Our hearts are heavy today as we see the damage of the fire raging in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. So many are commenting on the loss of a architectural and artistic masterpiece, along with the treasures of art that it housed. Surely there is a sense of loss over these things. But how devastating it must be for those who come to Notre Dame for worship and prayer. Above all this Cathedral is a house of prayer, built and sustained by the sacrifices of many believers over centuries. It was an immense love for God, a desire to bring praise and glory to his name, deep faith in Jesus Christ, and a belief in the holy Catholic Church that led to this Cathedral rising from the earth in the first place and being sustained over all these years. We think of all the Masses celebrated and sacraments dispensed over so many generations. We think of the lives touched and transformed by the power of God’s grace made present in the life of that faith community. We draw close to the faithful of the Notre Dame parish family, and the faithful of the Archdiocese of Paris, who have lost their spiritual home. It is especially sad as we prepare to celebrate the sacred mysteries of Holy Week that culminate in our Easter celebration. We hold them close to our hearts in prayer.
I have been asked at least a hundred times, “So Father what did you give up for Lent?” It is a kind of personal question so I am always hesitant to answer. But I have realized over the past few weeks, that many of those asking me that question are children, youth and young adults. I began to think to myself that the question carries with it the weight of authenticity. It really is an important and powerful question for many of them. They have heard us preaching the need to make Lent a time of sacrifice. One of the traditional Lenten disciplines is fasting – a call to detach ourselves from worldly and materials things so our hearts can focus more deeply on the deeper spiritual realities that carry far more valued for our eternal salvation. Our children and young people – and our young adults – are not shy about sharing with you what they are giving up for Lent. I have found its not about bragging but a real desire to be strengthened and supported in their battle. You can hear it in their voices and see it in their eyes. This is not easy. One of our servers in grade school has given up popcorn – something that he and his family eat every night so this is no easy thing to give up. Another server who is in high school has given up his video games – something that usually occupies a good bit of his time every day. One of our second graders preparing for his first sacraments has given up peanut butter cups which apparently are his meal of choice every day while another confirmation student is forgoing all television for six weeks. Now these are real sacrifices. The list goes on and on. It is edifying and inspiring what these young people are doing out of love for Jesus Christ and their faith. Their questions seem to strengthen their resolve to hold fast to their Lenten sacrifice. After all we are all in this together, right? It can’t be just words for us adults. What are we giving up for Lent? How much of a sacrifice are we really making out of our love for Jesus Christ and our faith? And so I have begun to answer their questions this year. I have given up wine, bread and all sweets. It has been tough going for me and the temptations are there every day. But then I think of the popcorn and the video games, the televisions and peanut butter cups – after all we are all in this together – and that makes it a little easier to hang in there.
Yesterday at the Cathedral nearly 300 people gathered with Bishop Zubik for the Rite of Election. They came with their parents, spouses, children, friends, families, pastors, RCIA team members and their sponsors. These 300 people – some unbaptized and others baptized Christians – were at the Cathedral to confirm their desire to join the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. And next Sunday, there will be another 300 people doing it all over again! Each of them has responded to a call from God. They have faithfully walked a journey of formation, prayer and discernment since this past August – gathering every week for class and attending Sunday Mass regularly to grow familiar with all that happens in the Church. What was so overwhelmingly evident yesterday was the tremendous joy radiating from their hearts and visible on their faces – one after another of them as they came forward to sign the Book of the Elect and to meet the bishop and to be accepted by the Church as an elect or candidate. They were beaming, filled with enthusiasm, for the faith they have been longing for, many for a long time. That kind of joy and enthusiasm touched the hearts of all who were present and made each of us reflect on the joy of the Gospel and the gift of our own Catholic faith that we all too easily take for granted. As pastor and rector of the Cathedral, I am so proud of the very large group who are part of our RCIA formation process this year – nearly 25 people. They inspire me and remind me of what a gift our faith truly is – life in Jesus Christ and his holy and living body, the Church. Let us continue to pray for all who will be baptized and received into full communion in countless parishes throughout our diocese this Easter. What a blessing they are to us and to the Church! Perhaps we can catch some of their joyful spirit in these weeks of Lent as we seek through our own Lenten disciplines and formation to grow more deeply in love with Jesus himself and to grow more deeply in love with the Church – the sacrament of our salvation.
Our hearts and prayers go out to the more than 50 victims of the horrific massacre at the mosque in New Zealand. Once again we witness a senseless tragedy brought about through violence fueled by hatred and prejudice. Our hearts are broken as we mourn the loss of innocent life and we share in the suffering and pain of loved ones left behind. We pray in a particular way that God’s mercy and kindness with touch the hearts of those who mourn and whose lives have been destroyed as well. We pray that they will find healing and peace. It is frightening to think that a house of worship where people gather to pray can be violated in such a callous and calculated manner by those filled with such hatred. We stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, as we do with people of every faith, ethnicity, and walk of life. We are all brothers and sisters, created by the same God in his image and likeness. There is no place in any human for prejudice, bigotry, malice, or hatred of any kind, for any person or for any reason. These are sins of the gravest kind and lead to even greater sins of violence and murder that are all too frequently occurring in our world today. As Christians, we condemn these actions. Jesus Christ has taught us to love our neighbor, to love even our enemies, to do unto others what we would hope they would do unto us. As we mourn the loss of innocent live, each of us must be committed every day to reject the hatred and bigotry, the vitriol and malice, that so easily can creep into our hearts. We must work every day to affirm the inherent dignity of each and every person and seek ways to build up in love the family of God.
VETERANS’ DAY WILL BE CELEBRATED ON Monday, November 12. In a special way at all the Masses we will be remembering the brave men and women of our country who have served – and those who continue to serve – in the armed forces and who defend our freedom and the ideals of our great nation. We salute those who lost their lives during the time of their service and all the veterans who have died we commend them to the Lord. To our living veterans we offer our words of appreciation and gratitude for your faithful service to our country. We remember in our prayers, as well, all those men and women in our country who continue to serve in the armed forces, putting their lives on the line for the defense of our freedoms and ideals. May God always keep them safe. As a country we must always stand in solidarity with the brave men and women who fight for our freedoms and protect our country and all we stand for. We stand in respect for our beloved American flag, the symbol of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans because so many courageous people over the years have fought to protect them for us and all who come after us. May God bless our military personnel, our veterans and May God bless the United States of America!
A special Mass for Healing and Peace will be celebrated at Saint Paul Cathedral on Tuesday, November 20 at 7 pm. In my own name as administrator and rector of the Greenfield, Hazelwood and Oakland grouping, along with the clergy team and the faithful of our four parishes, invite everyone in our community to gather in prayer and solidarity in the aftermath of the horrific massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday, October 27. Our hearts are broken and we grieve with our neighbors and our friends. We want to pray for the victims and their families, for all those who were wounded, for the members of the congregations who worshipped at Tree of Life, and for all the police officers and responders, and for all involved. We invite you to join us as we lift up our prayers for healing and peace in the face of hatred, violence and destruction. We know that God’s love is stronger than all the forces of evil and sin. As Catholics we come Jesus, the Resurrection and Life, to be restored in hope in times like this and we remember in our hearts the intentions of all of those whose lives have been shattered. We pray for all of our Jewish brothers and sisters in these sad and difficult times. We pray through the intercession of our Lady, Queen of Peace, that as people in this community we will set aside anger, bitterness, hatred, prejudice, bigotry, violence and division and work to rebuild the ties of friendship and the bonds of communion we share as children of one God and as citizens of this great country of ours. All are welcome to join us for this special Mass of Healing and Peace – Tuesday evening, November 20 at 7 pm at Saint Paul Cathedral.
Several weeks ago I published an article in our parish bulletin entitled Catholics Care. Catholics Vote. I know these are incredibly sensitive issues and communicating well is really important in the age in which we live. One of the primary tasks of a pastor is to teach the faith and I have always done that to the best of my ability. This is the kind of information and teaching that I have done regularly at the Cathedral since becoming pastor and as a pastor I have serious duty and obligation to present the fullness of the Church’s teaching even if it isn’t attractive or appealing to some in our culture today. It was surprising to see many comments on Facebook either challenging the Church’s teaching on these issued or saying that we have no right to speak on these issues. Both of these assertions are far from the truth.
Catholics have a civic obligation to exercise their right to vote and we are called to reflect carefully on the issues at hand, bring them to prayer, know well the teaching of the Church and make thoughtful and informed decisions. I would never tell anyone how to vote – the Church does not do that. We do not support political parties or candidates. But we must be sure we are clear about the Church’s teaching on the important moral and social issues of our day. We are not one issue voters – there is no candidate that represents for us the fullness of Catholic teaching. But we need to know and to consider the issues at hand in light of what the Church teaches in order for each of us to make the best decision that we can guided by our well-informed conscience and prayer. And not all issues are of equal importance.
In The Gospel of Life, St. John Paul II wrote that “abortion and euthanasia have become the preeminent threats to human life and dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental good and the condition for all others. Abortion, the deliberate killing of the human being before birth, is never morally acceptable and must always be opposed.” Abortion has been considered an evil and grave sin since the first days of the Christian faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has expressed clearly that the inalienable right to life of every innocent human life from the moment of conception is a constitutive element of a civil society. The Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes writes clearly that “life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.” I am simply reiterating Catholic teaching in writing that “abortion and euthanasia are sins of the highest degree and the gravest injustice.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear about its teaching on the nature of the family. In CCC 2202 we read, “A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family. This institution is prior to any recognition by public authority (it is the natural law), which has the obligation to recognize it. It should be considered the normal reference point by which the different forms of family relationship are to be evaluated.” My words are a simple articulation of the teaching of the Church on the sacred nature of the marriage covenant and the family as created by God himself. This is no way diminishes or undermines the Church’s long-standing opposition to prejudice or discrimination of any kind against any person for any reason. We are a Church that welcomes everyone and includes everyone who desires to come to know and to love our Lord. This is who we are as a community of believers in which every person is a brother and sister to us in Christ Jesus and we embrace them with loving hearts.
I am concerned that some are making my words say or mean more than the words themselves convey. I am simply setting forth the Church’s teaching on (1) the need to defend and protect the sanctity of every human life, especially the unborn who have no voice of their own to protect themselves. This is a serious obligation for every Christian; (2) the need to protect the sanctity of the marriage covenant and family; (3) the call to protect the religious freedom of believers in our country to practice their faith without interference or prejudice; (4) the call to care for the poor and vulnerable among us. Social justice is not a nice thing to do but constitutive of the Gospel; (4) the call for each of us to bring our Christian ideals and values into the world in which we live and by exercising well our right to vote. These seem like very straight forward and direct summations of what the Catholic Church has long believed and taught.
I will always do my best to articulate well the fullness of Catholic teaching and to help others come to know what we believe. Each and every person must reflect on that teaching and come to make their own decisions about how to live their lives, for whom to vote, and how to put their Christian faith into practice and to exercise faithful citizenship in our country.
Our prayers and thoughts are with all of those were killed and injured this morning at the tragic shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. We are praying for those who have died and their families and all who have been injured; we are praying for the members of this congregation; and we are praying for the police officers and all who have responded to this tragedy, some of whom have been wounded and hurt. We are still learning the details of this terrible and senseless act of violence and hatred. These are our neighbors and friends and our hearts are broken. We stand with all of them in friendship, in solidarity, in love and in prayer in these dark days. There is no place in our community for hatred, bigotry, prejudice, and violence of any kind. So many of us have built life-giving relationships in our East End community and beyond that cross the boundaries of race, gender, economic disparities and religious belief. We stand with all of our Jewish brothers and sisters in solidarity, friendship, and prayer in these days. We lift up these needs before God and pray for peace, for healing and for strength.
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.”