Saturday, December 03, 2016

Lost and found

A leaf buds, spreads its green enthusiasm to the sun, and having given months of shade, turns brilliant red and then falls to the ground.  A child sees its worth, and having chosen it from among a thousand of its like, excitedly carries it home, presses it between pages, fixes it to a note written in complementary color of crayon, and offers it to mom.
The beauty at the heart of the gift is the leaf, piles of which become a problem, but isolated and elevated by care and preparation, it has become a matchless token of that most precious but invisible reality, love.  It is a simple and seasonal example of what I have come to call a found good, something that is already good in itself when it is taken up to be made better by human care and attention -- and intention.
Many artists use found goods in their works, but then so do many children, decorators, bakers, and especially lovers.  A found good need not be in a pristine state of nature; it can also be something into which someone previously had poured great labor and skill, even genius, but then the finder takes it up as he finds it and directs it toward a new purpose never intended by its first craftsman.
In turning a found good to a new purpose, man reveals how he is in the image and likeness of God, bringing something new from what had ever been thus.  Human creativity is an echo of the Creator's.  But man's efforts can go only so far, limited by the goodness of what is found: that planter full of petunias cannot soar too far above the limited splendor of the discarded truck tire from which it was fashioned.
Predictably, God achieves greater things.  In making Himself present and active to people, places, and times far beyond his long-ago earthly footprint, Jesus chose found goods and raised them to the level of encounter with the living God: a water bath, ointment, bread, wine, and words of forgiveness.  Even that most ancient and universal "good", found among all cultures in all times, the lifetime covenant of faithful love between man and woman, Jesus "found" and elevated to be a place where His own divine love and fidelity would erupt and work in the world.
Thus we are blessed by God to rejoice in the sacraments, which look and feel so ordinary, and indeed all begin that way.  But we approach them with reverence, and touch them only with holy trepidation.  The obedience of the Church and the working of the Holy Spirit convert these once-found goods to new purpose and content, making them more than mere tokens: actual vehicles of that most precious and invisible reality, divine love.
This is the awesome work of our divine worship.  Like the child who finds the beautiful leaf, and by directed care and attention, with intention, we cooperate with Christ in re-creating and re-newing not only the found goods that become His presence and work in the world, but also in the re-creation and re-newal of our very selves.
All this marvel and glory in which we bask is begun in the careful work of a child, in fact an infant, whose birth we now constrain ourselves to anticipate.  He found upon the ground not a leaf, but our very flesh, human nature itself, fallen and trampled.  With loving recognition He looked, and with a plan in mind He took up that found good:  And Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  (Phil 2:5-7)   He is the image of the invisible God.  (Col 1:15)
“Oh God, Who did wonderfully create and ennoble human nature, and still more wonderfully did renew it…”  (Roman Missal)  Behold, I make all things new. (Rev 21:5)  Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Spirit moves

Already it has been five years since you got your Spirit back.  Do remember?  How for decades we had responded “And also with you,” to “The Lord be with you,” then suddenly everything changed, and the one big change was “And with your Spirit?” 
Sure, there were also “under my roof” and “consubstantial with the Father,” but the first and most frequent hurdle was, “And with your Spirit.”  All of it came with the new English translation of the Roman Missal, introduced the first Sunday of Advent in 2011. 
Have you gotten used to it yet?  I still find some awkwardness, but only at funerals or weddings, when people are present who don’t attend Mass often, or at all.  The other awkwardness is when I participate in Mass at some other place, and the music used for the Mass commons (the parts like the Gloria or Holy Holy that happen at most or all Masses) is the same music from before the change.  Because the music was composed for the old words, and used with the old words, it makes people sing the old words!  
There were many, many more changes for us priests.  All the proper prayers (the ones that are specific to each particular day, season, or feast) were re-translated, and these make an enormous difference.  Especially the collects (the prayer just for that day that is said by the priest at the opening of the Mass) have much more theological content and complexity.  Now they are more useful to understanding what the Church believes, often lending themselves to incorporation into the homily.  The texts of the Eucharistic Prayers, which the priest says for the Consecration, are much more accurate in their presentation of the actual Latin prayers.  Therefore, there is much more there to make clear what is happening at the heart of every Mass.
All around it is an enormous enrichment over the previous translation, both in content and style.  But it is change, which is always hard.  Do you know someone who still dislikes the change, or maybe has drifted away from the Mass over the past five years, because of the difficulty they had with the change -- whether they realize it or not?  If they talk about it with you, are you able to encourage them to push through the difficulty to reach the reward?
One of the principal characteristics of good liturgy is its consistency, even (especially?) in the face of change in all other aspects of life.  It is an indication of just how vital this change really is that the Church thought this important enough to ask all her English-speaking parishioners around the world to undergo such a change.  So the trouble it causes to some people is not itself the goal, but an acknowledged cost that will have a great and in fact indispensable benefit. 
This realization should help us to appreciate why we went through it, and therefore to help people who resent or resist the changes, or even unconsciously found the change alienated them.  There is an enormous enrichment to our prayer and understanding that these changes make possible. 
Five years is long enough to assimilate a change of this import, and many of us have already totally adjusted – at least those of us who have also changed the musical settings, and not only the texts.  So this is a good time to examine intentionally the prayers that now are more familiar, and discover the deep riches they bear for us.  It may also help you help someone you know and even love to make the effort and overcome the difficulty of the change. 
Help them want the increased understanding and richer insight that the translation offers.  Start the conversation, shed the light, and invite them to join you again in this richer new liturgical relationship with the living God.  This is the purpose for which you got “your Spirit” back!
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, November 19, 2016

All hail

After a long slog through the Four Last Things, it is time to rejoice in the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end:  Jesus Christ, who is King of Heaven and Earth. 
When we look at the powers that contend for our affections and attentions in this world, we can become quite alarmed.  After the appalling display that accompanied our recent elections, I lack much hope for those who govern us even in this most remarkable of nations.  Human frailty and original sin seem to be the sole constant.  Comparing ours to the situations of most of the rest of the world can make us feel only somewhat better.  But we ought not despair.
It is not my proximity to the marbled halls of power and shining domes of sovereignty that give me courage.  It is a chair I have in the corner of our church, in a little room, behind a curtain.  There, regularly, I hear speeches of those who come before the King.  They seek for themselves not power or approval, but mercy.  Aware of their sins, with sorrow for their shortcomings, they come in humility and supplication.
In their hope for forgiveness, I see reflected the glory of the one true sovereign.  They approach His throne neither with fear, nor with flattery.  They know their Lord, and they know He is stronger than sin, stronger even than death, for He has already achieved the victory over both.  They know he possesses full power over heaven and earth, and lays it all down in sacrifice for them, that they may have life, and have a share in that glory.  That is real leadership for our lives; that is our one hope for real change.  It is the mercy of our King. 
While citizenship in this fair Republic showers many gifts upon us along with its challenges, we gladly kneel before our true King.  Let us thank God that in this land of red versus blue, we have the gift that is greater than gold: the freely given life of our Lord, who reigns from the Cross.  In loyalty to Him, let us lay down our pride and power and acclaim Him by our repentance for our sins, and our sacrifices of love.
This is all He desires from us, that we acknowledge our need for His mercy, and turn toward Him and away from sin.  We learn from Him not to grasp at power and might, but to seek mercy, and offer it.  To rule with Him is to serve in charity.  This is the stuff of the Kingdom that will endure forever, the path to our sharing in the reign of Him who is Lord of all.
Trumpets and banners; ermine, velvet, and gilt; rank upon rank in uniform and decoration raising eyes and voices in salute and dedication: these are the hallmarks we conjure when thinking of a king.   But the condemned criminal who died next to Jesus recognized His Kingship without any of those things.
 “The sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Praise God for revealing to us who truly rules over us, and the triumph of the Holy Cross that is His true throne.  Praised be Jesus Christ our King, now and forever.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Continuing Resolution

Since I delved into civic responsibility last week, I thought perhaps we could find a few pointers in Scripture and the Church Fathers to give us help is discerning how to move forward after our recent election.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.  (Romans 13:1-7)
Honor all men.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:17)
To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments. (from the Letter to Diognetus (from Mathetes) 2nd Century AD)
For we offer prayer for the safety of our princes to the eternal, the true, the living God, whose favour, beyond all others, they must themselves desire. They know from whom they have obtained their power; they know, as they are men, from whom they have received life itself; they are convinced that He is God alone, on whose power alone they are entirely dependent, to whom they are second, after whom they occupy the highest places… For he himself is His to whom heaven and every creature appertains.  He gets his sceptre where he first got his humanity; his power where he got the breath of life. …Without ceasing, for all our emperors we offer prayer.  We pray for life prolonged; for security to the empire; for protection to the imperial house; for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the world at rest, whatever, as man or C├Žsar, an emperor would wish.  These things I cannot ask from any but the God from whom I know I shall obtain them, both because He alone bestows them and because I have claims upon Him for their gift, as being a servant of His, rendering homage to Him alone, persecuted for His doctrine, offering to Him, at His own requirement, that costly and noble sacrifice of prayer… (Tertullian: Apologeticus pro Christianis, XXX, AD 197)
There is also another and a greater necessity for our offering prayer in behalf of the emperors, nay, for the complete stability of the empire, and for Roman interests in general. For we know that a mighty shock impending over the whole earth—in fact, the very end of all things threatening dreadful woes—is only retarded by the continued existence of the Roman empire.  We have no desire, then, to be overtaken by these dire events; and in praying that their coming may be delayed, we are lending our aid to Rome’s duration.  (Tertullian: Apologeticus pro Christianis, XXXII, AD 197)
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

Monsignor Smith