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 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time - August 26, 2018

C. S. Lewis, in his classic book The Screwtape Letters, notes that we have two seemingly opposite needs, the need for permanence and the need for change. To balance those two, God gives us rhythm in our lives. “He gives them seasons, each season different yet every year the dame, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme.” The seasons of the liturgical year, according to Lewis, serves the same purpose. If we accept that gift from God, then “men will not only be contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas. Children... will be perfectly happy with a seasonal round of games in which conkers succeed hopscotch as regularly as autumn follows summer.”

For me, this is one time of year when I most regularly feel that sense of both stability and change. This week starts a new school year at St. Malachy School and many other schools in our neighborhood. In many ways, each new year brings the same sense of excitement as we get back to our routine. On the other hand, each school year is a new adventure. Each year there are new names and faces; each year there is something new happening. Where children are involved, of course, there are also familiar students taking on a new level. Often I look at the students at the beginning of a new year, and I marvel at how much they have grown over the past couple of months. Each year I am amazed at how quickly the summer has flown. But once I get over the shock, I get excited at having school in session once again.

The beginning of a new school year provides an opportunity, then, to reflect on both the stability and the change. For me it will seem strange to welcome the children back and know that I will not be teaching them every week. After all, in about a month and a half, I will be part of a different grouping of parishes. Fortunately, part of my assignment over there includes working with St. Gabriel School. That itself will feel a bit like Lewis’ combination of novelty and familiarity. Not only did I serve at St. Gabriel (and teach in the school) from 1989 to 1995, but the principal there is Mr. Donald Militzer, the son of our own principal, Mrs. Catherine Militzer.

I have been blessed to work with schools throughout my priesthood. There was a time when priests were involved in the schools regularly. The biggest part of the problem, of course, is that there are fewer of us and more demands upon our time. In addition, without going into more detail on what has recently been in the news, we priests have to be careful of our involvement with children. A few years ago I was talking with Bishop Edward Burns, who has worked with the Bishops of the United States in setting the policies for the protection of children. Before becoming a bishop, Bishop Burns was a priest of our diocese. I mentioned to him that I hoped we would continue to be involved with schools, particularly since that involvement is important to promoting vocations. I have remembered Bishop Burns’ response to me. He said, “We have to protect the children out of love, not neglect them out of fear.”

So if you are around St. Malachy during the week, you know there will be more activity. There will be children (who probably wish they were still on vacation), and there will be teachers (who probably wish they could wake the children up). Please pray for everyone involved with St. Malachy School. Know that what we are doing in our school is important to build the Church and the world in the future. And to the students and teachers, welcome back.
                                                                                           Father H 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 19, 2018





This has been a difficult column to start writing. I realize, as every priest should, that I am a flawed and sinful human being. I know there are people whom I have not treated as I should. If I have been short with any of you at any time, or if I have not given you the attention that you deserve, I apologize. Please forgive me for my failures. When Christ first called His disciples, He chose weak and sinful men. The gospels tell us, for instance that they argued over who was most important, even to the point of overlooking the very message of Christ to serve others and humble themselves. At times, people must have seen Christ’s disciples and thought, “How can we follow a man whose followers are such fools?”

All of that comes to my mind whenever we hear the very painful news of a priest acting in a scandalous manner. This has been the case particularly in recent years with the news of clergy sexual abuse of minors. The pending release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, which will name names, is a painful reminder. There is some solace in the knowledge that the Diocese of Pittsburgh has acted proactively under Cardinal Wuerl and Bishop Zubik. But every time the story hits the news, it feels like a punch in the gut, and we remember that we cannot simply forget. Nor can we act as if it were a light matter, for these stories remind us of the pain and suffering that these crimes have caused. The stories are particularly difficult because more is expected of us. Clergy should be trustworthy. A priest or a deacon should be someone you can turn to without fear. The thought that some of our clergy have betrayed that trust disturbs me greatly.

I cannot currently find the quotation, but I remember hearing that someone once said, “If we truly understood the Eucharist, we would require an angel to celebrate the Mass.” The point of the quotation is that we human beings are too weak and sinful to approach the great mystery worthily. But every time I heard that quotation in the seminary, it was in the context of hearing that Christ did not entrust the Eucharist to angels. He chose sinful human beings to carry on His work, as He Himself is the one who accomplishes the mystery of the Eucharist through our weakness. Throughout the Church’s history, there have been scandals that have shaken people’s faith and have threatened the work of the Church. And in every age, God has raised up holy men and women – bishops, priests, religious and lay women and men – to be a sign of holiness and to be signs of faith. I have no doubt that the God who has watched over the Church for 2,000 years will bring us through this difficult time.

Perhaps I cannot add anything to the letter from Bishop Zubik, which we read at Masses two weeks ago and published in last weekend’s bulletin. I repeat his assertion that (again, thanks to his leadership and that of Cardinal Wuerl before him) our diocese has done all it could. What we can do is to place our trust in the good and loving God our Father. Please pray for anyone who has been the victim of abuse in any way. Please pray for priests and deacons. Please pray for increased vocations to the priesthood, that young men may be open to accepting a vocation in a world where they know that some will be suspicious of any clergy. But above all, please remember that God will bring us through this trying time. As Christ Himself said on numerous occasions, “Do not be afraid.”                                                     
                                                                                           Father H  

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 12, 2018


Monsignor Richard McGuinness, a priest from Newark, was the rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary during my days as a student. Msgr. McGuinness was a very talented priest, but also a humble man who had a simple way of expressing himself. One of his pieces of advice was to include food at every gathering as a way of keeping things friendly and community-oriented. He gave that advice with the very simple phrase, “When you meet, eat.”
                 
 I would like to turn that advice around. “When you eat, meet.” That doesn’t work in as universal a way as Msgr. McGuinness’ advice, but I think it can apply to today’s subject. Next week we are going to have a special opportunity to eat. Next Sunday is our annual Parish Picnic at Fairhaven Park. I want to offer a special word of thanks to all who are contributing their talents and efforts to make this picnic a success. That goes particularly for the Pastoral Council, who are coordinating our efforts, and for the Knights of Columbus, who are taking care of the hamburgers and hot dogs (and other picnic food) with their usual flair. Having experienced these picnics on an annual basis, I am confident that this will be another rousing success. We will begin with Mass at 1:00 at the picnic grove. After Mass, in addition to the good food, there will be games for the kids and for the adults (with Sandy Vaught leading us in bingo). It should be fun for all.
 
But while we have good food and good fun, we also are planning this as a time to meet. This year we are opening the picnic to our partners in our new grouping of parishes. We have included an invitation to the people of St. John of God and Holy Trinity parishes to join us. As I write this, I don’t know what kind of response we may get, especially since I am writing well in advance. (I wanted to get a couple of August columns written before going on my vacation in July.) But I am hoping that quite a few of our new neighbors will join us. We are coming together as one community, and a good way to approach that goal is to come together in a social setting, with good food and good fun. It helps that we are also starting with Mass, as is our custom, so that we can remember that we are joining together through the most important source of unity we have, the Eucharist. In the informal setting of a picnic, that gathering can be a chance for us to share that Eucharist with one another.
 
The poet William Butler Yeats once said, “There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.” I hope we can keep that attitude as we move forward with the implementation of On Mission for the Church Alive. We have a common purpose of building the kingdom of God as we form this new grouping. And we have a common bond in the Eucharist that holds all Catholics together. We can obviously offer some very serious reflections on that idea. But when it comes down to daily life, we live that goal by forming friendships and enjoying one another’s company. One good way to reach that goal is to share together an afternoon of good food, fun and (I hope) sunshine. I like to think that Msgr. McGuinness (God rest his soul) would approve. He would remind us, “When you meet, eat.”                                                       
                                                                                                                     Father H 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 5, 2018

When I was growing up, we often heard the saying, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” In truth, nobody will come unless they hear about our mousetrap. Sometimes, people do not hear about the best advances. For instance, when we first started hearing about devices for recording TV shows, the experts claimed that Betamax was better than VHS. But it was VHS that became the standard (until DVDs and streaming came along).

As Catholics, we have a “better mousetrap.” We know that other Christian churches share a good deal of our faith, and there are many people who try to live good lives without the help of faith. Yet that good life becomes so much better when we find the help that God offers. Without denigrating other Christian communities, we know that we Catholics, have the fullness of His revelation. Christ established the Church with the promise, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) He promised the Holy Spirit to guide the Church to be certain that we are following His teaching. Therefore, one of Bishop Zubik’s goals in On Mission for the Church Alive is to bring us together so that we can more effectively show the world that we have that “better mousetrap.”

One way we get the message of the faith to people is through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). This is the process the Church has set up for those who wish to join us. It began with adults who were never baptized and includes those who were baptized in other Christian communities but who wish to become Catholic. It can include anyone who was baptized Catholic but who did not grow up in the faith, and it can even be open to those who simply want a way to learn about their faith more deeply.

This process is an important way of learning about our faith, but the RCIA is not a “class” in the sense that we turn our faith into an academic subject. But we do bring together all the teachings of Christ and try to apply them to our daily lives. Thus the first part of the RCIA is always the stage of “inquiry.” It is at that point that people who think they may be interested in the Catholic Church bring their questions and concerns. There is no pressure; there is no commitment to join the Church at that stage. Those who want to learn about the faith may do so, and at any time they may decide that they are not ready. While we do teach the academic part of the faith, we try to appeal mostly to the heart. Thus there is no pressure to continue unless the person in the program truly feels ready to continue. There is, in fact, no need for any pressure since we are confident that we offer something better than the world around us does.

At this time we are discussing what form the RCIA will take this year. I have been the main catechist of the RCIA since being here, and I’m not sure whether our new priests will take over themselves or will rely on the team that has helped me the last few years. So if you know of somebody who is not Catholic but who may want to be – a spouse or other family member, a neighbor or anyone who may be interested – feel free to give this information to that person and invite him or her to join us. And for anyone who is interested in joining the RCIA, feel free to call the rectory. We have something of great value to share. We can offer the “better mousetrap.”                                                       
                                                             Father H