Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Best Defense

His is still one of the most popular names for boys, even in this era of innovation in naming children.  But otherwise, Saint Michael has fallen on some hard times lately.
Everybody knows Saint Michael the Archangel.  He wields the flaming sword, and drives Lucifer and his rebel angels out of heaven and away from the presence of God because of their refusal to serve.   He appears at various junctures to bring the help of the Host of God to the assistance of those who do serve him.  For this prominent and recurring role in salvation history, he is known not only to Christians, but also to Jews and even Muslims.  He is the patron saint of law enforcement and paratroopers, among others, for obvious reasons.  
I bring him to your attention because this weekend, Sunday takes place on his feast day.  For that, it is “suppressed,” or not celebrated, this year; but I do not want it to pass unobserved.  Since the liturgical revisions of 1970, he shares his day with Saints Gabriel and Raphael, the other two Archangels, who have distinctive missions and characters of their own.  This day customarily initiated the fall academic semester at the ancient universities of Europe, which is why in England it was (and may still be) known as “Michaelmas Term.”  You can see why it would be prominent in people’s minds then – but not so much any more.
Saint Michael has a great prayer, too, which also has fallen into desuetude.  It was recited together by the priest and congregation after all Low (said) Masses until the liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Council, one of the few elements of Sunday worship that was in English, rather than Latin.  I commend it to you all now.  The only folks who have no need of it are the ones who do not confront evil.  Who of us can claim that privilege?  Learn it and, as the saying goes, use it early and often: 
Prayer to Saint Michael
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God, cast into Hell Satan
and all the other evil spirits who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls.  Amen
Offer this prayer for yourselves in your desire for salvation, that you be defended against anything or anyone, any sin or any sabotage, that would separate you from the service of the saving God.  Offer this prayer also for all those who daily choose to serve, often in one uniform or another, who protect you from evil in this world: evil in nature, and evil in the hearts of men; evil abroad, and evil at home.  Offer this prayer for our brothers and sisters in the Christian faith, who confront evil daily in their lives because of their loyalty to Christ.
This is the charge of this great Archangel, who has demonstrated his willingness to fulfill it throughout the ages in response to the needs of those who call upon him, all who are willing and eager to recognize and respond to Him who alone made us and saves us, not as Lucifer did in his rebellion and rejection, but as God’s own Son did: Not my will, Father, but your will be done.  I will serve.  This is the profession we are able to make that unites us to this great Archangel, and moreover, to Christ Himself. 
“Hard times” are precisely where he is most at home.  Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle! 
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, September 21, 2013


For the average person who comes up the driveway, our campus looks so solid and massive.  This is one big, well-built church!
What they wouldn’t know and wouldn’t notice is the hundreds of not-so-stationary elements that make this church as solid as it is.  No one of them is big, but all of them together are impressive and effective.
One of the inevitable and important elements of our existence as a parish church is the annual Cardinal’s Appeal.  We participate as individual members of the local church, but also as a parish community supporting our Archdiocese.  Normally by late April I let you know how we have done on our pledging and participation, but this year I have been reluctant to say.
That’s because there was a problem; several, in fact.  The initial report of our pledges came back crazy low, 59% of goal.  But it didn’t come to me until crazy late, late June, instead of early April.  The report was late and uncertain because the Cardinal’s Appeal people had inaugurated a new database system this year.  They couldn’t tell me why our numbers were low; they weren’t even confident that the reports were accurate.
Right about that time we started getting calls from folks asking about their checks and their pledges that had not been processed.  I knew something was wrong, and began to investigate.  You may remember I made announcements at Mass.    A few weeks later, we found it.
All of our pledges from the in-pew were neatly sorted and sealed in bags for delivery to the Archdiocese – and sitting in our counting room downstairs.  The volunteer had done all the prep work and assumed the staffers would deliver them to the bank; the staffers had figured the volunteer had delivered them.  And so they sat. 
When I found them, I called the Cardinal’s Appeal office with some embarrassment.  He was excited, because it meant there were Appeal pledges and donations he had not received.  I was excited, because it meant our parish was not dodging the Appeal.  He called everyone whose pledge or check and not been processed, explained what had happened, and asked permission to deposit the checks or reschedule withdrawals for the full amount.  100% of the folks said yes!
So now, we are at over 95% our goal pledged for the Appeal.  I am grateful, and the Appeal office is impressed with, everyone’s generosity and understanding.  Thank you all very much.
You will have noticed last weekend that the organ is back.  Chesapeake Organ Service brought us the console late last week, and because of the generous response of parishioners David Fricke and James Horstkamp, necessary electrical work was done.  Further fine tuning was applied this week. 
You may not be able to hear the difference from before, but I think I can.  Mainly you hear the difference of having a real instrument working properly, with craftsmanship and beauty, played by a master like Richard Fitzgerald.  Many parishes do not have a real organ; through the commitment of our forebears, we do. 
After Mass today, come up the side aisle to see the new console.  Richard will be happy to give you a “tour” of it, and point out the improvements and features. 
Musicians and technicians, Appeal volunteers and rectory staffers; all are components of a marvelous instrument that is our parish.  Bigger than our buildings, diverse and harmonic rather than massive or monolithic: our parish is one big, well-built Communion. 
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, September 14, 2013


This is the week of Back to School Nights.  We have two here, and on the evening in between, Blair High School across the street has theirs.  Our parking lot will show it!  It’s a chance for parents, teachers, and school leaders to get to know one another, go over the programs, and set the goals for a year for those important people in our lives, the kids.
Every year about this time, I have written here about our school, its families, and its cost.  I would point out the cost of tuition, the strain it places on many of our families, and the efforts to which our parish goes to reduce the strain and help the families.  I would suggest that even at this late date, a contribution toward our tuition fund could help some parents give their children a Catholic education. 
One of the reasons I did this was that one parishioner would remind me.  Every August, John Huffman would linger after the five o’clock Mass, come to me with a bulletin, and hint that he was wondering whether there would be any request for tuition assistance.  No request, he implied, indicated that there was no need.  If there was a need, he had something he was ready to offer.
This past winter, John succumbed to a cancer he fought for some months.  His brother Michael, who ushered that Saturday Mass and had lived with John since their parents died, moved off to Pennsylvania where he has other family.  Then last month, at about the time John would come to me with his not-so-subtle hint, we received a letter.
I learned that John had left a bequest to the parish in his will – two, in fact.  One, the smaller of the two, was just a bit more than he gave each year in tuition assistance. He also left a significantly larger sum, designated for capital projects of the parish.
John, soft-spoken and inconspicuous, was a lifelong parishioner of Saint Bernadette.  Though he did not designate it as such, I will apply the smaller sum this year to continue what he did each year for the families whom we help with tuition assistance.  This is the last year he will “remind” me to make known to all of you this particular need we have right here in our midst.
Tuition for one child, at the Subsidized Rate we offer to parishioners, this year was $6850.  It may be hard for you to believe that this substantial sum is actually a significant reduction of the rate from the previous year.  It was my hope, along with our principal, Mrs. Cheri Wood, and our Finance Council, that this reduced “sticker price” would reduce the sticker shock and make it easier for more families to participate in our school, especially new families who have no direct experience of what a great experience and education our school provides. 
Alas, our enrollment is lower this year, after the departure of an enormous eighth-grade class, and the entry of a small kindergarten class.  A smaller student body makes it hard not to raise per-child costs.  Higher costs deter new families. 
Please consider taking up the mantle that John Huffman and several other parishioners have been quietly bearing for these recent years.  Offer something to help us help families bring their kids to the riches of a solid Catholic education. 
One of the things the kids learn in our school is how we help one another.   In this lesson, there is never a bad time for a Back to School Night.
Monsignor Smith