Saturday, November 07, 2015

Up to the minute

Last-minute Charlie.  That’s me this week – and many weeks.  Here I am trying to write you before I race out the door to drive to Cambridge, Maryland, for our biennial Archdiocese of Washington Priests Convocation. 
Cardinal McCarrick initiated it more than ten years ago., and it was so well received that it has continued since then, with enthusiastic attendance by the priests of the Archdiocese.  We do all the things associated with professional conferences – big conferences, big meals, breakout group discussions -- and then some things that aren’t so common:  like Mass, Vespers, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and Confession. 
For the part called “professional development” there is always a significant guest speaker or two.  This year it is Father Thomas Rosica C.S.B, who is the English language coordinator for the Vatican Press Office.  He should have a lot to tell us!  And of course, Cardinal Wuerl gets to gather us around, explain things, and exhort us.
The best part is just being together with all the guys – the other priests of the Archdiocese.  You may not believe it, but we do not get to see one another that often, except for our closest friends.  Even with them, sometimes we go way too long!  We will have a few big ballroom dinners together, and also a lunch when we can go out in groups.  There is a golf course there, for those so inclined (not me).  And in the evenings once the program is done, we sit around the fire pit and, well, talk.  It’s great.
And here at Saint Bernadette, Father Gallaugher and I are blessed both to be able to attend without interrupting the schedule at the parish.  Father Markey is taking both morning Masses both days we are away!  Thank him for that – I know I do.  I do not know how other parishes are managing.  I know some parishes cancel things, even Masses, and some leave one of their priests at home to guard the fort and handle the calls.  Poor them!  It is a gift not to have to do that. 
The Convocation is a great boost to us, and usually gives us more material to work with as we head toward the end of the year, and the start of Advent (that train is coming fast).  It is also relaxing, which is rare and welcome in the life of parish priests.
Now I had better go pack and race out the door.  I hope I don’t get stuck in traffic at the Bay Bridge!  I will see you all once I get back – and with luck you will be able to tell I had a good week.  Even if I am a bit of a last-minute Charlie.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, October 31, 2015

All together now!

Isn’t it just great to get the group together?  The old saying “There is strength in numbers” still holds true, with many possible ways to understand the notion of “strength.”
Last weekend, the whole gang got together for our annual Fall Festival.  It was great to see so many people out and having fun with one another, whether while watching their kids in the cake walk, or elbow-to-elbow in the frenzy of the bingo tent.  Over in the Knights of Columbus tent, Redskins fans were even grazing peacefully together with Giants fans– that’s a real the lion shall lie down with the lamb moment!
We had very good weather this time, thank God, despite the iffy start to the day.  I know we lost some participants when we rescheduled from three weeks ago because of that hurricane.  But it was good crowd, great fun, and a splendid moment to meet the parish community for any of our neighbors who came by for the event.
Please join me in thanking those responsible for making it happen, especially Laura Irwin and Kristien Carroll who oversaw the whole thing.  Along with Lauren Draley, a chairman emerita who apparently doesn’t believe in retirement, they really pulled together a beautiful festival – and they did it twice!  Almost everything had to be changed, redone, restaffed, or reordered when we rescheduled.  All the volunteers did a super job.  Thank you so much.
This weekend, too, we are having an all-hands-on-deck gathering of a different sort.  For the Solemnity of All Saints, we bring out all of our relics of saints to be venerated on our altar.  We are privileged to have a large variety of saints represented in our collection.  From Christ’s contemporary John the Apostle to Maria Goretti of the 20th century, the gang’s all here!

A relatively tiny sample of the denizens of heaven, it is nonetheless a representative sample.  Like attracts like -- Saints Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, and Catherine LabourĂ© are grouped together in a “Vincentian” cluster indicating their link on earth.  But differences are also overcome:  Saints Francis of Assisi and Ignatius of Loyola, founders of radically different religious communities, now rejoice together in heaven, and their relics are side by side here in Silver Spring, too. 
Any time one of your secular or Protestant friends tries to be hip and dismissive of our care for relics of the Holy Ones, feel free to point out how relics are woven into the very fabric of our (American) culture: remember when soldiers took a lock of hair from their beloved and wore it on a chain around their neck?  More recently, how many people wait in line and pay money to visit Graceland, and touch the things of Elvis?  Heck, I bet most folks have a tool or kitchen utensil treasured because it belonged to a beloved grandparent. 
It was clear last Sunday was a good day when I saw several children weeping simply because the bouncy house was being deflated.  They did not want it to end!   And you know it is a good day when so much human evidence of Christ’s reconciling power throughout the ages is so clearly present right in front of us.  The saints are people like us, friends and fellow members of the Body of Christ.  Having shared a purpose on earth, they now share the fullness of communion in heaven.  All Saint’s Day is how we celebrate that the very best gathering never ends.
Our relics are many, but the saints are many more – a number uncountable by us, since so many are unrecognized by us.   There is strength in their numbers, and helping us to be numbered one day among them is the very best use of their strength.  Saints of God arrayed upon the altar, and future saints arranged around it:  isn’t it just great to get the group together? 
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Shine upon them

Yesterday I picked up one of the All Souls envelopes off the table at the back of the church to prepare mine to go on the altar at the beginning of November, the month given over to remembrance of our beloved dead.  Then I pulled out my list.
The names on the list are of the deceased for whom I pray particularly and personally.  It is quite the exercise of memory and affection to read through it: all four of my grandparents; a boyhood friend who was hit by a car; a high school girlfriend; a college classmate who died in a fire when we were freshmen; college professors; priest friends and collaborators who died in the fullness of years or tragically young; and many others.  But each year brings new names to add.
William Cardinal Baum, whom I first met before I entered seminary, a lofty figure of grace and ecclesial influence.  While I studied in Rome, he was a wise and encouraging protector.  Four years later, I entered his service as secretary, and he was my patient guide and teacher, a generous master.  In his latter years, he was my dear friend, always sharing the depth of his faith with me in his pain and illness.
Father William Thompson, my first pastor after priestly ordination, and my predecessor as Pastor of Saint Bernadette.  Gruff and generous, pragmatic and obedient, he was widely regarded by my seminary classmates as the best pastor any of us had.  He, too, took what could have been just being my boss, and turned it to being my friend.
And Andrew Esherick, whom I met when he was still a child.  He started as a student among students here, and member of a family with whom I was close enough to visit at home.  As his identity and faith developed toward adult fullness, he generously brought me along.  Eventually introducing me to his future wife, then his first child, though he lived states away, he did the work of staying engaged rather than leaving me merely his childhood pastor.
All three of these names will be on the roll I call at our parish All Souls Mass.  Offered especially and by name for these and all who have been buried from our church this year, over time this beautiful liturgy has become increasingly poignant to me.  With each additional year as pastor, I have known more of the people on the list, and their families, longer and more intimately.   These thoughts come crowding forward fresh and alive with their names.   
As these sentiments and memories come, the richness of the Requiem Mass brings to bear all the power of the prayer of the Church.   These are not mere names of those who once were, but now no longer are.  These are lives entwined with our own even now, and we invoke their names before God in that pure act of love for them we call prayer.  
As the list grows longer with our lives, what could seem a burden brings also a boon.  All these souls for whom we offer our precious time and memory are unable to pray for themselves, but can and will pray for us.  Thereby is not only distance, but also difference overcome; and even when, to those who lack eyes of faith, death seems to have put the relationship past rescue or repair, the reconciling work of Christ is accomplished.
So come, hear these names called out before the throne of grace, and lend your prayer to their perfection.  The All Souls Requiem Mass will be Monday evening, November 2, at 7:30.  And for the prayers and sacrifices we will offer throughout the month, prepare your own envelope, and your own offering.  But first, linger over your own list.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Pack the place

From Papal Visit to Packed Pews, they call it.  That’s the Archdiocesan operative’s plan to get some “bounce” (to use a Washington term) in the faith life of our local church from the recent visit of our Holy Father Pope Francis.
In the three weeks since the visit, I have had an amazing array of people tell me just how much the Pope’s visit excited and moved them.  Many of them were people who received their tickets to the Mass of Canonization from our parish allotment, and therefore are people I know well and see often.  But there were also many others, including some whom I had only just met.  It is the first subject of conversation when I run into non-Catholic friends and acquaintances, as well; they profess to share in some of the excitement too.
An ever-growing percentage of the population around us claims and professes identities, associations, and ideologies that are not only Catholic or Christian, but sometimes even opposed to Catholicism and Christianity.  An ever-growing number of Catholics are comfortable with, and confident in, those same identities, associations, and ideologies, sometimes without realizing how they conflict with the basic truths of Divine Revelation in Jesus Christ.
Our Archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, recently released a Pastoral Letter whose purpose is summed up in its title, Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge.  Beautifully printed copies of this letter are available for you, now, in the church.
He points out: As Americans, we are not required to carry around identity papers or wear special insignia on our clothing marking us as Christian. Nevertheless, each day the world does ask us, “Are you Christian?” We must answer truthfully and then act accordingly. If we are Christian, then Christ should be recognizable in us, and we should not be made to mask him or appear to be something else.
Our Holy Father made it his frequent refrain that all Catholics are called, first to conversion, then to witness: first to seek God’s mercy, then to offer it.  To remember the excitement of the visit and forget the content of the message would be to betray Pope Francis, and undermine the purpose of his visit.  This may seem like a burden, but in reality it makes for a great opportunity for the Church in the United States, in Washington, and in Four Corners. 
There is an abundance of good will toward the Pope in particular, Catholics in general, and the Church herself, which in our nation can never be taken for granted, but especially now.  All the more true right now is what His Eminence observed:  “What does the Church bring to society?” Even when people seem to pose this question as a challenge, deep down there is usually a note of hope in it.  After seeing the Pope, and the crowds, more people will be wondering, and well-disposed.  They will be turning to you and me with that question, and that hope.  We must respond ourselves, not with expectations for someone somewhere else in the Church.
Our Catholic identity, even when challenged, should remain for us a source of conviction and pride. As God was with those who first accepted the challenge, “You will be my witnesses,” so God is with us as we accept the summons to be faithful witnesses to our Catholic faith today in all that we say and do.  By taking our Archbishop's exhortation to heart, and following our Holy Father’s example ourselves, we will do more than pack the pews: we will draw souls to Christ.   Now that is “bounce.”

Monsignor Smith