Saturday, July 13, 2019

Denizens


There were a lot of different priests in the rectory this week.  Father Magro was here until Wednesday, then the movers came, and he followed his kit to Chevy Chase and set up a new home at Blessed Sacrament.  A new guy showed up just afterward, Father Michael Russo, our new parochial vicar pro tempore.  Father Ben Petty returned Monday from his ‘victory tour,” visiting friends and family, sharing with them the fruits and joys of his priesthood; he was gone by Tuesday lunch, off to Saint Mary in Landover where he had the next morning’s Mass on the first day of his two-month assignment there until he returns to Rome to finish his degree.  Every day, Father Jason Williams went to CUA and returned, assuring me that he had all the work for his canon law summer course under control.  And of course, yours truly presided beneficently over the mayhem.
Father Russo, whom you will be getting to know, has been a priest about four weeks, that is, forty years less than Father Magro.  He is about that much younger, too.  He’s from Massachusetts, not Malta.  The book of things he does not know about priesting could fill a library.  But if you look carefully you will see what is the same between them.   And that is precisely everything - everything a priest is.  
There is one priesthood, and it is the priesthood of Jesus Christ.  By the sacrament of Holy Orders, He gives a participation in His own priesthood – His identity, His relationship, His saving work – to mortal men.  Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8), and His Holy priesthood is ever the same.  He imparts it intact, not in dribs and drabs.
Which means, amazingly, that what you need from a priest, what a priest has that can save you from death and sin, Fr. Russo has to the same degree that Fr. Magro has.  I possess, I am for your salvation what Monsignor William Stricker received and was for that same end. 
There will be plenty of differences, sure.  Unlike Fr. Magro, Fr. Russo may have a funny accent since he is from Boston.  But Fr. Russo will not be like some character in a Harry Potter film who just got a new wand and doesn’t know how to use it.  He will be able to forgive sins as great and as small, and with the same assurance that the elderly, underground Chinese priest does, to whom people come against that evil government’s wishes, risking their very lives.  He is here, he is priest, and he is for you.  
There are a lot of different priests in this rectory in general, and this summer in particular.  I have recommended people keep the bulletins on their refrigerator because it will be hard to tell the players without the scorecard.  I think the variety of priests who have lived and served here over my thirteen years is a great blessing.  But I realize it can get confusing sometimes – parochial vicar? student resident? just passing through? – or even distract some from the reality at the heart of it all.  Everybody looks for something different or new from each new arrival, and everybody misses one Father Such-and-such, whose homilies or whatever they just loved. But what distinguishes us priests from one another – our voices, our manner, what we emphasize, or how we do things – none of these differences avail one whit.  What is the same about us, what we all have in common, what we all teach – the Truth, what has been taught at all times and everywhere – that is what can, will, and must save you.
There were a lot of different priests in the rectory this week.  What is different about priests may confuse, or amuse you; what is the same is what will save you.  Don’t let the differences distract you from the sameness, the constant.  What they – we – all share is the unchanging, unrelenting, undefeatable saving Priesthood of Jesus Christ, here for you.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Dauntless


This week marks the annual nadir of Mass attendance here, according to my thirteen years of observation.  The Independence Day holiday provides occasion for more travel out of the parish than it does visitors to the parish, and there are plenty of empty places in our pews.  I dearly miss the people who would be in them.
The crowds thin, but nonetheless we light the fires and approach the holy altar laying claim to His mercy.  We announce the Good News, make our petitions to the only One who can save us, and offer the saving sacrifice to God.  The one Body of the Lord, His Blood in one chalice or several, stands forth upon our altar and unites into the single sacrifice all of us with all who worship Him in His Eucharistic deed around the world and throughout all times.  This is our only Life; this is the only Lord.  All who are in Him, are together.  The hospital sisters in their simple structures in Uganda, the throngs amidst the high-rises of Hong Kong, the few elderly who still come to the village church in Normandy, and the international multitude with the Pope beneath Saint Peter’s dome, all are together when the behold the Sacred Host; all are one when they receive the Body of the Lord.  
Our brothers and sisters of the parish who are at the beach or in the mountains, in some American or European cathedral, or with their parents in the parish in which they grew up, are not absent from us, but are with us when they with the Lord who makes His presence known.  The Eucharist is the unity of Christians, and our communion with Him, is communion with them.      
Remember that, when you wish someone far away were nearer to you.  The one deployed in military service when he can make it to Mass on base, or on board, or even at the front line, kneels next to you when you kneel at Mass here.  Your sainted grandmother who always prayed you would come back to the church but did not live to see it, stands close by the saints we invoke by name as we bring down heaven to earth with the Lamb Who Was Slain. Our eyes meet with those of the one we have not seen for years when both behold the Lamb of God.  
The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of Unity, and every Mass in every place and time brings together all who place themselves in the presence of the one efficacious offering that is Christ’s sacrifice of the Cross.   This alone can save, this alone can unite, this alone can heal all that divides one from another.  The Mass is one, and in it we are made one.  
Offering the saving sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ on this altar, no matter how few bodies kneel around, has infinite value. Lives and souls unknown to us, unseen by our eyes, are redeemed by that sacrifice, washed clean by that poured-out blood.  Griefs we have not witnessed, sadnesses we have not shared, are offered up with the work of the Man of Sorrows.  Gratitude for graces not yet received or recorded in the annals of time past is perfectly expressed in the Son’s offering to the Father.  Only this, alone this will rescue any life, any human life from the downward drag to death of sin.  And in this church, on this altar, that work is done.
And even at the annual nadir of Mass attendance here, human experience and divine love reach their summit, and are one. 
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Not just stripes


Let’s run it up the flag pole and see who salutes. I don’t know if people still say that when they have an idea and want to propose it for consideration.  But it’s a good reminder that just because some banner is up the pole, not everybody will, or should, salute.
You know I’m an old Boy Scout, so I take my responsibility toward the flag of the United States very seriously.  I try to take my flag down before sunset, and put it up after sunrise, and even bring it in out of the rain.  I’m always attentive to the way the US flag is displayed among other flags, that it has the position of honor; and when hung it must (must) have the field to its own top right.  I have worn the flag on uniforms, but never as the pattern of a shirt, much less shorts, as has become so popular with the Maryland state flag.
I have lived for years in other countries and have known the surge of pride and relief to see the US flag flying above an embassy, military installation, or cemetery.  
That flag means something and I insist on respect for it; just ask anybody who’s left the flag on the ball field flying and neglected long after the game ended.  Symbols are important, and this nation’s flag is due the respect of all citizens.  We are obliged to salute.
There is no other flag competing for my loyalty.  Sure, I love the (so-called) Vatican flag, but our God, the Faith, and the Church are better represented through other symbols. The yellow and white is a great way to show affection for the Holy Father and respect for his Petrine office, but makes no claims on our fealty as Catholics.
Rebellions and invasions attempt to replace one flag with another, a symbol of the victory they desire.  Let’s run it up the flag pole and see who salutes takes on a different meaning in those circumstances; saluting indicates sympathy with, or submission to the new order.
One sees all manner flags flying or hanging about these days; only some go up with the expectation, nay, the demand that people salute.
One of the joys of having a school and a scout troop around here is that I can freely and honestly join in saying, I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America...
This week as we celebrate our national holiday provides as good a time as any to recommit to salute our national banner - and refuse to salute any other.  Oh say, can you see?
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Origin & Goal


Where do priests come from? was one of the things I didn’t know growing up in Alabama.  I assumed it happened in Ireland, since Birmingham was mission territory and most of our priests were from far away.  I have learned much since then, and nobody in this parish has reason to wonder after last weekend.  We have all been schooled in where priests come from. 
Priests come to us from the Archbishop.  It is the Archbishop of Washington, for about a month now Archbishop Gregory, who sends us priests, or rather, assigns them to us for a period of time.  As we saw at the splendid Priesthood Ordination Mass last week, the Archbishop also makes new priests; this year, ten of them.  And he is sending one of them to us!
Father Michael Russo, ordained last week, will begin his assignment here on July 10.  However (BIG however) he has another assignment too: to complete his License in Theology at Catholic University.  So he will be returning there about the third week in August, after only five or six weeks with us.  That’s not far away, so we shall see what happens after that.  Perhaps if you all help him learn to love Saint Bernadette we will see more of him throughout the year!   It’s an unusual situation – one I don’t recall occurring before – but we shall all learn together how it can work for the good of us who love God. 
Priests come, and priests go.  An assignment from the Archbishop is a fact of priestly life, and our own Father Ben Petty is no exception. He learned that he will go to Saint Mary in Landover for ten weeks, then back to Rome to finish his License (second graduate degree) over the coming academic year.   
Priests come from all over the world.  Last year, the Archbishop sent us Father Emmanuel Magro, a priest of Gozo in Malta.  As you heard from his own lips two weeks ago, this year he is being sent to somebody else – to Blessed Sacrament in Chevy Chase.  He will be here with us until July 10, the date all this summer’s priest assignments take effect.  We shall have to do something to express our gratitude for his time with us!
It just so happens that this month marks the fortieth anniversary of Fr. Magro’s Ordination to the Priesthoodand he will offer a Mass of Thanksgiving to celebrate that milestone, here in our church, at the 11:00 Mass on Sunday June 30. Then we will all retire downstairs to the Monsignor Stricker Room for a reception to mark that event, and bid him a fond farewell.   As usual, we will welcome helpers to make that reception more special, but everybody: y’all come!
After Father Ben Petty’s Ordination, we showed our pride and joy in him with two beautiful receptions here, and a marvelous Mass, which together poured out all the things that make this parish so important to him: love of God and neighbor, beautiful music, great liturgical ministers, over-achieving hospitality, and good-natured affection.  What a great time!  Last weekend revealed to all who have eyes to see where priests come from, and right there with his family, and friends, and teachers, there were the people of this parish, where he discerned Christ’s call to him. There is no reason to wonder any longer:   Priests come from Saint Bernadette!  
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Birds of a Different Feather


Mindlessly we parrot the language and embrace the values thrust upon us by the chatter of the age.  Words that held little moral significance a few decades ago now are emphasized and embraced as values of first priority: diversity, transparency, and inclusivity.  We apply them to ourselves and to our faith as if they were some authentic measure of goodness; we stake them out as goals for ourselves, and for others.   Yet rarely do we stop to wonder wherein their goodness lies, or even if there be any good at all.
This week, let us examine that momentarily-supreme yardstick of all human endeavors, inclusivity.  If it is such a good thing, why do so many people still yearn for exclusivity?  To judge by advertisers, exclusive offers and exclusive opportunities are still the best, and exclusive clubs are the ones people strive to join. 
Inclusivity was not always desirable.   A family or tribe provided safety and mutual care, and all others encountered mistrust or murder.  A town was built to keep out everyone who did not already live there; that’s where we get all those quaint walled cities everyone flocks to see in Europe.  An association still defines itself by the qualifications it holds for membership; who would get excited about Nobel Prizes if you got one for just showing up in physics class?  
So where’s the value in inclusion?  What makes it a good thing?  I submit that its authentic goodness can only be understood in the light of this weekend’s feast: The Most Holy Trinity.  God is inclusive.
God is three persons in one God, and in His inmost being He is self-giving and receptive in communion.  Because this is His very nature, His self-giving extends to us in His creation of us in His image and likeness.  His receptivity into communion draws us into a “club” for which we lack the qualifications:  better even than the Nobel Prize, He offers us to share in His divinity, that is, all that makes Him (and not us) God.  It is unmerited inclusion!
Herein lies the root of any goodness in inclusion: the Triune God does it.  That in which He includes people (divine life); what makes inclusion possible (the complete self-sacrifice of His Divine Son); and how we accept this astonishing offer (repentance) are all essential to understanding what is good about inclusion.  Behind the contingent good, these are the authentic goods.  
In a secular age, people who lose sight of God lose sight of what makes inclusion good, that without which it is indifferent or even harmful.  This weekend, the Church reminds us of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Who teaches us and helps us to include others in every good we have, even unto our families.  Those who do not know the Triune God, do not do this. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen. 


We rejoice in having one of our family included in the unique divine reality, in the Holy Priesthood of Jesus the Son of God, Who is both Priest and Victim.   His is the unique true Priesthood, complete and perfect, lacking nothing; yet He includes one of our own parish sons in His Priesthood.  He does this not for any merit recognized, but rather for our brother’s salvation, and for the salvation of the world.  And Father Ben Petty’s participation in that Priesthood will be one more life engaged in the rescue of us and our fellows from the mindlessness of parroting secular virtues.  In his self-sacrificing Priesthood, we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:16) 
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Our House is a Very Very Very Fine House

Over the years I have been here I have grown spoiled, and so have you, to enjoy the company of priests who are engaged in graduate studies. Wishing to remain in a parish setting, they both reside here and practice their priesthood here.  Last August, that habit received a disappointing jolt when Father Jason Grisafi petitioned his bishop to drop the graduate study part of that equation so he could dedicate himself to the practice of parish priesthood.  None of us begrudge him that decision, but in our selfishness, we regret that it took him to a parish other than ours.  And so he returned to The Island That Is Long, and the student-priest room in the Holy House of Soubirous went empty through an entire academic year. 
But now in that room, once again there is the creaking of the study chair, the midnight oil being burned, and books arriving to line the shelves.  The savvy parishioners have noticed that a third car is parked once more in front of the rectory.  We have a student priest!
Father Jason Williams of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has been assigned by his Archbishop to pursue a degree in Canon Law at the Catholic University of America by participating in their “summer-only” program. There are online and distance requirements over the other three seasons, while the student priest remains in his home diocese and fulfills his regular duties, but he must come to campus for three intensive eight-week summer semesters that span June and July.  For that, Father Williams needs a place to live, and we just happened to have one close to campus.
“Intensive” is no understatement, as I saw when Father Joe McCabe was in the Canon Law program and living here some years back, so do not expect to see much of Fr. Williams around the place.  But he will be celebrating Sunday Masses and helping here and there during the other days, providing that welcome “third voice” in the rotation and bringing a welcome energy to the mix in the rectory.  Please welcome him if you see him – but let him go study if he seems anxious.
Please try to attend the Priesthood Ordination at 10:00 AM this Saturday (15 June) at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, at which our own Ben Petty and nine others will be ordained Priests by our new Archbishop.  
The first thing a newly ordained priest does is, of course, offer Mass.  A new priest’s First Mass is especially joyful and brings to all who participate particular blessings and indulgences.  Father Petty’s first Mass will be here at our 11:00 Parish Mass on Sunday (Father’s Day).  
After the Mass, come to the festive reception in the school hall.  Many folks have already volunteered to help with food and hospitality for the event, so come hungry – and ready to welcome Father Petty’s family and friends.  If you haven’t already, contact Margaret McDermott or Jasmine Kuzner to offer help.   
It is a great grace to receive the blessing of a newly ordained priest.  Father Petty may be exhausted by the events of the weekend, but that grace will not be exhausted.  He will be around for much of the week after the ordination, too, so maybe you’ll be blessed to have him as celebrant at the daily Mass you attend.  And for a few days, we will have yet another priest in the rectory.  How spoiled we are!
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 01, 2019

The Perennial Annual


After the Friday afternoon text announcing they had gone to the hospital to begin delivery, after word Saturday afternoon that a c-section might be necessary, finally came the text: (name of newborn boy). 5/25/19 @ 1536hrs. 19" 6.7lbs. Mother and baby doing great.
It was great to be included in the young dad’s excitement at the arrival of his firstborn, and of course the conversation continued, with pictures.  But after a few days I reflected on the information he had included:  not only the date, but also the precise time at which the lad emerged.  That date will be one of his favorite days of the year, his birthday – a day of gifts, perhaps a party when he’s young; and as he gets older, greetings and messages from friends he hasn’t seen in a while.  Not a year will go by that he, and his parents, fail to observe its significance.  Many happy returns of the day.
On Sunday evening as I prayed Vespers in the chapel, I pulled out a holy card from my prie-dieu and placed it on top.  It had a picture of a young priest on it, with the date of his birth, and the date of his death: May 27, 1995.  He was a seminarian when I met him; I served his Ordination at the Cathedral; and I looked him up at his first parish assignment to share with him my intentions of entering seminary.  He was very supportive, and helpful; we exchanged letters throughout my first few years of seminary.  He wrote to me about his cancer, and about its remission.  Then right before I returned from Rome after two years away, the call came that he had died of it.   Twenty-four years later, I still have the letters, and I still “keep” the day. 
On Holy Saturday evening, after we have kindled a new fire and placed the flame atop the decorated Paschal Candle, we carry the Light of the Risen Christ into church and share it with all the baptized who are present to keep the Great Vigil of the Lord’s resurrection.  The Exultet, the great Hymn of Blessing to the Easter Candle is sung: This is the night when once you led our forebears, Israel’s children, from slavery in Egypt and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.  This is the night that with a pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin.  This is the night that even now throughout the world sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and from the gloom of sin, leading them to grace and joining them to his holy ones. This is the night when Christ broke the prison bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld. … O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to the human.  How we calculate it is complicated - the first Sunday after the first Full Moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox – but every year, not only do we keep the day but from it we also determine other days: Ash Wednesday is 46 days before, Pentecost is forty-nine days after, and all the other days between we also keep.
On the fortieth day – any sequence of forty being significant in God’s revelation of His working in our world – the Risen Lord ascended into heaven.  He left the Apostles scratching their heads in wonder and consternation, and once more they retreated in fear to the upper room, and locked the doors.  But after nine full days of prayer – the first novena – the promised Spirit came upon them and taught them everything, reminding them of everything He had told them.  
All that God has done for us has changed our world and our history, marking forever the progress of our days.  It is good to be reminded of what we have already been told, even when we fail to keep the day.  Men of Galilee, why do you gaze in wonder at the heavens?  This Jesus whom you saw ascending into heaven will return as you saw him go, alleluia.
Monsignor Smith