Sunday, August 24, 2014

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 24, 2014

There is an old joke about a family on the way home from Sunday Mass.  The father said, “That was the worst homily the priest has ever given.”  The mother responded, “And did you hear the choir?  They were off-key all day.”  The big sister added, “Couldn’t the Altar Servers have at least combed their hair.”  Finally, the little brother said, “Gee, I thought it was a pretty good show for a dollar.”  I suppose many priests would laugh at that joke because of the concept that their donation to the collection was just a dollar, but I also think it demonstrates that we sometimes think of the Liturgy as a show, as something someone else does.  The Second Vatican Council called for full and active participation among the faithful at Mass.

          Of course, participation is easier the more we understand what we are doing.  We can simply tell you what to say or when to stand or sit, but then we feel like we are going along with a practical joke.  “No, really, just stand there with your eyes closed and pay no attention to what I’m doing.”  So I am writing today to call your attention to a series of one-paragraph articles that will run in the bulletin for forty-one weeks, beginning this weekend. I wrote this series a few years ago when the parish I was in wanted to give the people a richer understanding of the Mass.  Since then I have reprinted it in a number of different assignments since then.  I urge everyone to read these paragraphs, and I hope this will make the things we do clearer and more meaningful.

         I mentioned that I wrote this series a few years ago.  I have edited and adapted it over the years, as I have continued to study and grow in my appreciation of the Mass.  I did a more complete revision after the new translation of the Mass came out a few years ago.  My first reaction to the new Missal, when we were preparing to implement it, was like a student just starting to study Shakespeare.  He may find Shakespeare’s language to be different and hard to understand and may wonder why we don’t just put it into modern language.  Yet as we study Shakespeare, we find timeless themes, and the language helps us step into a different mindset.  Similarly, I find the new liturgical translation to be a little harder.  But it also sets a particular tone, showing that what we are doing here is different from the world of TV shows or dinner table conversation.  I dedicated my “Ponderings” column at Nativity Parish to some of the changes on occasion, and I may take time to reprint some of those columns here as we go along. When you see one of those columns, think of it as a further attempt to help us come to a fuller appreciation of the incredible privilege we have in celebrating the Eucharist.  In other words, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I couldn’t think of anything else to write on that given week.
                                                                                                                       Father H

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Twentieth Sunday In Ordinary Time - August 17, 2014

       My mind is going in two different directions this week as I sit down to write this column.  As I try to unite those two parts into one column, I hope you will indulge me in a personal reflection for the first part.
The first part goes back 100 years.  At this time in 1914, European nations had just begun World War I, which would eventually embroil the United States.  The outbreak of war would be the final heartbreak for an ailing Pope, Saint Pius X, who would die on August 20.  Baseball star Babe Ruth made his Major League debut as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.  And if you could afford $440, you could buy a new car, a Ford Model T.  Be careful driving it, though, for there were another 1.7 million cars registered in the United States, and in Cleveland they were trying an experiment with red and green lights to control the traffic.
This Tuesday would have been the 100th birthday of my father, Richard E. Hissrich.  My sisters, my brother and I were all hoping to take some time off this week so that we could get together and observe the centennial, but we could not make it happen.  A family gathering was something of a tradition this time of year.  The last time we got all four of us together with Dad present was at my sister’s house in Virginia in 2009 for Dad’s 95th birthday.  I have a picture in my mind of Dad sitting on the couch in Mary Lou’s house, reading a story to his great-granddaughter.
        That brings me to my second part of this column, the handing on of wisdom from one generation to another.  We do it in families, we do it in the Church with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and we do it in schools.  Believe it or not, St. Malachy School begins a new school year on Thursday.  Summer certainly goes much too fast, but I do find a joy and an excitement with the beginning of a new school year.  One of my gifts has always been working with the school and CCD in my parishes.  I am particularly looking forward to starting a new year in a new school.  I arrived here when the school year was winding down, so I didn’t get the chance to get into the classrooms as a teacher last year.  I love bringing the teachings of Christ to a new generation.  And I hope to do it with the same patience, good humor and peaceful joy that my father brought to our family.  In the classroom, I am more like my mother, who went to college on a drama school scholarship and who kindled my love of acting.  But I try to bring elements of Dad into the classroom as well.
         When my father was a young man, he spent some time in the seminary.  When I announced my desire to be a priest, he let me know that he supported me in whatever God had in mind for me.  In his later years, he said that God didn’t want him to be ordained because the Church had enough priests.  God wanted him to have a son who would be a priest when the need was greater.  Especially as we begin the new school year, I pray that I can pass on the wisdom to help the next generation to trust God’s will, as Dad taught me.  And as we begin the new school year, I can only imagine what the year 2114 will bring to the children and grandchildren of our current St. Malachy students.
               Father H

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 10, 2014

       My favorite author, far and away, is the British Christian writer C. S. Lewis.  Early in his life Lewis had abandoned all faith.  As a young adult, he read several excellent authors (such as George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton) and had several good friends (including J. R. R. Tolkien, who would later write The Lord of the Rings) who all shared one serious weakness, as Lewis then saw it, in that they were Christians.  None of them had directly tried to convert Lewis, but each one had an influence on his thought.  Eventually he had to admit that there was something much more positive in the Christians he knew and read than in those with whom he thought he agreed.  At that point, the thought of giving in horrified him.  Lewis told his story in a book titled Surprised by Joy in which he wrote, “Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about ‘man’s search for God.’  To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat.”  He goes on to describe the point where he knew he could no longer resist.  “I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
People follow many different roads to come to Christ.  Some of us grew up in the Church and cannot imagine life without faith.  Many, like Lewis, search for meaning in life but at first discount the possibility that such meaning can come from God.  They are looking for joy in their lives, and as Lewis was, many would be surprised to find that only God can provide true joy.  Yet as God has created us, then our only hope for true fulfillment is to be what He made us to be.
       God uses many different ways to bring people to His love, as He reached Lewis through the author’s friends over a long period of time.  Perhaps, in the same way, God is using each of us to plant the seed of faith in someone’s heart, to show that Christ offers the joy they have been searching for.  We pray that we can be ready when the moment comes that we may offer an invitation to someone.
If you know of anyone – family member, friend or co-worker – who is ready to ask certain questions, feel free to invite that person to look into our RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.  The RCIA is the process by which those who wish to come into the Catholic Church prepare to do so.  In addition, we recognize that there are many who, like Lewis, come to God “kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.”  The RCIA begins with an “Inquiry” stage, at which those who take part are able to ask any questions without fear of being judged and without making a commitment.        Those who come to the RCIA and decide that the Catholic faith is for them can move on to preparation for becoming Catholic or for coming back to the Church.  Others are welcome to say, at any time, “Thanks but no thanks.”  So if you know someone who is interested in the Church or who simply has some questions, feel free to suggest that the person calls me to ask about the RCIA, or let us know and we can make the offer.  We may be helping someone to be, as C. S. Lewis was, “Surprised by Joy.”

               Father H

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 3, 2014

There is an old story of a baby who was getting rather fussy in church one day.  Finally, in the middle of the homily, the mother got up and started to walk to the back of church.  The priest stopped in the middle of the homily and said, “Madam, please do not take that child out of church.  He is not disturbing me.”  The woman responded, “No, but you’re disturbing him.”
Most of us have stories something like that.  One day I was giving my homily, and I compared someone’s attitude to that of a child who says, “My daddy can beat up your daddy.”  As soon as I said that, a little girl shouted out, “MY daddy.”  I joked that I was afraid I had gotten my father, who was probably in his late 80s at that point, into a fight.  But at least that little girl was there, even if she didn’t follow anything else of what I said.  And the whole thing did give everyone else a good chuckle.
The point is that I know it’s hard to bring small children to church.  Children fuss and cry, and parents are afraid of disturbing those around them.  Today I want to use this column to tell everyone what I try to tell the families at every baptism.  I have a strong voice and a microphone, so I can make myself heard over crying children.  Please do not ever feel that you have to take a crying child out of church.  And if you do not have small children yourselves, then please do what you can to make such families feel welcome if they happen to be in your vicinity.  I want them to feel that this is their church just as much as it is anyone else’s.
The presence of the children has another effect as well.  At baptisms, I often quote the old saying that every time a child is born, it is a sign that God has not given up on the world.  That is, the presence of children reminds us that God is renewing our Church by sending a new generation to take part in our community.  I also often quote the final verse of Louis Armstrong’s signature song, “What a Wonderful World.”  The final verse says, “I hear babies cry.  I watch them grow.  They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know.  And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”
I was once an assistant in a parish whose church was built around the same time as ours.  On my first day, as I was getting a tour, I asked the pastor if (given the age of the church) the building had a cry room.  He looked offended at the suggestion.  He told me that the pastor at the time the church was built had insisted (and he personally agreed) that parents should not take their children away.  I agreed then, and I still agree now.  (I also notice that our cry rooms are usually used by people other than those for whom they were initially intended.)  While I was in that parish, one of our families used to sit in the back so that they could more easily take their children out if needed.  One day they were late, and the only open seats were up front.  They were amazed that their children were so much better behaved once they could see what was going on.  So again, please know that I welcome children at Mass.  Let’s get them started young.

               Father H