Thursday, October 31, 2013

Putting on Christ

     They came dressed as Woody or Spiderman or a princess or a witch or a ghost.  Some were gruesome to behold and others were downright cute.  They celebrated a locally rainy evening of "trick or treating" on this All Hallows Eve in 2013.  The decorating for Halloween has surpassed even Christmas, and it has become a major holiday.  Not long ago I was in conversation with one of my physical therapists and we mentioned Halloween.  He commented that this secular celebration was growing in society, but that it had no ties to the world of the sacred.

     I stopped him there and reminded him that Halloween is a take on "All Hallows Eve", the night before the great feast of All Hallows (or All Saints).  On All Hallows we rejoice in those who have finished the journey and who share in the heavenly vision - the saints of God.  On the Eve, we remember all of the dead who have gone before us in Faith and who are on the way to that beatific vision - the Faithful Departed who are sometimes called the "Poor Souls" (I'm not sure why they are named such, for they also share the love of God and while yet journeying, they are destined for glory as well - definitely not poor). 

     Today is not about ghosts and goblins, scary creatures or make believe characters.  Today and tomorrow are about remembering our call to holiness, our destiny as the saints of God, the glory that has been given to us at our baptism.  We clothe ourselves not with costumes and make-up and masks, but with the dignity and glory that is found in Christ.  We are clothed in Christ.  The baptismal garment and the funeral pall are reminders at the beginning and the end of our earthy journey of the greater reality of that glory.  It is not found in garment or in cloth, it is not something that covers the true self, but it comes from within and reveals the inner beauty that the Lord sees in us, it reveals the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit within our lives.

     May these days of glory remind us of the depth of God's love and the call to holiness that is reserved, not just for the few, but rather for us all.  Happy All Hallows Eve and happy All Hallows Day tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Odds and Ends

     A few random observations:

Saying "Thank You" - This past Friday morning our Regional Catholic School, Queen of Angels, took the opportunity to say thank you to regular supporters of the school by way of an invitation to a prayer service followed by a light breakfast.  There were a nice number of people able to join with the school family at 9:00 am in the auditorium for a brief time of prayer led by Father John Moineaux, the chair of the Board of Trust Administrators (the five sponsoring pastors) and joined by Msgr. Paul Fitzmaurice and myself.  A group of the children were also involved in this expression of our gratitude through prayer and song.  It was a great experience.  Following the service a breakfast of rolls and juice was made available for all of the guests.  It was also nice to see Mr. Trent Bocan, the Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese in attendance as well, lending his support to our saying thanks. Not only is it important to give thanks, but it is extremely important to teach our youngsters the value of gratitude.  I was proud of them.

     This was my week to provide the Scripture Reflection for the Sunday readings for the Diocesan Website.  Check it out at and scroll through the moving scroll until you come to the reflection.  Then bookmark the website.

Healing and Affirmation - On Sunday afternoon we gathered in Church to celebrate our Fall Communal Anointing of the Sick.  There were at least one hundred in attendance, and it was a very prayerful and beautiful time of placing our trust in the Lord's healing embrace.
Following the Anointing, nearly one hundred who responded to our invitation to share in a dinner for our senior members, joined us in our social hall and shared a great catered buffet meal.  I began this custom about four years ago as a way of acknowledging our elders who have been and continue to be a powerhouse of support and prayer to the parish family.  Even though the Steelers were playing that afternoon, they still came, stayed and enjoyed themselves.  I am always pleased to host this dinner, and this year was no exception.

Saying Farewell - This is a week of funerals: Monday afternoon I journeyed to Saint Barbara in Harrison City to concelebrate the funeral of the father of a good friend of mine from the Greensburg days - Kathy Gonda.  I saw a number of old friends from those days.
Today I journeyed to Saint Anne in Rostraver to concelebrate the funeral of the daughter-in-law of a parishioner from here who died at the young age of forty-nine after a short illness.  It turns out that I taught Joyce at Saint Sebastian School when she was in about seventh grade during my time in Belle Vernon.  She remembered that fact, and had reminded me of it a few years ago when we met.  It is a small world.
On Thursday I will have the funeral Mass for Herb Henry, the husband of a parishioner, who, although not a Catholic (I was surprised) joined his wife at Mass nearly every Sunday and responded with prayer better than most.  His family is very involved in the parish and the liturgy, especially through music, and they plan on being their for Pap.  Sad as it will be, it will also be a joyful celebration.

     In our local area we also had a municipal water authority problem with our drinking water and were under a boil water alert.  This began on Friday and lasted until yesterday.  It was more of a precaution, but it helped the bottled water business tremendously.  At the weekend Masses we did not share the cups and the Precious Blood, because of the purification issue.  I assured the people that this was the reason ... and not that we usually use tap water to turn into wine.  A few people got it.

     It has been a week of moving experiences of faith and interesting times, and I thank the Lord for blessing me in this way.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A remembrance and an observation

     If memory serves me, today, the feast of Saints Simon and Jude, was the day I arrived at my assignment as pastor of the then All Saints Parish in Masontown.  I arrived as the previous pastor was saying his farewell and pulling out (going to the parish that I was leaving).  I would like to share some thoughts in regard to the surroundings that I found.

     All Saints had been built by Father Francis Kolb in 1908 with the rectory/offices attached to the church building.  Brick buildings, they had come to levels of disrepair over the years.  The secretary and her offices were in a very small outer entrance chamber of the house.  My first "renovation" was to expand and update her office, using a portion of an adjoining office that served the priest.  I moved my office across the hall to the dining room, which was rarely used.  The kitchen was a major undertaking and required a good deal of funds, but we never spent anything that we did not have.  The kitchen was outdated (not even close to being an adequate description) with old rusted white metal cabinets, termite ridden floors, non insulated walls and floor, aging furniture and appliances.  We made it functional and beautiful, as it still is today after twenty five years.  There were some that criticized those expenditures and those changes made to the church and the school and the grounds, but they were not for me or the next guys, but in order to maintain and enhance the parish legacy.

     I have lived in old houses and new, functional and inadequate, most often larger than the average house but rarely luxurious.  Some had charm and some had major flaws.  Some are no more (Irwin - torn down); some are used differently - as parish offices in Belle Vernon and Scottdale; some are not used at all like Connellsville and Greensburg.  And the house I live in presently is the best of all my living situations, for which I am grateful.  It is a neighborhood house in a quiet neighborhood "off campus".  It is an asset of the parish.  And these assets served those entrusted with ministry to those parishes.

     With the "bling bishop" in Germany in the news about his living situation, and with a segment of our Catholic population locally critical of our bishop for a variety of conceived reasons, the local website that I mentioned before, who "banned" me, has established a "contest" to come up with ideas on how to use the "bishop's lavish mansion".  To what depths have we sunk!  What judgmental arrogance on the part of some.  I have been in the house - larger than most homes but smaller than many ... comfortable but not plush.  The same house given (I believe) to the Diocese early on in its history and lived in by Bishops Connare and Bosco (both very unpretentious men), suddenly has become an issue for some in their desire to put down Bishop Brandt.  This part of the patrimony of the Diocese serves the man entrusted to serve as our bishop.  How he lives (obviously within reason) should not matter, unless you have an axe to grind.  To say that this drive to belittle and demean the one who is our spiritual father drives me crazy is an understatement.  And the reason is that it is evil.  A contest - called for by an un-named critic!  What next?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Convocation - 4

     Finally on the subject of this past week's Convocation of priests, I would like to share thoughts on what for me became a very powerful moment.  Each afternoon a panel of three priests share a little about their priesthood experiences - the first day about their first assignments and on the second day thoughts on a difficult assignment.  They told stories of struggles of personality with brother priests who were their pastors, or of a less than affirming experience with a superior, or of a particularly difficult situation in pastoral ministry.  They told these stories with humor, and with wisdom in lessons learned, and of hurt and pain that they had to face before a transforming healing experience took place.  I admire these men for the courage to share their joys and sorrows, and I respect their privacy.

     There was one man who shared a struggle that I was not aware of.  He is a good priest, always gentle, always positive, always affirming.  He told of his first assignment with a curmudgeon of a pastor that made entry into ministry less than easy.  He told of excellent assignments that strengthened his priesthood.  Then he told of an assignment that was a "dark night" for him, a time of hurt and tension that left him drained and ill, an experience that nearly incapacitated him.  He handled this difficulty, first with God's grace, but also with much prayer and therapy. 

     This struggle and pain was caused not by his superiors, not by the assignment itself, not by the lack of support from his brother priests, but by a few very determined and extremely nasty and vicious parishioners who did not know the definition of charity and whose level of respect - both for the office of pastor but even more importantly for the person of the priest involved - was hard to find.  They made things so bad that he dreaded (feared may be a better word) ministering at the altar.  They were cruel to the extreme, and they caused him great pain.  He shared much of this openly with us, and as I said, I am in deep admiration of the man.  Difficult as the struggle was, he did not allow it to embitter him or hamper him from being a bearer of the Lord's love.  He came away hurt and changed, but stronger and better.

     Do people know how cruel they can be at times?  How demanding?  How intolerant? How hateful?  How destructive?  I'm not sure.  What I do know is that great as priesthood is, these days you are a target.  And those who denigrate and disrespect the person or the office, especially publicly, need to come before the Lord and ask for forgiveness.  There is some of that surfacing in the local Church these days, and it is undermining the fabric of the faith of our people.

    May the Lord continue to bless this priest ... may he continue to bless this local Church ... and may he continue to bring us peace and joy of heart.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Convocation - 3

     As I mentioned earlier, our Priests' Convocation looked at evangelization and reconciliation from a broad perspective.  One of the exercises that we performed was to answer three questions on a form given us, sign our names and date the paper, seal it in an envelope and turn it in.  These were then placed before the altar at our Eucharist in Ss Simon and Jude Church in Blairsville that afternoon and then returned to us by Bishop Brandt at the end of the liturgy.  The questions were:
1. What do people need today?  
2. What do people need from me?  
3. What am I willing to give?

My response to all three questions was the same:

     People need to be accepted where they are ... they need to know and feel that they are welcome ... they need to be shown mercy first ... and this will lead to a faith filled with hope.  As a priest, these are gifts that I can and have tried to share with those who share the journey with me.
     Our liturgy that afternoon was the annual Mass for the deceased bishops and priests who have served in the Diocese of Greensburg.  This year we were fortunate to have only lost one diocesan priest to death - retired Bishop Anthony G. Bosco on July 2nd.  We prayed for him as well as for Bishops Hugh L. Lamb (our first bishop), William G. Connare (second bishop), and the 188 other priests who have died in the 62 year history of this diocese.  Of those, 138 have died since I was ordained in May of 1973.  This does not include our brothers from the Religious Orders - Benedictines, Carmelites, Franciscans, Paulines and others who have also served this local Church. Some of these men are not remembered by those of us still here.  Some are remembered with loving affection and some with interesting stories that do not always bring back fond memories.  But all served the People of God in this Diocese to the best of their abilities.  I thought of the years of service represented in this list, and the impact that these men had on the faithful.  We must be grateful to God for the gift that they have been - the blessing or the challenge found in their ministry.  We must also be grateful to those who are presently serving this local Church.  We must be grateful for the service and talents of the many who have left active ministry for a variety of reasons (most recently Father Joe Trupkovich).
     Priesthood today is not like it was sixty-two years ago, or forty years ago, or even as it was just a few years ago ... and yet IT IS the same.  Your priests need your prayers and support, your love and acceptance.  I have included our group photo taken following the Mass on Tuesday in Blairsville (picture courtesy of Mary Seaman of the Diocesan Communications Office).  We are a smaller yet still mighty presbyterate here in the Diocese of Greensburg.  I am glad to have them as my brothers.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Convocation thoughts - 2

     I mentioned yesterday that as we looked once again at the numbers facing us in the future by way of available clergy in twelve years, we could be overwhelmed with the uncertainty of how the future will play out.  Our discussion at the Convocation of Priests focused in the next days upon evangelization and reconciliation in concrete rather than theoretical ways.

     One hurdle to overcome is a tendency to see ourselves as messiahs, as the leaders who must be in the forefront of everything and involved in every aspect of parish life.  This tendency presents itself because at one time the priest was thought to be the most educated, the better trained, and the leader of the local community.  People's expectations at times have not changed that much, even though reality has changed - they still want Father to be at every meeting, at every gathering, always available.  Some priests enjoy that, some thrive on it, some are great at it, but as these next years progress, we may find those practices in need of adaptation.  Our priorities might need to transition into focusing primarily on a spiritual, liturgical and sacramental experience of service.  We cannot do it all.  We cannot be messiahs (we already have one).

     In our program booklet there was a page that was introduced as
"Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer: A Step Along the Way".  The note at the bottom of the page read:
* This prayer was composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw,
drafted for a homily by Card. John Dearden in Nov. 1979
for a celebration of departed priests.
As a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Romero,
Bishop Untener included in a reflection book a passage entitled
"The mystery of the Romero Prayer."
The mystery is that the words of the prayer are attributed to Oscar Romero,
but they were never spoken by him.
Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer: A Step Along the Way
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace
to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder
and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders;
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw
     These words resonated with me, and gave me a lot to think about.  I hope they do so for you as well.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Convocation Thoughts - 1

     I have just returned from our annual Diocesan Priests' Convocation at the Chestnut Ridge Conference Center in Blairsville, PA, a town in our diocese.  This event, held every October, is for all of the active priests of the diocese, and seeks to not only bring us together for fellowship but to address issues that relate to our identity as priests.  We began after lunch on Monday and concluded today.  Led this year by Dr. Paul Niemiec of our Catholic Charities staff [who told me that he is a regular reader of this blog - thanks, Paul] and coordinated by Father Mike Sikon, I would like to share a few thoughts in the next few posts on this year's gathering.

     One of the things that was an eye opener for me was the way we began.  In a large meeting room, we gathered around round tables - 6 or 8 at a table.  There were also chairs set up in the back of the room, and a few chairs set up on the side of the room.  Our first exercise, after welcome and prayer, was to respond when our name was called and go to or stay at one of the sections.  Paul began calling the names from the oldest to the youngest, with those up to a certain point taking the rear rows of chairs.  These would be the men that would be retired in the next twelve years (by 2025).  He then called the names of the Religious Order priests and our brothers from the Philippines, who sat in the side section.  He then pointed out that those remaining at the round tables were the  priests who would be serving this diocese in 2025.

     The numbers were not new, but the visual impact was astounding.  There were about 40 priests in the rear of the room, about nine representing clergy who assist us in ministry from outside of the diocese, and about 23 priests left at the tables.  Almost everyone was in attendance, and thus the numbers were not out of whack.  Our stats have for years indicated that by 2025 there would be about 27 priests serving the Diocese of Greensburg.  To see it in actuality, and to realize that most of these 27 or so will be in their fifties and sixties, was eye opening.

    This led to a discussion of how we can be supportive of each other and also of the example that our Filipino brothers bring us of huge numbers of the Faithful ministered to by a small amount of clergy - it requires an adaptation of roles and expectations.  In my next post I will share a prayer that was printed in our booklets that addressed that different approach.  I think that we, the priests, see this challenge to the near future far better that most of our laity, who think that the info and facts shared are simply threats that have nothing to do with them - until it touches their lives.  And then the Church has abandoned them.  Yet where do vocations come from?  Is it not the family, the home, the parishes, the laity praying for and encouraging vocations?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Giving human flesh to Jesus

     In a ceremony in Saint Peter's Square this past Saturday honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary in this Year of Faith, Pope Francis said this regarding Mary:

" A second aspect is that Mary's faith gave human flesh to Jesus.  As the Council [Vatican II] says: 'Through her faith and obedience, she gave birth on earth to the very Son of the Father, without knowing man but by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit' (Lumen Gentium, 63).  This was a point on which the Fathers of the Church greatly insisted: Mary first conceived Jesus in faith and then in the flesh, when she said 'yes' to the message God gave her through the angel.  What does this mean?  It means that God did not want to become man by bypassing our freedom; he wanted to pass through Mary's free assent, through her 'yes'.  He asked her: 'Are you prepared for this?' And she replied: 'Yes'.

But what took place most singularly in the Virgin Mary also takes place within us, spiritually, when we receive the word of God with a good and sincere heart and put it into practice.  It is as if God takes flesh within us; he comes to dwell in us, for he dwells in all who love him and keep his word.  It is not easy to understand this, but really, it is easy to feel it in out heart.

Do we think that Jesus' incarnation is simply a past event which has nothing to do with us personally?  Believing in Jesus means giving him our flesh with the humility and courage of Mary, so that he can continue to dwell in our midst.  It means giving him our hands, to caress the little ones and the poor; our feet, to go forth and meet our brothers and sisters; our arms, to hold up the weak and to work in the Lord's vineyard; our minds, to think and act in the light of the Gospel; and especially to offer our hearts to love and to make choices in accordance with God's will.  All this happens thanks to the working of the Holy Spirit.  And in this way we become instruments in God's hands, so that Jesus can act in the world through us."

     Simple but powerful words to call to mind.  I like Francis' challenging words.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Getting through

     I have not posted much this week because I have what so many around me have - a summer/fall head cold.  It began last Sunday with a scratchy throat and by Tuesday was a full fledged head cold with lots of congestion and a head that seemed like it was encased in concrete.  No fever or flu symptoms, no aches or pains, just congestion and tiredness.  Even tonight as I was preparing for liturgy, none of my thoughts were coming together and my level of inspiration was almost non existent.  I was even tempted to not preach!  Almost.

     Between the head cold, the pundants and politicians on the political front, the discontent/crisis promoters on the diocesan front, the self promoting/self destructive actions of people I know or see on TV or the news, all I could see was a spreading darkness, a deadly fog setting in, and evil spirit that commanded our attention.  All I could see were "large talking heads" (like the one on the Snickers commercial - the "horseless headsman" confused and bumbling) talking at but not to others, absorbed in themselves rather than the common good of others, frightening in their disconnect from reality.  I realize that much of this for me is the cold - my physical condition.  But I also realize that the power of darkness loves moments like this, loves situations that focus us on building up ourselves rather than our sisters and brothers, occasions where respect and honor and civility are not to be upheld and practiced, loves the sidelining of God.

     Upon a people who walked in darkness a great light has shone.  To a people that find little to hope for a hope is given in Jesus Christ.  To a people swept up in the evil and emptiness of the day, redemption and mercy, forgiveness and life have been given.  And thank God for those who continue to point out that truth with joy and simplicity.  Thank God for his inspiration tonight that allowed me to preach rather than remain silent.  There is too much silence as it is ... too little proclaiming of the Good News.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Merciful and gracious

     Jonah, in this morning reading, says to God "I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loathe to punish".  Then he proceeds to vent his anger at God for living up to those attributes instead of destroying the city of Nineveh.  Mercy is the great quality of God that our Holy Father Francis constantly places before our eyes since his election.  He spoke of it just yesterday in this tweet: "Mercy is the true power that can save humanity and the world from sin and evil".

     We tend to rely upon the mercy of God when it comes to ourselves, but we are quick to demand justice untempered by mercy for those that offend us.  We are quick to judge and even faster to condemn.  Meanness and resentment and condemnation come more naturally from our lips and resides more readily in our hearts than graciousness and mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.  Yesterday on FOX on the O'Reilly Factor there was a discussion as to whether we are a mean people in the United States.  The results were not clear, but it is true that without the example and directive of the gracious mercy given to us by God and affirmed in Jesus, that we are prone to anger and hardness of heart.  The Lord said to Jonah "And should I not be concerned over Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot distinguish their right hand from their left ... ?"  God is gracious and merciful, and we are blessed because of that fact.  Until we allow that fact to permeate and transform our sinful lives, we will never be able to emulate those qualities in our lives.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Our Cathedral

     I serve in the Diocese of Greensburg in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and on this date, October 7th, we not only celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, but also the Anniversary of the Dedication of our Cathedral - Blessed Sacrament in the city of Greensburg.  On this day we remember that this building, one of many in this area set aside for the worship of God's People, was chosen and set aside as the Mother Church of this Diocese and became the center of worship and the place of "the chair" - the cathedra - from which the bishop shares his teaching office.

     Our Cathedral was a parish church since 1789 prior to the establishment of this Diocese in 1951, and was built and staffed by the Benedictine monks of Saint Vincent Archabbey.  They entrusted it to the Diocese when it was selected as the Cathedral Church.  It is small and architecturally simple when compared the the vast Cathedrals of Europe, or even our neighboring dioceses, but it is beautiful and our place to call home.  The architectural style is English Gothic, and within the last few years it underwent the second major renovation in its history as a Cathedral.  I'm on record as personally not liking the style of the renovations, but it is beautiful, as a couple from the parish who just attended the 50th Wedding Jubilee Mass recently pointed out to me.

     As Bishop Brandt installs the new pastors of the Diocese in their parishes, he speaks of the relationship of the priest with the bishop, the local parish with the diocesan church, and the local church to the mother church of the Diocese.  He mentions the Cathedral as being the Church of the "cathedra" - the Church of the Chair.   There is some criticism of the style of our new cathedra, and in a reaction to one such installation speech, the author of a previously (un) mentioned website ridiculed the bishop for his comments and reference to Chair, showing this person's lack of knowledge of ecclesiology and his failure to differentiate between the physical chair and the teaching "chair" of the bishop's office.

     I ask my readers to remember us in your thoughts and prayers today - laity, Religious, priests and bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg.  Remember and reflect upon the place of Church in the Family of God - the domestic church of our families, the local parish church which brings the domestic church together, and the Cathedral Church which unites them in mind and heart.  And remember Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg, her parishioners, and her priests: Bishop Brandt, Msgr. Ray Riffle and Father Tyler Bandura.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Visiting Assisi

     As I mentioned yesterday, Pope Francis joined countless others on a journey to the city of the other Francis, the troubadour of the great King.   I look forward to watching my taped recordings of that pilgrimage.  I hope that his visit was for him a tremendously moving event.

     I have had the privilege of visiting Assisi three times.  In 1986 or 1987 (my memory is failing) I joined a group from the International Priests' Retreat held in Rome that year on a visit to the birthplace of Francis.  The trip lasted a few days (I stayed just across the grass covered square from the Basilica of Saint Francis at the Hotel San Francesco).  We concelebrated Mass in the magnificent crypt church, visited Francis' tomb, toured the great upper church.  We visited Clare (who is an incorruptible), toured her basilica and prayed before the San Damiano crucifix.  We did the other sites - the old and the new (1200's) Cathedrals, Francis' baptismal font, San Damiano, did some shopping, and was blessed.  For a few additional days we stayed with the Third Order Regular Franciscans (TOR) at their house in the town square, attached to the Church that was in Roman times a temple to Minerva.

     I visited Assisi a few years later with two of our priests - Fathers Ron Simboli and Chet Raimer.  We stayed at a convent of a group of Sisters, and spent the time seeing the sites and being blessed.

     Then in 2003 I visited on a day trip from Rome with Fathers Ed McCullough, Rick Kosisko and Tony Ditto with a great tour guide and driver for the day.  I have included a few of my pictures of the trip.

A view of the town architecture as you enter Assisi.

The entrance to the lower Church of the Basilica of Saint Francis.
This square was the site of Pope Francis' Mass today.

A view of Saint Peter Church and the valley below.

The square in front of the Basilica of Saint Clare from the doorway.

The entrance to what I believe is Francis' family home.
I wonder if the Pizzeria was there then?

     Assisi is a beautiful hill country town in Umbria, a great place of spiritual power and beauty as well, and well worth the trip.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

An immense treasure

     On August 9th, Pope Francis' tweet was "We are all jars of clay, fragile and poor, yet we carry within us an immense treasure." 

     On Tueday the Church recognized Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, the "Little Flower", or Therese of Lisieux.  An extraordinary powerhouse of the spiritual life, she lived a brief life, dying at the young age of 24 in 1897.  Desiring to become a Carmelite nun, she entered at the age of 15 (against the wishes of the Superior).  She suffered in physical and other ways during her life, and yet her desire to embrace holiness was constant.  Her tuberculosis devastated her body and her sense of unworthiness haunted her spiritually, yet she held on to a simple way of life. 

     Two years before her death, she was commanded by her Superior to write her memoirs under obedience.  She wrote for a year, presented them to her prioress, who did not read them until a year or so after her death.  Her "Little Way" was published, and encourages us to take God at his word and let his love for us wash away our sins and imperfections.  The simplest things in life can be embraced as graced moments and blessed opportunities.

    This fragile and poor vessel of clay carried the love of Christ in her heart and the desire to be one with that love throughout her brief life.  It became an "immense treasure" for Therese as well as for any who follow her "Little Way".  It reminds us that we too are like fragile and imperfect clay pots that the Lord can take and mold into that perfect vessel of grace.  Our weakness is no excuse to accept mediocrity.

Yesterday was the Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels - October 2nd.  In our Regional School, placed under the protection of Mary, the Queen of Angels, the youngsters end the day with the prayer that I remember learning a long time ago:
Angel of God,
my guardian dear,
to whom God's love
commits me here.
Ever this day
be at my side,
to light, to guard,
to rule and guide.

ps.  I wrote this yesterday but hit save rather than publish.
I've made the necessary date corrections.

A visit to Assisi

     Pope Francis tweeted on June 2nd "The world tells us to seek success, power and money; God tells us to seek humility, service and love."  Tomorrow, on the feast of his namesake Francis, Pope Francis will travel to the beautiful Umbrian town of Assisi, to visit with Francis and Clare at their place of burial, to pray at what have become powerful sights of inspiration, and to bear witness that what he said in the tweet above, which is the essence of the spirit of the young man from Assisi, is as needed in the Church today as it was in Francis' time.

     After the transformational encounter of Francesco di Bernardine with Christ, this wealthy and expectant son of a prosperous merchant family laid all of the success, power and money aside, standing literally naked before his father and the town, renouncing his heritage and embracing the new wealth that was found in Christ.  It was the Church, through the action of the bishop, who covered him, clothed him in radical love rather than fine clothes.  Francis became the radical challenge to the status quo.  He embraced Lady Poverty, accepted service as his mission and love as his passion.  He was feared, hated, loved, envied and embraced.

     Early on, while praying in a crumbling old church called San Damiano on the outskirts of town, he heard the voice of Christ come to him from the iconic image of Christ on the crucifix.  The voice called him to "rebuild my church".  He at first thought the voice meant the Church of San Damiano, but he soon realized that Christ meant "the" Church.  At that time the Church was stuck, complacent, ineffective, satisfied, centered on itself.  It was in need of a transforming Springtime, a new breath of fresh air, a new vision centered on service and love and humility and simplicity.  Francis accepted that challenge, and began a revolution that brought great blessings to the Church.

     Fifty years ago a jovial, rotund (given my size I can't say heavy) and visionary man named John XXIII said the same thing as he called for an Ecumenical Council to take place

     Since his election this Spring, another man named Francis seems to be doing exactly the same thing.  Of late his words are really challenging, calling us to simplicity and service and of seeing Christ in our sisters and brothers, especially those most in need.
May God protect and inspire him on his trip tomorrow and in his continued task as our teacher and Holy Father.