Saturday, September 26, 2015

All roads lead

Everybody comes to Washington.
We get spoiled that way.  When I moved here after college graduation, there was a steady progression of visitors through the living room of my first apartment, even before there was a couch for them to sleep on.  So I got to see friends from home, high school, and college, many of whom I did not visit where they lived.
Similarly among my priest friends, many of whom I met during seminary or while working in Rome, the number is large of those whose visits I have enjoyed when they found reason to come to our city, but far smaller of the ones whose home or place of assignment was a guiding factor in my decision to visit them.  Because here we have Catholic University, the Conference of Bishops, and the annual March for Life, plus other institutions and events, most of the priests I want to see come here sooner or later.
This has been a great joy to me, especially since my local roots are thin to nonexistent.  I know a lot of folks in our parish routinely run into high school classmates at the grocery store or ball game, and have family whose distance away is measured in parishes, rather than states or even time zones, as mine are.  It means I have to work a little harder to stay in touch.  But an awful lot of that work is done for me by the city in which I live, which gives lots of reasons for those folks to be, at least briefly, within dinner distance.
The Pope came to Washington this week.    Of course he did – isn’t that what the Pope does?  It certainly has become the expectation in the few short decades since John Paul II’s historic visit in 1979, the first ever.  When Benedict XVI came here three years into his pontificate, it seemed a natural thing for him to do as a “beginning” Pope.  So last year when Pope Francis announced that he would be attending the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, almost everybody seemed to expect it as the most natural thing in the world that he, too, would pay a call on our nation’s capital, its leaders, and us – its people.
Coming precisely according to these expectations, and so soon – seven years! – after the last papal visit, this could hardly be considered a surprise.  Nonetheless, even for a city so accustomed to visiting dignitaries and big events, as well as the opportunities and inconveniences they bring, this one tested us.  And even hardened as we are to celebrities and power players in our midst, Washingtonians manage to get pretty excited about the Pope being here.   
This combination of experience with the ability to get excited makes us metro-Washingtonians pretty good hosts, whether for our college roommate accompanying his kids on a school trip, or for the Successor of Peter himself.
Because the Pope came to Washington, I got to see friends and acquaintances whom I would otherwise not.   One of the priests who came from the Vatican to assist the Holy Father’s Master of Ceremonies is a friend and classmate.  Of course, there was not much time for a visit, but we did enjoy working together during the Mass and its rehearsals.  Priest friends here for the Papal visit from North Carolina, Florida, and Alabama made time for us to get together.  And two priests whom I had not seen since seminary made contact too, one to stay in our rectory, one for help with a ticket. 
Of course I was pleased, but not surprised, because sooner or later, if even only to see the Pope, everybody comes to Washington.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Pride of the Pastor

There are a lot of great moments that come with being Pastor.  You would likely understand my excitement at the privilege of giving kids their first Holy Communions, for example.  Similarly, I bet none of you would be surprised to learn that I have really enjoyed giving people the chance to see the Pope.
This week I have been in the happy position of distributing tickets to the Mass with Pope Francis at Catholic University of America.  You know everybody who wanted one had to write a letter explaining why they should represent our parish.  The letters were great, and the folks who are going cover an amazing spectrum of our people.  Young to old, long-time parishioners to brand-new Catholics, some of this and a bit of that: we will be well represented. 
Getting a ticket from our parish allotment is not the only way Saint Bernadette faithful are getting the chance to be at the Mass with the Holy Father.  I know of at least three who are singing in the choir, and at least one assisting as a volunteer.  Several are attending because they are faculty at CUA, and several because of the work they do in the Archdiocese beyond our parish.  It’s no surprise; our parish is an integral and essential part of the life of the local Church, and when the Church of Washington undertakes something this big, you know she will call upon Saint Bernadette for her participation. If you look closely you might even see me assisting the Cardinals in the sanctuary.
We are also sending a busload of our young people, led by our principal Mrs. Wood, to greet the Holy Father at the Apostolic Nunciature.  That is the Holy See’s “embassy” over on Massachusetts Avenue, where he will be staying while in Washington.  A couple folks have told me that they have a chance to attend the ceremonies with the Pope and the President at the White House; and several families plan to line the route of the Popemobile Parade around the Ellipse.  Nobody has said they have a ticket to the address to the joint session of Congress, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we had “one of us” among even that exclusive group.
I was happy to be able to give tickets to three students in our school who asked to attend the Mass.  I was so happy, I invited four television stations to come and see me surprise them with their tickets in their classrooms.  Channels 4, 7, 9, and EWTN all ran stories that showed our kids’ excitement and understanding of the significance of the event.  If you missed them, you may still be able to catch them on the websites.
This is not a matter of mere celebrity.  Our kids know who Pope Francis is, and who he is to them.  It’s not about this or that he has said, or done, or changed, or kept the same; it is that he is the Successor of Peter and our Holy Father.  He loves them as he loves Christ and the Church, and they love him right back.  This shone through in everything our students said and did in front of those TV cameras, and the journalists along with everyone who saw them on TV cannot help but recognize it.  I am so proud.
It gives me joy to know that you all are eager to be with our Holy Father, and as members of the Church of Washington, to be the first “face” he sees on his first visit to our country.  If it gives me this much joy, I can only imagine the joy that is in store for our Universal Pastor, Pope Francis, when he stands for the first time before all these people, understanding and experiencing that we are his, and he is ours.
Monsignor Smith

Check out these links to the news stories about Saint Bernadette kids' getting their tickets:

Channel 4 WRC

Channel 7 WJLA

Channel 9 WUSA

Saturday, September 12, 2015


It has been said that variety is the spice of life.  Well, get ready to spice up your life, people!  Summer is over and there is a whole range of newness and difference here Soubirous Central.
First, I would like to invite you to welcome our newest priest in residence, Fr. Greg Markey, from Connecticut – the Diocese of Bridgeport.    Fr. Markey is beginning his studies in Philosophy at Catholic University, much as Fr. McDonell did while he was here.  How fitting then that he live in the same rooms!
Fr. Markey attended Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, making him somewhat familiar with the Washington area, and he knows a number of priests here.  But he and I had never met before August, nor ever even heard of one another.  As we have become acquainted over recent weeks, it has become clear that we have many friends in common, so it is a happy fruit of providence that he should come and live here.  He has been a priest almost as long as I have, and a pastor as well.  Shifting gears to get going academically will be his first challenge.  He also has made it clear that he is eager to celebrate Mass with and for you, the people of the parish.  That is what puts spring in our step, for us parish priest types. 
Usually this week is when I announce and introduce our new seminarian from the Mount.  However, much to my surprise, I learned that due the smaller-than-usual size of this year’s deacon class, we will not be assigned a deacon this year.  I know you have enjoyed helping a promising pre-priest along the path to homiletic and pastoral proficiency for the past eight years in a row, and you are good at it.  But maybe it is not a bad time to take a year off; if only to sharpen your skills for the fellow we get next year.
Not that you lack for new homilists in your life.  Father Gallaugher moved in just two months ago, and while he is no rookie priest, he is new to the mix here, so that makes two out of three of your possible celebrants who are walking through the Scriptures for the first time in your hearing.  That is a tremendous relief to me, who have been through the three-year Sunday lectionary cycle four times with you!  I do worry about sounding like a broken record.
Speaking of repetition, I cannot repeat it too often that the end of summer and the beginning of the school year is the perfect and necessary time for the Sacrament of Penance.  My summer vacation is already a distant memory, and most of the all-too-short season of summer is already beginning to fade, perhaps due to too much exposure to bright sunlight.  I assume the same is true for you.  So before you forget, get those sins of omission and commission out there where Jesus can DO something with them.  Make a good confession and be done with it, ready to start the fall with a clear conscience, fresh notebooks, and maybe even new school or office shoes.
It’s off to the races here at Four Corners.  Sunday starts a ten-day countdown to Mass with Pope Francis just a few miles from our parish home.  Now that’s something that doesn’t happen every Sunday, even in our cosmopolitan Archdiocese!
With all of the new faces and voices here, if variety is indeed the spice of life, then beneath its calm, orderly exterior, Saint Bernadette is one spicy place!   This is the place for you if you are one of those people about whom it has also been said, that some like it hot.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, September 05, 2015

All Creation is groaning in labor pains

Tell me: if being Mom, or Dad, or Husband or Wife, were your job, would you be able to get it done in forty hours a week?
I know the answer to that question, but it comes to my mind anyway with Labor Day, our national holiday to celebrate work and workers, oddly timed as vacations end.  All the way back to Pope Leo XIII, and more recently including Pope Saint John Paul II in his encyclical Laborem Exercens, the Church has taught the value of human labor as the fruit and expression of human dignity.  We resemble God Himself, who labored in Creation, then rested.  And it was good!  This helps us to remember that the goodness of human labor is pre-political, whatever the political origins, explanation, or exploitation of the holiday we celebrate.
This week was great; everybody was back from vacation.  The preceding weeks, one or more of the parish staff took time away.  Dao and Delfina each took two weeks; Jackie one week, and Corky a smidge more.  You are reminded how much somebody does when he is away!
Any other time of the year, if someone is away, the rest of the office takes up the slack as best they can.  But with more than one person gone, we could not fake it.  We had to tell folks to try again when they returned.  For two days there, with everybody gone, we had to close up shop!  Of course Father Gallaugher and I were here, and Norma too, but we were doing our own things.  It would have filled our days three times over simply to field the calls for the rest of the staff.
There is no surplus in our staff, and no overlap.  We cooperate a lot, and everybody will leap to help out or cover for someone else.  But it just gets to the point where you have to acknowledge, the one and only person who takes care of that is away this week and you’ll need to come back when she is here!
Last evening, after my late afternoon appointment was over and I was once again in my office, I heard that distinctive sound across the hall that indicates Delfina is still hard at it.  When I asked her if she was ever going to go home, she said of course she was, as soon as she finished the bundle of checks she was going to leave for me to sign.   It is hardly uncommon to be here past her quitting time.
Even when everybody is here, there is just more than can be accomplished in the limits of a workday.  The work they do, and the questions they answer, the situations they address are so varied and personal, there is simply no way to respond except for one human person to spend time, effort, and attention, right there in the moment.  And then the mundane work, the processes and forms, the straightforward but necessary stuff – that very often gets done after hours, or even at home.
So, our parish staff’s motto may as well be the Italian maxim: Siamo pochi ma bravi, which comes off more or less as: We are few but mighty.  
Encourage one another with these words when you face a task that work alone will not accomplish, nor time.  Whether you are mom and dad, husband and wife, or parish staff, it’s a labor of love, and it’s never truly done: not in forty hours, not ever.   Happy Labor Day! 

Monsignor Smith