Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The number twenty-eight

     Twenty-eight years ago today, on the twenty-eighth day of October in 1986, the feast of Saints Simon and Jude, I arrived at my assignment in Masontown at the then All Saints Church.   It was my second pastorate.  All Saints had a school then, and the principal, Sister Mildred Minosky, wanted to make the transition memorable, especially for the students.  My predecessor was Father Andrew Charnoki, who had served as pastor for over twenty years, so transitions were a novelty.  Sister Mildred had called me to find out what time I would be leaving my assignment in Connellsville, and she inquired as to the time to would take to arrive in Masontown.  I gave her the specifics, and when the time came I headed to the new place.  Upon arrival, I found all of the school kids outside waiting ... but I was approached by one of the teachers, Ed Rockwell, whom I had know from grade school, and told to pull over to the side of the street out of sight and wait.

     Sister Mildred, who has gone to her heavenly reward, had planned on having the kids outside to say good-bye to Father Charnoki and then, as he drove off, to welcome me to All Saints.  But as the old saying goes, "the best laid plans ..."   Father Charnoki decided to have another cup of coffee with a friend of his before leaving, and the schedule got delayed.

     Eventually he came out, spoke to the kids and gave them a blessing, got in the car and drove off.  Then it was my turn.  I was given the cue and I drove into the driveway and got out of the car, was greeted by the kids, made the rounds saying hello to the classes, and gave them a blessing.  The contrast, although unintentional, was noticeble.  Father Charnoki was much older in age and attitude than me ... he was dressed  in his usual formal priestly garb ... he had a nice formal car ... and he was the only priest the kids ever knew.  I was much younger and had a beard ... I was wearing a windbreaker rather than suitcoat ... my vanity license plate on my Chevy Citation read FR LEN ... and I was the new kid on the block.  I related to the kids from the start, and their welcome set the stage for five wonderful years at All Saints.  Sister's planning was a little challenged, but went off with only the one minor glitch.  She always reminded me that it was on the feast of Saint Jude (patron of hopeless cases) that I arrived, and wondered who was the hopeless case.

     Twenty-eight years later and Father Charnoki and Sister Mildred are both gone ... the wonderful school is now closed ... and All Saints Church is now a part of the new Saint Francis of Assisi Parish (with the church as one of two worship sites).   And I am now the old timer.  Times change ... things change ... people change.  And yet God and his love for us ever increases.  They are blessed with a challenging new identity and with a really great young pastor in Father Bill Berkey.   I remember with fondness those days but I watch with hope the future before us.


     Just after posting yesterday I received word of the death of my seminary classmate from the Pittsburgh Diocese, Father David Schorr.  Dave was pastor of Resurrection Parish in West Mifflin and, like me, has been a priest for forty one years.  His funeral will be on Friday.  Please remember him and his family and parish family in your special prayers.  More on Dave later.
Losing two classmates your own age in three days is challenging.

Monday, October 27, 2014


     In my last post I had asked for your prayers for two of my classmates - one from my theological seminary days and one from our high school seminary program.  I now ask you to amend your prayers for my classmate Dennis Sabo of Florida from prayers for healing and a peaceful death to prayers of rejoicing in eternal life.  Denny passed away after a lingering illness on Saturday, October 25th.   Your continued prayers for Father David Schorr, a priest from the Pittsburgh Diocese, are deeply appreciated as he struggles with health.

     Denny's death, like the others from our class, remind me of our age and of the fragility of life.  It calls to mind memories, and regrets, and emotions that now surface.  I would like to share a few memories regarding Denny and our days at Saint Vincent Prep School in Latrobe and our residence hall of Saint Joseph Hall in Greensburg.


     Our days at the Prep lasted from the Fall of 1961 through graduation in the Spring of 1965 (50 years this coming June).  We were the first class of all seminarian prepsters, twenty-one of us studying for the diocese and the others studying for the Benedictine Order.  There were thirty-three of us that graduated in '65.  Denny was from the town of United, PA.  He was the outstanding student in our class - sharp, personable, smart and athletic.  Needless to say I was slightly jealous (but I have confessed that already).  It seemed that everything came to him easily - his studies came easy, his sports ability was all encompassing, and his popularity was no match for this insecure prepster.  I must give him my thanks, though, for an important accomplishment in my life.  One year in our football intramurals, I was assigned to Denny's team, and through that experience I received my one and only sports trophy (a small football trophy not awarded for ability but rather for ties to the team).

     We did not keep in touch over the years until I read in the paper of the death of one of his parents - and I was able to concelebrate the funeral Mass at Forty Martyrs in Trauger.  Since then, Denny has been to a few of our all school Prep reunions and we have renewed our ties.  Our reconnection was warm and friendly, comfortably sharing the gifts that God had given us.  One of Denny's precious gifts is his wife and family, his work and his golfing, and his enjoyment of their home in Florida.  A number of the class have emailed me, with a few of their fond memories of Denny and of the struggles of High School seminary days.

     May Denny be embraced by the gentle and tender love and mercy of God, and may his family find comfort and peace.

[ ps  If you are wondering about the blue and gold colors of this post ... those were the Prep colors of high school days at Saint Vincent ]

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Prayers sought

     There is a saying that goes something like this - "If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all."  Obviously that refers to saying good or nice things about another, or at least resist being negative.  I have found it difficult at times this summer to post regularly, but that has nothing to do with not having something nice to say, but rather, I hope, because the "ordinary" has become more prevalent in my life, and I like to "accentuate the positive", which is one of my goals.

     And yet I get very frustrated when the day ends and another post is not found on these pages.  So let me give it a try.

     Our annual Priests' Convocation was held from Noon on Monday through Noon on Wednesday.  It takes place at a nice Conference Center in the diocese and is attended by the active priests of the diocese (by mandate).  It is a good time to gather with the brothers.  After a multitude of years doing this annually, sometimes the topics, the presenters and the expectations seem a little contrived, despite the efforts of those in charge (I at one time was on a committee "in charge" of these gatherings - and it is difficult to please everyone).  This year one of our Deacons, Bill Hisker, who is a professor and Chair at Saint Vincent College of the Business School, gave a good presentation on developing leadership and mentoring skills in our lives.  Bill, who is a high school classmate of mine, did a good job.  Another afternoon session dealt primarily with our Code of Pastoral Conduct policy in the diocese with an update on our Protecting God's Children efforts, and explaining potential revisions that may develop based on recent court settlements and legal developments in other areas of the country.  The rest was pretty standard, nothing earth shattering or exciting.  But the fellowship, our liturgy for our deceased priests, and a number of excellent meals made the time worth it.

     Since returning home on Wednesday, I found out that a good friend from my Charismatic Renewal days who was a member of Immaculate Conception parish in Connellsville died.  Her name is Dorothy Miller.  Dorothy has been involved in the Renewal since about 1970 as a leader, a musician, a friend and spiritual companion for many.  Her life was filled with challenges that she met and overcame.  She was always an inspiration, and will be missed by her many friends as well as her family.  May she rest in peace.

     One of our parishioners, the husband and father of two very active parishioners, died yesterday afternoon.  His name was Bill Rickard, and his story is tragic and courageous at the same time.  A while ago he was in an accident where he was struck by a car while at work.  He was left bedridden and unable to care for himself.  His death yesterday came as those who love him were working at getting equipment that would allow him to get out more.  His 15 year old daughter found him.  Pray for Bill and his family, especially Sarah, his daughter.

     I also received word that a high school classmate of mine from Florida, who has been battling a serious illness, is now in a residential hospice and, according to his sister, weakening daily.  His name is Denny ... pray for him and his family.

    And lastly for now, one of my seminary classmate, a priest of the Pittsburgh Diocese, Father Dave Schorr, was taken to the hospital this morning.  Dave has been dealing with cancer since July, and was ill enough that he was put in ICU and placed on a vent.  Obviously I would entrust him to your care as well.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Give thanks

From Chestnut Ridge Conference Center in Blairsville, PA while on Convocation. Yesterday I shared these thoughts. Saint Jude's hospital over the years has a great fund raising ads on TV that has a number of well known persons telling the story of Saint Jude's and the wonderful work that they accomplish. At the end of the piece each person looks into the camera and says very simply - give thanks! Those two words are a clear reminder to us of our call and our purpose in life. From the very first moment of our encounter with God we are called to give him thanks for all that he has done for us. Our scriptures this past weekend pointed this out - first with the word to Cyrus, the king of Persia whom God had chosen for a specific purpose, that he should give thanks to this unknown God for everything that he had. God assured him that for the sake of Jacob, for the sake of Israel,the Lord empowered him to provide for his people to return home from exile and rebuild a temple in order to give the Lord his due and to sing his praises. This Cyrus and the Persians did. Paul, Sylvanus and Timothy remind the Thessalonians that they give thanks every day for that local church. Why? Because this church give thanks with their lives lived well. And in the gospel we are told to give to God the things that belong to God - namely our gratitude. In other words, to give thanks. Our very gathering for worship is called Eucharist, to give thanks. This is what we do best on the day dedicated to the Lord. Let us GIVE THANKS at every moment of every day our lives.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A memory awakened

     Yesterday was the Memorial of Pope Saint Callistus I who died a martyr's death in around 222.  Callistus was raised a slave and endured hard labor before being chosen a deacon and given charge to the first Christian cemetery on the Appian way outside of the city of Rome.  He was a natural leader with great managerial skills, and developed this first cemetery specifically for the followers of Christ.  He was chosen as Bishop of Rome, and had many critics because of his position of mercy and forgiveness for the repentant sinner, even those who repented of leaving the Church.  Sounds a little like the themes of Pope Francis in our day.

     I mention this because it brings to mind my first trip to Rome on Pentecost weekend in the Holy Year of 1975 for the first International Conference for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.  There were a number of us from the Pittsburgh area that joined nearly 10,000 people in Rome for the occasion.  Our conference sessions were held on the grounds of the Catacombs of Saint Callistus, in huge tents pitched on the grounds and with great speakers within the renewal like Ralph Martin, Father Mike Scanlon and Cardinal Suenens.  It was a glorious time filled with exuberance and hope.  I looked for some of my old pictures, but my camera and my photographic abilities left much to be desired.  Sorry.

     The crowning point of the gathering was attending the Pentecost Mass of Pope Paul VI (who is to be beatified this Sunday), and then to concelebrate a Mass at the papal altar presided over by Cardinal Suenens with about 400 priests (he was given the honor of using the pontifical altar).  Following that Mass, we were greeted by Pope Paul VI, who spoke to all of us gathered there that day - words of encouragement and love.  I am glad to see that he is being beatified, for I feel that he did extraordinary things during his reign - mostly forgotten because of his being overshadowed by Pope John Paul II.

     So yesterday, when we remembered Callistus, I remembered the place that he had prepared for the repose of the souls of the saints of God and that I had the good fortune to visit that holy ground.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Dressed for the occasion

     Here are a few of the thoughts that I shared with our people over the weekend.

     There is a song that we sing at liturgy that says: "Come to the feast of heaven and earth, come to the table of plenty; God will provide for all that we need, here at the table of plenty."  The message of hope proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah of a banquet, a feast provided by the Lord for all on his holy mountain, is the primary message of God's love and the call that we have received to COME TO THE FEAST of heaven and earth.

     That feast is celebrated in our moment of encounter with the living God when we respond to his invitation and live our lives rooted in him.  It is most and best fleshed out in our worship of the Lord in the Sunday Eucharist.  This is, after all, the source and summit of our life in Christ.  It is the wedding feast of the Lamb that the Father invites us to, and we need to ask if our response is an unqualified YES!  And we also need to ask ourselves if we are "dressed for the occasion"?  That was the sermon title at one of local Lutheran churches in Irwin this weekend.  I spoke of two ways of asking that question of ourselves.

     Do we wear that wedding garment provided by the Lord of his grace and love, of our hunger and of his inspiration?  What is our attitude and the spiritual desire of our hearts regarding our attendance at this feast?  Questions to ask: Is my attendance rooted in the threat of mortal sin and hell if I miss, or the desire to enter into the mystery of God?  Is the Mass that I attend based on what I can fit into my schedule, or is my schedule dictated by the Mass that best allows me to celebrate with my spiritual and human family?  Do I arrive on time (or early to pray and prepare) or do I gage my arrival to get in early enough to "make it count" ... and do I stay until the conclusion or cut out to get to the next thing or avoid traffic?  Do I fully and actively participate in the liturgy, or do I zone out or nap or read the bulletin or text or play games on my I phone?  Do I prepare myself spiritually in order to receive Holy Communion?  Do I want to be there?  How we answer those questions says a great deal about whether we are "dressed for the occasion".

     I also spoke of the other way of dressing for the occasion ... the complaint that I hear so often from people - people dress too casually for church.  The questions here have to do with showing proper respect for where I am and who I have come to receive.  Many businesses have signs: "No shirt ... no shoes ... no service."
That is the bare minimum.  Thank God no one has come without shirt or shoes, but we are often very everyday in our attire.  I for one like informality, but the man in the gospel story was asked to show respect by donning the provided wedding garment.  Many of our older parishioners complain about the younger people, but really the number of older people attending in shorts or jeans or tennis shoes or T shirts to me is surprising.  I mention the dress thing on occasion because people ask me to, but I am just glad that people have come to worship.  Clothes don't make the person, but I would not think of going to The Lamont restaurant on Mount Washington in Pittsburgh (a great, classy restaurant with great food and a view of the city that is outstanding) wearing jeans or shorts or a T shirt.  Why would I easily do so in church.

    The FEAST has been prepared.  The invitations and CALL has gone out.  The wedding garment of God's GRACE has been provided.  It is up to us to COME TO THE TABLE OF PLENTY.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The week

   The past week went by very quickly.  Here is a short rundown of my week, for what it is worth.

    On each of the past two Fridays I met with a candidate in our Permanent Diaconate program for spiritual direction.  I am honored to serve in that capacity for three of our men.  I am aways impressed with their spirituality and their commitment to Church as well as their patience with the program which has gone on now for more years than it took me to become a priest.  They got caught up in a developing program of formation, and their patience is noteworthy.  Another man in the program, Jeff Cieslewicz, is a parishioner here at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, and we are very blessed.

     Last Saturday, the feast of Saint Francis, saw our annual Blessing of Pets.  This year, for the first time in the last four or five, it was cool (cold) and overcast and rainy with a small shower of ice pellets right before blessing time.  So we were indoors, and our numbers were down a bit, but we had a great time.  There were nearly twenty dogs and three cats with each receiving a carefully sprinkled blessing with holy water as well as a medal and holy card of Saint Francis, as well as species appropriate treat bags.  I have included a few of the friends of our parishioners.



     Monday saw the seasonal decoration of the sanctuary area of the church by two of our decorators and a trip to the eye doctor for a followup on a procedure on my retina ... with good news rather than another procedure.  Tuesday I shared the Prayers of the Church for the dead with a family who brought their husband and dad from Florida to be buried at a local cemetery.  I was asked by a local funeral director to lead the service at the cemetery, and I was honored.  The family expressed their gratitude.  The rest of the week involved the usual appointments, check signings, correspondence and bulletin items and inserts.  A number of months ago I began a one page flyer monthly in the bulletin entitled "Curious Catholic Corner" on a subject of interest in Catholic circles.  This month I wrote on the Precepts of the Church, something we don't hear much of these days.  An intergenerational workshop for parents and candidates for the Sacrament of Reconciliation coming up in December was held this morning, then regularly scheduled confessions and Mass this afternoon at 4:00 pm then dinner.
     Not an overly exciting or productive week, but one of blessing in doing God's work.  God is good indeed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Spread the Word

     Whenever something big happens or good news is passed on, we are often asked to "Spread the word".   It is expected that we not keep good or important things to ourselves but rather get the word out.  Among priests, when assignment time comes, the phone lines become very busy.  In our Diocese of Greensburg, with our bishop having submitted his letter of resignation this past March, we wait in great anticipation for the word of his successor to be announced and look forward to spreading that word to all those who "wait in hope"..

     On the 30th of September the Church honors Saint Jerome, a priest and monk who lived long ago.  He is honored for his teaching and influence but most especially because he felt in his heart the need to spread the word.  The Word that he most desired to share was "the" WORD of God as found in the Scriptures, because, as the Collect of his mass says, he had "a living and tender love for Sacred Scripture".  Jerome took on the monumental task of translating the entire bible from the languages of the learned to the common tongue, the language of the people - Latin.  His great achievement was to make the Word of God available to every person who could read or hear the Word spoken.  He did so in order that the people of God could be nourished by the Word of God and find in it the fount of life.  His was a great gift to the Church.

     When I was growing up there were mixed signals given to us about the Scriptures.  We were taught Bible stories in grade school, families were encouraged to have a family Bible in their home, recording momentous occasions on its pages even if we did not read from it often, Pius XII encouraged Catholic Biblical Scholarship and better translations of the Scriptures (from the original languages rather than from Saint Jerome's Vulgate version), and in the Liturgy following Vatican II, a greater prominence was placed upon the Liturgy of the Word.  We were encouraged to "pick up the book" and read, to share, to study and to spread the word, and to pray the Scriptures.  It was a wonderful transformation that has blessed the world.  In my theological studies some of our best professors were our Biblical profs for which I am eternally grateful.

     In your home, do NOT let the Bible be an ornament for the coffee table or have a place (even a prominent one) on the bookshelf, but let it be a part of your everyday experience.  Read, pray, and study the Scriptures ... and spread the Word.