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Archive for May, 2010

Time in the Sun/Son

May 31, 2010

Ahhhhh. These wonderful, warm weather days, replete with plentiful sunshine, have most of us thinking of summer. OK, maybe you hardcore hockey players are still stuck in a winter groove, but me, I’m all about the summer sun. So with the temperature rising and school days winding down, please allow me to stoke your warm weather imagination. And oh by the way, I’ll throw in a little reminder as well.

  • Have a great time at the beach this summer . . . but don’t forget to pray.
  • Savor those barbeque burgers . . . but offer a little blessing before you eat them.
  • Bike to your heart’s content . . . but maybe thank God for his creation as you do it.
  • Soak up some rays . . . but soak up some scripture as well.
  • Take a nap on the hammock . . . but only after you’ve rested in Christ.
  • Hike a mountain trail . . . but remember to say a rosary as you go.
  • Meet the BFF for lunch . . . but meet her for Mass before you dine.
  • Read that novel you’ve been waiting to read . . . but read some saint stuff too.
  • Travel with the family . . . but take God along for the trip.
  • Brave the latest rollercoaster . . . but find your real courage in the Lord.
  • Do a little fishing . . . but more importantly be a fisher of men.
  • Gaze at the summer stars . . . but gaze into the eyes of Jesus too.
  • Throw lawn darts with grandpa . . . but also lift him up to the Father in heaven.
  • Scream for some ice cream . . . but taste of God’s goodness as well.
  • Give the dog a bath . . . but cleanse yourself with the sacrament of penance.
  • Grow tomato plants in the garden . . . but grow virtue in your heart.
  • Take in a ball game . . . but hit a home run for the poor.
  • Sit and do absolutely nothing . . . but know that you are never alone.

Summer, you gotta love it!

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Open a New Window

Auntie Mame is one of my favorite characters from the Broadway stage. Mame, if you are unfamiliar with the story, is a wealthy socialite who finds herself responsible for the upbringing of her young nephew, Patrick. Diving in with great energy and exuberance, Mame introduces the boy to her world of high living and eccentric friends. Challenges abound, a number of Mame’s endeavors prove unsuccessful, and more than one detour on the road of life is taken. But with a loving heart and great resilience, Mame eventually leads Patrick to mature manhood. And in the process, she finds herself a wealthy woman in the things of the heart that really matter.

At one moment in the musical, when she is faced with the necessity to change directions, Auntie Mame sings:

“Open a new window,
open a new door,
travel a new highway,
you’ve never been down before.”

The song signifies adventure and not sadness. Mame realizes that though uncertain, the future is where she and Patrick must head. Unwilling to squander time and energy grieving over what has been, she reaches out for what is yet to be. And in doing so, she makes the present a time of unlimited possibility.

Maybe you are also at a point in life where “travelling a new highway” has become a necessity. I think of high school seniors who must leave the security of friends, family and the familiar, to venture off into what is often called “the real world.” I think of the many young couples now beginning a life of Christian marriage together. I think of the 6 permanent deacons just ordained for service in our Diocese and the 5 young men soon to be ordained as priests. And I think of those who, for one reason or another, must pull up stakes and move on to a new town or a new job or a new school or a new way of life.

In particular, my friend, Fr. Rich Toohey comes to mind. Many of you know Fr. Rich for his outstanding work with young people at TEC and CLI (he also is active in the Cursillo movement). Fr. Rich is one of those preparing to “open a new window” in his life, for after several wonderful years at St. Mary of Grace Parish in Meadville, Fr. Rich is being reassigned as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Warren. No doubt, saying goodbye to the families in Meadville who he has come to know and love will be difficult for Fr. Rich. Goodbyes are never easy. But like our Lord himself, who said, “to the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom, because for this purpose I have been sent (Luke 2:43),” so off Fr. Rich must go. Anyone who knows him understands that Fr. Rich will bring his legendary energy and commitment to Warren. And in the midst of this life change, God will be with him.
So too, God is always with us. Life changes can be frightening and leave us with a sense of imbalance or uncertainty, but God is present in the midst of those changes. Auntie Mame met the many new moments in her life with a wonderful verve and confidence. She could even sing about their promise. Knowing that God is ever present in the changing moments of our life, we too can “open a new window” with the confidence of our Christian faith.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Apollos

Mention “Apollos” in polite conversation and you’re likely to get mumbled comments about moon rockets or Roman gods. Of course, as a kid, I was fascinated by NASA’s Apollo missions, but that isn’t the focus of this week’s message. Apollos, the man, the missionary, the disciple of Christ – he is our focus.

In the early Church, Apollos was a rock star. According to the Book of Acts, he was an “eloquent speaker” and an “authority on the Scripture.” He travelled far and wide to preach the name of Jesus. And evidently, Apollos had great success. But if there can be such a thing, Apollos was a humble, forgotten rock star. St. Paul, it seems, was the guy with his name in lights, while Apollos was in the background. Apollos was to Paul as The Edge is to Bono: a great musician for sure, but definitely not the star. Where Paul is Michael Jordan, Apollos is Scottie Pippen. Paul is the one who drives the garbage truck, Apollos rides on back and picks up the cans. While Paul is George Michael, Apollos is that other dude who sang “Wake me up before you go-go.”

Have you ever run across a church named after St. Apollos? I sure haven’t. Ever seen a statue in your parish in honor of our boy? Nope, me neither. Any books in the Borders religion section extolling the virtues of Apollos? There might be, but I haven’t read any. So here we have an incredibly powerful witness to Christ, who day after day endured hardship to preach the Gospel, but Apollos gets very little credit for his labors. And maybe, just maybe, that is exactly the way he wants it.

Look, if we are living out our Christianity in the hope of obtaining fame or fortune, chances are that we will be sadly disappointed. Christ doesn’t need us to be famous, he needs us to be faithful. And thank God, there are still many Apollos-like Christians walking among us today. You’ve seen them: the widowed grandmother praying her rosary in the corner of the church, the harried mom teaching her youngest to make the sign of the cross, the coach who never forgets to lead his team in a prayer, the high school kid committed to speaking words that glorify God rather than blaspheme him.

By its very nature, Christian faithfulness must be characterized by humility. True, some Christians like Mother Teresa and John Paul II do become famous, but that was certainly not their goal. In fact, they likely found their fame to be a cross. To live for Christ is to forfeit personal desires for status, privilege or wealth. Christ, himself, is the prize. Apollos knew that and he lived accordingly. Good for him. But if I had some sculpting skills, you can bet that there would be a new St. Apollos statue in the church this Sunday.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Where are They?

How strange it would be if you showed up for practice and several of your teammates were simply gone. Coach doesn’t know where they are, you don’t, no one does. Or you punch in at the job only to be told that you are doubling up duties today. The reason? Two of your coworkers have simply stopped coming to work; the boss has no clue of their whereabouts. Equally weird would be the query from your homeroom teacher requesting information on a handful of your classmates. They have not reported to school for a few weeks now and all efforts to contact their parents have met with failure.

The above scenarios may seem unusual, but they are being lived out in reality Sunday after Sunday in church after church. Catholics young and old – even entire families – are simply disappearing from the pews. Where they have gone is anyone’s guess.

Sadly, some have probably begun to worship with another Christian community because they find the message to be more “relevant” or the parishioners to be more welcoming. Others have likely given up the battle to juggle weekend responsibilities and have determined that church attendance is pretty low on the priority list. A number of the absentees could be angry at the Church in general, disappointed by the sins and failings of her leaders, or at odds with the moral teachings of Catholicism. Possibly most of the missing have simply allowed the presence of God in their lives to cease being meaningful. For them, God is more of a faded memory than a fiery presence.

Whatever the cause which keeps baptized Catholics from coming to church, you and me have a responsibility to seek them out and bring them back. Indeed, we are our brother’s keeper.

John Paul II often referred to this effort as the New Evangelization. The “old” evangelization is summed up by the words of the Gospel we hear on Ascension Thursday: preach the forgiveness of sins to all nations. That proclaiming of the Good News to those who are unbaptized continues. But the New Evangelization calls us to proclaim again the Good News to those who have heard but have subsequently forgotten or ignored the message. Make no mistake, this is not an easy task, but it is an eminently important one. Love demands that we seek out the sheep who have wandered from the pasture.

So might I ask you a favor? Today, please spend some time in prayer begging the Good Shepherd to return his sheep to the fold. Offering a Rosary for this intention might be a particularly appropriate manner of prayer, May is after all the month of Mary. Also, please consider inviting folks you know to return to Mass. If they indicate that there are issues which need to be resolved, point them toward the person who can begin that resolution. The pastor of your parish is often a good place to start. And finally, please be faithful yourself in attending Mass and giving witness to Christ. The personal example of Christians on fire for Christ is a powerful tool in carrying out the new Evangelization.

Are you and me superior Catholics because we attend Sunday Mass? Frankly, to think in such a manner would be to fall hard through the sin of pride. But if we love Christ and his Church, helping others to find what we have found is a beautiful work for the Lord. And what a wonderful problem it would be to have to scrunch closer in the pews each Sunday to make room for all the worshippers seeking a seat.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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A Wave of Recognition

I do not own or ride a motorcycle, but I have a great deal of admiration for the brotherhood and sisterhood which clearly exists within the biker community. In particular, I love the “wave” exchanged by bike riders as they pass each other on opposite sides of the highway. Have you seen this? As one biker approaches another, they both remove their left hand from the handlebars and point it downward toward the center of the road. The hands of the passing riders then remain in that position until they have sped by each other. This “wave” is more than a simple how-do-you-do gesture. It’s a way of saying: I identify with you, I know you share my passion for bikes and the open road, I believe that I can trust in you and count on you. The wave implies a mutual acceptance. Honda or Harley, helmet or none, day tripper or cross country warrior – none of that matters – if you are a biker then you are my friend. There is something profound in this acknowledgment of common purpose.

In the earliest days of the Church, Christians exchanged a similar sign of common purpose. It came in the form of a brief dialogue. Upon meeting each other, one Christian would proclaim, “Jesus is Risen!” and the response would be, “He is risen indeed!” This joyful exchange of greetings expressed a sense of Christian communion and solidarity: I know who you are, I know what you stand for, I know that I can trust you.”And in an age when Christians lived daily with the threat of persecution and martyrdom, mutual trust was a valued commodity.

Do Christians still have need of recognizing each other and acknowledging a common purpose? Clearly, the answer is yes. In fact, our contemporary culture is increasingly reminiscent of the Church’s early days. Christianity is not universally accepted today, public displays of religion are frowned upon and even scorned, and Christians are again being asked to pay a price for fidelity to the Gospel. So being able to recognize and acknowledge a fellow believer is a wonderful and affirming moment. Remember, Christ did not send out his disciples alone, but two-by-two. We live our Christianity, or at least we should live it, one for the other. It is good that we in some manner say to each other: I identify with you, I share your passion for Christ, I know I can count on your prayer and support.

One way of expressing this mutuality of faith is through the many cool t-shirts that I see Christian youth wearing these days. Some of these shirts recall the sacrifice of the martyrs, others serve as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and for many Catholic young people, the simple t-shirt provides a powerful way of affirming: “Yeah! I’m proud to be a Catholic!”

But whether we don a Christian t-shirt or wear a cross around our neck or slip the rosary over a wrist or speak words of scripture to our confirmation classmate – it is vitally important that we do recognize and acknowledge our common baptism and our common faith in Jesus Christ the Lord. Though we may sometimes feel alone and isolated in our efforts to live out the Gospel message, we are not. Countless Christians are proclaiming Christ’s risen presence by the words they speak and the lives they lead. But when failures happen and discouragement sets in, knowing another believer is standing with us provides strength and support. So stand strong, and stand together as well. And as you pass another Christian travelling the road of life, give them a wave. They’ll be glad to know you are with them.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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