Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Holy Family - December 27, 2015

I remember a Peanuts comic strip in which Charlie Brown asked Linus, “Did you have a good Christmas?” Instead of giving a direct answer, Linus asked what Charlie Brown meant. Was he asking whether Linus had gotten good presents? Did he ask whether Linus had enjoyed the presence of his family? Was the question whether Linus had any deep spiritual insights in regards to the true meaning of Christmas? Poor Charlie Brown was left almost wishing he had not asked.

For me, there is another important part to that question. If you ask me this week whether I had a good Christmas, my answer will probably be, “I still am.” According to our secular society, Christmas is over. After all, the stores and malls started putting up Christmas decorations sometime before Hallowe’en, and it is now time to move on to the next big thing. But in the Church, Christmas only begins on December 25. This is our time to celebrate Christ’s birth, and we don’t give up on it easily. I keep singing Christmas songs, even when people give me funny looks. After all, those are the same funny looks I gave people who were singing or playing Christmas music two weeks before Thanksgiving.

On the other hand, if you ask me if I had a good Christmas, I may take Linus’ approach and think of all the different ways Christmas can be good. So let me take this time to offer my thanks to all who contributed to my good Christmas. Thank you to John Lester and his crew of elves who decorated the church to make it such a festive place. Thank you to Laurie Lanz, who leads our music program, for the festive music which is so vital to this feast. That thanks includes the cantors, our adult choir, our contemporary choir, our Schola Cantorum (the quartet), the children’s choir and Margie Masilunas’ handbell choir. Thanks also to all who served the parish liturgies in any capacity.

Thank you to all of you who sent me Christmas cards or presents. Yes, one of Linus’ conditions for a good Christmas had to do with the presents, and I do appreciate the gifts that I have received. That also includes those of you who sent me Christmas cookies or any other goodies. Perhaps I should question whether all those edible treats made a good Christmas, for now I have to behave myself and try to work off some of those calories before my next visit with the doctor, who always makes me step on the scale at the beginning of my check-up.

Thank you to Fr. Russell and to the staff and all the volunteers here at St. Malachy Parish. You do so much to keep this parish going, and I appreciate what you have done for Christmas and all throughout the year.

And speaking of “all throughout the year,” we still have New Year’s to celebrate. In the Catholic Church, January 1 is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. That is a Holy Day of Obligation. It is also the start of a new year, so we will again have a New Year’s Eve Holy Hour to allow us to welcome in 2016 in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. The Holy Hour will begin with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at 11:30 pm.
                                                                                Father H                  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 20, 2015

As Christmas draws near, I suspect we all have our memories of celebrations from when we were growing up. For instance, I remember my family moving all the furniture in the living room so that we could have room to bring the big platform up from the coal cellar in our basement. The platform was important, for we had a model railroad running under the tree, along with a village of buildings that made up the Christmas platform. Dad would tack crepe paper along the edge of the platform to hide all the wires under the platform.

In the center of the platform, of course, was the Christmas tree. If you’re trying to picture the scene, remember that this was the 1960s. The tree was one of the aluminum artificial trees that were popular back then. It was gold, but it had a spotlight that shone different colors on it. Eventually Mom and Dad replaced that tree with a more life-like artificial tree, but I always had fond memories of the gold one. With that background, I still appreciate an artificial tree. But a friend of mine once told his wife and children that if they ever bought an artificial Christmas tree, he would buy them artificial presents.

Speaking of presents, they would end up piled on the floor in front of the tree. It seems we had two options for getting our lists to Santa Claus. We could wait for a big trip downtown, where we could sit on Santa’s lap at one of the department stores. But there was always the option of sending a letter to the North Pole by way of Paul Shannon’s rocket ship. If you don’t remember, Paul Shannon was the host of Adventure Time on channel 4, and his rocket to the North Pole was an annual feature.

Along with the big gifts were the “stocking stuffers,” with the stockings hung in their traditional place on the mantel. On top of the mantel was the crèche set. The figures were posed in a wooden stable that my father built before I was born. That Nativity set is now in my office. The figures are chipped in one or two places, and St. Joseph lost his staff longer ago than I can remember. To this day, he holds the replacement that Dad had made by straightening out an old paper clip.

Those memories show us how strong a hold this feast has over us. With Christmas coming this Friday, I want to take this time to wish all of you a very blessed celebration of the Nativity of the Lord. Along with Fr. Russell and Fr. O’Brien, I offer my wishes and prayers, and may you make memories that will remain with you through life to remind you of the joy of Christ’s coming among us.

In final preparation, we will offer Confessions on Monday and Tuesday of this week from 6:00 to 7:00. Christmas Vigil Masses on Christmas Eve are at 4:00 and 6:30, with the Mass During the Night at 10:00. Masses Christmas Day are at the usual Sunday times of 8:00 and 11:00. Finally, may you have a very blessed celebration.  Merry Christmas!
                                                                                               Father H                  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Third Sunday of Advent - December 13, 2015

Gaudete in Domino semper iterum dico gaudete. That is the Latin for the line from today’s second reading, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” I give you the Latin, from the Vulgate translation of St. Jerome, because this Third Sunday of Advent is often referred to as “Gaudete Sunday.” This is our day of rejoicing that the Lord’s coming is drawing near. This is the day we light the rose colored candle on the Advent wreath. Rose is a brighter color but one that that complements the purple of the other three weeks. So the rose candle reminds us that we have not yet arrived, but there is joy at the coming of the Lord.

That is an important message for us as we try to keep the balance between the impatience of waiting and the joy of the Lord’s coming. Sometimes, though, joy can be hard to find. Just consider all the violence in our world. The terrorism in Paris recently, followed by shooting incidents in our country, leave us wondering where we are headed. Perhaps part of the uneasiness comes from our modern twenty-four hour news cycle, which leads to greater coverage of events that would only have received passing mention years ago. But whether it is perception or reality, the news we face makes it difficult to follow St. Paul’s urging to rejoice.

The key is to realize that Paul tells us to rejoice “in the Lord.” After the recent shooting in San Bernadino, California, a number of political leaders made statements about praying for the victims. In response, The New York Daily News ran a large headline proclaiming, “God isn’t fixing this.” In what was quickly labeled “prayer shaming,” quite a few people (including some on my Facebook feed) told these politicians to stop praying and to do something about it. Now I can understand if the editorialists thought that the statements of prayer were empty without action. But to complain about the offer of prayer is counterproductive at best. The only hope we have for joy, now or in any time in the world’s history, is to prepare for the Lord’s coming. Certainly we have to put our faith into action. But first and foremost, our actions have to be grounded in the peace that only Christ can give.

I often think of a scene from the old TV show M*A*S*H. There was a crisis in the camp on one episode, and everyone was running around trying to deal with it. The camp chaplain, Father Mulcahy, asked Colonel Potter if there was anything he could do to help. Colonel Potter said, “Pray, Father.” Father Mulcahy complained, “That’s all I ever get to do.” But for us, particularly in Advent, our prayer reminds us that Christ has promised never to leave us. He will bring peace to a troubled world, and He will offer hope in hopeless situations. For us, the message is clear: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice.”

                                                                                                              Father H        

Second Sunday of Advent - December 6, 2015

   I would like to begin today’s column by picking up where I left off. Last week, in writing about the beginning of Advent, I noted that this season is not as penitential in nature as Lent. But there is still a penitential aspect to the season. As I noted, Pope Francis has decreed this coming year as a Year of Mercy, an opportunity for us to seek God’s merciful love, beginning this Tuesday on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

I like the story of a priest who was teaching children about Confession. He asked the class, “What’s the first thing you have to do if you want to go to Confession?” One little boy raised his hand and answered, “Commit a sin.” The priest could not deny that was an important first step, but he had been taking it for granted that we already have committed some sin. For this Year of Mercy, though, the boy had a good insight. It’s not that we go out and commit a sin just so that we can experience God’s mercy. But the problem these days is that have to admit that we have are sinners. That part is easy to overlook in our society. The attitude of our society today was expressed in the title of a popular book from the 1960s, I’m Okay, You’re Okay. The idea is that I make choices for myself, and nobody can say anything about them. Some secular commentators have taken some of Pope Francis’ words out of context to make it sound like the Holy Father advocates a similar position. By proclaiming a Year of Mercy, the Pope is making it clear that we need the mercy of God. He challenges us to be aware of sin, but not in any hopeless way. Rather, we can stand up to the sins of our lives because we are confident that Christ offers us a better way.

Pope Francis got people’s attention when he explicitly included abortion in writing of the Year of Mercy. The Pope said, “One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life.” He then granted every priest the right to absolve the sin of abortion in Confession. For most of the United States, that decision does not make a legal difference, for most US bishops have already granted the right to priests. Yet even here, the fact that Pope Francis made that announcement may give hope to women who have been struggling with guilt to know that forgiveness is available.

As part of the Year of Mercy, the Diocese of Pittsburgh again sponsors The Light is On For You, an opportunity to receive mercy in a sacramental way. Like every parish in the diocese, St. Malachy will be open for Confessions this Wednesday evening, December 9, from 6:00 to 9:00. So feel free to come here or to go to any parish in the diocese. God is waiting to share His mercy with us.

                                                                                                     Father H      

Sunday, November 29, 2015

First Sunday of Advent - November 29, 2015

   A young woman went to see the doctor, who told her the news she was waiting for. She was pregnant. She and her husband were thrilled. But soon they began to talk about the changes in their lives and about the responsibilities that they would have to carry. And that was assuming that nothing went wrong. Soon, the pregnancy became a time of adjustment and preparation. But they never forgot the joy of the new life that was coming to them.

The season of Advent which we begin today has frequently been compared to pregnancy. On one level, that is obvious. We are just under four weeks away from Christmas. The image of Christ as a newborn baby obviously leads us to reflect on Mary’s pregnancy. Yet as the Church has structured our observance of Advent, this first part of the season is not so much about preparation for Christmas as it is for the Second Coming of Christ. We have a reminder that we live all our lives in a time of anticipation. As a family awaiting the birth of a child comes to feel that their home is not complete until the child arrives, so we know that our world is never complete until we live every moment of our lives in a total and complete devotion to God. Recognizing that we will never reach that state on earth, we live our whole lives in anticipation. Christ is coming, and we see that promise as something real in our lives.

To speak thus of Advent as a time of preparation can make us as nervous as a young couple expecting their first child. Yet at the same time, our faith in Christ gives us the certainty of His gift of salvation. So this Advent becomes a time of joy and hope, even as it becomes a time of preparation. We may see similarities between our observance of Advent and that of the Lenten season which prepares us for Easter, but there are real contrasts. In both seasons, we simplify the decorations and the celebration of the liturgy. For instance, we do not sing the “Glory to God” at Mass during these seasons. In Lent, that change is a sign of our penitential spirit. In Advent, these changes are meant to remind us that we are in preparation and that our celebration is not complete until Christ comes.

There is still a penitential spirit to this season, of course. As a family starts thinking about things like gates on the stairs to keep a young toddler safe, so we look to make our lives more fitting for Christ to come in. As we prepare to begin the “Year of Mercy” proclaimed by Pope Francis, many people will be coming to Confession. In addition to our regular time of Saturday afternoons from 3:00 to 3:45, we will join with all parishes in the diocese to sponsor “The Light is On For You,” when every parish will offer Confessions on Wednesday evening, December 9, from 6:00 to 9:00.

                                                                                                Father H                  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ The King - November 22, 2015

Once on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob Petrie was asked to write a letter of recommendation for an old friend. To make it easier, the friend wrote the letter himself, and Rob only had to sign it. In the letter, the friend exaggerated his skills. He said, for instance, that he spoke four languages. As it turned out, he knew the word for “yes” in four languages. That got me to thinking that there are certain words that we generally know in a number of different languages. I take that as a sign that these are some of the most important expressions we have, if they become that familiar even in a foreign tongue. Take, for instance, words or phrases such as merci boucoup, grazie, danke schön or gracias. Everyone knows the English equivalent: “Thank you.”

Gratitude is so important to us. Primarily, we owe our gratitude to God, from Whom all good things come. So this Thursday, we have our special day for giving thanks to God for all His blessings. I have always loved the expression of thanks in a Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer available for weekday masses: “For, although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift, since our praises add nothing to your greatness but profit us for our salvation.” Gratitude to God helps us to be more open to His goodness in so many ways. In His love, He always wants the best for us.

In expressing our gratitude to God, we recognize that many of His gifts come from the love we show one another. So in thanking God, we also thank one another. I find that kind of gratitude especially important, for I am so thankful for the wonderful community that I have here at St. Malachy Parish. I get so many reminders of God’s blessing on a day-to-day basis, with the fantastic staff, with the volunteers in our parish liturgies and all our parish organizations, with the children of St. Malachy School and CCD who always bring a smile to my face, and all who make this such a wonderful parish for a priest to enjoy his ministry.

On a related note, since my mother’s death in 1992, my Thanksgiving tradition has been to celebrate the holiday with my sister in Fredericksburg, Virginia. So I will be away this week from Sunday afternoon through Friday evening.  But as our prayers center on thoughts of gratitude, please know that all of St. Malachy Parish will have a special place in my prayers this week.

Finally, I must admit that I used the Internet to make sure of my spelling of the French, Italian German and Spanish above, and I found quite a few others. So I address you now in various languages. In Hawaiian, Mahalo nui loa. In Hebrew, Toda raba. In Latin, Gracia tibi ago. In Norwegian, Takk. In Sanskrit, Anugurihiitosumi. And in Elvis, Thank you. Thank you very much.

                                                                                 Father H              

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 15, 2015

During the week, I usually have lunch with the children in school. One day recently a young boy asked me about what it was like when I was his age, “back in the 1990s.” I let him know that he had to go back to the 1960s, and the look on his face showed his amazement that someone my age was still walking around. That helped prepare him for the shock of learning that I grew up in an age when we did not play video games.

It is always interesting to look back and see how things have changed. I recently read a book on the history of Commodore computers, having used a Commodore when I was first ordained. Among other things, the book reminded me to appreciate what we have today. Certainly there are dangers in today’s world that we never worried about when I was young. I wrote about some of the dangers in my Ponderings over the summer. But today I would like to offer some thoughts on resources that can be helpful for Catholics.

An obvious place to start for any Catholic is the local parish and diocese. We have a very helpful website at for the parish or for our school. If you are looking for information about some of our neighboring parishes, try the diocesan web site at

On a national level, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a web site that I use just about every day. has the readings for Mass for every day, which I use for homily preparation, as well as the entire Bible that makes it easy to find a passage. For worldwide news, the Vatican’s website at Vatican.VA offers official Church messages. That can be helpful considering the way that Pope Francis’ message is often twisted in the secular media. And for travelers, is very helpful for finding where the local churches are and when they offer Mass.

For mobile devices, there are quite a few apps that are helpful. I should mention that I use Apple, so my familiarity is with apps for the iPhone and iPad, though I know that some of them are available for other devices. There is an app version of and of the Vatican web site. The daily readings and other prayers are available through the iMissal app. And one of the best overall apps, from what I have seen, is called Laudate. Laudate gives users the New American Bible (through the USCCB website) and the old Douay Rhiems Bible as well as the full text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and quite a few official Vatican documents, including documents from the Second Vatican Council. There is quite a good selection of prayers (including a whole selection in Latin) and devotions and much more.

Again, all of this is just a selection of all that is out there, and I am only writing about things that I have used. The key point is that our modern technology can be a help to our faith. We have to be careful, but we can find some wonderful resources.

                                                                         Father H                  

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 8, 2015

The famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright once commented, “There is nothing more uncommon than common sense.” Harriet Beecher Stowe said, “Common sense is seeing things as they are; and doing things as they ought to be.” According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.” Finally, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas said, “Common sense often makes good law.” Perhaps that last quotation is the most important, for I would like to appeal to common sense in stating a policy for St. Malachy Parish.

I was once stationed in a temporary assignment, filling in for a pastor who was on a leave of absence. Quite a few people asked me about whether we could offer Holy Communion under both forms. When I asked why we were not doing it in the first place, I learned that the parish had quit offering the cup because of the fear of spreading germs. I was sympathetic to those who wanted the option, but I did not want to step on the pastor’s toes.

Here at St. Malachy, we do give the Precious Blood at Mass. Many people still feel comfortable receiving from the cup, and I do not want to deprive them of the opportunity. So I would like to ask you to use common sense when making the decision. If you have a cold or some other communicable illness, please refrain from receiving the Blood of Christ. And if you have any doubts, you need not receive the Precious Blood. There is great benefit to receiving in both forms. As the Vatican document Redemptionis Sacramentum states, “So that the fullness of the sign may be made more clearly evident to the faithful in the course of the Eucharistic banquet, lay members of Christ’s faithful, too, are admitted to Communion under both kinds.” But for those who do not wish to receive from the cup, we remember that St. Thomas Aquinas explained, “nothing is lost by the body being received by the people without the blood: because the priest both offers and receives the blood in the name of all, and the whole Christ is present under either species.” In other words, when we receive just the Body of Christ, we receive all that Christ has to offer us, while that fullness may be more evident when we receive under both forms. I want to continue giving the option of receiving from the cup, but I must ask you to use common sense during cold and flu season.

Finally, let me use this point to remind you that what we receive truly is the Body and Blood of Christ. Whatever your choice, please do not get into the habit of referring to the cup as “taking the wine.” It truly is the Precious Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that we receive.

                                                                                            Father H                  

Sunday, November 1, 2015

All Saints Day - November 1, 2015

Today we celebrate All Saints Day, an important enough feast that it takes the place of the regular Sunday celebration. Throughout the year, we celebrate feasts of saints who have been important figures in the history of the Church. Yet what about the many who have lived holy lives but in ordinary ways? What about those who have enjoy the perfect happiness of heaven but who are forgotten on earth? These countless men and women, including our own families and friends, are the saints we celebrate on All Saints Day.

Our devotion to the saints is a point that non-Catholics do not always understand. In trying to explain it to some friends, I found that myself relying on a prayer from the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer for feasts of pastors – those saints who were popes, bishops or priests. That prayer, like most every prayer at mass, is directed toward Father through Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit. That direction reminds us that all devotions to the saints should lead us closer to God. Then, as we remember the saint of that day, we say, “You strengthen [the Church] by the example of his holy life, teach her by his words of preaching, and keep her safe in answer to her prayers.”

First, the saints give us the example of their holy lives. They were real people who faced real issues, many of them the same as the ones we deal with. Many of them stumbled, and many of them faced real doubts. In looking at their lives, we can see hope for our own. And on All Saints Day, we may think of the struggles of our parents or grandparents and all they did to keep the faith alive in our families.

Next, they teach us by their words of preaching. Not every saint was learned, and not every saint wrote books or had teachings that others wrote down to remember. Of those who did, however, we can find some very inspiring words. And on All Saints Day, we may think of the times when we find ourselves saying things like “My father used to say...” Many people have taught us of the love of God, and for that we are thankful.

Finally, God keeps us safe in answer to their prayers. This point, in fact, is the crux of the matter. The saints are not merely historical figures who are cut off from us. Our faith teaches that we are brothers and sisters by being children of God the Father, and so we share the love of a family with one another. If that love is truly a reflection of God’s love, then not even death can break it. So while, St. Anthony does not literally find our lost items by himself, for example, he does continue to pray for us at our request. And on All Saints Day, we think of the all who have loved us enough to include us in their prayers. They continue to do so in heaven.

Speaking of saints, this Tuesday is the Feast of Saint Malachy, our patron. We will have a special school Mass at 8:45 that morning.

                                                                                      Father H                  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 25, 2015

This past week I had the interesting experience of taking a first grade CCD class on a tour of our church. To me the church is such a common sight that it is always refreshing to look at it through the eyes of a child, as a place filled with wonder. After all, it really is a wondrous place. So I thought I would take an occasional opportunity to look at the church with you. And as I was planning this column, I got to thinking of the words we use to describe these area.

We start with the sanctuary, where the Altar and the ambo and other liturgical items are. I remember once when I overheard a CCD teacher telling her class that the word “sanctuary” means a safe place, for people used to “seek sanctuary,” a protected place, when they were on the run. I told her aside privately that her explanation was not quite right. The word comes from the Latin Sanctus and means “a holy place.” When fugitives would look for a place where they would be immune from arrest, they would enter the church sanctuary. Their pursuers would wait them out rather than desecrate a holy space. The point for us is that we want to see the sanctuary as a sacred space. When we enter it, we do so with reverence and always keep in mind what goes on there. With the Altar, where the Eucharist becomes a reality, and with the Tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, it truly is a sacred space.

Outside the Sanctuary is the nave, the place for the congregation. Nave comes from the same root as “navy.” A ship is a longstanding image for the Church, and some church buildings are designed so that the interior of the roof looks like the hull of a ship (albeit inverted). The image is that we are on a journey to heaven though the stormy seas of this world. Thus the Church protects us from drowning in our secular world. I hope that also gives us the sense of being part of the “crew.” As the sanctuary is not a “stage,” so the people in the nave are not just an audience. As we all worship together, so we all help one another across the seas of this world. For those who belong to the Church, it is “all hands on deck.”

Finally, we often refer to the space just inside the doors as the “vestibule.” In a church, it is actually called the “narthex.” We see it as a gathering space to mark the transition into our holy place. Originally, the narthex was a place walled off from the nave where those who were not yet fully initiated – the catechumens – could gather apart from the community. Likewise, we hope to see the narthex as a place where we can gather and exchange pleasantries, though always respecting the silence of anyone at prayer in the nave. We see it as a welcoming place so that our parish can always be a welcoming community.

                                                                          Father H                  

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Before getting down to my main point, let me take this opportunity to offer a word of thanks to everyone who did so much work to make our parish Nationality Festival a big success. Thank you to the leaders of the committee and the booth chairs, to those who worked, to those who got things in shape and who cleaned up. Thanks also to those who simply came to enjoy a good meal and to support the parish. Now on to other matters…

There are weeks when I sit down at my computer, unsure of what to write about in this column. Sometimes the topic comes to me in an unusual way. This week I was wondering what to say when I got a call from the hospital. There was a patient whose family was facing some very difficult decisions regarding the patient. I helped them as best I could, though they admitted that they had almost hoped I would say, “This is what you have to do” and make the decision for them.

End of life decisions will never be easy. The teaching of the Church begins with the value of human life, so we are required to preserve that life by all ordinary means. It is the word “ordinary” that can make things difficult. Ordinary means include food and water, normal exercise and medical care. Where the difficulty comes in is when the means of preserving life are extraordinary. If a person would have to undergo a difficult procedure that will itself cause undue pain, such a procedure would be considered extraordinary. If a person cannot process food or nutrition in the normal way, then a feeding tube may be considered extraordinary if withdrawing the nutrition would not be the direct cause of death. We can morally avail ourselves of extraordinary procedures if we wish, but we are not obliged to do so. If the treatment becomes unduly burdensome to the patient or only prolongs suffering, then that patient has the right to refuse it. Notice that this is not euthanasia or “assisted suicide.” We cannot do anything that would cause someone’s death. Furthermore, we need to remember that a certain amount of suffering is not only unavoidable, it can also be salvific if we join ourselves to the sufferings of Christ on.

Often a patient who is in such a position is not able to communicate his or her wishes. Many people have “living wills,” in which they state what they do or do not wish in such a case. The problem is that it is difficult to cover all the possibilities, particularly when medical procedures advance at an amazing rate. It is much better to consider an Advance Directive with Durable Power of Attorney. In that case, we designate someone close to us to make decisions we are incapable of making, trusting that this person shares our Catholic understanding.

Finally, let me end this column on a lighter note. There was a piece going around the Internet in which a man wrote, “I told my family that if I am ever totally dependent upon liquids and machines to keep going, unable to communicate, they should pull the plug and let me die. So my wife poured out my beer, took away the TV remote and turned off the football game.”
                        Father H                 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 4, 2015

Every so often, someone will comment that we don’t hear much about some particular topic these days. Someone recently said something to me along those lines, and I realized that she was right. I also realized that it was something we should hear about, and I soon realized that I had my column topic for this week. The comment that caught my attention had to do with the requirement that we fast before receiving Holy Communion.

When I was a boy, my mother would never allow me to snack when dinner time was drawing near for fear that it would “spoil my appetite.” Obviously, if I ate too many cookies, I wouldn’t be hungry for the good food she served for dinner. Even if I claimed I wouldn’t eat enough to spoil my appetite, Mom told me that I would appreciate my dinner more if I didn’t eat now. That latter argument particularly relates to the Eucharistic fast. If we refrain from bodily food, we can concentrate more completely on the spiritual food we are going to receive.

The Eucharistic fast is not meant to be burdensome. Before the 1950s, Catholics could not eat or drink anything from midnight until after receiving Communion. Some people even refused to brush their teeth on Sunday mornings for fear that they might accidentally swallow a drop of water and not be able to receive Communion. Pope Pius XII changed that rule to require a fast from food and drink for three hours, and the new rules stipulated that water did not break the fast.

Today’s rule is even less burdensome. In 1964, Blessed Pope Paul VI gave us the current rule that we have to fast from food and drink (except water) for one hour before Communion. If we consider that we do not receive Communion at the beginning of Mass, then it is hardly burdensome. Furthermore, it is important to note that medicine does not break the fast.

There are other exceptions as well. People who are elderly or sick, particularly those who are homebound or are in a hospital, should try to fast for at least a quarter of an hour. This exception recognizes the difficulty of balancing the scheduled visit of a Eucharistic Minister along with home nurses or other caregivers. We cannot always schedule these visits down to the minute, and we do not want such people to miss out on the Eucharist. For most of us, however, we know more or less when we are going to Mass and when we should consider it to be within an hour.

The Eucharistic fast is just one element in what could be a larger discussion of our reverence toward the Blessed Sacrament. For today, though, it is enough to say that if we fast before receiving Communion, we will not spoil our spiritual appetite.
                                                                       Father H      

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 27, 2015

This has been an exciting time, with Pope Francis visiting the United States for the first time in his papacy. I know of some people who have been making plans to travel to Philadelphia to be part of the festivities. On the other hand, I know some priests from the Allentown area who are planning on going the other direction in order to be away from the traffic and the chaos. If only there were a way to experience the thrill without the inconvenience.

Here is a way that you can experience the thrill of travel without any of the inconvenience. Okay, you figured me out. What I’m really trying to accomplish here is to give a commercial for the annual St. Malachy Parish Nationality Festival. No, Pope Francis will not be coming (although he would certainly be welcome). But the St. Malachy Nationality Festival gives us a chance to experience some of the excitement of other cultures, at least in a culinary sense, and still sleep in our own beds at night. And the festival is much more affordable than traveling to Europe.

There are a number of ways I could look at our festival. Obviously, this is an important fundraiser for our parish. As my responsibility to the parish includes making sure that we can pay our bills and keep everything in good shape, I have to look at the festival in terms of what kind of profit we make. But there is much more to the festival than the so-called bottom line. This is also a chance for us to enjoy one another’s company and to work together and play together.

As important as fundraisers are to a parish (and to a parish’s school), it is just as important that we build up our community. This festival is an excellent time to come together and to enjoy one another’s company. It is a time to spend time with one another in a social setting. The festival gives us an opportunity to meet others in our community, and frequently people will bring friends and family from outside the parish to enjoy a good meal.

Many parishes have festivals that offer games (for adults and for kids) and entertainment. Most of them offer food as part of the experience. Ours features the food as the primary part of the experience. Last year I found that I could have something different every day and still not get a meal from each and every booth. I don’t think I hit any of the booths more than once. Okay, I was a frequent visitor to the cookie booth, but I mean that I didn’t have a main meal from the same booth more than once. Last year I was eager to taste the wares of the German booth, and I took care of that as soon as the festival opened. I kept wanting to go back for more, but I had to offer my support to other booths as well. No, that was not a sacrifice since I enjoyed the others just as much. But I can promise that I am planning on hitting the German booth again this year. Three of my four grandparents were German (the Hissrich, Gall and Maass families), so I plan on celebrating my heritage.

So I look forward to seeing you at the parish festival this coming week. And as you’re looking for a parking place, just remind yourself that this is much easier than seeing Pope Francis in Philadelphia.
                       Father H                  

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 20, 2015

I remember a Peanuts comic strip in which Charlie Brown was so tired of school that he threatened to quit. He wanted to grow up to be a baseball manager, so he did not think he needed a lot of schooling. Violet reminded him that he had to know his math or else he wouldn’t know if he had enough players on his team. So Charlie Brown responded, “Okay, I’ll go to school until I learn to count to nine, and then I’ll quit.”

Charlie Brown shows us that most people think of education as a means to a specific end. We have come to judge a person’s education by whether that person is able to get a good job coming out of school, and we urge students to study subjects that will prepare them for a career. Certainly that should be one of the aims of education, but it should be so much more. A thorough education should have an effect beyond making us employable. Studies such as literature, art and music can make us well-rounded individuals who can live full human lives and not simply contribute to the economic life of the society.

Beyond all of that, our ultimate goal is eternal life with Christ in heaven. The goal of every one of us is to become a saint, and we need an education that will help us to reach that end. To recognize that goal, we celebrate today as Catechetical Sunday. Today we honor those within our parish who give so much of their time and talent to our parish’s Religious Education program. Our CCD program (along with our school) is at the heart of our Religious Education efforts to help shape our young people in the faith. For those public school students who come to our classrooms once a week, religious education should not be just another subject that they have to learn. It should be the one subject that touches the heart of who they are as people created by God. What they receive in CCD should shape the way that they look at all of their other subjects. It should help them see that they are more than just potential wage-earners; like all of us, they are saints in the making.

This year’s theme for Catechetical Sunday is “Safeguarding the Dignity of Every Human Person.” I see that theme as way of looking beyond any merely utilitarian understanding of our humanity. Archbishop Leonard Blair, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, states, “This year’s theme reminds us that the dignity of each human person rests in the biblical teaching (Gen 1:26-27) that he or she is made in God’s image and likeness.” All of our teaching, in CCD or our parish school, in our Baptism classes and our RCIA, in our St. Malachy Speakers Series and in everything else we do, is an attempt to give us deeper insight into what our lives are all about. We are God’s people. We are learning to be saints. On this Catechetical Sunday, I offer my thanks to Catechetical Administrator Steve Swank, to our volunteer catechists and to all who promote the Christian dignity of everyone entrusted to our pastoral care.                              
                                                                            Father H                

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 13, 2015

Occasionally newspaper columnists do not focus on one topic, but rather clean out their files with a number of short topics. They often have a clever way of introducing such a column. I’m missing the clever introduction, but here is my series of disjointed topics.

Be sure to join us this Wednesday evening for the first session of the St. Malachy Speaker Series featuring Father Joe Mele and his presentation on Pope Francis. With the Pope soon to visit the United States (albeit on the wrong end of Pennsylvania), this is a particularly timely topic. The basic format for these evenings is for the speaker to give us his wisdom for about forty-five minutes, followed by time for questions. At the end there will be a light social. So please come and hear Fr. Mele, and keep an eye on the bulletin for future installments of the Speaker Series.

Our Festival is rapidly approaching, and I am grateful for all the people who donate so much time and energy to this big event. But one area where we could use some help is with the pierogis, both for the Festival and the Fish Fry. We have some great volunteers and could use some more, and we also need someone who can coordinate the volunteer efforts so that we make the best use of our resources. Those pierogis are delicious and are a huge moneymaker, but they are labor intensive. If you think you can help, please call the rectory. And for anyone who would like to volunteer without being in charge, there will be opportunities to pinch pierogis for the Festival on September 21 and 22. September 22 is the day we could especially use some help.

I have a special personal request. If you are going into the hospital, please consider calling the rectory (or having a family member call) to let us know. I would love to visit parishioners in the hospital, but especially with privacy laws as they are now, it is often hard to know who is where. And don’t forget to tell us which hospital. When I was first ordained, I was sent up to Ohio Valley because the woman who called just said that her mother was in “the hospital” and needed to be anointed. I often said that in my first anointing call, we lost the patient. “She didn’t die,” I would say, “I mean we literally lost her.”

Have you considered the benefits of electronic giving for our parish? We do so much banking on-line these days, and most of us have found it to be a great convenience. St. Malachy is set up to take donations to our Sunday offertory program on-line. There are several options on how you can have it work, including an automatic debit so that you have one fewer detail to remember.

Now for one final quiz. Close your eyes and see if you can remember the different topics I have covered in today’s Ponderings. And if you didn’t get them all, don’t feel bad. I’m not sure I would have remembered them all, either.                                          
                                        Father H                  

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 6, 2015

I have seen it on numerous bumper stickers over the years: “The worst day fishing (or some other activity) is better than the best day at work.” We all have days when we feel that way, when our jobs frustrate us or when we would like to be somewhere else. If I take the sticker too literally, however, I find myself saddened that someone would feel that way. We spend a good deal of our time at our jobs, and I (who have been blessed to do something I love) have a hard time imagining what it would be like to feel that my work was something I had to endure.

As we celebrate Labor Day this week, we take it as a time to honor those who have worked and sacrificed to promote better working conditions for laborers. As Catholics, we can be proud of our heritage. In 1891, at a time when many religious leaders were urging workers not to organize, Pope Leo XIII wrote an encyclical entitled Rerum Novarum (translated “concerning new things”) in which he affirmed the rights of labor to organize and to work for living wages and proper conditions. This encyclical was the beginning of a strong tradition of Catholic social teaching in other areas, though labor continued to be an important aspect of the teaching.

Such reflections have given rise to a deeper understanding of what our labor is all about. In the Second Vatican Council, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) stated, “Far from thinking that works produced by man’s talent and energy are in opposition to God’s power, and that the rational creature exists as a kind of rival to the Creator, Christians are convinced that the triumphs of the human race are a sign of God’s grace and the flowering of His own mysterious design.” So as we celebrate Labor Day, we begin to see that our work allows us to share in God’s creative power. We can see that gift in the nurse who brings God’s comfort and healing power to the sick, but we can also see it in the men on the smelly truck who take our garbage. We can see it in the teachers in our schools, but we can also see it in the student who, after school, helps us overcome our hunger by asking, “Do you want fries with that?” We can see it in those who do not get paid for their work – the stay-at-home-mom, who does so much for her family and gets so little recognition or thanks, the retired couple who babysit their grandchildren or those who are sick or elderly and who cannot do much beyond the important work of praying for all of us.

In a poem entitled “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” Robert Frost describes a man chopping wood when two tramps come up who want the job simply because they need the money. While recognizing their need, Frost concludes the poem: “But yield who will to their separation, / My object in living is to unite / My avocation and my vocation / As my two eyes make one in sight. / Only where love and need are one, / And the work is play for mortal stakes, / Is the deed ever really done / For Heaven and the future’s sakes.”

                                                    Father H                  

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 30, 2015

We have all been shocked at the recent videos that came out concerning Planned Parenthood. Shock, of course, implies a level of surprise. Even those who knew what the group stood for have been shocked at the extent of the callousness of those involved. As I reflect on what these videos have shown, my reaction actually centers mostly on language. As this whole issue shows, words are important to communicate not only ideas but also emotions and attitudes.

If we ask someone who works for Planned Parenthood what happens in an abortion, we will hear that what is removed is “tissue” or a “blob of cells” or a “product of conception.” Such terms convey the image of an amorphous blob. On the other hand, the idea that they are harvesting organs and are careful to keep the body intact makes it clear that this is a human being. The image of an arm sticking out of a tray of parts and other visual images make it harder for us to dismiss the humanity of the aborted baby by calling them anything else. In the videos, we have heard abortion workers referring to a “baby” or saying, “It’s another boy.” Language can be used to dehumanize others, whether we are talking about racial epithets or terms used to objectify the opposite sex, and here language is used to dehumanize the baby in the womb.

The other matter of language comes from those who want to be called “pro-choice” rather than “pro-abortion.” Some people claim that nobody is pro-abortion. According to this argument, it is not that anyone really wants people to have abortions, just that they should be available for them. Contrast that argument with the image of a doctor discussing payment for organs from aborted babies and explaining, “I think the ‘per item’ thing works a little better just because we can see how much we can get out of it.” I have also read comments from Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who now is a pro-life activist. Johnson states that her clinic was given a target, a minimum number of abortions which they were expected to perform. To state that there is no such thing as “pro-abortion” is to give the impression that abortion is a last resort. Even if that were true, there are other options other than the taking of an innocent human life.

Finally, we are hearing from some politicians who are claiming that Planned Parenthood has not broken any laws in their handling of “fetal tissue,” while others are certain that they are. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the only way they are not breaking the law is through a number of loopholes. But even if it is technically legal, that is merely a reflection of how unjust the law can be when we abandon the basic principle of human dignity. What they have done may squeeze into the technical aspects of the law. It is still wrong. It is my hope that the recent revelations about Planned Parenthood may help us all to remember the God-given dignity of all human life.

                                                                                          Father H                  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 23, 2015

It feels like it’s been about two weeks since I started my column with the old rhyme about “No more pencils, no more books.” Our students were so happy to get out of school and get to their summer vacation, and they were so excited to have the whole summer stretching out in front of them. But as an adult, I have come to the realization that summer vacation goes faster every year. In another five years I will be afraid to blink for fear that I will miss it.

I’m not really complaining about how fast the summer goes. Okay, I really am complaining about how fast the summer goes, but that’s not all I’m doing. As much as it comes as a shock to my system, the new school year is always and exciting and hopeful time. For St. Malachy School, the new school year starts this Monday. I am sure there will be some grumpy, sleepy faces as the children get out of bed on Monday morning, but I hope that they will soon get into the swing of school and be excited about the new year.

There has been a lot of work going on to prepare for this new year. As far as the building is concerned, several of the classrooms have been painted, and the building has been given a thorough cleaning and floor-waxing. There have been improvements to the computer room, and the upper floor bathrooms have had some serious work done. In addition, thanks to a generous donation, we are getting a new sign in the front of the school. That sign is news for the parish as well as the school, but it was through the school that we had the chance to get it.

Those are all very positive developments, but the building is not nearly as important as the people in it. And the people are the biggest story about St. Malachy School. First of all, we are blessed to welcome back a very strong faculty and staff. There will be a couple new names to learn, but those are through marriage. “Miss D” is returning to us this year, but we will have to get used to calling her “Mrs. G.” She became Mrs. Glover over the summer, and she is so happy in her new marriage that she is turning cartwheels – figuratively speaking. And before too much longer, Miss Fleckenstein will become Mrs. Chinchilla. So our school will be filled with love.

The biggest news about our new school year centers around our students. At a time when many schools are struggling to keep their heads above water, we have actually increased our enrollment this year. Our K-8 program is up from last year, even after graduating 17 eighth graders, and our pre-school program has really taken off. Pre-school is filled to capacity even after adding classes.

So if you come by Forest Grove Road on Monday, check to see if the St. Malachy School building is shaking. If so, it’s not an earthquake. Rather, it’s a building full of students so eager to start a new school year that the excitement is causing vibrations throughout Kennedy Township. The Blue Bombers are back.

                                                                                               Father H                  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 16, 2015

 As a seminarian, I spent a summer serving in a parish where the pastor would rush over after the early Mass on Sunday to turn on the TV. He enjoyed watching televangelist Robert Schuller. I was amazed at the building where Dr. Schuller preached, the “Crystal Cathedral” in Orange, California. Years later, Dr. Schuller’s foundation had to sell the building. The Catholic Diocese of Orange bought the property for its new cathedral. I went to see it on my vacation, though I could not get inside the main building. Renovation is going on to make it usable for Catholic liturgies, and “Christ Cathedral,” as it is now called, will open next year.

Dr. Schuller’s ministry had some very good points, but there was something missing. As we read the “Bread of Life Discourse” from John’s gospel these Sundays, we know that the most important additions to the building are the Altar and the Tabernacle. That takes what is good and gives it the fullness of God’s grace. The Diocese of Orange is also taking an independent building and a ministry that lasted a few short years and is connecting it to a worldwide Communion that has an unbroken tradition covering 2,000 years.

In a sense, we do the same thing with people. We will soon again begin a new session of the RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The RCIA is to welcome new members into the Catholic Church, though we also use it to complete the initiation of those who have not received the Sacrament of Confirmation or who never made their First Communion. The key part of the transformation of the “Christ Cathedral” in California is the installation of the Altar for the Eucharist. The Sacraments are at the center of our Catholic identity. That is why the RCIA is not so much a set of classes (although catechesis is vital to the process). The first word in the title, “Rite,” refers to the liturgical aspect. Despite the sessions at which we explain Catholic teaching, RCIA is not academic. Our goal is to help people to encounter the living Christ.

My pastor from that summer assignment recognized the good of what was proclaimed at the Crystal Cathedral, even as he saw where that particular ministry did not have the fullness of what we celebrate. It is little wonder, then, that I thought of him as I saw the plans for the building’s renovation. Similarly, we do not judge anyone who comes to the RCIA. We recognize that some have come from other Christian communities, while others have not had any religious backgrounds. We affirm the good in them, but we offer them something more in uniting them to the Church and the Sacraments. That is why the first stage of RCIA is “Inquiry,” where people are free to explore whether they want to join the Church without pressure.

If you know of anyone who is interested in joining the Catholic Church or at least in considering the possibility, or who needs to complete the Sacraments of Initiation, or even someone who wants a chance to learn more about the faith, feel free to see me, call me at the rectory or email me at

                                                                                                  Father H          

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 9, 2015

I should probably have written about the Supreme Court decision concerning same-sex marriage a few weeks ago, but I wanted to take the time to reflect and pray. This issue has become so emotional. Proponents of this change have done a good job of framing the issue in the language of civil rights and thus of making those who disagree with them sound like bigots.

At a wedding liturgy, there is a “Nuptial Blessing” that comes right after the Lord’s Prayer. All of different choices for this blessing speak of the equal dignity and the complementarity of the two sexes, but one version has a line that always strikes me as powerful. It speaks of the relationship between man and woman as “the one blessing not forfeited by original sin nor washed away in the flood.” Marriage, then, is essential to who we are as humans, both individually and as a society, even in light of our failings.

As Americans, we often speak of our individual rights. But the basis of our nation is that these rights are seen as part of our larger society. The most basic unit of society is the family, where we learn to seek the good of others through daily sacrifices of our own interests. That atmosphere of love helps us struggle with our fallen human nature – the part in every one of us that is the result of original sin. In its ideal, the self-giving love of a husband and wife reaches the point where it can create new life through the birth of children. In reality, every human being falls short of perfect self-giving, but the ideal is still there as a challenge to ask God’s mercy and His grace to keep trying. Granted there are couples who are unable to have children. For them, too, the true vision of marriage can help them overcome their weakness and learn to give themselves completely. But if we redefine marriage in such a way as to put same-sex relationships on the same level as true marriage, then we undermine the very foundation of our whole society.

A related point comes up when others label us as bigots because of our views. We are reminded that Jesus welcomed everyone and turned no one away. I would never deny that, and I would never judge someone who is struggling with same-sex attraction. Similarly, I hope that no one would judge a priest who, honestly trying to live the Church’s teaching on celibacy, finds himself attracted to someone in a way he knows is not appropriate, a struggle that every honest priest goes through. But when we say that Jesus welcomed everyone, we have to recognize that an encounter with Christ never left anyone unchanged. People complained that He ate with tax collectors when he went to Zaccheus’ house, but Zaccheus vowed to give away his wealth and repay everyone he cheated four-fold. And when Christ met the woman caught in adultery, he did not simply tell her accusers, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” He also said to the woman herself, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” Christ welcomes us all, and he knows we will struggle. But he never stops challenging us to go beyond human values and become saints.
                                                                                          Father H              

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 2, 2015

When I got onto Facebook, it was the new and cool way of interacting on the Internet. Since then many of the younger generation decided that since their parents and grandparents on Facebook, it is no longer cool. But there are still plenty of people involved with that site and other “social media” sites, and I think their prevalence is something worth noting.

Social media is a great way to stay in touch. My friend list includes relatives, classmates, baseball fans and people with whom I have acted in various theater companies. There are a couple of girls who, in our younger days, were the objects of my crushes (and to whom I have finally been able to admit my earlier attraction) and even a former Major League pitcher. I am also friends with people I had known in various parishes I have served, including a number of young adults who had once been my students, which has led to my celebrating some of their wedding.

Recently I have received a couple of “friend requests” from some of our school students. When I first started to receive such requests in my last parish, I decided to set a personal policy. I only accept friend requests from people who are over 18 and out of high school. One reason for that policy was simple propriety, but it got me to thinking about the need to talk about Internet safety. As the Second Vatican Council reminded us, technology is a two-edged sword, capable of great good but needing to be handled with care.

Among the points that minors especially need to be aware of is that we do not always know whom we are talking to on the Internet. There are predators who pass themselves off as a fourteen-year-old girl to gain someone’s confidence. Our Internet friends, then, should only be people we truly know. We also have to be careful of what information we post. People who look at my Facebook page could easily find my address and phone number from other sources since I am a somewhat “public” figure. But children and adolescents should never make that information public, even inadvertently. For instance, a picture that shows street signs or even car license plates in the background can be used to track someone down. When we post photos on the Internet, we lose control of them, and anyone can copy and paste them. And since people can find one person by seeing someone else’s web page. The more people you have as friends, the less control you have over who contacts you. I also believe that no children should be allowed on social networking sites unless their parents have full access to their information. Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing and who is contacting them. Certainly teenagers want their privacy, but parents still need to protect them.

Used properly, Internet sites such as Facebook are a great tool for communication. But like any powerful too, we have to be very careful of how we use it.

                                               Father H                  

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 26, 2015

Last week’s column served as a “pictureless postcard” from my annual summer vacation. This week I am doing the same thing as I am on my second week of vacation. I will return to the parish on Friday night, and in the meantime I am still relaxing and recreating. (Of course, this note was written before I left on vacation. So if I get rich by panning for gold while in California, I won’t be able to tell you until I get back.)

Last week I mentioned that my vacations are generally filled with activity. But I usually save time for quiet relaxation while I am away. One way I do that is by visiting family. Since I was planning on going out west on my trip, I decided to see if I could get my sister in Provo, Utah to invite me to stay with her for a few days. Fortunately, Barb kind of likes me, so she happily agreed to let me visit. And the time I spend in Utah will be much quieter and move at a much slower pace than my time in California.

That is not to say that Barb is not planning some fun things for me. For one thing, she knows my obsession with baseball. And while she does not share my excitement at a good ballgame, she provides opportunities for me to see the games. In the language of those who counsel people with addictions, Barb is an “enabler” for my baseball addiction. Last time I visited her, I saw minor league games in Orem and Salt Lake City. Moreover, she contacted a friend who knew a man in the neighborhood and arranged for me to visit. I spent a fascinating afternoon visiting with former Pirates legend Vernon Law, hero of the 1960 World Champion Pirates, listening to his baseball recollections. I even got a picture of myself with Law in which I was wearing his 1960 World Series ring. (He made sure I gave it back to him before I left.) Other times we have just taken walks or gone to the movies.

I don’t know what activities Barb has in store for me this trip, but I know it will be good to be with family. We don’t get together often enough, and it is good to visit and to enjoy one another’s company.

I realize that the purpose of this column is to keep you informed about parish life or to say something spiritual to help inspire you to follow Christ more closely. I usually try to find some spiritual point in describing my vacation in this forum. Today I will simply draw the analogy of taking time out of our busy schedule to visit with family and to share one another’s interests. God is like that with us. He is not watching over us like a taskmaster, trying to get us to do more or to work harder. Rather, He invites us to take time out of our busy schedules and to relax in His presence. He wants to share what we find important in this world that He created for us, and He wants to share with us His hopes and desires for us.

So please pray that I may have a relaxing and fun vacation and that I may return safely. I will see you next weekend.
                                               Father H      

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 19, 2015

Greetings from sunny California. As I write this, I am sitting in Pittsburgh and preparing for my vacation. By the time you read this, I will be in Anaheim. As is my custom, I write my column in advance before going on vacation, which means that I have to do a little guessing as to what I’m going to tell you. This is my postcard to you, complete with the phrase, “Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.”

As you may be aware, I plan my vacation around Major League Baseball. Each year I choose one or two ballparks where I have never yet seen a game and go watch baseball. As you read this note, I am in Anaheim to see the Angels play three games at Angel Stadium. From here I go to San Diego, where I will see four Padres games at Petco Park. This brings my total of ballparks seen to 34, including of course Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field, Three Rivers Stadium and PNC Park. That leaves nine current parks for me to visit, though at least one team (Atlanta) is currently planning on building a new ballpark to add to my list.

In addition to the baseball, I enjoy touring the city. I usually do a web search for museums and other attractions. In fact, half the fun of vacation is in the anticipation and in trying to decide what I want to see and do at each place. I imagine that I will have to spend some time at Disneyland while in Anaheim. And while this is my first visit to Anaheim, I visited San Diego in 2003, the last year the Padres played at the old Jack Murphy Stadium. Among my activities that year was an afternoon bus ride to a foreign country. I can officially say that I visited Mexico, though saying I visited Mexico after an afternoon in Tijuana is like spending five minutes in the gift shop and saying that I had seen the Smithsonian Institute. I’m sure I will find many new things to do in San Diego, but there is one experience I was hoping to repeat. Last time I found a museum there dedicated to old computers, such as the Commodore 128 that I used when I was first ordained. Sadly, my Internet research tells me that this museum is no longer open.

Many people think of vacation as a time of rest. They probably think that my vacations are too frenetic. But for me, part of the vacation is the leisure to explore new things and new places, unencumbered by a schedule or by phone calls. As much as I love the daily activities of the priesthood, it is refreshing to get away and to do fun things. I consider my trip as a chance to discover more about the marvelous creation God has given to us. And yes, I enjoy the ballgames. As much as I love going to Pirates games, it is a fun change to go to a game where I am a neutral observer and don’t have to worry about whether my team wins or loses. Even that gives me a chance to be thankful to God for all His blessings to me.

So please pray for me during my vacation, and know that I look forward to resuming my ordinary activities – but not until I’ve had some extraordinary fun.
                                                                              Father H                

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 12, 2015

Did you ever adopt a “pagan baby”? To answer that question, or even to understand it, you would have to be at least around my age. In our days, we saved up money to send to the missions, where it would help small children overseas. In my school, and by my time, the whole program was not as much of a big deal. But there was a time when, after you had donated a certain amount of money, you got a certificate stating that you had adopted a particular child. You could even name the child after your favorite saint.

In an article published by Catholic News Service a couple of years ago, Oblate Father Andrew Small reflected on those days. Fr. Small said, “We can smile at it now at perhaps how silly it was. But, in fact, the entire program was rooted in a sense of solidarity and charity in the broadest understanding of the word. No one was, in fact, adopted or bought. Despite its apparent condescending tone at times, it instilled a radical sense of urgency in children that we are responsible for one another.” In other words, it was an attempt to explain our responsibility to one another in terms children could understand. Today, with more instantaneous communication, we can see images of children in other countries who are in need of help.

I write this in preparation for next weekend, when our parish will have its annual Mission Appeal. Every parish in the diocese, and in every diocese in our country as far as I am aware, hosts a visiting missionary once a year. That missionary tells about the work of his or her order or organization. There is then a special second collection to help the missionary work of the Church around the world. We are not only supporting a worthy cause; we are also expressing the unity of the Church throughout the world.

Next weekend we welcome Fr. Ken Breen of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy. Fr. Breen will speak about their community in Cuddaph, India. There is a great problem there of lost, abandoned and runaway children who are living in the streets. These children are vulnerable, and many of them are dealing with malnourishment and various diseases.

When supporting this mission appeal, please make any checks payable to St. Malachy Parish. We will forward the money to the diocese, and they will send it to them. This allows the diocese and our parish to keep records of how much is collected. So please do not make the check payable to the mission order. Besides, “St. Malachy” fits much better on the “Pay to the order of” line than “The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy.”

On another note: When Fr. Breen’s superior called me to schedule the mission appeal, he told me that they are happy to help out by scheduling the appeal when the pastor is away. So please note that I will be leaving this Wednesday for my vacation. I will be back to work on Saturday, August 1.

                                                                                                         Father H                  

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 5, 2015

I may be a day late in wishing everyone a happy Fourth of July, but this is a holiday that can extend for the entire weekend, including any time off that anyone may have from work. So we take this time to honor our nation as, in the words of our National Anthem, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

In our modern world, freedom essentially means that we can do what we want. If you have a job with a boss telling you what to do (as is true for most of us), that limits our freedom. Yet the scriptural understanding of freedom is somewhat different. As Fr. Robert Barron explains in his Catholicism series, “Freedom is not primarily a choice, but rather the shaping of desire so as to make the achievement of the good first possible and then effortless.” Fr. Barron explains with the example of Michael Jordan playing basketball. Jordan put in long hours of tedious practice, taking instructions from many coaches over the years, in order to be able to get on the court and play all parts of the game effortlessly. Thus he became, in Fr. Barron’s words, “the freest person every to play basketball.” So for us, freedom is coming to see what gifts God has given us and developing them as God intended us to use them.

One of the keys to that understanding of freedom is that we are part of a larger community. We can look at freedom selfishly, that I can do whatever I want. That understanding of freedom leads to such things as abortion, sexual exploitation and many other evils. On the other hand, a freedom that challenges us to see ourselves as brothers and sisters can lead us to reach out to those in need and to make sacrifices for worthy causes. I think of my parents’ generation, when our nation fought World War II. My father sacrificed four years by serving in the army. My mother and many others on the home front put up with rationing and other restrictions for the good of all. Alternately, we can think of John F. Kennedy’s challenge, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Today’s thoughts do not just come from a reflection on Independence Day. I was away on retreat when the news broke that a resident of our neighborhood had been murdered. But after my return, I attended the meeting at the Kennedy Fire Hall in which our commissioners and our police department promoted crime prevention. Mr. Nicholson’s death seemed to be something of a wake-up call, and my of our residents were there. I had already written last week’s column, but I decided to comment this week. It was good to see so many people who wanted to make our community as safe as possible. Part of that process, they told us, is to look out for one another. The work of the police can be much easier if we are willing to do something as simple as to report any suspicious activity we might see. That willingness comes from a respect for one another. We are all in this together.                                                                                                                      Father H

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 28, 2015

We often think of summer as a time of rest and relaxation. It is a time when things quiet down and we can enjoy some simple pleasures. For many of us, summer brings to mind the image of sitting on a beach or beside a pool with a tall glass of lemonade and some light reading. I have known a number of people who say that summer is a time for some “trashy novel.” I would like to offer a thought on light reading that isn’t quite so trashy. Please keep two points in mind. First, this list is not comprehensive at all.  These are just a few writers whom I have enjoyed and who offer a perspective of faith.  Secondly, in keeping with summer, this is a list of light reading such as you can do at the beach, so I won’t include some of the heavier works of spirituality.

Let me start with my absolute favorite author, C. S. Lewis.  As profound as Lewis is, he is really very easy and entertaining to read. His most famous works are either his children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia or his wonderful spiritual work The Screwtape Letters. That latter work was the first book that made me realize that spiritual reading could, in fact, be fun. For adventure, consider his “space trilogy,” Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.

Those who enjoy Lewis may also enjoy Lewis’ close friend J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The movie version of The Lord of the Rings is one of the best cinematic adaptations of a book that I have ever seen. (I won’t say the same for the movie version of The Hobbit.) Another possibility is G. K. Chesterton, whom some have called “The apostle of common sense.” Among his lighter works would be an unusual story called The Man who was Thursday. If you enjoy detective stories, consider his Father Brown mysteries in which it is a simple priest who solves the mysteries.

I once took part in a seminar on Christian literature in which I was asked to lead the session on C. S. Lewis. That seminar introduced me to the writings of Catholic authors Graham Greene and Flannery O’Connor, both of whom offer some interesting insights. In addition, I have enjoyed seeing faith from the Jewish perspective in the writings of Chaim Potok, especially such novels as The Chosen, The Promise and My Name is Asher Lev.

Again, summer reading is often for relaxation and entertainment. Not every book we read has to be explicitly spiritual. C. S. Lewis once said that “Christian fiction” simply meant fiction written by a Christian, as he believed that faith would inform the writer’s storytelling. So even simple light reading can involve books with a positive message. I greatly enjoyed J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, for instance, with its battle of good against evil. And lately I have been enjoying the mysteries of Agatha Christie.

As I said above, this list is just a sample of the ways we can some pleasant, relaxing reading in during these summer months while still nurturing our faith.
                                        Father H

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 21, 2015

Next Saturday morning, June 27, Bishop Zubik will ordain six new priests for the Diocese of Pittsburgh at St. Paul Cathedral. One of them is our own Zachary Galiyas. The next day, Sunday June 28, Fr. Zachary Galiyas (I’m trying to get into the habit of referring to him by his soon-to-be title of “Father”) will celebrate his Mass of Thanksgiving, his “First Mass,” at 2:00 in our church.

I cannot help but think of a story I remember from my own days in the seminary. Each year we were assigned to various forms of ministry. One year I went once a week to Camp Hill State Prison. One day I was walking around the cell block when one of the prisoners noticed my Roman collar and asked if I was a priest. I told him that I wasn’t yet a priest but that I was studying to be ordained. He then asked how long it took, so I told him that I had just finished four years of college seminary and was starting on four years of Theology. He noted, “That’s eight years!” I admitted that his math was correct, and he shook his head and said, “Man, that’s how long I’m in for.” I had to laugh and tell him that sometimes it felt that way.

I know most seminarians reach a point where ordination day seems so far off. I’m sure Fr. Galiyas has felt that way at times. He has gone through a long time of training and preparing. It is not all academic, of course. He has had a lot of classroom work, but the seminary has prepared him for various forms of ministry and has helped to shape his spirituality. Any of us who know him know that Fr. Galiyas is a man of deep prayer. I know he is very eager to get down to work in whatever parish the bishop sends him to, and he will be eager to experience all the joys of priesthood.

While I offer my congratulations to Fr. Galiyas, I also offer my congratulations to his parents, Mitch & Mary Galiyas. I remember my parents meeting Cardinal Wuerl once when he was still Bishop of Pittsburgh, and he thanked them for giving their son to the Church. Mom responded, “We didn’t give him; it was his idea.” But the openness to a vocation needs a faith that is nourished by our parents. Mitch and Mary and their whole family have a lot to be thankful for as they rejoice with their son. And the same is true for our entire parish. We rejoice with Fr. Galiyas, and we are thankful that we have played a part in his formation. I say “we,” of course, even though he was ready to be ordained a deacon when I arrived here. But in any event, we will always be happy to say, “We knew him when.”

Most importantly, this is a big day for the entire Church. I always say that there is no shortage of vocations to the priesthood. There is, however, a shortage of young men hearing and responding to God’s call. Please pray for vocations, and please pray for Fr. Zachary Galiyas as he begins his priestly ministry. If he experiences even half of the joys that I have experienced, he will be very happy indeed.
                                                                                                                       Father H

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 14, 2015

While I usually like to take one topic and develop it through my column, there are occasions when I want to write about a number of different things, even if in less detail than usual. Sometimes it is the result of having several things come up at the same time. Sometimes it is because I want to clean out a number of things that have been piling up. And sometimes it is because I’m not sure what to write about. I will leave it to you to guess which is true in this case.

First of all, I want to thank everyone who has pledged to Our Campaign for the Church Alive, the capital campaign that Bishop Zubik promoted a couple of years ago. The campaign is still running since the pledges are still being paid. So although I was not here for the pledge period, when we were asking for money, I am here as the money comes in. If you have given, thank you for that gift. If you are still paying off your pledge, thank you and please keep up the good work. And with that, the next couple of items in my column are some of the ways St. Malachy benefits from your generosity.

You will notice that there is work happening on the hill outside Father Weirauch Hall. Thanks to the campaign, we are well on the way to realizing a long-standing wish for the parish. We will soon have a handicap walkway into our parish hall. It is a project that has to be done in parts, but it should be ready in time for the Parish Nationality Festival in October.

This week we also began work on repairing the fascia of the church. As beautiful as our church is, I couldn’t help but notice the flaws in the fascia when I was preparing to move in last year. This work should keep the roof safe and, with a good painting, make the building look even more inviting.

On a different note, I will be away from Monday through Friday this week for my annual retreat. Canon law requires every priest to make a retreat each year. But as the old saying goes, “It’s not just the law, it’s a good idea.” We all need to take time to get back to what matters and to remind ourselves that there is nothing more important than our faith as a relationship with Christ. I like to make my annual retreat during the summer, when school is out and the activities slow down a bit. Perhaps that would be a good suggestion for everyone, to take some time during this summer (even if it is just a few minutes here and there) for prayer and reflection. As I am doing this week, I always enjoy going back to the seminary where I studied for the priesthood, Mount St. Mary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. So please be aware that I will not be available during this coming week.

And speaking of school being out, don’t forget that our annual Vacation Bible School will take place the following week, June 22-26. This will be a great time for students, from age three through fifth grade, to grow closer to God through a week of fun and games. It will also be our “last hurrah” for our retiring Catechetical Administrator, Joanne Swank. Thanks again for everything, Joanne.
                                                                                                              Father H

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) - June 7, 2015

I’m not much for getting into debates, and so I rarely feel tempted to write letters to the editor. But a few years ago there was a letter in the newspaper that I felt compelled to respond to. The letter was published when we were preparing for the new English translation of the liturgy. Essentially, the letter writer’s point was that with all the social justice issues in the world, the bishops had more important things to worry about than what we said in church. I just had to write my response to the effect that there is nothing more important. What we do at Mass is far and away the most important activity that we do.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, still frequently known by its Latin name of Corpus Christi. This day commemorates the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper and the importance of the Eucharist in our Church. In the words of the Second Vatican Council’s document Lumen gentium, which I quoted in my letter to the editor, the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” By referring to it as the summit, the Council made the point that nothing we do matters more than our celebration and reception of the Eucharist. By also noting that it is the source, the Council reminded us that everything we do has to come from our reliance on Christ. It is important for us to build up the kingdom of God in this world by working for just causes. But unless we remain rooted in Christ, then our human weakness takes over and our good intentions fall short.

That is why it is important for the Church to make sure that we celebrate the Eucharistic liturgy as well as possible. That is also why we have a special day to remind us of the importance of the Blessed Sacrament. The Mass is something we do every Sunday, which means that it may become rather routine to us. One of the traditional features of this feast is time for adoration with a public procession of the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance. We will have Exposition at the end of the 11:00 Mass this Sunday, with the procession to a temporary altar in the gym, beginning at 2:30. Please consider joining us for this public witness to the importance of the Eucharist. And please pray for good weather so that we can indeed be public by having the procession outside.

As the Eucharist is also the source of the Christian life, then the feast of Corpus Christi is also a good time to recognize those who put their faith into action. For the Diocese of Pittsburgh, it is a time to present the Manifesting the Kingdom award. Every couple of years, Bishop Zubik recognizes one person or one couple from each parish for their efforts to build the kingdom of God. This year’s awardees from St. Malachy are Dan and Linda Trocchio. I take this opportunity to thank them for the way they take the gift of the Eucharist and put it into action in their lives, particularly for all they do for our parish and school.

                                                                               Father H

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Most Holy Trinity - May 31, 2015

Recently, as I was teaching one of my classes at our school, I asked the kids if they still used the end-of-the-year rhyme that we grew up with. Mr. Walker said that rhyme was finally dying out, and he didn’t want me to perpetuate it. So I kept it to mayself. For those who may not know it, it was, “No more pencils, no more books. No more teachers’ dirty looks.”

I truly love being involved with the parish school. I have been blessed to be with schools all my priesthood, and the clergy office told me that they knew they had to assign me to a parish with a school when I was last up for transfer. But I have to admit that as much as I love school, one of my favorite days is the last day of school. In fact, being involved with a school makes summer even more of a break. Even when I’m not away on my own vacation, I can tell that things are a little quieter and less hectic. I look at this time as a gift from God to refresh and renew us.

So let me take a moment to look at this coming week. On Wednesday afternoon, our Kindergarten children will finish their year and get ready to move on to first grade. Even for those who have been in pre-school, this year has been an experience of learning what school is all about. Then Wednesday evening we have the eighth grade graduation Mass. Many of our sixteen graduates have been in our school since kindergarten. They are now getting ready to move on to high school and take the next step in their education.

For everyone in between kindergarten and eighth grade, the big day is Friday. They will be back with us next year and will welcome new students to our school. In fact, it looks very much like our enrollment will actually go up a bit next year, making us one of the few schools in the diocese to achieve an increase in enrollment. That is a very real blessing that is one factor in allowing us to hold the line on costs, with no increase in tuition for next year. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The children in St. Malachy School aren’t ready yet to think about the fall. They have a summer ahead of them, and they richly deserve a vacation. And even if they don’t richly deserve it, their teachers certainly do.

So as I conclude my first full school year at St. Malachy, I want to thank our excellent principal, Mrs. Escovitz, and a wonderful faculty. They have shown a true concern for their students and a professional approach toward their jobs. I thank the support staff for all that they do to keep our school running smoothly. I thank the parents, grandparents and other volunteers who give of their time. I thank all the school families who have chosen St. Malachy for an excellent education for their children. Thanks to the entire parish for supporting the school as a vital part of our ministry. And of course, I thank the students themselves, who make our school so special. Have a great summer.

Don’t forget – you have a vacation from school, but church is open all summer. God never takes a vacation.

                                                                                                             Father H