Saturday, August 20, 2016

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 21, 2016

 On my recent vacation, I spent a few days relaxing by staying at the seminary that I attended before my ordination. Mount St. Mary’s is convenient for day trips to Washington, Baltimore and Gettysburg, and it is also a prayerful and pleasant place to relax. I was there at a very quiet time, when all the summer camps that use the campus were finished and just before the seminary and university students returned for a new year. One night I went for a walk around campus before going to bed, and I saw three young people whom I took to be college students (but who turned out to be residents of the nearby town). They seemed to be very interested in the campus, even while staring at their phones. I had to go up and ask them if they were hunting Pokémon Go characters. One of them asked if it was that obvious, but just then her companion yelled, “I got one.”

At the beginning of my vacation, I spent a day with my nephew, his wife and their eight-year-old son. My nephew and his son were Pokémon hunting throughout the day, and he gave me a little glimpse into how this trend works. There are certain spots where you can find one of these characters, but only if you have the proper app on your phone. I suppose that the company enters certain coordinates into their app so that if your phone is at the right place, you find these characters. You then try to entice them or trick them with the app so that you “capture” them and then take them with you. I thought there had to be some way to use that craze in a homily, but I think I’ll use it in today’s column. After all, there is going to be some hunting going on starting this week. School begins.

First of all, many of us go through life not knowing that we are surrounded by Pokémon characters (and, for myself, not caring). Many people go through life not knowing (or caring) about the wisdom that is available to us. The greatest wisdom, of course, is to know God. There are signs of His goodness all around us. How easily we miss these signs, however, because we are busy with our own concerns.

To find a Pokémon, you need an app. To find wisdom, particularly as it relates to God, you need more than an app. You need teachers who are willing to offer guidance as well as information. You need tools such as critical thinking that a school can impart so that you can use what you learn, as you need to “train” your Pokémon. This week, the hunt for wisdom begins. Our new principal Mrs. Militzer, our staff and our teachers join me in the excitement of welcoming the students back to St. Malachy School. I admit that I still think school is not supposed to begin until after Labor Day, as when I was a child. But still I am excited to begin a new year and to see the students grow (in the same way Luke’s gospel describes the child Jesus growing) in wisdom, age and grace.

The young people I saw hunting Pokémon Go characters were very excited at the challenge and at each discovery. I pray that our students, teachers and families are just as excited at finding the wisdom that is God’s special gift to us.
                                                                                   Father H                  

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 14, 2016

Summer is not over yet, so imagine yourself at a swimming pool. When you first test the water, it feels a little chilly. How do you get in? Some people ease in, going just the first step and then waiting until their feet adapt to the water before going any further. Others prefer to dive right in and get the shock all at once. I personally am somewhere in between, easing in up until my knees, and then I plunge underwater. Members of either group, though, may first spend some time beside the pool, wondering if they are ready.

Getting into the pool can give us some insight into entering the Church. Pretty soon we will begin a new session of the RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The RCIA was originally designed for those who were never baptized, but it can also include those who were baptized in another Christian faith or those who were baptized Catholics but were never raised in the faith. It can also serve as a “refresher course” for those who simply want to experience their faith on a deeper level.

We recognize that people come into the Church much as they would get into a pool. Some may have a profound experience of faith and be ready to jump right in. Others, of course, are not sure they are ready for such a commitment. They may want to ease in, and many may have been sitting by the side of the pool for some years. The RCIA is designed for such people. When we hold the first session, we do not make you sign any sort of binding contract. The beginning of the process is called the “inquiry,” for this period is designed for those who have questions and are exploring whether or not they may want to become Catholic. If they choose not to, there are no hard feelings. Others, of course, may be ready. They still go through the period of inquiry, but they may see that stage as preparation for the next part when they will go even deeper.

Ultimately, of course, we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us. That, in fact, is why we have the process as it is set up. We used to speak of “convert classes” for those wanting to become Catholic. The RCIA is not about classes, though catechetical (teaching) sessions make up the biggest part of it. But to borrow the old line, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” In other words, our faith is not about learning theology or memorizing Scripture. Our faith is about discovering the Person of Jesus Christ and the love that God has for us. That kind of faith does not always fit a human timetable, and so we try to guide and help each candidate.

Perhaps you know someone who might possibly be interested in the Catholic Church – a non-Catholic spouse, a friend or a co-worker – or perhaps you are in one of those groups and a friend has passed this column along to you. Even if you are not ready to come into the Church but would like to know more about what it is we believe, we invite you to come and find out. Feel free to call the rectory at 412-771-5483. Or as we used to say at the pool, “Come on in; the water’s fine.”                                      
                                                                                           Father H                  

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 7, 2016

One day in the comic strip Frank & Ernest, the two main characters were working in the same office, sitting at desks side-by-side. Ernest had bags under his eyes, and his hair was all messed up. Frank said to him, “You must have had a great vacation, Ernie. You look terrible.” That reminds me of the old definition of vacation that I heard years ago. Vacation is “two weeks which are too short, after which you are too tired to return to work and too broke not to.”

I am on vacation as you read these words. If you read my column last week, you may expect me to return like Ernest. I like to have a rather frenetic vacation, with a whole lot of baseball (six games in Tampa Bay, followed by minor league games on my drive back north), and with other activities and tours in the various cities I visit. As someone once told me, “It sounds like you need a vacation from your vacation.” That’s what my second week usually ends up being. I’m not crazy about the idea of sitting around and doing nothing, but I do like to take something of a restful time.

For years I would come back from my baseball trip and spend a week or so at my father’s apartment. He and I would go out to eat each day and maybe go to a movie or go play miniature golf. I would also work on organizing the photos I took during my trip, which is a lot more fun now that all my photos are digital and kept on my hard drive. After Dad’s death in 2011, I had to find a new way to approach that second week. This year I am heading back to my alma mater, Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. They always welcome alumni who want to spend some time. I can still do some interesting things; Gettysburg is very close, and it is not very far to get to Baltimore or even Washington. And the campus there is a great place just to go for a walk and spend some time in prayer. As I like to say, the seminary can be a very relaxing place when you don’t have classes, tests, papers and so forth. The nice thing is that I can go to bed each night without any specific plans on what to do the next day. I can decide at any moment what I feel like doing and can relax when the mood strikes.

Our faith teaches us that we live as part of a community, and that we should be willing to give of ourselves for others. To make that gift, though, we occasionally need to recharge our batteries. It can be a priest on vacation, or it can be a couple leaving their kids with a sitter while they go out to a fancy restaurant. But we are never completely alone. God is with us, and He never takes a vacation. For me, Emmitsburg is a very prayerful place, and a visit at this stage of vacation is a chance for me to give thanks for all that I have experienced. It is also a chance for me to remember that I am getting refreshed to serve St. Malachy Parish for another year.

So I when you see me next, I hope you won’t say, “You must have had a great vacation, Father H. You look terrible.” But I will warn you that if you see me walking around with my laptop computer, run. Otherwise I might catch you and say, “You want to see my vacation pictures?”
                                                                                       Father H                  

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 31, 2016

  As you read this column, I am on vacation in Florida. At this point you may be asking, “Who goes to Florida in the summer?” As you may remember, I take my vacation to visit a Major League Baseball city. I tour various parts of the city each day (historical sites, art museums, etc.), and I see five or six games. Of course I have to write my column before I leave for vacation. So I customarily write about what I plan on doing, making it my “postcard” to my parish family. Since this is still the Pastor’s Ponderings, I try to make some spiritual point in this column.

When I first started taking my baseball-themed vacations, the Pirates were still playing at Three Rivers Stadium. When I would go to a different ballpark, I would get jealous. Even when the park itself wasn’t the greatest, there would be something that I wished we had, such as natural grass. Since the Pirates moved into PNC Park, I always feel a little smug that we have such a beautiful place for baseball. That was especially true the first year that PNC Park was open. That year I went to see the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium. “The Big O,” as they called it (or, since it still wasn’t fully paid off, “The Big Owe”) was absolutely the worst place I have ever been for a Major League game. I truly believe that Olympic Stadium is one very real reason why the Expos failed, and I still hope that someday Montreal gets another team, with a better facility.

This year I am visiting Tampa-St. Petersburg to watch the Tampa Bay Rays. I will see three games against the New York Yankees and three with the defending World Champion Kansas City Royals. And I will see Tropicana Field, which may (from what I have heard) challenge Olympic Stadium for the title of the worst ballpark I have seen. “The Trop” will be the thirty-fifth big league park I have seen, starting with our own Forbes Field. The dome of the stadium has catwalks for maintenance crew, and a fly ball sometimes hits the catwalks. They have special ground rules for just such an occurrence.

I love seeing the beautiful ballparks like Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Wrigley Field in Chicago or Camden Yards in Baltimore. But it is also fun to see places like Tropicana Field or Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. That’s when I realize that I love baseball no matter where it’s played. And since I’m supposed to make a spiritual point, it reminds me that the same point applies even more to our churches. We are fortunate to have such a beautiful church here at St. Malachy. As I’ve said before, I fell in love with St. Malachy when I visited as a newly ordained priest stationed in McKees Rocks and in the many times I visited Fr. Michael while he was here. But what is really important is the Eucharist we celebrate on our altar. Our beautiful church enhances that experience, but it is a great mystery no matter where it is celebrated. Once, when I was going through a renovation at Nativity, we had our weekend Masses in the gym, but our weekday Masses in the cafeteria. After the school had finished using the gym, I asked the people if they would rather move the weekday Masses to the gym as well. They decided to keep things as they were, but one woman told me, “Father, if you celebrate Mass in the parking lot, I will be there. It’s the Eucharist that matters.”

                                                                                              Father H                  

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 24, 2016

  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has designated this week as “Natural Family Planning Awareness Week.” I think the key word here is “awareness.” Many people know that the Catholic Church teaches that contraception is a serious wrong. Very few, however, realize the depth of the Church’s teaching or the beauty of living love in the way that God created us to share it. Even some of the theologians who oppose our teaching did not have a full understanding. One of my seminary professors was asked to join a group of theologians who opposed Blessed Pope Paul’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, even before the encyclical was published. He told them he wanted to read the document before he commented on it, but they wanted their statement to come out at the same time as the Pope’s. My professor waited to read the document and then realized how beautiful Blessed Paul’s teaching was.

Rather than go into a theological explanation of the Church’s teaching, which would take more than the space I have here, I would like to focus on that “awareness.” Some years ago I had the opportunity to work with a group of couples from across the diocese who were supporting the Church’s teaching, and I got to hear their stories. Many of them spoke of how Natural Family Planning had helped their marriage. One couple said that they used contraception in early years of their marriage. One day they were talking to their priest, and the wife argued that her husband had a very strong sex drive and that she didn’t feel like she could ask him to abstain. The husband heard her say that, and he realized that she just claimed he was no better than an animal who could not control his desires. He told her that he loved her and that their marriage was worth making a sacrifice. Since then, they found that they each had to be more aware of and open to the other’s needs. They had to communicate more about their relationship, and they had to find other ways of showing love to each other.

This Monday is the anniversary of the publication of Humanae Vitae. Blessed Pope Paul expressed a number of concerns of what would happen if contraception would become widespread. He said that it would lead to a rise in infidelity and divorce and that irresponsibility would be “rewarded.” He also stated that men would give into the ever-present temptation and come to regard women as “a mere instrument for selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.” We have seen how Blessed Pope Paul’s warnings have all come true. On the other hand, I have seen couples who have lived the Church’s teaching and have come to realize how beautiful it is. And to all married couples, please know that I am praying that God may strengthen your love for one another and for your families, to know His presence in your homes as you live the gift of marriage day by day.

On a different matter, please note that I will be away from the parish on my vacation starting this Tuesday evening through August 12.

                                                                                     Father H

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 17, 2016

     Every week, as I write this column, I try to come up with something that will inform or inspire you – well, almost every week. But here we are in the middle of summer, when we are supposed to be a little more relaxed. So I thought that instead of giving you some deep thoughts, I would simply try to offer something to bring a smile to your face. Toward that end, I offer some excerpts from a newsletter that I receive periodically called The Joyful Noiseletter. It is a publication of “The Fellowship of Merry Christians,” a non-denominational group dedicated to helping Christ’s followers to be ever joyful and to see humor in their lives. They allow members to reprint their items in church bulletins, so I thought I would share a few examples.

“A pastor friend put sanitary hot-air hand dryers in the restrooms of his church. But after two weeks, he removed them. I asked him why and he confessed that they worked fine, but one day when he went into the restroom, he saw a sign above the dryer that said, ‘For a sample of this week’s sermon, push the button.’” (Fr. John Trimbur, St. Joseph Parish, Austintown, Ohio.)

Rev. Harry Mahoney (from Dedham, MA) wrote of an elderly woman who loved the movie The Wizard of Oz so much that she requested a song from the show be played at her funeral. When the time came for her funeral, someone arranged to have a CD with the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” But the person in control hit the wrong button at first, and the congregation heard “The Wicked Witch is Dead.”

The same member writes that a little boy heard the minister talking about the Ten Commandments and said that his mommy had already taught him three of them: “Settle down,” “Act your age” and “Take that out of your mouth.”

A few years ago The Joyful Newsletter published one of my own contributions. I had been traveling one summer when I went to a fairly new parish that was raising money to purchase hymnals. In the meantime, they were printing the lyrics to each week’s hymns in the bulletin of that Sunday. The weekend I was there, the mass ended with the hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” We didn’t make it through the second verse though. The line “All Christians come and sing to Him Who set us free” had been mistyped. The entire congregation began laughing when they sang the advice, “All Christians, come and sin.”

I also had one other submission printed. The late Fr. Walter Mahler, a Pittsburgh priest and long-time navy chaplain, would occasionally begin a meal with the following prayer: “Good of goodness, bless this food. Keep us in a pleasant mood. Bless the cooks and those who serve us. And from indigestion, Lord, preserve us.”

C. S. Lewis wrote, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” G. K. Chesterton tells us, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly,” and also adds, “Satan fell through force of gravity.” So I hope that these brief notes bring a smile to your faith and to remember St. Paul’s advice to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again, rejoice.”
                                                                                           Father H                  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 10, 2016

Two men were sitting on a park bench. One of them said, “I really value hard work. I could sit and watch someone work for hours.” I hope I’m not that man, but I have been enjoying watching people work. Let me explain that during the school year, I usually have lunch with the school kids and then help to supervise their recess. In summer I eat lunch more quickly (but I get some time for reading), and then I take my “recess” by taking a walk and praying the rosary. I can usually get through the fourth mystery by the time I get to McCoy Road, and then I turn around and come back. And lately I have been walking around the parish property when I get back, which gives me a chance to watch some work. I try to tell myself that, as pastor, it is my job to supervise. In reality, I am just being (in Pittsburgh lingo) nebby.

Some of the work I’ve been watching has had to do with the painting of the church window frames. That may not be as exciting since we may not see as much of a difference in the finished product, but it does keep the church looking fresh. More importantly, the job helps inhibit any rust and will keep us structurally sound.

The more exciting job is the resurfacing of the parking lot, especially knowing that we are getting extra parking spaces in the lower lot. In addition, we are getting new lines on the lot. That means that drivers will no longer have to guess where the parking spaces are. I sometimes wonder if some drivers don’t just throw it into neutral and leave the car wherever it stops. In any event, it will be great to have a fresh parking lot.

Both of these projects are the result of the Campaign for the Church Alive, the diocesan capital campaign that Bishop Zubik asked every parish to take part in. What that means is that the work I have been watching is the direct result of your generosity. The people of St. Malachy have responded well enough that we have been able to do these two jobs and more before them. You have come through beautifully. But this also is a good time for me to remind people that we are still paying on the pledges that we have made. If you pledged to the campaign, please continue to make the payments as you have promised.

St. Malachy Parish is a wonderful community, in part because of how well we work together. The Campaign for the Church Alive, Parish Share, and other such projects are financial examples. As a pastor, I have to talk about the money issues every so often. But rather than make a column about money, I prefer to write about the signs of what our parish can accomplish. So let’s enjoy our fresh parking lot and our newly painted window frames. Let’s continue to build up a community of faith. And while we’re at it, let’s enjoy watching people work.
                                                                                                 Father H