Saturday, February 06, 2016

Do not concede the supposition

If God is all-powerful, and if God is all-good, why is there suffering in the world?  This is an ancient question, more recently deployed as a rejection of God.  But perhaps the false assumption is not that there is a God, or that He is all-good and all-powerful, but that suffering is incontrovertibly evil.  Of course, there is a relationship between suffering and evil; any privation of good is in some way evil.  But is suffering evil, period, end of sentence?  Are they identical, or inseparable?
One of the many reasons that the Catholic faith is held up for ridicule in the world, even by people who claim to embrace it, is that it not only makes the bold assertion that suffering is not exclusively evil, but that suffering is part of the best thing that ever happened to the world, and that you and I and every person we meet should actually choose and inflict upon themselves some suffering.  On purpose.  Madness!  Yes, that is why the word “Lent” appears in so many punch lines.
Suffering, including our distance from God and unfamiliarity with His ways, is a result of sin.  It first entered our world through the free action of our forbears, Original Sin, and is reinvigorated in every life through human action freely chosen, actual sins. 
Suffering, whether by privation of good or active presence of pain or evil, was transformed when God Himself, through the free obedience of His Son, suffered on our behalf even unto death, the ultimate privation of good and accomplishment of evil.  By Jesus’ free act, and the victory over death that He accomplished with it, suffering is transformed forever and for all into an act in which human freedom working in love has the power to transform evil into good.
Two weeks ago, I shared Msgr. Pope’s admiring reflection on the passion, that is, the suffering of our patroness, Saint Bernadette Soubirous.  I admit that I hesitated to make it all available, thinking that to many who would read it, the overwhelming impression of the life of the saint would have been one not of blessing and holiness, but of punishment and sorrow.  How can that be good, and who would desire that?
Imagine, for a moment, that pain and privation gave you not sorrow, but joy.  Wouldn’t that change your disposition toward everything?  What would you fear and avoid?  What would you pursue and embrace?  Who would have power over you?   See how your life would change – for the better?
That is motivation enough for you and for me to enter into this Lent with anticipation, not trepidation.  Whatever penance we freely impose upon ourselves, and unite with the passion that Jesus freely undertook for us, is a step toward joy, and a step away from fear and oppression.  In Lent we should regret not the penances that we bear for forty days, but only whatever penance we failed to take up, or failed to carry; only that could be our sorrow.
Bear this in mind as you calculate your program for Lent: do not be stinting in the portion of penance you think you can manage and still “get credit” for it.  Rather, embrace something that ordinarily would be too great a burden, but by your union with Christ, will be redeemed into a cause for joy.
The presence of suffering in the world does not disprove the existence or benevolence of God. Rather God Himself, by the saving Passion of His Son, has redeemed the suffering that He did not bring to the world, and made it the place where in freedom we may find union with Him.  And that union is perfect joy.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Restless Hearts

Well, that was an adventure, wasn’t it?  “Snowzilla,” or whatever it is being called, certainly did cast the deciding vote in how most people spent their weekend, and for many of us, much of the following week.  In our highly mobile society, it comes as a shock to be immobilized.  Suddenly, our horizons are narrowed, our range is curtailed, and our options are few. 
It is a matter of professional pride for me to say that not one Mass was missed, not one announced period of confessions went without a confessor.  Of course, that is not such a great achievement, since we priests live right next to the church, and could have made it over there even if we had not had a crew clearing the snow throughout the storm – which, thank heaven, we did. 
Not everybody had that option.  People who needed to be at work went early, and stayed there throughout the weekend.  After that it was nearly impossible to go anywhere other than where you already were.  Even days later, now that people are managing to get out, it is not a sure thing that you can reach your destination, whether by foot, car, bus, or train, or park or enter once you get there. 
On the whole, I have been warm, comfortable, and well fed.  We never lost power, nor communications with the whole outside world.  There has been no shortage of activity for me during this time; I’ve kept busy keeping the church up and running, tended to things around the property, cooked for the denizens of the rectory, and even did some shoveling.  So I have not been bored; quite the opposite.  Now, here I am, still where I have been the whole time, and I admit that I am getting a little bit stir crazy. 
Why?  What is the source of my restlessness?  What need or craving would be satisfied by being out and about?  If I could go, where would I go, and for what purpose?  It is hard to say, but I think whatever it is, it lies at the root of what most of us recognize in ourselves now as cabin-fever, or being stir-crazy. 
We do want to go somewhere; we do want to be somewhere else – almost always, wherever we are.  It is one of the clues that we are not yet where we need to be, no matter how much we make ourselves at home.
I think Saint Augustine identified the real motive behind our constant yearning, persistent searching, and insatiable desires, and said it best:  God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.
So may this little episode of weather weirdness, enforced confinement, reduced mobility, and narrowed horizons, allow you to enjoy the snowbound silence and reflect on the yearning within you.  Recognize it for what it is: the yearning to be with Him Whose yearning brought you into being, and Who yearns to have you with Him forever.  The satisfaction of both those yearnings is the adventure of every lifetime.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Pope points to Saint Bernadette!

There are many things to be found on the internet that are worth far less than the time you will spend on them.  One of the best and most worthwhile I have found, though, is the blog of our own (that is, Archdiocese of Washington priest) Msgr. Charles Pope.  Consistently for years, his work has displayed insight and clarity, alongside fidelity and charity.   Even (especially?) in the face of incendiary commenters (both for and against his work), Msgr. Pope maintains an exemplary standard and tone. 
Why do I bring this to your attention?  Because I just found that his recent post about our patroness, Saint Bernadette Soubirous.  Just this past week, I had been lamenting how little attention we give to this remarkable person, even here where we are supposed to be dependent upon her aid.  I was trying to think how to remedy that, and here is a start.
I share with you an excerpt from his post on our patroness, but also this link to the whole post.  I hope you use it to get to know him and his work, for it will inform and elevate your faith.
Monsignor Smith

The life of St. Bernadette Soubirous was steeped in paradox and irony. She was the chosen visionary of our Lady at Lourdes and was to bring forth, by heavenly guidance, a spring that would bring miraculous healing to thousands. Yet Bernadette herself was beset with health problems that would cause her dreadful suffering. Her quiet and heroic suffering, something she accepted with obedience and as a kind of mission for souls, is not common knowledge today. Hers was a beautiful, difficult testimony; she suffered mightily. I base my reflections here on a biography of her by Fr. Rene Laurentin: Bernadette Speaks: A Life of St. Bernadette Soubirous in Her Own Words.
Bernadette Soubirous was born in January of 1844. Her father and mother were among the working poor of the town of Lourdes, France. Her father was a resident miller of a mill he did not own. For a time, the family found lodging in the Boly Mill, where Bernadette was born. Surely the persistent, gentle sounds of the mill grinding the wheat were some of her earliest memories. But famine brought financial ruin to the Soubirous family; the mill was sold and they lost everything. So poor did they become that they were forced to live in a cell of the former town jail.
Such poverty and poor nutrition surely contributed to her later health troubles and to her diminutive stature. Bernadette stood only 4 feet 7 inches tall and had an asthmatic condition that would be her cross throughout her life. […]
Many visitors would ask her if she wanted to be a nun. She said, “Yes, but I haven’t the health.” By 1864 her poor health had not improved much, but her attraction to the religious life had grown. Bernadette despaired that she would ever have the health to enter into the religious life. And yet the sisters who saw her growth in holiness were willing to make exceptions.
In 1866 Bernadette entered The Sisters of Charity of Nevers, the same order that had schooled her in Lourdes. Entering the novitiate, she looked forward to the relative seclusion and solitude. The steady stream of visitors and the burden of her fame continued to weary her.
Within a month of entering, as the cool of late September approached, Bernadette’s asthma grew worse. […]
Two days before she died, St. Bernadette offered a metaphor for the mystery of her suffering. Something in her hearkened back to the Boly Mill where she grew up in Lourdes. The grinding of the millstone had lulled her to sleep as an infant and accompanied her first years as a child. Perhaps it was that now-distant memory that caused her to say, shortly before she died, “I am ground like a grain of wheat.” She had never willfully complained about her suffering. Somehow she seemed to know this was her mission: to suffer for others. […]
Most know St. Bernadette simply as the little girl kneeling in prayer before the Virgin Mary in countless grottos throughout the world. Less well known is the private, personal, and profound passion of a great woman who discovered that her mission was to suffer for others.
Where does the water of Lourdes get its power to heal? Surely from the Lord. But something of Bernadette’s passion runs through those waters as well. They are indeed precious waters, bought at great price.

Saint Bernadette, pray for us. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Hangin' in the rectory

New rectory receptionist Carol Gangnath joins Father Gallaugher in learning about all the parishioners on our tree. 
Several months have passed since Corky Hart left our rectory staff to “tread the boards” at the Kennedy Center.  We had a lot of invaluable help from Karyn Zanger, but she could only give us that much time for the interim.  So Carol Gangnath, our new receptionist, started on January 4.  Just into her second week, she is learning the many and varied responsibilities that fall to the person who sits in her chair.  She is also just beginning to learn the many and varied people she encounters in the course of a week.
Providentially, she started just as the Christmas season was ending, and right there in front of her was one of the best resources there is to learn about the people of our parish: our “Parishioner Tree”.
This is not the first time I have let you know how much I enjoy getting family picture Christmas cards from parishioners, and that I am not the only one.  In order for everybody in the rectory to be able to enjoy them, we hang them in the front office, on our festive tree decked with lights, ornaments, and smiling parishioners. 
Everybody who works here enjoyed seeing the photos, oohing and ahhhing over the cutest little ones.  My one request would be that parents not leave themselves out of the picture, or off the card.  Especially since so many of the card services now offer the opportunity to have inset photos or supplements montages on the reverse side, surely it is not too much to ask that mom and dad be included somewhere?  We still enjoying seeing you, too, even if you don’t get the same oohs and ahhhs you did when you were ten months old.
There is also a practical aspect that this year has come in particularly handy.  It is a great way to see everybody in family groups, and learn who belongs to whom.  Maybe it even gives us a name we hadn’t been able to catch!  Fr. Gallaugher has only been here for six months, which is just long enough to have encountered a whole lot of faces and names, but not necessarily to have hooked them all together properly.   And now Carol is just getting started.  So even now that the tree has come down, all those cards are a helpful resource.
So next time you are passing by, stop in to meet Carol, welcome her, and let her see your face and hear your voice.  How better to reveal that as much as you enhance our appearance at Christmas, your role here is not merely ornamental.

Monsignor Smith