Saturday, September 22, 2018

How to make it shine

Let’s have something to celebrate in the midst of all the mayhem, shall we?  The restoration and protection of our stained-glass windows was completed this week.  They look fantastic. 
First of all, let us acknowledge that we have these great windows in the first place because the people who built our parish, the parishioners who were here when the church went up in 1958, made the sacrifice to obtain them.  They built the church in 1958, and within three years, by 1961, twenty-two windows had been paid for and installed.  You know that the people who lived here did not have excess wealth, but they considered the beautification of their church to be a priority.
Last year, I received a bequest left to Saint Bernadette by Raymond and Margaret Watson.  They were parishioners for years, living in Hillandale; Ray died in 2007, and Margaret followed him in 2016 (at the age of 99!)  I remember them both well; gracious people who were regularly at Mass.  They loved this parish, and provided for her in their will.
Their executor, Steven Hill, came to me last summer with the check for $218,220.31.  We talked a bit about possible uses for the money, but there were no strings attached.  We left it undecided.  After six months had passed, and our Capital Campaign for the improvement of the church was so successful and so many had pledged, it struck me that we could use a high-impact project to reveal how much beauty we have in our church while we waited for the promised donations to come in to fund the work of the campaign. Looking out my office window, I saw the gray, blank Lexan covers over our windows and realized what it should be.
It started way back in February, talking about it with our Finance Council and taking proposals from various contractors. The work concluded just this week.  Lamb Studios of New Jersey worked for six and a half weeks, taking forty panels back to their studio for repair or replacement.  Campbell Gibbons abated the asbestos in the glazing in about four weeks. 
The entire project cost $196,100, clearly more than we could have afforded without this bequest.  That would have taken one-fifth of the resources from our capital campaign.  But because of the love of this one couple for their parish and ours, generations of parishioners and visitors can enjoy these windows.  Last Sunday I offered the 11:00 Sunday Mass for the intentions of Raymond and Margaret Watson; I invite you to pray for them as well, in gratitude for their gracious care for us and our spiritual home.
Please remember Saint Bernadette in your will, too.  But know that you needn’t wait that long; by your participation in the Capital Campaign, or by a specified donation like we received for our tabernacle this summer, your offering for the beauty of the church where we worship can help give glory to God in Four Corners, and lead souls to the truth, beauty, and goodness of the Faith the God has given us in Christ made present in His Church.  That will be worth celebrating at any time, under any circumstances, and for generations to come.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Taking it up

Some might tell you that there has never been a harder time to be a priest.   While I have to admit my head is spinning and my frustration level high, I am not sure I can agree with that.  Let me share some experiences with you that have happened over recent weeks as all the weirdness and invective has swirled around the Church.
As you know, I was away two weekends in a row in late August; for the first, I flew to Birmingham for family events.  As usual, I traveled in my clerics, though not without some trepidation about what reactions I might get.  Because neither the trip south or the return north went smoothly, I spent hours upon hours in airports, clearly identifiable as a priest.  I received nothing but positive nods, smiles, and greetings; even openess.  As I sat in the Birmingham Airport composing my letter to you, I noted the following: 
Just now as I sat here in the airport, a woman walking by did a double take, stopped and walked back, looked around the wall to make sure she had indeed seen a priest sitting under a Panama hat, smiled and waved.  Just that; then she went on her way.
I just had another woman walk up to me where I sat typing and say, Father?  I just wanted to let you know I’m glad you’re here and we’re gonna get through this and it’s gonna be alright.  
And that was in Birmingham, Alabama, where almost nobody is Catholic. Even with all that was in the news, people who encountered a priest at a random point in their day assumed he was one of the good guys.  It was a very humbling trip for me.
Even in Washington, also hardly a Catholic bastion, and a place where everybody is up on every scandal – I joined a college buddy at Nats Park this weekend, as the crisis only got wilder.   As I moved through the crowds, I was baffled by how folks yielded to me, smiled or nodded at me, or even greeted me.  Then I remembered – I had worn my clerics under my Nats jacket. 
In 248 AD, the Deacon Saint Lawrence taught the Roman magistrate who would sentence him to be roasted on a gridiron before a raging mob that the Church’s true treasure is the poor, the lame, the disgusting, and the ones who depend upon her to live.  Their vulnerability is her vulnerability, but also one of her likenesses to Christ.  Her weakness is her dependence upon human beings, flawed mortals, not only to be her needy members, but also especially to be her provident ministers.
The Church’s strength is her weakness, and vice versa.   Only the Church has a structure of authority that bears such responsibility and makes such a silhouette in the crosshairs.  Her responsibility is authentic because her authority is authentic.
Priests are the Church’s strength, and her weakness.  Being one has been a very humbling trip for me. 
Thank you for your care and support.  Amidst all the confusion, anger, frustration, disappointment, and everything else you have shared with me, you have simultaneously emphasized your concern for me.  I am not worthy!  But you know that, and you encourage me anyway.  Thanks, and thanks be to God.
Somehow, I think it might turn out to be that there has never been a better time to be a priest.  
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Jeremiah 3:1-15

Some folks sharing their thoughts about what the Church needs.
When the pitchforks and torches come out, the cry now is for Resignation!  Stirred by media voices more accustomed to working their will on our political system these past fifty years, and constrained by an imagination with only corporate or military models, the vocabulary of the vox populi is reduced to that single word, Resignation.
And yet, while Christ’s Church has elements in common with both corporate and military organizations, and clearly has as many political realities as she does human ones, these three models fail to describe the Bride of Christ, much less define her.  
Just as calls for Change! and Reform! often overlook the reality that the Church is a divine institution, with her governance designed and defined by Christ Jesus, and therefore not to be modified; so too Resignation, especially at the clamor of a mob, does not suit the situation of ecclesial persons or solve the problems of failure or even malfeasance in ecclesial relationships.  
Two weeks ago, I wryly shared to my periodic urge to cope with failure and frustration by chucking it all to drive a truck.  This was absurd because the so-called solution of Resignation does not fit pastors of the Church, for whom it would be to abandon not only one’s responsibility but also one’s identity.  One does not Resign from being Dad!  Whatever the reason – personal failure, repeated rejection, or catastrophic sin – trying simply to “move on” ignores the reality of the relationship that will continue to exist, though deeply damaged.   Similarly, ejecting Dad cannot erase the relationship even for the ones who are wounded by him.  
So we who are wounded by our own fathers cannot howl for their Resignation without attempting to resign our own identities as sons and daughters. It was eminently suitable for Theodore McCarrick to relinquish his cardinalitial status – an honor, a distinction – but we must acknowledge that he has been our father and has failed us, indeed abused us.  He forfeited not only governing authority, but also all moral authority.  This is disguised by the fact that his mistreatment of his family, this local church, came to light only after another had taken his seat as paterfamilias.  
Now that our current Dad, Cardinal Wuerl, stands accused of having failed to do enough in his previous diocese, Pittsburgh, and having failed to act appropriately here, some are calling for him to Resign! as well.  Indeed, it is suggested that even our Holy Father, Pope Francis, should be obliged to Resign!  for his failures.  This, I fear, is neither helpful nor hopeful.
All the dirty laundry that has tumbled out of the Church in the past two weeks should be enough to make even the ecclesiastical naïf aware that Our Holy Mother the Church is not one huge, monolithic machine of the well-oiled variety, even (especially?) at her highest levels of governance, where one supposes to find a Pope who is informed of all things, decides all things, and directs all things, surrounded by eager collaborators, all of whom hear him, salute, and obey.  Hardly! 
No, her threadbare administrative structure leaves room not only for mistakes, missed opportunities, and misunderstandings, not to mention mulligans, but also for malice.   Mistakes are not the same as malfeasance, miscommunications are not lies, neglect is not disobedience, and human weakness is not present evil.  But can you tell which is which – on penalty of your immortal soul?
We have received some strong indications of where malfeasance and disobedience truly have run amok, and where human weakness and miscommunication have abetted it.  But how can we confirm our suspicions, or allay our fears?
The path to familial reconciliation and reunion is not Resignation, but Repentance.   This is Christ’s own remedy to heal the wounds in His Body, the Church; it is His universal prescription.  And this is how it could be proposed to our damaged Dads:
A Dad, a shepherd, who sees this evil at work in his family, his church, can and must stand forth with contrition for his failures, and acknowledgement of his sins that have brought that evil into the life of his family.  Where he plainly acknowledges mistakes, he will no longer stand accused of malfeasance.  When he lays out his role in the miscommunication, he will not be called a liar.  And when he acknowledges the cost of his human weakness, he will no longer be thought evil.  By confessing sins that he has committed, he can make it clear to himself and all the family which is the evil that he did not do.  An unrepentant Dad is a destructive Dad, and the family will best find unity in stopping the destruction.  A disappointing Dad is still able to be Dad, and with the help of the other family members once again be able to lead the family forward.  
Unlike Resignation, this great work of Repentance can and will bear fruit in Christ’s body the Church, because it can be offered with expectation of forgiveness.  To prepare oneself to forgive is now the work of each family member.  The best preparation to forgive is to Repent! oneself, searching with brutal honesty one’s own conscience for every fault.  This nurtures the complementary intercourse among souls that reflects and makes present the divine economy, the actual work of saving the world.  The Church possesses everything she needs to heal herself and our wounded world.  But before we can convince the world that it needs the saving mercy of God in Christ, we must allow ourselves visibly to depend upon it.
Some say the biggest threat to mankind is climate change; Jesus says it is sin.  Some say immigrants require our full attention; Jesus tells me I myself am just passing through this world on my way to my true home.  Taking this to heart, I do not despair before the sin and abuse even of those entrusted with leadership in the Church; and I will not turn from the Way even when episcopal infidelity has left every one to his own way.  The same Providence that has shown us this squalor in our highest halls will also guide the footsteps of all who respond in faith.  
With neither pitchfork nor torch in hand, I hope, and pray, and call not for Resignation, but for Repentance on the part of fathers who still this day bear the responsibility for the well-being of their children in Christ. Admit your infidelities, whether they seem to you insignificant or damning, lest your children think you guilty of worse ones.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.(Matthew 16:25) You will help change this age of anguish into a moment of abundant grace, poured out upon the whole Church, and fortifying us all for the work to which our Father calls us.  You will be part of the great healing and purification that will be celebrated for generations to come.  For God will heal and purify His people, with or without your cooperation. 
When every true shepherd sheepishly has sought forgiveness, the silent ones will be revealed to be wolves in shepherds’ clothing.  And by their bad fruit shall we know them, whether they Resign, or not; and our family, the household of God, will unite to stop the destruction.  This Communion in the faithful love of Christ, who knows the merciful love of God and one another, will remain one in following the voice of the One who calls us to fidelity; and He will give us shepherds.  
Monsignor Smith
Prayer for the Church
Let Your continual pity cleanse and defend Your Church, we beseech You, O Lord; and because she cannot continue in safety without You, govern her evermore by Your help. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  
(XV Sunday after Pentecost, Roman Missal, 1962).

Saturday, September 01, 2018

A shoe fits

There you have it.
Just when I thought I had all that I needed to talk to you about what’s going on in the Church, everything changes, again.
Last weekend, while I was at dinner, my supposedly silenced phone began to shake and buzz as I was inundated with texts from friends all over the country. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó (vee-gah-NOH), from 2011 until 2016 the Apostolic Nuncio (Ambassador of the Pope) to the United States, had released his Testimony.  Like some teenager avoiding eye contact with his family, I sat there glued to my phone reading it as the dinner conversation rattled on without me. I was stunned.
I hope you all have read it too; if not, you can easily find all eleven pages of it online.  Read the actual document, not simply someone’s analysis of it.  It is clearly the work of a man who is deeply disturbed by what he has seen at the highest levels of the Church, and more deeply frustrated by the perduring corruption that he has encountered there, especially in the matter of misuse of power tangled up with sexual sin.
While I am not close to Abp. Viganó, I have had dinner with him.  He is a serious and sober man, a faithful and humble man, and I have no reason to suspect his motives for this unprecedented action, though I know he has suffered for striving to do what is right. In fact, I am grateful to him for speaking.
In his text, there are at least two categories of assertions he makes. The first category is the concrete facts; these are marked by names, dates, and circumstances, personal experiences of which documentary records exist.  There is no reason not to take these assertions seriously.
There is also a second category, less concrete, that you might call impressions.  These are less compelling, but by no means necessarily false.  
There might even be a third category, which I would call speculation. It would be informed and insightful speculation, but speculation nonetheless.   These assertions tend to be personal in nature, sometimes attributing motives, and without evidence given for them.  I think they weaken the significance of the concrete facts he gives.
There are places where his testimony directly contradicts the testimony of other prominent people.  In some cases, only one person can be telling the truth.  However, as you read along, and acquire a sense how a diplomat and churchman of his caliber communicates, you realize there is room for ambiguity or misunderstanding.  In those cases, Viganó’s honest recollection might authentically differ with the honest recollection of the other party.  Not every disagreement is a “lie.”  And as ever, it is important to read with some charity.
Even limiting ourselves to the concrete facts, we will find that his painful narrative fits smoothly into the gaps in our knowledge of what has happened over the past fifteen years, and plausibly gives a reason for many situations that were previously inexplicable.  
Having read it several times, and realizing the impact it is already having on the disposition within the Church toward the root cause of our current grievous trouble, I am filled with hope.  To receive this Testimony in the spirit it was intended, of filial devotion to the Church and selfless desire for her liberation from all who are harming her and us, is to see fulfilled the promise that Whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.(Luke 12:3).  And for those of you who were wondering how we could ever find a way forward that would lead into the light, there you have it.
Monsignor Smith