Monday, February 13, 2017

Back Story to a Front Page Story

Right after Christmas I received an email from Peter Smith, the religion editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  We had corresponded by email last summer, when he was pursuing a story idea about the Diocese of Pittsburgh's "On Mission for the Church Alive" reorganization.  But he never wrote the story, and obviously he never used my comments.  I had never met the man.

In the midst of the email interview Peter learned that I was pastor of four parishes.  (We have a couple of priests who pastor three parishes, and one who pastors one parish with four churches.)  In his email Peter wanted to do a "one day in the life of a pastor who has four parishes" story.  I was flattered, but wondered, where are the pitfalls.  

So I consulted with some folks.  My staff thought it was OK.  My two associates thought I was crazy to open myself up to a reporter, but were good sports and were willing to go along with it.  A couple of friends thought it was a great idea.  But one friend, an attorney, said, "No way!"  She was afraid of a "hack-job" article, and the writer saying things which made me, or our churches, look bad.  She worried I would be misquoted, or taken out of context, or betray a parishioner confidence.   She was doing what any good lawyer does, look at the "what's the worst thing that could happen."

I checked with the vicar general and the director of communications for the diocese.  I told them, if they thought it wasn't a good idea, I would not go through with it.  But they thought well of me, and said, go for it.  They knew I had talked many times with reporters in the past.  I hadn't put my foot in my mouth -- yet.

So I gave the reporter some available dates on my calendar, ones that included meetings with representatives of all four parishes--our pastoral councils, finance councils, and On Mission team.  He picked last Tuesday, February 7, to come to New Castle.  It turned out the day was mild, so I only had to wear a suit coat.

I had agreed to do a 10 am funeral Mass that day in St. Vitus Church.  That's the church you see so well on page 8, with the large mural behind the altar.  The rest of the day was, conversation with the reporter and photographer, Andrew Rush, from 11 to 12 (including a 5 minute video interview, available on-line), our priests lunch at 12 noon in the dining room of Mary Mother of Hope rectory, visiting a classroom in St. Vitus School from 1:30 to 2, time in the Adoration Chapel from 4 to 5, dinner with Peter Smith from 5 to 6:30, and the pastoral council meeting in the Marian Room underneath Mary Mother of Hope Church from 7 to 8:30.  It was a usual day for me, but not a unique day.  

The two of them, Andrew and Peter, followed me from 9 am to 9 pm.  It was really weird being photographed at every turn by Andrew, but he was unobtrusive and only doing his job.  Even when I went to the Adoration Chapel for my usual one hour time slot (4 to 5 pm every Tuesday), praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament, Andrew walked around me shooting.  I personally think we Christians ought to take Jesus's words about praying literally.  "Go into your inner room, close the door, and don't let anyone know you are praying."  But while I sat or knelt in the chapel, I thought of Pope Francis, who is photographed every moment and at every turn, and still manages to pray in public.

Peter Smith turned out to be a sensitive soul, and a good listener.  He told me the best part of his job is meeting different people.  Over dinner ("You treated me to lunch, I'll let my publisher treat you for dinner") we talked politics, church politics and the job of being a religion writer.  I told him I had to commend the Post-Gazette for having a "religion beat."  Ann Rodgers served that beat so well for more than 25 years.  (Now Ann works for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.)  Peter took over for Ann three years ago.  Both Peter and Andrew are Presbyterian, but both were knowledgeable about our Catholic church and its ways.

When the article appeared yesterday, I was flabbergasted that it was so long, and double flabbergasted that it appeared on the front page.  But I am glad that I did it.  It was no hack-job.  The same friend who was worried about all the potential problems with such a story told me, after reading the article, "I think he really captured you, Frank.  I was wrong to oppose doing it."

When I agreed to the day-long interview, in my mind I was not doing it to pad my ego.  I believe that what we are doing here in New Castle is honorable Catholic ministry, and a positive story that is under-appreciated.  I believed that good could come out of such a long interview.  Through Peter's clear, accurate writing, and Andrew's illuminating pictures, I think my belief came true.

Since the story has appeared, I've gotten lots of emails and texts, all of them complimentary.  I pass them on to Peter Smith, the writer.   I am only a representative of so many unsung, hard-working priests and pastoral ministers.   I never imagined that this would be such a long story, and that my picture -- and my bald spot -- would be on the front page, above the fold, of the Sunday edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  I just hope through this story that people -- Catholics and others -- see better the good that we priests, parish staff and parishioners are doing in and through our parishes.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Post-Gazette Article

Reporter Peter Smith and photographer Andrew Rush shadowed me for 12 hours last Tuesday.  Peter had emailed me about the possibility of doing a story, "a day in the life of a priest who pastors four parishes."  I was amenable, so were the powers that be.

So read what they discovered.  This article  appears in the February 12, 2017 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

I'll offer more comments in a couple of days.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

40 Suggestions for "Best Lent Ever" Part Two

Here is part two of my 40 suggestions for "the best Lent ever."

21.  Read one of the four Gospels from beginning to end.  Takes about 3 hours, or maybe 30 minutes a week for six weeks.
22.  Think about a habit that is keeping you from being whom God is calling you to be.  Consciously give up that habit for Lent.
23.  Lent started as a time of preparation for people who were preparing for baptism and sacraments at Easter.  Pray for the parish's catechumens and candidates for full initiation.  Pray for the 2nd graders who will be receiving First Holy Communion.
24.  Fast from drinking alcohol.  Give the money you save to Catholic Charities.
25.  One morning a week don't turn on the radio on your commute to work in your car.  Use the silence to reflect on God's creation around you, and the people you love.
26.  If you don't have one, make out your will.  Include that you wish to be buried with a funeral Mass in your parish.  Reflect on what you want people to say about you after your death.
27.  Look up information about your patron saint, or a saint you'd like to learn more about.  Ask for help from that saint.
28.  Tell a friend about Jesus, and how much you love him.
29.  Give a compliment to a co-worker each day.
30.  Fast from anger and resentment.

31.  Write a letter to your congressperson about a political issue you are passionate about.
32.  Visit a local nursing home, and participate in one daily activity with the residents.  Smile at folks when you walk down the corridors.
33.  Go 20 minutes early to Sunday Mass, and spend the time reading the Scriptural readings, and thinking about them, for that day.  
34.  Forgive an enemy, without expectations of thanks.
35.  Review your charitable giving over the past year.  What percentage of your total income do you give away to church and charity?  Prayerfully consider whether you can increase your giving by 2%.
36.  Before shutting down your computer at the end of the work day, visit the online prayer website,  .
37.  Fast from pornography.
38.  List five things you are grateful for each day in Lent.
39.  OK, you can give up chocolate and sweets (or tobacco/smoking) for Lent.
40.  Lent begins on Ash Wednesday in the Roman Catholic tradition, and ends around noon on Holy Thursday.  This is actually 46 days.  Sundays are not counted as days of fasting or penance.  Use the six Sundays of Lent to avoid work, relax and spent time with family.

40 Suggestions for "Best Ever Lent" Part One

Lent is coming.  Ash Wednesday is March 1.  It's not too early to think about what you might do to make this "the best Lent ever."  Let me offer 40 suggestions to help you, in recognition of the 40 days of Lent.  Pray over this list, pick one or two (NOT all 40!) and commit to them.  

These are adapted from suggestions I made for New Castle folks.  Here's ##1-20.

  1. Read the daily Scriptural readings for each Mass in Lent.
  2. Say a decade of the rosary each day, or even a rosary each day.
  3. Volunteer at a local food pantry.
  4. Have a technology-free day.  Put away your cell phone, tablet, games, email and telephone.  Spend time with your family, your spouse, a friend, or just time in quiet reflection.
  5. Go to one daily Mass each week during Lent.
  6. Attend the Stations of the Cross on Fridays (check your parish bulletin for schedule).
  7. Invite someone to join you when you go to confession at a Lenten penance service.
  8. Make a really really generous pledge or gift to the diocesan Parish Share Program for your parish.
  9. Join a local Bible study.
  10. Give up using curse or vulgar words.  Penalize yourself $1 per word, and give the money to Catholic Charities.

  1. Telephone a family member you've lost touch with.
  2. Donate articles of clean clothing you haven't worn or don't need to the St. Vincent de Paul Society stores or Goodwill.
  3. One week in Lent pray for Pope Francis.  One day each week pray for all church leaders.
  4. Visit a local Eucharistic Adoration Chapel.  Sepnd 30 minutes in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
  5. Before you go to bed each night, say the Jesus prayer:  "Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
  6. Fast from cruel comments about neighbors or co-workers.  Avoid gossiping or reading celebritye tabloids.
  7. Make a list of the excesses in your life.  Think about which ones you could do without.
  8. If you don't have a cross or crucifix in your home or apartment, buy a simple one and put it in your bedroom.
  9. Get some friends together and go to a local church, VFW or club for Fish Fry meal on Fridays in Lent.  
  10. Research a charity you are interested in and commit to giving either time or a donation each month for the rest of the year.  Find a way to gie time and talent to your parish by volunteering.