Sunday, March 12, 2017

Seeing is believing

     We are bombarded with promises every day of our lives.  Whatever society or the next person is selling is presented by way of a promise.  You must see this movie or this program to fulfill your life.  You must buy this product to make you look beautiful or to help you feel better or to make you happy.  You can get rid of those wrinkles with this cream or you can improve your portfolio if you follow this advice.  You are promised the world by the world, and yet there are very few of those promises that endure the test of time or of trial.

     In the Book of Genesis today (Genesis 12: 1-4a) we are given a promise by the Lord that is too good to be true, that is hard to believe.  Because of his love for his people, and despite their sinfulness, God promises Abram that he will make of his descendants a great nation, to give them blessings beyond counting, even to bring blessing to those who bless them.  He says "All the communities of the earth will find blessing in you."  That promise continued throughout Israel's journey with the Lord, through Moses and the Law and in the prophetic word being shared with the people by the prophets.

     That promise was brought to completion when the Father sent the Living Word, Jesus, to be one with us in all things but sin.  Those who met him, who saw his love in action, who heard his words of comfort and mercy, knew that they were blessed.  Yet even his closest friends found themselves saying "This is hard to believe" and "This is too good to be true."  There was that lingering doubt, that uncertainty that undermined their faith.

     When Jesus took his friends, Peter, James and John to that mountaintop and was transfigured before their eyes, he sealed the deal.  When they saw their friend and companion in all of his glory, with his face shining like the sun and his clothes white as light, their faith was strengthened and affirmed.  When they heard the voice from the cloud acknowledge "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him", they laid aside their fears and doubts, and embraced their call to walk in his footsteps, proclaim the Good News, and show others that to listen to him, to follow him, is to embrace the promise of life eternal and share in the life and glory of God.

     Many years later, our Lenten journey invites us to live as Children of the Promise and listen to the Lord of Life.  Peter, James and John saw and believed.  Jesus assures us that "Blessed are those who have not seen, and who have believed."

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Our yearly inspection

     I had made an appointment today for my annual car inspection for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  In fact, my car is at the dealership as I write, for this annual ritual.  In our county, we are also required to have an emission sticker.  This annual rite of passage for the car is an attempt to make sure that the vehicle is safe and sound, and with the emission test, that we are not doing any harm to those around us.  A small price to pay for safety and security.

     Lent is just such a moment of personal and corporate inspection in our lives, both spiritually and physically.  It is that annual testing of the basic aspects of our lives of faith that give us an indication as to what work needs to be done, how much tuning is required, or whether we are in tip top shape.  Most of us need some form of overhaul - just as my car will need the oil changed, fluids checked, tired rotated, etc.  Through our prayer, fasting and charity we spend these next number of weeks tuning up our faith journey so that we can safely traverse the uncertainties of life.  And like, with my emission testing, we find out whether we are causing harm to others through our sinfulness and failures.

     Use this Lenten Season well!  No matter what the cost of the inspection, it will be well worth the time and effort in order that we may travel safely with the Lord.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

...loving him, and walking in his ways ...

    Entering upon this journey of renewal that is Lent, we are reminded by Jesus in today's Gospel that "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."   There are many paths to take, many roads to follow, and knowing the directions, where we are going and how best to get there, is essential to our safe arrival at our destination.  Map Quest and GPS help us on our more mundane travels, but the importance of our spiritual journey is too great to "wing it" or to rely upon earthly wisdom.  In the days before those directional aides, my Dad always hated driving in Pittsburgh - too many one way streets for his taste.  I explained to him that the key to getting to your destination if you make the wrong turn is to go around the block and try again.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not.

     Our spiritual GPS is given us in the Scriptures and in our faith.  Once we have made the decision as to our goal, the way is found in Christ - who is the way, the truth and the life.  Moses in the first reading today asks us to make the decision: life and prosperity or death and doom.  He says: "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  Choose life, then, that your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him."  And the way is laid out in the loving of the Lord, the heeding of his voice, and the holding on to him.  Lent is a renewal of our YES to life and our trust in the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  Choose life ... renew life ... live life!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Repent, and believe in the Gospel

" You are merciful to all, O Lord,
and despise nothing that you have made.
You overlook people's sins, to bring them to repentance,
and you spare them, for you are the Lord our God. "
Wisdom 11: 24, 25, 27
     These are the words of the Entrance Antiphon for the Ash Wednesday Liturgy.  On this day we begin the journey through the desert experience of Lent that will bring us to the life giving waters of baptismal renewal at Easter.  Our journey begins with our being signed with ashes, reminding us that in our human frailty we are nothing, and that through our sinfulness we have walked away from grace and have chosen the emptiness of death.  But that signing is embraced with a joy and a hope rooted in the promise of the Lord our God, who is most merciful and who loves all that he has made.  Lent is that moment of renewed trust is that promise and reliance upon his grace to do as we are reminded by the words spoken to us as we are signed:
     These next forty days are an opportunity to acknowledge our nothingness apart from God, the death that our sinfulness brings into our existence, and the love that God has for us as he entrusts his Gospel to our lives.  To believe and embrace that Good News of his love and to repent and transform and renew our lives of faith is what Lent is all about.  How we go about doing this in this great season is up to us, but we are given hints as to the direction to take.  The Collect for today's Mass says:
"Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting,
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint."
     In our Catholic culture of "giving up things" for Lent, I was struck by the words and the invitation above to rather enter into a "campaign of Christian service" in these next forty days that will bring us to grace and bring blessings to God's people.  Every day make a concerted effort to be of service to others in the name and spirit of Christ.   Walk in his mercy and love.  Be prepared to grow in the joy of the Lord.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

On the eve of Lent

     Today is Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday or "Fat Tuesday".  In some places it is a day of reckless abandon, of letting go in a celebration anticipating the coming of Lent, of one last chance to get it all in before the door shuts.  You don't have to go to New Orleans or Rio or some exotic place to celebrate.  In fact, I just splurged at lunch by having a delicious apple dumpling (with ice cream) following my sandwich.  I hope my doctor doesn't read today's post!

     Tomorrow we heed the words of the prophet Joel and proclaim a fast, call the assembly, renew and revise our journey through sacrifice and charity.  We will embrace a more Christ-like way of life, pay homage to the Lord with a generous spirit, share our giftedness with others, especially those in most need.  We will sacrifice, give alms, do more, pray, grow in the Spirit, and trust in the love of God for us.   We will do so in gratitude for the blessings received.

     This morning's first reading is from Sirach, and we find great encouragement to do the things that are so often done in Lent with joy and trust.  "Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously, according to your means.  For the LORD is one who always repays, and he will give back to you sevenfold."  Our Lenten actions and sacrifices express our awareness of how blessed we are. 

    I found the next line interesting, though.  Sirach continues: "But offer no bribes, these he does not accept!  Trust not in sacrifice of the fruits of extortion.  For he is a God of justice, who knows no favorites."  Is there an ulterior purpose to our sacrifice?  Do I sacrifice so that I can lose weight or get in shape?  Do I go the extra mile so that God can take notice and reward my efforts?  Can my extra prayers balance my ledger in a good way?  I think that the intentions of my actions speak louder than the actions themselves, and that my actions need only be an expression of my gratitude for blessings already received.  Lent will be simpler.  My sacrifice will be easier.  And everything that I have "given up" for the sake of Christ Jesus and the Gospel will be returned to me a hundred fold.   Happy LENT!

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."