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Archive for October, 2010

Loose Lips

St. Paul doesn’t deal in niceties. He doesn’t flatter. Instead, he gets right into our personal space, pokes a finger into our chest, and challenges us to be better. Such was the case in this morning’s epistle for Mass. Paul, speaking to his flock in Ephesus, had this to say: “Immorality or impurity . . . must not even be mentioned among you . . . no silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place (Eph 4).” To put that in today’s parlance, Paul means that we should never use foul or explicit language, no dirty jokes, no locker room talk, and no innuendo. We must not even casually mention these things. Such talk has no place on the lips of a Christian.

Maybe for you, this is not a problem. That’s great. But for a lot of folk, young and old alike, this is a big problem. Our culture tends to glorify the crude, potty-mouthed language so often spoken by film stars and recording artists. Many athletes and coaches don’t give a second thought to using curse words and sexual slang. And walking through a high school hallway can be an unwanted lesson in the language of the gutter.

Come on guys – and ladies – as Christians we cannot abide by these cultural norms. Hopefully we are not dropping these word bombs at Sunday dinner with grandma. But if we restrain ourselves there, why use foul language at Dairy Queen or in the car with the fellas? If it’s a matter of trying to fit in or be cool, please, try again. Telling dirty jokes certainly doesn’t make you a man, guys, in fact, it makes you less of one. And ladies, foul language is simply unbecoming of a daughter of God. You were created to glorify God in action and word. Be serious about doing so.

We cannot control the language of others, but we can – and must – be a Christian witness in our culture. Cleaning up our potty mouths is a good place to start. Having a friend join in the effort is even better. It was once quite popular to ask, “What would Jesus do?” Maybe this week we can also wonder, “What would Jesus say?”

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Most Excellent!

On this Feast Day of St. Luke, a man known in Scripture as the “beloved physician,” I recall a different Luke and a time I nearly needed a physician. So here’s the story. When I taught at Kennedy Catholic, I would often bring my running gear with me to school so that I could change and go to the park at the end of the day. As I was getting ready to head out one afternoon, a student named Luke, a great kid, and a strong runner, asked me to run with him. Luke volunteered to show me his usual running route and he assured this old man that he would slow down to my pace. Foolishly, I manned up and agreed. So off we went – like the proverbial rocket sled on rails!

We tore out of the school parking lot, crossed the main highway, veered off into a residential area, sped across another main avenue, dodged traffic, left a housing development in our exhaust fumes, flew into another neighborhood, raced into the park via the main entrance – at which point, Luke, not even breathing hard, volunteered to cut his park loop a little short on my behalf (evidently noticing the fact that I was gasping for oxygen and stumbling forward like a wildebeest with a lion attached to its thigh) – finished the park loop, retraced our steps back toward school, crossed more busy streets, dodged more traffic, and from my perspective, started wishing Jesus would appear in the eastern sky to end the misery.

With about 6 blocks left until we were back at school, Luke showed no signs of slowing down. Me, on the other hand, I was dying. “You can make it,” he encouraged me. Sure, I thought, if a car wacks into me and carries my sad carcass all the way back to school on its grill. But sure enough, with Luke kind of circling around me in support (or like a vulture, whatever), I made it back. Luke was proud of me. “Do you know how far we went?” he asked. Of course I knew . . .5 . . . 6 . . . 7,000 miles . . . please . . . just let me breath. Actually, I was pretty proud of myself. My muscles were sore, my lungs were burning, but with Luke’s encouragement, I had made it.

The same principal applies in the long run we call the Christian life. God gives us the grace to make it, but he doesn’t ask that we do it alone. We need fellow Christians to encourage, prod and push us toward heaven. Look at the example of today’s saint: Luke, the evangelist, wrote his Gospel so that his friend, the “most excellent Theophilus,” might be helped on his Christian journey. Perfect! That’s what Christian friends are meant to do. The Lord, of course, deserves to be at the top of our list. Jesus (to use Luke’s delightful wording) is always the most excellent of friends. But the saints too offer us great encouragement. Their lives point us toward holiness and virtue. And you and I have the responsibility – and the joy – to encourage each other in the Christian walk.

Allow me, then, to make this recommendation. Take a few moments (right now if you can) to ask God to place the name of someone in need of encouragement upon your heart. Once he’s done so, pray for that purpose, asking God to strengthen the person as needed. And then, you strengthen them too! Call, text, write, e-mail them or visit them on Facebook. Let them know how much God loves them. Remind them of God’s fidelity. Share with them your sense of solidarity and compassion. Doing this will undoubtedly make you feel good, it will build up the Body of Christ in a powerful way, and of course, it will be “most excellent” J

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Staying Home

We live in an amazing part of the world. Seriously. And I believe my life experience allows me some authority with which to say this. I’ve been blessed to visit a lot of places and a lot of countries and I’ve lived in Virginia, Ohio, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia and even Italy. I’ve walked on a glacier, sailed the salty seas, and stood atop the Eiffel Tower. But I choose to live right here in northwestern Pennsylvania. I choose the splendor of the Allegheny Mountains, the magnificence of a Lake Erie sunset, and that prognosticating groundhog in Punxsutawney. This is home; a beautiful, wonderful, just-feels-right home.

Now I can sense what some of you out there are saying, especially you teenagers: “First chance I get, I’m outta here!” Fair enough. Jobs are tough to come by, the snow can be a little much, and there is something about youth that makes us long for adventure and foreign places. I understand. But contrary to what is often expressed, all of life’s problems don’t really disappear as soon as you cross into North Carolina. And although the Florida sun truly does feel good upon the skin, a warm day doesn’t guarantee a life without pain. Home is more about the heart than the hammock. And we need some good hearts right here in northwest P-A.

When Mother Teresa was still alive, it was not unusual for people, young and old, to seek her out with a desire to serve the poor in Calcutta. But in most cases she would turn them away. Go home, she would counsel, and find your own Calcutta.

Make no mistake about it, every land and every hamlet has its own Calcutta. Our corner of the world is not exempted. Maybe we call the place Sharon or Dubois or Warren or Erie or Grove City, but our Calcuttas are not far away. There are homeless on our streets, lonely ones in our nursing facilities, and forsaken in our schools. There are people in Clarion who need a word of kindness, folks in Claremont who seek a hand, and kids in Coalport who hunger for love. To think we have to travel far to do God’s work is mistaken. And correct me if I am wrong, but the key to happiness is seeking God’s will, right? How and where he wants to use me is what matters.

Without a doubt, the Church faces difficulties in the 13 counties of the Diocese of Erie: our population is aging, once vibrant parishes are now struggling to hang on, and the fog of discouragement can hang heavy in the air. Especially for young adults, the temptation to flee to where the Church is fresh and growing – like in North Carolina and Florida – is understandable. But maybe the Calcutta to which God is calling you is the place which you already call home.

I love living here, and God willing, the remainder of my life will be spent in northwestern Pennsylvania. The challenges for Catholics here are real, but the opportunities are great. The Gospel of God’s love needs to be preached and lived from the inner city of Erie to the farmlands of Fryburg. Is your home here? Please ask God for the answer.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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Human Dignity

On a sun-drenched October day some 13 years ago, with my life on the verge of forever changing, I stood before a man whose faith, wisdom and courage had impacted me in a profound way. With my parents having greeted him and moved on, and with my hand clasped by his, I stated simply, “I’m being ordained a deacon tomorrow.” And in response, with a silent benediction, the man raised his right hand and made the sign of the cross over my head. Thus blessed by Pope John Paul II, I moved forward, both literally and figuratively.

I occasionally lament that I’m still waiting for that blessing to fully kick in, but what an immense gift that moment was for me. Through his teaching, in the exercise of his priesthood, and by his personal example, John Paul II has taught me much about the meaning of Christian existence. And although he is no longer with us on earth, John Paul continues today to be an enormous influence in my life.

Three facets of the late Holy Father’s teaching attract with me particular force. The first is the realization that Jesus Christ is at the center of all creation and human history. The second reminds us that personal fulfillment can only be found in a life totally lived for others. And the third is John Paul II’s constant refrain that each human life is of infinite value and the dignity of every person must therefore be cherished and protected in all circumstances.

I’m not sure that as a culture we are doing particularly well in embodying any of these teachings, but our failure to respect the dignity of human life is especially disturbing. How horribly tragic it is that so many who claim the name of Christian fail to understand the immense evil of such attacks on human life as abortion, euthanasia and wanton violence. Other anti-life practices, because they are less obvious threats to human dignity, go unopposed or even enthusiastically accepted. I think of contraception, pornography and the suppression of religious freedom. A quick survey of newspaper headlines reveals other failures to defend the human person: terrorism, genocide, murder and political oppression. Sadly, the list could go on.

In one sense, the capacity for me or you alone to combat these evils is limited. Few of us, for example, can travel to Sudan to feed and protect the victims of civil war. Our own family responsibilities naturally take precedence over extensive hours dedicated to the pro-life cause. And as much as we’d like to end the violence on our city streets, our ability to effect change is generally not great.

But just as John Paul II never ceased striving for a world of peace and love and mutual human respect, so we also must continue to try. “No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us (Rom 8:37),” is the exhortation of scripture. What we could never accomplish by our own efforts, we are empowered to do in Christ. So try! Pray that the dignity of each human life might be protected. Encourage those with political power to think and act with the mind of Christ. Respect and love those with whom you live and work and study each day. Be an example to the world of one who cherishes the dignity and inherent worth of each person. Rebuke – with love – friends who do not understand the evil in their actions. And beg the Holy Spirit of God to purify with fire the impurity of our culture.

John Paul II, I firmly believe, continues to work for the victory of human dignity. He does so from heaven. May you and I do the same from our homes here on earth.

Be assured of my prayers,

Fr. Steve

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