Monday, November 18, 2013

Three Men I Greatly Admire

Pope Francis
On March 13 of this year, I was attending a meeting at our diocesan pastoral center when he heard that white smoke had arisen from the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican indicating that the cardinal electors had selected a new pope for the Church to succeed Pope Benedict XVI whose surprise resignation as Bishop of Rome had come a few weeks earlier.
A TV had been set up in one of the meeting rooms and we gathered to await the announcement of the new pope.  Finally, one of the cardinals came to the balcony above St. Peter's Square and made tne now traditional announcement: Habemus papam!  We have a pope!  Cheers erupted from the square as the world waited to hear who the choice was.  In Latin, the cardinal went on to announce the cardinals had selected Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina who had selected the name Francis (a first).  We wondered:  Who is this man?
From the moment he stepped onto the balcony in a simple white cassock and bowed his head and asked for the prayers of the people, the world fell in love with Pope Francis.  He has made an impact not only of those who share his religious faith but many in the world, including atheists.  From the beginning of his pontificate, he has shown what it means to be a true servant of the Lord.  His humble lifestyle (not living in the papal apartments, paying his own hotel bill where he stayed before the conclave, being driven in a simple automobile, etc.) has resonated with people.  His genuine love and concern especially for those in the margins of our society is noteworthy.
Pope Francis does have his critics.  No one in any position of leadership in either church or world can escape having critics and Francis is no exception to this.  Some of the criticism has come from the more traditional wing of the Roman Catholic Church.  I recently read where one in this group felt that the "pope had thrown them under the bus."  This is perhaps because he has not slavishly followed all the nuances and rules such as when he went to a prison on Holy Thursday (rather than being in St. Peter's) and washed the feet of the prisoners (including those who were not Catholic and women as well).
To those critics, I would point to some of Jesus' own words to the critics of his day:  I say to you, someone greater than the temple is here.  If you knew what this meant, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice," you would not have condemned these innocent men (the disciples who plucked grain on the sabbath).  For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.   (Matt. 12: 6-8) And again:  They (the Pharisees) tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not life a finger to move them....Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.  You...have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity.  (Matt. 23: 4; 23)
The pope has also shown a very human side by reaching out physically to many people, particularly the children.  How many times have we seen him at a general audience stop and take a child, kiss and bless it.  For again, we read in Matthew: Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.  (Matt. 19:14).
For some time now, we have heard people speak the letters: WWJD.  What would Jesus do?  I believe we can see in Francis what Jesus would do; reach out with love, compassion and mercy to all he may touch.  May the good Lord give Pope Francis many years of health to be able to guide our Church in these difficult times.
Bishop Howard J. Hubbard
I first met Howard Hubbard when we were seminary students in 1958.  I look back on these fifty-five years of our friendship which I highly cherish.  Howard finished his seminary studies in Rome and returned to the Diocese of Albany (New York) in 1964.  His early priesthood saw him serving as a "street priest" in a poorer section of the City of Albany where he worked at Providence House, a storefront ministry.  He was also instumental in founding Hope House, a place where treatment could be offered to those suffering the pains of addiction to drugs.  He later became involved in personnel work for the diocese and in 1977, Pope Paul VI nominated him as the ninth bishop of Albany after only being a priest for 14 years.  At the time, he was the youngest bishop in the United States.
In addition to being my friend, Howard Hubbard has also been my bishop for the past 36+ years.  He has accomplished many things during his tenure in this office, most significant among them being his pursuit of social justice and for his efforts to bring together people of varying faith traditions to work for the common good.  Several weeks ago, he was honored for his work in ecumenical and interfaith efforts by people from not only the Christian churches, but also those representing the Jewish faith, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus.  It was one of the most memorable events that I have attended in a long time ane was a tribute to Bishop Hubbard's tiresless efforts at forging good relationships with various religious traditions.  He is often referred to by people in those traditions as "our bishop."

In October of this year, a special liturgy was held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany honoring the bishop who celebrates fifty years of priesthood this year.  Over 1300 were in attendance including a number of bishops from around New York State, Cardinals Timothy Dolan and Edward Egan of New York and a large number of priests and deacons.  I had the privilege of serving as deacon of the Eucharist at this Mass.  The love and affection that the people of this diocese have for our bishop truly shone as he arrived in the Cathedral to thunderous applause.  He has also been feted at various events by various groups throughout the diocese and this part of our state to honor his great work.  Having reached his 75th birthday at the end of October, by church practice he submitted his resignation as the bishop of Albany and we await the announcment of his successor sometime in the future.  My prayer is that he will continue to enjoy good health and peace during his retirement years.
Father James J. Vaughan

Over 27% of my life has been involved with a parish in Troy, New York - Sacred Heart Parish.  I served as parish organist and choir director there from 1966-86 and in 2012 was asked to serve as the temporary administrator of the parish while the current pastor was on medical leave.
From 1973-2000, the pastor who served the parish was Father James Vaughan.  I had the privilege of having him as my "boss" for thirteen years while serving as music director.  In Father Vaughan, I saw an example of what a true priest of Jesus Christ should be: a man of deep prayer and love for his people.  Many people with whom I have spoken and who know Father Vaughan consider him one of the most - if not the most- revered priest in our diocese.
In the early 1960s I joined a group of young adults known as the Catholic Young Adult League.  There were groups in each of the three cities in our Capital District area of New York.  Through this group, I met my wife (now of fifty years) and the chaplain of our group was a young priest whose name was Father James Vaughan.  I got to know Father Vaughan well at that time and was privileged to be able to serve with him at Sacred Heart Church.
It is often felt that when a pastor retires, he should not remain living at the parish he served less he be seen as intruding on the work of his successor.  In the case of Father Vaughan, nothing could be further from the truth.  He has remained a resident at Sacred Heart and is seen as a source of wisdom and guidance by his successors.  He is much loved by the people of the parish and they are always greeted by him with a big smile.  (He also loves the New York Yankees and the New York Giants!)
My prayer for Father Vaughan is that God will continue to grant him good health so that he may be able to remain among the people he loves to serve.
I have blessed by these three men in my life and know that God will keep them always in his heart.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What's Been Happening?

It has been about three months since I sat at this keyboard and posted a blog.  But these three months have been filled with both joyous events and situations that have caused alarm at both an international and national level.  I decided just to comment on these events and happenings as I return to the world of blogging.
There were four very happy occasions that took place during this time.  On September 7, my wife and I celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary.  My life has truly been blessed with the support and companionship of my beautiful wife and the gifts of our three children.  We celebrated the event at my home parish of St. Michael the Archangel in Troy, New York with a Mass celebrated by our bishop and good friend, Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Diocese of Albany.  Following the Mass we broke bread with about eighty of our family and friends who came to congratulate us.  God has been very good to us during our fifty years.  Like all families, we have had great moments of joy as well as moments of sorrow, the greatest of which was the death of our younger daughter, Christine, in February of this year.  I know she was celebrating with us in her new home in heaven.
A week after our wedding anniversary celebration, I attended the sixtieth anniversary reunion of our high school graduating class from Catholic Central High School in Troy, New York.  About sixty of our classmates attended and we shared many stories about the good times we had at Catholic High.
Our daughter Christine suffered with a disability known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease - a neurological disorder for which she had to wear braces for walking and limited her abilities to the point that she could no longer be gainfully employed.  CMT is not a life-threatening disease but obviously carries with it a weakening of the human system.  Christine died at the age of 41 from an inflammation of the heart muscle.  To honor her, we scheduled a memorial concert held on October 6 in Troy at which one of her favorite musical groups - One Man Short, an a cappella men's group - performed.  Her older brother, Paul, is the coordinator of the group.  They provided the listening audience with a wonderful musical program.  We offered four of Christine's original art works at a raffle and together with the admission cost for the concert, we raised over $1,700 for the CMT national association.

The last great event took place on October 20 when I had the privilege of assisting as deacon at the Mass celebrating fifty years of priesthood for our bishop, Bishop Howard Hubbard, who will turn 75 next week and will submit his resignation to the Vatican after serving the diocese as its bishop for 36+ years.  It was a wonderful celebration and tribute for a man so dedicated to the Church and who has been such a compassionate shepherd for the people of the diocese.
During this three month period, there were two events that caused consternation, anxiety and anger.  First we had the use of chemical weapons against the people of Syria.  The Syrian regime was charged with their use although it denied this.  Nevertheless, the pictures coming out of Syria at that time were greatly disturbing.  There was, for a time, the threat of some type of military strike by the United States against the regime.  The international community, through the United Nations, was finally able to broker an agreement that would see the chemical weapons stockpile in Syria to be destroyed over the next several months.  Prayers are still needed for the beleagured people of that country, still embroiled in a civil war.

Here in the United States a few weeks ago, we had a partial shutdown of the government because of the failure to pass a buget resolution that would continue to fund the government.  This shutdown, which saw thousands of federal workers furloughed and the closing of all national parks, museums, etc., caused anger among the people of the country.  There are differing opinions as to who was really to blame for all of this and I have my own opinion.  I will not share it here as I do not want this blog to become a target for comments, some of which could be caustic.  I will just say that the shutdown need not have happened and the representatives who are elected by the people need to realize that they are elected to serve the people and not just political agendas.

Finally, an upbeat note.  All during this time we have had Pope Francis.  This wonderful pastoral leader has struck a chord in the hearts of many and not just Catholics.  His humility and his openness to people are greatly admired and appreciated.  May God grant him a good and healthy life and time to carry on the work of the Church in the world.
So, what's been happening?  A lot as you can see.  I was glad to be part of so many of these events and I am glad to be back at the keyboard.  See you next time.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Anniversaries Are For Celebrating

Anniversaries are a time to celebrate.  Whether it be an anniversary of a community, a wedding, a graduation or an ordination, they are times when memories are awakened and we can recall how good our God has been to us to have seen us or those before us through the various years being celebrated.
This year, I have or will have (within the next few months) the opportunity to celebrate several anniversaries; anniversaries that are special for me.  I would just like to share a few thoughts about each beginning with the highest number of years being celebrated to the lowest number (even though that is high in itself).
In June, I had the privilege of celebrating with the Catholic community of Sacred Heart Church in Troy, New York as they celebrated 100 years of being a faith presence in their part of the City of Troy.  In addition, the parish school was also celebrating 85 years of its existence and its part in spreading the faith and educating the thousands of children who walked through its doors.
This anniversary had special significance for me since more than 27 percent of my life was involved with Sacred Heart.  It began in 1966 when I was hired as one of the organists at the parish's mission church and within a few months I moved to the main church where I served as organist and choir director for twenty years.  I also served as the parish administrator for seven months in 2011-12 while the pastor was on sick leave.  The anniversary was a wonderful parish celebration that spanned an entire weekend in June, beginning with a Mass celebrated by our diocesan bishop, Bishop Howard Hubbard, at which I was privileged to serve as deacon.  The celebration continued the next day with a block party with games, food, and enetertainment.  The weekend concluded with a brunch served to about 300 people at one of our local restaurants.  It was a great time and I was happy to be a part of it.
The second longest anniversary I will be celebrating covers sixty years.  It will be the anniversary of my graduation from high school.  Our class of 1953 will hold its 60th reunion in September as we fondly remember our days at Catholic Central High School in Troy, New York.  We were educated by priests of the diocese as well as sisters from two congregations - the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondeolet and the Sisters of Mercy.  Our graduating class numbered about 210 (and we were one of the smaller classes to graduate in those days).  When we gather for our reunion, many stories will be told of our escapades during the four years at Catholic High.  I look forward to being with my classmates again.
Two fifty year anniversaries are coming in the fall as well.  Ten years after I graduated from high school, I married the love of my life, Carol Willard, and we will be celebrating fifty years of marriage with our family and friends.  As I look back on those fifty years, I cannot help by feel intense gratitude to God for giving me such a wonderful life companion (who in my estimation is a living saint - not just because of having put up with me for those years, but for the wonderful things she does to help the needy through her sewing and knitting ability.  I wish I could have counted the number of items she has made over the years for those in need - the homeless, those in shelters, children with special needs, etc.  I certainly know it has been more than a thousand).  Our fifty years have had their difficult times as well: the death of our younger daughter, the loss of employment for me about thirty years ago, and various illnesses that have beset us.  We still have with us our two wonderful children - Helen, a great teacher, and Paul, an artist, a specialist in marketing and also a recognized musician.  God has truly been good to us.

Finally in October of this year, I will join thousands in our Diocese of Albany as we celebrate fifty years of priestly ordination for our bishop, Bishop Howard Hubbard.  Bishop Hubbard has been a friend of mine for over 55 years and he will grace us by celebrating our wedding anniversary Mass.  I look forward to congratulating him on this milestone and thanking him for the years of service as both priest and bishop in our diocese.  Ad multos annos, Bishop.
Yes, anniversaries are a time for celebration and this year has been special for me because of those milestones I have cited.  Life is not always easy but good times like these make us realize how generous and benevolent our God truly is to have given us these events and the people involved in them.  May all who celebrate anniversaries this year be blessed.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

God Gave Me a Great Weekend!

The Gospel reading in the Roman liturgy for this weekend (12th Sunday in Ordinary Time) recalls Jesus' question to his disciples about who people thought he was and whom they thought he was.  He then predicts his passion and death and challenges all of us who wish to be his disciples to "take up our cross and follow him."  We all know that, as it was true in Jesus' own life, suffering will also be a part of our lives; what form it may take will differ from person to person.  As one grows older and feels the aches and pains of old age as I am now experiencing, one realizes the truth in the fact that suffering will be with us but it should not change our faith in our God who will see that we will be able to face the suffering when it comes.
Even with this background, I must also say that there are times when God gives us moments of great joy.  This weekend was one of those times for me.  Several events took place which made the weekend a memorable one.
First, this weekend saw the celebration of the 100th anniversary of a church in the city of Troy, New York (as well as the 85th anniversary of the parish's school).  The Church of Sacred Heart in Troy figured a great deal in my own life.  I spent twenty years there (from the mid 1960s to the mid 1980s) as the parish organist and choir director.  Then in the fall of 2011 I was asked to assume the role of temporary administrator of the parish while its pastor recuperated from a bone marrow transplant.  I spent about eight months in that role.  (The picture at the right was taken when I had the privilege of blessing the new playground that had been installed at the parish for the school children.)
The parish truly celebrated this milestone.  On Friday evening, June 21, there was a Mass of thanksgiving celebrated by our diocesan bishop at which I served as the deacon.  On Saturday afternoon the entire area around the church was cordoned off and a block party was held with food, games for the children, and musical entertainment.  The celebration concluded today with a "brunch" at a favorite local restaurant which saw many of the former and present parishioners and staff members attend to join in the festivities.  It was truly an honor to be a part of this celebration and my prayers are that this parish may continue to flourish in the days and years ahead and bring the message of Jesus to this part of the community.
Three other events occurred during the weekend.  Following the Mass on Friday evening, I had the privilege of having dinner with my dear friend of fifty-five years who is also my bishop - Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Diocese of Albany, New York.  It is always a blessing for me to be with him and enjoy good times together.
On Saturday afternoon, I attended a Mass in a nearby city celebrated by our diocese's newly ordained priest, Father Scott VanDerveer.  It has also been a privilege to come to know this bright and talented young man and wish him God's choicest blessings as he begins his ministerial priesthood.
Finally, on Saturday evening, the newly ordained deacon - Deacon Robert Sweeney - and his wife, Pat, treated my wife and me as well as the leader of our parish, Sister Katherine Arseneau and Sister Rita Duggan to a wonderful dinner at a well-known restaurant in downtown Albany.  I had served as a mentor for Deacon Bob in his final year of preparation for ordination and he served a period of time working at our parish - St. Michael's in Troy, New York - and had the good fortune of being assigned there for his diaconal ministry.
As you can see, it was a very full weekend that I experienced.  But what a great joy it was to be a part of these wonderful events.  God has truly blessed me in my own ministry and I thank him for allowing me to be a part of the lives of the people of Sacred Heart Church, Bishop Hubbard, Father VanDerveer and Deacon Bob Sweeney.  The memories of this weekend will last for a good long time.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Blest Are Those Called to be Servants

Yesterday I had the privilege of serving as Master of Ceremonies at the ordination of six new deacons for the Diocese of Albany, New York.  Two of these men, with God's help, will go on to ordination to the priesthood next year.  The remaining four permanent deacons will serve in various parishes throughout our diocese.  I have also had the privilege of being their homiletics instructor during their years of formation.  I feel that they will do well at breaking open the word for the people of God wherever they are serving.
Being a part of this wonderful ceremony reminded me of one of my previous posts done in early 2012 when I wrote about service.  The word diakonia from which comes the word for deacon meant "service" in Greek.  It has been the word applied to the first seven men chosen in the Acts of the Apostles to serve at table so that the apostles could devote themselves to the preaching of the word.  One of those first "deacons" was the great Stephen - the first to be martyred for Christianity.  Of couse these chosen ones would go on to do other things besides serving at table but the note of service was always to be uppermost in their lives.
I would like to quote from that earlier post when I said: All of us have received a call from God.  This call is not just for Christians but for people of good will in all faith traditions - Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc.  All of us are called to work toward a more peaceful world in which we can all live together in harmony.  We begin this work in our own homes, within our own families and in our own communities.
This call to service which these newly ordained deacons have received is a call to serve the word, the liturgy and charity.  All of us in the clerical state remain as deacons called to service whether we be pope, bishop, priest or deacon.  The same is true for those in lay ministry as well because the primary purpose of such ministry is to serve the people of God as Jesus did who "came not to be served but to serve."  It is a good reminder to us that when those of us in ministry become more concerned with our titles and the special recognition that we believe should be ours then we are in trouble.  We begin to lose sight of the fact that we were called to serve others and that should be our most important concern.
I pray for God's blessing on these new deacons and all those throughout our country and world that will answer the call to public ministry.  Only with the support of our prayers can they hope to succeed in their ministry.  Let me rephrase the prayer I used to close my previous post:
Dear Jesus, look upon them, your disciples of today, and bless their efforts as they minister to your people.  Help them always be mindful that they are called to serve others and not to be served themselves.  Give them the strength to carry out your work in a world so much in need of your love and grace.  Help them to see where you live today so that they may spend their time with you until that day when they are with you in the joy of eternal life.   Amen.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pentecost 2013 - Are We Muzzling the Spirit?

During this past week, I had the privilege (once again) of teaching for and attending the annual Spring Enrichment Program offered by our diocese for catechetical and pastoral leaders.  This effort - now celebrating its fortieth year - offers the opporunity to hear from nationally known and local speakers and presenters on a variety of topics affecting our daily ministry in the diocese.
This year we had the good fortune to have as our keynote speaker Rev. Anthony Gittins, a renowned professor, lecturer and author who spoke to us about the Holy Spirit and asked how we were allowing the Spirit to work in our lives in this time and place.  One of the probing questions he asked of us was whether or not we were "muzzling" the Holy Spirit.
As we are about the celebrate the Feast of Pentecost again this year, we are reminded of that first Pentecost when the disciples of Jesus, hidden from the world through fear, were energized and fortified by the Holy Spirit to go forth to preach the message of Jesus to the world.  Because of their response to the Spirit, we are here in 2013 ready again to proclaim that Jesus has risen and has sent into our hearts the Holy Spirit who will guide and strengthen us.  But the question still remains:  Are we at least some of the time "muzzling" the Holy Spirit?
When we place our own needs before those of others (who may have far greater needs than we), are we muzzling the Spirit?  When our personal agendas conflict with the message that Jesus has asked us to bring to the world, we are muzzling the Spirit.  When those in leadership (either clerical or lay) are more concerned with the perks of their office or place than with being the servants that Jesus has called us to be, we are muzzling the Spirit.
We are always in need of a new Pentecost.  Just over fifty years ago one such "Pentecost" took place when the world's bishops gathered in Rome for the Second Vatican Council to address not a heresy but the position of the Church in the world at that time.  Guided by the prophetic leadership of Blessed John XXIII, the Council broke new ground in a variety of areas: liturgy, relations with other Christians and those of other religions, etc.  The true and lasting effects of this momentous occasion in our Church are yet to be completely fulfilled.  Is it because we are again muzzling the Spirit?
I believe we are seeing the potential of a new Pentecost in our time as I look at how our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, is looking at the Church and what it should be doing at this time in history.  The simple way the Pope lives his own life is an inspiration to all of us to find whether we can live our lives in the same manner.  His call for a "poor Church," a Church that will always put the needs of the poor and marginalized in our society first and foremost before the pomp and trappings that often accompany power, is a call to all of us again to be seen as servants as Jesus was.
We are coming to the end of another Easter season as we celebrate Pentecost.  We are supposed to be an "Easter people" with a belief in what the resurrection of Jesus has meant to the world.  At a recent meeting, I heard words proclaimed concerning the meaning of the resurrection in our world today (written by Patricia Datchuck Sanchez and Rafael Sanchez Alonzo) and the final paragraph of the presentation is timely:  What does the resurrection have to say to the world?  Nothing, unless this great gift of God finds its voice in us.  Everything, if we will only dare to live and speak its message:  Love!  Life!  Hope!
We can only speak this message through the power of the Holy Spirit.  May we be a part of a new Pentecost and bring the message of love, life, and hope to the world.  May you have a blessed Pentecost!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Newtown - Boston: What's Next?

When will the violence end?  When will see the time when people can live together in peace, not with hate in their hearts but with love and compassion for others?  Will we ever see the day?
We have been witnesses here in the United States of numerous events which brought death and destruction to others:  the attack on September 11, 2001; numerous school and college shootings; bombing of buildings, and the list can go on and on.  We struggle with the aftermath of these horrific incidents and yet they continue to occur.  Even following the massacre in Boston this Monday there are reports of bomb threats being made to government buildings, poisoned pen letters being sent to government officials, etc.  There seems to be no end of evil and hatred in our society.
Perhaps our view of human life has something to do with it.  When we cease to see the value of each human life, we can readily find reasons to snuff it out.  This is obvious when we witness such tragedies as Newtown and Boston.  We need to recover the sense that all human life is precious from the "womb to the tomb" as the saying goes.
Some of the perpetrators of these horrific crimes may have been mentally unbalanced, but there are others that are driven to these acts by sheer hatred - whether it be motivated by a sense of rejection by others or for political reasons.
We are currently in the Easter season in the Christian tradition - a time of new life, of joy, of hope for the future.  These things are now tainted by what happened on Monday in Boston, Massachusetts.  But as Christians we know that Easter must always follow a "Good Friday."  Let me share with you some thoughts just written by my friend, Father James Martin, S.J. of America magazine.  He says:
When Jesus was crucified his friends and family...must have had...overwhelming emotions.  Seeing Jesus beaten, bloodied and finally nailed to the cross must have seemed unbelievable.  How can this be?  Just the week before, on Palm Sunday, Jesus was moving through the great city in triumph....I imagine that some of those who lost loved ones, and saw loved ones injured, felt something of the same yesterday in Boston....Boston is now back in Good Friday.  And one insight of that terrible day is that we do not have a God who does not understand suffering.   Jesus is not someone who does not understand pain.  Jesus is with us in our suffering, not only because he loves us but because he suffered.  But suffering is never the last word.  There is always the possibility of new life.  How will this happen?  It may be difficult to see now, as it was impossible for the disciples on Good Friday to see, but the God who has suffered is ready to help us....That was true in Jerusalem 2000 years ago and it is true in Boston today.
May we be joined in solidarity with the suffering families in Boston and in all the areas of the world where suffering and tension is being played out:  Afghanistan, Syria, and on the Korean peninsula.  May the Spirit of the risen Christ help us to see the value in all of human life and continue to pray and work toward the day when all can live in peace and harmony because we are all God's children.
The Magnificat of Resurrection
My soul proclaims and my spirit rejoices, O Faithful God,
because you have removed the stone which was rolled over our hearts and we are risen.
Yes, from this day all generations will call us blessed for God
has called us forth from death and we have responded.
Holy is the name of God, and compassion reaches from age to age
for those who walk hand in hand with the Everlasting One.
You have shown power over death.  You have humiliated those
who believed they could destroy your Living Word.
You have enfeebled those who would rule by their own might and
empowered the simple people who trust in you, O God,
who creates and companions.
The anguished of heart are stilled and made whole again
by this good news, and the arrogant are reduced to eternal confusion.
You have come to the help of Israel, your faithful one, who
remembers you are the God who saves one from bondage, from faithlessness,
and from ultimate violence.  You are the Forever Living One,
the Shatterer of Death.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Papa Francesco

March 13, 2013 was a momentous day for the Roman Catholic Church.  On that day, the cardinal electors, gathered in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, chose a man from Argentina to be the next pope of the Catholic Church.  The choice was a surprise to many.  Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio and why should he be the pope?
Since that momentous day, I believe the world has come to embrace this new pontiff with his winning ways: his obvious humility and his warmth and congeniality.  Many wonder if this will be the beginning of major changes in the Church.  Of course, the matters of doctrine - either moral or theological - will not change nor can they if we are to be true to what the Catholic Church believes and stands for in the world.  But one wonders what other things might take place with a new hand at the tiller of the bark of Peter.
In an earlier post (written on January 15 of last year), I stated the following:
In our Christian tradition, we have calls to particular states in life and these are invitations by God to serve him and our sisters and brothers in those states of life.  One of my favorite titles that is given to the Roman Pontiff is Servus Servorum Dei - Servant of the Servants of God.  This title is a reminder to all of us involved in ministry - whether pope, bishop, priest, deacon, vowed religious or lay minister - that our call is to service.  When those of us in ministry become more concerned with our titles and the special recognition that we believe should be ours, then we are in trouble.  We begin to lose sight of the fact that we are called to serve others and that should be our most important concern.
From what I have observed to date, I believe the papacy of Pope Francis will be one of service.  It is certainly what he exemplified as priest and bishop when he ministred in his native land.  There was a signal of this during the homily he delivered on the occasion of his inaugural Mass this past Tuesday:
Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it?  Jesus' three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands:  feed my lambs, feed my sheep.  Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter even more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross.
He went on to say:  He (the Pope) must open his arms to protect all of God's people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love:  the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt. 25: 31-46).
The world has responded with affection to the emergence of Pope Francis.  Our prayers are with him as he begins his papacy.  He has modeled himself on Jesus who came be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mf. 10:45).   In my previous posting cited above, I stated this:
One of my favorite images of Jesus the Servant was that of his getting to his knees to wash the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper.  A task usually carried out by a slave or servant became that of Jesus....He instructed his disciples that they, too, (and this includes all of us) should go out and wash each others' feet.  Only then do we really serve our sisters and brothers.
The picture I have included here demonstrates that Pope Francis takes this admonition seriously (as he did in his previous ministries).  Just today it was announced that he would celebrate the liturgy of Holy Thursday (a day on which the symbolic washing of the feet takes place) in a prison for juveniles instead of at the Vatican.  May we follow this kind of example in our lives as we strive to serve our sisters and brothers.  May God bless Papa Francesco.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Reminders of Our Mortality

As I come within a few weeks to the beginning of my seventy-ninth year on this planet, I am aware more and more of my mortality and the fact that the greater part of my earthly life is behind me.  This is a natural phenomenon when one approaches your senior years but it has been brought back to me most graphically by the loss of three people close to me over the past few months.
It began on January 19 when a dear friend - Brother Robert Gilroy - a brother of Holy Cross, died suddenly and unexpectedly.  Returning to the brothers' residence following the burial of another brother, he suddenly felt ill and then collapsed, suffering a major heart attack.  He was a year younger than I.  I had the privilege of serving as the deacon at his funeral liturgy.  I had come to know Robert when he joined the ecumenical choir I formerly conducted.  At one point, a few years ago when he was superior of the brothers' house, he invited me to conduct the brothers' annual retreat which was a pleasurable and enriching experience for me.  Just a few months ago, he recommended that I be appointed to serve on the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of which he was a member.  We enjoyed a number of good times together and he is greatly missed.
Then on February 7, a funeral was conducted for a fellow deacon - Deacon Frank Yankowski - whom I had known for sixty years beginning when we were minor seminary students in the 1950s.  Frank had dealt with a number of medical problems in his life including major heart surgery and cancer which had gone into remission.  It was the cancer that returned earlier this year and required him to undergo chemotherapy.  After the first session, it was determined that the chemo had destroyed his white blood cells and he was unable to fight off an infection he came down with and this caused his death.  Frank was six months older than I.  Again, I had the privilege of serving as deacon at his funeral Mass and delivered the homily for my good friend.  I spoke of how he had lived up to the challenge given to him at his diaconal ordination when the bishop, handing him the Book of the Gospels, tells him:  Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you now are.  Believe what you read; teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.  Frank certainly lived up to that challenge in the over twenty-six years of service as a deacon.  May he rest in peace.
The final reminder of my mortality came the next day - February 8.  My younger daughter, age 41, had been complaining for some time about what she felt was a problem with her gall bladder.  This was causing her bouts of pain and on occasion brought on vomiting.  She feared surgery because as a victim of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (a disease I have written about and she discussed frequently in her blog (Grace Lines, accessed by going to, she feared she would have to undergo a long convalescence.  She was trying different foods in an attempt to relieve the distress she was feeling.  On February 8, we had not heard from her during the day (which we usually did every day as she lived near us in our apartment complex) and finally in the afternoon, I went to check on her as her car was parked and had not been taken out that day.  Much to my shock, I found that she had passed away (probably during the night).  We experienced several days of mourning and grief.  At her wake service, about 300 persons came to express their condolences.  There have been numerous Masses scheduled for her as well as enrollments in Mass societies.  Several people have also contributed to the national association for her disease.  Our family has received wonderful support from our friends and our parish and diocesan community for which we are eternally grateful.  It is said that it is not natural to bury your children and we sorely miss her company.  She was always there with a smile and while disabled, continued to pursue her art and writing - pieces of her will live on anywhere her art is seen and her writing read.  I know she is in a better place and might have had to face a great deal of difficulty if we had preceded her in death and she was left to fend for herself (although I know she would have had the support of her sister and brother).
So I have been certainly reminded of my own mortality having lived through these recent experiences.  But it is my faith in the promises that Jesus Christ has made to me and to all those who will hear that he has gone to prepare a place for us in the kingdom.  I look forward to the day when I will again be reunited with my friends Robert and Frank and my beautiful daughter Christine.  Until then, I pray to them to watch over all of us as we continue our journey in this life.  May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.. Amen.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How Much Does God Love You?

A few weeks ago on the social network Facebook, there was a discussion centering on the reverence shown (or sometimes not shown) at the reception of Eucharist.  Some were saying that there was an increase of an approach to Eucharist that did not seem reverent while others stated that they (mostly ministers of Communion) had only seen a few instances of a lack of reverence.  One of those commenting asked how would people react if Jesus was to appear to them in person.  Would they go up and pat him on the back and shake hands and say "How are you doin'"?  He obviously felt this was not the way one should reverently act if Jesus was to appear in person.
I commented that I felt that if Jesus were to appear to me, he would embrace me - not because I am anyone special - but because he loves me.  The person who asked the question fired back with a comment that I should "get over myself" and this would not be how it would play out should such an appearance occur.  Others liked my comment.
Obviously if Jesus were to appear in person to me I would certainly be awestruck.  But I stand by my comment about Jesus embracing me because that is the way our God is with us; our God loves us with an unconditional, boundless love no matter who we are or what we have done in our life.
I believe too often we forget how much our God loves us.  We often are feeling sorry for ourselves or feel that we do not have much worth.  We may have what is termed "low self-esteem."  But God has created us to be loved not only by him but by others.  All we need to do is to accept God's love and be grateful for it.  We might call sin when we fail to accept that love and do something that would stand in the way of our relationship with God.  But God never gives up on us - no matter what.
When we feel downhearted or do not see ourselves as worthy, we should remember again the words of Psalm 139:
You formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother's womb.
I praise you, so wonderfully you made me;
wonderful are your works.
Yes, we are wonderfully made by a gracious and loving God.  May we always be conscious of that fact and readily accept that generous and unconditional love.
Sometimes we may wonder if God really loves us when all sorts of things befall us: sickness, loss of employment; loss of a loved one, etc.  Yet God's love never ceases; God does not promise that our lives will be totally free from distress; even he (as a man in Jesus Christ) experienced all those things that humans experience.  God does not will that bad things happen to us but he leaves his creatures free and this often means that such freedom may be abused and may end up hurting others.  When we feel let down by God, it may be well to read the words of the great doctor of the Church - St. Francis de Sales- who wrote:
Do not look forward in dear to the changes of life;
rather look to them with full hope as they arise.
God, whose very own you are,
will deliver you out of them.
He has kept you hitherto,
and he will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it,
God will bury you in his arms.
Do not fear what will happen tomorrow;
the same everlasting Father who cares for you today
will take care of you then and everyday.
He will either shield you from suffering,
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace,
and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.
May God's love be with you always and bring you to peace.


Monday, January 21, 2013

I Have A Dream - A Martin Luther King Tribute Revisited

It was 50 years ago when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood at the base of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to deliver what has become one of the most moving speeches in the history of American rhetoric. While there has been improvement in race relations in our country - part of the dream Dr. King had for the future of our country - there are still mountains to climb and obstacles to overcome in the way we deal with each other. What would Dr. King's dream be today? I am in no position to speculate on that; I would rather offer some of the things that I would still dream about in 2013.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day we will recognize that all people - men and women - are created equal and entitled to the same respect regardless of gender. I have a dream that women will be accorded equal pay for equal work (there has been some improvement here). I have a dream that in some countries where women are denied education it will be recognized that they have much to contribute to our society and need to have the opportunity to grow and learn.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

As I noted before, I believe there has been improvement in race relations in our country. The most obvious example of this is the fact that we now have a President of African-American descent - something that would have been unheard of in Dr. King's time. Regardless of our political affiliation we must see this as a major step forward in the acceptance of all races in our country. But hatred still exists - in some cases there is still hatred of those whose skin color is other than ours; hatred of certain people because they worship in a different way from the way we do; hatred because someone's sexual orientation is different from ours. I have a dream that one day we can put aside these hatreds and, as Dr. King stated: sit down together at the table of brotherhood (and sisterhood).

From every mountainside, let freedom ring. And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Those stirring words at the conclusion of his speech will resonate for years (and perhaps centuries) to come in our nation's history. Yet there are still places on this earth where freedom does not yet ring, where people are still subjugated because of their ethnicity, their creed or other reasons. Dr. King also quoted from Isaiah in his speech where he looked for a time when every mountain and hill shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight.

I have a dream that one day peace will reign again in the mountains of Afghanistan, in the cities and towns of Iraq; that peace will come and Israelis and Palestinians can sit at the same table; that war will not be the answer for the peoples of the Koreas. Is this too lofty a dream to have?

In the past month in our nation we have heard the reaction of many as they witnessed the tragedy in Newtown. Calls are being made for better gun control. It is hoped that a reasonable ground can be found in this debate, preserving the second amendment rights of gun owners but finding a way to halt the progress of violence in our nation. In an earlier part of his speech, Dr. King made these remarks not often quoted: Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

It is interesting to note that less than three months after this remarkable speech was delivered, grief overcame this nation when its young President lay dead in a Dallas hospital, the victim of violence. We need to heed these words of Dr. King again today. May we go forward to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow with a faith in our national purpose, a faith in our God who wants us to become a peaceful nation, and a faith in each other regardless of creed, political affiliation, gender, race, or sexual orientation. May God continue to bless us and bless the United States of America!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

When I was in formation for the diaconate in the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1990s, our priest director of formation would always greet us with the salutation Peace, Love, and Joy.  It is in that spirit that I wish everyone a most blessed New Year as we begin another year on this fragile planet we call earth.  Those three words - peace, love, and joy - are my wishes for this new year.
PEACE:  Wouldn't it be the most wonderful thing in the world if during 2013 we could see peace return to this world.  It is a prayer that has been on many lips and in many hearts but we cannot help but wonder if we will ever see the day when people can live in harmony.  War is still being fought, peoples are still being enslaved or being oppressed by tyrannical governments, and day after day we hear and read about stories of abuse against women and most recently in my own country attacks on little children.  Jesus came into this world to bring peace but many of us still need to learn about his message and bring that message to others.  If we cared more about the needs of others rather than just our own, we might see the beginning of a glimmer of what could eventually become true peace.  Remember that peace is not just the absence of war - it is an attitude of caring and concern for others.
LOVE:  True peace can only be brought about when we understand what true love is.  Again, love is not just a romantic notion only seen when two people "fall in love" and make plans to share their lives together - although this is certainly part of love.  True love is when we care for the other even when things are not so romantic or when things are rough in our lives.  It means caring for the other even when we are angry with each other.  It also goes beyond the love between two people and reaches out to embrace all others - even those we may not particularly like, but being there for them in their need.  It means caring for the poor and unfortunate in our society - the homeless, the abused, the abandoned.  Government programs can certainly help these people but programs - whether governmental or private - must be laced through with a love for those being served.  Jesus reached out to many during his ministry on earth and he loved them all - the blind, the leper, the sinful woman, etc.  As disciples we must do the same.
JOY:  Joy is not just feeling happy about something.  True joy is a deep feeling of knowing that we are loved by our God even when we mess up.  Joy is knowing that we can be of service to others.  Joy is finding true satisfaction in the career of our choosing so that we can use our talents and skills to benefit others.  Jesus brought joy into the lives of the many he touched but that joy did not mean that at times there would not be suffering - as he himself experienced.  God does not want us to suffer but suffering is a part of the human condition and knowing that there will be an end to it sometime can give us the joy that we need to continue on.
My wish, then, for the new year for all are those three words: that your lives will be filled with peace, love, and joy.  Happy New Year!