Monday, September 30, 2013

The fount of life

     In the Collect prayer for this feast of Saint Jerome, priest and Doctor of the Church, the Church recognizes that the Lord gave Jerome "a living and tender love for Sacred Scripture...".  Jerome's passion for the "story" of the People of God, the revelation of truth and the development of the relationship between humanity and her Creator, the positing of the assurances from the past, the confidence in the present moment, and the hope for the future, and the life that it brings, prompted him to bring that message home in the most understandable of ways and in language that is clear.  He translated the Scriptures from the scholarly and original languages of the learned to the "vulgar" language of the people - Latin.  In fact, his translation was referred to as the Vulgate version. 

     Even though more recent translations are far more accurate, going back to the original languages with the benefit of centuries of study of scripture, language, culture and religion, give Jerome credit for seeing the need for all of us to have access to the Scriptures as well as to a clear understanding of the texts and interpretation.  The Church has been entrusted with the "passing on" of this great gift, and must make sure that all of us may find in the Scriptures (as the Collect prayer continues) "the fount of life".

     If you do not have a good translation of the Scriptures, invest in one.  If you do not read a portion daily, begin to do so.  Seek solid teachings on Scriptural interpretation.  Know the word and you will know "the" Word.  And thank God for the inspiration of Jerome.

     My friend, Mike Ripple in his blog Praylium today speaks of "Reform and Humility".  His words at the end bear repeating.
"He (Christ) founded a Church that was to be led by humble and holy priests and people.
If we truly want reform then humility must prevail:
fast with humility (no one needs to know you're fasting)
pray with humility
humbly seek reconciliation
on your knees receive Eucharist
in the quiet of your heart read Holy Scripture
and humbly walk with your God."
Good words to reflect upon in this time of ever present challenge.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Archangels

     This 29th day of September is set aside by the Church to honor the three great champions and messengers of God to humanity - the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.  Except this year, since it falls on a Sunday and is superseded by our celebration of the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  But these three are too important to ignore, even for a year.

     There is a great fascination with angels in our society.  These heavenly creatures, a part of God's creative love, are committed to the love of God and the service to which he entrusts them.  They are guardians and protectors like the Guardian Angels celebrated on October 2nd.  They are champions of God like Michael who is honored today.  He championed God's cause when the prince of angels, the light bearer, Lucifer, turned rogue and became darkness.  We hear of the great battle in heaven, and the triumph of Michael over Lucifer.  They are messengers of God bringing the glad tidings of hope to an expectant people.  Gabriel was one such messenger, bringing the Good News to Mary in the Annunciation.  The choirs of angels announced Christ's birth and continue to sing his praise.  And angels bring not only the announcement of new life and birth, but of healing and the restoration of God's people, like Raphael.

     There is much misunderstanding regarding angels as well.  We hear the expression "You're an angel" or when someone dies that they have "become an angel in heaven".  Not true or accurate.  Wonderful as angels are in the order of created things, we are called to be saints, to be holy as the Lord our God is holy.  The Son of God never became an angel and sacrificed himself for them ... he became a human being, and through his death he made it possible for us to be holy.  On this great day of the Archangels, thank God for the spiritual and heavenly friends, but first of all thank God for the call to holiness that lifts us to the image and the likeness of God.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A gift for sinners

     Last Monday evening I welcomed the parents of our children who will be receiving the sacraments of Reconciliation and First Eucharist this year to a meeting laying out our expectations and anticipation regarding the preparation of their children for Reconciliation.  I stressed that this is an exceptional year of blessing for their families, for it brings the experience of Christ ever closer to their children.  I shared that when I was growing up   we often were fearful of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which we called confession and later penance.  I remember the experience of my first confession - not what actually was said - but the entry into the darkened "box" with the little night light to give some reassurance, the priest behind the screen (he was gentle), and the physical sigh of relief when it was over.  I assured them that we strive to make sure that this experience is not the one their children will encounter, but rather one of gladness and joy. 

     Pope Francis the other day said in a talk that the confessional is "not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord's mercy motivates us to do better".  He has had much to say on the matter in his first six months in the Chair of Peter, a great deal of it by way of his "tweets".  Just on Wednesday he tweeted "God's forgiveness is greater than any sin".  On the 19th of September he tweeted "we are all sinners, but we experience the joy of God's forgiveness and we walk forward trusting in his mercy".

     In this Year of Faith, our Diocesan Church is encouraging the Sacrament of Reconciliation by way of Regional communal celebrations.  A series of articles were published in the diocesan newspaper and sent to the parishes as inserts in the bulletins (loads of paper expended).  We were encouraged to preach on this great gift and encourage our people to attend one of the celebrations.  In our parish we did something different for us, we sent a postcard to every registered family (1,200) informing them of the four services in the area and telling them to mark their calendars.  We also encouraged them to celebrate the Sacrament when scheduled on Saturdays.  But despite our efforts, our response is small - minimal, in fact.  Our region, population wise, is one of the largest in the diocese, and yet the attendance at the first two Penance services was underwhelming (maybe 55 at the first and about 60 last evening at the second).  There were thirteen priests available - I heard four confessions.  Granted, there is much rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over those who have no need to repent.  Maybe the next two (the next two Monday's) will bring out the crowds. 

     My concern is not "filling the church" to make a show, but rather the reality that people today have lost a sense of sin, of remembering what Pope Francis again pointed out on May 22nd "To live according to the Gospel is to fight against selfishness.  The Gospel is forgiveness and peace; it is love that comes from God."  We have lulled ourselves into thinking that this sacrament is irrelevant to our every day lives.  As Church, we have a tremendous amount of catechesis to do, witness to bear, and ministry and love to present in our lives of Faith, so that everyone will understand Pope Francis' tweet of August 25 "Don't be afraid to ask God for forgiveness.  He never tires of forgiving us.  God is pure mercy."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Keeping busy - having hope

     The last few days have been busy with crafting things for print: bulletin info, FB notices for the parish, reestablishing our website for the parish, letters for upcoming events at SEAS.  So much so that I have not had the creative spirit to post.  Sorry. 

     However, in the last few days at Mass our readings bring home a happy truth: namely that even in the midst of difficulty and hardship, our God's love for us  is unending.  Even when we find ourselves accounted as nothing, our God can and will work to give us hope.  We have the story of Darius, the king of Persia and the ruler of the conquered and exiled people of Israel.  In a moment of openness and grace, Darius listened to the voice of God and allowed God's people, his slaves, a reprieve to return home to rebuild the Lord's temple.    Not only that, but he invited his own people to help, to contribute to the rebuilding and to do what they can to help these slaves achieve a level of dignity as a "chosen people".  Today, Ezra, the scribe, laments the sinfulness of this people, but also speaks of the mercy afforded them by the Lord, their God.  He has retained a remnant, he has brightened their eyes, he has given relief to their servitude. "For slaves we are, but in our servitude our God has not abandoned us; rather, he has turned the good will of the kings of Persia toward us.  Thus he has given us new life to raise again the house of our God and restore its ruins."

     When things seem tough, when the world is crumbling, when we seem to be in servitude to sin, or circumstances, or the whirlwind around us, we can remember the mercy of God.  We can hold dear in our hearts the fact that, unworthy though we are, God has chosen us and given us a promise that leads to life.  We do have hope and joy in our hearts.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A prayer for peace

     Last evening I took a momentary leave from my liturgical responsibilities of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, entrusting the Saturday evening Mass to our neighbor from Saint Agnes, Father Jose B. Oh Primental (or Father Pepe, as he is known).  I thank him for his assistance.

     The reason I was not in North Huntingdon was so that I could be supportive of Father Bill Berkey, the pastor of the newly formed Saint Francis of Assisi Parish in western Fayette County, and Father Jim Petrovsky who assists him.  Father Bill was being installed as pastor by Bishop Brandt at the 6:00 pm Mass at the worship site in Footedale.  Saint Francis Parish was established by Bishop Brandt in late June and is comprised of six area parishes.  I had served at one of those parishes (All Saints) for five years, and being from Fayette County, I know many people in the area.

     Despite a day of unceasing rain, torrential at some points, when I arrived in Footedale the sky was lightening, even though the rain continued to fall.  As I neared the church, there were a number of picketers with signs who called out to those arriving, protesting the merger.  At least they were at a respectable distance on the other side of the road.

     Those who gathered for this Mass of new beginnings and installation were eager to be of support, even though not large in numbers.  The liturgy was beautiful, as was the setting (the former Saint Thomas Church and probably the largest of the six former sites - this large church was built in a small coal mining patch in the Polish style by the early immigrants - with high back altar, pillars along the side aisles, twin bell towers, etc.).  The men's and women's choir served our worship well.

     As is customary at these gatherings, the pastor preached, and Father Bill reminded us of the gift and charism of Saint Francis as a peacemaker and hardworking, gentle soul, inviting us to model ourselves after Francis.  At the end of the liturgy the bishop spoke of the need to provide for the future by "biting the bullet" now, allowing the losses faced by this merger to strengthen us to be a strong and loving church family into the next generation.  He began his remarks by leading us in the recitation of the Prayer of Saint Francis.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
     What would have made the liturgy even more beautiful would have been having the protesters joining us in those prayers for unity and peace, celebrating the legacy of the past with our eyes fixed on the future.
     A reception followed, and it was great to see friends from many places and spend time with them and Father Bill and the Bishop.  It was a good evening.  Pray for the good people of Saint Francis of Assisi Parish in Fayette County in the Diocese of Greensburg.  God has a good work that we wants accomplished. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A sinner called

     In a recent interview, Pope Francis may have startled a few people with his comments.  He spoke of the need for the Church to be more open to the sinner while not neglecting to condemn the sin.  Unless we remember our humble origins and recognize our personal sinfulness, we become harsh and condemning.  If we remember, then we are prone to understanding and mercy and the willingness to forgive.  He spoke of himself as being a sinner, and of needing God's mercy as well as the love and the understanding and prayers of the People of God.

     Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Matthew.  As a tax collector he was seen as a sinner in the eyes of his people, even over and above his personal sin.  Despite this Jesus called him, invited him to "Follow me."  And Matthew got up and followed him.  Jesus used Matthew's talents and abilities, his openness and trust to spread the Good News.  Having received mercy, he proclaimed that mercy to others.  He called his brothers and sisters into a unity with Christ and with each other that was life giving.  He did so with humility and gentleness and patience as Saint Paul urged the people of Ephesus to do.  Paul urged that community to "bear with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace: one Body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."  This can be accomplished Paul reminds us, because "grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift."

     In light of what I written about these last few days, it is keenly important to remember that it is the Lord who calls us (even sinners like Matthew or Pope Francis or me), it is the Lord who places us in the roles of ministry and service that we possess, and  it is the Lord who graces us, who gives us the measure of giftedness that we need to fulfill his call.  And the true challenge to each of us is to trust in the Holy Spirit as we work together for that unity of heart and mind that is found in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A first for me

     I debated all day sharing one more thing in regard to yesterday's post.  But the reaction to my email to the web "master" of the site that I referenced yesterday publicly responded on his site last evening with "An alert".

     Without posting my email (found in the second section of yesterday's post on Journey Thoughts) he said this:

" After starting the dialogue below a few days ago, Father Stoviak has decided not to respond anymore after his point of view was challenged by our readers.  We offered Father Stoviak the opportunity to continue the dialogue unedited with our readers, but he refused us.  Father stated that he will not engage in a dialogue with you the readers of this site.  He told us that he never intended to have a dialogue.
Our message to Father Stoviak is this. Finish what you started! Our readers have made some valid points below and disproved many of your accusations and statements.  Yet after being faced with valid arguments from our readers, Father Stoviak walked away and didn't want to dialogue.  He wanted to make his point and then be left alone.  In journalism we call that a hit and run statement.  Its when you state something inflammatory and then run away when others challenge you.  We see this as both disrespectful to our readers and intellectually dishonest.  Due to this behavior by Father Stoviak, we are no longer going to allow him to comment on this site.  Which is too bad because Father Stoviak did make some sense, and future emails would have been posted.  This type of behavior may be the norm for our Diocesan leaders, but it doesn't fly here upon this website."
     I have been BANISHED!  I've never had that happen before. 
It says a great deal about the one who created a site that is open to all comments, unless you happen to not want to further the agenda.  Then you are censored, cut off, a "persona non grata".  And by one who ignored the invitation to reveal himself by giving his name.  I would think that this is not journalism at its best.  But enough.


More Importantly ...

     I presided at a funeral service this morning for a parishioner.  The Friday before last I presided at the funeral of another parishioner.  Both died in their 50's, much too young.  One was after a long illness, the other a short period of struggle.  Tomorrow will be another service for a parishioner in her 80's.  All three services were without Mass, at the request of the families for their own reasons.  This, it seems, is becoming more common (and a concern for my brother priests - since the Mass is the summit of our worship)

     All three women left family - husband and children and grandchildren and siblings - as well as a lifetime of friends.  May the Lord welcome them into his embrace, and may those who mourn find comfort and peace in Christ Jesus.  Requiescat in pace.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In the spotlight

     I received an invitation on Tuesday by email to enter into a discussion situation on a local website established a few months ago by an anonymous person which is focused on providing a forum for those hurt and upset or disgruntled by the recent structural changes to a number of parishes in our diocese and our bishop and the present administration.  The website and the ficticious name given by its author will remain un-named, because they do not deserve any recognition or credibility from me.  The forum provided allows people to express their hurts and also their anger, which at times became petty, disrespectful and hurtful to the point that I was shocked at how unchristian these comments were at times.

     I remained silent, until last Thursday.  I wrote and sent the following to this site:

Dear xxxxxx:
     I wanted to write to you and your readers to express my sincere apologies on my part for deceiving and misleading you into believing that your numbers are a groundswell of popular support for your cause.  You see, I, and a goodly number of people that I know, view your web site often, a number of times each day, not in support or agreement with what is presented but to see the lengths that you will go to express your anger and hatred of the bishop and the administration.  You efforts to sow discontent and rebellion through half truths, innuendo and name calling feeds upon the hurt and mourning of so many whose long set ways are now challenged, and is blatantly contrary to gospel truths and values.  This is the other reason that I write, to voice not only my disappointment with the level of understanding of what it is to be Church but my concern that your efforts are encouraging people along a path that is unhealthy.
     The structural changes experienced in this diocese recently are nothing new.  For many years, during the administration of the last three bishops, change has happened ... churches have closed as population and needs have shifted ... many parishes have been partnered and are under the pastoral leadership of one priest and new parish formats have developed.  Often there was fear or anger or protest, but almost universally the results brought about a more vibrant Church.  This is true not only in this diocese, but in even greater ways throughout the Northeast and even in the beloved, neighboring diocese of Pittsburgh which is often viewed on your web site as "doing things right".  The decrease in population, the shortage of clergy, the economic challenges to churches and schools is not just a local phenomenon, it is a reality of life.  Anyone who expects the status quo to remain unchanged has not faced reality.  And for us, the clergy shortage, which we have been warning about for countless years and which is happening, is the major reason for this restructuring, even with the great service, past and present, of the Benedictines.
     I write as one who passionately loves the people of this diocese, especially those that I have had the privilege of serving - including three parishes of those in the present restructuring.  I believe in my heart that, even with the challenges involved, this will provide for a stronger, healthier Church in those areas.  I am confident that given a chance and approached positively, the people will see that the Church in this Diocese has not abandoned them, but given them a greater opportunity to live out the Gospel.  I pray that you, and the discord that you foment, will cease.  I would remind all who hold hatred in their hearts that the Lord invites us to repentance, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the source of God's mercy and forgiveness.    Father Len Stoviak, a priest of this diocese.

     Over the weekend this person published my letter, to my surprise.  It was under the heading "Local priest invites readers to repent", listed me as a diocesan official, and contained an invitation to them to dialogue with me on line.  They even took and used my picture from FB. I responded to the invitation to dialogue this morning in this way:

Dear xxxxx:
     Thank you for publishing my letter addressed to you and your readers and for your note below.
     I will not be engaging in a dialogue with you or your readers for a number of reasons:
*  It was never my intention to do so ... that came from you.  I was simply stating my feelings on the negative effects that I believe that your web site is promoting.
*  I will not because I do not want to give your endeavor credibility or recognition beyond what I have already done.
*  Despite your reference to my being an "official" of the diocese, I speak only for myself, and while enjoying a dialogue, I will not do so in the public forum.
*  But most importantly, I have had a longstanding position of not responding to anonymous emails or notes.  While a number of your readers did mention their first names, the one who leads them has not.  I told you and your readers who I was, I challenge you to do the same.  Give a face and a name to the cause that you promote.

     I firmly believe that your efforts, however well intentioned they may be, are counter productive and damaging to the People of God.  Our people are indeed hurting, but I see their pain sustained as you encourage them to focus on their wants as opposed to seeking healing from the Lord.  I see no good coming from your "work".  I will continue to pray for you, but not for the success of your efforts.

     Enough said on my part.  I don't enjoy the spotlight.  On to the more positive.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The role of a bishop

     Today the Church recognizes Saint Robert Bellarmine, a Jesuit priest, bishop and cardinal of the late 1500's and early 1600's (born October 4, 1542 - died September 17, 1621).  A scholar, teacher and preacher, he served the Church as a successor of the Apostles in a very difficult and turbulent time.  It was the Counter-Reformation ... a time of taking stock, of looking to what was essential, of holding onto the deposit of our Faith, and of leading a Church which very often wanted to go in another direction.  It was difficult.  He was good at it, though.  Thus his reputation, the acknowledgment of his holiness and wisdom, and his role as teacher, as sanctifier and as a person of governance - the three characteristics of the shepherd of a diocese.  He is held as a Doctor of the Church.

     It turns out that the first reading for  Tuesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time comes from 1st Timothy (1 Tm 3:1-13).  Paul writes to Timothy and tells him what to look for in a bishop.  It makes for interesting reflection.  Paul says that "whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task".  On a practical level, in today's world he also needs his head examined, for he can never satisfy everyone (editorial comment).  He must be irreproachable, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach, and be gentle of spirit.  The thing that also catches our attention is that Paul says a bishop should be married only once and should keep his children under control.  Despite those points, it is a good description of what we look for in a bishop.

     There was a time when the local bishop was chosen by the laity and priests of the diocese and affirmed by the Holy Father.  Those days passed long ago, although there is usually some consultation in the process.  The throwback to this old tradition is found in the practice of the College of Cardinals (each assigned a church in the Diocese of Rome and thus the local clergy) selecting the next Bishop of Rome, and thus the Holy Father.  Presently the Holy Father makes the selection of a bishop after prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit and based upon the recommendation of the Congregation of Bishops (who give him a "short list").  Their info is impacted by the needs of the diocese, the recommendation of the Metropolitan Archbishop of the area (Philly, for us) and the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington.

     We have a priest of our diocese who, along with a few others, would love to revive the local consultation process.  We have a number of people in the local area who are unhappy with the present leadership who would love to have a say as to what they want in the next bishop.  The value of such desires may have merit.  But even in the appointment from the top format, there is something very important to keep in mind - namely that the ultimate choice, if we truly believe in the providence of God, is that of the Holy Spirit.  He knows the qualities and characteristics needed, and the abilities and willingness of those proposed to respond to the best of their abilities, and with the help of God's grace, to meet the tasks of teaching (from the chair), of sanctifying (through the Sacraments) and of governing (through the structure of the church and the law of God).

     Robert Bellarmine was the man for the moment in his day, and the Holy Spirit did okay by him.  God provides for us still.  So pray for your bishop.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

"God is pure mercy."

     I reminded our people at Mass that Pope Francis has a twitter account and that he frequently tweets powerfully pastoral and theological messages.  The title of this post was a part of his tweet on August 25th in which he encouraged his followers to place themselves within the forgiveness and mercy of God.

     The scriptures today remind us of that mercy that is found in God.  Moses called upon that mercy for God's people whom he was chosen to lead.  Even though through their hardness of heart and complaining before God they had lost their way and were deserving of the punishment that God was justified in afflicting, Moses said "Hold on!"  Why give up on them now, when your very existence is love and mercy.  And the Lord relents.  Paul reminds his readers that though he was a great sinner who fell way short of the mark of God's expectations, the mercy of the Lord has given him a ministry which is outstanding.  It is God, Paul reminds them, who does this great thing.  And in the gospel we are invited to search for what we have lost in ourselves, to repent, and be restored in grace and rejoicing.

     There is the old axiom - "Which came first? The chicken or the egg?"  As we face the self absorption of a society that denies the importance and even at times the existence of God and as we realize that the great Sacrament of Reconciliation is so infrequently approached, we may ask the question why?  Is it because we have lost a sense or personal knowledge of God and therefore we fail to approach his mercy and accept his love?  Or is it because we fail to see our need of that mercy and love so we fail to see and embrace the One who is pure mercy and love?  I am not sure of the answer ... but I suspect that it is both.  I do know that there needs to be a call to conversion, an invitation to repentance, an embrace of new life as we embrace the living God.

     In our Diocese during this Year of Faith, each Region of the Diocese is sponsoring a series of special Communal Penance Services in selected parishes in this next month or so.  In our Region we begin tomorrow afternoon at Mother of Sorrows in Murrysville at 1:00 pm.  There should be thirteen of us waiting to be confessors.  I hope and pray that we are very busy!


I met with our Pastoral Council this afternoon for an evaluative discussion of the parish over dinner at the House.  It was very good - both the meeting as well as the dinner.  I am very grateful to the nine parishioners who joined with me today.  God bless them.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9/11 Intercessions

     I am on retreat this week at our retreat center in the Diocese, the Bishop Connare Center (my former high school seminary residence hall).  Things are going well, and I wanted to take a moment on this important day of remembrance in our nation, to share with you a prayer.

     The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued intercessions for September 11 (Patriots Day) that could be used at Mass.  They are as follows:

*     For the Church, that she may continue to provide care and healing for all, especially for those affected by the attacks on September 11, 2001, we pray to the Lord ...

*     For all victims of violence and terrorism around the world, and for their families, that they may find comfort and peace, we pray to the Lord ...

*     For the safety of our service men and women abroad, for civil servants who protect us and keep us safe, and for all who live with war and violence, we pray to the Lord ...

*     For our leaders and for leaders of nations, that they may work together to address the problems that provide fertile ground for the growth of terrorism, we pray to the Lord ...

*     For the ability to forgive and for an end to all hatred, beginning in our own hearts, we pray to the Lord ...

Monday, September 9, 2013


     I did something yesterday that could threaten a reputation that I have spent years fostering.  There are many aspects to my reputation that remain intact.  However, my hard earned reputation of doing things at the last minute and just being on time suffered a blow yesterday when I announced that in our parish we celebrated Catechetical Sunday on September 7th at the 4:00 pm Mass.  Catechetical Sunday in the United States and our Diocese is NEXT Sunday, September 15th!  I was a week early ... ahead of time ... and wrong!  What a blow to my "just in time, never early" reputation.

     To those that may have read the post and thought that they had missed this important day, my apologies.  Celebrate well on the real Catechetical Sunday.


I am on retreat this week, so the posts may be a little more 
sporadic.  Pray for the priests on retreat from our Diocese.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


     September 8th in the United States is Catechetical Sunday.  On this day we acknowledge and commission those individuals who assist our parents and guardians as well as our parish religious formation programs in the teaching of our children and their guidance and growth in the Faith.

     In my homily today I spoke of three Scripture professors that had in my seminary years at Saint Francis in Loretto, Pennsylvania.  All three were good men, but each brought a different experience to me.  The first that I mentioned was a visiting professor named Father Anthony Wei.  From China, and having studied everywhere, he was an outstanding scholar.  He was so in love with and wrapped up in the scriptures that he was (for me at least) a less than effective teacher.  He would be writing on the board in English, then switch to Latin or Greek, or Chinese or Hebrew, or whatever until we pulled him in to focus on one language for those of us not linguists.

     I mentioned Father Austin Hovan, T.O.R. who unfortunately died very early in life in an accident.  Father Austin also was a scholar and a good teacher.  If you followed his lectures, took good notes, listened attentively to his explanations, you would learn.  As a good teacher, the classroom was his lab.

     Then I mentioned Father Roland Faley, T.O.R., who was rector for a number of years and who taught scripture.  He too was a well known scholar, having penned a portion of the Jerome Biblical Commentary, a well known reference work in our time.  He was a good teacher as well.  But I told the people that the quality that set him apart from the other two for me was that he brought that love and knowledge of the scriptures with him into other settings.  It was evident in his preaching and presiding at prayer and liturgy.  He brought his enthusiasm with him into our conversations and interactions, well beyond the classroom.  For me, he exhibited what I believe that it means to be a catechist - to bring knowledge and wisdom into the journey of life ... to be a fellow sojourner, a helpful guide, a friend that helped me find my way to Christ in and through the scriptures.

     All of us are called to be catechists in this way.  We must be there for each other.

     I am grateful to Tony Wei, to Austin Hovan and to Roland Faley (who I understand is living in a retirement/nursing home in Dubois, PA).  I am grateful to my parents, grandparents, sister, friends, teachers, and catechists of all sorts who have blessed my life.  And I am most grateful to God for his love.

A challenge to the social structure

     I marvel at the power of the reading from Philemon that was our second reading in today's liturgy.  Talk about a revolutionary challenge to social structure.  Here is the situation.

     Paul is writing to a good friend, Philemon.  When Paul had recently been thrown into prison, he was imprisoned with a young slave named Onesimus, who was the property and  slave of Philemon.  Over the course of their captivity, Onesimus came to know Christ and to accept Paul as a spiritual father.  Paul grew to love this young man as a brother and a son.  When they were released, Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon - I'm sure a challenge to Onesimus but certainly a challenge to Philemon.  That is because Paul tells Philemon that he sends his former slave, now a child of God and a follower of Christ and a son to Paul, back to him as a brother and friend.   The property has now become family.  Inequality needed to give way to equality.  The social order that both had known now was transformed into something new and life changing.  The fear of going back was for Onesimus overcome by the love and assurance of Paul.  Any difficulty that Philemon had in accepting this new arrangement was dealt with in Paul's challenge to accept this new world order because it was right in the Lord and because Philemon owed this to Paul.  Who says that the way of Christ is easy?  Who says that religion is "a piece of cake"?

     The inequality that exists in our attitudes toward others, many of whom we feel are "not like us" or who are held in lower esteem, challenge our understanding of what Christ desires.  Our prejudices need to give way to acceptance.  All of us are brothers and sisters in Christ who share a common dignity and our relationships are transformational of society.   We are called to rebuild our social structures based on the call to love and acceptance found in the Lord Jesus.  Powerful indeed.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Quite a discussion

     It has been interesting watching the level of discussion in the United States and the world community regarding a military intervention in the tragic situation in Syria.  It has almost hit a frenzied moment.  It seems that everyone has an opinion and a great many people are not in favor of a U.S. action.  It is obvious that the world community needs to condemn the use of chemical weapons as well as genocide in that particular conflict as well as wherever it is found around the globe.  Civilized society, not only the United States, needs to call those to task who engage in such actions.

     But what I am fascinated by is the sudden level of these discussions now, since we have been engaged in war on two fronts for a longer period of time than ever before in our nation's history. There has been very little concern or protest or call for an end to those conflicts that have very little discernible positive results.  The cost to this nation in staggering, especially in those who have died or who face daily struggles from their wounds and experiences.  And yet, life goes on as usual.  We set withdrawal deadlines that are years in the making and will not involve the withdrawal of all of our troops.  While there are some situations that bring about positive results, there is no clear sense of victory (or defeat).  Where is that discussion?  Maybe we are afraid to speak out for fear that some may insinuate that to do so would dishonor our troops?  It is not the troops, but rather our complacent leadership that brings shadow to our glorious image.  Another day, another conflict, another year, another group of countless lost and injured lives, and countless billions in a debt ridden economy continue as if this is "normal".  I believe that we have lost our way.

     It is unusual for me to use this forum to speak out politically, so forgive me.

     Pope Francis is calling upon all men and women of good will to pray and fast tomorrow, September 7th, the eve of the feast of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Queen of Peace.  I encourage you to join in this special time of appealing to heaven with our prayers.

Monday, September 2, 2013

On WORK on Labor Day

     Work is a dirty word for many.  It speaks of toil and drudgery, necessity and slavery.  In our day, the joy of work is seen not in the pride of the end product or result, but rather in the finishing of the task or of receiving the paycheck.  Work for all too many is that elusive reality that is beyond their grasp, or if they are lucky enough to find work, they can barely make ends meet to provide for their families.

     And yet work is a beautiful gift of God.  In fact, the first work that God called Adam and Eve to enter into was god-like: the entrustment of all creation to them so that they may name creation, take part in the ownership of creative things, and be stewards of that creation.  They were reminded that God's work was the work of creation.  They saw that everything that he had worked on was acknowledged to be good.  Their work continued God's work, and it was good.  Even after the fall, their work was good, though now it would require the sweat of their brow.  They were to use the grace provided, do the best that they could, give thanks to the Creator, and take pride in their accomplishments.

     The work of God continues in the work of his Son, Jesus.  The redemption that he accomplished has set us free of toil and drudgery, of burden and slavery, and given us freedom.  It does not mean a life of ease.  It does mean a life worth living, of satisfaction in work, of pride in our accomplishments.

     On this day in this great nation when we honor work, we need to renew our efforts and re-establish our desire to see that all men and women are provided with decent jobs, given adequate pay, shown respect and dignity, and be allowed to see their talent and ability put to use in the fulfillment of God's plan.  We have a long way to go.  But we also have graces given us that allow us to have hope and to strive for what is better.  Saint Joseph, patron of workers, pray for us.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A source of inspiration

     I have to admit that I do not have a twitter account nor do I know much about twittering or tweets ... except that my daily viewing of the Vatican web site brings me in touch with the Tweets of Pope Francis - found at Pope Francis @ Pontifex.  As of this afternoon (9/1) he has had 2,903,598 who have responded (I think that this is only the English language responses).  He tweets fairly often, and they are wonderful moments of teaching and insight into faith.  I highly recommend viewing what he has to say.

    A few of his recent tweets:

"Faith is not something decorative or for show. 
To have faith means to put Christ
truly at the centre of our lives."

"The love of God is not something vague
or generic; the love of God has a name and a face:
Jesus Christ."
"Don't be afraid to ask God for forgiveness.
He never tires of forgiving us.
God is pure mercy."
"We cannot be Christians part-time.
If Christ is at the center of our lives,
he is present in all that we do."
"One cannot separate Christ and the Church.
The grace of Baptism gives us the joy
of following Christ in and with the Church."
     Such pearls of wisdom so clearly stated.  Check out the Holy Father's twitter account.

Standing secure

     I shared these thoughts today at liturgy.

     Through the great love of God we were created and made in the image and likeness of God.  Earthly creatures, we were given a share in the Divine.  Even with one foot in each dimension, we were able to keep our balance, hold on to our equilibrium because we walked with God. 

     Then came the tempter ... then came sin ... then came the fall.  We were thrown off balance.  Without our undivided focus upon the Creator, we struggled to stand upright.  We would often stumble and fall, be unsure of our footing, and it became more and more difficult to focus, to stand with God, to live a holy and righteous life - not impossible, but a heck of a lot harder.

     Then came the ultimate manifestation of God's love in the gift of his Son as the God-man, one like us in all things but sin.  He came to invite us to repentance and renewal, to renew the call to holiness and uprightness of life, to show us a way back to the Divine.  The readings of today remind us of that fact.  We are in the world but not of the world.  We are called to approach Mt. Zion, the holy city, the angelic hosts, the heavenly vision.  With one foot in this world to which we have been called to be stewards, we find our other foot in the mystical dimension of God's grace.  And we are called to focus upon what is most important, namely our relationship with the Lord.

     I am reminded of the passage a few weeks ago about Jesus visiting Martha and Mary and Martha complaining because Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened.  Jesus tells Martha that, good and necessary as hospitality is, that Mary has chosen the better portion - being one with the Lord.  We are invited to humbly embrace the love of God found in Christ Jesus and to allow the grace of that love guide and direct every aspect, every moment of our existence.  If we do, there will be no lack of balance, not floundering, no struggle, but rather the joy of the Lord.  A good message.


     Speaking of good messages, I would like to draw your attention to a new blog initiated by the Office of Evangelization of the Diocese of Greensburg and presented by the director, Greg Petrucci.  It is entitled "OMG" and can be viewed by going to the web page of the Diocese - - and on the bottom of the home page going to the "Let's Communicate" section.  Give Greg a read, and mark it as a favorite.  Evangelization is vitally important to the Church.  Congratulations, Greg.