Saturday, July 26, 2014

Benefecisti autem

It’s always great to be told you did something well.  And that is exactly what Brian Mulholland did to me this past week.  He runs the foundation that operates food pantries at several Catholic parishes in poorer parts of our city.  He came to retrieve your gifts from the Emergency Food Drive we held last week in response to the urgent need at Holy Name Church on Florida Avenue. 
He told me your response was huge and amazingly generous.  He told me it will be an enormous help.  He told me that your immediate, straightforward response was a model for other parishes.  He told me Daina Scheider, our Social Concerns chairman, really knows how to make things happen and is a delight to work with.
It was great to be told that.  But YOU need to hear it too!  So there you have it – that’s really what he said.  So, my thanks and admiration to all who so matter-of-factly rose to the occasion. 
Alarmingly, just as we were finishing that drive, Daina told me she got a panicked call from another food pantry, this time closer to home, here in Silver Spring.  We will let you know what you can do about that – it might not be another all-out drive, but watch elsewhere in the bulletin to find further opportunities to lend a hand to neighbors whose summer is not shaping up so nicely as ours is. 
There is so much going on around the world that bears no resemblance to this happy, leisurely summer time we carefully maintain for ourselves around here.  Vacation travel, carefree evenings, farmers’ market bounties, and time for fun are very much missing from the lives of many we see portrayed on our screens and our front pages.  I don’t know about you, but it can lead to a feeling of some helplessness and almost futility as I check the headlines lately, almost as if Original Sin is staging a late-innings rally that will put the lid on a real-world series victory.
I have to remind myself what Cardinal Baum always used to recall, which is that the victory is already won, by Jesus Christ, Savior of the World.  We know how the story ends because we have seen it revealed in Him and celebrated it every year in Holy Week, and Easter.  To remind ourselves of that, and to focus our attention on that in thought and in prayer is our vocation in the face of crisis.
Some things we can respond to and remedy by our material actions, like local hunger with the food drive.  But what about murderous downings of airliners, or systematic demolition of Christian communities, or ancient hatreds being manifested and magnified with rockets and assault weapons?   What about the institutionalization of contempt for Christian truth and all who live by it?
Use your time this summer when other demands are fewer to grow your faith.  [Continue to] serve the neighbor closest to you by providing for his material needs.  Read, watch a video, or study the teachings of our Faith, which will help you understand how Christ works in the face of evil and sin.  Sacrifice your time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament for the consolation of brothers and sisters who suffer.  Raise your voice in gratitude and defense of the protections that we precariously enjoy. 
You have done many things well, but this is no time to rest on your laurels.  These are things that you can do well.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, July 19, 2014


It’s déjà vu all over again!  Father Seith is here and suddenly you remember him from two years ago, when he was a seminarian just finished with second theology.  But the same weekend, there goes Keith Burney after eight weeks with us, heading back to seminary to complete the two years remaining before he, too, God willing, be ordained a priest.  Coming and going, one is as the other was, the other how they both will be.
You may think that they are here in our midst for what they have to offer, and so indeed they are.  But do not neglect to be aware of what you (individually and communally – I guess that would be “y’all”) have to offer them.  As Pastor, I receive them here in our parish, both as seminarian and new priest, with the confidence that you will give them freely all that you have, to help and form them as Christ would form them, by their union, each in proper Order, with His Body, the Church.
Keith left a note for me to share with you, so I pass it on to you below.
Monsignor Smith
Letter from Our Seminarian
This week in the Gospel, we hear Jesus use multiple parables to describe the Kingdom of Heaven, from it being like good seed in a field, to being a small mustard seed that grows into the largest of plants, to finally being like yeast that leavens the batch of dough.  Having spent eight weeks with you this summer, I can testify to the fact that the good seeds of faith have been planted here at Saint Bernadette and are growing abundantly. 
During my after-communion reflection last week, I related how I truly encountered Christ once again, and have been reaffirmed in my vocation, through the beauty, truth, and goodness that I experienced during my assignment here.  Consequently, it occurred to me while writing this column that this is precisely the yeast that leavens the faith of the parish. 
We know that the various vices of our times and culture provide more than enough weeds to choke the faith.  However, the beauty, truth, and goodness that we experience through the liturgies we celebrate, the Gospel that is preached to us, the virtues of our communal life together – not to mention the sheer fact of receiving the living God in the Eucharist and other sacraments – gives us everything we need for the faith to grow and flourish, even in the midst of those weeds.  That is why it is so important for all of us to remain rooted in the Church’s sacramental and communal life, so that we may remain united to Jesus and allow the Kingdom to grow strong in our midst.
So, as I move on to another year of formation in the seminary and another pastoral assignment, I give thanks to God for the presence of Christ here at Saint Bernadette, for the vibrant faith of its parishioners, and for the blessing of spending this short time with you.  The seeds of my own vocation, which I described in my first column as being planted in my own home parish many years ago, have certainly been nourished and continued to grow stronger by my eight weeks here in this parish. 
Please be assured of my continued prayers for you all, and please continue to pray for me and all of my fellow seminarians, that we may remain faithful to the Lord’s call and that we persevere in doing His Will.  May God bless all of you!

Keith Burney

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A word, please?

Words.  Words, words, wordswordswords.  If ever there was a city built on words, it is ours; and if ever there was a life built on words, mine would be it.
At the bottom of this screen is a word count for the document as I write it.  It ticks upward toward my goal of five to six hundred for every one of these columns I write.  Sometimes I exceed it; occasionally I stop short.  Every column I have written since the first of this year is in an electronic folder marked “2014;” I have such folders going back to 2006, when I arrived at this parish that July; and another folder for Old Saint Mary Church, where I was before, with the first “Blurb,” as I call this literary form, dated 17 December 2005.  There are fifty columns each year, each folder.
That is only the beginning.  There are letters and notes and outlines in other folders, then homilies and presentations, and emails somewhere else.  There are also homilies and talks I have given that are not written down, conversations I have had in person and on the phone.  Speaking of phones, mine clutches an array of threads of text messages, also made up of more words, a few of them abbreviated, but rather more misspelled.
The folders full are rarely visited, the text strings even less so.  The words never written are gone forever, never to be recovered or reconstructed.  Lost, forgotten, possibly even wasted – or are they?
Each word that finds a hearer, or a reader, affects and possibly alters the heart or mind that receives it, perhaps as imperceptibly as the storied flap of a butterfly’s wings, but affects it nonetheless.  Each heart, each mind, each life responds, reacts, and relates to these words, often with words of its own, and lives are changed forever.
Ephemeral as they seem, these words, they are famous for being unalterable.  “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” goes the maxim, but neither can you ever unsay anything that’s been said.  Even the word left unspoken can grow to enormous and lasting significance.
Even without perusing my files, I can wonder about the effect of my words, whether it was good or regrettable, or whether there was any at all. 
To pause and take responsibility for these words, each word, and stand honestly before God is a humbling but helpful work.  It is hard to resist this reflection in light of His revelation this Sunday, about the power and purpose of His own Word:
Thus says the LORD: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
They come out of our mouths, are tapped into our phones and typed onto our screens, and gush out of our mouths with and without thought or preparation, splashing onto hearers both intended and unintended.  If the “folder” that holds them all, each and every one, were to stand open before us for any and all to read, how would we stand?  How could we?
Then must we speak, and utter the only possible word:  Be it done unto me according to your word.  And then shall His Word do its merciful work in our lives, and shall do (His) will, achieving the end for which (He) sent it.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Home and again

Recently, a group of parishioners returned from our first parish mission trip to Haiti, where they visited the geographically remote but personally embracing pastor and people of the parish of Saint Therese of the Infant Jesus, in the diocese of Jeremie.  Immediately after returning, one of the missioners handed me the following letter, which I now share with you.
From: Father Samuel Auguste
            Sicard, Jeremie, Haiti
To: Msgr. Smith  Barthelemy
            Ste. Bernadette Parish, Washington
Object: Thank you!

Msgr. Smith,
            I greet you on behalf of Jesus Christ.
On behalf of the followers of the parish Saint Therese of the Infant Jesus of Sicard, and on my own behalf, I write you this letter in order to thank you for all your support and your heartfelt friendship. 
            Sicard is a new parish that needs very good cooperations.  Thanks be to god, we have started cooperating with some awesome people which you are.
            I was very happy to receive the friends from Saint Bernadette parish of Washington and the gifts that they brought for me and for the kids, such as: copybooks, crayons, school bags, keyboard, t-shirts, the computer, and the pictures drawn by your students.
            I have also received an email regarding the transfer of the 8,000 US dollars to my account.  Unfortunately I haven’t had enough time to withdraw that money before they came to visit my parish, but I thank you a lot for that.
            Finally, I am kindly asking you to transfer my greetings and thanks to all of the ones who contributed to send gifts and money to my parish.
            May God bless you and all of the followers of Saint Bernadette.  Thank you!
                                    Sincerely, Father Samuel Auguste
I hope that warms you more than the summer sun – which I understand is even warmer in the hills of western Haiti!  Our Haiti mission committee, led by Maureen Johnson and Jim Weisgerber, did a marvelous job of discerning the needs of the people of Sicard and how we could offer them something that would bear good fruit in their lives.  They were also eager to remain open to the many gifts that their newfound Haitian brothers and sisters could offer them.  Mutual generosity is the fabric of communion in Christ.  To all who have participated in launching this relationship that will result in a deeper participation in the love of Christ, I give not only Father Samuel's thanks, but also my own.
Nothing makes one grateful for his own nation like visiting another, as I have several times experienced.  This note comes at perfect time to thank God for the unique gifts and genius of our country, whose abundances we enjoy.  Our Independence Day observances should not fail to include sincere thanks to God for this singular grace, as well as our fervent prayer for guidance and protection from all evil, within and without, that could threaten our earthly homeland.  God bless America.

Monsignor Smith