Saturday, July 27, 2019



Do not forget the clamor of your foes,
            the daily increasing uproar of your foes.  (Psalm 74)
I don’t know about this Psalmist fellow, but he seems to very near me for the last few months, even the last decade or so.  Maybe he just read the Washington Post, watched some 24-hour news station, or checked his go-to websites.  But the din grows louder hereabouts, and it’s not just the sirens.  
What is sin and what is spite, what is past and what is present, what is intrinsic to human nature and what is intrinsic to the nature of the Body of Christ, the Church -- these are all distinctions that need to be made over and over.  Unfortunately, these are distinctions that we have to make not only for or ourselves but also for our neighbors over and over, because ideology and irresponsibility seem to prevent from making these vital distinctions too many of the people and organizations who clamor to tell us what we are supposed to think.
The daily increasing uproar is easy enough to identify, but what is the response to be made?  I am reminded of the ancient, brief, particularly Russian devotion of the Jesus Prayer:  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  This prayer is simple enough to be repeated, over and over, until woven into our every breath.  It can also be abbreviated (when you are in a hurry, or maybe just breathing more quickly) to include only: Lord Jesus Christ - the Holy Name of the one and only true answer to every human question.
There is no salvation through anyone else, 
nor is there any other name under heaven 
given to the human race
by which we are to be saved.  (Acts 4:12)  
This simple truth, the very essence of our faith, is precisely what guarantees that there will always be foes of our loving God’s work for the salvation of the world.  The only response to that hostility that will have any effect is not the assertion or even the achievement of our own perfection, but the perfection of Him who suffered hostility for our sakes.  
Measured not in decibels, but clarity, we need constantly to monitor whether we articulate Him with our words, and with our lives.  Whenever we grow frustrated by our own lack of progress, we need to double-check to be sure that He is what – and Whom – we are proposing.
You know I love to talk, but you also know I hate to argue.  If you would like to have me engage in some forum the particulars of the current clamor of the foes of our Lord and God – and I do not mean simply the obvious ones – I will try to do so.  But in the meantime, the best response to hostility is to live Christ, in His Church. God bless you and His Holy Mother watch over you.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, July 20, 2019

How's your reception?

Odd, isn’t it, how sometimes we feel ourselves to be blessed, graced, and filled with the awareness of the presence and love of God, and sometimes – not?  
I suppose that actually, rather than just two settings – graced, and bereft – there is a whole spectrum, ranging from awash in the life-giving warmth of God’s love and blessing, all the way over to dry, desolate, and alone in the universe.  On that spectrum, most of us, most of the time, would find ourselves somewhere toward the middle – somewhat aware of God, Who is sometimes manifest to us, and somehow both present and removed.
With no warning and without definite reason, lately I have been over toward the happy end of that scale.  After the rotten year we have all been through, I am almost startled to find myself there.  Reflection brought me to two conclusions.
First, largely because of pastoral and professional obligation, I pray regularly, whether I am feeling the warmth or not.  I pray alone in church, and in the midst of and on behalf of the sacred assembly.  I offer Mass daily, entering this supreme prayer of the Church usually with a congregation, but sometimes without.  I know well (in my head at least) that a feeling of God’s attention and blessing is not the definitive indicator of his attention and involvement.  He is there whether I feel it or not – rather like a radio transmitter that is always broadcasting, but to a receiver (me) that is unreliable.
Second, I am aware of and subject to the temptation to think that those experiences of feeling God’s presence and attention are the best indicators of when and where God is actually engaged with me and my daily portion of pleases, thank-yous, and oh-by-the-ways.  
More than our forebears in the faith, I think, we are all subject to this second attitude, because we have been so conditioned by the prodigious array of entertainments that entice and engage us.  Video, audio, virtual, and interactive “feeds” are always flowing toward us.  Even what little reading any of us actually still does is likely to be aimed at stirring up sensations and feelings within us. One of the ways we judge whether these things are worth our time and money is how and whether they cheered us, made us sad, or frightened us.  The thrill of being thrilled is addictive.
But if we engage our reason and think past that sensation, we are capable of recognizing that these experiences are based not on truth, but artifice.  Our feelings are unreliable indicators of reality in this range of our experience; they are all the more unreliable in our spiritual experiences of prayer. 
God is unchanged and unchanging, and His love and care for us do not change any more than His location or His knowledge.  The vicissitudes in our spiritual sensations and experience, the warmth or chill of our prayer, is not an indication of the Divine Reality; at best it indicates something about us.  This simple understanding can and should motivate us to persist in our prayerful relationship with the Lord – to keep “showing up,” if you will, despite disappointing sensory “results.”  
This is the substance of our participation in our own growth in grace.  And rather than attributing any changeability or even fickleness to God, this is the way to inject into our lives the change that we all crave.  Christ’s peace be to all of you!
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, July 13, 2019


There were a lot of different priests in the rectory this week.  Father Magro was here until Wednesday, then the movers came, and he followed his kit to Chevy Chase and set up a new home at Blessed Sacrament.  A new guy showed up just afterward, Father Michael Russo, our new parochial vicar pro tempore.  Father Ben Petty returned Monday from his ‘victory tour,” visiting friends and family, sharing with them the fruits and joys of his priesthood; he was gone by Tuesday lunch, off to Saint Mary in Landover where he had the next morning’s Mass on the first day of his two-month assignment there until he returns to Rome to finish his degree.  Every day, Father Jason Williams went to CUA and returned, assuring me that he had all the work for his canon law summer course under control.  And of course, yours truly presided beneficently over the mayhem.
Father Russo, whom you will be getting to know, has been a priest about four weeks, that is, forty years less than Father Magro.  He is about that much younger, too.  He’s from Massachusetts, not Malta.  The book of things he does not know about priesting could fill a library.  But if you look carefully you will see what is the same between them.   And that is precisely everything - everything a priest is.  
There is one priesthood, and it is the priesthood of Jesus Christ.  By the sacrament of Holy Orders, He gives a participation in His own priesthood – His identity, His relationship, His saving work – to mortal men.  Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8), and His Holy priesthood is ever the same.  He imparts it intact, not in dribs and drabs.
Which means, amazingly, that what you need from a priest, what a priest has that can save you from death and sin, Fr. Russo has to the same degree that Fr. Magro has.  I possess, I am for your salvation what Monsignor William Stricker received and was for that same end. 
There will be plenty of differences, sure.  Unlike Fr. Magro, Fr. Russo may have a funny accent since he is from Boston.  But Fr. Russo will not be like some character in a Harry Potter film who just got a new wand and doesn’t know how to use it.  He will be able to forgive sins as great and as small, and with the same assurance that the elderly, underground Chinese priest does, to whom people come against that evil government’s wishes, risking their very lives.  He is here, he is priest, and he is for you.  
There are a lot of different priests in this rectory in general, and this summer in particular.  I have recommended people keep the bulletins on their refrigerator because it will be hard to tell the players without the scorecard.  I think the variety of priests who have lived and served here over my thirteen years is a great blessing.  But I realize it can get confusing sometimes – parochial vicar? student resident? just passing through? – or even distract some from the reality at the heart of it all.  Everybody looks for something different or new from each new arrival, and everybody misses one Father Such-and-such, whose homilies or whatever they just loved. But what distinguishes us priests from one another – our voices, our manner, what we emphasize, or how we do things – none of these differences avail one whit.  What is the same about us, what we all have in common, what we all teach – the Truth, what has been taught at all times and everywhere – that is what can, will, and must save you.
There were a lot of different priests in the rectory this week.  What is different about priests may confuse, or amuse you; what is the same is what will save you.  Don’t let the differences distract you from the sameness, the constant.  What they – we – all share is the unchanging, unrelenting, undefeatable saving Priesthood of Jesus Christ, here for you.
Monsignor Smith

Saturday, July 06, 2019


This week marks the annual nadir of Mass attendance here, according to my thirteen years of observation.  The Independence Day holiday provides occasion for more travel out of the parish than it does visitors to the parish, and there are plenty of empty places in our pews.  I dearly miss the people who would be in them.
The crowds thin, but nonetheless we light the fires and approach the holy altar laying claim to His mercy.  We announce the Good News, make our petitions to the only One who can save us, and offer the saving sacrifice to God.  The one Body of the Lord, His Blood in one chalice or several, stands forth upon our altar and unites into the single sacrifice all of us with all who worship Him in His Eucharistic deed around the world and throughout all times.  This is our only Life; this is the only Lord.  All who are in Him, are together.  The hospital sisters in their simple structures in Uganda, the throngs amidst the high-rises of Hong Kong, the few elderly who still come to the village church in Normandy, and the international multitude with the Pope beneath Saint Peter’s dome, all are together when the behold the Sacred Host; all are one when they receive the Body of the Lord.  
Our brothers and sisters of the parish who are at the beach or in the mountains, in some American or European cathedral, or with their parents in the parish in which they grew up, are not absent from us, but are with us when they with the Lord who makes His presence known.  The Eucharist is the unity of Christians, and our communion with Him, is communion with them.      
Remember that, when you wish someone far away were nearer to you.  The one deployed in military service when he can make it to Mass on base, or on board, or even at the front line, kneels next to you when you kneel at Mass here.  Your sainted grandmother who always prayed you would come back to the church but did not live to see it, stands close by the saints we invoke by name as we bring down heaven to earth with the Lamb Who Was Slain. Our eyes meet with those of the one we have not seen for years when both behold the Lamb of God.  
The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of Unity, and every Mass in every place and time brings together all who place themselves in the presence of the one efficacious offering that is Christ’s sacrifice of the Cross.   This alone can save, this alone can unite, this alone can heal all that divides one from another.  The Mass is one, and in it we are made one.  
Offering the saving sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ on this altar, no matter how few bodies kneel around, has infinite value. Lives and souls unknown to us, unseen by our eyes, are redeemed by that sacrifice, washed clean by that poured-out blood.  Griefs we have not witnessed, sadnesses we have not shared, are offered up with the work of the Man of Sorrows.  Gratitude for graces not yet received or recorded in the annals of time past is perfectly expressed in the Son’s offering to the Father.  Only this, alone this will rescue any life, any human life from the downward drag to death of sin.  And in this church, on this altar, that work is done.
And even at the annual nadir of Mass attendance here, human experience and divine love reach their summit, and are one. 
Monsignor Smith