Saturday, February 27, 2016

Weight of Glory

Does that baby get heavy?  Yes, the one you are bouncing in the crook of your arm during much of Mass; the one that you are toting around in the child-carrier seat; yes, the one that makes you groan, “Oh, you’re getting soooo big!” every time she insists that you swing her up and hold her above your head.  Yes, that one.  Is she heavy?  Of course, it only gets harder to bear when her older brother insists you pick him up too.  And you only have two arms, so what are you to do if yet another clamors for a lift?
The people in the grocery checkout line looking over their glasses at your brood aren’t the only ones who count children as a burden, though perhaps they see them ONLY as a burden.  But sometimes even to you who love them, that twinge in the small of your back; that shrill, demanding squawk when you just cannot respond fast enough; all of these reveal that even the mother’s or father’s love you have for them cannot banish the law of gravity, or stretch the limits of time and human strength.  It’s a lot to carry!
This past weekend, I should have liked to have gone to Justice Scalia’s funeral, but I had to settle for watching a video recording.  Though thousands of people, many famous or important, filled the enormous church, it was very much an ordinary funeral, that is, precisely what the rites of the Church prescribe for every departed Catholic.  There was no eulogy, and no dignitary gave tribute – but that’s the way every Catholic funeral should be.  The homily was about not the deceased, but about Jesus – but that’s the way every Catholic funeral should be.  I am glad the whole country, and even the world, was able to see this funeral and share in the grace it offered.  It certainly filled me with hope!  This is what we believe, and this is what we do when a loved one dies. 
The celebrant and homilist was his son, and my friend, Fr. Paul Scalia.  As I watched him preach and offer the Holy Sacrifice, I was struck by how he referred to the Justice, the great man, whenever he mentioned him:  he called him Dad.  This simple word bored though the enormity of the circumstances, the position, the veneration and the controversy, and revealed the true identity of the man being mourned.  And it was easier to see both why he needed our prayers, and why he deserved them.
This was possible because Justice and Mrs. Scalia raised a son who became a priest.  Doubtless, he will continue to pray in a unique and powerful way for his father.  Did you know that among the various forms of the Mass for the Dead, there is special one for the priest to offer for his father or mother? 
What also struck me was the identities of the eight men who bore the Justice in his casket up the aisle.  These were his other sons, and the husbands of his daughters. They also accompanied his widow, their mother, and supported her literally and figuratively in her grief.  These are the ones who not only carried him to the altar of God, but will also continue to pray for him.  They are the fathers of his grandchildren, who will remember him and pray for him for the rest of their lives. 
You don’t have to have nine children to raise up for God a priest or religious.  You don’t need any specific number of children to receive grateful prayers from generations to come.   But as you try to kneel and pray during Mass only to be interrupted by some small person’s need or demand, rejoice to remember that you know the answer to the question: Who is going to carry your body into the church for your funeral?  Who is going to lift you in prayer to our merciful Father?  Who is going to shoulder you into glory?  And smile and say a prayer for that disapproving person in the checkout line, who may not have anyone, and may not even know what she’s missing.
Enjoy the weariness in your lifting arms now.  It will only make you lighter when you’re the one being lifted!
Monsignor Smith

The statue of Saint Joseph carrying the Child Jesus in our Chapel.
 Who would be the heavier lifter?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Initially, men are made new by the rebirth of baptism. Yet there still is required a daily renewal to repair the shortcomings of our mortal nature, and whatever degree of progress has been made there is no one who should not be more advanced. All must therefore strive to ensure that on the day of redemption no one may be found in the sins of his former life.
Man, do I love Pope Saint Leo the Great.  I think I first took to him when I was in seminary pursuing my second degree, in Sacramental Theology.  Leo not only had a deep and evocative way of explaining the sacramental realities Christ offers us, but also a clear and concrete way that is easy to grasp.  That is hardly what one would expect from a fifth-century pope.  You would possibly think he would be abstract and classical, like the ancients; or arcane and medieval, like all those theological Doctors of this-that-and-the-other.  But no; it sounds as if you could put Leo on television this very week and he would be intelligible and approachable to a wide audience – if you could find a television network willing to broadcast such incendiary truth!
So right here he sums up the whole foundation for Lent: our constant need for conversion, even after we have received God’s saving grace.  What a simple imperative: All must therefore strive to ensure that on the day of redemption no one may be found in the sins of his former life.  What conflicts, petty and great, would be avoided if more souls were focused on that need!
His prescription for how we should do it is equally direct:  Dear friends, what the Christian should be doing at all times should be done now with greater care and devotion, so that the Lenten fast enjoined by the apostles may be fulfilled, not simply by abstinence from food but above all by the renunciation of sin.
Perhaps I am not the only one of us for whom at this early stage of Lent, nothing is automatic yet and every participation in the disciplines of the season is a conscious act of the will, sometimes even reluctant:  Oh yeah, I can’t have that for lunch; Oh yeah, I promised I’d do that every day; Oh yeah, that’s what I’m trying not to do.  And that momentary recognition, leading to that intentional change of course, results not in some sense of accomplishment, but rather an awareness of its rightness, how it could and should and even would be for us normal, if only we were striving for Christ all year.  Then the habits of Lent take hold, and all settles into routine.
Leo wants us to know that what we carry in Lent is not some penalty, but in fact a prize.  These disciplines, these small self-denials, make us ready for and even produce for us great gifts even as we struggle with the sheer unaccustomed-ness of it all.  What we think of as something we are giving to God, even grudgingly, is revealed immediately to be one of His great blessings to us:
There is no more profitable practice as a companion to holy and spiritual fasting than that of almsgiving. This embraces under the single name of mercy many excellent works of devotion, so that the good intentions of all the faithful may be of equal value, even where their means are not. The love that we owe both God and man is always free from any obstacle that would prevent us from having a good intention. The angels sang: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. The person who shows love and compassion to those in any kind of affliction is blessed, not only with the virtue of good will but also with the gift of peace.
The gift of peace.  Thank God!  And thank Pope Leo for helping us notice.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The devil you say!

Devil movies are one of those things I generally don’t do.  I don’t see very many movies at all: the new Star Wars?  not yet – but I will.  Monster movies are not my favorite, but I can handle them.  Scary movies, whether in outer space or elsewhere?  Maybe.  But not devil movies.  Why?  Well, the devil is real, and a real threat.  That’s really scary to the point of being disturbing, plus I don’t like to give him that much attention.  It only encourages him.
Everybody knows the film, The Exorcist; yes, the one with the steps in Georgetown.  But it didn’t happen in Georgetown – it happened closer to us, in Mt. Rainier.  And it was a young boy, not a girl (sorry, Linda Blair).  But a real exorcist encountered a real possession just down the road from where we are, albeit several decades ago.
Lent always starts off with a real devil story.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us about Jesus’ temptation in the desert.  Luke offers more details than the others, but the basics are the same.  How Jesus got there in the first place – the Spirit drove Him; what the effect was of His fasting  -- He was hungry. 
One of the names for the devil is the tempter, and here we see him at his defining work.  He holds out to his intended victims something that seems good, but is not as good as what they would be losing.  Jesus responds to each temptation with a reassertion of the greater good, to which He holds, repelling the devil.
Another name for the devil that we find in the Sacred Scriptures is the accuser.   The devil does not always try to make us feel special by his attentions;  no, often he tries to make us feel rotten, unloved and unlovable.  He reminds us of every failing, fault, sin, and shortcoming, and plays up many that aren’t even real. 
I remember a priest telling me that he once was called to a neighbor’s house by their Protestant minister, who knew that in matters involving the devil, he himself didn’t have what they needed for help.  When the priest arrived at the home that had the devil problem, he told me he saw “written on the front door everything (he) had ever done.”  Shaken but undeterred, he entered and chased out the opponent who had thus revealed his identity.
I think the accuser is very busy these days.  Discouragement and depression are rampant to the point of epidemic in our society, despite the high level of comfort and “happiness” that its victims seem to possess.  Do you think it is coincidental that this is the case at a time when so many folks are convinced he does not exist?
It is important for us to remember that in our lives, and in our hopes for heaven, we have an enemy – the enemy, who desires to keep us from the true and perfect good for which we yearn, and for whom we are made.  If we remember that we are in combat, we are more able to fight what would destroy or devour us.  We have many helps in our fight against the devil.  Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!
In the final formulation, though, our confidence should be with Him who withstood the temptations of the devil, and who claims us as His own.   He is not far from us, nor is His strength something for which He expects us to beg.  Our Baptism makes us a place without room for the devil to dwell; and being fed as we are upon the Body of our Lord, we have less stomach for the father of lies.  Christ Himself is our bulwark and our defense.  We are in Him, and He in us.  He is the victor over temptation, and the tempter.  He keeps us from fear – even of devil movies.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Do not concede the supposition

If God is all-powerful, and if God is all-good, why is there suffering in the world?  This is an ancient question, more recently deployed as a rejection of God.  But perhaps the false assumption is not that there is a God, or that He is all-good and all-powerful, but that suffering is incontrovertibly evil.  Of course, there is a relationship between suffering and evil; any privation of good is in some way evil.  But is suffering evil, period, end of sentence?  Are they identical, or inseparable?
One of the many reasons that the Catholic faith is held up for ridicule in the world, even by people who claim to embrace it, is that it not only makes the bold assertion that suffering is not exclusively evil, but that suffering is part of the best thing that ever happened to the world, and that you and I and every person we meet should actually choose and inflict upon themselves some suffering.  On purpose.  Madness!  Yes, that is why the word “Lent” appears in so many punch lines.
Suffering, including our distance from God and unfamiliarity with His ways, is a result of sin.  It first entered our world through the free action of our forbears, Original Sin, and is reinvigorated in every life through human action freely chosen, actual sins. 
Suffering, whether by privation of good or active presence of pain or evil, was transformed when God Himself, through the free obedience of His Son, suffered on our behalf even unto death, the ultimate privation of good and accomplishment of evil.  By Jesus’ free act, and the victory over death that He accomplished with it, suffering is transformed forever and for all into an act in which human freedom working in love has the power to transform evil into good.
Two weeks ago, I shared Msgr. Pope’s admiring reflection on the passion, that is, the suffering of our patroness, Saint Bernadette Soubirous.  I admit that I hesitated to make it all available, thinking that to many who would read it, the overwhelming impression of the life of the saint would have been one not of blessing and holiness, but of punishment and sorrow.  How can that be good, and who would desire that?
Imagine, for a moment, that pain and privation gave you not sorrow, but joy.  Wouldn’t that change your disposition toward everything?  What would you fear and avoid?  What would you pursue and embrace?  Who would have power over you?   See how your life would change – for the better?
That is motivation enough for you and for me to enter into this Lent with anticipation, not trepidation.  Whatever penance we freely impose upon ourselves, and unite with the passion that Jesus freely undertook for us, is a step toward joy, and a step away from fear and oppression.  In Lent we should regret not the penances that we bear for forty days, but only whatever penance we failed to take up, or failed to carry; only that could be our sorrow.
Bear this in mind as you calculate your program for Lent: do not be stinting in the portion of penance you think you can manage and still “get credit” for it.  Rather, embrace something that ordinarily would be too great a burden, but by your union with Christ, will be redeemed into a cause for joy.
The presence of suffering in the world does not disprove the existence or benevolence of God. Rather God Himself, by the saving Passion of His Son, has redeemed the suffering that He did not bring to the world, and made it the place where in freedom we may find union with Him.  And that union is perfect joy.

Monsignor Smith