Thursday, March 27, 2014

Happy Birthday

     In the life of the Diocese of Greensburg and her bishop, Lawrence E. Brandt, this is an important and momentous day.  Today is the seventy-fifth birthday of Bishop Brandt who has served our Diocese for the past ten years (as of March 4th).  As I get closer to that age, seventy-five is not that old.  However, it is the age when, according to the present Code of Canon Law (Church law), a bishop must submit his letter of resignation to the Holy Father, and according to the announcement on our Diocesan Web site today, the letter was submitted by Bishop Brandt.  What now?

     Bishop Brandt remains our bishop until a new bishop is appointed by the Holy See and his resignation is accepted.  This could take some time.  When the late Bishop Bosco retired, it took about a year and a half until his resignation was accepted and Bishop Brandt was named to Greensburg.  The appointment of the new bishop of Harrisburg who was just installed last week took less than a year.  There is uncertainty in timing under Pope Francis, since we have not had enough time to study his  selection process.  There are, according to the Diocesan article, four other Latin Rite Archbishops and bishops who have submitted their letters but are still waiting.  When the letter of resignation is accepted and a new bishop named, Bishop Brandt will most likely be named Administrator of the Diocese until the new man is ordained or installed.

     Bishop Brandt has served the Church as priest, in the diplomatic service of the Vatican, as pastor and in administration in the Diocese of Erie, and as Bishop of Greensburg.  We are grateful for his priesthood and his ministry.  He has critics (who doesn't, especially when you have to make decisions) and people who do not like him (but even I have those, and I am such a lovable person - who can account for taste), but he has many who have been touched by him, been been shown love and care, have experienced Christ through his ministry, and who love and respect him.

     What do we do now?  We continue to be Church.  We continue to proclaim the Good News.  We continue to face the challenges with hope. We wait and we pray for Bishop Brandt and we begin to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the decision process that will provide us with the fifth Bishop of Greensburg.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

An important announcement

Stay tuned for an important announcement.
Check in at 6 or 11 for an important bulletin.
     We see this kind of thing on TV often.  They tell of an impending announcement and then they make us wait to hear the news.  Sometimes the news is good, often times it announces a tragedy or crisis somewhere on this globe.
     God's people have heard these phrases since Adam and Eve chose to desire to be gods.  It echoed again when Cain killed his brother Abel in jealousy.  Waiting for the waters to subside, Noah and his family knew that the announcement was not to be in their day.  Time and time again over the ages the word went out - stay tuned for an important announcement.  It is sort of like waiting to see if the smoke from the Sistine Chapel roof is white.  There is expectancy in hearts because there is both need and hope in our lives, but humanity waited.
     Then the moment happened.  An angel appeared to a young girl named Mary and made the announcement that opened the door to transforming love.  And when that girl, Mary, said YES, when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, the unbelievable happened - God's love gifted us with his Son, one like us in all things but sin, that we might relinquish sin and death and be redeemed.  Salvation came into the world, and our destiny has forever been altered.
    This is that day, the feast of the Annunciation.  Breaking news flash - God has visited his people, and they will never be the same.  A child will be carried to term and will be born to this woman in nine months.  The mighty and the lowly, all of creation will do him homage.  He will live a short life, teach and heal and establish a Kingdom and most importantly love, and give the ultimate gift of love, his life for others.  Through his death and resurrection and in that empty tomb of Easter morning the world will never be the same.  One of the teachers at school today said that a student of hers asked which day is more important? Christmas or Easter? Of the two, Easter of course.  But this day of "the announcement" is no slacker, either.  This "breaking news" does not grow old nor lose its impact.
The WORD was made flesh,
and dwelt among us!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hearing is believing

     The old saying usually goes "Seeing is believing" but in the story in the gospel of John for this Third Sunday of Lent it is truer to say "Hearing is believing".  When Jesus visited the Samaritan town of Sychar and encountered the woman at the well, she saw him in a personal encounter, but it was the word that he spoke to her, the revelation of who she really was, and the promise spoken that produced a deep hunger within her that caused her to believe. 
So moved, she left her water jar and went to the townsfolk and told them of her encounter, wondering if this could be the Christ?  They were curious and came out to see him, to hear him.  They acknowledged that they came on the word and the testimony of the woman who had met him at the well.  But then they acknowledged that having seen him themselves, after listening to his words and hearing his message, that they did not need to rely upon another's testimony ... they had come to believe because they had heard for themselves and were convinced that this "is truly the savior of the world".

     In our Diocese today we had Commitment Weekend for our Annual Diocesan Lenten Appeal.  As a priest there are very few things less appealing to me than to spend time on the practical things of asking for monies and support.  To help people fill out pledge cards during Eucharist drives me crazy.  However, the results of those efforts provide the means to support the various ministries and programs that help us give testimony, tell others of our encounter with Christ, show them the way so that they too can see and hear ... they too can come to that personal encounter with the source of life giving waters and can in turn believe because of what they have seen and heard.  I can accept being crazy for a short while in order to provide for the Good News being shared and countless others saying that "we know that this is truly the savior of the world".

     In the Preface for today it says:

"For when [Jesus] asked the Samaritan woman
for water to drink,
he had already created the gift of faith within her
and so ardently did he thirst for her faith,
that he kindled in her the fire of divine love."
thank for for the gift of faith generously given,
the gift of faith desired from us,
and the fire of your love.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Saying "Thank You"

     In his tweet today, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, who today was named by Fortune Magazine as their top "World's Greatest Leader" for 2014, said

"May we learn to say 'thank you' to God
and to one another. 
We teach our children to do it,
and then we forget to do it
     Good words of reminder.  I always try to say thank you at nearly every occasion, even thanking the people for joining me in the greatest act of thanksgiving which is the Mass (I take nothing for granite).  Saying thanks, though, is not a lost art - thank God.  Even while typing this post I just received a call from a friend and one of our retired guys thanking me for some mass intentions that I had forwarded to him.

     One of the blogs that I regularly check out is one called "For His Friends" written by Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida (  In his post yesterday on the feast of Saint Joseph, he was speaking about our Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. and a talk that he gave recently on the Holy Father.  He mentions one of my other favorite blogs - "Whispers in the Loggia"  ( and its author, Rocco Palmo, who had posted a video of the Nuncio's talk that spoke to the bishop's heart.  He expressed "Thanks to the mother of all ecclesial blogs" and to Rocco for his outstanding service to the Church.

     I, too, echo that word of thanks to Rocco, who has been about this ministry (for it is a ministry) for nearly ten years now.  Rocco hails from Philadelphia (the other side of the Commonwealth) and has been a correspondent, having earned a degree from the University of Pennsylvania and an honorary Doctorate from the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis.  In 2011 he co-chaired the first Vatican conference on social media at the Vatican, and has become a "must read" for many of us who love the Church.  A few weeks ago I received an email note and a letter from Rocco to those who support his work.  Since this is his work, and not a sideline like it is for me, I try to show my support however I can.

     Rocco's numbers are astounding: posting for ten years with 31,360,910 pageviews as of today - about 1,400 a day.  But what is most astounding is his love of the Church, his contacts and inside info into the workings of the Church, and his positive attitude and challenging insights into her workings.  So, along with Bishop Lynch and so many others, and in the spirit of Pope Francis' tweet, I say THANK YOU to Rocco for Whispers.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Old or young? Just and good!

     Having grown up in a parish under the patronage of Saint Joseph, I have a special appreciation of this great saint in my heart.  I remember learning a hymn to Saint Joseph whose opening words were something like: "Great Saint Joseph, son of David, foster father of our Lord ..."

     In my days in Scottdale as pastor we had a Benedictine Religious Sister by the name of Sister Ann.  She had a particular crusade in regard to Saint Joseph - and that was to debunk the legend that he was "old".  Our edition of the Roman Missal has a picture of Joseph and Jesus, and he could be a grandfather by his looks, rather than a dad.  Sister Ann would not be happy.  With Mary being about fourteen when she and Joseph became engaged, Joseph could be considered an "old man" and still be in his early twenties.  Good point.  But whether old or young, it matters little.

     What does matter is the certainty that Joseph was a just and a good man.  With so little recorded evidence of the man, we know him to be a simple man of deep faith, hard working and dedicated to family and traditions, a deeply loving and committed husband to the girl of his dreams in very unusual circumstances, and a loving foster father who embraced Mary's son as his own and provided everything that they needed.  He is a good man ... and a just man.  Of that there is no doubt.

     On this feast of Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary, the foster father of Jesus, a Son of David, the patron of a happy death and patron of the Universal Church, our Holy Father entrusted all dads to the example and the goodness of this gift of God.  May we follow his example.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Weary souls

     I am astounded at how many people that I know say that they are worn out and tired - hopefully not tired of life, but definitely tired of winter and weather, tired of the same old thing, tired of one crisis after the other, tired of not feeling well or up to par.  With that tiredness comes the doldrums, a listless spirit.  Spring cannot come soon enough, change cannot come soon enough, relief cannot come soon enough.

     Now we find ourselves in Lent, a time of stripping away the pleasures and of intensifying our lives, both physically and spiritually.  Lent is a time of healing that first leads through death.  Lent leads us to the new life of spring but only through the desert experience of sacrifice and emptying.  Lent is not what people want, emotionally ... yet it is just what we need, spiritually.

     The Prayer Over the People for this Tuesday of the Second week of Lent speaks of the need of weary souls:

" Graciously hear the cries of your faithful, O Lord,
and relieve the weariness of their souls,
that, having received your forgiveness,
they may ever rejoice in your blessing.
Through Christ our Lord."

Monday, March 17, 2014


     As I was greeting people before the 8:30 am Mass yesterday a family entered the Church and a young guy with his little brother came over and said hello.  Then he blurted out "I know who Clark Kent is!  Superman!"  We then proceeded to speak of superheroes like Superman and Spiderman and Captain America.  I enjoyed the interaction.

     By the time that the 11:00 am Mass came around, I had totally changed my homily, and pointed out that superheroes come in all shapes and sizes and in all ages.  The Scriptures spoke of Abram and Sarah, two ordinary individuals who were good people, content with their lives and families, who were challenged by the Lord to step out in faith, to heed the call, to travel into the unknown, leaving their comfort and security behind ... simply because God told them to.  They travelled from the ordinary to the extraordinary.  They became superheroes to the people of faith in three main bodies of faith - Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and Abram (Abraham) became the Father of a multitude of peoples and nations.  Peter, James and John were simple fishermen, ordinary folk who heard God's call and befriended Jesus.  Now they were enveloped in the cloud and experienced the awesome power of God in the transfiguration.  They were to become superheroes to us over a span of some two thousand years now.  The list of transformations could go on and on.

     I reminded those present that we too are invited to be immersed into the extraordinary, to bring our ordinary gifts into the ordinary circumstances of life and with God's help create the extraordinary.  We too are called to be superheroes - to be like Clark Kent and Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne and allow ourselves to be builders of the Church, heralds of the Good News and champions of the poor.

     In these early days of our Diocesan Lenten Appeal, it was also the Sunday to present the case ... an easy task when you see the task ahead and the shared responsibility to rise to the task.  Given a vision of what needs to be, we are encouraged to make it happen by allowing ourselves to be empowered by the Spirit.  You and I are called to be the superheroes of this and future generations, not in make believe and fantasy, but in the real world of responsible commitment to God and to each other.

With Gratitude

     Last week I received a nice letter from Sister Catherine Meinert, SC, the President and Provincial Superior of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill in Greensburg.  Sister Catherine and I have known each other for many years, and my association with the Sisters of Charity goes back to my first assignment at IC in Irwin.  In the letter, Sister thanked me for my association with the Sisters and my support of their work and welcomed me as a member of the Sisters of Charity Circle of Charity, and presented me with a lapel pin which designates my special bond with the congregation.  Another good friend, Sister Barbara Einloth jotted a note "Welcome to the Circle of Charity, Father Len.  It is a real blessing that you continue your friendship with and support of our life and ministry."

     I mention this here in acknowledgement of the good work done by the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, especially in light of the just completed First National Catholic Sisters Week (March 8 - 14) which finds its expression in Women's History Month.  Check out the Sister's web site at

     One thing on their web site that I found interesting was a feature showcasing many of the outstanding contributions of their Sisters over the years.  For example, in the area of early radio and TV, Sister Rosalie O'Hara was a national coordinator of the Catholic Broadcasters Association and established the first school of radio & TV for teenagers in the world ...Sister Florence Marie Schott was a longtime teacher and researcher who was elected to the Sigma XI, the National Honorary Society for scientists, and who spend her summers at the Woods Hole Institute doing cancer research ... Sister Paul Gabriel Wilhere who developed a program in gerontological nursing and was a charter member of the American Association of Homes for the Aged ... Sister M. Eugene O'Donnell who taught school in PA and Arizona for 35 years, served as a DRE and was involved in retreat work ... and Sister Mary Francis Irvin (who I knew well) who was a teacher and artist at the college for thirty-two years and who designed the windows in Caritas Christi Chapel at the Motherhouse, as well as vestments (I have a number of stoles that she crafted) and other art.  This is just a sampling of what is found on their web site ... which is just a small hint at the tremendous service given over the years by these daughters of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.  I am honored to be associated with these good women of faith.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Catching up

     A few interesting things happened in my life in the last week.  I thought that I would share them with you.

     In a true spirit of ECUMENISM, last Monday morning after school had convened, a small gas leak was found at a meter outside of the school building at Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School, our local school.  For safety sake the school was evacuated and the gas company called.  Our emergency evacuation procedures has our students going to the nearest large building, which happens to be the Presbyterian Church in Irwin.  We were graciously received and accommodated until the situation, which was not critically dangerous, was taken care of.  We are most grateful to the parish family at the Presbyterian Church for their hospitality.  I joked that despite the Catholic kids spending the morning at the Presbyterian Church, there were no conversions - either way ... just great ecumenism.

     On Tuesday evening I attended a workshop explaining to pastors and catechetical leaders the new guidelines and procedures for Sacramental Preparation in the Greensburg Diocese for baptism, reconciliation, first eucharist and confirmation.  Not much new, just a few tweaks.  We are very good in this diocese at setting policies, with the challenge being the practical implementation in the parishes.

     Thursday evening I attended a Lenten evening of Recollection at our Diocesan Retreat Center, the Bishop Connare Center, which was to be presented by Chorbishop John Faris of the Eparchy of Saint Maron in Brooklyn, New York.  Chorbishop Faris is a pastor in Utica, New York and is originally from my home town of Uniontown where he still has family.  That was one of the reasons that I wanted to attend.  But nature intervened, and although the prayer time and talk continued, it was without the Chorbishop.  He started out on Wednesday and got stuck in the blizzard that hit upstate New York, spending the evening at a motel which had lost power and heat.  The best laid plans sometimes go out the window, or are buried in the snow.

     In his place Father Larry Kulick, our Vicar General, led evening prayer, and a pinch hitting speaker, Dr. James Paharik, a local educator, author, and Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, spoke to us of the holy places of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.  The evening was geared toward the knights and ladies of the Holy Sepulchre in our diocese, but was open to others.  Jim, whom I had the honor of receiving into the Church years ago through the RCIA while at the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg, did a great job of pinch hitting.  His wife, Helene, is the Associate General Secretary in the Pittsburgh Diocese, and they are longtime friends.

    Chorbishop Faris (a Chorbishop is similar to an auxiliary bishop except that they cannot ordain to the major orders of Diaconate or Priesthood - I had to look it up) is a Knight Commander with Star in the Equestrian Order since 2013.  He was ordained a priest in 1976.  He and his family are great people and well known in the Uniontown area.  It was a great evening despite his absence.

     On Friday the parish held its third Lenten Fish Dinner of Lent (every Friday from 4:00 to 7:00 pm).  We do an outstanding business, with a varied menu, great value for your bucks, delicious food, and some of the hardest working volunteers that you can find (I am slightly prejudiced).  We do very little advertising and have a great "repeat" attendance and an excellent reputation.  My job is to sit at the order table and great everyone (practice for my job at WalMart after retirement?).

     And lastly, my sister Janie and I went to dinner last evening following Mass at a local restaurant in Crabtree, PA call Rizzo's Malabar Inn.  They have an excellent reputation and tremendous food.  They also serve the best homemade gelato.  Each year surrounding the Feast of Saint Joseph they celebrate the Fiesta de San Giuseppe honoring, in great Sicilian tradition, Saint Joseph.  They place a large statue of the saint in a place of honor surrounded by breads and pastries for the occasion and many memento's.  They also serve a traditional menu for the feast in addition to the regular delicious fare.  What a way to end the week.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Giving him his due

     One year ago on this date (I'm just making the cut at this late hour) Pope Francis appeared on the balcony of Saint Peter's after his election and, bowing his head, asked the world to pray for him as he prepared to share his blessing upon the people of Rome as their bishop.  It was a moving and humbling moment.

     Today, from his retreat outside of Rome, he tweeted: "Please pray for me."

     A remarkable year has gone by very quickly.  As per his request, let us give the Holy Father, Pope Francis, his due.  Let us pledge him our prayers and give him our love.  Long live the pope!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

There is something greater here

     I spoke in my homily on Sunday about the reality of evil in the world, an objective reality that seeks to undermine the will and purpose of God which at times finds a place of welcome within our hearts and minds.  That objective reality of evil, when welcomed by us, hardens our hearts and blinds our eyes to the reality of life found in God.  It is when we incorporate the evil, embrace the temptation, open ourselves to those possibilities that we lose "the" possibility of holiness and love, of God and life.  It is then that our judgements and mistakes weigh us down and we wallow in self pity or self righteousness.  If life were only about always making the right decisions or the best judgements, then we would unquestionably be lost.  But there is something greater here.

     Jonah was sent to Nineveh to call that city to repentance.  The people of Nineveh did not know Jonah's God, they were not versed in the commandments of the law, but their judgements were poor and their actions sinful.  At the preaching of Jonah they saw themselves as never before, and saw the possibility of what they might be - and repented.  They found in Jonah a word of hope and a possibility of change rather than a blanket condemnation - and repented.  They found possibility and most importantly, mercy.

    Jesus reminds his listeners of the people of Nineveh who repented at the words of Jonah, and of the queen of the south who traveled a great distance to hear the wise words of Solomon.  They came, they heard and saw, they embraced words that were inspired by God but earthly and limited.  And Jesus says that they will rise up and condemn this generation.  Why?  Because this generation has been shown the better path, has been given a greater opportunity - not by a wise king or a reluctant prophet - but been embraced by the mercy of God, called to life by the author of all that is good, and given a chance to lay aside the works of darkness and live in the Light.  And this generation waffles and resists.  There IS something greater at work here, and it is mercy and love.  There IS something at work here and it is the person of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Thursday Prayer over the People
May the mercy they have hoped for, O Lord,
come to those who make supplication to you,
and may the riches of heaven by given them,
that they may know what is right to ask
and receive what they have sought.
Through Christ our Lord.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


     On March 11, 2011, I posted the following:


   As Lent begins, so does my entry into the world of blogging.  It has been my desire to share my thoughts through this medium for a while now.  Finally, in this first Friday of Lent, a good friend and fellow blogger, Michael Ripple, got me set up.  I am grateful.  He and his son Isaac are visiting.

   I hope to share my thoughts on a variety of experiences and issues that touch my life.  I have always referred to our sojourn as a follower of Christ as a journey, truly a journey of a lifetime.  The Good News that speaks of God's blessings is too important to be kept quiet.  I will endeavor to share my blessings with you.  I hope that you find my posts challenging and inspiring.

     Three years later, with larger print and with this, my 797th post, and with almost 49,000 page views, I renew my commitment to the task at hand.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and am surprised that I have not run out of things to say (although the quality and worthiness may not always be there).  I look forward to sharing the Good News of the Kingdom and thank many of my fellow bloggers for their encouragement and inspiration, especially Rocco in "Whispers" (my first read of the day).  I am also inspired by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, for his tweets and teachings, but most especially for his example and inspiration.  Pray for this ministry, pray for Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in North Huntingdon, PA, pray for your bishop and our Holy Father and for the Local and Universal Church.

Good people & a great success

     I mentioned in my last post the good work of the volunteers for the Empty Bowl Event in Westmoreland County.  Above is a picture of some of the group that was taken at this past Sunday's Event at Saint Bruno's Church Hall in South Greensburg.   Karen Piper, third from the right in the front row, spearheads this event.  Their preliminary report shows that with advance contributions and proceeds from Sunday, that they cleared nearly $17,000 so far, with many bowls remaining to be sold as the year proceeds.  It was a great event, and this year's hard work by the group was remarkable.  Congratulations and thanks on behalf of those helped by the Westmoreland County Food Bank.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


     This afternoon at the parish hall of Saint Bruno's Church in South Greensburg, a dedicated group of people gathered along with hundreds of people to celebrate the 6th Annual Empty Bowl Event in our area which benefits the Westmoreland County Food Bank.  Their theme is "Craft a Bowl, Feed a Soul, and Help the Hungry".  I have spoken of this event and this group previously, but they deserve all of the recognition that they can get.  Karen Piper, a former parishioner of ours, spearheaded this money raising effort from its beginning, along with a great support group of 26+ volunteers.  They enlist 13 local schools and five or six craft and pottery businesses as the bowl makers, plus many others groups who paint the bowls before firing (we do that each year at our parish, with twenty this year bringing their talent to the project).

     At the Event, for an admission donation of $15.00, you are entitled to choose a bowl out of the hundreds on display as your candy dish or decor at home (I use my selection for the distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday - I now have five in the collection).  Admission entitles you to a meager meal of soup from at least thirty-three restaurants and vendors, bread and bottled water and "smiley cookies".  They have live entertainment throughout the afternoon as well as a fifty-fifty and auction.  They are supported by donors that are very generous.  It was busy, chaotic, delicious and a lot of fun.

     Not counting today's "take", the Empty Bowl Event has raised $60,000 in the last five years.  That amount translates into $300,000 of food for needy families.  The WCFB provides 15,000 lbs of food monthly to needy families with over 7,000 families assisted.  $0.97 of every dollar donated goes toward food and food programs.  These are a few of the facts given in the program today.  I salute these good people, these volunteers from many walks of life, who give of themselves to help others.  To this Empty Bowl Committee, to the Westmoreland County Food Bank, and to all Food Banks and Pantry Kitchens who serve those in need, you have our prayers and gratitude.

Looking for the source

     I realize that it may not be the most popular or hip thing to do, but as we enter into the season of Lent where we look into ourselves and at ourselves and acknowledge the sin and darkness found in our lives, we look for a source.  Before we can look to and remind ourselves of the mercy and life giving grace that flows from Life itself and the light of truth, we need to face some realities that are not easy to face.  On this first Sunday of Lent we are reminded of the story of our fall, the story of Adam and Eve, of God's generous gifts and His one warning, and of our greediness that led to disobedience.  The one thing that God denied us in the garden was the one thing that we could not handle, that which was not conducive to our nature.  Yet that is the one thing that we desired, the one thing beyond our reach, the one thing that would make us be like gods.  Why did we give in?  Why did we buy into the deception that was presented by the serpent?  Why did we allow ourselves the excuse that "the devil made me do it."

     In the gospel for this Sunday we have Jesus tempted three times by the evil one with temptations made in the form of "logical" suggestions, even with the quoting of scriptures for a dark purpose.  Each time Jesus was tempted, he resisted, and used the same powerful source of truth to put down the tempter.  Easy for him, though ... he is God.  Much harder if you are a mere mortal.

     At the beginning of this great season of grace, we are confronted with the reality of evil.  It exists in the world as a force that seeks to undermine the work of God, a reality that prefers darkness to light, lies to truth, death, ultimately to life.  It exists in our lives as a constant challenge to the invitation to be holy and to walk with God.  We do not need to see evil as a serpent, as a dark and sinister person, or as the guy with the horns and pitchfork.  These are all characterizations and images that give us something tangible to blame.  Evil is much more subtle and sinister, it finds its way into our hearts as hardness, into our minds as doubt, into our actions as hatred, into our faith as pride and self-sufficiency.  He tempts us with fear and the unknown.  He leads us down the path of destruction.

     Dire thoughts ... and yet, as children of the Heavenly Father, as sisters and brothers of the God-man, Jesus, as sharers in the very life and Spirit of God, we have been called to life, empowered with grace, given hope and virtue and eternal redemption through Christ our Lord.  That is the secret weapon given to us so freely and generously by God - the weapon that empowers us to tell the devil where to go.  Do not accept the temptation and then place blame, but rather stand firm in the life of grace and praise God.  We can do it - it is within our redeemed human nature.  The Prayer Over the People today says:

"May bountiful blessing, O Lord, we pray,
come down upon your people,
that hope may grow in tribulation,
virtue be strengthened in temptation,
and eternal redemption be assured.
Through Christ our Lord."

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Ten years of service

     This past Tuesday, the 4th of March, marked ten years since Monsignor Lawrence E. Brandt was ordained and installed as the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg.  His predecessors - Hugh L. Lamb, William G. Connare and Anthony G. Bosco - were each different people with gifts, personalities, styles and talents that they used to the best of their abilities to serve this young diocese.  Bishop Brandt joins that list, and has brought his experience of Church into the local community. Ten years is an anniversary worth acknowledging and celebrating, which was done last Sunday with a Mass at the Cathedral and a reception, as well as a congratulatory edition of our Diocesan newspaper published that week.  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate last Sunday which kept many from attending, myself included.  I am envious of ten years in one place, since I have only reached a limit of eight and a half.  Bishop Brandt will also be celebrating an important birthday later this month when he reaches the age of seventy-five and must submit his letter of resignation.  Then comes the waiting period until a new bishop is appointed and his resignation is accepted.

     As with anyone in leadership, some like and some dislike the bishop.  The likes and dislikes often stem from style of leadership or the personality of the individual.  Bishop Brandt has always been kind and considerate with me, and shown warmth and concern, and I am grateful.  He and I are very different in background and likes and dislikes, but we share the bond of priesthood and more importantly the love of God and of his people.  There are a number of people out there, though, that are critical in the nastiest and most unchristian of ways, and are eagerly awaiting a new bishop.  They come to that point from hurts and challenges, perceived or real, that they have or are facing, and which have caused them to lose focus of the vision and the goal of our life with Christ.  I often understand their frustration and hurts, but I also find that my heart aches for their lack of charity shown toward the Church, this administration and most especially this bishop.  The loss of respect - for the man and the office - is an evil that needs to be faced.  And to those who "stir the pot", who foment the discontent, not who disagree but who disrespect, I have only the harshest words.

     To the many who love and respect our bishop and are grateful for his ten years of service, and to the many that find him challenging or frustrating, I offer the same words of encouragement - he has been given to us as our shepherd, he is a good man, and he not only needs but deserves our prayers.  Has he done everything well in these ten years? ... time will tell.   Is he a sincere man of God? ... the answer is yes.  Does he harbor "evil intent" in his heart? ... the answer is no.  So pray for him.


Endless thanks

     The liturgical prayers for the season of Lent include an optional Prayer over the People following the Prayer after Communion.  These prayers often "sum up" the thought or intention of the daily prayers of the Church.  On occasion I will use this prayer as a jumping off point for meditation.

     The Prayer over the People yesterday says
For your mighty deeds, O God of mercy,
may your people offer endless thanks,
and, by observing the age-old disciplines
along their pilgrim journey,
may they merit to come and behold you forever.
Through Christ our Lord.
     We are a people of endless gratitude, for we are a people who acknowledge our failure and our need, and the all encompassing the love and mercy of God.  My journey through this great season of grace which began on Wednesday started off with uncertainty.  I am ready for Lent, but with many factors coming into play I found myself "put off" and a bit irritated (at what or at whom, I am not sure).  The day held blessings, but it also held feelings that were not conducive to spiritual growth.  Thursday was much better, but yesterday went downhill fast.  I could look into reasons for all of this and I am sure find some legitimate ones that explain the rocky start.  But the simplest answer is twofold: first the presence of a darkness that delights in keeping us from where we should be in our walk with the Lord; and second (and so that I do not fall into "the devil made me do it" theme) maybe because I was a little less into gratitude to God and a little more into "the me" of the moment."  It was a rocky start, an unsure first step.
     As the Prayer says, for all of the mighty deeds of God and the never ending mercy that flows from him, I/we need to offer "endless thanks".  It is then that we can observe the age-old disciplines of the journey that keep us on an even keel.  I will try, with the Lord's help, to pick up the pieces and continue the journey with gratitude and joy in my heart.  Pray for me. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Francis' Ash Wednesday reflections

    His homilies are not long and they are not flowery but they are thought provoking and inspiring.  I am speaking of Pope Francis, of course.  As promised yesterday, here are a few thoughts from his Ash Wednesday homily to begin our Lenten journey.  He speaks of three elements that lead to the conversion of the heart that is characteristic of this time of grace.  He says that "we are invited to embark on a journey in which, in defiance of the routine, we strive to open our eyes and ears, but especially our heart, to go beyond our 'little garden'."

     PRAYER is the first element.and is described as the strength of every believing person.  He says "In the weakness and frailty of our life, we can turn to God with the confidence of children, and enter into communion with Him.  In the face of so many wounds that hurt us and that could harden the heart, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of God's boundless love, to enjoy its tenderness.  Lent is a time of prayer, a more intense, more diligent prayer, (one) more able to take care of the needs of the brethren, to intercede before God for the many situations of poverty and suffering."  Notice it is a prayer not for ourselves but for others.

     FASTING is the second element, and it is not something that should "satisfy" us, making us feel that everything is right and in order.  We are not speaking here of the formal fasting of the law.  "Fasting makes sense if it really affects our security, and also if a benefit to others comes from it, if it helps us grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, who bends down to his brother in need and takes care of him.  Fasting involves choosing a sober life, which does not waste, which does not 'discard'.  Fasting helps us train the heart to essentiality and sharing.  It is a sign of awareness and responsibility in the face of injustices, abuses, especially toward the poor and the little ones, and is a sign of our trust in God and His providence."

     ALMSGIVING is the third element and is a sign of gratitude for gifts received, for alms are giving to those from whom we expect nothing in return.  We are called to be a grateful people, aware that everything that we have is a free gift of God to us and not of our own deserving.  Gratefulness is a lost commodity in our everyday life.  The Holy Father says "Almsgiving helps us to live the gratuitousness of the gift, which is freedom from the obsession with possessing things, (freedom from) the fear of losing what one has, from the sadness of those who do not want to share their well-being with others."

     The Holy Father concludes by saying that "Lent comes providentially to rouse us, to shake us from our torpor, from the risk of moving forward (merely) by inertia. ... Why must we return to God?  Because something is wrong in us, in society, in the Church - and we need to change, to turn things around, to repent!"
Good words of challenge for the Lenten journey.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Launching the campaign

     We hear so much about wars and the rumors of war, of confrontations and rebellions, of civil unrest and the open hostility of brother against brother that I not only get tired of the talk but overwhelmed at the hatred and anger found in the human condition.  That is one reason why I found the Collect prayer for Ash Wednesday to have jarred my peaceful approach to this sacred season.  The prayer, if you were not a Mass today, says that "as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons ...", but then the kind of weapons was mentioned - not of mass destruction, or of death and ethnic cleansing, but the weapons "of self-restraint".  This is the kind of weapon that can only be used against the powers of evil, a weapon of love over hate, respect over prejudice, peace and forgiveness over injustice and anger.

     Lent is about the inner struggle within humanity, the human dimension versus the divine reality of mercy and love.  It is about soul searching, about clearing out the cobwebs, about facing the reality of our sinfulness and in that sinfulness our nothingness without God, and about repenting.  It is a strategic campaign that leads to glory.  The same Collect prayer says right before the above quote " ... that as we begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service ..." we may be granted that self-restraint.  Notice that the battle campaign is one of Christian service.  It is not about us, but rather about others.  It is the embracing of the command of charity and love that is the message of Jesus.  Our Holy Father addresses this in his homily today (I'll speak of that tomorrow).  For tonight, having signed a host of God's people at three services today with ashes and reminding them that this signing was not for others to see but for them to ponder their nothingness apart from God, it is time to close - but with the heartfelt hope that this Lent be a time of untold blessings for you in your prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Happy Lent. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

No ordinary gift

     In his first letter which formed the first reading for today's liturgy, Peter speaks of the prophets who laid the groundwork for our understanding of our relationship with God.  Their probing of the word and action of God allowed them to see that it was not about them, but rather about those who would come after them, those for whom the promise was made.  Good News was revealed and proclaimed, the Holy Spirit brought the heavenly reality to mortal man, and we are invited understand, enter into and share in something "into which angels longed to look."  This was no ordinary gift.  This was something that even those most closely created in the Divine image longed to see.  This was God's love manifest in the gift of the Living Word, Jesus, God's Son, one with us, given to us, and walking with us into the glory of heavenly things.

     As we stand at the threshold of Lent, the next words of Peter are an invitation: "Gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."  Do not follow your former unenlightened desires, but "be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, Be holy because I am holy."  This not so ordinary gift is worth any and every sacrifice, for it comes to us from the ultimate sacrifice of love on that Good Friday afternoon.


With love

     This morning I remembered my Mom, Frances Louise Lenard Stoviak, in a special way at Mass as my sister, Janie and I recall the anniversary of her death.  It was nine years ago last evening that she died peacefully at home after a brief illness.  Mom was eighty-six at the time of her death.

     After Dad's death three years earlier, Mom had become more frail, and when she developed pneumonia it became too much for her.  After a brief period in the hospital, we brought her home where she was most comfortable and Janie took great care of her.  I spent most of the evening with Mom on the 3rd of March, and had just returned to the rectory when the call came of her passing.  Mom had lived a good and full life, much loved by those most important to her, and was a great source of love and support for the rest of us.  Her wake and funeral Mass were a tribute to the person that she is.  We love her deeply and miss her dearly.

Monday, March 3, 2014

What must I do?

     In Mark's gospel today we hear of a young man running up to Jesus and asking "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  The answer given is not a surprise - follow the commandments of God.  Having assured Jesus that he had done so, Jesus looked upon him with love and said: "Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."  He went away sad.

     Jump forward to the late 1800's and we find a young lady of wealth and worldly prestige from the other end of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia who asked the same question "What must I do?"  She, too, had followed the commandments and loved her God, but felt that there must be something more.  The words of Jesus to this young man in the gospel echoed in her heart.  She had seen in her travels in this country the needs and oppression of Native Americans and African Americans.  She saw the need to not only bring the Good News to them, but to help deal with their poverty, their lack of education and advancement, and the prejudice that was found in our society.  She accepted the challenge to minister to this portion of God's flock, and dedicated her entire life to founding a religious community known as the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, to provide schools, including the first Catholic College for African Americans (Xavier University in New Orleans), and starting one hundred forty five missions and twelve schools for Native Americans before her death in 1955.  She used her fortune, her name and reputation to doing this work, but most especially she brought her faith and love of Christ to the love that she had for those greatly in need in our society.  Her name is Mother Katherine Drexel of Philadelphia, canonized a saint of the Universal Church (the second from Philly) on October 1, 2000.  I had the honor of being present for her canonization as well as having her Sisters give a Mission Co-op Appeal in one of the parishes where I served, and can attest to the pride that they have for their foundress.  The young man went away sad ... Katherine Drexel went away with a joy in her heart.  Approaching Lent, what is our response to the Lord inviting us to "Seek first the Kingdom of God?"

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Random thoughts

     Here we are on Oscar Night, and I took a break from watching the red carpet arrivals, mainly because with the screaming fans the actors cannot hear the interviewer's questions and I had trouble hearing the answers that were given.  The questions are always so in depth, anyway.  I used to be a movie buff who saw many films, but I have seen only a few of the films nominated this year.  I have no favorites but am waiting to be surprised.

     Speaking of movies, I loved the promo for the new film "Son of God" that opened on Friday.  The promo goes something like "Newsweek declares 'Son of God' awesome!"  I know that Newsweek was speaking of the film, but we all know the greater truth - that the Son of God IS awesome.  If only the world would catch on to that truth and the headlines of the world would acknowledge the awesomeness of the Lord.  Maybe in time.  By the way, I read that "Son of God" came in 2nd place over the weekend, following the thriller "Non-stop", garnering $26.5 million at the box office.  A young man in his early twenties who is in our music ministry said that he saw the movie and really thought that it was good.  Maybe this week for me.

      Our winter weather came - not as bad as what they had forecast, yet, but not good.  Our numbers this morning at Mass were sparse, especially at the 11:00 am which is gaining a reputation - this was the third out of the last four weeks with a wintry mix taking place during the Mass.  Thank God we had a baptism during Mass which bolstered our numbers - a young man of a few weeks by the name of Easton Carl Varrati.  He was adorable.

     Because of the snow I was unable to attend a reception held today to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Episcopal ordination of our bishop, Lawrence E. Brandt.  May 4th is the actual day.  Our roads had not had much done to them, so I chickened out.  I offer my congratulations and gratitude to Bishop Brandt, who celebrates his birthday (an important one, too) later this month.

     Well, back to the Oscars and a warm evening in front of the TV.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Getting ready

     We had a big crowd at Mass this evening, larger than usual.  It was close to standing room only.  A few people thought that it was Christmas.  But the reality is that a big snow storm is supposed to arrive beginning tomorrow, and people wanted to get Mass in before the storm.  Getting ready is a part of our lives this Winter:  we hear the forecast, we gear up, we run to the store for the usual emergency provisions of bread, milk, tp and of course rock salt.  I am hoping that it is all in vain, and that the storm will not materialize.  But we are ready.  I went out to dinner tonight and brought enough left overs home to tide me through the storm - I'm ready.

     We get ready for many things that touch our lives, and we spend time and effort and money to do so.  Then the event happens and it is all over before it began.

     There is a "getting ready" that is about to begin in our faith life - the beginning of the great season of grace called Lent.  Next Wednesday we are signed with ashes as a sign of our commitment to journey through forty days of fasting and prayer in order to prepare us for our confrontation with the crucified Lord and to receive the gift of renewed life found in his resurrection.  We will be invited to approach Lent with hope and expectation, with joy and longing for the blessings found at the end of this journey.  I like watching Rick Steve's travels through Europe on PBS and last evening he was on the pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela.  He pointed out the rigors of the journey, the varied motivations of the pilgrims, the temptations and discouragements that prompt some to give up, but also the absolute joy of finishing the trek, of running the race, of finding grace at the end of the journey.  But you do not enter "the way" lightly or unprepared, either physically, emotionally or spiritually.  You need to be ready for the journey.  Our camino is Lent.  Our motivation is to seek first the Kingdom of God.  Our goal is the Cross which leads to the Resurrection.  And our time is NOW!  Make this Lent count ... may we be open to every blessing in store for us on our journey.