Saturday, May 26, 2018


Guess who’s coming to dinner? was the title of a provocative movie fifty years ago, but it may as well be the subtitle of my life.  Reflecting last week over the experiences that marked my two decades of being a priest, one of the aspects that struck me was the people with whom I have dined. 
My family had dinner together every evening; the five of us were the constant cast at our table.  Sure, we would dress up and move from the kitchen table into the dining room for holidays and such, but we were always there together.
Moving off to college brought the adventures of a university dining hall, and never knowing who would be seated across the table.   My senior year, my roommate and I dined in together four nights a week; it built a great friendship – and was very cheap.
Moving to Washington bought me into the proximity of all sorts of people, though I dined with few of them beyond my peers.  I do remember dining at midnight in a conference room one festive Thanksgiving with my entire shift.
It was then I met Father Brainerd – remember him?  Dining with him was always an adventure and instructional. He introduced me to French restaurants – including the one halfway up the Eifel Tower.
Once I entered seminary, and especially the North American College in Rome, dinner got really interesting.  It was like the randomness of the undergraduate dining hall, but with priests, seminarians, and other people from around the U. S. and the world, and the occasional Cardinal sitting down just to keep us alert.  
Once I was ordained a priest, the most amazing thing happened: people invited me to dine in their homes.  All sorts of people, all sorts of dining: with and without babies and small children, in large families and small; with friends and neighbors mixed in, or just us; formal, or frenzied.
When I worked as Cardinal McCarrick’s secretary, I sat down with him and his guests rarely, but those occasions included international celebrities, his extended family, and government officials local and national. 
But when I moved in with Cardinal Baum, it got really interesting. He included me at every meal he hosted in his formal dining room overlooking Saint Peter’s Square.  One memorable dinner conversation explored the Second Vatican Council – and there were six people present who had participated in it. I heard about the Nazi occupation of Rome from a Benedictine who was sub-prior when the Gestapo came to search the monastery. And once I was at the same table with Cardinal Ratzinger, less than a year before he became Pope Benedict XVI.
At those dinners, I spoke little and listened much. 
It is because of this experience, I suppose, that since coming to Saint Bernadette, in order to build the community of the house, I have hosted dinners for the priests and seminarians who have lived here, including but not limited to the inimitable Father Food; I have extended invitations to friends and newcomers to give them an experience of that community; and I have dined often with you, the faithful and generous people of this parish.  It is at the table that authentic communion is established.
This weekend we celebrate the Most Holy Trinity and ponder what the mystery means to us, and I have dining on my mind.  God Who has made Himself known as Father, and Son, and Spirit, mutually offering all they possess one to another, lovingly making available all they have received, has opened this Divine circle of intimacy.  He spreads a table before us in the sight of our foes, (Psalm 23:5) and invites us to pull up a chair and dine on Him.
Blessed is he who is called to the banquet of the Lamb. I guess it is you and I who are coming to dinner; thank God!  
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, May 19, 2018

XX Marks the Spot

This is my 606thbulletin letter as Pastor of Saint Bernadette.
Why am I thinking about numbers? Because this week will mark the twentieth anniversary of my priestly ordination, and while it doesn’t seem like nearly as long a time as it sounds, there is some evidence that may be a sizeable slice of history. 
Since my ordination, I have served under three Popes, being in the historically strange position of having two at the same timesince before my fifteenth anniversary.  I am blessed to have been with both Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI very often, and in many circumstances, some of them quite intimate.  Pope Francis and I did spend some time together once, but he was still Cardinal Bergoglio then.  
I have also had three Archbishops, receiving my third before I finished my eighth year as a priest, when Cardinal Wuerl took over as Archbishop.  Because I have had the privilege to know well not only him and Cardinal McCarrick before him, but also Cardinal Hickey and Cardinal Baum, that stretches my intimacy with the excellent Archbishops of Washington back to 1973. 
The recent death of Bishop Foley similarly left me reflective about history.  He was the second Pastor of Saint Bernadette; I am the sixth, and the only one now living. I will finish my twelfth year as Pastor here right around Independence Day.  Only Msgr. Stricker, at 27 years, was Pastor longer.  
I have always enjoyed history and biography, and it has unfailingly helped me understand and deal with everything current or new.   I cannot help but notice a loss not only of the experience of these people and actions that have shaped our day, but a lack of interest in what is past.  It is a loss indeed, and one I strive to stanch and even remedy.
When I arrived here, people spoke intimately and often not only of recent pastors, but also of Msgr. Stricker (1948-1975) and “Msgr.” Foley (1975-1983).  The stories they told me helped me understand the parish, its history and culture, and filled me with admiration for the priests and people who founded and built it. That living connection within the parish has faded.  A lot of those folks have moved on over the intervening time, and the people who have arrived since do not recall even my immediate predecessor, Fr. Thompson (1997-2006). 
Similarly, among the priests of Washington, fewer and fewer can speak with any familiarity of Cardinal Hickey (1980-2000) much less Cardinal Baum (1973-1980) or the historical giant Cardinal O’Boyle (1948-1973).  This shocks me, despite its manifest logic, and I find myself having to explain to these younger brethren how these lives that to them are merely names made enormous impacts on the local church, and therefore their young priestly lives and all that they now have and enjoy. 
Stricker and O’Boyle, Foley and Baum; all these names represent lives of fidelity and grace, gifts of great impact enduring into our own time.  Popes have biographers, and saints leave devoted disciples; but these more ordinary workers in the vineyard fade too soon into the distance.  As you may wish your daughters could have known your grandmother, or your sons could have camped with your dad, so I would want to bridge the gap of time and experience to bring together the future of this community with the lives that breathed life into it.
The co-eternal Son of God leapt down from His celestial throne one winter night, and entered history, our history.  Leaving the eternal Now for the constrictions of Time, He made Time itself the condition of our encounter with Him, and made even the time that separates us from him, these two thousand years, serve also as a bridge that brings us into contact with Him.  What unites us now to God is history, and the people who are in it with us.
The priesthood I received reaches back to Cardinal Hickey and John Paul II, but also hand over hand all the way to the Upper Room in Jerusalem, so many moons ago.  Each of the human hands that passed the gift was different and indispensable, and I should be glad to know each one of them, that I might kiss it.  For I handed on to you what I also first received,says Saint Paul (1 Cor 15) and its precious value is indispensably identified by the faithful handing on.  
Twenty years as a priest is pretty good, and my twelve years as pastor have been great.  But my mom and dad will be celebrating their 55thanniversary this September, so clearly, I still have room to go.  The days and years we all mark connect our future to our past and give us the best part of what we will give to those to come.  To mark the time is to find our place in history, and to look at history is to be made grateful.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Moving the ball toward the goal

In the midst of what I happily call “May-hem,” the frenzy that comes each year at this time, I have been receiving a number of inquiries lately regarding the progress of our Capital Campaign.  Many have been along the lines of, when does the work start?
So I chuckle.  There is work already going on, really there is; but mainly that is the work of people fulfilling their pledges!  And that is good work indeed.  Let me share with you what we reviewed with the Finance Council this week:
Total Pledged to date: $1,040,242(in 225 pledges)
Total Contributed to date: $478,085.57(from 253 families contributing)
These donations are invested with the Knights of Columbus in a fund conceived for precisely this sort of campaign, to maintain safely every contribution but also to obtain some growth. 
This, as you probably recognize, is a marvelous and most encouraging accomplishment.  Our announced goal for the Campaign was $600,000 - $800,000, and we have already received donations over three-quarters of the minimum goal. 
But as we discussed, the scope of the project would depend on the success of the Campaign.    Because we received such a strong commitment in pledges, we are planning to accomplish more with it.  And as we also detailed in the presentation of the Campaign, the work we intend to do, particularly the improvements to the church, obtains a certain efficiencyby being done all together. 
For that reason, we do not intend to start piecemeal the projects as funds are received.  This means it will be a while before you see being done any of the work we announced as our goal for this Campaign.  
HOWEVER.  Fear not! You need not wait without any consolation or encouragement.  You will see work done on our church, and all of it will relate to the work of our Campaign. First, we recently received the diagnosis that the built-in gutters need to have the lining replaced.  This lining, at its seams and its joints to the downspouts, is what we have been repairingfor the past several years to stop the leaks around the perimeter of the church building.  It will be a large outlay, for which we are now seeking additional bids; but completely replacing this lining will secure the interior for the work we are about to do. Look for roofers sometime this summer!
ALSO, last year we received a sizeable bequest, and in order to maximize the impact of this most gracious gift, we will be doing work this summer on a project we could not have otherwise undertaken.  It will have immediate and immense impact on the church inside and out.  It will effect our decisions for the work we do with the Campaign, but first and foremost it will beautify our church in a stunning way that should encourage us all to keep up the necessary work of stewardship and giving.  Watch for scaffolding in July!
So with that tantalizing information, I bid you all keep fulfilling your pledges to the Capital Campaign, or, if you haven’t pledged yet, there’s no time like the present!  Meanwhile, be good to your mothers this weekend, not that you aren’t always; and enjoy the many joys of spring at full throttle, and more than a little May-hem.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, May 05, 2018


Forty years ago, in the churn of the wake of Vatican II, theologian Avery Dulles, later a Cardinal, published Models of the Church, a book considering the various aspects and emphases of the Church’s identity.  The ones he proposed and explored were, (1) Institution, (2) Mystical Communion, (3) Sacrament, (4) Herald, and (5) Servant.  More recently, some commentators and Pope Francis himself have referred to the Church as “a field hospital,” which was not one of Cardinal Dulles’ models, but has garnered some enthusiasm.

That strikes me as dramatic, maybe a bit too much so, especially compared to what fills my day.  Heaven knows we have our crises around here, and more often than you’d think people admit that they’re a “total wreck.”  But still, the pleas of the wounded; bleeding, dying, and triage are not what I usually run into in this ecclesial outpost.  Besides, a “field hospital” presumes the availability of a fully equipped, permanent medical center, to which we can send more serious patients (who have a good chance of survival) once we have assessed their needs and given them basic care.  I can’t say that’s available!  Besides, we have been here at Four Corners for seventy years; that’s a bit much to expect of a tent!
Reflecting on this the other day, as I am wont to do, I thought there might be other ways to describe your parish church.  Located handily by the intersection of two major arteries, and just off the Beltway, our operation might perhaps be understood as something resembling a “convenience store.”
Just look at our customer base: we have our regulars, both from the local neighborhood and those who pass us on their way from home to work; we get a regular flow of one-time visitors; and no shortage of folks who are “just passing through.”
And look at the management, and staff.  Somewhere in between “family owned and operated” and a franchise of a global operation, the “owner-operator” is highly invested, almost always on the property; sleeping “above the store,” as it were.  The staff is not specialized, but must be functional in the full range of activities, from cleaning and maintenance to customer relations, and security.  Whoever is on duty often winds up doing two or more wildly different things at the same time.
You might not realize this, but the diocesan clergy are the lowest form of the Church’s vocational hierarchy; the jacks-of-all-trades, the ones who aren’t specialized, flashy or focused, nor highly trained.  Our principal characteristic is that we are local– attached and assigned to a place, and expected to adapt to and meet whatever needs and customs the people of that place have.  See, we are the guys behind the counter at the corner “store.”  What’ll it be today?  

We try to keep the place clean and well lit.  Our stock is predictable; in fact, we offer the exact same products you’ll find at any of our outlets across the country and around the world.   We have an array of goods and services you may need; basic medicines, stuff for your home, and even items for minor repairs. There’s fuel if you need it, and of course, most obviously: food for the journey.
While we do lock the doors when it gets dark, we’re usually around if you need us, pretty much 24/7.   The light is on for you!  We’re here to provide what you need for daily life, and the journey you’re making.  It’s clearly more than 7Eleven; but then again, Oh thank heaven!
Monsignor Smith