Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Blessings

     On this Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, we hail her, who gave birth to the King who rules heaven and earth forever,  It is through her that we have been bestowed with the grace of eternal salvation.  Her fiat paved the way for God's love to become manifest in our midst in Emmanuel - "God With Us" - her son and our Lord Jesus Christ.  May she intercede for us before the throne of our Father so that we may be found worthy of receiving the author of life.

     May this New Year's Eve be safe, peaceful and filled with joy ... and may the New Year of 2014 be filled with joy and hope and lead us to peace.  Happy New Year to all.

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Freedom of Heart

     As the old year comes to a close we look back and reflect, we assess the state of our lives with each other and as members of enlightened societies, and we find much to be desired in the quality of our lives and the direction that we are pursuing.  Caught up in the long darkness of these Winter nights and the dreariness of the the overcast, cloudy, rain or snow filled days, we long for sun, and warmth, and Spring.  I know that not everyone shares my sentiments on the weather, but I believe it is universally accepted that there is a prevailing darkness and need in our lives that is not wholesome.  We await a relief, a new beginning and fresh start with a positive attitude.  We behold the "old year" as Father Time with his scythe that is meant to "cut down" and we await the "new year's child" of optimism and hope.  Some drink themselves into oblivion on New Years Eve in order to be able to face the future. 
   The Entrance Antiphon for the Mass on the Sixth Day Within the Octave of Christmas (today) says:
"When a profound silence covered all things
and night was in the middle of its course,
your all-powerful Word, O Lord,
bounded from heaven's royal throne."
The Collect says that "the ancient servitude holds us bound beneath the yoke of sin" until we are "set free" by the newness of the Word made flesh in the Nativity.  When we realize the awesome gift that the Nativity is to us, then we begin to understand the freedom that is ours, and the foolishness of continuing to walk in darkness, and sin, and doubt and loss.  Let us not give way to either controlled or reckless abandon on this eve of the New Year, but rather let us with gratitude for the gifts received, celebrate this passage of time with enthusiasm and hope and prayer. May the Year of Our Lord 2014 be an outstanding time of grace and favor. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

A passion for the Good News

     Evangelization, in a particular way the "new" evangelization, is the key word/phrase that describes the direction that the Church is headed in the years ahead.  Pope Benedict and Pope Francis both have spoken of it often, a Synod took up the issue, our Diocese is embarking upon an effort to stress the need for it, we have prayers to pray, catechisms and programs that explain the faith to follow, and all sorts of creative ways to make the message known to those who have not been exposed to the Good News and to renew that message within the lives of all who do believe but have become complacent. 

     And while all of this is good, the simple reality is that they build upon the introduction of an individual to the person of Jesus, the Savior.  Unless you know him personally there will be little interest, except for curiosity, in knowing more about him and the Church that he founded.  There will be little desire to enter into the life he offers, the family that he shares, and the promise that is at the heart of the message.  This new evangelization is about rejoicing in our blessedness and sharing what we have found.

     One man who had a deep love for Jesus and who was beloved of Jesus is John, the evangelist.  He is the beloved disciple, the teenager that Jesus accepted as a son, the only one of the disciples to live to a ripe old age and spend his time reflecting on his experiences and sharing that particular good news.  Today is his feast.  What is evangelization to be like?  In the first reading for his feast, which comes from his 1st letter, John says:

What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we have looked upon
and touched with our hands
concerns the Word of life -
for the life was made visible;
we have seen it and testify to it
and proclaim to you the eternal life
that was with the Father and was made visible to us -
what we have seen and heard
we proclaim now to you,
so that you too may have fellowship with us;
for our fellowship is with the Father
and with his son, Jesus Christ.
We are writing this so that our joy may be complete."
     Read this through slowly, prayerfully.  It is powerfully simple.  It is the model for evangelization.  John says that what he has seen and testified to and proclaimed are realities that are from the beginning of time, the reality of the Word of life that became visible among us, Jesus Christ.  And the reason he shares this is so that all may share in fellowship with him and all believers in the Word of life, who share a fellowship with the Father of all and with his son, the Word made flesh, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The other reason that he shares this is equally important - so that his joy may be complete. I am moved by the clear and precise conviction found in John's words.  This is what leads others to Christ - personal story, deep conviction, a desire to share, and a joy that can only be complete if I give what I have been given.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve Reflection

     The journey has come to its completion, the night is silent, the rest is needed, and the quiet hope is tangible.  These were the experienced realities of a young couple who found themselves away from home, without a place to stay, ill prepared for birthing but at a major moment in the course of history.  These are the experienced realities of those who in this moment in time have prepared their hearts for the Lord, who await his glory, who live in the here and now while learning from and celebrating the blessings that have touched their lives in times past, and who have not lost grasp of the hope that this birth in Bethlehem has generated.  This is the end of Advent, the birthday of the Lord, and our celebration of Emmanuel - "God with us".
     We celebrate this evening the coming of the Lord of lords and the King of kings, the Prince of Peace and the King of the newly established Kingdom of Heaven.  The Truth has come among us and wrapped his arms around us.  Love is made manifest and Life is freely shared.  It would take teachings and signs, a passion and even a sacrificial death to make this a reality, but this was the beginning.  That is why we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord.

     Pope Benedict wrote in his trilogy on Jesus "What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world?  What has he brought?  The answer is very simple: God.  He has brought God ... He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him.  Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world.  Jesus has brought us God and with God the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope and love.  It is only because of our hardness of heart that we think this is too little."

     The reason that we celebrate Christmas year after year is to acknowledge the presence of Emmanuel - God with us - and to do so in the person of Jesus - God become man.  This is our reality, our life, our hope.  On this Christmas eve in the year of Our Lord 2013, I assure all of you of my prayers and thoughts and good wishes, and thank you for your continued interest in Journey Thoughts.   Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A good end to Advent

     As I was waiting to begin the entrance procession for the 4:00 pm Mass yesterday, with people streaming into church, a little girl of about two or three entered the vestibule with her dad and very excitedly kept saying "We won!"  "We won!"  "We won!"  I asked her "What did you win?" but she just looked at me puzzled and did not answer.  A few moments later her mom and older brother entered the vestibule together, and then she opened up - "I beat my brother to church!"  I laughed.

     As I began Mass I remembered the Collect Prayer of the new translation for the First Sunday of Advent which states "Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ ..."  I love the image of "running to meet Christ".  And here was this sister and brother "running to meet Christ" as they came to Church for Mass.  What a wonderful reminder, on the last Sunday of Advent, of what we prayed for on that First Sunday.

     I mentioned this moment to the people gathered and shared the joy of the little girl at being first ... but also commented that her brother was the gentleman who waited with mom (thus saving his pride).


     Our small but dedicated crew decorated the church today following the last Mass, and it looks beautiful.  The flowers arrive tomorrow, the manger will be set in place, I pick up the apples tomorrow (we gift each child with a red delicious apple at the Christmas Masses), and all will be ready for God's People to celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord.  To all who have and continue to prepare for Christmas, many thanks!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A week of healing love

     This has been an exhausting yet very blessed week for me.  I call it "Confession week".  The patron of parish priests, Saint John Marie Vianney, used to spend hours upon hours in the confessional of the small town of Ars in France where he was pastor.  At first, no one came.  But as time went on and people began to realize the holiness of the man, his God given ability to look into their hearts and see their sinfulness, and to acknowledge their need before God, they came to be shriven, to be forgiven, to be reconciled.  Just as we do in Advent, they came to express a desire to draw closer to Christ and to the light of his grace.  And their pastor, this man of God, became the portal to that grace.

     In our day, like those early days in Ars, many people went about their business with little concern for this grace that God provides through this sacrament.  Our numbers seeking forgiveness are low, compared to even forty years ago when I began this ministry.  We spend some time in the confessional each week, but there is not an overwhelming response. (I hope that it is not because of the confessor!)

     But our preparation in Advent and again in Lent brings out the crowds.  This was our week in the area - our own confessions last Saturday and then Advent Communal Penance Services with individual confessions on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the four local parishes.  We had anywhere from six to eleven priests available for confessions, and the people came.  They were four very busy and rewarding evenings of grace.

     I was particularly blessed with the people that came to me.  The number that appeared to be going through a routine confession without much thought was minimal.  Most were there to confess and be reconciled, but they were also seeking healing and help, grace and blessing.  A few came back after a long period of time, some brought their particular problem or fault that was becoming a challenge to them, some sought advice and nearly all simply placed themselves within the tender mercy and love of God.  Being at the center of that experience, as the priest confessor who speaks the word and the reality of forgiveness that the Lord grants to repentant sinners, and being in the position as the servant of the Lord and of the Community to grant forgiveness and reconciliation on behalf of the Community as well, is a deeply powerful moment.  To those who trusted, to the One who graced, and for the gift of priesthood, I am deeply grateful.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A humbling realization

     Having spent over fifteen years of my priesthood in a parish that bears the name Saint John the Baptist, I  have come to appreciate the unique role that he plays in our lives.  One of those is an example by comparison.  In the Gospel of Matthew today we hear Jesus tell the people that "among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist ..."  But the continued line is the kicker - "...yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater then he."  Think about that a moment.  No one greater than John born on this earth ... except you and me and all called to belong to the kingdom of heaven by being born again in Christ!

     We have the assurance of Jesus that this is true, that we are greater and of more importance in the kingdom of Heaven than John the Baptist or any who had come before the Christ.  And yet we are keenly aware that we are imperfect, that we are unworthy, that we are nothing without God.  Who we are in the sight of God at times does not compare with who we are in the eyes of men, or even in our own vision of self.  We are called today to REJOICE in the who that we are in Christ despite the present appearance.  And we are reminded that the best way to become who we are meant to be - great in the kingdom of God, reflecting the glory of Christ, joining with the hosts of heaven in singing the praise of the Father by words and deeds - is to help others ... "strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, 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."

     As we continue our journey through Advent and towards a deeper immersion into Christ Jesus, today we pause and truly rejoice in his gracious love.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Faith restored ... for the moment

     I am not speaking of faith in God, but rather faith in the wisdom of humanity in one small decision that was announced today - Time magazine's 2013 Person of the Year.  This acknowledgement goes to the person who has has "the most impact upon the world and the news - for better or worse - over the past year."  I posted on Monday on the list of candidates that was made known that morning.

     Time magazine's 2013 Person of the Year is Pope Francis.  In the choice, his humility and compassion were brought forth as powerful dynamics of the man that has drawn countless people worldwide to look afresh at him and the Church that he shepherds.  He is the third Pope to be so named, with Pope John XXIII in 1962 and Pope John Paul II in 1995, both to be recognized by the Church as saints in the coming year.  John XXIII, of course, with the renewal brought about by Vatican Council II and John Paul II for so many reasons, primarily in the renewed vitality of faith and in the struggle against oppression.

     The others in the top five included Edward Snowden, the U.S. whistle blower, Edith Windsor, the gay activist who brought about a reversal of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) by the Supreme Court, President Bashar Assad of Syria and Senator Ted Cruz of the U.S. Congress.   Pope Francis was chosen by the editors, but also received 59% of the popular vote.

     Obviously I am appreciative of the fact that the editors of Time saw the impact of Pope Francis not only on the Church but the world family as well.  Just yesterday the Vatican announced a global initiative to focus on dealing with world hunger through the Church's various organizations and advocacy and leadership on the international level.  More on that at another time.  But for the moment, in an example of wise decision making, Miley Cyrus (also on the top ten list) did not win out over Pope Francis.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What shall I cry out?

     This morning at Mass we heard Isaiah the prophet say "A voice says, 'Cry out!'  I answer, 'What shall I cry out?' "

      With Christmas soon to be upon us we remember singing the lovely hymn "Silent Night".  There was a peaceful calm about that night in Bethlehem when He was born.  But the night was anything but silent.  There was a peaceful excitement the began to fill the hearts of all creation.  There was a joyous noice as the choirs of Angels sang of the Good News of His birth.  The stars in the sky aligned to announce His birth.  Nothing would ever, ever be the same.

     Isaiah's voice invites God's People to cry out to prepare for the coming promise, to repent of our self centeredness, to look ahead, to be expectant.  The voices that spoke that Christmas night invite us to rejoice in the fulfillment of that promise, to repent, to celebrate in the here and now, to be open.  And yet the world continues to need a voice that urges us to "Cry out!"  But what shall we cry out?

     The message is still the same.  Everything is transitory, all flesh is like grass, here today and gone tomorrow.  Everything that we are told will sustain us, will satisfy us, will be our security is passing.  Everything EXCEPT this Good News -

"Here is your God!
Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,
who rules by his strong arm;
Here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care."
     This Good News is as vital and as fresh as in any previous moment in time, and maybe even more so in our very secular and floundering societies.  If the future is to be life giving, this truth, that the Lord rules, that GOD is all, needs to be cried out full throatedly by all of us.  This is what we should cry out!

Monday, December 9, 2013


     In an age of unbelief, I suppose that the broad scope in the announcement of TIME magazine's "Person of the Year" nominees is not surprising.  Each year the magazine's editors chooses a person who has, for better or worse, had the most impact on the world and the news in the past year.  The nominees were announced this morning.  The top nine include our Holy Father, Pope Francis, who since his election this Spring has captivated the world and inspired the Church that he leads.  Others included are: Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran and Bashar al-Assad of Syria who is alleged to have been behind a chemical attack on his people during their civil strife; Senator Ted Cruz of Texas; Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos; HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Edie Windsor who spearheaded the overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) by the Supreme Court; Edward Snowden who leaked top secret info on the U.S. government and fled to Russia; and of course, Miley Cyrus.  To see the side by side pictures of Miley Cyrus/Pope Francis/President Bashar al-Assad was a little bazaar.  What company to find yourself with.

     With this article from today.com they ask the question "Who should be TIME's 2013 Person of the Year?"  As of a short time ago, there were nearly 9,000 votes cast.  I was pleasantly surprised that Pope Francis was ahead with 63% of the vote, followed by Edward Snowden the alleged spy with 11% and then Miley Cyrus with 7%.  But this is early on a Monday morning - Miley's fans are not on line as yet.  Guess who I voted for?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A promise of hope

     We tend to think that things as we know them will go on forever.  We tend to think that we will go on forever.  But things end - everything ends.  Good as it may be, there is certainty that life will end in death, that what we have relied upon will no longer sustain us, that promises made will be broken, that this world disappoints.  Depressing, isn't it?

     Depressing only if we lose sight of the hope given us by God, only if we fail to recognize the one promise that is true and unshakable, the promise of God's love for us.  Depressing only when we fail to recognize the life and love that the Lord has invested in us - a life and love that has its origins in a death freely accepted in absolute love.  Depressing only if we fail to be attentive to the Scriptures that were written for our encouragement and endurance in order that we might have hope.

     From Jesse's stump a shoot shall sprout and from its roots a bud shall blossom.  Jesse, blessed by God, source of the Davidic Kingdom, honorable and guided by God, was cut down.  Yet from its root, from its stump, something new has come, something that will assure the continuance of the eternal promise.  The tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire, not to destroy, but rather to purify so that new life can come forth from death.   It is like the new shoots that spring up after the destructive forest fire.

     On this second Sunday of Advent, in this time of preparation and anticipation, in this winter of our discontent, we hear John the Baptist calling us to "Repent!"   The time is at hand!  Now is the moment to let go, to allow the Lord to enter in, to die to ourselves and to sin and to let Christ live in us.  As the author of Romans reminds us today:
"May the God of endurance and encouragement
grant that you think in harmony with one another,
in keeping with Christ Jesus,
that with one accord you may with one voice
glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you,
for the glory of God." 
     Here lies our promise of hope.  Here lies our life.  Here lies our eternal future in Christ Jesus.
     I helped our neighbors at Saint Agnes Parish celebrate First Reconciliation this afternoon by hearing confessions.  As always, the kids were great.  I appreciated the opportunity.
     This evening I went out to eat and just after I sat down at my favorite restaurant in Irwin, Romano's, a family came in as well.  The little guy with them saw me and was very excited, for he had come to me that afternoon for the Sacrament.  We shared dinner and conversation and a great evening together in honor of his special day.  Again, I was blessed.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A dignified and fulfilling life

     In "The Joy of the Gospel" Pope Francis in paragraph #9 says:  "Goodness always tends to spread.  Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us, and any person who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others.  As it expands, goodness takes root and develops.  If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good."   The Holy Father was speaking of the joy of evangelizing others, of sharing the Good News.  This can only be done with joy when we are set free of our self centeredness, of the destructive hurts and pains that harden our hearts, when we can see beyond ourselves to the needs of others.

     We are aware of the extraordinary courage and witness of so many good men and women throughout history that have done so in the spread of the Gospel, in the living out of lives of faith and goodness, who have impacted the world.  Some go way back, like Nicholas, a bishop and figure whom the Church honors today and whose spirit the world still emulates at Christmas with kindness and gift giving and sharing in the name and spirit of Christ at his birthday.  Some are personal favorites like Francis of Assisi who, misunderstood and disappointed in life, found hope in casting all aside and embracing in poverty the needs of all in the name and spirit of Christ.  Some we know in our own day, like Mother Theresa of Calcutta, a little woman whose simple yet deep love of Christ allowed her to pour herself out for others and who became a witness for the world.  Others saw injustice and responded in ways that changed societies - in our country through the efforts and witness of Martin Luther King and in South Africa in the work of Nelson Mandela.  President Mandela died last evening, and the tributes from throughout the world are coming forth.  This man experienced a long imprisonment, experienced a "profound liberation", did not become bitter or hardened, but was deeply resolved to work to meet the needs and sensitivity of others, and helped to transform a nation from an accepted yet unjust form of prejudice to a country that includes all. 

    He, and those that have impacted the world communities and the Churches in their witness, while yet sinners and imperfect, have been known to have lived "a dignified and fulfilling life".  May the Lord give peace and eternal rest to Nelson Mandela.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


     On Monday evening of this week two of my neighboring brother priests joined me in our parish celebration of First Penance, the service in which nearly twenty-eight youngsters from our parish on their way to the Lord's Table this Spring encounter the mercy and forgiveness of God.  The weather was unseasonally warm, the atmosphere was right, the anticipation was high, and the kids were great.  There have been years when the anxiety level was so high that the youngsters were almost non responsive.  But this was not my experience with those that came to me on Monday.  They were ready, a few were nervous, but they were into the experience.  I give their parents and our catechists a lot of credit.

     We also extended the invitation to parents and family to also approach the Lord for the embrace of forgiveness.  I experienced a great spirit of sorrow and openness to forgiveness, humility and hopeful expectation of new beginnings, and of a desire to do better or even start anew.  It was a blessed evening for me.

     Of those that came to me to confess, there were a few that had not been there for a number of years.  If it is a long time, I usually ask if there is some reason?  Sometimes there is, and we can talk about that.  Other times there is nothing pressing that has kept them away.  I remind them of God's unfailing love, of his never ending presence in our lives.  I often ask them, then, why they are there today?  What is their motivation to return at this moment?

     Obviously on Monday their motivation was in joining their child in this precious moment of encounter with God.  I know that in my years of preaching, those homilies of "fire and brimstone" are unusually well received and can provide a motivation.  Many times the person has reached a point of no return, and realizes that "now is the time".  And for most it is the knowledge that the time is right.  Whatever the motivation, the need to come to the Lord, to be securely wrapped in his loving embrace, to be shriven (a strange word) and forgiven, is a part of the human experience, and for the person of faith an absolute necessity.  Pope Francis tweeted on October 29th "We are all sinners.  But God heals us with an abundance of grace, mercy and kindness."  That is the ultimate motivation to come and be reconciled.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A needed break

     Today I joined a number of my brothers in the Greensburg diocesan priesthood for a day of recollection and reflection, prayer and fellowship at the Bishop Connare Center, our diocesan retreat/conference center (the former Saint Joseph Hall).  This Advent Day of Recollection was presented by Father Joe Mele of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, a seminary classmate and friend and rector of Saint Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh.  His theme was "A map of the homily in proclaiming the Gospel as found in the Apostolic Exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium".   Joe was a preaching professor for many years at Saint Vincent Seminary in Latrobe.

      Today was just the day I needed at this moment in time.  The fellowship we shared, the short but very clear presentations, the times of prayer and the opportunity for Eucharistic Adoration and the Sacrament of Reconciliation were a blessing.  To cap it off with drinks and a good dinner was perfect.  I was truly blessed.

     I have been struggling a bit lately with contrasting experiences.  On the one hand I have heard the lament and distraction of a few very good friends who are burdened by schedules or work or non uplifting experiences of Church and liturgy and preaching.  I feel for them, for the reality of life can be daunting for those of us of faith.  On the other hand, I have felt particularly blessed in the last few weeks with an uplifting spirit of joy and peace and hope.  Part may be because of the wisdom of age (I'm not so sure that this accounts for much).  Part of it is the Advent Season, the Advent readings and prayers, and a prayerfulness that permits me to not be overwhelmed by what needs to be done.  And a large part of it is the continued inspiration of Pope Francis.  I am finding his "The Joy of the Gospel" speaking to me in a clear way.

     My good friend Mike Ripple recently posted regarding less than uplifting experiences of preaching and liturgy.  He wondered aloud if he were part of the diaspora, the remnant, those who longed for better times.  I didn't know how to answer him.  I still don't, except to say that Advent reminds us to look back to the children of Abraham.  They waited in hope, despite being in truly lifeless situations.  They were children of the promise, a promise that was a long, long time in coming.  Did they all "hang in there"?  Not really.  But the remnant did, the diaspora lived in hope.  Mary, our Advent image, is the icon of the person of faith, that follower of the promise, that one whose expectancy opened the way for Jesus.  To the bad preaching, Francis reminds us that all are called to preach the Word of God ... and that priests are entrusted to this sacred task within the liturgy.  When they don't, then in love, we need to challenge and pray them into this sacred responsibility.  And whether it is preaching or prayer or liturgy or ordinary life, we are all called to authenticity - centering not on self but on "the other".  When we take the focus off of ourselves we leave room for Christ and his Church.

     The challenges will continue to be there.  They will at times be overwhelming.  In the opening paragraphs of "Evangelii Gaudium", Pope Francis says to "Never give up" on the joy of God's love.  I shared with our people over the weekend that a favorite movie of mine is "Galaxy Quest", a Star Trek and trekkie parody made in 1999.  The favorite expression of the captain, Commander Taggart, was "Never give up! Never surrender!"  We need to make that our saying when confronted by darkness and evil and mediocrity.  Never give up!  Never surrender!  He loves us too much!

Friday, November 29, 2013

ADVENT - new beginnings

     As we stand at the threshold of a new beginning, a renewed commitment to the journey to holiness, at the beginning of the great season of Advent, we are reminded by Pope Francis in "The Joy of the Gospel" that this is what the new evangelization is all about.  He invites all Christians at this moment in history to a daily "renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ" or, as he says, "at least an openness to him encountering them."   He asks this of us for we must remember that no one is excluded from the Lord's joy.

     He reminds us that the Lord does not disappoint us if we take the risk of coming back to him, for when that happens, "we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms."  It is the deception that others have to offer that this is not possible, that God's love has limits, that we are unworthy, that this kind of a thing cannot happen.  We need to say clearly and with open heart "I need you.  Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace."

     Then Pope Francis says something truly necessary for all of us to hear as we begin to prepare for Christmas and for the renewed presence of Christ in our lives.  Hopefully we will approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation with this in mind: " God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.  Christ, who told us to forgive one another 'seventy times seven' (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven.  Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love.  With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift our heads and start anew."

     There was a movie a few years back called "Galaxy Quest", a comedic take off on the "Star Trek" phenomenon that had a line that the captain always said - "Never give up ... never surrender".  The Holy Father also tells us to "never give up."  "May nothing inspire more than his [Christ's] life, which impels us onwards!"

     Good words to approach the new evangelization and the Advent season with.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Black Friday - a warning

     There was a dark and dreadful Friday when Christ was crucified because humanity forgot the presence of God in their lives and failed to see the opportunity for life that the man crucified offered to them.  This terrible day has come to be known as "Good Friday", not because of what happened on that day but because of the door that this death opened for us.

     Having just given "thanks" for blessings and abundance and getting ready to enter a time of preparation for the Christmas celebrations, we enter into a "Black Friday" - called that by business because of their hopes of beginning the shopping season in the black but called that by most because of the hysteria and reckless consumerism that affects society.  It becomes "shopping madness days".  People are pushy, angry, cruel and even obnoxious.  They form long lines, are impatient, and fight to get the "best buys".  The world will end if they don't get this item or that toy.  They often have little respect for other shoppers, the employees or even the merchandise.  My sister works in retail (the Bon Ton department store in Uniontown) and must work unbelievable hours fighting the maddening crowds for a wage that is not worth it (my comment - if the boss is reading).  She works a full shift Monday Tuesday and late on Wednesday, but is given a break by not coming in until Midnight on Thanksgiving Day (they open at 7pm).  But then she works straight from Midnight until 1 pm on Friday afternoon, thirteen hours straight.

     In "The Joy of the Gospel" Pope Francis in the beginning of the Exhortation has this to say about our consumerism society:

"The great danger in today's world, pervaded as it is by consumerism,
is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart,
the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.
Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns,
there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.
God's voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt,
and the desire to do good fades.  This is a very real danger for believers too.
Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless.
That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life;
it is not God's will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit
which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ."
     Remember two days ago the warning given by the "handwriting on the wall".  I thank God for the prophetic word of Pope Francis, even though it will probably go unheeded by most.  After all, they are too busy shopping and obsessing about what they need (we have a few less shopping days till Christmas this year) to see what they truly need.  Will we hear God's voice?  Will we experience the quiet joy of his love?  Will our desire to do good remain?  We will have to wait and see ... but can we afford to do that?


     As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in these United States, here are a few things that I am truly thankful for:

A loving God who has gifted me with life and who knows me and accepts me for who I am, and is willing to love me into holiness.

     A faith entrusted to me by my folks and my family and my   Church that introduced me to Jesus Christ and graced me with the gift of acceptance into his family, the Church.

The gift of loving parents, Frances and Bill, who have gone home to Heaven and of a sister, Jane, who is a great friend as well as a loving sister, and of Sammy, the puppy.

     Family and friends and parishioners that have supported me, love me, and honor me with their friendship.

The vocation to the priesthood, and the forty years of service to the People of God in this Diocese in a variety of parishes and ministries.

     The mercy of God which allows me to witness to the Gospel despite my unworthiness.

Unbelievable opportunities and experiences in my lifetime that show me God with us.

     And for countless blessings that would take a lifetime (and volumes) to describe.  Among those is the ministry of Journey Thoughts.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The writing's on the wall

     In today's reading from Daniel in the Hebrew Scriptures we hear of the great banquet thrown by King Balshazzar for his court and the extraordinary occurrence that day.  In the midst of the festivities a hand suddenly appeared and began writing on the wall.  It wrote three words: MENE, TEKEL and PERES.  Fearful, the king called for the Hebrew Daniel to interpret, which he did,
     MENE, he said, meant that the God of Abraham had numbered the king's kingdom and put an end to it.
     TEKEL meant that the king had been weighed upon the scales and been found wanting.
     PERES, he said, meant that the kingdom would be divided and given away.
     That very night King Balshazzar was killed and the Persians took over the kingdom.

     There is an old saying that "The writing's (or handwriting's) on the wall."  It is an idiom that generally means "imminent doom or misfortune".  It finds it's origins here in Daniel, but has been used in a number of places in literature and music.  It can be used like: "Things are looking bad.  The handwriting is on the wall".  Whether it is a prophetic prediction or simply a moment of insight in a particular situation, it usually implies that there is a greater wisdom, a great power, a stronger force at play in this moment of reality.

     Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has given us an Apostolic Exhortation entitled "Evangelii Gaudium" or "The Joy of the Gospel".  He presented it to a representative group at the final Mass for the Year of Faith on Sunday, November 24th, a group that represented all of the Church and the world as well.  He begins with these words:

"The JOY OF THE GOSPEL fills the hearts and lives
of all who encounter Jesus.  Those who accept his offer
of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness
and loneliness.  With Christ joy is constantly born anew.
In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful
to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy,
while pointing out new paths for the Church's journey
for years to come."

     He then begins to lay a foundation of thought and a course of action that, while rooted in the joy of the gospel, must be a wake up call to all of us, a moment of "the handwriting is on the wall" that we see, understand and integrate in our lives, and which, like Daniel of old, we can interpret for the kings and kingdoms and peoples of the world.  It may not be a prediction that doom is imminent, but it is a clear call that the world in which we place our trust and hope, our very existence, has been "weighed upon the scales and found wanting."  I would like to hopefully share a few of Pope Francis' insights and teaching in this important aspect of our new and renewed self awareness and new evangelization.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Where were you?

     It was a Friday afternoon and I was taking a Latin test in my junior year at Saint Vincent Prep School in Latrobe.  We were in Father Augustine's classroom.  It was the end of an academic quarter, and the weekend would be spent on retreat at our residence at Saint Joseph Hall Minor Seminary.

     There was a knock on the door and as Father Augustine opened it he was told by some upper class men that the president had been shot.  At first he did not believe them (there was always some fooling around), but when they came back he finally accepted the news.  Telling us to finish and then leave class, many of us went to the art room of Father Emeric (where there was a small TV) and watched the news until our bus came to take us back to Saint Joe's.  I remember the short ride - silence.  We were allowed to watch the news for a portion of the evening.

     Our cooks were a group of Sisters, the Ivrea Sisters, who had come from Italy for this ministry.  I remember helping Sister Johanna, who could barely speak English, setting the tables with tears streaming down her cheeks.

     I do not remember the retreat or who gave it, but I do remember watching Oswald being shot (and realizing that this was not a TV show, but real life - a sobering realization) and as the weekend continued, the funeral.  They are memories and images and emotions that remain fresh after fifty years

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Death and loss

     The 22nd of November in 1963 was a momentous day in the lives of many of us (tomorrow I will share where I was at that moment).  It was one of those pivotal moments that saw the loss of innocence, a clouding of vision and hope, and the end of an era of freshness and optimism that had just begun to surface in this land.  I am sure that most see and remember that day as a day of sadness and tragedy, but for many of us in our teens it was a gut wrenching day, a weekend of devastation and we have never been the same. 

     For those who may not have been around - from my perspective as a kid - the country was coming alive.  We had just come out of the war, and the cold war, while still there, was showing a few signs of warming.   We had just come out of the presidencies of good men, but men who were older.  Now we had a young and handsome president in John Kennedy.  Nothing against Bess Truman or Mamie Eisenhower, but they did not have the glamour of Jackie Kennedy.   There were youngsters in the White House, and a spirit of young optimism growing in the land.  People were becoming inspired to see what they might do for their country.  The Peace Corps was established and young people rallied to help others. The president was young and made mistakes, but we looked beyond them.  The future lay ahead, and there was a brightness and liveliness that saw good and idealism as their hallmark.

     Even in the Church we were in the midst of a revolutionary Second Vatican Council, and things that had always been the same seemed to be changing.  That newness and vitality was catching.

     Then came Dallas and November 22nd and the assassination of the president and the death of that hope.  We did not despair, but everything was now different.  Other great tragedies and assassinations and wars and struggles occurred.  It was like "the day the music died", but this was the death of innocence (even if that were an illusion) and the loss of optimism.  I believe that there are others like that junior in high school at Saint Vincent that day who not only remember what they were doing, but remember the devastating effect of those moments in time.  Our remembering is necessary for us to look to the future.  Camelot may be long gone, but there is another Kingdom that is of greater importance, and our Lord is King. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wow! What a woman!

     The reading for this Wednesday of the Thirty-third week in Ordinary Time comes to us from the 2nd Book of Maccabees (2 MC 7:1; 20 - 31).  It is the story of the seven sons and their mother who were brought before King Antiochus and died the death of a martyr rather than defy the law of God and eat pork as the king demanded.  The mother is described by the author in this way:

"Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance
was the mother, who saw her seven sons perish in a single day,
yet bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord.
Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly heart
with manly courage, she exhorted each of them ... "
     The words she spoke to her sons, which we also heard this morning at Mass, were powerfully incisive:
"I do not know how you came into existence in my womb;
it was not I who gave you the breath of life,
nor was it I who set in order the elements
of which each of you is composed.
Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe
who shapes each man's beginning,
as he brings about the origin of everything,
he, in his mercy, will give you back
both breath and life,
because you now disregard yourselves
for the sake of the law."
     She also said a few lines later to her youngest son:
"I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth
and see all that is in them;
then you will know that God
did not make them out of existing things,
and in the same way
the human race came into existence.
Do not be afaid of this executioner,
but be worthy of your brothers and accept death,
so that in the time of mercy
I may receive you again with them."
     I have always been in awe of the courage and the witness of the martyrs and prayed to have an ounce of the courage that they exhibited.  The confident assurance and abiding peace of this woman and her seven sons who embraced death rather than lessen their relationship with their God is impressive.  And yet our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in his tweet of yesterday (November 19th) said "The saints were not superhuman.  They were people who loved God in their hearts, and who shared this joy with others."
Our call to witness, since it is usually not placed within the setting of "life or death", should be even more readily embraced by us.  And may we follow the example of the holy men and women of the scriptures and of the Church who provide an example.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Do you remember these words after 150 years?

     At a ceremony to dedicate a Soldiers National Cemetery in the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg on this date, November 19th, in 1863, the President of the United States gave a few brief remarks.  This ceremony was held about four months following the epic Battle of Gettysburg which was fought in and around this small Central Pennsylvania town on July 1, 2 & 3.  The battle which pitted two great armies representing the North and the South - the Union and the Confederates, ended with nearly 51,000 men dead, wounded or missing.  15,000 spectators attended the ceremony.  The president's remarks are the stuff of legend and of history.  The words were taught to me as a young student, and are remembered to this day (with a little held from the Internet).  Do you remember hearing or learning these words?

Fourscore and seven years ago
our fathers brought forth on this continent
a new nation,
conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition
that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war,
testing whether that nation or any nation
so conceived and so dedicated
can long endure.
We are met on a great battlefield of that war.
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field
as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives
that that nation might live.
It is altogether fitting and proper
that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate ---
we cannot consecrate --- we cannot hallow ---
this ground.
The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here,
have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note, nor long remember
what we say here,
but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living, rather,
to be dedicated here to the unfinished work
which they who fought here
have thus far so nobly advanced.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated
to the great task remaining before us ---
that from these honored dead
we take increased devotion to that cause
for which they gave the last full measure
of devotion ---
that we here highly resolve
that these dead shall not have died in vain ---
that this nation, under God,
shall have a new birth of freedom ---
and that government of the people,
by the people,
for the people,
shall not perish from the earth.

President Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Monday, November 18, 2013

End times and new beginnings

     As we approach the conclusion of the liturgical year, our Scriptures speak of end times and call us to focus our hearts and lives upon the Lord of all time and seasons.  It is not meant to scare us into submission or to tow the line, but rather these words are meant to give us hope and help us to rest secure in the fact that no matter what comes our way, we are embraced by the love of God.  Our end times open us to the reality of new beginnings in Christ.

     Yesterday following the morning Masses I was honored to welcome into the Family of God through the Sacrament of Baptism two little ones whose parents brought them to the community of believers for the new beginnings that baptism brings.  I shared this new life with Alania Lee Saunders and Maxwell James Nese, who were both very well behaved and of course adorable.  In their new life in Christ they will experiences many "end times".  Our prayer is always that they hold fast to the faithfulness of God's love and the surety that it brings.  Our hope is that they will be that next generation to witness and inspire this generation to never lose hope or despair.  Our pledge is that we will be there for them as they begin the journey of a lifetime. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Passing of a Legend - Father Demetrius Dumm, O.S.B.

     At 11:00 am this morning a legend in western Pennsylvania Catholicism, in Scripture studies, in spirituality and retreat work, and in the Benedictine Community of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe died at the age of eighty-nine.   Countless priests over a period of fifty-seven years were  introduced into a love for the Scriptures through the teaching of this man of God.  For seventeen of those years he led the Seminary Community as Rector as well as professor, and for a number of years as Spiritual director.  A teacher, scholar, retreat master, writer and lecturer, he is known  and respected among a great circle of people.

     Born on the family farm between Carrolltown and Ebensburg, Pennsylvania on October 1, 1923, he joined the Benedictine Community at Saint Vincent in 1942 and was ordained at Subiaco Abbey in Italy in 1947.  His obituary is long and impressive, his educational background solid and impressive, and his impact on the Church equally as deep and impressive.  If you go to the Archabbey website you can read what this man accomplished and get a hint at who he was.

     Having gone to Saint Francis in Loretto for theology, I never had Father Demetrius in class (although I think that I attended a workshop or two over the years) but I know of his gentleness, his deep faith, and his awesome reputation.  He was a great witness to his love for the Word of God and for the Church.

     Father Demetrius will be buried from the Archabbey Basilica on Wednesday afternoon at a Mass of Christian Burial at 2:30 pm.  We extend our sympathy and offer our prayers for his Benedictine family at Saint Vincent and to Archabbot Douglas Nowicki.
May he rest in peace.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The power of witness

     Today marks the anniversary of the death of Father Charles Kobylarz, a priest of this diocese, my pastor in my formative years, and one of the key inspirations for my call to priesthood.  Father Kobylarz died on this date in 1981.

     Father Charles, as we called him (it is often the custom in Polish parishes to call the priest by his first name - usually because very few could pronounce the last names) came to our parish of Saint Joseph in Uniontown as pastor at the very young age of thirty-three and served there as the third pastor from 1943 through January of 1964 before moving on to Saint Edward in Herminie. 

     He was assisted by a number of associates over the years, but probably the best team was found in the years when Father Charles and Father Norbert Gaughan served together (1945 - 1953).  Father Norbert was another inspiration as well as a guardian angel on my journey to priesthood.  During those years, and in fact throughout Father Charles' tenure, the parish prospered, the school was filled, the corner of South Mount Vernon Avenue and Easy Street was a powerful experience of Church.  It provided the hotbed of my vocation, and the witness of so many, but especially our priests and religious sisters, provided the call that the Lord was extending to me.  Many young men went to the seminary, and six of us were ordained, with five still in active ministry.  I thank God for Father Charles and those who witnessed with him.

     This past week in Baltimore the Bishops' Conference met for their Fall meeting.  On Monday they were addressed by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican Nuncio to the United States.  He spoke of many things, but he gave the bishops a clear reminder of what appears to be in the heart and mind of Pope Francis ... thoughts and words of which are an echo of Pope Paul VI given us in his encyclical "Evangelii Nuntiandi".  He quoted from the encyclical:
"It is appropriate, first of all, to emphasize the following point:
for the Church, the first means of evangelization is the witness
of an authentically Christian life,
given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy
and at the same time given to one's neighbor with limitless zeal.
As we said recently to a group of lay people,
'Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses
than to teachers,
and if it does listen to teachers,
it is because they are witnesses.'
It is primarily by her conduct and by her life
that the Church will evangelize the world,
in other word 'by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus' ...
the witness of poverty and detachment,
of freedom in the face of the powers of this world,
in short, the witness of sanctity." (Paragraph 41)
     The nuncio continued to invite the bishops and through them all of us to live lives attuned to the gospel values.  Our lifestyles need to be characterized by simplicity and holiness of life.  We need to be pastoral in the living out of the faith.  We need first and foremost to be witnesses to what it means to respond to the invitation of God to make the Gospels integral in our lives. 
     In his own way, given the times and personalities involved, Father Charles was for me such a witness.  He evangelized this boy from Saint Joseph's and inspired him to seek to be a witness as a priest of God.  Thank you, Father Charles.  Rest in peace.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A late Veterans' Day thought

     November 11th is Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day, or in this great nation of ours Veterans' Day.  The date marked the end of the great war (WWI) at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month - thus the significance of the date.  We remember with deep gratitude the service and sacrifice of countless men and women over the years to the mostly noble causes to which their nation called them to serve.  Their heroism, their courage, their sacrifice - while not always recognized and acknowledged at the time (I am of the Vietnam era) - are being recognized more and more in recent years.  No matter which war or which period of peacetime in which they served, they honor this nation.   It has become a part of my interaction with a veteran or a member of the armed services to thank them for their service.

     Veterans' Day falls on the feast of Saint Martin of Tours, a man who was a soldier before encountering Christ and thus a veteran of the Roman army.  He died in 397 after serving as the Bishop of Tours (in France).  His encounter with Christ prompted him, as it did so many others, to lay down the sword and take up the banner of Christ.  We have many soldier/saints in our history: people like Sebastian who became a conscientious objector and died by arrow  in 288 because of that fact; Francis of Assisi, who longed to be a soldier in the late 1100's but was a failure at the vocation, to become instead a champion for the cause of peace in a totally different way; Joan of Arc, the maid of Orleans, who donned armor and fought for France and died in 1431; Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, a successful soldier who became a soldier for Christ after laying down the sword.  And don't forget Michael, the Archangel and George.

     War and conflict are sometimes necessary evils and are always hell.  To those who have experienced this hell and confronted this evil in the name of justice and peace, we thank you and entrust you to the Prince of Peace and the Lord of Life, Jesus Christ.  Whether at war or at peace it is his banner that we hold high, for that banner, and all that it stands for, is greater than every nation, every human cause and every other alliance.   My Dad was a veteran of WWII and on this Veterans' Day (and always) I am very proud of his service.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mission Santa Maria

     Every year in our Diocese each parish is assigned a mission group to present their work and needs to the parish as part of a Mission Co-operative Appeal.   This weekend was our Appeal, and we were visit by a great young man named Jim Campbell from New Jersey.  He was the founder in 2007 of a mission outreach program called Mission Santa Maria that helps youngsters in Ecuador.  Mission Santa Maria is a U.S. based non-profit organization helping children and youth in Ecuador.  The monies raised help a group of Religious Sisters who run an orphanage and a school for disadvantaged kids.  Many of these youngsters come from extreme poverty or abusive families or no families at all.

     Jim spoke at our Masses and told of the needs that he found there during a mission trip that prompted him and a few friends who work in NY and family to form this charity which provides tuition to the local Catholic School, food and clean water, clothing, books and supplies to the kids and some necessary equipment (washers/dryers) for the orphanage.  Our people were interested and I'm sure generous.  If you are interested in finding out more about Mission Santa Maria, link onto www.missionsantamaria.com.  If you feel compelled to help in some way, through prayer or financial support, Jim would welcome your inquiry.

     I enjoyed my brief visit with Jim, and find him an engaging young Catholic gentleman whose education and experiences at Franciscan University in Steubenville on the undergraduate level and Georgetown University where he earned an MBA have led him into the area of lay missionary work.  Pray for their efforts.

What is essential - Jesus Christ

     Yesterday our Holy Father, Pope Francis, tweeted "Our life must be centred on what is essential, on Jesus Christ.  Everything else is secondary."  So often we allow our lives to center upon anything and everything else in our path, and when that happens our focus is lost and we begin to squabble and be anxious about many things.

     In 2nd Maccabees in this Sunday's first reading we heard a powerful story of bravery and courage.  The story is of seven brothers and their mother arrested and tortured for their faith in God.  They were being forced to eat pork in violation of God's law, under penalty of death.  Each stood his ground, each remained unflinching, each declared their loyalty.  And each died.

     How foolish and unnecessary to die for the sake of a dietary law that was meant to guide a people to good health.  Even if that law came from God, was it worth dying for?  Was it not more prudent to save your life, and be able then to live to worship God in the future?  Could they not have remained true to God even if giving in to this silly dictate?

     Obviously for them the answer is NO!  It wasn't the dietary law that mattered, it was what that law indicated - that their entire life, even beyond this existence, rested in their relationship to a God who knew them, loved them, and drew them uniquely to himself.  Their life must be centered upon the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, upon their oneness to him with all that this entailed (even if it meant these pesky dietary laws that the king wanted them to disobey), upon their loyalty to a God who was a Father to them.  Nothing else mattered ... not even retaining life in this world ... because true and ultimate life was found in him.  They chose to die that they light live.  They chose to be loyal to the author of life rather than to one who could take their lives.  Everything else was secondary.  Talk about brave hearts!

     Their God (our God) has given us an even more life giving, unique and loving relationship with himself through his Son, Jesus Christ.  He is what is essential for us, for without him we are nothing.  He calls us to be brave and courageous in the midst of the challenges that we face.  Can we die to self in order to live with him?


I realize that it has been almost a week since the last post (sorry), but I must make a correction for those that remember that far back.  I mentioned Paul Shannon's "Adventure Time" TV show in the Pittsburgh area from years ago, and I mentioned "knish".
"Knish" (a mop head puppet), was not on the Paul Shannon show, but rather the Hank Stohl show.
Paul had a character named Nosmo King and a great jazz musician by the name of Joe Negri on his show.
Just wanted to make the correction for all of the local trivia fans.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Irrevocable gift

     Today is the feast of Saint Charles Borromeo, a bishop and a pastor who brought his spirituality and wisdom to the renewal of the People of God.  He did so by encouraging the Church to conform herself to the likeness of Christ so that through her Christ may be shown to the world.   In Pope Francis we find another bishop and pastor who seeks to renew the Church in just the same way.  His message, as I shared this weekend at Mass, is one of God's love and deep mercy.  He reminds us of what Saint Paul said to the Romans in this morning's reading "The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable".  Those gifts are acceptance where we are, an embrace of unquestionable love that transforms us, an invitation to repent of sin and weakness and self, and an reminder of the call to holiness that brings us to God in glory.

     I guess that I should not be surprised, but I am astounded that the backlash to Pope Francis has begun to surface.  His simplicity of life and the basic message of love and mercy that is the hallmark of his leadership bother some - not so much in content but rather in emphasis.   I had a person recently who questioned where the Church was going and specifically some of the statements of our Holy Father.  I tried to reassure the person that nothing has changed, just the approach.  This past weekend throughout our readings and prayers we heard of God's mercy, of his gentle approach in love to the sinner which called them to conversion.  I said that rather than rubbing our noses in our sinfulness to embarrass us to repent, rather than putting us down by pointing out that we are nothing else but sinners, saved only by the unexplained graciousness of God's grace, we are confronted by the face of Christ which accepts first, welcomes and transforms in love, grants mercy and then rejoices with the repentant sinner.  We see this in the story of Zaccheus, we see this in the woman caught in adultery who was brought before Jesus.  The approach is one that Jesus used to great effect.  It is one that Pope Francis is reminding us is truly Christ-like.  It is one that works.


     It has been a busy few days: the Holy Day on Friday, All Souls Day on Saturday, confessions, All Souls Memorial Mass, three regular weekend Masses with two baptisms during the 8:30 am (Sophia Lucille and Tobias Alexander - great names) and the Young Voices Choir at 11:00 am, and then a fourth Sunday Regional Mass at a neighboring parish Sunday evening.  I probably have said this before, but I have a good friend who points out that I only work on weekend anyway, so what am I concerned about.  As I get older, these busy weekends get more difficult.  But as Paul says in Romans this morning: "For from him and through him and for him are all things.  To God be glory forever.  Amen."

     One extraordinary thing happened at the Sunday evening Mass: the couple who were the lectors introduced themselves to me.  I recognized the name and asked if he had any relatives that had attended Saint Francis College in Loretto many moons ago.  It was his older brother, Michael, whom I knew casually forty-five years ago.  I also remember his dad, who was Paul Shannon, from the "Adventure Time" TV show on WTAE in Pittsburgh.  Anyone remember?  Remember knish? And ... it turns out this gentleman is the "boss" of one of my neighbors and parishioners.  Small world.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Putting on Christ

     They came dressed as Woody or Spiderman or a princess or a witch or a ghost.  Some were gruesome to behold and others were downright cute.  They celebrated a locally rainy evening of "trick or treating" on this All Hallows Eve in 2013.  The decorating for Halloween has surpassed even Christmas, and it has become a major holiday.  Not long ago I was in conversation with one of my physical therapists and we mentioned Halloween.  He commented that this secular celebration was growing in society, but that it had no ties to the world of the sacred.

     I stopped him there and reminded him that Halloween is a take on "All Hallows Eve", the night before the great feast of All Hallows (or All Saints).  On All Hallows we rejoice in those who have finished the journey and who share in the heavenly vision - the saints of God.  On the Eve, we remember all of the dead who have gone before us in Faith and who are on the way to that beatific vision - the Faithful Departed who are sometimes called the "Poor Souls" (I'm not sure why they are named such, for they also share the love of God and while yet journeying, they are destined for glory as well - definitely not poor). 

     Today is not about ghosts and goblins, scary creatures or make believe characters.  Today and tomorrow are about remembering our call to holiness, our destiny as the saints of God, the glory that has been given to us at our baptism.  We clothe ourselves not with costumes and make-up and masks, but with the dignity and glory that is found in Christ.  We are clothed in Christ.  The baptismal garment and the funeral pall are reminders at the beginning and the end of our earthy journey of the greater reality of that glory.  It is not found in garment or in cloth, it is not something that covers the true self, but it comes from within and reveals the inner beauty that the Lord sees in us, it reveals the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit within our lives.

     May these days of glory remind us of the depth of God's love and the call to holiness that is reserved, not just for the few, but rather for us all.  Happy All Hallows Eve and happy All Hallows Day tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Odds and Ends

     A few random observations:

Saying "Thank You" - This past Friday morning our Regional Catholic School, Queen of Angels, took the opportunity to say thank you to regular supporters of the school by way of an invitation to a prayer service followed by a light breakfast.  There were a nice number of people able to join with the school family at 9:00 am in the auditorium for a brief time of prayer led by Father John Moineaux, the chair of the Board of Trust Administrators (the five sponsoring pastors) and joined by Msgr. Paul Fitzmaurice and myself.  A group of the children were also involved in this expression of our gratitude through prayer and song.  It was a great experience.  Following the service a breakfast of rolls and juice was made available for all of the guests.  It was also nice to see Mr. Trent Bocan, the Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese in attendance as well, lending his support to our saying thanks. Not only is it important to give thanks, but it is extremely important to teach our youngsters the value of gratitude.  I was proud of them.

     This was my week to provide the Scripture Reflection for the Sunday readings for the Diocesan Website.  Check it out at www.dioceseofgreensburg.org and scroll through the moving scroll until you come to the reflection.  Then bookmark the website.

Healing and Affirmation - On Sunday afternoon we gathered in Church to celebrate our Fall Communal Anointing of the Sick.  There were at least one hundred in attendance, and it was a very prayerful and beautiful time of placing our trust in the Lord's healing embrace.
Following the Anointing, nearly one hundred who responded to our invitation to share in a dinner for our senior members, joined us in our social hall and shared a great catered buffet meal.  I began this custom about four years ago as a way of acknowledging our elders who have been and continue to be a powerhouse of support and prayer to the parish family.  Even though the Steelers were playing that afternoon, they still came, stayed and enjoyed themselves.  I am always pleased to host this dinner, and this year was no exception.

Saying Farewell - This is a week of funerals: Monday afternoon I journeyed to Saint Barbara in Harrison City to concelebrate the funeral of the father of a good friend of mine from the Greensburg days - Kathy Gonda.  I saw a number of old friends from those days.
Today I journeyed to Saint Anne in Rostraver to concelebrate the funeral of the daughter-in-law of a parishioner from here who died at the young age of forty-nine after a short illness.  It turns out that I taught Joyce at Saint Sebastian School when she was in about seventh grade during my time in Belle Vernon.  She remembered that fact, and had reminded me of it a few years ago when we met.  It is a small world.
On Thursday I will have the funeral Mass for Herb Henry, the husband of a parishioner, who, although not a Catholic (I was surprised) joined his wife at Mass nearly every Sunday and responded with prayer better than most.  His family is very involved in the parish and the liturgy, especially through music, and they plan on being their for Pap.  Sad as it will be, it will also be a joyful celebration.

     In our local area we also had a municipal water authority problem with our drinking water and were under a boil water alert.  This began on Friday and lasted until yesterday.  It was more of a precaution, but it helped the bottled water business tremendously.  At the weekend Masses we did not share the cups and the Precious Blood, because of the purification issue.  I assured the people that this was the reason ... and not that we usually use tap water to turn into wine.  A few people got it.

     It has been a week of moving experiences of faith and interesting times, and I thank the Lord for blessing me in this way.