Saturday, October 29, 2011

Understanding our Mother

Would you believe a scandalous story about your mother that was told by someone who loved neither her, nor you?

Most of us are not famous. We do not face the morning papers with delight or dread at the prospect of an article or an op-ed piece that paints us in a good or bad light. Our relationships are more direct, less mediated by third parties.

Still, some of us get our moment in the news. This is Washington, and sometimes our employers or organizations get the spotlight for at least a moment. Friends or family members enjoy or hate their fifteen minutes of fame.

We have some taste of how unfair and inaccurate even the simplest and most straightforward news coverage can be. If we are honest with ourselves, that little insight makes us highly skeptical of everything we read, watch, or hear about other folks. We know it is not the whole story, not enough to claim we know a person or an event accurately and fairly. The simple process of preparing a news story is itself enough to distort a person’s character simply by emphasizing the immediately interesting and omitting the everyday experience.

We would not allow CNN or the Washington Post to change our minds about someone we know well. We would discredit Fox News or Drudge before we took their word over the story we heard from our close friend or family member. This would be the most common of common sense.

Oddly, though, many American Catholics allow an assortment of strangers and enemies to shape their knowledge and understanding of the Church. Journalists and academics, even when being faithful to the standards of their profession, do not seek to understand or explain the faith and life of the Catholic Church according to criteria or characteristics valued by her faithful ministers or members, much less her divine Founder.

In seeking the story or sensation, journalists have no time for the mundane reality of daily prayer and penance. In explaining her actions and history, academics resort too often to measures of power and politics. We wouldn’t believe this stuff if they were saying it about our moms, so why should we credit it when they are talking about Holy Mother, the Church?

That’s what Father Jim Barron, a gifted Chicago priest, theologian, and teacher, and a number of his friends decided. They have compiled a ten-episode video series entitled Catholicism that explains the Church in terms Jesus would have used, and ways people who know her best can recognize her. They traveled the globe to speak of every aspect of her life in front of the most vivid, and often most beautiful, examples of those elements.

Some of the episodes are being run on public television – MPT carried two. The ten-DVD series is easily available on the internet. Episodes will be shown and discussed by several groups in the parish in coming months. You should give your attention to this lesson. It is an opportunity, rare enough these days, to learn about the Church from someone who loves both her, and you.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Not Exaggerated

You’re dead.  Not the I-had-a-really-hard-day kind of dead; not the if-they-catch-me-doing-this kind, either; no, classic, old-fashioned, the-life-is-gone-out-of-you dead.  Not alive anymore.  Now what?
Well, first of all, there’s nothing you can do about it. Really – you’re dead, so the time for doing, or deciding, is over.  You are passive, but aware.
You are annoyed to find out that you are not in heaven, which you expected because you’ve seen too many movies.  You ask, whatever happened to For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)?

Yes, that salvation is achieved once and for all in Christ Jesus by His perfect sacrifice on the cross.   But it is not achieved in you – not totally anyway, not yet.  All those little things are stuck to you, weighing you down.  At least they seemed little to you at the time you grabbed them. Oh, God wouldn’t send me to hell for this.

You were right about one thing – God wouldn’t send you to hell;  He would have you with Him in glory!  But that seemed so eventual then, back when you got to choose how you spent your time, what you had around you.  You wanted to hold on to those other things, things that seemed important, delightful, or just fun.  Now they are holding on to you, holding you back from heaven.  Now you can’t let go!  You can’t do anything!   You’re dead.

By the mercy of Christ you’re in Purgatory, which may not sound like good news, but it is, because you’re not in hell. That would have required a conscious rejection of Christ’s offer of salvation, renunciation of your Baptism into His death and resurrection, or a conscious choosing of grave sin without repenting.  There’s only one place to go from Purgatory, and that’s heaven.  But you can’t get yourself there.  You need help!  So you ask yourself, who will help me?

Whom did you ask to help you, back when you could do things?  Did you teach your children to pray for you?  Did you tell them to have the Holy Mass offered for you, not only a funeral Mass, but others as well, on the month’s mind, on the anniversary?  Do they know how to pray the rosary?  Who will offer up their pains and sufferings for you, even do penance for you?  Who will help detach those “little” sins from you so that you can move toward the glory?  Who will help you with that spiritual maintenance and upkeep that you never quite got around to, when you were still able to do for yourself?

Next month is the month of All Souls, set aside every year to remember the ones who have gone before us, everyone whose goodness we knew, everyone who loved us and whom we loved. We remember some that we just know are going to need some help. And we help them!

Compile your list, and use the All Souls envelopes to place their names on our Holy Altar to be prayed for at Mass every day in November. Put your sacrifice for them right inside. Say a prayer daily for the Souls in Purgatory. Offer it up. Light a candle. Come to Mass on November 2 – that’s right, the second day in a row – and bring the intentions of your beloved dead with you. While you can still decide and do, bring your children, teach them, and show them. They’ll learn how much you count on their prayers. Because without them, you’re dead.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What we do for one another

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict wants us to focus with him on prayer. That is one of the many things our pilgrims learned during our time with him last week. In his catecheses during his weekly general audiences, he is addressing prayer, and last week he focused particularly on Psalm 23 – the Lord is my shepherd. This is particularly appropriate to us Americans because the popularity of this psalm with our Protestant brothers and sisters has probably made it the equivalent of a chart-topper. But how often do we Catholics remember that it is in fact a prayer?

Said the Pope: Turning to Lord in prayer involves a radical act of trust, in the awareness that one is entrusting oneself to God who is good, "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6-7; Psalm 86:15; cf. Joel 2:13; Genesis 4:2; Psalm 103:8; 145:8; Nehemiah 9:17). For this reason, today I would like to reflect with you on a Psalm that is wholly imbued with trust, in which the psalmist expresses the serene certainty that he is guided and protected, and kept safe from every danger, because the Lord is his shepherd.

Of course, he said that in Italian – but gave a synopsis in English, and spoke some seven or eight other languages too, to teach and greet the thirty to forty thousand pilgrims who were with us in the square that day. He gave us his blessing, which he assured us we could bring home to you. It was good for us to be with our shepherd – Christ’s vicar, who shepherds His flock upon earth.

I am thrilled to learn how well you all thrived without your (local) shepherd for the days I was away. Father DeRosa did a fine job of keeping an eye on things. The Fall Festival and associated events were a great success, despite some disappointing weather. I thank chairmen Lauren Draley and Stanley and Jessica Barsch for doing such a great job of pulling it together, and the Knights of Columbus, Boy Scouts, Holy Name guys, and all the volunteers and sponsors who made it work so well.

We parish priests count on your prayers for us and for the parish, in extraordinary times and day to day. Your prayer is a vital support for the work not only of the priests but also of the whole community. We priests just get the chance more than you to see the need, direct the grace, and often, see the results of all your prayer.

Our pilgrimage was characterized by prayer as well. Everywhere we went – Saint Catherine’s Siena, Saint Francis’ Assisi, the catacombs and the basilicas of Rome, we offered Mass, and we always, always prayed for the parish and all the intentions that had been entrusted to us. In our rosaries and in our visits to the sacred places, we brought your needs with us to the Lord.

Deacon Patrick Lewis and thirty-four others were ordained in splendor, and now have a license to preach and assist at the Holy Altar. Deacon Lewis was radiant with grace and looks forward to being ordained a priest here, in Washington’s basilica, next June 16. Do not neglect him in your prayers!

As this week in our most powerful prayer, the Holy Mass, we begin using the musical settings of the new English translation, let me share with you a Latin phrase that sums up the fabric of our relationship: Oremus pro invicem. It means, let us pray for one another. Our Holy Father Pope Benedict wants us to focus with him on prayer. Together here, or on separate continents, Oremus pro invicem.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Separation Anxiety

This is one of my favorite weekends of the year at Saint Bernadette. Oktoberfest, Becca’s Run, and the Fall Festival combine with (please God!) fabulous weather to bring our parish and many of our neighbors and friends together for fun. I love it. But this year I am missing it!

Patrick Lewis, who grew up here in our parish and is now a seminarian for our Archdiocese, will be ordained a Deacon in Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on Thursday, October 6. This is a great moment not only for him, but also for the parish, and I wanted it to be the occasion for a pilgrimage of our parishioners to Rome.

I have seen this conflict coming for years. The diaconate ordinations for the Pontifical North American College in Rome are always the first week of October; mine was October 3, 1996, and Father DeRosa’s was October 4, 2007 (I was there). The Fall Festival and accompanying events always fall on the weekend before Columbus Day. Rather than try to fiddle with the schedule, I reluctantly decided I would have to miss the big weekend.

Never before have I taken a group on such a pilgrimage, though the better part of nine years of my life was spent in Rome. I know how much a visit to the holy places there can strengthen one’s understanding of the Faith and the Church. We will visit the tomb of Saint Peter, and attend an audience with his successor, Pope Benedict XVI. Before we make our way to Rome, our group will visit Siena, and the shrine of Saint Catherine there; Assisi, and the Basilicas of Saint Francis and Saint Clare; and Orvieto, where we will see evidence of the Eucharistic miracle that gave birth to the Feast of Corpus Christi.

In the time left over from the official tour, the few, the proud, and the foolish will accompany me on a little wander of my own devising called “The Bataan Death-March Tour of Early Christian Rome.” That exaggerates slightly its difficulty, but it does take effort to touch the first, third, and fourth centuries of Christian worship and life, walk through a door that was carved and hung in 432; pray beneath mosaics from the sixth and seventh centuries, as well as some from the twelfth century designed to resemble those “old” ones; and stand nose-to-nose with frescoes painted in the ninth century that depict Christ’s descent among the dead and Mary’s Assumption into heaven – all in the same day. Especially when you remember that Rome is a city built on hills – seven of them.

So please, in addition to your prayers for good weather for the festival weekend, please pray for soon-to-be-deacon Patrick Lewis and his classmates, that their hearts be disposed to receive the full grace and power of the Holy Spirit as they enter Holy Order. Pray too not only for the safety of us who are on pilgrimage, but also that our hearts be touched and opened by our experience of the Faith and the Church, and we be drawn closer not only to one another but to the saints of God, and Him toward whom our entire earthly pilgrimage is directed.

I am sorry not to be with you this weekend, but heaven knows it is not as if you cannot enjoy yourselves without me! As I pray at the shrines of the Apostles, and in my pastor’s heart as I join our Supreme Pastor, you will be in my prayers.

Monsignor Smith