Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph - December 30, 2018

New Habits for the New Year
Big changes are coming:
Parishes are consolidating.  At Holy Trinity, St. John of God, and St. Malachy Parishes, we’re actively considering how we should proceed as the RocKenRo grouping. We’ll need to adjust to thinking of ourselves as part of a much broader population than we’re accustomed to.
Mass schedules are changing.  Around the Diocese, a quarter of all Sunday Masses have been cut out. Many churches no longer have Saturday afternoon Masses or Sunday mid-morning Masses.  At RocKenRo, we haven’t yet changed our Sunday Mass schedule, but the changes are coming.  A lot of us will have to re-learn our Mass attendance habits.
Catholic elementary schools will reorganize over the coming years, becoming regional schools.  If we follow examples thus far, in the North Hills, we’ll likely see some close, some merge, and some change the grades they serve.  Others will swell with new populations.

These changes can seem to threaten cherished goods. Nostalgia for our favorite churches enriches us. We rely on fellowship with the familiar worshipers at our usual Mass.  Changes can also inconvenience us:  I’ve heard more than one Catholic from other parishes exclaim, “They took away the X:00 Mass, but I used to go to breakfast [or coffee, or dinner] after that Mass!”

We can sympathize with our Blessed Mother, who endured “great anxiety” when she learned that her boy Jesus had gone missing.  Imagine her distress!  But note also her faithfulness: When she hears Jesus’ explanation, she refrains from scolding him, but instead “kept all these things in her heart.”  Our Lord Jesus himself is also able to remain faithful to both his heavenly Father and his earthly father: He goes to God’s Temple to contemplate God’s Law and instruct the teachers.  But he also goes to Nazareth to be obedient to Joseph.

So let’s imitate the Holy Family.  Let’s imitate Joseph’s diligent labor in seeking his lost boy.  Let’s imitate Mary’s contemplative, prayerful effort to understand how God revealed himself in Jesus.  And let’s imitate Jesus, who perseveres in loving obedience to the Father and in loving service to Joseph, fulfilling the duties of love for both God and man.

Carl Stuvek, the young adult minister at Holy Trinity Parish, resigned effective December 31.  Please thank Carl for his past service.  I am currently in consultation with advisers at all three RocKenRo parishes and with young adults to discern whether and how to replace Carl.
Last week, I wrongly named Pat Kulak as one of my advisers at St. Malachy. I since learned she prefers evangelization to the pastoral council.  Sorry!  But thank you, Pat, for your help.
Tuesday, January 1, is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and a holy day of obligation.  The special Mass schedule is published elsewhere in this bulletin.

Happy new year!
                                                                                                              —Fr. Dave

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 23, 2018

Merry Christmas!
For many, Christmas is a time of joy and excitement. Even those among us without deep religious sensibilities often appreciate Christmas for its happy connotations: Families reunited, gifts exchanged, coworkers appreciating each other at “holiday parties,” and decorations standing out against the bleak darkness of deep winter. Media and marketers exploit our happy associations by framing their products with warm holiday images, but they tend to exclude the soberer religious themes of Christmas.
Jesus comes as a baby boy, but more than a cuddly face: His is the birth of a new prince in the enemy’s territory. His coming promises God’s overthrow of worldly powers, and the beginning of a new and perfect government from God, as foretold in this Sunday’s readings by both the prophet and the Virgin Mary. Our Christmas carols often reflect a keen appreciation for the power of Christmas to save us:
O ye, beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low
Who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow
Look now for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing
O rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing. —It Came upon the Midnight Clear
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. —O Holy Night
It’s been a hard year for the Catholic Church, especially in Pittsburgh. If you’re suffering, remember that at the heart of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of a new King, the promise of a new government on its way, of true and lasting justice and peace. It’s not too late to ask for help. And if you’re doing well, remember that it’s not too soon to reach out to your suffering neighbors to give them here and now an early hint of that coming Kingdom.       —Fr. Dave

Please note the most important advisory councils for each parish have now been (mostly) assembled.  I depend upon the advice of these people for the important decisions to come.

Holy Trinity
St. John of God
St. Malachy
Andrew Carr
Linda Gomulka
Joe Maggi
Susan Ruscoe
Rich Murray
Bonnie Pendergast
Ken Zern
Tom Adams
Ron Amity
Victoria Diehl
Sandy Horgan
Alice Kilonsky
Joanne Lorenz
Patty Beasock
Sharon Cercone
Pat Daily
Zach Hayes
Pat Kulak
Amy Maxin
Don Murphy
Lisa Worms
Tom Garbin
David Hess
Greg Leininger
Dennis Minzer
Brian Peluso
Claudia Van
Antoinette Amity
Joe Horgan
Steve Sibenik
Bill Stropkaj
Dan Angell
Ed Chezosky
Joe Colucci
Lisa Polar
Mike Slattery

Third Sunday of Advent - December 16, 2018

“Be Not Discouraged”
Since October 15, many of you have written of your concerns for the future. At Holy Trinity, people harbor concerns for how the new RocKenRo grouping might affect their cherished faith formation programs for children, youth, and young adults. Folks at St. Malachy parish have expressed regret over changes in the daily Mass schedule and in the scheduling of liturgical ministers. Parishioners at St. John of God speak with some worry for the future of one or another of their two churches. I thank those who express their concerns to me and to those who advise me. I ask you to continue to make your thoughts known.

At the same time, however, I ask you to speak calmly and judiciously. A few seem to imagine that by exaggerating perceived threats or offenses, they are likelier to win what they seek. Thus a (fictional) complaint, “It’s outrageous how Fr. Dave parts his hair! Sloppy hairstyling corrodes our Catholic culture! Especially in this time of scandal, Fr. Dave should be presenting himself as a good example for children and adults. When so many are leaving the Church, you’d best pay attention to complaints from me, because I’m a true hero of faith and morality for others.”

Maybe that’s how it works in worldly politics, but it shouldn’t be that way in the Church. An exaggeration is tantamount to a false accusation, denounced in today’s Gospel by John the Baptist. Contrast such a complaint with Saint Paul’s instruction to the Church at Philippi, “Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Perhaps some anxiety at loose in RocKenRo stems from fear of changes to come, or fear of losing a treasured past. These fears are understandable, and we should be patient with those who are afraid. But we do well to consider instead the future God has in store for us. Even in a time of suffering, the prophet Zephaniah could exhort his people, “Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!” Likewise, we should trust the Lord’s plan for our future more than we cling to our own plans from months or years past.
So “make your requests known,” but do so from a posture of prayer and trust. Look for what is good, listen for what is true, and sustain your thanksgiving for these.

Elsewhere in this bulletin you’ll see a page entitled “Diocesan Group 330 [RocKenRo] Church Alive Campaign.” This is a summary of the three parishes’ status in Our Campaign for The Church Alive!, rounded to the nearest $100,000. The main point is that Holy Trinity still holds some leftover campaign funds, so these must be spent on the case statement—that is, the purposes for which the money was originally raised. So that’s what will happen.                                                            
                                                                                                               —Fr. Dave

Second Sunday of Advent - December 9, 2018


When I was a Boy Scout in the 1970s, we learned orienteering, the art of finding one’s way through unfamiliar territory with the use of a compass and either a map or travel instructions.

For example, I might be dropped off by car at the edge of a strange forest and expected to use my compass to follow directions, say, “Proceed to checkpoint one, 1,320 yards west-northwest of your drop off point, and there receive further instructions.” I’d then have to find checkpoint one. But it was rarely as simple as walking 1,320 yards west-northwest. Instead, there’d be barriers: a ravine, a hillside, a swampy area—obstacles that might delay or defeat attempted travel. I’d have to look around and use my wits to guess the best way around the obstacles, without losing my sense of where I was in relation to “checkpoint one.”

The Church of Pittsburgh, On Mission for The Church Alive!, is a little bit like an orienteering exercise. We’ve been instructed to enliven the mission of the Church with respect to our Sunday worship and hospitality, our outreach, and our Christian formation and education. But there are impediments along the way and we’ll have to use our wits to reach our goal.

We may be tempted to fear getting lost, or we may grow angry at our teammates as we dispute the correct path. We may even despair of finding our way. Thus the prophet Baruch in today’s first reading announces to a people in “mourning and misery” because of exile the good news of an otherwise unforeseen return to Temple worship, the reassembly of God’s people, and the restoration of their land.

Can we look forward to what God might be doing with us, no matter the ups and downs on the path? Even if we can’t yet imagine how God could restore us, can we at least be curious as to how the Lord might be leading us? We’ve seen a few signs: A lively “meet and greet” at St. John of God, a joyous Thanksgiving Day Mass at St. Malachy, and a zealous parish mission at Holy Trinity. And it’s not all about us: We managed to get a bus to Amen to Action to share prayer and meal-packing for the needy with many other Christians.

The apostle Paul writes of our “partnership in the gospel” and anticipates that God will bring to completion the good work he has begun in us. Amen!
                                                                                                            —Fr. Dave

First Sunday of Advent - December 2, 2018

(Not?) Ready to RocKenRo

Advent begins. It’s a season for preparation: First, for the coming of Christ as our Lord and Judge. Second, for the celebration of his first coming at Christmas. Advent can therefore also be our spiritual preparation for our implementation of the Bishop’s initiative, On Mission for The Church Alive! Under the watchful eye of our coming Judge, let us set aside our other ambitions and allow him to ready us to fulfill his purposes.

I emphasize preparation because quite a few people have asked me to “get it over with.” They follow it up with something like this composite account: “No more delays! We know the Church is not just about buildings. We young people, especially, aren’t attached to buildings or institutions the way that older folks might be. We just want to get out and be on mission, be evangelizing. So let’s get all the necessary consolidations out of the way and get started!”

It is a noble ambition to evangelize. It’s also true that the Church isn’t only or even primarily about the buildings or the programming. So let’s acknowledge the essential truth and goodness of those who are eager to be on the way.

At the same time, please note that the reason the Church isn’t primarily about buildings or programming is that the Church is primarily about the people—or more precisely, how our Lord Jesus is saving his people. To be ready for any consolidation requires us to be ready for the people: To encourage them in faith, and when they fail to forgive them and help them to return to living the faith. Consider Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Church in Philippi:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

I’ve met several of the faithful who have boasted of their courage in facing consolidations, living obediently, and proclaiming the faith boldly. These are valuable virtues. But we also need people with a collaborative spirit and compassionate hearts who can discern the needs of others and prioritize them. Show me that we’re ready for people, and then I’ll believe that we’re ready for our shared mission—ready to RocKenRo.

                                                                                                             —Fr. Dave

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe - November 25, 2018

Please don’t give more money. Weren’t expecting that, were you? But I’m serious.  Please allow me to explain.

The Lord Jesus frequently spoke about money. It’s not because he needed it: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” Instead, Jesus spoke about money because it’s an excellent measurement of the heart: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Thus Jesus praised the widow because she gave two pennies to the Temple treasury.  He reckoned her gift greater than everyone else’s because she sacrificed everything she had, whereas others gave seemingly larger amounts but only from their surplus. But in the early Church, Annas and Sapphira were condemned for giving only half their income, apparently holding back because of their distrust.

So giving money to Christ and his Church should be more than just a matter of paying one’s fair share of the bills.  There’s great virtue in giving money, if it is given in generosity, if it is given in love for God and neighbor.  Conversely, there’s a danger: If the giving becomes an occasion for resentment or alienation, it can mean the loss of a soul.

I want you to have the opportunity not only to give, but to give as an intentional and joyful way of participating in the mission of Christ and his Church.  Whatever you’re already giving is fine, especially if you are giving in that spirit of generosity and love.  But I’m not yet ready to ask you for more money, because I don’t yet know how the additional money will be used, and I don’t want to put your soul at risk by having you give more now only to regret it later.

So for now, please give according to your custom.  If your custom is to give a percentage of your income, that’s good, and please just hold steady.  Make good on your pledges, if you can.  If your custom is to give at flat pace or just occasionally, it may be premature to change now, unless you can do so without regret or other strings attached.

Jesus praised the “dishonest steward” of Luke 16 not for his selfish purposes, but because the steward was pragmatic about using his position and power to achieve his purpose. I want us to imitate the virtue of the steward in Jesus’ story by making sure our time, effort, and money are well-used to achieve the purposes Jesus holds out for us.

As soon as I can over the coming weeks, I will describe what I think is happening with the finances of the RocKenRo parishes, and how I think we might undertake the mission entrusted to us. Then together we can explore how to match the money with the mission.
                                                                                                                        —Fr. Dave

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 18, 2018

That’s what Tim Davis asked me when I asked him what the most urgent questions are for the RocKenRo parishes of Holy Trinity, St. John of God, and St. Malachy: “Father, what’s the big plan?” We’ve heard for months about the dramatic reorganization coming to the Church of Pittsburgh, of which we are a small part, and now the transition appears to be underway. For us, the first step is to plan to plan, to put together people, prayer, and information.

People: Our Lord Jesus called people to be his followers, assembled them into the Church, and commanded them to draw all nations to be his followers in his Church. Our main identity is therefore also our main job: people helping other people to follow Jesus.

So help each other follow Jesus. Get to know each other, ask questions, listen, check to see if you’ve understood. Tell your own stories—not to aggrandize yourself, but to explain how you’ve come to put your trust in the Lord Jesus. It’s a good time to stretch outside your usual zone of acquaintances and visit events or Masses especially at the other parishes of RocKenRo.

I, too, listen to people. Every day, I hear them explain what they do at RocKenRo parishes. I’m putting together councils where I can hear advice on how to understand and lead our communities. I’ve invited you to tell me what you think I need to know.

Prayer: In the end, what matters is whether we’re following the Lord. It doesn’t help to be “successful” in the worldly sense if we’ve neglected the work that Jesus has entrusted to us. We need to be attentive to where he’s leading us and responsive to his redirection. I ask all of you to join me in prayerful reflection and discernment.

Information: If we’re going to plan to go somewhere, it’ll help to know where we are now. Who are the people coming to Masses? Enrolling in the parish? Volunteering? Joining organizations? Working for the parishes? How do we use all our buildings and properties? How do we maintain them? Where’s all the money coming from? Where is it going? How can we use our people, property, and money ever more efficiently and effectively? I have many staff and volunteers assembling information to help us answer these questions.

Ultimately, our goal is be more faithful in the mission of Christ and his Church. I promise you that our share in his mission will mean a share in Jesus’ suffering and cross. I promise you that it will mean also great joy, reward, and hope, as a foretaste of our share in his resurrection. Let us all imitate the Lord Jesus and his martyrs, giving our lives away in loving obedience, service, mercy, and trust.
                                                                                                         —Fr. Dave

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 11, 2018

Every parish has many things in common, but also some distinctive virtues that shine a bit more brightly in their individual case.  As the weeks go by, I’m forming general impressions of the three parishes of RocKenRo:

Warmth: St. Malachy is a classic suburban neighborhood parish of about 2,500 households and nearly 7,000 people, of whom about 800 attend Mass on an average Sunday.  The school hosts a little more than 100 elementary students.  The new clergy have appreciated the neighborly warmth of the faithful, who also make a special effort at maintaining genial relations with each other.

Resilience: St. John of God is a legacy parish, emerging from several predecessor parishes mostly in McKees Rocks and Stowe Township.  They retain two campuses and two churches, but use only one habitually: St. Mary, Help of Christians—a splendid example of ecclesiastical architecture, even though the parish has been scrimping on maintenance to save money.  Registration records show over 1,000 households comprising 2,000 people, suggesting an older community.  The faithful persevered through the 1992 consolidations, and they sustain several traditional devotions and community practices.

Energy: Holy Trinity is a lively parish with over 2,000 families comprising over 6,000 people, suggesting a comparatively young average age.  The school hosts about 345 elementary students and over 100 pre-schoolers.  The parish operates a small blizzard of ministries and organizations.  About 1,600 people come to Mass each Sunday, and they seem to reflect the character of their suburban, often professional neighborhood.

So what else do I need to know?  What have I not yet learned?  What do you think I need to know about the three RocKenRo parishes or the communities in which they’re established?  Send me a note (be sure to include your name, address, telephone, and/or email address) or send your parish office an email so that I and others can continue to fill in the picture.
                                                                                                                 —Fr. Dave

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 4, 2018

Philosopher RenĂ© Girard wrote compellingly on the spiritual origins of violence.  If we could see the truth, we’d live for the God who is love, forever in joy.  Instead, spiritually blind, we live in competition with each other, defining ourselves by whether we surpass or defeat them.  If God doesn’t stop us, our eagerness to “win” drives us inexorably to violence, to the demonization of our enemies, and to murder.

The world often directs its resentment and murderous violence along lines of religion, through which cultures identifies and applies the meaning of life.  Historically, the most vivid hatred has been directed at the Jews, whose distinctive revelation from God on Mount Sinai has since ancient times discontented worldly powers.

Baptized Christians often forsake the righteousness that comes from Christ and in its place seek an earthly vindication.  Caught up the pursuit of worldly victory, they help to propagate hatred of Jews and to inflict violence on them. 

Police identify Robert Bowers as the murderer of eleven people at Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.  His public record suggests he’s a wicked man of limited sanity.  But in Girard’s philosophy, the wicked foolishness of one man can also be understood as a manifestation of wicked foolishness in the wider society:
the loss of good purposes for life;
a blindness to the truth;
the failure of family, friendship, and neighborhood to correct or mitigate our wickedness;
the spirits of competition, hatred, and vengeance so widely at work in our public conversation.

Let no Catholic Christian imitate Robert Bowers in word or action.  Let no one even partially justify what he has said or done.  Instead, consider the heroism of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a kind of anti-Robert-Bowers.  Saint Maximilian, a Polish priest, was interred in a Nazi concentration camp alongside Jews and other Poles.  One day in 1941, while looking for prisoners to execute, a camp commander selected a Jewish man, Franciszek Gajowniczek.  When Gajowniczek cried out in grief for his wife and children, Fr. Kolbe volunteered to take his place, and was ultimately executed.

Our purpose as followers of Jesus is to give our lives to God and neighbor, whether in a momentary act of loving sacrifice, as did Saint Maximilian, or through long years of loving service, as most of us are called to do.  Let no one fail, and let everyone help his brothers and sisters to win this true victory.
                                                                                                                  —Fr. Dave

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 28, 2018

I’m writing this note on October 22, exactly one week after the transitions On Mission for The Church Alive!  Here’s what we accomplished this past week:

All three priests newly destined to live in the RocKenRo grouping succeeded at moving in to his designated rooms.  We’re all still unpacking, but we’re here.

We activated a plan for assigning priests and deacons to Masses.  It’s complicated, but I count it a success thus far inasmuch as we got a priest to every Mass.  My hope is that this week we’ll develop the system so as to accommodate scheduling the priests for funerals in each of the three RocKenRo parishes.  Baptisms and weddings are also underway.

We discovered that we need to recruit volunteers at Holy Trinity and St. Malachy to accommodate the new daily Mass schedules at each location.  Especially at St. Malachy’s, we also need to recruit people to take responsibility for daily and weekly tasks previously assumed by the departing pastors.  Rosemary Corsetti and others have been straining to coordinate this effort, so if Rosemary or someone else asks you to help, please help!

We learned that the St. Malachy pastoral council has focused largely on evangelization projects such as the Speaker Series.  But I need a pastoral council also to advise me on matters arising On Mission! especially as they apply to St. Malachy.  My plan is to split the pastoral council between those who will focus on evangelization and those who will focus on advising me.  Perhaps some will do both, but in the meanwhile, this transition is a good opportunity for St. Malachy parishioners to join either group, depending upon their interests and motivations.  Email me if you think you could contribute to either effort.

These days, in the Catholic Church, when you think of staffing or volunteering, you should also think of the Safe Environment program. Please be prepared to help by going through the program and extending the Church’s vigilance against potential harm to minors.  And if you’ve already completed the program, please be equally diligent about staying current. Otherwise—well, let’s just say no one can volunteer in a public capacity in the Church without satisfying the conditions of the Safe Environment program.

A lot of the initial transition work has been administrative, and therefore fell disproportionately on the business managers, who carried the extra burden well this week.  Thank you, MaryAnn Jones, Lisa Davis, and Bonnie Amendola!

As always, if you think I need to know something, tell me: Write me a note or send me and email.  Daylight savings time ends next week, Sunday, November 4.  Please remember to set your clocks back one hour next weekend, or you’ll arrive very early for Mass.
                                                                                                                               —Fr. Dave

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 21, 2018

I write this notice on October 15, my first day on the job as administrator of On Mission for The Church Alive! Grouping 330: Holy Trinity, St. John of God, and St. Malachy Parishes. That’s a bit awkward, so I’ve chosen to refer to us all informally as RocKenRo Catholics (for the ROCks, KENnedy Township, and RObinson Township).

One early priority is to get to know you. Already on paper you’ve been introduced to the new clergy: Fr. Alan Morris, Fr. Michael Ruffalo, Fr. Bob Zajdel, Dcn. Tim Killmeyer, and I, in addition to the retired RocKenRo priests (who are staying in place). Now we’ll start to see each other at Masses and other events. You’ll also meet Benito Stallings (pictured), an intern in ministry who’ll be with us until May, when he finishes his Master of Divinity degree.

You also know I’ve convened a “Grouping Executive Council” to advise me on RocKenRo: Tom Adams, Rosemary Corsetti, Tim Davis, Linda Gomulka, Dave Hess, Joe Maggi, and Dr. Bill Stropkaj. I was very proud of them last Wednesday as they and we clergymen passionately discussed how best to move the grouping forward.

Maybe Tim put it best: “From the start, people will want to know the plan.” The short answer: For RocKenRo, it’s not obvious what the plan should be. We know we’ve got to be more On Mission!, but we’ll have to take some time to think and talk about how to do that collectively as RocKenRo and not merely as three separate parishes.

Among other things, that means I’ll need advice beyond my new executive council. I’ll be meeting with the pastoral and finance councils of each parish and, where these councils have some empty seats, I’ll need to fill them. In particular, I invite the faithful of St. John of God Parish to meet me on Thursday, November 1, after the 6:30 Mass at St. Mary’s, to talk about who from St. John of God might advise me. But no one is shut out: If you think there’s something I or one of the clergymen or advisors need to know, please write a note and get it to us!

Meanwhile, inasmuch as I’ve been asked several questions about money, please allow me to reassure you: Everything is in its own bucket. Each parish’s property remains its own, and donations go only to the parish for which they are marked, no matter which parish they arrive at. Expenses common to all parishes of RocKenRo, such as clergy costs, will be split according to a formula:

50% Holy Trinity 20% St. John of God 30% St. Malachy

Earmarked monies in reserve, such as those from capital campaigns, will be used only for the originally designated purposes, or (if this is now outdated or impractical) there will be a formal and public process for considering any alternative purpose.
                                                                                                                          —Fr. Dave

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 14, 2018

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” I believe that I have quoted those words of G. K. Chesterton before, most likely in a column around the holiday of Thanksgiving. But I cannot think of any better sentiment to begin my final Pastor’s Ponderings for the St. Malachy bulletin. I have truly loved my time at St. Malachy, and these past few weeks I keep finding myself thanking God for the past four-and-a-half years. And while I am excited to begin my new adventure – and to get reacquainted with people I have served in the past – I feel a certain sadness at saying goodbye to the people of St. Malachy whom I have come to love. But the sadness hardly compares with the gratitude I feel for what I have experienced.

Thanks be to God for putting me in this beautiful setting. I have said that I was impressed with St. Malachy long before I came here. When I was first ordained and was assigned to St. Francis de Sales in McKees Rocks, we came up here occasionally to help out. I was impressed with the beauty of this church the first time I saw it. I also visited here quite frequently when my good friend Fr. Michael Maranowski was pastor here. Once I moved in, it took quite a while for the novelty to wear off.

Thanks be to God for the staff I have been privileged to work with. It would be hard to find a more dedicated group of people, and their devotion to Christ and His Church are evident to anyone who has the blessing of working closely with them. They have complemented my strengths and weaknesses very well. They have kept St. Malachy running smoothly and have made it look like I knew what I was doing.

Thanks be to God for all of the wonderful parishioners of St. Malachy. I knew that I could always find a true expression of faith when we gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. Our Sunday celebrations were always the highlight of my week. And the community that formed at the 7:15 Mass every weekday morning became a special part of my family. I know that whenever and wherever I celebrate the Eucharist, I will still be in Communion with this parish in the deepest way possible.

Thanks be to God in a special way for Fr. Russell Maurer. We had a professor in the seminary who told us that the most important thing was to have a priestly heart. Fr. Russell, despite his physical limitations, truly has a priestly heart and wants to continue being a priest to the best of his ability. Thanks also for the opportunity to work with Fr. Patrick O’Brien until he could no longer continue.

Thanks be to God for the families of St. Malachy School and CCD programs. When I came here, Fr. Eckman of the Clergy Office told me that they knew they had to send me to a parish with a school since that is so much a part of my ministry. Our students have had some of the best leadership, with Janet Escovitz and Cathy Militzer as school principals, and with Joanne Swank and Steven Swank as Catechetical Administrators. We have wonderful teachers and support staff. But there is a special joy of getting to know the students. With the students, you see the growth more clearly than with adults. I think of when I was preparing to come here and Fr. Michael was showing me around. I met a fifth grader who struck me as a sweet but giggly little girl. I see that same student, now in high school, when she serves as a Lector at Sunday Mass, and I see someone who has grown and matured so dramatically. I am proud to have been part of the lives of these young people. As we often say, “Once a Bomber, always a Bomber.”

So as I leave Kennedy Township, I leave a part of my heart here. For all that I have experienced since April 28, 2014, I have only one thing to say: Deo gratias!

                                                                                        Father H  

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 7, 2018

Four and a half years ago, I had the great privilege of becoming pastor of St. Malachy Parish. As with any priest beginning a new assignment, I knew there would be surprises. But I did make two promises on my first weekend in the parish, the same promises that I made to every parish where I have served as pastor or administrator. I promised to celebrate the Liturgy with reverence and joy, and I promised that I would be present to the students of St. Malachy School and of our CCD program. You have heard me speak or read what I have written about our school and CCD, so you can tell that religious education has been very vital to me. So today I want to reflect on the Liturgy.

About a month ago, I was the homilist at the annual Forty Hours celebration at St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin Parish. Fr. John Skirtich asked me to take that role even before we knew that I would be part of that parish and its neighbors as parish chaplain. As I thought about what I wanted to say, I thought it was important to speak about the Eucharist in light of the implementation of On Mission for the Church Alive. After all, the Eucharist is the single most important aspect of our lives as Catholics. Without the Eucharist, we cannot maintain our faith.

I based my homily at St. Gabriel on a first-century document called The Didache. This writing offers some prayers to be used at the celebration of the Eucharist, including, “As this broken bread scattered on the mountains was gathered and became one, so too, may your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.” The Eucharist is the greatest sign of our unity, as well as the source of that unity. As we share the Eucharist, we share as members of the Body of Christ. So as we prepare to move into this new phase in the history of the Church in Pittsburgh, we remember that the celebration of the Eucharist is the most important thing we do and the most important element in bringing our community together with St. John of God and Holy Trinity.

I know it won’t be easy for the new priests coming into this grouping. Each parish has its own ways of celebrating the Eucharist, and they will have to get used to the differences among our three parishes. Similarly, I will have to get used to the differences of St. Gabriel, Nativity, St. Germaine, and St. Valentine parishes. The difference is that I have a bit of a head start, having spent six years as an assistant at St. Gabriel and eight and a half years as pastor of Nativity. And in that time, I was a frequent guest celebrant at St. Germaine. But still, each priest has to remind himself that each parish has slight differences. Moreover, each priest has his own way of doing things. Even staying within the guidelines that the liturgy offers, there are many different customs, and each parish has to get used to each new priest.

With those last differences in mind, I also will tell you a joke that I offered in my Forty Hours homily, directed mainly at the other priests who were there that evening. I told of a woman who was getting ready for church one Sunday morning. She told her husband to hurry up, but he said that he had decided not to go to church. When she asked why, the husband said that he didn’t like the new priest at their church. She responded, “You also told me that you don’t like the new bartender down at Joe’s Bar. But that hasn’t stopped you from going there.” Five minutes later, he was ready to go to Mass.                                 
                                                                                                            Father H  

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 30, 2018

Over the past few months, my friend Ralphie and I have been rehearsing our act for the parish festival. Last year I thought it would be fun to surprise everyone, and just a couple of people guessed correctly that I was doing ventriloquism. This year you know ahead of time what kind of act Ralphie and I have, so we have been rehearsing for quite a while.

While Ralphie thinks this is all about him (as he seems to be developing the cheeky personality of the classic ventriloquist dummy), I know that there are many people who have been putting a lot of work into the more important parts of our parish festival. There have been people prepping for the Italian booth in the cafeteria on Saturday mornings for quite a while, there has been a smell of cooking onions for the pierogi booth at various times, and there has been some painting and cleaning of the bar area. And that’s just a sample of what’s been happening on site in a way that I’ve been able to notice. The chairpersons of the various other booths have been working here and at their homes to make sure everything is ready, as have those who are working behind the scenes.

So come on out this week, Thursday through Saturday, and enjoy the food and fun of our St. Malachy Nationality Festival. The festival runs from 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM each of the three evenings, leaving me with the choice of what food booths to taste. I am at the age where I have to be careful not to overdo it, and there is just so much good food to choose from. I know that I will have a good meal from the German booth. (With a name like Hissrich, how could I not support my ancestral heritage?) Many of the other booths have the same great food that I have enjoyed in past years. And there are some new things such as “Fresh Off the Grill,” an outdoor grill that will feature hot sausage, grilled kielbasa, cheese steak hoagies on other delicacies.

Our festival features other forms of fun for everyone as well. There are games for the children (now in the school lobby) as well as for the adults. You can come away with some wonderful prizes, from the linen booth run by our school faculty all the way up through the raffle prizes of $1,000 Thursday evening, $2,500 Friday evening, and the grand prize of $5,000 Saturday night.

Entertainment in the gym will include a number of acts on Thursday, starting with the Mars Rover Quartet, a part of the Greater Cranberry Men’s Chorus that Fr. Russell sings with, followed by our own championship St. Malachy Cheerleaders. Ralphie and I are on after the cheerleaders, and then we have a performance by Dance Time, formerly the Miller School of Dance. The Celtic Spirit Highland Dancers and Pipers of Pittsburgh will perform on Friday evening. And Saturday we have Elvis Presley returning to St. Malachy, as presented by our own Don Obusek. So come on out and enjoy yourself (while supporting St. Malachy Parish) at our festival this week. It is sure to be a great time for all.

You are welcome to stop reading at this point, but I feel like adding a bit of information that is so trivial that it doesn’t even qualify as trivia. Last year I knew my ventriloquism partner simply as Ralphie. I wanted him to have a full name, but nothing more than “Ralphie” seemed to fit. Since then I have come to call him Ralph Edgar Mulligan. “Ralphie” goes back to an inside joke with an old high school friend. Edgar is in honor of the great ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, who really helped popularize the art. And he was named Mulligan after a seminary professor who was my spiritual director for four years. So come say hello to Ralphie, but please don’t tell him that we’re not getting paid for our act.
                                                                                                   Father H  

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 23, 2018

Last week we began Bishop Zubik’s Year of Repentance. While this year primarily affects priests and deacons, I was pleased to hear some of our parishioners tell me that they were planning on taking part with us, fasting to show solidarity with and support for the members of the clergy at this difficult time. I thought it might be good to reflect a bit on a couple of aspects of what the bishop is calling us to.

This past week we had the first of the Ember Days. I have to admit that I have heard of Ember Days all my life but had never paid much attention to them. I have since learned that the word “Ember” comes from a corruption of the Latin phrase Quatuor Tempora, meaning “four times,” since they fall at four times during the year. Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) formally instituted these days as a time of fasting and prayer for the Church, though their origin seems to go back further than that. They were to fall four times in the course of the year, falling on a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. While we are using them as a time of reparation, they are also a time of thanksgiving for harvest, as they fall at the change of seasons. As we ask for God’s mercy, then, we see a loving God who never withholds His bountiful gifts. In addition, it was once a custom for priestly ordinations to take place on the Saturdays of the Ember Days, so that these days became a time to pray for priests. That connection makes Bishop Zubik’s use of them seem particularly appropriate. And while I haven’t seen an official explanation, I suspect that is why we skip over the Thursdays during the Ember Days, since Thursday was the day of the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood.

In establishing this Year of Repentance, Bishop Zubik also asked us “to consider restoring in your parishes, after all Masses, the recitation of the Saint Michael the Archangel Prayer.” The wording of the bishop’s letter makes it clear that this is a suggestion. But since I had mentioned to one of the diocesan officials that the Prayer to St. Michael might be a good way to approach the current issues, I would feel really bad if we didn’t use it here.

Before the Second Vatican Council, the Prayer to St. Michael was recited at the end of every Low Mass. It began during the papacy of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903). Under his predecessor, Blessed Pope Pius IX, the Vatican had lost control of the Papal States to the newly unified nation of Italy. There were those who believed that the Pope had to be an actual civil leader in order to have standing among the world’s leaders. Pope Leo took that occasion to ask the Church to pray to St. Michael that all evil may be driven out of the world. Certainly we can see the current situation as a reminder that evil does indeed exist in the world. It was evil that allowed priests to harm the innocent youth. And now the devil uses that evil to turn people away from the Church. Yet it is always an important distinction that the devil is not the opposite of God. He is not all-powerful, as God is. Thus, in the end, the devil cannot win. The Book of Revelation speaks of St. Michael the Archangel casting Satan out, thus showing the victory that Christ won by His Cross. By praying that prayer, we pray that we can be part of that great victory.

When I first received Bishop Zubik’s letter, I thought of attending his prayer at the seminary this Sunday. But Sunday has long been the day when my Prayer Group (including Fr. Michael) meets, and we decided that it would be good for us to meet together on this day. So while we are praying together for the good of the Church, I ask all of you to continue to pray for your priests. Please also continue to pray for more vocations to the priesthood. In the end, we know that the Church will stand strong.                                           
                                                                                                Father H 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 16, 2018

When it was time for me to start school, my parents decided to send me to public school. Near the end of my fifth grade year, my parents had to make a decision. So as the year was winding down, I knew that the next year I would be in sixth grade at St. James. I was nervous about the change, but it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. But there is another part of the story that is pertinent to today’s column. I remember my last Saturday morning of CCD. My father was working in the yard when I came home, and I told him, “I never have to go to catechism classes again.” Dad told me that I shouldn’t say that. “But Dad,” I said, “Religion classes will be a part of our school day next year. I won’t need CCD.” Dad said that he was well aware of that, but that I should “never say never.”

Years later, after my ordination, I was talking to my father about my visits to CCD classes, and I asked him if he remembered the conversation we had years earlier. He had forgotten, but he enjoyed hearing about it. Here at St. Malachy, CCD classes began last Sunday. Today we celebrate Catechetical Sunday, when we recognize the men and women who give so much of their time and talents to teach our CCD classes, as well as Baptism classes, RCIA catechesis and other aspects of our parish’s catechetical life. Since I have been here, I have tried to visit the CCD classes every week, and I will continue to do that until my move to the South Hills next month. I think it is important for the children to see their priest in the classroom.
While I mention my visits to the classrooms, there are some who could certainly try nitpicking my terminology. Notice that in my opening story, I mentioned “catechism classes.” I seem to remember that this was what we called them when I started. By the end of my fifth grade year, though, we were calling it CCD. Every once in a while in my priesthood, though not as often as you might guess, one of the students would ask what CCD means. The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine was an organization designed to help parishes teach the faith. I eventually got used to calling it CCD, even now that the diocese no longer uses that name. In recent years, they have used the term “Religious Education.” And now they are speaking of “Faith Formation classes.”

I can certainly see why we call it “faith formation.” That term indicates that what we are doing is more than just education. Our faith is not an academic subject. We do not get into heaven based on a grade on a report card. Rather, we are trying to introduce them to the great love of God for their lives. As St. John Paul II wrote, “At the heart of our faith, we do not find doctrine or teaching; we find the person of Jesus.” We are not so much teaching a subject as introducing the students – and their families – to our Lord and Savior. As we prepare our second graders for First Penance and First Communion, and as we prepare the eighth graders for Confirmation, we are not just giving them a sort of “rite of passage.” In the Eucharist, particularly, we have the Real Presence of Christ. Each reception of Holy Communion is an encounter with Jesus in the closest sense. Christ promised to remain with us through the end of time, and we are helping bring these students to a deeper sense of Christ’s presence throughout their lives, something that will help them with every choice they make throughout their lives.

The term “faith formation” helps us see how important this Catechetical Sunday is for us. It makes me thankful that my father wouldn’t let me say that I never had to go to CCD again. 
                                                                  Father H

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 9, 2018

For the record, I don't really mind people calling to ask about the Mass schedule. Those calls are perhaps
just a very little bit less frequent now with the information on the Internet. (When I travel, I usually rely on Many people are very apologetic for calling, expecting to get a recording. And perhaps
I am not quite as happy with the calls if they come in the middle of the night and I answer the phone while
thinking that I am going to have to go up to the hospital. But for the most part, I don't mind.

I also realize that those calls will be a little more common in the coming months, as we implement On
Mission for the Church Alive. In this bulletin is a flyer with the new Mass schedule. This schedule
is also being mailed to every registered parishioner. In addition, The Pittsburgh Catholic is being mailed
to every home this weekend, and it includes the new schedule for every grouping of parishes in the diocese.
You will notice that the schedule will be a little easier here. With the number of priests in this grouping, 
there is no need to reduce the number of Sunday Masses, so the Sunday schedule is not changing. In
the South Hills, where I am going, we have to reduce from twelve Sunday Masses down to nine.

So our Sunday Masses will stay the same, but our weekday schedule is changing. You will notice that
our Mass here at St. Malachy will be at 8:30 am Monday through Saturday, except for Friday. The
Saturday morning Mass is new to our parish. Meanwhile, the school will have its Mass on a different
day than the Friday we are used to.

Please note that this is an interim schedule. The goal is for all of the Administrators to try it and see
how the schedules work out. They will be working with Religious Education programs and other
factors to decide where to go from here. They will take many factors into account, including the
opinions of the parishioners. Please give the schedule some time. Perhaps think of that old TV 
commercial where they said, "Try it, you'll like it." If you then have any thoughts on the schedule,
talk to Fr. Poecking about your ideas. Keep in mind that he will be facing a lot of issues in his new
role, and he has to consider all three of the parishes. So offer your thoughts respectfully, and 
he will take every idea into consideration.

So as we prepare for this new schedule, I am remembering a time when the parish I was in made
a change to our Christmas day schedule, moving our final Mass a half an hour earlier that it had
been. I was hoping it wouldn't be a problem for people showing up late. As it turns out, the only
one who was late was the woman who was scheduled to serve as Lector at the Mass. She, in
fact, was the one who scheduled the Lectors and had reminded all of them about the change in
I also chuckle when I think of the people who call for the schedule. Occasionally, when I say that
the Sunday morning Masses are 8:00 and 11:00, the caller will ask, "Don't you have any Masses
after that?" Honestly, folks, I don't keep any Masses secret. If we did have a later Mass, I would
have told you about it.

                                                                             Father H

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 2, 2018

When I was in the seminary, we heard the story of two monks who are taking time for recreation and playing a game of pool. One of them asked the other, “What would you do if you found out that Christ was coming back in fifteen minutes?” The other responded, “I would finish this game.” We always took that story to mean that whatever we are doing, we do it with an attitude of prayer as something we offer to Christ. For most of us, if we were in that position, we would probably think of our unfinished business.

I know it’s not the same as the Second Coming, but I’m starting to think more of the end of an era. With Labor Day this week, I realize that the implementation of On Mission for the Church Alive is coming much closer. I am getting ready for my move to the South Hills, and Fathers Poecking, Morris and Ruffalo are making plans to begin their time here at St. Malachy, along with serving St. John of God and Holy Trinity. I can also include Fr. Zajdel, who is already a part of St. John of God, along with Deacon Tim Killmeyer, who is serving Holy Trinity. Of course, this grouping will also include our retired priests, Fr. Regis Ryan and Fr. Bob Herrmann, in This is where the story of the monks shooting pool comes in handy for me. If Christ is returning, I hope I would say that whatever I am doing is a way of serving Him. In this case, I know that the work of Christ will continue. As long as the Eucharist is here, the presence of Christ is more important than whatever priests are here to bring Him to the people. So I realize that my attention will be divided over the coming weeks. On one hand I will be packing and preparing for a move. At the same time, I will be trying to talk with the people out in the South Hills to get an idea of what my schedule will be and how I will carry out my new responsibilities. But in the meantime, I still have to “finish this pool game.” I still love St. Malachy, and I still am happy to be here. There will be more and more times when someone may ask me something and I reply that the answer will have to wait for Fr. Poecking and the others. But over the next week, I am going to give myself to the service of St. Malachy Parish. I know there will be things I will wish I could have done more with, as has happened every time I have been transferred. But when the time comes, I will walk away from here knowing that the last four-and-a-half years have been a time I will never forget. And while I will soon be rooting for the St. Gabriel Gators, I will never forget what we have often said here, “Once a Bomber, always a Bomber.” Father H addition to our own Fr. Russell. My thoughts, however, are centered on how quickly I will have to say goodbye.

While I have not planned my upcoming columns, it is possible that I will spend some time reflecting on these last fourand-a-half years that I have been at St. Malachy. We are gearing up for this change as the school year is starting, and it felt strange to me this week to welcome the students back at a time when I know I will not be teaching them on a weekly basis. It’s always a thrill to see the students coming back and get used to them being on a new level. Last year’s seventh graders are now our eighth graders, the leaders of our school. But as I see them settling in, I know I will not be part of their graduation. That reminds me that I will be leaving with unfinished business in many ways. There are quite a few things I would like to be here for, but I have to hand them off to others.

This is where the story of the monks shooting pool comes in handy for me. If Christ is returning, I hope I would say that whatever I am doing is a way of serving Him. In this case, I know that the work of Christ will continue. As long as the Eucharist is here, the presence of Christ is more important than whatever priests are here to bring Him to the people. So I realize that my attention will be divided over the coming weeks. On one hand I will be packing and preparing for a move. At the same time, I will be trying to talk with the people out in the South Hills to get an idea of what my schedule will be and how I will carry out my new responsibilities. But in the meantime, I still have to “finish this pool game.” I still love St. Malachy, and I still am happy to be here. There will be more and more times when someone may ask me something and I reply that the answer will have to wait for Fr. Poecking and the others. But over the next week, I am going to give myself to the service of St. Malachy Parish. I know there will be things I will wish I could have done more with, as has happened every time I have been transferred. But when the time comes, I will walk away from here knowing that the last four-and-a-half years have been a time I will never forget. And while I will soon be rooting for the St. Gabriel Gators, I will never forget what we have often said here, “Once a Bomber, always a Bomber.”

                                                                     Father H 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time - August 26, 2018

C. S. Lewis, in his classic book The Screwtape Letters, notes that we have two seemingly opposite needs, the need for permanence and the need for change. To balance those two, God gives us rhythm in our lives. “He gives them seasons, each season different yet every year the dame, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme.” The seasons of the liturgical year, according to Lewis, serves the same purpose. If we accept that gift from God, then “men will not only be contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas. Children... will be perfectly happy with a seasonal round of games in which conkers succeed hopscotch as regularly as autumn follows summer.”

For me, this is one time of year when I most regularly feel that sense of both stability and change. This week starts a new school year at St. Malachy School and many other schools in our neighborhood. In many ways, each new year brings the same sense of excitement as we get back to our routine. On the other hand, each school year is a new adventure. Each year there are new names and faces; each year there is something new happening. Where children are involved, of course, there are also familiar students taking on a new level. Often I look at the students at the beginning of a new year, and I marvel at how much they have grown over the past couple of months. Each year I am amazed at how quickly the summer has flown. But once I get over the shock, I get excited at having school in session once again.

The beginning of a new school year provides an opportunity, then, to reflect on both the stability and the change. For me it will seem strange to welcome the children back and know that I will not be teaching them every week. After all, in about a month and a half, I will be part of a different grouping of parishes. Fortunately, part of my assignment over there includes working with St. Gabriel School. That itself will feel a bit like Lewis’ combination of novelty and familiarity. Not only did I serve at St. Gabriel (and teach in the school) from 1989 to 1995, but the principal there is Mr. Donald Militzer, the son of our own principal, Mrs. Catherine Militzer.

I have been blessed to work with schools throughout my priesthood. There was a time when priests were involved in the schools regularly. The biggest part of the problem, of course, is that there are fewer of us and more demands upon our time. In addition, without going into more detail on what has recently been in the news, we priests have to be careful of our involvement with children. A few years ago I was talking with Bishop Edward Burns, who has worked with the Bishops of the United States in setting the policies for the protection of children. Before becoming a bishop, Bishop Burns was a priest of our diocese. I mentioned to him that I hoped we would continue to be involved with schools, particularly since that involvement is important to promoting vocations. I have remembered Bishop Burns’ response to me. He said, “We have to protect the children out of love, not neglect them out of fear.”

So if you are around St. Malachy during the week, you know there will be more activity. There will be children (who probably wish they were still on vacation), and there will be teachers (who probably wish they could wake the children up). Please pray for everyone involved with St. Malachy School. Know that what we are doing in our school is important to build the Church and the world in the future. And to the students and teachers, welcome back.
                                                                                           Father H 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 19, 2018

This has been a difficult column to start writing. I realize, as every priest should, that I am a flawed and sinful human being. I know there are people whom I have not treated as I should. If I have been short with any of you at any time, or if I have not given you the attention that you deserve, I apologize. Please forgive me for my failures. When Christ first called His disciples, He chose weak and sinful men. The gospels tell us, for instance that they argued over who was most important, even to the point of overlooking the very message of Christ to serve others and humble themselves. At times, people must have seen Christ’s disciples and thought, “How can we follow a man whose followers are such fools?”

All of that comes to my mind whenever we hear the very painful news of a priest acting in a scandalous manner. This has been the case particularly in recent years with the news of clergy sexual abuse of minors. The pending release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, which will name names, is a painful reminder. There is some solace in the knowledge that the Diocese of Pittsburgh has acted proactively under Cardinal Wuerl and Bishop Zubik. But every time the story hits the news, it feels like a punch in the gut, and we remember that we cannot simply forget. Nor can we act as if it were a light matter, for these stories remind us of the pain and suffering that these crimes have caused. The stories are particularly difficult because more is expected of us. Clergy should be trustworthy. A priest or a deacon should be someone you can turn to without fear. The thought that some of our clergy have betrayed that trust disturbs me greatly.

I cannot currently find the quotation, but I remember hearing that someone once said, “If we truly understood the Eucharist, we would require an angel to celebrate the Mass.” The point of the quotation is that we human beings are too weak and sinful to approach the great mystery worthily. But every time I heard that quotation in the seminary, it was in the context of hearing that Christ did not entrust the Eucharist to angels. He chose sinful human beings to carry on His work, as He Himself is the one who accomplishes the mystery of the Eucharist through our weakness. Throughout the Church’s history, there have been scandals that have shaken people’s faith and have threatened the work of the Church. And in every age, God has raised up holy men and women – bishops, priests, religious and lay women and men – to be a sign of holiness and to be signs of faith. I have no doubt that the God who has watched over the Church for 2,000 years will bring us through this difficult time.

Perhaps I cannot add anything to the letter from Bishop Zubik, which we read at Masses two weeks ago and published in last weekend’s bulletin. I repeat his assertion that (again, thanks to his leadership and that of Cardinal Wuerl before him) our diocese has done all it could. What we can do is to place our trust in the good and loving God our Father. Please pray for anyone who has been the victim of abuse in any way. Please pray for priests and deacons. Please pray for increased vocations to the priesthood, that young men may be open to accepting a vocation in a world where they know that some will be suspicious of any clergy. But above all, please remember that God will bring us through this trying time. As Christ Himself said on numerous occasions, “Do not be afraid.”                                                     
                                                                                           Father H  

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 12, 2018

Monsignor Richard McGuinness, a priest from Newark, was the rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary during my days as a student. Msgr. McGuinness was a very talented priest, but also a humble man who had a simple way of expressing himself. One of his pieces of advice was to include food at every gathering as a way of keeping things friendly and community-oriented. He gave that advice with the very simple phrase, “When you meet, eat.”
 I would like to turn that advice around. “When you eat, meet.” That doesn’t work in as universal a way as Msgr. McGuinness’ advice, but I think it can apply to today’s subject. Next week we are going to have a special opportunity to eat. Next Sunday is our annual Parish Picnic at Fairhaven Park. I want to offer a special word of thanks to all who are contributing their talents and efforts to make this picnic a success. That goes particularly for the Pastoral Council, who are coordinating our efforts, and for the Knights of Columbus, who are taking care of the hamburgers and hot dogs (and other picnic food) with their usual flair. Having experienced these picnics on an annual basis, I am confident that this will be another rousing success. We will begin with Mass at 1:00 at the picnic grove. After Mass, in addition to the good food, there will be games for the kids and for the adults (with Sandy Vaught leading us in bingo). It should be fun for all.
But while we have good food and good fun, we also are planning this as a time to meet. This year we are opening the picnic to our partners in our new grouping of parishes. We have included an invitation to the people of St. John of God and Holy Trinity parishes to join us. As I write this, I don’t know what kind of response we may get, especially since I am writing well in advance. (I wanted to get a couple of August columns written before going on my vacation in July.) But I am hoping that quite a few of our new neighbors will join us. We are coming together as one community, and a good way to approach that goal is to come together in a social setting, with good food and good fun. It helps that we are also starting with Mass, as is our custom, so that we can remember that we are joining together through the most important source of unity we have, the Eucharist. In the informal setting of a picnic, that gathering can be a chance for us to share that Eucharist with one another.
The poet William Butler Yeats once said, “There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.” I hope we can keep that attitude as we move forward with the implementation of On Mission for the Church Alive. We have a common purpose of building the kingdom of God as we form this new grouping. And we have a common bond in the Eucharist that holds all Catholics together. We can obviously offer some very serious reflections on that idea. But when it comes down to daily life, we live that goal by forming friendships and enjoying one another’s company. One good way to reach that goal is to share together an afternoon of good food, fun and (I hope) sunshine. I like to think that Msgr. McGuinness (God rest his soul) would approve. He would remind us, “When you meet, eat.”                                                       
                                                                                                                     Father H