Saturday, February 23, 2019

One and only

Retreat was glorious, thank you for asking.  And yes, I got lots of silence!  Some of you found that – how to put it? – hard to picture. I will not speculate as to whether that says more about me, or them.  But silence it was, and silence before the Lord brings forth good fruit.
Of course, I did some reading while I was there, and one of the books was God or Nothingby Cardinal Robert Sarah.  It came out in 2015 and made quite the splash in Catholic circles, so yes, I am behind the curve – or at least behind in my reading.  But I enjoyed reading about the Cardinal’s boyhood in a tiny village in Guinea, his encounter with Christ through French Holy Ghost missionary priests, his priestly discernment and formation, and his survival and leadership of the church in Guinea under a bloodthirsty Marxist dictator.  He also reflects on the state of the Church, the modern world, and all he has learned from the three Popes he has served intimately.
In regarding how Catholics have become immersed in the relativistic culture that dominates the West, and the dangers that poses, he quoted at some length Dominus Iesus, a document issued in 2000 under Pope Saint John Paul II, written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. 
The Church's constant missionary proclamation is endangered today by relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism, not only de facto but also de iure(or in principle).  As a consequence, it is held that certain truths have been superseded; for example, the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ, the nature of Christian faith as compared with that of belief in other religions, the inspired nature of the books of Sacred Scripture, the personal unity between the Eternal Word and Jesus of Nazareth, the unity of the economy of the Incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit, the unicity and salvific universality of the mystery of Jesus Christ, the universal salvific mediation of the Church, the inseparability — while recognizing the distinction — of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ, and the Church, and the subsistence of the one Church of Christ in the Catholic Church. (…)
On the basis of such presuppositions, which may evince different nuances, certain theological proposals are developed — at times presented as assertions, and at times as hypotheses — in which Christian revelation and the mystery of Jesus Christ and the Church lose their character of absolute truth and salvific universality, or at least shadows of doubt and uncertainty are cast upon them.
Don’t let this happen to you!  That is Cardinal Sarah’s reason for quoting this, and mine too.  But rather than being simply a stern warning, this also offers us grounds for hope, especially in these times of crisis. Rather than just throw up our hands and shrug when we find evil at work in the Church, as if to say, what do you expect from a human institution?, Cardinal Sarah reminds us that the Church is in fact a divine institution, and that should be for us great consolation:
Therefore, in connection with the unicity and universality of the salvific mediation of Jesus Christ, the unicity of the Church founded by him must be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith.  Just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ: “a single Catholic and apostolic Church”. Furthermore, the promises of the Lord that he would not abandon his Church(cf. Mt 16:18; 28:20) and that he would guide her by his Spirit(cf. Jn 16:13) mean, according to Catholic faith, that the unicity and the unity of the Church — like everything that belongs to the Church's integrity — will never be lacking.
Dominus Iesus is easy to find on line, short, and easy to read.  Make it your excuse to find some silence!
True doctrine is never a burden, but always a benefit. Sometimes it is worth spending the time and effort it takes to understand the complexities of the developed teaching of the Church, in order to obtain for ourselves the joyful confidence of an authentic, childlike faith. 
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Source

Today for you, a photograph.  It is the baptistery of Sacred Heart Church in Shadyside, Pennsylvania, where I received the Risen Life of Jesus Christ on 24 September, 1964.  I was one day shy of four weeks old.  My mom was 23, my dad 26.   It was a Thursday; I doubt that there was a party, or even that very many people were there.  My mom’s brother and his wife, my Uncle John and Aunt Ceci, were there to be my godparents; beyond that, I don’t know.  
But I know what happened.  I count on it every day; I count on having died with Christ and risen with Him to new life.  I feed that life every day with His risen Body and Blood.  Because of what I received that day, I can offer you that same Risen Body, that same Precious Blood.  I know what happened, and it happened right there.
We have a font here, too, and many are the souls over whom I have poured water so that Christ could wash them clean of every stain of sin, and fill them with His risen life.  How long will it be before I see them again?  Will they come before the Lord to feed the life that He has given them? Will they seek me, or another priest, to cleanse them of the stains of sin that they allow to blot their baptismal purity? 
Are you aware of the life that is within you, and of how and when and even where you received it?   Have you obtained that life for your children, and nurtured it to maturity? Will your children feed and live that life, and obtain it for your grandchildren, and nurture it in them?  Today Saint Paul reminds us of the seriousness of this question: 
Brothers and sisters:
If Christ is preached as raised from the dead,
how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead?
If the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised,
and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain;
you are still in your sins.
Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ,
we are the most pitiable people of all. 
But now Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
  (1 Cor 15:12, 16-20)
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. What do you hope for your children and grandchildren, in Christ?
I have the life of the Risen Lord in me, and He makes that known every day of my life, because Christ is risen, truly He is risen.  And so am I, because my parents obtained that life for me.  I hand on to you what I myself have received.(cf 1 Cor 15:3)   Will you hand it on as well?
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, February 09, 2019

The Sound of

It was a nine-hour drive from my home in Alabama to the campus in Virginia where I attended college.  From the time I was a sophomore, I had car to drive myself to school and back the four times each year.  It had only an AM radio, if you can picture such a thing, so I rigged a “boom box” with cassette player, if you can picture such a thing, to provide from the passenger seat the musical accompaniment that was clearly necessary for such a drive.  By last semester senior year, I had a car with an AM/FM cassette player, but no air conditioning; that lack, however, is a subject for a different day.
It was at some point in those four years, as I drove Interstate 81 through the rolling foothills and commanding ridges along the Appalachian mountain chain, that I discovered I did not need music as much as my eighteen-year-old brain had assumed.  I realized of a sudden that the tape had ended two counties back, and I had been driving in silence for almost an hour.  I had been so caught up in the work of driving, the beautiful vistas, and my own thoughts, that I didn’t want for any music.  
Though I did not recognize it until some years later, this episode was an early clue to my need for silence.  I still love music, and listen to it at home and on the road. But more often, while cooking or working on things around the house, and even while driving, I choose silence.
Sometimes I use music to protect myself from the distracting racket that surrounds me, to define my mental and physical space, as I often did in my dormitory and seminary rooms.  And sometimes it is good to protect my ears and mind against the din. The noise-cancelling headphones I bought fifteen years ago, when I was flying across the Atlantic eight times each year, finally met their demise last fall.  I will probably replace them mainly for air travel, even though I fly far less often now.  Sometimes they came in handy even at my desk!
But watching the people around me here in the DMV, it seems that now it is a grave hardship for many to walk more than a few hundred yards without headphones providing a soundtrack of their own choosing. On Metro, in airports, heck, even on the sidewalk up to Woodmoor Center, folks of every age are listening to something other than what is around them.  I don’t so much wonder why as I do wonder how they stay sane.
You see, that long-ago episode in the car revealed how much I need silence, and how good it is when I get it.  I see and act more clearly; I think more deeply.  I can marvel at beauty and wonder at how it came to be there.  All of these things together become a help to prayer.  I have expanded the role of silence in my life in a steady, intentional way since that day in the car, and now I cannot imagine life without it.
My car now has a Bluetooth-connective sound system with more speakers than I have fingers and toes, it seems.  On Sunday I will get into it and drive just over an hour, likely with music to cheer me, to a hermitage on a hill.  In the first day or so there, I may play a symphony or string quartet to listen to its complex beauty and appreciate its intensity and genius, but after a few days, I won’t even want to talk on the phone.  The silence will have settled not only on the house, but I hope into my mind, heart, and soul, so that prayer can take over to refresh and restore me.  It is my annual retreat, and I can hardly wait.  When I drive home at the end of the week, you can be certain it will be in happy, fruitful silence.  
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Who's behind all this?

Authorship is a responsibility that is complete and personal.  When you author a work, it’s more than just writing it, or editing it, or collecting it; words like create (as does God) and generate (as do parents) come into play.  That’s a lot of responsibility!
Last week I mentioned how much I was enjoying the small but powerful output of a single author of short stories.  His personality and preferences shaped everything he produced.  Even though he died before I heard of him, I am confident that in some way I know him - through his authorship.
The liturgical year began with Advent, but this past Sunday we settled in to the course of Scripture readings that move chronologically through the Gospel of Luke.  This evangelist will walk us through the rest of the year, until next Advent.  
Since he is the author, and his work decidedly is not fiction, it could only be fruitful to know something about him.  Luke is not one of the Apostles, and was not a Jew but a Gentile, and a doctor by profession.  
Luke makes it clear in his opening lines that he himself is not an eyewitness to the life of Christ he will recount in his Gospel, but he sets himself to write it down in an orderly sequence after investigating everything accurately anew. (Lk 1:2)  It is likely the Gospel was written just under thirty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
He was an early convert to the Way, and accompanied Saint Paul for much of his missionary travel, as he himself recounts in his other book, the Acts of the Apostles; for more information, look at Acts chapters 16, 20, 24, and 27-28.  Paul himself refers to him in his Letter to the Colossians:  Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you. (Col 4:14)
Because his Gospel is the only one that contains the infancy narrative of the Lord, Luke is often associated with His Blessed Mother, to whom that insight and information would only logically be attributed.   By the sixth century, the story had taken hold that Luke was an artist – a painter who rendered the original portrait or icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  
The idea that he is an artist is fortified by his writing. Clearly he was an educated man, whose prose is developed and literary in ways that the earlier Gospels were not.  Moreover, he shows an ability and a delight in describing characters in an evocative and almost painterly manner that brings them to life before our eyes.
As we move through his work, it might be fruitful to bear in mind and look for two of the subjects that he renders with emphasis and clarity:  women, and prayer.  Christ’s treatment of both was revolutionary then, and now has come to be taken for granted. Also, watch for the theme of movement – from Nazareth (the Nativity) to Jerusalem (the Passion).  
We know relatively little in a way that we would consider biographical or historical, then, about Saint Luke.  It is worth reminding ourselves of all of it as we read or hear his work, because what he is offering us is friendship.  He is not only familiar, but a friend and even an intimate, because of his authorship.  He wants us to share what he has found and deeply treasures, which is friendship and even intimacy with the Lord Jesus.  With great authorship comes great responsibility.
Monsignor Smith