Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Place to Be

A few years before he died, my friend Father Bill Finch, then Pastor at Saint Raphael in Rockville, recounted to me his parishioners’ insistent inquiries as to whether he was getting away during the summer.   His response was: Why would I want to leave during the one time of year that it’s actually pleasant to live in my home?  Boy, did he get that right!
Living “above the store” has its perils.  The soundtrack  even in my bedroom is the rumble and hum of a busy office.  On my on my way to bed after a nice day off, and even on my way to the kitchen for breakfast, I inevitably walk past my desk — with the phone and its voicemail light, my email, the items I left out to make sure I got them done, and any unfinished work.  You never know, day or night, when the doorbell is going to signal the arrival of somebody looking for Jackie or otherwise trying to “do business.”
It was just last week, Wednesday by my guess, that the master setting around here slipped down a couple of notches to “Tranquil Productivity” from “Full Frenzy,” the usual setting from Easter until after school lets out.  Now this week, Father Gallagher is away on retreat.  With Father Markey gone over a month, that means evenings have been glorious.  Of course I still have work to do, and evenings often find me chipping away at it, but it almost seems like, well, I am in my home instead of cross between a train station and a boarding house.  The quiet is not the only thing I like about it;  I did enjoy the liberty of hollering at full volume and letting go unbridled cries of dismay while watching a particularly appalling outing by the Nats the other night.
The fruit of this transformation is not limited to goofing off.  There are other benefits as well.  So, last night a priest friend came over for something to eat and a conversation we had been trying to  have for more than six months.  It was lovely, much nicer than going out, and productive.  I have a stack of things on my desk that I put there to take care of “when things quiet down.”  It is amazing how much work I can get done in a few hours that would take days during a regular work week.  Maybe it even helps if I change clothes and look and feel more like I am at the beach house than in the parish house.  It’s hard to know without trying.
June is great.  It not as blissful as August, mind you, but it is pretty good. I do hope to get away once or twice, this year likely in July.  Fr. G has a big pilgrimage on the docket for early August.  Sure it is nice to go on vacation, sometimes with people you do not have the opportunity to see the rest of the year.  That’s when many people have to go on vacation because of their school and office schedules.
But those same school and office and vacation schedules mean that the Beltway-level traffic through my parlor diminishes, if not to a trickle, then maybe to a pleasant burble.  Alas, the same is not true of the traffic on the driveway around my rectory, which occasionally approaches Beltway speeds, but that’s for another conversation.  And it is a delight to live in a home instead of an office for a few weeks.
Sure, I'll enjoy a week or two of vacation this summer, mostly because it fits with other people’s plans.  But Fr. Finch said it best: Why would I want to leave during the one time of year that it’s actually pleasant to live in my home?

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 17, 2017


On this weekend that we rejoice to celebrate the life-giving Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and during which God has given our local church four new priests to feed hungry souls with this great and glorious Eucharist, I thought you might appreciate a reflection on the topic by one of our elder brothers in the faith; much older, like 1650 years. Its author, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, was bishop of Jerusalem in the middle of the fourth century; he died in A.D. 386. 

Cyril’s Jerusalem Catecheses are among the most important sources we have for how the early church celebrated the sacraments during this era, as well as what the early Church believed about them.   This instruction on the real presence of Christ's body and blood in the Eucharist was given to the new Christians (neophytes) in the days immediately after their initiation into the life of the Church by Baptism at the Easter Vigil. It is still read annually in the Roman liturgy's Office of Readings on the Saturday in the Octave of Easter and sounds like it is written to address the doubts and delusions of our own day. 

Monsignor Smith

On the night he was betrayed our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said: “Take, eat: this is my body”. He took the cup, gave thanks and said: “Take, drink: this is my blood”. Since Christ himself has declared the bread to be his body, who can have any further doubt? Since he himself has said quite categorically, This is my blood, who would dare to question it and say that it is not his blood?
Therefore, it is with complete assurance that we receive the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. His body is given to us under the symbol of bread, and his blood is given to us under the symbol of wine, in order to make us by receiving them one body and blood with him. Having his body and blood in our members, we become bearers of Christ and sharers, as Saint Peter says, in the divine nature.
Once, when speaking to the Jews, Christ said: Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you shall have no life in you. This horrified them and they left him. Not understanding his words in a spiritual way, they thought the Savior wished them to practice cannibalism.
Under the old covenant there was showbread, but it came to an end with the old dispensation to which it belonged. Under the new covenant there is bread from heaven and the cup of salvation. These sanctify both soul and body, the bread being adapted to the sanctification of the body, the Word, to the sanctification of the soul.
Do not, then, regard the Eucharistic elements as ordinary bread and wine: they are in fact the body and blood of the Lord, as he himself has declared. Whatever your senses may tell you, be strong in faith.
You have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the body and the blood of Christ. You know also how David referred to this long ago when he sang: Bread gives strength to man’s heart and makes his face shine with the oil of gladness. Strengthen your heart, then, by receiving this bread as spiritual bread, and bring joy to the face of your soul.
May purity of conscience remove the veil from the face of your soul so that be contemplating the glory of the Lord, as in a mirror, you may be transformed from glory to glory in Christ Jesus our Lord. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

+Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem  (Cat. 22 Mystagogica 4, 3-6 PG 33. 1098-1106)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Great Ambassador

My parents are irrepressible travellers.  They have visited all seven continents –yes, including Antarctica – within the past decade.  They are the only people I know who have visited Fr. McCabe in his new assignment in Hong Kong.  I can almost guarantee they have driven to more states in the past eighteen months than you have.    
I have not been to most of the places they have.  But I have enjoyed their travelogues, and learned more than a few things about the world and how to get there.
The world we live in is more connected than ever before, and more reachable than I could have imagined even fifteen years ago.  My first trip abroad, to Europe, was at the end of my junior year of college, whereas my parents first made it about the time they turned forty.  My niece and one nephew had both gone before their junior year in high school – and the younger nephew may yet beat that mark.   
When we need help with our computer or our credit card, it is likely that we will speak to someone in India.  People in Slovakia, Brazil, and China read my blog post most weeks.  Everybody everywhere has seen “Star Wars” and drinks Coke.  I can have dinner at an Afghan, Ethiopian, or even Uighur restaurant within a short drive of Four Corners.
There are so many ways in which it is clear that all people, “all God’s children,” are the same.  How much we have in common, in our families, in our basic needs, hopes, and desires, and in our generosities.   The universality of human nature despite geographic and cultural differences is a marvel.  But there is one criterion by which I encourage you to discern a fundamental split among cultures, among lands, and even among people. 
Today we celebrate the Most Holy Trinity, Who has revealed Himself to us as the abiding mystery of divine reality.   Priests around the world labor to present this foundational doctrine of our faith.  Minds boggle; people yawn. 
So rather take an approach that requires theological citation or patristic explanation, why not just take a trip?   Visit a land or a culture that is untouched by, has thoroughly resisted, or has forcefully driven out, the self-revelation of the Triune God.   How do the families conduct themselves?  How are the women and children treated?  How are the weak and poor regarded?  How are the strangers received?  Whom do the laws bind?  How are promises kept, and disputes settled?  What counts for learning, or for wisdom, or for virtue?
Compare Christian cultures and lands to those that are never been Christian.  See how the lands are faring in which Christ was once preached and lived, but He has since been supplanted by a modern ideology.  In which of these would you choose to live, not as a visitor, but as the locals do?
There is much to learn from a visit to a foreign culture, but in this manner it is possible to learn something about our own culture that we might otherwise miss, or take for granted.  All the good gifts we enjoy, of society and freedom and opportunity, are rooted not in human accomplishment, but in something done for us by God: the self-revelation of the interpersonal reality Who is the source of human nature.   Suddenly the Holy Trinity is not an unreachable and irrelevant abstraction after all.  
Human willingness to travel in order to visit, see, learn, understand, and enjoy is itself evidence of our reflection of the Triune God, as man created in God’s image.  The Son Himself took flesh and dwelt among us.  What a journey!  He came not as tourist, but as bridge-builder, to make possible our eventual journey to the Father. 
Meanwhile, my mom and dad are currently on a trip.  Again.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Stirred rather than shaken

The descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost changed everything, including change.  Before that, God had dwelt “in the highest heavens,” holy, unchanging, and far from man in this “valley of tears.”  But when the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Immaculate Virgin who responded, Be it done unto me according to your will, the eternal Word took flesh, and dwelt among us.  Born in a stable, he walked our valley and shared our tears, up to and including death, death on a cross.  Raised from the dead, He revealed Himself to those whom He chose, but then returned to the Father from whom He came.  And we waited; God was no longer among us. 
When the promised Spirit came, He dwelt no longer simply among, but within the ones upon whom He descended.  The surprise and jubilation of those upon whom the Spirit “fell” that day impelled them out of their safety, and into the midst of the multitude who had until that time known only their estrangement from God.  The Apostles spoke and all comprehended the offer from God to remove all obstacles of distance and sin, so as to dwell not only among, but also within them – and us.  This changed them, changed the world, and changed even change itself.
No longer is human life just “one {blasted} thing after another.”  In every human event, there is at work the grace of God, coaxing goodness even out of evil.  And all of us who have received Baptism and Confirmation, and feed regularly on God’s Body in the Holy Eucharist, have God at work within us.  Our safety and our joy are not in what we know or possess now, but rather lie before us: in the working out of God’s will in, through, and for us. 
The earthquake of change we call Pentecost, which those who experienced it likened to fire and strong wind, is the cause of our rejoicing this weekend.  This enables us to place confident hope in the Holy Spirit, Who always shakes things up when He moves. 
This week, Delfina Castro, who had been our parish business manager since 2004, turned in her keys and walked off into the retirement, having told me her intention almost two years ago.   She and her husband Jorge are moving down by Myrtle Beach to enjoy the fruits of their years of hard work.  I tried to explain to Fr. Gallaugher that her level of skill, experience, and effort made her not only an example to all who did this work within the Archdiocese, but often also an instructor and help.  She has given the Finance Council and me enormous confidence in the status of the material well being of the parish for as long as I have been Pastor, and we will miss her.  Her successor, Ron Farias, has been at work already for three full months.  The overlap has given him and all of us a similar level of confidence as we move forward. 
It was more recently, about mid-Lent, that our school principal, Mrs. Cheri Wood, decided that the time had come for her to return to California, and move up a notch in her school leadership to take the reigns at a girls’ high school there.  I could hardly blame her, but in the ten years she has been our principal here she has revealed to me a level of excellence in administration and education that is difficult to explain without resorting to litanies of examples.  One of the clues came when we took a survey to inform our search committee for her replacement, and the consensus on what we needed in our new principal was strongly in the “more of the same” camp.
So, by way of many candidates from about the mid-Atlantic and weeks of interviews, where did that search lead us?   To Mr. Ted Ewanciw, who has been our vice-principal for most of that same ten-year span.  A parishioner here for several decades longer than that, Ted honed his own managerial skills and commitment to Catholic education with the instruction and example of Cheri.  Stir in his abiding commitment to Saint Bernadette church and school, and we have every reason to expect more, and if not more of exactly the same, then definitely more of what made it good.
So while the red vestments look familiar, and the Scripture, hymns, and chants seem very much the same as what we remember, there is a rumble and a flash as the Spirit blows where He wills.  We do not fear change, but invite the Spirit to penetrate it and us, as we encounter Him who is “ever ancient, ever new.”  The Spirit is at work in the lives of Delfina Castro and Cheri Wood; the Spirit is at work in the lives of Ron Farias and Ted Ewanciw; the Spirit is at work in our lives as we cooperate and rejoice.   Today we mark the shocking change we recognize as the birth of the Church; Blessed Pentecost! 
Monsignor Smith