Monday, April 30, 2012

The trip - Part 1

     As I mentioned in my last post, our Junior Youth Ministry, along with a number of others, journeyed to Loretto, Pennsylvania, for a pilgrimage/journey.  We had a great day, even though it was a bit cool in the mountains of Central PA.  One of the reasons that we travelled to Loretto was because of its founder, Father Demetrius Gallitzin, the founding pastor of the small Catholic Community.  I thought I would share a little about Father Gallitzin.

     Demetrius Gallitzin was born in the late 1700's to Russian Count Dimitri Alexeivich Gallitzin and German Countess Adelheid Amalie von Schmettau Gallitzin in the Hague, where Demetrius' father served as ambassador to the Netherlands.  The Gallitzin's were known in the court of Catherine the Great, and were, according to accounts, vast landowners.  A lady that gave us background info said that at one time the family owned land greater in size than the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 

     Demetrius received the best education, and his father had high hopes for a military career.  But Demetrius was not drawn to the military or Russian aristocracy, but rather to his mother's newly adopted Roman Catholic Faith.  At the age of seventeen he was baptized Catholic, much to his father's objection.  It was customary to travel to broaden one's education, and with the turmoil in Europe, Prince Demetrius, as he was called, was sent to the United States, arriving in Baltimore on October 28, 1792, where he was introduced to Bishop John Carroll.  Following a call to the religious life, he attended seminary in the U.S. and was one of the first priests ordained in this country on March of 1795.  After serving a number of missions, he undertook in 1799 the establishment of a Catholic settlement in Cambria County in the Allegheny mountains which he named Loretto, after the Marian shrine in Italy.  He served there and in the area until his death in 1840.  He became a naturalized citizen in 1802.  His legacy continues to live on.

     The cause for his road to sainthood has begun, and he was declared a "Servant of God" by the Vatican on June 6, 2005.  A "Servant of God" designation acknowledges that this person is worthy of the attention of God's people.  His life is being studied as the process continues.  I have included a picture of his desk with picture and books found in his residence, and a picture of our group gathered in the Chapel/House that he had built.

Friday, April 27, 2012

As Promised ... the trip

     Every year the Junior Youth Ministry from the neighboring parishes, along with parents and others, and under the guidance of our Pastoral Associate, Felician Sister Charlene, make a trip or pilgrimage in the Spring.  I tag along for support and Mass.  In the last few years we have gone to Emmittsburg and DC.

     Tomorrow is our trip for 2012.  We are off to my old stomping grounds - Loretto, Pennsylvania - nestled in the mountains between Altoona and Johnstown.   Loretto is a small hamlet founded by the priest, Father Demetrius Gallitzin, who was a Russian nobleman (prince) who converted to Catholicism, gave up his legacy, came to the New World and was ordained a priest, and established this small Catholic settlement called Loretto.  Loretto is known for the University that is its mainstay - Saint Francis University - operated by the Third Order Regular Franciscan Friars (TOR).  There is also a quiet and beautiful and prayerful Carmelite Monastery located in the town, as well as the Chapel/House of Father Gallitzin and the local Church of Saint Michael, which is a minor basilica.  Loretto also housed the summer home of steel magnate Charles Schwab, whose house and gardens are now a part of the Franciscan Monastery.  We plan on visiting, praying, being inspired, dining at these sites and coming home renewed.  I'll fill you in on the day later.

     The last thing that I want to point out to those on the trip is my former seminary at Saint Francis, where I finished college and spent my theology years.  We are not able to stop and tour the place because of the double barbed wire fence around the grounds and the security guards at the gate.  My seminary has been closed since 1979 and is now a prison - a Federal Correctional Institution (a low security facility).  I jokingly say that all they did was change the locks, clean up the place, and put a fence around the grounds.  I wonder who is in my old room?  All in all it promises to be an informative trip.

One Step Forward ... two steps back

     That describes the last two days in my life, somewhat confused, clearly frustrated and making no headway.  Most of my challenges where computer and phone generated.  Despite this blog, I am a novice at the computer, and seem to be knowledgeable only when things are operating well.  These past  two days were a true challenge.  My printer at the office read "paper jam" with absolutely no discernible piece of paper to be found in the machine.  Rebooting did not help.  Of course, when you are printerless you find a multitude of things that need printed.
     I had an overlapping credit card bill/payment problem that the automated phone program made doubly difficult - having punched all the numbers and answered all the questions, I was "disconnected" - twice.  Problem resolved today.
     The desk, which at the best of times is a mess, was looking better until a thousand and one things needed dealing with all at once.  It is a mess, again.

     But yesterday I went to a mindless movie in the afternoon (The Three Stooges - remember them) and then to a delightful card party at church that our Christian Mothers Organization sponsored.  They had a banner crowd, and it was nice socializing with the ladies (and one gent) in attendance and eating some delicious jellos and desserts.  That pulled yesterday out of the fire.  And today has been tolerable.  It is Friday, after all.  And tomorrow I'm hitting the road ... making a journey ... going on pilgrimage.  More on that later.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Don't be timid

     I find myself cringing a lot these days as we (the Church) make the headlines.  On occasion the press is positive and the message uplifting, but on the whole, between scandals, politics, hostility and hatred of things religious and specifically things Catholic, and a growing desire to place the message of the gospel in the irrelevant column, I am tempted to bury my head and mind my own business.  I know that the truth found in the message of Jesus is a moral compass for a world that is lost at sea, but to step out into the deep waters and in all humility point the way with confident assurance is daunting.

     Today the Church honors John Mark, a companion of Paul and Barnabas, the author of the Gospel that bears his name, the great evangelist.  The scriptures tell us to "go out to all the world and proclaim the good news to every creature".  Go boldly, we are told, sometimes where no one has gone before.  Not all will listen.  It will generally be a difficult task.  Often we will be written off or ignored.  But it is the clear demand of the Lord to go forth.  The eleven went forth and the Lord was with them.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Borrowed Confirmation thoughts

     Yesterday my adult server at morning Mass attended a Confirmation celebration across the border in the Pittsburgh Diocese.  He was telling me about it this morning.  Then as I was checking out various blogs, I came across one by Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington regarding misunderstandings regarding confirmation.  I would like to share some of what he said, with the full text found at

Msgr Pope says:

It will also help to exclude certain common, but incorrect notions about Confirmation.

1.   Confirmation is not a Sacrament of Maturity - Canon Law (891) states that Confirmation is generally to be administered at about the age of discretion, which age is understood to be seven (Canon 97.2). It may be administered earlier if there is "danger of death" or for another "grave cause".  The same Canon allows the conference of bishops to determine another age for reception of the sacrament.  While one may argue that a later date for the Sacrament is pastorally advisable, (i.e. to keep young people engaged in catechetical instruction) one simply cannot argue that it is a "Sacrament of maturity" when Church law generally presupposes its celebration at the age of seven.  This is made clearer by the fact that most Eastern Churches, and the Orthodox confirm infants.

2.     Confirmation is not "becoming an adult in the Church" This is just plain silly.  I was taught this as a mere seventh grader, and found it laughable even then.  Seventh graders are not adults.  They are children and remain so even after Confirmation.

3.      Confirmation is not a sacrament where one claims or affirms the faith for himself - Baptism confers faith.  To claim that Confirmation "allows me to speak for myself" is to imply that this is how faith comes about.  It is to imply that baptism somehow did not actually give real faith, or at least gave inadequate faith, and now I am getting it by "speaking for myself."   No, Faith is a gift, it is not something I cause by speaking for myself, it is something I receive as an unmerited and free gift of God.  It is true that the grace of faith mysteriously interacts with our freedom.  But faith is received at baptism.  Confirmation strengthens faith that is already there, but it does not cause it.  Further it is a bit of a stretch to say that seventh or eighth graders really "speak for themselves."

4.     Confirmation does not "complete Christian initiation" and "make me a full Catholic" - One of the problems with delaying Confirmation is that the three Sacraments of Initiation are celebrated out of proper order.  The proper order of celebration is: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion.  Hence it is Holy Communion that completes initiation, not Confirmation.  That we celebrate it out of order creates a lot of confusion and makes initiation a little murky.  The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults observes the proper order.  Some diocese in this country have returned to this for children as well. [In our Greensburg Diocese we went to the proper order, but under the present administration have gone back to prior practices.]  ... While this preserves the order of Initiation, and there are pastoral advantages in this regard, it must be clear that each Bishop is able to set the policy that makes most sense for his diocese.

      I thank Msgr. Pope for his insights regarding these common misconceptions regarding Confirmation.  Whenever celebrated, it strengthens us on the journey as we approach the Table of the Lord.   

Civic duty

     Today is Primary Election day in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  I did my civic duty this early afternoon and voted.  I think that I heard them say that I was the thirty-ninth citizen of my party to vote at that polling place today. 

     We live in a great republic that cherishes rights and privileges to be a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people".  The most important of our rights and privileges is to cast our ballots - to vote.  Yet our response is usually abysmal.  For a variety of reasons we choose to be otherwise occupied on election day.  Why?

     On a very personal level I find politics to be not what it should be.  The negativity, the nastiness, the "spin" placed upon candidates, parties, issues and public perception grows worse each year.  The amount of time, effort, and most of all monies used to "win us over" are obscene.  And for what?  So that we can vote for a candidate or a party that promises the world but cannot deliver unless all involved work together ... which they are rarely willing to do.  The idea of the "common good" outweighing all other considerations is considered unrealistic, absurd.  Politics  stands in the way of governing, and nastiness and self serving greed is the hallmark of those involved in politics.  No wonder people do not vote!

     And yet, I did my civic duty, praying that those who I voted for accept the challenge to build a stronger and better world - not a stronger and bigger war chest, or party, or interests, or allies or whatever - but a better world.  And to do so not with eyes focused on self but rather on others.  Am I convinced that this will happen, even if my candidates get in?  Honestly, most likely, no.  But in my voting I exercise a right given my by those who established this form of government and most especially a right defended by countless men and women over the years, often with their very lives.  In addition, I consider it to be a part of my duty as a follower of Christ to try to make this work.  Sometimes I feel like Don Quixote, dreaming the impossible dream.  But who knows ... someday that dream may become a reality in our lifetime.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What a day

     When asked by our music people if I wanted to attend a day sponsored by our Diocese with Steve Angrisano scheduled for today at one of our parishes, I said reluctantly said yes.  I wasn't sure who this composer/performer was until they told me some of his music.  As the day approached, I was having second thoughts - it was a busy weekend with First Communion and the other Masses and then they were calling for a snowfall of several inches today (luckily it missed us ... rain only).  I was so tempted to find an excuse.  But God is good!

     I attended the day at Saint John the Baptist de la Salle parish in Delmont which was intended for youth ministers in particular.  It was just what I needed.  It was uplifting, informative, spiritually challenging and great fun.  Steve is from Denver (I believe) and has served as a musician, a composer and a youth minister.  He has been featured at not only the Pro-Life March Youth Rallies, but also NCYC (National Catholic Youth Conference) and at seven World Youth Day Gatherings.  He gave an inspirational talk, rooted in his personal testimony and experience but centered upon the Lord and his work.  His talk was interspersed with music and charm.  I think those present were, like me, deeply moved and uplifted.  I would love to get him to the parish for a retreat.

     Steve is published in Spirit and Song, a division of Oregon Catholic Press (OCP).  To hear him, or find out more about him, his web site is

      Steve had led our Diocesan Youth Gathering this past weekend, thus his presence in our Diocese.  We were blest ... I was blest!  Boy, am I glad that I went!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A tale of two siblings

     In this evening's homily I told the tale of two siblings, a true story related to me by a parishioner.  It was Easter Sunday morning and both Masses were jammed.  I used the occasion to remind all present of the centrality of the Eucharistic event, not only at Easter but every time we gather around the Table of the Lord, especially on Sundays which is called a "little Easter".  I extended an invitation to the regulars to enter more deeply into these mysteries, and to those who are sometimes called the CEO's (Christmas/Easter/only crowd) an invitation to join us on a more regular basis.  I thought it was strong, but good, message.  Not effective, because our numbers the following Sunday were down, but, what the heck.

     This parent told me that when their adult siblings gathered for dinner or a visit and was asked what they thought, one saying that the sermon was good, what people needed to hear.  The other disagreed and stated that I came on too strong, that I probably turned people off, that I needed to be more gentle and understanding.  A great deal of the preaching is in the hearing.

     Eucharist is central and vital to our life.  That may be inconvenient at times, or we may choose to downplay its importance, or we may hold it on the periphery of what makes me who I am.  But without the breaking of bread, without the Eucharist, without our joining together as family around the Table of the Lord to tell our story, to acknowledge our dependence upon God and each other, to give thanks, and to be fed for the journey that brings us to life, there is no way of knowing Him who is the source of that life.  In other words, we are dead or heading for death.  We are like zombies, not ugly and scary, but empty and without a spark of life (which is even scarier).

     Tomorrow we have fourteen youngsters coming to the Table of the Lord for the first time (another fourteen next Sunday).  I want to share with them the importance of coming to the Table so that they can know him, love him and serve him - which is why God made us and set us on course in the waters of Baptism.  Pray that I convey the message ... and pray that the youngsters and their parents and families hear the message - which is the ultimate message of love.

Expanding our horizons

     I was struck in this Easter season and especially in a number of the prayers found in the Roman Missal this week, with the invitation to expand our horizons, to go where no man has gone before, to soar to heights that are unreachable, and to do so in the Name and Spirit of the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

     Monday's Collect says: Grant that we "transcending the likeness of our earthly parentage, may be transformed in the image of our heavenly maker."  The Prayer after Communion states that we "may attain in the flesh the incorruptible glory of the resurrection."

     Wednesday's Collect says that "through the restoration of its original dignity, human nature has received the hope of rising again" and that what we "celebrate in faith we may possess in unending love."  That days' Prayer after Communion prays that we may "pass from former ways to newness of life."

     And again on Thursday the Collect reminds us that through Christ's likeness to us we are brought reconciliation with each other and through his equality to the Father we are freed from our sins.

    We are called in these Easter mysteries to not accept the ordinary about ourselves, to look beyond the limitations that we and others place upon ourselves, and to open ourselves to the wonderful glory and love of God.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Salt and Light

     Every year for the past fourteen years, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Greensburg honors individuals and a service organization that exemplify the generous and unfailing sharing of Faith and Love within the example of Christ and his Church.  These people recognized, and those like them that toil in the vineyard of the Lord are truly "the salt and the light of the earth".  Salt is meant to give flavor, to bring out the best, to heighten the appreciation of the gift received and given.  Light is what we are called to receive from Christ and to be to the world and to each other, as we bring Christ to others.

     Last evening was the Fourteenth Annual Communities of Salt and Light Award Dinner held at a local place called Stratigo's.  It serves also as a fund raiser for Catholic Charities of Greensburg, whose Managing Director is Monsignor Raymond Riffle.  Bishop Lawrence Brandt hosted the event.

     Awards were presented to Richard and Joanna Stillwagon of Greensburg for Humanitarian Service.  Richard is a high school classmate of mine and he and Joanna are graduates of Saint Vincent Prep and College and Seton Hill University respectively.  We have stayed in touch over the years and they are fun people.  John and Kimberly Dolan of Indiana (PA) were recipients of the Award for Philanthropy.  And the award for Outstanding Human Services Organization went to Pregnancy Support Center of Alternatives. Yes based out of Connellsville, which for twenty-five  years has provided a multitude of services for women who are pregnant and in need of alternate solutions.  I know many of these volunteers personally through my days in Connellsville and Scottdale,and renewed many acquaintances.  Their statistics were truly amazing for a small, volunteer group.  Last year alone nearly 150 individuals made over 1,200 visits to the center for help, counseling, parenting classes, guidance, etc.

     Bishop Brandt gave a powerful presentation on the outreach of the Church through Catholic Charities and other service avenues, and spoke passionately regarding the threats to religious liberty facing these organizations, churches and groups.  He spoke of the great charity shown though this event, which , not including last evening, has seen $741,562.10 raised and distributed to the poor and needy in the Diocese, representing 7,211 individuals and families.  Everything above the cost of the event goes directly to supplementing Charities outreach.

     Dinner was fabulous, the company at table and at the event was warm and friendly, the reason for the event vital, the awardees were inspiring, and God's blessings abundant.  What more could you ask for?  Thanks, Catholic Charities of Greensburg.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Holding back good news

     This afternoon a nice couple came forward to claim their portion of the recent Mega Jackpot - somewhere over $211 million.  That jackpot went off a while ago and they sat on the good news until they were ready to announce and deal with the onslaught.  The gentleman said that when he checked the numbers, saw that they had won, and told his wife, all she could do was giggle.  What a wonderful thing for what seem to be very ordinary people.  But they kept it quiet!

     In discussing bishops this evening, someone asked me if I ever thought that I would be a bishop.  God forbid!  One of the biggest problems with the prospect is that between your phone call from the Nuncio and the public announcement, you can't tell anyone!  I'd never make it, and the Vatican, I'm sure, knows that.  Good news cannot be kept quiet.

     Our reading today from the Acts of the Apostles confirms the simple fact that Good News cannot be kept quiet.  Even when thrown into prison for preaching the Good News, and angel sets the Apostles free and tells them to go and "tell the people everything about this life."  There is no chaining the news of a life that is eternal, of an empty tomb, of a risen savior.  It is a life changing event that even when not spoken of is testified to by a life of Faith.

     We may be hesitant to announce the news of our winnings, or be restricted in announcing an appointment, but there is no room for NOT shouting from the house tops the Good News of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.   Alleluia!


     A request for prayer ... a loyal reader of this blog fell and fractured her hip today.  She will have surgery on Thursday, and needs our prayers.  I assure her of mine, and I ask for yours.  Her name is Diane.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ad Multos Annos

     At the end of next month I will turn sixty-five(hard to believe).  I have reached the age when celebrating birthdays takes on a new dimension (survival).  But birthday's are just another day.

     Unless you are the Pope!  Yesterday was Pope Benedict XVI's eighty-fifth birthday (wow, twenty years older and probably in better health than me).  Obviously the world celebrates with him and wishes him well.  His name topped the "Today's Birthday's" list in the local paper.  Usually they list the famous person's profession, then the name and then the age.  His read Pope Benedict XVI - 85.

     Thursday marks the seven year anniversary of his election.  May God continue to bless him.


     In a world of extreme negativity (especially in this election year), when all are expert critics and purveyors of their own agendas, we need to accentuate the positive.  Today's readings introduce us to Barnabas (not from "Dark Shadows" but from the gospels).  We are reminded that his name, translated, means "son of encouragement".

     How vitally important is it for each of us to see ourselves as a Barnabas ... as a child of encouragement.  We need to see Christ in each person, be Christ to each person, and reflect the love of Christ in our thoughts, words and deeds.  Sometimes that is easy, while at other times it is most difficult.  I have found that the kind word, the support of presence, the simple thank you or expression of a job well done makes a world of difference.  Am I always successful and encouraging?  Truthfully, no.  But I try.  As should we all.

     Be a BARNABAS ... be a CHILD OF ENCOURAGEMENT ... bring CHRIST to others.

Monday, April 16, 2012

I'm back

     It is not that I went anywhere ... it's just that I got a little lazy with my postings.  Forgive me.

     This evening a number of us gathered for our monthly hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.  Bishop Sheen spoke often of spending an hour before the Blessed Sacrament daily, as was his practice.  I admit that I do not do so on a regular basis, but I find these evenings quietly refreshing.

     This past Saturday I took the day off.  Actually I concelebrated and attended the wedding of Gina Cieslewicz and Kenneth Carl at Saint Mary of the Mount in Pittsburgh.  Gina is the daughter of Roseann (who is our financial secretary) and Jeff Cieslewicz ( a cousin of mine), both great people and good parishioners.  Ken was received into the Church the previous Saturday at the Easter Vigil at Saint Mary of the Mount.  It was an exceptional week for him and Gina.

     The wedding was beautiful.  Saint Mary's sits atop Mount Washington on Grandview Avenue.  The street got its name from the spectacular view of the city of Pittsburgh that it affords.  Saint Mary's shares that view.  The pastor, Father Michael Stumph, a young priest of the Pittsburgh Diocese, witnessed the wedding, and I, along with the uncle of the bride, Father Vince Cieslewicz, concelebrated.  Father Vince preached an excellent homily, and Father Mike extended warm hospitality and made everyone feel at ease. The setting was beautiful, the liturgy joyful, the music awesome, and the love between Gina and Ken very obvious.  I was blessed to be there.  The reception was at the Wendel Inn at Saint Wendelin Church in Carrick.

     I am grateful once again to one of our retired priests - Father James Bump - for covering my evening Mass.  He is known and loved by so many in this parish.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Friday the 13th

     I am not superstitious in any way, shape or form. I just want to make that clear.  Yet, yesterday was Friday the 13th, and as the day progressed I was not at all certain that there wasn't something to this superstition thing.

     As the day began I found myself from the beginning getting grouchy.  People with demands, needs, questions seemed to abound.  Later in the day I found that someone that I trust supposedly was telling a parishioner things that I supposedly said or did that were untrue.  A blessing came in my joining with good friends at the former parish in Scottdale for the funeral of their husband and father.  He had suffered a long time and his death on Easter, while difficult, was a blessing.  Father George Saletrik, his pastor, spoke beautifully of the joy of his new life in Christ.  It was a blessing to be with them.

     I desperately wanted to get a haircut, by my stylist was not cutting yesterday.  Bummer.  I received a call of the death of a parishioner that was not unexpected but sad nonetheless, since he was relatively young, and that of the son of parishioners who lived out of state.  A heavy afternoon.

     Then in the evening I attended the annual fund raiser for our local Catholic School - the Queen of Angels "Angel Gala".  It was a great affair with dinner, auctions (live, silent, Angel [items made by the school children], and Chinese), a fifty-fifty drawing, and great fellowship.  The crowd was good, the wallets and purses opened generously, and a great time was had by all.  My only complaint ... holding this on a Friday the 13th.  Many were lucky ... but not me!  It was for a good cause - the education of our children in a Catholic School setting.

     The live auction items were interesting: a two day VIP stay at the Venetian in Las Vegas with dinner, etc ... a condo in Hawaii for a week ... a signed Malkin jersey ... a signed Hines Ward shirt ... VIP Pirates game seats & golf packages locally.

    Next year I hope the committee takes me into consideration and schedules the "Angel Gala" on any day BUT a Friday the 13th.  By the way:  congratulations to the committee and all invloved in the "Gala" for a truly outstanding job!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Death and taxes

     I think most of us have heard the quote attributed to Ben Franklin that goes "The only thing certain in life are death and taxes."  Well, today I confronted both ... in a way.

     First the death aspect.  As you know, in this ministry we deal often with those who are dying, those who have died, and those who mourn their loss.  Funerals are an important part of our lives as priests.  This morning, before providing the committal service for Frances Przydzial, the aunt of a parishioner who had died in Florida, I concelebrated the funeral liturgy with Father Rick Kosisko, my predecessor, for a lovely lady and parishioner, Rosemary Uhme.  Rosemary was 91 years young, the mother of  eight children of which seven survive her, fifteen grandchildren of which fourteen survive her, and thirteen great grandchildren.  A World War II veteran, she loved her family and her faith.

     Rick used the Emmaus Gospel account to remind us that we come to know him best in the breaking of the bread.  It is the gathering of family around the table in the breaking of bread that we become most what we are meant to be.  It was a good word of comfort and inspiration.

     As any who know me can testify, I am a great procrastinator, which leads me to the second part of Franklin's assurance of what we can be certain of - taxes.  Today was tax day for me.  Actually with filing not until the 17th, I'm early.  I shocked my tax preparer.
I feel like a great weight  has been lifted off my back.  My taxes are not complicated, but I do procrastinate.  I'm glad it is done.  I had a nice relaxing dinner this evening to celebrate.

     So as Ben was known to have suggested, death and taxes became a certainty in my life today.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What a weekend! Part III

     Finally, Sunday morning.  Easter dawned bright and sunny, a wonderful Spring day.  We did not add any Masses this Easter weekend, but rather celebrated our two normal Sunday liturgies ... and were they packed.  Everyone was there and most were decked out in their Easter finery (although there were very few "easter bonnets" like in the old days).  It is always wonderful to see so many people at these Masses, but it will be disheartening to see so many less this weekend coming.  I always make it a point to thank those who are present, to welcome visitors from near or far, and on occasions like Christmas and Easter, to sincerely welcome those who attend only on these special days ... letting them know that we miss them and that they have a place to go on Sundays.

     This year I spoke specifically and directly about the cost of our freedom and salvation (the death of Christ); about the emptiness and void that we will experience when all else fails us if we do not know Him; of the fact that without Him, without His Church, and especially without our participation in the celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays, we face death.  It is not an option.  It is a vital necessity.  My goal was not to frighten, but to remind those present of the marvelous truth revealed in the empty tomb, in the risen Christ.

     Easter was indeed as joyous as it was exhausting.  I hope your celebrations were worthy of the sacrifices made by our risen Lord and Savior.  We continue to live this Easter celebrations throughout these eight days.

Monday, April 9, 2012

What a weekend! Part II

     As I continue my reflections on the Triduum, we move to Saturday.  A long day of relative quiet until the Vigil.  A small group of us gathered in the church in the morning to decorate for Easter.  At Noon we had the traditional but inappropriately timed blessing of the first foods of Easter.  This should be done following the Vigil but is traditionally done around Noon because in the really old days (when I was growing up and before the changes in the liturgy of Vatican II, the Vigil was celebrated early Saturday morning - not sure why?) and Noon was a great "post-vigil" time to bless food.  Some traditions even I am reluctant to tackle.  One great thing about the blessing in church is the smell of ham, kielbasa, paska and all the rich foods - truly worthy of "fast breaking".

     Our Easter Vigil began at 8:30 pm.  Again, about 300 people, among them a young six year old boy - Owen Benjamin Orth - who was baptized during our liturgy.  The weather cooperated for the new fire outside (no wind, rain, snow, etc), the procession and Exultet by candlelight was striking, the story of salvation told through the nine reading was calming and uplifting, and the Gloria triumphant.  Welcoming Owen was a blessing ... he was cute - he stayed awake, was attentive, and when I asked him the questions of his baptismal promises and profession of Faith, without hesitation and in a loud, clear voice he said "I DO".  Everyone smiled, then they shared in the renewal of those same promises in their own lives.  We were reminded of our baptism through the Rite of Sprinkling with the newly blessed water.  And as always, Eucharist brought our celebration to completion.  With deep prayer, with much song, with patient endurance we celebrated the great Vigil and ended with a joyous ALLELUIA!

What a weekend!

     This was the week that was!  The culmination of the week that we call HOLY is the summation of our life of faith.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of the Church chooses to not take part.  But for those who do, blessings abound.

     I mentioned to those gathered for the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Thursday that it was as it was meant to be, an intimate gathering of family around God's table to share fellowship, prayer, a meal and certainty in the midst of uncertainty.  We only had about 200 at that Mass, but I saw the faces of those who are always there, those who are friends, those who are family.  Our expression of service to each other always touches my heart.

     The Service of the Lord's Passion was not always a favorite of mine (three parts, things to remember, getting it all in, watching the time) until a few years ago when I let go and entered into the experience with a prayerful and unhurried attitude.  Beginning in silence, listening attentively to the Scriptures and the Passion of John, praying for the Church and the World ... venerating the Cross of Christ with personal and corporate piety is a humbling experience ... and then being nourished with His Body and Blood in Eucharist before leaving in silence.  Powerful.  Again, not an overwhelming crowd, but those who wanted to be there (remember the days when things closed and the three sacred hours of Noon until three were set apart?)

     Here we have the experience of Tenebrae celebrated on Good Friday evening, this year at 8:30 pm.  Always a moving experience.  We did have a few gentle persons who wanted Stations (one rather than the service in the afternoon and another rather than Tenebrae), but the Church's liturgies are tremendous in themselves. 

     There is so much more to say, but lest this post become too long, I'll sign off and continue the story soon. 

     I noticed that we have surpassed the 14,000 pageview mark in just under thirteen months.  To all who have checked Journey Thoughts out and to those who are loyal to these musings, my gratitude and thanks.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Going to the garden to pray

     In the Gospel account, Jesus and his friends left the upper room after the supper and went to the garden to pray.  It was a quiet time, and intimate time of resting in the Father's love.

     I'm not sure how universal the practice is of visiting churches for such times of prayer and meditation following the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday.  It is a common practice in this part of the world.  It is our practice at Saint Elizabeth Seton parish to schedule a bus and supplement that with those travelling by car to visit the Altar of Repose in three area churches.  This year following our beautiful evening liturgy, about twenty of us travelled the twenty - five minutes to the See city of Greensburg.  We visited the Church of Saint Paul where I served as pastor some time ago, Our Lady of Grace, and Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.  At each stop we prayed together, listened to a Scripture passage, spent some quiet time, and closed with recited prayer.  It was a great experience.  We found people in prayer at each place, crossed paths with other church groups making their pilgrimage, and met some old friends.

     My special thanks to those churches for providing a prayerful, reflective space for prayer outside of the church proper, which is preferred.  Each was different, yet beautifully decorated with flowers and plants and candles and a prayerful atmosphere.

      At OLG I spoke with a couple who recognized me from my Greensburg days and told me that this was their 52nd year of making these pilgrimages together on Holy Thursday.  I was impressed!

     Before returning to SEAS for the final prayers, we fulfilled a tradition that my predecessor, Father Rick, had begun - stopping for dessert or a bite to eat at a local restaurant.  I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that this is one of the highlights of the evening.  The evening was a fitting start to the Triduum.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Great prayers

I know that I posted once today, but two of the prayers at today's liturgy spoke to my heart.  The Collect said:

"O God, who willed your Son to submit for our sake
to the yoke of the Cross,
so that you might drive from us the power of the enemy,
grant us, your servants, to attain the grace of the resurrection."

and the Prayer after Communion said:

"Endow us, almighty God, with the firm conviction
that through your Son's Death in time,
to which the revered mysteries bear witness,
we may be assured of perpetual life."

Another Palm Sunday story

     As I said the other day, last Sunday was quite a day.  The two morning Masses for Palm Sunday, much longer than usual, the afternoon service at Redstone Highlands that I spoke of yesterday, and a Penance Service later in the evening.  What I have not mentioned as yet was the encounter following the 11:00 Mass.  We were "pinged", as a good friend, Michael Ripple, would say. 

     Mike has a blog, "Pray-lium", whose title is a take off on the word praelium which means battle, strife.  He points out that evil seeks to bring us down because of our call to holiness, and evil places stumbling blocks, temptations, "pings" in our lives to trip us up. These are not straight onslaught attacks, but usually distractions, frustrations, anxiety, stupid stuff that keeps the soul distracted.

     We had one of those on Sunday.  After Mass a parishioner came to me in the vestibule to vent her frustration with a couple of youngsters who she found distracting during Mass.  I listened, aware that with the extra long liturgy youngsters may get fidgety, and that there was very little that I could or would want to do.  I did not notice any distraction.  She went on and on, not realizing that the mom of the kids was standing within earshot.  That mom took umbrage at what was being said about her children, and pointing out the length of the Mass, was defending her children.  A verbal "discussion" of parenting skills began to take place that got a little out of hand and loud and was inappropriate at the conclusion of a wonderful liturgy of Holy week.  I thought we were going to have a fight.  Fortunately calm prevailed and I breathed a sigh of relief.

     As Michael would say, we were "pinged", big time.  The key is realizing who and what is at work, and not let the powers of darkness frustrate our journey into the light found in Christ.  It is not always easy ... but it is truly possible to bring Christ into the situations of our lives.  Sometime we simply need to walk away, rather than fight for our opinion or point of view.  I hope both parties involved will celebrate the new life of Easter with peace in their hearts.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

An ecumenical visit

     This past Sunday I had the honor of leading worship at Redstone Highlands, a local Senior residence community sponsored by the United Methodist Church.  Dr. Richard Morgan, a resident, coordinates the weekly time of worship for the residents who cannot make it to church.  They have a beautiful chapel on campus where we gathered at 2:30 for prayer.

     Of course this past Sunday was Palm Sunday, so we distributed palm to those in attendance.  I began with our opening liturgy for Palm Sunday - the introduction, the prayer of blessing, the reading of the Gospel of Mark - and then I shared a reflection on the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

     I then shared with those present the Via Crucis, the Way of the Cross.  Very few had ever experienced this beautiful devotional walk of the passion, and they expressed their gratitude for the experience.  I shared another reflection on the power of the sacrifice that Jesus endured on our behalf.

     After two morning liturgies that were extra long with the Procession and the Passion, and with a Penance Service later that evening, I was almost regretting saying yes to the invitation.  But, as always, the Lord is good and I was truly blessed.  I thank the good people of Redstone Highlands for their welcome and their love.

Monday, April 2, 2012

I'm back

     The last few days have been busy and draining, and I have not found time to post.  But that does not mean they were days not worthy of sharing.  I'll try to fill you in.

     I just got home from Regional Penance Service number three at Saint Agnes Parish in North Huntingdon.  After a great dinner (our tradition) seven priests (the four locals and three monks from Saint Vincent Archabbey) gathered in church for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  There was a brief service at 7:00 pm and then we heard confessions steadily until about 8:45.  As always, all ages, all sizes, all manner of sin confessed and wonderful grace received.  Exhausting as these Penance Services can be, I find them powerfully moving.  I always come away blessed, and tonight was no exception.

     The rest of the day was relatively quiet after morning Mass.  I was grateful for that because for some reason my lower back has been "out" since Saturday, making standing or sitting or any movement a challenge.  The extra rest was good.

     My Sunday was full and interesting.  I'll share a bit about yesterday tomorrow.  But now I'm late for "Dancing With the Stars".