Saturday, June 27, 2015

Are you being served?

One of the projects Mary Ellen Barringer has been working out in her time coordinating the Religious Education program is reshaping the service requirement for young people preparing for Confirmation.    This has raised my awareness of the number of “service requirements” that people face, in their schools and in their other associations.  I even read yesterday that somebody had been convicted of a crime and sentenced to 80 hours of community service. 
At the same time, to distribute the workload more evenly among parents, our school requires that each family earn a certain amount of “tier credit” for service there.  The result seems to have been a diminishing willingness to volunteer or just help out, unless tier credit is both offered for the work, and needed by the worker. 
It has become a commonplace understanding that we live in a service economy, which means that what is bought and sold is more likely to be an action than a thing.  Our society has grown proficient at identifying, marketing, and putting prices on services that people will pay for.  This has become a source of innovation and economic strength.
It does not mean that our economy encourages service.  Folks have confused the type of service that characterizes our economy (doing a useful activity for a price) with the type of service that characterizes our human nature (doing something for the good of another, rather than one’s own good).  True service is accomplished at a cost to the one who serves.  This cost cannot be repaid or reimbursed.  It can be recognized, and responded to with gratitude. 
This has also resulted in a loss of understanding of and appreciation for the service that cannot be marketed, and which is in fact priceless.  In a healthy human economy, the response to service freely offered is … service.  For example, those who have fought our wars are (or should be) cared for in their injury or age.
To His bewildered Apostles, Jesus explained the divine economy: I came not to be served, but to serve.  His is the supreme and perfect work of service, which results in liberation from selfishness (sin) and its wages (death). To recognize service of this order, the proper response is not recompense, but reverence.  This is the currency not of the service economy, but the economy of salvation.
As human beings in the image and likeness of God, we are free to serve.  When we freely offer ourselves in the service of another, we participate in the life of Jesus, and give life to the world.  But as our economy has become more effective at setting a value and a price on service of every sort, and as our country has become more affluent in this “service economy,” it seems increasingly rare to find people willing to dedicate themselves to careers or relationships of service.  
Because our parish and most of our families enjoy this increase in affluence, we need to ask: are we teaching our children the proper attitude toward service?  For example, is it our hope that there will be enough people of their generation who will be willing to serve them, or are we hoping that they themselves will serve?   Yes, it would be a sacrifice for them.  But we have seen that this is precisely what God wanted for His Son!
The Son of the living God is at work in our midst in all who cooperate with Him in serving their brothers and sisters.  If we resolve to render due worship to Him, and gratitude and praise to those who offer service to us and for us, then not only will our children be more eager to offer themselves in service, but we too will become true servants, in Christ Jesus.  And more than any service project or even career of service, this is what will change – indeed, it is what will save – the world.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Export to Calendar

Looking at the date, you may be thinking - it’s the first day of summer.  That would make sense this weekend.  It happens every year right around now.  Or possibly you are thinking – it’s Father’s Day.  That, too, would be fair game; it also comes around this time, even though it is harder to keep track of precisely when.
These are important touchstones, but among priests, this is Anniversary Season.  Just last Sunday, I remembered that it was the ordination anniversary of Fr. DeRosa (7 years), and my friend Msgr. Toups (18 years).  The day before, it was my friend in Birmingham, Fr. Kevin Bazzel.  Monday, Msgr. Robert Panke, rector of our seminary, celebrated his anniversary by offering Mass here at our parish, so I could travel to celebrate the anniversary of a friend in North Carolina!   Msgr. David Brockman, whom you may have met when he visited me here Memorial Day weekend, had a big event down in Raleigh for the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination, and it was my privilege to participate.
Before it could be Anniversary Season, it had to be Ordination Season.  If you know some older priests, they may have been ordained on the third Saturday in December, which was the practice in Rome up through the nineteen-sixties.  But for decades now, most dioceses ordain men priests once they have completed the required studies, so the end of the school year is prime time.  University classes now tend to be finished by mid-May, so that is when ordinations start.  Father Nick, who is Dean of St. Joseph’s in New York, a seminary that serves several dioceses, over recent weeks has spent his Saturdays attending ordinations.  Apparently he still had at least one left to attend after he departed here last weekend.
My own anniversary was last month.  I turned seventeen!  That was a good age the first time around; let’s see how it holds for ordination.  My anniversary is already almost a month back because my year, Washington ordained priests relatively early.  Usually we do it more toward mid- or late June.   Which means lots of anniversaries around now.  And it also means ordinations are now!
And sure enough, Cardinal Wuerl ordained nine men to the Sacred Priesthood on Saturday morning at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  I have asked several times over recent weeks for your prayers for these men, who will serve our local church with their lives.  Read about them in this week’s Catholic Standard, and please keep them in your prayers.  And every year on this date, they will mark the anniversary of the day Jesus Christ changed their souls, and their lives, forever.
Father’s Day and the First Day of Summer will be printed on the calendar around this time in every edition for years to come.  But for Father Angel Gabriel Fermin, Father Robert Maro, Father Alec Scott, Father Martino Choi, Father Matthew Fish, Father William Wadsworth, Father Conrad Murphy, Father Daniele Rebeggiani, and Father Santiago Martin, this will be the Anniversary, every year, of Ordination Day.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 13, 2015

No Hat in the Ring

Why would anyone believe anything I say?  Here I stand before you, preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified, announcing the coming of the Kingdom and calling people to repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, and for all I know it may as well be just another blog post easily categorized according to type and political category.
This has been bothering me lately.  I read all sorts of writings every week; articles, blog posts, speeches, and even books.  I am not a big watcher of video anything, news or otherwise, but I do listen to the radio a bit.  So I encounter all sorts of propositions for explanations of what is going on, and what is important.  I assume you do, too; in fact, I figure most people cannot avoid this process, even if they try. 
And I cannot get over the impression that for reasons that are too broad to enumerate here, most people, who willingly accept as credible what is proposed them by this or that paper, website, or program, will level a skeptical eye at me, at the Church, and at Jesus Christ Himself and demand some proof or perfection before granting consideration.
In recent days, I have been engaged in a number of conversations – good, healthy, personal conversations – that have come around to the point where what I offer the other person also brings a challenge, and calls for some change, or even new effort.  Suddenly, the warmth and openness yields to a certain type of response: Oh, yeah? Well what about this? 
What follows is invariably a point where the Church or some prominent person associated with it has failed to measure up to some standard.  Oh yeah, well what about the Spanish Inquisition? Or maybe, Oh yeah, well what about that time when Pope So-and-so didn’t do anything to stop this or that horrible injustice?  The real standout among them? Oh yeah, well what about my friend, who is gay?  Sometimes it is more personal, like: Oh yeah, well what about that time you didn’t give my child what I know you obviously should have given her?
In this time when so much ammunition is being directed at candidates and potential candidates in hopes that one shot fired will be the silver bullet that destroys all possibility of election, when the search is on for the incriminating instance that eliminates all eligibility, we are subjected to all sorts of episodes of human frailty, but also an amazing array of expectations completely unreasonable, unattainable, and, most often, undesirable.  But that is to be expected of the political process.
To bring that same attitude to your Lord and Savior, that same sense of skeptically vetting a candidate for your vote of confidence, is understandable only in the context of recognizing how hard it is to break a habit that is bad to begin with.
This is the revealed Son of God, who did not campaign for your affections, but offered Himself up for death on the Cross.  He promises no program or platform, but a commandment: Love one another, as I have loved you.  He founded no earthly kingdom, much less party or PAC; but he clearly did institute the Church.  He left no writings at all, much less an agenda or a set of rules.  But we hold as sacred the writings that foretold and promised Him, in the Old Testament; that described Him and life with Him, by those who knew Him best, in the Gospels; and were written about, to, and for His Church, in the Acts of the Apostles, and the New Testament epistles. 
As political campaigns go, this one is a failure from the start.  The proposition that you are doomed to death by your own attachment to sin is not going to flatter anybody into offering support.  Is it irony that every candidate ever, by actions in and out of office, gives testimony to the truth of this proposition?  But there is no lack of evidence that this is no political campaign.  So, for the love of God, stop treating Him like a candidate!

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Corpus Christi

Just south of Fredericksburg, Virginia, as I made the turn from US Highway 17 to County Road 2, I looked across the open field to my right and saw two derelict houses at the edge of a piney woods.  Raised off the ground, as is not uncommon in the Tidewater, they were simple single-story frame houses, fronted with porches and punched-out windows.  They looked pathetic.  Ah, the poverty of the Old South, I thought as I was reminded of so many similar sights from my youth in Alabama and all across the region. 
But as I whizzed further down the road, cars and trucks ahead, behind, and flying by, I reconsidered.  When those houses were homes, how poor did their residents think they were?  Were they starving?  Probably not.  Did they know the people around them, and were they known by them?   No doubt.   And would they have given of what they had to someone in need? I would be deeply surprised if the answer were no.
I have no way of knowing whether they were white or black, these people who once called that intersection home; but I could be confident that they worked hard for everything they had, and were then grateful that they had it.  It is so easy to look upon such rough circumstances and rejoice to live now in such abundance and comfort.  But at what cost have we gained our ease?
We have so much food we have to watch our diets to keep from ballooning out of our clothes.  There is nobody we encounter daily who would not garner or offer authentic sympathy if air conditioning, heat, or plumbing were to fail to function properly for even hours, much less days.  Communication, entertainment, and mobility are features of every life we encounter. 
Yet there is sadness; sadness everywhere.  Is it because people need more – more comfort, more ease, even more opportunity?  Politicians pound the podium asserting this or that group needs more, more accommodation, more assistance, more opportunity.  This lot can only hope to thrive, can only achieve their potential, they say, if someone gives them more!  But is that really what people need – more?
Mother Teresa once said that it is a poverty that a child must die so that you can live as you wish.  That got me thinking that besides and far beyond abortion, our civilization has promulgated many new poverties. 
It is a poverty to have more stuff than you have place to keep it.  It is a poverty to be able to satiate your every craving by laying down a card or pointing and clicking.  It is a poverty to call “friends” people you’ve never seen or heard.  It is a poverty to identify yourself by your hobbies or your collections, or to think that your career will define who you are.  It is a poverty to be alone in a crowd, and even more of a poverty to crave anonymity.  It is a poverty to be bored.
Even the poorest among us have more, can do more, and know more than any other people who have every lived.  Yet do we have more joy?  All evidence points precisely to the contrary.
Everyone knows Jesus told people to give to the poor, but would be hard pressed to cite a when He gave a poor person any money or clothing or any thing at all.   One might gather that the good he wanted us to accomplish in giving anything, would be in our getting shed of it, rather than anyone else’s acquiring it.

Aside from this instruction on how to fight poverty (our own), what Jesus does give is the one thing He has most in abundance: His life.  And He gives it as food.  The Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ is the best remedy for the impoverishment of identity and relationship and life into which we relentlessly plunge ourselves.  As we worship the Holy Eucharist in this weekend’s Feast, look upon Christ in the elements of the altar, and see God’s idea for the “war on poverty.” 
Monsignor Smith