Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Good News

     There has been some local news that is indeed good news.  The first is the return of my neighbor and ordination mate, Monsignor V. Paul Fitzmaurice, pastor of Saint Agnes parish in North Huntingdon, who returned this weekend from an extended time away - a much deserved R & R type sabbatical.  It is good to have him home.

      And then at six am this morning our time came the announcement that Monsignor Lawrence Persico, pastor of Saint James in New Alexandria and Vicar General of the Greensburg Diocese was appointed as the tenth bishop of the Diocese of Erie in northwestern Pennsylvania.  He will replace Bishop Donald Trautman who retired because of age.  Monsignor Persico is a few years younger than I am, and attended two of the schools that I attended including both Saint Joseph Hall, our former minor seminary in Greensburg (the first alumni to be a bishop) as well as the former Saint Pius X Seminary in Erlanger, Kentucky.  Our prayers are with him as he embarks upon this new ministry.

Monday, July 30, 2012

I'm embarrassed

     My embarrassment in today's post rests in the fact that I did not preach this morning at Mass, even though I usually do.  I did not feel inspired, and the scriptures from the prophet Jeremiah were about loincloths - bought, worn, hidden in the cleft of the rock and found rotted, good for nothing!  I know that there is a message in the story, but on this Monday morning I was guilty of not pursuing that message.  What makes matters worse is the fact that today is the feast of Saint Peter Chrysologus who lived from 380 to 450 and who was known for his preaching ... in fact the name "Chrysologus" means "golden speech".  He was a gifted preacher who used every opportunity to help that mustard seed of the Gospel passage grow to full stature.  So, a great big "Mea Culpa!".

     I tried to redeem myself at a funeral Mass later this morning in my homily for a dear soul, Rachel Sholtes, one of our parishioners.  Her life of eighty-six years saw her, like Paul, running the race and striving for the crowning glory reserved for those baptized in Christ.  We do not compete with or against others, but strive to do our very best with the grace provided, and we achieve not gold, silver or bronze medals, but the eternal glory reserved for the chosen of God.  May Rachel, who bears the name of one of the great women of the Hebrew Scriptures, rest in peace.


NPM Convention reflection
      One of the wonderful experiences in attending a convention like the National Pastoral Musicians last week is the opportunity to share in prayer and song with 2,000 like minded people who have a love of the Lord, a great ability to create music and song, and a deep and abiding faith.  We had many prayer experiences, one of which was Taize Prayer on Tuesday night from 10:30 to 11:30 pm.  For those who have never experienced Taize Prayer, it is restful.  Prayer in the spirit of the Taize Community (in France) is a meditative form of common prayer.  Gathered in the presence of Christ, surrounding the cross and icons, with subdued lighting and many candles, we sing uncomplicated, repetitive songs, uncluttered by too many words, allowing the mystery of God to become tangible through the beauty of simplicity.  A few words are sung over and over again, in many languages, and reinforcing the meditative quality of prayer.  It involved a Scripture reading and the Lord's Prayer.  Even with many hundreds of people sharing in the time of prayer, it was personal, private, and touched the heart.  It made you one with Christ and one with his Body, the Church.

     I first encountered Taize Prayer while on Sabbatical in the Bay Area of California back in 1996, and truly fell in love with the spirit of this form of prayer.  It was good to experience it once again in Pittsburgh at the Convention.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A reflection

     I thought that I would share with you a reflection that I wrote on this weekend's Scriptures for our Diocesan Web Site  - www.dioceseofgreensburg.org

       Hunger touches our lives on many levels.  The most basic and obvious is the hunger that affects the human body, our need for food and nourishment.  But there are a multitude of other hungers that gnaw away at our human existence.

       A few weeks ago I had to have some testing done that required that I fast from midnight on.  Now normally I do not have a regular schedule for meals, and rarely eat breakfast.  After the evening meal and maybe a snack, I usually do not eat until lunch, and that is often later than Noon.  And I generally do not get hungry.  But when I cannot eat, because of fasting or whatever, I always get hungry during the night and long for something to "tide me over".  I don't know why, but it happens that way.

     We all know what being hungry is like, of having the stomach growl or feeling faint or just longing for something to eat.  And yet I am keenly aware that those needs do not even begin to compare to the countless people at home and around the world who are literally starving to death.  Hunger is devastating.

     There are also hungers for truth, and justice, for peace and understanding, for wisdom and compassion.  And then there is the ultimate hunger for God.  These hungers gnaw away at us and keep us from being fully human and truly God-like.

     Our scriptures this weekend speak of the desire to satisfy our hungers, to seek out and to find the source of satisfaction for our needs.  We are told to trust - not in ourselves or in others alone - but in a loving God who desires that we be whole, that we be nourished, that we be satisfied.  As the Psalm says: "The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs."  He will take what we have and will multiply it so that we will be secure and so that we can be a source of blessing for others.   He can work miracles with just a little, as long as there is trust in him and a willingness to not only possess but also to share.

     I have often said that the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes was to me not a Hollywood experience of bread and fish multiplying in the baskets, but rather that as the Lord blessed the generous gift of the boy who offered what he had for the good of all, it prompted many backpacks and lunch bags that had remained closed to others, to now be opened and shared in love and compassion.  There was enough there already, but because of our self concern and maybe selfishness, there were people who were hungry.  If we strive to live in a manner worthy of the call we have received, as Paul says in Ephesians, then our hungers and the hungers that touch the world, will be met.   It begins, though, with the satisfaction of our hunger for God and for that relationship with him that raises us up and gives us the courage to build a better world.

     Lord, you satisfy the hungry heart ... come give to us, O precious Lord, the bread of life to live.

Seeing the sights

     One of the great opportunities of the NPM Convention is to see the host city in a variety of ways.  Pittsburgh is a beautiful city, filled with diversity, history and culture.  The David L. Lawrence Convention Center is in the heart of downtown, along the Allegheny River.  It, along with the adjoining Westin Convention Center Hotel, served as the primary venue locations.  Other events were scheduled at St. Mary of Mercy in the heart of the city (used for daily Mass), Epiphany Catholic Church in uptown (for concerts and workshops), the First English Evangelical Lutheran Church, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (both in the heart of the city), and St. Paul Cathedral in the Oakland section (over 100 years old, newly restored and housing a famous 1962 Beckerath organ) - all great churches with great organs.  Another option on Monday morning was a tour and visit of four historic houses of worship in the city: Heinz Memorial Chapel on the University of Pittsburgh built in 1933; Rodef Shalom Temple in Oakland, built in 1901 and having the largest 1907 Kimball organ still in use; the Gothic East Liberty Presbyterian Church which occupies a city block and has one of the largest Aeolian-Skinner organs in the world; and Saint Stanislaus Kostka Church in the Strip District built by Polish immigrants in 1891 ( my classmate, Father Harry Nichols, serves as pastor).

    The other optional excursion was a Tuesday evening Gateway Clipper Riverboat Dinner Cruise.  After a rainstorm in the early afternoon, the Majestic paddle wheeler picked us up at the dock at the Convention Center and took us on a two and a half hour cruise of the three rivers of Pittsburgh, with a delicious buffet dinner and a chance to see the sights, including the sell out crowd at PNC Park for the Pirate baseball game.  It was great meeting new people and listening to the comments regarding the beauty of Pittsburgh.

Friday, July 27, 2012

"Renew the face of the earth"

     I just returned from attending the 35th Annual Convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians held this year at the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.  The theme of this year's Convention is mentioned above - "Renew the face of the earth" - and commemorates the opening of the Second Vatican Council in Rome fifty years ago this coming October 11th.  Pope Benedict XVI has called for a special Year of Faith to honor the beginning of that historic Council.  At the convention we not only remembered the Council's accomplishments and teachings, but we celebrated God's continued call to renewal of the Church and her liturgy, and to listen to God's Word and renew our mission to the world.  It was a great week.

     The National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) is an association of nearly 7,500 musicians, clergy, liturgists, educators and worship leaders in the United States that seeks to foster the art of liturgical music.  There are 66 active diocesan chapters in 26 states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia.  For your further information, their web site is www.npm.org.  The annual convention invites the participation and growth in ministry to all who serve the liturgy in song.  It reflects a diversity of cultures, ages, ministries, musical roles and styles of music.  It is an opportunity for publishers and artists and composers to showcase their new works, and for the rest of us to be renewed and inspired.

     The convention formally opened on Monday afternoon and concluded this Friday afternoon with a commissioning service.  I'll share in the next few posts some of my observations and experiences, but suffice it to say the Pittsburgh contingent and their many helpers (many from our Greensburg Diocese) did an outstanding job this year.  Our thanks to them all.  I was particularly moved by many of the prayer experiences.  But it is good to be home!  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Missing in action

    For those wondering where I am, I am at the National Pastoral Musician Convention in Pittsburgh and do not have access to my computer.  I'll fill you in on the convention when I return this weekend.  So far it is truly inspiring and the singing and worship uplifting.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

An unbelievable update

     After posting a moment ago, I went looking through some of last year's posts.  I came across one that I found interesting:  on June 22, 2011, just thirteen months ago today, I published my 100th post, and at that time I had 2,767 page views.  I was honored and overwhelmed.

      Imagine my delight in comparing that day with today - with this being the 437th posting and pageviews as of a few moments ago totalling 18,129!  Talk about the unexpected!  My deep gratitude to those who check us out on occasion, and my profound gratitude to the regulars who check up on my journey thoughts.  I truly enjoy the ministry.  God bless you!

Unity in Christ

     I understand from news reports that the residents of Aurora, Colorado are gathering this evening for a prayer vigil to remember and celebrate the lives that were lost the other evening as well as those wounded whose lives will forever be changed in the senseless attack at the movie theater.  There has been such an outpouring of sympathy and support from every aspect of the population over these past days, and I am sure that it will continue in the future.  This tragedy has united people, brought out the best in people, showed their strength and determination not to be overwhelmed by the evil that touched their lives and their community.  While I am saddened by those tragic losses and pain inflicted, I am also inspired by the response of the community.  May we continue to pray for all those involved.

     Later this week, athletes and spectators from around the globe will gather in London for the beginning of the Summer Olympics.  It is a worldwide competition that brings allies and enemies alike to a forum where abilities and achievements are championed.  While there is always the threat of dark forces causing trouble, there is a spirit of peaceful competition and a united spirit of friendship that is remarkable to behold.  There is so much strength and goodness that flows from the unity of purpose and goal of the games.  I love watching the Olympics, especially the Summer ones, and I look forward to spending time before the TV.

    Yesterday I witnessed a wedding ceremony at our church that brought two distinct families and many friends together to share in the pledge of love given by Joe and Tiffany.  That unity of purpose and that pledge of love and support of family and friends will give this couple a strong foundation upon which to build.  People who did not know each other before found a common purpose in the love and support that they offered this new couple.

     If we can find strength in our sorrow and pain from each other in our human condition ... if we can celebrate our strengths as a universal community in sporting events ... if families can find unity in their common love of their children and their new spouse, how much more will this be true when we bring Christ into the picture.  Our Scriptures today remind us of the centrality of Christ.  He blesses each individual but brings them together in his Name and Spirit, thus giving them strength and grace.  He is the reason for our unity ... he is the source of our unity ... he is the power in our unity.

     I am reminded of the old saying "divide and conquer".  The evil one knows the truth of these words, which is why he sows discord and division.  Another phrase, "a house divided cannot stand", reminds us that there is power in our oneness, strength in unity.  And to be one in Christ, to be strong in the Lord, to walk together in his Name should not only be our desire, but the very motivation of our lives.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Finally, a posting

     Last evening I had one of those experiences that we priests do not enjoy.  I had received a call from a local funeral director on Wednesday that they had a young man in his early 50's who had died, and that although "Catholic by birth" had no church affiliation.  They wondered if I would be willing to have a blessing service at the funeral home at the end of the viewing.  That was last evening at 8:00 pm.  I am not going to mention his name here.  I'm not sure what this guy did for a living, but by looks and appearance his lifestyle was a little different.  He was into the outdoors - hunting, fishing, camping, family, living life to the fullest - and he looked like a mountain man with long hair and beard, etc.  He is married and has two grown married children and one grandson, Gavin, who is the love of his life.  During the viewing the family played Lynyrd Skynrd music and the mourning and interaction was far from traditional, which is okay.

      But into this situation comes the guy in black with a white collar who no one knows and most (my judgement) could do without ... except that it would be good to have some kind of farewell service.  I spoke of the gifts of this individual - living life to the fullest,  being free and doing what he wanted, and doing whatever it took to be happy.  I saw those qualities in the photo collage in the viewing rooms and heard of it by listening to the conversations.  I also heard from the funeral director that he was a really nice guy.  I pointed out that this nation of ours recognizes the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that we recognize them as being given by the Creator.  They are God given rights that we are entrusted with to pursue and use wisely.  I tried to bring the presence of God into the midst of this grieving family.  I am not sure that I succeeded, but maybe the seed was planted.  It was an awkward and disheartening moment, for I cannot image living life apart from a faith community and away from a living awareness of the presence of God.   And yet so many do.  May this young man rest in peace, and may his wife and children and grandchild find comfort.


     On the other side of the coin is the deaths of three good priests who celebrated the community of Faith and whose lives of service were filled with blessing.  Last Monday was the funeral of a priest from Pittsburgh whose niece belongs to our parish - Father Raymond McColligan.  Father Ray was 95 and had been a priest for 69 years!  I am thirty-nine years out, and it seems a lifetime ... add another thirty ... Wow!  He had been retired since 1986, but remained active in helping out long into retirement.  He was an avid Steelers fan.

     Tomorrow will be the funeral for Franciscan Father Richard Portasik who was 85.  Father Richard and his brother, the late Father Joe Portasik, were from Ford City in our Diocese, and were very involved in many aspects of ministry.  Both served many, many years at Saint Anthony Friary in Uniontown and helped out in the neighboring parishes, including my home parish of Saint Joseph.  I remember Father Richard as a gentle man, kind and reassuring, a gifted preacher, and committed to his Slovak heritage.  I was inspired by him, worked with him, and enjoyed his friendship.  I will have to miss his funeral because of one here in the parish tomorrow.

     And I received word yesterday of the death of one of my former seminary professors, Father Aiden Mullany, T.O.R., who died after a long illness.  I'm afraid that we did not always give Father Aiden the respect that he deserved in class, and I hope he forgives us.

     May these three priests and servants of God rest in peace and share in the eternal happiness that they brought to so many.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


     Yesterday I attended a celebration in Loretto, Pennsylvania, of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Province of the Third Order Regular of the Franciscan Friars.  This particular Province was established in 1910, and yesterday's celebration, led by Father Nicholas Polichnowski, the Minister Provincial, was a recognition of their Provincial Ministries.  One of those ministries was the establishment of Saint Francis Seminary in 1912 - 100 years ago.  Originally called Our Lady of Loretto Seminary, Saint Francis was one of the major educational ministries established in Loretto by the Friars - the seminary, the college/university and a prep school.  Originally located on the main campus, the seminary was moved to the former Charles Scwaub estate in Loretto following a disastrous fire that destroyed the entire old main of the college in late 1942.  That estate had been purchased by the friends of the friars on October 3rd of that year, and the fire on campus happened in late October.  The estate became the Mt. Assisi Friary.  The Seminary moved to a new location and building just outside of the small town of Loretto in 1962, in time for my arrival in 1968.  I finished college there and completed by four years of theological studies at Saint Francis.  It closed its doors in 1979.  The building is now, as I have mentioned before, a Federal prison.

     Yesterday's gathering centered around a Eucharistic Liturgy at Immaculate Conception Chapel on the main campus at 4:00 pm.  Our presider and celebrant was Bishop Mark Barchak, the bishop of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese in which Loretto is located.  The homilist was Father Peter Lyons, T.O.R, the last rector of the seminary.  Many friars and priest alumni concelebrated, including Bishop John Kudrick of the Byzantine Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, from the class of 1975 (I believe).  Except for the sweltering heat in the unairconditioned chapel, it was a great celebration.

     Prior to the Mass, there was a panel discussion and time of remembering led by former members of the faculty and two former rectors.  It brought back memories (mostly good ones) and prompted the continued nostalgia that happens at reunions.  Father Joe Mele from Pittsburgh represented the diocesan seminarians in his reflection and the expression of gratitude to those who formed us.  In addition to the T.O.R.'s, there were guys there from many places - a number of us from Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Altoona-Johnstown, but also a classmate, Joe Santesieri from Richmond and Dennis Hrubiak, a Byzantine priest from near Cleveland.  It was good to see so many.

     Following Mass there was a reception followed by a great dinner for all.  The Franciscan hospitality was clearly in evidence.  The diocesan guys posed for a picture of the group following dinner.  I am looking forward to receiving a copy.  One final note ... they had each of the ordination class photo rosters enlarged and displayed.  How young we looked then ... and for many of those years, mine included, how long the hair styles! 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Show me your credentials

     We hear often in the scriptures about the prophets.  There are prophets ... and then there are Prophets.  In yesterday's first reading from Amos (the Prophet) we hear of his encounter with the priest at Bethel.  Amos had gone there at the prompting of God to do what a true Prophet should do - to hear what God proclaims and to speak in God's name.  A Prophet, like the Twelve, bears the message of God and proclaims the Good News.  They often remind their listeners of the divergence that sometimes exists between faith and action, and in doing so calls the hearer to repentance, to a change of heart, to conversion.  Prophets are not always appreciated or welcomed, but they are necessary.

     Bethel had prophets, in fact, a school of prophets.  For there are prophets whose job it is to pave the way for the king or ruler, to be the PR person, the spokesman for the status quo, the cheerleader and encourager of others to join the team and get on the bandwagon.  In the political area we see this kind of prophet everywhere.  But they say what they think we want to hear.  Their message is the party line.  They are soothers rather than stirrers of the pot.  Their message is rooted in ideology rather than Truth.  They represent the "other gods" of our lives.

     Like Amos, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, John the Baptist and the Twelve, we are called to witness to the Truth found in the message of the Gospels, to be a thorn in the side or even a pain in the neck of those who need to hear the message of life.  We need to be a true Prophet and not just an ordinary prophet.  And our credentials - Baptism in Jesus Christ who have been gifted with Truth.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Journey Toward Sainthood

     In 1656 a young girl was born in the Mohawk fortress of Ossemenon in upstate New York.  Her parents were a Mohawk warrior and a Catholic Algonquin woman whom her father had saved during a raid, and her name was Kateri Tekakwitha.  At the age of four she was the only one of her immediate family to survive smallpox, although it left her scarred and with limited eyesight.  She was adopted by her uncle, who was chief of a clan.  Despite a number of offers of marriage, she decided after having received instruction in the Faith from Jesuit missionaries to live her life not only as a Christian but as a Christian virgin, which was not readily understood by her peers.  She was baptized at the age of twenty, and received death threats and persecution for her decision in life.  To escape this hostility, she went to the Christian community in what is now Quebec, where she lived her life in prayer and mortification until she died at the age of twenty-four.  Her holiness and courage came to be known and admired, and Kateri, who was known as the "Lily of the Mohawk", was modeled and her cause championed by many.  On June 22, 1980, Pope John Paul II beatified her, and today the Church in the United States recognizes this first Native American raised to the altar.

     I mention her because of her feast day today, because of the award in her honor that is given in Catholic Scouting for girls, and most of all because her cause has been approved and she will be canonized as a saint in October of this year, adding to the number of American Saints that we can be inspired by.  I do a little item in our bulletin each week that looks at the saints whose feasts are celebrated in the coming days.  I call it "Companions on the Journey", for that is indeed what they are.

     The Collect proper for the days says:

O God, who desired the Virgin Kateri Tekakwitha
to flower among Native Americans
in a life of innocence,
grant, through her intercession,
that when all are gathered into your Church
from every nation, tribe and tongue,
they may magnify you
in a single canticle of praise.

Soon to be Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ora et Labora

    I have been blessed in my life by having been taught by and inspired by two great religious traditions: the Benedictines of Saint Vincent Archabbey and the Third Order Regular Franciscans at Saint Francis Seminary.  Benedict and Francis (who was helped in the early days by the Benedictines of Assisi) became great icons of how life can be lived in Christ.

     Today is the feast of Saint Benedict of Nursia, known as the founder of Western Monasticism and Patron of Europe.  He is known for developing the Rule that bears his name, which is used extensively among religious men and women.  Benedict was born of a noble Roman family in 480 in the region of Umbria.  At an early age he desired to commit his life to God in a monastery as a hermit, but eventually developed a broader vision of monastic life to include not only prayer and seclusion, but prayer and involvement in the Church at large.  His motto was "Ora et labora" - "Pray and work".  As time went on, the monasteries that he founded around Monte Cassino in Italy formed a confederation, and became the hub of prayer, learning, work and community building.  The expansion of his vision and the Rule of Saint Benedict, which guided every aspect of their lives, became a source of strength and stability in Europe through centuries of instability.  Benedict died at Monte Cassino in 547.   World War II history buffs will remember that it was this Monte Cassino that was destroyed by bombardments by the Allies in order to dislodge the Germans who had occupied the monastery.  It was later rebuilt because of it religious and historical significance. 

     I am grateful to the followers of Francis of Assisi and Benedict of Nursia for their guidance, their ministry and their deep faith.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Extraordinary women

     In this form of ministry, funerals occur all too often.  I have just returned from the funeral luncheon for a family that buried their Mom from our church earlier today.  Buried this morning was Mary Cieslewicz, originally from Saint Pius in McKeesport (now Corpus Christi Parish), who had more recently been in a care facility in Dubois, PA.  Mary's husband, Vince, died in 2010.  One of her sons, Jeff, is a parishioner here and his wife Roseann is on staff, so they asked for the funeral to be celebrated here at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.  Another of Mary's sons is a priest of the Diocese of Erie (Father Vincent Cieslewicz, pastor of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary in Smethport, PA), and he celebrated and preached his Mom's funeral.  It was beautiful.

     Jeff is studying and preparing in the Diaconate Program of the Greensburg Diocese, and both of our deacons as well as a number of the men in the program were present.  I concelebrated.  It shows great fraternity among those preparing to embrace this ministry in the Church.

     The other interesting thing is that Mary's husband, Vince, and my Dad were first cousins.  Thus we are related.  It is a small world.

     I was honored to celebrate with this family, and to extend the hospitality of our great parish.


     Another good lady and somewhat of an institution in our area was Madeleine DeLallo, who was also buried this morning from Ascension Church in Jeannette, PA.  Mrs. DeLallo, along with her husband, founded a store and company that sells great foods, especially Italian.  She was a hard worker and could usually be found in the store.  She had a great love of the Church, and had a special fondness for nuns and priests.  Her commitment to the Sisters of Ivrea in Mt. Pleasant, the Sisters of Mary Immaculate in Leechburg, our retired priests at the Neumann House in Greensburg, and her parish in Jeannete set her apart as an extraordinary woman.  Pray for her eternal rest.


     And the other extraordinary woman I want to mention today is still very much with us.  She was my secretary at All Saints Parish in Masontown in the late '80s, and her name is Linda Rohol.  Linda has a significant birthday this week (although she is still younger than me).  I wish her well.  She has worked at All Saints as Secretary/Bookkeeper under the following priests: Fathers Andrew Charnoki, yours truly, Jim Goldberg, John Sedlak, Ed Tacj, James Bump and now John Butler.  Serving all of us and still retaining her sanity qualifies for sainthood.  Happy Birthday, Linda.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Being a witness

     We are often presented with the example of a great crowd of witnesses to remind us of our responsibilities and to give direction to the journey that we find ourselves on.  Today, for example, in the calendar of the Church we honor 120 martyrs who died in China from 1648 through 1930, led by Father Augustine Zhao Rong.  Eighty-seven were born in China and were ordinary people who lived extraordinary and heroic lives.  Thirty-three were foreign missionary men and women religious who gave their lives serving the Lord and the Gospel message.  They were canonized as a group by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 2000.

     Yesterday we heard from Ezekiel the prophet of how he sought to avoid the job being given to him by God.  He said that the Spirit of God picked him up and set him on his feet and then commanded him to go forth and call the People of God to task for their negligence.  He did not relish the task.  We learn that Jesus was not welcomed, was not accepted in his home town, in his native place.  In fact, he was resented ... for bringing healing and the message of love from his father.  And Paul, who did relish bearing witness to the truth entrusted to him, found that the Lord gave him his "thorn in the flesh" that would keep him humble and not arrogant with pride.

     I mentioned in my homily yesterday that my dad was a policeman in our home town of Uniontown, and that one of his jobs was to be in charge of the school safety patrol programs.  That included showing periodic "safety movies" in all the schools in town.  Along with the movies he also showed some cartoons (Woody-Woodpecker, usually).  We always enjoyed his visit - not because of the safety movies, but because of getting out of class and the cartoons.  But we learned, from a man in a position of authority but with a gentle disposition, rules to live by.  He was a good witness.

     I also mentioned my sister, Janie, who works in retail in a department store in town.  Recently placed in an associate managers position she has had to remind a few of the associates of the dress code of the company, or that they are not permitted to text while on the job.  My sister is not power hungry, and I'm sure she pointed out these things rather than reprimand the individuals.  Yet she does not relish being the bad guy (who does).

     In most dioceses the Vicar General is usually the "enforcer" of the policies or the "hatchet man" in bad situations.  I recounted that we have had men in that position who would beat you up in your infractions of the policies but we also had men who would remind you, with respect for who you are and for our human frailty, of what needs done.  There is a world of difference in those approaches.

     We are all called to be witnesses, to bring a prophetic word to situations, to inspire people to change or repent.  We may not always relish the job, but we are given the grace, grace that is sufficient, to accomplish the task.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Priestly Fraternity

     Yesterday I had a great lunch with a few priest friends from our seminary days at Saint Francis in Loretto.  We try to gather a few times a year for lunch and fellowship, and yesterday we gathered at a restaurant called BRAVO'S at The Waterfront in suburban Pittsburgh.  With me was Fathers Chet Raimer from Ss. Simon and Jude Parish in Blairsville in our Diocese, and from the Pittsburgh Diocese Fathers David Schorr, pastor of Resurrection Parish in West Mifflin, Joe Mele, Rector of Saint Paul Seminary as well as the many hats he wears in the Diocese, and Albie Schempp who is a chaplain at Mercy Hospital.  These occasions that bring us together are too few and far between, but they are great opportunities for reminiscing and sharing our experiences of priesthood.  They are truly refreshing.  Pray for priests everywhere.

    And while I'm sharing thoughts on priesthood, I just received my copy of the Pittsburgh Catholic and saw the news that three men were ordained to the priesthood from the Pittsburgh Diocese on June 30th.  The are Fathers Kevin Fazio, Frederick Gruber and Michael Sedor.  Bishop David Zubik ordained them.  We offer our congratulations and I ask your prayers for these men as they begin their journey of a lifetime as priests of God.  We in the Diocese of Greensburg have not ordained anyone for many years, and are looking forward to ordaining three men to the Diaconate in December of this year and Priesthood on June 1st of 2013.  Pray for them.

Catching up

     Last Saturday the Diocese of Greensburg was visited by the Vatican Ambassador to the United States and the Nuncio to the United States Bishops Conference and the Church in the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.  He came at the invitation of our bishop, Lawrence E. Brandt, and celebrated the Saturday evening vigil Mass at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.  It was his first official visit to Greensburg.  All of the priests were invited to concelebrate, but of course we were constrained because of our own evening masses.  I was fortunate to secure the services of Benedictine Father Noel of Saint Vincent Archabbey, to whom I am grateful.

     Archbishop Vigano [pictured above] was the celebrant and the homilist, with Bishop Brandt concelebrating along with about twenty priests.  Many Religious Sisters were present, along with our seminarians, those who have received Papal Honors, the Cathedral and Diocesan Choir (which was outstanding), and many of the faithful.  The Nuncio's homily recognized the beauty of our newly restored cathedral but most especially the beauty of the local church gather there to celebrate the Eucharist.  It was a glorious celebration of high church.

     I smiled to myself as we waited to begin the entrance procession.  You could tell who the people were who had forgotten or not been informed that this Saturday evening mass was not an "ordinary" one.  When they saw the line of priests, the two bishops and heard the majestic horns beginning the liturgy, their look was one of uncertainty, or even fear.  I'm sure they stayed until the end! (the Mass lasted one hour and forty five minutes).  It was great.

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     Also on Saturday, June 30th, another important milestone took place, very quietly though.  That day was the anniversary of the Episcopal Ordination of our retired bishop, Anthony G. Bosco.  Bishop Bosco was ordained as an Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh on that date in 1970 - 42 years ago.  He also celebrated his 60th anniversary of ordination this year.  He is still active and doing well, and we ask your thoughts and prayers for him on these momentous occasions.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Celebrating the 4th

     Since the title of the blog is "Journey Thoughts", I would like to briefly share my journey for the day.  There is no need to worry, though.  You will not be overcome with excitement.  But it was a good day.

     I began as always with Mass - very impressed with the translations for the Independence Day liturgy.  Spoke to a parishioner who just returned last Sunday from Rome and other European locations.  Had a quick bite to eat, did the earlier post, then went home to visit my sister, Janie, at the family home in Uniontown.

      I was able to watch the beautiful Fortnight For Freedom Closing Mass from Washington with Cardinal Wuerl and hear Archbishop Chaput's homily.  I found his homily very insightful, but his delivery was very low keyed.

     Then Janie and I traveled about twenty minutes to a local State Park - Ohiopyle, which is in a beautiful mountain setting with falls, a set of rapids, and whitewater rafting (which obviously we did not participate in).  It was relaxing and beautiful.  I saw a family from this parish at the Park - and we are an hour and a half away.  Small world.  I've enclosed a picture of the stream.  We stopped for dinner at the Stone House on US 40, an historic old stagecoach inn of days gone by.  We visited the graves of Mom and Dad and shared our prayers and love, then visited our only surviving aunt, Margaret Venick, who was taken to the hospital an hour before we arrived.  She is eighty-eight, in a care facility and in very poor health.  Please remember her in your prayers.  I anointed her at the hospital before we left.

     Then I returned to North Huntingdon, skirting a storm system almost all the way, stopped for a sandwich and then watched the local fireworks sponsored by a neighboring housing plan association - Penn's Woods.  They were great.  I had a group of kids next to me that commented on the fireworks, guessing the next colors, commenting on what they looked like [the Death Star of Star Wars ... the Rings of Saturn ... a star ... etc].  It was fun listening in on their excitement.  And here I am now, sharing these thoughts at the end of a good day.  I hope your day was as relaxing as mine.

How blessed we are ...

     Today we celebrate the 236th birthday of this great nation, the United States of America.  On this date in 1776, the Continental Congress passed the resolution put forward on July 2nd and finally signed in August of that year.  It declared our independence from England and established our freedom rooted in dignity and the rights given to us by God to govern ourselves.  Not that England was that bad, but they were far away, and did not understand their colony and the reasons why so many over the course of years fled Europe.  The founding fathers took great risks in that Declaration, and embarked upon the grand experiment of setting up a democratic republic.

     The greatness and beauty of this nation and of this bold experiment was feared by some and envied by many.  We were a land blessed by God.  We were seen as an image of another people who found themselves in a good land (Egypt) but in situations that were more and more restrictive.  Their exodus from bondage to freedom was guided by God and led them to the Promised Land - a land flowing with milk and honey.  It was not an easy journey, and there were failures along the way, but they finally arrived.  Yet even then there were moments where their glory was dimmed, where their sinfulness needed to be repented of, and where they needed to trust God anew.  God never abandoned those who remembered him and served him.

     This land was given to us.  It was already occupied by others, whom we feared and did not always respect.  It was a land flowing with milk and honey, a land of promise, a pledge of a covenant with a God who had gifted us with rights and responsibilities.  The establishment of this nation was not easy.  There have been and continue to be many failures in these last 236 years.  Our greatness is strong, but tarnished and even threatened (not always from outside but also from within).  May we resolve on this Independence Day to first thank God and then to pledge to ourselves and to the world community, which still looks to us for inspiration and help, that we will continue to become a light of truth, freedom and justice in a challenged world.

     The second Collect prayer for Independence Day from the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal prays this:

Father of all nations and ages,
we recall the day when our country
claimed its place among the family of nations;
for what has been achieved we give you thanks,
for the work that still remains we ask your help,
and as you have called us from many peoples
to be one nation,
grant that, under your providence,
our country may share your blessings
with all the peoples of the earth.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fortnight For Freedom - Day 13

     Today I would like to look at a few areas regarding the HHS Mandate for Contraception/Sterilization Coverage that is at the forefront of the present dispute and the reason for this Fortnight For Freedom effort.

     First, this mandate places pregnancy as a disease that requires preventive services.  On their list are also included breast cancer, lung cancer, AIDS, all of which are indeed diseases that can and should be treated for prevention.  The Institute of Medicine committee that compiled the "preventive services" list said that unintended pregnancy is a condition for which safe and effective prevention and treatment need to be more widely available ... abortion would be "the treatment" side of things when prevention fails.  Again, keep in mind that abortion is the destruction of the developing fetus, which we firmly hold is a living human being gifted with a unique soul and being by God, and protected by the laws of this land.  Interesting is the fact that women who suffer from infertility, which is a disease, are ignored in this mandate.

     Secondly, there are currently no federal laws that require anyone to purchase, sell, sponsor or be covered by a private health plan that violates his or her conscience ... until this mandate.

     Additionally, some say that objecting to this mandate discriminates against women.  The Church's teaching against early abortion is based on respect for all human life, male and female.  Its teaching against contraception and sterilization is based on respect for the power to help generate a new human life, a power held by both men and women - so health plans in accord with Catholic teaching do not cover male or female sterilization.  The HHS mandate would force individuals or their employers to purchase this coverage for them whether they want it or not, which is clearly discriminatory.

     And lastly, are religious employers or others who morally object to the content of the mandate forcing their moral views on their employees?  The answer is no.  If an employee disagrees, he or she can simply purchase that coverage or those procedures elsewhere without discrimination.  This has been the practice and the law.

     Some thoughts and observations.  The materials were taken from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

Seeing is believing ... or is it?

     There was a time that when you mentioned the name Thomas you thought of the Apostle, the doubter ... and not the train.  Today is the universal feast honoring the Apostle to India, the companion of Jesus, the doubter of the resurrection, the "I'm from Missouri guy - show me!"  The account of Thomas' experience of the resurrected Lord is recorded in John.  "Unless I see ..." Thomas says, "I will not believe."  And when he does see Jesus, he is invited to not only see but to touch, to experience the physical contact and the inner joy, to be lifted up and at peace.  Anxiety and worry are replaced with the first gift that the Lord offers his closest friends - PEACE!

     The words of Thomas are words that I remember being taught to me at a very early age, at least by first communion.  When I see the host raised, before I receive Holy Communion, when in the presence of God, I still say "My Lord and my God!"  Notice the exclamation point ... this is said in awe, this is not routine.

     But the most powerful words that Jesus spoke in John's account are what follows.  "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."  My friends, that includes us - you and me.  And that is what belief is all about.  Not the absolute certainty of holding or touching or seeing or experiencing a reality, but the confident assurance that comes from trust in a promise given, in a word spoken, in a truth revealed.  So the old saying "seeing is believing" is not always true.  And why not?  Because as Saint Paul reminds the Ephesians, we are strangers and sojourners no longer but are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A stern warning

     If you get a chance to read the Scriptures for the day [ particularly Amos 2:6-10, 13-16 & Psalm 50:16b-23 ] please do so.  We are so caught up in not offending others that we sometimes absolutely need to hear the word of God come before us with all of its harsh reality.  While we rely upon the love and mercy of the Lord in our lives, the call to discipleship requires that we respond to his grace, that we make an effort to follow him, that we desire in our hearts that unity that is crucial to life itself.

     Amos lays it on the line.  The actions of his people reveal a people who do not think that God is true to his word, that he will not deal with them as they deserve, that he is a pushover.  And thus they live lives that do not reflect the covenant.  Amos warns them of their impending doom.

    The 50th Psalm response today is "Remember this, you who never think of God." The psalm then goes on to say:

"Why do you recite my statutes and profess my covenant
with your mouth, though you hate discipline and
cast my words behind you?
When you see a theif, you keep pace with him,
and with adulterers you throw in your lot.
To your mouth you give free reign for evil,
you harness your tongue to deceit.
You sit speaking against your brother;
against your mother's son you spread rumors.
When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it?
Or do you think that I am like yourself?
I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes.
Consider this, you who fear God,
lest I rend you and there be no one to rescue you.
He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me;
and to him that goes the right way
I will show the salvation of God."

Sometimes it is good and necessary to face the truth.

Fortnight For Freedom - Day 11

     If we look at history, we find that all too often conflicts arise between religions, and between societies and religious belief.  These conflicts are rooted in the basic premise that "I'm right ... and you're wrong".  If we hold fast to the deposit of truth that we understand has been revealed to us, then we must stand secure on the foundation laid out for us.  If someone takes a contrary stance, then we have a potential problem.  When we allow those differences to dominate our lives, to guide our actions in a lack of respect for others because of their views, then we find ourselves in trouble.  That does not mean that we seek the least common denominator, that we compromise for the sake of peace and or unity.  But it does demand that we approach others with respect for their person, even if their views or beliefs are "off the wall".  What we do not need more of is religious bigotry of any kind.  The Council Fathers speak of a role of government as being a promoter of the public order ... not by taking sides but by enacting just laws laws and guarding the equal rights of all.  The difficulty arises when governments fail to see their right to govern as being God given and lead and base their existence upon a purely secular world view.  When God is out of the equasion, self rules ... and when self rules, real, revealed truth is subjugated to "my good" and not necessarily the common good.  Then we need to strive for freedom and equality, to work for justice and peace, to pray for world and nation, to educate ourselves and enter the political arena, BUT most importantly to FAST and PRAY, to do PENANCE for our failures, and then to humble ourselves before God.  A good friend of mine reminded me of that in a recent blog.