Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Company You Keep

Here come the Monday Train!
You know I like trains, at least if you’ve been reading this for more than a year or two.  But there are exceptions to that, and one of them hit us this week: the Monday Train.
Though last week was the second our school was in session, it began with quiet Labor Day.  This week was the first full week after summer ended, and it began with the first full-strength Monday of the new season.  It came through the rectory like a mile-long load of coal from West Virginia pulled by four CSX diesels.  You have heard, perhaps, of being thrown under the bus?  That’s nothing compared to being hit by the Monday Train. 
By the time Monday noon rolled around, the staff and I were gasping for breath and laughing at how manic it had become, and how suddenly.  Phone calls, drop-ins, follow-ups, deadlines, and situations!  It was such a lovely summer of manageable days and quiet afternoons, leisurely lunches and good humor.  And it is OVER.
That’s not to say we didn’t get any work done over the summer; quite the contrary.  There was a steady, even measured chipping away at the quarry walls as we hewed out the necessary blocks of diligence and accomplishment.  In-boxes were emptied and loose ends tied; reports were signed and submitted; plans were considered and chosen.  All this was accomplished under a remarkable torrent of turnover among the priest residents of the place; for details, see my previous letters. Let me assure you, it was no mean feat.
Which brings me to the happy point of sharing with you the amazing amount and quality of work done for you, for me, and for Jesus by the folks who work here in the rectory and in the administration of our school. When I write that, it would seem that there be a cast of thousands, but they are astonishingly few.  Stakhanovites would blush with shame to see how paltry their production next to the workload effortlessly carried by gentle, smiling church folk.  
Ron, Jackie, Corine, Norma, Carol, and Dao here in the rectory do things in an afternoon that a building full of bureaucrats could not pull off in a month.  The same arithmetic applies to Mr. Ted Ewanciw’s “tiny but mighty” team of Molly, Karyn, Kate, and Nicole over in the school, but let me focus for now on the folks here around me. 
Each of them fulfills what would be two or even three jobs in any other organization.  Each of them has an astonishing roster of “other duties as assigned” which they work out without anyone having actually to assign them.  The range of details and projects, the amount of special consideration and accommodation they routinely apply to the people they assist, and the level of good humor and generosity they maintain in the face of This Particular Supervisor would leave you somewhere between astonished and indignant if I could possibly list it all.  
Not only do they take remarkably good care of me, but you should ask our two new rectory residents how they are managing to adjust to life around the parish.  Let me just say that the staff has admirably cushioned the impact of their new situations, as near as I can discern.
Never was it so obvious to me how much I count on the people who serve in this rectory office, so clear how hard they work for you, nor so manifest their conviction that the Lord has called them to this particular intimacy with Him in their daily work.  This should bring joy and gratitude to you, as it does to me, especially when comes the Monday Train.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Not beyond our reach

So much at stake
It is rare enough for our nation and its news outlets to maintain sustained attention on a situation in a foreign country.  Our notoriously short attention span, lack of interest in anything that does not directly affect us, and near-complete thrall to the infotainment industry’s agenda of selling us consumer goods and political panic preclude our awareness of and interest in what is happening far away.  But somehow, Hong Kong has slipped through this near-impermeable barrier.
Far away from us, so why are we paying attention?  Why does news from there still merit front-page photos and top stories on every program and site?  Is it that we recognize our common humanity manifest in the striving of the millions who march against oppression?  Is it out of suspense as to how long recurring mass demonstrations can be sustained before one side or another (the demonstrators or the demonstrated-against) does something to tip the entire situation into chaos?  Is it out of the same sort of morbid fascination that makes people keep watching the ocean swimmers in the movie Jawseven as doubt about the eventual outcome dwindles and disappears? Or, against all reason and experience, do we secretly nurture hope that it all might resolve and turn out well?  
Let me give one reason why you and I should transfer our motivation to that last possibility, the hopeful one: Father Joseph McCabe, M.M.
Fr. McCabe, to refresh your memories, or to inform you who are new to the parish, lived here for two and a half years until June 2015. A Maryknoll missionary priest from Long Island, he obtained a Canon Law degree from Catholic University and made a big contribution to – and quite the impression on – our parish.  Hardly your usual student priest, he was in his mid-sixties already when he arrived, after decades in the missions of Tanzania and the Russian far east, and another decade in service of the Holy See in Rome.  If you weren’t here then, ask someone who was: he was a force of nature.  
Once he achieved his degree, his assignment was to become Judicial Vicar for the diocese of – you guessed it – Hong Kong.  For four years I have enjoyed his stories about that city, his parish work there (dozens in RCIA every year! near-constant weddings!), and his rectory life.  He also has become superior of all Maryknoll personnel in the whole region, including southeast Asia and Australia.  
After a long, anxious silence, Fr. McCabe recently wrote me. He is okay; but life in Hong Kong is changed and difficult.  There is hope, there is fear, nobody knows whom to trust or where there is safety.  Both demonstrators and demonstrated-against frighten and threaten.  Nobody knows what to expect, when or how it will end, but they must and do nurture hope that it all might resolve and turn out well
Not only because he must and will stay in Hong Kong, and not only because he has grown to love and care about many people there, but also because it is what he as a priest does and what we as Christians do, he begs for our prayers.  He knows, though not everybody there knows, that prayer to God is a powerful force for good in this life and in this world.  He knows, though not everybody there knows, but we do if we pause long enough to consider, that you and I are not powerless to contribute to the outcome of this spectacular and historic drama playing out on the other side of the planet.  He knows, though we can easily forget or be distracted, that our common human nature binds us to every soul there, and our common baptism binds us to every Christian soul there and around the world, and to the divine life of the Holy Trinity, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in all His glory and power.
With this great power comes great responsibility.  The lives and futures of one whom we know well, and millions whom we know by our shared human need for life and liberty, teeter precariously in the balance before our very eyes.  We are not helpless spectators; let us pray.
Monsignor Smith