Saturday, February 25, 2012

Comin' atcha!

Jesus comes at you fast, according to Mark, rather like the proverbial “life” in those insurance commercials. The way He is described by the Evangelist whose Gospel we follow at Mass this year, Christ is always acting immediately to confront expectations and change lives.

Reading the opening chapter of the second Gospel, from which comes our brief text for this weekend’s Mass, moves as quickly from one scene to another as those current commercials where frustration with cable TV leads through a succession of improbable causations to disaster of unbearable proportions, resulting in the prescription, Get rid of cable. Irresistible logic in fifteen seconds; wow, that was fast. Shame it doesn’t work.

We tune in this week where we left off January 9, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. If you don’t recall, don’t be too hard on yourself; it was on a Monday this year, instead of the usual Sunday. Anyway, that event ends, And a voice came from the heavens, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." (Mk 1:11) Now does that sound familiar?

As Mark recounts it, bang, the very next thing is today’s: The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert. We then get a few lines about wild beasts, and Satan, but none of the details we get from the other Evangelists – the three temptations, the three responses, the scenic locations. Immediately then, this ordeal freshly behind Him, Jesus begins his public ministry, preaching repentance, and the coming of the Kingdom. It all gets three verses, total. Whew!

The next few verses have Him casting out demons and yanking Simon Peter’s sick mother-in-law out of bed so she can wait on them, at least healing her in the process, and everybody is looking for Him. The coming of the Kingdom is more like a tsunami the way Mark presents it.

So it is odd that we have Mark in this year of splendid pacing. Having Christmas and Mary the Mother of God on Sundays was an absolute delight. Now we have had until February 22 before Lent starts: leisure! No, it’s not freakish like last year, when Easter was crazy late and Ash Wednesday in March. It’s just right.

So I was ready for Ash Wednesday, ready for Lent, in a way I do not recall having been before. Ready in both senses: prepared, and in need. I was so prepared I got out the Lent volume of my breviary two days early. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I was so in need that I found the austerities of Ash Wednesday made everything better – way better.

Frustration borne of selfishness leads through a succession of improbable causations to disaster of unbearable proportions, resulting in the prescription, Get rid of self-indulgence. Irresistible logic in fifteen seconds; wow, that was fast. But this time, it works.

Life comes at you fast; so does Jesus.

Allow me to point out to you that this past Saturday evening, our parish choir gave a concert, which I attended with Fr. DeRosa, Fr. McDonell, Fr. Nick, and my friend, Fr. Knestout. It was amazing. Fr. Knestout, the Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Worship, said our choir was among the best he’d heard. Dr. Peter Latona, the director of music at the Basilica, said to me at intermission, “I hope you’re proud.” I am.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I love music. You have all figured that out by now; it is evident even if you haven’t sat in my office while something beautiful was playing from my computer, even if you haven’t heard what I listen to while driving in my car. If you have seen me at your parties, you have noticed that I can easily be distracted by whatever is playing over the speakers, often knowing the words (well, often for songs of certain eras, at least. But admit it: they’re your eras too!) And obviously, beautiful music is a hallmark of our liturgy.

As I began writing this, I clicked on iTunes and summoned up Brahms’ Third Symphony -- sublime. When I drove over to the hospital this morning, I had the radio tuned to WMZQ – which many of you know to be country. I had been listening to my playlist that I entitled “Nostalgia” when I compiled it from all the songs I loved back in the ‘70’s – Jim Croce, Don McLean, Styx, Kansas, Three Dog Night. What fun! That is just what I listened to today, and I didn’t have much time for music today.

Because I love music, I am eager to share music that I enjoy with other people. If you like Brahms’ 3rd, you should try his first Serenade. Have you heard Brad Paisley’s “Camouflage” yet? It’s hysterically funny. And admit it, you too know the most of the words to “American Pie.”

The Church has brought to birth some of the most marvelous music ever created. When I am explaining the Mass to the new Catholics in RCIA each spring, I spend a whole evening using musical settings of it throughout the ages – Palestrina, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Fauré, Pärt, and Rütti. Sacred music has the power to evoke all of the aspects of God and His Heaven: peace, and power; infinity, and simplicity.

This weekend is our last before we begin Lent, so we make our Masses redolent with music of joy and triumph, raising Alleluias in every hymn while yet we can. We will fast from even that Easter word for the season of conversion that begins this Wednesday.

Then we will put aside many pleasant things, many good things that are not as good as God. Things we yearn for, but not so much as life eternal. We will take on works that we otherwise find easy to avoid, actions medicinal both in effect and in the bitter tang that can turn us away: giving alms from our need, rather than our surplus; repenting of our sins, confessing them in detail and seeking penance to heal the wounds they cause.

Among the things to be put aside, I suggest you include some or all of your music: in your car, in your office, in your home, and even in your ear(bud)s. Music is a sweet and marvelous balm that can buoy our mood and raise our resolve – a good thing. But like many good things, our Lent will be more full of God if we make room for Him by putting it aside, along with the distraction it provides, and our dependence upon it.

Seek instead another favorite music of mine, an element of every type of music, indispensable but often overlooked. It depicts God in His aspect of perfection and eternity, intimacy and attention. You will find it conducive to prayer, to fasting, and to almsgiving; you will find in it awareness of God’s awareness of you. You will find yourself craving it more, the more you have.

I love music, indeed. But this divine music that I commend to you is silence.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Glorious busyness

We are busy. Everybody invokes that mantra to explain so many things in life today, and there is no contradiction. We are busy; we sigh and recognize that we cannot do everything we would like to do, be with everyone we would like to be with, or even be the way we would like ourselves to be, because we are busy. Often, too often, it keeps us from doing what we would like to do for God, spending the time we would like to spend with God, and even being the way we would like ourselves to be before God.

Saint Paul has a response today for anyone of us who recognizes that discouraging sentiment: do everything for the glory of God. In case we are tempted to think that some special activity is required for that to be possible, he makes it this basic: Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.

Heck, everybody does that much – everybody’s gotta eat! And even those strange folks who forget to eat (I have never quite understood how that is possible, but that’s just me) won’t try to go on without something to drink. That’s all it takes, and we are eligible and able to give glory to God.

How do basic human actions like eating and drinking translate into glory to God? Well, as Saint Anselm put it, Gloria Dei homo vivens, or The glory of God is the living man. But to take it one simple step beyond that, even our most basic human actions give glory to God when they are done with gratitude.

The leper Jesus heals today is not able to satisfy himself with just obtaining certification of his status as leprosy-free. No, he has to tell people about it. He must share with everyone he meets what Jesus has done for him. Can you blame him? Listen to Leviticus’ description of what marked the disease he suffered: a scab or pustule or blotch. Yuck! To be freed from that would leave anyone bubbling over with gratitude. So indeed he was: He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.

Too easily we can think of some effort or activity or even a person as leading us away from prayer, or worship, or doing what we would like to do for God. But we are forgetting the awesome power that we are given in Christ. Every act we do in union with Him is an act of gratitude, since by His sacrifice on the Holy Cross He united Himself to us in a perfect act of thanksgiving. Thus every act of our human condition, freely chosen and freely offered, can give glory to God, if we so will it. We are able to do everything for the glory of God.

We rejoice to dedicate this weekend to our participation in the Cardinal’s Appeal. By the grace of God we are diverted from our selfishness and made aware of our ability to address the needs of our brothers and sisters. We do not have time to complain or even notice what we lack. We are busy, busy indeed – busy doing everything for the glory of God.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Doing follows from being

In light of the pernicious HHS mandate that I was compelled to bring to your attention last week, as did Fr. DeRosa and Fr. McDonell, it seems problematic that we now devote the homily at Mass to the Cardinal’s Appeal, but I would submit that instead this is truly providential.

It could not come at a more poignant time, really, because as we prepare to give of our resources to support the Appeal, we remind ourselves that the Church is not a group of people who are turned in on some shared interest or activity. Worshiping God together is the indispensible center of our very being, and the goal of our every breath. However, because of the God we encounter in that worship we turn outward as well, and greet everyone we encounter with the Good News.

Now that may sound to you like something Jesus Freaks would do, something that could be dismissed or disapproved as proselytizing. But do not allow that scary word to form you! Realize that in knowing Christ, we encounter God in His knowledge and love for us. Being formed by this awareness, given us by the Scriptures, and fortified by His presence and activity in the Sacraments, we are made able to look upon our neighbors with a share of that divine love.

When we see our neighbors with the eyes of God, we are moved by this love to respond to their needs. Whether that need is a kind word or a hot lunch, we respond according to our ability and resources. This is the work of faith that occurs at the level of the local church, the Church of Washington, through the Cardinal’s Appeal. We also do this work within our parish and community, and even as families and as individuals, with needs that we identify and address. This is the work of the Gospel just as much as is our prayer. We cannot not help our brothers and sisters in need.

In doing so, we reveal to the recipients of our care not only God Himself in his merciful love, but who they themselves truly are – unique and cherished sons and daughters, marvelously defined by the divine dignity bestowed on them by their Creator. This is the Good News of Jesus Christ: You are loved and worth loving; you are worth everything I have to give.

Because the dignity this reveals in every person who accepts this gift, this mercy, and this love, is characterized by freedom, anyone to whom we provide help or sustenance is free to recognize or reject the truth of their great worth in the eyes of God. Our care never carries with it the expectation, much less the requirement, of acceptance of the Faith that directs and animates it.

Thus our acts of charity are motivated by our recognition of and respect for the dignity of those to whom we give our care, and thus not only do not only not infringe upon, but actually enhance, their own freedom and understanding of it.

It is precisely this outreach of love and respect that the HHS mandate seeks to curtail, and even eliminate, by sentencing us to choose between our faith and our works. It will deny our freedom, and our dignity. We have been endowed with this dignity and this freedom by our Creator. But it is not “merely” a precept of “our religion,” as some would dismiss it; it is a founding precept of our civil covenant, the Constitution.

For this reason our course of action is clear. As citizens, we will resist the abuse of civil power. As Christians, we will continue to do the work of love. But doing the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in Him who is the head, even Christ. (Eph 4:15)

Monsignor Smith