Saturday, June 30, 2012

Freedom For


After the 6:30 Mass this morning, once I had put off the vestments and things had been put away, the early Mass crew and I settled in front of the Blessed Sacrament to pray.  It was about ten minutes after seven o’clock in the morning.  All the church was silent; but outside, I could hear a lawn mower.  It was Anthony Dao mowing the acres of our parish lawn.
That may not strike you as unusual at all, and indeed it is not, since he does so every Thursday for seven or more months of each year.  He does it Thursday so it will look good on the weekend, and he has a fallback day, Friday, in case of rain.  You have probably noticed how beautiful and park-like our campus is, but may never have seen it being mowed to look so good.
This work I appreciate each week.  But Dao (what we call him for reasons I am not entirely sure of) did something this week to catch my attention.  It, too, is thoroughly routine but, nonetheless, I do not want you to overlook it.  He waxed the floors in the church; all of them, under the pews, and in the choir and sanctuary.  For the latter, he had to move out all the furniture.  I did not ask him to do this because it was looking bad; it is just one of the things he does periodically. 
There are many things like this he does routinely, like mowing the lawn, or vacuuming the church each Monday (after the weekend) and Friday (before the weekend).  Again, you may say, of course, but do you know how many of my priest friends are discouraged to arrive at new assignments and find their churches filthy?  It’s not FedEx Field, or one of the Regal Majestic 20 Theatres, but two thousand people each week leave their mark on a place even without beer or popcorn – but maybe a few Cheerios.  Have you ever appreciated how clean our church is?
Dao also changes the light bulbs, including the new floodlight on Our Lady on the faƧade of our church this week, and in the high fixtures in the church (you do not want to watch him go up that ladder).  He can fix anything, and around a plant that is mostly more than sixty years old, often does. 
He has been here since shortly after he arrived here from Vietnam, sometime in the 1980’s, and can tell you which Pastor did what for the place (or to the place) all the way back to Father Krastel (third Pastor of St. Bernadette, 1983 – 1987).  I think he must have been twelve when he started, since he doesn’t look old enough to have been working that long ago.
As much time as he spends here during the week, I see him every weekend. Dao, his wife, and their four children are parishioners here too.  Which is my only clue to why he works so hard on this old operation: he must love the place. 
Thank God for Dao, and for people who love this parish, and work for this parish, like Jackie Nguyen in our tuition office, also from Vietnam, and our business manager Delfina Castro, from El Salvador.  I am grateful not only for their service here, but that they can serve here, working and supporting themselves and their families, laboring for the good of Christ’s holy Church, their church, and for all the faithful.  I am grateful that they live in a country where this is possible.
God bless America!  A blessed Independence Day to you all. 
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Work of Human Hands

The brownies were home-made.
Well, of course, you say.  That’s what brownies are, you say.  I know that, but was pleasantly surprised nonetheless last weekend at the reception for our new priest, Father Patrick Lewis.  There was a huge array of food that was unmistakably home-made.
Mind you, I was running around like a madman with the details of the Mass and the visiting clergy.  The church was beautiful – our church.  The music was stupendous, thanks to Richard Fitzgerald and the combined choirs – our choirs.  The altar servers were zealous, precise, and cheerful – our altar servers. The pews were filled with proud and joyful people – our people, surrounding Father Lewis’ family, friends, and guests.  Everything about the reception in the hall was well done, with no small thanks to Margaret McDermott.  The people of Saint Bernadette had reason to rejoice, and were on top of their game to celebrate it.
I am proud, but I hope not sinfully so.  You see, we had a lot of guests last week, including people active in other parishes, and priests and seminarians from elsewhere in our Archdiocese.  They were impressed.  People said the nicest things to me.  I am glad they had the opportunity to learn what I know – that this is a terrific parish. 
But it is the home-made treats at the reception that caught my eye.  It really showed the level of care and commitment of our people for this great day for Father Lewis, his family, our parish, and the whole Church of Washington.  So many people took time to participate, to make the great day beautiful.
In our service economy, there is almost nothing you cannot purchase, that you cannot pay someone to make or provide for you.  That is one of the reasons we have such an advanced economy – it allows for a very high level of specialization.  Whole enterprises exist even for baking brownies!  So to encounter something hand- and home-made, by someone you know, is a rare and delightful treat, a true sign of the best of human relationship: love.
He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. (John 10:12-13)
Jesus let us know that there is one thing you cannot buy: a shepherd.  You cannot purchase a priest.  The work of priesthood is love, specifically the love of Christ Himself, and that cannot be outsourced.  This weekend revealed that one priest is the work of the love of many people, beginning with parents and family, including teachers and friends and priests and people who simply pray.  The outpouring of handwork from the parish for Father Lewis was an echo of the outpouring of parish handwork that produced Father Lewis himself, the work of human hands in response to and cooperation with the grace of God.
We could have paid a caterer or baker to make brownies and other treats for the reception, but that would not accurately have reflected the love that Saint Bernadette’s people have for our new priest.  Now let our hands set about what we cannot pay or even ask anyone else to do for us: the work of raising up new priests to shepherd Christ’s flock.  It is the work of love – Christ’s own redeeming, merciful love.
Because priests, too, are home-made.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Reconciliable difference


I understand that what colloquially we call schizophrenia should more accurately be called dual personality disorder.  I am not attempting to diagnose anyone in the parish, much less in the rectory, but I am searching for a descriptor for this week.
The first personality is summer.  The weather is terrific, and the campus is quiet.  Since our school finished last Friday, the phone has rung less, the traffic past my window has dwindled to almost nothing, and I actually had weekday evenings when I did not have a meeting, class, or appointment.  Ahhh.
The other personality is jubilation.  Last weekend, the liturgies celebrating the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord were rich and beautiful, suitably laden with joy and gratitude.  And the cookout on the front lawn that our men of Orate Fratres put together for us was a superb way for all who stayed to enjoy the glories of a summer day getting to know and enjoy the brothers and sisters who are nourished by Christ into being His Body here in our parish.  I thank them for the delightful opportunity.  Add a few graduation parties, and it was a wild weekend.
Now, this weekend we have the ordination of new priests for our Archdiocese, and the first Mass of Father Patrick Lewis.  The momentous first Mass of a priest from our own midst is a time of unparalleled joy and pride in our parish family.  Like last week, a great liturgy will be followed by a festive convivium, in this case a reception in the school hall.  Another wild weekend, thanks be to God!
Between weekends, we welcomed our summer seminarian, Christopher Seith, who will be here until early August to experience parish life as we at Saint Bernadette know it.  I will let him tell you more about himself in his own voice.  We want to encourage him to enter into the mystery that is our parish life in Christ, since he is preparing to be a priest of our Archdiocese.  I hope he won’t think our frenetic/relaxation or peaceful/rejoicing reflects a split personality! 
Sort of like chocolate and peanut butter in the old Reese’s add, I don’t see any conflict inherent in these two aspects of one personality I am very much enjoying: summer jubilation.  May God bless you and your families with an abundance of it!
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Believe me, believe them


One of my favorite things to talk about is the Holy Eucharist.  But on this day that we celebrate The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, I thought I would share some favorite things said by our friends.
Saint Justin Martyr: This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us.  For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God's Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.  "First Apology", Ch. 66, 148-155 A.D.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Keep these traditions inviolate, and preserve yourselves from offenses.  Do not cut yourselves off from Communion, do not deprive yourselves, through the pollution of sins, of these Holy and Spiritual Mysteries. -"Mystagogic Catechesis [23 (Mystagogic 5), 23]" ca. 350 A.D.
St. John Chrysostom: I wish to add something that is plainly awe-inspiring, but do not be astonished or upset.  This Sacrifice, no matter who offers it, be it Peter or Paul, is always the same as that which Christ gave His disciples and which priests now offer: The offering of today is in no way inferior to that which Christ offered, because it is not men who sanctify the offering of today; it is the same Christ who sanctified His own.  For just as the words which God spoke are the very same as those which the priest now speaks, so too the oblation is the very same. "Homilies on the Second Epistle to Timothy," 2,4, ca. 397 A.D.
Saint Augustine of Hippo: He who made you men, for your sakes was Himself made man; to ensure your adoption as many sons into an everlasting inheritance, the blood of the Only-Begotten has been shed for you.  If in your own reckoning you have held yourselves cheap because of your earthly frailty, now assess yourselves by the price paid for you; meditate, as you should, upon what you eat, what you drink, to what you answer 'Amen'.  "Second Discourse on Psalm 32". Ch. 4. ca. 400 A.D.
Saint Leo the Great: For when the Lord says, “unless you have eaten the flesh of the Son of Man, and drunk His blood, you will not have life in you John 6:53,” you ought so to be partakers at the Holy Table, as to have no doubt whatever concerning the reality of Christ's Body and Blood.  For that is taken in the mouth which is believed in Faith, and it is vain for them to respond Amen who dispute that which is taken. -"Sermons" [91,3] ante 461 A.D.
St. Thomas Aquinas: Material food first changes into the one who eats it, and then, as a consequence, restores to him lost strength and increases his vitality.  Spiritual food, on the other hand, changes the person who eats it into itself.  Thus the effect proper to this Sacrament is the con­ver­sion of a man into Christ, so that he may no longer live, but Christ lives in him; consequently, it has the double effect of restoring the spiritual strength he had lost by his sins and defects, and of increasing the strength of his virtues.  Commentary on Book IV of the Sentences, d.12, q.2, a.11 ca. 1260 A.D.
Let the Church say, “Amen!”
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Summer Job


Already it is June, and summer upon us.  Only our eighth graders are already “done,” though, and even for them that illusion will soon be shattered by the summer work that precedes the start of class for every high school student.  I will not be the one to break that news to them, leaving that task to their parents, and instead content myself simply to congratulate them and share their joy. 
Though school is indeed winding down and vacation season starting up, I am eager for you to be aware of important things this month that bring more work for us all, even as we dust our hands of our spring accomplishments.
First is the ongoing work of staying informed about the reality of what is occurring in our country that affects our lives as the Church.  The HHS mandate confrontation has spread to a wide level of rhetorical assault on the life and work of the Church, and this hostility pervades the bulk of published information that is around us.
As I intimated at the end of my Masses last week, the Church in the United States has not been hijacked by a right-wing conspiracy, and Catholic bishops are not trying to force anything on anyone.  But to know this, one must turn away from the newspaper, television, and many other common sources of information, and turn toward our own fathers, the bishops themselves.
Cardinal Wuerl has established a website for you to learn what the Church says about what the Church is doing, www.preservereligiousfreedom.org.  His emails, along with editorials published by the Catholic Standard illuminate and reveal realities that would otherwise be withheld from you. 
I would never suggest that you listen only to the Church’s leaders and spokesmen about this.  I would insist, however, that you give them also the opportunity to speak, teach, and explain.  Then, use the intellect God gave you when He made us in His own image to evaluate the truth of what our Bishops say, the love that motivates them, and the humility of their assertions.  Compare that, then, to the tone, tactics, and goals of all who accuse the Church, make your own decision, and act upon it. 
Second and more local, but not less important, is the work of rejoicing in the Priestly ordination of Patrick Lewis, a son of Saint Bernadette.  He will be ordained Priest for the Archdiocese of Washington along with four others at the Basilica on Saturday, June 16, at ten o’clock.  Then Father Lewis will offer his first Mass of Thanksgiving here on Sunday June 17 at eleven o’clock.
I invite and exhort all of you to turn out for both events, reflecting our pride and pleasure in the great work God has wrought in one of our own.  A priestly ordination is an exhilarating event, and to have a connection with one of the men ordained enhances that experience.  A first Mass is a poignant and beautiful thing, too, and bears with it graces and joys that go far beyond the Plenary Indulgence that is available to all who fully and faithfully participate.  Come, show your joy.
Father Lewis will doubtless feel that he, too, is “done”, like our eighth graders – done with his formation and preparation.  But he knows that even now he has one more year of graduate study in Rome to finish his degree, and that the life and work to which Christ has called him is only just beginning.  He will not shirk that work.
So should we all remind ourselves that our work is a call and a gift from God.  It is our work to be faithful to Christ and embody Him in the Church in our own nation, not avoiding adversity, but resisting it.  The quiet, but not solitary, work of informing our consciences is every Catholic’s summer reading assignment.  It is our work, too, to raise up faithful sons to be holy Priests, and sons and daughters to be vowed religious.  Even as we rejoice in the summer’s gifts, let us be about our work.
Monsignor Smith