Saturday, December 31, 2011


     A large crowd at our 4:00 liturgy ... getting ready for the festivities.  My evening will, as usual, be quiet.  As I told the people, I have to work in the morning.

     On this New Year's Eve, I would like to share the blessing that the LORD told Moses to have Aaron and his sons pray over the people:

"The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly
and give you peace!"


Friday, December 30, 2011

A end of the year reflection

     All too often I encounter parents who are agonizing over the decisions of their adult children, especially when it comes to matters of the Faith.  They wonder where they went wrong, or what they could or should have done differently.  Or they wonder why one child turns out okay while the other takes a very different path.  I reassure them that if they have laid a solid foundation, when the lost child gets hungry enough, they'll know how to find their way home.

     In my reflection today, at the close of the year, I'm having my doubts about that assessment.  I still believe, but I see a tremendous challenge ahead of us.  Of course, I am referring to us as Church, the Family of God, especially within the Catholic family.  Here is what I mean.

     In the waning days of 2011, I have received two complaining missives from parishioners, one Wednesday evening by email and one the week before in the collection.  Wednesday's was signed, but the previous one (my guess, by an older lady) was not.  Usually I do not respond to unsigned letters.  Both had the same kind of theme.  Now, as a priest, it is not unusual to receive such complaints periodically, but in the reflective mood of the season, I began thinking.  The Holy Father is talking about a new thrust toward evangelization in the new year.  I believe our Diocese is soon laying out a plan action.  Where are our people?  Why have they left the Church?  Why does Faith seem unimportant?  Why do they go elsewhere?

     I am not sure we want to hear the answers to those and other pertinent questions.  In Wednesday's note the individual spoke of being tempted to leave the Church, as did his son recently.  There may be deeper reasons, but the discontent voiced, by him and by the other letter, are over peripheral things: hymnals too heavy to hold, church too hot, always badgered about money, the sex abuse cases involving priests, the new translations and changes in general, the color of the Advent candles, etc., etc., etc.  Important to them at the moment, but in the grand scheme of things, unimportant.

     Like those parents that came to me, I wonder if we have failed to pass on the Faith adequately.  Do people understand the primacy of our relationship to Jesus Christ and to his Church?  Do they know what church is, who church is, how the two mesh?  It is often said that we have an entire generation that does not know the Faith, has not been catechized.  My experience says yes to that ... BUT, it also holds true to the generations (like mine) who we assume were taught well.  These are the ones often caught up in the externals of Church being paramount to belief. 

     In this New Evangelization, we have our work cut out for us.  The Sound of Music was on TV over the holidays, and in the one song they sing "Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start ..." .  Our work is before us in 2012.  God help us do it well.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

A savvy shopper

      I dislike shopping, as I have told you before.  And yet, yesterday I entered into the fray of post Christmas shopping, and being the savvy shopper that I am, I came across a bargain that I could not pass up.  A friend of mine had an unusual item for sale and was willing to part with it for half price.  It was a great deal, so, on impulse, I told him to hold it for me.  Before checking on local ordinances, or where we would put the item, for 50% off of the going rate, I bought ... a camel!  I wanted a donkey as well, but it went before I could get there.  Luckily this camel is a small version that will not eat me out of house and home.  It will be much appreciated by the Magi that have had to trek to Bethlehem these past few years by foot or by hitch hiking, which we know can be dangerous.  Besides, they look tired.

     The camel will, of course, just about complete our creche scene in the church (except for the donkey).  My friend who called is Tom Merhaut, whose family owns a Religious Goods Store on Route 8 in Allison Park -   They have a great selection at their store and in their catalogue, and are always eager to help.  Tom and the family have been friends for years.

     So, now I have joined the impulsive shoppers league, seeking the savvy shopper recognition, and have become the proud owner of a camel.  What more could I ask?


Today the church remembers Saint Thomas Becket,
the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign
of Henry II of England.
Becket is a champion of the rights of the Church
over the State.  His story is fascinating, and is told
in the story "Murder in the Cathedral" by T.S. Eliot
and in the play by Jean Anouilh "Becket"
which was made into a movie most recently in 1964
with Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole.
When I was in the seminary we put on the
Jean Anouilh production (I was a French knight).
Read the play, watch the movie, get the Cliff Notes ...
it is a great story.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Holy Innocents

     Herod, threatened by the news of a new born king and an ancient prophecy, seeking to hedge his bets in an act of cruelty, an inhuman act of savegry, orders all male children, two years of age and younger in and around the environs of Bethlehem, slaughtered.  This is what we remember on this 28th day of December.  The feast is that of the Holy Innocents, who are listed as martyrs.  As the Collect for the day says, the Holy Innocents confessed and proclaimed the glory of God in the birth of his Son, "not by speaking but by dying".  Their martyrdom was not a conscious decision to die for Christ, but their deaths still bore witness to him.  The Collect continues: "that the faith in you which we confess with our lips may also speak through our manner of life."  Great words, which if put into practice, could transform the world.

     The Holy Innocents remind us of the countless children, brought into this world without love and those denied birth, who face "man's inhumanity to man" because of fear, hatred, greed, anger.  They are the millions lost to abortion, the countless numbers who are starving, or beaten, or sold into slavery, or abused in any and every way.  They comprise children of every nation and of every culture of the world.  They are the future of the world, and they are being lost.

     If we truly believe in Jesus Christ, and profess his Name, and live his life, and follow his way, it will take more than the confessing with our lips ... we must also speak through our manner of life.  These Holy Innocents were "crowned with heavenly grace on account of his birth" ... may we be crowned through the experience of his and our death and resurrection.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

John speaks of fellowship

     There is a church in Grove City in the Erie Diocese called the Church of the Beloved Disciple.  It is not a likely name for a Catholic Parish, but it is a beautiful name.  Today the Church celebrates the Beloved Disciple, the feast of Saint John, Apostle and evangelist.

     John was the beloved disciple because Jesus took him under his wing and protected and cherished and loved him, probably more than the others.  The reason was simple, John was the youngest, probably just in his teens, and in need of guidance and acceptance.  John is the one who rested his head on the chest of Jesus at the Last Supper.  John was the one at the foot of the cross.  John was the one that Jesus entrusted Mary to, and whom he entrusted to Mary.  John was the one who ran to the tomb with Peter, outdistancing Peter but showing his respect in waiting until Peter entered first.  John was the only one of the Twelve that lived a full life and died a natural death.  John was the one who gave us a "theology" in his gospel, a vision of fellowship.  John is the one, with his disciples, who gave us a greater vision in the Book of Revelation.

     The Gospel for the Christmas Mass during the day is the beginning of the Gospel of John (for those of us old enough to remember - the "last gospel" at Mass).  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" - a wonderful expression of Faith.  One of my favorites.  The first reading today from the first letter of John reminds us that what was from the beginning, what has been seen and heard and touched concerns the "Word of life", and has been given us, proclaimed by John and countless others throughout time, so that we may have fellowship, "for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ".  Knowing this completes our joy.

     That fellowship was celebrated by those who came to acknowledge his birth in Bethlehem of Judea that first Christmas, and to celebrate his entrance into our lives this Christmas.  Here at Elizabeth Ann Seton we celebrated a Vigil Mass at 6:00 pm, Mass at Midnight, and Masses at 8:30 & 11:00 am.  Only the 6:00 was standing room only, but all were great celebrations of God's faithful.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A sad remembrance

     I hope that your Christmas celebrations have gotten off to a great start, with a reminder that Christmas began yesterday, and continues as a feast for the eight day octave, as a celebration for twelve days (as the carol goes), and as a liturgical season until the Baptism of the Lord.  Don't take the tree down yet, and don't lose the spirit.

     Today the first martyr, Stephen, is celebrated.  It has nothing to do with Christmas, but rather with the first witnessing to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Others gave their lives for the Christ, but Stephen was the proto-martyr, the first to decide to lay all on the line for Jesus.  It is on this feast that the good king Wenceslaus looked out.

     Today marks another event within the life of the parish that I serve - Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.  On this date in 1992 a fire destroyed the rectory which was attached to the Church.  The Church building itself was saved.  Devastating as the fire was, the true sadness came in the death by heart failure during the fire of the second pastor of this parish, Father Bill McGuire.  His great love of the parish, of the people, of Christmas (he loved to decorate) only compounded the shock and sadness.  I remember attending the funeral here and witnessing the emotions.  On this day we remember with sadness the passing of Father Bill McGuire.  He died just shy of his 25th anniversary of ordination.  May he rest in peace, and may he always be aware of our love and gratitude.


     I will share in future posts some of the highlights of Christmas in these parts, but for now I want to share a picture of the church interior with our modest (by Father McGuire standards) decorations.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

My Christmas Prayer

     As we stand on the threshold of this most holy night, may the Risen Savior, the Lord of Life, born in Bethlehem of Judea long ago, give joy and peace to your hearts, comfort and blessing to your lives.

     To all of those who read these pages, a Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The uncertainty of age

     I still consider myself a relatively young priest, even though the years keep adding up and the ability and stamina to do things is diminishing.  The physical challenges are increasing, but so is the grace of God in my life.  I am blessed.

     That is why I am so concerned about myself this Christmas.  Despite it being the day before the day before, I am resigned to let that which is not accomplished not be a worry.  What is done is done, and the rest can wait.  I am focusing my energies and time on preparing and resting for the liturgical celebrations.  I am NOT running around like a headless chicken attempting to do the impossible.

     This worries me, for it so out of character!  But, hey, I'm enjoying it tremendously.  I did do a little shopping today at Target (tea pot, paper towels, christmas wrap, a few cards - last of the big spenders) and couldn't wait to get back to the car ... and Giant Eagle (bread, cheese, celery, gift cards - but I forgot the milk).  Then I had a good dinner and now home to "veg out"..

     The Church looks great, all seems ready, bring on the Birthday Celebrations!  For those who may be concerned at the undertone of this post ... it is indeed "tongue in cheek".  All is fine and I am looking forward to Christmas (and finding out how many do not know that we have a new translation!).  I attribute this change in my methods to "the uncertainty of age".

     Nothing tomorrow until out Christmas Eve Vigil at 6:00 pm (the children's gathering), the Mass at Midnight, and on Sunday, Christmas day, the regular Sunday schedule of 8:30 & 11:00 am.  Then later, dinner and quality time with Janie (my sister) and Sammy (the pup).

     Take time tonight and tomorrow to rest, relax and prepare your hearts.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Darkness and Light

     The controversies that arise at this time of the year regarding the celebration of Christmas as a secular or religious holiday, or of Hanukkah or of Kwanzaa or of the Winter Solstice are frightening and tiring.  We live in a pluralistic society built upon respect of others as well as pride in our traditions.  All of this squabbling negates the reason for the season.

     In our world, in our "neck of the woods", the winter solstice which occurs tomorrow morning, brings us the shortest day of the year.  The time of daylight, of productivity, of warmth have been diminishing.  But at this time the reality in nature changes.  The days begin to get longer (too slowly for me) and we begin to leave the darkness behind.  It is a time of rejoicing, especially for all agricultural societies.  This has been happening since the beginning of creation.  We believe that God has set this in motion.

     It so happens for those of us who believe in Jesus as the Christ, the dispeller of darkness and the source of all light and life, celebrate his birth at this time of the year.  I hope no one is shocked to find out that we do not know the precise date of his birth in Bethlehem, and that the Church chose the 25th day of December for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its place at the beginning of the spread of light in the world.  The Light brings us light, and with it, growth and life.  That celebration of his birth is called Christmas [Christ Mass] and for a long time was a secondary feast to the Epiphany when he was revealed to the nations.  Traditions were established that brought us Santa Claus [Saint Nicholas, the bishop] as well as other traditions of food and decorations and music and gift giving.  It is a celebration of life.

     Among our Jewish brothers and sisters, this time of the year sees the celebration of Hanukkah (which began yesterday), an eight day celebration of light provided by God for those in darkness.  Representing the reestablishment of the Temple and the restoration of God's people, it is a time filled with traditions and is a celebration of life.

     Other traditions and celebrations also occur around this time.

     So we celebrate the holidays [short for "holy days"] and we celebrate the light that guides our ways and warms our hearts.  How sad when these days are caught up in controversies and law suits and disrespect of one another.


     Yesterday I mentioned the Sabbatical newsletter from my time at SAT in Berkeley.  We've had another addition, a note from Sister Helen Carroll from England ... and I mentioned Romy but forgot to mention his full name - Bishop Jose Romeo Lazo, the bishop of San Jose de Antigue in the Philippines.  Good friends, all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A good day

     This has been a busy but good day - filled with busy things and rewarding experiences and good news.  The day began as it usually does with Mass, a good way to start.  Then to the office to take care of a variety of things like bulletin news, mass scheduling, phone messages, mail, and even receiving some early Christmas gifts - a box of chocolate candies for the staff, cashews, homemade cookies from a former parishioner in Scottdale, something that sounded liquid beneath its wrappings, and lots of cards.

     This evening after a good dinner, eleven priests heard, by my guess, at least three to four hundred confessions at the last of our Regional Penance Services held tonight at Immaculate Conception in Irwin.  It was, as always, very moving.

     Coming home I found a nice surprise - the annual December newsletter from members of my Sabbatical Class at the School of Applied Theology (SAT) at Berkeley, California.  I attended the Fall term back in 1996.  There were some fifty-six people on the Sabbatical from all over the world, of all ages, mostly Religious women and men and priests and deacons, and some laity.

     Tom Crawford from Sacramento pulls it together.  This year we heard from ten of the group: Tom and myself, Sisters Tricia Nugent and Maree Haggerty of Australia, Cora Richardson from South Africa, Catherine Ryan in Scottland, and Fathers Louis Richard of Broussard, Louisiana, Jesuit Joe Kappes of Wisconsin, Jack Brockman from Brazil (Indiana) and Romy, who has become a bishop in the Philippines.  Our paths crossed for a brief four months, but our respect and love for each other continues.  These newsletters are devoured thoroughly.  Much is happening in the world, and this reminds me of how universal the Church really is.

     And before beginning this post I read online that the Pope has approved a miracle of a young boy in our West attributed to Blessed Kateri Kekakwitha, clearing the way for her canonization, along with Mother Marianne Cope who was approved recently.  The Lily of the Mohawk will be a welcome addition to the Saints of the United States, as will Mother Marianne from Syracuse, New York, who ministered at Molokai with Saint Damien de Vesteur.

     All in all, a good day.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Samson and John

     Three births announced by angels of God.  Two were great men who championed the cause and prepared the way of the Lord.  One was the one whom they prepared the way for.  They were of differing times and circumstances, but both had the hand of God placed upon them.  Of Samson the scriptures say that "The boy grew up and the LORD blessed him; the Spirit of the LORD stirred him."  Of John the Baptizer the Scripture says that "He will go ... in the spirit and power of Elijah ... to prepare a people fit for the Lord."

     The one they announced is the one whose birthday we prepare to celebrate, the one who is Lord of our lives and sender of the Spirit, bringer of the Father's love, the one who will come again to establish the reign of God in fullness - Jesus, born in Bethlehem of Judea.

     The second Preface for Advent says: "It is by his gift (of life, love and salvation) that already we rejoice at the mystery of his Nativity, so that he may find us watchful in prayer and exultant in his praise."


Tonight is the Advent Penance Service at our parish.  The local priests: Fathers John Herald, John Moineau, Paul Fitzmaurice and Joseph Armamento as well as four monks from Saint Vincent Archabbey will be here.  My theme, referring to John, is "What did go out to see?"

     The only problem that I foresee tonight is that it is a Steelers game night (Monday night football).  But the game does not begin until after 8:00 pm.  If the game is close, we made find ourselves overly busy tomorrow night.

Last evening we were at Saint Edward Church in Herminie and the healing power of God for his people was evident ... tomorrow at IC in Irwin.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A day off

     I took yesterday off - sort of.  There has been a tradition here at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton that on the Saturday before Christmas we arrange a bus trip to Pittsburgh for a show and dinner to celebrate the holidays.  Yesterday we took two motor coaches to Heinz Hall to see Marvin Hamlisch direct the renown Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Holiday Pops.  Marvin Hamlisch is the Principal Pops Conductor.  The Orchestra was joined by the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh as well as eight Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School members, vocalists Jodi Benson, who among other accomplishments is the voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid; Gary Mauer, who has been the Phantom on Broadway; and featuring local Pittsburgh native and Detective for the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office, Ricky Manning, who dedicated his performance to men and women in uniform.  And most importantly, the big guy himself - Santa.  It was a great show of Christmas and holiday music, and the audience was very appreciative.  In addition to those in our group, I saw a few other people that I knew.

     Following the matinee, we travelled to Mount Washington (overlooking the city) for dinner at The Lamont Restaurant for an evening of fine dining with probably one of the greatest views around, that of the City of Pittsburgh and the Three Rivers at the Point bedecked with Christmas lights.  We had a great dinner, served by the staff with efficiency and graciousness, despite the fact that we were a "bus tour" on a Saturday night before Christmas.

     Before leaving for home we drove past the Pittsburgh Creche in the city, an exact replica of the creche in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican.  It is beautiful.  Then our driver dealt with suddenly icy roads (black ice) as we passed many accidents.  But we got home safe and all had a great time.  I am most grateful to Father James Bump, one of our fine retired guys, for filling in and leading our community in prayer.


     Today so far we celebrated the 8:30 and 11:00 Masses, with the Adult Choir at the first and the Young Voices Choir at 11.  They followed with a little celebration ... and another group came to begin decorating the church with trees and lights and wreaths - part one of our decorations.  Tonight we have "Light Up Night" at the Church for the outside lights and creche scene, preceded by an Advent Presentation by the Young Voices Choir and children from the parish, followed by food and a visit from "the big guy" in red.  I'll miss Santa, for I'll be heading to a Regional Penance Service in a neighboring parish.  It is good to be busy!      'Tis the season.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cardinal Foley

     Last evening I watched the funeral Mass for John Patrick Cardinal Foley which took place at the Cathedral in Philadelphia, his home town.  Cardinal Foley had been Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre before retirement because of health.  Prior to that he had been head of the Vatican's Social Communications Office, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, was the voice of the English transmission of the Pope's Christmas Mass.  I had never met Cardinal Foley, but as is evident from every one's comments, he was a simple, humble, generous person who loved his God and all of God's people.

     The funeral, which I taped from EWTN, was a beautiful celebration of his life and of his love of Philly.  Archbishop Dolan's homily was moving.  I'm glad I watched.

     On a personal note, I did spot among the bishops present our own Bishop Lawrence Brandt as well as Archbishop Giuseppe "Joe" De Andrea from the Vatican who is involved in the Order.  Archbishop De Andrea is (was) one of our priests for many years before moving to the Diplomatic Corps of the Vatican.  He too is a great guy, who, along with his brother, John, is a retired Archbishop in Rome.  And also to see three other local boys who made good - Cardinals Donald Wherl and Daniel Dinardo and (I think I saw) Adam Maida, all Pittsburgh priests who serve the Church well.

     God grant Cardinal Foley gentle peace and wonderful joy for eternity.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Always be there

     I was struck by a phrase in the Collect for the Friday of the Third Week of Advent today: "May your grace, almighty God, always go before us and follow after ..."  We always desire the grace of God to be with us ... but to phrase it as "going before" and "coming after" spoke to my heart in a refreshing way.  It is so all encompassing.

     After Mass I spent a large part of the morning at a meeting of the Board of Trust Administrators [BOTA] (the pastors responsible for our school) and the School Advisory Council (SAC) (a lay group of parent advisers) discussing the future of our Junior High level at Queen of Angels.  At this time of the year we always struggle with the enrollment question at that level, as numbers drop off.  Last year the Diocese opened a Junior High level school as part of the Catholic High School in Greensburg.  In some places there is a tremendous support of parents for Catholic School Education.  In our area we have some great public school systems that provide an excellent alternative.  So we struggle. The meeting was open and frank, and productive in our early planning stages. The parents on SAC are really dedicated.

     This afternoon I went to the movies to see the new Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law.  I enjoyed this one almost as much as I enjoyed the first.  Downey and Law have great chemistry (although I did not like the Moriarty actor).  Interesting, but violent.  I've always liked the Sherlock Holmes movies, whether with Basil Rathbone or this series or the public television series with a young modern Holmes or even House, which is a take off of Holmes (although I've lost interest in that one).  It was a good afternoon.

     And lastly I was told by our Pastoral Associate of a priest friend from Pittsburgh who checked out the blog and responded well to it - Father Tom Miller.  Thanks, Tom, and I hope no one thinks less of you for checking out Journey Thoughts.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

We have begun

     In our regional parishes we have begun our Advent Communal Penance Services this evening.  We gathered at Saint Agnes Church for dinner and Reconciliation.  The dinner was (and always are) great, which is one of the best (and worse) parts of our gathering.  I know - no one is forcing us to eat - but if it is offered ... well.

     I have said this before.  It is an awesome experience of trust and faith lived and expressed by those seeking reconciliation - faith in the healing mercy and love of God and trust in the Church's unworthy ministers.  I come away exhausted, but truly blest.

     We have three more evenings, with Monday being at our place.  I have already shared in four other penitential services (for First Penance) - here for our youngsters, twice at Saint Agnes, our neighbor, and once at Saint Pius in Mt.. Pleasant.

     May the Lord continue to guide us toward reconciliation with him and with the Church.


      I celebrated the funeral of a good parishioner, Mary Ann Germuska, this morning.  She was much loved and respected, and the numbers in church demonstrated that fact.

     A translation observation: I used the prayers of Form B for Outside Easter Time, and found this strange wording in the Collect "give, we pray, to your servant N., for whom we perform the fraternal offices of burial".  There are many beautiful thoughts expressed in the collects, like in the alternate Collect for that Mass "O God, who have set a limit to this present life, so as to open up an entry into eternity" ... "you may command the name of N. to be inscribed in the book of life",  but there are some strange ones as well.

     May the Lord grant Mary Ann eternal rest.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A story remembered

     Let me tell you a little story.  Over Pentecost weekend back in 1975, a group of us from the Pittsburgh area joined ten thousand others in Rome for the International Catholic Charismatic Conference during the Holy Year.  It was a wonderful experience (my first time in Rome) that I shared with my sister and friends from Irwin where I was an Assistant.  Two of those people were Bob and Louise Stecik.

     During our tour of Saint Peter's Basilica, as we were leaving the famous bronze statue of Saint Peter on the right side about mid way up the center aisle, we were separated.  Louise, a small lady in stature, unfortunately got caught up in the maneuvering of a large group of little, Italian nuns, who were moving toward the statue, arms linked, with great determination and focus.  Swept along with them, she cried out for help, for she was going with the flow of traffic.  It took Father (later Archabbot) Leopold Krul, myself and another larger guy to "come to the rescue" and save Louise.  I never forgot the experience, and I use the story to warn Rome travellers of the determination of Italian Religious Sisters.

     I mention this today because Louise was buried this morning in her home parish of Immaculate Conception in Irwin (her husband, Bob, died a number of years ago).  I had planned on concelebrating until my digestive system acted up, but I keep her and her family in prayer.  She was a good lady.  May she rest in peace.


     Today is also the feast of Saint John of the Cross, who together with Teresa of Avila reformed the Carmelite Order in the mid 1,500's.  He was misunderstood, hated, and mistreated, even by his own friars.  He was intense in his love of Christ.  He was a poet, and is considered by many to be one of the great poets of the Spanish language.  His images are beautiful, and his language is that of passionate love.  I share a quote from his writings:

"Take God for your spouse and friend
and walk with him continually,
and you will not sin
and will learn love,
and the things you must do
will work out prosperously for you."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Our Lady of Guadalupe

     Before I begin, I have a correction to make.  Yesterday I mentioned two people who spearheaded our Christmas Dinner Totes effort - Lori Anselmino and Joanne Mastalerz.  Joanne emailed me to say that she was not on the leadership of that project.  I apologize to her, but acknowledge the other great things she does around the parish.

     December 9th, 1531 is remembered today.  The other day I spoke of Saint Juan Diego on his feast.  He is the indigenous convert that Mary appeared to on that day on a hill outside of Mexico City.  Her appearance sparked a massive evangelization of the native peoples of the Americas.

     Mary appeared as a young girl who was not Spanish in background but rather dark skinned with features of young women of Juan Diego's ancestry.  She was dressed in simple clothes, rather than a fine Spanish gown and mantle.  Her one leg is noticeably bent forward, as she comes toward the people.  She wears a sash that is a sign of pregnancy, and she has a slight bulge in her midsection indicating that she is with child.  She comes with simplicity and gentle love as one that we can relate to and one that we can be inspired by.

     To a culture that extolled death and human sacrifice she demonstrated the beauty of life.  To a culture that saw Christ in the Spanish conquerors, she brought an image that they could identify with, one that would be their own.  To a people who were displaced and oppressed, she brought hope.

     She IS the patroness of the Americas and of Mexico.  She has been embraced by the Pro-Life movement for obvious reasons.  She is loved by millions.  Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!

Sunday, December 11, 2011


     People are remarkable.  They continue to astound me in so many ways.  Let me give you three examples.

     This morning at the 11:00 Mass, as we were preparing to begin, the back row was nearly filled (imagine that in a Catholic Church!).  We had some visitors with us.  The usher kindly asked those in that row to move over for a mother and her daughter who has a physical challenge that makes it hard to walk, and definitely not without a cane or the arm of her mother.  The people moved over one space, and when asked again, did not move further, making the young lady have to struggle to the end of the next pew.  I caught what was happening, and was distracted the entire Mass.  When I get that way, it is better that nothing be said, if you know what I mean.

     On a much more positive note, on Saturday the local food bank sponsored by the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, which is distributed from our church, had their December pick-up.  For the second year in a row, the December distribution was supplemented by our parishioners with a "Christmas Tote" going to each family.  The totes contained all of the fixins for a Christmas dinner for the family - canned veggies, boxed potatoes, bread, stuffing, treats, etc  Many of our families adopted a family less fortunate to provide them a dinner.  To supplement the totes, the parish charity account purchased Giant Eagle gift cards for those perishable items.  Two of our parishioners, Lori Anselmino and Joanne Mastalerz spearheaded this years effort.  Nearly 200 totes were distributed.  OUTSTANDING!  I thanked Lori and Joanne, and their comment was that this was "easy" because of the generous spirit of the people of God.

     And thirdly, we participate in an Angel Tree, with gifts going to kids of needy families.  A whole bunch of requested items were on the tree a few weeks ago, and within the first weekend they were picked up.  Now those gifts are coming in to be distributed before Christmas to the kids.  Some of the items requested raised my eyebrows (especially the electronics), but our people did not hesitate to respond.  Again, how proud I am of this wonderful, generous spirit which is rooted in Christ.

     May all of those who are Christ for others find joy and blessing at His birthday.  And my thanks to these last two groups for helping me deal with the first example.


I read in "Whispers" of the death of
John Cardinal Foley
a Philadelphia native who served the Church well
for forty nine years.
Many would know his voice, for many years
the voice of the Vatican at the pope's
Midnight Mass.
Rocco gives him a great tribute
in Whispers in the Loggia.
May he rest in peace.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


     The entrance antiphon says: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near."  In our ADVENT journey we are invited to rejoice, to sing the praises of God, to rest in the assurance of the presence of the Lord God in our midst.  This Third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday.  The color of the mass vestments is violet or rose (thus the color of the print).  I have never worn rose.  Most parish vestments are more pink, and while there may be some who "look pretty in pink", I'm not one of them. 

     The scriptures from Paul and the prophet Isaiah remind us to embrace the call that we have received in our baptism.  Isaiah's passage: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me ... " was probably on my ordination invitation, as it was on so many in my day.  It was a reminder to us that God is at work in us, that he calls us to speak for him a word of comfort, to witness to truth, to reach out and touch those in need, to right the wronged.  When the oils were fresh, it was easy to be optimistic, to be visionary, to be on fire.  As the oils have dried, we have had to rely on the "oil of gladness" to keep us going.  As the burdens of everyday life and routine, and the struggles with sin, and the darkness of scandal (it was on the news today that a priest in Pittsburgh is in trouble - and I know the man, a good man) it becomes more of a challenge to keep the fire burning in our hearts.  With the uncertainty of what the future holds for the world community, for this nation, for the Church herself, it takes courage to have and express a vision.

     So, the Church today says "have courage", be "stouthearted", "be strong and wise", "REJOICE!".  The Lord has won the victory for us.  He has come to set the world right.  He is in our midst.  And he will come again in love to judge the living and the dead.  REJOICE!

     The collect of this Sunday says "...enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing."  Lord, help us to be firm in faith, joyful in hope and active in charity as we run this race.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Juan Diego

     On this day in 1531 a simple indigenous peasant convert to the Faith in what is now Mexico, had a vision of a young woman on a hill called Tepeyac near Mexico City.  He was told to build a church on that spot.  He went to the local bishop and told him of the vision, whereupon the bishop asked for some proof.  This young man, Juan Diego, went back to the spot and had another vision.  This time the lady told him to pick some roses from the nearby bush (even though it was winter and beyond the growing season).  Filling his cloak, or tilma, he went to the bishop and went to pour them out before him, but instead, there was an image of the young lady of his vision - not Spanish in features but native.  She had revealed herself as "the one who crushes the serpent" as is described in the 12th chapter of Revelation.

     This icon on the tilma of Juan Diego is on display at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, one of the most visited Catholic shrines in the world.  She bears the title "Queen of Mexico" and "Empress of the Americas" and "Patroness of the Americas".

     Today the Church celebrates Saint John Diego Cuauhtlantoatzin.  He was declared "venerable" in 1987, a "blessed" in 1990, and canonized a saint in 2002 by Pope John Paul II.  In the Collect for his Mass it reads:

O God, who by means of Saint Juan Diego
showed the love of the most holy Virgin Mary
for your people,
grant, through his intercession,
that, by following the counsels
our Mother gave at Guadalupe,
we may be ever constant in fulfilling your will.

     The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is this coming Monday, December 12th.  Saint Juan Diego, pray for us and for the people of the Americas.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A glimpse of what should be

     Storytelling often uses the concept of a dream or a vision or an experience of what could have been, what might have been, what should have been if things had taken a different path or we made a different decision in life.  Look at George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life" who saw what a positive impact his existence made on others and regretted his despair in life.  Or look at Phil, the anchorperson in the movie "Groundhog Day" who comes to realize that he can do something about the empty lifestyle that he leads, and strives over and over again to make a positive impact on his existence.  Or look at the regret of the main character (Nicholas Cage) in the movie "The Family Man" who is given a glimpse of what could have been if he had made better decisions and prompts him to made amends.

     This feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother, Anne, involves God intervening in the act of love between Joachim and Anne and at that moment of conception, keeping Mary free from the stain and the effect of the original sin of Adam and Eve.  We know that the first rejection of God led to a weakness in our spiritual human DNA that makes us prone to subsequent failures.  That original sin kept us on a merry-go-round that we found ourselves helpless to exit, leading to frustration and darkness.

     That original sin that led to darkness and death was dealt with through the ultimate sacrifice of love in Jesus embracing the tree of the cross for us ... in order to break the chains of sin and death, to bring us into the light, to make possible what was meant to be from the beginning, what should be in our lives, that we live lives that are holy, lives that are at one with God, lives that restore what was lost in our friendship with our creator.

     The glimpse of what should be, what is meant to be, is found in this feast of Mary.  She was not given something beyond us, but was given (before hand) what her son would win for us - freedom and life, holiness and grace.  What she possessed in her life, the grace to not be tempted but rather to resist all temptation, is what we should embrace.  The reason is simple ... it was won for us at a great price and given to us through baptism.  It is our destiny, our hope, our very life.


     Today marks the anniversary of the death of the first bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg - Bishop Hugh L. Lamb.  He died on December 8th in 1958.  I remember the day, but find myself a little fuzzy on when I heard - either at school and then telling my grandma Lenard who lived a few doors down when I got home ... or hearing when I got to grandma's house that afternoon.  I had met Bishop Lamb once, at my Confirmation.  God grant him rest.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What a guy!

     Milan in 374 needed a new bishop.  There were two factions fighting for their platform and their candidate for this important See - the heretical group called the Arians and those of the traditional Catholic Church.  Into the fray stepped Ambrose, an educated Roman who served as Prefect of Liguia and Emilia, whose capital was Milan.  He was a layman, not yet baptized but accepted as a catechumen, and interested in the Faith.  He was prevailed upon by the people of Milan and encouraged by the emperor to accept the office of bishop of the city.  He was baptized, ordained and installed as bishop of Milan on December 7th, 374, all within a weeks time.  Talk about an accelerated timetable!

     He then embraced the task, accepted the challenged, and began to learn theology and develop his spiritual life.  He became a true shepherd and teacher of his people.  His preaching became a thing of legend.  Before his death on Holy Saturday in 397, he had converted Augustine to the Catholic Faith - Augustine, who would later become Bishop of Hippo in Northern Africa and another great champion of the Church.  Augustine had heard him preach in Milan, and sought him out.

     Ambrose is one of those wonderful companions that the Lord gives us for inspiration and guidance in our journey of life, someone of whom we might say: "What a guy!"


     We must remember the lives lost on December 7th, 1941 (seventy years ago today) in the attack at Pearl Harbor.  It was indeed a day that would live in infamy.  May they rest in peace, as well as all who gave their lives in the war that followed.


     This afternoon I joined with four other classmates and Saint Francis Seminary Alumni for our pre-Christmas lunch.  Fathers Joe Mele, David Schorr, Albie Schemp and Chet Raimer met for lunch in the Bloomfield section of Pittsburgh to share a meal and fellowship.  Unlike Ambrose with Augustine, none of them were responsible for my conversion, but they each are a part of my vocation to priesthood - and for that and for their friendship I am grateful.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A lesson learned

     Last evening at our parish we gathered to celebrate the First Reconciliation of our second grade youngsters - about thirty in number this year.  This experience of First Confession can be a frightening experience, as I remember in the dark confessional box of years ago, but I strive to reassure the youngsters that it is anything but scary.   Rather it is an experience of the wonderful love of God for us in Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  In fact, that was the theme of the service - Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

     Sister Charlene and the catechists had the image of the Good Shepherd in front of the altar, and after each child received the sacrament they were to place a small lamb, representing themselves, around the Good Shepherd.  A great image.

     I was busy "hearing" confessions, so I did not get to survey the scene until this morning at Mass.  All of the little lambs are of white felt.  Coming to the altar I noticed that one had silver and gold spots on it ... another looked somewhat like a Dalmatian with spots ... and one was very different with shades of blue and pink?  I smiled.  The readings this morning echoed the readings from last evening - the Good Shepherd.  They fell on the feast of a good shepherd - Nicholas - who served as a loving bishop long ago and as an inspiration even today.  I was reminded of something I read or heard recently that the Good Shepherd is shepherd of ALL the sheep, the good and the bad, the white and the black sheep.  Seeing the varied colored "sheep" gather around the image of the Good Shepherd was a reminder that our God is very inclusive, the lover of all, and the shepherd of an interesting flock.  He calls us to himself, from our diversity, in our uniqueness, to a unity and a life that only he can offer.  He is, indeed, a Good Shepherd.


     A side note ... we also invited parents and families to receive the Sacrament.  One young lady in maybe fifth or sixth grade received, and as she returned to her place, passed her Mom who was next in line, stopped, touched her on the arm, and said something.  Curious, I asked Mom what she said. her Mom said she told her "don't be nervous".  Good advice ... from the young to the grown ups.  I smiled.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bursting forth

     My apologies for not posting the last few days.  But with the first of the week, I'm at it again.  The weekend was busy with Reconciliations (here and at the neighboring parish for 1st Penance), Masses (our second weekend with the new Roman Missal translations which, by the way, went rather well  - people are catching on), a baptism and other things.

     The Advent readings continue to show us the transforming presence and power of God in our lives, and the effect that that presence brings to us.  When the paralyzed man was lowered through the roof and placed before Jesus, he was healed and forgiven his sins.  He stood up immediately, glorifying God.  Those who were there, believer and skeptic alike also glorified God.  There was nothing else that they could do.  The Hebrew scriptures remind us that those whom the Lord has ransomed will return to Zion singing, filled with everlasting joy and gladness.  They were compelled because they were bursting forth in praise of God's goodness and love.

     We tend to be too refined at times to express our joy and gladness.  Yesterday our choir was joined by Diana Mikash in an Advent piece at the presentation of gifts that was in the style of an old spiritual.  It was beautiful, and brought to my mind those who were returning to Zion ... with hands clapping and voices ringing and bodies swaying.  We were a little more reserved, much to our detriment.  But the spirit was there, as was the praise of God in our hearts.

     At the 11:00 am Mass we also welcomed Kenna Grace Scrima into the family of God through Baptism.  She brought a joy to our celebration.  We thank her parents for the gift of life that they shared with us.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A vision of hope

     Watching, reading about or listening to the news is becoming more of a challenge.  Disasters of all kind, bickering and character assassinations at every level, crashing economies and political upheavals, wars and uprisings and sit-ins, moral failures of those that we trusted or wanted to place trust in, are the news of the day.  It does not take the early darkness of Winter to force us to desire a new Spring, a new beginning.

     The Scriptures of this Advent season present us with a vision of hope, with an awareness that an invitation was given us to be children of light, a promise made that reminds us that we have been chosen to be victorious over all things, over all powers, over all darkness.  The word in today's reading from the prophet is addressed not to the leaders of the people, not to the power brokers, not to the wealthy ... but rather to the deaf, the blind, the lowly, the poor, the humble, the condemned.  For they will hear the words of a book ... they will see beyond the gloom and darkness ... they will find joy and rejoice in the Lord ...they will outlast the tyrant, the arrogant, those who desire evil.  They may be a remnant, a minority, a single tree on the landscape - but they will be regarded as an orchard, and the orchard as a forest.  When that remnant cries out, as did the blind men in the Gospel today "Son of David, have pity on us!", they will see and hear and rejoice and live, and they will tell the world the Good News.

     Does any of this sound appealing to you?  I does to me.  Lord, have pity on us!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

O God, come to my assistance

     With those words we begin the prayer of the Church.  Before we begin anything we need to call upon the Lord and seek his help.  It is especially true as we realize our limitations and the hurdles that our sinfulness and hardness of heart places before us.  They are the potholes on the road that make the going rough, the speed bumps that slow us down when we are in a hurry, the detours that challenge our skills at getting to our destination. 
     This season of Advent has us hastening toward a deeper understanding of and trust in the Lord Jesus.  There is an anxiousness in deepening our relationship with Christ.  The obstacles and impediments are frustrating at best and discouraging.  The collect today asks the Lord to stir up his power and help us, "that what our sins impede the grace of your mercy may hasten".  O God, come to our assistance today and always as we desire to "love the things of heaven".


Last evening I helped with the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the Mt. Pleasant Churches as their youngsters experienced the mercy of God for the first time sacramentally.  It was, as usual, an awesome experience of grace.  As a priest, we have many important roles and moving experiences of prayer.  These, with the little ones, are always a joy.  Our parish will gather next Monday to celebrate.  Pray for us.