Saturday, July 14, 2018

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 15, 2018

The last two weeks I have been using this column to catch up on some of the basics. These are things we see so often in church that we take them for granted or don’t give them much thought. Last week I wrote about the meaning of the priest’s vestments, but I ran short of space to write about the colors of the vestments. So today I will continue with the colors.

Currently we are wearing green. Green is simply the color of “Ordinary Time,” the time when we have no special seasons and no particular feasts. There is a good meaning to green for Ordinary Time, for it is the color of creation in bloom. Trees and grass give us a vibrant green that speaks of life that God gives us in nature. As the color of nature shows God in the world around us, so Ordinary Time speaks of the unfolding of God’s plan in our everyday lives.

All of that talk of nature is very helpful, but it’s probably not the original reason for using green in Ordinary Time. Originally it was a more simple reason. When cloth was colored with natural dyes, green was least expensive. It would therefore be used for the most commonly used clothing. As for liturgical vestments, green would be what was most frequently used. But I prefer the more symbolic version.

In the earliest days, probably all vestments were white. I wrote last week that the vestments are based on the everyday clothes of the first century. A Roman gentleman would wear white for special occasions. As white is the color of holiness, as I explained last week, we use white for the most important times. The great feasts of Easter and Christmas, along with the feasts of the saints, call for white vestments. We do sometimes dress the white up with shades of gold to show the importance of a feast, but even then the basic color is white.

Red is the most obvious color. Most frequently, red is the color of blood. So along with the celebration of Christ’s Passion, we wear red for the feast of any martyr. In addition, red is the color of flame. Thus we wear red for Pentecost and for any celebration of the Holy Spirit, who came to the Apostles at Pentecost as tongues of flame.

That leaves purple (or violet) as the fourth of the common colors. We use that for the penitential season of Lent and for the anticipatory season of Advent. When I show the children the colors, they often ask why purple should represent those seasons. I’m never quite sure how to answer, for I’ve never seen a real explanation. I suspect that purple is simply a darker color, and those are “darker” seasons. That explanation does go along with the two days during the year when we have the option of wearing a fifth color, rose (or pink). On the Third Sunday of Advent or the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we brighten up the season just a bit with the slightly brighter color of rose. Those rose vestments offer a sign of hope that the season will come to an end, that the waiting of Advent or the penance of Lent will soon be complete.

There was one other color that was used in former days. In funeral masses, we used to wear black to show our mourning for the deceased. While that color has never been rescinded, it is common today to wear white at funerals as a sign of our hope in the Resurrection.

On a final note, I am soon beginning my vacation. I will be away from this Wednesday through Friday, August 3.                                                                           

                                                                 Father H  

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 8, 2018

One day I was showing some CCD students around the church. When we got to the sacristy, I showed them the vestments that the priest wears. That led one young girl to ask a question she had apparently been wondering about for some time. She asked, “Why do you wear a dress at Mass?” From that point on, whenever I would visit her CCD class, she would tell me that she like the dress I wore at Mass. So last week I said I may take some time to use this column to write about things that we “cradle Catholics” take for granted. Sometimes it can be good for those of us who know these things to review them, and it can be a good introduction for anyone who may not understand but who found that there were more important things to ask about. So let me start with one important point: I am not wearing a dress.

The first point we need to understand is something I referred to in last week’s column. The vestments we wear take us back 2,000 years, to the time when Jesus walked the earth in His human body. Specifically, whenever we celebrate the Mass, we are taking part in what Christ did at the Last Supper, the night before He offered His life for us on the cross. If you think of the images of Jesus that you have seen, He is generally wearing a long, flowing robe, often of white. So the first vestment that the priest puts on in an alb, a white garment that hangs down to the floor. It is important that this garment be white, and in fact the very name comes from the Latin word alba, which means “white.” White is a color of cleanliness, and so it represents holiness in the sense of being clean from the stain of sin. The alb relates to the white garment that our parents put on us at our baptism. In that sense, it is not only a reminder that the priest is to be holy; it is also a reminder that every other vocation of our lives begins with our baptism. Notice, then, that the priest’s alb is essentially the same thing that our Altar Servers wear at Mass.

On a side note, you may notice that our Servers are no longer wearing crosses with their albs. I had always thought that there would come a time when they would start wearing out, and that I would not replace them. The alb itself is a sign of our baptismal dedication to Christ, and so the cross on top of the alb does not really add to the significance of the Servers’ vesture.

On top of the alb, a priest wears a stole, a piece of cloth that goes around the back of the neck and hangs down the front on two sides. The stole comes from a kind of mantle that people in Christ’s time would wear to show a particular role that they would have. So the stole is the sign of the office of priesthood. A deacon shows his ordination by wearing a stole over his left shoulder, hanging down diagonally in front and back, with the two sides joined together on his right. You will see an example next week when Deacon Tim Killmeyer, who will be part of our grouping in October, comes to visit and assist at all of the Mass.

When talking to the children, I sometimes tell them that the stole is kind of like a necktie that a man might wear to something important. That means that the outer garment is something like the suit coat. The chasuble was the outer coat that someone would wear. It shows that we are celebrating something of great importance when we celebrate Mass. I should also say something about the colors of the chasuble, but I am already at the bottom of the column.                                                                           

                                                                 Father H 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 1, 2018

As “cradle Catholics,” we who have been part of the Church all our lives sometimes take some things for granted. I know that I sometimes assume that everyone knows what everything is all about. Sometimes the experience of working with the RCIA helps me remember that I have to explain things that the newcomers to the Church are not as familiar with. So as we move into summer and things slow down, I found myself wondering what to write about. I thought it might be helpful to take some time (perhaps a few weeks if I don’t come up with any other important topics) to look at some of the basic things that we see in church.

As Catholics, we are accustomed to seeing candles in church. But do we ever think of why we have candles? There are several types of candles, and the most important are the ones by the altar. Candles in church are there to remind us of Christ, who told us that he is the Light of the World. In a dark place, we cannot see where we are going. We need light to be able to go anywhere. So without Christ and His resurrection, we would be stumbling about in the dark. We could not find our way to heaven without Christ. Thus, the candles represent Christ’s presence upon the altar.

We could then ask why we still use candles in an age of electricity. We could imagine updating the liturgy so that we put an electric lamp by the altar. For one thing, the liturgy takes us back to the days when Jesus was among us in the flesh, 2,000 years ago. As the vestments that the priest wears are designed to remind us of the clothing of the first century, so our candles harken back to the time of the Last Supper. Beyond that, there is more symbolism in the candles. An electric light looks just the same until the bulb burns out. You cannot tell by looking how much life a light bulb has. As a candle burns, on the other hand, we see it getting shorter. While Christ’s resurrection is what gives us the light, leading us to having the special Easter Candle as our most fancy candle, we also remember that He gave Himself for us on the Cross. As a candle gives light, it gives of itself. As we see it grow shorter, we know that it is “sacrificing” itself for our light. That candle is then a visual reminder of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary in order to lead us to new life.

In addition to the candles at the altar, I would like to remember the candles in the back, near the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary or by the statue of St. Anthony. We see these candles as a way of remaining in prayer. If I have some special favor that I want to bring to God, through the intercession of Mary or the saints, then I want the help of all who share our faith. There may be a case where I would want to ask everyone who comes by to pray for my special intention. It would not be practical for me to stay in the back of church throughout the entire day, just so that I could stop anyone and everyone who comes in and ask for their prayers. So I can light a candle, and the candle remains when I depart. We call those “vigil candles” because they remain to keep vigil in our place. Thus, if I can stop and say a prayer at the statue of the Blessed Mother, then I am praying for all those who have lit candles in that area. I include their prayers, and I know that those who come after will include my needs in their prayers.

When we come to church, we see candles. I hope that this reminder of the candles will help us see Christ as the Light of the World and will help us offer our prayers for one another in all our needs.                                                 
                                                         Father H 

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist - June 24, 2018

How many children spent the last weeks of the school year counting down to summer vacation? They longed for the freedom to play and to do whatever they wanted all day long. How many of them are now complaining of being bored? That always seems like a strange complaint to me, for I tell people that I haven’t been bored since October 1987. I was recovering from gall bladder surgery at the time, and there came a point where I was feeling good enough to want to do things but was not strong enough that I could actually do them. I have enough varied interests that I don’t think I have been bored since that time. But recognizing that kids do get bored, we are offering a solution.

Last week I wrote about my annual retreat and how good it is to get away for a week of spiritual talks and fellowship with brother priests. This coming week is, you might say, a child’s version. They are out of school, and we do not want them to have to take tests or do homework. But we want them to have a chance to learn more about God and about our faith. So this week is our annual Vacation Bible School. The children come in the morning all week and have games and crafts, all relating to various Bible stories. VBS puts those stories in the context of a different adventure each year. This year’s VBS theme is “Splash Canyon.” Picture yourself white-water rafting, and then consider a number of water-themed Bible stories. The children will hear of Moses as an infant, floating down the Nile. They will hear of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, and other such stories.

Steve Swank, our Catechetical Administrator, pulls the whole thing together for us each year. We are very grateful for all who help with the program, including Dan Gallagher as the lead musician and Diane Obed as the decorator. Diane has so many stuffed animals that make an appearance each year that many people wonder at what her storage is like. She does a wonderful job of transforming the various areas in our school into the scene of the program. Of course there are many other volunteers, both adults and adolescents, who help as teachers, craft makers, snack servers, game leaders, and many other roles. We are very blessed to have so many great helpers to make the annual VBS such a success.

Our hope in putting together this program is to help the children continue to grow in their faith and to learn more about what God has done for us. We also hope that the whole experience will be fun for them. We hope to kindle in them a curiosity and a desire to continue learning their faith. That is a good lesson for all of us. We should always want to see God present in all of creation and in all that He has done for us. We should see God present in whatever we do, whether it is white-water rafting (which I have no desire to try) or any other adventure that may present itself to us.
For me, the kinds of themes we use for Vacation Bible School can be a reminder to look for God in everything we do. If we can get into the habit of seeing God in everything, then we eventually discover that the whole world is His gift to us. We gain an enthusiasm for every adventure that comes our way. If we cultivate that attitude, we will never know what it means to be bored. God’s world is too exciting to admit of boredom.                                                   
                                                                                       Father H  

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 17, 2018

Fathers Day brings many memories to my mind. Here’s one that, I hope, will lead into another point. My father worked for Westinghouse, and in 1964 they asked him to learn to learn the COBOL programming language. Computers were not typically accessible to us ordinary folk, so even into college, I thought of my father’s work as something beyond me. Then in college I took a class in Fortran. I did well in the class, but I did have one program that absolutely would not run, so I asked my father for help. He came up to Duquesne one Saturday afternoon, and the two of us poured over the printout of my program. Finally, he spotted the bug. There was a print command with certain parameters. The line I wanted to print had to be in quotation marks, and the parameters had to be separated from the quotation by a comma. Like a good English student, I had put the comma inside the quotation marks. What was right English was absolutely wrong in Fortran.

Although I was 21 at the time of that Fortran class, I felt like a five-year-old who thinks that his father knows everything. How strange it felt to me years later when Dad would call me to help him with problems he was having in DOS or Windows.

It helps to have someone you can turn to for guidance when things are not going quite right. The surprising thing with a simple solution for computers is simply to reboot, to turn them off and on again. Turning it off clears the memory and gives it a fresh start. And that is the analogy I hope to use now that we are getting into summer. Life gets so hectic that it is nice to have a time when things move a little more slowly. One of the fringe benefits of my involvement with the school is that it makes summer a little more of a break. For me, summer is a time for two specific periods of “rebooting.” Next month I will be going on vacation, and I will write more about that trip in the columns to be published while I am away. Meanwhile, every priest is required to make a retreat once each year, and mine will be this coming week at my alma mater, Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. It is important to take a vacation and have some fun, but it also is important to have a time to focus primarily on the spiritual. On a retreat such as I will be attending, there is one priest who serves as “retreat director,” giving spiritual talks and meeting with any of the priests attending who want to talk about anything connected with ministry. In addition, we get to talk with one another and offer support and friendship. There is a nice group of priests who attend this particular retreat every year, and we have become our own little once-a-year community. (Fr. Michael is part of this retreat and will be riding down to Emmitsburg with me.)  Similarly, it is helpful for any of us to find someone we can turn to for support and guidance, particularly someone who can help us from the perspective of our Catholic faith.
For anyone who still has a father to turn to, that can support both parts of this message – Fathers Day and my spiritual retreat. So please pray for my while I am away from the parish this week. And to all fathers, thank you for all you do. Happy Fathers Day.
                                                                                           Father H 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - June 10, 2018

Fifty years is usually a major milestone, and this year we look back 1968. In many ways, that was a momentous year. But there is one thing that happened in 1968 that is widely overlooked. Next month, July 25, marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae by Blessed Pope Paul VI, who is soon to be canonized as St. Paul VI.  In this encyclical, Blessed Paul reaffirmed the Church’s teaching that contraception (any artificial means of birth control) was sinful and was harmful to the relationship between husband and wife.

When talking with engaged couples, I like to compare two people with widely different expectations of what widespread contraception would mean to our society. On the one hand, I refer to Margaret Sanger, founder Planned Parenthood. Sanger claimed that the widespread use of contraceptives would greatly reduce divorce, since couples would have one fewer worry in their marriage. Contraception would also eliminate teenage pregnancy and would put an end to abortion. The reality, of course, is that all three of those problems have become much more widespread since contraception has become so much a part of our society.

Blessed Pope Paul, on the other hand, warned that contraception would “lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.” He also said that by ignoring one of the main consequences of sexual activity, a man would more easily see a woman as “a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.” Certainly that temptation is always present, but it is so much easier to accept it in our current culture. Blessed Paul also saw contraception leading to an abuse of power if it becomes a tool of government. While we see signs of that abuse in our own nation, we can see it very clearly in a place like China, with forced abortion and a strict one-child law for families. In addition, the Pope saw contraception leading us to believe that our bodies are strictly our own, to do with as we wish, as we ignore God’s dominion in our lives. Sadly, everything that Blessed Pope Paul VI has warned us about has become fact in the last fifty years.

But there is hope. After the publication of Humanae Vitae, various groups of Catholic doctors felt that God was calling them to help develop methods of birth control that were in keeping with the Church’s teaching and were just as effective as artificial methods. Until then, Catholics had relied upon “the rhythm method.” Since then, these doctors have devised what has come to be called “Natural Family Planning,” or NFP. In the past, I worked with some couples trying to promote the Church’s teaching, and I always found it heartening to hear of how NFP made their marriages stronger. As convincing as Blessed Paul’s writing was, the witness of their lives and of their married love was what really showed me how much wisdom is present in the Church’s understanding of sexuality. I find it very fitting that this year, which marks the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, is the time when the Church will recognize Pope Paul VI as a saint.
                                                                                                       Father H  

Monday, June 4, 2018

Corpus Christi - June 3, 2018

I have to admit that it feels a little different this year. Every year I come to the end of the school year, and I have to admit that I am happy. I love working with the school for many reasons, but one of the fringe benefits is that it makes the summer a little more leisurely. I know I am not alone in that regard. In my younger days, when I was an assistant at St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin Parish, the pastor was very supportive of the school. Yet as much as Fr. Haney loved his involvement with the school, he always spoke fondly of the last day, along with his desire to “push the school buses out of the lot” to get them on their way and begin the summer.

This year it will be a little harder to get behind the buses and push. I will still be here when school resumes in the fall, but I will not be teaching classes once a week. For when school does resume, I will be just a few weeks away from my move to the South Hills. A little over a week ago, I went to St. Gabriel for one of their school Masses, and I visited the classrooms. They were very welcoming, and the teachers and students were telling me that they were looking forward to my teaching there in the fall. But every new adventure comes with a good-bye, and I will have a hard time leaving my family here. As we say in St. Malachy School, “Once a Bomber, always a Bomber.”

The attitude expressed by “Once a Bomber” is not the same as the British phrase of the “old school tie.” It is not just the memories of the current days that we will take with us into the future. Rather, we share something that holds us together, wherever we may go. Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, still commonly known by its Latin name of Corpus Christi. Our school at St. Malachy is based on something more than math, English, history, and science. We have shared together the Eucharist. We are united by the Body and Blood of Christ, and the Eucharist I celebrated at my visit to St. Gabriel is the same Jesus Christ that I have celebrated with the school students here at St. Malachy. I will still have a few more school Masses when the fall comes. But even when those Masses are being celebrated with the new priests, we will be together in Christ.

So this is not a final good-bye to St. Malachy School. I hope that all of our students, faculty and staff have a wonderful and restful summer. In fact, I’m going to go against the advice I usually give to our kids. One day, on the way out to recess, I joked that they were not allowed to have any fun. I thought that was just a one-time joke, but the kids kept it up for a few days after that, and it soon became a running joke at recess time. So now I’m going to tell the students that they are supposed to have fun over the summer. But please don’t forget that the Eucharist is our common bond and that God does not take a vacation from us, so we should not forget Him over the summer.

Meanwhile, I will see everyone again in the fall and will be part of the new school year at first. But I have to recognize someone special who is moving on. Janet Katic has been part of our school for the last twenty-six years, and now she is retiring. Mrs. Katic has done a wonderful job with our third grade over the years, and she will be missed. Congratulations, Mrs. Katic. And you, too, get to have fun.
                                                              Father H  

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Most Holy Trinity - May 27, 2018

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

That poem was written by John McCrae (1872-1918), a Canadian doctor who served in the army in World War I. With no chaplain available at the time, he presided over a military funeral in 1915 in which he noted that the birds’ songs were almost but not quite drowned out by nearby gunfire. McCrae’s poem has become a staple particularly of the Canadian Memorial Day, celebrated in conjunction with Canada Day on July 1. I thought it would be fitting to use it for this Memorial Day, particularly with the idea that those who have given their lives for our liberty have “thrown the torch” to us, so that we may continue “to hold it high.” We must be thankful for the liberties that are part of our nation, particularly now those that have cost so much for so many. We pray for those who have died in war, and we pray that we may never take their sacrifice for granted.

A few years ago, I saw McCrae’s words in a different context. The locker room of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team has an inscription of the phrase, “To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.” Part of me thought it disrespectful to use that line for a hockey team. Comparing the athletic accomplishments of Maurice Richard or Jean Beliveau to the soldiers in war seemed a bit of a stretch. But in another sense, we can all see that we are carrying on the work of those who have gone before us. In the last four years, I have heard frequently of Fr. William Weirauch and my other predecessors. As we move into a new stage in the history of our diocese, we cannot forget those who have gone before us. May we also hold the torch high.

Happy Memorial Day.

                                                              Father H  

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