Why the name?

"Holy Conversation" does sound like an exceptionally pious name, even for a parish blog. And we can't guarantee that everything here will meet the high standard the name implies. But the phrase comes from the story of our patron saint, and we think it fits. Here's why.

St. Scholastica was a sixth-century abbess who, according to the Dialogues of Pope Gregory I, used to meet once a year with her brother, St. Benedict. On the last occasion they were together, they spent their time "satisfying each other's hunger for holy conversation about the spiritual life."

We hope that this blog can become a place where the members of our parish can find a taste of the companionship and conversation that Scholastica and Benedict enjoyed so much. Welcome!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

They just keep roamin' along . . .

Our Youth Ministry Roamin' Catholics went caroling at the VA hospital after the Youth Liturgy last Saturday.  Thanks to Mrs. Jamie Dillon for the photo!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Advent by Candlelight

The Aquinas Guild sponsored "Advent by Candlelight" in early December.  The Parish Hall was full of women gathered to pray, spend social time with each other, and hear music and spiritual reflections from their guest, singer, songwriter, and novelist Bill Deasy.

Thanks to Bernadine Bonessa for these photos of the event!

Young Catholics Roamin' During Advent

Our Youth ministry sponsored another meal at Family House in December, and also helped with the Christmas party at Harmar Village.

at Family House

Harmar Village

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Posing with Pope Francis

As our religious education students returned to class, they had a surprise visitor--Pope Francis!  Well, yes, it was a life-size photograph, but his presence still seemed to lift everyone's spirits!

Thanks to Meredith Troyan for forwarding the photos!

Bulletin Series on the Bible

For the past several months, we have been running a bulletin series on the Bible and on Catholic approaches to interpreting it.  For the convenience of anyone who might be interested, the entries are collected below.

A Catholic Approach to the Bible: Thoughts for Starting

      The first thing to remember about the Bible is that it has been given to all of us.  It is not just for scholars or people who are in professions related to religion.  The Bible is not always easy to understand, but there are many sources of help available.  If we take advantage of some good resources, the Bible will become comprehensible.
      Comprehensible, but never fully comprehended!  Pope St. Gregory the Great, a leader of the Church at the end of the sixth century, said that the Scriptures are waters in which lambs may wade and elephants may swim.  A beginner can read the Gospels and grasp the essential meaning of Jesus’ story (a lamb can wade).  Scholars can devote decades to the study of one Gospel or another book of the Bible without ever feeling they have understood all there is to understand (elephants swim).  That is the nature of any classic literary piece or work of art—we never do get to the bottom of them.  So as we approach the Scriptures, we can recognize that all of us have limited knowledge, and we can help each other to understand.


      The other ingredient we bring to the Scriptures is ourselves.  Each of us has an experience of life and of faith.  Our own experiences shape how we look at Scripture and receive its message.  Further, when we share our interpretations of the Bible with each other, your experience may open up a way of encountering God in the Scriptures that I had never realized.  This is true of cultures as well as individuals.  A resident of a Brazilian favela will likely see the Bible through different eyes than a middle class citizen of the U.S.
      The most important thing to keep in mind as we read the Bible is that it is designed to change us.  It is a collection of testimonies to the action of God in the world: God’s actions of creating the world and holding it in existence; God’s work in liberating a people from slavery and forming them as God’s own; God’s action of offering reconciliation to all by becoming human in Jesus of Nazareth.  These testimonies help us understand the relationship we have with God and how that relationship can change how we live in all of our relationships.

      The word “bible” comes from the Greek biblia: “books” or “writings.”  It is less a book than a collection of books, a library of sorts.  These books are, nevertheless, handed on together.  It is in the context of the whole collection that we reach our best understanding of the meaning of any particular book for our faith.
      The books of the Bible include many different types of writing.  As when we read a newspaper or come upon a website, it is important to understand what kind of text we are reading and where it comes from.  An editorial is different from a news story or an advertisement or a recipe or a comic strip. We bring a different set of expectations to each.  This is why, for example, it is mistaken to expect scientific information from texts written in a pre-scientific age.


      A previous entry in this series mentioned that the Bible, like many literary classics, seems to have endless capacity to touch people’s lives.  Some parts of the Bible—some stories from Genesis, some of the Psalms, or the story of David, for example—rank with the Iliad, Shakespeare or Dante’s Commedia as literary works.  But literary quality is not why we read the Bible, and many parts of the Bible  are not great literature.  So what separates the Bible from other classic texts?
      We read the Bible primarily because it witnesses to God’s revelation.  That is, through it, God tells us about God and about ourselves so that we may be saved.  This can occur because the Bible is inspired—and not only in the sense that we speak of other great works of art as inspired or inspiring.  For we claim that the Holy Spirit guided the process by which the Bible came to be written, so that we can say that, in a genuine sense, God is the author (source or originator) of the Scriptures.  In a later part of the series we will have more to say about the human dimension of the Scriptures.

      The word “canon” comes from ancient Greek, and it means “a measuring stick.”   Originally, the word referred to the rule or standard that the Church used to decide whether a particular book should be included in the Bible.  Later, it came to be used for the list of books in the Bible, the books that the Church has judged to be inspired and authoritative.
      It is important to note that the various books of the New Testament arose within the Church communities, and it was the Church that determined which were reliable.  Many books were written and valued by communities or groups within the Church, but not all of these became part of our New Testament.  The process of choosing was complex. 
      By about 200 a.d., Christians generally agreed that the Gospels, letters of St. Paul, Acts of the Apostles and the First Letters of Peter and John were to be accepted as Scripture on the same level as the Jewish Scriptures.  It was not until about 400 a.d. that the present list of 27 New Testament books seem to have been generally accepted.  The Council of Trent  formally defined the Canon of Scripture for Catholics in 1546.


      We noted last week that the word “canon” originally meant “measuring stick” in ancient Greek.  We saw that the word “canon” is used today for the list of  the books in the Bible—the ones that the Catholic Church regards as inspired by God.  They are the books that “measured up.”
      The Bible is canonical in another sense as well.  Because the Scriptures bear witness in an authoritative way to the saving actions of God—and particularly to the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ—they become our touchstone, a standard that guides us in what we believe and do.  The Scriptures guide the teaching of the Church. As the bishops of the Second Vatican Council put it: “The magisterium [the teaching authority of the Church] is not superior to the word of God, but is rather its servant.” (Dei Verbum, 10)  The words of all of our liturgies are firmly rooted in the Scriptures as well.  Through these sources and through our own prayerful reading of the Scriptures alone or with other Christians we can indeed find a guiding standard for living fruitful lives in Christ!


      Another way the Bible is unique is that in it we find the truth we need in order to live in God.  The bishops at the Second Vatican Council wrote: “the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching firmly, faithfully, and without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation.” (Dei Verbum, 11)          
      This is a careful statement, and worth reading carefully.  Note that it does not say that there is no error of any kind in the Bible or that everything written in the Scriptures is true.  It does say that the truths necessary for our salvation may be found in the Bible.  It does not attempt to list those truths. How do we find out what they are?  By encountering the Word of God within the life of the Church community. 
      There are many ideas expressed in the Scriptures, and many stories told.  It is within the living Tradition of the Church that we discern together which of these ideas are central and which of the stories are to be our models as we allow God’s grace to shape our lives.


      If you ever watch or listen to programs featuring fundamentalists talking about the Bible, you have probably heard the argument.  It seems simple and logical.  “The Bible is the Word of God.  God is truthful.  So everything in the Bible must be true.”  So Adam and Eve were persons who lived in a garden about six thousand years ago, there really was a person named Methuselah who lived for 969 years, and a prophet named Jonah spent three days inside a large fish shortly before moving the Assyrian king to repentance before the God of Israel.
      The problem with this approach is that it ignores the human dimension of the Scriptures.  As the Pontifical Biblical Commission put it in a 1993 document, fundamentalist interpretation of the Scriptures “refuses to admit  that the inspired Word of God has been expressed in human language and that this Word has been expressed, under divine inspiration, by human authors possessed of limited capacities and resources. For this reason, it tends to treat the biblical text as if it had been dictated word for word by the Spirit. It fails to recognize that the Word of God has been formulated in language and expression conditioned by various periods.”


      We saw last week that a literalist, fundamentalist approach to the Scriptures ignores the human dimensions of our sacred writings, treating the Bible as if it were dictated by the Holy Spirit word-for-word to the sacred authors. 
      The Scriptures, however, are truly human words as well as divine words, and they come to us through that most human of religious activities—they were handed on from generation to generation.  This is the process of tradition. The word comes from Latin roots meaning “to give across.”
      Many biblical books result from complex patterns of tradition.  Spoken stories may be passed on, written down in various forms, gathered, rewritten, edited, and finally collected.  For many books, a single author is not easy to identify.  Creativity often consisted in adapting traditional materials to the needs of the author’s own community.
      This is where modern scholarship has made its mark. Before modern times, the human dimensions of the Scriptures were poorly understood.  Today, good biblical studies help us to understand the literary, cultural, and historical background of the texts.  By understanding better what a text may have meant to its author or to its first hearers, we can begin to understand more clearly what it might mean for us.


   Human life is uncertain and troubling.  Among all the beauties and joys that we sometimes experience are doubts and fears, danger, illness, and death.  As we make our precarious way through life, It is no wonder that we long for certainty.  Perhaps this is why it can be so appealing to people to treat the words of the Bible as God’s words only.  We want God “straight”, as it were, without any complications. We want a clear word from heaven to tell us what to do.
   As understandable as this desire may be, some of its implications are problematic.  Let’s leave aside for a moment the presumption that we could take God “straight”!  Let’s also leave aside the innumerable complications that are raised by treating the entire Bible as if it came right from the mouth of God.
      For the moment, let’s just focus on how God seems to prefer to interact with people.  We (sometimes at least) seem to imagine a God far away from us, like a distant emperor, and want to get his directions straight and simple.  God, on the other hand, prefers to get mixed up with us in the midst of our human lives. 
      What evidence do we have of this? We can start with our Lord himself—Jesus Christ—in whom true divinity and true humanity come together.  We can look at the reality of the Church community, in which we see divine and human elements thoroughly mixed.  And we can read the Bible, in which God’s word comes to us through the words of real human beings. 
      The bishops at the Second Vatican Council pointed this pattern out: “Indeed the words of God, expressed in human language, are in every way like human speech, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the weak flesh of human beings, became like them.” (Dei Verbum, 13)
      We may, amid the uncertainty of life, look to the heavens for a Word thundering from God.  What we find instead is a God who insists on being with us, among us, within us, in the middle of all of our troubles, doubts, and fears.


      When we try to understand a Scripture passage, there are several questions we can ask.  First, what kind of writing is this?  When reading a newspaper, we expect something different from a news story than we expect from a recipe or an opinion piece.  If we were to treat a satirical column as a news account, we would get a warped idea of the reality of a situation!  It is the same with the Bible.  There are dozens of different kinds of writing within this large and ancient collection.  Is our passage a story that explains something about the world, such as the Tower of Babel story in Genesis, chapter 11?  Is it part of a compilation of laws such as we find in Exodus, chapters 20-23?  Is it an oracle of a prophet?  Or a legendary story about a great popular figure, such as Samson (Judges 13-16)?  Even within one of St. Paul’s letters, we may find passages that explain the mystery of Christ, others that provide moral exhortation, and others that relate to practices for the promotion of orderly life in the Christian community.  Knowing what we are dealing with gives us our first step toward understanding what message the passage may bear for us today.


            A second question we can ask as we try to understand a passage in the Scriptures is:  where does this come from?  What is the historical and cultural context of the passage? How can we place it within the “big picture” of the story of Israel and of the Church?  Ezekiel’s prophecy regarding the valley full of bones (Ezekiel 37), for example, might just seem like a bizarre vision until we realize that the prophet is speaking to a community in exile, a community whose hopes have been shattered by brutal forces of politics and warfare, a community that is wondering whether God has left it for dead. In context, the image of heaps of bones of dead soldiers that becomes a living, breathing army testifies to God’s continuing commitment to the people of Israel and God’s power to bring life even out of tragedy.
            Study aids are greatly useful in learning about the context of Scripture.  Any major Catholic publisher will have books on the Bible.  Some Catholic bibles come with extensive study materials included.  Among them are the  Catholic Study Bible, 2nd ed., published by Oxford University Press (ISBN 978-0195297751 for hardcover) and the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible (ISBN 978-0814636480 hardcover).  Either of these Bibles has extensive notes, and the former has a reader’s guide of almost 600 pages that considers each book of the Bible. Resources like these give us insight into the world of the Bible so that we may understand it better.


      A third question we can ask of a Bible passage is: what does it mean?  As we saw last week, many Bible aids and resources are available to help us understand the cultural or literary background of any Bible passage.  These aids help us to understand better what the passage may have meant to the people who originally wrote the passage or originally heard it.  The effort clearly involves some guesswork, but we try to make it educated guesswork.
      Finally, though, with the original meaning in mind, we come to the crucial question: what does this passage mean for us?  What is the Lord calling us to understand or see differently through this inspired Word?  There are many resources we can bring to this effort as well. One is the rest of the Bible itself. How is this passage related to other passages in the Scriptures?  For the Bible (being, as we have seen, a divine Word that comes to us through human words) speaks with many voices, not just one.  How is the passage interpreted in the teaching of the Church or in the writings of holy people in our tradition?  How does this passage interact with my own experience of life?  Or with the experiences of other believers with whom I study the Bible?


      “Be doers of the word and not hearers only,” says the letter of James (1:22).  This is the final and most important step in our encounter with the Word of God in the Scriptures.  The Word moves us to change, to repentance, to a new way of looking at life in which we begin more and more by grace to love as God loves.  After we have done our best to understand the meaning of a Bible passage, after we have prayerfully asked what the passage might mean for us, what remains is to act. 
      As Jesus says at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.” (Matthew 7: 24-27)

This bulletin series was prepared by staff member Andrew Bechman.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Youth Ministry Pics!

St. Scholastica Youth ministry's "Roamin' Catholics" are on the move again, in a variety of activities this week.  Here are some looks in on the action!

Camp Helping Hand--Participants in Year 18!

Litter cleanup

Camp Helping Hand at Habitat for Humanity

Family House
Pet Therapy

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Vacation Bible School

Here are some pictures from Vacation Bible School in June.  Thanks to all who made it a success!

We are champions for Christ with Pope Francis!


Meredith and Jamie lead a song!

Contemporary Choir

Here is a recent picture of the Contemporary Choir, who lead us in sung worship at the 9:00 a.m. liturgy.  Sr. Pat invites anyone who would like to join a choir to contact her as soon as possible this summer!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Wahid and his new car

     Nancy Heil's note in the Stewardship Corner this week revisits the story of young Wahid and his family.  Here are the pictures that Nancy wanted to share.

Wahid and his new car
Wahid hugs a volunteer as his father watches.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Thoughts on the Passion According to Matthew and John

The following little essay, written in 2005, is relevant in 2014 as the three-year cycle of Gospel readings comes round again to the Gospel according to Matthew for the Palm Sunday Passion account.

On Palm Sunday and Good Friday this year, we hear the Passion accounts of Matthew and John.  As it happens, these two Gospels contain passages that have caused a great deal of trouble in relations between Christians and Jews.  All four Gospels make it clear that the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem were involved in Jesus’ condemnation, along with the Roman government that carried out the execution.  Only Matthew, however, reports that “the whole people” in Pilate’s courtyard exclaimed:  “His blood be on us and on our children” (Mt 27:25).   John’s Gospel, for its part, sometimes refers to Jesus’ enemies as “the Jews” (see Jn 18: 31, 36; 19: 7, 12, 20, 38), despite the fact that Jesus and all his followers were Jews as well.  Why do these Gospels speak in this way?
To answer, we must begin by recalling the process by which the Gospels were written.  It can be imagined as occurring in three stages.  The first stage is the ministry of Jesus—his words and actions, witnessed by those around him.  In the second stage,  which lasted for a generation or more after Jesus’ death and resurrection, his words and deeds were passed along by believers mainly by word of mouth.  As the process unfolded, the preoccupations of a particular community would shape what they remembered about Jesus, and how they presented his words and deeds.  Finally, in a third stage, the Gospels were composed by the evangelists, drawing on the traditions passed on to them.
It is likely that the Gospels of Matthew and John show such hostility toward the Jewish leaders and people because the communities that produced them were involved in disputes with the Jewish communities of their own day.  Reconstructing the histories of these groups involves a great deal of educated guesswork.  Still, the communities that produced these two Gospels seem to have been formed of Jews at first, Jews who believed that Jesus was sent from God.  Over time, their belief that God had exalted Jesus and their openness to Gentiles who shared that belief produced disputes with other Jews, and the disputes became heated.  The bitterness of these conflicts, occurring many years after Jesus’ death, led the two evangelists to speak in generalized ways of the Jews as enemies of Jesus and his followers.  The situation of the later community was written back into the Passion accounts.
In later years, as Christianity became a separate religion from Judaism, and the dominant religion in Europe, these Gospel passages were used to justify condemnation of Judaism and harsh persecution of the Jews.  Christian hostility toward Judaism has abated significantly in recent times, symbolized by Pope John Paul II’s trip to Israel in the Jubilee year of 2000, when, in a traditional Jewish practice of prayer, he left a note in the Wailing Wall.  The note expressed regret for Christian mistreatment of Jews over the centuries.
What, then, can we learn from looking at the Passion accounts in this way?  We can be reminded of how deep anti-Judaism runs in our tradition, and take special care to pass on the faith to our children in ways that are free from that stain.  In addition, we can learn a great deal about how to interpret the Bible responsibly.  As Fr. Raymond Brown, the late biblical scholar, put it:  “Christian believers must wrestle with the limitations imposed on the Scriptures by the circumstances in which they were written.  They must be brought to see that some attitudes found in the Scriptures, however explicable in the times in which they originated, may be wrong attitudes if repeated today” (A Crucified Christ in Holy Week, p. 16).
The Scriptures are the word of God, but they are given to us in human words.  As the bishops of the Second Vatican Council wrote, “the words of God, expressed in human language, are in every way like human speech, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the weak flesh of human beings, became like them” (Dei Verbum, 13).  When we, acting within the Church community and using its wisdom, seek the divine message that comes to us in the Scriptures, we must keep in mind that God has chosen to convey that message through inspired but limited human beings.
                                                                        --Andrew Bechman, March 2005

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Staff Opening--Part-time Position for Organist/Pianist

 April 2014 Note:
This job opening is no longer current.
St. Scholastica Parish, Aspinwall, PA  15215
Works directly with the Director of Music:
   5 p.m. Saturday Liturgy / 11 a.m. Sunday Liturgy with SATB Choir
   Wednesday evening rehearsals with SATB Choir
   Holy Days/Special Liturgical Celebrations / Funerals  (if available)
   Meets regularly with Director of Music  (Immediate Supervisor):
Fully responsible for Weddings:
   Works directly with Pastor
   Meets with couples to plan
   Communicates plans with all involved
   Rehearses with cantor, musicians…

   Proficient on both organ and piano
   Developed classical / sacred music repertoire for organ
   Personal Qualities:  cooperative / able to work well with others /
       able to follow direction / respectful / encouraging with volunteers

     Allen Organ / Renaissance Quantum /  Quad-Suite / Two- Manual Console / 35 Stop /
          140 Voice / Plus Smart Recorder  (Purchased 2005)
     August Forster  (Handmade German) Concert Grand   (1980 / Reconditioned 2013)

Salary to be negotiated with Pastor based on experience and Diocesan Guidelines
Safe Environment Clearances, as mandated by the Diocese of Pittsburgh

For more information:       Contact     Sr. Pat Baker, CDP at 412-781-0186  (x17)
Send resume/references to:                                   patbakercdp@saintscholastica.com

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fr. Ken's Homilies

Fr. Ken has decided to stop recording his homilies to post here.  You may still listen to many homilies in the blog archive.