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