Thursday, June 27, 2013

Reaching for Reality

Statement of the Archdiocese of Washington
on the Supreme Court Rulings Regarding Marriage
Upon initial review, the Archdiocese of Washington finds very troubling that the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional and chose not to rule on the question of same-sex marriage in California. The apparent outcome of these decisions is that the federal government may not set parameters for the definition of marriage, but instead must leave that power to the states. The Court, in effect, has pointed out both the power of civil government and its limitations. We believe that although government might choose to use the word marriage to apply to a whole range of unions of people, it cannot change what marriage is in its very essence.
Marriage is not a creation of the state. While a number of states and the District of Columbia have changed the legal definition of marriage, government is ultimately powerless to redefine human nature and what describes the exclusive and lifelong union of one man and one woman with the possibility of generating and nurturing children. Governments have the power to create legal definitions. They do not have the ability or authority to change created human nature.
Despite the unsettling outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the archdiocese is grateful for the ongoing efforts undertaken by those who uphold the authentic meaning of marriage and thankful that the Court’s rulings respect individual states’ right to recognize that true meaning. The archdiocese will continue to educate Catholics and the wider community about the truth of marriage as the union between one man and one woman.
Letter from the Pastor
Reality: What a concept!

I may be dating myself, but that was a catchphrase when I was younger – the late 1970’s or early 1980’s would be my guess.  I think it even was enshrined on a t-shirt.  Even if that is not its origin, it seems particularly suited to that time when I was in high school, and to the continually recurring lesson we teenagers all faced, that the reality of the world was more than the sum of our perceptions and wishes. 

Funny, then, that all these years later, I should find myself having gone into the reality business.  I call it that because I know I am calling people – not only their attention but every aspect of them – to what is real: what IS.  Because that being is true, it is therefore good, and thus beautiful.  I AM WHO AM is whom we worship, whose company we seek.

Last week I admitted to knowing I could be foolish sometimes – even often.  Suddenly it seems that speaking of reality rather than perception, what is versus what is preferred, is widely considered ridiculous. 

Jesus worked signs and wonders: healing the sick, feeding the multitude, raising the dead.  Some liken that to magic, a special power to contradict nature, and therefore reject it as untrue.  We know that what He did was not contrary to nature, but the perfection of nature, and thus more real than what had been the case before He came and touched and changed lives. 

Our encounter with reality will not change the reality, but will change us who encounter it.  Even a high school kid figures that out.  Christ Jesus is perfectly real.  We have been given the opportunity and the ability to recognize that reality, and respond to it.  Rejection is a response.  It is not the response that leads to truth, goodness, or beauty.  It is not the response that gives life. 
Fabrications and projections disappoint and disappear.  Reject them, and cling to reality.  He is more than a concept.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Brothers and sisters: If only you would put up with a little foolishness from me!

That’s Saint Paul talking, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11.  But when I read it this afternoon, it reminded me of … me.  You know that is unusual; I don’t often identify with Saint Paul, for many reasons.  But admitting a certain foolishness strikes me as something I can share with him.

First of all, I have to admit that the awesome dignity of the Sacred Priesthood, the marvelous solemnity of the Holy Liturgy of the Church, and the tremendous respect offered to me freely and willingly by so many people often hide from us how foolish we all look, and especially me, because of the very foundational elements of our faith.  We believe in, talk to, sing to, and pray to an invisible God.  We profess that his only Son took flesh in the womb of a virgin in a small village two millennia ago, was born, worked many miracles which nobody has any photographs of, then was killed like a criminal.  But then – and get this – we assert that he rose from the dead, went about eating, drinking, and talking, then ascended into heaven! 

Some folks, like the throng that heard Paul preach in the Areopagus of Athens, hear that last bit about “resurrection from the dead” and suddenly remember they have to go sort their sock drawers.  It sounds so…foolish to them.

Unlike ancient Greece, now everybody has heard already all about it; indeed, they have heard the stories a million times.  But to think that there is any truth, any reality to them – well, that just isn’t educated, it’s not sophisticated, it’s not modern.   In a word, it is foolish.

Now you all know I am perfectly willing to be taken for a fool according to those criteria.  I cling to the reality of all that has been handed down, undiluted, undiminished, and undiffused.  It is the only thing that can bring life!

As Saint Paul also point out, we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.  (1 Cor 1:23)  Folly; that’s how they saw it, and how many see it now.

Despite how seriously I take this, no, actually, because of how seriously I take this Faith, I am willing and even eager to make certain that I not be taken that seriously.  That is, my own person, myself.  I can be ridiculous on occasion because, well, I am NOT the Son of God, and I know that.  Don’t confuse me with the Good News I bring.  I am dispensable and I know it.  Christ is indispensable!

This gives me great liberty.  I can ally myself with Christ in the face of a public who finds that quaint, gullible, or even foolish.  Simply wearing my priest-clothes in public can elicit pity or disdain.  Proposing Christ’s own prescription for life to modern souls can be met with bemusement, whether that be a happy young couple preparing for marriage, or a successful professional, or, that most skeptical of all audiences, a teenager.  I am willing to accept that, because without Christ, they are in mortal danger.

So you see, it’s not about me.  I can – and will – be a goof.  You know that by now, and if you’re still reading this, you’re okay with that.  And so am I, because I am not the savior of the world, or of you.  But I know who is, I am eager to help you know Him and love Him better!

So, if I strike you as being ridiculous, let me be the last one to try to dissuade you of that opinion.  Rather, I acknowledge and embrace it, but beg you, with Saint Paul again: Please put up with me.  For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God.  (2 Cor 11:1b-2)

Monsignor Smith

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Toot Sweet

How’s your Walkman working these days?
No, that’s not an antiquated expression I am using to indicate your iPod or MP3 player.  I actually mean your Sony Walkman portable personal cassette player from the early 1980’s. I had one, and I was one of the last people I knew to get one.  It died eventually.  I think I then bought a DiscMan, though I am not certain I ever owned one of those.  Almost eight years ago, I got an iPod, which I still have.  It mostly works, under the proper circumstances.
Why am I asking about electronic technology from the age of big hair and Uncle Ron?  Because odds are, you do not have any of it anymore.  We did.
The astute observers will notice something missing at Mass this weekend.  There is a big empty space behind the altar in the choir, and a quiet that cannot be explained simply by the choir’s being on summer vacation (which they are since last weekend).  The organ console is gone, and all those beautiful pipes are silent.
That technology that powered your early 1980’s personal cassette player was the same as the electronics that made our organ function.  Of course, the technology of the pipes is ancient – air moving through a tube of a certain size and shape to make a particular sound. They’ve been making organs for a thousand years -- lots of pipes of varying sizes and types arranged into a single instrument.  Moving the air, and opening the pipes so the pipes made music, has had various forms of control over the centuries.  Our keys and stops on the console controlled the pipes electronically, and those electronics are thirty years old: Walkman territory.
Predictably, they’re shot.  They’ve been dropping out for years, and we’ve been losing the use of certain pipes here and there (memorably during one Mass last year).  We have seen it coming; the organists and organ maintenance crew have been talking about it for over a decade.   This summer, the time finally came.  We sent it out to be rewired.
If you have ever noticed while in the Monsignor Stricker Room that a white pipe, about two and half inches in diameter, runs along the ceiling.  That is the conduit for the wire bundle that linked the console to the organ.  The new connector will be less than one-eighth of an inch thick.  That’s the new technology.
The organ also had some idiosyncrasies that I have been hearing the organists complain about for fifteen years.  One of them was that it had three manuals – keyboards, like on a piano.  But only two of those manuals were connected to anything!  The third one was dead.  It was made that way.  I am convinced the original organ builders did it because they wanted us to add more organ – more pipes – at some later date, and the dead manual was to make us feel like we are missing something.  Have you felt like we were lacking in the pipe department?  Me either.  So we will connect that manual in a way that will make the pipes we have more versatile.
The console will be back in August.   Meanwhile we have the piano to support our singing – and it will have to be our singing, because the choir’s away.  We had a few funerals this week and it worked well enough.  We have one wedding scheduled for late June, and the bride and groom are being very good sports about it.  We will try to put together a suitable musical ensemble for them.  The 7:30 Sunday Mass people won’t even notice!  But the rest of us will muddle through.  
Our pipe organ is the envy of many parishes and pastors, and for good reason.  But the guts were worn out.  While the electronics are being updated, you can always listen to music on that Walkman.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Finding the Center

This is why I became a priest. 
You may love Christmas; you may prefer Easter; you may even find your center on Good Friday or Ash Wednesday.  But this is it for me.  The Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord is what gets me out of bed in the morning.  It’s not one day, it’s a date – a date I have every day with the God who took flesh and dwelt among us, died on the cross and rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, all so He could arrive on our altar. 
It’s almost not fair that this great feast of the liturgical year occurs now, when it is mixed with the other events and obligations of our civic and social calendars.  This is the crazy time of the year, and we are all looking for the summer to start so we can goof off. 
But the feast does arrive at a logical time, since it is the culmination of the Paschal Mystery that we prepared for throughout Lent, and celebrated through Holy Week, Easter, and Ascension.  The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost (two weeks ago), giving life and power to the Church, and completing of the self-revelation of the Holy Trinity, which we celebrated the following week (last week).   The fruit of that Spirit in the Church is the abiding and active presence in the flesh of the Eternal Word, the Divine Son, still doing the will of the Father.  So, really, what other time would we celebrate it?
Maybe we do not get the impression that we need to go to extra effort now for this great event because, amazingly, this great even happens three hundred and sixty-four days a year!  Minus some of the fanfare, the Body and Blood of the Lord will be here tomorrow, and the next day; and not only here, but at the parish near your office, and the one on your way to the baseball field where you have the playoffs.  Your sister in Texas does not have to fly up here for it, because she can find it there.  Even your great aunt at Riderwood who doesn’t get around much anymore need not go without. 
So this celebration is not about when and where, or, more accurately, not about which when and which where.  It revels in the reality that this when, now, and this where, here, comes the Lord to feed us with his very life.  When and where we are is when and where the Lord happens. 
So again, if that be the case, what is so special about today?  Not too much, I guess, since as I shared a few weeks ago the actual feast originally falls on Thursday (last week), but over a hundred years ago the Pope gave American Catholics permission to celebrate it on Sunday.   So when we do it must not be as important as that we do it.
That is then precisely what we are doing today; that which the Church does everywhere, not just every day, but especially one day, one day each year.  We make the effort and take to time to rejoice together and linger over the beautiful reality that God Himself lingers with us.  We have to remind ourselves that this gift we receive, our daily bread, is quotidian but not mundane.  It has changed our lives, and changed the world.  And for that accomplished fact, which is simple, but not easy, we give thanks.  We give thanks every day, and we give thanks specifically today, in and for the Great Thanksgiving that is the Holy Eucharist that feeds us.
The Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord is why you are what you are today, which is alive in Christ and members of His Body on earth.  And to make that possible for you here, and now, it is my joy to be your priest.
Monsignor Smith