Friday, March 16, 2018

A Beauiful Life


I just received a phone call that my dear spiritual director went to heaven at 4:41 this morning. Let me say that this man is a saint so let me share a story about our last visit together.

Last Saturday, by the grace of God when I went to visit my dearest friend, Walt was back. Thankfully, he was alert and verbal and you could see him reflecting on what he wanted to say before he spoke. I asked him what he was thinking about at this time in his life. With hands folded, he looked up to heaven and with tears in his eyes said: “Why me? Why me Lord?”

Please understand, these were not words of self-pity because he had suffered for many years. Rather, they were words of profound gratitude that God had chosen him to be his friend. That was the question he had been asking God for many weeks and then suddenly Walt got his answer: “Thy will be Done.” 

One of the great themes of Christian spirituality is self-knowledge. God is constantly trying to help us know ourselves more intimately: our strengths and weaknesses, faults, flaws, failings, defects, abilities, desires, yearnings. He's put all this stuff within us as clues about the journey he wants us to walk.

And so, the vocation you have embarked on in this life is not something you choose, it's something you discover. And it might sound like a little thing, but it is not a little thing, especially when you look at how our culture might interpret the concept of success or happiness. Our culture might interpret many things like, "I get to choose who I am." Or, "I get to choose what aspects of me are most important or least important." Or, "I get to choose what I'm going to be."

Christian spirituality doesn't look at it that way. As Christians, we see it as a discovery. We see it as, OK, God has already placed all this stuff within us. He's created us, now he wants us to discover who we truly are. He wants us to discover that best-version-of-ourselves. And of course, we discover that best-version-of-ourselves by discovering more and more about him. We learn more about ourselves when we enter into a friendship with God.

Walt in his spiritual journey understood that God had created him as an extraordinary professor in the physical sciences who could take each student and help that young person discover the best version of themselves through nature.

Walter had planned his funeral and he expects his colleagues, students and Neumann friends to follow his wishes. It is to be a celebration of faith and gratitude to God for a life that helped his students discover God in nature. Like St. Francis of Assisi, my dear spiritual guide taught me to love God and all the beauty he has placed on this earth.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends and especially, my spiritual mentor, who taught all his students to love one another as God loves each of us. May the Blessed Lord welcome our dear professor into His Heavenly Kingdom greeted by his parents and all his colleagues. Blessings and peace my friend. I miss you very much.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Don't Give Up Chocolate for Lent


Lent is a lot like our New Year’s resolution. We have the best intention of using this time to be a “better person” but we get busy or distracted with our old habits. So, if you are discouraged because you have not kept any of your Lenten promises, let me offer a few practical suggestions:
Number One: Say no to “potty mouth.” No more foul language, no locker room talk, no smutty jokes, no social media. When “twitter” becomes a way to put people down it devalues us. So, the first Lenten practice –for all of us, young and old is to watch our language and say no.
Number Two: Say yes to spiritual reading. Buy a little pocket New Testament and read a passage a day from the gospels. If you go online there are daily Lenten websites like “Dynamic Catholic” and “Living Lent Daily” that can help you in spiritual reading.
Number Three: Coffee-can the table. Put a coffee can or other container on the family table and every day empty your change into it. You might substitute your morning latte and give it to the poor. You might cut out photos of a cause you want to support like Charlotte Comfort Home or your local animal shelter or volunteer fire department.
Number Four: Be a “stitcher” meaning at home, at work, at school give the encouraging word, the encouraging deed, at least once a week. Be a repairer of broken spirits, pick up what others drop on the floor. Speak an encouraging word for every put down remark. Give a pat for every shove. Be a “stitcher.”
Number Five: Prepare to heal, work up to it. Make an attempt at reconnecting a broken relationship that often starts out with a misunderstanding.
Number Six: Reconnect. Put aside a day every week or two with friends, spouses, or families to reconnect. This week my in-laws got together to celebrate birthdays in March.
Number Seven and Final Suggestion: Come to our parish retreat next Sunday March 4th.  It will begin at 10 am with Mass and a Penance Service. Our coffee social will take place to socialize followed by several brief talks and prayer. The theme is “Friendship with Jesus.” No excuses just come to spend some time with the Lord who loves us all very much.
Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who want to be Your friend. Give us open hearts to discover Your will in our life and help us to become the "best version of ourselves."

Sunday, February 04, 2018

You Brought Me Peace

Today, we had the privilege of bringing the bishop’s sister to North Java. She wanted to see the church he talked about so much. He was proud to help this farming community reopen its doors to pray and serve as a Catholic community.

Despite a bad cold, she got up at 2:30 in the morning, took her medicine and went back to sleep. When she got up at 6am, she felt better, got dressed and was waiting for me at 8am to drive her to Holy Family. She sat in a pew next to Mary who treated her as our special guest and made her feel at home.

At the service, Corey presented her with a gift of maple syrup from our farms, a parish calendar with pictures of our kids and a card from all our families that expressed our sympathy and prayers.

Driving her back home, she shared that she could feel the warmth of the people that impressed her brother. The celebration of the Eucharist was joyful and profoundly helpful since she was troubled by the decision when she agreed to stop dialysis and put her brother into hospice. She had felt guilty with that decision despite reassurance from the doctors that all his treatments were not going to cure his disease. In the moment when she received the sacred oil on her hands she heard the words, “Now be at peace.” At that moment, she experienced a calm in her soul that brought her peace. She cried on the way home as she shared her worries and fears and now let Jesus touch her heart with His words, ”your brother is at peace.”

Here was a woman in despite need of healing and as we heard the story of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law, another miracle was taking place in our church in North Java. A faithful sister who stood by her brother for seven months while he struggled with his illness had an angel watching over him. She was the angel in need of healing.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends and especially this morning, my Holy Family community for your smiles, your hugs, your gentle words of comfort and kind memories of our “Bishop” that let his sister know that you are “hope givers.” May the peace and blessings of the Lord be with you always.

Up Tight

It is so hard not to be "anxious". There are so many things that prompt us to be so. Take a relationship situation - take a financial difficulty – take a health problem - take a marriage problem - take finding a new job after being downsized again - take ...whatever and you have the makings of an anxious nature.
Yet, when we turn to the Word we read (Phil. 4:6) "In nothing be anxious."
In what? In nothing. That means nothing. Now - that's a heavy trip. No matter how great our trials, no matter how hard pressed our afflictions - God says, "In nothing be anxious". In the context of the above passage the words continue..."in everything". So, if God means what He says, and says what He means - it is in everything.
So that translates to when there is a car accident, when there is serious illness with a spouse, when there is lack of financial means, when there is the smallest negative thing, we are to communicate with our Heavenly Father.

The Lord has promised us peace in the situation. He has devised a means that we not be anxious. That means is to present our request to Him. If you feel your soul in turmoil, if you feel yourself overwhelmed, pray, "Lord, I trust you in this situation and I will ask you to help me not be anxious."

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are in difficult situations at this time in their life. We pray that you help them and give them the strength of their faith and in NOthing be anxious.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

He Paid for the Hamburgers and Shakes


Rev. Thaddeus S. Peplowski, bishop emeritus of the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Diocese of the Polish National Catholic Church, was laid to rest on Friday. He died last week, after a lengthy period of declining health, at the age of 81.
In his nearly 60 years as a priest, and about half as many as a bishop, Peplowski had been instrumental in the organization of new parishes in New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Arizona and in Europe, including the reopening and re-designation of North Java’s Holy Family Polish National Catholic Church in 2012, the same year he retired.
“He was just a very delightful man, very down-to-earth, very pastoral,” said Fr. Matt Kawiak. “He established 26 different churches all over the world.”
So special was he that church officials granted special permission for his longtime friend, Roman Catholic Bishop Edward M. Grosz, to deliver the eulogy — “Normally, that wouldn’t be allowed,” Kawiak said.
Grosz, who described himself and Peplowski as “two peas in a pod,” detailed the colorful life of the faithful man, who, after completing studies at Savanarola Theological Seminary in Scranton, was ordained in the middle of May, 1958.
His first assignment was to Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral, then located in downtown Buffalo. It was Peplowski himself who, years later, spearheaded the construction of the new $3.2 million complex on Broadway, which many priests and deacons have since labeled the envy of the diocese.
Peplowski also organized and hosted the church’s first National Youth Convention in Buffalo in 1963, led youth on tours to Poland and was responsible for countless basketball tournaments, retreats and musical workshops.
His friends and brothers in the faith, remembering his over-the-top ambitions, called him “an energetic ball of creativity, and a creative ball of energy.”
His story was a lengthy one, with many facets — Peplowski often traveled to Europe, his efforts leading eventually to the formation of the Nordic Catholic Church, of which he served as missionary bishop, and he encountered religious leaders Pope John Paul II and Bartholomew I, archbishop of Constantinople in Istanbul along the way. Despite the ever-changing landscape, one thing always remained constant: Peplowski’s undying faith.
“Bishop Thaddeus and myself journeyed together on the road of life,” Grosz said. “On so very many occasions, discussing our priesthood, our episcopacy, our parishioners, our spirituality, our faith journey in our respective faith communities, our pastoral work, our struggles, our joys and our sorrows. Whether on a road in a journey to Scranton for the six years as part of the dialogue between the two churches of which I were a privilege to be a part, it was always dialogue, sharing, talking, lines — but more importantly — hearts.
“Our eyes were opened and the bishop and I recognized the risen Lord Jesus in our midst,” Grosz continued. “We recognized the Lord Jesus who, at table, prayed with his first bishops as apostles and prayed to his heavenly father that ‘All may be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you, I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.’ We recognize the risen Lord in our midst because Jesus stated to his followers, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ The presence of the Lord among us ... we were one in Christ, we were one with each other.”
Grosz, filled with joy at the multitude of memories he shared with his dear friend, detailed a story that was quite common during their travels together, he said.
“I always teased Bishop about it,” Grosz said. “I said one day as we were traveling along, ‘You know, Bishop, why is it that I always take my car and spend money on gas?’”
And, as was in his nature, Peplowski defended himself ardently.
“I pay for the hamburgers and the milkshakes,” Peplowski had said. “What else do you want?”
Their winding and devoted journey together began 27 years ago, and Grosz soon discovered that Peplowski was quick to offer quips, whether serious or joking. But, more importantly, he said, Grosz saw what a good shepherd Peplowski was to his flock.
“Bishop Thaddeus was indeed a good shepherd for his flock as he looked over his flock, looked after his flock, the flock he so loved in his ministry, in service of the Lord and His people, which has born great fruit — fruit which will endure,” Grosz said. “In his great ministry, this cathedral — this beautiful campus — became a reality, and they stand as a visible reminder and a testament of Bishop Peplowski’s great leadership, his great stewardship, his great faith.”
But even more significant, he continued, was Peplowski’s building up of the capital ‘C’ Church — “of all of you.”
Kawiak, of course, agreed — ever thankful that it was under Peplowski’s watchful eye that his own church became a reality.
“He was truly a great gentleman and a gentle man,” Grosz said. “That’s why it’s so difficult for us to say goodbye.”
But when Peplowski’s time came, and Grosz knew it to be near, he, too, said his farewells.
“I said goodbye, which literally means ‘God be with you’ and I cried and I cried,” Grosz said.
Peplowski was laid to rest in front of the cathedral, the sun shining down on him and so many members of his congregation. There were many tears shed.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Bishop in Heaven

“My good friend, Bishop Peplowski went to heaven on Friday. Last Sunday, I visited him last Sunday at McAuley Hospice in Buffalo. He was in the hallway on his lounger dosing off. I didn’t want to wake him but I whispered in his ear, “Bishop you have a visitor.” In a few minutes, he woke up and smiled “oh, it’s father.” Bishop was always a grateful soul. I looked around and saw other family members sitting next to their loved ones. Not much conversation, but people let their loved ones know that someone was near. I told Bishop that we prayed for him at Mass and he said, “that’s nice.” Not much conversation, he looked drained but his eyes perked up as he gazed at the TV across the hall. I asked him if he was in pain and he said, “No pain.” In past visits, I shared photos of our parish kids bringing toys to St. Nicholas and the Nativity Play. This time, I brought along a slideshow that showed the different seasons of the year on our farm. He gazed at the computer screen with its images of flowers and streams, deer and trees during the different seasons. Once again, he kindly whispered “that was very nice.”
Then I heard that lunch was on the way and I would stay to help him with his meal. The aide brought him his tray that had chicken, peas and noodles. Before he began to eat, he humbly made the sign of the cross across his chest and blessed his food. Bishop was a humble man who was grateful to God for his life and his ministry as a priest for 50 years. I handed the Bishop his fork and he said that he liked chicken. Very slowly he would take the fork and spear the bits of chicken meat onto his fork that found their way into his mouth. I asked him if he had a cook and he said the name of a Polish woman who would make him his meals in the rectory. He ate all the chicken and I said: “what about the green peas” and he said that he liked his vegetables so I gave him a spoon that made it easier for him to eat and he ate all his peas. I noticed on his meal ticket that vanilla pudding was circled but there was no pudding on the tray. Did he want dessert and he kindly said: I’m not fuzzy.”

I heard from his sister Helen that he was hallucinating and he told his sister that he saw his parents. He shared their names were John and Sophie and they had 13 kids in which he was the last living boy and the baby at 81. I brought communion and asked if he wanted to receive and with a smile he said, “yes.” With open hands, he took the host and then I anointed this gentle soul. What a privilege to offer a healing prayer that God would give him comfort and peace. A week earlier someone gave me healing waters from Lourdes. When I ask if he wanted to drink these healing waters, he said: “he prefer something stronger.” He was a man of joy and had a wonderful dry sense of humor. He made everyone feel special and accepted. I told him that the people of Holy Family loved him and prayed for him and were thankful for helping them reopen their parish after it was closed.  He would smile and said tell them that “I love them.”
On the day of his resurrection to heaven, I happened to be outback crawling through a foot of snow taking pictures of winter scenes. Helen, his sister, called me to share that her brother had died at 4am on Friday morning with her at his side. I reassured her of your love and prayers. At that moment, I decided to take a few more photos and when I got back home put together a slideshow that expressed the pain in my heart losing such a good spiritual mentor. On my way to church, I cried tears and thanked God for bringing this man into my life and inviting me to serve in this parish as his gift to me. You see you are a gift and the Bishop was a gift to many families throughout the world for 30 years as Bishop of the Buffalo-Pittsburg Diocese and a priest for over 50 years. May he rest in peace and may we as a faith community continue his saving work.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends and thank you for bringing Bishop into our homes and this community. For his priestly ministry, we give you thanks and may he rest in eternal peace.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Chalk Your Door

You thought the holidays were over. Technically, no — not until Jan. 6, when Christians all over the world celebrate Epiphany. This feast day is known as “Three Kings Day” after the wise men, or Magi, who, the Bible says, brought the infant gifts and proclaimed him the Son of God. In other places, the day is known for giving gifts, for extremely cold baths and a tradition known as “blessing your home with chalk.” Let me explain.
This Epiphany Sunday, 50 brave souls came to church in minus 3 below zero weather and learned an ancient custom. I encouraged families to ask God’s blessing on their home and on those who live in or visit the home. It is an invitation for Jesus to be a daily guest in your home, your comings and goings, your conversations, your work and play, your joys and sorrows.
The traditional way of doing this is to use chalk to write above your home’s entrance, 20 + C + M + B + 18. The letters C, M, B have two meanings. They are the initials of the traditional names of the three magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. They also abbreviate the Latin words Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ bless the house.” The “+” signs represent the cross and 2018 is the year.
“Chalking the door” is a way to celebrate and literally mark the occasion of the Epiphany and God’s blessing of our lives and home. With time the chalk will fade. As it does we let the meaning of the symbols written sink into the depths of our heart and be manifest in our words and actions the Latin words, Christus mansionem benedictat, “May Christ bless our house.”
So, after the Bills game, find you self a piece of chalk and look for an entrance, preferably indoors, not outside, on your porch or a kitchen entrance and offer this blessing
Using the blessed chalk, you mark the lintel of your entrance as follows:
20 + C + M + B + 18 while saying:
The three Wise Men, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar followed the star of God’s Son who became human two thousand and eighteen years ago. May Christ bless our home and remain with us throughout the new year. Amen.

Then offer this prayer: “Visit, O blessed Lord, this home with the gladness of your presence. Bless all who live or visit here with the gift of your love; and grant that we may manifest your love to each other and to all whose lives we touch. May we grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of you; guide, comfort, and strengthen us in peace, O Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.”

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who “chalking their door” as a way to celebrate the Epiphany and God’s blessing on our lives and home. With time the chalk will fade. As it does we let the meaning of the symbols written sink into the depths of our heart and be manifest in our words and actions the Latin words, Christus mansionem benedictat, “May Christ bless the house.”

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Dedication 2018 to Bishop Peplowski

The people of North Java and surrounding towns are most resilient. On a freezing two degree Sunday morning, sixty folks showed up to celebrate their feast day as Holy Family. The gospel was not just the story of Joseph and Mary and Anna and Simeon. It is the story about our founding bishop whom I like to dedicate the New Year to Bishop Peplowski.
Last Wednesday, I drove to Orchard Park to visit our Bishop Peplowski. I met him at the door as his van was returning from a doctor visit. Bundled up from the cold and worn out from his treatments, he was surprised as I wheeled him to his room. Helping taking off his coat, he shared that the doctors told him that his has cancer and started treatment at Roswell Park. In addition, he has dialysis five days a week but he carries on with courage and faith because he knows that God is taking care of him at this stage in his life.
I shared photos of the parish kids bringing toys to St. Nicholas to donate to the poor children in the county. A week later these same kids dressed as shepherds and angels put on a Nativity Play that inspired their moms and dads and grandparents to feel the Spirit of Christmas. Finally, the kids with wide smiles were blowing out the candles on a Jesus Birthday “cupcake.” This never would be happening without the inspiration, support and encouragement of this bishop who brought hope to this farming community to reborn their closed catholic parish. Now, they are preparing for four baptisms in 2018

Like Simeon in the gospel, this bishop has had his struggles, doubts, but searched and prayed for some sign of God’s presence.
A sign that God really does care, that behind all this senseless suffering and pain in the world, there is a larger purpose. He did not want to die any more than we do before he saw a sign, some hope some glimpse of a divine face. The message of the gospel is that he finally did receive a sign and he spoke this response: "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.” Luke writes that all of us Simeons will someday sing this song.

I love this gospel because it’s your story and it’s mine and the story of Bishop Peplowski. It gives hope to all. to all Simeons who wonder where is God in the tragedies and unfairness of life. To all people comes this word of the Lord. God will have the last word, not we humans. God will reward faithfulness. Most important, God will honor his promises, those who stay true will look upon his face of the Lord one day. We will sing again. Our life will supply the melody the gospel has already supplied the words: ‘Master, now your dismissing your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation, a light for revelation for the Gentiles and for glory for your people Israel.”

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends in this New Year and ask that you bless Bishop Peplowski who awaits his glory for his lifetime of dedicated service to you and all your children.