Sunday, October 15, 2017

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 15, 2017

When representatives from the several states met to the Constitution, they designed the House of Representatives to be based on the population of each state. They soon had a concern that a change in population could leave some heavily populated areas without sufficient representation, while more sparsely populated regions could have disproportionate influence, as had happened with the House of Commons in England. So the Constitution mandates that the government take a census every ten years and that the data accumulated be used to determine how many representatives shall serve from each state.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh has done something similar to a census over the years. Every year, every parish has kept a running tab on the number of people attending Sunday Masses during the month of October. Every Sunday during this month, ushers in every parish count the number of people at every Mass, and the number is turned in to the diocese. These numbers helped point out the trends that every parish has faced over the years of declining attendance. Furthermore, the data has helped the diocese know how many priests are needed to serve each parish, although now priests are stretched thin throughout the diocese.

Much of the data collected over the years has gone into the planning process, On Mission for the Church Alive. The information helped frame the issue that had become apparent over the years, at first highlighting the need for such a process. Those figures have also helped the diocese to formulate the original “models,” and after those numbers were available for us when we were invited to give feedback, they were part of the “groupings” that we are currently working with.

Given how much those numbers have meant to this process, the diocese is keeping the count going up through April. Once we begin the transition next year, this data will be one of the factors used in determining Mass schedules. Of course that leaves us with an issue of nomenclature. Since we count people during the weekends of October, we have always called it – simply enough – the “October Count.” It would seem rather odd to call it an October Count in February (though I will probably continue to do so out of habit). So now we are calling it the Mass Attendance Count. So if you see ushers looking at you in your pew during the readings, don’t get paranoid. They are only counting you to include you in our data.

Finally, I will add a somewhat trivial note. Some time ago I read an interesting article that claimed that 100 years ago the census bureau was afraid that it would not be able to keep up with its duty because the population had grown to such an extent that a census would eventually take more than ten years to complete. Then the advent of the computer enabled the census bureau to do its job. Similarly, in the past we mailed a paper to the diocese with the numbers at the end of each October. Now we are logging in each weekend to send the numbers in online. Who says we don’t keep up?
                                                                                                      Father H                 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 8, 2017

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. When I was ordained in 1986, I was assigned as Parochial Vicar at St. Francis de Sales Parish in McKees Rocks. I remember one day my pastor telling me that something was going on at one of the neighboring parishes and that they were looking for priests to come and help out. I don’t remember the details, though I suspect it involved helping with confessions. What I remember is being greeted by Fr. Nick Mastrangelo and then coming in to find myself amazed at what a beautiful church St. Malachy was. Over the years of visiting Fr. Michael during his time here, I again found myself admiring the beauty of this building. I have often said that, in terms of beauty, I have two favorite churches. My favorite traditional-style church is my home parish of St. James in Wilkinsburg, and my favorite modern-style church is St. Malachy.

When I began as pastor here about 3½ years ago, I was thankful to be part of this beautiful church. I soon realized that the sound did not measure up to the visual beauty of the church. That is why I was happy that we had the opportunity to “test-drive” a new sound system in recent weeks. Since that test period ended, people have been asking, “What next?” That is a decision that we still have to make. As we look at that decision, I want to thank the 547 people who responded to the survey during the test period. (I call it a “survey,” for it doesn’t sound right to use the term “feedback” about a sound system.)

The people who delivered the system for our test made a prediction. They said that the speakers we got would be so impressive that someone would give us a check for the whole amount and tell us to buy them. What happened was that we got several different reactions. There were some people who did not notice much difference. I haven’t checked the locations of those comments, but I suspect that they were seated in places where the current speakers cover well. Many others said that the new system made a world of difference, and some people spoke personally to me to tell me that they had hearing problems and that they were able to hear much better than they had before. Also about 25% of the respondents asked for adjustments, some of which we made each week of the trial. At least one person said we should “shop around” for other possible solutions.

Now we have to figure out where we are going. Before this trial, we had a bid on a sound system that would cost us over $40,000. Any expenditure of that magnitude requires diocesan permission, and the diocese is not currently giving that kind of permission while On Mission for the Church Alive is going on. We can probably handle the $27,000 through the Campaign we had, but the sound system was not on our case statement. We can ask the diocese to adapt the statement for us, but again we don’t know if the diocese would accept at this point.

We will review the question with the Finance Council at our next meeting, later this month. In the meantime, I am thankful for all those who took part in the whole project. I am particularly thankful for Dan Chujko and his help in arranging the demonstration and in monitoring the progress. Finally, please pray for us as we look for the best way to enhance our liturgies.
                                                                                           Father H                   

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 1, 2017

I think it was two years ago that I was walking around our parish festival when I met a group of our high school girls. They invited me to join them in their challenge. They were going to eat something from every single food booth at our festival. I told them that, at my age, my stomach couldn’t take it if I ate that much at one time. I’m not sure, but I think they accomplished their goal. I don’t know, but I suspect that they won’t try it again this year.

As our festival begins this week, we have a lot of fun ahead of us, and we may want to try to enjoy all of it. First and foremost, we have a lot of wonderful food. I can’t tell you everything that I’m going to eat, but I do know that I will sample the German booth, and I’m looking forward to having a gyro. Beyond that, I know that anything else I eat will be good. As I like to say, if you leave our festival hungry, it’s your own fault. There will be plenty of good food, and you can’t go wrong with any of it.

The food is the primary draw of our festival, but there will be other enjoyable things as well. For me, I’m particularly eager for the entertainment. Our St. Malachy School cheerleaders always put on a good show at the festival (as they do anywhere), some of Fr. Russell’s friends from his barbershop singing group will be with us again, and there even are rumors that Elvis will make an appearance. What I’m eager for, however, is the first act of the festival, at 5:00 on Thursday. I have thought of the festival as a time to try something new, but in the past I meant that I would try different food. This year I have been working on a new skill that can be used to entertain people, and I’m going to do it in public for the first time at 5:00 Thursday. I’ve always enjoyed entertaining, whether acting, singing, or playing guitar (as you may have heard at the Christmas Masses last year). So now I’m going to try something new at the festival. I hope that I will be entertaining, but it would also be interesting to watch and to talk about if I fall on my face. So come on out and see what will happen. (And even if I flop, the cheerleaders are performing after me.)

In addition to the food and the entertainment, there are games to be played. Many of the games will be for children, but the adults can have fun with such things as the wheel of money. And don’t forget the various raffles. There will be a number of prizes that you can take a chance on, especially the main raffle. We have already given away two “early bird” prizes of $200 each, with a prize of $250 going this weekend. The main prizes, of course, will be drawn each night at the festival: $1,000 on Thursday, $2,500 on Friday and $5,000 on Saturday.

So I hope that I get to see all of you at the festival this week. It will be a wonderful time for all of us. I suppose it will be a particularly good time for whoever wins the $5,000, and I hope it will be a good time for whoever watches my act on Thursday. Finally, if the girls again decide to eat something from every single booth on one night, then we will consider opening an antacid booth at next year’s festival.

                                                                      Father H                   

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 24, 2017

The news came out last week that Pope Francis had made a change in Canon Law concerning liturgical translations. Essentially, he is giving more authority to local bishops to determine how the translation will flow. Most commentators that I’ve read (including our neighbor Fr. Lou Vallone in the Post-Gazette) are of the opinion that we won’t see a difference in our Sunday Masses for quite some time. On the other hand, it gives me a chance to reflect a bit on our use of language in the liturgy. With almost six years of experience with the new translation, I thought I might reflect a bit on the subject.

When we first introduced the new liturgy, I worried that it did not flow as easily, that it did not seem to come naturally to a speaker of twenty-first century American English. Then I realized that every high school student at some time makes the same complaint about William Shakespeare. The more we listen to Shakespeare, really trying to get the whole sense of the action, then the more we get from the beauty of his Elizabethan language. In the liturgy, we are moving into an entirely new realm. Part of the issue is that we are trying to keep a balance. Our faith teaches us the power and majesty of God, but we can never forget that Christ’s Incarnation bridges the chasm and allows us to approach the otherwise unapproachable God. So our liturgy should be both mysterious and familiar, both challenging and comfortable. We may never actually strike that balance, but we always seek to keep both sides together. There are some parts of the Roman Missal that I still feel were better in the previous translation, and there are some parts that I have come to like in the current edition. The more I pray these prayers, the more I feel the incredible power of what the prayers accomplish, namely, Christ’s promise to give us His Body and Blood at every celebration of the Mass. The beauty is still there, but in a language that invites us to set aside our ordinary lives to enter into the realm of the sacred.

The current edition of Reader’s Digest explores our language and encourages readers to expand their familiarity with English while also extolling the virtues of simple writing. One article examines the grade-level needed to read the average book on the New York Times bestseller list. In the 1960s, you needed an eighth grade reading level to read the average book, with most of the books requiring at least a seventh-grade level. Today almost all the books on that list require no more than a sixth grade level. The author respects the opinion that we are “dumbing down” our reading level but also states, “Writing doesn’t need to be complicated to be considered powerful or literary.” He cites such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird or The Grapes of Wrath, which “are revered, but they are also accessible enough to be taught in middle and high school.” Another article in the magazine describes the job of putting the dictionary together and how important it is to look for just the right word, as different words have different shades of meaning. So our liturgy strives to keep the balance between simplicity and precision. The perfect balance is an unattainable ideal. But if we bring a prayerful attentiveness to Mass, the liturgy can speak to our hearts.
                                                                                                      Father H                   

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 17, 2017

Last week in this column I gave an update on On Mission for the Church Alive! as it relates to scheduling Mass Intentions. I wanted to cover that part of the topic first because we had our Mass scheduling session this past week. I would now like to move on to a more general update.

As a reminder, we are grouped with St. Philip and St. John of God parishes. When that grouping was announced, we were asked to give our feedback. The overwhelming consensus from what I heard is that our grouping works about as well as we could have hoped. I know there are some areas of the diocese where they are asking for some changes, but I strongly suspect that we will remain in that same grouping. Currently, the diocese is studying all the feedback they received and is looking to make any tweaks that may be necessary.

In preparation for the next step, our parish recently hosted an evening for the Finance Councils, the Pastoral Councils and the On Mission Teams from each of the three parishes. This was an informal event designed to allow us to get to know one another since we will be working together in the future.
Next year, probably in April, Bishop Zubik will announce the final groupings. He was originally looking for some time in March, but he will probably wait until Easter, which falls on April 1 this coming year. At that time, he will announce how many church buildings will be used in each grouping, but no churches will close at that time. He will also announce new assignments for every priest in the diocese. One priest will be named as pastor (or administrator) of all the parishes in that grouping, and any parochial vicars assigned to that grouping will be named at the same time. He will also give a “blueprint” for each grouping to follow, and he will announce the amount of time we have to complete the merger (most likely two, three or five years) and the number of Masses to be celebrated in the groupings once the new priests move in. Then, from April through some time in September, the priests will meet with one another. The new priests moving in will meet with Fr. Lou Vallone, Fr. John Gizler and me, for instance, to start to get to know the parishes and to make the plans for what the Mass schedule will look like.

In about a year from now, the priests’ assignments will take effect. We will move in and start working toward the final merger. Even at that time, no church buildings will close immediately. That will all be part of the final process of bringing the parishes together to form one new parish.
In the meantime, we are still providing pastoral ministry. If a couple comes to me to schedule a wedding, for instance, I will continue to work with them. I may not be able to guarantee that I will be the priest to celebrate the wedding, but the diocese is working to ensure that all the weddings will be covered.

                                                                                          Father H                  

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 10, 2017

There will be crowds in the parish office this week. It is time for our annual “party,” in which people come in to schedule Mass intentions for this coming year. This year, I realize, there are questions over the whole process. With On Mission for the Church Alive going on in the diocese, people may be asking what changes we can expect. This seems like a good time to review, particularly in regard to Mass intentions.

First of all, let me offer a brief word about intentions. Many people still take the attitude that if I request a particular Mass to be “offered for” a loved one, then this is “my” Mass. Strictly speaking, every Mass is offered for the good of the entire Church and belongs to all of us. But we ask the priest to include prayers for a particular need, usually for someone who has died. When a priest is concelebrating at a given Mass, as Fr. Russell generally does on weekday mornings, then there are two intentions being offered – mine and his.

With all of that in mind, we know that next spring Bishop Zubik is going to announce the final “groupings” for On Mission. Although it could change, it looks like we will be grouped with St. John of God and St. Philip. At that time, the bishop will announce what priests will be assigned. One priest will be assigned as administrator of all three parishes, and he and any Parochial Vicars assigned here will work with the current pastors to prepare for the transition. Sometime around this point next year, the new teams will move in and will have a given period of time (also to be announced) to complete the merger. At that point, there will need to be a new Mass schedule, which will obviously affect Mass intentions.

Bishop Zubik wants us to continue to provide for the ordinary pastoral needs of the faithful. Yet we have to remember the possible changes in schedule. So please keep several points in mind. First of all, there will be no change in schedule in the first part of next year. If you schedule an intention for a Mass up through August, there should be no changes.

All intentions scheduled after September will still be satisfied. But please keep in mind that the date or time you choose may have to change. If that is necessary, we will make every effort to reschedule the intention as close to the originally requested date as possible. Of course, it may just be a change in time on the same day. It is also possible that an intention may have to move to one of the other churches in our grouping, though we will make an effort not to do that.

There is one more possibility that Canon Law does not ordinarily permit. The bishop of a diocese can allow, under special circumstances, for a priest to offer more than one intention at the same Mass. Bishop Zubik has told us that he will grant that permission where there is a need. Thus we can tell you that all the intentions will be satisfied, and we ask you understanding if there may have to be a change in date, time or place, of if there may be more than one intention at any given Mass.
                                                                                             Father H                   

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 3, 2017

There is a saying that there are two types of people in terms of what they do when the alarm clock rings. Some get up and say, “Good morning, Lord.” And others sit in the edge of the bed and say, “Good Lord, morning.” I like to think that I am of the first type, but I will admit that there are some days where that attitude does not kick in until I get into the shower. Somehow it just seems that some mornings come earlier than others. The same could be said of the end of summer, though in this case it just seems to come faster and faster each year.

The first thing I try to do each day is to say a little prayer giving the day over to God. Often, then, the activities of the day crowd in on me. What, I ask myself, do I have to do today? The end of summer is a time to ask myself the same question on a larger scale, to think of what is happening in the coming weeks and months. So as things get busier, I would like to reflect on a few different topics today.

This coming Monday, September 4, is Labor Day. For many of us, we honor those who work by not working. Please note that the parish office and the school are closed that day, and that the morning Mass has been pushed back to 9:00 so that the alarm doesn’t have to ring quite as early.

We already have a full week of school in, but now we’re getting over the initial excitement and getting down to the routine. I enjoyed the quiet over the summer (and wasn’t quite ready to have it end), but it is great having the kids around and seeing the life they bring to our building. Please keep them in prayer.

Next Sunday and Monday, September 10 and 11, we have our first CCD classes of the year. It may be a little harder to get that message across with just one session a week, but the children in our Faith Education program are just as important as any others. Please keep the teachers and student in your prayers.

Looking a little further ahead, we are just about a month away from our Parish Festival. This is a great social event and a great opportunity to raise some money for our parish and school. Please plan on coming and enjoying the excellent food and the fun. And to help us prepare, please return your raffle tickets to the parish as soon as you can, if you have not already done so. You will certainly want to be ready for the early-bird drawings. Don’t forget, also, that you get a bonus this year. The total value of the tickets we sent to each family is $40, but if you sell the whole batch, you can give us just $35 and keep the rest to spend at the festival.

And speaking of the Festival, word is that there are special plans being made for festival entertainment. There is an act returning after a hiatus of a few years. There is also a new act, a person who has been seen around the parish and the festival for a few years but who has been learning a new skill that he will exhibit at the festival. Will he be entertaining, or will he fall flat on his face? Either way, it should be worth seeing.

                                                                                     Father H