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.”
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.