Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A new beginning

     I find it remarkable that my days go by so quickly and are so filled with activities that demand my attention, especially in retirement, but so it is.  Last week in particular saw much time spent in preparation for preaching and/or teaching.  At the Neumann House retirement residence, the priests take a week at a time celebrating the Eucharist in our small chapel, and last week was my turn.  Since retiring I have been listening rather than preaching, but it as god to get back into the swing of things.  In addition, this past Saturday and Sunday I filled in at Saint Paul Church for one of the priests who was away.  All this took much prep time, but brought to mind one of the things that I miss most about not being in active ministry - celebrating with a community, preaching and being a minister of the Lord's love.  I also had a great experience in the confessional on Saturday at Saint Paul parish and rejoiced in the merciful grace of God.  On Sunday evening I shared in my sixth live radio program of "lectio-divina" on WAOB-FM (106.7 FM) the local Catholic radio station.  I am enjoying this new aspect of ministry.


    Today the Church celebrates the memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a early bishop and martyr of the Church.  He succeeded Saint Peter as bishop of Antioch and was put to death by being thrown to wild beasts during the persecution of the Emperor Trajan I the year 107.  On his journey to Rome and his death, he wrote seven letters to the various churches.

     One was to the Church at Rome itself.  He tells them that he is God's wheat and he shall be ground by the teeth of wild animals.  He said that he was ready for death, because he knew where his treasure lay.  In his letter he says: "No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way.  I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth.  He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest.  He who rose for our sakes is my one desire.  The time for my birth is close at hand."

     The conviction of people of faith and the courage of the martyrs has always given me reason to pause.  We have been so blessed, and take so much for granite, that a little adversity at times is so challenging.  And yet we have never faced death as did Ignatius and those others who were given little option: be faithful and die or deny and live.  The courage that it takes to embrace and express the words above in bold print can only be spoken in the grace of the Spirit of God. Thank God for the witness of the martyrs and the courage of Ignatius.  The prayer for the day says it all:
"All-powerful and ever-living God, you ennoble your Church with the heroic witness of all who give their lives for Christ.  Grant that the victory of Saint Ignatius of Antioch may bring us your constant help as it brought him eternal glory."

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Francis of Assisi

     October 4th has always been a great day of celebration in my life, ever since I became aware of the saint of that day, Francis of Assisi.  The story of his life in the late 1100's and early 1200's is one of simple faith, poverty and humility, and transforming love that is as important today as it always has been.  In our complicated world, self-centered and commercial, absorbed in power and greatness, the message of simplicity of life and joy of  heart is refreshing.  It almost seems too ideal, too make believe to be real or practical.  If it were not lived out in the life of Francis and his early followers, it would be a fairy tale.  But it is real.

     Francis appeared at a moment in history when the Church was absorbed in itself and in need of renewal.  After Francis, in a moment of conversion, renounced all for the sake of the gospel and embraced poverty, the message of love found in the gospels and the joy of heart found in those that responded to the call of Jesus became a reality in his small portion of Italy, and spread to all corners of the earth.  Francis is honored by people of every religion and even those of none.  The Lord told him to "rebuild the Church" ... and before realizing the greater implications of that call, saw his task as being the rebuilding of a small church outside of Assisi - San Damiano.  The story is well known, and tremendously beautiful.

     This evening our small community of retired priests had a movie night, and watched Franco Zeffirelli's wonderful movie of 1972 - "Brother Sun, Sister Moon".  Zeffirelli knows how to make a beautiful film, and this one was no exception.  I saw the movie years ago, but it was good to see it once again.

   I have had the blessing of visiting Assisi on at least three occasions, and found great peace in the hillside community of Francis and Clare.  Their spirit obviously pervades the town after these 800 years.  And the spirit of Francis of Assisi is still sought after by the restless of heart and often found by those who seek the joy of life.

    On this feast of Francis of Assisi, the troubadour of the great King, may his joy of life and his respect for all of God's creation find a home in our hearts, and continue to renew the Church, under the leadership of another Francis.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

People that touch our lives

     Many days have gone by since my last post.  Within those days, though, I have been blessed with the experience or memory of individuals who have touched my life.  Here are a few of those reflections,

     When our new bishop, Bishop Edward Malesic, was introduced to us a few years ago, we met his Dad.  Mr. Malesic lives in the eastern part of the State, but comes and visits his son periodically.  This past weekend Mr. Malesic celebrated a wonderful milestone, his one hundredth birthday.  He is a great, personable guy who enjoys people and his faith and his family.  We wish him all of the best.
 Holding his son's crozier at the ordination
 At a recent intereview
Meeting with a fellow 100 year old friend at Saint Anne Home
      And speaking of the Malesic men, our bishop this past Wednesday hosted another of his informal gatherings for his brother priests of the diocese and the Archabbey at Saint Vincent.
The bishop schedules three or four of these opportunities to gather for food and drink and relaxed fellowship at his home or at the Bishop Connare Center in the diocese.  There were over forty of the guys present last week, and a great time was had by all.  Our bishop is a real pastor who enjoys the celebration of life.  Our guys are counting their blessings.

     This past Saturday saw the historic beatification ceremony for now Blessed Father Stanley Francis Rother take place in Oklahoma City at the Cox Convention Center.  Over 15,000 people took part in this ceremony that brings to the attention and veneration of the faithful this missionary priest from Oklahoma City, who ministered in Guatemala, and was murdered there in 1981 by a guerilla death squad.  He is placed before us to be venerated as a priest and missionary and a present day martyr for the faith.   He will be the first U.S. saint to be so recognized  His local feast is set for July 28th, the anniversary of his death in Guatemala.  I watched the beatification ceremony on EWTN on Saturday.  Blessed Stanley Rother, pray for us.

A photo of Father Stanley Rother among his people.

      In my last post I mentioned beginning a new ministry of sorts in radio on WAOB FM 106.7.  In addition to recording some readings and Scriptures, I have now completed four live hour long "lectio divina" programs, the latest one just last evening.  Again, I find it challenging and refreshing, and it keeps the mind "in tune and alert".  This ministry will hopefully continue, unless I become the source of a decreased listening audience.  Hopefully not.  Who knows!  Father Boniface Hicks, O.S.B., is the guiding force behind the station.

     I received word of the death of a fellow seminarian from the old Saint Francis of Loretto days, Monsignor Maurice "Moe" Lavigne, a priest of the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire.  Moe was a few years ahead of me in seminary.  And until my recent downsizing, I had an ordination picture of a handsome, young priest with the future before him.  Monsignor Lavigne would have celebrated his 50th anniversary next year.  He died after a short illness, an illness that he embraced with great courage.

     Moe Lavigne's obituary says this: "He loved to laugh and often chuckled at his own jokes, which made him all the more enduring.  He enjoyed the arts and embraced both the theatre and movies.  He appreciated the music of all genres.  His home in the rectory at Rye Beach was a place of quiet joy and contemplation and he enjoyed time spent there tremendously."
I knew him when he was young, but these words reflect the young man that I knew.
His funeral liturgy was held in New Hampshire this morning.  May he rest in peace.  Say a prayer for Father "Moe" Lavigne.

Monday, September 18, 2017

An enjoyable Lord's Day

     Following a day of feeling under the weather on Saturday, yesterday was a welcome change and a day of blessings.  First of all, the day was beautiful ... perfect weather, exceptional for this time of the year.  This entire week is supposed to be in the mid 80's and sunny.  Yesterday was a promise of the week to come.
     I have been attempting to attend Sunday Eucharist in a parish setting.  We have Mass daily at the Neumann House residence, but I look forward to celebrating with a vibrant parish worshipping community.  Yesterday I attended the 10:30 am Mass at Our Lady of Grace parish in Greensburg.  Father Dan Blout is the pastor, and the celebrant at the Mass was Father Ryan Ravis, one of our younger priests.  With the gracious okay of Father Ryan, I concelebrated the liturgy.  The parish has a transitional deacon from Saint Vincent Seminary assigned to them, and he assisted and preached.  He is Deacon Brother Martinho Zevallos, O.S.B., a native of Peru who is a member of the Priory of Sao Bento in Vinhedo, Brazil, finishing his studies at Saint Vincent.  He is an excellent preacher, and following ordination will serve the Church well as a priest.  With Father Ryan's prayerful leadership and Deacon Martinho's fine preaching, and the excellent singing and generous welcome by the community, I was uplifted.
     I returned for lunch and a bit of tv in the afternoon, before concelebrating Mass with Bishop Malesic and a number of our priests at the annual gathering of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society of the Diocese of Greensburg.   The Mass was followed by a great dinner that expressed the gratitude of service provided by the Vincentians of the Diocese.
     My evening involved a unique fundraising experience at Saint Vincent College for one of its exhibits.  It was the first of five "Historical Dinner Theater Presentations" at the Fred Rogers Center on campus.  About fifty people enjoyed a delicious dinner followed by a presentation by a master storyteller named Jonathan Kruk.  Mr. Kruk, in period dress and character, tells stories of Hudson River Lore.  He is the author of "Legends and Lore of Sleepy Hollow and the Hudson Valley", and has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning News.  He has a web site at www.jonathankruk.com.  He shared with us the story and legend of Rip van Winkle - truly delightful.  All in all, a perfect capping of an enjoyable Lord's Day.  

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A first for me

        Last evening (Tuesday, September 12th) I took a step into a radio ministry that exists in the diocese and the Western Pennsylvania area.  I shared a live program of "lectio divina" in the 8 to 9 pm time slot on WAOB-FM, locally 106.7 FM on the dial.  WAOB is "We Are One Body", a Catholic radio station that broadcasts out of their studio in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. 

     WAOB began in March of 2010 with the approval of the bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg.  They produce catechetical and contemplative programing, presenting the life of the Church in a way that makes the Mystical Body of Christ more apparent.   There are varied forms of prayer, teachings, discussions, Scripture studies and prayer services and liturgies.  You can find more info on WAOB at www.waob.org.

     Father Boniface Hicks, a monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, and his great staff at WAOB, encouraged and welcomed me to the broadcast family, and made last evening's program go very smoothly.  I was given four Scripture passages (each pre-recorded by another priest) and asked to share a short reflection upon three or four passages taken from each of those Scriptures, leading to a quiet moment of silence for reflection by the listener. All of this was done in quiet prayer, and with the enhancement of recordings of chant and song.  I had never shared this form of prayer before, and definitely never in the public forum, and I found it a wonderful experience of ministry.  I came away from the studio truly blessed.

    Father Boniface expressed a desire for further involvement on my part.  I will pray over that possibility, and look forward to ways of extending my ministry in this format.  And I thank Father Boniface and the staff of the radio station for their commitment and ministry.

     Years ago, and for nearly fifteen years, I had a small radio program entitled "That You May Believe" on WMBS in Uniontown.  It consisted of a short, ten minute reflection on the weekly Scripture.  I did the recordings at home (on cassette tapes - remember them?) and sent them in each week.  It was much nicer being in the studio at WAOB.  It was during that previous radio ministry that a very good friend of mine stated that I definitely "had the face for radio!"  He was, and still is, a very good friend.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Being part of the extraordinary

     One of the greatest challenges to our lives is complacency.  In every aspect of life, especially when things are going well, we feel complacent - and we tend to "go with the flow", to drift, to move into auto-pilot.   The temptation then is to relax, for all is as it should be.

     But is this the case?  When we pride ourselves with expressions of "peace and security", when the status-quo seems to be enough, we neglect the challenge to move from the ordinary to the extraordinary.  And when we fail to go beyond the norm, we open ourselves to the disaster that comes in the darkness of night, or the hardness of heart, or man's inhumanity towards others, or most deadly - unconcern regarding our relationship with the Lord and those that he places before us.

     Our first reading at liturgy today is found in 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-6, 9-11.  The author reminds us that we are different.  God did not destine us for wrath, but to gain salvation through Jesus Christ.  We are called to be extraordinary, to go the extra mile, to stay alert and sober.  Most importantly we, as family, are to encourage one another and build one another up in the name and spirit of Christ.  There is no place for complacency.  There is no drifting through life as if there is no urgency to our life situation.  There is no room for "going with the flow", for the time is now, is always NOW, to walk with the Lord and share in the blessing of his love.  We are to be encouragers of others, the strength of those who are weak, the surety of those confused, the hope to those deeply challenged.  This is our work.  This is our responsibility.  This is our gift to be shared with others.

     In these first two months of retirement I have found myself on auto-pilot at times, simply drifting into an ordinary routine, and allowing complacency to touch my life and ministry.  The task of encouragement and building others up in faith has not diminished, and neither has my desire to serve the Lord and his people.  I entrust my ministry to the deep and generous love of God. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Journey Home

      There is a great program on EWTN hosted by Marcus Grodi titled "The Journey Home".  It involves interviewing people who have had a moment of grace and conversion and have "come home" to the Catholic Faith.

    This past Sunday afternoon I took a journey home of a different sort.  I travelled to Uniontown to our family home to visit with my sister, Jane, and to stay overnight (my first "overnight" away from my new retirement residence since moving in).   Both Sunday and Monday were beautiful late summer days here in Western Pennsylvania, and the hour long drive home was relaxing.  We caught up with the news, went out for a good meal, watched some of the tube, and had a restful night's sleep.

     On Monday I took Janie to a doctor's appointment and we then decided to take a drive up into the mountains.  Our mountains in this part of the Commonwealth are not high, nor rugged, but older, tree covered and beautiful.  We headed to The Stone House, an old inn along Route 40 (The National Road), a route built in the early days of this country which followed paths and roadways that were established in the mid 1700's.
The Braddock Inn

     The Stone House was not open for lunch, so we went a few miles further and had lunch at The Braddock Inn, located adjacent to Braddock's Grave, an historical monument marking the death and place of burial of General Edward Braddock of the British forces in the New World.   General Braddock, who lived from 1695 to July 13, 1755 when he was killed in a battle between the British forces and those of the French and Native Americans near Great Meadows.  This was a part of the conflict known in this country as the French and Indian War (1754-1765) and in Europe as the Seven Years War between France and Brittan.  It was all about control of land and commerce rights in the wilderness of the New World.  Interesting history in this part of the world.

     General Braddock died in the arms of George Washington in his days when he worked for the British.  He was buried in an unmarked grave in the middle of the rough new road that was cut out the forest, so that his grave would not be found and desecrated in any way.

    So, our day was relaxing and enjoyable, our meals were great, and my journey home was, as always, a blessing.


     While the weather was beautiful in Western Pennsylvania over the weekend, it was anything but in Texas.  I encourage you to pray for those affected by the unbelievable flooding there, and if you are able, please be generous in your charity with your gift of help, in whatever way you feel called.  In our Diocese a special second collection is set to happen soon, and Catholic Charities always does an outstanding job of reaching out t those in need.  Please be generous.