Saturday, April 27, 2019

Give Gratitude

Blessing the New Fire before the Easter Vigil

Retrieving a flame to light the Easter Candle -- without setting myself on fire
It was truly a great and holy Holy Week, and Easter Sunday was magnificent.  It was also a LOT of work, for a LOT of people.  Please take time to thank someone who worked to make Easter so marvelous – whether it was the church itself, or the grounds, or the liturgy, or the music, or the reception on the lawn, or any other of the two hundred fifty nine moving parts that meshed smoothly together to give glory to the Risen Lord.  Take a moment to thank them.  I do; and I thank you for what you contributed, and for being here to rejoice with us.  God bless you with Easter joy!  Christ is risen from the dead; truly He is risen.  Alleluia!

The sanctuary was still stripped and barren until 11:30 Holy Saturday morning.
Count the moving parts in this photo - candles, sticks, flowers, 

pots, cloths, covers, tables etc. - and try to guess
how many people it required to get the church into Full Festal Mode by 1:30

It was a perfect day to celebrate the Resurrection
and enjoy the reception on the lawn,
with so many home-made treats that parishioners brought!

The Annual Egg Hunt On the Lawn proceeded precisely
and with just the right degree of chaos among all our smaller revelers.

The whole idea was to make people want to linger and visit.
The preparations were so thorough that it seemed as if
everything just came together in the moment.

There was some very festive lingering going on;
guess how many people had to work to make THAT happen!

Our Altar Servers made our worship unfold beautifully.
For each multi-hour liturgy, there was a multi-hour rehearsal,
and they worked through it all without complaint!

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Eye has not seen...

Parishioner Jim Haynes shares what he thinks the Resurrection looked like.
What does Easter look like?  Bunnies and eggs?  Spring flowers, dresses, and hats?  That’s what you’ll find on an Easter card, but why?  Christmas cards have the beautiful child and His mother, approachable and adorable, easy to understand and easier to love.  Easter, though, is trickier to picture – just what does resurrection from the dead actually look like?
It happened at night, and nobody was watching.  Sure, artists have tried to depict it, but I have to admit it’s not their most convincing work.  Even to the witnesses, only the result was visible – Jesus in the flesh; He who was dead, now alive and among us.   But even that is hard to capture, because sometimes his friends recognized Him (It is the Lord!), and sometimes they didn’t (Where have you taken him?).  Once Risen, Christ was somehow the same as before, and somehow – we’re not sure how – very different.  Even Blessed Fra Angelico showed the confusion of the ones who discovered the empty tomb, and the Risen Lord Himself as as-yet-unseen background.  That’s the Resurrection.  
Fra Angelico shows that the Resurrection was confusing
partly because of what the witnesses themselves saw -- and didn't see.

Traditional symbols of Easter point to something basic, something good and essential, but hard to capture on a greeting card: life itself. But those flowers and eggs and bunnies were not dead beforehand.  Easter is about life where before there was only death; Easter is about the Resurrection.
There is nothing more final than death, nothing deader than dead.  There is nothing to be done about it.  Until death comes, we can still hope (for improvement); but once it does come, whether we deny it or accept it, we cannot change it.  And it comes for us all.
Resurrection changes the unchangeable: this one was dead, and now he is not.  Unlike Lazarus, or that kid in Iowa with stories of heaven, He will never again die. They were called backto life; Jesus moved forward, into something new and different, at the same time both familiar and unrecognizable.  That’s hard to picture.
Resurrection is hard to get our brains around.  Some folks give up, and put Easter in some more intelligible category: a ruse (they stole the body); a mistake (they didn’t quite kill him, and later he felt better); or a misrepresentation (they remembered him so vividly that it seemed to the community of disciples that he was alive and with them).
Resurrection is more attractive than eggs or flowers or colors or candy, because it is not only something very, very good, but it is that very good something precisely where beforehand, even to think of something good was completely impossible.
We know about improbable; maybe even about impossible.  The most impossible thing we know is … ourselves. You or someone you know may be tempted to think, I am too rotten, too far gone, for anyone to be interested in me; I‘ve had too many chances, and blown them all; I have hurt someone too badly, or I’ve ignored God too long for Him even to have my current address!  But are you more rotten, more distant than dead?  I think not!
God has accomplished the most improbable thing ever in the Resurrection of His Son Jesus from the dead.  And if He can do that, you and I know that He can do something for us – even for us.  For if Christ is raised from the dead, then you and I can be raised – from wherever we are!
For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:16-20)
Improbable, maybe; impossible?  Not!  Oh, we cannot say that this is something that we ourselves have accomplished, or ever hope to accomplish.  But we can look to Him who knows us, and look to Him for mercy.  
The Risen Christ Himself was somehow the same as before, and somehow – we’re not sure how – very different.  Resurrection.  Easter means even though somehow – we’re not sure how – we ourselves will look very different, it is possible that the resurrection of the dead will look like me; Easter means it is probable that the resurrection of the dead will look like you.
A blessed Easter to you all, and to your families, friends, and most beloved ones. Hats and dresses, flowers and eggs are good; even very good.  But we are not in this for the chocolate, beloved brothers and sisters; we are in this for resurrection and life. Christ is risen from the dead; truly He is risen.  Alleluia!

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Answer me.

My people, what have I done to you?
Or in what have I grieved you?
Answer me.
(Refrain for the Reproaches, Solemn Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday)
Way back at the beginning of Lent, I lurched into action to lead the first parish celebration of the Stations of the Cross. The first one is always a bit clunky and uneven, since I am out of practice, and so is everyone present.  In that regard, this year was no different.
However, as I began speaking the prayers that direct our minds to the Passion of the Lord, and the steps along His way, this year was different.  Part of it was the crowd; it was large, the size we normally have toward the end of Lent once everybody is in the habit.  But part of it was how the prayers and Scripture passages that crossed my lips made sense.  The words could have been my words, could have been the words of the whole local church.  
My people, what have I done to you?
Or in what have I grieved you?
Answer me.
As a priest, I often give voice to the words of Christ, and in so doing speak not for myself, but for Him.  To accompany Him that Friday evening on His suffering way and give my voice to His words reminded me that He asks for, in fact takes for his own, more than just my voice, but my flesh and my whole self.  This is a daily experience for me, but in that first Way of the Cross it touched me in my inmost being.
As the whole congregation at Stations would drop down on one knee and then stand again, as we moved through the Christ’s falling for the first, the second, and the third time, then stayed down as He died on the Cross, it was manifest that I am not alone in having my voice and my flesh inhabited by the Suffering Servant.  He takes flesh in His body, the Church, and corporately we endure with Him the suffering that we ourselves have brought about.
The church has suffered grievously in these days, our local church of Washington in a particular and intense way.  It has been hard to find the Lord in such shame and scheming as we have been forced to endure.  Some have concluded that He is not here, and walked away.
However, because we did not walk away, and because we participate in these devotions and liturgies where we personally and physically put ourselves next to Christ in His Passion, we have the opportunity to recognize how more than we ever take on His suffering, Our Lord has taken on our suffering.
Stations of the Cross never made so much sense to me as it did that first Friday of this Lent, after all the grief inflicted over the past ten months upon us who love the Lord and His Church.  Since we entered the Passiontide last week and veiled the crosses and images, and Jesus has moved about secretly because of all who are trying to kill him, I have known how close He is to us.  
This week, as we lend our voices not to Him, but to those who shout Crucify him, we can find in our own hope for mercy and forgiveness, the ground for the hope of the Church.  Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do, says the Lord.  Never before have we so needed to hear those words, and so needed to lend them our voices.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, April 06, 2019

New boss

Well, it would seem that we have a new Archbishop.  If it seemed like a long wait to you, you are not alone in that sentiment.  It is rare for Washington or an Archdiocese of this significance to have to wait for so long, but the circumstances under which we found ourselves orphaned were unusual, to put it gently.  To be circumspect, you should know that most dioceses have to wait at least that long before receiving their new bishop, even when the departure of the predecessor could easily be anticipated with precision.  It is just the way these things work; it’s almost as if the Church doesn’t want to seem so rude as to be expecting a bishop to leave his see, or eager to pick his “replacement.”  
We will all get to know Archbishop Wilton Gregory better over coming months.  The first step is now to pray for him, by name, and not only at Mass.  Our spiritual health and well-being are in his hands, and we depend upon him for the grace the Lord wants us to have through that most indispensable element of our relationship with Him, the Apostles. Our genuine concern and fervent prayer for him will not only reflect this reality, but will open us to knowledge and understanding of him that is given only to those in spiritual communion.
In the meantime, you can root around on the Internet for his curriculum vitae or other information about him, as well as writings or homilies by him.  He’s been around for ages – and by “around” I mean “prominent”.  He was president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ twenty years ago.  I just now realized that means he would have spent a lot of time in Washington, where the Conference has its headquarters and many meetings.   He was made a bishop the year after I finished high school, thirty-six years ago, after ten whole years as a priest.  Like our two previous archbishops, he has had one (1) assignment in a parish.  His lasted more than double theirs combined, though – three years!   
One thing I did not know before I started reading was that he converted to the Catholic Faith when he was ten.  Like our own Fr. Scott Woods, he determined he was called to be a priest even before he was Catholic!  
One cannot accumulate all his experience quickly, though, so he is now already seventy-one years old.  That might make it harder on him to make the transition to our local church. He does have one advantage, though, in that he doesn’t need to learn all that bishop-stuff, like how to do the job, or what to wear when; nor will he have to work to get to know the other bishops, or get to know all the folks who run things in Rome.  He has known and worked closely with them all for decades! 
Maybe that will leave him lots of time to get to know us. There must be some perks that come with being Archbishop of Washington, and I am convinced that would be one of them.
Monsignor Smith