Monday, November 26, 2012

A Gift Fit for a King

There are several ways to get people to pray for you after you’ve died, and even to get priests to pray for you at Mass.  One of the best, I learned back in the day when I was serving as secretary to Cardinal McCarrick.  In the Cardinal’s chapel, where I would frequently offer a private Mass, was a chalice with an inscription around the base, asking prayers for a man who had been killed in the battle of Jutland in World War I.  His name was therefore directly before my eyes when I would elevate the chalice for the consecration.  The other priest secretaries agreed with me that it was a most effective way to get prayers for him, since we all complied with the request at our Masses – we almost couldn’t help doing so!
I had this in mind when Margie Perez contacted me about making a memorial donation to the parish in memory of her mother, a longtime parishioner here.  She wanted to give something lasting and beautiful to the church her mom loved that would enhance it, and our worship here.  I was delighted to have the chance to let her know some things that we needed or could use, and what was available that would be suitable.  The gift she chose recently arrived.
Margie donated a new monstrance for our use in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  It is crafted in France in the 1950’s, so the style fits our church.  Made of sterling silver, gilt, it has hand-crafted enamels of the four evangelists surrounding the lunette that holds the consecrated host.  This fine antique sacred vessel needed some restoration and repair, and was re-gilded.  An inscription was places around five sides of the octagonal base, that reads: In loving memory-Please pray for-Evelyn E. Routt-Given by her daughter-Margie Routt Perez.  “Evelyn E. Routt” is centered where the priest will see it as he approaches the monstrance to raise it in benediction.
You will see the monstrance doing its work at Adoration, which because of the holiday this weekend, we moved to next Sunday evening, December 2 – as always, from six to ten.  This monstrance is a beautiful example of the device specifically designed to hold up the host, which is the body of Christ, and show Him to the worshipping faithful.  It is as if to prolong that moment in the Mass when, just after consecrating what had been bread, the priest raises aloft the incarnate Son of God for all to see.  No priest’s arms are strong enough to hold that posture for long enough, so beautiful vessels are made to give us the opportunity to behold and adore.
When the monstrance is on the altar, it will rest on a pedestal specifically made for the purpose, that has an appropriate name: a throne.  What better to accommodate Christ the King?
So when you kneel before the Lord revealed on our altar, offer a prayer for Evelyn Routt, and her family.  Please, in your charity, keep in your prayers all who have made votive offerings to make our church a suitable place for prayer and worship of the King who reigns from the Cross.  our church has many beautiful elements for which to thank them, and we should do so by praying for them.  It is the least we can do, if we hope for someone, someday, to pray for us.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Anno Domini 2012

I often wish more people could see what goes on around the parish.  I wish they could witness directly the exchanges that combine to form the conversation that is the fabric of our community in Christ, because I believe that most people do not understand what it is that Christians do, much less why.  I believe that now more than ever this is a handicap not only for us Christians, but even more, for the rest of society.  The motivations that characterize our identity -- our generosity, mutual concern, respect, and even sacrifice -- these elements are formed according to Christ's revelation of his identity as God, and therefore our own identity.

One of the great fruits of the elections last week is the clear lesson that the Church and her members are not only a minority but a distinct and different element of society.  We have been disabused of the comforting notions that we share the fundamentals with the majority of our fellow citizens, and differ only in colorful distinctions and surface diversity.  The portrait of Christian faith and life displayed in the Letter to Diognetus that I referenced two weeks ago is even more clearly what sets us apart from many of our fellow citizens, rather than what we share with them.

This is a new era, an era when even Americans begin to realize that it is foolish to expect our circumstances to continue to get better and better, as if that were the natural order of things.  More accurately, it is the end of a brief era when that illusion could find enough evidence to hold sway.  Everything good is precarious and fragile; nothing destructive about the world or human nature ever is eliminated or left behind.

How could this be an improvement?  It can when it calls us not only to deepen our understanding of what it means to be members of Christ's body, but also to deepen our commitment to live out what it entails, that is, to be holy.  This is not only what we need, but also what the people around us need from us.

This new circumstance makes it possible and even necessary for us to give of what we have, even giving what we ourselves need, which will distinguish us from political groups, who find their union or purpose in keeping what they have, grasping for what they can get, or demanding what they think they deserve.  It will set us even further apart, because we regard our spouses and our children neither as commodities, nor as liabilities.  Rather, we hold them to be reasons for gratitude, placing them at the very center of our lives.  How we pour ourselves out for them will reveal love as God has revealed Himself to be Love.

It will mean that our joy, which is Christ’s incarnation, and our hope, which is His cross, will shine ever more brightly to those who are disappointed and discouraged.  Our confidence is rooted in our intimacy with the God who is Lord of the universe, whose mercy endures forever.  We will find no companionship among them who take their confidence in their own strength, wealth, or power.

As I watched, read, or listened to the horrid ads and rhetoric that bombarded voters leading up to our elections, I asked myself, Who are they talking to?  Not me; not anyone I know, surely.  But the result proved that these accusations and demands, the untenable promises and shameless false pathos, were indeed what motivates so many in our nation.  The Way, the Truth, and the Life does not interest the majority, who are eager to marginalize His Church, and to silence His faithful.

Our own nation is trying hard not to see us.  But this is a new kind of grace and a new kind of gift for Catholics in America, making it our challenge to live the faith.  They plunge gleefully into darkness; we have custody of the Light.  They will need us, that they be able to see. 

Thanks be to God.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sacrifice in our midst

They are everywhere.  You may think I am talking about zombies, who suddenly seem to be on everyone’s minds.  Or maybe smartphones, which seem to be inescapable wherever I go.  But no, I am talking about something you have encountered daily, but probably not recognized: veterans.
Men and women who have served in uniform to defend our nation, many of whom have gone into harm’s way, all of whom have made great personal sacrifices, are all around us.  We just do not know it, because unlike zombies, we cannot tell who they are by looking at them.  Unlike smartphones, they do not demand our time and attention.  But they are there, and we need to recognize that.
This Sunday is Veteran’s Day, which is likely the most neglected federal holiday after Columbus Day.  Most folks could not immediately distinguish it from Memorial Day, which is for the commemoration of those who have died in the service of our country.  One of my favorite things about it is that it is not moved to the nearest Monday – it is observed on November 11, regardless of the weekday on which it falls.  This year, it lands on a Sunday, which for Federal employees but precious few others means Monday off; the beginning of the holiday-rich time that lasts until February – yes, I remember!  For most folks, I do not think it even means many sales in the stores any more.
It began as Armistice Day, commemorating the victorious conclusion of World War I, which ended on November 11, 1918 – you know, at 11:11, on 11/11.  In the 1950’s the commemoration was expanded to include all veterans, and since that time the exigencies of the world have generated a steady stream of opportunities for willing and selfless souls to be eligible for celebration this day.
In our own parish, I know we still have some WWII veterans, though you’d be hard pressed to get them to identify themselves.  Since then, many have served in each conflict, and even in the quiet times.  Now, since our nation has been engaged in eleven years of war abroad, there is a steady stream of men and women who have done their duty proudly and well, and returned to the nation they served. 
Many of those who have been gravely wounded in this selfless work pass very near here, either at the military medical center in Bethesda, or until recently, Walter Reed in the District.  Visiting businesses or restaurants in downtown Silver Spring, you can see some of these wounded warriors as they rehabilitate and regain, steadfastly facing lives forever altered.
Unlike the injured, most veterans simply return to society and blend in.  They cover a broad range of age and appearance, making it easy for us to be unaware of what they have done with their lives.  Their experiences and their dispositions have been marked by service, however, and that will often tell to those who have eyes to see.
These generous souls move among us without seeking acknowledgement or reward.  They have made possible everything we have, and the very confidence with which we enjoy it.  I think most of us would eagerly express our gratitude if only presented with a clear opportunity, when it would not be unwelcome or uncomfortable to them, but that is so hard to come by.  I know that when the service members are introduced a ballgames downtown, the crowd roars admiration and gratitude both heartfelt and genuine.
So don’t let this be just another weekend, whether yours has three days or only the usual two.  Make an opportunity to express you appreciation and gratitude for someone’s willing service, whether you do it in person or in prayer – and why not both?  Because these are the folks on whom we continue to depend, and thank God, they are everywhere.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Just passing through

For my letter to you this week, I want to send you a letter from someone else.  We aren’t even sure who wrote it, only to whom it is addressed.  Known as The Letter to Diognetus, it is one of the most eloquent and illuminating early Christian texts.  It dates to the late second or third century, meaning it was written when Christianity was still persecuted in the Roman empire, and is obviously intended to explain the faith and life of Christians to an interested pagan. The second paragraph below is particularly powerful.  I share the fifth and sixth “chapters”, hoping you will find this sheds light on our role in the world in our own time. 
Monsignor Smith
Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. 
And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.  
They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred. 
To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments. 
Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body's hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.