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