Sunday, January 30, 2011

Confidence

Well, here we go again. Another snow—big and wet and deep. Yuck. This is one of those times I am glad I live at the store; because many people – including our parish staff – took up to five hours to get home from work in the mess! It does seem to me that we are having wilder weather, in general, in recent years.

Last night, after spending some time shoveling my walks, I made my way around the neighborhood in the last hour of the snowfall. A lot of houses were dark – darker than usual even at that time of night. I knew the families in many of them, and could picture their response to this all-too-familiar scenario. In Alabama we blamed our frequent power outages on the unhappy combination of pine trees, above ground power lines, and two eight-week tornado seasons each year. Here, I am not so sure, but know that many folks, including many in this parish, are sure ready to blame somebody!

It is not something we enjoy, this having no control over things. We do what we can, and try not to rage against the storm, knowing how little that accomplishes. Of course lately, it seems that more and more things are like the weather – and Pepco – are just outside of our ability to make them better.

I spoke at a meeting in the school Tuesday evening, at which about a third of the school families were represented by one or both parents. As I mentioned here last week, it is an annual meeting at which we present the school budget and next year’s tuition costs. Fundamentally, there was a lot of good news. The school budget is sound, school improvements and enhancements are continuing, and tuition increases are LESS than we forecast to expect in any given year.

But there was very little smiling going on. Things are tight, and faces showed it. Any tuition increase is unwelcome, since many folks are receiving smaller increases in income – or none at all.

I was not the only one speaking to a tense crowd that evening; the president gave his State of the Union address. Because of my talk, I missed his, and have to go by what I read in the papers the next morning. I felt for him – his audience was a lot larger, at least as skeptical as mine, and divided.

Ours is not only more compact, but also more unified. I can lead confidently in directions that he can’t. I can move relentlessly to make our budget and planning fiscally sound – since everyone knows I can’t print more money. I can count on people’s willingness to make sacrifices, even painful ones. They are already doing that to keep their kids in Catholic school; they are willing to continue to do it because they can see the fruit that it bears in the short and long terms, in the well being of their children and our community. I can direct resources toward investments in our future, by putting it into our people, program, and infrastructure.

It is hard when you realize you are not in control of all the factors that affect your life. Ask any mom, dad, president, or pastor. What helps, though, more than mustering confidence in your own ability to overcome, is knowing that the one you depend on for guidance, strength, and protection, has already won the victory. Praised be Jesus Christ – now and forever.

Monsignor Smith

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Doldrums

I had to borrow a book from my brother-in-law’s shelf to have something to read on my flights home after visiting them last week. I found one – Nathaniel’s Nutmeg – about the spice trade in the fifteen and sixteen hundreds, as European powers, through their explorers and merchants, sought contact and commerce with the spice islands of the East Indies.

In order to reach the islands from Europe, at least by way of the Cape of Good Hope in south Africa, one first had to sail south along the coast, then drift westward across the Atlantic Ocean toward Brazil, where one could catch the trade winds that blew east again toward the passage. This portion of the voyage, drifting across the mid-Atlantic from West Africa almost to South America, was known as the doldrums.

The book shed new light on the original meaning of this terrific word I have long known and used, particularly to describe the period after the Christmas season ends, and before Lent begins. We are all recovering from the exuberance and excess of the holy days, and likely the expense as well. Our goals and expectations are more modest; our entertainments fewer and more restrained. The weather itself contributes to our subdued state. It can feel like we are drifting.

But don’t let those gray skies fool you into thinking it is time to hibernate! An amazing amount of work is going on around here right now. Much of it involves our school, as now is the time to get ready for next year, believe it or not. The Finance Council, Mrs. Wood, and I are putting the finishing touches on our budget and tuition schedule for next year. Everything should be ready to announce to our current families by Tuesday evening, so they can begin looking forward to the new year.

Then we “go public” the week after that. Next Sunday, January 30 will be our school Open House, when we invite everyone who is interested to see what a terrific place and program our school is. That kicks off Catholic Schools Week, with a series of events for the students, faculty, families, and prospective families. If you have children that might benefit from a faith-driven, Christ-centered, forward-looking education surrounded and staffed by a community who cares, please, come take a look. And I can’t say this too often – invite and encourage your neighbors and friends, too!

Teaching our children is only one of the ways we go about the business of being Catholic even in the less festive times of the year. We have to remind ourselves first, and then those friends and neighbors, that everything we teach, do, and celebrate is rooted in the dignity of every human person. So while governments and groups are hunkering down to work on programs and policies, we focus our attention and, we hope, theirs, on the goal of every proper policy or program: human life, its sustenance and protection.

So come to Sunday night’s Vigil in the Church to meditate on this mystery and find strength from Him who is the source of life. We and the Friars did this here for the first time last year, and everyone who came raved about it. The rally and concert afterwards are invigorating. Think about showing up at the March for Life Monday afternoon, too. It is a remarkably positive and encouraging way simply to show that we care about life, especially of the most vulnerable ones.

This year, the period after Christmas and before Lent is as long as it ever gets – two full months – because Easter is so late. It can feel like we are drifting, but like the sailors on those amazingly fragile sailing vessels, we have work to do, and we are doing it.
Monsignor Smith

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Out of control

It was, I have to admit, fun. Every day brought a new plate of goodies, or tin of treats. Cookies galore, even fudge. Bottles of wine, and a cake – maybe two. And, oh, glory – a ham! All these things materialized here at the brick-enclosed nerve center of the parish, often already in the kitchen when I found them.

What’s a guy to do? I ATE them – all of them! Sure, Fr. D helped, but Fr. Nick – usually a very stand-up guy when it comes to devouring things – was away, and no help at all. Likewise the staff did very little for me; most of them were taking time off anyway.

On top of that was all the extravagant eating that happened at the groaning tables of celebration at people’s houses, at restaurants with friends, and in our own recently-refurbished dining room.

All through it, I was convinced that it was okay: It is Christmas, after all. This too shall pass, the goodies will be gone, and I will behave after the turn of the year. I will be abstemious, lay off the treats, and eat like a responsible, healthy (middle-aged) grown-up. That way, this won’t be a problem.

So, here we are, well into January, and the piper is demanding to be paid. I am already doing the mental gymnastics of creating exceptions, exemptions, and alternatives to grim austerity. I am sure there won’t be a problem.

Now I am not projecting any of this thought or behavior on you, though I think some may be able to identify with me. It did get me thinking: How dependent I am on illusions! I know they are illusions, if I stop to study them. I know enough to know the reality, but persist in my conviction that in this case, for me, at this time, that reality can be evaded.

How many illusions do you and I put to work in this way in any given week, or any given lifetime? How often do we convince ourselves that we can get away with something, that the bad thing won’t happen to us, that we are fine, that we are safe, that everything, somehow, will just work out right? That we are in control of things?

Just to name a few randomly chosen ones, a lot of people get nervous about air travel, but really, going by car to the grocery is much more dangerous. Everybody feels safe in their homes, but then who is it that gets burgled, or has a fire? We are all convinced that we’ll stay healthy, so how do all those folks wind up in the hospital?

You see where I am going with this, and yes, I did just experience a shocking death of a young, bright, healthy friend of mine, through no fault of his own or any other entity on the planet.

In some ways we need these illusions to be able to go about our days without being petrified that something awful will happen to us. Sometimes, we base our attitudes on perfectly good statistics that show “it” probably won’t happen to us, or our kids, or our friends.

God loves enough to give us our freedom, and we claim to value that freedom. We are free to nurture our illusions, and base our actions, even our lives, on them. But in the light of His revelation, His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased, and what Jesus did to purchase for us rescue even from the consequences of our squandered freedom – in the light of all that, who dare think that faith is an illusion?
Monsignor Smith