August 26, 2018

Excerpts put together from: Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26). These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons. These are crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike. Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to not only create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated. It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable. We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death.

We feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite. With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. Saint Paul’s exhortation to suffer with those who suffer is the best antidote against all our attempts to repeat the words of Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9).

Today we are challenged as the People of God to take on the pain of our brothers and sisters wounded in their flesh and in their spirit. It is helpful to remember in salvation history, the Lord saved one people. We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People. Indeed, whenever we have tried to replace, or silence, or ignore, or reduce the People of God to small elites, we end up creating structures without roots, without bodies and, ultimately, without lives.

While it is important and necessary on every journey of conversion to acknowledge the truth of what has happened, in itself this is not enough. Every one of the baptized should feel involved in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need. This change calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does. Without the active participation of all the Church’s members, everything being done to uproot the culture of abuse in our communities will not be successful. I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command: “But this kind of demon does not come out except by prayer and fasting” (Mt 17:21).

An initial step we can make as a people of faith: Spiritual Bouquets are prayers or devotional acts that are offered for someone else. Our parish will embark on a two-week journey offering prayers and devotions for those victimized by the Church of Pittsburgh. Posters have been placed around the church indicating the spiritual gifts we will offer during this time. You are asked to mark down the spiritual gift you have given on one of these posters. At the conclusion of our two weeks we will tally the information and have a final Spiritual Bouquet showing our prayerful commitment to bringing about healing to the victims.

We know that all benefit from prayer. The nicest part of this ministry is that it can be done communally or alone, at church or at home. Our categories for offerings include: Rosary, Our Father, Act of Fasting/Penance, Novenas/Litanies, Holy Communion, Stations of the Cross, The Divine Mercy Chaplet, A Spiritual/Corporal Work of Mercy, Visit to the Blessed Sacrament, Offering of Individual Mass Intention, Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel, and a category identified as Other which you may fill in as appropriate to your gift. We know that many of our homebound parishioners are the best “pray-ers” and we want to recognize your wonderful contribution to this bouquet. Please let the office know of your devotional acts offered for the victims and we will include that in our final bouquet.

August 19, 2018

Moving forward with Holy Mother Church and Holy Mother Mary: In his recent letter to the faithful of Pittsburgh concerning the PA Attorney General Report, Bishop Zubik stated that his prayer is that “the agony of Jesus on the Cross would be our hope.” I in no way wish to deny the
power of praying through this imagery, however, I have been personally moved to find comfort in the story of our Blessed Mother. Specifically, in Luke 2:34-35: “Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ʽBehold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you, yourself, a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.ʼ”

I believe we are experiencing this scripture as … this Catholic Church is destined for the fall and rise of many, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you, a Catholic, a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

The history of the Church shows us that the wheat and weeds truly grow together. Saint Bede (who lived from 672-735) wrote: “But now even down to the close of the present time, the sword of the severest tribulation passes through the soul of the Church, when with bitter sorrow she experiences evil against the sign of faith, when she finds many falling from the faith, when at the revealing of the thoughts of many hearts, in which the good seed of the Gospel has been sown, she sees the tares [an injurious weed resembling wheat when young] of vice overshooting it, spreading beyond it, or growing alone.”

Within this reality, I see our challenge, perhaps even our duty. We must remain faithful, fight for justice, extend mercy, and be humble enough to pray for the conversion of all the world while leaving eternal judgment in the hands of God. We must be like Mary, a people persevering in faith, hope and charity even in the midst of the pain, confusion, hurt and anger of having our hearts pierced by a sword.

The world is going to attack the Church on every front. Perhaps those closest to you will look to see how many walk away from the faith. Our friends/family members will reveal their true colors, some supportive, but tragically many will turn on us who remain faithful. Any abandoning of the Church will, for the world, be a sign that the Church is evil ˗ and that is what the devil wants. Our visible faithfulness will be our participation in the passion of Christ and of Mary.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, in his blog, Glory to God for All Things, states: “It is doubtless the case that in our life a sword may pierce our soul – but that, too, is a communion with Christ. In Christ it is also a communion with Mary. Our souls, pierced by a sword, groan with all creation, awaiting the final triumph of the Kingdom. Our faithfulness is an act of Eucharist (thanksgiving), a transformation of the world into the Kingdom of God. It is the fulfillment of the common priesthood of all the baptized.”

May our prayers increase within us the grace we need to persevere in the true faith. I grieve for thee, O Mary most sorrowful, in the affliction of thy tender heart at the prophecy of the holy and aged Simeon. Dear Mother, by thy heart so afflicted, obtain for me the virtue of humility and the gift of the holy fear of God.

August 12, 2018

New Interim Mass schedule to be released next weekend. For an update on the release of the new Mass schedule, and how to prepare ourselves for the change it will bring, I am going to borrow heavily from what Fr. Kevin Fazio shared with his new grouping of parishes in Butler. Please keep in mind that the one constant to expect with the On Mission initiative is change, more change, and perhaps more change for a number of years, until the On Mission “dust settles,” so to speak. While many of us may not like to hear this, it is a reality of the times that we are living in.

When the interim Mass schedule is published, please be mindful that we (current clergy – Fr. Al Semler, Fr. John Lynam, and I) and the future clergy team considered numerous factors in our proposal to Fr. Fred Cain, our regional vicar, some of which included: the total number of parishioners attending weekend and Holy Day Masses; the church buildings’ seating capacity, access, condition, location, and parking (including campus traffic patterns/concerns); the religious education (CCD) schedules; our region’s demographic and population trends, and the number of funerals celebrated each week. We also gave great consideration to the reality that our grouping of four parishes is slated to have only two priests by year 2025, if not sooner.

We attempted to do our very best in anticipating the needs of our community in light of future realities and to suggest a Mass and Confession schedule that would be stable. Yet, no one can predict the future and this announcement is the INTERIM MASS/CONFESSION TIMES. At what point in the future this might/will change, I cannot say; but change is a real possibility.

Our main objective as clergy (the outgoing and incoming clergy teams) is to serve you, to participate in our community, to listen, to observe, and then to make decisions…one moment at a time. None of us can do everything; we can only do the next thing!

I ask that everyone please be understanding, patient, and flexible with these changes, especially those of you who worship and participate at Mass and in various ministries. Our recent change to our scheduling system was made in the hope that it better prepares us to meet the needs and desires of those who offer a liturgical ministry here at the parish. It is one small step we have taken to help ease this transition. Still, the clergy recognizes and respects that all leaders of liturgical ministries (music directors, cantors, musicians, Lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, ushers, greeters, altar servers, etc.), and all involved in our religious education programs, will be greatly impacted by this change. We will do our best to keep you informed and assist you in the transition. As more information is given to us we will respond in a way that allows all of us to best meet the challenges and opportunities as they become known.

“Be not afraid!” Jesus often-times says to us, when change is necessary. Let us keep this in heart, mind and prayer as we support one another on this journey

August 5, 2018

Forgiveness reflection based on Guy Gruters’ talk: During his talk, Guy recalled taking a knee in his cell as a POW and explained to us how he began to pray the rosary even though he couldn’t remember the mysteries. He only recalled that it would have been 150 Hail Mary’s and an Our Father after each set of 10 Hail Mary’s. But he prayed and most importantly he prayed that God would help him to forgive. I was so moved by the fact that he had forgotten the mysteries. Oddly enough (or more likely God inspired) that very day I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and I think I only remembered the first one correctly. It was very frustrating for me to not be able to remember the mysteries. How was I going to grow in holiness if I didn’t remember the mysteries and I didn’t properly reflect upon them? Then, as I listened to Guy speak, it struck me…I’m not the one in charge and I cannot be so prideful as to think that I am doing this on my own. I was being all about me as I prayed and not making room for God. In other words, I wasn’t letting go and letting God. So, God messed up my memory that day to highlight my need to be with Him in prayer and to learn to depend upon His power to overcome hardship and not depend upon my own pride-filled ego.

I was also moved when Guy spoke about not judging others. Only God knows what is going on in someone else’s heart, mind and soul. He talked about how each of us has been given our own gifts and talents from God, as well as our own free will to choose how to use those gifts. But he also spoke about how each of us is brought up in different situations with our own unique setbacks, hardships and troubles. All of this makes it impossible to truly know the journey someone else has traveled leading them to the actions (or inactions) they make. It made me think of that favorite prayer I often say: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Finally, what I heard Guy say over and over again was that he didn’t give up on forgiving. Each day he chooses to place his life into the hands of God and through Him, who sacrificed everything for us sinners, Guy finds the strength to forgive others. It is a daily choice he makes, not a one and done scenario. The humility it takes to fight this fight each and every day struck me with great awe. It made me think of that scriptural passage: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). So, in summary, I took away from Guy’s talk that the steps of forgiveness are:

  • Place it into the Hands of God. Only He can give us the strength to forgive.
    • Don’t try and do this via your own will, strength or pride.
  • Do not judge the other. Judgment is for God.
    • Acknowledging your own pain and sharing your story is not being judgmental.
  • Don’t give up praying for the grace to forgive!
    • If need be, reflect on how much God sacrificed for you even though you are in need of
      forgiveness yourself.

Thoughts from Jo Ann McLaughlin-Klemencic:
One of the most striking sentiments from Guy Gruters’ reflection for me was this: that if you have power over others, be careful not to abuse it. Power can easily corrupt those who have it, so watch how you exercise it. It reminded me of a Gospel passage from John 19. Pontius Pilate is trying to release Jesus, but the crowd yells that Jesus should be crucified because he made himself the Son of God. “Now when Pilate heard this statement, he became even more afraid, and went back into the praetorium and said to Jesus, ʽWhere are you from?ʼ Jesus did not answer him. So Pilate said to him, ʽDo you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?ʼ Jesus answered, ʽYou would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from aboveʼ ” (John 19: 8-11).

What I find interesting in this passage is the mention of fear and power. Fear is certainly a motivator, but usually motivates us to make poor choices. Eventually Pilate’s fear of the situation leads him to wish to be rid of the whole situation, so he hands Jesus over to be crucified. He had the power to make a different choice, but his fear blinded how he could have used his power for good.

Fear and misunderstandings of perceived differences are at the root of many personal, historical, and present conflicts. I am wholly convinced that the suffering that we all experience because of choices motivated by fear and misunderstanding, including what Jesus experienced, is the result of sin.
Sometimes these are individual sins and choices, but more often than not, it is societal sin, the sin we all carry the burden of because of our fall from grace. We live in a broken world that we were never intended to be a part of where we daily feel the effects of sin. Guy’s story is just one of unfortunately millions and millions of examples of that.

So, how do we forgive those who have abused power? We follow the lead of Jesus. First, we pray. Hard. Allow Jesus’ words to be your simple and beautiful prayer: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). These may not come easy, so proceed to my second step. Second, we often need to give ourselves time. Third, we should talk to those we can trust. Forgiveness involves healing of self, a healing that may not be achieved without additional support. Fourth, seek out the Eucharist, the perfect gift intended to make us whole. Fifth, remember that in our humanness, our forgiving someone or something may not change the behaviors we see. That can be difficult and add time to the process. But our forgiveness need not be predicated on that change. A helpful gauge to know if you have forgiven a person or situation is if pain and hurt are not your first thoughts regarding these. Then base your actions accordingly, repeating above actions if necessary and also guarding your future interactions.
This process is not a simple one, and my thoughts are not complete or foolproof by any means. They are a start, and any process rooted in the Lord is a good place to start.

Captain Guy Gruters Presentation Video

If you were unable to hear Captain Guy Gruters’ talk on “The Power of Prayer, Faith and Forgiveness” you can watch a video of that evening’s presentation at this link.  If you have trouble viewing it here you can just paste this web address into your browser https://youtu.be/mbNRERZ0Fgw.

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