Monday, January 25, 2016

Random Thoughts

     Well, here in the Northeast, we have survived the snowstorm of the year to date, and a record breaker at that.  The Mid-Atlantic/Northeast is digging out.  Where I am in Southwestern PA, we missed the bulk of the snow, only receiving about eight to nine inches overnight Friday into Saturday.  But my sister lives just an hour south in Uniontown where they received 20 - 24 inches of snow.  To those who lost their lives in the great expanse of this storm, to those greatly inconvenienced, to those who worked hard to help others in this emergency, we assure you of our prayers.


     Because of the snow crisis on the weekend, Bishop Edward Malesic issued a statement relaxing the Mass attendance requirement for January 23/24 for those who were not reasonably able in safely to attend Mass because of health or care of others or travel.  He asked everyone to use common sense, remain safe and follow the directions of government officials during this snow event.  He encouraged those unable to venture out to spend time in prayer by reading the Scriptures and meditating.  I know that our snow plow service a few years ago when a pending storm was approaching asked when the decision would be made to cancel?  Cancel, I said?  We rarely if ever cancel.  I have heard of only one regional Sunday evening Mass yesterday in the diocese where the priest could not make it to the church.

     Our numbers were down, especially on Saturday where we had about 150 instead of the usual 350/400.  But Mass went on!


     Speaking of Mass going on, there was a massive backup on the PA Turnpike on Friday/Saturday in the mountains East of here.  Over 500 cars, trucks and buses were stranded for countless hours.  Thank God there were no major emergencies.  But a number of those buses were youngsters and marchers returning from Friday's March For Life.  Reports showed that the high school kids from a number of schools and diocese in the country made the most of their "captivity" by checking on others, bringing a smile and cheer to those stranded, and with a few priests on board, even created a "snow altar" and celebrated Mass, with music and all, along side of the road, with snow falling and wind blowing.  It was inspiring, and a great witness to our Faith and to the commitment of these pro-lifers.   Great job, folks.

     Speaking of the March for Life in Washington on Friday, the numbers were down because of the impending blizzard, but impressive none the less.  The commitment of so many, whether at the March or in prayer at home, or at other venues around the nation, speaks of the heartbreak of this tragic law of this great nation that disregards the sanctity of all human life for the rights of the few, forcing us to make decisions that say that my right out ranks your right - with life hanging in the balance.  And the life hanging in the balance is that of the defenseless, the unborn.

      The Pro - Life Vigil at the Shrine in DC the night before is always a moving experience.  I remember in the days when I could attend, the love that you felt as a priest from the crowds gathered for that Mass moved my heart.  This year, even though the numbers were a little less, the Basilica was packed and the liturgy was a powerful witness.  I saw our bishop, Bishop Ed Malesic, along with our neighbor from Pittsburgh, Bishop David Zubik among those concelebrating.

     And on Saturday I watched the Mass from LA's beautiful Cathedral of the Angels.  It too was a powerful testimony, and the placing of approximately 200 candles around the altar to represent the lives lost just that day to abortion in LA County was very moving.

     So much has taken place in the Church, and we are the most blessed by God.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A legacy shared

     One day last week my sister, Janie, called to tell me that our cousin Bob and his sister Lynn were stopping by to take Janie to lunch.  Bob lives in the eastern part of the Commonwealth and Lynn lives in Pittsburgh.  Janie and I had discussed the passing on of part of our Dad's legacy to Bob, namely his guns.  Dad was a city policeman in Uniontown for many years before his retirement, and left three revolvers.  These have been locked away and well hidden for many years.  In fact, I last saw them when Dad retired which had to be about thirty years ago.  Bob, you see, is a collector, and we figured that he would appreciate these firearms and give them a good home.  He was thrilled.   After handing them over to Bob, he and Janie transferred the registrations and thus they found a new home.   We were relieved to get them out of our care and to close this chapter of Dad's history.  He has been gone now for almost fourteen years.

     There is much discussion and controversy over gun control and gun legislation.  I personally think that a responsible and common sense approach is the best, but this comes from someone who has never owned or fired a gun except for the cap pistol of my cowboy set when I was a kid and the Red Ryder BB gun that my Assistant, Mike Ripple, bought me for Christmas back in the early '90's.  I did use that for target practice in the back yard of the rectory.  Guns are not a part of my experience nor of my future.  Yet, despite this fact, I shed a tear or two when told that Dad's guns had been handed on.  They served him well in his role as a public servant on the police force of Uniontown.  May they give Bob some joy and satisfaction in the years to come.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The power of covenant love

     These are a few of the thoughts that I shared with our parish family on this Second Sunday in Ordinary Time.

     Yesterday the son of one of our parish families was married at the neighboring parish of Saint Barbara in Harrison City.  They are a great young couple, in love with each other, and they shared a day of celebration and joy that reflected that love, and the awareness of the love that Christ has for them.  They now begin their journey together, and despite the inevitable struggles and hurdles, I trust that their vision and their hope will be rooted in covenant love.  I wish them well.

     In the Gospel for this Sunday we encounter another young couple, blessed by family and friends, who celebrated their covenant love at a great party that included Mary, Jesus and his friends.  They too were looking to the future, as they began their journey together ... despite the embarrassing hurdle of "running out of wine".  Jesus took care of that mishap.

     As we begin our journey anew at the beginning of this Ordinary Time, we face the uncertainty of the future, the challenges to love and respect presented by society, the unforeseen hurdles that life places before us.   But like these two couples from different times, we are blessed with the reminder of the covenant love that has been shared with us, which we find in the passage from the Hebrew Scripture of today's Mass.  Those reminders are that we are not alone or accursed or forsaken, but that we have been chosen, we are espoused by none other than the Redeemer himself.  Our journey is not our own,  It is made in the unity of love found in Christ and his Church.  It is strengthened by the gifts of the Spirit poured into our lives and our family.  It is renewed in the vision given to us of his unbelievable love and mercy.   There is great power in that kind of love.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

He waits for us ...

     Pope Francis shared in his General Audience today thoughts on his favorite topic, that of the mercy of God.  In his presentation he had this to say:

     "God's love, freely given, precedes any merit on our part; his faithfulness, like that of the father in the parable of the prodigal son, has no limits.  He waits for us, ever ready to forgive our sins and to welcome us back to a right relationship with him.  In this Year of Mercy, may we turn to God with all our heart, trusting in his mercy and grace, his infinite faithfulness and love."

     More and more in my preaching and sharing with others I stress this positive and life transforming reality of God's love and mercy.   It allows all of us, great and small, sinner and saint, to come to him, who waits for us, and to embrace life everlasting.  Despite ourselves, his love, freely given, has no limit.  Embrace that tender mercy, now rather than later, for he waits for us.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Ordinary Time - a misnomer

     This morning as we gathered to pray at Mass we entered into Ordinary Time.  I must admit that I still have trouble at times finding my way around the Roman Missal ... and today was no exception until I located to Ordinary Time prayers.  Following upon the Baptism of the Lord and his embarking on his mission of love and service, and being reminded of our baptism and the call  that this experience of Christ brings to us to be about the work of Christ, as Pope Francis described in his Epiphany homily as being about "the service of the Church" to a hungry and searching world, we embark in a renewed way upon our journey of being a light in the darkness, a guiding star to those who seek, and example of faith to those floundering.  Our task is to embrace the challenge, to accept the mercy of God, to grow in faith and love, and to be Christ for others.

     This task is no "ordinary" task.  And this "time" is no ordinary time.  In Psalm 36 we hear "With you, O Lord, is the fountain of life, and in your light we see light."  May our ordinary journey lead us to the extraordinary joy of bring the light of Christ to others. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The example of witnesses

     In the days following our celebration of the Birth of Christ we had days when we celebrated witnesses to the faith:  Stephen, a deacon and the first martyr on the 26th who graciously gave his life in service of the Lord ... John, the evangelist, on the 27th, whose life of witness did not include the shedding of his blood, but whose life of suffering and exile, and his witness in the Gospel and Scriptures continue to inspire (this commemoration was replaced by our celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family this year) ...  the Holy Innocents on the 28th, slaughtered by Herod as he sought to put an end to the life of this "newborn king" ... Thomas Becket on the 29th, whom I wrote of recently ... and Pope Sylvester from the 300's who also died a martyr's death.  In the musical "Les Miz", I believe there is a phrase in one of the songs speaking of those who gave their lives in the French Revolution that says that "the blood of the martyrs will water the meadows of France".  We can definitely say that "the blood of these martyrs of the faith have nourished and strengthened our community of faith."  How blessed we are by their example!

      And in this first week of the year we are presented with three examples of faith that come to us from North America: Mother Seton on Monday, Bishop Neumann on Tuesday, and Brother Andre today.   New York & Emmittsburg, the Czech Republic & Philadelphia, and the Oratory of Saint Joseph on Mount Royal in Montreal witnessed and attest to the faith of these three saints of the Church, and remind us of our call to make a difference in the lives of others by living our relationship with Christ to the fullest.  How blessed we are by their example!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Mother Seton

     Today is the feast of Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, patron of our parish family and foundress of the Daughters of Charity, one branch of which is found in our Diocese in the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill in Greensburg.  Elizabeth Ann Seton was canonized on September 14, 1975 - 40 years ago - and yet is still referred to as Mother Seton.  We celebrated her feast this morning with a slightly later than usual morning Mass (at 9:00 instead of 8:00) with music and followed by coffee & donuts.  It was a nice way to pray as a parish family on the feast of our patron.

     I shared a little of the homily of Pope Paul VI on the occasion of her canonization.  Pope Paul said:

"May the dynamism and authenticity of her life be an example in our day - and for generations to come - of what women can and must accomplish, in the fulfillment of their role, for the good of humanity.  And finally we must recall that the most notable characteristic of our Saint is the fact that she was, as we said, the foundress of the first Religious Congregation of women in the United States.  It was an offspring of the religious family of Saint Vincent de Paul, which later divided into various autonomous branches - five principal ones - now spread throughout the world.  And yet all of them recognize their origin in the first group, that of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph's, personally established by Saint Elizabeth Seton at Emmittsburg in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.  The apostolate of helping the poor and the running of parochial schools in America had this humble, poor, courageous and glorious beginning.  This account, which constitutes the central nucleus of the earthly history and worldwide fame of the work of Mother Seton, would merit a more extensive treatment.  But we know that her spiritual daughters will take care to portray the work itself as it deserves.

And therefore to these chosen daughters of the Saint we direct our special and cordial greeting, with the hope that they may be enabled to be faithful to their providential and holy institution, that their fervor and their numbers may increase, in the constant conviction that they have chosen and followed a sublime vocation that is worthy of being served with the total gift of their heart, the total gift of their lives.  And may they always be mindful of the final exhortation of their Foundress Saint, those words she pronounced on her deathbed, like a heavenly testament, on January 2, 1821: "Be children of the Church".  And we would add: for ever!  And to all of our beloved sons and daughters in the United States and throughout the entire Church of God we offer, in the name of Christ, the glorious heritage of Elizabeth Ann Seton.  It is above all an ecclesial heritage of strong faith and pure love for God and for others - faith and love that are nourished on the Eucharist and on the Word of God.  Yes, brethren, and sons and daughters: the Lord is indeed wonderful in his saints.  Blessed be God for ever! "

     By her statue in our vestibule is the quote about Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, that she is " ... a saint for our time." 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

What an epiphany

     We celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord on this January 3rd of the new year.  Epiphany is a word that comes from the ancient Greek that means a manifestation, a striking appearance.  It is described as the experience of a striking realization.  Even though most do not use the word today apart from the feast, we have heard people say that they have had an epiphany!  It is the "eye opener", the light bulb going off in our heads, the "ah ha!" moment, the light overcoming the darkness of our confusion, the sudden impact of clarity, the "now I see it!" experience.

     For the Church, the word is used to designate the Feast when the magi came from a far to search for the Christ Child.  They were searching for truth, seeking answers to the meaning of life, following their quest for purpose.  They came to the child and his mother and Joseph and simply presented their gifts.  They in turn were immensely gifted in realizing that they had come upon someone of great importance and something that would be life changing.  They were not sure what it was, but they knew that they had found it, and they were able to return to their countries with a peace and contentment in their hearts.

     This Feast is an Epiphany for the followers of Jesus Christ in that our "ah ha!" moment of revelation and realization was that the birth of this child, the fulfillment of the promise made to a particular people, was expanded to include all who seek, to all who search for truth.  That, my friends, is you and me.  The gift is too great to be limited, too necessary to be confined.  This was our moment of celebrating "God with us" - Emmanuel.  In the earliest days of the Church, this was the primary celebration of Christmas, not December 25th, for the Good News was made known to us in this welcome of the magi in the home of the Holy Family.   So, on this great feast ... Merry Christmas!  Again!


     The Feast of the Epiphany is special for me in that seven years ago on this Feast (actually on January 4th) I was installed as the fifth pastor of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton parish.  These past seven years have been a blessing that I cherish in my heart.