This weekend marks four months since my arrival as pastor of the partner parishes of Holy Family and St. John the Evangelist. Those early weeks at the end of the summer were dominated by getting reacquainted with Latrobe—what’s still here and what isn’t from my seminary days, all of the strange one-way streets, the long red lights along Ligonier Street—and slowly getting settled in and unpacked—in both offices and the residence, and, of course, getting to know all of you. While I still have boxes sitting around needing to be unpacked and I still have many names to learn (remember, I am notoriously bad at remembering names!), the transition was pretty smooth and uneventful. I have also been observing and listening—observing the routines of parish life, trying not to cause too many disruptions to what folks are used to, and listening as members of the parishes share their thoughts and insights about parish life. As we enter the new year and begin to wind down the holiday season, look for more information in the coming weeks about a redesigned partner parish bulletin and some important parish projects in the 2024 Diocesan Lenten Appeal. I look forward to continue working with the councils of both parishes and other parish ministry groups on identifying and addressing pastoral and ministerial needs. We know, of course, that the work we have to do as Church is never complete. There will be new opportunities and challenges for our parish families in the year ahead—some we are already planning for and others that will be a surprise. So for all those good things that happened in 2023 let us give thanks to God and for all that remains for us as begin 2024 let us pray that with the Father’s providential care, nourished by Christ, and directed by the Holy Spirit we may continue to do the work of the Church: being Christ to one another and building the Kingdom one day at a time.
During the Octave of Christmas we celebrate the patronal feasts of both of our partner parishes; the Feast of St. John the Evangelist was last Wednesday and, since 1969, the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas has been celebrated as the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Although devotion to the Holy Family is deeply rooted in the history of the Church, this liturgical feast is a relative newcomer to the Church’s calendar. It was originally observed just after Epiphany when it was instituted by Pope Benedict XV in 1921 to build up devotion in family life; Pope Paul VI transferred it to its presence spot on the calendar in the years after the Second Vatican Council. Today’s feast upholds the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as the ideal family. We hear in today’s gospel that Jesus lived in a real human family with real troubles and real fear—-just like us. What is evident in the life of the Holy Family, and what makes it the ideal for us, is the profound love present among its members. It is that selfless love we should all strive to model in our families at home, our parish family, and in the human family.
On Monday our celebration of the Christmas Octave (but not the Christmas Season) concludes with our observance of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. This most ancient Marian feast on the Church calendar honors Mary as Theotokos (this Greek word literally means “God-bearer”), the title accorded her at the Council of Ephesus in 431. It is typically a holyday of obligation, however, when this feast falls on a Monday, the obligation to attend Mass is abrogated (lifted). For those do who wish to attend Mass to celebrate the Motherhood of Mary, Masses will be celebrated at 6:00PM Sunday Evening at Holy Family and Monday morning at 10:00AM at St. John. January 1 also marks World Day of Prayer for Peace. As we begin 2024 we are all too aware of the strife and discord present in our world, especially in the Holy Land and in Ukraine. Let us pray for our nation’s leaders and the leaders and peoples of all nations that we may work to build a more peaceful and just world.
On Thursday the Church celebrates St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. This truly remarkable woman was born in New York City in 1774 into a prominent Episcopalian family, married at age 20, gave birth to five children and was widowed at the age of 29. After her husband’s death Elizabeth began to be drawn toward the Catholic faith and developed a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother. Following her reception into the Church in 1805, Elizabeth sought unsuccessfully to open a Catholic school in New York. Eventually she met a priest from Baltimore who had been searching for years for a community of sisters to open a Catholic school there. After her move to Maryland, she was able to found the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg in 1809. Mother Seton led the Sisters of Charity until her death on January 4, 1821. She is a woman of many firsts—foundress of the first group of women religious in the United States; she started the first Catholic school, helping to lay the foundation for the American parochial school system; and was the first American-born saint (canonized in 1975) [2011 Catholic Sourcebook, p. 52]. Because the Sisters of Charity have a strong presence in our diocese today—many sisters work in the parishes of our diocese and they administer Seton Hill University in Greensburg—we celebrate Mother Seton’s feast with greater solemnity in the Diocese of Greensburg.