Saturday, August 30, 2014

Deep down things

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.  All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.
Jeremiah was not a cheerful fellow, if we must decide on the basis of his book.  This is one of the great lines of Holy Scripture.  It can make us laugh, if we approach it in a certain way – such as when my Church History professor, a Dominican priest, said that his ordination class had chosen it to be their motto.  On the other hand, it can make us wag our heads in uncomfortable recognition.
But if it is the case that I carom between these two readings of that line, I also recognize all too well the sentiment, and more, that he presents a few lines later:  I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more.  But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.
That explains how I get myself into trouble, especially in this time and place, doesn’t it?  Or at least how I get you into trouble – the trouble of enduring my latest take on life, the universe, and everything.  But I shan’t throw too much at you this week; you’ve had enough of dates and anniversaries and historical milestones. 
A word from Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, seems appropriate.  He could have seconded Jeremiah in either of the above sentiments.  But he also has something more to add as our summer days dwindle and we set our faces to the task ahead.  It is, after all, still August.  Enjoy.
 Monsignor Smith

God’s Grandeur
Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Believe it … or not!

For those of you who read this in print, did you know that I also post it online at our parish website?  That makes it available to my mom in Alabama, among countless – okay, maybe about thirteen – other fans around the country.  But there it is just more among a lot of stuff on the internet; why should anyone believe this?
You know me, you know who I am and what I do with my days; what I have learned, and what I laugh at.  So you know the context in which to take what I offer.  But for someone coming across it online, how would they know whether to believe anything I write?
I have been thinking about this lately because there is so much information and disinformation available these days thanks to our communications technology.  How do you choose what you will believe?  On what information, and on whose opinions, will you base your life decisions?
Can you honestly evaluate your day, your week, and see whose words you take for truth, and whose you view with suspicion?   What are the sources of news and thought that you accept and act upon?  Why have you chosen those?  It is never a bad time to evaluate this, as it has such an influence on your life and what you do with it.
Saint Bartholomew, whose great and holy Feast Day is brutally suppressed this year by the Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time, is famous for his skepticism when he first met Jesus.  We hear about it in the first chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, where he is called Nathanael: Philip found Nathana-el, and said to him, "We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Nathana-el said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"
Now Philip was a friend, so Bartholomew did not dismiss what he said; but neither did he automatically take his word for it.  So Philip, who was confident in what he had found in Jesus, offered immediate verification of the highest sort.   Philip said to him, "Come and see."
Then what happened is one of my favorite episodes in all the Gospel; the banter between Jesus and Nathanael in which Nathanael encounters the reality of who Jesus is, and Jesus ribs Nathanael for his skepticism, but also promises him more.   I love it. 
Jesus saw Nathana-el coming to him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" Nathana-el said to him, "How do you know me?" Jesus answered him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." Nathana-el answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Jesus answered him, "Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these." And he said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."
Perhaps because Bartholomew is my heavenly patron, I always turn a critical eye to any new information, especially information that claims to call for me to change the way I live.  I encourage you and all whom I meet to do the same.  I encourage you even to be skeptical about the information I give you – though I hope you could stay as good-natured as Nathanael about it.
Because God has given us in Christ everything we need to judge all information, to discern all truth, and to grasp all reality.  Christ gives us not information, but Himself.  I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.  (John 14:6)

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 16, 2014


A long, long time ago, back before I went to seminary, while I was still a Normal Person, while I was working in a large windowless building at the Navy Yard (which as of this month has just been completely demolished, by the way) I used to remind my buddy Mike about Holy Days of Obligation.  He was a regular Mass-goer at his parish in Alexandria, but never saw the Holy Days (HDO’s, as we called them in those days when we had an acronym for everything) coming.  So I would mention them in conversation; he would smack his forehead, and then make it to Mass.
Well, I blew it this time.  Last weekend I completely left out of the announcements the Holy Day this week, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary!  It is not as if I forgot about it; in fact, right before I typed up the one lonely announcement, I printed out the intercessions for the Holy Day Mass.    I am desperately sorry that I failed to put this important day on your “to do” list early in the week!
August is not a time for making big news or big announcements, usually, especially in our political city.  But I would like to draw your attention to the arrival of our new parish Music Director, John Henderson.  John is graduate of Catholic University’s music program, currently pursuing a Master of Music degree at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.  He comes to us from just down the road at Christ the King parish, and has also played at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral downtown.  Perhaps as important as any education or experience in music, however, is that he is a southerner – from Pensacola, Florida (where people are southerners, not displaced yankees, by the way). 
John is eager to work with our music program, about which apparently there is a very good “buzz” in local church music circles.  One of his main goals will be to integrate and give strong direction to the all the talented folks who work so hard on our liturgical music, who have been under short-term leadership for a full year now, since Richard Fitzgerald announced his departure. 
John is also eager to launch a very important addition to our music program: a Parish Youth Choir.   The choir will include our young people from across the parish community, including those in our parish school, as well as those in other local schools and home school.  This is something that I have been trying to initiate for several years, but had to postpone because of the changes of the past year.  Watch this space for news!
I want to thank Eric Lewis, who joined our program last fall and took over as Interim Music Director during the winter.  He has done a fine job of leading our choirs and musicians not only in music but in prayer.  He plans to continue singing with us as he pursues his degree in conducting at CUA.  He has made rich and delightful contributions to every Mass in which he has participated, and I am very glad for his continued presence as much as for his fine tenor voice.
I should also draw your attention to Al Hart, who helped lead the 9:00 Mass choir, and accompanied it (and a few other Masses, when there was a pinch!) on the piano.  Al is a man of many talents who seems to be able to do anything musically, and to have done it all at one time or another in his varied career.  He also has the deepest bass voice of anyone I have ever met from outside Russia.
During that interim, we have also been blessed to have several excellent musicians accompanying us on our fine organ: Terry Manspeaker, who played most of our 5:00 and 11:00 Masses; and Paul Campbell, Katie Yeago, Matt Mueller and David Knupp, who played on an ad hoc basis; all maintained the consistently high level of musicianship we have grown to expect here.   I thank them all, and I know they would be grateful for your prayers.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Right next door

This week, I mobilized our rectory staff in order to find a parishioner who some weeks ago had been sick, but then left the hospital and probably went into rehab.  The problem is, we know not where.  We have no contact information for family members, and the HIPA laws make it illegal for even kindly disposed health workers to share such information.  So we have been thwarted at every turn.
So Norma Thomas, ever on the job, went to the man’s house, where she found a neighbor outside, and asked after him.  The neighbor responded, “I don’t know anybody [by that name].”  Really?  A next-door neighbor doesn’t even recognize his name?
There was an article in the paper last week that attributed the “polarization” in our nation now to the simple reality that there is so little association among actual neighbors, as climate controlled houses keep folks inside, cars get folks to and from home in separate bubbles, and everyone has the opportunity to associate only with those whom they choose, more and more often electronically, through social media or other technological means. 
Heck, everyone knows how hard it can be sometimes to converse with someone who is even sitting directly before you at the table, if that person will not turn his attention away from his smartphone!  So how can anyone expect to have a conversation with someone who lives in a whole other house?
Which leads me to the question: do you know your neighbors?  Do you talk to them just because they are your neighbors?  Do you knit together the fabric of community from the people who happen to be “in your community?”
It is not that I am worried that you will get sick, go to rehab, and we will not be able to find you (thought I certainly do not want that to happen.)  It’s just that, well, I want you to be fully human.  Why?  Because you will be happier that way!  And we discover the fullness of our humanity by being among (people).
What evidence do I have for such a blanket assertion?  Well, Jesus Himself!  He who emphasized and elevated the universal aspects of human existence (washing in water, eating bread, drinking wine, marrying a spouse, and all the others) did not omit our relationship with our neighbors.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read?" And he said to him, "You have answered right; do this, and you will live." But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed mercy on him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."  (Luke 10:25-26, 28-37)
How better to know your neighbors, and be known by them?  Go and do likewise, indeed!

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 02, 2014

You are history

Saint John Paul II was fascinated with dates in history, and he found major anniversaries to be marvelous opportunities to reflect on the workings of the eternal God, who entered history.  Most of you will remember the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus, which we celebrated as the opening of the Third Christian Millennium.  But do you remember the 1988 celebration of a millennium of Ukrainian Christianity, from the A.D. 988 conversion of Kievan Rus'?  He always marked lesser dates as well, such as the anniversaries of the great Polish Saint Hedwig, or Therese of Lisieux.
Perhaps I invoke this precedent to justify my own preoccupation this week with the July 28 centenary the declaration of war by the Austro-Hungarian Empire upon Serbia, and thus of the beginning of World War I.
It was a beautiful summer, by all accounts, brighter and more temperate than any summer in memory.  Most folks, especially those of the capital cities of the major powers, were on vacation.  Everyone was aware of the simmering crisis in the Balkans, where terrorists had enraged the imperial power of Austria by the assassination of the heir to the throne.  But everyone was convinced that this feud would be resolved, as had the many that had filled the preceding decades.  You see, international commerce, communication, and cooperation were at an all-time high, and organizations and processes existed to solve disputes without resorting to military action.  So enlightened opinion everywhere just knew that no powers would resort to war since it would disrupt everyone's prosperity too much.
But something went horribly wrong, and soon Russia, Germany, France, Belgium, and Great Britain joined Austria-Hungary and Serbia in launching their entire military might at one another.  Dozens of nations, including ours, would be drawn into the conflagration.  Millions upon millions would be killed in the slaughter, and the world would be changed forever.  The course out of this war would lead directly into the next World War as well as the Cold War, and lay the foundation for the intractable conflict in the Middle East as well as many other realities we "enjoy" to this day.
There are all sorts of maxims we can quote about history, like: those who fail to learn from it are doomed to repeat it; or, that history somehow repeats itself.  However, I do not find those compelling.  The former gives the false impression that one can learn enough from history to avoid falling into history yourself; the latter seems to imply that history is something that happens to you.  More helpful is to remember is that we inhabit history as much as our forebears ever did; history is now, and we are responsible for it. 
Unlike the simple self-exceptionalism expressed most concisely a few decades back, after the Soviet empire fell, when a scholar proclaimed “the end of history,” we do well not to think ourselves exempt from history as either a process or as an external force.  History is the frame of every human gift and flaw, of every hope and failure – including and especially our own.  This fabric unspools to reveal all that has come before, and unites us with those who lived it.
History is where and how we live; history the context of man’s existence, of every human life and event.  Because of that, the eternal, unchanging God deigned not only to enter but also to submit himself to this experience of history, to join us where and how we live. Therefore God takes flesh, is born, dies, and rises, on such and such a day in history.  It is hardly undue fascination; we do well to mark the days whenever, wherever they recur.

Monsignor Smith