Saturday, September 16, 2017

Nothing Fake

After all those quiet Sundays, the announcements at Mass are suddenly filled with news you can use.  Last week, there was a call for help with the upcoming Fall Festival.  I mentioned to the folks at the nine o’clock Mass that it’s a great thing to which to invite friends, neighbors, co-workers, and passersby who are not parishioners, or not even Catholic.
The Fall Festival this year will be the afternoon of Sunday, October first – only two weeks away.  It is usually the most beautiful weather of the year, and a great time to be outside with the family.  There are games and activities and vendors and tents and ponies and Boy Scouts and baked goods and just about everything, but mainly there’s US – the people of Saint Bernadette.  It’s a beautiful time to be together.  And because of that, it’s a beautiful time for other people who ordinarily are not, to be with us.
This is NOT a fundraiser; it’s what we call a community-builder.  We try to bring in more than we lay out, but the last few years we haven’t cleared that bar.  You know what?  It is STILL worth doing!  But the more folks who come, the less it will cost us.  And folks need to know we are not trying to get anything out of them; we are simply inviting them to get to know us.
So please, this week, start inviting folks to come to the Fall Festival here.  Your neighbors who have kids.  Your neighbors who don’t have kids at home anymore and might enjoy spending time around ours.  Your friends from work who might be looking for a family activity for a beautiful fall weekend afternoon.  Invite people!  It will make it more fun for all of us.
That’s not the only thing happening around here.  We had Back To School Nights this past weekend, and it was great to see the parents re-discovering, or learning for the first time, what an excellent school we have.  The kids grow and learn so fast, it is a real marvel to see all that goes into filling that growth with not only knowledge, but also truth; not only ability, but also virtue.   The people who make it happen in our school are truly gifted, and graced. 
Speaking of grace, and wisdom, and truth, I need to restock the tank.  Taking heed of the Master Himself, who said "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while." (Mark 6:31) I will be going on retreat this week.   I would be grateful for your prayers.  And since I will be driving that direction, I will be visiting Fr. Nick Zientarski in his new parish, Saint Christopher in Baldwin, New York.  He has invited me to concelebrate the Mass at which he will be formally installed as Pastor, Sunday morning September 24th.  That is too good to pass up, so I will spend next weekend with him, and you will not see me about the place here as I usually am at all the Masses.  But we have a deep bench here on Team Bernadette, so you’ll hardly suffer the loss.  I will assure Fr. Nick of your prayers and love, so don’t forget to send what I am promising!
These are exciting days at the parish, and it would be easy to take it for granted that everybody is as busy and as blessed as we are.  But that is not true; our parish, our Church, our Faith are a great gift, which we have all received from someone who loved us, and cared for us.  One of the best ways to demonstrate our awareness of this debt, and our gratitude for this gift, is to extend it to others whom we love. 
Talk up the Fall Festival; it’s a blast.  If you hear someone expressing dismay with the school situation of one or more of their kids, invite them to examine ours.  It’s a good time to transfer rather than endure a bad year!  And offer somebody a glimpse of the Faith that sustains you, and an invitation to explore it in RCIA.  You see, you have the news that your friends can use.

Monsignor Smith

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Of all people!

Let me just say that Gov. Larry Hogan has done a great thing, and we should all thank him.  No, no, I don’t want to drag you off into the realms of political controversy; I am talking about something that is easy for everyone to applaud: starting school after Labor Day.  Gov. Hogan initiated it for the public schools, Montgomery County parish schools chose to follow, and it was GREAT.
As something of a seasoned observer of families and schoolkids, let me just say that several years ago, as the start date for schools continued to creep earlier and earlier until it was more than a week before August was over, I saw discombobulation, disappointment, and disorientation in our kids and their families.  They were not ready yet; they were not done with summer yet.  It was untimely.   
Of course, it was exacerbated for the teachers, who start a week before classes begin, and for the administration, including me, who start in earnest several weeks before that.  It was as if August was not a summer month at all!
This year, it was clear on the first day of school that the schoolkids and their families were ready.  It was obvious in the preceding weeks that they were enjoying having time to wind down their summer program, and to do their preparatory work for the change in mission that comes with the school year.  There was less angst, less anguish, and far less anxiety.  In their place was eager anticipation.
Our start to the school year was marked by the careful oversight of our new principal, Mr. Ted Ewanciw.  Having been in the leadership of the school for years, and being a parishioner here for decades, he has a clear vision of what our school can be and should be.  It was clear in the preparation for the beginning of class, and there is also a clue in the motto he has chosen for the year:  I must become a saint.  These are the words of our own patroness, Saint Bernadette Soubirous. 
The first day of classes fell on the new feast of the newly proclaimed Saint, Theresa of Calcutta.  Most of us remember Mother Theresa as someone who was very much of our times, and even of our place, as she visited the US frequently.  Saints are not long ago and far away, they are here and now!
And the first Friday morning school Mass fell on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the seventieth (70th) anniversary of the first opening day of our parish school, September 8, 1947.  Can you believe?  Harder for me to believe is that I have been Pastor for more than one-seventh of those first days: this was my twelfth, and counting!
It is important to keep these anniversaries, and we have more of them as the year unfolds.  But it is also important for families and kids to have time together to play, to travel, and to learn in other ways, as well as to prepare for school.   That all of this occurred for our kids this year on days that are blessed with local and eternal significance is a good reason to thank, of all people, our state’s governor.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Good question

What’s so great about being Catholic, anyway?
Have you ever been asked that?  Have you ever asked yourself that?  Most days, it would be hard to try to come up with just one thing, there are so many. 
My first answer would be the Eucharist: the real presence, body, blood, soul, and divinity, of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Word become flesh, who dwells among us.  It’s no metaphor; we know where He is, and we know what He’s for.
After that, the list gets crowded and a bit jumbled.  The Pope – and this Pope; Mozart and Michelangelo; Lent (yes, Lent!) and Easter.  Votive candles, the Rosary, backyard shrines to the Blessed Mother, and Mardi Gras.  And Catholics!    
I could go on and on – but I don’t have to tell you that.  The real question is, how would you answer?  And now, to make it even more challenging, this is the real question: who is it in your life just now that wants to know?
There’s got to be someone who knows you and really wants to know, what’s so great about being Catholic?, but is afraid to ask.    So in addition to your needing to have an answer, you need to give that someone the answer without waiting for them to ask the question.
It is that time of year again when we start huddling in the rectory meeting room with folks who want to know just that – what IS it about being Catholic? And is “it” for me?  We call it RCIA, which stands for: the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.  And it does move toward the sacraments.  However, in the beginning, it really is simply inquiry, that is, all their questions.  And since people hesitate to ask these questions, they need YOUR help to find their answers.
This is an important inquiry to pursue, because everybody knows our story is not all great, at all times, and in all ways.  There’s a reason for that, too: human nature.  The Church is made up of people, and people are marked by original sin, and original sin by definition means that there are flaws.  For example, I am a flawed priest – but that doesn’t mean it would make sense to equate my flaws with the Sacred Priesthood. 
In fact, sin is why we need the Church.  Being sinners is what makes us eligible to be members!  We have Sin, and we have sinned, so we need forgiveness.  Forgiveness is what the Church exists to give, to make Christ’s saving sacrifice, his once-and-for-all death on Calvary, available to everyone who needs it.  And since “who needs it” is precisely everyone, that is who the Church is for.  That’s why she is called Catholic (universal); she is for everyone, because she has what everyone needs.
So think about your answer – what is so great about being Catholic? – and then share it with a few people in your life (friends, neighbors, co-workers, spouses) who may not know that it is a very legitimate question and that the answer is very much worth finding.  Explain to them how they can bring their questions to this year’s RCIA, which starts soon. 
Then point them in our direction: contact Norma in the rectory, Fr. Gallaugher, or me here at the rectory, or Neil Sloan in the Religious Ed office.   Tell them to use the phone, a letter, email, voicemail, text, tweet, or smoke signal.  We are eager to answer their questions, because that’s one of the things that’s great about being Catholic.

Monsignor Smith