Friday, February 28, 2014

Deja vu

     Every Diocese, every institution, and most worthwhile causes have an annual appeal that is a necessity for their continued success and survival.  In the Diocese of Greensburg, our annual appeal is called the Diocesan Lenten Appeal (DLA).  This past Wednesday Julie from our staff joined me in attending the 2014 kick off luncheon meeting at the Bishop Connare Center in Greensburg.  The theme for this year is "I Have No Hands But Yours".  Bishop Lawrence Brandt was present and spoke to us, as did the new managing director of the Catholic Foundation of the Diocese of Greensburg, Mr. James Edwards.  I met him and he seems like a fine young man who has experience and expertize in the business.  Mike Lucotch who has been the Director of the Appeal for many years also spoke.  It was a good gathering, necessary as is the Appeal for the continued functioning and mission of the Church, but "old hat" at this stage of the game.

     This Appeal has gone through many manifestations over the years.  Old timers will speak of the "one time" appeal to get the diocese established called the Diocesan Expansion Day (DED).  This "one time" appeal became annual.  It was known as the Catholic Services Appeal (CSA) for awhile and now the DLA.  It continues to raise funds for the work of the diocese and to see returns to the parish.  It is good, and it is necessary.

     But I have to admit a lack of enthusiasm on my part toward the meeting.  I have been leading these Appeals for about thirty years now and was involved for another ten or so before that as an assistant.  Add the various major diocesan and parish campaigns thrown in and they become a challenge to stay excited about.  I was struck this year by a sense of deja vu, finding a number of "new things" this year that were done before and are now being resurrected by the new director, including a taped message from the bishop to be played at all masses (Bishop Connare used to do the same, only we used a cassette tape in those days) and new on the pledge cards, a pledge of $36.50 per month for ten months or a gift of $365.00 or $1.00 a day (I've been pushing that concept for many years).

     Our needs never decrease.  Our goals never decrease.  The generous stewardship of our people never decreases.  And because of those things, our Appeals will never cease.  It would be easy to allow ourselves to see the Church as being only about money.  One critical local web site took the bishop to task recently for extending gratitude by publishing last year's parishes results in the diocesan paper, calling it an embarrassing coercion for parishes to do better than the Jones's.  But this work is about being Church, about services provided and faith shared, and stewardship lived by thousands upon thousands of good, hardworking Catholic people.  And so, once again into the breach, we plunge ahead, set our goal, and give thanks to God in the ways that we can.  And to those who share in this work, we are most grateful.


     I wanted to say that as I approach the end of three years of these posts in March, this month of February has seen the least number of posts - with this being only the tenth.  I apologize, and assure you that it is only because of the winter weather doldrums that I have lessened my efforts.  Another storm coming this weekend ... but daylight savings time is right around the corner as is Spring (20 days?).  Think Spring.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The power of prayer

     Back on February 4th I mentioned in my post for that day the circumstances and need for prayer for a friend of mine who was in a terrible traffic accident just days before.  Her name is Nancy and her husband is George, and they are from Connellsville, PA.  This past Monday was four weeks since her car and a plow/salt truck met up on a snowy highway while she was on her way to work.  She definitely got the worst of the encounter, and for days the prognosis did not look promising.  Her brother-in-law recently posted on facebook about Nancy's condition, and I feel a little more open to mentioning the extent of her injuries as well as her condition.  There was severe brain trauma and strokes which led to surgery.  There was extensive surgeries on both legs to repair broken and crushed bones, and she was on a vent and nearly unresponsive for a long time.  And heaven was bombarded with prayers for intercession and healing and the miracle that seemed to be necessary.

     As of last week there are definite signs of improvement.  She was moved to a step down unit, is breathing on her own with a trach tube, and shows signs of recognition and movement.  But the road ahead is still uncertain except for the fact that it will be long and difficult.  I continue to ask you for prayers for Nancy, and for her husband and children and Mom and family. 

     I mention this today also because I want to say how impressed I continue to be with the strength and dedication of this family in their love for Nancy.  They obviously have become fixtures at the hospital.  Recently Pope Francis tweeted these words about the sick: on world day of prayer for the sick on February 11th he said "I greet those who are sick and suffering.  Christ Crucified is with you; cling to him."  and on the 17th of February he tweeted "To all who are sick, do not lose hope, especially when your suffering is at its worst.  Christ is near you."  Surrounded by the faith and love of family and friends, I am sure that Nancy is aware of that simple fact that "Christ is near her".  When I was with her last, her eyes moved from George to me as I greeted her and there was a look of recognition.  George told her that if she was glad to see me, then blink.  There was a clear and definite blink of the eyelids.  We all smiled as we shared our love for her.  Nancy is one of countless who suffer greatly and with great courage.  Her family is one of many who faithfully stand by their loved ones with love and hope and deep faith.  I have been honored to share in this difficult month with this family.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The reason to be ready

     With the great season of Lent just a week and a half away the scriptures for this Seventh Sunday in Winter Ordinary Time provide us with a reminder of why this time of grace is so important for us.  Lent is a time when we buckle down and intensify our efforts to get on board with the call to holiness.  It is a time that reminds us that all of our days, every moment of our existence must be an embrace of the gift of holiness that makes us who we are.

     Called to life, we are also called "to be holy as the Lord our God is Holy".  That call to holiness is integral to our DNA as children of God.  The reason, rooted in God's love for us, is that first we are make in the image and likeness of God, a divine image of blessedness that reflects the countenance of the Creator; and second, as Paul reminds the Corinthians, God also invests himself in us by pouring his Spirit, the Spirit of holiness, into our beings, giving us the heart of God and the love that allows us to truly be Christ for others.

     The "how" of attaining this holiness is well within our grasp, and despite the challenges and temptations that an imperfect world places before us, is attainable.  We must embrace the law of God and write it on our hearts.  That law is love.  All of the other laws given for our guidance are directional signs that point to living in Christ and living for Christ.  We must go the extra mile in fleshing out the reality of a Christ filled life of faith and love and service.  If asked to go one mile, go two.  If asked for your tunic, give your cloak as well.  Love not only your friends, but also your enemies.  Offer no resistance to harm, but turn the other cheek.  Difficult things in a self centered world, but essential responses to the law of love that brings us to Christ.  Today's reading are a challenge but also a reminder of the reason that we use a time like Lent to be ready to follow the Lord.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A fertile ground

     In our small Diocese which is made up of four counties in Western Pennsylvania we had many men join us in seminary and priesthood from outside the Diocese.  But of those that came from within, a great many of our priests came from Fayette County, our Southern most county of the four.  In particular, the cities of Uniontown and Connellsville produced many priests.  Add to that the number of men who entered the seminary as boys, and, as seminaries are meant to do, found their vocation in another direction, and the numbers are truly impressive.  From my home parish of Saint Joseph alone we had many seminarians and have had six men ordained as priests (five still active) with another set for ordination in 2015.  Being one of that group, I am very proud of their response to the prospect of vocation and for their lives of ministry.

     In the sixties when I entered, there were a good group from town in our minor seminary of Saint Joseph Hall in Greensburg.  Tomorrow I will be attending a Memorial Mass for one of those men who had since gone on to another vocation and who died on February 14th in the Harrisburg area.  His name is Tom McCune, and he leaves a wife and grown daughter, a brother, John, and much family.  He was in the class two years behind me in school.  I remember his dad and mom, Nick and Veronica.  In getting details about Tom, I learned that another classmate of his from those days from the same parish, Saint John the Evangelist - J. Damon Andrews from Pittsburgh - had died on December 15th of last year.  Damon was also married and is also survived by a sister and her family.  Damon's mom and dad, Sophia and Jack, were great people as well.  I am sorry that I missed the news of his death.  Their home parish of Saint John the Evangelist in Uniontown has another home town boy as their pastor - Father Jim Tringhese.  Fayette county was/is truly a fertile ground for seminary recruits and priestly vocations and should be justifiably proud.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

All Good Gifts

     In the Collect Prayer for the Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time we pray that the Lord keep from us "all that might harm us and grant all that works for our good."  In the beginning of the letter of James he says "Blessed is he who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proven he will receive the crown of life that he [God]  promised to those who love him."  Temptations present themselves to us on a constant basis.  They present challenges to us in our spiritual life.  At times we are even "tempted" to say that we are being tempted by God, tested, challenged.  James also reminds his children that God "himself tempts no one."  Temptations come from outside of God, and while they may be endured as a means of testing, they are not of God.

     Again James says in today's first reading that "...all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.  He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we might be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures."  When temptations come our way, when we are tested in every way, when darkness and gloom, despair and helplessness touch upon our lives, we must recall that the gifts of God are not found there.  When those things are met, they can lead us to open our hearts to "all good giving and every perfect gift" which come from above and are for our good and for life eternal.

     I was reminded of the song "All good gifts" from the musical Godspell by Stephen Schwartz.  The refrain goes:

"All good gifts around us
are sent from Heaven above.
Then thank the Lord,
thank the Lord
for all his love."
It is a beautiful song from a favorite musical of mine of the Christ story.  A harvest song, there is a line in one of the verses that is appropriate to our weather experience this year in particular.  It goes: "He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain ..."  We've had the snow of Winter and are awaiting the warmth of Spring.  As I write, it is snowing again.  Let us thank the Lord for all his love.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Seeking Discernment

     We make decisions almost every moment of our lives.  Everything we do is governed by choices that we make.  Some are small and inconsequential - what should I wear today, what's for lunch, should I blog today ... and some are vitally important and life changing - how do I express my love for God, what should I do with my life, how do I witness to others about Christ, how do I make my "Yes" mean "Yes" and my "No" mean "No" so that I not give in to the evil one.

     These decisions are rooted in many things - our needs and desires, our likes and dislikes, the opinion of the society around us, the laws of the land, the prevailing trends and marketing, the value we place upon friendships, our desire to fit in and belong.  But those decisions also require of us a wisdom that must be found in the Wisdom provided by the author of life.  I say must, because it is from that ultimate and essential choice made by the creator to call us by name and love us to life, that everything flows.  A truly wise person knows and acknowledges that reality.  And the wisdom shared with us invites us to embrace and follow the law of God - the commandments, yes, but most importantly the law of love from which they flow.  Difficult as it may seem in our world, if we choose, we can keep the commandments and be saved, we can trust in God and live.  The Lord gives us the choice - fire and water, life and death, good and evil.  He does not make the choice for us, for then we would be forced, coerced, bound, but rather he gives us the freedom to make our decisions with wisdom and in grace.  He desires us to know him, to act justly and to not give in to temptation and sin.

     Paul in his letter to Corinth yesterday reminds us that God's wisdom is spoken to the mature of heart.  We are not kids, children who want their own way, but rather adults who understand the importance of wisdom in making our choices, our decisions both great and small.  We are given God's wisdom which is mysterious, hidden, and set in place for OUR glory by a loving creator.  Eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love him.  The Spirit reveals this to us as she reveals the depths of God's love.  Choose wisely in all things ... and CHOOSE LIFE!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Hearts and Flowers

     Saint Valentine's Day (or rather just Valentine's Day) is known for flowers and chocolates and hearts and sentiments of love.  It is remembered  in U.S. history for a bloody mob massacre in Chicago in 1929.  It has been celebrated in schools by Valentine Day's greetings and notes.  It is a day of showing your love for the ones that you love.  It was a day today when Pope Francis met with 20,000 engaged couples from over thirty countries of the world to celebrate their love and their commitment to enter into Christian marriage.  Happy Valentine's Day.

     And yet Saint Valentine is not even on the Church's universal calendar - not since 1969 when the calendar was revised.  He was removed from the Universal Calendar because there is uncertainty as to which one of three Valentine's is historical. But there is a Saint Valentine Church which was built in Rome in 1960 that was used at the Rome Olympics and is still a functioning parish of the Diocese of Rome. Today is the feast of the brother saints Cyril and Methodius, the Apostles to the Slavic Peoples.  They lived in the 800's and ministered as missionaries to the Slavic territories, being commissioned to spread the Gospel and provide the liturgy for those people in their own language.  Cyril developed a written language to help accomplish this feat, and the alphabet that is its foundation bears his name - the Cyrillic Alphabet.  If you watched the opening of the Olympic Games, the nations of the world were introduced in order according to this same Cyrillic Alphabet.  Being of Slavic heritage (Polish and Slovak) I am grateful for the missionary spirit of these two and their dedication to spreading the Good News to the peoples that are my fore bearers.

     So whether celebrating the sentimental love of the Hallmark version of Valentine's Day or the deep love of the Gospel message for all peoples that Cyril and Methodius conveyed or the inexpressible love of Christ for us found in his Sacred Heart, a very Happy Valentine's Day to each of you.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A quiet evening

     I have shared before that in our parish we have an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament one Monday evening a month.  I realize that this is not much of a commitment for a parish, but I can attest that those who attend (twenty-five on a very cold night tonight) find a wonderful, quiet, prayerful experience of peace in their lives.

     With "Valentine's Day" just around the corner, our theme this evening was love.  It was not the all hearts and flowers kind of love that we reflected upon, but rather the very real and life giving love of commitment and sacrifice that is found in Christ, not in cupid.  Instead of lace frilled cut out hearts of red paper, we gaze upon a heart broken out of love and a heart whose blood was shed for our redemption.  Instead of a calculated expression of affection we find a selfless and freely given and dynamic love for all people.  We see a total, self-sacrificing love that leads through death to new and eternal, unending life.  We find a transforming love that allows us, once loved, to become love and to encourage others through our words and greetings to also love and be loved.  I shared that our tradition tells us that Saint Valentine, who is not on the calendar of the Church but who tradition tells us sent words of encouragement and love to fellow prisoners, reminding them of the love and sacrifice of Christ for them, is an example to us of what we can do - to tell others of the love of Christ for them.

     A great part of our evening includes the wonderful music ministry of Diana Mikash of our parish and Saint Agnes.  Diana brings her gift of voice and guitar and song with her wherever she goes.  Tonight she led us in "Rain Down", "I Have Loved You" and "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" and graced us with "Age to Age" and "Dwelling Place".  I did not feel particularly enthused about going, but ended up, as usual, finding great joy and peace in the experience.  God is good.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


     This is the first time in nearly three years that I have used this blog for something other than a reflection.  I have often mentioned our regional Catholic School - Queen of Angels.  We received word that our school principal is retiring at the end of this academic year.  I am using this blog post today to share our announcement for the open position for that role.  If you, or anyone you know who may be qualified or interested in the position, are interested, please respond as indicated.  Thanks for your understanding today as we locally begin our search for the best person to lead our school.

Upon the retirement of our Principal Linda Holsopple, at the end of the academic year Queen of Angels Elementary/Middle School is accepting applications for an Elementary School Principal for the 2014 - 2015 school year.  We are a Pre-Kindergarten - 8th grade school with 32 faculty/staff members and an enrollment of 274.  The successful candidate must be a Catholic in good standing, with a strong vision for religious and academic leadership.  A BA, MA degree in education and principal certificate along with a mixture of teaching and administrative experience is desired, ideally in a Catholic school system.  To receive an application, qualified candidates are invited to send a resume, cover letter, and credential file to: Rev. john A. Moineau, Chairperson of Queen of Angels Board of Trust Administers c/o Immaculate Conception Parish, 305 Second Street, Irwin, PA 15642

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Random thoughts

     It has been five days since I posted, and a few friends asked if everything was okay on my end.  The answer is yes ... and no.

     Within those five days we experienced something called "Groundhog Day" this past Sunday.  Traditionally on the 2nd of February in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, about 90 miles from Pittsburgh, there is a ritual observed of bringing out a hibernating groundhog by the name of Phil to tell us whether or not winter will continue for six more weeks.  If Phil sees his shadow, winter continues, if not, spring is near.  It is a very stylized tradition and a great excuse for a party in Punxy.  In over a hundred years of the tradition, Phil saw his shadow 98 times, 15 no shadow moments, and ten unrecorded moments in history (too much partying).  Well, Phil saw his shadow Sunday despite the fog, overcast conditions and rain (its those TV camera lights!), so winter continues.

     A number of years ago there was a movie called "Groundhog Day" starring Bill Murray who was a reporter assigned to this event who was in a time warp that forced him to relive the day over and over until he got his life on the right track.  Every morning he would awake to find himself in Punxy on February 2nd!
I mention the movie because this winter, these last five days and beyond, have felt like Groundhog Day, with nothing much happening except the 1 to 3 inches of snow and cold weather every other day ... over and over and over.  A good storm on Sunday/Monday, another tonight/tomorrow, another scheduled for next Sunday.  Hibernating and digging out does not give you much to write about.  Will it ever end?

     During last week we in our diocese and our area celebrated Catholic School's Week, where we acknowledged and showcased the excellent quality education wrapped in faith and Christian values found in our local Catholic elementary and high schools.  Unfortunately many of the events planned were lost to two hour delays and closed school days because of the frigid cold and snow.  The best laid plans.  We are very proud of the youngsters and the program at our Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School.

     But what has most occupied my heart and mind is a situation for which I would ask your prayers.  Early on the morning of the 27th of January a good lady by the name of Nancy who is a long time friend of mine was in a terrible traffic accident in the snow on the way to work, and lies in critical condition at a local hospital near me.  Her injuries are severe, and her family has been by her side throughout.  I had the honor of witnessing the married between Nancy and her husband, George, some twenty-nine years ago.  They are good parishioners of Saint John the Evangelist parish in Connellsville.  I have been visiting with George and their two children and their families, along with Nancy's Mom and siblings.  I am so moved by their strength and their faith.  Along with family and countless friends, people on prayer chains and face book, Father Bob Lubic, their pastor, the hospital chaplain, Nancy's Mom (who is on the verge of drowning her in Holy Water), I have been surrounding her in prayer and love.  I ask for your prayers for this family and the decisions and strength for the days ahead.