer and from the blog.  But it is time to come back.

     One thing that these four months have reminded me of (although I really did not need reminding) is how wonderful and kind people are - parishioners, friends, family.  Highest among them is my sister, Janie.  Since April 1st, she has been my caregiver and champion.  Having retired last June, she left her home in Uniontown and moved in with me, learning how to administer IV's, change dressings, question and challenge doctors, and advocating on my behalf.  I took her home today for a while, to check on the house and pay the bills and meet her friends.  She has only been home a few times over these months, even though friends have "checked on things at home" and kept her informed.  She has a liking for angels, and that is one reason that I can call her my angel in these challenging times.  We have always been close, but since I was ordained forty three years ago, we have become best of friends as well.  She is a treasure!  People often ask me if I realize how lucky I am to have her ... and I answer ABSOLUTELY!

     I hope to reboot my commitment to Journey Thoughts.  Pray for me.  Pray for blessings for Janie.  And pray every day for those who are more in need of our prayers.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Peter and Paul

     Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, who are the foundational blocks of the mission of the Church.   Both were martyred in Rome sometime during the persecution of Nero, around 64 AD.  Both are instrumental in laying the groundwork for the message of the Gospel: Peter to the House of Israel and Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles.  Both are remembered and honored at their place of death and burial by two awesome churches.   And it is on this feast that the Church recognizes the primacy of Peter and his successor, the Bishop of Rome.  His symbol are the keys of the Kingdom entrusted to him at the time of his declaration of faith.

     Peter died by crucifixion (at his request, upside down because he was unworthy to die as did Jesus) on Vatican Hill at the circus located there.  He was buried in the adjoining cemetery, and his grave was marked and venerated from the beginning, although in secret.  When Constantine converted and built a church over his grave, the first Saint Peter's came to be.  The present basilica was built over the same spot, with Peter's tomb located in the necropolis below the crypt and under the main altar.

     Paul, a Roman citizen by birth, was brought to Rome to be judged by the emperor.  Found guilty, he was condemned to death as well, but since crucifixion was beneath the dignity of even the worst Roman citizen, he was beheaded just outside the city walls.  This is the sight of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.  His ministry was to preach the Gospel message to the Gentile community, and his symbol is the two edged sword, which Scripture describes as the Word of God.

     The Preface proper to this feast is very beautiful, mentioning that Peter is "foremost in confessing the faith" and established "the early Church from the remnant of Israel".  It says that Paul is the faith's "outstanding preacher ... master and teacher of the Gentiles".

     A number of years ago I had the honor of celebrating Mass in the Clementine Chapel which is at the tomb of Peter and under the high altar.  I also had the opportunity to be a part of the Scavi tour of the underground necropolis that has been excavated since the 1940's, I believe, and leads to the bones attributed to be those of Peter.

     As pastor of the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg, we were looking for an image of Paul for our letterhead, and I chose Paul holding the sword.  Many wondered at that, until they became aware that this sword represents the Word of God.

     On this Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, please pray for Peter's successor, Francis, and those who share the ministry of the Apostles, including our own Bishop, Edward and our retired Bishop, Lawrence.  Pray for those who form the rock solid foundation of Faith and who preach unceasingly the Word of God.