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