Saturday, August 28, 2021

Not Novelty

On my way back from my retreat in Michigan, I spent the night at the seminary in Detroit visiting Fr. Clint McDonell, whom many of you will remember as a student priest-in-residence here from 2013-2015.   Then heading homeward, I hung a left at Toledo and drove along the Lake Erie coast, so I could visit our family cottage.  I missed my own family’s time there in June, but now my mom’s sister, my Aunt Ann, was there with my cousin and his wife.   I visited for a few hours before hitting the road again, and walked down to the dock with my aunt.  We talked about this and that, neighbors and personalities we remember from way back.  Not only had I been going there my whole life; she had been going there her whole life.  And the cottage had been in the family for almost two decades when she was born!

It is something of a joke and something of a watchword in our family (my mother’s extended family, starting with her grandfather) that nothing can or should change about the cottage, or ideally, the whole area.  We all want it to be just like we remember it from back-in-the-day; our idyllic memories need to be preserved and perpetuated.  So the cottage is very rustic, especially compared to the neighboring ones that have been improved over the years, not to mention the several newer cottages (under forty years) in the colony.  Even though twenty years ago a bathroom with a usable shower was added, it remains so rustic that many of my cousins’ spouses refuse to go there.  But for many of us, including my mom, her brother and sister, as well as for me and my sisters, it is one of our favorite places to be for any length of time we can manage to hie ourselves to the north coast of Ohio.  

Perhaps you have a favorite place that holds its place in your heart because of how it became a place in your life – from your family: your parents, grandparents, or even great grandparents.  Its sameness over time preserves the connection and the experience that made you love it in the first place.  Your ability to be there strengthens your ties with your family members, some of whom are no longer available to visit in more ordinary ways.  

Once upon a time, a prelate of the church fixed a serious eye upon me and asked:  Are a liberal, or a conservative?  I responded that I am both:  I am liberal with things like hot fudge, and conservative with things like Civil War battlefields.  He was frustrated by my answer, but I thought it the honest one.  What is good and mine to obtain, to have, and to give, I am happy to share.  What finds its goodness in the sacrifice of another, I am eager to preserve and protect.  Liberal, and conservative.

That which comes to use already rich in value that is beyond price requires our care, but also obliges us to hand on with that value intact so that others may enjoy its irreplaceable benefit.  In fact, it is this very obligation to give, to hand on what we have received that undergirds the obligation to preserve and protect.  And you are right, I am not simply talking about vacation homes now.

Many is the funeral that I begin with the observation that when the dear departed was but a wee infant, his mother and father gave him the most precious gift they had to give: the Faith.  It is Baptism that imparts to us faith, and life, and this divine gift is entrusted to us to preserve, protect, and hand on.  The faith is what we receive from our forebears – our parents, great-grandparents and generations unto generations who made enormous sacrifice to preserve, protect, and hand on to us this most precious gift.  The notion of modifications and improvements to this Faith is even more inappropriate, more laughable, more impossible than proposing modifications or improvements to the ancestral summer cottage of a skinflint German-Irish family. 

You may be surprised to know that I would not mind a major renovation of our family’s summer cottage – if it were carefully, carefully done with reverence and respect.  Air-conditioning and a modern kitchen, some bathroom work plus some accessibility modification, would not damage or destroy what is good about the place.  That, however, is not up to me.  

Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast -- unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Cor 15:1-5)

There is no parallel type of modification to the Faith that we can consider or propose.  There is no upgrade possible to the divine revelation of salvation in Christ Jesus that is preserved and handed down to us by the Church.  This we must preserve and protect, because this is what we must hand on.  

Monsignor Smith


Saturday, August 21, 2021

Key Players

My college buddy, the baseball nut Tom Maguire, texted me at the end of last month and asked, Who are these guys dressed as Nats and Cubs?  The day before, both his team and mine had undertaken a ‘fire sale” and traded away many players who had been considered essential to the identity of the team.   Now Trea and Max and Anthony and Kris would be wearing other uniforms, in other cities.  The two teams, both gutted, played one another the next day; I was left with Juan Soto and Companions; he with Contreras, Hendrix, & Friends.   Sigh.

I know last week came as a similar bombshell to you; I found out only a few days before you did.  But Father Russo was traded mid-season to another team and assigned by Cardinal Gregory to Sacred Heart Church in Bowie.  He has been an indispensable part of the team, a face-of-the-franchise player, Rookie of the Year in 2019, and an All-Star in 2020 and 2021.  He was constantly in the school and was an essential part of the day to the students there.  He raised up a new crop of altar servers and trained them to the high standard we have long maintained here.  He was the digitally-inclined member of the rectory team, introducing and operating our online interface, Flocknote.  That is hardly all, and even that pales next to his just being around, available and eager to be your priest.  

Meanwhile, a new guy showed up in the dugout, um, I mean, rectory this week.  He is not a replacement for Father Russo – apparently, we are unlikely to get one until next year – but rather will move into Father Berhorst’s old room and be our student priest in residence while he works on his degree in Canon Law at Catholic University.  

Father Peter Santandreu is a priest of Buffalo, three years ordained.  He heard about Saint Bernadette through several friends, and called to see if there was room at the inn.  Apparently, you all have a reputation for being good to student priests!  We are only just beginning to get to know one another, but he has a can-do attitude and did not flinch when I told him that the Home Team had been reduced by half.  He is by no means a scrub, nor second-stringer; and he is ready to help.  Please give him a hearty welcome.

It will be my job to see if I can rustle up some more help so we can maintain the grueling Mass and confession schedule we started coming out of the Covid lockdown.  I have to make sure Fr. Santandreu’s principal assignment, studying for his degree, is protected from creeping pastoral activity.  Some things from Father Russo’s portfolio will be taken up by other folks; some things just will not get done.  That definitely goes in the “loss” column.  With a little patience, though, and the help of divine providence, this parish will continue to be an engine of sanctification in Four Corners.

Since this weekend is our last with a parochial vicar, and our first with a student priest, I saw my very narrow window of opportunity and went off to make my annually required retreat, this year at the mother house of some religious sisters I have known for a long time.  Pray for me, as I will be doing for you.

When a man finishes seminary and is ordained, he is fully a priest, but not yet fully formed as a priest.  His first assignment, his first few years, teach him what a priest is, by means of what the people ask of him, expect of him, and share with him.  You all, this parish, are great teachers and formators, so Father Russo has a lot of you in him as he moves on into the rest of his priestly ministry.  That is not good luck; that is grace.

So, hats off, and a lusty cheer for Father Russo as he enjoys his last weekend here, then empties his locker.  At least Sacred Heart is not a ‘hated rival’; not the Yankees or the Dodgers.  It has oft been called (as a compliment to both parishes) the Saint Bernadette of Bowie, as we are the Sacred Heart of Silver Spring.  The two parishes have long had  much in common; now we will have more. 

Monsignor Smith


Saturday, August 14, 2021

The tree and its roots

Every morning before Mass, I check the Archdiocesan Ordo, a small booklet of liturgical instructions presented day by day that makes clear what Mass to celebrate, what readings, and so forth.  Below the instructions for each day about the Gloria and proper Preface, there is a list of priests and deacons, each noted with a year.  This is the day’s necrology: who died that day in history, that we may pray for them.  

This morning, August 10, the Feast of Saint Lawrence deacon and martyr, the first name was Msgr. Bernard Gerhard, a priest of great significance in my life, about whom I wrote in this space a few weeks after his death in 2007.  But next was Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle, who died in 1987.  I never met him, but he affected my life, and yours, more than most people know.

Cardinal O’Boyle was the first “real” Archbishop of Washington.  When the Archdiocese was erected in 1939 over the objections of the Michael Curley, Archbishop of Baltimore, and from his territory, he himself was also its first Archbishop.  That’s right: Curley was Archbishop of two dioceses -- and you can guess which one he preferred -- until his death in 1948.  So finally, in that year, Washington got its own Archbishop, and at the same time five counties of Maryland were joined to the District of Columbia, including Montgomery.  This means Saint Bernadette became part of Washington that same year, the same year it was elevated from mission status to parish.

Patrick O’Boyle was from Scranton, Pennsylvania, where as a boy he had applied to seminary but was told they couldn’t take him, because they already had more candidates for priesthood than they needed.  Imagine the day!  So, through some acquaintance, he was accepted for study for the Archdiocese of New York, at their St Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie.  His years of formation there were accompanied my mockery from his sophisticated (sic) urban classmates because of his “hillbilly” roots in coal country.

His skills were prized by the Archbishops however, and after being assigned increasingly responsible positions, he was put in charge of the national Catholic relief effort to Europe after World War II, with his office in the Empire State building.  

Named to Washington, he was the first US priest to be made an Archbishop without starting as a Bishop.  He started strong and continued that way, overseeing the building of many churches and schools to serve Catholics in Washington’s burgeoning suburbs.  Because he was Archbishop when our church was constructed in 1958, it is his coat of arms that is displayed on the wall behind the altar, on the right side.  His personal arms feature a tree, and his episcopal motto, State in Fide (Stand firm in the Faith, 1 Cor 16:13).

In the 1950’s, well before any government mandate, he integrated all the schools in the Archdiocese.  In 1968, he gave the invocation before Martin Luther King Jr.'s I have a dream speech at the Lincoln Memorial.  That same year, when CUA theologians instigated a revolt against Pope Saint Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, he moved just as strongly to give the rebellious Archdiocesan priests a stark choice: adhere to the teaching of the Church, or cease to be a priest.  Most returned to fidelity; a few chose the latter course.

More personally, in addition to a sharp sense of humor, he was known to insist that every priest wear a proper hat when out of doors.  With civilization and its attendant expectations already deteriorating, that expectation gained far less traction.  Alas!

Created Cardinal in 1967 and retiring upon reaching the newly-instituted age limit in 1973, he handed over the reins of the Archdiocese to Archbishop, later Cardinal, William Baum, but remained in his residence just off Tenley Circle until his death in 1987.  I have been told by alumnae of Immaculata High School, whose athletic fields were just across Warren Street NW from the house, that they occasionally got a glimpse of “Ol’ Pat,” perhaps as he walked out to get his morning paper.  

I lived in that same handsome house 2004 – 2005 while with Cardinal Baum, and in addition to the beautiful purpose-built chapel that Cardinal O’Boyle added, it still had his enormous old formal desk from his office in the Empire State building, and by the fireplace, to make sure nobody forgot who lived there or where he came from, a large brass coal scuttle filled with black lumps of Pennsylvania anthracite.  God rest him. 

Monsignor Smith

Saturday, August 07, 2021

The cheese or the holes

Switzerland does not take sides; it is a famously neutral country.  The rest of the world has clashed all around it, yet Swiss neutrality sails above the fray, banking and making watches, enjoying chocolate and cheese.

This is a cartoon caricature of that alpine nation, yet not far from the common assessment.  Another cartoon concept that even more people hold is that their own lives, their positions and their prospects, are neutral places, from which they may evaluate and embrace whatever values and viewpoints they find suitable.   If they do not take sides, they avoid the conflict.  People like to think of themselves as Switzerland sailing above the wars of religion.

They are fools, fodder for tyrants, ideologues, and false prophets.  You see, my brothers, we must carefully seek after our own salvation; otherwise, one who is bent on deceiving us will insinuate himself and turn us aside from the path that leads to life

This week in the Divine Office, which all the clergy and many others of the Church pray daily, we have had the so-called Epistle of Barnabas, which is neither an epistle, nor is its author Barnabas, the companion of Saint Paul on his missions.  However, as a treatise on the Faith it has been known, respected, and quoted since the earliest Church Fathers.  Written as early as the 70’s (not the 1870’s or 1970’s, just the 70’s) or as late as the 120’s AD, its author is unknown, but he conveys not only the content but also the urgency and necessity of the Faith in Jesus Christ that was liberating people from their darknesses all across the classical world:  You see, my brothers, we must carefully seek after our own salvation; otherwise, one who is bent on deceiving us will insinuate himself and turn us aside from the path that leads to life.  

Our lives do not play out on neutral ground.  The options available to human beings are not as innumerable and varied as are their minds and opinions; the default situation for us all is poverty and violence.  Left to our own devices, only the strong survive, and they only until comes one even stronger.   How can we know better, unless someone teach us?

Our Creator God, distressed by our helplessness, over generations and epochs, has revealed His nature and identity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Slow learners we, He extends to us more than simple knowledge, but moreover accompaniment and assistance.  Since we are unable and unwilling to change our own destructive, selfish nature, He takes and transforms it in Himself, then invites us in to share.  The only lifeboat on the stormy sea, she has room when Here comes everybody.  

No man can craft a system or explanation for himself or others that will deliver him from dreadful downward drag of our own rottenness in both inclination and action.  Every attempt across the arc of human striving has ended in ashes.  Only in the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God (Rom 11:33) is the possibility of human life and society where there is more, not less.    

Oh, you may try to remain neutral, thinking you are asking only to “do it your way” and be left alone.  But therein lies the kernel of your annihilation.  There is no middle between two opponents; there are only as many bad ways as there are people in the world, and one solitary good way, one path to life.  Court not death by your erring way of life, nor draw to yourselves destruction by the works of your hands. (Wis 1:12)

Every soul must choose a side, and not to choose is to give oneself over to the one who can consign both body and soul to Gehenna, with its unquenchable fires.  Seek your salvation, for the ones seeking your destruction are legion.  In the world we inhabit, there is no neutral ground.  

Monsignor Smith