Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lend a knee

Those of you who were with me at the eleven o’clock Mass last week heard my little exhortation at the end of Mass. I got rather caught up in the moment, and the Spirit, after such a beautiful Mass on such a splendid holy day, celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and the birth of the Church.

Imagine what a change Pentecost signaled in the lives of the Apostles, who themselves did not yet realize what it meant to have been sent, sent to bring the good news! It was also the anniversary of a great change in my life, my ordination, as many of you graciously remembered and mentioned. I was moved by the power of the sacred liturgy and the significance of the date, and rejoiced to the very core of my being that I am a priest by the grace of Jesus Christ, the mercy of God the Father, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is an overwhelming reality of which I rarely allow myself to be fully conscious.

But when the announcement came up for our Holy Hour for vocations, it really struck me how much help we need to find our way to follow the vocations that Christ has for us, especially for us whom He calls to be priests.

There are thousands of good reasons not to respond to His call, and thousands more not so good, and all of them are shouted and pounded into our lives by so many voices and faces that surround us. Many of them well up from within ourselves, and our selfishness. And we dare not pretend that it is Christ alone who is calling to us; our enemy, the accuser, is singing his sweet, tempting song in our ear as well, calling us in another, any other, direction.

Which is why I got so wound up about the Holy Hour. Please come! Please pray! I know it is Memorial Day weekend, and everybody has a lot planned, and activities and travels and parties. But why cannot prayer be one of those activities?

Come to the Holy Hour, Sunday evening, eight to nine. Come some other time during the vigil, which starts at six. If you are with someone, bring them, too. If you are doing something, take a break, and resume later. You don’t have to go to work or school the next morning.

If you can’t come here, then set aside an hour for prayer some other time, some other place, this week. Give an hour of your time and prayer for someone who is afraid to follow Christ’s call, someone who is trying, but confronting obstacles or challenges. Pray for someone who has a vocation, but whose own family is opposed to his following it! Pray for the young man who will be the priest you need twenty-five years from now, or your child will need, even later.

I realize with gratitude that I was helped by the prayers of many a generous soul, often unknown to me, who brought me to the moment of ordination. Still today, I am grateful for prayers, your prayers, and your encouragement, as I continue to learn what it means to have been touched by the Holy Spirit, and sent, sent to bring the good news.
Monsignor Smith

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Comes the Spirit

I am just back from our Jubilarian Mass and Dinner, when we priests of the Archdiocese get together to mark the milestones that some of the brethren have reached – 25, 40, 50, and even 60 years of priesthood. I try to go to this every year, not only to recognize the achievement of my brother priests, but because the homily at the Mass, and the talks given at the dinner by the Jubilarians, are always edifying.

This year Father James Meyers, pastor at Saint Raphael in Rockville, told a story from his first years as a priest, assigned at the Cathedral, where he frequently had the privilege and daunting task of socializing with Cardinal O’Boyle. The Cardinal once admonished him about “breadth”, saying that, standing on your own two feet and with the help of the grace of God, breadth is the portion of the weight of he world that you, as a priest, bear on your shoulders.

Fr. Meyers, celebrating his fortieth anniversary, also asserted that even in these days, when there is no shortage the world’s weight on our shoulders, that there is no more universal or effective sign of Christian charity than the Roman collar. Thanks be to God for that!

Father Walter Tappe, a son of Saint Bernadette parish, ordained twenty-five years, gave a powerful reflection on his experience of the priesthood and its pillars: celibacy, which is a gift from God, not a burden or a choice, and makes possible unmatched intimacy with Christ; prayer, which is the work of that intimacy as well as its reward; and suffering, which is the place where Christ came to join us, and the place where the priest stands most closely with his people.

Those may sound like “colossal bummers” to you on a quick read, but he rejoiced in these things, as well as the fraternity of priests. And his telling of it reminded us – or at least me – how much I rejoice in them as well.

As I looked around the room at the priests there, I thought of all the articles and news stories that purport to portray priests or bishops, asserting blithely that “the Catholic Church” did this or that, and that “the bishops” are a certain way, or given an impression of how priests “are,” whatever that means.

I wish that everybody who takes that reporting at face value could have been in that room, and seen those men, heard their stories and their jokes, and known them, at least a little. Honestly, I am really close friends with only a very few of them, and couldn’t claim even to like all of them. But I admire most of them, and am grateful to count all of them as brothers – or, more grateful that they would count me as their brother.

This is the time of year for such reflection, as ordination anniversaries come around. I am only twelve this year, which is less time a priest than Monsignor W. Louis Quinn spent in his “retirement,” offering Mass, confessions, and wisdom every day at Our Lady of Lourdes. He died in March, the day after his sixty-fifth anniversary; I had known and admired him since 1987. What an awesome thing a priestly life, and what a gift and mystery.

I still find it a marvel that such a gift has been entrusted to me, and when I am honest about it, realize that my own two feet cannot carry much weight. How I reach for the grace of God! Come, Holy Spirit.
Monsignor Smith

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Marked for Service

This past Friday, as I was distributing Holy Communion at the school Mass, I was pleased to notice two of our parishioners and parents in their Army uniforms. I thought they simply had come for one of the many occasions we have for the parents to join the school kids for Mass, going from there straight to work.

Then a little further down the line I saw one of our dads in his Navy uniform. Oh good, I thought – equal time and all that. Then I saw the police and fire uniforms, too. I was very pleased. It was only later that I realized it was Career Day in the school, and these folks were part of the program. I knew all these people served us in this way, but I was particularly glad that our kids got to see it.

I know the Marine Corps and Coast Guard are also represented in our parish, as well as other uniformed services. I don’t blame people for not wearing their uniforms to church most of the time. They are their work clothes, after all, and they are not eager to wear them when they are on their own time.

But I am very glad when they do wear them to Mass, and especially when our kids get to see them. Police, firefighters, and military personnel are prominent at public events and on the news, and it is great for our kids to realize that these important people in our community and in our nation come from communities like our own. Look, there’s an Army officer, just like Bobby’s dad!

Sometimes I hear that people think that their uniforms are somehow inappropriate for church and worship, but I hasten to point out that the Church does not think so at all. Their role of service – whether military or more local – is an important part of their identity not only among us, but before God as well. Therefore it is right and just for them to offer their prayers and praise dressed and equipped the same way as when they serve.

Those uniforms are signs of strength and discipline, worthy of our respect. To see the people in uniform offer prayer and worship to God is an important reminder to our kids – and to us all – of Him Who the source of all strength, and Who is worthy of respect and reverence from everyone.

Everyone expects to see my uniform in church, but maybe not so much in the grocery store. It’s nice to surprise folks there, and remind that priests exist, and maybe some young boys even realize that they might be priests themselves someday.

But I am always particularly glad when the men and women who wear the uniform of their service come into our church, to offer worship to God and receive His help that they need for their vital and generous work. It is a reminder to us all that the people who do this work that we count on everyday come from among us. They encourage our young people to picture themselves growing up to offer lives of service, and to offer fidelity and prayer to God.

Monsignor Smith

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Getting it done

I hear about them: the honey-do lists; the hunts for a contractor for that addition or repair; little problems that wake you up in the middle of the night when they become BIG problems; all the joys of the homeowner.

Well, I am spoiled in having a maintenance staff here at the Soubirous Ranch, and Anthony Dao, my go-to guy on everything from light bulbs to plumbing, is excellent and resourceful. He can be a little hard to find sometimes, but that’s only natural since I write the honey-do lists for him. He showed up in minutes this Monday morning when I awoke to no hot water (pilot light was out).

But there are some things that even he can’t reasonably be expected to tackle. And I spend a lot of time wandering this beautiful property, noticing things that need attention or improvement. You don’t have to be too observant to notice one of them, that is finally getting done.

The work outside the church door will repair and expand the sidewalk by that door, and add a railing to make it safer for all our smaller members who are so attracted to that brick wall with its drop-off on one side. It’s a small thing, but important.

I have been trying to get this done for almost three years. The first contractor I asked never got back to me. The second one accepted the job and even (sort of) started, but I gave up after nine months of inactivity. Finally, I found two more bidders, and one of them has brought it to reality. He is also repairing the wall outside the Stricker Room and behind the convent.

He showed me again what I already knew: this place was built to last. The quality of construction and materials used on our parish buildings is very high. That makes it very hard work to demolish anything – thank goodness – but also makes me confident that they will continue to last. The parishioners who built this place did not cut corners!

They will last, that is, with maintenance. So I am constantly juggling resources for those needs, and trying to keep tabs on capital improvements or maintenance before they become problems. We had a full campus study of our physical plant two years ago to help us with this planning. Even then, sometimes things sneak up on you.

Another project I have been nurturing for years is the Convent Chapel. I friend of mine agreed to do what no contractor seemed willing to do – put down a new wood floor. Now I have new paint lined up and decorative windows ordered (along with a few regular ones to begin replacing all those 60-year-old originals). I look forward to showing off to you when it’s done – or sooner, if you’re eager.

Our big summer project will be phase two (of four) in replacing the heat and adding air conditioning in our school building. But there are always little projects going on around here, too, just trying to keep the place in the condition it deserves – and you deserve.

Maybe this is one of the things Fr. DeRosa has in mind when he says his (our?) spouse is 2000 years old, and never wrong. It makes for a one heck of a honey-do list. But thanks be to God for the home that we have here in Four Corners, and the faithful and generous people who make it possible to take care of it.

Monsignor Smith

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The First of Many

It is right up there with Christmas Eve and Easter morning in both Mass attendance and joy. Even more pictures are taken of it. Months of preparation help make it something to remember for a lifetime. What is it? First Holy Communion. It is one of my favorite events at Saint Bernadette. Aside from the minor danger of being mauled by a grandparent with a camera, it is a day of unalloyed delight.

I remember my own First Holy Communion; it was….not well done. It was 1972 and about everything “traditional” or “ceremonial” had been completely jettisoned by the parish in Metairie, LA, to which my family had moved in March of that year, my second grade year. I was excited, of course, and my parents were eager that I be ready, but all we did was sit in our usual pew and go up for Communion in the usual order. At some point during the Mass – maybe the announcements? -- someone mentioned that I was receiving my First Holy Communion. Disappointing? Of course, but also, I didn’t know better.

Both my sisters received their Firsts at our parish in Birmingham, which was somewhat better. That was the sum total of my experience of First Holy Communion, since we lived far away from our family, and none of my buddies was Catholic (this is Birmingham, remember). At least until I came to Saint Bernadette!

First, I love how we fill the church. Not only do lots of our kids have local family and friends who come, but folks will drive or even fly in for the big event. Second, it is truly an event – a separate Mass. Third, I love that the kids dress for the occasion. Dressing up is one of the ways we show others – and understand ourselves – that something important is happening. The procession, the pictures afterward, and the parties; it’s all so good.

Best of all is that I get to give these children our Eucharistic Lord for their first time. I get to see the seriousness on their faces, the recognition that what they are doing is not only special, but holy. Maybe someday, some of them will remember me as the one who first gave them this great gift that sustains them in their lives, and say a prayer for me. Maybe.

More likely than remembering me, though, they’ll remember the event. And because it happened here, it will be a beautiful memory that reminds them how magnificent is Christ’s gift of His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist.

Because more than the ceremonies or wardrobe, the pictures or the parties, that is at the heart of this most splendid of events. Christ feeds us Himself, and we are blessed to receive Him not just once, but over and over, every Sunday, every Holy Day, and more yet, throughout our lives. Seeing the kids receive theirs reminds me of my own joy of receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. Wherever it occurs, under whatever circumstances, it consistently is one of the best moments of our lives.

Monsignor Smith