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                  

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 25, 2017

In journalism, this would be considered old news, something that I should let go since I haven’t commented on it before now. But I had already written last weekend’s column and didn’t want to change it. Besides, I think we will all still enjoy talking about it. So here goes: The Pittsburgh Penguins are Stanley Cup champions. I’ve been a fan long enough to remember when we wondered if the team would ever win the Cup, or even if they would survive from one year to the next. But now our Pens have won hockey’s ultimate prize five different times.

There are so many great stories with the Penguins, but I would like to focus on one part of the team. My favorite position in hockey has always been the goaltender, and the Penguins have had a very good one for some time in Marc-Andre Fleury (even though the commercials tell us that he’s not much of an expert on babies). But now he’s yielding the number one job to Matt Murray, who has won the Cup twice and is officially just a rookie this year. After the last game, it was great seeing Fleury celebrating with the Stanley Cup and then passing it off to Murray. Both goalies played extremely well in the playoffs, to the point where people were posting pictures on the Internet showing brick walls with either Fleury or Murray’s pictures painted on them. Each goalie was a veritable fortress in the nets for the Penguins. (And that, if you haven’t guessed, is my lead-in to my serious topic.)

This week we hold our annual Vacation Bible School, and the theme this year is “A Mighty Fortress.” That title reminds me of my mother, whose favorite hymn was “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” I am guessing, though, that this particular song won’t be part of this week’s festivities for our young children. In any event, the children will have plenty of fun and games, as well as snacks and entertainment and other good things. In the midst of all the fun, they will be learning a lesson about the goodness and love of our God.

I hope we can take a hint from the Vacation Bible School and see God in the more relaxing days of summer. I pray that we always rely upon God as a solid fortress for us in the face of the world’s troubles. The children coming to Bible School this week have their lives in front of them, and they do not yet realize what struggles they will face. We hope to help them build the fortress of faith, relying upon God, so that their faith will be strong enough when they need it.

The other part of Vacation Bible School is for the children to have fun. It is all too easy to make the faith seem serious and dour. As St. Teresa of Avila said, “God, deliver me from sullen saints.” And I hope that as we try to make our faith fun for the children, so we can also make it exciting and enjoyable for all of us.

                                                                               Father H        

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Corpus Christi - June 18, 2017

In the early 1980s (which, considering the kind of music I like, is too recent to be an “oldie”), singer Dan Fogelberg dedicated a song to his father, who had also been a musician. In “The Leader of the Band,” Fogelberg sang, “I thank you for the music and your stories of the road. I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go. I thank you for the kindness and the times when you got tough. And, papa, I don’t think I said ‘I love you’ near enough.”

For many of us, our fathers have given us, first and foremost, a reflection of God’s love. Fogelberg was able to recognize that so many of the gifts he had received came from his father. He also recognized his father’s gifts in the freedom he gave (which can be hard for a father) and “the times when you got tough” (which can be hard on the kids). As tough as it is for our fathers to give us freedom and watch us fail, we know that God is a Father who gives us our gift of free will, and he never stops loving us even when we use that free will to reject him. Yet as our fathers had to get tough with us at times, we know that God is never satisfied until we truly live by the grace He offers, and that He continually challenges us to grow in our faith and not to be satisfied until we love Him perfectly. So on this Fathers Day, we thank God for being our Father.

Like Dan Fogelberg, we can also ask ourselves if we “have said ‘I love you’ near enough.” I am quite thankful for the time I had with my father. For the last nineteen years of his life, Dad lived as a widower. As I was the only one of his children left in the Pittsburgh area, I developed a special relationship with my father. When he died, in March 2011, I felt like I had lost a father and a best friend.

As part of this reflection, I offer you a bit of Hissrich family trivia. You may not know that my father was once in the seminary, finally deciding that God was not calling him to the priesthood. Of course I am thankful that God called him to a different vocation. That meant he was a great source of support to me when I was discerning what God wanted of me, and I knew he would be very understanding in whatever choice I made. But after my ordination, he had another insight. When Dad was in the seminary, there were so many priests being ordained each year that the Diocese of Pittsburgh did not have assignments for all of them, and some had to go work for a couple of years in dioceses out west. So Dad came to feel as if God was saying to him, “I don’t need you now. But there will come a time of priest shortages, and I will need your son to be a priest in those days.” I am thankful that my father supported my vocation so thoroughly.

Speaking of my vocation, this week I return to Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland for my annual retreat. The retreat is an opportunity for priests to renew ourselves in the love of Christ and in the call to serve the Church. I will be away all week, and I ask you to pray for me during this time.
                                                                                         Father H                  

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Most Holy Trinity - June 11, 2017

There are Internet sites that will give you holidays for every day of the year. Most of them were pretty obscure. For instance, if you are reading this column on Sunday, you should know that June 11 is National Corn on the Cob Day. This Tuesday is Sewing Machine Day. On the other hand, we can’t celebrate a holiday every day. As Gilbert & Sullivan wrote in the comic opera The Gondoliers, “When every blessed thing you hold is made of silver or of gold, you long for simple pewter. When you have nothing else to wear but cloth of gold and satins rare, for cloth of gold you cease to care. Up goes the price of shoddy.”

The Church understands that we need times for feast, times for fast and also ordinary times that make the others stand out. We have just completed the greatest of all feasts, the fifty-day season of Easter. Now we are back into “Ordinary Time.” Ordinary, in this sense, does not mean run-of-the-mill. The word ordinary comes, in this sense, from the word “ordinal,” meaning the type of numbers we use for counting. It refers to the fact that we number the weeks as ninth, tenth, and so on.

But even with this return to Ordinary Time, we have three special feasts to celebrate every year as soon as the Easter season ends. These celebrations help us to focus on the mysteries of our faith. We refer to them as “Solemnities of the Lord in Ordinary Time.” This Sunday, instead of the Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we have The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Trinity Sunday is a chance for us to reflect upon the most basic foundation of our faith, the nature of God as three divine Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in one indivisible God.

The next of these solemnities was originally placed on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday because of its connection with the Last Supper. To open it to more people, the bishops of the United States have designated the following Sunday for The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. That would be next Sunday, June 18. We still often refer to this feast by its Latin name of Corpus Christi. That feast recognizes that as often as we celebrate the Eucharist, we can begin to take it for granted. So we have a special feast to recognize the importance of the Eucharist. This has frequently been a day when we have Exposition and, in some places, a Eucharistic Procession through the streets of the town. Our custom at St. Malachy is that we will have Exposition after the 11:00 Mass, and then we will have a short procession, to a temporary altar set up in the gym (the former church) at 3:00.

The Friday after Corpus Christi is the last of these three special feasts, The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. This year that falls on Friday, June 23. The feast of the Sacred Heart recognizes the love of Christ in His total gift of Himself for our salvation, particularly as we see it in the revelation made to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

These three feasts come right after the close of Easter, reminding us that while we are back in ordinary time, the special love of Christ is always with us.

                                                                                              Father H                  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pentecost Sunday, June 6, 2017

There is an old joke of a mother who asked her little girl what she was drawing. When the girl said it was a picture of God, Mom said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” The girl answered, “They will when I’m finished.” Most of us grew up with a picture of God the Father as an old man with a white beard, and it is easy for us to picture Jesus from his earthly life. But the Holy Spirit is harder for us to envision. We see Him in His scriptural image as either a tongue of flame or a dove, and it is not as easy to relate to those images. Yet the Holy Spirit is with us at every moment, guiding us in all that we do.

This Pentecost is an opportunity for us to stop and realize how often the Holy Spirit has inspired us, protected us or even given us a gentle nudge in the right direction. A few years ago, I had a friend come to the parish I was stationed in at the time for an evening of reflection with the Confirmation class. His theme was “Coincidence or the Holy Spirit?” He talked about some moments when he “just happened” to be in the right place at the right time. He asked everyone think about whether those moments we have considered to be coincidence in our lives might actually have been the result of the Holy Spirit. Once we realize that the Holy Spirit has guided us in the past, we can be confident that the Spirit will be with us today and throughout our lives. We place ourselves in the hands of God. This Pentecost let us pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit in all that we do.

As I write about the Spirit’s guidance, I think of someone who has been growing even more to place his trust in God. I haven’t given a medical update on Fr. Michael lately. As a priest I am accustomed to keeping what people tell me in confidence, but I have tried to answer people’s questions when they ask. This past week, someone showed me a copy of the St. Thomas More bulletin where he gave an update, and I asked him if I could publish it here.

I have been saying that Fr. Michael has had forty different doctors and fifty-two different diagnoses. That is a little bit of hyperbole, but the latest diagnosis seems to be a bit more definite. He has been diagnosed with something I have never heard of before, Lymphamatoid Granulamatosis. It is not a form of cancer, but the treatment involves chemotherapy as well as steroids. He is also placing his trust in God to guide him through this condition.

Part of the process of canonization is for God to work a miracle through the intercession of the potential saint. Fr. Michael has been asking people to pray to Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish priest who supported the Solidarity movement and who was martyred on October 19, 1984. So to support Fr. Michael, consider asking the intercession of Blessed Jerzy. Meanwhile, we know that the Holy Spirit will guide him and us to be open to God throughout our lives.
                                                                                                     Father H                  

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Seventh Sunday of Easter - May 28, 2017

Perhaps the most famous speech in American history is Abraham Lincoln’s address at the dedication of the military cemetery in Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. In part, Lincoln said, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln understood that the best way to honor the soldiers who had fallen in battle was to carry on the task for which they had sacrificed their lives. As we now prepare to celebrate Memorial Day, we ask ourselves if we are ready to live out the ideals upon which our nation was founded. We frequently take our way of life for granted. This holiday is for more than just cookouts and ballgames (and the famous Kennedy Township parade). It is a time for us to remind ourselves of what we have to live up to.

In a similar vein, our school students are getting ready to put their books on the shelf and begin their summer vacation. Our eighth graders graduate this Wednesday evening, and the rest of the school finishes the year on Thursday morning. Our students will take a break so that they may return in the fall to another year of learning and of growing in God’s love. Our eighth graders will take what they learned at St. Malachy and will move on to the next stage of their education, whether at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Bishop Canevin, Montour or elsewhere. And as the summer begins, we remember that God never takes a vacation. He has promised to be with us always. It is up to us to remember and to continue to grow in His grace.

Finally, permit me to tie the two themes of this column (Memorial Day and the end of the school year) together with my opening reference to President Lincoln’s remarks at Gettysburg. There is an old joke about a nun who was discussing the Civil War with her class. She called on one student and asked, “Billy, what can you tell us about Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address?” Billy replied, “I don’t know his Gettysburg Address, Sister. But I know he lived at the White House.”

                                                                                               Father H                  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 21, 2017

I would like to offer my thoughts today in two parts. It shouldn’t be too hard to tie them together.
First of all, I want to thank everyone who stayed after the Masses last week for the discussions concerning the diocesan initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. About seventy-five people stayed for the discussions if you add the three Masses together. Thank you for your participation, and thank you to the members of the On Mission team who helped me at the meetings and who took notes on what we said.

As a brief summary, I started by giving a brief overview at each Mass and expanded it slightly after the Mass. I also gave the summary in last week’s column, but it is worth repeating. The current proposal would have a new parish in our area formed from the merger of St. Malachy, St. John of God and St. Philip. Remember that St. Philip is a recent merger of the four West End parishes of Guardian Angels, Holy Innocents, St. Philip, and Ascension. Two “campuses” would remain open as part of the new parish. This is not final, which is why we were meeting last weekend. We are currently giving feedback to the diocese concerning the proposal. I have to give the parish’s feedback in early June. Bishop Zubik will announce the final decision in March of next year, along with priest assignments. He will also help set a timetable for when the merger would be finalized. Once the grouping becomes official, the pastor and other priests will work with the current parishes. There will be a blueprint, developed by the diocese but adapted for each individual situation, to help determine what staff will be needed, what the Mass schedule would be like, and so forth.

The reaction at the meetings was overwhelmingly positive. Practically everyone felt that this was the best grouping we could hope for. We have a good relationship with the people from the other neighborhoods, and our parish has worked with St. John of God in supporting the school and other endeavors. We also hope that the new parish will offer more volunteers for things such as our Festival and our Fish Fry. But essentially, everyone was pleased with the grouping.

One point that someone made at one meeting is that we need to work on evangelization, bringing our faith to more people. I commended that parishioner for reminding us of what has been a common theme from St. John Paul, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. For us to evangelize, we have to be renewed in our own faith. Let me remind you of the wonderful opportunity we are offering this Monday night. Fr. Joe Freedy will lead Awaken, a powerful evening of prayer, reflection and Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Please come and join us for this wonderful evening.
                                                                                          Father H                  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Fifth Sunday of Easter - May 14, 2017

         I think I was in junior high when I had to do a project on family budgets. At the time, I thought of my father as the most mathematical person in our family. He was a COBOL programmer and was the one I went to when I needed help with my math homework. But for this project, I sat down with my mother and asked about planning meals for a course of a week. She took the budget that my teacher had given and then developed a menu. I was amazed at how quickly she could bring up all the prices of any of the items on her menu.

That story allows me to take this column in two directions. First of all, I want to take the opportunity to offer a “happy Mothers Day” to all mothers out there. Like my mother, you do so much for your families than they even realize. I hope that your children have an insight as I did into what you do for them. But one way or another, I hope you realize that God knows how important you are to your family.

The other point from my story of my mother is the importance of planning. As my mother knew what the family needed and was able to plan for our care, so Bishop Zubik is now trying to plan for what the Diocese of Pittsburgh needs. At the Masses this weekend I am talking about the update on the initiative On Mission for the Church Alive. Some months ago, we had meetings led by the diocese on the “models” that had been proposed. The models proposed various different options for the mergers of each parish in the diocese. Now we are talking about “groupings.” The diocese has taken the feedback from all the meetings and all other sources and has now come up with “groupings.” Each parish is now in one particular proposal. The groupings are not a final decision, and diocese wants us to offer more feedback.

As it stands now, as I am expressing at the Masses, St. Malachy is in a grouping with St. Philip and St. John of God. In the original models, we were also in with St. Margaret of Scotland, but just about all the feedback we received indicated that St. Margaret did not belong with us. One of the models also had us in with Holy Trinity, but again the feedback put them elsewhere. So we are left with St. John of God and St. Philip as our partners.

As proposed currently, the new parish will have two “campuses,” a term which refers to the church building as well as all the buildings and grounds. In short, it means that two churches will be available for celebrating Mass and all the other parish activities. The determination of which buildings will be open has not yet been made, but I have hope that St. Malachy will remain as one of the churches.

Again, the diocese still wants more feedback. If you read this column before Mass, I invite you to stay after Mass (whichever Mass you attend) to take part in a brief meeting to discuss the current proposal. Otherwise, you are welcome to offer any thoughts you have, and I will be sure to include them in preparing the parish’s final feedback.
                                                                                        Father H                  

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Easter - May 7, 2017

    One hundred years ago, the Blessed Mother appeared to three young children in the Portuguese town of Fatima. Beginning on May 13, 1917, Mary appeared to Lucia Santos and her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto. Jacinta and Francisco both died in the international flu pandemic that began in 1918. Both were beatified by Pope St. John Paul in 2000. Lucia lived to adulthood, dying at the age of 97 in 2005 after living for years in a cloistered convent.

While Fatima is a “private revelation,” meaning that it is not necessary for our salvation, we see it as an important devotion at this time in our history. Mary’s message at Fatima was one of prayer for peace. The great “weapon” of Fatima is prayer, particularly the Rosary. As we approach the centennial of Fatima, we know that prayer for peace is more vital than ever. The Rosary count that has been going on in our parish since last summer has reached over 12,000 Rosaries prayed, and we can do even more in preparation for the anniversary.

Here at St. Malachy, you will notice two features for the anniversary. First of all, our statue of Our Lady of Fatima has moved from its position by the candles to a place of honor in the center of the narthex, right where the window makes it visible to all who pass by. In addition, Frank DeChellis has donated his artistic talent to renovate the statues of the three children seers. The statues of the children had been stored in our loft after fading badly over the years, and we thank Frank for fixing them up. Now, during the month of May, this statue of Our Lady can be a more present reminder of our need to pray for peace.

And as we do each year, we recognize May as the month of the Blessed Mother by praying the Rosary before each Sunday Mass and after each weekday Mass. Most of us grew up praying the Rosary with a prayer that was added at the end of each decade (after the “Glory Be”), which goes, “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy.” We will also include a liturgical prayer from the memorial of Our Lady of Fatima after the “Hail, Holy Queen” as part of the Rosary throughout the month.

Pope Francis has granted a plenary indulgence to all who take part in devotions to Our Lady in prayer before an image of Our Lady of Fatima. The ordinary requirements for a plenary indulgence include going to Confession and receiving Communion, being interiorly detached from all sin and praying for the intentions of the Holy Father. In this special instance, then, you can make a visit to our statue of Our Lady of Fatima and then come to join us for the Rosary before Mass. Of course a particularly good time to do that would be at the Rosary before the Mass next Saturday, which is the anniversary of the first apparition.
                                                                                      Father H                  

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Third Sunday of Easter - April 30, 2017

My mother almost did not get to make her first Communion with her classmates. Mom was born in 1920, so her mother remembered the days when children did not make their first Communion in second grade. Finally, the priest pleaded with my grandmother, telling her that Pope Pius X (now Saint Pius X) had changed the rule some years earlier. Saint Pius wanted children to be able to receive the Eucharist as soon as possible after reaching the age of reason, which puts us around second grade when we receive the sacrament for the first time.

Today and next Sunday, we have the great thrill of seeing the second grade children of our parish receive Our Lord in the Eucharist for the first time. Eighty-some years ago, my grandmother may have wondered if they truly understood the mystery deeply enough to appreciate it. If someone were to raise that question today, I think my response might be to ask if we understand it. Could we really define the term “transubstantiation” with full theological accuracy, especially when full-time theologians argue over various aspects of the term? But our second graders can grasp certain key points. First and foremost, they can know that the bread and wine really become the Body and Blood of Jesus. They know that this is not just ordinary bread; they know that this is a holy moment and that they are in direct contact with God.

To me, that point is one of the keys to First Communion, for it is one that affects each of us. When I see children preparing to receive Christ’s Body and Blood for the first time, I see the wonder in their faces. I see the joy of taking part in something special. Some of them may be somewhat nervous, but overall there is an excitement that comes from becoming more deeply involved in the Church and growing closer to Jesus. And when I see that joy, I sometimes wonder how well we remember the importance of what we are doing. We have the Eucharist available to us Sunday after Sunday, and in fact the Eucharist is available every day. As our children receive the Body and Blood of Jesus for the first time, most of us would not have a chance to figure out how many times we have received the Eucharist over the years. But we can ask if we take it for granted. Do we remember the excitement of welcoming Christ into our hearts? Do we even stop and think that this is truly the Real Presence of Christ our Risen Lord? All of us – yes, even your priests – have to admit that at times it becomes routine. I thank God that He has found many ways to remind me of just how holy the Eucharist is. Particularly, I am thankful that First Communion is one of the most powerful reminders. When I see these girls and boys taking this step in their faith, I cannot help but remember what a joyful opportunity this Eucharist is for us.

The good news was that my grandmother gave in to the priest’s pleadings and let my mother make her First Communion. Today and next weekend, we give thanks with the boys and girls of our parish who get to receive the Body of Blood of the Risen Christ for the first time.
                                                                                     Father H                  

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Second Sunday of Easter - April 23, 2017

Today can go by several names. It is “Divine Mercy Sunday,” but it is also the Octave of Easter. I would like to reflect a bit on the concept of the octave in the Church’s celebration. Octaves occur with several feasts, but the primary octave is this one.

The first story of creation in the book of Genesis sets the creation of the world in a period of seven days. God did the work of creation in six days and then rested on the seventh. That seventh day (Saturday) became the basis of the Sabbath, the day of rest. Putting that creation in the framework of a week showed that God had a plan and that everything fits into His plan. For the Jews, then, the number seven came to symbolize completion.

And then came Christ, His death and resurrection brought an even greater completion to the plan of salvation. In fact, we learn to see that all of the Old Testament was in preparation for the salvation that Christ would win for us. His resurrection occurred on Sunday, which quickly became the Christian holy day. Most of the early Christians, keeping their Jewish roots, observed the Sabbath with the rest of their community and then gathered with those who saw Jesus as the Messiah on the day of Resurrection. The Church soon came to see Sunday as a fitting day for that greatest of all events. As the day on which creation began, the first day became an appropriate time for God to provide us with a new creation. So Easter becomes the first day of a “new week” by being the start of a new creation. Yet the new creation does not do away with the old. In fact, we come to see that the completion we understood in the Old Testament was truly a preparation for the real completion that Christ would bring. Thus, in addition to being the first day of a new week, Sunday also becomes the Eighth Day, the day on which God brought about a deeper reality to all of creation.

We get a similar image from the other meaning we give to the word “octave.” In music, an octave refers to the eight notes of the scale. For those who are not musically inclined, think of the song “Doe, a deer” from the Sound of Music in which Maria makes a pun on the names of the various notes: do, re, mi and so on. “Do” is the eighth note, but it is also the same as the first note. In returning to “do,” we are back at the beginning while at the same time being and octave higher.

So Easter is a return to the creation of the first day while being an entirely new creation. To emphasize that, the Church takes the entire eight days of the Easter Octave to show the new creation by keeping the celebration as one long Sunday, So again, rejoice. And I still wish all of you a very blessed Easter Sunday.
                                                                                                    Father H                  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday - April 16, 2017

  Looking back through some family pictures recently, I was remembering a tradition we had of celebrating Easter every year with my Uncle Bill and Aunt Bernie and my cousin Billy. One year they would come and visit us, and the next we would go to their house in Cleveland. (Yes, I have had relatives in Cleveland, though we usually do not talk about that fact.) What struck me about the photos is how dressed up we would get for that special day. That was when people would often get new clothes, and the ladies would be sure to get the best new hat for the occasion. Irving Berlin wrote a song called “Easter Parade” which celebrated “your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it.”

Easter is a time for bringing out our best. That may in part be because it is springtime, when we feel renewed. But more importantly, it is because this is the day when God gives us His best. The Resurrection of Christ is the greatest event in all history, and this Easter day is the cornerstone of our entire liturgical calendar. Nothing else matches up to Easter as a day of joy.

The new clothes and fancy Easter bonnets (if anyone still wears Easter bonnets) are a sign of renewal. They are a reminder that Christ has changed everything. No longer are we slaves to sin. Christ has given us a share in His new life. The ultimate goal of our lives is to share in that new life, and that fact should be the starting point of every decision we make. Our new life in the Risen Lord is not only a hope for some distant future; it affects everything we do throughout our lives.

The importance of Easter was clear to the early Church. Scripture scholars believe that the earliest creeds, the statements of faith such as the Nicene Creed we use at Mass, were simple statements of the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. One example might be from St. Paul in I Timothy 3:16, that Christ “was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed to the Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.” The early Church also celebrated Easter every Sunday, and the special annual celebration of Easter as a major feast would have gained prominence when other feasts started to find their place on the calendar.

Today we do not see many Easter bonnets, but we do still have the eggs, which are a sign of new life, and the Easter Bunny, as we know that rabbits can be a sign of new life. We bring back flowers in the sanctuary after keeping our church looking more barren during Lent. We sing the “Alleluia” again after not using that joyous word for the season of Lent. We also sprinkle everyone with Holy Water, not as a way of watering the flowers on any Easter bonnets we may see but as a way of reminding ourselves of our baptism by which we share in this mystery. As we rejoice this day, I hope we can always remember just how important this day truly is. On behalf of Fr. Russell and the entire staff of St. Malachy Parish, I wish you a very blessed and joyous Easter.

                                                                                       Father H                  

Palm Sunday - April 9, 2017

I sometimes ask the children of the parish what the most important time of the year is. Often they are surprised when I tell them it is not Christmas. It is hard for the Easter Bunny to compare with Santa Claus, but there is nothing greater than the celebration of the Paschal Mystery.

Today, with Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, we commemorate the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week, but we also read the Passion and thus set the tone for the remainder of the week.

Monday through Wednesday of this week are mostly ordinary, though a little more somber than usual. We have Confessions available 3:00-4:00 Monday through Wednesday, 6:00-7:00 Monday and Tuesday evenings and 7:00-8:00 Wednesday evening. There are no Confessions after Wednesday of Holy Week.

Holy Thursday has three main themes. At the Last Supper, Christ gave us the Eucharist, He instituted the priesthood and He gave an example of service by washing the feet of His Apostles. Our Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which begins the Sacred Triduum, will begin at 7:00 in the evening. Church will remain open until Midnight, and our parish bus will leave for the seven church tour right after Mass.

Good Friday is the only day of the year on which we do not celebrate Mass. There is a Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion at 2:00 (after Stations of the Cross at Noon). The Liturgy is divided into three parts: a Liturgy of the Word at which we proclaim the Passion of the Lord, the Veneration of the Cross, followed by Holy Communion (from the Eucharist consecrated at Holy Thursday). This liturgy is very simple but very powerful. The Divine Mercy Novena is at 4:00, and the Living Stations of the Cross (followed by Veneration) are at 7:00.

Holy Saturday is a very quiet day, with no official liturgy during the day (although we will have the blessing of Easter food at noon). That night, however, we have the most joyful liturgy of the whole year. The Easter Vigil begins at 8:30 (as it cannot begin before dark) and is always the liturgical highlight of the year for me as we begin our celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection and our share in His new life through our baptism. At that Mass we welcome the newest Catholics, who have been preparing through the RCIA.

And with Easter coming up, I would like to ask a favor of you: Please do not feed the pastor. I have always appreciated the gifts of food that come this time of the year, but I am trying to be careful of what I eat these days. I am afraid that the food people give me would go to waste (because I don’t want it to go to my waist). If you had thought of giving me food, let me suggest an alternative. Please consider donating to the St. Vincent de Paul Society or to Focus on Renewal instead. That way, we can feed people who need food, rather than fattening up someone who hasn’t missed many meals. Thank you for your generosity.
                                                                          Father H    

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Fifth Sunday of Lent - April 2, 2017

I have been writing about Lent lately, but today I want to give an update on the diocesan planning process, On Mission for the Church Alive. First of all, let me remind you that the diocese proposed two “models” involving our parish. One would have us forming a new parish with St. John of God, St. Philip (which is a recent merger of St. Philip, Ascension, Guardian Angels and Holy Innocents), and St. Margaret of Scotland. The other model would have us combining with the same parishes but also with Holy Trinity. In either case, the new parish would have two “campuses,” which would include the church building and all other properties. In addition, St. John of God has proposed its own model that would have a new parish formed from St. Malachy, St. John of God and St. Philip. St. Malachy and St. Philip would be the two campuses, but St. John of God Church would remain open for one Saturday evening Mass and one Sunday Mass, along with weddings and funerals.

Based on some of the feedback the diocese has received, the bishop is making an adjustment to the plans for implementation. The new plan calls for the bishop to announce his decisions and to announce “groupings” of parishes next March. All the groupings will be announced simultaneously. Furthermore, all the priest assignments will be announced at the same time. Implementation, however, will come out in stages. Each grouping will be put into one of three categories. The priests will be assigned to all of the parishes within the grouping they would eventually serve. That means that one priest may be named pastor of four parishes, for instance, but with the goal of helping them to work toward the merger.

Category A would include areas that are in need of making the change immediately, either because of finances or demographics. It would also include groupings that indicate to the diocese that they are ready to go immediately. These mergers would take place within a year of the priest changes, and some may officially occur with the installation of the new pastor.

Category B would be the largest category. The new pastor (and parochial vicars) would be appointed to the various parishes in the grouping. They would follow a “blueprint” that the diocese is developing to help bring the parishes together. The priests would establish a team of staff members, and they would work to bring the parishes together for the ultimate merger, which would take place in one to three years.

Finally, some of the larger or more complex parishes would be part of Category C. In these cases, the final merger would not be implemented for three to five years.

The diocese understands that the entire process will be challenging. The hope is that the new timetable will help us all to prepare. So thanks to everyone for your participation in the process.

                                                                                     Father H                   

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Lent - March 26, 2017

Last year I got an Apple Watch, which works with my iPhone. One app that works with both devices keeps track of my activity to keep me in shape. One function that I like at some times and dislike at others is one that gives me progress reports periodically. It reminds me, if I am sitting at my desk, that I am due to stand up and move about for a time.

If my watch works with my phone’s Activity app, perhaps I can use today’s column as a “Lenten Activity” app. Of course I cannot program this app to give you personalized reminders, but I can use it to ask the question: How is your Lent going so far? And since my watch app sets three specific goals for me (so many minutes of exercise, so many calories burned and so many hours with at least a bit of standing and moving about), I can use main “goals” for our Lenten app. So how is your Lent going in terms of prayer, fasting and almsgiving?

Prayer reminds us that Lent is supposed to bring us closer to God. Yet prayer is something that can easily get crowded out of our busy day. When we take on our daily tasks by ourselves, we put more pressure on ourselves. If we take time with God, we learn to rely on Him more completely, and we actually become more efficient and can handle unexpected turns in our day with more patience. Are we taking more time for prayer during this Lenten season?

Fasting is the most common penance of this season. We all grew up with the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” The word “fasting” makes us think of food, and our fasting is frequently centered on food and drink. But fasting can mean abstaining from anything that gets in the way of following God with our whole heart, even if it is an innocent distraction from the day. And if we give up something that takes a certain amount of time (television, for instance), then that becomes time that we have for prayer.

Once we see prayer and fasting as key parts of Lent, we become more open to the needs of those around us. Almsgiving is the third key point of this season. The word makes us think of giving money to the poor. We can just as easily give alms by giving time to a lonely widow who needs to talk, or by giving of our talents to someone who can use our help.

I frequently speak these penances in the beginning of Lent. But as my watch teaches me, we sometimes need a reminder as we go along. So let me say a word to those who may now realize that they have not kept their Lenten resolutions as well as they had hoped. It is good if you have not kept your promises perfectly, and not just because “misery loves company.” I tell people that if we keep our Lenten observances all through the season, with no stumbles, that means we have chosen something too easy. If we find it difficult, then we are challenging ourselves to be better. So if we find some area where we have fallen short this Lent, we can remind ourselves that there are still a couple of weeks left in this season. You can, as the old song says, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.”
                                                                                     Father H                  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Third Sunday of Lent - March 19, 2017

Classical music often relies on the contrast between piano and forte passages. In simpler terms for anyone who is not a musician, classical music is sometimes loud and sometimes soft. So I find that when I have classical music in my car, if I stop at a red light when a quieter movement comes on, the car next to me invariably is playing rap music at a level that drowns out Beethoven. So much modern music has abandoned the contrast and plays at one constant level, deafeningly loud, losing the subtlety of the crescendo and the decrescendo.

Our Catholic liturgy allows for the different levels. Throughout the year, those who come to Mass on weekdays notice that the Mass is simpler than on Sundays. So Lent is a time when we keep the liturgy a little more “quiet.” The practices of Lent put us in a more contemplative mood, allowing us to focus on the penitential nature of this season. They also prepare us for the fortissimo of the Easter celebration, making the joy all the more obvious by contrast with Lent. Some of the observances are universal in the Church, and some are choices that we make at St. Malachy to enhance the somber atmosphere of Lent.

Among the universal Catholic practices, there is no “Glory to God” or “Alleluia” during Lent, and we are discouraged from decorating with flowers in the sanctuary. Notice how these items stand out when you come to Mass at Easter.

I have always liked some of the other adaptations that are available for Lent. Some speak of the penitential nature of the season, such as when we kneel for the Penitential Act of the Mass. Kneeling is a posture of reverence, but it is primarily a posture of penitence. Kneeling helps us express more clearly our need for God’s great mercy.

Other adaptations seem to me a way of expressing what my musical analogy said of keeping things simpler to prepare for the glory of Easter. I do less singing of the various Mass parts during Lent, and we dispense with the hymn at the recessional. We do not use the bells at the Institution Narrative (the Consecration) in the Eucharistic Prayer. And this year I decided to set aside the Book of the Gospels during Lent. All of these give us a sense that we are not at our greatest time of celebration just yet.

One change will carry over into the Easter season. We have the choice of substituting the Apostles’ Creed for the Nicene Creed at Mass, and I like to do that for Lent as something simpler. Liturgists often suggest using the Apostles’ Creed during the Easter season because Easter is a time to remember our baptism, as the Apostles’ Creed is part of the Baptism liturgy.

So if you find yourself next to a car blasting out rap music, take that as a reminder that Lent answers our need to quiet our hearts to listen to the message of God.

                                                                                            Father H                   

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Second Sunday of Lent - March 12, 2017

I remember an old joke about a priest who had taught the school children that it is a sin to waste food. Shortly thereafter he was hearing confessions of the school children, and a little boy confessed, “I threw peanuts in the lake.” The next boy came in, and he also said, “I threw peanuts in the lake.” Three more boys included the same sin. Finally another boy came in and made his confession, and the priest asked, “Did you throw peanuts in the lake?” The young boy said, “No, Father. I’m the boy they call ‘Peanuts.’”

That joke was a lot funnier when I was ten, but at least it goes to show that the priest never knows what to expect in Confession. By the time you read this, our second graders will have come to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time. It is always an exciting time for them, but they can also be rather nervous. Come to think of it, the same applies to many adults. The sad part is that many adults forget the excitement and just think of Confession as something to be nervous about. But since Lent is an important time to offer the infinite mercy of our God, then this is a good time to encourage people to come and receive the Sacrament.

I can speak from my own experience in saying that Confession is a tremendous gift from God. There are times when I have some specific need, some particular sins that I know I need to ask forgiveness for. Having been through such times before, I can come to Confession with confidence that my confessor will not berate me or think less of me. There are also times when I see the sacrament as “fine tuning.” I may not feel like I’ve been all that bad, but I know I have failed here and there. And I find that if I go more than a month or so between confessions, I start to feel as if something is just not right. The grace of the sacrament helps keep me focused on Christ, and my own self-centeredness gets in the way if I wait too long. So even if we are not aware of any significant sins (and all of us have them if we look closely enough), Confession is a chance to renew ourselves in our life of faith.

I know that while I am talking about going to Confession regularly, there are many who have not been there in a long time. I remember shortly after I was ordained, when I was 26 years old, that I had someone who hadn’t been to Confession in over thirty years. Now that I’m 57, I don’t expect someone whose last time in the sacrament was before I was born. But the longer the time someone has been away, the more thankful I am to have that person come in. If it has been a long time, I try to make the return to the sacrament as easy as I can. In fact, I try to do more than to make it easy; I try to make it a joyful occasion. A return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation after years of absence should be a time of celebration.

So during this holy time of Lent, come and celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation with us. And for the young boys out there, please tell me right away if your nickname is “Peanuts.”

                                                                                  Father H                  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

First Sunday of Lent - March 5, 2017

When I was in the seminary, our Liturgy professor told us of an old Latin saying, “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” Translated literally, it means “The law of prayer is the law of faith.” In other words, if you want to know what we believe, look at the way we pray. Our Liturgy, in addition to being our greatest source of grace, is a good way to learn about God. So I thought that a good beginning to our season of Lent would be to look at our Liturgy. And a good place to begin is with the Eucharistic Prayer.

Ordinarily there are four choices for a Eucharistic Prayer, and I may write about those choices at another time. But during Lent, I like to use the two special Eucharistic Prayers that focus on Reconciliation. Today I am going to take a few lines from the first of these special prayers.

We direct the prayer, as all the Eucharistic Prayers, to God the Father. We say to him, “From the world’s beginning you are ceaselessly at work, so that the human race may become holy, just as you are holy.” When I was a child, we had a feeling that since we focus on sin at this time of year, Lent was a time to put ourselves down. Yet any change that comes in this season is the result of God challenging us to be something better, to become what He created us to be. And we are not alone, for God is “ceaselessly at work.” Even the cross is a message of love, for Jesus’ “arms were outstretched between heaven and earth to become a lasting sign of your covenant.”

The love of God which brings us closer to him has a broader effect as well. When we are reconciled with God, we are also reconciled with one another. As the Eucharistic Prayer says, “Grant that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as they partake of this one Bread and one Chalice, they may be gathered into one Body in Christ, who heals every division.” As an analogy, think of what happens to the Penguins if Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin are hurt. When they get healthy, the whole team works better. When we get spiritually healthy, the Catholic “team” is much richer. In my reflections, I find that theme even stronger in the second Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation.

The whole sense of our reconciliation comes back to our final goal of heaven. The prayer concludes, “Then, freed at last from the wound of corruption and made fully into a new creation, we shall sing to you with gladness the thanksgiving of Christ, who lives for all eternity.”

The Eucharistic Prayers can always be helpful for our meditations. As we get into the season of Lent, I invite you to reflect on these special prayers as you hear them at Mass. They can be a good guide for our Lenten season.
                                                                                   Father H                  

Monday, February 27, 2017

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 26, 2017

Easter is a little later this year, and thus Lent begins a little later. When Lent begins later, it always makes it a little easier to get back to normal after the Christmas festivities and not feel as though the year is rushing by. And yet no matter how late Ash Wednesday is, I always want to ask the question, “What, already?” And that is where we are. This Wednesday, March 1, is Ash Wednesday, and our holy time begins.

As we prepare for Lent, I call you attention to the pamphlet in the bulletin today. This pamphlet gives the schedule for important Lenten events and guidelines for keeping the season. I remember my attitude toward the season when I was younger. Lent was always marked by the question, “What are you giving up?” Lent was a time of deprivation, and my goal was to get through it. How longingly I awaited my Easter basket each year, eagerly anticipating the thrill of tearing open a candy bar and enjoying what I had missed for the Forty Days. I suspect many of us still carry at least a little bit of that attitude with us as adults. And I cannot deny that ads for steak restaurants – or even fast-food hamburger joints – look so much more enticing on Ash Wednesday. But I hope we can make this Lent more about the preparation for Christ’s Resurrection and our new life in heaven. In fact, rather than think of the forty days of Lent, I try to think of the ninety days that begin with Lent and lead through the Easter season, right up to Pentecost.

To help with that attitude, I would like to call attention to one particular entry in the Lent pamphlet. I would like to invite you to make this the “best Lent ever.” That is the title for a special program that we are taking part in. At Christmas we gave out copies of the newest book by Matthew Kelly, Resisting Happiness. Kelly’s organization, Dynamic Catholic, is offering the “Best Lent Ever” program. The best part is that it is very simple to take part. All you have to do is go to and sign up with your email address. Those of us who sign up will get an email each day during Lent with suggestions for the season, along with videos featuring Matthew Kelly and reflections from other members of the Dynamic Catholic organization.

The pamphlet gives other ideas for Lent, along with the regulations for the season and our parish’s observances. Most of these things should be familiar to us from our previous observances of Lent, so I am focusing primarily on the Best Lent Ever program. But the entire season is a time of great opportunity for us. As St. Paul tells us in the second reading, “Behold, now is the very acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation.”
                                                                                              Father H                  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 19, 2017

 We have two events coming together this Tuesday. I will miss both of them, but I think I have a good excuse. I will be at St. Paul Seminary that day for the next installment of the Priest Leadership and Evangelization Collaborative that the Diocese is sponsoring to help us priests prepare for the changes from On Mission for the Church Alive. So while I will miss the spiritual nourishment that we offer here, I will be learning and growing in my faith with almost 150 of my brother priests.

Tuesday is the next installment of our St. Malachy Speaker Series, with Nancy Amorose speaking on the subject of “In the Beginning, A Spiritual Journey to Truth.” Mrs. Amorose belongs to St. Pio of Pietrelcina Parish in Blawnox and is the founder of a group known as “Ladder of Truth.” Their mission statement speaks of “helping parents and guardians instill Christian ideals in their children.” The speaker series has very well received, and we have been very fortunate to have some excellent speakers. This should be another excellent offering.

The same day is also the third Tuesday of the month, and that means we have our monthly Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Having both on the same day has been an incentive for more people to come to the 6:30 Benediction. We keep the Benediction simple, especially when followed by a speaker, but it is still a profound opportunity to spend time with our Eucharistic Lord. We will have Exposition at 1:00 and then have the Blessed Sacrament on the Altar for the entire afternoon. If you cannot be here at the Benediction, feel free to stop in at any time during the day.

Someone once referred to Eucharistic Adoration as “the Mass in slow motion.” I was unable to find the quotation (though I did find that phrase as a title of an unrelated book by Msgr. Ronald Knox). The point is that so much is happening at Mass that we may not full appreciate the wonderful gift that we receive. At Eucharistic Adoration, then, we have a chance to sit back in the presence of Christ on the Altar and to realize just how powerful a gift we have. This gift is so powerful that J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, once said, “I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth.” So join us on Tuesday and give yourself the favor of growing closer to Christ in the Eucharist.

On a related note, in the past we began Adoration at the 7:15 Mass. The people who come regularly were having a harder time filling in all the hours, and we should never have the Blessed Sacrament exposed when no one is present. So if you can make a regular commitment to coming each month, let us know. We will get your name to the people who organize this holy time.

                                                                                          Father H

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 12, 2017

My father and I both loved the TV show M*A*S*H from when it first came on. Dad had the entire series on DVD, and now I have his discs. Recently I have been watching the early seasons, but right now I’m remembering a couple of later episodes. In one, Hawkeye and Winchester wanted to demonstrate how gullible some people can be, so they mentioned to Klinger about the coming visit of Marilyn Monroe. Soon, even General Schwerin arranged a visit to the camp in order to see her. In another, a visiting inspector led the members of the 4077th to believe that the Army was going to break them up to build a new unit. Soon everyone on the show was acting crazy in order to avoid being chosen for the new unit.

As M*A*S*H demonstrated, rumors can quickly overwhelm the truth. As we go through the diocesan initiative On Mission for the Church Alive, we know we are going to see some changes that will affect each of us. It is little wonder, then, that people are speculating about what is going to happen. Every once in a while, though, I hear it said that certain stories are going about. So perhaps it would be a good idea to review what is happening and remind everyone of where we stand.

Last year, the diocese proposed at least a couple of models for each parish as a starting point for discussion. There are two models that involve St. Malachy Parish. One would have us forming a new parish with St. John of God, St. Philip (which itself is a recent merger of St. Philip, Ascension, Guardian Angels and Holy Innocents) and St. Margaret of Scotland. The other model has us in with the same parishes plus Holy Trinity. In either case, the new parish would feature two “campuses.” It is important to keep in mind that neither model takes the schools into consideration. The diocese is studying schools separately, and even when they announce a new direction for schools in the North Hills region this month, that does not give us any indication of what will happen with our school. Absolutely no decisions have been made on the future of our school.

First indications are that our parish favors the model without Holy Trinity, though many wonder why St. Margaret is in with us. Yet Bishop Zubik is open to other ideas as well. Nothing is decided at this point. Fr. Lou Vallone at St. John of God is proposing his own model in which St. Malachy, St. Philip and St. John of God would join together as one parish. St. Malachy and St. Philip would be the two campuses, but with St. Mary Church of St. John of God Parish remaining open for weddings, funerals and one Saturday and one Sunday Mass each week. Of course I have no way of knowing how Bishop Zubik will react to Fr. Lou’s proposal.

Right now, that is all we know. Anything else you may hear is a rumor and should be treated as such. Remember what Hawkeye Pierce said on M*A*S*H when BJ Hunnicutt teased him about taking Klinger’s story too seriously. “That’s what you get for listening to idle gossip,” said Hawkeye, “especially when it comes from an idle gossip.”
                                                                                       Father H