Saturday, June 26, 2021


 Poor Folk was the title Fyodor Dostoyevsky gave to his first book, which he pulled together from the portraits of his neighbors in the poorest quarter of St. Petersburg, Russia, that he had written to hone his craft.  In his early twenties, and this his first work published, he became a literary sensation overnight.  

His masterful Crime and Punishment, written twenty years later, is set in the same quarter, and many of its characters would qualify for the first book’s title.  This spring I re-read it because our Well-read Women graciously invited me to join them in discussing the book.  I also read a biography of Dostoevsky, which helped me to understand why the book had struck me so strongly when I had first read it in high school.   One of its observations was that he always wrote about people, lives, personalities, and gave no time to such distractions as scenery. 

Dostoevsky was animated by a concern for the poor, of which there was no shortage in his beloved Russia.  He also had an eye for their humanity, which made it possible for him to present them in the fullness of their characters, not just as poster-children for their plight.  The situations he described were breathtaking in their desperation, yet his characters were still people with personalities, actors in their drama, capable of love, however unlikely that was; and worthy of love, however undetectable that was.

Once I had put that massive reading project behind me, I took up a book of short stories by modern, U.S. Southern authors that I had put down a few years ago and then lent to someone.  It had been a little too grim for me, too often wallowing for the seeming pleasure of it in the theatrically rough and gruesome situations and actions of the characters it depicted.  My familiarity with the South helped me discern an exaggeration that turned me away from enjoying the authenticity that I admired.  But when the book came back, I took it up for another try, and the first story I randomly chose had in its introduction these lines:

“I think you see people writing now from a class of people that hasn’t spoken at all.  … The attitude … has been that poor people are like everybody else, only with fewer things.  Nobody dealt with just how animalistic your life can be when you don’t have anything.”

Which struck me, even once I had got past the modern American assumption of having invented everything from scratch.  So much of our entertainment for the past century has depicted the rich, even the effortlessly well-to-do: the beautiful, the talented, the well-dressed folk in their gorgeous homes, with no visible means of support.   The steady diet of the plight of the comfortable, whether played for laughs or tears, has led to the above assumption that savage behavior is the result of poverty.  It also implies that comfortable people are savages who need not act as such.  The conclusion waiting to be drawn is that if the poverty were eliminated, the savagery would disappear.   Which explains why so many modern Americans are convinced that they would be happier – and better – if only they had more.  

But Dostoevsky recognized that the fullness of human nature resides in the poor as well as the rich.  A proud man who has given himself to savagery can be raised to the full glory of human life when he accepts the humiliation of unmerited love.  From those who choose to sacrifice even in their destitution we can all learn the real nature of the drama that our comforts disguise.  

The politicians promise to eliminate poverty, while the Truth Himself promises, the poor you will always have with you. (Mt 26:11)  No wealth or comfort can disguise our tendency toward savagery, nor our capacity for nobility.  As Dostoevsky might have explained had he been from Alabama, the Poor Folks’s us.    

Monsignor Smith


Saturday, June 19, 2021

It is accomplished

 Please let me take this opportunity to share with you some reflections that have occupied me as our parish school concluded this year in which we offered our students pre-K through eighth grade in-person classes, five days a week, since Labor Day, and weekly Mass too.  At the graduation Mass for our eighth graders, I was deeply moved to acknowledge what our school leaders, teachers, and staff have done, what was given to these kids in the year since our last class graduated without proper ceremony.   

What we gave these kids this year was not the result of a financial transaction, but rather of a prior and persistent commitment of this parish to provide to children the school, the structure, the safety, and the society that they require to rise up as fully formed human beings in the image and likeness of God.  Many people worked long hours every week this year, assisted by others far away or even long dead, to fulfil this commitment.  

Yes, we have to charge tuition to do this, but this is a parochial school, not a private one.  We operate at a deficit, not a profit, as every participant contributes to the possibility of the enterprise.  Our teachers give up the 20% more income they could be paid almost anywhere else;  the parish gives the same percentage of her offertory income.  It would be time consuming (not to mention unwelcome publicity for the ones who offer them) to list even half of the services that people offer freely, without charge.  There was no Covid tuition surcharge, no hazard pay.  This whole fiscal year, which ends with this month, we operated at the tuition rate we set and published back in January 2020, two months before the pandemic changed everything.  

Children need school.  Families need school.  The community needs school.  Our civic leadership failed everyone when they failed to stand and say, The children need school, who will give them school?  But it was not too much to ask of our people to sacrifice for the sake of the kids and their families.  I know, because when we planted our flag and said, The children need school, who will join us in giving them school?  they stood and said, Here I am.

It has so little to do with money.  These children need school and so we provided them with school, out of our resources -- personal, professional, and emotional, as well as material.   We are all keenly aware of the limits of our resources; we also have learned a hundred times over how precious and powerful everything we have to give is, when we offer it for the good of another.  Everyone involved could ponder the past year and provide examples, detailing how it was really, truly difficult.  But the funny thing is that now that we have done it, and see the kids who received everything we had to give, nobody seems to be inclined to count the cost.  

More than simply having something that almost none of their peers did, these kids have received what they needed to be themselves, to be fully human.  They received it from what we had to give, and thus also gained some understanding of the potency and the fragility of the project that is their life.  Like many a kid who grew up the Great Depression and didn’t know that their family was poor, these kids know who they are because they know that they were loved.  

The prevailing criteria of power and money can neither see nor explain what our school leaders, teachers, and staff did; it is intelligible only in the economy of love.  It was marked at every stage by sacrifice, personal and communal; and it bore fruit in abundant life, personal and communal.  No political, social, or philosophical system can love; but people can, souls can, where there is freedom.  Where there is also grace in Christ, love bears great fruit that will endure.  

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, June 05, 2021


 June is the Month of the Sacred Heart.  The Solemnity was Friday, and along with yesterday’s Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, it marks the end of the annual liturgical feasts that move because they are calculated from the Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord, Easter.   

June is the Month of the Sacred Heart.  You will notice our Mary Altar of May is now occupied by our small Sacred Heart statue; our large one is over the main doors of the church, visible as you leave.  

June is the month of the Sacred Heart; it is a time for us to reflect on the reality of God’s love for us in Christ, and the nature and requirements of that love that He has commanded us to emulate. 

Below are two prayers that have helped me grow in my devotion to the Sacred Heart.  From His pierced Heart flow blood and water that give life to the world, the font and wellspring of the Church’s sacraments.  Pray these prayers to explore the mystery of reparation, which characterizes our participation in the Divine and redeeming love, during June, the month of the Sacred Heart.

Monsignor Smith


Efficacious Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

(said by St. Padre Pio for his intentions)

I. O my Jesus, You said “verily I say to You, ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you”, behold I knock, I seek and I ask for the grace of…

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be. Sacred Heart of Jesus, I put all trust in Thee.

II. O my Jesus, You said, “verily I say to You, whatsoever you shall ask the Father in My name, He will give to you”, behold in your name I ask the Father for the grace of…

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be. Sacred Heart of Jesus, I put all trust in Thee.

III. O my Jesus, You said, “verily I say to You, heaven and earth shall pass away but My words shall not pass away,” behold I encouraged by your infallible words, now ask for the grace of…

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be. Sacred Heart of Jesus, I put all trust in Thee.

O Sacred Heart of Jesus to whom one thing alone is impossible, namely, not to have compassion on the afflicted, have pity on us miserable sinners and grant us the grace which we ask of Thee through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, your and our tender Mother.

Salve Regina. St. Joseph, Foster Father of Jesus, pray for us.


Prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Oh most holy Heart of Jesus,

fountain of every blessing,

I adore you, I love you,

and with a lively sorrow for my sins,

offer you this poor heart of mine.

Make me humble, patient, pure,

and wholly obedient to Your will.

Grant, good Jesus,

that I may live in You and for You.

Protect me in the midst of danger;

comfort me in my afflictions,

give me health of body, 

assistance in my temporal needs,

Your blessing in all that I do,

and the grace of a holy death.