One of the precious gems in life is friendship. In the book of Sirach there is a beautiful reflection on the beauty of friendship. “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter, he who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds; For he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself.” (Sirach 6:14-17)

A true friend enriches one’s life sometimes even at great risk. For a true friend, while always supportive, will also confront and challenge when necessary. It is in these moments that friendship can be deepened and strengthened. Friendships can also painfully end at these times.

As I approach a half century of living in this world, I am increasingly grateful for the friendships in my life. And yet, I am ever more aware of how fragile and rare true friendships are to any of us.

Recently, I ran in a community race with a true and faithful friend. We met in grade school at Saint Gabriel many years ago and have remained close throughout the years. He is a role model to me because he has faced great adversity and persevered. Unbeknown to me, my friend was addicted to alcohol for many years. The addiction caused incredible heartache in his life. By the grace of God, my friend has gotten help and has been sober for over eight years. What is more, he has been instrumental in helping others to become and remain sober with their addiction.

The other day, my friend shared with me a little bit of wisdom. He said, “Dave, the first lesson they teach anyone in recovery is that the only person you can change in your life is you.”

Change is one of the constants in life. We all would like to think that we are experts on change. We are so good at identifying and telling others about how and what they need to change. In addition, some of us mistakenly think we can change others. Some of the most painful moments in our lives come when we discover we can’t change our loved ones.

The real lesson in life and for that matter with friendship is that we can only change the person in the mirror. And yet, that is not only so humbling but it is also easier said than done.

Summer is a time to rest and reflect. In our reflections we might want to look at our lives to identify the areas where we need to change. If we are having difficulty finding any, perhaps we need to talk to a good friend. In my own life, the older I become, the longer the list grows in terms of what I need to change about myself so that I may truly grow into the person God desires me to be. At the same time, I appreciate all the more the fact that I have a few faithful friends to journey with me through the changes that are necessary, albeit painful, in life. Thank God for friends! May God give us the grace to change according to his plan.

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Friends in High Places

Friends in High Places

Do you have friends in high places? When we ask this question we are typically asking whether or not we know people who have power and influence. But, seriously, do you have friends in high places? We all, no doubt, believe that we have a common friend in Jesus who sits at the right hand of the Father. It doesn’t get any higher than that.

I want to tell you about three other friends I have who live in a high place. Their names are Bernard, Regis and Thomas. They are the bells who reside in the tower above our magnificent church. Bernard is the largest weighing in at 8,400 pounds. Regis is the middle one who stands at 3,556 pounds. Finally there is Thomas who weighs a measly 1,680 pounds.

Those of us who live here in the South Hills don’t see these bells but we hear them every week day at 8:00 am, 12:00 pm and 6:00 pm. On Sundays, we hear them five minutes before Mass. We also hear them at funerals and weddings.

In monasteries and convents bells were used as a call to prayer. They are still used for that purpose today. When we hear those bells, it is a reminder to pause and think about God and the many blessings he bestows upon us. We might simply utter a prayer “Thank You,” every time we hear the ringing of the bells.

Recently, I climbed the narrow and tall spiral staircase to visit with these friends who enjoy a high perch. I also took a moment to enjoy the majestic panoramic view. As much as I enjoyed the view and liked these guys, I was glad to return to solid ground.

The next time you hear the ringing of the bells from our church, I hope you will see it as a call to prayer. At the same time, may you take heart in knowing that you too have friends in high places, namely, Bernard, Regis and Thomas.

Fr. Dave standing in front of the bells in the bell tower atop of St. Bernard Church.

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How is Your Lent Life?

How is your Lent life? Are you making good on your promises of prayer, fasting and almsgiving? Do you have a Lenten plan in place?

Every year at this time many of our faithful wonder and worry about what they are going to do to mark these holy days of penance. Now that we are nearing the end of this season those of us who have fallen short in our Lenten program may feel overwhelmed and incredibly frustrated. Indeed, these can be difficult days.

While the Church invites us to embrace more acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in these forty days we need not look far in our lives to pray, fast and demonstrate our love for the poor and needy. For life is lived in the ordinary. Everyday situations in our lives are pregnant with possibilities to pray, to fast and to give alms.

With all due respect to the Lenten practices we put in place, there are events that come our way which call us to carry the cross. We don’t choose them as much as they choose us. These events could be illness, death, the loss of a job, a personal struggle and or a challenging relationship. By entering into these situations in a spirit of faith they become, in a certain sense, penitential acts which transcend our own individual Lenten program.

One of the many temptations of these days is to become so fixated on our own Lenten program that we miss the daily crosses that come our way. These crosses can become sacrificial offerings. In other words, they are not obstacles but opportunities to draw closer to the Lord and his suffering and death.

How is your Lent life? If you have been derailed from your planned Lenten program do not fret, for if you pause and look more closely at your life you will find an opportunity to pray, to fast and to be charitable. Wherever there is suffering in your life now I encourage you not only to embrace it but to also in the words of my dear deceased mother, “Offer it up.”

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What Time is It?

What time is it?  How many times in a day do you find your self gazing at the clock?  Do you frequently pause to look at your wristwatch?  There is something about time that is so fascinating and even alluring.

Saint Augustine once spoke about time.  He said, “Time is a three-fold present: the present as we experience it, the past as a present memory, and the future as a present expectation.”

As we near the end of February, it is not so much the hour of time that is attracting our attention but the seasonal element of time.  Is it spring yet?  These last few days are really a tease of sorts.  The warmer temperatures coupled with the chirping of birds suggest that it is spring.  Let us not be fooled, for there is much more of winter to come in the way of snow, cold temperatures and dreary days.

Winter in southwestern Pennsylvania is one of the hardest times of the year.  The elements which frequently keep us indoors inevitably lead to a deep sense of introspection.  We can’t help but to look at ourselves and what is going on in our lives.  Sometimes this look can be disheartening because there’s something about us that is drawn more to the negative than the positive.  What is more, the problems, issues and concerns that trouble us always seem to be exacerbated at this time.  Perhaps the lack of sunlight has something to do with it.  The good news is that we are all in this together.

So, what time is it?  For the Christian, it is always time to hope in the future and joyfully expect the time that will come.  As we stand on the threshold of spring and anticipate the holy season of Lent, it is a time for us to hope.  The prophet Jeremiah speaks of this hope as a gift from God.  He says, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe, plans to give you a future full of hope.”  God wants us to be people of hope.  Just imagine if every time we looked at our clocks or asked about the time we would demonstrate hope.  Don’t you think the world would be a more hopeful place?  You know, it really can become that.  So the next time you want to know what time it is, remember to be hopeful.

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Pro-life: Being People of Compassion, Healing and Forgiveness

Many years ago, when I was a young priest, I received a call from a woman who wanted to meet with me.  She was relatively young.  She met a man and became pregnant.  The father of this unborn child quickly left the scene.  As a result, this young expectant woman was for all practical purposes facing her pregnancy alone.  She met with me over a series of meetings.  She knew that she herself could not handle a child physically or financially as she had little income.  She didn’t know what to do.  In the end, she looked me in the eye and said, “Fr. Dave, I am going to have this baby but I want you to find good Catholic parents.”

Well, as fate would have it, there was a couple who, for years, had been trying to have a child but without success.  With the mother’s permission and in a spirit of anonynomity, I called this couple to gauge their interest.  This was not as simple as saying ‘yes’ because there are parental rights which are not terminated until almost a year after the child is born.  The wild card in all of this was the father.  Would he reenter the picture?  And what about the mother, could she possibly change her mind after bringing the child to full term?  To facilitate this adoption process the couple hired an attorney.

As the mother went into labor, I called the expectant couple.  Together we all waited and prayed.  Eventually, I got the call.  A child was born.  Mother and child were fine.  The next day the biological mother left the hospital while the expectant couple and I traveled to the hospital.  We were welcomed into a waiting room by a nurse.  Moments later, the nurse brought the newborn in to our presence.  The adopting mother cried tears of joy and the adopting father called the child by name and said, “It’s your daddy.”

With the prospect of life, especially a fetus, comes responsibility and sacrifice.  In this particular case, the biological mother not only embraced life but accepted the overwhelming sense of responsibility and sacrifice as she carried the baby to full term.  Even though she eventually gave the baby up to adoption, she chose life.  Today, that baby is a happy young person with two very loving parents who never thought they would ever have that joy.

The decision this young woman faced is one that many people face every day.    Faced with the overwhelming responsibility that comes with life, some couples choose abortion.  According to the Guttmacher Intstitute there were a reported 1.2million abortions in our country in 2005.  Nine in ten abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.  Seventy- eight percent report a religious affiliation of some kind.

When we look at these statistics, it is very tempting for us to be silent.  What can we possibly say?  What can we do?  The other tendency we face is to become judgmental of those who have committed abortions.  The reality is, however, that those who commit an abortion are our brothers and sisters. What is more, any abortion is a painful moment that involves grief and suffering.  If we are really pro-life there is only one adequate response:  we need to be people of compassion, healing, and forgiveness.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Jesus issues that invitation to you and to me.  To come after him is to be people of compassion, healing and forgiveness.   The people who make these decisions to terminate a life are not bad per se.  They are simply misguided.  Here in Pittsburgh, there is a wonderful program for men and women struggling in the aftermath of an abortion called Project Rachel.  It is a post-abortion ministry whereby both woman and men can find healing.  It is a place where Isaiah’s prophecy from today’s first reading is realized: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”  Feel free to contact me for more information.

Let’s get back to the numbers for a moment.  Why are there so many abortions? How can this happen in our day and age?  Well it seems to me that so many abortions are the result of an unintended pregnancy.  The concern here is that convenience is becoming more and more the guiding force in life.  And yet, the Christian life is not about convenience but commitment even to the extent of sacrifice and forgiveness.  Both of these realities are expressed so clearly and cogently on the cross as Jesus suffers and says, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”

My brothers and sisters, none of us can say we are pro life without being people of compassion, healing and forgiveness.  As we mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, let us pray for an end to abortion.  But let us also pray that we might always strive in our thoughts, words and deeds to be people of compassion, healing and forgiveness, for in the end, that is what it means to come after Jesus.   Inevitably, it means picking up our cross and loving one another as he loves us.

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Christmas Homily 2010

Earlier this week I received a phone call from a concerned parishioner. She said, “Father, I just walked by the manger outside, did you know that the baby Jesus is not in it?” I responded, “Yes, I know. We typically don’t place the infant in the manger until Christmas, but thanks so much for the heads up.”

After I hung up, I thought more about this exchange. There were two facets that struck me. First, this woman was concerned that someone may have stolen Jesus. You know, it was only a few years ago when that in fact happened here. Perhaps that was in the back of her mind. The second thing that struck me though was that this woman, days before Christmas, was looking for Jesus.

Isn’t that why we are all here tonight/today—to look for Jesus, Emmanuel—“God with us?” Even those of us who may not get here all that often, there’s something within us that impels us to look for Jesus. With the angels, shepherds and animals—even a camel (Did you notice the new addition?) we come to the manger to look for Jesus. As we see him we cry out with the multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

There’s always something warm and fuzzy to the birth of a child. Newborns bring smiles to our faces and warmth to our hearts. But there is more to this story for this is not just any birth. This infant, whom the whole world gazes at tonight/today, wrapped in swaddling clothes and housed in the cold stench of a manger, grows out of infancy into adulthood and embraces responsibility for our sins. He comes among us to eventually suffer and die so that we might live.

My brothers and sisters we cannot look at the infant Jesus without seeing the adult Jesus. We cannot look at the manger without seeing the cross. To celebrate Christ’s birth is to behold his death and all that it means for us. It’s one thing to look at the infant and be caught up in this joyous moment. It is a whole other thing to grow with Jesus and to keep looking at him in the Good Fridays and Easters of our lives. The practice of looking for Jesus is not something exclusive to Christmas and this time of the year. It is something we are called to do in every moment of lives. What is more, as baptized individuals, given the name “Christian,” we must never lose sight of the fact that people every day look to us to see Jesus.

At Holy Mass, during the Offertory, the priest pours a drop of water into the wine and prays inaudibly, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” As we gaze into the manger at the infant Jesus, the Word made flesh, and prepare to become one with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, may we not only come to see him with the eyes of faith, but also, may we experience the peace, hope, joy and love that only he can give.

In the meantime, let us always, not just on Christmas, but every day; keep looking for Jesus in the manger and in one another. And let not sin, secularism or selfishness steal Jesus from the manger or the dwelling place of our hearts. Together, may we keep looking for Christ in Christmas, but above all, in our every day lives. And remember, in the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you…yes, it is Christmas every time you smile at your brother or sister and offer them your hand.” Merry Christmas!

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

One of my all time favorite carols is Andy Williams’ version of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Indeed, these days of Advent, leading to Christmas, are all about wonder. I don’t know who Thomas Carlyle is, but he said two interesting things about wonder. First, “The man who cannot wonder is but a pair of spectacles behind which there is no eye.” Second, he said, “Wonder is the basis of Worship.”

Recently, it was my privilege to speak at our parish’s Young Adult Retreat. We are so blessed to have this ministry to those in their 20s and 30s, married and single, at St. Bernard Parish and to have a full time minister in Erica Gamerro. For more information about this ministry contact Erica at

The topic for the retreat was “Waiting, Wondering, Not Worrying.” I told the retreatants that if all they remembered from the day was the title then that would be sufficient because it captures the essence of Advent—waiting, wondering and not worrying. I also encouraged them to be reminded of these three words every time they typed or saw the first three letters of a web address—www. If only it were that easy.

What makes this time so wonderful? Obviously Jesus is at the center of it all. Is there anyone more extraordinary or “wonderful” than Him?

As we wait and wonder our five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch really emerge in these days. Is there any other time in the calendar when our senses are more alive? How wondrous those realities are. In a real way, our senses help us to embrace the wonder of it all.

In this Advent season, and even into and through Christmas, I encourage you to wait in joyful hope for the coming of Jesus. Embrace the wonder with your eyes, ears, nose, tongue and heart. Look! Listen! Smell! Taste! Feel! It is the most wonderful time of the year! Can you sense it?

The ultimate wonder of these days yields peace. Some years ago, I received a Christmas card that stated, “Christmas began in the heart of God and it is not complete until it reaches the heart of man.” My prayer for you is that the Lord will awaken your senses to know the wonder of Christ in your heart and the beauty of his peace. Happy Advent!

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From my perspective at the intersection of Washington and Bower Hill Road, I am amazed at how much waiting takes place.  Motorists wait for the light to change, for the traffic to clear so as to make a left turn and for emergency vehicles to pass with their sirens booming.   Walkers wait to cross the street.  Parishioners wait to pull out of the parking lot.  Students wait for the signal of the school crossing guard.  Dog owners wait for their dogs and dogs wait for their owners.  Needless to say there is much waiting that takes place at the intersection.

Sometimes, depending on one’s temperament, the waiting can seem so long and arduous.  Yet, the waiting is not only a matter of seconds but also a ripe time for reflection.  What do you do in this time?  How do you spend your time waiting?

This past Sunday at 4:00 PM, the Church began the Holy Season of Advent—a time of waiting in joyful hope for the coming of Jesus at Christmas and at the end of time.  The Advent Wreath with its four candles will help us to journey through this waiting time.  The pink candle, when lit, signals a special joy in as much as we are drawing ever closer to the coming of Christ.  This candle bespeaks of joy and gladness.

In our present day society, however, waiting is something that can often connote frustration and impatience.  We live in a world that actually discourages waiting.  Everything must happen instantly—now.  But so many blessings like pregnancy and the birth of a child, the building of a masterpiece, and the making of a good meal involve waiting with the added attraction of anticipation.  Isn’t it nice amid all of the waiting to look forward with eagerness?

The Holy Season of Advent calls to mind the gift of waiting.  Within every waiting moment there is always an opportunity to exude joyful hope.  The phrase “waiting in joyful hope” seems like an oxymoron.  Nevertheless, it is possible to wait in joyful hope.  In all of your waiting moments I encourage you to see the opportunity to manifest joyful hope.  In the meantime, “May the Lord protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”  Indeed, waiting can be a special grace for all of us.  Happy Waiting!  Happy Advent!

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Becoming Unplugged

Do you get a day off? Well, every week we priests are entitled to an overnight. I love my vocation but admittedly I always look forward to this time to visit with family and to recharge my batteries. There’s something so relaxing to being, at least momentarily, away from the hustle and bustle of work.

For my day off, I typically alternate between my two sister’s homes. They both live in the South Hills with their families and are gracious hosts. This past week I stayed at my oldest sister’s home. Since I was the last one to leave the house the next morning, I double checked to make sure all of the appliances were turned off and the doors were locked. Of particular note, I unplugged a space heater which is housed in the downstairs powder room. I had a peaceful sense as I gathered my dog and belongings and got in my car for the four mile ride home to Mt. Lebanon, knowing that the space heater was unplugged.

As human beings we all need to become unplugged. Quite simply we need to yank ourselves from the busy demands of life and just be still. There is a beautiful line from Scripture: “Be still and know that I am God.” To be unplugged is to let go and let God.

Today I visited thirty-two of our women from St. Bernard Parish who are on retreat at St. Paul of the Cross Monastery. I had lunch with them and could really tell that they were coming unplugged. Yet, I was in awe of this because I know how hard it must be for them to leave their own world and plunge into the quiet stillness of retreat. They were joined by women from other parishes who also were attempting to become unplugged from life and plugged in to God. May God bless them with a fruitful retreat!

Tomorrow, November 7th, I will leave for my annual priesthood retreat. I am so looking forward to this time to become unplugged and just pray and rest. There is something about retreat that while it causes us to slow down, we become even more alive. The senses wake up. The quiet sense of being unplugged makes us see, hear, smell, taste and feel better. Please pray for me during this time. I will pray for you. Make sure you make time to get unplugged.

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When I was Rector at Saint Paul Seminary in Crafton from 1997 to 2002, I was privileged to welcome many people to that sacred space which is truly someplace special. Some of the more interesting people whom I welcomed came unannounced. These people were the former residents of Saint Paul Orphanage which existed on the grounds prior to the development of the Seminary.

It was amazing to look at the facility through their eyes. There were smiles, laughs, tears and lots of memories. I was so honored to walk down memory lane with them. I was particularly humbled by their sense of rootedness.

Just a few weeks ago, a gentleman knocked on the rectory door. He was in town for his 50th high school reunion at South Catholic High School. It just so happened that he was also a former parishioner of St. Bernard. He wanted to see the plaque that was made in honor of Fr. Lonergan. Shortly after I arrived over a year ago, a group of former students had a beautiful plaque made in honor of Fr. Lonergan. We blessed it and it now hangs on the wall of our school.

Like the visitors I welcomed here over a year ago for that event, this gentleman reminisced about his time at Saint Bernard. He did so with a healthy sense of pride and gratefulness. What was so humbling was how he remembered the pastor, Fr. Lonergan.

This week, I encourage you to think of your roots and to be grateful. As I look out my window at the intersection, there is much transience with cars and people continually going somewhere. But on that particular day when the out-of-town visitor arrived, I saw and beheld an incredible sense of roots. Thank God for our roots!

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