Friday, January 23, 2015

Twenty-seven years later

     A short story to reflect the swift passing of time and changing demographics and circumstances.

     Back in 1987 I became pastor of All Saints Church in Masontown and its Mission church of Saint Francis de Sales in the hamlet of McClellandtown, about five miles down the road.  Saint Francis de Sales was a small frame church building that provided a place to gather for a mass on Sunday morning for the one hundred or so families.  They were a close knit group and loved their little church, but had very little self identity.  I saw that need, and remember suggesting and then implementing a parish covered dish dinner on the weekend near the feast of Saint Francis de Sales (January 24th).  We met at the local fire hall, and had a great turnout.  Pride was taken in being a member of that Mission church.  We continued the tradition during my time there.  We also roofed the building and put new siding on the church.  People, even McClellandtown parishioners, asked why, since the writing was on the wall because of parish size, but I reassured them that even "if" the inevitable happened, we would increase our resale value.

     The inevitable did happen after my time there and the mission church was closed and the parishioners joined All Saints.  The church building was sold and was converted into a nice family home.  The Saint Francis de Sales / All Saints parishioners a few years ago found themselves a part of the new parish of Saint Francis (not de Sales but rather Assisi) along with parishioners from five other churches (not an easy transition).  I believe that they just had or are having a parish dinner of the new Saint Francis of Assisi parish.

     So, twenty-seven years later, the landscape has changed, the people are slowly adapting, the challenges are greater than ever, but we still gather around the Table of the Altar, we still announce and celebrate our existence as the People of God, and we still gather around the common table for food and drink, all led by a great young pastor and his helper, one of our veteran priests.

     Tomorrow is the feast of Saint Francis de Sales.  To those of that former parish community I say thank you and God bless!   And to those of the new Saint Francis of Assisi parish I say keep growing in the love of the Lord and of each other and God bless!

A New Covenant

     The other day the leader of our nation stood before Congress and the American people and gave the State of the Union.  He presented a rosy picture under his tenure and shared his great plans for the future.  The group he addressed also has great ideas and a different picture of our successes and needs.  The people they represent know the reality of their lives, and while we all live in some form of a dream world, they see a great nation struggling to maintain its greatness and her people struggling, period.  I find myself  growing ever more cynical of politicians and promises and covenants and contracts with America - simply because their words and actions flow from themselves and are rooted in their self interests.  They have lost focus of the basic truths that are to guide our human endeavors and the divine source of truth and good.

     The author of Hebrews reminds us that any covenant that comes from or relies upon our own efforts and promises alone is faulty.  But we have a mediator of a better covenant, a new covenant.  A one sided covenant of words and promises, even if made by God, is faulty if we are passive receivers of those blessings.  They become expectations and entitlements that require little from us except a readiness to take and receive.  But we have a High Priest of a new Covenant purchased at a great price .  He establishes a new Covenant - putting his law within our minds and writing it upon our hearts.  It will be a relational Covenant between God and his children.  It will be a Covenant that will not need to be taught by words, for it will be lived in the everyday reality of our lives.  It will be a Covenant rooted in forgiveness and mercy and love.  It will be "the" Covenant that will allow us to know God, to know who we are in relation to him, and to live our lives according to his will.  Once that new Covenant overcomes the hurdles of our self centeredness and sinfulness, we will find hope again and renew what has always been dwelling in our lives.  Then our "state of the union" will be worth celebrating.

Monday, January 19, 2015

We have been purchased at a great price

     In Paul's First letter to the Corinthians that we heard yesterday on the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, he speaks of the body being made for the Lord.  I told our people of an experience in one of my assignments many years ago in the proclamation of this passage by a young man of high school age who was the lector.  He began:  "Brothers and sisters:  The body is not for immortality, but for the Lord..."  Paul really says "... the body is not for immorality ...".  This is the great fear of every preacher - the wrong reading or the wrong word or the wrong interpretation.  Of course the body IS meant for immortality ... and it IS NOT MEANT for immorality.

     The story aside, I mentioned that in our funeral liturgies we reverence the body of the deceased in a number of ways, most of which recall that transforming moment for that individual when they enter into the life-giving waters of baptism - the blessing with water, the covering with the white pall, the placing of the cross and/or the scriptures, the coming before the table of the Lord and being in the presence of the Paschal candle representing Christ, the Light of the World.  There is another reverence that we show to the earthly remains of this Child of God, and that is the honor accorded the body as it is incensed.  I usually remind those present that we do this strange action because incense has been used from ancient times to designate that which is holy, that set apart for the gods - and that our use at the time of a funeral is to acknowledge that this body has been the temple of the Holy Spirit since baptism.  Paul asks us "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?"  Again he asks "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God ... and that you are not your own?  For you have been purchased at a price.  Therefore glorify God in your body."

     The ancient Greeks knew that there were two levels of existence.  There was the body, the earthy, the flesh, the corruptible, the mundane - sarx.  And there was the spiritual, the divine, the incorruptible, the higher plane, the breath - pneuma.  Our human conflict is caught up in these two dimensions.  But in Christ, in his invitation and call given to us to enter through the waters of baptism into new life - his life - the body has been purchased and has been transformed and raised by his power to a dignity that allows us to honor it with a life lived well in the love of Christ and for the glory of God.  Our task is to realize that fact, allow the grace of God to act within us, and then to live a life worthy of the calling we have received ... a life of holiness and grace.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Years of service celebrated

     In a small diocese, the death of one of our priests deserves a moment of recognition and a pledge of remembrance and prayers.  In the Diocese of Greensburg we have lost two of our oldest priests within the past month, with Father Jerome Weiksner being buried in Greensburg this morning.  I would like to honor their priesthood and celebrate their service to the People of God.

     Father Louis W. Cheatham was 94 years old when he died this past December 16th.  He served as a priest for 69 years and was active until very recently.  Born in South Carolina and raised in Baltimore, he was ordained in Baltimore two years before I was born, and served in the Archdiocese of Washington and a stint in Canada before beginning his public ministry in the Greensburg Diocese in 1964.  He served in a number of parishes before spending 16 years at the Historic Saint Peter Church in Brownsville, from where he retired.  He remained active in substitute ministry, and was often found leading us in prayer at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church over the years.  He took great delight in serving as the diocesan liaison for retired priests at the Neumann House residence for retired priests in Greensburg.  Father Lou was always friendly and outgoing, a good priest and a committed servant of God.  May he rest in peace.

     Father Jerome M. Weiksner died on January 10th of this year in Greensburg.  He served as a priest for 59 years, and was 87 years old.  Originally from Scranton, PA, Father Weiksner was ordained in 1955 by our first bishop, Hugh L. Lamb.  He served in three parishes before becoming the Chaplain of the Newman Center and pastor of Saint Thomas More University Parish at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Indiana, PA.  In his eight years there, he built the Newman Center into a vibrant Catholic presence on campus.  He also served as administrator of Saint Joseph Hall, the former minor seminary of the diocese (after my time there), developing it into a retreat and meeting center for the diocese.  He has been retired since 1991.  For his faithful service, may he rest in peace as well.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The testimony of God

     I am hesitant to complain about the weather in our neck of the woods, simply because it has not been that bad, compared to so many parts of the country.  Our snowfall amounts are minimal to date, and while it has been cold (frigid), it is balmy compared to some of the low temps that I have seen reported.  It should be obvious that I am not a winter person!

     The first readings at Mass this past week, though, have warmed the heart.  They have come from the Letter of Saint John, and have spoken of the love that is ours in Christ Jesus.  That love warms the heart, brings us peace, and is our victory over sin and death.

     Today John speaks of testimony - the testimony of the Spirit, the testimony of the waters of baptism and the testimony of the Blood of Christ.  He also speaks of human testimony, and rightly points out that if we are open to believing human testimony, how much more should we believe the testimony of God. 

     And what is this testimony?  "God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever possesses the Son has life; whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life."  And then John reassures his listeners - "I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God."

     It is so good and so important to be reassured of the testimony of God that is found in our life of faith.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Our true treasure

     Christmas is so much about gift giving and being gifted.  From Santa to family and friends to the experiences in life to the graciousness of God's love for us, we are gifted.  That giftedness is not reserved for this blessed season, but is to be found in every moment of life's existence.  In the transition of the New Year we reflect upon how we have been gifted and how that giftedness enables us to be gift to others.  And now that the season is winding down and things are returning to normal, we are challenged to not let normalcy be the norm, but rather to allow the gift to keep on giving.  In other words, we are invited to live the faith and witness to the love of Christ.

     The Prayer After Communion for the Vigil Mass of the Feast of the Epiphany has a nugget that I found inspiring.  It says that nourished by the Eucharist we dare to ask that the star of the Lord's justice shine bright in our minds and that "our true treasure may ever consist in our confession of you [the Christ]."

     What a tremendous insight: that our gift, our true treasure, consists in our confession of the Lord Jesus.  What could be more important and more precious?  Nothing!  Knowing Him, loving Him and serving Him is why we were created in the first place, and it is at the heart of who we are and why we were gifted in such great measure.   Cherish your true treasure.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Guiding Light

     My Mom was a great soap opera fan, and one of her favorites was a program called "The Guiding Light".  This guiding light was cast as a lighthouse, which serves to bring people safely home through the comfort and security of its beacon.  I'm not sure what anything in the program had to do with that thought, but that was so long ago that my memory fades.

     We celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany this weekend, and the story of the magi coming from the east involves another "guiding light" - this time the star that guided them on their journey for truth and enlightenment and which came to rest over the place where "the" LIGHT would be found, the house where the Christ child lived with Mary and Joseph. 


     These magi, these wise men, these kings were searchers for the truth, they studied the heavens for signs, they waited for that moment of revelation that would give their very existence meaning.
Seeing that sign in the heavens, the star, they gathered their resources and found companionship in the quest.  And when they found what they were seeking, in the most unexpected of circumstances, they quietly and reverently brought their gifts to place before this life changing king of kings.  The gifts they brought were gold (earthly power), frankincense (the perfumed fragrance reserved for the divine) and myrrh (the ointment used for anointing the body in death).  But most importantly they brought themselves, their hopes and aspirations, their desires and longings, and they took home a profound joy and peace.

    May we bring ourselves to this King of Kings, and may we find within ourselves profound joy and peace.  As the Prayer After Communion on the feast states:
"Go before us with heavenly light, O Lord,
always and everywhere,
that we may perceive with clear sight
and revere with true affection
the mystery in which you have willed us to participate."


     January 4th also marks the 6th anniversary of my installation by Bishop Lawrence Brandt as the fifth pastor of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church.  These have been six fast years but six wonderful years of blessing as I minister to and am ministered to by the good people of this community.  I am very grateful for this assignment.


     And January 4th is also the Feast of our parish patron, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.  Mother Seton's life and story are inspiring and if you do not know the story, read about her life.  I have been blessed over the years in my association with her Sisters, especially the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill in Greensburg.  They are a blessing to the Church and to the local Church of the Diocese of Greensburg.  May the Lord continue to bless them,