Sunday, March 31, 2013

He has risen!

      Our journey that began with a call to repentance on Ash Wednesday has come to a moment of transformation.  The call that rang out last evening at the Solemn Mass of the Easter Vigil and re-echoed at the Masses this morning was one of rejoicing - repentance and entrance into mysteries much larger than ourselves has opened the way for us to see clearly the Truth ... that Jesus has conquered sin and death and restored salvation and life.  The good news that the tomb was found empty ... that He has risen ... that He is not there but here in our hearts is the Good News that makes life worth living.  Happy Easter to all!

     Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in his message to the City of Rome and to the World today, began by saying this:

"What a joy it is for me to announce this message:
Christ is risen!
I would like it to go out to every house and every family,
especially where the suffering is greatest,
in hospitals, in prisons ...
Most of all I would like it to enter every heart,
for it is there that God wants to sow
this Good News:
Jesus is risen,
there is hope for you,
you are no longer in the power of sin, of evil!
Love has triumphed,
mercy has been victorious!"
++++++++++++++                                            ++++++++++++++
     Holy Week was wonderful indeed.  Our liturgies, while not especially crowded (except for the two Masses this morning), touched people's hearts.  God has indeed been very good, and my gratitude for his blessings is deep.  So is my gratitude for the faithful readership of this blog.
     One very sobering reality is pressing on me this Easter Sunday evening, and that is that I am feeling my age.  After Lent and this week, plus everything else, I am beat.  Thank God that my sister, Janie, is patient and loving, allowing me to sleep a little and eat a lot.  She is another tremendous blessing.  As I said a moment ago, God is good!   Happy Easter to everyone.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A holy Thursday

     I have just returned from our parish's Holy Thursday evening pilgrimage of church visitations.  Following the Mass of the Lord's Supper at our church at 7:00 pm, a Mass where we had approximately 200 present (how I wish that more people would respond to the invitation and join in these most holy days).  Those present were there because they wanted to be and were wonderfully into the quiet intimacy of this liturgy.  For their presence and faith and love, I am most grateful.

     I spoke of this liturgy involving the intimate gathering of our family around the table.  I spoke of Pope Francis' comment at Wednesday General Audience that Christ makes the first move toward us, and that while the Scriptures say that the "Son of Man has no where to lay his head", that in fact he has chosen us to make his home - chosen us as Church, chosen us as family, chosen each of us as individuals - to dwell within.  What an awesome thought.  No matter who we are, Christ has chosen to dwell within us.  How, then, can we ever hate another, ignore others' needs, marginalize or minimize another human being?

     At the conclusion of Mass we processed to our Chapel of Repose in a room off of the vestibule, where we reserved the Blessed Sacrament and began a period of quiet prayer.

     We had about twenty one people join us on our pilgrimage to visit three of our local churches before stopping for a bite to eat at a local restaurant.  Then we returned to SEAS (Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton) for a final prayer before calling it a night.

      With our Chrism Mass this morning in Greensburg which was very full and very beautiful, a luncheon for the priests as the Holy Oils were being prepared, and setting up for this evening, it has been a long but rewarding day.  Looking forward to some rest and a great Good Friday tomorrow (actually - today).

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pray for your priests

     On this morning of Thursday of Holy Week, we in the Greensburg Diocese gather as bishops, priests and laity to celebrate the Chrism Mass.  This liturgy sees God's People celebrate the Eucharist, bless the Holy Oils that will be used in the parishes of the Diocese for the administration of the Sacraments, and witness the priests renewing their priestly promises.

     As part of that renewal, after the priests make their renewed promises, the bishop addresses the people present and says this:

     As for you, dearest sons and daughters,
pray for your Priests,
that the Lord may pour out his gifts
abundantly upon them,
and keep them faithful as ministers of Christ,
the High Priest,
so that they may lead you to him,
who is the source of salvation.

     He asks for prayers for himself, and then concludes:

     May the Lord keep us all in his charity
and lead all of us,
shepherds and flock,
to eternal life.  Amen.

     In these days when a life of ministry is often disparaged, when the gift of priesthood is suspect, when all are tarnished by the sins of a few, we ask for your prayers as we ask for your forgiveness for our failures, we pledge our lives in renewed ministry in the love of Christ, and we pray that as we share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ we may witness to the Good News of his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

To live Holy Week

     I am so impressed with the simplicity of our Holy Father Francis' words and admonitions.  In his general audience this Wednesday he spoke about Holy Week, Christ and ourselves.  Here is some of what he said:

     "But what does it mean for us to live Holy Week?  What does it mean to follow Jesus on His way to the Cross on Calvary and the Resurrection?  In His earthy mission, Jesus walked the streets of the Holy Land; He called twelve simple people to remain with Him, to share His journey and continue His mission; He chose them among the people full of faith in the promises of God.  He spoke to everyone, without distinction, to the great and the lowly, to the rich young man and to the poor widow, the powerful and the weak; He brought the mercy and forgiveness of God to all; He healed, comforted, understood, gave hope.  He led all to the presence of God, who is interested in every man and woman, like a good father and a good mother is interested in each child.

     God did not wait for us to go to Him, but He moved towards us, without calculation, without measures.  This is how God is: He is always the first, He moves towards us.  Jesus lived the daily realities of most ordinary people: He was moved by the crowd that seemed like a flock without a shepherd, and He cried in front of the suffering of Martha and Mary on the death of their brother Lazarus; He called a tax collector to be His disciple and he suffered the betrayal of a friend.  In Christ, God has given us the assurance that He is with us, in our midst.  'Foxes', Jesus said, 'have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head' (Mt 8:20).  Jesus did not have a home because His house is the people - that is, us; His mission is to open all God's doors, to be the loving presence of God."

     His house is the people - that is, us!
     His mission is to open all God's doors,
    to be the loving presence of God!

     Of course I know those words and the truth they reveal, but I was struck by the simple power of those words spoken again with humility. 

     He concluded the address by saying: "Holy Week is a time of grace which the Lord gifts us to open the doors of our hearts, our lives, our parishes ...and to 'step outside' towards others, to draw close to them so we can bring the light and joy of our faith.  Always step outside yourself!"

I confess

     I took a few days off from posting and I apologize.  With the approach of Holy Week plus other busy work at the office I got behind.

     Part of the last few days has been the intensified times of hearing confessions.  Lent is a season that calls us to repentance, and I have always encouraged people to receive the Sacrament early in the season so that the graces given can take root.  Some do just that, but the vast majority put off until the end of the season what we are called to at the beginning.  In our region we share in four Penance Services in Advent and Lent at our neighboring parishes.  We began last Thursday at Saint Edward's in Herminie and there were five of us who heard confessions for a good hour.  On Sunday evening we were at our parish where six of us heard for a good hour.  Monday we were at Saint Agnes where eight of us heard from 7:00 pm to about 8:45 pm.  And last night was the final gathering where ten of us heard for two hours.  Lots of confessions, much grace received, and God's love experienced.

     As Father John Harold and I were leaving Immaculate Conception Church last might after two hours of hearing confessions (we were the last ones out the door) someone passed us at the door and said "Is someone still hearing? It's not over, is it?"  We both looked at each other and said that no one except the custodian was in the Church and that confessions were over.  The person asked who was having confessions tomorrow or the next day, where could they go, was anyone in Pittsburgh still having confessions?  We assured the person that we did not know, but that around here this was it.  They did not ask us to hear their confession, nor did we offer.  Waiting until the last minute is not cool.  They left, we left.

     This morning I was feeling a bit guilty that I did not offer to hear that confession.  The more the day has gone by, the more I am torn between justifying my actions and feeling guilty.  So, as I said in the title of this post ... I confess.

     All that said, I hope that you approached the Sacrament early and are looking forward to the Triduum with reconciled hearts.  I look forward to these three sacred days of blessing.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Another surprise ... another sign

     It was announced this morning in Rome that Pope Francis will break with tradition and not celebrate the "Mass of the Lord's Supper" on the eve of Holy Thursday at either Saint Peter's or Saint John Lateran, his Cathedral.  This simple liturgy which includes the mandate to service found in the washing of feet (as Jesus did at the Last Supper) begins the three sacred days at the heart of our liturgical year.  The Holy Father will celebrate the Chrism Mass on that morning at Saint Peter's, but the evening Mass will be celebrated by the Holy Father  at the Casal del Marmo, a correctional facility for juveniles in or near Rome.  The Vatican Press office states that it is his desire to continue this tradition that he has participated in for many years in Buenos Aires - of ministering to the fringe of society and share with them the love that God has for them.  Both Popes John Paul II and Benedict had visited there in past years, but this will be a first with a Triduum celebration. 

      In so many things that Pope Francis has said and done these last few days, he is giving the world an example of love and service that I find refreshing.


     Picking up on his example and request to share with the needy, our parish on Tuesday, in honor of his installation as Bishop of Rome and in thanksgiving for this man of Faith, shared a gift for the service of the poor through three local outreach programs: our local Catholic Charities in the Greensburg Diocese, our local food bank sponsored by our Saint Vincent de Paul Society, and the local Meals on Wheels.  May more be inspired to give of themselves in the name of the Lord.

A thirst for the absolute

      Pope Francis' words and actions keep resonating with me.  Yesterday he met with representatives of the various Christian Churches, Jewish and Islamic leaders and other world religions.  He spoke of our need to continue dialogue in order that the transcendent can be introduced into the profane in our world today.

     One line in particular stood out for me.  He said that in addition to all of the good that we can and must do for others, we must: "But above all, we must keep alive in our world the thirst for the absolute, and must not allow the vision of the human person with a single dimension to prevail, according to which man is reduced to what he produces and to what he consumes: this is one of the most dangerous threats of our times." 

     Wow!  What powerful insight and clarity of expression.  In a world that promotes and is immersed into the self, lifting ourselves as the be all and end all of what is important, making our needs and our accomplishments the paramount foundation upon which we build, the task of all people of faith is to debunk that lie and to show another way - the transcendent, the other worldly, the divine - the Absolute which is God, and make us thirsty for Him.  How truly counter cultural and immensely challenging.  There is much to reflect on and to pray about in those words.  Thank you, Holy Father.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A righteous man

     This reflection is a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short.
      Having grown up in a parish dedicated to Saint Joseph and in a Church that sees him as her patron, I wanted to share this reflection, even though I did not "get it in" in time.

     Saint Joseph is known to be a righteous man, and the readings for his feast presented us with others who share that distinction.  David  in Second Samuel is assured by Nathan the prophet that he has found favor with God, despite his weakness and his great sin.  He was chosen and anointed by God to be a great leader of the people, and even though he sinned by taking the wife and the life of Uriah, his repentance was sincere.  God knew his heart, and knew that he was a righteous man, dedicated to God.  God promised that his line would be long and bring forth greatness, that his son would build a great temple for God (even though David himself desired that honor - there are consequences to our actions), and that his throne would stand firm forever.  Jesus, of course, is from David's line, through Mary and Joseph, and he is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

     Before him, Abraham was considered by God to be a righteous man with a righteousness that comes from faith, as Paul reminds us in Romans.  His trust in God's invitation to covenant and his reliance upon God's promise of descendants is well known, as is his impatience at the fulfillment of that promise.  The difficulty with Ishmael and Isaac is a result of that impatience, and yet blessings come from both, because God saw into Abraham's heart and knew that heart.  Abraham became the Father of three great faiths.

     And of course Joseph, a quiet and simple man of faith, a man of hard work and deep love, found that God had chosen him for an important task.  And even though he did not understand nor initially feel comfortable with what God was placing before him, he trusted and accepted.  His righteousness stands forth not with pride but with humility.  God knew his heart, and in that heart found the love of a good man for a woman that God had chosen for a great purpose.  He accepted her and her son, born of God, to love and cherish, to honor and respect, to protect.  As Pope Francis mentioned in his homily yesterday, Joseph is the patron of the Church and a model to her of the protection we can and must provide to all that the Lord places under our care.

     Great Saint Joseph, the righteous one, pray for us!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What a message!

     In his homily at his Mass of Installation, Pope Francis spoke with powerful simplicity and challenged us with the message of the Gospel.  What was this message?  Simply that, like Saint Joseph, whose feast we celebrate today, we should care for those entrusted to our care.  This is the task of the Bishop of Rome, the pastors of the Church and because of our baptism, our task as well.  We have a responsibility for all of creation, for ourselves but for others first, for everyone, simply because every person matters to God.  That simple reality is the foundation of the teachings of the Church, of our stewardship, of our outreach.  We are entrusted with protection of the lonely people, the hungry children, those in broken relationships, those who are oppressed and abandoned, the defenseless, the poor and the vulnerable.

     He said: " It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, the ones who are often the last we think about.  It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents.  It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness.  In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it.  Be protectors of God's gifts!"

     He also said that "to be 'protectors', we also have to keep watch over ourselves!  Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives!  Being protectors, then also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down!  We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!"

    What a clear message.  What powerfully simple words.  what a challenge to step forward and, like Saint Joseph, be a protector of the gifts received ... be a good steward of God's abiding love.

     Thank you, Pope Francis for great words, a necessary reminder, and an excellent example.  Pray for his ministry on the Chair of Peter. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Rememering and letting go

      I shared with our people at Mass this weekend that as I get older, I tend to do a lot of remembering, recalling people that have touched my life and things that have happened to me over the years.   It is not a question of living in the past, but of remembering the things that have impacted my life.  Those things have made me who I am today.  I am surprised that I remember as much as I do, although sometimes long term memory is better that what happened only yesterday.

     The Scriptures often invite us to remember.  The Hebrew Scriptures today do just that, as the Lord asks the people to remember how far they have come from their nothingness and sin, and who it is that has brought them this far.  The Lord says - remember! - and know that I am doing something new in your life.  In the Gospel account today of the woman caught in the act of adultery and placed before Jesus for his condemnation according to the law of Moses, Jesus does something new.  He does not condemn the sinner, but forgives, restores, and sends her forth with the admonition to "Go and sin no more."  It is a new commandment, a new approach to sin rooted in mercy.  But as he gives this new teaching, he also asks those nearby to remember.  There is one school of thought that indicates that when he bent down and began writing on the ground, rather that pronouncing condemnation, he was actually writing out the sins of the people, starting with the scribes and leaders.  Curious as to what he was writing, they saw the words, remembered their sinfulness, and quickly walked away.

     But along with the remembering is the other, more difficult admonition to let go, to not hold onto our hurt or sin or resentment or frustration.  If we do not let go, then we are prone to wallow in the past, to not get past the past ... and this is a major detriment to allowing something new to happen.  The leaders of the people needed to let go of their self righteousness and the woman needed to let go of her sin.  Without "letting go" there can be little healing.  We see this in the sex abuse scandal that rocked the Church.  A terrible sin and crime committed by a small fraction of priest and of bishops, some of whom were simply acting in the way they were told was best at the time, accused of cover up.  Yet no matter what the Church does or how it responds to that scandal, there are some who cannot get beyond the hurt.  For them the Church is forever tainted and there is no way that the Lord can lead the Church into doing something new.

     The challenge that we face is tremendous, almost overwhelming.  If we did not trust in God and believe in his Word, then we would be destined to repeat the past, to be stuck in place, to stop the journey with the Lord.  But when confronted with those same challenges, the Lord says to us: "See, I am doing something new!"

     This was the sight of this morning's Mass of the Holy Father in  the Vatican.  This is a picture I took years ago of the Saint Anne's Gate, and the Church of Saint Anne, the parish church of the Vatican, which is the grey stone building on the right. It is a nice small church where I had the privilege to concelebrate a number of years ago.  Pope Francis celebrated Mass there, greeted the people outside following Mass (just like most of us do after Masses), and then walked down to the crowd along the street at the gate to greet people.  A security nightmare, I am sure, but I like the guy.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Prayer for Pope Francis

     The following is one of the Collect Prayers for the votive Mass for the Pope.

O God,
shepherd and ruler of all the faithful,
look favorably upon your servant Francis,
whom you have set at the head of your Church
as her shepherd;
grant, we pray, that by word and example
he may be of service to those over whom he presides
so that, together with the flock entrusted to his care,
he may come to everlasting life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.  Amen
     It seems that all eyes have been focused upon Rome for a long time (I read where there were at least 5,000 press credentialed by the Vatican for the Conclave).  And it seems like we are already "old friends" with Pope Francis.  But it has only been two days since the white smoke.  In small ways he is keeping the "handlers" on their toes.  In little ways he is expressing himself in refreshingly different ways.  He is showing us a man who has found comfort in simplicity of life and in the hands on ministry of God's people and to God's people in need.  And yet he steps into a role that will pull him into the less than simple, into a ministry that demands his attention to matters of State and concerns of the Universal Church.
My prayer and fervent wish is that he be able to maintain his balance, and show us what it is to be Church.  Whether in a poor slum or in an ancient palace, whether with ordinary people or with heads of State, in his private and in his public prayer, he may be Christ to us all.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

First Mass

     I just finished watching on EWTN the first Mass of Pope Francis with the Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel.  It was a Mass for the Church, seeking God's blessing and guidance on the entire Church as she continues her journey through life.

     I was struck again by Pope Francis' quiet simplicity and prayerful holiness.  I was also struck with the impression that he does not seem comfortable in the formality of papal liturgies.

     I was impressed that for his homily he did not preach from a seated position on the chair, but rather walked over to the ambo (the pulpit) and preached from there.  The commentator was quick to note that the throne or cathedra was not in the Sistine Chapel, but in reality any chair the Pope preaches from is a cathedra.  He also did not read his homily but had the gift to speak from the heart (whether his text was prepared or not) with eye contact, quiet gestures and a hint of a smile on occasion.  The poor man will be scrutinized without ceasing!

     His message was great as well.  He spoke of our life as being a journey (my favorite theme).  He said that in this journey we move forward with anticipation and joy, and need to renew ourselves along the way.  At one point he gave an example of a child at the beach building a sandcastle.  These structures can be simple or very elaborate, but they are destined to disintegrate with the waves that strike them since they are built upon sand.  The Church is built upon the "rock" of Peter, the soundness of truth, the Word of God, the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  As long as our structure is established on that solid foundation, we will survive and prosper.

     The world speculates on how he will reform the Church.  People and groups and polls express their desire for the Church to change, in the way we do things, in the things that we believe, and in our very essence.  The how of what we do can be reformed but who we are as Church, the basic teachings and beliefs given to us as a sacred trust, cannot be adapted to the desires of age or the opinions of the pollsters.  The Church and the Vicar of Christ on Earth are meant to be Good Shepherds who guide the sheep to where the Lord leads with a deep and abiding love. 

     Pray for Pope Francis in his role as Vicar of Christ on Earth.  May he inspire us, call us back to the simplicity of the Gospel, and lead us to a holiness of life.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus papam

     What can I say that has not been said already in words and prayers from around the world - We have a Pope!

     In case you have been hiding under a rock, the cardinals elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76 years of age but in good health and vitality, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina, to be the 265th successor of Saint Peter.  He has chosen the name Pope Francis I, reportedly in honor of the great Saint Francis of Assisi but also possibly in honor of Saint Francis Xavier of the Jesuit Order, of which he is a member.

     This election has all kinds of "firsts" about it: first non European Pope in over 1,000 years, first Pope from the Western Hemisphere, the first Pope from the Jesuit Order, and the first Pope named Francis among other things.

     We will hear much about him over the next days, but I was very impressed with a number of things: his simplicity (even in dress he did not wear all of the trappings, but was in simple white cassock), his praying for and asking prayers for Benedict XVI as he began, his speaking off the cuff to the people gathered, especially his Roman flock, his humility in asking for prayers from the people before he shared his blessing with his people, even bowing his head for those prayers, and his pledge to come before Mary in the morning in prayers of gratitude and intercession.  Cardinal Egan, the retired Archbishop of New York, spoke of his knowing the man, and he said of him that "he calmly stands for what's right and just" and that he has "great compassion for the poor".

     Before posting this I was watching CNN, who reported that the Installation Mass is set for March 19th, the feast of Saint Joseph, the Patron of the Universal Church.  How truly appropriate.

     He reminded me a little of another simple and delightful choice that stood on that loggia in 1978, a man in a simple white cassock who also surprised us with his name, a man that we did not get a chance to know in his brief month as Holy Father - Pope John Paul I.

     Pray for Pope Francis I and the Church that he shepherds.  More later.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

It has begun

     The Conclave is under way.  I watched from the start in the Pauline Chapel through the procession to the Sistine Chapel, from the oath taking with hand on the Scriptures to the "extra omnes" and dramatic closing of the doors.  I watched on EWTN and enjoyed the commentary, especially the identification of each Cardinal.  I was very impressed with the live coverage that the Vatican provided.  It is history, after all ... and it is great to be able to watch that history being made.

    Now we continue to pray.  I saw my candidates, those whom I am impressed with, and wish them well.  Even though I have always stated the common wisdom that an American would never be elected, I can see that as a remote possibility this time.  Whoever it is, I pray that we have a good and holy man, a man of spiritual depth and a man that can inspire God's People to be evangelized and then to go out and evangelize. 

     And now we wait for the smoke, and especially the news that white smoke will signal.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Another Milestone

     The old saying that goes "Time flies when you are having fun" is really true.  Two years ago today it was the first Friday of Lent, and I sat at my computer and with the help of a good friend and his son whom I have mentioned before - Mike Ripple and Isaac - I set up Journey Thoughts and typed my first post.  A year later I had logged in 333 posts and had received 12,790 page views.  Another year later, on this second anniversary, I am still at it.  This is my 592 post and I have reached 26,848 page views.

     It does not seem like it has been that long since I began.  It is hard to believe that I have that much to say.  And I continue to be flabbergasted and very grateful to all who have checked out this blog, and especially to our loyal readers.  God has been very good, and I have been truly blessed.  May our journey together continue and bring us closer to the living God.

Craft a bowl, feed your soul, and help the hungry

     Yesterday afternoon I attended what is becoming for many in the area a wonderful event of outreach and love - the 5th Annual Empty Bowl Event.  This fundraiser was held again at Saint Bruno Church hall in South Greensburg and benefits the Westmoreland County Food Bank.  This annual event, whose subtitle I used as the title of this post, was originated by a parishioner of ours, Karen Piper, a her loyal band of helpers.

     The concept is not original, but the local response is worth noting.  Schools, groups, crafters and ceramics makers provide and paint ceramic bowls that are fired and made available for the event and beyond.  At least fifteen groups provided bowls, and other places (like our parish) had "bowl painting parties" to help the cause.  Admission to the Event is $15.00, and it entitles you to pick out a bowl to take home (mine have become the recepticles for ashes on Ash Wednesday).  You are also invited to share a meager meal of sorts, with homemade soups and breads from at least twenty-nine restaurants from the area ( I tried something called "Mulligatawny Callalo" which was a creamed crab soup of sorts).
Raffles are held, entertainment is throughout the afternoon, and people had a great time.

    In their program booklet they shared some stats: not counting the over $13,000 raised yesterday, in the past four years this group has raised $60,000 for the cause, which translates into $300,000 worth of food purchses.  Westmoreland County Food Bank (WCFB) serves over 7,000 families each month; with 61% of households reporting a monthly income of less than $1,400; 34% of members of families served are children; 13% are seniors; 79% are female; 1% are homeless.  WCFB tells us that they provide 15,000 lbs of food monthly to needy families, and that 97 cents of every dollar goes to food and food programs.   WCFB does a great job ... the Empty Bowl Committee does outstanding work ... and most importantly, people in need are helped.  God bless everyone involved.

Conclave 2013 - the local connection

    Voting begins tomorrow evening Rome time for the election of a new pope.  There will be 115 eligible Cardinal Electors voting. Seventy-seven votes will be needed for election to the See of Rome.

     Four of those Cardinal Electors have very specific ties to Southwestern Pennsylvania and our Pittsburgh area.  Cardinal Justin Rigali, the retired Archbishop of Philadelphia and our former Metropolitan Archbishop has visited this area often and knows us well in his role as Metropolitan.  Cardinal Sean O'Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan priest who is the Archbishop of Boston, grew up in the Pittsburgh area, attended Saint Fideles Seminary in Herman, Pennsylvania and was stationed at Saint Augustine Friary in Pittsburgh for a time.  Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the Archbishop of Galveston - Houston Archdiocese was born and raised in this area and was a Pittsburgh priest before working at the Vatican and being named a bishop.  And lastly, Cardinal Donald Wuerl is a native Pittsburgher, born and raised in the Mount Washington section of town, a priest of Pittsburgh before being named a bishop, and having served many years as the local Ordinary of his home diocese before being named the Archbishop of Washington, DC.

     I am not sure how many other cities can lay claim to those kinds of ties to four Cardinal Electors.  We are proud of the deep faith of this area that has given the Church these Princes, and continues to sustain them with our prayers and support.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Our rollercoaster weather

     For the past couple of weeks I have been awakened by the chirping of a bird outside my bedroom window.  It is a great sound that speaks of Spring.  Then I look out and generally see clouds and gloom, and my day is shot.

     I am convinced that through the month of February the local TV stations taped the weather forecasters and replayed the same segment every other day. During February we seemed to have another cold front come through the area every other day, bring the threat of ice and snow (not much - an inch or two) but just enough to be inconvenient and make us more desirable of Spring finally arriving.

     This past Wednesday the forecasters said the we would be on the edge of a major snow storm coming from the South.  Those South of us (where my sister lives about an hour South) would be dumped upon, receiving a load of snow.  In our area, maybe an inch or two.  Just to the North, very little accumulation.  Wednesday morning arrived and where my sister lives got an inch or so and we received at least nine inches of snow by Noon.  At least it melted quickly.

     Today it was sunny and 71 degrees, with very little snow remaining.

     I was never a big roller coaster fan.  And believe me, I do not like this weather roller coaster that we have been on lately.  I am ready for Spring, for sunshine and for warm weather.  Tradition says that we still need to have our "onion snow" that happens near the feast of Saint Joseph (called "onion snow" because it happens after the onion sets are planted, so I am told).  All I know is that the local groundhog legend, Phil, who predicted an early Spring, better be correct ... or else I might be tempted by groundhog stew.

Our prayers for the selection of a new Holy Father
continue to come from our hearts.
The choice is always an important one
for the Church,
but maybe more so in these days
when faith and trust in God
is placed on the level of the unimportant
in the lives of so many people.
Come, Holy Spirit!
Enlighten and guide us.
Give us a true shepherd for your people.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A story told

     The cast of characters:  a dad who loved his sons and wanted the very best for them; a selfish and rebellious son who wanted everything that life had to offer and whose center of life was himself; and a son who worked hard to get ahead but who felt entitled to more than he had been given.

     Jesus tells of these two guys whose first thought was of themselves.  They demanded that their dad give them their inheritance now.  One wanted to build his empire, establish his family, make his name while still young enough to do so.  The other saw the money, the potential of a good time, and the fact that he wanted what he wanted now.  He took the money and ran.
Neither considered their dad in the equation.  The story gives no indication that the dad was old, or retired, or finished with his life's work, or that he was not providing for his sons.  They demanded what would be their inheritance in the future NOW.  Dad could live at home, he could make himself useful, he deserved to be stripped of his accomplishments, his pride and his dignity.  After all, the younger generation knew better and wanted more.  So much for the traditions of the ancestors.

     The dad loved his sons and did the best for them and by them.  Hurt as he might have been at being "forced" to relinquish his legacy, he did so because of that love.  He spent his time encouraging and supporting one son, and longing for the other son to return home.  He did so because he loved both - the good and the bad.

     When the prodigal son realized the mistakes of his life and decides to come home - not to demand reinstatement (too late for that) - but to ask for mercy and a job as a servant, the dad rejoices and welcomes him home as a son.  When the elder brother show his anger and hostility toward his brother and his resentment at dad's compassion and love, he pouts and negates the love he has been given all this time by his dad.  And in all of this, throughout the story, the dad never wavered in his love for both.  Even though he was sinned against, his love for the boys never diminished and his compassion was the hallmark of that love.
As he says - we must celebrate because this son was lost and is now found, he was dead and now he lives.  Actually the same applies to both sons - lost and dead in different ways - but lost and dead nonetheless.

     What is the lesson?  No matter who we are, how we live our lives and what our attitude, we have a loving father who supports and encourages us and who will run to meet us when we decide to return home from our wildness and sin.  It is the story of the LOVING FATHER, and it is a story about us.  It is also the story found in this Sunday's Lenten gospel.


     We have a date!  The Cardinals have chosen Tuesday, March 12th, as the beginning of the Conclave to elect a new pope.  I understand that they will celebrate Mass in the morning, move into their residence, gather in the afternoon at a chapel in the Vatican and process to the Litany of the Holy Spirit into the Sistine Chapel.  After taking an oath, listening to a reflection, and the sealing of the Chapel, they will begin the process with a vote that evening.

     The Mass in the morning, the procession and litany are but a part of the intense prayer of the Cardinals and of the Church Universal for the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit upon this decision and this moment in history.

     I have heard a number of Cardinals (Dolan, Mahoney) and others recall that the primary feast in the month of March is that of Saint Joseph on March 19th (my apologies to all of the Irish, who hold March 17th sacred).  Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus, is the Patron of the Universal Church.  It has been suggested that special prayers or a novena to Saint Joseph, begin on the 10th of March, seeking his intercession before the throne of the Father on behalf of the Church.  A novena is a nine day series of prayers for the Lord's action on our behalf through the intercession of a particular saint.  This recommendation for our prayers and for the intercession of Saint Joseph is a wonderful way for us to participate in these moments of grace.  I am including the Collect Prayer for the Mass for the Election of a Pope for your prayerful consideration:

O God, eternal shepherd,
who govern your flock with unfailing care,
grant in your boundless fatherly love
a pastor for your Church
who will please you by his holiness
and to us show watchful care.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Good Saint Joseph, intercede for the Church.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Listening to His voice

     As we await the date of the beginning of the Conclave in Rome, we hear of the Cardinals gathering in their daily General Congregations to discuss and listen to needs of the Church and the challenges to the Faith in our time.  They listen to each other and share their thoughts over coffee and meals, in regional gatherings, and in other opportunities in order to get to know each other better.  All of the Cardinals are invited to share in these days so that the Cardinal electors will be able to discern, with the Spirit's help, the best leader for the Church.  The Cardinals also pray, privately and together, to listen to the word that God places on their hearts.  I watched them gather with God's people the other evening at the Altar of the Chair in Saint Peter's Basilica to pray the rosary and to celebrate Evening Prayer within the context of a Eucharistic Adoration.  Listening is key to what is happening in Rome these days.

     In Jeremiah the prophet today we hear the Lord say: "This is what I commanded my people: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people."  The psalm (Ps 95) also tells us to listen to the word of God ... "Oh, that today you would hear his voice".  This sede vacante period, this entire season of Lent is an image of what our life is to be about ... listening to the Word of God, responding to that Word, and setting our course in a way that leads us to holiness and life.  As we await these days of anticipation for a new successor to Peter and for the renewed life of the resurrection at Easter, may we be wise and LISTEN TO HIS VOICE.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The shoes, again

     This morning a blog that I read entitled "Today's Catholic" had a post entitled "Benedict XVI's cobbler fondly remembers retired pope" and the other day on EWTN's Joan Lewis Report there was a featured piece on Antonio Arellano who has been taking care of the shoes of Pope Benedict (even the famous red ones) even when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger.  Both were good pieces about a man who runs a small shop in Rome not far from the Vatican and who is good at his craft.  He learned his craft in Peru before moving to Rome in 1990.  He takes great pride in his work, and in his special client, His Holiness, Benedict XVI, the Pope Emeritus.  Having served Cardinal Ratzinger for years, he tell the story of making Pope Benedict a pair of red shoes, and presenting them to him at a General Audience.  The Pope recognized him and acknowledged him to those there that day by saying "Here is my shoemaker".  This simple man cherishes that moment, and the role that he played in the pontificate of Benedict.

     The press has often made a fuss regarding the "red shoes".  They often describe them as being crafted by Prada, a fashionable and expensive brand, sort of like "designer shoes".  I have seen much criticism of the Pope for wearing such extravagant finery.  How far from the truth.   And besides, who cares about the shoes ... look at the man and his ministry, his holiness, his wisdom, and his example.  I am glad that I saw those pieces concerning the shoes and their maker.


Speaking of Benedict XVI ... since his resignation last Thursday, we are not to mention his name in the Eucharistic Prayers -  since in those prayers we pray for the Pope, and we are without one at the moment.  I was very successful in breaking the routine on Friday through Tuesday.  Then yesterday I mentioned Benedict.  Did it again this morning.  Caught myself, but not in time.  Old habits are hard to change.  I'm sure the Lord understands and that Benedict does not mind.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Sede vacante - 2

     There is a great deal of new focus upon the cardinals of the Church.  Maybe a short thought on what a Cardinal is and does might be helpful.  More info can be found in greater detail elsewhere, but here is a brief summary.

     The Cardinals have been called the "Princes of the Church", but that term grew out of a papacy that was more than just spiritual leadership.  At one time, as I mentioned before, the Pope was also a civil ruler, a king, if you will, the head of the Papal States and other temporal holding.  His chosen aides or counselors, we called "princes".  Originally the term cardinal simply meant belonging to a particular church or diocese.  Even today, when a priest joins a diocese, he is "incardinated" - attached to a particular diocese.

     The Cardinals of the Catholic Church serve as the advisers to the pope.  They are chosen for their holiness, their wisdom and/or their leadership abilities.  They often head prestigious dioceses around the world, or are in important positions of responsibility.  Each cardinal, when named, is given the primary pastorship of one of the churches in the Diocese of Rome (even though another oversees the daily running of the parish).  Thus, the cardinals are the pastors and collaborators of the Bishop of Rome, who is the Holy Father.  There are three levels or ranks of Cardinal: Cardinal Deacons, Cardinal Priests, and Cardinal Bishops.  All are bishops, yet the ranking lists them in levels of responsibility among the College of Cardinals.

     During this interregnum period, or sede vacante, the Cardinals of the Church have responsibility for the interim guidance of the Church.  The primary responsibility of those under 80 years of age as Cardinal Electors is the selection of the new Holy Father.  They do this at Conclave, gathering from all corners of the globe but also as pastors of the parishes of Rome. They choose their  Bishop, their Chief Shepherd, who is the successor of Peter, the first Bishop of Rome and head of the Church.  It is an awesome responsibility.  Pray for the Cardinal Electors.


A cute story ...

     Last Friday at our parish Lenten Fish Dinner, as I was at my post as the official "greeter" of those attending, a family with two young boys stood in line.  I'm not sure how old they were, but they each had a small stuffed bunny rabbit, one blue and white and the other beige and white.  I spoke to them, asked them if they were hungry, etc, and commented on the bunny rabbits.  I was told the rabbits names, and made a bit of a fuss (both the kids and the bunnies were cute).

     Saturday evening before Mass one of the little ones came into Church with the grown up who brought him.  He came over to me and presented me with an identical bunny rabbit (this one green and white) as my own.  He insisted that he be able to stop and purchase this rabbit for me.  I thanked him profusely, promised to give the bunny a good home and a good name, and went to get ready for Mass.  A minute or two later, in pops the youngster to tell me that the bunny already has a name - he named him "Peppermint".  So, Peppermint will join my other Easter decorations, and bring a smile to my face.  Art Linkletter used to say that "Kids say the darnedest things" ... and sometimes they do the darnedest, and cutest, things.

Don't procrastinate

     At liturgy on the Third Sunday of Lent, we used the readings from cycle C of the lectionary.  Our Gospel reading brought forth the parable about the non-productive fig tree.  The owner of the orchard waited for three years for some return, and when none was forthcoming, the owner instructed the gardener to "cut it down".  But the gardener intervened, asking for a second chance to try to bring forth a yield.

     Lent is a time to renew our effort to cultivate our Faith, to be sure that we are bearing fruit, to till the soil.  It often requires hard work and persistence.  It sometimes means dealing with (excuse the expression) the crap that comes our way, for it too can make us stronger.  The entire thrust of Lent is to repent of sin, to move forward in grace, to step up to the plate and allow God's love to produce in us holiness of life.

     We have a very patient and loving God.  We have as our Lord one who, like the gardener in the parable, is willing to intervene on our behalf, providing us with another opportunity to bear fruit.   Our gardener, Jesus, is willing to work with us to make it happen.  But it takes two to tango.  We must respond to the loving care given to us by Christ, or we will lose the right to live.

     I confessed to our people that I am one of the world's greatest procrastinators.  I would rather put off until tomorrow what could be accomplished today.  On the rare occasion, I have found that this can be effective for me, but in most circumstances I end up losing.  Procrastination does not fit in well with living.  And when it comes to the life and death issue of our relationship with God, it cannot even be considered, unless you have a death wish.  Now is the time!  This is the moment!  Our response must be a clear YES in this moment of grace!  Maybe, with the efforts of the Master Gardner, Jesus, we may bear the fruit that the Father desires.  Don't procrastinate.

     ps  Speaking of putting things off, I did not procrastinate with the posting of this reflection.  It is just that my internet connection at the house was down yesterday.

An Local Anniversary

     Today, March 4th, marks a milestone for the Diocese of Greensburg.  On this date in 2004, Monsignor Lawrence E. Brandt of the Diocese of Erie was ordained and installed as the fourth bishop of the Greensburg Diocese.  It was a great day for the people of this Diocese as we moved into a new chapter of our story.  The festivities at the Cathedral and at the then Sheraton in Greensburg were wonderful.

     I have a humorous remembrance of the liturgy that comes to mind.  At the time, I was serving as a Consultor to Bishop Bosco and the Diocese.  The Consultors are a group of priest advisers that during the transition period between bishops, remains in office. One really good thing about the job is that we had excellent seats at the ordination.  One of the important moments in the Episcopal Ordination involves the reading of the papal letter of appointment, and then the showing of the document to the Consultors for verification.  Usually this document arrives from Rome and is done beautifully in parchment and signed by the Holy Father.  In this case, the official document arrived at a later time, and we had a typed copy in plastic sheets in a white binder.  Even this was shown to us with such speed that I almost missed my moment in the spotlight.  Boy, was I disappointed.  However, the appointment was real, the celebration a success, and the legacy of leadership continued in the Diocese of Greensburg.

    We wish Bishop Brandt well on this anniversary as he continues to be our shepherd and guide.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Interregnum - Sede vacante 1

     You can read much about the Church and the workings of the Church during these days of papal transition, and I would encourage you to do so (with the caveat that I spoke of a few days ago which reminds us that while there is fact and truth out there, there is also a multitude of conjecture and misinformation ... so be cautious).  What I hope to do in these upcoming days is to give a little background, a little info on the what and why of things taking place in Rome, and provide a little help in understanding wonderfully rich, tradition shaped, and the sometimes mysterious actions of a Church in transition during the "sede vacante".

     First, the terms:  "interregnum" comes from the Latin and means "between reigns", describing the time between the pontificates of two popes.  It is called a reign because at one time the pope was not only a spiritual leader, but also a head of State and ruler of the Papal States which comprised nearly half of present day Italy.  This was true until the Lateran Treaty of 1929, when Vatican City State was established and the Papal States incorporated into Italy.  The more accurate description of this transitional time is "sede vacante" which from the Latin means "the empty (vacant) chair of Peter" - the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ on earth, the Pope.  The present "sede vacante" will be in effect from this past Thursday, February 28th (2pm ET) until the new pope is elected and says yes, accepting the invitation to follow in the footsteps of Peter.

     A question that I have been asked is "Who is running the show?"  The answer is that normal operations are on hold, but that the everyday governance of the Church rests with the College of Cardinals who meet daily during this period to handle what needs to be done.  The "chamberlain" or "carmelengo" - Cardinal Bertone, the Secretary of State - guides the Cardinals in this responsibility.  Another key player is the Dean of the College of Cardinals - presently Cardinal Sodano, the former Secretary of State.  The Church is in good hands in this time of transition as we await the Conclave that will elect the new pope.  The date for the start of the Conclave should be decided early next week.

     In the next "sede vacante" post, I will share some information about the College of Cardinals and their role in the life of the Church.  Until then, pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.