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.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Be Someone's Angel

Yes, at this reborn Catholic parish, we celebrated an Advent Penance Service that suggested a penance that helps a person live in the spirit of Christmas. One creative idea was to visit a friend during this time of year.
For my penance, I was overdue to visit my 90-year-old spiritual advisor. He lives at an assisted living facility in Brockport but I learned that he was transferred to a hospital in Rochester. I walked into his hospital room and he was sleeping. I softly whispered his name and he immediately woke up and said: “My prayers have been answered.” He had prayed to God that I would come and spoke these words: “For the first time in my life, I’m scared.” He shared that he was in so much pain that you could not touch him. He came to emergency and thankfully the doctors reviewed his symptoms and started a treatment that relieved his pain. He said he was relieved but it was time to make his funeral plans. I said: “what am I the ‘angel of death, to which he scolded at me and said “no such thing.”  Rather, he humbly shared that there have been times when he wondered if God heard his prayers. It seemed my presence, (my penance) reassured him that God listens to us when we feel down or worse like nobody understand what we are going through.
Now my spiritual advisor is not a monk or religious theologian, but a retired college professor respected by colleagues and hundreds of students for his wise counsel and deep faith. He wants a simple funeral but knew that his friends would be angry if he did not have a Catholic Mass in the downtown church. But, after this service he would instruct the funeral director to plan the “real ceremony.” At this private service, he would invite his twelve best friends to come to Hill Haven Funeral Chapel and request that I lead a service of joy and gratitude to God for his wonderful life. His plan included a luncheon where two extra chairs would be set up for his mother and father in gratitude for their gift of faith. He swore that once out of the hospital he would contact the funeral director and put it in writing.
His life was teaching young adults about the physical sciences and helping each student reach their potential. Sometimes, he had to motivate a few students who were slacking off or making excuses. He guided each apprentice to not just pass the course, but go on in life to find a vocation that would make this a better world. He would challenge his students to be their best because like Our Lord he always saw the good in each student. He prayed for his students and asked God to instill them with gifts of charity and justice, compassion and respect for all God’s creatures. Besides his knowledge of the physical sciences, he mastered the gift of faith and taught by his life never to give up on ourselves. At his funeral, he wanted the hymn “How Great Thou Art “ to be sung not like some funeral dirge, slow and somber, but rather with enthusiasm and gratitude for all the wonderful things God had blessed him in this life and in the world to come. I am truly blessed to have this kind and humble soul to be my spiritual mentor.

At the Christmas Eve Mass, I shared this “angel story” and ended the homily with a quote from a Christmas Carol movie produced in 1988 that featured actor Bill Murray and is perhaps the version we need most this year in 2017. At the end of the movie Bill Murray offered these lines:

“I get it now! Then if you give, then it can happen, then the miracle can happen to you! It’s not just the poor and the hungry, it’s everybody’s who’s GOT to have this miracle! And it can happen tonight for all of you. If you believe in this spirit thing, the miracle will happen and then you’ll want it to happen again tomorrow. You won’t be one of these nasty people who say ‘Christmas is once a year and it’s a fraud’, it’s NOT! It can happen every day, you’ve just got to want that feeling. And if you like it and you want it, you’ll get greedy for it! You’ll want it every day of your life and it can happen to you. I believe in it now! I believe it’s going to happen to me now! I’m ready for it! And it’s great! It’s a good feeling, it’s really better than I’ve felt in a long time. I, I, I’m ready.” My spiritual mentor has had this feeling for 90 years and feels blessed by Our Lord. Everyone who has had contact with this teacher feels the same way.  

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends this Christmas that the most important gift that we receive this year comes from our hearts filled with love and gratitude for our family, friends and faith community.  

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Hospice Needs Your Contributions


Arcade Elementary Featuring 'Vignettes from Nutcracker'
by Jessica Dillon, Batavia Daily News December 5, 2017
ARCADE — A whirlwind of candy canes, a flurry of snowflakes and a few sparkling fairies will sprinkle their Christmas magic across the stage of Arcade Elementary later this month, when the New York State Ballet presents “Vignettes from The Nutcracker.”
Each grand battement, jete and chasse will raise funds for Charlotte House, a new comfort care home expected to open in Wyoming County next summer.
The home is named after Charlotte Smallwood, a former Wyoming County resident, believed to be New York’s first woman district attorney, who was heartbroken to have to spend her last days in a county she’d never called home. Tim Kibler, president of the Charlotte House board, hopes to help her legacy live on in the former rectory of Holy Family Parish in North Java.
“We’ve been in the mode of raising awareness and raising money,” Kibler said. “We’re always looking for something new and different that people are going to want to go and do, something that’s not been done in Wyoming County before.”
And because Kibler happens to be acquainted with one of the New York State Ballet dancers, inviting the non-profit, formed in 2014, to perform in an area near and dear to him just made sense, he said.
“It was just a matter of having all the pieces fall into place,” Kibler said. “They were very excited to come out to Wyoming County and we felt Pioneer would be the perfect venue for us to go to.”
This will be the ballet’s first Wyoming County appearance, but the willingness of the dancers to venture out in support of a good cause is nothing new, said Ballet Master Rob Royce.
Just last week, the ballet performed for a nursing home, and the week before that, visited Golisano Children’s Hospital in Rochester.
“The Children’s Hospital is one of the favorite shows I’ve ever done,” Royce said. “The kids were just so excited.”
Clara, the Nutcracker Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy twirled through the halls there. On Dec. 17, they’ll be flanked by at least a dozen more dancers, each in full costume and makeup, to perform a large portion of the ballet’s second act on the 315 Main St. stage.
To bring out the full crew and set pieces just wouldn’t be cost-effective, Royce explained, but added that to get just a taste of the full performance might not be such a bad thing. They’re bringing out some child performers, too.
“It’s actually kind of really exciting because the audience will be getting all the excitement of the ballet,” Royce said. “It’s really nice when we can go out and kind of show our wares in straight ballet form, with the big lifts and all of that added stuff.
Whether performing in a formal theater or on an elementary school stage, the ballet aims to offer “true classical ballet performances of the highest caliber.” That’s something Royce happily corroborates.
“It takes decades to prepare for a show like this,” Royce joked. “No, but it feels that way sometimes.”
In actuality, the dancers spend six to eight weeks preparing, but the days are long, Royce said.
“These dancers, we work every day,” Royce said. “We’re in the studio from 9 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon. Being able to bring a professional-level production to an event like this is really a pleasure for us. So often we end up just going to the theater and doing our shows ... being able to bring the company out and have them interact with another community is really special for us.
And it’s something that’s special for local organizations, too. Java Farm Supply, King’s Agriseed, Creekside Fabrics, Quilts and Yarns, Empire Distributing, Martin Brothers Chevrolet, Soul 2 Sole, Grace Worship Arts, Inc. and Five Star Bank all rallied to help sponsor the event.
“One of the nice parts about all of this is that it has been a great outpouring of support by local businesses and the community,” Kibler said. “It’s something new and different that we really want to make sure is successful. The businesses have faith in us and we have faith in them.
The show begins Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children under 12 and free for children under 5.
“It’s a holiday tradition for us, and maybe we can help make it a holiday tradition for others, too,” Royce said. “Anyone coming out will immediately get into the holiday spirit, and I hope that we can help spread that.”


Sunday, December 10, 2017

St. Nicholas Arrives

I just plowed eight inches of snow from the driveway this afternoon. However, God was kind because this morning, before the storm, St. Nicholas arrived to receive some 300 toys from 17 children. And this is the story he shared with our kids:

“I noticed a little girl was looking through the Barbie dolls with a roll of money clamped tightly in her little hand. When she came upon a Barbie she liked, she would turn and ask her father if she had enough money to buy it. He usually said "yes," but she would keep looking and keep asking her daddy: "Do I have enough?"

As she was looking, a little boy wandered in across the aisle and started sorting through the Pokémon toys. He was dressed neatly, but in clothes that were rather worn. He had money in his hand, but it looked to be no more than five dollars at the most. He was with his father as well, however, each time he picked a toy and looked at his father, his father shook his head "no".

The little girl had chosen her Barbie, that would have been the envy of every little girl on the block. However, she had stopped and was watching what was happening between the little boy and his father. Rather dejectedly, the boy had given up on the video games and had chosen what looked like a book of stickers instead.
The little girl put her Barbie back on the shelf, and ran over to the Pokémon games. She picked up one and raced toward the checkout, after speaking with her father. After the Pokemon game was paid for and bagged, the little girl handed it back to the cashier and whispered something in her ear. The cashier smiled and put the package under the counter.

When the little boy came up to the cashier. The cashier rang up his purchases and then said, "Congratulations, you are my hundredth customer today, and you win a prize!" With that, she handed the little boy the Pokémon game, and he could only stare in disbelief. It was, he said, exactly what he had wanted!

The little girl and her father had been standing at the doorway during all of this, and she had the biggest grin on her face. Her father asks his daughter why she had done that. And this is what she said to him. "Daddy, didn't grandma and grandpa want me to buy something that would make me happy?" He said, "Of course they did, Honey." To which the little girl replied, "Well, I just did." With that, she giggled and started skipping toward their car. Apparently, she had decided on the answer to her own question of, "Do I have enough?".
So, this is the answer to what is the spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Christmas is not about how much we are going to get or whose feelings would be hurt if we don’t give them something of value. She was only concerned about giving this boy, who was a total stranger to her, something special.
I see that you have brought some gifts that you want me to give to some children who will “not have enough” money to get what they want for Christmas. How beautiful and special you all are in the eyes of Jesus who is smiling this morning and will bless you and your parents for your generosity and love.”
Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that as we prepare to meet the Christ Child on Christmas day, we will imitate the example of these children and come to Mass on Christmas to thank God for His gift of comfort and love.

Thursday, December 07, 2017


NORTH JAVA — St. Nicholas will not bring gifts to the children this Sunday. Instead, the children will bring gifts to him. At Holy Family National Polish Catholic Church in North Java, it’s nothing more, and nothing less, than a holiday tradition.
The parish was reborn out of the former St. Nicholas Catholic Church, closed by the Diocese of Buffalo 10 years ago. There, the feast of St. Nicholas had always been a cause for celebration. The initial closure, and then reopening, and reopening of the church five years later, hasn’t changed that.
“Once again, the children will come with their toys, and once again, St. Nicholas will share his story,” said Rev. Matt Kawiak.
Though the real St. Nick passed away in the fourth century, his legacy lives on — most popularly in the stories of a magical, gift-giving Santa Claus who comes down chimneys to deliver presents on Christmas Eve.
In the Catholic tradition, though, St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children and numerous other causes — he is known colloquially as “everyone’s saint.”
The legend of Santa Claus grew out of the stories told about him he supposedly threw bags of gold through windows to help pay the dowries of a poor man’s daughters and used his entire inheritance to spread goodness throughout the world. So at Holy Family, the gifts that the children bring — some are gently used, some are brand new — are gathered and then distributed by Angel Action to children in need.
“I believe this annual celebration of St. Nicholas inviting children to bring gifts is God’s way of reminding these children of what Christmas is all about,” Kawiak said. “The spirit of Christmas is not about how much they are going to get or whose feelings would be hurt if they don’t give something of value.
“Here, these children are learning that what’s special about Christmas is not their concerns about what they are going to get for Christmas,” he continued. “Rather, their only concern is about giving something special to another child who would have no presents to open on Christmas.”
That’s something Ben Kibler, a local parishioner, gets to experience firsthand. He serves each year as the man, the myth, the legend, donning white robes and a curly-haired wig and beard, sharing with children the story of St. Nicholas and his historical good deeds.
“I have to admit I’m pretty excited this year more than others,” Kibler said, referencing the fact that his first child, Patrick, was born just over a month ago.
“It just opens my eyes, I guess, to see how he’s going to react and what it means to him. I went to the same church as a little kid and I know what it always meant to me...
And so, while he eagerly anticipates how his own child will embrace the stories of God and His love, especially during the Christmas season, he gets to witness other young children celebrate the true meaning of the holiday.
“It’s awesome,” Kibler said. “It’s a little different now because — I mean, five years ago, the kids who started doing this are now young adults ... To see their little brothers and sisters come up, that’s what I like best, just seeing the new faces.
He’s not alone.
“I think that having the St. Nicholas celebration is really special,” said Molly Haungs, a four-year religious education teacher at the parish. “I think it’s a unique concept to bring a gift to St. Nick instead of St. Nick bringing a gift to them.
Haungs, the mother of a 3-year-old and a 3-week-old, hopes that this celebration, and all that it symbolizes, will one day help to instill good Christian values in her own children as well.
“I think the idea that we’re teaching these little kids that Christmas is not just about getting, it’s about giving, is great,” Haungs said. “My kids, they’re still young, but I hope that’s something they learn at a young age.”
Just last week, she devoted an entire class to teaching parish children to be thankful for all that they receive and experience during the holiday season.
“Our lesson focused on teaching the children that whenever we receive presents or any of the other amazing, magical things during Christmas time, we just take a second and thank God for giving us his son, which is the reason for the season.
She said that the celebration is one that helps her, too, to step back from the chaos and “bah humbugs” to truly embrace the meaning of the holiday.
“Looking at the kids who understand the season and understand that they’re so blessed to have what they have is amazing,” Haungs said. “It’s so easy with how busy we all are to get stressed and bogged down, but when you see Christmas through the eyes of the kids who understand the reason for the season, it’s so much more profound and meaningful and special.”
The celebration will take place Sunday at Holy Family Parish, 4316 Route 98, North Java, at 10 a.m. All are encouraged, but not required, to bring a gift. The service is open to everyone.
“Let me extend a special invitation to all parents to bring their children and grandchildren to meet St. Nicholas and truly celebrate the spirit and joy of the season,” Kawiak said. “I am very humbled by the generosity and compassion of this faith community. Our children inspire of all us to share of gifts not only at Christmas but every day throughout the year.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Hang In There

If you were in church this weekend, you might notice that things were different. The sanctuary was bare except the Advent wreath was present and one candle was lit. This signals the beginning of a new church year and our faith community started with an old fashioned Advent Penance Service.

Now this isn’t a moment to get upset how you go about confession, or worse, worry that the last time you made your last penance was decades ago. Rather, let me point out a heathy way to embrace this sacrament of peace.

There’s an article that points out the need to “keep on keeping on.” We fret about confessing our sins because it’s always the same old things that keep us from being the best person we can be, or what we use to say  “in the state of grace.”

Are you in a situation where it appears to be the "same old, same old"?
"Did you ever notice," said an old lady, smiling into the troubled face before her, "that when the Lord told the discouraged fishermen to cast their nets again it was right in that same old place where they had been working all night, and had caught nothing?"

If we could only go off to some new place every time we get discouraged, trying again would be an easier thing. If we could be somebody else, or go somewhere else, or do something else, it might not be hard to have fresh faith and courage; but it is the same old net in the same old pond for most of us.

The old faults to be conquered, the old trials and discouragements before us.
If we are going to change “where we are” then we have humbly put ourselves in the hands of the Lord despite our past failures and “try again.”

God is present to us in joyful times and in times of despair and frustrations: as we reflect and pray: "As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered." James 5:11.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that as we start another new church year and Advent Season you bless this one to "hang in there" and to know that you are with them. We are where we are at this moment. May this one make the best of it without complaining in the name of Jesus.