Saturday, September 29, 2012

A reflection for the 26th Sunday

The following is a Reflection that I did for the Diocesan Website for this weekend -

     There are many motivations for the actions of our lives.  We can be motivated by need or greed, by attention seeking or recognition, selflessness or selfishness, the possibilities are endless.  Our intentions may be good or bad.  And yet, in today's Scriptures we are reminded that the greatest motivator is the call of the Lord, the greatest intention of purpose is to serve the Lord and those entrusted to our care, and the greatest power lies in our openness to his Spirit and grace.

     In the reading from the Book of Numbers from the Hebrew Scriptures, we encounter Eldad and Medad, who were called to be among the seventy elders, but who missed the commissioning ceremony.  It appears that they did not do so intentionally.  But, wonder of wonders, they too began to prophecy in the camp, much to the consternation of the other sixty-eight, who asked Moses to stop these two.  Moses responded by asking them to not be jealous, but rather to long for the day when all of the people of the Lord shared that gift.

     Jesus faced the same situation in the Gospel of Mark today when confronted by the Apostle John with the news of a man driving out demons in the name of Jesus.  The man was not of their company.  John wanted Jesus to put a stop to this "scandal", but Jesus replies "Do not prevent him.  There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.  For whoever is not against us is for us.  Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward."

     Blessings on those who do the work of Christ for the sake of Christ.  But woe to those whose motivations are found elsewhere and who are not selfless and pure.  We are called to be Christ for others, to bring Christ to others, and to witness to the message of Christ in the world.

     On the 29th of September (today) the Church celebrates the three great Archangels: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.  They, creatures made in God's likeness, were called into the service of God in specific ways: as champion of God, as herald of good news, and as healer.  Yet their collective service of praising God through a life that reflects the glory of God is also part of their call.  We too are created in the image and likeness of God.  We too have been given life and called to an intimacy that brings with it eternal life.  We too are to be his champions, to herald his good news, to bring healing to a broken world.  We have been entrusted with the mystery of life and empowered with the Spirit of life in order to join with Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and the hosts of Angels and Saints to stand before the throne of God and sing with all our voices:
     This weekend in the Greensburg Diocese we pray for and support vocations through the Seminarian and Clergy Formation Collection and the Called by Name program.  We also this weekend give thanks for a vocation that we have shared in for thirty-five years, that of Lawrence T. Persico, a priest of our Diocese who will be ordained as Bishop of the Diocese of Erie this Monday, October 1st.  We are grateful for his YES to priesthood, and we pray for Bishop Persico as he follows in the footsteps of the Apostles.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A man of charity

    We often get calls at the parish asking if this is Saint Vincent de Paul Church.  They call us at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church because we are the location of the local food bank sponsored by the area Saint Vincent de Paul Society.  People readily recognize the name, and that if there is need, they can turn to this group within the Church for help.  Many towns have Saint Vincent de Paul second hand stores, and individuals and communities are assisted by the Ladies of Charity and the Saint Vincent de Paul fraternities.  They are a tangible source of the charity, concern and love of the Church for the poor and needy.

     Today the Church honors the man whose name and example are associated with charity.  Born in 1576 he served the French monarchy and the Church after ordination as a priest, and after varied experiences of capture and hardship as well as exultation and reknown, he devoted himself to the poor.

     His charity embraced the poor, young and old, places ravaged by war and people who were enslaved in a variety of ways.  The poor man was to him the image of Christ.  He went through the streets of Paris at night, seeking the children who were left there to die and established orphanges.  He was not only the saviour of the poor, but also of the rich, for he taught them to do works of mercy.  He established the Ladies of Charity to help with the work of these abandoned children, and called on all to reach out and touch lives in need.  He founded the Society of Saint Vincent, the Priests of the Mission, and the Sisters of Charity.  He died in 1660 as a source of inspiration throughout the centuries and a model of charity of love for us even in this moment in time.

     To our local Saint Vincent de Paul Society, to the many such groups found worldwide, along with the Ladies of Charity and those who follow the charism of this great man, we, and those who are helped, are very grateful.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Commitment & dedication

     I am always inspired by the love and commitment of people toward the people that they love and share life with.  This morning at Mass, the intention was for a dear lady, Dorothy Bratton, who has been gone from us for over a year.  Her husband, Chuck, was at the Mass, missing her terribly.  Dorothy for many years was in less than good health and was confined to a wheelchair, yet they were very active and always at church or some event or function.  In all of this, Chuck took exceedingly good care of his wife, and showed great patience and love. At many of the women's events we were the only guys present.  He is a true inspiration.

     Yesterday I celebrated the funeral for a man from our parish, Paul Mendicino, who was in his late eighties.  For at least the last year and a half if not more his wife took wonderful care of him on a non stop basis.  He had suffered a stroke, I believe, and was suffering from Alzheimer's, and needed round the clock care.  Dorothy's love and commitment to her husband, Paul, is an inspiration, and a testimony to her dedication.  A true inspiration.

     Then this morning I celebrated the funeral for Stephen Ott, another parishioner who was a bit younger than Paul and ill not as long, but whose wife Sandra and family loved and cared for him with great joy, despite the challenge and hardship.  Again, this was, like the others, not just a sense of duty, but an act of love.  Another true inspiration.

     Dorothy, Paul and Steve were touched by the hand of God and brought to the love of God by their spouses and their families.  They were blessed.  But Chuck, Dorothy and Sandra also are blessed by allowing themselves to be a blessing for their spouses.  While we share the emptiness that touches their lives, we also share with them the confident assurance that they did well, and that they gave inspiration to me and to many others.  God bless them.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A timely proverb

     As we begin this 25th week in Ordinary Time, we listen to readings from the Hebrew Scriptures from the Book of Proverbs.  Today we heard "refuse no one the good on which he has a claim when it is in your power to do it for him.  Say not to your neighbor, 'Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give,' when you can give at once."  Translated, that proverb becomes "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today."  This proverb is the bane of my existence, causing me persistent annoyance and exasperation (the definition of a "bane") because I am a great procrastinator.  A saying that I saw somewhere years ago keeps coming to mind - to procrastinate allows you to always have something to do tomorrow.

     I have been procrastinating with my posts (it has been since Friday since I have shared with you).  I apologize.

     In Sunday's second reading, Saint James asks where conflict and division come from within us.  He points out that they come from within, from our passions, from our selfish desires.  Those aspects of our human existence do not come from the higher level of our being.  This brings to mind once again the obvious truth that we are not one dimensional.  We are complex, possessing a God given and God like quality that needs to be nurtured.  But we also possess a darker side, coming from our fallen human nature.  It is the old angel on one shoulder / devil on the other.  It is described as light vs darkness, life vs death, good vs evil, human vs divine.  These opposites war against each other, bringing turmoil and confusion to our lives.  We are tempted, for the sake of "peace" or rather the "lack of conflict" to let our passions rule, to go with the flow, to accept mediocrity, to blend in.

    And yet the great battle has been won, victory is ours, sin has been vanquished and death destroyed.  Light has replaced the darkness of confusion and doubt.  The war is over, and we are children of the Light and sharers in the Victory.  But why is there still struggle and conflict within?  Why is it so hard to live uprightly?  One reason may be that we are not convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christ has won and that we share that victory.  Our passions, our selfish self, will not accept defeat.  And so we battle on, in skirmishes and struggles.  You could say that we are never quite ready to accept defeat ... but we are equally unwilling to accept victory.  In the great civil war that touched our land 150 years ago, the surrender of Lee at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia ended the war, but the battles continued for some time afterwards.  Even when it ended, the war continued in the hearts and experiences of so many.  In fact, even today, that civil war is still being waged, not in battles but in hearts.  If that is still the case in that conflict, is it any wonder that the forces of darkness still hold on to us and cloud our victory celebration?


Friday, September 21, 2012

Here we go again ...

     Headlines on Tuesday and Wednesday, both in the printed press as well as on the evening news and other tv programs announced the uncovering of a revolutionary 4th century papyrus fragment that indicates that there were those who believed that Jesus was married.  This unauthenticated ancient Egyptian Coptic text includes the words "Jesus said to them, my wife ...".  The newspaper article I read said that this discovery was likely to renew a "fierce debate" in the Christian world over whether Jesus was married!  Does it sound a lot like the fiction of one Dan Brown in "The DaVinci Code" of 2003?  Here we go again!

     If you knew little of the history of the early Church, you could become excited at this "find".  After all, it may be ancient, it may reveal the belief of a portion of the church and it is historical (or at least someone's expression of history).  But to know our history is to know that from Jesus' death and resurrection on, many people came to profess many things about him.  He was god but not a human being ... he was a great human being but not a god ... he was this or that, real or imaginary, a great teacher and leader or a very mislead revolutionary.  These things had to be sorted out, as was done by the Apostles, by Matthew (today's feast), Mark, Luke and John and leaders of the early Church.  They sorted out truth from fiction, distortion from scripturally based truths.  They did so through their reliance on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and their experience of Jesus.   In the same way they determined the canon of the sacred books - which were authentic and which were not - which were inspired and which were good reading but lacking in foundation.  Those that accepted their determination accepted it as truth, and they formed the early Church.  The others were fringe groups that were caught up in what are known as heresies.

     Let me give you an example from another context:  I have a passion for the Civil War in the United States.  Central to that period 150 years ago is Abraham Lincoln, the president.  Countless books have been written about him, stories told and movies produced (a new movie is due out in November by Stephen Spielberg).  Lincoln is seen and understood is so many different ways, depending upon your perspective of history.  He is loved, beloved, hated and despised - depending on your take.  He is even portrayed in a recent movie as a "vampire killer"!  What is the truth about Lincoln?  Can it be found by reading or seeing everything that comes down the pike? Entertaining as Bill O'Reily's "Killing Lincoln" is, it is not the definitive study of the man.  Or must you be a student of Lincoln and his times to gather the kind of perspective that allows you to see his greatness in history?

     What Jesus is to me must be rooted in my understanding of him as revealed by the Church (not every whim that comes along) and the development of my relationship to him that comes from my personal experience of him in my life.  The rest is just fancy, fiction, a distraction and a waste of my time.  My observation and objection at the publishing of "The DaVinci Code" was that while this was listed as a work of fiction (made up), Dan Brown said in the introduction that it was true.  And all too many believed him.  What the Church teaches about Jesus is true, but we are skeptics.  What Dan Browns says is fiction, and yet we believe!  Are we in need of a renewal of Faith!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


     When you are a small diocese, it is a rare moment when the Holy See taps one of your clergy for ordination to the Episcopate as a bishop.  In the Diocese of Greensburg where I serve, it first happened way back before I was ordained.  Cyril J. Vogel, a monsignor in our young diocese, was ordained here in 1965 and was appointed Bishop of Salina, Kansas where he served until his death in 1979.  During a time when our second bishop, Bishop William Connare, was having some health concerns, one of our priests, Monsignor Norbert F. Gaughan, was ordained in 1975 as an Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese, and served in that capacity for nine years until being named as the Bishop of Gary, Indiana, in 1984.  He served there until his retirement for health reasons in 1996.  We also have a priest, Father Joseph DeAndrea, who came to our Diocese from Italy and became a member of the clergy of the Diocese of Greensburg in 1958, serving in a number of parishes before being released into the Vatican Diplomatic Corps.  He served a number of posts before being ordained an Archbishop and given a posting as Ambassador, or Nuncio, to a number of Arab countries - Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen and Qatar.  He is now retired and associated with Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.  And then just this year, Monsignor Lawrence T. Persico was appointed as the Tenth Bishop of the Diocese of Erie in Pennsylvania.  He will be ordained as a Bishop and installed on October 1st.

     The announcement of Monsignor Persico's appointment came on July 31st.  It began a flurry of activities that was the first wave of three for us.  There was the announcement from the Nuncio in Washington that day.  There were press conferences in Erie and Greensburg that week, and many expressions of congratulations.  This week sees the second wave of activities.  Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt of our Diocese, himself an Erie priest, hosted an informal dinner at his home for the priests of the Diocese on Monday evening. It was informal, relaxing and enjoyable, an opportunity for us as a presbyterate to share our joy with Larry, the Bishop-elect.  Last evening we gathered again in Greensburg, this time at the Bishop William G. Connare Center, for a Diocesan Mass of Thanksgiving for the Thirty-five Years of Service to the Diocese by Monsignor Persico.  The chapel was nearly full with people that know and have worked with Larry and are excited about this new call of the Lord in his life.  Bishop Brandt presided and Bishop-elect Persico was the Presider and Preacher.  He was joined by retired Bishop Anthony G. Bosco and many of the priests of the Diocese and the Benedictine Community.  In his homily he introduced three seminarians from Erie that are studying locally at Saint Vincent Seminary, as well as an Erie deacon that, he pointed out, with God's grace, will be the first priest that he will ordain next Spring.  He also pointed out that he began his seminary career in that same chapel in 1965.  A wonderful reception followed.  Bishop-elect Persico was presented with a crosier (the bishop's staff) and a ring.  A great evening.  And then Sunday, his parish of Saint James in New Alexandria, where he has served as pastor for fourteen years, will throw a party in his honor.  He moves North on Tuesday.
     Round three will begin the week of his ordination with Vespers in Erie on Sunday, September 30th and Ordination on October 1st, and then a whirlwind visitation of this very expansive diocese.

     We are grateful for his service, I am grateful for his friendship, and we pray for his ministry in the Diocese of Erie.

Good teachings

     These last two days the Scriptures have presented us with two powerful messages.  Both were from Saint Paul as he wrote to the Corinthians the first time. 

     On Tuesday he reminds us that we are one body, made up of different parts, but united in the Lordship (the headship) of Jesus Christ.  He reminds us that the body is not a single part, but many.  Each has a role to play, a part to enflesh that allows the body to be strong and function well.  There are first Apostles then prophets then teachers ... there are those with mighty deeds and gifts of healing, assistance, administration and variety of tongues.  And Paul was not giving a comprehensive list.  We are unique individuals, each gifted in many ways, but all gifted for the common good, for the building up of the Church, for the strengthening of the Body of Christ and for the transformation of the world entrusted to us as her stewards.  To accomplish this, we must always strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.
     Ever since hearing that reading I have been singing (to myself, thank God) the hymn "We are one body" by Dana Scallon, a beautiful song.  It also reminded me of our local Western Pennsylvania Catholic radio station WAOB-FM 106.7 (We Are One Body), a great witness to our Catholic Faith.

     Today's reading from Paul picks up the theme of love as the primary gift from which all gifts flow.  The first line echoes the last line of yesterday's reading "Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts."  And then Paul says "But I will show you a still more excellent way."  He then describes love in a passage that we often hear at weddings, but which has no limitations to its application in our lives.  He reminds us that ", hope love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love."  We would do well to be attentive to this/these exhortations of Paul to the Church at Corinth, and incorporate them into our lives.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Another milestone

     At about 1:40 pm today Journey Thoughts has reached 20,000 page views from loyal and inquisitive followers.  This in about eighteen months, with a little over 1,000 views a month.  I've said this before, but I really mean it ... I am overwhelmed at the response.  From this quiet kid from Southwestern PA, who usually has nothing much to say, I am in awe of what the Lord has allowed me to accomplish.  And the best part of the whole deal is that I truly enjoy this ministry.  Thanks to all, especially parishioner Gene Komondor, who emailed me to remind me of this milestone.

We are all missionaries

     This past weekend we were visited by a priest representing the United States Catholic Mission Association based out of Washington, DC, that promotes the worldwide missionary endeavors of major Religious Orders as well as the Church in the United States. His name is Father Gregory Gallagher, and he is a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.  His visit is one of the traditions of our Diocesan Church that has a representative of a group representing their missionary efforts assigned to visit a parish each year, speaking of their work and soliciting our prayers and financial support.  We call it the Mission Co-operative Program.

     Father Greg came and helped us celebrate the twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time with great priestly enthusiasm and joy.  He spoke at all of the Masses, breaking open the Word of God and encouraging us in our missionary roles.  He graciously celebrated the two Masses on Sunday (I had another one later that day for our Youth Ministry).  I enjoyed his visit, his company, and his conversations at our meals.  It was a short visit - from Saturday afternoon until Sunday afternoon - but a good visit.  He spoke of the friendliness and openness of the good people of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton parish - no surprise there!

     We are often content to live in our own little world and keep our focus there.  But the Lord invites us, as he did his friends and followers, to go out to all the world and proclaim the Good News!  May we never forget that mission that makes us missionaries.  I thank Father Greg for helping us to remember that fact, and I pray for him and his ministry.

Sorrowful Mother

     We have two parishes in our diocese that are in close proximity to this parish that bear the name of Mary, the sorrowful mother - Seven Dolors in the village of Yukon and Mother of Sorrows in Murrysville.  They are very different parishes in size and make up as well as type of community, but they share a common identity with the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Seven Dolors refers to the seven sorrows that touched the heart of Mary and caused her to be known as the Mother of Sorrows.  [ There is an interesting story that may or may not be true that when the then bishop of Pittsburgh, John Wright, was forming a new parish in the Monroeville area bordering Murrysville, he named the parish Our Lady of Joy in contrast to the neighboring Mother of Sorrows ].

     Mary's sorrows centered upon her son's crucifixion and death, watching helpless as he was rejected, brought to trial, condemned, tortured and crucified.  Tradition lists those sorrows as follows:  the Prophecy of Simeon (a sword of sorrow will pierce Mary's heart) ... the flight into Egypt to avoid Herod after Jesus' birth ... his being lost in the temple at the age of twelve ... her encounter with her son on his way to Calvary ... the crucifixion of Jesus ... her receiving the body of her son as he was taken from the Cross ... and his being placed and sealed in the tomb.  We tend to think of Mary as being very stoic and peaceful throughout these moments, which she may have been.  Her faith was deep and her trust in the Lord's love sustaining.  But she was a mother, a mother who grieved and struggled, a mother who lamented the injustice done to her son.  I remember being moved by the anguish of the actress portraying Mary in "Jesus of Nazareth" as she received the body of her son - real weeping and wailing as a mother would.  The same holds true with the movie "The Passion of the Christ" and that actress's expression of pain.  The Collect prayer for this feast speaks of Mary standing close by and sharing in the suffering of her son.  That love, that pain, that faith and trust needs to be recognized and imitated.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Either/or vs both/and

     In the second reading today we are presented with the challenge of faith and good works - one of the high points of contention of the reformers of long ago.  Many of the reformers said that we are saved by faith alone.  All I need is my faith in Jesus Christ to find salvation.  I do not need to do anything to prove my worthiness.  This of course, was a reaction to the other extreme taken by some in the Church that we could earn or buy our way into heaven.  If I had enough points in the Golden Book of Saint Peter at the Pearly Gate, then I am in.  Those points were earned by doing certain things or jumping through the right hoops, or at the time of the Reformation, buying indulgences for ourselves or our loved ones.  So, it became an "either / or" question ... was it faith that saved me or good works that did the trick.

     The reality is that it is a "both / and" response to the love of God that leads to salvation.  If I have faith, then my actions are going to reflect that faith in how I deal with and respond to the needs of others.  If I ignore those needs and the people that have them, then my faith is hollow and empty.  The good works give evidence of the depth of my faith.  Likewise if I am the most generous and philanthropic person in the world but my motivation is to feel good or to make a name for myself or anything other than bringing Christ to others, then my good works are helpful, but meaningless to my salvation.  If those good works do not flow from my faith in Christ and my gratitude for his love and grace, then they are of no consequence.

     So, faith and good works is not a question of "either / or" but of "both / and".  And my salvation rests in my relationship to Christ that is expressed in concrete ways in my life.  It sounds so easy, but for so many, is so difficult.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Exultation of the Holy Cross

     In the rendering of the fall of Adam and Eve, we often see the image of the serpent in the branches of a tree and the two of them turning away in shame as they obviously have bought into his lie.  I was reminded of that image as I prayed the Preface for the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross this morning and read

"For you placed the salvation of the human race
on the wood of the Cross, so that, where death arose,
life might again spring forth
and the evil one, who conquered on a tree,
might likewise on a tree be conquered,
through Christ our Lord."
     The tree in the garden and the tree of the Cross are shared images of life changing importance.  One was the source of condemnation and death, the other the source of redemption and life.
     We are so immune to the ugliness of the cross because of the glory that we place upon the instrument of death that has been transformed by the love of Christ.  The Cross stands as an inspiration, a sign of hope, a thing of beauty.  Just outside of my hometown of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, there is a huge white cross on the top of the mountains.  It is located on the grounds of a Methodist Church Training Center at Jumonville Glenn (named after a Revolutionary War general), and is lighted at night and clearly visible for miles.  I grew up with the cross so prominently displayed for all to see (and no one finding objection).  I remember as a young child having a super large metal covered cross that would top the church steeple placed in the old Saint Joseph Church as the tall steeple was being repaired.  In size alone, it was impressive and inspiring.  I remember gazing upon a simple Byzantine style image of the crucified Christ on a wooden cross in the Basilica of Saint Clare in Assisi, the image of whose Cross spoke to Saint Francis of Assisi and told him to "rebuild the Church".   I find great blessing in carrying into the Church a large, roughly formed Cross for veneration at the Good Friday Liturgy and chanting the words:  "Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world."
     But the cross was an instrument of the death penalty, so cruel and unusual a punishment that a Roman citizen would be put to death in some other way rather than crucifixion.  While we always need to celebrate the glory of the Cross and the role that it played in our victory over sin and death, the Cross must also remind us of our sin and the death that it brings with it.  Without that stark reality before our eyes, we can never truly appreciate the awesome sacrifice of love that Christ made when he embraced the tree of the Cross.  As the words of the hymn goes;
"Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ proclaim!"

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A parent's influence

     There were three moments this week of celebrating parental influences in people that I know, love and respect.  This morning I celebrated the funeral liturgy for Margaret Venick, my maternal aunt and godmother.  She was buried from Saint Mary of the Nativity Church in Uniontown, my home town.  Father Steve Bugay is the pastor, and I thank him for his graciousness.
     Aunt Margaret was the fourth of five daughters born of Frank and Mary Lenard (my mom was second in line).  She had married Daniel Venick, and they gave life to two children - Jerome and Barb - and have four grandchildren and now three great grandchildren, two of whom are newborns.  Aunt Margaret was probably the most socially active of the five sisters, always on the go to organizations and clubs and involvement in local politics.  Life dealt her a terrible hand in these last few years with failing eyesight and hearing as well as the onset of dementia.  Her last months were in a personal care home.  I shared Romans 8:31 where it asks "What will separate us from the love of Christ?"  The answer is nothing ... including the challenges that Aunt Margaret had to deal with.
     I also pointed out that she had a great love of her children and grandchildren, and saw them as her life and legacy.  Their successes brought her great joy.  She shared with them her values and her faith, and was generous in her love.   We were not only family, but also neighbors, living four houses apart from each other on the same street.  I am grateful for the love that she gave to me as her godson.  May she rest in peace.
     Aunt Margaret was the last of my aunts and uncles on both sides of the family.  As someone today pointed out ... we are now the senior generation.  Scarry!

     On Tuesday I concelebrated the funeral of a former parishioner and a friend from All Saints in Masontown - Dorothy Rohol.  Dorothy and her husband had a son and a daughter, and that daughter, Linda, is the parish secretary at All Saints (through seven pastors!).  It was a joy to help celebrate the life and accomplishments of this good woman of faith, especially as it is exemplified in her children.  Linda has many of her mom's traits, and readily acknowledges the influence of her mom in her life.  It is obviously true.
     Father John Butler is pastor at All Saints and spoke of that day being described as a passover experience - the limitations of this earthly existence and the sufferings and limitations that Dorothy endured before her death have given way to the bright promise of immortality and the never ending joy of heaven.  Father Jim Bump, another of the former pastors that Linda has served, joined John and me in thanking God for the gift of Dorothy whose gift to Linda was a gift to us.  May she rest in peace.

     And also today, this afternoon at Saint Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Kittanning, Pennsylvania, George Swast, the father of one of our priest by the same name, George, who is no longer in active ministry in the Church, was buried.  George was a good friend and priest, and the influence and prayers of the mother and father of a priest is a valuable blessing.  Because of my Aunt's funeral, I could not be in attendance (a number of the guys were, though) but I assure George of my thoughts and prayers for his dad.  May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


     Our Diocesan Fall Priests' Retreat is happening this week, and I am attempting to be present (between funerals).  The retreat is held at the Bishop Connare Center (the former Saint Joseph Hall) in Greensburg, where I grew up in the Minor Seminary in the early 60's.  The retreat runs from Monday evening through Friday lunch.  This year we are blessed to have as our retreat master Edward Cardinal Egan, the retired Archbishop of New York.  I can say that Cardinal Egan is very relaxed and personable, a great story teller and presenter of encouraging and challenging thoughts and reflections.  Yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon he joined many of the guys as we sat around outside and talked and joked and enjoyed a drink.  His theme is to present to us people in history that we can acknowledge as heroes, even if they are not saints.  His insights are not new or earth shattering, but they are affirming and encouraging.  Pray for us on retreat ... in fact pray for all priests.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


     Pray God that we have personally never had to hear "911, what is your emergency?"  But if we have, or if we have heard it on tv, we know that the numerical identification "911" stands for an emergency situation, and warrants immediate action.  Today is September 11, or 9/11.  Ever since this date in 2001, 9/11 has come to mean what the designation 911 means, a crisis situation that touches our lives.  As we all know, on a beautiful, clear blue sky late summer/early fall day in the Eastern United States, our nation was attacked by terrorists, and we were caught up in an emergency that has touched our lives in a tragic way.  The twin towers in the city of New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and a field near Shanksville in Somerset County in Pennsylvania were the site of terrible loss of life and the origin of a fear and emptiness that touched the human condition.  On that 9/11 when so many 911 calls were made, we were changed.  Lives were lost, but so was so much more.  We were all affected.

     That day has become a "Where were you?" kind of memory.  For me it was very much like today, a clear, beautiful but warmer day.  I was on the September Priests' Retreat at Saint Joseph Hall Retreat Center in Greensburg.  The retreat had begun Monday evening and would run through Friday lunch, with Archbishop John Quinn, retired Archbishop of San Francisco as our retreat master.  On that morning we had prayed morning prayer, attended a retreat conference, and were preparing ourselves for a late morning Mass.  Someone had heard the news and we found and gathered around a tv.  We were saddened by the plane hitting the World Trade Center, praying for the victims of that horrible accident.  We were shocked when the second plane hit, and began to realize what so many were realizing, that this was no accident.  When the Pentagon was hit we were quiet with fear of the unknown.  And when the towers fell, we were speechless and I know that I was brought to tears.

     Saint Joseph Hall was also the site of the Pennsylvania State Police Regional Training Center, as well as the site of offices of the Attorney General's Office.  I mention this because when flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, but before it was announced, we knew something was up - all the the State Police vehicles took off like a bat out of h..., and soon after, the AG's offices closed and they left.  Then we heard about Shanksville.  The closeness of the tragedy hit home when we realized that we were very near the flight path that flight 93 took, for we are very close to that Somerset County community.   I can assure you that our liturgy that morning was somber and intense, and our prayers filled with the uncertainty and fear of those circumstances.  I went home that afternoon to check on the plans of the local community, and to prepare something for the bulletin.  It was a quiet ride home for me.  Even passing the local State prison in Greensburg and seeing the driveway blocked off gave me pause.  What was next was the question of the hour.

     Eleven years has past.  Every time I watch those towers fall on tv, or hear of the trauma of those involved, or reflect on the tremendous courage of the first responders, I am brought to tears.  It was a tragic day for the United States.  It was a time of great courage in the United States.  It is a day to be remembered and it must be a day of prayer to God.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Settling in America

     Today I am a part of the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the founding of Saint Joseph Polish Roman Catholic Church in Everson, Upper Tyrone Township, Fayette County Pennsylvania, a parish of the Diocese of Greensburg.  Father John Sedlak is the current pastor and a good and holy man.  I am attending the celebration because I have roots in the community going back to my great grandparents.  Here is a part of their story that I have gathered.

    Andrew Stachowiak was the eldest of three children of John and (?) who lived in the village of Wilkowyja, Poznan Province, Poland (then under German rule).  Andrew's father died when he was about eight.  Andrew was born December 2, 1854.  He met and married Frances Janiak who was born on December 27, 1858.  At the age of thirty, after serving in the German army, he and his wife and their three month old son, Stephen, departed from Bremen on the ship the Weser with 109 other passengers headed for America.
The Weser docked first in New York where most debarked, and then to Baltimore where my great grandparents set foot in the United States on April 20, 1884.  They headed for Upper Tyrone Township and the borough of Everson to work in the mines and the coke ovens of H. C. Frick, and to establish their new home.  The house they settled in is about two blocks from the church.

     They had travelled to Everson with the Joseph Martynowski family, whose son, John and daughter in law, Michalina (great grandmother's sister) were already here.  John Martynowski sponsored my great grandfather for citizenship in 1891.

     They built their family: children Stephen (Anastasia Szymanski), Mary (Joseph Cieslewicz), Thomas (Helen Banashak), Anna Eliza (Dr. Vincent Pisula), John Stanley(Bessie Kaminsky) [my grandparents], Constance (Julius Helinski), Walter (Cecelia Suchocki), and Peter (Stella Wottczak).  My grandfather, John was baptized in Saint Joseph, as was my dad's eldest brother and sister before they moved to near Uniontown.  And I am not the only priest in the family ... Mary and Joe Cieslewicz's grandson, Father Vince Cieslewicz, is a priest in the Erie Diocese.  These eight children of Andrew and Frances had a host of children and grandchildren for many generations now.  But Everson saw the beginning of the family's development in the United States.  I am very proud of my heritage, and honored to be a part of the celebration at Saint Joseph Parish today.  After the Mass I will pray at the graves of Andrew and Frances and thank them for the gift of life and of faith.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

True freedom ... an everlasting inheritance

     With both political conventions over and the rhetoric going strong before the November elections, I feel compelled to pause and reflect upon promises made that cannot be met, hopes and visions expounded that are limited by our limitations and blindness, and a freedom professed by muttering lip service.  In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus had a man brought to him who was deaf, and because of his deafness had a speech impediment.  He was limited in his effectiveness to make a difference in society, and those who loved him were concerned for his welfare.  That is why they brought him to Jesus.  Was Jesus the last resort?  Or were they wise enough to realize that Jesus was the answer?

     Jesus put his fingers into his ears ... he touched his tongue and said "Ephphatha!" - that is "Be opened!"  The scriptures tell us that "immediately the man's ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly."

     I find the people and the leaders of this great nation stumbling over political correctness and mumbling about freedom in ways that can be pleasing to the ear or cute to listen to, but are lacking in truth and clarity.  They tickle the ear and the imagination, but their words and ideas are rooted in fantasy.  They promise what they cannot deliver, and make us desire that which they put forth as our wants and needs. 

     Their speech impediment comes from the fact that they have closed their ears to the Word of God, to the truth of the scriptures and the tradition of believing people, to the moral foundation that has been the building blocks of the nation.  Our religious moral foundation is being replaced with a secularism that is obviously not religious but is often not even moral.  How can they build upon a firm foundation of revealed truth when they reject any revelation that does not come from within themselves, from their need or want, from their relativism. 

     In Isaiah the prophet today we hear:
"Say to those whose hearts are frightened;
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense he comes to save you."
Then restoration is described, healing and power and renewal.
     Our politicians of all parties, our leaders of government and business, those who fashion and mold society say something similar.
To those whose hearts are frightened, I say
Be strong, fear not!
     The authors of the Declaration of Independence said that "we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable right, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  Noble sentiments.  We are a work in progress.  It took many years to recognize the humanity and equality of the slave, it took many years of persecution and hatred before the foreigner was welcome, it took many years before there was an equality among the sexes.  The work is not complete ... but we are doomed if we close our ears to the revealed truth of God, to the teaching and lessons learned by the church and  history, and to the basic truth that we are not gods, but rather those whom he loves and entrusts with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Today's Collect prayer says:
"O God, by whom we are redeemed and receive adoption,
look graciously upon your beloved sons and daughters,
that those who believe in Christ
may receive true freedom
and an everlasting inheritance."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A day to relax

      AN UPDATE  ...  I mentioned in my last post of an earthquake in Costa Rica yesterday, in an area where my cousin, Joy, and her family lives.  We heard from them, and even though they were frightened by the shaking, none of them were hurt and there was minimal damage.  It seems that the quake was very deep, which lessens destruction.  To those who thought of them and said a prayer, they and I are very grateful.


     Today was one of those great days of relaxing and doing very little.  Wednesday into Thursday is my usual time to attempt to step back from the ordinary routine and relax.  Today was that day.

     I slept late, watched some morning TV, went to the movies with a priest friend and then joined with the Queen of Angels School Family for their "back to school" picnic at Oak Hollow Park, a township picnic park in the area.  The event was covered dish (which we seem to like to do in this area) and the amount and variety of food was unbelievable.  The kids had fun, the parents chatted, and the evening went extremely well.  There were close to 250 in attendance.  Tomorrow is another special event for the school community - a Walk-a-thon on the grounds of Saint Edward Church in Herminie.  The kids get sponsors to support their walking, with the proceeds going to the school.  Even the priests are getting into this by getting sponsors for themselves.  I, however, have problems with mobility, so my sponsors are supporting my "watching" of the walkers ( still received $150.00 in sponsorships).  I am looking forward to tomorrow, and will fill you in on the event. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My first school Mass

      School has been in session since the 21st of August locally, but yesterday was my first visit to Queen of Angels, our local Catholic School with grades from PK through grade 8 (I was on vacation and then meetings last week).  The occasion of the visit was my first liturgy of the school year with the school family in the afternoon, and except for the heat (a hot stage under the lights in a non air conditioned auditorium), I enjoyed being with the kids. 

     The theme of the liturgy was sharing the light of Christ, with the students reciting a version of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman's "Lead, kindly light".  They were told in the intro to the prayer that Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta and her sisters prayed this prayer often.

     I spoke of the challenge that we have at the beginning of an academic year to dedicate ourselves to learning all that we can about God and the talents and gifts that he has given us, especially learning about Christ.  This knowledge sets the stage for us to then move from knowing about him to truly knowing him with our hearts.  Head knowledge gives way to heart knowledge, which in turn leads to the desire to serve - both God and those entrusted to us by him.  To know him is to love him, and to love him is to serve him.  This is our task, our responsibility, and our joy.  After Mass I met and welcomed a brand new student in the 6th grade who had transferred in that morning, and spoke to several parents as well as reestablishing the ties with the youngsters at the school.  Queen of Angels is celebrating twenty years as our Regional School under that title.  Their excellent reputation is rooted in the long history of Catholics School education at Immaculate Conception, Saint Agnes and Saint Edward schools.


     Prayers and thoughts ... I just read on the news that a 7.6 earthquake struck the Central American country of Costa Rica this morning at 10:42 ET.  The earthquake struck about seven miles SE of Nicoya ( a town of about 15,000 residents).  A report from the Red Cross said that there were no reported deaths.  I mention this because I have a cousin, Joy Flores Stoviak, who lives with her husband and family in Nicoya, and whose daughter, Jenifer, at one time served as mayor.  I have not heard from them as yet as to how they are, but a prayer and thoughts would be appreciated.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Asking the question

     This past Sunday's readings reminded us of the gift that God's law and commands are to us.  The law of the Lord was given to us in love and for our enrichment and perfection.  It was never meant to be confining or restrictive, but rather freeing and liberating.  And above all, it is a gift.  It speaks of the attitude of our heart which reflects our relationship with the life giving God who has accepted us as his own.  Thus the evil that touches our lives comes from within, from the hardened heart, the relationship that has no depth, the emptiness of hope and joy, the absence of love.

     Our need to pause and reflect upon our personal human condition is always there.  We call it an "examination of conscience".  It is a looking within and an evaluation of where I stand with God, the source of my life.  It is the asking of the question "Am I better off at this moment than I was the last time that I looked?"  I was always taught that this examination of conscience should be done every evening before retiring, looking back on the day, giving thanks for the blessings and seeking forgiveness for the failures.  It is definitely the correct question to ask in our preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the confession of our sins.  It is the right question to ask when I am confronted with a challenge that causes me to pause and reflect.

     Am I better off?  If the answer is yes, then praise God!  If the answer reveals that I have further to go to reach the goal, then I turn my prayers to the Lord and seek his mercy and love.  The key is not to hesitate or be afraid to ask the question, for until we reach our goal, we are a work in progress.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A pilgrimage of Love

     For seventy-eight years, on Labor Day weekend, pilgrims from all over the United States and Canada have travelled to my home town, Uniontown, Pennsylvania, for a pilgrimage honoring Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  This pilgrimage is hosted by the Sisters of Saint Basil the Great at their motherhouse at Mount Saint Macrina.  It centers around an icon/image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help given to the Sisters by Pope Pius XI with the request that the Sisters spread devotion to the Mother of God under this title.  This pilgrimage has been celebrated on their beautiful grounds since 1934.  The Sisters of Saint Basil the Great are a Religious Order of the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church, whose dioceses/eparchies in the United States co-sponsor this annual gathering.

     The theme for this year is "Theotokos, Guide on the Journey of Life", looking to Mary to guide us on the right path, the path to the source of Life, her Divine Son.

     In our area of Southwestern Pennsylvania, the Byzantine Catholic Church is strong and they are good neighbors.  In all but one of my assignments they have had a church in the same or neighboring town.  I value the friendships that I have with many of their priests and people.  When I was in the seminary at Saint Francis in Loretto, we had three men studying there for the Byzantine Church, one of which, Father Dennis Hrubiak, is a priest of the Eparchy of Parma, Ohio.

     The pilgrimage is a wonderful experience of faith.  Beginning Friday evening with vespers, it concludes with a morning Divine Liturgy on Monday.  In between, the faithful gather and pray, they visit, have the opportunity for "the mystery of reconciliation" (a great name for confession), Divine Liturgies, Liturgy of the Hours, Mystery of Anointing, daytime and candlelight processions, teaching at a variety of levels (children, teens, adults), and prayers for the dead.   I remember attending as a youngster and again later in life and being truly moved.  Buses would pull up, the pilgrims disembark and a procession, led by a flower bedecked processional cross, would lead them to the icon shrine.  I remember in my younger days when Venerable Bishop Fulton Sheen, whose was bi-ritual (able to celebrate in both rites) would celebrate liturgy and preach to tens of thousands.  But most importantly I remember the simple and deep faith of good and humble people whose Labor Day weekend would bring them to Uniontown and Mt. St. Macrina - and still does.

     The pilgrimage is open to all, and is a time of grace ... and if you are local and would like to attend, you would be welcome.  Just to walk the grounds and experience the peace is a blessing.  More info can be found on the Sisters' web site: