Saturday, September 27, 2014

Checking and balancing

Delfina is after me again.  She just left a stack of checks on my desk to sign so that we can pay bills this week.   This morning it was a bank form so I could approve adding the new treasurer to the signature card of a parish organization’s account.  There was also a question about someone’s annual leave.
Delfina (Castro) is our business manager here.  Of course, since we have an administrative staff of four (including the volunteer) she does a lot more than any single job description can describe.  For example, she does a great job arranging flowers.
Honestly, Delfina is not always after me.   Most days, people are after her.  At some point a teacher will come by to deal with a withholding or insurance issue, but usually it is the phone – vendors and such.  Then there are the folks who take responsibility for all the groups in the parish who make things happen.  First and foremost among these is, of course, the CYO, but the Tuesday Club and the Home School Association are in a dead heat for close second.  Add to that Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the school Gala, the Fall Festival, a new account for our Haiti mission, and the upcoming youth pilgrimage or a class field trip, and pretty soon you have a crowd. 
One of the coolest things about the entire process she oversees is the incredibly precise tracking of donations.  Now there are plenty of folks here who throw whatever cash they have loose on their persons into the collection baskets, but that is neither a complicated nor a large sum to track. 
But the minute someone hands in a check, or an envelope, with an identifiable name on it, and (or) a designation for the donation, every detail gets recorded.  We have folks who give large checks with detailed lists of what amounts(s) should be taken from them for an array of purposes.  We get hand-written names on those “welcome” envelopes, or “memo” lines on checks that explain what the donation is for.  We have second collections and special collections, bequests and sacramental offerings, donations for repairs to the rectory, memorial gifts and offerings for altar flowers on a particular weekend, and anonymous help with a specific family’s tuition bill. 
Every gift goes precisely to its designated use, and nowhere else, down to the last penny.  And at the end of every January, every donor gets a detailed report suitable for presentation to the IRS.  If people only knew how much work goes into that incredibly conscientious stewardship of their offerings to God!   But in a way, that’s the easy part, and definitely the joyful part.
The Archdiocese demands a lot of her time too, as she deals with Human Resources and the Controller’s office and all the technical systems associated with them.
And speaking of systems – hoo-boy have we had a couple of years!  In its serene wisdom, our Archdiocese a few years back introduced a sweeping new program of technology to manage data for accounting, personnel, payroll, and school data.  You will be shocked – shocked I tell you! (unless you regularly read Dilbert in the comics) -- to learn that this massive rollout did not go smoothly.  The technical people had a lot of harsh things to say about Delfina, whose fault they said it all obviously was.  Now, however, suddenly the Archdiocese is announcing that the new systems do not work as intended and maybe we shouldn’t all be using them after all. 
So after two years of being, shall we say, not in a position to control some portion of the information and technology that we need to manage the material aspect of this huge parish organization, Delfina and I finally have recovered (mostly) from the impact of mandated and problematic technological changes.
Delfina is after me again – thank goodness!
Monsignor Smith


Saturday, September 20, 2014

from the Letter to Diognetus (from Mathetes; 2nd Century AD)

Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. 
And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.  
They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred. 
To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments. 

To put it simply: What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but does not belong to the body, and Christians dwell in the world, but do not belong to the world. The soul, which is invisible, is kept under guard in the visible body; in the same way, Christians are recognized when they are in the world, but their religion remains unseen. The flesh hates the soul and treats it as an enemy, even though it has suffered no wrong, because it is prevented from enjoying its pleasures; so too the world hates Christians, even though it suffers no wrong at their hands, because they range themselves against its pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and its members; in the same way, Christians love those who hate them. The soul is shut up in the body, and yet itself holds the body together; while Christians are restrained in the world as in a prison, and yet themselves hold the world together. The soul, which is immortal, is housed in a mortal dwelling; while Christians are settled among corruptible things, to wait for the incorruptibility that will be theirs in heaven. The soul, when faring badly as to food and drink, grows better; so too Christians, when punished, day by day increase more and more. It is to no less a post than this that God has ordered them, and they must not try to evade it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Turn, turn, turn

You may not realize it, but this parish has a revolving door – it just happens to be in the rectory.  This week we are welcoming our new weekend deacon from the seminary, and saying goodbye to our pro-tempore parochial vicar who, oddly enough for a priest, has to go back to the seminary.
Father Seith may be ordained, but he is not yet done.  He has a year of work to do to complete his License in Sacred Theology, a Pontifical degree that will make him eligible to teach Moral Theology in any seminary or Catholic institution.    Meanwhile he will live in the same seminary he has inhabited for the past four years, the North American College in Rome, as a member of its 275-member student body.  To the casual observer he will be indistinguishable from the ninety percent who are not yet priests, unless Mass is being celebrated, in which case he will be vested and participate as a concelebrant.
Over the past two months I threw at him everything I had – and everything we have – to give him an immersion experience in parish priesthood.  He took it all and came back for more.  I know it would not displease many of you if he were to come back to stay, and it would not displease me (or him, I daresay) if you were to make that an intention of your prayers.  But until the will of God and His Eminence be revealed in the matter, thank him for his help to us all this summer, wish him well in his coming academic endeavors, and promise him your prayers of support.
On the incoming side of the spin, many of you met Deacon Stephen Graeve last weekend.  He will be here seventeen more weekends throughout the year.  As usual, I asked him to write up some information about himself for you to have some background.  As usual, his way of responding, as much as its content, tells us we have a new and unique participant in our life in Christ here at the parish.  Welcome him.
Monsignor Smith
Biography: Deacon Stephen Graeve
Family: To begin with, I am a Son of the Father, Brother in Christ, and Temple of the Holy Spirit! I also have a wonderful family on this earth. My father Bill is an accountant for Hobby-Town USA and my mother is a nurse at Madonna Hospital. I am the oldest of four. My sister Stephanie is a nurse in St. Louis; my brother Matthew is in the Navy, currently stationed in Virginia Beach; and my other sister Rachel is studying to be a psychologist in St. Louis.
History: I was born in Omaha, Nebraska on October 4, 1988. We moved to Dallas, Texas and finally to Lincoln, Nebraska, where I grew up. I attended St. Peter’s Elementary School and Pius X High School, graduating in 2007. I chose to go to Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio to discern my vocation. It ended up being a good choice because I transferred to St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward, Nebraska the next year. After graduating in 2011, I began my theological studies at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. I was ordained a deacon on May 23, 2014 and, God willing, I will be ordained a priest on May 23, 2015 for the Diocese of Lincoln.

Personal: I enjoy the outdoors: hiking, camping, jogging, golfing, and most recently, fishing. I also thoroughly enjoy a good book. In particular, I like to read J.R.R Tolkien, C.S Lewis, and Graham Greene. Being from Nebraska, I love the Cornhuskers, Denver Broncos, and Kansas City Royals. Finally, I enjoy traveling. I have had the privilege to go to Sydney and Madrid for World Youth Day, as well Rome for a summer abroad program for seminarians. I have definitely come to appreciate the universal aspect of our faith, where I can go into any Church throughout the entire world and still encounter Our Lord!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Seriously, folks

Time to get serious!  Long have you heard me say that Labor Day is a spiritual milestone without being an actual Holy Day.  It marks the end of summer, the return to business, to school, to traffic, and to all those things that mark the seriousness of our endeavors, whether we be of age six or fifty-six. 
My first recommendation stays the same: Go to confession this week.  Seek God’s forgiveness for all your summer sins, whether they be sins of indolence or self-indulgence, both very summer sorts of sin.  You cannot think that in Advent you will remember your summertime sins.  Get the grace God wants you to have now, by identifying them, speaking of them while you remember their context, and resolutely turning away from them.  Like a good haircut, or waxing your car, it will reduce drag and increase both efficiency and speed.
It is time to get serious.  You can see it in the faces of the littlest ones who have come back to school.  Not the middle-schoolers, no, no; they are too cool to give any indication of being serious about anything.  But the little kids seriously set about their studies, and it is a sense of purpose as much as the weight of their backpacks that makes them lean forward when they walk, as if into a headwind.
It is time to get serious about the things that may have slipped down the priority list, or gone undone.  I have mine, and I am sure you have yours.  We hope no one noticed because they were too distracted by their own summer goofing off!
While we were diverted, things have been getting pretty serious around the world.  The Middle East, Ukraine, and Liberia have all lit up our screens with an intensity it seems inadvisable to ignore.  I found a note from Bishop Knestout when I returned from my end-of-summer trip that said the Archdiocese is encouraging parishes to take up special collections for aid to persecuted Christians in the Middle East.  There wasn’t enough warning to do it this weekend, and we already have second collections the next two weekends, so that means we will have it the last weekend in September. 
But tell me honestly, is that anywhere near the response these situations call for?  Are we helpless spectators who can only write checks to assuage our feelings of guilt at having had a delightful summer while so many people are fleeing for their very lives?  Let’s get serious here.  What else can we do?  What else must we do? 
Is there anything our religion can do in the face of evil, in response to suffering, or to alleviate our helplessness?  Or does it require that we all just cross ourselves and say that everything that happens must be “God’s will?”  What does our religion offer you now, besides a return to the routine?  How do you respond to the much-advocated position that “religion” is a major cause of human division, strife, and suffering?  Is “religion” all one phenomenon with multiple iterations, or is there something about one religion, any religion – OUR religion – that resists such dismissal, even condemnation? 
We are Catholics.  We are the Body of Christ upon earth.  Christ transforms suffering into new and everlasting life – does that sound like something that the world could use right now?   Plunge into our faith, my beloved friends; seek, study, and find what makes it different.  These problems are not going to go away, and no one is going to fix them for us.  What defense do you have against evil?  What has God given you in this Church?  Spend the time to find out – it is only going to become more clear that the Body of Christ is the only truly different reality in the world.  That can cost you, as well as help you.  It is time to get serious about being a Catholic.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Deep down things

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.  All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.
Jeremiah was not a cheerful fellow, if we must decide on the basis of his book.  This is one of the great lines of Holy Scripture.  It can make us laugh, if we approach it in a certain way – such as when my Church History professor, a Dominican priest, said that his ordination class had chosen it to be their motto.  On the other hand, it can make us wag our heads in uncomfortable recognition.
But if it is the case that I carom between these two readings of that line, I also recognize all too well the sentiment, and more, that he presents a few lines later:  I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more.  But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.
That explains how I get myself into trouble, especially in this time and place, doesn’t it?  Or at least how I get you into trouble – the trouble of enduring my latest take on life, the universe, and everything.  But I shan’t throw too much at you this week; you’ve had enough of dates and anniversaries and historical milestones. 
A word from Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, seems appropriate.  He could have seconded Jeremiah in either of the above sentiments.  But he also has something more to add as our summer days dwindle and we set our faces to the task ahead.  It is, after all, still August.  Enjoy.
 Monsignor Smith

God’s Grandeur
Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Believe it … or not!

For those of you who read this in print, did you know that I also post it online at our parish website?  That makes it available to my mom in Alabama, among countless – okay, maybe about thirteen – other fans around the country.  But there it is just more among a lot of stuff on the internet; why should anyone believe this?
You know me, you know who I am and what I do with my days; what I have learned, and what I laugh at.  So you know the context in which to take what I offer.  But for someone coming across it online, how would they know whether to believe anything I write?
I have been thinking about this lately because there is so much information and disinformation available these days thanks to our communications technology.  How do you choose what you will believe?  On what information, and on whose opinions, will you base your life decisions?
Can you honestly evaluate your day, your week, and see whose words you take for truth, and whose you view with suspicion?   What are the sources of news and thought that you accept and act upon?  Why have you chosen those?  It is never a bad time to evaluate this, as it has such an influence on your life and what you do with it.
Saint Bartholomew, whose great and holy Feast Day is brutally suppressed this year by the Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time, is famous for his skepticism when he first met Jesus.  We hear about it in the first chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, where he is called Nathanael: Philip found Nathana-el, and said to him, "We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Nathana-el said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"
Now Philip was a friend, so Bartholomew did not dismiss what he said; but neither did he automatically take his word for it.  So Philip, who was confident in what he had found in Jesus, offered immediate verification of the highest sort.   Philip said to him, "Come and see."
Then what happened is one of my favorite episodes in all the Gospel; the banter between Jesus and Nathanael in which Nathanael encounters the reality of who Jesus is, and Jesus ribs Nathanael for his skepticism, but also promises him more.   I love it. 
Jesus saw Nathana-el coming to him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" Nathana-el said to him, "How do you know me?" Jesus answered him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." Nathana-el answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Jesus answered him, "Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these." And he said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."
Perhaps because Bartholomew is my heavenly patron, I always turn a critical eye to any new information, especially information that claims to call for me to change the way I live.  I encourage you and all whom I meet to do the same.  I encourage you even to be skeptical about the information I give you – though I hope you could stay as good-natured as Nathanael about it.
Because God has given us in Christ everything we need to judge all information, to discern all truth, and to grasp all reality.  Christ gives us not information, but Himself.  I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.  (John 14:6)

Monsignor Smith