Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Nativity of the Lord - December 25, 2016

  Have you ever looked closely at a baby’s fingernails? Some years ago, a new mother let me hold her three-day old baby, and I noticed his fingernails. They were perfectly formed and shaped and in just the right proportion. Those nails led me to study the rest of the fingers and the hands and to notice them as a perfect miniature of any other human hand. I began to consider the possibilities of this human life that lay wriggling in my arms. No one yet knew what gifts or talents that baby was endowed with. No one could know what kinds of choices he would make with his life. He himself did not even know that he would one day have to make such choices. Yet looking at those fingernails, I realized that God had given this child the skills and talents that would one day come to fruition.

When we look at a Nativity scene, we see a figure of the infant Christ. On a small plastic figure, we would not expect such attention to detail as to make sure that the child – or Mary or Joseph – have perfect fingernails. Yet I hope that we can take time over the coming days to reflect on the reality of what we celebrate. When we look at the Nativity, we see the fullness of the gospel. The shepherds did not know that this child would one day die on the cross and rise from the dead, but we do. The shepherds responded in joy to the message of the angels, so how much greater should our joy be, knowing the Salvation that this child would bring us. The shepherds would not have had the theological education to realize what we learned in first grade, that this child is fully human and fully divine, a man like us in all things but sin. But we see Him as the Word Made Flesh, Emmanuel (God-with-us) and our Savior. How can we help but rejoice?

A few weeks after I held that young baby, I stood as his godfather at his baptism, and fourteen years later I was his sponsor for Confirmation. He is now a grown man, and I have not looked at his fingernails since he was three days old. But I still remember that day as I think of the young man he has become. (Among other things, he has inherited his godfather’s love of baseball.) So we can remember the joy of our celebration of Christmas as we prepare to see the mystery of Salvation unfolding through the gospel in the coming year.

So as the big day comes, I take this opportunity to say a word of thanks to all who have helped make this Christmas such a joyous time. Thanks to John Lester and those who helped with decorations, Laurie Lanz and all who have worked with her on the music and all others who have  contributed to our Liturgies. Thanks to those who have sent me cards, presents or other expressions of Christmas joy and to those who remember me in their Christmas prayers. And thanks to so many others. Beyond that, I take this time for my personal wish to all of you and to all of your families. May Christmas be for each of you a time of joyful celebration and of God’s blessings. In the familiar words of Clement Clark Moore, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”                      
                                                                                               Father H                  

Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 18, 2016

Over the first three weeks of Advent, I have dedicated this space to looking at some of the major biblical figures of the season. As I wrote about the prophet Isaiah, St. John the Baptist and St. Joseph, I have tried to take an objective look at each figure as found in Sacred Scripture. Today I will look at the most obvious figure of this season, the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is so much to say about Mary’s role in Scripture and in popular devotion that I would like to take just a few images, particularly from the infancy narratives.

In Luke’s gospel, we “meet” Mary when the Archangel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is to be the Mother of God. One of the key lessons here is Mary’s trust in God. First she admitted that she did not understand how Gabriel’s words could be true. Yet while she had no problem questioning how the message could be true, she still accepted God’s will. Mary knew and trusted that God would only ask of her what was best for her as well as for all humanity.

There is another image that I have always found helpful to meditation, but it does not occur in the Gospel. Have you ever thought of what Mary told her parents after the Annunciation? What parents, when finding their daughter pregnant, would believe a story of an angel? That situation was covered very nicely in the movie The Nativity Story that came out a few years ago. In addition to her trust, such an image can show us the courage that Mary must have had once she accepted God’s will. Becoming the Mother of God would change all of Mary’s plans, but she was ready.

After the angel left, Mary traveled into the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. That would not have been an easy journey, particularly for a young pregnant girl. But for Mary, the presence of Christ led her to service. She would not sit back and wait for the Lord’s coming. Rather, she put Christ’s presence into action for the good of others. In her service, as in her trust and her courage, Mary is an image of what Advent should mean to us.

Finally, as we celebrated the Immaculate Conception earlier this month, we remember that Mary was without sin. The same cannot be said for any of us. So in final preparation for Christmas, we will offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confessions) Tuesday evening from 7:00 to 8:00 (after our monthly Benediction), and from 6:00 to 7:00 (or later as needed) on Wednesday and Friday evenings. We will not have our regularly scheduled Saturday Confessions on Christmas Eve.
                                                                                           Father H                  

Third Sunday of Advent - December 11, 2016

Through this Advent season, I have been using this column to look at some of the scriptural figures who are important to this season. Today, we take a look at St. Joseph, who is featured prominently in Matthew’s gospel. We will hear of St. Joseph next Sunday.

Joseph was most likely a young man just coming into his own when Christ was born, but there is a legend which says that he was an old man. There are several likely reasons why that legend grew up. For one thing, it is easier for some to believe that an older man could respect Mary’s virginity. As one living a celibate life, however, I find it much more helpful to believe that the Holy Spirit helped Joseph to remain chaste. The legend of Joseph as an old man also could be a way of explaining the places in scripture where they refer to Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Our insistence on Mary’s virginity made some people think that these were Joseph’s children by a wife who had died. But in their culture, the word for “brothers and sisters” also referred to cousins, as extended families were quite important at the time.

Setting aside that legend, we can look at Joseph as he appears in the gospel. First of all, we can see Joseph’s role in the Holy Family. As husband of the Blessed Mother, Joseph was legally recognized as Jesus’ father. It is through that relationship that Jesus was recognized as a descendant of King David. More importantly, at the time of Jesus’ conception, Joseph was betrothed to the Blessed Mother. We think of that relationship as an engagement, but betrothal was a step beyond engagement. Joseph had all the legal rights of a husband except for living with Mary. So if she was found to be pregnant, then the logical conclusion was that she had committed adultery, which was a capital crime. But Joseph was merciful, wanting to divorce her quietly, and that mercy left him open to the message of the angel that this child was the Son of God. So Joseph is a sign that we are called to trust God and to be open to His will.

Joseph is also given to us as a protector. When King Herod called for the Messiah’s death, Joseph took Mary and Jesus into safety in Egypt. Throughout the early years of Jesus’ life, we see Joseph as a provider for the Holy Family. We know him as a carpenter, but that probably does not mean that he made a living making fine furniture. The Greek word for carpenter in the gospels is tekton, which is a carpenter who would do all kinds of woodwork, including buildings and other big projects. We might think of a tekton as a construction worker. Joseph was a hard worker who did whatever he needed to do to provide for his family. So while we see Joseph as a man of faith, we do not see that faith as an idle quality. Joseph’s faith was active, affecting everything he did every day of his life.

We often call St. Joseph “a just man.” Justice, in this sense, means that he always sought to do the will of God. As he did so, he not only helped carry forward the mission of our salvation, he also became an excellent example for us. St. Joseph teaches us to live our faith as if Christ were living in our own homes.
                                                                                             Father H              

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent - December 4, 2016

 Last week I said that I would take this space to describe some of the key scriptural figures of Advent, starting with the prophet Isaiah. This week I turn to St. John the Baptist, who is featured in the gospel every year on the Second Sunday of Advent. There is a connection, for much of John’s message and imagery comes from the prophet Isaiah.

Our first thought of John, particularly at this time of year, is of his birth as the son of the Blessed Mother’s elderly cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah. The importance of that detail is that it shows John’s connection to Christ. In the First Century, there was a movement that accepted John as the Messiah. All four of the gospel writers make a point of showing that John did not claim any privilege for himself. Rather, the whole purpose of his life was to prepare for the coming of Christ. John’s gospel (John 1:20) says of John, “He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, ‘I am not the Messiah.’” In the gospel of today’s mass, Matthew records John saying, “I am not worthy to carry his sandals.”

John certainly was an impressive figure, clothed in camel’s hair and with a diet that consisted of locusts and wild honey. He lived a very ascetical life filled with penitential practice. There is some speculation that John was an Essene, a very rigorous Jewish community. Yet there were some basic differences. The Essenes saw themselves as an elite group, separate from the rest of the community. John, on the other hand, left the desert to proclaim God’s salvation to all people. He welcomed tax collectors, prostitutes and all other sinners. And rather than calling people to join him in the desert, he sent them back to their families and jobs with the call to live by God’s commandments in their ordinary lives.

Of course, what identifies John most clearly was his act of baptizing in the Jordan River. John’s baptism was a unique symbol, to such an extent that it became his very identity. He is simply “the Baptist.” A totally new ritual becomes a sign that God is about to intervene in human history in an entirely new way. This baptism again ties the Baptist to the coming of the Messiah. As Christ would bring us a new life of grace, so John offers a means of repentance from the sins that separate us from God. This repentance is available to everyone, but it calls for us to make a commitment to turn away from sin and to make a change in our lives.

John’s message is very challenging. Whenever we meet someone who lives the faith intently, it can be very intimidating. Yet personally, the most ascetical people I have ever known have also been the most joyful. Their message, as that of St. John the Baptist, is that Christ offers us such a wonderful opportunity to share the life of God that it is worth whatever the cost. The message of St. John the Baptist tells us that Advent is a time of great hope. This is our time of preparation. For as we hear in the embolism to the Lord’s Prayer at mass, “We await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”                          
                                                            Father H      

Saturday, November 26, 2016

First Sunday of Advent - November 27, 2016

Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ. Preparation, of course, is easier if we have someone to help us. So for my column during these four Sundays of Advent, I would like to reflect on four of the important figures in Scripture who feature prominently in our readings at this time of the year.
First of all, we focus on the prophet Isaiah. When we speak of Isaiah, we are really talking about three different prophets. In the eighth century BC, a prophet named Isaiah, son of Amoz, spoke of God’s judgment and the promise that God would send a Savior to the world. His message was so powerful that when another prophet spoke a similar message around two hundred years later, his teachings were simply added as an addendum to the book of Isaiah as chapters 40 through 55. This later prophet’s name is lost to history, so scholars simply call him Deutero-Isaiah, or “Second Isaiah.” Similarly, the end of the book tells of the teachings of a later prophet known as Trito- (“Third”) Isaiah, found in chapters 56-69. These prophets are similar enough that we simply say things like, “The prophet Isaiah said...” All three sections were written at times of trial, and they offer hope in God’s promises. In Advent especially, we see that promise of hope as a sign of waiting for the promises of Christ.

Isaiah’s prophecies can be a reminder that we celebrate Advent on two levels. Later in the season, when we turn our attention to the coming of Christmas, we will concentrate on such passages as Isaiah 7:14, “the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” Yet in addition to specific prophecies that point to Christ, there is a general air of hope in Isaiah that describes the Kingdom of God. Isaiah promises a world so completely at peace that “the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,” along with other such images  (Isaiah 11:6). Thinking of our struggles, Isaiah 28:18 says, “On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; and out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see.” In those passages, Isaiah’s promises seem like poetic hyperbole. Yet we read them in Advent as a reminder that we are also awaiting the Second Coming. When Christ returns, we will know the perfect joy of heaven, where there will be no suffering of any kind. Far from being a poetic exaggeration, the words of Isaiah will be barely sufficient to describe the reality.

Finally, Isaiah went beyond other writers of the Old Testament by promising that God would bring Salvation not just to the Jewish people but to the entire world. Isaiah 2:2-3, in today’s first reading, says, “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: ‘Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.’” So as we begin this season of Advent, we see it as a time of hope, that God’s gift of salvation can come to us in ways far beyond anything we can now imagine.
                                                                                       Father H                  

Christ The King - November 20, 2016

Is Thanksgiving getting lost? It was bad enough when it went from being a day of thanks to being a day of overeating and watching football. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I intend to indulge in both of those activities on Thursday.) But now Thanksgiving is getting lost between Hallowe’en, which used to be a fun but minor holiday, and Christmas. Then again, that trend does not so much describe the holiday as the attitude it is meant to encourage. We can all too easily forget to take time out for gratitude as we are rushing on from one thing to another.

I would like to offer a suggestion on one possible remedy for that tendency to overlook gratitude. Ideally, I would like to give proper credit for this idea, but I cannot. It comes from an article that I read some years ago in some Catholic magazine, but I do not remember the source, much less the author. Whoever it was, he first made a very sensible suggestion that we should give thanks for everything. The important addition is that we not only give thanks, but we also include in our prayers a reason for our thanksgiving. Such a prayer increases our gratitude by making us think of why we are so thankful. It might be going beyond “Lord, thank you for this beautiful day” to the point where we say, “Lord, thank you for this beautiful day because it gives me a chance to enjoy a pleasant walk” or “because it gives me a chance to get some work done around the house.”

That kind of gratitude can help us grow in several ways. For one thing, if we really pay attention, then we may realize where we need to change our attitude on certain points. If I stop and think about why I wanted the blessing I am thankful for, I may realize that it was for a selfish reason. I may then have to stop and think about how I should use God’s gifts. Beyond that, this habit can help us become thankful for things we would not have considered as gifts. Before my father’s death, I used to go to his apartment on Wednesday night for my Thursday day off. Late one Wednesday night got caught in construction on the Parkway East.  As I idled in the Squirrel Hill Tunnels at 11:30 PM, I found myself grumbling at my misfortune. Then I remembered that article, and tried to find some reason to be thankful. It wasn’t easy, but I thanked God for the quiet time, which gave me an opportunity to review the day and set aside some of the tension of the day. That does not mean that I am hoping to get caught in another traffic jam anytime soon, and I still would rather not been there that night, but I at least I did come to see that situation as something I could be thankful for.

One obvious opportunity for gratitude will, of course, come this week with our turkey and stuffing. I will be spending this week in Virginia, where I can enjoy my sister’s cooking. But while I am away from Kennedy Township at Thanksgiving, please know that I will definitely put the people of St. Malachy Parish at the top of my list of things to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving to my beloved parish family.
                                                                                 Father H                  

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 13, 2016

Let’s start with a little trivia. You have most likely heard the phrase “short shrift,” as in not getting all of what you feel you deserve. But do you know where the phrase comes from? “Shrift” is an archaic term for Confession, particularly for the penance we do when we go to Confession. Short shrift would come when a condemned criminal was about to be executed. They would allow him to see a priest, but it was often so late that the condemned man would not have time to complete any serious penance, such as you would expect for a capital crime. Thus, he was unfairly given “short shrift.”

There are times when I feel like I have to give short shrift. When I came here, one thing that made me uncomfortable was the schedule of Confessions on Saturdays from 3:00 to 3:45. When I have a Sunday Mass, I like to be in the sacristy about half an hour before Mass starts. When I come in fifteen minutes before Mass, I feel like I am rushing. But while I have gotten used to that, I have wondered what might happen if the day comes when Fr. Russell is no longer here to help us. I got a preview of that eventuality last week, with Fr. Russell in the hospital. Despite the wedding, we started Confessions on time. But we had a good number of people coming, and I didn’t finish until about 3:57. It’s good to have more people for Confession than the time allotted, for that’s a sign of a spiritually alive parish. But it meant that I was trying to move quickly through the last few people in line. Furthermore, I was rushing into the sacristy at a time when the Altar Servers and Lectors were wondering where I was. I was out of breath as we started the Mass, and I didn’t feel like I was properly focused on the Eucharistic Liturgy.

My attitude toward Confession times has always been, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I’ve been in parishes where not many people come to the sacrament, so I’ve tried different times to get people coming. When I have been in parishes where people come, I’d rather not change things. But for two and a half years, I have thought about a different time for Confessions. I want to have time to give everyone a good experience of Christ’s mercy without having to give “short shrift.” And I want to be prepared to be the best celebrant I can be for the Mass, the most important thing we do. So I am thinking about starting January by scheduling Confessions from Noon to 1:00 on Saturday afternoons. We had those times in other parishes where I have been stationed, and they have worked well. I may have to beg off of going to the cemetery if we have a Saturday morning funeral, but I should have plenty of time for Confessions, even if we go overtime and even if there is a wedding.

I said that this timing has worked well in other parishes. But what works in one place does not always work in another. I would like to ask people’s opinions about changing Confession times before I make the final decision. Please let me know what you think. I don’t want to give “short shrift” (either literally or figuratively) to anyone.
                                                                                       Father H                  

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 6, 2016

First of all, thank you to everyone who attended the special meetings for the initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. I was very pleased with the turnout at those meetings. We certainly have some interesting times ahead of us, and all of us are going to have to make some adjustments, but it helps that we had so many people willing to come out and take part. If you did not make it to the meetings, we have copies of the materials available, or they are on line at Obviously we will be talking more about On Mission in the coming months, but I would like to focus on a different – albeit related – issue.

If you were at the meetings, think of your reaction to the basic numbers that we heard. Primarily, think of the numbers regarding the priests of the diocese. Today there are 216 priests in active ministry, and by 2025 they project that number to be 112. That news was not much of a shock to me since I have seen the decline first-hand. I remember thirty years ago, when we had over 300 parishes, and each of them had at least one priest. But I suspect that putting a number to the trend caught some people by surprise. Of course we rely on our retired priests for help, but there is only so much these heroic men can do. As I write this, for instance, Fr. Russell is in the hospital.

As I said, this column is not about On Mission. I bring this up because this week is National Vocation Awareness Week. The current planning process has made it even more clear to us that we need to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Yet as I like to say, I am convinced that there is no shortage of vocations. God still calls; the shortage is in people recognizing and answering the call. We can see that difficulty through some of the other information that On Mission has given us. When we see the number of young people who are not practicing their faith and the aging of those who are, then we recognize how difficult it is for our young people to hear the voice of God in their lives.

Yet as Bishop Zubik’s episcopal motto always reminds us, “Nothing is impossible with God.” Lately I have been joking with many people that we have proof of that saying when we see the Cubs and Indians in the World Series. But on a serious note, that belief gives us hope that in Christ who promised to be with us always, until the end of the world. So let us confidently pray to God for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. And let us try to encourage any youth we may know who may be thinking of a vocation to serve the Church.

                                                                                       Father H                  

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 20, 2016

Imagine the life of a college freshman. This is his first experience of being away from his parents. He can stay up as late as he wants, eat cold pizza for breakfast and go to as many parties as possible. We hope that by his sophomore year he starts thinking of life beyond college by choosing a major and getting serious about his studies. After all, the real purpose of college is to prepare for life.

A student may think of what he is going to do “after college,” but for those of us who have been out of college for a few years, college was just a preparation for the real world. I sometimes think that there is a similar problem of perspective whenever I hear someone ask about “life after death.” To a college student, life on campus is more “real” than some vague future. So for us, this life is the only thing that seems real to us. Our idea of heaven, possibly filled with images of clouds and harps, seems far off and ethereal. Once we graduate, however, we do not usually spend the next seventy or so years thinking that now we are in our post-college years. If anything, we look at college students and ask, “Was I like that?” So when we get to heaven, I do not expect to think of it as an “afterlife.” Rather, we will look at this world as a vague beginning to what we are truly meant to be – children of God, sharing perfect joy with Him forever.

As we near the end of our liturgical year, the Church invites us to look forward to the more real world of heaven. The readings start to focus on the end of time and the eternity of Christ’s Kingdom. This is a time to see ourselves as a college student who has to choose a major, for we want to be ready for what really matters.

We start the month with two special celebrations. This Tuesday is All Saints Day. Throughout the year, we celebrate feast days of the canonized saints. All Saints Day is for those who are not officially recognized by the Church. This feast is a way to honor our parents and grandparents and all others who had an influence on our lives. We see their example, and we ask their prayers for us. To keep the college analogy going, I can think of how many phone calls and letters I have gotten from Duquesne over the years, asking me to help (by monetary donation) those students now trying to get an education as I once did. Although the saints are no longer with us in this world, they still help their “alma mater” by praying for us.

On November 2 especially, we also pray for those who have died. God gives us the gift of purgatory in order to complete our transition to the perfection of what He has created in us. And as we still see a connection with one another, God allows us to assist in that final purification by praying for those who have died. So as we look forward to graduating to heaven, November becomes a special time for us to pray for all the faithful departed. And by doing so, may we come to look forward to the real world of heaven and to see this life as a chance to grow to be the people God has created us to be.
                                                                                     Father H    

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 23, 2016

One interesting aspect to the month of October is that we have some new feast days to celebrate. October 5 was the feast day of Blessed Francis Seelos, a Redemptorist priest who served for a time in Pittsburgh. The other two are names that should be more familiar. October 11 was the feast of Pope Saint John XXIII, and October 22 was the feast of Pope Saint John Paul II.

Most frequently, a saint’s feast day is set for the anniversary of the day he died, that is, the day he or she was born into eternal life. For these two popes, it is a little different. St. John’s feast day is on October 11 because that is the anniversary of the day he convened the Second Vatican Council. And October 22 was the date in 1978 that St. John Paul celebrated his Inaugural Mass as Pope. That choice for those feast days speaks about the effect that these two great saints had on the Church. They were both men of tradition, being very true to the faith that had been handed down from the time of the Apostles. Yet each of them knew that the Church had to face the challenges of the modern world.
To me, that dichotomy is a good summary of what Bishop Zubik is trying to accomplish with On Mission for the Church Alive. We are working to hand on the faith given us by Christ Himself. At the same time, we have to recognize that the structures with which we are familiar or not necessarily going to be as effective in today’s circumstances. While we cannot compromise on eternal truths, we must be open to new ways of organizing our diocese. Our parents’ generation did things much differently from the days of Blessed Francis Seelos, and we have to do things in a way that will work for today.

The prayer that Bishop Zubik requested us to say at Mass each asks for a spirit of “courage, collaboration and compassion.” Bishop Zubik has pointed to St. John XXIII as a model of collaboration, to Saint John Paul II as a model of courage, and to our current Pope Francis as a model of compassion. As to the collaboration part of the equation, please remember that this week we are holding our parish meetings. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we will meet at 7:00 in church to hear the first proposed models for our area. No decisions have been made because the bishop wants to hear our voices. Over the next year, we will have an opportunity to make ourselves heard. But first, we have to hear what will be shaping the proposals. Please make every effort to come to these meetings.

On October 22, 1978, Pope Saint John Paul said, “Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ.” As we look forward to the future of our diocese, I echo the words of Saint John Paul. Do not be afraid.

                                                                                         Father H    

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 16, 2016

Some years ago, during a presidential election year when a school student asked me which candidate I was going to vote for. One of the other students said, “He’s a priest. He has to vote for…” It turned out to be the candidate I was planning on voting for, but I didn’t answer the question. I was encouraged, however, that the student thought that my faith would influence my vote, even if he was simply echoing what his parents had said.

The truth is that I rarely like to talk about politics. I hope that my Catholic faith and values would inform my decision on whom to vote for. On the other hand, people who share common values and hopes may honestly disagree on the best way to accomplish those goals. I do not like today’s political arguments, which have become so much mudslinging, so I generally avoid political discussions. In addition, I do not want to make it appear that I am speaking “for the Church” in any official way that would count as a Catholic endorsement of any candidate.

This year, I am afraid, the choice is harder than ever. Every candidate for President (including Libertarian and Green Party candidates) is, in some way or another, deeply flawed. But one of these candidates will be the next President of the United States. So unless we plan to write in Abraham Lincoln or Harold Stassen, we have a choice to make. I would like to offer some of the thoughts of Bishop James Conley, Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska, who was in his last year at Mount St. Mary Seminary in my first year. Bishop Conley writes, “On some issues the moral obligations of Catholics, and the demands of the common good, are abundantly clear. For example, no Catholic can vote in good conscience to expand legal protection for abortion, or to support the killing of unborn children… Abortion is a grave, unconscionable, and intolerable evil, and we cannot support it in the voting booth.” He adds, “In good conscience, some Catholics might choose to vote for a candidate who, with some degree of probability, would be most likely to do some good, and the least amount of harm, on the foundational issues: life, family, conscience rights and religious liberty. Or, in good conscience, some might choose the candidate who best represents a Christian vision of society, regardless of the probability of winning. Or, in good conscience, some might choose not to vote for any candidate at all in a particular office.”

In addition, I would like to add the words of Bishop Robert Barron, who warns against seeing a politician as “Messianic” in the sense that this person, once elected, will solve all our problems. He offers as our attitude, “I don’t care how good and impressive a politician is, and they might be. They might be very bright, very gifted, very capable, but they’re not the Messiah. And the minute we think they are, then we are on a short road to disaster. So I think that’s something that biblical people are very, very legitimately reticent about is any move in that kind of apotheosizing of political leaders.”

                                                                                              Father H          

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 9, 2016

Over the past few weeks, I have used this column to talk about the diocesan initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. So to catch up with a number of other items, I am going to do a hodgepodge of topics today. But first I want to stress again how important it is that people attend the consultations sessions for On Mission on October 25 or 26. These meetings will begin at 7 PM in church, and they are away for all of us to express our thoughts and concerns about the plans that the diocese is currently making. Bishop Zubik wants all of us to be part of this process, so please come to one of those two meetings.

I have to take this opportunity to thank everyone who was involved in our parish festival this weekend. By the time you read this, the festival will be in full swing or will be over. I’m writing before it actually begins, but I am confident that it is going to be another grand success. So many people work so hard to pull the festival off that there is no way I could have room to thank everyone individually. Instead, I will group everyone together and thank you for whatever part you took in the festival, from set up to cooking and serving to clean up and everything else, including those who just came as customers to enjoy and to support the parish. Thank you for your help with this very successful and important event for our parish.

I also offer my thanks to those who supported “Respect Life Sunday” last week. Our “Life Chain” was well attended, and those who took part had a very quiet and prayerful experience. In addition, our parish offered some very good support to the Birthright collection after each of the Masses last weekend.

I also realize that it has been a while since I have giving you a medical update on some of our priest friends. There has not been all that much to report. Fr. Michael Maranowski has settled in as parochial vicar at Saint Thomas More Parish in Bethel Park. If you ask him how he feels, he invariably responds, “With my hands.” But if you ask him more seriously about his health, he just says that he is taking things one day at a time. Meanwhile, he is fully functioning as a priest and is settling in at his new assignment.

For Fr. Patrick O’Brien, it is also a case of taking things one day at a time. He keeps telling me that he is hoping to come back and resume celebrating Mass for us, though he has not been able to say when he would be able to do that. So currently, we are keeping him on the schedule in case he can return, but each week I consider that I will have the Mass for which he is scheduled. I will let you know if anything different comes up. Meanwhile, please keep praying for him.

Finally, if you notice that the ushers seem to be “lurking” in the aisles during Mass, they are counting people. Each year the diocese requires us to count the number of people attending each Sunday Mass during month of October. The trends in the “October count” over the years is part of the data that has been used in preparing the models for On Mission for the Church Alive.

                                                                                               Father H                  

Monday, October 3, 2016

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 2, 2016

This is the fourth week that our bulletin includes a flyer from the Diocese on the initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. By now I hope we are realizing that there are changes coming in the diocese and in every parish. Last week, in the flyer and in my bulletin column, you read that Bishop Zubik is asking us to take part in setting the direction for these changes. Please remember that the diocese is holding consultation meetings in each parish, with ours scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, October 25 and 26 at 7:00 in church. Please come to one of those two meetings so that we can be part of the process. You do not have to attend both. We are scheduled for two days so that more people can be present. Each meeting will present the same information.

The goal of this process is to make the Church stronger at this time of change. For instance, the life of the parish begins with the celebration of the Mass. When I began my time as your pastor, one of the two promises I made was that I would always try to celebrate Mass in a way that was both reverent and joyful. Yet many parishes are finding that it is hard to offer dynamic liturgies if there are fewer people attending and fewer people taking an active part in the various ministries of the liturgy. We want to create vibrant parishes that are built upon the foundation of the Eucharist.

In quite a few parishes, many groups are finding it difficult to maintain the same kind of activities they have had in the past, whether spiritual, social or service-oriented. We want to build parishes where many such activities can take place and where everyone can find some way to be involved.
In quite a few parishes, the children feel left out because there are fewer of them involved in the school or the religious education program. My other promise upon my arrival at St. Malachy, along with reverent and joyful celebrations of the liturgy, was to be involved with the children in the school and the CCD program. This aspect is particularly dear to my heart, and I truly want to see vibrant parishes where the children can grow in their love of God and learn from an early age that the faith is the most important aspect in their lives.

The diocese has enrolled the help of the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI), a consultative group that specializes in building the Catholic Church to be stronger, in this mission. CLI runs a leadership program for priests known as “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds,” which I completed shortly after my arrival at St. Malachy. (Our former pastor, Fr. Michael, was part of the same program while he was here.) They also run a program for lay people who have leadership roles in parishes. Several of our people have taken “Tending the Talents.” Now CLI has been helping us devise some proposed models for the way the diocese may take shape in the future. But as I said last week, Bishop Zubik wants our input. Your participation at the meetings on October 25 and 26 is vital to helping the diocese move forward. Please set aside time on one of those two evenings to come and participate. Let’s make the Diocese of Pittsburgh a model of faith for the Church throughout the United States.

                                                                                              Father H                  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 25, 2016

Some people may remember when we were told that it takes three things to be a good Catholic: pray, pay and obey. If we prayed our rosary (often while the priest was praying in Latin during Mass), we were off to a good start. We also had to put money in the collection basket and then simply do what the priests or bishops told us. The image from that little saying was that others ran the Church, and we just got what we could out of it. That was never the Church’s view of what a Catholic is, and we have really tried to go to a deeper level since the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago.

Especially since the Council, but for many ages before, the Church has spoken of the Universal Call to Holiness, the concept that every baptized person is called to take part in the life of the Church and to grow to be ready for the eternal joy of heaven. As Pope Francis said, “Holiness is not the prerogative of only a few: holiness is a gift that is offered to all, without exception, so that it constitutes the distinctive character of every Christian.” In a deeper sense, that means that the Church is not made up of only priests and bishops, with people in the pews just sitting back and enjoying the ride. The truth is that every Catholic is called to build the kingdom of God and to live in holiness.

By our baptism, we are called to build the Church. The most basic way we can carry out that task is to take part in the work of evangelization, trying to attract people to follow Christ. That does not mean that we stand on a street corner passing out pamphlets and, more likely than not, drawing funny looks from the people who pass us by. If we simply live our faith day in and day out, we become attractive to those who are searching for the truth. But at this time, we also have to be ready for the changes that are coming.

At this current point in history, the faithful of the Diocese of Pittsburgh have a special opportunity to shape the direction of the Church. Blessed John Henry Newman once said, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” The Diocese of Pittsburgh is currently taking part in On Mission for the Church Alive. The past few weeks, we have been hearing and reading about our need for change. The flyer in today’s bulletin reminds us that we have a role in the entire process. The diocese will be holding special meetings in every parish. Here at St. Malachy, our meetings will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, October 25 and 26. Both meetings are at 7:00 pm in Fr. Weirauch Hall. I invite every parishioner to come and listen to what some of the possible proposals for the local Church might be. And I invite everyone to come prepared to offer our thoughts to Bishop Zubik. He has assured us that no decisions have been made, and none will be made until he has heard from every parish. It is up to each of us to listen with open hearts and open minds, taking into consideration the situation the Church is facing, and to pray about what God is asking of us. It is up to each of us to offer our thoughts on the process to the Bishop. We are the Church, and we have a special part to play in determining the future of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and all of its parishes.
                                                                                                      Father H      

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 18, 2016

I want to try to balance two separate topics today. The more I think about it, the more I suspect that they should work together. I will let you be the judge of how successfully I bring them together.

Today’s bulletin has the second in a series of flyers about the diocesan initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. Last week’s flyer informed us, “Things are going to change.” Today’s installment asks the obvious follow-up question, “Why do we have to change?” The truth of the matter is that the world is changing around us, and some of the changes present real challenges to us. Statistics show that 60 to 70% of US Catholics no longer practice their faith. The ones who do practice most are the “Baby Boomer” generation. But as we Boomers get older, the succeeding generations are coming along with less of a connection to the faith. Experts say that if we do nothing, there will be 50% fewer people receiving the sacraments in twenty-five years.

That is the bad news. The good news is that we can address the issue. Bishop Zubik is challenging the Church in Pittsburgh to look at how we can bring Christ into the world as it is now. There will be meetings in each parish to address where we are and where we are going. We want to meet the new situation head-on and be ready for it. I think of a line from C. S. Lewis’ novel Out of the Silent Planet. When the protagonist, after protests and self-pity, accepts his duty and goes on a dangerous journey, he reflects, “It was the difference between a landsman in a sinking ship and a horseman on a bolting horse: either may be killed, but the horseman is an agent as well as a patient.” We can sit back and wait for the changes, leaving us to worry about dwindling congregations and fewer priests, or else we can address them and build the Church to be a light in the darkness of our secular world.

To help us address these issues, the Diocese is holding information meetings in every parish. Ours will be on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 25 and 26. Each meeting will be in Father Weirauch Hall at 7:00. I hope that everyone will come to one of those meetings, listen with open hearts, and be prepared to offer any constructive thoughts you may have.

In the meantime, the other issue I want to address today is a way we continue to build the Church for the future. Today is Catechetical Sunday, when we recognize the many people who give of their time and talents to build up our parish Religious Education programs. I thank our Catechetical Administrator Steven Swank and all the volunteers who give of themselves in our CCD program and all our other catechetical programs.

The theme for Catechetical Sunday this year is “Prayer: The Faith Prayed.” It is a call for us to grow closer to Christ in prayer so that we can show His love to all those whom we meet. And if we do that, then we truly can build the Church in faith to be strong and vibrant in the future. We can truly be – and truly bring about – the Church Alive.

                                                                                       Father H      

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 11, 2016

For well over a year now, at Bishop Zubik’s request, we have been concluding the Universal Prayer at Sunday Mass with the prayer for the initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. Bishop Zubik knew that it was important to begin such a major initiative with prayer, as over the past months a number of studies have been going on to prepare for the future. Today, as will be the case in the next few weeks, there is a special insert in our bulletin concerning this initiative. I urge you to read that insert, and I would like to devote my column over these weeks to what is happening.

Today’s supplement to the bulletin is titled Things are Going to Change. On a superficial level, I hope that statement is obvious to us. We sometimes act as if everything should be the same as we remember from our younger days, but the world is changing all around us. We have to be faithful to the eternal truths that point us to an unchanging God, but we have to live those truths in a changing world. It is sometimes difficult to keep the balance between the eternal that we old on to and the circumstances in which we express it.

One of the changes we have seen is in the number of people coming to church each Sunday. This is not a problem just within St. Malachy Parish or any other parish. It is not limited to Pittsburgh, nor is it an issue with the Catholic Church. Throughout our society, all across the country (and in much of the world), our society is becoming more and more secular. There are fewer and fewer people coming to church each week, and there are fewer young men entering the priesthood. That is a reality that the diocese has to deal with, and On Mission is looking for ways to sustain the Church well into the future.

At the same time, however, we have the unchangeable truth that our faith is founded on the dying and rising of Christ. He has called us to Himself and has given us new life. This gift is not a private privilege that we keep to ourselves. Christ also told His disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) So On Mission is not a way of circling the wagons and waiting for the end. Bishop Zubik is not leaving us with the message, “Last one out, turn off the lights.” Rather, this is a way of saying that we have to make the best use of our energies and our resources so that we can be the sign to our culture that Christ is still with us. It may seem that they are not listening, but the Letter to the Hebrews describes the Word of God as “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword.” Even if we do not see the end result, we know that God will not abandon us.

In coming weeks, we will see and hear more about On Mission for the Church Alive, and you will hear about how all of us can take part. Today for the first part of this series, I simply entreat you to live the faith and trust that God will guide this process. As a bishop says to a newly-ordained priest in the ordination liturgy, “May God, who has begun the good work in you, bring it to completion.”
                                                                                                    Father H

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 4, 2016

Going to Pirates games is one of my most enjoyable diversions, but it is also a source of exercise for me. That’s because I enjoy walking. I often park at Station Square and walk across the Smithfield Street Bridge, through downtown, and across the Roberto Clemente Bridge to the ballpark. That often becomes a time of prayer for me, and I don’t have to sit in traffic in the PNC Park lots. (It’s also easier to get home now that West Carson Street is open.)

On my walks through town, I often see people sitting by the side with handmade signs asking for help. And frankly, I’m never quite sure about the best way to deal with these situations. On the one hand, we are called to be a Church of the Poor, and here are the poor staring us in the face. And yet I have heard people who should know telling us that giving money to people on the street is not the best approach. There may be some mental illness or addiction, in which case some experts suggest that it would be better to donate to some agency or group that helps with such cases. Our monthly donations to the FOR Center in McKees Rocks have truly shown the generosity of the wonderful people of St. Malachy. Within our parish, we have the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, a group of volunteers who respond to all kinds of needs of the poor in our neighborhood. Theirs is not a public ministry, meaning that they do not do their work in front of everyone. Their ministry is often anonymous, with only those who receive help knowing of all that they do.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society is funded from donations, primarily those in the Poor Boxes in our church. That money helps people where they need it. The members of the society speak to those in need and help determine what their need really is. They can provide food or help with other necessities, but they can also advise people and help them get the help that they need.

The question of how to help those in need came up when I was on vacation. A family showed up in our parking lot asking for help after one of the Sunday Masses. They were back the next weekend, after my vacation, and they took me by surprise. (It appears that ours is not the only parish where they were begging.) The presence of people in the parking lot raised a further question for me. Certainly we want to help, but if word gets around that the parking lot is a good place to beg, then others will follow. Probably the best thing in such cases is to direct them to call the parish and ask to be put in contact with someone from the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

I did hear a leader of a Catholic aid group being interviewed once, and someone asked him if we should give to people begging on the street. He did not answer one way or another, but he did have a suggestion. He wanted us to see the human dignity that God has given to such people. In other words, if we do not give something, we should not pretend we didn’t see them. Rather, give them at least a smile and a kind word.

On a different note, please remember that Monday is Labor Day. Our Mass will be at 9:00 that morning, and the parish office will be closed.                                      

                                                                                          Father H                  

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 28, 2016

Some years ago there was a book with an intriguing title, Why Catholics Can’t Sing. I did not read the book, though someone I know did read it and was not impressed. What concerns me today is simply that a book with such a title would sell as much as it did. It seems that we Catholics have a reputation for being rather quiet and not taking a full part in the Liturgy. I can think of a couple of personal experiences. One involved my vacation a few years ago. I went to a church and sat in the pew like anyone else. The pastor came up to me to find out who I was, for he had heard me singing along with the organist, even over everyone else in church. I think he was a bit disappointed to find out I was a visiting priest since that meant he couldn’t try to recruit me for the choir.

The other experience happened some years ago in another parish. The parish I was in at the time took part in a “pulpit swap” with the local Protestant churches. That meant that one weekend I had to go to an evangelical church to speak at their service. I felt strange to hear members of the congregation calling out “Amen, brother” or “Preach it, Preacher.” Once I got used to it, they really got my juices flowing. At Mass the next day I had to remind myself not to expect the same response.

I do have my own theory as to why we have a reputation for being quiet. I suspect that part of it goes back to the days when Mass was in Latin. The priest would say his part, and the servers would respond on behalf of the assembly. The people sat or knelt in reverent silence, in awe of the mysteries being celebrated on their behalf. When Vatican II began to promote full and active participation in the Liturgy, it was difficult for people to change ingrained habits. Even many of those who are too young to have experienced the Mass in Latin grew up with parents who had a hard time coming out of their shells.

Yet the Mass belongs to all of us, and we all have a hand in making it a joyful and reverent celebration. For some, that means taking an active part as a Lector, Eucharistic Minister, Choir member or in some other way. For many others, that active participation will simply mean putting everything we have into our prayers, responses and hymns. I don’t even care if you sing on key. If you have a beautiful singing voice, you can inspire those around you to find the joy in singing out. And if you cannot sing well, that’s even better, for you will inspire others around you to sing loudly enough to drown you out. Either way, if we take a full part in what is happening, we become more a part of the Eucharistic mystery, and we appreciate it much more deeply. We get more out of the Mass when we put more into it.

Of course, I also welcome the “participation” of those too young to participate. As I like to remind people periodically, we welcome families to bring babies and small children. They may not always be quiet, but their noises are a refreshing reminder to us that God is renewing the Church by sending us a new generation.

                                                                                   Father H                  

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 21, 2016

 On my recent vacation, I spent a few days relaxing by staying at the seminary that I attended before my ordination. Mount St. Mary’s is convenient for day trips to Washington, Baltimore and Gettysburg, and it is also a prayerful and pleasant place to relax. I was there at a very quiet time, when all the summer camps that use the campus were finished and just before the seminary and university students returned for a new year. One night I went for a walk around campus before going to bed, and I saw three young people whom I took to be college students (but who turned out to be residents of the nearby town). They seemed to be very interested in the campus, even while staring at their phones. I had to go up and ask them if they were hunting Pokémon Go characters. One of them asked if it was that obvious, but just then her companion yelled, “I got one.”

At the beginning of my vacation, I spent a day with my nephew, his wife and their eight-year-old son. My nephew and his son were Pokémon hunting throughout the day, and he gave me a little glimpse into how this trend works. There are certain spots where you can find one of these characters, but only if you have the proper app on your phone. I suppose that the company enters certain coordinates into their app so that if your phone is at the right place, you find these characters. You then try to entice them or trick them with the app so that you “capture” them and then take them with you. I thought there had to be some way to use that craze in a homily, but I think I’ll use it in today’s column. After all, there is going to be some hunting going on starting this week. School begins.

First of all, many of us go through life not knowing that we are surrounded by Pokémon characters (and, for myself, not caring). Many people go through life not knowing (or caring) about the wisdom that is available to us. The greatest wisdom, of course, is to know God. There are signs of His goodness all around us. How easily we miss these signs, however, because we are busy with our own concerns.

To find a Pokémon, you need an app. To find wisdom, particularly as it relates to God, you need more than an app. You need teachers who are willing to offer guidance as well as information. You need tools such as critical thinking that a school can impart so that you can use what you learn, as you need to “train” your Pokémon. This week, the hunt for wisdom begins. Our new principal Mrs. Militzer, our staff and our teachers join me in the excitement of welcoming the students back to St. Malachy School. I admit that I still think school is not supposed to begin until after Labor Day, as when I was a child. But still I am excited to begin a new year and to see the students grow (in the same way Luke’s gospel describes the child Jesus growing) in wisdom, age and grace.

The young people I saw hunting Pokémon Go characters were very excited at the challenge and at each discovery. I pray that our students, teachers and families are just as excited at finding the wisdom that is God’s special gift to us.
                                                                                   Father H                  

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 14, 2016

Summer is not over yet, so imagine yourself at a swimming pool. When you first test the water, it feels a little chilly. How do you get in? Some people ease in, going just the first step and then waiting until their feet adapt to the water before going any further. Others prefer to dive right in and get the shock all at once. I personally am somewhere in between, easing in up until my knees, and then I plunge underwater. Members of either group, though, may first spend some time beside the pool, wondering if they are ready.

Getting into the pool can give us some insight into entering the Church. Pretty soon we will begin a new session of the RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The RCIA was originally designed for those who were never baptized, but it can also include those who were baptized in another Christian faith or those who were baptized Catholics but were never raised in the faith. It can also serve as a “refresher course” for those who simply want to experience their faith on a deeper level.

We recognize that people come into the Church much as they would get into a pool. Some may have a profound experience of faith and be ready to jump right in. Others, of course, are not sure they are ready for such a commitment. They may want to ease in, and many may have been sitting by the side of the pool for some years. The RCIA is designed for such people. When we hold the first session, we do not make you sign any sort of binding contract. The beginning of the process is called the “inquiry,” for this period is designed for those who have questions and are exploring whether or not they may want to become Catholic. If they choose not to, there are no hard feelings. Others, of course, may be ready. They still go through the period of inquiry, but they may see that stage as preparation for the next part when they will go even deeper.

Ultimately, of course, we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us. That, in fact, is why we have the process as it is set up. We used to speak of “convert classes” for those wanting to become Catholic. The RCIA is not about classes, though catechetical (teaching) sessions make up the biggest part of it. But to borrow the old line, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” In other words, our faith is not about learning theology or memorizing Scripture. Our faith is about discovering the Person of Jesus Christ and the love that God has for us. That kind of faith does not always fit a human timetable, and so we try to guide and help each candidate.

Perhaps you know someone who might possibly be interested in the Catholic Church – a non-Catholic spouse, a friend or a co-worker – or perhaps you are in one of those groups and a friend has passed this column along to you. Even if you are not ready to come into the Church but would like to know more about what it is we believe, we invite you to come and find out. Feel free to call the rectory at 412-771-5483. Or as we used to say at the pool, “Come on in; the water’s fine.”                                      
                                                                                           Father H                  

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 7, 2016

One day in the comic strip Frank & Ernest, the two main characters were working in the same office, sitting at desks side-by-side. Ernest had bags under his eyes, and his hair was all messed up. Frank said to him, “You must have had a great vacation, Ernie. You look terrible.” That reminds me of the old definition of vacation that I heard years ago. Vacation is “two weeks which are too short, after which you are too tired to return to work and too broke not to.”

I am on vacation as you read these words. If you read my column last week, you may expect me to return like Ernest. I like to have a rather frenetic vacation, with a whole lot of baseball (six games in Tampa Bay, followed by minor league games on my drive back north), and with other activities and tours in the various cities I visit. As someone once told me, “It sounds like you need a vacation from your vacation.” That’s what my second week usually ends up being. I’m not crazy about the idea of sitting around and doing nothing, but I do like to take something of a restful time.

For years I would come back from my baseball trip and spend a week or so at my father’s apartment. He and I would go out to eat each day and maybe go to a movie or go play miniature golf. I would also work on organizing the photos I took during my trip, which is a lot more fun now that all my photos are digital and kept on my hard drive. After Dad’s death in 2011, I had to find a new way to approach that second week. This year I am heading back to my alma mater, Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. They always welcome alumni who want to spend some time. I can still do some interesting things; Gettysburg is very close, and it is not very far to get to Baltimore or even Washington. And the campus there is a great place just to go for a walk and spend some time in prayer. As I like to say, the seminary can be a very relaxing place when you don’t have classes, tests, papers and so forth. The nice thing is that I can go to bed each night without any specific plans on what to do the next day. I can decide at any moment what I feel like doing and can relax when the mood strikes.

Our faith teaches us that we live as part of a community, and that we should be willing to give of ourselves for others. To make that gift, though, we occasionally need to recharge our batteries. It can be a priest on vacation, or it can be a couple leaving their kids with a sitter while they go out to a fancy restaurant. But we are never completely alone. God is with us, and He never takes a vacation. For me, Emmitsburg is a very prayerful place, and a visit at this stage of vacation is a chance for me to give thanks for all that I have experienced. It is also a chance for me to remember that I am getting refreshed to serve St. Malachy Parish for another year.

So I when you see me next, I hope you won’t say, “You must have had a great vacation, Father H. You look terrible.” But I will warn you that if you see me walking around with my laptop computer, run. Otherwise I might catch you and say, “You want to see my vacation pictures?”
                                                                                       Father H                  

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 31, 2016

  As you read this column, I am on vacation in Florida. At this point you may be asking, “Who goes to Florida in the summer?” As you may remember, I take my vacation to visit a Major League Baseball city. I tour various parts of the city each day (historical sites, art museums, etc.), and I see five or six games. Of course I have to write my column before I leave for vacation. So I customarily write about what I plan on doing, making it my “postcard” to my parish family. Since this is still the Pastor’s Ponderings, I try to make some spiritual point in this column.

When I first started taking my baseball-themed vacations, the Pirates were still playing at Three Rivers Stadium. When I would go to a different ballpark, I would get jealous. Even when the park itself wasn’t the greatest, there would be something that I wished we had, such as natural grass. Since the Pirates moved into PNC Park, I always feel a little smug that we have such a beautiful place for baseball. That was especially true the first year that PNC Park was open. That year I went to see the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium. “The Big O,” as they called it (or, since it still wasn’t fully paid off, “The Big Owe”) was absolutely the worst place I have ever been for a Major League game. I truly believe that Olympic Stadium is one very real reason why the Expos failed, and I still hope that someday Montreal gets another team, with a better facility.

This year I am visiting Tampa-St. Petersburg to watch the Tampa Bay Rays. I will see three games against the New York Yankees and three with the defending World Champion Kansas City Royals. And I will see Tropicana Field, which may (from what I have heard) challenge Olympic Stadium for the title of the worst ballpark I have seen. “The Trop” will be the thirty-fifth big league park I have seen, starting with our own Forbes Field. The dome of the stadium has catwalks for maintenance crew, and a fly ball sometimes hits the catwalks. They have special ground rules for just such an occurrence.

I love seeing the beautiful ballparks like Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Wrigley Field in Chicago or Camden Yards in Baltimore. But it is also fun to see places like Tropicana Field or Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. That’s when I realize that I love baseball no matter where it’s played. And since I’m supposed to make a spiritual point, it reminds me that the same point applies even more to our churches. We are fortunate to have such a beautiful church here at St. Malachy. As I’ve said before, I fell in love with St. Malachy when I visited as a newly ordained priest stationed in McKees Rocks and in the many times I visited Fr. Michael while he was here. But what is really important is the Eucharist we celebrate on our altar. Our beautiful church enhances that experience, but it is a great mystery no matter where it is celebrated. Once, when I was going through a renovation at Nativity, we had our weekend Masses in the gym, but our weekday Masses in the cafeteria. After the school had finished using the gym, I asked the people if they would rather move the weekday Masses to the gym as well. They decided to keep things as they were, but one woman told me, “Father, if you celebrate Mass in the parking lot, I will be there. It’s the Eucharist that matters.”

                                                                                              Father H                  

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 24, 2016

  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has designated this week as “Natural Family Planning Awareness Week.” I think the key word here is “awareness.” Many people know that the Catholic Church teaches that contraception is a serious wrong. Very few, however, realize the depth of the Church’s teaching or the beauty of living love in the way that God created us to share it. Even some of the theologians who oppose our teaching did not have a full understanding. One of my seminary professors was asked to join a group of theologians who opposed Blessed Pope Paul’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, even before the encyclical was published. He told them he wanted to read the document before he commented on it, but they wanted their statement to come out at the same time as the Pope’s. My professor waited to read the document and then realized how beautiful Blessed Paul’s teaching was.

Rather than go into a theological explanation of the Church’s teaching, which would take more than the space I have here, I would like to focus on that “awareness.” Some years ago I had the opportunity to work with a group of couples from across the diocese who were supporting the Church’s teaching, and I got to hear their stories. Many of them spoke of how Natural Family Planning had helped their marriage. One couple said that they used contraception in early years of their marriage. One day they were talking to their priest, and the wife argued that her husband had a very strong sex drive and that she didn’t feel like she could ask him to abstain. The husband heard her say that, and he realized that she just claimed he was no better than an animal who could not control his desires. He told her that he loved her and that their marriage was worth making a sacrifice. Since then, they found that they each had to be more aware of and open to the other’s needs. They had to communicate more about their relationship, and they had to find other ways of showing love to each other.

This Monday is the anniversary of the publication of Humanae Vitae. Blessed Pope Paul expressed a number of concerns of what would happen if contraception would become widespread. He said that it would lead to a rise in infidelity and divorce and that irresponsibility would be “rewarded.” He also stated that men would give into the ever-present temptation and come to regard women as “a mere instrument for selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.” We have seen how Blessed Pope Paul’s warnings have all come true. On the other hand, I have seen couples who have lived the Church’s teaching and have come to realize how beautiful it is. And to all married couples, please know that I am praying that God may strengthen your love for one another and for your families, to know His presence in your homes as you live the gift of marriage day by day.

On a different matter, please note that I will be away from the parish on my vacation starting this Tuesday evening through August 12.

                                                                                     Father H

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 17, 2016

     Every week, as I write this column, I try to come up with something that will inform or inspire you – well, almost every week. But here we are in the middle of summer, when we are supposed to be a little more relaxed. So I thought that instead of giving you some deep thoughts, I would simply try to offer something to bring a smile to your face. Toward that end, I offer some excerpts from a newsletter that I receive periodically called The Joyful Noiseletter. It is a publication of “The Fellowship of Merry Christians,” a non-denominational group dedicated to helping Christ’s followers to be ever joyful and to see humor in their lives. They allow members to reprint their items in church bulletins, so I thought I would share a few examples.

“A pastor friend put sanitary hot-air hand dryers in the restrooms of his church. But after two weeks, he removed them. I asked him why and he confessed that they worked fine, but one day when he went into the restroom, he saw a sign above the dryer that said, ‘For a sample of this week’s sermon, push the button.’” (Fr. John Trimbur, St. Joseph Parish, Austintown, Ohio.)

Rev. Harry Mahoney (from Dedham, MA) wrote of an elderly woman who loved the movie The Wizard of Oz so much that she requested a song from the show be played at her funeral. When the time came for her funeral, someone arranged to have a CD with the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” But the person in control hit the wrong button at first, and the congregation heard “The Wicked Witch is Dead.”

The same member writes that a little boy heard the minister talking about the Ten Commandments and said that his mommy had already taught him three of them: “Settle down,” “Act your age” and “Take that out of your mouth.”

A few years ago The Joyful Newsletter published one of my own contributions. I had been traveling one summer when I went to a fairly new parish that was raising money to purchase hymnals. In the meantime, they were printing the lyrics to each week’s hymns in the bulletin of that Sunday. The weekend I was there, the mass ended with the hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” We didn’t make it through the second verse though. The line “All Christians come and sing to Him Who set us free” had been mistyped. The entire congregation began laughing when they sang the advice, “All Christians, come and sin.”

I also had one other submission printed. The late Fr. Walter Mahler, a Pittsburgh priest and long-time navy chaplain, would occasionally begin a meal with the following prayer: “Good of goodness, bless this food. Keep us in a pleasant mood. Bless the cooks and those who serve us. And from indigestion, Lord, preserve us.”

C. S. Lewis wrote, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” G. K. Chesterton tells us, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly,” and also adds, “Satan fell through force of gravity.” So I hope that these brief notes bring a smile to your faith and to remember St. Paul’s advice to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again, rejoice.”
                                                                                           Father H                  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 10, 2016

Two men were sitting on a park bench. One of them said, “I really value hard work. I could sit and watch someone work for hours.” I hope I’m not that man, but I have been enjoying watching people work. Let me explain that during the school year, I usually have lunch with the school kids and then help to supervise their recess. In summer I eat lunch more quickly (but I get some time for reading), and then I take my “recess” by taking a walk and praying the rosary. I can usually get through the fourth mystery by the time I get to McCoy Road, and then I turn around and come back. And lately I have been walking around the parish property when I get back, which gives me a chance to watch some work. I try to tell myself that, as pastor, it is my job to supervise. In reality, I am just being (in Pittsburgh lingo) nebby.

Some of the work I’ve been watching has had to do with the painting of the church window frames. That may not be as exciting since we may not see as much of a difference in the finished product, but it does keep the church looking fresh. More importantly, the job helps inhibit any rust and will keep us structurally sound.

The more exciting job is the resurfacing of the parking lot, especially knowing that we are getting extra parking spaces in the lower lot. In addition, we are getting new lines on the lot. That means that drivers will no longer have to guess where the parking spaces are. I sometimes wonder if some drivers don’t just throw it into neutral and leave the car wherever it stops. In any event, it will be great to have a fresh parking lot.

Both of these projects are the result of the Campaign for the Church Alive, the diocesan capital campaign that Bishop Zubik asked every parish to take part in. What that means is that the work I have been watching is the direct result of your generosity. The people of St. Malachy have responded well enough that we have been able to do these two jobs and more before them. You have come through beautifully. But this also is a good time for me to remind people that we are still paying on the pledges that we have made. If you pledged to the campaign, please continue to make the payments as you have promised.

St. Malachy Parish is a wonderful community, in part because of how well we work together. The Campaign for the Church Alive, Parish Share, and other such projects are financial examples. As a pastor, I have to talk about the money issues every so often. But rather than make a column about money, I prefer to write about the signs of what our parish can accomplish. So let’s enjoy our fresh parking lot and our newly painted window frames. Let’s continue to build up a community of faith. And while we’re at it, let’s enjoy watching people work.
                                                                                                 Father H          

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 3, 2016

As we celebrate Independence Day, I would like to reflect on one of the most powerful pieces of oratory in our nation’s history, Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. With the nation growing weary of the war, Lincoln had come close to losing the election of 1864. By the time his second term officially began, on March 4, 1865, the war was close to being over. The war would end about a month later (and Lincoln would die shortly thereafter), but his inaugural address was not triumphalistic or vengeful. Rather, it offered healing. He concluded his speech with one of the most beautiful passages of American history: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

“With malice toward none, with charity for all.” The tone of political discourse today has gotten so bitter and that political campaigns are so negative. I have studied history enough to know that this age is not unique. The bitter comments of today are hardly worse than those which surrounded, for instance, the rivalry between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. (Interestingly, those two ended up as the best of friends. In a piece of real irony, each one died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of The Declaration of Independence.) Yet Lincoln reminded all of us that we can rise above the bitter partisanship. Each of us can try to inject a tone of charity even into discussions with those with whom we disagree.

“As God gives us to see the right.” Our Founding Fathers learned from many different political philosophers in creating our nation. There have been many ideas and cultural trends that have shaped our land over the years. We pray that the people and the leaders of the United States may never forget to turn to God for guidance and build our nation on His will.

“To finish the work we are in.” Lincoln’s words, of course, referred to the Civil War and all that would follow from it. We can also understand “the work we are in” to mean the task of creating a land of liberty and justice for all, including the widow and the orphan of whom Lincoln spoke. That task is ongoing. As long as there is injustice in this land, and as long as the weakest among us (including the unborn) are in danger, we have “to strive on to finish the work we are in.” Only then can we truly “achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Happy Independence Day, and please note that the parish office will be closed on Monday, July, 4. The morning Mass that day will be at 9:00 instead of 7:15.

                                                                                                            Father H