Saturday, April 26, 2014

Reality Check

Virtual reality has become the norm.  We expect a mechanical voice to answer the phone when we make many phone calls.  Much of what we see happening in the world we see on a screen.  Technology has either made far much more somehow available to us, or has come between us and almost everything; it is hard to tell which.
But our celebration of the Resurrection was not virtual.  The plants and flowers were real, organic, and fragrant.  The candles had real beeswax and authentic flames, not LEDs.  Real wood, silk, and precious metal, crafted specifically for the purpose, were present for us.  Actual voices belonging to real people whom we know made live the Word of God in the passages of Sacred Scripture and in the prayers of the Church spoken and sung for us.  Real sacristans and real servers studied and rehearsed and worked to present for us all of these objects and actions at the right time and in the right places, without drawing any attention to themselves or their labors.
What a gift!  The authentic worship of the living God is the real work of real people, who are our intimates here in our parish.  The level of seriousness and effort brought over the past few weeks left me breathless with gratitude and admiration.  Nowhere else in our modern life can we count on such human skill and effort being poured out for us.  Music from people and instruments, not machines, created in our presence, is only one example; where else do you get that?   
Please take a few moments to focus on the elements that you enjoyed of Easter and the Holy Days leading up to it.  Then think of the hands, voices, love, and effort that shaped and provided them.  None of it was manufactured or synthetic; all of it was the fruit of human labor and love.  Many of those who did the labor and shared the love are worthy of thanks and prayers.
So offer thanks to and for our choirs and musicians, servers and lectors, ushers and sacristans, and hyper dedicated staff.  Offer thanks to and for the folks who set up the reception on the lawn, especially who made homemade goodies.  Offer thanks for all who prepared the grounds and buildings; stripped, veiled, decorated and arranged the sanctuary, worked through lists or rehearsals, and spent hours of their Holy Days making them holy and beautiful for all of us.  As your Pastor, I thank them with you and for you. 
I am grateful to my brother priests for their help and their homilies, and their hours in the confessional.  And to all of you for your faith lived and demonstrated, an inspiration to us all.
I also want to congratulate, welcome, and generally cheer for all of our brothers and sisters in Christ who joined us in the life of the Risen One through the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil:
Federico Rosales, Otto Rosales, Mounia Valois, and Amayia Lawrence (Baptized and Confirmed); Sophia Valois (Baptized); Rebecca Fitzgerald and Jennifer Reilly (Received into the Church and Confirmed); and Eric McDonald, Bridey Owens, Karla Oakley, William Valois, Alexandra Lawrence, and Andre Lawrence (Confirmed).
Their hearts, hands and voices are now joined with ours in the very physical labor of giving not only worship but also flesh itself to the Risen Christ.  This is the new reality that defines their lives as it has shaped our own.  This reality is never virtual, but rather sacramental, and therefore by the design and guarantee of our Lord and God, true and real.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tell them why

Look at all these people!  Why are they here?  Why are you here?  This multitude is responding to God’s call to come and rejoice that Christ is risen!  Jesus was dead, and now he is raised. 
This astonishing reality is enough to bring all these people here.  Much as we all share a hope that the winter be ended and spring bring new life to the world around us, we all share a deeper and more essential yearning that the power of sin be ended and new life take root in us.  We crave life and light, but life that will not fade when autumn and death come, and light that will not give way to darkness and despair.
But we also know that just because we desire something does not make it so.  Just because we need something, we cannot assume it will be provided us.  So we look to history and experience, our own and that of others; we look to see what God has revealed, so that we can know what He offers us.
…We know that, even after the great final appearance of Jesus on a mountain in Galilee—the Crucified One had risen and said: “All power has been given to me” —many people still had doubts.   At every stage, the message of the Resurrection was accompanied by doubts and was opposed, even though this is the glorious message that overcomes doubt.  (Joseph Ratzinger, God and the World)
We all know someone who not only has doubts, but does doubt: doubts that Jesus rose from the dead, doubts that He is the Son of God, doubts that God has anything to do with us.  Maybe someone we love doubts.  In the face of such doubt, we may wish that Christ and His Resurrection were more factual, more like the events reported on the news, or like the weather or sports scores that are factual enough for everyone to discuss.
God’s power is awesome; He has power over life and death.  He has the power to make manifest Jesus’ divine Godhead in a way that is inescapable and unarguable – if that were what He desired to do.   But he did not.   Jesus did not come back fifty feet tall, kicking over buildings and saying, “I TOLD you so.”   No, God leaves us room to doubt, and in so doing He leaves us room to believe.  And the necessity of belief is a sign of our true freedom, and His love for us.
More than simply the ability to believe, we have the capacity to believe.  It is part of our being that yearns to be exercised.  This capacity to believe is a source of discomfort until its purpose is fulfilled, much as our stomachs make us unhappy until we give them real food.  The analysis is true that is often attributed to Chesterton, The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything.
As song is to our faculty of hearing, the object of this capacity is His Son Jesus Christ.   Nothing compels us, but the only thing that can satisfy our hearing, understanding, and belief is to hear, understand, and believe, that God sent His Son to suffer and die for us, that He might raise Him – and us – from the death that awaits us all.
In our time and place, there is no social or circumstantial pressure that forces us to come to this place.  We are here in this church not because God has broken our spirits, nor compelled our minds, nor captured our bodies.  We are here because God has touched our hearts, and we long for Him to touch them again.
You are here, I am here, all these people are here because Jesus Christ the Son of God is alive and present and living among us.  That will never make the evening news, but its truth and reality are more powerful that the reality of “facts,” because this we have come to believe.
Therefore, rejoice to be in this holy place, and to find the joy of His Resurrection.  May the Risen Christ strengthen you with confidence in Him!  May God who comes to touch our hearts, touch you with the gift of faith.  May even the doubts of those around you help you to know and accept the great gift we have been given, the gift of faith.   May you have true joy.   Father McDonell, Father McCabe, Deacon Thom, and every staff member and volunteer who join their efforts to ours to bring the Gospel to life in this parish, join me in wishing you and your loved ones a truly joyous Easter.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Hunt

When I was younger, there was a lot of talk about "finding yourself."  Dramatic actions were taken in the name of this quest; people would leave their town, country, home, family, even spouse and children.  This setting out was considered the prerequisite to an authentic experience of self-discovery.  
People don't use that phrase as often anymore, but the proposal has become widely accepted that authentic self-knowledge and self-actualization occurs only in the context of a breaking off of what has gone before, especially of relationships, in order to pursue one's deepest desire or dream.
The celebrations of this type of resolutely self-centered action not only fail to focus on the damage done and grief experienced by those left behind by the self-searcher, but they also neglect to look to closely at what the seeker finds and gains when successful.
Not that any of you who pause long enough to read these thoughts would be likely to undertake such a search, but you, like me, have spent much of your lives surrounded by applause and acclaim for those who have.  It affects our outlook and understanding.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? (Mt 16:25-26)  Jesus' words ring familiar in our ears, but do we hear what he is saying to us, poor little rich twenty-first century sophisticates that we are?  We who think we know what he was really about, we who think we know what the Gospel really is, we who are amazingly comfortable coming before him with our lives as they are and our expectations as we have shaped them?
If you want a search, look today, look at the scenes that pass before us.  Look as we hear the familiar words of the Passion of Our Lord according to Saint Matthew.  This is the longest of the Passion accounts, and every word, every action depicted is familiar, expected.  Oh, the cock is about to crow!  Is this the part where we shout Crucify Him?  How long until we can sit down?
Why go through this agony?  The agony of standing all that time, the agony of the words, the agony of the familiar actions, and the agony of the end we already know -- why?  Because it really happened.  But not only that; because it happened in order to be available for you to attend.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  (Jn 3:14-15)  That’s why. 
The lifting up not only of the cross but also of its spiked and suffocating victim is for you.  The injuries and the indignities are held up for you to see and hear.   Bad as it was that the Son of God suffer it all in front of that curious and indifferent and hostile crowd, that is not enough.  The lifting up must go on before every curious or indifferent or hostile soul ever and everywhere. So must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Look at Him there, breathing his last.  Look at His mother, and His one remaining apostle, there below him.  Look at the two dead criminals.  Look at the centurion and the soldiers.  Look at the taunters and the keeners; look at the mourners and the gloaters, the spitters and the shouters; look at the ones who averted their eyes and wept.  Look.  Look long and slow.  See if here, now, you can manage to find yourself.   
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Windows of the Soul

It's been in the eyes of our eighth graders for at least six weeks now.  It's becoming harder and harder to ignore in any high school or college seniors we know.  I can't say I've seen it in the kindergartners, but I know it's there in all fourth-year seminarians:  short-timer syndrome.
Tall and winsome as he is, Deacon Corey Krengiel is "so short he could dangle his feet off a dime," as my active-duty military coworkers would have said it back in the day.  An assignment here he began last September right after Labor Day is already completed.  He has a few more weeks of classes, a good-sized vacation at Easter, and a few exams.  Then he will give his ivory Oldsmobile her head and let her take him home to Illinois.  There, on Saturday May 24, God willing, Bishop Jenky of Peoria will ordain him Priest along with three other men who have been his classmates at Mount Saint Mary's Seminary. 
He got his completed evaluation from me months ago, and his review by the seminary faculty and even his Call to Orders are both submitted.  Nonetheless, he has continued showing up here, bringing his service and his homilies for the past weeks - every weekend in March, and Confirmation on top of that.  So he has been a big help to me despite the fact that he would probably much rather be planning his ordination or daydreaming about his first Mass.
But I could see it in his eyes.  He is ready to move on.  Indeed, he should be.  There's a saying in the clergy world that your worst day as a priest is better than your best day as a seminarian, and there is something to that.    But as he enters the priestly ministry to which Jesus called him, he will take a bit of all of you with him.  You helped him uncover and hone that identity that ordination will unite with Christ the High Priest. 
This is Deacon Krengiel’s last weekend.  Over in the rectory, we’ll be feeding him as well as we can as “food for the journey.”  Please take the time today to seek him out, thank him for whatever was your favorite thing about his time here.  Promise him your prayers, especially on the weekend of his ordination.
Speaking of a look in the eyes, all of us, every human being in this parish and possibly all of Washington, went absolutely wild-eyed when we beheld, once again, snow last Sunday afternoon.  Unpredicted and improbable, it came despite Father McCabe’s assurance that a generous donation to the Winter Expenses collection would guarantee no more of the sloppy white stuff this year.  For many folks, it was the last straw.  I heard a vast, collective primal scream ringing from the houses and alleyways as I made my way home for exposition, adoration, and benediction.
That impudent outburst of a fading winter was no indication that there is a failure of fidelity in this parish.  The preliminary numbers on the special collection are quite good – more than half of the $15K by which our snow-removal costs exceeded budget.  I am confident we will get a huge boost when we add to that amount follow-ups from folks who weren’t here or weren’t ready, and whatever comes in through Faith Direct, which is how many of our most consistent givers make their offerings.  So, thank you all.
But it’s April at last, and at long last the air has a different fragrance.  Winter wouldn’t dare do the unspeakable to us again now.  We are done.  You can see it in our eyes.

Monsignor Smith