Sunday, September 25, 2016

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 25, 2016

Some people may remember when we were told that it takes three things to be a good Catholic: pray, pay and obey. If we prayed our rosary (often while the priest was praying in Latin during Mass), we were off to a good start. We also had to put money in the collection basket and then simply do what the priests or bishops told us. The image from that little saying was that others ran the Church, and we just got what we could out of it. That was never the Church’s view of what a Catholic is, and we have really tried to go to a deeper level since the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago.

Especially since the Council, but for many ages before, the Church has spoken of the Universal Call to Holiness, the concept that every baptized person is called to take part in the life of the Church and to grow to be ready for the eternal joy of heaven. As Pope Francis said, “Holiness is not the prerogative of only a few: holiness is a gift that is offered to all, without exception, so that it constitutes the distinctive character of every Christian.” In a deeper sense, that means that the Church is not made up of only priests and bishops, with people in the pews just sitting back and enjoying the ride. The truth is that every Catholic is called to build the kingdom of God and to live in holiness.

By our baptism, we are called to build the Church. The most basic way we can carry out that task is to take part in the work of evangelization, trying to attract people to follow Christ. That does not mean that we stand on a street corner passing out pamphlets and, more likely than not, drawing funny looks from the people who pass us by. If we simply live our faith day in and day out, we become attractive to those who are searching for the truth. But at this time, we also have to be ready for the changes that are coming.

At this current point in history, the faithful of the Diocese of Pittsburgh have a special opportunity to shape the direction of the Church. Blessed John Henry Newman once said, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” The Diocese of Pittsburgh is currently taking part in On Mission for the Church Alive. The past few weeks, we have been hearing and reading about our need for change. The flyer in today’s bulletin reminds us that we have a role in the entire process. The diocese will be holding special meetings in every parish. Here at St. Malachy, our meetings will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, October 25 and 26. Both meetings are at 7:00 pm in Fr. Weirauch Hall. I invite every parishioner to come and listen to what some of the possible proposals for the local Church might be. And I invite everyone to come prepared to offer our thoughts to Bishop Zubik. He has assured us that no decisions have been made, and none will be made until he has heard from every parish. It is up to each of us to listen with open hearts and open minds, taking into consideration the situation the Church is facing, and to pray about what God is asking of us. It is up to each of us to offer our thoughts on the process to the Bishop. We are the Church, and we have a special part to play in determining the future of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and all of its parishes.
                                                                                                      Father H      

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 18, 2016

I want to try to balance two separate topics today. The more I think about it, the more I suspect that they should work together. I will let you be the judge of how successfully I bring them together.

Today’s bulletin has the second in a series of flyers about the diocesan initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. Last week’s flyer informed us, “Things are going to change.” Today’s installment asks the obvious follow-up question, “Why do we have to change?” The truth of the matter is that the world is changing around us, and some of the changes present real challenges to us. Statistics show that 60 to 70% of US Catholics no longer practice their faith. The ones who do practice most are the “Baby Boomer” generation. But as we Boomers get older, the succeeding generations are coming along with less of a connection to the faith. Experts say that if we do nothing, there will be 50% fewer people receiving the sacraments in twenty-five years.

That is the bad news. The good news is that we can address the issue. Bishop Zubik is challenging the Church in Pittsburgh to look at how we can bring Christ into the world as it is now. There will be meetings in each parish to address where we are and where we are going. We want to meet the new situation head-on and be ready for it. I think of a line from C. S. Lewis’ novel Out of the Silent Planet. When the protagonist, after protests and self-pity, accepts his duty and goes on a dangerous journey, he reflects, “It was the difference between a landsman in a sinking ship and a horseman on a bolting horse: either may be killed, but the horseman is an agent as well as a patient.” We can sit back and wait for the changes, leaving us to worry about dwindling congregations and fewer priests, or else we can address them and build the Church to be a light in the darkness of our secular world.

To help us address these issues, the Diocese is holding information meetings in every parish. Ours will be on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 25 and 26. Each meeting will be in Father Weirauch Hall at 7:00. I hope that everyone will come to one of those meetings, listen with open hearts, and be prepared to offer any constructive thoughts you may have.

In the meantime, the other issue I want to address today is a way we continue to build the Church for the future. Today is Catechetical Sunday, when we recognize the many people who give of their time and talents to build up our parish Religious Education programs. I thank our Catechetical Administrator Steven Swank and all the volunteers who give of themselves in our CCD program and all our other catechetical programs.

The theme for Catechetical Sunday this year is “Prayer: The Faith Prayed.” It is a call for us to grow closer to Christ in prayer so that we can show His love to all those whom we meet. And if we do that, then we truly can build the Church in faith to be strong and vibrant in the future. We can truly be – and truly bring about – the Church Alive.

                                                                                       Father H      

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 11, 2016

For well over a year now, at Bishop Zubik’s request, we have been concluding the Universal Prayer at Sunday Mass with the prayer for the initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. Bishop Zubik knew that it was important to begin such a major initiative with prayer, as over the past months a number of studies have been going on to prepare for the future. Today, as will be the case in the next few weeks, there is a special insert in our bulletin concerning this initiative. I urge you to read that insert, and I would like to devote my column over these weeks to what is happening.

Today’s supplement to the bulletin is titled Things are Going to Change. On a superficial level, I hope that statement is obvious to us. We sometimes act as if everything should be the same as we remember from our younger days, but the world is changing all around us. We have to be faithful to the eternal truths that point us to an unchanging God, but we have to live those truths in a changing world. It is sometimes difficult to keep the balance between the eternal that we old on to and the circumstances in which we express it.

One of the changes we have seen is in the number of people coming to church each Sunday. This is not a problem just within St. Malachy Parish or any other parish. It is not limited to Pittsburgh, nor is it an issue with the Catholic Church. Throughout our society, all across the country (and in much of the world), our society is becoming more and more secular. There are fewer and fewer people coming to church each week, and there are fewer young men entering the priesthood. That is a reality that the diocese has to deal with, and On Mission is looking for ways to sustain the Church well into the future.

At the same time, however, we have the unchangeable truth that our faith is founded on the dying and rising of Christ. He has called us to Himself and has given us new life. This gift is not a private privilege that we keep to ourselves. Christ also told His disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) So On Mission is not a way of circling the wagons and waiting for the end. Bishop Zubik is not leaving us with the message, “Last one out, turn off the lights.” Rather, this is a way of saying that we have to make the best use of our energies and our resources so that we can be the sign to our culture that Christ is still with us. It may seem that they are not listening, but the Letter to the Hebrews describes the Word of God as “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword.” Even if we do not see the end result, we know that God will not abandon us.

In coming weeks, we will see and hear more about On Mission for the Church Alive, and you will hear about how all of us can take part. Today for the first part of this series, I simply entreat you to live the faith and trust that God will guide this process. As a bishop says to a newly-ordained priest in the ordination liturgy, “May God, who has begun the good work in you, bring it to completion.”
                                                                                                    Father H

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 4, 2016

Going to Pirates games is one of my most enjoyable diversions, but it is also a source of exercise for me. That’s because I enjoy walking. I often park at Station Square and walk across the Smithfield Street Bridge, through downtown, and across the Roberto Clemente Bridge to the ballpark. That often becomes a time of prayer for me, and I don’t have to sit in traffic in the PNC Park lots. (It’s also easier to get home now that West Carson Street is open.)

On my walks through town, I often see people sitting by the side with handmade signs asking for help. And frankly, I’m never quite sure about the best way to deal with these situations. On the one hand, we are called to be a Church of the Poor, and here are the poor staring us in the face. And yet I have heard people who should know telling us that giving money to people on the street is not the best approach. There may be some mental illness or addiction, in which case some experts suggest that it would be better to donate to some agency or group that helps with such cases. Our monthly donations to the FOR Center in McKees Rocks have truly shown the generosity of the wonderful people of St. Malachy. Within our parish, we have the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, a group of volunteers who respond to all kinds of needs of the poor in our neighborhood. Theirs is not a public ministry, meaning that they do not do their work in front of everyone. Their ministry is often anonymous, with only those who receive help knowing of all that they do.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society is funded from donations, primarily those in the Poor Boxes in our church. That money helps people where they need it. The members of the society speak to those in need and help determine what their need really is. They can provide food or help with other necessities, but they can also advise people and help them get the help that they need.

The question of how to help those in need came up when I was on vacation. A family showed up in our parking lot asking for help after one of the Sunday Masses. They were back the next weekend, after my vacation, and they took me by surprise. (It appears that ours is not the only parish where they were begging.) The presence of people in the parking lot raised a further question for me. Certainly we want to help, but if word gets around that the parking lot is a good place to beg, then others will follow. Probably the best thing in such cases is to direct them to call the parish and ask to be put in contact with someone from the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

I did hear a leader of a Catholic aid group being interviewed once, and someone asked him if we should give to people begging on the street. He did not answer one way or another, but he did have a suggestion. He wanted us to see the human dignity that God has given to such people. In other words, if we do not give something, we should not pretend we didn’t see them. Rather, give them at least a smile and a kind word.

On a different note, please remember that Monday is Labor Day. Our Mass will be at 9:00 that morning, and the parish office will be closed.                                      

                                                                                          Father H