Sunday, October 14, 2018

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 14, 2018

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” I believe that I have quoted those words of G. K. Chesterton before, most likely in a column around the holiday of Thanksgiving. But I cannot think of any better sentiment to begin my final Pastor’s Ponderings for the St. Malachy bulletin. I have truly loved my time at St. Malachy, and these past few weeks I keep finding myself thanking God for the past four-and-a-half years. And while I am excited to begin my new adventure – and to get reacquainted with people I have served in the past – I feel a certain sadness at saying goodbye to the people of St. Malachy whom I have come to love. But the sadness hardly compares with the gratitude I feel for what I have experienced.

Thanks be to God for putting me in this beautiful setting. I have said that I was impressed with St. Malachy long before I came here. When I was first ordained and was assigned to St. Francis de Sales in McKees Rocks, we came up here occasionally to help out. I was impressed with the beauty of this church the first time I saw it. I also visited here quite frequently when my good friend Fr. Michael Maranowski was pastor here. Once I moved in, it took quite a while for the novelty to wear off.

Thanks be to God for the staff I have been privileged to work with. It would be hard to find a more dedicated group of people, and their devotion to Christ and His Church are evident to anyone who has the blessing of working closely with them. They have complemented my strengths and weaknesses very well. They have kept St. Malachy running smoothly and have made it look like I knew what I was doing.

Thanks be to God for all of the wonderful parishioners of St. Malachy. I knew that I could always find a true expression of faith when we gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. Our Sunday celebrations were always the highlight of my week. And the community that formed at the 7:15 Mass every weekday morning became a special part of my family. I know that whenever and wherever I celebrate the Eucharist, I will still be in Communion with this parish in the deepest way possible.

Thanks be to God in a special way for Fr. Russell Maurer. We had a professor in the seminary who told us that the most important thing was to have a priestly heart. Fr. Russell, despite his physical limitations, truly has a priestly heart and wants to continue being a priest to the best of his ability. Thanks also for the opportunity to work with Fr. Patrick O’Brien until he could no longer continue.

Thanks be to God for the families of St. Malachy School and CCD programs. When I came here, Fr. Eckman of the Clergy Office told me that they knew they had to send me to a parish with a school since that is so much a part of my ministry. Our students have had some of the best leadership, with Janet Escovitz and Cathy Militzer as school principals, and with Joanne Swank and Steven Swank as Catechetical Administrators. We have wonderful teachers and support staff. But there is a special joy of getting to know the students. With the students, you see the growth more clearly than with adults. I think of when I was preparing to come here and Fr. Michael was showing me around. I met a fifth grader who struck me as a sweet but giggly little girl. I see that same student, now in high school, when she serves as a Lector at Sunday Mass, and I see someone who has grown and matured so dramatically. I am proud to have been part of the lives of these young people. As we often say, “Once a Bomber, always a Bomber.”

So as I leave Kennedy Township, I leave a part of my heart here. For all that I have experienced since April 28, 2014, I have only one thing to say: Deo gratias!

                                                                                        Father H  

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 7, 2018


Four and a half years ago, I had the great privilege of becoming pastor of St. Malachy Parish. As with any priest beginning a new assignment, I knew there would be surprises. But I did make two promises on my first weekend in the parish, the same promises that I made to every parish where I have served as pastor or administrator. I promised to celebrate the Liturgy with reverence and joy, and I promised that I would be present to the students of St. Malachy School and of our CCD program. You have heard me speak or read what I have written about our school and CCD, so you can tell that religious education has been very vital to me. So today I want to reflect on the Liturgy.


About a month ago, I was the homilist at the annual Forty Hours celebration at St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin Parish. Fr. John Skirtich asked me to take that role even before we knew that I would be part of that parish and its neighbors as parish chaplain. As I thought about what I wanted to say, I thought it was important to speak about the Eucharist in light of the implementation of On Mission for the Church Alive. After all, the Eucharist is the single most important aspect of our lives as Catholics. Without the Eucharist, we cannot maintain our faith.

I based my homily at St. Gabriel on a first-century document called The Didache. This writing offers some prayers to be used at the celebration of the Eucharist, including, “As this broken bread scattered on the mountains was gathered and became one, so too, may your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.” The Eucharist is the greatest sign of our unity, as well as the source of that unity. As we share the Eucharist, we share as members of the Body of Christ. So as we prepare to move into this new phase in the history of the Church in Pittsburgh, we remember that the celebration of the Eucharist is the most important thing we do and the most important element in bringing our community together with St. John of God and Holy Trinity.

I know it won’t be easy for the new priests coming into this grouping. Each parish has its own ways of celebrating the Eucharist, and they will have to get used to the differences among our three parishes. Similarly, I will have to get used to the differences of St. Gabriel, Nativity, St. Germaine, and St. Valentine parishes. The difference is that I have a bit of a head start, having spent six years as an assistant at St. Gabriel and eight and a half years as pastor of Nativity. And in that time, I was a frequent guest celebrant at St. Germaine. But still, each priest has to remind himself that each parish has slight differences. Moreover, each priest has his own way of doing things. Even staying within the guidelines that the liturgy offers, there are many different customs, and each parish has to get used to each new priest.

With those last differences in mind, I also will tell you a joke that I offered in my Forty Hours homily, directed mainly at the other priests who were there that evening. I told of a woman who was getting ready for church one Sunday morning. She told her husband to hurry up, but he said that he had decided not to go to church. When she asked why, the husband said that he didn’t like the new priest at their church. She responded, “You also told me that you don’t like the new bartender down at Joe’s Bar. But that hasn’t stopped you from going there.” Five minutes later, he was ready to go to Mass.                                 
                                                                                                            Father H  

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 30, 2018

Over the past few months, my friend Ralphie and I have been rehearsing our act for the parish festival. Last year I thought it would be fun to surprise everyone, and just a couple of people guessed correctly that I was doing ventriloquism. This year you know ahead of time what kind of act Ralphie and I have, so we have been rehearsing for quite a while.

While Ralphie thinks this is all about him (as he seems to be developing the cheeky personality of the classic ventriloquist dummy), I know that there are many people who have been putting a lot of work into the more important parts of our parish festival. There have been people prepping for the Italian booth in the cafeteria on Saturday mornings for quite a while, there has been a smell of cooking onions for the pierogi booth at various times, and there has been some painting and cleaning of the bar area. And that’s just a sample of what’s been happening on site in a way that I’ve been able to notice. The chairpersons of the various other booths have been working here and at their homes to make sure everything is ready, as have those who are working behind the scenes.

So come on out this week, Thursday through Saturday, and enjoy the food and fun of our St. Malachy Nationality Festival. The festival runs from 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM each of the three evenings, leaving me with the choice of what food booths to taste. I am at the age where I have to be careful not to overdo it, and there is just so much good food to choose from. I know that I will have a good meal from the German booth. (With a name like Hissrich, how could I not support my ancestral heritage?) Many of the other booths have the same great food that I have enjoyed in past years. And there are some new things such as “Fresh Off the Grill,” an outdoor grill that will feature hot sausage, grilled kielbasa, cheese steak hoagies on other delicacies.

Our festival features other forms of fun for everyone as well. There are games for the children (now in the school lobby) as well as for the adults. You can come away with some wonderful prizes, from the linen booth run by our school faculty all the way up through the raffle prizes of $1,000 Thursday evening, $2,500 Friday evening, and the grand prize of $5,000 Saturday night.

Entertainment in the gym will include a number of acts on Thursday, starting with the Mars Rover Quartet, a part of the Greater Cranberry Men’s Chorus that Fr. Russell sings with, followed by our own championship St. Malachy Cheerleaders. Ralphie and I are on after the cheerleaders, and then we have a performance by Dance Time, formerly the Miller School of Dance. The Celtic Spirit Highland Dancers and Pipers of Pittsburgh will perform on Friday evening. And Saturday we have Elvis Presley returning to St. Malachy, as presented by our own Don Obusek. So come on out and enjoy yourself (while supporting St. Malachy Parish) at our festival this week. It is sure to be a great time for all.

You are welcome to stop reading at this point, but I feel like adding a bit of information that is so trivial that it doesn’t even qualify as trivia. Last year I knew my ventriloquism partner simply as Ralphie. I wanted him to have a full name, but nothing more than “Ralphie” seemed to fit. Since then I have come to call him Ralph Edgar Mulligan. “Ralphie” goes back to an inside joke with an old high school friend. Edgar is in honor of the great ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, who really helped popularize the art. And he was named Mulligan after a seminary professor who was my spiritual director for four years. So come say hello to Ralphie, but please don’t tell him that we’re not getting paid for our act.
                                                                                                   Father H  

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 23, 2018

Last week we began Bishop Zubik’s Year of Repentance. While this year primarily affects priests and deacons, I was pleased to hear some of our parishioners tell me that they were planning on taking part with us, fasting to show solidarity with and support for the members of the clergy at this difficult time. I thought it might be good to reflect a bit on a couple of aspects of what the bishop is calling us to.

This past week we had the first of the Ember Days. I have to admit that I have heard of Ember Days all my life but had never paid much attention to them. I have since learned that the word “Ember” comes from a corruption of the Latin phrase Quatuor Tempora, meaning “four times,” since they fall at four times during the year. Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) formally instituted these days as a time of fasting and prayer for the Church, though their origin seems to go back further than that. They were to fall four times in the course of the year, falling on a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. While we are using them as a time of reparation, they are also a time of thanksgiving for harvest, as they fall at the change of seasons. As we ask for God’s mercy, then, we see a loving God who never withholds His bountiful gifts. In addition, it was once a custom for priestly ordinations to take place on the Saturdays of the Ember Days, so that these days became a time to pray for priests. That connection makes Bishop Zubik’s use of them seem particularly appropriate. And while I haven’t seen an official explanation, I suspect that is why we skip over the Thursdays during the Ember Days, since Thursday was the day of the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood.

In establishing this Year of Repentance, Bishop Zubik also asked us “to consider restoring in your parishes, after all Masses, the recitation of the Saint Michael the Archangel Prayer.” The wording of the bishop’s letter makes it clear that this is a suggestion. But since I had mentioned to one of the diocesan officials that the Prayer to St. Michael might be a good way to approach the current issues, I would feel really bad if we didn’t use it here.

Before the Second Vatican Council, the Prayer to St. Michael was recited at the end of every Low Mass. It began during the papacy of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903). Under his predecessor, Blessed Pope Pius IX, the Vatican had lost control of the Papal States to the newly unified nation of Italy. There were those who believed that the Pope had to be an actual civil leader in order to have standing among the world’s leaders. Pope Leo took that occasion to ask the Church to pray to St. Michael that all evil may be driven out of the world. Certainly we can see the current situation as a reminder that evil does indeed exist in the world. It was evil that allowed priests to harm the innocent youth. And now the devil uses that evil to turn people away from the Church. Yet it is always an important distinction that the devil is not the opposite of God. He is not all-powerful, as God is. Thus, in the end, the devil cannot win. The Book of Revelation speaks of St. Michael the Archangel casting Satan out, thus showing the victory that Christ won by His Cross. By praying that prayer, we pray that we can be part of that great victory.

When I first received Bishop Zubik’s letter, I thought of attending his prayer at the seminary this Sunday. But Sunday has long been the day when my Prayer Group (including Fr. Michael) meets, and we decided that it would be good for us to meet together on this day. So while we are praying together for the good of the Church, I ask all of you to continue to pray for your priests. Please also continue to pray for more vocations to the priesthood. In the end, we know that the Church will stand strong.                                           
                                                                       
                                                                                                Father H 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 16, 2018


When it was time for me to start school, my parents decided to send me to public school. Near the end of my fifth grade year, my parents had to make a decision. So as the year was winding down, I knew that the next year I would be in sixth grade at St. James. I was nervous about the change, but it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. But there is another part of the story that is pertinent to today’s column. I remember my last Saturday morning of CCD. My father was working in the yard when I came home, and I told him, “I never have to go to catechism classes again.” Dad told me that I shouldn’t say that. “But Dad,” I said, “Religion classes will be a part of our school day next year. I won’t need CCD.” Dad said that he was well aware of that, but that I should “never say never.”

Years later, after my ordination, I was talking to my father about my visits to CCD classes, and I asked him if he remembered the conversation we had years earlier. He had forgotten, but he enjoyed hearing about it. Here at St. Malachy, CCD classes began last Sunday. Today we celebrate Catechetical Sunday, when we recognize the men and women who give so much of their time and talents to teach our CCD classes, as well as Baptism classes, RCIA catechesis and other aspects of our parish’s catechetical life. Since I have been here, I have tried to visit the CCD classes every week, and I will continue to do that until my move to the South Hills next month. I think it is important for the children to see their priest in the classroom.
While I mention my visits to the classrooms, there are some who could certainly try nitpicking my terminology. Notice that in my opening story, I mentioned “catechism classes.” I seem to remember that this was what we called them when I started. By the end of my fifth grade year, though, we were calling it CCD. Every once in a while in my priesthood, though not as often as you might guess, one of the students would ask what CCD means. The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine was an organization designed to help parishes teach the faith. I eventually got used to calling it CCD, even now that the diocese no longer uses that name. In recent years, they have used the term “Religious Education.” And now they are speaking of “Faith Formation classes.”

I can certainly see why we call it “faith formation.” That term indicates that what we are doing is more than just education. Our faith is not an academic subject. We do not get into heaven based on a grade on a report card. Rather, we are trying to introduce them to the great love of God for their lives. As St. John Paul II wrote, “At the heart of our faith, we do not find doctrine or teaching; we find the person of Jesus.” We are not so much teaching a subject as introducing the students – and their families – to our Lord and Savior. As we prepare our second graders for First Penance and First Communion, and as we prepare the eighth graders for Confirmation, we are not just giving them a sort of “rite of passage.” In the Eucharist, particularly, we have the Real Presence of Christ. Each reception of Holy Communion is an encounter with Jesus in the closest sense. Christ promised to remain with us through the end of time, and we are helping bring these students to a deeper sense of Christ’s presence throughout their lives, something that will help them with every choice they make throughout their lives.

The term “faith formation” helps us see how important this Catechetical Sunday is for us. It makes me thankful that my father wouldn’t let me say that I never had to go to CCD again. 
                                                          
                                                                  Father H

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 9, 2018

For the record, I don't really mind people calling to ask about the Mass schedule. Those calls are perhaps
just a very little bit less frequent now with the information on the Internet. (When I travel, I usually rely on
MassTimes.org.) Many people are very apologetic for calling, expecting to get a recording. And perhaps
I am not quite as happy with the calls if they come in the middle of the night and I answer the phone while
thinking that I am going to have to go up to the hospital. But for the most part, I don't mind.

I also realize that those calls will be a little more common in the coming months, as we implement On
Mission for the Church Alive. In this bulletin is a flyer with the new Mass schedule. This schedule
is also being mailed to every registered parishioner. In addition, The Pittsburgh Catholic is being mailed
to every home this weekend, and it includes the new schedule for every grouping of parishes in the diocese.
You will notice that the schedule will be a little easier here. With the number of priests in this grouping, 
there is no need to reduce the number of Sunday Masses, so the Sunday schedule is not changing. In
the South Hills, where I am going, we have to reduce from twelve Sunday Masses down to nine.

So our Sunday Masses will stay the same, but our weekday schedule is changing. You will notice that
our Mass here at St. Malachy will be at 8:30 am Monday through Saturday, except for Friday. The
Saturday morning Mass is new to our parish. Meanwhile, the school will have its Mass on a different
day than the Friday we are used to.

Please note that this is an interim schedule. The goal is for all of the Administrators to try it and see
how the schedules work out. They will be working with Religious Education programs and other
factors to decide where to go from here. They will take many factors into account, including the
opinions of the parishioners. Please give the schedule some time. Perhaps think of that old TV 
commercial where they said, "Try it, you'll like it." If you then have any thoughts on the schedule,
talk to Fr. Poecking about your ideas. Keep in mind that he will be facing a lot of issues in his new
role, and he has to consider all three of the parishes. So offer your thoughts respectfully, and 
he will take every idea into consideration.

So as we prepare for this new schedule, I am remembering a time when the parish I was in made
a change to our Christmas day schedule, moving our final Mass a half an hour earlier that it had
been. I was hoping it wouldn't be a problem for people showing up late. As it turns out, the only
one who was late was the woman who was scheduled to serve as Lector at the Mass. She, in
fact, was the one who scheduled the Lectors and had reminded all of them about the change in
times.
 
I also chuckle when I think of the people who call for the schedule. Occasionally, when I say that
the Sunday morning Masses are 8:00 and 11:00, the caller will ask, "Don't you have any Masses
after that?" Honestly, folks, I don't keep any Masses secret. If we did have a later Mass, I would
have told you about it.

                                                                             Father H

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 2, 2018

When I was in the seminary, we heard the story of two monks who are taking time for recreation and playing a game of pool. One of them asked the other, “What would you do if you found out that Christ was coming back in fifteen minutes?” The other responded, “I would finish this game.” We always took that story to mean that whatever we are doing, we do it with an attitude of prayer as something we offer to Christ. For most of us, if we were in that position, we would probably think of our unfinished business.

I know it’s not the same as the Second Coming, but I’m starting to think more of the end of an era. With Labor Day this week, I realize that the implementation of On Mission for the Church Alive is coming much closer. I am getting ready for my move to the South Hills, and Fathers Poecking, Morris and Ruffalo are making plans to begin their time here at St. Malachy, along with serving St. John of God and Holy Trinity. I can also include Fr. Zajdel, who is already a part of St. John of God, along with Deacon Tim Killmeyer, who is serving Holy Trinity. Of course, this grouping will also include our retired priests, Fr. Regis Ryan and Fr. Bob Herrmann, in This is where the story of the monks shooting pool comes in handy for me. If Christ is returning, I hope I would say that whatever I am doing is a way of serving Him. In this case, I know that the work of Christ will continue. As long as the Eucharist is here, the presence of Christ is more important than whatever priests are here to bring Him to the people. So I realize that my attention will be divided over the coming weeks. On one hand I will be packing and preparing for a move. At the same time, I will be trying to talk with the people out in the South Hills to get an idea of what my schedule will be and how I will carry out my new responsibilities. But in the meantime, I still have to “finish this pool game.” I still love St. Malachy, and I still am happy to be here. There will be more and more times when someone may ask me something and I reply that the answer will have to wait for Fr. Poecking and the others. But over the next week, I am going to give myself to the service of St. Malachy Parish. I know there will be things I will wish I could have done more with, as has happened every time I have been transferred. But when the time comes, I will walk away from here knowing that the last four-and-a-half years have been a time I will never forget. And while I will soon be rooting for the St. Gabriel Gators, I will never forget what we have often said here, “Once a Bomber, always a Bomber.” Father H addition to our own Fr. Russell. My thoughts, however, are centered on how quickly I will have to say goodbye.

While I have not planned my upcoming columns, it is possible that I will spend some time reflecting on these last fourand-a-half years that I have been at St. Malachy. We are gearing up for this change as the school year is starting, and it felt strange to me this week to welcome the students back at a time when I know I will not be teaching them on a weekly basis. It’s always a thrill to see the students coming back and get used to them being on a new level. Last year’s seventh graders are now our eighth graders, the leaders of our school. But as I see them settling in, I know I will not be part of their graduation. That reminds me that I will be leaving with unfinished business in many ways. There are quite a few things I would like to be here for, but I have to hand them off to others.

This is where the story of the monks shooting pool comes in handy for me. If Christ is returning, I hope I would say that whatever I am doing is a way of serving Him. In this case, I know that the work of Christ will continue. As long as the Eucharist is here, the presence of Christ is more important than whatever priests are here to bring Him to the people. So I realize that my attention will be divided over the coming weeks. On one hand I will be packing and preparing for a move. At the same time, I will be trying to talk with the people out in the South Hills to get an idea of what my schedule will be and how I will carry out my new responsibilities. But in the meantime, I still have to “finish this pool game.” I still love St. Malachy, and I still am happy to be here. There will be more and more times when someone may ask me something and I reply that the answer will have to wait for Fr. Poecking and the others. But over the next week, I am going to give myself to the service of St. Malachy Parish. I know there will be things I will wish I could have done more with, as has happened every time I have been transferred. But when the time comes, I will walk away from here knowing that the last four-and-a-half years have been a time I will never forget. And while I will soon be rooting for the St. Gabriel Gators, I will never forget what we have often said here, “Once a Bomber, always a Bomber.”

                                                                     Father H