Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What do we love?

     Yesterday's reading from the 1st Letter of John (for December 30th) gave us a great insight on setting our priorities.  On this New Year's Eve, when millions will celebrate with reckless abandon the passing of the old year and the coming of the new, when so many "new year's resolutions" will be rooted in worldly success and getting ahead, the words of John are important to note.

     John says: "Do not love the world or the things of the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world.  Yet the world and its enticement are passing away.  But whoever does the will of the God remains forever."

     The older I become the clearer I see that the things of this world, good and bad alike, are so transitory.  We mourn their loss and hope for a better replacement.  But the reality of life, that which is certain, that which is lasting, is not found in those tangible things.  Rather, it is in the spiritual, in the divinely gifted relational encounters, where we find lasting joy and happiness and peace.   May we take these words of John to heart and prayerfully immerse ourselves in the life of God brought to us in Christ Jesus.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Separate paths

     When we were in the seminary at Saint Francis in Loretto, the theatrical production one year was Jean Anouilh's play Becket, based on the story in T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral.  A well known movie adaptation starred Peter O'Toole as King Henry II and Richard Burton as Thomas Becket.  All this took place in the 1100's in England.  Becket was an educated man, a secretary known for his writing capabilities, an assistant to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theobald.  It was Theobald who sent him to the court of Henry II, where he and Henry became fast friends, with Henry appointing Becket as Lord Chancellor of England.

     Wanting to gain control over the Church in England, Henry appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 upon the death of Theobald, thinking that Thomas would be his man.  But the Lord intervened, and Thomas, a very worldly man who enjoyed the pleasures of life, found himself experiencing a conversion of mind and heart.  He began to take his ministry seriously, and became a champion of the Church's rights over that of the king and the state.  The conflict grew bitter, with Thomas being exiled for a time before returning to Canterbury.

     Four of Henry's knights heard him raging about being rid of this troublesome priest and did something about it.  They murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket in the abbey church as he was on his way to vespers.  Popular devotion for Becket was such that within a very short time, Henry repented and sought sainthood for Thomas Becket.  His tomb became a popular destination for pilgrimage in Canterbury until the time of the Reformation.

     The two worlds of Church and State exist in our lives.  We hope and work for mutual cooperation and respect one for the other.  But the reality is that they are two separate ways, separate paths that, when seeking the message of the Gospel for the common good can and do work together, but when they seek their exclusive interests, they sometimes are at odds.

     I have always enjoyed the story and the play (I was a French knight in the seminary production).  And I find the struggle between those worlds interesting.  I find the developing of a conscience by Thomas Becket that set him on course to defy the king inspiring.  Thomas Moore is another good example of the civil servant who always followed his conscience even when it led to his end.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The family

     A lifetime ago when I was in college, I seemed to remember that we were taught, in sociology class, that the basic unit of society was the family - a woman and a man, united in marriage and giving life to their child or children in order to provide for the continuation of humanity and of their legacy.  I am not sure what the basic unit of society is today, but I would venture to say it is the individual, living their life in such a way that what they want is their goal.

     Even in the old definition of family, both within and outside of our Judeo-Christian traditions, there were variations on the theme, but those who lived selflessly and lovingly found the strength and grace to make it happen.  There were very few June and Ward Cleavers or Ozzie and Harriets or Lucy and Dezis in real life, but there were men and women who shared love and commitment one to the other and who shared their love in a creative, life giving way that provided for their families and for society at large the foundation of a future.   Even in the Holy Family we do not find the "perfect", ideal family - we have a very young girl named Mary conceiving and giving birth to a child through the power of the Holy Spirit, and not with her husband, Joseph.  We have Joseph accepting with joy the role of foster parent to Mary's son.  We have hardship and trauma in the circumstances of his birth, with a threat to his life and a sojourn as refugees to a foreign land before settling down to a quiet and normal life in Nazareth.

     But we also had deep faith - in God and in his plan for them ... in each other, rooted in love and mutual respect ... and in the grace to accept what came their way with confident assurance.  They knew who they were ... they knew their roots ... the knew their blessings and challenges, and they knew that all of these things found meaning and purpose in their relationship with God.  

     Today our families may be nuclear or multi-faceted, strong or challenged, service oriented or self centered, faith filled or secular.
But where ever we find ourselves, we are embraced by the love of God and called to holiness within his family, the Church.   The perfect family - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - invites us to share in their life and to use, on our journey to holiness, the model of the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and her son, Jesus.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Mistaken Identity

     Dan Brown, the popular novelist, in his book "The DaVinci Code", uses an extreme case of mistaken identity as the basis of his work of fiction rooted in Leonardo DaVinci's "The Last Supper".  Brown states that the figure seated next to Jesus and resting their head on the shoulder of Christ, the figure with long flowing hair and no beard, is Mary Magdalene, who, his fiction claims, is the wife of Jesus.  And thus the fantasy takes flight.

     DaVinci himself, and the Church before his time and since, theology scholars as well as art scholars, have always recognized this figure as the "beloved disciple", Saint John, the Apostle and Evangelist.  He and his followers are credited with the fourth Gospel, a few Letters in the New Testament, as well as the Book of Revelation, all found in the Sacred Scriptures.  John was the only Apostle not martyred, and it is thought that he lived a long life in exile, reflecting and writing of his experience with his friend and mentor, Jesus.  Today is his feast day.

     John is called the "beloved disciple" and was watched over and protected by Jesus during his public ministry probably because, of all of the disciples, he was only a young boy.  Jesus was to him a big brother and guardian.  He was young - thus the lack of a beard among the others.  He was young - thus the entrusting of him to Mary.  He was young - thus the long life lived.

     John wrote a reflective, theological Gospel that tells the story with great beauty and graceful style, but with an inspiring call to encounter and discipleship with Jesus to all who read or heard the Good News.  He unlocked the secrets of the Word become flesh and spread the words of life through all the world.  He reminded us, as I mentioned the other day, that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

Friday, December 26, 2014

Love your enemies

     The Protomartyr, the first martyr, Stephen is celebrated on this, the day after The Feast.  As the Entrance Antiphon states: "The gates of heaven were opened for blessed Stephen, who was found to be first among the number of the Martyrs, and therefore is crowned triumphant in heaven."   Stephen was a young man who followed the command of love laid out by his Lord.  He witnessed with great joy to the message of Jesus.  He served the needs of the Church as a deacon, ministering to the poor and the widows and the orphans.  He faced those who feared or hated "the way" that he took, and in a moment of joyful boldness embraced death for the sake of the gospel of life.  And in that embrace, he reminded us of the great teaching of Jesus to "love our enemies" and to "pray for our persecutors".  In the Collect Prayer today we prayed that we may imitate Stephen, " ... and so learn to love even our enemies, for we celebrate the heavenly birthday of a man who knew how to pray even for his persecutors."

     To all who serve in the ministry of deacon, thank you and may the grace and example of Stephen bring you strength and joy.  And to those moving toward Ordination as Deacons (and I know a few within our Diocese and beyond), continue to grow in holiness and love.

     This is a significant day within the life of our parish community.  It was on this day, December 26, 1992, that a fire destroyed the rectory of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish.  It was caused by a faulty furnace.  The church proper was thankfully saved.  But the real devastation came when the pastor, Father Bill McGuire, was found in the house, having died from heart failure.  For a young parish, this was a day that lives in the memory and the hearts of those who worship here.  We prayed for Father McGuire at Mass this morning as we continue to remember him in our thoughts daily.  May he rest in peace.

A long awaited gift

     There was excitement when the good news reached the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, that the Holy Father had appointed Bishop Christopher Coyne as their new bishop.  They had been waiting for nearly a year for this news.  Bishop Coyne, who is 56, was the Auxiliary of Indianapolis, and is a fellow blogger.  He, too, seems excited with the news.  It was a wonderful Christmas present to that local church.

     There is another local church, near and dear to my heart - Greensburg - that is also looking for such a wonderful Christmas present.  We are going to extend the spirit of Advent into the new year as we eagerly await the appointment of a new bishop for our small diocese.  Our present Diocesan Bishop, Bishop Lawrence Brandt, submitted his letter of resignation at reaching the age of seventy-five last March, and he, and we, await his successor and the acceptance of his retirement.  There is almost a spirit of disloyalty in praying for and speaking of a new bishop while the present one is still very much a part of our lives, but that is also a part of our responsibility to this local church, to pray for and prepare for the future with trust in the Spirit of God.

     While giving thanks for the blessings of the past and the blessings of this present moment, we look forward with expectant joy for the word from Pope Francis that he is sending us a new Shepherd.  May that gift be not long delayed.

Christmas 2014

      The waiting is over.  All of the preparations are complete (or at least as complete as they will ever be).  Advent comes to a close and the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord is celebrated.  Let us rejoice in the Lord, for our Savior has been born into the world.  Today true peace has come down to us from heaven.

This is a picture of a favorite print that I own
by the artist
Liz Lemon Swindle
entitled "Be It Unto Me"

      In our parish community we gathered for the Mass during the Night at Midnight. In many places, for many reasons, it is sometimes celebrated at an earlier hour, but we stick to tradition.  Our adult choir and musicians prepared us for the celebration with a presentation of carols and music that set the stage.  The Proclamation of the Birth of the Lord was made at Midnight and the manger scene was blessed and set aside for reflection and inspiration (our thanks to Saint Francis for coming up with the idea).  And our liturgy invited us into the peaceful joy of the events of long ago that we remember and celebrate.  But most importantly, our liturgy brings this child of Bethlehem into our lives through the power of his Word and the gift of his Body and Blood.  He is present to the world through our gathering as his family in faith.  Our crowds were not overwhelming this year, but I am glad for that in the sense that our celebrations were calmer and more peace filled.

     And on Christmas morning we gathered at 10:00 am to celebrate the Christmas Mass during the Day.  More kids, more people, lots of excitement (especially among the kids over Santa's visit to their house).  I love the Gospel of this Mass, (dating many of you) the old "last Gospel" which was read at the conclusion of each Mass in the old liturgy.  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."  I have a tradition that I have shared in a number of my assignments of presenting each child with a red delicious apple before the conclusion of the Mass.  It is a small gift from the parish family to them, as a reminder that, as the apple got a "bad rap" in the story of the fall of Adam and Eve, so now in the birth of the redeemer, the New Adam, the apple has been "rejuvenated".  The kids enjoy the apples and it is a great joy to see them come forward and receive this small gift.  It is in our children that we are reminded of what the Collect prayer for that Mass during the Day tells us, that it is God "who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature, and still more wonderfully restores it" in Christ, the new Adam.

     I trust that your Christmas was and continues to be a time of joy and peace, of love and warmth, of family and friends, and of deep gratitude to the Lord of all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The eve

     From the Prayer Over the Offerings from the Vigil Mass:

"As we look forward, O Lord,
to the coming festivities,
may we serve you all the more eagerly
for knowing that in them
you make manifest the beginnings
of our redemption.
Through Christ our Lord."
     Our Vigil is at 6:00 pm with our young people and the Young Voices Choir and a throng of people.  I will join with the choir in telling the story of that first Christmas night before we begin the liturgy, and we, as a joyful family of faith, will look forward to the coming festivities with gladness and hope.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The eve of the eve

     Greetings, everyone!

      Today is the eve of the eve ... and since I have not posted since the 7th of December, I feel the need to not only post but to express my regrets for taking such a long time away from the keyboard. 

      Our prayers this morning at liturgy asked that the Lord's mercy flow from his Word into our lives, and that he may grant us peace that we may be ready, with lighted lamps, to meet the dearly beloved Son of God at his coming.  He has come in time and history, he is present in this moment of our existence, and he will come again in glory.  That is our deep and abiding belief and this is the reason for our confidence and joy.

     Advent has been a time of waiting, a time of preparation, and for me a time of reflection.  Last week was the marathon of blessings and grace that flowed from our local parish Penance Services.  Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday saw hundreds of God's people gather to pray and be reconciled through the ministry of the local priests and others who were able to help.  I sensed less of a hectic pace to these gatherings and more of a peaceful and prayerful  spirit.  As I always say, I come away exhausted but deeply blessed by this aspect of ministry.  The last few days saw the transformation of the church gathering space into a beautiful setting for Christmas.  Our manger scene in particular has grown more beautiful over the last few years, and our poinsettia plants, purchased from a local florist, are huge and vibrant in their colors.  All is ready, I hope, for the great celebration of our Lord's birth.

     I was honored to be asked to give the Advent day of reflection to the priests of the diocese early in the season, and while this is a daunting task, it was a pleasure to share with my brothers a message of hope that can be found in our shared ministry.

     This Fall has seen a series of health issues and challenges to mobility that continue to plague me, and I am feeling older than I am.  Oh, to have the energy and stamina that I once had!  To be limited is humbling, but it brings out the understanding and graciousness in others, and for that I am truly grateful.

     I pray that you are all prepared, that you have readied the way of the Lord, and that your anticipation of the grace promised is heightened.  The Communion Antiphon for today, taken from Revelation, is

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock:
if anyone hears my voice and opens the door to me,
I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me."
Are you ready to open the door and share in the feast?


Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Week's moments

     The past week saw four wonderful moments in my priesthood.  I would like to share a little about each.

     Last Sunday, November 30th, at the 6:00 pm mass at Saint Barbara Church in Harrison City, Bishop Brandt accepted the petition of four men of our Diocese to continue their formation as they proceed on the road to Permanent Diaconate in the Greensburg Diocese.  They are Stephen Black, Jeff Cieslewicz (our parisioner), Bill Newhouse (a good friend) and Mike Orange.

Photo by Mary Seamans of the Diocese of Greensburg
     These men will continue their formation and pastoral assignments and will be ordained, God willing, on June 13, 2015.  Pray for them, for their wives (pictured below at the Mass) and for this Diocese as we await a new bishop.

Photos by Mary Seamans
     On Monday evening in our Church, the twenty-two candidates of our Sacramental Prep year received their First Reconciliation (their first confession).  It was a wonderful gathering of family, along with two other brother priests who helped with the honor of hearing those confessions.  Our theme was that of trusting in the Good Shepherd - and the kids, although a little nervous, were great.  As usual, I was blessed abundantly.  One funny story told to be by a grandmother who came to me for the sacrament.  Her little granddaughter (younger that those receiving) tugged on grandma's sleeve and whispered: "Don't worry, grandma.  There is nothing to be afraid of.  You'll do okay."  Grandma smiled, and so did I.
     On Thursday of this week I was honored to be asked to give the presentaion for the Advent Day of Reflection for the priests of the Diocese.  There were about thirty men present, including the bishop who joined us for the day.  I spoke of Advent Hope that guides our way, despite the challenges that confront us.  The really good news was that no one drifted off.  I concluded with the Holy Father's tweet for that very day:
"Advent increases hope,
a hope which does not disappoint.
The Lord never lets us down."
     And yesterday saw our parish Christian Mothers Confraternity Christmas party at a local restaurant.  I joined over thirty women for a great meal, loads of fun and entertainment, and a good prelude to the season.  Our new President and her officers are doing a great job of rejuvenating this important group ijn our parish.