Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Company You Keep

Here come the Monday Train!
You know I like trains, at least if you’ve been reading this for more than a year or two.  But there are exceptions to that, and one of them hit us this week: the Monday Train.
Though last week was the second our school was in session, it began with quiet Labor Day.  This week was the first full week after summer ended, and it began with the first full-strength Monday of the new season.  It came through the rectory like a mile-long load of coal from West Virginia pulled by four CSX diesels.  You have heard, perhaps, of being thrown under the bus?  That’s nothing compared to being hit by the Monday Train. 
By the time Monday noon rolled around, the staff and I were gasping for breath and laughing at how manic it had become, and how suddenly.  Phone calls, drop-ins, follow-ups, deadlines, and situations!  It was such a lovely summer of manageable days and quiet afternoons, leisurely lunches and good humor.  And it is OVER.
That’s not to say we didn’t get any work done over the summer; quite the contrary.  There was a steady, even measured chipping away at the quarry walls as we hewed out the necessary blocks of diligence and accomplishment.  In-boxes were emptied and loose ends tied; reports were signed and submitted; plans were considered and chosen.  All this was accomplished under a remarkable torrent of turnover among the priest residents of the place; for details, see my previous letters. Let me assure you, it was no mean feat.
Which brings me to the happy point of sharing with you the amazing amount and quality of work done for you, for me, and for Jesus by the folks who work here in the rectory and in the administration of our school. When I write that, it would seem that there be a cast of thousands, but they are astonishingly few.  Stakhanovites would blush with shame to see how paltry their production next to the workload effortlessly carried by gentle, smiling church folk.  
Ron, Jackie, Corine, Norma, Carol, and Dao here in the rectory do things in an afternoon that a building full of bureaucrats could not pull off in a month.  The same arithmetic applies to Mr. Ted Ewanciw’s “tiny but mighty” team of Molly, Karyn, Kate, and Nicole over in the school, but let me focus for now on the folks here around me. 
Each of them fulfills what would be two or even three jobs in any other organization.  Each of them has an astonishing roster of “other duties as assigned” which they work out without anyone having actually to assign them.  The range of details and projects, the amount of special consideration and accommodation they routinely apply to the people they assist, and the level of good humor and generosity they maintain in the face of This Particular Supervisor would leave you somewhere between astonished and indignant if I could possibly list it all.  
Not only do they take remarkably good care of me, but you should ask our two new rectory residents how they are managing to adjust to life around the parish.  Let me just say that the staff has admirably cushioned the impact of their new situations, as near as I can discern.
Never was it so obvious to me how much I count on the people who serve in this rectory office, so clear how hard they work for you, nor so manifest their conviction that the Lord has called them to this particular intimacy with Him in their daily work.  This should bring joy and gratitude to you, as it does to me, especially when comes the Monday Train.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Not beyond our reach

So much at stake
It is rare enough for our nation and its news outlets to maintain sustained attention on a situation in a foreign country.  Our notoriously short attention span, lack of interest in anything that does not directly affect us, and near-complete thrall to the infotainment industry’s agenda of selling us consumer goods and political panic preclude our awareness of and interest in what is happening far away.  But somehow, Hong Kong has slipped through this near-impermeable barrier.
Far away from us, so why are we paying attention?  Why does news from there still merit front-page photos and top stories on every program and site?  Is it that we recognize our common humanity manifest in the striving of the millions who march against oppression?  Is it out of suspense as to how long recurring mass demonstrations can be sustained before one side or another (the demonstrators or the demonstrated-against) does something to tip the entire situation into chaos?  Is it out of the same sort of morbid fascination that makes people keep watching the ocean swimmers in the movie Jawseven as doubt about the eventual outcome dwindles and disappears? Or, against all reason and experience, do we secretly nurture hope that it all might resolve and turn out well?  
Let me give one reason why you and I should transfer our motivation to that last possibility, the hopeful one: Father Joseph McCabe, M.M.
Fr. McCabe, to refresh your memories, or to inform you who are new to the parish, lived here for two and a half years until June 2015. A Maryknoll missionary priest from Long Island, he obtained a Canon Law degree from Catholic University and made a big contribution to – and quite the impression on – our parish.  Hardly your usual student priest, he was in his mid-sixties already when he arrived, after decades in the missions of Tanzania and the Russian far east, and another decade in service of the Holy See in Rome.  If you weren’t here then, ask someone who was: he was a force of nature.  
Once he achieved his degree, his assignment was to become Judicial Vicar for the diocese of – you guessed it – Hong Kong.  For four years I have enjoyed his stories about that city, his parish work there (dozens in RCIA every year! near-constant weddings!), and his rectory life.  He also has become superior of all Maryknoll personnel in the whole region, including southeast Asia and Australia.  
After a long, anxious silence, Fr. McCabe recently wrote me. He is okay; but life in Hong Kong is changed and difficult.  There is hope, there is fear, nobody knows whom to trust or where there is safety.  Both demonstrators and demonstrated-against frighten and threaten.  Nobody knows what to expect, when or how it will end, but they must and do nurture hope that it all might resolve and turn out well
Not only because he must and will stay in Hong Kong, and not only because he has grown to love and care about many people there, but also because it is what he as a priest does and what we as Christians do, he begs for our prayers.  He knows, though not everybody there knows, that prayer to God is a powerful force for good in this life and in this world.  He knows, though not everybody there knows, but we do if we pause long enough to consider, that you and I are not powerless to contribute to the outcome of this spectacular and historic drama playing out on the other side of the planet.  He knows, though we can easily forget or be distracted, that our common human nature binds us to every soul there, and our common baptism binds us to every Christian soul there and around the world, and to the divine life of the Holy Trinity, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in all His glory and power.
With this great power comes great responsibility.  The lives and futures of one whom we know well, and millions whom we know by our shared human need for life and liberty, teeter precariously in the balance before our very eyes.  We are not helpless spectators; let us pray.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Workin' it


These days, socialism of one sort or another seems to be on the menu again, and it presents itself as the friend of the worker.  Many executives and operatives of labor unions seem eager to agree, lending their political support to candidates who promise to re-order society to benefit the worker.  As we mark that holiday weekend that is the US version of what in Europe and elsewhere happens on “May Day,” the first of that month, it is good to reflect on what Christ reveals to us about human labor.
Pope Saint John Paul II spent almost forty years of his life living under various forms of socialism in his native Poland – first National Socialism from 1939 -45 under the German Nazi occupation, then Soviet socialism under Russian occupation and their puppet regime until his election to the See of Peter in 1978.  In 1981, eight years before the latter’s collapse, he issued his encyclical Laborem Exercens on the meaning of human labor.
The Church finds in the very first pages of the book of Genesis the source of her conviction that work is a fundamental dimension of human existence on earth.  An analysis of these texts makes us aware that they express ... the fundamental truths about man, in the context of the mystery of creation itself.  These truths are decisive for man from the very beginning, and at the same time they trace out the main lines of his earthly existence, both in the state of original justice and also after the breaking, caused by sin, of the Creators original covenant with creation in man.  When man, who had been created in the image of God ...male and female, hears the words:  Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, even though these words do not refer directly and explicitly to work, beyond any doubt they indirectly indicate it as an activity for man to carry out in the world.  Indeed, they show its very deepest essence.  Man is the image of God partly through the mandate received from his Creator to subdue, to dominate, the earth.  In carrying out this mandate, man, every human being, reflects the very action of the Creator of the universe. (no. 4)
John Paul II never was exactly easy to read.  I remember struggling with his encyclicals as they came out; so rich their thought, so complex their philosophical grounding.   But did you catch that?  Human labor is the activity in which man reveals his identity in the image and likeness of God, the creator.  



One of my favorite things about being pastor is getting to know the various workers – craftsmen, contractors, and artisans – who do the work to maintain the fabric of our parish; for example, the HVAC contractors who installed and maintain the heating and cooling equipment in our rectory and church.  I love what they do for us, and I love getting to know them who do it.  I guess Pope Saint John Paul II would remind me that it is because in their work they reflect all they have in common with our Divine Creator.  I would acknowledge that it is much easier to see the resemblance in them than it is in, say, bureaucrats – even church bureaucrats!
Unfortunately, socialism, in or out of fashion, reduces labor and therefore the human laborer to a merely material reality.  This overlooks fully half of human identity, the spiritual reality, and results inevitably in the devaluation of human labor and the destruction of human dignity.  History reveals socialism’s “perfect” 100% record on this front, whenever, wherever, and by whomever it has been implemented. Workers can recognize that is a false friend, indeed. 
So, as we celebrate Labor Day by refraining from labor, let us thank God for revealing our likeness to Him in our work, but also most perfectly in His Son; and make that the measure of anyone who claims to be our friend. 
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Crowning moment


This week, we celebrated the Queenship of Mary, a feast that marks the octave-day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin and its logical conclusion and goal.  Without the same solemnity and obligation of the Assumption it can pass unnoticed, but the day brings light to us as our Blessed Mother so often does.
It is illumined these days by the rising sun, neither as early nor as northerly as it was in the summer solstice already two months past.  Still it shines in its earliest moments into our church through our stained-glass Coronation of the Virgin, the window of Our Lady’s Queenship.  
During the thirty minutes of the six-thirty Mass, the light increases in that window’s muted tones, which fascinate me in every light, every season.  Not as strong nor as vibrant as the colors of our other windows, its shades are rarely found side by side, like turquoise with ochre.  Its place in the corner keeps it from direct sun most of the time, yet it is not dark so long as a trace of light be in the sky.  
It’s the window I see when I come into the church from the chapel, and as I return to the sacristy from my confessional.  It is beautiful.
Again and again I marvel at the genius and goodness evident in our church’s restrained decoration.  That one window, no more prominent and half so bold as the others, earns and enjoys its place at the terminus of our stained-class cycle.  Every other deed of God and colorful, illuminated moment in the life of our Savior leads to it in art as in life.  What Jesus obtains by His saving deed He bestows upon His Holy Mother, and she, in turn, offers to use it for us.  Her end is our goal, and that last window depicts our destination.
It is strange, at first, to celebrate this conclusion, this consummation at this time midway through the year.  August on both calendars, liturgical and civil, is neither beginning nor end; if anything a pause, a broad place flattened by heat and lassitude.   But while the life of Christ guides our Advent-starting liturgical calendar, the life of Mary accompanies our most practical calendar.  
She enters heaven this week, but soon enough we will mark her birth.  The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin we celebrate on September 8, and the cycle resumes, just as our cycle resumes with Labor Day, the First Day of School, and the first day of work, that bring the return to long pants, hard shoes, and long commutes.    
Soon enough, dear friends, soon enough.  But before you settle in to that daily grind and routine, look up, raise your eyes to the prize that awaits.  That window and the Lady depicted in it show the goal of every day on all our calendars.  What she enjoys, she longs to share, and that beauty lights our way.  Hail, Holy Queen!
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Comes and goes


It is hard to believe this, but we have another change in the cast of priestly characters in the Holy House of Soubirous.  That’s right, we have yet another transition in the population of our rectory.  Brace yourselves!  If you pay close attention, you will be able to amaze your friends who went away for long periods this summer by explaining to them what priests were here, and when, and for what reason – and then introducing them to the ones who are here now. 
Father Michael Russo, who was ordained in June and assigned here, moving in July 10 as Parochial Vicar pro tempore, will be coming to the end of his temporaand moving out of the parochial vicar suite in our rectory.  
Father Brad Berhorst, a priest of Jefferson City (that’s in Missouri) who was also ordained in June (just two weeks after Father Russo) will be moving into the student rooms of the rectory.
The funny thing is, both Father Russo and Father Berhorst will be studying for advanced degrees at Catholic University of America over the coming year, Father Russo for one year to get his License in Systematic Theology, and Father Berhorst for two years to get his License in Canon Law. They will probably see one another on campus.
We will not have a Parochial Vicar; Fr. Russo’s assignment is to get his degree.  I will be the only priest assigned by the Archdiocese of Washington to be at Saint Bernadette.
However, Father Berhorst’s bishop, who also has assigned him to get his degree, wants him to gain experience of priestly life in a parish, and has assigned him not only to live here, but also to be engaged in the life of the parish.  Which means he will be doing more than just helping with Mass and confessions, as long as it doesn’t interfere with his completing his academic work on schedule. 
What’s more, Father Russo is really happy to be a priest and wants to do priest things too, so that he gain experience of priestly life in a parish.  It seems that you all have been utterly charming and generous toward him over his six-week sojourn, and maybe his time in our rectory has been a little (a lot?) more promising than the thought of another year in the institutional halls of Theological College at CUA.  So, as long as it doesn’t interfere with his completing his academic work on schedule, he will be helping out around here too.  
So even though Father Russo is technically moving out of the rectory and back into the dismal and dank corridors where he just served his years of seminary time, don’t say good bye!  Say instead, hurry back!  Or maybe, see you next week?  Schedules and balancing all have to be worked out, but let him know that the more you see of him, the happier you’ll be.  I think it would be great to have him around as much as possible.  In fact, I may just encourage him to leave as much of his stuff as he wants right where it is in the parochial vicar rooms.
You should also welcome Father Berhorst, and assure him that not only are you glad to have him here with us, but explain that you’re pretty confident he’ll like it here.  In fact, you can give evidence for the hope that is within you: Be on the lookout for another weekend visit from Fr. Nick Zientarski, to emphasize how much Saint Bernadette loves her student priests, and how much priests love being at Saint Bernadette.   That is not at all hard to believe.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Sometimes ya just gotta

Welcome visitors!
This will only come as news to those among you who have been away for the past month, or who come and go by way of University Boulevard.  To you who use the Woodmoor Circle entrance, you already know.  We re-paved the ramp!
Well, to say we “re-paved” does not quite do justice to the job; we replacedwhat had fairly disintegrated under snowplow pounding and above ground that was so waterlogged it shifted and slid.  As some parishioners pointed out to me, it had become urgent.
Originally the contractor had scheduled the work for this week – Friday, the day after the Holy Day.  But something in their schedule changed and with two days notice, they came in mid-July.  It was the day I left for vacation.  
The pavement grinder chews up what was left
of our old ramp and puts it in the truck for removal.
Before I left, I went out to greet the workers and take some pictures for you.  Then somewhat delayed, I loaded my car and climbed in just as the pavement-grinder was leaving the site on its flatbed truck.  The low bed scraped and stuck on the hump in front of the carport, and there I sat, trapped in my running car with this heavy machinery between me and my vacation.  You can imagine what went through my head.
But the driver liberated the flatbed and even got it over the hump at the front of the driveway, but in the process did damage that got us a brand-new speed bump, too, all the better for moms in their Catholic Assault Vehicles to “catch air” over as they race their precious cargo to drop-off.
The finished product -
can you resist speeding on it?
The finished product is smooth as glass, and glorious. Imagine what a whole parking lot of such pristine pavement would be like!  But to “keep it real,” you should know that the driveway work cost just shy of $20,000.  Now, mentally calculate two things: first, how many driveways worth of work are there in our paved lots?  And second, how many weeks of your weekly offerings would it take to pay for just this driveway?  As the nice man says on the radio: not a sermon, just a thought.  
It’s still steamy summer and urgency is blessedly absent from most of our days, but don’t neglect the Holy Day this week for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Just as it falls to kids to remember their moms’ birthdays, and spouses to observe their wedding anniversaries, so does it fall to us to keep holy this day the Lord has made so by the great things he has done for His Holy Mother, and for us.  We freely offer love, which when ordered toward God is called worship, to Him who has revealed what our bodies and our lives are for, in His plan: glory.  Look at it as our freshly-paved ramp – to heaven.  See you Thursday!
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Powerhouse

Find the clean energy source in this photo.
Don’t you hate it when someone else is minding your business?
It is such an intrusion, an invasion, an uninvited insertion of someone else’s expectations into our lives and our privacy.  Few things are more galling and few things are less welcome.  Always true and universally recognized, this is something we can all agree on.  
Until we need help, that is.  Funny, isn’t it, how welcome someone else’s interest becomes only when we decide we want it?   But so often we are unwilling or unable to communicate our needs, to ask for assistance, or to find the people who could help us.  This, I am pleased to let you know, is precisely why this parish exists: to mind one another’s business!
It could hardly be more appropriate if, instead of a spire, atop our church we had a towering brick smokestack straight out of the industrial revolution; and if, somehow, the work of prayer were to emit visible exhaust  (non-polluting, of course); then, we would be able to see our prayers rising before the Lord, like clouds of radiant smoke billowing heavenward, spreading across our community at all hours of the day and night.
This parish is a factory of prayer, a union of mutual effort and energy, roaring with the good and generous exchange of spiritual strength, and welded together by our communion in Christ.  Whether you or I realize it at any given moment, whether we have asked for it or not, whether we know the names of the people or not, whether we want it or not, people of this parish are praying for us, for me and for you.  
More effective than the common currency of the European Union, the sacrifice of prayer is a shared medium of work and wealth that binds us together in spirit, and gives us the strength we need to function in the face of adversity or uncertainty.  These prayers absorb some of the impact of pain and punishment on us, and magnify the good and the grace that nourishes our joy.  Never seen or handled, much less taxed, prayer has no expiration date, but neither can it be hoarded.
As manager of this operation, I get to point this power-production in the direction where it is most needed.  When people tell me they’re praying for me, I thank them, and tell them to keep it coming – because I burn them fast!  I try to bring every intention of which I have been told, or that I have observed, or that I can only guess, to prayer – my own, and our common prayer of the Sacred Liturgy.  
Still, there are the entrepreneurial souls out there who persist in praying on their own, or in small groups.  They too direct their exertions toward brothers and sisters and their needs and intentions, whether they know of them directly, or not. Rooted in Eucharistic unity, these dedicated pray-ers can sense and respond to circumstances and situations that are fully known only to the mind of Christ.
These people are messing about in your business and in mine, in the most powerful and productive way possible.  Thank God!  Let us pray for one another – Oremus pro invicem– and keep these fires burning.
Monsignor Smith