Monday, September 29, 2014

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 28, 2014

In Bavaria, it’s time for Oktoberfest, a chance to feast on some good German food. But where can a Pittsburgher of German heritage get some good German food at this time of the year? The obvious answer is at St. Malachy’s annual Nationality Festival. And if you are Italian or Polish or some other nationality (or just like their food), you can get those here, too. In fact, I intend to sample a number of different foods, including those perfectly pinched pierogis. But as the festival draws near, it is the German food that I am most looking forward to.
This will be my first Nationality Festival at St. Malachy, and I am looking forward to it. It should be a very good time. There are, of course, several aspects to a parish festival, and its success can be judged on a number of levels. On the one hand, a festival is a fund raiser. In fact, when most people ask how the festival went, we usually are asking whether we made a good profit. With the raffle, we are certainly off to a good start, and I have hopes that this will be a very good festival in that sense.
When we speak of a festival as a fund raiser, we remember why we are raising these funds. There have been a number of times when someone has come to me and asked if his or her ticket had won the raffle. When I say no, the response I often get is, “That’s okay; it’s for a good cause.” The festival helps our parish have the resources to be a sign of God’s grace in the community, particularly by helping our school to bring the message of Christ to a new generation. So for those who are donating to a good cause, we offer our thanks for making our festival a success.
To be a good event, a festival cannot be judged simply on profit or loss. It needs to be fun, too. Sampling different types of food can be very enjoyable, and there are games and other activities as well. It should be a very enjoyable time.
And when we get together for a good time, we are building our community. This is a time that can bring St. Malachy’s parishioners closer together. Whether you are working at some part of the festival and pulling together with others or are coming as a customer, you have a chance to get to know some of your neighbors. We also have a chance to be visible to the community, as we know that some non-parishioners will be coming for the pierogis or other foods. You can tell your friends and neighbors that we welcome them (and their money) to our big party.
Finally, I have to say a word of thanks to all those who are running and working this festival. These people have put in such yeoman’s work for some long and hard hours, all to make the festival a success in all of the above aspects. I offer my personal thanks on behalf of the entire parish community for all your hard work and dedication in making the festival a success.
And to those who want to come and share in my Oktoberfest celebration at the festival: “Ein prosit.”
                                                                                                                   Father H

Monday, September 22, 2014

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 21, 2014

Some years ago, I was talking to a group of first graders about the Bible. I told them that there are two parts to the Bible and that the first part is the Old Testament. I then asked them what the second part would be, and one little girl eagerly answered, “The Young Testament.” Another time I was teaching some children about the gospel reading at mass, and I mentioned that for some special liturgies you might see the servers carrying incense at that point. One boy looked disgusted as he raised his hand and asked, “Father, are the insects alive?”
As the late television personality Art Linkletter used to say, “Kids say the darndest things.” I have found that out in my years of teaching, as well as from similar stories friends have told me. Such stories remind us how much we take for granted. Much of what we know has been part of our lives for so long that we assume everyone knows it. When we encounter a child’s excitement over a new discovery, we have a chance to see the world in a new light and to appreciate what wonders we see every day. For me, that is one of the joys of teaching about the Young Testament or the proper handling of insects at mass. These experiences help me focus on what our faith is all about and on how our faith looks to those who are just discovering it.
Today we celebrate Catechetical Sunday, when we honor those volunteers who give of their time and talent in order to help bring the message of salvation to our children – and to our adults through such programs as Baptism preparation and the like. While I speak often about our school, I never want to forget those who learn about God in CCD and other ways. Saint Malachy Parish is blessed with a wonderful catechetical team, led by our Catechetical Administrator Joanne Swank, who puts so much effort into providing an excellent program of faith formation.
Especially when working with the children, there is a real thrill in seeing something dawn upon them. When they “get it,” there is a real sense of excitement. That excitement can come in any subject, such as when a student who as struggled with certain math problems finally understands how to solve the problem. But that dawning of understanding is even more of a thrill when we learn about our faith, for there it transcends simply an academic subject. The real joy of faith formation is seeing someone come to an experience of the love of Christ. Saint John Paul II, in a document addressed to catechists, wrote, “Yet at the heart of our faith, we do not find doctrine or teaching; we find the person of Jesus.” Our faith formation is not about teaching an academic subject; it is rather an invitation for all of us to open our hearts to receive the greatest love we could ever experience. And when we teach others our faith, we ourselves come to recognize the love of God more clearly in our own lives. So today we thank all our catechists for the effort and the energy which they expend in order to make the love of Christ present to our parishioners. I pray that they may continue to grow in their own faith by their work with their students and that, together with their students, their enthusiasm may make Christ’s presence in our parish more visible to every one of us.
                                                                                                                          Father H

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Exaltation of the Holy Cross - September 14, 2014

     You will notice an extra prayer that we are saying in church starting this week. Before Mass begins, we are saying the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, as found on the back cover of Today’s Missal. Bishop Zubik had asked all parishes to pray this prayer as a form of reparation after a satanic group in Oklahoma City stole a consecrated Host and planned to desecrate it as part of a “black mass.” Archbishop Paul Coakley was able to recover the Blessed Sacrament, but Bishop Zubik still wants us to pray and do penance to overcome the sacrilege against Our Lord and against the Blessed Sacrament.
     In Mark’s gospel, we read of a man who brought his son to Jesus for healing of an unclean spirit. After the Apostles had not been able to cure the boy, Christ explained to them, “This kind can only come out through prayer.” That is an important point for us to remember. We are called always to work for peace and justice in the world, but we must begin by prayer. Only by trusting in the grace of God can we truly make a difference in the world. The Prayer to St. Michael is an excellent example. Pope Leo XIII, who served as Pope from 1878 until his death in 1903, composed the prayer. At the time, the independence of the Vatican State and the autonomy of the Pope were being threatened by the newly united nation of Italy. Pope Leo asked Catholics to pray this prayer so that the Holy See could continue to be a strong influence on society. While the Vatican eventually had to adapt to the new reality, the Holy See did manage to retain its autonomy.
     Earlier this year, before I reported to St. Malachy, I made my annual retreat at the seminary I had attended before my ordination. The seminarians are using the Prayer to St. Michael as a prayer for religious liberty, praying that we may retain the ability to live by our Catholic faith in light of the recent government decisions regarding health care and other issues. These situations remind us that we are living in a world that is increasingly secular and is becoming more and more hostile to our morals and values. Thus I would like to use this prayer as Bishop Zubik had asked and to continue using it beyond the time he requested.
     Along with prayer, it is helpful if we practice fasting or other forms of penance. As a related note, I periodically remind people that the Church still asks us to do some form of penance every Friday, the day of the Crucifixion, to join ourselves to the sufferings of Christ. The primary form of Friday penance is still to abstain from meat. In recent years, the Church has allowed us to choose some other form of penance if we prefer. Unfortunately, the message most of us got was simply that Friday abstinence is no longer required outside of Lent. I urge everyone to choose some form of penance every Friday. I still find meatless Fridays to be an effective form of penance, but we are free to choose something else. But whatever form we choose, we can see it as a way of remembering the importance of faith and of dedicating ourselves to fidelity to Christ in a world that needs grace.
                                                                                                                                 Father H

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 4, 2014

Have you ever had a tune stuck in your head, playing over and over again? Music has a way of embedding itself in our minds, and a good teacher can use that tendency. So over the past few months our Director of Music, Laurie Lanz, has been using a tune for a prelude before Mass that I had suggested to her. I didn’t suggest it as a prelude, but this has been a way for her to get the tune running through our heads. Soon she will be introducing it to the parish for us to sing together. The music was composed by Steven Warner, and the lyrics were written by Jesus Christ. It is a musical setting of the Lord’s Prayer that I have heard sung at a number of parishes in our diocese, and it should help to enhance our beautiful liturgies even more. The introduction of this new setting of the Our Father gives me a chance to reflect upon the role of music in our worship.

We often hear people quote Saint Augustine as saying, “He who sings prays twice.” I always heard the quotation as “He who sings well prays twice.” But that does not mean that you have to sound like Diana Krall or Elvis Presley. It means that we sing from the heart, making a sound that is as pleasing as we can and then not worrying if someone else has a better voice. I always liked the story of the parish that hired a renowned soprano to do a solo of the Ave Maria for a special Mass. Just as she began, a drunk stumbled into church, walked up to the microphone and joined in. One of the parishioners asked, “Why didn’t you stop him?” The priest responded, “I was about to, but then I wondered which version God liked better.” So if you think you cannot sing, sing anyway. And if you can sing, please consider joining the choir.

As for the new setting of the Lord’s Prayer, I have suggested to Laurie that we fit that in with some of the other parts of the Mass that we sing. You may have noticed that some days I sing certain parts of the Mass, and at other times I will sing something different. I look at the Mass parts in three categories. There are some parts that, liturgical norms teach us, should always be sung when there is music. The Alleluia before the Gospel, for instance, must be sung. If there is no music at Mass, it is omitted. Similarly, the Preface Acclamation (“Holy, Holy”), the Memorial Acclamation and the Great Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer are to be sung regularly. Other parts, principally the “Glory to God” and the Responsorial Psalm are designed to be sung, and so I feel we should sing them at almost all Masses. There are occasions, though, when they can be recited. Finally, there are many other places, such as the Collect or the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer, where music can enhance the Liturgy. Singing a certain part one week and a different part the next not only adds to the solemnity of what we do but also introduces a certain variety that can help keep the Mass fresh each time. (Besides, I must admit that I simply enjoy singing. Our office staff has learned to be careful about giving me a song cue lest I burst into a Gershwin ballad or a Gilbert & Sullivan patter song.)
                                                                                                          Father H

Monday, September 1, 2014

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 31, 2014

        I saw a wonderful meme on the Internet last week. The picture was of a little baby in the midst of being baptized. You could see the priest’s hand as he was pouring the water. The caption read, “Catholics: Pouring water on people before it was cool.” The reference, of course, is to the Ice Bucket Challenge that has been going around. People pour buckets of ice water over their heads or have others do the pouring. They then post videos of the event on Facebook or some other form of social media and challenge others to do the same. The purpose of all this silliness is to raise awareness about the disease ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The corollary, of course, is that those who take part are supposed to a donation toward research for the prevention and cure of ALS.
Shortly after the Ice Bucket Challenge began to circulate, I heard reports that the main group working on ALS research was using embryonic stem cells in their work. Fortunately, before anyone ever challenged me to anything, I received a message from a friend who promoted another organization. The John Paul II Medical Research Institute uses only adult stem cells. This line of research is morally acceptable to us Catholic, and it has so far proved to be more effective. This institute proved to be a good alternative, and the initial message I received gave me a chance to donate to a good cause without the dousing. And then Bishop Zubik took the challenge (with his donation going the John Paul II Medical Research Institute), and one of those I had urged to donate told me that I had to “be a good sport.” So last Sunday, after the school event in Fr. Wierauch Hall, I got a bucket of water dumped on me. By the time you read this, the video should be on our parish web site.
Especially because my challenge happened on a Sunday when I had baptized two babies, I was thinking about the Internet meme I quoted above. Baptism is our initiation into the faith, and this challenge seems like a form of initiation. I felt like I belonged to a certain “club” with others who have shared the experience. Baptism calls us to live our whole lives by faith, and the challenge to donate to a good cause means that the Ice Bucket Challenge is more than just a gesture. It has to be tied to action for the good to come out of it. Further, it calls us to make responsible decisions with regard to how we accomplish our goals. In Catholic teaching it is not enough to want to accomplish something good; the means we use to accomplish the end must also be morally acceptable.
For anyone interested in the John Paul II Medical Research Institute, you can find out more at their website, you can check out their website at You can also mail donations to:
                                        John Paul II Medical Research Institute
                                        540 E. Jefferson St.
                                        Suite 202
                                        Iowa City, IA 52245.
                                                                                             Father H