Saturday, May 26, 2012

Keeping it together

When things go right, nobody notices they are going at all.  When things go wrong, it is amazing what one learns.
If you were at the eleven o’clock Mass last week, you noticed the paramedics in the choir right before Holy Communion.  Gemma Adami, a choir member famous for her remarkable soprano voice since the days of Msgr. Stricker, lost consciousness and slumped in her chair.  After she was deftly removed to the hospital for tests, she bounced back quickly, and it was determined nothing grave had occurred.  She benefitted from the prayers of all who offered them for her.
This was not a good thing in itself, and I would not seek to see it repeated.  But it revealed something beautiful that I want to share with you. 
When Gemma lost consciousness, the other choir members responded.  I found out what was happening when two of the other sopranos came out side to guide in the EMTs.  Their concern for Gemma was obvious and genuine. They had noticed she was not doing very well earlier in the Mass, and had been keeping an eye on her and talking to her about how she felt.  
When I arrived to lead the medics into the choir and give Gemma the sacrament of anointing, other choristers were at work gently caring for the unconscious Gemma, and trying to reach her family members.  As the medics carried her to the ambulance, the singers were recounting to them everything that Gemma had said or done that might shed light on her condition.
Something beautiful was at work in all this, too.  I could not help but marvel at the genuine friendship and affection that obviously exists in the choir, and the great care they have for one another.  This is all the more remarkable because of the broad range of age and experience in the group.  While Gemma is in her sixth decade singing for us, some of the others are in their first year.  The sopranos who were so attentive to her are the age of her granddaughters.   
This broad variety of people come together to sing and praise God every week in our parish, uniting men and women of diverse backgrounds in one common endeavor of glorifying God.  They form a microcosm of the parish itself, with bonds that grow strong and beautiful, manifest for all who have eyes to see.
Right before Easter, another chorister, Bernice Bartlett, died at the age of 95.  A remarkable woman who was always smiling and loved to be with the choir even though she wasn’t up to singing the more demanding pieces, she was loved and respected by the singers.  This was clear when they all sang for her funeral  -- on Wednesday morning of Holy Week, the most demanding time of the year for church singers.  This was a beautiful display the true bonds of community that exist across differences that divide other aspects of society, as some who knew, loved and sang for her were not even one-quarter her age.
Yes, one of the things I want to do by this is to encourage you to consider joining one of our choirs.   There is probably someone there already with whom you have something in common, but not everything.  It is famously said that he who sings prays twice, and singing together makes for a powerful union in prayer.  Who among us does not need to strengthen that union?
But also, I want to draw your attention to the strength of the communion you already have within our praying and singing parish, in which more folks than you realize know about you and care for you.  We help one another and pray for one another even when it our particular need is not so obvious to everyone.  Last Sunday morning Gemma received more prayer and assistance than she will ever know.  You don’t have to wait for something to go wrong, much less accrue her kind of seniority around here, to receive the exact same thing.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Every day is filled with things we could do.  We could hold open a door for someone coming along behind us; we offer a kind word to someone who seems downcast.  We could put aside time to prepare something for the family down the street that is grieving, or bring home someone’s favorite treat just because we were thinking of them. 
These are all things we could do, not things we must do.  There is no imperative for any one of them; if we omit to do them, we are guilty of neither failure nor fault.  Perhaps if we fail to do all of them, we risk being discourteous, or even rude.   But there is no penalty for choosing not to do any one or two of them.  It is these optional acts that are all we have to offer one another as fellow human beings.  That which is compulsory is no gift, only duty.
These acts of grace come into our awareness as we grow and learn, usually because our parents or mentors instruct us.  Sometimes, we see others do them, possibly for our own benefit, and decide to make them part of our own practice of living.
The information age has opened for us a bewildering awareness of the range of things that we could do.  I am convinced that packing a little I-love-you note into a child’s lunch was not on most people’s radar until someone showed it on television.   Hints and handbooks have given way to an internet filled with suggestions and instructions.  Marketing, too, has effectively insinuated into our minds thoughts of things we can offer to others, planted there by the people who make and sell them. 
There are invariably folks who seem to do all of these things, or at least an astonishing array of them, and do them well.  Lively touches to their homes, thoughtful words or gestures, concern expressed when no one could be expected to have noticed.  Wonderful as it is to receive the benefit of their attentions, sometimes these folks can make us feel inept because we never manage to do so many things so well as they do.  But we should not allow our own inability to do it all to discourage us from striving to do what we can, and what we should.
One of the great gifts of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is that by taking flesh and dwelling among us, He makes it possible for us to do for Him more than we must.  There are always things we could do for Him, but are not compelled to do.  We can stop and pay a visit to Him in the tabernacle of some church we pass daily – but we don’t have to.  We can write a little I-love-you note to Him, and put it where He will find it.   We can bring flowers to His mom, or gently and affectionately reach out and touch His image whenever we pass our crucifix.  We can make the effort to dress modestly and well for Him when we set out for Mass, and put aside the time for a personal thank-you in silence afterward.
Those little extra things we do for our own children, or our neighbors, are simple acts of love that bind us more closely together.  Thanks be to God for giving us every day not simply what we must do, but plenty of things that we could do.
Monsignor Smith

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Your Amen

It was even more delightful than I had anticipated.  First Holy Communion last Saturday, followed closely by our May Procession and Crowning of Our Lady, made for a weekend that reminds me why I am a priest. 
To offer Our Lord to all those children was a true pleasure and privilege; they were obviously so aware, thanks to their parents and catechists, of Him whom they were receiving.  To see the church so crowded is always a boost, as well; that all the people present be invigorated in their faith and devotion to our Eucharistic Lord is my goal and prayer.
After the Mass, I spent the day moving from party to party, as families marked the occasion with great festivity.  It is humbling for me to be invited into people’s lives so completely, and so generously.  Not only that, but when Saint Bernadette folks have a party, it is invariably great fun.
And since we draw such energy from bringing Christ’s body into the lives of our young people, it is only fitting that we recognize her who gave Him that flesh and blood, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  She is the first tabernacle of the Lord who dwells among us, and by her gracious acceptance of God’s will, what we receive in Him came through her.  It is only fitting that we crown her not only with flowers but also with our affection and love.  Let me ask you not to neglect to bring flowers to our Mary altar all month, any more than you would want to neglect your own mom on Mother’s Day.
Reflecting on Mary makes it even more obvious what our own mothers have done for us, and continue to do, especially in their prayer for us.  So let me wish all the moms of our parish a blessed Mother’s Day!
Our faith is a faith of real people, and real experiences, touched and changed by the presence and participation of God Himself.  Jesus is the Son of God, but also and no less the Son of Mary.  He reveals Himself gently, not overwhelmingly, that we might choose to respond by accepting Him.  As the young Virgin responded to the astonishing proposal brought by the angel with her humble, “be it done unto me according to your word,” so do we all have the opportunity to say, “so be it.” 
Those beautiful children said their “so be it” (“Amen”) to the God who desires to dwell in them, to make them members of His body.  They answered in one or two cases self-consciously, in another few nervously, but in not one case half-heartedly, and accepted the awesome gift and responsibility of carrying Christ in their flesh. 
You all know I am no angel, but when I pause at that instant after I have said to you, “The Body of Christ,” I look and listen for your response, not only the syllables of “Amen,” but the intention to accept what at God’s command I offer – a participation in the life of His Son.  As did the angel when His Holy Mother consented to bring Him into the world that first time, so do I rejoice when I receive your consent to bear him into the world today.   Each time I detect that, I am reminded why I am a priest.
Monsignor Smith