Saturday, December 29, 2012

Religious rights

     The conflict between Church and State has always been there for one simple reason, we have two competing kingdoms working for our good and striving for our very existence.  One of those kingdoms involves our limited, earthly existence, our rights under the law of man, the common moral good of humanity for the sake of the whole.  The other involves a kingdom that, while finding itself living within the human condition in an earthly kingdom, has its roots in an eternal, heavenly kingdom whose justice and peace flows from the love of God for those that he has created.  It touches upon the heart of the matter, our eternal salvation, and the common good laid out in the relationship that we have with God.

     There are times when these two kingdoms work well together, with mutual respect, and with an understanding of the limitedness of the one and the eternal scope of the other.  But there are times when they stand in conflict with each other, over the abandoning of the law of God, or over the denying or diminishing of the rights given by human law, or by hatred, greed, indifference, ignorance or conceit.  When those times occur, people of faith stand threatened and, in the threat, challenged to stand and be counted.

     From the present moment of continued persecution of peoples because of faith in various parts of the world, the subtle erosion of rights and morality in society and law, even in civilized nations like ours, to those moments in history when respect for the people and the things of God were found wanting, we are challenged.  Today the Church honors a man who found himself with a foot in both kingdoms, but a heart that was drawn to the greater choice.  Thomas Becket lived in the 1100's England and grew up a close friend of the king, Henry II.  Thomas was educated and was even ordained a deacon (it meant less in those days and his situation).  He and Henry ran around together and lived a wild life.  Henry had a problem with the Church - her property and monies, her autonomy combined with his need for monies for war and the coffers - and saw in Thomas, already a deacon, an opportunity to place his man on the seat of Canterbury as the old Archbishop became ill.  Thomas warned him of potential conflict of interest, but the king did as he wanted.

     The crux of the problem was that, while still friends with the king, Thomas took his job seriously and underwent a transformation.  He was now answerable to God first, the king second.  And when the king began to take from the Church, Thomas stood up for her rights.  He became a thorn in the side of Henry II, who in a drunken stupor wished him dead.  His knights fulfilled his wish and Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered in the cathedral.  A famous story by T.S. Eliot and play by Jean Anouilh and a movie in 1964 tell the gripping story.  We have had countless witnesses to Gospel Truth and the heavenly kingdom over the centuries with Becket being one with a great story.  The problems continue to exist, the challenge to respond continue to be there, and the cloud of witnesses continue to provide inspiration and strength.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A needed witness

     From the moment that we are entrusted with the gift of Faith in Jesus Christ and the moment of our anointing with the Spirit at the waters of baptism, we are called to be witnesses - witnesses of the love of God within the world, witnesses of the freedom won for us by Christ on the Cross, and witnesses of the powerful presence of the wisdom and grace of the Spirit.  We are called to proclaim with our lips, live with the example of our lives, and to love with the passion of Christ.  We are called to join with the cloud of witnesses that have gone before us and those who will follow to form that life giving fellowship.

     Today the Church acknowledges the extraordinary sacrifice of the witness of the Holy Innocents, those male children two years of age or younger in and around the surrounding countryside near Bethlehem who were murdered by order of Herod the king in the hopes of ensnaring the Christ child.  This despicable act, rooted in petty greed and selfishness, is forever remember among the faithful, and these little ones are honored for their witness, unconsciously given and yet no less powerful than a spoken proclamation.  The Collect prayer today said:

"O God, whom the Holy Innocents confessed
and proclaimed on this day,
not by speaking but by dying,
grant, we pray,
that the faith in you which we confess with our lips
may also speak through our manner of life."
 
     Our lackluster witness, our reserved response to God's call, our shying away from the attacks on religious life, our easy acceptance of the status quo are an embarrassment when compared to the sacrifice and witness of these Holy Innocents and countless others who have laid all on the line for Christ.  These little ones, not "angels" but rather true Saints in heaven, should remind us of what is at stake and embolden us to do all that we can for the sake of the gospel message of Christ.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A day of local sadness

     I have served as pastor of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish for over four years now.  It is a wonderful place made up of great people of faith in this portion of Southwestern Pennsylvania (presently experiencing a storm of ice and snow that prompts me to express my gratitude at being able to hibernate here at the house).  I am the fifth pastor of this parish which was established in 1978.

     Today is an important and sad day of remembrance for this parish community.  It was on this day, December 26th, 1992 that the rectory (the priest's house) was ravaged by a fire, originating, I believe, from a faulty furnace.  The rectory, with offices, was attached to the church building, forming our complex.  I was speaking with a parishioner on Saturday who was a local fireman.  They had been called out to a traffic accident and were returning to the local station house when they saw the smoke from the road  and arrived even as or before the alarm was sounded.  While unable to turn back the destructiveness of the fire, they were thankfully able to save the church building itself.

     This was indeed fortunate, for after hard work at cleaning the church, it was able to serve as the gathering of the community for the funeral Mass for their pastor, Father William P. McGuire, who had suffered cardiac arrest and died in the rectory during the fire.  Kory, who was telling me the story of that day, said that after entering the front hallway, the first thing they found was Father McGuire lying on the floor near the front door.  He was already gone, adding to their sadness and grief.  Father McGuire, who was 53 at the time of his death and looking forward to his Silver Jubilee of Ordination, was the second pastor of the parish, a hard worker, an outgoing individual that endeared himself to so many.  His loss, coupled with that of the rectory and offices, was a devastating blow to this parish family.  And all of that took place twenty years ago today.

     I was pastor of the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg at the time, and my young Associate, who had gone home to Irwin on Christmas Day, called me to tell me of the fire.  I drove out here, but things were pretty well in hand by then.  So I sat across the road watching from a local restaurant parking lot and praying for the parish.  I did not as yet know of the death of Bill, or the extent of the damage.  But I remember the sinking feeling in my gut.  I also remember attending the funeral Mass a few days later, never imagining that I would serve here as pastor some years later.

     We remembered Bill McGuire at Mass this morning, and prayed for this parish family.  He came to our diocese from Philadelphia, where his brother was a priest, and was ordained on May 10, 1969 by the late Bishop William Connare, serving then in a number of assignments before coming to North Huntingdon.  As I said above, he was hardworking, and outgoing, he loved parties and enjoyed cooking (our kitchen in the parish hall bears his name), and he loved Christmas, especially decorating and celebrating.  Say a prayer for Father McGuire.  Say a prayer for this community on this day.  And say a prayer for their current shepherd, who could always use the prayers. 

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     Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2012 were wonderful.  The liturgies were great, the choirs and musicians awesome, the spirit of the season manifest, and the kindness of people clearly evident.  My sister, Janie, came down late on Christmas Eve after work, and attended the Midnight Mass.  Yesterday she did the cooking, for which I was very grateful - it was a delicious meal with many left overs - and we then sat around and enjoyed each others' company along with Sammy (the puppy).  She left this morning as the ice and sleet were beginning, and arrived safely home in time to get ready for work again (the trip normally takes an hour ... it took her just over two because of the road conditions).  I worried a great deal, but she is a good driver in snow, and made it home safely. I hope that your Christmas was blessed, and I hope that you thought of and remembered all of those whose Christmas was a little less so due to tragedy or storm.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Living Word

     MERRY CHRISTMAS to you all!

     The Gospel reading for the Christmas Mass during the day is a favorite of mine and brings back memories.  It comes from John, and begins "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."  That marvelous reading that introduces us to the Living Word of God, present for all time in the Godhead, yet made flesh in the Incarnation and brought into this world on that night in Bethlehem of Judea long ago, intersperses the word about The Word with the introduction and mission of the son of Elizabeth and Zachariah, John.  It is the reading that many of us remember as "the last gospel", said by the priest at the side of the Altar after the final blessing.

     That Word was in the beginning.  When God the creator called all things into being, it was his Word (Jesus) that voiced his desire, and it was their Spirit that gave life.  As our relationship with God and time itself has progressed, we see the Word calling us into intimacy and life.  When "the Word became flesh" heaven and earth was united in a unique way, and nothing has been the same since.

     Words are plentiful.  As I mentioned to the people this morning, the local public library is filled with countless words, my Nook, with the forty some books in my library, has its share, we are bombarded with words on TV or the movies.  Some of the words are inspiring, they lift the spirit, they open the mind and heart.  Some of those words are boring and routine, some even not worthy of recognition.  But there is ONE WORD, Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of the Father, our life, that is worthy of our attention even as He is desirous of our life.

     On this Christmas Day, let us allow that living Word to permeate our being, to guide our lives and to bring us to life as Children of our Heavenly Father.

    

Monday, December 24, 2012

The quiet of Christmas Eve

     Here we are in the early afternoon of Christmas Eve.  I have picked up the last of the goodies for the feast, a few last minute items at the local grocery store (where I witnessed a parking lot encounter that was devoid of peace and joy - a man in his car, blocking incoming traffic and clearly in the wrong, "cut off" by a person with the right of way ... I thought the man in the wrong was going to have a stroke, with language and gesture and tone that missed the Christmas spirit ... thank God his grandson in the rear seat held him back!).

     But now I am home, typing this post, and relaxing until the Vigil Mass at 6:00 pm.  We precede this Mass with story telling and carols led by our Young Voices Choir who are always so jubilant and uplifting.  I can't wait!

     I have included some photos of the manger scene at the former parish of Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale from years past.  (pictures of our place will be in the next post).




 
 

     Have a blessed and peace filled Christmas Eve, and if you have not slowed down as yet ... now is the time.   Peace!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Is it Christmas already?

     With the seasons being pushed forward by society to an earlier and earlier date, Christmas, in decorations, parties, shopping and gatherings is "old hat" by now.  Many are looking forward to the celebrations being over.  Even some of us purists at heart have given in and allowed the Christian Mothers Group to hold a Christmas Party pre-Christmas and given that Christmas Eve is Monday, allowed our crew to decorate the Church this past Thursday (the best day for their busy schedules).  Of course we did not turn the tree lights on tonight, nor was the Christ Child in the manger (oh, how I remember my younger days when I was more of a purist - church would never have been decorated before the Fourth Sunday of Advent!).

     But today I thought that I had misread my calendar and that tonight was Christmas Eve.  Our 4:00 pm Mass was super crowded with extra chairs being brought from our hall on the lower level.  Everyone seemed in a festive spirit, with many faces unfamiliar to me.  As I welcomed everyone, I wondered if they thought that it was Christmas Eve, or that they were just home early for the holidays, or maybe they were here because the world had not ended yesterday.  Whatever the reason, it was great seeing everyone and having such a crowd, and I welcomed them and invited them to join us often.

     I also shared a stat that I read on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops web site that remarked that there would be an estimated 33 million extra people at Mass during the Christmas Season that do not attend on a regular Sunday.  I said that if those attending tonight were in this group, we invite them to join our family weekly as we praise God.

     With the numbers tonight our celebration was right on.  Our Young Voices choir led us in song, and it was jubilant.  I reminded those present that our God is the God of the unexpected, that he is a God of surprises.  He takes the lowly and lifts them up, through the simple he bring about profound changes, he works wonders and miracles through the ordinary - an ordinary touched by the awesome love of God.  And we, expectant, awaiting, anticipating, are called to sing his praises and share his joy.  Christmas will come ... we will celebrate his birthday ... we will be grateful for that first incarnation ... we will live in his embrace ... and we will await his return in glory.   Tonight, at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, we had a glimpse of his glory.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A most excellent day

     The Diocese of Greensburg is giving thanks in a great way for the three men who were ordained to the transitional Diaconate last evening at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.  These men will continue their studies and preparation for ordination to the priesthood set for June 1st of 2013.  While we have had a concerted effort to promote vocations in this diocese, these are the first ordinations in many years in our Cathedral for the diocese, except for the first two Permanent Deacons ordained by Bishop Lawrence Brandt, our Diocesan Bishop.

     The men ordained include Tyler Bandura of Ford City, Matthew Morelli of New Alexandria and Daniel Ulishney of Greensburg.  Tyler is studying at Saint Mary Seminary in Baltimore, and Matt and Daniel are presently finishing degrees in Canon Law at the Catholic University of America after attending North American College in Rome.  They are good men, excited about ministry as deacons and looking forward to priesthood.  We are blest by their commitment and service, and look forward to welcoming them as brothers in the priesthood.

     I was under the weather yesterday and unable to attend the ordination, but I got a first hand account from a parishioner who attended, saw a picture in the local paper and read the news article on the Diocesan Web Page.

     This "dry period" on the ordination front has been difficult on us, and I hope that the tide has turned.  We continue to pray for and encourage vocations daily, asking the Lord for Shepherds for the harvest.   Congratulations to Tyler, Matt and Daniel.  Pray for them.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A peace filled evening

     This evening we priests gathered at Immaculate Conception Church in Irwin for the second of our four regional Advent Penance Services.  We had gathered at the neighboring Saint Agnes Church last Thursday, and we are scheduled at our place on Wednesday and Saint Edward in Herminie on Thursday.  These regional opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation are a great way to make the sacrament available to the People of God.

     This evening there were ten priests available to hear confessions and share the Lord's forgiveness - five monks from Saint Vincent Archabbey and the five local guys.  We usually begin with a good meal and tonight was no exception.  Following the fellowship around the table we gathered in the church, and from 7:00 to 8:40 pm the ten of us heard confessions straight through.  It was a good crowd, and those acknowledging that they were sinners did so with a humble desire for the Lord's mercy.  I found the experience very prayerful and very peace filled tonight.   I know that I should not be, but I am continually amazed at the mercy of Christ, the necessity of the Sacrament in the life of the Church, the trust of the people, and the way in which the Lord uses those of us, though unworthy, to be his ministers. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The difficulty of rejoicing today

     From what I am hearing, the news of Friday and the reaction to that news was part of the message in many if not most churches.  How could it not be.  The loss of live, so senselessly taken, and of twenty first and second graders, stops us in our tracks.

     I spoke this weekend of the difficult challenge of hearing and responding to the Church's invitation on this Third Sunday of Advent to "Rejoice!"  This Gaudete Sunday does not elicit a joyful, rejoicing response from our hearts.  While we readily acknowledge the presence in our lives of the One born in Bethlehem long ago and the desire of our hearts to eagerly await his Second Coming in glory and the preparation for the celebration of his birthday, our celebration is muted.  Instead of the joyful parade and celebration found in Oz when news of the death of the wicked witch  was heard which prompted song and all, we are more subdued today.

     I listened as the pastor of Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church, present with families in the firehall as the kids were brought in and reunited with families, was asked by the reporter what it was like and what he said to the families that remained, who had no child returning to them.  He spoke of the devastation and the agony.  The reporter asked "What did you say to those families?  What word of comfort did you give?"  He reported that he said nothing ... there are no words.  He was simply there as a presence.  He was an arm to lean on when knees grew weak, a shoulder to cry on when needed, a hand to hold, a sharing of tears.  That is what those families needed at that moment, a friend, a presence, reminder that they are not alone.  And he hoped that his presence would remind them that Christ stood with them.

     I shared today that maybe this is the quiet kind of rejoicing that we can do in this dark hour - to rejoice that we have a God so loving and so caring that even in our darkest hour he quietly stands with us.  He is the hand to hold, the arm to lean on, the shoulder for tears, the strong back for carrying us when we can no longer walk.  We have that confident assurance that just as the monsignor was for those families in Newtown so too Christ is for them and for us.  That is cause to rejoice, even if our rejoicing is a bit muted today.

     Please pray for those families and that community as they now prepare to bury their children and loves ones.  And please pray for that pastor and all of those who will have to speak words of comfort and of peace.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tears and sadness

     I was not near a news report until mid afternoon.  That it when I first heard of the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that took place this morning, another gunman opening fire in the school, killing six adults/teachers and twenty youngsters, most if not all in the kindergarten.  Ever since hearing the news, I cannot stop tearing up, thinking of the anguish of those parents and the trauma of those surviving kids.  Please keep all of those involved and all of those affected by this senseless action in you special prayers.

      The soul of this nation is once again torn apart by brutality and violence.  This time it touched too many little innocent lives.  It leaves us empty (my first reaction) and sad (a natural response).  But it also leaves me angry, because it is an indication as to where this great nation is headed.  Aside from the guns in the hands of so many issue, we are a nation that has embraced the culture of death in so many varied aspects of life that tragedy and death has become normal and routine.  We do not hold life to be sacred ... we do not waste our time on respect of others ... and while promoting rights, we lessen our tolerance of the rights of others, especially those different from us or those defenseless or less powerful than us.  We are headed down a terrible path.  There is so much joking speculation about "the end of the world" taking place, but the truth is that our world is all too quickly disintegrating.  The world that I once knew and that helped formed me, though not perfect, is all too readily becoming a thing of the past.  Our values are shot, our morals are compromised, our radiance is now diminished.  I realize that I am sounding fairly negative at the moment, and that is because of the effect of today's news, but the truth persists.  The only hope, the only light at the end of the tunnel, is found in the message of Jesus and the strength that his family in the Church can provide.  We are not called to be transformed by the world but rather to transform our world by bring to her light and hope, rooted in love and peace.

May the sorrowful mother, Mary,
comfort those who mourn the loss of their loved ones and children.
And may the Good Shepherd embrace with love
the little sheep that are suffering.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An Advent Icon

     In our part of Southwestern Pennsylvania we are blessed to have as friends and neighbors many in the Eastern Rite Churches, with a strong Ruethenian Byzantine Catholic presence.  Thus we know the beauty and the meaning of an icon.  In the Eastern Churches there are few if any statues.  Most of the sacred images are in the form of an icon, a painting in stylized form that portrays the heavenly mysteries.

    Today the Church celebrates the feast of a primary icon of Advent, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Last Saturday we looked to her Immaculate Conception in the womb of Saint Anne, and embraced her as the patron of the United States of America.  Today we look at the patroness of all of the Americas in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  This feast, celebrating the appearance of Mary as a young native girl with child to Juan Diego, a convert to Christianity, was an important moment in God's plan.  The fact that she appeared to a peasant, a native of the place and not to the ruling class or the upper crust was shocking.  The fact that her image was that of a native person rather than that of a Spanish maiden was even more shocking.  The fact that she appears to be carrying her child in the womb was unexpected.  All of this happened in the 1500's in Mexico.  And because of the shocking and unexpected nature of the apparition, countless people came to embrace Our Lady of Guadalupe and more importantly the Son that she brought into the world.

     An icon is an image.  This image of Mary presented to us is an Advent reminder that ALL are called to the Son of Mary, that ALL are equal in the eyes of God, that ALL are pregnant with hope and anticipation of salvation and new life, and that the message of the Christ is not reserved for a few but meant for ALL.  She is an invitation to life.

     The other primary icon of Advent is our friend, John, the son of Elizabeth and Zachariah, the one called the baptist.  He too points the way and makes known the savior.  He too calls us to repentance and a change of heart so that we might live in Christ.  He is an invitation to life.

     And that is what Advent is ... a time of realizing who we are in Christ, of realizing the need for repentance and conversion, and a time of hearing in our own lives and becoming for others "an invitation to life".  Thank God for these two tremendous icons of Advent.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Highway of our God

     In the vision of Isaiah the prophet which we heard today in the first reading, hope is given, restoration is imminent, rejoicing echoes in the Universe.  The desert and parched land will bloom and rejoice.  The hands of the feeble will be strengthened and the knees of the weak made firm.  The blind will see, the deaf hear, the lame leap, the mute will sing when the glory of the Lord is revealed, when he comes with vindication. 

     He tells us that a highway will be there, called the holy way.  It is for those who have a journey to make, and the redeemed will walk in its way.  Those ransomed will return to the Lord and enter Zion singing with everlasting joy.  What a vision!  What excitement!  What an image!

     Those same words were part of song that I seem to remember from my days of involvement with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.  That hymn "Therefore the Redeemed of the Lord", a hymn of hand clapping and joy always roused the crowd and lifted the heart.  It spoke of light at the end of the tunnel, of strength and courage in moments of weakness, of hope in the most difficult of times.

     As I listened to the reading this morning, I felt those same feelings.  I wanted to start singing that old song (but then I realized that it was not Lent yet, and the people there did not need punishment that early in the morning, so I resisted).  But what we, who are on this JOURNEY to Christ, cannot fail to do is to rejoice in the Lord always as we take this highway to our God.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Let nothing hinder us

     I hope that we were all attentive to the words and spirit of the prayer of the celebrant at Mass today as the Collect the prayer on our behalf ... "Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son ... " was offered to the Father.   There needs to be a growing sense of urgency to our desire for God and our involvement in his life giving body.  That urgency does not flow from fear, but rather from the growing uncertainties of life around us and the growing awareness that the answer must be found in something outside of ourselves.   If, as we know, there is a Higher Power, a Transcendant God, a merciful Savior then he must hold the answer.  And if, as we know, that same God is intimately connected to our lives by a deep and abiding love, then we must with all of our hearts and minds, all of our efforts, seek to know him, and to love him, and to serve him.   And not tomorrow, or when I am better prepared, or if the circumstances are appropriate ... but NOW! 

     The Scriptures today reminded us that in ancient times as well as today, when someone of great importance announced a visit every effort was made by the entire place to "prepare the way".  The winding way was made straight, the hills leveled and the valleys filled in, the road paved and made smooth.  Homes were readied, food was prepared and hearts were made ready with great anticipation.  Even today if I want something, if the desired dream vacation is planned, if something important in my life is pending, I will do all in my power to make sure that it happens.  Nothing will stand in the way.  And these are things that pass away, things that are transitory.  There should be nothing hindering us from our journey toward Christ.  That is what ADVENT is about - our "ad venio", our "coming toward" Him who is the source of all, the Lord of life.  Let nothing hinder our journey or lessen our desire.

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     This was a weekend of great liturgies.  On Saturday evening our regional Senior Youth Ministry ministered in our parish at the 4:00 pm Mass, serving in various liturgical capacities and assisting with lively music.  This is a part of their monthly Teen Hope Mass as they visit the three area parishes that form the regional youth efforts.  It was great.
     This morning at 8:30 am we were blessed with our Adult Choir (who usually sings at 11) and at the 11:00 am Mass we had our Young Voices Choir (the youth choir).  Both the Adult and Young Voices were accompanied by organ, keyboard, flute, trumpet, guitar, percussion, and at the 11am a violin.  Awesome.  We are so blessed.  Kudos to Marion Siebert our Director of Music and Diana Mikash, Director of Young Voices and so much more.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

An Advocate of Grace

     In the history of our young diocese (Greensburg, Pennsylvania) December the 8th holds a very special day of remembrance.  It was on this date in 1959 that our first bishop, Hugh L. Lamb, died after leading us for a little less than ten years.  He had come to us from Philadelphia and took a fledgling local church that had been a part of Pittsburgh and formed a new diocese.  I remember hearing of his death from my grandma Lenard in her backyard that day after she heard of his death on the radio.  I had met him once, at my Confirmation, but knew little of the man.  There was sadness nonetheless.  Say a prayer for him today.

     Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Confusing to some, this is a feast about Mary and her mom and dad, by tradition known as Joachim and Anne.  Her conception was rooted in the love of this man and woman for each other.  Her birth brought great rejoicing to two people of faith and their families.  Her childhood was rooted in being a daughter of Abraham, being attentive to the teaching, word and promise of her people, and being obedient to the will of God.

     But then that day came when Gabriel appeared to her and announced Good News.  He acknowledged that she was "Full of grace" and that "the Lord was with her".  Her life of quiet holiness, her resistance to the temptations of life to sin, her unqualified trust in God suddenly began to make sense.  The Lord was with her, and she was full of grace.

     Later the Church would honor that gift given to her from the moment of her conception, the gift that would become a part of our life from the moment of our baptism - a freedom from sin and the inherent weakness which it brings into our human existence, and a realization that we are called to be holy and, in fact, have been graced to live a holy life.  She did not live in a protective bubble that shielded her from temptation, but rather knew that her God had empowered her to resist that temptation and live in his love.  The Preface for this feast says that "you placed her above all others to be for your people an advocate of grace and a model of holiness."  She, who gave form and life to the One who would set all people free of sin and death, would be free of the effects of that original sin and death, and would choose to live in holiness of life.  She stands as a great advocate of grace and a true model of holiness.  And she is our Mother in Faith.

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     If you have ever watch "The O'Riley Factor" on the Fox network, he often would at the end of a broadcast give a "word of the day".  I have found our "word of the day" in the Prayer Over the Offerings in today's liturgy.  The word is "PREVENIENT".  The prayer speaks of the prevenient grace given to Mary.  My Latin may be rusty, but "venio" means "to come" and "pre" means "before", thus it should mean the grace given Mary even before the coming of Jesus.  Not your every day English word.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Stepping aside

     Yesterday, the Feast of Saint Nicholas, saw nearly forty of our priests along with Bishop Brandt step aside from the normal activities of the day to spend an afternoon in prayer and reflection.  This Advent Day of Reflection was given by a dynamic preacher, nationally and internationally known speaker Father Larry Richards of the Diocese of Erie, and was held at the Bishop William G. Connare Center, our diocesan Retreat facility.  It was a great opportunity as priests to pause and reflect.

     Much of what Father Larry Richards presented was an encouragement to look at our ministry as priests from the starting point of Jesus' ministry - at his baptism by John.  Father Richards pointed out that in one of the gospel accounts, when John had baptized Jesus, the Spirit came upon him and the Father spoke and said "You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased."  At our baptism the Father says the same thing - "you are my beloved ... I am well pleased".  With that in mind, we begin our journey and enter into the ministry entrusted to us to share the Good News.  Unworthy though we are, caught up in the failure that sin makes present, we are affirmed with the reality that "We are his beloved" ... "We are the beloved disciple" ... and he rejoices in us.

     As priests, the gift of Orders begins our public ministry.  If we embark upon that ministry with those words of the Father echoing in our minds and hearts, then we begin on a solid and sure footing.  Then, when the inevitable challenge confronts us, we find the strength to transform it into something redemptive.  And when we find success and experience fulfillment, for they, too, will come, we know where our blessings come from.  It was a helpful message.

      We began the day with Mid-Day Prayer, a conference followed by a break, then to chapel for Eucharistic Adoration, an opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation (with gratitude to monks from Saint Vincent Archabbey who served as confessors), a wrap up session, Evening Prayer and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.  We closed the day with a social and a good meal prepared by the staff of the Bishop Connare Center.

    It was refreshing, I was blessed, and Advent and ministry take on a clearer focus.

Influencing Others

     Today is the feast of Saint Ambrose, the bishop of Milan in the mid 300's.   Ambrose was a scholar, is considered a Doctor of the Church, defended the Church against heresy and accomplished many great things.  He influenced countless people, one of which was a young man by the name of Augustine, who later went on to become bishop of Hippo and a great saint of the Church.

     Ambrose was not out to snare or impress Augustine.  He was simply preaching the gospel message with the strength and conviction that was in his heart.  He allowed the Spirit to move within him and to use him in his pastoral duties.  He simply shared his love of Christ with anyone who would listen to his words or accept his example.

     Augustine was not one "looking to be snared or impressed" either.  In fact, Augustine was a pagan in reality (never baptized) as well as in heart (no desire for God or the things of God).  Augustine led a wild and wicked life, and despite his learning was less than open to the message of the gospel.  Then he heard Ambrose preaching while passing through Milan.  With the Spirit at work in Ambrose and in Augustine, a connection took place that set Augustine on a course that would lead to his coming to know and to embrace Jesus Christ, accepting the waters of Baptism, and transforming his life. 

     The story of Ambrose and Augustine is a great story of influence and inspiration that can take place as we "live the gospel of Jesus Christ".

     It reminds me of another person of influence - Francis of Assisi - who in his newly adopted lifestyle of embracing Lady Poverty and gospel direction, influenced many to follow him.  He also, in his preaching in the town square, attracted and influenced a young woman named Clare to leave family and friends and dedicate her life to Christ.  There is a tradition (true or not?) that Francis at some point said to his friars that they were to preach the Gospel ... and to use words if necessary.  Whether it is by word or example, living the Faith, proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus Christ, bringing Christ to others by being Christ for others, is our task.  Influencing others is the wonderful result of fulfilling that task.

    

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Various Things

     I recently saw an advertisement for a plaque that contained some sage advice, especially in the hectic season that we find ourselves in prior to Christmas.  Things are so busy, there is so much to do, the level of activity reaches epic proportions as we attempt to "get ready".  As I get older I have learned to appreciate the gift of the Season of Advent that the Church in her wisdom places before us.  It is a time of preparation that is not activity centered, but rather one of quiet, attentive awaiting - a time of giving thanks for the gift of the historical Jesus and the events that took place in Bethlehem  so long ago - the Incarnation, God-with-us.  It is a time of giving thanks for the presence of Christ in our hearts and lives at this moment of our existence, with the challenges of keeping that relationship fresh and alive.  But it is primarily a time of reflecting upon the fact that we believe that he "will come again", the he will draw us into his heart and bring us before the Father of Creation at the end of time.

     Getting back to the ad, it said:

LISTEN & SILENT
have the same letters.
Coincidence?
 
     This period of awaiting, of anticipation, of listening requires of us not the hustle and bustle that others place upon the season, but rather the SILENCE that will allow us to truly LISTEN.  Talk about being counter-cultural!  And yet it is the best advice that I have heard for a long time.  Take time during Advent to be SILENT and LISTEN.
 
 
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     Yesterday on EWTN I watched the Installation Mass of Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis, Indiana.  I love watching these ordination/installation Masses when they occur, to see the Church at work.  I was impressed with yesterday's ceremony:  the Cathedral there seems massive (and it was filled) ... the music was great, plentiful and embraced by all present ... the ceremonies went off smoothly (which is not always the case) ... but most importantly, I was impressed with the new Archbishop, with his warmth, charm, prayerful style, and preaching.  He spoke from the heart and not from a prepared text, which to me speaks volumes.  He had his audience, and he had me.  Blessing to the Church in Indianapolis.
 
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     And did you see that the Pope as of yesterday has a Twitter account.  I am in total ignorance of "Twitter", but I  give the Vatican credit for reaching out in the social media.  Rocco, in "Whispers" has a good post on this along with the Holy Father's Twitter address.  Check it out.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Local Advent Tradition

     Last evening I attended a local gathering of the priests and deacons from our diocese.  This gathering is sort of a "new year's" party to welcome the new Church year on the First Sunday of Advent.   The tradition began in this diocese many years ago with Monsignor Sam Conway hosting the gatherings, succeeded by Father Mike Sikon for a number of years and last evening Father Rick Kosisko taking up torch.  It is billed as an "Ordo Burning Party".  The Ordo is a small book published each year that gives the order of prayer in the liturgy of the hours and the celebration of the Eucharist for each year.  In case you thought we priests were so smart that we knew everything, this book tells us what feasts to celebrate when, where the prayers are to be found, the readings, etc.  They are handy little things, but they change yearly.  So, even though it is just an excuse to gather, we bring our Ordo books and with a prayer and semi-official ritual, burn them outside in the back yard of the rectory.  Then we party.

     There was a second reason for the gathering, and that was a friendly celebration of the recent retirement of Monsignor Ed McCullough of our diocese.  Ed is well known and well liked by the men, and this was in part in his honor as well.

     Last night's gathering saw at least twenty-five of the men gather for great food, drink, fellowship, and a Steeler win over the Ravens.  It was relaxed and very informal.  Bishop Brandt joined in the festivities as did a number of our new priests from the Philippines.  It is a great tradition, and we are grateful to Rick for hosting us last night.

One Year Later

     It was on Saturday, November 26, 2011 that we began the use of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal with its new translations of the prayers.  It was a day that was preceded by much preparation, teaching, instruction and in some cases, dread.  I, for one, was less than enthusiastic about the change.  After thirty-eight years of praying prayers that were familiar, expressing easily what was in my heart, and flowing from the lips, the prospect of new and cumbersome translations was not welcome.  After weeks of preparation, the initial greeting of "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all" brought the response "And also with you".

     This Saturday, December 1, 2012 we reached the milestone of having completed one year with the "new book".  On this First Sunday of Advent, following the same greeting, easily flowed the response "And with your spirit".  I had no trouble finding my place in our edition of the Roman Missal (even though there are things that I still cannot find).  I have learned to take my time with the wording and the pace of the prayer, and to more often than not make sense out of run on sentences and less than inspiring English grammar.  I have learned to appreciate the many beautiful images and concepts contained in the prayers, especially the Collects, and I use them often in my homilies.  I have not restricted myself to "one" option or Eucharistic Prayer, but vary them often.  I find myself actually (almost) liking the word "dewfall".  Being a slow learner, I am finally weaning myself away from visual slavery to the book, and I am regaining eye contact a little better.  I still stumble over the Creed (unless I have the text in front of me) and I have a real mental block with the intro to the "Our Father".

     In our parish we are into our second set of musical Mass settings, and both have been well received.  Resistance is minimal ... and if you are an old "Star Trek" fan, then you will know that I say "resistance if futile".  We are blessed with a very good musical program for which I am mighty thankful.

     I have been to workshops with priests from many parts of the country who have a great dislike of this disruption in their liturgical prayer life, and who resist at every turn.  I must admit that I thought that I would be among their number at this point in time.  But I find that I am not.

     The wording is lengthy, the sentence structure is at times terrible, and the challenge of praying the unfamiliar is uncomfortable, but it is here to stay ... and it is not that bad.  Plus, it is the universal prayer of the Church, and we are finally on board.  So, happy one year anniversary ... and by the time I am ready for retirement this translation and these prayers will be second nature to me and flow from my lips.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Introductions, please

     I believe that it is John the Evangelist in his gospel that introduces us to Andrew, the brother of Simon (Peter).  Andrew was a disciple and follower of John the Baptizer, as well as a fellow fisherman with his brother, Simon.  In his attraction to the message of John, he saw Jesus and knew in his heart that this was the one.  Excited, he returned to his brother and told him to come and meet the master, to seek him out and to come to belief.  He wanted to introduce his brother to the Lord.

     In Matthew today we hear of Jesus introducing himself to Andrew and Simon, who were casting their nets into the sea, and inviting them to "Come after me ...".

     Introductions are important.  In fact, it was the Baptizer John who announced to all of those who were with him the day that Jesus came to the waters of the Jordan that "This is the Lamb of God".  That introduction opened the way for them to hear and embrace the Living Word of God and begin to focus on the One who is greater than John.

     In his letter to the Romans this morning, Paul says that if we confess with our lips and believe in our heart that Jesus is Lord, we will be saved and justified.  He says "For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."  But then he adds, how can they call on one in whom they have not believed?  And how can they believe if they have not heard?  How can they hear if no one preaches?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?

     Like Andrew who hungered and searched for an answer to life and was introduced to John, then through John to Jesus, and who shared that introductory task with his brother, and countless others, we are also invited to introduce to him all whom we love - all whom we know - all whom we meet.  It is the introduction of a lifetime.  We have been blessed, so share the blessing.

     Introductions, please ...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A worldwide Kingdom

     This past Sunday the Church celebrated the Feast of Jesus Christ Our Lord, King of the Universe.  I shared on Saturday a reflection on the feast.  But on Sunday I had the experience of sharing our 11:00 am liturgy with three brothers who have come to our diocese to bring the Word of God and to minister to God's People in this part of the world.  These three - Fathers  Ronald Maquinana, Gerry Juarez and Jose Pimentel - who have recently arrived from the Philippines to serve as priests in this missionary diocese, are wonderful priests who have accepted a great sacrifice in leaving family and diocese to come to the U.S.  They join two others who have been with us for over two years now, and who have endeared themselves to us, Fathers Joseph and Jimmie.

     Their visit to our parish was a part of their introduction to the diocese and their period of adjustment to this local Church.  Each had the opportunity to introduce themselves to the people of SEAS (Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton) and to receive our wholehearted welcome.  After Mass I invited them to dinner, and found out a little more of their lives and experiences of priesthood.  They are delightful, and I am sure a welcome addition to our priestly service.  They are awaiting their assignments, so keep them in your prayers ... and if you are local, express your welcome to them if and when you meet them.

     So, on the feast of the King of the Universe, it was a universal as well as local celebration of Catholic Faith.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Long Live Christ the King!

     Last year on this Sunday we celebrated the "Feast of Christ the King".  This year, after a year with the Roman Missal, 3rd Edition, we celebrate the "Feast of Jesus Christ our Lord, King of the Universe".  Under either title, we acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives at the close of the liturgical year and also at a time in history when that acknowledgment is ignored and ridiculed by so many.

     This feast is rich in historical background, yet relatively new to the Church's celebration.  Even though only established universally by Pope Pius XI in 1925, the roots of the celebration, as found in Scripture, go back to the beginning.  In the story of creation, Adam and Eve did not speak of God as a king, but they knew who was "boss", and that their friendship and relationship with him meant everything to them.  He was their all.  When the People of God wanted an earthy king, like their neighbors, God gave them a man after his own heart, David.  Sinner though he was, David knew God as his Lord and King, and reflected that in his governance.  Daniel in the first reading today speaks of the Kingdom of God, an eternal kingdom that will never end.  When God sent his own Son to us, and that Son was brought before Pilate, Pilate asked whether he was a king.  Jesus said: "It is you who say that I am" and acknowledges that his kingdom does not belong to this earth - but that he is King and Lord.  Paul in Romans asks who do we live for - do we live our lives for ourselves or do we live our life for Christ?  A great question.

     Why a feast of Kingship and Lordship in 1925?  Why then, for what purpose?  The reason is that history was at a particularly critical juncture.  Church and State were often seen as one, and when the State bore the weight of poor leadership, when revolution was necessary, often the Church suffered as well.  But even worse, in the Russian Revolution of 1917, not only the Church and State, but religion and faith itself was relegated to the opium of the people, the superstition that kept people back, the blindness that would stifle growth and prosperity, knowledge and wisdom.  There was no god but the state, no lord or master other than yourself (or the state), no religion worth following except for the man made ideologies of the secular mind.  The same held true in the Revolution in Mexico in the mid twenties.  Priests and bishops and thousands upon thousands of everyday Catholics were imprisoned and put to death, by firing squad and hangings, in those years.  Those who resisted, known as the Christeros, had a rallying cry that was on the lips of Blessed Father Miguel Pro (whose feast was yesterday) as he was being shot "Viva Christo Rey!" - "Long Live Christ the King!"  (I have mentioned previously the excellent movie entitled "For Greater Glory" which tells the story of those days ... it spent no time in the theaters but is available on DVD).

     Those days were at the beginning of a century that saw unbelievable suffering and death, inhumanity to man and negation of God, horrors beyond imagining.  Was it wise, with all of that happening, to draw our attention to the Lordship of Jesus Christ?  Is it important even now with governments, good and bad, who are struggling with their inadequacies to acknowledge the Kingship of Christ?  Now more than ever.

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     On a lighter note, do you realize that one month from tonight we will be celebrating the birthday of that Prince of Peace who is our Lord of Life?  We are one month away from Christmas Eve.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday

     Here we are in the middle of "Black Friday", a day dedicated to the unbridled expression of our consumeristic society.  This is the day of super sales, of packed stores and near riots in those stores when "the doors open", of the official beginning of the holiday season, of our going mad.  The retail store that my sister works in was well on their way to reaching their goal for the day, a fact that she reported to me as she got home from a thirteen hour shift  late this morning.  Hopefully she is sleeping soundly at home.  My understanding is that this is called "Black Friday" because it is the hoped for moving of the bottom line of commercialism into the black, into the good of profit.  I call it "Black Friday" for other reasons - it brings out that which is less appealing in our human nature.

     Yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, is now being referred to as "Grey Thursday", mainly because many of those same stores are opening earlier, even into Thanksgiving Day - to appease eager shoppers and to get a jump on things.  A day held sacred for lots of years even in our secular society has begun to be undermined. 

     Thanksgiving was a day of rest, a day with family and friends, a day of good food, fellowship, prayer and gratitude.  Even for those not wise enough to recognize a greater power that is the source of our blessings, it was nonetheless a day of being grateful for what we have.  It was a special day set aside for something greater than the ordinary and the usual.  With parades and football and hopefully Mass or a time of prayerful gratitude, it stood out and helped us regain our priorities and reset our goals.  The infringement on that day is to be lamented.  The "greying" of Thanksgiving is to be counted a loss.

     But my lamenting goes well beyond Thanksgiving Day, for the way we describe thanksgiving is the way we used to and should continue to describe our "day of thanksgiving" which began and should begin our every week - the Lord's Day.  What we are losing in the national holiday has already been lost in our busy and self consumed society.  When we lost that day, that moment for family and friends, that gathering around the Table of the Lord and our family table, that day of rest and refreshment, we began to lose our souls.  We accept it under the guise of the inevitable or the common good, but we are less for it.  The brightness of that first day of the week, "SUN"day, our recharging moment of grace, has been clouded over in the darkness of self.  If we have accepted the greyness that afflicts Sundays then how can we be surprised that even Thanksgiving is being lost.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A day remembered

     Well, the day is almost over and thanks has been given, in worship this morning, at the beginning of a good meal, expressed to my sister, Janie, and together with her for mom and dad, and quietly in my heart for all of those who are a part of my life and ministry.  This Thanksgiving Day was a day of thanksgiving.

     Last year on this date, November 22nd, my post was entitled "What were you doing?"  I reflected upon the tragic events of November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas.  For those of us of that generation, this day will always have meaning and the events of that day will always resonate in our lives.  Naturally we are not what we were then, things change.  But I truly believe that we have lost so much over the years, losses that are increasing in speedy ways as time goes on.  The President's death did not bring this change about, but it serves as a recognizable starting moment in history.   We will survive, as history has shown.  President Kennedy's assassination took place 98 years following another presidential assassination on Good Friday, April 15th in 1865.  And the nation survived that terrible event.  But it behooves us to always "remember".

The Table of Plenty

     HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL!

     Today in this great nation we pause "to give thanks" for the blessings that we have received.  The stories of the early days of our presence in this land tell of such days - with the pilgrims of New England, the Jamestown Colony of Virginia, and I recently read of such a gathering in what is now Florida by the Spanish settlers in Saint Augustine.  Those gatherings often included those who were not a part of "the" family, but who lived here already, and in many cases provided insight on survival in a new land.  These gatherings usually took place at harvest time and celebrated the completion of the preparations to survive for a while longer.  These gatherings were rarely a celebration of untold abundance, but usually followed a devastating and harsh year or two of not having enough, of barely surviving.  These gatherings always took place around a table and the gathering of the family with friends, old and new.  These gatherings always paused to give thanks ... to the Almighty Lord, to God.  Even those that were not religious knew the value of acknowledging that higher power.

     For those of us who are people of Faith, giving thanks must be second nature.  Realizing how we are gifted and blessed is paramount to understanding who we are and who God is.  Our gathering around a table as family to give thanks is something that we do often, at least weekly at the Sunday Eucharist (a word that means "to give thanks"), and not only on this Thursday in November.

     There is a hymn that we sing entitled "Come to the Feast" which goes something like this ...
Come to the feast of heaven and earth,
come to the table of plenty;
God will provide for all that we need,
here at the table of plenty.

     As you gather around your table to share the plenty that we have been blessed with, remember the other feast at the other table that we gather around on the Lord's Day, and pledge to be faithful to giving thanks ... not only on this Thanksgiving Day but on every day of our lives, and not only at this table, but at the Lord's Table where God provides all that we need.



      Our Table of Plenty and Table of Life at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
 
     My sister Janie and I will be dining out and sharing a Thanksgiving buffet at Carson's Premiere Catering in Scottdale which is operated by Tim Carson, a friend.  Janie works in retail, and as everyone who does knows, "these are the times that try men's souls".  She worked late yesterday and goes in tonight at around ten, thus not having time to cook (or rest).  The only problem in eating out is that there are no leftovers to nibble on.  Disappointing, but good for the wasteline.
 
     Another Thanksgiving memory that I have and want to share is that while on Sabbatical in the Fall of 1996 in Berkeley, some in our program were from Canada.  We got to celebrate both the Canadian and the United States Thanksgiving Days, which we did with gusto.  Good memories.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Worthy are You ...

     In the midst of a remarkable vision, having received an invitation to "Come up here and I will show you what must happen afterwards", standing before the throne, surrounded by the twenty-four elders, the hosts of heaven and the four living creatures, John, as recounted in the Book of Revelation, heard this exclaimed:

"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty,
who was, and who is, and who is to come."
 
    The hosts of heaven fell on their faces in worship.  The elders who were crowned with glory and sat upon the thrones of leadership, threw their crowns and themselves down in humble adoration and worshiped the One who sat upon that throne.  They exclaimed:
 
"Worthy are you, Lord our God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things;
because of your will they came to be and were created."
 

    The vision, couched in terms that are foreign and fanciful to the sophisticated hearer, is a bold image of what happened in time, of what is to take place now, and of what is meant to be in the days ahead.  We stand before the throne of the life-giving God, the One who has set all things in motion and given us life, the One who has freed us from sin and death by the death of his Son on that Cross, and the One who must be the Lord of our lives.  Fanciful?  Or the unbelievably necessary reality for us?  Make believe or reality?  An option if and when needed or essential for life?  I know the answer, as I hope you do as well.  However, for the masses who do not see clearly the urgent message or are too weak to respond in Faith or just too blind, we need to pray, fast, witness and intercede in their behalf.  The reason is simple - HE - whom we love and adore and who we introduce them to, is worthy to receive their glory and honor and praise as well as ours.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Our reputation

     Reputations are things of major importance.  They make or break a person.  They reflect who we are by reflecting on what we do.  They give people a notion of what to expect in a person.

     When a person's reputation is rooted in fact, then, good or bad, we have a clear vision of the person.  However, as we all know, reputations can be harmed and even destroyed by accusation and falsehood.  I knew a man in the seminary years ago that served as a good priest in a New England diocese, was accused of sexual abuse and found innocent, restored to the parish, but found his reputation destroyed and life too much to bear.  I pray for his soul, and I ask you to offer a prayer for him and for victims of all kinds of abuse.  We need to look into the heart of the person and see what Christ himself loves of that person, rather than judging by the externals or the accusations that build reputations.

     This morning at Mass we heard the Lord speak to the Church in Sardis in the Book of Revelation.  In the letter written to the Church he says "I know your works, that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.  Remember then how you accepted and heard; keep it, and repent."   The Church at Sardis looked pretty good.  Their PR was great.  They rested on their reputation, but were lacking, empty and hollow inside where it mattered.  The Lord tells them to remember their relationship with him, their commitment to him, what the loss of that commitment would mean, and repent.

     To the Church in Laodicea he lays an even heavier accusation.  Again he says he knows their works and that they are neither hot nor cold about the relationship.  Because they are lukewarm, he will spit them out of his mouth.  He says "For you say, 'I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,' and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked."  Revelation is so powerful (read the entire passage - Revelation 3:1-6; 14-22).

     And in the Gospel of Luke we encounter the curious Zacchaeus whose reputation, well deserved, is nonetheless invited to welcome Jesus into his home.  His reaction, his response, his repentance opens to him and for him a place in the Kingdom and more importantly a place within the heart of Christ.

     We should be concerned about our reputation.  But since that may not always be within our control, we must more importantly be concerned with our heart, so that we may hear the words "Today salvation has come to this house".

Monday, November 19, 2012

Remembrance Day

     On this date (November 19th) 149 years ago there was a gathering of dignitaries and ordinary people in the town of Gettysburg to dedicate a National Cemetery to the Union soldiers who had lost their lives in the early July battle that would become famous in the Civil War of the United States.  The ceremonies were impressive, the keynote speaker spoke long and eloquently, but one small speech made in brief remarks by the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, are what is remembered.  I remember learning those words while in school, and they are worth repeating here today, on this anniversary of their first being spoken.

Four score and seven years ago
our fathers brought forth,
upon this continent,
a new nation, conceived in Liberty,
and dedicated to the proposition
that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war,
testing whether that nation,
or any nation so conceived,
and so dedicated, can long endure.
We are met here on a great battlefield
of that war.
We have come to dedicate a portion of it
as a final resting place
for those who here gave their lives
that that nation might live.
It is altogether fitting and proper
that we should do this.
 
But in a larger sense we can not dedicate -
we can not consecrate -
we can not hallow this ground.
The brave men, living and dead,
who struggled, here, have consecrated it
far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note,
nor long remember, what we say here,
but it can never forget what they did here.
 
It is for us, the living, rather
to be dedicated here to the unfinished work
which they have, thus far,
so nobly carried on.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated
to the great task remaining before us -
that from these honored dead
we take increased devotion to that cause
for which they here gave
the last full measure of devotion -
that we here highly resolve
that these dead shall not have died in vain;
that this nation shall have
a new birth of freedom;
and that this government
of the people, by the people,
for the people,
shall not perish from the earth.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN, November 19, 1863
 
 
     Lest we forget - a terrible struggle, unbelievable sacrifice, and great words of dedication - we have Remembrance Day.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Lincoln

     I went to the movies this afternoon.  This is not an unusual event for me, for I love going to the movies.  In fact, back in 1996 while on sabbatical in California I was teased about being a fledgling film critic.  There was a majestic old movie house a block from the parish where I lived in Oakland that saw me cross its threshold often.  I also attend the matinee showings because its easier to get away for a while in the afternoon rather than the evening and its less expensive (although they recently raised the prices).

     I mention my afternoon experience because the movie that I saw was excellent ... LINCOLN, by Steven Spielberg.  As I have mentioned before, I am somewhat of a Civil War buff, and have always been fascinated by Abraham Lincoln.  This movie is less about the man and more the story of the struggle to pass the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution that dealt with slavery.  This took place in early 1865 when that amendment passed the House of Representatives.  And yet this movie is also all about the man, Abraham Lincoln.

     The movie is long, not packed with action, wordy, a period piece, but excellent, in my opinion.  To see the workings of the times in the political and moral arenas is fascinating.  To begin to understand the historical significance of that moment in history, and to see some of its key players makes history exciting.

     But what makes the movie is the acting of Daniel Day-Lewis who portrays Lincoln.  I saw him on a talk show the other day when he spoke of his hesitancy to take the role.  How could a Brit dare to portray an American icon?  He said that it took a great deal of persuasion by the director.  But capture the man he did.  I was convinced that I was watching the president in action, his mannerisms, his humor, his self deprecation, his struggle, tiredness and pain.  It is in my humble opinion a role worthy of awards.  Others in the cast were excellent as well, but it was Daniel Day-Lewis that made this movie.  I am truly glad that I went this afternoon.  It may not be every one's "cup of tea" (that is why I share so few "reviews" - we each see things differently), but this is a movie that stands out in a sea of much less inspiring films of late.  This one gets my vote.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Talk about a challenge!

     In the letter of Paul to Philemon found in today's first reading we are presented with an interesting challenge.  Philemon was a disciple of Paul possibly from Colosae, and a slave owner.  Paul, at this point in time was under arrest in Rome or Caesarea.  During his imprisonment he encounters a young man named Onesimus, a run away slave of Philemon.  This young man ministers to Paul, and Paul leads him to Christ through baptism.  Paul sees him as a son in Christ, and Onesimus sees Paul as a spiritual father.  But a further reconciliation is required.

     Now comes the challenge, for both Onesimus and Philemon.  Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon because there was a debt owed, but also because Paul wanted to challenge Philemon to grow in faith, to see his former slave not as his property but rather accepted with the respect of a brother, to have the debt paid for this soul by Paul himself in his role as spiritual father to Philemon as well as Onesimus, and because "the" debt was already paid by Christ.  This relationship would be transformed into that of brothers in Christ rather than owner and slave.  Paul challenges Onesimus to be brave and forgiving of his former master.  Paul challenges Philemon to be forgiving and accepting not of a returning slave but of a brother in Christ.

     We do not get an update ... however, I am sure that the love of Paul for these two men and the challenge that he presented them led them to embraced as brothers and to rejoice in the joy of the Lord.   There is no longer slave or free ... all are one in Christ.

**********************************
 
     This afternnon I enjoyed a wonderful lunch at our school - Queen of Angels - at the invitation of the Student Council.  The priests involved were invited to join with the Principal and the Council officers for an early turkey dinner in the cafeteria.  It was enjoyable and very tasty.  I thank Tori and Aslan (who was at the dentist) who welcomed us and shared lunch. They are co-chairs of the Council.
 
     Tonight is "Light Up Night" in downtown Irwin (the local community), and many of our kids are involved in singing as well as riding the Kennywood Trolley in the parade.  Loooking forward to it.