Saturday, March 26, 2016

Easter Sunday - March 27, 2016

I will never forget the Easter Vigil of a few years ago. Because of the weather, we lit the new fire in the narthex of the church, and the man who prepared the fire did an excellent job of it. I lit the fire, and the flames quickly started to grow. An eight-year-old girl was standing near me, watching intently. As she saw how big the flames were getting, she said (in a voice that everyone in church could hear), “Have you ever done this before?”

We began that liturgy with a cute moment, but it also gave me a personal reflection for that evening. Yes, I have done this before, but it still feels new every year. The celebration of Easter is far and away the highlight of our year, and I always find it a time of such overpowering joy that it truly comes across as something new and newsworthy. The season of Lent, which we concluded this week, helped us make this Easter feel as something new and fresh. Throughout Lent our sanctuary was devoid of flowers, and we have not sung a joyous “Alleluia” since February. Outside of the Liturgy, our Lenten fast has given us a time of penance. Now is the time to rejoice; our time of penance is finished. Lent has done its job, for it has prepared us for greatest of all feasts in the Church’s year. What we celebrate today is the greatest event in the history of the entire world, and we now share the hope of eternal life as a result.

I have done this before, but there are those for whom the celebration is truly something new. The members of our RCIA have been preparing for some months now to enter into the Church. This weekend we welcome Tammie Colucci and Greg Moore into our Catholic family. We continue to pray for them, as well as for Tim and Mary Ann Kuruce, who are also part of the RCIA and who hope to complete their initiation soon.

Today, of course, is just the beginning of our celebration. If Easter is the most important time in the Church’s year, then it is fitting that it last longer than any other time. So while we had forty days of Lent, we begin now a celebration of fifty days of rejoicing over Christ’s resurrection and our baptismal share in that new life. Beyond that, we celebrate this next week as an “Octave,” an eight day continuation of the joy of this day. Each day during this next week is Easter Sunday. In fact, when I was in the seminary, one of our Scripture professors claimed that since each day that week was Sunday, that we should have the entire week off. We all agreed with him, but he then added that he did not have the authority to translate that ideal into reality. (I suspect that our school students would also agree to the idea of getting this whole week off. Unfortunately, I have to agree with Fr. Gray that I am not in a position to make the ideal into a reality.)

So rejoice, for the Lord is risen! And I pray that our entire parish family has a blessed and joyful celebration of Easter.

                                                                             Father H                  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday - March 20, 2016

In high school English classes, we learned the construction of a story. After the exposition (in which we meet the characters and learn the setting), we see the “rising action,” the major issue that the characters have to deal with. The story then reaches the climax, followed by a brief “falling action,” which leads to the denouement, in which we tie up the loose ends.

William Shakespeare told us, “All the world’s a stage,” so we can look at all human history as a drama. And the climax is what we celebrate this week. The Paschal Mystery of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection is the central event that has freed us from sin and death. As such, though, there is no falling action or denouement. Through the grace of God, we live at the climax throughout our lives. This week particularly, we are at that climax in our liturgies.

Today, with Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, we commemorate the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week, but we also read the Passion and thus set the tone for the remainder of the week.

Monday through Wednesday of this week are mostly ordinary, though a little more somber than usual. We have Confessions available 3:00-4:00 Monday through Wednesday, 6:00-7:00 Monday and Tuesday evenings and 7:00-8:00 Wednesday evening. Please note that there are no Confessions after Wednesday of Holy Week.

Holy Thursday has three main themes. At the Last Supper, Christ gave us the Eucharist, He instituted the priesthood and He gave an example of service by washing the feet of His Apostles. Our Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which begins the Sacred Triduum, will begin at 7:00 in the evening. Church will remain open until Midnight, and our parish bus will leave for the seven church tour right after Mass.

Good Friday is the only day of the year on which we do not celebrate Mass. There is a Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion at 2:00 (after Stations of the Cross at Noon). The Liturgy is divided into three parts: a Liturgy of the Word at which we proclaim the Passion of the Lord, the Veneration of the Cross, followed by Holy Communion (from the Eucharist consecrated at Holy Thursday). This liturgy is very simple but very powerful. The Divine Mercy Novena is at 4:00, and the Living Stations of the Cross (followed by Veneration) are at 7:00.

Holy Saturday is a very quiet day, with no official liturgy during the day (although we will have the blessing of Easter food at noon). That night, however, we have the most joyful liturgy of the whole year. The Easter Vigil begins at 8:30 (as it cannot begin before dark) and is always the liturgical highlight of the year for me as we begin our celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection and our share in His new life through our baptism. At that Mass we welcome the newest Catholics, who have been preparing through the RCIA.
                                                                                           Father H                  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Fifth Sunday of Lent - March 13, 2016

Over the past few weeks, I have written about some of the ways in which we observe the season of Lent. But today I want to use this space to update you on some other things that are going on.
Our St. Malachy School Advisory Board recently met, and I admitted to them that the principal and I have been having a disagreement – she wants to retire, and I don’t want her to. But recently Mrs. Janet Escovitz informed the school community that she is retiring at the end of this year. Mrs. Escovitz has done a wonderful job leading St. Malachy School during her time here. She has kept the school on an even keel, and has helped to build the school toward a strong future. At a time when many schools in our region are hoping to keep the enrollment from dropping too precipitously, our enrollment is up this year. But as much as I hate to lose her, I know that she is at that point and that she deserves to enjoy her time. Meanwhile, I have had a number of volunteers to help me with the Search Committee to interview candidates for the position, and I am confident we will continue to move forward. But in the meantime, we wish Janet well.

I know that stories get around, so I will ask for your prayers for my predecessor and good friend, Fr. Michael Maranowski, who was admitted to Mercy Hospital last week. At the time I am writing this, he is in for tests for some issues he has been having. Considering bulletin deadlines, this column will probably be old news by the time you read it, and he may be back to his normal routine. But I’m sure he would appreciate your prayers in any event.

Speaking of priests and their health, we continue to pray for Fr. Patrick O’Brien. It has been hard for me to write about Fr. O’Brien in the bulletin, for each week he has been telling me that he is still coming back. And he has been with us recently, but there have been other times when he has over the weekend to say he could not make it. Perhaps we could use the phrase that baseball people use for injured players and say that he is “day to day.” That just reminds me of the great Dodgers’ announcer Vin Scully, who said of an injured player, “He is currently day to day. But then again, aren’t we all?”

My final note is not about a particular person. During a heavy wind recently, some shingles blew off the rectory roof. The bad news is that they hit the parish van, which was parked in the rectory lot. The good news is that they didn’t hit any person, for they did some damage. But speaking of damage, we had an inspection on the roof, and we have been told that we definitely need to replace the roof. We are currently getting bids and are considering the options. The roof is part of our Campaign for the Church Alive case statement, so that may have to be a project soon. Meanwhile, I learned long ago that every pastor considers “roof” to be a four-letter word.
                                                                       Father H                  

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Lent - March 6, 2016

 Those who come to the 8:00 or 11:00 Masses this weekend will hear the wonderful parable of the Prodigal Son. (At the 4:00 Mass, we will be observing the Second Scrutiny for the RCIA. When that happens, the Church asks us to use the readings from Year A.) At the heart of the parable is the great mercy of God the Father in always welcoming back those who have sinned. The message of this story should take our breath away when we realize how great is God’s goodness.

That message of mercy is at the heart of Pope Francis’ decision to proclaim a Jubilee Year of Mercy, which will run until the feast of Christ the King, November 20. The Holy Father has chosen “Merciful Like the Father” as the theme of this Holy Year, that the Church may truly reflect the love of God to those in need. Elsewhere Pope Francis has called for the Church to be a “field hospital after battle.” There may be follow-up care needed in which we learn to follow Christ as he calls us, but first we offer mercy and forgiveness to all in need, which is all of us.

This season of Lent is the most powerful time for us to celebrate the mercy of God. On Ash Wednesday, as we received the ashes, we were exhorted (in one of the options) to “Repent and believe in the gospel.” We have that reminder of our need for mercy, but we also need to know that mercy is available.  I was pleased when the Pope gave every priest the faculty to forgive those who have had abortions. Priests in the United States have long had that faculty from our bishops, but I saw the news as a message that mercy is available to anyone who wants to turn back to God.

That mercy is available in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We have Confessions every Saturday from 3:00 to 3:45. During Lent we are offering Confessions from 6:00 to 6:45, before the evening Mass. There is also a special opportunity this week. As has been the custom in Advent and Lent, the Diocese of Pittsburgh is asking every parish to provide the Sacrament of Reconciliation on Wednesday evening from 6:00 to 9:00. That way anyone can go to any church to receive God’s mercy. In the past, this event has been a wonderful way for people who have major sins or who have not gone to Confession in many years to find their way back. There have been times when I have heard someone’s Confession and then just closed my eyes and said a very special prayer of thanksgiving as the penitent walked away, free from burdens he or she has carried for so long.

It was not easy for the Prodigal Son to get up and come home to his father, but he found that it was worth the effort. So please come to Confession at St. Malachy or at any other parish. We promise to be “Merciful Like the Father.”
                                                Father H