From Father Smith: The Love of God
“When they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”—John 19:33-34
My father was a quiet and reserved man. He wasn’t shy, but he didn’t reveal certain emotions willingly or with ease. He was born into a family whose religious faith was superficial at best; and so, his life changed dramatically when he met and married my mother. For her, and her large Irish Catholic family, the Christian faith was at the very heart of their lives, and evidence of that faith was everywhere. Religious images abounded in my home and in the homes of my cousins. I learned the word “novena” before I was in the first grade. My father was confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church shortly after he married my mother. I believe his conversion was a sincere one. In the years after the Second Vatican Council he became very active at our parish – lay reader, treasurer, president of the parish council – he loved doing all of that and all of it was inspired by a love for God that was obvious, if largely unstated. His faith, like much else about my father, was undemonstrative. As a result, he sometimes found himself tiptoeing a bit around the more exuberant devotional practices of his Irish Catholic wife and children.
It was my mother’s custom, when I was young, to create small shrines during the months of May and June, at which the family would sometimes gather for prayer. During the month of May the shrine was dedicated to Our Lady; in June the small “altar” was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In May there would be lilacs, if we were lucky (spring comes late in Buffalo). In June, however, there would be roses. The roses were my father’s contribution. He kept a rose garden and his garden was, not surprisingly, a lot like him: orderly, precise, filled with plants with woody, prickly stems and lovely blossoms. Images of the Sacred Heart made him nervous, but it pleased him, I think, to be able to provide something so beautiful for our makeshift shrine. My parents had five sons and so “extras” were sometimes in short supply around our house. I think that’s why my father liked the roses. They weren’t useful or necessary or practical. They were surprising; they were beautiful; they were pure gift, a sign of grace.
The devotion to the Sacred Heart, in its most familiar form, arose in seventeenth-century France and became very popular in the Roman Catholic world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, the origins of the devotion are much earlier than that, arising first, perhaps, out of the church’s reflection on biblical texts like the one quoted above. For the Fathers, the pastors and theologians of the church’s first centuries, the blood and water that came forth from Our Lord’s side were rich symbols of God’s gracious love; they were signs which pointed to the saving grace found in the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. In the Middle Ages, Christian spirituality, especially in the West, focused in a new way on Jesus’ humanity. Images of Our Lord as an all-powerful Ruler became less popular than those which showed him up close, human, compassionate, sharing in humanity’s sufferings. Devotion to the loving heart of Jesus was an important part of that spirituality.
At Saint Mary’s we have a remarkable and unique statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It stands in a niche in the right-side aisle of the church. (A photograph of the statue can be found in the photo gallery section of the parish’s website.) The Sacred Heart shrine was constructed in 1928 to mark the elevation of the feast of the Sacred Heart, in the Roman Church, to a higher status. The statue is quite unlike images of the Sacred Heart that would have been popular in the 1920’s and that are familiar to many of us still. Nicholas Krasno’s Guide to the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin tells us that “the striking statue is by Lee Lawrie, and the rather stark style was the source of some controversy at the time. Indeed the statue was two years…in the making, including several changes to the head to satisfy the donors.” The “starkness” of the statue communicates a quiet and impressive strength. Its effect is neither sentimental nor androgynous. The statue, to my mind, is reminiscent not of contemporary Roman models, but of renditions of Moses or the Israelite prophets, cast, in what Krasno describes as a “distinctly moderne” style.
I have found it interesting, fantasizing about the long-ago “controversy,” to which Krasno alludes. Whatever happened during those negotiations, the result is unique and makes a clear and distinct statement: this is a community intimately linked to and deeply respectful of the great Catholic theological, liturgical and spiritual tradition; and yet it is a community that takes care to define its special place within that tradition. Saint Mary’s in 1926 was not, it seems, content simply to copy current Roman practice, although it was openly inspired by it: Our Lord’s heart is revealed, placed in the center of his chest; the four fastenings on his robe includes symbols of the evangelists; his right hand stretches down and out, a sign of Jesus’ love for his disciples and for the world; and, most strikingly, in his left hand is the consecrated Host. The statue links us to the popular Sacred Heart devotion, while reminding us, in good Anglo-Catholic fashion, that the signs of Our Lord’s love are to be found, not primarily in extra-liturgical devotions, but in Word and Sacrament.
In the end, our statue of the Sacred Heart, just like my father’s faith, reminds me that, though there are different ways of talking about the love of God, we must never forget to talk about it, for it is what feeds us, sustains us and gives us life. (The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is kept at Saint Mary’s on the seventh of June.) Jay Smith
TRANSITIONS . . . Two years ago we snatched Father Weiler from the master of sacred theology program at the Yale University Divinity School. When he came to us I knew he wanted to go on for further academic work. He promised to give us at least two years; and I hoped we would have him for three years. Last Wednesday, Father came and told me that he has decided to return to school to begin this degree and to begin the process of applying to graduate schools where he will do doctoral work. We are going to miss him and his wife, Janna. Class begins for him on Wednesday, September 3. We have tentatively set August 10 as Father’s last Sunday with us as curate and Friday, August 15, the Feast of the Assumption as his last day with us. As most readers will know, Father Jay Smith is returning in September to New Haven to complete work on his dissertation at Yale in the Department of Religious Studies. Score: Yale 2, SMV 0. When I return from the trip to Rome and London, we will begin the process of looking for a new curate for liturgy and education. I hope to have him or her on board by October 1. Stephen Gerth
WELCOME OUR SUMMER SEMINARY INTERNS . . . Matthew Mead is a candidate for Holy Orders from the Diocese of New York and is a rising senior at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale Divinity School. He has lived in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York: places where his father, an Episcopal priest and rector of our neighbor Saint Thomas, has served. Matthew and his fiancé Nicole De Coursy will be worshipping with us this summer . . . Michael Penland is a candidate for Holy Orders form the Diocese of Western North Carolina and is a rising senior at The School of Theology at The University of the South, in Sewanee, Tennessee. Prior to seminary he was a practicing psychologist, having completed his Ph.D. at Florida State University, and specializing in family systems, child, and geriatric work. His wife, Pam, and 10-year old son, Corbin, will be joining him in New York in early June . . . Please welcome these new friends to Saint Mary’s.
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Alice who is gravely ill, for Marjorie who is hospitalized, and for Lois, Joan, Joanne, Eva, Nicholas, Bart, Brett, Nicole, Jack, Thomas, Annie, Patricia, Paul, Robert, Gloria, Jerri, Margaret, Marion, Olga, Rick, and Charles, priest; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Timothy, Jonathan, Patrick, Edward, Keith, Kevin, Christopher, Andrew, Joseph, Mark, Ned, Timothy, David, John and Colin. . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . May 29: 1992 Robert William Anderson; May 31: 1995 Louis Stephen Stancill.
NOTES ON MUSIC . . . Mr. Dale Bonenberger will play for the Sung Mass on Sunday. Dale is a parishioner of Saint Mary’s and we appreciate his willingness to share his gifts with us. The prelude will be Minuet from Water Music by G. F. Handel (1685-1759), and the postlude will be Voluntary, Op. 5, No. 1 by John Stanley (1712-1786). Mr. Robert McDermitt, assistant organist, will play the organ and conduct the choir at the Solemn Mass. The prelude will be Grave and Adagio from Sonata No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 65, and the postlude will be the final two movements of the same Sonata, Allegro molto e vivace and Fuga. The setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa l’hora passa by Ludovico da Viadana (1560-1627) and the motet at Communion, also by Viadana, is Exsultate iusti. We continue our organ recital series before Solemn Evensong & Benediction. This week, we welcome Ms. Jin Krista Kang, organist of the New York University Catholic Center, who will play works of Muffat, Frieberger and Bach. On Ascension Day, Thursday, May 29, Dr. Patrick Allen of Grace Church in Manhattan will play the recital at 5:30 PM, featuring works of Buxtehude, Bach and Mendelssohn. At the Solemn Pontifical Mass, the setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa Paschalis by Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594) and the motet at Communion is Omnes gentes plaudite by Christopher Tye (c. 1505-c. 1572). The postlude, played by Robert McDermitt, is Carillon de Westminster from Pièces de Fantaisie by Louis Vierne (1870-1937).
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, May 24, and on Saturday, May 31 . . . The Rector will be away from the parish from Wednesday, May 21, until Thursday, June 5. Father Weiler will be in residence during this time. The home telephone numbers of the rector and the curate are listed in the Manhattan white pages under their own names so that they can be reached in case of emergency . . . Ashley Stryker and John Speranza will be married at Saint Mary’s on Saturday, May 24, at 4:00 PM . . . Attendance last Sunday 261.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Sixth Sunday of Easter
Monday Rogation Day
Tuesday Rogation Day
Wednesday Rogation Day
Eve of Ascension Day 6:00 PM
Thursday Ascension Day
Sung Mass 12:00 PM,
Procession & Solemn Pontifical Mass 6:00 PM
Friday Easter Weekday No Abstinence
Eve of the Visitation
Sung Mass 6:00 PM
Saturday The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend Matthew Weiler, curate, The Reverend James Ross Smith, assistant,
The Reverend Rosemari Sullivan, assisting priest,
The Reverend John Beddingfield, assisting deacon,
The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.