Sunday, April 26, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Easter - April 26, 2015

This Tuesday, April 28, marks the first anniversary of my first day as pastor of St. Malachy. On the one hand, I can’t believe how quickly this year has gone by. On the other hand, it feels like I’ve been here for years. The latter feeling comes from how wonderfully everyone here has welcomed me and made me feel at home. This is a fantastic parish, and I have quickly come to love the parish and the people. Thank you for a great first year; now let’s have a lot more.

While I officially started on April 28, I actually had a good head start. For one thing, Fr. Michael had graciously given me space to store my property as we began the move. Moreover, he invited me to help with some of the school and CCD Confessions during Lent to give me a chance to get to know some people. And then I actually moved in on Sunday, April 27. My first quasi-official duty was to concelebrate with Fr. Michael at the First Communion Mass that Sunday, before being the celebrant at the next weekend’s First Communion Mass. What a great way that was to start, for First Communion is one of the highlights of any parish’s year.

And that is another key theme to today’s message, for this weekend we celebrate the first of our First Communion Masses. It is always a great joy to see the boys and girls receiving Christ for the first time. The excitement they feel reminds us of the importance of a Sacrament that we can easily take for granted. We who have lost count of how often we receive the Eucharist may fall into the trap of making it just another part of our week. When we see the joy on these children’s faces, especially as they are all dressed up for the occasion, we remember what a great gift it is. In addition, when we see how nervous some of them are, then we may tend to ask ourselves if we are really prepared, in a spiritual sense, to receive the Eucharist. There is a reason why our preparation to receive includes the prayer, “O Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.” But again, the joy of these children reminds us to complete that prayer, “But only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

First Communion, of course, is not the end of the journey. I want to recognize the eighth graders of our parish who, this past Wednesday, received the Sacrament of Confirmation from Bishop William J. Winter, our retired Auxiliary Bishop. I am writing this column before the event, but I can confidently say that it Confirmation was (by the time you are reading this note) a beautiful celebration. Bishop Winter makes the sacrament very personal for each of the Confirmandi. With this Confirmation, they are now prepared, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to live more fully the grace they first received in baptism.
All of this activity shows us what an exciting time the Easter season is in the life of the parish. And that, once again, reminds me of how thankful I am to God and to Bishop Zubik for making me part of this incredible parish of St. Malachy.
                                                 Father H

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Third Sunday of Easter - April 19, 2015

There is an old truism about the West Point Military Academy that they are always training army officers to fight the last war. In other words, when the nation fights a war, the officers make note of what tactics were successful under that war’s conditions, and that’s what they use to train soldiers in the future. When another war comes along, they realize what changes have occurred in technology, weaponry, strategy and the like. They then realize that the plans they have made have to be adapted to the new circumstances.

I suppose that all of us “train to fight the last war.” We know what has worked in the past, and we rely on those strategies. There comes a time, though, when we need to do long-range planning with an honest examination of the circumstances and the available resources. That is part of what Bishop Zubik is trying to do with On Mission for the Church Alive!, the initiative which he announced in the letter we read at all the Masses last weekend. If you missed the reading of the letter or want to look more deeply into it, a copy of the letter is included with this week’s bulletin. We will all hear much more about it in the coming months. Today I would like to make a few brief comments on the initiative as we set out.

Bishop Zubik intends to make long-term plans for the health of our diocese, including the parishes, schools and other institutions. As Catholics, any such planning has to begin with certain eternal truths such as the promise of Christ to be with His Church always and His presence in ways such as the Eucharist. The Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church gives us a solid foundation to build upon. Beyond that, however, we have to be open to new possibilities. We face the changing demographics of Western Pennsylvania and the declining number of priests, in addition to an increasingly secular society. Thus we have to be creative in looking for how the Church will communicate the eternal truths in our modern society. We have to understand where we are without simply fighting the last war.

What strikes me most clearly is that Bishop Zubik is taking a very positive approach to the realities that confront us. There are serious challenges, but this is also an opportunity for evangelization and for a renewed devotion to the grace of Christ. It is a call for us to trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit and to trust in Christ’s promise to His Apostles. Rather than simply trying to maintain the status quo as best we can, this is an opportunity for the Church to grow and be more vibrant. For such a large task, the bishop recognized that we need to engage the help of people whose specialty is creating such long-term plans. I am thankful that he has chosen, from several very qualified organizations, Catholic Leadership Institute. This is the organization that presents the Good Leaders, Good Shepherds program which many of our local priest, including both Fr. Michael Maranowski and I, have taken part in. There are people in this organization who have come to know the Diocese of Pittsburgh and to recognize our unique strengths, and I am confident that they will be very effective.

                                                      Father H

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Second Sunday of Easter - April 12, 2015

Thank you! Before I can say anything else, I have to thank so many people for making Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum such an amazing experience of faith and joy. Easter is the highlight of our year, and St. Malachy does it so well. I have to thank all the Altar Servers, Lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, Ushers and everyone else who contributed to the celebrations. I am thankful to John Lester for his work as Master of Ceremonies and particularly for his work in decorating the church for each part of the celebration. The Triduum embraces such a wide range of emotions, reaching a low with the barren atmosphere of Good Friday and then springing to life for the Easter Vigil. And a similar range of emotions has to influence the music, so I am very grateful to Laurie Lanz, who gave us beautiful music with the help of the adult and children’s choir, the cantors and with a huge contribution from Margie Masilunas and her adult and children handbell choirs.

Speaking of Margie Masilunas, she did a wonderful job with the crew that presented the Living Stations of the Cross all through Lent, culminating on Good Friday. Also, let me add my thanks to Catherine Spanard for helping organize the Seven Church bus tour on Holy Thursday evening and to all who rode along. And I cannot forget to thank, as well as to congratulate, our newest Catholics through the RCIA, Jamie Aurigemma and Emma Fleiner. Working with them and seeing their joy at entering the Church has been a reminder to me of how much our faith means.

Another huge debt of gratitude goes out to Joyce and Ed Chezosky and all who volunteered at our Fish Fry all through Lent. I am among those for whom meatless Fridays are still a real penance (which we observe throughout the year), but our Fish Fry brings us good food along with a chance to support the parish. And what a success it has been in both ways.

Most of all, thanks to all the people of St. Malachy for coming together in prayer throughout the Triduum. I really experienced St. Malachy Parish as a family of faith in the joy of Easter.

As I thank you for your contributions to Easter, I hope I don’t make it sound as if Easter is over. The first eight days, up through the Second Sunday of Easter, is an “Octave,” a continuation of Easter Sunday itself. Today’s celebration has, in recent years, been given the extra designation of Divine Mercy Sunday, but even before that it has had special significance as the Octave Day of Easter. We treat this whole week as one long Sunday. And even at that, the joy of Easter does not end. This Easter season continues right up through Ascension Thursday (May 14 this year), concluding on Pentecost (May 24). During that time, we not only continue to celebrate the Resurrection, but we also have Confirmation and First Communion to celebrate. So this will continue to be a special time. Thus, in addition to my thanks, let me again say Blessed and happy Easter.

                                                   Father H

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015

There is a question I have asked in various school and CCD classes over the years: “What is the most important holiday of the year?” Often the children will answer “Christmas.” Some of them are rather surprised when I tell them that the right answer is Easter. Christmas has presents, and all the decorations go up weeks in advance – with the stores starting to push Christmas some time around the Fourth of July. We cannot make the same kind of push for Easter when we have our observance of Lent. But Easter is the highlight of the year, for the Resurrection of the Lord is the greatest event in all human history.

In the earliest days of the Church, Easter was the celebration. The annual feast was the one holy day that the Church observed, and the faithful repeated the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection every week. We have often said that every Sunday is a “little Easter.” But I did know one theology professor in the seminary who said that we had it backwards. He claimed it would be better to say that Easter is “the major Sunday.” Other feasts came about later as a way of delving more deeply into our faith, but everything we believe and do is based on the glory of this Easter.

When I say that this is the basis of our whole faith, I do not just mean that it tops the list of theological concepts for us to learn about or of things we memorize in our religion classes. The Resurrection is at the heart of the way we live. We are risen to new life with Christ through our baptism. As a result, Baptism becomes the other main theme of Easter, not as an alternate to the celebration of the Resurrection but as a way in which we take part in the Paschal Mystery. That is why this is the time when we celebrate the baptism of adults who have been preparing to enter the Church. This year we are blessed to have two new Catholics joining us through baptism after taking part in the RCIA. Please continue to pray for Emma Fleiner and for Jamie Aurigemma as they take their place within our community. This weekend, at the Easter Vigil, they join us through Baptism and they are sealed with the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation. To complete their initiation, they receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist for the first time at that Mass. After months of preparation, they are truly members of the Body of Christ, the Church. Please also pray for another member of the RCIA who continues to prepare but who was not able to enter the Church at this time.

For me, the joy of working with the RCIA is one of the great blessings of this time of the year. The newly baptized adults show such a joy at taking part in the life of the Church that it reminds me of what this season is all about. Easter is not just something that happened almost 2,000 years ago, and baptism is not just something that happened (for me) in 1960. To welcome the newest members of our Church reminds me how important this Easter is. Christ is risen, and everything else we do is based on that faith. Let us rejoice in the Risen Lord. Alleluia!

                                                                                                 Father H