Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ - May 29, 2016

Around this time I find myself singing (or at least humming) the classic George Gershwin tune that starts, “Summertime, and the living is easy.” From Holy Week through the end of the school year, a Catholic parish generally has a lot of exciting things going on. As great as that always is, it generally feels very good to come to this point, when things a slowing down a bit. But before we reach that point, let me look at a few things going on at this time.

This weekend we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, still frequently referred to by its Latin title of Corpus Christi. This is a special opportunity to give thanks for the wonderful gift of the Eucharist. There is a custom in the Church of having a procession with the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of the town, so that everyone may see with what great esteem we hold the gift of the Eucharist. In modern times such processions are much more difficult, as they would require a stoppage of traffic. We have a procession entirely on our own property. We have Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament after the 11:00 Mass, with the Eucharistic Procession to a temporary altar in the gym for Benediction at 3:00.

Monday is Memorial Day. I hope we have some good cookouts to celebrate the beginning of summer, but let us remember that the main reason for this holiday is primarily to recognize the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in service to our country in our nation’s wars. This holiday should remind us that we owe our freedom to those who have given so much. Mass on Memorial Day will be at the usual time of 7:15, and I will be taking part again in the annual Kennedy Township parade later in the morning.

This Wednesday evening our eighth graders graduate from St. Malachy School. I offer my congratulations to all our graduates, whether from eighth grade, high school or college. It is exciting to move on to new ventures. To our eighth grade, please know that it will not be the same around here without you. Godspeed.

Once the eighth grade is gone, we turn our attention to the rest of the school and their great escape for the summer. The last day of school is Thursday, when we will have Mass followed by the “step up” experience. That gives me a chance to see the seventh graders and start thinking of them as our new eighth grade, to think of the sixth grade as our new seventh grade, and so forth. That also gives me a chance to wonder how time can go by so quickly and how the children can grow up so fast.

The last day of school will be somewhat bittersweet this year. It is always great to get to that summertime, when “the living is easy.” But this year there is sadness in saying goodbye to more than just our graduates. Our principal, Mrs. Janet Escovitz, is retiring, as is our long-tenured kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Marianne Pfeifer. We also are losing another of our well loved teachers as Mrs. Christen Glover (formerly “Miss D”) moves to Iowa. I hope that Mrs. Escovitz, Mrs. Pfeifer and Mrs. Glover all know how much we will miss them.
                                                                                     Father H                  

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Most Holy Trinity - May 22, 2016

This week I will celebrate my thirtieth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, and what a wonderful ride it has been. Sure, there have been some hard times, but that’s true for any person in any vocation. Whatever the struggles, I wouldn’t change it for the world. One of the struggles, of course, is that there are fewer and fewer of us priests, and that means that the load is not getting spread around as much as it once was. So I would like to ask you to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

We often pray that God will call more young men to the priesthood, but I am convinced that this is not an issue. The problem is not that God is not calling. The problem is that those whom God calls are not responding. In many cases, the lure of success as defined by our modern culture is drowning out the call of God to the priesthood. It is difficult to hear God calling us to a vocation that requires sacrifice when the world around us promises instant gratification and tells us that we have to take care of ourselves. But for those who accept the call, the joys far outweigh the struggles.

I have often had CCD and school students ask me when I decided to become a priest. I always tell the story of Fr. Robert Murphy, pastor of my home parish of St. James in Wilkinsburg. I knew Fr. Murphy from my youngest days. I was one of his Altar Boys (as we were called when girls could not take that role), and he had come to our house for dinner. But when I transferred from public school to the parish school for sixth grade, I got to see him more frequently. Yes, that is one reason why I am so dedicated to school and CCD ministry, though certainly not the only reason. In any event, my strongest impression of him was that he was always happy. I wanted to be happy in life, so I thought I might try what made Fr. Murphy happy. But as I always tell the students, I eventually realized that Fr. Murphy did not try to make himself happy. Instead of asking what he wanted to do each day, he always asked what God wanted him to do. He always wanted to be in service to Christ and His Church. I use that memory as a reminder for the times when I tend to put myself first. My true joy has come when serving God by serving His people. So please pray that more young people may see that true joy comes from answering the call that God gives, whether to priesthood, religious life, marriage or single life.

Finally, please pray for the health of all our priests. Fr. Michael Maranowski is back at the parish and doing well, but he still has doctors who disagree with one another over exactly what his condition is, and he still is getting back to full strength. Fr. Patrick O’Brien still intends to come here every week, but most weeks he calls to say that he is not yet feeling up to it. And we all see how heroically Fr. Russell continues to serve us through his physical limitations. Please pray for all of us priests, as I thank God this week for thirty years of priestly service.
                                                                                                    Father H                  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost Sunday, May 15, 2016

Every once in a while, I have two (or more) subjects that I want to write about. I can either choose one over the other or try to work them both in without cutting either one short. That can be a challenge when the subjects are totally different. But every once in a while, they mesh together so well that I couldn’t have planned it any better. That’s when I tell myself that the Holy Spirit has managed the situation in a way that looks like simple coincidence. This week, in fact, the Holy Spirit is at the heart of the entire situation.

Today is the great feast of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost Sunday. Christ promised to send the Spirit upon His followers, and we see the difference the Spirit made when He descended upon the Apostles in tongues of flame. These men, who were so timid that they had locked themselves in the upper room, now went out fearlessly to proclaim the good news of Christ. These uneducated men were suddenly able to make themselves understood by people from many different nations and languages. The Holy Spirit made a noticeable difference.

Pentecost is a promise of the Holy Spirit to the entire Church. But this week we have another promise of the Spirit to an important portion of our parish. This Friday evening, Bishop Zubik will visit our parish to give the Sacrament of Confirmation to our eighth graders. Rather than tongues of fire descending from heaving, these young men and women will experience the Sacred Chrism anointing their foreheads as the bishop proclaims, “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” The newly confirmed will then seek to live the faith with the help of the Spirit. Like the Apostles, they will be strengthened by the grace they receive.

Comparing Confirmation to Pentecost is a great opportunity, but it also can be dangerous. We may expect our eighth graders to experience the same dramatic results that the Apostles had. As the Apostles no longer locked themselves in their rooms, so the parents of our eighth graders may expect the newly confirmed to tear themselves away from their cell phone screens. As the Apostles could be understood by the crowds they spoke to, so parents may expect the newly ordained to speak to them in complete sentences and without heavy sighs or eye rolls. At this point we have to remember the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, “Grace builds on nature.” God can work miracles, as he did at Pentecost, but He usually chooses to work gradually and through natural developments. Teenagers who receive Confirmation may still have to go through the painful process of growing up, but they will not do so alone. The Holy Spirit will be with them, even as they struggle with the normal issues of adolescence. The Holy Spirit is also with their parents, helping them to struggle with the normal relationships with teens. And in all of us, the Holy Spirit is a special gift that allows grace to build on nature and bring us closer to God.

                                                                                          Father H      

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Seventh Sunday of Easter - May 8, 2016

One time I was watching a little girl playing with a baby doll. She cuddled the doll, sang it a lullaby, and treated it as tenderly as a real baby. Moments later, something else caught the girl’s attention, and she ran off, dragging the “baby” by its ankles, with its head bouncing off the ground. The doll was no longer a baby but only a toy.

Of course, a real mother quickly learns that caring for her children is a full-time job. Motherhood calls for such love, care and patience (even though patience can at times be in short supply) that a mother’s love teaches us so much about God’s love. As we celebrate Mothers’ Day today, we thank God for the loving example of our mothers. There may have been times when we tried their patience (I know I did), but most of us probably remember more clearly how they put up with us and loved us over and over again.

Perhaps this Mothers Day can be a time for many of us to thank our mothers for all that they have done for us. We can probably all think of some things that we have overlooked or for which we should have been more grateful. Perhaps that is why the phone company once report more calls made on Mothers Day than on any other day of the year. (By contrast, Fathers Day was always the day when the most collect calls were made. I will leave the interpretation of that point up to you.) For many of us, though, we no longer have that opportunity. My own mother, for instance, died twenty-four years ago, though it is hard to believe that it has been that long. Yet as our mothers brought us to life, so they also helped bring us to faith in eternal life. That is one reason why I find it so appropriate that Mothers Day falls during this Easter season. One of the images that I think of with this Mothers Day is of a mother holding her baby over the Baptismal Font while I pour the water over the child’s head. I can even imagine my mother in that position, even though I was born before Vatican II, when it was the godparents who took the baby to church.

As we see the connection between Mothers Day and Easter, we also have a reminder that May is the month dedicated to our Blessed Mother. She, above all others, is a sign and inspiration concerning God’s love for us. Those of us whose mothers are no longer with us can indeed look to Mary as a sign of God’s gift of eternal life.

So I take this opportunity wish all mothers a very happy and a very blessed Mothers Day. Thank you for being an example to us of God’s love.

                                                                                    Father H                   

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 1, 2016

There are a couple of scenes from the Easter gospels that stood out in my mind this year. One is the scene where Mary Magdalene first sees the Risen Christ. As excited as she is, Jesus warns her “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” The other is from the two disciples who encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They don’t recognize him at first, but “they came to know him in the breaking of the bread,” an expression that referred to the Eucharist. Then, as soon as they recognized Him, He vanished from their sight.

These scenes point to the Ascension of the Lord, which we celebrate this coming Thursday. Christ’s Ascension is a sign that we look ahead to the heaven. At the same time, Ascension Thursday does not end the Easter season. Even as he ascended, Christ promised to remain with us until the end of time. So we live a certain duality, living this life to the fullest but also looking ahead to heaven for our true fulfillment. We will never create a perfect world on earth, but we do not give up trying to make our society as holy as possible.

Ascension Thursday is a holy day of obligation. Please note that our Masses at St. Malachy will be Wednesday at 4:00 PM, Thursday at 7:15 AM, Noon and 7:00 PM. Please plan on being with us for this important day.

Once we get past Ascension Thursday, our Easter season takes on a new character. Ten days after the Lord ascended, the Apostles gathered together, and the Holy Spirit descended upon them. So with Pentecost coming on May 15, the Church takes the time between Ascension and Pentecost to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit upon each of us. This practice was the origin of the Catholic practice of praying a Novena. The word “Novena” comes from the Latin word for “nine,” referring to the nine days after Ascension which led up to Pentecost. It can now refer to any nine-day period of prayer, but the pre-eminent Novena begins this Friday. As we do try to build the Kingdom of God in this world, we need to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit, so I would ask everyone to make some prayer each day during that period for the Spirit’s guidance and enlightenment. Pray also that the Holy Spirit can help us keep our patience when things do not go our way, so that we can remember that we will not have perfect joy until we reach heaven. We keep trying, even when we recognize that we are not reaching a perfect world in this life.

So since I am urging you to pray for nine days, let me tell you an old story of a man who went to confession and told the priest that he had stolen lumber from the site where he had been working on a construction job. The priest said, “For you penance, my son, make a novena.” The man said, “Father, I don’t know how to make a novena. But if you’ve got the plans, I’ve got the lumber.”

                                                                            Father H