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                  

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 28, 2016

Some years ago there was a book with an intriguing title, Why Catholics Can’t Sing. I did not read the book, though someone I know did read it and was not impressed. What concerns me today is simply that a book with such a title would sell as much as it did. It seems that we Catholics have a reputation for being rather quiet and not taking a full part in the Liturgy. I can think of a couple of personal experiences. One involved my vacation a few years ago. I went to a church and sat in the pew like anyone else. The pastor came up to me to find out who I was, for he had heard me singing along with the organist, even over everyone else in church. I think he was a bit disappointed to find out I was a visiting priest since that meant he couldn’t try to recruit me for the choir.

The other experience happened some years ago in another parish. The parish I was in at the time took part in a “pulpit swap” with the local Protestant churches. That meant that one weekend I had to go to an evangelical church to speak at their service. I felt strange to hear members of the congregation calling out “Amen, brother” or “Preach it, Preacher.” Once I got used to it, they really got my juices flowing. At Mass the next day I had to remind myself not to expect the same response.

I do have my own theory as to why we have a reputation for being quiet. I suspect that part of it goes back to the days when Mass was in Latin. The priest would say his part, and the servers would respond on behalf of the assembly. The people sat or knelt in reverent silence, in awe of the mysteries being celebrated on their behalf. When Vatican II began to promote full and active participation in the Liturgy, it was difficult for people to change ingrained habits. Even many of those who are too young to have experienced the Mass in Latin grew up with parents who had a hard time coming out of their shells.

Yet the Mass belongs to all of us, and we all have a hand in making it a joyful and reverent celebration. For some, that means taking an active part as a Lector, Eucharistic Minister, Choir member or in some other way. For many others, that active participation will simply mean putting everything we have into our prayers, responses and hymns. I don’t even care if you sing on key. If you have a beautiful singing voice, you can inspire those around you to find the joy in singing out. And if you cannot sing well, that’s even better, for you will inspire others around you to sing loudly enough to drown you out. Either way, if we take a full part in what is happening, we become more a part of the Eucharistic mystery, and we appreciate it much more deeply. We get more out of the Mass when we put more into it.

Of course, I also welcome the “participation” of those too young to participate. As I like to remind people periodically, we welcome families to bring babies and small children. They may not always be quiet, but their noises are a refreshing reminder to us that God is renewing the Church by sending us a new generation.

                                                                                   Father H                  

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