Thursday, February 28, 2013

A memorable sign off

     We are all aware of well known personalities that have offered distinguishing sign off's like Walter Cronkite "And that's the way it is ..." or Carol Burnett and her little pull on the ear or Jimmy Durante (remember him?) and his signature walk off with the words "Good night, Mrs. Calabash, where ever you are". [not sure of the spelling - the memory is slipping].

View of the Lake from the Papal Palace

     Today we saw the quiet, dignified and simple farewell of the successor of Peter, Benedict XVI, as he said farewell to his collaborators, the Cardinals, good bye as pope to the staff and Vatican City as he rose in the helicopter and circled Saint Peter's to the ringing of the bells, the exuberant welcome to the summer residence of the popes at Castel Gandolfo, and then his brief address to those gathered there and those watching and listening.  His final public words as pope, following his blessing, were "Thank you and good night.  Thank you all."  Then he retired - into the house, into the evening quiet, and into the quiet of prayer and reflection.

Entrance to the Summer Residence from the town square

     Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into the peace of the Lord's love for you, and take with you our love and respect.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My trust is in you, O Lord

     Watching the General Audience this morning I was so uplifted by the 200,000 people showing their love for the Church and for Pope Benedict on that bright day in Rome.  What a contrast to the reports of imminent doom and prominent scandal in the Church that we hear and see reported in the media, and also with delight and relish, by those who hate the Church.

     Then at Mass this morning we heard about those that were plotting against Jeremiah the prophet.  They said: "Come, let us contrive a plot against Jeremiah.  It will not mean the loss of instruction from the priests, nor of counsel from the wise, nor of messages from the prophets.  And so, let us destroy him by his own tongue; let us note his every word."  Jeremiah explained to the Lord that he had only tried to do good, to stand before the Lord in behalf of these same people now plotting against him.

     The author of Psalm 31 said: "I hear the whispers of the crowd, that frighten me from every side, as they consult together against me, plotting to take my life."

    And even Jesus spoke to his friends of going up to Jerusalem where he will be handed over and mocked and scourged and crucified.

     As I said at the beginning of this post, there are those that hate the Church and all that she stands for.  They vent their venom on the Church, the Holy Father, and all those that seek to do the will of God.   Then there are those who just don't understand, who bring their hurt or prejudice into the equation and negate or ignore the good that the Church and the Holy Father has done and focus upon the human imperfections.  They forget that the Church is a human institution established by God to bring us a glimpse what God has in store - holiness of life.   And then there are those who love a good conspiracy, who love intrigue, who are less concerned about the truth and more concerned about headlines.

     We are at a graced moment of transition within the Church.  We are called to enliven our faith in this Year of Faith.  We are called to place our trust in the Lord, our God - to say, as did the Psalmist this morning: "You are my God.  In your hands is my destiny; rescue me from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors."
O Lord, you are our refuge and strength!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Check your sources

     With the momentous and historic events in the Church in the days and weeks to come, there is no lack of media reporting and social media comments.  Some of it comes from curiosity, some of it is outright biased and sensational reporting or hate filled social media attacks on the Church, and unfairly, on the Holy Father, and some of it is just plain good reporting.  I said on Sunday that with all of the conspiracy theories going around, Dan Brown, the author, will have multiple story lines for his works of fiction.

     Where is the truth to be found, and balanced reporting?  Obviously the Vatican News Service itself at is a great source.  Also the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at  A good source on TV and a blog entitled "Joan's Rome" can be found on  But my primary source of info is Whispers in the Loggia by Rocco Palmo found at

     Enjoy and immerse yourselves in the unfolding mystery of God at work within our midst, at the pageantry and tradition of centuries old practices alive within the modern age, and, of course, history, new and exciting.

Our moment in the spotlight

     As I mentioned before, there is much attention being placed upon the "last days" of the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.  Yesterday's focus was on his last public Angelus celebration in the square, where one report had nearly 200,000 people present.

     Our local newspaper, the Greensburg Tribune Review did an article on this final Angelus, and spoke with me as well as came to our parish at the 11:00 am Mass to take a few pictures and interview a few parishioners.  Our communications director for the Diocese of Greensburg, Jerry Zufelt, called Friday morning to see if I was saying anything about Benedict this weekend, and if I would be open to someone from the Trib coming to Mass.  I gave my okay, and spoke to the Religion Editor by phone Friday afternoon, then welcomed the two staff people of the Trib to Mass on Sunday.  People were wondering what the photographer was there for (a baptism, or a cover piece before my call to Rome? HA!).  I assured them that it was harmless, but that if any of the young people needed proof for their parents that they were at church, that Craig (the photographer) might be able to get their picture in the paper.  That got a chuckle.  The only thing that we did differently was to pray the Angelus at the conclusion of the Mass, in solidarity with the Holy Father.  PS ... I wasn't sure how many still prayed the Angelus regularly, but was pleasantly surprised at the response to the prayers.

     The article was in the February 25th edition of the Greensburg Tribune Review.  Even though I was not quoted all that much, there were a few pictures, and a few of the parishioners who spoke to the reporter.  It was a nice piece, and gave our parish of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton a "moment in the spotlight".

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Chair of Peter

     Usually when you gather for a meeting or gathering there is a Chairman or Chairwoman - the Chair - who guides the meeting, gives order to the procedures, make determinations and often shares wisdom.  Where ever they sit is the head of the table, and all eyes and all attention is given to the chair.

     In great schools and universities there is usually a Chair that heads the department or branch of study.  Often Chairs are established that allow the head of the department to continue study or bring prestige to the discipline.  The Chair of the department oversees all aspects of that area of the school or university.

     In the normal practice of law, the judge presides from the bench, and the centerpiece of the bench is the position of the judge seated in judgement.  Judges do not stand to make their verdicts, they sit on the judges bench or chair.  This practice goes back to Roman times.

     In the Church, in the local Church or diocese, the bishop's chair (or cathedra) gives name to the primary church of the local church (the cathedral).  When he is installed, the bishop is led to the cathedra - the chair - and formally takes possession by sitting and being acknowledged as Shepherd.  He is known for his responsibilities to teach, to govern and to sanctify ... all of which are associated with 'the chair".

     Today is the Feast of the Chair of Peter, an acknowledgement of the role and primacy of the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Saint Peter.  Our gospel today has Jesus asking "Who do you say that I am?"  and Peter responding "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!".  Jesus praises the insight of this answer, not because Peter was bright or insightful, but because he was open to be inspired by the Spirit.  And Jesus sets him apart - "You are Peter, and upon this "rock" I will build my Church".  From that moment on primacy was given to Peter and to his successors.  They came to realize that the task of leadership, of teaching, governing and sanctifying, were integral to the office of chief shepherd.  And the Chair of Peter - not the literal chair but the office - was to be recognized.

     By the mid 4th century, there was a commemoration in Rome of those who had died.  This celebration was held between the 13th and 22nd of February, with an "empty chair" placed in their midst.  Since the actual date of Peter's death is not known, he was remembered and honored at this Roman remembrance.  Today we honor the papacy and with Pope Benedict XVI stepping down next Thursday, the eyes of the world are focused on the Vatican. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Going my way" ...

     Last night, flipping through the channels on TV, I ran across the old black and white Bing Crosby movie "Going My Way".  It was, I believe, a best picture winner in the '40's.  This movie and the follow up "The Bells of St. Mary's" featured Bing Crosby as Father Chuck O'Malley, a young priest in parish assignments.  They are enjoyable and uplifting stories which romanticize the priesthood.  Good looking, young, talented, easygoing - who wouldn't want to be Father O'Malley.  And yet, how far from reality.  In neither movie do you see Father Chuck doing much in priestly ministry.  You never see him offering Mass or administering the Sacraments, not much office work or pastoral visiting of the sick.  He was around, played music, worked with the kids choir, raised money with his charm or musical abilities.  Even the "old pastor" was only seen functioning in church in the pulpit asking for money to pay the bills.   Not the priesthood I have come to know and love.

     Given the tremendous upheavals in the Church in the last fifty years, especially the sex abuse scandals and all of the residual effects that it has brought upon the priesthood, there is an entire component of society that looks upon priesthood with suspicion and mistrust at best, and hatred and disgust at worst.  You often hear that priesthood is flawed, that celibacy is the root cause of the scandals, that there is a climate of homosexuality among priests, that priests, except for the rare few, cannot be trusted.  This is not the priesthood that I have come to know and love.

     Granted, you will find the young, dynamic, charismatic priest that is the "Bing Crosby" of our day ... and you will find the flawed soul who has betrayed trust and fallen into sin in ways that are truly scandalous.  But in most cases, you will find men of every age and personality who have accepted the call of God and the invitation of the Church to serve God and his people to the very best of their ability.  They bring their gifts and their limitations to the work.  They see the work as ministry, and pour themselves out for others.  They do the best that they can in times and a culture that has become more and more difficult.  They live in a climate that places them in the category of guilty by association, of being suspect for simply being pastoral.

     This afternoon I spent a few hours at a Deanery (regional) meeting with a number of my brothers.  These are good men who serve the Church well, who have dedicated their lives to bringing Christ to others freely and without hesitation.  We spoke of our frustrations at being "careful" in our dealings with others rather than in the very best sense of living out the title that we are known by - father.  Father O'Malley could not have worked with the boys choir as he did or do half of what he did in the movies in the present, out of suspicion or fear.  We spoke of putting windows in our office or confessional doors for safety - of the penitent and of the priest.  We spoke of meeting people only during office hours when others are there and only in the office - for safety.  One mentioned that we should not blur the lines of our relationships, and that no parishioner or staff member should be seen as a friend.  Even the natural hug of a child after Mass or the peck on the cheek by someone from the women's group after a meeting would cause us to be wary.  We live in a strange time and in difficult circumstances.   And yet I am blessed by my brothers in priesthood.  I am blessed in my experience of priesthood.   And while I am frustrated with the climate of distrust and evil in the world today, I place my complete confidence in the love of God and the message of the Gospel.  It was a good afternoon of fellowship and priesthood, and I am grateful to God.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Someone or something?

     Jesus in Luke's Gospel says that this is an evil generation ... that it seeks a sign.  He then says that the "sign" that will be given is the example of the past, the example of Jonah and of Solomon.  Jonah proclaimed a call to repentance, but it was the person of Jonah, saved from the belly of the whale, that touched the imagination of the people of Nineveh and prompted them to repent.  Solomon was gifted with an extraordinary wisdom that was recognized and sought after by the queen of the south.  She came from the ends of the earth to see and listen to and be inspired by this man of wisdom. 

     And in both examples, Jesus makes it clear that while there was the wisdom or the message that were sought after and accepted by those people, they were drawn to it by Jonah and Solomon.

     But he points out that this is the very source of condemnation for this generation.  If people could respond to God because of a person like Jonah or Solomon, why could this generation not respond to the living Word of God, Jesus.  Not to his persona, his dynamism, his personality and charisma, but to the truth of God's love that he is for them.  Jesus says that there is something greater than Solomon here ... there is something greater than Jonah here.  He does not say "someone greater - himself" but rather "something greater - the reality of God's love".  That "thing" is not represented by the person of Jesus, that "thing" IS Jesus, the reality of God.  And he is truth.

Pray for the Church
in this time of transition.
May gratitude and joy,
hope and trust
in the mercy and love of God
dwell with us.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Three-fold prayer

    As I prayed the Prayer Over the People at Mass today, I was reminded of the "three-fold" nature of our prayers at time.  The Prayer says

May your faithful be strengthened, O God,
by your blessing:
in grief, may you be their consolation,
in tribulation, their power to endure,
and in peril, their protection.
Through Christ our Lord.
     "In grief, in tribulation, in peril" brought to mind the new translation of the old Roman Canon where describing the gifts that the Father has given us as  "this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim" and later, describing the good things that God has made, the Eucharistic Prayer says of them "you sanctify them, fill them with life, bless them".   This three-fold formula of prayer is found in many instances in the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom in the Byzantine Catholic liturgy, and is very beautiful when prayerfully chanted.  "Holy One, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal have mercy on us" is one formula that I seem to remember.
     Of course, this three-fold formula has even more basic roots in our understanding of the nature of God: One God in Three Divine Persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
     So, may today's Prayer Over the People which we prayed come to pass ... may we find consolation in Christ, be able to endure by his power, and count on his protection in our lives.   And may our Lenten journey bring us closer to the Triune God.
Pray for Pope Benedict,
the Church in transition,
and the guidance of the Holy Spirit
upon the selection of a new pope. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Presidents' Day

     Today is a national holiday.  It is called Presidents' Day and it honors both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, two of the great leaders of this nation.  George Washington is considered the Father of the nation, having led the troops in our struggle for independence and then stepping up to the plate to lead our nation as the first president, our chief executive.  He is a monumental figure and the stuff of legend.  One of his attributes is that he "could not tell a lie" (remember the question as to who chopped down the cherry tree?).   His birthday is celebrated on February 22nd.

     Abraham Lincoln served as the 16th president of this Republic in the early 1860's.  He served in probably the most divisive time in the history of this nation, the Civil War.  In tough times he stood valiantly as the guide of the peoples, and took bold steps in the Emancipation Proclamation and passage before his death of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to bring about an equality among peoples.  His birthday is celebrated on February 12th. 

     Both of these men were larger than life, both served as hallmarks of greatness in the life of this nation, and both are held up as champions of freedom and hope.  Both were also men who were less than perfect, who were flawed and made mistakes, and in the case of Lincoln was vilified by a great many people for a variety of reasons.  Still, we honor them in the history of the nation.

     We stand as a Church at a moment of recalling the role and service that Pope Benedict has given to the Church in his long life.  We do that in recent days and in days ahead from the unique experience of his presence in our midst and from a position of being too close to the reality of his reign on the Chair of Peter to be objective.  I have read glowing commentaries of his papacy and reviews of his life.  I have read blistering commentaries as well, many of which are truly unfair and are judgements rooted in politics rather than the experience of the Gospel message.  I trust (and hope) that those committed to the Church will see in his papacy and his service to the Church the pastoral love, gentleness,  prayer and scholarship, and dedication that I have seen in these last number of years.  Do I give my blanket approval to every direction that the Church has taken in these last few years?  No.  But do I see the leadership of Benedict XVI as being a blessing for our moment in history ... yes.  May history be good to him and to the Church, and may we remember him with civility and love.


The Prayer Over the People for this Monday of the First Week of Lent is:

Enlighten the minds of your people,
Lord, we pray,
with the light of your glory,
that they may see what must be gone
and have the strength to do what is right.
Through Christ our Lord.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Our story

     Today's post is a Scripture Reflection that I did for the Diocesan Website of the Diocese of Greensburg for this weekend.

     Our identity is usually rooted in our story.  Who we are often flows from our heritage and background.  Our effectiveness often rests in our experiences.  And this holds true to our identity as Church, as the Body of Christ, as the Community of Faith.

     In Deuteronomy we have Moses, the leader of this "newly minted" people, acknowledging the gratitude of the people for the role that God was playing in their lives.  In that acknowledgment, he reminds them of their story, of their roots.  "My father was a wandering Aramean ..." he begins.  Knowing the story reminds the people of where their present blessings have come from and the need and desire within their lives to give thanks.

     The account of the temptation of Jesus after forty days in the desert which we hear at the beginning of the Lenten season not only tells us of this moment in the life of Jesus, but it reminds us that he was well versed in the story of his people (as was the tempter), and when tempted, he could respond with clarity and confident assurance a word of resistance to that temptation.  His strength was found in the power of his relationship with the Father.  Our strength is found in the power of our relationship with the Father.  Knowing this part of our story allows us to move forward on our journey - a journey from sin and death to freedom and life.

     In the reading from Romans today, Paul asks "What does Scripture say?"  The Scriptures are our story.  The Scriptures are our life blood.  The Scriptures are our foundation.  We are reminded that God's "word is near, in your mouth and in your heart". 

     So place the Word of God in your hearts as well as on your lips.  Enter this time of grace and blessing in the Lenten Season with anticipation and joy.  Purify your lives, be hungry in your hearts, seek him in his Word, and live.  This is the heritage that we received from our ancestors.  This is our story that we tell today.  This is the untold story of the Church of tomorrow.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Fasting and penance

     Two days into Lent and our Collect prayer already expresses our need for perseverance.  It asks that the Lord show gracious favor on the works of penance that we have begun, "that we have strength to accomplish with sincerity the bodily observances we undertake."  It is somewhat like our "New Year's Resolutions".  How soon are we distracted from our resolve.  Our prayers are voiced this way because our Lenten resolve, our sacrifice and penance, are so much more important than some silly new year's resolutions.  This needs to be for us a life and death moment, a realization that without redirection in our lives, without an openness to the grace provided by God, without contrition for sin and desire for holiness, we are dead in the water and adrift (at best) or we are literally dead to God.  This is a life and death moment.  And Lent is a transforming, reconciling, resurrection moment of grace.

     In the reading from Isaiah (Is. 58: 1 - 9a) the Lord speaks again of what he desires in regard to fasting.  He says that on their fast days the people carry out their own interests, they overwork their laborers, they end up being testy and irritable.  They play the part, bowing the head, being covered with sackcloth and ashes, going through the motions, but it is empty and shallow.

     The Lord says that this is the fasting that he wishes: "releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own."
He says that then your light will shine and God will be glorified.

     These are spiritual days that call us to holiness and lead us to action.  To be holy means that we be involved.  We might call it the corporal works of mercy, or social justice, or building up the Body of Christ - but this desire for holiness demands involvement in every aspect of life so that the light of Christ and the message of his Gospel might guide and direct the actions of humanity and the working of nations.

     The Communion Antiphon today says: "O Lord, make me know your ways, teach me your paths."  A great request on this Lenten Friday.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Whose day is it?

     Today is Valentine's Day.  I remember growing up with the understanding that today we honor Saint Valentine.  Hearts and flowers, kindness and love are the order of the day.  In grade school we had the custom of exchanging Valentine Greetings, some home made, some purchased and personalized.  Being in the seminary I never had the dating, flowers and dinner thing as part of my experience.  I remember finding out that little was known of Valentine except that supposedly from prison he would remind his people of the love that Christ had for them, of his love and prayers, and of their need to love each other.  He would do this through notes smuggled out of prison.  Thus an explanation for the tradition of Valentine cards and greeting.  To all of those who are into expressing respect and love on this day - Happy Valentine's Day!

     But somewhere along the line the saints honored on February 14th are two brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius - not Saint Valentine.  Their existence and impact on the Church is very real.  They lived in the 800's, and both ministered to the Slavic peoples, brought Christ and his message to a people who had lived without that knowledge and truth.  They translated the bible and the texts of the liturgy from the languages of Hebrew, Latin and Greek into the language of the people - Slavonic.  Slavonic did not have have a written language, so they developed a script which was based on their Cyrillic alphabet (named after Cyril).  Cyril died first, in 869, followed by his brother (who had become a bishop) in 884.  They are honored and venerated in both the Eastern and Western Churches.  Coming from a Polish and Slavic background, Cyril and Methodius are well known to me.

     So, whose day is it?  For the Church it is the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius ... for the secular world it is the feast of Saint Valentine.  Whichever we honor and celebrate, it is a day of expressing a love that originates in God, and an opportunity to give him thanks by expressing love to others.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


     We call it a season, a journey, a pilgrimage, a spiritual exercise, an opportunity, and in the Collect of today's Mass, Lent is called a campaign.  In our diocese we already have a campaign called the Diocesan Lenten Appeal, asking for financial support for the work of the local Church.  Our sacrifice allows others to be helped and find blessing.  The campaign spoken of in the Collect is a "campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint."  But this campaign is vastly different in at least two ways: first, one is about the money to make the ministry happen and the other is about the ministry itself flowing from us; and secondly, this campaign is about service to others, giving of time and talent and treasure in the most loving of ways, so that, while God's people are blessed, our lives are strengthened with spiritual grace.  Thus strengthened, we are empowered to step forward and as Paul said in the second reading today, to be ambassadors of Christ.

     Many came this morning to be signed with ashes.  The phone has not stopped ringing with inquiries about our other services.  People step forward on days like Ash Wednesday and publicly "wear their faith on their sleeve (or in this case on their forehead).  We have a strong Catholic population in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and so this witness is not surprising.  But the key will be to not just receive ashes, to not just make this Wednesday special, to not just "give up" things (except for sin), but to do - charity, love, outreach, ministry, concern, prayer.  This will make Lent, this Lent in particular, a very special and powerful experience of grace and favor.  Happy LENT!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fat Tuesday

     Sometimes our traditions come from the strangest of reasonings.  Lent begins tomorrow - a time of repentance, prayer, fasting, works of charity, conversion and preparation to enter the mysteries of the Triduum and Easter.  And so, today, in preparation, we give ourselves to "abandon".

     In New Orleans we find Mardi Gras revelers eating and drinking and dancing themselves into oblivion.  In Rio they are celebrating Carnivale and exposing themselves (sometimes literally) to the excesses of life.  I read where officials in Rio have enacted and are trying to enforce a new law that outlaws urinating in public - primarily to not offend visitors as well as for health reasons.  We let ourselves "go".  Wiki Answers stated that this day people "eat gluttonous amounts of rich fatty food, drink and 'partake in sin-like behaviors' ".  It reminds me somewhat of New Years Eve.  What we remember the next morning is anyone guess.

     Not all traditions are so "out there".  There are other customs and traditions that involve food - the Polish have the tradition of "pillow doughnuts" called paczki or punchki's on this day before Lent.  And it can be a "fun day" for families.

     They main thing is that we focus on the importance of the day we call Ash Wednesday and the season of grace that follows - Lent.  Enjoy today and celebrate tomorrow with calculated actions that enforce faith and do not give in to "reckless abandon".

Monday, February 11, 2013

Well, an eye opener

     My normal morning routine involves the tv in the bedroom going on before I awake, the alarm going off  before seven (on which I hit the snooze button at least twice), then up and running. This morning the tv went on (background chatter), the alarm went off, I heard the newscaster say that Pope Benedict had resigned!  Well, suddenly one eye opened wide, I listened closely to the news, the other eye opened, and the day was off to a quick and unexpected start!

     The news was historic, monumental, unexpected.  These things don't happen every day, or decade, or century.  It was quick to point out that the last time a pope stepped aside was in the 1400's, when the pope stepped aside to heal a division in the Western Church.  The last time for personal reasons was in 1294.  Not an everyday occurrence.  As I said - historic, monumental and somewhat unexpected.

     Pope Benedict XVI has served us well, better than I expected, and with great dedication.  I am sure that we will hear much in the days to come, both pro and con, but his legacy is already written in the history of the Church and his impact huge.  May he truly find peace and joy in his retirement and blessing in his long life of service to the Church and her people.

     Now we move into truly uncharted waters.  This Lent will like no other.  Within a few weeks the Chair of Peter will be vacant and the process of selecting a new Bishop of Rome will begin.  We have a young parishioner, Kayla Ciongoli, a student at Duquesne University who left a few weeks ago to spend the Spring semester at Duquesne's Rome Campus.  I was excited for her, and told her to "soak up all of the experiences of Rome".  Wow!  Will she have stories to tell and the experience of seeing a new pope elected within her time in Rome.  Jealousy is not something to be proud of, but in this case, I am jealous of Kayla - just a bit.

     Pray for Pope Benedict XVI, in gratitude and in blessing, pray for the Church in this period of unexpected transition, and pray for the Cardinals as they prepare to select Benedict's successor.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Honor your father and mother

     In our traditional listing of the Ten Commandments, we list the fourth as being "Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you".  Some traditions list this as the fifth.  But whichever case, it is the first commandment that follows those mentioned specifically to our relationship with God.  The commandments were given by God to establish order and purpose in life for a community that was beginning to form an identity as it related to God.  That order and purpose in life allowed them to live as a community and to flourish.  These commandments were meant to be life giving and affirming.  They were rooted in love - God's for us and ours for him and for each other.

     It is interesting that the first commandment dealing with our relationship with each other has to do with mothers and fathers, honor and respect, love and happiness.  Our earthly parents are to be the closest relationships that we have apart from God.  This is not always the case, but it is meant to be.  And when we are blessed with a mom and dad that reflect God's love and manifest their own love for their children, we, their children, are truly blessed.

     My sister, Janie, and I are truly blessed.  Our mom and dad, both now sharing the joy of heaven with the Lord, were good parents.  They loved us, nurtured us, celebrated with us, and taught us about the important things of life.  They fashioned us into who we are today.  We love them, really respect them, and honor them every moment of our existence.  I mention them in this post because today, February 9th, would have been dad's 93rd birthday (interesting story ... he always thought his birthday was February 5th, until he retired at 63 and got a copy of his birth certificate and found that the date was really the 9th ... he celebrated twice each year after that).  And this Monday, February 11th, would have been mom's 94th birthday.  They also shared a wedding anniversary on the 17th of February - this year would have been 67 years.

     I will remember both of them, dad and mom, Bill and Frances, with great love on those dates at my Masses, and Janie and I will celebrate our blessedness at having them as parents.

Friday, February 8, 2013

From slave to servant

    Last year on this date I spoke of Saint Josephine Bakhita and of my ties to this newer saint.  She died, as I pointed out, a few months before I was born in 1947 and her canonization in Rome on October 1, 2000 was an event that I was honored to have attended.  Her story is one of inspiration and quiet resolve. 

     She was born in 1879 in the Sudan and raised in the Islamic faith.  At seven she was kidnapped and sold into the slave trade where she had a number of owners before being purchased by the Italian Consul at the age of twelve.  She came to Italy with the family as a servant and nanny for their children, and there encountered the Christian faith.  Interested in Christ, she received instructions, an education, baptism and eventually freedom.  She entered a Religious Community of women, the Canossian Daughters of Charity in 1896 where she served the Lord and her Sisters as cook, seamstress, and greeter over the years, as well as sharing her musical gifts with Community and her students.  Her life is an example of a bonded slave who through freedom granted her by others but most importantly by Christ through the Church came to serve others with love, simplicity and joy.  Slave no more, she gladly embraced the role of servant.  And because of that we call her a saint of God and a "model of freedom".

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Nagasaki ties ...

     Most of us know of Nagasaki, Japan, because of the atomic bomb dropped on that city on August 9, 1945, which brought about such devastation as well as the prompt end of conflict between Japan and the United States.   Most of us know little else about the history of this city.   But there are ties that unite Nagasaki, Japan with our Catholic faith.

    Today the universal Church honors as martyrs a group of companions who were put to death for their faith on February 5, 1597.  They include Paul Miki, a Jesuit scholastic (student) and twenty five others.  These included two other Jesuits, six Franciscans, fifteen Third Order members and two laymen.  They were crucified.  They are the protomartyrs (the first martyrs) of the Far East, and were canonized in 1862 by Pope Pius IX.

     But there is another saint connected with this city besides these early missionaries who brought Christ to the local people.  His name is Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest from Poland who lived and worked in Nagasaki before its destruction and his death in Auschwitz in 1941 at the hands of the Nazi regime.  His work in Japan was to get the message of Christ out, and he did so through publishing.  If it were not for the turmoil in Europe which called him home, he might have lost his life at Nagasaki, ministering to the Japanese people. 

Tough Love

     With Valentine's Day approaching there is much thought and sentiment given to love.  Love is so sweet, so sentimental, so beautiful.  Hearts and flowers are the order of the day. 

     And yet for those who have lived life for any period of time knows, love, beautiful as it is, can be tough.  For love to be easy we must be perfect, as the Lord our God is perfect.  For love to be received, we must be emptied of ourselves, of our selfishness and sinfulness, of our restrictive judgements and prejudices.  For love to impact our lives we must be readied by discipline and purification.  The author of Hebrews in the reading today says "In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood."  In our desire for union with God we must empty ourselves, laying all on the line, in order that we might be free to embrace the love given us by God.  Love is tough, but without love we are dead.  Love requires discipline and sacrifice, but the end result is a joy beyond understanding.

     A week from today we enter into a discipline called LENT.  It is a season of grace, a time of repentance and purification, that leads to our opening of ourselves to the love of God.  It culminates in a celebration of events that are truly life changing - passion, death, resurrection.  It brings us to Easter joy.  But first comes the emptying, first comes the purification, first comes the dying.  Then, and only then, can we live.  To love is difficult ... but to love is what life is all about.  The way we know this fact is because we know the God who gave all for us in love.  And we are grateful ... for to know him is to love him ... and we do.

Monday, February 4, 2013

How blest we are

     Every once in a while I find that the scriptures read at Mass sounds "new" to me, as if I have never heard that particular passage before.  I am sure that after all of these years that I have read or heard it proclaimed, but it seems to strike me anew or finally register.  This morning we had a passage from Hebrews (Hebrews 11: 32-40) that resonated with me in one of those surprising ways.

     The author of Hebrews speaks of the great champions of faith found in the Hebrew Scriptures - Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel - of their courage and conquests, of their sufferings and their righteous deeds, of the witness to the Lord God and the marvelous deeds that this witness brought about.

     They were approved because of their faith, and their heroics and example serve as an inspiration.

     And yet ... great as they were, "God has foreseen something better for us".  He has sent his Son, Jesus, to be one with us, sharing our human nature in all things but sin, uniting us with the divine, calling us to holiness, raising us to a dignity beyond our imagining.   The great accomplishments of these men and women of the past and their inspiring stories find fulfillment and meaning in that meeting of the divine and the human, in the God-man Jesus.   It was for us, in our sinfulness, that grace appeared.  That is overwhelming to contemplate.

     It brings to mind another truth ... that in creation God fashioned the angelic host, heavenly beings that are a reflection of the divine.  And even though some of those heavenly creatures "turned away" from the Light, as we did through Adam and Eve, it was to us, not to the angels, that God chose to be united.  It was for us that he sent his Son.  It was to us that redemption was offered.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Think Spring

     Pray that he is correct!  This morning, as has been the custom since 1886 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a groundhog is brought out of hibernation on a hill named Gobbler's Knob and predicts whether the winter weather will continue for another six weeks or whether we will see and early Spring.  This morning, for only the 17th time in those many years, Punxsutawney Phil (his name) did NOT see his shadow, thus predicting an early Spring.  Pray that he is correct!  The result, in itself, is a miracle, since with all of the camera lights he "always" sees his shadow.  Phil did this on an extremely cold morning (the temp is up to 19 degrees as I post) and in a Winter that has seen dramatic jumps from single digits to the 60's within a week.

     Whatever the outcome of this local popular tradition, I am ready for Spring!  Thanks, Phil, and to the thousands of crazy people who brave the cold to cheer him on.


     I remember another cold February 2nd a few years back when many from the Pittsburgh area gathered a few miles West in Youngstown, Ohio, for the installation of Bishop Thomas Tobin, a Pittsburgh priest and former seminary classmate of mine, as Bishop of Youngstown.  It was a cold but wonderful gathering that day.  Bishop Tobin is presently the Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island.  I wish him well.