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