Sarah Huckabee Sanders is my new hero. Standing in for President Trump at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday night, Sarah was subjected to the rantings of a bully, a supposed comic Michelle Wolf, who could barely raise a smile from those in attendance. That was no comedy, or tongue in cheek parody. Let’s make no mistake about it – it doesn’t matter which political party you belong to or whether you like Sarah Huckabee Sanders or not. This was pure, hate-filled vitriol – delivered in the name of “fun.” It seems that many in the press and on the left find it acceptable to criticize a woman for her looks, or to humiliate her family, all in the name of “fun” or “jokes.” Interestingly, that’s not the same standard they use for most women, only those who come from a particular point of view. In the name of freedom of the press and the right to free expression, some people were celebrating bullying, vulgarity, and hatred. No mother, or wife, or mother should be subject to what Sarah Huckabee Sanders faced on Saturday evening. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t bristle if that had been their grandmother, mother, wife or mother. It is a sad day for America!
That she could sit through this angry attack on human decency and take one for the President is way beyond the call of duty for Sarah Huckabee Sanders. It speaks to her inner beauty as a person, her moral integrity, her love for her country and her desire to serve nobly. I admire her beyond measure, because honestly I would have left the dias last night. However, it was a sad day for our country, for politics, for human decency and for moral integrity. I pray that most parents had the sense to shield their children from such a display of pure anger and hatred. It is never acceptable, for any reason, for any Christian to spew such hatred for any other person. It contradicts all that we are and what we truly believe. Love your enemy. Pray for those who persecute you. This teaching of Jesus is true wisdom but sadly is lacking in so many hearts and in the heart of our country. I am inspired by the perseverance, the courage, the integrity and desire to serve our country that marks the life of Sarah Huckabee Sanders. You go girl and don’t let anyone stand in your way! God’s blessings to you and to your family – there are many in our country who thank you for your selfless service.
For nearly 3 years now Bishop Zubik has been leading us on a journey of prayer, reflection and strategic planning for the future of the Church of Pittsburgh – On Mission for the Church Alive! It is not unlike those early days of the Church that we are reading about in the Acts of Apostles throughout this Easter season. There were great challenges and obstacles that confronted those disciples of Jesus, but they were led by God’s grace – the power, wisdom and strength of the Holy Spirit – as those first disciples of Jesus shared the Good News of the Resurrection. As we hear in our first reading, “The Church was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit in grew in numbers and life.”
We sometimes fail to see the forest for the trees. Our faith calls us to believe in the big picture. We profess our faith in a God who loves us unconditionally, who blesses us each day, who sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, that through his obedient sacrifice on the Cross we all might be forgiven of our sins and have life in his name. It was Tertullian, one of the early Church fathers, who said that John 3:16 summarized the whole of the Gospel: God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that all who believe in Him might have life in his name. This has been the message of Easter for all us.
What a tremendous gift and blessing it is for us to be members of the Body of Christ, the Church. The Church is not a building, but a living, grace-filled communion with Jesus Christ and all the baptized – our brothers and sisters in Christ. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” It is our duty and obligation in faith, in every age, to be witnesses to that faith in Jesus Christ, to grow in intimacy to the Lord through the sacraments and prayer, and to use our gifts and talents in building the Church. It is our mission through baptism to live our faith well, to carry on the mission of Christ so that the Church will truly be one, holy, Catholic and apostolic – a reflection of Christ our Head.
This weekend Bishop Zubik is announcing significant changes to the make-up of the Church of Pittsburgh. We are moving from 188 parishes to 57. It will take time for all of us to make those adjustments. It won’t be easy but change never is. But even Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel of the need for spiritual pruning to the vine so that it will bear fruit abundantly. We are on this journey for one reason – to revitalize our Church, to serve better the needs of the faithful, so that we can lead them to the heart of Jesus and the Truth of his Gospel and for all of us to gain life in heaven. This is the only reason that we exist in the first place!
Our grouping includes Saint Paul Cathedral, Saint Regis (South Oakland), Saint Rosalia (Greenfield), and Saint Stephen (Hazelwood). This grouping remains unchanged from the proposed models that we have discussed over the past two years. I want to share with you the news that Bishop Zubik has asked me to remain at St. Paul Cathedral as both rectory and administrator as well as appointing me as administrator of each of the four parishes in our grouping. I am truly delighted to be staying here at the Cathedral and am deeply grateful for the loving support of the entire Cathedral parish family. And I count on that support and prayers as we move forward. In addition, three parochial vicars have been assigned to this grouping: Father Joe Reshick (currently pastor at St. Rosalia); Father Dan Walsh (currently a chaplain at Duquesne University) and Father Adam Potter (currently parochial vicar at St. Benedict the Abbot in Peter’s Township). Deacon Tom Barnes from St. Stephen Hazelwood has been appointed as deacon for this grouping. These assignments will become effective on October 15. At this time no church buildings will close but our goal will be to work with all the faithful in these four parishes together so that we can become one parish in the not too distant future – it is the expectation that we will form one new parish no later than the end of 2021 and decide which church buildings will best serve the new parish. A new Mass schedule for the grouping will be announced in August and take effect on October 15 and it will involve some changes to the number of Masses being celebrated and the Mass times for all four of our parishes as we will be able to have no more than 12 Sunday Masses, including any Saturday vigil Masses.
Sadly, for us, Father Adam Verona will not be remaining here as part of our grouping. But he is excited to have been appointed as administrator of six parishes in Northern Butler County and he will be much closer to his mother and family. He has been trained well at the Cathedral for his greater service to the Church, but we will surely miss him here as well as Deacon Chuck Rhoads who has been assigned to another grouping in the Glenshaw/Etna area. Fr. Brian Welding, Episcopal Vicar for Clergy, who has been in residence at the Cathedral this past year will be leaving as well to take up a new residence in the West End.
So, what do we do now? I need to ask each one of you to stay connected and to help in this important work. Don’t lose sight of the greater good by focusing on the changes you may not like. We need everyone’s help and support and I would ask for four things in particular:
a. Pray: Pray for your priests and deacons; pray for God’s grace to help us in this transition so that we will always seek to accomplish his will; pray for all of us that we will seek always to do what is best for the good of the Church and work to accomplish God’s will not our own.
b. Be Open to Change: Listen with an open mind and heart. Learn about what is going on and be open to what is taking place. Read the bulletin and the Pittsburgh Catholic so you know the facts about what is taking place. Set aside your expectations and preconceptions so that the Holy Spirit can truly lead us to where we need to go.
c. Get Involved. Don’t leave the Church or stand on the sidelines. The Church needs each one of you. Use your time, talent and treasure well and become part of what needs to take place for the good of the Church and her people.
d. Be welcoming and hospitable to everyone. We will be working over these coming months to get to know each other from the other parishes in our grouping. We must be welcoming, kind, and open to everyone as we seek to build a family of faith, make new relationships and help to create a welcoming community as we work to create one new parish with all the faithful.
In his letter to the faithful that you will each receive in the mail and which is being published in next week’s bulletin Bishop Zubik says: “I rely on your prayers for all of us who are On Mission for the Church Alive. I believe with all my heart that embracing the will and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we can together do what Jesus asks of us: We can be The Church Alive.”
We pray for the soul of former First Lady BARBARA BUSH and hold her family in our prayers. Mrs. Bush served our country in numerous capacities, always with a sense of humor and great wit, and with kindness and true compassion for others. Her love for her husband over the past 76 years and her love for her family was an inspiration for so many. We salute her patriotism, her incredible efforts promoting child and adult literacy in our country. I had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Bush on several occasions, the first time as a seminarian at the North American College, and was always struck by her dignity, grace, humility and real concern for everyone she met. She had a way of making you feel important and special and that was part of her charm. She was a woman who loved God and had strong Christian faith, who loved her family and cared deeply for our country and helping others. May she rest in peace.
Our hearts and prayers go out as well in these days to the family of BRUNO SAMMARTINO. Bruno emigrated from Pizzoferrato, Italy at the age of 15 and settled in South Oakland. His family was active at St. Regis Parish. Two markers were erected welcoming people to South Oakland with the names of Dan Marino and Andy Warhol and in 2016 Bruno’s name was added to those markers and he said proudly at the time, “Everything happened from here for me.” He loved God, his family, his community and his neighbors. I had the joy of meeting him a number of times and was always struck by his humility and grace despite his fame. He loved Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh loved Bruno. May he rest in peace.
Pope Francis’ third Apostolic Exhortation titled “Gaudete et Exsultate” was published on March 19, 2018. The guiding thread of joy remains the unifying element of Pope Francis’ Magisterium, eliciting Christians’ rejoice in the encounter with the Resurrected Lord, in those who found in Him the secret of a full, accomplished and serene life. “Gaudete et Exsultate,” that somewhat echoes the Vatican II statement on the universal call to holiness, identifies in holiness the horizon of the faithful. “REJOICE AND BE GLAD” (Mt 5:12), Jesus tells those persecuted or humiliated for his sake. The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence. The call to holiness is present in various ways from the very first pages of the Bible as he says to . Abraham: “Walk before me, and be blameless” (Gen 17:1).
Here is a quote from the Pope’s document: “A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness, for “this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess 4:3). Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel. That mission has its fullest meaning in Christ, and can only be understood through him. At its core, holiness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life. It consists in uniting ourselves to the Lord’s death and resurrection in a unique and personal way, constantly dying and rising anew with him. But it can also entail reproducing in our own lives various aspects of Jesus’ earthly life: his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and other ways in which he showed his self-sacrificing love.” (par 19).
Like so many others I watched the funeral service for Reverend Billy Graham this past Friday with a great deal of admiration and respect in my heart for this fearless preacher of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Billy Graham travelled all over the world speaking to millions of people about the Christian faith. When he met Pope John Paul II for the first time – to the great consternation of many Protestant pastors – Billy Graham said that the Pope had embraced him as “a beloved brother in Jesus Christ.” Yes, we have our differences in theology, doctrine and pastoral practices, but the shared core beliefs at the heart of our Christian faith were what touched the hearts of so many people, including large number of Catholics who attended the Billy Graham crusades. Here was a man who preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ with passion, with joy, with urgency – calling people to faith in Jesus Christ. He preached the message of God’s saving love, poured out on us through the gift of Jesus Christ, sent to save us from sin through his suffering and death on the Cross. John 3:16 was so often at the heart of his message and it is the same message we as Catholics understand as the heart of the Gospel message: God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that all who believe in him might be saved. Billy Graham preached the Good News, calling people to accept Jesus Christ and commit their lives to our Lord and Savior. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” Jesus says. “No one comes to the Father in heaven except through me.” This is a message we are need to hear. It is a message that calls us to faith in Jesus Christ, to embrace his way of life, so that each of us may attain the gift of salvation in heaven.
Billy Graham opened the hearts of many people to encounter the power of Jesus Christ in their lives. He strengthened the faith of our nation by his tireless, courageous preaching. Billy Graham helped each of us to understand the need to read the Bible – God’s saving Word – and to respond in faith, to commit our lives more deeply to the Lord. We as Catholics know that this call involves the Church, the very Body of Christ given to us by Jesus himself through which we are lifted up, our sins forgiven, our faith strengthened through the Holy Sacraments. But as fellow Christians, Billy Graham’s call to encounter the person of Jesus more deeply in daily prayer should resonate in our hearts, as well as his call for each of us who are believers to live our faith, never to be ashamed to be called a Christian, to preach the Good News in our culture that is becoming secularized and forgetful of God, and especially where so many in our country are hostile to the Christian faith. How grateful we are to have had such a Christian leader in our country for so long. May we never forget his powerful proclamation of God’s saving love given to us in Christ and inviting us to repentance of sin, to life in his name, and to attain heaven. And I for one can easily join with Billy Graham in his stirring conclusion (with his arm raised to heaven) to everything he ever did or said: “Not to us, not to us, O Lord, but to you be the glory, the honor and the praise, forever and ever. Amen.” May he rest in peace.
Anyone driving around Oakland and the East End these days faces the serious danger of being swallowed up in hundreds of crazy potholes, some large enough to do serious damage to your car and everyone inside the car as well. It is unbelievable that we citizens of the East End neighborhood have the scrouge of driving on such deplorable roads – and most of the major roads are affected – roads that one would expect to find in an undeveloped country but certainly not in what is supposed to be one of the most livable cities in the country. We deserve better from the City of Pittsburgh in maintaining our roads and fixing those potholes that pose a serious risk to all of us. But as I get behind the wheel every day and find myself swerving this way and that way to avoid the danger and to protect my car and my own person from harm, it suddenly dawned on me that this is what the Lenten season is helping us to do in our spiritual journey. The road to God and to eternal life is anything but smooth and easy. There are serious potholes that we must avoid everyday in travelling the pathway of faith in order to attain the holiness of life God desires for each of us as his beloved children. Lent wants to help us become more attentive to those dangers on our spiritual journey so that we can avoid serious harm to our souls. We can lose ourselves so easily in the sinkholes of self-centered living, in pride and self-interest. We can become engulfed and lost in those large empty craters of materialism and self-indulgence that deaden our senses to the life of the Spirit. We all too often fall into the pit of greed, envy, lust, judging others, not being able to forgive, our lack of generosity and kindness instead of walking the path of loving God and neighbor that is the only road to heaven. We can be swallowed up quickly by our daily crosses and sufferings and lose sight of the pathway we must walk in faith. Lent calls us to deeper prayer, to fasting and sacrifice, to works of charity and goodness, so that we can avoid those potholes along the pathway of faith and hold fast to road of life God has invited us to walk. It is God’s grace that enables us to steer the course on the right path. Unfortunately I did some serious damage to my car when I hit a pothole – and my car needed to be repaired and realigned at no small cost. May this Lent be a time of grace and renewal for each of us, giving us the wisdom and strength, to avoid being swallowed up by those potholes in life that seek to pull us out of alignment with God and our faith. Through our Lenten disciplines we will find it easier to hold fast to the road that God calls us to travel each day – the road to eternal life.
Our hearts and prayers go out to all the victims of the terrible school shooting in Parkland, Florida. We grieve with our nation as we mourn the loss of innocent life – once again the result of hatred that can so easily grip the human heart and lead to such tragic violence. We stand with the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives, we pray for their eternal rest, and we remember those who have been injured both physically and emotionally that God’s healing grace will touch their hearts and bring them strength and peace. Each of us as a good neighbor must be vigilant in caring for those around us, in pointing out the signs of those who are acting strangely. Don’t be silent; don’t be afraid to notify authorities; don’t wait until it is too late and then wish you had said something earlier. Sadly, in our country we have lost our core values of decency and respect for others – especially those we might disagree with. We are all brothers and sisters, made in the image and likeness of God. There is no place in our hearts as Christians and as Americans for hatred, bigotry, prejudice, name-calling, vitriol, bullying, or discrimination. These are things that lead to violence and we must do all we can to teach our children and young people to respect others, to love their neighbor, treat others as we would hope to be treated ourselves. This has to be a big part of the solution we are all trying to find in the face of such a senseless tragedy.
Today the Church asks that we pray for the legal protection of unborn children. It is a day of sadness for us as we recall the infamous decision of the United States Supreme Court on January 22, 1973 legalizing abortion in the United States. We remember today the millions of unborn children who have been slaughtered – the holy innocents. Many in our nation have attempted to dismiss the atrocity of abortion in the name of a woman’s right to choose but authentic freedom never permits a choice that takes the life of another innocent human being. There is no question that life begins at conception; medical science has long come to that same conclusion. Faith and reason never contradict each other because all truth comes from the God who created everything in the first place. Some claim that abortion is a political issue or a personal choice that a person must make for herself. But as people of faith we know differently. Every human life is sacred; it has an inherent dignity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God along is the Lord of life from its beginning to its end; no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”
And so we weep today for the millions of unborn babies who have been destroyed by abortion. We pray for those who have made those choices that they will know God’s mercy and healing. We pray for pregnant women – especially those facing unwanted or difficult pregnancies – that they will be met with assistance and compassion they need to carry their babies to term. We pray for our President, elected officials and judges in our country that they will gain a true moral compass and work to protect and to defend the sacredness of life. We pray for all of our citizens in this nation that we might learn to be come faithful stewards and protectors of human life at every stage, but especially that we might be defenders of the unborn who have no voice of their own. St. Pope John Paul II said that the true measure of a country’s greatness is how well it treasures and protects its most vulnerable citizens. This past Friday, tens and tens of thousands of people – many of them youth and young people from across our nation – gathered in Washington DC to provide that voice for the protection of unborn children and to once again call for an end to the great evil and sin of abortion. We were all encouraged by the presence of President Trump – the first sitting President ever to speak live to those participating in the annual March for Life. His message was loud and strong and gives us all hope: “Today I’m honored and really proud to be the first president to stand with you here at the White House to address the 45th March for Life, that’s very very special, 45th March for Life, and this is a truly remarkable group. Today tens of thousands of families, students, and patriots, and really just great citizens gather here in our nations Capitol. You come from many backgrounds, and many places, but you all come for one beautiful cause, to build a society where life is celebrated and protected and cherished. The March for Life is a movement born out of love: you love your families; you love your neighbors; you love our nation; and you love every child born and unborn, because you believe that every life is sacred, that every child is a precious gift from God. We know that life is the greatest miracle of all. We see it in the eyes of every new mother who cradles that wonderful, innocent, and glorious-newborn child in her loving arms. I want to thank every person here today and all across our country who works with such big hearts and tireless devotion to make sure that parents have the caring support they need to choose life.”
Today I set before you death and life. Choose Life. Choose Love. Choose to be a voice for the unborn in the womb. Choose God’s way over death and destruction. Be a pro life advocate and stand with the Truth. As Pope Francis reminded us: “To serve human life is to serve God.”
We come now to the close of our Christmas celebration with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, celebrated this year on Monday, January 8. What a glorious celebration it has been for the Cathedral parish family! We have been blessed to have so many people participate in our liturgies for this Christmas season. It would be impossible not to have been inspired and uplifted by the joy, the love and the hope that this season brings to our hearts, our families and our world. It is my fervent prayer that these special gifts of Christmas will be experienced by all of you throughout this year of 2018. Sadly, all too many people are filled with anxiety and fear as they go about their lives each day and these feelings can all too often blind us to the beauty of God’s loving presence constantly at work in our lives. We must look more often to the Lord himself, Emmanuel, God with us, as our source of life and grace, as the only way to know true and lasting happiness, fulfillment, joy and peace in our lives each day. God’s love, given to us in Jesus Christ, has conquered evil and sin, hatred and selfishness, and every darkness that afflicts human life. Look to the Lord. Open your hearts in daily prayer. Come to Mass more frequently. Read the Scriptures. Become more involved in the parish. These are the real resolutions for this new year that will change your lives!