Saturday, September 29, 2012

Who is truly at work

Forgive me for cribbing, but I was reading the address of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, from his Wednesday audience this week.  I found it really spoke to me, and hope it will speak to you:
Like the Apostles, we too have repeated and we still repeat to Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Lk 11:1).
In addition, in order to live our personal relationship with God more intensely, we have learned to invoke the Holy Spirit, the first gift of the Risen Christ to believers, because it is he who "comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought," (Romans 8:26).
At this point we can ask: how can I allow myself to be formed by the Holy Spirit?  What is the school in which he teaches me to pray and helps me in my difficulties to turn to God in the right way?  The first school of prayer, which we have covered in the last few weeks, is the Word of God, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Scripture in permanent dialogue between God and man, an ongoing dialogue in which God reveals Himself ever closer to us.  We can better familiarize ourselves with his face, his voice, his being and the man learns to accept and to know God, to talk to God.  So in recent weeks, reading Sacred Scripture, we looked for this ongoing dialogue in Scripture to learn how we can enter into contact with God. 
There is another precious "space", another valuable "source" to grow in prayer, a source of living water in close relation with the previous one.  I refer to the liturgy, which is a privileged area in which God speaks to each of us, here and now, and awaits our response. 
What is the liturgy? If we open the Catechism of the Catholic Church – an always valuable and indispensable aid especially in the Year of Faith, which is about to begin - we read that originally the word "liturgy" means " service in the name of/on behalf of the people" (No. 1069).  If Christian theology took this word from the Greek world, it did so obviously thinking of the new People of God, born from Christ, who opened his arms on the Cross to unite people in the peace of the one God.  "Service on behalf of the people," a people that does not exist by itself, but that has been formed through the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ.  In fact, the People of God does not exist through ties of blood, territory or nation, but is always born from the work of the Son of God and communion with the Father that He obtains for us.
The Catechism also states that "in Christian tradition (the word "liturgy") means the participation of the People of God in "the work of God." Because the people of God as such exists only through the action of God.
You can read the rest of his address at the Vatican website, along with all his addresses.  We are nearing the fiftieth anniversary of the October 11, 1962 opening of the Second Vatican Council, on which we will enter the Year of Faith.  It is worth noting that these are the reflections the Holy Father is giving us to lead us to grow in that faith.
Monsignor Smith

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Looking at the glass

Some days I see how much is in the glass, and some days I see what isn’t in it.  I suppose I wouldn’t be much of a pastor if I couldn’t identify both.  Take a look yourself at the annual report for the parish we offer this week, and see what you can find.
What’s in the glass?  We have a vigorous parish, with new members and families registering every month, and families growing in size as well as faith.  We have an increase in marriages, a strong trend of baptisms, and a decrease in funerals.  We have a strong school that is one of the best in the Archdiocese, and a burgeoning Religious Ed program.  We have a growing youth program, and a thriving network of young adults.  Our teachers, ministerial staff, and catechetical leaders are energized, on target, and effective.
We paid off the mortgage from the addition to the school complex, which was heart-stoppingly near $800,000 when I got here six years ago. (can I hear a “Woohoo!” for that, please?)   Simultaneously, we put a new heating system and for the first time ever air-conditioned the entire school complex without a fundraising campaign of any sort.  We did it in three years, though it was budgeted over four, so incurred a new debt that we will pay off by June of next summer.  
We can pay all our bills and meet our payroll.  We give a lot of help to families to participate in our excellent school.  We do little things around the place to improve and maintain it.  We received a few specific donations to enrich the chapel and the church, and to get a couple of bonus goodies for the school.
What’s not in the glass?  Well, honestly, as good as all that sounds, we are running very, very lean.  General capital improvements to our extensive plant were suspended over the past year except for little necessities and the one big thing I mentioned.  I still do not have the resources to replace the rectory roof, which is perilously close to causing damage to the structure.  I plan to spend on that what I would be paying to have a second priest on staff here this year.  Think of it as Fr. DeRosa’s salary, if you will; but I should not have to do that.  I am not talking about grand improvements, here, either, but the basic things that keep our splendid campus functional, safe, and effective, and one would even hope, improve its efficiency.
What are my concerns?  Our offertory has been what I think you would call “soft,” rather than weak.  Well do I know how expensive everything has become, and how little our personal resources have risen to meet that expense.  The administrative burdens, school and rectory, have increased to the point that our tiny but tireless staff are constantly at about ten percent above maximum output.  We do not help the poor enough.  We cut back on our giving to maintain our expectations.  I know a lot of people are looking forward to “when things get better.”
Honestly, this parish near an intersection in Silver Spring is full of faith, life, and desire to please the Lord.  Amazing things happen here; just this week we had a small, matter-of-fact outburst of help to fund scholarships for some families who cannot pay even the small Religious Ed fees.   But are we generous enough?  Are we too anxious to see what we will get out of something before we are willing to put in?  Do I include myself in that examination?  You bet.  Does this affect the spiritual health of the parish as well as the fiscal health?   Truly, no – it affects the spiritual health more.  Else I would have no business asking.
So look at the numbers and rejoice, as well as reflect.  The blessings of the Lord are abundant, and cause for gratitude; all that remains to ask, is that we be more like Him. 

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, September 15, 2012

More than just another team sport

Help is on the way!  For those of you who were lamenting the lack of variety in programming here at WSTB, your ship has come in.  Our weekend seminarian for this academic year, Deacon Clayton Thompson, arrived last week and made it clear he has something to offer.  Whether you met him or missed him, you can learn more about him from the little introduction he presents in today’s bulletin.
No one could be happier about this than I am.  I am not sure it has occurred to many of you, but one of the hardest things about being a parish priest is preaching all the time, but not because it is a burden to preach, no indeed – that is an element in the air I breathe, one of the things that gives me life!  It is a burden because it means I am so rarely preached to.  God knows I need it! 
I would be negligent if I were to fail to mention Fr. Clint McDonell, who has been stepping up since his return here one month ago.  He is a huge help, and his taking a Mass every day is really above the call of duty for a student resident.  We all got spoiled with our last student priest, Father Nick, who really loved being involved around here as much as possible during his five years with us.  Father McDonell, though still new, is similarly doing more than I would dare ask, and he seems to be enjoying every minute of it.  Of course, when he celebrates or preaches, it makes it possible for me to be somewhere else, so I do not benefit from his preaching in the same way you do.
Both Father McDonell and Deacon Thompson are delighted to have the opportunity to work with and for this parish, with and for you.  For us who are priests (or who will be priests) it is indeed work, but it is work like being someone’s dad is work.  That is, it is work without which we would not know who we are, why we are, or what we are for.  Sure, we can gripe about it with the rest of them, but it is what keeps us alive and gives us joy.  Not just preaching, not just offering Mass, but being priests of Jesus Christ with and for you, which means we get to see you as Jesus Himself sees you.  You are our delight.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Hard-won Beauty

It is true – you do have it tough; no question.  You alone know how hard it is to do what you do, as well as you do it, with the results that you manage to achieve.  Heaven knows (though the rest of the world sure doesn’t!) how the odds are stacked against you, the circumstances that conspire to make it difficult, and that luck just doesn’t go your way as often as you need it to.
Honest.  I am not kidding you.  I believe you.  Your hardships are real, not imagined, and are in fact one of the things that sets you apart – that, and how you respond to them.  Of course I respect that.
That’s why this little flower made me think of you.  Several people drew my attention to this one small, strong, completely singular flower that grew and bloomed over the past week in a crack between the concrete steps and the brick wall on the west side of the church.  Where there is no soil, water, or care provided, this feisty little thing managed to manifest some serious floral splendor entirely on its own initiative and sheer toughness.  Someone even plucked the bloom last Sunday, but it resolutely produced another.
The folks who saw it there recognized something that they themselves had in common, and encouraged by its success, offered some encouragement of their own:  you go, guy!
Some folks get all the breaks.  Take, for example, the flowers on my back deck this summer: beautiful hanging baskets, a large potted “garden,” and window boxes.  They have had every advantage; carefully nurtured at a reputable greenhouse, watered assiduously all summer, pulled into the shade during the searing days of July; fertilized, but not overly. The marigolds and impatiens in the window boxes were even planted by the expert hands of Jerry McNamara!  Talk about every advantage - no wonder they look splendid.
To us, other people look like the ones abundantly blessed, more often than not.  Some folks get all the breaks, while we get all the hard knocks; at least so it seems.  We see only their beauty and advantage.  That is not because they have no hardship or struggle, for they do; only they are invisible to us. 
I think that is why our little heroic flower caught so many people’s attention.  They felt that they had something in common with it.  In truth, that struggle and that adversity are what we have in common with everybody.   
And so it is what God has taken in common with us.  He sees us and knows our struggles, and joins us in them.  That is why he is perfectly united with us in the hardship he freely accepted for us, death on a cross.  That is the tree of life, and the bloom that never withers. 

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Turn a page, do a good turn.

August is the best month of the year.  That long-held conviction of mine was borne out again this year, as one splendid day followed another.  It was nothing like July, which was unbearable.  Everybody is in a better mood in August, not least because they are either on vacation, or enjoying the reduced traffic and agitation because so many people are away on vacation. 
Even the last week of August, taken over now by the return to school of almost everybody, is still pleasant.  Kids are actually excited to be in school.  Parents are deeply excited that they are there, too.  Little siblings, well, they feel left out – but they are beginning to realize what a good deal they are getting!  And as I sped around the Beltway during rush hour this week – yes, veritably raced, during rush hour! – it became apparent that while many of us local types are back to business, the political, journalistic, and lobbying folks are all elsewhere.   That is a not unpleasant thing for the rest of us. 
But the bell rings, the page turns, a day marked for Labor comes, and it all ends.  Sigh.  It is time to get out those dress shoes and put away those flip-flops.  The latter are some of the least functional and least attractive footwear ever, so it is no great loss in my book.  Maybe there are some upsides to this change of season after all.
It is also time to go to confession, not because Labor Day is a holy day, but because this turn of the seasons and turning of our attentions is a natural time for review, repentance, and renewal. 
Come on, really – are you going to remember the failures, faults, and fumbles of June or July until December, when Advent and the coming of Christmas draw your attention to preparing for Christ?  No.  And you shouldn’t!  The autumn will bring sufficient evidence of our being marked by the Fall.   Cleanse your hearts and your consciences of the times you relaxed into negligence, or rejoiced with recklessness, or sought solitude out of selfishness.  The summer has its characteristic sins that are different, but worth identifying, owning, and unloading.  Jesus looks at us all as we try to pull ourselves together and get serious again, and just says, Bring it.  With His merciful help, both our consciences and our notebooks can be clean, fresh, and ready for the new projects the cooler weather brings.
Our own school opened with a shout this week, as we welcomed back many energetic sons and daughters, along with new teachers, new students, and whole new families from many sources, including a number from our neighbor, Saint Michael, who closed their school this summer.  These folks are dedicated to Catholic education no less then the standard bearers of our own venerable community, and we are pleased to be able to bring them into our strong tradition to help them fulfill theirs.
Meanwhile, many folks from our own parish are hitting major obstacles on the road to fulfilling their hope of a Catholic education for their kids.  After years of faithfully paying tuition, several families have fallen on sudden hard times for reasons that would be familiar to most of you.  They are convinced they will bounce back, but in the meantime they need the strength of our parish community to help carry them across this rough patch.  So, if you did not spend it all on vacation, consider making a contribution to our tuition assistance program.  Your boost can help someone promising reach the heights of achievement.
Because August is over, but when we help one another in Christ, September brings sweet fruit as well.
Monsignor Smith