This afternoon a group of people from the Wellsboro Baptist Church out of Topeka Kansas made our Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh the scene of their vile and hate-filled protests. They marched down Fifth Avenue, at one point standing in front of Saint Paul Cathedral, carrying signs denigrating the Pope, Catholics, and homosexuals among others – the actual language on those signs does not bear repeating here. They are known for disrupting funerals of veterans with their hate speech. Of course their real hope is to goad the anti-protestors into responding in kind – with angry, hateful speech and actions – which only incites the media to cover these events with gusto. The great numbers of law enforcement personnel present spoke to the seriousness of this threat. But the best response is to ignore their bigotry and hatred as they exercise their freedom of speech. And of course pray that God’s mercy will touch their hearts. But we need to make one thing perfectly clear: calling themselves Christian is a complete misnomer, a contradiction and falsity. Their signs proclaim that “God hates”. St. John teaches us that God is love. Christian faith professes faith in a God who is total, unconditional, perfect love – God cannot hate – hatred is inimical to the divine nature. When asked by the scribe to name the most important commandment of the law, Jesus was clear to answer: To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; this is the greatest of all the commandments. And the second, Jesus said, is like it: to love your neighbor as yourself. The whole of Christian faith is rooted in love – a love that manifests itself in forgiveness, mercy, compassion, kindness, understanding, and tolerance. We are all sinners who fall short of the mark; yet God still loves each and every one of us. He constantly seeks the conversion of every sinner – each of us – as we learn with the help of grace to embrace more and more fully each day God’s ways. But each day we are sure of one thing – that the God who created us and desires our salvation continues to love us and hold us in the palm of his hand. There is no place in a Christian heart for hatred, for bigotry, for prejudice, for denigrating people who are different from us or who have made different life choices. We are called to love our neighbor, even to love our enemy – that is the Christian way. We who follow Jesus Christ are sent out into the world to share God’s love with joyful hearts, sharing the truth of God’s word not with judgement and condemnation but with conviction and true openness. There is no hate in God, there is no hate in the heart of Jesus Christ, and there can be no hate in the heart of any one claiming to be Christian. Yes there might have been a hate walk in Oakland this afternoon by a few people calling themselves Christians, but for most of us, it was nothing but a display of hate, ignorance and bigotry that has no foothold in the minds and hearts of the good people of our beautiful Pittsburgh community and the many people of different faiths that share deep bonds of respect, unity, understanding and friendship with each other. I must admit, however, that yesterday I prayed for rain and boy did God answer my prayer not just with rain, but with a deluge just about the time they arrived at the Cathedral!
Today the Church celebrates the feast of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos. Blessed Francis was a Redemptorist priest sent from Germany to care for the German speaking Catholic immigrants in the United States. Interestingly he was assigned to Saint Philomena Parish, in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, where he worked for almost three years as the assistant to the pastor, Saint John Neumann! Blessed Francis lived and worked at St. Philomena Parish for nearly 9 years – truly a patron saint for Pittsburgh! He was then sent around the country as a missionary and preacher, confessor and spiritual director. A piece of trivia about Blessed Francis is his meeting with President Abraham Lincoln in which he persuaded the president to exempt priests and clergy from serving as soldiers in the Civil Way due to their holy vows; they would not be there to fight but to provide for the spiritual welfare of the soldiers as military chaplains. He contracted yellow fever in New Orleans and died at the age of 48. St. Pope John Paul II beatified Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos on April 9, 2000. The holiness of this saint is seen in his joyful and cheerful performance of his daily duties, bearing all crosses and sufferings with patience, and yearning to bring Christ and the Gospel to everyone around him. He teaches us that true holiness is possible to all people in every walk of life if we seek to serve God and neighbor from a full and devoted heart. I share with you the 10 practical guides to holiness taught by Blessed Francis: (1) Go to Mass with deepest devotion; (2) Spend a half hour to reflect upon your main failing and make a resolution to avoid it; (3) Do spiritual reading for at least 15 minutes each day; (4) pray the rosary daily; (5) Visit the Blessed Sacrament daily if possible and if not meditate on the Passion of Christ each evening; (6) conclude each day with an examination of conscience; (7) go to confession once a month; (8) choose a special patron every month and select one virtue of that saint to imitate during that month; (9) begin and end every activity with a Hail Mary; (10) be joyful in your duties each day. Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos pray for us!
Our prayers and sympathies go out to all the victims of the most recent shooting rampage in Las Vegas last evening. We lift up in prayer those who have died and their families, as well as the many who have been injured. We pray for the community of Las Vegas as they struggle to make sense out of this horrific tragedy. The face of evil and sin can raise its ugly head anytime, anywhere and when it does our security and safety, as well as a sense of justice, are shattered. For a brief moment the force of hatred destroys innocent human life and mars the bonds of unity that so typically join us together in our nation and our communities. We grieve with those shot and wounded so senselessly. But we also see the light of goodness and human compassion in those brave men and women who race to the scene and put their own lives at risk for others: the law enforcement personnel, medical personnel, and so many good Samaritans who simply jump in and do whatever they can to help their neighbors in need. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops reminded us today: “In the end, the only response is to do good – for no matter what the darkness, it will never overcome the light.” Let us each commit ourselves to prayer. Pray for those whose died and those whose lives are now shattered by violence. Pray for peace, healing and reconciliation for our nation and all our citizens. Pray that God will bring the dead safely home to life in his Kingdom. Pray that each of us might always strive to do good, to bring light, love, kindness and unity. May be filled with hope and strength as we reflect on the words from Saint John’s gospel as he reminds us of the power of Jesus Christ: “In him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us about our guardian angel: “From infancy to death human life is surrounded by the angels’ watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.” (CCC 336). Pope Francis has spoken on the Church’s belief in Guardian Angels: “The doctrine on angels is not fantasist. No, it’s reality. According to Church tradition we all have an angel with us, who protects us and helps us understand things. How often have we heard ‘I should do this, I should not do this, that’s not right, be careful …’. So often! It is the voice of our travelling companion. We need to ask ourselves: “How is my relationship with my guardian angel? Do I listen to him? Do I say good morning to him? Do I ask him to watch over me when I sleep?’ No one journeys alone and no one should think that they are alone.” As we celebrate the feast of the Guardian Angel whom God has assigned to each one of us, his beloved sons and daughters, let us use the prayer that the Church has given us to confirm our faith in their existence and call on their protection and help: “Angel of God,my guardian dear,To whom God’s love commits me here, Ever this day,be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.”
This Sunday, October 1, the Church begins Respect Life Month, an opportunity for each of us as Catholics to reflect in a special way on the sacred and magnificent gift of human life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “human life is sacred 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 alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one under any circumstance can claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.” Catholic teaching is clear and uncompromising on this issue and yet, sadly, we know how often those who claim to be Catholic can hold positions contrary to the teaching of the Church. This is impossible and inconsistent with what it means to be a Catholic.
Catholic teaching has long articulated that the culture of life, love and civilization that is at the foundation of God’s plan begins in the heart of the Christian family. This is seen in the permanent, faithful and life-giving love of husband and wife in the marriage covenant as designed and ordered by God’s plan which leads to children and the creation of the family, “the school of love.” This kind of love reflects and mirrors for us the love that God has for the Church. It is a love that is at its roots selfless and giving, leading to a total care for others and a deep respect for the dignity, value and worth of every human being in every state of life. The marriage covenant speaks powerfully to all of us of the total giving, the unconditional love, the laying down of one’s life for another that is the hallmark of every Christian life. But whether married or not, whatever our vocation in life, each of us is called to respond to God’s unconditional love with the gift of ourselves in loving service to others. We must see the dignity of each person and respond with love. Blessed Mother Teresa’s ability to see Christ in the face of each person she met is the wisdom and grace that needs to guide us in our relationships with others.
The threats against human life in our society are frightening. Abortion is the law of the land. Each year countless numbers of unborn babies are put to death in the name of a woman’s right to choose without any regard at all for the rights of the unborn child who has no one to be his advocate. But there are threats against life at every stage: persons with disabilities, the elderly, the infirmed, refugees, immigrants, and the poor – so many of whom are pushed aside by our society. As Catholics we have an obligation and responsibility to be defenders of human life, to be advocates for life and fight against the threats that minimize and destroy any human life. We must be those disciples who through our prayer, fasting, and actions work to transform American culture in building a civilization of life, love and hope, in helping to create a society that values the dignity of every human life and cares for the very least of our brothers and sisters who have no voice in defending their right to life. May God bless these efforts!
Scriptures give no indication of the precise time of the creation of angels; it is assumed that they were created very early. Like us, angels were created in and receive God’s grace and love. But because, unlike us, they are non-bodily creatures, their response to God’s love did not require time and reflection to grow and mature. As soon as they were created and received grace, they had the opportunity to respond to God’s love and be welcomed into bliss. For them, this choice was once and for all time. Despite the skepticism of our modern age, or the romanaticism of New Age cultic belief in angels as interstellar messengers, angels created by God to be His messengers and Heavenly court are real. We know this from the many Scripture references to them and from the numerous mentions that Christ made of angels in His teaching. They are servants and messengers of God, intermediaries between God and man, seeking the fulfilment of God’s saving plan.
In the same way, we also know that there are good angels who follow and obey God and bad angels called demons or devils, who in pride refused to obey God’s commands. The Temptation of Adam and Eve presupposes the reality of evil angels or demons wanting to lead others into disobedience. Accepting the existence of angels then naturally leads to an acceptance of the devil and of hell, which is nothing more than the total and everlasting absence of God without hope of redemption. The pride of Satan and the other demons created hell. Accepting the existence of devils and of hell then leads to the understanding that Christian tradition holds that the Archangels have four tasks or offices:
To lead the fight against Satan.
To rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death.
To be the champion of God’s people, the Jews of the Old Testament, the Christians in the New Testament.
To lead away from earth and bring men’s souls to judgement.
September 29 celebrates the three archangels who were sent to man to proclaim wondrous messages, or defend mankind against the wickedness of the devil: Michael, whose name means ‘Who is like God?’ which was the war cry of the angels, led by Michael who cast Satan and his followers out of Heaven. He is especially honored and invoked as a patron and protector by the Church throughout history. Gabriel primarily appears as a messenger for God, in the Old Testament and the New. He was the angel who appeared to Zechariah to proclaim the conception of John the Baptist and then appeared to Mary at the Annunciation. The name means ‘man of God’ or ‘God has shown himself mighty’. Raphael means ‘God has healed’ This angel has acted as a guide to God’s people and healed others. He reveled his identity as “I am the Angel Raphael, one of the seven who stand before the throne of God.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels.” (CCC 334) which in one of the reasons we pray the Prayer to St. Michael at the end of every Mass at the Cathedral – a powerful helper and one who protects each of us and the Church from Satan and evil.
Today the Church honors Saint Vincent de Paul, a man whose life and ministry focused on finding ways to serve the poor. He was zealous in his efforts to lead others to respond in Christian charity to the needs of their less fortunate brothers and sisters. We all have an obligation to use the means that we have been given by God to help others in need. Charity is at the heart of our Catholic faith. To love God and to your neighbor – there is no greater commandment than this. St. James reminded the early Christians that faith without good works is a dead and lifeless faith; it has no power, no conviction and no merit. But Saint Vincent de Paul modelled for the Church the true virtue of Christian charity. We are called as believers to involve ourselves in the lives of those in need. It is not simply dropping off clothes to a Vincent de Paul box, or donating to food to a pantry, or writing a check for charity. We must care not only for the physical needs of the poor, St. Vincent de Paul says, but their spiritual and emotional needs as well. We have an obligation in charity to pray with the poor, to get to know them, to walk the journey with them as companions and friends. This is the measurement of the last great judgement: when you do it for one of the least of our brothers and sisters, we do it for Jesus Christ himself. The Church has a fundamental option for the poor, a call to each of us to be concerned for the needs of the least of our brothers and sisters. St. Vincent de Paul taught that we don’t need to look for big ways to help the poor, just extend compassion, mercy, kindness and love to those whom God sends across our path each day. See in them the face of Christ; respond with a kind work; pray with someone in need; share your resources; encourage someone struggling; bring a meal to someone who is lonely and by themselves; visit the sick; lend a hand; look into the eyes of a beggar and treat them like a human being in need of tenderness and mercy. How blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall indeed see God. Saint Vincent de Paul pray for us!
The team officials claim that since the team as a whole could not decide what to do the decision was to remain in the locker room during the singing of the National Anthem. What a shame. That decision speaks for itself. Where are the leaders of the team and the organization at a time like this? Respect for our country, respect for the flag are foundations of the American way of life. Many people have fought to protect our freedoms; many have sacrificed their lives. The United States of America proudly stands as a country that protects democracy and freedom around the world – we have history to back us up. We are not perfect but our country stands as a beacon of hope, freedom and justice for all nations in the world. If someone wants to take a knee during the national anthem then stand in public and do what freedom allows you to do – but don’t hide in the locker room. Let us see your disrespect for our flag and our country and allow us in our freedom to respond to this display of anti-patriotic behavior. The fans deserve to know where the players stand. Our tax dollars have helped to build the stadiums and fan support keeps teams financially stable. We have a vested interest in where players stand and we have a right to know. The NFL has put in place many rules about what a player can wear and what they are allowed to and not to do and players are penalized when they step out of bounds. But now team leaders insist that they cannot regulate a players response to the national anthem because of freedom of speech; that is a ludricrous argument because as owners and employers they can set the standards for what is expected of any player on their team. I for one want to know where the players stand – are they in solidarity with their country or are they not? I was proud to see Alejandro Villanueva – a US Army veteran and Bronze Star recipient – not hiding in the locker room with his teammates but standing proudly in the stadium, respecting our flag and showing his patriotism for the greatest country in the world. That all of the other players choose to remain in the locker room in a show of mock solidarity did nothing but denigrate our country. I turned off the television when they took the field on Sunday and its unlikely I will turn it on anytime soon. It’s a sad day for NFL football, a sad day for football fans, a sad day for Pittsburgh, and a sad day for our country. Interestingly another Pittsburgh sports franchise, the Stanley Cup champions, took another approach. The Penguins said they will indeed go ahead with the customary White House visit. The Penguins said that they as a team will “respect the institution of the office of the president and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House. Any agreement or disagreement with a president’s politics, policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways,” the Penguins said. GO PENS!
Sadly there continues to be so much hostility, anger and hatred towards President Trump and his administration nearly a year after the election. Some continue to try to do anything they can to undermine the work of the government and seek ways to challenge the legitimacy of his administration. Democracy rests on the voice of the people; the people voted in November and elected President Trump to the highest office in our land. Despite cries of the Russians meddling in the election, or then FBI director Comey’s surprise announcement, or any other number of excuses being put forward, the will of the people has been expressed and verified. Regardless of whether you like him or not, President Trump is the legitimate President of the United States of America. That some of our legislators continue to reject this fact with such vitriol and hatred is a scandal. We need to get over politics as usual – the bickering, partisanship, division and real hostility. The members of Congress have been elected to do the job of governing; they are responsible for working with our duly elected leaders for the good of the people. Yes there will always be different values and priorities for our political parties, even a different vision of life between people in our country. But there is a great deal at stake when we consider what is facing our country: a health care system that is failing, infrastructure that needs serious attention, tax reform codes that have to be changed to benefit every day Americans and the business community in our country, judges that need to be appointed, and the list goes on. For Catholics we have grave concerns about the issues related to the protection needed for the unborn and the sanctity of every human life, the protection to practice our religious beliefs without penalty and persecution, the protection of the nature of marriage as God designed it to be, and the care we must give to the poor and marginalized. I for one applaud the appointment of the Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch – one of President Trump’s campaign promises that I believe was the reason he captured the majority of the Catholic vote in this election. We need to move behind partisan politics as usual and demand that our elected officials do the work for which they have been elected: governance of our country for the common good. We need to return to true statesmanship in our country, where opposing parties can work together and find ways to address problems positively and effectively. We do not need politics as usual. Whether someone likes him or not is mute; he is our duly elected President. How much easier it is to pass the back, to point fingers, to jockey for position and blame the other side for all the problems and issues facing our country. Sadly it seems that many members of the Congress simply have chosen to be obstructionists and not legislators. Isn’t it about time that those we have entrusted to leadership begun to act like true leaders? If they can’t then its time for a change for a number of the members of Congress.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who are victims of Hurricane Maria and the earthquake in Mexico. We stand in prayerful solidarity with those who have died and their families, and with so many who have lost homes and whose lives have been forever changed by these natural disasters. In a special way the people of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, and the people of the Mexico City and surrounding regions, are in our hearts as they face tremendous suffering in the wake of the hurricane and earthquake. May God draw close to all those in need; may you find peace and strength in God’s love; and may hope fill your hearts with the compassionate outreach of so many good people who want to help. Please consider making donations to the American Red Cross, the Catholic Charities USA, and to other relief agencies. We pray for the safety of the first responders, the police and firefighters, the national guard and other military personnel, and so many good citizens who are working at those sites to provide support and assistance. May God be with you.