Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Spirit is moving

Well, thanks be to God, Father McCabe, and a few other of my brother priests who stepped in, I was able to scoot away last weekend to make sure that our man Father Corey Krengiel was well and rightly ordained.  Not that anyone in Illinois required my stamp of approval, but I thought you would be fortified by my witness.
So, 1620 miles later, I can say that his ordination in the cathedral of Peoria with three other men was splendid, and every step observed to guarantee the life-changing touch of the Holy Spirit to conform him to Jesus Christ the High Priest.  None of that shows up in pictures, but I grabbed a photograph with him in the sacristy of his home parish of Saint Patrick, in Lemont, IL, immediately after his first Mass.  Yes, that is exultation you detect in his eyes!

The homily for that great event, attended by a large congregation of friends, family, and parishioners, was given by my friend and seminary classmate, Father Tony Dittmer.  I stayed with him on his rectory in LaSalle, IL and caught up on everything that had happened in his life since we were last together six years ago.
At the ordination Mass, when all the concelebrants made their ways back our seats, I found myself sitting next to a fine young priest from Indiana, whom you should recognize.  Father Clayton Thompson was our weekend deacon last year; I brought evidence of his new state, too.

So aside from the Nats game at PNC Park with my cousin on the trip out, and a good visit with my aunt and uncle on the trip back, it was a very priestly excursion. 
It is a fortifying and encouraging experience to be present when a man you have known in his formation is raised to the priesthood.  I was glad to be with Father Corey Krengiel for this life-changing event after all the time we had together over the past year.  I was glad to represent you, and convey your affection and support.
You could not be at that event, but you can come to the priesthood ordination of several men you have accompanied on their preparatory journeys.  Deacons Chris Seith and Ken Gill, who spent the summers here in our parish in 2012 and 2013, respectively, will both be ordained priests later this month, along with five other men.  You can see their pictures on the posters around the church, which advertise our Holy Hour this weekend for them and all vocations.  Plan to come down to the Basilica on Saturday, June 21, for the 10:00 Archdiocese of Washington Priesthood Ordination.  The new priests will be fortified by your presence at this great sacrament, and so will you.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Graces of the Days

Please allow me to take this chance to thank so many of you for the outpouring of support and solidarity this past week in the wake of the death of little Peter Francis Flynn.  I was amazed at how much was offered by so many. 
So many people, seemingly from different stripes or segments of the parish, took the time and made the effort to join the Flynns in prayer and help them with the logistical challenges.  Looking around the church on Monday morning I just could not help but be moved by your goodness and generosity.  I have no doubt that Danny, Kari, and all their family find great help, encouragement, and grace in you and your love for them.
The stripes and segments that I think we all see in the parish, for lack of better terms, yield to unity in the face not only of tragedy and grief, but moreso in the faith and hope that bind us. 
We have grown accustomed to the ability in our day to prevent and avoid and repair and remedy so many, many hurtful things.  We fall into the expectation of having some recourse that our connections or technology or government can use to “fix” whatever ails us.  It is instructive that events that leave us inarguably helpless, such as this one, bring us so unanimously to our one true help: our faith that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and by our Baptism, so are we. 
So thank God for the many graces God shed in our lives over these days, and let us pray that He continue to be so extravagant in his blessings, especially to the Flynns and all of us who love them.
If you see Fr. McDonell this weekend, wish him well; he is off to Michigan and home for the summer!  I will miss him, not only because of how he spoils me with his cooking.  He has had a rough semester, though, and needs to run away and recoup.
This weekend begins the term of our summer seminarian.  As in most years, one of the men preparing to be a priest for our Archdiocese is assigned here for eight weeks, to give him experience “in the field.” Unlike our school-year seminarians (most recently Deacon Corey Krengiel) from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, he is to be here throughout that period, not only on weekends, so he can encounter the full rhythm of parish life and rectory life; and he is “one of ours,” a Washington man, so he gets a chance to know the people, places, and priests who will be a part of the rest of his life.
Keith Burney just finished his Second Theology year at Theological College here in Washington, at Catholic University.  He is from St. John parish in Hollywood, Maryland, in St. Mary’s County.  Other than that, I do not know him yet; like you, I look forward to having the chance to do so over the coming weeks.  I hope you get a chance to say hello to him after your Mass this weekend, and to visit with him during coming days.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, May 10, 2014


There’s never enough, is there? 
I have been in touch with the vicar for clergy for the Archdiocese over the past ten days, and he let me know that there is not a new Parochial Vicar in the pipeline for us this year.  That will make a third year when I am the only Archdiocesan priest assigned to this parish.
I do not want to shortchange the great contribution to your well-being and to mine given generously and freely by Fathers McDonell and McCabe.  They help a lot, not least by being good friends and brothers to me here in the rectory.  They provide a lot by offering Mass. hearing confessions, and preaching with a voice different than mine. 
But their real work, even as priests, is elsewhere.  They are full-time students with demanding programs they must complete and master.  Trust me; after the last few weeks of this spring term, I am under no illusions of how all consuming that project is for them both.  That leaves me to be the priest of the parish, the only one who is here to spend the time, engage, absorb, offer, and even just show up. 
I love being a priest.  I love being YOUR priest.  But I am flustered and frustrated by my own insufficiency to provide what you need from your priest.  Not only am I confined by the limitations of being only one priest for a parish of this size and complexity, but also I am confined by the limits of being this priest, that is, the priest that Jesus has called me into being.  That leaves a lot of priesting undone!  
Just today I was finishing the assignment of financial aid for families who want help putting their kids through our school.  There’s never enough, is there?  Mrs. Wood, our principal, keeps the budget squeaky tight; the teachers forgo pay resembling the value of their work, and many, many souls contribute without charge their time, effort, skill, and energy to making our school as excellent and engaging as it is.  We give a lot of help to families who, for the long or short term, lack the resources to pay their portion of the cost.  But there is never enough.    It hurts to fall short.
Last weekend I offered First Holy Communion to seventy-one children.  The intense intimacy of that instant, of offering to God everything everybody brings, by raising up bread, and bringing down God, receiving from Him the flesh and blood of His Son; and then turning and offering Him to these children, your children.  You should see their concentration, delight, awareness and acceptance!  But only I am in that blessed position.  This is a gift and marvel of such beauty I can barely describe it. 
But like so many of the most splendid gifts and opportunities that come with my vocation, the events and efforts that accompany it leave me depleted.  Not one of those people who is energized by encounters, however graced, with others, I require solitude and silence to recharge my personal and spiritual batteries.  This holds me back from all the many, many other things I could be doing with and for you.  It hurts to fall short.
I had dreams of a delightful young priest coming here to spend his energy and efforts on you, with you, getting to know you, and being formed into a more whole and holy priesthood by your love, and expectations, and example.  You are worth it!  You deserve it – and some young new priest deserves you.  But that’s not going to happen, at least this year.
I will be here to offer you what I have.  But there’s never enough, is there?  I am sorry to fall short.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Peak Season

Advent has Gaudete and Lent has Laetare, and both command that we Rejoice.  Thanksgiving through New Year’s is what the secular society calls “the holidays,” and parties abound, even if they are not always quite certain what the holidays are commemorating.  But in this parish, no time has celebrations quite like this time of year. 
From Easter until about Flag Day, this place rocks.  There are parties and barbeques and carnivals and fiestas and receptions and gatherings and just about every other form of human celebration ever known. 
Over the past two weeks, I have rejoiced in the Resurrection of the Lord in countless ways, from the drowsy convivium at the rectory kitchen island at midnight after the Easter Vigil, to dinner with Fr. Nick and my classmate Fr. Mark Knestout at our favorite steak place, to the reflective reception we have for our RCIA group once they have entered the joy of the Sacraments. 
We also opened the season for what I call Munchkinball, our CYO’s baseball for the smaller folks on the back field on springtime Friday evenings.  I don’t have the arm to throw out the first pitch, but I do get to offer the invocation, and can assure you that the excitement and delight of that evening rival Opening Day at any major league park.
Of course next week is Mother’s Day, that which cannot be skipped, moved, diluted, or elided with any other feast or party.  Later, there is Memorial Day, which occasions all sorts of outdoor festivity, usually centered on fire.  Could this be a residual cultural reference to the New Fire of the Great Vigil of Easter?  Perhaps I should consider that.  But I digress.
It is also Ordination Season.  Most priests ordained in the last forty or even fifty years mark our anniversaries in this time – including all three of us in the rectory (six, sixteen, and forty, respectively).  Observances have been known to occur.
Then comes Graduation.  Kindergarten, high school, college, and assorted graduate programs – all of them have their commencements in these days, and the parties that go with them are remarkable. For Catholic parochial school kids, even finishing eighth grade merits pomp and circumstance; and some of them – including ours – have a whole octave of festivities celebrating their wonderfulness and achievements. 
There are end-of-school parties and last-chance gatherings before everyone scatters for the summer.  The easy evenings of summer are welcomed warmly and in good company.
But my personal, top-of-the-line, all-out, no-exceptions favorite is this weekend.  First Holy Communion is a marvelous moment that I enjoy to the very core of my being, and the Pastor’s privilege of giving these children (71 of them this year!) their first taste of heaven is one I count most precious.  The rest of the day is filled with parties and receptions in which the joy and friendship is commensurate with the gift being celebrated. 
Then, the next morning, I get to give the same children, this time in the company of their families, their second Holy Communion, perhaps less dramatic but more indicative of the path they will follow to more lasting joy.  We cap the whole experience with our May Procession and Crowning, with flowers, songs, and love for her who gave her body so that Christ would have a body to give us as food, and thus was the very First to receive Holy Communion. 
Altogether, this weekend is a divine celebration indeed; that’s what I consider a party!

Monsignor Smith