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.

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     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.


     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.