Saturday, April 30, 2016

Where moth and rust consume

That sounds like a conversation at my kitchen table!
That’s what she told me outside church after Mass the other day.  The roof repair estimators had arrived just as folks were leaving, stirring curiosity.  I explained that they were here to identify the sources of the leaks damaging the church ceiling.  The week before, the first assessor had walked about on the roof, but determined that information was needed from the “attic” -- the catwalk and crawlspace between ceiling and roof.  Access is possible only through the small square hatch above the head of the Sacred Heart statue over the main doors.    
Now I admit to being in a state of some agitation, as this seemingly simple effort had taken on pricey complexity.  The roof assessor called me a day or two later to inform me that a scissor-lift was required to reach that hatch, which apt but arcane piece of equipment must be rented at a price not less than $1000.  That’s right, folks, a cool grand, just for a look-see.  Now do you understand my agitation?
Fueled by indignation as I shared the full story with the insatiable onlookers, I pointed out that the roof to the church was fine -- fine! -- since it dates to 2003, quite young in roof-years.  Moreover, I had personally seen to the re-flashing of the seams and edges, and the re-sealing of the eyebrow vents, early in my tenure as Pastor, not later than 2008;  more recently, I had been veritably breathing down the neck of our gutter liners and downspout junctions.
As leaks persisted and plaster fell in chunks, evidence pointed to the eyebrow vents as culprits; but I was convinced that something else was wrong, because it could not possibly be anything so recently repaired.

Don't you raise your eyebrows at me, young lady!
At this point I was forced to admit that after ten years as Pastor here, I have reached a point where I have fixed, patched, or replaced almost everything.  It seems only humblest reason to expect it all to work, doesn’t it?  But no!  Some things insist on breaking again, sometimes in the same way, and sometimes in new and creative ways.   Which leads to my cri de coeur: didn’t I just fix that?
That’s when she said: That sounds like a conversation at my kitchen table!  She explained that her family, too, has been in their home for long enough that their seemingly “brand-new” appliances fail, and “recent” repairs and restorations crumble.  The only remedy for the anguish and confusion is to retrieve the receipt, often brittle and yellowed, revealing the purchase or work might not be so recent as the inverted telescope of memory shows.  It’s a rear-view that should come with a warning in reverse of the one on your car:  objects in mirror may be further away than they seem.
So yes, folks, I am at that stage as “householder” where the paper trail tells a startling tale of years gone by, and original sin working its ways on the material world in rust, decay, and failure.  All things bright and beautiful eventually break and need repair.  Alas.  Does this sound like a conversation at your kitchen table?
Later that day of the conversation, the assessment unfolded a happier tale that not all is turned to dust quite yet.  The culprits are indeed likely the eyebrow vents, not the whole roof, and not the parts we resealed so recently, but underlying caulk in joints untended since Stricker strode the parish.  This too can be repaired.  We’ll need to keep after those gutter liners too, of course, most pressingly the expansion joints. 
But the really good news came when the roofers told me they had grown so impatient waiting for the hours-delayed scissor lift that they found they could access the hatch by combining two ladders they had on their truck, so they cancelled the rental and the $1000 expense.
And that’s just the sort of happy news that I hope you, too, get to include sometime soon in a conversation at your kitchen table.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Standing on shoulders

Bishop David E. Foley after Confirmation last week in Alabama,
with the newly-confirmed Pierce Bolding and his sponsor.

It is popular now to research one's ancestry, with services available online and more data available than ever before.  People can talk about which of their forebears came over to this country, and when, and from where.  Unfortunately, my family name, Smith, makes it impossible to trace the line back any further than the boat over. 
But when it comes to my lineage as pastor, that line is clear and strong: Stricker, Foley, Krastel, Martin, Thompson, Smith.  Since Saint Bernadette was erected a parish in 1948, with Father WIlliam Stricker named as Pastor, there has been no room for doubt as to my illustrious forebears.
Imagine my delight last week to find one of them, not on, but in the sanctuary with me!  I flew down to Birmingham for the Confirmation of my nephew, Pierce Bolding.  Most Rev. Robert Baker, Bishop of Birmingham in Alabama, presided, but the number of Confirmandi at Prince of Peace Church in Hoover was so large (118!) that he asked his predecessor, Most Rev. David E. Foley, to assist him.
A long, long time ago, when the founding pastor of this parish retired in 1975, the shoes to be filled were quite large, as was everything else of that outsize man.  Then-Archbishop William Baum took a different approach in the man he chose to succeed him.  Smaller in stature, but not in voice or any other way, Monsignor Foley pastored this parish wisely and well for the next eight years. 
There are still many parishioners who remember him fondly.  We still enjoy the maple trees planted out front in his time, and the pipe organ that was his valedictory project.  His influence on the parish is still felt in our devotion to the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist.  When he moved on from Saint Bernadette in 1983, Msgr. Foley was less than three years from being named a Bishop by Saint John Paul II.
By the providence of God, my nephew received the seal of the Holy Spirit from Bishop Foley, and a shout out by name from Bishop Baker at the start of the Mass.  He mentioned the link between the two of us there, the second and the sixth Pastors of Saint Bernadette in Silver Spring. 
It is good to know one's ancestry, but a true blessing to have good reason to be proud of it.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Fruitful Clatter

As I sit here at my desk in the rectory, I hear two things: telephone conversations, and keyboards clacking.  Both can have to do with almost any aspect of parish life.  The telephone makes possible all the conversations that we need to understand what folks need, and let them understand what we are doing.  And the keyboards help us input a never-ending stream of data.  This too helps us understand what people need, and what we need to do or make or get in order to provide it.
The Church has always, and will always, require written documents for certain things.  Baptismal registers, for example, will always be pen on paper – in big, impressive books that we keep forever.  All of the documents assembled for each wedding that occurs are kept, physically and safely. Official petitions, credentials, and testimonials, similarly, must be on paper.  Email will not suffice.  A word, spoken in person or over the telephone, will not suffice.
But that does not mean that the Church does not recognize the value of other means of communication and data collection and storage.  For decades, in addition to our files of parish registration cards, we have kept electronic records of all parish members and families. 
Unfortunately, we have had the same database system for those multiple decades.  It is not just old, but antique!  It is slow, cumbersome, and limited. 
Finally, after years of promise and possibility, we are implementing a new electronic database for parishioner information.  After several efforts by the Archdiocese, we have finally settled on a system and provider.  We converted to the matching financial database system last year, and it is going great.   Even as I write this, the new provider has our entire database is converting it to the new system.
The rectory staff has undergone training for the new program; that was why nobody was in the rectory offices for two days last week.  There was an awkward frustration on Monday when it was not possible to enter the weekend contributions into the system, because, well, there is no system quite yet. 
You see, one of the things that takes the time and care of a number of people is carefully recording every gift and offering the parish receives.  You see that on some weekends we have two collections.  You also know there are other envelopes – flowers, education fund, etc.  Beyond that range of possibilities, parishioners and guests can and do designate their gifts to any collection, fund, or use they wish, sometimes even splitting up a single check toward different ends.  Every such designation is carefully noted and respected.
And of course, every gift is carefully attributed and acknowledged.  After our fearless counters have tallied and noted and attributed everything that we receive, that takes a lot of keystrokes!
We try to keep our records as accurate and current as humanly possible.  Our new database system will make it easier and faster to maintain the records of every parishioner and family, including sacraments received and new members welcomed.  Once the program is installed, that will mean more keystrokes!
Add that to the clatter of bills received and paid, payroll, tuition paid and aid given, census reports submitted, reports prepared, and even the occasional real letter, that will make for a lot of typing.  Listen for the clack of keyboards in the background the next time you call the rectory.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Do you smell that?

It hits me as soon as I cross the threshold of the church: the fragrance.  Then I look up and see the flowers from which the fragrance comes, the lilies especially.   It is delightful.  The place where we encounter God on earth is a place of beautiful and sweet-smelling life: a garden.
In the Liturgy of the Hours for Holy Saturday, we have a reading “From an ancient homily on Holy Saturday.”  'Ancient' usually means about the second century; the author’s name is unknown.  You heard Father Brian Kane quote excerpts from it in his homily if you were here for the Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday.  The ancient preacher refers to the recurrence of the garden as the place where our story of salvation unfolds: the Garden of Eden, the Garden of Gethsemane, etc.  He portrays Jesus speaking to Adam among the dead:
For your sake, I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth.  For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead.  For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
One might also infer that Christ was buried in a garden, and rose in a garden.  Remember, when the risen Jesus revealed Himself to Mary at the tomb, she first thought He was … the gardener. 
Of course God, the giver and nurturer of life, is Gardener of all Creation, Who restores and renews life through the death and resurrection of His Son.  So to make that great work intelligible to us, it happens in a garden setting.  Without this instructional element, we might continue foolishly to yearn for that other garden, from which our forebears were exiled for their willful disobedience. 
But the garden that springs up in the location of Christ’s saving act of obedience is infinitely more delightful.  This garden emphasizes the life and richness won for us by His redeeming work.  And the flowers in our church give us here and now a hint of that same life and richness.
Because what God wants for us is in reality good for us, and pleasing, it pleases all our human senses.  For that reason, eternal glory has among its attributes not only bright beautiful light and color, and sweet joyful sounds of celestial choirs, but also a delightful fragrance known as ‘the odor of sanctity.’  It is most often characterized as floral – roses or other fragrant flowers.  This pervasive and sweet scent, not oppressive or stifling, has often been observed to accompany miraculous works and apparitions, as well as the lives and even the dead bodies of saints.  
Saint Augustine in his Confessions described his own turn toward Christ most famously in the paragraph that begins: Late have I loved you, O beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!  In it, he describes God’s working through every one of his senses:  You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.  You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.  I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I burned for your peace. 
God, who did not disdain our human nature but rather became Man and dwelt among us, reveals Himself by the working of all our human senses, smell included.  In this way, an earthly maxim applies to our pursuit of heaven as well: breathe deep, and Follow your nose!

Monsignor Smith