Saturday, August 30, 2014

That moment of doubt

     Disillusionment runs rampant in our world today.  In the world of politics, in the world of technology, in the world of entertainment, in every aspect of society we are given promises that tell us that the future is ours, and more importantly, that the day is ours, and that we should seize the day, seize the moment.  We live in the "best" of times, and nothing can or will overcome us.  And yet we struggle, we are in pain, we are alone and depressed, we are at wits end.  The promises are hollow.  The future is bleak. The strengths of society are weakened to a drastic point.  I could go into loads of examples, but I won't.

     Our faith is also based upon a promise - a promise of joy and happiness, of life and blessing.  It is a promise that hinges on a relationship with the Son of God who is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Our happiness is to be unending, our life is to be eternal, our joy is to be complete.  And yet, we suffer, we struggle, we experience discouragement in our daily lives.  There may even be moments when we complain that this is not what we signed up for, this is not what we expected.  As Jeremiah in this weekend's liturgy says, we were "duped".  If we live and proclaim the truth of the gospel then we should have an impact, we should make a difference and be respected - for everyone wants the truth.  And yet, in proclaiming the truth we are often put upon and negated.  On Friday we celebrated John the Baptist who lost his head trying to do the right thing, God's work.  What did he do wrong?  On Wednesday we remembered a good woman of faith who spent thirty-two years praying for her son, Augustine, and her husband to see the light, and every day being disappointed by their blindness.  Did Monica question her persistence in prayer and her reliance upon the promise of her God year after year?   Many of us live our lives to the best of our ability, trusting in God, and find ourselves suddenly caught up with cancer or heart problems or a devastating accident or another illness.  Where is that promise of God?

     We must remember that while we live in the here and now we are children of a kingdom greater than what this earth or its powers have to offer.  We count the blessings in this moment, but we find our ultimate joy in a future existence.  We come to understand that the way to that eternal life is not an easy way, a piece of cake, a beautiful rose garden ... rather it is through the cross, it is through death that we arrive at resurrection.  It was necessary for Jesus to go this route out of love for us, and it is necessary for us to take up our cross and follow him.  Only in that action can we truly understand and appreciate the depth of the promise and what eternal happiness and joy really is.  He has shown us the way, he walks with us on our journey and he rejoices with us in the blessing of this moment, he comforts us in the dark moments of struggle and doubt, and he will rejoice for all eternity with us in the joy of heaven.  Just like the prophet who felt duped, we recognize as well that our hearts burn within us as we contemplate his word and we are compelled to live the gospel and proclaim his name.

     This weekend is a good moment to reflect upon our moments of doubt and the conquering reality of faith.  Have a safe Labor Day weekend.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A loving mother

     There was a woman of faith named Monica who lived from 332 to 387 in the town of Tagaste in Northern Africa.  She had married a strong and somewhat good man who was a pagan.  He was tolerant of her religion, but lived the lifestyle of laxed morality and powerful arrogance, with at least two of the three dimensions that we so often hear of in those kind of self absorbed men - wine and women (I'm not sure about the "song").   In 354 they had a son named Augustine.  Despite mom's desires for her son, dad won out and provided the best secular education for him, every opportunity for physical growth and life experience, and encouraged him to follow in his footsteps.  Augustine did just that, living a wild life of reckless abandon, fathering a child out of wedlock, and establishing himself as a "wild thing". 

     All the while, Monica continued to pray for him and love him unceaselessly, as she did for her husband.  For thirty-two years she prayed for Augustine and agonized over him.  She used every opportunity to instill Christian values and a knowledge of Christ, with seemingly little success.  In a moment of grace Augustine, while in Milan, overheard Ambrose, the bishop, preach about Christ.  His interest was aroused and he and Ambrose (saint) began a dialogue that led to Augustine embracing the faith, converting from his former ways, repenting and being baptized.  He went on to become a priest and bishop (in 395) in Hippo in Northern Africa, where he served for thirty-five years.  He wrote his "Confessions", became a great champion of the faith, a Doctor and teacher of the Church, and a source of pride for his mom and dad (who had also converted to the faith).  Augustine's feast is tomorrow (August 28th).  Monica's faith, persistence and motherly love is celebrated today.  I'm glad that she did not give up on her son and her husband.  I know many mothers who agonize over their children and the direction of their lives.  Monica is a model for them of "a loving mother".

Monday, August 25, 2014

The warmth of ice water

     This past Saturday in a neighboring town (Duquesne, PA) in a neighboring diocese (Pittsburgh) a great event took place.  Bishop David Zubik of the Pittsburgh Diocese came to Christ the Light of the World parish to support one of his priests and to join with the people of the parish and of the town in promoting a great cause.  The pastor there is Father Dennis Colamarino, a seminary classmate of mine who has served in Duquesne for 31 of his 41 years of priesthood.  Father Dennis, a vibrant priest and a true "character", was diagnosed about 15 months ago with ALS.  He is determined to continue as pastor and minister to these good people as long as God gives him ... and for that and for a multitude of other reasons, the people of the parish love him.

     The bishop came to celebrate a Mass with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick administered to Father Dennis.  The Church was packed for the 11:00 am Mass with nearly 800 people, as reported by the news media.  Following the Mass, Father Dennis and the bishop proceeded across the street for what has become a most popular and successful fund raising effort this year for ALS - the ice bucket challenge. Accepting the challenge of another, you have a bucket of ice water poured over your head and in turn make a donation to ALS research.  The Duquesne parish has a team - Team Father Dennis - for an upcoming ALS walk in Pittsburgh on September 6th.  They had set a goal of $10,000 in pledges in honor of Father Dennis, and as of this morning were approaching $39,000 pledged or gifted.

     Bishop Zubik accepted the challenge, and seated opposite Father Dennis, had a bucket of ice water poured over his head with courage and enthusiasm before watching Father Dennis do the same.  The crowds cheered in appreciation and their respect for both men grew by leaps and bounds.  Not only parishioners attended, but I saw fire fighters and police and news media (all three local tv channels covered the event) in the pictures.  It was a great day and Dennis was deeply moved by the love and support of so many.

     I just dropped him a note to say that I donated to ALS research in his honor through the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City which uses adult stem cells for research rather than embryonic stem cells, which we, with our pro-life concerns, have a difficulty with.  They will designate any contribution so designated  for use in ALS research only.  If you would like to support ALS research, please do so through the ALS Association or through the JP II Medical Institute (540 East Jefferson Street, Suite 202, Iowa City, IA 52245).  I have included a few pictures from the parish (CLW) web page of the event.  These two pastors have warmed many hearts with their love and support, despite the cold water.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sunday Celebrations

     Some Sundays are fuller than others.  This past Sunday was a full one.

     I led the good people of this parish in their Sunday worship at both the 8:30 & 11:00 Masses.  Both morning Masses were great - we do have a wonderful parish who worships well.  We were visited by three Religious Sisters who minister at Saint Anne Home in
Greensburg, a residence for the aged or ill that does great work.  The Sisters were here to offer our people an opportunity to purchase their yearly Calendar Tickets which help to support the cause ... and our people each year respond well to this effort, this year was no exception.

     Following the two Masses I welcomed into the Church three little ones whose parents and families brought them for the Sacrament of Baptism.  In that celebration I baptized Mila Gabrielle Sturm, Noah John Bauer and Finn Patrick McLaughlin.  I think Finn's family must be Irish!  Many family and friends attended, and it was great.   I realy enjkoyed those names.

     Following the Baptism I joined a great crowd in our social hall for our annual parish picnic.  Years ago when we were plagued by rain for a few years they moved to the hall, which has a great kitchen, is already set up and most importantly is air conditioned.  An elaborate covered dish spread is supplemented by hot dogs and burgers and corn on the cob.   The highlight for me was the fourth annual "Pie Tasting Contest" where submitted entries (seven this year) are judged by a panel of five (of course I always volunteer for this difficult task).  The winner is awarded an embroidered apron and has their name listed on a placque that hangs in the kitchen.  This year's winning pie was a triple chocolate cream pie - oreo crust, chocolate cream filling, whipped cream with chocolate shaving on top ... definitely not too shabby.  Games were played, gifts and door prizes given out, and kid's games were held outside.  A great day was had by all, and by the end of it, this guy was exhausted ... and full.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

It gets harder and harder

     When Jesus told his followers in the passage from Matthew's Gospel that we hear in the Scriptures for today that " is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God", the disciples were greatly astonished and said "Then who can be saved?"  If the words of Jesus continue to hold true, then our astonishment must be even greater and our question of "Who can be saved?' becomes even more problematic.  For the world in which we live glorifies wealth and power and prestige and importance, and to keep ones equilibrium is extremely difficult.  Today's reading from the prophet Ezekiel also reminds the people of God that when they see themselves as the center of life, as having all that there is to have in order to be happy and successful and important, they make themselves out to be gods.  And when that happens, when they lose focus and lose sight of the Lordship of God in their lives, dire things will take place.  The reason is simple - without Him, all is an illusion and all will fade.

     The key to the passages is not the danger of being rich in the things of this world, but rather in being rich in our understanding and acceptance of our rightful place in the order of things, of our acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives and thus placing ourselves within the loving embrace of the Father.  It is celebrating the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit  who guides us to live our lives worthily as children of God and coheirs to eternal life.  Riches or poverty in the things of this world matters very little unless it keeps us from the intimate love of our creator for us and our response to that love which gives guidance to our lives. 

     The truly astonishing thing is that God loves us despite ourselves, and has given us his Son as our Savior and Friend, to lead us home, to call us to repentance and conversion, and to love us "to life".  And yet, that is the reality of things in God's plan.  Thank you, Lord.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Glorious Evening

     Ordination ceremonies in this Diocese over the last number of years have not been what they once were, an almost yearly occasion.  Just this past Tuesday, though, our local Church called to Orders and ordained to the Order of the Diaconate three young men from our midst who are studying for the priesthood.  On a rainy evening at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg, Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt ordained as Deacons Eric J. Dinga, Anthony J. Klimko and James B. Morley in a beautiful ceremony of tradition and beauty.  I have come to know these men, and they are great guys whose love of God's People and the Church will serve them well.  Anthony Klimko is from my home parish of Saint Joseph in Uniontown, and God willing come Spring when he is ordained to the priesthood, will be the seventh man ordained from our small parish.

     The Diocesan Choir under the direction of Tom Octave did an outstanding job with the music, allowing our hearts to soar.  A great turnout of our priests, supplemented by visitors from the Pittsburgh and Erie Dioceses (many of these men attended college seminary at Saint Mark's in Erie), supported these men.  Their family and friends, and countless others who joined them at the Cathedral, joined in praying for and giving acclamation to this step along their journey.  Our Diocesan Church rejoices in this moment of grace and in the commitment of Eric, Anthony and James. Continue to pray for them. 


     As I was sitting down to write this post, I was so please to see a posting from Rocco Palmo in "Whispers from the Loggia".  It has been a few weeks as he was taking a summer break, but I for one missed his blog.  Welcome back, Rocco. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014


     Yesterday the Borough of Irwin celebrated its 150th Anniversary of Incorporation as a borough in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  This anniversary celebration has included activities throughout the week which culminated on Saturday, August 9th with a parade, downtown activities and a great fireworks display.  The following is the description found on the Irwin web site about the town.

     "Incorporated in 1864, historic Irwin Borough is a one square mile town nestled in the foothills of the Laurel Mountains just 35 miles east of Pittsburgh.  Our thriving downtown offers businesses a chance to experience a small town flavor while in close proximity to Rt. 30 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  In contrast, our Route 30 frontage provides those businesses high traffic volume and easy access.  Our many activities, recreation facilities, and cultural events throughout the year provide an ideal atmosphere for over 4100 residents to live and work.  Norwin School District is consistently one of the top schools in the state, facilitated by a sense of community pride and spirit.  Stop by sometime to experience Irwin's unique charm, and find out why we invite you to
"find your place here".
     Irwin is a great little town, with lots of activities, some of which I have spoken of before (Jazz nights, concerts, shopping).  Our parish "in town" is Immaculate Conception Church which celebrated her 150th a few years ago, and our Regional Catholic School - Queen of Angels - is located within the Borough.  I offer my congratulations to the Borough of Irwin on this special occasion.
     On Friday the Church celebrated the Feast of Saint Dominic who was an outstanding preacher (he founded the Order of Preachers - the Dominicans).  I mention this here because this weekend at all three Masses we were visited by a priest of the Diocese of Daet in the Philippines to preach and make the appeal for support for his Diocese.  This is a part of the annual Mission Co-operative Appeal that each parish in our Diocese takes part in.  Our priest this weekend was Father Reuben Cammayo, and he did a fine job.  BUT, as I sat there listening to him, I realized once again how much I missed preaching.  I may not always do well, and there may be times when I wish I did not have to preach three homilies each weekend, but I realize that this is one of the joys of my priesthood.  In light of the example of Dominic, I missed preaching even more this weekend.
     I mentioned the other day that I attended the wedding of friends George and Sarah Parish in Carlisle last Saturday.  They left on Sunday for their long planed honeymoon - to Hawaii.  And this week, the island experienced an earthquake and the threat of two major storms (the first in 22 years).  George and Sarah sent some beautiful pictures home and then cut their trip short and came home mid week.  Oh well, the best laid plans.  But they are home safe and sound.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Sad news - great pride

     Just this evening it was announced that another of our Regional Catholic Elementary Schools will not open for the 2014-2015 school year - Saint John the Baptist Regional Catholic School in Scottdale.  The reasons are very clear and self explanatory - ever decreasing enrollment (despite drawing from a larger regional area that in years gone by supported five parish Catholic schools), the financial challenge of tuition rates that demand great sacrifices, and the challenging burden on the parishes involved (which will not lessen with the closure of the school, but be directed elsewhere to support Catholic education).   Hard work went into promotion and evaluating a program that has proven its worth, and every opportunity was afforded the parents and communities to keep the school alive.  Thus the sadness.  Saint John the Baptist Regional School has been in existence since 2007, but the original Saint John the Baptist School has been in existence continuously (except for a few years during the depression) since 1889 - and even included a high school program for a number of years.  125 years of Catholic School educational history has come to an end.  Again ... thus the sadness ... but also thus the PRIDE!

     When you stop to consider the overwhelming good that was accomplished by the dedication and sacrifice of the parish, the priests involved, particularly the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill who committed just shy of 100 years in service at the school, the Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh who took up the task, the dedicated and outstanding lay faculty and staff and friends and supporters and volunteers who provided a stellar program of education and development, and in more recent years the leadership of Dr. Joe Dreliszak who has lived the school for the majority of his academic career - the GIFT that Saint John the Baptist school is (both parish and regional) will continue to be remembered and more importantly lived in her alumni and their families.  What has been accomplished in an area that years ago was not always welcoming of the Catholic Faith, in a small rural community of immigrants, in a parish that struggled to make ends meet, is remarkable.  Our sadness gives way to pride, our loss reminds us of the challenge to the Faith in the future, and our hearts must include deep and abiding gratitude to the Sisters, the faculty and staff, and to all who supported this school for these 125 years. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Last week's final act

     The final event of last week for me involved attending the wedding ceremony for a friend and former parishioner from the former All Saints Church in Masontown, George Parish.  George's Mom and Dad are great friends, and I have known George at least since his kindergarten days at All Saints School, where his Mom taught.  George married a lovely young woman, Sarah Elizabeth Attick, from Carlisle, PA, where he now lives.  The wedding ceremony took place at Saint Patrick Church in Carlisle, with the pastor, Father William Forrey as celebrant assisted by the Reverend Dr. Karen Minnick-Sadler, the bride's aunt.  I was not certain that I could get coverage and be in attendance at the ceremony, so I only mentioned the possibility to George's Mom, Donna ... so it was a surprise to George when he showed up for the rehearsal.  I was glad that everything worked out and I was able to share in this very special moment in the lives of two great kids (sorry, young people).

     George attended All Saints and Geibel Catholic before attending WVU where he received his engineering degree in bridge building.  I, along with most who know him, are very proud of him and very happy for choosing a wise girl who said yes to him last Saturday.  I wish them well - and in a special way prayers since they are honeymooning in Hawaii this week where two major storms are approaching.  I've included a picture of the new Mr. and Mrs. George  Christopher and Sarah Elizabeth Attick Parish.

     I enjoyed meeting Father Forrey, the pastor of Saint Patrick Church.  He has been ordained nearly twenty-five years and is a young, very personable priest who puts everyone at ease and loves his ministry.  I wish him well.


     August 4th is the feast of Saint John Marie Vianney, commonly called the Cure of Ars.  He is known as the patron of parish priests.  His story is one of love and commitment, untiring service and fierce battles overcome by faith.  He was sent to the village of Ars in France as pastor because it was a spiritually dead town where he could do "no harm".  He was ordained  out of pity for his deep faith and genuine desire to serve the Lord.  His studies were poor, his qualifications hardly noteworthy, and he was not seen as fit to become a priest.  But thank God someone had "pity" on him and gave him the grace of Orders, for through his love of God and the flock, through his great gift of piety and ministry in the confessional, he woke Ars up to the love of God and brought it to a place of pilgrimage and spiritual conversion.  Eighteen hours a day in the confessional was normal, and he had the gift of reading the hearts of those who came to him.  I was so moved by his story that in high school I joined the local Secular Franciscans at the former Saint Anthony Friary in Uniontown and took the name "Jean Marie" in his honor.  As a parish priest for over forty one years I hold this man of God in my list of inspirations.


     On that feast of the parish priest of Ars in France, our Diocese laid to rest one of our retired men who was the oldest priest of the Diocese - Father Michael Bucci - who was 95.  Father Bucci had been retired for the past twenty years.  A late vocation to the priesthood, after ordination he only served in a few parishes with a stint in our minor seminary administration.  He served at Saint Rita of Casia parish in Connellsville as an assistant before returning as pastor years later.  It was from there that he retired, while continuing to live in the City of Connellsville until recent days.  Father Mike was my neighbor for the two and a half years that I served at Saint John the Evangelist.  Mike was not a shy and retiring type, but always spoke his mind.  He was a good priest, with a dedicated ministry to the sick,especially in his hospital ministry.  Two funny stories of Mike - there were three parishes within a five block area of West Connellsville.  We would often have people in need come to the door for help.  Mike was known to send them down the street to us with the tale that "the parishes took turns, and it was our turn this week".  The other story that always brought a smile to my face involved the generous spirit of the great italiam cooks at Saint Rita's.  I would support their events (festivals, dinners, etc) and they would always send me home with a "care package" of food.  Mike would often rant about why they were feeding the young Slovak priest.  Of course, they took great care of him, but he loved to "bark" - yet he had the kindest heart and was a very giving person.  May he rest in peace.


     Also in recent days we lost two others who served well in our Diocese: Sister Patricia Best of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill was buried yesterday at the Hill.  She taught the Communion classes at Saint John the Baptist school and parish in Scottdale when I was there as an Associate ... and Brother Nathan Cochrane of Saint Vincent Archabbey, who died suddenly at the age of fifty-seven and was buried last Saturday.  Brother Nathan enter Saint Vincent in 1982, and presently served as the director of the Art Gallery at the Archabbey and College.  Our prayers go out to the Benedictine Community as well as the Sisters of Charity. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Two days, two plays, four major meals

     Last Wednesday through Thursday our parish hosted a bus trip to Lancaster in the Eastern part of the Commonwealth.  Forty one of us (myself included) left the parish Wednesday morning at 7:00 and did what many groups in our area do on a regular basis, visit Sight and Sound Theater for their current biblical production, currently of "Moses".  But we did many other things besides attend the play.

     Once we arrived in Lancaster we visited the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum just outside of town for a great home cooked lunch at the 1856 Landis House Inn and a horse drawn wagon tour of the farm, the museum and with an explanation of the German Pennsylvania Mennonite and Amish traditions and customs.  We then journeyed to our hotel (our people like to do a two day trip so that it is less exhausting - it did not work), then attended the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre for a great buffet dinner and a production of the musical "Music Man".  After a good nights sleep and breakfast buffet, we departed for the Kitchen Kettle Village for some shopping before arriving at the Millennium Theater for "The Journey of Moses".  For thirty five years Sight and Sound has put on great biblical productions of exceptional quality in a huge, superb theater with music, dynamic cast and live animals.  The parting of the Red Sea was very impressive, as well as the coming of the angel of death to the first born sons, the tenth plague.  It was one of the best of their productions of the five that I have seen.  Following the play, the usual thing to do is to eat - again (we did a great deal of that) ... this time at the Shady Maple Smorgasbord, which is outstanding.  Then we left for home, arriving about 9:30 pm.

     The trip was full and enjoyable, the plays both super, and my traveling companions a wonderful group of people.  Most of those who were even older that I am had more spring in their step, and I was envious.  If you are every in Eastern Pennsylvania and have the time, check out Sight and Sound Productions in Lancaster.  It is well worth your time.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A great evening

     This past Tuesday evening a group of guys who attended the former Saint Francis Seminary in Loretto, Pennsylvania, gathered in Duquesne, Pa, at the rectory of  Christ the Light of the World parish for a meal and a time of just getting together.  We gathered there in order to visit Father Dennis Colamarino, a classmate and the pastor there for thirty one plus years.  Every time his term came due, rather than be moved he was given an additional parish.  Dennis is dealing with Lou Gehrig disease and is being forced to slow down a little, but is determined to continue to do what he can to minister to his parish family, who have grown to love him.  So, some of us touched base and brought food and drink with us on our visit. 

     Dennis is the one above in the yellow shirt.  Along with him is John Prosperi (directly behind Dennis).  John, from Altoona, chose not to be ordained but has lived his life with a great love and devotion to the Church and keeps the class informed on events and happenings.  To the right of him is Father Albie Schempp who serves as a chaplain at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh.  To his right is Father Dave Schorr who is pastor of Resurrection in West Mifflin, to his right Father Joe Mele of Pittsburgh who has served in so many capacities in that diocese that I'm not sure what his present title is.  Next to him in the pink shirt is Father Chet Raimer, our good friend but not classmate, who is one of our (Greensburg) retired priests.  And, of course, yours truly.
     This was one of those quickly thrown together happenings that proved to be great fun and very enjoyable.  We told stories, we laughed, we carried on, and we ate and drank well.  It was a blessed evening and as John captioned with this picture that he sent to us - "A great time was had by all".