Saturday, December 9, 2017

Second Sunday of Advent - December 10, 2017

One memory that comes to my mind frequently at this time of year is of the Christmas tree we had when I was a child. In addition to the tree, we had an HO scale train set complete with a miniature village. Dad had made a large platform for the train, which we kept in the basement most of the year, hidden away in the back room that had originally been the coal cellar. To set it up in the living room, we had to clear out the area around one full wall. There were things we had to do without, and the living room still got a little cramped for that time, but it was worth it. And occasionally my parents would realize that there were some things that were simply cluttering up the living room that we could do without altogether. Setting up the tree platform became a time to get rid of some things that we were better off without.

Advent is a time of preparation. We are not only preparing for the holiday called Christmas. We are also preparing for the coming of Christ, both in the celebration of His birth and in preparation for His second coming at the end of time. In Advent, then, we try to rearrange our lives to make room for God to be more completely at the center of our lives.

Advent is not Lent. Lent is our penitential season, while Advent is more a time of preparation. Yet as my parents would find some things to throw out when preparing to set up the platform, so our preparation should help us find aspects of our lives that do not fit with our faith and our vocations to live holy lives. Thus there is a penitential aspect to this Advent season. So while we do not have the same penitential practices as in Lent, and while we do not ask one another what we are giving up for Advent, still it is important to ask God to “clean up” our lives during this season of preparation. The best way to do that, of course, is through the sacrament of Reconciliation, commonly known as Confession.

Among the opportunities for Confessions during Advent, our parish is taking part in the diocesan event, “The Light is On for You.” Twice each year, once during Advent and once during Lent, the diocese asks every parish to have Confessions on the same evening. Between 6:00 and 9:00 this Wednesday, December 13, you can go to any parish in the diocese and know that there will be a priest available for Confession. Part of the idea is that Catholics have a wide choice of confessors. Some people are comfortable going to a priest they know. Others, however, are a little nervous talking to someone they know. One good way to get over that nervousness is to go to a parish you do not belong to. On Wednesday, you know that priests are available all over the diocese.

An option such as we have on Wednesday can be particularly helpful for those who have not been to Confession in a long time. I hope we can encourage people to come back to the sacrament. Some of the best Confessions I have ever heard have been of people who have not received the sacraments in years. Some have committed serious sins, and some have just gotten out of the habit. In either case, it is an indescribable joy to see the person come to a deeper understanding of God’s merciful love.
                                                                                           Father H                   

Sunday, December 3, 2017

First Sunday of Advent - December 3, 2017

The season of Advent is the beginning of the Church's liturgical calendar. Thus the First Sunday of Advent could be considered the equivalent of New Year's Day. We may not make this our time of resolutions, but we certainly can consider it as a time of new starts and fresh opportunities. So I would like to take a look at some of what can be new with this year. Some things are big, and some are small, but the new year is the unifying theme.

One change you will notice right away concerns our hymnals. We are no longer using the two volume series in which the front portion is changed several times a year. The Breaking Bread books are a single volume that will last the entire year. They contain almost all of the hymns we have used, and they have all of the Sunday and holy day readings. They will serve our purpose, and they save us money over the multi-volume edition. In fact, since the new books do not use the blue covers, we are saving more money. The blue covers are designed to last for several years, and we have certainly gotten our mileage out of them. They were wearing out and falling apart. However, and these new books save us from buying new covers.

Speaking of saving money, I will admit that I can be cheap at times. One example comes with the prayer we have been saying for the On Mission for the Church Alive initiative. When the diocese gave us the prayer and told us to pray it at Masses, I had copies made while we inserted in the blue covers. Meanwhile, a number of people complained that the prayer was too long. The diocese gave us a new, shorter version. I didn't want to waste the cards we had printed. Yet even with the blue covers, many of the cards have been misplaced. So with the new hymnals, we had to find a new way to keep the prayer available. Just when we were discussing possibilities, I found an office supply store that was closing. I took advantage of the going-out-of-business sale to get a good price on self-adhesive labels. That gives is an opportunity to start using the shorter version that most of the diocese is using. There are a few distinct differences, so please pay attention to the labels stuck onto the front cover.

Before too much of this new year goes by, we will be making a major upgrade to our sound system. As I write this, we are still not sure of when the new speakers will be installed. When it happens, though, I am confident that it will be easier for more people to participate fully in the Mass. I certainly hope that those who attend Mass in the cry rooms come out into the main body of the church. We should all come together as a single community, which is not as easy when some of our members are in a separate room.

Most importantly, this year will be the time for On Mission to take its next big steps. In April, Bishop Zubik will make the official announcement. In October, the new clergy assignments will take effect. There is a chance I may be part of the new configuration, though I strongly suspect that I will be going elsewhere. In the meantime, I will be praying that the Holy Spirit can guide the process, helping Bishop Zubik to choose good priests for our grouping, and giving me an assignment where I can best use my gifts in service to the Church.
                                                                                              Father H                 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe - November 26, 2017

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. That’s a real mouthful, so let’s just call it by its common title of Christ the King. As important as this feast is, there are some interesting facts behind it that can give us an insight into what the feast is all about.

First of all, this seems like an obvious celebration for our Church. Jesus spoke frequently of “the Kingdom of God” and let it be known that He was the one to bring about this Kingdom. He is clearly our Lord and Savior, fully divine and fully human, and it is through Him that the Father created all things. Thus it should be obvious that we acclaim His as our King. So it may surprise us to learn that today’s feast is relatively new, less than 100 years old. Pope Pius XI instituted the celebration of Christ the King in 1925. Pope Pius was concerned with the rise of secularism and atheism in the society. If that was a concern in 1925, imagine how Pope Pius would react to our age. In a world where our culture tells us to keep our faith to ourselves and that does not want us to influence public policy, we can reflect on Pius’ words, “If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth... it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God.”

When Pope Pius created this feast, he put it each year on the last Sunday of October. In 1969, Blessed Pope Paul VI moved it to its current place in the calendar, on the last Sunday of the Church’s year. Next Sunday begins a new year in the Chard with the start of the season of Advent. That seems appropriate because the Church traditionally takes the end of the year to reflect on the end of time. While we believe that Christ’s death and resurrection truly instituted the Kingdom of God in the world, we also see that the kingdom will not be fully realized until the end of time, when Christ will return and when He will join us to Himself in the eternal glory of heaven. Until then, this feast represents our certain faith in Christ’s victory over sin and death.

As we celebrate Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, I remind you of the opportunity to spend some time in Adoration of our Lord in the Eucharist. We will have Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament after the 11:00 Mass until the solemn Benediction at 3:00. Please join us to worship our Lord and King.

Finally, as I was double checking on a few of the details of this column, I also found a little bit of trivia that I leave you as a bonus. A number of Protestant churches have picked up the feast, and the Church of Sweden informally refers to this feast as “Sunday of Doom” since it reminds us of the last days when the world comes to an end. Furthermore, there is a statue of Christ the King in Swiebodzin, Poland. That statue holds the record for the largest statue of Jesus in the world. It is listed at 33 meters high, one meter for every year of Jesus’ earthly life. That puts it three meters taller than the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I don’t know if that means anything significant, but you may be able to use it to impress your Catholic or Polish friends.
                                                                                                Father H                 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 19, 2017

In the Peanuts comic strip, Charles Schulz did a series of strips in which Snoopy was so caught up in the beauty of the world that he just had to dance. In the midst of it, Lucy – ever the fussbudget – criticized him. How could he dance with so much trouble in the world? Snoopy paid her no mind but just went on dancing. Finally, after Lucy had offered her criticism, Snoopy stopped and sat down. Lucy said, “I’m glad you finally came to your senses.” After she walked away, Snoopy said, “It wasn’t that. I stopped dancing because my feet hurt.”

There is a little bit of Lucy in each one of us. Sometimes life weighs us down. It is easy to see the problems and struggles of life. It is easy to focus on the things that are wrong. But sometimes we need to be Snoopy. How often do we take time to recognize the blessings? How often are we so caught up in the beauty of the world that we just have to dance – or sing or laugh or whatever we do to express our joy?

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. There are great rituals associated with this holiday. They involve eating so much that we fall asleep on the sofa while watching football. But let us not forget what this holiday is truly all about. This is our opportunity to give thanks to God for all His blessings. Giving thanks is not a way to appease God as though we were worried that He might get mad if we forgot Him. It is rather a way of accepting His gifts for what they are, signs of His love. By being grateful, we see His love in every moment of our lives. In that way, we take a cue from one of the Prefaces that we use for the Eucharistic Prayer for weekday masses: “For although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift, since our praises add nothing to your greatness but profit us for salvation.”

In my own prayer, I sometimes use a rather silly image to help me recognize how important gratitude is. I imagine trying to thank God for every gift we have received. I would start with each breath I take: “Thank you for that one, and for that one, and there’s another one.” And in the midst of it, I would begin to notice each beat of my heart. In fact, I would get so caught up in thanking God for those basic signs that I would never be able to move, and I would thus miss the opportunity to thank Him for every blade of grass and every ray of sunshine. The serious lesson I draw from that image is that we are so surrounded by God’s gifts that we cannot possibly thank Him sufficiently. But in trying to do so, we move from Lucy to Snoopy. We keep our difficulties in perspective to see that, above all and in spite of anything else we might face, God’s love and protection are with us.

For me, I will be celebrating Thanksgiving with my sister in Virginia. I will be gone this whole week, but please know that I will be keeping all St. Malachy parishioners in my prayers in a special way, for the opportunity to serve this parish is one of the gifts for which I am most grateful. So happy Thanksgiving, everybody. And if you take this holiday seriously, then be like Snoopy and dance until your feet hurt.
                                                                                           Father H                   

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 12, 2017

In 1991 and 1992, the Pittsburgh Penguins won their first two Stanley Cups. In each case there was no question as to who would win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Mario Lemieux was clearly the best player on the ice each time. Our Penguins have again won the Cup each of the last two years, and again the team captain was playoff MVP in each season. The difference is that the choice was not as obvious either year. Most of us would agree that Sidney Crosby is the best player in the NHL, and he was certainly a deserving choice for the Conn Smythe. But you could make a strong argument for Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel or a number of other players. This is Sidney Crosby's team, but winning the Stanley Cup is truly a team effort.

The Church also works as a team. In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, each parish works with others to accomplish what we cannot do on our own. That idea is part of the hope behind On Mission for the Church Alive, which seeks to bring parishes together to form one stronger parish. But it also reaches beyond what any parish could do. By itself, for example, no parish could run a hospital or a nursing home for the care of the sick. No parish could run a seminary for the education of future generations of priests. Through the teamwork of the various parishes, the Diocese of Pittsburgh runs such programs through the efforts of the annual Parish Share Program. I generally write about this program, both in this column and in a letter to parishioners, in February, when the program starts for the year. But I want to renew my comments again at this time because we are a bit behind where we have been in the past. I want to take this opportunity to ask for a little extra push.

I have to admit that at times, pastors tend to look at that Parish Share assessment as a tax, an amount we have to come up with. Yet the truth is that we do benefit from that contribution. Even beyond the benefits we share with other parishes, we benefit directly in the generous contributions the Diocese has made to our own St. Malachy School. Beyond the help that we receive from the Parish Share Program, we can also benefit in another way. If we can collect the entire amount of our assessment, then the Diocese allows our parish to keep any additional money we would collect in this drive and would not count it toward next year’s assessment. So we have the opportunity to support the teamwork of the Diocese and still help our parish in a particular way.

If you have already given to the Parish Share Program, I thank you for your commitment to our parish and our diocese. If you have not yet given or would like to increase your donations, I can tell you that I would truly appreciate your push to make this program a success for our parish. To return to my original analogy, consider the Penguins’ run to the Cup this past year. Jake Guentzel was a big star, although he started the year as a minor leaguer. Marc-Andre Fleury was the goalie through the first half of the playoffs, when Matt Murray was injured, but then Murray came back and was fresh when Fleury seemed to be tiring. The Penguins relied on players to come in part way through and make a push to help those who had been contributing. So we can appreciate those who come in when we need an extra boost and give us a hand toward meeting our assessment. Thank you, as always, for your contribution to our parish.
                                                                                          Father H                 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 5, 2017

This weekend we celebrate our parish feast day, the feast of Saint Malachy. We are permitted to move our patronal feast to the nearest Sunday in order that we may celebrate with the entire parish. The readings we use this weekend are not the readings found in the worship aids. We are using readings and prayers from the Common of Pastors. Meanwhile, I want to update some of our plans for St. Malachy Church.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the “test drive” we recently had with the potential new sound system. Now I want to tell you what has happened since. For one thing, I said in that column that I did not know if the diocese would let us change the case statement to use money from the recent diocesan capital campaign for the purchase. Our Regional Vicar, Fr. Howard Campbell, read that column and encouraged me to apply for the change, telling me that he thought it would be a good use of our funds. Following diocesan policy, I got signatures from both our Pastoral and Finance Councils supporting the change. I sent those forms to the diocese along with a copy of my earlier column, which showed that we were open with all of you about our plans. I expected there to be a time for discussion and for the diocese to ask further questions. Instead, they replied very quickly, agreeing that we had taken the proper steps and that this is a worthwhile project for us. They gave us immediate permission to proceed.

Even though we got permission, we still had to determine whether we actually had the money available right now. Before we could actually pose the question, a parishioner who had been very impressed with the speakers approached me. This parishioner insists on remaining anonymous and wants to contribute a significant percentage of the cost. (If anyone else wants to contribute as well, we would be happy to accept.) With that generosity, we have placed the order for the new speakers. It should take some time before we can take delivery and install them, but we are at least in process.

Meanwhile, I would like to address the two biggest concerns from the surveys. One was that some people heard a bit of an echo. While the nature of the building creates an acoustical challenge, a permanent installation on the wall should allow us to improve that issue.

The other issue was that my lapel microphone was a bit muffled, although the hand-held mike was better. Those microphones are part of the existing system. As it turns out, even if we would not get the new system, we would lose both of those mikes. They are on a frequency that is now reserved and is no longer available for our use. The frequency of the hand-held mike is already unavailable to us, and the lapel mike will likely follow very soon. So while we are addressing the speakers, we are also planning to get new microphones that should be clearer.

What impressed me most during the trial period was the number of people who told me personally that they had hearing problems and that the speakers we were trying made a world of difference. Those were the people who implored me to get them. The Eucharistic Liturgy is the most important thing we do, and I am glad that we are going to enhance the experience of the Mass by making it easier for our people to hear.
                                                                                    Father H                 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Sunday, October 26, 2017

Before this month of October runs out, I want to take an opportunity to reflect on a special feature of this month. No, I am not speaking of the World Series, even though I consider it to be the “High Holy Days” of the year in sports. I am not referring to the autumn colors in the trees, although they certainly are a gift of God to show us His love. And I am not writing about Hallowe’en, a day that was once a fun little time for children to dress up and enjoy candy, and which has become overdone and over-commercialized.

We also look at October as the month of the Holy Rosary. This month offers us a chance to see what a wonderful form of prayer we have. It is a chance to reflect with our Blessed Mother on all the mysteries of faith that are part of the story of our salvation. In that sense I sometimes think back to the days when my father took photographs with slide film. Every so often we would set up the projector and screen in the living room and have a slide show. We would remember our family stories, and as the youngest, I would feel a certain connection even with events that happened before I was born or when I was too young to remember. Having Mom and Dad there to tell the stories made them real to me in a deeper sense. So reflecting on the story of our salvation in the presence of our Blessed Mother can help us relate and can show us that the stories in the Scriptures are not so distant from us. They are our stories. And reflecting on the mysteries brings us close to the Blessed Virgin Mary, with whom we share the grace of her Divine Son.

I like to say that one of the great aspects of the rosary is its flexibility. By that I mean that you can pray it in different ways. Some people like to concentrate on the Hail Mary, while others allow the repetition of the prayer to block distractions so they can open their minds to meditate more deeply on each of the mysteries. Some people get more out of praying the rosary in a group, while others (like me) prefer to pray it alone. For one thing, I like to do it at my own pace rather than go at someone else’s speed. And there are quite a few factors that could make me either speed up or slow down. We can pray in church before the Blessed Sacrament, but I like praying while I go for a walk or take a drive. For such a purpose, I prefer to carry a one-decade ring rosary, though I also have my favorite rosaries of the more traditional style. Also, I will occasionally draw upon my seminary training and do one decade in Latin. I know the basic prayers (the Pater Noster, the Ave Maria, and the Gloria Patri) in Latin well enough to do it without reading them, but I still need to stop and think about the words, which is the main point in my using Latin. It forces me to remember what I am saying.

Thus the rosary is a prayer that we can use in many different ways. So if you find yourself frightened by a Halloween ghost, grateful at the beauty that God puts into beautiful autumn foliage, or even depressed that the Pirates are not in the World Series, take it as an opportunity to pray the Rosary. Allow Mary to bring us closer to Christ and His saving love.
                                                                                         Father H