Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pentecost Sunday - May 24, 2015

One of my favorite prayers is one that starts “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful.” It is, of course, very appropriate for Pentecost. Today I would like to look at the second part of that prayer, “O God, who did instruct the hearts of the faithful through the light of the Holy Spirit, grant to us that same Spirit, that we me be truly wise and ever rejoice in His consolation, through Christ our Lord.”

The instruction mentioned in the prayer is not a magical enlightenment in which we suddenly know everything. (Some people think that magically knowing everything comes automatically around one’s thirteenth birthday, but that’s another story.) Learning our faith is a life-long task. Most of the time, though, when we think of Religious Education, we think of the children and adolescents. Today I would like to look particularly at our Faith Formation program.

 I recently received the sad news that our Catechetical Administrator, Joanne Swank, is retiring in order to spend time with her husband, children and grandchildren. Our annual Vacation Bible School will be her final event in that position. We didn’t want the announcement to take away from the end of CCD, the Confirmation or all the First Communion celebrations, so I am only making my public statement about Joanne’s retirement now.

When I was pastor of Guardian Angels Parish, I held the now-defunct role of “Deanery Director of Religious Education.” My job was to meet with all of the Catechetical Administrators in this area. It was mostly a role of support, and it gave me a chance to get to know some of the people in that ministry. I got to know Joanne through those meetings and because she and her Guardian Angels’ counterpart used to ride together to classes for their degree in Catechesis. Thus I have known Joanne for some years now, and I have always respected her as being very capable and, more importantly, as a person of deep faith and trust in God. My time working with her at St. Malachy has confirmed that understanding and deepened my respect for her.

As much as I will miss Joanne, she and I agreed that the important point is that we continue to teach the faith. It is a sign of her effectiveness that the catechists who teach our CCD classes have expressed a confidence that we will continue to provide an excellent program after she leaves. In fact, by the time you read this note, I will have met with a search committee (including CCD catechists and parents) and interviewed a candidate for the position. I am confident that we will continue to provide an excellent faith formation program. But one reason why I am so confident is that Joanne has done such a fine job. So the hopeful note is for a future bulletin, when we introduce the new Catechetical Administrator. For now, we thank Joanne Swank for her wonderful contribution and wish her Godspeed.

                                                        Father H

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Seventh Sunday of Easter - May 17, 2015

When I was a little boy, growing up in Wilkinsburg, there were times when Mom would take me “up street” into the Wilkinsburg business district. (“Up street” was the local alternative to a bus ride “downtown” into Pittsburgh.) I knew mostly what to expect when I would go up street with Mom. I knew I could look for toys and ask Mom to buy me something if we went into Murphy’s Five & Ten. Caldwell & Graham, on the other hand, didn’t have anything fun. They only sold boring stuff like clothes. I knew we might stop in the Wilkinsburg Public Library for a book. I also knew that at some point, usually on the way home, we would go by St. James and “stop in for a visit.”

I don’t think the same opportunity exists today. Wilkinsburg is not the same neighborhood as when I was growing up, and I suspect that they have to keep the church locked when nothing is going on. As in so many places, you cannot just stop into church for a quiet prayer. But here at St. Malachy, with a nicer area and a police station just across the street, we are fortunate to be able to keep the practice alive. On weekdays we keep the church open throughout the day, until about 8:00 in the evening. On Saturdays we lock up after the evening Mass, and on Sundays the church is open until somewhere around 7:00 or 8:00. At any of those times, you are welcome to stop by and spend a few quiet moments with the Lord. There may be times when you find something going on, such as a funeral or the Friday Bible Study group (who would welcome you to join them). And of course on the third Tuesday of the month, including this coming Tuesday, you have the special opportunity to join us for all-day Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, from Exposition at the morning Mass until Benediction at 6:30.

Mom always referred to it, as I said above, as a “visit,” like stopping by to see a friend. As a child, of course, I always wanted to be doing something, to play some sort of game, when I visited a friend. Adults, on the other hand, could just sit and talk. So often we come to church when there are things to do, especially the Mass. But it is nice to have some quiet time just to visit, to sit quietly and pray. Think of it as an opportunity to have a pleasant conversation with the Lord. Sure, there may be some problems or some other issues in our lives that we want to bring to prayer. But as with a good friend, we can just stop by to be in His presence and enjoy His company. After all, good friends like to be together for a quiet time.

So remember that this Tuesday is our monthly day of Adoration. But also remember that any time you are in the neighborhood, Christ invites you to “stop in for a visit.” As people who believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we know that Jesus is present in our church. What a blessing that we can still offer you some quiet time in prayer in His company.

                                                               Father H

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 10, 2015

It was all over Facebook. Soon it was on TV and was going viral on YouTube. A sixteen-year-old was dressed all in black with a hood over his face. Given the rioting and looting that was going on in Baltimore at the time, it was clear that he was intending to cause some sort of trouble. Then his mother saw him, and he never had a chance. The video of his mom cuffing him around got lots of publicity.

Today I wish every mother a happy and blessed Mothers Day. As holidays go, this one tends to be sentimental to the point of being sappy. It gives us a picture of our mothers as rocking us to sleep and softly kissing us. We may think of a mother smiling as she watches her children sweetly playing with one another and sharing their toys. Perhaps we would be wise to remember the mother in Baltimore. I don’t know what kind of mother she is in real life, and I certainly do not want to encourage the kind of language she used in the video. But she does remind us that motherhood is not easy. Mothers often have to take their children in hand, at least figuratively. Mothers, I pray that you never have to pull your children out of a riot, but you have to deal with your children’s choices, starting with the “terrible twos.”

Sometimes the difference between a mother and a child is a matter of perspective. As children, we tended to think of what I want right now or what problem is bothering me right now. Our mothers had a broader perspective of what would make us grow up to be mature, responsible – and happy in much deeper and lasting sense. Ultimately, of course, that desire is for us to be united with Christ for all eternity. The blessing for mothers at baptism, which I usually adapt for a blessing for Mothers Day at the Masses, says, “She now thanks God for the gift of her child. May she be one with him (or her) in thanking him for ever in heaven.” If we keep that goal in mind, we honor our mothers without becoming maudlin.

That goal also ties today’s feast in with our month-long celebration of the Blessed Mother. By our Catholic tradition, May is the month of Mary. Our devotions to Mary can similarly be sentimental to the point of being sappy. Granted, Mary was conceived without sin and gave birth to the perfect Son of God. But she still had to run a household and manage a family in a small village. She had to be a model of faith in a world when the Jewish people were rather downtrodden. Like any mother, she had to let her Son go His own way. Imagine how she must have felt to hear her twelve-year-old Son say, in the Temple, “I must be about My Father’s business.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary is a model for us of total trust in God’s will. When Christ, on the cross, entrusted her to St. John, he was giving her to the entire Church to be a mother to all of us. Like our mothers, she wants to help us see that God has something greater in store for each of us than the pursuits we often get caught up in. Let’s just hope that we learn that lesson without needing someone to slap us around as the mother in Baltimore did for her son.
                                                        Father H

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Easter - May 3, 2015

As a teenager, at an age when I thought my parents didn’t know anything, I would laugh when my mother spoke of Carnegie Tech. I knew better than to correct her, but I wondered why she couldn’t get used to calling it Carnegie-Mellon University. After all, it had been CMU for some time. I got my comeuppance years later when the Civic Arena was renamed as the Mellon Arena. Try as I might, I could never keep from calling it by the old name.

The same thing can happen with Church terminology. There even are some terms that have not been accurate since the Second Vatican Council but which many people continue to use. Every so often I get a call to go up to the hospital to give someone “Last Rites.” I always want to be sensitive to the needs of the patients and their families, but I do try to give a little education on the matter. Instead of Last Rites, I offer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of healing. For years, however, the sacrament was reserved for those who were near death. It was seen as a way of helping those who were about to die to prepare for Purgatory and Heaven. One result of that development was that the sacrament became frightening. Some people would not call a priest, even when a patient was critical, out of fear that “Mom would die of fright if a priest walked into her room.” I recently witnessed a family member who did not want the patient anointed because he was not sure he was dying. Fortunately he felt much better when I explained that it is not “Last Rites.”

Vatican II tells us that it is fitting to be anointed “as soon as any one of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age.” My father started receiving the sacrament annually about the age of 80, figuring that he qualified under the heading of “old age.” He lived to be 96 and was in surprisingly good health for most of those years. He believed that the grace of the sacrament helped keep him going. On the other hand, it is not something we receive for a head cold.

I try to tell people of three ways in which the grace of the sacrament can have an effect on us. It does promote physical healing. Generally we do not see a miraculous turnaround in a patient’s condition. This is not “faith healing” as we think of that term from someone putting on a show. Certainly God can work miracles, and he does use the sacrament in miraculous ways. But miracles are, by their very nature, not an everyday occurrence. God often uses this sacrament in another way, to give someone the strength to carry the burden of an illness, joining our sufferings to those of Christ on the Cross. Finally, as I often explain when called to the hospital, the ultimate healing is to be called home to be with Christ in heaven, away from this vale of tears. In that sense, this sacrament can be our last rites, and there are special prayers included when we reach that point.

                                                     Father H