Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Salt and Light 2013

     Last Thursday evening I attended the annual Salt and Light Dinner sponsored by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Greensburg.  It was held at Stratigo's, a local banquet facility very near to where I live.  Bishop Lawrence Brandt hosted the event, which is a major fund raiser for the outreach of Charities to the needy.  This year's event was the fifteenth such gathering.

     Each year the bishop shares an award for Philanthropy and one for Humanitarianism, and this year a special award was given for Outstanding Leadership in the Church.  The recipients this year were John F. Kane of Saint Margaret Mary Church in Lower Burrell for Humanitarianism - for extraordinary service to the Church over the years - and to Rocco Panucci of Our Lady of Grace Church in Greensburg for his generosity and service that has been a part of his family tradition.  Both gave very moving acceptance speeches that truly revealed their humble spirits.

     This year's special presentation and award was given to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M.,Cap, of Philadelphia.  He was recognized for his leadership in the Church both locally as our Metropolitan but also in the national Church.  He gave the keynote presentation on Religious Freedom in the United States.  I must say that I was very impressed with his presentation, the clarity of thought and the simplicity of delivery as well as the timeliness of the topic.   This is the second time that I have heard him speak (at Bishop Persico's Ordination in Erie) and I find him a gentle teacher.  His speech can be found on our Diocesan web site www.dioceseofgreensburg.org by hitting the appropriate headline on the front page banner.  It is worth the read.

     I think that I shared last year some of the stats from Catholic Charities regarding this dinner.  Not including this year's take, this dinner has raised and Charities has disbursed $798,848.29 in the areas of gas and/or heating fuel assistance, electricity, water and sewage, emergency food boxes, lodging and other emergency needs.  Nearly 8,000 households have received assistance over these years from this dinner in our four counties.  These services are provided with the deepest respect for human dignity and the hope of building a foundation for self sufficiency.

     In addition to Bishop Brandt and Archbishop Chaput, Bishop Emeritus Anthony G. Bosco was in attendance (he instituted the award) as well as Archabbot Douglas Nowicki of Saint Vincent Archabbey.  There were about 300 in attendance.  I was blessed to be one of them.

Back to basics

     Later in May I have a doctor's appointment set up with my diabetes doctor.  I was reminded of that fact as I looked at my appointment book.  It reminded me that I had better get back on track with my eating habits and my testing of blood sugars, which I sometimes fall slack with.  Sometimes it is good to be reminded of our fundamental needs and our best practices procedures.

     Today the Church celebrates the feast of Pope Saint Pius V who lived in the 1500's and served as pope from 1566 - 1572, during a most turbulent time in the Church.  The Reformation had taken place and the Church was under attack from many sides.  People were seeing her failures and abandoning ship.  That which was held sacred was being negated.  As a response to the Reformation, during the reign of Pius V the Council of Trent took place, beginning the Counter Reformation.  It allowed the Church to do the necessary reform without losing face, by getting back to basics, by stating clearly our theological foundations and clarifying our practices.  It was during this time that the basic but free flow style of the Roman liturgy was codified into the Roman Missal that served us for over 400 years until the Second Vatican Council changes in 1962.  Pius V was instrumental in accomplishing a great deal within his short reign, and he served the Church well by bringing the ship of Peter through troubled waters.

     The Church has often had Councils, usually at difficult moments within her history and at times of challenge from the outside.  Those Councils often led to a clarification of what we believe with an explanation as to the why of the belief as well.  Heresies were dealt with, faith clarified, and God's people continued renewed.

     Vatican II was one of those rare Councils that did not codify and restrict our thinking, getting us in line, but rather, pastoral in nature, opened, as Pope John XXIII prayed, the windows of the Church, bringing in fresh air, new ideas, and a renewal of our Faith.  There are those that feel that we have gone too far, but as Pope Francis stated recently, we need to give the Council a chance.  We need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water, as the saying goes. 

     God truly guides his Church, and provides shepherds like Pius V who narrowed our vision and defined and confined our practices in a time of need as well as Francis who challenges us to broaden our vision and enflesh the Gospel message with new vigor and in fresh ways.  God is indeed very kind to his people.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

On the road ... part 2

     As I mentioned in my last post, I traveled a bit these past few days (Friday & Saturday).  After spending the night in Selinsgrove after the Confirmation, I headed toward Lancaster, Pennsylvania (just under two hours drive) to meet up with our Junior Youth Ministry youngsters along with some parents who had departed Saturday morning by chartered bus.  They visited the town of Bird-In-Hand (we have some quaint names and communities) before I met up with them for the activity of the day.  We went to the Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster to attend the production of the biblical musical production of NOAH.  Sight and Sound is a magnificent complex and theater that produces lavish biblical epics that tell the story and inspire the soul to respond to the love of God.  They have done Creation, the Christmas Story, an Easter play, Daniel, Ruth (one of my favorites) and this Fall, Jonah, among others.  A story about Noah obviously has many live animals that are a part of the cast, which excited the kids.  It was great, and all of us at whatever the age, enjoyed the production.

     As they were setting the stage (excuse the pun) for the story, their description of society at Noah's time sounded a great deal like the present age.  Apart from Noah and his family, there were few others who had remained faithful to the Lord God, who had a personal relationship with him based on trust and love, and who had not bought into the scepticism and cynicism of a secular society.  For most there was no need of God since they were all "good as god" in their way of thinking.  God was placed at the periphery of life.  God and his followers were irrelevant.  They were ignored, ridiculed and then persecuted.  Thus God needed to "start over", to wipe out the hard of heart and begin afresh.  Thus the flood, and the ark, and the promise to Noah and his family - to all who had a place in their hearts for God - that they would be saved. And thus the reality of a new beginning, a fresh start.  Today's reading spoke of the Lord saying, see, I am making all things new.  That newness is found in the commandment to love one another, just as it was found in the olive branch that the dove brought back to the ark - the promise of peace, of new life, of love.

     The message of Noah is timeless, but extremely important today.  At the end of the play, they lead us from Noah to the present day through Jesus, and invite people to enter into new life through the salvation won for us by Christ.  The actor portraying Jesus reminds the audience that he is the gate, he is the door, he is the way to that promised new life.  It was a great "altar call" that challenges the watcher to find salvation.  As they announced that they had counselors available if anyone wanted to speak to them, one of our group commented that we were ahead of the game, since we brought our own counselor (me).  I smiled.

     The day ended with a good dinner (family style in Amish Country) and the long bus ride home.  It was a day of blessings.

On the road ...

     As I get older, I find myself traveling less.  However, these past few days were an exception.  I put just over six hundred miles on the car in a day and a half, traveling East in this great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

     On Friday morning I left for the town of Selinsgrove, Pa, about sixty miles North of the State Capital in Harrisburg.  It was a trip of a little over four hours, but the weather was great and our State is beautiful (even before the greening of the forests).  The road to Selinsgrove from Harrisburg follows the scenic Susquehanna River.  Selinsgrove itself is a charming little college town  (Susquehanna University is located there) with a commercial strip that has everything imaginable along the way (I found my first drive thru Panera Bread - wish we had a drive thru store in our area).

     My reason for traveling to Selinsgrove was to attend the Confirmation that afternoon at Saint Pius X Church for the son of a good friend of mine.  I has been at this young man's baptism and first communion, I have heard his confession and now Confirmation.  My hope is to be there and share in all of his sacraments.  Bishop Joseph McFadden of the Diocese of Harrisburg welcomed me and shared the Sacrament with the group of twenty six youngsters from two different parishes - Saint Pius X and Saint Monica.  It was a great celebration, the hospitality of Father Dan Powell, the pastor of Saint Pius was generous and I was privileged to be a part of it.

     The young man that I was there for took the Confirmation name "Jean Marie" after John Mary Vianney, the Cure of Ars, patron of parish priests.  There is the hope of a religious vocation here, but it is early in the discerning process.  I gave him a framed quote from Saint Jean Marie Vianney on prayer, and I thought that I would share it here:

Prayer is to our soul
what rain is to the soil.
Fertilize the soil every so richly,
it will remain barren
fed by frequent rains.
     My next post will be about the second half of my journey.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A great description

    In the Collect for Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter we have what struck me as a great description of God.  It calls God the


     We know the Church to be the "Body of Christ" and in another image, our spiritual Mother.  As such, being one with God, she gives life to the faithful, to those open to the gifts of the Spirit, those inspired by the Word of God and those united with each other in Christ.  God, in his Body, in our holy Mother the Church, is a life giver to those who come to him with open hearts.

     The amazing grace that we have received from God humbles us.  Undeserving though we are, we are none the less loved by God and raised to glory.  We approach that glorious gift with true, sincere humility, for our glory is a reflection of the glory of God.

     And for those that seek to live their lives rooted in God, who seek to be holy as the Lord our God is holy, who strive to be just ... we find happiness, holiness, harmony and peace.

     The Collect concludes by asking that "they who thirst for what you generously promise may always have their fill of your plenty."    May it be so.  So be it.  AMEN

Early vocations

     Yesterday I celebrated Mass at Queen of Angels School, our Regional Catholic School.  It is always an interesting and uplifting experience.  Yesterday's liturgy was planned by the kindergarten class, and they did the introduction, the intercessions, the offertory gifts and a small presentation after communion.  They were so cute ... and small.  They needed a special microphone at their height up on stage (we celebrate Mass in the auditorium).  Yesterday was the feast of Saint George.

     I spoke to them of Saint George - that he lived about 1,700 years ago, that he was a friend of Jesus and loved him very much, and that because of that there were those that made him pay for that love with his life.  Since we were wearing red vestments, I told them that it reminded me of the queen of hearts in "Alice in Wonderland" who was a nasty person and whose favorite expression was "Off with their heads".  Poor George suffered the same fate.

     I also told them that tradition pictures Saint George as a knight in shining armor on horseback, with sword and shield, slaying the dragon.  I said that I'm not sure where that image came from.  My theory was that in the 12th century there was a shy or mediocre knight named George who needed a saint as a patron that would inspire him to greatness, so he modeled his name saint as a knight like himself and had him slaying the evil dragon, the symbol of the devil.  Who knows ... that theory may have some truth to it.

     I also shared that the previous Sunday was a Day of Prayer for Vocations (at the school we begin every prayer time with our Diocesan prayer for vocations) and I thanked them for their prayers.  I pointed out that we will have three men ordained as priests this June, thanks to their prayers.  I told them that my vocation started a long time ago ... in fact, my earliest memories of wanting to be a priest goes back to when I was in kindergarten.  I asked them to prayer, and think about priesthood or religious life, or however God is calling them to serve in the Church.  It is never too early to plant the seed.

     We had a wonderful celebration, and I thank all involved in our great school.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Special Women Religious - Congratulations!

     This past Sunday at Saint Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh, the Sisters of the Holy Spirit of the Diocese of Pittsburgh celebrated their 100th Anniversary.  It was on April 25, 1913, that the congregation was founded by charter with Bishop Canevin of Pittsburgh, and this congregation, many of Polish background, came to serve Southwestern Pennsylvania.  They taught in many schools and parishes and presently run the Martina Spiritual Renewal Center as well as Marian Manor Nursing Home.  Their motherhouse is located in the West View section of Pittsburgh.

     I mention them because I was blessed to have them teach me in my formative years - from full day Kindergarten with Sister Veronica (who taught my dad in first grade) through my 8th grade year.  They taught at Saint Joseph parish school in my home town of Uniontown.  A number of women from the parish joined the Community over the years, and one of them, Sister Philomena Zurowski, was a friend of the family (she babysat my dad when they were kids).  If memory serves me, in addition to Sister Veronica, I was taught by Sisters Assumpta (8th grade), Hilaria, Imelda, Bonaventure (4th grade) and Sophie.  Although I never had her in class, Sister Rose was the musician of the group.

     Their Mission Statement reads:

We, the Sisters of the Holy Spirit of Pittsburgh,
declare our mission is to be joy-filled disciples of Jesus, prophetically witnessing to the presence
and the power of the Holy Spirit,
aware of our call to work for the transformation
of society into a Gospel community,
reconciled with God and one another.

      My best wishes and profound gratitude to this remarkable group of women on this important anniversary.  For more info check out their web page at www.sistersoftheholyspirit.com.

     The other Community of Women Religious to which congratulations is do are the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh who after many, many years of serving the area from their Monastery on Perrysville Avenue in Ross Township are MOVING to a brand new Monastery that will serve the needs of the aging Sisters and yet maintain their vibrancy.  This is a bold and courageous endeavor that God is blessing.  From there they will continue their mission through social service, care of the aged, education, counseling, pastoral ministry, foster parenting, tutoring, nursing, peace and justice advocacy and spiritual direction.

     I worked with the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh in my assignment at Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale and have always enjoyed their fine Benedictine hospitality at the former monastery.  I can't wait to visit the new home.

     Sister Benita DeMattheis is the Prioress.  Their new address is:
Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh
3526 Bakerstown Road
Bakerstown, PA 15007-9705
Their web site is: www.osbpgh.org  Check them out, and the pictures of the new monastery, and if you might be able and inclined to help them in some way with the project, I am sure that the Sisters would be most grateful.  Congratulations Sisters!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ongoing frustration

     The last few days I have found it difficult to blog for a number of reasons: I have encountered the post Lent, Holy Week and Easter exhaustion, I have been affected as we all have by the senselessness of the Boston violence, I have been caught up in a great deal of busy work, and I continue to be frustrated by some local diocesan policies that, in my humble opinion, are micromanaging in a less than helpful way.  I watch the news a great deal, and find myself becoming more and more frustrated with senseless violence, partisan politics, and selfish self centeredness.  Where are we headed?  How can we escape the inevitable?  What can we do?

     A month or so ago the world watched with fascination and amusement as the Church "locked away" 116 Cardinals in Conclave in order to provide for the election of a new pope.  The press spoke of the politicking involved and the Catholic press spoke of the prayerful seeking of the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  The Cardinals said that rather than this direction or that, this candidate or interest or that, it was a prayerful time of seeking the will of God for the common good of the Church.  From this Conclave we were gifted with Pope Francis.  His words have been simple but refreshing.  Just the other day, in response to the Boston bombing, he prayed "that all Bostonians will be united in a resolve not to be overcome by evil, but to combat evil with good, working together to build an ever more just, free and secure society for generations yet to come."

     Today the Senate defeated a measure seeking better background checks for the purchase of guns, a measure that polls show 90% of the people support.  Politics came into play, as well as lobbyists and self interest.  The Federal government cannot come up with a budget agreement, so programs are cut and people suffer, and we continue to build a debt that is staggering (I remember in school trying to comprehend how many 0's are in a trillion - now we know ... and so will all future generations).  Courts undermine long held values, politicians play politics, everyone wants what will make them happy, no matter what the cost.  And the vast majority of us simply "take it" without a whimper.  No wonder that I am (and so many others are) frustrated.

     I mentioned the Conclave because I had the thought at the budget discussions that maybe this arcane concept might be used with congress to provide for the common good - lock them up, take away their comforts, ask them to pray rather than politic and work for the common good of the people and not themselves or their political future, and await a solution.  Not sure if it would work, but then nothing else is, either.

     Forgive my musings (and rantings), and the lack of the positive.  It is not like me ... but I am grateful to Pope Francis for reminding me to "not be overcome by evil".


Monday, April 15, 2013


     The question asked in the Gospel of John today is "What can we do to accomplish the works of God?"  This should always be the question that is on our lips as we live the Christian life.  For being about "the works of God" is what we have embraced in our life mission as we made our YES in the rebirth of baptism.

     The answer is simple - BELIEVE!  Believe in the One that the Father has sent!  This is the work of God.  We tend to view this response as things to do, goals to be accomplished, checking off the things on our priority list.  And while we must put into action our convictions and belief ... while we must set our sight on the goal to be reached ... while it is great to prioritize ... it can only be meaningful and find purpose when it is seen in terms of our relationship with the risen, living, vibrant Lord of life - Jesus the Christ.

     Stephen knew this.  He was filled with grace and power and was working great signs and wonders because he was focused upon the Lord and committed to intensifying his relationship with Jesus.  Even when facing certain death by stoning, Stephen kept his eyes upon the Lord and welcomed his death with joy.

      Focus on the Risen Lord!  Embrace him in love and acceptance!  Believe ... and do the work of God!


     Yesterday in our parish we celebrated with sixteen families the First Holy Communion of seventeen young people (there were two brothers receiving together).  This was the first of two groups (next Sunday another fifteen).  It was a wonderful celebration.  The kids were excited, they looked great, parents and grandparents were out in force, parties were planned, pictures galore were taken, but it all boiled down to our worship of God, our celebration of Word and Sacrament, and their coming with joy and trust to the Table of the Lord.  Congratulations to all who at this time of the year approach the altar with youthful joy and enthusiasm.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Age and illness

     This morning I celebrated the funeral of a man from our parish who was less than a year older than I am.  He had lived a great life with family and friends but in more recent times illness overtook his usual life and things became much more difficult.  Awareness that he is now free of this limitation does not take away the sadness.  But as we stressed with his four young grandchildren, their Grandpap was now in heaven.  Pray for him, his name is Don Glenn.

     Yesterday on a message on FB I heard from the sister of a high school classmate of mine who is seriously ill.  He and his family have lived in Florida for years, and it is only recently that he has developed major problems  His sister tells me that he is weak and home bound at this time, and does not want much fuss.  He is my age, and when we were in high school he was a top athlete, a brain, and an all around good guy.  I saw him last a few years back at a Prep Reunion.  I am praying for him, and I ask you to say one for him as well.  His name is Denny.

     Today I also heard that a seminary classmate from Saint Francis who is a priest of the Pittsburgh Diocese was just diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease, with, as he told the people, a poor prognosis.  His name is Denny as well, and he will be celebrating his 40th Anniversary of Priesthood this May as well as having spent a multitude of years in the same parish (but with every expanding responsibilities).  I understand that there is an outpouring of prayer for Father Dennis from parishioners and friends, to which I ask that you join me.  He too is my age.

     And lastly for today, I have a good priest friend from our Diocese who is planning on retiring this Spring.  He is a few years older than me, but not yet of retirement age.  However he has heart health problems that keep him from giving his all to the people he serves.  This retirement will not come easy for him, so he, too, has my thoughts and prayers.  I ask for yours as well for Father Chet.

     With age comes wisdom and insight ... with age comes respect and dignity ... but with age we often confront challenges that seem overwhelming and tragic.  For Don, may he have eternal rest.  For Denny, may he find peace and strength.  For Father Dennis may he find affirmation, courage and love.  And for Father Chet, may he enjoy rest and relaxation.

Monday, April 8, 2013

An evening of music and praise

     Last evening we took Saint Augustine's advice and stormed heaven with our prayers - by singing, of course.  Saint Augustine is reputed to have said that "To sing is to pray twice." 

     Last evening on the Second Sunday of Easter our parish hosted an "EASTER CHOIR FESTIVAL".  We have hosted such events in the past, but it has been a few years since we did so.  It was great!  Those who came heard choirs from five different congregations plus a local group of Community Singers.  Interspersed were joyous Easter hymns and the finale was "The Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah, done by the combined group.  I know that we woke up the neighbors.

     We were joined by the Mon Yough Community Singers, the Choir from Christ United Methodist Church in Irwin, Circleville United Methodist Church Adult Choir and their Young People's group calling themselves Matchsticks of Circleville United Methodist, the Lutheran Church of Our Saviour, our neighbor, Saint Agnes Church's Adult Choir and Joyful Noise Youth Choir, and our own Adult Choir, Young Voices Choir, Bell Ringers and instrumentalists (trumpets, flute, guitar, percussion, keyboard, bells, etc.).  Hearts were lifted, voices were raised, and God was praised in this wonderful Easter Season.  As I said to the group at the conclusion: "We have been blessed!  God's People have been blessed with this ministry of song!"

Sunday, April 7, 2013

To whom do I pledge my allegiance?

     I shared at liturgies that the above question, as well as "Who do I belong to?" are key to our celebration of Easter.  They are questions rooted in the reality of relationship and are of vital importance.

     In this great nation of our, despite of protestations of freedoms and independence, we readily pledge our allegiance to the flag of our great country and to the Republic for which it stands.  We do so because we cherish what it stands for.  We do so because we recognize the cost in blood that has been paid to bring about that Republic.  We do so because we see how blessed we are.

    If we can do so for a wonderful yet less than perfect institution that has been around for just over two hundred years, can we not pledge our allegiance and declare our participation in the life of Christ that has been our right for the past 2,000 years, since that first Easter, and which has its roots for thousands of more years in the heritage of the children of Abraham.  Can we not see the vital importance in declaring ourselves before the world to be for the Lord?  Now is the time, this is the moment, to stand and be counted, to declare ourselves, to pledge our allegiance to someone greater than flag and country.

     The Collect for this Second Sunday of Easter in part asks the Lord to increase the grace given,
"...that all may grasp and rightly understand
in what font they have been washed,
by whose Spirit they have been reborn,
by whose Blood they have been redeemed."
     We have been washed clean of our sins through the font and waters of baptism ... dealing with our frailty, our sinfulness, our weakness, our death.  We have been set free.  We have received the Spirit of the Living God through which we have been called to new life, one that is not limited in any way but one that is indeed eternal.  It is the Spirit of the Risen Christ that has given us this new lease on life.  And we have been redeemed through the Blood of the Lamb, the death of Jesus on that Cross, the unselfish, genuine, total act of love for us, thereby paying the price for our transgressions.
     Is there any way that we can negate this tremendous gift given to us and celebrated on this Mercy Sunday in the great Easter Season?

Friday, April 5, 2013

What has been done

     Vatican news reported that Pope Francis met with the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Mueller.  In their discussion, Pope Francis clearly stated that the decisive action set in motion by Benedict XVI while he was in office and even before when he placed the sexual abuse cases under his jurisdiction as head of the Doctrine of the Faith, continue.  He stressed that measures promoting child protection, help for the many in the past who have suffered, and due process against those who are guilty, must continue.  For many, coming from a position of hurt and pain, this is not enough and the Church can never do enough to rectify a terrible wrong.

     But the Church has not been sitting idly by in the last eleven years since the story broke in 2002 in Boston.  Here is what has been done, as reported by Sister Mary Ann Walsh in her blog for the USCCB dated today.  In the early 1990's the U.S. Bishops published some protocols on how to deal with these issues, a field previously uncharted.  In June of 2002, after the Boston stories broke, the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was adopted by the bishops at their Dallas meeting.  It stressed a zero tolerance of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric, demanded referral to civil authorities and called for prevention programs.  It has been revised, but is still in effect.  Is it working?  Some say yes, some say no.

      Last year 4,684,009 children went through child safety programs in the Church.  2,362,813 priests, deacons, seminarians, educators, church employees and volunteers went through background checks and training in child protection.  Last year CARA ( a Georgetown research center) found 11 allegations of child abuse under the age of 18 reported.  This is out of a Catholic U.S. population of 77.7 million.  It is still discouraging, but not as rampant as the press would lead you to believe.  Many older cases continue to surface and are being dealt with.  We are not sitting on our hands and doing nothing, for we have sinned and find the need for repentance.  We were forced by circumstances to take the lead as other institutions are confronting the same challenges - scouts, sports programs, schools, other churches, anyone dealing with youth.  There is no denying that the Catholic Church is leading the way in this terrible scourge on our young, and rightfully so since we also have a moral responsibility.  Does more need to be done?  Absolutely!  And it looks like Pope Francis is determined to continue the push to bring credibility to the Church so that the message of Christ, rather than our sinfulness, take the headlines.

[ My thanks to Sister Mary Ann for providing these stats ]

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Good News for the local Church

     Word was officially received from Father Jonathan Wisneski, the Director of the Office for Clergy Vocations that Bishop Lawrence Brandt has called to the Order of the Presbyterate Deacon Tyler Bandura, Deacon Matthew Morelli and Deacon Daniel Ulishney.  Their ordination date was set for Saturday, June 1, 2013 at 10:00 am at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg.  Tyler is finishing his studies at Saint Mary Seminary in Baltimore and Matt and Dan are finishing their work at the Theological College in Washington, DC, after four years in Rome.  All three are fine young men who I am sure will be a great asset to the Diocese of Greensburg.  I saw all three at the Chrism Mass last Thursday and enjoyed their enthusiasm regarding their ordinations and Masses of Thanksgiving.

     This is a great and welcome moment for our local Church which has not seen a priestly ordination since before Bishop Brandt arrived nine years ago.  We have a number of fine men "in the pipeline" for future years.  We are a greying clergy.  In fact, at the Chrism Mass I sat next to one of our venerable retired priests who commented that I was one of the few with dark hair (although the beard is very grey).  We look forward to a shot of youthful vitality into our priestly service.

     I ask you to pray for priests, for your priests, for Tyler, Matthew and Daniel, and for continued openness to priestly vocations in the lives of those called to service.

What's in a name?

     In the Acts of the Apostles we read that Peter and John were going into the temple area to pray at the three o'clock hour.  They encountered a man crippled from birth who people passed by daily at "the Beautiful Gate" of the temple, sometimes giving him alms.  Asked again, Peter and John stopped, looked intently at him, and spoke to him.  They asked for his attention: "Look at us!"  Having his attention Peter said: "I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give to you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk."  He offered his hand, helped him stand, and the man walked unencumbered for the first time in his life.  He walked, jumped and praised God.

     The man had only wanted a coin or two, but he received healing.  Peter and John had little to give that was ordinary, but much to give from their hearts and their relationship with their Lord - love itself.  They acted in his NAME and shared their relationship, their friendship of his PERSON with this cripple ... and the man was made whole.  What is in a name?  A great deal!  The name opens the door and introduces us to the person of Jesus Christ.

     Every fiber of our being is to proclaim the name of Christ, to witness to our knowledge and love of Christ, and to invite others to enter into this wondrous mystery.  So if you ever ask yourself "What do I have to offer?" ... the answer is simply this - JESUS CHRIST!  Share him with others freely and you will be filled with blessings.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Scavi visit

     It was reported yesterday that Pope Francis took a personal tour in the excavations under the Basilica of Saint Peter's to pray before the tomb of Saint Peter.  This tour, named after the excavation of the ancient Roman burial grounds beneath the Basilica is called the Scavi Tour, and is limited to groups of about 10 or 12 and offered in various language groups with a very limited number daily.  When ever I hear of someone going to Rome, I encourage them to look into this tour.  I had the privilege of taking the tour years ago on a visit to Rome.  Considering the millions of people that visit the Vatican yearly, it is a rather small number that enters into that domain.

    The Scavi Tour takes you into excavations beneath the lower level (the crypt area) of the present day Saint Peter's Basilica.  That area in Roman times was a cemetery (above ground mausoleums and graves) on the Vatican hillside next to the Vatican Circus of Nero (think of the stadium in Ben Hur).  This was located across the Tiber River in the suburbs of the old city.  This Circus was also the place where during Nero's reign many Christians died, including by tradition Peter, crucified upside down at his request.  He was buried in a portion of that cemetery, and his grave marked by his followers, with an eventual monument of sorts developing on that spot.

     Jump to the early 300's when the Emperor Constantine converted. His desire was to build a suitable church over the burial place of Peter.  To do so, he emptied the cemetery of remains, built retaining walls on the one side (the cemetery was on a hill), and leveled the one side, filling in the lower portion so as to have a level playing field upon which to build the first Saint Peter's - which stood over 1100 years.  The monument at Peter's tomb had a chapel built over it, and the old high altar was above that.

     Jump to the new Saint Peter's built in the 1500's over the same site.  The crypt of this tremendous church is at the level of Constantine's church, but the new structure was built upon that foundation.  In laying the supports they honored the tomb/monument/chapel and old high altar, placing the present high altar immediately above.  The Roman cemetery was forgotten, Peter's tomb untouched.

     Jump ahead to 1939 when workers were preparing a grave for Pope Pius XI in the crypt. A worker fell through part of a wall that revealed openings below, and parts of the old Roman cemetery.  Pope Pius XII authorized an excavation of these sites that revealed narrow pathways, brick mausoleums, some still covered with murals and mosaics, and eventually the original monument that stated on its wall "Peter is here!"  It fit earlier descriptions and low and behold is directly under the present altar and "confessio".  Bones were found in a box of a Semitic man in his later years with ankles broken and bones dating back through carbon testing to 2000 years ago.  Pope Paul VI in 1968 declared that as is humanly possible, we believe these to be the bones of Peter.  On the tour you can see these bones placed in a clear container.  It is a powerful experience of Faith and of history.  Pope Francis, Peter's 265th successor,  yesterday prayed before the remains of his predecessor.


Speaking of successors of Saint Peter,
today is the anniversary of the death
of Blessed Pope John Paul II
in 2005.
He was the 263rd successor of Peter.
Pray for him, and Benedict, and Francis.