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