Saturday, July 25, 2015


There are many homilies that I remember.  From when I was discerning my vocation and participating at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral, there are several from Cardinal Hickey, and a few from Father Brainerd.  From my days in seminary, there are the good, the bad, and the ugly from the faculty – all of them good for a chuckle from my classmates.  From my time as a priest secretary in Rome, these two from Cardinal Ratzinger: his address to Pope Saint John Paul II upon the twenty-fifth anniversary of his pontificate, and his “dictatorship of relativism” talk from the Mass of the Holy Spirit before the 2005 Conclave that elected him to the Chair of Peter. 
But from much before that, I cannot point to very many homilies that have staying power, with one exception.  When I was a kid in Birmingham, going to Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows, we occasionally had the pleasure of a guest priest.  He was the abbot of the Benedictine monastery in Cullman, about forty minutes north of us.  Though I really did not know what a Benedictine monk was, I knew we called him Abbot Hilary, and I was always pleased when he came.  I liked his preaching and his manner of celebrating Mass, both of which he did with particular care and delight. 
This weekend we interrupt our year-long reading of the Gospel of Mark for a five-week detour into the Gospel of John.  We begin with the feeding of the multitude, picking up neatly from where Mark left us last week, but leading us where Mark did not choose to go: with Jesus to Capernaum, and the square in front of the synagogue there.  The throng that has been fed once seeks to be fed again, and Jesus responds by teaching them how, and what, He will feed them.
It requires five Sundays to move through a single chapter, John Chapter Six, a Scriptural citation that should come easily to every Catholic, and every Christian for that matter.  It is the Eucharistic Discourse that John gives us in order to understand this mystery that is at the heart of the relationship and life that Jesus offers us.  The other Evangelists explain the Eucharist in the presentation of the Last Supper, where John focuses on the mandatum, the washing of the feet.  But there is no room to believe that he did not emphasize the Eucharist, and this chapter makes that clear.
What Jesus proposed in that square to that crowd was scandalous and repellent then, but to us has become so familiar that it might lose its meaning.  As Jesus directs the hungry crowd to hunger instead for what he will give them, we have a chance to hear the same invitation in our own circumstance.  In anger and disgust, many reject his offer and walk away, then and now.  He concludes with the poignant question, Do you also want to leave?  We hear Peter’s answer, but He stands waiting for ours.
The homily I remember from my youth is Abbot Hilary’s on the final portion of John Chapter Six, when Jesus poses to his listeners, and to us, this choice of how to respond to His offered Body and Blood.   The response that I chose led me to be in a position to propose the same choice to you.  Over these five weeks, you may or may not hear, much less ever recall, my preaching on this vital element in our Faith.  But do not let the words of the Holy Gospel reach your ears in vain, for it is what Jesus says to the multitude at Capernaum that should be one of the homilies that you remember.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Joy of Not Knowing

It pleases me to be able to exhort you to welcome our new Parochial Vicar, Fr. Daniel Gallaugher.  He moved in during the week, a few moments earlier than mandated by the Archdiocesan appointment, and proceeded to throw himself into the work at hand by offering the 6:30 Mass on his first day in residence.
This is the “flip-side” of the process we went through in May, when Fathers McDonell and McCabe set out from us, one of them not having known that he would move so soon, the other still not knowing to where he was moving.  Their going forth from us was our loss, and we had no idea of the needs and goals that led those responsible for deciding when and where they would go.
Now arrives Fr. Gallaugher, and his arrival is our gain.  That much we can easily agree without yet knowing precisely what it is we shall gain.  I shall ask him to write for you a biographical sketch for next week, so I will not now go into details that he shall better convey.  We know that simply having another priest dedicated to the spiritual health and growth of our parish and parishioners will be a good thing.  But what is it in particular that he will bring? 
Conversely we can be confident that his being here with us will be good for him.  This parish is recognized for treating very well the priests who are assigned here and who live here. 
By “treating well,” however, I do not mean showering with gifts and privileges, asking very little in the way of effort, or applauding every deed and utterance.  That might seem to be good treatment by some standard, but not by ours.  No, by this I mean that the members of this church respect and understand the Holy Priesthood, and ask for the energetic exercise of precisely that office and the divine gifts associated with it.  In other words, you ask your priests, to be your priests, all the while recognizing that every priest is different, and at a different stage in his vocational growth and development.  This is why our rectory is almost constantly chosen to host a seminarian still in formation.  I have told you before that you are good teachers of priests.
So just what it is that Fr. Gallaugher will learn while he is here, just what growth in wisdom and holiness he will enjoy because of his relationship with you and all that will happen here during his time, we do not know any more than he does.
Nonetheless, we can be just as confident that learning and growth will occur in us because of his presence and ministry, without knowing what shape that learning and growth will take. 
This is part of the great delight and anticipation that accompanies Fr. Gallaugher, for it is the Holy Spirit at work in the Church that has brought him here to us.  It balances the sadness and gratitude that marked the sending forth of Frs. McDonell and McCabe when obedience spirited them from out of our midst.
As if this were not sufficient cause for rejoicing, I will share with you that this week I learned that another priest, this one assigned to study at Catholic University, hopes to live here this year.  There are still several practical steps between now and his arrival, so I will leave the details for later, and commend to your prayers all (us) priests whom God sends to bring you closer to Himself. 

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, July 04, 2015

An Exceptional Fourth to You

The concept of “American exceptionalism” has almost as many definitions as there are commentators on it.  I have long been fascinated by the term, whether its first best use was by Alexis de Tocqueville or Josef Stalin, both of whom are candidates for credit.  Some would assert that the only exceptional aspect of our country is that it is ours, which is thus the same thing that makes any country exceptional.  While I could not endorse any particular theory, it seems sufficiently commonsense to acknowledge that there is something authentically exceptional about our nation.
My first candidate for the ground of exceptionality would be our form of government, the Constitution, and that this form of government is the first and defining characteristic of the country.  Ethnicity, culture, and geography all contributed to our nation’s earliest self-understanding and establishment, but did not even then, much less do they now, define what makes the United States of America, the United States of America.
Lest anyone think that the USA was simply the first of a historical generation of nations to be born of revolution and coalesce by constitution, one need examine the suggested “other examples.”  The French staged a revolution with the express intention of emulating what they saw in our society, but “Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality” quickly descended into tyranny and bloodshed by committee.  We are all aware of how the Russian and other so-called “revolutions” played out, pursued as they were in the names of ideologies that led to domination by ideologues. Many Latin American nations claim their own “George Washingtons” who nonetheless failed to manifest not only his executive virtues, but also and especially his virtuous relinquishing of executive power.  Anybody familiar with the European Union’s huge phonebook-size assemblage of regulations knows it is a “Constitution” in name alone.
I think what lies at the root of the current mocking of American exceptionalism is a rejection of the possibility that anything can be an exception.  There is a desire to subordinate the character of USA to a rule, and by that rule to take away any privilege or responsibility that would belong to a truly exceptional nation.  
Both privilege and responsibility are eliminated by the tyranny of false equality, which refuses to admit not only any exception, but also the possibility of authentic difference.  The reality of difference is manifest in the differences between and among human beings and all the creatures of the earth. Good and evil, true and false, reality and fiction, beauty and disorder are truly and clearly different.  The only way to deny or suppress these differences is to erect a false equality through authority and power.  That authority and power is necessarily in opposition to the author of all these differences, our Creator.
My willingness to accept that the United States is exceptional among nations is rooted in my belief that among human beings there are lives that are exceptional.  That belief is founded on my acquaintance with the perfectly exceptional man who is God, Jesus Christ.  His immaculately conceived mother, the Virgin Mary, is not only an exception to the rule of original sin, but also a model of and invitation to acceptance of the privilege and responsibility that comes with freedom from the rule, with being an exception.
The inherent difference among human lives is reflected in the differences of the societies they erect.  The true differences between good and evil, true and false, between God and everything else, undergird a world where every human soul is called to be exceptional in a way that he or she is uniquely capable of being.  This is the foundational freedom that can be suppressed but not eliminated, as it inheres in our very souls.  Better than anywhere else or in any other time, this is the freedom that has until now been both provided and protected in our exceptional nation’s exceptional Constitution.
God bless America, and God bless you.

Monsignor Smith