This is a transcription of a sermon given by: Fr. Christopher Smith.
It is transcribed here by: Tony Capobianco. Permission to transcribe this sermon was sought and permission was granted. A special thanks to Fr. Christopher Smith for granting me permission to transcribe and post his sermon here at Virgo Potens.
Fr. Christopher Smith 0:02
From time to time I think it's always important for us as a parish family to go back to the basics of why we're here, and why it is that we do what we do and do it in the way that we do it.
Fr. Christopher Smith 0:17
For those of you for whom Prince of Peace is your spiritual home, I'm sure that you can agree with me that this is an amazing place in so many different ways.
Fr. Christopher Smith 0:28
I can't tell you how many times I've had people visit, just because they found a convenient Mass place and time when they were traveling and come to me after Mass and say, Father that was the most beautiful Mass, I ever seen. Or, I wish we had something like this in my diocese. Now to be fair I've also had people come up to me and say that was the weirdest thing that I've ever seen in my life. And so, you know, not always everybody's cup of tea all the time, but we have had people find us on the modern miracle that is the internet and move across the country. Uprooting their whole lives because they're looking for a spiritual home and find it here among us.
Fr. Christopher Smith 1:18
I get emails from former parishioners who've moved, telling me how much they miss Prince of Peace, and I come across priests, all the time who congratulate and encourage us, and the work that we're doing here, and wish that they could accomplish some of the things that we're able to do here.
Fr. Christopher Smith 1:38
It really is quite humbling when I hear these things, and also a great sign of encouragement to keep doing what it is that we're doing.
Fr. Christopher Smith 1:50
When I came to Prince of Peace in December of 2011, I had a different vision for our parish family; an intentional community of Christian disciples who want to rebuild authentic Catholic culture and be an oasis of peace and beauty, where the classical Catholic spiritual and liturgical Tradition is something that we live and breathe at every moment and in everything that we do. And there have been so many who have responded positively to that vision.
Fr. Christopher Smith 2:32
There are people all over the world, especially young people who are searching for something more than what they have in their lives right here and right now. There are those who are tired of bad liturgy, bad preaching, bad catechesis, bad music, bad community life, and they want something more. It's something different than the culture offers them.
Fr. Christopher Smith 3:06
There's a desire for a beautiful experience of divine worship, preaching rooted in Scripture and the magisterium, intellectually challenging ongoing formation for discipleship, truly sacred music, and a real place to call home. And for many this parish has become a safe space to thrive as a Catholic.
Fr. Christopher Smith 3:40
In 2017 a book appeared, which has gotten a lot of attention in Catholic circles. Some of you may have come across it or read parts of it or the whole thing. Rod Dreher, a columnist for the New York Times, published a book called The Benedict Option. In it he argued that a strategy for being a Christian in a post Christian world was to follow the example of the great patriarch of Western monasticism St. Benedict, whose statue is right there on the other side from St. Michael in the church.
Fr. Christopher Smith 4:17
You know, every time I come to church St. Benedict's (statue) is one of the first things that I see, and you'll notice that he has a chalice in his hand which is broken. Well, there's a story behind that. When he started to challenge the monks, with whom he was living to be as authentically living the Gospel as they could, then they got kind of annoyed with him because he kept going on about all of this all the time and so they tried to poison him. Right. So, he made the sign of the cross before he took a cup of wine at dinner and then it shattered. So it saved him from that but it's always an object lesson when I come into the church to remember that we’ve got to be prepared for anything and everything when we are doing everything that we can to encourage people to live the gospel as closely as possible.
Fr. Christopher Smith 5:10
But St. Benedict really started this whole movement of something which was truly amazing. During the ages of Faith, many lay people and families lived around monasteries and built a flourishing Christian civilization rooted in the interior life of prayer, the sacred liturgy, as well as mutual support.
Fr. Christopher Smith 5:38
In one sense Dreher has popularized an idea that was first elaborated in our own time by classics professor at the University of Kansas, John Senior, in his books, The Death of Christian Culture, and The Restoration of Christian Culture, written in 1978 and 1983. All these books have merit to them and the ideas contained in them have led faithful Catholics to search out centers for excellence that they can plug into.
Fr. Christopher Smith 6:14
Now, in and of itself, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. There's a “but” coming, and we'll get there in a second. But during Eastertide each year, the sacred liturgy proposes to us the book of the Acts of the Apostles. And I don't know if you've ever sat down and read from the first to the last chapter of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, but if you haven’t, it really is a wonderful thing. I promise you that you will not be wasting your time, because it's the history of that very first generation of Christians, and their amazing spirit.
Fr. Christopher Smith 7:03
And so in rereading the Book of Acts during this Eastertide and hearing those readings proclaimed to us in the liturgy, it’s causing me a lot to think about our common life as a parish family. Now, don't get me wrong, it is true that we all need a safe space to be nourished and to grow in our Faith, but is that all we're looking for?
Fr. Christopher Smith 7:33
Remember, and many of you have heard me say this before, you know I'm a broken record, but we are called to build the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of Narnia. Okay. We are not called to retreat from the world, in some kind of romantic fairytale dream that has never existed and probably shouldn't exist. We're not called to hide away from the world, but to transform it.
Fr. Christopher Smith 8:05
And so the question that I have to ask myself, and I ask you tonight to ponder is, are we an Acts of the Apostles Church? Or some other kind of church?
Fr. Christopher Smith 8:19
What do I mean by that? Well, in Acts chapter 13, Paul and Barnabas go to Antioch in Pisidia, where no one up until that point had ever heard the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There, they met many Jews and converts to Judaism who, in theory would be the most open to the message. And there was an openness there, but some of the Jews saw their power being threatened. And so they deliberately stirred the pot, resorting to manipulating and lying to turn people against the new Church.
Fr. Christopher Smith 9:07
Well, why? Jealousy, pure and simple. We’re told in Acts chapter 13 that that's what it was all about. Now it's easy for us to say, “well you know that was 2000 years ago. Different place. Different time.” Well, do we live in a place which is really all that different than Antioch of Pisidia?
Fr. Christopher Smith 9:36
I think that there are numerous people who are open to the Gospel. There’s something in their hearts that wants something more and authentic and beautiful and amazing to make sense of their life and to give them something beyond the grave. There's an openness that's there, all over, I see that. But there are also so many voices which want to drown out the still small voice of God.
Fr. Christopher Smith 10:08
In Antioch, a persecution raged. Paul and Barnabas eventually had to flee, because they wanted to spend their lives planting as many seeds as possible, in as many places as possible. And those seeds would bear fruit. What they didn't do, is retreat like little snowflakes more concerned about their physical safety, or their reputation. I mean, who cares what other people think about you?
Fr. Christopher Smith 10:47
Only God, and what He thinks of you is important. And if God has loved every single one of you from all eternity, then that's all you need to know. Paul and Barnabas, they didn't retreat, they engaged because they were not afraid. They knew who they were, and Who’s they were. And so it gave them that boldness to continue to press forward to plant those seeds and let the water, the dew of the Holy Spirit, bring them to life.
Fr. Christopher Smith 11:27
You and I would not be here in this church tonight had it not been for Paul and Barnabas going to Antioch in Pisidia and doing what they did. But that leaves us a question. Are you coming to church because you like the sweet safe feeling that you get here? Not because there's anything wrong with that. Don't get me wrong. But have you let your Faith become too comfortable, too domesticated? Because if so, then we've got a problem.
Fr. Christopher Smith 12:09
Now you know how St. Alphonsus Ligouri said that the job of the priest is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. Right? Okay. And some of you may say, “Well Father you do a big job of afflicting people.” Okay. Fine. I recognize that. Okay. It’s part of the job description.
Fr. Christopher Smith 12:27
But I want you to think about something here. On Confirmation on Friday night, the bishop, the successor to the apostles was here with us administering the Sacrament of Confirmation to 38 of our young people. And at least until the reforms of Vatican II, when the bishop administered the sacrament, then he would lightly slap the cheek of the Confirmand to remind her that she would have to be willing to suffer for the cause of the Gospel. Now could you imagine if we did that now? We’d end up the newspaper, “Bishop slapping children all over the place.” PR disaster. Right.
Fr. Christopher Smith 13:09
But there's a method to the madness. Have we lost the spirit of the martyrs? That was part of our initiation into the way of Jesus Christ. We can't play it safe anymore when it comes to our Catholic Faith. We need to be formed. Not as half baked followers out of convention, but with the grit and resolve of the first generation of Christians.
Fr. Christopher Smith 13:48
Does our Church look like Acts chapter 13? Or a pious social club?
Fr. Christopher Smith 13:56
In 2018 a study was done whose findings were recently reported about religion in America. For the first time, the largest single religious group in our country is what researchers call “nones”, and I'm talking about the ladies in the black habit with Sister Act, right? Okay. “Nones” are those who claim no religion. And that kind of ranges from militant atheists to perpetual seekers at 23.1%.
Fr. Christopher Smith 14:31
Catholics come in at 23%. And evangelicals at 22.3%.
Fr. Christopher Smith 14:39
The “nones” have grown 266% since 1991, which incidentally, was the same year that I was received into the Catholic Church.
Fr. Christopher Smith 14:52
Worldwide there are now more Muslims than Catholics. We used to be the largest religion in the world. Not anymore.
Fr. Christopher Smith 15:05
Now, you know that I am absolutely the first to say that quality is more important than quantity, right? And that it's not a numbers game where we measure success in terms of one upping percentage points. Because the Lord Jesus would have come down to die for the sins of even only one person, if only that one person would accept Him as Lord and Savior.
Fr. Christopher Smith 15:34
But before the Lord ascended into heaven, He gave the Great Commission to His disciples to go forth and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Christopher Smith 15:51
And you know what? He never said it was gonna be easy. Or a barrel of laughs all the time. Or without conflict.
Fr. Christopher Smith 16:02
Again, we see in the Book of Acts, all of that unfolding as we read it. I think that when we look at Church history, you know, I love history, because there's so much that we can see and it's light about our present day and age. Whenever the Church finds its greatest renewal, is when we intentionally try to recapture that incredible Faith that is present in the Book of Acts. I want you to think about in England during the 16th century,. Queen Elizabeth The First made it a capital crime for a priest to say Mass, or for the faithful to go and hear Mass. What we're doing right now, would have me hanged, drawn, and quartered, and you guys in prison or fined.
Fr. Christopher Smith 17:03
So the Catholic faithful of England who were a remnant, who would not betray the Ancient Faith that was given to them from the Apostles.... They smuggled their young men as missionaries out of England to the continent to be trained for the priesthood. And those men would come back. There’s a beautiful scene in the English College in Rome where so many of them were being trained not to be priests, but to be martyrs. St. Philip Neri, who was a parish priest in Rome, he was kind of a practical jokester, really great, amazing story; he would see the English guys on their way to study at the Gregorian University, and would call out to them the Latin “Salvete Flores Martyrum”, “Hail, Flowers of martyrdom”.
Fr. Christopher Smith 17:53
Every single one of those men that he said that to gave his life for the Mass and for their Catholic Faith, except for one, who is portrayed in a mural in The English College as saying, “nope, not going to do it.” and ran away like Judas on the night before Our Lord’s Passion.
Fr. Christopher Smith 18:20
Here at Prince of Peace it is amazing to see the flowering of holiness that we have here. You know, I'm convinced that after the hours of Confessions that we heard during Lent, there cannot be any sinners left in Greenville County. Of how many beautiful children have been reborn of water in the Spirit in Baptism. Of those who received First Holy Communion, and Confirmation. Of how many beautiful Christian Marriages have been witnessed at this altar. I'm waiting to see the day in which there is a first Mass of a newly ordained priest every year in this church, where one of our young women takes the veil as a Carmelite nun in a cloister to pray for the world. And I'm waiting for the day when one of you will have a statue erected for your martyrdom. That's the kind of parish that we have and that we can have, if we follow the Great Commission. If our Lord has given every baptized Christian, the same commandment, we know that at the end of our life, we will have to render an account to God for how we have fulfilled that mandate of the Lord. Now, some of you may be looking at me and saying, “You know what, that's a great idea. Father, I think the church needs to do something about all that.”
Fr. Christopher Smith 19:55
Well, you're the church. So let's go do it.
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