Thursday, August 23, 2018

Quo vadis?

I could be a truck driver.
There’s a shortage, you know, so someone would probably hire me.  I like solo, cross-country driving; already in my varied career I have driven a dump truck, a garbage truck, and a fire truck. I’ve never managed a ‘big rig,” but I am a quick study.  So I think I could be a truck driver.
Besides, nobody ever thinks very much about truck drivers; they’re not controversial.  Except when a truck is in their way on the highway, nobody talks very much about truck drivers.  That would be nice.
So, yeah, when that starts to sound good to me, it’s been a tough week. 
No matter how much time you have spent on it, it’s probably not as much as I have.  Reading the articles, hearing to the reports, listening to reactions, and enduring pronouncements has filled large swaths of my summer schedule these last two months, and that’s not even counting the time my brain has ground away at the ramifications and realities of this new eruption of the moral and sexual sepsis in Christ’s Church.
And no matter how much time I have spent on it, processing the information, absorbing the anger, and separating helpful from hurtful amidst all the recommendations and resolutions made in response, clearly it has not been enough to undo one evil act by one of my brother priests, or to salve one wounded soul shattered by abuse.
I read one article in the local paper criticizing a pastor for, among many things, having nothing in the bulletin responding to the crisis.  Well of course not; our bulletin for last weekend were already printed when the Grand Jury report was published last week; I would imagine her parish’s was too. It’s a small thing, but a good example of how willingly people have cast aside reason, not to mention charity, in tarring with brush of their rage all whom they see as deficient or defective.
I apologize; it was in this environment that I was away from the parish last weekend, not to avoid contact with you or anybody else, but rather to seek it, albeit elsewhere: I was in Birmingham for long-planned family events.  And in a truly rare turn of events, this weekend I am away again, this time for a wedding in Newark, New Jersey.  Of courseI was back at work here during the weekdays between the two trips; school starts on Wednesday and there are a million things to do.  
While helplessly and seemingly endlessly stuck at airports (not a bad metaphor for the whole groundhog-day sexual-abuse replay, now that I think of it), I began writing to you.  You won’t be surprised to know that I have more thoughts, and more text, than I can put in a bulletin page.   What of that can be saved, I will present in coming days.  In the meantime, I have already heard quite a lot from people, and I understand.  I will continue to listen to what you have to say.  And I am dressed identifiably as a priest everywhere I go, too, so I hear a lot from other people as well.  Some of what I have heard may surprise you; some of it may even cheer you.  We could all use that.
But one of the best things I have heard said is that the Catholic faithful want to DO something; something that will purify and restore the Church; something that will make a difference for future sons and daughters; something that will be good and holy and life-giving, like the Church is supposed to be. 
I am working on just that, and I will share it with you soon.  And no, it does NOT involve driving a truck.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Rolling with the punches

Just when you get used to having somebody around, he leaves. It seems to be the lot of the diocesan priest.  
After his first year living with us here for what we expected to be a five-year course of study at Catholic University, Father Grisafi was looking like somebody we would be glad to have around.  He was good company in the rectory, willing to help with anything around the parish, and was beginning to know parishioners well enough to be engaged in the life of the parish.  He could always be counted on for a good linguistic observation, too, with all his Latin and Hebrew and Greek.  
But then everything changed.  You who were at Mass last weekend heard him announce that he will be leaving us at the end of this month to return to parish work in his own diocese of Rockville Centre.  Many of you said, how could this be, as you were just getting used to having him around!
Well, he had been in conversation with his bishop for a while, and after a meeting last week in which they discussed what they had discerned, his bishop agreed to bring him back to the diocese and is currently arranging for a parish assignment there.  He assures me it is not that he was tired of living with me!   You may suspect Father Magro, who has been here only six week, was the “straw that broke the camel’s back;” but no, he assures us that is not it either.  It surely was not the Good People of the Parish, whom he enjoyed greatly.
Sometimes a parish priest just gotta go be a parish priest. I understand.  But it sure throws a wrench in my works!  It is unlikely I will find another student priest to move in for the new semester, which begins in one week.  I will poke around; send out feelers; welcome inquiries (hint hint – if you know anybody).   Maybe somebody is already studying but has an unsatisfactory living arrangement.   We shall see.
It will have an impact on you, as all duties will have to be divided between Fr. Magro and me.  That will narrow the palette, so to speak, of the program here.  It will be harder for us to plan travel, without someone to cover for us while we are away.  
But foremost we will miss his company in the rectory!  It is an odd thing how we parish priests do not simply work together, but live together, and when our work changes, so does our living arrangement.  That means someone new in, and someone familiar out, every so often, and sometimes quite abruptly.  It is almost as if you never know whom you will find at your breakfast table.
So, we are a bit destabilized here in the Holy House of Soubirous, but we shall push on.  Keep us all in your prayers.  Pray that we find a new resident, and that Father Grisafi find deep satisfaction in his new assignment.  
Speaking of destabilization, I am gratified by your response to events within the Church, local and universal.  I am confident I shall have further grist for this mill in future columns, but I am glad so many of you are willing and able to talk with me about it, venting your frustration (a mild word for it) and offering your concern for us.  Heck, by the time you read this, we may have already had another wild week.  Stay close to the Lord. 
If you look to continue that conversation with me this weekend, I admit I will not be on the property.  I will be in Birmingham, Alabama for my nephew’s Eagle Scout ceremony, and celebrating my father’s 80thbirthday.  Call it a busman’s holiday, but I will be celebrating Sunday Mass at the parish in which I grew up, Our Lady of Sorrows in Homewood.  It is only fitting; the Gospel for this Sunday is the basis for one of the few homilies I remember from my youth clearly to this day.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. (John 6:56)  Thank God I have gotten used to having Himaround!

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 11, 2018


Anticipation is agony.
Decades ago there was a very funny commercial for Heinz ketchup that used the song “Anticipation” while showing the agonizing wait for the red goo to come out of the bottle.  It worked because it resonated with experience; everybody hates to wait.
In early February, I began making calls to stained glass companies about restoring our windows.  After four visits and four estimates; the testing for, confirmation of, and bids to remove the asbestos; after choosing the contractors and compiling the necessary documentation; after submitting it to the Archdiocese through the pre-consultors meeting, the consultors meeting, and the office of the General Counsel; after the approved contracts were allowed to sit on a desk for a month; after scheduling a time when both contractors would be available to work; finally, this week, scaffolding went up, workers appeared, and things started to change.  Now I cannot wait to see one completed window!  I cannot wait for you to see what a difference this will make!   Daily I go to examine the progress; anticipation is agony.
Last August 16, a year ago this week, I first met with Tom Moran to discuss a capital campaign for the beautification of the church.  After requesting the required permission from the Archdiocese, we began meeting with parishioners in September, had receptions in October, and spoke to all the Masses in November.  The response was amazing, and by early January you had pledged over a million dollars to make it happen.  Already we have half that in an account accruing interest.  For months already, people have asked eagerly when the work is starting; anticipation is agony.
In 1992, I entered formation for the Holy Priesthood of Jesus Christ.  In my first seminary, I found faculty and students who laughed at the “old” beliefs of the Church; who mocked devotion and authentic liturgy; who disregarded Christian moral teaching; who reveled in camp and gossip and innuendo; and a dominant homosexual culture (too large to call a subculture) that devoured many it desired and destroyed the vocations of many who dared to challenge it.  
But at the same time and in the same place, I found others who desired to live and serve the fullness of the Faith, who rejected the corrosive attitudes and behaviors so clearly of a piece with the horrible abuse by priests of young people, the very first examples of which had recently come to light.   We were not in a position to correct or to change the faculty or students senior to us; we were able only to resist them, and to resolve never, ever, to cooperate in that evil.  
It was not exactly the same, not as bad even, at my next seminary; but the same dynamic, if on a different scale and a different schedule, was at work there, and around the Church in the U.S.  Now, there are more of us; priests for ten, or twenty, or in some places even thirty years.  We have not by revolution or rebellion seized the Church; but in the slow passage of time and responsibility, where she has given any of us the gift of governance, there is authentically zero tolerance for this poison.
The Sexual Revolution that rocked the Christian West in the late 1960’s found its advocates even in the Church.  The exaltation of the sexual appetite overrode the yearning for holiness in the presentations of serious scholars and the pitches of striving hucksters.  Everything old was cast aside for the titillation of everything new, and a Church who had left her windows open admitted more than just “smoke from the fires of Hell” (as said Blessed Pope Paul VI).
It takes days if not weeks for a professional cleaning service to clean a home that even the smallest fire has tainted with smoke.  The stink of that evil vapor that penetrated the Church at every level still emerges to shock and disgust us, even when the events themselves are decades old.  
Last week I said of our stained-glass, “It is hard to say just yet how long the project will take; we will know better after the first few windows have been completed.”   The exact same is true of the work of walking this deep corruption out of the divine institution that is the Holy Church.   We have accomplished much in recent decades, but we still uncover things that require added effort.

We are not helpless; but just like our window project, we cannot skip a step to speed the process.  Each priest, every Catholic should heed the advice found in the ancient Letter attributed to the Apostle Barnabas:  When evil days are upon us and the worker of malice gains power, we must attend to our own souls and seek to know the ways of the Lord.  In those times, reverential fear and perseverance will sustain our faith, and we will find need of forbearance and self-restraint as well.  The power to fight evil is in the Lord and His commands, and he has entrusted both to us.  This is an enormous project, but it is also long underway.  And we know how it ends!

How long, O Lord?!  Anticipation is agony.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Something we can fix now

The old, nasty, oxidized plexiglass protective covers were placed over the windows in the late 1970’s.
You know I have been holding out on you, but now it’s time to say what is this summer’s church project.  Six months in the offing, work will begin this week.  It will generate some distraction, some difficulty, and no small amount of debris, but I am excited and confident that you will be pleased.  It may not be fun to watch, but the results could well be spectacular.
Beginning Monday, August 6, two teams of contractors will begin work on our stained-glass windows.  The second team will be from Lamb Studios in New Jersey, stained-glass specialists for more than a century and a half.  They will be cleaning, repairing, and re-glazing the windows, that is, replacing the putty-like substance that seals the glass panels into the metal window frames.  They will then place brand-new, crystal-clear, ventilated protective covers over the exterior of the windows.
The firstteam on the scene will remove the old, nasty, oxidized plexiglass protective covers that were placed over the windows in the late 1970’s (Monsignor Foley days). They will then remove the old glazing, which once was putty-like, but has now dried, cracked, and crumbled.   We need a separate contractor to do this work before the actual window contractor starts because the old glazing contains some asbestos, a major complication.  Campbell Gibbons and Associates do a lot of asbestos mitigation for Archdiocesan parishes and facilities, and now will do it for us.  Campbell Gibbons and Lamb Studios have been communicating and coordinating their plans, and both have been most responsive to the particular needs of our parish.  I have every reason to believe that they will do their work well.  
But in order to let the contractors begin work early on these hot summer days, weekday Masses will be celebrated in the convent chapel until the project is completed.  That will require some adjustment on everybody’s part, but I am confident the daily Mass crowd is willing to make the sacrifice.  Weekend Masses will be in the church as usual, though some of the windows may be covered.
It is hard to say just yet how long the project will take; we will know better after the first few windows have been completed.  We are hoping to be done in four to six weeks; I think it would be great to have everything finished by the weekend after Labor Day, when everybody returns from vacation.
Representatives from four different stained-glass companies consulted in the preparation for this project.  All four marveled at the beauty and quality of our windows, and were amazed that the parish paid for and installed them all within a few years of the construction of the church.  It shows a remarkable level of commitment to beauty, care for the parish, and generosity to the church to do this while still covering the cost of the church building itself.  It says a lot about the people who founded this parish and entrusted the legacy to us. 
The change in the windows will be significant.  The amount of light entering the church will increase significantly, and the windows and their colors will show more vividly. More striking, the windows will be visible clearly from the outsideas well, for the first time in decades; so, our church will be more beautiful inside and out.
You may think that this work is the first fruit of our Capital Campaign, but no.  This work will make a big difference to the interior of the church, and therefore will affect decisions about how to improve it – lighting, painting, and such. That is whywe are doing it beforewe start the work for the Campaign.  Howwe are doing this now is that last year we received a large bequest, which will cover the entire cost of the project.  I will share more information about that with you soon.
It is rather a relief to have something practical and even mundane to write about this week.  Happy August, people!
Monsignor Smith