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