Friday, June 27, 2014

Come to me

     The challenges that many people face seem insurmountable and overwhelming.  I wrote recently of the parents of a young 18 year old that was killed in a car accident.  They are not only grief stricken but inconsolable.  I have spoken of a friend of mine, a woman involved in a run in with a snow plow in January whose life and that of her husband and children and family in that instant were changed forever.  Her life will never be the same and her struggle will be unending.  A longtime friend and now parishioner was just diagnosed with a rooted, cancerous tumor and given a limited time to live.  And this came out of the blue to an active and dynamic individual and family.  I buried this past Wednesday a parishioner who at the age of fifty-nine died of cancer.  She loved life, family and children, working as an aide in a child care facility.  On the day she died her husband suffered his second mild stroke in a week.  How can people cope with such burdens?  How can they not feel put upon, oppressed, devastated?  What kind of cards were they dealt in life?  I can see how people question their faith in God or feel that they are carrying burdens way too heavy to bear.  What do you say to them?

     As a person of faith, though, I am deeply convinced in the love that God has for me and for everyone whom he has called to himself.  Today is the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a time when we reflect upon that awesome love and it's consequences in our lives.  In the Gospel for today from Matthew, Jesus says "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."

     What does the yoke of Jesus refer to here.  A yoke was made for the oxen to wear in order that they could pull the plow or the wagon or the burden.  They were custom made so as to make it possible for great loads to be carried without injury to the oxen.  The Jews used the image of a yoke to express submission to God.  They spoke of the yoke of the law, the yoke of the commandments, the yoke of the kingdom, the yoke of God.  Jesus says that his yoke is easy.  Well-fitted in a strong relationship of love with him, no task, no burden is unbearable or impossible.  Jesus also says that his burden is light.  There is an old song that reminds us of this that comes from a story of a man who met a boy carrying a crippled lad on his back.  The man commented that the load must be overwhelming, to which the boy said "He ain't heavy; he's my brother."  There is no burden too heavy to carry when it is accepted in love and carried in love.  As the prayer of the Church today says: "Grant, we pray, almighty God, that we, who glory in the Heart of your beloved Son and recall the wonders of his love for us, may be made worthy to receive an overflowing measure of grace from that font of heavenly gifts."  These are the words that sustain us, that give us hope, that help us survive.  They are words that are backed up with the love of Christ for each of us in our best and our darkest of hours.  It is a love that flows from that Sacred Heart into ours, and we are most grateful and willing to be yoked to Him.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Thoughts on Corpus Christi

     Moses told the people "Remember".  Remember the God who came to your assistance.  He told them to "Never forget" what God had done for them.  Generations later, at the conclusion of a extraordinary meal with his closest friends, Jesus tells them to "Do this in memory of me."  The Church invites us to remember, to never forget who we are and what God has done for us on this Solemnity of the Most Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, or Corpus Christi.

     In the waters of baptism a most wondrous thing takes place, unimaginable and unthinkable - the creature is lifted to the dignity of the son or daughter.  We are brought into a relationship that is truly lifegiving and are given a share in the divine.  We share in the nature of the divine and are able to become one with the mystery of God - One God in Three Distinct Persons as we saw last week in the Trinity.  We become a part of the family that is God, we are formed into the community of faith that is the Church, we become a part of the Body of Christ - Corpus Christi.   That becomes our identity and our reason to be.  So, this feast is about us ... who we are and what we have become.  But it has another, entirely more beautiful dimension to it.

     This Body of Christ that we are a part of is sustained by the nurturing and nourishment given to us by the Lord Jesus in his Body and Blood.  In that Last Supper and in every Eucharistic celebration since, he feeds us with his flesh, which he tells us is true food and cleanses and refreshes us with his blood, which is true drink.   There is an ancient image of Christ in art of a pelican and her young.  The altar piece at Saint Sebastian in Belle Vernon has this image.  The pelican is seen nourishing her young by pecking at her breast and feeding them with her flesh and nourishing them with her blood - the ultimate sacrifice.  She would give herself for those whom she cared for.  Is this not Christ.  He said that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood we have no life within us.  These were very difficult words and many found it altogether too much.  But for those who know him, who love God and who serve him in their love for his people, these are the words of eternal life.  And on this feast of Corpus Christi - we celebrate the Body of Christ fed by the Body of Christ - the Eucharist.  Come and be fed.  Come and live.  Come and be CORPUS CHRISTI.


     For another view of the scriptures for this feast, check out a reflection that I did for the Diocesan web site at and hit the appropriate section of the rolling scroll at the top.  Thanks.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Passing on of the mantle

    In the last few days we have been reading in Sirach of the story of the great prophet Elijah and his young apprentice, Elisha.  The prophet chooses Elisha to succeed him as the spokesperson of God and the conscience of God's People.  Elijah tells Elisha to ask for whatever he needs or wants ... and the answer was "...a double portion of your spirit."  Elijah assures him that if he witnesses Elijah being taken up into heaven, which he does, then it will be granted to him.  He picked up Elijah's mantle and the son, the apprentice, the student became the prophet of the Lord.
     And today the praise of the great prophet is sung by the people that respected him and loved him.  They lament his absence. No one could take his place.  Then Elisha steps forward and here is what the Scriptures say next:  "Then Elisha, filled with the twofold portion of his spirit, wrought many marvels by his mere word.  During his lifetime he feared no one, nor was any man able to intimidate his will.  Nothing was beyond his power; beneath him flesh was brought back to life.  In life he performed wonders, and after death, marvelous deeds."

     The Lord, the great Divine teacher, the Anointed One and Son of God, also realized that he must return to the Father and take his rightful place before all creation.  He has chosen those who will take up his mantle and continue to do his work at building up an eternal Kingdom of life and love.  He prays for them to the Father, and promises that when they see him lifted up they will receive his Spirit and be entrusted with continuing his work.  In John 14:12 he says that " who believes in me will do the works that I do, and even greater than these, because I go to the Father."  The twelve, Mary and the others in the Upper Room on that Pentecost, the countless others who heard and believed in him, have received his Spirit and a double portion of his grace to do greater things than even he did.  Think on that a moment - greater things than even Jesus did?  And then remember what was said of the prophet Elisha - he wrought many marvels merely by his word ... he feared no one ... he was not intimidated ... nothing was beyond his power ... he performed wonders and marvelous deeds.  And think of ourselves as Church, having received a double portion of the Spirit of, not just a prophet, but of the Christ.  Look at and remember those who have embraced his glory and are shining witnesses over the centuries.  And look at ourselves now - all too often afraid or timid or uncertain or shy and much too inconsequential in the world in which we live.  We must embrace the gift of God's Holy Spirit and live a life worth living.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A difficult day

     Today was a difficult day.  This morning I presided over the funeral Mass for Matthew Kellermann, an 18 year old recent high school graduate who was tragically killed in a car accident last Friday afternoon on a local highway.  It occurred during a rainstorm when he hydroplaned on wet roads and struck other vehicles before losing his own life.  His Mom and Dad are beyond consolation, as are his two younger brothers.

     Many family and friends including many classmates and others from his school, gathered in shock and sorrow to mourn their loss and to grieve together.  What do you say?  To the parents?  To the adults present? And to the kids?

     You often hear people say that this was his appointed time, that God called Matt or took Matt from us.  I pointed out that the God that I know did not arbitrarily say on that Friday afternoon that Matthew Kellermann would be snatched out of our lives.  I pointed out that when the stream of events and circumstances converged on that stretch of Route 30 and Matthew died, that it was then that the promise of our loving Savior, given in baptism, took on reality, and that the Lord was there in Matt's greatest moment of need, to see him home, to walk him to the Father, to hug him, support him, love him and bring him peace.  I pointed out that it was at that moment when our relationship with God in Jesus Christ also took on a new dimension - that in those moments of shock and grief, helplessness and pain, that Jesus carries us.  We can lean on him and trust him to see us through these dark days.

     I also reminded those present that there is the story of another Friday afternoon, around the same time (3 in the afternoon), during a frightful storm, when another young man, just shy of twice Matthew's age, met a tragic end and died on a cross in a senseless act of darkness.  He left a mother who was wracked by grief, friends who were devastated and robbed of his friendship and their future and hope, of bystanders who did not understand the reason for this death and the direction that the world was taking.  That dark Friday we now call "good", not because death is good, but because something good came from that death, a peace and understanding beyond measure transformed hearts and minds, darkness eventually gave way to light and hope, and the world has never been the same.   This past Friday afternoon was not the end of the world, but an opportunity for us to deepen our faith and trust in a loving God, of dealing with the pain of loss and of realizing the continued presence of Matt in our lives.

     Please pray for Matt ... pray for his Mom and Dad, his younger brothers and his family ... his friends who are young and are not ready to deal with life and death issues ... and pray for the others involved in the accident this past Friday.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Disproving a myth

     There is an old saying that lightning does not strike the same place twice.  Events last evening in our area seemed to say that this saying is not necessarily accurate.

     We had some strong storms go through the region early last evening and in the midst of one, lightning struck the house of one of our staff members at the parish, our Stewardship Minister, Julie.  She and her family were at a Girl Scout ceremony at the parish when they received a call from a neighbor that the house had been struck and there was a roof fire.  They rushed home to find a host of fire and emergency personnel at work on the house.  Thank God no one was hurt, and their dog, Critter, who was the only one at home at the time, was finally found frightened and hiding.  She made the TV news.  The fire damage is minimal, but there was lots of water and smoke damage to the house, all of which can be repaired.  Julie and her family are grateful, to God and friends and neighbors and family, and so are we at the office for the safety of all.

     Now to the point.  While they have lived in this house for only about a year, they were told yesterday that this house was struck before by lightning a few years ago.  Some places have all the luck!  And so much for the old saying that lightning does not strike the same place twice.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

An Evening For Nancy

     I mentioned back in February the tragic story of a friend of mine, Nancy Heinbaugh of Connellsville, who in January had an encounter with a snow plow truck while on her way to work in the early hours of the morning.  It did not look like Nancy would survive the accident.  Nancy and her husband George were parishioners of mine when I was at Saint John the Evangelist Parish in Connellsville, and in fact I had the honor to witness their marriage.  Nancy continues her very slow recovery process but the miracles, first of recovery at all and now of cognitive recognition and response despite the limitations placed upon her by a traumatized body, are wonderful.  She, George and their children have a group of family, friends, co-workers, parishioners, townsfolk and generous souls who are keeping her in prayer and continued support.  I ask you to join them in lifting Nancy in daily prayer.

    This past Saturday this great group of people hosted a fund raiser and supportive gathering entitled "An Evening For Nancy".  It was held at Geibel Catholic High School in Connellsville where Nancy as well as her son and daughter attended.  The three parishes of the town came together, along with countless others, for a great evening of food, support and fellowship.  Doors opened at 4, a spaghetti dinner was served from 5 to 7 pm, entertainment followed, a video was shown, basket auctions and 50/50 were held, and the evening was a sell out, with 500 tickets sold and many more coming to the door.  My sister, Janie was visiting me, and we went and shared some time with old and new friends.  Father Bob Lubic is the pastor of the Connellsville parishes and has been a great supporter of Nancy's family - and of this endeavor. To all involved - GREAT JOB!  To all who attended and supported the cause - THANK YOU!  And to Nancy and George - BE STRONG, WE LOVE YOU! 

PENTECOST Reflection

     I cannot allow Pentecost to slip by without a thought.  I shared with our people that "fear" and "peace" are the operative words on the great feast of the Holy Spirit.

     From the first moments of our interaction with each other as a human race we have lived in fear.  Our fear is of the unknown, of tomorrow, a fear of thunder and lightning and the elements, a fear of being left behind, or of being ignored, or even fear of fear itself.  Our fears come from our arrogance and conceit, our selfishness and self centeredness, our shortsightedness and sinfulness.  Even the Apostles with Mary and those in the upper room on that Pentecost morning had the doors locked for fear of the authorities and the uncertainty of what the promise would mean for them.  I grew up in the era of the "cold war" and our fear was of a nuclear threat, of the atomic bomb, and of Russia.  Today we fear terrorism in light of 911 and the Taliban and the Russian State (some things never change).  We fear our government and each other.

     But the message of Pentecost reminds us that the very first words spoken by Jesus to his friends after the Resurrection were "Peace be with you".  He says it again and again - "Peace be with you".  He sends the Spirit of peace in the Paraclete, who dispels all fear and replaces it with that confident assurance and trust in the certainty of love that is the gift of the Spirit.  It is what allowed those in the upper room to unlock the doors and to boldly go out to proclaim the Good News to thousands that day and to countless peoples throughout these 2000+ years.

     Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful.  Enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.  Come Holy Spirit, come!


For the second year running we chose to celebrate the extended Pentecost Vigil here at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.  It was wonderful.  The opportunity to do so is given in the new Roman Missal, and involves the additional beautiful readings from the Hebrew Scriptures that in former days were options for the first reading - the story of Babel in Genesis, Deuteronomy, Ezekiel 37 and Joel.  If you have never experienced it, ask your pastor to consider it for the vigil next Pentecost. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day plus 70

     Today marks 70 years since the beginning of the D-Day invasion in Normandy.   It marks one of so many instances of the great sacrifice made by so many against forces of darkness and evil by "the greatest generation".   One of those individuals was my dad, William Vincent Stoviak of the 116th Infantry of the 29th Division, wounded in that D-Day experience.

     In the local Uniontown newspaper of the time, in a " 'Round Town ..." article by Espey Sherrard, the following was published.

     "Although we are sitting securely on the homefront while the men from our community are in combat areas fighting to the last straw, we are usually the first to hear of a great deal which occurs over there.
     The soldiers who are doing the fighting know very little what is going on in the theaters of operations unless they hear it from radio or see it in a newspaper.  However, this type of information is usually "dated" when the men at the fronts receive it and we here at home are way ahead in knowing just what is happening in the cities of Europe and the jungles of the South Pacific.
     This was proved by a clipping received by Frances Lenard (my future Mom) from Private First Class William Stoviak, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Stoviak of Uniontown, R.D. No. 3 (my future Dad).
     The local private first class is now in a station hospital in England and it was from there that the information clipping was sent to Miss Lenard.
     The article was taken from the "News From Home" section of a G.I. publication and is as follows:

     ' The folks at home got further word of what's been doing in France when the War Department in Washington disclosed the citation of the 16th Infantry of the last division and of the 116th Infantry of the 29th Division for "extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of duty in action in Normandy on D-Day".  The citation was made by Lieutenant General Omar M. Bradley, commander of the United States forces in France.
     The two infantry regiments were described as having defied point-blank German fire from concrete pill boxes and machine gun snipers' nests in order to establish the beachhead.  The 16th Infantry lost about a third of its assault strength, it was said, and the 116th had more than 800 casualties.  The First and the 29th Divisions, according to the War Department, were assigned to storm the beach just east of the Carentan area, in which an entire German Division happened to be holding maneuvers.
     That is the clipping and a partial explanation of what Pfc. Stoviak meant when he wrote to Frances saying that she probably knew more about what was going on than he did, even though he was in the thick of it.
     Five days may seem long to some people but days or even weeks and months are easily miscounted while fighting.  To soldier Stoviak five days seemed long while he was fighting, but after it was all over it seemed more like five minutes.
     The local man had served in France for five days fighting the Germans back as were the rest of his regiment.  He was one of the 800 to be listed as casualties on that fifth day and was sent to a base hospital in England.
     Having been released from the hospital, partially recuperated from his wounds, Pfc. Stoviak is now attending an R.P.T.I. school at the hospital where he was taken as a casualty.  He will take a five week course and then is hoping to be assigned to physical training work with other casualties.
     In the first draft, Pfc. Stoviak was inducted into the service on February 20, 1941 and sent to Fort George Meade for basic training.  Following this he served in various camps throughout the nation, mostly in the south, before being shipped to England where he landed September 29, 1942.
     Other letters from the local man have given indications of what it was like to be in the first blow during the invasion days.  He writes that the work that he is doing is most interesting and he feels that he is going to be kept busy in the days to come."

     I am grateful to Mr. Sherrard for sharing this news about my future dad with the people of the Uniontown area many years ago.  I am grateful to my future mom for loving Bill Stoviak and praying for his safe return (and then marrying him when he got home).  I am most grateful for the heroism and courage, for the total sacrifice of my future dad and the countless soldiers who stormed those beaches on D-Day 70 years ago, and the untold others who fought in that war in defense of values that we still hold sacred.  On this anniversary of D-Day, we as a nation salute these brave soldiers who fought, were wounded and who died in this great cause.  And, selfishly, I thank God for sparing my dad and bringing him home.

Monday, June 2, 2014

What do we do now?

     The closest followers of Jesus had reluctantly just said their goodbye's as he was taken up into heaven before their eyes and they mulled over his promise to send an Advocate, the Paraclete, his Spirit.  They recalled that he told them to go and wait in anticipation for this gift.  They were not sure what was going to happen, or even when, but they placed their trust and hope in his promise.  But in the intervening time ... what do we do?

     They found their answer in the example of their teacher and Lord - they gathered in the comfort and strength of family, their community of believers, their friends and companions ... and they devoted themselves to prayer.  It was not the time to teach or be taught, to feed or to heal, to go out or to minister.  Now was the time to wait and to pray.  And that prayer was one of gratitude and expectant faith, of trust and of hope.

     In these days between the Ascension of our Lord and the great Feast of Pentecost, this is what we should be about.  What do we do now?  We pray as family, we live in hope, and we await an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us.  Come Holy Spirit.