Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Loving the things of heaven

     Our Prayer After Communion today says:

"Grant us through these mysteries, Lord,
that by moderating earthly desires
we may learn to love the things of heaven."
     Even in the most difficult of moments or circumstances, we find it easy to love the things of earth, those things that satisfy our needs or our cravings.  We will work and strive for "happiness" and "fulfillment" and sacrifice much to attain our goals.  We know the price, and we are all too often ready and willing to pay the price.
     In this prayer of today's liturgy sited above, though, we acknowledge a greater truth and reality - namely that through the great sacrifice of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ and through the sacred meal in which he offers us his very Body and Blood in the Eucharist, we might learn something important.  Namely, that in moderating our earthly desires we make room for the things of heaven.  And this Lent is a wonderful time of renewed awareness of this truth.  Come back to Him, with all your hearts.

Monday, February 23, 2015

What's first? Chicken or the egg

Today's Gospel was from Matthew (Mt. 25:31-46) regarding the separating of the sheep from the goats.  To the just he says "Come, you who are blessed by my Father.  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."  Then he lists what they are noted for - feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison.

The Lord told Moses in Leviticus this morning (Lv 19:1-2,11-18) to tell the people "Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy."  Then he gives them the commandments of the law to follow.

We are called to be holy as the Lord our God is holy.  But what comes first?  Does our holiness depend upon our fulfilling the checklist of the commandments.  If all are checked, then holiness is granted.  Or is our holiness a gift from God that we already possess through our call and our baptism, and the living out of the commandments is simply an affirmation and a result of our holiness lived well?  Many would think that they have to "earn" the holiness offered, but I think that what we have to do is simply "live" that holiness through lives of love and service.

The Prayer Over the People for this Monday of the First Week of Lent is:

"Enlighten the minds of your people, Lord, we pray,
with the light of your glory,
that they may see what must be done
and have the strength to do what is right.
Through Christ our Lord."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Highly Recommended

     Of the many sites that I view each day, one stands out as a must read - the blog of Bishop Robert Lynch of the Saint Petersburg, Florida, Diocese.  It is entitled "For His Friends".  He always has sensible and great things to say, insightful thoughts and pastoral reflections.  Yesterday's post - "Strongest Challenge Yet" - concerns our Holy Father's homily this past Sunday.  I would recommend that you check out the bishop's blog, mark it as a favorite, and then read these posts whenever he provides them.  It can be found on their diocesan web site:   www.dosp.org

A fresh start

     From Genesis this morning we hear "When God saw how great was man's wickedness on earth ... " he sent the waters of the great flood to wipe out that wickedness and cleanse the earth.  He saved a remnant in Noah and his family so that the promise that he had made to give life might continue and be renewed, for God takes care of his chosen ones.  This fresh start is proof of that deep and abiding love that he has for us.

     The waters of baptism are given to us to wipe away our sinfulness and cleanse our lives, giving us another chance and a new lease on life.  Through the waters of baptism we begin again, laying aside our sins, repenting of them, and making a fresh start on our journey toward holiness.  This fresh start is proof of that deep and abiding love that he has for us.

     And tomorrow we remember those baptismal waters and we come to acknowledge our continued sinfulness as we are signed and covered with ashes.  Our need of these life giving and cleansing waters is for each of us to be confronted, as is the promise and hope that this sinful condition is not our destiny.  In the Great Lent of forty days, we journey from sin to repentance, from death to new life, from despair to hope and glory.  It is a journey of faith, a time of transformation, a moment of grace.  It is a fresh start.  And this fresh start is proof of that deep and abiding love that the Lord has for us.

Friday, February 13, 2015


     Over the years we have heard a great deal about evangelization, whether new or old, and efforts have been underway to remind us of this task of evangelization and the prayerful support that it entails.  In our Diocese of Greensburg back in 2013 Bishop Lawrence Brandt gave his Imprimatur and encouragement to a Diocesan Prayer for Evangelization to be prayed at all occasions and in all circumstances.  That prayer follows:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you have commanded us
to make disciples of all nations.
Therefore, we ask you to send your Holy Spirit,
to make us your instruments in this divine work.
Enlighten us by your word,
and strengthen us by your sacraments
so our minds and our hearts may be transformed.
May the manner in which we live our lives
announce the love and mercy you extend to all people.
Permit the Spirit to cause a holy zeal to rise up within us
for the work of evangelization to which you call us.
Set our hearts on fire to bring others to you
and to the church
which you founded out of love for all.
Deepen our knowledge and understanding
of the teachings of your church,
and guide us with your wisdom in passing on the faith.
Allow the gift of right judgment
to show us when to listen
and when to speak your word.
Give us the courage to proclaim the Gospel
even when faced with adversity.
May we help others to live life to the full through you
and to experience the glory of your kingdom.
We entrust our evangelization efforts to the protection
of our diocesan patroness,
Mary, Our Lady of the Assumption,
as we make this prayer to you,
and the Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
August 15, 2013
     Our prayer is a beautiful prayer, a long prayer, a necessary prayer of self reminder of the need to place ourselves within the grace of a joyful God.
     Paul reminded us last Sunday that he was compelled to share the good news because of its powerful effect in his life and because the Lord's hand was upon him.  We, too, are compelled to be evangelizers, to share the good news because God is at work within us.
     In this morning's Gospel passage from Mark we have Jesus  encountering a deaf man with a speech impediment.  Touching his ears so that he could hear the good news and his tongue which was restrained from announcing that good news, Jesus uttered another, powerful and simple prayer of evangelization - "EPHPHATHA!"  - "BE OPENED!"  If that be our prayer - that our ears be opened to hear the message of the Gospel, then our inability or restraint in proclaiming that message to the world will be taken away.  Open ears and open mouth lead us to lives open to the mercy and love of God.  That is what evangelization is all about.   Whether through a formal prayer or a simple word of command or any other variation of the way to be reminded of this ministry, the need to evangelize must be brought to the forefront of our lives.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What do we need?

     The Diocese of Greensburg, which is my home, received a mention in the post by Rocco Palmo in "Whispers" on January 14th.  He was announcing the naming of Msgr. Joseph Hanefeldt as Bishop of Grand Island, Nebraska, and pointed out that in terms of Diocesan bishops over the age of 75, Bishop Lawrence Brandt of this Diocese should have been next.  But the Church works as the Spirit guides.

     Rocco mentioned that we are eagerly awaiting the news of this pending transition.  He mentioned a petition that a group within the Diocese had begun that had 400 signatures.  They call themselves "The Abrosians" and, as with the selection of Saint Ambrose by the local church, desire a say in who we will get as our shepherd.  I have been tempted to join in that petition, but have hesitated for at least two reasons:  a great many of those signatures are of people in parishes where there is great discontent and anger over mergers and partnerings and those feelings are directed more against the present administration than looking to the future good of the church ... and  secondly, the effectiveness of such a petition is questionable.  All but three of the priests who have signed the petition are from outside the diocese and I am sure are more concerned with the changing of the procedures for selection rather than the outcome for Greensburg.

     But it got me thinking ... What do we need in the next shepherd of the Diocese of Greensburg?  These are a few of my personal scattered thoughts.

     Our diocese was founded only sixty four years ago this March (1951).  It is young in age and small in size (four counties in Southwestern PA with only 3,300 square miles).  It has much history; an ever increasing aging population and a decreasing overall population in numbers; a few moderate size cities, but mostly small towns and former coal mining and farming communities; ordinary, hard working, faith filled people of many ethnic backgrounds (mostly Europeans and those from Eastern Europe); and demographic changes that necessitate change even when it is not wanted.   There are pockets of disheartened people, whose faith has been challenged over these last thirty five years or so and who feel as if they have been abandoned.  There are many who have left the Church, and many more whose sense of loyalty to the faith is tentative at best.  In many ways, we are like a great part of the Eastern section of the U.S. in demographics and challenges.

     I hear what Pope Francis has called for in bishops and I have hope.  We are in need of a pastor, a man of the people, a simple man of faith and prayer.  We need a good preacher who breaks open the Word and is present to his people.  We need someone who is courageous enough to meet the challenges that face us (and they are many) and to do so as a leader but also a fellow journeyer.  We need someone who will see the wisdom of not living in the past but rather of recording and reminding ourselves of our rich heritage in these small "patch" parishes, many of whom no longer exist.   We must not lose those stories and that past, but must cherish it in our hearts even as we move forward. 

     It grieves me terribly to see our churches less that full, and most importantly to see major celebrations at the Cathedral and elsewhere poorly attended.  It speaks of a lack of pride or of apathy or of schedules that are too busy, but it does not speak of vibrant faith and joy.  Bishop Coyne in his homily of installation the other day in Burlington, VT spoke of someone whose conversation he overheard that chose a "mega church" over the Catholic Church.  The person said of the Catholic community that "it was like they mourn their religion".  He said that he could relate to that statement, and so can I.  He went on to say that "If we are going to call people to our churches and they do happen to come in, what will they find?  People who have the joy of the "good news" in their hearts, people who are welcoming and encouraging, who celebrate the Church's liturgy with care and commitment or a people who `mourn their religion`."

     We have been blessed with four very different bishops, each bringing their own personalities and talents to the job - one was a big city priest and bishop called to the "country" ... one was an inner city pastor who came as a father figure ... one came as an administrator and was often misunderstood ... and one came with a diplomatic background.  I realize this is over simplistic, but that is my observation.  Each had his strengths and weaknesses, as will the new bishop.  I pray for a man of prayer, of deep faith, of overflowing joy, and a man of inspiring character.  I trust that this is not too much to ask.  Say a prayer - the people of this good diocese needs a good shepherd.

The desire for healing

     This morning's Gospel reading from Mark for this Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time tells us of the petition of Jairus, the synagogue official, on behalf of his daughter of twelve who was ill and the subsequent immediate response of Jesus to bring healing - and ultimately, because of her untimely death, the very restoration of life itself - to this child of God.  Not only did he restore her to life, but entrusted her continued care (including her hunger) to those who loved her.  And on the way we hear of the encounter of Jesus with the woman who suffered greatly from hemorrhages for twelve years and whose need, and more importantly faith, promoted her to approach Jesus.  If I but touch his clothes, she thought.  Power went forth from him and she was made whole.  He said "Daughter, your faith has saved you.  Go in peace and be cured of your affliction."

     And this reading falls upon the popular feast of Saint Blaise, a bishop and martyr for the faith, who tradition says has a special affinity to intercede before the Lord for healing of ailments of the throat, in particular.  Our tradition of the sacramental blessing of throats on this day is legendary, and people come seeking that blessing and the healing that it offers in their lives.  I shared that blessing of throats during Mass this morning.

     On the first Wednesday of each month we in our parish celebrate the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick immediately following Mass.  We usually get more than the regular morning Mass crew at that Mass, seeking the healing love of Christ in their lives through the intercession and ministry of the Church.

     People are hurting today - physically, emotionally and spiritually.  The need to come before the Lord and ask for health, to seek restoration and to receive love is greater than ever.  The Church is not to be seen as a dispenser of miracles as much as, as Pope Francis has aid, a field hospital that dispenses God's mercy and love.  The healing come not from our efforts but rather through the faith of those who hear and experience that love of God by means of our ministry and example. 

       So, on this feast of Saint Blaise, we pray:

Through the intercession of Saint Blaise,
Bishop and Martyr,
may you be delivered of every ailment
of the throat and body,
and other evil.
in the Name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.