Saturday, August 31, 2013

Front Page

If you are reading this on Saturday, it’s still August.  Otherwise, it is September now and, Labor Day festivities to the contrary notwithstanding, time to get serious.   Sigh; August is always the stickiest page of my calendar.  But here’s some news you can use:
First of all, the boys are back in town!  Father McCabe and Father McDonell returned in time to begin the fall semester at Catholic University, both of them rested and ready, though neither seems terribly tanned.  Yes, that IS Fr. McDonell – he just got his hair cut.  And grew a beard.  No, he is NOT a fugitive from law enforcement trying to disguise his identity.  Like most of us, you’ll know him when he opens his mouth.  We know our sheep, and our sheep know our voice.
Secondly, we have been assigned seminarian from Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, who will join us about eighteen weekends between now and April.  Deacon Corey Krengiel is from the Diocese of Peoria (in Illinois) and will be preaching, teaching, and baptizing here among us as he grows in grace, and moves toward Ordination to the Holy Priesthood.  I went up to the Mount to meet him this week, and am confident you will enjoy having him with us.  One thing that particularly delighted me was to learn that one of the biggest influences in his vocation is a priest of Peoria named Fr. Antonio Dittmer, who is a seminary classmate and old friend of mine.  Have no fear, the next generation is here!  How exciting. 
You will hear more about Deacon Krengiel, in his own words, in this space sometime in the coming weeks.  Look for him at Mass next weekend!
Speaking of looking for people at Mass, I look forward to seeing folks next weekend when everyone returns from summer travels.  But in the meantime, you may notice something odd this weekend:  you won’t see me at Mass.  For the first time since mid-March – of 2012! – I will not be here during the weekend. 
It is rather a busman’s holiday, of course, since I will be saying Sunday Mass in a big parish much like this one, and celebrating a couple’s Golden Jubilee of marriage on Saturday.  But the parish is the one where grew up, and since the couple is my mom and dad, I think it won’t be too onerous.
Not returned from vacation yet is our organ console.  Much of the rewiring of the pipes has been done for weeks, but the console rebuilding has taken rather longer than planned.  The good news is that it will be rather more beautiful and versatile than was first planned.  Trust me; you’ll know when it is back.
But we will hardly be returning to the status quo ante.  Richard Fitzgerald, our music director of four years, has accepted an appointment as associate music director of the Basilica of the National Shrine.  It is a more prestigious job at a more prestigious place, and will give him more work to do, now that he has achieved his doctorate.  He and Msgr. Rossi, rector of the Basilica, are being very gracious in giving us time to make the transition, and helpful in finding the right person to take over our liturgical music program here.  They know it is one of the best, if not the best, parish music program in the metropolitan area, and we look to build on all that goodness, of which Richard has been such a vital part.
He will be with us for another month.  By then, fall will be in full swing and so will all the other good things that happen here.  For now, savor another burger and enjoy those sandals for a few more days.  Then all together, let’s turn the page.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Look at your car.
Now, I do not know where you have been this summer, but I have a feeling I could probably learn a good bit by looking at your car.  Sand in the foot wells is a sure sign of a trip to the beach.  Lots of sand means lots of beach time….or a lot of people who really enjoy the beach!  But what else in in there, and what does it say about how you spent your summer?
Are there cups from fast-food places, water bottles, extra napkins, and wadded-up empty bags that held treats? Are there candies under the seats and down in the tracks they slide on?  Are there ribbons, barrettes, and brushes, or other grooming aids, because you did a lot of your primping in the car?  Are there brochures from parks or attractions, maps and guides?  How about shoes, shirts, or hats?  Are those batteries rolling around down there?  How many games and puzzles are in there?  These are all signs of a long family road trip.  Is that an old french-fry I smell?
Is there evidence of many trips to the pool, or maybe to the pick-your-own fruit place?  What’s still there from the end of your team’s baseball season, or the last Irish dance event?  Is that a program from a concert, or maybe a Nats game?  Is that the flag they handed out at the Fourth-of-July fireworks show you went to?  What about the parking stub from when you left your car at the airport?  Did you ever finish that paperback that’s in there?
Sunscreen and spare sunglasses, bug repellent and hand lotion, tissues new and used.  The car holds so many of the supplies we need for our adventures.  Father Nick keeps golf clubs in his, I have my hiking poles.  The car tells a lot about how we spend our time.  Look at your car, and you’ll see a veritable Smithsonian exhibit about your summer.
If that’s what your car has accumulated, imagine what your soul looks like.  Dirt, debris, and grit from a carefree time when everybody just wants to relax and have fun, and duties are postponed or ignored.  Evidence of excess or neglect can build up in your life just as much as in your car.
That’s why I recommend a trip to the detailer.  It was always my job in my family to clean up the cars, including a good scouring after summer vacation, inside and out.  Some years I swear I could have filled a dumpster – especially after that big 6,000-mile trip out west in ’78.  I did the same thing with my parents’ cars as recently as three years ago!  I always thought it was fun and rewarding, but I don’t know a kid who does that anymore.   Now they have professionals who can help you.
Similarly, bring that soul in to a professional for a good detailing session.  This time of transition from flip-flops to lace-ups and sunscreen to computer screen is a perfect time to get everything in order.  You may not think you have enough to warrant a trip now, but even if you couldn’t fill a dumpster, you’re not going to remember in Advent what you committed or omitted in July.  Don’t tell yourself you have too many errands to run; write grace and mercy right at the top of your list of school supplies. 
Look at that car.  Bring everyone in the family out to the driveway to look at it and be reminded how great their summer was.  Then, pile everybody into it, and come up here, or go to the Franciscan Monastery, or the Basilica for one last excursion: to the confessional!  Get those souls as pristine as they were on the day of your baptism!  It’s even better than that new-car smell. 
Then once you’re home, for Pete’s sake, do something about that car.
Monsignor Smith

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Created in the Image of the Creator

It is good to make something.  There is a genuine, universally human satisfaction in producing some tangible product of our own labors.  Delight at being able to point at something and say, I did that, is a clue to the fundamental dignity of human labor.
Now, I don’t want to ruin anybody’s August (or what little of it they have left us) by talking about labor while we are all wildly pursuing as much recreation and rest from our labor as we can find.  But August is when I get a little more breathing room in my schedule to get away from my labors that rarely leave me any tangible thing to identify, and pursue some more material, if also more mundane, endeavors.
Last summer, many of you will recall, it was The Quest for Pie.  Seminarian Seith accompanied me in this project as we tried to recover what seemed to have become a lost art.  Many pounds of summer fruit and flour later, we both could point happily at the very tangible and tasty rewards of all our labors.  I am happy to report that there have been several pies this summer, too, and it is still just as rewarding to take from the oven a steaming, sweet and golden confection that did not exist until my own hands confected it.  It is also good to eat, or give as a gift.  A Thing I Made! Just like a first-grader rushing home with his first handmade Christmas ornament.
This summer, my project also involves fruit, but is less fattening:  I am learning to paint!  Rob Burgess, parishioner, artist, and instructor, is giving a class on painting still life, which is where the fruit comes in – or at least, where it will come in, once I graduate past cubes and cones.  A few of us jumped at the chance.  Now, I did take painting once before, when I was in college.  It helped keep me sane while I was grinding through a grueling schedule of upper-level Economics and German Literature classes to graduate.  But that was a long time ago, and I wasn’t even sure if I could remember which was the business end of a brush.
But, as I have indicated here recently, I am a big fan of still-life paintings from Cezanne to Zurbar├ín, and couldn’t resist the opportunity to try to learn to make one.  Alas, the results do not come to completion as quickly as pie, but it doesn’t take very much time before you have accomplished some task or effect that you’ve never before been able to do, even if it is not yet a completed painting.  So the evenings at the easel fly by in what seems like no time, and as I reluctantly retreat from the object of my efforts, I look and say, wow – did I do that?
So my first effort at grisaille is no more impressive than was my first apple pie last year, except for one thing that they share: they are.  They exist because of the work that I did.  Neither pie nor painting is perfect, but both carry the unmistakable mark of my impact on the material of the universe.  What fun.
It will be a long, long time before I start offering paintings to people with the same confidence that I share my pies.  But in the desultory days of summer, it is rewarding and refreshing to labor nonetheless, and to be able to look delightedly at the result, and say, even if only to myself, A Thing I Made!
Speaking of things, I also take delight in upgrading the material condition of the parish, even if not with my own hands.  Please check out the new doors on the back stairwell of the church, and at long last, on the Stricker Room.  Because it is also good to have a good contractor – in this case parishioner George Angelaras – make something!
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 10, 2013

On the Universality of the Psalms as Prayer

Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint.  (Psalm 64:1)
I believe that in prior columns I have defended adequately the proposition that August is the most splendid of all the months.  The reasons for that continue to accrue, even day by day as we move through the month. 
What great feasts there are!  The Transfiguration of the Lord, one of my favorites (remember the cloud from the Ascension?); Pope Saint Sixtus II, martyr to the great persecution of A.D.258; Saint Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers and all-around cool guy; and Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, also known as Edith Stein, one of the great examples of intellect and courage in the truth in the face of the massive disorder and dysfunction of the 20th century.  Then there is Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr, another from ancient Rome, this one known not only for his fidelity and fearlessness but also for his sense of humor.  And that is just this week!
You also know that I even love summer weather here, which this year has been…odd.  Can you remember a summer that has been as cool and wet?  It makes the trees and lawn out in front even more lush and peaceful, and is really showing in the new growth on all the new trees I planted several years back.  Of course, the Pastor in me takes delight in the reduced energy spending that comes with every cool or gray day. 
On the other hand, all that rain has made the earlier peaches a little … moist, and the flavor less concentrated.  Let’s hope the later ones receive enough sun to be more intense, all the better to make pies with!
So it seems that there is no way August can go wrong, at least in my eyes.  So what could possibly be to make me complain to the Lord?  Well, I hope I am not the first one to break it to you, but school starts in two weeks!  Arggh!  They are invading my August!
Routinely for many years, school began on the day after Labor Day.  What a happy, fresh Tuesday morning that is for all the little ones to come back from their free-for-all and immerse themselves in school and structure!  But a few years ago, when Labor Day was really late (like September 7th) school started the Tuesday before.   That was reasonable; September 1st.  But then as the calendar shifted, but the plan didn’t, and the start got moved to Monday.  So this year the darlings don their uniforms and grab their book bags on August 26th!  This is heresy.
Compounding that is that school also ended late this summer.  Graduation was on the 8th of June and the last day of classes the 19th, and the teachers did not get out of here for almost another week after that.  Now the Archdiocesan Back-to-school Mass for them at the Basilica is August 19th, so their summer is not even two months short.  And mine is even shorter!  I have already resumed meeting with the principal (charming and capable as Mrs. Wood is, the meetings nonetheless bode only a return to very un-summerlike considerations.)
So the sun may yet shine, but clouds gather, and the distant drumbeat of autumn and its labors is anything but distant.  Who stole my August?  This splendor, this languor cannot be wasted; I want to file a protest.  Heaven knows it is futile to send it to the Archdiocese, so again, I say, Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint!
And make sure that I do not only complain I have a game for you: find my sister.  If you see someone at church this weekend who looks vaguely familiar but you cannot recall ever meeting, perhaps you have found my sister Suzanne, visiting from Arizona.  You’ll know you’ve found her if you wish her a Happy Birthday and she thanks you, because she turns nn on Sunday.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 03, 2013

By Joe!

Have you noticed the change at Mass?
Our Holy Father Pope Francis has done something that no pope has done since Blessed John XXIII, back around 1960.  He added a line to the Eucharistic prayer of the Mass, simply and completely on his own authority.
The Roman Canon was the only Eucharistic Prayer in the Roman Rite until after the Second Vatican Council, when the Missal of Paul VI was issued in 1970.  Then it became Eucharistic Prayer I, and was joined by Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV.  It had been intact and unchanged since the issue of the Missal of (Saint) Pius V, after the Council of Trent, back in the 1560s.  Four Hundred years later, Pope (soon to be Saint) John XXIII decided it was missing something – or, more properly, someone – and set about fixing it.
The Roman Canon has two long lists of saints.  The first one, invoked before the consecration, starts with the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, and ends with Lawrence, Chrysogonous, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian.  Good Pope John couldn’t help but notice that someone very important – and very dear to him – was missing.  So, right after the Mother of God, he added, and blessed Joseph, her (chaste) spouse.  And there he has remained ever since.
Now, the newer Eucharistic prayers mention only the Blessed Virgin by name, and then invoke generically the blessed apostles and martyrs, with no names specified.  In Eucharistic Prayer III, there is the instruction to insert the name of the patron of the church in which Mass is being said, so here, you’ll hear the name of Saint Bernadette; and the name of the saint of the day, which I try to do even on Sundays when that feast goes uncelebrated.  For example, this Sunday is the memorial of Saint John Vianney.  You can check and see if he is mentioned at your Mass! 
But since last month, when the memo came out of the Vatican in a most matter-of-fact, unceremonious way, now in all the Eucharistic prayers, the priest is to invoke the foster-father of the Lord, adding immediately after the most blessed Mary, Mother of God, and blessed Joseph, her spouse.   Father McCabe and I both picked it up very quickly, though I did forget once or twice.  The daily Mass crowd has probably already become used to it and no longer notices.
Now, I can’t say what happened at the parishes where you went to Mass while you were away on vacation, but here you will hear this great saint, intercessor, and example, invoked at every Mass, not just the ones with the “long” Eucharistic prayer.
I hope you join me in thinking that this is a good thing.  Most of us don’t think of Saint Joseph enough, and he has a lot to offer.  May this simple and pious act of our Holy Father draw us more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s life, by uniting us more closely to the one who taught Him how to be a man!
Speaking of joining me in joyous and pious acts, please join me in welcoming back to our happy parish home Father Nick Zientarski, who has come down from New York to help me out now that I am here alone.  He also – perhaps even mainly – comes to see all of you, whom he loves, and to celebrate Mass here with you.  Show him your delight, and promise him your prayers as he fortifies himself to return to Saint Joseph’s Seminary at Dunwoodie, New York, for yet another year in the grueling role of Dean!
Monsignor Smith