Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reflect vs React

     On this night when we mark the passage of time in our New Year celebrations, we do a great deal of remembering the events and the people of the past year, the joys and sorrows of our human experiences.  We celebrate the transition of time with fervor and often times with reckless abandon.  There will be many a hoarse voice or pounding head tomorrow after the festivities of tonight - First Nights, dinners and dancing, drinking and partying.  We will picture 2015 as "Old Man Time", ancient and decrepit, carrying the scythe that cuts down time ... and we will envision 2016 as the new baby embodying new beginnings, starting fresh.

     The Church in her wisdom has placed a feast at this moment of transition in honor of Mary, the Mother of God.  We often honor Mary with special celebrations.  I find today's celebration fitting in that we are once again reminded that Mary is a model, an example of how we, mortal human beings, can deal with the immortal experience of our encounter with her son.

     The example that she gives to us is seen in how she / we deal with the circumstances of life as they confront us.  We party hardy on this New Year's night and try to forget the past year because we react to the things, good and bad alike, that we have had to deal with.  The New Year's Baby starts the whole cycle over again, a new beginning, a fresh start.  Within a year, that child will be "Old Man Time", and we will be saying goodbye again.  But have we grown?  Have we learned anything?  Are we rejoicing in the life that we live?

     In the Gospel from Luke for this feast, we hear that Mary took all of these things shared with her, the reports of the shepherds and the angels, the prophetic words of the Scriptures, and reflected upon them in her heart.  Hers was not a "reaction" but rather a "reflection" of the circumstances of her life, good and bad alike, as seen in the relationship and experience that she had with her son, Jesus.   Mary has found the wisdom to move forward with faith and trust, to not try to forget and block the past out, but to embrace each moment in the joy of salvation and love.  Thus we acknowledge her to be the Mother of God (her earliest title) and our mother (entrusted to us by her son at the foot of the cross), a woman of holiness and full of grace, and an inspiration to a world lost in itself.   Hail Mary!  Full of grace!  The Lord is with you!

     On this New Year's eve, my prayers are for all who read "Journey Thoughts", to your families and loved ones, to the faithful of God in the Church and beyond, and for a wisdom for all to reflect rather than react, bringing peace into our hearts and into the world.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Higher Authority

     On this 29th day of December, in this Christmas week, the Church remembers and celebrates a great witness to the Faith who met his death in Canterbury Cathedral in England in 1170 - the Archbishop Thomas Becket.  His story has always been for me a fascinating read and an inspiring account of the struggle between Church and State, between two worlds that collide in the turmoil of friendships, power, authority and loyalty.  On this day in that year the Archbishop of Canterbury was murdered in the cathedral at the hands of knights who sought to please their king, and with the understanding that the king desired to be rid of this "thorn in his side".  This murder did not bring Henry II the freedom from the Church that he longed for, nor the peace that was denied him when his good friend was forced and then embraced the new task assigned to him by Henry, the leadership of the Church in England.  Thomas Becket found that he could not serve two  masters, and he chose a "higher authority" to listen to, to follow, and to serve.  He remained a loyal friend of the King, but he now understood his role as the loyal servant of God.   Like another Thomas who had served as Chancellor of England under a different Henry hundreds of years later - Sir Thomas More under the reign of Henry VIII in 1532 - we can see that Thomas Becket would have found that the words that Thomas More spoke before his execution where just as applicable to him - "I die the king's faithful servant, but God's first."  Each were different, each their own man, both caught in challenging turmoil that set them on a collision course with authority, but both were men of faith and conviction, who could not accommodate their conscience to the earthly authority of the day, but found that they served "a higher authority."

     We need women and men that this today.  Maybe the example of Thomas Becket and Thomas More may inspire.  Maybe all of us can see that given the loyalties that we are called to honor, there is ultimately a much higher one that we must follow.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

     Our Journey through Advent marked a significant moment this past Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent.  We prayed through the Lord's help to attain the joys of so great a salvation as is found in the fulfillment of the promise of God to his people - our redemption and salvation in Christ Jesus.

     In our Diocese [the Diocese of Greensburg] this was a significant day for two other reasons:  first was the blessing and opening of the Porta Sancta in five churches designated as Churches of Pilgrimage in our Diocese throughout this Jubilee Year of Mercy called for by Pope Francis.  The Porta Sancta or Holy Door is part of the tradition of a special year of grace and jubilee, and traditionally are to be found in the four major churches or basilicas of Rome.  I hope to explain the tradition of the Holy Door in my next post.  The Holy Father has asked that this idea of a place of entry for pilgrims be extended to every Cathedral church in the world, and other designated placed in each diocese.  In addition to Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg, Bishop Malesic has designated one church in each of our four counties as pilgrimage churches: Saint Vincent Archabbey Basilica in Latrobe; Saints Simon & Jude Church in Blairsville; Christ, Prince of Peace Church in Ford City and Saint Francis of Assisi Church (Footedale site) in Fayette County.

     Bishop Malesic opened the Porta Sancta at the Cathedral at their late morning Mass, paving the way for pilgrims to journey to our Mother Church and receive graces.  It was a great moment in Greensburg and in those four other communities.

     Later that afternoon, at a 3:00 pm Ordination ceremony, Bishop Malesic ordained a young man of our diocese to the transitional diaconate.  His name is Ryan Ravis and he is from Sacred Heart parish in Youngstown, Pennsylvania.  God willing, he will be ordained to the priesthood in early summer.   The ordination was beautiful, and many who were there  for the first time for such an occasion were in awe.  Ryan, I am sure, was nervous, but did not give evidence to that fact.  And neither did our new bishop.  He told everyone before his homily that he called Ryan on Saturday evening to see if he was ready.  They compared notes as to who was more nervous - Ryan who had never been ordained before, or the bishop who had never ordained anyone before.  The bishop acknowledged that he was probably more nervous.  He did fine, however.

     Our bishop has a great preaching style, relaxed, informed, informal, pastoral and with a wonderful sense of humor.  Ryan afterwards spoke of how meaningful the bishop's words to him and to us all were.   We were blest on Sunday with a reason and a call to rejoice and be glad, with a "doorway" into the sacred that was presented to us in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, and with a friend and brother who has accepted the call to serve in the office of deacon.  I've included a picture of Ryan with his family with the bishop.

An early greeting

     On this Tuesday afternoon, I will celebrate Mass for the kids at our local Regional Catholic School, Queen of Angels.  And just be chance I received their Christmas greeting yesterday by way of this beautiful card, so I thought that I would share it with you.  So, from the Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School family ... A blessed Christmas!  Remember the reason for the season.

Mea Culpa

     In this third week of Advent, our area is celebrating a series of four Advent Penance Services, with last night's being at our parish.  It is a cherished tradition that allows us to prepare spiritually for the celebration of Christmas, to prepare our hearts for a renewed encounter with Christ, and, looking to the future, to keenly prepare the way within our lives for the second coming of the Christ.

     In the spirit of our need for Christ and his family, the Church, and in recognition of our shortcomings and failings through sin, and our need to repentance, I would like to offer a sincere "mea culpa" for lagging in my postings.  I wish that I could give you valid explanations and excuses, but the truth is that I have been lazy.  These past weeks since Advent began have been filled with thoughts and reflections that I have tried to give flesh to, but they have never reached these pages because I have failed to sit down and put them into Journey Thoughts.  "Mea Culpa - My Fault ... mea maxima culpa!"

    There have been so many great things happening and so much worthy of our reflection, that I will attempt to "catch up" in the next few posts.   All I know is that the refreshment and blessing that I feel as a conduit of God's mercy and forgiveness has again been a source of blessing as I prepare for Christmas.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Faith ... a blessing

     As we began this great season of Advent, I reminded our people of the fact that we are children of the promise, rooted in that unique relationship that the Father has established with us in Christ Jesus.  He shares with us that relationship of life, the redemption that we found necessary for that relationship of holiness to continue, the blessings that sustain us on our journey, and the vision of eternal life with him that is our destiny.

     Today I shared the reality of those countless blessings, flowing from his love and found in his sharing of blessings, giftedness, love and virtues that bring us into the divine.  One of those virtues is the gift of Faith.

     Faith is something that we have been given and are called to embrace.  Faith in God, in his love and mercy, in his call to be one with him in his Church, in our call to holiness.   We are men and women of faith.  But there is the flip side of that coin of faith ... and that is God's faith in us.  Despite the lack of foundation upon which to base that faith, God does have faith in us.  He never gives up on us, he never fails to see the good within, the potential for growth, he never fails to love us "to life".   That is why we can hear in the prophet Baruch this morning words that speak of a restoration for his people.  That is why he gave words of strength and encouragement to the voice of John in the desert to prepare a straight path for his coming.  That is why we can see and use this time of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ as a preparation of our lives for his immediate and immense presence, now and at the time of fulfillment.

     Creator God, we are filled with light and life.  We are your creation.  Stay with us and allow us to be worthy of the faith and trust that you place in us.  Let us be signs to each other and to all of creation of your holy presence.


On this feast of Saint Nicholas, I hope that all found blessings and gifts in their shoes or stocking.  As I told the youngsters, I know that Santa is always grateful for the example of love and kind generosity that Saint Nicholas provided at this time of Jesus' birth.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The grace of mercy

     Today was my day off.  On those days I enjoy the luxury of "sleeping in" without setting the alarm.  And while the day was refreshing, it was even more so for two other reasons.

     The Diocese scheduled an Advent Day of Recollection at the Bishop Connare Retreat Center for the priests of the Diocese.  There was a good response to the invitation which involved an afternoon of prayer, reflection, Adoration, Reconciliation and Evening Prayer before refreshments and dinner.  My ordination mate, Monsignor Roger Statnick, gave an excellent presentation for our thought and reflection.  He was, and is by nature, a good teacher.   It was a great moment at the beginning of our Advent journey as priests, with the ministers being ministered to by the gracious love of the Lord.

     I have to admit that I absented myself from the dinner at the Recollection day, because I needed to get back to the parish to prepare for our parish celebration of First Reconciliation this evening.   Our youngsters at the second grade level have been preparing for this Sacrament throughout the past months, and tonight was "the" night.  I always enjoy this experience of "first confession", and while it is a celebration for the kids, it is even more so for the parents and grown-ups who are also present.  I am keenly aware of the "scariness" of first confession, for I remember back to mine, in the enclosed, dark, confession box.  Things have changed, and much for the better.  I spoke to the kids and told them of how precious they are to God.  Our theme is that of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, bringing together the lost lambs.  Each family "created" a lamb, which was placed at the feet of the image of the good shepherd placed before the altar.  I spoke to the adults of the unconditional love of God for us all, and the mercy that brings his love into our lives.  This coming Tuesday marks the beginning of the Holy Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis.

     The kids were great.  One young man told me afterwards that this was one of the most exciting days of his life.  Another, after receiving absolution, stood up, thanked me, and said "Wow!"
Such excitement, such simplicity, such clarity of vision as to what had just happened.  I came away more refreshed that those that confessed and were forgiven.  I thank my neighbor and brother Father Alvin Cabungcal, one of our International Priests, for helping us out this evening as well.  God is indeed very good to all of us, and is filled with mercy.  As the Collect Prayer this morning said:

"Stir up your power, O Lord,
and come to our help with mighty strength,
that what our sins impede
the grace of your mercy may hasten."