Saturday, April 30, 2011

Benedictus qui venit

The Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday six years ago, Pope John Paul was called from this world as a hushed crowd prayed in Saint Peter’s Square below. In that same Square today, his successor and friend Pope Benedict XVI proclaims that John Paul is among the Blessed, that we may direct our prayers to him for help.

Six years ago I rushed back to Rome with Cardinal Baum to help him participate in the solemn rites and work that follows the death of the Pope. On April 6, 2005, from my rooms high above that Square, I sent an email to friends and family back home to report what was going on. In light of today’s beatification, I wanted to share some of that message with you:

The whole city is agitated, alert, excited, on the verge of tears or laughter, but also calm, and in wonder. The rooftop of every building within blocks of mine radiates the unnatural white of television lights, as chattering, calm faces try to fill time with stories that explain what is going on here and why it is important. Most of them do not really know, but at least they smell the genuine importance, and try to convey it. These people, these talking heads, are looking for insight too.

But people know. They have seen a real life. They have seen John Paul and have seen Christ in him. He showed them who they really are – the oppressed people of Poland and Eastern Europe, and of Cuba; the disillusioned and disinterested youth of the consumerist West, of France and Germany, of the United States; the people who know they are capable of love and of joy despite their poverty, in Mexico, in Africa, in the Phillipines. They saw the truth about themselves, and they saw it because of him.

And it changed the world.

[Earlier today] I prayed the Office of the Dead there [by the Pope’s bier], and enjoyed being so close to him. Besides marveling at what a privilege it is for me to find myself so close for such a long time when so many have to go to such lengths just to walk past for a few seconds, I also marveled at what a privilege and blessing it is to have known John Paul. What a priest! What a father! Up to his last breath he kept nothing for himself, nothing, but offered it all for the salvation of souls. And even now, even in his death, he is still drawing people to Christ and His Church. Lives are being changed.

He has shown us what one single human life can be, when lived in fidelity to its creator: rich and strong, true and irresistible. To see him there, just one body, vulnerable as any of us, and to realize what he did with what he was given, makes it difficult not to think about what an amazing thing Man is. As Saint Anselm said, “The glory of God is the living man!”

The people out there, waiting in line in the streets for twenty hours to see a dead man, cannot be categorized in any way, not in age, not in culture, not in education or credulity. They are just people. And they, like most people, want to DO something about what they have seen and known. So they come.

And today, thousands of miles from here, in Rome, they have come again, because of what they have seen, because of whom they have known. I cannot be there this time, but do I feel distant? Left out? Not at all. I too have seen, and known, and understood what Jesus was promising when he said, “I will not leave you orphans.” Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Picture this

Hats and dresses, flowers and eggs. All these elements can decorate any Easter card or display, but why? Christmas is so easy to paint: the beautiful child and beautiful mother, present and approachable, adorable, easy to understand and easier to love. Easter is a little trickier to picture – just what does resurrection from the dead actually look like?

Sure, artists have tried, but they are at a loss. Nobody saw it happen; only the results were visible. And the Risen Christ Himself was somehow the same as before, and somehow – we’re not sure how – very different. Sometimes his friends recognized Him; sometimes they didn’t. How do you picture that?

All of the traditional symbols of Easter point to something more basic, something good and essential, but hard to capture on a greeting card: life. Life in its most beautiful form, and what is more, life where before there was only death.

There is nothing more final than death, nothing deader than dead. There is nothing to be done about it. Until death comes, we can still hope; but once it does come, whether we deny it or accept it, we cannot change it.

Easter changes that: this one was dead, and now he is not. Unlike Lazarus, or that kid in Iowa with stories of heaven, never again will He die. They were called back; he moved forward, into something new and different, both familiar and unrecognizable at the same time.

Easter is hard to get our brains around. Some folks give up, and put Easter in some more intelligible category: a ruse (they stole the body); a mistake (they didn’t quite kill him, and later he felt better); or a misrepresentation (they remembered him so vividly that it seemed to the community that he was alive and with them).

Easter is far more attractive than eggs or flowers or colors or candy, because it is not only something very, very good, but it is that very good something precisely where beforehand, even to think of something good was completely impossible.

We know all about improbable, and even about impossible: we know about us. You or someone you know may be tempted to think, I am too rotten, too far gone, for anyone to be interested in me; I‘ve had too many chances, and blown them all; I have hurt someone too badly, or I’ve ignored God too long for Him even to have my current address! But are you more rotten, more distant than dead? I think not!

God has accomplished the most improbable thing ever in the Resurrection of His Son Jesus from the dead. And if He can do that, you and I know that He can do something for us – even for us. For if Christ is raised from the dead, then you and I can be raised – from wherever we are!

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:16-20

Improbable, maybe; impossible? Not! We cannot look at what we ourselves have accomplished, or ever hope to accomplish. We need to look to Him who knows us, and look to Him for mercy. The Risen Christ Himself was somehow the same as before, and somehow – we’re not sure how – very different. Easter means even though somehow – we’re not sure how – we ourselves will look very different, it is possible that the resurrection of the dead will look like me; Easter means it is probable that the resurrection of the dead will look like you.

A blessed Easter to you all, and to your families, friends, and most beloved ones. Hats and dresses, flowers and eggs are good; even very good. We are not in this for the chocolate, beloved brothers and sisters; we are in this for life. Christ is risen from the dead; truly He is risen. Alleluia!

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Sign of the Cross

Confronted with Christ’s Passion, as we are today, there is not much to say, since nothing speaks more eloquently than the blood of Christ. It cries out to God, not for justice (as does the blood of Abel) but for mercy. Beholding that cry, that blood, we can only be grateful, and look to our own need for that mercy.

But to be aware of our need for mercy, that is, our sins, does not drive us away from Jesus. To be aware of the distance that separates us from Him is to be able to desire to get closer. To be closer to Him, not in physical distance but in our inmost being, is what we call increasing in holiness. As Saint Bernadette reminds us each time we leave our church, our Jesus expects us to become saints – that is, holy; with him, and like Him.

Pope Benedict recently said there are three simple rules for living a holy life:
1) Never let a Sunday go by without an encounter with the risen Christ in the Eucharist; this is not an added burden, it is light for the entire week.
2) Never begin or end a day without at least a brief contact with God (in prayer).
3) And along the pathway of our lives, follow the road signs that God has given us in the Ten Commandments, read in the light of Christ; they are nothing other than explanations of what is love in specific situations.

The Pope said he knows most people, aware of their limits and weaknesses, think it wouldn’t be possible to be a saint. But he points out, “…for me, it is not just the great saints, who I know well, who show me the path to follow, but the simple saints — the good people who I have known in my life and who will never be canonized.”

The unnamed saints “are people who are, so to say, ‘normal,’ without visible heroism, but in their goodness each day, I see the truth of the faith, this goodness that has matured in the faith of the Church. For me, their goodness is the surest form of apologetics for the Church and a sign of where truth lies,” the Pope said.

You see, when you respond to the invitation of the Cross, you become an invitation yourself. Apologetics for the Church and a sign of where truth lies is just another word for invitation to follow Christ.

Next Saturday evening, thirteen people will step toward Christ, and step toward holiness, by being sacramentally initiated into the Church. Receiving Baptism, Confirmation, and/or Holy Communion at the Great Vigil of Easter, George Angelaras, Allegra Tasaki-Ng, Kris Shirley, Brian Simpson, Jessica and Stanley Barsch, Ted Byrdy, Maia Dennis, Sawyer and Karl MacMillan, Tina Moore, Patrick Long, and Rod St. Paul, are accepting Jesus’ invitation to holiness. They are doing that because of something they have seen, including you -- the holy people around them.

So as you stand for the drama of Christ’s betrayal, trial, torture, and execution this weekend, realize that just as His cross is an invitation to you, so are you an invitation to all who look on you. You may not be close enough, but you may also be closer than you think.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Get on the Road

Here we are, one week before Palm Sunday, and it seems as if it would be too late to commit to any Lenten resolution or restraint. If you haven’t made it so far, why try to start now?

I would suggest quite the contrary, that now the graces to be had in joining Christ are greater than at any other time. He is walking toward Jerusalem, toward Calvary and His Passion, and He knows what it holds for him. He will not turn back, so attentive is He to the will of His Father.

If Jesus will not flinch in the face of that pain, how would he hold back from you any grace or help that you might ask at this stage? Jesus, who does not recoil before the torturers, will not pull back from any grace you ask, nor reject any offer from you to share suffering with Him. Renew your commitment, or even begin anew, and recall that this is the Lent that changes everything for you – as Christ Jesus sets about doing the work that will work that change in you.

In raising his friend from the dead, today Jesus reveals to the multitude that He is Lord over life and death. He knows that His Father always hears Him, and wants us to know that too, as he prays before crying, Lazarus, come out! This astounding miracle is but a foretaste of the wonder that will be His own resurrection from the dead.

I don’t want to assert that it is a miracle, but there is definitely prayer at work in our parish, which our Father always hears, and the power of Christ Himself. I received word today from the Cardinal on our commitment to his Appeal this year.
Despite the fact that things are so hard, and despite the fact that our goal was raised this year, 363 donors from Saint Bernadette pledged $135,505 to the Cardinal’s Appeal, very nearly our entire goal.

Less than three percent short of the total asked of us for the year, this is a sign that our parish recognizes the need around us and responds immediately. There will be calls and letters to all of our number who have not yet responded, and please do not hesitate to be generous, as circumstances always prevent some folks from fulfilling their pledges.

This is no miracle, but the actual work of love being done by those who know the Author of Love. Put this beside the Cardinal’s recent time here for Confirmation, and he has a strong impression of our parish as a place where Christ Jesus is worshipped in spirit and in truth, and His law of love is lived, by dedicated people. I thank you, and thank God for you, as I am certain he does as well.

We enter this weekend Passiontide, when Christ’s identity and location are obscured. His foes seek Him, but to kill Him. As he is stripped, beaten, murdered, and entombed, the very face of God in our midst is covered over. The glory of Heaven itself is darkened and hidden. So are our church’s images of Jesus and the saints of heaven veiled during this time of blindness. Let us keep walking toward the light!

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 02, 2011


Here in the middle of Lent, it is sort of awkward to focus on anything that would be great fun, but I want to do that in order to give you a chance to think about it. Now we are fasting and holding back, but this fall we will have great reason to celebrate. One of our own, Patrick Lewis, will be ordained a Deacon for the Archdiocese of Washington at Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Around this great event, I have set up a pilgrimage to Rome and Italy to give parishioners from Saint Bernadette the chance to experience an ordination Mass, and the marvels of the center of our universal Church, as friends and parish-family members of one of the central participants.

At the heart of the pilgrimage will be attendance at the Wednesday audience of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, and the next morning’s magnificent Ordination Mass in the Vatican Basilica. The latter is one of the highlights of the year in the life of the Pontifical North American College, the United States’ seminary in Rome, home to 250 men preparing for Priesthood, and alma mater to both Father DeRosa and me. The former is one of the highlights in the lifetime of any Catholic.

That is not all we will do in Rome. We will visit sites that connect us to the lives of the earliest Christians, see the beauty of art and life from millennia of life in that great city, and enjoy its fountains, squares, and cobblestone streets. Of course, we won’t only be in Rome, either.

We will begin in Siena, a beautiful Tuscan town whose culture and life peaked in the middle ages, home of Saint Catherine. There will be side trips to Montalcino, San Gemignano, and Montepulciano, each of which is known not only for its charm and beauty but its own distinctive and delightful wine. We will then visit Assisi, home of Saints Francis and Clare.

We will also stop in Orvieto, where the celebration of Corpus Christi originated in the 13th century, a personal favorite of mine atop a mesa, as we move south through Umbria on the way to Rome. Then we will have four full days in the Eternal City herself. I have lived there nine years of my life, and always enjoy showing folks around my other home, Rome.

We will have Mass each day at an altar in one of the historic and holy places we will be visiting. There will a few museums, a few more churches, much walking, and more eating. We will grow in grace, wisdom, understanding – and possibly girth. (Though that’s what the walking will help with). And it will be fun.

You have to think about all this good stuff now, in the middle of Lent, I am afraid, since we need to have your registration for the trip and deposits by Monday April 25 – the day after Easter. Full brochures on the pilgrimage are available at the rectory, or you can contact us and we will email it to you.

So, get a brochure, check your calendar, think about how great this will be, and ask if you have any questions. Sign up for the adventure, then go back to prayer, fasting, and giving alms for the second half of Lent. God be with you!

Monsignor Smith