Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Oh, if only!

     I love the beauty of photos, whether of the gifts of nature or the power of the human dynamic.  Our neighboring parish at Saint Agnes has a secretary, Dotti, who is a great photographer.  When she posts her pictures on facebook, I marvel at what she has captured.  I also love the beauty of the icon, the sacred image painted in a stylized way that conveys the sacred.  With many byzantine friends, I appreciate this gift to their art to the Church.  We have a beautiful icon of Saint Francis of Assisi given to our church by a parishioner in our Francis Room at church, and I have an icon of Saints Cyril & Methodius that graces my living room.

     Photos are images of what is, as seen by the naked eye.  They can tell you of the beauty that is visible.  An icon is an image of what is, as seen with the eye of God and the vision of Faith.  It can tell you of what should be, what can be, what must be for people of Faith.

     I mention this today because in our reading at Mass from the Acts of the Apostles we are given a picture of the early Church.  It is primarily an iconic view of what God was accomplishing in the lives of the believers.  And for us today it is an iconic view of what we should be about.  Oh, if only!

     Two things stood out to me.  First, "...the community of believers were of one heart and one mind...".  There was a unity of purpose, a trust in the presence and power of Christ in their midst, a trust in each other (in the community, in the Church) and a true sense of joy and peace that permeated all that they did.  Looking around today I am discouraged by the division, the bickering, the  negativity that exists on so many levels.  We undermine instead of build up, we whine instead of praise and support, we allow narrowness to limit out expansive joy from radiating from our lives of Faith.  Why is this?  Because we love darkness instead of light, we accept mediocrity rather than true holiness and because we allow the evil one to bring us down.

     The second thing that stood out to me this morning was the line "There was no needy person among them ...".  The community worked in unity and trust and untiringly to make sure that this was the reality.  Our communities are much larger, and maybe the needs greater, but Oh, if only!  Our outreach to the poor and needy is all too often couched in programs or agencies.  Those who do respond, sharing their wealth, their blessing, their talent and time, but most especially their love and concern in the name of Christ, find great blessing.  They are Church. This too demands trust, but it mostly demands a loving heart and a generous spirit.

     The icon of Church given us in Acts is a powerful vision of what we must work to become.  The reason is simple: that Jesus Christ be praised and the joy of his Resurrection inspire hope and bring love into a needy world.  May our purpose in life be to strive that "There be no needy person among us" - needy in terms of belonging or needy in terms of want.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

I met a saint


     With this morning's canonization of the popes John XXIII and John Paul II, I can lay claim to have met a saint.  The proof is found in the picture above taken on my last visit to Rome following a Wednesday audience.  I had been to Rome a number of other times, but the circumstances never panned out for a personal encounter.  Even this time, with advance planning and the determination of the guys that I was travelling with, it was iffy.  But we were determined, and the effort paid off.  As you can see, the Holy Father was suffering the effects of his illness and was physically challenged.  I got him following a long general audience.  And yet his eyes were alert and his spirit was visibly alive.  When I knelt before him I told him my name and my Diocese and country.  I assured him of my love and prayers.  He looked into my eyes and there was the hint of a smile and a nod of blessing.  That was it ... but what an experience.  I was honored and deeply moved, cherishing the moment quietly in my heart.  The priest just ahead of me never stopped talking as he left, he was so full of excitement.

     John XXIII I never met, and yet reading his autobiography "The Journal of a Soul" in my seminary days was an inspiration.  His simplicity and ease in dealing with people was evident, and yet his actions and ministry as nuncio in difficult situations in major countries were far from simple or easy.  Good Pope John was a delight.

     But as Pope Francis declared these two as Saints of God, to be look up to, modeled, and inspired by, I reflect that there are many saints that I have had the blessing of meeting in my lifetime.  Most of these saints were or are ordinary individuals who love God, seek to do his will and strive to be holy.  I told the story this morning of a woman in the Blair County Home where we visited in the Seminary days on apostolic works efforts.  I don't remember her name, but I remember her.  She was a double amputee (both legs) and confined to a wheel chair.  Every time we visited she was in the common room - knitting, teaching others, lifting spirit and smiling.  There was always a deep sense of the love of Christ that radiated through her.  We were there to cheer her spirits, but we were the ones truly blessed, cheered and inspired.  One of countless examples of people of holiness and faith that I am sure are saints, even if not formally recognized.

     Today is a day of celebrated two men of high leadership qualities who are also high in the inspiration business.  But it is also a day of recalling our own call to holiness and to express deep gratitude for those who have crossed our paths and inspired.
Saint of God, come to our aid!

The Sunday of Divine Mercy

     On this Sunday the Church brings our celebration of Easter day to a close.  For eight days, since the Solemn Easter Vigil of last Saturday through our celebration today, the Church has celebrated the empty tomb and the Easter event in this sacred Octave.  Just as every Sunday is a "little Easter", these eight days have been one continuous celebration of Easter Day.  The feast ends, but the season continues for another forty plus days until we celebrate Pentecost.

     This Octave of Easter is also a day of celebrating the great love and mercy of God.  This Second Sunday of Easter was established by the late Pope John Paul II as the Sunday of Divine Mercy in 2000.  It leads us to the continuing celebration of God's mercy during Easter Time, and reflects upon the promotion of the Devotion of Divine Mercy encouraged by the Polish nun, Saint Faustina, and presented to us by our newest saint, John Paul II.  The Devotion is a personal response, but the acknowledgement of the Mercy of God is universal.

     And on this Octave of Easter, this Second Sunday of Easter, this Sunday of Divine Mercy, the Church celebrates the canonization of two popes who lived during our lifetimes - Angelo Roncalli, known as John XXIII and Karol Wojtyla, known as John Paul II.  Pope Francis today declares these men as Saints of God.  In doing so he places before us two examples, two models of what we are to be ... imperfect individuals who have embraced the Divine Mercy of God and whose lives reflect their acceptance of the Call to Holiness that comes from Baptism.  More on the pope saints in another post.

     Celebrate the day well and be open and grateful for the Mercy of God in your life.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Salt and Light Dinner

      Last evening saw the Sixteenth Annual Communities of Salt and Light Award Dinner sponsored by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Greensburg and hosted by Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt, our Diocesan Bishop.  In 1998 the Diocese established a standard of recognition for individuals whose actions show a significant level of time, talent and treasure.  These individuals epitomize the Church's mission and the goals of Catholic Charities.  This awards dinner is one of two significant fund raising activities of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Greensburg (this dinner and an annual golf outing).  All profit from this dinner go directly into outreach to the needy in the Diocese, with no administrative or overhead costs taken from the profits.  Before last evening, the previous fifteen dinners has raised just about $900,000 which has gone directly to the needy of the area.  They do an outstanding job for an agency of its size, they have an excellent reputation, and they are under the leadership of Monsignor Raymond Riffle, the Managing Director.
Picture taken by Elisa Esasky
Stratigo's Banquet Facility
Salt and Light Award
     Last evening Catholic Charities honored Mrs. Lois Weidner of Saint Margaret Mary Parish in Lower Burrell with the Humanitarian Award.  At age 80 she has dedicated her life to the service of others in a variety of causes and endeavors, and still works twenty hours a week as a counselor and caring person.  Her acceptance speech gave credit where credit is due - to the Lord whom she loves and serves.  Also receiving the Outstanding Human Service Organization Award was a group from my home parish of Saint Joseph in Uniontown which has the name "Salt and Light Organization".  This ministry of service began ten years ago and is comprised of fourteen individuals whose outreach in Fayette County (one of the poorest in the Commonwealth) makes a substantial difference in people's lives and brings hope and joy into difficult situations.  While small in numbers, limited in resources, and facing challenging needs, they have big hearts and a relentless spirit.  This recognition is well deserved ... and as a son of the parish I am very proud of their work.

     Our dinner was fantastic, the company enjoyable, the cause very important, and I was truly blessed to once more be a part of the festivities.

The getaway

     Did you ever have one of those times when you needed a change of scenery?  I was at that point with the culmination of Lent, Holy Week and Easter.  So after a funeral on Monday, I got in the car on Tuesday morning and headed Southeast into North Western Maryland for a two night stay at the Rocky Gap Resort just to the East of Cumberland, Maryland.  I had stopped there once before for lunch on a return from DC, and knew that the setting was conducive for a peaceful getaway.  I returned home yesterday (Thursday) somewhat refreshed and set to move into a bust Easter Season.

     Rocky Gap Resort is a part of the Rocky Gap Maryland State Park system which comprises 3000 acres with a 243 acre man made lake at its core.  In addition to the park is a resort with golf course and a new casino that makes the stay even more enjoyable.  Located just off of Interstate 68 and just South of the Pennsylvania border, it is set in beautiful rolling mountains that are just about ready to burst into bloom.  It is about a two and a half hour drive from my place through PA, West Virginia and Maryland.

     The drive was refreshing, the stay rejuvenating, my two dinners excellent, my time at the slots not profitable but not too damaging (the great gambler that I am finds me usually at the penny slots).  I read, relaxed, and enjoyed a few days away from home.  Now I am back and ready to go.  God is good.

Monday, April 21, 2014


     It has been many days since my last post.  In that time, though, I/we have journeyed through the most powerful and most beautiful week of the year, a week that we call "holy" and a week that culminates in the greatest liturgy of the year - a three day unveiling of mysteries that are redemptive and lifegiving.  And then from our hearts and our throats comes forth the great alleluia of exultant joy at the empty tomb and the invitation to come and be with the occupant of that empty tomb in our Galilee, our everyday lives.  The emptiness of the tomb brings fullness to our lives.  The tragedy of Friday is seen as "good" in light of the powerful gift of love offered on that cross.

     This week for me was extremely beautiful in liturgies and prayer that uplifted the heart and mind.  The hard work of so many in the parish setting to prepare for and execute these liturgies is inspiring.  The expectant faith of those who used well the Lenten season to heighten their awareness of Christ and deepen their desire for a more intimate relationship lifted the heart.  The local church joining with the Universal Church in these age old rituals speaks of the vibrant life of the Body of Christ. 

     This week was also very difficult for me.  As mentioned in an earlier post, I developed a chest cold that lingered and wiped me out.  So the least thing done left me drained, and my level of concentration was diminished.  Colds are colds and we all get them, but for a priest at this week of the year, a cold is not welcomed friend.  I was not up to par ... but the people understood and prayed and were concerned, and many of our faithful ministers filled in where needed.  For that I am grateful.

     For the many who shared in this week, for the blessings of a wonderful Lord, for family and friends and fellow journeyers, my grateful prayers are placed before the throne of the Paschal Lamb.

     I am taking a few days off this week, but will return toward the end of the week refreshed and eager to continue sharing my thoughts on our journey together.  Until then ... peace and joy in the Risen Lord.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Choose your answer wisely

     I received an email from my cousin Carol with this item.  Thought it was cute.

What is celibacy?
Celibacy can be a choice in life, or a condition imposed by circumstances.  While attending a Marriage Weekend, Frank and his wife Ann listened to the instructor declare, "It is essential that husbands and wives know the things that are important to each other."  He then addressed the men.  "Can you name and describe your wife's favorite flower?"  Frank leaned over, touched Ann's arm gently, and whispered, "Gold Medal All Purpose, isn't it?"
And thus began Frank's life of celibacy.

A time of rendering

     As I requested in my last post, I continue to seek your prayers for those affected by the high school stabbing spree that took place in a nearby high school this past week.  Thank God that no one died, but the many kids wounded, some very seriously, and the young man that is charged with the stabbings, and the other students and their parents who lived in fear, deserve our prayers.  I ask that you keep them in supportive prayer.

     This past week has been a time of "rendering". 
     It was, in our area, "Confession Week" with regional Lenten Penance Services in our four neighboring parishes.  It was a great time in anticipation of Holy Week to "render" our sins to God and welcome the great and awesome healing mercy of the Lord.  There are times when we want to avoid the confrontation of our sin and simply acknowledge generically that we are sinners.  But there is something very necessary and worthwhile in acknowledging our personal sins, confronting them and placing them in the hands of a merciful Lord.  I have heard some say that the Church wants you to state your sins so that you can be made to feel guilty and unworthy.  But I find that in the stating of our sins we see clearly the unbelievable mercy and love of God for us, the power of that love expressed in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for us, and the truth that our unworthiness because of sin has been conquered by the embrace of his all consuming love.  I sensed many moments this week of rendering ourselves to God's mercy and the peace that it brought to those confessing.  As I so often say, as a confessor, I find great joy in the experience.

     It was also a time for me to "render unto Caesar".  With all of us called to do so by April 15th, I presented to the postal service on Friday my 2013 income taxes and check (four days before the deadline!).  For me, this is a task that I take no pleasure in, but a duty I perform for the sake of the common good.  Render unto Caesar, the Lord said.  Duty done.

     And lastly for today, I have had to render myself to the limitations of my cold (the one I spoke of last Sunday).  Others have told me that they are experiencing something similar - a chest cold that hangs on, with some coughing and a general feeling of tiredness after the least exertion.  I have gone to the doc and I am on antibiotics, but my energy is zapped.  When you want to be active and need to do the things of this busy season, I do not want to "render" myself to further limitations.  Oh, well.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


      In the days when I went to elementary school (in the horse and buggy era) there were very few reasons that I remember of for being afraid for my bodily health.  There was the occasional spat with someone that may result in a little shoving match, or the fall on the playground that may rip the knee out of our pants.  The most fearful thing that I remember were the air raid drills when we would cower under our desks in case there would be a nuclear attack (I'm not sure what that would have done to save us).  We lived very secure lives.  We were guaranteed health and safety, especially while at school.

      How things have changed in the world in which we live.  This morning, as school was convening at a local school district (just three districts over from ours), a sophomore boy from the Franklin Regional School District went on a spree plunging two knives into classmates and students and at least one adult.  Twenty were injured with serious injuries (thank God no lives were lost).  All required hospitalization and a number required surgeries.  The motive has not yet been determined.  Franklin Regional is a suburban school district with a good reputation, a close knit and prosperous community, and no history of violence.  The fear that students, parents, staff and community felt this morning and continues to feel at this moment is something that I am blessed to have not experienced in my youth.  I ask your prayers for all of those involved.  Our local parish in Murrysville, Mother of Sorrows, is holding a prayer vigil tonight at 7:00 pm in the Church to pray for the community.  Keep these kids in your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Lenten Retreat

     One week ago this afternoon I welcomed into my home three friends that I have known for over twenty years, the team of the Thomas More Center for Preaching and Spiritual Renewal.  They had driven in from the Center in Wisconsin to lead our parish in a Lenten Retreat.  The team is comprised of Father Michael Champlin, Sister Joan Bukrey and Father Nick Punch.  Joan is a Franciscan Sister and Mike and Nick are Dominican priests.  Their ministry is giving parish renewals, missions and retreats in the United Stated and in Australia.  A number of our men have had them to their parishes over the years, as have I - they were at the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg and twice at Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale.  This was their first visit to North Huntingdon.

     They preached and spoke at all three Masses over the weekend, and then began their series of talks over the next few days.  Beginning Sunday evening at 7, they gave seven distinct presentations - Sunday through Wednesday evenings and Monday through Wednesday mornings - consisting of a presentation, a refreshment break time, and then a time of discussion with a question/answer format.  They also preached each weekday morning Mass.  The topics were well thought out and presented, rooted in the Scriptures and in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, now in its fiftieth year.  They were informative and challenging, and made you think.  The Q & A time was stirring (sometimes literally) as the team challenged some of our common understandings and misconceptions in regard to the what and why of that which we believe.  Heaven and hell and especially purgatory got a few people going, with one person bringing in a refutation of what was said by quoting a Jesuit theologian in a book dated 1893.  A great deal of critical theological development has happened since that time.


     Many, many of the people in attendance have spoken of the blessings received in these few days of grace for our parish.  Even the few who did not agree with some of the answers given acknowledged that it got them thinking as they were challenged to look into their beliefs and understanding.  I, too, was blessed.

     I also enjoyed visiting with Joan, Mike & Nick, remembering old times, renewing friendships, and sharing with them the work of God in the Church today.  They left me on Thursday morning with many things to remember and to celebrate ... as well as the head cold that Nick brought last Saturday and shared with Mike & Joan before passing it on to me.  Anyway, with the retreat in process and the cold settling in, I have not posted this past week, but I have been busy receiving the blessings of God.  To the team, to those who took part, and to those who helped with the endeavor - a great big THANK YOU.