Saturday, May 28, 2016

Into the light of your face

A couple of years ago, my friend and classmate, Fr. Mark Knestout, and I were able to realize a long hoped-for trip to Normandy in France.  We did some “holy” things – visited Mont Saint-Michel and Saint Thérèse in Lisieux – but mainly we did historical things, specifically visiting D-Day sites and museums.
It was great.  I have a nearly inexhaustible appetite for such touring.  I did not know how high Fr. Knestout’s threshold would be for obscure locations and marginal events, even though he and I have travelled together a lot.  It turned out that he was at least as interested as I was!  So we clattered about the Norman countryside quite happily, prowling the hedgerows and coastlines in our rented diesel Peugeot. 
At the Utah Beach museum, one of the displays particularly moved me.  It showed the response of the local populace to the sacrifice of the soldiers who fought and died around their homes, and before their eyes, to liberate them.  One large picture showed an elderly couple, standing by the body of a fallen GI.  He had been covered with cut flowers and branches, and they stood reverently beside him, obviously praying for him.   

Another photo showed the dedication of one of the several cemeteries for the fallen liberators, set aside and filled in the first few days after the landings.   At the edge of a field of identical wooden crosses, several Catholic chaplains were offering Requiem Masses on makeshift altars, or on the hoods of Jeeps.  Around them crowded servicemen and women, along with obviously devout local folk, all praying for the repose of the souls of those who had given their lives.

Grainy black-and-white photos can make the subjects they depict seem remote from our own life and experience.  However, seeing these images of an action that touches me and touches eternity, the Mass for the Dead, brought everything closer, and gave them immediacy.
Even though not on the hood of a Jeep, we still offer the same eternal sacrifice of Christ in the Holy Mass, and hold up to God the one redeeming work that will offer redemption and life to those who have died.  Especially when the dead have given their lives in sacrifice and service, it is a right and just so to do.
Fr. Knestout and I offered Masses while in Normandy for the repose of the souls of all the fallen.  Not only for our countrymen, either; we visited a German cemetery as well.  We walked the rows of graves praying for them, offering our rosaries in a way all of them would have recognized.  Respect for service, and charity for souls, has helped transform that long–ago enmity into friendship.  This lesson seems to be lost on activists in our own more partisan and even ideologically-puritan times. 
I would eagerly recommend such a trip, whether to Normandy or to any site of our nation’s great historical working-out of “liberty and justice for all.”  There are cemeteries very near to us, both military and civilian, where lie the remains of many whose sacrifice amplifies their importance to us. 
But more accessible, and no less moving or important, is the journey into prayer and sacrifice on behalf of all who have given their lives for our nation and our safety.  And the one Sacrifice which will bring them to glory is only as far away as the nearest altar.  
To call to mind these lives offered and given is to put the “memory” in Memorial Day.  To place our memory of their sacrifice alongside Christ’s own sacrifice in the Mass, transforms our visit to historical things into a holy thing.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Alien nation

There is an enormous article in the paper today about how hard it is for poor kids who have been admitted to Ivy League universities.  Despite the financial assistance they receive, it is not enough to afford them everything they need, much less to keep up with those kids from affluent families.  The universities, confronted with their discomfiture, promise to do even more.
It sounds like my own experience, even though my parents paid my tuition and fees.  I only had to work to pay my expenses, but I could not dream of doing or having what the affluent kids enjoyed.  It resembles even more what my dad experienced, coming from no financial means at all.  He did it all the way through a dozen years of grad school, by the end of which he had a wife, a house, and three kids.  Talk about not being able to afford everything you need!
At least in hindsight, I do not consider myself deprived, though at the time there may have been some lament.  When I hear stories of college students’ suffering, I recall my own experience.  Of course you don’t have everything you want or need!  Of course you resent those who do have it!   Of course this causes friction in your relationships and disappointment in your lot!
Not only material things cause this friction and disappointment.  It encompasses physical appearance and ability; social skills, friends, and relationships; academic and leadership ability; and even families – especially loving parents who are still married to one another.  Aware of what we lack, we see or presume that others have it.  The result is a separation among people, a distance of experience and expectation that leads to resentment and envy. 
It is a short and logical step to thinking one is being willfully or programmatically deprived.  The groaning students contrive, or are instructed by reporters, politicians, or professors, that this grief and sadness is somebody’s fault, an intentional privation, perhaps on the basis of disability, ethnicity, sex, or some other such identity.  Friction becomes accusation and conflict.
But this alienation is characteristic of the human experience; the wealthy, handsome, and successful do not themselves escape it.  It is the result and evidence of original sin; we all experience it.  No program or payment can level this playing field or equalize this balance.  No human effort can eliminate the distance and disappointment that grows between souls. 
There is only one place where such alienation is itself completely alien, and that is the inmost being of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Nothing is withheld, everything is offered, all is received and gratitude returned.  This is perfect love, lived, offered, and sustained.  This is what we lack.

Everything that the Father has is mine, says the Lord to His disciples today in the course of His farewell.  In withdrawing, He promises the coming of the Spirit, who will take from what is mine and declare it to you; that is, nothing that belongs to God will be withheld from them.  It is all theirs – ours – for the receiving. 
The unspeakable mystery of the Holy Trinity is no arcane point of theology, but the ground of our being, and its goal.  God alone withholds nothing.  To allow the Spirit of Truth (to) guide (us) to all truth is be rescued from our alienation from God  -- and from one another.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Lifelong learners

Every year, I learn a little something about mothers.  Mothers truly give their children life, and in myriad, surprising ways.  This year, mother’s day taught me yet still another way that mothers do this.
Last weekend we celebrated First Holy Communion for fifty-four of our children; you can enjoy some pictures in today’s bulletin.  It was great; I love that Mass, that day, and this year was no exception.  What a privilege!  I get to be the hand that feeds them the bread of life, quite the proud father and pastor.  But of course I know that it is their mother, the Church, who sees to it that they are fed.  I am only here to do it because she put me here.  And while I am hardly an indispensable part of the process, since any priest can in his hands raise up bread to heaven, and bring down God to feed them.  She will be there, wherever they go, to keep them alive by feeding them the Bread of Life Himself.  Our Mother the Church nurtures all of us that way.  We priests just do what she tells us, like the waiters at the wedding feast at Cana.
This nurturing with the Bread that Comes Down from Heaven is indeed a motherly work.  Not only did the mothers of those fifty-four children prepare them for their first and marvelous moment of Communion, but also they continue to prepare and encourage and indeed bring their children to the table of the Lord.  This was made most evident when I saw all of the folks at Mass last weekend who were there to celebrate Mother’s Day.  They might not have had it in their minds to bring joy to their Mother the Church, but they definitely knew what would make their earthly mothers happy, and so they joined them at Mass. 
This too is a mothering work, the nudging of the negligent ones, who wander and are distracted by other flashier, or softer, sweetnesses.  Come back to receive life that even I cannot obtain for you, from Him who gave you to me, they seem to say.  And a crowded church is a glorious thing indeed!  Would that every Sunday sons and daughters would so strive to please their mom.

The first teacher
So it was only fitting that in that context we honored our Blessed Mother, who is Mother of the Eucharist and Mother of the Church.  Our procession and rosary was filled with a confident joy that comes when children know they are loved, and that their every gift, no matter how imperfectly made, will be received and elevated by the delight that it brings to the mother who receives it. 
And so it was a great weekend, when this year First Holy Communion and Mothers’ Day were thrust together by the calendar and so many happy sons and daughters of the living God were brought by their filial devotion to communion with one another, with Christ our brother who is one with the Father, under the watchful and instructive care of Mary our Mother.  She taught our Lord so much; she still loves watching us learn.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Remedial work

What could possibly ward off the feeling of breathless insufficiency that shadows us in this season so filled with obligations we cannot keep count?  What could give us a moment's peace, some confidence and reassurance, and just what we need to carry on? 
You might laugh derisively if I were to tell you to put something else on your calendar in this month already rife with obligations.  But undaunted I propose two antidotes to what might ail you in these May days with all their crushing expectations.
First, to help you behold the face of God, in whose eyes we might see reflected our true identity and ability, I invite you to join me in an act of worship both novel and ancient.  On Pentecost Sunday, May 15 at 3:00 PM, we will have here a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form, with our familiar prayers set to marvelous polyphony by one of the greatest composers the Church has ever known. 
It will be novel to all who have grown accustomed to the verbal, almost informational routine of the current form of the Mass in English.  It is an ancient and effective way to step away from the familiar idiom and into the more numinous and iconic work of worship, letting go of our expectation to understand every word long enough to make room for an experience of the mystery of the living God.  It will refresh wells you did not realize had run dry! 
Second, to fortify your identity and membership in the family of our heavenly Father, I invite you to join me in a work of filial piety.  The fifth Pastor of Saint Bernadette, my predecessor and the first Pastor of my priesthood, Father WIlliam Thompson, died last spring.  Cardinal Wuerl, and many of you, came for his funeral.  Because a year has passed, and now it is easier to find joy in the great going-to-God that is our hope; and because it is right that we, as members of the parish he loved and pastored, should continue our work on his behalf to make that same going, go well; we will keep the anniversary together. 
On Saturday, May 21 at 11:00 AM, I will offer a Mass for the happy repose of his soul, and hope you will join me in this work of mercy, in the Year of Mercy.  As we do each May on Mother's Day, when we remember our gratitude to one who has given us life, we find that we both enjoy and employ that life more fully.
To squeeze these additional events in among graduations and tournaments, exams and excursions, might seem unreasonable, if not downright impossible.  But like the daily bread we beg each day from our Father, without time given over to God for the elemental work of worship, we cannot expect to have strength for the journey. 
The two gratuitous acts of gratitude may seem extraneous or extravagant, but offer you and me an opportunity to fortify the intrinsic and indispensable communion of our very being.  Pass them up, and you'll probably survive.  Plunge into them, and it is far more likely that you will thrive.

Monsignor Smith