Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ever ancient, ever new

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
These are the last words we heard from Jesus before the shift.  All through the sixth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel that we have been reading for the past five weeks, He had been laying out the essential intimacy He offers in His Body and Blood.   This week we shift back to the Gospel of Saint Mark, but these words still ring in our ears.
They are words he addressed to those closest to Him.  They are words that require an answer. They are words that He addresses also to us.
Jesus asks The Twelve, those whom He has called to be His Apostles, whether they too will leave because of His insistence that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood.  Many of His disciples have already parted ways with Him and gone back to their former ways; He offers them the same possibility. 
There is no way to ignore the question, an either/or proposition.  Never before has there been a better time to break away from Jesus – right when so many others are doing it.  Never again will there be such a convenient time -- things will only get more intense as He moves toward Calvary.  Saint Peter’s response is a plaintive, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of everlasting life,” that sums up the position of his companions.  They do not yet know where they are going, but they know whom they will follow.
Like all of Scripture, these words are living and active.  That means Jesus looks to us, too, with the same love and mercy with which He looked to the twelve, and with the same question, offering the same opportunity.   “Do you also want to leave?”
The shift this week back to the chronology of Saint Mark’s Gospel is not the only shift; as families return from their summer vacations in preparation for school, shift their schedules, and shift the Mass they attend to accommodate those schedules.  There is also a shift in focus as everyone gets back to business from summer leisure. 
But there is also a perceptible shift in the culture and society we inhabit, a shift away from many of the basic elements of life that were taken for granted for generations and centuries.  Things are changing fast, and those changes do not represent a renewed dedication to the Lord Jesus Christ, Risen Son of God. 
It is important for us to realize that the latter shift – in the culture, in society – is no more or less remarkable than the shift in family schedules.  Societies change, like the seasons.  Nations and the fabric of nations are not fixed things.  How such things were is not how those things will be.  As we accommodate the shift that the change in seasons brings, we must address, and yes accommodate, the shift that the change in society brings.
The marvel of the Holy Eucharist is that in its singular indispensability, it offers also universal availability.  It is possible to be faithful to Christ in the Mass while at the beach, or while traveling abroad, just as much as it is while we are at home and in our routines.  You saw when you went to Mass at Bethany Beach or wherever you wandered this summer; how many of your brothers and sisters faithfully kept Christ’s command even as their routine shifted.  Now you will see the faithful folks who shift back home. 
Things shift; not only predictable, seasonal things, but big things, societal things, and cultural things.  What does not shift is that essential intimacy Jesus offers us in His Most Sacred Body and Precious Blood.  What does not shift is the Word of God: words Jesus addressed to those closest to Him; words that require an answer; words that He addresses also to us.
“Do you also want to leave?”
 Monsignor Smith

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

News you can use

The Pope is coming,
and this is how you
can get tickets.

Many are eager to attend the Mass with Pope Francis on Wednesday, September 23, at 4:15 PM, on the grounds of the Catholic University of America at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  I would love to be able to offer a ticket to everyone who would like to attend!  However, the number of tickets available is limited, and the number given to Saint Bernadette for our registered parishioners is very small.  I will do my best to allocate our tickets fairly.
The Mass will be IN SPANISH.   The tickets we have been allotted are of three different types: one is for open seating at the Mass; another is for standing room at the Mass; a third is for “in the Shrine,” and I confess that I do not know precisely what that indicates.  Some seats and standing areas have obstructed views.  Huge televisions will be deployed to make up for what is lacking, and I assume that would include the interior of the Shrine.  
Please realize that due to crowd size and heavy security restrictions, Mass attendees will be required to arrive at the Shrine/CUA hours ahead of time.  Moreover, it has not yet been decided whether the parish or the archdiocese will arrange transportation.  Those provisions will be announced by the end of August, but for now you must prepare for the necessity of getting there on your own.  Current recommendations for arriving start at 10:00 (!), and indicate a deadline for being in your seat by no later than 3:00.   There will be a program of music and other activities to help this time be more joyful.  
Because they are so scarce, tickets will be assigned individually and by name.  Therefore, each individual who desires a ticket must make an individual request.  For each request that we are able to fulfill, only one ticket will be given.  This means, for example, that if you and your spouse both want to attend, each must make a separate request.  If your family gets fewer tickets than you have members who want to attend, you will know then how I feel right now!  Your request also must affirm that, if given a ticket, you yourself will attend the Papal Mass.  If you are later prevented from using the ticket, the honorable and appropriate action would be to return it to the rectory. 
Please submit your individual ticket request in writing, by a letter addressed to me, mailed or delivered to the rectory; OR by email at reception@stbernadetteschurch.org with “Papal Mass” and your name on the subject line.  Please include an explanation of why you want to attend the Mass, and how you your presence at this sacred event would represent our parish well.  It almost goes without saying that making a request does not guarantee a ticket.
Requests must be received by close of business Friday, August 28, and we will notify only those who are awarded tickets.  Do not despair if you hear nothing; last time we had a Papal Mass, additional tickets became available up to the very day before the Mass!  
Thank you for your cooperation and understanding.   

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Cy & I

You know I have no illusions that mine are the only words that can instruct or illuminate; on the contrary, I am eager to share with you what illumination is to be found in the writings of others, especially in the treasury of the early Church.  I hope you will enjoy this reflection on the Church from one of the great catechists of the late fourth century.
  Monsignor Smith

The Church is the bride of Christ. 
The Catholic Church is the distinctive name of this holy Church which is the mother of us all.  She is the bride of our Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God (for Scripture says:  Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her).  She is the type and she bears the image of the Jerusalem above that is free and is the mother of us all, that Jerusalem which once was barren but now has many children.


The first assembly, that is, the assembly of Israel, was rejected, and now in the second, that is, in the Catholic Church, God has appointed first, apostles, second, prophets, third, teachers then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators and speakers in various tongues, as Paul says;  and together with these is found every sort of virtue -- wisdom and understanding, self-control and justice, mercy and kindness, and invincible patience in persecution.  This Church in earlier days, when persecution and afflictions abounded, crowned her holy martyrs with the varied and many-flowered wreaths of endurance.  But now when God has favored us with times of peace, she receives her due honor from kings and men of high station, and from every condition and race of mankind.  And while the rulers of the different nations have limits to their sovereignty, the holy Catholic Church alone has a power without boundaries throughout the entire world. For Scripture says: God has made peace her border.


Instructed in this holy Catholic Church and bearing ourselves honorably, we shall gain the kingdom of heaven and inherit eternal life.  For the sake of enjoying this at the Lord’s hands, we endure all things.  The goal set before us is no trifling one; we are striving for eternal life. In the Creed, therefore, after professing our faith “in the resurrection of the body,” that is, of the dead, which I have already discussed, we are taught to believe “in life everlasting,” and for this as Christians we are struggling.


Now real and true life is none other than the Father, who is the fountain of life and who pours forth his heavenly gifts on all creatures through the Son in the Holy Spirit, and the good things of eternal life are faithfully promised to us men also, because of his love for us.

Cyril Bishop of Jerusalem  (+386)  

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Not My Own Work

A few months ago, David Barringer, longtime parishioner and bulletin-reader, wrote me to share his experience of writing a newsletter column, sympathizing with me over the challenges of finding and addressing topics regularly.  I found this example of his writing for the national Saint Vincent de Paul Society to be worth sharing, not least because it gives me a week off.  Enjoy!  
Monsignor Smith
How many of us are guilty by association?
One person’s “special interest group” seeking attention from Congress is another person’s “my voice in Washington.”  Last week I attended the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) annual American Associations Day on Capitol Hill.  ASAE represents more than 10,000 tax-exempt organizations representing individuals, business and trade groups and even membership societies such as our Society.  Associations are some of the leading adult-education providers in the country.  They set standards for industry groups so that government doesn’t need to step in. And they represent their members.  Or do they?
That’s the challenge facing each of us. We may think we are simply saving a few bucks on insurance when we join a group such as AARP, but does this mean we subscribe to the “values” AARP then takes to the Hill? When we register for a National Rifle Association course, buy a map from AAA, or even just join a neighborhood homeowner association, how much of our beliefs and opinions get transferred with the membership?  Not to pick on the groups above, because all associations do this to some level, but when they say they represent us, do they really?  Or have we inadvertently sold our values in order to save a few dollars or to take part in a desired activity?
In these days of suspected Internet hacking, personal data insecurity and identity theft, isn’t it ironic that we might just give this stuff away when we sign on a dotted line?  We scream when our name is on a mailing list, but when we ordered that online purchase or applied for a new driver license, you can be assured that our name and address ended up somewhere else.  Someone is counting you in their numbers.  And how do you think you got called for jury duty?
As a member of the Society of St. Vincent DePaul, I hope you know exactly what we stand for and against. We have position papers that reflect the views of the Catholic Church and the USCCB on matters of life, wages other sensitive topics.  We are transparent, and consistent, in our beliefs. Your Society membership not so much defines your beliefs as it reinforces them for a faithful Catholic.
Would it shock you that Progressive life insurance was created in part to help the owner fund very progressive causes? Or that the national Girl Scouts organization supports abortion choices?  According to some allegations on the Internet, your purchases of car insurance or Thin Mints may help fund things in direct conflict with your values.
As Americans we have a Constitutional right to assemble, meaning that we can join voluntary groups to represent our views before Congress and local government.  I fear though that out of convenience and perhaps some laziness, we might at times allow groups to speak for us inappropriately.  Our voice counts, and so do our dollars. Our choices, actively or passively, grant others license to speak for us.  This gives us even greater buying power in a sense, but only if we are vigilant activists in our choices.
Take a few minutes to check out your membership cards and receipts and find out who your memberships and purchases say you really are.  So, what’s in your wallet?  Or more so, who is in your wallet?

Yours in Christ,     Dave Barringer

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Unforgettable

There are many homilies that I remember.  From when I was discerning my vocation and participating at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral, there are several from Cardinal Hickey, and a few from Father Brainerd.  From my days in seminary, there are the good, the bad, and the ugly from the faculty – all of them good for a chuckle from my classmates.  From my time as a priest secretary in Rome, these two from Cardinal Ratzinger: his address to Pope Saint John Paul II upon the twenty-fifth anniversary of his pontificate, and his “dictatorship of relativism” talk from the Mass of the Holy Spirit before the 2005 Conclave that elected him to the Chair of Peter. 
But from much before that, I cannot point to very many homilies that have staying power, with one exception.  When I was a kid in Birmingham, going to Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows, we occasionally had the pleasure of a guest priest.  He was the abbot of the Benedictine monastery in Cullman, about forty minutes north of us.  Though I really did not know what a Benedictine monk was, I knew we called him Abbot Hilary, and I was always pleased when he came.  I liked his preaching and his manner of celebrating Mass, both of which he did with particular care and delight. 
This weekend we interrupt our year-long reading of the Gospel of Mark for a five-week detour into the Gospel of John.  We begin with the feeding of the multitude, picking up neatly from where Mark left us last week, but leading us where Mark did not choose to go: with Jesus to Capernaum, and the square in front of the synagogue there.  The throng that has been fed once seeks to be fed again, and Jesus responds by teaching them how, and what, He will feed them.
It requires five Sundays to move through a single chapter, John Chapter Six, a Scriptural citation that should come easily to every Catholic, and every Christian for that matter.  It is the Eucharistic Discourse that John gives us in order to understand this mystery that is at the heart of the relationship and life that Jesus offers us.  The other Evangelists explain the Eucharist in the presentation of the Last Supper, where John focuses on the mandatum, the washing of the feet.  But there is no room to believe that he did not emphasize the Eucharist, and this chapter makes that clear.
What Jesus proposed in that square to that crowd was scandalous and repellent then, but to us has become so familiar that it might lose its meaning.  As Jesus directs the hungry crowd to hunger instead for what he will give them, we have a chance to hear the same invitation in our own circumstance.  In anger and disgust, many reject his offer and walk away, then and now.  He concludes with the poignant question, Do you also want to leave?  We hear Peter’s answer, but He stands waiting for ours.
The homily I remember from my youth is Abbot Hilary’s on the final portion of John Chapter Six, when Jesus poses to his listeners, and to us, this choice of how to respond to His offered Body and Blood.   The response that I chose led me to be in a position to propose the same choice to you.  Over these five weeks, you may or may not hear, much less ever recall, my preaching on this vital element in our Faith.  But do not let the words of the Holy Gospel reach your ears in vain, for it is what Jesus says to the multitude at Capernaum that should be one of the homilies that you remember.

Monsignor Smith