Friday, August 31, 2012

Back to the basics

     Last evening I listened to Mitt Romney's acceptance speech at the Republican Convention and next week I will listen to the President's speech accepting the Democratic nomination.  Last night's was and I'm sure next week's speech will be filled with a call to return to the greatness that was once this nation of ours, a return to the pride that we feel as citizens of this blessed land.  Promises will be made that will focus our attention on better times, on our rich heritage, on ideals that speak of who we are (or should be), and on the work ahead.

     Then this morning at Mass the reading from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians reminds us of what needs to be, of what once was but is being lost, of where our greatness is to be found, of where true wisdom is encountered.  What is needed is a deep, abiding, life-giving relationship to Jesus Christ.  That relationship is on a level that is not rooted in the what if's but rather in the what is.  Our greatness is found in our dependence upon Christ and our glory is found in the folly of the cross, knowing that the wisdom of the wise and the learning of the learned will be set aside, for "God has made the wisdom of the world" to be foolish.

     Which presents us with the challenge ... to build our wisdom and knowledge upon the greater wisdom of God.  To accept the sacrifice of the cross as hope rather than foolishness or a stumbling block is our destiny.  To stay on the straight and narrow and not go astray we need to be attentive to the light of His truth.  We need to be true to that truth in order to stand firm. 

     The suggested Collect prayer for today is from the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, and it read in part:

"O God, who show the light of your truth
to those who go astray,
so that they may return to the right path,
give all who for the faith they profess
are accounted Christians
the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the name of Christ
and to strive after all that does it honor."
     Our restoration is found in our return to the basics and that restoration is accomplished in Christ.  Thank God that he works with us through his body, the Church, to accomplish these great things.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Losing your head

     In Alice in Wonderland there is the character of the evil queen of hearts.  A woman small in stature and lacking in kindness, she had an oversized head.  Thus, when anyone upset or offended her, she would yell "Off with their head!"

     Today we have the story of a man who offended and upset another queen, Herodius, with his confrontational preaching.  John the Baptist spoke the word of God to the king, reminding him of the immoral union that he had with his queen.  Herod was intrigued but threatened.  Herodius was livid.  The story tells us that in his passion (lust) the king promised "anything" to the daughter of his wife after her performance.  Mom told her to tell the king "Off with his head!" regarding John.  And thus we have the passion (martyrdom - beheading) of John the Baptist.  He lost his head because he was not prudent, because he would or could not compromise his and God's position, because he could not keep quiet.  He held that the truth would set you free, and his freedom was from the injustice of this world.  He became a man of conviction who was willing to lay it all on the line for the sake of truth.

     John, the cousin of Jesus, the Precursor of Jesus, the baptizer of many including the Author of baptism, would go ahead of his Lord, both in birth and in death.  The Collect prayer for the day asks the Lord that "we, too, may fight hard for the confession of what you teach."  This feast has had a name change in the new translation - from the Martyrdom of John the Baptist to the Passion of Saint John the Baptist.  Having spent nearly fifteen years in a parish under John the Baptist's patronage, I wish all of my friends in Scottdale the very best on this, their second feast day of the year.

Monday, August 27, 2012

I love a picnic

     Anytime that people gather for relaxation and fun where food is involved is a great time for me.  Yesterday our parish celebrated our annual parish picnic ... not at a park or pavilion, but in our social hall - Mack Hall - named after our first pastor, Father Richard Mackiewicz, who loved a good party.   Years ago, after a rained-out picnic outdoors, it was decided that our air conditioned hall, with plenty of seating and tables and with kitchen at hand, would serve our needs better.  And it was decided that with so many good cooks, it would be great to make it a covered dish.  And that has been our recent tradition.

     So yesterday we gathered on a beautiful day to share fellowship together in Mack Hall.  Over two hundred gathered for the afternoon.  The committee did a outstanding job at organizing and coordinating the affair, and everyone seemed to truly relax and enjoy themselves.  The parish provided hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill with buns, fresh corn on the cob and buttered red skinned potatoes, and drinks.  The rest of the serving tables were filled with an overwhelming variety of covered dishes.  It was like the multiplication of the loaves and fishes ... the food just kept multiplying.

     We ate and talked, we had games and face painting for the youngsters, bingo for all ages, fourteen school back packs filled with items for school were donated by parishioners and given to youngsters, beautiful potted plants as door prises, raffles and a "share the wealth" set of prizes.  For the second year in a row, our men's group sponsored a "pie baking competition" of which I serve as a honorary regular judge.  Seven of us had the most difficult task of tasting seven homemade pies and choosing the top three.  The winners included an apple pie (1st), a peach pie (2nd), and an oreo/chocolate cream pie (3rd).  The job of judging was hard, but somebody had to do it.  Last year I started out with large pieces and ran out of room.  This year I started small, then went back for seconds of my favorites (don't tell my diabetes doctor).  Ribbons were awarded for 1st, 2nd & 3rd places, with the 1st place winner (Pat Swanson - apple pie) receiving an apron and her name being placed on the plaque in Mack Hall.  We do it up right!  They are already talking of how we can improve on things for next year ... a good sign.


     Later that evening I visited the kick off of our junior and senior high youth ministry/religious formation programs. The three local parishes share in a combined program on Sunday evenings at our local Catholic center.  I saw many of the kids, I thanked the parents for entrusting their children to us, and I led the prayer to kick off our senior youth ministry and introduced our new director of Regional Youth Ministry - John McCulloch.  We look forward to great things from John and our catechists and volunteers... but most especially from our young people as they grow to know the Lord.

     At the Masses this weekend I also had two groups stand for recognition and prayer.  Since school has or is about to begin locally, I first asked any teachers present, or administrators or those involved in educating our children to stand and be recognized, then those who have started the school year as students.  I/we thanked them for their hard work and journey, then I offered a prayer for them, entrusting them to the Divine Teacher - Christ.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Where true gladness is found

     At the recent NPM convention in Pittsburgh, some of the clergy present continued to complain about the new translations in the Roman Missal.  As I have said before, while they are very difficult to pray aloud and comprise tremendously long run on sentences, there are often some great thoughts found in those prayers.  The Collect for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time is one of those prayers.

     At a liturgy where the readings reflect upon making a decision to follow the Lord rather than fit in with the world around us and the account of disciples of the Lord who found his teaching on the bread of life "altogether too much" and who then went their own way, we have this prayer:

" O God, who cause the minds of the faithful
to unite in a single purpose,
grant your people to love what you command
and to desire what you promise,
that, amid the uncertainties of this world,
our hearts may be fixed on that place
where true gladness is found."
     We are pulled in so many directions and we have so many options placed before us, we are lulled into an "anything goes" attitude and encouraged to get what you want out of life, we are invited to go with the flow and to accommodate ourselves first, so that the message of the Gospel and the witness of being one with each other in Christ, no matter what the cost or sacrifice, is lost.  We do not love the command of the Lord [to love the Lord and each other totally and completely].  We want what God offers [everlasting happiness and joy] but we do not desire it enough to lay it all on the line to achieve that goal.  We seek our happiness in those things that fade or pass quickly and are transitory rather than fixing our hearts on the Lord and his kingdom.
     I shared in the homily tonight the fact that statistics show the second largest religious grouping in the United States after Catholics are those who have left the church or who are inactive Catholics.  Many of them are hostile to the church and things religious.  Why?  With the coming Year of Faith to begin in October the need to answer that question is paramount and the need to evangelize is great, beginning with ourselves.  We need to love the commands of the Lord and know why - not simply "because".  We need to desire happiness that is lasting and be wise enough to know where to find it.  And we need to fix our sight on the One - Jesus Christ - and not allow ourselves to be distracted.

Important decisions

     On Wednesday a friend called to see how vacation was going. I assured him that this week was indeed a stress free and kickback week with three priest brothers at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. There were a number of important decisions to be made, though. 
     First, which Mass to attend on Sunday?    I chose the "last chance before mortal sin" Mass at 4:30 Sunday afternoon! It was a good celebration for a summer beach parish Mass.     

     The other important decision each day involved "which restaurant" to visit. I must say that we did fairly well with those decisions. It was a great week of relaxing, but it is good to be home. My friend asked if I missed blogging, and the answer is a definite YES!

Friday, August 17, 2012

A time away ...

Friends, it has been some time since I have taken more than a few days break from Journey Thoughts, but now is the time.  I am heading to the Atlantic ocean on Saturday for a week, and look forward to some R & R.  Unless something spectacular happens, or a great inspiration occurs, I will not be posting.  I look forward to my return next weekend.

PS - The standard picture and experience of sunrise on the beach will not be among my vacation reflections.  I did that once or twice ... and awesome as that is, once or twice is enough.  I am a sleepeer!  Have a great week.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Small town blessings

     Our diocese has very few cities, and none of them are large.  We are small towns and boroughs, suburbia, and rural America.  And in addition to great people, we have some charming and vibrant towns.  I happen to live near one, the Borough of Irwin in Westmoreland County.  This little town is always hosting something, going out of its way to make the town come alive. 

     This evening was one of those times.  For the third time this summer (in June, July and August) the town of Irwin hosted an Art and Jazz night.  Artists and musicians from the entire area perform at a number of venues in town - in restaurants, in the bank parking lot, on street corners and sidewalks from 5:00 to about 9:00 pm.  People walk the streets, shop, dine, brings chairs and listen to some great music.  It is wonderful.  I went to one of my favorite little places in town - Romano's - for dinner.  Sharon and Carl are the owners and chefs, and I frequent the place often.  I feel very much at home ... actually I feel like Norm on the old Cheers TV series.  When they see me pull up to park, they announce my arrival (everybody knows your name). Romano's was featuring a guitarist/vocalist by the name of James Hovan from the Churchill section of Pittsburgh.  Good food, camaraderie, great jazz music, beautiful weather - what more could you ask for.  Driving down main street on the way home, I thought of how cool this was.  It was a "small town blessing.


     On another note:

     Brian Williams had a piece on NBC news that caught my attention.  In fact, it voiced something that has been bothering me greatly of late.  It seems that the Presidential race to date - both candidates - have spent a record $512 million  on TV and Radio ads.  And we still have a long way to go until election day.  I'm not sure if that includes the primaries (if not, then things are even worse).  Granted, we have to know our candidates, but the level of negativity is so rampant in those ads that I'm not sure we are really learning anything helpful.

     NBC gave some examples of what 512 million dollars could do for others, like feed 9.2 million starving children for 50 days, etc.  I've asked myself the same question ... could this money be better spent?  The moral side of me asks that question.  And I find myself less and less comfortable with these huge expenditures of money, wherever they come from.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


     I probably have been guilty of asking the question "Why?" when presented with a statement of fact or an experience of life or the unanswerable questions that plague our lives.  It is a kids thing that sometimes lingers into adulthood.  It is not just that "inquiring minds want to know", but sometimes it illustrates our frustration with what is.

     Today's question is this:  If we are made in the image and likeness of God, then why do we suffer and die, and why do our bodies corrupt in the grave?  God does not corrupt, and his life does not end, so why do ours?
     So we seek and answer.  And the answer to this question that our ancestors arrived at was that the glory that is ours through our oneness with God, that which creates us in his image and likeness, was lost to sin and death by those that represented us in the beginning.  Through their selfishness and greed another reality entered the picture, one that was not in the original plan of God.  Through the sin of our first ancestors we now worked by the sweat of our brow, we suffered pain and hardship, we died, and our bodies decayed into dust.  We were lost to the one who could not stand to lose what he had so lovingly created.
     In time, restoration took place through the Creator's Living Word becoming flesh, dwelling among us, and taking our weakness, our sinfulness, even death itself to the tree of the cross - all done in total and pure love.  From that moment on, we were raised to a higher level of existence.  Our life was not just bodily, with its limitations, but now God's life existed within us, and we were gifted with eternal life, a spiritual life that reflects our Godlikeness.  Even though we would see corruption of the earthly body, we were given the promise of a glorified body sharing eternal life and glory with God at a day of final judgement.

     Today, on this feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, we celebrate her peaceful and joyous death and her entry into that eternal glory that is our destiny.  She, who was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave human flesh to the Word of God, was given the privilege of "skipping a step" on her journey ... of proceeding with her Son from the moment of death into the presence of the Father for all eternity.  She is our hope, the reminder of what is in store for us.

     The answer to the question "Why death and bodily corruption?" is sin and the separation from God.  The solution is found in the redemption won for us by Mary's Son, Jesus, by his death on the cross.  And the promise for our future lies in the resurrection of Jesus and the example of Mary's being assumed into Heaven.


The Diocese of Greensburg (Pennsylvania)
where I serve as a priest
was placed by Pope John XXIII
in the early 1960's
under the patronage of Mary,
our Lady of the Assumption.
On this, our patronal feast,
please pray for Bishop Lawrence Brandt,
retired Bishop Anthony Bosco,
and the good people of this part of God's Kingdom.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The word becomes flesh ...

     We are a visual and auditory people in these modern days.  I love my Nook for a variety of reasons, and even though I have not moved to "listening" to a book on an audio recording, I know that that, too, is very popular.  We are a people of convenience ... which is okay.  However, we are losing the "feel" for the texture of the paper, the size of the tome, and the experience of "carrying" the book or books.

     What we hear, what we see, what we read is embraced through a variety of filters (time constraints, experiences, interests, attentiveness, prejudices, understanding, etc.).  We pick and choose what we want to pass on.  This is a part of human nature.

     But the WORD entrusted to us by God is too important, too vital to be accepted, embraced and passed on through the normal filters of life.  The reading from Ezekiel from the Hebrew Scriptures this morning has the Lord pointing that out to Ezekiel.  He says to Ezekiel that this rebellious people needs to hear the call to repentance and conversion, a message of "Lamentation and wailing and woe!"   But they can only respond if they hear, and the can only hear if it is proclaimed, and it can only be proclaimed if it is understood, and it can only be understood if the message become an integral part of the proclaimer,  So he tells Ezekiel to take the written scroll that God has handed to him and to eat it, to literally eat the scroll.  To eat it and digest it and allow it to become a part of who he is so that when he speaks in God's name, the WORD would be powerful and true.  And Ezekiel found the the strong and bitter words on the scroll to be sweet as honey in his mouth.

     We are entrusted with the written WORD of God in the Scriptures.  We are presented with the WORD of teaching, instruction and guidance through the Church.  And most importantly we are gifted with the living WORD of God found in our relationship to Jesus Christ and in his Eucharistic Presence.  The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.  And in doing so, the Word becomes flesh in our lives even today, unfiltered and unimpeded, bringing about that transformation in us that the Lord desires.  What a wonderful God we have!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Going for the gold

     The 2012 Summer Olympics are history.  Thousands of athletes from over 200 countries gathered in London for two weeks to compete for honors in their respective fields of endeavor.  Just being there is an honor - to be able to run the race, to compete at that level, to be rewarded for their dedication and hard work.  Those that made the winners platform, receiving gold, or silver or bronze, shared in the glory of being Olympic champions.  I told our people yesterday that I love watching the Olympic Games, not only for the excitement but maybe because I can identify with those finely tuned athletes.  (Thank God they caught the obvious tongue in cheek joke and laughed).

     I am impressed by the tremendous hard work, dedication, training, support from so many, and willingness to sacrifice in order to attain the goal of being an Olympic champion.

    I am reminded that we too are on a journey of a lifetime, a quest for eternal glory, a prize that is not limited to gold or silver or bronze, but one that is imperishable and eternal.  The invitation to strive for this goal is given in the waters of baptism.  The talent and ability to reach those heights are entrusted to us at that time.  We are surrounded by supportive family in the community of believers, and given excellent coaches to guide and direct us in the teachers and teachings of the Church.  And we are honored and strengthened by the love that God has for us as it is found in Christ Jesus.  We are  nourished with the bread of life, and no better spiritual food can we nutritionally desire or need.

     Olympic athletes will tell you just to be able to compete and share in the experience of the Olympics is enough, even if they do not bring home a medal.  In our journey, we know that to be one with Christ in this experience of life is to already shared in his glory, and to be counted among the elect, to be a winner.  We do not have to wait every four years ... our invitation is permanent and ongoing. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Loving support

     In the late 1100's in a small town in the Umbrian mountians of Italy called Assisi, a tremendous conversion took place in a wealthy young man.  He renounced everything that others had given him and he relied in great simplicity on the providence of God.  He began a monumental spiritual awakening and transformation of the Church at the invitation of the Lord to "rebuild my Church".  He became known, very simply, as Francis of Assisi.

     In the early days of his conversion, as he listened to the message of the Gospel and proclaimed that message by words and actions, he would often preach in the square before the "new" cathedral church.  Living just off of that square, and listening intently, was a young woman by the name of Clare.  His words touched her heart, his example moved her deeply, and she probably became infatuated with Francis and his way of simplicity, which led her to fall more deeply in love with the Lord.   Soon she wanted to dedicate her life to the Lord, and approached Francis regarding entering Religious Life.  He took her to the Benedictine Sisters, who welcomed her and began the process.

    Mom, dad and brothers were outraged, and forcefully took her home and set watch over her.  Determined, she escaped and returned to the convent.  Eventually she stayed, eventually she accepted the simple life of Francis and founded the Poor Clares, eventually she and her Sisters took over the small church that Francis had rebuilt - San Damiano -  and established a community of women religious.  She became a spiritual powerhouse in her own right, and was always faithful and loyal to Francis, providing loving support.

     Clare's body is found in the Basilica of Saint Clare in Assisi, as is the image of Christ on the cross that spoke to Francis at San Damiano.  Clare is one of those saints called "incorruptible".  After 800 years, her body remains intact.  On my first visit to Assisi I saw her remains, dressed in her habit.  At that time her face was not covered (now it is by a wax mask with beautiful facial features).  It had a "mummified" texture to the face, but you could clearly see the facial features.  Not bad for someone over 800 years old.  Francis is nothing but bones ... oh, the power of women.  You could also see the locks of her hair that had been cut when she entered religious life.  It was amazing.  I have include a picture of the square directly in front of Sancta Chiara Basilica from one of my visits.

     I mention this today, because the Church honors Clare of Assisi on this date.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Dominic's followers

     I've missed a few days of posting, but I would like to "catch up".  We have had some great saints on the calendar this week.  On the 8th of August we honored Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers.   Renowned in his day, his charism continues through countless men and women throughout the world.  I have had a very limited experience and encounters with Dominicans, but I would like to mention three that touched my life. 

     At Saint Francis Seminary, for a few years, we had Father John Davis of the Order of Preachers on our faculty.  I remember him as being outgoing and a good liturgist.  I'm not sure what happened to him, but being the first Dominican that I met, he is remembered.

     There are two other Dominicans that I have come to know and respect for their holiness, their love of the church, and their preaching/teaching abilities.  They are Fathers Michael Champlin and Nicholas Punch, who together with Sister Joan Bukrey, OSF, form a retreat/parish mission team that is based out of the Thomas More Center in Webster, Wisconsin.  I have had the honor of having them visit parishes that I been assigned to in Greensburg and Scottdale, and they have ministered in a number of other parishes in our diocese over the years.  I look forward to calling upon them again in the near future.  They are great people, good Religious, excellent teachers, and true ministers of the Gospel.  Dominic's charism of preaching and teaching is exemplified in the lives of these three Dominicans, and my life is better for the presence of their ministry.


     Someone closer to our time, in fact within our recent history, is a woman Religious by the name of Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross of the Carmelite Order.  Her feast is on the 9th of August.  She lived in Europe at a most difficult time, and was arrested, imprisoned at Auschwitz, and put to death in 1942 by the Nazi's.  The reason for her death was two-fold:  she was an intellectual, a philosopher and scholar before entering Carmel, and also because she came from a Jewish background.  Her name before entering religious life was Edith Stein.  Her death, along with millions of Jews and Catholics and Christians, and outcasts and intellectuals and priests and religious, is part of the dreadful legacy of our human condition apart from God.  Maybe her elevation to the altar, along with Maximilian Kolbe whose feast is this coming Tuesday, will help us remember those dark days when the world was embraced by evil.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Stepping out in Faith

     As I get older I have developed some problems with my legs and back, and I am using a cane these days, primarily for security and balance.  There is an uncertainty to my venturing forth.  The last thing I need is to fall and hurt myself or provide the very difficult challenge of getting me back on my feet (a crane, I think, would be needed in that case).  In the past year or so, the ice and snow of our winters have proven frightening.

     The Gospel from Matthew this morning (Mt 14:22-36) has Peter stepping out in Faith onto the waters of the lake.  Rash and impetuous as always, when Peter saw the Lord coming toward the disciples on the water, he said "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."  Jesus said "Come."

     Now the interesting thing is that Peter got out of the boat without hesitation and started walking toward Jesus.  Walking on the water.  No doubts.  No second guessing.  At least for a few minutes.  Then he realizes what is happening and what he is doing, and with his sight straying from the one commanding him to "Come", he begins to falter and become frightened, blaming it on the wind!  Only then does he begin to sink.  It takes Jesus to reach out and bring him to the water's surface and ultimately to the boat.   Focused on him, trusting in his word of command, reassured by his loving embrace, we can do the impossible, and the "foolish" becomes a sign of strength and wisdom.  We do not need the crutch or the cane to provide security and balance.  All we need is the Faith given us freely as a gift, and trust in the giver of the gift.  Nothing is impossible.


     I have buried two long time parishioners these past few days.  Yesterday was Dorothy Dow and today was Irene Sekercheck.  May their souls, and the souls of all of the faithful departed, rest in peace.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A blinding light

     It was an intimate mountaintop experience for a few close friends.  Tension was building and things looked bleak for the future.  Those opposed to the truth that Jesus was revealing were set to bring him down. So Jesus took Peter, James and John to that mountaintop and gave them a glimpse of who he really is - God!  There was a cloud involved, and an awesome, blinding light.  They saw something that few had ever seen before (and lived) - the glory of God!  They were overcome, speechless, unsure as to what to do next.  When Moses saw the face of God his hair turned snow white and his face glowed, scripture says.  When these three saw the face of God they were strengthened and fortified for the task ahead, and they were never the same.

     I remember being taught that when we reached heaven we would shared in the beatific vision, we would see the face of God and be transformed.  All darkness was consumed by the light of that face, which is the indescribable power of God.  We would never be the same.  In the Transfiguration of Our Lord, celebrated on this 6th day of August, we are given a glimpse of that glory that will be so generously given to us in the beatific vision.  We are reminded that we share in his glory, a glory belongs to God, and that like the moon with the sun, we reflect that glory and are not the source of it.

     Today, as I mentioned in last year's post for this date, marks the anniversary of another blinding light that revealed an unbridled power, a cloud of destruction rather than life-giving mystery seen by the world, and a victory won that unleashed not glory but rather fear and dread for the past sixty-seven years.  On this day, in 1945, on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, the first Atomic bomb was dropped by the U.S.  It destroyed the city and killed 140,000 people outright.  Three days later a second bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, killing another 70,000.  Those bombs, those deaths helped bring about the end of a devastating war.  You could say that a good came from that evil.  But it was an evil.  And the truth that "the end does not justify the means" is of paramount importance in our historical understanding of this action.  Granted, it brought the conflict to a close.  Granted, we had the capability to use this weapon.  But was it the right thing to do?  History will give us answers over time.  But God will give the ultimate answer ... were we ready or able to deal with this destructive power that imitates the life giving power of God?  Or did we unleash that which was not ours to unleash?  How ironic that after all of these centuries of celebrating the Transfiguration on the 6th of August, that the date for these last 67 years is remembered for a bombing.

     It was Pope Paul VI, who died on this date in 1978, who said before the U.N. "No more war! War never again!"  If only the world had listened to those prophetic words.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A failing grade

     On a weekend that was okay, but just a little off - an unusual flub or two with the translations, music that was just not on at times, a never before experience at the Saturday baptism at Mass of little Mackenzie Bria Koraly (who as I was about to pour the water reached up and blocked my movement with her arm - surprisingly strong, too) - I was confronted with a "test" at the 11:00 am Mass.  After the 8:30 I began to have some intestinal problems and my lower back was really bothering me.  But I was coping.  At about twenty till, an usher came and asked if I had given an okay for a couple with a child to stand outside the entrance of the church with a sign asking for food or shelter?  I was not aware that this was happening.  People were concerned, or uncomfortable, or embarrassed to walk past them.  I went out and told them to not solicit there.  It was raining and they indicated that they needed to stay out of the rain.  I said okay, but no sign.  They promptly disregarded or did not understand what I had told them.  Some people gave them money, some wanted to know if we should ask them to leave, some asked about called the police, some wanted to invite them in.

     At that point, with Mass about to start and dealing with my physical difficulties, I did nothing.  I could not handle this "complication" at that moment.  I did not offer to get them help ... I did not personally invite them in ... I was suspicious and kept an eye on them.  And I felt miserable about it.  Running through my mind was that this is not what Christ would do, this is not what I should do as a Christian, this was not a good example.  My homily was focused on Ephesians where Paul says not to be conformed to the world but to put on Christ.  As I am listening to the readings I am saying to myself that I am conforming to the world.  My thoughts were in at least four places at homily time (I think I said as much).  I apologized to those who were offended by this experience, affirmed those who responded out of concern, and mentioned that maybe this was a "testing moment", like Francis encountering Christ in the leper in Assisi.  But I personally failed the test - big time!

     The couple, a young man and woman, with a child much too big for the stroller that she was in, may have been from south of the border.  The ushers invited them in.  One parishioner offered yard work and I understand was told by the gentleman that he did not have a green card.  They were driving a passenger van.  And they were given help.  One of our good parishioners contacted the local Saint Vincent de Paul for assistance, and as they were waiting for the SVDP rep to arrive, the couple thanked me.

     Confronted with a challenging situation, I handled it poorly.  I am truly sorry to the three who found themselves on our doorstep as well as to the many who were not inspired by my example of living the Christian life.  Not one of my better days!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Parish Priest

     This past week in one of the news conferences announcing his appointment as the tenth bishop of Erie, PA, Bishop-elect Lawrence Persico of our diocese was asked something like "Did you see yourself on this journey toward the episcopate?"  His answer was a simple one - that he never saw himself as anything other than a parish priest.  He is that, of course, as pastor of Saint James parish in New Alexandria ... but he is or has been much more: chaplain to religious communities, vicar general and chancellor of the diocese, student, canon lawyer, administrator, etc, etc, etc.  And now as the chief shepherd of a great diocese in Northwestern Pennsylvania.  But his best qualification for the new job is that of being "a parish priest".

     Today the Church recognizes "a simple parish priest" in Saint John Marie Vianney, the Cure (or pastor) of Ars, a little village in France.  He is the patron of parish priests.  I told his story last year on this date in a posting entitled "A Good Pastor".  His renown came from his desire and willingness to be "a parish priest" to those to whom he was sent.  He brought with him his closeness to God and the struggle that it brought with it.  He brought with him his love of God and the love of God's people that took root in his heart.  He did not bring with him a stellar reputation, wisdom in intellectual knowledge, ambition, prestige, wealth or power.  They were not his to bring.  But he developed a reputation for holiness, a wisdom in the confessional that touched hearts, a humility in the power that flowed not from him but from God through him.  He put Ars on the map, but more importantly he brought Christ into hearts.

     Occasionally people will ask me if I want to be a bishop.  Good God, NO!  No offense to those called to that ministry, but I simply want to be a parish priest ... and I have been blessed to be that for these thirty-nine years through eight assignments.  May the Lord continue to bless me with the desire to be "a good parish priest", and may the Lord bless those who have been supportive of that vocation.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Of many things

     On Tuesday of this week the Benedictine Community of Saint Vincent Archabbey hosted the annual Priests' Day celebration at the abbey in Latrobe.  As I mentioned last year, this event brings priests from the Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Erie and Altoona-Johnstown dioceses together along with alumni and friends for an enjoyable day of prayer and relaxation.  This year saw Bishop Walterscheid, the Auxiliary of Pittsburgh as the celebrant and preacher, joined by Bishop Winter of Pittsburgh and the Archabbot of Saint Vincent, Douglas Nowicki along with Father Earl Henry, the Prior.  Joining them in hosting the day was the new rector of the seminary, Father Tim Whalen of Pittsburgh.

     Following Mass in the Basilica, refreshments and a wonderful sit down dinner was served in upper Placid Hall.  The afternoon was free, with the Steelers training camp in session on campus, and was followed by a cook out near the monastery at 4:00 pm. 

     At the dinner I sat with my classmate from the diocese, Father Peter Peretti, Father Joe Gerg, a monk of Saint Vincent who I first went to Rome with back in 1975 (we were remembering those days), and a Franciscan T.O.R. from Loretto who had joined us, Father Bob Hilz.  Bob and I were in Rome in the mid 80's for the International Priests' Retreat and knew each other from the seminary days.  Father Chuck Esposito of our diocese and a priest from Altoona-Johnstown were also there.  It was enjoyable.

     The Benedictines are noted for their hospitality, and the Saint Vincent Community particularly so.   Our thanks to them.


     I filled in for my neighbor, Father John Moineau of Immaculate Conception yesterday for the morning Mass and a funeral for a 35 year old young man from the parish.  Father John was dealing with, I believe, a detached retina.  It was like old times having daily mass at IC - it has been 35 years since I moved from there.  The funeral, though difficult for one so young, went well - with music and choir and cantoring and lectoring and serving being done with compassion and love.  I found blessing ... and I ask your prayers for Father John.  He's a great guy.


What a reputation!  When Jeremiah shared the message of the Lord with the people of Judah at the time of Jehoiakim, the king, as we heard this morning in the first reading, they were harsh words.  Basically the Lord said - you have ignored me long enough, you have done evil in my sight, you are not deserving of my love.  When people want to curse another, they will use your name.  Your house shall be a word of derision, a curse and condemnation.  When your name is heard or spoken, only the worst will be called to mind.  Unless you repent!

     What a reputation!!!   But the Lord gave them a chance at redemption.  What a God!!!!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Forgetting the Covenant

      In my earlier days as an assistant, I was stationed with a man who had some problems, especially with me.  We lived in the same house and worked at the same parish and ministered to the same people, and he could be cordial and at times generous.  But his problems would surface at the most unusual times and periodically he would get on my case.  He would verbally "assault" me (and I use that word generously).  He would tell me to my face that I was worthless as a priest, that I was a waste of time and energy, that I was nothing and a nobody.  He would harangue me like that for great lengths of time, and the next Sunday mention to the people what a good priest I was.  It drove me nuts ... and it undermined my self confidence.  The one saving element to these experiences was my relationship to the Lord, the affirmation that I received from the people of the parish, and the support of my priest friends and other close friends.  To live a life without affirmation is difficult.  To live a life being told that you are worthless and that you do not matter can be devastating.  To live life without supportive relationships is to not live at all.

     I was reminded of this in the responsorial psalm of this past Monday which reminded the people of Israel that they had forgotten God, their life giver, their rock.  They had declared that they did not need God - God was useless to them, non-existent.  And God said that if they thought that they did not need God, that he was unnecessary, that he was non-existent ... then God would hide his face from these stiff necked people, with their vain idols, and  show them to be a "no-people", and anger them with problems that could be resolved if they trusted God but without God would be overwhelming.  Their identity rested in their relationship with him.  Their meaning and purpose was founded in him.

     The "no-god" attitude of our every increasing world view and culture threatens to leave us without an identity; and without that identity, to be without a purpose; and to be without a purpose, to be lost.  We are headed to be that "no-people" that was spoken of - to be nobodies, worthless, forsaken, dead in the waters.  Without the affirming love and power of God, we are nothing.  With it, we share Glory!


NPM Convention Reflection

     I mentioned what a joy it was to be among so many faith filled, like minded people.  It was also a blessing to be in the presence of so many talented composers and musicians.  They shared with us, show cased their new works, led us in prayer, and lifted our spirits.  On Wednesday evening in the Allegheny Ballroom of the Westin we were blessed with three composers of liturgical music from different generations sharing their comtemporary works.  Curtis Stephan and Steve Angrisano are current musicians and composers who were joined by veteran composer Dan Schutte for an hour concert.  Dan has written "City of God" , "Beyond the Moon and Stars", and "Here I am, Lord".  These three men were formed by the Church at different times of her history, yet they share a love of God and a common faith that flows into hearts.  In their additional song at the finale, they did "Here I am, Lord".  Dan Schutte asked us to sing it as he intended when he wrote the song.  The verses would be sung by one person (these are the words of God - "I the Lord of sea and sky ... who will I send?") and the refrain would be sung by all ("Here I am, Lord; it is I, Lord ...).  It was the most powerful experience of that song that I can remember.