Sunday, April 29, 2012


What are you looking forward to?  It dawned on me this week as I was talking to some folks about their kids, that despite all the work, pressure, and obligation that students are under at this time of year, there is an underlying upbeat anticipation that gives them a contagious positive outlook.  Sure, they may have tests and papers and weeks of class to slog through yet, but summer is coming; graduation is just around the corner, and high school or college (or first grade, for that matter) beckons with excitement and possibility.
It seems everyone, young and old, has a lot to do this time of year, but there is a fundamental cheer that buoys us along.  It may be as simple as the weather.  As odd as this spring has been, the weather promises to keep getting better, and that makes folks happier.
Summer also means a respite for most folks; if not a long vacation, at least a relaxation of the pace and pressure at work.  Traffic thins out, and our commutes improve.  Add an increase in social time, with these same people who seem to be in such a good mood, and that is worth working toward.
The crush is now upon us, but that is okay.  It seems people are willing to work to achieve something good that is tangibly close, letting anticipation be motivation.
One of the biggest things people are excited about is First Holy Communion, coming up next weekend.  Our second-graders have been preparing for this for a year or more.  Their excitement is palpable enough to overflow to their families, who show an eagerness that matches that of their youngsters. 
Of course they are excited about the event itself, which is one of my favorites of the year here at Saint Bernadette.  The suits or dresses, the visiting relatives and parties, and of course, a gift or three on top of all that, are doubtless on their minds.  But they also know that something else is coming, something that will change them and change their relationship with Jesus in a lasting and marvelous way. 
To receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, accepting His Soul and Divinity as food for our soul that transforms our humanity, is a miracle that children in their straightforwardness rightly find exhilarating.
What about us?  I do it every day, sometimes more than once.  You do it at least every week, or know you should.  As we manage whatever logistics we require to bring ourselves and our families to the sublime moment of Holy Communion, do we take even a moment to anticipate what it promises?  Do we pause long enough to focus on the change that will comes with this day’s visit to our bodies of the Living God in the flesh, who strides toward us in His perfect knowledge of us, and great love for us?  Are we able to muster the joyful anticipation of a toddler for the return of a parent, or are we more like the indifferent high-schooler, who when forced to greet, will grunt?
Nurture the joyful anticipation that provides motivation. Prepare our souls as we clean and order our homes for a beloved guest, and present ourselves as we would offer a carefully chosen gift, beautifully wrapped and eagerly delivered.  When what we are working toward promises to be good, the work itself is not crushing, but rather we are energized for it by what we expect.  Summer comes and summer goes, but Christ Jesus is the true Sun who never sets.  Behold, He comes; what are you looking forward to? 
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Return to normal?

Thank God Lent is over. Don’t you agree? I still find myself having to turn the stereo back on after I reflexively turn it off every time I get into my car. I have less trouble remembering to have dessert, unfortunately. The other little habits I cultivated during the penitential season – in prayer, diet, entertainment, and such -- are all quietly relinquishing the field to the status quo ante.

Why is this not cause for joy? Honestly, I rather liked the discipline and direction that were defining my days during Lent. Mind you, they were nothing to write home about, so to speak, but sufficient to show me that I am capable of some sacrifice and steadfastness for the Lord. I am disappointed that they fizzled so fast with the arrival of the Alleluia.

Easter, with its delight in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, is for me and for most of us a return to normal. Things are back as they should be, and we can return to our regularly scheduled program. Alleluia is a sigh of relief.

Stop now, and let’s think about that: Jesus was dead and is now raised. Is this normal? If this really is the norm that describes our daily life, what in our life shows that?

Stability is for most of us a highly desired good. Touched with nostalgia for good things in the past, we relish only the change that we ourselves choose for its apparent improvement. Thus, the pinnacle of Easter delight would be that things return to their proper state. Or would it?

Christ’s resurrection from the dead is quite literally an earth-rending change. The encounter with the risen Jesus changed first Mary Magdalene, then the Apostles and other disciples, then all the souls who heard it preached for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and once my seminary rector, recently addressed the College of Cardinals and the Holy Father about the reality of this change:

As John Paul II taught…, the Church does not ‘have a mission,’ as if ‘mission’ were one of many things the Church does. No, the Church is a mission, and each us of who names Jesus as Lord and Savior should measure ourselves by our mission-effectiveness. Over the 50 years since the convocation of the Council, we have seen the Church pass through the last stages of the Counter-Reformation and rediscover itself as a missionary enterprise. …In once-catechized lands, it has meant a re-evangelization that sets out from the shallow waters of institutional maintenance, and as John Paul II instructed us … puts out ‘into the deep’ for a catch. …The ambient public culture once transmitted the Gospel, but does so no more; … the proclamation of the Gospel—the deliberate invitation to enter into friendship with the Lord Jesus—must be at the very center of the Catholic life of all of our people.

But in all circumstances, the Second Vatican Council and the two great popes who have given it an authoritative interpretation are calling us to call our people to think of themselves as missionaries and evangelists.

The Resurrection of Jesus changes everything, including us. It makes us able, and obligated, to bring that change to lives who are saddled with the sad status quo ante. It makes us all missionaries, and evangelists. Thank God Lent is over!

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 14, 2012


In one of the great ironies of moveable feasts and irresistible forces, this year Divine Mercy Sunday coincides with Tax Day. Even the IRS recognizes the higher authority and its merciful aspect, and yields one day more for us to render an accounting.

We have much to be grateful for this year. If only we were as precise in that as we are with our income taxes! Our thank-offering is financial but not forced by any authority, unlike our income taxes; no need to manipulate the numbers. God knows, and if we are honest, so do we. There are other aspects of faithful stewardship that call out for acknowledgement today.

I cannot tabulate the work, time, and love that went into making our celebration of the Paschal Mystery last week so worthy of the drama it made present. There is no central character in the work, save Christ himself. All of the souls who lent their gifts to His project became truly a part of him and of His saving death and resurrection.

This year I want to acknowledge first all who contributed toward the flowers that made our sanctuary redolent of the very garden itself that Resurrection morn. The fragrance reminded me to pray for you and your intentions as I offered the Paschal Sacrifice. Jessica Barsch and Peggy Hicks oversaw a team of skilled hands who worked quickly in a narrow window of time.

Our choirs and instrumentalists were in the church at least as much as we priests were last week, and it bore great and grace-filled fruit. Richard Fitzgerald led them to new levels of inspiration this year, and while we parishioners may have come to expect their good work, the comments of our visitors revealed the extraordinary level of beauty to which we are happily accustomed.

My personal pride and joy is our corps of altar servers, who not only labored with care and devotion, but even managed to raise my own level of zeal for the exacting tasks of the Holy Week liturgies. They worked without whining or wilting, and have every reason to bask in earned praise. Our lectors carried well, too, the work of unfolding the prophecies and revealing the course of our salvation, plus providing the preaching of the Apostles. The Word is at work in our midst, thanks to them.

If you saw the list of all the things that had to be moved, set out, taken in, cleaned, used, folded, stored, arranged, or remembered, you would find it shocking that so few -- Norma, Mary, Dao, and some others -- did it so much with such efficiency and accuracy. Our ushers helped similarly with the disposition of the people – and oh, were there many of them!

My brother priests, too, put their shoulders to the wheel in admirable fashion. Neither Father DeRosa nor Father McDonell shirked time in the confessional so that souls could be cleansed for the Feast, nor in taking up the taxing work of attentively enacting the sacred rites. Deacon Thom Roszkowski too did yeoman’s work in the sanctuary, and Deacon Droll thinks himself accurs'd he was not here/ and holds his manhood cheap whiles any speaks/ that fought with us upon (that Easter) day!

My gratitude to all these cannot be sufficient, which brings me to the accounting. The crew who counts the collection was here for a long time this week. I thank them for their work, and you for the work that you gave them. But we are off our total from last year, and under budget in our offerings for the year. Which gets us back to the irony of today, that with the Divine Mercy, there are no deadlines.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 07, 2012

A Different Big Bang

Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,

exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,

let the trumpet of salvation

sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!

We do not need to struggle to imagine what the moment of Christ’s resurrection sounds like. Partly because no person besides Jesus witnessed its happening, it is difficult to picture what Easter looks like, though many artists have attempted to depict it. The soundtrack, however, is readily available: the Easter Proclamation.

Better known as the Exsultet, the first word in its Latin form, a single voice, often a deacon or priest, sings the Proclamation at the beginning of the Great Vigil of Easter. The New Fire has been kindled and brought into the pitch-dark church as a single flame atop the Paschal Candle, the light of the Risen Christ piercing the darkness of the tomb. After this living flame has spread to the candles in the hands of the worshippers, the great candle is placed in its candelabrum in the sanctuary, then its praise is sung in the flickering glow.

The first time I heard the Exsultet was my freshman year in college. I was at the dinky parish church near our campus for my first Easter Vigil, trying to make it to the whole Triduum despite being in the midst of exams. The church had precious few resources, liturgical or otherwise, but that year one of the French professors sang the Exsultet, and beautifully.

Unfamiliar with the text and knowing little Latin, I was nonetheless unquestionably moved and even changed by the sung Proclamation. It communicates radical joy and transformation like no other work of human genius or art. Mozart thought so much of it that he went on record as believing that if he had composed only that, he would have no need to compose anything more.

Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,

ablaze with light from her eternal King,

let all corners of the earth be glad,

knowing an end to gloom and darkness.

All the earth is affected. Not only is Christ transformed in glory by this event, but moreover all the world is changed in both its substance and experience. Death was universal, but for all mankind now it is something different. Not the absolute end, it now has been given the possibility of beginning something new and glorious.

Our birth would have been no gain

had we not been redeemed.

The Exsultet rejoices in the most basic truths of our salvation, reminding us that without salvation by Christ we would be born into a prison without hope of escaping: the prison of Sin, Original and Actual, inescapable and fatal. We can decorate it and make it comfortable, but for us and what power we have, there is no way out.

In what is perhaps its most famous assertion, it celebrates even Adam’s sin, which brought about our sad situation, but thus makes possible our joy.

O truly necessary sin of Adam,

destroyed completely by the death of Christ!

O happy fault,

that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

Easter answers the ever-recurring questions, How could God have allowed such a simple, solitary act as to expel all of us from His presence in Paradise? Is He so eager to punish? This puts a very fine point on the mystery in which we rejoice, which the Church often cites throughout the year: O God, who wondrously created human nature, and still more wonderfully redeemed it!

Lest we get lost in the cosmic significance of it all, it is clear that this great act of God our Father is deeply personal, both to Him, in what it cost, and to you and me, for whom He paid such a great price:

O wonder of your humble care for us!

O love, O charity beyond all telling,

to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!

Not surprisingly, the Easter Proclamation is yet another part of our liturgical patrimony whose promise is fulfilled in the much-improved translation of the new edition of the Missal. One tiny aspect that pleases many is that the bees are back. Yes, bees: remember, this is a hymn built around the mission and dedication of a great candle:

On this, your night of grace, O holy Father

accept this candle, a solemn offering

the work of bees and of your servants’ hands…

This is particularly welcome news around here at St. B’s, since the mascots of our school and all our athletic teams are the Bees.

Like the Resurrection itself, the Exsultet happens only once, and at night – each year in the Sacred Liturgy, at least. But thanks be to God and His holy Church for this single song of praise, which for a millennium and a half has let us know precisely what the Resurrection sounds like. Uncountable voices unite to proclaim what God has done for us, rocking the very foundations of the world, shaking this very church each Sunday.

Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,

arrayed with the lightning of his glory

let this holy building shake with joy,

filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.

Amen! Alleluia! May this Divinely-given joy fill your homes and your lives throughout the year. Joined by Father DeRosa, Father McDonell, Father Nick, and all who work here at the heart of your parish to keep the song going, I wish you Blessed Easter!

Monsignor Smith