Saturday, November 17, 2018

A good year's work

Last week was an anniversary; so is this one.  We are one year from the announcement at parish Masses of our Capital Campaign to repair, restore, and improve the church.
Honestly, your response to the Campaign was remarkable and more than encouraging.  Clearly, I am not the only one excited by the real promise of this community’s commitment to care for and improve the splendid church that is provided to us by the sacrifices of our forebears, the founders of Saint Bernadette. 
One of the evidences of this shared excitement has been the frequency with which I am asked, When does work start?   Probably more people are wondering than have asked, and a lot of you have asked; so, it is time for me to give an update.
You pledged $1,040,242 to this great work.  As of this writing, you have given a total of $607,466.07, almost three-fifths of the total in the first year!  We have accrued $3,695.03 in interest since investing the funds in late January, a satisfactory return on an intentionally conservative investment.  
Let me remind you at this point that when we undertook the Campaign, the goal was to raise between $600,000 and 800,000, so we already have in hand what was our target minimum for the three-year campaign.  That is a very good sign for the prospects of the project.
But this does not mean that we can start work sooner; rather, it means we can plan to accomplish more.  Thepledgedamount allows us to undertake the more ambitious vision for improvement, especially of the church entrance.  Even so, your fidelity in fulfilling your pledges will give us the confidence to start work before allthe money is in hand, knowing we can count on the full amount to arrive on schedule.  
The timeline to raise the full amount pledged is three years, which technically means by January 2021 (don’t let that scary date fool you; that’s just over two years away!). But we should not have to wait THAT long to start the work; I would hope that we could begin a year or even more before that, provided the continued, faithful fulfillment of the pledges.
That means this coming year will be spent on planning and preparing what the project will accomplish. You won’t see much of that work, but we should have some drawings to share with you.  Now that will be exciting!
The recent restoration of our beautiful windows revealed several things to everybody.  First, that the people who built this church endowed it with beautiful features of high quality that are meant to enlighten hearts and minds for generations to come.  Secondly, that these features require care and maintenance for preservation of their full beauty.  And thirdly, when parishioners provide generously of their resources, that is their financial resources, beauty erupts anew in our church for all to see.
She is a big church, and her beauty is great too.  The window project cost almost $200,000, provided by one big gift.  This is a big project, but I am confident that your love for Our Lord and your parish is big enough to provide.  This is all good news to provide on this anniversary of the launch of our Capital Campaign, and gives us good ground for joyful anticipation, confident perseverance in sacrificial giving, and, just in time: Thanksgiving!  
I hope to see you here Thursday. God bless you in abundance!
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Volume One

The World War I Memorial Peace Cross in nearby Bladensburg, Maryland.
Mark the time, friends; and mark the day.  Eleven o’clock (local time in France) on this eleventh day of the eleventh month marks the one hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War.
The last combatant killed was an American; a Marylander, even, from Baltimore: Henry Gunther, who died at 10:59 that morning, sixty seconds before the guns went quiet.  Ironically, his parents were immigrants from Germany.
The Americans had been the last to join the fray, declaring war in April of 1917, and finally landing troops in France much later that year.  Gunther was the last of 116,708 American military personnel to die in that first of our military interventions in Europe.  
It seems like a horrifying number for such a short period – just over a year.  Compare that amount to the total number of military personnel who died: estimates range between nine and eleven million.  Every one of them had a name, a hometown, parents, and a story just like Henry Gunther did.  Then add the eight million civilians who died, and realize that our loss was a tiny portion of the carnage in that conflict, one of the deadliest in human history.  
The eruption of that great conflict in the summer of 1914, ostensibly because of a terrorist attack, the assassination of royals on parade, ended one of the longest periods of peace the Europeans had enjoyed with one another.  Because Europe was at peace, the world was largely without war, and cooperation and commerce flourished to bring about prosperity more widespread and elevated than the world had ever known.  Cultural sharing and international friendships aided by new technology and ease of travel brought people closer together than ever before; now we call it globalization.  One killer, two deaths, and the garden party collapsed into mobilizing armies and military campaigns that nobody expected but everybody was prepared for, seeming simply to happen spontaneously while everyone in charge was on August vacation. 
In those days, they called this war the “Great” one, and thought it the War to End All Wars.  But the elaborately conceived and relentlessly worked out Fratricide was just the first volume of a what would become a trilogy to be written across Western civilization over the century to follow.  Two decades later its sequel, Genocide, would reach its gruesome climax in a conflagration that wouldmake this conflict the First of something awful of which there was a Second.  The resultant societal self-doubt and collapse of confidence brought our culture to the third volume in the trilogy, already entitled Suicide, though an unknown number of chapters or perhaps pages have yet to be written before we reach The End.
One hundred years ago the guns went silent and millions rejoiced, thinking the end of this war had brought them to peace. Those combat deaths were but a trifle compared to what was to come; they had only just crossed the threshold of a century in which more people would be murdered by their own governments than the cumulative total of souls who had inhabited the planet Earth over all the preceding centuries combined.   
Pause sometime today and listen to the absence of gunfire, the absence of bombs and explosions that we enjoy hereabouts.  Find some silence, and be glad for it.  Thank a veteran for making it possible for you to enjoy the confidence that you will make it through this day without being killed.   And maybe, just maybe, reconsider what you might have been thinking was the gravest threat to the peace of the world, the peace of your home, and the peace of your heart.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Three Simple Things

While it has been good to reflect on something other than the evils infesting the Church, I take this opportunity to return to the subject, but I hope in a pro-active, productive way. Along with grief, anger, consternation, frustration, disbelief, and confusion that you have rightly experienced and shared with me because of all that has been revealed since that Wednesday in late June, there also have been two other consistent responses from the faithful in Christ, including you, for which I am daily grateful.   The first is concern for me, and I would guess for other priests whom you know. That is a greater gift than I can express!  The second is the desire you have to do something.  It is this latter, healthy desire that I hope to address.
Earlier this summer I shared with you some examples of my personal knowledge and experiences of the plague that afflicts our Church, and the resolute opposition to it that I am confident my entire generation of clergy shares.  This has resulted among clergy of the past quarter-century or thereabouts in a habit of refusal to accept not only participation in, but moreover laxness toward or even casual tolerance of unchaste behavior or language among the brethren, and wherever practicable to be “our brother’s keeper.”  
When it came to those above us and ahead of us, who exercise authority over us and not vice versa, who failed to see the serious necessity of this accountability, I admit that there has been some resignation to wait for the cancer to pass from the Body of Christ – to “age out,” as it were.   Perhaps it is my intimate familiarity with the hierarchy that leads me to a conviction of its immovability, and therefore a certain degree of cynicism about your or my ability to elicit some action or change.  
But one of the brethren, my friend Msgr. Bill Parent, Pastor of St. Elizabeth in Rockville, recently proposed to his parish a letter for them send to the Holy Father’s representative in the United States, the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre.  The letter is circumspect but forthright, and acknowledges that Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was allowed to abuse us, the people of the Archdiocese of Washington, when he was placed over us even though already a known abuser.  It is right and reasonable for us to express our desire for these three things – truth, accountability, and transparency.  
I might come up with a different letter if I were to draft one myself, as well might you.  But this one is good, especially the closing paragraph that steers us clear of disobedience and disorder.  To lend our voices to this call, already undertaken by our brothers and sisters in Rockville, will lend weight to unanimity.  
Go to the web site of Saint Elizabeth Rockville ( and click on “Three Simple Things,” or to ( to get straight to the letter, and click on the PDF.  You can type in your name and address, then print the letter, sign it, and put it in the mail.  Also, I will print copies of the letter and place them near the entrance of the church.  Write in your name and address, then sign the letter and mail it.  Or, if you want, you may drop your completed letter at the rectory and we will make a packet for the Nunciature, also send copies to Cardinal DiNardo, President of the USCCB.   
With the help of God, the weight of this outcry will reveal to the hierarchy the seriousness of our alarm and concern.  With the help of God, this will have a positive influence on the choice of our next Archbishop and the behavior of all Bishops.  With the help of God, this will help with the purification of Christ’s Church that he has already so painfully begun.  
Sometimes, there can be a temptation among clergy to avoid a good idea because somebody else came up with it. Not giving in to that temptation, I hope you also will think this is a good idea.  If you do not, it is not by any means something that you have to do.  But I present to you today because it is something that you can do.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, October 27, 2018


Today is one of those days when it just feels great to be alive.  The sun is shining, the sky is a rich, radiant blue unsmirched by cloud or haze, and the air is fresh and crisp.  There is still a bright, green, lively scent to it, since the splendid, kaleidoscopic decay autumn usually brings apparently is postponed by all the life-giving water we have received from the heavens over recent months.  Walk outside; doesn’t it feel great to be alive?
It seems ages since we have had more than two nice days in a row; this glorious weather is predicted to last all week.  But it’s certain that a nice spell that long will leave us wanting it to last even longer.  When we have a good thing going, we tend to hope – even assume – that it could go on and on just that way, rather like your dog when you are scratching his ears.  If you dare stop, he’ll look at you with an expression like you abandoned him in some desolate place: Wait, what – you stopped?

He thought it would go on forever.  

We can be just like that dog when we are enjoying something.  But unlike that dog, we should know enough not to let ourselves think the delight will last forever.  The good weather, the clean house, the children all playing happily – we know it will NOT last.  This distinguishes us from the beasts, and enables us to do two things.
The first thing we can do is rejoice in the goodness.  Life, joy, contentment, beauty, peace, and intimacy with our loved ones are all goods whose goodness is defined, emphasized, and made better by their fleeting nature.  Having been long without something good – as we are now with this great weather – enables us to rejoice and be grateful. Gratitude makes us aware of the source of the goodness, the Giver of every good gift, and brings us into right relationship with God. We can remember the goodness, and nurture the gratitude, even after the goodness ceases.  
The second thing we can do is expect it to end, and prepare ourselves for that.  Unlike our dogs, we aren’t bewildered by the change, because we never expect anything in this life to last forever.
These shimmering days of October glory are, like our maple trees of that name, indicators of change and symptoms of transition.  The nature around us is heading into the killing frost and darkness of winter, a reminder to us that our lives in this world also will not last forever.  This awareness of our own end is not a penalty to be avoided, but rather a blessing that separates us from the beasts, and allows us to do two things.  
The first thing we can do is rejoice in the goodness.  Life is made better by its fleeting nature, which also enables us be grateful. Gratitude makes us aware of the source of the goodness, the Giver of every good gift, and brings us into right relationship with God.  
The second thing we can do is expect it to end, and prepare ourselves.  Which is why every autumn, we do just that.
Wednesday evening, our children dress as ghosts and ghouls to mock-frighten one another and us, reminding us both how fearful death can be, and that we who live in Christ have grounds to laugh at it.  Then on Thursday, the day of All Saints, we rejoice to call on all who have gone through death into the life that does last gloriously forever.   And on Friday, the day of All Souls, we bring the names of all whose life with us in this world is ended, though our love for them has not died.  We do the work of love, praying for them, that Jesus Christ, the Love that conquers death, bring them to the eternal glory of everlasting day in His presence.
All this talk of death is repellent to many, but that is often a symptom that they are deluding themselves that whatever they are now enjoying can and should last forever.  How shocked they’ll be, like a dog when the petting stops!
Fall makes beautiful the end of summer’s bounty, and hope of spring makes winter bearable.  Reminding ourselves of the fleeting nature of all that we enjoy in this life makes it possible for us to enjoy it all the more, be grateful to the One who gives it us, and prepare for it to end.   Knowing that in Baptism we have already died with Christ and that this whole world is passing away makes every day a great day to be alive.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, October 20, 2018


Great is what we’re going for! is the tagline for the spiffy airline safety video I have seen entirely too many times in recent months, not only because I have taken so many trips by air, but also because some of those did not go as planned, and I sat through more runs of the video than might be expected.  But it suits.
Great really IS what we are going for, and Exhibit A is the Fall Festival last week.  Even if the weather was a bit menacing as things got underway, and the crowds were a bit slow to come out, within ninety minutes we were up to full throttle and every part of the field was thronged.  
Great is definitely what we got. So many parish group pitched in to do their part from the HNS Masters of Bingo through the Sodalist Queens of Cake, including Scouts, the HSA of our School, Religious Ed families, our buddies the Rosensteel Knights, CYO’s SnackShack Enterprises, and a number of our younger members.  All worked under the unflagging example and leadership of Jasmine Kuzner, Maureen Dewey, Laura Konda, and Colleen Schaper, this year’s Genius Committee.  
Thanks, too, to all our sponsors; please, visit these businesses and mention that you saw their names on the roster at the Festival.  This is a community builder, not a fundraiser, and their sponsorship keeps it from becoming a fund-drainer! 
One thing I liked was the number of people I saw whom I had never seen before – visitors from outside the parish. They looked unfamiliar, but not afraid, and clearly having a good time.  I hope you said something friendly to them!
Great is what we’re going for! could also be the tagline for our parish and Archdiocese. But our momentum has slackened somewhat with the news last week that Pope Francis had accepted Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation, and the reality that we, as a local church, do not have a bishop as our head.  Cardinal Wuerl is still managing the functions of the Archdiocese as Apostolic Administrator, to which role he was appointed by the Holy Father until his successor be appointed and installed.  But that is not the same – for him or for us.  So we as an Archdiocese are fully functional but at the same time aware that we are also directionless.  So much depends on how the “new guy” will want to handle it.
With rumors flying to and fro about just who the “new guy” will be, and when he will get here, speculation can provide only so much insight or information.  In the meantime, we are left to wonder what we will do next.
The best answer I can offer is that we continue to proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified, to hand on just what we have received; we continue to worship God in the celebration of the Eucharist and all the Holy Sacraments, bringing the dead to life in Baptism, filling up what is lacking with the gift of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, feeding the multitude with the Body and Blood of the Lord; healing the sick in mind, body, and spirit with Holy Anointing and the forgiveness of sins, and embracing that healing with acts of penance for our sins and the sins of others who have done so much hurt.  
I charge myself to continue to preach the word, being urgent in season and out of season.  This Church that Christ has given us is our sole vessel to bring us to the destination we desire, rather than the destruction we deserve. She will not fail us if we cling to her.  Great will be our joy in Heaven; and great is what we’re going for.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Apple pie, and the apples of our eyes

Ready for the Bake Sale!
Come on out!
Our Fall Festival is this weekend, assuming the hurricane isn’t parked overhead, or some other grim weather befall us.  It has been a strange late summer into autumn this year, difficult to predict, but we move forward with confidence.
One of the most important parts of the Festival is the attendance of kids, ideally lots and lots of kids, including kids with families who aren’t usually here, or even have never been here before.   Neighbors, coworkers, family members who live a few suburbs away, and even a few strangers should all be invited and encouraged to come; most people are on the lookout for something different and delightful to do with the family. 
It takes more than a bouncey house (though there will be one) to make kids excited and their parents comfortable, though.  What you will have heard about as we have asked and asked for more is the volunteers.  Here at Saint Bernadette we are blessed with an enormous number of people who are gifted at and dedicated to providing all that children need to be happy, healthy, and safe.  I marvel at the moms, the dads, the teachers, and the coaches who demonstrate an elevated awareness of and care for kids, whether their own, their friends’, or even ones they’ve never seen before.
One recent Friday evening on the back field, during CYO Intramurals (what I call Munchkinball) I marveled at the swarms of young people who moved about in something resembling elaborate choreography.  There were the little ones in uniforms on the field, discovering the joy of soccer through a particularly coach-intensive tutorial.  But besides these who were registered for this structured activity, there were others.  Their older siblings moved about in small packs delineated by age and (usually) gender.  Several un-structured and un-supervised games of basketball were pursued enthusiastically.  Younger siblings, too, ran, shrieked, giggled, played with one another, and alternately tried to elude or find their parents.  The swings and the other playground equipment attracted these kids and engaged them one with another. In the midst it all, the parents (not engaged in coaching) seem blithely to be enjoying one another’s company.
But making possible what looks like chaos, albeit joyful, is a constant, conscious, and careful level of attention and care and communal responsibility that makes the joy possible, and safe.  The moms, the dads, the teachers, and the coaches are united not only in helping a lost little one find his mom, or soothing the anguish of a fall, but also in vigilance against anyone who would take advantage of these happy, trusting children.
Undergirding it all, we have structures, programs, evaluations, and criteria such as VIRTUS and background checks in which our coaches, teachers, volunteers, and many moms and dads willingly cooperate.  But what makes that work, and what conveys the confidence to make such fun possible, is the adults’ elevated awareness of and care for kids, whether their own, their friends’, or even ones they’ve never seen before.  No government organization can arrange for that; one cannot train or pay a staff to provide it; nor can you ask it of an ordinary group or community.  That is why having it here is a marvel, and why it is a necessity. 
Not only do I admire all of you whose generosity and vigilance make our events open, inviting, and safe for families and their children, but I invite you to renew and intensify the conscious and careful responsibility that you so freely share.  It is you who make possible so many of the best things we do around here.  
It has been a strange late summer into autumn this year, but we move forward with confidence.  It will be great to welcome visitors and friends to our Fall Festival, knowing it will feature something that they cannot find many other places:  kids, ideally lots and lots of kids, including kids with families who aren’t usually here, or even have never been here before, and all of them safe.    
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, October 06, 2018

One of our own

We have a deacon!  
Even though the short notice made it impossible to assemble a pilgrimage for the occasion, I cashed in my miles and flew to Rome for the ordination of Our Man Ben Petty to the Diaconate last week.  What a graced and glorious occasion!
I hadn’t been out of the rectory for more than three nights in a row since March.  Before heading into Rome, I took a few days in a secluded little bed-and-breakfast, venturing out into the countryside in my rental car.  That helped clear my head a bit before the excitement of the city, and the ordination that drew priests and people from around the country.  The usual places for American priests were so jammed that I had to stay in a friend’s apartment.
The ordination, like my own twenty-two years ago, was at the Altar of the Chair in the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican.  Cardinal DiNardo of Houston was the ordaining prelate.  Whereas my class saw twenty-three men ordained, this one had forty (40!).  Fourof them were from the Archdiocese of Washington.  Ben was not the only one with ties to Saint Bernadette: James Morrison, eldest son of Grace and Eric, was a parishioner here and a student in our school through fourth grade, about twelve years ago.  
Ben, who became Catholic about twelve years ago, joined our parish after he moved to Washington to get a degree in theology.  Some of you may remember him from when he helped teach second grade in our religious education program; others, perhaps, from his singing with the choir at the nine o’clock Mass (he was the one in the bow tie, more often than not); still others, from the sampling counter at Trader Joe’s.  He was active here until he entered the seminary in 2013.    Even if you don’t remember him at all, he remembers you: he counts Saint Bernadette his home parish and is proud of the association.  
God willing, Deacon Ben Petty will be ordained Priest along with Deacon James Morrison and ten other men on Saturday June 15 of next year at our own Basilica here in Washington.  He will offer his Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving the next morning, Father’s Day, here at the parish he considers his home and the place where his recognized his call to the priesthood.  Plan now to be here then.
While waiting outside the sacristy of the Basilica for the procession to begin moving, a priest called my name; it was Fr. Scott Winchel of Savannah, who was a weekend seminarian here during 2008 – 2009, his deacon year at Mount Saint Mary’s.  It was great to see him after so long!  Now pastor of St. Joseph Church in Macon, Georgia, he too remembers Saint Bernadette clearly and fondly for all he experienced here. 
Already the priests of the future are close to you, in the pew, serving at the altar, or helping form your kids. The grace that will enable them to respond Yes is at work in them, and through you.  Your faith and love of the Lord Jesus help them discern and grow as much as anything else does; your encouragement is as important to them as any other word or example they receive.  Pray, please pray for them, and all our young people, to discern their vocations and respond joyfully, faithfully, and eagerly.
Today, we have a new deacon; soon, he’ll be a priest.  Keep being faithful, keep praying generously; already you are cooperating with Jesus in fulfilling his promise: I will give you shepherds.   
Monsignor Smith