Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Kind Words

     The "winding down" aspect of retirement is challenging.  It involves a series of "lasts" and an emotional roller coaster that leaves you exhilarated and exhausted at the same time. 

     This past Friday was our last day of classes for our Regional Catholic School, and following dismissal, the teachers from Queen of Angels gathered for an end of the year lunch.  Of course, they invited me, and had a cake to celebrate my retirement.  We ate, reflected upon these past years with their blessings and challenges, and prepared to go into vacation mode.  They shared a kind gift as well as the cake, and I am grateful.   My last duties were to sign a last batch of checks, turn in my key fob for the building, and promise to hold the school dear to my heart.

      On Saturday morning I had the delight to welcome Bishop Robert Lynch, retired Bishop of St. Petersburg and a blogger for many years, to our parish.  The circumstance was a sad one, the death of a longtime friend and co-worker at the Bishops Conference - William Kassane.  Originally from this area, Mr. Kassane's family brought him home for his funeral.  The Bishop celebrated the funeral liturgy, and true to my expectations, ministered to those in grief with the heart of a shepherd.

     I have for a long time been a fan of Bishop Lynch, and in the blogging world he is one of my heroes.  He is a delightful man, warm, personable, very kind in his praise and encouragement, and a true pastor.  We spoke of retirement a bit and he gave me words of encouragement.

     Sunday was Pentecost, one of my favorite feasts in the Church year.  The parish had set this day to celebrate my retirement with the 11:00 am Liturgy and a wonderful reception in the parish hall during the afternoon.  The committee did an outstanding job, and the many who attended enjoyed themselves.  I was busy greeting friends and parishioners from 12:15 to 4:00 without a break.  I was truly humbled by the outpouring of affection and love, and the many kind words spoken and written in cards and notes.  It  makes me keenly aware of the need of God's grace and the working of the Lord in our lives despite ourselves.  My gratitude is immense, and it begins with the Lord.  To Him be all the praise!

     Everyone asks "When is the last day?"  The truth is that we are waiting for the Diocesan Priests Summer Assignments to find out the moving date.  So we don't know ... but will soon, I hope.  Until then we continue and we wait with expectant hope.



Monday, May 29, 2017

A hectic pace

     May has been a whirlwind of activities, set within the context of the transition toward retirement at the end of June and all that this event demands of my energies.

     A week ago last Thursday, our Christian Mothers Confraternity held their final meeting of the current year with the annual wine and cheese social following.  They had asked me to install the new officers (usually done in the Fall, but since I will not be here at that time, they wanted to get me to do the honors).  We have had a tremendous crew of officers for these last years and the group has been revitalized and energized and given a new spirit that I am confident the new officers will pick up on and continue.  They support the parish in so many ways and provide two $500.00 scholarships to graduating seniors who submit their applications to help them in their future endeavors.  These were awarded yesterday at our Mass honoring our Graduates of 2017.  Also at the meeting, the ladies brought out a cake with candles to help celebrate my 70th birthday which is tomorrow.  Fortunately they only used two candles - a "7" and a "0".  That was the first time that I saw those numbers used to describe my fleeting youth.  It was scary.

     The next evening, Friday the 19th, Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School that serves our area held a "Casino Night" dinner and fundraiser at a local event facility, Antonelli's.  A large crowd gathered for an evening of good food, fellowship, entertainment and prizes.  All of the pastors were there, and I was humbled to be singled out by my brother, Father John Moineau, in his introduction and welcome and acknowledged for my support of Catholic School Education over the many years of my assignments.  Preparing to say farewell is an interesting experience.

     Saturday evening after the 4:00 pm Mass we recognized our volunteers that worked so tirelessly at our Lenten Fish Dinners.  We had invited them to a dinner catered in our church hall, and assured them that we would not serve fish.  There was no agenda or speeches, but simply a relaxing evening of food and fellowship.  All went away satisfied and hopefully eager for next Lent and our continued tradition.

     On Sunday, after the 11:00 Mass and two baptisms that followed, the Norwin Area Community Resource Center which serves the needs of our senior community members, hosted a Reception and Fine Arts Sale on my behalf.  I have over thirty framed, signed, numbered prints (Civil war, florals, landscape, pastoral scenes) that I need to sale in my downsizing efforts.  The Center was very gracious in organizing and hosting the afternoon event.  The weather was bad, the crowd small, and the sales minimal, but it was a great afternoon.  We were even visited by Mrs. Mary Todd Lincoln who graced us with her presence and her accounts of her husband, the late President, and her recollections of the War between the States.  This good lady stayed in character the entire afternoon.  She was good.



     Monday evening saw the eighth grade graduation of Queen of Angels School with a Mass at our place followed by a reception in our church hall.  We had twenty-four graduates who were outstanding on so many levels.  Well over two hundred people attended, and we had seven area priests concelebrate.  Recognitions were made and awards were distributed as the youngsters celebrated their past and looked to the future.  I had the honor of being the celebrant for the Mass.










Thursday, May 18, 2017

Catching up - in pictures

     My last post involved some "catching up".  However, I was not able to include pictures until I upgraded my browser.  That completed, I would like to add the pics that correspond to the last post.

     I wrote of the passing of Sammy, the faithful companion of my sister, Jane and favorite of "Uncle Len".  This is Sammy in all of his cuteness.  We shared eleven years and a month with him, and were blessed.



     On the 5th of May, Janie celebrated her birthday.  She is the best of sisters and a great friend.

    
Telling the Bishop what a wonderful brother she has

     On the afternoon of the 6th, we were visited by Bishop Edward Malesic for his pastoral visit to the parish of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.  Here are some of the pictures of the visit.


 My welcome of the Bishop
 Our deacon, Jeff Cieslewicz




 The Bishop with First Communicant, Wren Peters
 The cake
 With some of our Christian Mothers, who hosted the reception
 With Diana Mikash, our Director of Music
 With Ethan Guyer, a First Communicant
Yours truly, the Bishop, Alex Kahanik, a senior & server & Father Tyler Bandura

     And then, in a change of pace, our Sixth Annual Blessing of Bikes on Sunday afternoon.  Cold weather, somewhat smaller crowd, great time had by all.
Good News Blues Gospel Group
 Diana Mikash as MC
 John Mikash with favors given out

 WPXI Channel 11 news interview
 Heads bowed in prayer

Deacon Jeff enjoying doing the blessing







Friday, May 12, 2017

Catching Up

     I have resolved my computer problems at last (almost), and as of this morning are now able to post once again.  My browser was outdated and my computer was unable to upgrade, so it took an investment into a new set up.  The (almost) referred to above involves not yet transferring my pictures for download, but that too will come.  

     There is much to report from these past few weeks.

     On Tuesday of last week, May 2nd, Sammy, the faithful companion for the last eleven years of my sister, Janie, reached a point of deteriorating health where we had to put him to sleep.  Sammy was a cute little puppy that has brought much joy to Janie and myself, and to so many over these years.  Our vet was very gentle and understanding, which made the experience bearable, but the loss is deeply felt by Janie in particular.  We had almost five weeks since he was diagnosed with a stomach growth and cancer.  This gave us time to prepare and to cherish these precious moments, but it is never easy.   We had his remains cremated, and received them just yesterday from our good friends and funeral director, Frank and Rhenee Kapr of Scottdale.

     Friday the 5th of May marked Janie's birthday (I won't tell you which one) as well as my forty-fourth anniversary of ordination.  After Mass we went out to breakfast and then relaxed for the day.   I have three ordination classmates from our diocese, all still in active ministry - Monsignors Paul Fitzmaurice and Roger Statnick and Father Peter Peretti.  Father Pete's Mom, Mary, died just yesterday morning.  Keep her and Father Pete and their family in your prayers.  Roger and I will be retiring at the end of June.

     On Saturday morning we had the second of our parish First Communion celebrations.  The week before we celebrated with sixteen, and last Saturday we had nine.  I always enjoy these gatherings as I gather the children around me at the altar and share the Lord with them for the first time.  

     On Saturday afternoon at our four o'clock Mass we welcomed Bishop Edward Malesic of our diocese for his first pastoral visit, one long in the planning.  The church was full, our new Generations Choir (made up of those seven through seventy-seven) led the singing, the Lord was greatly praised by our worship, and the Bishop was warm, gracious, generous in his time, and truly delightful.  We are very blessed in having him as our shepherd.   Following Mass was a reception, and then I took the Bishop, Father Tyler Bandura, his MC, our Deacon Jeff Cieslewicz and his wife, Roseann, and my sister, Janie out to dinner.  A delightful evening.

     Sunday afternoon we had our sixth annual Blessing of Bikes at the parish.  Our bikers came to show off their rides, to share in fellowship and food, to listen to a Gospel group called "Good News Blues", and to receive a blessing before we sent them on their way.  The turnout was a little smaller this year (it was breezy and chilly) but those who attending are the most gracious of people.  Some look a bit tough, but all are kind and grateful.  One of the local tv stations from Pittsburgh (WPXI, Channel 11) sent a photographer and they had a nice piece on the evening newscast, interviewing Diana Mikash who planned the event and myself.

     Other things have happened, but these are a few of the highlights of this past week.  The month of May is jammed pact with activities, and then comes the wind down of June

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Another in the series of finals

     As I am sure that you know, I will be retiring from active ministry at the end of June, after forty-four years.  Transitions are always difficult, and yet wonderfully challenging.

     On Tuesday afternoon I had another "final event" in the journey - the final scheduled Mass for our Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School family.  I celebrated the feast of Saint Mark for the youngsters from grades one through five, along with a number of parents and guests, in the school chapel.  As always, it was a wonderful expression of faith and love.



     At the close of the liturgy, there was a surprise presentation made by one of the students on behalf of the school family. 

 
     I was presented with a framed image of a "Heralding Angel" beautifully crafted from words and phrases that the youngsters offered to their teachers to describe me.  I have included a copy of the image for your appreciation.



     A while back, when Bishop Malesic visited the school and blessed the new chapel, he was presented with a similar image.  In an observation at the time I shared my admiration for it's unique beauty.  And now I am the proud recipient of this expression of love that will be for me a life-long remembrance of my time in the Norwin area.  To the school family, a great big THANK YOU!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sacred Days indeed

    Our paschal journey through the week called Holy and the Three Sacred Days of the Triduum has reached its end.  Now begins the true celebration of New Life in the Easter Mysteries which will be the thrust of the next fifty days.  We sat at the Table in the intimacy of a supper meal ... we prayed quietly in the garden with our friend and brother, Jesus ... we contemplated the account of his passion and death, we bowed before the starkness of the Cross, and we found nourishment as we continued our journey ... we entered into the darkness of Good Friday night praying in song and word the prophecies relating to this moment in time as we experienced Tenebrae ... and we waited, waited for the Vigil.

     Then we began the Solemn Vigil.  A new fire dispelled the darkness.  A candle, blessed, lit and set apart, led the people of God into their House to contemplate the mystery of salvation.   A great proclamation, the Exultet, spoke of this night in beautiful terms, and of the Happy Fault, the necessary sin of Adam that brought to us so loving of a Redeemer and the fulfillment of a longstanding Promise.   The Church then invited us to listen with quiet hearts to the Word of God - elaborated through nine readings with psalms and prayer.  After breaking open the Word, we moved into the Baptismal Liturgy.

     This year we at the parish had one young man of catechetical age who we shared the gift of Baptism with and then later brought to the Table of the Lord for Eucharist.  His name is Conner, and he was ready and willing with his "YES" to his desire to be baptized and his "I DO'S" at the Baptismal Promises.  In the newly blessed water he entered into the family of God and all of us, renewing our Promises, were reminded of our baptisms in the Rite of Sprinkling.  Conner was welcomed, embraced by the community, prayed over, washed clean in baptism and anointed, entrusted with the Light of Faith, and made ready for the Table.

    And then we returned to the Table that we had left on Thursday to celebrate with Easter joy the Eucharist which is our life-blood.  Having been inspired, having been renewed, having been nourished, we prepared to go forth and proclaim the Good News.  The blessing that sent us forth prayed:

May almighty God bless you
through today's Easter Solemnity
and, in his compassion,
defend you from every assault of sin.
 
And may he, who restores you to eternal life
in the Resurrection of his Only Begotten,
  endow you with the prize of immortality.
 
Now that the days of the Lord's Passion have drawn to a close,
may you who celebrate the gladness of the Paschal Feast
come with Christ's help, ans exulting in spirit,
to those feasts that are celebrated in eternal joy.
 
 
ALLELUIA!  ALLELUIA!  ALLELUIA!
 
 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The vanquished foe

     As our journey through Holy Week continues, I would like to share the words from Preface II of the Passion of the Lord from the Roman Missal which is prayed this week.  We hear it for only a few days, but its beauty deserves our attention.

"It is truly right and just,
our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father,
almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.
For the days of his saving Passion
and glorious Resurrection
are approaching,
by which the pride
of the ancient foe
is vanquished
and the mystery of our redemption in Christ
is celebrated.
Through him the hosts of Angels
adores your majesty
and rejoices in your presence forever.
May our voices, we pray,
join with theirs
in one chorus of exultant praise."
 
     We celebrate our redemption in Christ's passion, death and resurrection, but we also celebrate the defeat, the conquering, the vanquishing of the ancient foe.  There are countless enemies facing us in this world and beyond, but none compare to "the ancient foe".  And it is with confident assurance that we acknowledge his being vanquished and the freedom that his defeat brings into our life.  The power of these days awakens in us great joy. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Monday of Holy Week

     On this Monday of Holy Week, the Prayer Over the People reads:

"May your protection, O Lord, we pray,
defend the humble
and keep ever safe those who trust in your mercy,
that they may celebrate the paschal festivities
not only with bodily observance
but above all with purity of mind.
Through Christ our Lord."
 
 
     These next few days are days of quieting of our lives, quieting of mind and heart, so that the Triduum may bring forth within us the sacredness of the mysteries that we celebrate.
 
 
     These days of Holy Week 2017 are precious to me in that they will be my last in active ministry.  My retirement from pastoral assignments is quickly approaching, as is my seventieth birthday.  The date for retirement is not yet set, but will probably be close to July 1st.  Pray for me ... and pray for the people of this great parish family.

A Week of Grace - A Holy week

     The crowds gathered [a few more than usual on this Sunday of palm branches and crosses] as we entered into a heightened journey of a reflection on the Passion of Our Lord.  Yesterday was the Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord.  On this Sunday the Church recalls the entrance into Jerusalem of Jesus and his companions.  At our 11:00 am Mass our newly formed Generations Choir which combines our Young Voices and our Adult Choir set the stage with a rousing version of the "Hosanna to the Son of David".

     The beginning greeting set the stage for the upcoming week.  From the Roman Missal, I said:

Dear brothers and sisters,
since the beginning of Lent until now
we have prepared our hearts by penance and charitable works.
Today we gather together to herald with the whole Church
the beginning of the celebration
of our Lord's Paschal Mystery,
that is to say, of his Passion and Resurrection.
For it was to accomplish this mystery
that he entered his own city of Jerusalem.
Therefore, with all faith and devotion,
let us commemorate
the Lord's entry into the city for our salvation,
following in his footsteps,
so that, being made by his grace partakers of the Cross,
we may have a share also in his Resurrection and in his life.

     Then we began this journey of faith.  Triumphal entry ... sobering words ... the great story of betrayal and passion and death from Matthew ... our reliance upon our faith and the Eucharistic Table ... and our departure in quiet reflection and prayer.  As I have said to our parish family, if you allow yourself to enter into these mysteries with open hearts and minds you will experience his blessings and grace, and the "Holy" in this week's title will be able to be used to describe you at the end of the week.  We are called to holiness.  The path lays before us.  And God's grace will see us through to the end - which is really the beginning.  Journey well.

     It has been too long since my last post, and I sincerely apologize.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Seeing is believing

     We are bombarded with promises every day of our lives.  Whatever society or the next person is selling is presented by way of a promise.  You must see this movie or this program to fulfill your life.  You must buy this product to make you look beautiful or to help you feel better or to make you happy.  You can get rid of those wrinkles with this cream or you can improve your portfolio if you follow this advice.  You are promised the world by the world, and yet there are very few of those promises that endure the test of time or of trial.

     In the Book of Genesis today (Genesis 12: 1-4a) we are given a promise by the Lord that is too good to be true, that is hard to believe.  Because of his love for his people, and despite their sinfulness, God promises Abram that he will make of his descendants a great nation, to give them blessings beyond counting, even to bring blessing to those who bless them.  He says "All the communities of the earth will find blessing in you."  That promise continued throughout Israel's journey with the Lord, through Moses and the Law and in the prophetic word being shared with the people by the prophets.

     That promise was brought to completion when the Father sent the Living Word, Jesus, to be one with us in all things but sin.  Those who met him, who saw his love in action, who heard his words of comfort and mercy, knew that they were blessed.  Yet even his closest friends found themselves saying "This is hard to believe" and "This is too good to be true."  There was that lingering doubt, that uncertainty that undermined their faith.

     When Jesus took his friends, Peter, James and John to that mountaintop and was transfigured before their eyes, he sealed the deal.  When they saw their friend and companion in all of his glory, with his face shining like the sun and his clothes white as light, their faith was strengthened and affirmed.  When they heard the voice from the cloud acknowledge "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him", they laid aside their fears and doubts, and embraced their call to walk in his footsteps, proclaim the Good News, and show others that to listen to him, to follow him, is to embrace the promise of life eternal and share in the life and glory of God.

     Many years later, our Lenten journey invites us to live as Children of the Promise and listen to the Lord of Life.  Peter, James and John saw and believed.  Jesus assures us that "Blessed are those who have not seen, and who have believed."

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Our yearly inspection

     I had made an appointment today for my annual car inspection for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  In fact, my car is at the dealership as I write, for this annual ritual.  In our county, we are also required to have an emission sticker.  This annual rite of passage for the car is an attempt to make sure that the vehicle is safe and sound, and with the emission test, that we are not doing any harm to those around us.  A small price to pay for safety and security.

     Lent is just such a moment of personal and corporate inspection in our lives, both spiritually and physically.  It is that annual testing of the basic aspects of our lives of faith that give us an indication as to what work needs to be done, how much tuning is required, or whether we are in tip top shape.  Most of us need some form of overhaul - just as my car will need the oil changed, fluids checked, tired rotated, etc.  Through our prayer, fasting and charity we spend these next number of weeks tuning up our faith journey so that we can safely traverse the uncertainties of life.  And like, with my emission testing, we find out whether we are causing harm to others through our sinfulness and failures.

     Use this Lenten Season well!  No matter what the cost of the inspection, it will be well worth the time and effort in order that we may travel safely with the Lord.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

...loving him, and walking in his ways ...

    Entering upon this journey of renewal that is Lent, we are reminded by Jesus in today's Gospel that "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."   There are many paths to take, many roads to follow, and knowing the directions, where we are going and how best to get there, is essential to our safe arrival at our destination.  Map Quest and GPS help us on our more mundane travels, but the importance of our spiritual journey is too great to "wing it" or to rely upon earthly wisdom.  In the days before those directional aides, my Dad always hated driving in Pittsburgh - too many one way streets for his taste.  I explained to him that the key to getting to your destination if you make the wrong turn is to go around the block and try again.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not.

     Our spiritual GPS is given us in the Scriptures and in our faith.  Once we have made the decision as to our goal, the way is found in Christ - who is the way, the truth and the life.  Moses in the first reading today asks us to make the decision: life and prosperity or death and doom.  He says: "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  Choose life, then, that your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him."  And the way is laid out in the loving of the Lord, the heeding of his voice, and the holding on to him.  Lent is a renewal of our YES to life and our trust in the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.  Choose life ... renew life ... live life!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Repent, and believe in the Gospel

" You are merciful to all, O Lord,
and despise nothing that you have made.
You overlook people's sins, to bring them to repentance,
and you spare them, for you are the Lord our God. "
Wisdom 11: 24, 25, 27
 
 
     These are the words of the Entrance Antiphon for the Ash Wednesday Liturgy.  On this day we begin the journey through the desert experience of Lent that will bring us to the life giving waters of baptismal renewal at Easter.  Our journey begins with our being signed with ashes, reminding us that in our human frailty we are nothing, and that through our sinfulness we have walked away from grace and have chosen the emptiness of death.  But that signing is embraced with a joy and a hope rooted in the promise of the Lord our God, who is most merciful and who loves all that he has made.  Lent is that moment of renewed trust is that promise and reliance upon his grace to do as we are reminded by the words spoken to us as we are signed:
 
REPENT, AND BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL.
 
     These next forty days are an opportunity to acknowledge our nothingness apart from God, the death that our sinfulness brings into our existence, and the love that God has for us as he entrusts his Gospel to our lives.  To believe and embrace that Good News of his love and to repent and transform and renew our lives of faith is what Lent is all about.  How we go about doing this in this great season is up to us, but we are given hints as to the direction to take.  The Collect for today's Mass says:
 
"Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting,
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint."
 
     In our Catholic culture of "giving up things" for Lent, I was struck by the words and the invitation above to rather enter into a "campaign of Christian service" in these next forty days that will bring us to grace and bring blessings to God's people.  Every day make a concerted effort to be of service to others in the name and spirit of Christ.   Walk in his mercy and love.  Be prepared to grow in the joy of the Lord.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

On the eve of Lent

     Today is Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday or "Fat Tuesday".  In some places it is a day of reckless abandon, of letting go in a celebration anticipating the coming of Lent, of one last chance to get it all in before the door shuts.  You don't have to go to New Orleans or Rio or some exotic place to celebrate.  In fact, I just splurged at lunch by having a delicious apple dumpling (with ice cream) following my sandwich.  I hope my doctor doesn't read today's post!

     Tomorrow we heed the words of the prophet Joel and proclaim a fast, call the assembly, renew and revise our journey through sacrifice and charity.  We will embrace a more Christ-like way of life, pay homage to the Lord with a generous spirit, share our giftedness with others, especially those in most need.  We will sacrifice, give alms, do more, pray, grow in the Spirit, and trust in the love of God for us.   We will do so in gratitude for the blessings received.

     This morning's first reading is from Sirach, and we find great encouragement to do the things that are so often done in Lent with joy and trust.  "Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously, according to your means.  For the LORD is one who always repays, and he will give back to you sevenfold."  Our Lenten actions and sacrifices express our awareness of how blessed we are. 

    I found the next line interesting, though.  Sirach continues: "But offer no bribes, these he does not accept!  Trust not in sacrifice of the fruits of extortion.  For he is a God of justice, who knows no favorites."  Is there an ulterior purpose to our sacrifice?  Do I sacrifice so that I can lose weight or get in shape?  Do I go the extra mile so that God can take notice and reward my efforts?  Can my extra prayers balance my ledger in a good way?  I think that the intentions of my actions speak louder than the actions themselves, and that my actions need only be an expression of my gratitude for blessings already received.  Lent will be simpler.  My sacrifice will be easier.  And everything that I have "given up" for the sake of Christ Jesus and the Gospel will be returned to me a hundred fold.   Happy LENT!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Rejoicing with our neighbors

     Yesterday saw the fulfillment of a vision for one of our neighboring parishes, the completion of a sanctuary renovation that has been in the works for a long time.  That parish is Saint Agnes Church here in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.  The present church was built around 1980, and although there are some who lament the passing of the light oak laminate wooden altar and furnishings and the undersized crucifix (what we are used to is hard to let go of), there was need to update and beautify the surroundings, and to provide a more substantial and quality altar, ambo, font and furnishings.

     The parish, with the leadership of my classmate and their pastor, Monsignor Paul Fitzmaurice, contracted with New Guild Studio out of Braddock, Pennsylvania, to do the design and the work.  They have done a number of churches in our diocese, and I admire their work.

     The work has finally been done, and yesterday Bishop Edward Malesic of the Greensburg Diocese celebrated their 11:00 am l blessed the altar and sanctuary.  From what I hear, it was a beautiful and memorable event, with the bishop bringing his wonderful personal touch to such long ceremonies.  I have included a few pictures of the sanctuary and of the dedication for your viewing.





     My congratulations to the priests and people of Saint Agnes Parish on this milestone event, and to all of us ... a reminder that refreshment and renewal is part of the dynamic of spiritual journey, and can lead to our giving greater honor and glory to God.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Reflections from the Week - part 2

     Wednesday of this week was the memorial of Saint Josephine Bakhita, who was canonized on October 1, 2000, by Pope John Paul II.  There were four canonized that day in Rome, including Saint Katherine Drexel of Philadelphia.  I had the honor of being present that afternoon, having been on a trip to Rome, and shared in this moving moment within the Church. Thus Josephine Bakhita finds a special place in my thoughts today.  EWTN has a great two part program of her story which I recommend to your viewing.

     Her story, in short, began in 1869 in Sudan where she was raised in the Islamic faith.  She was kidnapped at the age of seven by slave traders and sold numerous times in human trafficking until the age of twelve, when she was purchased by the Italian Consul in the Sudan and brought to Italy, where she served as a nanny.  She lived with a group of women Religious, where she encountered the faith, was baptized, and was eventually granted her freedom.  She joined the Canossian Sisters and for twenty five years served as cook, seamstress and porter, sharing her joy and her music with the children that they served.  She died the year I was born, in 1947, after a long and painful illness, and was recognized for her holiness and joy. 

     In our day, when human trafficking and slavery, especially of the young in many places around the world is so prevalent, her feast is a day set aside to advocate for an end to such a barbaric practice and for legal dignity and protection for all.  The International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking is set on February 8th each year.  Pope Francis pointed out that this day falls on her feast, and said "this enslaved, exploited and humiliated girl in Africa never lost her hope, but persevered in her faith and ended up as a migrant in Europe where she heard the call of the Lord and became a nun.  Let's pray to Saint Josephine Bakhita for all migrants and refugees who are exploited and suffer so much."

Reflections from the week - part 1

     In our first readings for daily Mass in this Fifth Week of Ordinary Time, we moved to the Book of Genesis from the Hebrew Scriptures.  We began with one of the biblical stories of creation, and over two days we reflected upon the six days of God's creative love and the seventh day of His rest and enjoyment.  At the conclusion of each day's work, the Lord paused, looked at what was created, and the scripture  says that "God saw how good it was".  The Psalm on Monday was from Psalm 104, and the response was "May the Lord be glad in his works."  What God did was to share His very life and love.  His creative Word brought goodness and blessing.  The intended results provided joyful praise of God.  And all was good!

     As I heard those words again and reflected upon their truth, I was overwhelmed at how far we have strayed from the reality of that creative experience and how we have lost a sense of the truth of the goodness of God's creation.  We are bombarded with the negative.  Ugliness is a part of the human condition and has become normal.  Goodness has been lost to hatred, prejudice and envy.  We are divided and alienated, bitter and oppressed by hopelessness.  The good that can be found in our lives takes much diligence and requires a radical departure from ordinary life.  If God looks at us at this moment in history, can we imagine that He will look upon us lovingly and be able to say how good is that which He has created?  That He is glad in His works?

     We are called to love God and our neighbor.  We are offered mercy and forgiveness.  We are given grace and redeeming love.  And we are extended an invitation to be embraced by the loving arms of our savior and to be reassured of our inherent goodness.  For as the scriptures remind us ... when God created, when He fashioned us in His image and likeness, when He gifted us with a share in the divine nature, He saw that it was good ... and He took great delight in His work.
    

Saturday, February 4, 2017

A Change of Direction

     This blog has been about JOURNEY.  I have throughout my priesthood referred to our path in life as a journey that we make with the Lord and with those that he places in our lives.  My journey has involved ministry in priesthood, and I have sought to share my reflections on that journey in this blog.

     As I approach seventy at the end of May of this year, the early retirement age in this Diocese, I have contemplated making that decision.  My primary reason is because of health issues.  I have spoken of this often of late, and on January 4th, the Feast of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, our patron, I wrote to Bishop Edward Malesic expressing my desire to be considered for retirement this year.  In a letter that I received this past week, dated the 24th of January, he has granted me permission to retire from my pastorate and active ministry with the 2017 summer assignments.  The letter was received two days after I applied for Social Security (I waited until 70 to do so).  So these are consequential moments in my life, and I must admit, they are scary times.

     So, in the next four + months, in addition to Lent and Easter and all of the other normal things in parish life, I will be preparing for a major change in life.  Pray for me, and for the good people of this parish family.

     One of the joys of these last few years has been this outlet of "Journey Thoughts".  Even though I might have to change the subtitle to "Reflections of a retired priest", I intend to continue reflecting upon my/our journey into the mystery of the Lord's love.   So, at that bend in the road, my direction may change but my journey continues in the grace of God.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Catholic Schools - Richness and Tradition

     Catholic Schools week began in our diocese this weekend, and as a part of our celebration, our regional school, Queen of Angels, exhibited a display in the vestibule, had youngsters  serve as speakers at each Mass and greeters as people arrived.  They also handed out white ribbons to those who had attended a Catholic School.  Many people wore those ribbons, myself included.

     As I observed the many who took those ribbons, I began to recall the places in the diocese that had Catholic schools associated with their parishes that I was aware of.   Our part of God's kingdom is long in its history of ethnic parishes, small towns and moderate sized cities, and a distant past that was sometimes touched by an anti-Catholic bias.  Nearly all of our schools were parish centered, and many reflected the perceived need of a safe and Catholic centered environment.  A number of those parishes also hosted a parish high school.  Great sacrifices were made and the school became the focus of the parish.

     As I listed those schools in my head, I counted fifty-five parish schools in our diocese over the years (I'm unsure about two of them, so let's say fifty-three) and three private grade schools.  I counted at least eight high schools, with two of those private (Saint Vincent Prep where I attended and Saint Xavier Girls Academy in Latrobe run by the Sisters of Mercy).  And, of course, we have two Catholic colleges.  Presently we have eleven parish/regional elementary schools, three private schools, as well as the two junior high/high schools and Seton Hill University and Saint Vincent College.

     Changing times, changing demographics, better public schools, rising tuition costs, and a fading of the value of faith based education in the lives of our children have brought us to where we are today.  Our mission to Catholic School education continues to be challenging.  But what we possess is a rich blessing, what we offer to our youngsters is a strong program and a nurturing surrounding, and what we provide is a proclamation of the Good News and the values that flow from the Gospel message.  There is richness and tradition in what we do.  We are proud of those involved in that mission of Catholic School Education.  We showcase that this week during Catholic Schools Week.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Long March

     Forty-four years is a long time.  I will have been ordained a priest forty-four years this coming May 5th.  It seems like only yesterday ... and yet it seems like a lifetime.  Friday was the forty-fourth time that people of conscience and conviction gathered in Washington to march in protest of the Roe vs Wade decision of the United States Supreme Court made the previous January, and in recognition of the sanctity of human life and the dignity of every person.  This witness continues as if it is the norm for a late January gathering on the Mall in DC, and yet this witness speaks of an urgency that must address a decision based upon interpretations of laws and public opinion polls that stand in contradiction to our Scriptural and moral beliefs and the law of God.  Meanwhile, our moral fabric is being unraveled and our compass has lost its direction.

     Those in favor of Roe vs Wade prefer to be called pro-choice.  They claim that it is the right of the woman to choose whether to continue or terminate her pregnancy.  They use language and state polls that speak of the fetus as less than human.  They declare that the unborn have no legal rights.  And even if they would admit some potential rights, they would hold that their rights supercede any rights of the unborn.

     We, as people of faith, believe that life begins at the moment of conception.  We believe at that moment God creates in His image and likeness a unique human being that we hope will grow and come to term and be born into this world.  We believe that this unique human being is loved by God and is offered certain rights by our constitution ... including "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". 

      Whose right ... which right ... is greater than the other?  Is not the right to life first?  If a pregnancy is unplanned or unwanted, does the rights of the person bearing that child speak louder than the rights of the unborn child who is without voice?  Is that not where society has an obligation to speak for the defenseless?  Are we not obligated as a nation to defend life?

     These questions are not easy - thus the confusion and pain in so many lives.   But we believe in the sanctity of life, in the truth of divine law, and in the goodness of human beings.  That is why we march, year after year, in witness and in hope, that the law of the land may reflect the beauty and truth found in the law of God.   And we ask God's forgiveness as a nation for the estimated 55 million lives ended legally by abortion in these past forty-four years.   Friday also marked worldwide Holocaust Remembrance Day, remembering and asking for forgiveness for the six million Jews and Poles and others put to death in the camps without rights by those who claimed a superior right over them.  Do we ever learn our lesson?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Transitions

     On Friday, January 20th, our nation experienced the peaceful transition of power from the administration of President Obama to the administration of President Donald Trump.  The significance of this peaceful process of the transference of power, especially from one national party to another and following a less than peaceful primary and presidential campaign, is an indicator of the soundness of our political process and our great form of government.  Even with the protests and the marches and the negativity hurled at one president or the other, one party or the other, we must take pride in the success of our process of government.  And we must pray for our new president and his administration, for his success is our success and our great nation celebrates this gifted form of governance that the Lord provides.  I shared with our people at Mass this morning a portion of the prayer for the nation of Bishop John Carroll, the first bishop of the United States, which he penned in 1791.   The full text can be found in "Whispers in the Loggia" by Rocco Palma.  He shares it often at times of national observances, for which I am very grateful.

************

     Recently we noted the death of Father Michael Scanlon, T.O.R. of the Franciscan University of Steubenville.  Father Michael lived a long and powerful life of service to the Church and touched the lives of countless people over the years.  His death at the age of 85 marks a transition that brings him into the full joy and heartfelt enthusiasm before the throne of the Lord that his life on earth exemplified, and that he invited everyone who heard his message to respond to in their lives.

     Father Michael's life of influence, education, law, the Franciscan Way, Church leadership, the Charismatic Renewal and the transformation of the small, local, struggling College of Steubenville into a world recognized center of Catholic Higher Education and spirituality at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, marks his service.

    I knew him in the middle of that journey, during the time he served as rector of Saint Francis Seminary in Loretto, Pennsylvania.  This was during my theology years at the seminary.  I was ordained in 1973, and he went to Steubenville in 1974.
Father Michael was yet to find his niche as a leader and transformer, and his move to Steubenville marked that transition.
It was during our time together that we were introduced to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal at a talk and subsequent prayer service at the seminary by the late Father Jim Ferry of New Jersey.
I would run into Father Mike at Charismatic events over the years, and followed his commitment to the renewal of the face of the earth through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  May he rest in peace.

                                      ****************

     We also buried one of our retired priests, Father Patrick J. O'Connor, also 85, who served our diocese faithfully for many years.  Father Pat was a quiet, unassuming man of warmth and kindness.  In his later years of retirement, Father Pat suffered from memory loss, and the ability to remember the relationships, the ministry, and the gentle love that he had shared with so many.  His transition through death leads to a renewed appreciation and celebration of the love that the Lord and so many have for him.  May he, too, rest in peace.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Epiphany thoughts

     Tradition tells us that their names were Casper, Melchior and Balthasar.  They were known as magi from the East, the wise men, the three kings, as astronomers or astrologers, studying the stars, seekers, travelers from distant lands.  But what describes them best is the moniker of "wise". 

     Their wisdom is found in the fact that each of them knew enough to realize that they were not the be all and end all of all that there is.  They were not masters and lords of their lives.  They felt the void, knew the hunger, realized that something beyond themselves was necessary for happiness and satisfaction, for contentment and peace.  And they were willing to put it all on the line to search it out, to seek fulfillment, to fill the void.  They spent their lives searching the wisdom of cultures, of studying the skies for signs and portents, of listening in the quiet of their hearts for a doorway to truth.

     When they saw the star, they knew it represented a hope given to the world, that it stood for a milestone in human history, that it signified the coming or birth of a great king.  And so they set out.  And as they realized that they were not alone in their quest, they joined forces and journeyed together.  They followed the star.  They came to the cross roads of the Middle East, Jerusalem, to ask for guidance.  And they were directed to Bethlehem of Judea, where they found the young child and his mother and her husband ... in a modest house, living hardworking and simple lives, unassuming and filled with peace and joy.  They brought gifts - gold, frankincense and myrrh - expecting nothing in return.  But they went home blessed in unbelievable ways that spoke of contentment and peace, joy and the happiness of those who know that they have been touched by the love of God.  Their hunger was satisfied, their void filled to the brim, their joy complete, their searching done.

     On this feast of the Epiphany, when the manifestation of
God to the world is celebrated, may our search lead us to the Christ, Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, our Lord and our brother.  And may we find blessings beyond our hopes.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

My esteem and prayers

     Yesterday I watched the installation of Bishop Gregory Parkes as the bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida.   It was a great celebration for the diocese, part of which included a heartfelt and sincere expression of gratitude to the retiring bishop, Bishop Robert Lynch, who has served that local church for over twenty years.  He is well respected and much loved, and up to Monday of this week was a blogging bishop.  His blog, "For His Friends" has been in existence since 2008, and his "thoughts and reflections" have been one of my favorite and sought after reads.

     In his 739th and final post, entitled "It's Time To Say Good-bye", Bishop Lynch speaks of his reflections on priesthood and service as a bishop, upon his love of the Church and her role in the human family, and especially of his love for the Diocese of St. Petersburg.  He credits inspiration for his blog to Rocco Palma of "Whispers in the Loggia" fame (another of my favorite reads).  And of his blogging, he says:

"Often the Spirit worked in me by giving me first a title and then from that spur the energy to sit down and compose.  I have never used my blog to attack any person and even in disagreement (and as I aged I have become somewhat more disagreeable) I have addressed issues, which I hope and pray have been mildly topical.  When controversial you might be interested in knowing that the comments, which I always have read, which were inimical to my point or to me personally almost always came from readers outside the diocese and not from those who knew me personally as their bishop from whom I mostly derived support.  Blogs can be dangerous because they are unsupervised, unregulated and opportunities for calumny and slander and I never wanted to go there or even approach such shameful misuse.  Ideas are fair game for intelligent discourse, people are not or so I felt."

     I have always respected that in the words and thoughts of Bishop Lynch, and I try to hold to the same principles.  While his thoughts come from a finer mind and deeper intellect deserving of attention and respect, I try to be positive and affirming in the journey that we all share.  In reading him, I find a shepherd that speaks to my heart, and a good pastor of his flock.

     May he enjoy his retirement and may the doors that the Lord has yet to open for him bring him happiness.  Thanks, Bishop Lynch!

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

     In my very first assignment as a priest, at Immaculate Conception parish in Irwin, I first encountered the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill who taught in the parish school.  They were one of the Communities of the Daughters of Charity of Mother Seton, and through them I came to know of this remarkable woman of grace.  In 1975 she was canonized and lifted to the altar as the first native born saint from the United States.  If my memory serves me, it was during my time at IC, before she was canonized, that we made a trip to Emmittsburg, Maryland to visit her shrine and the places held dear to her in her ministry.  I had the honor of celebrating liturgy at the side altar over her remains (the first time I celebrated with my back to the people ... I had to try and remember the rubrics).  I also acquired a relic of the soon to be saint at the shrine.

     In subsequent years I have been blessed to serve with many of her Sisters and to befriend the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.  And then, in October of 2008, I  was assigned as pastor of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in North Huntingdon, and installed as the fifth pastor on her feast day, January 4, 2009, which that year fell on the Feast of the Epiphany.  Our retired bishop, Lawrence Brandt, did the honors, and he and now Bishop Malesic supported me in my ministry here, for which I am grateful.  So this day is one of importance to me personally and to this parish which bears her name.   That is why I chose this day to formally submit my request to be considered this coming Summer for retirement from active ministry.  I will reach the age for early retirement at the end of May, and with the challenges to my mobility and having served as a priest for forty-four years, I know that it is time.  At least that is what part of me is saying ... the other part will miss ministry to God's People and celebrating the Eucharist in the parish.  So we place all in the hands of God.

     The Entrance Antiphon today, taken from Proverbs, says ... "Behold a wise woman, who has built her house.  She feared the Lord and walked in the right path."  Elizabeth Seton was such a woman.  If you know her story, you know that this is true.  If you do not know her story, by all means look it up.  Born when our nation was born, she grew up in the Episcopal Church of a prominent family in New York, was well educated and priviledged, married a young merchant by the name of William Seton, established a family, and became a widow at a young age through the unexpected death of her husband while on a business trip to Italy.
Staying with business friends while in Italy, she encountered their Catholic faith and was introduced to the Eucharist in the Catholic Church.  Her curiosity was aroused and her hunger and desire to come to the table of the Lord at Mass led her to persue a path to the Catholic Community.  A convert, she lost her family and close friends, and established a school to provide for her children.  Encouraged to enter into Religious Life, she eventually established the Daughters of Charity and served as foundress, known as Mother Seton.  She died young, but her spiritual children live on and give life to her charisms through their mininstries.  Her life is much greater than this brief summary.  If you ever have a chance to visit the Shrine in Emmittsburg, or even the Sisters of Charity at Seton Hill, where there is a beautiful, small archive museum, please do so.

     The Prayer after Communion today states:  " ... while recalling the menory of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, we humbly ask you, O Lord, that we may be inflamed with a burning desire for the heavenly table, and by its power consecrate our life faithfully to you."

SAINT ELIZABETH ANN SETON, PRAY FOR US!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The end of the week of feasts

     Rounding out the Octave of Christmas "week of feasts" we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family on Friday of last week, the 30th of December.  This feast usually falls on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year, but with the fullest schedule of any year, this year it took its place on the 30th.

     Very appropriately at this Christmastime the Church places her focus upon the Holy Family - Mary and her child and her husband and love, Joseph, who embraced them both with love and tenderness, protection and devotion.  This family unit, simple and pure in love and commitment, is given to us as a model, and example of what family means.  It is a reflection of the beauty of the family of God of which we are called to embrace.

     On Christmas eve, a member of our adult choir, Jerry Naylor, sang a song that I had never heard before, entitled "Joseph's Song".  I found it on youtube, and it was powerful.  Joseph is such a quiet, unassuming individual whose love speaks volumes.  May the Holy Family of Nazareth inspire all families to live in love and joy.

=========

     Saturday the 31st is the feast of Saint Sylvester ... and then comes January 1st - New Year's Day and the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.  (Theotokos)  What an outstanding week of feasts and what a week of celebrating Christmas.