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