June is a month of endings and beginnings.
Many people marry in June. It’s the beginning of a new life together, of building a home and filling it with love. Yet this requires husband and wife to leave behind some of what they have cherished. Each spouse must end habits acquired when they lived only for themselves. They must place their spouse, their relationship, above their own concerns. Two lives, joined as one, can never be the same.
Reflecting on the month of June, I can’t help but remember June 1967, when 60 classmates and I graduated from St. Veronica High School in Ambridge. It was a time of endings and beginnings. No longer would we spend our days with students from Aliquippa, Baden, Conley, Freedom, New Brighton, Beaver, Beaver Falls and Chippewa. No longer would we be cheering on our Crusaders basketball team. No longer would the majority of our teachers be the Sisters of St. Joseph, the dedicated women we knew and loved. Those were some of the endings.
But then there were the exciting beginnings. Some of us looked forward to going to college in the area, while others would spread their wings a bit farther. Some were entering the military or headed to the steel mill where their father worked. And then there were the dreams, the dreams of my classmates seeking to become a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher or an entrepreneur or even, in the case of two of us, to consider becoming a priest. They were the beginnings that shaped the rest of our lives.
One thing we knew for sure as we graduated: nothing would ever be the same again. And there was really something exciting about that prospect. It promised endless new beginnings.
My own dreams had been upended even before I graduated. I had always wanted to become a lawyer, a Perry Mason who would pursue justice, find the truth and make things right. As a young teenager I had imagined myself in a courtroom, arguing cases before a jury. Then God spoke to me at a high school retreat and called me to the priesthood. Nothing would ever be the same.
Promise of new beginnings
Entering Duquesne University as a seminarian of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, I was setting aside my hope for marriage and children, but claiming another beautiful call to give my life totally to the service of Jesus. I could not have begun to imagine where that call would lead me. If someone had told me I would become bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, I would have asked what they were smoking.
God had an amazing plan for me — just as he does for every single one of you. But in order for me to begin that path, to pursue my mission, I had to give up my old images of what the future would look like.
We are at that point now in the Church of Pittsburgh. On Mission is on its way. Many people are starting to envision endless new beginnings. But the emotions that each of us feels are not unlike what the Class of 1967 felt when we graduated from St. Veronica High School. While there was excitement and the promise of endless new beginnings, there were also fears, anxieties, a sense of loss and many uncertainties.
With all the announcements regarding parish groupings and priest and deacon assignments, people are preparing to visit other church buildings, to welcome new faces at Mass, and to welcome a new team of priests and deacons. Some are beginning to wonder what kind of youth ministry or music ministry or social service ministry can happen when several parishes combine their resources. The whole purpose of On Mission is to become a church that is more alive.
These new beginnings are meant to touch everything that describes us as chuch — our schools, our religious education classes, our faith formation sessions, our outreach to the needy, our youth and young adult programs, our visits to the shut-ins, recognition of our seniors. But what most excites me about our coming together is what can, should and — I pray — will happen in the Eucharist, the Mass.
Centered on Christ
My hope is that “Sunday will never be the same again.”
My hope is that our Masses will invite people to be more responsive to God’s word and the Eucharist, so that when we walk outside the doors of our churches our lives will clearly be more Christ-centered.
My hope is that the homilies that my brother priests and deacons and I share with you will be more prayerful, insightful and grounded on what God wants to say to you through us.
My hope is that skilled musicians in every parish will encourage the people to sing from their hearts in praise and gratitude to God.
My hope is that you will be so excited about the vibrant worship that you will invite friends and neighbors who haven’t been to Mass in years.
My hope is that our churches will be full — that people who have taken a much more casual approach to Sunday Mass will see it as a priority and center their lives around it.
My hope is that our outreach to those in need will be more robust, that food pantries, mission trips and visits to the homebound or nursing homes will be second nature for each and all of our parishes.
My hope is that through each of these avenues and many more, our Church of Pittsburgh will become more Alive!
And so, now, in anticipation of October, we need to help each other see new beginnings. We should invite others to join with us to bring them about. God has called every one of you, just as he has called me and called your priests, deacons and religious. He is sending us out on mission. He has given us the faith. He has given us his word in the holy Scriptures. He has given us the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
Good things are happening everywhere. And as we are On Mission for The Church Alive!, may it be true that “Sunday will never be the same again.”