Saturday, January 14, 2017

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 15, 2017

First of all, thank you to everyone who has expressed sympathy with my current discomfort. The fracture in my ribcage is small and not displaced, though the treatment is the same in either case: nothing. They don’t even wrap ribs anymore, as they learned that wrapping was leading to pneumonia. As I write this note, I am feeling very good, though I do find myself getting short of breath rather quickly. My question is whether I’m feeling better because I’m healing or because of the pain pills they gave me. My prescription will be finished by the time you read this, so will see if I’m still feeling as good as I am as I write. Now let’s see if I can use that introduction as a transition to what I really wanted to write about.

The doctor told me that I had very few restrictions. For instance, I shouldn’t play full-contact football. That’s no problem, but I’m already thinking of sitting out this year’s parent-student basketball game. Meanwhile, I am also trying very hard not to get sick. I think a fit of sneezing or an upset stomach would really hurt. Of course, it is not easy to avoid illness this time of year. I got my flu shot, but we encounter so many people and in such close quarters that it is easy to spread bugs around.

The main point here is to ask you to use common sense. For instance, some parishes refrain from offering Communion under both forms during cold and flu season. I prefer to trust people to make good decisions. If you are feeling sick, please do not receive from the Cup. (Don’t worry about me; fractured ribs are not contagious.) It is better to keep your germs to yourself at that point. And while we encourage our Eucharistic Ministers to use every precaution, you are free to choose not to receive from the Cup if you are uncomfortable with drinking from a common vessel. Communion under both forms will still be available for those who want to receive it, but it is always optional to each person receiving.

The Sign of Peace is another time when some people feel a little uncomfortable. In most cases, a handshake will not be a problem. But if you are sick, please do not extend your hand. The Sign of Peace is still a regular part of the Mass, so please don’t ignore your brothers and sisters in Christ. But perhaps you could hold your hands together and give a nod and a smile if you have germs that you don’t want to share.

My comments above assume that you have a cold or a mild bug. Please remember that if you are really sick, you can keep your germs at home. We do have a serious obligation to attend Mass every Sunday, but that does not apply to those who are sick. God understands our sickness and does not ask us to go beyond common sense. Of course, if you are healthy enough to go to a Steelers game or to bingo, then you are healthy enough to come to Mass. But those who are truly sick would be better off staying home and praying a rosary or some other devotion.

                                                            Father H                  

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Epiphany of the Lord - January 8, 2017

As we end the Christmas season with tomorrow’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a blessed Christmas one final time for this season. And while I am at it, I would like to add a few other notes.
First of all, I want to say “Thank you” for those who made Christmas special for us. That includes “the usual suspects,” such as Laurie Lanz for all her work with the music, and for Yumi Fisher for her time directing the children’s handbell choir. John Lester and his team did their usual wonderful job of decorating the church. But I want to add a personal note of thanks to everyone who sent cards, gifts and goodies (with calories that I didn’t need). I really appreciate celebrating Christmas with my parish family.

Speaking of thanks, I want to include a note of thanks to Fr. Pat O’Brien. Fr. O’Brien has been a contributor to our parish family since early in Fr. Michael’s tenure as pastor taking one Mass every Sunday. He had not been coming to help recently, since the weekend he passed out while I was on vacation, but for quite some time he would call each week and would promise that he would be back once he was feeling better. He hasn’t been calling lately, so I asked the clergy office of the diocese if they had any idea of how he was doing. Recently they told me that Fr. O’Brien is going to be entering a nursing home. Effective January 18, Fr. O’Brien will be living at Locust Grove Assisted Living in West Mifflin. If anyone wants to write to him, the address is 4043 Irene St., West Mifflin, PA 15122. I wish we could have had time to give him a nice farewell and to thank him for his service to St. Malachy, but I hope that he knows he will be in our prayers.

Also, I want to remind you that we have changed the schedule for Confessions. I always found the schedule very tight between Confessions and the Saturday evening Mass, particularly if Confessions ran overtime. So please remember that we now have Confessions every Saturday afternoon, from Noon to 1:00.

Another change you have probably noticed is that we have adjusted the sound system. I would still like to revamp the system entirely, but thanks to Dan Chujko, it is at least somewhat easier to hear in our church.

There was another bit of work done lately, but that was not planned. One day during Christmas week, a pipe broke under our parking lot and created a lake in the lot. Thanks to Bill Rusnak and his crew for fixing the problem in very short time and getting things back in order. The only complaint that I have heard about the job is that the pipe didn’t break while school was in session, when we could have had a couple extra days off. (That complaint came from teachers, not students.)

One final note: I had a bit of a fall one night last week. It turns out that I have a couple of fractured ribs. Please excuse me if I am not quite as mobile as usual in the next few weeks. (And please don’t offer me a hug.)

                                                                                              Father H                  

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Solemnity of Mary - January 1, 2017

Happy New Year. And as someone once said, my the worst day of the new year be better than the best day of the old year. There are a number of aspects to this day, so let me take a few of them for our consideration.

For one thing, this is the Octave Day of Christmas. The Church takes the major feasts and celebrates them with an octave, an eighth day. That concept comes from the greatest of feasts, Easter. For the Jewish people, the number seven was considered a sign of completion. That symbolism was based on the fact that there are seven days in a week and that, according to the first of the creation stories in the book of Genesis, that was the framework in which they told of God creating the world. So celebrating an eighth day is the reminder that Christ gives us a new creation. In a musical octave, do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do, the eighth note is the same as the first note. So in a Church octave, the eighth day falls on the same day of the week as the first. Thus Christ’s new creation falls does not eliminate the old, but rather fulfills it.

In the Jewish tradition, when a family had a baby boy, the child would be circumcised on the eighth day. So in the former tradition, January 1 was the feast of the Circumcision of the Lord. We always remember that Christ shared our human nature completely and that he lived in accord with the Laws and the customs of his faith.

Today, we instead celebrate this day as the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Of all the titles we give to our Blessed Mother, this is the one that is central to the mystery of faith. It was for this purpose, for instance, that she was given the grace of the Immaculate Conception. This special feast allows us also to reflect on the nature of Christ’s Incarnation. The title of “Mother of God” was officially given to us at the Council of Nicea, which gave us the Creed we recite at mass, and it especially teaches us about Christ. The union of the human and divine natures of Jesus is so complete that we cannot separate them into different “parts” or “aspects” of who He is. He is completely God and completely human. So we cannot say that Mary is simply the mother of the human part of Jesus. She is truly the Mother of God.

In the late 1960s, Pope Paul VI gave us a special commemoration for the start of the new year. This is a day we set aside for prayers for peace in the world. The new year always gives us hope for a new start. And while we know that there will be tension and strife, we place this new year in the hands of God and ask that there may be peace in our world. That means, of course, that we seek to live that peace in our own lives.

Finally, we all know the secular aspect of the new year, which is a beginning of something new, and that means new possibilities. As of now, for instance, the Pirates have not lost a game all year and are tied for first place. May 2017 be a great year for all of us. Let’s make the most of it, with the grace of God and the prayers of our Blessed Mother.
                                                                                          Father H                  

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Nativity of the Lord - December 25, 2016

  Have you ever looked closely at a baby’s fingernails? Some years ago, a new mother let me hold her three-day old baby, and I noticed his fingernails. They were perfectly formed and shaped and in just the right proportion. Those nails led me to study the rest of the fingers and the hands and to notice them as a perfect miniature of any other human hand. I began to consider the possibilities of this human life that lay wriggling in my arms. No one yet knew what gifts or talents that baby was endowed with. No one could know what kinds of choices he would make with his life. He himself did not even know that he would one day have to make such choices. Yet looking at those fingernails, I realized that God had given this child the skills and talents that would one day come to fruition.

When we look at a Nativity scene, we see a figure of the infant Christ. On a small plastic figure, we would not expect such attention to detail as to make sure that the child – or Mary or Joseph – have perfect fingernails. Yet I hope that we can take time over the coming days to reflect on the reality of what we celebrate. When we look at the Nativity, we see the fullness of the gospel. The shepherds did not know that this child would one day die on the cross and rise from the dead, but we do. The shepherds responded in joy to the message of the angels, so how much greater should our joy be, knowing the Salvation that this child would bring us. The shepherds would not have had the theological education to realize what we learned in first grade, that this child is fully human and fully divine, a man like us in all things but sin. But we see Him as the Word Made Flesh, Emmanuel (God-with-us) and our Savior. How can we help but rejoice?

A few weeks after I held that young baby, I stood as his godfather at his baptism, and fourteen years later I was his sponsor for Confirmation. He is now a grown man, and I have not looked at his fingernails since he was three days old. But I still remember that day as I think of the young man he has become. (Among other things, he has inherited his godfather’s love of baseball.) So we can remember the joy of our celebration of Christmas as we prepare to see the mystery of Salvation unfolding through the gospel in the coming year.

So as the big day comes, I take this opportunity to say a word of thanks to all who have helped make this Christmas such a joyous time. Thanks to John Lester and those who helped with decorations, Laurie Lanz and all who have worked with her on the music and all others who have  contributed to our Liturgies. Thanks to those who have sent me cards, presents or other expressions of Christmas joy and to those who remember me in their Christmas prayers. And thanks to so many others. Beyond that, I take this time for my personal wish to all of you and to all of your families. May Christmas be for each of you a time of joyful celebration and of God’s blessings. In the familiar words of Clement Clark Moore, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”                      
                                                                                               Father H                  

Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 18, 2016

Over the first three weeks of Advent, I have dedicated this space to looking at some of the major biblical figures of the season. As I wrote about the prophet Isaiah, St. John the Baptist and St. Joseph, I have tried to take an objective look at each figure as found in Sacred Scripture. Today I will look at the most obvious figure of this season, the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is so much to say about Mary’s role in Scripture and in popular devotion that I would like to take just a few images, particularly from the infancy narratives.

In Luke’s gospel, we “meet” Mary when the Archangel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is to be the Mother of God. One of the key lessons here is Mary’s trust in God. First she admitted that she did not understand how Gabriel’s words could be true. Yet while she had no problem questioning how the message could be true, she still accepted God’s will. Mary knew and trusted that God would only ask of her what was best for her as well as for all humanity.

There is another image that I have always found helpful to meditation, but it does not occur in the Gospel. Have you ever thought of what Mary told her parents after the Annunciation? What parents, when finding their daughter pregnant, would believe a story of an angel? That situation was covered very nicely in the movie The Nativity Story that came out a few years ago. In addition to her trust, such an image can show us the courage that Mary must have had once she accepted God’s will. Becoming the Mother of God would change all of Mary’s plans, but she was ready.

After the angel left, Mary traveled into the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. That would not have been an easy journey, particularly for a young pregnant girl. But for Mary, the presence of Christ led her to service. She would not sit back and wait for the Lord’s coming. Rather, she put Christ’s presence into action for the good of others. In her service, as in her trust and her courage, Mary is an image of what Advent should mean to us.

Finally, as we celebrated the Immaculate Conception earlier this month, we remember that Mary was without sin. The same cannot be said for any of us. So in final preparation for Christmas, we will offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confessions) Tuesday evening from 7:00 to 8:00 (after our monthly Benediction), and from 6:00 to 7:00 (or later as needed) on Wednesday and Friday evenings. We will not have our regularly scheduled Saturday Confessions on Christmas Eve.
                                                                                           Father H                  

Third Sunday of Advent - December 11, 2016

Through this Advent season, I have been using this column to look at some of the scriptural figures who are important to this season. Today, we take a look at St. Joseph, who is featured prominently in Matthew’s gospel. We will hear of St. Joseph next Sunday.

Joseph was most likely a young man just coming into his own when Christ was born, but there is a legend which says that he was an old man. There are several likely reasons why that legend grew up. For one thing, it is easier for some to believe that an older man could respect Mary’s virginity. As one living a celibate life, however, I find it much more helpful to believe that the Holy Spirit helped Joseph to remain chaste. The legend of Joseph as an old man also could be a way of explaining the places in scripture where they refer to Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Our insistence on Mary’s virginity made some people think that these were Joseph’s children by a wife who had died. But in their culture, the word for “brothers and sisters” also referred to cousins, as extended families were quite important at the time.

Setting aside that legend, we can look at Joseph as he appears in the gospel. First of all, we can see Joseph’s role in the Holy Family. As husband of the Blessed Mother, Joseph was legally recognized as Jesus’ father. It is through that relationship that Jesus was recognized as a descendant of King David. More importantly, at the time of Jesus’ conception, Joseph was betrothed to the Blessed Mother. We think of that relationship as an engagement, but betrothal was a step beyond engagement. Joseph had all the legal rights of a husband except for living with Mary. So if she was found to be pregnant, then the logical conclusion was that she had committed adultery, which was a capital crime. But Joseph was merciful, wanting to divorce her quietly, and that mercy left him open to the message of the angel that this child was the Son of God. So Joseph is a sign that we are called to trust God and to be open to His will.

Joseph is also given to us as a protector. When King Herod called for the Messiah’s death, Joseph took Mary and Jesus into safety in Egypt. Throughout the early years of Jesus’ life, we see Joseph as a provider for the Holy Family. We know him as a carpenter, but that probably does not mean that he made a living making fine furniture. The Greek word for carpenter in the gospels is tekton, which is a carpenter who would do all kinds of woodwork, including buildings and other big projects. We might think of a tekton as a construction worker. Joseph was a hard worker who did whatever he needed to do to provide for his family. So while we see Joseph as a man of faith, we do not see that faith as an idle quality. Joseph’s faith was active, affecting everything he did every day of his life.

We often call St. Joseph “a just man.” Justice, in this sense, means that he always sought to do the will of God. As he did so, he not only helped carry forward the mission of our salvation, he also became an excellent example for us. St. Joseph teaches us to live our faith as if Christ were living in our own homes.
                                                                                             Father H              

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent - December 4, 2016

 Last week I said that I would take this space to describe some of the key scriptural figures of Advent, starting with the prophet Isaiah. This week I turn to St. John the Baptist, who is featured in the gospel every year on the Second Sunday of Advent. There is a connection, for much of John’s message and imagery comes from the prophet Isaiah.

Our first thought of John, particularly at this time of year, is of his birth as the son of the Blessed Mother’s elderly cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah. The importance of that detail is that it shows John’s connection to Christ. In the First Century, there was a movement that accepted John as the Messiah. All four of the gospel writers make a point of showing that John did not claim any privilege for himself. Rather, the whole purpose of his life was to prepare for the coming of Christ. John’s gospel (John 1:20) says of John, “He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, ‘I am not the Messiah.’” In the gospel of today’s mass, Matthew records John saying, “I am not worthy to carry his sandals.”

John certainly was an impressive figure, clothed in camel’s hair and with a diet that consisted of locusts and wild honey. He lived a very ascetical life filled with penitential practice. There is some speculation that John was an Essene, a very rigorous Jewish community. Yet there were some basic differences. The Essenes saw themselves as an elite group, separate from the rest of the community. John, on the other hand, left the desert to proclaim God’s salvation to all people. He welcomed tax collectors, prostitutes and all other sinners. And rather than calling people to join him in the desert, he sent them back to their families and jobs with the call to live by God’s commandments in their ordinary lives.

Of course, what identifies John most clearly was his act of baptizing in the Jordan River. John’s baptism was a unique symbol, to such an extent that it became his very identity. He is simply “the Baptist.” A totally new ritual becomes a sign that God is about to intervene in human history in an entirely new way. This baptism again ties the Baptist to the coming of the Messiah. As Christ would bring us a new life of grace, so John offers a means of repentance from the sins that separate us from God. This repentance is available to everyone, but it calls for us to make a commitment to turn away from sin and to make a change in our lives.

John’s message is very challenging. Whenever we meet someone who lives the faith intently, it can be very intimidating. Yet personally, the most ascetical people I have ever known have also been the most joyful. Their message, as that of St. John the Baptist, is that Christ offers us such a wonderful opportunity to share the life of God that it is worth whatever the cost. The message of St. John the Baptist tells us that Advent is a time of great hope. This is our time of preparation. For as we hear in the embolism to the Lord’s Prayer at mass, “We await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”                          
                                                            Father H