Thursday, February 21, 2013

Up to the Task

Many of you have kindly inquired as to whether I will be traveling to Rome to help with the upcoming Conclave.  I am reasonably certain that the Cardinal Electors and the others assisting them will have things well in hand.  Of course, if someone asks me to do something to contribute, I will happily accept, if circumstances permit.
But during the upcoming General Congregations and Conclave, the one thing I know I will not be doing is assisting Cardinal Baum.  It was as his secretary that I entered the Conclave of 2005, serving him as what is known as a conclavista.  This time, His Eminence is not only over 80 and therefore ineligible to participate, but also his health is such that he does not plan to travel.  Papa Ratzinger is not the only great man of the Church now leaving her governance to younger, stronger men.
After visiting him on Sunday, a striking fact dawned on me: this will be the first Conclave since 1963 in which Cardinal Baum has not participated.  That one, held in the midst of the Second Vatican Council, elected Pope Paul VI.  I thought this little statistic would shed light on two things: first, the changing epochs of the life of the Church; and two, the impact a single life, in this case that of Cardinal Baum, can have on the Church.
Cardinal Baum is the only living Cardinal to have voted in three conclaves.  [One other man has done so, but he is not a Cardinal.  Think… it's... Pope Benedict.  Though not a Cardinal (anymore) he was created one in 1977, one year after Cardinal Baum, and one year before the Year of Two Conclaves, 1978.]  At 49, Baum was the youngest Cardinal in the College at the time of his creation.  Now 86, there are still 43 Cardinals older than he is.  But only one man has been a Cardinal longer.
Cardinal Baum was Archbishop of Washington from Watergate until the Iran Hostage Crisis.  Then he was Prefect of the Congregation for Education through the entire Reagan presidency and halfway through Bush One.  From then, he served as major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary through two Clinton terms and until Bush Two had been in office almost a year!  His service in Rome as a member of many Congregations, which began in 1976 under Paul VI, continued until the end of 2007, well into the reign of Benedict XVI.
That is a huge span of time and experience, however you measure it. But what remains with me is his virtue and fidelity, his conscientious fulfillment of the office of Successor to the Apostles, his love for Christ, and his love for the Church.  That is what I know he brought not only to every Conclave, but to every responsibility he has fulfilled in response to Christ’s call to him, from his first discernment of his priestly vocation.
No, I do not assume that every Cardinal in the College has the same degree of devotion and erudition, the same love for the Church, and the same lack of self-interest that I can attest to in Cardinal Baum.  But he is just one example, albeit an extraordinary one, of the small group to which now turn all the eyes in the Church.  Knowing him as well as I do, and many other Cardinals through him, I can say that I have a great and abiding confidence in this diverse assemblage of churchmen. 
These Cardinals are all remarkable in their education and their dedication.  They have a range of experiences and a variety of talents.  All have committed their lives to Christ and his Church.  They all have weaknesses, but together they are more than the sum of their parts.  They have been vested with the solemn office of discerning who next will succeed to the Chair of Peter.  Ulterior motives find little purchase.  The Holy Spirit has willing cooperators in animating and directing the body of Christ.
What could I possibly add to that?
Monsignor Smith

Thursday, February 14, 2013

What else is new?

Last week I wrote about how Lent begins a new year.  Well, on Monday our Holy Father began a new era.  In announcing his resignation from the See of Peter, he changed the church in ways we will not understand for decades.
What he did will change the expectations everyone has of every future Pope, including the expectations of the Pope himself.  He is introducing a new possibility, or at least invigorating one long thought impracticable, to the governance of the Church at its summit.  The effect of that possibility will only be known over succeeding generations.
That being acknowledged, what is happening in the Church now is not so dramatic as some commentators would have you think.
Choosing to end his reign as Pontiff because his own weakness makes him believe it is impossible for him to fulfill the obligations of the office has the same end result as would his death: the Chair of Peter will be vacant.  There is sadness at losing someone we love in a relationship on which we depend, but it is less intense than would be the grief at his death.
Though the cause – resignation – is different, the result is much the same.  Once the Chair is vacated on 28 February, the responsible members of the Church’s leadership will swing into action with their carefully assigned roles.  The Camerlengo, or Chamberlain, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, will seal the papal chambers and convene the General Assemblies.  These daily congresses of all the Cardinals will serve two important functions.  First, they govern the daily functioning of the Church in the absence of a Pope, though they are not able to take actions that are reserved to the Pontiff; and they provide a forum wherein the Cardinals will give their observations of what needs to be considered in this time of transition, in short speeches called interventions.  Each Cardinal who participates may give one.
Then the Dean of College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, will announce the date when the Conclave will convene to select a successor.  Only Cardinals under the age of 80 at the time the Chair is vacated will be eligible; there will be 117.  They will be sequestered in complete secrecy to discern who is the next Pontiff, almost certainly someone in their midst.  
This is an ingenious process wherein all the voters, all the group leaders and opinion makers, any also-rans, and all the indispensible future coworkers, are all doing their discussing, discerning, and voting in the presence of one another -- and the next Pope.  It is a delicate, deliberate process, marked by much prayer, but one that bears marvelous fruit.  It leads to the “supermajority” of two-thirds of the body, plus one, that identifies the new Pope.
Whenever we need someone new to be Peter, this is just what we do.  Of course, the media natterers are competing to generate the most over-the-top explanations that sensationalize it, in hope of...well, whatever they hope for: audience share, shots at the Church and her credibility, advantages for their particular agenda.  The usual.  They can't be bothered to admit that in the main, the whole thing is actually, well, pretty normal – for the Church.  
The real story holds no appeal for them: that we go through this every so often, we have a process to respond to and resolve the challenge, and all things work for the good of those who love God (Rom 8:28).  That is precisely why it is fascinating and instructive!  The day-to-day life of the Body of Christ is shockingly mundane, until you get to the part about rising from the dead.  That’s the part for which you and I are in it, and that’s what we can count on, from our Lord, and His Church, and His Vicar on earth, now, and in the new era to come.
Monsignor Smith

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Now what happens?

Well, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI certainly did surprise everyone this week.  I was completely caught off guard.  There is so much to say that will help to understand what he has done and why he has done it, and what will happen next. I'll be happy to share with you what I understand, and what I have experienced.   Just don't ask me who are the leading "contenders" for the job!  Here is what came out when I tried to help some of the local news:

Stay tuned for more updates!

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Make All Things New

Calendar year, fiscal year, school year - they all start at a different time.  Each one brings deadlines, expectations, and preparations.   Each one brings a freshness, or a newness, to some aspect of life.  Well, happy new spiritual year to you.  It's a term I have completely made up on the spot to capture the aspect of Lent that I want you to chew on with me this week. 
For a couple of weeks, we have been inviting you to bring in your palms from last Palm Sunday so that we can burn them, to make the ashes we will impose upon our foreheads on Ash Wednesday.  Look at those palms - all brittle and brown.  See how their wizened condition resembles the state of all your good intentions to be faithful to the Lord Jesus.  When they were fresh and green, we raised them in salute of Jesus, shouting hosanna! and giving Him all glory laud and honor.  How'd that go for you?  Have you shouted more often since then something that more resembles Crucify him! or at least, Buzz off! as you pursued something that promised you far more pleasure?
Those palms can be a dreadfully accurate representation of the state of our souls.  But not to be discouraged - the remedy is at hand.  Lent, which can sound so menacing, actually brings new life where deterioration and disuse have taken their toll.
During this year that our Holy Father has designated the Year of Faith, use your Lenten resolution better to learn the content of the Faith.  Choose a book by a great saint and commit to reading it before Easter.  Watch the complete Catholicism series by Father Barron – AND use the accompanying study text.  Choose some current hot topic and commit to finding out what the Church really believes and teaches about it – using books and articles from authoritative Church sources that will tell you the truth, not the usual news natterers.  The Catholic Information Center downtown on K Street NW has a staff that can find you just the book(s) you need.  The Bookstore at the Basilica has a good selection too.  You’ll watch a lot less television if you keep up with this resolution!
Sit down with a blank sheet of paper and write a list of all the things that make you glad you are Catholic.  Pick six of them, then resolve to share your joy about them, one each week, by talking about them to someone you know who isn’t Catholic.  
Go to confession every week throughout Lent, or every two weeks.  Make a pilgrimage with your family to a shrine or holy site – more than once.  Go to Mass during the week – once a week, or even every day!  Turn off the radio in the car during your commute – and say a rosary.  Write one letter each week to someone, telling them that you are praying for them.  And do it – pray, that is.
Choose someone you know who has stopped coming to Mass and practicing the faith.  Fast and pray for them until Palm Sunday, then invite them to Confession, and Easter Mass with you.
Lent is powerful, but it is not magic.  You have at your disposal the spiritual horsepower of the entire Body of Christ, the whole Church, turning away from sin and toward the Lord.  But to get that power, you have to put your own power in – the power of your participation, your cooperation, that opens the floodgates of grace and mercy to make your relatively small efforts have really large affects in your life.
This Lent, don’t settle for “giving up” chocolate or anything routine or paltry as the only thing you offer as your participation in this great rehabilitation of your spirit.  This is an amazing opportunity for you put the power of Christ and His Church to work in your life.  It’s rather like rearranging the living room furniture while the college wrestling team is visiting for a cookout.  You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish with a little direction and determination.  It’s how you initiate what God will make sure is a happy new spiritual year for you.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Postcards from Friends in Other Places

It is a pleasure to thank Father McCabe for sharing some of his story with you in my stead last week.  He has been so many places and done so many things I do not delude myself into thinking I can give an account of it.  I will share with you what I know, that he is a delight to have sharing the rectory.
It reminds me of how blessed we have been in the priests who have been here with us over the past six years, not because they were assigned to us by the Archbishop of Washington, but because of some connection or choice that led them to spend time with us. 
Most prominent among those is Father Nick, who lived here from 2006, mere weeks after my own arrival, until 2011.  Thanks be to God, he still comes to visit us.  Because now he works as Dean of a large seminary, spending a week in a parish – especially this parish, where he is known and loved – is a vacation for him.  A real break from his daily routine, it not only affords him rest and relaxation, but also spiritual fortification as a priest. When he was here in early January, we both came to the idea that the reverse might also be true for me.  Knowing that I had not had a break in some six months, he invited me to come visit him.
So, once Fathers McCabe and McDonell were here to mind the store, I slipped up to Yonkers, New York, for a few days as Father Nick’s guest at Saint Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie.  Now, four nights in mammoth stone seminary might not be everyone’s idea of a vacation, but it was perfect for me. 
Instead of leading and preaching Mass, I got to concelebrate the seminary’s Sunday Mass in their beautiful chapel, and hear the rector preach to the young men preparing for priesthood.  Other mornings I could offer Mass on my own in one of the small chapels, and evenings, there was adoration and Benediction in the Chapel.  The Blessed Sacrament was always nearby for my prayers.  The faculty and seminarians were gracious hosts and friendly when I joined them for several meals.  In addition to these soul-nourishing activities, I also went into the city, where I spent large chunks of two successive days staring at great art, which is almost as fortifying.
Father Nick is thriving in his first year as Dean of Dunwoodie.  It was good to see him in his place, doing his work, responding to the needs for the seminarians around him, and collaborating with the other priests there.  Predictably, he is well liked, but there is also a wariness in the seminarians since he is also responsible for discipline.  It’s an awful lot of work, but he is doing it well.  Immediately on the right as one enters his rooms is the framed watercolor of Four Seasons of Saint Bernadette that we gave him as a farewell gift.  He talks of us so often that everyone who met me said, Oh, you’re from Saint Bernadette!
Though he only visited here occasionally during his time at the Bishops’ Conference from 2007 -2010, many of your remember fondly my classmate and friend Father David Toups.  I learned Friday that he has given the title of Chaplain to His Holiness, and is now Monsignor David Toups.  I hope to visit him soon at the seminary where he is now Rector, in Florida.
These two holy priests have left their marks on the lives of Saint Bernadette and many of us here.  They would both want you to know that Saint Bernadette has left a lasting mark on them.  This illustrates why we priests often close our notes to one another with the exhortation, Oremus pro invicem – Let us pray for one another.
Monsignor Smith