Saturday, December 09, 2017

We are all locavores now

On this mountain the LORD of hosts
     will provide for all peoples.
On this mountain he will destroy
     the veil that veils all peoples,
The web that is woven over all nations;
     he will destroy death forever
.  (Isaiah 25:6a, 7-9)

As Washingtonians, and as modern Americans, we have all heard it said that “All politics is local.”  Regardless of the accuracy of that statement, we Catholics know that all salvation is local, that is, it takes place in a place.
The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived of the Holy Spirit.  We know that that is how the Word became flesh.  But in Nazareth, in the Basilica of the Annunciation, in the chapel of the grotto where that conversation occurred, the altar bears the inscription: verbum caro hic factum est.  Your Latin need not be good to know that means Here the Word became flesh.  And from that moment on, the eternal omnipresent God could be found in a particular place.
This “locality” of our salvation made it possible that first Christmas night for the shepherds who received the angels’ greeting to rush to the place where the Infant lay.  Or not; we don’t know whether they all went.  We know that not all come now!   But this localization of the source of life makes it possible for us, too, like those shepherds, to move toward the incarnate God, to move away from Him, or to ignore Him altogether.
I remember visiting with my parents the church where they were married.  The pastor let us make our way up into the sanctuary to stand just before the altar.  As we turned around to look back toward the entrance, my dad gave a visible shudder.  It was not the magnificence of the church, or the length of the aisle, or the beauty of the light streaming through the stained glass, though all of these were breathtaking.  It was that he had not stood there nor looked toward those doors since the moment he had done so to see his bride, who made her way toward him to join him on that spot. There, they exchanged their consent and entered into a covenant with one another and with God that changed forever their relationship with one another, and with everyone else on earth.  Truly changed, and truly forever – before the eternal God.
A few feet from those doors where my mom entered that church is the baptistery where, almost 55 weeks later, the life of Christ was poured into me in Baptism.  That place is linked by the working of God through me to Homewood Alabama, where in Our Lady of Sorrows Church I received Confirmation; and to a spot in Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and to the sanctuary of Saint Matthew Cathedral in DC, where I received Holy Orders, respectively Diaconate and Priesthood.  These are places I can visit to mark my encounters with the grace that accompanies me.  See?  All salvation is local.
At the solemn celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday in Jerusalem, the deacon narrating walks away from the lectern and toward the altar erected on the precise spot where Christ’s Cross went to ground on Mount Calvary.  There, he kneels and chants the line we all know so well, with the addition of one important word: And here, He handed over His spirit.  
Jesus thus fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy, quoted above in one of the readings often used at funerals.  Salvation takes place in a place, and changes that place forever.  By the working of God in our world and in our lives, places become not merely “special” because of the memories they hold for us, but indeed they become holy, because of that Divine touch.
One of the reasons I like to read the Isaiah prophecy at funerals here is because of the clear identification of “this mountain” that is the Mount of Calvary, and the mountain that is our Holy Altar.  Here, in our midst, the very Cross of Christ goes to ground and His precious blood flows onto the altar, across our lips, and into our lives.  This place, right here, is ground made holy by the touch of God.
The founders of our parish built us an altar that clearly looks like the holy mountain God would make it.   We can follow the prophecy, and follow the promise of Jesus This is my body…, to the place become holy because there, God is found.  Like those shepherds, we can move toward the incarnate God, move away from Him, or ignore Him altogether.  We know that He will provide for all peoples, we know that He will destroy death, and we know where it will happen: on this mountain.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Time change

I don’t have time!  How often do we hear that?  How often do we say that?  Everything about our lives occurs in time, is marked according to time, and requires time.  Time is a limited resource that, once spent, cannot be regained or repeated.
Our creator God is eternal, but does not cling to His privileged liberty from the constraints of time; rather, in Christ Jesus He comes to dwell among us, in time.  The moment of His incarnation, that is, the instant in time he took flesh in His mother’s womb, is the point where time is kissed by eternity.  As such, that time, and all time, is changed forever.
God’s self-revelation happens in time, our salvation happens in time, and our encounter with Jesus happens in time.  Time is no longer something alien from the eternal God, but the very condition of our experience of Him.
For that reason, certain times are holy because of what God has done in them, and with them.  The most obvious of these is Christmas; as we mark our own dates of birth and the birthdates of people important to us, so we recognize the holiness of the day Christ was born.  It is this holiness that compels us to treat the day differently than other days.
Other days also have been changed forever by what God has done with them.  The Lord’s Day, Sunday, the Eighth Day of the week, is the day of the resurrection of the Lord. It takes the place of the Sabbath, which had been made holy by God’s resting after the creation, because it marks the end of His resting in the tomb to initiate the re-creation of the world.  Now it is the day we keep holy, that is, we set apart among the seven of each week. 
This sanctification of time is not something that terminated long ago.  It is not something the God does only through the heroic works of someone special and different from us.  No, God continues even now to make holy this very time that we ourselves inhabit.
He does this by the work of His Church in the world, and by our work of worship.  God changes the moments and the hours in which our lives unfold by what He does in our world and in our life, and He makes our time holy.  When we enter into the divine worship, when we participate in the sacraments by which God makes Himself present and active here and now, divine eternity kisses our time-bound present.
One of the gifts God showers freely upon us is this sanctification of the time that would otherwise be only our prison and master.  His touch of a moment opens to us a door into freedom and joy. 
The day of the conception of the immaculate Mother of God, the Sundays of Advent, and the day of Christ’s birth have all been transformed by the divine touch into portals between history and eternity; when we keep them holy by entering into sacramental worship, they open our days into glory.  You tell me, is that an obligation, or an opportunity?
These days, these times are holy, made holy for us, and renewed in holiness by our free and worshipful response to God’s timely touch.  We will never truly “have” time, but with and in Christ, our loving Father makes it possible for us to possess eternity.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The same yesterday, today, and forever.

This morning I looked at the front of the newspaper, and saw Jesus staring back at me.  It was Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, a painting that had just sold at auction for over 450 million dollars, a new record for a work of art.
The article revealed that dealers had wagered the image of an enigmatic Christ dressed in a blue robe and holding a crystal orb could sell for far more [than its estimate] — given that da Vinci is a household name, fewer than 20 of his paintings survive, and this is the last one deemed by him in private hands.
It continued: The sale reflects the trophy-hunting atmosphere dominating the international art market lately… It helps that da Vinci is hailed as a hero of the Renaissance, a period in Europe when artists experimented with optical illusion and anatomical dissection to render their subjects lifelike and landscapes infinite. 
In this work, da Vinci depicts Christ in flowing robes, his left hand cupping a crystal orb while his right is raised in blessing. The figure’s brown ringlets fall around his shoulders, framing a long face and dimpled chin.
Da Vinci painted the portrait around 1500, and it bounced among European royals for hundreds of years before shoddy cleaning efforts and overpainting rendered it almost unrecognizable.
The value of the painting lies clearly in its creator, a great artist and scholar, as well as in the rarity of his works.  But it is also fitting that the subject of the painting, rendered with the skill and mastery for which that artist is known, is the incarnate God. 
How could da Vinci, who lived 1500 years after Christ, have depicted Him with any authenticity, skeptics might ask.  Isn’t this just a painting of a regular guy dressed up as Jesus?
God has made it possible to know Him by allowing us to know His Son.  That knowledge, even that intimacy, is available to us who are in the Church through her Scriptures and teachings, in the Sacraments and in all her works.  We are given the opportunity and ability not simply to know about Him, but truly to know Him.  Leonardo knew his Lord.
The Word took flesh and dwelt among us, and ever since, God has had a human face.  God took on our human nature, and in so doing revealed everything we have in common with Him; everything, that is, except sin. 
One of the ways in which mankind resembles our Creator God is in our desire and our ability to create.  This aspect of human nature was at its peak in Leonardo da Vinci, artist and inventor.    Truth, beauty, and goodness were the subject and goal of his works, and as such echo the very creative work of God.  Mortal artists share in the creative work of the immortal Creator whenever they bring into being some new image or object that is unique and good.  
Because God became man, whenever an artist depicts in his work some reality that is truly human, he reveals something that is also true of God.  Therefore, what makes this 500-year-old portrait beautiful, what makes it human, what makes it attractive, makes it also truly revelatory of Jesus, the Son of God.  He is the Savior of the World, before our very eyes.
It seems fitting as we contemplate the End of Days in this final week of the liturgical year, to be up-to-the-minute with the art world and the latest international news.  It is a gift of providence that commerce and journalism should conspire to present to a busy and even distracted modern society, this image of Jesus Christ, who is King of the Universe.  It gives us pause to give thanks to our heavenly Father, and to artists, who reveal in Jesus God’s breathtaking glory -- and our own.
Monsignor Smith