Sunday, December 24, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 24, 2017

Christmas, they say, is a time of miracles. So rather than trying to offer a spiritual or theological reflection, I would like to offer a true story from about 2002 or 2003. You are welcome to take a spiritual insight from this story if you’d like, or to see it as my Christmas miracle. At the time, I was pastor of Guardian Angels Parish in the West End. Guardian Angels is now part of St. Philip, which is part of our “grouping” in On Mission for the Church Alive.

As a background, I learned as a young boy serving mass that each priest had his own chalice, and it seemed that a priest’s chalice was an expression of his own personality. When I first started thinking of the priesthood, I thought a red chalice would be a good expression of the Blood of Christ. When I was in the seminary and getting close to ordination, I saw a chalice that I knew was what I wanted. It was a hammered gold with a black onyx node around the middle. I had just ordered that chalice when the priest who had first inspired me to the priesthood, Fr. Robert Murphy, told me that he wanted to pay for it so that it would be his ordination gift to me. In my first two assignments, I used that chalice for just about every mass. In my third assignment, I was in a merged parish with four different churches, so I got in the habit of using it only on Sundays rather than carrying it to a different church every day. I did the same at Guardian Angels, where we had two churches. Then I had a chance to buy a red chalice from a seminarian who had decided not to continue to the priesthood. I could then keep one chalice (the gold one) at our St. James Church and the other (the red one) at our St. Martin Church.

On December 18, one week before Christmas, I went into our St. James Church in the afternoon to set up for a Penance Service we were having that evening. When I got into the sacristy, I found a total mess. Someone had broken in and taken whatever he thought was of value. The chalice Fr. Murphy had bought me for my ordination was gone. We called the police, but I had very little hope of ever seeing that chalice again. One of my parishioners said she was praying to St. Anthony and that she was confident I would have it back for Christmas, but I didn’t get my hopes up.

At the time we had some Franciscan Sisters living in the former St. James rectory, and one of them was doing some last minute decorating in the church on the morning of Christmas Eve. There was a back hallway that we never used, and there was no reason for her to go back there. But she decided to see if any Christmas decorations might have been stashed there. Something shiny caught her eye, and she bent over to find my chalice. I suspect that the thief was walking out when someone came in to pray. He must have figured that it would be hard to explain why he was carrying a chalice. What was he going to say, “Someone said I could have this”? So he apparently threw it into the hallway and ran out. Meanwhile, there was no reason for Sr. Margaret Ann to go back there on Christmas Eve, but I think that St. Anthony must have pushed her in that direction.

I still use both chalices, but I will definitely use the gold one on Christmas. When you see it, know that I am very thankful for my own Christmas miracle. With that story, I offer my wishes to all of you. May you have a blessed and joy-filled celebration of Christ’s birth. And if God sends you a Christmas miracle, may it help you to remember how truly blessed we all are.                                      
                                                                                             Father H                  

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Third Sunday of Advent - December 17, 2017

When I was younger, I always loved when Christmas fell on a Monday. It makes for the shortest possible Advent, which made Christmas seem to come faster. Christmas may always fall on December 25, and in a year like this Advent simply doesn’t start until later. But to my mind, a shorter Advent made it seem like Christmas was coming faster.

Today we light the rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath and wear the rose-colored vestments. We call this Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice.” It is a day when we begin to feel that Christ’s coming is close. This year, with the short Advent, Gaudete Sunday is also the day when our attention shifts from preparing for Christ’s second coming to preparing for our celebration of Christmas. With Christmas just over a week away, we can start to feel the excitement.

As part of that preparation, please do not forget that we still have the Fourth Sunday of Advent next weekend. Recently word has been getting around that Catholics could be excused from the obligation of attending the Sunday Mass since they would then have to go to Mass on consecutive days (or perhaps even twice in the same day for those who attend a Christmas Vigil Mass). The Diocese of Pittsburgh sent a letter to every priest reminding us that no such dispensation has been given. Only the bishop can give such a dispensation, as would be the case with something like a major blizzard such as we had in 2010. No such situation is present simply because Christmas falls on a Monday.

I feel rather odd saying that one must go to Mass on Sunday. With Christmas coming, I would hope that we are not thinking of our faith in terms of obligations. It would be as if a husband were to ask if he had an obligation to buy his wife a Christmas present. I would rather hope that their relationship would be such that he would be eager to get her whatever he could. Particularly with the major feast of Christmas coming up, we should want to prepare as much as possible for the joy of welcoming Christ into our world.

Meanwhile, you will see our church looking more festive by that point. As I said, the focus of the season of Advent, in the prayers and readings, is now on preparation for Christmas. So while we are not yet at Christmas, we can begin to put up preparations in anticipation. I can think of two analogies to use. On the one hand, it is like a couple expecting a child. When they get to the ninth month of pregnancy, they generally have purchased the crib and everything they need, and the baby’s room is all set up. So while we are not yet putting out flowers or turning on the lights, notice those things that are soon going up. Think of how close we are, and consider what we can still do to prepare for Christ’s coming. The other analogy is of decorating our own homes. When my older siblings were young children, my parents would come home from Midnight Mass and only then put up the tree and all the decorations. By the time I came along, that was a bit much for them, and they had it done ahead of time. So when our committee wondered how they were going to do everything between next Sunday’s 11:00 Mass and the 4:00 Vigil Mass, I said there was no reason why they could not get a head start.
                                                                                                      Father H                 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Second Sunday of Advent - December 10, 2017

One memory that comes to my mind frequently at this time of year is of the Christmas tree we had when I was a child. In addition to the tree, we had an HO scale train set complete with a miniature village. Dad had made a large platform for the train, which we kept in the basement most of the year, hidden away in the back room that had originally been the coal cellar. To set it up in the living room, we had to clear out the area around one full wall. There were things we had to do without, and the living room still got a little cramped for that time, but it was worth it. And occasionally my parents would realize that there were some things that were simply cluttering up the living room that we could do without altogether. Setting up the tree platform became a time to get rid of some things that we were better off without.

Advent is a time of preparation. We are not only preparing for the holiday called Christmas. We are also preparing for the coming of Christ, both in the celebration of His birth and in preparation for His second coming at the end of time. In Advent, then, we try to rearrange our lives to make room for God to be more completely at the center of our lives.

Advent is not Lent. Lent is our penitential season, while Advent is more a time of preparation. Yet as my parents would find some things to throw out when preparing to set up the platform, so our preparation should help us find aspects of our lives that do not fit with our faith and our vocations to live holy lives. Thus there is a penitential aspect to this Advent season. So while we do not have the same penitential practices as in Lent, and while we do not ask one another what we are giving up for Advent, still it is important to ask God to “clean up” our lives during this season of preparation. The best way to do that, of course, is through the sacrament of Reconciliation, commonly known as Confession.

Among the opportunities for Confessions during Advent, our parish is taking part in the diocesan event, “The Light is On for You.” Twice each year, once during Advent and once during Lent, the diocese asks every parish to have Confessions on the same evening. Between 6:00 and 9:00 this Wednesday, December 13, you can go to any parish in the diocese and know that there will be a priest available for Confession. Part of the idea is that Catholics have a wide choice of confessors. Some people are comfortable going to a priest they know. Others, however, are a little nervous talking to someone they know. One good way to get over that nervousness is to go to a parish you do not belong to. On Wednesday, you know that priests are available all over the diocese.

An option such as we have on Wednesday can be particularly helpful for those who have not been to Confession in a long time. I hope we can encourage people to come back to the sacrament. Some of the best Confessions I have ever heard have been of people who have not received the sacraments in years. Some have committed serious sins, and some have just gotten out of the habit. In either case, it is an indescribable joy to see the person come to a deeper understanding of God’s merciful love.
                                                                                           Father H                   

Sunday, December 3, 2017

First Sunday of Advent - December 3, 2017

The season of Advent is the beginning of the Church's liturgical calendar. Thus the First Sunday of Advent could be considered the equivalent of New Year's Day. We may not make this our time of resolutions, but we certainly can consider it as a time of new starts and fresh opportunities. So I would like to take a look at some of what can be new with this year. Some things are big, and some are small, but the new year is the unifying theme.

One change you will notice right away concerns our hymnals. We are no longer using the two volume series in which the front portion is changed several times a year. The Breaking Bread books are a single volume that will last the entire year. They contain almost all of the hymns we have used, and they have all of the Sunday and holy day readings. They will serve our purpose, and they save us money over the multi-volume edition. In fact, since the new books do not use the blue covers, we are saving more money. The blue covers are designed to last for several years, and we have certainly gotten our mileage out of them. They were wearing out and falling apart. However, and these new books save us from buying new covers.

Speaking of saving money, I will admit that I can be cheap at times. One example comes with the prayer we have been saying for the On Mission for the Church Alive initiative. When the diocese gave us the prayer and told us to pray it at Masses, I had copies made while we inserted in the blue covers. Meanwhile, a number of people complained that the prayer was too long. The diocese gave us a new, shorter version. I didn't want to waste the cards we had printed. Yet even with the blue covers, many of the cards have been misplaced. So with the new hymnals, we had to find a new way to keep the prayer available. Just when we were discussing possibilities, I found an office supply store that was closing. I took advantage of the going-out-of-business sale to get a good price on self-adhesive labels. That gives is an opportunity to start using the shorter version that most of the diocese is using. There are a few distinct differences, so please pay attention to the labels stuck onto the front cover.

Before too much of this new year goes by, we will be making a major upgrade to our sound system. As I write this, we are still not sure of when the new speakers will be installed. When it happens, though, I am confident that it will be easier for more people to participate fully in the Mass. I certainly hope that those who attend Mass in the cry rooms come out into the main body of the church. We should all come together as a single community, which is not as easy when some of our members are in a separate room.

Most importantly, this year will be the time for On Mission to take its next big steps. In April, Bishop Zubik will make the official announcement. In October, the new clergy assignments will take effect. There is a chance I may be part of the new configuration, though I strongly suspect that I will be going elsewhere. In the meantime, I will be praying that the Holy Spirit can guide the process, helping Bishop Zubik to choose good priests for our grouping, and giving me an assignment where I can best use my gifts in service to the Church.
                                                                                              Father H                 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe - November 26, 2017

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. That’s a real mouthful, so let’s just call it by its common title of Christ the King. As important as this feast is, there are some interesting facts behind it that can give us an insight into what the feast is all about.

First of all, this seems like an obvious celebration for our Church. Jesus spoke frequently of “the Kingdom of God” and let it be known that He was the one to bring about this Kingdom. He is clearly our Lord and Savior, fully divine and fully human, and it is through Him that the Father created all things. Thus it should be obvious that we acclaim His as our King. So it may surprise us to learn that today’s feast is relatively new, less than 100 years old. Pope Pius XI instituted the celebration of Christ the King in 1925. Pope Pius was concerned with the rise of secularism and atheism in the society. If that was a concern in 1925, imagine how Pope Pius would react to our age. In a world where our culture tells us to keep our faith to ourselves and that does not want us to influence public policy, we can reflect on Pius’ words, “If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth... it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God.”

When Pope Pius created this feast, he put it each year on the last Sunday of October. In 1969, Blessed Pope Paul VI moved it to its current place in the calendar, on the last Sunday of the Church’s year. Next Sunday begins a new year in the Chard with the start of the season of Advent. That seems appropriate because the Church traditionally takes the end of the year to reflect on the end of time. While we believe that Christ’s death and resurrection truly instituted the Kingdom of God in the world, we also see that the kingdom will not be fully realized until the end of time, when Christ will return and when He will join us to Himself in the eternal glory of heaven. Until then, this feast represents our certain faith in Christ’s victory over sin and death.

As we celebrate Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, I remind you of the opportunity to spend some time in Adoration of our Lord in the Eucharist. We will have Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament after the 11:00 Mass until the solemn Benediction at 3:00. Please join us to worship our Lord and King.

Finally, as I was double checking on a few of the details of this column, I also found a little bit of trivia that I leave you as a bonus. A number of Protestant churches have picked up the feast, and the Church of Sweden informally refers to this feast as “Sunday of Doom” since it reminds us of the last days when the world comes to an end. Furthermore, there is a statue of Christ the King in Swiebodzin, Poland. That statue holds the record for the largest statue of Jesus in the world. It is listed at 33 meters high, one meter for every year of Jesus’ earthly life. That puts it three meters taller than the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I don’t know if that means anything significant, but you may be able to use it to impress your Catholic or Polish friends.
                                                                                                Father H                 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 19, 2017

In the Peanuts comic strip, Charles Schulz did a series of strips in which Snoopy was so caught up in the beauty of the world that he just had to dance. In the midst of it, Lucy – ever the fussbudget – criticized him. How could he dance with so much trouble in the world? Snoopy paid her no mind but just went on dancing. Finally, after Lucy had offered her criticism, Snoopy stopped and sat down. Lucy said, “I’m glad you finally came to your senses.” After she walked away, Snoopy said, “It wasn’t that. I stopped dancing because my feet hurt.”

There is a little bit of Lucy in each one of us. Sometimes life weighs us down. It is easy to see the problems and struggles of life. It is easy to focus on the things that are wrong. But sometimes we need to be Snoopy. How often do we take time to recognize the blessings? How often are we so caught up in the beauty of the world that we just have to dance – or sing or laugh or whatever we do to express our joy?

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. There are great rituals associated with this holiday. They involve eating so much that we fall asleep on the sofa while watching football. But let us not forget what this holiday is truly all about. This is our opportunity to give thanks to God for all His blessings. Giving thanks is not a way to appease God as though we were worried that He might get mad if we forgot Him. It is rather a way of accepting His gifts for what they are, signs of His love. By being grateful, we see His love in every moment of our lives. In that way, we take a cue from one of the Prefaces that we use for the Eucharistic Prayer for weekday masses: “For although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift, since our praises add nothing to your greatness but profit us for salvation.”

In my own prayer, I sometimes use a rather silly image to help me recognize how important gratitude is. I imagine trying to thank God for every gift we have received. I would start with each breath I take: “Thank you for that one, and for that one, and there’s another one.” And in the midst of it, I would begin to notice each beat of my heart. In fact, I would get so caught up in thanking God for those basic signs that I would never be able to move, and I would thus miss the opportunity to thank Him for every blade of grass and every ray of sunshine. The serious lesson I draw from that image is that we are so surrounded by God’s gifts that we cannot possibly thank Him sufficiently. But in trying to do so, we move from Lucy to Snoopy. We keep our difficulties in perspective to see that, above all and in spite of anything else we might face, God’s love and protection are with us.

For me, I will be celebrating Thanksgiving with my sister in Virginia. I will be gone this whole week, but please know that I will be keeping all St. Malachy parishioners in my prayers in a special way, for the opportunity to serve this parish is one of the gifts for which I am most grateful. So happy Thanksgiving, everybody. And if you take this holiday seriously, then be like Snoopy and dance until your feet hurt.
                                                                                           Father H                   

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 12, 2017

In 1991 and 1992, the Pittsburgh Penguins won their first two Stanley Cups. In each case there was no question as to who would win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Mario Lemieux was clearly the best player on the ice each time. Our Penguins have again won the Cup each of the last two years, and again the team captain was playoff MVP in each season. The difference is that the choice was not as obvious either year. Most of us would agree that Sidney Crosby is the best player in the NHL, and he was certainly a deserving choice for the Conn Smythe. But you could make a strong argument for Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel or a number of other players. This is Sidney Crosby's team, but winning the Stanley Cup is truly a team effort.

The Church also works as a team. In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, each parish works with others to accomplish what we cannot do on our own. That idea is part of the hope behind On Mission for the Church Alive, which seeks to bring parishes together to form one stronger parish. But it also reaches beyond what any parish could do. By itself, for example, no parish could run a hospital or a nursing home for the care of the sick. No parish could run a seminary for the education of future generations of priests. Through the teamwork of the various parishes, the Diocese of Pittsburgh runs such programs through the efforts of the annual Parish Share Program. I generally write about this program, both in this column and in a letter to parishioners, in February, when the program starts for the year. But I want to renew my comments again at this time because we are a bit behind where we have been in the past. I want to take this opportunity to ask for a little extra push.

I have to admit that at times, pastors tend to look at that Parish Share assessment as a tax, an amount we have to come up with. Yet the truth is that we do benefit from that contribution. Even beyond the benefits we share with other parishes, we benefit directly in the generous contributions the Diocese has made to our own St. Malachy School. Beyond the help that we receive from the Parish Share Program, we can also benefit in another way. If we can collect the entire amount of our assessment, then the Diocese allows our parish to keep any additional money we would collect in this drive and would not count it toward next year’s assessment. So we have the opportunity to support the teamwork of the Diocese and still help our parish in a particular way.

If you have already given to the Parish Share Program, I thank you for your commitment to our parish and our diocese. If you have not yet given or would like to increase your donations, I can tell you that I would truly appreciate your push to make this program a success for our parish. To return to my original analogy, consider the Penguins’ run to the Cup this past year. Jake Guentzel was a big star, although he started the year as a minor leaguer. Marc-Andre Fleury was the goalie through the first half of the playoffs, when Matt Murray was injured, but then Murray came back and was fresh when Fleury seemed to be tiring. The Penguins relied on players to come in part way through and make a push to help those who had been contributing. So we can appreciate those who come in when we need an extra boost and give us a hand toward meeting our assessment. Thank you, as always, for your contribution to our parish.
                                                                                          Father H                 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 5, 2017

This weekend we celebrate our parish feast day, the feast of Saint Malachy. We are permitted to move our patronal feast to the nearest Sunday in order that we may celebrate with the entire parish. The readings we use this weekend are not the readings found in the worship aids. We are using readings and prayers from the Common of Pastors. Meanwhile, I want to update some of our plans for St. Malachy Church.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the “test drive” we recently had with the potential new sound system. Now I want to tell you what has happened since. For one thing, I said in that column that I did not know if the diocese would let us change the case statement to use money from the recent diocesan capital campaign for the purchase. Our Regional Vicar, Fr. Howard Campbell, read that column and encouraged me to apply for the change, telling me that he thought it would be a good use of our funds. Following diocesan policy, I got signatures from both our Pastoral and Finance Councils supporting the change. I sent those forms to the diocese along with a copy of my earlier column, which showed that we were open with all of you about our plans. I expected there to be a time for discussion and for the diocese to ask further questions. Instead, they replied very quickly, agreeing that we had taken the proper steps and that this is a worthwhile project for us. They gave us immediate permission to proceed.

Even though we got permission, we still had to determine whether we actually had the money available right now. Before we could actually pose the question, a parishioner who had been very impressed with the speakers approached me. This parishioner insists on remaining anonymous and wants to contribute a significant percentage of the cost. (If anyone else wants to contribute as well, we would be happy to accept.) With that generosity, we have placed the order for the new speakers. It should take some time before we can take delivery and install them, but we are at least in process.

Meanwhile, I would like to address the two biggest concerns from the surveys. One was that some people heard a bit of an echo. While the nature of the building creates an acoustical challenge, a permanent installation on the wall should allow us to improve that issue.

The other issue was that my lapel microphone was a bit muffled, although the hand-held mike was better. Those microphones are part of the existing system. As it turns out, even if we would not get the new system, we would lose both of those mikes. They are on a frequency that is now reserved and is no longer available for our use. The frequency of the hand-held mike is already unavailable to us, and the lapel mike will likely follow very soon. So while we are addressing the speakers, we are also planning to get new microphones that should be clearer.

What impressed me most during the trial period was the number of people who told me personally that they had hearing problems and that the speakers we were trying made a world of difference. Those were the people who implored me to get them. The Eucharistic Liturgy is the most important thing we do, and I am glad that we are going to enhance the experience of the Mass by making it easier for our people to hear.
                                                                                    Father H                 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Sunday, October 26, 2017

Before this month of October runs out, I want to take an opportunity to reflect on a special feature of this month. No, I am not speaking of the World Series, even though I consider it to be the “High Holy Days” of the year in sports. I am not referring to the autumn colors in the trees, although they certainly are a gift of God to show us His love. And I am not writing about Hallowe’en, a day that was once a fun little time for children to dress up and enjoy candy, and which has become overdone and over-commercialized.

We also look at October as the month of the Holy Rosary. This month offers us a chance to see what a wonderful form of prayer we have. It is a chance to reflect with our Blessed Mother on all the mysteries of faith that are part of the story of our salvation. In that sense I sometimes think back to the days when my father took photographs with slide film. Every so often we would set up the projector and screen in the living room and have a slide show. We would remember our family stories, and as the youngest, I would feel a certain connection even with events that happened before I was born or when I was too young to remember. Having Mom and Dad there to tell the stories made them real to me in a deeper sense. So reflecting on the story of our salvation in the presence of our Blessed Mother can help us relate and can show us that the stories in the Scriptures are not so distant from us. They are our stories. And reflecting on the mysteries brings us close to the Blessed Virgin Mary, with whom we share the grace of her Divine Son.

I like to say that one of the great aspects of the rosary is its flexibility. By that I mean that you can pray it in different ways. Some people like to concentrate on the Hail Mary, while others allow the repetition of the prayer to block distractions so they can open their minds to meditate more deeply on each of the mysteries. Some people get more out of praying the rosary in a group, while others (like me) prefer to pray it alone. For one thing, I like to do it at my own pace rather than go at someone else’s speed. And there are quite a few factors that could make me either speed up or slow down. We can pray in church before the Blessed Sacrament, but I like praying while I go for a walk or take a drive. For such a purpose, I prefer to carry a one-decade ring rosary, though I also have my favorite rosaries of the more traditional style. Also, I will occasionally draw upon my seminary training and do one decade in Latin. I know the basic prayers (the Pater Noster, the Ave Maria, and the Gloria Patri) in Latin well enough to do it without reading them, but I still need to stop and think about the words, which is the main point in my using Latin. It forces me to remember what I am saying.

Thus the rosary is a prayer that we can use in many different ways. So if you find yourself frightened by a Halloween ghost, grateful at the beauty that God puts into beautiful autumn foliage, or even depressed that the Pirates are not in the World Series, take it as an opportunity to pray the Rosary. Allow Mary to bring us closer to Christ and His saving love.
                                                                                         Father H                 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 22, 2017

I had already written a column for this week. I got a little bit of an early start on this column and felt good about getting ahead. Perhaps I can save the column that I first wrote for next week, although time is running short on the topic.

Just as I was emailing my column to our bulletin editor, I got a call from Fr. Michael telling me that his father had died. As much as he is a part of our parish family, in addition to being a good friend, I felt that I had to comment in this space.

When I heard the news of Fr. Michael’s father, I couldn’t help but think of my own parents. My mother died in 1992, just a couple of weeks before her 72nd birthday, after a short battle with cancer. At the time I was Parochial Vicar at St. Gabriel Parish in Whitehall. We had a retired priest, Fr. Thomas Carey, living with us at the time. I later heard that at the Sunday evening Mass the day Mom died, Fr. Carey told the people to pray for me in a special way. I would like to remember Fr. Carey’s remarks for Fr. Michael. As a priest who made a commitment to celibacy, Fr. Michael relies upon his parents to be his family. He does not have a wife or children to turn to for comfort. A priest’s relationship with his parents is a special bond.

After my mother’s death, my father lived on his own for another 19 years. He died in 2011, just a couple of months before my silver anniversary. I remember once as a little boy when I commented that it was going to be exciting to see the year 2000. Dad said, “For you, maybe. I would have to live to 85 to see 2000.” I reminded him of that conversation somewhere around 2010. Like my father, Fr. Michael’s dad lived to be 96. I guess there was something particularly hardy about those World War Il veterans. As I had done, Fr. Michael consoled himself with the thought that his father lived a full and good life. He felt that it was time for his father to go. His father, in fact, had said that he was ready some time before.

Before he entered the seminary, Fr. Michael used to help his father in his work, learning such skills as installing tile. In recent years, when Mr. Maranowski could not do the things he liked, Fr. Michael often had to do things for him, including helping him stand when he fell. As I sometimes told Fr. Michael, “It’s tough raising parents these days.” He will certainly miss his father terribly, but his faith is his source of strength. He will also be a source of comfort to his mother. And fortunately he still has brothers in the vicinity.

Please keep the Maranowski family in your prayers, and pray for eternal rest for Joseph Maranowski.
If you would like to send your condolences to Fr. Michael, his address is:

        Fr. Michael J. Maranowski
c/o Felician Sisters Motherhouse
1500 Woodcrest Ave.
Coraopolis, PA 15108-3054
                                                                                                          Father H                 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 15, 2017

When representatives from the several states met to the Constitution, they designed the House of Representatives to be based on the population of each state. They soon had a concern that a change in population could leave some heavily populated areas without sufficient representation, while more sparsely populated regions could have disproportionate influence, as had happened with the House of Commons in England. So the Constitution mandates that the government take a census every ten years and that the data accumulated be used to determine how many representatives shall serve from each state.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh has done something similar to a census over the years. Every year, every parish has kept a running tab on the number of people attending Sunday Masses during the month of October. Every Sunday during this month, ushers in every parish count the number of people at every Mass, and the number is turned in to the diocese. These numbers helped point out the trends that every parish has faced over the years of declining attendance. Furthermore, the data has helped the diocese know how many priests are needed to serve each parish, although now priests are stretched thin throughout the diocese.

Much of the data collected over the years has gone into the planning process, On Mission for the Church Alive. The information helped frame the issue that had become apparent over the years, at first highlighting the need for such a process. Those figures have also helped the diocese to formulate the original “models,” and after those numbers were available for us when we were invited to give feedback, they were part of the “groupings” that we are currently working with.

Given how much those numbers have meant to this process, the diocese is keeping the count going up through April. Once we begin the transition next year, this data will be one of the factors used in determining Mass schedules. Of course that leaves us with an issue of nomenclature. Since we count people during the weekends of October, we have always called it – simply enough – the “October Count.” It would seem rather odd to call it an October Count in February (though I will probably continue to do so out of habit). So now we are calling it the Mass Attendance Count. So if you see ushers looking at you in your pew during the readings, don’t get paranoid. They are only counting you to include you in our data.

Finally, I will add a somewhat trivial note. Some time ago I read an interesting article that claimed that 100 years ago the census bureau was afraid that it would not be able to keep up with its duty because the population had grown to such an extent that a census would eventually take more than ten years to complete. Then the advent of the computer enabled the census bureau to do its job. Similarly, in the past we mailed a paper to the diocese with the numbers at the end of each October. Now we are logging in each weekend to send the numbers in online. Who says we don’t keep up?
                                                                                                      Father H                 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 8, 2017

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. When I was ordained in 1986, I was assigned as Parochial Vicar at St. Francis de Sales Parish in McKees Rocks. I remember one day my pastor telling me that something was going on at one of the neighboring parishes and that they were looking for priests to come and help out. I don’t remember the details, though I suspect it involved helping with confessions. What I remember is being greeted by Fr. Nick Mastrangelo and then coming in to find myself amazed at what a beautiful church St. Malachy was. Over the years of visiting Fr. Michael during his time here, I again found myself admiring the beauty of this building. I have often said that, in terms of beauty, I have two favorite churches. My favorite traditional-style church is my home parish of St. James in Wilkinsburg, and my favorite modern-style church is St. Malachy.

When I began as pastor here about 3½ years ago, I was thankful to be part of this beautiful church. I soon realized that the sound did not measure up to the visual beauty of the church. That is why I was happy that we had the opportunity to “test-drive” a new sound system in recent weeks. Since that test period ended, people have been asking, “What next?” That is a decision that we still have to make. As we look at that decision, I want to thank the 547 people who responded to the survey during the test period. (I call it a “survey,” for it doesn’t sound right to use the term “feedback” about a sound system.)

The people who delivered the system for our test made a prediction. They said that the speakers we got would be so impressive that someone would give us a check for the whole amount and tell us to buy them. What happened was that we got several different reactions. There were some people who did not notice much difference. I haven’t checked the locations of those comments, but I suspect that they were seated in places where the current speakers cover well. Many others said that the new system made a world of difference, and some people spoke personally to me to tell me that they had hearing problems and that they were able to hear much better than they had before. Also about 25% of the respondents asked for adjustments, some of which we made each week of the trial. At least one person said we should “shop around” for other possible solutions.

Now we have to figure out where we are going. Before this trial, we had a bid on a sound system that would cost us over $40,000. Any expenditure of that magnitude requires diocesan permission, and the diocese is not currently giving that kind of permission while On Mission for the Church Alive is going on. We can probably handle the $27,000 through the Campaign we had, but the sound system was not on our case statement. We can ask the diocese to adapt the statement for us, but again we don’t know if the diocese would accept at this point.

We will review the question with the Finance Council at our next meeting, later this month. In the meantime, I am thankful for all those who took part in the whole project. I am particularly thankful for Dan Chujko and his help in arranging the demonstration and in monitoring the progress. Finally, please pray for us as we look for the best way to enhance our liturgies.
                                                                                           Father H                   

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 1, 2017

I think it was two years ago that I was walking around our parish festival when I met a group of our high school girls. They invited me to join them in their challenge. They were going to eat something from every single food booth at our festival. I told them that, at my age, my stomach couldn’t take it if I ate that much at one time. I’m not sure, but I think they accomplished their goal. I don’t know, but I suspect that they won’t try it again this year.

As our festival begins this week, we have a lot of fun ahead of us, and we may want to try to enjoy all of it. First and foremost, we have a lot of wonderful food. I can’t tell you everything that I’m going to eat, but I do know that I will sample the German booth, and I’m looking forward to having a gyro. Beyond that, I know that anything else I eat will be good. As I like to say, if you leave our festival hungry, it’s your own fault. There will be plenty of good food, and you can’t go wrong with any of it.

The food is the primary draw of our festival, but there will be other enjoyable things as well. For me, I’m particularly eager for the entertainment. Our St. Malachy School cheerleaders always put on a good show at the festival (as they do anywhere), some of Fr. Russell’s friends from his barbershop singing group will be with us again, and there even are rumors that Elvis will make an appearance. What I’m eager for, however, is the first act of the festival, at 5:00 on Thursday. I have thought of the festival as a time to try something new, but in the past I meant that I would try different food. This year I have been working on a new skill that can be used to entertain people, and I’m going to do it in public for the first time at 5:00 Thursday. I’ve always enjoyed entertaining, whether acting, singing, or playing guitar (as you may have heard at the Christmas Masses last year). So now I’m going to try something new at the festival. I hope that I will be entertaining, but it would also be interesting to watch and to talk about if I fall on my face. So come on out and see what will happen. (And even if I flop, the cheerleaders are performing after me.)

In addition to the food and the entertainment, there are games to be played. Many of the games will be for children, but the adults can have fun with such things as the wheel of money. And don’t forget the various raffles. There will be a number of prizes that you can take a chance on, especially the main raffle. We have already given away two “early bird” prizes of $200 each, with a prize of $250 going this weekend. The main prizes, of course, will be drawn each night at the festival: $1,000 on Thursday, $2,500 on Friday and $5,000 on Saturday.

So I hope that I get to see all of you at the festival this week. It will be a wonderful time for all of us. I suppose it will be a particularly good time for whoever wins the $5,000, and I hope it will be a good time for whoever watches my act on Thursday. Finally, if the girls again decide to eat something from every single booth on one night, then we will consider opening an antacid booth at next year’s festival.

                                                                      Father H                   

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 24, 2017

The news came out last week that Pope Francis had made a change in Canon Law concerning liturgical translations. Essentially, he is giving more authority to local bishops to determine how the translation will flow. Most commentators that I’ve read (including our neighbor Fr. Lou Vallone in the Post-Gazette) are of the opinion that we won’t see a difference in our Sunday Masses for quite some time. On the other hand, it gives me a chance to reflect a bit on our use of language in the liturgy. With almost six years of experience with the new translation, I thought I might reflect a bit on the subject.

When we first introduced the new liturgy, I worried that it did not flow as easily, that it did not seem to come naturally to a speaker of twenty-first century American English. Then I realized that every high school student at some time makes the same complaint about William Shakespeare. The more we listen to Shakespeare, really trying to get the whole sense of the action, then the more we get from the beauty of his Elizabethan language. In the liturgy, we are moving into an entirely new realm. Part of the issue is that we are trying to keep a balance. Our faith teaches us the power and majesty of God, but we can never forget that Christ’s Incarnation bridges the chasm and allows us to approach the otherwise unapproachable God. So our liturgy should be both mysterious and familiar, both challenging and comfortable. We may never actually strike that balance, but we always seek to keep both sides together. There are some parts of the Roman Missal that I still feel were better in the previous translation, and there are some parts that I have come to like in the current edition. The more I pray these prayers, the more I feel the incredible power of what the prayers accomplish, namely, Christ’s promise to give us His Body and Blood at every celebration of the Mass. The beauty is still there, but in a language that invites us to set aside our ordinary lives to enter into the realm of the sacred.

The current edition of Reader’s Digest explores our language and encourages readers to expand their familiarity with English while also extolling the virtues of simple writing. One article examines the grade-level needed to read the average book on the New York Times bestseller list. In the 1960s, you needed an eighth grade reading level to read the average book, with most of the books requiring at least a seventh-grade level. Today almost all the books on that list require no more than a sixth grade level. The author respects the opinion that we are “dumbing down” our reading level but also states, “Writing doesn’t need to be complicated to be considered powerful or literary.” He cites such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird or The Grapes of Wrath, which “are revered, but they are also accessible enough to be taught in middle and high school.” Another article in the magazine describes the job of putting the dictionary together and how important it is to look for just the right word, as different words have different shades of meaning. So our liturgy strives to keep the balance between simplicity and precision. The perfect balance is an unattainable ideal. But if we bring a prayerful attentiveness to Mass, the liturgy can speak to our hearts.
                                                                                                      Father H                   

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 17, 2017

Last week in this column I gave an update on On Mission for the Church Alive! as it relates to scheduling Mass Intentions. I wanted to cover that part of the topic first because we had our Mass scheduling session this past week. I would now like to move on to a more general update.

As a reminder, we are grouped with St. Philip and St. John of God parishes. When that grouping was announced, we were asked to give our feedback. The overwhelming consensus from what I heard is that our grouping works about as well as we could have hoped. I know there are some areas of the diocese where they are asking for some changes, but I strongly suspect that we will remain in that same grouping. Currently, the diocese is studying all the feedback they received and is looking to make any tweaks that may be necessary.

In preparation for the next step, our parish recently hosted an evening for the Finance Councils, the Pastoral Councils and the On Mission Teams from each of the three parishes. This was an informal event designed to allow us to get to know one another since we will be working together in the future.
Next year, probably in April, Bishop Zubik will announce the final groupings. He was originally looking for some time in March, but he will probably wait until Easter, which falls on April 1 this coming year. At that time, he will announce how many church buildings will be used in each grouping, but no churches will close at that time. He will also announce new assignments for every priest in the diocese. One priest will be named as pastor (or administrator) of all the parishes in that grouping, and any parochial vicars assigned to that grouping will be named at the same time. He will also give a “blueprint” for each grouping to follow, and he will announce the amount of time we have to complete the merger (most likely two, three or five years) and the number of Masses to be celebrated in the groupings once the new priests move in. Then, from April through some time in September, the priests will meet with one another. The new priests moving in will meet with Fr. Lou Vallone, Fr. John Gizler and me, for instance, to start to get to know the parishes and to make the plans for what the Mass schedule will look like.

In about a year from now, the priests’ assignments will take effect. We will move in and start working toward the final merger. Even at that time, no church buildings will close immediately. That will all be part of the final process of bringing the parishes together to form one new parish.
In the meantime, we are still providing pastoral ministry. If a couple comes to me to schedule a wedding, for instance, I will continue to work with them. I may not be able to guarantee that I will be the priest to celebrate the wedding, but the diocese is working to ensure that all the weddings will be covered.

                                                                                          Father H                  

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 10, 2017

There will be crowds in the parish office this week. It is time for our annual “party,” in which people come in to schedule Mass intentions for this coming year. This year, I realize, there are questions over the whole process. With On Mission for the Church Alive going on in the diocese, people may be asking what changes we can expect. This seems like a good time to review, particularly in regard to Mass intentions.

First of all, let me offer a brief word about intentions. Many people still take the attitude that if I request a particular Mass to be “offered for” a loved one, then this is “my” Mass. Strictly speaking, every Mass is offered for the good of the entire Church and belongs to all of us. But we ask the priest to include prayers for a particular need, usually for someone who has died. When a priest is concelebrating at a given Mass, as Fr. Russell generally does on weekday mornings, then there are two intentions being offered – mine and his.

With all of that in mind, we know that next spring Bishop Zubik is going to announce the final “groupings” for On Mission. Although it could change, it looks like we will be grouped with St. John of God and St. Philip. At that time, the bishop will announce what priests will be assigned. One priest will be assigned as administrator of all three parishes, and he and any Parochial Vicars assigned here will work with the current pastors to prepare for the transition. Sometime around this point next year, the new teams will move in and will have a given period of time (also to be announced) to complete the merger. At that point, there will need to be a new Mass schedule, which will obviously affect Mass intentions.

Bishop Zubik wants us to continue to provide for the ordinary pastoral needs of the faithful. Yet we have to remember the possible changes in schedule. So please keep several points in mind. First of all, there will be no change in schedule in the first part of next year. If you schedule an intention for a Mass up through August, there should be no changes.

All intentions scheduled after September will still be satisfied. But please keep in mind that the date or time you choose may have to change. If that is necessary, we will make every effort to reschedule the intention as close to the originally requested date as possible. Of course, it may just be a change in time on the same day. It is also possible that an intention may have to move to one of the other churches in our grouping, though we will make an effort not to do that.

There is one more possibility that Canon Law does not ordinarily permit. The bishop of a diocese can allow, under special circumstances, for a priest to offer more than one intention at the same Mass. Bishop Zubik has told us that he will grant that permission where there is a need. Thus we can tell you that all the intentions will be satisfied, and we ask you understanding if there may have to be a change in date, time or place, of if there may be more than one intention at any given Mass.
                                                                                             Father H                   

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 3, 2017

There is a saying that there are two types of people in terms of what they do when the alarm clock rings. Some get up and say, “Good morning, Lord.” And others sit in the edge of the bed and say, “Good Lord, morning.” I like to think that I am of the first type, but I will admit that there are some days where that attitude does not kick in until I get into the shower. Somehow it just seems that some mornings come earlier than others. The same could be said of the end of summer, though in this case it just seems to come faster and faster each year.

The first thing I try to do each day is to say a little prayer giving the day over to God. Often, then, the activities of the day crowd in on me. What, I ask myself, do I have to do today? The end of summer is a time to ask myself the same question on a larger scale, to think of what is happening in the coming weeks and months. So as things get busier, I would like to reflect on a few different topics today.

This coming Monday, September 4, is Labor Day. For many of us, we honor those who work by not working. Please note that the parish office and the school are closed that day, and that the morning Mass has been pushed back to 9:00 so that the alarm doesn’t have to ring quite as early.

We already have a full week of school in, but now we’re getting over the initial excitement and getting down to the routine. I enjoyed the quiet over the summer (and wasn’t quite ready to have it end), but it is great having the kids around and seeing the life they bring to our building. Please keep them in prayer.

Next Sunday and Monday, September 10 and 11, we have our first CCD classes of the year. It may be a little harder to get that message across with just one session a week, but the children in our Faith Education program are just as important as any others. Please keep the teachers and student in your prayers.

Looking a little further ahead, we are just about a month away from our Parish Festival. This is a great social event and a great opportunity to raise some money for our parish and school. Please plan on coming and enjoying the excellent food and the fun. And to help us prepare, please return your raffle tickets to the parish as soon as you can, if you have not already done so. You will certainly want to be ready for the early-bird drawings. Don’t forget, also, that you get a bonus this year. The total value of the tickets we sent to each family is $40, but if you sell the whole batch, you can give us just $35 and keep the rest to spend at the festival.

And speaking of the Festival, word is that there are special plans being made for festival entertainment. There is an act returning after a hiatus of a few years. There is also a new act, a person who has been seen around the parish and the festival for a few years but who has been learning a new skill that he will exhibit at the festival. Will he be entertaining, or will he fall flat on his face? Either way, it should be worth seeing.

                                                                                     Father H                

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 27, 2017

According to legend, a young boy stood on the steps of the courthouse, waiting for his hero to come out. A fan of the Chicago White Sox, the boy had been shocked by allegations that one of baseball’s greatest heroes, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, had been implicated in a scheme to conspire with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series. As Jackson came out after testifying to a grand jury, he tried to ignore the throng of people watching for a reaction. Yet the young boy is said to have pushed his way through the crowd and grabbed Jackson by the sleeve. With an imploring look, he begged, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” With tears in his eyes, Jackson could only respond, “I’m afraid it is, kid.”

Okay, so that scene may be a little melodramatic for today’s reflection. Still, I can imagine a bunch of kids scrunching down under the covers when their parents come in to wake them up. As Mom says, “It’s time to get up for school,” the kids respond, “Say it ain’t so!” They’re not ready to start school yet, for the summer vacation has flown by so quickly. Of course, if they do say “ain’t,” then we know that we need to get them to school and into an English class as quickly as possible. But that image of the child greeting Joe Jackson reminds me somewhat of my mixed feelings at the beginning of the year. I love being part of St. Malachy School and being with the great group of students and teachers that we have. On the other hand, that “Say it [isn’t] so” attitude reflects my feelings that it can’t be that time already. The calendar says it’s late August, but it feels like it should be July 1.

The obvious difference is that the little boy whose hero had failed him must have gone away totally disheartened. For us, once we adjust our schedules and get back into the routine, the new school year offers wonderful possibilities. Our eighth graders are looking forward to the Sacrament of Confirmation and to graduating and moving on to high school. In the meantime, they are looking forward to enjoying this year as the top class in our school. (I tell them to enjoy it while they can, for while they are the “big kids” now, there is nothing lower on any social ladder anywhere than being a high school freshman.) Our second graders are looking forward to First Penance and First Communion. And for all of our students, the following months will be filled with exciting new discoveries. There will be challenges, and there will be hard work. But our students will experience the thrill of accomplishment and the life-long satisfaction of learning something new. And there will be plenty of fun along the way.

Once I get over the shock, the first day of school is always a time of joy for me. God has blessed me in that I have never been in a parish that did not have a school. The school (as one of my former pastors often told me) brings such a great deal of life of a parish. To have the kids back with us every day is to fill an empty spot around the parish. The students are a constant reminder that God is sending us a new generation to carry on the life of the Church that has been handed down for 2,000 years. And while Shoeless Joe Jackson said it with tears, I say it with joy: It is so. Welcome back!

                                                                                       Father H      

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 20, 2017

It is a familiar enough story. A young man was raised by a loving Catholic mother and a father who had no religious faith. His mother tried to give him good example and lead him to faith, but he looked elsewhere for meaning and fulfillment. He tried a number of different movements, each time thinking that this was the one. Along the way, he fathered an illegitimate son. Throughout the young man’s life, his mother begged God with tearful prayers to bring her son to faith. That story could fit countless people today, but it happened in the fourth century. The young man, who finally accepted the Christian faith, was Saint Augustine, one of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church. His feast day is August 28, and we celebrate the feast day of his mother, Saint Monica, the day before.

St. Augustine wrote about his journey of faith in a beautiful work called The Confessions. In that book, he looks over the whole of his life, and he discovers that God was guiding him every step of the way, even as He allowed Augustine to keep on searching. So Saint Augustine can be a very helpful saint for us in our current age, when so many people are searching for meaning and fulfillment in their lives. We live in a very secular culture that can lead us in many different directions.  From our perspective of faith, however, we see God as the only one who can truly fulfill us. As Augustine said, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

With that searching in mind, each parish sponsors the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, popularly called the RCIA. The RCIA prepares people to enter the Catholic Church. In addition, we recognize that there are many who, like Saint Augustine, are still searching. The RCIA begins with an “Inquiry” stage, at which those who take part are able to ask any questions without fear of being judged and without making a commitment. As Augustine felt that God knew when he was ready to enter the Church, so we trust God to guide those who begin the Inquiry stage. Those who come to the RCIA and decide that the Catholic faith is for them can move on to preparation for becoming Catholic or for coming back to the Church. Others are welcome to say, at any time, “Thanks but no thanks.”

Saint Augustine recognized the importance of his mother’s prayers, along with the influence of her spiritual advisor, Saint Ambrose. Those who take part choose a sponsor to guide them. The sponsor’s role is the same as that of the sponsor (“godparent”) for Baptism or the sponsor for Confirmation. Of course, those sacraments are the way that those who have not yet received them are welcomed into the Church.

In addition, I have often found that those who have gone through the RCIA become its most enthusiastic supporters. Like St. Augustine, they come to a deeper appreciation of the faith because of the time they have spent searching.

So if you know someone who is interested in the Church or who simply has some questions for us, feel free to suggest that the person calls us to ask about the RCIA, or let us know and we can make the offer.

                                                                                         Father H                  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 13, 2017

While I am away on my vacation, I give you my annual “postcard” written in advance. My intention is to give you some idea of the fun I am having, and then I will see if I can come up with some sort of a spiritual point to make on top of it.

Last week I wrote about my baseball vacation (though some might speak of my baseball obsession). Last Sunday I was in Minneapolis to watch the Minnesota Twins, and from there I went to Milwaukee to watch the Brewers. Those were my 36th and 37th overall major league ballparks. Now, with most of a week left in my vacation, I am about to leave Milwaukee for the final stage of my fun.

I like to take a little more relaxed time towards the end of vacation. At the same time, I like to see other sights and even perhaps get to a minor league baseball game. My original plan once I settled on this year’s destination was to come home by way of Indianapolis, Indiana and Columbus, Ohio. Indianapolis is the Pirates top farm team, but they were not going to be home at that time. But I did plan on seeing the game in Columbus. My plans changed fairly drastically one night while watching television.

Eight years ago my baseball trip took me to see the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto is one of the most fascinating cities, but one sight I had to see that year was the Hockey Hall of Fame. That seemed like a particularly good idea after I had made those plans on the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009. So on June 11, as I watched the Penguins wrap up the Cup again, I started to wonder what it would take to go from Milwaukee to Toronto. (That was a trip I could not practically make last year since my vacation was taking me to Florida.) While it is certainly not as direct as my original plan, it seemed perfectly manageable. And on the way home, I hope to see the Indianapolis baseball team in Buffalo.

I love to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York periodically. But as hockey is my second favorite sport, I also find the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto to be a wonderful place to visit. It always reminds me of how fortunate Penguins have been, considering some of the great players we have seen. Obviously Mario Lemieux was the greatest. But I was a fan back in the days when the Penguins wore blue and white. We have seen Hall of Fame players like Andy Bathgate, Leo Boivin, and Tim Horton (who was a great hockey player even before he started selling donuts). And although they were not in the Hall of Fame, we have gotten to see Jean Pronovost, Pierre Larouche and others. The fact that we put up with some teams that looked like they might never learn to win has only made the five Stanley Cup championships that much sweeter.

I suppose I could use all of that as an analogy for how the Cross leads to the Resurrection, or I could use the Hall of Fame to talk about our devotion to the saints. I think I will let you draw your own conclusions. All I ask is that you pray for safe travels for me, and know that I will look forward to being back with you next weekend.

                                                                                               Father H                  

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Transfiguration of the Lord

While I am away on my vacation, I give you my annual “postcard” written in advance. My intention is to give you some idea of the fun I am having, and then I will see if I can come up with some sort of a spiritual point to make on top of it.

As many of you know, my vacation each year centers around Major League Baseball. I check the schedules of various teams once I know when I can schedule my vacation, and then I plan a trip to see a ballpark or two I have not seen before. This year I thought I was going to Oakland and San Francisco, but then the diocese suggested that I go on the conference in New Jersey about Catholic schools that I was on recently. It was a great opportunity, but it came just at the time I had originally planned for my vacation. So I went back to the baseball schedules and realized that I could hit Minnesota and Milwaukee. By the time this bulletin comes out, I will be in Minneapolis to watch the Twins.

One interesting factor about my vacation this year is that I have been to both of those cities. I was in Minnesota when the Twins played at the Metrodome, and I saw the Milwaukee Brewers at old County Stadium. Now I am returning for their new venues. Target Field and Miller Park will be my 36th and 37th major league ballparks, starting with our own Forbes Field.

I saw the Metrodome in Minneapolis in 2006, right after seeing the All-Star game at PNC Park. I always wear my Pirates gear to the games when I am on vacation, and a number of people stopped me and asked if I had traveled to Pittsburgh for the game. I told him I was from Pittsburgh and explained how I take my vacations, and in they said they had seen our ballpark on TV and were amazed at how beautiful it was. Then, in each case, they asked me what I thought of the Metrodome. And no matter who asked, they didn't even give me a chance to answer before they said, “You know, we're getting a new park here.” So I am eager to see what they have come up with.

So perhaps the spiritual point is that we appreciate what we have, but we also look forward to something more. That could refer to the diocesan process On Mission for the Church Alive, or could remind us that our ultimate hope is not in this world but is in heaven.

I also can take such a message from the way my vacations develop. When I first went to Milwaukee in 2000 and to Minneapolis in 2006, I wasn’t planning my vacations as thoroughly as I do now. Now I go on the Internet to search for things that tourists do – art museums, historical sites and so forth.

So I will be enjoying myself as you read this. Meanwhile I will look forward to  being home again in two weeks.                              
                                                                                                       Father H                  

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 30, 2017

Think of a time when you heard something so good that you just had to tell anyone you could think of. It might be an engagement or a pregnancy. It might be something like the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup. Or it might just be a good joke. The point is that there are certain things we just have to share. As much as we love to share such items, we should be just as eager to share the greatest of all good news, the salvation won for us by Christ Jesus through His death and resurrection. More than anything else, Christ makes a total difference in our lives. And when we understand that point, then we cannot keep it to ourselves. In our present-day culture, the need for that news is greater than ever. The Church’s call for the “New Evangelization” calls for us to be living witnesses to our faith throughout our lives and to do what we can to lead those around us to find the joy of Christ.

In the midst of the New Evangelization, there is still room for a more traditional form of evangelization. There are missionaries who work in various parts of the world who need our help to bring the message of Christ to those who need to hear it. It is a long-standing and worthy tradition for the Church to have an opportunity to reach out to those in other parts of the world. Every year, each parish in the Diocese of Pittsburgh takes one weekend to participate in the Missionary Cooperation Plan in which we host a missionary, who will tell us about his group’s work and their needs. There is, of course, a second collection for that weekend, with the proceeds going to help others receive the joy of Christ’s love.

I am giving you a little bit of advance warning on this year’s missionary appeal, for I will be on my vacation when the time comes. Two weeks from now, on the weekend of August 12-13, we will host a priest from the Diocese of Geita. Geita is located in Tanzania, in East Africa. They list as their mission, “To inspire and empower people as a family of God in the Diocese through deep evangelization, Socio-economic, healthcare service, good education, formation of all agents of evangelization in the Diocese, revitalization and continued emphasis on the role of small Christian Communities for evangelization, and preferential option for the poor and those infected with HIV/AIDS.” As I will be away the next two weekends, I take this opportunity to ask you to be generous in supporting this mission. On a practical note, all money we collect for this cause goes to the missionary effort, but first it goes through the Diocese of Pittsburgh so that they (and we) can keep track of what we collect. So if you write a check for this cause, please make it payable to St. Malachy Parish.

As I indicated, I will be leaving on my vacation this Wednesday. The vacation actually starts next Saturday. But diocesan policy allows a priest to make up any days off that he didn’t get, so I am tacking a couple of those on to the front end of the vacation. Fr. Don Buchleitner will be here to assist next weekend, and the missionary priest will be here the following week and will stay through the holy day of the Assumption on August 15.                                                            

                                                                                                 Father H                   

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - July 23, 2017

There is a story about a little girl who was misbehaving in church one Sunday. Her mother decided to dole out the worst punishment she could think of. She would not allow her daughter to go to the parish picnic. A little later the mother had second thoughts and told the child she could go to the picnic after all. Instead of celebrating, the little girl started to cry. “What’s wrong, dear?” asked the mother. “I thought you’d be happy.” The little girl answered, “It’s too late. When you said I couldn’t go to the picnic, I prayed for rain.”

I certainly hope that little girl doesn’t belong to St. Malachy Parish. We had rain on our picnic day each of my first three years here, but I’m confident that we’re going to have a beautifully warm and dry day. (I’m writing this far enough in advance that I haven’t yet seen a weather report.) So even if you have not signed up in advance, come on out and join us. Mass is at 1:00. And if you’ve already attended Mass, come up for the rest of the fun.

I think everyone knows what to expect at a picnic, but I still have to fill up this column. Seriously, I should describe the event since we’re planning on some new things this year. Of course there will be typical picnic food, such as hamburgers and hot dogs. The Knights of Columbus will be doing the cooking, as always.

Meanwhile, Pastoral Council has decided to add to the fun this year. Of course we will have bingo, as is the custom for our parish picnic. But we are also having beanbag toss and other games for those who (like me) are not bingo players. And for the kids, there will be children’s games as well as face painting.

Parishes often have social events that also help raise funds for the parish, such as our festival in October. But this picnic is simply to bring us all together. We are all brothers and sisters since we are children of God our Father. We express that family solidarity most especially when we pray together and celebrate the Eucharist together. Yet there is more to it than that. C. S. Lewis wrote about recognizing the holiness of the people around us, and he said, “This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.” So it is truly appropriate for us to set aside a day for the simple purpose of having fun and enjoying one another’s company.

So come on up to Fairhaven Park this Sunday and join us for a day of fun and food. And please do not pray for rain.

                                                                                                Father H                  

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 16, 2017

I suspect that it was merely a case of miscommunication. I would not want to accuse someone of intentionally misleading me, particularly since (a) this person had a reputation for dealing fairly with people, (b) he has since died, (c) thirty-one years have passed since the discussion in question, and (d) the misunderstanding has worked out so well for me. The discussion I am thinking of came with Mr. Joseph P. Day, the principal of what was then McKees Rocks Catholic Elementary School. I was then a brand new priest, freshly ordained and assigned to St. Francis de Sales Parish in The Rox. Joe was asking if I would be involved with the school, perhaps even teaching on a regular basis. What I got from that discussion was that it was common for the Parochial Vicar in the parish to spend time in the school and to teach regularly. After I had begun to do so, a couple of people commented to me that they were not used to a priest who was so active with the students. By that time, I could not accuse Joe of misleading me, for I was very happy to be part of it.

You may ask why I am talking about school involvement in the middle of summer vacation. Certainly the students don’t want to think about going back to school, and the teachers are probably in the same situation. But this week I will have an opportunity to appreciate anew my involvement in our school. Fr. Joe Mele has been a long-time friend of St. Malachy, and he currently serves the diocese as Episcopal Vicar for Leadership Development and Evangelization. Fr. Mele knows my love for school ministry, and he suggested that I enroll in a seminar being presented by the Catholic Education Foundation. The topic of the seminar is “The Role of the Priest in Today’s Catholic School.” Fr. Peter Stravinskas, the director of the organization, is one of a number of presenters who are leading this conference at Seton Hall University in New Jersey this week. I am attending the conference in hopes of enhancing my own commitment to St. Malachy School, but I also hope to spend some time talking with Fr. Stravinskas on the subject of how we can tailor the ideas presented to the Diocese of Pittsburgh, as we look to restructure the schools.

It is harder today for a priest to be involved with a school. There more demands as there are fewer of us around, and I’m sure that some priests are concerned with the possibility of accusations if they are seen around children. But I am convinced that we have to make an effort to be present to the children if we want to have hope of retaining the next generation in the Church. I trace the beginning of my vocation to the involvement of the pastor of my home parish, and I have had the blessing of celebrating weddings for a number of my former students.

So I ask your prayers as I attend this seminar. And please note that I will be away from the parish from Tuesday through Friday of this week.

                                                                                           Father H                  

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 9, 2017

I recently returned to my seminary alma mater, Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for my annual retreat. While this year’s retreat was just as restful and prayerful as always, there is a certain air of excitement at “The Mount.”

Mount St. Mary’s has long been known as “the cradle of bishops.” Quite a few bishops were once students there, including four who were students during my time, either ahead of me or behind me. That list includes a former Pittsburgh priest, Bishop Edward Burns of Dallas. But now we are hoping that Mount St. Mary’s will also become “the cradle of saints.” This September, Pope Francis is going to beatify Father Stanley Rother. Father Rother was ordained in 1963 as a priest of Oklahoma City. As of this September 23, he will be known as “Blessed Stanley Rother,” one step short of being a saint.

Father Rother was born on March 27, 1935 into a farming family, but he came to understand early on that God wanted him to be a priest. He struggled to learn Latin, but his bishop sent him to Mount St. Mary’s. After his ordination, he served in his home diocese until he sought permission to become a missionary. He received permission and in 1968 went to Santiago Atitlan in Guadalupe. Although he had trouble learning Latin in the seminary, he quickly picked up Spanish as well as the more difficult dialect of Tz’utujil. That was the language spoken by the native tribe that was descended from the Mayans. Father Rother translated the New Testament into their language, even though Tz’utujil was not a written language until the missionaries arrived.

Trouble arose when civil war broke out in Guatemala, and when fighting began to reach the poor people of his region, he learned that his name was on the death list. He went home to Oklahoma City but soon returned to his people, saying, “The shepherd cannot run.” Early in the morning of July 28, 1981, three men entered his rectory to kill him. He resisted just long enough to let others get to safety before he died. His body was returned to Oklahoma City, but as he had wished, his heart was enshrined in Guatemala. On December 2 of last year, Pope Francis officially recognized him as a martyr, clearing the way for his beatification (and, we pray, eventual canonization) more easily.
Father Rother’s story reminds us that sanctity can be found in our own day and age and in our own land. Moreover, it reminds us that persecution and martyrdom are still part of our modern world. As Blessed Pope Paul VI said at the canonization of the Ugandan martyrs, “This is a page worthy in every way to be added to the annals… of earlier times which we, living in this era and being men of little faith, never expected to be repeated.” We grew up hearing it said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” As an alumnus of the seminary that produced the first martyr of the United States, I pray that our faith may grow through his intercession. And I look forward to being able to pray, “Blessed Stanley Rother, pray for us.”
                                                                                                       Father H                  

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 2, 2017

This week we observe the anniversary of the founding of our nation. When the Founding Fathers put their names on the Declaration of Independence, they were putting their own heads on the line. In the view of the British government, they were guilty of treason. Today, 241 years later, that document remains as one of the masterpieces of political history.

The Declaration opens by explaining its purpose, “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” So much of human history (including American history) is made up of a struggle for power. Our nation is founded on the idea that government is to promote the common good. The United States was founded on a philosophy based on the rights of people.

The Declaration continues with its most famous line, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We, of course, can see the importance of recognizing the reference to God. We need to respect that all we have comes from God. Our rights come from our status as children of God. That is an important point for the pro-life movement today, for our humanity has great dignity, and we cannot throw human life away without doing great harm to the basic structure of our national values.

The Declaration then lists the grievances against England and King George III. Let me skip to two points at the end of the document, where the Americans refer to their “British brethren” and refers to other peoples as “Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.” Certainly, those references can have a political purpose, intending to keep the favor of those with whom the new nation would have to deal. Yet it also speaks of our willingness to see all people as brothers and sisters. Even when we have disputes, we try to see in one another the dignity that comes from God.

Finally, the Declaration of Independence closes with a promise, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” That pledge helped hold the nation together in time of Civil War, and even today it leads to our military men and women as well as police, firefighters and many others putting their lives on the line to protect and support the good of all.

All these many years later, the words of Thomas Jefferson and all who worked on the Declaration of Independence can influence our lives as citizens of this great country. Happy Fourth of July to all, and God bless America.
                                                                                           Father H