Sunday, March 27, 2016

Wounds and all

You could still see the wounds.  When Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the women at the tomb, then the Apostles, the wounds of His Passion were still visible.  In fact, not only were they visible, as if scars; but they were still present, as Saint Thomas learned when, at his own insistence, he put his hand in the gash in Jesus' side, and his finger in the holes in his hands.  Marvelously, however, they no longer caused Him pain, nor debility.

It is so hard for us to picture the risen Jesus, and two thousand years of art give us too many possibilities for them all to be true.  Did He hover above the ground?  Was He transparent, or glowing with a radiant light?  Was He wearing special garments, or anything at all?  His burial cloths, recall, were left in the tomb.  Was His hair perfect?
We don't really know what resurrection looks like.  That makes Easter more difficult than, say, Christmas, when we can all picture a baby in a manger.  While we know we are excited about it, resurrection is hard to picture. 
We know He looked different.  Right from the start, Mary thought He was the gardener until He spoke her name.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus thought He was the only one in all Jerusalem who didn't know what had happened on Calvary; then they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread.  And He was unhindered by locked doors; that's different!
He also was somehow the same.  The Apostles recognized Him when He came to them in the upper room, albeit with some hesitation.  Peter recognized Him on the shore from the fishing boat. 
He was the same Lord, but He was somehow different: glorious, alive, and raised.  Whatever else was the same, and whatever else was different, it is clear His wounds were still present and visible. 
This should help us break the habit of considering wounds to be evidence of the absence or disinterest of God, in which we have been trained by skeptics and nonbelievers.  Precisely the opposite is true, as we who accompanied Him throughout this past Holy Week know! 
Pope Benedict XVI emphasized:  Fixing the gaze of our spirit on the glorious wounds of his transfigured body, we can understand the meaning and value of suffering, we can tend the many wounds that continue to disfigure humanity in our own day. In his glorious wounds we recognize the indestructible signs of the infinite mercy of the God of whom the prophet says: it is he who heals the wounds of broken hearts, who defends the weak and proclaims the freedom of slaves, who consoles all the afflicted and bestows upon them the oil of gladness instead of a mourning robe, a song of praise instead of a sorrowful heart. (Easter homily, 2008)
And this is most encouraging news for all of us personally.  We who carry in our lives and our relationships the wounds of sin, should bear in mind that this does not "disqualify" us for hope of the resurrection!  Because Christ's resurrection transformed the wounds that sin inflicted on Him, we can yearn for the transformation that it will bring to us, and our wounds.  While we cannot be certain how we will look, we have it on good authority that we will be glorious. 
And so when you struggle to picture what the resurrection looked like, go ahead and let your imagination run wild.  Whatever attributes that it enhanced, burnished, or otherwise made radiant in Our Lord, you can picture being perfected also in you.  For you will appear finally as God our Father has pictured you all along, and that is a marvelous image indeed. 

Please know of my prayers for you and your loved ones in this season of great joy.  On behalf of Father Gallaugher, Father Markey, and all here who make it their work to make the Resurrection real in you and for you, I wish you a blessed and glorious Easter.  Truly He is risen, Alleluia! 
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, March 19, 2016

How did we get here?

We praise you, O Christ, and we bless you,
for by your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world!
We have recited together this acclamation during our communal celebration of the Way of the Cross this Lent.  Now we have reached the day that we stand together at the foot of Christ’s cross, and see the fullness of the Father’s love for us. 
It is easy to wonder where God is when something bad, or awkward, or confusing happens to us, to someone we love, or to someone harmless and helpless.  We assume He must be absent or inattentive to allow such an injustice to occur!  But today we are reminded where He is at such a time, when we look at His Son, dying a death He freely accepted for our sakes.  He is right there with us, precisely in our pain.
We praise you, O Christ, and we bless you,
for by your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world!
We begin by waving palms, shouting Hosanna!; but soon we are shouting “Crucify him!  And thus on one episode we act out in the church the story of our entire lives.  At one moment we praise our Lord, shouting our heartfelt adoration and devotion.  Minutes later, we turn our backs on Him, push Him away from us, and grab at something that we fear He would take from us.  This is sin.  We sin against Him; we sin against one another.  We scream ”Crucify him” without even realizing what we are saying, or to whom. 
Let us be frank with ourselves about both.  Yes, we greet the Lord and claim him as our Savior; yes, we frequently, repeatedly, inexplicably participate in crucifying Him by our various selfish deeds.  And no, there is no way these two opposites can “balance out” in our favor.  We need a remedy, help from outside of ourselves.  We need saving.
First, we must to acknowledge to ourselves that we have indeed sinned.  The second step is to bring that acknowledgement to Jesus, and speak our sorrow in the Holy Sacrament He has provided for us.  Thus we know that He knows of both our awareness of our sin, and our sorrow for it.  And then He will make us aware, with confidence, that He gives us His forgiveness.  This admits us to the third step, the same as what occurs on the third day: resurrection.  But we cannot reach that goal without taking the first two steps.
We praise you, O Christ, and we bless you,
for by your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world!
If we were uncertain of the outcome, if we were uncertain of Christ’s purpose in drawing from us this admission of guilt, how could we ever face it?  But it is precisely our confidence in the Resurrection that makes it possible for us to face our sins, to admit that they are ours, and that they have done damage to our relationship with God and with others who love us, and even to our own identities.   Our anticipation of Easter makes it possible for us to acknowledge and embrace our role on Palm Sunday, and our anticipation of mercy makes it possible for us to acknowledge our sins.
So let us stand shoulder to shoulder, and admit here, together, that our sins have contributed to the gruesome spectacle of the death of the Son of God.  And then, again together, may we receive from this same Lord Jesus, who yearns to free us from our sins, a deep intimacy with Him in this Holy Week, and in its culmination on the Day of His Resurrection, great joy.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Bigger Bags and Better

At first we weren’t sure how we were going to do this year.  When I talked to Daina Scheider last Sunday, looking at the pews filled with bagged groceries for our food drive, it looked like an impressive amount, but still short of what we have done in the past.  She was concerned.
I reassured her that the church would remain open, and folks would keep bringing bags all afternoon and maybe even the next morning, when I had announced the truck would come.  Sure enough, when Daina showed up with her posse of volunteers to pack the bags into boxes, a wondrous fulfillment had occurred.
After all had been packed up to truck away, she let me know the tally.  230 bags of groceries were given in the church; another 130 bags were given in the school by student and religious education families, for a total of 360 bags.  The approximate total was 5,652 pounds of food!  That is an increase of more than twenty-five percent over last year, and the most we have ever collected.  Awesome! 
Thank you for this demonstration of your willingness to give where a true need exists, and your participation in the work of our local church, the Archdiocese of Washington.  I know you are all willing as individuals to be generous and attentive to others’ needs, but when we come together we not only accomplish more in the amount we manage to give, but also we strengthen the care that unites us one to another.  This work of communal giving not only manifests that charity that we each have, but fortifies the charity that unites us all and increases it.
When speaking to you every year about the Cardinal’s Appeal, I highlight the added dimension of giving and caring as more than a parish, as a local church, as the Church: the body of Christ.  This ecclesial dimension is another form of communion, and in uniting as His body to make Christ present in our city, we let Him become more present in us.    
Participating with the whole Archdiocese in this food drive, and other similar works, brings our sacramental communion to fruition through our work, and therefore accomplishes more than other charitable works whether individual or organized, because it is Christ working in us.  Nothing else can match that!  There is indeed strength in numbers, but the strongest number is One, that is, the One God living and true; the all-holy One in Three.  Yeah, that One.  It’s pretty awesome to put that kind of horsepower into a seemingly-simple food drive, isn’t it?  But so indeed it is.
One of the things that made me chuckle last week was seeing a dad walking toward the church, carrying a bag of groceries in each arm, while his young daughter circled his striding legs, seemingly quite agitated.  A few minutes later I saw him walking the other direction, back toward his car.  This time the daughter was in his arms, and as far as she was concerned, all was once again right with the world.  The dad and I shared a laugh.   I guess we all make sacrifices in order to participate in the saving work of Christ, even if they don’t involve money, or food.  And sharing that draws us closer to one another, and to God.
But that is how we do it, and that is how, again this Lent, in a way bigger than ever, we did it again.

Monsignor Smith