Monday, November 19, 2018

A surprise act of kindness

     Yesterday as I was returning from my hour long live program of scriptural reflections (lectio divina) on our local Catholic radio station WAOB [We Are One Body] 106.7 FM, I stopped at the local Eat & Park restaurant for a sandwich, fries and dessert.  It was late (9pm) and I had my trusty Nook with me so that I could read my latest James Patterson novel while eating alone.  I enjoyed the meal and the quiet, and as I was preparing to leave, a gentleman from the next table (there were two couples at the table) stopped me and said: "Let me have your check."  I said thanks but that wasn't necessary, but he insisted.  So I thanked him profusely, told them all "God bless you!", and with a grateful heart headed for home.  He even met me at the door and offered to hold the door for me as I backed out with my walker.  I am certain that he did not know that I was a priest - which made this act of kindness even more random and appreciated.  I did note that these four joined hands to pray before eating their meal … I overheard comments about church and the sermon, so I presume that they were people of faith sharing God's blessings.  I was blessed … and I am grateful to them and to so many who have touched my life over the years with their generosity.  It was a great way to begin this Thanksgiving week.


     Sadly our Diocesan family said a prayerful farewell to Father Micah Kozoil, one of our priests who just retired from active parish ministry this Summer.  Father Micah's funeral liturgy was celebrated this morning at Saint Aloysius Church in Dunbar, where he served as pastor until his retirement.   Father Micah served the Diocese and the Church for many years in a dedicated and committed ministry as shepherd.  He will be missed.

     Father Micah was ordained to the priesthood for the Benedictine Community at Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe in 1976 and served as a professor of mathematics at the college.  His vocational journey led him to join the Diocesan Community of the Diocese of Greensburg, where he was incardinated in 1994, serving in numerous parishes over these years.  He was a gentle soul who shared his faith and cultural traditions with those that he met.

       May Father Micah Rest In Peace!


     And on a final note for today … yesterday on facebook a friend of mine commented that he thinks that I have given up posting on "Journey Thoughts".  I may have slowed down a bit, but I have not given up.  So hang in there, dear friend, Mike Bates!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Responsible remembering

     At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in the year of Our Lord 1918 an Armistice was signed which brought to an end the hostility of the 1st World War.  Today marks the 100th anniversary of that moment when the fighting stopped and the eyes of all were directed toward world peace.

     That date has been recognized by various nations in many ways - Armistice Day … Remembrance Day … and in our nation as Veterans Day.  It has become a day of remembering, of honoring and hopefully of recommitment to the goal of peace on earth.

     World War I was the first major world conflict.  It was described as the "great war", the "war to end all wars".  The devastation through combat, with advancing weapons, and with the use of biological weapons caused all to have second thoughts as to the future of warfare.  There had been wars and conflicts probably from the beginning of time - and the magnitude of this war seemed to be a pinnacle of man's inhumanity to man - but the lesson was not learned.   It was not long before a greater war encompassed the entire world with staggering statistics that made WWI pale in comparison.  And wars have continued to this day, despite the resolve of many and the cries for peace.  We are incapable of bringing about peace because we do not know or possess the source of peace - Jesus Christ.

 This year's Remembrance Day Observance at the Tower of London
had 10,000 lights surrounding the Tower
The Remembrance Day Observance in 2014 had thousands of red
poppies surrounding the Tower.  The poppy is the
symbol of the fields of Flanders where many died

     Today is a day of remembering the tragic reality of war within the hearts of humanity.  Today is also a day of remembering those who stepped forward to lay their lives on the line for a common good, to serve their nations and the greater quest for peace and justice for all, not only in that "great war" but in all such struggles.   Today is a day of honoring their service and their sacrifice.   Today is also a day to resolve to renew our effort to bring about a lasting peace that is rooted in love and respect, a love and respect that we, as people of Faith, have already experienced in our relationship with God.   Saint Pope Paul VI in the early 60's visited the UN and spoke passionate words:  "War never again!  Never again war!"  The world listened but did not hear. The world leaders thought about it for a moment but dismissed it as a "pipe dream".  That "pipe dream" can only become a reality when we turn our hearts toward the Lord and are immersed in his love.  So today is a day of prayer for peace in the hearts of men and women and in the responsibilities embrassed by the world community.

     Remember … Honor … Pray … Serve the cause of peace.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The reality of facing death

     I began some reflections on death and new life with the last post as we entered into the month of November.  These recent days have had me/us facing the reality of death with different aspects of the eyes of Faith.
     As everyone knows, a week ago last Saturday six people were wounded (four of them first responders) and eleven souls lost their lives in a senseless attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Unlike Sandy Hook or Las Vegas or the small church in Texas a few years ago and too many other assaults on life, these good people were older, people of Faith gathered for worship.  They were remembered as having touched the lives of countless people in their families, in their professions, and in their close knit community.  Their tragic deaths on that Saturday morning is bringing about a sense of unity and peace as they are remembered with great affection by thousands.  God grant them rest!
     This past Saturday we celebrated the funeral liturgy for one of our International Priests serving the parishes of our Diocese. 

Father Arnel Aldave Estrella came to the Diocese of Greensburg from his home in the Philippines in March of 2015.  He was 52 years of age and has served as a priest for twenty-five years.  He died after a short illness, and is mourned by his Mom, Delia Estrella of Camaligan in the Philippines, his family and those who he has served both at home and in his new home here with us.  The funeral was held at Christ the King Church in Leechburg, Pennsylvania, celebrated by Bishop Edward Malesic and many priests and faithful.  His body is being returned home to the Philippines.  May the Lord bless this servant of God and bring comfort to those that he loves.  His death is seen in the light of his life of ministry and service to the Lord of Life. 
     Saturday also saw the funeral Mass for Margaret Fitzmaurice, the 95 year old mother of my ordination mate and fellow priest of the Diocese, Monsignor V. Paul Fitzmaurice.  Margaret was an outgoing and outspoken individual who raised her family and shared her Faith wonderfully throughout her lifetime.  Sad as her death is to her family and friends, it is seen as a loving embrace by the God that she loved and trusted.  Paul and his siblings and their families know that they have our prayers.
     Add to that the notice that I received over this weekend of the deaths of two men that I attended seminary with at Saint Francis in Loretto who were from the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese: Father Dan O'Neill and Msgr. Harold Biller.  I think Dan was buried on Saturday and Harold just yesterday.  Good men and servants of the Lord.

    My point is that death is all around is - in nature, in society, in family and in ourselves.  But death is not the end … it is, as the Scriptures tell us, a moment of transition, a movement into the true life given to us in baptism and through faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Whether that death is tragic, or unexpected, or reached after illness and old age, or anticipated as the years add up - death is our brother, as Saint Francis tells us, and he brings us to our true home.  That is why we pray that the faithful departed …


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Death leading to new life

     In these early days in November we are reminded of the reality of death.  How we deal with this reality is very much affected by our Faith in Jesus Christ.  For it is he that has conquered sin and death and promised us a new life that is eternal … God's gift to us, the children that he loves.   Here are a few reflections for this month of November dedicated to remembering the dead and celebrating the victory of Christ over death that we share in.

     Last evening we turned our clocks back and placed behind us Daylight Savings Time.  This means that this time of the year has the daylight hours lessening and darkness coming earlier in the evening.  I like the longer days and find this "time change" depressing.  I know that others disagree, but that's me.

     The trees are changing color and beginning to lose their leaves.  In our part of the country, this can provide for truly beautiful vistas.  Our colors this years are not as vibrant as other years have been.  But it is the beginning of the end of fresh growth and beautiful greenery and the harbinger of the death coldness and starkness of winter.  The road that we take in our journey of faith, straight or curvy, allow is to see the beauty of creation in its vibrant growth in Summer, in its colorful transition to dormancy in the Fall, in the bareness and death of Winter, and then the resurgence of new life in Spring.  Nature shows us what God has revealed … that there is a cycle to life, and our relationship with him involves life, suffering and dying, and death that leads to new life.
      November begins by honoring the saints.  The 1st is the Church's Feast of All Saints … acknowledging the Church victorious with her hero's and heroines who are recognized as holy.  It also reminds us of those who may not be acknowledged but who we know share in that Call to Holiness, and who have been marked with the Sign of Faith in death.  
The day before this great feast - All Hallows Eve - reminds us of all of the souls of the faithful departed, although it has been usurped into becoming a time of fright and darkness.  The days of Casper the friendly ghost and of harmless witches and goblins have given way to the walking dead, to zombie apocalypse, to Annabelle and Chucky, to blood and guts. Halloween is more popular than Christmas or Easter in this messed up world of ours.  Boy, do we have work to do in proclaiming the joy of the gospel.  
And then comes All Souls Day, a day of remembering and praying for those who have gone before us in Faith.  It is a time of acclaiming our trust in God's promise while cherishing the memories that we have of our loved ones.  This afternoon, in a tradition found in many of our parishes, I joined my sister in a Service of Remembrance at Saint Mary Cemetery in Uniontown where Mom and Dad and many of our relatives are buried.  And last Friday I returned to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton church for their Mass of Remembrance honoring those who have died this past year from the parish.  Having served as their pastor for over eight years, these were parishioners and friends whose lives touched mine in many special ways.  May they, and all of the Faithful Departed, Rest In Peace!  This month is a special time of remembering the dead in gratitude and love.  Use it well!


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Mea culpa

September 11, 2018

      The above date is the last time that I posted on "Journey Thoughts".  I am sorry!
     One of the beautiful aspects of ministry for me over the years has been the experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  There were many times when I would encounter someone who has been away from the Sacrament for a long time.  I usually would ask them if there was a reason for not approaching the Sacrament.  Sometimes there was … and you could address the issue or the fear and welcome them back to the Lord's embrace.  Most often it was simply a case of procrastination, no serious sin and despite the best of intentions not stepping up to the plate.  And as time goes on, there is the ongoing reluctance to admit the avoidance of the Sacrament and the embarrassment and fear of finally doing it.
     I would then ask them what brought them back.

     I feel like that embarrassed and guilty penitent in posting today, after so long a time.  My reasons involve a bit of laziness, or the condition of retirement.  But they also involve the ongoing and persistent situation of confusion and struggle that is a part of the sexual abuse crisis within the Church and among the clergy.  These have been trying times.  I can assure you that there were many days when the struggle of my thoughts and feelings tried to find words, but were all over the place.  I had many posts in my mind and heart in those days, and I apologize for not sharing them with you.  I have been kept busy with parish and sacramental assistance and with the "lectio divina" presentations on my WAOB Catholic radio programs.  But there is not an excuse for the hiatus in "Journey Thoughts".
     My reason for posting today is the feast of All Saints … the reminder that we are all called to holiness and that our journey in this Valley of Tears is one guided and watched over by a most loving God.   And it is time to once again share the hope that I find in this flawed but God-graced Church that is my/our Mother.

     I will endeavor to be true to this aspect of ministry in the future.
Pray for me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Days of Challenge

     Today is 9/11.  In our day it is a moment seared in our memories as we recall the events of September 11, 2001.  Our priests were on retreat that week, as we are this week.  The word came and we found a tv and were glued to it, not believing what was transpiring in New York, Washington, and very near us in Shanksville.  We stopped to offer Mass with the staff of our retreat center and to pray as we had seldom prayed before.

     The attack on 9/11 was for so many of us a crisis of faith and trust in our security.  It was a time of unbelievable sorrow and pain for countless thousands and heart-wrenching pain for the rest of us.  Anger filled our hearts and our emotions were running on empty.  It was the punch in the gut that doubled us over.   What would tomorrow bring?

     For an earlier generation, December 7, 1941, was such a day.  As FDR called it, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a day that will live in infamy.  The distance from Hawaii to us mattered little as we struggled with the events of that day and our subsequent entry in to WWII.

     In both of those moments of crisis we roused the best of our spirits and courage as a nation, and we took a knee in prayer to the Lord for his love and strength, his compassion and mercy, and for help in ways that we could not even put into words.  And we survived … and we regrouped … and we rebuilt and hopefully grew stronger.   And, as is so important, we remember.  When we forget, we falter and fall.

     As a Catholic, as a priest, as a member of the Church, I see August 14th's Grand Jury Report publication as our spiritual 9/11.  Let me assure you that I am not comparing this crisis within the Church to those other two devastating moments, but there are similarities.  
     The victims who suffered abuse at the hands of abuser priests have also died - in countless ways.  They have struggled and suffered with betrayal and self worth.   Memories are hard to heal, and healing can be illusive.  Add to that the mistakes of the Church in handling many of these situations, and Faith itself is often shaken.  They need our love and support, and most especially our desire for forgiveness from them for the failures of the Church.   We are that Church.
     The Church suffers from the attacks from both within and from without - from those hostile to religious faith and the institutional Church.  The suffering from within involves shame and failure to stand vigilant in preserving the dignity of every child of God.  Not only are the actions of the Church leadership called into question (which they rightly should be) but there is a calling of their motives into question - as if this were a planned, coordinated, sinister plot to not care about the victims.  I find this to not be the case, at least in my experience.
     As I have said before, the vast majority of our priests are faith-filled, faithful, loving servants of the Lord, whose love for those entrusted to them is deep and abiding.  We suffer when the priesthood is described as being vastly predatory and we are labeled by association.  And to those who have been falsely accused in the past or whose accusations have not been substantiated, there is a feeling of abandonment.  We used to say that you were innocent until proven guilty.  That is a thing of the past.
     And as I said in my last post, the Lord requires that we pray for our persecutors, that we love our enemies, that we forgive as the Lord has forgiven us.  This is the most difficult, most challenging aspect of being loved by Christ.  He died for us, but he died for all of us - sinners and saints alike.  And he promised to be our strength as we pray for those who have sinned against us.  Only then can we begin to heal, can we begin to rebuild, can we begin to reflect the glory that is ours as Children of God - redeemed and sanctified in the Blood of the Lamb.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A Call To Prayer

      Three weeks ago today the PA Grand Jury issued its report on child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in six dioceses over the last seventy years.  It was a blistering and sobering report that has been heard around the world.  These three weeks have been for me a whirlwind of emotions and sorrow, but also a time of strengthened Faith.  The darkness of this moment of facing our sin and failures as individuals and as Church will give way to the bright promise of grace and future immortality for those redeemed by Christ.

     Remembering that the Church  was instituted by Christ to bring grace, and that the Church consists of all of the Children of God, united with Christ as one body, guided by shepherds that he has chosen, some of whom have sinned grievously against his people and led by others who have made grave mistakes, we are a family in need of tremendous forgiveness and healing.  We must be in an attitude of total submission to the mercy and grace of God so that renewal and restoration may help us heal and be strong.  
    The response of our diocese has been thoughtful, reasoned and sincere.   More needs to be done ... and will be done.  But the Lord has laid it upon my heart that what we also need is a grassroots response of prayer - a "call to arms" or rather a "call to take a knee".   Every single Catholic and those of our brothers and sister from other Faiths who will join us need to beseech heaven for forgiveness and healing within the Body of Christ.   I believe that we need to pray for four things in particular: a) for the victims of abuse both within the Church and in society at large [this is a crisis much larger than the Church] ... they have suffered greatly and have had their trust betrayed; b) for the Church, the People of God, who are also suffering and are confused and struggling to understand this failure to their trust; c) for the overwhelming majority of good and faithful priests who have and continue to serve the Lord and his people with unwavering fidelity, including those whose accusations are unsubstantiated; and lastly [and this is the hard part, but necessary if we are to be faithful to Christ] we need to pray for those men who have sinned and for those who have made mistakes in dealing with them, for Christ has come to call not only the saint, but the sinner as well.

     Since we saw "our cross" on a Tuesday, Might I suggest making Tuesdays a day of pray and fasting for healing and forgiveness.  Go to Mass that day, if possible, or spend time before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer.  Pray the Rosary for these specific intentions, or the Divine Mercy Chaplet or the Liturgy of the Hours.  Fast.  Intentionally endeavor to meet the needs of the poor and lonely.  

     How long should we respond in this way?  It will take more than the commitment of a week or two ... it may take a lifetime for hurt to give way to forgiveness and healing find completion.  But we need to begin NOW!

     And as we say as we address Mary in her prayer: "... pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death."  Amen