Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lenten Teamwork

You’ve heard of the “The Lost Weekend?” Well, think bigger – the Lost Week and a Half, perhaps. All that weather we had early this month means that we dig out to daylight only to find that suddenly it’s late February, and more shocking, Lent.

Besides having to reschedule everything that we were supposed to have accomplished during those snowbound days, we also find ourselves having to reorder our days into Lent Mode. What Are You Giving Up, and all that. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, --- who, me?

I can’t be the only one who does not yet have a clear resolution of my Lenten plan even as the ashes settle on my forehead. You all know well my annual admonitions to identify our “”comfort zones,” and step away from them; this year, I want to accentuate a different angle.

For years, I have declined to declare my Lenten intentions to curious parties, on the perhaps cynical grounds that such information only sets me up for failure, either because I make myself vulnerable to taunting and tempting, or because it would be so obvious when I drop the Lenten ball. I usually encourage others to keep their resolutions private as well, to increase their chance of bearing fruit. Call it the “Go to your room and pray to your Father in secret” approach.

Not to abandon that, I would humbly suggest something else, as well. Of the prayer, fasting, and almsgiving triad, this would be Prayer. But instead of going off to your room alone to pray to your Father, get together with someone, or several someones.

Make a prayer commitment with your family, your team, that other Catholic in the office, or even the neighbor. It doesn’t have to be long – five minutes a day? – or overwhelming -- Mass together one day during the week? It should have a focus: maybe one prayer of thanksgiving and one of petition from each member of the family (one “please” and one “thank you”) and a fixed time (Before bed? Before dinner? Lunch break?). And it should last forty days.

Maybe it will be the start of something beautiful and you’ll keep going longer, but don’t worry about that now. In fact, don’t worry if you didn’t start on Ash Wednesday. This weekend we celebrate the First Sunday of Lent, followed by what is officially called the First Week of Lent. So you still have time to start at the beginning, even if you weren’t ready during the first four days of Lent.

But that’s my recommendation to you this year: get together and pray. Getting together will help you remember to pray, and praying will help you remember to get together. You will find that having someone else involved will bring not only additional motivation to follow through on your resolution, but it will bring a richness to your prayer that would not be possible on your own. Even, and perhaps especially, the simple “please” and “thank you” prayers of a child can touch us profoundly, and shape our own prayer.

I guess that is the good news of the day, after all. Even without being able to blame it on the snow days, no matter how far behind we are in our relationship with God, no time is lost, nothing is lost, we are not lost, precisely because we have Lent.

Monsignor Smith

Sunday, February 14, 2010

How much is too much?

What can I say? That was entirely too much. Too much snow, too much weather, too much everything. The capital of the free world was shut down like a one-horse town at sundown. Twice.

Everyone figured that we should be shut down, too. We, Saint Bernadette Church, that is. But, well – no. That’s not the way it works. Oh, sure, we closed the school, and the rectory staff did not come in. But the church was open, up and running, so to speak, the whole time.

There for a while (about 20 hours) we lost power last weekend. That meant not only that we had dinner by candlelight, as did plenty of you, but on Saturday evening we had Mass by candlelight as well. It began just as that blizzard was ending, and a small number of intrepid souls walked up for Mass. One of whom, upon leaving, commented, “That was beautiful. I wanted to take out my phone and call people, and tell them to come up here!”

The crowds steadily grew (and the power came back on) on Sunday morning. Every Mass had servers and lectors. The eleven o’clock even had music! Everyone was in a great mood.

Even during the second blizzard this week, in the dark cold windy wee hours of the morning, we offered our weekday Masses on time and on schedule. Not so many folks came, but God was praised, and the intentions which had been requested for those Masses were prayed for, as promised.

This is why we exist, you know. We, diocesan priests, that is. We exist to be here, to provide you with the Holy Sacraments, when and where you need them. We live next to the church, so that we are able to do what we’re supposed to do for you, in your church, no matter what happens. Religious orders have particular charisms and missions and specialties and projects. We parish priests direct our lives toward, well, parishes. And that’s you.

So I hope you know that you can count on us to make it our first priority to provide you the Sacraments you need. If you can make it to the church, we’ll have Mass, ready and waiting.

Some people called during the snow and asked if we were having Mass, and when I said Absolutely, they asked whether the archbishop had said whether they have to go or not. I wonder how many folks think that they have to go to Mass because someone said so? Our obligation to attend Mass is more like our obligation to call our mother on her birthday, kiss our spouses when we come home after an absence, or watch when our children tell us, Hey, look what I can do! We do it because it is at the core of who we are, and it sustains the relationships that sustain us and give us our identity in the world.

If we cannot safely do any of these things because of dangerous conditions, or if we are too sick, or if we are caring for someone who cannot be left alone, then, of course we aren’t shirking our obligations. But we’ll miss them. The same with Jesus, at Mass. Because He’ll be here, for us. It’s that simple. And what He asks is never too much.

Monsignor Smith

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Sales & Management

Father Brainerd taught me many great one-liners. One of the best, which I use most often, is “I’m in sales, not management.”

You see, it so happens that people often give feedback to priests about the weather. Usually, it is to complain – “Couldn’t you have done something about this rain?” Or, “I wouldn’t have expected it to get this cold with you here.” Every now and then, it’s more of a compliment – “Ah, now I see why this is such a beautiful evening.” Both are, somehow, flattering. Neither, however, has any basis in reality.

Father Brainerd’s way of deflecting this was to point out, “I’m in sales, not management.” Nope, we priests don’t get a whole lot of input on the weather. We can pray, with you and for you, but command decisions of that sort are left to “upstairs,” “the big guy,” “the Boss.” Oh, heaven knows we have our opinions about such matters, but ….how often that affects the course of things, you can decide.

And if the progress of this winter is any indication, you will not have any trouble deciding. Snow is a particularly unwelcome weather option for me since becoming Pastor. During my one winter administering Saint Mary’s in Chinatown, we had a Sunday morning snowstorm, and I had to shovel the approaches to the church myself. That was hard, but it was invigorating – and free.

Now all I can think of is how much it costs. And on a weekend, it is even worse! This past mid-week snowfall pointed out to me what a grump I have become on the whole subject. It was, by any measure, a beautiful snow. It was wet and sticky enough to cling to the trees and make everything sparkle. It hushed the roar of the evening rush hour, without jamming it up completely. (Have you noticed, that after just two previous snowstorms, Washingtonians are already becoming more sensible about driving in the snow?)

Even I couldn’t help but admire it. I shrugged my shoulders, and realized, there’s not a thing I can do about it; I may as well appreciate it. The day after – the day the school was closed – made for a very quiet and productive day in the rectory. That’s always a good thing! Maybe management DOES know what it is doing, after all.

As to my being in sales, al I can say is, I am not good enough for my “product.” In fact, if I really did have to sell for a living, I would doubtless fall short. I know that having a supplier (of grace and salvation) who can and does often exceed even the wildest promises and predictions can sometimes make even me look good, just because I am associated with the organization.

So we look forward to another weekend of weather mayhem. If you are reading this in church on the weekend, either you are most intrepid, or there’s been a minor miracle, and no, I can’t take any credit. But I am at peace with that. Because while I may have periodic quibbles with the weather, I thank God he called me to sales, and keeps management for Himself.

Monsignor Smith