Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph - December 30, 2018

New Habits for the New Year
Big changes are coming:
Parishes are consolidating.  At Holy Trinity, St. John of God, and St. Malachy Parishes, we’re actively considering how we should proceed as the RocKenRo grouping. We’ll need to adjust to thinking of ourselves as part of a much broader population than we’re accustomed to.
Mass schedules are changing.  Around the Diocese, a quarter of all Sunday Masses have been cut out. Many churches no longer have Saturday afternoon Masses or Sunday mid-morning Masses.  At RocKenRo, we haven’t yet changed our Sunday Mass schedule, but the changes are coming.  A lot of us will have to re-learn our Mass attendance habits.
Catholic elementary schools will reorganize over the coming years, becoming regional schools.  If we follow examples thus far, in the North Hills, we’ll likely see some close, some merge, and some change the grades they serve.  Others will swell with new populations.

These changes can seem to threaten cherished goods. Nostalgia for our favorite churches enriches us. We rely on fellowship with the familiar worshipers at our usual Mass.  Changes can also inconvenience us:  I’ve heard more than one Catholic from other parishes exclaim, “They took away the X:00 Mass, but I used to go to breakfast [or coffee, or dinner] after that Mass!”

We can sympathize with our Blessed Mother, who endured “great anxiety” when she learned that her boy Jesus had gone missing.  Imagine her distress!  But note also her faithfulness: When she hears Jesus’ explanation, she refrains from scolding him, but instead “kept all these things in her heart.”  Our Lord Jesus himself is also able to remain faithful to both his heavenly Father and his earthly father: He goes to God’s Temple to contemplate God’s Law and instruct the teachers.  But he also goes to Nazareth to be obedient to Joseph.

So let’s imitate the Holy Family.  Let’s imitate Joseph’s diligent labor in seeking his lost boy.  Let’s imitate Mary’s contemplative, prayerful effort to understand how God revealed himself in Jesus.  And let’s imitate Jesus, who perseveres in loving obedience to the Father and in loving service to Joseph, fulfilling the duties of love for both God and man.

Carl Stuvek, the young adult minister at Holy Trinity Parish, resigned effective December 31.  Please thank Carl for his past service.  I am currently in consultation with advisers at all three RocKenRo parishes and with young adults to discern whether and how to replace Carl.
Last week, I wrongly named Pat Kulak as one of my advisers at St. Malachy. I since learned she prefers evangelization to the pastoral council.  Sorry!  But thank you, Pat, for your help.
Tuesday, January 1, is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and a holy day of obligation.  The special Mass schedule is published elsewhere in this bulletin.

Happy new year!
                                                                                                              —Fr. Dave

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 23, 2018

Merry Christmas!
For many, Christmas is a time of joy and excitement. Even those among us without deep religious sensibilities often appreciate Christmas for its happy connotations: Families reunited, gifts exchanged, coworkers appreciating each other at “holiday parties,” and decorations standing out against the bleak darkness of deep winter. Media and marketers exploit our happy associations by framing their products with warm holiday images, but they tend to exclude the soberer religious themes of Christmas.
Jesus comes as a baby boy, but more than a cuddly face: His is the birth of a new prince in the enemy’s territory. His coming promises God’s overthrow of worldly powers, and the beginning of a new and perfect government from God, as foretold in this Sunday’s readings by both the prophet and the Virgin Mary. Our Christmas carols often reflect a keen appreciation for the power of Christmas to save us:
O ye, beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low
Who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow
Look now for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing
O rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing. —It Came upon the Midnight Clear
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. —O Holy Night
It’s been a hard year for the Catholic Church, especially in Pittsburgh. If you’re suffering, remember that at the heart of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of a new King, the promise of a new government on its way, of true and lasting justice and peace. It’s not too late to ask for help. And if you’re doing well, remember that it’s not too soon to reach out to your suffering neighbors to give them here and now an early hint of that coming Kingdom.       —Fr. Dave

Please note the most important advisory councils for each parish have now been (mostly) assembled.  I depend upon the advice of these people for the important decisions to come.

Holy Trinity
St. John of God
St. Malachy
Andrew Carr
Linda Gomulka
Joe Maggi
Susan Ruscoe
Rich Murray
Bonnie Pendergast
Ken Zern
Tom Adams
Ron Amity
Victoria Diehl
Sandy Horgan
Alice Kilonsky
Joanne Lorenz
Patty Beasock
Sharon Cercone
Pat Daily
Zach Hayes
Pat Kulak
Amy Maxin
Don Murphy
Lisa Worms
Tom Garbin
David Hess
Greg Leininger
Dennis Minzer
Brian Peluso
Claudia Van
Antoinette Amity
Joe Horgan
Steve Sibenik
Bill Stropkaj
Dan Angell
Ed Chezosky
Joe Colucci
Lisa Polar
Mike Slattery

Third Sunday of Advent - December 16, 2018

“Be Not Discouraged”
Since October 15, many of you have written of your concerns for the future. At Holy Trinity, people harbor concerns for how the new RocKenRo grouping might affect their cherished faith formation programs for children, youth, and young adults. Folks at St. Malachy parish have expressed regret over changes in the daily Mass schedule and in the scheduling of liturgical ministers. Parishioners at St. John of God speak with some worry for the future of one or another of their two churches. I thank those who express their concerns to me and to those who advise me. I ask you to continue to make your thoughts known.

At the same time, however, I ask you to speak calmly and judiciously. A few seem to imagine that by exaggerating perceived threats or offenses, they are likelier to win what they seek. Thus a (fictional) complaint, “It’s outrageous how Fr. Dave parts his hair! Sloppy hairstyling corrodes our Catholic culture! Especially in this time of scandal, Fr. Dave should be presenting himself as a good example for children and adults. When so many are leaving the Church, you’d best pay attention to complaints from me, because I’m a true hero of faith and morality for others.”

Maybe that’s how it works in worldly politics, but it shouldn’t be that way in the Church. An exaggeration is tantamount to a false accusation, denounced in today’s Gospel by John the Baptist. Contrast such a complaint with Saint Paul’s instruction to the Church at Philippi, “Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Perhaps some anxiety at loose in RocKenRo stems from fear of changes to come, or fear of losing a treasured past. These fears are understandable, and we should be patient with those who are afraid. But we do well to consider instead the future God has in store for us. Even in a time of suffering, the prophet Zephaniah could exhort his people, “Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!” Likewise, we should trust the Lord’s plan for our future more than we cling to our own plans from months or years past.
So “make your requests known,” but do so from a posture of prayer and trust. Look for what is good, listen for what is true, and sustain your thanksgiving for these.

Elsewhere in this bulletin you’ll see a page entitled “Diocesan Group 330 [RocKenRo] Church Alive Campaign.” This is a summary of the three parishes’ status in Our Campaign for The Church Alive!, rounded to the nearest $100,000. The main point is that Holy Trinity still holds some leftover campaign funds, so these must be spent on the case statement—that is, the purposes for which the money was originally raised. So that’s what will happen.                                                            
                                                                                                               —Fr. Dave

Second Sunday of Advent - December 9, 2018


When I was a Boy Scout in the 1970s, we learned orienteering, the art of finding one’s way through unfamiliar territory with the use of a compass and either a map or travel instructions.

For example, I might be dropped off by car at the edge of a strange forest and expected to use my compass to follow directions, say, “Proceed to checkpoint one, 1,320 yards west-northwest of your drop off point, and there receive further instructions.” I’d then have to find checkpoint one. But it was rarely as simple as walking 1,320 yards west-northwest. Instead, there’d be barriers: a ravine, a hillside, a swampy area—obstacles that might delay or defeat attempted travel. I’d have to look around and use my wits to guess the best way around the obstacles, without losing my sense of where I was in relation to “checkpoint one.”

The Church of Pittsburgh, On Mission for The Church Alive!, is a little bit like an orienteering exercise. We’ve been instructed to enliven the mission of the Church with respect to our Sunday worship and hospitality, our outreach, and our Christian formation and education. But there are impediments along the way and we’ll have to use our wits to reach our goal.

We may be tempted to fear getting lost, or we may grow angry at our teammates as we dispute the correct path. We may even despair of finding our way. Thus the prophet Baruch in today’s first reading announces to a people in “mourning and misery” because of exile the good news of an otherwise unforeseen return to Temple worship, the reassembly of God’s people, and the restoration of their land.

Can we look forward to what God might be doing with us, no matter the ups and downs on the path? Even if we can’t yet imagine how God could restore us, can we at least be curious as to how the Lord might be leading us? We’ve seen a few signs: A lively “meet and greet” at St. John of God, a joyous Thanksgiving Day Mass at St. Malachy, and a zealous parish mission at Holy Trinity. And it’s not all about us: We managed to get a bus to Amen to Action to share prayer and meal-packing for the needy with many other Christians.

The apostle Paul writes of our “partnership in the gospel” and anticipates that God will bring to completion the good work he has begun in us. Amen!
                                                                                                            —Fr. Dave

First Sunday of Advent - December 2, 2018

(Not?) Ready to RocKenRo

Advent begins. It’s a season for preparation: First, for the coming of Christ as our Lord and Judge. Second, for the celebration of his first coming at Christmas. Advent can therefore also be our spiritual preparation for our implementation of the Bishop’s initiative, On Mission for The Church Alive! Under the watchful eye of our coming Judge, let us set aside our other ambitions and allow him to ready us to fulfill his purposes.

I emphasize preparation because quite a few people have asked me to “get it over with.” They follow it up with something like this composite account: “No more delays! We know the Church is not just about buildings. We young people, especially, aren’t attached to buildings or institutions the way that older folks might be. We just want to get out and be on mission, be evangelizing. So let’s get all the necessary consolidations out of the way and get started!”

It is a noble ambition to evangelize. It’s also true that the Church isn’t only or even primarily about the buildings or the programming. So let’s acknowledge the essential truth and goodness of those who are eager to be on the way.

At the same time, please note that the reason the Church isn’t primarily about buildings or programming is that the Church is primarily about the people—or more precisely, how our Lord Jesus is saving his people. To be ready for any consolidation requires us to be ready for the people: To encourage them in faith, and when they fail to forgive them and help them to return to living the faith. Consider Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Church in Philippi:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

I’ve met several of the faithful who have boasted of their courage in facing consolidations, living obediently, and proclaiming the faith boldly. These are valuable virtues. But we also need people with a collaborative spirit and compassionate hearts who can discern the needs of others and prioritize them. Show me that we’re ready for people, and then I’ll believe that we’re ready for our shared mission—ready to RocKenRo.

                                                                                                             —Fr. Dave

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe - November 25, 2018

Please don’t give more money. Weren’t expecting that, were you? But I’m serious.  Please allow me to explain.

The Lord Jesus frequently spoke about money. It’s not because he needed it: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” Instead, Jesus spoke about money because it’s an excellent measurement of the heart: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Thus Jesus praised the widow because she gave two pennies to the Temple treasury.  He reckoned her gift greater than everyone else’s because she sacrificed everything she had, whereas others gave seemingly larger amounts but only from their surplus. But in the early Church, Annas and Sapphira were condemned for giving only half their income, apparently holding back because of their distrust.

So giving money to Christ and his Church should be more than just a matter of paying one’s fair share of the bills.  There’s great virtue in giving money, if it is given in generosity, if it is given in love for God and neighbor.  Conversely, there’s a danger: If the giving becomes an occasion for resentment or alienation, it can mean the loss of a soul.

I want you to have the opportunity not only to give, but to give as an intentional and joyful way of participating in the mission of Christ and his Church.  Whatever you’re already giving is fine, especially if you are giving in that spirit of generosity and love.  But I’m not yet ready to ask you for more money, because I don’t yet know how the additional money will be used, and I don’t want to put your soul at risk by having you give more now only to regret it later.

So for now, please give according to your custom.  If your custom is to give a percentage of your income, that’s good, and please just hold steady.  Make good on your pledges, if you can.  If your custom is to give at flat pace or just occasionally, it may be premature to change now, unless you can do so without regret or other strings attached.

Jesus praised the “dishonest steward” of Luke 16 not for his selfish purposes, but because the steward was pragmatic about using his position and power to achieve his purpose. I want us to imitate the virtue of the steward in Jesus’ story by making sure our time, effort, and money are well-used to achieve the purposes Jesus holds out for us.

As soon as I can over the coming weeks, I will describe what I think is happening with the finances of the RocKenRo parishes, and how I think we might undertake the mission entrusted to us. Then together we can explore how to match the money with the mission.
                                                                                                                        —Fr. Dave

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 18, 2018

That’s what Tim Davis asked me when I asked him what the most urgent questions are for the RocKenRo parishes of Holy Trinity, St. John of God, and St. Malachy: “Father, what’s the big plan?” We’ve heard for months about the dramatic reorganization coming to the Church of Pittsburgh, of which we are a small part, and now the transition appears to be underway. For us, the first step is to plan to plan, to put together people, prayer, and information.

People: Our Lord Jesus called people to be his followers, assembled them into the Church, and commanded them to draw all nations to be his followers in his Church. Our main identity is therefore also our main job: people helping other people to follow Jesus.

So help each other follow Jesus. Get to know each other, ask questions, listen, check to see if you’ve understood. Tell your own stories—not to aggrandize yourself, but to explain how you’ve come to put your trust in the Lord Jesus. It’s a good time to stretch outside your usual zone of acquaintances and visit events or Masses especially at the other parishes of RocKenRo.

I, too, listen to people. Every day, I hear them explain what they do at RocKenRo parishes. I’m putting together councils where I can hear advice on how to understand and lead our communities. I’ve invited you to tell me what you think I need to know.

Prayer: In the end, what matters is whether we’re following the Lord. It doesn’t help to be “successful” in the worldly sense if we’ve neglected the work that Jesus has entrusted to us. We need to be attentive to where he’s leading us and responsive to his redirection. I ask all of you to join me in prayerful reflection and discernment.

Information: If we’re going to plan to go somewhere, it’ll help to know where we are now. Who are the people coming to Masses? Enrolling in the parish? Volunteering? Joining organizations? Working for the parishes? How do we use all our buildings and properties? How do we maintain them? Where’s all the money coming from? Where is it going? How can we use our people, property, and money ever more efficiently and effectively? I have many staff and volunteers assembling information to help us answer these questions.

Ultimately, our goal is be more faithful in the mission of Christ and his Church. I promise you that our share in his mission will mean a share in Jesus’ suffering and cross. I promise you that it will mean also great joy, reward, and hope, as a foretaste of our share in his resurrection. Let us all imitate the Lord Jesus and his martyrs, giving our lives away in loving obedience, service, mercy, and trust.
                                                                                                         —Fr. Dave

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 11, 2018

Every parish has many things in common, but also some distinctive virtues that shine a bit more brightly in their individual case.  As the weeks go by, I’m forming general impressions of the three parishes of RocKenRo:

Warmth: St. Malachy is a classic suburban neighborhood parish of about 2,500 households and nearly 7,000 people, of whom about 800 attend Mass on an average Sunday.  The school hosts a little more than 100 elementary students.  The new clergy have appreciated the neighborly warmth of the faithful, who also make a special effort at maintaining genial relations with each other.

Resilience: St. John of God is a legacy parish, emerging from several predecessor parishes mostly in McKees Rocks and Stowe Township.  They retain two campuses and two churches, but use only one habitually: St. Mary, Help of Christians—a splendid example of ecclesiastical architecture, even though the parish has been scrimping on maintenance to save money.  Registration records show over 1,000 households comprising 2,000 people, suggesting an older community.  The faithful persevered through the 1992 consolidations, and they sustain several traditional devotions and community practices.

Energy: Holy Trinity is a lively parish with over 2,000 families comprising over 6,000 people, suggesting a comparatively young average age.  The school hosts about 345 elementary students and over 100 pre-schoolers.  The parish operates a small blizzard of ministries and organizations.  About 1,600 people come to Mass each Sunday, and they seem to reflect the character of their suburban, often professional neighborhood.

So what else do I need to know?  What have I not yet learned?  What do you think I need to know about the three RocKenRo parishes or the communities in which they’re established?  Send me a note (be sure to include your name, address, telephone, and/or email address) or send your parish office an email so that I and others can continue to fill in the picture.
                                                                                                                 —Fr. Dave

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 4, 2018

Philosopher RenĂ© Girard wrote compellingly on the spiritual origins of violence.  If we could see the truth, we’d live for the God who is love, forever in joy.  Instead, spiritually blind, we live in competition with each other, defining ourselves by whether we surpass or defeat them.  If God doesn’t stop us, our eagerness to “win” drives us inexorably to violence, to the demonization of our enemies, and to murder.

The world often directs its resentment and murderous violence along lines of religion, through which cultures identifies and applies the meaning of life.  Historically, the most vivid hatred has been directed at the Jews, whose distinctive revelation from God on Mount Sinai has since ancient times discontented worldly powers.

Baptized Christians often forsake the righteousness that comes from Christ and in its place seek an earthly vindication.  Caught up the pursuit of worldly victory, they help to propagate hatred of Jews and to inflict violence on them. 

Police identify Robert Bowers as the murderer of eleven people at Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.  His public record suggests he’s a wicked man of limited sanity.  But in Girard’s philosophy, the wicked foolishness of one man can also be understood as a manifestation of wicked foolishness in the wider society:
the loss of good purposes for life;
a blindness to the truth;
the failure of family, friendship, and neighborhood to correct or mitigate our wickedness;
the spirits of competition, hatred, and vengeance so widely at work in our public conversation.

Let no Catholic Christian imitate Robert Bowers in word or action.  Let no one even partially justify what he has said or done.  Instead, consider the heroism of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a kind of anti-Robert-Bowers.  Saint Maximilian, a Polish priest, was interred in a Nazi concentration camp alongside Jews and other Poles.  One day in 1941, while looking for prisoners to execute, a camp commander selected a Jewish man, Franciszek Gajowniczek.  When Gajowniczek cried out in grief for his wife and children, Fr. Kolbe volunteered to take his place, and was ultimately executed.

Our purpose as followers of Jesus is to give our lives to God and neighbor, whether in a momentary act of loving sacrifice, as did Saint Maximilian, or through long years of loving service, as most of us are called to do.  Let no one fail, and let everyone help his brothers and sisters to win this true victory.
                                                                                                                  —Fr. Dave

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 28, 2018

I’m writing this note on October 22, exactly one week after the transitions On Mission for The Church Alive!  Here’s what we accomplished this past week:

All three priests newly destined to live in the RocKenRo grouping succeeded at moving in to his designated rooms.  We’re all still unpacking, but we’re here.

We activated a plan for assigning priests and deacons to Masses.  It’s complicated, but I count it a success thus far inasmuch as we got a priest to every Mass.  My hope is that this week we’ll develop the system so as to accommodate scheduling the priests for funerals in each of the three RocKenRo parishes.  Baptisms and weddings are also underway.

We discovered that we need to recruit volunteers at Holy Trinity and St. Malachy to accommodate the new daily Mass schedules at each location.  Especially at St. Malachy’s, we also need to recruit people to take responsibility for daily and weekly tasks previously assumed by the departing pastors.  Rosemary Corsetti and others have been straining to coordinate this effort, so if Rosemary or someone else asks you to help, please help!

We learned that the St. Malachy pastoral council has focused largely on evangelization projects such as the Speaker Series.  But I need a pastoral council also to advise me on matters arising On Mission! especially as they apply to St. Malachy.  My plan is to split the pastoral council between those who will focus on evangelization and those who will focus on advising me.  Perhaps some will do both, but in the meanwhile, this transition is a good opportunity for St. Malachy parishioners to join either group, depending upon their interests and motivations.  Email me if you think you could contribute to either effort.

These days, in the Catholic Church, when you think of staffing or volunteering, you should also think of the Safe Environment program. Please be prepared to help by going through the program and extending the Church’s vigilance against potential harm to minors.  And if you’ve already completed the program, please be equally diligent about staying current. Otherwise—well, let’s just say no one can volunteer in a public capacity in the Church without satisfying the conditions of the Safe Environment program.

A lot of the initial transition work has been administrative, and therefore fell disproportionately on the business managers, who carried the extra burden well this week.  Thank you, MaryAnn Jones, Lisa Davis, and Bonnie Amendola!

As always, if you think I need to know something, tell me: Write me a note or send me and email.  Daylight savings time ends next week, Sunday, November 4.  Please remember to set your clocks back one hour next weekend, or you’ll arrive very early for Mass.
                                                                                                                               —Fr. Dave

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 21, 2018

I write this notice on October 15, my first day on the job as administrator of On Mission for The Church Alive! Grouping 330: Holy Trinity, St. John of God, and St. Malachy Parishes. That’s a bit awkward, so I’ve chosen to refer to us all informally as RocKenRo Catholics (for the ROCks, KENnedy Township, and RObinson Township).

One early priority is to get to know you. Already on paper you’ve been introduced to the new clergy: Fr. Alan Morris, Fr. Michael Ruffalo, Fr. Bob Zajdel, Dcn. Tim Killmeyer, and I, in addition to the retired RocKenRo priests (who are staying in place). Now we’ll start to see each other at Masses and other events. You’ll also meet Benito Stallings (pictured), an intern in ministry who’ll be with us until May, when he finishes his Master of Divinity degree.

You also know I’ve convened a “Grouping Executive Council” to advise me on RocKenRo: Tom Adams, Rosemary Corsetti, Tim Davis, Linda Gomulka, Dave Hess, Joe Maggi, and Dr. Bill Stropkaj. I was very proud of them last Wednesday as they and we clergymen passionately discussed how best to move the grouping forward.

Maybe Tim put it best: “From the start, people will want to know the plan.” The short answer: For RocKenRo, it’s not obvious what the plan should be. We know we’ve got to be more On Mission!, but we’ll have to take some time to think and talk about how to do that collectively as RocKenRo and not merely as three separate parishes.

Among other things, that means I’ll need advice beyond my new executive council. I’ll be meeting with the pastoral and finance councils of each parish and, where these councils have some empty seats, I’ll need to fill them. In particular, I invite the faithful of St. John of God Parish to meet me on Thursday, November 1, after the 6:30 Mass at St. Mary’s, to talk about who from St. John of God might advise me. But no one is shut out: If you think there’s something I or one of the clergymen or advisors need to know, please write a note and get it to us!

Meanwhile, inasmuch as I’ve been asked several questions about money, please allow me to reassure you: Everything is in its own bucket. Each parish’s property remains its own, and donations go only to the parish for which they are marked, no matter which parish they arrive at. Expenses common to all parishes of RocKenRo, such as clergy costs, will be split according to a formula:

50% Holy Trinity 20% St. John of God 30% St. Malachy

Earmarked monies in reserve, such as those from capital campaigns, will be used only for the originally designated purposes, or (if this is now outdated or impractical) there will be a formal and public process for considering any alternative purpose.
                                                                                                                          —Fr. Dave