Saturday, May 25, 2019

Leading Us in the Mysteries

This week I met for the last time with our neophytes, who were received into the Communion at the Easter Vigil and ever since enjoying the grace of the life of the Sacraments. As I concluded the mystagogy – instruction in the Divine Mysteries in which they now participate – I emphasized the nature of the Holy Eucharist, and its indispensability.   Of course, this emphasis is not my own but Christ’s (cf.  John 6), and taken up by every teacher of the Faith from earliest days to our own.
To that end, I quoted Church Fathers of the second through fourth centuries, including the splendidly named Saint Gaudentius of Brescia, who died in 410 AD.   This week in the Divine Office I found another text by him on the same topic.   It would seem that the Church believes it salutary that all her members reflect on the nature of the Eucharist during the Easter season, not only her newest ones.   Far be it from me to dissent from that, so herewith I share his instruction
Truly He is risen! Alleluia.
Monsignor Smith
Saint Gaudentius
The eucharist is The Lord’s Passover
One man has died for all, and now in every church in the mystery of bread and wine he heals those for whom he is offered in sacrifice, giving life to those who believe and holiness to those who consecrate the offering. This is the flesh of the Lamb; this is his blood.  The bread that came down from heaven declared: The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.  It is significant, too, that his blood should be given to us in the form of wine, for his own words in the gospel, I am the true vine, imply clearly enough that whenever wine is offered as a representation of Christ’s passion, it is offered as his blood.  This means that it was of Christ that the blessed patriarch Jacob prophesied when he said: He will wash his tunic in wine and his cloak in the blood of the grape. The tunic was our flesh, which Christ was to put on like a garment and which he was to wash in his own blood.
Creator and Lord of all things, whatever their nature, he brought forth bread from the earth and changed it into his own body.  Not only had he the power to do this, but he had promised it; and, as he had changed water into wine, he also changed wine into his own blood.  It is the Lord’s passover, Scripture tells us, that is, the Lord’s passing.  We are no longer to look upon the bread and wine as earthly substances.  They have become heavenly, because Christ has passed into them and changed them into his body and blood.  What you receive is the body of him who is the heavenly bread, and the blood of him who is the sacred vine; for when he offered his disciples the consecrated bread and wine, he said: This is my body, this is my blood.  We have put our trust in him.  I urge you to have faith in him; truth can never deceive.
When Christ told the crowds that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, they were horrified and began to murmur among themselves: This teaching is too hard; who can be expected to listen to it?  As I have already told you, thoughts such as these must be banished.  The Lord himself used heavenly fire to drive them away by going on to declare: It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no avail.  The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
From a treatise by Saint Gaudentius of Brescia, bishop (Tract.  2: CSEL 68, 26, 29-30)

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Let's not be precipitate

This week I read the news that the preceding 365 days had been the rainiest year-long period in history.  Hah! I thought, with feelings of both vindication and accomplishment, as if my team had achieved some record of performance, or perhaps my prognostication against all odds had come true.  It had indeed been a miserably wet year, getting my attention with the first rainy August I ever remember (yes, August), and a rainy autumn (remember how wretched it was?), followed by a wet and snowy winter, culminating in our current second-consecutive soggy spring.  I knew all along we were onto something big!  
Of course I rushed to read the article that detailed the downpours, which made clear that it was more moisture than had fallen on Washington in any 12-month period since records began being kept….in 1871.
Since 1871?  Really?  A lousy one hundred forty-eight years counts as all “history”?  Our neighborhood has trees older than that.  That period doesn’t even include the American Civil War – and that was some pretty important history, with epic rains playing a big part in it.  "Since 1871" might work for oh, I don’t know, a baseball record; but for a weather record?  There’s been weather for millennia!  
Such overstatement in an effort to make something – or ourselves – seem special is right up there with the (not un-ironic) boast of my college, asserting that its campus features the “longest single-span non-suspension concrete footbridge in the United States,” thereby proving that with enough modifiers, anybody can hold a record.  And “since 1871” does not carry the same heft as would truly all history.
Wasn’t it wet the years Washington’s army wintered at Valley Forge?  Didn’t it rain an awful lot right before Martin Luther unleashed the protestant deformation?  I seem to recall that the Magna Carta was signed in the midst of historic rainfall, and I am pretty sure that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon only after waiting for unmatched floods to recede.  And let’s not even go into what Noah had to say about his whole experience with rain and that ark of his.
C’mon, folks, hyperbole is fun, but let’s remember what is truly history.  I’m pretty sure that Saint Bernadette has the winningest 12-and-under girls’ softball team in the history of Archdiocese of Washington CYO.  And that is something to be proud of, but always with an appreciative eye on the modifiers.  
How much did it rain the year that Our Lord died on the cross for us?  That’s a question, though no system was in place to measure or record heaven’s tears. How much did the average temperature drop when Adam and Eve lost the warmth of intimate union with their Creator, to which we habitually attribute a gentle, semi-tropical climate even more perfect than San Diego’s?  
You and I who know our God have a richer understanding of history than statisticians of any specialization.  All time begins with God’s loving into being (bang!) this universe for us, and will be fulfilled only when His saving Word completes the work for which he sent Him to dwell among us, in history.  Time, place, and event would otherwise mark only our futilities, and progress would have no purpose or goal without Him.  Only God’s taking flesh in the incarnation, then offering it to his Father in his Passion and death, bringing about His resurrection and ours, is perfectly unique in all history.  Everything else is just, well, singin’ in the rain.  
Truly He is risen! Alleluia.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Mother and Sons

When better than Mother’s Day to direct our attention to what one of the sons of our parish is doing?  Ben Petty, since last September a Deacon, will be ordained to the Holy Priesthood this June, and he counts Saint Bernadette as his mother parish. He looks lovingly on his home church for all she gave him as he discerned his vocation in the life of our Risen Eucharistic Lord; now is the time for us to return that gaze.
Religious Education families in particular are likely to remember (then-) Mr. Petty as one of the teachers of our second graders preparing for First Holy Communion.  He also sang for several years with our nine o’clock Mass choir.  
All of us who know him and even you who don’t should plan to go to the Priesthood Ordination at 10:00 AM on Saturday 15 June at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.   Ben is one of ten men being ordained for our Archdiocese – a cause for great joy.  If you have never before attended an ordination Mass, this would be a great opportunity to fix that.
The first thing a newly ordained priest does is, of course, offer Mass.  A new priest’s First Mass is especially joyful and brings to all who participate particular blessings and indulgences.  Ben’s first Mass (by then he’ll be Father Petty) will be here at our 11:00 Parish Mass on Sunday 16 June (Father’s Day).  Another tradition is that a new priest invites a priest who has been an influence on him to preach at his First Mass, so Father Peter Harman, Rector of the Pontifical North American College, will be the homilist.  Father Harman is a friend of mine, too, and a gifted speaker. He was two years behind me in seminary, and always one of the funniest people in the building.  You will not be disappointed.
After the Mass there will be a festive reception in the school hall.  Ben will have invited his family and many friends for his ordination, and they will be here for the first Mass, so they will be our guests at the reception.  We will want to have friendly greeters, helpful guides, and many other hospitable hosts to make the day go smoothly.  And of course, we hope everybody from the community turns out to share in the celebration.  Margaret McDermott and Jasmine Kuzner are coordinating the plans; please contact them to find out what you can do to help.   
The Priesthood Ordination on 15 June will be a chance to see our new Archbishop, Wilton Gregory,in action.  If you do not want to wait that long, you can join the throng to greet him at his Mass of Installation at 2:00 PM on Tuesday 21 May, also at the Basilica.  You’ll want to get there early; the procession, with its handful of Cardinals, dozens of Bishops and Archbishops, hundreds of priests, and herds of deacons and seminarians is scheduled to start at 1:30, so most people will try to be there by one o’clock.
Ben Petty is the first Son of Saint Bernadette to be ordained since 2012, when Father Patrick Lewis, currently Parochial Vicar at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda was ordained.  The most recent before that for our own Archdiocese was Father Walter Tappe, in 1985; he’s now Pastor of St. Hugh in Greenbelt.  
But we have also given priests to other dioceses and communities:  Father Brian Kane, ordained in 2000 for the Diocese of Lincoln; Father David Meng for the Diocese of Arlington; Fr. Gregory Coyne of Opus Dei; and Father George Zahn of the Diocese of Richmond.  
It’s enough to make a mother (church) proud, but of course, there’s never enough.  Now that Ben will be finishing seminary, it’s time to see who is the next to begin - maybe someone from your family?  With that thought, Happy Mother’s Day!   Christ is risen from the dead; truly He is risen.  Alleluia!
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, May 04, 2019


It is one of the hardest things to teach or to learn about driving: how to keep one’s eyes and attention on the way ahead, where the vehicle will be, instead of where it is.    Harder still is to see and understand where other cars, other moving vehicles and objects will be, and how that will affect the intended path.  I love to drive, and I especially enjoy it when all my senses and awareness are attuned to this complex progress of objects and motion, allowing me to pilot my vehicle smoothly and even gracefully through the chaos that congests our roadways.  
There is a sense in which this is a microcosm of life, how we pilot our persons and responsibilities on the way.  For our families and for our work, we have to be aware of the road ahead and what else is on it.  We have to be aware beforehand of opportunities and hazards, to plan ahead and prepare.  
This is no less true for me as pastor with the parish. Here it is First Holy Communion weekend and I am looking at all of May as if it were a single stretch of (highly congested) roadway, with events and obligations, for most of which I have been preparing since early Lent.  Ben Petty’s ordination to the Priesthood and First Mass here Father’s Day weekend seem like day after tomorrow on the to-do list.  And the start of school (yes, the START of school) is what I’m discussing in my meetings with Mr. Ewanciw, our principal.
Right now, most people I know have their eye on summertime and a list of things they have to accomplish before then.  And I can’t say I’m terribly different; so I know how this happens.  But I also know that it comes at great price. Rather like the choir, who must always be practicing the Easter Alleluias in the middle of Lent, our future obligations can invade our present moments. 
And this present moment, this one right now, holds for us a gift of enormous value and delight.  This present moment, in fact, reveals before our eyes if we open them the repair of all damage we have suffered, and inflicted; this present moment offers us the provision and preparation for all that we hope to accomplish. 
In this present moment, Jesus, the Son of God, whom all the prophets promised and of whom all the psalms sing, the One Who is coming into the world, stands before us face to face.  In this present moment, Jesus, the Holy One of God Whom we put to death by hanging Him on a tree with the nails of our sins and disregard, comes to us and says: Peace be with you.  In this present moment, Jesus the Anointed One, the Bridegroom, calls to us and promises that He will be faithful to us, saying: come, have breakfast.
As I offer our children their First Holy Communion, I see in their eyes and hear in the breath of their whispered Amen the simple awareness of the present moment.  The excitement and preparation give way to that instant, the intimate encounter when their Lord and Friend comes to be welcomed and to dwell in them.  And in that glance, I see Him look at me.
It is one of the hardest things to teach or to learn about living: how to keep one’s eyes and attention on the gift and mystery directly in front of us, to see where our life is, instead of trying to figure out where it will be.   Open your eyes to the feast that is before you: Christ is risen from the dead; truly He is risen.  Alleluia!
Monsignor Smith