Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Of many things

     First and foremost, our prayers go out to all of those affected by the mega storm known as Sandy.  These past few days have been devastating to so many throughout a great portion of this country, as anyone with the ability to watch TV is aware.  The deaths, the destruction, the fear, the heroism and the power of nature is overwhelming and tragic.   To see the sights in New York City, the burned out neighborhood of Breezy Point in Queens, New Jersey and the coastal shore communities, and so much more was moving.

     We were relatively lucky in this area that the storm only brought lots of rain and some strong wind gusts throughout the night and day on Monday/Tuesday, but we did not lose power, and except for some tree branches down and localized flooding, we escaped the worst of the storm.  About forty minutes drive to the East and South of my location they had rain, snow and ice (my sister kept me informed).  A little further to the South in West Virginia they were buried in snow and drifts.  Two of our Southwestern Pennsylvania counties, I saw, had about 1,500 homes without power, but compared to the millions elsewhere, we were truly fortunate.  Keep everyone in your prayers, and if you can lend support in any way, please do so.


     Yesterday, October 30th, marked the fourth anniversary of my arrival at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton parish.  These past four years have flown by, and I am truly blessed in this assignment.  I count my blessings every day!  For some reason, October saw two moves in my life.  In addition to moving to North Huntingdon in 2008, in 1986 I moved to All Saints in Masontown on October 28th, the feast of Saints Simon and Jude.  Our school principal at the time who has since gone to heaven, Sister Mildred Minosky, a Vincentian Sister of Charity, often remarked that with Saint Jude being the patron of hopeless cases, she was confused as to who the hopeless case in this situation was - the parish?  or me?  I assured her that is was ME!  We often laughed at the joke.

     Today is All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween.  It is a day of fun for youngsters of every age.  Dressing up in costumes and going "trick or treating" in its harmless form is fun.  Obviously some get carried away, and some of the costumes are over the top, but if approached in the correct way, it is a fun time.  The local community parade was last Saturday, and as I was driving through town, I saw a family whose little boy was dressed in a great cowboy costume (reminded me of Woody or Howdy Doody) and the little girl was dressed like a ballerina.  It sure beats the scary creatures and vampires that we too often see.  I know that in a couple of the schools that I have been associated with, the Halloween gathering involved dressing as one of those you admire - a saint or policeman or nurse, or priest?, etc.  Our local "trick or treat" night was to be tonight, but because of the storm was moved to this Saturday (during our Mass time - I guess I'll have to eat the candy and treats!).  To those celebrating today, a safe and happy All Hallows' Eve!

Monday, October 29, 2012

The storm approaches

     Who knows what the winds will bring, if the forecast is accurate, if we are to be challenged and threatened by forces beyond ourselves?  All I know is that the dreariness of Winter has descended upon us.  It was only a few days ago that my sister, Janie, took this picture of her blooming flowers in her yard at home.

It does not look like that today
     We are hundreds and hundreds of miles from the Eastern shore, and yet we are experiencing rain and cold already, and they are predicting winds and flooding from this mega storm that everyone is concerned about.  There is nothing that we can do but prepare ourselves and hope that the reality is not as dire as the predictions.  To all in harms way, you are in our prayers.
     There are other storms approaching as well.  We within the Church face challenges that can take your breath away.  Changing demographics, declining number of clergy and Mass attendance (we just finished our "October Count" showing dwindling numbers), scandals within and outside of the Church that are constantly in our face, and even more devastating, a generation or two of laity that does know the Faith and who are not interested in things religious or spiritual.  We have a tremendous need for this "new evangelization" spoken of, not simply as a program but as a reality that touches lives and creates a renewed hunger for God.  We have the challenge of removing the blindness that afflicts us when it comes to seeing a revisioning of the face and structure of the Church with regard to clergy shortage, over abundance of Masses with less than vibrant liturgies, and an awakening within our lives that to belong is much more than having our name on the rolls, it involves life itself - sustained in this existence by the Church but rooted in our eternal existence.  Our souls depend upon our life with Christ.
     We hear the predictions, we see the forecast, but we ignore and turn a blind eye to the reality.  We would rather stay by the roadside begging than crying out to the Lord as did Bartimaeus in yesterday's gospel story.  He wanted to see ... and when he was given sight, the first thing he did was to follow Jesus, for he saw that without Him there is nothing else, there is no beauty or life.  The man was indeed wise.
     And there is also the storm that threatens our spiritual journey, a storm that come from dark forces, from evil itself.  That storm also demands preparedness, that we strengthen that which is vulnerable, that we stock the shelves with those graces that sustain life.  All of us must take the task of being prepared to heart.  Yesterday's scriptures were that reassuring word that even though the storms come, the Lord holds us in his arms, protects us, strengthens us and loves us.  We will survive ... in fact, we will flourish because we are one with him.   Reassuring words, indeed.
     Yesterday in our parish we celebrated our annual Fall Anointing of the Sick in the afternoon.  As always, the opportunity to be an instrument of the Lord's love and healing embrace is such a gift.  As I was anointing, I saw the needs of God's People and the trust in God that each brought with them in their need.  We had somewhere near a hundred for the celebration.
     Following the Anointing of the Sick we also held what has become an annual buffet dinner for our Senior Members of the Parish as a way of the parish saying thank you for all that they have and continue to do for the local family.  A good time was had by all.  Again, about one hundred were in attendance.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tracking the forecast

     For those of us in our neck of the woods, the weather is changing.  We have basked in a wonderful "Indian Summer" these last few days.  But now the temperature is cooling, the clouds have set in, and the potential storm approaches (some aspects of hurricane Sandy may come our way).

     Yesterday's Gospel passage from Luke has Jesus telling the crowds that when they see the cloud rising in the West, they know that it will rain. Or when the wind blows from the South it is going to be warm.  They see the signs, they know the indicators, they can track the weather, yet they cannot see or interpret the signs of the times, especially when it relates to our relationship with God.  In those circumstances we act like "blind fools", who deny the signs and who stumble about refusing the help and guidance that the one greater than ourselves offers.

     Watching the weather forecasts, we see a multitude of graphs that predict the possible direction of hurricane Sandy.  The graphs look like pasta strands, going in a variety of directions.  They are not sure where it will hit or when, what the damage will be done and to whom, yet they call all of us "to be prepared".  People are "stocking up", taking precautions, making sure that they are ready.
Preparedness is a good thing ... better to be safe than sorry.

     But as Jesus pointed out, we are hypocrites if we pay attention to this potential threat and danger while ignoring the greater signs of imminent danger and threat to our moral and spiritual welfare that confront us daily.  We are like blind fools that allow ourselves to be pushed and shoved in any and every direction rather than guided by the Way the Truth and the Life, Jesus.

     May the big storms of life not materialize.  May we be spared the brunt of the storm and delivered from danger.  But if they come, may our preparations first and foremost center upon our trust and reliance upon the Lord Jesus. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

A real milestone

     On a Friday in March of 2011 (the 11th of March), I sat down with friends, set up Journey Thoughts, and shared my first post.  Here is what I said:


      As Lent begins, so does my entry into the world of blogging.  It has been my desire to share my thoughts through this medium for a while now.  Finally, on this first Friday of Lent, a good friend and fellow blogger, Michael Ripple, got me set up.  I am  grateful.  He and his son Isaac are visiting.

     I hope to share my thoughts on a variety of experiences and issues that touch my life.  I have always referred to our sojourn as a follower of Christ as a journey, truly a journey of a lifetime.  The Good news that speaks of God's blessings is too important to be kept quiet.  I will endeavor to share my blessings with you.  I hope that you find my posts challenging and inspiring.

     And on this Friday, October 26th, 2012 (595 days later), I am overjoyed to post this 500th post of Journey Thoughts.  I have found the experience to be refreshing and renewing.  I have attempted to be true to those words of March 11th, and am humbled by the response to this blog of a simple parish priest.

Yours truly at the office computer

     I have been blessed in these last thirty-nine years of priesthood with opportunities to preach and teach, to give talks and to share ideas, and through the media to provide a short weekly radio program for over ten years from the mid eighties thru the mid nineties called "That You May Believe", to share Scripture reflections on the Diocesan Web Site, and of course, Journey Thoughts.

     There is one thing of note that has changed ... I am now using a larger font (which has nothing to do with age or eyesight!).   I pledge to continue, and I thank those who have checked Journey Thoughts out, and many thanks to my loyal followers.  Blessings to you all!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Daunting challenges

    This past Monday evening I attended a meeting of our Regional Council, made up of the pastors and two representatives from the Pastoral Councils of each of the twelve parishes in our geographic area.  There are two priests who each serve two parishes, with one parish having a Parochial Vicar and one a resident helper.  Those twelve parishes are presently served by twelve priests, but forty years ago when I was ordained, there were about twenty-three priests serving that same group of parishes.   The purpose of our meeting was to discuss the desire of three of those priests/parishes to adapt their Mass schedules.  Back in 2008 we went through a major change in number and times of Masses in response to the October Count needs (we have been "counting heads" at all Masses during the month of October since 2001), seating capacities and clergy limitations.

     One of the parishes would like to reinstate on a Sunday a third weekend Mass because of the drop-off of people since the times were changed in 2008.  Another has two Saturday eve Masses and two on Sunday between two parishes a short distance from each other, and would like to drop a Saturday eve Mass (despite the fear of losing people).  A third has a Sunday eve Mass and would like to regionalize that Mass since presently he has four Masses on the weekend.  They presented their cases, a lively discussion followed, and greater issues surfaced.

     For those not from the area, we in the Northeast are an older Church, facing changing demographics, often dealing with an abundance of ethnic and Nationality parishes, and definitely spoiled.  The complacency of our parish communities and an unwillingness to compromise or adapt is rampant.  A number of the laity at the meeting spoke of that fact.  As they said, they see the need and the challenge, but the average person in the pew has not listened and will not recognize the need to see things differently than what they were.  Rather than the essential importance of gathering for Eucharist, they hold on to the greater desire for convenience.  It is a real dilemma that will only be getting worse.

     At the meeting, our Dean (the bishop's representative to the area) shared that at a meeting recently they were presented with some staggering statistics.  In our Diocese in the next five years, there are twenty-two of our seventy some men in active ministry that will reach the early retirement age of seventy, with most of those indicating an intention to retire.  We will, God willing, have three men ordained this Spring, and we recently welcomed three additional priests from the Philippines into our ranks for a term, joining with the two that presently share our ministry.  But six from twenty-two still leaves a noticeable shortage.  And that shortage will demand sacrifices and change on many levels, for the work of the Faith continues to be our primary concern, and a new vision must arise quickly.  What it will be, I have no idea.  Thank God that this is His Church, and that he pledged to always be with us.  Pray for us ... pray for vision ... pray for vocations.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Catching up

     I have been a little lax this past week, but there was much happening.  No excuse!

     As I mentioned a few posts ago, the first part of last week was taken up with our annual Priests Convocation.  One remaining picture from that gathering is the one of the clergy of the Diocese of Greensburg taken after our Tuesday Mass at Saints Simon and Jude Church.  There were a few of the men who were absent because of health, including the pastor of the host parish in Blairsville, Father Chester Raimer, who was in the hospital.  There were also a few of the guys who could not join us for the Mass.  But this is the group, along with Bishop Brandt.  Yours truly is at the end in the third row on the right in the picture.

     On Thursday of last week I concelebrated and preached at the invitation of the deceased the funeral of a young lady from my former parish of Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale.  Her name is Linda Koval, and she was just shy of reaching her forty-first birthday.  She died of breast cancer complications.  I remember before I was transferred four years ago that she and her Mom and Dad and sister would ask me before Mass to pray (for test results, for diagnosis, for strength and healing).  She kept her struggle pretty much to herself and family, and co-workers and parishioners were even more surprised and grieved by her passing.  I spoke in my homily of the qualities that allowed me and those who knew her to say that she was a truly good woman.  I saw many heads bobbing in agreement.  Her co-workers from the Westmoreland County fiscal accounts office formed an honor guard at the doors of the church that was extremely moving.   I was honored to be asked to preach the funeral, and very grateful for the graciousness of Father George Saletrik, the pastor.  May Linda rest in peace.
     Later that day I was part of a budgetary discussion meeting with our Diocesan Offices (Schools, Finance and Vicar General) and our Queen of Angels Administration, School Advisory Council members, the five sending pastors, business managers and representatives of Finance Councils of the five sending parishes.  It took place at the Diocesan Pastoral Center.  It was very productive and allowed us to present concerns, have questions answered, and share the hard work that goes into the financial end of running a school.
     That evening I celebrated Mass for the reception of new members to our Archconfraternity of Christian Mothers (our ladies group).  Three new members joined the group, who in addition to the goal of spiritual growth continues to support the parish.
     Friday following Mass my sister, Janie, along with Sammy the pup, and I drove to near Meadville to visit with our cousin and her husband.  We had a great visit, and even Sammy got to visit with his "cousin", their pup, who is a year younger than Sammy.  It made for a long but satisfying day, and helped bring Janie's vacation week to an end.
    Saturday saw confessions and evening Mass and yesterday saw the two morning Masses and four baptisms following the 11:00 am Mass (two girls and two boys - Kelsey Ann, Audrey Elizabeth, Noah Michael and Zachary Paul).  With four to be baptized, our crowd was large, and very enthusiastic.  There was only one very surprising occurrence on my part ... there was only one who cried when I poured the water over their heads, and guess who?  Noah!  With a name like that you would think that he would be used to water!
     The afternoon was taken up with a Fall Festival Event sponsored by Brush Creek Faith in Action, a local  entity of United Way that provides a variety of services by volunteers to area residents.  Presently the group services 148 recipients with 68 volunteers giving of their time and talent.  The afternoon included a Basket Bingo, Car Cruise, DJ, a Veteran's Display, Flea Market and good food.  Hopefully they did well financially, for those that gathered seemed to enjoy themselves.   Well, that has been the last few days ... I hope that I did not bore you too badly.  I also hope that life will get back to some notion of the routine and ordinary, but that rarely happens.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Men of inspiration

     As I mentioned yesterday, I hope to share a few stories of the deceased priests of our diocese who have touched my life in significant ways.  Today I would like to focus upon two men who had kind and gentle spirits and an unassuming way about them.

     One such person was Father Ernest P. Kish who died in November of 1975.  Ernie was the Assistant at the Newman Center at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) in Indiana, PA during my assignment there for a five month internship as a deacon in the Spring of 1973.  The then Father Ray Spatti was the pastor.  Ernie was a tall, quiet, gentle man who brought Christ, through that gentleness, to the students and faculty of the university.  He never needed to make himself known in situations, he was just there.  His warmth and personality with everyone he met brought acceptance and a trust that served his ministry well.

     He went on to become a pastor at the small parish of Saint Ambrose in Avonmore, where on a November evening in 1975 he was killed in a head on accident by a drunk driver.  I remember his funeral for the people present, but also for the number of priests, locally and nationally, who were present.  Ernie was involved in the National Federation of Priests Councils (NFPC) on a national level, and those attending his funeral spoke highly of his qualities and commitment to ministry and priesthood.

     The other priest that I want to speak of was Father Vincent J. Rocco.  Vince was in residence at Saint Sebastian Church in Belle Vernon when I was an Assistant there.  In fact, we were together there when we heard the news of Ernie's death.  I mention Vince not only because he was a great guy and good priest, but because of a program that he developed and oversaw that helped those in prison.  This program provided skilled training for the inmates at the State Facility in Greensburg.  Vince would find projects for non-profits - building and renovations - and work with the prison officials to provide, under proper supervision and with training, a work force of inmates.  They would be paid a nominal amount, learn a skill, be of service to those who needed help, and help the community.  Vince would find sponsors and coordinate this program.  While I was at Saint Paul in Greensburg they erected a picnic pavillion on the church grounds for the parish.  Vince did this work, as well as minister in his priestly roles, with a quiet yet determined enthusiasm that was inspiring.  Father Vince Rocco died in July of 1982.

     I was truly blessed in knowing these men, working with them, and finding in them a multitude of reasons to be inspired.  May they rest in peace.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Remembering the Service of those who died ...

     Yesterday I spoke of the Priests' Convocation that I took part in earlier this week, and the Mass that we celebrated as a Presbyterate on Tuesday at Saints Simon and Jude Parish in the afternoon.  We take the opportunity during that Mass of remembering the deceased priests who have served us and who died since the diocese was formed in March of 1951.  In particular we honored the two who died since the last Convocation: Father John Wilt and Benedictine Father Gilbert Burke.  A list of these men, totaling 190 diocesan priests, was placed in our program booklet with their dates of death.  They form an important part of the foundation of this small but wonderful diocese.

     Included in the list are our first bishop, Hugh L. Lamb who died on December 8th of 1959 and our second bishop, William G. Connare, who died on June 12th of 1995.  Not listed but remembered at the Mass were two of our deceased priests who were ordained and served as bishops elsewhere: Cyril J. Vogel of Salinas, Kansas and Norbert F. Gaughan of Gary, Indiana. Our first priest death as a diocese was Father Ettore O. Moscoloni in December of 1951.  Since I was ordained on May 5th of 1973 we have lost 127 priests to death but gained their intercession in heaven.  Each of these priests served the people of this diocese with dedication, most for many years.  Each has a story of ministry to tell, and many have stories that remind us of who they are or what they did.  As with all of us, a few stories are not to be remembered, but some are.  I hope to share a few of their stories that have impacted my priesthood in the next couple of days.


     My first encounter with priests centered upon Father Charles Kobylarz who died in 1981.  Father Charles was our pastor for many years at my home parish of Saint Joseph in Uniontown.  He was a good priest, interested and involved in the parish and parish school, and as I mentioned at my first Mass celebration, the reason that I am a priest.  We (I) was not very high tech in 1973.  To record the First Mass I set up a small portable tape recorder in the doorway to the sacristy.  My pastors sat in the sanctuary.  Father Charles sat very near to the sacristy doorway.  Whether he was nervous or impatient, he kept kicking the side of the chair, the sound of which was picked up throughout the recording.  So much for the keepsake.

     We had many Assistants during my formative years, but one who has died that was very influential was Father Norbert F. Gaughan (later to become Bishop Gaughan).  He was our Assistant for about eight years, got along great with Father Charles, and was a gifted and renowned preacher.  He watched over my formation years - got me into Saint Vincent, checked on me often throughout the years ... an amatuer photographer, he took a number of personal pictures of my ordination, and got me started in priesthood.  I am grateful for his interest and guidance.   More later.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Convocation

     Most Dioceses have gatherings for priests at least periodically, and we in the Diocese of Greensburg just gathered for the 2012 Priests' Convocation at the Chestnut Ridge Conference Center in Blairsville, Pennsylvania in our Diocese.  This two day conference over a three day period is an annual event that gathers all of the active priests serving in the diocese to pray, reflect upon aspects of priesthood, prepare and plan for the future, and take care of necessary business.  We began with lunch on Monday of this week and ended with lunch on Wednesday.  The theme was Pastoral Formation for Our Future.  Bishop Lawrence Brandt, of course, joined with us.

     We began with a time of prayer that centered upon the Renewal of Priestly Promises that are made at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday.  On that day, with the priests and people of the Church present, the bishop asks a series of question that remind us of the promises we made at ordination.  The questions ask if we resolve to be more united with Christ and more closely conformed to him?  Will we deny ourselves and confirm the promises made regarding our sacred duties toward the Church which we willingly pledged on the day of ordination, prompted by our love of Christ?  Are we resolved to be faithful stewards of the Eucharistic mysteries and other liturgical rites?  Will we faithfully teach, following Christ the Head and Shepherd, not for gain but for the zeal for souls?    Then the bishop asks the people to pray for the priests.  On Holy Thursday, in particular, it is most impressive.

     We then reflected by asking ourselves, in small groups, the following: What do these promises mean to me?  How has their meaning changed since ordination?  And how do we live these promises in our everyday ministry?   A good discussion followed.

     After dinner and Evening Prayer, we gathered in larger Deanery groups to discuss a number of questions presented for our thoughts regarding concerns and direction for the future of the diocese.

     Tuesday was set aside for a presentation in two sessions by Monsignor Stephen Rossetti who has studied priests and who entitled his presentation "Why Priests Are Happy", looking at a number of wellness studies and their results.  He said much, but here are two statements that I thought are worth sharing.

     The secular mind of today holds the following:

"To the secular mind, religion stifles humanity
and personal freedom. 
Thus, Catholicism cannot promote
true personal happiness.
And the unhappiest of them all
must be the Catholic priest ...."
but the Church,
in a series of studies of priests and
in the call to a New Evangelization, 
responds with
"The great 'secret' of our day is the happiness of our priests
and all those who know God.
A core message of the New Evangelization
to the secular mind of today
must be the joy and peace
only God can give.
Human fulfillment is found only in Jesus."
     Monsignor Rossetti's presentation and the conversation it led to was worthwhile and good.
     The day continued with a Mass at the local Church of SS. Simon and Jude,
a picture of all of us (wait for the next post) and a festive dinner.  Wednesday saw a presentation of the newly promulgated "Code of Ministerial Conduct of the Diocese of Greensburg" before lunch and the return home.  A tiring, fulfilling and filling (lots of good food), and a great opportunity to be with the brothers I have shared priesthood with over these years.

Monday, October 15, 2012


    This afternoon begins our annual Convocation for the priests of the Diocese of Greensburg.  This two day, mandatory event - from Noon today through lunch on Wednesday - has been a part of our yearly experience for more years than I can count.  We meet at a conference facility with adjoining hotel in the Diocese (this is the second year for this venue).  I am not sure of the topic for this year's Convocation, but I assume that it will address priestly issues.  Pray for the priests of the Diocese of Greensburg.  I will return to my posting this Wednesday or Thursday.


If you saw yesterday's post, I mentioned that my pageview count was gone ... lo and behold, this morning it has returned with the full count.  Maybe there was not a conspiracy after all, just a warning!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday's Reflection

     In the Gospel this morning for the 28th Sunday in Fall Ordinary Time we encounter a young man who is searching for something more in his life.  He asks Jesus what he must do to inherit everlasting life, and Jesus in reply asks him the what is required, the commandments, the basics.  When he informs Jesus that he has followed the law and done what is expected by his Faith Community, Jesus looks lovingly upon him but takes it to the next level.  He tells him that he must sell all that he has, give it to the poor, and follow Jesus.  Once freed of all distractions, his heart will be able to focus upon Jesus, who is the source of eternal life.  He was okay where he was, but if he wanted to probe deeper, to enter into the mystery of God and know his love, then he needed to take a new direction.

     The author of Wisdom today said that he prayed, and two things were given him by God - prudence and wisdom.  These two were greater than power or wealth, anything that could be won or even earned.  These gifts led him to know God, to embrace his oneness with God, to move on to a higher level.

     I spoke at Mass today of the great event of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, when well over two thousand bishops from around the world gathered with Pope John XXIII on October 11, 1962 to look at the Church, to ask the question "What must we do to clarify our relationship with Christ, to intensify our experience of God's love, to strengthen the mission of Church?"  Pope John XXIII called upon the Spirit to empower the Council with prudence and wisdom, so that the Church could clearly identify her mission, proclaim her commitment to the world, and better serve those whom she was entrusted with.  That breath of the Spirit in the best sense threatened our stability but also opened our vision to what Church needed to be in the modern world.

     I shared that in theology in the 70's we looked at Avery Dulles' "Models of the Church".  He pointed out that the Church has many dimensions, many images, but he focused upon five:  the Church as an Institution, a hierarchical view, a juridical approach.  Prior to the Council this was a dominant but not exclusive model of the Church ..... also the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, coming out of Saint Paul's teachings and reaffirmed by Pope Pius XII in 1943 in the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi - seeing the Church as the Body of Christ, a Community of Believers, a living, dynamic entity that has a pastoral approach ..... the Church as a Sacrament, a sign given to us by Christ to bring us his love - like any sacrament it ties us to Christ and like any sacrament it requires more than just receiving or belonging, it requires living the life that the Sacrament gives .... the Church as Herald of the Good News, as an evangelizer, as a missionary - sometimes by a few to remote areas of the world but really by all to every aspect of our lives .... and the Church as Servant, healer of the sick, lover of the poor, protector of the downtrodden - following in the footsteps of the Master.

     I believe that the Council invited us to see the full functioning of the Church in the Modern World as including all of these models plus many more, but flowing from the primary image of the Body of Christ.  It was a revolutionary change.  It was a tremendous challenge.  It was the breath of the Spirit at work.


     As I logged in to do this post I noticed that my page view counter has gone haywire.  I was very near the 21,000 mark, but as I logged in it only listed four!  I have to look into this.  I am not a conspiracy theorist, but this happened after my comments about the vice-presidential debate.  Hmmm.   I wonder.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Good manners

     Last evening I made the dubious choice of watching the Vice-Presidential Debates during prime time.  I should have watched the Steelers or a re-run of something. 

     It was not the content or the politics of the debate that I found was upsetting me more and more as the evening wore on, although that was not satisfying either.  What I grew tired of was the tone and the antics of Vice-President Biden. He was rude, interruptive and dismissive of Congressman Ryan and even the moderator.  His smerks and condescending smile, his use of "my friend" with deep sarcasm was disturbing.

     I remember forensics in high school, and travelling to compete with other schools in debates, etc.  We learned respect, civility, correctness and fairness even in the heat of competition.  I saw very little of that last evening, and I was disappointed and shocked.  Maybe I am just being foolish, but I expected more from this exercise in the democratic process, not the least of which is good manners.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

New and exciting

     October 11, 1962 was fifty years ago today.

     I was in my sophomore year of high school seminary at Saint Vincent in Latrobe, and we were settling into the new Minor Seminary residence hall for our diocese at Saint Joseph Hall.  It was not yet finished, but the sleeping quarters were.  We improvised the rest of the schedule for nearly a semester.  This life was still new, being away from home and being in the seminary program.  It was still exciting being a part of something new with the seminary building project.  We were still excited about our new young bishop, William G. Connare, who had taken over as the second bishop of the diocese in May of 1960.

     The country was also dealing with a new young president in John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, dynamic, outgoing, and for many inspiring.  Coming after the Eisenhower years it was like a rejuvenation, a breath of fresh air, a more positive attitude and youthful outlook on life.

     And the new pope, John XXIII, had done something revolutionary in many eyes by calling an Ecumenical Council of the Church.  The last one had been many years before.  But this, the Twenty-first Ecumenical Council would look at the Church and address her role in the modern world.  The Church had been around for nearly 2000 years, just as the nation had been around for nearly 200 years and the Diocese of Greensburg for only ten.  But Greensburg was alive and expanding, with a sense of optimism.  The nation was optimistic about the future and her role as a leader in the world, and the young president and "Camelot" seemed to be doing the trick.  And the Church, ever the same yet ever changing, was faced with the need to look at herself, to redefine her mission and role, and to evaluate her effectiveness.  Rooted and aligned to the kingdoms and rulers in the past, in the post war years she faced a brand new world of challenges and possibilities.  Pope John XXIII realized that challenge and brought his Faith and simple Hope to his role as Servant of the Servants of God.

     On this day in 1962, over two thousand bishops from around the world processed from the great doors of the Apostolic Palace, vested in cope and miter, through Saint Peter's Square and the main doors of Saint Peter's to begin what became known as the Second Vatican Council.  The pomp and ceremony, the historical import of the event, the simple trust and prayers of the People of God, were overwhelming.  Nothing like that had been seen in recent memory.  Even at Vatican I, there were only about 750 Council Fathers, and most were from Europe.  This was a worldwide, universal gathering.  The excitement was high, the prospects daunting, the results unknown.  Most of the prep work by the Curia was soon tossed out to be replaced by a grass roots agenda.  The results of that Council, which ended on December 8, 1965, are still being en fleshed and experienced by the Church Universal.

     But on that day in October there was excitement.  The instant news coverage would not have been there, but people watched for news.  Our own bishop was one of the Council Fathers, which brought us great pride and excitement.  His intervention (speech) to the Council, I believe, was on the Breviary (the Divine Office - the official prayer of the Church).

     And in reading Whispers today I was reminded of the impromptu gathering of thousands in Saint Peter's Square the night before the opening, processing and praying by candlelight and have good Pope John speak "off the cuff" from his window to the crowds below.

     In calling for an "opening of the windows", the pope allowed the Spirit of God to begin a good work within us that has yet to come to completion.  Truly a new and exciting time - then ... and now.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


     Paul today in his letter to the Galatians speaks of his conversion.  He reveals with pride the fact that he was a good Jew, that he knew the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that he studied the Law and immersed himself in the Traditions of his ancestors, that he progressed in Judaism beyond his contemporaries.  And then the One, "who from my mother's womb had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me ..."  With that revelation Saul of Tarsus became Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, the champion of the risen Christ, the proclaimer of the limitlessness of God's grace and mercy.  He was a new man, convicted by the Word and transformed into the image of Christ.  He testifies that people of faith glorified God because of him, and he says so with humility, not with pride.

     John Newton, who lived from 1725 to 1807 in England, was a ship's captain.  He captained a slave trading vessel, and did so without hesitation or qualms until an experience of Faith led him to see his sinfulness and the error of his way.  His life was never the same ... transformed by Christ ... and he lived a life of repentance.  He told of that experience in a hymn that he wrote entitled Amazing Grace.  It is a well known hymn that speaks of the call of God and the grace that saved a wretch like him.  He once was lost but now is found, was blind but now he sees.  The hymn is powerful, his life story is inspiring, and his transformation complete.  All through an experience of the powerful yet gentle love of Christ.  Like Paul, he became a champion of the cause of freedom.

     Hopefully the transformations necessary in our lives are not as dramatic or life altering.  But hopefully that transformation will bring us into his amazing grace and bring others to give glory to God because of us.

Monday, October 8, 2012

We are family - part 2

     On Sunday I had two experiences that continued the theme of family.  In addition to the gathering of God's people for Mass both Saturday evening and again twice on Sunday morning, I had the honor of welcoming into the Family of God two month old Noah Andrew Keteles.  Mom and Dad brought him to the worshiping community for our embrace and the grace and blessing of God.  I have said this many times, but I enjoy baptism during Mass, and enjoy observing those gathered together sharing a bond with the child and his parents.  It brings home that we are indeed family.

     Later on that afternoon, I presided at the Sunday worship service at Redstone Highlands, a Senior Residential Facility in our area.  Our time of prayer took place in their lovely chapel, and centered upon the theme "Our oneness in Christ" as we celebrated World Communion Sunday.  Often on World Communion Sunday there is a celebration of holy communion.  In our celebration of the theme of communion I stressed the call to unity in Christ that needs to be heard by a body that is still weak and broken by sinfulness, and which needs the healing power and love of God found in Christ Jesus.  We are called to be in communion ... to be "in union with" each other.  Our crowd was a little less than usual, they told me.  Even among the various denominations, there is the temptation to watch and cheer for the Steelers (football) in our rooms rather than to gather for prayer in the chapel.  But even there we did say one for the Steelers (who pulled it off in the end).  Again, diversity discovers unity in Christ, and even though divided, we are family.  A good day, and a great lesson.


 A bit of a fright ***
     On returning from dinner on Saturday evening I passed our Regional Catholic School, Queen of Angels, and glanced toward the building to see a fire truck with lights flashing in the driveway.  Sometimes the fire department uses the parking area, etc., for things.  Going a very short distance further, I saw more trucks behind the building with lights flashing.  Needless to say, there was a quick turn around as I headed to the school.  It turns our that the automatic fire alarm had been triggered, there was no fire, but they were checking the building.  I waited around awhile, spoke to my neighbor, Father John, who had come to check things out, then returned home.  It is one of those moments when your heart skips a beat as you prepare to panic.  Luckily it was just the alarm system, corrected by today.  Thank God.

We are family

     This past Saturday I witnessed and presided over the marriage of a young couple in our parish, Brandy Kovac and Phillip Croco.  The wedding went very well, and those sharing in the wedding ceremony seemed to enjoy not only the beauty of the couple and the beauty of the weather but also the beauty of our time of prayer.

     I spoke in the homily of my experience the evening before during the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner at a local restaurant.  All too often the wedding is about the bride and groom exclusively. They become, not only the focus of attention, but the "be all and the end all" of the entire experience.  While Brandy and Phil provided our reason to gather, I had a strong feeling that the focus was upon family and friends, united in love and faith, to form a community of caring.  And that is what it is all about.

     At the rehearsal we had a great deal of relaxed fun.  The same continued at the rehearsal dinner, with Brandy and Phil's warm and friendly parents, their siblings and their families, and a number of good friends.  Included were a number of youngsters who were a delight, including one who shared her 2nd birthday with the group, as well as her birthday cake.  I got to sit with Greg and his younger brother Mark, their sisters and parents as we shared good food and conversation about school and such things.  As I sat watching and listening, I came to renew my appreciation of the importance of family and friends, gather in faith and fraternity, to form that community that will be the foundation upon which Brandy and Phil will build.  My prayers are with them as they embark on this journey together.

Friday, October 5, 2012

In the footsteps of Francis

     Yesterday the Church honored a man named Francis from the town of Assisi in Italy.  Francis lived from the late 1100's until October 3, 1226.  The Entrance Antiphon from Mass says "Francis, the man of God, left his home behind, abandoned his inheritance and became poor and penniless, but the Lord raised him up."  His story is well known and extremely inspiring.  He gave up all for the sake of Christ, and embraced what he called "Lady Poverty".  He was noted for his charismatic personality, his deep compassion for everyone, and for his love of all of God's creation.

     In that spirit we shared in the Blessing of Animals last evening on the church grounds.  On a beautiful Fall evening, about twenty to twenty-five dogs of all shapes and sizes, and three hermit crabs (along with those who love and care for them) gathered to be reminded of Francis and in his spirit and through his intercession to seek the Lord's blessing upon those gathered.  Some brought their pets because of health or old age, some simply for a blessing, some with the need for a "double dose" for various needs.  I always enjoy these gatherings.  My successor in Scottdale, Father George Saletrik, even offers to "go to the farm" and bless the animals.  I don't go quite that far.  To those who joined us last evening, I am grateful, for I find blessing in sharing this blessing.

In the absence of pictures from last evening,
I have included a picture of my sister's dog
"Sammy" - Samuel Leonard Stoviak -
who will receive his blessing on his next visit

    Francis, who was a deacon, had many followers who formed the Franciscan Family - made up today of the Friars Minor (Capuchins), the Conventual Franciscans, those of the Leonine Union, the Poor Clares, the Third Order Religious and the Secular Franciscans.  In his life, Francis witnessed to the Gospels through a life of poverty, through missionary travels (he sought to bring the message of Christ to the Arab world), sharing in the wounds of Christ (the stigmata) which he received on September 14, 1224, and through a life of joy.  He was canonized two years after his death.  The tomb of Saint Francis in Assisi (located in the crypt of the Basilica bearing his name and shown below) is a place of pilgrimage for people of many faiths, for he was a many of all nations.

The picture below is of the entrance to the house that Francis lived
in as he was growing up ... I'm sure the Pizzeria was a later addition.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Immersed in Tradition

     Continuing with reflections on this past Monday's Ordination and Installation of Bishop Lawrence T. Persico as the Tenth Bishop of Erie, I would like to share some observations and pictures (courtesy of the Diocese of Erie Website). 

The ceremony took place before an overflow crowd in the beautiful Saint Peter Cathedral in Erie, beginning at 2:30 pm.  Presiding and Principal Ordaining Bishop was Archbishop Charles Chaput, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Philadelphia, assisted by Retired Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie and our own Bishop Lawrence Brandt of Greensburg.  Present also was the Holy Father's representative to the Church in the United States and Nuncio to our government, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano from Washington.  There were two other Archbishops - Giuseppe A. DeAndrea of Rome, one of our former priests, as well as Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, a classmate of Bishop Persico in college seminary.  There were also over twenty other bishops and Religious Superiors in attendance, plus well over two hundred priests and deacons.  The TV news in Erie reported that over four hundred faithful from the Diocese of Greensburg were also present, adding to the overwhelming crowd from Erie itself.

     The ceremony is celebrated within the context of a Eucharistic Liturgy.  After the welcome and introductory Rites, the Liturgy of the Word is celebrated.  Then we enter the Ordination Rite.  The Cathedral Choir sang the Veni, Creator Spiritus (Come Holy Spirit) invoking the Spirit of God in our midst.  The Vicar General of the Erie Diocese presented the Bishop-elect to Archbishop Chaput and the Apostolic Mandate (the document of the Holy Father naming him as bishop) was read and presented to the Consultors of the Diocese and the people for observation.  All give their approval with the words; "Thanks be to God" and applause.  Then Archbishop Chaput gave the homily.

     In actions which go back to Apostolic times and are rich in tradition, the Archbishop asks Bishop Persico a series of questions, followed by the congregation invoking the Saints in a litany of praise while the bishop lay on the floor.

Then comes the ordaining moment, when first Archbishop Chaput then Bishops Trautman and Brandt imposed hands on the head of Bishop Persico.  They are followed by the other bishops present.  This laying on of hands and the Prayer of Ordination with the Book of the Gospels placed over his head is "the" moment of the sharing of the grace of the Sacrament of Orders and assuring Apostolic Succession.

     Then follows the Anointing with Chrism.  When a priest is ordained his hands are anointed ... when a bishop is ordained to the fullness of priesthood, his head is anointed with Sacred Chrism.

The new bishop is presented with the Book of the Gospels and is given his Bishop's ring, his Miter (hat) and his Pastoral Staff.  Then he is taken to the Cathedra (the chair of teaching of the bishop) where he is installed as the bishop of the Diocese, to thunderous applause.

     After the bishops present extended a sign of peace to the new bishop, the Mass continued as usual, until after Communion.  At that time the new bishop, accompanied by Bishops Trautman and Brandt, made a journey through the aisles of the Cathedral, sharing his blessing with all as a hymn of praise (the Te Deum) is sung.  Bishop Persico then made some remarks and expressed his gratitude before giving us his Blessing and bringing the ceremony to a close.
 Bishop Persico with his predecessor, Bishop Trautman
It was a grand day, filled with grace and blessing. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Faith and Loyalty

     Continuing with the festivities of these last few days in Erie, Pennsylvania, for the Ordination of Bishop Lawrence T. Persico as the Tenth Bishop of Erie, the formal festivities began Sunday evening at Saint Peter Cathedral in that city.  After a beautiful drive north (Erie is in the Northwest corner of the Commonwealth whereas Greensburg is in the Southwest) with a priest friend, Father Chet Raimer from Blairsville, we were greeted with dinner at a classmate's parish of Saint Paul in the "Little Italy" section of the city.  Father Alex Amico, the pastor there, provided us with welcome and a dinner and hospitality.

     The evening culminated in a celebration of Evening Prayer in Preparation for the Ordination of Lawrence T. Persico, J.C.L. as the Tenth Bishop of Erie.   J.C.L are the initials for a Licentiate Degree in Canon Law.  Bishop Donald Trautman, the retiring Bishop of Erie presided and was the homilist, with Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States in attendance, along with three other bishops and of course, Monsignor Persico, the Bishop-elect.  The Cathedral was nearly full at this open seating function.

     The Evening Prayer of the Church is very beautiful, and the choirs (adult and children) did an outstanding job of keeping our hearts and minds turned toward the Lord.  The reading was from the Gospel of John (John 13:1,4,5,13-17), and was followed by the homily by Bishop Trautman, who spoke of the significance of these days and the glorious ringing of these Cathedral bells announcing this transitional moment within the Diocese.

     Following the homily came three important actions.  First was the Profession of Faith, when, with the entire community as a witness, the Bishop-elect professed again the faith that unites us as one in Christ.  After he read aloud the Profession of Faith, he then signed the document attesting to that fact on the altar itself.  Bishop Trautman then signed as witness.  Next came the Oath of Fidelity. The Ordination is not all pomp and ceremony.  Bishop Persico, who will exercise an office in the name of the Church, took an Oath of Fidelity with regard to the particular duties of his office.  After publically taking the Oath, he signed the document attesting to the fact on the altar, this time with the Nuncio bearing witness with his signature.  These documents are then forwarded to Rome.

     And thirdly, Bishop Trautman then blessed the insignia of the soon to be bishop: his pectoral cross (the cross worn by the bishop over his heart), his ring (a reminder that he is married to the Church), his miter (the hat that symbolizes his role as teacher), his pastoral staff or crosier (reminding him that he is a shepherd of the flock), and an oil stock (that will be used in the administration of Confirmations).  Also on the table with these insignia was a pitcher and bowl, which Bishop Trautman had pointed out was the greatest symbol of them all ... that he was to be a servant of God's children.

     Evening Prayer then concluded with prayer and song, and a reception was held in the Cathedral School.  It was a quieter, prayerful experience of Church that set the stage for the glorious festivities on the next afternoon.   Central to Evening Prayer is the praying of the Magnificat, the Canticle of Mary, where she gives her fiat, her YES to the invitation and call of God.  To couple with that the fiat, the YES of Bishop Persico to the invitation and the call of God to him, was most fitting.

Justifiably proud

     I returned late yesterday afternoon from the festivities in Erie, Pennsylvania, surrounding the Ordination and Installation of their tenth bishop, Bishop Lawrence T. Persico.  It was a wonderful couple of days celebrating the ordination of one of our own priests to serve the Diocese of Erie.  Bishop Persico has served as a priest of our Diocese for the last thirty-five years.  For the past fourteen of those years, in addition to his administrative roles in the Diocese, he served as pastor of Saint James Parish in New Alexandria.  I had the opportunity to speak with a few of them on Sunday evening before the celebration of Evening Prayer in the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Erie.  They were excited as they spoke of their love for the man, their justifiable pride in having had him as their shepherd, and their joy at his call to the Episcopate.  They told stories of the great bonds of friendship and regard that have developed over these years, and took special delight in recounting the great tradition that the daily Mass goers have of congregating in the parish hall following Mass for the morning "coffee clutch", of which the new bishop took part.  In fact, he has told us that on the morning of the call from the Nuncio in Washington telling him of the Holy Father's choice of him as Bishop of Erie, he was having coffee with the group before going to work.  The Nuncio asks for a response, and he had to tell him that he was in a public place and would call him back in a few moments.  Of course, you cannot tell anyone the news until it is announced in Rome, a real test of your ability to keep a secret.

     Those same people I spoke with Sunday night were there with many more fellow parishioners in the right front section of pews, opposite the new bishop's immediate family, because they, too, were his extended family.  They told me that even with reserved seats that they had arrived very early to make sure they could see everything that would take place.  I sat off to their right, and watched them beam with pride and shed tears of joy for their friend and pastor - Father Larry, Monsignor Larry and now Bishop Larry.
I don't think that even the bishop's family was prouder of this honor and call.  The people of Saint James in New Alexandria were justifiably proud.

     One other note ... attending the ceremony from Rome was Archbishop Giuseppe DeAndrea, Canon of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, and one of our former priests.  Archbishop DeAndrea left us a number of years ago to enter the Vatican Diplomatic Corps, and is now retired.  He was present because he knows Bishop Persico well, but also because he was a former pastor of Saint James in New Alexandria.  This lovely, small rural parish, has given two of their pastor to the Church for greater service.  Talk about being justifiably proud!