Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Road Home

Most of you know that I love being on the road, because I love to drive.  I enjoy the experience of controlling a vehicle that is moving me from Point A to Point B.  I enjoy getting there by the fastest route possible, but I also like dawdling along the scenic route.  The trip is often at least as important as reaching the destination. 
Though I always enjoy the driving, there are some stretches of road that I enjoy more than others.  Beautiful roads, challenging roads, and roads that take me home make my heart sing.  I-81 from Blacksburg down toward Knoxville, for example, is a favorite.  County Road 647 in Fauquier County, Virginia is another. 
The Holy Gospel we hear proclaimed at Mass throughout the Church year is rather like a road the opens up before us.  We follow Jesus from episode to episode, following where he leads us, all the while seeing much that is familiar, and simultaneously finding something new every time.
The Scriptural texts for Sunday Mass, presented in the Lectionary (the book of readings), are arranged in three one-year-long programs, with each year walking through a Gospel: Year A is Matthew, then Mark in Year B, and finally Luke in C.  John’s Gospel is peppered throughout the year, usually on Holy Days and major feasts.
This year is Year B, and we are about halfway through Saint Mark’s Gospel, which is the shortest.  Mark is so brief that there is not enough Gospel to fill all the Sundays of the year.  So to fill the gap, for five weeks in late summer, we have one chapter of John’s Gospel.  As I looked to the readings for this week to prepare to preach, I was filled with delight as I saw the Gospel passage and said to myself, is it time for this already?  What a pleasure to walk once more down this familiar path with you.
Not just any chapter, John 6 is this evangelist’s contribution to our understanding of the Eucharist.  Every evangelist recounts the feeding of the five thousand with which this chapter begins, but only John presents what follows: Jesus’s discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum, in which He explains that He is the Bread of Life, and that unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we do not have life within us. 
In a way this Gospel chapter is like a beautiful road, with words and actions of Christ presented in such a marvelous way that each and every detail, every word and every sentence, is as perfect and proportionate as the splendid truth that they collaborate to convey to us.  But it is also like a challenging road, in that each time I explore it I find a new twist that requires an appropriate response in order to keep me on track.  Many of the disciples turned away at these words; that would be a wrong turn.  For us who continue, it is also the road home, full of comfortable and familiar landmarks that indicate that we are on the right track, and how close we are to safety. 
Here we are again, already.  Beginning John 6 means it is almost August.  School will start eight days after we finish making our way through this chapter.  Wow.  Thank goodness it is also a long road, one that takes five weeks!  Because while the Holy Eucharist in which Christ feeds us Himself, body, blood, soul, and divinity, brings us to our glorious destination with Him in eternal glory, I am not yet eager to reach its conclusion.  I am enjoying the summer, and as ever, I am enjoying driving down one of my favorite stretches of road.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Though I was not born there, I have spent a lot of my time in the South.  I was in New Orleans by age seven, lived in Alabama from the time I was nine, and went to college in Virginia (never mind that Alabamans considered that “up north”) and remained in that fair Commonwealth until going to seminary.  After one year in Baltimore, I spent five years in Rome, which is decidedly the South – just the south of a different continent.  Even here in Maryland we are well south of the Mason-Dixon line, though some days I get edgy about being on this side of the Potomac.  More time in Rome has broken up even that.
One common observation about Southerners is that they do everything slower.  Though this is often cited pejoratively, I think the great wisdom of that has been revealed in these recent days of heat.  Especially when the power was out and not a breath of chill was to be found, we all learned that speed and motion only increase the heat, and the sweat, and the discomfort. So why rush?
Without the God-like power of a thermostat, we become more attentive to the little gifts as we can find them: a wisp of a breeze, a patch of shade, a splashing fountain.  A shaded bench on which to sit, with a light breeze coming off the ocean, the lake, or even the nearby fountain, is delight itself.  Having found that spot, who would be in a hurry?
Now, I do admit that one of the things I do in the summer is work around the house.  Without the frenetic level of phones bleating and doorbells ringing, classes to teach and meetings to meet, the rectory is little more like a home and less like a train station, so summer is when I rearrange, clean out, sort, discard, reconsider and re-purpose.  Thanks to the marvel of climate control, I can pretend that I am in some brisk, labor-encouraging northern clime. 
No doubt you have similar summer projects.  But really, I think most of you are with me when I say I like to use the summer time to move a little slower, be less rushed, and soak in the good things that the season brings, whether that be beach time or fresh peaches.  All the best bits of summer come when we stop hurrying.  If you find yourself nodding, your inner Southerner’s slow grin is showing.
Please allow me to add to the list one more “slow” summer sweetness to savor: prayer.  Churches and chapels have a well-earned reputation for being cool, and even dimly lit: just what you are seeking.  Ours even has a new compressor for the air conditioner – instant cool breeze!  There are plenty of places to sit, and no rush to move on.  Churches everywhere – downtown and at the beach, in the mountains and along the roads -- are open, and the tabernacle holds the One who is so eager for some slow time with you.  We all know which place is associated with fire and unrelenting heat, so to peer into the face of Him who reigns in Heaven must be cool!
Next Sunday evening we have Adoration in the church from six to ten.  Come then, or anytime, to escape the heat of the day; cool off with the fresh breeze of the One who makes all things new.  You have no fear of skin damage from the Sun that Never Sets, Jesus Christ.  Experience the warmth that does not increase the heat.  Learn the wisdom of the South: This summer, slow down – and pray.           
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Unless it is broken

How do you fix a broken television?  I will betray my age if I mention a wire hanger where the antenna should be, or a pair of needle-nose pliers to turn the stem of a missing channel-selector knob.  Televisions now have neither antennae nor knobs, and I haven’t the clue how to fix them, either.
I have likened our situation here at Saint Bernadette as akin to a broken television: only one channel, and one program, no matter what time you tune in.  With only your humble Pastor here now that Father DeRosa has gone, programming could become fairly monotonous, with no help no matter how hard you press the buttons on the remote. 
So, without benefit of pliers, I have applied for a remedy to help us through the month. The remedies are several, in fact, and I am confident you will like them all.
Msgr. Thomas Olszyk is the Judicial Vicar of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, U.S.A.   A priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, he spent twenty-plus years as a chaplain in the Air Force.  We met in Rome when I was Secretary and he was in Canon Law studies.  He organized the daily English-language pilgrimage to and Mass at the daily Station Church, in which I participated without fail – about which more some other time.  He is offering many weekday Masses this month. 
Father John McDonald is a priest of Birmingham in Alabama, working toward a doctorate at CUA this summer.  Currently the principal of the high school where my nephew will attend, he was just a first-year seminarian at the North American College when I met him – again, during my secretary days.  I remembered my Birmingham roots and got to know him, and have not regretted it ever since.  You will enjoy the many Sunday Masses he celebrates.
Father Bill Gurnee is one of ours – a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington – who spent a summer as a seminarian here in Saint Bernadette back in, oh, 1999, I think.  He succeeded me as secretary to Cardinal McCarrick in 2002, earning the number 30.  Now he is the spiritual director at our new Blessed John Paul II Seminary, so he can join us for several daily and Sunday Masses.
I do not entrust you to strangers.  These are all my friends in Christ, which comforts me greatly if I cannot be with you myself.
Next weekend, I will be away so I can attend my thirtieth high school reunion in Birmingham.  There were only 32 in my graduating class, so even with the adjacent classes invited, it will not be a big event, but I am very excited, and grateful for their help – and your solicitude – that make my participation possible.
The same face, the same voice all the time, every channel, every program.  Yes, this is how many parishes in our nation and in the Church function all the time; no, it is not how I want your parish to function.  I want you to have the variety of different priests preaching and praying in different ways, but of course, always the same.  
For as diverse as we priests may be in vocabulary, voice, and visage, it is Jesus Christ we preach, and Him crucified; and it is the Sacred Liturgy, the great prayer of his bride, the Church, that we pray.  We priests are many, but we share in the one saving Priesthood of Jesus Christ that is unchanging.  Nothing about that need be fixed, for it is not broken.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Constant Heart

The Sacred Heart of Jesus was gone!  I walked into church this morning and the statue had been removed from its place on the small temporary altar just outside the sanctuary.  It had been there throughout June, considered the month of the Sacred Heart since the moveable Feast Day is invariably in June.  So the little altar sat there empty, waiting to be removed.
I thought about when we had put it up, on the last day of April, so our statue of the Blessed Mother could be there for her month, May.   She stood there for the First Holy Communion Mass the next Saturday, and the next day to be crowned by our newest Communicants at the culmination of our May Procession.
As I settled into the church to pray, it was especially beautiful.  The morning light was streaming through the colorful windows, the air was cool (despite having only one working A/C compressor) and all was still.  All was as it should be.
The seasons of faith worked out in the liturgy move through the church with their characteristic array.  The violet vesture and increasing candles of the Advent wreath give way to the poinsettias, bright evergreens, and stable scene of the Nativity of Our Lord.  Shortly after the Christ Child is stored away, the austerity of Lent marches toward the grieving veils of Passiontide, and the stripping of the altar on Good Friday.  The Resurrection brings a riot of flowers and banners, and the majestic Paschal Candle bearing the Light of the Risen Christ.  Culminating on Pentecost, the Easter Season yields to the great feasts of the Trinity, the Body and Blood of the Lord, and the Sacred Heart, and finally the measured progress of Ordinary Time. These weeks are ordered to bring us to Christ the King, who bows to welcome the new Advent.  Beneath the furniture moving and the colors changing, the church does not change.
Babies are baptized in ones and twos, ranks of teens confirmed, radiant brides and grooms become one before God, bright joyous children in veils and ties become one with God in their First Holy Communion, and mothers, fathers, and friends are grieved and buried.  Our neighbors enter the life we share in the sacraments of initiation.  Young men follow Christ’s call to seminary, and return to offer their first Mass.  Babies outgrow their carried seats, and families are made whole again by returning collegians.  Exuberant young priests arrive and hone their craft; grateful young priests move on, shaped by every moment.  People change because of what they receive in this church.
Occasionally, I will find people wandering the property, pointing and looking, and find that they are former parishioners, often alumni of our school, who long ago moved away.  When visiting the area, they bring back friends or family to show them this important place in their lives.  They ask about the nuns, comment about the additional building on the school, and often remark how the church has not changed.  She stays the same, not just the stage, but also the foundation upon which all these events, all our lives unfold.
Finally this morning I saw her, our majestic refuge, in her “normal” state, beautifully dressed, but not decorated.  I missed the statue, and marveled that its time had ended so soon.  I thought about how much the church had seen in that brief but eventful season while the temporary altar stood.  I thought about how much I have seen as I have served at the great canopied altar, the center and source of life for this parish.  And I gave thanks. 
For though the statue is removed, the Sacred Heart of Jesus steadily beats at the center of this church, and from it we all draw life.
Monsignor Smith