Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Revealed Truth

     Today the Church celebrates Mary's visit to her cousin, Elizabeth.  Mary had just been visited by the Angel Gabriel who announced that she was to be the mother of the long awaited Savior.  Her YES, her FIAT, prompted the Holy Spirit to come upon her in pure love and she conceived a child.  She was told that her cousin, Elizabeth, who lived in the hill country, was also with child (in her sixth month).  Mary went to visit, to help, to discuss God's workings within their lives, to pray.

     The gospel of Luke tells us that "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb..." and Elizabeth said "...how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy."

     John, Elizabeth's unborn son, recognized the presence of the unique God/man, who would be called Jesus, newly conceived in the womb of Mary, and he leaped for joy.   Both John and Jesus, as well as each of us, from the moment of conception, is a unique human being, created by God for a purpose and set on a journey that will give honor and glory to God.  Contrary to modern interpretation and thought, history holds that life begins at the moment of conception ... not just a tissue life, but a unique human life that should, that must be protected.  And they wonder why we are so adamant about life issues.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

     Today is Memorial Day in this great nation of ours.  It is a day that allows us to REMEMBER - to honor the men and women who over the years have gave their last full measure of devotion to the cause of freedom and security, those who have died in defense of this nation and the greater cause of freedom in the world.  It was called "decoration day" because it was an opportunity to decorate the graves of the veterans.  At the Irwin/North Huntingdon parade and service this morning I mentioned that the day was about the wisdom and the blessing of remembering.  We expand that celebration to include all veterans who have died, and by extension, all of those who have and do serve.

     Memorial Day has always been special for me.  I enjoyed the parades and the flags, the "day off" and the picnics (at least until they moved the holiday to the nearest Monday).  But the 30th was the day.  The reason was that that was the day I entered into this world back in 1947.  Memorial Day was a memorable day for my mom and dad.  On this 64th birthday, I marvel at how quickly time has flown.  I rejoice in the love that has come my way over these years.  I thank God for his countless blessings.

     I have included a picture that may bring a smile - me at 2 months.  Boy, was I cute then - not sure what has happened.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Summer has arrived

     Yesterday saw the graduation of our local High School Seniors at Norwin and our local Greensburg Central Catholic Seniors.  It also saw the last day of the school year.  Other districts have or will be graduating and ending soon.  Summer is here, and most are glad.  Although at our Queen of Angels teachers' luncheon yesterday, one of the teachers shared the number of days until school opens (talk about dedication).

     We hope that the youngsters have a safe and relaxing Summer.  We hope that their parents do the same, but with an extra prayer thrown in for patience and deeper parental love.  And we hope that our teachers refresh and renew themselves over these next few months.  Summer is about recreation, which is "re-creation".  I spoke a few posts ago about my church history prof, Father Anton Fyer.  When the term ended, he would take his notes, rip them up, spend the Summer relaxing and renewing, and start fresh with the new term.  I always gave him credit for such behavior.

     When I was younger, even in the earlier days of priesthood, it seemed as if the pace slowed during the Summer months.  There was time to relax and unwind.  Even with the normal things going on, there was  a difference.  However, for me at least, that feeling is long gone.  The pace continues, the needs are ever present, the crisis mode still rules our lives, and Summer will be over before you know it.  Too bad.  Summer is a great time.

     Enjoy your Summer.  Make time for re-creation, because the renewal of our lives is what our Faith is all about.  And, since the kids are out of school, remember to drive extra carefully.  Have a great  Memorial Day Weekend.


     ps.  To the comment made to yesterdays post "Opps", I can attest that the Christian Mothers were indeed "Christian" mothers, and I am very grateful for their understanding and forgiveness.

Friday, May 27, 2011


     Did you ever have one of those moments when your mind went blank?  Or did you ever completely forget something important, without even that nagging feeling that there is something that I should be doing?

     Our women's group at the parish is the Christian Mothers.  They are a great group of ladies who work hard and are very committed to the parish.  Whatever we need, they are always there.  It would be impossible to count the number of cookies baked and served, the gallons of punch and lemonade and coffee poured, the prayers offered and led, the monies raised for many causes.  They are dedicated and a wonderful asset to the life of the parish.

     I serve as their chaplain.  Their expectations of me are minimal.  I am always welcome at the meetings although I am not often there, and they are understanding.  We have an opening year's Mass with reception of new members and a closing Mass with installation of new officers.  I am usually at the card parties to greet people and hand out prizes and at the Mary Luncheon.  They are always supportive and extremely kind.

     Tonight was the Mass to close the year and to install the new officers.  It was followed by a wine and cheese social.  I missed it!  It completely slipped my mind, and even though I remember now seeing it in the bulletin and having it marked in my calendar, I was nowhere in sight.  I feel terrible.  And to add to my guilt, I had joined my sister, Janie, at the Meadows in Washington, PA (for those not from the area, the Meadows is one of our local casino's).  To add insult to injury, I was losing money on the slot machines rather than celebrate with the Christian Mothers!  I rarely go to the casino.  Did I blow that one.  By the time I got the frantic message, it was too late to get back.

     I deeply apologize to the ladies of the Christian Mothers, to the social committee and those in attendance tonight, especially to our outgoing officers, and most especially to our new officers.
Mea maxima culpa!!!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A great teacher - history

     When I was in elementary school and even high school I hated history.  The memorizing of dates and events seemed meaningless to me.  I saw little value and had no interest.  Even in theology at Saint Francis Seminary church history was boring - not because of the content, but because our professor was a grand old priest (Father Anton Fyer) whose presentation methods were less than enthusiastic.  It took a great deel of effort to immerse yourself into the material and come away excited, and I often failed.

     But as time has gone on I have found myself becoming a part of history [ where were you when? or Do you remember what it was like when? ].  History became much more important to me as I saw myself a part of it.  With history so often repeating itself, I fail to learn my lesson if I neglect the story of history.  This was enhanced in the early 90's when I found a growing interest in the American Civil War.  It was then that I realized how much I had learned and absorbed over the years as history touched my life, and how rich I was to have come to know that history.

     Today the Church honors a saint that I remember hearing about in English literature - Bede, the Venerable.  Bede lived in England between 672 - 735 and was a monk of great learning.  He wrote many books on many subjects, but is best known for his work "The Ecclesiastical History of the English People".  He shared the story of the growth of Christianity from the time of Caesar's armies in Britain to his own time.  He made history, even Church history alive and important.  It was like Paul and Barnabas and the others who went to the Apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem to tell the story of how God was at work through them in the spreading of the message of the Gospel.  This living history lesson opened hearts and minds to a greater work that the Lord had in store for the Church, the work of the Good News shared with the Gentiles.

    I thank God for the desire to learn from the past and to move forward in wisdom and grace.  I thank God for the history of the world (not Mel Brook's version).  I thank God for the ecclesiastical history of the People of God, with its ups and downs, which proves the continued working of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The end of the world ... again?

     Last Saturday there was the prediction of the end of the world.  It did not come to be.  Many joked about it, some were concerned, and still others, I'm sure, panicked.  Today seems as if those predictions are surfacing again, this time in our local Catholic School family.  I just received a series of emails to and among the Board of Trust Administrators (the pastors) regarding dissatisfaction, concerns, and mutiny among the ranks of the school families.  There are some who want to or are threatening to "abandon ship".  There are several issues that must be addressed, and will be addressed.  There are several challenges to the program that fall into this category as well.  But now, at the end of the term, they are surfacing and attention is being demanded.

     I am not getting into those issues in this forum, but I mention them because some of the school community may be reading.

     As disciples of Christ, as Church, we are called to be united in our Faith, to place our trust in the redeeming power of God, and to stand by each other in order that the problems of this world and the sin of our lives may be dispelled by the light which is Christ.  In the Acts of the Apostles this morning (Acts 14:19-28) Paul and Barnabas found themselves put upon and persecuted, rejected and left for dead.  It was only through the support and prayers, the encouragement and trust of the disciples that Paul got to his feet and Barnabas had the courage to tackle the problems.  It was their unity, their oneness of purpose, their Faith that got them through the worst.  They did not leave Paul and Barnabas alone to solve the problem, but rather, with one mind and heart, with love and courage, they faced the hurdles together.

     As we are reminded of this experience of the early Church, and as we face our own demons, let us not be afraid to stand together to create a better world.  I pray that our school family will see the wisdom of doing just that.  For those not of that community, say an extra one for us.  What we have is good - better than good.  The problems can be dealt with.  Patience, civility, pride and love are the ingredients necessary for resolution.

Monday, May 23, 2011

This is not what we thought

     Sometimes we jump to conclusions and, impressed with what we saw or heard or experienced, we come to the wrong decision and miss the boat.  Paul and Barnabas in Acts fled to Lystra and Derbe where they proclaimed the Good News.  In sharing the healing power found in the mercy of God and announced by the Good News, Paul and Barnabas gained instant notoriety.  They were the new rock stars of the day, the Lycoanian idols, the heroes and super stars.  So much so that the locals thought for sure that the gods had come to visit.  They called Barnabas "Zeus" (the father of the gods) and Paul they called "Hermes" (the voice and spokesman of God).  They were hailed by the people and sacrifice was offered to them.

     To say that Paul and Barnabas were shocked and beside themselves is an understatement.  Satisfying as it is to momentarily have the accolades, they knew that those accolades were misplaced.  Their power came from the God who shared his Son, Jesus, with them.  In fact, it was in the Name of Jesus that these good things happened.  It took everything they had to turn the crowds attention to the Lord.

     In these moments of instant gratification, of our fifteen minutes in the limelight, in the attention getting experiences of life, we need to be deeply rooted in who we are and what we have been given; in why we have been so gifted and have our words and actions focused upon the Risen Lord.  We may find those around us saying ... "this is not what we thought - not what we expected", but we will be able to point them in the right direction.  Or, we can be caught up in the glory of the moment.  May Wisdom guide us.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A vocation story

     Recently I spoke with a parent who expressed concern and embarrassment over the expressed desire of their seven year old.  It seems that she, at that tender age, said that someday she wanted to be a nun, a sister.  The parent, while proud of her, was concerned that she might be made fun of or ridiculed ... and at the same time was embarrassed that they felt that way.  A Religious vocation is a wonderful calling, and at whatever age should be presented as the blessed opportunity that it could be.  But this young lady has a long way before the Lord's Call becomes clear.  I told the parent to be supportive and to love their child.

     The vocation story that I would like to tell, though, is mine (abbreviated version).  My earliest recollection of wanting to become a priest is around kindergarten.  Like many kids of my generation, I played priest.  I am reminded that I often shared the Rite of Sprinkling in my Grandma's back yard (central walk, blanket as cope, clothes pin as sprinkler).  I was inspired by the priests at our parish of Saint Joseph in Uniontown, especially Father Charles Kobylarz, our pastor, and a series of good priests who served as Assistants, including for many of those years Father (later Bishop) Norbert Gaughan.  My religious upbringing was not overly pious, but was rooted in strong Faith.  My folks never pushed, but were always supportive.  The Sisters in school always encouraged vocations [and I must admit, they took a special interest if they thought you were going to the seminary].  And many from our parish went to seminary.

     As I said in a previous post, I went to the Minor Seminary after the 8th grade, entering Saint Vincent Prep School in Latrobe at the age of 13.  We were the first class of all priesthood students (prior to that it was a regular Prep school).  There were 21 in our class studying for the Diocese of Greensburg, with the rest of the class studying for the Benedictine Order.  More on those years at another time.

     My vocation story began more than fifty years ago.  The important point today is that I was inspired, encouraged, supported, loved and respected at every step along the way.  My folks never pushed, always respected my decisions and needs, and loved me.  And I know they were very proud.  My sister, Janie, continues to do the same.  The Call is from God, echoed by the Church, strengthened by the Spirit, and sustained by the People of God.

     As we hear in the Scriptures this Sunday, to whatever vocation we embrace, we are all called to be "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that we may announce his praises".  This is our baptismal Call.  I just shared that same Baptismal Call with a little one - Olivia Arlena Petroy.  Say a prayer for her and her parents.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

An instrument of salvation

     The Word of God is life giving.  Freely given by the Father to those that he has chosen, it invites us to enter into the Life of God, be transformed, and become a light to the world around us.  This gift was meant for those first chosen as God's very own people, but later expanded to include all who were destined for eternal life.  Some gladly accepted that Word, others could not, still others were inspired but weak, and still others were resentful that the truth would be shared with everyone.

     In today's reading from Acts (Acts 13:44-52) this truth is revealed in the actions of the early Church.  The results were rejoicing by some, persecution inflicted by others.  Not everyone hears the truth or understands it clearly.  But for those that do, those who lay aside their fears or prejudices, those who open mind and heart to the gift of God - awesome things happen.  Jesus assures us in the gospel of John (Jn. 14:7-14) that "whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father."  All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God, and so we rejoice.


     If you have watched the news or read the paper, there are some that predict that the world will end today.  I hope that you are ready.  There have been such predictions since the beginning of time, and people have lived in fear and dread for all too long.
     Jesus assures us that no one knows the day nor the hour, only the Father.  Rather than dwell on the "end", dwell rather upon living out your relationship to God through his Son, Jesus Christ.  There is no need to run away in fear, or lock ourselves up for protection.  If we live our lives deeply in love with the Lord, then whenever the "end" comes, it will be a wonderful experience of coming home and basking in his love.
     So, if it happens, we'll see you at home ... and no post tomorrow; and if it doesn't - we"ll see you in church for Mass.  Whatever happens, we will be with the Lord and sing his praises.

Friday, May 20, 2011

How can we know the way?

     One of my favorite passages in John's gospel is the reassurance of Jesus to his friends to "not let your hearts be troubled", but to have faith in God and faith in Him.  He reassures them that He has a place for them and that they need to follow Him.  Then Thomas says "Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?"

     The response of Jesus is what we have been hearing the last few weeks in a clear and specific way.  Jesus said "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."  We heard last Sunday that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, he knows his sheep and his sheep know him ... that he is the gatekeeper, no one enters who is a thief or a robber, only those who are invested in the sheep ... that he is the gate itself, the narrow way by which we come to know, love and serve the Father.  He is the center, the heart of our relationship with the Father.  He is our ALL.  He is the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through him.

     How can we know the way?  Simple - know, love and serve Jesus as Lord and Savior, friend and brother.  That is what Paul spoke of in Pisidia in Acts 13:26 - 33 today when he says that "what God has promised our fathers he has brought to fulfillment for us, his children, by raising up Jesus ..."  Jesus is the center of our lives.  Live accordingly.


     As I did a few weeks ago, I would like to acknowledge and welcome to the Table of the Lord those of our second group who received their First Holy Communion last Sunday, May 15th.  They are Ricco Ciccarelli, Nathaniel Fetsick, Kylie Morgan Mihalov, Nolan Mullen, Hannah Nelson, Carissa Novotny, Christian Petroy, Joseph Rush, Natalie Shuster, Rachel Sullivan, Conor Thornton, Trey Wilson, Seth Yanosko and Kayla Young.  We look forward to seeing them at the Table often, and we offer our congratulations and prayers.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

8th Grade Graduation - remembering

     Last evening at our church the Queen of Angels Catholic School family celebrated the 19th Graduation Liturgy in the history of the Regional School.  Father Joseph Armamento of Saint Agnes parish was the celebrant and Father John Moineau of Immaculate Conception preached.  With family and friend joining them, our graduates celebrated this milestone in their lives with prayer, food, memories and fellowship.

     The class of 2011 was small but mighty, one of the smallest in the history of the school.  They numbered ten - three boys and seven girls.  As Father John pointed out, they are the top ten of their class, but more importantly, the top ten of the school family.  Our congratulations go out to Therese Mary Baker, Meghann Leigh Bornak, Brandon Fiume, Hannah Moran-Funwela, Brittany Marie Gray, Rebecca Horchar, Sierra Mathos, Lea Rose Moffatt, Lee Michael Samulski and Erika Marie Totaro.  They looked so grown up, and yet so young.

     It brought back memories of my eighth grade graduation - fifty years ago!  I had attended Saint Joseph Catholic School in Uniontown since kindergarten  Taught by the Holy Ghost Sisters of West View in Pittsburgh and a few lay teachers, and guided by our pastor Father Charles Kobylarz and a number of Associate priests, our graduation was on June 18, 1961.  I have included a class picture of the event, with Father Charles and Father Anthony Wozniak (on the right & now retired), the Assistant Pastor.  Yours truly is in the back row, third on the right.  I can't remember much of that day, except the mixed feelings of leaving a place of comfort and security yet with the happiness of moving on.

     For me it set the stage for a great adventure.  That Fall I left home for the high school seminary at Saint Vincent Prep in Latrobe with residence the following year at Saint Joseph Hall in Greensburg.  I had never been away from home.  The practice of high school (and even college seminary) has gone by the wayside [thank goodness], yet I never regretted the move or the experiences.  Who I am today was impacted greatly by the priests, the Sisters, and my teachers at Saint Joseph School.  I hope that last night's graduates can have the wisdom to say the same fifty years from now.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Faithful Service

     Every Diocese celebrates the major milestones of priestly ordination, and today is that day for the Diocese of Greensburg - Priests' Jubilee Day.  Later on today at the Bishop Connare Center, Bishop Lawrence Brandt and hopefully Bishop Bosco, our retired bishop, will gather with the priests for Mass and a dinner to honor the significant anniversaries of 55, 50, 40, 35, 30 & 25 years.  In years past we honored 25, 50 & above at this gathering, but we are getting to be so few in number that they have expanded to include those other years.  Fourteen men will be recognized, with years of service totaling 570 years.

     Those celebrating 55 years of priesthood today  are Father Walter Bratus and Monsignor John Conway, both retired.  Celebrating 50 years are Fathers Elmer Kacinko and Joseph Minsterman and Monsignor John Regoli, all retired but active.  Still in active ministry and having their 40th are Monsignor James Gaston and Fathers Ted Kaczmarek and Emil Payer.  Ordained 35 years are Fathers Vince Gigliotti, Jim Goldberg and Micah Kozoil, with Monsignor Michael Begolly and Father Paul Lisik celebrating 30 years.  And finally, Father Dan Blout is celebrating his 25th anniversary.  We thank them for their faithful service, and wish them many more happy years.

     This past Sunday was "Good Shepherd Sunday" and a day of prayer for vocations.  That is a great reason to celebrate their service and priesthood.  Thanks, guys!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Not a hired hand ... not a performer

     Sorry I missed Sunday's post.

     Yesterday and today in the Gospel of John we hear Jesus describing Himself as the good shepherd, as well as the sheep gate and the guardian of the gate.  He makes it very clear that He is not a "hired hand" who simple has a job to do and has little invested in the sheep.  He is the good shepherd, who knows His sheep, and they know Him.  He is invested ... He has laid it all on the line for them.  What love and commitment.  This is why the Father loves Him, because He freely lays down His life in order to take it up again.  And He does so out of love.  We rejoice that He is our shepherd.

     Yesterday at the 8:30 am Liturgy, the Young Voices (our young people's choir) sang for the final time before the summer break.  They are outstanding.  I mentioned at the end of liturgy that their name was misleading - Young Voices.  Young sometimes gives the connotation of "immature" or "unseasoned".  These voices are far from young in that sense.  They are wonderfully mature.  And they bring such life and vitality to our worship, lifting our hearts and opening our mouths to sing with them the praises of God.

     The choir is ageless.  From the youngest through alumni who return to join them to adults who lend musical accompaniment.  Everyone gets their turn.  Voices, organ, keyboard, flute, guitar, trumpet, sax, drums, hand bells, base and other varied instruments add to the mix.  Yesterday's communion meditation was an Ave Maria sung by Lindsay Mikash (an alum) backed by the entire choir - in Latin - that was awesome.  We are so blest.

     They are under the direction of Diana Mikash who also leads our Funeral Choir.  She inspires with her enthusiasm and vibrant Faith.  Assisted by Marion Siebert and Rob Lynch as keyboard and organ accompanists and assisted by Julie Henry on flute, Diana, too, is a blessing.  Yesterday we acknowledged two graduating Seniors - Kayla Ciongoli and Stephanie Cowles - who are integral to the choir.  We wish them the best.

     Diana, her helpers, the youngsters - none are simply "hired hands", none are simply "performing".  They are joyful ministers of the love of God for each of us, and we give thanks in abundance for them.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Second Round Draft Pick

     Did you ever have the experience of being passed over in a selection process, only to be chosen later to fill a vacancy?  In high school I, because of my vast athletic prowess (my tongue is very much in my cheek), would often be passed over when the intramural team captains were choosing their players.  Only later in the selection process was I tapped.  Oh, there were those rare occasions when someone might feel sorry for me and place me on their team.  The only small football trophy that I possess was because I ended up on the team of the super athlete of the school.  Despite me, we won.

     Matthias was one of the disciples of Jesus who had been there from the beginning, had witness the death and resurrection of Jesus, sat at his feet listening and learning, and being filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  Yet, when The Twelve were chosen, he was passed over.  I'm sure it had nothing to do with who he was.  The Twelve were chosen to be the shepherds, to be the foundation of the Church.  Like the twelve tribes of old, they spoke of completion, of firmness, of stability.  They were not better than the others, but they were chosen to be the leaders.

     But then came Judas and the confusion of his heart and his betrayal of the Master.  It left an incompleteness that needed to be filled, a weakening of the stability that the Church required.  He needed to be replaced.  So they selected two, prayed, then cast lots.  And Matthias was chosen in that "second round draft".  I wonder if he ever had the thought: "I wasn't good enough the last time, why now?"  Probably not, because it was the Spirit who chose, and it was based on anointing rather than voting.  Matthias, whose feast is today (May 14th) filled the gap with courage and conviction, witness and faith.  He is celebrated.

     So, if you are ever second choice, or third, or whatever ... remember Matthias, and embrace him as your patron.  But remember whose shoes he was called to fill - Judas.  I doubt if you would be called to follow a traitor.  Matthias did, and transformed the stigma by faithfully taking his place among The Twelve.


     Tonight I attended the wedding reception of a friend.  At the beginning, my friend spoke to his daughter in what was a great homily.  Not only did he speak of love and commitment in the newlyweds journey of a lifetime, he reminded them of WHO walks with them and how important HE is to them.  They were good words of faith and love.  Thanks Dave ... and congratulation Maria Kent and John William Burwinkel, III., blessed in the Sacrament of Marriage this afternoon.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Where were you?

     I'm just getting in under the wire for Friday, May 13th.  The server was down for about thirty some hours, and then I got side tracked, but here it is.

     Today (May 13th) is the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, recalling the apparition of the Blessed Virgin to the three children in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.  Those apparitions when the world was on the brink of a world war placed the Church at the forefront of a powerful influence of prayer and trust in the mercy and providence of God.

     Thirty years ago on this date, in 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot in Saint Peter's Square on his way to the weekly audience.  It was another of those terrible days when you ask yourself - Where was I and what was I doing?   For me, I was in Philadelphia attending the meeting of the diocesan liaisons to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.  I was the local liaison at the time.  We were shocked ... and we prayed for the Holy Father.  That was the night for our tour of the town and night out, but we gladly stayed at the retreat house and remained in prayer.  It will be a day that I remember well.

     Where were you ... and what were you doing?  A short post today and back to the regular posting tomorrow.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Faith in Action

     Putting our Faith into action is the challenge of all God's People.  It is not enough that we believe, we must allow that belief to guide and direct our actions so that we can give witness to the transformation that is happening within us and pledge to build a better world at the direction of the Divine Guide.  Witness is the key word and the primary action of our lives.

     FAITH IN ACTION is also the name of a service program in our area that has as its goal "enhancing the quality of life for people 60 years and older by providing companionship and assistance."  Our local group is called "Brush Creek Area Faith in Action" and is under the direction of Teri Whalen, the Program Director.  I serve on the Steering Committee.  Faith in Action is under the umbrella of the United Way of Westmoreland County, and is impartnership with business, nonprofit and interfaith community leaders.  The program provides volunteer companionship and assistance to help seniors remain living in their homes and communities, independent and healthy.

     Types of services provided include: appointment escorts, handy person/minor repairs, telephone reassurance calls, caregiver relief, yard work/gardening, errands/shopping, referral assistance, supportive visits, and home safety checks.

     Why this service here?  Pennsylvania has among the highest percentage of aging population in the Country with being 65 or older; Westmoreland county rate is 18%; and the Irwin/North Huntingdon area comes in at 25%.  We are aging, and aging fast ... and the need continues to grow.

      I mention this today because this evening the Brush Creek Faith in Action is hosting an appreciation gathering for volunteers and those involved locally.  Our gratitude for such an organization, and our special thanks to the many volunteers involved who are the backbone of this work, and the wonderful clients that permit us to help them.  It allows us to put our Faith into action.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Difficult Choices

     We all have choices to make in our lives.  On occasion they are easy, but more often than not they are difficult.  I am in the process of making two determinations that are far from easy.

     The first involves a scholarship awarded to a graduating High School Senior from each of the three local parishes. There are criteria established for the decision to be made.  From our parish we had four applications.  My task was to review the info submitted and to select the awardee.  I sought the assistance of a few others, but the decision was mine.  The problem is that all of the kids are great, they are involved in the parish, and they have great plans for the future.  I have made my choice, and will this morning be sending notifications to the applicants.

     The second involves the hiring of a new staff person for the parish.  I have three applicants, all of whom are qualified, all of whom are great people, and all of whom want the position.  But I can only hire one.  That decision must be made by the end of the week, and it is a difficult one.

     So, you look at the people involved, you look at their qualifications, you look at who might best suit the circumstances, and you pray.  Yours truly does not like to offend or disappoint anyone, and yet, it is inevitable.  Say one for me as I made this important decision.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

An Inspiration

     Today the Church celebrates the feast of one of her heroes, Damien Joseph de Veuster of Moloka'i in Hawaii.  Damien, who ministered in the mid 1800's  to those suffering from Hansen's disease (leprosy), is remembered for his love and compassion, his courage and determination, and his gift of priesthood and presence.  He was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

     I remember as a kid reading the story of Damien and being inspired.  He was born in Tremelo, Belgium on June 3, 1840 and died on Moloka'i, Hawaii on April 15, 1889 at the age of 49.  In between he entered the Congregation of the Sacred Heart in Louvain, Belgium, and was sent to Hawaii, were he was ordained in Honolulu on May 21, 1864.  In 1873 he volunteered to go to Kalaupapa, the leper colony on the island of Moloka'i.  People lived in fear of leprosy (now treatable and no threat) because of contagion, so those who were incurable they sent to this isolated colony of over 800.  He fought for improvements in sanitation and living conditions, food and medicine, and provided for their spiritual guidance as well as trying to establish some law and order.  He suffered rejection and hostility from the outside, but became much loved by his people.  In 1885 as he was preaching at Mass, he began by using the phrase "we lepers ...", thus indicating to his people that he too suffered as they did.  He died in 1889.  He said: "I make myself a leper with the lepers, to gain all for Jesus Christ."

     In Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, each state is permitted two statues of famous individuals.  Damien's statue has stood there since 1969 representing the state of Hawaii.  The new collect at Mass today reads:

Father of mercy, in Saint Damien
you have given a shining witness of love
for the poorest and most abandoned.
Grant that, by his intercession,
as faithful witness of the heart of your Son, Jesus,
we  too may be servants of the most needy and rejected.
We ask this through Christ, our Lord.  Amen


     After having posted today, I viewed Rocco Palmo's Whispers in the Loggia, who has a great piece of Father Damien.  His blog is linked on the right side of the page.  It is one of my favorites.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Trip Update

     As mentioned in Saturday's post, I joined with fifty people from our parish and the area for a journey that was both inspiring as well as sobering.  Each year our Junior Youth Ministry (Junior High level Religious Formation) takes such a trip.  This year we travelled to the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.

     There were two stops on this journey.  First we visited the Franciscan Monastery near Catholic University and the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  Nestled in a community setting, the Monastery was built in the late 1800's and is listed as a National Historical Site.  We arrived, had a tour, celebrated Mass in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, and of course visited the gift shop.  The Monastery is known for its depiction of various places in the Holy Land as well as having chapels to a number of Franciscan saints.  The grounds have a beautiful cloistered area, and the gardens at this time of the year were in full bloom.  It was inspiring.

     From there we went to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum located just off of the National Mall in the center of Washington.  If you have never been there, it is well worth the time.  The Holocaust - the mass murder of the European Jews and others - was a watershed event in human history.  It was human nature at its worst and is a part of history that must not be allowed to be forgotten or simply assigned to the history books.  The story, told on other levels and with other peoples, continues today.

     One of the adults said that her youngster said in unbelief:  "How could they do this to these people?"  That is the million dollar question.  The images and memories abound ... whether it is the room full of shoes, or the glasses, or the hair, or the video accounts of the shocked liberators arriving at the camps, or the Hall of Remembrance with the names being read aloud.  It was a sobering few hours, but a time necessary to appreciate the freedom that we possess.  And we place our fallen and fragile human nature into the merciful and forgiving hands of God.

     I am grateful to Religious Formation leaders - Sister Charlene and Mary Blyth - and all of those who travelled with us on Saturday for a day well spent.  I was especially impressed at the number of Dads and Grandfathers who went along. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mothers Day

     Mothers Day is an American institution but it is universal in scope.  There is such a natural tendency to single out our Mom's (and Dad's) and to give them the recognition and love that they deserve.  Even in this month of May when we celebrate the holiday, we also honor Mary, our spiritual mother, entrusted to us through the Beloved Disciple and the Church by Jesus himself.

     My mom, Frances Louise Lenard Stoviak has been gone from us for six years now.  She died peacefully in her sleep at home on March 3, 2005.  My sister Janie was with her - I had just gone back to the parish.  Mom was an uncomplicated lady.  She was born and raised four houses down the street from where we lived.  In her younger days she worked in retail, and then when Janie and I came along, she became a full time wife and mother.  She was not a joiner, but she did become involved in PTG when we were in school, and joined the Christian Mothers after I was ordained.   They came to her and said that now that she was the mother of a priest, she should be a Christian Mother - she said that she was already a "christian" mother.  She joined anyway, and enjoyed the fellowship.

    Mom did not handle difficulties and emergencies well.  She would often wait "till dad got home".  This was not because she did not care, but because she was afraid.  She was also very afraid of doctors and hospitals (aren't we all?).  In the few times that she was hospitalized, she greatly disliked being away from home and family and being in the care of others.  That is why in her last days and weeks, we found it important to bring her home to her place of comfort.  She celebrated her eighty-sixth birthday at home with her family and friends.  She died a month later in her own bedroom.

      Mom was not the strength of our family (dad was).  But mom was the heart and soul of our family.  Her wisdom and love described who she truly was and is.  My sister, Janie and I love her, but miss her.  On this Mothers' Day, we salute this "christian" mother and wife and friend.  The picture above was taken for our church directory some years back.  The photographer did a great job in taking away her nervousness and bringing on a smile.  For that, Janie and I are forever grateful.

     To all of our Moms out there, HAPPY MOTHERS' DAY.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

On the road

     As I post this, I am on the way out the door for a day long trip to Washington, D.C.  We have just over fifty young people and adults from our three parish Junior Youth Ministry trekking to DC to visit the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land of America as well as the National Holocaust Museum.  Every Spring we pilgrimage somewhere inspiring (two years ago we were at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in DC ... and last year we went to Emmittsburg, Maryland, to the Shrine of Elizabeth Seton and to the Grotto at Mt. St. Mary College and Seminary).

     I have never been to the Franciscan Monastery, but I hear that it is a beautiful and prayerful place to visit with various depictions of Holy Land scenes as well as those from the life of Francis.  We will celebrate Eucharist at the Chapel there.  I'll update you on our return.  I have been to the Holocaust Museum, and it is and will be for our group a most profound experience of the inhumanity of human beings one to the other.  Sobering as it is, it serves as a necessary reminder of what can happen if we forget who we are in Christ.  Sister Charlene from our staff and Mary Blyth of Saint Agnes have planned the trip.  Pray for our safe return.

     My being away on a Saturday evening allows me to express my deep gratitude and appreciation for our retired priests who are willing to help out.  In our case we welcome Father James Bump to our 4:00 pm Mass.  He is a great priest who has retired too young, but who keeps himself very busy helping out and taking care of his animals (Father Jim is a farmer - cows and chickens).  He has served this Diocese well in a variety of positions, serving in a number of parishes that still sing his praises.  He succeeded me at All Saints in Masontown and I can tell you that they loved and still love him there.  Say a prayer for Father Bump and all of our retired priests who have earned their rest after many years of dedicated service.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Is it of God?

     In the reading from Acts this morning (Acts 5: 34-42), Gamaliel's words of warning to the Sanhedrin are clear ... if something is of God, not matter what you say or do, it will survive and prosper.  Do not be quick to condemn.  Be open to the working of God.  The Apostles, when released, "did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Christ, Jesus."

     Today is the anniversary of the death (May 6, 1840) of the Servant of God Father Demetrius Gallitzin, the Apostle of the Alleghenies.  He lived, is buried and is considered a priest of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown in West Central Pennsylvania, and is founder of the Catholic Community of Loretto, PA.

     Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin was born in 1770 a Russian prince, son of an ambassador, who converted from the Orthodox Church and entered the Catholic Community.  In expanding his educational experiences, he travelled to America, where he saw the needs of the Church in this country.  He resolved to devote his life and fortune to the salvation of souls in his adopted country.

     Bishop John Carroll had him enter the new St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, and he was ordained in 1795, being the first priest trained in the U.S. to receive all orders from tonsure to priesthood in America.  His travels took him to Cambria County, were he established the settlement of Loretto (Saint Francis University is located there).  He devoted his life to the area.

     His cause for sainthood has been established, and in the first step, he has been declared a "Servant of God".  I remember visiting his tomb when a student at Saint Francis.  He had detractors during his lifetime, but as Gamaliel said ... if the work is of God, there is no stopping it.  The good work of Prince Gallitzin continues even today.

Servant of God, Demetrius Gallitzin, pray for us.


     Blessed John Paul II facts:  Did you know that John Paul proclaimed 1,338 individuals blesseds in 147 beatification ceremonies ... and created 482 saints in 51 canonization ceremonies.  This is more than any other pope.  These people that he lifted to our attention, from all walks of life and circumstances, added to our spiritual heroes.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

38 years ago

     At ten o'clock the bells of Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg began to peal as the procession began.  Thus began an ordination ceremony that saw four men ordained to the priesthood for service in the Diocese of Greensburg.  They were V. Paul Fitzmaurice, Peter L. Peretti, Roger Statnick and yours truly.  Bishop William G. Connare was the ordaining bishop.

     That was at ten o'clock on May 4th, 1973.  Thus began a journey that continues for the four of us as priests of this diocese. 

     My journey brought me to Irwin a short time later to serve as an Assistant at Immaculate Conception with Msgr. Augustine Marzhauser as pastor and Father Jim Gaston as the other Associate.  In my second year there, Father Leonard Sanesi took over as pastor.  At the time the largest parish in the diocese with 3,100 families, it was a good starting point.

     After two years I moved to Saint Sebastian in Belle Vernon (Msgr. Statnick is pastor there now) to serve with Father Ed Gearing.  A parish of about 1,200, these good people took me in as we ministered to the Mon Valley.

     Three years later I travelled to Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale, where I had served for a summer as a Deacon.  This time I was with Father William Gavron.  I learned much about priesthood in the next six years, and renewed and made many great friends.  It was a challenging time for me, but one of growth.

     But now, after twelve years and with seniority calling, upon the death of Father Tom Kalasky, I became the pastor of Saint John the Evangelist Church in Connellsville.  A first pastorate can be and was a first love, and the good things accomplished in that small parish of about 300 families still dwell in my memory.

     After a short two and a half years, Father Andrew Charnoki and I exchanged parishes, and I travelled to All Saints in Masontown and its mission of Saint Francis de Sales in McClellandtown.  The small town experience was great, and with the hard work of so many of the approximately 650 families, tremendous changes took place.  After five years there, the over 700 people at the farewell prepared by the parish spoke volumes as to the love shown me by the people of Masontown.

     Then off to the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg, a parish that had gone through some turmoil before my arrival, but one that gradually embraced my ministry and taught me much.  A parish of about 1,500 families, our liturgies and music were, and still are, outstanding.  I served there with Father Stephen West and Mike Ripple, and for awhile Father Dan Blout was in residence.  Great school changes came about during that time, including the establishment of Aquinas Academy, the regional Catholic School in Greensburg.

     After eight and a half years I returned to Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale (my third time).  It was literally like coming home.  The next eight and a half years serving this parish of about 950 families was a blessing.  In three assignments over 36 years, I was not only marrying the kids I had baptized, but baptizing their children.  Strong ties were established.  Leaving was difficult.

    But now I have been at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish for two and a half years, and it is home to me.  The acceptance that our families have given me, my sister Janie and her puppy Sammy, is wonderful and truly a blessing.

     Each of these assignments holds stories that need to be told, but there is not enough room here.  Suffice it to say that that morning 38 years ago began an adventure that continues with and in the grace of God.  Pray for the four of us and pray for all priests.  And finally, to maybe bring a smile to your face, a very young, beardless, in need of a haircut, ordination picture of yours truly.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fresh Oils

     We have a tradition at our parish of celebrating the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick on the first Wednesday of each month immediately following the morning Mass.  This is in addition to a larger communal setting in the Fall of each year.  I adopted the idea from one of our priests, at one time a neighbor, Father Bob Washko, who used to celebrate on the first Friday of the month.

     This sacrament is one of two sacraments of Healing within the Church (the other being Reconciliation).  Through this sacrament we place ourselves within the embrace of the Church and present ourselves to the Lord for his healing touch.  We come in need but also with the confident assurance that his love brings to us.  We come expecting "miracles", with the greatest miracle being the amazing love of God offered and freely given to us.

     Today we used the "fresh oils" of the Chrism Mass, the Oil of the Sick.  Blest by Bishop Brandt, it is used for this sacrament as a sign of the strengthening and healing power of Christ's love.  As we approach, the priest lays hands on our heads, then prays as he anoints our foreheads: "Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit."  As he anoints the palms of each hand he says: "May the Lord, who frees you from sin, save you and raise you up."

     There were at least twenty-five who came to receive the sacrament this morning, a moment of blessing for them and the whole Church.


Blessed John Paul - a Traveller
     As mentioned previously, the beatification of Blessed John Paul II gives us the opportunity to reflect upon some of the milestones of his papacy.  The pontificate of John Paul lasted nearly 27 years, one of the longest in the history of the Church.  During that time, although not the first to travel worldwide, he was the most traveled - He made 146 pastoral visits inside of Italy and 104 pastoral visits outside of Italy.  He literally travelled the globe and brought Christ and the Church to the world.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Blessed John Paul II

     Over the weekend the Church celebrated the Beatification of the late Pope John Paul II.  The ceremonies took place on Sunday in Rome, and were attended by well over one million people as well as being watched by millions at home.  John Paul served as pope for the second or third longest reign, and touched the lives of countless people over the years.  He was a great servant of God, and a very holy man.  I subscribe to a magazine "Inside the Vatican" which has an issue devoted to John Paul and his accomplishments.  I'll share some of them in the coming days/weeks.

     In reading some of the reactions to his beatification, I ran across a blog that garnered a multitude of comments (somewhere like 75 by Sunday afternoon).  The vast majority were hostile to his being lifted before us on the path of holiness.  Many criticized his actions or inaction in a slew of areas.  Many revealed their deep hatred of things Catholic.  Many showed a lack of understanding of what it means to be called a saint.

     Being lifted up as a "blessed" or being called a saint does not mean that the person is perfect.  It does mean that their relationship with Christ is such that they can serve as a model of holiness, which we are all called to embrace.  John Paul was a holy man, a man in touch with the living God.  He lived a life that inspired countless people, drawing them into the Body of Christ and inviting them closer to Jesus Christ.  The saints are our spiritual heroes.  They should not be idolized, but they should serve as inspiration in our journey.  Their mistakes, frailties or even imperfections should remind us that we are earthen vessels that can be used by Christ to bring grace to world in need of redemption.  John Paul II was a man of deep Faith, inspiring personal and communal prayer, strong hope and powerful vision.

     Blessed John Paul, intercede for us before the throne of the Father.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Come to the Table

     Let me begin by apologizing for this morning's post.  For whatever reason, my formatting program went haywire.  If you had trouble reading the post, forgive me.

     This weekend gives me so much to reflect upon.  I'll have enough for a week.  So, in no particular order of importance, here we go.

     Yesterday saw the first of two celebrations of the First Holy Communion of youngsters from our parish.  Seventeen gathered with family and friends at a special liturgy at 1:00 pm to be embraced by the Lord in his love for them and to "come to the table".

     As yesterday's scriptures pointed out, the early community of believers were known for the communal life, the gathering for prayer together, and the breaking of the bread.  The bread was broken so that it could be shared, eaten, digested, and become integrated into the very fabric of their lives.  Today, we, as Church, gather for Eucharist - especially the Sunday Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our lives - in order to follow in their footsteps.  In the Rites of Initiation, we enter through Baptism, are strengthened on our journey through Confirmation, and come, ultimately, to the Table of the Lord ... to be fed and nourished for our journey of a lifetime.  Yesterday was a great day for the Church, for this parish, for me, their shepherd, and for our young people and their families.  I had fun.  The rest of their sacramental class will come to the table on May 15th.

     We congratulate those who received Jesus yesterday in Holy Communion: Shelby Baker, Brianna Coulson, Anna Dermis, Matthew Faccenda, Lukas Finn, Hanna Geissler, Isabella Harshman, Colby Horvath, Carlin Jacob, Shaun Kellerman, Taylor Krniach, Alexander Legnine, Nicholas Mandella, Jordan Mastalerz, Janna Uziel and Mackenzie Yaniga.  May they keep Jesus as their closest friend and companion.  Pray for them, their classmates on the 15th, and all who in this holy season will come to the Altar of God.

Sunday Reflection

     Yesterday (Sunday) got away from me ... sorry for no post.  But there is much to blog about.  I thought this morning I would share a Scripture Reflection that I did for the Second Sunday of Easter for the Diocese of Greensburg web site.  Here is what I had to say:

               They were a threat, these followers of Jesus.  They were ordinary people who
followed an extraordinary teacher and rabbi, preacher and friend.  They listened to him and learned from him.  They were a threat to the status quo, to the survival of a way of faith in the midst of a hostile occupying force called Rome.  Their teacher made claims that bordered on heresy for those who vision was narrow and whose hearts were limited.  They were a threat in Jerusalem and to the nations of Israel and Judea.
               In Rome these followers of the Jewish teacher, Jesus, were a threat to a
society that was individualistic and centered on pleasure and self gratification.  The way of life that Rome considered normal stood in sharp contrast to this small but growing sect.  If left alone, they could spell trouble.  They could not be allowed to co-exist ... not even exist.
               And what was this subversive teaching, this threatening way of life of this
group that would later be called Christians?  Why did their ways spread, their
numbers grow?
               On this Second Sunday of Easter, this Mercy Sunday, our readings give us a
clue.  Faith in a loving God, manifested in a relationship with God's Son, the risen
Lord Jesus, was their foundation.   This relationship is rooted in the amazing love
that God has for everyone, from least to greatest, a love that is experienced
through God's Spirit.   This Faith is lived out in a communal setting - it is never
God and me, me and God.   This Faith can only be found in the Body of Christ,
in the community of believers, in that entity that came to be called Church.
This Faith leads to peace, the great gift of Jesus to his friends.
               Acts today tells us how this community lived.  They gathered in the Temple
to honor the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They gathered around the table in their homes to break the bread and share their stories of their friend Jesus and to pray.  They shared all things in common, taking care of the needs of everyone before their own needs.  They held as their standard the virtues of Love and Peace.  Why did they do this?  Because this is what Jesus would do, in fact, it is what he commanded them to do.  Why did they do this?  Because they were wise beyond their years and in touch with the amazing grace of the God of their ancestors.   Why did they do this?  Because they needed to in order to live and be holy.
               So, if they could do this, then why not you and me?  Are we too sophisticated,
too mature, too important to live the simple life of Faith?  I hope not.  The challenge is placed before us.  Do we believe his word?