Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Life is Like the Tide, it Comes in and Washes Away

“Never let us fall asleep in a state of sin, lest the prince of wickedness gain power over us and snatch us away from the kingdom of the Lord.” -A Letter attributed to Barnabas

Life is Like the Tide, it Comes in and Washes Away

For over 2 decades, I have had a standing invitation to eat Sunday dinner at longtime neighbor Vince Fera’s family home on Allender Avenue in Greentree. It is always an enjoyable time, and my most recent visit was no exception. They had just arrived back from their traditional yearly vacation in Hilton Head, SC. and were browner than bears! They recounted the events of their trip and the church they visited for Mass, which was Holy Family Church. Before Mass, the congregation prays the Angelus:

V. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived by the Holy Spirit. Hail Mary…
V. Behold, the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done to me according to your word. Hail Mary…
V. And the word was made flesh.
R. And dwelled among us. Hail Mary…
V. Pray for us, O most holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray: “Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ, your Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His passion and cross, be brought to the glory of His resurrection; through the same Christ, our Lord. Amen.”
In addition to the Angelus, the congregation also prayed a prayer for vocations.

Prayer for Vocations:
Praise to you, loving God, for we are always in your hand.
You know us, and so we live. You call us, and so we are your people.
Remember, Lord, your Church. Guide it as it continues in our world the saving work of Jesus, your Son.
Give us more priests and deacons, religious sisters and brothers and lay ministers, who will powerfully proclaim the Gospel in word and deed.
Prepare them to be good and generous servants, so that they may deepen your people’s faith through their ministry. Empower them to be a source of greater hope and love in the Body of Christ.
All glory and honor be yours, Giver of all good gifts,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
-Michael Kwatera, O.S.B.

The Fera family was impressed with the two priests who serve that church community, and who were so welcoming to vacationers: the Pastor (who was from the Philippines), Rev. Arturo O. Dalupang and Parochial Vicar, Rev. Jorge Gallo (a Latino priest.) Their homilies were full of sound messages, which were relevant to those in the pew. The family also showed me pictures on their iPad, taken during the vacation. The little ones spent all day building sand castles on the beach, while the older children played paddle ball. They enjoyed dinners in restaurants with a tropical atmosphere, enjoying fresh seafood from the area, and commented that Hilton Head was not over-crowded, for which they were grateful. This yearly tradition forges new and precious memories.

Through all the storytelling and lively exchanges, their 85 year old great aunt, whose name intrigued me, “Rose Abraham,” sat listening. She is visiting the Fera family for the summer from Highpoint, NC, and she remained at home during this vacation.  She told me the story of her husband, James who, in 2002, at the age of 78, passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack in the middle of the night. With tears welling up in her eyes and rolling down her face, she said. “It may have been 11 years ago, but Father, it seems like only yesterday to me.” Her story was one of life and death, of faith and hope.

In the midst of our summer plans, events, vacations, activities, and visits, the Scripture readings remind us to be vigilant, alert and prepared, conscious of the brevity of this life. (Luke 12:32-48) Jesus gives us a sobering “wake-up call,” cautioning us to be watchful and ready. Sometimes the routine and the ordinariness of life can dull us into thinking that we will be here forever and no accountability is required. What a fatal mistake that can be!

Whatever God has given and entrusted us with, it is not just for ourselves, but for the extension of the creation of God’s Kingdom in our time and place. Faithful servants will use whatever God has given them to extend His reign of hope, truth, justice, peace and love into the world. In each of our walks of life, God calls us to responsible stewardship based on the duties He’s entrusted us to fulfill, out of love for Him. We are each called to be humble servants and not to lose perspective of the supernatural outlook we all must have. Evil never sleeps. It is always on the prowl. Jesus encourages us to be vigilant, as the enemy never rests!

One must be faithful in small things, or else negligence and carelessness can creep in through the cracks. It is during those ordinary times, that being faithful in the small and everydayness of life, through responsibilities, obligations and duties, that faith is most vital and necessary. A couple rang my doorbell on Saturday morning at 8:00 am. They asked, “Father, where is the Pre-Cana instruction class being held? Where is everyone?” I remarked that they were 3 weeks early, to which the woman replied, “I’m just so excited about my upcoming marriage and can’t wait for the special day to come!” A patient who spent time recently in a hospital told me that she was grateful for the compassion given by a nurse; a Eucharistic Minister, who comes to the tabernacle each Sunday with her pyx, to bring Communion to the shut-ins and homebound, who tells me that she is grateful that God has given her the gift to be able to be present to others in their time of need.

There is an inspirational book entitled, “Every Day Greatness, Insights and Commentary” by Stephen R. Covey, and compiled by David K. Hatch (2006, Rutledge Hill Press). It is made up of 63 inspiring stories and hundreds of quotes about people who make a daily choice to act: the choice of purpose, the choice of principles; to live out their potential for true greatness, despite any challenges they may face. This higher calling to everyday greatness is a way of living and has to do with character and integrity. It’s more about who a person is, rather than what a person has or does.

When I dine at the Fera’s table, I can’t but be reminded of their mother, Deanna, who was called home to God on December 5, 2004. She was always prepared and ready for any situation, even when my dad passed away (February 8, 1986). Despite the 11 inches of snow that had fallen on that morning, she was the first person in church, praying for her neighbor.

Life and death are forever wedded together. May we be humble servants, seeking the good in others, and one day hoping to find our own place of honor at the Master’s Table, the Banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Praising God in the Skies

“It is better to be satisfied with what you have than to be always wanting something else.” -Ecclesiastes 6:9

Praising God in the Skies

The date July 14, 2013 was circled on my calendar for over a year. Now it has come and gone. It was the special date set aside to give thanks to God for my 25 years in the priesthood. There were 560 people who attended the Mass at Our Lady of Fatima in Hopewell Twp., my first priestly assignment. There were 450 guests who attended the reception at the Fez on Brodhead Rd. There were 110 people who had to be called because they didn’t RSVP to the invitation that was sent to them. (By the way, priests and doctors are the worst offenders!) There were 34 people who said “Yes” but never came.

In a “maybe” world which remains non-committal, human nature can be flimsy and we can easily prefer to stay “on the fence.” In saying “yes” to one thing, we must say “no” to other things. Once one is on the receiving end of a party, it makes one more aware of one’s own commitment when one receives an invitation. In hosting such a gathering, I received an education in human nature. One of the great arts of living is the art of forgetting and moving on - never brooding, fretting or regretting. Life happens! “We may make our plans, but God has the last word.” -Proverbs 16:1 

I’d like to share a story about my good friend, Fr. Joe McCaffrey (Fr. Mac), Pastor of SS John and Paul in Wexford. In planning my anniversary Mass, I called to invite him to proclaim the Gospel of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Like a bride, I held my breath before Mass, awaiting Bishop Zubik’s arrival, which came just 10 minutes before we began. I scanned the area, searching for Fr. Joe’s whereabouts, to no avail. So, I asked Deacon Anthony Giordano to proclaim the Gospel since Fr. Mac was nowhere in sight.

Late that night, upon arriving at the rectory, I noticed that I had several messages which were left on my cell phone from Fr. Mac, who profusely apologized for not showing up. I returned his calls the following day, at which point, he continued to lament and regret his absence. It seems that Fr. Mac (who is also an FBI chaplain), was called to a tragic situation with a family. He ended up being with them for several hours and forgot all about the celebration. I conveyed to him that I fully understood and told him that God put him exactly where he was most needed, to bring light and grace to others who were in darkness and need. He understood what I was saying but continued, “I’ve known you over 30 years. How ironic to miss your party to minister to people I’d only just met? I plan to make it up to you in the best way possible. I’ve decided to give you 25 hours of undivided attention in observance of your 25 years in the priesthood!” We agreed on a mutual 25 hour period of time and circled Friday, July 26 on our calendars.

In today’s fast-paced and hectic world, who will even give you 2 minutes of undivided attention, let alone 25 hours? In a world of so much absence, to receive the gift of time, presence, unconditional positive regard, availability, attentiveness and willingness to be together in friendship is an extravagant present.

July 26 arrived and I journeyed to SS John and Paul Parish in Sewickley to visit Fr. Mac’s beautiful rectory which was nestled among an orchard full of peach and apple trees. He is an avid hunter, and his trophies are mounted on the walls and displayed all around. I always admired his spirit of adventure. As an outdoorsman, he enjoys being one with nature, wildlife, and loves being in the country. Ever since Fr. Mac was young, he enjoyed diverse interests and hobbies such as building model airplanes, constructing houses, racing cars, hiking and archery. He is an excellent mechanic, possessing an understanding the way things work. His curious mind allowed him to be a “fix-it” man, always searching for ways to be helpful, in sharing his gifts to help others. Fr. Mac also has a passion for physics and aviation, and is a pilot. In the seminary the two things Fr. Mac and I had in common were our love for the venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and his “Hour of Power” and sweets. (There would be no meal without a dessert at our table!)

We left SS John and Paul and drove to the New Castle Airport, where Fr. Mac’s 1973 Cessna, 4 seater, single engine plane sat waiting for us to board. At this point, I wondered if we would spend 25 hours in the air! As he pre-opted the plane to get all things ready, Fr. Mac was serving as pilot and mechanic as well. Each wing of the jet held 30 gallons of leaded fuel, costing $6.50 per gallon. He had a new Garmin GPS situated on the instrument panel, which resembled a GPS system in a car, but was far more complex and diverse.

The plane took off and we were on our way to a new adventure. Fr. Mac’s only desire was to make this journey enjoyable and fun. The higher we climbed in the air, the happier Fr. Mac became. We started out by flying over New Castle, Zelienople and Grove City, climbing to an altitude of 3,000 feet at a speed of 165 knots. Then we flew toward SS John and Paul. We discussed his large parish of 2,700 families, which was ever-growing. He showed me the new housing plan which encompassed the church property, which allowed for 350 new homes. I said, “Joe, you’ve got it all here. I would never leave if I were you. The only place I’d leave it for would be heaven!”

We circled the air space above the church several times before heading south toward Pittsburgh. As we approached the skyline, we could see the Cathedral of Learning, the Convention Center, PNC Park and Heinz Field, as well as the towering UPMC Building in the center of town. Flying away, we headed east toward Latrobe, to view the Steelers in training camp at St. Vincent College. We finally landed at Arnold Palmer Airport. We had lunch at Dinunzio’s as we watched planes taking off and landing. With each plane that landed, Fr. Mac would describe it by name to me. His knowledge of planes is extensive. I was the photographer on the ride, and Fr. Mac made sure I spoke through the microphone on my head set. He constantly told me to speak up as the planes engine eclipsed our voices. By the end of the day, he could hear me loud and clear!

As we made our way back to New Castle, we circled Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park, and saw people fishing, biking, sunbathing and swimming in the lake. During this time, Fr. Mac kept constant contact with the control towers as well as pilots in the air and navigated via the map on his iPad. Since there is no control tower at the New Castle Airport, he joked that landing would be a crapshoot, and hit or miss. But, his take-off’s and landings were perfect! I will never forget us blessing ourselves and reciting the Lord’s Prayer before take off. It reminded me, that if we don’t know what our destination is (heaven), and we’re not people of prayer and faith, we won’t get to our intended destination. St. Joseph of Cupertino and Our Lady of Loreto, Patrons of Aviation, pray for all those who fly the skies. “The Lord has determined our path. How then can anyone understand the direction his own life is taking?”-Proverbs 20:24

The adventure had come to an end, and we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Andora Restaurant in Sewickley. It was a picture-perfect summer day—for flying, for friendship and for great fun!


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Good fences… Good neighbors

“Never, as long as you live, give anyone power over you - whether your son, wife, brother, or friend. As long as you have breath in your body, don’t let anyone lead your life for you.” -Sirach 33:19-20

Good fences… Good neighbors

Recently, a priest from the Diocese of Erie greeted me after Mass. He was here people in the area and said how nice it was to be warmly welcomed to church. (You never know who’s in the audience!) We must always to strive to be a place of welcome, hospitality and friendliness. As the TV evangelist, Joel Osteen, in Lakewood Church, Houston, TX says, “If you’re ever in the Houston area, you’re always welcome here. We’ll make you feel right at home!”

Each February, I like to attend the auto show at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh. During the 2nd week of January each year, there is a Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, NV. It is amazing to see how many descend on those two shows, from far and wide to check out the newest models and gadgets hitting the market, which promise to enhance and improve the quality of our lives.

The latest technological innovations allow us to manage time more efficiently, maintain a wider circle of connections and help us to stay organized with our planning strategies in our service to others. I’m sure there are many advantageous positives as technology advances, however, there can be minuses that might be sometimes overlooked. When one is “plugged into” the world of electronic media, whether through cell phones, smart phones, iPad, Facebook, Skyping or the internet, it can be possible for family, friends, coworkers, and even employers to reach us at any time of the day or night. This can mistakenly give us the sense that we must always be on duty, constantly being approachable or available to others, causing us to live in the “emergency room” mode. This is not always the best way to operate. When I served as chaplain, I would often say that I must be “off” on my off days, in order to be “on” on those days in which I was working. If I did not hit the “pause button” for down, quiet or Sabbath time, the accelerator of life's pace could easily get me off course.

Perhaps, another down side to being constantly plugged in to electronic media, is that we can become so busy trying to return phone calls, responding to text messages and answering emails, that we can lose focus. This can cause us to become disconnected from those things which are most important, namely, our spiritual, emotional and psychological wellbeing—our relationship with God, family and friends.

If we fail to be aware of what is happening in the deepest core of our being, we can become out of touch with reality, off kilter, agitated or upset. We must have enough rest and recreation, whether it be taking a walk, reading a book, joining friends for dinner, enjoying a sporting event or going to church. These activities exist to re-charge us, providing a reprieve from daily challenges. Without designating a “divine appointment” for contemplative prayer, our endless motion can easily become mechanical, routine, draining, and may even lead to burnout, causing us to resent the task that we are responsible for.

The American poet, Robert Frost (1874-1963), said “Good fences make good neighbors.” Just as we put physical fences around the borders of our properties, which designate our personal space so that areas are not trespassed on or violated, so, too, when we have healthy or personal boundaries, it makes for healthier relationships. These invisible boundaries help us to interact effectively, allowing others to feel safe in connecting with us.

Sometimes boundaries can become blurred if they are not clearly defined. For instance, those with enmeshed boundaries tend to be too close, too needy or too dependent on others. They tend to be very concerned with others’ opinions of them and they compromise their own values to avoid conflict. They readily share personal information and have a difficult time saying “no” to requests made of them. Some people have rigid boundaries. They tend to keep others at arm’s length and rarely share personal information about themselves, talk about their feelings or request help.

It is important that our boundaries remain clearly defined, so that we and others feel safe in knowing there are no violations of personal space or time. Whether professional, pastoral or personal boundaries, they must kept balanced, ensuring our safety and the safety of others. This encourages us to keep balance in our own lives in order to attend to self-care, such as, adequate rest, regular exercise, good eating habits and healthy peer relationships.

One must be in touch with one’s own feelings, limits and weaknesses at all times. These include the emotional, physical and spiritual limits. One must seek the proper support, through trusted friendships, wise counselors, mature mentors and loving family members. It is important that one be cautious of even subtle violations that can build up over time, which can have problematic consequences, even if they don’t cross legal or ethical standards.

Recently, a team of our staff met with Terry O’Rourke Donahue, President of Our Lady of Sacred Heart High School in Moon Twp. to discuss the possibility of hosting our Pre-Cana Instructions at their facility. Pre-Cana is offered 3 times a year at St. Joseph. We serve over 300 couples per year, and have outgrown our current space in which we hold instructions, so we sought to serve the needs of a larger community by forging a healthy relationship with our neighbors. Terry proudly explained the good things happening at OLSH, showing us the theatre which has a capacity of 216, the cafeteria, classrooms and spacious courtyard as well as the Stations of the Cross and the Peace Labyrinth on the campus. We visited the Chapel, where several sisters were in Eucharist Adoration. I remarked that it was like a dream come true, to descend on this holy and special place so that our Pre-Cana couples could leave the demands of everyday life, to enjoy a retreat atmosphere, to reflect seriously and discern prayerfully upon the biggest step of their lives. Jesus says, “For everyone who asks, receives; the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Luke 11:10 Jesus implores us to keep asking, keep knocking, keep seeking, and to never lose heart or hope. As Paul VI said, “To live, it is necessary to pray.”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Coming Back Home

“Never abandon an old friend; you will never find a new one who can take his place. Friendship is like wine; it gets better as it grows older.” -Sirach 9:10

Coming Back Home

Wow! Aha! Eureka! What a celebration! On Sunday, July 15, 2013, at 4:00 pm, at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Hopewell Twp., I was the Celebrant of a Mass, with Bishop David A. Zubik serving as Presider, in honor of my 25th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood. Our Lady of Fatima was my first priestly assignment and will always serve as “home plate.” It was nice to touch home again. Also in attendance was the Region III Episcopal Vicar, Fr. Samuel J. Esposito, as well as my classmates, also Jubilarians (Fr. Bud Murhammer, Fr. Howard Campbell, Fr. David Bonnar), along with Deacon Anthony J. Giordano, who proclaimed the Gospel and served at Table. Proclaiming the Word was my first niece, Emily Marie Wager, (in her 2nd year of college at Clemson University in South Carolina), my brother, Dr. Daniel B. Jones (a Dermatologist in Greensboro, NC), and my sister, Dr. Karen A.Wager (Asst. Dean at the Medical University of Charleston, SC.)

The Little Sisters of the Poor, in thanksgiving for the 8 years that Mom resided at the Little Sisters of the Poor Home, two sisters, Sr. Margaret Mary Jerousek, lsp, and Sr. Mary Ellen Losekamp, lsp brought the gifts forward at the Offertory time. The Cantors were Angela Evans and Tom Franzak, (composer and songwriter), who sang my favorite songs, “Come and Follow Me” as a prelude song and “Live On In My Love,” as a Communion song. The Adult and Teen Choirs were present to provide uplifting music, as well, under the direction of Ginny Ambrose, Director of Music, who also did the program booklets. Nicholas Barthen, Band Director at Moon Area High School played trumpet for the Mass. The Altar Servers were Natalie Ciccone, John Grimm, Christina Sabol, Nicol Truzzi, John Wojtechko and Matthew Wojtechko. Longtime friend and mentor, Fr. Victor Rocha offered the homily.

Every July, the Jones family gathered for a family reunion to celebrate Mom’s birthday, which is July 23. Her 90th birthday would have coincided with this 25th anniversary celebration, however, God called her home on January 11, 2013. She would have been filled with such great joy, to know that the circle of love has expanded to include the many guests (over 500 in attendance at Mass), who attended. I recall the many times that Mom would come from Greentree to Hopewell Twp., to attend the Masses I offered and in every successive assignment given to me by the bishop, until her declining health no longer allowed her. I told those in attendance, that on the weekend that we had sweltering temperatures in the 90’s, that my family came to fill the many rooms of the “St. Joseph Inn.” In mid-afternoon on Saturday, there was a power outage as a transformer was down in the area. With no power, that meant there would be no air-conditioning, no TV, no computer, no refrigeration, no lights. One would immediately think, “Oh no! What are we going to do?” Fear and anxiety arises. So the family went outside to the St. Joseph parking lot to play ball, hang out and share stories. The next door neighbor came over and said, “Father, did your power go out in your house?” I told her, “Yes, it did.” She commented that she was glad that we were in the same condition. I thought, “Oh yes! We are indeed in the human condition. There are ‘power outages’ in all our lives.” Jesus is the Light of the World and the power of those who believe. As a Christian, we are called to bring the grace of our faith to bear light on others’ paths. Time and time again, Jesus tells us the importance of being ‘neighbor’ to one another, which abolishes all boundaries, all divisions and all stereotypes.

On Wednesday, July 10, 2013, the day of the torrential down pours, and road closures in our area, I attended the funeral Mass for the Most Reverend Anthony G. Bosco, third Bishop of the Diocese of Greensburg at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg, PA. The Principal Celebrant was the Metropolitan Archbishop of Philadelphia, Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap. There were a total of 10 bishops in attendance, with about 80 priests concelebrating. There were 3 bishops from Pittsburgh in attendance, Bishop David A. Zubik, Bishop William J. Waltersheid, Bishop William J. Winter. The homilist was Msgr. Roger Statnick, who served as the right hand man of Bishop Bosco’s for many years. Bishop Bosco was born on the North Side of Pittsburgh and served as bishop for the Diocese of Greensburg, June 7, 1987 through January 2, 2004.

The one image that stuck in my mind from that funeral was when Msgr. Statnick noted, that at Bishop Bosco’s installation (June 7, 1987), he remarked, “I am a small man and this is a small diocese, it’s just small enough that I can put my arms around it.” The people of Latrobe, Monessen, Uniontown, Murraysville, Fairchance, Tarentum, New Kensington, Irwin, Connellsville comprise this small diocese, relatively small compared to the 306 diocese’s that make up the Church of the United States of America.

The Lord entrusts to each of us a small portion, to tend and cultivate, in which to honor Him, whether a diocese, a parish, a family, a school or institution, So, too, Mom was small, but her love was large. Bishop Bosco died watching a Pirate’s game, and they won that night. Now, he shares in the victory of the Risen Christ, and now, he touches “home plate!”

With the All-Star Game at City Field in New York, on Tuesday, July 16, I think of the illustrious 26 year baseball career of the flame-throwing Nolan Ryan. He would inevitably pop out of the dugout and scan the crowds behind home plate to look for his wife, Ruth. Once he would locate her face, he would grin at her, and snap his head up with a quick nod, as if to say, “There you are! I’m glad you’re here.” That simple gesture will never be recorded in the record books or the career summaries, or the Hall of Fame, but that’s what made him a champion.

My Mom was my biggest fan. And as I would scan the congregation at Masses, looking for her face, today, I now see Mom’s eyes gazing back at me through all of you! Thank you for sharing in this. All of you honored the Jones family by being present with us on this day. Your presence, friendship and prayers inspire my faith, in seeking to serve the Lord, with a joyful heart.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Parish Festival—An Evangelization Moment

“The Lord of all is not afraid of anyone, no matter how great he is, He Himself made everyone, great and common alike, and He provides for all equally.”
-Wisdom 6:7

As the men were erecting the tents for our parish festival, with soaring temperatures and high humidity, they were parched with great thirst. I offered a gallon of water and several cups to quench their thirst. Their music was reverberating across the buildings with pulsating new generational music.

A dear friend, Sr. Melannie Svoboda, a great author, teacher, retreat master and inspirational writer from Chardon, OH journeyed 2 hours and 20 minutes to have lunch with the staff and visit me. We stood under one of the booths and recorded the weekly “Minute Message”. I conveyed to her that the parish festival is the single largest evangelization event each year in our parish. For it brings together Catholics and non-Catholics, former parishioners and new parishioners, young and old, neighbors and visitors, festival-hoppers and passers-by. It reminded me of the words of long-time parishioner, Mrs. Borden, “let the fun begin”!

Of course, the external motivation of having a festival is to increase revenue of the parish to help the budget and to pay bills. However, the interior motivation is most necessary, bringing people together, forging relationships, building community, serving one another, seeing and supporting one another along the journey and having fun.

Sr. Melannie relayed the story that in the early 80’s she was attending Duquesne University to study Spirituality of Human Formation under the direction of the late Fr. Adrian Van Kaam, CSSP and Dr. Susan Muto. She was residing with the Benedictine Sisters in West View at the time.

She is an avid Cleveland sports fan and it was difficult living in ‘enemy territory’ here in Pittsburgh. Thankfully she survived. Sr. Melannie gave us her blessing on the festival, but not on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It reminds me of the story of a sports fan in Cleveland who was strolling along the beach when he spotted a bottle floating in Lake Erie. He searched and fished for the bottle from the lake and suddenly opened it and lo and behold, a genie popped out. Now a genie is one in fables and stories who is confined to a lamp or bottle and grants the wishes of whoever releases him. The genie said “’Master’ you have released me from the bondage in this bottle, ask any three wishes and I will grant them to you.” So the man thought for a moment and remarked “I would like the following three things to happen this year: 1) The Cleveland Browns win the Super Bowl; 2) The Cleveland Indians win the World Series; 3) The Cleveland Cavaliers win the NBA Title.” The genie then thought about this for a brief moment… and then jumped back into the bottle.

In Luke 10:1-12, Jesus sends out the 72, two-by-two, andin Luke 10: 17-20, the 72 return with great joy. It was 20 centuries ago that Jesus summons 72 committed people and sent them two-by-two to communicate God’s love: to bind up wounds and to be peacemakers in a troubled world. Through the gift of Baptism, we are all called to the universal call to embrace Jesus’ mission and ministry. As we listen carefully to the Holy Spirit, He will reveal His plan for our lives.

1. Travel light—less is best. We are freer and can go faster when life is uncluttered and unburdened.

2. Travel undistracted.  Don’t have an overload or be overwhelmed. Just take what you really need.

3. Visit each person with “Shalom”, a greeting of peace. To be at peace with God, oneself and others and even to be at peace with one’s enemies. The goal of each day should be striving for peace.

4. Move purposely and with a sense of direction—The gold of life is in the goals that we set for ourselves. Sometimes we live with the illusion that the grass is greener on the other side, but there is still grass to cut there too.

5. Accept what is offered you—Be grateful, be content with the small acre that God has entrusted to you in your lifetime, be satisfied.

6. When rejected from one town or home, shake it off and let go. Let rejection and anger flee from us.

7. Above all, know that the Kingdom of God is near.

The mission of Jesus is dangerous and difficult, but the 72 returned, filled with joy and thanksgiving - a triumph of grace.

In May, 2013, Msgr. Steven J. Rossetti, a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, NY, gave the farewell address to the seminarians who were being ordained. He showed them a video on YouTube of a priest after a number of years whose life had crashed and bottomed out as he hit a wall. He told them so, too, that could be them if they don’t take the necessary measures to avoid being a workaholic which can cause burnout and disillusionment. He discussed the importance of preventative care by having a good balance, setting priorities, remaining focused on prayer, celebrating daily prayerful Mass and daily recitation of Breviary, drawing healthy boundaries, sustaining healthy friendships among colleagues, making time for family commitments, and being sure to take vacations and rest for they are essential to sustained long term life commitment of priestly service. For if one does not have good self care and nurturance, one cannot effectively care for others.

Every life and every ministry is beset by trials, disappointments, failures and challenges. However, one cannot be stuck or give up during these times. Continue to persevere and trust that there will be a new breakthrough of a great new beginning. To share in Jesus’ mission fills us with untold joys and countless blessings.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Every Cross Is A Blessing

I have plenty of trials, but God is always there to support me.” —St. Emily de Vialar (1797-1856)

Every Cross Is A Blessing

Recently, I went for my bi-annual check up at the dentist. I’ve been going to this same dentist for 40 years. Most people fear dental check ups and some even avoid going, until a crisis hits. But I happen to love going to the dentist. If medical coverage would permit, I would frequent the office even more! My dentist, Dr. Andras Mecs, who is of Hungarian descent, is humble and ready to serve every patient joyfully. He’s always positive and radiant when he sees you. Each time I visit him, he will invariably and inevitably recount stories about my parents. During this particular visit, he reminisced that he and my dad were alumni of the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Mecs told me that he always looked forward to my dad’s check ups. He said, “It was as if your dad had collected a bag of questions to ask me, so I always had to be on my toes!”

Dr. Mecs laughed when he told me how Dad, at each visit, would ’zone out’ and fall asleep in the dentist’s chair, and not because of the sedation. In raising 7 children and working as a Computer Analyst at US Steel for over 30 years, it’s understandable how one could possibly find relaxation there, with the low lighting, soft music, the joyful dental hygienist and helpful assistants, who only added to the positive experience. My dad had a profound regard and respect for Dr. Mecs as a professional and a man of integrity. He enjoyed discussing fishing, golfing and Pittsburgh sports teams with him. Dr. Mecs recounted Dad once saying, “I trust you with my life, not just my mouth. Beyond knowing your trade of dentistry; filling cavities, constructing crowns and performing root canals, you treat each patient with supreme value, respect and appreciation.”

Dr. Mecs and I both agree on the importance of having a good ‘father model’ in our lives, who provided a strong foundation for his children to flourish and grow. What is the “face” of your own father? Many have seen the commercial on tv, which states: “If you can encourage, then you can parent.” A father holds an important supportive role in our lives, as he guides, teaches, disciplines and assists his children through life with the grace of encouragement. During my visit to the dentist, we were able to reflect on the good that fathers provide: the lessons they teach, the discipline they give, the values and morals they instill, and the love that has allowed us to live out our dreams. I’m sure each father does the best he can, with the knowledge and experience, and the wisdom he has. But, we must realize that no one does everything perfectly all of the time. We are all a ‘work in progress’ and we must vow to become the best person that we can, each and every day.

Dr. Mecs told me that he sees so much of my dad in me; in my traits, features, temperament and even my physical characteristics, which resemble my dad in his early years. He said that in July, he and his wife will be making a 3,000 mile journey to California, to help their son relocate. He said that part of his heart will be left there in California with his son, as they make their way back across the country to Pittsburgh.

Jesus, in his resolute determination to go to Jerusalem, to suffer and die, offers a shocking and stunning challenge to his disciples: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life, will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world, yet lose or forfeit himself?” (Lk 9:23-25)

There are no ‘shortcuts’ to following Christ. Discipleship calls us to the heights of maturity. Before mastering any trade or profession, we must first master “knowing ourselves.” Perhaps it’s easier to master our profession, and more difficult to fully know ourselves. We must first know our limitations and our possibilities, our vices and our virtues, our weaknesses and our strengths, our sins and our graces. St. John Vianney was once complimented on being a good confessor. He remarked, “If I’m a good confessor, it’s only because I’m a greater sinner!” This holy man realized that the struggle with sin never lets up. The only way we can be victorious over it, is through self-denial or self-mortification. In a world of compulsivity, we can be driven by ‘the immediate’ and indulge ourselves recklessly in the tyranny of self-destruction. St. Padre Pio said, “Self-denial is not our gift to God, but allowing God to do more for us.” Yes, we must all do battle with Satan daily, with selfishness, sickness, sin, vices and evil. This can take a toll on any of us.

The Cross is central to Christianity and every Christian. St. Rose of Lima said, “Without the burdens of afflictions, it is impossible to reach the height of grace. The gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase.” No life or vocation is immune or exempt from carrying a cross. However, we do not carry it alone; Christ helps us. Thus, we must have compassion to help others with their burdens and challenges.

I sometimes remark to couples in my wedding homily, “Although you may not see it yet, your vocation of ‘covenant love’ will walk through Jesus’ 14 Stations of the Cross.” (Stations literally means steps.) You will have falls. You will be hurt. You will feel alone. You will be injured. You will make great sacrifices. You will yoke this commitment responsibly. Love will be the sustaining power that is only borne through the Cross. Your love will be tested through time, purified through sacrifice and humbled by forgiveness. You will learn that every cross is a blessing, because wisdom comes through it.

We must pray daily, for the grace to walk with the Lord as His disciples, day by day. As my 92 year old godmother, from Salem, OH, Aunt Jo, would often say, “Inch by inch, it’s a cinch; yard by yard, it’s hard!” Aunt Jo, who possesses over 300 cookie cutters, has been busy baking cookie crosses for my 25th Anniversary celebration. She said that, last week, she had so many crosses in her kitchen, that it looked like Arlington National Cemetery!

Don’t look too far ahead, or you’ll trip and lose the way. Let us focus on grace we need to be faithful to Jesus each and every day. The former UCLA Basketball Coach, John Wooden would often say, “Make every day your masterpiece.”

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Fatherhood: The Greatest Self-giving Gift

“I thank thee, Almighty God, that in sending me so great an affliction in the last hour of my life, thou wouldst purify me from my sins, as I hope, by thy mercy.”
—St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland (1046-1093)

Fatherhood: The Greatest Self-giving Gift 

On this Father’s Day weekend, Saturday, June 15, 2013 at 10:00 am, Bishop David A. Zubik will ordain 25 men to the order of the Diaconate at St. Paul Cathedral. What a joyful day for the Church of Pittsburgh! Two of the men will be transitional deacons en route to Holy Orders and ordained as priests. Twenty three will be ordained as permanent deacons, bringing the total number of deacons to 99 who currently serve the Church of Pittsburgh.

Recently, I read a story in “The Deacon’s Bench” about Deacon Joe Moratta, who was ordained last fall from the Diocese of Richmond, VA. He was 39 years old, with a wife, Katie, and 5 children: Caroline, Christopher, Jack, Michael and William. While vacationing at the Outer Banks, in Duck, NC, with his family, Deacon Joe suddenly drowned while swimming. It left everyone in disbelief, disheartened, numb, shocked and beset with grief. It was a vivid and painful reminder that life is not always fair. It does not always unfold as we plan or envision. I read the accounts of this scholar, father and spiritual leader, who worked as a controller at Randolph College, and who has a blog entitled, “The Journeyman Carpenter”. He could talk football in one moment, fatherhood in the next as well as preach powerfully on the Epistles of St. Paul. He had many cyber friends, and had a contagious spirit of joy and enthusiasm. He had a great sense of humor, and more than anything in the universe, he loved and adored his growing family. He never tired of telling stories about his children. Some remarked that no one ever got ‘deeper into their soul’ than Deacon Joe. He stung the hearts of people, penetrating their souls with God’s love.

He stressed the importance that our value does not come from what we do, but from who we are. It’s not our accomplishments, our achievements, our ambitions, that make a father, but who we are, in relationship to God, our Father, who is creator, protector, provider, sustainer, who gave us his Son, to be the model and example of sacrifice and suffering love.

Deacon Joe died on June 5. There were 800 people in attendance at his funeral, which was held at Holy Cross Church in Lynchburg, VA. In a local paper, there were requests for prayers for the Moratta family which read, “God bless you, Deacon Joe Moratta. Thank you for being my friend. Pray for him, folks, please. Pray for his young wife and children, and for all who love him. Say a rosary, light a candle. The world is a little darker today.”

When I read the daily obituaries, I am drawn not so much to the list of accolades, accomplishments or attributes; rather I notice the list of ‘proceeded in death by…’ and the list of ‘survived by…’ It compels me to ask two questions:

1. “Who will be there to welcome the deceased into the next life?” I always imagine my parents, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Blessed Pope John Paul II, St. Francis of Assisi, and my Patron Saint, St. Richard of Chichester. These are the likes that I hope to be joined with when I die.

2. “Who is left behind to bear the burden of grief as they face their tomorrows with courage, faith and hope?”  As Christians we are called to be the ‘balm of Christ’ for people in suffering and anguish, especially to feel others’ misfortunes and show understanding for others’ failings and defects. Time and time again, the Gospel of St. Luke records that Jesus had a compassionate and merciful heart. for the sick, the suffering and the sinner. Christianity is more than a rule book, a moral code, or a theology exposé. It is the awareness that God loves His people and forgives them.

The Evangelist Luke presents Jesus sharing table fellowship with a wide range of people on the social ladder, so much as 19 times in the Gospel. In this week’s account, Jesus is invited to a formal meal at the house of Simon, the Pharisee, a well-to-do man, who had an open courtyard where there was a garden and a fountain. Suddenly, an unknown woman crashed the party. We do not know her name or her sin, but that is not important. Normally, there were 3 essential gestures of hospitality that were offered: a kiss of peace, the washing of hands and feet, and the anointing of the head with oil. The shock was that these gestures did not come from Simon, but from this unknown woman. She anointed Jesus with her whole jar of expensive ointment. She bathed his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, as she pleaded for his mercy and forgiveness.

Let us imagine, what is the worst thing you ever did in your life? What is the one thing in your life that you are most sorry for? Would you have the courage or grace, and be contrite enough to be humbled, as this woman was, when she asked Jesus to wipe out all her offenses, to forgive her sins and allow her to begin again? Simon was too busy pointing fingers at others. As they say, “When we point fingers at others, three fingers are pointing back at us.” Because of her great sorrow for her sins, Jesus showed her great love.

We all sin and make mistakes. We are all weak and broken in our nature. Sometimes our relationships are more dysfunctional than functional. It’s not a perfect journey for any of us. It was never meant to be. That’s why we must cling to and yearn for God; knowing His forgiveness and love along the journey. He loves us in spite of our brokenness. We can’t earn God’s love; we don’t deserve it. We can’t buy God’s love; we can only accept it. No sin is too big for God to forgive. No sin is too grave for God not to heal it. No sin is too long ago, that today’s fresh forgiveness cannot heal. No stranglehold of sin or addiction can hold us back once we experience the liberation from the stranglehold of death. No sin can hold us in the tomb if we seek to be released by God’s healing touch.

The saints knew their many sins, but they were also great lovers. When we really love, it makes us ‘sin-sensitive’. Jesus loves us so much that He really died and really suffered for us. So we must count our blessings, as He seeks to restore us, receive us and reconcile us.

Father’s Day is a great day to thank God for the vocation of fatherhood, whether biological, adopted or spiritual. As we spend time celebrating our fathers by sharing a meal or remembering them in death by a visit to the cemetery, let us always remember to honor, respect and pray for them. Happy Father’s Day!