Sunday, June 27, 2010

Happy Birthdays

This week is big on birthdays. As a summer birthday myself, I somehow find it a particularly appropriate time. No competition from the other heavy holidays, you know.

The universal Church celebrates on 24 June the Nativity of John the Baptist, one of three birthdays it observes each year. (Can you name the other two – and their dates?) John is still in the womb of Saint Elizabeth when he recognizes his Lord and Savior, in the womb of their cousin, the Virgin Mary. Zechariah at first resists, then at last acknowledges, that God is working great deeds through him and his wife by giving them a son when no one thought that possible. And the child John grows to attract quite a following, only to point them all toward the Lamb of God.

The church in Washington this week celebrates the 80th birthday of Cardinal McCarrick. Eighty is a big milestone for anyone, but for ministers of the Church, it takes a particular significance. It is as close to a “mandatory retirement age” as we have. Yes, that’s right – eighty. And you thought 65 seemed a long time to wait!

Cardinal McCarrick’s actual birth date is 7 July (and no, I didn’t have to look that up) but we are celebrating it this week with a Mass and gathering for the priests and his other friends in the Archdiocese. Of course all of his priest secretaries stand together on these occasions for our time so close to him. There are twelve of us here, soon to be joined by a thirteenth. But don’t worry – he won’t carry that unlucky number; he will be number 38, because we can’t forget the 25 secretaries the Cardinal had before he came to Washington.

Even a cardinal has to relinquish all of his responsibilities when he turns eighty, and is no longer eligible to participate in a conclave for the election of the successor to Peter. Cardinal McCarrick already has voted in a papal election –the conclave of 2005 that gave us our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI. Some cardinals never get a chance to do that.

Cardinal Hickey never participated in a conclave, and though he would have been grateful for that opportunity, I do not believe he was disappointed. He was still Bishop of Cleveland when Pope John Paul II was elected in 1978. He became Archbishop of Washington in 1980, Cardinal in 1988, turned 80 in 2000, and died in 2004, all before John Paul II (who had been born only a few months before him in 1920) died in 2005. He would not have wished to shorten JPII’s fruitful time with the Church by even one day!

My other Cardinal (and Washington’s), Cardinal Baum, was quite young (49) when he got his red hat in 1976, and he is the only living Cardinal to have voted in three conclaves (two in 1978, and one in 2005). One other man voted in all three of those, but he is not a Cardinal: he is the Pope!

Birthdays make us all a little circumspect about our lives, where we’ve been, and where we are going. Sometimes, they mark big changes; sometimes, a small reminder that we are changing. That’s why I often suggest one of the best things I have found to do on a birthday: go to Confession. It helps make sure that while we are decreasing, Christ continues to increase.
Monsignor Smith

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wins & Losses

Much as I had hoped, last Sunday was marvelous. Simply Sunday, no feast, no season, just green-old Ordinary Time, it was a delight. And from my seat on the bus it seemed to me that I was not the only one who was relaxed and happy. Everyone had a little more time, a little more energy, and a little less pressure. That’s what I was getting from you, anyway.

I really do see a lot of you when I am celebrating Mass, and preaching. I see your faces and your expressions, and of course whether you are singing. I love seeing your reactions – subtle or otherwise – as I am preaching. I get a lot of “feedback” right there, on the spot. And last weekend, I was getting how happy people were to be there, at Mass, together, with nothing pressing on the calendar.

There was a streak of sadness, though, too, in the midst of and because of how good it was to be together. After the first morning Mass, a longtime parishioner who weeks before had let me know that he and his wife would be moving to a new state for their retirement, told me that this was their last weekend with us. Dang.

At the nine o’clock, I saw a young couple come in whom I knew were here for their last time, too. After a few years with us during graduate school, they were setting off to the wild Midwest to begin their career. Sigh.

I saw a few others around I knew were getting ready to leave, too: a military family transferring in July, and a choir member leaving that month for school. Fie.

Just because I am the one up front with the microphone does not means that I am what makes Saint Bernadette, Saint Bernadette. Or the priests, or the staff, or even the Tuesday Club! That is why I so enjoy seeing you, and just being with you – because you make up the love of my life.

So, it is sad when someone moves on, even for the best of reasons. The Eucharist brings us together, no matter how great the distance (or the time) between us. But really, it is more fun when everyone is actually here.

So, if you are moving on to another place in your life, please stop to let me know, and say goodbye. I probably know you better – and am more fond of you – than you realize. I would hate to wonder whatever happened to you! And when I am at the altar and think of you, and miss you – I will pray for you.

What cheered me up after all those goodbyes last weekend was the Religious Ed year-end picnic. Hot enough to melt a Chinet plate, it was authentic summer weather, but everyone seemed to be having a great time together. And the hot dogs were just what I needed after a long Sunday morning. I hope everyone has a terrific vacation for at least a few weeks this summer.

Just as long as you come back. God bless you with safe travels!
Monsignor Smith

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ordered by grace

Our school finished this week, and I think the County schools will be done in a few days. Once that happens, things get quiet around here. That’s fine; quiet is good.

It will be more quiet than usual here, because we will not be having a summer seminarian assigned to us. No, it is not because of any shortage; we actually have a lot of seminarians studying for us, thanks be to God. Rather, I asked for a break this summer. I know you have gotten used to meeting our future priests as they help out around here for a few months of the summer, but I was looking for a quieter house this time. Don’t worry – they’ll be back.

Speaking of being back, our seminarian is back – at least he is supposed to be. Patrick Lewis, who has been studying at the North American College in Rome for two years, flew home last weekend. I haven’t seen him yet; probably sleeping off jet lag and exams. He’ll be assigned in some parish this summer (never the home parish), but we’ll doubtless see him around here sometime. Keep him in your prayers as he continues to grow into his vocation.

From among our homegrown vocations, this weekend we are blessed to have Fr. Brian Kane visiting us for a while before he heads off to serve as a chaplain to troops serving in Iraq. He is living proof that priests do come from among the people of Saint Bernadette. There are several others, though we don’t see them often.

Off the top of my head, besides Fr. Kane, they are Fr. Gregory Coyne, of the prelature of Opus Dei, Fr. David Meng, across the river in the Diocese of Arlington, Father George Zahn, down in the Diocese of Richmond, and our own Father Walter Tappe, here in the Archdiocese, right over at Saint Hugh in Greenbelt. All nurtured here, at Saint Bernadette, all fed on the Holy Eucharist from our altar.

Now we hope young Patrick will soon join their number (2012, anyone?), but we are already looking for the ones who will follow him. I know you’re out there!

(Deacon) Justin Huber, who was assigned here for the summer of 2008, has sent to the entire parish an invitation to his ordination to the Holy Priesthood next Saturday. Archbishop Wuerl will be ordaining him and seven other men that day, and there will be much rejoicing. Keep Justin and all of the ordinands in your prayers, and come if you can – and bring your kids to see it!

I am a little breathless right now. It’s been quite the run -- from Ash Wednesday through Lent, across Easter, all the way up to the Big Events of First Communion and graduations, and winding up with the big feasts of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi. So, here we have our first green Sunday since early February, and everything is Ordinary again, and what is there to say about that? Aaaah……

Welcome to what I pray will be a blessed summer for us all.

Monsignor Smith

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Learning and Growing

This week we graduated our kindergartners, and this weekend, our eighth graders. The two occasions share wardrobe and sentiment, and despite their many differences, the same delight.

I was marveling with one of the kindergarten teachers at how much those children change. When they arrived last fall, their attitudes ranged all the way from anxious to fully terrified. Now their confidence and capability is astonishing. How much they grow and change!

The eighth graders are somewhat less obvious about it, but they change too. In fact, in raw height, they may grow even more than the little ones do! Similarly, to see how much confidence and charisma they have developed over just the past year makes me proud that they will represent Saint Bernadette at all their high schools this fall.

You see, we priests have gone to school quite a lot – as Father Nick claims, he is in 29th grade. I only made it to 22nd. Once you get past a certain point, you stop noticing much change, except for credits and degrees. The rewards of higher education are a little more abstract, and eventual.

Not here; no sir. Here, hardly a month goes by that you don’t see the kids becoming more articulate, more engaged, more interested and interesting. And taller. It is exciting and encouraging to teach them. With kids, if you find something they are not very good at, you can predict with confidence that they will soon be better, and possibly very good. That’s not so true with adults.

Of course, I teach grownups as well, and I confess that sometimes I wonder if any of it is having any impact. There’s so little perceptible change, you see! Maybe I am just feeling it because last week was Trinity Sunday and we really had to try to preach doctrine, an effort whose fruits are always hard to gauge.

But just like back when we were in seminary, and not getting any taller, still, there is growth – growth in grace. God’s patience is directed toward our salvation, as Saint Peter reminds us in one of my favorite lines from his letters. Every day we are exposed to that grace, which gives gifts and growth to all who do not resist or reject it.

So while we may not get a degree, or even very much credit, you and I who are adults continue to grow where it counts most. It’s easier to see in the kids, sure, but that helps us to remember how our Father-God sees us. As we often see in children development to which they themselves are oblivious, we are likely not nearly so aware as our doting Father is of the changes in us.

So, congratulations to our students who step off this week and step up to the next level of challenge. Congratulations, too, to the teachers and parents who are bringing them along. And may all of us, teachers and learners alike, continue to open our hearts to the enlightenment of God’s grace, in which we grow to full stature as heirs of God’s perfect glory.

Monsignor Smith