Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Battle

For a while there a few years back, angels were wildly popular.  Posters and notecards, t-shirts and television shows, all featured angels or something purporting to be an angel.  Lately this enthusiasm seems to have faded, and now the public fancy has turned to robots or zombies or something.  But we members of the Body of the Lord are ever aware of the Angels, even though they have no bodies, for together we serve the Eternal Almighty.   And this weekend falls right in the midst of our annual liturgical observance of their importance.
Friday, 29 September, was the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels.  We know all of these Archangels from their missions recorded in Scripture.  Gabriel brought the message of the Incarnation of Our Lord to the virgin of Nazareth, whose name was Mary.  Raphael assisted Tobiah on his pilgrimage, and identified the healing balm for Tobit.  Michael is in charge of, shall we say, less delicate matters.  He wields a flaming sword, and in addition to various struggles in which he intervenes in the Old Testament, we see this:
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world -- he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.  Rev 12:7-9

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended. After that he must be loosed for a little while.  Rev 20:1-3

This is decidedly somebody we want to have on our side in our struggles, and someone with whom we want to have clear and quick communication.  The ancient Prayer to Saint Michael is indispensable, and we should know it and pray it.  In fact, we will be teaching it to the students by praying it at the conclusion of our weekly school Masses this year. 
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!  Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil.  May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.  Amen.
He is clearly one of “the big guns” we have for our fight against sin and death.  But that is not all of the angels we celebrate in these days.  Monday, October 2, is the Feast of the Guardian Angels, when we recall that God has assigned an angel to each one of us, to help us safely on our way to heaven:
For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. Psalm 91:11-12
Where do we find the Angels, and how can we be united with them?  The Divine Office for the Archangels reminds us by quoting the Scriptures:
An angel stood by the altar, holding a golden censer; a large quantity of incense was given to him, and clouds of incense rose from the hand of the angel in the presence of the Lord.
Thousands upon thousands waited on him, and myriads upon myriads stood before him.  And clouds of incense rose from the hand of the angel in the presence of the Lord.
We are closest to the Angels when we are at the Holy Altar of God, worshipping Him.  That is better, longer lasting, and more accessible than posters and notecards, t-shirts and television shows ever will be.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Book 'em, Dano!

Who reads anymore?  I just finished an article that explored the reality of a new generation who do not read for pleasure, who have lost the habit of reading books.  I admit to my own guilt, since I do not read nearly as much as I used to; too much time on the internet.  That, and I watch baseball now.  Though I have pretty high standards for what I read online, such as one can, I readily confess that those things are not of the same level of substance as the books that I have read and could be reading.
My college years were filled with excellent books, presented by excellent teachers.  The first week of freshman year I took to heart what my advisor told me: what makes you a serious student is that when you encounter the mention of a significant book, you take it upon yourself to read that book.  In the course of that conversation, Voltaire’s Candide was mentioned; so, later that week, I read it.   This was a good way to go through college, if demanding.
But even before that, some of the books that I still find most helpful to have read, I took up in high school.  Public school, in Alabama, in the 1970’s – who knew anything was to be learned?  But reading one book a week for a year in my “Modern Novel” seminar got my juices flowing, and provided touchstones I still use today, the best of which I have since re-read.   
Evaluating now the books that shaped my understanding, I am amazed how many of them I took up after I had finished college but before entering seminary.  I was clearly discerning my identity and my vocation, but before I even spoke to a vocation director about priesthood, I had a time of voracious reading.
In my homilies and in these columns, I will share with you this or that book I have read and what it has to offer.   But those are simply grace notes on the real project of reading that you and I share; we read the revelation of the living God, the Word made flesh whose life comes to us in privileged words that convey the truth.
Clearly, the sacred scriptures are the books that open before us the knowledge and understanding we need to live life and to give life.  The lectionary is the Church’s selected program of reading from the scriptures that provides the readings we hear at Mass, laid out in a three-year cycle built on a working through of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  You would think that being in my fourth time through this program just since becoming Pastor here, it might get …old.  But no!  Every time I open the scripture for a Sunday or a weekday, I find new insight or nuance or instruction or help or even a burning question for me that I had never noted before.  And the “frequent flyers” – passages that recur at weddings and funerals – grow in depth and complexity each time they are juxtaposed to another life and situation.
But so much of this understanding that God offers us, of Himself and of us, is laid out in literary form.  How are we to make sense of it if we are not in the habit of reading?  How can we picture a scene, understand a statement, relate to a protagonist, catch an allusion, follow a trajectory, or grasp a parallel, if we are not in the habit of reading? 
Who reads anymore?  It had better be us, and it had better be our children.  Because the reading of books, good books of literature and history and biography and serious thought, help us to read the writings of God, especially but not only in “the Good Book.”  This, and this alone, will keep us free from the thrall of salesmen, madmen, and experts, with all their scribblings.  God has revealed Himself in the Eternal Word, Jesus, whom Peter recognized as the only one who has “the words of eternal life,” and has made Himself not a hidden God, but an open book.  And to know Him, to love and understand Him, we have to keep reading.

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Nothing Fake

After all those quiet Sundays, the announcements at Mass are suddenly filled with news you can use.  Last week, there was a call for help with the upcoming Fall Festival.  I mentioned to the folks at the nine o’clock Mass that it’s a great thing to which to invite friends, neighbors, co-workers, and passersby who are not parishioners, or not even Catholic.
The Fall Festival this year will be the afternoon of Sunday, October first – only two weeks away.  It is usually the most beautiful weather of the year, and a great time to be outside with the family.  There are games and activities and vendors and tents and ponies and Boy Scouts and baked goods and just about everything, but mainly there’s US – the people of Saint Bernadette.  It’s a beautiful time to be together.  And because of that, it’s a beautiful time for other people who ordinarily are not, to be with us.
This is NOT a fundraiser; it’s what we call a community-builder.  We try to bring in more than we lay out, but the last few years we haven’t cleared that bar.  You know what?  It is STILL worth doing!  But the more folks who come, the less it will cost us.  And folks need to know we are not trying to get anything out of them; we are simply inviting them to get to know us.
So please, this week, start inviting folks to come to the Fall Festival here.  Your neighbors who have kids.  Your neighbors who don’t have kids at home anymore and might enjoy spending time around ours.  Your friends from work who might be looking for a family activity for a beautiful fall weekend afternoon.  Invite people!  It will make it more fun for all of us.
That’s not the only thing happening around here.  We had Back To School Nights this past weekend, and it was great to see the parents re-discovering, or learning for the first time, what an excellent school we have.  The kids grow and learn so fast, it is a real marvel to see all that goes into filling that growth with not only knowledge, but also truth; not only ability, but also virtue.   The people who make it happen in our school are truly gifted, and graced. 
Speaking of grace, and wisdom, and truth, I need to restock the tank.  Taking heed of the Master Himself, who said "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while." (Mark 6:31) I will be going on retreat this week.   I would be grateful for your prayers.  And since I will be driving that direction, I will be visiting Fr. Nick Zientarski in his new parish, Saint Christopher in Baldwin, New York.  He has invited me to concelebrate the Mass at which he will be formally installed as Pastor, Sunday morning September 24th.  That is too good to pass up, so I will spend next weekend with him, and you will not see me about the place here as I usually am at all the Masses.  But we have a deep bench here on Team Bernadette, so you’ll hardly suffer the loss.  I will assure Fr. Nick of your prayers and love, so don’t forget to send what I am promising!
These are exciting days at the parish, and it would be easy to take it for granted that everybody is as busy and as blessed as we are.  But that is not true; our parish, our Church, our Faith are a great gift, which we have all received from someone who loved us, and cared for us.  One of the best ways to demonstrate our awareness of this debt, and our gratitude for this gift, is to extend it to others whom we love. 
Talk up the Fall Festival; it’s a blast.  If you hear someone expressing dismay with the school situation of one or more of their kids, invite them to examine ours.  It’s a good time to transfer rather than endure a bad year!  And offer somebody a glimpse of the Faith that sustains you, and an invitation to explore it in RCIA.  You see, you have the news that your friends can use.

Monsignor Smith