Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Spirit moves

Already it has been five years since you got your Spirit back.  Do remember?  How for decades we had responded “And also with you,” to “The Lord be with you,” then suddenly everything changed, and the one big change was “And with your Spirit?” 
Sure, there were also “under my roof” and “consubstantial with the Father,” but the first and most frequent hurdle was, “And with your Spirit.”  All of it came with the new English translation of the Roman Missal, introduced the first Sunday of Advent in 2011. 
Have you gotten used to it yet?  I still find some awkwardness, but only at funerals or weddings, when people are present who don’t attend Mass often, or at all.  The other awkwardness is when I participate in Mass at some other place, and the music used for the Mass commons (the parts like the Gloria or Holy Holy that happen at most or all Masses) is the same music from before the change.  Because the music was composed for the old words, and used with the old words, it makes people sing the old words!  
There were many, many more changes for us priests.  All the proper prayers (the ones that are specific to each particular day, season, or feast) were re-translated, and these make an enormous difference.  Especially the collects (the prayer just for that day that is said by the priest at the opening of the Mass) have much more theological content and complexity.  Now they are more useful to understanding what the Church believes, often lending themselves to incorporation into the homily.  The texts of the Eucharistic Prayers, which the priest says for the Consecration, are much more accurate in their presentation of the actual Latin prayers.  Therefore, there is much more there to make clear what is happening at the heart of every Mass.
All around it is an enormous enrichment over the previous translation, both in content and style.  But it is change, which is always hard.  Do you know someone who still dislikes the change, or maybe has drifted away from the Mass over the past five years, because of the difficulty they had with the change -- whether they realize it or not?  If they talk about it with you, are you able to encourage them to push through the difficulty to reach the reward?
One of the principal characteristics of good liturgy is its consistency, even (especially?) in the face of change in all other aspects of life.  It is an indication of just how vital this change really is that the Church thought this important enough to ask all her English-speaking parishioners around the world to undergo such a change.  So the trouble it causes to some people is not itself the goal, but an acknowledged cost that will have a great and in fact indispensable benefit. 
This realization should help us to appreciate why we went through it, and therefore to help people who resent or resist the changes, or even unconsciously found the change alienated them.  There is an enormous enrichment to our prayer and understanding that these changes make possible. 
Five years is long enough to assimilate a change of this import, and many of us have already totally adjusted – at least those of us who have also changed the musical settings, and not only the texts.  So this is a good time to examine intentionally the prayers that now are more familiar, and discover the deep riches they bear for us.  It may also help you help someone you know and even love to make the effort and overcome the difficulty of the change. 
Help them want the increased understanding and richer insight that the translation offers.  Start the conversation, shed the light, and invite them to join you again in this richer new liturgical relationship with the living God.  This is the purpose for which you got “your Spirit” back!
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, November 19, 2016

All hail

After a long slog through the Four Last Things, it is time to rejoice in the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end:  Jesus Christ, who is King of Heaven and Earth. 
When we look at the powers that contend for our affections and attentions in this world, we can become quite alarmed.  After the appalling display that accompanied our recent elections, I lack much hope for those who govern us even in this most remarkable of nations.  Human frailty and original sin seem to be the sole constant.  Comparing ours to the situations of most of the rest of the world can make us feel only somewhat better.  But we ought not despair.
It is not my proximity to the marbled halls of power and shining domes of sovereignty that give me courage.  It is a chair I have in the corner of our church, in a little room, behind a curtain.  There, regularly, I hear speeches of those who come before the King.  They seek for themselves not power or approval, but mercy.  Aware of their sins, with sorrow for their shortcomings, they come in humility and supplication.
In their hope for forgiveness, I see reflected the glory of the one true sovereign.  They approach His throne neither with fear, nor with flattery.  They know their Lord, and they know He is stronger than sin, stronger even than death, for He has already achieved the victory over both.  They know he possesses full power over heaven and earth, and lays it all down in sacrifice for them, that they may have life, and have a share in that glory.  That is real leadership for our lives; that is our one hope for real change.  It is the mercy of our King. 
While citizenship in this fair Republic showers many gifts upon us along with its challenges, we gladly kneel before our true King.  Let us thank God that in this land of red versus blue, we have the gift that is greater than gold: the freely given life of our Lord, who reigns from the Cross.  In loyalty to Him, let us lay down our pride and power and acclaim Him by our repentance for our sins, and our sacrifices of love.
This is all He desires from us, that we acknowledge our need for His mercy, and turn toward Him and away from sin.  We learn from Him not to grasp at power and might, but to seek mercy, and offer it.  To rule with Him is to serve in charity.  This is the stuff of the Kingdom that will endure forever, the path to our sharing in the reign of Him who is Lord of all.
Trumpets and banners; ermine, velvet, and gilt; rank upon rank in uniform and decoration raising eyes and voices in salute and dedication: these are the hallmarks we conjure when thinking of a king.   But the condemned criminal who died next to Jesus recognized His Kingship without any of those things.
 “The sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Praise God for revealing to us who truly rules over us, and the triumph of the Holy Cross that is His true throne.  Praised be Jesus Christ our King, now and forever.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Continuing Resolution

Since I delved into civic responsibility last week, I thought perhaps we could find a few pointers in Scripture and the Church Fathers to give us help is discerning how to move forward after our recent election.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good.  But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.  (Romans 13:1-7)
Honor all men.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:17)
To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments. (from the Letter to Diognetus (from Mathetes) 2nd Century AD)
For we offer prayer for the safety of our princes to the eternal, the true, the living God, whose favour, beyond all others, they must themselves desire. They know from whom they have obtained their power; they know, as they are men, from whom they have received life itself; they are convinced that He is God alone, on whose power alone they are entirely dependent, to whom they are second, after whom they occupy the highest places… For he himself is His to whom heaven and every creature appertains.  He gets his sceptre where he first got his humanity; his power where he got the breath of life. …Without ceasing, for all our emperors we offer prayer.  We pray for life prolonged; for security to the empire; for protection to the imperial house; for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the world at rest, whatever, as man or C├Žsar, an emperor would wish.  These things I cannot ask from any but the God from whom I know I shall obtain them, both because He alone bestows them and because I have claims upon Him for their gift, as being a servant of His, rendering homage to Him alone, persecuted for His doctrine, offering to Him, at His own requirement, that costly and noble sacrifice of prayer… (Tertullian: Apologeticus pro Christianis, XXX, AD 197)
There is also another and a greater necessity for our offering prayer in behalf of the emperors, nay, for the complete stability of the empire, and for Roman interests in general. For we know that a mighty shock impending over the whole earth—in fact, the very end of all things threatening dreadful woes—is only retarded by the continued existence of the Roman empire.  We have no desire, then, to be overtaken by these dire events; and in praying that their coming may be delayed, we are lending our aid to Rome’s duration.  (Tertullian: Apologeticus pro Christianis, XXXII, AD 197)
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Finding our footing

What can I say?  This week I think I – we, the country, you, and I – face the most appalling dilemma posed our young nation’s citizenry.  There is no good option; there is no happy ending.  In that regard, this is the election least obscured by illusion in modern memory.
We are all obliged to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s – and thus it is no refuge to flee our responsibility and blood-won privilege of voting.  Civic virtue is a Christian virtue, as long as we fulfill it in a Christian and virtuous way.  And while you know I have in past election years exhorted you, both then and now I eschew politics and political speech.  I am not a politician, and not a political leader.  I have no political authority, and little insight.  I have not, cannot, and will not speak to you of politics.  But I have, must, and will speak to you of Jesus Christ.
Therefore for your consolation and encouragement, I remind and entreat you to let your vote be first and foremost a moral act, taken with an eye toward your identity in the sight of God.  Unlike the political ramifications and result of our action, our moral obligation and the criteria by which to judge it are clearly knowable, and in fact known.
No political act or situation, past or present, can transform an immoral act into a moral one.  No dire consequence, perceived, real, or threatened, can justify our abandoning the Way revealed to us by God in Christ.  Good intentions do not mitigate; no promise or possibility of future good fruit from some process, program, or policy will absolve us of complicity if we endorse or even ignore its intrinsic evil.
For the wedding at Cana, Jesus made very good wine, and much, out of water, an intrinsic and universal good, not out of poison.  Shun poisonous policies and those who advance them, and God will bring good out of your act.  Endorse the poison, or even accept the poison as “a price to be paid” or “compromise”, and there is nothing there for God to work with until you offer Him heartfelt repentance.   
No good can come from the extermination of an innocent life to accommodate the wishes of another.  No good can come from the dismemberment of the nurturing organism that is the foundation of all human society, temporal and eternal: the family.  No good can come from imposing immoral imperatives or otherwise obstructing the life of faith.
Many a destructive, malevolent, or illegitimate political order has crashed to splinters against the rock of fidelity to Christ Jesus nurtured in His Body the Church.  Hatred of the Church has been a common characteristic among all the totalitarian and inhuman regimes of every political stripe over the past two millennia.  No human institution is as strong as the divine institution that is the Church, and she will survive even as they crumble under their own unbearable weight.   You and I will survive too, only if we cling to her.
As far as how to exercise civic responsibility this week, I can only point out the lethal traps for everyone to avoid.  Love God, and love His commandments, and let the politics work itself out.  All things work to the good of those who love God. (Rom. 8:28)  Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

Monsignor Smith