Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pentecost Sunday - May 20, 2018

Here’s a bit of trivia for you. Do you know where the word “trivia” comes from? The Latin words tri via mean “three roads.” The place where three roads converged would be a place where people from all over would meet and share what was going on. Some of their conversation would be about important items, while others would be rather unimportant or “trivial.”

I was thinking of the etymology of “trivia” because I wanted to note the convergence of three celebrations. First of all, this weekend we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost. This celebration ends the season of Easter, but we can see it as not so much an ending as a beginning. We often refer to Pentecost as “the birthday of the Church.” When Christ ascended to heaven, he promised to remain with send the Holy Spirit upon His disciples to guide them in their work of proclaiming the gospel. Since then, the Church has been carrying out Christ’s mission, so that what the Lord did for us becomes the basis of everything we do.

As I write about Pentecost in that way, it strikes me that what I said sounds a lot like most graduation speeches. Often a speaker will comment that the word “commencement” means the beginning. What the students learned in school is something that they will put into practice now as the next part of their lives commences. So it seems fitting that Pentecost should also be the day when we celebrate the Senior Recognition Mass. At the 11:00 Mass this Sunday we will honor our graduating high school seniors and ask them to tell us where they will be going in the fall. As they move on to college or other destinations, we pray that the Holy Spirit who came upon the disciples at Pentecost – and who strengthened these young women and men at their Confirmation – will continue to guide them throughout their lives.

After Pentecost, we begin Ordinary Time. But this year there is a new twist on our change of seasons. Earlier this year Pope Francis announced that the Monday after Pentecost would now be the Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church. We have often referred to the Church as “the Body of Christ,” with Jesus as our Head. So Mary is our mother, and Mary is the Mother of the Church. If Pentecost is the “Birthday of the Church,” then we should celebrate Mary’s role in conjunction with Pentecost. So although it is not yet on our calendars, this Monday we honor Mary’s role for guiding us today. In approving the decree, Pope Francis said that he had “attentively considered how greatly the promotion of this devotion might encourage the growth of the maternal sense of the church in the pastors, religious and faithful, as well as a growth of genuine Marian piety.”

So today we tie three celebrations together in a way that is anything but trivial. In the coming weeks, there are three more celebrations known as “The Solemnities of the Lord in Ordinary Time.” These are the Solemnities of the Most Holy Trinity, The Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus (Corpus Christi), and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.                                                                               
                                                               Father H 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Seventh Sunday of Easter - May 13, 2018

I have frequently made a request of parents to bring their children to church, and I ask them not to feel the need to take them out when they cry. I must also recognize that some people do find crying to be distracting. I try to remind them that the noise of a crying baby is a sign of God’s gift of new life.

I suppose I don’t mind parents taking their children to the cry room, but it should be a place to quiet a child down. Once the children are quiet, I would hope that the parents would bring them back into the nave, the body of the church. Many times, however, our cry rooms are used for other purposes. I learned shortly after I got here that families with children had a hard time using the cry rooms because there were other people in them. The reason, I was told, was that it was difficult for people to hear in church. That explanation made sense since I knew that our sound system was not up to standard. Now, however, our new sound system has made it possible for people to hear in church. For anyone who has been going into the cry room in order to hear, I would like to offer an invitation to come out and try joining the rest of us in church.

Having people in the cry room is not the most important issue that we face, but there is a point to all of this. The liturgy is the work of the Church gathered together as a family. The unity that is part of such a gathering is best expressed when we are all together. If we go into separate places, it is harder to consider ourselves part of the larger community. Certainly there are times when practical needs require a certain separation. I have seen that happen in some places when there are larger crowds than the church can hold. In such instances, closed circuit television screens have been set up in a separate place so that overflow crowds can still take part. Something like that, of course, has happened with the Penguins in the playoffs, when large screens have been set up outside PPG Paints Arena, and the same has been done in some places for large crowds. In other instances, I have heard of people who, for medical purposes, cannot risk infection from large crowds of people. I understand the medical need, and I leave that to people’s own judgment. Such instances, however, should be the exception and not the norm. In most cases, we come together as one community, which is better accomplished when we are in the same space.

If we can come together into the nave of the church, we can free the cry rooms up for their original purpose, as a place for parents to take their crying children. In that case, as well, they become a temporary refuge, and the parents bring their children back into church when they have settled down.

It is not my purpose to give anyone an old-fashioned case of “Catholic guilt,” nor to shame anyone into feeling like something is wrong. Rather, it is my hope to bring our parish even closer together to share with one another the most powerful and dramatic gift of the Eucharistic Liturgy. Our celebration becomes ever more joyful the more we share it with one another, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to share it with all of you.
                                                                               
                                                               Father H 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 6, 2018

This Wednesday we welcome Bishop Zubik to St. Malachy to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation with our eighth graders. With this sacrament, our young men and women can rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all the choices of their lives. That makes me think of how appropriate it is to have Bishop Zubik coming to our parish at this time. With the decisions recently announced for On Mission for the Church Alive, we know that the bishop has relied deeply on the guidance of the Spirit throughout the process, including clergy assignments. So while we pray for our Confirmandi and for Bishop Zubik, I also ask your prayers for us priests as we prepare for our new ministry.

With that, I would like to offer a word of introduction for the priests who will be serving this community. This is not an “official” biography, but just my own knowledge of the priests who will be here. The new Administrator (who will get the title of pastor when the merger becomes official) is Fr. David Poecking, who is currently pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Carnegie. He was here a few months ago as one of the speakers for our Speaker Series. Fr. Poecking is a convert to the Catholic faith who spoke here about the influence that the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien had upon his life. I am confident that Bishop Zubik has made a fine choice in leading the new grouping.

Fr. Alan Morris has served as pastor of several parishes in our diocese, including serving as administrator of one of the parishes that I will be moving to, St. Valentine. As a young priest, he succeeded me as parochial vicar of another one of the parishes I will soon be serving, St. Gabriel Whitehall. In his first year there, he posed for a picture with the eighth graders of the school, and some people thought he was one of the kids who dressed up as a priest.

Speaking of St. Gabriel Parish, one of my duties during my time there was to train the altar servers. One of those servers grew up to be a priest who will be living here. Fr. Michael Ruffalo will be assigned to work with the archives of the diocese and will be available for help especially on weekends.

The other priests serving these parishes are more familiar to us. Fr. Bob Zajdel has served as parochial vicar at St. John of God Parish. We also have three retired priests who will continue to be in residence. Fr. Rege Ryan is, of course, the “mayor of McKees Rocks.” Fr. Bob Herrmann is a former pastor of Holy Trinity who has been living in their rectory in his retirement. And of course our own beloved Fr. Russell Maurer is staying with us. We will also benefit from the ministry of Deacon Tim Killmeyer, currently of Holy Trinity.

In the meantime, I am still pastor here until October 15. I will be writing more about my upcoming assignment in the future. But I take this opportunity to remind you that I will not forget the wonderful adventure I have had here at St. Malachy. The line I have been remembering a lot lately is from our school athletics, “Once a Bomber, always a Bomber.”                                                                                         
                                                               Father H 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Easter - April 29, 2018

If we think back (honestly) to our school days, I think we have all had some time when we tried to bluff our way through an assignment. We may have had to write a book report on a book we never read, or we may have taken an essay test when we could not remember what the main point of the lesson had been. That is how I feel today as I sit down to write this column.

By the time you read this, or at least shortly thereafter, Bishop Zubik will have announced the groupings for On Mission for the Church Alive. We have been praying and preparing for quite some time now, and it will be good to move on to the next step. Yet as I sit down to write this column, we are still waiting. I would like to offer a comment on what is happening, but I cannot write about what I have not heard. I feel like I am taking a test on a book I have not read. So I would like to offer a few general comments on what is happening.

First of all, I hope that the time we have spent on this process has helped us realize that something has to happen. We cannot continue with the way things have been. The decline in population, the secularization of our society, and the concomitant decline in priestly vocations mean that we can no longer staff or sustain the parishes we have had in the past. Yet it is vitally important that we never forget Christ’s promise to remain with His Church all days. We may not be as strong as in the past, at least as the world judges strength, but we are still the People of God. We still trust that Holy Spirit will be with us. Bishop Zubik has made prayer a hallmark of this process, that we may trust in the Spirit. He has also called us to evangelization. The final goal of On Mission is not to “circle the wagons.” We are seeking to build that can reach out to all people and be true signs of God’s concern for His people all through the community.

As much as we have done to prepare, we know that change is hard. There is going to be a real adjustment, no matter what our grouping is or what clergy serve these parishes. I have been transferred quite a few times in almost thirty-two years of priesthood, and I know that every move has been an adjustment. Yet every move has been a blessing for me. I am particularly thankful to have spent these past four years here at St. Malachy, but I know that wherever I end up, I have the opportunity to do priestly work and to serve Christ and His Church.

Assuming that I am moving on, we will all be eager to see who is coming here. Please pray for the priests who will be part of St. Malachy beginning in October, and please offer them your support. The new priests will bring their own talents and skills to this ministry. Some things will continue as we have done them, and some will change. We pledge to work with the priests assigned to us and to reach out to the people of the other parishes in our grouping. We truly are on mission. Let us trust that Christ will allow us to continue as a Church Alive.
                                                                             
                                                                                                 Father H  

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter - April 22, 2018

Flannery O’Connor was a noted writer from Savannah, Georgia. She published two novels and over thirty short stories despite her battle with lupus, which claimed her life in 1964 at the age of 39. Her writing is very strongly influenced by her deep Catholic faith. In fact, there is a widely reported story of a time when she attended a dinner party with well-known novelist Mary McCarthy, who saw this meeting as a chance to support a young writer and give her some advice. At one point McCarthy, who had abandoned her Catholic faith at an early age, commented that the Eucharist is a nice symbol. Up until that point, O’Connor had felt too shy to say much of anything, but at that point she said, “Well, if it is a symbol, to hell with it.” It was not enough for her, or for any Catholic, to see the Eucharist in a simply symbolic way. As she later explained the attitude that was behind her response, O’Connor said that the Eucharist “is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”

One of the best reminders of the importance of the Eucharist comes to me each year when we see the second graders of our parish receive the Body and Blood of Christ for the first time. That will happen in our parish this weekend and next. The excitement of these boys and girls reminds me that the Eucharist truly is “the center of existence.” In fact, I remember a conversation with one child that reminded me of the Flannery O’Connor story, albeit without Mary McCarthy’s antagonism. The young girl and her mother were telling me that they were getting excited about the big day. They already had her dress and her shoes, and they were going out to buy the veil that very afternoon. I said that was wonderful, but I asked if there was something even more important than the dress and the veil. With full confidence and with a great big smile, she replied, “It’s receiving Jesus.”

Comments like that young girl’s or like Flannery O’Connor’s can sometimes be the most powerful. As far as I know, none of our second graders can spell the word “Transubstantiation.” Certainly none of them could compare and contrast the theology of the Eucharist as found in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas as opposed to more modern writers such as Karl Rahner or Edward Schillebeeckx. (And no, I did not make up that name to be funny. That it actually the name of a twentieth-century theologian.) What they do know is what is most important, and that is that they are receiving Jesus. He is truly present to us in that Sacrament. It is really His Body and Blood that we receive.

When something really matters to us, we do want to know more and more about it. We study and we learn about it. So the theological explanations are very helpful to us. Yet we hope we never forget what is at the root of the matter, that we are intimately joined to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. As we pray for the children who are making their First Communion, remember their excitement, and let us ask God to help us rekindle that excitement for ourselves. May we truly be able to say what Flannery O’Connor said, that the Eucharist “is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”   
                                                                             
                                                                                        Father H 

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Third Sunday of Easter - April 15, 2018

In recent years, there has been a trend of faith-based movies coming out at Easter time. Some of them take the stories from the Bible and added some speculation about what may have happened, even adding characters to the biblical stories in order to express spiritual ideas.
Last week I went to see the new movie, Paul, the Apostle of Christ. The movie wasn’t quite what I expected, but it was very good. It centered on St. Luke and his relationship with St. Paul at the end of Paul’s life. The movie speculates that Luke may have made a visit to the prison where Paul was kept before his martyrdom, with that visit as the occasion for writing the Acts of the Apostles. As the Acts of the Apostles is a book we read frequently during the Easter season, this book is a good theme for this time of year.

The Acts of the Apostles is a sequel, so to speak, of the gospel of Luke. Each one is addressed to someone whom Luke calls Theophilus. We do not know who he was, but there is speculation that perhaps he was a Roman official who was secretly a Christian, or else that he was a Roman official and that Luke was trying to reassure him that the Christians were not a threat to the empire. I think that latter explanation is at least plausible, and the movie puts the writing of the book in that kind of atmosphere. The movie sets the action within the persecution of the Church under the emperor Nero. In the movie, Luke comes to Rome to meet with Paul, and in order to strengthen the faith of those who faced persecution, writes at least the beginning of Acts. In reality, Acts was probably written some years after Paul’s death. Scholars date Luke’s gospel at around AD 80 to 85, with Acts coming around that same time. Perhaps there could have been such a visit, but that encounter between Paul and Luke is most likely a dramatic invention intended to set the writing of the book in the context of that relationship.

Acts focuses on the growth of the Church, beginning with the small community in Jerusalem and centering upon St. Peter. Through persecution, the Church expands through Palestine and the focus shifts to St. Stephen, the first martyr. Stephen’s martyrdom serves as an introduction to Saul of Tarsus, whom we know better as Paul. St. Paul dominates the rest of the book as the Church spreads throughout the known world. If it is true that Luke was trying to reassure Theophilus that Christians were not trying to overthrow Rome, the movie shows a strong reaction against any suggestions of violence. St. Paul urges the community to live in the love of Christ.

Thus as a movie about faith, I definitely recommend Paul, the Apostle of Christ. I would not consider it to be historically accurate, but it does give a good sense of the early Church and the struggles faced by St. Paul and others. I found some of the scriptural quotations to be somewhat forced, as if the scriptwriters felt they had to squeeze Paul’s words in verbatim. Overall, though, I certainly thought that Paul, the Apostle of Christ is well worth seeing.
                                                   
                                                                                                 Father H  

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Divine Mercy Sunday - April 8, 2018

          The gospel of John (John 21:1-14) tells a story of one of the appearances of the Risen Christ that I find particularly fascinating. The Apostles are at the Sea of Tiberius, and Peter announces that he is going fishing, at which point James and John decide to join him. Some of us think of fishing as a relaxing pastime, sitting by a the water with a fishing pole while possibly dozing off. Remember that, for Peter and the sons of Zebedee, fishing was their profession before Christ called them. It was hard work. I like to think that they were good at their jobs, but on this occasion they have caught nothing. Then someone on the shore tells them to cast their nets over the right side of the boat, and they haul in 153 large fish. Only then does John recognize that it is the Risen Christ who has given them this advice.
Although we have faith in the Risen Lord, we do not always recognize His presence among us. It is thus a comfort to me to know that the Apostles did not see that He was with them. I can picture them standing around and asking themselves, “Now what?” They didn’t know what to do with themselves, but it seems natural that they would return to what they knew the best. They went back to their job of fishing. And that is where Christ finds them. He had once called them away from their boats and their nets. Now he not only comes to them where they are, He also helps them to do their job as best they can.
For me, that reflection helps set up the remainder of this Easter season. We know that the Risen Lord is always with us, but it may not always be easy to recognize His presence. After all, like the Apostles, we are going about our daily business. We have our jobs and our daily tasks, and sometimes we do not feel like we are making any progress with them. There are times when our nets come up empty. At such moments, Christ may not give us a miraculous success. We may not bring in the equivalent of 153 large fish. But we do have the promise that Christ has not abandoned us. He is helping to make our every day a success, at least in the sense that we get to serve Him.
For me, I will try to remember that lesson is particularly helpful this month. At the end of April, Bishop Zubik will announce the new configuration for the parishes in our diocese. We will know which other parishes are in our grouping, what priests will serve St. Malachy, and what we need to do to move forward to the eventual merger. For me personally, I will know where and in what role the bishop wants me to serve the Church of Pittsburgh. We have been praying (and will continue to pray) for the success of On Mission for the Church Alive. As we do, we continue to do our best to build up this parish and to work toward the future. Let us listen for Christ telling us where to cast our nets.
As I make that reflection, I offer special word of thanks to all who made our Lenten observance and our Easter celebration so special. Thanks to John Lester and his crew for assisting with our liturgies and overseeing the decoration of the Church. Thanks to Laurie Lanz and all who work with her in providing such beautiful and inspiring music. Thanks to Tim Davis and the many, many volunteers who pitched in and made our Fish Fry a bigger success than we had even hoped. And thanks to all of you for sharing this holy time with us.
                                                                                            Father H 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018

Athletes have moments of pure joy. As a Pirate fan, I can picture Bill Mazeroski dancing around the bases after his 1960 World Series winning home run or Steve Blass jumping in the arms of Bob Robertson after winning game seven of the 1971 World Series. In more recent years, we can picture the Penguins players piling on top of Matt Murray at the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of the last two year. In each case, that joy signifies the fulfillment of the hopes and struggles of many years. Everything that has led to that point is worthwhile.

Our greatest joy is what we celebrate today. Christ is risen, and all the world is changed. In original sin, our first ancestors turned away from God. In choosing sin, they chose a world of struggle and pain instead of the joy that God had intended for us. Yet God would never give up on His people. He formed the Jewish nation as the Chosen People, that He might prepare to send a Savior. Christ came to bring us the Father’s love, even when His ministry led to His death on the cross. All of that history was meant to lead to this day, when our humanity is refashioned in the image of Christ risen from the dead. God’s plan is fulfilled. By our baptism, we share in Christ’s new life, and everything that has led to this point is worthwhile.

Most likely, none of us coming to church on Easter Sunday doing an imitation of Bill Mazeroski’s home run trot. Yet our joy on this day is far beyond anything else we can experience. We express our Easter joy in various ways. We may dress up in our best clothes, even if a new Easter bonnet is perhaps no longer fashionable. If we have given up candy or chocolate or some other pleasure during Lent, we celebrate by breaking our fast. And once in church, we notice a big difference from our season of Lent. During Lent, we had no flowers or other festive decorations in church. Now we are as festive as we can be. During Lent our music was more somber, but on Easter we sing “Alleluia” for the first time since before Ash Wednesday. As St. Augustine told us, “We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.”

For many of us, the end of Lent signifies relief more than joy. We are happy to have the penance over with so we can get back to normal. I hope instead that we can look at this Easter as the culmination of all that God has called us to share. Easter is not just about Jesus’ resurrection; it is also a celebration of our baptism, by which we share that new life. Everything we do throughout our lives is something that can expres-s the grace Christ has given us. In that way, today’s feast is a reminder of the glory that we will share with our Risen Lord for all eternity. Even our Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies become a reminder to us that this is the feast of our victory.

In the joy of this day, I take this time to thank all those who have contributed to our celebration of the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. To all who have contributed to our liturgies, and to all who have helped make this a joyful time in other ways as well, I offer my gratitude. In addition, I offer you my wish (and I speak on behalf of Fr. Russell) for a blessed and joyous Easter. May God bless you.
             
                                                         Father H  

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord - March 25, 2018

When I was in sixth grade, I began thinking about the priesthood. Over the years there were many times when I questioned if that was what God wanted of me. There were two times each year, though, when I always felt more confident in my vocation. One was when I served the Midnight Mass at Christmas, and the other was when I served the glorious Liturgies of Holy Week. At this time of the year, our Salvation becomes more real to us.

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 days, 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. Please note that 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.

Finally, last year I made a special request that you not give me food for Easter. I have always appreciated people’s generosity, but in the last couple of years I have been trying to watch what I eat. I am not speaking for Fr. Russell, but I would rather try to behave myself. I will have the box for donations to Focus on Renewal at the blessing of Easter food on Holy Saturday, and I would ask you to give to the F.O.R. or the St. Vincent de Paul Society instead of adding to my waistline. Thank you.              

                                                         Father H 

The Fifth Sunday of Lent - March 18, 2018

A woman was in the store with her two children. The mother was buying something that the older child needed. The younger child asked, “Is that for me? Can I have one, too?” Children often want what their siblings have. Sometimes it is not appropriate for each to have the same thing, but sometimes it is.

The season of Lent is something like that. Lent was not originally intended for all of us. This season was originally preparation for the catechumens, the adults preparing to enter the Church through baptism at the Easter Vigil. Today, we use the RCIA to prepare catechumens for baptism, to prepare those who are baptized in other Christian communities to enter the Church, and to prepare those who are baptized Catholic but who were never further catechized to complete their initiation. Those taking part in the RCIA in our parish have been meeting on Monday evenings since the fall. On the first night, I told those taking part that I would be giving them the teaching of the Church to help them understand what we believe. But I also said that our main goal was not so much to give them an academic understanding as to help them fall in love with Christ.

With that end in mind, the Church devised a special time for the catechumens to prepare for their baptism. As Christ fasted for forty days in the desert, so the Church arranged a forty-day fast period for those preparing to enter the Church. The fasting was not meant to be a punishment. It was intended as a way for them to put Christ first in their lives. So the period of Lent provided an opportunity for the catechumens to grow in the love of Christ. And that is when the rest of the Church said, “Hey, what about us?” Those who were already in the Church wanted to share the time of Lent so that they, too, could experience a growth in the love of Christ.

So my special request for everyone today is to ask you to pray especially for those preparing to enter the Church at the Easter Vigil. As they enter into a new relationship with Christ, they are (despite the months of preparation) going to have an adjustment. They are going to have many questions as they move forward. At the same time, they have an excitement that comes with beginning a new adventure and entering into a new relationship. I am often inspired by those who come to the faith as adults. Their excitement often reminds me that, like most cradle Catholics, I sometimes take my faith for granted. When I see the excitement of a neophyte, a new member of the Catholic family, it reminds me of what a great gift we have. At times like that, I feel like the small child who asks his mother, “What about me? Can I have one?”

And that brings us back to our season of Lent. With just a couple of weeks left, we may be running out of steam. We may have struggle with our Lenten observances, or we may have forgotten them altogether. If we make a special effort to pray for the RCIA and those coming into the Church, we can renew our own faith. Lent may always be something of a challenge, but it can become an exciting time for us as well.    

                                                                                       Father H  

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - March 11, 2018

One of the traditions of Lent, a devotion which can be used throughout the year but which is more prevalent in Lent, is the Stations of the Cross. The Way of the Cross (as it is also known) arose as a way to walk with Christ on the way to His crucifixion. The Romans would force a prisoner to carry his own cross (actually just the cross-beam) in order to make a public spectacle of him. Pilgrims to the Holy Land would walk that path and reflect upon Christ’s sufferings. Those who lived in the region were quick to offer their assistance, setting up stands – or stations – where visitors could stop and hear the story of what had happened on a particular spot. Some of those would be very meaningful to people, and some would be especially fanciful. The latter would often be stories made up by people who wanted a cut of the offerings that the visitors would give. Certain stations became more popular than the rest, eventually leaving us with the fourteen we know of today.

The Stations of the Cross became popular when pilgrims returned home and wanted to continue the prayerful experiences they had. People would set up their own Way of the Cross, with Stations that corresponded with the ones they had visited in Jerusalem. In time, it became customary to set up images of the Stations in churches so that a local parish community could pray them together. One main feature, of course, is that they are usually located around the perimeter of the church so that people can walk from one to another, thus continuing the idea of walking with Christ. The guideline on their placement is that the Stations should begin and end close to the Sanctuary. They can go either direction, however, and I knew of another parish like ours where the Stations were in the stained glass windows. A new pastor was leading the Stations the first night, but the windows were dark and hard to see. It was only at the end that the parishioners informed him that he had gone the wrong direction.

At St. Malachy, we have several different experiences of the Stations. On Friday afternoons at 2:10, the school children lead the parish in a simple version that was designed for young people but can be quite profitable for adults. On alternating Friday evenings we celebrate the Stations in a traditional way but with a modern reflection, Everyone’s Way of the Cross. On the other Friday evenings, such as this coming Friday, we have a special presentation of the Living Stations. Our crew does such a beautiful job and truly makes the Living Stations a prayerful experience.   

On Good Friday 1991, Pope Saint John Paul offered a different set of Stations that were completely Scriptural. The fourteen stations he offered were: 1) Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, 2) Jesus, betrayed by Judas, is arrested, 3) Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin, 4) Jesus is denied by Peter, 5) Jesus is judged by Pilate, 6) Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns, 7) Jesus bears the cross, 8) Jesus is helped by Simon the Cyrenian to carry His cross, 9) Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem, 10) Jesus is crucified, 11) Jesus promises His kingdom to the good thief, 12) Jesus speaks to His Mother and the Disciple, 13) Jesus dies on the cross, 14) Jesus is placed in the tomb. Feel free to use those Stations as an alternative for your prayer sometime. But however we choose to pray them, alone or in common, we remember that we are walking with Christ on the way He traveled to bring us salvation.                                   

                                                                                              Father H  

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Third Sunday of Lent - March 4, 2018

One evening when I was a boy, my parents took me to a special event at another parish. While there, they suggested that it would be a good time for all of us (including me) to go to Confession. I went in and knelt in a dark box, waiting the priest who turned out to be rather stern. When it came time for the Act of Contrition, my nerves got the better of me. I stumbled over the line, “Who are all good and deserving of all my love.” What came out was that God was “deserving of all my sins.” Very loudly, the priest informed me that I had gotten it wrong. What he didn’t know, poor fellow, was that my mother was on the other side of the confessional. He opened her side next, and he never stood a chance. Years later, as a newly ordained priest, I was hearing confessions when a little girl made the same mistake I had once made. I was glad that she had chosen to go behind the screen (it wasn’t a choice in my day), for she never saw me laughing. I made myself a promise that day never to yell at anyone in Confession.

Since then, I have often thought that we could learn from the mistakes people make with the Act of Contrition. Perhaps I should start by saying that the priest who corrected me at least had a point. God does not deserve our sins. That thought reminds us that we have never done anything to “deserve” the love God gives us. His love is a free gift. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, He gives us love far beyond what we could ever hope for or expect.

What I have heard frequently comes up at the very beginning in the version I grew up with. We say, “O my God, I am heartily sorry for all my sins.” Often, however, it comes out as, “I am hardly sorry for my sins.” I always suspect that may be truer than we’d like to admit. Even when we are forgiven, we still have concupiscence. Concupiscence is a result of Original Sin and of each of our sins. It is the inclination to sin that comes from the attraction to things that are wrong, and it produces our inclination to sin. While we promise to turn away from sin, we know that we are weak and that the temptations that come our way will seem, in some way, good to us. We should never let that feeling keep us from seeking God’s mercy. Even if we are only “hardly” sorry, He will help us to want His mercy more and more.

With many people, the issue is not so much what we say as how we say it. There is a tendency to rush through this prayer, as with most any prayer we say frequently, and lose sight of what we are saying. That is why I like to remind people that we do not need to use just the prayer we memorized in second grade. The ritual book gives several different suggestions for the Act of Contrition, including the very simple, “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” When I go to Confession, I say the prayer in my own words, and it comes out differently every single time. This is such a personal moment for me that I prefer to pray the Act of Contrition spontaneously.

Despite the serious notes that I have made here, I hope we can get a little smile out of such things as “hardly sorry.” I would like to give you a lighthearted look at Confession to combat the trepidation we sometimes bring to the sacrament. I want everyone to know think of Confession as a joyful experience, without any fear of intimidation, even if someone does get mixed up on the Act of Contrition.
                                                                                     Father H 

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Second Sunday of Lent - February , 2018

One of my favorite plays is Thornton Wilder’s classic Our Town. I have been privileged to appear in the play twice, once in the dual roles of Professor Willard and Joe Stoddard, and the other time in the role of Doctor Gibbs. In one of those productions, I had a director (Jim Critchfield, who worked with some of our students at the Father Ryan Arts Center) who gave us some very good advice. He told us, “Thornton Wilder won a Pulitzer Prize for that play. So don’t think you can improve upon his writing. Say the lines the way he wrote them.”

That advice is very good for an actor presenting a classic play. I think it is even better advise for a priest celebrating Mass. The Church, in its wisdom, has given us some very beautiful prayers. Some of them may not be as easy to follow in the current translation as in the former translation, but there can be great profit from working through such language. So today I would like to offer a Lenten reflection by looking at a text we hear more often during this time. Along with the four standard Eucharistic Prayers, the Church gives us two special Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation. I particularly like the first of those two prayers, and I look forward to using it every year during Lent.

Much of this prayer comes across as a reminder of God’s eternal love for us, even when we have turned away from Him. “From the world’s beginning [you] are ceaselessly at work, so that the human race may become holy, just as you yourself are holy.” I am always touched by the image of Christ’s cross as a sign of that love, an image that leads into the Institution Narrative by reminding us, “Before his arms were outstretched between heaven and earth, to become the lasting sign of your covenant, he desired to celebrate the Passover with his disciples.”

The theme of reconciliation, in this prayer as in Lent itself, includes not just reconciliation with God. When we find ourselves in the right relationship with God, we then become more open to one another. To me, the difference between the two Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation is one of emphasis. The one I am looking at here could be summed up as “We are reconciled to God and thus to one another.” The second prayer strikes me as saying, “We are reconciled to God and thus to one another.” So in the first of these prayers, we pray for all the faithful by asking God, “grant that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as they partake of this one Bread and one Chalice, they may be gathered into one Body in Christ, who heals every division.”

What touches me most strongly in this prayer is the theme, throughout the entire prayer, of the great hope held in store for us. We speak to the Father of “your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, in whom we, too, are your sons and daughters.” Throughout the prayer, we see more deeply that we are called beyond the merely human to share in the divinity of Christ. We are looking forward to “the hour when we stand before you, Saints among the Saints in the halls of heaven.” That theme is strong as the prayer draws to its conclusion. As this Lent is meant to lead us to Easter, so this whole prayer concludes, “Then, freed at last from the wound of corruption and made fully into a new creation, we shall sing to you with gladness the thanksgiving of Christ, who lives for all eternity.”
                 
                                                                                        Father H  

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The First Sunday of Lent - February 18, 2018

From my younger days, I remember magazine advertisements for the Charles Atlas Body-building system. The ads were in the format of a comic book story. They would show a skinny kid, the proverbial 98-pound weakling, sitting at the beach. He would have his eyes on a pretty girl. Before the kid could make his move, a muscle-bound jerk would kick sand in his face. The pretty girl would then go off arm in arm with the bully. So the skinny kid would go home and order the Charles Atlas package. After his transformation, he would be back at the beach. When the bully would kick sand in his face, he would defend himself. In the end, he would get the pretty girl.

One look at me should tell you that I never ordered the Charles Atlas system. But now as I think about it, I see a fundamental flaw in the ads, a flaw that is common in advertising. The flaw is the belief that you can only get love if you can somehow prove yourself better than someone else. We can extend that attitude even to our faith. We try to earn God’s love. Lent, then, becomes our Charles Atlas time. We picture God ignoring us, caring more about the saints, until our Lenten exercises build us up. We talk about what we are doing for Lent or what we are giving up for Lent as though a successful Lent will get God’s attention and convince Him to love us.

An adolescent, such as would be interested in the Charles Atlas system, is probably looking for the kind of girl who would be attracted to the big, strong type, and would look down on the weakling. As he matures, we hope that he would be more attracted to the girl who loves him for himself. As out understanding of God grows, we come to see Him as one who loves us for ourselves. Lent, then, is not an attempt for us to impress God. Rather, it is our time to grow to love God more deeply. Imagine the scene in the Charles Atlas ads if the bully kicks sand in the boy’s face, but the pretty girl chooses the skinny kid anyway. He should want to get to know that girl better. That, in effect, is what Lent is about. As we look forward to Easter, it is as if God is saying to us, “Look at what I have done for your in sending my Son to be your Savior.” So this time is for us a chance to reflect on how God loves us even when we fall short of His standards. Our Lenten observances open us up to a deeper appreciation for the love of God. By our prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we come to see God as the center of our lives and the heart of everything that we do. We turn away from the things that keep us from the love of God, and we try to keep even the good things of our lives in the proper perspective as less important than our faith.

In forty days, at the end of our Lenten season, we may not find ourselves spiritual versions of Charles Atlas. We know, however, that God will not love us any less for our imperfections. It is our hope, then, that this time of Lent help us to appreciate God’s love even more, and to respond by loving him every more deeply in return.                                 
                                                                                               Father H  

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 11, 2018

There was a meme going around the Internet last month that pointed out that Ash Wednesday falls on St. Valentine’s Day, and Easter falls on April Fools Day. The meme concluded, “This is going to be a strange year for Catholics.” As it turns out, there are a number of things coming together at this time, and I would like to touch upon a few of them to some extent.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the holy season of Lent. I will be writing about Lent in coming weeks, so today I will just ask you to see the flyer in this bulletin with all the basic information and to save the flyer for the coming weeks.

The Sunday before Ash Wednesday is when the Diocese of Pittsburgh kicks off the Parish Share Program. Your generosity with the program can be a big help to us.  Remember that this year we are also including a special envelope once a month for any extra help anyone can give us.

This Sunday is also an interesting confluence of two other special celebrations. Pope St. John Paul designated February as the World Day of the Sick, “a special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one’s suffering for the good of the Church and of reminding us to see in our sick brother and sister the face of Christ who, by suffering, dying, and rising, achieved the salvation of humankind.” This is an opportunity for me to say thank you to all who kept me in prayer after my recent hernia operation. The doctor was right when he told me that recovery is much easier than it was when I previously had that surgery, but it still was a struggle. We get so accustomed to being able to do things for ourselves that it becomes difficult for us to limit ourselves. After hernia surgery, one is not supposed to lift much of anything. I felt rather strange asking people to move things that I should normally be able to carry without any trouble. It reminds me that the word “patient” comes from a word meaning one to whom things are done, as opposed to “agent,” which means one who does things. That word relates to the word “Passion,” which we apply to Christ’s suffering. Eucharistic Prayer II speaks of how Christ “entered willingly into his Passion.” I have to admit that I was not as willing. But by joining our sufferings to Christ, we can grow in our faith by knowing that we are always in the arms of a loving God.

The Church also takes the Sunday before St. Valentine’s Day as the World Day of Marriage. It seems strange to me to have World Marriage Day fall on the same day as the World Day of the Sick, but that’s how it happens this year. Of course, we think of the marriage vows where a couple promises love “in sickness and in health.” When working with engaged couples, I often talk about things that they may face in their lives, such as sickness, unemployment or simply disagreements. Most couples are quite willing to admit that there will be difficult times. Yet I generally get the feeling that they actually feel as if everything is going to be happy and beautiful. (To be fair, on my ordination day I didn’t realize what struggles a priest would face.) Yet as I try to point out, if they truly rely upon God, then the moments of struggle will be the times that truly allow their love to grow. Our culture has made marriage disposable to much the same degree that it has made marriage simply a way to make ourselves happy. On this World Marriage Day, we see marriage as a reflection of God’s love and a way to reach out to others with that love.
                                                 
                                                                     Father H 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time - February 4, 2018

One of the events of our Catholic Schools Week was “80’s Day.” The students dressed up in 1980s styles. That was easy for me since I spent much of the 1980s dressing the same as I do now. But I did spend part of the day (the part where I was writing this column) thinking about one of my favorite ballplayers from the 1980s, Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn. He led the National League in batting average eight times in his career, and I have used him as an example of someone who kept working at his craft. Gwynn was one of the first ballplayers to use videotape extensively. As often as he would swing a bat, he knew that it was easy for bad habits to creep into his swing.

When we do something over and over, we take it for granted. But we can get into bad habits. I think of that tendency in connection with the most important thing we do. Nothing could be more important than the opportunity to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. It seems so simple that we do not give it much thought, and that is where the bad habits can develop. So let’s look at the film.

First of all, the instructions call for a sign of reverence when we come up. That instruction sounds rather vague, so people interpreted it in various ways. To provide a bit of uniformity, the bishops of the United States determined that the proper sign of reverence is a slight bow, which generally means just a nod of the head. That is all that is required at that point.

The priest or Eucharistic Minister shows us the sacred host and says, “The body of Christ.” We respond, “Amen.” Some people have gotten into the habit of not saying anything or of making a very quiet response.  Considering the importance of what we are receiving, we should say “Amen” with enthusiasm. Other people get the “Amen” in very quickly, even before I have had a chance to say “The body of Christ.” I recognize that this tendency can come from priests and Eucharistic Ministers who get into bad habits themselves and seem to rush the line along. Perhaps we can help those distributing the Eucharist to be more reverent if the recipients respond reverently, saying “Amen” as a response. Keep in mind that this one, simple word is so meaningful that it was never translated into English, for there is no corresponding word or phrase that does it justice.

For those receiving in the hand, please hold out your hands in a reverent manner. Do not take the host from the priest. Instead, allow him to place it in your hand. Your right hand (if you are right handed) should be underneath your left, allowing us to put the host into your palm. When we were first permitted to receive Communion in the hand, we were taught that this gesture was a way for us to make our hands a “throne” to receive Our Lord. Then, reach over with your right hand to take the host and place it in your mouth. And please do that before turning to return to your place.

If you are receiving on your tongue, simply stick your tongue out and let the priest or Eucharistic Minister put the host on your tongue. Again, you can say a good “Amen” before putting your tongue out.

Tony Gwynn was a great hitter who never stopped asking if he could do better. That attitude got him into the Hall of Fame. What we do at Mass is much more important. That same attitude could help us get into heaven.
                                                       Father H 

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 28, 2018

I remember when Art Linkletter was a popular television host. He is best remembered for interviewing young children. His catchphrase was, “Kids say the darndest things.” So there are times when I run into some of the things that children say, and I refer to those as my “Art Linkletter moments.” Working with the school as closely as I do, I have gotten a number of such moments over the years. In my early days of priesthood, when I was still at St. Francis de Sales, I was teaching a group of first graders that there were two parts to the Bible. I told them that the first one was the Old Testament, and I thought that was enough of a clue that I asked what the second part was called. One girl raised her hand and confidently said, “The Young Testament.”

In a later assignment, I was teaching a class about the Mass and was saying that on special occasions you might see servers in the procession carrying incense. One young boy misheard me. With a disgusted look on his face, he asked, “Father, are the insects alive?”

My third story is much more recent – just a few months ago. Ever since I made my ventriloquism debut at the festival, some of our kindergarten students have tried arguing with me that Ralphie, my dummy, is not real. One day one boy relied upon the argument from authority by claiming that his big brother said that Ralphie is not real. I claimed that my brother agrees with me, and he questioned whether I even have a brother. I told him that I do and that my brother lives in Florida. He responded, “Then he can’t be your brother.” But then again one of our kindergarten students a couple of years ago asked if Fr. Lou at St. John of God was my brother. I can see some confusion from the fact that he and I both have similar facial hair, but I’m better looking. (Fr. Lou, if you’re reading this, I’m just kidding.)

Those Art Linkletter moments are just a small portion of why I love working with Catholic Schools. This week we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, and it is a great opportunity to think of how important Catholic schools are to the Church. Our school offers a great education, but I recognize that our public schools also do a fine job of teaching the basic subjects to our children. Where our school truly excels is in integrating education with faith. Jesus Christ is a key part of everything that our school does, and not just in religion class. We are not simply teaching facts about the Church; we are helping parents to introduce the children to God as a loving Father who will always care for us. We are inviting the children on a great adventure of love that will make their lives richer.

Last year I was at a meeting to discuss our schools, and one priest used a line that I thought was very important. He said, “We are not here to get them into Harvard. We are here to get them into heaven.” I mentioned that at the national workshop I attended last summer of the Catholic Education Foundation, and the leader’s response was, “Why can’t we try to do both?” I thought of that when I saw that the theme for Catholic Schools Week this year is, “Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.” I thank our wonderful faculty and staff at St. Malachy School for helping our children to do just that. And if we get a few Art Linkletter moments along the way, that is just a bonus.
                                                       

                                                                                                           Father H  

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 21, 2018

I wonder how many people remember the Pittsburgh Triangles. In the 1970s, during the “tennis boom” that got many of us buying rackets and learning how to play, there was an attempt to make tennis a team sport so that fans in various cities could have an attachment to their tennis teams similar to their attachment to their baseball or football teams. The Triangles were Pittsburgh’s entry in World Team Tennis from 1974 to 1976, winning the championship in 1975. One day the Triangles held a tennis clinic for anyone who wanted to show up, complete with an opportunity to meet the players. I took my racket cover with me and got autographs from all the players, including Vitas Gerulaitis, Mark Cox, Peggy Michel and the biggest star, Evonne Goolagong. Oh, yes, I also got an autograph of Rayni Fox. She was nowhere near being the star of the team, but she was not that much older than me, and I had something of a crush on her.

I have not had that racket cover in years, and even when I did have it, the autographs were starting to fade. Someone had suggested coating the signatures with clear nail polish to preserve them, but even at that they were becoming less legible. As collectors will comment, “Father Time is undefeated.”

Lately I have had another reason to remember that good things do not always last. In the summer of 1991, I had surgery to repair a hernia on my left side. At the time, the surgeon told me that I also had a hernia on my right side. I thought of getting that one taken care of the following year, but my mother’s death in 1992 meant that I put it off. It started bothering me a few years later, and I had it repaired in 2000. At the time of my 1991 surgery, the doctor warned me that this type of repair does not always last and that I would probably someday need another repair. Someday has arrived. Early last summer I began to feel the old discomfort.

This Tuesday I will be in for another repair. On the one hand, the doctor tells me that surgical methods have gotten much better for hernias and that recovery time is shorter than before. On the other hand, I’m older than I was the first time, which could make the recuperation take a little longer. In any event, I plan on taking the time I need over the next few days. I hope to pay attention to my body. So if you call for any purpose and I am not available, please try to understand. I hope to get up and get going to some extent, but I also plan on doing some reading streaming some movies and catching up on some rest.

I hope to be feeling up to normal action by the end of the week, but it took just a little longer than that last time. I have Fr. Michael coming in to take the school Mass for me this week and to take one of the Masses next Sunday. And even when you see me in church, I may be moving a little more slowly. I suspect that I may be bowing instead of genuflecting for a few days as well. And I may have to avoid lifting things for a time.

When the doctor told me that recuperation is easier, he also told me that the newer surgeries last longer than before. I’m hoping that I won’t have to repeat this surgery. Of course I still have the right side that I may have to deal with again someday. But for now, I’m looking forward to getting everything inside me back to where it should be.
                                                     
                                                                                             Father H  

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

This is the quieter time of year. Christmas is over, and Lent is still a month away. Baseball season doesn’t start for a while. (That’s important to me.) And it’s generally too cold to go on a picnic. So things get a bit quiet. But at least we can look forward to the Steelers making a run for the Super Bowl.

As we move into the cold time of winter, we spend a lot of time indoors. There are germs circulating, and when we are in close proximity, we pass them around. I have talked to a few people recently who have suffered with the flu. As I write this note, Fr. Russell is receiving treatment for his flu. So as I sometimes do around this time of year, I would like to offer some thoughts on keeping ourselves healthy.

My first suggestion, for those who have not already done so, is to get a flu shot. About twenty years or so ago, I was serving in a parish in which a nurse asked me if I had gotten a flu shot. My thought at that time was that flu shots were more for elderly people. The nurse asked me, “How much time do you spend in school with the kids?” Knowing how children can pass germs around, I asked her to give me a flu shot. Since then, I have gotten a flu shot every year. Of course I don’t know if I would have gotten the flu if I hadn’t gotten the shot, but I feel more confident with it.

The other points have to do with our gatherings in church, where we pray together in close proximity. A couple of areas of concern are the Sign of Peace and receiving the Precious Blood of Christ from the cup. Some parishes have gone so far as to stop offering Communion under both forms during cold and flu season, but I do not want to go that far. I would rather leave all of this up to everyone’s individual choice. If you are concerned with receiving the Blood of Christ, don’t. Similarly, if you have something that is contagious, please stay away from the cup. Eucharist in both forms is a powerful sign of the Sacrament, but we receive the entire reality of the Eucharist when we receive the Body of Christ.

Similarly, if you have concerns about the Sign of Peace, or if you are feeling ill, you do not have to shake hands. There should be some sign to those around you so that you are not skipping the Sign of Peace altogether, but you can do so without physical contact. I would suggest folding your hands in a prayerful posture and bowing slightly in such a way that the people around you can understand that you are not ignoring them but are simply taking a precaution.

When you come to church, I hope that you will find a great spiritual experience. Beyond the spiritual aspect, we also are concerned with the temporal well being of all our parishioners. So please stay healthy during cold a flu season. And if you do find yourself “under the weather,” please disregard what you learned about sharing when you were in kindergarten.
                                                     
                                                                                                   Father H  

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Epiphany of the Lord - January 7, 2018

Christmas is coming to an end. I know, in our secular society we are already somewhere between Valentine’s Day and the Fourth of July. But as we celebrate the Epiphany this weekend, I want to start with a word of thanks for all that the people of St. Malachy did to make my Christmas so special. First of all, I truly appreciate everything that went into making a special celebration of the season. That includes John Lester and his band of decorators who made the church look so beautiful. And we owe a work of thanks to the Kennedy Township police, who called right before Christmas to ask if they could donate some poinsettias to our church. I also have to thank Laurie Lanz for the music that she provided for our parishes, along with those under her direction, including the adult choir, the contemporary group, our “schola cantorum,” and the special school choir, along with the school’s handbell choir under the direction of Yumi Fisher. My thanks goes out to everyone who served the Masses in any capacity, those who attended the Masses, and anyone else who enriched the parish in any way, even by simply coming to Confession before Christmas.

I also offer my thanks to those who offered personal Christmas greetings, including sending cards and gifts. I cannot express the sense of gratitude I have to God for sending me to such a wonderful parish as St. Malachy.

The gifts that the Magi took to the child Jesus were a sign of His kingship (gold), His divinity (frankincense), and the death by which He would bring us salvation (myrrh). So the gifts we offer can be a sign of the presence of God in our world. That thought strikes as particularly fitting as we are now just a few months away from the official announcement of where On Mission for the Church Alive is going to take us. The bishop’s desire for building strong new parishes includes a hope that each parish will have the resources to make a serious effort at evangelization, taking the message of Christ’s love to the rest of our community. That effort includes those whose image of the Church is negative, including quite a few who grew up in our faith. One of the best ways to reach out to such people is to show them the joy that Christ brings. If we can remember what this holiday meant to us and the love that we received from those around us, then I hope we will continue to bring the love of Christ to everyone we meet, even if just by a simple greeting.

As we close out this special season, we settle back into the routine and get the new year up and running. I imagine that many of us will still be writing “2017” on our checks for a while. But as we get used to 2018, I hope the spirit of the Christmas season can continue with us so that we can be signs of God’s goodness to all around us. Think of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and the way he summed up the change in Ebenezer Scrooge, “And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of all of us.”
                                                     
                                                                                                        Father H 

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph

One time when I was a little boy, I said to my father, “Won’t it be exciting to see the year 2000?” Dad said, “Maybe for you, but I won’t be around to see it.” He explained that he would have to live to be 85 to see the year 2000 and that he didn’t expect he would make it. I reminded Dad of that conversation in 2009, on his ninety-fifth birthday. That just reminds us of how hard it is to know what the future will be like. The year 2000 came and went, and we still do not have the flying cars that we pictured as part of the future. On the other hand, hardly anyone saw how modern technology would change our lives, with cell phones, the Internet and the like.

As we prepare to enter a new year, we realize that the coming year is still a mystery. That is particularly true for us priests with On Mission going on in our diocese. But whatever happens, we have the promise of Christ that He will be with us always. That is why I always find it fitting that the new year begins at the Octave of Christmas. We are still celebrating the birth of Christ, even if all the stores are now promoting “after Christmas” sales. Our society tries to make the festive season start earlier and earlier each year, with the result that we are ready for Christmas to be over by December 26. But in the Church we go through a period of preparation called Advent that is not yet Christmas. So now that we have celebrated the big day, we realize that it is not just one day. This is our time of celebration. This is our time of recognizing that Christ our Lord came to share our human nature for our salvation.

At this time of the year, I often like to make the point that we do not have a God who is so far above us that He makes impossible demands upon us. Rather, we have a God who shared our humanity and who thus knows first hand what we go through. That point can be a good starting place for meditation as we prepare to begin a new year. When we have any difficulties over the next twelve months, we know that God understands our struggles and is there to help us. When good things happen, we thank God for His blessings and His support.

There are many ways to dedicate the new year to Christ. One is to recognize that January 1, as the Octave Day of Christmas, is the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. We are excused from the obligation on that day when it falls on a Monday, but for anyone who would like to come to Mass, we will have Mass at 9:00.

Another way I like to dedicate the new year to Christ is in prayer right at midnight. I was never much for New Year’s Eve parties when I was younger, so when I was ordained I had the idea of going to church for prayer right at midnight. I decided I would offer that same opportunity to parishioners one year, although I guessed that only one or two people would show up at that time – that anyone who was staying up had a party to go to. That again shows that it is hard to make predictions, for we had a nice gathering that first year and every year thereafter, in whatever parish I have been in. That time of prayer has developed into an annual New Year’s Holy Hour, with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and prayers and readings related to the time of year. So I invite you to join us in church at 11:30 Sunday night, at which point we will give thanks for all of God’s blessings in the past year and to place the upcoming year in His hands.                                   

                                                                                                    Father H