Sunday, October 16, 2016

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 16, 2016

Some years ago, during a presidential election year when a school student asked me which candidate I was going to vote for. One of the other students said, “He’s a priest. He has to vote for…” It turned out to be the candidate I was planning on voting for, but I didn’t answer the question. I was encouraged, however, that the student thought that my faith would influence my vote, even if he was simply echoing what his parents had said.

The truth is that I rarely like to talk about politics. I hope that my Catholic faith and values would inform my decision on whom to vote for. On the other hand, people who share common values and hopes may honestly disagree on the best way to accomplish those goals. I do not like today’s political arguments, which have become so much mudslinging, so I generally avoid political discussions. In addition, I do not want to make it appear that I am speaking “for the Church” in any official way that would count as a Catholic endorsement of any candidate.

This year, I am afraid, the choice is harder than ever. Every candidate for President (including Libertarian and Green Party candidates) is, in some way or another, deeply flawed. But one of these candidates will be the next President of the United States. So unless we plan to write in Abraham Lincoln or Harold Stassen, we have a choice to make. I would like to offer some of the thoughts of Bishop James Conley, Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska, who was in his last year at Mount St. Mary Seminary in my first year. Bishop Conley writes, “On some issues the moral obligations of Catholics, and the demands of the common good, are abundantly clear. For example, no Catholic can vote in good conscience to expand legal protection for abortion, or to support the killing of unborn children… Abortion is a grave, unconscionable, and intolerable evil, and we cannot support it in the voting booth.” He adds, “In good conscience, some Catholics might choose to vote for a candidate who, with some degree of probability, would be most likely to do some good, and the least amount of harm, on the foundational issues: life, family, conscience rights and religious liberty. Or, in good conscience, some might choose the candidate who best represents a Christian vision of society, regardless of the probability of winning. Or, in good conscience, some might choose not to vote for any candidate at all in a particular office.”

In addition, I would like to add the words of Bishop Robert Barron, who warns against seeing a politician as “Messianic” in the sense that this person, once elected, will solve all our problems. He offers as our attitude, “I don’t care how good and impressive a politician is, and they might be. They might be very bright, very gifted, very capable, but they’re not the Messiah. And the minute we think they are, then we are on a short road to disaster. So I think that’s something that biblical people are very, very legitimately reticent about is any move in that kind of apotheosizing of political leaders.”

                                                                                              Father H          

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 9, 2016

Over the past few weeks, I have used this column to talk about the diocesan initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. So to catch up with a number of other items, I am going to do a hodgepodge of topics today. But first I want to stress again how important it is that people attend the consultations sessions for On Mission on October 25 or 26. These meetings will begin at 7 PM in church, and they are away for all of us to express our thoughts and concerns about the plans that the diocese is currently making. Bishop Zubik wants all of us to be part of this process, so please come to one of those two meetings.

I have to take this opportunity to thank everyone who was involved in our parish festival this weekend. By the time you read this, the festival will be in full swing or will be over. I’m writing before it actually begins, but I am confident that it is going to be another grand success. So many people work so hard to pull the festival off that there is no way I could have room to thank everyone individually. Instead, I will group everyone together and thank you for whatever part you took in the festival, from set up to cooking and serving to clean up and everything else, including those who just came as customers to enjoy and to support the parish. Thank you for your help with this very successful and important event for our parish.

I also offer my thanks to those who supported “Respect Life Sunday” last week. Our “Life Chain” was well attended, and those who took part had a very quiet and prayerful experience. In addition, our parish offered some very good support to the Birthright collection after each of the Masses last weekend.

I also realize that it has been a while since I have giving you a medical update on some of our priest friends. There has not been all that much to report. Fr. Michael Maranowski has settled in as parochial vicar at Saint Thomas More Parish in Bethel Park. If you ask him how he feels, he invariably responds, “With my hands.” But if you ask him more seriously about his health, he just says that he is taking things one day at a time. Meanwhile, he is fully functioning as a priest and is settling in at his new assignment.

For Fr. Patrick O’Brien, it is also a case of taking things one day at a time. He keeps telling me that he is hoping to come back and resume celebrating Mass for us, though he has not been able to say when he would be able to do that. So currently, we are keeping him on the schedule in case he can return, but each week I consider that I will have the Mass for which he is scheduled. I will let you know if anything different comes up. Meanwhile, please keep praying for him.

Finally, if you notice that the ushers seem to be “lurking” in the aisles during Mass, they are counting people. Each year the diocese requires us to count the number of people attending each Sunday Mass during month of October. The trends in the “October count” over the years is part of the data that has been used in preparing the models for On Mission for the Church Alive.

                                                                                               Father H                  

Monday, October 3, 2016

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 2, 2016

This is the fourth week that our bulletin includes a flyer from the Diocese on the initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. By now I hope we are realizing that there are changes coming in the diocese and in every parish. Last week, in the flyer and in my bulletin column, you read that Bishop Zubik is asking us to take part in setting the direction for these changes. Please remember that the diocese is holding consultation meetings in each parish, with ours scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, October 25 and 26 at 7:00 in church. Please come to one of those two meetings so that we can be part of the process. You do not have to attend both. We are scheduled for two days so that more people can be present. Each meeting will present the same information.

The goal of this process is to make the Church stronger at this time of change. For instance, the life of the parish begins with the celebration of the Mass. When I began my time as your pastor, one of the two promises I made was that I would always try to celebrate Mass in a way that was both reverent and joyful. Yet many parishes are finding that it is hard to offer dynamic liturgies if there are fewer people attending and fewer people taking an active part in the various ministries of the liturgy. We want to create vibrant parishes that are built upon the foundation of the Eucharist.

In quite a few parishes, many groups are finding it difficult to maintain the same kind of activities they have had in the past, whether spiritual, social or service-oriented. We want to build parishes where many such activities can take place and where everyone can find some way to be involved.
In quite a few parishes, the children feel left out because there are fewer of them involved in the school or the religious education program. My other promise upon my arrival at St. Malachy, along with reverent and joyful celebrations of the liturgy, was to be involved with the children in the school and the CCD program. This aspect is particularly dear to my heart, and I truly want to see vibrant parishes where the children can grow in their love of God and learn from an early age that the faith is the most important aspect in their lives.

The diocese has enrolled the help of the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI), a consultative group that specializes in building the Catholic Church to be stronger, in this mission. CLI runs a leadership program for priests known as “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds,” which I completed shortly after my arrival at St. Malachy. (Our former pastor, Fr. Michael, was part of the same program while he was here.) They also run a program for lay people who have leadership roles in parishes. Several of our people have taken “Tending the Talents.” Now CLI has been helping us devise some proposed models for the way the diocese may take shape in the future. But as I said last week, Bishop Zubik wants our input. Your participation at the meetings on October 25 and 26 is vital to helping the diocese move forward. Please set aside time on one of those two evenings to come and participate. Let’s make the Diocese of Pittsburgh a model of faith for the Church throughout the United States.

                                                                                              Father H                  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 25, 2016

Some people may remember when we were told that it takes three things to be a good Catholic: pray, pay and obey. If we prayed our rosary (often while the priest was praying in Latin during Mass), we were off to a good start. We also had to put money in the collection basket and then simply do what the priests or bishops told us. The image from that little saying was that others ran the Church, and we just got what we could out of it. That was never the Church’s view of what a Catholic is, and we have really tried to go to a deeper level since the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago.

Especially since the Council, but for many ages before, the Church has spoken of the Universal Call to Holiness, the concept that every baptized person is called to take part in the life of the Church and to grow to be ready for the eternal joy of heaven. As Pope Francis said, “Holiness is not the prerogative of only a few: holiness is a gift that is offered to all, without exception, so that it constitutes the distinctive character of every Christian.” In a deeper sense, that means that the Church is not made up of only priests and bishops, with people in the pews just sitting back and enjoying the ride. The truth is that every Catholic is called to build the kingdom of God and to live in holiness.

By our baptism, we are called to build the Church. The most basic way we can carry out that task is to take part in the work of evangelization, trying to attract people to follow Christ. That does not mean that we stand on a street corner passing out pamphlets and, more likely than not, drawing funny looks from the people who pass us by. If we simply live our faith day in and day out, we become attractive to those who are searching for the truth. But at this time, we also have to be ready for the changes that are coming.

At this current point in history, the faithful of the Diocese of Pittsburgh have a special opportunity to shape the direction of the Church. Blessed John Henry Newman once said, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” The Diocese of Pittsburgh is currently taking part in On Mission for the Church Alive. The past few weeks, we have been hearing and reading about our need for change. The flyer in today’s bulletin reminds us that we have a role in the entire process. The diocese will be holding special meetings in every parish. Here at St. Malachy, our meetings will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, October 25 and 26. Both meetings are at 7:00 pm in Fr. Weirauch Hall. I invite every parishioner to come and listen to what some of the possible proposals for the local Church might be. And I invite everyone to come prepared to offer our thoughts to Bishop Zubik. He has assured us that no decisions have been made, and none will be made until he has heard from every parish. It is up to each of us to listen with open hearts and open minds, taking into consideration the situation the Church is facing, and to pray about what God is asking of us. It is up to each of us to offer our thoughts on the process to the Bishop. We are the Church, and we have a special part to play in determining the future of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and all of its parishes.
                                                                                                      Father H      

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 18, 2016

I want to try to balance two separate topics today. The more I think about it, the more I suspect that they should work together. I will let you be the judge of how successfully I bring them together.

Today’s bulletin has the second in a series of flyers about the diocesan initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. Last week’s flyer informed us, “Things are going to change.” Today’s installment asks the obvious follow-up question, “Why do we have to change?” The truth of the matter is that the world is changing around us, and some of the changes present real challenges to us. Statistics show that 60 to 70% of US Catholics no longer practice their faith. The ones who do practice most are the “Baby Boomer” generation. But as we Boomers get older, the succeeding generations are coming along with less of a connection to the faith. Experts say that if we do nothing, there will be 50% fewer people receiving the sacraments in twenty-five years.

That is the bad news. The good news is that we can address the issue. Bishop Zubik is challenging the Church in Pittsburgh to look at how we can bring Christ into the world as it is now. There will be meetings in each parish to address where we are and where we are going. We want to meet the new situation head-on and be ready for it. I think of a line from C. S. Lewis’ novel Out of the Silent Planet. When the protagonist, after protests and self-pity, accepts his duty and goes on a dangerous journey, he reflects, “It was the difference between a landsman in a sinking ship and a horseman on a bolting horse: either may be killed, but the horseman is an agent as well as a patient.” We can sit back and wait for the changes, leaving us to worry about dwindling congregations and fewer priests, or else we can address them and build the Church to be a light in the darkness of our secular world.

To help us address these issues, the Diocese is holding information meetings in every parish. Ours will be on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 25 and 26. Each meeting will be in Father Weirauch Hall at 7:00. I hope that everyone will come to one of those meetings, listen with open hearts, and be prepared to offer any constructive thoughts you may have.

In the meantime, the other issue I want to address today is a way we continue to build the Church for the future. Today is Catechetical Sunday, when we recognize the many people who give of their time and talents to build up our parish Religious Education programs. I thank our Catechetical Administrator Steven Swank and all the volunteers who give of themselves in our CCD program and all our other catechetical programs.

The theme for Catechetical Sunday this year is “Prayer: The Faith Prayed.” It is a call for us to grow closer to Christ in prayer so that we can show His love to all those whom we meet. And if we do that, then we truly can build the Church in faith to be strong and vibrant in the future. We can truly be – and truly bring about – the Church Alive.

                                                                                       Father H      

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 11, 2016

For well over a year now, at Bishop Zubik’s request, we have been concluding the Universal Prayer at Sunday Mass with the prayer for the initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. Bishop Zubik knew that it was important to begin such a major initiative with prayer, as over the past months a number of studies have been going on to prepare for the future. Today, as will be the case in the next few weeks, there is a special insert in our bulletin concerning this initiative. I urge you to read that insert, and I would like to devote my column over these weeks to what is happening.

Today’s supplement to the bulletin is titled Things are Going to Change. On a superficial level, I hope that statement is obvious to us. We sometimes act as if everything should be the same as we remember from our younger days, but the world is changing all around us. We have to be faithful to the eternal truths that point us to an unchanging God, but we have to live those truths in a changing world. It is sometimes difficult to keep the balance between the eternal that we old on to and the circumstances in which we express it.

One of the changes we have seen is in the number of people coming to church each Sunday. This is not a problem just within St. Malachy Parish or any other parish. It is not limited to Pittsburgh, nor is it an issue with the Catholic Church. Throughout our society, all across the country (and in much of the world), our society is becoming more and more secular. There are fewer and fewer people coming to church each week, and there are fewer young men entering the priesthood. That is a reality that the diocese has to deal with, and On Mission is looking for ways to sustain the Church well into the future.

At the same time, however, we have the unchangeable truth that our faith is founded on the dying and rising of Christ. He has called us to Himself and has given us new life. This gift is not a private privilege that we keep to ourselves. Christ also told His disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) So On Mission is not a way of circling the wagons and waiting for the end. Bishop Zubik is not leaving us with the message, “Last one out, turn off the lights.” Rather, this is a way of saying that we have to make the best use of our energies and our resources so that we can be the sign to our culture that Christ is still with us. It may seem that they are not listening, but the Letter to the Hebrews describes the Word of God as “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword.” Even if we do not see the end result, we know that God will not abandon us.

In coming weeks, we will see and hear more about On Mission for the Church Alive, and you will hear about how all of us can take part. Today for the first part of this series, I simply entreat you to live the faith and trust that God will guide this process. As a bishop says to a newly-ordained priest in the ordination liturgy, “May God, who has begun the good work in you, bring it to completion.”
                                                                                                    Father H

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 4, 2016

Going to Pirates games is one of my most enjoyable diversions, but it is also a source of exercise for me. That’s because I enjoy walking. I often park at Station Square and walk across the Smithfield Street Bridge, through downtown, and across the Roberto Clemente Bridge to the ballpark. That often becomes a time of prayer for me, and I don’t have to sit in traffic in the PNC Park lots. (It’s also easier to get home now that West Carson Street is open.)

On my walks through town, I often see people sitting by the side with handmade signs asking for help. And frankly, I’m never quite sure about the best way to deal with these situations. On the one hand, we are called to be a Church of the Poor, and here are the poor staring us in the face. And yet I have heard people who should know telling us that giving money to people on the street is not the best approach. There may be some mental illness or addiction, in which case some experts suggest that it would be better to donate to some agency or group that helps with such cases. Our monthly donations to the FOR Center in McKees Rocks have truly shown the generosity of the wonderful people of St. Malachy. Within our parish, we have the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, a group of volunteers who respond to all kinds of needs of the poor in our neighborhood. Theirs is not a public ministry, meaning that they do not do their work in front of everyone. Their ministry is often anonymous, with only those who receive help knowing of all that they do.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society is funded from donations, primarily those in the Poor Boxes in our church. That money helps people where they need it. The members of the society speak to those in need and help determine what their need really is. They can provide food or help with other necessities, but they can also advise people and help them get the help that they need.

The question of how to help those in need came up when I was on vacation. A family showed up in our parking lot asking for help after one of the Sunday Masses. They were back the next weekend, after my vacation, and they took me by surprise. (It appears that ours is not the only parish where they were begging.) The presence of people in the parking lot raised a further question for me. Certainly we want to help, but if word gets around that the parking lot is a good place to beg, then others will follow. Probably the best thing in such cases is to direct them to call the parish and ask to be put in contact with someone from the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

I did hear a leader of a Catholic aid group being interviewed once, and someone asked him if we should give to people begging on the street. He did not answer one way or another, but he did have a suggestion. He wanted us to see the human dignity that God has given to such people. In other words, if we do not give something, we should not pretend we didn’t see them. Rather, give them at least a smile and a kind word.

On a different note, please remember that Monday is Labor Day. Our Mass will be at 9:00 that morning, and the parish office will be closed.                                      

                                                                                          Father H