Saturday, December 31, 2016

The week of feasts continues

     This past Wednesday, the 28th day of December, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents, those children "two years of age or younger" from Bethlehem and its neighborhood who were brutally slaughtered by King Herod as he sought to do away with this "newborn king" that the magi were searching for.   Herod's fear of a king greater than himself, his selfish desire to possess the power for himself, his insecurity in the face of a greater power, led him to do what so many over the centuries have done - to act irrationally, inhumanly, brutally toward others, and especially grievously, to do so to those who are innocent and have no ability to defend themselves.  In our day we look at those innocents caught up in the conflict in Syria.  In our day we look at the defenseless unborn sacrificed for a variety of reasons in abortion.  In our day we look at abuse and neglect and trafficking and violence inflicted upon our young.  In our day we look at a world filled with hatred and cynicism, hopelessness and self centeredness, evil and the lack of values and most importantly faith and love that deny the future generations a vision to follow and a goal to seek.  Quoting the Hebrew scriptures, the Gospel of Matthew spoke of Rachel lamenting her children, who were no more.

     That afternoon, I prayed with the family of a young woman, Jessica, of thirty who died unexpectedly on Christmas Day.  A heartbreaking time in their lives, this family struggles to find answers, solace and consolation.  Pray for them.  Jessica was the mother of a twenty-two month old child - the reverse of the Holy Innocents story ... this time the child lamenting his mother.  Our strength lies in our faith in God's unlimited love.

*************      ***************      ***************

     On the 29th we remembered Thomas Becket, the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1100's under King Henry II of England.  His is a story of conversion that led to the championing of the rights of the Church over the State - God against King.  Made into a great movie years ago starring Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole as Becket and Henry, it is a compelling historical drama that echoes a struggle that finds its way into the fabric of our lives.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

In the beginning was the Word

     "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."  With these words John begins his Gospel, which we heard proclaimed at the Christmas Mass during the day.  It is a beautiful expounding of the place of Jesus within the context of creation.  And the Gospel of John, differing from the three synoptic gospels, gives us more of a revelation of the the theology of God with us.

     Today the Church celebrates the feast of John, the Apostle and Evangelist, the Beloved Disciple, the youngest by far of the twelve and therefore the one watched over and cared for in a special way by the Lord himself.  John was also the one of the twelve that lived the longest and the one who did not die a martyr's death, although spending much time in exile.  The Scriptures credit him and his disciples with the fourth Gospel, a number of short letters, and the much misunderstood Book of Revelation.

     On this second great feast in the Christmas Octave, may our love of Scripture, our love of the study of God, our openness to his ongoing revelation of the Word, and our commitment to the Church find strength in John, the Beloved Disciple.

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     I visited my former parish of Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale this afternoon to pay my respects to the family and pray for the repose of the soul of Gene Dzambo, the former custodian of the parish (some of it during my tenure as pastor).  Gene served for about 19 years in that capacity, and served the parish well.  People in the parish and kids in the school knew and loved this man.  The Kapr Funeral Home was packed with family and friends sharing stories, comfort and love.  His funeral is tomorrow at Saint John the Baptist Church, and our thoughts go out to his wife, Ruth and their family.  May he rest in peace.

Monday, December 26, 2016

A week of joy - a sad remembrance

     This is a wonderful week of great feasts and Christmas blessings.  Today begins with the feast of the first martyr, Stephen, whose courage under the pressure of the treat on his life was an inspiration for the early Church.  His death was not touched by fear and dread, but with a joyful spirit of love for the one that he called his friend and lord, Jesus Christ.

     For the parish where I have served for the past eight years, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, this day is filled with memories that are sad yet filled with gratitude.  Twenty-four years ago on this day, the day after Christmas, a fire destroyed the rectory of the parish which was attached to the church proper.  Through heroic efforts, the church building was saved, and the young parish would continue.  However, we lost our pastor, Father William McGuire, who had died as he attempted to exit the house.  He was the second, and much beloved, pastor of this parish.  His death was a great shock and loss to the community.  I remember hearing of the fire from my young associate (who was home in Irwin for Christmas), and driving Route 30 from the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg.  By the time I arrived, the fire was contained, and I watched (and prayed) from a nearby parking lot.  I had not yet heard of the death of Father McGuire.  I remember concelebrating the funeral a few days later ... never guessing that one day I would be pastor to this parish family.

     We prayed for Father McGuire at Mass this morning, and prayed for those first responders and volunteers that helped save the church building twenty-four years ago.  And we gave thanks for the blessing that God has given us over these years.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Blessings

At this celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord,
when Light dispels darkness,
Truth removes doubt,
Hope is given to the downcast,
and Redemption is freely given ...
may Jesus, the Christ,
reside in your hearts and in your lives
and bring you peace!
 
Have a blessed Christmas!
 
 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Refreshed by a Sabbatical

 
 
     In the Fall of 1996, from late August through mid December, I attend a Sabbatical Program at SAT (the School of Applied Theology), in Berkeley, California.  The program was a part of the School of Theology at Berkeley, and served women and men whose service to the Church had led them in new directions or to a much needed pause in their mid life journey.  Our "class" of fifty-four were all priests, men and women religious, a deacon from Sacramento (whose son was a priest) and one lay woman (a Catholic school teacher from Ireland.)  They came from the U.S. and Canada, but also from Ireland, Scandanavia, Puerto Rico, various countries in Africa, South Africa, Indonesia, the Philippenes, Australia and Eastern Europe among other places.  It was a diverse group, and a delightful one ... and our four months together brought refreshment and renewal to our ministries.

     As I reflect upon that refreshing period of time in my life, I am reminded of the great people that I met, the marvelous places that I visited and the experiences of God's grace that blessed my continued journey.  I am also in the process of downsizing and ran across a number of picture albums of those days that refreshed my memories.

     I flew out to San Francisco and had my car shipped by carrier, which allowed me to have a set of wheels.  Our sessions were held in the city of Berkeley at a Dominican House with beautiful grounds. 


Many stayed on campus, but there were some of us that made other arrangements.  Four of us resided at Our Lady of Lourdes parish on Lake Merritt in Oakland, hosted by the late pastor, Father Saemus Genovese.  Our Lady of Lourdes was a great setting and a vibrant, dynamic, diverse parish.



    Our program of studies included theological updates, spiritual renewal, and as one can imagine in California, a variety of experiences such as visits to the redwoods of Muir Woods, Stinson Beach, Napa Valley, the City of San Francisco, a retreat in Del Mar (near Monterey). 



 


 

 I visited many of the California Missions,







as well as many parishes in the Bay area on weekends, experiencing multicultural communities and worship.  I made a trip to Mendicino to the North, Yosemite (pictured below with Half Dome & El Capitan 







the Russian River area, Livermore for a wine festival, as well as trips South to Orange County.  I encountered Taise Prayer for the first time at the Old Saint Mary Cathedral in downtown San Francisco

and also at a convent in Menlo Park.  I learned, relaxed, became more creative and found a renewed energy for ministry and service, and I saw the joy of life's journey encapsulated in those four months out West.  I came home to Christmas with a renewed spirit. 

It is hard to believe that it has been twenty years.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

An early moment in the journey

     While in the seminary, I had a number of summer jobs to broaden my horizons and to make a little money.  For two or three summers I worked at the McDonald's in Uniontown, my home town.  There are two McDonald's now, one is in a new location near the Mall, and the former is at a new location in the old Uniontown Shopping Center.  The old one was "the" gathering place for the younger crowd, especially during the summer months.  I worked there in the late 60's, maybe early 70"s.

     They hired a lot of kids in those days, and with my age I was one of the older persons at the counter, my usual station.  We worked hard, and at that time, for small wages, but it was a good experience.  I remember the very limited menu (compared to today), and some of the prices: they sold a hamburger, a cheeseburger and a fish fillet sandwich (the burger was $0.20, cheeseburger a quarter, and fish was $0.35).  My second year there they expanded to include a large french fry as well as the small.  Drinks included coke, root beer and orange as well as vanilla, strawberry & chocolate shakes.  There were also seasonal specials.  But the special item on the menu was something new - the Big Mac.  It had been created at our store by the franchise owner, Jim Delligatti ... marketed in the Pittsburgh area ... and placed on the menu at McDonald's in 1967.  It sold in my time for $0.55.  It was a hit.  I remember a shift when the local Reserve unit called in an order for 55 Big Macs and other assorted items to be picked up in a short while - we hustled to get it ready along with our usual business.  There is a "Big Mac Museum" at the McDonald's in Irwin, where I am now serving.  It's location here has nothing to do with me, or Uniontown or Pittsburgh, but it is do to location near the highly traveled PA Turnpike (so I read).

     All of this was brought to mind today as I heard the news of the death of the Big Mac creator, Mr. Jim Delligatti, at his home in Pittsburgh at the age of 98.  I never met Mr. Delligatti, but his creation, and his business acumen, helped in some small way to create the memories that enriched my journey.  And his Big Mac and all that McDonald's provided us over the years, has brought enjoyment to countless peoples.  Remember when their signs read - "Over 1 million served".

     My sympathy to Mr. Jim Delligatti's family as he is laid to rest this weekend.  May he rest in peace.

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Fresh Start

     There is a great tendency in our lives to run from one thing to the next, to seek after the novelty, the new thing of the day, or to wander aimlessly in life.  Our reason to be is all too often rooted in the fleeting.  There are occasions when we follow a particular way for awhile, resolving to "stay on course" [ as a new subscriber to Netflix, I have spent my free first month committed to watching past seasons of two tv shows that I never watched before - five seasons of the one and now three of the other - so that I can be caught up ].  But even with that I will lose interest and move on to something else, which is okay, since I have a clear idea of my reason to be, and it is not founded on being current with tv programs or the latest things.

     The season of Advent began yesterday with a call to commitment, perseverance and vigilance on our quest toward our ultimate goal, not a thing or experience or hope, but rather the concrete reality of a life giving relationship to Jesus Christ.  In that relationship we are embraced by the Father of all creation and possess the Spirit of love that belongs to the Children of God.  It has been revealed to us that the Father has chosen us to be his own. He has called us to life and holiness.  And when we struggled to find our way, he sent his Son, Jesus, as friend and brother, to show us the way home.  Jesus came in time, born in Bethlehem of Judea two thousand years ago, taught us, healed us, loved us, and died for us so that we may live.  He gave us his Spirit as our strength, and his Church as our family, and a promised return as our hope.

     Advent reminds us to renew our journey toward Christ.  We are to prepare to celebrate his birth those many years ago, but we are more importantly to welcome him each morning, actually each moment, into the depth of our hearts.  And we are to ready ourselves for that moment of encounter when he comes at the end of time to walk us into the promise of an eternity of joy and gladness.  He will come in glory to judge each of us and all of humanity with an embrace of love.  Advent reminds us that our daily journey is a pilgrimage to the mountain of the Lord, and that his Spirit is our strength and his Church is the rope line, the thread, that makes sure that we do not lose our way. 

     May this Advent be a time of renewal and blessing, and a source of peace.

     Our bishop, Bishop Edward Malesic, is on facebook, and his reflection yesterday was great.  Check him out - Bishop Ed Malesic - on fb.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanks for Giving

     On this Thursday morning, November 24th, we are into our Thanksgiving Day celebrations.  Many of our parish family joined me at morning Mass to celebratre Eucharist, our greatest act of thanksgiving as members of the Body of Christ.  Along with our morning prayers, it is a wonderful way of beginning the day, and of celebrating this National Holiday.  The parades are on tv (90 years for Macy's), turkeys are in the oven and foods are being prepared, families will be gathering to break bread, to share fellowship, to watch football or holiday programs, and to ready ourselves for shopping.  We will be tempted to binge, but hopefully we will do everything in moderation.  And most especially we will pause somewhere during the day or before digging in to give thanks to the Lord, personally and as family, for His countless blessings.

     Our reason to do so is rooted in a deep seeded need, one that we may not even be aware of ... to give thanks to God for his countless gifts of love and of his infinite goodness.  Our prayer is that our hearts be open to have, as the Collect of this day says, "concern for every man, woman, and child".  The proper Preface of the day reminds us that with the gifts of God given to us comes a responsibility and commitment to think of others, to advance their dignity, and to share with them "the good things of time and eternity".

      One of my personal practices and traditions is to express my gratitude to people, to say "thanks".  I thank the people at Mass for their attendance and prayers, and often hear people say "you don't need to thank me for being here ... it is what I want to do or it is my responsibility".  But I take nothing for granted, and I want them to know that they are a gift to the Church and to me.  Saying thanks is such a little thing, yet such a powerful recognition of how aware I am of the blessing that have come my way.  And those blessing originate with our loving Heavenly Father.

     The ads for St. Jude's Hospital are a great reminder to "Give Thanks" for all of our blessings.  Our Diocese has a Thanksgiving message that highlights the lessons learned and the love shared in this past Year of Mercy - the theme of which is "Thanks for Giving".  And the conscious awareness of just how loved and blessed we are and how much the world needs reassurance of that love and care of God, prompts us give of ourselves for the glory of God.

     HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all on this day ... and THANK YOU for your Faith, Hope and Love shared with me and with your sisters and brothers.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A milestone for this blog

     Recently JOURNEY THOUGHTS has reached another milestone - surpassing the 100,000 pageview mark.  The count as of this moment stands at 100,425.  As I have mentioned before, this author is astounded and humbled at the number of readers, frequent and occasional, that have surveyed the sight over these years.  I often encounter readers in the most unusual of circumstances telling me of their loyal following of this blog.  To all who have sought out these thoughts, thank you!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Impressive statistics from the Knights of Columbus

    In the October issue of "Columbia" magazine from the Knights of Columbus, there is a report on the Catholic Fraternal Organization from the Grand Knight given to the 134th Supreme Convention held in early August in Toronto.  This "state of the Fraternity" report is always impressive, and as a fellow Knight, I am very proud of the accomplishments and influence of this group in the United States and on the world stage.  There are 1,918,122 brother Knights across the world, from an organization that began in New Haven, Connecticut, founded by Father Michael McGivney.

     The Knights of Columbus is noted for many things, but high on the list is its dedication to the Catholic Church and its commitment to be of service to those in need and to the Church herself.

     In the year 2015, the Knights of Columbus donated more than $175 million to charitable causes, more than $1.5 million more than the year before.  In addition, the volunteer hours of service added up to a record 73.5 million service hours - on average, an entire workweek from each brother Knight.  Independent Sector, a network for nonprofit foundations, listed the value of a 2015 volunteer hour as $23.56.  Using that figure, last year's time donated to charity was worth more than $1.7 billion.  In the last ten years, service hours totalled 700,765,880 or a value of more than $15 billion.

     Some of the service projects include: Coats for Kids, Food for Families, Habitat for Humanity, the Global Wheelchair Mission, medical equipment and supplies for needy areas of the world, Special Olympics World Games, sponsoring blood drives, pro life projects and countless other worthy and necessary projects. 

     As the Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson stated in his report, "Our charitable works are a light to the nations.  They are a powerful witness to love of God and neighbor that reaches to every corner of the world."  And this is only one part of the mission of this great Catholic Fraternal Organization.  Check out the Knights ... they are worth your inquiry.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

New Priests' Stats

     The November issue of "The Priest" magazine lists this year's results of a survey of newly ordained in the United States.  This survey, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is conducted by CARA (The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate).  Of the 548 men ordained as priests this year in the U.S., 440 responded.  Here are some interesting findings:

* The average age of those ordained in 2016 is 35 (it was 27 in my time)
*  82% list both parents as being Catholic
*  92% have been Catholic since birth
*  59% completed college before seminary
*  41% attended a Catholic college (compared to just 7% of all U.S. Catholic adults)
*  70% indicated that they were altar servers
*  51% said that they were discouraged from entering the priesthood by family or friends
*  73% said that they participated in regular Eucharistic adoration and prayed the rosary daily.

     What does this tell us about this year's group of priests?

     They are older, more mature, well educated, and strongly influenced in their Faith by the practice of their Faith, by family and the institutions that guided their growth ...  this despite the discouraging words of some.  They are men of prayer and devotion.  Altar servering is a great entrance into the ministry of service at the Altar.   They enter into a ministry and respond to their vocational call at a time of challege, both in the Church and in society ... but they come well prepared to be servant leaders.

     In our own diocese this year, Bishop Malesic ordained Father Ryan Ravis, a fine young man who is enjoying his introduction to priestly ministry.  Pray for him and for the 547 other men ordained in the U.S. in 2016, and pray for all of your priests whose ministry spans many years.  May they have "many fruitful years".

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Cathching up with random thoughts

     Yesterday, as the Church celebrated the memorial of Pope Saint Callistus the First, an early Pope and martyr for the Faith (he died in 222), I shared with our Mass attendees my visit to the Catacombs in Rome that bears the name of this early Pope.  It was in 1975 as I attended the first International Catholic Charismatic Conference held during that Holy Year.  Of course, the conference took place on the beautiful grounds above the catacombs, but we did have the opportunity to visit the catacombs themselves, a powerful experience.  Callistus was a deacon of the Church of Rome who was enrusted with the care of this burial ground outside of the city, and was later chosen as the pastor of that local Church.  If I remember correctly, there were about 10,000 who attended the conference.

*************

     Recently I had a number of great experiences with our Regional School family at Queen of Angels.  Over the summer, a group of parents transformed a classroom into a beautiful chapel for the students and faculty.  The Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel will be blessed by Bishop Malesic on November 1st, the Feast of All Saints.  He will celebrate liturgy for the entire school in the auditorium (the new chapel only seats about forty five) and then bless this new sacred space.  We look forward to his visit.

     I had the honor of celebrating the first school liturgy in the chapel on the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi with the fourth and fifth grades.  It is a wonderful setting for prayer and litugy, and I commended those who dedicated themselves to make this transformation possible.  The singing was great, and I encouraged the youngsters to always be ready and willing to lift their voices and become troubatours of the great King.  Here are a few pictures of the Mass.



 
     Also at the school, the Drama Club sponsored a production of "Late Night Catechism" last Friday, and despite a pouring rain, over 300 attended this fundraiser and enjoyed themselves tremendously.  "Late Night Catechism" is a production that has a Religious Sister (an actress) sharing a catechism session with her class (those in the audience) with humor and faith that brings back memories to any of us who attended Catholic School or CCD classes in the "olden days".  Lots of laughs and many memories (hopefully most of them good).  It was a huge success, and those involved are to be commended.
 



 
The guy in the punishment / prayer seat is Father John Moineau, one of our local pastors.
 
 

 
     Queen of Angels was also well represented recently at the annual Catholic Schools Mass at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg.  Check out the Queen of Angels facebook page - Queen of Angels School, 1 Main Street, North Huntingdon, PA.
 


 
Maybe a future bishop?

 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
     And on October 4th we celebrated the feast of Francis of Assisi, one of my favoprite saints.   I cherish the three times that I visited his home town and prayed at the tomb of Francis and of Claire.  Despite the tourists, it is a most peace filled and prayerfulplace.  I include a few pictures from the past that I took.
 
The lower entrance to the Basilica of Saint Francis

View from the plaza in front of the Basilica of Saint Claire

View of the "old" Cathedral in Assisi

View from the entrance to the town.

Even the Assisi residents like pizza.
 

 
 



Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Saint Vincent de Paul - the man, the mission, the legacy

     Today the Church celebrates the memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, whose life was given to the service of the poor and the development of the clergy.

     Vincent was born in Gascony in France in 1581 of peasant parents who were farmers.  He was the third of six children, and showed an ability to read and write at an early age.  His folks sacrificed to sent him off for schooling to a seminary at the age of fifteen and he applied himself with such resolve that he was ordained a priest at the age of nineteen on September 23, 1600.  He continued his studies and through a very convoluted but interesting series of events began his ministry to the poor and needy in Paris.  He established an orphanage for the countless abandoned children that he found in the streets of Paris, he established a group of wealthy women from the parish in which he served into the Ladies of Charity in 1617, with the help of Saint Louise de Marillac founded the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, and founded the Congregation of the Missions who are known as "the Vincentians".  After a life of service and inspiration, he died in Paris on September 27, 1660.  An interesting note that I read is that his feast of celebrated on this day not only in the Roman Church. but also in the Church of England and the Episcopal Church.

     His mission was to see in every human being a Child of God, and thus deserving of love and respect, dignity and assistance.  His love of the poor and needy echoed the works of mercy that the Church, through the example of Christ, places before us.  And his example has become a tremendous gift to the Church.

     Recently within our diocese, the Diocesan Central Council of Greensburg held its annual dinner.  There were 240 members attending from our 33 parish conferences and ten retail stores established within the diocese, and they represent the countless hours of service given in so many ways by so many people to so many people.  The love and compassion and the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy shared in the name of the Lord and in the spirit of Saint Vincent de Paul touch lives in dramatic ways.  Among our local parishes the Saint Vincent de Paul Society does much, and spearheads our local Food Bank distribution.  To them, and to all who embrace the charism of charity found in Saint Vincent de Paul, we are most grateful.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Old Friends and other musings

     A few weeks ago I was watching a rerun of the Simon and Garfunkel Concert in Central Park from the 1980's on PBS.  It was a great concert, filled with all of their hits and many of my favorites, and it brought back wonderful memories.  They were one of the groups of my generation that provided music with both message and fancy.  And it is amazing how I remembered the words!   One of those songs was "Old Friends".

     Within the past week I encountered a few "old friends" ... not "old" as in advanced in age, but old as in longtime friends.  Yesterday I received a call from a good friend and one of our priests who has left active ministry, Mark Purnell.  He is living now in California, and while having gone through some serious health issues, is on the mend and doing well.  He has found his niche in life, and it was a pleasure sharing with him our past and our present experiences of life.  This same weekend I had a visit from another really good friend and brother, Mike Ripple and his wife, Wendy.  I have mentioned Mike before, and our relationship for the last nearly twenty-five years is a blessing in my life.  We were once a "team" at the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg.  They were in the area for a wedding.  In addition, a few of our parishioners mentioned that they had met other former parishioners and friends who inquired about me within the past two weeks.  It is good to be remembered and to be thought of.

     But old friends are to be counted even among those that I presently know and my present parishioners and neighbors.  The Sunday before last we held our annual parish covered dish picnic in our social hall, with a banner attendance.  Another moment of great food, excellent fellowship, and loads of fun.  After nearly eight years here, I look with fondness upon the young, the many young families, the stalwart, faithful, hardworking parish members, and those of a greater age who I now consider "old friends" and who bless my life.

     Hold onto your friends and count them as a blessing from the Lord.

**************

     School has got off to a staggered start in this area.  One district begins tomorrow.  Our local public district has two weeks in already, and our local regional Catholic School began last week.  I was out for a drive on the afternoon of the first day of school, and I ended up behind two school buses.  I smiled with warmth as I saw at least four stops where the youngster (really young girls and boys) exited the bus with enthusiasm, dressed up for the first day of school, excited to tell their stories, and were greeted in all four occasions by Mom and Dad who waited for them, hugged them, and then listened with a smile on their face as the story of the day was told.  It was a Norman Rockwell moment for me, and I felt good.

***************

     Yesterday the Church recognized Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a Saint.  This public proclamation of her holiness was already recognized by most in the world, even within her lifetime.  In the canonization process, the Church simply places her as a model for us and acknowledges her as a hero of charity and gentle love in our times.

     I told our people over the weekend that in the mid eighties I had the good fortune to attend an international retreat for priests in Rome.  After a prayer service in Saint Peters we were addressed by Pope (now Saint) John Paul II and Mother (now Saint) Teresa of Calcutta.  As she began to speak to us, she stated that she was in awe at being in the presence of so many holy people.  As I heard her make that statement, I was humbled and somewhat taken back that those words, spoken with such sincerity and love, came from a truly holy person.  It touched my heart and remains as a cherished memory.  Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!

******************

     This past Tuesday marked nine months until I reach the early retirement age for this diocese of seventy, and on Friday I spoke with the Vicar General of the Diocese regarding my intention of retiring in the June round of appointments - the first formal step of the process.  I have mixed feelings regarding retirement, but my health issues are limiting me too much to consider staying longer.  I cherish every moment of my priesthood, and look forward to continuing to serve to the best of my abilities for these next nine months plus, with the help of God and the patience and love of his people.  Pray for us all.

    

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Olympic memories

     Tonight the Rio Olympics come to a close after two weeks of international competition and physical and mental accomplishments.  I watched a great deal of the events over these two weeks, and was distressed by some bad behavior but inspired by even greater sportsmanship and cooperation.  Our swimmers, our young women gymnasts, the medal winners were wonderful to watch, even if there were heart stopping moments.  Enfleshing the Olympic Spirit was the scene of the women runners who collided and fell, with the one helping the other, injured one, to finish the race.

     These two weeks brought back memories, for twenty years ago I had the good fortune to attend the second week of the summer Atlanta Olympics.  Good friends, Mary Ann and Bill Newhouse and their children invited me to join them for the trip to Atlanta.  We stayed with friends of theirs just outside the city, were able to attend a number of events - track and field, women's volleyball and a baseball game - tour Atlanta, and have an enjoyable time.  It was an experience that I will not duplicate in my life, and I cherish the memories with gratitude.

     We were also encouraged in the Scriptures of these last few weeks to see the Olympic spirit as an image of our personal journey of faith.  Paul last Sunday spoke of persevering in running the race, of keeping before our eyes the goal, the prize - not a medal of gold or silver or bronze or a wreath of garland - our relationship to Jesus Christ and a crown of eternal glory.  This week we were encouraged in the opening prayer at liturgy to be single minded in our purpose and to seek after that which the Lord promises us as our destiny.

     The Olympics can remind us not only of the greatness of nations and their athletes, not only of attaining fame and prestige, but most importantly of the need to focus on what is most important in life, and to strive unceasingly to attain that goal of oneness with the Lord that brings with it eternal glory.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A role of service

     Yesterday was the feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr of the Church.  He was one of the seven deacons of the church of Rome during the reign and the persecution of the emperor Valerian, and served with the Holy Father, Pope Sixtus II.  He was martyred, tradition says, by being roasted on the gridiron or grill, but some think that like so many others, he was beheaded.  The roasting account makes for good drama, and it is said that he told to his captors that he was done on the one side and that it was time to turn him over.  Whatever is the truth of the manner of his death, the reality is that his courage and bravery strengthened the lifeblood of the Church and brought his life of service to its ultimate completion.

     His service as a deacon allows me to reflect upon the gift that the Church possesses in the diaconate and especially the permanent diaconate of more recent years.  I served as a deacon for a brief time in my journey toward priesthood, for about a year as I continued my studies and had a number of pastoral experiences.  I served a summer at Saint John the Baptist in Scottdale (where I later served as associate and then pastor), part of the summer at Saint Mary in Export, and a semester at the Newman Center at IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania).

     The permanent diaconate is relatively new in our Diocese, and the number of deacons are few.   When the diaconate was reestablished following the Council, the late Bishop Connare was cautiously watching the programs in other dioceses, and never established a program here.  He was followed by the late Bishop Anthony Bosco whose major emphasis was on the role and empowerment of the laity.  When Bishop Lawrence Brandt came, he established the diaconate in the Diocese, and set up a formation program that went though many developmental phases and a very thorough and long process.  We saw two classes of deacons - first two and then the second class.  We look forward to the next class.

     The deacons that we have are exceptional men of faith and dedicated service.  They and their wives and families are deeply committed to the Church and her people, and they give of themselves unselfishly.  One in the first class is a high school classmate of mine, Dr. Bill Hisker, and two of the next class are very good friends, Bill Newhouse and Jeff Cieslewicz (Jeff is a parishioner of our parish and a cousin of mine).  During my recent illness, Jeff (with the permission of his pastor) has been a major service to the parish and help to me in providing weekday communion services when I was not available for Mass.  Our parish family enjoys his preaching and are grateful for his ministry, as am I.

     Finally, on this day following the feast of Saint Lawrence, I offer my thoughts and gratitude to our former bishop, Lawrence Brandt, for his service and for establishing the diaconate program.  Happy name's day, Bishop Brandt.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Prepared, Faithful Servants

     The Psalm response for this Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time states: "Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own".  We live in a world fraught with fear and mistrust.  We are bombarded these days on the political level with politicians and parties that affirm that we have much to fear - from each other and from the unknown.  The blame is always placed upon the other, and the name calling and negativity borders on the uncivil, not to mention the unchristian.  Whether we believe that the world is on the verge of collapse or that things could not be better, we are told that one candidate or the other can remedy the situation.  I mentioned last Sunday that the Scriptures remind us that when we acknowledge the goodness and love of God, his presence and power in our lives (a theme echoed this Sunday), we are able to work together and conquer all that confronts us, not out of fear or indignation, not with an attitude that centers upon the "I", but with a respect for God and of each other that allows us to work for the common good, to be that faithful and prudent steward whom the master will call to service.  But key to this happening is to acknowledge and place ourselves within the loving hands of our loving God.

     Recently,on his trip to Poland for World Youth Day, Pope Francis visited the death camps.  His visit was quiet and reflective.  He prayed in the death cell of Maximilian Kolbe, and was moved by the brutal moment in our recent history that allowed politicians and regular people alike to allow or overlook what was happening, because God had been placed on the perifery of life or relegated to Sunday morning.  Some were directly responsible, but countless others were quietly unaware of this barbaric attitude that pervaded the human heart.  Many should have sought out the truth, and all of us should have learned a critical lesson which would have lessened our present fears and isolationism.  But we are slow learners.  We easily speak of the desire for peace, but we too often fail to trust in the Prince of Peace to strengthen and guide our efforts.

     So today, remember what the psalmist said: "Blessed are the people the Lord has chosen to be his own".  Count your blessings ... share your blessing ... be a blessing.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Too long of an absence

     As those of you who know me and others may be aware, these last four months (since April 1st) have been a bit of a challenge for me physically.  As I might have mentioned, I awoke that morning with cellulitis of the right leg coupled with a fever, a sepsis infection, and developing wounds on the leg.  After a stint in the hospital and a month of intense antibiotics (with accompanying reactions), the infection cleared, but the wounds continued to be dealt with at the local wound clinic.  Five were healed when a sixth developed, which we are working on at the moment.  That developed another infection with more antibiotics, and now there is an elevated kidney function that we are dealing with.  I realize two things: that this was a serious condition, especially with the sepsis; and that what I am going through is nothing compared to the crosses that others have to bear.  And yet, these four months have wiped me out, limited my ability to do what I was used to, and given me a longing for the retirement which the age of seventy will bring me next May.  It has also lessened my ability to focus, thus my absence from the computer and from the blog.  But it is time to come back.

     One thing that these four months have reminded me of (although I really did not need reminding) is how wonderful and kind people are - parishioners, friends, family.  Highest among them is my sister, Janie.  Since April 1st, she has been my caregiver and champion.  Having retired last June, she left her home in Uniontown and moved in with me, learning how to administer IV's, change dressings, question and challenge doctors, and advocating on my behalf.  I took her home today for a while, to check on the house and pay the bills and meet her friends.  She has only been home a few times over these months, even though friends have "checked on things at home" and kept her informed.  She has a liking for angels, and that is one reason that I can call her my angel in these challenging times.  We have always been close, but since I was ordained forty three years ago, we have become best of friends as well.  She is a treasure!  People often ask me if I realize how lucky I am to have her ... and I answer ABSOLUTELY!

     I hope to reboot my commitment to Journey Thoughts.  Pray for me.  Pray for blessings for Janie.  And pray every day for those who are more in need of our prayers.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Peter and Paul

     Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, who are the foundational blocks of the mission of the Church.   Both were martyred in Rome sometime during the persecution of Nero, around 64 AD.  Both are instrumental in laying the groundwork for the message of the Gospel: Peter to the House of Israel and Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles.  Both are remembered and honored at their place of death and burial by two awesome churches.   And it is on this feast that the Church recognizes the primacy of Peter and his successor, the Bishop of Rome.  His symbol are the keys of the Kingdom entrusted to him at the time of his declaration of faith.

     Peter died by crucifixion (at his request, upside down because he was unworthy to die as did Jesus) on Vatican Hill at the circus located there.  He was buried in the adjoining cemetery, and his grave was marked and venerated from the beginning, although in secret.  When Constantine converted and built a church over his grave, the first Saint Peter's came to be.  The present basilica was built over the same spot, with Peter's tomb located in the necropolis below the crypt and under the main altar.

     Paul, a Roman citizen by birth, was brought to Rome to be judged by the emperor.  Found guilty, he was condemned to death as well, but since crucifixion was beneath the dignity of even the worst Roman citizen, he was beheaded just outside the city walls.  This is the sight of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.  His ministry was to preach the Gospel message to the Gentile community, and his symbol is the two edged sword, which Scripture describes as the Word of God.

     The Preface proper to this feast is very beautiful, mentioning that Peter is "foremost in confessing the faith" and established "the early Church from the remnant of Israel".  It says that Paul is the faith's "outstanding preacher ... master and teacher of the Gentiles".

     A number of years ago I had the honor of celebrating Mass in the Clementine Chapel which is at the tomb of Peter and under the high altar.  I also had the opportunity to be a part of the Scavi tour of the underground necropolis that has been excavated since the 1940's, I believe, and leads to the bones attributed to be those of Peter.

     As pastor of the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg, we were looking for an image of Paul for our letterhead, and I chose Paul holding the sword.  Many wondered at that, until they became aware that this sword represents the Word of God.

     On this Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, please pray for Peter's successor, Francis, and those who share the ministry of the Apostles, including our own Bishop, Edward and our retired Bishop, Lawrence.  Pray for those who form the rock solid foundation of Faith and who preach unceasingly the Word of God.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Shepherd's Heart

     A week ago Friday the Church celebrated the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  I mentioned at Mass that the Heart of Jesus that gives us the love of God invites us to join with him and become holy, sacred.  And while we call the heart of Jesus a Sacred Heart, it is also the heart of a shepherd, the Good Shepherd ... a loving, caring heart of mercy and compassion.

     The following day, on that Saturday morning of June 4th, Bishop Edward Malesic ordained to the priesthood for the Church and the Diocese Greensburg a young man by the name of Ryan Ravis.  He is a delightful man of faith and love, of enthusiasm and great expectations.  His story has been told in interviews that can be found in our Diocesan Newspaper, The Catholic Accent, and on the Diocesan website.  It is a great story of how God is the one in charge of the direction in our lives, and we are truly blessed that the Lord has led him to ministry in priesthood.  I hope and pray that he has many year - "Multos annos" - and happiness and service with the heart of a shepherd. 


 
Pictures courtesy of the Diocese of Greensburg facebook site
 

     There is a hymn that we sing whose first verse goes something like this: "If you love me, feed my lambs.  Be my heart, my hands, my voice.  If you love me feed my sheep.  And for my part, I give you the heart, of a shepherd."  May Ryan continue to love the Lord. May he be the hands and the heart and the voice of Jesus to all he meets.  May he feed the lambs and sheep entrusted to him.  And may he find the gift of the Heart of a Shepherd as promised by the Lord.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Tuesday story

     I would like to tell you of a great experience in my life this past Tuesday, but first I want to acknowledge and congratulate a young man, Father Ryan Ravis, who was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Greensburg yesterday morning (Saturday) by Bishop Ed Malesic.  I wish Ryan many years of happy and fruitful priesthood.  More on his ordination at another time.  Pray for him ... and pray for priestly vocations.

     This past Tuesday afternoon I had the opportunity to host a small luncheon for our parish staff and a group of individuals who have been extremely helpful during my recent illness.  A great part of the group of about twenty-five that gathered for lunch were members of our Christian Mothers, who every other day graciously brought meals to the rectory for my sister and myself.  They were delicious and I suggest helped with the healing process.  We gathered at a local establishment and shared food and fellowship in a relaxed setting.  I am most grateful to all who visited, helped, sent cards and greetings, and prayed for my recovery.

     My sister and the staff at the parish also transformed this gathering of thanks into a birthday celebration for yours truly (the birthday was on Monday, May 30th).  A good time was had by all.

     Tuesday was the feast of the Visitation, when Mary visited her cousin, Elizabeth, who was also with child.  I pointed out, both at Mass and at the luncheon, that this feast is a model of what we can be and need to be for others.  In the little things, like a visit or a prepared meal, we not only do something good and perform a work of mercy, but like Mary, we bring with us the presence of Christ to those whose lives we touch.  And when we, on the receiving end of things, realize the blessing that has come our way, we rejoice and our hearts leap for joy at the presence of our Lord in the life of another.  I experienced that presence and that love, and for that I count my blessings.  That is why this little lunch was so important for me.

     We have a very talented and creative person on staff who is a musician, Diana Mikash.  She composed a little "dittie" that all sang to me to the tune of "Hello Dolly".  I thought that I would share this "Ditties by Di" selection with you.

Hello Lenny
 
I said hello Lenny, well hello Lenny,
It's so great that we can all be here with you.
You're lookin' swell, Lenny, we can tell, Lenny,
That you've followed doctor's orders
and nurse Jane's, too!
 
We've missed you so, Lenny.  Don't you know, Lenny
that there's no one who could ever take your place so
Welcome back, Lenny.
Things can now get on track, Lenny.
Everything will be just fine.
You're still young, you're sixty-nine!
Lenny, don't ever go away again1
 
Hey don't you fret, Lenny.  We can bet, Lenny,
You'll be back to doing things you like to do.
You'll be in church, Lenny, on your perch, Lenny.
and hit all the local eateries that missed you, too!
 
Just one more year, Lenny, that you're here, Lenny,
and we've got so much to do before you go, now
don't you fear, Lenny,
we'll get you through your final year, Lenny.
So just look at it this way, 70's just one more year away!
May God bless you on this special day!!!

Monday, May 30, 2016

A memorable moment

     This morning I celebrated Mass at the parish for the first time since April 1st.  I did concelebrate a Mass each of these last three weekends, but this was the first "solo" flight.  This illness that began on the 1st of April has robbed me of two months, and made me grateful for many things, not least of which are the help of my local brother priests and the prayers of so many friends and parishioners and staff.  Today is significant because it is Memorial Day, on the original date, and my sixty-ninth birthday.  How time flies.
     
     Those friendships and the relationships that are established in ministry sustain me on my journey, and lift my spirits when times get difficult.  A few weeks ago in the mail I received a letter from the local Serra Club of Greensburg whose sole purpose is to promote vocations to the priesthood.  As a part of their efforts, they invite 7th and 8th grade students in the local Catholic schools to write letters to their local priests.  I received three such letters this time.  One was a 7th grader from Queen of Angels School named Johnny P. who thanked me for the school masses that I offered and also said "... the homilies that you give at our school liturgies have helped me make some important decisions about my faith that have been very helpful, and give me a sense of confidence in the decisions that I have to make."   Jordan M. thanked me for my years of service as a priest and in the parish as pastor, and said "Your homilies are always very interesting and make me think about my life when I come home.  I try to think about your homily during the week so I can live a better life."  And finally, Lucas F. said "You are a great priest.  I have had some wonderful experiences at your Church ... Everyone was nice there, and I could easily understand the homily ... Thank you for responding to God's call to the Church."

     With words such as this, how can one's spirits not be lifted!  Thanks, guys.


    

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Longevity and Faith

Within the past month our local Church and our local community, as well as our priestly presbyterate have lost two women of Faith whose lives spanned 220 years.  Both were mothers of priests who served this Diocese, and both were good women who inspired many.  Both had been residents of Saint Anne's Home in Greensburg.

On April 4th, Pricilla Brandt, mother of our retired Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt, died in her sleep at the age of 107.  Mrs. Brandt's life was long and interesting, and she took great delight in all things, the simple and the extraordinary.   I remember Bishop Brandt having an enjoyable conversation with my sister soon after he arrived in the Diocese as they discussed the various soap operas on tv that each of our mom's enjoyed.  I also remember Mrs. Brandt taking great delight in the fact that her son was "the bishop".  She was a good woman of Faith whose life spanned a remarkable time frame.

 
 
And on May 7th, Mrs. Irene Ciuffoletti, another resident of Saint Anne's Home and possibly the oldest resident of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, died at the age of 113.  She was the mother of one of our deceased priests, Father Angelo Ciuffoletti.  Her funeral Mass was this afternoon in her home town of New Kensington.  Mrs. Ciuffoletti, who I mentioned in an earlier post, was active and alert, loved life and her relationship with the Lord, and was also an inspiration to those who knew her.
 
 
 
May these two good women
enjoy eternity and
REST IN PEACE.
And may the souls of the Faithful Departed
through the mercy of God,
rest in peace.



Thursday, May 5, 2016

43 years of journey - 1,000 post of Journey Thoughts

     Forty three years ago this morning V. Paul Fitzmaurice, Peter L. Peretti, Roger Statnick and yours truly were ordained to the priesthood by the late Bishop William G. Connare at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg.  It was a cool but glorious morning.  Thus began my journey, for which I am eternally grateful to Almighty God, and to the People of God who have helped in my formation.  All four of us are still serving in active ministry in this Diocese, and God has been so generous in his blessings.  I wish my brothers well on this special day.

     In my recent illness I have had the opportunity for much tv watching.  One of those shows is "The Chew", a cooking show on in the early afternoon.  Today they are marking their 1,000th program, with much hoopla.

     Today also marks my 1,000th post of "Journey Thoughts".  It has been an extraordinary journey within "the" journey, and I am deeply indebted to those who have faithfully followed these random thoughts regarding priesthood over these years, and those who are so encouraging.  Our God is SO GOOD!

Monday, May 2, 2016

a pause on the journey - a lost month

     One month ago, April 1st, I awoke on that Friday morning with my right leg twice the size of my left leg.  This was after a night of soreness and nausea that I thought was the beginning of the flu.  As the day progressed, my leg from the knee down began to turn red and get hot, and by evening there was a place where there was an oozing of fluid on the lower leg.  On Saturday I went to the emergency room and was admitted for six days with a severe case of cellulitis and a severe case of sepsis in the blood in the right leg.  At the same time, my left shoulder, which is full of arthritis and is a regular problem, froze up on me so that I could not use it at all.

     After two MRI's and two other major procedures, a month of intravenous and then oral antibiotics, and multiple visits to the infectuous disease doctor and the wound clinic to deal with the five wounds that developed on the right leg, I an slowly recovering.  I have done nothing for the month of April.  In fact, it has been lost to me, as has much of the Easter season.  Saturday was my first excursion out - to Mass and yesterday to our annual Bike Blessing, and they did me in.  This is my first time at the computer as well.

     Throughout all of this, my neighboring brothers from IC and Saint Agnes have been graciously covering for me.  My staff has been great and very accomadating.  The parishioners and friends have kept me in prayer and thought, with cards and visits.  And most importantly, my sister Janie has stopped her life to take care of me in every way possible.  I am in her debt.  To all who have been praying for me ....THANK YOU!  And keep praying.  I can't wear a shoe yet, and am not driving.  I will post whenever I can, and will keep you all in thought and prayer.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A week's reflection

     Last week was typically hectic for Holy Week.  Kicking off with the Palm Sunday liturgies, we brought the great season of Lent to a quiet close with the weekday Masses.  For me, it was a quick, uneventful and yet rewarding Lent, and I was surprised that it had reached it's end.

     I attended the Chrism Mass on Thursday morning at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg.  It was the first for our new bishop, Bishop Ed Malesic, who with his usual prayerful yet personable style truly got into the celebration.  The oils were blessed and distributed, the priests were gathered and affirmed in their priestly renewal before the people, the Word was broken open and we were inspired by the bishop's words (he spoke of many things, with one being an awareness of the sense of smell - Chrism has a distinctive smell to it which the bishop called a "churchy smell" - and spoke of a new priest in Harrisburg who was photographed smelling his newly anointed hands after ordination [the bishop posted the picture on his facebook]).  We had a great turnout of priests and people, and another great celebration of the love of God for us all.

     Later the evening we began the Triduum at the parish with the Mass of the Lord's Supper.  I love this liturgy for its simplicity and beauty.  Some of us travel by bus to a number of churches [St. Robert in East McKeesport and St. Coleman in Turtle Creek, both in the Pittsburgh Diocese] for visits to the altars of repose, and ended up for dessert before returning home.  I must admit that I backed out of the trip this year because of the need to rest and regain my strength, but those who went were blessed.

     The Good Friday Service was not one of my favorites for years, mainly because I was always concerned with time and getting things right.  But for a number of years now I have resolved those issues and find it to be a powerful time of reflection and grace.  I am especially moved by the veneration of the Cross by the people.  We use a very large wooden Cross, and because of my mobility problems, I have four parishioners carry the Cross into the church for our veneration.  Their reverence in procession, and watching the faces of those who come forward to kiss, touch, bow or genuflect before, or just gaze upon the Cross is inspiring.

     We in the parish gathered in the evening at 8:30 for the Service of Tenebrae, a great way to end the day.  I had friends who joined us from Greensburg, as they do nearly every year.

    Our Easter Vigil began at 8:30 pm on Saturday, and this year, for the first time since I have been a pastor, we did not do all nine readings.  The reason was simple, my stamina was the culprit.  But the readings that we chose, the three young people that I had the honor of baptizing, and our joyous Easter celebration provided a tremendous Easter experience.

     Easter morning saw big crowds at the 8:30 & 11:00 Masses.  If only it could be like that all of the time.  By the time the afternoon arrived, I was ready for a nap, exhausted by happy, celebrating with the Church the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus.