Saturday, January 30, 2016

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 31, 2016

 As a newly ordained priest, almost thirty years ago, I reported to my first assignment at St. Francis de Sales in McKees Rocks, eager to find out just what I would be doing. One of the first people I met there was the principal of the Catholic school, Mr. Joseph P. Day. He talked about how much he would like me to be involved with the school, and I got the impression that Parochial Vicars always spent a lot of time in the school. I suppose I had misunderstood, which I realized when one of the teachers remarked that I was showing more of an interest in the school than any of the previous priests.

I doubt that it was Joe’s intent to fool me, but it did not matter. I had come to love teaching and otherwise being involved with the school. When I was transferred to St. Gabriel in Whitehall, I begged Fr. Haney for an opportunity to teach and to be involved. It turns out that I did not have to beg, for he expected it of me. At one point, though, I made the mistake of saying that I wanted to enjoy the experience while I was an assistant, for I know that many pastors thought mostly of the headaches that could come with running a school. He told me never to say that. As pastor, he considered the school to be the life of the parish and could never imagine having to be without a school. Now I have been a pastor for more than seventeen years – over half my priesthood – and I full agree with Fr. Haney. One of the greatest blessings of my priesthood is that I have never been without a school. And when I was coming here, the director of the Clergy Office remarked that they knew they needed to send me to a parish with a school. I am thankful that they recognized that aspect of my ministry.

This week we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, and I am so grateful to be part of St. Malachy School. It truly does bring a lively spirit to our parish, and this week we celebrate what it means to us. But of course the main advantage is what the school brings to our students. Our school offers first-rate academics to our children, but it also offers so much more. Catholic schools go beyond academics to help form the entire person. Obviously a big part of that is spiritual formation. We see our faith at the heart of who we are, and as a result, we see the teachings of Christ at the root of what it means to be human. St. Malachy School supports the parents in forming young men and women who can bring the values of Christ to every aspect of their lives. If I may borrow the slogan from my alma mater, Duquesne University, we provide an “Education for the mind, heart and spirit.”

Our school has had a very good year. Enrollment is up this year, and the students are doing very well. Our faculty excels at teaching and shows a real concern for the good of the girls and boys who have been entrusted to their care. The families are working together to make our school strong well into the future. We have real hope that the St. Malachy class of 2026 (our current three-year-old pre-schoolers) will know that the tradition of a St. Malachy education is still going strong when they send their children to our school.
                                                                                                            Father H                  

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 24, 2016

  Last week I wrote about the role of sponsors in the sacraments of Baptism (where the sponsors are usually called godparents) and Confirmation. Again, this is a role of faith, with requirements set in place to assure that the sponsors are truly living their Catholic faith in a way that the newly baptized or confirmed can try to emulate. The goal is to help bring people into the Catholic faith in a way in which the faith becomes the most important element in our life. Today I would like to add a few related notes concerning sponsors.

A child being baptized is required to have one sponsor. At a time when life expectancy was not what it is today, parents worried about who would raise their children if something happened to them. Many parents wanted to make sure that their children were raised with Catholic values. So the role of “godparents” began to include the promise to raise the children if the parents should be unable to do so. That is when many parents began to invite a couple to serve. Today it is the norm for a child to have a godfather and a godmother. It is still perfectly acceptable to have only one sponsor. For Confirmation, the custom of one sponsor has continued. There may be two sponsors for Confirmation if the candidate wants both of his godparents to stand for him for the sacrament.

The requirement to have one sponsor for Baptism opens up the possibility of a “Christian witness.” As long as the child being baptized has one official sponsor, the family can have a non-Catholic who is not an actual sponsor but who has a similar role. This would be someone baptized in another Christian denomination who can support the child by a witness of Christian life. The question sometimes comes up about those who are Catholic but are not living their Catholic faith. Such a person cannot be a Christian witness. Catholics are bound to live by the Catholic faith, and so they cannot be considered as a non-Catholic Christian witness. But someone who is living the teachings of his or her faith and has been baptized into a Christian community can be a Christian witness. As with families who have two Catholic sponsors, the Christian witness must be the opposite sex of the official godparent. We cannot have two godmothers or two godfathers.

There are times when something prevents a sponsor from being present. I have had situations of sponsors serving in the military or being ill or for some other reason not being able to be present. In that case, the sponsor can still serve as sponsor, but he or she has to have someone physically present at the baptism. In that case, the parents designate a “proxy” to stand for the sponsor. The important note is that the proxy must meet the same qualifications at the Catholic sponsor. Someone who does not qualify as a sponsor cannot serve as a proxy.

Questions about sponsors come up frequently in my experience. I hope that these columns last week and this can help to clear up some understanding of what sponsors are all about.
                                                                             Father H                  

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 17, 2016

Some time ago I went to a restaurant, and two waitresses came to my table. One of them was recently hired and was learning the job. So they assigned her to one of the veteran waitresses, who was guiding her along and helping her learn the job. Of course, they assigned her to someone who was good at the job and could give her good advice on how to relate to different kinds of situations. A mentor and guide can be helpful on a job, and is even more important for a major life commitment.

An example of such a commitment could be the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. In each case, we are making a life-long commitment to dedicate ourselves totally to God through the Catholic Church. As important as that is, we do not do it by ourselves. We need the help and support of someone who is more advanced that we are, someone who is a good example of how to live our Catholic faith. We call that person a “sponsor,” though we can just as well use the common term for baptism sponsors, “godparents.”
The role of sponsor is to help bring someone into the Catholic faith, with the understanding that our faith will be the most important part of our lives. Therefore, the person who serves that role should be a good role model for Catholic living. The sponsor should be able to help the newly baptized or confirmed to live more thoroughly by the Church’s teaching. Therefore, sponsors should be living that faith in their own lives. That is why someone who is asked to be a sponsor must get a letter from his or her pastor, stating that they meet the basic requirements.

The view of the Church is that a sponsor has to be mature enough to serve as a role model of faith. Therefore, sponsors should be at least 16 years old. The law of the Church does give pastors some room for discretion for a younger person whom I judge to be sufficiently mature. In addition, the sponsor has to be fully initiated into the Catholic faith. That means that to be a sponsor, one must have received the Sacrament of Confirmation. I do not have any authority to relax that requirement, as I do with the age requirement, because it is important that the sponsor be fully a part of the Church.

The other requirement is a little harder to pin down, but a sponsor must be actively living the Catholic faith. There are two important points that I always look for here. First of all, a sponsor has to be going to Mass regularly. The Eucharist is the most important part of our identity as Catholics, and we have to be taking a regular part in the Mass. After all, we are making a commitment that the candidate will come to Mass regularly, so our candidates deserve someone who will be an example of that commitment. Also, if the sponsor is married, then the marriage has to be valid as a sacrament. In other words, they have to be married in the Catholic Church.

There is more to be said on this topic, and I will continue it next week.
                                                                         Father H                  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Baptism of the Lord - Sunday, January 10, 2016

Today is the official end of the Christmas season. But for most people, the “holidays” ended last week. Now that we are getting back to normal, I want to catch up on some thoughts that got a little backed up during Christmas. Because we had to submit our bulletins early during the holiday weeks, I got to feel like we were not quite on top of everything.

First of all, let me say a word of thanks to everyone for making this Christmas special. That includes thanks to everyone who contributed to the joys of our liturgies, including those who decorated the church, those who provided the music and all who offered anything to make this celebration so joyful. You won’t find a better parish than St. Malachy, and we proved that point at Christmas.

Thanks also to those who offered me personal wishes for Christmas. All who sent cards, and some sent gifts. Some sent calories that I didn’t really need but which I thoroughly enjoyed nonetheless. I felt the love of St. Malachy Parish, and I hope that I can properly reciprocate.

Moving on from my Christmas theme, but also keeping the concept of gratitude, I would like to offer a personal thanks to former St. Malachy parishioners Jim and Tracy Fish. They had to leave our parish (and take their daughter out of our school) when Jim received an important promotion which took their family to Houston, but they have never forgotten us. They knew that our school students had difficulty changing the letters on our outdoor sign when the weather got cold. So they sent us a donation which allowed us to put in a new electronic sign, which can be programmed by a computer in the rectory.

As things get back to normal, our school now has been back in session for a week, and our CCD classes resume this weekend. They get next weekend off for the Martin Luther King holiday, but at least they are getting started. Meanwhile, we are looking to the future. St. John of God has asked to talk to us about the direction of their CCD program. We have not yet had those discussions, but I am open to helping out our neighbors if there is a need. We have an excellent Religious Education program, and we intend to keep it running in top-notch fashion.

Finally, please keep praying for all priests, and at this time please pray for Fr. Patrick O’Brien. He is still working with doctors to get his light-headedness under control. Each week he tells me that he expects to come back and continue helping us with Mass, but each week has been a “not quite yet” situation. We hope to have him back with us some time soon. (It might even be this week, as you are reading this note.) In the meantime, we offer him our continued prayers.
                                                        Father H                  

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Epiphany of the Lord - January 3, 2016

When the students of St. Malachy School go out for recess after lunch, I often accompany them and help the teachers watch over them. When they line up to go back inside, I lead them in the “Hail Mary,” and then, as is the custom here, do a brief Litany of Saints that includes our patron St. Malachy and, since they set up a partnership with us once their own school closed, St. John of God. At one point I started adding the saint of the day when there was a feast day. One day, when we celebrated a saint with an unusual name, one of the other adults told me that she overheard a first grader on the way in to the building as he asked, “Does he make those names up?”

This week we honor saints whose names should be a little more familiar, for they were rather local. Monday, January 4, is the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born American to be canonized. After the death of her husband, she converted to the Catholic faith and founded the Sisters of Charity for the education of youth. She spent some time in Western Pennsylvania before settling in Emmitsburg, Maryland, very near the seminary I attended.

Tuesday, January 5 is the feast of St. John Neumann, a priest of the Redemptorist order to came to this country from his native Bohemia. After serving in the Pittsburgh area, including time as pastor of St. Philomena Parish when it was in the Strip District, St. John Neumann was named Bishop of Philadelphia.

We move a little further away on Wednesday, January 6, though we stay in North America. St. AndrĂ© Bessette, a member of the Holy Cross Brothers, was instrumental in forming St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. Despite his own chronic illness, Brother AndrĂ© was known to have healing powers and came to be called “The Miracle Man of Montreal.”

Those feasts can remind us of the importance of today’s feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. The star which led the Magi to Bethlehem was a sign that Christ had come for people of all nations. The holiness we see in our own saints, as well as in many of the people we see every Sunday in our own church, tells us that Christ is with us here and now. The Nativity of the Lord happened long ago and far away, but Christ is present to us today in the Eucharist and in every part of our lives. So as we celebrate Epiphany today, we see the opportunity to make our own land holy by our dedication to Christ. May today’s celebration, the second major feast of the Christmas season, fill your hearts with the joy of Christ Incarnate.
                                                                      Father H