Saturday, May 02, 2020

Anticipation


Tomorrow we should be celebrating First Holy Communion.  I am on record having written six Mays ago, My personal, top-of-the-line, all-out, no-exceptions favorite is this weekend.  First Holy Communion is a marvelous moment that I enjoy to the very core of my being, and the Pastor’s privilege of giving these children their first taste of heaven is one I count most precious. 
Oh well, so much for that! you might reasonably say; Covid-19 has crushed another festive moment in our lives.  Especially now that it seems the first Saturday in May will feature particularly lovely weather, you know that I and many others will be thinking of what-should-have-been.  But let me assure you, our thoughts should not, and will not stop there.
First of all, as I have assured all our FHC families with the help of our Director of Religious Education, Dr. Neil Sloan, we will be offering First Holy Communion to our kids as soon as practicable; we will not postpone to some distant date by which we can guess with “certainty” that all will have returned to normal.  We will offer more than one opportunity, both to accommodate transitional restrictions as to crowd size or spacing, and simply because short notice will require people to have another option.  We will announce our plans as soon as we have information upon which to base them.
But receiving Holy Communion will have changed for everybody by then, and the “Firsties” will not be the only ones who need to learn a new and hygienic practice to receive the Bread from Heaven.  Over the past two months, we have learned much about how to convey the body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ without conveying anything else, especially illness.
First, it is vital that the recipient be holding still.  The moving Communion line, with communicants making their individual and often idiosyncratic shows of reverence for the Eucharist, results in a “moving target” and no small uncertainty for the minister.  Often that pious bow or head-nod comes across like an attempt to head-butt Jesus!
Second, one may receive the Lord on the tongue, as is still the first and best way to be fed the Bread of Life.  Some have asserted that this is less safe and hygienic, which is simply bilgewater.  Do it right --open wide, look up, extend tongue, and hold still -- and there is no risk of unhygienic contact.  Teeth-grabbing and lip-snatching, not to mention mail-slot-mouth and the T-Rex Chomp, are just as wrong now as they always were.
When once again we approach together the Table of the Lord to be fed, everybody will be a little out of practice, and one hopes, a lot more careful about it.  This is great opportunity to renew our care and reverence in this vulnerable moment.
So when we resume here, the plan will be a little different, and everyone will be able to arrange themselves without getting too close to one another, kneeling or standing, holding still, and waiting to receive on tongue or hand.  The priest will move from communicant to communicant.  It will be so obviously practical and natural that it should pose no problems.
Hunger for the Eucharist is a gift from God, and this year it unites so many Catholics with our young ones eager to receive the Lord.  Most of their friends and families are in the same boat, as so many have gone so long without Holy Communion.  
Talk with the kids about your desire to receive the Lord.  We are so accustomed to the instant-availability our commerce provides, we have forgotten how to wait.  There is grace even in the waiting, and in the hungering.  Focus on it, and find more reason to be grateful.
The Eucharistic Lord is unrelenting:  So shall my Word be that goes forth from my mouth; my Word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)  
The Word become flesh, Our Lord Jesus Christ, desires communion with us even more than our Firsties desire Communion with Him.  He shall achieve the end for which He has been sent, and it shall be glorious.  It’s His personal, top-of-the-line, all-out, no-exceptions favorite.  See you there!
Monsignor Smith

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Familiar Face

Maybe your house is like mine, in that it has settled down and gotten very quiet by this time -- as I write, it's almost eleven at night.  It is the dwindling hour of "Spy Wednesday", an ancient name for this day of Holy Week that I have always particularly liked.  Tomorrow there is no morning Mass, even in a normal year, because it will be Holy Thursday, and the Mass of the Lord's Supper is in the evening.

Yesterday, Father Ben Petty joined us here in the Holy House of Soubirous.  You will remember how glorious was his ordination weekend last year, and his First Mass here.  He went back to Rome to finish his degree, but because of the Covid crisis, he was obliged to evacuate.  He passed his quarantine and came to his "church home," Saint Bernadette.  He will be with us for a week, maybe two.

He is a seminary formation classmate with Father Russo from the beginning, and a classmate of Father Berhorst at the North American College in Rome for four years, so he fits right in.  It should make for an even more fraternal house here at the rectory, and an even more convivial table.

Father Petty will also join us in the sanctuary for all the liturgies of the coming holy days, where you will see him if you watch our video, livestream or later.  I didn't want you to be caught off guard, wondering who that "other guy" might be.  He is glad to be home for them, and we are glad for his presence.

Though you cannot be with us in the church because of the restrictions, please join us virtually tomorrow night at 7:30 for the Mass of the Lord's Supper, coming to you live on our YouTube Channel here (I can't believe I am saying this!).  We will be joined by a few altar servers, and John Henderson and four of our singers will provide music.  I will miss washing feet, and we will not be able to have our Eucharistic Procession to the altar of repose in the Monsignor Stricker Room as we usually do.  But we will re-open the church after Mass, around nine o'clock, so you can come and keep watch with Our Lord until midnight.

Most of all, though, I will miss you.  Tomorrow is the feast of the Holy Eucharist, and of the Holy Priesthood, both of which I love with every fiber of my being, but both of which exist by the grace of God for you.  

So remember that even though you cannot be present with us, everything we do tomorrow will be on your behalf.  And the saving grace of the sacraments is more powerful and more perduring than anything the internet can bring to your home, and real.  Your desire for that grace is but a hint of this reality.

Oh, dang; there I go, starting in on the power of the sacraments again.  I'd better stop, and go to bed.  Tomorrow will come soon, and it's not as if I can sleep late tomorrow anyway, even without a morning Mass to pry me out of bed.  

May the reality of the Paschal Mystery unite us all in Christ's saving love.

Monsignor Smith

Friday, April 03, 2020

Palmless Sunday

Skip the Sticks

It's an old joke that everybody turns up at church when you're giving out free dirt and free sticks; this nods to the popularity of Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday.  We saw it on Ash Wednesday, when everybody wanted ashes, but most of those people also wanted mercy, a chance to repent and be faithful the Lord, and a reminder about God's merciful forgiveness.

But we are not going to see it on Palm Sunday; not this year, with the virus quarantine.  Fathers Berhorst and Russo and I have been talking about it, and we want you to get your palms; in fact, we have already received the palms we ordered for the occasion.  But for very good reason, we cannot distribute palms now.  We might distribute some else, and far worse, at the same time.  

So we hope to offer you palms in a couple of months, when we can distribute things safely once more.  They'll be dry and brittle by then, so you won't be able to weave them into crosses and such, but you might still be able to put them behind your crucifix or Sacred Heart picture.

Meanwhile, we all have to have to follow Jesus on this, the way of the cross, during the week that He Himself made Holy.  

Eyes on us!

Many of you are already watching Mass online or on television; that is a good thing.  But some Masses are better than others, where viewing is concerned.  My parents are watching EWTNbetter yet, I recommend Bishop Robert Barron's online Mass from Word on Fire, which Father Russo gave you instructions to access.  The setting is made to be broadcast; the production values are high; and the preaching is guaranteed to be good.    

And because it would be good to see Mass offered in YOUR church, by YOUR priests, we are setting up a video feed right here from Saint Bernadette.  It's still being set up, but you could see something as soon as Palm Sunday!  Stay tuned to Flocknote for details as they become available.

It's what you DO, not something you watch.

But Mass is NOT something you watch; you know that, and you are used to that.  Mass is worship, and worship is what we give and what we do.  So if you are cut off from Mass, which most people now are, simply watching will not fulfill your need nor express your gift and gratitude.  We use all our senses, and our whole bodies, to direct our mind and our inmost being toward God.

Make Sunday happen at your house

First, get everybody in the house into one room, and leave your phones and devices in a different one.  Use Magnificat or some other aid to go through the liturgy.  (We are giving away 500 free copies of the April and Holy Week Magnificat on the tables in our church.) 

Stand and make the Sign of the Cross; pray the penitential rite together, out loud.  Take turns reading out loudthe readings.  Assign parts for the Passion and read it out loud -- the whole thing!   Shout, Crucify him! when the time comes, and kneel in silence when Jesus hands over his spirit.  

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Day of the Domestic Church


Good news, my friends!  We are not cut off from one another by this virus; we are not separated by precautions.  No — we are bound together in the Body of Christ, whose members we are.  United by our Baptism into His Body, the Church, and nourished by the Eucharist we have received, we are strong together in prayer. 
This is the Day of the Domestic Church.  Yes; the smallest unit of the church is not the individual, but the family.  Your home is become the center of faith for all who dwell there, and Christ will not neglect to nurture and nourish all who turn to Him for light and life in these days.  
Yes, things have changed.  We all need to stay away from everybody and everything not essential to our survival.  Every day has brought evidence that we are all taking this seriously.  Here at the rectory, on Tuesday we stopped opening the door, and started talking through the window.  By Wednesday the packs of middle-school kids ceased roving the playing field and ball courts together.  This is what prudent people do.  
The number of people looking to catch us offering Mass each day in the church has dwindled to a trickle.  That is good, but sad.  Everyone should stay home and far away from everybody else. Isolation hurts, whether isolation from one another, or from God.
But you do not need to feel the weight of distance between yourself and your Creator, between you and your Redeemer.  You have received the Holy Spirit to dwell within you, and keep alive the intimacy for which Jesus gave us the Holy Sacraments, even when circumstances keep you further away from those Sacraments than you would wish.  
In cases where it is not possible to receive sacramental communion, … it is beneficial to cultivate a desire for full union with Christ through the practice of spiritual communion, praised by Pope John Paul II and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life, taught Pope Benedict XVI his letter on the Holy Eucharist, Sacramentum caritatis.  Here is a simple prayer you can offer alone at any time, or together as a family during your Sunday Domestic Church worship, in order to make a spiritual Communion:
My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament.  I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul.  Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart.  I embrace You as if You were already there, and unite myself wholly to You.  Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.  (St. Alphonsus Liguori)
You can print it out on a card and carry it around with you.  St. Leonard of Port Maurice said: “If you practice the holy exercise of spiritual Communion several times each day, within a month you will see your heart completely changed.”
You can use your Magnificat, or the USCCB Daily Readings web page for the daily readings.  Don’t settle to read them quietly to yourself; read them out loud in the assembly of your Domestic Church.  Share your thoughts on the readings; pray the prayers.  Pray for the intentions each member voices; remember those who are sick, or alone and cut off from family; remember medical workers, and everybody you wish you could be with.  Remember your priests!
It is only fair that you pray for us (and I am grateful for all of you who have sent word that you are doing just that) because we are praying for you multiple times each day.  We are all three offering Mass every day, always, always carrying your intentions with us to that big, green marble Holy Altar we love so well.  We cannot wait until you are able to join us there; soon, soon we hope.
Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist connects us, unites us one to another despite distance and difficulty.  The love of God is poured out in the measure we need in the hour we ask for it, assuredly in our Domestic Church.  In time of sickness and separation, this is good news.
Through the intercession of Saint Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes, help of the sick, may the blessing of Almighty God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit come down on you and remain with you forever. Amen.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Bigger Can Be Better

Introductions are behind us, and the denouement is still in the future.  We have now arrived at the big, long middle of Lent.  Long because we realize Easter is still a full month away, even though those daffodils are trying to convince us all it is just around the corner.  Big because of the weight of significance it carries for us, as we realize that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are essential to our health and well-being in both time and eternity.   But this year, there is another aspect that is big and long.
In the Lectionary cycle’s Year A, which features the programmatic reading of Matthew’s Gospel, the Gospels at Mass for the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent are all from the Gospel of Saint John.  They are all long, and they are all big.  In order, these important, elaborate accounts of episodes in the life of Our Lord are: this week’s Samaritan Woman at the Well (Jn 4:5-42); then the Man Born Blind (Jn 9:1-41) next week; then the Raising of Lazarus (Jn 11:1-45) as we enter Passiontide on the Fifth Sunday. 
Just look at those citations – how long they are, how many verses!   For those of you who were hoping to gain time because we have no Gloria at Sunday Mass in Lent – forget it.  Standing for these Gospel readings is more than just physical conditioning for the Passion according to Saint Matthew on Palm Sunday – the longest of the four Passion texts.  These accounts are not presented just to make us stand there, but to move us, to bring us along, to turn us to the Lord Jesus in a new and deeper way.
Chosen particularly for their instructive value to Catechumens, those who are approaching Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion at Easter, these Gospels can have just as big an effect on the lives of all of us, even if we have been Baptized and Confirmed long since.  
Resist the temptation, once you recognize the introduction, to tell yourself: Oh, I know how this one goes, and tune out.  Resist the temptation to pray against all hope that the “short form” of the Gospel will be used.  Listen to the story like you have never heard it before, and you will hear something you have never heard before.
Rather than give less attention, or less time, give these events more of your time.  Read them slowly once or twice in the days leading up to the Mass; read them again once or twice during the week after the Mass.
Ask yourself, try to figure out: What was the weather like that day?  What did she expect Him to do when she said that?  What was he afraid of about Jesus?  What was “the crowd” thinking or doing?  Where would I have been standing to be able to hear this conversation?  And the always appropriate:  Why did Jesus say that, or do that?  Just what is He proposing?
Saint John the Evangelist went to great pains to give us the opportunity to experience these moments that clearly changed his life.  Do not squander this opportunity to allow them to change your life.  Precisely for this purpose we have so much time here in the big, long middle of Lent. 
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Better late

Why do you stand here idle all day?
How is your Lent going?  You made it to Mass for Ash Wednesday, or -- maybe you didn’t.  You avoided meat all day Friday – except for lunch (doh!).  And your rosary-every-day resolution has been going great – since you found your rosary yesterday.
Lent happens.  Lent gets off to a rocky start some years.  Lent can start strong, but then we get distracted, or annoyed, or just hungry, and whoosh – there goes our Lenten resolve, right down the drain.  And once we have broken our perfect (or near-perfect) record, we think – Oh well; that’s gone.  And we stop trying.
Doubtless you have heard of “low self-esteem.”  Sometimes we can have “low Lent-esteem.”  We don’t really have our resolutions or Lenten “plan” ready, miss the first week or two of Lent, or drop the ball after a while, and we think that we have blown Lent this year, it’s beyond salvage, and we will just wait and do better next year.
Well, as the angel invariably says when he appears with a message from God: Fear not!  (You can check Scripture that angels really say this.)  All is not lost; Lent and its sweet benefits are still available to you, even at this late date.  
One of my favorites among the Lord’s parables is that of the vineyard-owner and the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).  Remember, the owner goes out into the market square several times as the day goes on, and keeps finding workers whom he hires and sends to his vineyard to work with the ones he brought on at the break of day?   He even hires and sends several “at the eleventh hour” (five o’clock in the afternoon).  Then, at the end of the day, they present themselves to the paymaster and all receive the same daily wage.  And the vineyard owner says to the disgruntled workers who had been there all day, “Are you angry because I am generous?”
He doesn’t have to say anything to the workers who came on late, because they are too busy dancing for glee at their good fortune.   They are taking home way more than they truly earned, and way more than they expected to get when they finally presented themselves in the market square.  
The Lord Himself makes it clear what work we are to undertake for him: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  All three, NOT one of the above; they all work together to heal our souls and rebuild our relationship with the Lord and one another.  This is the work of Lent, and he is still looking for folks who have not yet gone to His vineyard.
One could take this a step too far, and just wait until the last minute; but of course, we never know when our last minute really will come, do we?  Better to go when the Master calls and sends us.
So yes, it is late – the second Sunday of Lent, already.  But the Master is looking for workers to tend His vineyard, even when that vineyard looks remarkably like their own souls.  Do not fall into the grim cycle of low Lent-esteem!  Do not fret the progress of the day that has already gone and cannot be retrieved. Come now, because He calls you now.  You will take home way more than you truly earn, and way more than you expected to get when you finally got around to the undertakings of Lent.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Crazy talk

The Temptation of Saint Anthony, by Salvador Dali
The prayers fly by pretty fast at Mass, and only with the ones that recur are you likely to be familiar enough to call to mind the words or reflect on their meaning.  Even for me, who have the printed text in front of me and give them voice, they can be completely fleeting.  But the texts of the Mass are almost as important a statement of our faith as is the Sacred Scripture itself; and as in the Bible, the turns of phrase can be most instructive.   
As we solemnly offer the annual sacrifice for the beginning of Lent, we entreat you, O Lord, that through works of penance and charity, we may turn away from harmful pleasures and, cleansed from our sins, may become worthy to celebrate devoutly the Passion of your Son.  Who lives and reigns forever and ever.
This text is from Ash Wednesday, the Prayer Over the Offerings, which the priest says after he has placed the offerings on the altar, washed his hands, and said: Pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours…, and the people have responded, May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands…  It contains a term so shocking to modern sensibility, and so essential to the task and purpose of Lent, that I wanted to bring it to your attention for consideration.  
Did you catch it?  Harmful pleasures.  In our time when what gives a person pleasure is equated to what is good, and therefore must be a right, this simple phrase is shocking (noxiis voluptatibus in the original Latin).  
Sometimes we intentionally put aside authentic goods.  I have emphasized to you before that what we “give up” for Lent, we put aside because it is good, not because it is bad or sinful; we give up lesser goods in order to focus on greater goods, and realize how much more we need them.
But harmful pleasures would be even more dangerous than authentic goods that are less good than God and the good He wants for us.  Harmful pleasures stoke our vices and reduce our inclination for authentic goods.  Harmful pleasures tickle our most base fancies and most selfish appetites.  Harmful pleasures enslave us to pleasure.  
In a similar vein is the Preface II of Lent, which you know comes right before the Holy Holy Holy; it is one of four options during this season, chosen by the priest celebrant:  
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father, almighty and eternal God.  For you have given your children a sacred time for the renewing and purifying of their hearts, that freed from disordered affections, they may so deal with the things of this passing world as to hold rather to the things that eternally endure.  
We pray to be freed from disordered affections (ab inordinatis affectibus expedita).  That, I think, would outrage our contemporaries even more than turning away from harmful pleasures.  Disordered is such a loaded word!  Can’t you just hear it now in Father Nick’s best “offended New Yorker” voice?  Who you callin’ “disordered?”
Bacchanale, 16th c., engraved by Enea Vico, after Marcantonio Raimundi
But we know that disordered has a specific meaning: out of proper order, or ordered toward the wrong thing.  Again, a desire or affection can be out of proper order if we place a lesser good before a greater one – say, the winning of a contest, over the safety of our family.  That’s disordered.  Similarly, an affection can be disordered if its goal or objective is objectively opposed to what is truly good, that is, what God has shown us to be good.  
God has spent a great deal of time, effort, and patience to teach us (mankind) that what is truly good is often very different from what we, in our foolishness, would desire or choose for ourselves.  Even when God has warned us against something, consideration and study can lead some among us to conclude that it is nonetheless good; history has shown over and over again that this results in great grief for individuals and societies, as the consequences invisible to intelligent man but clearly revealed by God are obtained by those who choose against His Word.   
Because of these two irrefutable realities, that God desires our good for us even more than we do ourselves, and that left to our own devices we can be very bad at figuring out what is good, we do not despair, but rather we pray.  And especially in Lent, we ask over and over again that our benevolent Father use our works of penance and charity to turn(us) away from harmful pleasures and free (us) from disordered affection.  Let these prayers fly!  
Monsignor Smith