Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Tribute

     I mentioned in a post yesterday that January 28th this year held a special significance for me and a local religious community.  Fifty years ago on that day a major fire devastated the campus of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, and I was there as a student.

    The Saint Vincent community remembered that day, and paid tribute to the extraordinary courage and selflessness of the first responders on that day - the nearly 400 firefighters from 31 departments, the State police, Salvation Army, Red Cross, and countless others who "came to the rescue" on that bitterly cold day when the Old Student Chapel (one of the original building from the mid 1800's), biology lab, the entire monastery, Prep building, bell tower, the monk's Choir Chapel were destroyed and many other buildings severely damaged.

     Last evening on campus at least 300 firefighters, police, alumni, monks and honored guests gathered to pay tribute and to honor the two men who spearheaded the efforts that day: Retired Chief Earl Dalton of the Latrobe Department and Chief Ed Hutchinson of the Greensburg Department.  Each received the College Presidential Medal from College President Brother Norman Hipps, O.S.B.  A video tribute that reminded everyone of that day, when the temp was 10 below and ice was the companion of fire was shown and a program of song, prayer and tributes were shared.  One of the speakers representing Governor Corbett was Mr. Edward Mann, the Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner.  In his remarks he mentioned that he attends countless gatherings in his role, but this one was somewhat unique in that we were celebrating a fire - but one that gave evidence to the dedication and courage of so many and which led to a rebirth on the Saint Vincent campus.

     Following the program, all were treated to drinks and refreshments followed by a buffet dinner.  All received a fireman's patch of commemoration and a recently published book on the fire.  Kudos to the Saint Vincent Community for a wonderful evening, and to the men and women who respond to our needs in time of peril.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Catholic Schools Week 2013

     Celebrating our identity and the accomplishments of our ministry to Catholic School Education is an annual January event in the nation and locally. (Here in the Northeast, with snow and ice, I wish they would choose another time, though). It is our time to rightfully and justifiably be proud of who we are.  The theme this year is "Raising the Standards", and I know that our local, regional Catholic School - Queen of Angels - has much to be thankful for and much to be proud of, as they, in their twenty years as Queen of Angels, have proven that they are standard bears in so many instances of life.

     To showcase the school, a number of special events has been scheduled from yesterday through this Friday.  The school community was highlighted yesterday at the Masses in the five parishes responsible for the school.  There was also a Family Game Day in the afternoon at the school gym.  This afternoon there is an All School Liturgy which I am looking forward to.  Tuesday we honor our bus drivers, dress in the school colors, have a "buddy lunch" with the buddy system of older and younger youngsters sharing lunch together, and at 1:00 pm the Game Show - You Can Win It!

     Wednesday sees an open house during the day (9 to 2) and in the evening (6 to 7); grade 6 & 7 science projects are displayed; weather forecaster Dennis Bowman from KDKA in Pittsburgh will speak at 2pm; an art show is scheduled all day in the gym; and a program - the Museum of Famous People is from 6 to 7 pm.   Thursday is a teachers' luncheon provided by homeroom parents; our 4th graders will Skype with Queen of Angels School in Louisiana; and the student council will hold a "beach blanket bingo in the afternoon.

     Finally on Friday is dress down day; Student Jeopardy at 12:30; and the highlight of the week - the student/teacher volleyball game in the gym at 2 pm (I thank God that with my bad legs that I cannot do any more than cheer from the sidelines - otherwise it would be embarrassing).

    We are very proud of our school, our excellent program, our faculty and administration and staff, our dedicated parents and supporters, but most especially our youngsters.  They are a delight and a blessing.

I remember ...

     I was in my sophomore year of high school at Saint Vincent Prep School in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, a school run by the Benedictine monks of Saint Vincent Archabbey www.saintvincentarchabbey.org.  It was a bitterly cold day fifty years ago today.  Our diocesan minor seminarians lived at Saint Joseph Hall Residence about five miles from school, and traveled there daily by school bus.  We pulled up to Saint Vincent to a bit of activity which we thought might be a "fire drill", having just returned to school from a winter break.  The bus dropped us off on campus, and we were directed to the auditorium/gymnasium building called Sportsman's Hall.  It was on the walk to that building that we first noticed the smoke.  Saint Vincent was on fire.

     Once we arrived at Sportsman's Hall we could see the smoke and fire, and realized that the main heart of the monastic community and the campus, including much of the Prep, buildings that had been there since the earliest days of the establishment of Saint Vincent in 1846, were threatened.  All we could do was watch.

     That was a devastating day for Saint Vincent and the entire area.  The monks lost the most - their monastery, belongings and for many their work and research.  Symbols of the campus, for instance the bell tower at the heart of the complex, were ravaged by fire, with the three bells crashing to the ground and the brick exterior left as an unsteady shell that had to be demolished.

     The blessing came in the fact that no lives were lost, the beautiful basilica church was saved, and that the fire eventually provided the catalyst for a building program that has served the Saint Vincent Community well in the last fifty years.

     We waited at Sportsman's Hall until Father Leonard Sanesi, our rector at Saint Joseph Hall, could arrange transportation back to Saint Joe's, where we called our folks and were given a week or so off before classes resumed elsewhere on campus.  It was a morning that I will not forget.   There is a humorous irony in a line of the old Alma Mater of the Prep (check out line five below), which, if memory serves me, went like this:

Hail to thee, Saint Vincent Prep,
Alma Mater, mother kind,
we your sons with every step
hold you dear in heart and mind.
Tower of learning ever burning,
font of beauty, truth and good,
lead us on to God and glory,
one in peace and brotherhood.

     The Saint Vincent Community will remember this 50th anniversary with a Vesper Service this evening and a tribute honoring the multitude of fire departments and emergency personnel who were there that day.  They have published a book on the fire which I can't wait to see.   They are a courageous and resilient group of men.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Amen, Amen!

     Nehemiah in the Hebrew Scriptures gives us a description of an important event of his people in our first reading this Sunday.  It is a powerful moment for the People of God - they were presented with the Word of God, the law, by Ezra the priest.  The entire community gathered, men, women and those children old enough to understand, to be presented with the book of the law and to be instructed in what it meant for them.  No one was better than anyone else, no one knew more of God's ways or were closer to him than anyone else.  All stood there listening, learning, absorbing the truth as it was presented them.  Then in a powerful moment of insight and wisdom, as Ezra praised the Lord, all the people, their hands raised high in praise, answered AMEN, AMEN!  Their YES filled their lips and their hearts, and they bowed, faces to the ground, before the Lord.  The truth was presented, it was interpreted so that all could understand, and it was accepted, embraced by every individual in the community without hesitation or reservation.  That day, that moment was declared holy to the Lord their God, and they were invited to rejoice, for "rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength".

     I was struck by the fact that ALL listened and learned, that every individual and the entire community were entrusted with this Truth.  There was no one too sophisticated, too learned, too old, too insignificant to receive this treasure.  And that their communal response was an affirming YES!  They may later falter, later turn away and sin, but in that moment of grace there was unity and resolve to be the chosen people.

     How often do we have those moments?  Rarely, I think.  Why?  Probably because we subdivide and limit ourselves in a multitude of ways: learning and study are for the young (yet, even if we are a know-it-all, we never know everything); religious studies are complete after we have received Confirmation (or for some even Holy Communion); religion is personal and private, reserved for church or prayer times; we should not be "too expressive", "too demonstrative" or some may be offended; and maybe ultimately because my life is about me, and not about or for God.

     Oh how I would love to see enthusiasm and intensity in our worship and in our desire to grow in holiness.  How I would love to see the community so hunger for the word of truth that they listen with their whole heart, mind, soul and being, and with those elements love God.  How I would love to see the "great amen" truly be a "GREAT AMEN", worthy of the name.

Friday, January 25, 2013


     We all know who Saint Paul is ... the Apostle to the Gentiles, a great teacher and preacher, a champion of the message of the gospel, a man who attempted to be all things to all people - and a convert.  Today the Church celebrates his conversion.  Paul was a good man, intense in faith and opinion, unreserved in his willingness to lay all on the line for that in which he believed, but a man whose intensity was so rock solid that he could not and would not be moved.   The story of his conversion is a story of eye opening revelation (which was manifest in temporary blindness), a strength that was rooted in a humility that he was unaccustomed to, and a change of heart and direction in his life that was difficult to accept for everyone who knew of Paul.  But when Saul of Tarsus encountered the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus, he emerged as Paul, the persecutor turned champion, the zealot of Judaism who became the herald of the gospel of Christ.  This conversion, brought about by God, is worthy of celebration for it led to one of the strong pillars upon which this Church was built.

     Today there were hundreds of thousands of people of all faiths and persuasions who gathered in our nation's capitol to bear witness to a travesty of human justice perpetuated by the law of the land.  The 40th annual March for Life took place today, and according to estimates given on the live coverage on EWTN, there were approximately 500,000 people marching in extremely cold weather conditions.  I watched all three major networks this evening and I only heard the March mentioned in passing by NBC which said that "thousands marched".  So I'll accept EWTN's numbers, and from watching the unending march up to the Supreme Court Building, I am inclined to agree with the vast numbers.  I salute the men and women, young and old, people of all backgrounds, persuasions and faiths, who came to bear witness to the sanctity of all human life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.

     This decision of the United States Supreme Court on January 22, 1973, making abortion the law of the land in this country and one of our "rights", joined the ranks of a number of misguided and wrong judgements over the years.  Probably, in light of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the passing of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, the Dred-Scott decision of the court in 1857 comes to mind.  In that decision, briefly, black people were judged to not be citizens of the United States and if slaves to be less than human and undeserving of rights under the law.  They were seen to be property, and thus a commodity.  This affront to the basic human dignity afforded to one created in the image and likeness of God is like the affront given to those who have no voice and no one to stand up for them, those unborn who are seen as a commodity at worst or as an inconvenience at best.

     For forty years we have been striving to have this law overturned in one way or another. We make strides, but we continue to lose the struggle, along with nearly 54 million unborn children put to death legally in this nation.  What must we do?

     One thing that is essential for anything of consequence to take place is the need for a CONVERSION, a change of heart, a reversal of direction in the thoughts and mind of our leaders and the people of this land.  It will require a humbling of our self centred pride and an openness to the truth revealed by God.  It will require transformation, repentance and forgiveness, prayer and trust in God's message of love.

     Will everyone hear and accept the message?  Did they with Paul?  No. Will we need to be about the work of getting out the message as did Paul?  Will we need to accept that in a pluralistic society we face sometimes unbelievable challenges, as did Paul?  Yes.  And will conversions happen?  Absolutely, but unfortunately all too slowly.  Strengthen us, lord, along the way.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Of many things

     As I arrived at church this morning for Mass, I found others arriving who were bundled up and lamenting the winter weather.  Even though we had no snow today, the temperatures have dropped into the frigid range.  Trying to be optimistic, at the end of Mass I recommended that they be careful of the cold during this "heavenly" weather.  To the strange looks coming my way, I explained that the temp registering in my car as I arrived was 7 degrees ... and I pointed out that this is traditionally seen as the Lord's number, the most perfect number, and thus heavenly.  Personally, I like it a heck of a lot warmer than 7 degrees (without wind chill added on).

     Later on this sunny day the temp rose to 14 degrees.  It reminded me of the song in the movie "Grumpy Old Men" - "We're having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave ... ".  I have a friend on Face book that continues to remind her friends the date of Spring!  Thanks, Donna.


     Today is the 40th anniversary of Roe vs Wade, the United States Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in this great nation.  On that date this nation took another, and very disastrous step, away from the Law of God, away from the accepted principles of science and society, and away from generally accepted morality.  In the last forty years the statistics show that there have been over 50 million legal abortions in this land.  For those of us of faith, this represents over 50 million unborn human lives destroyed.  This culture of death which has continued to expand in our society has progressed from a tragic but necessary decision brought about by crisis to a question of "rights", placing higher value on one right over another right.  The right of the unborn person gives way to the right of the woman.  Even when the woman's desire is less than selfless, this injustice defies logic and denigrates human life itself.  If our once great society is to survive, we must get on our knees and repent, we must insist on a moral stance that is rooted in the Law of God, and we must protect life.  Our founding documents express this clearly: that we hold these truths to be self evident ... that all men are created equal ... that we are endowed by our Creator with certain rights ... first among those is LIFE, then liberty, then the pursuit of happiness.  Life is first and primary right.  And yet our law denies that right to those who cannot defend themselves.  Something is dreadfully wrong with this picture.

     We are in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, begun originally in 1908 by the Graymoor Friars of upstate New York.  It has since developed into a global experience of prayer that has very little consequence at the local level.  It is an awareness of the division in the Body of Christ that is a hindrance to the lived power of the Gospel message in our world.  The week begins, traditionally, on January 18th and ends on the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul on January 25th.
     Much progress in ecumenism has been made in the upper levels of the various Churches.  There is generally much more tolerance, mutual respect and working together on the local levels.  Our understanding of the things that unite and the things that divide is clearer.  But a real desire for unity is sorely lacking in most of our congregations.  We have a long way to go ... but at least there is movement toward the understanding that we must be "one in the Lord".

Monday, January 21, 2013

Yesterday's reflection

     I apologize again for being remiss in posting these last few days.
No excuse.

     I spoke yesterday at the homily of the need that we have of having a clear picture of our identity and an honest appraisal of our value, of our self worth.

     I spoke of the story that Victor Hugo shared in his epic "Les Miserables", made into a few movies over the years, an exceptional musical production, and now a new movie in musical form.  It is the story of a man named Jean Valjean who lived in France in the years following the French Revolution and in a time of particular turmoil.  Jean Valjean is a criminal serving a fifteen year sentence of hard labor and degradation, having stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister's starving child.  That degradation included the loss of his identity as a human being and the "gift" of a number as his identification.  We meet him at the time of his parole, which does not spell freedom, but rather the continued slavery of being a nobody with no rights.  In his struggle to reestablish himself into society the road blocks lead him to ask the question "Who am I?"  Is he prisoner 24601 or is he Jean Valjean?

     His desperation leads him to the hospitality of the local bishop, who shares the warmth of his home and the bread of his table.  Jean Valjean, though, steals the silver service from the bishop's house, and when caught and presented before the bishop receives something that he does not expect - forgiveness, respect, freedom and worth.  The bishop gifts him with these things, and the silver, and tells him that his soul has been purchased for God.  His freedom comes with a price, though ... to change his life, to make a difference, to celebrate this second chance, his redemption.  And thus Jean Valjean, despite ongoing fears and history and prejudices, starts anew.

     Because of the effect of sin and our own personal sinfulness, we too have lost our identity and our self worth.  We too are held by others in no esteem and with no respect.  But we too have had our souls purchased for God, not with silver and kindness, but with the life of the Christ given in love beyond all measure.  We have been given the insight to know the answer to the question "Who am I?" by realizing that we are children of God, beloved by him, our land no longer forsaken but now espoused.  Our worth lies in our generous response to the awesome love of God.  Like Jean Valjean we are invited to say YES to the offer of redemption, to embrace the gifts that he offers, and to move forward, being a wellspring of mercy and love.  In his final moments in the musical, Jean Valjean sings about the truth that once was spoken and that transformed his life - "To love another person is to see the face of God!".

     May we embrace the mercy and love so freely given, and become a source of that same mercy and love in our lives of service in Christ.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Call

     We are in the midst of National Vocations Awareness Week in the United States.  It began last Sunday.  It is an opportunity to reflect upon what a vocation to the priesthood or religious life is, and why so few respond to the call today.

     I come from a different generation.  In the pre-Vatican II days of my youth, priesthood was seen more as a higher calling, which it still is.  There was a mysterious, other worldliness about the role of priest that is no less true today even though it is not often perceived in that way.  The pride of having a priest in the family was a source of encouragement.

     I always wanted to be a priest.  Earliest memories go back to kindergarten ... "playing" priest with candy wafers - performing the old asperges (rite of sprinkling) in grandma's back yard [centered sidewalk] with blanket as cope and clothespin as sprinkler.  All through grade school the Sisters encouraged and my family supported my choice.  It was natural to "take the test" for entrance in the minor seminary program, which I did with a number of other guys from my class in seventh grade.  I was the only one to go from our parish the next year, although we had a number already in the seminary program.  Where they would send me was the question ... answered when I was sent to Saint Vincent Prep School in Latrobe as part of the initial group that would establish Saint Joseph Hall Minor Seminary Residence, with classes at Vincent's.  Thus at the age of 13 I was off on my journey.

     My reasons for wanting to be a priest were way off base in the beginning.  But that is what seminary is all about, testing, and maturing, and developing as the Call becomes clearer and the meaning of priesthood grew from a self centeredness to other centeredness.  Throughout the process, I had the love and support of family, friends, parish and the Church.  Twelve years later I knelt before the bishop as he laid hands on my head and I received the Holy Spirit through Orders.  Forty years from that moment I write this post and celebrate this priesthood, ever grateful for that love and support, ever grateful for the growth and development that has taken place in my life, and most grateful for the Call, which ultimately comes from God.

     Today the distractions are everywhere, the encouragement is much less, the prayerful support slowly growing once again, and because of the scandals of the past the image is a little tarnished.  Fewer men are hearing the Call, or at least responding to the Call.  We continue to pray.  We continue to see the priest for what he is to be - a man of service to God and the Church.  We continue to live in hope.  And we continue to rejoice in the men who are looking into the Call, those in our diocesan seminary program.  Pray for vocations ... and pray for priests.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The best boss

     There is a program on TV called "Undercover Boss".  I must admit that I am not a regular viewer, but when I did watch it was interesting.  The premise is that the CEO of a company dons a disguise and assumes a position in one of the stores.  He/she works with the employees and listens and learns.  Sometimes he/she finds people not pulling their weight, other times he/she sees their hard work and dedication.  He/she listens to their stories, learns about the families, experiences their joys and frustrations,  At the end, he/she reveals themselves to each employee that he/she has worked with they have a face to face.  Generally it is an eye opening and sometimes humbling experience for the boss, and the times that I have watched, they has made improvements, offered encouragement and expressed gratitude in very generous ways.

     I see this program concept as good reminder but a very inadequate image of the depth of love that God has for us.  In the reading from Hebrews yesterday and today we are reminded that God has entrusted the world to us, human beings.  It was not to the angels or any other created being, but to man.  We have been entrusted as stewards with all creation.  Unworthy and inadequate as we are at times, it is our job to be good stewards.  But he does not simply leave us to our own devices.

     Like the "undercover boss", he sent his Son to be one like us, in all things but sin, so that we can be understood, affirmed, transformed and improved, but most importantly loved.  His disguise is to "be like us", but in that disguise he invites us to "be like him".  His love of us is intensified and he opens the heart of God for us to bask in his love.  Our lives will never be the same.  We come away from the experience of "working with the boss" truly enriched and transformed, and for that we should be grateful.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

You are my beloved

     For those not from the tri-state area, today in Southwestern Pennsylvania was Springtime.  Even though it was January 12th, the temperature this afternoon as I left for Mass was 62 degrees and it was partly sunny.  This is not usual for these parts at this time of the year, but we broke out the Spring jackets.  I'm sure that we will pay for this reprieve, but we'll enjoy it while we can.


     When Jesus entered into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by his cousin, John, there was a keen awareness in both of them of the need for this baptism as well as the non necessity of this action.  John's baptism was a call to repentance, and in Jesus there was no need of repentance.  John even acknowledges that the roles should be reversed, that he should be baptized by Jesus.  And yet both knew that this had to be done, as a sign, an indicator of the plan of the Father.  This baptism of Jesus marked his entry into ministry, his embracing the task given him by the Father to bring about redemption and pave the way for salvation.  His time of growing  "in age and grace and wisdom" were complete, and now came the task of presenting the Good News, of bringing the Father's love, of calling all to life.

The events of that day - the baptism, a time of prayer, the sky opening with the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and the words of affirmation "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" were heard.   This affirmation of Jesus was not for him, although it signified his willingness to "step out" in the Father's Name and it marked his entry into public ministry.  This affirmation of him is for us, that we may be reassured that "he is the one".

     And this affirmation is a model to us that at our baptism we too are filled with the Spirit, called to embrace ministry, to step out in faith, to begin our building of the Kingdom.  As with Jesus, the Father proclaims that we are his beloved sons and daughters, his beloved children, and in us he is well pleased.  This assurance, this affirmation, sends us forth.  To the extent that we may not have moved yet, may not yet have begun, this feast of Jesus is a clear reminder to us of the work yet to be done.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A day off

     A day off is meant to lead you to doing something different, out of the ordinary.  It doesn't have to be exciting or extravagant to be refreshing.  Often on my day off I like to sleep late, take a drive or go to a movie, read a book and relax.

     Today is my day off ... and I did something a little out of the ordinary.  I had the pleasant experience of meeting with a young man of the parish who had emailed me asking if we could just get together and talk.  So today we met at the local Panera Bread for a bite to eat and some friendly conversation.  This young man, in his twenties and from a good family in the parish, had some questions about the faith.  He was not questioning the faith, but rather had questions about the faith.  Like many of his age, he had inquiries, he needed to know more, he was not sure of the background of what we believe and what we do.  His questions were great and to the point.  Unlike so many of his age, we had the confidence to approach the priest and express his desire for help in understanding the mystery of faith.  He had the courage to admit that he did not know it all and that he desired to grow in faith.

     We talked a great deal, shared experiences of faith, had some soup and great bread, and I found it a relaxing experience on this day off.  We expressed a desire and a promise to do this again.  I look forward to another rewarding encounter.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A biased review

     In preparation for Catholic Schools Week, I was asked by our local Queen of Angels School principal to work on a short essay describing five facets of our school community.  This would be for our diocesan newspaper, the CATHOLIC ACCENT, and would be limited to 150 words.  I cannot even get started in 150 words, so I put my thoughts on paper yesterday (600 and some words) and then condensed to a more reasonable 199 words -thank God for word count on the computer).  I thought that I might share the "longer version" with you today.  We are very proud of our regional school.


     As we proudly celebrate our twentieth year of excellence as Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School serving the Penn Township, Herminie, Irwin and North Huntingdon area, we are gratefully rooted in nearly one hundred and fifty years of Catholic School identity, spiritual strength and academic excellence in schools at Immaculate Conception, Saint Agnes and Saint Edward.  Our strengths and our challenges help to build a school community that embraces the theme for this year of "Raising the Standards".  Raising the standards of our educational and formational program is readily embraced in order that we can become bearers of the standard of our faith in both Church and society.  The world of today and tomorrow needs leaders who are standard bearers of the Gospel message and examples of Christ centered lives.  We strive to provide those standards through lived experiences, strong academics, and creative roles of service among families and within the community.

     In looking at what we do in order to describe who we are, we find that what we do, which some may find extraordinary, are seen as very ordinary to us.  We see them as normal rather than exceptional.  That, too, is a part of our strength, for our task as leaders is to transform the ordinary into something extraordinary, and in doing so, to make living a Christian life very ordinary indeed.

     Since actions speak louder than words at times, our areas of outreach and service include participating in school-wide and family oriented service activities for hospitals, service personnel, shelters, nursing homes, the needy, both locally and in Kentucky and for hurricane Sandy victims, and food bank projects, to name just a few.

     These service projects help us develop our Catholic identity, along with a very Catholic spirit within the school building and programs.  Included are daily religion classes, weekly liturgies and prayer services, seasonal prayers and activities as well as great uniforms that proudly reflect who we are.

     This Catholic identity is possible through our Faith Formation which integrates songs, stories, bible knowledge and Catholic prayer into daily curriculum, along with formal and informal teaching approaches into such formation.  We are blessed with the active participation of our priests in the school, and in teaching in the Middle School curriculum.

     Our extracurricular activities are many, and in a special way touch upon not only athletics but also the development of the fine arts programs.

     Lastly, but most importantly, our academic excellence continues to be outstanding.  Thanks to a tremendous faculty and administration, all of the children are treated with respect and value.  Our test scores are great, evaluations are positive, achievements on many levels outstanding, and a great spirit among students, faculty, parents and administration provide top quality academic standards.

     Queen of Angels School is justifiably proud of her twenty years of existence, and is firmly committed to the future development of our students.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

This is love

     We prayed to God today in the Collect prayer, that we may be inwardly transformed by his Son, who appeared in our very flesh.  The prayer went on to say that through him, whom we recognize as outwardly like ourselves in the incarnation, we find the desire for that inner transformation.  That transformation is to be one of love.  The Apostle John in his 1st letter encourages us to love one another and the reason is simple, to do so because God is love.  Everyone who loves another person is begotten by God and knows God.  It reminds me of my favorite line in "Les Miserable", the musical and now movie, which says toward the end "To love another person is to see the face of God."

     John concludes the passage read today by reminding us that of what true love consists: not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us, and has sent his Son as expiation for our sins.   Our love of God is sort of a natural response ... if someone is good to me, I'll be good to him.  But true love is found in a love that is freely chosen yet not required, over the top when sufficient would be adequate, and so real that it opens the way for the ultimate sacrifice in order to bring about redemption.  That kind of love, the kind that God has for us, the kind that prompted him to send us his Son, the kind that enables our lives to be transformed and immersed into the divine, is what love is meant to be for us.  It is the ultimate gift of God to you and me.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A journey toward enlightenment

     As we stand at the beginning of the new year of 2013, we are blessed and challenged.  In one area, we are blessed with the availability of information, the accumulation of facts and trivia at a moments notice.  Google this or Bing that and you have at your fingertips in an instant what you want or need to know.  We can appear to be the most knowledgeable of people, and we can impress those we desire to with our abilities.

     But in that same vane, we are most challenged, for our knowledge is too easily acquired, too readily available, too peripheral to who we are.   The great philosopher Socrates, I believe, told his students who sat at his feet and pondered every word of his that they should strive to "Know Yourself".  This saying was rooted in ancient wisdom. This knowledge takes time, it is a process or journey into the truth, an understanding of the power and effectiveness that flows from the relationships that are a part of your life.  It is not a spontaneous affair nor can it be a rushed process.

     We acknowledge Jesus to be our teacher, our master, our light, the very source of truth.  We are invited into his inner circle in order to learn from him, to seek inspiration and direction in our lives, to progress in grace and favor.  We are to sit at the feet of the Master and become wise.  This is a process, a journey into truth.  Just being in his presence is a gift.

     On this feast of the Epiphany, when the magi came seeking him, following the manifestation of the star, searching for truth and meaning, looking for the great one whose birth was heralded by heavenly signs, we rejoice that the light has shown among the nations.  We give thanks that our hunger for truth and wisdom prompts us to seek an answer, not with ease but with determination and persistence.  We give great thanks for the revelation of God to us - the gift of "God With Us".  And we seek enlightenment as we seek Christ and embrace him in the intimacy of this relationship of love called faith, which leads to life that is eternal.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Epiphany Proclamation

     An ancient tradition within the Church has the Epiphany Proclamation sung at Masses on the Feast of the Epiphany (this weekend).  It sets the changeable dates for the great feasts of the coming year.
Dear brothers and sisters,
the glory of the Lord has shone upon us,
and shall ever be manifest among us,
until the day of his return.
Through the rhythms of times and seasons
let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation.
Let us recall the year's culmination,
the Easter Triduum of the Lord:
his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial,
and his rising celebrated
between the evening of the Twenty-Eighth day of March
and the evening of the Thirtieth day of March,
Easter Sunday being the Thirty-First day of March.
Each Easter - as on each Sunday -
the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed
by which Christ has forever conquered sin and death.
From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy.
Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent,
will occur on the Thirteenth day of February.
The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated
on the Ninth day of May.
Pentecost, joyful conclusion of the season of Easter,
will be celebrated on the Nineteenth day of May.
And, this year the First Sunday of Advent
will be on the First day of December.
Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims
the passover of Christ
in the feasts of the Holy Mother of God,
in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints,
and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.
To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come,
Lord of time and history,
be endless praise, for ever and ever.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Glorious Feast

     If you are the pastor of a parish with the name Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, today is a special day of celebration, for it is the day in which the Church in the United States honors this first native born saint of the Roman Catholic Church.  It was on this day, January 4 in 1821 that Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton died in Emmittsburg, Maryland at the age of forty-six.  Born just two years prior to the birth of this nation, she lived those forty-six years in an extra ordinary fashion, and her story is one of courage and inspiration.

     Born in New York City in 1774 of Dr. Richard Seton and Catherine (who died in 1777), Elizabeth was born into privilege and learning.  Baptized and raised as an Episcopalian, she grew through the example of her step-mother, Charlotte Barclay (who was related to the Roosevelt family), in a love of charity and outreach to the poor and needy in the City of New York.  Married to William Magee Seton, a merchant, at the age of 19 on January 25 of 1794, they had a successful marriage and brought into the world five children.  After some business set backs and a bout of illness, William died while on a trip to Italy in December of 1803, leaving Elizabeth and one daughter with friends in Italy.  While there, she encountered their Catholic Faith, and was attracted to their love of the Eucharist.

     On returning home to New York, she opened a school for girls to provide for her family, and began looking into the Catholic Faith.  Her decision to be received into the Church came in March of 1805 and was met with hostility and rejection by family and friends, as well as the parents of her students.  At the invitation of the local community in Emmittsburg, Maryland, where a seminary was being established, she moved with her family and opened a school there.  Others joined her in her efforts and she established a Community of Women Religious (the first in the U.S.) known as the Daughters of Charity.  Charity was a hallmark of her life, and teaching was a foundational stone.  She died on January 4, 1821, and since 1975 has been recognized as a saint of the Catholic Church, but has also, I read, been recognized as a saint in the Episcopal Church, the Church of her baptism.

     Her Sisters have Congregations in Emmittsburg, Cincinnati, New York, Halifax, Convent Station, New Jersey and Seton Hill in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.  The Sisters of Charity that I know continue to share her charism with grace.  The people of this parish, without consciously knowing it, continue in a wonderful way her charism of charity to the poor and needy.  Her charism of teaching continues in our Catholic Schools and excellent religious formation programs.  Near her statue in our church is a quote that acknowledges that she is "a saint for our times."  As wife, mother, widow, convert to the faith, teacher, foundress and saint she is indeed just that.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

An Important Step

     Yesterday was not only the first day of the New Year, it was also a milestone celebration of an event that took place in these United States 150 years ago - the signing by President Abraham Lincoln of the Emancipation Proclamation.  This bold move, taken in the midst of our historic Civil War, laid the groundwork for the recognition of equality among all peoples, a struggle that is yet to be realized in its totality.  In the Proclamation, the President declared that all slaves in the Confederate States were free men and women.  It was a simple yet profound declaration of what should have been seen as obvious, but which was not.  The Dred-Scott Supreme Court decision had declared that slaves were property and did not have the dignity or rights of human beings.  The slaves of the South, vital for the economy, were seen and treated in different ways by different families.  And yet slavery, subjugation and inequality denied God given freedoms and dignity.  This bold move placed the question of slavery within the context of that great war, and became a rallying cry for many.

     The movie "Lincoln" which was released recently is an excellent portrayal of the subsequent efforts of the President and others of passing an Amendment to the Constitution (the 13th) that would grant equality to all citizens.  That effort took place following the Proclamation and preceded the President's death, in the Spring of 1863.

     Even with that Amendment, it took years until the Civil Rights Movement's gains in this country, and we are not there yet.  The struggle continues, and is not only one of color, but of ethnic prejudice, of economic persecution and inequality, and of our basic denial of God given dignity.  But January 1, 1863 was an important step in our journey as a nation.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

An example to follow

     As we begin a new calendar year and set course in 2013 on a year of grace and favor from the Lord, the Church invites us to focus upon Mary as the Holy Mother of God.
     Hopefully most of us were blest with parents that presented us not only with life and nurturing but with faith and values, a moral compass and a great example to model our lives after.  I realize that we may not all be that fortunate.  I was, and I cherish the gift that my parents were to me.  Often we ask youngsters what they want to be when they grow up.  Many times they want to be like their Moms or Dads.  While I never wanted to be a policeman like Dad, I did value his ease with people, his charm and personality (he once took a Dale Carnegie course on winning friends and influencing people - he could have taught the course), his sense of right and wrong, his values and his quiet love for us.  Mom had that same quiet love, deeply felt but not overtly expressed too often.  They were/are models of what I want my life in ministry to be about.

     The Church places before our eyes the image of Mary as a Mom, the Mother of Jesus and by her earliest titles "Theotokis", and our mother, entrusted to us through Saint John, the Beloved Disciple.  With the uncertainties facing us in 2013 and beyond, with the realization of our sinfulness and frailty, we need the image of purity, faith, humility, trust and love that is found in Mary to inspire us to rely upon the grace of God more fully and to live our lives more richly in holiness and peace.