Saturday, May 31, 2014

Letting go

     On Thursday, the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord in our diocese, I celebrated three Masses, and even though the readings were the same at each, each homily was different - variations on the theme.   The smaller morning Mass focused upon the experience of losing one who has been intimately intertwined in your life.  How often I have found the family say that the one that they loved is still very much a part of their life - not only in memories but in practical and life giving ways.  Their legacy lives on, their spirit is alive and their presence is felt through the lives that they have touched.

     At the afternoon school Mass I focused upon moving forward but of leaving a part of oneself behind.  Graduating, or moving to another level, or changing schools, or retiring brings about absence but allows for a sense of remaining and belonging.  A number of our school graduates of last Wednesday, and a number of past alumni who were already out of high school for the year or home from college were present for this Mass.  I pointed out that even though they had left the school, that they are still a part of the school, as evidenced by their desire to come home.  I pointed out that our Principal, who has taught and lead the school for many years and who is retiring, will always be a part of the school family and ever present in her example and spirit.

     At the evening Mass I spoke of preparing the way, of clearing the path, of preparing a place for our arrival and of letting go.  Sometimes we need to go out on our own, to take the first step, to stand on our own.  There is a commercial of a parent holding onto their child's bike and getting them going on their first bike ride.  Then they let go, and the child goes on by themselves (the parent every watchful and vigilant).  When the realization sets in that they can do this, there is much rejoicing - the parent knew that it could be done, the child realizes that it was done.  There comes a time when the mother bird, who has nurtured and watched over and protected her young, forces them to the edge and then out of the nest, so that they may realize that to fly is their destiny and within their capability.  Otherwise, they would simply remain in the security of the nest.

     All of this is simply to say that the Lord had to take his leave, not to abandon us but to take his rightful place beside the Father, taking delight in our accomplishments, strengthening us with his Spirit, and welcoming us to the place of the Divine.  The ascension of the Lord was necessary for Him, but more necessary for us.

Yesterday was my birthday.
Sixty-seven years ago I came into this world.
Mom and Dad gave me life and their love.
Janie, my sister and friend, continues to do so.
Yesterday was quiet and relaxing.
I heard from many friends and family and parishioners,
and was blessed by their love and support.
I even spoke to my cousin Joy from Costa Rica
and her daughter Jenifer.
The greatest gift, though, is the love of God,
and the gift of ministry in the priesthood.
Thank you, Lord!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Interesting premise ... but

     Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the company of the disciples went out to all the world to tell the good news.  We know that Peter and then Paul went to the political and power center of the known world when they ended up in Rome - and witnessed to and died for the faith, Paul by beheading and Peter by crucifixion.  Before that Paul went with his companions to Athens, as we hear in the Acts of the Apostles on this Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter.  Paul took the message of Jesus and the experience of his faith to the known center of wisdom, learning, culture, civilization and the cradle of democratic thought.  What he encountered there was an attitude of tolerance for new ideas and an arrogance of sophistication that placed the "universal truth" that he shared within the context of a good and novel idea.  Some heard and thought it was worth discussing, when they had more time or less important things to do.  Some dismissed it outright as being simple and not worthy of their time.  Some were intrigued and sought Paul and the others out.  And a number were moved to respond, to accept the call to conversion.  Despite Paul's meeting them on their own turf, using the altar to the unknown god to point to the God that they did not know and using this as an occasion to share the truth, Athens was not an overwhelming success.  The reason?  Maybe they were too "sophisticated".  Maybe they were too "advanced".  Maybe they were too "with it" to accept simple truth.  In many ways, we find our society too with it, advanced and sophisticated to be bothered with this simple truth, even today.  How else do we explain the apathy to the message of Jesus Christ and the reluctance to journey with His family in this experience called life.  Thank God for His Wisdom and His Spirit who blesses us with openness, mercy and love.  Athens did not discourage or stop Paul.  Let us not be discouraged either.

Friday, May 23, 2014


     This Friday afternoon Father Chet Raimer (one of our retired priests) and I visited a seminary classmate from the Pittsburgh Diocese at his parish in Duquesne, Pennsylvania.  His name is Father Dennis Colamarino, and he has served as the pastor in Duquesne for thirty one of his forty one years of priesthood, an outstanding accomplishment in these days of frequent moves.  Every time his term was up they gave him another parish to minister to, and presently he administers three parishes in the town.  Duquesne was once a thriving, proud, and prosperous mill town but now, without the mills, it faces challenges in all areas of life.  It is a shadow of its former self, and yet those who remain still take pride.

     We went to visit Dennis who is dealing with a form of ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease and within the past year has been presented with challenges, giving up driving this past Easter for safety reasons the most recent.  He uses a walker and any good strong arm to lean on in order to get around.  And yet his energy level, his work ethic, his love of ministry, his commitment to the people that he has served for so long is astounding.  But that is Dennis.  Dennis has never been one to understate things, or remain quietly in the background, or be perceived as retiring.  Far from it.  Dennis has always been, well, Dennis - the life of the party, the center of attention, outspoken, dynamic, "in your face" in the best sense, and the "energizer bunny".  He could, in fact does, fit into the description in the title of this piece.

     But who I find inspiring in this story are the people of the parishes and of the town.  After thirty one years he has found himself immersed in the lives of these good people, and they love him.  They hurt with him in this illness, they laugh with him in his humor, they cry with him in his moments of reflecting upon the future, they accept his "over-the-top-ness (a word?) as his just being Dennis, and they pray with him and for him with love in their hearts.  They also have and continue to do much to keep him as their pastor, to assist him in countless ways, helping him to get around and function.  They have ramped and modified steps and chairs and countless things to make it easier for him.  These good people, parishioners and staff and friends, whose lives are intertwined with his, are to me truly inspiring.  I thank God that Denny has them in his life ... I know that he is grateful as well.  They are his daily family.   They are inspiring.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What is important?

     I need to share an observation and give an explanation in advance of this evening's post.  First the observation: I find it very important to be as positive as possible in a world and at a time that is filled with negativity.  I try to look at the best in a situation and not get caught up in complaining.  Tonight may be an exception.  An explanation as to why this may be so on this day is that it has been a long day of minor frustrations and now we have a leaden sky that looks like it is about to rain on us, heightening the gloom.  Bear with me.

     I find the lack of commitment and involvement of people in matters of importance in varying aspects of daily life to be disheartening.  Let me give a few examples.  Today is Primary Election Day in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  I went to my polling place around ten o'clock this morning.  There are just over five hundred registered voters listed at that polling place (I asked the crew).  At 10:00 am I was number twenty-one to vote.  The final results are still an hour away.  The people working the elections were bored and we spoke of the staggeringly small turnout to that point in time.  Maybe there was an influx later (I doubt it). Granted, it is a primary election.  Granted, politics is filled with partisanship and negativity.  But this is the most sacred duty and wonderful right of a citizen in this great Republic.   Today is simply an echo of most elections turnouts.  Sad.

     As I mentioned in a previous post, last Thursday Bishop Lawrence Brandt celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation in the neighboring parish with our youngsters and those of Saint Regis.  The Bishop gave a lengthy homily that touched on many points, with a strong emphasis on encouraging the candidates to take seriously their Faith and reminding them that the best and most important way of doing this was to worship the Lord within the community of believers at Sunday Eucharist.  He reminded the parents of their responsibility to bring their families to the Table of the Lord.  He told the Sponsors that they need to be a catalyst and a good example and assure that their charges attend Mass.  That was on Thursday.  On the weekend I asked at each Mass that those who had been Confirmed stand so that we could recognize them.  Between all three Masses we had less than ten kids stand.  There were twenty-seven of our youngsters Confirmed. 

     The previous Sunday, following two great celebrations of First Holy Communion, I did the same thing - ask those who had received to stand and be recognized.  During the three Masses there were maybe ten who stood, again out of twenty-seven.

     Then there are the empty seats at Mass.  With the number of registered parishioners (who specifically want to belong) we average 800/900 for the three Masses out of the 3,300 on the books.  And unfortunately, we are not that exceptional.  Then count those who arrive late and/or leave early and you need to ask the question - Why?

     There are a thousand and one reasons, excuses, causes for such actions.  Some may even have some validity.  But the basic question, which as a pastor I struggle with, is the neglect shown to the absolute necessity of this core experience of the encounter with God, the centrality of the Sunday Eucharist, the commitment to the mission of being a disciple and the negating of what is essential.  Pope Francis on Monday tweeted: "The one who listens attentively to the Word of God and truly prays, always asks the Lord - What is your will for me?"  It would seem that by our actions we are asking "What is my will for you, Lord?"  I think we have things twisted, and I am afraid.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Confirmed in Christ

     Last evening on Thursday, May 15th, Candidates from our parish join with those from the neighboring parish of Saint Regis in Trafford to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation by Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt.  There were just over fifty receiving, twenty seven from our parish.  Despite torrential rain, it was a wonderful celebration.  Even though he did not know of our Confirmation, our Holy Father, Francis, yesterday tweeted some great advice that these youngsters and the rest of us might live by.  He tweeted: "Let us ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to live daily according to the mind of Jesus and of his Gospel."   Our youngsters this year are in the fifth grade as we work our way back to the eighth grade model.  The look in their eyes as they were anointed with Chrism and looked at the face of the bishop was something awesome to behold. 

     I have a story to tell.  One of the young ladies from our parish is very shy and is dealing with some challenges.  She almost seemed afraid to be in the spotlight, even though she looked beautiful and was surrounded by family.  Following Confirmation the bishop posed for pictures.  I was sitting in a back pew watching everyone, and the young lady spotted me.  Hiding behind her dad, she peeked around him and shyly waved at me.  I waved back, and she continued to smile and wave.  Her dad spotted her waving and saw that she was looking at me.  He smiled and told me that his daughter got the greatest kick out of her encounter with the bishop, and it made her relax a little.

     At the end of practice on Tuesday I told the kids that when they shook hands with the bishop, that they should give him a firm handshake.  I also said that his thumb would be sticking up.  I told them that he was not giving them a "likes" sign, like on face book, but he did this because he had oil on his thumb.  She remembered that tidbit when Bishop Brandt shook her hand, and she smiled and relaxed.  Dad said that it helped make her day.  It is so often the little things that make a difference.

     I ask that in your prayers you remember our youngsters and all who have been fully initiated in the Church that they may live daily according to the mind of Jesus and of his Gospel.


     Recently in our diocese the Spring Clergy Assignments were announced.  It is with great joy that I have celebrated "the passover" once again and was not visited by "the announcement".  In this vocation, you never know when the call will come, although I think that you should be consulted.  Our changes involved one man retiring (he taught me a great deal in my final summer deacon assignment where he served as a young assistant).  There were three pastors transferred (two also continuing to serve as the bishop's representative to their Deanery and the other continuing in the Liturgy Office). These three moves involved some of the largest parishes in our diocese.  One man became pastor for the first time. Another pastor became pastor/administrator with the partnering of two of our parishes, in addition to his two other major roles (Tribunal and Mission Office).  One newly arrived priest from the Philippines was welcomed as a regional Parochial Vicar.  There were a few other minor readjustments. A small but significant reassignment of our clergy personnel.   One of the above pastors had been in his assignment for many years and had just led the parish in rebuilding the parish church and is also nearing retirement age.   I was surprised that he was moved.  I have a priest friend now retired that always said that you could be replaced at any time, and it is true.

     When I was younger, I found myself in certain assignments that were great, and my time there was something that I hoped would continue.  The work that was being done, the accomplishments heralded, the desire to remain led one to believe that you might be untouchable or even more misleading, irreplaceable.  But that is never the case.  All of us must someday move on.  All of us will see the work we have witnessed be placed in the hands of another.  And that is not always easy.

     These men in these recent changes place themselves at the service of the Church.  Whether because of need or retirement or illness or death or a fall from grace, one generation after the next finds themselves replaced and the Church continues ... and that is because we come to do, not our will, but the will of the one who sent us (think Lord, not necessarily bishop - no offence, Bishop Brandt).

     On Wednesday of this week we celebrated the feast of Saint Matthias.  His job was to replace one of the Twelve, Judas, who had fallen from grace and abandoned the Twelve through betrayal.  The completeness of the foundation blocks of the Church had to be accomplished, and Matthias was chosen.  He did more than "fill a gap", he entered into the lived experience of bearing witness to the Risen Lord, he became one of the Twelve, sharing equally with them the task entrusted to "go out to all the world and tell the Good News".   When his day would come, he would be replaced by another, chosen to do this same work.  Over and over again we do our best, we relinquish the ministry, and another steps up to the plate.  And the Church continues.  If we do our part well, then we bring strength to the Body of Christ.

     Pray for these men who were asked to move on, pray for the people who need to find comfort and security in their new shepherds, pray for all priests, and pray with great confidence for the strengthening of the Church in these challenging times.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Catching up

     Pastoral Ministry is full of surprises.   One day a few years ago while working at the office, a friend and former parishioner from Scottdale stopped in to ask if I would bless his new bike (motorcycle).  Of course I went outside to admire the bike and to offer a blessing.  I was joined by the staff present that day, one of which is a music minister who, along with her husband, rides.  After the blessing, we began to discuss the possibility of scheduling a "Blessing of Bikes" here at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton parish, filling in a gap in the Catholic tradition locally.  So we planned and scheduled our first "Blessing of Bikes" three years ago on the first Sunday of May.  It went over well, with nearly one hundred bikes and many bikers stopping by for the blessing, some good food, live music and a small token of the day.  It was fun.

 pope mobile
 "Good News Blues"


     On Sunday, May 4th of this year we hosted the third annual Blessing of Bikes at the lower lot of our Church.  This year's weather was a bit threatening, but it actually cleared into a beautiful day for the blessing and a ride (for the bikers, not me).  Because of the weather our numbers were down a little from the hundred plus of last year.  The rich variety of characters (I mean that in the best sense) included old and young, women and men, cops and (oops, hopefully no robbers), rough looking bikers types and casual riders ... but all were extremely friendly and grateful for the chance to gather and be blessed.  Once again I truly enjoyed the chance to share in this unusual ministry.  I have trouble getting around to the individual bikes for blessings, so my gang has procured for me my own "pope mobile" - this year a white golf cart with driver.  What more could I ask for.  We even made the front page of the local weekly newspaper, the Norwin Star.  I look forward to next year.


     On May 10th we celebrated the second of our two First Communion Masses, with an additional thirteen candidates receiving the Lord in Holy Communion for the first time.  Like last week, there was great excitement and joyful anticipation, and like last week there were many great memories created.  It was wonderful to see and to recognize the youngsters with their families at Sunday Mass,  some of whom still wore their First Communion outfits.  I remember mine - my first suit, a dark blue suit with tie.  What I also remember was running in the rectory side yard afterwards and tripping and getting grass stain on the knees of the new blue suit.  Mom was not happy.  Many thanks to our youngsters and in their name to their parents and families and to our catechists and religious education leaders.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Mother's love

     In this great nation of ours we celebrate Mother's Day today (I actually began this post Sunday afternoon before the Internet connection was lost).  One of the gentlemen arriving at Mass today told me that he had heard on TV that Mother's Day is one hundred years old in its celebration.  But we are aware that the love and respect that we show to the woman who gave us birth, to the woman who loved and guided our lives through growth, and the woman who inspired and corrected us on our sometimes wayward journey was not defined by a national holiday, nor by a day of recognition or celebration.  It is a natural response to our blessedness.  It is a natural recognition of the gift that our Moms are to us.

     At Mass yesterday I shared this blessing with all Moms present, borrowed from the bulletin of Transfiguration Parish in Marietta Georgia.  I found that it says what needs to be said.

On this day, we thank You for our mother's
love, patience, courage, and faith.
On this day, we bless mothers everywhere
so that they may continue to find
dignity and meaning
in their pivotal role of child nurturing.
Protect them from the negative values
which weaken the home.
Rearrange our priorities, O Lord, our God,
that we may, through the gift of our mothers,
give our homes, our families, our loved ones,
and especially our children,
the attention they require and deserve.
Bless our homes as centers of
and pleasure.
We ask this in the name of Him
who was reared in that lovely home in Nazareth,
through Christ our Lord.
     My sister Janie and I were blessed with a Mom who, along with Dad, brought acceptance, love, growth and happiness into our home.  We still are blessed with a Mom whose love for us has intensified as she stands with Dad before the throne of God in heaven interceding on our behalf with an unqualified love.  Mom entered into glory nine years ago this past March (and Dad twelve years this past Saturday).  May they rest in peace, and may they know the deep and abiding love that we have for them.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Good People

     From Ash Wednesday through Good Friday on every Friday during Lent, our parish family hosts a series of Lenten Fish Dinners.  Many parishes do this during Lent, and in this part of the country "everyone" becomes Catholic during Lent, as churches of all denominations, restaurants, fire hall, and civic organizations adopt the practice of "meatless Fridays".  Our fish dinners have been going on for eighteen years now, and with little advertisement but great word of mouth, we do very well.  We serve from 4:00 to 7:00 pm on the Fridays, we have sit down seating as well as take out, and we have an extensive menu - five different dinners, sandwiches, and a great "a la carte" menu.  Our average Friday sees us serving between 600 to 700 orders.  And it is all done by volunteers, great people of all ages who do everything.  The Fish Dinners are not only a good fund raiser for the parish, but they are also a great time of fellowship with people from all over.

Julie & Debbie 
me with Debbie

     Last Sunday ( a week from yesterday) we as a parish expressed our deep appreciation to the volunteer workers for this effort, which is over one hundred strong.  About seventy five were able to join us for a dinner in our hall on the afternoon of the 27th of April.  We did not serve fish!  These good men and women, boys and girls - some of whom have been working the dinners for the eighteen years of its existence - are generous with their time, are good people of Faith, and are a blessing to me and the parish.  Our co-chairs, Debbie Pazahoski and Julie McNamara, pictured above, are dedicated leaders of the group.  Our day was one of enjoying each other and giving thanks.

Another year

     Last year at this time I spent a great deal of time remembering and telling stories of the assignments that I have been privileged to have served in the forty years of my priesthood.  And here it is, a year later, and today I am celebrating my forty first year since ordination.  It was at 10:00 am on Saturday, May 5, 1973 that our ordination ceremony began.  Four of us were ordained that day by the late Bishop William G. Connare, and all four of us are still active serving parishes in the Diocese of Greensburg.  We are each different and yet each blessed by the Lord with the gift of ministry as priests.  Our journeys have taken us many places and allowed us to touch many lives over the years, and I know that I speak for my ordination brothers in expressing gratitude to God.

    This forty first anniversary began with the celebration of the Eucharist, as I have done nearly every day over the years.  It never becomes ordinary.  Then an out of the ordinary visit to the retinal surgeon for a follow up visit to deal with some issues as a result of my diabetes.  This took most of the morning.  Once the eye sight began to clear, I was able to attend a meeting of the clergy from of Deanery (one of the geographical areas of the Diocese) for updates, input and discussion for about two and a half hours - good, but less than exciting.  Then a late lunch/early supper, and now to the computer for this post.

     On top of all of this, today is also my sister, Janie's, birthday.  She forbids me to tell you how young she is, but suffice it to say that she was born in XXXX (oops, it almost slipped out).  I couldn't get home, but I did send her roses for her birthday (I'm such a good brother).

     The Lord has been good to me, and for that I am deeply grateful.   To my ordination mates and my seminary classmates from other dioceses, especially Pittsburgh who share the same day ... Happy Anniversary!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Come to the table

     I love this time of the year for many reasons, but high on that list is because this is the time of the year to celebrate First Holy Communions.   This morning at 11:00 am we celebrated the first of two such celebrations in our parish (next Saturday will be the second group).  It was a great event.  We break our group into two celebrations in order to make it more intimate and more manageable. 

     I had a great time.  The kids this year have impressed me as being really into it, not showing nervousness but rather a real appreciation of what was happening in their lives.  I mentioned this to them this morning, and that I had the same sense when they came for first reconciliation before Christmas.   Running the risk of offending someone, I have to say that even the parents and grown ups were well behaved today.

     I spoke of the experience of reaching that moment in life when we are invited to "move up to the grown up table".  When our extended family would gather, there were too many to sit around the dining room table.  The kids were relegated to a smaller table in the same room or in the kitchen - the kid's table.  But when that moment came to "move up", to join the grown ups and share in the food of their table, it was a momentous moment.  First Communion is similar to that experience.  Rather than just accompanying Mom or Dad to Communion, these youngsters now are invited to come to the table themselves, to receive the Lord Jesus as never before.

     I invited the kids to join me at the Altar for the Eucharistic Prayer.  To my immediate left were two young men who I noticed were trying to communicate with each other.  The one furthest away from me was trying very hard to hint at the other that he should trade places.  Finally the one closest caught on, and was gracious enough to change places.  The little guy moved next to me and was very happy.  I smiled.

     There were youngsters from all three of our neighboring parishes receiving today - what a day of blessing for the Norwin Community.  I, for one, was blessed by the gathering ... and look forward to part II next Saturday.