Saturday, July 14, 2018

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 15, 2018

The last two weeks I have been using this column to catch up on some of the basics. These are things we see so often in church that we take them for granted or don’t give them much thought. Last week I wrote about the meaning of the priest’s vestments, but I ran short of space to write about the colors of the vestments. So today I will continue with the colors.

Currently we are wearing green. Green is simply the color of “Ordinary Time,” the time when we have no special seasons and no particular feasts. There is a good meaning to green for Ordinary Time, for it is the color of creation in bloom. Trees and grass give us a vibrant green that speaks of life that God gives us in nature. As the color of nature shows God in the world around us, so Ordinary Time speaks of the unfolding of God’s plan in our everyday lives.

All of that talk of nature is very helpful, but it’s probably not the original reason for using green in Ordinary Time. Originally it was a more simple reason. When cloth was colored with natural dyes, green was least expensive. It would therefore be used for the most commonly used clothing. As for liturgical vestments, green would be what was most frequently used. But I prefer the more symbolic version.

In the earliest days, probably all vestments were white. I wrote last week that the vestments are based on the everyday clothes of the first century. A Roman gentleman would wear white for special occasions. As white is the color of holiness, as I explained last week, we use white for the most important times. The great feasts of Easter and Christmas, along with the feasts of the saints, call for white vestments. We do sometimes dress the white up with shades of gold to show the importance of a feast, but even then the basic color is white.

Red is the most obvious color. Most frequently, red is the color of blood. So along with the celebration of Christ’s Passion, we wear red for the feast of any martyr. In addition, red is the color of flame. Thus we wear red for Pentecost and for any celebration of the Holy Spirit, who came to the Apostles at Pentecost as tongues of flame.

That leaves purple (or violet) as the fourth of the common colors. We use that for the penitential season of Lent and for the anticipatory season of Advent. When I show the children the colors, they often ask why purple should represent those seasons. I’m never quite sure how to answer, for I’ve never seen a real explanation. I suspect that purple is simply a darker color, and those are “darker” seasons. That explanation does go along with the two days during the year when we have the option of wearing a fifth color, rose (or pink). On the Third Sunday of Advent or the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we brighten up the season just a bit with the slightly brighter color of rose. Those rose vestments offer a sign of hope that the season will come to an end, that the waiting of Advent or the penance of Lent will soon be complete.

There was one other color that was used in former days. In funeral masses, we used to wear black to show our mourning for the deceased. While that color has never been rescinded, it is common today to wear white at funerals as a sign of our hope in the Resurrection.

On a final note, I am soon beginning my vacation. I will be away from this Wednesday through Friday, August 3.                                                                           

                                                                 Father H  

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 8, 2018

One day I was showing some CCD students around the church. When we got to the sacristy, I showed them the vestments that the priest wears. That led one young girl to ask a question she had apparently been wondering about for some time. She asked, “Why do you wear a dress at Mass?” From that point on, whenever I would visit her CCD class, she would tell me that she like the dress I wore at Mass. So last week I said I may take some time to use this column to write about things that we “cradle Catholics” take for granted. Sometimes it can be good for those of us who know these things to review them, and it can be a good introduction for anyone who may not understand but who found that there were more important things to ask about. So let me start with one important point: I am not wearing a dress.

The first point we need to understand is something I referred to in last week’s column. The vestments we wear take us back 2,000 years, to the time when Jesus walked the earth in His human body. Specifically, whenever we celebrate the Mass, we are taking part in what Christ did at the Last Supper, the night before He offered His life for us on the cross. If you think of the images of Jesus that you have seen, He is generally wearing a long, flowing robe, often of white. So the first vestment that the priest puts on in an alb, a white garment that hangs down to the floor. It is important that this garment be white, and in fact the very name comes from the Latin word alba, which means “white.” White is a color of cleanliness, and so it represents holiness in the sense of being clean from the stain of sin. The alb relates to the white garment that our parents put on us at our baptism. In that sense, it is not only a reminder that the priest is to be holy; it is also a reminder that every other vocation of our lives begins with our baptism. Notice, then, that the priest’s alb is essentially the same thing that our Altar Servers wear at Mass.

On a side note, you may notice that our Servers are no longer wearing crosses with their albs. I had always thought that there would come a time when they would start wearing out, and that I would not replace them. The alb itself is a sign of our baptismal dedication to Christ, and so the cross on top of the alb does not really add to the significance of the Servers’ vesture.

On top of the alb, a priest wears a stole, a piece of cloth that goes around the back of the neck and hangs down the front on two sides. The stole comes from a kind of mantle that people in Christ’s time would wear to show a particular role that they would have. So the stole is the sign of the office of priesthood. A deacon shows his ordination by wearing a stole over his left shoulder, hanging down diagonally in front and back, with the two sides joined together on his right. You will see an example next week when Deacon Tim Killmeyer, who will be part of our grouping in October, comes to visit and assist at all of the Mass.

When talking to the children, I sometimes tell them that the stole is kind of like a necktie that a man might wear to something important. That means that the outer garment is something like the suit coat. The chasuble was the outer coat that someone would wear. It shows that we are celebrating something of great importance when we celebrate Mass. I should also say something about the colors of the chasuble, but I am already at the bottom of the column.                                                                           

                                                                 Father H 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 1, 2018

As “cradle Catholics,” we who have been part of the Church all our lives sometimes take some things for granted. I know that I sometimes assume that everyone knows what everything is all about. Sometimes the experience of working with the RCIA helps me remember that I have to explain things that the newcomers to the Church are not as familiar with. So as we move into summer and things slow down, I found myself wondering what to write about. I thought it might be helpful to take some time (perhaps a few weeks if I don’t come up with any other important topics) to look at some of the basic things that we see in church.

As Catholics, we are accustomed to seeing candles in church. But do we ever think of why we have candles? There are several types of candles, and the most important are the ones by the altar. Candles in church are there to remind us of Christ, who told us that he is the Light of the World. In a dark place, we cannot see where we are going. We need light to be able to go anywhere. So without Christ and His resurrection, we would be stumbling about in the dark. We could not find our way to heaven without Christ. Thus, the candles represent Christ’s presence upon the altar.

We could then ask why we still use candles in an age of electricity. We could imagine updating the liturgy so that we put an electric lamp by the altar. For one thing, the liturgy takes us back to the days when Jesus was among us in the flesh, 2,000 years ago. As the vestments that the priest wears are designed to remind us of the clothing of the first century, so our candles harken back to the time of the Last Supper. Beyond that, there is more symbolism in the candles. An electric light looks just the same until the bulb burns out. You cannot tell by looking how much life a light bulb has. As a candle burns, on the other hand, we see it getting shorter. While Christ’s resurrection is what gives us the light, leading us to having the special Easter Candle as our most fancy candle, we also remember that He gave Himself for us on the Cross. As a candle gives light, it gives of itself. As we see it grow shorter, we know that it is “sacrificing” itself for our light. That candle is then a visual reminder of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary in order to lead us to new life.

In addition to the candles at the altar, I would like to remember the candles in the back, near the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary or by the statue of St. Anthony. We see these candles as a way of remaining in prayer. If I have some special favor that I want to bring to God, through the intercession of Mary or the saints, then I want the help of all who share our faith. There may be a case where I would want to ask everyone who comes by to pray for my special intention. It would not be practical for me to stay in the back of church throughout the entire day, just so that I could stop anyone and everyone who comes in and ask for their prayers. So I can light a candle, and the candle remains when I depart. We call those “vigil candles” because they remain to keep vigil in our place. Thus, if I can stop and say a prayer at the statue of the Blessed Mother, then I am praying for all those who have lit candles in that area. I include their prayers, and I know that those who come after will include my needs in their prayers.

When we come to church, we see candles. I hope that this reminder of the candles will help us see Christ as the Light of the World and will help us offer our prayers for one another in all our needs.                                                 
                                                         Father H 

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist - June 24, 2018

How many children spent the last weeks of the school year counting down to summer vacation? They longed for the freedom to play and to do whatever they wanted all day long. How many of them are now complaining of being bored? That always seems like a strange complaint to me, for I tell people that I haven’t been bored since October 1987. I was recovering from gall bladder surgery at the time, and there came a point where I was feeling good enough to want to do things but was not strong enough that I could actually do them. I have enough varied interests that I don’t think I have been bored since that time. But recognizing that kids do get bored, we are offering a solution.

Last week I wrote about my annual retreat and how good it is to get away for a week of spiritual talks and fellowship with brother priests. This coming week is, you might say, a child’s version. They are out of school, and we do not want them to have to take tests or do homework. But we want them to have a chance to learn more about God and about our faith. So this week is our annual Vacation Bible School. The children come in the morning all week and have games and crafts, all relating to various Bible stories. VBS puts those stories in the context of a different adventure each year. This year’s VBS theme is “Splash Canyon.” Picture yourself white-water rafting, and then consider a number of water-themed Bible stories. The children will hear of Moses as an infant, floating down the Nile. They will hear of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, and other such stories.

Steve Swank, our Catechetical Administrator, pulls the whole thing together for us each year. We are very grateful for all who help with the program, including Dan Gallagher as the lead musician and Diane Obed as the decorator. Diane has so many stuffed animals that make an appearance each year that many people wonder at what her storage is like. She does a wonderful job of transforming the various areas in our school into the scene of the program. Of course there are many other volunteers, both adults and adolescents, who help as teachers, craft makers, snack servers, game leaders, and many other roles. We are very blessed to have so many great helpers to make the annual VBS such a success.

Our hope in putting together this program is to help the children continue to grow in their faith and to learn more about what God has done for us. We also hope that the whole experience will be fun for them. We hope to kindle in them a curiosity and a desire to continue learning their faith. That is a good lesson for all of us. We should always want to see God present in all of creation and in all that He has done for us. We should see God present in whatever we do, whether it is white-water rafting (which I have no desire to try) or any other adventure that may present itself to us.
For me, the kinds of themes we use for Vacation Bible School can be a reminder to look for God in everything we do. If we can get into the habit of seeing God in everything, then we eventually discover that the whole world is His gift to us. We gain an enthusiasm for every adventure that comes our way. If we cultivate that attitude, we will never know what it means to be bored. God’s world is too exciting to admit of boredom.                                                   
                                                                                       Father H  

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 17, 2018

Fathers Day brings many memories to my mind. Here’s one that, I hope, will lead into another point. My father worked for Westinghouse, and in 1964 they asked him to learn to learn the COBOL programming language. Computers were not typically accessible to us ordinary folk, so even into college, I thought of my father’s work as something beyond me. Then in college I took a class in Fortran. I did well in the class, but I did have one program that absolutely would not run, so I asked my father for help. He came up to Duquesne one Saturday afternoon, and the two of us poured over the printout of my program. Finally, he spotted the bug. There was a print command with certain parameters. The line I wanted to print had to be in quotation marks, and the parameters had to be separated from the quotation by a comma. Like a good English student, I had put the comma inside the quotation marks. What was right English was absolutely wrong in Fortran.

Although I was 21 at the time of that Fortran class, I felt like a five-year-old who thinks that his father knows everything. How strange it felt to me years later when Dad would call me to help him with problems he was having in DOS or Windows.

It helps to have someone you can turn to for guidance when things are not going quite right. The surprising thing with a simple solution for computers is simply to reboot, to turn them off and on again. Turning it off clears the memory and gives it a fresh start. And that is the analogy I hope to use now that we are getting into summer. Life gets so hectic that it is nice to have a time when things move a little more slowly. One of the fringe benefits of my involvement with the school is that it makes summer a little more of a break. For me, summer is a time for two specific periods of “rebooting.” Next month I will be going on vacation, and I will write more about that trip in the columns to be published while I am away. Meanwhile, every priest is required to make a retreat once each year, and mine will be this coming week at my alma mater, Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. It is important to take a vacation and have some fun, but it also is important to have a time to focus primarily on the spiritual. On a retreat such as I will be attending, there is one priest who serves as “retreat director,” giving spiritual talks and meeting with any of the priests attending who want to talk about anything connected with ministry. In addition, we get to talk with one another and offer support and friendship. There is a nice group of priests who attend this particular retreat every year, and we have become our own little once-a-year community. (Fr. Michael is part of this retreat and will be riding down to Emmitsburg with me.)  Similarly, it is helpful for any of us to find someone we can turn to for support and guidance, particularly someone who can help us from the perspective of our Catholic faith.
For anyone who still has a father to turn to, that can support both parts of this message – Fathers Day and my spiritual retreat. So please pray for my while I am away from the parish this week. And to all fathers, thank you for all you do. Happy Fathers Day.
                                                                                           Father H 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - June 10, 2018

Fifty years is usually a major milestone, and this year we look back 1968. In many ways, that was a momentous year. But there is one thing that happened in 1968 that is widely overlooked. Next month, July 25, marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae by Blessed Pope Paul VI, who is soon to be canonized as St. Paul VI.  In this encyclical, Blessed Paul reaffirmed the Church’s teaching that contraception (any artificial means of birth control) was sinful and was harmful to the relationship between husband and wife.

When talking with engaged couples, I like to compare two people with widely different expectations of what widespread contraception would mean to our society. On the one hand, I refer to Margaret Sanger, founder Planned Parenthood. Sanger claimed that the widespread use of contraceptives would greatly reduce divorce, since couples would have one fewer worry in their marriage. Contraception would also eliminate teenage pregnancy and would put an end to abortion. The reality, of course, is that all three of those problems have become much more widespread since contraception has become so much a part of our society.

Blessed Pope Paul, on the other hand, warned that contraception would “lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.” He also said that by ignoring one of the main consequences of sexual activity, a man would more easily see a woman as “a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.” Certainly that temptation is always present, but it is so much easier to accept it in our current culture. Blessed Paul also saw contraception leading to an abuse of power if it becomes a tool of government. While we see signs of that abuse in our own nation, we can see it very clearly in a place like China, with forced abortion and a strict one-child law for families. In addition, the Pope saw contraception leading us to believe that our bodies are strictly our own, to do with as we wish, as we ignore God’s dominion in our lives. Sadly, everything that Blessed Pope Paul VI has warned us about has become fact in the last fifty years.

But there is hope. After the publication of Humanae Vitae, various groups of Catholic doctors felt that God was calling them to help develop methods of birth control that were in keeping with the Church’s teaching and were just as effective as artificial methods. Until then, Catholics had relied upon “the rhythm method.” Since then, these doctors have devised what has come to be called “Natural Family Planning,” or NFP. In the past, I worked with some couples trying to promote the Church’s teaching, and I always found it heartening to hear of how NFP made their marriages stronger. As convincing as Blessed Paul’s writing was, the witness of their lives and of their married love was what really showed me how much wisdom is present in the Church’s understanding of sexuality. I find it very fitting that this year, which marks the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, is the time when the Church will recognize Pope Paul VI as a saint.
                                                 
                                                                                                       Father H  

Monday, June 4, 2018

Corpus Christi - June 3, 2018

I have to admit that it feels a little different this year. Every year I come to the end of the school year, and I have to admit that I am happy. I love working with the school for many reasons, but one of the fringe benefits is that it makes the summer a little more leisurely. I know I am not alone in that regard. In my younger days, when I was an assistant at St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin Parish, the pastor was very supportive of the school. Yet as much as Fr. Haney loved his involvement with the school, he always spoke fondly of the last day, along with his desire to “push the school buses out of the lot” to get them on their way and begin the summer.

This year it will be a little harder to get behind the buses and push. I will still be here when school resumes in the fall, but I will not be teaching classes once a week. For when school does resume, I will be just a few weeks away from my move to the South Hills. A little over a week ago, I went to St. Gabriel for one of their school Masses, and I visited the classrooms. They were very welcoming, and the teachers and students were telling me that they were looking forward to my teaching there in the fall. But every new adventure comes with a good-bye, and I will have a hard time leaving my family here. As we say in St. Malachy School, “Once a Bomber, always a Bomber.”

The attitude expressed by “Once a Bomber” is not the same as the British phrase of the “old school tie.” It is not just the memories of the current days that we will take with us into the future. Rather, we share something that holds us together, wherever we may go. Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, still commonly known by its Latin name of Corpus Christi. Our school at St. Malachy is based on something more than math, English, history, and science. We have shared together the Eucharist. We are united by the Body and Blood of Christ, and the Eucharist I celebrated at my visit to St. Gabriel is the same Jesus Christ that I have celebrated with the school students here at St. Malachy. I will still have a few more school Masses when the fall comes. But even when those Masses are being celebrated with the new priests, we will be together in Christ.

So this is not a final good-bye to St. Malachy School. I hope that all of our students, faculty and staff have a wonderful and restful summer. In fact, I’m going to go against the advice I usually give to our kids. One day, on the way out to recess, I joked that they were not allowed to have any fun. I thought that was just a one-time joke, but the kids kept it up for a few days after that, and it soon became a running joke at recess time. So now I’m going to tell the students that they are supposed to have fun over the summer. But please don’t forget that the Eucharist is our common bond and that God does not take a vacation from us, so we should not forget Him over the summer.

Meanwhile, I will see everyone again in the fall and will be part of the new school year at first. But I have to recognize someone special who is moving on. Janet Katic has been part of our school for the last twenty-six years, and now she is retiring. Mrs. Katic has done a wonderful job with our third grade over the years, and she will be missed. Congratulations, Mrs. Katic. And you, too, get to have fun.
                                                              Father H