Saturday, January 13, 2018

Fasttracking

Jesus comes at you fast, to paraphrase that old advertisement for insurance.  Jesus comes at you fast in the Gospel of Saint Mark, which is the Gospel we hear throughout the current liturgical year (Year B). 
This year started on the first Sunday of Advent, of course; but it is now, with that season, and Christmas, and the Epiphany behind us, that we hunker down into the workaday world of what we call “Ordinary Time,” which you can spot by the green vestments.   That’s an odd translation of “Tempus per Annum,” the actual Latin name which clearly means “the time (or season) through(out) the year,” but it’s what we were given.  Anyway, on the weekdays we have already launched into the season with the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, and Jesus comes at you fast. 
Saint Mark starts with the prophecy of Isaiah, which leads into John the Baptist, of course, who baptizes Jesus, then is put in prison; then Jesus calls Andrew, Peter, James and John, and initiates his public ministry and preaching, and goes to Capernaum and works several miracles – all in the first chapter.  Whew!
Matthew is more detail-oriented, and he starts with that long genealogy we heard at Christmas.  Luke is an artist, so he starts with painterly scenes from the infancy and childhood of Jesus, which similarly we have just studied and celebrated.  After all his work during Christmastide, Luke gets a few days off.  He will carry us through next year, though – Year C, beginning in Advent this December.
Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the four, so this year we have room to hear from John’s Gospel on Sundays, too, notably in late summer when we have all of John Chapter Six.  But also this weekend, the second Sunday (the first was eaten by the holy days last week) in “Ordinary Time”, we get not Mark, but John.  John’s Gospel is what we most often hear on Holy Days, because he is so theological in his presentation of the life of the Lord.  He doesn’t get one of the three “years,” the annual lectionary cycles.  Perhaps it’s fair to let him use some of the leftover in spartan Mark’s space. 
Don’t worry, Mark will be back next week.  If you miss him, you can come to daily Mass, where we are seriously plowing through his Gospel.  In another television reference, Mark is rather like the detective on Dragnet:  Just the facts, ma’am!  His narrative can seem awfully barebones sometimes, “all bricks and no mortar,” as a professor once said about my papers (imagine that!)
Because of that no-nonsense approach to what he is doing, there is no mistaking his purpose.  Verse one of chapter one states it clearly: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.    Try to keep this in mind this year as we work through the Gospel, episode by episode.  It’s a simple, clear, and direct presentation of Jesus.  Yes, that means the Gospel readings at Mass will be shorter; but it also means that you might not hear details or aspects that you mentally associate with the events presented.  If that happens to you, you are remembering Matthew’s version of the same episode, or Luke’s.
It seems appropriate to get right down to the business of the Gospel these days, when we all have to get back down to business in our lives and work.  There is no “easing in” or lingering over sweet reflections, as we might wish after a period as brief and intense with experiences as our Christmas holiday tends to be.  Life comes at you fast, and so does Jesus.  We have Mark to thank for keeping us up to speed to meet Him.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Better than Blooming

While many good things happened around here over the Advent and Christmas season, and all of them contributed to the vigor of our enthusiasm here in the rectory, there is one that stands out: the Parishioner Tree, now in its fourth year.  Can you find your own family card in the picture?
Family photo Christmas cards do not get a lot of respect in the chatter of the day, but I have always enjoyed them.  I love getting them from my friends who live far away, so I can see how they and their families are changing and growing.  I also enjoy them here in the parish.  They give me a chance to see families together, putting siblings with one another and with their parents, reminding me of names, or even providing them for the first time.  Technology has improved the quality and content of these cards, as more better pictures can be featured, and greater variety of (authentic Christmas) greetings are available, with more room for personal text.
And since we have new staff members here in the rectory again this year, it provides to them, too, a great way to get to know the members of the parish.  Corine Erlandson has been at our reception desk since June, so she has been getting to know more and more people.  But this really helps her fill in the details!
It is a great way to maximize the impact and enjoyment of the cards we receive.  I keep my own friends’ card separate, so I know that I do not get a look at them as often as I do the ones that go on the tree.  The staff rearrange the cards as new ones come in, so a different card or photo catches the eye every time we walk past.  And because I really do miss folks when they move out of the parish, I make it a priority to include cards from “alumni” families who remember St. B at Christmastime.
My one complaint remains this, that some parents leave themselves out of the pictures.  That is made somehow more egregious when the family pet, usually a dog, is included in the picture, but the parents are not.  Come on, don’t feign modesty or shyness – let your mom-and-dad flag fly!  So what if you look a bit more, ahem, mature this year than last; we can all identify with that.  Besides, it is good to see the whole family together, in at least one of the pictures.  Even Fido makes more sense in that context.
The context that make this whole parish make sense is the families, the “domestic churches,” of which it is made, the basic units of the Universal Church.  The continuing sanctification of human life in worship and the daily work of fidelity that is familial love bears fruit in this parish, fruit that hangs beautifully on our Parishioner Tree.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Particulars

Every family has its holiday traditions; and most families have at least one family member who is fixated, even fanatical, about maintaining one certain family tradition.  Lots of families play touch football on Thanksgiving; some families have Uncle Joe who insists that every family member join in four regulation-length quarters of touch football, regardless of weather.  Lots of families have traditional Christmas desserts; some families have Aunt Millie, who insists on baking all twelve traditional desserts herself.   
Well, around here I am sort of Uncle Joe when it comes to decorating the church.  We must have all four regulation-length quarters of Advent before we decorate the church for Christmas on December 24th.   Normally that is fixation enough to make my priest friends shake their heads.  But this year, when Christmas Eve was also the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and we didn’t move a poinsettia or hang an evergreen garland until the four Advent candles were snuffed after the 11:00 Mass?  That made them stare slack-jawed in wonder.
A sight to behold truly it was.  Anthony Dao, Kelly Weisgerber, Elaine Vining, Peter & Melissa Franklin, and Margaret McDermott, were poised with all their gear ready by noon, and with their kids and some eighth grade RE students, plus some concerned parties who asked (Browns!), and help we dragooned from families leaving after the 11:00 Mass (Kirks!  Bierwirths!).  Many hands make light work, they say, but I still saw a lot of heavy lifting despite the many folks doing it.  It certainly was quick work; all was done and festive by two o’clock!  And wasn’t it great to arrive for Christmas to a church that looked so different than it had during Advent, just a few hours earlier?  So give them a cheer for their hard work, our beautifully decorated church, and putting up cheerfully with Uncle Joe.
I think some cheering is on order, too, for our choirs (including the kids!) and musicians, under the gifted leadership of Chris Mueller.  There was different music at each of the Masses, and it was all excellent, which was quite the workout for the singers.  We also had all the standards we need to sing – and I saw you singing, too, you there in the fourth pew, who are usually so reticent. 
Similarly dedicated and beautiful work was provided by our lectors and altar servers, which makes such an enormous difference to the richness and intelligibility of our liturgies.   Along with our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, many of these folks arranged their schedule to be of service to us, rather than to fit their own (or their families’) preferences, and some even assisted at more than one Christmas Mass.  Let’s hear it too for our ushers going about their work, welcoming folks, helping them find seats at the crowded Masses, and especially gathering the vital Christmas offertory.  Few of you see our dedicated group of counters who give their time during when so many others get to relax, to make sure all gifts are accounted for and correctly deposited.
The Holy Name guys were the only ones able to do their work in advance, since they put up our outdoor stable, which takes much heaving and ho-ing.   The population of the stable, including the guest of honor in the manger, arrives only at Christmas during the first Mass, or when the star brings them at Epiphany.     
We never applaud work done for the Lord, but it wouldn’t be inappropriate if you were to speak a word of thanks to one of these folks whose work you notice and value.  We are blessed to have such talented folks who make our church and our worship beautiful and reverent, and they might enjoy hearing it from your lips that you appreciate them.  Some are easy to spot; some prefer to remain anonymous and behind the scenes, but if you identify them yourself, it’s fair for you to offer your gratitude to them, even if they blush.
And speaking of decorating trees, the Parishioner Tree in the rectory is looking great.  You should stop by and see it soon, and if your family card or photo is not yet hanging on it, bring it with you or send it in.  We want to see you!
To all the folks who pulled off another magnificent Christmas despite the logistic challenges of the date, I know who you are, and I marvel at your skill, generosity, and faith.  Thank you so much for all you have done, and doubtless will continue to do in one way or another, keeping this parish family’s excellent Christmas traditions.  Thanks especially, and God bless you, for humoring your crazy Uncle Joe.

Monsignor Smith