Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Great prayers

During the Lenten season we have the Prayer Over the People as Mass concludes. I find these prayers to be powerful in their simplicity. Today's for example says

"Watch over your people, Lord,and in your kindness cleanse them from all sin, for if evil has no dominion over them, no trial can do them harm."

What a great prayer . . . the mercy of God forgives the sin that holds dominion over the sinner, giving them the protection and freedom from harm. Knowing that mercy, what have we to fear? A great reminder.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Having an effect

     How often have you done something, completed a task, fulfilled a responsibility and have very little to show for it?  It can be discouraging, in fact frustrating.  In preparation for the great season of Lent, I sent a letter to all 1,200 of our parish families encouraging them during this wonderful season of repentance, to make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation which we normally celebrate on Saturday mornings.  Our numbers for confession are negligible on a regular Saturday, and I am concerned by our acceptance of sin in our lives.

     This past Saturday, the first of Lent, despite the strong encouragement, we had fewer for confession than usual.  I was discouraged and frustrated, but am cautiously optimistic that more will come to be forgiven as the weeks progress.

     Isaiah speaks for the Lord (Is.55:10-11) in reminding us that his word shall not return to him void, but will do his will.  Just as the rain and snow come down from heaven to water the earth, making it fruitful and fertile before returning to the heavens, so too will God's word.

     When we take the WORD in stride, paying little attention to its place in our lives or ignoring it altogether, then very little is accomplished.  When we take Jesus and our relationship with him in stride ... when we take the Word of God in the scriptures in stride ... when we accept our place within the Church as routine or peripheral, then nothing is accomplished and God's desires are frustrated.  Can we afford that to happen?  Thank God for his patience and undying love!  And thank God for an open heart, a responsive spirit, and the wisdom to be attentive.

Monday, February 27, 2012

I am the Lord

The readings for these early days of Lent are full of rich and beautiful images and truths. Today we have the Lord speak through Moses and tell the people "Be holy, for I the Lord, your God, am holy." He then spells out how this can be accomplished, in very clear and down to earth terms. The Lord continually gives the reason for doing what he states is necessary to be holy. It is very simple, really. The reason to live a good life is simply because God is God, he is LORD.

Who we are is dependent upon the Lordship of God in our lives. Everything flows from that reality. Be holy as the Lord, our God, is holy.

The gospel then gives us a reaffirmation of our involvement with each other through charity and love, praising those who minister to others in the Lord's name. This Lent, let us strive for that holiness which is our destiny.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

More than a bath . . .

Peter in his first letter reminds us that the waters of baptism does more than cleanse the body, it invites us to go beyond and into a relationship with God, to live the life that we are called to. The waters of baptism are just the beginning of a journey of a lifetime, setting the stage for the transforming grace of God to come alive in our lives and guide us to holiness.

The waters of the flood destroyed the sinfull world. But it did not end there . . . the rainbow in the sky was a sign to the remnant of eight that it was the beginning, the beginning of a renewed and intense relationship that would be lifegiving.

In this Lenten season we are reminded that the cleansing grace of the Lord's forgiveness is also not only an end, but of a new beginning of our lived call to holiness. With that in mind, embrace salvation, welcome forgiveness, and be holy!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The deeper experience

     Even though I did not get to post yesterday, the reading from Isaiah at liturgy is too important to pass up.  Please bear with me.

     The Lord, through the prophet, calls his people to repentance of their sins and a reform of heart.  He calls them to fasting and penance, but finds that their fasting is self serving and their penance is shallow.  He then calls them to task, and sets out for them what he truly wants, that which will make the necessary difference in the lives of those who respond.

     He says, do you think I want you to sit in ashes, dress in sackcloth and punish yourselves?  Do you think that will satisfy me?  No way!  Rather, I would have you translate your desires and attitude, your sorrow and contrition into action, building up the kingdom of God by responding to the needs of others, by living the law of love, by transforming the selfishness of your sinful lives into the generous spirit of one who knows blessing and is grateful.  I would rather you know by experience the deeper power of repentance and the awesomeness of forgiveness.

     This struck a cord in my thoughts as I recalled a movie that I think I mentioned awhile back in a previous post.  The movie is THE WAY by Emilio Estevez and starring Martin Sheen.  It is about the spiritual pilgrimage of an American doctor - Tom Avery - whose estranged son had died while embarking on the pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, a Catholic pilgrimage route to the tomb of Saint James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostela in Spain.  Tom is not making the journey because he believes, but because he is honoring the desire of his son, carrying his ashes with him.  He meets a few people along the way who are also on the journey for a variety of reasons: a man from Amsterdam whose goal is to lose weight and appeal more to his wife ... a woman from Canada who is escaping an abusive husband and whose goal is to give up smoking ... an Irish writer who wants to get over his writers block and do a travel book.  Each had a goal for themselves, but each, along with Tom, discovered a deeper meaning and a greater truth as they experienced God's transforming grace in their encounters with the needs of each other.  They did not reach their goals through the journey, but each received the much more important blessing that God had in store for them through each other.  It became a true spiritual journey.  By the way, it is a powerful and moving movie for this Lenten season, and I think it can now be purchased or rented.  I watched it again the other day.

     When our fasting, prayer and repentance is transformative, then when we call out to the Lord for help he will answer and say "Here I am!"

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Choice

     The Catholic Church is often portrayed as a restrictive organization, run by men, who seek to exert their dominion over a timid and obedient flock.  Whatever the rules, great or small, vital or minor, it boils down to a matter of subservience.  Whether it is not eating meat on Fridays during Lent, or having to attend Mass on Sundays, or the current contraception controversy, or marriage between one man and one woman as a norm for society, if you don't buy in to what the Church teaches, the premise is that you are going to hell.  Who are they to tell us what we have do believe, what we have to do?

     Long before the Church expressed her beliefs, there was a man named Moses who spoke to his people for God.  They were a mishmash of a people, with no strong belief in something greater than themselves, with only a faint remembrance of a God who guided the lives of their ancestors, with no sense of unity and little hope for survival apart from the oppressive security that was their experience in Egypt.  But when they called out to the God of their ancestors, he answered, and brought them out of Egypt and gave them the promise of a land of blessing and watched over them along the way.  He gave them laws to guide their lives and to bring good order, to help them overcome the uncertainties and hurdles that they faced.  He cared about them.

     Then he made something very clear.  These laws, these guidelines, this way of life, required of them a CHOICE - and the choice was simple yet crucial.  The bigger question is not "Do I follow this law or not?"  It is "Do I accept a life giving relationship with a God who has chosen me and welcomed me into his world and desires to bless me?"  If I don't want that, but would rather fend for myself and ultimately confront darkness and hardship, death and doom, then the choice is mine.  The laws are freedom in that relationship rather than oppressive restrictions.  He says "Today I set before you life and prosperity, death and doom ... I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  Choose life!"

     What is your choice?  How do we live that choice out this Lent?


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Church Militant

     I remember learning that there is a Church Triumphant (the saints in glory) and a Church Militant (those of us here on earth).  I was reminded of this as I prayed the Collect for Ash Wednesday, which sounded like a call to action in the war that wages around us.  The prayer talks of a campaign that we are embarking on, a campaign of Christian service.  We are used to hearing of or participating in campaigns - to raise funds, to get elected to office, and in war times we call our various drives and pushes in battles campaigns.  As a Civil War buff, I recall the Peninsula Campaign, the campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, and Sherman's march to the sea, among others.  This kind of a campaign means that you have studied and evaluated the need, the resources, the opportunities and the goal.  And ready ... you set out.

     This campaign that we are called to be a part of begins with holy fasting.  It is rooted in service in the name of Christ.  It requires us to arm ourselves with restraint, self-restraint, rather than reckless abandon.  And it is a battle against spiritual evils - not child's play.

     I have a good friend, Michael Ripple, who in his blog Pray-lium often reminds us of this daily battle with the subtle and not so subtle forces of evil.  His recent post on fasting is to the heart of the matter.

     The Prayer over the People today says:

Pour out a spirit of compunction, O God,
on those who bow before your majesty,
and by your mercy
may they merit the rewards you promisePray-lium
to those who do penance.

     May we bow before the majesty of God, do penance for our failings, and merit the rewards that he promises.  And may our Lent be a powerful experience of God.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mardi Gras


Today is Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday,
the day before we begin Lent.

For those that don't know me, I am a large person.
In that context I  bristle a little
at the "Fat Tuesday" name for this day. 
It brings to mind the old joke that has the lector
introduce the heavyset pastor by saying:
"Let us begin our celebration of God's mercy
by standing and greeting our celebrant
with the hymn
"There is a wideness in God's mercy".

Seriously, enjoy the day
and prepare for the great Fast of Lent.

As you prepare your celebration
think of New Orleans or Rio,
and embrace

Monday, February 20, 2012

Letting Go

     What follows are a few thoughts that I shared yesterday on the Scriptures for the Seventh Sunday in Winter Ordinary Time.

     As we prepare this Wednesday to hear the admonition "Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel" at the beginning of the great season of Lent, we hear words on this Sunday that remind us of the reality of sin in our lives, our frailty and the limitations that our fallen nature places upon us.  We are reminded that it is too easy to be overburdened with the weight of our failures, to be stuck in the muck and the mire of our guilt.  But we are also reminded that we have been set free, lifted up, freed of the weight and cleansed of the mud that sucks us in.  That freedom has been won for us on the tree of the cross, with a sacrifice that is beyond measure.  We have been washed clean through the blood of the lamb.  And we are called to "let go".

     That seems to be the hardest part of the process of reconciliation, of trusting that our sins can and will be completely forgiven by God when in true sorrow we come to him and his church for forgiveness.  All too often I hear people say that they know that God forgives them, but can he ever forget, ever let go of the feelings of betrayal that my sins have brought about?  God forgives ... but does he really forgive.  Will my sin come back to haunt me as I stand before the "pearly gates"?

     We all know the experience of hurting someone or of being hurt.  Even when we are reconciled and our relationship is patched up, there is still that lingering doubt, that deep seated hurt that plagues us.  Some can never get beyond that point.

    Probably the hardest person to forgive is oneself.  There have been countless times when in the sacrament someone will say - I know that I am forgiven, but I can never forgive myself!  They hold on to guilt and it eats away at them and holds them bound.

     Realizing that we have been set free, that our sins have been forgiven without reservation, that no residual effect remains, is vital to our living the life of grace that we are called to.  In the reading from Isaiah the prophet this Sunday we hear what I think is a remarkable line from God, unbelievable, really.  In listening to his people whine about their lot, in rehashing their failures, in questioning the willingness of God to make something new, God tell his people a truth - they have been set free.  In speaking to his people, God says "It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more."  What more wonderful reminder that we must "let go" and "let God fill the void".

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Giving thanks

     Saying "thank you" is so easy, and when it comes from the heart, so powerful.  Giving thanks should be second nature to people of faith, for the central act of our worship is Eucharist - giving thanks.  Expressing gratitude to someone or for something is to acknowledge our awareness of the blessing that has touched our lives.

     I mention this today as I return from a parish appreciation dinner/dance of our neighboring parish of Saint Agnes.  They gathered at our hall for the annual celebration.  And it was a great party!  The priests and staff, the organizations and committees, the people of the parish show their gratitude for the ministry and service of countless parishioners through this event.

     I mention this today as I bring to a close a project of mine to personally say thank you and sign the contribution statements of our parishioners (all 1,000+ families or individuals).  From the smallest amount to the greatest, I want them to know of my gratitude and that of the parish family for their stewardship.  Many priests can't or choose not to take the time to do this, except for those requesting the statement, but I feel that it is important.

     I usually thank those attending Mass for being present, never assuming that just because it is their responsibility to be present that they should be there.  Likewise, I try to express my gratitude whenever I can for whatever comes my way.  I feel that it is very important that people not be taken for granite.

     Giving thanks is essential to living out the Christian message of love, flowing from our initial reason to give thanks - the love of Christ in our lives.  And with that in mind, I am very grateful to God for this ministry and your interest in Journey Thoughts.  God bless you!

Friday, February 17, 2012

A great day remembered

      Sixty-six years ago on this date the weather was much like it is here today - mostly sunny, brisk (in the mid forty's) and beautiful.  Sixty-six years ago this afternoon Frances Louise Lenard married William Vincent Stoviak at Saint Mary of the Nativity Church in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, thus marking the beginning of our family.  Dad belonged to Saint Joseph (Polish) church and Mom, along with Grandma, belonged to Saint Mary (Slovak).  Grandpap belonged to Saint Joseph (he was, after all, from Poland).

     I celebrated Mass for them this morning in gratitude for the love and faith that they shared with each other and gave to Janie and me.  This year will be ten years since Dad passed and seven years for Mom.  They are still very much a part of our lives.  Janie and I got together for lunch to celebrate their anniversary.

     On another personal note - a prayer request.  Mom's only surviving sibling, my Aunt Margaret Venick, fell last week and broke her hip.  She resides in a nursing home, and is back there at the present time.  She is in failing health, and your prayers would be greatly appreciated.   Aunt Margaret was Mom's Maid of Honor.


     I know that I am overwhelmingly dating myself, but there is an old song that goes: "Love and marriage, love and marriage, goes together like a horse and carriage.  You belong to me."  Today the scriptures give us another example of "togetherness" that expresses unity - faith and good works.   James reminds us that these two go together, cannot stand separate, if they are to unite us to Christ, bring life and be effective.

    The Church has had its struggles with this reality.  There have been and probably still are those who see the world and the things and needs of the world as being a distraction from what is "important".  Wouldn't it be wonderful to set aside the ugliness of the ungodly and dwell only in the beauty of the godly?  Yet the beauty that we have been graced with and entrusted with needs to be received and then shared.  We are called to bring the light into the darkness, to transform the ugly with the love of Christ, to bring fullness into the emptiness of hearts.  It is not enough for us to simple receive, to "take", to be content with what we possess.  It is incumbent upon us, so blest, to share the blessing, to spread the good news, by word AND action.  Another song comes to mind: "Reach out and touch, some body's hand, make this world a better place, if you can."

     The flip side of that coin, though, is to become the activist, the doer, the accomplisher of many things, all the while missing the reason that should propel us into action.  We are not called to be "do gooders", but to be Christ for others.  Doing good is great, but doing good because of our oneness with Jesus Christ, because he has taught us the why of our actions, is awesome.  The Church at times in history has given the impression that you could buy or earn your way into heaven.  When that idea surfaces, we have confusion.

     It is not a question of either/or ... it is a both/and situation.  If I truly have faith, then the natural response that gives proof of that faith lies in my living it out in action.  If I claim that I do good works, those good works, if done in Christ, will give evidence not only of good intentions and a kind heart, but also of my unity with Christ and my gratitude for his grace. 

     James tells us "For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."   Our life in God the Father, with Christ Jesus his Son through the Holy Spirit is one of Faith and Good Works together.  What a great gift.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Seeing clearly

     There is a strange experience of healing found in the Gospel of Mark today (Mk.8:22-26).  Jesus has to make a second attempt to heal the blind man who was brought before him.  The first attempt brought vision, but it was somewhat distorted.  The second laying on of hands brought clarity of sight.  Why?  What happened?  A moment of weakness?

     I believe that the progression of the healing process rested with the one receiving the prayers and the laying on of hands.  He wanted to see.  But to see clearly and distinctly he needed to focus not on the sensation, not on the healing, but upon the source of his blessing.  Only then could he "see clearly", could he understand and appreciate and accept the great gift given him.  He could then see with the eyes of faith.

     James reminds us that we must not only be hearers of the word, but progress to be doers of the word.  Hearing can inspire and bring some insight (seeing but not clearly), but only when we bring that insight into action, only when we record that word on our hearts and in our lives, will we find contentment and blessing.  James reminds us that "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world".  Actions speak louder than words is an old phrase that is appropriate here.  There is another "Seeing is believing" that is better understood if reversed - "Believing is seeing" the truth of God's love and his call.  If we truly believe, and understand, and respond, then we SEE CLEARLY.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

All good gifts

    Today the Church celebrates a wonderful feast day - not Saint Valentine of Hallmark fame - but rather the brothers Saints Cyril and Methodius, the Apostles to the Slavic Peoples.  Just so you know, this has been a longstanding feast on February 14th, and was not the result of having a Polish Pope.  But in honor of Valentine's Day, I am doing the post in red.

     In the letter of James this morning we heard that "all good giving and every perfect gift is from above" and that the Father of lights "willed to give us birth by the word of truth".  Recently we heard a part of the struggles of Job, and wondered why God would do this to Job.  We often hear people lament that God is testing them, tempting them, to see if they are strong.  I've heard people say "Why has God done this to me?"  "Why am I being punished?" "Doesn't God love me?"

     Temptations will always come our way, the author of James reminds us, because there is an evil outside of us, a darkness that pervades our hearts, a vacancy within the human condition that allows those forces who deny God to work their charms.  I seem to remember a line of Banquo's from Macbeth that goes something like this ... "But 'tis strange, and oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray us in deepest consequence." [Thanks, Father Bryant, for making us memorize Shakespeare.]  James tells us that God is not tempted to tempt or to do evil.  It is not within his nature to do harm.  "Rather, each person is tempted when lured and enticed by his desire.  Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches  maturity it gives birth to death."

     Temptations are very real, but the do not come from God.  They flow from the darkness that exists apart from God, and attack our human condition, when separated from the Divine, luring us away from all that is life giving.  There are forces that seek to bring us down.  The world often tells us to pay attention to those forces, for they make perfect sense.  But we should not be deceived, for we have been gifted with light and life, and "all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights."  It is he that gives us the strength to resist temptation and to live life fully in Christ.

Monday, February 13, 2012


    Let me share a few thoughts that I shared in my homily yesterday.

     It is never fun to preach about leprosy, but that is what we were faced with yesterday in the Scriptures.  Leprosy was a terrible, dreaded disease that created fear within society and within those faced to confront the ones afflicted.  Leprosy eats away at the body.  It disfigures and maims before bringing on death.  It is contagious and ugly.  Those who contracted leprosy were considered one of the living dead.  They were cut off from the living, denied the comfort of home, the love of family, friends and society, basic human necessities, and even the dignity and respect of a human being.  They were non-entities.  We hear of it in Leviticus, we see it in the ministry of Jesus in Mark, we know of it in the story of "Ben Hur" (remember the movie), of Saint Francis in his encounter in the 1200's, in the inspiration of Father Damien and Mother Mary Ann Cope in Molokai in the 1800's.

     Jesus does will that the man with leprosy be healed ... but not at a distance.  He does the unbelievable - he touches him with compassion and love.  Saint Francis, after running away from the leper, encounters him again, face to face, and see, not the disfigured source of contagion, but Christ - and embraces him with compassion and love.  Father Damien and Joseph Dutton and Mother Mary Ann went where no one would go and dealt with the leper colony's abandonment with compassion and love.  Even in our own time we have the example of Mother Theresa of Calcutta and her followers who bring love and compassion to the dregs of society.  There is so much to be learned here.

     But the leprosy of our time, of all times, is that of sin.  We do not have to go far to see it, to experience it, to deal with it.  It cuts us off from the source of life, from the land of the living.  Christ, through the ministry of the Church, brings to these "living dead" healing and forgiveness with compassion and love.  Again, there is SO MUCH HERE to be learned ... and experienced ... as we come in our sinfulness to be healed and restored to life.  Lent is approaching, and it a wonderful time to say to the Lord "If you wish, you can make me whole" and then hear him say "I do will it, be made clean!"

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A busy day ... and snow

    Yesterday was one of those more active days, beginning in the morning with a meeting of our parish finance council.  We meet every other month, of at all times on Saturday mornings at 9:00 am (their choice).  The discussion was good and the information reviewed was informative.  Following the meeting I headed to the church for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  It was also the local Saint Vincent de Paul Food Bank distribution morning in our social hall.  All of this in a steady and persistent snowfall, with cold temps and wind.  I hate to even mention the snow, since our winter has been so mild compared to some places.

    In the afternoon we celebrated Sunday Eucharist.  The intention was my Mom, who died about seven years ago.  It would have been her 93rd birthday.  My sister, Janie, came for Mass and stayed overnight.  The Mass was of course for the Sixth Sunday in Winter Ordinary Time, but it was also the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and thus the World Day of Prayer for the Sick.  While we always remember those struggling with illness, we prayed in a special way for all of the sick.  Following Mass our Seton Men's Group sponsored a Pasta Bar Dinner for the parish, serving penne, rigatoni or spaghetti with meat, marinara or alfredo sauce.  All who ate enjoyed the evening and I think they served nearly 150 dinners.  All this in the midst of more snow squalls and dicey roads.  But all got home safely.

     Today were the two morning Masses, a baptism following the 11 am (Lucca William Kendro - who was adorable), and then another Mass for our regional Junior and Senior Youth Ministries and their families for the Teen Hope Mass.  This is held monthly at the Bishop Bosco Center, our regional Catholic center and home of Queen of Angels School.  These Sunday evenings are a part of our Religious Formation program for SEAS (us), Saint Agnes and Immaculate Conception parishes.  Now something to eat, and probably the Grammy's.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Benedictine Sisters

     The feast of Saint Scholastica, the twin sister of Saint Benedict, the monk, the father of Western monasticism and patron of Europe, is celebrated today.  She and Benedict were of one mind and heart in their love of the Lord and their commitment to each other.  On this, her feast, we pray for all of the women religious who follow the Rule of Benedict in the spirit and charism of Scolastica.

     In my life, I have come to know two groups of Benedictine Sisters.  The first are the Benedictine Sisters that cooked for the Saint Vincent Community in Latrobe during my high school years (now taken over by a food service).  Originally from Germany, the Sisters now have a retreat center, book store and gift shop, bed and breakfast and of course their monastery at Saint Emma in Greensburg, under the leadership of Mother Mary Ann Knoll.  The second are the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh who helped at both the school and the parish ministries at Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale.  I have been to their monastery in Pittsburgh and experienced their gracious hospitality.  I have been blest in knowing these women of Faith.



     Sunday marks the birthday of a great leader of this nation who served during a time of division and strife in the early 1860's - Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln is generally regarded as a simple man thrust into a conflict that brought out qualities that are recognized by most historians as great.  And his legacy continues.

     But during his tenure, the nation was divided politically, economically and socially.  There was the struggle of the North and the South, the prosperous industrial North and the struggling agricultural South, the slave states and those free of slavery, division regarding states rights vs federal government.  The issues were complex and numerous.  A war was fought - brother against brother - the hurtful remnants of which still exist.

     This morning's reading from the Hebrew Scriptures tells us of the division that came upon God's Kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam, the son of Solomon.  The reasons were also complex and numerous.  Rebellion against the central authority (of God) was at the heart of things.  There would now be two kingdoms - North and South - Judah and Israel - ten tribes in one, two in the other, brother against brother.  The split would never be breached.  But neither would there be an abandonment of his people by God because of the greatness of another leader, David.  He is a benchmark among leaders of Israel, despite his failings and transgressions.  Thus, the Lord did not abandon his broken people, as he did not abandon this nation in her time of rebellion and trial.

     We find ourselves often divided in  our loyalties between the God who loves us and calls us to his life verses our own desires and sinfulness that leads us to death.  It would seem that the choice is so clear, that there would not be a question as to where we go.  But, for some reason, we tend to split our loyalties and come up short.  When that happens, there is only one answer - unity (with God), sorrow (for our arrogance), and a humble spirit with each other and with the Lord.  That leaves room for restoration and unity and life.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


     In a post yesterday on the Archdiocese of Washington's blog, Msgr. Charles Pope entitles his entry "To What Political Party Does the Catholic Church Belong?"  He had some thoughts that I would like to share with you, and what those thoughts led me to reflect upon.

     He says that ultimately we are called to be "simply Catholic" first and foremost.  NOTHING stands as more important than our Faith, for ultimately it is our Faith by which we will be held accountable.  True Catholicism will be vigorously pro-life and clear on sexual and life issues, working to strengthen family and marriage, advocating for the poor and immigrants, being aware of all social issues facing us by knowing the why and wherefore of our social teachings, fully embracing subsidiarity, solidarity and justice, standing against the violence that permeates our culture, being merciful and forgiving, and being willing to work with those who advocate Catholic principles.  It is a tricky balancing act.  We live in a diverse culture, in a nation that thinks that it is perfect, under a representative form of government, and in changing and challenging times. 

     Like Solomon in today's reading, we are tempted to make alliances, to garner or lament our political strengths and weaknesses, to compromise and maybe even give in to prevailing thought or feeling, to be less than what we are called to be by ignoring or forgetting the power and richness of the Covenant that the Lord has made with us.  When that happens we are unsure of our footing, uncertain of our standing as citizens, and timid in standing up for what we believe is a teaching that, while human, flows from the divine.

     All of the turmoil regarding the recent HHS mandate regarding health care coverage has left me tired and somewhat resigned to whatever happens in the politics of things.  I was almost at that point ... listening to too many and not listening to my heart and the solid foundation upon which the Body of Christ is established.  Like Solomon, I was almost ready to accept what is in order to fit in.  The right to follow our conscience is a God given right, even before being given by our Constitution.  The responsibility to do what is right rests in following the Law of God first, then in the law of the state (which, if truly wise and just, would be rooted in the higher law).  I almost forgot ... I almost gave in.  Thanks, Solomon, for the wrong choices that lost you the favor of God that was yours.  They reminded me of how I need be vigilant.  For a few brief seconds I was tempted to take the easier way out, and forgot my Covenant with the Lord.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Josephine Bakhita

    A few months before I was born in 1947 an elderly African/Italian Religious Sister died near Vicenza, Italy.  She was a member of the Canossian Daughters of Charity, and lived a quiet, simple, holy life.  Her name was Josephine Bakhita.

     In the year 2000, our paths crossed somewhat in that I was visiting in Rome and had the honor of being present when Blessed John Paul II declared this woman a saint of the church (along with Mother Katherine Drexel and two others).  In Saint Peter's Square with thousands of others I learned of the extraordinary journey of Josephine Bakhita, and came to appreciate her story and admire her faith.  Today, along with Saint Jerome Emiliani, she is honored by the Universal Church.

     She was born in the Sudan around 1869, kidnapped as a child, and was repeatedly sold in the slave trade market until rescued by the family of the Italian consulate.  She served this family in a number of capacities in their home in Italy, including as governess for their children.  She was accepted by the family and she came to accept the Catholic Faith as her own.  Eventually called to religious life, she entered the community and served the Lord in her own way.  So dramatic and yet so simple was this story, that her cause for canonization was pressed, and resulted in that glorious afternoon in Saint Peter's Square, with her portrait hanging from the Basilica.

     It was a glorious day, a wonderful experience for me, and a cherished memory. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A lovely dwelling place

     The psalm response at liturgy today is from Psalm 84: "How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!"  The psalm sings the praises of the courts of the Lord.  "I had rather one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere ..." says the psalmist.  To dwell with the Lord in his house is to experience beauty.

     Solomon built a magnificent temple for the Lord in Jerusalem.  It was a temple for the Ark that contained the Tablets of the Law which came from God.  It was, for God's people, a sign of his presence and of his choosing of them as his very own people.  Even though much more permanent, the temple was still a transitional home, like the tent that covered the Ark.  God could not be contained, and yet God chose to be present.

     God chose to dwell within us, in our hearts, within our spirits.  It is not the Tent or the Temple or the building that really matters, but rather the receptivity of our hearts to the presence and love of God.  It is not so much the external, but rather the internal that matters, as Jesus told the people.  We are the temples of God's Spirit.

     The use of incense is often captured in the media when there is a "church story".  It seems like the only thing we do ... it seems mysterious.  Even as Catholics we are often confused as to why we use incense.  At funerals, when I incense the body, if I get those confused looks or the coughing, I'll sometimes tell the people that incense has been used since ancient times to honor that which is set apart for the gods ... and that we use it here to reverence the body of the person that has for these many years been the temple of the Holy Spirit.  God has dwelt and still dwells within, and how lovely is his dwelling place!


     I had the school Mass at Queen of Angels this afternoon.  Always a great experience.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Give me a break ...

     Job is a wonderful story that tells of Job's trust in God's love.  In today's readings we experience Job at his worst, nearing his lowest moments, touching on despair and recounting the darkness that envelopes him.  I can almost hear his say "Give me a break!"

     Paul tells the Corinthians that he has been compelled to share the gospel message in season and out, whether convenient or inconvenient.  He has emptied himself so that he can be all things to all people.  This is so unlike the "old" Saul of Taursus.  Everything about the "new" Paul must be sacrificed so that the gospel can be proclaimed.  I can almost hear him say "Give me a break".

    Jesus experiences the endless and consistent needs of the people - for hope and healing and deliverance and love.  There is no rest.  The whole town turns out ... they follow him wherever he goes ... and he goes to every town and village to fulfill his mission.  The people are relentless, the needs overwhelming, and his compassion without end.  And yet he says "I need a break", and takes a brief one.

    Like Job, when we reach the bottom, when all seems lost and darkest, when there is no where to go but up, then the promise and the love of God surrounds us and gives us hope.  Then we can say, like Job, I don't understand the why or wherefore of my circumstances, but I know that God loves me, and that is enough.  Like Paul, when it seems that we have given everything and emptied ourselves of self, then Christ lives in me, and I am filled with gospel joy and the good news, and my life is rich.  Like Jesus and his disciples, the more people need and demand, the more we become Christ to them, the more we minister to them, the more we bring the saving message.

     But there is the need for that "break" that we long for.  May that break be an immersion into the peace and love of Christ's presence, a strengthening of who we are through prayer, and a nourishment for the journey through the Eucharist.  Let us take time to become, to be renewed, to be "all things to all people".


     Today, February 5th, would have been my Dad's 92nd birthday.  His birthday celebration has a cute story to it.  For the first 62 years of his life, he celebrated  his birthday on February 5th.  When he went to retire, be got his birth certificate from the Commonwealth, and was surprised to learn that his date of birth was actually February 9th.  For the next twenty years, till his death, we had cake on both dates!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Father Mack

     The special intention at our 4:00 pm liturgy today was Father Mack.  Father Mack is Father Richard Mackiewicz, the founding pastor of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish.  Father Mack, who had retired because of health, died two years ago yesterday.  He was deeply loved.

     As a young priest, Father Mack was chosen in 1978 by Bishop William Connare to establish a parish on the western edge of the diocese that would be named after a recently canonized saint, Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton.  This parish would be formed from members of IC and Saint Agnes parishes.  Mack took up the challenge of bringing people together, establishing the framework of a parish, inspiring people to invest in the new entity, and planning and building a church/hall/rectory.  It was a daunting task, especially for Mack who wanted to please everyone.  I would not want the challenge.

     He is remembered and loved.  His legacy continues on in the parish family.  And today, in a special way, he is in our prayers.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A good PR man

     Sorry for the lack of a post yesterday, but I found myself settling into a bit of a depression and found it difficult to post.  The depression occurred because of an event that morning.  For those not from Western Pennsylvania, there is a certain groundhog named Phil who hibernates in a small Central Pennsylvania town named Punxsutawney, and who on February 2nd is taken from his place of hibernation to meet the world.  If he does not see his shadow, Spring is near.  If he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of Winter.
  Well, Phil saw his shadow!  Little wonder, what with all of the lights from the TV cameras.  And I dislike Winter intensely... thus the depression!  However, if the next six weeks are like the Winter so far, it won't be bad.

     Today's reading from the Hebrew Scriptures is from Sirach.  We have been reading about David the King from the Book of Samuel, viewing the whole picture, with all of his successes and failures.  We have seen his greatness despite his human frailties.  Today, though, we have a great press release from Sirach, who gives us an overview of David's life and accomplishments with an emphasis on his greatness.  There is a brief mention of sin, but no elaboration.  I was struck by the positive spin that the author placed upon the man.  If only we all had such a good PR person telling our story!  It is refreshing, though, given the tremendous efforts to be negative and destructive about the people before our eyes.

     I concelebrated the funeral of a parishioner today - Tom McAraw - who died at the age of 82.  Tom and his wife, Mary, are good parishioners who usually attended the 8:30 am Mass on Sunday.  Tom was an usher, along with his brother-in-law, Jim, at that Mass.  I said concelebrate, because there are two priests nephews in the family from the Pittsburgh Diocese, Fathers David Schorr (a seminary classmate of mine) and John McKenna.  One of Tom and Mary's sons is in the Diaconate program for the Erie Diocese, and a number of his classmates travelled to be with the family.  It was a great celebration of life.  Tom served family, community, country and church with quiet grace and a constant smile.  May he rest in peace.

     Today was also the feast of Saint Blase, a early bishop and martyr for the faith that the world knows as an intercessor for ailments of the throat.  The traditional Blessings of Throats took place at the morning Mass, and at the request of the McAraw family, also during the funeral liturgy.  We had more than usual at morning Mass, for I find that people love the sacramentals of the church.

     And finally, Catholic Schools Week at Queen of Angels came to a conclusion with a volleyball game this afternoon between the Middle School Students and the Faculty and Administration, including Father John Moineau, one of the pastors.  I sat this one out by necessity, and joined in the cheering (for both sides).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

We are rightfully proud

     This afternoon I stopped by our Regional Catholic School - Queen of Angels. This is the mid point of our celebration of Catholic Schools Week, and the level of activity was high.  I saw parents and grandparents as well as other interested individuals touring the school, visiting classrooms and the office, and viewing the countless displays throughout the school during the Open House part of the school day, and I am sure this evening's Open House will also exhibit interest.

     I spoke with our Principal and a few of the office staff, I visited a classroom where the teacher had gathered her class around her for a lively discussion of the upcoming school Mass for next week (of which I am the presider).  A reminisced with a parent and her second grade daughter about the "old days" in second grade as we viewed the second grade display.  The kids are always excited when they see me in the hall or classrooms, and a group of little ones (probably K or PK) who were on their way out made a point of waving to me.

     Queen of Angels is a great environment for education rooted in a faith based program.  Our administration fulfills a wonderful ministry in the difficult circumstances of these economic times.  Our faculty is outstanding, certified and dedicated and our support staff loves the kids.  Our parents have chosen the school for their children and sacrifice much to do the best for their children.  Our parishes may not always be aware of it, but their prayer and financial support is invaluable.  But most of all, our youngsters are great - they are the reason that we are committed to Queen of Angels - they are the future of this nation, but more importantly of the Church.  I've included a picture of the school family in front of the school that was sent as a Christmas card, so that you can see what I'm talking about.

We are proud!



     We often speak of the education, the teachers, the wonderful experiences of our formative years.  I would like to share a memory today that is not politically correct or health conscious, but is important to me.

     Across a small street from Saint Joseph School in Uniontown where I attended from K through 8 was a small "mom & pop" candy store run by Mrs. Krysiak, a dear lady, the grandmother of a school mate, who had the patience of Job.  In her front room she sold "penny candy" to us at lunchtime, always treating each of us with respect and patience as we tried to decide whether we wanted the Tootsie Rolls or the licorice records or the miniature wax bottles of pop.  Today we know that this is not the most healthy thing, but in our day, it was part of our experience, almost of our curriculum.  Even the crossing of the street was done with permission and supervision.  Thanks, Mrs. Krysiak, for the memories.


Today word was received of the death of
Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua,
the Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia,
who died last evening at the age of 88.
May he rest in peace.