Saturday, October 27, 2012


It was a weekend when this place in this world was a fabulous place to be.  The weather was crystalline, the air fresh, the sun bright, the sky blue, the leaves multicolored, the women strong, the men good looking, and all of the children, all of them, in a terrific mood.  Why can’t it last forever?
All of the best of Saint Bernadette was not only on display, but hard at work last weekend, making it clear to any visitor – and there were many – what a delightful parish this is.  I take this opportunity to thank Lauren Draley and the Barsches, Jess and Stanley, for all their good work in organizing and executing the fall festival.  Many folks contributed to its success, including but not limited to the Rosensteel Knights of Columbus, the CYO, the HSA, the Scouts of Troop 440, the guys of Holy Name, and everyone who volunteered.  But I am grateful to everyone who showed up and had fun, and to everyone who invited or brought along friends, family, or neighbors. 
As if guided by the finger of God, our festival landed on the most perfect October weekend possible, but was later than usual this year.  That means it’s already almost Halloween, which is at its roots the vigil of All Saints Day.  So this Thursday we begin November with a Holy Day of Obligation, and four Masses during the day for you to recognize and celebrate all the Saints, including those the Church has not been able to recognize formally.  Maybe you know some of them!
The next day, we commit ourselves to the great Spiritual Work of Mercy that will characterize the whole month: prayer for our beloved dead.  On All Souls Day, Friday November 2, in addition to the two usual daily Masses, we will have a special evening Mass, offered especially for all who have died and been buried from our parish over the past year. 
Looking at the list of names, I was amazed at how many of these people were prominent members of the parish, well-known and loved.  Read through it yourself – it’s printed in the bulletin – and see if you don’t know several of them.  Then come, join us and their families at the altar in prayer for these souls.
You should also be preparing your list of names for your All Souls intentions.  Add to your roster any of your family and friends whom you have lost this year, and maybe some others as well, such as names you pick up from the news – people you may not know personally, but whose tragic or heroic deaths moved you.  This is something you can do for them, now that they can do nothing for themselves.  You can put it in your envelope with your offering at any time from now on; it will rest on our altar with those provided by everyone else in the parish, and receive the intention of one Mass each day throughout the month.
Our kids dress up on Wednesday evening, Halloween, partly to evoke how scary death can be, but in a way that harms nobody, so it makes us laugh.  Our prayer for all our loved ones who have died is another way we reduce our fear of death, by consciously entrusting them to the mercy of God, and reminding ourselves that Jesus has conquered death for all who believe in him.  It is another vital celebration of our communion in Christ, as our Fall Festival was, only more serious.  It’s something we do together, with our children, so that we all know and understand this reality as certain as the changing of the seasons and the falling of the leaves.  Because like a beautiful fall day, our time here will not last forever.
Monsignor Smith

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Thanksgiving already?

Thanksgiving is still five weeks away (thanks be to God - I am so not ready for winter yet), but I am already contemplating the power and the obligation of gratitude.  Truly it characterizes life in Christ, so it is never out of season, but specific circumstances commend it today to my attention, and yours.
First, I am grateful for the gracious response I have received to my preaching of the essential consideration and commitment of the offertory.  Though I paraphrase, more folks than I expected have said, Thanks, I needed that.  This is gratifying, since it is right up there with Trinity Sunday at the top of my list of Tough Preaching Topics.  It also makes me regret taking last year off, under the guise of giving you the year off.  The majority of you obviously took very seriously my call to consider, calculate, and commit, using the Biblical measure of tithing, ten percent, as the measure of our devotion.  The pledge cards are being processed, so you can expect a response in the not-distant future.  Yet I will not wait to say, Thank you.
This year, I brought us to this topic earlier than I have in the past, and one of the main reasons for that is to be able to give our attention next month to the focus of the liturgy at year’s end.  In November, the Church contemplates the Four Last Things – Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell – as well as our responsibility to those who have died. 
Our central act of thanksgiving, the Eucharist, gives our gratitude to God for having liberated us from fear of death.  But our disposition toward gratitude is amplified by our mindfulness of all that we have received from so many other people as well – friends, family, teachers, priests, and even strangers, who made sacrifices so that we could receive great benefits we do not allow ourselves to take for granted.
In discussing our offertory work, I called to mind all that was given to us by the founders and builders of this great parish.  Similarly, in recollecting everything we have, for which we must be grateful to God, we are flooded with memories of the people through whom He gave us those gifts, starting with our own parents.
And so I have already begun adding to my All Souls list, the roster of people for whom I pray daily during November, whose names I place in my envelope that rests with all of yours on the Holy Altar for commemoration at Mass each day.  I just added my first Scoutmaster, whose son I met for the first time while in Birmingham for my high school reunion.  I added Msgr. William Awalt, who was the pastor for my first parish assignment as a seminarian, and Fr. David Conway, who was my predecessor at Old St. Mary’s in Chinatown.  Since I keep the list on my computer, I do not have to re-write it each year, and their names go right alongside all my grandparents, college professors, classmates, and friends who are gone from this life, but not from my grateful heart.
Daily as I walk the campus of this beautiful parish, my heart is stirred to gratitude.  That gratitude ranges freely from current gratitude, for all you who do and give so much to this parish, and to me; to prior gratitude, for the priests and people who built and enlivened Saint Bernadette, for the people whose lives have touched mine, even indirectly, over the years, so much to my great benefit; and to future gratitude, for the hope that I hold and treasure in Christ’s gracious gift of salvation.
And so wherever you see me, at the altar or on the field, and whatever your day or disposition brings, in whatever season, I hope that you are able to say that what you and I hold most in common is that we are grateful.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Making it possible

He replied and said to him, "Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth."
Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
I have long believed that to be the saddest four words in all of Sacred Scripture: he went away sad.  I am not hallucinating about the sadness, for it is stated right there.  Though it is the young man who is sad, it is our sadness, too.  In general, we do not want anyone to be sad.  Especially, we do not want anyone who has encountered Jesus to be sad.  Even though we hardly know this young man, we do not want him to be sad.   
That is not the only source of our sadness, for the young man goes away.  He leaves Jesus, who is the one and only person who can make him truly happy!  He cuts off all further conversation, any help he could have been given by the Lord, any understanding he could have garnered by spending more time.
But note the subject of this short sentence: he.  The young man himself is the one who acts, the one who goes away, the one who responds to the Lord Jesus by being sad.  It is his decision to choose the sadness.
Jesus, too, is the subject of a sentence; and He chooses His course of action as well: Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, "You are lacking in one thing.”
In our day it is popularly considered a rejection of the person to observe that he lacks something important or fundamental.   Common culture has made the expectation that what love says is, you’re great just the way you are.  We can be fooled into saying this to any number of people who are living in any number of ways, because we think that is  what love does.  To know Jesus, is to know otherwise.
It is true that Jesus told the rich young man, who was not only wealthy but virtuous, that he lacked something.  But it sprung from His love for him, first, to notice what he lacked; and second, to tell him.  He could have left unmentioned that the young man fell short, but He did not – because of His decision to love Him.  And so when the young man chose to walk away from what the Lord observed that he lacked, he also walked away from that great love.  God is indeed love, but love calls us to change.
It is perhaps the most difficult question we can ask, but have you ever stopped to try to hear what Jesus might have to say that you lack?  Are you ready for the likely possibility that he will indeed answer your question? 
But we should not be afraid to ask, and should not fear the answer, because we know that in asking, we give him the opportunity to do what he did to the young man:  He looked at him, and loved him.  This is not only explanation but motivation for us to accept His observation of what we lack, and act to remedy it. 
We may think we cannot change; we may think we cannot respond to love.  Which means we need to hear what Jesus told the disciples shortly after the young man left:  "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.  All things are possible for God."  This may be the most encouraging statement in all of Sacred Scripture.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, October 06, 2012

What's new?

It is Columbus Day Weekend, three days off with a lot of nice autumn weather scheduled.  There will be sales.  Ballgames.  Trips.  You know – the usual holiday weekend stuff.  Why?  Ask a school kid; I do not know how many can even tell you anymore that, “In fourteen ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Aside from a widespread confusion about the difference between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, I doubt there is any federal holiday to which less thought and appreciation is given than Columbus Day.  I admit that I myself do not think about it very much, and am embarrassed by my own inattention.
Sure, I know about the Castillian King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who financed the proposal of the Italian navigator with his theories of reaching “the Indies” by sailing west, instead of east around the Horn of Africa.  He pulled together three ships, which I hope everybody still knows were named the NiƱa, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, the largest of which was not as long as the average house in the neighborhood here.  And he landed on San Salvador, one beach that no one in this parish is likely to visit over the weekend. 
Does anyone say that he “discovered America” anymore?  That is so unfashionable.  Since the Americas, as these continents later came to be called, were inhabited, some question whether they wanted discovering.  His own awareness of just what he had discovered was a little slow in coming, and he was loath to admit publicly that he had failed to reach the Indies.
However aware of their own existence the native tribes of the islands he first visited were, I would submit that they too discovered something in being discovered.  By learning of the existence of other peoples from other places with other cultures and technologies, they learned something about who and where they themselves were.  It is similar to how only in encountering and relating to others, from our infancy on, do we come into an understanding of our own identities.
Imperialism and colonialism are big buzzwords for what Columbus’s voyage represented and introduced to these lands.  I am not certain that anyone whose tribe fell to the Aztecs or the Incas would say that these were particularly new, though.  Greed and abuse of other human beings are remarkable only in how consistently they are present in every human culture and polity.  Recognized for what it is, it can be identified as original sin.
Which brings us to the one genuinely new thing that Columbus brought with him to these splendid continents when he came.  Not a thing, in truth, but a person, and a person who is both the response and the remedy to original sin and its universality among men of every race and land.
The good news of Jesus Christ, His presence in the Church, and His working in the Sacraments, first arrived with Columbus where heretofore none had known Him.  The evil spirits and petty gods to whom the native peoples enslaved themselves will never be completely driven from this land or any other, but thanks be to God, and with a little help from His Holy Mother at Tepeyac, these continents are marked for freedom.  No human being need fall victim to their depredations, for the Holy Savior – San Salvador – has manifested here the Divine Mercy.  That is something worth celebrating, not only one Monday, but every Sunday.
Monsignor Smith