Sunday, April 23, 2017

Second Sunday of Easter - April 23, 2017

Today can go by several names. It is “Divine Mercy Sunday,” but it is also the Octave of Easter. I would like to reflect a bit on the concept of the octave in the Church’s celebration. Octaves occur with several feasts, but the primary octave is this one.

The first story of creation in the book of Genesis sets the creation of the world in a period of seven days. God did the work of creation in six days and then rested on the seventh. That seventh day (Saturday) became the basis of the Sabbath, the day of rest. Putting that creation in the framework of a week showed that God had a plan and that everything fits into His plan. For the Jews, then, the number seven came to symbolize completion.

And then came Christ, His death and resurrection brought an even greater completion to the plan of salvation. In fact, we learn to see that all of the Old Testament was in preparation for the salvation that Christ would win for us. His resurrection occurred on Sunday, which quickly became the Christian holy day. Most of the early Christians, keeping their Jewish roots, observed the Sabbath with the rest of their community and then gathered with those who saw Jesus as the Messiah on the day of Resurrection. The Church soon came to see Sunday as a fitting day for that greatest of all events. As the day on which creation began, the first day became an appropriate time for God to provide us with a new creation. So Easter becomes the first day of a “new week” by being the start of a new creation. Yet the new creation does not do away with the old. In fact, we come to see that the completion we understood in the Old Testament was truly a preparation for the real completion that Christ would bring. Thus, in addition to being the first day of a new week, Sunday also becomes the Eighth Day, the day on which God brought about a deeper reality to all of creation.

We get a similar image from the other meaning we give to the word “octave.” In music, an octave refers to the eight notes of the scale. For those who are not musically inclined, think of the song “Doe, a deer” from the Sound of Music in which Maria makes a pun on the names of the various notes: do, re, mi and so on. “Do” is the eighth note, but it is also the same as the first note. In returning to “do,” we are back at the beginning while at the same time being and octave higher.

So Easter is a return to the creation of the first day while being an entirely new creation. To emphasize that, the Church takes the entire eight days of the Easter Octave to show the new creation by keeping the celebration as one long Sunday, So again, rejoice. And I still wish all of you a very blessed Easter Sunday.
                                                                                                    Father H                  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday - April 16, 2017

  Looking back through some family pictures recently, I was remembering a tradition we had of celebrating Easter every year with my Uncle Bill and Aunt Bernie and my cousin Billy. One year they would come and visit us, and the next we would go to their house in Cleveland. (Yes, I have had relatives in Cleveland, though we usually do not talk about that fact.) What struck me about the photos is how dressed up we would get for that special day. That was when people would often get new clothes, and the ladies would be sure to get the best new hat for the occasion. Irving Berlin wrote a song called “Easter Parade” which celebrated “your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it.”

Easter is a time for bringing out our best. That may in part be because it is springtime, when we feel renewed. But more importantly, it is because this is the day when God gives us His best. The Resurrection of Christ is the greatest event in all history, and this Easter day is the cornerstone of our entire liturgical calendar. Nothing else matches up to Easter as a day of joy.

The new clothes and fancy Easter bonnets (if anyone still wears Easter bonnets) are a sign of renewal. They are a reminder that Christ has changed everything. No longer are we slaves to sin. Christ has given us a share in His new life. The ultimate goal of our lives is to share in that new life, and that fact should be the starting point of every decision we make. Our new life in the Risen Lord is not only a hope for some distant future; it affects everything we do throughout our lives.

The importance of Easter was clear to the early Church. Scripture scholars believe that the earliest creeds, the statements of faith such as the Nicene Creed we use at Mass, were simple statements of the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. One example might be from St. Paul in I Timothy 3:16, that Christ “was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed to the Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.” The early Church also celebrated Easter every Sunday, and the special annual celebration of Easter as a major feast would have gained prominence when other feasts started to find their place on the calendar.

Today we do not see many Easter bonnets, but we do still have the eggs, which are a sign of new life, and the Easter Bunny, as we know that rabbits can be a sign of new life. We bring back flowers in the sanctuary after keeping our church looking more barren during Lent. We sing the “Alleluia” again after not using that joyous word for the season of Lent. We also sprinkle everyone with Holy Water, not as a way of watering the flowers on any Easter bonnets we may see but as a way of reminding ourselves of our baptism by which we share in this mystery. As we rejoice this day, I hope we can always remember just how important this day truly is. On behalf of Fr. Russell and the entire staff of St. Malachy Parish, I wish you a very blessed and joyous Easter.

                                                                                       Father H                  

Palm Sunday - April 9, 2017

I sometimes ask the children of the parish what the most important time of the year is. Often they are surprised when I tell them it is not Christmas. It is hard for the Easter Bunny to compare with Santa Claus, but there is nothing greater than the celebration of the Paschal Mystery.

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, 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. 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.

And with Easter coming up, I would like to ask a favor of you: Please do not feed the pastor. I have always appreciated the gifts of food that come this time of the year, but I am trying to be careful of what I eat these days. I am afraid that the food people give me would go to waste (because I don’t want it to go to my waist). If you had thought of giving me food, let me suggest an alternative. Please consider donating to the St. Vincent de Paul Society or to Focus on Renewal instead. That way, we can feed people who need food, rather than fattening up someone who hasn’t missed many meals. Thank you for your generosity.
                                                                          Father H    

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Fifth Sunday of Lent - April 2, 2017

I have been writing about Lent lately, but today I want to give an update on the diocesan planning process, On Mission for the Church Alive. First of all, let me remind you that the diocese proposed two “models” involving our parish. One would have us forming a new parish with St. John of God, St. Philip (which is a recent merger of St. Philip, Ascension, Guardian Angels and Holy Innocents), and St. Margaret of Scotland. The other model would have us combining with the same parishes but also with Holy Trinity. In either case, the new parish would have two “campuses,” which would include the church building and all other properties. In addition, St. John of God has proposed its own model that would have a new parish formed from St. Malachy, St. John of God and St. Philip. St. Malachy and St. Philip would be the two campuses, but St. John of God Church would remain open for one Saturday evening Mass and one Sunday Mass, along with weddings and funerals.

Based on some of the feedback the diocese has received, the bishop is making an adjustment to the plans for implementation. The new plan calls for the bishop to announce his decisions and to announce “groupings” of parishes next March. All the groupings will be announced simultaneously. Furthermore, all the priest assignments will be announced at the same time. Implementation, however, will come out in stages. Each grouping will be put into one of three categories. The priests will be assigned to all of the parishes within the grouping they would eventually serve. That means that one priest may be named pastor of four parishes, for instance, but with the goal of helping them to work toward the merger.

Category A would include areas that are in need of making the change immediately, either because of finances or demographics. It would also include groupings that indicate to the diocese that they are ready to go immediately. These mergers would take place within a year of the priest changes, and some may officially occur with the installation of the new pastor.

Category B would be the largest category. The new pastor (and parochial vicars) would be appointed to the various parishes in the grouping. They would follow a “blueprint” that the diocese is developing to help bring the parishes together. The priests would establish a team of staff members, and they would work to bring the parishes together for the ultimate merger, which would take place in one to three years.

Finally, some of the larger or more complex parishes would be part of Category C. In these cases, the final merger would not be implemented for three to five years.

The diocese understands that the entire process will be challenging. The hope is that the new timetable will help us all to prepare. So thanks to everyone for your participation in the process.

                                                                                     Father H                   

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Lent - March 26, 2017

Last year I got an Apple Watch, which works with my iPhone. One app that works with both devices keeps track of my activity to keep me in shape. One function that I like at some times and dislike at others is one that gives me progress reports periodically. It reminds me, if I am sitting at my desk, that I am due to stand up and move about for a time.

If my watch works with my phone’s Activity app, perhaps I can use today’s column as a “Lenten Activity” app. Of course I cannot program this app to give you personalized reminders, but I can use it to ask the question: How is your Lent going so far? And since my watch app sets three specific goals for me (so many minutes of exercise, so many calories burned and so many hours with at least a bit of standing and moving about), I can use main “goals” for our Lenten app. So how is your Lent going in terms of prayer, fasting and almsgiving?

Prayer reminds us that Lent is supposed to bring us closer to God. Yet prayer is something that can easily get crowded out of our busy day. When we take on our daily tasks by ourselves, we put more pressure on ourselves. If we take time with God, we learn to rely on Him more completely, and we actually become more efficient and can handle unexpected turns in our day with more patience. Are we taking more time for prayer during this Lenten season?

Fasting is the most common penance of this season. We all grew up with the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” The word “fasting” makes us think of food, and our fasting is frequently centered on food and drink. But fasting can mean abstaining from anything that gets in the way of following God with our whole heart, even if it is an innocent distraction from the day. And if we give up something that takes a certain amount of time (television, for instance), then that becomes time that we have for prayer.

Once we see prayer and fasting as key parts of Lent, we become more open to the needs of those around us. Almsgiving is the third key point of this season. The word makes us think of giving money to the poor. We can just as easily give alms by giving time to a lonely widow who needs to talk, or by giving of our talents to someone who can use our help.

I frequently speak these penances in the beginning of Lent. But as my watch teaches me, we sometimes need a reminder as we go along. So let me say a word to those who may now realize that they have not kept their Lenten resolutions as well as they had hoped. It is good if you have not kept your promises perfectly, and not just because “misery loves company.” I tell people that if we keep our Lenten observances all through the season, with no stumbles, that means we have chosen something too easy. If we find it difficult, then we are challenging ourselves to be better. So if we find some area where we have fallen short this Lent, we can remind ourselves that there are still a couple of weeks left in this season. You can, as the old song says, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.”
                                                                                     Father H                  

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