Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Glorious Year 1917?

You know how I am about anniversaries.  Centenaries are even bigger, and we are in a four-year stretch of big ones.  We have been moving through World War I since August 2014, and we will conclude that on this weekend next year with the one-hundredth Armistice Day, now celebrated as Veterans’ Day.  This week, though, we observe something even worse, even more catastrophic, than that World War. 
This week was the one hundredth anniversary of the bolshevik revolution, in which Lenin and his cohort brought communism to power and began a century of inhuman and anti-human oppression in the name of a Marxist ideal future.  Millions and millions and millions have died.
This murderous culture of lies began, of course, with a lie.  The “bolshevik revolution” was neither.  The word “bolshevik” is Russian for “majority;” Lenin and his thugs were a tiny minority with no allies and little support.  What they accomplished was not a revolution so much as an armed coup.  With a violent putsch, they toppled a weak provisional government erected in the wake of the abdication of the tsar, and taking control of the means of communication, notably the post office and telephone exchange, began their reign of lies. 
What is bewildering to me is the number of otherwise intelligent people who think this grim history is the result of something other than the intrinsic reality of Marxism and communism, that somehow these ideas are laudable and even promising alternatives for mankind, if only they were not hijacked by “bad eggs” like Lenin and Stalin.  They think its analysis of humanity and society have insight and truth; they think the alternative it proposes bear some promise for human flourishing.    They think it could be done right, it could be done well. 
But the relentless logic of this inhuman ideology subordinates human life and human beings to its own analysis, vision, and goals.   Asserting there is no such thing as human freedom, it grants none to those who fall under its sway.   Asserting that there is no God, it acknowledges no human dignity.  Subordinating all things to the goals of the state, truth and falsehood, good and evil become fungible.  And people die.
Therefore, even where there is no Lenin, or Stalin, communism gives us Mao Tse Tung, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Fidel and Raúl Castro, Daniel Ortega, Hugo Chávez, and Nicolás Maduro.  And many people die.
Ideology is a human invention more dangerous than any weapon or toxin.  Whether communism, or fascism, or any other social scheme or system devised to promise some paradise on earth, by whatever criteria such paradise be defined, ideology subordinates man, his dignity, and his freedom, to a rapacious lie.  And many, many people die.
Communist tyrant and madman Josef Stalin famously remarked, “How many divisions has the Pope?” If violent persecution is the compliment that Communism pays to the opponent it fears, then the Catholic Church has been and is now its most dreaded nemesis.  Unarmed except for the cross, she constantly undermines the power propped on lies by living and sharing the truth, Jesus Christ, Who is the answer to every human question, the source of all freedom. 
It is no coincidence that also one hundred years ago, Our Lady appeared to three peasant children in a remote corner of Portugal and spoke of, among other things, the conversion of Russia.  She has given us the antivenin to the poison that courses through our world in many nations and publications, in government houses, guerilla camps, and faculty lounges.  She gave flesh to the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ, and showed us how to live the truth in love.  She reassures us that one day, when He is all in all, even this anniversary will have been transformed into a cause for celebration.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Family Ties

Remember Father Vincent DeRosa, who served here from 2009 until 2012 as Parochial Vicar?  Now he is Pastor of St. Francis Xavier parish in Southeast DC, and even though I had enjoyed lunch with him only a week earlier, I recently received a letter from him.  In it, he explained some of the hardships he faces to respond to the needs of people in his parish.  They serve their wider community by providing job fairs, a food pantry, counseling and family programming, and housing other emergency assistance, but the parish has precious few resources themselves.
All of it sounded very familiar to me, because we do keep in touch, and he often shares stories about his challenges and joys as Pastor there.  However, he had written to me and a number of his other priest friends not simply to share his adventures, but to let us know how few resources he has to meet so many very great needs.  It was an explicit request for help.
One of the hazards of being Pastor, rather like being dad, is that I am always aware of the first rule of economics: resources are scarce.  Making sure that this parish pays all of its personnel and all of its bills means being very careful about what obligations we assume.  Yes, there are some things we just cannot afford, just like in your families. 
However, we are all blessed here to have more than an abundance of what we truly need.  The evidence of that appears as soon as a true need emerges.  Witness our recent response to the hurricane victims!  We are all willing to give, but weariness and wariness set in as we are bombarded with pleas and petitions from causes and campaigns of more or less humanitarian urgency.  Yet we do not want to lose the healthy habit of giving.
Our monthly Community Fund collection is always dedicated to helping the poor in our area.  You know there is no shortage of poverty right around us!   In order to discern how to match our giving with authentic needs, our parish has the Allocation Committee, long led by the indefatigable Ruthann Arnsberger.  I shared Fr. DeRosa’s letter with the committee members, and the quickly achieved consensus was that we should do something about it.
Our next Community Fund collection, the weekend of November 11-12, will be dedicated to assist St. Francis Xavier Church in her outreach in Southeast DC.  I let you know in advance so that you can plan now how you will respond to this plea for help from Father DeRosa and our brothers and sisters in the city.
In recent weeks, I have begun the work of our Capital Campaign, asking parishioners to help in an extraordinary way that is additional to all they already give and do.  The response has left me agape, so willing and eager people have been to contribute.  This weekend, and over the coming weeks, you will hear me ask you and everyone else to take up your portion of this remarkable response.  It strikes me as somehow appropriate, even essential, that as we set about the work of gathering our resources to put our own house in shape, so to speak, we simultaneously put aside what some of our neighbors need to get by.  This is one way we can make sure we remember.  God bless you!

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Knowing, and being known

While waiting in a checkout line, I noticed the t-shirt of a man at the neighboring register.  Its starkly printed message was: “The great thing about science is that it is true whether you believe it or not.”  I chuckled mildly and said aloud, “the great thing about truth is that it is true whether you believe it or not.”  I realized that my mind had already gone someplace the t-shirt wearer probably did not care to follow, so I grinned affably and turned back to my cashier.
But how common it is to conflate science with truth.  That is a bridge too far, a claim that science would not make for itself.  Science is the pursuit of accurate description and prediction.  Accuracy presumes, but is distinct from, truth.  The accuracy of description is based on observation; witness how much science has been changed by modes of observation, such as the invention of the microscope and telescope.  The accuracy of prediction what is tested by experimentation, the fundamental work of empirical science.  Science is challenged when a situation or result is encountered that does not fit the prediction, and new theories must be proposed and experiments undertaken.  Science changes when tools change what we are able to observe accurately, and when our mind changes how we associate and understand our observations.
Witness, for example, how Newtonian physics worked perfectly well, for a while.  Then phenomena were observed that did not comport with Newtonian predictions, and Einstein had to come up with his theory of relativity to explain them.  One of the best explanations of this process by which science changes, and possibly advances, is Thomas Kuhn’s book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  Even if you have not read it, you probably recognize some of the concepts it introduced, such as paradigm shift.
The sad thing is that so many people think that the Church is opposed to science, that faith and reason are an either-or proposition.  The funny thing is that in many ways both practical and historical, science has been dependent upon not only generic “faith” but Christian faith and even Catholic faith in particular.  For a quick experiment, look around and see how much scientific development, not simply discovery but implementation and expansion, occurred in non-Christian societies.  Compare it to the growth and development of the West, that is, Christian civilization.
In his letter Fides et Ratio, Pope Saint John Paul II pointed out:  Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth - in a word, to know himself - so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.
To give a clue as to what about the Faith makes scientific exploration and discovery possible and even common, he ruminates: Whether we admit it or not, there comes for everyone the moment when personal existence must be anchored to a truth recognized as final, a truth which confers a certitude no longer open to doubt. 
There would be no purpose to exploration and experimentation if there were no truth, no reality, and no order.  There would be no quest for understanding and explanation if we human beings were not convinced that we possess the ability to discern and know what is authentic, accurate, and even true.  Jesus Christ is the fullness of God’s self-revelation, in which man perceives his own nature as well as the nature of “all things visible and invisible.”  From this toe-hold, we leap to observe, to question, to know, to understand, to describe, to predict, and thence, to bring about desirable results, such as air travel and nuclear medicine.
Saint john Paul goes on to reflect, One of the most significant aspects of our current situation, it should be noted, is the "crisis of meaning." Perspectives on life and the world, often of a scientific temper, have so proliferated that we face an increasing fragmentation of knowledge. This makes the search for meaning difficult and often fruitless. Indeed, still more dramatically, in this maelstrom of data and facts in which we live and which seem to comprise the very fabric of life, many people wonder whether it still makes sense to ask about meaning. The array of theories which vie to give an answer, and the different ways of viewing and of interpreting the world of human life, serve only to aggravate this radical doubt, which can easily lead to skepticism, indifference or to various forms of nihilism. 
The sainted pontiff also famously believed, Jesus Christ is the answer to every human question.  Here is the remedy to skepticism, indifference, and nihilism.  The great thing about truth is that it is true whether you believe it or not.

Monsignor Smith