Saturday, July 27, 2013

Weather or not

Why does everyone always talk about the weather?
It’s a beautiful summer evening, and I was out on the front lawn with a family that was enjoying the perfect night for strolling, playing ball, and goofing off rather than going to bed.  The heat has been less the past few days, the humidity is down, and suddenly it’s better to be outside than in.  Even the kids were talking about the sunset and how pretty it was.
Then I came in, and found an email from my mom.  She had checked the forecast, and noted that my day off was predicted to be beautiful (for a change).   
It seems no matter who, when, or where, it is not only possible, but almost predictable, that people will talk about the weather.  It’s become a metaphor for a conversation with no real content – as if you talk about the weather rather than anything important, personal, or interesting.  But I think that is the opposite of the reality.
First, the weather is something that unites everybody; nobody is exempt from it or immune to it. Secondly, it is something that we cannot affect or change; we must accept it as it is, and respond.
You can’t pay for an upgrade or belong to a club that has better weather.  Some people are more or less affected by it, such as those who suffer the heat more, or those who have to work outside.  But it is the same weather for everybody, and thus it is something that we all have in common.  There are not that many things like that.
So, if the weather is something that everyone has in common, and that everyone must receive as it is dealt, I think that it is something that makes us more ourselves, more human. Weather makes us humble – and that is a good thing.  Weather makes us just like everybody else – and that too is a good thing.  We share our gratitude or lament, trepidation or anticipation.  So talking about the weather is one of the most authentic levels on which we can relate, from a position of powerlessness and communion.  Knowing that, we are comfortable there, and we are willing to share it.
But the problem is that the weather is just another big, impersonal reality, so we can impose all sorts of our own interpretations on it – malice, benevolence, or indifference.  None of them, however, changes the reality.
So why is it so rare that people talk about God?  Is it because He too is a big reality, but who instead is so personal?  He, too, unites us in our true human nature – helplessness and humility that we share with everyone else.  Sure, all sorts of people have different interpretations of Him – including malice, benevolence, and indifference.  None of them, however, changes the reality.
So where there is authentic understanding of the one God, living and true, and people respond with recognition of their dependence upon Him, they worship Him in spirit and in truth.  There, all people, of whatever age or experience, are united in humility, sharing a recognition of what they hold in common.  We share our gratitude or lament, trepidation or anticipation. 
So here, in the Communion that is forged by our common experience of redemption sought and received, we can talk to one another with a level of familiarity and affection that is unavailable to anyone else.  We know who we are because we know Him who in whom we have believed (cf 2 Tim 1:12), and sharing that, we can share everything.
It finishes and perfects what we started when we began by talking about the weather. 
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Going "off"

Back in May when I marked my fifteenth anniversary, the school had a little get-together for me.  All the kids made presentations, offering notes of congratulations, spiritual bouquets of promised prayers, or even thanking me for something I had done for them.  One of the more surprising efforts was that the first grade classes wrote essays describing what they thought I did on my day off.  Now that it is summer, and we all like to be “off,” I thought I would share them with you.
Some had remarkably precise plans for me:  I think on Monsignor Smith’s day off he goes to the pool for three hours, then he goes home and he prays for five hours, then he goes to the movies for two hours, and for the rest of the day he parties.
Others thought I did quite a lot, too: On Monsignor’s day off … I think he probably parties, goes hiking, cooks, works out, and goes to the movies, because he does it for hours… I think he goes hiking, makes new friends, goes to the movies, cooks, goes fishing, and he probably parties…  He goes to the casino and he plays games on his smartphone.  He can make paper airplanes and also go to parties. 
Several knew very well what I do on my day off, and some knew why they knew: I think on Monsignor’s day off he goes hiking…. Monsignor goes hiking because I heard him in Church… he’s hiking because he said that at church, and I think that he reads about God and Jesus.
Some have the idea that I go to movies, and they say why: He probably goes out to make friends and goes to see a movie… He goes to the movies, because he probably likes movies… He goes to the movies, because I like going to the movies too.
There were a few other recurring themes:  I think on Monsignor Smith’s day off he probably parties, and cooks. (“I think it’s time to cook that salami!”)  …He probably parties and cooks because he might like to…He goes and cooks, because he needs something to eat… He prays and goes shopping… he might go shopping because you might need some new pants.
Some have figured out that my days off aren’t always very “off”:  He visits the classrooms...  He goes to church.  Others see me as a reflective, artistic type:  He lies on his bed and reads the Bible and prays, and drinks lemonade…  He goes home and colors pictures and makes a cross out of wood.
Some give me too much credit for being athletic – and maybe for being prayerful:  He goes to the chapel & also plays football… He walks in his gardens and reads the Bible…  He prays & plays baseball & watches soccer… He can go to a restaurant with his mom and plays soccer with her.   He gathers some of his friends and talks about the Bible.
Others see me as far less ambitious: He just hangs out and chills; he watches football when it’s football season…  He relaxes… He goes out with his friends… He goes and sees his relatives & watches baseball… He goes home and hangs out with his friends… He takes naps.
Some figure out what it would be for me to take a bit of a break from my usual duties:  He does not preach… He might just go to another church to listen to another priest say Mass…   He visits the other priests.
Some of the kids are observant in other ways:  Because he always has good stuff on Halloween, I think he spends the whole year collecting candy…  He goes to Nationals games.
Others drew a simpler picture: He lives his life… He prays for us.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Getting to know you....

I was just speaking to one of our seminarians just back from Rome, and we both concurred that one of our challenges now is to get to know our new Holy Father.  Yes, he has manifested his personality in a marvelous way, and his care and prayer are evident and having a remarkable effect on the world already, especially those less inclined to be attentive to the Successor to Peter.  But for those of us who are in the habit of paying attention, there are a few cues still missing.
So imagine my delight to return to my computer last Sunday and find the homily our Holy Father had preached on the exact same readings I had preached that morning.  This he delivered to a Mass full of seminarians, novices and those discerning their vocations:
Today the word of God speaks to us of mission.   Where does mission originate?  The answer is simple: it originates from a call, the Lord’s call, and when he calls people, he does so with a view to sending them out.
The first element: the joy of consolation.  The prophet Isaiah is addressing a people that has been through a dark period of exile… But now the time of consolation has come for Jerusalem; … “Rejoice... be glad... rejoice with her in joy.”  Why?  For what reason?  Because the Lord is going to pour out over the Holy City and its inhabitants a “torrent” of consolation, of maternal tenderness… Every Christian, especially you and I, is called to be a bearer of this message of hope that gives serenity and joy: God’s consolation, his tenderness towards all… People today certainly need words, but most of all they need us to bear witness to the mercy and tenderness of the Lord, which warms the heart, rekindles hope, and attracts people towards the good.
The second reference point of mission is the Cross of Christ. Saint Paul, writing to the Galatians, says: “Far be it from me to glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (6:14)… In his ministry Paul experienced suffering, weakness and defeat, but also joy and consolation… And it was precisely by letting himself be conformed to the death of Jesus that Saint Paul became a sharer in his resurrection, in his victory… The Paschal mystery is the beating heart of the Church’s mission!  And if we remain within this mystery, we are sheltered both from a worldly and triumphalistic view of mission, and from the discouragement that can result from trials and failures.  The fruitfulness of the Gospel proclamation is measured neither by success nor by failure… but by becoming conformed to the logic of the Cross of Jesus, which is the logic of stepping outside oneself and spending oneself, the logic of love.
Finally the third element: prayer. In the Gospel we heard: “Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest, to send out laborers into his harvest” (Lk 10:2).  The laborers for the harvest are not chosen through advertising campaigns or appeals for service and generosity, but they are “chosen” and “sent” by God.  For this, prayer is important.  The Church is not ours, but God’s; the field to be cultivated is his.  The mission, then, is primarily about grace… Our mission ceases to bear fruit, indeed, it is extinguished the moment the link with its source, with the Lord, is interrupted.
Without a constant relationship with God, the mission becomes a job.  The risk of activism, of relying too much on structures, is an ever-present danger.  If we look towards Jesus, we see that prior to any important decision or event he recollected himself in intense and prolonged prayer.  Let us cultivate the contemplative dimension, even amid the whirlwind of more urgent and pressing duties.  
I had to cut out some parts to fit this into the space; you can find the whole thing on line.  But here is a hint to the joy of getting to know the new Pope.  Let us enjoy this happy work together!

Monsignor Smith

Thursday, July 04, 2013

By George

I am now, and have always been, a big George Washington fan.  I think I read my first biography of him in fifth grade.  In seventh grade we staged a play about him – they didn’t like the script I drafted because it had too much history in it.  Ah well.

Once, when I was a “Washington puppy," one of the many young adults who move to the city after college to begin work and life in earnest, a friend of mine came to visit.  (Actually, a lot of friends came to visit those first few years.  We were of an age when a floor to sleep on was considered free lodging, and Washington was a desirable locale to visit.  But I digress.)  He brought with him a friend, a young lady from Germany on her first U.S. visit.  As we drove around viewing the monuments, she asked, quite earnestly, “Why is there an enormous obelisk at the center of your city?”  That question sticks with me today because I failed to deliver a suitable answer, saying only that George Washington was our first president and is considered the father of our country.

Perhaps it was because of my shock at her apparent ignorance that I settled for such a rote answer.  But to this day I regret my failure to explain George Washington’s signal unicity in history, our nation’s and the world’s.  His military, political, and economic leadership, and his personal integrity, inspired generations of American citizens to do great things at the service of our nation.  But even all that would not be worthy of the great monument on the Mall.

He is the indispensable man, the sine qua non of our experiment in ordered liberty.  Without him, there would not be United States of America governed by the Constitutional order we enjoy.  Because he did what no man before had ever done: having been given complete power, he voluntarily laid it down.  He relinquished the Presidency he had defined according to a schedule.   No one could have made him do that. 

And ever since, once or twice a decade, the most powerful man on earth lets go of power and walks away, and someone else takes it up.  The throngs tend to be so fixated on the personalities involved that the astonishing phenomenon can go unremarked.  But that obelisk stands to remind us all that it could very well have been otherwise.

Why bother you with this observation now?  Because the day he laid down his power, he thought it important to say this:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens? The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity.

Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation deserts the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?

And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It could very well be otherwise, indeed.  A blessed Independence Day to you all.

Monsignor Smith