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                  

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