Monday, February 29, 2016

Governed by grace

     Yesterday afternoon, before the Oscars, I rented and watched "Spotlight", the best picture nomination and ultimately the Oscar winning best picture of the year.   "Spotlight" tells the story of the Boston Globe reporting of the priest child abuse scandal that  rocked the Archdiocese of Boston and began an avalanche of allegations of abuse and of coverup throughout the country and throughout the world. It continues to be a scandal to the world and a challenge to the Church today.  It is not and  should not be an easy story to tell, and as a priest of over forty years, it brings with the telling an agony and heartbreak for the victims and their families, for the faithful who suffer confusion and disappointment, for the the lost message of the Gospel which the Church is entrusted with, for the sinners who have repented, and for the majority of us priests who are true to our calling.  It was hard to watch but necessary to understand the scope of the crisis.  It is also important to recognize the steps that have been and are still being taken to deal with the problem.   Very few other institutions have taken such measures, and I admit, very few other groups have the same spiritual and moral responsibility for doing so.   It can be overwhelming if not for the fact that redemption is a key element of our journey, forgiveness and mercy foundation stones, and justice and atonement banners that guide our way.

     In our Collect Prayer for Monday of the Third Week of Lent, the Church prays:

"May your unfailing compassion, O Lord,
cleanse and protect your Church,
and, since without you she cannot stand secure,
may she be always governed by your grace."
     We, as Church, need to be cleansed of our sin and failure to protect.  We, as Church, need to be protected from destructive forces from without as well as those from within.  We, as Church, for the sake of the Gospel and not ourselves, need to stand secure as a People of Faith.  And we, as Church, need to be governed by the grace of God.   I was so struck by that phrase - "governed by grace".

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lenten Friday Rememberings

     Friday's during Lent is a time for the traditional praying of the Stations of the Cross.  In our parish as of last year, we pray them at Noon at the church, rather than in the evening.  As I have been leading this devotion these last few weeks, I have had time to prayerfully reflect upon this Way of the passion of Christ.  With my mobility issues, this year I am leading the prayers from a sitting position, and have been sitting with the people in the pews.  What this has afforded me is the opportunity to gaze upon our beautiful image of the crucified Christ that hangs above the altar.  Looking upon that image while recounting the scripture passages referring to his passion has been powerfully moving.  I have found it a grace in my life.

     It also got me remembering the Stations of my youth.  I remember every Friday afternoon as a kid at Saint Joseph grade school gathering to pray the Stations in the church.  I cannot remember who published our Station books of that era, but I do remember the black and white art work depicting the Station.  They were gruesome and a bit frightening for  youngsters our age.  And yet I still remember them well, not with fear or trembling, but with appreciation for all that Christ suffered for me.  Over the years the children's Station books have become so mild and simplistic that I wonder if they lift and motivate the hearts of the kids today.

     There was another memory that came back.  I recall that during my years in Masontown I was asked to give the reflections at the weekly Lenten Men's prayer breakfast at Central Christian Church in Uniontown.  I was asked specifically to reflect upon the Way of the Cross, which I did.  Each week I took two or three stations and gave a short reflection.  The entire Lenten experience was well received, and even those stations that are not found specifically in the Scriptures were accepted as worthy meditations on the experiences of life.  I count it as an invitation to share our faith and tradition with other brothers that hopefully brought about as many blessings for them as it did for me.

     Lenten Friday's are so special!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Three times blessed

     In recent weeks the faithful of the Diocese of Greensburg have had the opportunity to mourn the passing and celebrate the ministry of three servants of God who have touched their lives.

     Most recently was the death of Sister of Charity Sister Mary Helen Meyer, SC, who died on February 25th at the age of 95 at the Motherhouse in Greensburg.  Her funeral will be this coming week.  Sister Mary Helen entered the community in 1939 and served in a number of roles of service, most notably as a teacher.  Countless youngsters who passed through our own Greensburg Central Catholic High School were impacted by her in her long career as biology and chemistry teacher from 1967 until 2012.  I have known her for many years and found her to be a caring woman of faith who was always kind and generous with her time.  She saw her Religious Life as an "invitation to service" that she readily accepted.  She will be missed and most importantly remembered by her family, her students and her friends.

     Our brothers at Saint Vincent Archabbey recently buried their confrere Benedictine Father Justin Withrow.  He died unexpectedly on February 3rd at the Archabbey at the age of 60.  He made his solemn profession in 1988 and was ordained in June of 1990.  He served in a number of capacities in the community and in their parishes, but was known for his service as hospital chaplain at hospitals in Jeannette, Greensburg and Latrobe since 1995.  Over that time he ministered to people in their greatest moment of need and ministered as well to countless families.  As Archabbot Douglas Nowicki noted in his obit, he was known for his "kindness and compassion", traits that will be sorely missed in coming days.  Father Justin was always kind and outgoing.  

     And word reached us of the death of Franciscan Father Matthew Brozovic who died on January 31st in Milford, Ohio.  Father Matthew, age 85, served for over thirty years from the former Saint Anthony Friary in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, ministering in parishes throughout the area, including the former All Saints (now Saint Francis of Assisi) in Masontown during my time there as pastor.  Father Matt was a very earthy, outspoken person who was a little rough around the edges.  Probably from his early days as a teacher, he would engage people in conversation and debate, whether in personal encounters or even from the pulpit.   The unexpected was the expected from Father Matt.  And people loved him.  His life of service in the spirit of Saint Francis was a blessing to the Church.

      These three served the Church Universal and this local Church in ways that cannot be measured.  We are grateful.  May they rest in peace.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Today's Prayer Over the People

     This prayer, the Prayer Over the People for this Wednesday of the Second week of Lent from the Roman Missal, spoke to my heart this morning regarding my/our needs.  I thought that I would share it with you.

"Bestow upon your servants, Lord,
abundance of grace and protection;
grant health of mind and body;
grant fullness of fraternal charity,
and make them always devoted to you.
Through Christ our Lord."
     May our journey through Lent be filled with mercy and grace.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Seventy years ago today

     It was a seasonally cold but beautiful day, unlike today, when on the afternoon of February 17, 1946, Frances Louise Lenard and William Vincent Stoviak shared the Sacrament of Marriage at Saint Mary of the Nativity Church in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.   He was the son of John and Bessie Stoviak of near Uniontown, a recent war veteran, and soon to become a city policeman in Uniontown.  She was the second daughter of Frank and Mary Lenard of Uniontown.  Her dad was a business man in the city, and with family and friends, it was quite an occasion.


     The began their journey and established their home and formed a family that included myself and then my sister, Janie.   They were good people, great parents, and models of what journey is all about.  They lived their lives well, and were very proud of both of us ... as we are of them.   They both had birthdays this past week - dad would have been 96 on Tuesday and mom 97 on Thursday.  And today, a few days after Valentine's Day and World Day of Marriage, they celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary.   They both have been gone for a number of years now, but they are both close to our hearts.  Happy Anniversary!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Unsteady first steps

      Lent has begun.  We have been signed.  We have fasted and prayed.  We have remembered not to eat meat.   We have begun the journey through this holy time of grace.   Our beginnings hopefully were strong, but as is often the case, we may have begun with an unsteady gait.   That was the case this morning as I arrived for Mass and found that there was a light coating of slush or ice on the parking lot, making walking a challenging endeavor.  Baby steps, and take your time, and being careful help to deal with the unsteadiness.

     My Lent began well, except for the head cold that settled in on Wednesday, making clarity of mind a chore and preaching and ministering to others an uphill struggle.

     As we usually do, we begin this great season with a reminder on the First Sunday of Lent of the surety of temptation in our lives - for the evil one, emboldened by his tempting of Jesus, does not hesitate to entice us with his words.  We have those images of the little guy in the red suit with pitch fork and horns on our shoulder telling us to do this or to do that.  As Geraldine used to say: "The devil made me do it!"  But he is much more subtle.   I reminded the people this weekend that temptation of every stripe is to be guarded against at every moment with the grace provided by the Lord, but that the temptation to do nothing, to be uninvolved in the lives of others, to walk on the periphery, to not immerse ourselves in the journey to holiness that we have received at Baptism, to simply "be" rather than to "live", is the more deadly and life threatening temptation. This is what we must guard against.  This is what we must resist.  And we do so through the bountiful blessings of the Lord.

     The Lenten Prayer Over the People for the First Sunday of Lent prays:

"May bountiful blessings, O Lord, we pray,
come down upon your people,
that hope may grow in tribulation,
virtue be strengthened in temptation,
and eternal redemption be assured.
Through Christ our Lord."

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Tribute

       Today, February 9th, would have been my Dad's ninety-sixth birthday.  This coming May will be fourteen years since he died, but, as with those that we love, he remains ever alive in our hearts and minds.   Dad spent a great many years as a policeman in the City of Uniontown, and was well known to many in town, for he had an outgoing and warm personality.

     The other day my sister, Janie and I were going through some old papers, and I came across a letter of commendation that was presented to Dad on November 11, 1952 from the Chief of Police, A.W.Davis.  It concerned an event that I had never heard tell of, but of which I am very proud and thought that I would share some of the letter in tribute to Patrolman William Stoviak, a great Dad and great friend.  I have changed a few names and locations with the "Smith" and "Jones" monikers.

     Chief Davis wrote:

"Dear Bill:

     Our department recently closed the bombing of the home of [Mr. Smith ...] Uniontown, Penna.  The suspect [Mr. Jones] having entered a guilty plea of malicious mischief by explosives ... and received a sentence of 2 to 10 years on two counts, malicious mischief by explosives.

     This case has been the most important case in my fifteen years' experience as Chief of Police, and I am very proud of the actions of Ptl. Guthrie and William Stoviak, first on the scene with their display of courage, and disregard for their personal safety.

     They severed the wires, connecting a time clock to a dynamite bomb, containing thirteen sticks of dynamite, rendering the bomb safe to examine, eliminating the damage to life and property in the locality, and preserving the following facts of evidence" 1) time clock, latent finger prints developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Laboratory; 2) torn ends of Scotch electric tape, used to tape wires to the clock.

     The physical stamina of a police officer is constantly challenged in their arduous duty, and exposed to danger.  However, I am a very proud Chief of Police in having the honor to congratulate you and Russell Guthrie in your display of courage on your arrival at the scene, August 3, 1952.  Police Officers our city can be proud of.  A copy of this letter will be placed in your personnel file.

     Your display of courage and disregard for personal safety can never be questioned; real cogs in our wheel of cooperation, in giving our best effort in making our city a better community in which to live.

                                                 Sincerely yours,

                                                 A. W. Davis
                                                 Chief of Police"

     Acts of heroism are not always known or acknowledged.  I was proud to hear of this act of heroism by these two men, and the recognition that followed.  I thought that on his birthday, the tribute would be fitting.  Love you, Dad.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Feast of Saint Blaise

     Blaise was a bishop of the early Church who died a martyr's death in 316.  He was bishop of Sebastea in Armenia, and during the persecution of Dioceltian was thrown into prison and eventually put to death.  He is known as a witness to the faith and a martyr, and is traditionally associated with the custom of the blessing of throats on this day.

     This tradition flows from a longstanding tradition that Blaise, while in prison, ministered to his flock who were locked up with him.  The story goes that a young boy began to choke on a bone from a piece of fish, and while everyone froze, Blaise calmly and confidently dislodged the bone and saved the child.  Thus he became an intercessor for ailments of the throat.

     The Collect Prayer for today's liturgy says:

"Hear, O Lord, the supplications your people make
under the patronage of the Martyr Saint Blaise,
and grant that they may rejoice in peace
in this present life,
and find help for life eternal."
     The prayer that we pray as we offer the prayer over the people is this:
"Through the intercession of Saint Blaise,
bishop and martyr,
may you be delivered from every ailment
of the throat or body
and from any other evil.
in the Name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
     Happy Saint Blaise day!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


     February 2nd is upon us.  In our Catholic Faith we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the celebration of the custom and ritual of the Law in regard to Jesus.  It was understood
that every first born male child belonged to God, and was to be presented for service to the Lord at the temple after his birth.  It was also accepted that this child could be redeemed by the ritual offering of a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons in place of the child, so that the child could continue to serve the family.  This became the common practice, the one which Mary and Joseph followed when coming to the temple that day.  We, as Catholics,  bless candles on this day, acknowledging that Jesus, the Christ, is indeed the light of the world.  We call this Candlemas Day.

     When Mary and Joseph brought the child, Jesus, to the temple, they encountered Simeon, an old man who had waited his whole life for the promised Messiah.  He had been told by God that he would not see death until he had seen the Christ.  His trust in God's promise, to his people and to himself personally, compelled him to wait and to pray, to patiently seek out and to joyfully be attentive to all that came into his life.  And when that moment of encounter came, when he recognized the blessing of the moment, he embraced this child, he praised God, he affirmed the parents, and he was content.  "Nunc dimittis" - "Now Lord, you may dismiss your servant" ... were the words that came from his lips.  They expressed the peace in his heart.  They spoke of his faith and gave reason as to why he waited.  We should take Simeon as our model, surrender our fear to God, and trust the word and promise of our wonderful God.


     In our local traditions on February 2nd, many of us in this part of the world wait to see whether the furry little critter from Punxsutawney named Phil, sees his shadow.  This groundhog has been predicting the length of Winter for many years now.  If he sees his shadow (which he usually does - I say because of all of the tv cameras) we have six more weeks of Winter ahead.  If he does not, Winter will be shorter.  Today (and it is a sunny day!) he did not see his shadow.  May Phil's prediction be true!

     We locally wait for this February 2nd Groundhog's Day ... and no matter the outcome, we definitely wait for Spring.  Just as Lent at this time of the year has us waiting for Easter, so too does Winter lead us to Spring.