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
MassTimes.org.) 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
times.
 
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 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 5, 2018

When I was growing up, we often heard the saying, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” In truth, nobody will come unless they hear about our mousetrap. Sometimes, people do not hear about the best advances. For instance, when we first started hearing about devices for recording TV shows, the experts claimed that Betamax was better than VHS. But it was VHS that became the standard (until DVDs and streaming came along).

As Catholics, we have a “better mousetrap.” We know that other Christian churches share a good deal of our faith, and there are many people who try to live good lives without the help of faith. Yet that good life becomes so much better when we find the help that God offers. Without denigrating other Christian communities, we know that we Catholics, have the fullness of His revelation. Christ established the Church with the promise, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) He promised the Holy Spirit to guide the Church to be certain that we are following His teaching. Therefore, one of Bishop Zubik’s goals in On Mission for the Church Alive is to bring us together so that we can more effectively show the world that we have that “better mousetrap.”

One way we get the message of the faith to people is through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). This is the process the Church has set up for those who wish to join us. It began with adults who were never baptized and includes those who were baptized in other Christian communities but who wish to become Catholic. It can include anyone who was baptized Catholic but who did not grow up in the faith, and it can even be open to those who simply want a way to learn about their faith more deeply.

This process is an important way of learning about our faith, but the RCIA is not a “class” in the sense that we turn our faith into an academic subject. But we do bring together all the teachings of Christ and try to apply them to our daily lives. Thus the first part of the RCIA is always the stage of “inquiry.” It is at that point that people who think they may be interested in the Catholic Church bring their questions and concerns. There is no pressure; there is no commitment to join the Church at that stage. Those who want to learn about the faith may do so, and at any time they may decide that they are not ready. While we do teach the academic part of the faith, we try to appeal mostly to the heart. Thus there is no pressure to continue unless the person in the program truly feels ready to continue. There is, in fact, no need for any pressure since we are confident that we offer something better than the world around us does.

At this time we are discussing what form the RCIA will take this year. I have been the main catechist of the RCIA since being here, and I’m not sure whether our new priests will take over themselves or will rely on the team that has helped me the last few years. So if you know of somebody who is not Catholic but who may want to be – a spouse or other family member, a neighbor or anyone who may be interested – feel free to give this information to that person and invite him or her to join us. And for anyone who is interested in joining the RCIA, feel free to call the rectory. We have something of great value to share. We can offer the “better mousetrap.”                                                       
                                                             Father H 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 29, 2018

Last week I told you about my tour of New York City, with my plans to watch both the Yankees and the Mets. Since then I have moved on to the second half of my trip, with two main stops. This is usually the more restful part of my vacation, but even here I have a lot of things to do.

One of my favorite places to visit is Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I have also visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and (most recently last summer) the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Both are great, but there is something special about baseball’s museum. The football Hall of Fame is right on an interstate. You come out, get in your car, and you’re gone. The Hockey Hall of Fame is right in the heart of downtown Toronto. You come out, and you are immediately jostled by people rushing by, many of whom probably do not even recognize the significance of the building they are passing. The Hall of Fame is in an old bank building and is easy to miss. But in Cooperstown, you can walk down the three blocks or so between the Hall of Fame and Doubleday Field, and at least two out of every three storefronts are baseball related. You can get baseball memorabilia, team clothing for any team, and even many of the restaurants have pictures of famous ballplayers all over the walls. In Cooperstown, you are immersed in baseball.

The issue with my schedule this year is that if I were to go to Cooperstown right from New York, I would be there during their big Induction weekend, when they officially recognize the newly elected members of the Hall of Fame. That would be exciting, but the normally small village of Cooperstown is usually swamped with people. As exciting as that could be, it’s a little too much of a crowd for someone just coming from riding the subways in New York City. So before going to Cooperstown, I am going to spend a few days up in Montreal. That is where I will be when you read this column (assuming you read it on Sunday).
Montreal is a fascinating city that I have seen a few times before. I hope to see some religious sites, particularly the Oratory of St. Joseph, built by St. AndrĂ© Bessette, who was known as “the Miracle Man of Montreal.” I also look forward to doing the same thing I did on my last trip here. I will go to Mass twice. I will attend the Mass at the English-speaking St. Patrick’s Basilica on Saturday night, but then I will go to Mass in French on Sunday morning at the Cathedral Marie La Riene du Monde on Sunday. Visiting Montreal always reminds me of how long it has been since my high school and college French classes, but I like to see how much of the liturgy I can follow.

Lest you think this is just a busman’s holiday, I will also do some other touristy things. My second-favorite hockey team, after the Penguins, has always been the Montreal Canadiens, back to the days of Jean Beliveau. The last time I was in Montreal, I made plans to take a tour of the Canadiens’ arena. When I arrived at the appointed time, there was a sign taped to the door that the building was closed and the tours canceled because of a power outage. So I hope to make up that tour this time.

I will be returning to the parish on Friday evening. I look forward to being back with you (refreshed by my time away) next weekend.                                                       
                                                            Father H  

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This is the first of my two weekends of vacation. As you read this, I am in New York City. I might actually be in New Jersey when you read this, because I am staying in the parish of a seminary classmate whose church is a fairly easy commute into the city. Actually, my friend is not here. After we made the arrangements for me to stay with him, he got an offer to take a cruise. But he said I could still stay in his rectory, and I offered to cover Sunday mass for him.

I have been to New York for baseball twice before. In 1988 I stopped to see another classmate and planned on just staying overnight on my way to see my sister, who at the time lived in Rhode Island. When I got there, he told me that he had tickets for a game at the old Yankee Stadium. Then in 2004, I took a week to tour New York while getting to see the Mets at Shea Stadium. This year I am going to do some more touring. I will see three Yankees games at the new Yankee Stadium and three Mets games at Citi Field.

So since this is a vacation reflection, let me just give you a trivia question. Do you know why New York is called “the Big Apple”? One theory is that the Latin word for apple is malus. Malus is also a Latin word that means evil. At a time when our nation was still mostly rural, many people looked at the big cities as places full of evil and temptation. And since New York was the biggest city, it was also the biggest source of temptation. Thus it became known as the big malus, the Big Apple.

That same bit of trivia should also explain why our image of Adam and Eve generally has them eating an apple. The book of Genesis does not specify a particular type of fruit from the tree in the center of the garden. But since they gave in to the temptation of the serpent, they brought evil upon themselves. The apple then became a good visual reminder of what they had done.

All of this has nothing to do with the apples that are on the handles of the doors of our church. Those refer to the idea that our patron, Saint Malachy, had helped his people during a famine by planting apple trees, making him Ireland’s version of Johnny Appleseed. Notice that the statue of St. Malachy in our church shows him holding an apple. I do sometimes tell people that there is a different reason for that symbolism. I said that the architect had planned a church with a lot of windows, but he suspected that someday there would be a pastor whose preference of computers would lead him to use an Apple instead of a Windows computer. (No, I am not being paid for that advertisement.)

I hope that little bit of trivia about “the Big Apple” does not get you worried about what I am doing while in New York City. Rather than looking for any sort of temptation, I will see such things as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ellis Island, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Of course I will also be watching the Mets and the Yankees .                                                                         
                                                                                               Father H 

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