Monday, February 20, 2017

Rejoicing with our neighbors

     Yesterday saw the fulfillment of a vision for one of our neighboring parishes, the completion of a sanctuary renovation that has been in the works for a long time.  That parish is Saint Agnes Church here in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.  The present church was built around 1980, and although there are some who lament the passing of the light oak laminate wooden altar and furnishings and the undersized crucifix (what we are used to is hard to let go of), there was need to update and beautify the surroundings, and to provide a more substantial and quality altar, ambo, font and furnishings.

     The parish, with the leadership of my classmate and their pastor, Monsignor Paul Fitzmaurice, contracted with New Guild Studio out of Braddock, Pennsylvania, to do the design and the work.  They have done a number of churches in our diocese, and I admire their work.

     The work has finally been done, and yesterday Bishop Edward Malesic of the Greensburg Diocese celebrated their 11:00 am l blessed the altar and sanctuary.  From what I hear, it was a beautiful and memorable event, with the bishop bringing his wonderful personal touch to such long ceremonies.  I have included a few pictures of the sanctuary and of the dedication for your viewing.





     My congratulations to the priests and people of Saint Agnes Parish on this milestone event, and to all of us ... a reminder that refreshment and renewal is part of the dynamic of spiritual journey, and can lead to our giving greater honor and glory to God.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Reflections from the Week - part 2

     Wednesday of this week was the memorial of Saint Josephine Bakhita, who was canonized on October 1, 2000, by Pope John Paul II.  There were four canonized that day in Rome, including Saint Katherine Drexel of Philadelphia.  I had the honor of being present that afternoon, having been on a trip to Rome, and shared in this moving moment within the Church. Thus Josephine Bakhita finds a special place in my thoughts today.  EWTN has a great two part program of her story which I recommend to your viewing.

     Her story, in short, began in 1869 in Sudan where she was raised in the Islamic faith.  She was kidnapped at the age of seven by slave traders and sold numerous times in human trafficking until the age of twelve, when she was purchased by the Italian Consul in the Sudan and brought to Italy, where she served as a nanny.  She lived with a group of women Religious, where she encountered the faith, was baptized, and was eventually granted her freedom.  She joined the Canossian Sisters and for twenty five years served as cook, seamstress and porter, sharing her joy and her music with the children that they served.  She died the year I was born, in 1947, after a long and painful illness, and was recognized for her holiness and joy. 

     In our day, when human trafficking and slavery, especially of the young in many places around the world is so prevalent, her feast is a day set aside to advocate for an end to such a barbaric practice and for legal dignity and protection for all.  The International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking is set on February 8th each year.  Pope Francis pointed out that this day falls on her feast, and said "this enslaved, exploited and humiliated girl in Africa never lost her hope, but persevered in her faith and ended up as a migrant in Europe where she heard the call of the Lord and became a nun.  Let's pray to Saint Josephine Bakhita for all migrants and refugees who are exploited and suffer so much."

Reflections from the week - part 1

     In our first readings for daily Mass in this Fifth Week of Ordinary Time, we moved to the Book of Genesis from the Hebrew Scriptures.  We began with one of the biblical stories of creation, and over two days we reflected upon the six days of God's creative love and the seventh day of His rest and enjoyment.  At the conclusion of each day's work, the Lord paused, looked at what was created, and the scripture  says that "God saw how good it was".  The Psalm on Monday was from Psalm 104, and the response was "May the Lord be glad in his works."  What God did was to share His very life and love.  His creative Word brought goodness and blessing.  The intended results provided joyful praise of God.  And all was good!

     As I heard those words again and reflected upon their truth, I was overwhelmed at how far we have strayed from the reality of that creative experience and how we have lost a sense of the truth of the goodness of God's creation.  We are bombarded with the negative.  Ugliness is a part of the human condition and has become normal.  Goodness has been lost to hatred, prejudice and envy.  We are divided and alienated, bitter and oppressed by hopelessness.  The good that can be found in our lives takes much diligence and requires a radical departure from ordinary life.  If God looks at us at this moment in history, can we imagine that He will look upon us lovingly and be able to say how good is that which He has created?  That He is glad in His works?

     We are called to love God and our neighbor.  We are offered mercy and forgiveness.  We are given grace and redeeming love.  And we are extended an invitation to be embraced by the loving arms of our savior and to be reassured of our inherent goodness.  For as the scriptures remind us ... when God created, when He fashioned us in His image and likeness, when He gifted us with a share in the divine nature, He saw that it was good ... and He took great delight in His work.
    

Saturday, February 4, 2017

A Change of Direction

     This blog has been about JOURNEY.  I have throughout my priesthood referred to our path in life as a journey that we make with the Lord and with those that he places in our lives.  My journey has involved ministry in priesthood, and I have sought to share my reflections on that journey in this blog.

     As I approach seventy at the end of May of this year, the early retirement age in this Diocese, I have contemplated making that decision.  My primary reason is because of health issues.  I have spoken of this often of late, and on January 4th, the Feast of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, our patron, I wrote to Bishop Edward Malesic expressing my desire to be considered for retirement this year.  In a letter that I received this past week, dated the 24th of January, he has granted me permission to retire from my pastorate and active ministry with the 2017 summer assignments.  The letter was received two days after I applied for Social Security (I waited until 70 to do so).  So these are consequential moments in my life, and I must admit, they are scary times.

     So, in the next four + months, in addition to Lent and Easter and all of the other normal things in parish life, I will be preparing for a major change in life.  Pray for me, and for the good people of this parish family.

     One of the joys of these last few years has been this outlet of "Journey Thoughts".  Even though I might have to change the subtitle to "Reflections of a retired priest", I intend to continue reflecting upon my/our journey into the mystery of the Lord's love.   So, at that bend in the road, my direction may change but my journey continues in the grace of God.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Catholic Schools - Richness and Tradition

     Catholic Schools week began in our diocese this weekend, and as a part of our celebration, our regional school, Queen of Angels, exhibited a display in the vestibule, had youngsters  serve as speakers at each Mass and greeters as people arrived.  They also handed out white ribbons to those who had attended a Catholic School.  Many people wore those ribbons, myself included.

     As I observed the many who took those ribbons, I began to recall the places in the diocese that had Catholic schools associated with their parishes that I was aware of.   Our part of God's kingdom is long in its history of ethnic parishes, small towns and moderate sized cities, and a distant past that was sometimes touched by an anti-Catholic bias.  Nearly all of our schools were parish centered, and many reflected the perceived need of a safe and Catholic centered environment.  A number of those parishes also hosted a parish high school.  Great sacrifices were made and the school became the focus of the parish.

     As I listed those schools in my head, I counted fifty-five parish schools in our diocese over the years (I'm unsure about two of them, so let's say fifty-three) and three private grade schools.  I counted at least eight high schools, with two of those private (Saint Vincent Prep where I attended and Saint Xavier Girls Academy in Latrobe run by the Sisters of Mercy).  And, of course, we have two Catholic colleges.  Presently we have eleven parish/regional elementary schools, three private schools, as well as the two junior high/high schools and Seton Hill University and Saint Vincent College.

     Changing times, changing demographics, better public schools, rising tuition costs, and a fading of the value of faith based education in the lives of our children have brought us to where we are today.  Our mission to Catholic School education continues to be challenging.  But what we possess is a rich blessing, what we offer to our youngsters is a strong program and a nurturing surrounding, and what we provide is a proclamation of the Good News and the values that flow from the Gospel message.  There is richness and tradition in what we do.  We are proud of those involved in that mission of Catholic School Education.  We showcase that this week during Catholic Schools Week.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Long March

     Forty-four years is a long time.  I will have been ordained a priest forty-four years this coming May 5th.  It seems like only yesterday ... and yet it seems like a lifetime.  Friday was the forty-fourth time that people of conscience and conviction gathered in Washington to march in protest of the Roe vs Wade decision of the United States Supreme Court made the previous January, and in recognition of the sanctity of human life and the dignity of every person.  This witness continues as if it is the norm for a late January gathering on the Mall in DC, and yet this witness speaks of an urgency that must address a decision based upon interpretations of laws and public opinion polls that stand in contradiction to our Scriptural and moral beliefs and the law of God.  Meanwhile, our moral fabric is being unraveled and our compass has lost its direction.

     Those in favor of Roe vs Wade prefer to be called pro-choice.  They claim that it is the right of the woman to choose whether to continue or terminate her pregnancy.  They use language and state polls that speak of the fetus as less than human.  They declare that the unborn have no legal rights.  And even if they would admit some potential rights, they would hold that their rights supercede any rights of the unborn.

     We, as people of faith, believe that life begins at the moment of conception.  We believe at that moment God creates in His image and likeness a unique human being that we hope will grow and come to term and be born into this world.  We believe that this unique human being is loved by God and is offered certain rights by our constitution ... including "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". 

      Whose right ... which right ... is greater than the other?  Is not the right to life first?  If a pregnancy is unplanned or unwanted, does the rights of the person bearing that child speak louder than the rights of the unborn child who is without voice?  Is that not where society has an obligation to speak for the defenseless?  Are we not obligated as a nation to defend life?

     These questions are not easy - thus the confusion and pain in so many lives.   But we believe in the sanctity of life, in the truth of divine law, and in the goodness of human beings.  That is why we march, year after year, in witness and in hope, that the law of the land may reflect the beauty and truth found in the law of God.   And we ask God's forgiveness as a nation for the estimated 55 million lives ended legally by abortion in these past forty-four years.   Friday also marked worldwide Holocaust Remembrance Day, remembering and asking for forgiveness for the six million Jews and Poles and others put to death in the camps without rights by those who claimed a superior right over them.  Do we ever learn our lesson?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Transitions

     On Friday, January 20th, our nation experienced the peaceful transition of power from the administration of President Obama to the administration of President Donald Trump.  The significance of this peaceful process of the transference of power, especially from one national party to another and following a less than peaceful primary and presidential campaign, is an indicator of the soundness of our political process and our great form of government.  Even with the protests and the marches and the negativity hurled at one president or the other, one party or the other, we must take pride in the success of our process of government.  And we must pray for our new president and his administration, for his success is our success and our great nation celebrates this gifted form of governance that the Lord provides.  I shared with our people at Mass this morning a portion of the prayer for the nation of Bishop John Carroll, the first bishop of the United States, which he penned in 1791.   The full text can be found in "Whispers in the Loggia" by Rocco Palma.  He shares it often at times of national observances, for which I am very grateful.

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     Recently we noted the death of Father Michael Scanlon, T.O.R. of the Franciscan University of Steubenville.  Father Michael lived a long and powerful life of service to the Church and touched the lives of countless people over the years.  His death at the age of 85 marks a transition that brings him into the full joy and heartfelt enthusiasm before the throne of the Lord that his life on earth exemplified, and that he invited everyone who heard his message to respond to in their lives.

     Father Michael's life of influence, education, law, the Franciscan Way, Church leadership, the Charismatic Renewal and the transformation of the small, local, struggling College of Steubenville into a world recognized center of Catholic Higher Education and spirituality at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, marks his service.

    I knew him in the middle of that journey, during the time he served as rector of Saint Francis Seminary in Loretto, Pennsylvania.  This was during my theology years at the seminary.  I was ordained in 1973, and he went to Steubenville in 1974.
Father Michael was yet to find his niche as a leader and transformer, and his move to Steubenville marked that transition.
It was during our time together that we were introduced to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal at a talk and subsequent prayer service at the seminary by the late Father Jim Ferry of New Jersey.
I would run into Father Mike at Charismatic events over the years, and followed his commitment to the renewal of the face of the earth through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  May he rest in peace.

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     We also buried one of our retired priests, Father Patrick J. O'Connor, also 85, who served our diocese faithfully for many years.  Father Pat was a quiet, unassuming man of warmth and kindness.  In his later years of retirement, Father Pat suffered from memory loss, and the ability to remember the relationships, the ministry, and the gentle love that he had shared with so many.  His transition through death leads to a renewed appreciation and celebration of the love that the Lord and so many have for him.  May he, too, rest in peace.