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.