Saturday, April 27, 2013

Patience and its rewards

Spring never comes soon enough for me, or most people I know.  After that brief bit of confusion – when we had three days of summer – now we have days of sun that are not hot, days of rain that are not cold, all the other things that make flowers bloom, and leave us wondering whether we will need a jacket before we come home.  We can laugh about our impatience now that spring has arrived. 
If there is one thing I hear most often lamented in the confessional, it is the lack of patience.  That takes many forms, of course, but we all recognize it as a failure to love, a failure that frustrates us.   And so it struck me recently when our Holy Father Pope Francis identified the Divine Mercy with patience:
God’s patience has to call forth in us the courage to return to him, however many mistakes and sins there may be in our life.  Jesus tells Thomas to put his hand in the wounds of his hands and his feet, and in his side.  We too can enter into the wounds of Jesus; we can actually touch him.  This happens every time that we receive the sacraments with faith.  …  This is important: the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, to trust in his patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of his love.  Saint Bernard even states: "So what if my conscience gnaws at me for my many sins?  ‘Where sin has abounded, there grace has abounded all the more’ (Rom 5:20)" (ibid.).  Maybe someone among us here is thinking: my sin is so great, I am as far from God as the younger son in the parable, my unbelief is like that of Thomas; I don’t have the courage to go back, to believe that God can welcome me and that he is waiting for me, of all people.  But God is indeed waiting for you; he asks of you only the courage to go to him. … For God, we are not numbers, we are important, indeed we are the most important thing to him; even if we are sinners, we are what is closest to his heart.
In my own life, I have so often seen God’s merciful countenance, his patience; I have also seen so many people find the courage to enter the wounds of Jesus by saying to him:  Lord, I am here, accept my poverty, hide my sin in your wounds, wash it away with your blood.  And I have always seen that God did just this – he accepted them, consoled them, cleansed them, loved them.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us be enveloped by the mercy of God; let us trust in his patience, which always gives us more time.  Let us find the courage to return to his house, to dwell in his loving wounds, allowing ourselves be loved by him and to encounter his mercy in the sacraments. We will feel his wonderful tenderness, we will feel his embrace, and we too will become more capable of mercy, patience, forgiveness and love.
It will not make the spring come any more quickly, but to experience the mercy of God is the best lesson we can have in patience.  Believe it; He is waiting for you, but not tapping his foot or counting the minutes, only yearning for the moment when he can pour into you His patient mercy and delight that you have come.  And to rejoice in the patience of God is the best way for us to grow in it ourselves.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 20, 2013

This week a poem


We are not so badly off if we can
Admire Dutch painting.  For that means
We shrug off what we have been told
For a hundred, two hundred years.  Though we lost
Much of our previous confidence.  Now we agree
That those trees outside the window, which probably exist,
Only pretend to greenness and treeness
And that the language loses when it tries to cope
With clusters of molecules.  And yet this here:
A jar, a tin plate, a half-peeled lemon,
Walnuts, a loaf of bread -- last, and so strongly
It is hard not to believe their lastingness.
And thus abstract art is brought to shame,
Even if we do not deserve any other.
Therefore I enter into those landscapes
Under a cloudy sky from which a ray
Shoots out, and in the middle of dark plains
A spot in the brightness glows.  Or the shore
With huts, boats, and, on yellowish ice,
Tiny figures skating.  All this
Is here eternally, just because once it was.
Splendor (certainly incomprehensible)
Touches a cracked wall, a refuse heap,
The floor of an inn, jerkins of the rustics,
A broom, and two fish bleeding on a board.
Rejoice!  Give thanks!  I raised my voice
To join them in their choral singing,
Amid their ruffles, collets, and silk skirts,
one of them already, who vanished long ago.
And our song soared up like smoke from a censer.

- Czeslaw Milosz,
translated from the Polish by the author and Robert Hass

Love, Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Father McDonell is off for an overnight in New York this week, to connect with a pair of friends of his from Michigan.  The couple is engaged; he has business in the Big Apple, she is coming to enjoy the city.  Fr. McDonell has arranged it with him, and will surprise her.  Be careful about that, I cautioned him.   He assures me that he has successfully surprised her in this way before, and it was both very surprising, and very positive. 
I can’t help but think that this is great: a happy surprise, in a big city far from home, no less.  It makes me wonder: what has surprised you lately?  Does anything surprise you anymore?
In our day of galloping technology, all things are possible, most things are available, and nothing is inconceivable.  The quandary for science fiction authors and filmmakers is to invent something fictional that hasn’t already been achieved or at least foreshadowed in reality.  Which is why so many books and movies and TV shows now settle for merely startling people, with some form of suddenness or brutality, rather than actually presenting something that will surprise.  They just do not have that arrow in their quiver.
Our expectations for pretty much everything have been so comprehensively expanded that the only remaining possibility is not to have our expectations exceeded, but to have them disappointed.   Such disappointment probably reveals more about our expectations than it does about reality or possibility, but reluctance to admit that is just as common as disappointment itself.
Heaven knows the majority of human behavior fails to surprise.  In fact, it’s a common lament, especially when approaching the daily news, that “Nothing can surprise me any more.”  This sort of world-weariness slides toward resignation, if not outright pessimism.  I think this comes from viewing human behavior in a “macro” way – you know, “in the main,” or “in general.”  That almost never fails to disappoint.  Technology and toys provide no respite. 
I submit that the one place where we can still be surprised is more on the “micro” side of human behavior – a single act by a single soul.  The simplest act by a child can open our hearts to a flood of delight – and surprise.  A single sacrificial act of genuine love can upend the predictability of the great mass of human behavior and bring liberation from the oppression of expectations, whether the world’s or our own, and from the soul-crushing reign of pessimism.
That is why I think Fr. McDonell’s little jaunt this week will bring a beam of delight and deliverance to one person in this world of predictabilities.  Good for him, good for his friends, and good for us all.
Does nothing surprise you anymore?  If you feel the burden of predictability or pessimism in your day, please know that it does not have to be that way.  Even if you cannot count on one of your friends or family members to make a trip, give a gift, or say a word that will break the pattern, your liberty is at hand.
Far from being a routine of repetition and regurgitation, the one place you can look for to something truly new is your relationship with the risen Jesus.  The Apostles knew Him better than anyone, saw what he did, and heard what he explained and promised, and still, when He rose from the dead, the peace He brought was a surprise of the most beautiful kind. 
Turn to Him with everything that is inescapable in your life.  Go over His words – again.  Contemplate his actions – again.  Pour out your soul to Him – again.  Ask forgiveness for your petty and petulant sins – again.  Receive Him at the altar – again and again. 
Jesus will surprise you.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Many members, one body.

On Sunday, a family from nearby who hadn’t been to Mass in years came to Saint Bernadette hoping to celebrate Easter.
They were not disappointed.  They found a place to park, freshly landscaped grounds, and a pew to sit in.  They found an excited crowd, many kids the same age as theirs, and folks dressed for the occasion.  They found beautiful flowers overflowing the sanctuary.  They heard amazing music, sung and played by real people, right there, with no recordings and nothing “canned.”  They found candles burning, and more altar servers than they had ever seen on one place, but who all knew what to do, and how to use every polished and placed piece of equipment, every vessel and vestment.  
People stepped out of the crowd to greet them, handed them programs, and made room for them.  Others stood to help with the collection, or distribute Holy Communion, or hand them a bulletin.  When the baby fussed, nobody turned and gave the a sour look.
They heard the Scriptures proclaimed, and the Gospel preached, of Jesus Christ raised from the dead.  The saw Him come in His risen body and blood, and be greeted with reverence and rejoicing.  They heard fervent prayer and joyful praise, and found easy company in the assortment of people praying.
Afterwards they stepped out into a chilly morning warmed by friendly laughter, excited shouts, and coffee.  They were offered some festive food to eat, and a chance to linger.  I think someone mentioned sports, and the school.  I don’t know if they got a registration card or not.
I do not know if I will ever see them again. But they saw Jesus that morning; they found Him for whom they were looking.  They were invited to join the Communion that His death and resurrection have made possible. 
There was also a group of young people on Holy Thursday, looking for Christ in the breaking of the bread, and the washing of the feet; and that nice young woman who came here with her sadness to accompany Christ in his Passion on Good Friday.  They all found what Christ promised:  I am with you always, until the end of the age.  And they found Him here. 
Of course they don’t know how many people had to accomplish so many tasks, prepare so many items, and practice and present so much work.  Depending on which liturgy, and which moment, I think there were between fifty and seventy-five people at work to make that graced experience possible.  Just for that one moment.
For all of you of the parish who worked to make Christ present this Holy Week and Easter, I am deeply grateful.  Whether you were in one of the stand-out groups whose work is visibly superb, like our choir or servers, or one of the behind the-the-scenes folks, like those who polished brass, placed flowers, or brought doughnuts; whether our visitors saw your face and heard your voice, proclaiming the Scriptures or saying Happy Easter; or whether they’ll never know how hard you had to work to get that part or piece ready; whether anybody ever knows what you gave up or missed with your family to be here to help, or serve, or assist, or prepare, I thank you, and our parish thanks you. 
Even – especially – if you simply helped, smiled, greeted, offered to hold the door or the baby, or invited someone, anyone, to come and see, I thank you, and they will thank you eternally, for showing the risen Jesus Christ to souls who came in search of Him.  God bless you.
Monsignor Smith