Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A time away

     I will be leaving on Wednesday morning early for a few days away, some with parishioners, some with friends and some simply with my nook.  When I return, I will fill you in on this part of the journey.

The gift of family

     Family is a very important gift that most of us have been entrusted with.  We are aware, though, that this is not always the case, and that families can all too easily be dysfunctional.  But I have been blessed with a family, immediate and extended, that is warm, loving, and a blessing.  I mentioned the grandparents the other day.  I have spoken of Mom and Dad on numerous occasions, And my sister and best friend, Janie, and Sammy the pup, are a true blessing.  My aunts and uncles have all gone home to heaven, but we are enriched with countless cousins and their children and grandchildren (one cousin's daughter, Jenifer from Costa Rica celebrates her birthday today and another cousin's grandson, Ben, from Ohio, is dealing with an unknown illness - face book keeps you on top of things).  Last summer the Stoviak cousins and families gather near Cleveland for a reunion that was a lot of fun and many of the Lenard cousins keep in touch regularly.  All of this is a blessing.

     Through our baptism we are integrated into the Family of God and come to share relationships and bonds that bind us to each other.  In my ministry I have encountered people that touched my life and even if the years intervene, are still a part of my being.  After all of these various assignments I still run into people who remember me or whom I have memories of and the joy of remembering comes into play.  To see how their lives have developed and how they have grown is remarkable.  This Saturday the son of two good friends of mine, Donna and George Parish from Masontown, will be married.  I first met their son, George, when I arrived in Masontown and he was in Kindergarten at All Saints, where his mother taught.  Young George is now in his thirties and an engineer, and marrying a fine young woman whom I look forward to meeting. 

     Tonight a group of us from the former Saint Francis Seminary along with another priest from Pittsburgh gathered at the rectory of Father Dennis Colamarino in Duquesne to share a meal, to catch up with each other, and to tell stories.  We had great fun.  It was good to be family again, even though of the eight of us, four are dealing with health issues - the class of '73 is aging fast.

     Today the Church also acknowledges the gift of family in the feast of Saint Martha, who along with her sister, Mary and brother Lazarus, were close friends of Jesus.  Their story of family and extended family, of love, acceptance and hospitality, is recorded in the Scriptures.  We can find strength and inspiration in them and blessing and grace in our family ties with Jesus and his family.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Grandparents Day

     Hallmark and our nation celebrates a "Grandparents Day" on the first Sunday following Labor Day (this year on September 7th).  Established as a national holiday by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, the effort was spearheaded by a woman from West Virginia named Marian McQuade to recognize the gift and the contribution of grandparents in our society.

     The Church has been celebrating a grandparents day for lot longer period of time and she does so on this date, July 26th, the Feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, whom we know from long standing tradition to be the parents of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and thus the grandparents of the Christ child.  They become for us the model and patrons of men and women who share the role and the task of grandparenting.  Very little is known of these two, except that their daughter, Mary, was acknowledged to be "full of grace" and chosen to be an instrument in the plan of God for humanity.  Their contribution to the upbringing of their grandchild was important, whether they were actively involved in his life or whether their contribution came through their blessed daughter.  They contributed to his human nature.  They give importance to the role of grandparents and are models of grandparents everywhere.

     My maternal and paternal grandparents died before I grew up and had a chance to benefit in their loving presence.  My memories of them are precious and dear.  Their love for me and all of their grandchildren is undeniable and palpable.  They were loving and nurturing people, hard working and faith filled.

     During my assignment in Scottdale as pastor, we would, in May while school was still in session, celebrate the school May Crowning on a day known as Grandparents Day.  It was always the largest and best celebration that the school hosted each year.  The grandparents came out in droves and the kids delighted in showing them around ... and showing them off.  The day brings back great memories.  To all who share the gift of grandparenthood - Happy Grandparents Day on this Feast of Joachim and Anne.

Friday, July 25, 2014


     Today is the feast of Saint James (the greater), who along with his younger brother John were apostles of the Lord.  They answered the call of Jesus and left their nets and family and followed him.  They were privileged to bear witness to most of the moments of grace that flowed from the hands of the Christ, including the transfiguration.  A tradition says that he traveled to the region of Spain preaching the message of Christ before returning to Jerusalem.  It was there that in 44 Herod order his beheading, thus giving him the distinction of being the first from among the twelve to give his life.  According to legend his body was taken by his disciples by boat, drifting across the sea to Spain, where he was buried.  His remains were later discovered and a great cathedral in Campostela was built in his honor and bearing his name (in Spanish) Saint Iago or Santiago.  This place of honor became one of the greatest destinations of pilgrims from throughout Europe even to this day, with "The Way" describing the long journey that countless people have made throughout the centuries to pray at his relics.  If you ever get the chance to see a movie made a few years back called "The Way" with Martin Sheen, please check it out.  It describes such a journey and is an uplifting film.

     In the gospel account today we hear both James and John assure Jesus that they could drink of the chalice that he would drink of.  That chalice is one of suffering and death, of emptying themselves for the sake of the Gospel.  In different ways, these brothers did just that, and are recognized as friends of Jesus and foundation stones of His church.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Missing the boat

     In the passage from Matthew's Gospel today Jesus tells his friends some harsh things.  He says that there were (and still are) a growing number of people who have missed the boat.  They are so caught up in themselves and the world around them that they have fallen into the trap of seeing themselves as equal to God if not gods themselves.  "They look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand", thus Jesus speaks to them in parables, because their hearts and minds are closed to the truth and God's ways are beyond their acceptance.  He simplifies the message to filter out the static and noise of temptation and sin.

     Jesus quotes Isaiah the prophet when he speaks of another people of another time who "missed the boat".  Isaiah says of that people that they hear but do not understand ... they look but never see ... they have a gross heart ... somewhat but unlike the old image of the three monkeys that see, hear and speak no evil, these people choose to see, hear and speak no good because they have chosen death, although they may not know it as yet.

     But Jesus tells his disciples, and us, that we are blessed because we see and hear and understand that which many over the course of time have longed for and had not had the opportunity to embrace - the promise of God to humanity, the gift of life found in his Son, Jesus, and the invitation to be one with him.  Thank God that we have not missed the boat, and pray God that more who have will realize that the boat is pulling into shore to take on those who are beginning to see and hear and understand - for all are called to life in Christ.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A gentle push - thank you

     I received a call today from a friend who inquired about my health and well being.   This friend thought that I may not have been feeling well, or that I was tired or depressed over something, and wanted to know if I was okay.  This friend was sincere, and I am very grateful for their concern.  The reason for the call today was because I have not posted for quite some time.  I have had others from the parish tell me that they miss my posts.  I accept this as a "gentle push" to get back on track and continue the ministry and pleasure that I receive from this blog.  No excuses, except for the lazy days of summer and general laziness.  I have great experiences and ideas that come to me that I think on, but I haven't been faithful in sitting down and typing them out.  Sorry!

     On Monday of this week we heard from the prophet Micah a lament in a series of questions in regard to what it is that the Lord wants of us, what must we do to appease God and gain his favor, how should we live our lives.  What to do?  What will make the Lord happy?

     And then the prophet says: "You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you:  Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God."

     How simple is that - DO RIGHT *** LOVE GOODNESS *** WALK HUMBLY WITH GOD!  Clear, precise and to the point.  And most importantly, entirely possible for even the most needy of us mortals.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A good image

     I still find myself delighting in a phrase or an image provided by the "new" translations of the Roman Missal, even after these years.  This morning the Church celebrated Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Collect prayer seeks the intercession of the Blessed Virgin so that "...fortified by her protection, we may reach the mountain which is Christ."   I like the image of Christ being described as the mountain.

     We find in the scriptures, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures, the image of the mountain.  This is the place where God resides and where he can be found.  God's People are called to go to the mountain and be provided for, to come to the mountain and be taught, to see the awesomeness of God in the mystery of the mountaintop experience.  To describe Jesus as the mountain is altogether fitting, for in and through him we come to know, to experience and to celebrate the Creator God.  In Matthew 11:27 Jesus says that no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.  It is the mission of Christ Jesus to make the Father known to us, to introduce us to him and embrace us with his love.  Thus he is our mountaintop experience.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Our gift to creation

     There is a great line in the Letter to the Romans of today's liturgy (Rom. 8:19) that says "...creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God ...".  We look at the awesomeness of creation with its power and beauty, with its capacity to overwhelm and inspire, and whether you approach creation from the perspective of creationism or evolution or a more sensible blending of the two, from a theological or scientific approach, the reality is mind boggling.  As people of faith who place God at the heart of that creation, it seems so far beyond us that creation itself would eagerly await anything that we possess.

     So for the author of Romans to say that creation awaits a revelation that comes from us, who are a part of that very same creation, is hard to comprehend.  And yet that is what the scriptures remind us.  What is this revelation that creation waits upon?  It is the introduction of the author of all things, the relationship that we have experienced with the living and life giving Word of God, the true place of a creator God within the framework of all that is.  And it is something that only we can bring to this creation. It is more than just a word, or a concept, or a belief or idea.  It is the transforming power of the Word of God in our lives that will allow us to become the stewards of creation which was the first "job" that we were entrusted with.  In Christ we becomes stewards.  In Christ we become builders of a new world.  In Christ we are the source of God's life giving and creative love transforming not only ourselves but the world in which we live. 

     The world today, both humanity and creation itself, is treatened and stands in peril.  The reason is simple - too many of us have not become that fertile soil that allows the Word of God to take root and produce a yield of a hundred or sixty or thirty fold.  We become too distracted, too shallow, too beset with the world to let the Word come down, transform and bring life before returning to the Father.  Now is the time, though, to change.  That is the reminder of the word that we hear today and the challenge to act upon that word.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Saint Benedict of Nursia

     Today, July 11th, in the Universal Calendar of the Church, is the feast of Saint Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Western Monasticism and of the Religious Community that bears his name as well as his charism.  Benedict lived from 480 to either 543 or 547 in Italy. Well educated and called to holiness by God, he at an early age lived as a hermit, yet attracted the attention of others who recognized the gift of his life and who sought his guidance and example in forming small communities of praying and working together.  In his life he eventually became a leader and teacher of his followers in the dynamic of communal living, and his "rule" became the standard for those seeking a religious life in a monastic setting.  His greatest community was the establishment of the great monastery at Monte Cassino, which, incidentally was destroyed and then rebuilt during World War II.  In addition to being recognized as the founder of Western Monasticism, he was declared Patron and Protector of Europe by Pope Paul VI in 1964 and co-patron of Europe by Pope John Paul II (along with the brothers Saints Cyril & Methodius).  The Benedictine Order was one of the primary sources of the saving of knowledge, culture, community and faith during the Dark Ages, through her libraries and educational ministries.  The spirit of hospitality that Benedict insisted upon, and the motto of "Ora et Labora" - "Pray and Work" which guided the Rule of Saint Benedict has served the Church well for thousands of years.

     I personally have been blessed in my years with a number of relationships with Benedictine Communities in our area.  I have spoken often of having my formative high school years placed within the capable hands of the Benedictine Monks of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, from 1961 through 1965, and the subsequent friendships and working relationships that have developed over these many years of priesthood in this Diocese which, by the way, is truly blessed in having this Archabbey within our midst.  The history of Saint Vincent, from 1790 when it was established as a parish to 1846 when the Benedictines arrived under the leadership of Boniface Wimmer who established a monastery, prep school, college and seminary, until the present day is remarkable.  Saint Vincent has 160 monks and is one of the largest Benedictine monasteries in the world.  Check out their history at www.saintvincentarchabbey.org.  I am personally very grateful to Archabbot Douglas Nowicki and the monks of Saint Vincent for their friendship and loyalty to the Church in Western Pennsylvania and around the globe.

     My life has also been touched by the Benedictine Sisters of Saint Emma Monastery and Retreat House north of the city of Greensburg.  These dedicated Sisters arrived from Germany in 1931 to serve as cooks at Saint Vincent's and since 1943 have provided a monastery for their Sisters and run a retreat house on their grounds.  Check them out at www.stemma.org.  Mother Mary Ann Noll has been the Prioress for over twenty years.

     And finally, in my time as pastor in Scottdale I had the honor of working with the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh - www.osbpgh.org.  They served in both the parish and the school at Saint John the Baptist until last year.  Their numbers are not what they once were, but their dedication and enthusiasm for the work of the Lord has not diminished.  They have just elected a new superior (probably the wrong term) to lead them, Sister Karen Brink, who at one time served in Scottdale.  Under the leadership of Sister Benita DeMatteis they relocated and built a new, functional monastery in the Pittsburgh area that just opened its doors in 2013.  They are a good group.

     So, the Church and this author has much to be grateful for on this feast of Saint Benedict in the men and women who live his charism and honor his spirit.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Religious Freedom

     I just finished watching the 1986 film "The Mission" about the experiences of a Jesuit missionary in the 18th century in South America.  It is a powerful, disturbing and yet beautiful movie about Faith and religious freedom framed within the midst of a very brutal and political world.  The story is rooted in historical facts and yet has been fictionalized for the sake of the story.  I have seen "The Mission" before and am always moved by the movie, especially the final scene where Jesuit Father Gabriel and mostly women and children converts (the men are out fighting) are gunned down by the invading soldiers while processing with the Blessed Sacrament.

     The story is of Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) who goes to great lengths to build a mission to convert a very hostile native community called the Guarani.  Father Gabriel wins them over with his bravery and his gentle faith, but also with his music, and transforms this community into a settlement that is primitive but inspirational.  But there was a reapportionment of lands in a treaty between Spain and Portugal and a fear of the Jesuits that led to politics and the slave trade taking control of the situation.  The story is involved, but worth the watch.

    The cast is top notch, with, in addition to Jeremy Irons, Robert DeNiro, Aiden Quinn and Liam Neeson.  Father Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit known to an older segment of us from his radical days, plays a minor part.  The haunting music was written by Ennio Morricone.  If you are ever in the mood for a good movie, a powerful story of Faith and the true challenges that the People of God have faced in regard to religious liberty in times past, "The Mission" is a good bet.  We talk a great deal about religious freedom in our day - there is no greater religious freedom than that given by the Lord to people of faith.  Our desire for the basic rights guaranteeing freedom by governments and society today, while necessary to express and hope for, will undoubtedly have us disappointed.  Our true freedom is found in the heart of God's love for us and our willingness to allow that freedom to dwell within us. All other freedoms flow from that point.  Governments and societies forget God.  We cannot. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

I got my call yesterday

     When speaking to a priest who tells you that he "got his call", especially at this time of the year, the first thing that comes to mind is "the call" from the bishop regarding a transfer or another job.  I received my "call" yesterday, July 1st - but not from the bishop or the main office, but from a good friend and brother, Mike Ripple.  Nearly every year for over twenty years I receive a call from Mike to celebrate the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.  This great battle of the Civil War took place from July 1 - 3 in 1863 in the sleepy hamlet of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, one of my favorite places.  It was on that first day that an advance scouting group of the Union troops observed the advance of the Confederate troops coming from Chambersburg through Cashtown from the West into Gettysburg.  They were spotted on the ridges West of town and scrimmages took place before the battle commenced.  Herr's Ridge (a great Inn is located there on Route 30) and Seminary Ridge (where the Lutheran Seminary is still located) and the entire area West and North of town became the scene of a battle that would proceed and change the course of the war.  Buford plays a prominent role in getting the word out to the Northern troops as he observed troop movements from the cupola of the seminary building.  Today and tomorrow (July 2 & 3) marked decisive battles, before the South was led South again in the rain and heat of July 4th, one hundred and fifty one years ago.

     I thank Mike for his call yesterday, and for reintroducing me to the beauty and history of Gettysburg which is a short three and a half hour drive East on Route 30 from where I now live.  It has been awhile since I visited, but if you are ever in that area, by all means, stop and visit.  It will be worth your while.  Don't do the touristy thing, but get a guide and delve into Pennsylvania and United States history.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The California Missions

     Today in the United States is the optional Memorial of Blessed Junipero Serra, founder of the Spanish Missions of California.  One of the great pleasures of my sabbatical in California way back in 1996 and in subsequent visits was to visit a number of those Missions - 21 in all, establish by Father Serra and his followers along the El Camino Real (the Royal Road) from San Diego through to the Russian River in the North.  Declared a Blessed by the Church, he is recognized for his leadership, his organizational skills but most especially his holiness and zeal.  I have been blessed to have visited some of these Mission Churches over the years - San Diego, San Luis Rey, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Barbara (one of the most beautiful mission locations and churches), Santa Inez in Solvang, San Luis Obispo, and San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel (the burial place of Father Serra).  I have included a few pictures that I took from my trip to Carmel plus one that I borrowed.

     Father Serra's statue can be found in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol as one of the representatives from the State of California.  Father Serra has been criticized by some in more recent times for his treatment of the native population, having them westernized and serve as farmers and tenants.  The criticism is unfair since it is unfair to judge the 1700's by our sensibilities and understanding today.  The simple fact is that Father Serra brought an insight and a gift that was rooted in experiencing Christ.  I look forward to his someday being raised to the Altar as a Saint.