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


     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."


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.