FROM FATHER SMITH: OF TOMATOES, TIME, AND NEW BEGINNINGS
There is a short essay in this week’s New York magazine that caught my attention and brought a smile to my face. Its subject is the New Jersey beefsteak tomato. David Roth, the author of the essay, writes
Proust had his cookie of choice, and Citizen Kane had that subtext-loaded sled, but New Yorkers who like to eat have an equally potent—and, with all due respect to the madeleine, much more satisfying—totem for their summertimes. That would be the Jersey tomato, tentpole star of farmers’ markets from Cape May to Riverdale and dear friend of lazy home chefs everywhere: slice; dust with salt; drizzle with olive oil; feel like Mario Batali….This year’s weather has led to an uncommonly strong crop, but then [almost] every summer is a good one for Jersey beefsteaks. They’re delicious, sure, but their power lies in their fleeting availability. They taste like summer. And then they are gone (New York, September 10, 2012, 16; http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/tomatoes-2012-9/).
Mr. Roth then goes on to discuss what he considers to be the well-intentioned but ultimately misguided attempts of a number of local entrepreneurs to extend the life of Jersey tomatoes by canning them. He concludes, “Jersey tomatoes are an effortless pleasure that visits for only a few warm, wonderful weeks per year. It feels sad to see them hunkered in cans as summer fades. Even if those cans may have their own allure come mid-February.”
All that seems rather lovely, and very perceptive, to me. Mr. Roth writes an essay on the humble, if delicious, tomato and turns it into a meditation on time, mortality, the goodness and transience of life, and the wisdom of “living in the moment”: eat the tomato, enjoy it, thank the good Lord for it, and then let go. Is this the wisdom of the Zen master? I couldn’t say, but it is surely the wisdom of the Benedictine.
The September issue of the newsletter of Holy Cross Monastery arrived in the mail yesterday. The Holy Cross brothers are, of course, Benedictines, and in my experience they frequently have very good and helpful things to say about time. They often talk about “God’s time,” as well as the overlap, interplay, and the seeming and sometimes troubling opposition between “our” time and God’s time. In this latest edition of their newsletter Brother Scott Borden talks about “how many beginnings there are in a year.” He says that for the brothers there is the fiscal year that begins in July, the liturgical year that begins at Advent, and, for those who live in West Park, there is “the guesthouse year,” which begins in September. The latter means that the summer hiatus has ended and the brothers begin, once again, to welcome their associates and guests for times of retreat and for spiritual direction. The guesthouse comes alive as the brothers invite their visitors to join them for worship, prayer, and work. Brother Scott, reflecting on new beginnings, said something in his article that made me sit up and take notice, “The beginning of a new year…is not a little thing. Life presents us endless opportunities to begin again and faith gives us the courage to do so….Each [new ‘year,’ each new beginning] is giving us an opportunity to look at where we are and to begin again—another word for that is ‘repent.’ Opportunity is a terrible thing to waste” (Crux est Mundi Medicina, Vol. 24, No. 3, September 2012, 1).
That, too, seems lovely to me. In a single sentence, Brother Scott moves us past our sometimes limited and too-fearful interpretations of repentance. He reminds us that repentance always implies grace, the possibility of transformation, and the hope for new life and new beginnings.
Saint Mary’s is not a monastery. It is an urban parish, situated in a busy and often noisy neighborhood. However, we live by our own version of the rhythms that Brother Scott describes. Of course, during the summer months many things don’t change at all. The Offices are said, the Eucharist is celebrated, the sick are visited, confessions are heard, prayer is offered, fellowship takes place, opportunities for mission and outreach remain, the phone is answered, the work of the staff and the parish’s many volunteers continues. Still, the pace slows and some things about our common life become simpler; and some of us get to enjoy vacation and to heed that excellent advice, “Get some rest. Read a book. Go for a walk. Sit on the back porch (or the front stoop!). Take some time off. Spend some time with friends and family.”
And then September rolls around and the rhythm begins to change. We are aware that some kind of “new year” is about to begin, though we are never quite sure what to call it. As the autumn approaches and the days grow subtly shorter, I am trying to let the summer go, along with those Jersey tomatoes. I am trying to be grateful for the blessings of the summer months and hope to welcome this new year as it arrives. The new season means new opportunities at Saint Mary’s — new opportunities to study and learn and pray, and to let music enliven worship; new opportunities for giving and service; opportunities for fellowship and transformed relationships; and opportunities to stay put and do the same old thing in a new way, “repentant,” to use Brother Scott’s word. I look forward to sharing this time of new beginnings with you, and perhaps to hear in a new way John the Baptist’s famous words, “Repent and believe in the good news!” Jay Smith
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Noël, Jananie, José, Barbara, Tim, Sal, Mattie, Sharon, Chandra, Linda, Phillip, Ben, Janet, Rita, Robert, Janice, Casey, Angeline, George, Anna, Barbara, Joseph, Arpene, Tom, Judi, Annike, and Joyce; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Elizabeth, Nicholas, and Matthew; and for the repose of the soul of Juan Edner Gatten Cruz . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . September 9: 1878 John Edwin Atkins; 1879 Janet McWalter Noyes.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Friday, September 7, the Eve of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sung Mass 6:00 PM . . . Tuesday, September 11, 12:10 PM, Requiem Mass for the victims of the attacks on September 11, 2001 . . . Friday, September 14, Holy Cross Day, Morning Prayer 8:30 AM, Noonday Prayer 12:00 PM, Mass 12:10 PM, Sung Mass 6:00 PM . . . Father Jim Pace will hear confessions on Saturday, September 8. Father Gerth will hear confessions on Saturday, September 15. If you do not see a priest in the church at the appointed times for confession, please speak to the sexton on duty and he will call the priest on duty; or you may call the parish office ahead of time to make an appointment.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Our new Saint Mary’s Facebook page can be accessed at www.facebook.com/stmvnyc. If you use Facebook, we invite you to visit our page and “like” us . . . During the summer-vacation season, we typically experience something of a cash-flow problem. We invite all those who have made a pledge for 2012 to try and stay current with their planned pledge payments, if possible; and we thank all those who continue to support Saint Mary’s so generously . . . Donations are needed for altar flowers for the following Sundays: October 28, November 11 and 18. If you would like to make a donation for flowers on one of those dates, please contact the parish office . . . Father Gerth will be on vacation and away from the parish until September 8. He returns to the parish on Sunday, September 9. He will then be attending a Leadership Ministry Conference, September 10-12. He returns to the office on Friday, September 14 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 221.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . The cantor at Solemn Mass this Sunday is Ruth Cunningham, soprano. Ruth and I will improvise the settings of the minor propers. The motet is the final verset and closing chorale of the cantata Christ lag in Todes Banden (“Christ lay in Death’s grim prison”), BWV 4, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750). Grace Bruni, ‘cellist and parishioner, plays continuo for the Bach . . . The choral music list is now available on our website. Many people ask me how the choral music is selected, and I am always happy to discuss the various processes that make up my decisions. One consideration is the size of our choir. In order to stay within our budget, we are seldom able to expand much beyond the nine core members, and we no longer have an assistant organist who can accompany the choir. Therefore, it makes sense to focus on music that works well with a choir of that size and without organ accompaniment. Fortunately, there is much repertoire, particularly from the Medieval and Renaissance periods, that suits these requirements admirably. The second consideration is length. While it was usual for Tallis or Mozart to compose fifteen-minute settings of the Gloria in excelsis, for example, it is not practical, nor desirable, to perform such works during our liturgy nowadays. The challenge is to choose settings that can nevertheless stand as a fitting counterpart to the majesty and grandeur of our worship traditions and of our magnificent church. Fortunately, with some inventive “digging around” in libraries and on the Internet, it is possible to present music from a great variety of countries, styles and time periods, all composed in the very best musical traditions. Highlights this season include two glorious Spanish Renaissance settings of the Mass by Victoria and Guerrero (for the feasts of All Souls’ Day and The Conception of the Blessed Virgin, respectively). Joining the choir for these performances will be baroque bassoonist and Spanish music specialist Rachel Begby. Saint Mary’s is an extraordinary community of inspiration for any musician. Few may be aware that parishioner and Flower Guild member Rick Austil is also an accomplished composer. Rick’s Mass setting, composed for Saint Mary’s, will be premiered at Solemn Mass on Sunday, November 11. Christmas Eve presents an unparalleled opportunity to “show off” our liturgical traditions to the many parishioners and visitors who attend the services. The full choir is joined by the Saint Mary’s brass ensemble, and music will include several new compositions and arrangements, as well as Vaughan-Williams’s sublime Mass in G minor. I look forward to another season of thrilling music-making! James Kennerley
ADULT EDUCATION, OCTOBER-DECEMBER 2012 . . . Wednesday Night Bible Study Class (October 17, 24; November 7, 14, 28; December 5, 12, 19): Father Jay Smith will lead the class in a study of the Lord’s Prayer. The class will discuss contemporary Jewish prayer forms, the text of the Prayer in the gospels, and early patristic interpretations of the Prayer, hoping to understand what the Our Father has to teach us about the act, life, and discipline of prayer . . . Sunday, October 7, 10:00 AM: Dr. Dennis Raverty will introduce the class to the life and work of Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859–1937), an African-American painter who specialized in Biblical subjects . . . Sunday, October 14, 21, 28: Father Jim Pace will draw on his pastoral, theological, and medical knowledge and experience as he leads the class in a discussion of three Prayer Book rites, the Reconciliation of a Penitent, Ministration to the Sick, and Ministration at the Time of Death . . . Sunday, November 4, 11, 18: Father Pete Powell begins a series on a centrally important part of the New Testament canon, Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. (He will continue the series during Lent 2013.) . . . Sunday, December 2, 9, 16: Mother Mary Julia Jett leads a series on the history and theology of the so-called Ritualist movement in England and America during the mid- to late-nineteenth century. The class will examine, and look beyond, the details of ritual, decoration, and aesthetics, attempting to explore, among other things, how the movement was connected to the Oxford Movement; the controversies, riots, and arrests associated with so-called Ritualist practices; what the strengths and weaknesses of the movement were; what the movement can tell us about our own worship; and the connections the so-called Ritualists made between the sacraments and social justice.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Friday, September 21, Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist . . . Friday, September 28, The Eve of Saint Michael and All Angels . . . Wednesday, October 3, The Ordination of a Priest . . . Sunday, October 7, Summer Schedule ends: Sung Matins 8:30 AM, Mass 9:00 & 10:00 AM, Church School 9:45 AM, Adult Education 10:00 AM, Solemn Mass 11:00 AM (choir returns), Evensong and Benediction 5:00 PM.
OKTOBERFEST & HYMN SING 2012 . . . Our annual Oktoberfest and Hymn Sing is on Saturday, October 13, 6:00-9:00 PM. Dinner is potluck. Please contact Grace Bruni or Father Smith if you think you might be able to bring a dish to share. Beverages will be provided. Invite a friend! All are welcome!
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Father Smith continues his Book Sale on Sunday morning. All proceeds are used to help those in need. If you would like to donate books, please speak to Father Smith or ask one of the sextons to put your donation in the parish kitchen, marked “Book Sale” . . . The Inpatient Detoxification Program at St. Luke's Hospital is always in need of Bibles (editions with both the Old and the New Testaments), new basic personal items (especially t-shirts, socks, and small backpacks or totes), and ink pens for journaling (bank pens, hotel pens, all are fine). If you are willing and able to help, a box will be available in Saint Joseph's Hall on Sunday mornings. If you have any questions, please contact Deacon Mary Jett at email@example.com . . . We are beginning now to gather toys and other gift items for children of all ages. They will be donated in November to the New York Foundling Hospital and AIDS Action International. Donations can be left, with a note on them explaining what they are for, in the parish kitchen or you may give the items to Father Jay Smith . . . We are also receiving donations of small- or medium-sized luggage to be used by children in foster care. The luggage is given to the Foundling Hospital. Please speak to Father Smith . . . We continue to collect non-perishable food items for the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Please consider making a regular donation to the Food Pantry. Look for the basket in the back of the church or in Saint Joseph’s Hall. You may make a cash donation as well. If you would like more information about how the Food Pantry works or if you would like to volunteer, please contact Sister Deborah Francis, C.S.J.B., or Father Jay Smith.