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.