Sunday, October 30, 2016

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 20, 2016

Imagine the life of a college freshman. This is his first experience of being away from his parents. He can stay up as late as he wants, eat cold pizza for breakfast and go to as many parties as possible. We hope that by his sophomore year he starts thinking of life beyond college by choosing a major and getting serious about his studies. After all, the real purpose of college is to prepare for life.

A student may think of what he is going to do “after college,” but for those of us who have been out of college for a few years, college was just a preparation for the real world. I sometimes think that there is a similar problem of perspective whenever I hear someone ask about “life after death.” To a college student, life on campus is more “real” than some vague future. So for us, this life is the only thing that seems real to us. Our idea of heaven, possibly filled with images of clouds and harps, seems far off and ethereal. Once we graduate, however, we do not usually spend the next seventy or so years thinking that now we are in our post-college years. If anything, we look at college students and ask, “Was I like that?” So when we get to heaven, I do not expect to think of it as an “afterlife.” Rather, we will look at this world as a vague beginning to what we are truly meant to be – children of God, sharing perfect joy with Him forever.

As we near the end of our liturgical year, the Church invites us to look forward to the more real world of heaven. The readings start to focus on the end of time and the eternity of Christ’s Kingdom. This is a time to see ourselves as a college student who has to choose a major, for we want to be ready for what really matters.

We start the month with two special celebrations. This Tuesday is All Saints Day. Throughout the year, we celebrate feast days of the canonized saints. All Saints Day is for those who are not officially recognized by the Church. This feast is a way to honor our parents and grandparents and all others who had an influence on our lives. We see their example, and we ask their prayers for us. To keep the college analogy going, I can think of how many phone calls and letters I have gotten from Duquesne over the years, asking me to help (by monetary donation) those students now trying to get an education as I once did. Although the saints are no longer with us in this world, they still help their “alma mater” by praying for us.

On November 2 especially, we also pray for those who have died. God gives us the gift of purgatory in order to complete our transition to the perfection of what He has created in us. And as we still see a connection with one another, God allows us to assist in that final purification by praying for those who have died. So as we look forward to graduating to heaven, November becomes a special time for us to pray for all the faithful departed. And by doing so, may we come to look forward to the real world of heaven and to see this life as a chance to grow to be the people God has created us to be.
                                                                                     Father H    

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 23, 2016

One interesting aspect to the month of October is that we have some new feast days to celebrate. October 5 was the feast day of Blessed Francis Seelos, a Redemptorist priest who served for a time in Pittsburgh. The other two are names that should be more familiar. October 11 was the feast of Pope Saint John XXIII, and October 22 was the feast of Pope Saint John Paul II.

Most frequently, a saint’s feast day is set for the anniversary of the day he died, that is, the day he or she was born into eternal life. For these two popes, it is a little different. St. John’s feast day is on October 11 because that is the anniversary of the day he convened the Second Vatican Council. And October 22 was the date in 1978 that St. John Paul celebrated his Inaugural Mass as Pope. That choice for those feast days speaks about the effect that these two great saints had on the Church. They were both men of tradition, being very true to the faith that had been handed down from the time of the Apostles. Yet each of them knew that the Church had to face the challenges of the modern world.
To me, that dichotomy is a good summary of what Bishop Zubik is trying to accomplish with On Mission for the Church Alive. We are working to hand on the faith given us by Christ Himself. At the same time, we have to recognize that the structures with which we are familiar or not necessarily going to be as effective in today’s circumstances. While we cannot compromise on eternal truths, we must be open to new ways of organizing our diocese. Our parents’ generation did things much differently from the days of Blessed Francis Seelos, and we have to do things in a way that will work for today.

The prayer that Bishop Zubik requested us to say at Mass each asks for a spirit of “courage, collaboration and compassion.” Bishop Zubik has pointed to St. John XXIII as a model of collaboration, to Saint John Paul II as a model of courage, and to our current Pope Francis as a model of compassion. As to the collaboration part of the equation, please remember that this week we are holding our parish meetings. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we will meet at 7:00 in church to hear the first proposed models for our area. No decisions have been made because the bishop wants to hear our voices. Over the next year, we will have an opportunity to make ourselves heard. But first, we have to hear what will be shaping the proposals. Please make every effort to come to these meetings.

On October 22, 1978, Pope Saint John Paul said, “Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ.” As we look forward to the future of our diocese, I echo the words of Saint John Paul. Do not be afraid.

                                                                                         Father H    

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 16, 2016

Some years ago, during a presidential election year when a school student asked me which candidate I was going to vote for. One of the other students said, “He’s a priest. He has to vote for…” It turned out to be the candidate I was planning on voting for, but I didn’t answer the question. I was encouraged, however, that the student thought that my faith would influence my vote, even if he was simply echoing what his parents had said.

The truth is that I rarely like to talk about politics. I hope that my Catholic faith and values would inform my decision on whom to vote for. On the other hand, people who share common values and hopes may honestly disagree on the best way to accomplish those goals. I do not like today’s political arguments, which have become so much mudslinging, so I generally avoid political discussions. In addition, I do not want to make it appear that I am speaking “for the Church” in any official way that would count as a Catholic endorsement of any candidate.

This year, I am afraid, the choice is harder than ever. Every candidate for President (including Libertarian and Green Party candidates) is, in some way or another, deeply flawed. But one of these candidates will be the next President of the United States. So unless we plan to write in Abraham Lincoln or Harold Stassen, we have a choice to make. I would like to offer some of the thoughts of Bishop James Conley, Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska, who was in his last year at Mount St. Mary Seminary in my first year. Bishop Conley writes, “On some issues the moral obligations of Catholics, and the demands of the common good, are abundantly clear. For example, no Catholic can vote in good conscience to expand legal protection for abortion, or to support the killing of unborn children… Abortion is a grave, unconscionable, and intolerable evil, and we cannot support it in the voting booth.” He adds, “In good conscience, some Catholics might choose to vote for a candidate who, with some degree of probability, would be most likely to do some good, and the least amount of harm, on the foundational issues: life, family, conscience rights and religious liberty. Or, in good conscience, some might choose the candidate who best represents a Christian vision of society, regardless of the probability of winning. Or, in good conscience, some might choose not to vote for any candidate at all in a particular office.”

In addition, I would like to add the words of Bishop Robert Barron, who warns against seeing a politician as “Messianic” in the sense that this person, once elected, will solve all our problems. He offers as our attitude, “I don’t care how good and impressive a politician is, and they might be. They might be very bright, very gifted, very capable, but they’re not the Messiah. And the minute we think they are, then we are on a short road to disaster. So I think that’s something that biblical people are very, very legitimately reticent about is any move in that kind of apotheosizing of political leaders.”

                                                                                              Father H          

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 9, 2016

Over the past few weeks, I have used this column to talk about the diocesan initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. So to catch up with a number of other items, I am going to do a hodgepodge of topics today. But first I want to stress again how important it is that people attend the consultations sessions for On Mission on October 25 or 26. These meetings will begin at 7 PM in church, and they are away for all of us to express our thoughts and concerns about the plans that the diocese is currently making. Bishop Zubik wants all of us to be part of this process, so please come to one of those two meetings.

I have to take this opportunity to thank everyone who was involved in our parish festival this weekend. By the time you read this, the festival will be in full swing or will be over. I’m writing before it actually begins, but I am confident that it is going to be another grand success. So many people work so hard to pull the festival off that there is no way I could have room to thank everyone individually. Instead, I will group everyone together and thank you for whatever part you took in the festival, from set up to cooking and serving to clean up and everything else, including those who just came as customers to enjoy and to support the parish. Thank you for your help with this very successful and important event for our parish.

I also offer my thanks to those who supported “Respect Life Sunday” last week. Our “Life Chain” was well attended, and those who took part had a very quiet and prayerful experience. In addition, our parish offered some very good support to the Birthright collection after each of the Masses last weekend.

I also realize that it has been a while since I have giving you a medical update on some of our priest friends. There has not been all that much to report. Fr. Michael Maranowski has settled in as parochial vicar at Saint Thomas More Parish in Bethel Park. If you ask him how he feels, he invariably responds, “With my hands.” But if you ask him more seriously about his health, he just says that he is taking things one day at a time. Meanwhile, he is fully functioning as a priest and is settling in at his new assignment.

For Fr. Patrick O’Brien, it is also a case of taking things one day at a time. He keeps telling me that he is hoping to come back and resume celebrating Mass for us, though he has not been able to say when he would be able to do that. So currently, we are keeping him on the schedule in case he can return, but each week I consider that I will have the Mass for which he is scheduled. I will let you know if anything different comes up. Meanwhile, please keep praying for him.

Finally, if you notice that the ushers seem to be “lurking” in the aisles during Mass, they are counting people. Each year the diocese requires us to count the number of people attending each Sunday Mass during month of October. The trends in the “October count” over the years is part of the data that has been used in preparing the models for On Mission for the Church Alive.

                                                                                               Father H                  

Monday, October 3, 2016

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 2, 2016

This is the fourth week that our bulletin includes a flyer from the Diocese on the initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. By now I hope we are realizing that there are changes coming in the diocese and in every parish. Last week, in the flyer and in my bulletin column, you read that Bishop Zubik is asking us to take part in setting the direction for these changes. Please remember that the diocese is holding consultation meetings in each parish, with ours scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, October 25 and 26 at 7:00 in church. Please come to one of those two meetings so that we can be part of the process. You do not have to attend both. We are scheduled for two days so that more people can be present. Each meeting will present the same information.

The goal of this process is to make the Church stronger at this time of change. For instance, the life of the parish begins with the celebration of the Mass. When I began my time as your pastor, one of the two promises I made was that I would always try to celebrate Mass in a way that was both reverent and joyful. Yet many parishes are finding that it is hard to offer dynamic liturgies if there are fewer people attending and fewer people taking an active part in the various ministries of the liturgy. We want to create vibrant parishes that are built upon the foundation of the Eucharist.

In quite a few parishes, many groups are finding it difficult to maintain the same kind of activities they have had in the past, whether spiritual, social or service-oriented. We want to build parishes where many such activities can take place and where everyone can find some way to be involved.
In quite a few parishes, the children feel left out because there are fewer of them involved in the school or the religious education program. My other promise upon my arrival at St. Malachy, along with reverent and joyful celebrations of the liturgy, was to be involved with the children in the school and the CCD program. This aspect is particularly dear to my heart, and I truly want to see vibrant parishes where the children can grow in their love of God and learn from an early age that the faith is the most important aspect in their lives.

The diocese has enrolled the help of the Catholic Leadership Institute (CLI), a consultative group that specializes in building the Catholic Church to be stronger, in this mission. CLI runs a leadership program for priests known as “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds,” which I completed shortly after my arrival at St. Malachy. (Our former pastor, Fr. Michael, was part of the same program while he was here.) They also run a program for lay people who have leadership roles in parishes. Several of our people have taken “Tending the Talents.” Now CLI has been helping us devise some proposed models for the way the diocese may take shape in the future. But as I said last week, Bishop Zubik wants our input. Your participation at the meetings on October 25 and 26 is vital to helping the diocese move forward. Please set aside time on one of those two evenings to come and participate. Let’s make the Diocese of Pittsburgh a model of faith for the Church throughout the United States.

                                                                                              Father H