Saturday, July 19, 2014

Pushmepullyou

It’s déjà vu all over again!  Father Seith is here and suddenly you remember him from two years ago, when he was a seminarian just finished with second theology.  But the same weekend, there goes Keith Burney after eight weeks with us, heading back to seminary to complete the two years remaining before he, too, God willing, be ordained a priest.  Coming and going, one is as the other was, the other how they both will be.
You may think that they are here in our midst for what they have to offer, and so indeed they are.  But do not neglect to be aware of what you (individually and communally – I guess that would be “y’all”) have to offer them.  As Pastor, I receive them here in our parish, both as seminarian and new priest, with the confidence that you will give them freely all that you have, to help and form them as Christ would form them, by their union, each in proper Order, with His Body, the Church.
Keith left a note for me to share with you, so I pass it on to you below.
Monsignor Smith
Letter from Our Seminarian
This week in the Gospel, we hear Jesus use multiple parables to describe the Kingdom of Heaven, from it being like good seed in a field, to being a small mustard seed that grows into the largest of plants, to finally being like yeast that leavens the batch of dough.  Having spent eight weeks with you this summer, I can testify to the fact that the good seeds of faith have been planted here at Saint Bernadette and are growing abundantly. 
During my after-communion reflection last week, I related how I truly encountered Christ once again, and have been reaffirmed in my vocation, through the beauty, truth, and goodness that I experienced during my assignment here.  Consequently, it occurred to me while writing this column that this is precisely the yeast that leavens the faith of the parish. 
We know that the various vices of our times and culture provide more than enough weeds to choke the faith.  However, the beauty, truth, and goodness that we experience through the liturgies we celebrate, the Gospel that is preached to us, the virtues of our communal life together – not to mention the sheer fact of receiving the living God in the Eucharist and other sacraments – gives us everything we need for the faith to grow and flourish, even in the midst of those weeds.  That is why it is so important for all of us to remain rooted in the Church’s sacramental and communal life, so that we may remain united to Jesus and allow the Kingdom to grow strong in our midst.
So, as I move on to another year of formation in the seminary and another pastoral assignment, I give thanks to God for the presence of Christ here at Saint Bernadette, for the vibrant faith of its parishioners, and for the blessing of spending this short time with you.  The seeds of my own vocation, which I described in my first column as being planted in my own home parish many years ago, have certainly been nourished and continued to grow stronger by my eight weeks here in this parish. 
Please be assured of my continued prayers for you all, and please continue to pray for me and all of my fellow seminarians, that we may remain faithful to the Lord’s call and that we persevere in doing His Will.  May God bless all of you!

Keith Burney

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A word, please?

Words.  Words, words, wordswordswords.  If ever there was a city built on words, it is ours; and if ever there was a life built on words, mine would be it.
At the bottom of this screen is a word count for the document as I write it.  It ticks upward toward my goal of five to six hundred for every one of these columns I write.  Sometimes I exceed it; occasionally I stop short.  Every column I have written since the first of this year is in an electronic folder marked “2014;” I have such folders going back to 2006, when I arrived at this parish that July; and another folder for Old Saint Mary Church, where I was before, with the first “Blurb,” as I call this literary form, dated 17 December 2005.  There are fifty columns each year, each folder.
That is only the beginning.  There are letters and notes and outlines in other folders, then homilies and presentations, and emails somewhere else.  There are also homilies and talks I have given that are not written down, conversations I have had in person and on the phone.  Speaking of phones, mine clutches an array of threads of text messages, also made up of more words, a few of them abbreviated, but rather more misspelled.
The folders full are rarely visited, the text strings even less so.  The words never written are gone forever, never to be recovered or reconstructed.  Lost, forgotten, possibly even wasted – or are they?
Each word that finds a hearer, or a reader, affects and possibly alters the heart or mind that receives it, perhaps as imperceptibly as the storied flap of a butterfly’s wings, but affects it nonetheless.  Each heart, each mind, each life responds, reacts, and relates to these words, often with words of its own, and lives are changed forever.
Ephemeral as they seem, these words, they are famous for being unalterable.  “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” goes the maxim, but neither can you ever unsay anything that’s been said.  Even the word left unspoken can grow to enormous and lasting significance.
Even without perusing my files, I can wonder about the effect of my words, whether it was good or regrettable, or whether there was any at all. 
To pause and take responsibility for these words, each word, and stand honestly before God is a humbling but helpful work.  It is hard to resist this reflection in light of His revelation this Sunday, about the power and purpose of His own Word:
Thus says the LORD: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, 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)
They come out of our mouths, are tapped into our phones and typed onto our screens, and gush out of our mouths with and without thought or preparation, splashing onto hearers both intended and unintended.  If the “folder” that holds them all, each and every one, were to stand open before us for any and all to read, how would we stand?  How could we?
Then must we speak, and utter the only possible word:  Be it done unto me according to your word.  And then shall His Word do its merciful work in our lives, and shall do (His) will, achieving the end for which (He) sent it.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Home and again

Recently, a group of parishioners returned from our first parish mission trip to Haiti, where they visited the geographically remote but personally embracing pastor and people of the parish of Saint Therese of the Infant Jesus, in the diocese of Jeremie.  Immediately after returning, one of the missioners handed me the following letter, which I now share with you.
From: Father Samuel Auguste
            Sicard, Jeremie, Haiti
To: Msgr. Smith  Barthelemy
            Ste. Bernadette Parish, Washington
Object: Thank you!

Msgr. Smith,
            I greet you on behalf of Jesus Christ.
On behalf of the followers of the parish Saint Therese of the Infant Jesus of Sicard, and on my own behalf, I write you this letter in order to thank you for all your support and your heartfelt friendship. 
            Sicard is a new parish that needs very good cooperations.  Thanks be to god, we have started cooperating with some awesome people which you are.
            I was very happy to receive the friends from Saint Bernadette parish of Washington and the gifts that they brought for me and for the kids, such as: copybooks, crayons, school bags, keyboard, t-shirts, the computer, and the pictures drawn by your students.
            I have also received an email regarding the transfer of the 8,000 US dollars to my account.  Unfortunately I haven’t had enough time to withdraw that money before they came to visit my parish, but I thank you a lot for that.
            Finally, I am kindly asking you to transfer my greetings and thanks to all of the ones who contributed to send gifts and money to my parish.
            May God bless you and all of the followers of Saint Bernadette.  Thank you!
                                    Sincerely, Father Samuel Auguste
I hope that warms you more than the summer sun – which I understand is even warmer in the hills of western Haiti!  Our Haiti mission committee, led by Maureen Johnson and Jim Weisgerber, did a marvelous job of discerning the needs of the people of Sicard and how we could offer them something that would bear good fruit in their lives.  They were also eager to remain open to the many gifts that their newfound Haitian brothers and sisters could offer them.  Mutual generosity is the fabric of communion in Christ.  To all who have participated in launching this relationship that will result in a deeper participation in the love of Christ, I give not only Father Samuel's thanks, but also my own.
Nothing makes one grateful for his own nation like visiting another, as I have several times experienced.  This note comes at perfect time to thank God for the unique gifts and genius of our country, whose abundances we enjoy.  Our Independence Day observances should not fail to include sincere thanks to God for this singular grace, as well as our fervent prayer for guidance and protection from all evil, within and without, that could threaten our earthly homeland.  God bless America.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Live from the Rock

Well, now, THAT’s not what I expected, at all.  Last Sunday I mentioned to you who were at the Masses I celebrated that Cardinal Wuerl has assigned me and you a Parochial Vicar – for two months.  Father Christopher Seith, ordained Priest last Saturday, will assist here, where he spent the summer two short years ago as a seminarian, until mid-September, when he will return to Rome, the North American College, and the important work of finishing his graduate degree in theology. 
Everyone who remembers him is excited to hear this.  We enjoyed him then, and he enjoyed being here.  When I saw him Saturday shortly after we had both been informed of this big news, we both just laughed.  In a way it is almost as if he never left!  He knows where in the kitchen the cereal is, and what drawer in the sacristy holds what he needs.  He knows a lot of names, and can even find his way out of Woodmoor without a map.  It is almost too smooth a transition for him.
For me, it means I get to take summer vacation for a change!  I am scrambling around, trying to figure out what I can do to take advantage of this opportunity.  Since I do not need to introduce or instruct him, I have no problem running off and sharing the joy of parish work and parish Masses with him, to introduce him to his new identity in Christ.
This weekend in particular is a great time to reflect on what we receive in Father Seith.  He has been studying in Rome for four years, and has grown acquainted with the successors of Saint Peter, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.  He has been in their presence often and recently.  He brings to our relationship with the Supreme Pontiff a liveliness and personal insight that we could not otherwise enjoy or expect.
As you know, I spent a great deal of time in Rome shortly before coming here as Pastor, and was often in the presence of Popes Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  However, that was almost nine (9!) years ago now and I confess the connection is fading.  My only conversations with our current Holy Father were long ago, brief, and before he enjoyed the graces and responsibilities of the Petrine Office. 
So in a rare year when the great Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul falls on a Sunday, we rejoice to establish a new and personal connection with the Saint Peter of our day, and the church that was founded and formed by Peter with the help of Paul, and nourished not only by their witness and their wisdom, but by their very blood.  Father Seith comes to us directly from the presence of Peter, with not only his words, but also his voice, alive in his heart.
Father Seith arrives here in less than two weeks, on 9 July.  He will be excited to be here again, and delighted to learn from you what it is that you expect from a priest.   You are good teachers; your time with him is short, so do not hesitate to reveal to him, as only you can, what it is that God has entrusted to him in his priesthood.

Monsignor Smith