Saturday, October 29, 2016

Four and either/or

Death.  Judgment.  Heaven.  Hell.
These are the Four Last Things, toward which we turn our attention in these four last weeks of the liturgical year.   Four weeks from now, we will light the first candle of our Advent wreath, and remind ourselves of the prophecy and promise:  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)  But in order for that to mean anything to us, we have to identify ourselves as the people who walk in darkness.
Death is pushed to the fringes of our lives and consciousness, which is an odd strategy since it is one of the certain realities that all human beings share.  On Monday night, our children will “taunt” death by dressing as scary creatures and demanding tribute – tasty treats better suited to their true identities.   But amidst the giggles and gorging runs an awareness of what is truly frightening, our own demise.
Judgment is another reality we would rather not consider, at least in regard to ourselves.  Our freedom as human agents, actors in our own lives and the lives of others, brings responsibility not only for the consequences of our every action, but also for the motivations of our every choosing.  Fear and trembling is a right response to the anticipation of this irrevocable moment, which is perhaps why it is so easy to allow ourselves to be distracted by assurances of our own “higher” purposes, which just so happen to serve those making the assurances.
Heaven is hard to think about and even harder to describe.  Something perfect and unending has no edges, rough or otherwise, to define it;  nor variation by which to gauge it.  The only way to know anything about heaven is to experience it, which is why He Whose presence fills it and Who craves our company with him there, makes that experience available to us in the Communion He offers here on earth. 
Hell is the irreversible loss of this goodness, achieved by our free choosing in this lifetime, when choosing is not only possible but indeed necessary for us.  The common platitude that “God wouldn’t send anyone to hell for that,” is true enough, but small consolation once we realize that He has lovingly left us where we have chosen to be, and that sure ain’t heaven.
So after you dance with death and Snickers bars on Monday, cross the threshold of heaven itself on Tuesday, and rejoice in the company of the Saints, who live forever to help us to join them in the glory that we crave.  Then return on Wednesday to pray for those facing judgment, your family and friends and other beloved departed, as well as those who have no one willing or able to intercede for them.  The sacrifice of love is what will pull these endangered ones from the jaws of hell, and we can choose to join our love to Christ’s in His efficacious work.
Halloween is for fun.  All Saint’s is a day of Obligation; All Souls a day of opportunity.  Every day is ours to choose where and how we spend the life we have, with an eye toward the life for which we yearn.  All these are packed into this one week; next week we shall be reminded that darkness covers the valley we walk – and no I do not mean the change to short days and Standard Time.  Choose with an eye to eternity!  Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

Monsignor Smith

Tuesday, November 1: All Saint's Day
Holy Day of Obligation
Masses: 6:30, 8:15, & 10:00 AM; 7:30 PM.

Wednesday, November 2: All Souls' Day
Masses: 6:30 & 8:15AM; 7:30 PM.
The evening Mass will be a Solemn Requiem, 
offered for the repose of the souls 
of those departed from our parish over this past year.  
Mass propers will be the choral setting of the Requiem by Gabriel Fauré.

Modern Man contemplates Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Holy Ghost in the Machine

You know I like to have something for you to read when you leave Mass each week, and I try to mix it up a bit.  Sometimes it’s a reflection, or something I have noticed, a quote or passage from an ancient author or a pope I think you might appreciate, or even something I saw on my day off.  Sometimes I try to do the work you might expect in a homily – on those weekends when I can’t give you a homily.  And sometimes it’s just a funny story.
But this week, I want to direct your attention to something else, not what I write here.  And you won’t find it in the bulletin, either.  Please make it a point to pick up a copy of our parish Annual Report, a printout of all sorts of data that let you know what is going on in the workings of the parish.
You’ll find the report printed on yellow paper, and stacked on the tables near the doors of the church.  It was just too much to print on a bulletin insert this year!  The basic format is prescribed by the Archdiocese, and it may take you some exploration to discern what it has to offer you.  We try to help by adding some snazzy graphics and additional charts.
The cover letter is from our parish Finance Council, who are intimately familiar with all the details presented there, and more.  They are a huge help to me in managing the material aspects of this great parish.  Their time, expertise, and attention are a great service and indispensable to our parish.
Mostly the news is good.  The parish is completely and totally debt free, having first cleared the mortgage on the “connector” project for the school, and  then paid off the line of credit we used to replace the heating and air conditioning there.  We even settled up with the Archdiocese after they meticulously reconciled the last decade’s payroll and found benefits and pensions that had been overlooked or underfunded.  We pay our bills and our employees and can cover, if only barely, basic repairs and improvements. 
The rough news is that membership and participation at Mass is down.  The flip side of that is that offertory participation by you who choose to belong, who faithfully participate, is strengthening.  After our Take the Next Step campaign last June, many of you responded by increasing your commitment to the parish.  We are still trying to find a way to present in a report the quantity and quality of that response and that commitment, which is tricky to do, not least because folks continue to respond even now.  For now let me just tell you I am amazed and grateful.
Your commitment to our parish, which is our identity in Christ; and to the worship that we give Him, of which giving is a key element; is an inspiration and encouragement to me.  The numbers and graphs are a window onto the scene that is our very own local antechamber of Heaven.  They tell an important part of the story of which every one of us is a part. 
Please do take one of these reports and reflect on it.  Nothing about this parish is magic, but everything about it is graced by God.  With that grace, we are more than the sum of our parts.  The hand of God is visible even in the (fiscal) bottom line.  Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Blessed Cardinal

Last weekend, as we worshiped, our Holy Father Pope Francis announced his intention to create seventeen churchmen, mostly archbishops, new Cardinals for the Church at a Consistory to occur late next month in Rome.  Each responded to the announcement in his own chosen manner, usually involving a press conference.  Before such media events were an option, there was a small ceremony where the designated Cardinal-to-be would receive his “ticket” announcing the Holy Father’s intention, and then give a speech to the people invited to the event.  I recently learned of the famous “biglietto speech” of Blessed John Henry Newman, which he delivered shortly before being “raised to the sacred Purple” in May of 1879.
In a long course of years I have made many mistakes. I have nothing of that high perfection which belongs to the writings of Saints, (T)o one great mischief I have from the first opposed myself.  For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion. Never did Holy Church need champions against it more sorely than now, when, alas! it is an error overspreading, as a snare, the whole earth; ….
Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily.  It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true.  It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion.  Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy.  Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith.  Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither.  They may fraternise together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need of them.  Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it…
(I)t must be borne in mind, that there is much in the liberalistic theory which is good and true; for example, … the precepts of justice, truthfulness, sobriety, self-command, benevolence, which, as I have already noted, are among its avowed principles, and the natural laws of society.  It is not till we find that this array of principles is intended to supersede, to block out, religion, that we pronounce it to be evil.  There never was a device of the Enemy so cleverly framed and with such promise of success.  
Such is the state of things …; but it must not be supposed for a moment that I am afraid of it.  I lament it deeply, because I foresee that it may be the ruin of many souls; but I have no fear at all that it really can do aught of serious harm to the Word of God, to Holy Church, to our Almighty King, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Faithful and True, or to His Vicar on earth.  Christianity has been too often in what seemed deadly peril, that we should fear for it any new trial now.  So far is certain; on the other hand, what is uncertain, and in these great contests commonly is uncertain, and what is commonly a great surprise, when it is witnessed, is the particular mode by which, in the event, Providence rescues and saves His elect inheritance. Sometimes our enemy is turned into a friend; sometimes he is despoiled of that special virulence of evil which was so threatening; sometimes he falls to pieces of himself; sometimes he does just so much as is beneficial, and then is removed.  Commonly the Church has nothing more to do than to go on in her own proper duties, in confidence and peace; to stand still and to see the salvation of God.

I have not studied the remarks of any of the new Cardinals-to-be; perhaps such greatness is revealed in some of them.  But as my own dear friend, Cardinal Baum, would have agreed in the face of such eloquent insight and truth, they don’t make them like that anymore – speeches, that is.  Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Dwindling days, enduring joys

All through the week before last, people would approach and ask if I was worried about ‘jinxing” the fall festival by promising “the most beautiful weather of the year.”  All through the week, I laughed and dismissed their concerns.  All through the week, I watched the forecast with growing anxiety as the predicted days of rain extended closer to our celebration, and the predicted return of sunshine slipped further away, and even past the weekend entirely.
Gray all morning, Sunday transformed into the beautiful fall day we hoped for by the time the festival was underway.  Sure it was a bit humid; sure, some folks were a bit overdressed for the warmth, since they had “committed” to their wardrobe first thing in the morning.  But that was no real disaster, or even hardship.  It was great!
Please join me in thanking Lauren Draley and Kristien Carroll for all the work they put in to organizing this annual event.  Everything seems to be picturesque and exactly what you’d expect, and that doesn’t just “happen” of its own accord; no, it takes a lot of coordination and planning, and some downright grunt-work, especially on the festival day itself.  They had a dedicated team of helpers, and the Knights of Columbus, Boy Scout Troop 440, and the Holy Name guys brought their organizational forces to bear. 
Among local and parishioner-owned businesses, we had a lot of help in the form of “sponsorships” gathered by our zealous team, too.  This (parish) family festa is not a fund-raiser, but we try to do a bit better than break even.  Lots of folks donated their time and effort (goodies!) to help toward cost of the event so that the ones enjoying it wouldn’t have to pay so much for fun.  That’s one of the things that makes it such a great time for our neighbors to come up and enjoy our hospitality, without feeling like it’s a shake-down. 
It looked to me like a lot of people had fun.  I met some folks from the neighborhood who looked happy to be there, and saw families who had just started coming to the parish enjoying themselves.  It was a good day.
Fall means more than just the festival, of course.  One thing it makes me think of is trees.  We have such beautiful trees on our parish grounds, especially when they turn color before letting go of their glory.  So in addition to the ongoing maintenance work on our church roof, school heating and cooling, and other systems that require attention, I am looking at fortifying our tree count. 
Sure, we have lots of good trees, but they don’t last forever. We lost a few, notably to that windstorm in late June.  And our dogwoods are getting just too elderly to go on.  The new ones we put in five and seven years ago are only now getting to be “tree-sized.”  So I am hoping to put in some new trees about the grounds over the coming months.  In five, ten, and fifty years, someone will be glad we did it.
The Fall Festival helps us to enjoy this fall, and this day.  Planting new trees looks to a more distant joy.  Both help us keep our eyes fixed on Him who offers us the future joy that neither fails nor fades, the day of delight that lasts forever.   Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Monsignor Smith