Saturday, May 18, 2019

Let's not be precipitate

This week I read the news that the preceding 365 days had been the rainiest year-long period in history.  Hah! I thought, with feelings of both vindication and accomplishment, as if my team had achieved some record of performance, or perhaps my prognostication against all odds had come true.  It had indeed been a miserably wet year, getting my attention with the first rainy August I ever remember (yes, August), and a rainy autumn (remember how wretched it was?), followed by a wet and snowy winter, culminating in our current second-consecutive soggy spring.  I knew all along we were onto something big!  
Of course I rushed to read the article that detailed the downpours, which made clear that it was more moisture than had fallen on Washington in any 12-month period since records began being kept….in 1871.
Since 1871?  Really?  A lousy one hundred forty-eight years counts as all “history”?  Our neighborhood has trees older than that.  That period doesn’t even include the American Civil War – and that was some pretty important history, with epic rains playing a big part in it.  "Since 1871" might work for oh, I don’t know, a baseball record; but for a weather record?  There’s been weather for millennia!  
Such overstatement in an effort to make something – or ourselves – seem special is right up there with the (not un-ironic) boast of my college, asserting that its campus features the “longest single-span non-suspension concrete footbridge in the United States,” thereby proving that with enough modifiers, anybody can hold a record.  And “since 1871” does not carry the same heft as would truly all history.
Wasn’t it wet the years Washington’s army wintered at Valley Forge?  Didn’t it rain an awful lot right before Martin Luther unleashed the protestant deformation?  I seem to recall that the Magna Carta was signed in the midst of historic rainfall, and I am pretty sure that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon only after waiting for unmatched floods to recede.  And let’s not even go into what Noah had to say about his whole experience with rain and that ark of his.
C’mon, folks, hyperbole is fun, but let’s remember what is truly history.  I’m pretty sure that Saint Bernadette has the winningest 12-and-under girls’ softball team in the history of Archdiocese of Washington CYO.  And that is something to be proud of, but always with an appreciative eye on the modifiers.  
How much did it rain the year that Our Lord died on the cross for us?  That’s a question, though no system was in place to measure or record heaven’s tears. How much did the average temperature drop when Adam and Eve lost the warmth of intimate union with their Creator, to which we habitually attribute a gentle, semi-tropical climate even more perfect than San Diego’s?  
You and I who know our God have a richer understanding of history than statisticians of any specialization.  All time begins with God’s loving into being (bang!) this universe for us, and will be fulfilled only when His saving Word completes the work for which he sent Him to dwell among us, in history.  Time, place, and event would otherwise mark only our futilities, and progress would have no purpose or goal without Him.  Only God’s taking flesh in the incarnation, then offering it to his Father in his Passion and death, bringing about His resurrection and ours, is perfectly unique in all history.  Everything else is just, well, singin’ in the rain.  
Truly He is risen! Alleluia.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Mother and Sons

When better than Mother’s Day to direct our attention to what one of the sons of our parish is doing?  Ben Petty, since last September a Deacon, will be ordained to the Holy Priesthood this June, and he counts Saint Bernadette as his mother parish. He looks lovingly on his home church for all she gave him as he discerned his vocation in the life of our Risen Eucharistic Lord; now is the time for us to return that gaze.
Religious Education families in particular are likely to remember (then-) Mr. Petty as one of the teachers of our second graders preparing for First Holy Communion.  He also sang for several years with our nine o’clock Mass choir.  
All of us who know him and even you who don’t should plan to go to the Priesthood Ordination at 10:00 AM on Saturday 15 June at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.   Ben is one of ten men being ordained for our Archdiocese – a cause for great joy.  If you have never before attended an ordination Mass, this would be a great opportunity to fix that.
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.  Ben’s first Mass (by then he’ll be Father Petty) will be here at our 11:00 Parish Mass on Sunday 16 June (Father’s Day).  Another tradition is that a new priest invites a priest who has been an influence on him to preach at his First Mass, so Father Peter Harman, Rector of the Pontifical North American College, will be the homilist.  Father Harman is a friend of mine, too, and a gifted speaker. He was two years behind me in seminary, and always one of the funniest people in the building.  You will not be disappointed.
After the Mass there will be a festive reception in the school hall.  Ben will have invited his family and many friends for his ordination, and they will be here for the first Mass, so they will be our guests at the reception.  We will want to have friendly greeters, helpful guides, and many other hospitable hosts to make the day go smoothly.  And of course, we hope everybody from the community turns out to share in the celebration.  Margaret McDermott and Jasmine Kuzner are coordinating the plans; please contact them to find out what you can do to help.   
The Priesthood Ordination on 15 June will be a chance to see our new Archbishop, Wilton Gregory,in action.  If you do not want to wait that long, you can join the throng to greet him at his Mass of Installation at 2:00 PM on Tuesday 21 May, also at the Basilica.  You’ll want to get there early; the procession, with its handful of Cardinals, dozens of Bishops and Archbishops, hundreds of priests, and herds of deacons and seminarians is scheduled to start at 1:30, so most people will try to be there by one o’clock.
Ben Petty is the first Son of Saint Bernadette to be ordained since 2012, when Father Patrick Lewis, currently Parochial Vicar at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda was ordained.  The most recent before that for our own Archdiocese was Father Walter Tappe, in 1985; he’s now Pastor of St. Hugh in Greenbelt.  
But we have also given priests to other dioceses and communities:  Father Brian Kane, ordained in 2000 for the Diocese of Lincoln; Father David Meng for the Diocese of Arlington; Fr. Gregory Coyne of Opus Dei; and Father George Zahn of the Diocese of Richmond.  
It’s enough to make a mother (church) proud, but of course, there’s never enough.  Now that Ben will be finishing seminary, it’s time to see who is the next to begin - maybe someone from your family?  With that thought, Happy Mother’s Day!   Christ is risen from the dead; truly He is risen.  Alleluia!
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, May 04, 2019


It is one of the hardest things to teach or to learn about driving: how to keep one’s eyes and attention on the way ahead, where the vehicle will be, instead of where it is.    Harder still is to see and understand where other cars, other moving vehicles and objects will be, and how that will affect the intended path.  I love to drive, and I especially enjoy it when all my senses and awareness are attuned to this complex progress of objects and motion, allowing me to pilot my vehicle smoothly and even gracefully through the chaos that congests our roadways.  
There is a sense in which this is a microcosm of life, how we pilot our persons and responsibilities on the way.  For our families and for our work, we have to be aware of the road ahead and what else is on it.  We have to be aware beforehand of opportunities and hazards, to plan ahead and prepare.  
This is no less true for me as pastor with the parish. Here it is First Holy Communion weekend and I am looking at all of May as if it were a single stretch of (highly congested) roadway, with events and obligations, for most of which I have been preparing since early Lent.  Ben Petty’s ordination to the Priesthood and First Mass here Father’s Day weekend seem like day after tomorrow on the to-do list.  And the start of school (yes, the START of school) is what I’m discussing in my meetings with Mr. Ewanciw, our principal.
Right now, most people I know have their eye on summertime and a list of things they have to accomplish before then.  And I can’t say I’m terribly different; so I know how this happens.  But I also know that it comes at great price. Rather like the choir, who must always be practicing the Easter Alleluias in the middle of Lent, our future obligations can invade our present moments. 
And this present moment, this one right now, holds for us a gift of enormous value and delight.  This present moment, in fact, reveals before our eyes if we open them the repair of all damage we have suffered, and inflicted; this present moment offers us the provision and preparation for all that we hope to accomplish. 
In this present moment, Jesus, the Son of God, whom all the prophets promised and of whom all the psalms sing, the One Who is coming into the world, stands before us face to face.  In this present moment, Jesus, the Holy One of God Whom we put to death by hanging Him on a tree with the nails of our sins and disregard, comes to us and says: Peace be with you.  In this present moment, Jesus the Anointed One, the Bridegroom, calls to us and promises that He will be faithful to us, saying: come, have breakfast.
As I offer our children their First Holy Communion, I see in their eyes and hear in the breath of their whispered Amen the simple awareness of the present moment.  The excitement and preparation give way to that instant, the intimate encounter when their Lord and Friend comes to be welcomed and to dwell in them.  And in that glance, I see Him look at me.
It is one of the hardest things to teach or to learn about living: how to keep one’s eyes and attention on the gift and mystery directly in front of us, to see where our life is, instead of trying to figure out where it will be.   Open your eyes to the feast that is before you: Christ is risen from the dead; truly He is risen.  Alleluia!
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Give Gratitude

Blessing the New Fire before the Easter Vigil

Retrieving a flame to light the Easter Candle -- without setting myself on fire
It was truly a great and holy Holy Week, and Easter Sunday was magnificent.  It was also a LOT of work, for a LOT of people.  Please take time to thank someone who worked to make Easter so marvelous – whether it was the church itself, or the grounds, or the liturgy, or the music, or the reception on the lawn, or any other of the two hundred fifty nine moving parts that meshed smoothly together to give glory to the Risen Lord.  Take a moment to thank them.  I do; and I thank you for what you contributed, and for being here to rejoice with us.  God bless you with Easter joy!  Christ is risen from the dead; truly He is risen.  Alleluia!

The sanctuary was still stripped and barren until 11:30 Holy Saturday morning.
Count the moving parts in this photo - candles, sticks, flowers, 

pots, cloths, covers, tables etc. - and try to guess
how many people it required to get the church into Full Festal Mode by 1:30

It was a perfect day to celebrate the Resurrection
and enjoy the reception on the lawn,
with so many home-made treats that parishioners brought!

The Annual Egg Hunt On the Lawn proceeded precisely
and with just the right degree of chaos among all our smaller revelers.

The whole idea was to make people want to linger and visit.
The preparations were so thorough that it seemed as if
everything just came together in the moment.

There was some very festive lingering going on;
guess how many people had to work to make THAT happen!

Our Altar Servers made our worship unfold beautifully.
For each multi-hour liturgy, there was a multi-hour rehearsal,
and they worked through it all without complaint!

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Eye has not seen...

Parishioner Jim Haynes shares what he thinks the Resurrection looked like.
What does Easter look like?  Bunnies and eggs?  Spring flowers, dresses, and hats?  That’s what you’ll find on an Easter card, but why?  Christmas cards have the beautiful child and His mother, approachable and adorable, easy to understand and easier to love.  Easter, though, is trickier to picture – just what does resurrection from the dead actually look like?
It happened at night, and nobody was watching.  Sure, artists have tried to depict it, but I have to admit it’s not their most convincing work.  Even to the witnesses, only the result was visible – Jesus in the flesh; He who was dead, now alive and among us.   But even that is hard to capture, because sometimes his friends recognized Him (It is the Lord!), and sometimes they didn’t (Where have you taken him?).  Once Risen, Christ was somehow the same as before, and somehow – we’re not sure how – very different.  Even Blessed Fra Angelico showed the confusion of the ones who discovered the empty tomb, and the Risen Lord Himself as as-yet-unseen background.  That’s the Resurrection.  
Fra Angelico shows that the Resurrection was confusing
partly because of what the witnesses themselves saw -- and didn't see.

Traditional symbols of Easter point to something basic, something good and essential, but hard to capture on a greeting card: life itself. But those flowers and eggs and bunnies were not dead beforehand.  Easter is about life where before there was only death; Easter is about the Resurrection.
There is nothing more final than death, nothing deader than dead.  There is nothing to be done about it.  Until death comes, we can still hope (for improvement); but once it does come, whether we deny it or accept it, we cannot change it.  And it comes for us all.
Resurrection changes the unchangeable: this one was dead, and now he is not.  Unlike Lazarus, or that kid in Iowa with stories of heaven, He will never again die. They were called backto life; Jesus moved forward, into something new and different, at the same time both familiar and unrecognizable.  That’s hard to picture.
Resurrection is hard to get our brains around.  Some folks give up, and put Easter in some more intelligible category: a ruse (they stole the body); a mistake (they didn’t quite kill him, and later he felt better); or a misrepresentation (they remembered him so vividly that it seemed to the community of disciples that he was alive and with them).
Resurrection is more attractive than eggs or flowers or colors or candy, because it is not only something very, very good, but it is that very good something precisely where beforehand, even to think of something good was completely impossible.
We know about improbable; maybe even about impossible.  The most impossible thing we know is … ourselves. You or someone you know may be tempted to think, I am too rotten, too far gone, for anyone to be interested in me; I‘ve had too many chances, and blown them all; I have hurt someone too badly, or I’ve ignored God too long for Him even to have my current address!  But are you more rotten, more distant than dead?  I think not!
God has accomplished the most improbable thing ever in the Resurrection of His Son Jesus from the dead.  And if He can do that, you and I know that He can do something for us – even for us.  For if Christ is raised from the dead, then you and I can be raised – from wherever we are!
For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:16-20)
Improbable, maybe; impossible?  Not!  Oh, we cannot say that this is something that we ourselves have accomplished, or ever hope to accomplish.  But we can look to Him who knows us, and look to Him for mercy.  
The Risen Christ Himself was somehow the same as before, and somehow – we’re not sure how – very different.  Resurrection.  Easter means even though somehow – we’re not sure how – we ourselves will look very different, it is possible that the resurrection of the dead will look like me; Easter means it is probable that the resurrection of the dead will look like you.
A blessed Easter to you all, and to your families, friends, and most beloved ones. Hats and dresses, flowers and eggs are good; even very good.  But we are not in this for the chocolate, beloved brothers and sisters; we are in this for resurrection and life. Christ is risen from the dead; truly He is risen.  Alleluia!

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Answer me.

My people, what have I done to you?
Or in what have I grieved you?
Answer me.
(Refrain for the Reproaches, Solemn Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday)
Way back at the beginning of Lent, I lurched into action to lead the first parish celebration of the Stations of the Cross. The first one is always a bit clunky and uneven, since I am out of practice, and so is everyone present.  In that regard, this year was no different.
However, as I began speaking the prayers that direct our minds to the Passion of the Lord, and the steps along His way, this year was different.  Part of it was the crowd; it was large, the size we normally have toward the end of Lent once everybody is in the habit.  But part of it was how the prayers and Scripture passages that crossed my lips made sense.  The words could have been my words, could have been the words of the whole local church.  
My people, what have I done to you?
Or in what have I grieved you?
Answer me.
As a priest, I often give voice to the words of Christ, and in so doing speak not for myself, but for Him.  To accompany Him that Friday evening on His suffering way and give my voice to His words reminded me that He asks for, in fact takes for his own, more than just my voice, but my flesh and my whole self.  This is a daily experience for me, but in that first Way of the Cross it touched me in my inmost being.
As the whole congregation at Stations would drop down on one knee and then stand again, as we moved through the Christ’s falling for the first, the second, and the third time, then stayed down as He died on the Cross, it was manifest that I am not alone in having my voice and my flesh inhabited by the Suffering Servant.  He takes flesh in His body, the Church, and corporately we endure with Him the suffering that we ourselves have brought about.
The church has suffered grievously in these days, our local church of Washington in a particular and intense way.  It has been hard to find the Lord in such shame and scheming as we have been forced to endure.  Some have concluded that He is not here, and walked away.
However, because we did not walk away, and because we participate in these devotions and liturgies where we personally and physically put ourselves next to Christ in His Passion, we have the opportunity to recognize how more than we ever take on His suffering, Our Lord has taken on our suffering.
Stations of the Cross never made so much sense to me as it did that first Friday of this Lent, after all the grief inflicted over the past ten months upon us who love the Lord and His Church.  Since we entered the Passiontide last week and veiled the crosses and images, and Jesus has moved about secretly because of all who are trying to kill him, I have known how close He is to us.  
This week, as we lend our voices not to Him, but to those who shout Crucify him, we can find in our own hope for mercy and forgiveness, the ground for the hope of the Church.  Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do, says the Lord.  Never before have we so needed to hear those words, and so needed to lend them our voices.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 06, 2019

New boss

Well, it would seem that we have a new Archbishop.  If it seemed like a long wait to you, you are not alone in that sentiment.  It is rare for Washington or an Archdiocese of this significance to have to wait for so long, but the circumstances under which we found ourselves orphaned were unusual, to put it gently.  To be circumspect, you should know that most dioceses have to wait at least that long before receiving their new bishop, even when the departure of the predecessor could easily be anticipated with precision.  It is just the way these things work; it’s almost as if the Church doesn’t want to seem so rude as to be expecting a bishop to leave his see, or eager to pick his “replacement.”  
We will all get to know Archbishop Wilton Gregory better over coming months.  The first step is now to pray for him, by name, and not only at Mass.  Our spiritual health and well-being are in his hands, and we depend upon him for the grace the Lord wants us to have through that most indispensable element of our relationship with Him, the Apostles. Our genuine concern and fervent prayer for him will not only reflect this reality, but will open us to knowledge and understanding of him that is given only to those in spiritual communion.
In the meantime, you can root around on the Internet for his curriculum vitae or other information about him, as well as writings or homilies by him.  He’s been around for ages – and by “around” I mean “prominent”.  He was president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ twenty years ago.  I just now realized that means he would have spent a lot of time in Washington, where the Conference has its headquarters and many meetings.   He was made a bishop the year after I finished high school, thirty-six years ago, after ten whole years as a priest.  Like our two previous archbishops, he has had one (1) assignment in a parish.  His lasted more than double theirs combined, though – three years!   
One thing I did not know before I started reading was that he converted to the Catholic Faith when he was ten.  Like our own Fr. Scott Woods, he determined he was called to be a priest even before he was Catholic!  
One cannot accumulate all his experience quickly, though, so he is now already seventy-one years old.  That might make it harder on him to make the transition to our local church. He does have one advantage, though, in that he doesn’t need to learn all that bishop-stuff, like how to do the job, or what to wear when; nor will he have to work to get to know the other bishops, or get to know all the folks who run things in Rome.  He has known and worked closely with them all for decades! 
Maybe that will leave him lots of time to get to know us. There must be some perks that come with being Archbishop of Washington, and I am convinced that would be one of them.
Monsignor Smith