Sunday, February 22, 2015

First Sunday of Lent - February 22, 2015

Today’s column and the ones to follow in the coming weeks are, with slight adaptations, columns that I wrote in 2006 for the bulletin when I was pastor of Nativity Parish in South Park. At the time I thought that this particular aspect of Lent was important enough to focus on it throughout Lent. For the same reason, I am using those same columns—with certain changes—now.

This season of Lent brings many things to mind. Many of us grew up with the idea of “giving something up” for Lent. We still look at fasting (along with prayer and almsgiving) as one of the cornerstones of the season, but of course all of those observances are in the context of our love for God. This Lent, I would like to dedicate this column to one of the highlights of our Lenten observance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or as many of us grew up calling it, “Confession.” Each week during Lent, I am going to offer some reflections on how to make this sacrament somewhat less intimidating and more satisfying. Rather than presenting a theological treatise, I will simply give some reflections on my personal experience with the sacrament.

The first question I’d like to deal with is how often we should receive the sacrament. For this question, there is no “one size fits all” answer, for that will be a rather personal decision. I can, however, offer some guidelines. Let’s start with the minimum. The Church tells us we are obliged to confess any serious sins at least once a year. That part about “serious” sins may lead us to ask if, perhaps, we can skip a year if all we have is venial sin. That question can help us understand that God’s forgiveness comes in many ways – for instance, the Eucharist has the power to forgive venial sins. Still, I am convinced that we are shortchanging ourselves if we ask how often we “have to” go to Confession. Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1458) says, “Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended” as being a help to the formation of our consciences and a way of receiving the grace to live our faith.

The more we use the sacrament, the more comfortable we become with it. Moreover, we find ourselves becoming dependent upon the grace of God. I personally like to receive the sacrament about once a month. If something comes up, though, and it gets to be about six weeks or so, then I find myself feeling rather “sluggish.” Confession gives me a fresh start and helps me trust in God more completely for the occasions that come up every day. Once I get to Confession, it is like getting a fresh start on everything I do. Reconciliation helps me realize that I do not have to carry the burden of each decision myself.

So my suggestion for this Lent is to look forward to receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation – and not to wait until Advent for the next opportunity.

As we begin this Lenten look at the Sacrament of Reconciliation, please pray for the young boys and girls in our parish who are making their First Penance this week. May they always grow closer to God through this wonderful sacrament.

                                                                                                          Father H

Monday, February 16, 2015

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 15, 2015

Almost all of my favorite sports movies have to do with baseball, but my favorite non-baseball sports movie is Miracle, the story of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team that defied all odds to win the gold medal. Before the big game against the Soviet Union, coach Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell) tells his team, “This is your time.” As we come to Ash Wednesday this week, Brooks could say the same thing to us. This is our time. In the second reading on Wednesday, we will hear St. Paul say something similar, “Behold, now is a very acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation.”

This is our time. For that to be the case, we have to see it in context. Lent does not stand alone. There would be no Lent if it were not for Easter. Easter is the most important time of the year for us, and Lent is our time of making ourselves ready. We are so much starting forty days of Lenten penance as we are starting a ninety day period highlighting our salvation. In the Lenten portion of it, we begin to set aside some of the passing parts of this world, as well as to turn from our sins, so that when Easter comes we will be ready to live as children of God who share in the new life of the Risen Christ.

This is our time, but it is a special time particularly for those who are preparing to enter the Church at Easter. Especially for those who have been taking part in the RCIA for some months now, this is their time in a special way. In fact, in the early Church the season of Lent was designed especially for the Catechumens who were learning about the faith and preparing themselves to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. They were given the forty days before the Easter Triduum for prayer and fasting because Christ took forty days in the desert before beginning his public ministry. Gradually the rest of the faithful began to ask for a similar period of prayer and fasting to prepare for Easter. To this day, though, the Catechumens of the Church get special attention in this season. Please pray for those who will become Catholic at our Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. Emma, Jamie and Bob, this is your time.

If this is truly to be our time, we need to take advantage of it. In the movie Miracle, Coach Brooks told the American team that it was their time but that they had to take advantage of it. “You were born to be hockey players,” he tells them, “and you were meant to be here tonight.” We were created to be God’s children, and nothing less will satisfy us. At Easter, we will particularly remember our baptism, even as we see Emma and Jamie being baptized. We were reborn, not to be hockey players but to be the children of God. This is our time if we are ready to make our faith the most important aspect of our lives. We ask God to make this Lent a special time for us to recognize and prepare for the ultimate joy of being God’s people. Behold, now is a very acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation.

                                                                                                          Father H

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 8, 2015

Imagine a small child trying to tie his shoes or do some other task. Mom offers to help him, but the boy says, “Mother, please! I can do it myself.” Mom is proud of her child for learning to do things for himself, but she knows that at some point she is going to have to come in and help him when he discovers something that he cannot do for himself.

Our society puts a great deal of value on our being able to do things for ourselves. But as the poet John Dunne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” We all need help at times. Or, in the words of a couple of other British poets (Lennon & McCartney), “I get by with a little help from my friends.” As part of the Church, we belong to a great community of faith. We are here to support one another. As a parish, we offer community, service, formation in faith and, above all, worship. Of course we are part of a larger community. To be Catholic, we are to be in communion with the bishop, who is head of the local Church. Beyond that, of course, our understanding is that the bishop is in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, which makes us part of a universal Church. But for today I would like to remember our connection with the Church of Pittsburgh, which forms a broader community for us here at St. Malachy while still being local enough that we can truly see how we affect the whole community.

Next week I will want to write about the upcoming beginning of Lent, but next Sunday is also the beginning of another year of the diocesan Parish Share Program. This is a way in which we support the work of the entire diocese. The diocese supports a number of efforts that we could not manage on our own. For instance, our parish helps the poor with our St. Vincent de Paul Society, but there are many efforts to support the poor that go beyond our means. For those purposes, our Parish Share funds Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. St. Malachy promotes Catholic education through our wonderful school and CCD programs, and we work with St. John of God Parish – as the diocese encourages parishes to work together – in youth ministry (along with their support of our school). But no parish or cluster of parishes could support the education of seminarians preparing for the priesthood. So we work together through PSP.

By helping the diocese, we also help ourselves. The diocese assesses each parish based on its previous year’s income. Anything we raise for Parish Share over and above our assessment stays with the parish. Moreover, excess Parish Share funds are not counted toward next year’s assessment. That money is “tax exempt,” so to speak. So if we can make the PSP program a success for the diocese, it helps our parish.

Soon you will be receiving a letter from me concerning this year’s Parish Share. Please pray over the request and offer what you can to help us help others.
                                                                   Father H

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 1, 2015

They’re playing the Super Bowl, even when the Steelers aren’t in it? Back in the 1970s, I came to believe that the Super Bowl didn’t really count unless the Steelers were playing. But in fact, this day has become perhaps our biggest national holiday. In fact, I even saw a suggestion once that the day after the Super Bowl should be declared a national holiday so that people who go to Super Bowl parties won’t have to worry about getting up for work the next day. I remember when the Super Bowl was mostly about football (and when the big halftime show was a group called “Up With People”).

For me, football is probably my third favorite sport. Baseball is easily number one, and hockey would be a distant second. As for events I enjoy, the Super Bowl would come behind the World Series, the Stanley Cup finals (and sometimes Wimbledon). But I will be watching the game tonight. I have a long-standing tradition of watching it with my two closest priest friends, one of whom is Fr. Michael. I will enjoy the company, the food and perhaps even the commercials. So since we are celebrating football Sunday, I asked myself how I could work our national obsession with football into my column.

First of all, notice that most everyone has an opinion or a rooting interest. I personally know very few of the players on either team, but I will be rooting for Seattle. Would that we could get so excited about our faith or so strong in defending the teachings of Christ. Perhaps we do see that at times, such as the way the crowds in the Philippines reacted to Pope Francis on his recent visit, or how we expect him to be greeted when he comes to the US later this year. But if we could only keep that excitement going at all times and be truly proud of our Catholic faith.

Then there are the commercials, which use humor (unfortunately in increasingly bad taste), cute animals and other devices to get our attention. This is similar to the way Jesus taught when he used parables concerning the everyday life of the people. He would get their attention and speak to them in ways that they would understand. If we can engage people where they are, showing our interest in their lives, we are taking the first step toward exemplifying the Catholic faith.

Don’t forget the game itself. While talent is vital to building a champion, the winner is often the team that puts in the better effort and works together as a team. As Christ’s Church, we pull together as a team. Most of us live ordinary lives, and most of us consider ourselves ordinary people. But coming together, with each of us supplying our own gifts and talents, we have made St. Malachy into a championship-quality parish. But then we remember that Chuck Noll immediately told his Steelers teams that the championship they just won was “ancient history.” He wanted them to turn their attention to the next year’s Super Bowl. So each one of us can continue to grow in our faith and continue to build up our community in faith and love.
Go, Seahawks.
                                                                           Father H