Sunday, March 19, 2017

Third Sunday of Lent - March 19, 2017

Classical music often relies on the contrast between piano and forte passages. In simpler terms for anyone who is not a musician, classical music is sometimes loud and sometimes soft. So I find that when I have classical music in my car, if I stop at a red light when a quieter movement comes on, the car next to me invariably is playing rap music at a level that drowns out Beethoven. So much modern music has abandoned the contrast and plays at one constant level, deafeningly loud, losing the subtlety of the crescendo and the decrescendo.

Our Catholic liturgy allows for the different levels. Throughout the year, those who come to Mass on weekdays notice that the Mass is simpler than on Sundays. So Lent is a time when we keep the liturgy a little more “quiet.” The practices of Lent put us in a more contemplative mood, allowing us to focus on the penitential nature of this season. They also prepare us for the fortissimo of the Easter celebration, making the joy all the more obvious by contrast with Lent. Some of the observances are universal in the Church, and some are choices that we make at St. Malachy to enhance the somber atmosphere of Lent.

Among the universal Catholic practices, there is no “Glory to God” or “Alleluia” during Lent, and we are discouraged from decorating with flowers in the sanctuary. Notice how these items stand out when you come to Mass at Easter.

I have always liked some of the other adaptations that are available for Lent. Some speak of the penitential nature of the season, such as when we kneel for the Penitential Act of the Mass. Kneeling is a posture of reverence, but it is primarily a posture of penitence. Kneeling helps us express more clearly our need for God’s great mercy.

Other adaptations seem to me a way of expressing what my musical analogy said of keeping things simpler to prepare for the glory of Easter. I do less singing of the various Mass parts during Lent, and we dispense with the hymn at the recessional. We do not use the bells at the Institution Narrative (the Consecration) in the Eucharistic Prayer. And this year I decided to set aside the Book of the Gospels during Lent. All of these give us a sense that we are not at our greatest time of celebration just yet.

One change will carry over into the Easter season. We have the choice of substituting the Apostles’ Creed for the Nicene Creed at Mass, and I like to do that for Lent as something simpler. Liturgists often suggest using the Apostles’ Creed during the Easter season because Easter is a time to remember our baptism, as the Apostles’ Creed is part of the Baptism liturgy.

So if you find yourself next to a car blasting out rap music, take that as a reminder that Lent answers our need to quiet our hearts to listen to the message of God.

                                                                                            Father H                   

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Second Sunday of Lent - March 12, 2017

I remember an old joke about a priest who had taught the school children that it is a sin to waste food. Shortly thereafter he was hearing confessions of the school children, and a little boy confessed, “I threw peanuts in the lake.” The next boy came in, and he also said, “I threw peanuts in the lake.” Three more boys included the same sin. Finally another boy came in and made his confession, and the priest asked, “Did you throw peanuts in the lake?” The young boy said, “No, Father. I’m the boy they call ‘Peanuts.’”

That joke was a lot funnier when I was ten, but at least it goes to show that the priest never knows what to expect in Confession. By the time you read this, our second graders will have come to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time. It is always an exciting time for them, but they can also be rather nervous. Come to think of it, the same applies to many adults. The sad part is that many adults forget the excitement and just think of Confession as something to be nervous about. But since Lent is an important time to offer the infinite mercy of our God, then this is a good time to encourage people to come and receive the Sacrament.

I can speak from my own experience in saying that Confession is a tremendous gift from God. There are times when I have some specific need, some particular sins that I know I need to ask forgiveness for. Having been through such times before, I can come to Confession with confidence that my confessor will not berate me or think less of me. There are also times when I see the sacrament as “fine tuning.” I may not feel like I’ve been all that bad, but I know I have failed here and there. And I find that if I go more than a month or so between confessions, I start to feel as if something is just not right. The grace of the sacrament helps keep me focused on Christ, and my own self-centeredness gets in the way if I wait too long. So even if we are not aware of any significant sins (and all of us have them if we look closely enough), Confession is a chance to renew ourselves in our life of faith.

I know that while I am talking about going to Confession regularly, there are many who have not been there in a long time. I remember shortly after I was ordained, when I was 26 years old, that I had someone who hadn’t been to Confession in over thirty years. Now that I’m 57, I don’t expect someone whose last time in the sacrament was before I was born. But the longer the time someone has been away, the more thankful I am to have that person come in. If it has been a long time, I try to make the return to the sacrament as easy as I can. In fact, I try to do more than to make it easy; I try to make it a joyful occasion. A return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation after years of absence should be a time of celebration.

So during this holy time of Lent, come and celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation with us. And for the young boys out there, please tell me right away if your nickname is “Peanuts.”

                                                                                  Father H                  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

First Sunday of Lent - March 5, 2017

When I was in the seminary, our Liturgy professor told us of an old Latin saying, “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” Translated literally, it means “The law of prayer is the law of faith.” In other words, if you want to know what we believe, look at the way we pray. Our Liturgy, in addition to being our greatest source of grace, is a good way to learn about God. So I thought that a good beginning to our season of Lent would be to look at our Liturgy. And a good place to begin is with the Eucharistic Prayer.

Ordinarily there are four choices for a Eucharistic Prayer, and I may write about those choices at another time. But during Lent, I like to use the two special Eucharistic Prayers that focus on Reconciliation. Today I am going to take a few lines from the first of these special prayers.

We direct the prayer, as all the Eucharistic Prayers, to God the Father. We say to him, “From the world’s beginning you are ceaselessly at work, so that the human race may become holy, just as you are holy.” When I was a child, we had a feeling that since we focus on sin at this time of year, Lent was a time to put ourselves down. Yet any change that comes in this season is the result of God challenging us to be something better, to become what He created us to be. And we are not alone, for God is “ceaselessly at work.” Even the cross is a message of love, for Jesus’ “arms were outstretched between heaven and earth to become a lasting sign of your covenant.”

The love of God which brings us closer to him has a broader effect as well. When we are reconciled with God, we are also reconciled with one another. As the Eucharistic Prayer says, “Grant that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as they partake of this one Bread and one Chalice, they may be gathered into one Body in Christ, who heals every division.” As an analogy, think of what happens to the Penguins if Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin are hurt. When they get healthy, the whole team works better. When we get spiritually healthy, the Catholic “team” is much richer. In my reflections, I find that theme even stronger in the second Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation.

The whole sense of our reconciliation comes back to our final goal of heaven. The prayer concludes, “Then, freed at last from the wound of corruption and made fully into a new creation, we shall sing to you with gladness the thanksgiving of Christ, who lives for all eternity.”

The Eucharistic Prayers can always be helpful for our meditations. As we get into the season of Lent, I invite you to reflect on these special prayers as you hear them at Mass. They can be a good guide for our Lenten season.
                                                                                   Father H                  

Monday, February 27, 2017

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 26, 2017

Easter is a little later this year, and thus Lent begins a little later. When Lent begins later, it always makes it a little easier to get back to normal after the Christmas festivities and not feel as though the year is rushing by. And yet no matter how late Ash Wednesday is, I always want to ask the question, “What, already?” And that is where we are. This Wednesday, March 1, is Ash Wednesday, and our holy time begins.

As we prepare for Lent, I call you attention to the pamphlet in the bulletin today. This pamphlet gives the schedule for important Lenten events and guidelines for keeping the season. I remember my attitude toward the season when I was younger. Lent was always marked by the question, “What are you giving up?” Lent was a time of deprivation, and my goal was to get through it. How longingly I awaited my Easter basket each year, eagerly anticipating the thrill of tearing open a candy bar and enjoying what I had missed for the Forty Days. I suspect many of us still carry at least a little bit of that attitude with us as adults. And I cannot deny that ads for steak restaurants – or even fast-food hamburger joints – look so much more enticing on Ash Wednesday. But I hope we can make this Lent more about the preparation for Christ’s Resurrection and our new life in heaven. In fact, rather than think of the forty days of Lent, I try to think of the ninety days that begin with Lent and lead through the Easter season, right up to Pentecost.

To help with that attitude, I would like to call attention to one particular entry in the Lent pamphlet. I would like to invite you to make this the “best Lent ever.” That is the title for a special program that we are taking part in. At Christmas we gave out copies of the newest book by Matthew Kelly, Resisting Happiness. Kelly’s organization, Dynamic Catholic, is offering the “Best Lent Ever” program. The best part is that it is very simple to take part. All you have to do is go to and sign up with your email address. Those of us who sign up will get an email each day during Lent with suggestions for the season, along with videos featuring Matthew Kelly and reflections from other members of the Dynamic Catholic organization.

The pamphlet gives other ideas for Lent, along with the regulations for the season and our parish’s observances. Most of these things should be familiar to us from our previous observances of Lent, so I am focusing primarily on the Best Lent Ever program. But the entire season is a time of great opportunity for us. As St. Paul tells us in the second reading, “Behold, now is the very acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation.”
                                                                                              Father H                  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 19, 2017

 We have two events coming together this Tuesday. I will miss both of them, but I think I have a good excuse. I will be at St. Paul Seminary that day for the next installment of the Priest Leadership and Evangelization Collaborative that the Diocese is sponsoring to help us priests prepare for the changes from On Mission for the Church Alive. So while I will miss the spiritual nourishment that we offer here, I will be learning and growing in my faith with almost 150 of my brother priests.

Tuesday is the next installment of our St. Malachy Speaker Series, with Nancy Amorose speaking on the subject of “In the Beginning, A Spiritual Journey to Truth.” Mrs. Amorose belongs to St. Pio of Pietrelcina Parish in Blawnox and is the founder of a group known as “Ladder of Truth.” Their mission statement speaks of “helping parents and guardians instill Christian ideals in their children.” The speaker series has very well received, and we have been very fortunate to have some excellent speakers. This should be another excellent offering.

The same day is also the third Tuesday of the month, and that means we have our monthly Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Having both on the same day has been an incentive for more people to come to the 6:30 Benediction. We keep the Benediction simple, especially when followed by a speaker, but it is still a profound opportunity to spend time with our Eucharistic Lord. We will have Exposition at 1:00 and then have the Blessed Sacrament on the Altar for the entire afternoon. If you cannot be here at the Benediction, feel free to stop in at any time during the day.

Someone once referred to Eucharistic Adoration as “the Mass in slow motion.” I was unable to find the quotation (though I did find that phrase as a title of an unrelated book by Msgr. Ronald Knox). The point is that so much is happening at Mass that we may not full appreciate the wonderful gift that we receive. At Eucharistic Adoration, then, we have a chance to sit back in the presence of Christ on the Altar and to realize just how powerful a gift we have. This gift is so powerful that J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, once said, “I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth.” So join us on Tuesday and give yourself the favor of growing closer to Christ in the Eucharist.

On a related note, in the past we began Adoration at the 7:15 Mass. The people who come regularly were having a harder time filling in all the hours, and we should never have the Blessed Sacrament exposed when no one is present. So if you can make a regular commitment to coming each month, let us know. We will get your name to the people who organize this holy time.

                                                                                          Father H

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 12, 2017

My father and I both loved the TV show M*A*S*H from when it first came on. Dad had the entire series on DVD, and now I have his discs. Recently I have been watching the early seasons, but right now I’m remembering a couple of later episodes. In one, Hawkeye and Winchester wanted to demonstrate how gullible some people can be, so they mentioned to Klinger about the coming visit of Marilyn Monroe. Soon, even General Schwerin arranged a visit to the camp in order to see her. In another, a visiting inspector led the members of the 4077th to believe that the Army was going to break them up to build a new unit. Soon everyone on the show was acting crazy in order to avoid being chosen for the new unit.

As M*A*S*H demonstrated, rumors can quickly overwhelm the truth. As we go through the diocesan initiative On Mission for the Church Alive, we know we are going to see some changes that will affect each of us. It is little wonder, then, that people are speculating about what is going to happen. Every once in a while, though, I hear it said that certain stories are going about. So perhaps it would be a good idea to review what is happening and remind everyone of where we stand.

Last year, the diocese proposed at least a couple of models for each parish as a starting point for discussion. There are two models that involve St. Malachy Parish. One would have us forming a new parish with St. John of God, St. Philip (which itself is a recent merger of St. Philip, Ascension, Guardian Angels and Holy Innocents) and St. Margaret of Scotland. The other model has us in with the same parishes plus Holy Trinity. In either case, the new parish would feature two “campuses.” It is important to keep in mind that neither model takes the schools into consideration. The diocese is studying schools separately, and even when they announce a new direction for schools in the North Hills region this month, that does not give us any indication of what will happen with our school. Absolutely no decisions have been made on the future of our school.

First indications are that our parish favors the model without Holy Trinity, though many wonder why St. Margaret is in with us. Yet Bishop Zubik is open to other ideas as well. Nothing is decided at this point. Fr. Lou Vallone at St. John of God is proposing his own model in which St. Malachy, St. Philip and St. John of God would join together as one parish. St. Malachy and St. Philip would be the two campuses, but with St. Mary Church of St. John of God Parish remaining open for weddings, funerals and one Saturday and one Sunday Mass each week. Of course I have no way of knowing how Bishop Zubik will react to Fr. Lou’s proposal.

Right now, that is all we know. Anything else you may hear is a rumor and should be treated as such. Remember what Hawkeye Pierce said on M*A*S*H when BJ Hunnicutt teased him about taking Klinger’s story too seriously. “That’s what you get for listening to idle gossip,” said Hawkeye, “especially when it comes from an idle gossip.”
                                                                                       Father H                  

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 5, 2017

A while ago I got an email from a parishioner with a question. When I get questions, I sometimes like to save them for this column when I am not sure what else to write about. I realized I hadn’t put this particular question in my Ponderings until our organist, Laurie Lanz, told me that someone had asked her the same question. It concerns the “Lamb of God” that we sing at Mass. It is often longer than we are used to, and some have wondered why we repeat it over and over again.

To answer the question, we have to start with the purpose of the litany. It does not stand on its own; it is designed to accompany an action. After the Lord’s Prayer and the Sign of Peace, we go into the Rite of the Breaking (or “Fraction”) of the Bread. Notice that the priest takes the consecrated host and breaks it into pieces, placing a small piece into the chalice. This action can easily be overlooked, but it is important enough that the earliest Christians used it as a title for the whole liturgy. That is, where we would say, “We go to Mass on Sundays,” the early Church would have said, “We go to the Breaking of the Bread.” The image is that, at the Last Supper, Christ used just one loaf of bread from which all of those gathered there had a piece. As the Church grew, a single loaf became impractical, so they began using individual pieces of bread, “hosts.” The priest had one a little bigger so that it could be seen when he held it up and so that it could be broken as a symbol of our unity. The Fraction is a reminder that we share one Eucharist with every Catholic throughout the world.

The litany that accompanies this action adds further significance. The Lamb of God ties the Eucharist in with Christ’s crucifixion. Therefore, it is always a part of the action, not something that stands alone. At times, that action can take a little longer. I like to use the very large host so that at least some people can receive a piece from the same host. Also, we have a large bowl that, to signify that unity, allows me to put all of the hosts into one container. Part of the Fraction Rite is to distribute those into the various patens that the Eucharistic Ministers and I will hold when we distribute. All of that takes a little bit longer. Meanwhile, the plan is for the litany to accompany the entire action. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (the document that tells us what to do at Mass) says, “This invocation accompanies the fraction of the bread and, for this reason, may be repeated as many times as necessary until the rite has been completed. The final time it concludes with the words grant us peace.”

I hope that explanation not only answers the question but also gives you a better understanding of what is happening. And if you have any questions that I think may be of general interest, I will try to get to them in future columns.

                                                                                  Father H