Friday, November 29, 2013

ADVENT - new beginnings

     As we stand at the threshold of a new beginning, a renewed commitment to the journey to holiness, at the beginning of the great season of Advent, we are reminded by Pope Francis in "The Joy of the Gospel" that this is what the new evangelization is all about.  He invites all Christians at this moment in history to a daily "renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ" or, as he says, "at least an openness to him encountering them."   He asks this of us for we must remember that no one is excluded from the Lord's joy.

     He reminds us that the Lord does not disappoint us if we take the risk of coming back to him, for when that happens, "we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms."  It is the deception that others have to offer that this is not possible, that God's love has limits, that we are unworthy, that this kind of a thing cannot happen.  We need to say clearly and with open heart "I need you.  Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace."

     Then Pope Francis says something truly necessary for all of us to hear as we begin to prepare for Christmas and for the renewed presence of Christ in our lives.  Hopefully we will approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation with this in mind: " God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.  Christ, who told us to forgive one another 'seventy times seven' (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven.  Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love.  With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift our heads and start anew."

     There was a movie a few years back called "Galaxy Quest", a comedic take off on the "Star Trek" phenomenon that had a line that the captain always said - "Never give up ... never surrender".  The Holy Father also tells us to "never give up."  "May nothing inspire more than his [Christ's] life, which impels us onwards!"

     Good words to approach the new evangelization and the Advent season with.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Black Friday - a warning

     There was a dark and dreadful Friday when Christ was crucified because humanity forgot the presence of God in their lives and failed to see the opportunity for life that the man crucified offered to them.  This terrible day has come to be known as "Good Friday", not because of what happened on that day but because of the door that this death opened for us.

     Having just given "thanks" for blessings and abundance and getting ready to enter a time of preparation for the Christmas celebrations, we enter into a "Black Friday" - called that by business because of their hopes of beginning the shopping season in the black but called that by most because of the hysteria and reckless consumerism that affects society.  It becomes "shopping madness days".  People are pushy, angry, cruel and even obnoxious.  They form long lines, are impatient, and fight to get the "best buys".  The world will end if they don't get this item or that toy.  They often have little respect for other shoppers, the employees or even the merchandise.  My sister works in retail (the Bon Ton department store in Uniontown) and must work unbelievable hours fighting the maddening crowds for a wage that is not worth it (my comment - if the boss is reading).  She works a full shift Monday Tuesday and late on Wednesday, but is given a break by not coming in until Midnight on Thanksgiving Day (they open at 7pm).  But then she works straight from Midnight until 1 pm on Friday afternoon, thirteen hours straight.

     In "The Joy of the Gospel" Pope Francis in the beginning of the Exhortation has this to say about our consumerism society:

"The great danger in today's world, pervaded as it is by consumerism,
is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart,
the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.
Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns,
there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.
God's voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt,
and the desire to do good fades.  This is a very real danger for believers too.
Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless.
That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life;
it is not God's will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit
which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ."
     Remember two days ago the warning given by the "handwriting on the wall".  I thank God for the prophetic word of Pope Francis, even though it will probably go unheeded by most.  After all, they are too busy shopping and obsessing about what they need (we have a few less shopping days till Christmas this year) to see what they truly need.  Will we hear God's voice?  Will we experience the quiet joy of his love?  Will our desire to do good remain?  We will have to wait and see ... but can we afford to do that?


     As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in these United States, here are a few things that I am truly thankful for:

A loving God who has gifted me with life and who knows me and accepts me for who I am, and is willing to love me into holiness.

     A faith entrusted to me by my folks and my family and my   Church that introduced me to Jesus Christ and graced me with the gift of acceptance into his family, the Church.

The gift of loving parents, Frances and Bill, who have gone home to Heaven and of a sister, Jane, who is a great friend as well as a loving sister, and of Sammy, the puppy.

     Family and friends and parishioners that have supported me, love me, and honor me with their friendship.

The vocation to the priesthood, and the forty years of service to the People of God in this Diocese in a variety of parishes and ministries.

     The mercy of God which allows me to witness to the Gospel despite my unworthiness.

Unbelievable opportunities and experiences in my lifetime that show me God with us.

     And for countless blessings that would take a lifetime (and volumes) to describe.  Among those is the ministry of Journey Thoughts.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The writing's on the wall

     In today's reading from Daniel in the Hebrew Scriptures we hear of the great banquet thrown by King Balshazzar for his court and the extraordinary occurrence that day.  In the midst of the festivities a hand suddenly appeared and began writing on the wall.  It wrote three words: MENE, TEKEL and PERES.  Fearful, the king called for the Hebrew Daniel to interpret, which he did,
     MENE, he said, meant that the God of Abraham had numbered the king's kingdom and put an end to it.
     TEKEL meant that the king had been weighed upon the scales and been found wanting.
     PERES, he said, meant that the kingdom would be divided and given away.
     That very night King Balshazzar was killed and the Persians took over the kingdom.

     There is an old saying that "The writing's (or handwriting's) on the wall."  It is an idiom that generally means "imminent doom or misfortune".  It finds it's origins here in Daniel, but has been used in a number of places in literature and music.  It can be used like: "Things are looking bad.  The handwriting is on the wall".  Whether it is a prophetic prediction or simply a moment of insight in a particular situation, it usually implies that there is a greater wisdom, a great power, a stronger force at play in this moment of reality.

     Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has given us an Apostolic Exhortation entitled "Evangelii Gaudium" or "The Joy of the Gospel".  He presented it to a representative group at the final Mass for the Year of Faith on Sunday, November 24th, a group that represented all of the Church and the world as well.  He begins with these words:

"The JOY OF THE GOSPEL fills the hearts and lives
of all who encounter Jesus.  Those who accept his offer
of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness
and loneliness.  With Christ joy is constantly born anew.
In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful
to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy,
while pointing out new paths for the Church's journey
for years to come."

     He then begins to lay a foundation of thought and a course of action that, while rooted in the joy of the gospel, must be a wake up call to all of us, a moment of "the handwriting is on the wall" that we see, understand and integrate in our lives, and which, like Daniel of old, we can interpret for the kings and kingdoms and peoples of the world.  It may not be a prediction that doom is imminent, but it is a clear call that the world in which we place our trust and hope, our very existence, has been "weighed upon the scales and found wanting."  I would like to hopefully share a few of Pope Francis' insights and teaching in this important aspect of our new and renewed self awareness and new evangelization.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Where were you?

     It was a Friday afternoon and I was taking a Latin test in my junior year at Saint Vincent Prep School in Latrobe.  We were in Father Augustine's classroom.  It was the end of an academic quarter, and the weekend would be spent on retreat at our residence at Saint Joseph Hall Minor Seminary.

     There was a knock on the door and as Father Augustine opened it he was told by some upper class men that the president had been shot.  At first he did not believe them (there was always some fooling around), but when they came back he finally accepted the news.  Telling us to finish and then leave class, many of us went to the art room of Father Emeric (where there was a small TV) and watched the news until our bus came to take us back to Saint Joe's.  I remember the short ride - silence.  We were allowed to watch the news for a portion of the evening.

     Our cooks were a group of Sisters, the Ivrea Sisters, who had come from Italy for this ministry.  I remember helping Sister Johanna, who could barely speak English, setting the tables with tears streaming down her cheeks.

     I do not remember the retreat or who gave it, but I do remember watching Oswald being shot (and realizing that this was not a TV show, but real life - a sobering realization) and as the weekend continued, the funeral.  They are memories and images and emotions that remain fresh after fifty years

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Death and loss

     The 22nd of November in 1963 was a momentous day in the lives of many of us (tomorrow I will share where I was at that moment).  It was one of those pivotal moments that saw the loss of innocence, a clouding of vision and hope, and the end of an era of freshness and optimism that had just begun to surface in this land.  I am sure that most see and remember that day as a day of sadness and tragedy, but for many of us in our teens it was a gut wrenching day, a weekend of devastation and we have never been the same. 

     For those who may not have been around - from my perspective as a kid - the country was coming alive.  We had just come out of the war, and the cold war, while still there, was showing a few signs of warming.   We had just come out of the presidencies of good men, but men who were older.  Now we had a young and handsome president in John Kennedy.  Nothing against Bess Truman or Mamie Eisenhower, but they did not have the glamour of Jackie Kennedy.   There were youngsters in the White House, and a spirit of young optimism growing in the land.  People were becoming inspired to see what they might do for their country.  The Peace Corps was established and young people rallied to help others. The president was young and made mistakes, but we looked beyond them.  The future lay ahead, and there was a brightness and liveliness that saw good and idealism as their hallmark.

     Even in the Church we were in the midst of a revolutionary Second Vatican Council, and things that had always been the same seemed to be changing.  That newness and vitality was catching.

     Then came Dallas and November 22nd and the assassination of the president and the death of that hope.  We did not despair, but everything was now different.  Other great tragedies and assassinations and wars and struggles occurred.  It was like "the day the music died", but this was the death of innocence (even if that were an illusion) and the loss of optimism.  I believe that there are others like that junior in high school at Saint Vincent that day who not only remember what they were doing, but remember the devastating effect of those moments in time.  Our remembering is necessary for us to look to the future.  Camelot may be long gone, but there is another Kingdom that is of greater importance, and our Lord is King. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wow! What a woman!

     The reading for this Wednesday of the Thirty-third week in Ordinary Time comes to us from the 2nd Book of Maccabees (2 MC 7:1; 20 - 31).  It is the story of the seven sons and their mother who were brought before King Antiochus and died the death of a martyr rather than defy the law of God and eat pork as the king demanded.  The mother is described by the author in this way:

"Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance
was the mother, who saw her seven sons perish in a single day,
yet bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord.
Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly heart
with manly courage, she exhorted each of them ... "
     The words she spoke to her sons, which we also heard this morning at Mass, were powerfully incisive:
"I do not know how you came into existence in my womb;
it was not I who gave you the breath of life,
nor was it I who set in order the elements
of which each of you is composed.
Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe
who shapes each man's beginning,
as he brings about the origin of everything,
he, in his mercy, will give you back
both breath and life,
because you now disregard yourselves
for the sake of the law."
     She also said a few lines later to her youngest son:
"I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth
and see all that is in them;
then you will know that God
did not make them out of existing things,
and in the same way
the human race came into existence.
Do not be afaid of this executioner,
but be worthy of your brothers and accept death,
so that in the time of mercy
I may receive you again with them."
     I have always been in awe of the courage and the witness of the martyrs and prayed to have an ounce of the courage that they exhibited.  The confident assurance and abiding peace of this woman and her seven sons who embraced death rather than lessen their relationship with their God is impressive.  And yet our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in his tweet of yesterday (November 19th) said "The saints were not superhuman.  They were people who loved God in their hearts, and who shared this joy with others."
Our call to witness, since it is usually not placed within the setting of "life or death", should be even more readily embraced by us.  And may we follow the example of the holy men and women of the scriptures and of the Church who provide an example.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Do you remember these words after 150 years?

     At a ceremony to dedicate a Soldiers National Cemetery in the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg on this date, November 19th, in 1863, the President of the United States gave a few brief remarks.  This ceremony was held about four months following the epic Battle of Gettysburg which was fought in and around this small Central Pennsylvania town on July 1, 2 & 3.  The battle which pitted two great armies representing the North and the South - the Union and the Confederates, ended with nearly 51,000 men dead, wounded or missing.  15,000 spectators attended the ceremony.  The president's remarks are the stuff of legend and of history.  The words were taught to me as a young student, and are remembered to this day (with a little held from the Internet).  Do you remember hearing or learning these words?

Fourscore and seven years ago
our fathers brought forth on this continent
a new nation,
conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition
that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war,
testing whether that nation or any nation
so conceived and so dedicated
can long endure.
We are met on a great battlefield of that war.
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field
as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives
that that nation might live.
It is altogether fitting and proper
that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate ---
we cannot consecrate --- we cannot hallow ---
this ground.
The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here,
have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note, nor long remember
what we say here,
but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living, rather,
to be dedicated here to the unfinished work
which they who fought here
have thus far so nobly advanced.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated
to the great task remaining before us ---
that from these honored dead
we take increased devotion to that cause
for which they gave the last full measure
of devotion ---
that we here highly resolve
that these dead shall not have died in vain ---
that this nation, under God,
shall have a new birth of freedom ---
and that government of the people,
by the people,
for the people,
shall not perish from the earth.

President Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Monday, November 18, 2013

End times and new beginnings

     As we approach the conclusion of the liturgical year, our Scriptures speak of end times and call us to focus our hearts and lives upon the Lord of all time and seasons.  It is not meant to scare us into submission or to tow the line, but rather these words are meant to give us hope and help us to rest secure in the fact that no matter what comes our way, we are embraced by the love of God.  Our end times open us to the reality of new beginnings in Christ.

     Yesterday following the morning Masses I was honored to welcome into the Family of God through the Sacrament of Baptism two little ones whose parents brought them to the community of believers for the new beginnings that baptism brings.  I shared this new life with Alania Lee Saunders and Maxwell James Nese, who were both very well behaved and of course adorable.  In their new life in Christ they will experiences many "end times".  Our prayer is always that they hold fast to the faithfulness of God's love and the surety that it brings.  Our hope is that they will be that next generation to witness and inspire this generation to never lose hope or despair.  Our pledge is that we will be there for them as they begin the journey of a lifetime. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Passing of a Legend - Father Demetrius Dumm, O.S.B.

     At 11:00 am this morning a legend in western Pennsylvania Catholicism, in Scripture studies, in spirituality and retreat work, and in the Benedictine Community of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe died at the age of eighty-nine.   Countless priests over a period of fifty-seven years were  introduced into a love for the Scriptures through the teaching of this man of God.  For seventeen of those years he led the Seminary Community as Rector as well as professor, and for a number of years as Spiritual director.  A teacher, scholar, retreat master, writer and lecturer, he is known  and respected among a great circle of people.

     Born on the family farm between Carrolltown and Ebensburg, Pennsylvania on October 1, 1923, he joined the Benedictine Community at Saint Vincent in 1942 and was ordained at Subiaco Abbey in Italy in 1947.  His obituary is long and impressive, his educational background solid and impressive, and his impact on the Church equally as deep and impressive.  If you go to the Archabbey website you can read what this man accomplished and get a hint at who he was.

     Having gone to Saint Francis in Loretto for theology, I never had Father Demetrius in class (although I think that I attended a workshop or two over the years) but I know of his gentleness, his deep faith, and his awesome reputation.  He was a great witness to his love for the Word of God and for the Church.

     Father Demetrius will be buried from the Archabbey Basilica on Wednesday afternoon at a Mass of Christian Burial at 2:30 pm.  We extend our sympathy and offer our prayers for his Benedictine family at Saint Vincent and to Archabbot Douglas Nowicki.
May he rest in peace.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The power of witness

     Today marks the anniversary of the death of Father Charles Kobylarz, a priest of this diocese, my pastor in my formative years, and one of the key inspirations for my call to priesthood.  Father Kobylarz died on this date in 1981.

     Father Charles, as we called him (it is often the custom in Polish parishes to call the priest by his first name - usually because very few could pronounce the last names) came to our parish of Saint Joseph in Uniontown as pastor at the very young age of thirty-three and served there as the third pastor from 1943 through January of 1964 before moving on to Saint Edward in Herminie. 

     He was assisted by a number of associates over the years, but probably the best team was found in the years when Father Charles and Father Norbert Gaughan served together (1945 - 1953).  Father Norbert was another inspiration as well as a guardian angel on my journey to priesthood.  During those years, and in fact throughout Father Charles' tenure, the parish prospered, the school was filled, the corner of South Mount Vernon Avenue and Easy Street was a powerful experience of Church.  It provided the hotbed of my vocation, and the witness of so many, but especially our priests and religious sisters, provided the call that the Lord was extending to me.  Many young men went to the seminary, and six of us were ordained, with five still in active ministry.  I thank God for Father Charles and those who witnessed with him.

     This past week in Baltimore the Bishops' Conference met for their Fall meeting.  On Monday they were addressed by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican Nuncio to the United States.  He spoke of many things, but he gave the bishops a clear reminder of what appears to be in the heart and mind of Pope Francis ... thoughts and words of which are an echo of Pope Paul VI given us in his encyclical "Evangelii Nuntiandi".  He quoted from the encyclical:
"It is appropriate, first of all, to emphasize the following point:
for the Church, the first means of evangelization is the witness
of an authentically Christian life,
given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy
and at the same time given to one's neighbor with limitless zeal.
As we said recently to a group of lay people,
'Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses
than to teachers,
and if it does listen to teachers,
it is because they are witnesses.'
It is primarily by her conduct and by her life
that the Church will evangelize the world,
in other word 'by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus' ...
the witness of poverty and detachment,
of freedom in the face of the powers of this world,
in short, the witness of sanctity." (Paragraph 41)
     The nuncio continued to invite the bishops and through them all of us to live lives attuned to the gospel values.  Our lifestyles need to be characterized by simplicity and holiness of life.  We need to be pastoral in the living out of the faith.  We need first and foremost to be witnesses to what it means to respond to the invitation of God to make the Gospels integral in our lives. 
     In his own way, given the times and personalities involved, Father Charles was for me such a witness.  He evangelized this boy from Saint Joseph's and inspired him to seek to be a witness as a priest of God.  Thank you, Father Charles.  Rest in peace.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A late Veterans' Day thought

     November 11th is Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day, or in this great nation of ours Veterans' Day.  The date marked the end of the great war (WWI) at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month - thus the significance of the date.  We remember with deep gratitude the service and sacrifice of countless men and women over the years to the mostly noble causes to which their nation called them to serve.  Their heroism, their courage, their sacrifice - while not always recognized and acknowledged at the time (I am of the Vietnam era) - are being recognized more and more in recent years.  No matter which war or which period of peacetime in which they served, they honor this nation.   It has become a part of my interaction with a veteran or a member of the armed services to thank them for their service.

     Veterans' Day falls on the feast of Saint Martin of Tours, a man who was a soldier before encountering Christ and thus a veteran of the Roman army.  He died in 397 after serving as the Bishop of Tours (in France).  His encounter with Christ prompted him, as it did so many others, to lay down the sword and take up the banner of Christ.  We have many soldier/saints in our history: people like Sebastian who became a conscientious objector and died by arrow  in 288 because of that fact; Francis of Assisi, who longed to be a soldier in the late 1100's but was a failure at the vocation, to become instead a champion for the cause of peace in a totally different way; Joan of Arc, the maid of Orleans, who donned armor and fought for France and died in 1431; Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, a successful soldier who became a soldier for Christ after laying down the sword.  And don't forget Michael, the Archangel and George.

     War and conflict are sometimes necessary evils and are always hell.  To those who have experienced this hell and confronted this evil in the name of justice and peace, we thank you and entrust you to the Prince of Peace and the Lord of Life, Jesus Christ.  Whether at war or at peace it is his banner that we hold high, for that banner, and all that it stands for, is greater than every nation, every human cause and every other alliance.   My Dad was a veteran of WWII and on this Veterans' Day (and always) I am very proud of his service.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mission Santa Maria

     Every year in our Diocese each parish is assigned a mission group to present their work and needs to the parish as part of a Mission Co-operative Appeal.   This weekend was our Appeal, and we were visit by a great young man named Jim Campbell from New Jersey.  He was the founder in 2007 of a mission outreach program called Mission Santa Maria that helps youngsters in Ecuador.  Mission Santa Maria is a U.S. based non-profit organization helping children and youth in Ecuador.  The monies raised help a group of Religious Sisters who run an orphanage and a school for disadvantaged kids.  Many of these youngsters come from extreme poverty or abusive families or no families at all.

     Jim spoke at our Masses and told of the needs that he found there during a mission trip that prompted him and a few friends who work in NY and family to form this charity which provides tuition to the local Catholic School, food and clean water, clothing, books and supplies to the kids and some necessary equipment (washers/dryers) for the orphanage.  Our people were interested and I'm sure generous.  If you are interested in finding out more about Mission Santa Maria, link onto  If you feel compelled to help in some way, through prayer or financial support, Jim would welcome your inquiry.

     I enjoyed my brief visit with Jim, and find him an engaging young Catholic gentleman whose education and experiences at Franciscan University in Steubenville on the undergraduate level and Georgetown University where he earned an MBA have led him into the area of lay missionary work.  Pray for their efforts.

What is essential - Jesus Christ

     Yesterday our Holy Father, Pope Francis, tweeted "Our life must be centred on what is essential, on Jesus Christ.  Everything else is secondary."  So often we allow our lives to center upon anything and everything else in our path, and when that happens our focus is lost and we begin to squabble and be anxious about many things.

     In 2nd Maccabees in this Sunday's first reading we heard a powerful story of bravery and courage.  The story is of seven brothers and their mother arrested and tortured for their faith in God.  They were being forced to eat pork in violation of God's law, under penalty of death.  Each stood his ground, each remained unflinching, each declared their loyalty.  And each died.

     How foolish and unnecessary to die for the sake of a dietary law that was meant to guide a people to good health.  Even if that law came from God, was it worth dying for?  Was it not more prudent to save your life, and be able then to live to worship God in the future?  Could they not have remained true to God even if giving in to this silly dictate?

     Obviously for them the answer is NO!  It wasn't the dietary law that mattered, it was what that law indicated - that their entire life, even beyond this existence, rested in their relationship to a God who knew them, loved them, and drew them uniquely to himself.  Their life must be centered upon the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, upon their oneness to him with all that this entailed (even if it meant these pesky dietary laws that the king wanted them to disobey), upon their loyalty to a God who was a Father to them.  Nothing else mattered ... not even retaining life in this world ... because true and ultimate life was found in him.  They chose to die that they light live.  They chose to be loyal to the author of life rather than to one who could take their lives.  Everything else was secondary.  Talk about brave hearts!

     Their God (our God) has given us an even more life giving, unique and loving relationship with himself through his Son, Jesus Christ.  He is what is essential for us, for without him we are nothing.  He calls us to be brave and courageous in the midst of the challenges that we face.  Can we die to self in order to live with him?


I realize that it has been almost a week since the last post (sorry), but I must make a correction for those that remember that far back.  I mentioned Paul Shannon's "Adventure Time" TV show in the Pittsburgh area from years ago, and I mentioned "knish".
"Knish" (a mop head puppet), was not on the Paul Shannon show, but rather the Hank Stohl show.
Paul had a character named Nosmo King and a great jazz musician by the name of Joe Negri on his show.
Just wanted to make the correction for all of the local trivia fans.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Irrevocable gift

     Today is the feast of Saint Charles Borromeo, a bishop and a pastor who brought his spirituality and wisdom to the renewal of the People of God.  He did so by encouraging the Church to conform herself to the likeness of Christ so that through her Christ may be shown to the world.   In Pope Francis we find another bishop and pastor who seeks to renew the Church in just the same way.  His message, as I shared this weekend at Mass, is one of God's love and deep mercy.  He reminds us of what Saint Paul said to the Romans in this morning's reading "The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable".  Those gifts are acceptance where we are, an embrace of unquestionable love that transforms us, an invitation to repent of sin and weakness and self, and an reminder of the call to holiness that brings us to God in glory.

     I guess that I should not be surprised, but I am astounded that the backlash to Pope Francis has begun to surface.  His simplicity of life and the basic message of love and mercy that is the hallmark of his leadership bother some - not so much in content but rather in emphasis.   I had a person recently who questioned where the Church was going and specifically some of the statements of our Holy Father.  I tried to reassure the person that nothing has changed, just the approach.  This past weekend throughout our readings and prayers we heard of God's mercy, of his gentle approach in love to the sinner which called them to conversion.  I said that rather than rubbing our noses in our sinfulness to embarrass us to repent, rather than putting us down by pointing out that we are nothing else but sinners, saved only by the unexplained graciousness of God's grace, we are confronted by the face of Christ which accepts first, welcomes and transforms in love, grants mercy and then rejoices with the repentant sinner.  We see this in the story of Zaccheus, we see this in the woman caught in adultery who was brought before Jesus.  The approach is one that Jesus used to great effect.  It is one that Pope Francis is reminding us is truly Christ-like.  It is one that works.


     It has been a busy few days: the Holy Day on Friday, All Souls Day on Saturday, confessions, All Souls Memorial Mass, three regular weekend Masses with two baptisms during the 8:30 am (Sophia Lucille and Tobias Alexander - great names) and the Young Voices Choir at 11:00 am, and then a fourth Sunday Regional Mass at a neighboring parish Sunday evening.  I probably have said this before, but I have a good friend who points out that I only work on weekend anyway, so what am I concerned about.  As I get older, these busy weekends get more difficult.  But as Paul says in Romans this morning: "For from him and through him and for him are all things.  To God be glory forever.  Amen."

     One extraordinary thing happened at the Sunday evening Mass: the couple who were the lectors introduced themselves to me.  I recognized the name and asked if he had any relatives that had attended Saint Francis College in Loretto many moons ago.  It was his older brother, Michael, whom I knew casually forty-five years ago.  I also remember his dad, who was Paul Shannon, from the "Adventure Time" TV show on WTAE in Pittsburgh.  Anyone remember?  Remember knish? And ... it turns out this gentleman is the "boss" of one of my neighbors and parishioners.  Small world.