Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Letter 2013

Since 1990 every year I send out a Christmas letter to my friends and parishioners.  It's done "the old fashioned way," that is, printed words on a paper, inserted in an envelope, mailed by the U.S. Postal Service to a mailbox.  I suspect in the very near future, my letter will go out like this, that is, electronically.  Here's the 2013 version.

December 17, 2013

Dear friends,

Merry Christmas!

Just when you think you've "seen it all," the God of Surprises strikes.  On Monday, February 11, as I was preparing to drive to the Byzantine Catholic Seminary to teach a class on moral theology, I was astounded to hear that Pope Benedict XVI had resigned the papacy, the first since 1415.  Wow!  After a month of frenzied papabile-searching (yes, our gang of friends had a "new pope party" compete with betting on candidates) the world was again shocked by the election on March 13 of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  A pope of many firsts--first Jesuit, first from the Americas, first from the Southern Hemisphere, and first to take the beautiful name and patron of St. Francis of Assisi.

Today is Pope Francis's 77th birthday, and in the mail came his smiling visage as TIME's Man of the Year.  Our church and our world have been blessed by his deeds, his words and his smile.  May we all learn how to follow Christ more deeply in the 21st century from this humble, holy man.  I suspect that Pope Francis is not finished surprising us with his ministry as bishop of Rome.

Life and ministry for me in 2013 was undramatic but satisfying.  The four parishes I pastor continue to work together with us three priests.  The pastoral councils and finance councils meet as one body monthly.  We've had many meetings of ministers for greater cooperation and collaboration.  The first week of 2014 will bring a roll-out of one bulletin for the four parishes, and a new "portal" website, .  St. Vincent de Paul and St. Vitus parishes completed their participation in the $125 million diocesan "Our Campaign for the Church Alive" by exceeding their targets.  Mary Mother of Hope and St. Joseph the Worker parishes will begin their campaigns after Christmas.  Our four parishes were blessed by two seminarian interns this summer, Chris Mannerino for his second year, and Zach Galiyas.  God willing, and the bishop wanting, both will be ordained deacons next June.  I felt both the weight of my years and the accumulated wisdom of 35 years in the priesthood as I mentored these fine young men.

One highlight of the year was a pilgrimage to Italy in October.  My associate, Father Nick Vaskov, and I led 50 delightful parishioners from New Castle on tours of the Vatican, Rome, Assisi, Verona, Siena and Venice.  We were privileged to see Pope Francis twice, in the square outside St. Peter's Basilica at his usual Wednesday audience, and in Assisi two days later, on October, 4, the feast day of his patron.  We celebrated Mass at the tomb of a future saint (Blessed John Paul II), an evangelist (St. Mark, Venice), an apostle (St. Paul Outside the Walls), a miracle-worker (St. Anthony, Padua), and an African fisherman-bishop (St. Zeno, Verona).  I also learned the best locations for gelato in Rome from a gustatory expert!

The other highlight was facing the "big 6-0."  Instead of crying, my friend Rosanne Saunders and I decided to have some fun.  Rosanne and I are only 11 days apart in age, and on October 25 we hosted a "60s for 60" party to benefit Sisters Place, a ministry of Catholic sisters in Clairton which offers supportive housing to single parents and their children.  We challenged friends and neighbors to pony up a donation, and boy did they come through--over $12,500 for Sisters Place.  Most of the guests took our suggestion and come in costumes of the 1960s.  What a blast! Rosanne and I brought our own surprise as an accordion duo covering the Beatles' "With a Little Help from our Friends."  Let's just say the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame won't be calling us.

Here's my prayer that the God of Surprises will bless you with grace, peace, mercy and love in abundance in the birth of our Savior, and throughout the new year of grace 2014.

Prophets of Advent: Mary

The Sacred Scriptures have very little information on Mary, the mother of the Christ Child and wife of Joseph.  Luke has the most:  the angel Gabriel's appearance to announce to Mary that she will conceive a boy, not through her intended husband but by "the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit"; the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem; her purification after childbirth; and the finding of Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem when he was 12 years old.  In Luke's Acts of the Apostles Mary joins the twelve apostles in prayer.  Matthew adds the worship of Jesus by the magi, with Mary looking on.  There are two appearance of Mary in the gospel of John, though not by her given name but only by title:  at the wedding in Cana and at the foot of the cross as Jesus is dying.

Mary's prayer to God, spoken after the praise of her family relative Elizabeth, is one of the most revered in the New Testament, or throughout the history of the Catholic Church.  Luke 1:46-55 is usually called the "Magnificat," after the Latin word for praise.  It is really a classically Jewish prayer, modeled after the song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10) and other Old Testament texts.  Mary affirms the power of God, especially for the lowly, hungry and humble.  This payer is one of the components of evening prayer (vespers) in the Liturgy of the Hours.

The two basic Christian beliefs concerning Mary, that she gives birth to the son of God, and the virginal conception of Jesus, are clearly stated in the Gospels.  Other beliefs are developed from these two basic beliefs, or flow from the reflection and theology of the church over the centuries.

Mary's gift to God and to the church was her saying "yes" to the angel's announcement that she will conceive (by the Holy Spirit) and give birth to a son.  After getting over her shock, she affirms God's will for her.  "I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word."  Her "yes" continued through her marriage to Joesph, as the two of them raised Jesus in Nazareth.  She said "yes" when Jesus left her to begin his public ministry of preaching, teaching and healing.  The early church saw her as a disciple of Jesus, not because of biology as his mother but because of faith and saying "yes" to his Paschal Mystery.

Each year the celebration of the birth of Christ gives us the opportunity to imitate Mary, saying "yes" to the Christ child and "yes" to all he teaches and is.  Our "yes" is begun in baptism, and repeated when we come to Mass, receive Holy Communion, pray daily, support our parish community, care for the poor in our midst, and try to live justly and lovingly as Christ taught.  May we revere Mary for her continual and prophetic "yes" to Christ her son.

Prophets of Advent: Joseph

Joseph, husband of Mary, is not usually thought of as a prophet.  He is also the most overlooked figure in the stories of Advent and Christmas.  His wife Mary, the newborn Christ Child, the angel Gabriel, the shepherds, the magi, even the oxen and asses in the stable at Bethlehem get more attention that Joseph.   Why?

Joseph is quiet.  He is not quoted in either Matthew or Luke's gospels, and does not appear in Mark or John, or anywhere else in the New Testament.

Joseph is just.  When he learns that his wife-to-be Mary is pregnant, and he knows he is not responsible, he decided to to embarrass her and just divorce her without public notice.  But in a dream the angel of the Lord instructs him to go ahead with the planned wedding even though Mary is pregnant, and take Mary (and baby) into his family.

Joseph loved Mary, his wife.  His love was that of service and unassuming care.  He provided for her and Jesus's material needs, and their spiritual needs.

Joseph is the faithful head of household.  Joseph does as the Lord says, and by naming the first-born baby and assuming paternity, becomes the devoted foster-father of Jesus in Nazareth.  

Joseph is a hard worker.  He was a wood-worker, or carpenter.  Some speculate that he made objects for the home, as well as caskets.  So that Jesus would have a trade with which to feed himself as an adult, like generations of fathers Joseph taught Jesus his wood-working skills.  I often think of Joseph and Jesus as having heavily callused hands, from their laboring with wood.

Joseph was a teacher of prayers.  Joseph and Mary were faithful Jews.  It was the responsibility of the father to teach his children the ways of faith, to believe in the Lord God.  Joseph, like most Jews of his time, probably could not read or write.  But he undoubtedly memorized the prayers and psalms, and taught what he prayed to Jesus.

Joseph was humble.  Only a truly humble man could do all that Joesph did, without fanfare, or complaint, or argument with God.

What does St. Joseph teach us about Advent.  The virtues of Joseph are the virtues of the followers of the Christ Child.  These are:  to be quiet (let others speak); be listeners to the will of God for us; just; dedicated family members; hard workers; faithful members of our religious community; devoted pray-ers; teachers of prayers to others; humble of heart; and lovers of Mary, the mother of God.  These virtues imitate the ways and teachings of Jesus, who was raised so well by his foster-father Joseph.

Prophets of Advent: John the Baptizer

When most Christians think about Advent, the figure of St. John the Baptist comes to mind.  It is John who "prepares the way for the Lord."  What do we know about him?

John was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who had him in their old age.  Luke's gospel says that Elizabeth and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were "kinswomen," that is, had some kind of family relationship.  As an adult John lived in the desert in the manner of ancient prophets.  He denounced sin, called his fellow Jews to repentance by baptism with water, and announced the coming of the Messiah as judge, who will "baptize with fire."  He denies that he is the Messiah, and point the way to Jesus as one for whom "I am not worthy to carry his sandals."  He baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, and called him "the lamb of God."

Later John was imprisoned by King Herod for publicly rebuking him over his incestuous marriage.  John was beheaded as a result of a foolish pledge made by Herod at a banquet when he was half-drunk.  The New Testament presents John the Baptist as the last of the prophets, the precursor of the Messiah.  Jesus called John a prophet, and the greatest of those born of women.

The public ministries of John and Jesus overlapped.  Some scholars theorize that for a short time Jesus was a listener to the message of John in the desert, and one of his followers.  Then after his baptism by John, and John's arrest and imprisonment, Jesus set out on his own ministry to accomplish his Father's will.  Jesus gathered his own disciples around him, some of whom came over from the Baptist.  In Matthew's gospel Jesus calls attention to the contrast between the austere life of John and his own ordinary manner of life, "eating and drinking."

What does John the Baptist tell us about Advent?  John points to Jesus as the Messiah, the chosen one of the Father.  At John's baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, the spirit of God descended on Jesus.  A voice was heard from the heavens, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."  In Advent, we prepare for the celebration of the birth of the Messiah.  We prepare by affirming who Jesus is, and by recommitting to follow Jesus, on December 25 and every day thereafter.

And not just any Jesus.  To John the Baptist and to us, Jesus is not just another fine, imaginative teacher or charismatic miracle worker.  He is the son of God and our savior.  He is the promised One of the Father.  He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.  He embraces his humanity, even to the point of death.  Jesus is poor and humble, and calls his followers (like John the Baptist) to similar poverty of spirit and humility in action.

The Advent song says it well:  

On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh
Awake and hearken for he brings
Glad tidings of the King of Kings.

Prophets of Advent: Isaiah

On each of the four Sundays in Advent we listen to passages from the prophet Isaiah.  One scholar says this about prophets:  "The prophet is a messenger for God.  The function of a prophet is to convey to people God's desire for them.  This task involves two kinds of persuasion:  criticizing and energizing."  The readings we hear in Isaiah are energizing passages.  They are also imaginative.  Some of the most familiar images of Advent come from Isaiah:  "The mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest mountain."  "The people shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks."  The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the calf and young lion shall browse together."  "The desert and the parched land shall exult." "The virgin shall conceive and bear a son."

These images were picture of the "kingdom of God" as God desired the Jewish people to live, in the 7th century before Christ when Isaiah preached.  But over time, these sayings and many more were saved, and repeated to other generations.  After the death and resurrection of Christ, the early Christians looked back at Isaiah, and other Jewish prophets, and saw in their writings a kind of prediction of the coming of the Messiah.  They saw that it was Jesus of whom Isaiah was speaking when he wrote:  "The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him; a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD."

In Luke's gospel, the adult Jesus comes out of the desert after forth days of prayer, goes to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, and quotes Isaiah:  "The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the LORD."  Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down [the ancient position of a teacher], and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.  He said to them, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."  

What does Isaiah tell us about the season of Advent? In the days before the feast of Christmas we renew our complete trust in God's presence among us.  At the same time, we don't just let God do all the work.  We carry out those activities to make a "peaceable kingdom" possible, by being peacemakers and reconcilers in our families and communities.  We are willing to accept criticism that we may forget the poor.  This may mean we have to change our ways to care for God's least, last and lost.  And we see in Isaiah and all the Old Testament prophets, that the promised Messiah does come.  Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and son of God, is the fulfillment of God's plan.

In these days before and after Christmas, it is good to open the bible to the book of Isaiah, and read and be energized by some of the most stirring and imaginative passages in the entire biblical tradition.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Men Don't Cry, Do They?

Sirius XM satellite radio offers six channels of Christmas music during December.  It's a delight to listen to the commercial-free songs while driving around, whether old-timey ones or more recent efforts.  

One of those songs which I've heard several times this month is Dan Fogelberg's "Same Old Lang Syne."  It's not really a Christmas song, as it has nothing to do with the birth of Christ or the Advent/Christmas season.  But it's usually played on the radio in December, among the "Silver Bells" and "Jingle Bells" and "Little Drummer Boy" because the setting for the story-line happens on Christmas Eve.  

And for some unknown reason, I almost always cry when I hear the song.

It's a deceptively simple story.    The songwriter bumps into a former girlfriend, they talk, they part.  The performance is spare too, with a haunting intro, Fogelberg's gentle singing voice, and a mournful sax solo to conclude.  Here are the lyrics (and where you can listen to his performance):

Met my old lover in the grocery store
The snow was falling Christmas Eve
I stole behind her in the frozen foods
And touched her on the sleeve

She didn't recognize the face at first
But then her eyes flew open wide
She went to hug me and she spilled her purse
And we laughed until we cried.

We took her groceries to the checkout stand
The food was totaled up and bagged
We stood there lost in our embarrassment
As the conversation dragged.

We went to have ourselves a drink or two
But couldn't find an open bar
We bought a six-pack at the liquor store
And drank it in her car.

Refrain:  We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to now
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness 
But neither one knew how.

She said she'd married her an architect
Who kept her warm and safe and dry
She would have liked to say she loved the man
But she didn't like to lie.

I said the years had been a friend to her
And that her eyes were still as blue
But in those eyes I wasn't sure if I saw
Doubt or gratitude.

She said she saw me in the record stores
And that I must be doing well
I said the audience was heavenly 
But the traveling it was hell.

Refrain:  We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to now
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness
But neither one knew how.

Refrain:  We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to time
Reliving in our eloquence
Another "auld lang syne"

The beer was empty and our tongues were tired
And running out of things to say
She gave a kiss to me as I got out
And I watched her drive away.

Just for a moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain.

As the calendar gets changed, you look back at the past year, and all the years passing by so quickly, and wonder...what if.  Fogelberg's lyrics touch something in me as I think about the losses in my life.   Themes of regret, and wistfulness, and loss, and hurt, and moving on, waft through my mind and heart.

This is not the only song which inevitably moves my tear ducts to get a workout.  Stephen Sondheim's "Children and Art" and "Move On" from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Sunday in the Park with George, also do this.  In those classy songs, especially as sung by Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin, the themes are creativity and fear, possibility and hope.  

And when I do cry, I also remember John 11: 33-35, where Jesus is "moved by the deepest emotions" at the death of his friend Lazarus, and weeps.

Do you have any songs which move "the depths of your being" and make you cry?

A Serving of Sports Deli

When I moved from one rectory to another 17 months ago, I realized I was drowning in Pittsburgh Steelers stuff.  Here's a short list of what I have:

  • Jacket for fall
  • Leather jacket with all 6 Super Bowl win logos
  • Authentic Hines Ward game jersey
  • Gloves
  • Scarf
  • Socks
  • Blanket
  • Many tee shirts 
  • Many tossle caps
  • Many baseball hats
  • Key rings
  • Sweatshirt
  • Sweatpants
  • Watch
  • Post-it notes
  • Pair of Crocs
  • Waffle iron
  • Replica of Super Bowl XLIII ring
I don't think such possessions fit with Pope Francis's call for the clergy to forsake clericalism and live simple lives.  Oh well.  He too has a favorite football ("soccer") team.  He just received their red and blue championship shirt.

My cupboard of Penguins and Pirates stuff is much smaller.  But the playoffs beckon for both...

When I do need to feed my sports affiliation addiction, I go to the Sports Deli in Greentree.  This store is crammed with an incredible accumulation of current and past clothing, memorabilia, knickknacks, souvenirs and tchotchkes for local and national pro sports teams.  They also have a smaller selection of Pitt, Penn State and other college teams.

I wanted to buy my brother Martin a tossle cap with a Pirate logo as a Christmas present.  I couldn't find one anywhere.   I went to the Sports Deli.  And they had one (actually two)!  (I can say this on line, since my brother Martin does not have internet access, and is not a "friend.")

And Sports Deli is running sales.  20% off all merchandise, 60% of selected stuff.  Can't beat the price or the selection.

The store used to be in the Parkway Center mall.  When that sad mall closed, Sports Deli moved to a former Blockbuster shop across the access road, which leads to the Greentree Giant Eagle.  Easy access off the Parkway West.

Let me say that my blog is "commercial free."  I don't know the owner of the Sports Deli, and have received no compensation for this post.  But it's a quintessential unassuming 'Burg place, and deserves all the customer support it can get.

Sports Deli.  1157 McKinney Lane, 15220.  412-922-8480. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

"Gravity" Rising

While on vacation a few weeks ago, I managed to see two arresting movies.  Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi.  I have little doubt that both will be up for Best Picture of the Year when the Academy Award nominations are announced.

Let me offer just one comment about Gravity.  Beyond it's visually stunning photography, and excellent performance by Bullock, there was an underlying theme of the uplifting nature of the human heart.  In other words, there was rich spirituality in director Alfonso Cuaron's work.

I was going to try to express this in a blog, but upon returning home, I stumbled across a review of the movie by Father Robert Barron, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and noted commentator on all things Catholic.  I'll let him express the spirituality of Gravity so much better.  See his own written review or the video commentary.  (Both have spoilers revealed, if you haven't seen the movie.)

And by all accounts, go see both movies.  Gravity is best seen in 3-D, if you can find it at this late date.  

Thanksgiving Boycott

Though Thanksgiving is not an official feast of the Catholic Church, I think it is one of the loveliest "holy days" of the entire year.  During this season of giving thanks, you see much generosity in meals for the homebound, elderly, homeless.  Over the years Thanksgiving Day has been blessedly free of commerce -- until now.  Creeping commercialism is threatening this more-or-less "stores closed" zone of one 24 hour day.  

News reports over the past two weeks tell us that many major retail stores (including Macy's, Walmart, Kmart, Target, Sears, Penney's, Kohl's, and a host of smaller shops) are planning to be open on Thanksgiving Day in the evening.  "Black Friday" openings have been drawing closer to Thanksgiving Day (first 6:00 a.m., then 4:00 a.m., then midnight).  Now many malls and shopping centers will be open on Thanksgiving Day itself.  

I think this commercialism of a day our country devotes to family, food, faith (and a little football) is atrocious.  At Masses this past Sunday I appealed to parishioners to pledge not to shop anywhere on Thanksgiving Day.  I was amazed to get applause at two of my four Masses, and many came up to me after Masses to thank me for mentioning this appeal.  

The only way to oppose this is by doing nothing.  Shop on Wednesday.  Shop on Black Friday (even at 4:00 a.m., if you are crazy enough to awaken then).  Shop on-line.  Plan ahead to have what you need for cooking and enjoying the turkey and trimmings.  But boycott any and every store (including food stores, convenience stores and gas stations) on Thanksgiving Day itself.

I feel for the workers who do have to work on Thanksgiving Day (such as police officers, fire fighters, EMTs, nurses and aides and doctors in hospitals and nursing homes, folks at airports and hotels).  There is no need for other stores to be open on Thanksgiving Day.  You would think that 363 days of availability (excepting Thanksgiving and Christmas) would be enough for these  companies.  

If you agree with this idea, pass it on to your family members and friends.  Do not shop on Thanksgiving Day.  Give thanks to God for your blessings, and have a wonderful time with your loved ones that day.


An embarrassing post-script.  I wrote this blog post on Wednesday, November 20, but somehow failed to publish it on the blog BEFORE Thanksgiving.  Oh well.  Nobody listens to me anyhow.  Black Friday sales (with Thanksgiving Day openings) increased 1.3% over 2012.  

60s for 60 Party

We didn't make  The New York Times society page, Vanity Fair, the Seen column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, or even the Aspinwall Herald, but the party of the year was held on Friday, October 25, at the John Paul I Pastoral Center, St. Juan Diego Parish in beautiful downtown Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania.

I'm referring of course to the "60s for 60" party which celebrated the 60th birthday of Rosanne Saunders and myself.  About 130 wacky friends joined us to celebrate both the 1960s and our milestone birthday way back in 1953, and raise money for Sisters Place, too.  Sisters Place is a supporting housing community committed to assisting single families who are homeless in Southwest Pennsylvania.  Sisters Place's mission is to assist families toward self-sufficiency by providing housing and supportive services.  For more information, or to donate, check out their website.

Both Rosanne and I are former board members of Sisters Place, and have supported Sisters Place for years.

Let's get the boring part out of the way.  Our very generous guests and friends exceeded Rosanne and my personal goal of $10,000, and raised over $12,500 for Sisters Place.  Give yourself a hand!

Now to the fun.  To my amazement, most of our guests took up the invitation to come in costume to the party.  And what costumes!!!!

We engaged Pics and Poses Photo Booth to bring their travelling studio to our party, and the photos on this post are from their collection.  To see all the crazy photos yourself, go to their website and click on "Photo Gallery" and then on "10/25/2013 Sisters Place."  

Yes, we had fake nuns and real nuns, fake hippies and real hippies, bobbie soxers and cheerleaders, and just about every other nutcase from the 1960s.

Food was provided by the great people of  Bistro to Go from the North Side of Pittsburgh.  The 1960s themed menu included appetizers of Buggles with onion dip, Tang, celery sticks filled with peanut butter and cheese.   The main menu included Swedish meatballs, Mrs. Paul's fish sticks, mac and cheese, sliders, broccoli surprise, and fried chicken .  Salad was two kinds of jello.  Dessert was a massive Pittsburgh-style cookie tray.  

Father Dan Whalen did his best MC imitation, failing miserably to get the crowd to stop laughing.  The children of St. Vitus School produced a dynamite five minute video tribute to me. 

Connie Vaskov and her art students at Penn-Trafford High School did their best Andy Warhol impression with wild 60s themed posters.  Father Nick Vaskov used photos from the personal photographic archives of Rosanne and myself to offer a revealing rolling slide show, interspersed with some of the iconic photos and events of the 1960s.

Alice Kulikowski edited a delightful commemorative program.  Sister Mary Parks (a real nun who came dressed as a hippie), who in real life is the energetic executive director of Sisters Place, thanks the gathered assembly on behalf of the moms and children of Sisters Place.  Jeff Anderson and his ever-helpful wife Sue made the dozens and dozens and dozens of cookies appear.  

Sister Liguori Rossner, also a real nun, came dressed in the garb of a 1960s vintage Sister.  (As Rosanne noted, Sister Liguori touched both of our lives.  She was a teacher of Rosanne at the Bishop Boyle High School, Homestead, in the 1960s, and worked with myself and several others to found the Jubilee Soup Kitchen in 1979.)  Father Jim Garvey, a real priest, walked in with more hair on his head than he had in the 1960s.

What would a party be without a surprise?  Rosanne and I secretly practiced playing our childhood musical instrument, the accordion, and appeared to the tune of "You Are My Sunshine," with a duo of "With a Little Help from My Friends" by the Beatles.  Let's just say that the video of this travesty was rejected even by the spying NSA file-grabbers, and that we accordionists quit while we were ahead.

The staff of St. Juan Diego Parish couldn't have been more helpful, including pastor Father Mike Decewicz, and Rose, Rosie, Mary Ann, Scott and Jerry.  Kudos to long-suffering Martin Saunders, Rosanne's real life husband, who had to put up not only with six months of planning, but also six weeks of horrific accordion practice.  

And a great time was had by all!

MC Dan Whalen and myself imitating a nerd.

Newly 60 Rosanne and loving husband Martin.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Where Were You?

For any American older than 60 years of age, where you were early in the afternoon (Eastern time) on Friday, November 22, 1963, is emblazoned in your memory.  At 12:30 p.m. (Central time) in Dallas, Texas, Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President John F. Kennedy.  Oswald also shot and wounded Texas Governor John Connally, who was riding in the limo in front of the president, along with their wives.

I was in the fifth grade in St. Wendelin School, in the Carrick neighborhood of Pittsburgh, in room 15.  We had just returned from lunch.  The principal, Sister Maria, burst into our room and asked our teacher, Sister Cecilia, to turn on the black-and-white tv high up on the wall.  (Our classroom was the only one to have a tv on the third floor of the old building.)  We 40 or so children, and the two sisters, sat transfixed as we heard the news of the shootings, and then the formal announcement of the death of the president.

So much has been written about this tragic assassination over the decades.  Did Oswald act alone, shooting from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building?  Was there a conspiracy and other shooters?  How many bullets?  Could it have been prevented?   What would have happened if Kennedy had not been killed?  What decisions would he have made about Vietnam?  civil rights?  nuclear weapons?  relations with the Soviet Union?

All of those questions, and many more, would follow.  But at the moment the 35th president of the United States was killed, our country, and the world, grieved and grieved terribly.  The youth and vigor of this 46 year old (although later we would learn that his energy was only propped up with drugs) reflected a "young" country and its hopes and dreams.  So many of those hopes and dreams died with Kennedy's burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

And the other events of those four days in November.  On Sunday, November 24, I vividly remember sitting in the kitchen of our home in Baldwin Borough.  From the small table I could see the tv on in our "play room" down the hall.  It was Sunday morning, we had just come back from church, and the networks were showing live the transfer of Oswald from the city jail to the county jail.  Without warning Jack Ruby, the owner of a strip joint in Dallas, bursts past the beefy Dallas policemen, sticks a .38 revolver in Oswald's gut, and kills him.  Millions of viewers, like me, saw a murder in real time.  

Then there were the funeral processions, first to the Capital for viewing, then to St. Matthew's Cathedral, then to the national cemetery across the Potomac River.  Grieving Jacqueline Kennedy, all in black.  The two children, 6 year old Caroline and 3 year old "John-John".  The little boy's salute to his father's casket.  The riderless horse.   The new president, Lyndon Johnson, sworn in on Air Force One an hour after the shooting, who looked so understandably uncomfortable throughout that weekend.

The assassination of JFK marked a decade of violence for our country.  Escalation and war in Vietnam, with over 58,000 Americans dead and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese.  The assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.  Race riots.  War protests.  Social turmoil.  In my mind, the "Sixties" as a decade were not simply from 1/1/1960 to 12/31/1969, but rather from 11/22/1963 until the resignation of the disgraced 37th president of the U.S., Richard Nixon, on 8/9/1974, in the wake of the Watergate scandal.  

Countries move on.  We move on.  The 50th anniversary remembrances do not have the power of the actual event, and perhaps they should not.  We cannot bring back what is lost, and what might have been.

May the soul of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and all the faithful departed, rest in peace.  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

50th Anniversary of "Sacrosanctum Concilium," Part III

SACRAMENTALITY.  Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005.  For four days thousands, tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of the faithful came to pay their respects at his body.  The crowds waiting hours and hours in line held signs saying, "Santo Subito!"  [Make him a saint now!]

I got up at 3:30 in the morning to watch the live television broadcast of his funeral Mass.  I am not ashamed to say the liturgy brought tears to my eyes.  I thought, "Yes, we have witnessed a saint in our midst."  Next spring, Pope Francis will canonize St. John Paul II.

Old-timers will remember question #136 of the Baltimore Catechism:  "What is a sacrament?  A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace."  Pope Paul VI a hundred years later gave a contemporary version of this, saying a sacrament is "a reality imbued with the hidden presence of God."  In the seven sacraments, and indeed in just about all of created reality, we "see" the divine in the human, the infinite  in the finite, the spiritual in the material.  In the Catholic Church's vision, all reality is (or has the potential to be) sacred.

In certain individuals, we see holiness such that we call these persons saints.  In the signs of the sacraments, we know that Jesus Christ is really, truly present to us.  In all the workings of the church, and especially when it gathers for Sunday Mass, we encounter God--Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

In the sacraments, grace (God's invisible life) is made apparent to us through human signs (such as oil, water, bread and wine, light, gestures, even the love of husband and wife).  The Sacred Liturgy Constitution called for these signs to "speak" to us, the baptized believers, with profound and unfathomable insight into the love of God poured out on us.

THE DISMISSAL TO "GO IN PEACE."  A priest was giving a tour of a newly built shelter for homeless persons to reporters.  One reporter asked, "Are the homeless you help Catholic?"  The priest replied, "We don't do these works of charity because they are Catholic.  We do them because we are Catholic.  We serve all people in need."  

We use the word "church" with several meanings.  It is the physical building where we regularly worship; it is the worldwide communion of believers in Jesus Christ; and it is the faithful souls who gather around the altar with their priest at Mass.  At the end of Mass the priest (or deacon) sends us the church outside the church into the world.   We do not live in the church (building).  We live in our homes, in our own communities.  We are to bring the love of God, the teachings of Christ, and the joys and passion of the Spirit to wherever we reside, work and play.

Further, there is an ancient connection between the liturgy and the call to bring forth justice.  The prophet Amos cried out, "Let justice flow like water."  Jesus railed against hypocrites who knew how to pray in the temple but left widows and orphans without help.  St. James tells us, "Be doers of the word and not hearers only."  Genuine worship is fruitful.  Genuine prayer consists of praise of God in the church, and the church leaving the church building to do the works of justice and peace, to bring freedom to those enslaved, to proffer forgiveness to enemies and care for the poor.  We are sent forth to be Christ's Body in action in the world.

50th Anniversary of "Sacrosanctum Concilium," Part II

THE WORD OF GOD.  In 1993 the Diocese of Pittsburgh celebrated the sesquicentennial of its founding through a variety of events.  The culmination was a festive Mass at the Civic Arena (as it was then called).  Over 12,000 of the faithful joined hundreds of priests and bishops in a most lively liturgy, led by our then-shepherd, Bishop Donald Wuerl.  I can still remember the booming, evocative proclamation of the first reading from Isaiah.  The lector, a parishioner of nearby St. Benedict the Moor Parish in the Hill District, engaged every eye and ear in the large space with her resonant voice, as we hung on every phrase, and then affirmed "The Word of the Lord," with our lusty response  "Thanks be to God." 

One of the major changes in the liturgy was to widen the amount of readings from the Bible, during the Mass and in all the sacramental rites.  "The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly so that a richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of the Word."  With a three-year cycle of readings for Sunday Masses (and two-year cycle for weekday Masses) over 90% of the bible is heard and proclaimed.

The old-time Catholic saying that "the bible is for Protestants only" is downright false, and rejected by Vatican II.  From the earliest days of the church, the apostles and disciples reflected on the Hebrew Scriptures and listened to the at-first oral, and then, written, gospel stories of Jesus Christ, written down by evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Every Catholic is called to be an attentive, active listener of the Word of God during the Mass, and student of the sacred authors.

Christ is truly present in the word, as well as in the sacrament of the altar.  Homilies and sacramental signs, too, are to be biblically grounded.  All Catholics are also to pray from the Sacred Scriptures daily, in our homes and personal prayer, or in the Liturgy of the Hours, and in various non-Eucharistic services of the Word.  Our reading of the books of the bible at home will enhance our attentive listening to the Word of God in church.

THE PASCHAL MYSTERY.  As I walked up the aisle I felt a huge lump in my chest.  How could I possibly celebrate the funeral Mass of my own father?  I could barely put one foot in front of the other.  My brothers and friends accompanied Dad's casket to bring his body lovingly to the front of the church.  But the Holy Spirit was with me as I found the strength to sprinkle Dad's casket with holy water, and pray very familiar words:  "In the waters of baptism my father, Frank, died with Christ and rose with Christ to new life.  May he now share with Christ eternal glory."

The liturgies of the Catholic Church should use words and symbols that are understandable to the people.  But there are a few special phrases which every Catholic needs to know.  One of them is "Paschal Mystery."  The glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Paschal Mystery as "Christ's work of redemption accomplished principally by his Passion, death, resurrection and glorious ascension, whereby 'dying he destroyed our death, rising he restored our life.'"  Through the union of God and man, humanity is once again reconciled with the Father in and through Christ Jesus.  As St. Paul wrote, "Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being." (1 Cor 15:21)

The "paschal" of the phrase means "lamb," as in Jesus as the Lamb of God.  It is the Lamb of God who dies on the cross, only in mystery to rise from the tomb three days later.

The whole church is born out of the Paschal Mystery.  The church's liturgical and sacramental life, as well as the proclamation of the Gospels, make the Paschal Mystery present to the faithful.  Through the sacrament of baptism men and women are initiated into the dying and rising of Christ.  Through the sacrament of confirmation the baptized are strengthened by the Holy Spirit.  Through the sacrament of the Eucharist (the Mass), the Church comes to know, in the Sacred Liturgy Constitution's words, that "the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the source from which all its power flows."  Our faith in Jesus the Christ, who was born, lived, taught, healed, suffered, died on the cross and rose from the dead, is renewed and nourished when we come together at Mass. 

The Eucharist is a sacred meal, and offers us the Body and Blood of Christ to feed us.  The Mass is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, which is our hoped-for destiny after our death.  The Eucharist is also an unbloody sacrifice.  Christ died for our sins on the cross, in an act of total obedience to the will of the heavenly Father.  We remember and re-present his sacrifice in the Mass, and look forward to a new destiny after our deaths in the blessedness of heaven.

In the homily I offered at my Dad's funeral, I tried to tell stories of how he gave everything of himself in love to my mother, through 57 years of marriage, and to my brothers and me.  Dad never wanted to receive gifts for his birthday.  He only wanted to give gifts.  He drove my brothers and me to ball games, to dances and meetings, and to 8:00 a.m. Mass every Sunday. He showed us what sacrifice meant.  Dad lived out the Paschal Mystery in his almost 84 years on earth.  That's why I believe Dad (and Mom) are saints in heaven. 

It may sound cheesy  but in the homily I quoted the refrain of a Bruce Springsteen song, "Into the Fire," done in tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives at the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001.  I felt the refrain captured Dad's spirit of giving too:  

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love bring us love.

VERNACULAR LANGUAGE.  We priests had flown to tiny Talara, Peru, to visit Father Jack Price, a Pittsburgh priest and missionary.  It was Saturday morning, and the other priests had gone to the market to buy food.  A grizzled old man knocked at the door of the rectory.  I welcomed him in, saying one of the few words I knew in Spanish, "Buenos dias, senor."  He rattled off a long paragraph.  I looked stupid, I didn't understand him.  I mumbled, "No hablo espanol."  He said, "Padre?"  I said "Si!  Padre Francisco."  And somehow I got the message that this gentleman wanted to go to confession.  So we sat, I made the sign of the cross in Latin (very close to Spanish, I thought), I motioned for him to express his sins.  He did, in Spanish.  Is aid the absolution prayer over him, in English.  I told him his penance was "uno Padre Nuestro" [one Our Father].  The man grinned, we embraced in a sign of peace, and he left.  Somehow, despite our language differences, we celebrated the sacrament of penance.

Language can separate and language can unite.  For hundreds of years after the Council of Trent (1543-1575), the Roman Catholic Church prayed the Mass in Latin.  There was a universality about this ancient language.  The Mass was the same, whether said in Spain, Canada, Brazil, Korea, or Tanzania.  But few people knew Latin.  Most of the faithful needed a book, with Latin on the left, their particular language on the right, to understand what the priest was saying and doing.

After the Second Vatican Council the Roman Catholic Church went back to the earlier tradition, that of celebrating the Eucharist and the sacraments in the language of the people.  Whether in Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke), Greek (the language Saints Peter and Paul knew, and the language of the markets around the Mediterranean Sea), German, French, Spanish, or any of the 200 languages of the world, the Mass would be "in the vernacular," that is, the particular voice of the people.  The key here is understanding.  Now the people (and sometimes the priest!) would know what the prayers said, and would be able to truly pray the prayers, not just rattle off the Latin whose meaning was obscure.  We are blessed to celebrate the Mass and the sacraments in the particular language we speak and know.  

In an ironic way today, once in a while Latin can unite, too.  Latin is often the language of the Mass when people of many tongues gather--say, at a papal liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, or at a place of pilgrimage.  And we treasure certain songs and Mass responses which were set by famous composers to Latin centuries ago.  (For example, "Tantum Ergo" or "Pater Noster.")

50th Anniversary of "Sacrosanctum Concilium"

We in the Catholic Church have been going through a series of rolling 50th anniversaries, all related to the Second Vatican Council.  It began in 2009, with the 50th anniversary of the calling of the council, by Pope John XXIII on January 25, 1959, in the Lateran Basilica.  The first session began on October 11, 1962 (and was marked in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI with the beginning of a Year of Faith).  This fall, on December 4, it is the 50th anniversary of the first of the 16 documents produced by the Fathers of Vatican II.  This is Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  The final 50th anniversary will be on December 7, 2015, marking the conclusion of the fourth session, and the end of the Second Vatican Council.

For our parish bulletins I did several columns this past month on the 50th anniversary of the Sacred Liturgy Constitution.  I was limited by the 550 words I can write for a column, so these are short.  I'll put these together into one or two posts.  With the greater freedom of the blog, I may expand on one or two points.

"Pastors have the indispensable task of educating in prayer and more especially of promoting liturgical life, entailing a duty of discernment and guidance."  --Pope John Paul II, from the Apostolic Letter Spiritus et Sponsa, On the 40th Anniversary of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, December 4, 2003.

On December 4, 1963, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council produced the first of its 16 documents, Sacrosanctum Concilium (hereafter SC), the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  This document was overwhelmingly approved (2,147 to 4) and promulgated by Pope Paul VI.  This document has been Vatican II's most visible impact on the People of God in the universal Catholic Church.  Pope John Paul II said in 2003, in the above quoted document, "With the passing of time and in the light of its fruits, the importance of Sacrosanctum Concilium has become increasingly clear.  The Council brilliantly outlined in it the principles on which are based the liturgical practices of the church and which inspire its healthy renewal in the course of time."

In two months the Church will mark the 50th anniversary of this important document.  Over the next five weeks I'll review this very special document.  I encourage readers to read the document itself (available online at   under "resource library/Second Vatican Council").  But readers already know much that it teaches.  You see the principles of this document each Sunday, when you pray in church with your brothers and sisters at Mass.  In an attempt to make the basic ideas of SC come alive, I'll tell some stories and invite you to reflect on these themes.

REVIEWING HISTORY.  Sunday, November 22, 1964, 5:00 p.m. Mass in St. Wendelin Church, in the Carrick neighborhood of the city of Pittsburgh.  I am a 6th grader serving the last Mass in Latin.  I've forgotten which parish priest said the Mass (Msgr. Carl Hensler, the elderly pastor, or Father John Michaels, the young assistant).  With the other server I said the opening prayers at the foot of the altar in Latin, which Sister Mary Jude had helped us to memorize the previous year:  "Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui Laetificat iuventutem mean."  [In English, "I shall go up to the altar of God, the God who gives joy to my youth."]  The following week we began a "hybrid" Mass, part Latin, part English.  Within four years we were fully in English.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy may have been the first document approved by Vatican II, but it had a 100 year history of preparation.  In the 19th century German Benedictine monks began reading the ancient liturgical texts in their dusty archives, and found a wealth of information about how the Catholic Church celebrated Mass in the different centuries.  They also found how the Mass prayers changed over time.  This "liturgical movement" expanded to France, Britain and the U.S.  By 1947 it was endorsed by Pope Pius XII, who made some changes to the Easter Vigil in 1955.  The monks and scholars looked backward in time, to learn better the various traditions of prayer, particularly of the sacraments.  They also faced forward, in "aggiornamento," (an Italian word which means bringing things up to date, sometimes also translated as "opening the windows").  Pope John XXIII, who called for the Second Vatican Council in 1959, wanted the Church to be open to the modern world, while always retaining and renewing its venerable traditions.

"FULL, ACTIVE AND CONSCIOUS PARTICIPATION".  The St. Paul Seminary chapel in the 1970s was a large airy room on the second floor of the DPC building.  Each of us seminarians had his own prie-dieu (kneeler) and chair.  But at Mass we were invited by our priests, Msgr. Don Kraus and Father George Saladna, at the Preface to leave our kneeler and place, and to come up into the sanctuary and stand in a semi-circle around the altar as the priest said the Eucharistic Prayer.  As my brother seminarians surrounded the altar, some kneeling and some standing in prayer, I intensely felt we were the body of Christ as we sang and responded to the presiding priest.

One of the key understandings which Vatican II taught was that the Mass, and all the sacraments, are celebrated by the whole church.  In the words of SC, we the baptized are "neither strangers nor silent spectators," but rather called to "full, active and conscious participation" in all rites.  The people of God participate using their voices in singing and in responding to the priest in dialogue, using their bodies by standing, kneeling or moving in processing, using their minds and souls while sitting or standing in attentive silence at the proclaiming of the Sacred Scriptures.  The priest is not the only one "working" during the Mass.  The various ministers carry out their respective ministries, and all people through the church participate and spiritually offer the sacrifice.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

On Pilgrimage

Tomorrow 50 of our New Castle parishioners, with Father Nick Vaskov and I, will be leaving Pittsburgh for a pilgrimage of churches and historic sites in Italy.  We'll be visiting Rome and the Vatican, Assisi, Siena, Florence and Venice.  We'll attend the general papal audience in St. Peter's Square, and hope to see Pope Francis as he also is a pilgrim in Assisi on St. Francis of Assisi's feast day of October 4.

So my blog takes a two week holiday, while we are on pilgrimage.  I'll share parts of our journey on our return.  Wish us bon voyage and Godspeed!  See you in the middle of the month.

60 Years

A year ago, my friends Rosanne and Martie Saunders and I were attending the great Bruce Springsteen concert at the Consol Energy Center.  Our 59th birthdays were approaching, and I jokingly said, wouldn't it be great to get Bruce and the E Street Band to come to Pittsburgh to help us celebrate our 60th birthdays.

One thing led to another, and we began to consider using our big "zero" birthday not just as a celebration for us, but as a fundraiser for Sisters Place.  Both Rosanne and I had served on the Board of Directors of Sisters Place, and hold it in high esteem.

For those of you who don't know about Sisters Place, it is an initiative of the many Catholic women's religious communities in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, founded in 1997.  The not-for-profit organization provides supportive housing to single parents and their children, in the city of Clairton.  Sisters Place leases over two dozen townhomes in Clairton, and works with the parents (mostly moms) to complete their education, address any addiction problems they may have, give them healthy parenting skills, and put them on a pathway to having and holding a job.  Sisters Place also works with the children, to make sure they get a good education.

Well, we had to ditch the "bring Bruce to Pittsburgh" idea.  He is on tour in South America.   So we moved to the concept of a "60s for 60" party to benefit Sisters Place -- and to help Rosanne and I celebrate this milestone in our lives.  It will be held on Friday, October 25, at the John Paul I Pastoral Center in St. Juan Diego Parish, 201 9th Street, in Sharpsburg.  We are grateful to pastor Michael Decewicz for sharing this fine hall with us free of charge, and for the assistance of the parish staff.  Doors open at 5 pm, appetizers at 6, dinner at 7, and fun events at 8.  (No tickets will be available at the door.  Please let us know you are coming by October 18, so we can plan accordingly.)  

In the spirit of the 1960s, we will be serving food from that crazy decade.  We encourage guests to dress in costume representing the 1960s (prizes will be rewarded for the best!).  And we are suggesting a donation to Sisters Place of $60 per person, or some multiple.  (If you give $600 to Sisters Place for the party, we'll put your name above Rosanne and my name on the door.  If you give $1,666, we'll sing your favorite 60s song from the stage.  If you give $6,000 we'll come to pick you up for the party in a 1969 "Flower Power" Volkswagen Beetle.  If you give $6 million to Sisters Place, I will personally guarantee we'll rename the organization after you.)

If you are up enjoying a great celebration, contact fundraising director Melissa or executive director Sister Mary at 412-233-3903.  Make checks payable to "Sisters Place."  All donations tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.  (Rosanne asked me to put that sentence in, because she's a conscientious lawyer.)  And I hope that the clients of Sisters Place benefit greatly from our 1960s birthday party.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dr. Reyes and the Social Ministry Institute

Every year Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the diocesan office of Human Life and Dignity hosts the Social Ministry Institute.  This one-day in-service allows social ministers, members of pro-life and justice and peace committees, priests and deacons, Catholic Charities staffers, and any interested Catholics to learn about new initiatives and network with folks.  

On Monday, September 23, the Social Ministry Institute was held at the Cardinals' Great Hall on the campus of St. Paul Seminary.  The keynote speaker was Dr. Jonathan Reyes, the executive director of the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.  His address spoke to the theme of the day, "You are all witnesses."

I was free to drive in for a portion of the day, to listen to Dr. Reyes' talk and to stay for lunch.  Through the kindness of Helene Paharik, who serves both the diocesan office of Human Life and Dignity, and as Associate General Secretary, I was able to meet Dr. Reyes and have some time to converse with him.

Dr. Reyes came to the USCCB [United States Conference of Catholic Bishops] in December.  He followed John Carr, who served as executive director of the same office (under several different names) for 25 years.  John retired in June 2012.  He is now director of an institute at Georgetown University, dedicated to increase lay involvement in the work and implementation of Catholic social teaching.  I knew John as an acquaintance, having attended for ten years the annual USCCB-hosted national Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, D.C. each February.  Over the years I had also had opportunities to break bread with John, when he came to Pittsburgh for various talks.

Over the past decade, John Carr became a lightning rod for criticism from certain Catholics for allegations which ranged from association with pro-abortion groups, to leading the U.S. Catholic bishops astray, to out-and-out heterodoxy.  I hasten to add I don't believe these accusations for a moment, and think that these criticisms are false, harmful, poisonous and possibly libelous.  

                                             John Carr

When Dr. Reyes' appointment was announced in September 2012, it was greeted with huzzahs from the right, and fear from the left.  Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter questioned Dr. Reyes' "thin resume" and lack of experience in the ways of lobbying in the hallways of Congress.  Amy Sullivan, in The New Republic (who knew anyone at The New Republic cared about the Catholic Church, even to criticize it?) expressed the opinion that this appointment was signaling that the U.S. bishops would pull back from an anti-poverty agenda.  On the other hand, blogger Micah Murphy cheered the appointment as "earth-shattering" and a move away from the example of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, and what he lebeled  "Post-Exposure Seamless Garment Syndrome."  (Do you think he likes the "seamless garment" pro-life metaphor of Cardinal Bernadin?)  Another blogger, Fr. Z (John Zuhlsdorf) showed his support of Reyes and rejection of Carr by sarcastically annotating the Sullivan blogpost.  Both Murphy and Zuhlsdorf implied that Carr was not orthodox in his thinking, if not out-and-out in favor of abortion.

Meeting Dr. Reyes was something other than this internet flaming.  He is a charming man, disarming with his smile and admission that, yes, his appointment by the U.S. bishops was "a non-traditional" appointment.  He is an historian by trade, with a Ph.D. in European history from Notre Dame.  He taught at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, got into administrative posts there, and then was named to direct the $35 million budget of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Denver.  He told me that his friends on the left are skeptical of his associations with conservative Catholics; his friends on the right can't understand his hands-on advocacy of service to the poor, and founding of "Christ in the City," a ministry in Denver to bring college-age students in direct care of the poor, within a supportive Church environment.

                                     Dr. Jonathan Reyes

Dr. Reyes admitted to me that he has a lot to learn about public policy and lobbying, and trusts that his staff at the USCCB can teach him a lot.  But he also was frank to say that he brings a more evangelical perspective on the work of the bishops' conference, and the opportunity to bridge the divides between left and right in the church.  His conversation with me was peppered with the healthy "both-and" of Catholic social thought.  (For example, we Catholics both oppose abortion and euthanasia, and support pathways to citizenship for illegal immigrants and healthcare for all.  We oppose so-called gay marriage, and support more peace-building initiatives.  We oppose war, and support a family wage and increases in the legal minimum wage.)  I sensed that Dr. Reyes was not going to back down from the social justice and human life teachings of our church and our bishops.  He was interested, at the same time, of deepening the Gospel-based motivation of those who work in promoting peace, justice and human life for all human beings, and being honest that (unlike the days of Great Society and War on Poverty) today government may not always be the best vehicle to carry out this work.

Dr. Reyes' talk for the Social Ministry Institute gave hits of his emphases   It was more a sermon about the new moment of the Catholic Church to bring the Gospel into the world, and the furthest from a public policy snoozer.  It was "evangelical" in the classical theological meaning of the word, and not in the U.S. political sense.

I enjoyed my 40 minute conversation with Dr. Reyes, and am glad that Helene Paharik made it possible to meet him.  I am not shy to say that I highly admire John Carr, and the labors he did over a quarter-century with the bishops conference, and all the national and international initiatives he participated in, carrying out the Catholic Church's mandate to serve the poor and needy, to bring peace and justice and freedom to our sin-filled world.  But maybe there is something to be said for some slight tacking in the practical means the church in the U.S. pursues justice and peace.  My heartfelt prayers go out to Dr. Jonathan Reyes in his new position.  I pray also for his highly competent staff at the Department for Justice, Peace, and Human Development, the bishops who serve on the Domestic Justice and Human Development and International Justice and Peace Committee, and all who want the Catholic Church to bring Christ's call for "liberty to captives" to life in our world.