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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

An early Mothers' Day

     Yesterday afternoon a number of my brother priests from this area completed a week's worth of Lenten Penance Services as we ministered to the students of our Regional Catholic School - Queen of Angels.  I am not a fan of "rounding up" the youngsters for these school penance services because I feel that it undermines their personal responsibility to receive the Sacrament.  All too often they only "go" when we provide the convenience.

     Having said that, I can attest that it was a blessed experience of faith and the mercy of God among his people.   We hear in the auditorium of the school, and my "station" was on the stage.  I began with the younger youngsters and graduated to the older kids as the time went on.  Hearing kids confessions is interesting.  Without revealing anything, I can attest that the vast majority of sins confessed reflected the goodness and the innocence of the boys and girls that came to me to confess disobeying mom and dad, or fighting with their siblings, or being mean to someone.  And they came expectant - expecting forgiveness and love and assurance that they were okay.  It was a joy to remind them that Jesus loves them, forgives them, and that, yes, indeed, they were okay.  And that they need to try to do better with Jesus' help.

     The title of this post comes from my "penance" of choice yesterday for the dozens of youngsters who came to me for confession.  I asked them to do something nice for their mom later on that day to let her know that they loved her.  I'm sure that there were some very curious moms who wondered if it was an early Mothers' Day.

     In the midst of the uncertainty and cruelty among human beings today, the turmoil and confusion that exists when we ignore God, it is refreshing to see the goodness and the faith in these little ones.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Old Friends

      Recently PBS rebroadcast the Simon & Garfunkel concert from Central Park.  I grew up on their music and love many of the songs.  One of them that touches my heart is the song "Old Friends".  Whenever I hear it sung, I reflect upon the countless friendships that I have been graced to have shared with "old" (rather longtime) friends, some of whom, like me, are getting older by the minute.

     On Friday morning one of those "old friends" was laid to rest by her family and friends at a funeral liturgy at Saint Sebastian Church in Belle Vernon.  Her name is Josephine "Jo" O'Hara and she was 96.  I have known Jo since I first arrived in Belle Vernon in 1975, and she and I shared the same date of birth - May 30th.

     Jo was a small but giant woman of faith and kindness.  She was active at the parish of Saint Sebastian, singing in the funeral choir, faithfully praying the parish rosary at the time of a death, a member of the Valley of Hope Charismatic Prayer Group (where we worked together in leadership), the Third Order of Saint Francis, Friends of the Veterans, Meals on Wheels deliverer, Legion of Mary and Ladies Guild of the parish.  She was a seamstress, rosary maker and great cook.  And she was a kind and gentle soul.

     When I arrived at Saint Sebastian forty years ago, a group of us formed the Valley of Hope Prayer Group, and Jo and her husband Bill were part of the leadership team.  I spent many evening at their home with the core group praying and planning for the meetings ... and eating Jo's good cooking.  I have fond memories of those days and the many encounters since.  She was not only an acqaintance, but for me one of those special people that I call an "old friend".

     Health and schedule kept me from joining with those who gathered, but I share my thoughts, prayers and gratitude with her family of two sons and a daughter and their families.  May she rest in peace.

And we begin ...

     Since the beginning of Lent until now we have prepared our hearts by penance and charitable works.  Today we begin the celebration of the Lord's Paschal Mystery.  On this Palm Sunday, we remember his triumphal entry into Jerusalem for the feast, the chaos and frenzy of the crowd and the joyful exultation and praise of the faithful.  And we remember how quickly the tone changed, with the voices of praise giving way to the cries for his life.   How fickle we are.  How in tune with the times and current mood rather than being rooted in revealed truth.

     Some of the Pharisees told him to rebuke his followers for proclaiming: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest."   These were words upsetting to the political status quo and to accepted religious sensibilities.  Better they be quiet, and safe.

     But in one of my favorite lines, Jesus said in reply, "I tell you, if they be silent, the stones will cry out!"  There is no chaining the Word of God.  There is no denying the truth.  There is no prudent embrace of the message of salvation found in the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.  It is all out, or nothing.  It is full throated and not whispered.  It is totally life changing and transforming.  All of creation sings his praise.  And by our prayers and journey this week that we call HOLY, we sing his praise!

    And so we have begun ...

     Before Mass this morning a young lad came in with his family, came up to me and asked: "Why are you wearing red today?"  I told him that it was the color of the day, that we have a book that tells us what color to wear, and that today was red because it was Palm Sunday.  He quickly and loudly said: "Oh yah ... I forgot ... that's the day that Jesus came into the city before dying on the cross for us.  I remember now.  I read my bible stories, Father, and I remember this one."  We all smiled and I thanked him for reminding us of why we are here ... and I thanked his mom and dad for their good work.  It was a great way to begin the liturgy.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Five Years

     It was a Friday morning in the first week of Lent in 2011.  I was visited by a good friend and brother, Mike Ripple and his son.  He had some knowledge of the blogging world and got me set up, and for that I am very grateful.  My first post was as follows:


     As Lent begins, so does my entry into the world of blogging.  It has been my desire to share my thoughts through this medium for a while now.  Finally, on this first Friday of Lent, a good friend and fellow blogger, Michael Ripple, got me set up.  I am grateful.  He and his son Isaac are visiting.

     I hope to share my thoughts on a variety of experiences and issues that touch my life.  I have always referred to our sojourn as a follower of Christ as a journey, truly a journey of a lifetime.  The Good News that speaks of God's blessings is too important to be kept quiet.  I will endeavor to share my blessings with you.  I hope that you find my posts challenging and inspiring."

      Here it is again a Friday duruing Lent, but this time in the Fourth week of the season.  Mike and his family are at home in Erie, and young Isaac in interviewing for music programs in college (he is a very gifted musician, like his dad).  I continue to serve as pastor of this great community of people at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church and cherish the tremendous blessing of my nearly forty-three years of priesthood.  And I count this experience of sharing in JOURNEY THOUGHTS as less of a ministry and more of a blessing in my life as a priest.    We continue our journey together through God's grace.  Thank you for your faithful friendship.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

On the threshold

     Today is an "On the threshold" day.

     Tomorrow, March 11th, will mark the fifth anniversary of the first posting of Journey Thoughts.  I will resurrect that short post tomorrow.

     I am also on the threshold of reaching my 1,000th post, with this being 993.  That is a lot of words, some of which I hope were worthwhile.

     And we are on the threshold of reaching 90,000 page views in these five years (just about 500 shy at 89,453 to date).  Not anywhere close to Whispers or the Holy Father's Twitter followers, but not bad for this simple pastor in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

     Even though I have slowed down in postings from those early days of the blog, I am truly blessed to be on this Journey with all of you.  God is very good!