Sunday, April 25, 2010

With Hidden Majesty

Odd, isn’t it, how sometimes we feel so blessed and graced and filled with the awareness of the presence of God, and sometimes – not? I suppose that actually, rather than just two settings – graced and bereft – there is a whole spectrum, ranging from awash in the life-giving warmth of God’s love and blessing, all the way over to dry, desolate, and alone in the universe. And on that spectrum, most of us, most of the time, would find ourselves somewhere toward the middle -- sometimes aware of God who is sometimes manifest to us and somehow both present and removed.

With no warning or detectable reason I have lately been over toward the happy end of that scale, and rather startled to find myself there. It made me think about it in two ways.

First, largely because of pastoral and professional obligation, I pray regularly, whether I am feeling the warmth or not. I spent time praying alone in church, and I offer Mass daily, whether there is a congregation or not. I know well (in my head at least) that my feeling of God’s attention and blessing is not the definitive indicator of his attention and involvement. He’s there whether I feel it or not – rather like a radio transmitter that is always broadcasting, but a receiver (me) that is unreliable.

Second, I am aware of and subject to the temptation to think that those experiences of God’s presence and attention are the best indicators of when and where God is actually engaged with me and my daily portion of pleases, thank-yous, and oh-by-the-ways.

More than our forebears in the faith, we are all subject to this second attitude, I think, simply because we have been so conditioned by the prodigious array of entertainments that entice and engage us. Television, movies, internet, ipods, and even what little reading any of us actually still does is proficient at stirring up sensations and feelings within us. One of the ways we judge whether these things are worth our time and money is how and whether they cheered us, made us sad, or frightened us. The thrill of being thrilled is addictive.

But if we think past that sensation, we know that these feelings are not based on truth, but artifice. Our feelings are not reliable indicators of reality in this area; so too in our spiritual experiences of prayer.

God is unchanged and unchanging, and His love and care for us do not change any more than His location or His knowledge. The vicissitudes in our spiritual sensations and experience, the warmth or chill of our prayer, is not an indication of the Divine Reality; at best it indicates something about us. This simple understanding can and should motivate us to persist in our prayerful relationship with the Lord – to keep “showing up,” if you will, despite disappointing sensory “results.”

This is the substance of our participation in our own growth in grace. And rather than attributing any changeability or even fickleness to God, this is the way to inject into our lives the change that we all crave. Peace be to all of you!

Monsignor Smith

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Prescient Psalm

Do not forget the clamor of your foes,
the daily increasing uproar of your foes.
(Psalm 74)

I don’t know about this Psalmist fellow, but he seems to very near me for the last few years, or at least weeks. Maybe he just read the Washington Post, or watched some 24-hour news station. But the din grows louder hereabouts, and it’s not just the sirens.

What is sin and what is spite, what is past and what is present, what is intrinsic to human nature and what is intrinsic to the nature of the Body of Christ, the Church -- these are all distinctions that need to be made over and over. Unfortunately, these are distinctions that we have to make for ourselves and our neighbors over and over, because ideology and irresponsibility seem to prevent too many of the people and organizations who clamor to tell us what we are supposed to think.

The daily increasing uproar is easy enough to identify, but what is the response to be made? I am reminded of the ancient, brief, particularly Russian devotion of the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. It is to be repeated, over and over, until woven into every breath. It can also be abbreviated (when you are in a hurry, or maybe just breathing more quickly) to just Lord Jesus Christ - the name of the one and only true answer to every human question.

There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved. (Acts 4:12)

This simple truth, the very essence of our faith, is what guarantees that there will always be foes of our loving God’s work for the salvation of the world. The only response to that hostility that will have any effect is not the assertion or achievement of our own perfection, but the perfection of Him who suffered hostility for our sakes.

Measured not in decibels, but clarity, we need constantly to monitor whether we articulate Him with our words, and with our lives. Whenever we grow frustrated by our own lack of progress, we need to double-check to be sure that He is what – and Whom – we are proposing.

You know I love to talk, but you also know I hate to argue. If you would like to have me engage in some forum the particulars of the current clamor of the foes of our Lord and God – and I do not mean simply the obvious ones – I will try to do so. But in the meantime, the best response to hostility is to live Christ, in His Church. God bless you and His Holy Mother watch over you.

Monsignor Smith

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Deo gratias vobisque

Some of you may wonder how I manage to spend as much time in church as I do. Like Fr DeRosa and Fr. Nick, it seems we are there all the time, saying Mass every day, often more than once a day. Who can need that much Eucharist – that much thanksgiving?

We have no shortage of reasons to give thanks, I assure you. After last weekend, I am particularly aware of all the many reasons. First and foremost, thanks be to God for having giving us His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead. He gets full credit, too, for a day as beautiful as any Easter I can remember, splendid and radiant from beginning to end, and fine material representation of the spiritual reality we were celebrating.

Plus, I am grateful for all the people who put so much work into the other material aspects of our spiritual celebration, many of whom started working months ago to have everything ready. Thank you to all of you who donated to the flowers for the altar, and to Elaine Vining and her army of helpers who made the interior of our church resplendent with the natural beauty we were enjoying outside.

Thanks to our dedicated music leaders who led us through the liturgies of Holy Week with the best music you’ll find outside of a cathedral – and even inside many of them. Richard Fitzgerald and Camille Frezzo planned beautiful music and led our two choirs and instrumentalists in a true musical expression of our faith.

Our Boy Scouts and Cubs also spent Holy Saturday morning cleaning up the trash and debris that had accumulated on our grounds over the course of a long, hard winter. Plus, they provided our new fire at the Easter Vigil! Speaking of grounds, thanks to Jim Finelli for the new flowers at the doors, and the Augustines for sprucing up the memorial area.

Thanks to our Home School Association and the Rosensteel Knights of Columbus for their sponsorship of our “hospitality” on the front lawn Easter morning. Jen Herlihy, Karyn Zanger, Mary Ellen Barringer, and Margaret McDermott and their many helpers did a great deal of work to make it not only inviting but perfectly homey and natural – indicating to our many visitors what a friendly (and well-fed) community we have here. Thanks too to Steve for the sound, and all the guys who put up and took down the tents on the holiday weekend.

Norma, Mary, and Anthony Dao worked constantly on the logistics, visible and otherwise, that made it possible for all that liturgical action to occur. Moving furniture and electricity, candles and clackers, veils for everything and hosts for the throng; no end of preparation was accomplished beautifully – with many, many hours of work.

My personal favorite thanks go to our altar servers, who worked hard and cheerfully to make the most complex liturgies unfold beautifully. Many folks remarked on their precision and professionalism. I am thinking about flying them over to my old seminary to teach the guys there how it should be done!

I’d like to note all the help we got with the crowds and logistics from our ushers and those who volunteered to help out with that. We could sure use a few more regulars in that particular troop; their work makes several very important things happen, not least welcoming our guests.

And thanks to all the rectory staff and the other clergy who not only assist with much around here, but do the real heavy lifting of putting up with me in the busy build-up days.

A special welcome to our parish to our neophytes, received into the Church at the Easter Vigil. Charles Cho and Allison Arevalo, baptized and confirmed, and Terry and Natalie Del Bosco, received and confirmed; along with the small Del Boscos, Jackson (3) and Abigail (1), have joined our large and festive family here at Saint Bernadette; greet them warmly!

So, in the end it is a wonder I don’t spend ALL my time in the church thanking God. I have so much to be grateful for. So do we all. As we say when the Mass is ended, Thanks be to God!

Monsignor Smith

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Truly He is risen!

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen! How joyful these words, how joyful this day when liturgically, we reach the accomplishment of God the Father’s great mercy and power, and Jesus’ great fidelity and love.

In order to get here, in order to be able to rejoice, we have walked the path of Lent, when we have in our little ways taken part in Christ Jesus’ great sacrifice: His rejection, His suffering, and His death.

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen! These words of joy would mean nothing without what Christ suffered; similarly, they would mean nothing to us if, by some weird miracle or quirk of fate, we did not suffer. Not only the sufferings that we embrace for the forty days of Lent, but the sufferings that are the defining characteristic of human existence.

Things break. Plans fail. We get sick. Good intentions lead to not-so-good results. Traffic happens. We forget. Nobody understands. People of goodwill disagree – strongly. It hurts.

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen! Be assured, my brothers and sisters, that this did happen. One day, long ago, Jesus was dead; the next morning, he was alive. Saint Paul explains, For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Cor 15:3-5)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical reality, a true event that we know to be true because this good news lovingly has been passed down to us through the generations with more care and precision than the most closely guarded family secret or recipe.

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen! This is not only something that happened long ago. This reality, this truth is with us today, here, now. Christ is raised from the dead today as really and amazingly as if we were standing with Mary Magdalene or the disciples, peering fearfully into the empty tomb. Christ came to join us in the pain and sorrow that is part of every day of ours, so that His resurrection could transform every day of ours.

Christ is here, Christ is in our midst, Christ comes to us and looks at us with love and says to us, Peace be with you. (John 20:19) Christ feeds us, not fish on the seashore, but His own body and blood, the body and blood that was raised from the dead and is immune to death. The body and blood that was glorified by the Father and will never lose that glory. This is what He offers us.

Last week, our Holy Father spoke about this goal of glory, this reality of resurrection. He spoke of it, though, from his own path into Jerusalem, his own road to Calvary. He spoke of it from under the burden of blows from a hostile and hateful crowd who reject him and would see him humiliated and destroyed.

When we journey along the way of the Cross we do not know what that way will entail and how long our journey will take. The challenge is not to follow the short-cuts of the disciples who found that fleeing was the quick and easy answer; the challenge is not to follow the hypocrisy of Pilate who places his own position ahead of his responsibility towards an innocent man; our challenge is not to get trapped in irrelevant questions of prestige and status as did some disciples at the Last Supper. Our challenge is to be like Jesus who, with all the anguish and fear it entails, does not flinch or waver in remaining faithful to the will of his Father, even at the price of enduring the ignominious death on a criminal’s cross. (Pope Benedict XVI, Palm Sunday homily, 2010)

It sounds nearly impossible to imagine, much less to accomplish. It sounds like something we would never wish on anyone. But it does happen, in one way or another, in every human life, including, and most especially, our own. And we can respond, we can continue, and in fact, we can rejoice.

Because Christ is risen! Truly He is risen! It is because we have pain, because we have failed, because we have known sorrow and rejection, that we need someone to save us from it. This Christ Jesus does, is now doing, and will do. He is our Savior. He is our Redeemer. He is our deliverer. And for all of us, who realize how desperately we need to be saved, how desperately we need to be redeemed, how desperately we need to be delivered, that is the best news imaginable.

That news is never more true, never more real, than it is this holy and beautiful day. May God bless you with all the joy that the news of Christ’s resurrection brought to those who heard it first, and to your families, your friends, and all whose lives you touch. Christ is risen! Truly He is risen! Alleluia.

Monsignor Smith