Sunday, June 25, 2017

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 25, 2017

In journalism, this would be considered old news, something that I should let go since I haven’t commented on it before now. But I had already written last weekend’s column and didn’t want to change it. Besides, I think we will all still enjoy talking about it. So here goes: The Pittsburgh Penguins are Stanley Cup champions. I’ve been a fan long enough to remember when we wondered if the team would ever win the Cup, or even if they would survive from one year to the next. But now our Pens have won hockey’s ultimate prize five different times.

There are so many great stories with the Penguins, but I would like to focus on one part of the team. My favorite position in hockey has always been the goaltender, and the Penguins have had a very good one for some time in Marc-Andre Fleury (even though the commercials tell us that he’s not much of an expert on babies). But now he’s yielding the number one job to Matt Murray, who has won the Cup twice and is officially just a rookie this year. After the last game, it was great seeing Fleury celebrating with the Stanley Cup and then passing it off to Murray. Both goalies played extremely well in the playoffs, to the point where people were posting pictures on the Internet showing brick walls with either Fleury or Murray’s pictures painted on them. Each goalie was a veritable fortress in the nets for the Penguins. (And that, if you haven’t guessed, is my lead-in to my serious topic.)

This week we hold our annual Vacation Bible School, and the theme this year is “A Mighty Fortress.” That title reminds me of my mother, whose favorite hymn was “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” I am guessing, though, that this particular song won’t be part of this week’s festivities for our young children. In any event, the children will have plenty of fun and games, as well as snacks and entertainment and other good things. In the midst of all the fun, they will be learning a lesson about the goodness and love of our God.

I hope we can take a hint from the Vacation Bible School and see God in the more relaxing days of summer. I pray that we always rely upon God as a solid fortress for us in the face of the world’s troubles. The children coming to Bible School this week have their lives in front of them, and they do not yet realize what struggles they will face. We hope to help them build the fortress of faith, relying upon God, so that their faith will be strong enough when they need it.

The other part of Vacation Bible School is for the children to have fun. It is all too easy to make the faith seem serious and dour. As St. Teresa of Avila said, “God, deliver me from sullen saints.” And I hope that as we try to make our faith fun for the children, so we can also make it exciting and enjoyable for all of us.

                                                                               Father H        

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Corpus Christi - June 18, 2017

In the early 1980s (which, considering the kind of music I like, is too recent to be an “oldie”), singer Dan Fogelberg dedicated a song to his father, who had also been a musician. In “The Leader of the Band,” Fogelberg sang, “I thank you for the music and your stories of the road. I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go. I thank you for the kindness and the times when you got tough. And, papa, I don’t think I said ‘I love you’ near enough.”

For many of us, our fathers have given us, first and foremost, a reflection of God’s love. Fogelberg was able to recognize that so many of the gifts he had received came from his father. He also recognized his father’s gifts in the freedom he gave (which can be hard for a father) and “the times when you got tough” (which can be hard on the kids). As tough as it is for our fathers to give us freedom and watch us fail, we know that God is a Father who gives us our gift of free will, and he never stops loving us even when we use that free will to reject him. Yet as our fathers had to get tough with us at times, we know that God is never satisfied until we truly live by the grace He offers, and that He continually challenges us to grow in our faith and not to be satisfied until we love Him perfectly. So on this Fathers Day, we thank God for being our Father.

Like Dan Fogelberg, we can also ask ourselves if we “have said ‘I love you’ near enough.” I am quite thankful for the time I had with my father. For the last nineteen years of his life, Dad lived as a widower. As I was the only one of his children left in the Pittsburgh area, I developed a special relationship with my father. When he died, in March 2011, I felt like I had lost a father and a best friend.

As part of this reflection, I offer you a bit of Hissrich family trivia. You may not know that my father was once in the seminary, finally deciding that God was not calling him to the priesthood. Of course I am thankful that God called him to a different vocation. That meant he was a great source of support to me when I was discerning what God wanted of me, and I knew he would be very understanding in whatever choice I made. But after my ordination, he had another insight. When Dad was in the seminary, there were so many priests being ordained each year that the Diocese of Pittsburgh did not have assignments for all of them, and some had to go work for a couple of years in dioceses out west. So Dad came to feel as if God was saying to him, “I don’t need you now. But there will come a time of priest shortages, and I will need your son to be a priest in those days.” I am thankful that my father supported my vocation so thoroughly.

Speaking of my vocation, this week I return to Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland for my annual retreat. The retreat is an opportunity for priests to renew ourselves in the love of Christ and in the call to serve the Church. I will be away all week, and I ask you to pray for me during this time.
                                                                                         Father H                  

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Most Holy Trinity - June 11, 2017

There are Internet sites that will give you holidays for every day of the year. Most of them were pretty obscure. For instance, if you are reading this column on Sunday, you should know that June 11 is National Corn on the Cob Day. This Tuesday is Sewing Machine Day. On the other hand, we can’t celebrate a holiday every day. As Gilbert & Sullivan wrote in the comic opera The Gondoliers, “When every blessed thing you hold is made of silver or of gold, you long for simple pewter. When you have nothing else to wear but cloth of gold and satins rare, for cloth of gold you cease to care. Up goes the price of shoddy.”

The Church understands that we need times for feast, times for fast and also ordinary times that make the others stand out. We have just completed the greatest of all feasts, the fifty-day season of Easter. Now we are back into “Ordinary Time.” Ordinary, in this sense, does not mean run-of-the-mill. The word ordinary comes, in this sense, from the word “ordinal,” meaning the type of numbers we use for counting. It refers to the fact that we number the weeks as ninth, tenth, and so on.

But even with this return to Ordinary Time, we have three special feasts to celebrate every year as soon as the Easter season ends. These celebrations help us to focus on the mysteries of our faith. We refer to them as “Solemnities of the Lord in Ordinary Time.” This Sunday, instead of the Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we have The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Trinity Sunday is a chance for us to reflect upon the most basic foundation of our faith, the nature of God as three divine Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in one indivisible God.

The next of these solemnities was originally placed on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday because of its connection with the Last Supper. To open it to more people, the bishops of the United States have designated the following Sunday for The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. That would be next Sunday, June 18. We still often refer to this feast by its Latin name of Corpus Christi. That feast recognizes that as often as we celebrate the Eucharist, we can begin to take it for granted. So we have a special feast to recognize the importance of the Eucharist. This has frequently been a day when we have Exposition and, in some places, a Eucharistic Procession through the streets of the town. Our custom at St. Malachy is that we will have Exposition after the 11:00 Mass, and then we will have a short procession, to a temporary altar set up in the gym (the former church) at 3:00.

The Friday after Corpus Christi is the last of these three special feasts, The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. This year that falls on Friday, June 23. The feast of the Sacred Heart recognizes the love of Christ in His total gift of Himself for our salvation, particularly as we see it in the revelation made to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

These three feasts come right after the close of Easter, reminding us that while we are back in ordinary time, the special love of Christ is always with us.

                                                                                              Father H                  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pentecost Sunday, June 6, 2017

There is an old joke of a mother who asked her little girl what she was drawing. When the girl said it was a picture of God, Mom said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” The girl answered, “They will when I’m finished.” Most of us grew up with a picture of God the Father as an old man with a white beard, and it is easy for us to picture Jesus from his earthly life. But the Holy Spirit is harder for us to envision. We see Him in His scriptural image as either a tongue of flame or a dove, and it is not as easy to relate to those images. Yet the Holy Spirit is with us at every moment, guiding us in all that we do.

This Pentecost is an opportunity for us to stop and realize how often the Holy Spirit has inspired us, protected us or even given us a gentle nudge in the right direction. A few years ago, I had a friend come to the parish I was stationed in at the time for an evening of reflection with the Confirmation class. His theme was “Coincidence or the Holy Spirit?” He talked about some moments when he “just happened” to be in the right place at the right time. He asked everyone think about whether those moments we have considered to be coincidence in our lives might actually have been the result of the Holy Spirit. Once we realize that the Holy Spirit has guided us in the past, we can be confident that the Spirit will be with us today and throughout our lives. We place ourselves in the hands of God. This Pentecost let us pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit in all that we do.

As I write about the Spirit’s guidance, I think of someone who has been growing even more to place his trust in God. I haven’t given a medical update on Fr. Michael lately. As a priest I am accustomed to keeping what people tell me in confidence, but I have tried to answer people’s questions when they ask. This past week, someone showed me a copy of the St. Thomas More bulletin where he gave an update, and I asked him if I could publish it here.

I have been saying that Fr. Michael has had forty different doctors and fifty-two different diagnoses. That is a little bit of hyperbole, but the latest diagnosis seems to be a bit more definite. He has been diagnosed with something I have never heard of before, Lymphamatoid Granulamatosis. It is not a form of cancer, but the treatment involves chemotherapy as well as steroids. He is also placing his trust in God to guide him through this condition.

Part of the process of canonization is for God to work a miracle through the intercession of the potential saint. Fr. Michael has been asking people to pray to Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish priest who supported the Solidarity movement and who was martyred on October 19, 1984. So to support Fr. Michael, consider asking the intercession of Blessed Jerzy. Meanwhile, we know that the Holy Spirit will guide him and us to be open to God throughout our lives.
                                                                                                     Father H                  

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Seventh Sunday of Easter - May 28, 2017

Perhaps the most famous speech in American history is Abraham Lincoln’s address at the dedication of the military cemetery in Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. In part, Lincoln said, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln understood that the best way to honor the soldiers who had fallen in battle was to carry on the task for which they had sacrificed their lives. As we now prepare to celebrate Memorial Day, we ask ourselves if we are ready to live out the ideals upon which our nation was founded. We frequently take our way of life for granted. This holiday is for more than just cookouts and ballgames (and the famous Kennedy Township parade). It is a time for us to remind ourselves of what we have to live up to.

In a similar vein, our school students are getting ready to put their books on the shelf and begin their summer vacation. Our eighth graders graduate this Wednesday evening, and the rest of the school finishes the year on Thursday morning. Our students will take a break so that they may return in the fall to another year of learning and of growing in God’s love. Our eighth graders will take what they learned at St. Malachy and will move on to the next stage of their education, whether at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Bishop Canevin, Montour or elsewhere. And as the summer begins, we remember that God never takes a vacation. He has promised to be with us always. It is up to us to remember and to continue to grow in His grace.

Finally, permit me to tie the two themes of this column (Memorial Day and the end of the school year) together with my opening reference to President Lincoln’s remarks at Gettysburg. There is an old joke about a nun who was discussing the Civil War with her class. She called on one student and asked, “Billy, what can you tell us about Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address?” Billy replied, “I don’t know his Gettysburg Address, Sister. But I know he lived at the White House.”

                                                                                               Father H                  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 21, 2017

I would like to offer my thoughts today in two parts. It shouldn’t be too hard to tie them together.
First of all, I want to thank everyone who stayed after the Masses last week for the discussions concerning the diocesan initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. About seventy-five people stayed for the discussions if you add the three Masses together. Thank you for your participation, and thank you to the members of the On Mission team who helped me at the meetings and who took notes on what we said.

As a brief summary, I started by giving a brief overview at each Mass and expanded it slightly after the Mass. I also gave the summary in last week’s column, but it is worth repeating. The current proposal would have a new parish in our area formed from the merger of St. Malachy, St. John of God and St. Philip. Remember that St. Philip is a recent merger of the four West End parishes of Guardian Angels, Holy Innocents, St. Philip, and Ascension. Two “campuses” would remain open as part of the new parish. This is not final, which is why we were meeting last weekend. We are currently giving feedback to the diocese concerning the proposal. I have to give the parish’s feedback in early June. Bishop Zubik will announce the final decision in March of next year, along with priest assignments. He will also help set a timetable for when the merger would be finalized. Once the grouping becomes official, the pastor and other priests will work with the current parishes. There will be a blueprint, developed by the diocese but adapted for each individual situation, to help determine what staff will be needed, what the Mass schedule would be like, and so forth.

The reaction at the meetings was overwhelmingly positive. Practically everyone felt that this was the best grouping we could hope for. We have a good relationship with the people from the other neighborhoods, and our parish has worked with St. John of God in supporting the school and other endeavors. We also hope that the new parish will offer more volunteers for things such as our Festival and our Fish Fry. But essentially, everyone was pleased with the grouping.

One point that someone made at one meeting is that we need to work on evangelization, bringing our faith to more people. I commended that parishioner for reminding us of what has been a common theme from St. John Paul, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. For us to evangelize, we have to be renewed in our own faith. Let me remind you of the wonderful opportunity we are offering this Monday night. Fr. Joe Freedy will lead Awaken, a powerful evening of prayer, reflection and Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Please come and join us for this wonderful evening.
                                                                                          Father H                  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Fifth Sunday of Easter - May 14, 2017

         I think I was in junior high when I had to do a project on family budgets. At the time, I thought of my father as the most mathematical person in our family. He was a COBOL programmer and was the one I went to when I needed help with my math homework. But for this project, I sat down with my mother and asked about planning meals for a course of a week. She took the budget that my teacher had given and then developed a menu. I was amazed at how quickly she could bring up all the prices of any of the items on her menu.

That story allows me to take this column in two directions. First of all, I want to take the opportunity to offer a “happy Mothers Day” to all mothers out there. Like my mother, you do so much for your families than they even realize. I hope that your children have an insight as I did into what you do for them. But one way or another, I hope you realize that God knows how important you are to your family.

The other point from my story of my mother is the importance of planning. As my mother knew what the family needed and was able to plan for our care, so Bishop Zubik is now trying to plan for what the Diocese of Pittsburgh needs. At the Masses this weekend I am talking about the update on the initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. Some months ago, we had meetings led by the diocese on the “models” that had been proposed. The models proposed various different options for the mergers of each parish in the diocese. Now we are talking about “groupings.” The diocese has taken the feedback from all the meetings and all other sources and has now come up with “groupings.” Each parish is now in one particular proposal. The groupings are not a final decision, and diocese wants us to offer more feedback.

As it stands now, as I am expressing at the Masses, St. Malachy is in a grouping with St. Philip and St. John of God. In the original models, we were also in with St. Margaret of Scotland, but just about all the feedback we received indicated that St. Margaret did not belong with us. One of the models also had us in with Holy Trinity, but again the feedback put them elsewhere. So we are left with St. John of God and St. Philip as our partners.

As proposed currently, the new parish will have two “campuses,” a term which refers to the church building as well as all the buildings and grounds. In short, it means that two churches will be available for celebrating Mass and all the other parish activities. The determination of which buildings will be open has not yet been made, but I have hope that St. Malachy will remain as one of the churches.

Again, the diocese still wants more feedback. If you read this column before Mass, I invite you to stay after Mass (whichever Mass you attend) to take part in a brief meeting to discuss the current proposal. Otherwise, you are welcome to offer any thoughts you have, and I will be sure to include them in preparing the parish’s final feedback.
                                                                                        Father H