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