Tuesday, January 31, 2012


     David was chosen by God.  He was champion of his people and best friend of his king.  At the instigation of the Lord, he led a rebellion against his rightful king and friend, Saul.  He replaced Saul as leader, and served as a great king.  He built the temple - a house for the Ark of the Covenant and danced before the Lord at its dedication.  From his line would come the promise of a messiah and savior.  And yet David's personal sin was awful, as we described before.  In his sincere repentance came forgiveness from the Lord.  And then his beloved son, Absalom, took up arms against his father and with his troops became his mortal enemy.  Today we hear of Absalom's tragic death, and of David's lament for his son.  David's life was filled with struggles - of God's making, of his own making, and of forces beyond himself.

     Our struggles may be very different from those of David, but no less real.  Remembering that we have been anointed as God's chosen - that we are sinners, repentant and forgiven - and that we are not always the master of our fate, we embrace the struggles with confident assurance of the love of God for us, and with the knowledge that our name, like David's, is written in the Book of Life.  Be confident ... be strong.


     I have had many outstanding teachers in my years in Catholic School.  The men who taught me scripture in theology at Saint Francis - particularly TOR Fathers Roland and Austin as well as Father Tony Wei, were inspiring.  They gave me a love of the scriptures.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A great gift

     As I have mentioned, we have entered into Catholic Schools Week in our diocese and in the nation.  It is a time of showcasing the work of this part of our mission as a Church.  Within our local area, we are a contributing part of Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School located in Irwin/North Huntingdon.

     At the outset of CSW, I want to share what I shared yesterday with the congregation - namely the fact that I was the grateful recipient of a Catholic School education ... from Kindergarten through theological grad school.  Except for a few supplemental summer courses at Penn State University / Fayette Campus, my entire academic experience was in Catholic schools.

     From Kindergarten through grade eight I attended our parish elementary school and was taught by the Sisters of the Holy Ghost whose congregation is in Pittsburgh.  We had four lay teachers in addition to the Religious who taught us. The school closed many years ago.  For high school I entered the minor seminary for the diocese of Greensburg, and was sent to Saint Vincent Prep School in Latrobe, run by the Benedictine monks.  There were a number of lay teachers who also shared in the teaching responsibilities.  For three of those years we lived at Saint Joseph Hall minor seminary residence, and travelled by bus to Saint Vincent.  The prep, which opened around 1847, closed its doors in the early 1970's.

     For the first part of my college years, the diocese sent me to Saint Pius X Seminary in Erlanger, Kentucky (near Cincinnati).  There we had the benefit of fine diocesan priests, as well as laity and Religious as part of the teaching and formation staff.  It was my first experience of being at a distance from home, but it was a rewarding time.  Pius closed a number of years later.  Then I was sent to Saint Francis Seminary in Loretto, PA, where I finished college and stayed on for my four years of theology.  Saint Francis is run by the Third Order Regular Franciscans (TOR).  The college now has university status and is doing fine (thank God, given my track record with schools), but the major seminary, after many years of preparing countless fine priests for many dioceses, is now closed and the building is, in fact, a maximum security prison (talk about irony).  My twenty years of Catholic schools were a gift to me from the Church and from those who cared about me.  Those years involved great sacrifices, but they were sacrifices that brought to me a great gift - and I am eternally grateful.  As I mentioned to the people yesterday, from Sister Veronica who taught me in Kindergarten (and my dad in first grade!) to the last professor of theology, all of these men and women - outstanding teachers and inspirations to many - have my profound gratitude.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A new teaching with authority ...

     FAITH!  ACADEMICS!  SERVICE!   This is the theme of CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WEEK for 2012 which begins today.  It is an opportunity to showcase and celebrate the accomplishments of Catholic School education today and throughout the years.  A longstanding mission of the Church in the United States and throughout the world, sharing the knowledge of the truth and inspiring service to others within the framework of the source of truth, Jesus Christ, is an integral part of the Call that we have received.

     We encounter Christ, the Divine Teacher, in Mark's gospel today.  He came to teach in the synagogue, and people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught with authority and not as the scribes.  A good teacher does more than hand on facts, or follow the curriculum or parrot what he or she was taught.  A good teacher shares the facts from their immersion in the science or the experience of history or the personal encounters that have touched their lives. They bring their enthusiasm and inspiration with them.  They bring an understanding of not just what has been or even is, but of what could be if we but invest ourselves in the future.  They call to serve, to challenge their students to build a better world, to reach out and touch lives, to, having been inspired, to inspire a future generation.
We lift the mastery of academics and the desire to serve to a higher level when we bring in the element of  FAITH.

     The ancient teachers and philosophers gathered their students around them.  They referred to their schools as temples of learning (in fact even today the University of Pittsburgh has a "Cathedral of Learning").  They knew that knowledge is power, knowledge is life itself, knowledge lifts us toward the divine.  It is an upward progression that originated in man's desire.

     Coming at it from the perspective of people of Faith, we know that it is God's invitation to us to share in the divine wisdom that prompts us to learn, to grow, to excel.  We are called to KNOW HIM, and in that knowledge and experience to LOVE HIM.  It is in that love that we are inspired to SERVE HIM (and those whom he cherishes) with all of our hearts and minds.

     At the beginning of this CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WEEK, we celebrate in the mission entrusted to us, and we rejoice in the wonderful students, committed parents and guardians, outstanding faculty and administration and staffs that serve our schools.  May the week be blest!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Setting the stage

     Catholic Schools Week, in which we showcase the Catholic school educational mission of the Church, begins this Sunday.  I will share thoughts on this as the week progresses.  But almost as a prelude to the week we have the feast of two saints who valued the importance of education within the framework of Faith.

     Yesterday we honored Angela Merici from Lombardy, who was a Third Order Franciscan.  She set up a school to instruct girls in Christianity and good works, and in 1535  she founded the Ursulines to continue her mission, especially for poor girls.

    Today we honor a giant of a man, supposedly literally as well as figuratively.  Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225 of a noble family in southern Italy, studied with the Benedictines, and became a follower of Saint Dominic.  He studied in Paris and Cologne under the philosopher Saint Albert the Great, and delved into the pagan philosopher Aristotle.  He used a simple, common sense approach to philosophy and theology and wrote extensively.  He also wrote many of our beautiful eucharistic hymns.  He is considered a Doctor of the Church.

     Both of these individuals exemplified the theme of Catholic Schools Week in 2012:  "Faith, Academics, Service".  They join the students, faculties and administrations of our Catholic Schools in fleshing out this theme.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Falling Short

     The drama continues to unfold in 2 Samuel today.  The one chosen as champion and king of Israel, David, finds himself tempted by his desire for a beautiful woman named Bathsheba.  He called her and took her, and had relations with her.  The woman then conceived and was with child.

     David fell short of the mark.  Kings usually took or did whatever or whoever they wanted.  But David was not just any king, he was the Lord's anointed.  And it gets worse, for Bathsheba was a married woman, and her husband was Uriah, the Hittite armor bearer of David's captain, Joab.  David had Uriah brought home, told him to go home and relax, a little R & R.  Presumably he would sleep with his wife, and the pregnancy would be explained.  But Uriah was a good soldier, and slept at the entrance to the palace with the other soldiers.  David tried again, and Uriah did not take the bait.

     Then things got really bad, and David slid even further from grace as he had Uriah sent back to battle, this time to be put in harms way in the front lines so that he would surely be killed, which is indeed what happened.

     Now lets see: David was lustful, sexually controlling, lying and deceptive, and resorted to murder - all to get what he wanted.  After all, he was king.  How he fell short of the mark!

     Our reading today ends there, but we know that David saw the error of his ways, saw his sin, repented and was confronted with the mercy and continued trust of God - which made David's sin stand out even more.  Despite all that transpired, David was the anointed of the Lord ... and flawed though he was, he was still the great king that would lead God's people and from whose house and lineage would come the promised Messiah.

     Who among us has not fallen short of the mark in some way?  Who among us has never sinned?  And yet, confronted with our sin, repentant of our thoughts and actions, and loved in mercy by God, we are called to rise and move forward in a freedom that God's love brings us and in a knowledge of how, unworthy though we are, we are called to life in Christ.  It is he that has made this possible, and we call it redemption.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

An anniversary missed

     Twenty years ago on January 22nd I arrived at the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg to begin my sixth assignment as priest and my third as pastor.  I was coming from All Saints in Masontown, a small parish of 600 families in a small town where I had spent five years - to Saint Paul, a parish of about 1,700 families in the outskirts of Greensburg - one of four Catholic parishes in the city.  I spent eight and a half years there, made many friends, and experienced the grace of God in so many ways.

     But the day of my arrival was bitterly cold.  The wind was whipping and the snow flying.  I arrived with the last of my stuff in the early afternoon and found things to be even colder.  The dinner for my family and invited priests before the installation Mass scheduled for that evening, promised by the priest administrator who was leaving, was not a reality.  I had come into a situation where the previous pastor was moved by the diocese, and people were angry.  The administrator of three months did nothing to calm the waters.  Then he, and the assistant were moved, and Father Stephen West and I arrived, to mixed emotions and an uncertain welcome.

     After arranging for dinner out, I was welcomed by the parish council and choir and liturgical ministers and many of the parishioners at the Installation Mass and reception which was beautiful.  Then began the process of "getting to know you" between the parishioners and the priests.  It seemed to me to take longer than usual to win over the trust of the people.  But during that time, I had parishioners who were supportive and who befriended me in my move and ministry in Greensburg.  One couple, Bill and Mary Ann Newhouse, even sent me a note of welcome and prayerful support as soon as the announcement was made, and I was able to bring that with me.  We have remained great friends.  My staff, even with change-overs, was always there for me.  Once the trust with the parish family was established, we were able to do great things ... and for that I am grateful.  The coldness of the first days gave way to the warmth of love and respect.

     So, January 22nd, 1992 was a transitional moment for me ... and hopefully for the Church of Saint Paul.  Twenty years - where has time gone?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The former Saul of Taursus

Two posts in one day ...  

   Little did Saul know what awaited him on his trip to Damascus.  A man on a mission, strong and sure of himself, committed and dedicated to persecute all who opposed the Faith of his fathers, he was on his way to lay into those followers of the man Jesus.  He carried papers of authorization as well as the conviction of his heart and mind.  This was his life.

     And then came that unexpected encounter.  The strong Saul was humbled, cast to the ground.  The independent Saul was humbled and embarrassed, blinded and led by the hand.  The proud Saul was further humbled by being brought to a "nobody" to be healed.  The old Saul was lost.

     But from that old Saul came the new Paul.  The champion of Israel and persecutor of the followers of Jesus became the champion of Jesus and a leader of the new way.  The proud one came to experience the "thorn in the flesh" and realize that who he was and what he accomplished was done by the grace of God.  The world, like Saul, would never be the same after that encounter with Jesus. 

Welcome them into the light of your face

     These words are found in Eucharistic Prayer II as we remember the dead.  It is an unusual wording, and yet a beautiful one.  We speak of the beatific vision as seeing God "face to face" and being caught up into the overwhelming light of Christ.  What better prayer for those whom we love than a "welcome into the light of God's face".  Another one of those little gems for teaching found in the new translation.

     I bring this up because within the last few days I have either become aware of people that I have known who have died or whom I shared a funeral liturgy with that I include in that prayer from Eucharistic Prayer II.   Let me share a few thoughts on each.

     On the 19th of January Archbishop Giovanni De Andrea, a retired Vatican diplomat and officer of the Holy See, died in Rome.  I met him a few times and visited his apartment in Rome and had dinner with him.  The reason that I know him is that he is the brother of one of our priests who went on to also join the Vatican Diplomatic Corp - retired Archbishop Giuseppe "Joe" De Andrea.  How Father Joe came to Greensburg fro Italy in the late '50's is unknown to me, but he was a good and friendly brother priest before returning to Italy and the Vatican.  John and Joe served the Vatican in some really interesting places - John as Apostolic Delegate to Angola, Pro-Nuncio to Iran, Algeria and Tunisia and Delegate to Libya (all between 1975 - 1989) before being appointed as Vice-President of the Labour Office of the Holy See ... and Joe as Apostolic Nuncio to Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen and Qatar before retiring.  John was 83+ years old, a priest for nearly 61 years, and a bishop for almost 37 years.  Like his brother Joe, he was a kind, friendly and generous man.  May he rest in peace.

     On the 21st, on an icy morning, I buried Mary Ann Madden from our church.  While a member of Corpus Christi parish in the neighboring town of McKeesport, she attended here regularly and many of her family belong here.  I remember her as a lovely woman, just a few years older than myself.  Despite the cold outside, there was great warmth in that family.

     Monday evening at a blessing service at the funeral home I buried a man two years younger than myself - Daniel J. Chakey.  He had no regular church that he called home, so I was asked to lead the prayer.  Again, his brothers David and Dennis shared their love of their brother with those gathered to remember him.

     Yesterday I returned to my former parish in Scottdale for the funeral of Paul Haas, 94.  He and his wife Thelma have been married for over 72 years!  They were a good team - Paul, a little gruff at times and very outspoken and Thelma, sweet and carefree.  She will miss him.

     And this week the loss of two Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill that I knew well - Sister Barbara Koval (originally of Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale) who was buried today and Sister Francis de Sales Joyce, who served in this Diocese in the Office of Education and who I knew also through my involvement in the Charismatic Renewal.  Both are great women of Faith.  We offer prayers for them and their Religious Family at Seton Hill.

Lord, welcome them all into the light of your face!


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A great communicator

     On this feast of the patron of writers and journalists, I feel compelled to post.  Saint Francis de Sales is that patron, and his entire life was dedicated to communicating the love of Christ.  He is and could be a great model for the New Evangelization that we are addressing in the Church.  As I mentioned in a post last week, our priests gathered to begin discussions on this topic.  The New Evangelization has a focus on those who have heard the message of the gospel but who have forgotten or strayed or given up or been otherwise occupied - thus a great number who profess Christianity but not Christ.

     Francis de Sales made it his mission to re-evangelize the people of his home district who had gone over to Calvinism.  His preaching was dynamic and effective, but more importantly his message was given in love and respect.  He taught that whoever we are and whatever our station in life, we can become holy by being more ourselves, reflecting upon the gift of God in our lives and using those gifts well and celebrating that Call to the best of our ability.  You don't have to be a priest or monk or Religious to be holy ... it is the universal Call that flows from Baptism.  His preaching to those who had embraced Calvinism was not to win converts, but in the most loving and supportive way to share the truth of the gospel and the necessity of the catholic family with those that he genuinely loved.  I saw a quote of a Calvinist minister of the time who had said that if there ever was a "saint" it was Francis, whose holiness was rooted in his love of Christ and his fellow man.

     One of the things that I strive to do in Journey Thoughts is to speak in love and affirmation, to call to holiness and inspire a trust in the mercy of God.  The world needs that message desperately. 


     From October of 1986 through January of 2000 I served as pastor of All Saints Church in Masontown and its mission church of Saint Francis de Sales in McClellandtown.  It was a great assignment.  Saint Francis mission was about five miles down the road, a small frame church of about 60 families with one Mass on a Sunday morning.  They were dedicated to their little church, and hardworking people.  They had never celebrated their feast, and I remember starting a cover dish dinner at the local fire hall near the feast day - to great success and enjoyment.

     As things go, Saint Francis de Sales Church became a "chapel of convenience" for awhile, before being suppressed and the parishioners brought into All Saints.  The little church building, which served as a home to the parishioners, is now a home to a family in the area, and I understand was creatively adapted into a residence.  Many good memories.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Day of Sadness - A Cause of Right

     Today's post is another sharing of something that I wrote for our parish bulletin.

     Today marks the 39th anniversary of a Supreme Court decision in the United States that legalized abortion in this country.  It has become a political issue ever since, and various sides and positions are taken.  We have held consistently, along with a long tradition in the medical profession, that human life begins from the moment of conception, and that the developing fetus is indeed a God given life.  Since our very nation preserves the right "to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", we challenge this court decision, and all that have come from it.  It is not a matter of choice or freedom when it denies the choice and freedom of another human being.  It is a tragedy and a moral evil upon this society.  39 years ... the same old/same old ... we have become complacent ... it is routine.  But it is death ... death of over a million each of those years, death of potential citizens and neighbors, death of who knows what talents, abilities and creativity.  The key word is complacent ... how can we be complacent in the face of such evil and moral emptiness?  It is a question that we must ask ourselves and our society.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

How do you see it?

     For my post today I would like to share something that I wrote for our diocesan web page as a scripture reflection for this Third Sunday in Winter Ordinary Time.  If you would like to mark this website, it is at www.dioceseofgreensburg.org

     Is the glass half empty ... or half full?  The way we approach that question speaks volumes as to where we are in life and the wisdom that we possess.  It determines whether we have a sense of frantic urgency about us or whether we live in complacent hope.  Into which extreme do we root our lives?

     There is a sense of urgency in the scriptures for this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.  In fact, it is the urgency that we find at the beginning of Lent, an urgency that we find as any deadline approaches.  In beginning his public ministry Jesus said "This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel."  Paul in writing to the Church in Corinth says that "time is running out".  Jonah announced the destruction of Nineveh because of their sinfulness and called for immediate repentance.

     Does this sense of urgency bring about panic or quiet assurance in us?  How do we see the glass of our lives?

     Some would tend to see the glass as empty, expecting nothing.  When they realize that the glass is half full, they relax, because they must have done something right and things are looking brighter, fuller, more blest.  They take it in stride - after all, things could only get better.  There is nothing to do but soak it in.

     We are called to see that the glass is meant to be full, filled with the life giving waters of grace, abundant in the richness of God's love and favor.  As followers of Jesus Christ, anything less than a full glass is deprivation.  Like the people of Nineveh, who did not have the benefit of a knowledge or experience of God's love prior to Jonah's visit, we need to be wise and realize that anything less than full is not good.  It requires of us urgent action, not out of fear but out of need and a response to God's love.  It requires of us repentance, fasting, sackcloth, a change of heart, a turning away from emptiness and darkness and an embracing of the gospel.

     If you find your glass half full, then leave all behind and renew your commitment to follow Jesus, as did James and John, as did Simon Peter and his brother Andrew.  Fill that glass with the love and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For when the world "in its present form" passes away, we will have the security of his grace and mercy.


     Today, the 21st of January, is the feast of Saint Agnes, the patron of one of our neighboring parishes.  We wish the priests and families of Saint Agnes in North Huntingdon the very best.
Happy feast day!

Friday, January 20, 2012


     The story of Saul, the chosen King of Israel and David, the champion of Israel whom God chose and had Samuel anoint as leader of the people, continues today with intrigue, bitterness, and emotion.  After David's rise in popularity, Saul saw him as an enemy, and sought him out to kill him.  Their armies fought each other at every opportunity.

     In today's passage, the Lord delivered Saul into David's hands.  David had the opportunity to kill Saul, but instead, because of his respect for the fact that Saul was God's anointed, he took a tassel from his cloak without him knowing, but did not harm him.  He confronted Saul, showed him the tassel and pointed out that he could have killed him if he wanted, and then told Saul that he intended to take no action against him.

     In that confrontation Saul wept aloud and said "You are in the right rather than I; you have treated me generously, while I have done you harm.  Great is the generosity you showed me today, when the Lord delivered me into your grasp and you did not kill me ... May the Lord reward you generously for what you have done this day."  And in a prophetic word he acknowledged that David would surely be king and that sovereignty would come into his possession.

     The blessing of God's call does not always lead to peaceful coexistence, to a natural long life, to comfort and security in this world.  It was not found in Saul or David, both called by God.  It was not found in the twelve, mentioned by name in the Gospel of the day, all of whom died a martyr's death except John.  It was not found in the lives of Fabian, an early pope, and Sebastian, a Roman soldier who in embracing Christ renounced the sword - both of whom experienced a martyr's death.  It may not be found in our lives either ... but in responding to the call with trust and faith, we will know a closeness to the source of all good that will sustain us.  That is a generous response on the part of God, and we are grateful.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Good News

     This afternoon the priests of the Greensburg Diocese gathered for a presentation and discussion of evangelization efforts in the Diocese.  This was one of the first steps that will address this important element of our strategic plan, and in light of the call for a New Evangelization called for by Pope Benedict XVI.  A general presentation was made by Bishop Brandt, and then a series of questions were presented for discussion.

     Much was said regarding the staggering statistics regarding those who have left the Catholic Church or who hold it to be at the perifery of their lives.  We probed the whys and the wherefores for reasons, and proposed many solutions and ideas.  In the end, it involves living the Faith with joy and conviction in the Lordship of Jesus Christ and in the knowledge of our place within his Kingdom.  It involves inviting our family home, making them feel welcome, and helping them to understand the need to be fed at the table of the Lord.   This New Evangelization, while always open to those who have never heard the Good News, is really meant for those who have had a memory lapse and forgotten who they are, or who have chosen a fast food diet rather than the banquet of the Lord.  I am sure that there will be more on this topic in the days ahead.


     Good news for our neighbors today ... after a long wait, the Holy Father has appointed Bishop William C. Skurla, the Reuthenian Byzantine Bishop of Passaic, New Jersey, as the metropolitan archbishop of Pittsburgh of the Byzantines.  The archeparchy of Pittsburgh has 58,763 Catholics, 64 priests, 17 deacons and 88 religious.  We have a neighboring parish of Saint Stephen's here in North Huntingdon, and in almost all of my assignments, as well as in by growing up years in Uniontown, I have been acquainted with the priests and the parishes and the wonderful traditions of our Eastern friends.  Congratulations to Archbishop elect Skurla and to the Byzantine Church of Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Christian Unity Week

       Today begins a week of prayer for Christian Unity.  This annual observance began in 1908 in Graymoor, New York, by Father Paul Wattson, an Anglican Graymoor Friar of the Atonement, who persuaded the Anglican and Catholic bishops to support the efforts to pray that the division within the Church may begin to be addressed.  It was set in January, beginning on what was then celebrated on the 18th of January as the Feast of the Chair of Peter and ending on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul on the 25th.

     Father Wattson and others from his community became Catholic the following year.  The annual observance spread, with Benedict XV extending observance to the entire Catholic community in 1916.  The World Council of Churches joined with the Vatican in promoting this effort since at least 1966.  Today it is celebrated through prayer and services of prayerful unity in many places, and in other places not at all.

     Why this week set aside for prayer?  The answer is found in the fact that Christ established the Church to be his body, strong and vibrant, the source of unity and of strength.  Through the frailty of human nature and a limited understanding of God's grace, we are a divided body, disabled by our disunity from witnessing as is needed in the world to the power of Christ.  That disability and limitation makes the work of the proclaiming and living the gospel much more difficult.  Jesus prayed for the Church that we may be one as he is one with the Father.

      There are many reasons for our disunity, but there are few excuses that really matter for that disunity to continue.  We need to work together, to pray together, to respect each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, and give concrete witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Pray this week for that unity.  Pray for a mutual understanding and respect for each other.  Pray that "we may be one" in Christ.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What does he see?

     When I reflect upon my vocation as a priest, I am struck by how unworthy I am, how inadequate to the task, how lacking in abilities and dynamism and talents.  I have always been hard on myself, always insecure in who I am and what I have to offer.  That has been one of my struggles.

     When I reflect upon my vocation as a priest, though, I am in awe of how God uses me despite those limitations.  The shy kid, the mediocre student, the insecure person has touched the lives of countless people over these thirty nine years of ministry in ways that defy logic.  The only reason that I can offer is that the Lord has chosen me and anointed me, he has set me on course and guided my way, he has entrusted me with his message of salvation.  For that, I am grateful.

     I remember a time in high school seminary when the rector called in my parents, and in my presence told them that I was a mediocre student and that I would never be ordained.  Talk about affirmation!  It may be that he was trying to "motivate" me, but I doubt it.  I ended up being stationed with the man in my early priesthood.  Maybe a bit of revenge?  I remember an assignment where my pastor would periodically let in to me, demeaning the work that I was doing and belittling me as a person.  Those were dark days.  I can recount numerous times when I know that I let people down, when I failed to live up to their expectations or needs, and while sorry, understand that the realization led me to work harder.

     By the way, it is dark and dreary, pouring rain and cold outside, which may be one of the reasons for this reflection.

     However, I have also had tremendous support and encouragement, prayers and love given me over the years by family and friends and parishioners from every parish.  My positive stories way outnumber the negative, and they remain deeply embedded in who I am as a priest.  They are the reason that I am a priest ... along with the fact that God has chosen me.  Like David in today's reading from Samuel (1 Sam 16:1-13), God saw something in me that I did not see and others may not have recognized.  For better or worse, he has set me on course and graced my journey.  As the Lord told Samuel "Not as man sees does God see, because he sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart."  Thank you for looking into my heart, Lord.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Called by Name

     The other day we had the same reading from 1st Samuel that we heard this morning - of the call of Samuel.  We also heard today of the call of Andrew and his brother Simon.  I reflected upon "the Call" at that time. 

     But key to the call is the NAME that is spoken.  We are called by name.  Unless we know our name, who we are, we can not be sure who it is that the Lord is calling.

     From our earliest moments of encounter with the Lord in baptism, we are asked our name, or our parents are asked what name they have given us.  It is that name, which the Lord has known us by from our mother's womb, by which we have our identity.  Names are meant to identify us and to describe us, describing who we are and what we are about.  When Jesus changed the name of Simon to Cephas, he did so because Cephas (Peter, as it is rendered) also means ROCK ... and upon this rock Jesus would build his Church.  The angel Gabriel gave the name Jesus to Mary for her child, a name that describes who he is and what he is to do ... to save his people.

     I am reading the fantasy novel "Inheritance" by Christopher Paolini.  Within the past few days, two references regarding names came to light.  A warrior, Roran, and his wife, Katrina were saying their good-bye's before he left for battle.  She was with child.  He made her promise, that if he did not return, she would give the child, whether boy or girl, a strong name - for in the difficult world in which they lived, a strong name would be a gift for the child.  In another instance, Eragon, the main character and a dragon rider, and his dragon, Saphira, in order to find the only way to defeat the enemy before them, needed to reflect and soul search and delve deep within their beings to find their "real names" - that which describes them.  It was no easy task, but when accomplished, they knew who they were and that power gave them the edge in their struggle.  Examples in literature that describe the importance of NAME.

     In real life, knowing your name, knowing yourself (as the Greek philosopher encouraged) is a power that opens you to the marvels placed before you by God.  The Call of God to whatever vocation in life that he has in store for you, comes with a name, a grace, a mission, and an abiding love.  When we hear that Call, given to us by Name, and when we say YES, great things are bound to happen.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Pronunciation hurdles

     I was not going to post today (a quiet day) until this evening's Liturgy.  Our second reading from Paul contains one of those terrible hurdles to any lector - the word that can easily trip you up.  We all know a few of the famous ones:  the Hebrew Scriptures describing the "flaming brazier" that comes out a "flaming brassiere" ... or Paul's letter to the Philippians that is read as the letter to the Philippines ... or in this neck of the woods the letter to the Galatians coming out as the letter to the Gallatins (Albert Gallatin was the first Secretary of the Treasury for the U.S. who lived in SW PA - we had banks & school districts named Gallatin).  Tonight was the reminder that the body was not made for immorality ... which came out "not made for immortality".  A big difference!

     Our lector tonight caught it the second time around in the reading, and smiled.  It happens to the best.  And the thing is, you can't alert the lector to what might happen, because that is when it actually does.  God has a great sense of humor.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fitting in

     Samuel's story continues.  After years of faithfulness to his people, the Lord, who had been their only king, was told that it was not enough.  The people realized the unique relationship that they had with their God, and they were grateful, but they were not satisfied.  They wanted to keep up with the Jones' ... they wanted to fit in  with their neighbors.

     They came to Samuel in his old age and asked him to appoint a king over them, as other nations had, to judge them.  Samuel was displeased and angry, but the Lord told him to appoint a king - for they were rejecting the Lordship of Yahweh and not Samuel's leadership.  If they wanted to fit in, fine, they could have their king.

     But Samuel reminded them of the flaws of earthy kings, the self centeredness, the allegiances, the demands that they would have to put up with.  He reminded them that their life as they had known it would be over, and that when they realized what they had lost they would come to God to complain.  "On that day the LORD will not answer you."  They were of one heart and mind, and it was not with the Lord.  A king was appointed.  Over the years, some were good and some were bad, but things were never the same.  In order to "fit in" they gave up so  much - the Lordship of God in their lives.

     How much do we give up to fit in?  What have we lost?  Is there a way to regain that precious grace?  God's mercy is beyond all bounds ... but it requires a personal, intimate relationship with only one king - the Lord of Life, Jesus Christ.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Open the Doors

     When the late Blessed John Paul II began his pontificate, he said "Open, indeed, open wide the doors for Christ."  This was a constant theme of his many years of leadership and a continued thread of his teaching.  Accompanying that admonition was an encouragement - "Be not afraid!".  Good solid words that are still as necessary as they were in the late 70's.

     What brings this to mind was the necessity of having new garage door openers installed today.  For a week, we have been having troubles, and while our doors do not open wide but rather up and down, they have needed encouragement to open or they have developed a mind of their own, and after all of these years, when the neighbors came and went, our openers randomly decided to work on my house.  It was confusing, and a bit of a concern.  But all is well now (I hope).

     Sometimes life is the same way.  We want to have control of when and why, for whom and how the doors of our heart open, but that is not always the case.  There are moments when an outside source interferes and we need to take action, there are times when we need an overhaul of the mechanism if that is possible, and there are times when we just need to be renewed in Christ.

     I hate to say this so soon after Christmas, but with Lent approaching, it may be a good time to take stock of the condition of the mechanism that opens our heart wide to Christ, so that nothing stands in the way or delays our journey to him.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Call

     Our Hebrew Scripture today is from the 1st Book of Samuel.  Samuel recounts how, asleep in his usual place in the temple of the Lord, he heard someone call him - once, twice, three times - each time thinking it was his teacher Eli and each time answering "Here I am."  His teacher discerned that it was the LORD calling, and counselled him to reply "Speak, for your servant is listening."  Thus began a stage of his journey that saw the LORD dwelling with Samuel, not allowing any word of his to be without effect.

     Samuel had been set aside for God as a youth, had been entrusted with a vocation at the temple, had grown and matured in the Lord over the years, had been guided and had sought the discernment of those he trusted, and became the voice and minister of God.  That his Samuel's vocation call and story.

     We are at the mid point of National Vocation Awareness Week in the U.S.  As I reflect upon my call, it is a wonderful journey of awakening.  I've never known a time when I did not want to be a priest.  From Kindergarten on, that was my desire, my hope.  I was blessed with good priests who were an inspiration, a loving and faith filled family, support from school (the Sisters and teachers) and from the parish.  Those days were different and the image of priesthood was exalted.  I must admit that when I entered the seminary at thirteen, my reasons for wanting to be a priest were very different from those when I was ordained.  But that is what seminary is all about, growing, maturing, being challenged, discerning.  It was during that time that I heard the Call of God, not specifically in the same way as Samuel, but no less a Call to serve.  At ordination, when my name was called by the community and by God, I said "Here am I Lord!"

     Over thirty-eight years later, the journey continues, and the grace of God continues to lead me on as I say "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening".  I thank God for my priesthood, and all of those who have brought me to this moment in time.

     Pray for priests ... pray for vocations ... pray for those involved in seminary work ... and pray for those who promote and encourage a response to THE CALL.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A misnomer

     The Church today enters a time that she calls Ordinary, comprising over thirty weeks during the calendar and the Church year.  Ordinary Time are those days NOT included in the special liturgical feasts and seasons.  Most commonly they are noted by the wearing of green as the the liturgical color.  But they are anything but "ordinary".

     Through this period the Church journeys - in the Scriptures, in her Worship, and in her daily life to draw closer to the Lord.  Every step along the way, whether ordinary and routine or filled with extraordinary grace, are steps that define who we are and unveil our goals, that inspire us to invest in God's grace and propel us to become Christ for others.  These are ordinary days only if allow them to be ordinary.  They are meant to be the steps of our journey of a lifetime.

      There are two options for the Gospel reading today, both from Mark.  In one Jesus proclaims that "This is the time of fulfillment.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the Gospel."  Then he gathers followers around him and sets out.  In the other he teaches, for he is the divine teacher, but much to the peoples' astonishment, with authority.  His fame spread.  No ordinary message and no ordinary hope given to the world.

     The name Ordinary Time is truly a misnomer!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Baptism of the Lord

     I begin my 275th post just two days shy of ten months of blogging and having just reached - literally - 10,000 page views.  I am, as I said before, humbled and in awe at those numbers.  To those who are simply searching the blogoshere and to loyal friends and fans, thank you.

     The Christmas season officially ends today, with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  We move from remembering to doing.  On this day Jesus is acknowledged by the Father as his Beloved Son, affirmed by the Father with the assurance that the Father was "well pleased", and sent on mission to bring the Good News of Salvation to the world by being the Good News.  The alternate Collect for the feast prays that "we may be inwardly transformed through him who we recognize as outwardly like ourselves".  Our oneness with him is our joy and our salvation.  That oneness comes to us through the waters of baptism.

     I watched the Holy Father baptize a number of babies yesterday at Mass.  In the solemnity of a papal liturgy, it was great to see the simple beauty of a child being a child.  The Holy Father had two assisting bishops helping with the rites.  Both seemed into it, but one in particular had a look of great joy and delight on his face.  Like him, I enjoy sharing the gift of baptism.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


     I have been pastor at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton for just over three years.  In that time, the Feast of the Epiphany has become very special to me for a variety of reasons.  I always liked the feast - the Three Kings, the Magi, the Wise Men - the carol "We Three Kings" is one of my favorites.  The traditions of blessing homes (we prepared "kits" for our people to do themselves) and writing on the doorposts 20+C+M+B+12 [ two thousand - Casper+Melchior+Balthazar-twelve ... or as I remember being told in High School at Saint Vincent (in humor) - 20 Cases of Monastary Beer at $0.12 a case (a real bargain)].

     But on my fourth Epiphany here at SEAS I remember the following: being installed as pastor by Bishop Lawrence Brandt at the 11 am Mass four years ago (also appropriately the feast of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton - January 4th); missing a step the following year while bringing the Eucharist from the tabernacle and going down before the multitude (none too gracefully) ... surprised people, concerned parishioners, bruised shoulder, great embarrassment; an uneventful day last year; and today, still under the weather, feeling uncertain health wise, I decided to try the "fall thing" again - this time in the garage at the house between Masses - nothing broken, just sore all over.   I think I may have to consider by passing this great feast ... or work at being less of a klutz.  Or, another thought, going somewhere warm and sunny on vacation at this time of the year!

     I made it through the 11am today by doing a lot of sitting (as I was getting stiffer), but I had to cancel a visit this afternoon to Redstone Highlands, a local senior residence run by the Presbyterians, where I was to have my first visit for a chapel service.

     I pray that your Epiphany was a wonderful experience of the manifestation of our loving God.  Peace to all.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Stewardship of God's grace

     When he writes the Ephesians, Paul reminds them that he has been chosen a steward by God.  He has been entrusted with a wondrous treasure - a revelation of God, unknown in previous ages and generations, but now revealed by the Spirit to the holy apostles and prophets.  This revelation is mind boggling - that a promise made to a specific people at a specific time would now be opened to and experienced by any and all who desired what the promise foretold - salvation.  This is the thrust of today's (the Epiphany's) second reading.  The Gentiles are coheirs, along with the Children of the Promise, members of the same body, co partners in the promise fulfilled by Christ.  When Casper, Melchior and Balthazar found their way to the house and paid homage to the child Jesus, they brought their gifts, their hungers, their hopes and us with them.  They went home, not with a token of thanks or some souvenir of their trip, but with peace in their hearts and hope in their spirits.  They went home transformed by the Good News of this child and what he could or would mean.  And Paul wants us to remember that, for it is God's grace.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Traditional Epiphany

      Today, the 6th of January, is the 12th day of Christmas - the traditional feast of the Epiphany.  We in the U.S., of course, celebrate it this Sunday.  It is the celebration of the manifestation of the Christ to those who seek him, expanding the promise of salvation beyond the Children of Abraham.  It is the feast of the Magi, the Wise Men, the Three Kings.  I will share on this more on Sunday.

     I have been under the weather since yesterday afternoon ... a touch of the flu maybe.  Feeling very blah and uncertain with what I eat.  That is why I did not post yesterday.  In fact, I did something that I rarely do - I canceled Mass this morning - and on a First Friday (my apologies to the regular Mass goers).  I know why I got sick, though.  The night before last I watched a recent movie called "Contagion", about a mysterious epidemic that spread like wildfire.  I knew that I would touch something that I should not have, and thus become infected.  I'll watch what I watch from now on!

     I always keep track of Church news through Rocco in Whispers in the Loggia.  In the last day and a half much has happened, beginning with our Holy Father announcing a list of new Cardinal-designates that will be given the red hat in February.  I think that there were twenty-two, with two of those being from the United States: Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.  We congratulate them.

     The other big news from Rocco is that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is undergoing a major restructuring of the Diocesan schools to be announced today, a day after the feast of Saint John Neumann, the fourth bishop of Philly, who was instrumental in establishing the Catholic School System in the U.S.  Any of us that have had to undergo restructuring know the importance of offering Philly our prayers and support.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Saint for our time

     The late Terence Cardinal Cooke of New York, at the time of the canonization of Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton in 1975, said this:

"In Elizabeth Ann Seton, we have a saint for our times.
In Elizabeth Ann Seton, we have a woman of faith,
for a time of doubt and uncertainty ...
a woman of love for a time of coldness and division ...
a woman of hope for a time of crisis and discouragement.
Thanks be to God for this saintly daughter of New York,
for this valiant woman of God's Church."

      Today is the feast of our parish patron - Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton - canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1975.  Born in New York City on August 28, 1774, she was a child of the American Revolution and the first native born saint from the United States.  Educated, well to do, and having ties through her mother's side with prominent leaders (the presidents Roosevelt) and Archbishop of Baltimore, James Roosevelt Bayley, she was raised an Episcopalian and attended Trinity Church in New York.

     She married William Magee Seton on January 25, 1794, he a partner in a merchant shipping firm, and they had a number of children.  Business became complicated, as did William's health, when they moved to Leghorn, Italy, for health reasons, and lived with the Filicchi family, who were business associates.  William died in Italy.  Elizabeth stayed on for a time with the Filicchi's.  They were devote Catholics, and Elizabeth began to admire their devotion and become very interested in the Eucharist.

     Upon return to New York, she continued her interest in the Church, which caused great tension among her family and friends.  When Father William O'Brien received her into the Catholic Church on March 14, 1805, she paid dearly for her actions.  The school that she ran to support her children was boycotted by many.  She left New York and moved to Baltimore, where again she opened a school.  Others joined her in this ministry, and she and her community moved to Emmittsburg, Maryland, where they establish a Religious Congregation of Women - the Sisters of Charity, the first in the United States.  Much of the rest is history.  She died on January 2, 1821, at the age of 47.

     The Collect at today's Mass says:

"O God, who crowned with the gift of true faith
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton's burning zeal to find you,
grant by her intercession and example
that we may always seek you with diligent love
and find you in daily service with sincere faith."

     When the parish was formed in 1978, the late Bishop William G. Connare placed us under her patronage ... and we are grateful and blessed.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What's in a name

     Today we celebrate a Name!  Not just any name, but the Most Holy Name of Jesus.  In the season celebrating his birth, we remember that before he was conceived, the angel gave him this name - JESUS - a name which means "God saves his people".  In the Collect of today's Mass we pray for mercy, "so that all may know there is no other name to be invoked but the Name of your Only Begotten Son."  Saint Bernadine of Siena promoted this devotion to the Most Holy Name of Jesus, reminding us that at the Name of Jesus, "every knee must bend, in the heavens and on the earth and under the earth, and every voice proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord."

     I remember out West encountering a group of Religious whose name was that of the Most Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.  I also remember a time in the Church when the men's group would usually be a Holy Name Society, and they took a pledge to honor that Name.  I remember a time in a parish when a dedicated parish member confronted a Holy Name man who ran a newsstand that also carried less than inspiring printed materials - it was an interesting moment of witness.  I remember a time when his NAME was honored and respected.  May those days NOT be a thing of the past.  The Prayer after Communion says that "we may come to rejoice that our names, too, are written in heaven."  What's in a name?  Everything!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Deception - beware

     I hope that your celebration of the New Year was a great one.  Mine was quiet, although in the afternoon yesterday a tradition was upheld that brought together a few of our priests for a New Year's Party.  We have been gathering since the mid eighties on New Year's Day to share a meal and some great fellowship.  Yesterday we gathered at Saint Anne's in Rostraver Township to join with our host and cook, Father Vince Gigliotti, for a wonderful meal and the Steeler game.  Joining with Vince was Fathers Tony Ditto, John Harrold, Rick Kosisko, Mike Matusak, Chet Raimer and myself.

     The Church celebrates today Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzen, Doctors of the Church and early bishops who sought truth and wisdom and battled the heresies and fads of the day.  Today's first reading from the 1st letter of John begins the year by warning us to be aware of the liar, to beware of those who deny the Christ, and to be firmly rooted in "what we have heard from the beginning" about him.  It is a good and necessary warning on the first days of the new year - for there are those that seek to bring us down with lies, but even more frightening are those that lead us astray by their novel teaching, their theories, their lack of depth in matters that are most important and life giving.

     Yesterday, leaving Church, I was asked by a parishioner if we studied in the seminary about these apocryphal gospels, these writings that continue to surface and are intriguing or entertaining?  He had watched something on the Discovery Channel or one of those channels.   I assured him that the four years of theological study were taken up with learning and understanding the truth of the Faith ... there was no time for serious study of that which is less than essential in regard to Christ.  Another parishioner shared a booklet entitled "American History you never learned" that puts forth the idea that Mary was behind everything in history, and in a particular way was instrumental in the founding of America and the establishment of the United States.  Weaving together dubious historical "facts" (which I have never encountered), provide a sometimes interesting story that faith filled people might want to cling to but which are not part of the fabric of our Faith or recognizable history. 

     The Church has always had to interpret and define fact from fiction, truth from the dubious.  Basil and Gregory did so, and today, more than ever, as people seek the novel and accept as Truth anything presented as truth, we need to be more vigilant.  We do have an adversary whose goal is lead us away from Christ Jesus.  Whether in blatant or in subtle ways, we must resist, and remain in Christ.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Eighth Day

     On the eighth day they brought him to the temple to become a child of Abraham and to be named.  The previous days were spent enjoying and rejoicing in the blessings of God upon this family.  Now it was time to begin the adventure, the journey of Faith, enriched by the blessings of God.

     Today is the eighth day of Christmas.  The Church in celebrating Easter and Christmas celebrates for an Octave, or eight days - each day being as the feast itself.  The reason is to bring the celebration to its completion, to celebrate the wholeness of God's blessings, and to journey forth renewed and rekindled, enriched by the blessings of God.

     This eighth day falls on a Sunday this year, which is an eighth day in itself.  The week consists of seven days, the seventh being fulfillment, the Lord's Day, the Sabbath, Saturday.  Christ rose on the first day of the week, Sunday, and transformed that first day - a day of leaving last week behind and starting over fresh, forgetting the days gone by - into an eighth day, a day of new beginnings rooted in the blessings and experiences of God that went before.  We do not start out with an empty slate ... we carry the experience of God with us into the new day, the new week, the new year.

     So many people last night celebrated into oblivion, trying to forget the past.  As followers of the one named Jesus on that day, we celebrate with life renewed, heart set on fire, confident assurance and great hope.  Our journey is not into darkness, but rather into the Light.  We journey having been blessed by God and called now to be a blessing.  Happy New Year to all!