Saturday, August 27, 2016

Ask!





Perfect for the last Sunday of summer, which also happens to be his feast day, is a poem from Saint Augustine of Hippo, one of the great Doctors of the Church and one of the great authors and intellects in the history of civilization.  Enjoy it like you would a warm summer breeze – on an evening you have been out of the air conditioning for a while; or a perfect, ripe peach.
Monsignor Smith

Question the beauty of the earth, the beauty of the sea,
the beauty of the wide air around you,
the beauty of the sky;
question the order of the stars,
the sun whose brightness lights the days,
the moon whose splendor softens the gloom of night;
question the living creatures that move in the waters,
that roam upon the earth, that fly through the air;
the spirit that lies hidden, the matter that is manifest;
the visible things that are ruled,
the invisible things that rule them; question all these.
They will answer you:
"Behold and see, we are beautiful."
Their beauty is their confession to God.
Who made these beautiful, changing things,
if not one who is beautiful,
and changeth not?

Saint Augustine (354 - 430 AD)







Saturday, August 20, 2016

First response

Last week when the apartment building exploded less than a mile from the rectory, I did not hear the explosion, or the sirens.  The next morning when I drove through the intersection of University Blvd with Piney Branch and saw the road closed, I assumed it was for roadwork.  I learned of the catastrophe only much later in the day when a parishioner asked whether there was anything we could do about it.
It takes some of the sting out of bad news when it reaches you because of good impulses.  In fact, most of the people who spoke to me about it did so with the desire to help those affected by it.  Of course I had other input: when I got home that evening, I ran into a police sergeant who had responded the night before when it happened.  Talk about bleary-eyed!  His shift had stayed on six extra hours, into the next morning. 
But none of it was morbid curiosity, and it was all remarkably free of the accusation or blame that so often accompanies any reportage of bad things happening to good people.  Now that I think of it, maybe that is because I heard it from individuals, not from any media outlet. 
In response to all the inquiries, people did the research and learned that what was needed at that stage was monetary donations; all the other material needs of the moment were well met by people and organizations who responded quickly with an outpouring of assistance. 
Since our Community Fund collection was already on the calendar for the weekend, I decided to designate the entire collection to assist those affected by the blast and fire.  I joked that the Allocation Committee, who considers needs and requests to the parish and designates the grants that are supported by the Community Fund, probably would not object to my executive decision.
So without any advance notice or preparation, because there was no time for any, and in the doldrums of summer when so many people are at the beach or in the mountains or in Europe or anywhere but in church, you managed to give $2,672.30, well over our average monthly Community Fund collection.
As I predicted, the Allocation Committee not offended, but did have a statement to make:  RuthAnn Arnsberger, the Chairman, insisted on adding to it from the Committee enough to round up to make it an even three thousand.  It will make a nicer check.
If you missed the basket or didn’t have a checkbook, feel free to send in your contribution.  We will doubtless have others, and gather them up and pass them on with love from the good folks of Saint Bernadette. 
But meanwhile, that is one big check I will be delighted to sign.  So, good work all around, and keep investigating.  There might be more we can do in the future, but your immediate response to immediate need was effective and genuine.  And your response is a perfect example of the power God has given us in Christ to respond to a terrible thing in a way that transforms it into a good and life-giving thing.  Praise God.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Are you going to eat that?

One of the glories of summer finally reached my plate: fresh corn on the cob.   Steaming from the pot and gleaming gold, it was beautiful to watch the butter melt into the crevices between the kernels, and the salt crystals sparkle before they too disappeared into all that fresh tasty goodness.  Of course it required a sheet of paper towels to eat, as no napkin could absorb all the grease and corn shrapnel from my hands and face.  Joy!
Then I felt guilty.  I was trying to have a simple, light, healthy supper; you know: fresh vegetables and all that.  The corn had caught my eye while I was shopping and seemed to fit right in to the plan.  But then all that butter!  Salt even.  What happened to healthy?
Perhaps you’ve had the same experience.  Summer brings with its glories many pitfalls:  cookouts with their mountains of meat; vacations when we let ourselves depart from our disciplines; ice cream because how could you not; and the best thing God ever inspired us to do with all this ripe summer fruit, pie.  We wind up rubbing our bellies and scratching our heads, wondering how could we let ourselves DO that?  In fact, I would not be surprised if the most recent time you felt guilty, it was because of something you ate. 
Doesn’t that strike you as odd?  Why is it so common for us to associate guilt with food?  I cannot imagine that our forebears would have recognized the association we make so often and so readily.  Eating always has been a necessity, and only very rarely and for very few did it involve any luxury.  One ate what one could lay hold of, and thereby survived.  But things have changed.
In our time and under some circumstances, overindulgence is nearly impossible to avoid, but excess is only one there is another dimension. “Forbidden fruit” has been supplanted by forbidden fat, or carbs, or gluten, or…whatever our dietary bugbear happens to be.  All of these accrue to the general goal of health, and our responsibility to maintain it.  There can also be a focus on our appearance; perhaps a goal less lofty, but not without credit.
New dimensions have accrued to the modern ‘food conscience” that go beyond avoiding gluttony and staying healthy.  Fair trade, locally sourced, sustainable, organic, free range, hormone free, and other labels advocate that these food choices would be “better.”  Moreover, some vegetarians, pescatarians, vegans, and other –tarians are not satisfied merely to constrain their own eating, but also expect others willingly to provide for them at the common table or festive occasions according to their constraints.  I doubt there is anyone in the parish who has not yet at least once had to solve the logistical challenges this poses.  Far from being abashed by this imposition, some even proselytize, with a conviction that such eating habits and restrictions obtain moral elevation, even obligation. 
How far man has come from hunting, gathering, and subsisting!  But is it all progress, and if so, in what?  At one time it was simple to see that if one ate more, then another must settle for less; now the social implications of food are much more complex, and continue to be revealed.  Similarly, discerning what is healthful is more complicated as food production and distribution become more developed.  While the costs of food particularity are well disguised in our time and place, it is nevertheless clear that a healthy diet is a mark of affluence, and obesity a common mark of poverty.
Advertisers, celebrities, our own dinner guests, and even strangers in public places feel free to admonish us about what we should and should not eat, and why.   There is clearly a moral dimension to food, beyond simple self-discipline in pursuit of health and avoidance of excess.  But why has this one moral question become so prominent, and so public?   
Could guilt over salty buttered corn possibly be a distraction from something more pressing?

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 06, 2016

How I should know

I believe precisely in order to understand.
This statement from Francis Cardinal George, late Archbishop of Chicago, struck a chord with me as I read his posthumously published book, A Godly Humanism.  It resonated with a train of thought that had been chugging around in my head for the past few weeks: from the Big Bang onward, every event and element in the universe originates with and points to God, our origin and goal.
Throughout the quarter of a century he served as bishop, Cardinal George was widely recognized to be the most intellectually capable member of the US hierarchy.  I was blessed to encounter him early and often during that time, and always found him kind and personable.  Frank and direct would also describe him, as his intellectual rigor revealed itself in unhesitant honesty.  All of this made him stand out among the many bishops I knew.
As Cardinal George prepared for death by the cancer that had come back for the third time, he meditated on the relationship between the realm of the intellect and the realm of faith, and their seeming clash in our nation and culture.  He found both to be bound up inseparably not only in his own life, but in human nature and experience.  It is insight from personal experience that he offers in his book.
He responds graciously and eloquently to the common assertion that faith and reason are opposites.  I am so grateful for it, because this has been bothering me lately.  There is so much science and discovery and insight out there, and every shred of it points to magnificence of its Creator.  Everything beautiful and everything dangerous, everything thunderous and everything still, resounds with the genius and glory of God.
In a time when we have a popular television show called The Big Bang Theory, with characters who are nerdy and supposedly extremely smart, most people do not know that the eponymous theory originated with the scientific work of a priest, Fr. Georges LeMĂ¢itre, SJ.  The intelligence and learning of the characters on the show include no interest in God, much less any concern for Divine instruction that would shed light on how they should live.  The smug and willful ignorance depicted is both widespread and pernicious.
To call oneself “agnostic” is fashionable, but how many realize that etymologically, it simply means “without knowledge?”  In common usage, it indicates a conviction that one cannot know about God, and therefore one does not know, and should not behave as if he does.  On the contrary, ignorance of God not only requires a great deal of effort to maintain, but must also first be taught or instructed.  
One of the phrases that Cardinal George brings out is the ancient formula, credo ut intelligam: I believe that I may understand.  It is the exact opposite of what so many people assert now, the proposition that one must choose either to have faith, or to have knowledge.  He explains: Because there are things beyond human understanding, faith is a vision of reality larger than that given by our own experience.  It’s a way of understanding something that reason couldn’t discover.  Once (divine) revelation has helped us to see things we wouldn’t see without its data, then we can begin to understand what has been given us by using the power of reason.
The irony is that faith, specifically Christian faith, is the root of so much of our scientific knowledge.  The foundation for the scientific inquiry that has brought about our technological mastery was and remains our confidence in the God who is intelligible to us, and in whose likeness we are able to know Him and all His work.   Therefore, you and I are better able to understand any and every science, any and every aspect of reality, because we study and believe in God.
This is why I nurture, protect, and value my faith, and why I ground every consideration and decision in what it teaches me.  Because I believe precisely in order to understand.

Monsignor Smith