Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Holy Family - December 28, 2014

There was an interesting email circulating a few years ago about the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The author claimed that the song had originated in England in the time when it was illegal to be Catholic. Supposedly, each of the gifts in that song is a symbol for some teaching of the Catholic Church. The two turtledoves, for instance, represented the Old and New Testament. My first reaction was that the theory made no sense whatsoever. I could not see how swans a-swimming represented the Sacraments, other than the fact that there were seven of them. Moreover, there would be no need to conceal a belief in the Blessed Trinity under the guise of three French hens, for that was a part of the Anglican Church. Still, I asked a friend who has a doctorate in Church History and who had studied anti-Catholic movements. He agreed with me that there is nothing to that story. He is also a musician, and he reminded me of how many songs feature counting, such as “This old man, he played one.” Still, I suppose that if the ten lords a-leaping make us think of the Ten Commandments, then it cannot be all bad.

There is another fallacy connected with that song, however, that is more serious. I once asked a class of children if they knew the song, and everyone did. I then asked if they knew when the twelve days of Christmas started. They counted back from Christmas day, and all agreed that it began on December 13. But instead, we are now in the Twelve Days. Our society puts so much emphasis on the shopping and the preparation that we have consider Christmas to start the day after Thanksgiving. One result is that we lose Advent, but the other is that we think we are finished with Christmas as soon as December 26 comes around. Now, I have nothing against “after-Christmas sales.” I just wish we could remember that Christmas is a season in the Church’s year.

The Christmas season runs up until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which this year will fall on Sunday, January 11. Those last days of the season will serve as something of a transition back to Ordinary Time, but the major celebration in the Church’s calendar is meant to last until the Epiphany of the Lord. Although we now celebrate it on a Sunday, its “proper” day is January 6 (which would then be a Holy Day of Obligation). This year the Sunday is January 4, so we lose the last two days. There will be no twelve drummers drumming or eleven pipers piping.

The point is that we are now in the Twelve Days of Christmas. Please don’t be so eager to rush through “the holidays” that we forget that it is still Christmas. We are still celebrating the Nativity of the Lord. The Incarnation of the Lord is such a major part of our faith that we cannot let the season go by with just one day. So as I did in last week’s bulletin, I again send my wishes for a blessed Christmas season to all of you.
Also, please keep in mind that January 1 is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.  That day is a holy day of obligation. Masses for the Holy Day will be New Year’s Eve at 4:00 PM and New Year’s Day at 8:00 and 11:00 in the morning.  

                                                                  Father H

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 21, 2014

We are now in the later days of the season of Advent. During the early time, the readings and prayers at Mass remind us that we are awaiting Christ’s second coming at the end of time. Now our attention turns to the upcoming celebration of the birth of Christ. While this is still a time of preparation and of expectation, we are at that point where I can feel comfortable in wishing everyone the blessings of Christmas without feeling like I am rushing things. So first and foremost, let me take this opportunity, on behalf of Fr. Russell and Fr. O’Brien, to wish you a very blessed and merry Christmas. May the presence of Christ, the Word of God incarnate, fill your homes and your hearts with peace and joy.

In the Church’s liturgical books, the official name of this great celebration is “The Nativity of the Lord.” Our English term comes from “Christ’s Mass,” the day when the liturgy focuses on the coming of Christ. In reality, every Mass is primarily a celebration of Christ Jesus. But the custom in England was to speak of certain days by the saint they celebrated by saying that it was that saint’s Mass, such as “Michaelmas” for the feast of St. Michael and the other archangels. Although Easter is the most important feast of the year, the Nativity of the Lord became the day of “Christ’s Mass.” Thus it should be that the first and most important way we celebrate the Christ child is by coming to receive Christ Himself in the Eucharist.

Our first celebration of the Vigil of Christmas is at 4:00 on Wednesday, Christmas Eve. I have heard reports that this is the biggest crowd of the year, and based on my experiences in other parishes I would not expect otherwise. It is a time when families, particularly those with young children, fill the church to overflowing. As I have always loved working with children, this Mass is always one of the highlights of my year. I am eager for this liturgy as a beginning to the Christmas celebration. There will also be a Vigil Mass at 6:00 that evening, which give us a full church but with a little less chaos.

In the days before the Vigil Mass or the anticipated Mass, those who wanted to have Mass as early as possible would have to wait until midnight. When I was growing up, the Midnight Mass was a big tradition in every parish. It is now referred to a “Mass During the Night” to remind us of the appearance of the angels to the shepherds at night and other nocturnal aspects of the feast. Our Mass During the Night will be at 10:00. Masses on Christmas Day are the regular Sunday times of 8:00 and 11:00.

And for those who still want to take these last days of Advent to prepare, we will have Confessions available on both Monday and Tuesday from 3:00 to 4:00 and from 7:00 to 8:00.

So once again, in anticipation of Thursday’s great feast, I offer you my wishes for a very blessed and merry Christmas.
                                                                                Father H

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Third Sunday in Advent - December 14, 2014

First things first, let’s get the terminology correct. The vestments I wear on the Third Sunday of Advent are not “pink.” If you look at the instructions for today’s liturgy, it clearly tells us that we have the option of wearing “rose” colored vestments for the Third Sunday of Advent. That’s “rose,” as opposed to “pink.” And that means that the candle we light on the Advent wreath today is “rose.”

Actually, I don’t particularly care if you call my chasuble pink. I have often joked about the term, however, since I grew up in an age when men didn’t wear pink. I remember when my father gave one of his favorite sport shirts to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. When I asked why, he answer, “Before I had my cataract surgery, I didn’t know the shirt was pink.”

The rose color of today’s liturgy is a reminder that this is the Latin name for the Third Sunday of Advent was always “Gaudete” Sunday. (That’s pronounced gow-DAY-tay.) Gaudete is the Latin word meaning, “Rejoice.” It is a reminder that our time of waiting for the coming of the Lord is coming closer to its fulfillment. We brighten things up a bit from the darker color of purple to the somewhat brighter shade of rose. That helps show our joy as we anticipate the coming of Christ.

I have had a few CCD students over the years who have asked me why the rose candle is on the Third Sunday. Shouldn’t it be on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, when we are closer to Christmas? While I understand that point, I find it fitting to have Gaudete Sunday on the Third Sunday. We are filled with the joy of Christ’s coming, but we also have to go back to the purple of preparation. Yes, Christ has come for our salvation, as we will celebrate at Christmas. But we still await His Second Coming at the end of all time. So we live in a world that is infused with the grace of Christ, but we also live in a world that is still subject to sin and strife. It can be hard to experience joy in those circumstances. Yet joy is not an emotion. We often use the word to refer to a stronger brand of happiness. I may say that I am “happy” if the Pirates win a game from the Cubs in the middle of May, but I will be “joyful” the Pirates win the World Series. As the Church uses the terms, happiness is an emotion. It is something we feel, and such feelings can be lost if we catch a cold or have a bad day. Joy, on the other hand, is an attitude. When that attitude is at the front of our minds, we experience it as happiness. But when we struggle, we can still rely on joy as a source of strength. It is the promise that Christ is coming and that His victory is certain.

As Advent proceeds apace, Gaudete Sunday is a chance for us to look forward with joyful confidence to the coming of Christ. When we hear the difficulties and struggles in the news or in our own lives, we ask God to help us remain joyful. May this be a day of joy to each of us. And please remember that it will be much easier for me to be joyful if you don’t tease me about wearing pink vestments. They’re really “rose.”

                                                                                        Father H

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Second Sunday of Advent - December 7, 2014

When I was a boy, I found it interesting that the car companies started the new year some months before the rest of us. I remember wondering how they could sell the 1967 AMC Rebel or the 1967 Chevy Impala, for instance, when it was still 1966 on my calendar. Of course, the start of a new year can be somewhat arbitrary. In our Church calendar, we began the year 2015 last Sunday, on the First Sunday of Advent.

The Church’s cycle of seasons is more than a way of marking the passage of time. The Church calendar also allows us to go through a cycle of readings in our Liturgy of the Word. Our Sunday readings rotate on a cycle of three years, designated A, B and C. This new year of 2015 is year B in our Lectionary. From a practical point of view, the most noticeable effect of the calendar is that the gospel readings over the coming year will come largely from the Gospel according to Mark. The three “synoptic” gospels (those which follow a similar outline) of Matthew, Mark and Luke each have their own year, with John’s gospel sprinkled in throughout the cycle. John will actually get more time this coming year since Mark is shorter than Matthew and Luke, but Mark is the gospel that will be featured prominently.

Scripture scholars tell us that Mark was most likely the first of the gospel accounts to be written, probably somewhere around AD 65 to 70. He may well have served as a resource for Matthew and Luke in writing their versions of the story of Christ.

Mark is a very active gospel. He does not include the Sermon on the Mount or the parables or other such speeches. Rather, Mark shows Jesus as very active. I had a chance to reflect on that aspect of Mark’s gospel a few years ago when I read a new translation. One of my professors from my seminary days, with whom I have kept in touch over the years, decided that he wanted a project to keep him from getting too rusty in his ancient Greek, so he translated Mark into English. He stayed as faithful to the Greek as he could, and he noticed that Mark used short, simple sentences. In reading his translation, I got the sense that the direct way in which Mark wrote provided a real sense of urgency. There is a feeling that Christ’s mission is of the utmost importance and that God was moving the events at a rapid pace.

That rapid pace is familiar, if not exactly comfortable, to each of us who live in the modern world. Yet our experience is that God does not always seem to move at an urgent pace. Our second reading today has St. Peter’s promise that “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard ‘delay.’” That is his explanation for the line before, that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.” We do not always see the urgency of God, so we tend to settle into a comfortable routine. Perhaps our reading of the Gospel according to Mark this coming year, particularly in this Advent when we await Christ’s coming, can be a sign to us to “Prepare the way of the Lord.” He is coming. Let us rush forward eagerly to greet Him.

                                                                                                                  Father H

First Sunday of Advent - November 30, 2014

It is not Christmas yet. Today begins the season of Advent in the Church’s calendar, and we usually think of Advent as a time of preparation for Christmas. Yet the focus of the season is not really on Christmas until the later part of the season, beginning December 17. Until then, the real focus of the season is on preparing ourselves for Christ’s return in glory at the end of time.  Of course, Christ tells us that He will come “at an hour you do not expect.” Our goal for this part of the season is not to sit around waiting for the end of the world or to search the Bible for clues on when that event might happen. Rather, it is to look for signs of Christ’s presence all around us and to live each day with Christ present in everything we do. That attitude will be the best preparation of all for the Second Coming.

If we take that meaning of Advent seriously, then we do not rush the Christmas season. We save the Christmas carols and the decorations for later. I have known parishes, in fact, where the various organizations were told that they could not have Christmas parties until at least December 25. On the other hand, we cannot get away from the secular celebration of Christmas, which began sometime in late July (or so it seems these days). We do need to prepare, to buy gifts and write cards and everything else. And with all that, it is hard to ignore Christmas. For me, the music usually gets me started. I will try not to rush the season, but it probably will not be long before I am walking around the rectory humming “Silent Night” or watching my DVD of It’s a Wonderful Life. And yes, I will be using Christmas illustrations in my homilies, for I find them to be images that most people can relate to. Besides, I sometimes figure that if we do not get our message out, then we run the risk of losing Christmas to those who want to make it into a simply secular Winter Carnival.

So perhaps our goal for these coming weeks should be to keep a balance in our lives this season. We will not forget that Christmas is coming, and we will prepare ourselves for it. At the same time, we remember that Advent is about much more than holiday preparations. We look for Christ’s presence in our midst now, even as we get busy with all that this time of year demands. We take time to reflect on the coming of Christ in glory, even as we hear the jingle bells all around us. And if we take part in a holiday celebration a little early, then we can think of the priest I read about who told his parish groups that they could not have Christmas parties until Christmas. He would, however, allow Advent parties. One parishioner asked him what an Advent party looked like, and he responded, “Figure out what Advent is about and you will know what an Advent party should look like.”

                                                                                                                 Father H

Our Lord Jesus Christ The King - November 23, 2014

It is hard to believe that I have been here at St. Malachy for almost seven months now, but I do notice one difference from when I first arrived. Since my predecessor is a good friend, I had visited here so often that the place was rather familiar to me. Thus, for the first few months, I found myself looking around and feeling like I should ask, “What am I doing in Fr. Mike’s house, and why isn’t he here to greet me?” I had to remind myself that I live here now.

Those moments of realization led invariably led me to stop and say a prayer of thanks to God for sending me here. And while I no longer feel like a visitor, there are plenty of times when I still feel particularly privileged to be here. When that happens, I find myself stopping for a little thanksgiving prayer. St. Malachy is such a wonderful parish that I find myself particularly grateful for the opportunity to be here.

It is so easy to overlook the blessings God has given us, particularly if we settle into a routine and experience the same things over and over. God’s blessings are no less present to us when we are used to them, but we tend to overlook them. We do not always notice what we have received because we are too busy with everyday life. That is why we need a holiday like Thanksgiving, so we can take time out to reflect on what we have and to remember where it comes from. It is our chance to thank God for His blessings.

Unfortunately, Thanksgiving itself tends to get lost in the consciousness of our popular culture. Every year it seems that Hallowe’en lasts longer and that Christmas starts earlier. Thanksgiving gets squeezed to the background. And even when we do celebrate it, we tend to focus on eating as much as possible and then falling asleep on the couch while watching football. But I think of the words of British author G. K. Chesterton, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” If we can truly appreciate our lives – and everything in them – as a gift from God, then we will marvel at what blessings we have received, and that will double our happiness. That wonder may be a little stronger for me this year because my assignment to St. Malachy came as such a surprise. I knew I was in for a new assignment, but I never thought it would be here, and I never realized (despite my many conversations with Fr. Mike) how wonderful a parish this is. There are some things one just has to experience to appreciate.

So I have been recognizing how much I have to be thankful for at St. Malachy. But now I should let you know that I will be away from the parish for Thanksgiving. For the past twenty years or so, I have had the tradition of spending Thanksgiving week with my sister in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I will be leaving Sunday afternoon and will return in time for next weekend. In the meantime, I am confident that Fr. Russell will represent me well at the Thanksgiving Mass this Thursday morning at 9:00. In the meantime, I thank God for one of you in this parish. And I offer my very grateful wish for all of you: Happy Thanksgiving!

                                                                                                                               Father H

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 16, 2014

Think back to your days in high school or junior high. One day, your English teacher announced to you that you were going to be studying one of the plays of William Shakespeare. At that point, you and your classmates probably let out a collective groan. Even if you thought it might be interesting, you soon got bogged down in Shakespeare’s writing as you tried to read it. You may even have wondered when someone was going to translate it into English.

That image came back to me a few years ago when we were told that we were going to get a new translation of the Mass. Some weeks ago, I wrote in this column that I may at times bring back some of the thoughts I had on the new translation when I first wrote about it at Nativity Parish. This new translation would be more literal, more faithful to the Latin than the translation we had been used to. As a result, some have found it rather refreshing, but many have discovered that it can be something of a challenge. The former language was more of a free translation, trying to put the general ideas into language we are familiar with. So this current translation sounds less like the English we are familiar with, and thus the complaint that the Liturgy we are more distant from the action in the sanctuary. Why not leave it in and English that is accessible to the twenty-first century congregation.

As I was struggling with the new translation, I thought of my first experience with Shakespeare in junior high. The more we listen to Shakespeare, really trying to get the whole sense of the action, then the more we get from the beauty of his Elizabethan language. In the liturgy, we are moving into an entirely new realm. Part of the issue is that we are trying to keep a balance. Our faith teaches us the power and majesty of God, but we can never forget that Christ’s Incarnation bridges the chasm and allows us to approach the otherwise unapproachable God. So our liturgy should be both mysterious and familiar, both challenging and comfortable. In the theater, the language helps us get the feel that we are visiting England in the time of the Globe Theater. In an even deeper sense, the Liturgy truly makes present to us the events of 2,000 years ago. A more formal language, as challenging as it might be, helps us set aside the distractions of the modern world to allow us to be present at the Last Supper and to be caught up into heavenly realities.

For me as a priest, I have found that I have to be more attentive to how I can express the message of the printed words. As I gradually get more familiar with the new translation and less dependent upon the book, I am becoming more comfortable with the language. There are some parts that are more challenging than others. For instance, I have not been using the First Eucharistic Prayer nearly as much as I had in the old translation. But others prayers I am coming to see with a new sense of the beauty inherent in the Church’s liturgy. So I invite you to take some time and enter into the mysteries of God through the language of the liturgy. It is a challenge, but it can bring us closer to the mysteries we are celebrating.

                                                                                                                                     Father H    

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica - November 9, 2014

In our seminary days, many of my classmates had similar memories about today’s feast. When we first heard of “St. John Lateran,” we wondered who he was and why he had such an important day. Eventually, we learned that there was no one by that name. The St. John, in this case, refers to both St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. The Lateran refers to a section in the city of Rome where there is a major basilica dedicated to both of those great saints who share the name John. The site of the Lateran Basilica was originally the palace of the Laterani family. They were a very influential family in pagan Rome until the emperor Nero accused one of their members of conspiracy and confiscated the palace. The buildings eventually came under the control of the emperor Constantine. When he converted to Christianity, he gave the palace to the Church. In 324, Pope St. Sylvester I dedicated it as the Cathedral of Rome under the patronage of Christ Our Savior.   

Of course, a building that is almost 1700 years old must have gone through extensive renovation, and it has been rededicated twice. At those points, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist have been added as co-patrons. The Lateran Basilica remained as the residence of the Pope until the fourteenth century, when Pope Clement V moved the seat of the papacy to Avignon, France. When the papacy returned to Rome later in the fourteenth century, the Lateran Basilica was no longer the papal residence. But it is still the Cathedral church of Rome and is thus “the Pope’s Church,” and it is the seat not only of the Diocese of Rome but of all the Church throughout the world. As we are in communion with the Holy Father, so the Lateran Basilica becomes a sign of our unity in Christ. That is why this feast is important enough even to displace the regular Sunday readings and prayers. This church’s importance can be summed up by the words engraved on the main door of the Basilica, in Latin, Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput. In English, that would be, “Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and the head.”
Today’s feast is important even to those of us who have never been to Rome and have never seen the Lateran Basilica. For the Eucharist that Pope Francis celebrates at the altar of the Lateran Basilica is the same Body and Blood of Christ that I celebrate at the altar at St. Malachy. We are united, not by a common setting but by the Person of Jesus Christ, in the sacraments.
As we honor the Pope’s Cathedral in today’s feast, we also pray that we will see ourselves as part of a larger reality, the Church that unites us with all the Faithful, including the saints in heaven and all our departed sisters and brothers in Purgatory. May we come to see that unity most clearly in the Kingdom of Heaven.
                                                                  Father H


Sunday, November 2, 2014

All Souls Day - November 2, 2014

 Some things are so much a part of our tradition that we cannot imagine that others could find fault with them. Throughout the year, but especially on this All Souls Day, we Catholics make it a special point to pray for the dead. Yet there are those who do not agree with our prayers for those who have died. We start with an understanding that we are never perfect in this life, but that heaven is nothing but perfection. We are forgiven, but God must bring us to the fullness of what he made us to be. So purgatory is not a state in which we wait to see how God will judge us. Rather, those who are in purgatory know that they will be in heaven, but they first need to be prepared. There may be suffering, but it is the pain that comes from making a change which we know needs to be made, such as when we were children and our parents had to take out a splinter or put some antiseptic on a scraped knee. I also suspect that part of the suffering is similar to that which we felt as children when we knew that Christmas was close. Those in purgatory know that their greatest source of happiness is coming, but the waiting seems interminable.

I have always particularly liked C. S. Lewis’ description of this purification. Lewis said, “Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, ‘It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy’? Should we not reply, ‘With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.’ ‘It may hurt, you know’ - ‘Even so, sir.’”

Certainly God could take care of the purification without our prayers. But He created us to help one another, and so He allows us to contribute to the souls’ purification by our prayers. I quote again from C. S. Lewis, “Of course I pray for the dead.  The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age, the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to him?”

So this All Souls Day is for those who have died, but it is also for us who still live. It is God’s gift to us to be able to assist in some way in God’s task of perfecting our loved ones. Let us pray for all who have died, that they may come to the fullness of God’s glory in the kingdom of heaven. And let us also comfort ourselves with the realization that they will be praying for us, that we may come to share in that eternal glory with them as saints who share the glory of the Risen Christ.

                                                              Father H


Monday, October 27, 2014

Thirtieth Sunday In Ordinary Time - October 26, 2014

Happy Hallowe’en! This Friday is the day when ghosts and goblins come out and scare us – or at least when they ring doorbells and ask for candy. It can be a fun holiday, though (and here I realize that I’m about to sound like an old fogy) it seems to me that it has become a much bigger deal than it should be. I was in a store on my vacation in July, and they already had Hallowe’en decorations for sale.

By way of explanation, did you notice that I still spell Hallowe’en with the apostrophe? The apostrophe is quite uncommon these days, but I intend to keep it. The name “Hallowe’en” is originally a contraction for “All Hallows E’en,” or the Eve of All Saints Day. In other words, the popular day for dressing up and getting free candy is not nearly as important as the Holy Day that comes immediately after it. For me, the apostrophe is a reminder to let Hallowe’en go and to concentrate on All Saints Day on November 1 and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (“All Souls Day”) on November 2.

It may seem odd to preface All Saints Day with a day that focuses on the macabre – witches, graveyards, goblins and the like. Yet if we do not forget its context as the Eve of All Hallows Day, then it can even make sense as a Christian celebration. Hallowe’en can remind us that we need not fear the ghosts and the goblins, for Christ has won salvation for us. So Hallowe’en has become a time of fun at the devil’s expense. In fact, many spiritual writers have told us that humor is one of the best ways to deal with the devil. C. S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, describes a devil for whom everything must be austere and serious, for he rejects joy and laughter as God’s gifts. So G. K. Chesterton said, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. Never forget that the devil fell by force of gravity.”

So I intend to keep the apostrophe in “Hallowe’en.” (When I used a PC, WordPerfect’s spell checker accepted it with the apostrophe.) That apostrophe helps me keep a perspective when I see someone’s yard filled with fake tombstones or statues of witches and ghosts. It reminds me that our destiny is that which we celebrate on All Saints Day, to share the glorious Beatific Vision of God in the eternal joy of heaven. No ghost could possibly scare us when we remember that we are called to share the Resurrection of the Lord. As long as we make All Saints Day a priority, we can enjoy the silly little holiday that comes before. So Happy Hallowe’en, complete with the apostrophe.  Oh, and while I’m at it: Boo!

On a practical note, when All Saints Day falls on a Saturday, we are excused from the obligation to attend Mass. For those who want to come, we will have a Mass this Saturday morning at 9:00. Also, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed takes precedence over a Sunday in Ordinary Time. So the Masses next Saturday night and Sunday morning will be for All Souls Day.

                                                                                                               Father H

Monday, October 20, 2014

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 19, 2014

       My first days in the seminary were an exciting time for me as an 18-year-old college freshman. In addition, it was an exciting time for the Church on a broader scale. Pope Paul had died just a few weeks before, and my first full day of orientation was the day that the Conclave elected Pope John Paul I. Little could we imagine that the new pope would live only 33 days before a sudden heart attack would force yet another Conclave and the election of a the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

        As one who always enjoyed the study of history, I found myself fascinated with these changes in the papacy. I came to see that during much of the Church’s history, the popes had been frequently weak of sometimes corrupt, and that the papacy had been at the center of many power struggles. All of that helped me recognize what an amazing time we lived in. In modern times the Catholic Church has been led by some of the most dynamic and effective leaders in its history. More importantly, we have been led by some of the holiest and most prayerful leaders.

        This is a good time to reflect on these holy men, as this month we celebrate the feast days of two of our newest saints, Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II. St. John was an older man when he was elected in 1958, and no one expected anything more than a caretaker pope. Yet moved by the Holy Spirit, St. John called the Second Vatican Council, which created such a renewal in the Church. St. John Paul, as Bishop Karol Wojtyla, was a very active participant in the Council. As pope, he consolidated many of the developments of the Council and set a direction for the Church that will continue to influence us for generations. Both were canonized earlier this year. St. John’s feast day is October 11, the anniversary of the opening of the Council. St. John Paul’s feast day is coming up this Wednesday, October 22, which is the anniversary of his liturgical installation as pope.

         Sometimes overlooked is the important figure who stood in between those two giants. This Sunday in Rome, Pope Francis will preside over the beatification of Pope Paul VI. As Archbishop Giovanni Montini, he had a clear vision of the Church, which he would discuss with his friend, Cardinal Angelo Roncalli. When Roncalli became Pope John XXIII, Montini’s vision became part of what St. John relied upon in calling the Vatican Council. When St. John died after the first session of the Council, Montini was the obvious choice for a successor to bring the Council to completion. He dedication to ecumenism and his decision to be the first pope in many years to travel outside of Rome both influenced St. John Paul. So while in many ways Pope Paul is overlooked in comparison to those who came before and after, I find this to be a very joyous day. Today we can pray, “Blessed Paul VI, pray for us.”

                                                                                                                            Father H

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 12, 2014

     My father always enjoyed taking family pictures, and for many years he took slides instead of prints. The good thing about slides was that we could all see the pictures at the same time. One of us would see a picture and remember something about it, and then someone else would add a few more details. I ended up with some good “memories” of things I had not even been present for. Those memories mean so much to me that a few years ago I scanned all of my father’s slides (about 8,000 or so from about thirty years) onto my computer.
     Looking at old photos can be a good way to grow closer to our families. Something similar happens when we bring out the important stories of our faith and share them together. This month of October is dedicated in a special way to the Rosary. When we pray the Rosary, we can think of it as setting up the projector and bringing out the pictures. For in the Rosary, we contemplate the great mysteries of our faith. We see the live of Christ, from His Incarnation up through the Paschal Mystery of His Passion, Death and Resurrection. We see them not as a story from the distant past but as part of our own history. In the Nativity, Christ came to share our humanity completely and to be part of our human family. We share the life of the Risen Christ through the Salvation He has brought to us. The mysteries of the Rosary tell us our story.
     As a slideshow lets us share memories, so in the Rosary, we contemplate the mysteries of our faith by joining with the Blessed Virgin Mary. The repetition of the “Hail, Mary” can quiet our minds and help us set aside all the distractions of life so that we can focus better on the various mysteries. By using the “Hail, Mary,” we invite the Blessed Mother to watch with us. We get Mary’s perspective. The faith and dedication that led her to accept God’s call helps us to see more deeply what a gift we are receiving.
     In the Joyful Mysteries of Jesus’ birth as Mary’s Son, we see that Christ shares our life in every way. In 2002, Pope St. John Paul asked us to include a new set of five decades known as the Luminous Mysteries, from the word for “light.” These mysteries are events that shed light on the person of Christ. Through His ministry, He demonstrated who He was and showed Himself to us as “the Light of the World.” The Sorrowful Mysteries show us the depth of Christ’s love for us in that He would not abandon us, even at the cost of death. And finally, the Glorious Mysteries tie it all together by showing us Christ’s final triumph over sin and death. As we include Mary’s Assumption into heaven, we recall that we too are called to follow the way of Christ to everlasting life.
     St. John Paul II said, “The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christ-centered prayer.” We meditate on these mysteries of Christ, but with the Blessed Mother to guide us. So during October, we have the invitation to look at our family pictures as a sign of God’s love.
                                                                          Father H

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 5, 2014

       “Congress is so strange; a man gets up to speak and says nothing, nobody listens, and then everybody disagrees.” I was recently looking at some quotations by American humorist and commentator Will Rogers concerning politics in his days. Rogers claimed that those in Congress “are all good fellows at heart, and if they wasn’t in Congress, why, they would be doing something else against us that might be even worse.” The truth is that as long as the American government has been going, people have been complaining about it. Yet our political system has worked well (on the whole) for years. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried.”
Despite the advantages of our form of government, it does not translate over to the running of a parish. About forty years ago, there was a move within the Church to establish Parish Councils in each parish. Most of these bodies were based on a model that is familiar to us through politics. Elections were held, often with the parish boundaries divided up into districts so that each area could have its own representative. Meetings were run by parliamentary procedure, featuring Robert’s Rules of Order, and most decisions were reached by majority vote.
          A few years ago, the Diocese of Pittsburgh revamped its policies for such groups. Parish Councils were gone, to be replaced by “Pastoral Councils.” The difference was more than just a few letters. A Pastoral Council was not to be a debating society where each member argued for his own position or that of his constituents. The group was to look at the big picture, to help form a vision for the parish and to help the pastor set goals for the parish and to evaluate the parish’s progress toward those goals. In doing so, they were to work by achieving consensus. While a good Pastoral Council will get involved in certain tasks, theirs is more the task of working from a broader perspective.
Taking a less “political” approach to their business, the Pastoral Council also does not hold elections. Currently, our Council is looking for new members to step in for those whose terms are expiring. We are currently taking suggestions of people whom our parishioners may like to see on the Council. The current members, both those who are leaving and those who will remain, have begun the process and have suggested a number of good names. Now we would like to open it up to others. If you know of someone whom you think would be an asset to the parish in the circumstances I described, please let me know or else contact one of the current members. You can call our current facilitator, Terry Neary, at 412-715-4418.    
                                                                                                             Father H