Monday, April 16, 2018

The Third Sunday of Easter - April 15, 2018

In recent years, there has been a trend of faith-based movies coming out at Easter time. Some of them take the stories from the Bible and added some speculation about what may have happened, even adding characters to the biblical stories in order to express spiritual ideas.
Last week I went to see the new movie, Paul, the Apostle of Christ. The movie wasn’t quite what I expected, but it was very good. It centered on St. Luke and his relationship with St. Paul at the end of Paul’s life. The movie speculates that Luke may have made a visit to the prison where Paul was kept before his martyrdom, with that visit as the occasion for writing the Acts of the Apostles. As the Acts of the Apostles is a book we read frequently during the Easter season, this book is a good theme for this time of year.

The Acts of the Apostles is a sequel, so to speak, of the gospel of Luke. Each one is addressed to someone whom Luke calls Theophilus. We do not know who he was, but there is speculation that perhaps he was a Roman official who was secretly a Christian, or else that he was a Roman official and that Luke was trying to reassure him that the Christians were not a threat to the empire. I think that latter explanation is at least plausible, and the movie puts the writing of the book in that kind of atmosphere. The movie sets the action within the persecution of the Church under the emperor Nero. In the movie, Luke comes to Rome to meet with Paul, and in order to strengthen the faith of those who faced persecution, writes at least the beginning of Acts. In reality, Acts was probably written some years after Paul’s death. Scholars date Luke’s gospel at around AD 80 to 85, with Acts coming around that same time. Perhaps there could have been such a visit, but that encounter between Paul and Luke is most likely a dramatic invention intended to set the writing of the book in the context of that relationship.

Acts focuses on the growth of the Church, beginning with the small community in Jerusalem and centering upon St. Peter. Through persecution, the Church expands through Palestine and the focus shifts to St. Stephen, the first martyr. Stephen’s martyrdom serves as an introduction to Saul of Tarsus, whom we know better as Paul. St. Paul dominates the rest of the book as the Church spreads throughout the known world. If it is true that Luke was trying to reassure Theophilus that Christians were not trying to overthrow Rome, the movie shows a strong reaction against any suggestions of violence. St. Paul urges the community to live in the love of Christ.

Thus as a movie about faith, I definitely recommend Paul, the Apostle of Christ. I would not consider it to be historically accurate, but it does give a good sense of the early Church and the struggles faced by St. Paul and others. I found some of the scriptural quotations to be somewhat forced, as if the scriptwriters felt they had to squeeze Paul’s words in verbatim. Overall, though, I certainly thought that Paul, the Apostle of Christ is well worth seeing.
                                                   
                                                                                                 Father H  

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Divine Mercy Sunday - April 8, 2018

          The gospel of John (John 21:1-14) tells a story of one of the appearances of the Risen Christ that I find particularly fascinating. The Apostles are at the Sea of Tiberius, and Peter announces that he is going fishing, at which point James and John decide to join him. Some of us think of fishing as a relaxing pastime, sitting by a the water with a fishing pole while possibly dozing off. Remember that, for Peter and the sons of Zebedee, fishing was their profession before Christ called them. It was hard work. I like to think that they were good at their jobs, but on this occasion they have caught nothing. Then someone on the shore tells them to cast their nets over the right side of the boat, and they haul in 153 large fish. Only then does John recognize that it is the Risen Christ who has given them this advice.
Although we have faith in the Risen Lord, we do not always recognize His presence among us. It is thus a comfort to me to know that the Apostles did not see that He was with them. I can picture them standing around and asking themselves, “Now what?” They didn’t know what to do with themselves, but it seems natural that they would return to what they knew the best. They went back to their job of fishing. And that is where Christ finds them. He had once called them away from their boats and their nets. Now he not only comes to them where they are, He also helps them to do their job as best they can.
For me, that reflection helps set up the remainder of this Easter season. We know that the Risen Lord is always with us, but it may not always be easy to recognize His presence. After all, like the Apostles, we are going about our daily business. We have our jobs and our daily tasks, and sometimes we do not feel like we are making any progress with them. There are times when our nets come up empty. At such moments, Christ may not give us a miraculous success. We may not bring in the equivalent of 153 large fish. But we do have the promise that Christ has not abandoned us. He is helping to make our every day a success, at least in the sense that we get to serve Him.
For me, I will try to remember that lesson is particularly helpful this month. At the end of April, Bishop Zubik will announce the new configuration for the parishes in our diocese. We will know which other parishes are in our grouping, what priests will serve St. Malachy, and what we need to do to move forward to the eventual merger. For me personally, I will know where and in what role the bishop wants me to serve the Church of Pittsburgh. We have been praying (and will continue to pray) for the success of On Mission for the Church Alive. As we do, we continue to do our best to build up this parish and to work toward the future. Let us listen for Christ telling us where to cast our nets.
As I make that reflection, I offer special word of thanks to all who made our Lenten observance and our Easter celebration so special. Thanks to John Lester and his crew for assisting with our liturgies and overseeing the decoration of the Church. Thanks to Laurie Lanz and all who work with her in providing such beautiful and inspiring music. Thanks to Tim Davis and the many, many volunteers who pitched in and made our Fish Fry a bigger success than we had even hoped. And thanks to all of you for sharing this holy time with us.
                                                                                            Father H 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018

Athletes have moments of pure joy. As a Pirate fan, I can picture Bill Mazeroski dancing around the bases after his 1960 World Series winning home run or Steve Blass jumping in the arms of Bob Robertson after winning game seven of the 1971 World Series. In more recent years, we can picture the Penguins players piling on top of Matt Murray at the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of the last two year. In each case, that joy signifies the fulfillment of the hopes and struggles of many years. Everything that has led to that point is worthwhile.

Our greatest joy is what we celebrate today. Christ is risen, and all the world is changed. In original sin, our first ancestors turned away from God. In choosing sin, they chose a world of struggle and pain instead of the joy that God had intended for us. Yet God would never give up on His people. He formed the Jewish nation as the Chosen People, that He might prepare to send a Savior. Christ came to bring us the Father’s love, even when His ministry led to His death on the cross. All of that history was meant to lead to this day, when our humanity is refashioned in the image of Christ risen from the dead. God’s plan is fulfilled. By our baptism, we share in Christ’s new life, and everything that has led to this point is worthwhile.

Most likely, none of us coming to church on Easter Sunday doing an imitation of Bill Mazeroski’s home run trot. Yet our joy on this day is far beyond anything else we can experience. We express our Easter joy in various ways. We may dress up in our best clothes, even if a new Easter bonnet is perhaps no longer fashionable. If we have given up candy or chocolate or some other pleasure during Lent, we celebrate by breaking our fast. And once in church, we notice a big difference from our season of Lent. During Lent, we had no flowers or other festive decorations in church. Now we are as festive as we can be. During Lent our music was more somber, but on Easter we sing “Alleluia” for the first time since before Ash Wednesday. As St. Augustine told us, “We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.”

For many of us, the end of Lent signifies relief more than joy. We are happy to have the penance over with so we can get back to normal. I hope instead that we can look at this Easter as the culmination of all that God has called us to share. Easter is not just about Jesus’ resurrection; it is also a celebration of our baptism, by which we share that new life. Everything we do throughout our lives is something that can expres-s the grace Christ has given us. In that way, today’s feast is a reminder of the glory that we will share with our Risen Lord for all eternity. Even our Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies become a reminder to us that this is the feast of our victory.

In the joy of this day, I take this time to thank all those who have contributed to our celebration of the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. To all who have contributed to our liturgies, and to all who have helped make this a joyful time in other ways as well, I offer my gratitude. In addition, I offer you my wish (and I speak on behalf of Fr. Russell) for a blessed and joyous Easter. May God bless you.
             
                                                         Father H  

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord - March 25, 2018

When I was in sixth grade, I began thinking about the priesthood. Over the years there were many times when I questioned if that was what God wanted of me. There were two times each year, though, when I always felt more confident in my vocation. One was when I served the Midnight Mass at Christmas, and the other was when I served the glorious Liturgies of Holy Week. At this time of the year, our Salvation becomes more real to us.

Today, with Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, we commemorate the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week, but we also read the Passion and thus set the tone for the remainder of the week.

Monday through Wednesday of this week are mostly ordinary days, though a little more somber than usual. We have Confessions available 3:00-4:00 Monday through Wednesday, 6:00-7:00 Monday and Tuesday evenings and 7:00-8:00 Wednesday evening. Please note that there are no Confessions after Wednesday of Holy Week.

Holy Thursday has three main themes. At the Last Supper, Christ gave us the Eucharist, He instituted the priesthood and He gave an example of service by washing the feet of His Apostles. Our Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which begins the Sacred Triduum, will begin at 7:00 in the evening. Church will remain open until Midnight, and our parish bus will leave for the seven church tour right after Mass.

Good Friday is the only day of the year on which we do not celebrate Mass. There is a Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion at 2:00 (after Stations of the Cross at Noon). The Liturgy is divided into three parts: a Liturgy of the Word at which we proclaim the Passion of the Lord, the Veneration of the Cross, followed by Holy Communion (from the Eucharist consecrated at Holy Thursday). This liturgy is very simple but very powerful. The Divine Mercy Novena is at 4:00, and the Living Stations of the Cross (followed by Veneration) are at 7:00.

Holy Saturday is a very quiet day, with no official liturgy during the day (although we will have the blessing of Easter food at noon). That night, however, we have the most joyful liturgy of the whole year. The Easter Vigil begins at 8:30 (as it cannot begin before dark) and is always the liturgical highlight of the year for me as we begin our celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection and our share in His new life through our baptism. At that Mass we welcome the newest Catholics, who have been preparing through the RCIA.

Finally, last year I made a special request that you not give me food for Easter. I have always appreciated people’s generosity, but in the last couple of years I have been trying to watch what I eat. I am not speaking for Fr. Russell, but I would rather try to behave myself. I will have the box for donations to Focus on Renewal at the blessing of Easter food on Holy Saturday, and I would ask you to give to the F.O.R. or the St. Vincent de Paul Society instead of adding to my waistline. Thank you.              

                                                         Father H 

The Fifth Sunday of Lent - March 18, 2018

A woman was in the store with her two children. The mother was buying something that the older child needed. The younger child asked, “Is that for me? Can I have one, too?” Children often want what their siblings have. Sometimes it is not appropriate for each to have the same thing, but sometimes it is.

The season of Lent is something like that. Lent was not originally intended for all of us. This season was originally preparation for the catechumens, the adults preparing to enter the Church through baptism at the Easter Vigil. Today, we use the RCIA to prepare catechumens for baptism, to prepare those who are baptized in other Christian communities to enter the Church, and to prepare those who are baptized Catholic but who were never further catechized to complete their initiation. Those taking part in the RCIA in our parish have been meeting on Monday evenings since the fall. On the first night, I told those taking part that I would be giving them the teaching of the Church to help them understand what we believe. But I also said that our main goal was not so much to give them an academic understanding as to help them fall in love with Christ.

With that end in mind, the Church devised a special time for the catechumens to prepare for their baptism. As Christ fasted for forty days in the desert, so the Church arranged a forty-day fast period for those preparing to enter the Church. The fasting was not meant to be a punishment. It was intended as a way for them to put Christ first in their lives. So the period of Lent provided an opportunity for the catechumens to grow in the love of Christ. And that is when the rest of the Church said, “Hey, what about us?” Those who were already in the Church wanted to share the time of Lent so that they, too, could experience a growth in the love of Christ.

So my special request for everyone today is to ask you to pray especially for those preparing to enter the Church at the Easter Vigil. As they enter into a new relationship with Christ, they are (despite the months of preparation) going to have an adjustment. They are going to have many questions as they move forward. At the same time, they have an excitement that comes with beginning a new adventure and entering into a new relationship. I am often inspired by those who come to the faith as adults. Their excitement often reminds me that, like most cradle Catholics, I sometimes take my faith for granted. When I see the excitement of a neophyte, a new member of the Catholic family, it reminds me of what a great gift we have. At times like that, I feel like the small child who asks his mother, “What about me? Can I have one?”

And that brings us back to our season of Lent. With just a couple of weeks left, we may be running out of steam. We may have struggle with our Lenten observances, or we may have forgotten them altogether. If we make a special effort to pray for the RCIA and those coming into the Church, we can renew our own faith. Lent may always be something of a challenge, but it can become an exciting time for us as well.    

                                                                                       Father H  

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - March 11, 2018

One of the traditions of Lent, a devotion which can be used throughout the year but which is more prevalent in Lent, is the Stations of the Cross. The Way of the Cross (as it is also known) arose as a way to walk with Christ on the way to His crucifixion. The Romans would force a prisoner to carry his own cross (actually just the cross-beam) in order to make a public spectacle of him. Pilgrims to the Holy Land would walk that path and reflect upon Christ’s sufferings. Those who lived in the region were quick to offer their assistance, setting up stands – or stations – where visitors could stop and hear the story of what had happened on a particular spot. Some of those would be very meaningful to people, and some would be especially fanciful. The latter would often be stories made up by people who wanted a cut of the offerings that the visitors would give. Certain stations became more popular than the rest, eventually leaving us with the fourteen we know of today.

The Stations of the Cross became popular when pilgrims returned home and wanted to continue the prayerful experiences they had. People would set up their own Way of the Cross, with Stations that corresponded with the ones they had visited in Jerusalem. In time, it became customary to set up images of the Stations in churches so that a local parish community could pray them together. One main feature, of course, is that they are usually located around the perimeter of the church so that people can walk from one to another, thus continuing the idea of walking with Christ. The guideline on their placement is that the Stations should begin and end close to the Sanctuary. They can go either direction, however, and I knew of another parish like ours where the Stations were in the stained glass windows. A new pastor was leading the Stations the first night, but the windows were dark and hard to see. It was only at the end that the parishioners informed him that he had gone the wrong direction.

At St. Malachy, we have several different experiences of the Stations. On Friday afternoons at 2:10, the school children lead the parish in a simple version that was designed for young people but can be quite profitable for adults. On alternating Friday evenings we celebrate the Stations in a traditional way but with a modern reflection, Everyone’s Way of the Cross. On the other Friday evenings, such as this coming Friday, we have a special presentation of the Living Stations. Our crew does such a beautiful job and truly makes the Living Stations a prayerful experience.   

On Good Friday 1991, Pope Saint John Paul offered a different set of Stations that were completely Scriptural. The fourteen stations he offered were: 1) Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, 2) Jesus, betrayed by Judas, is arrested, 3) Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin, 4) Jesus is denied by Peter, 5) Jesus is judged by Pilate, 6) Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns, 7) Jesus bears the cross, 8) Jesus is helped by Simon the Cyrenian to carry His cross, 9) Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem, 10) Jesus is crucified, 11) Jesus promises His kingdom to the good thief, 12) Jesus speaks to His Mother and the Disciple, 13) Jesus dies on the cross, 14) Jesus is placed in the tomb. Feel free to use those Stations as an alternative for your prayer sometime. But however we choose to pray them, alone or in common, we remember that we are walking with Christ on the way He traveled to bring us salvation.                                   

                                                                                              Father H  

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Third Sunday of Lent - March 4, 2018

One evening when I was a boy, my parents took me to a special event at another parish. While there, they suggested that it would be a good time for all of us (including me) to go to Confession. I went in and knelt in a dark box, waiting the priest who turned out to be rather stern. When it came time for the Act of Contrition, my nerves got the better of me. I stumbled over the line, “Who are all good and deserving of all my love.” What came out was that God was “deserving of all my sins.” Very loudly, the priest informed me that I had gotten it wrong. What he didn’t know, poor fellow, was that my mother was on the other side of the confessional. He opened her side next, and he never stood a chance. Years later, as a newly ordained priest, I was hearing confessions when a little girl made the same mistake I had once made. I was glad that she had chosen to go behind the screen (it wasn’t a choice in my day), for she never saw me laughing. I made myself a promise that day never to yell at anyone in Confession.

Since then, I have often thought that we could learn from the mistakes people make with the Act of Contrition. Perhaps I should start by saying that the priest who corrected me at least had a point. God does not deserve our sins. That thought reminds us that we have never done anything to “deserve” the love God gives us. His love is a free gift. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, He gives us love far beyond what we could ever hope for or expect.

What I have heard frequently comes up at the very beginning in the version I grew up with. We say, “O my God, I am heartily sorry for all my sins.” Often, however, it comes out as, “I am hardly sorry for my sins.” I always suspect that may be truer than we’d like to admit. Even when we are forgiven, we still have concupiscence. Concupiscence is a result of Original Sin and of each of our sins. It is the inclination to sin that comes from the attraction to things that are wrong, and it produces our inclination to sin. While we promise to turn away from sin, we know that we are weak and that the temptations that come our way will seem, in some way, good to us. We should never let that feeling keep us from seeking God’s mercy. Even if we are only “hardly” sorry, He will help us to want His mercy more and more.

With many people, the issue is not so much what we say as how we say it. There is a tendency to rush through this prayer, as with most any prayer we say frequently, and lose sight of what we are saying. That is why I like to remind people that we do not need to use just the prayer we memorized in second grade. The ritual book gives several different suggestions for the Act of Contrition, including the very simple, “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” When I go to Confession, I say the prayer in my own words, and it comes out differently every single time. This is such a personal moment for me that I prefer to pray the Act of Contrition spontaneously.

Despite the serious notes that I have made here, I hope we can get a little smile out of such things as “hardly sorry.” I would like to give you a lighthearted look at Confession to combat the trepidation we sometimes bring to the sacrament. I want everyone to know think of Confession as a joyful experience, without any fear of intimidation, even if someone does get mixed up on the Act of Contrition.
                                                                                     Father H