Saturday, January 24, 2009

R.I.P. Msgr. William B. Smith

I copy below from a blog, I think from Fr. Michael Venditti, concerning the death of Msgr. Willlam B. Smith on the near anniversary of Roe v. Wade (January 24). I met Msgr. Smith at a Sunday dinner with Msgr. Joe Obrien who was pastor at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Scarsdale in 1973. Obrien, an immensely generous man who helped me in everything I needed to do apostolate in lower Westchester in the early to mid 70s and even Wall Street [chapel for days of recollection, school facilities for a summer camp, connecting me with Our Lady of Victory and Msgr. Shultheiss, etc. - and friendship]. Inviting me to dinner at his place on this Sunday, he prefaced the invitation with the remark: Connor, you think you're smart, but I'm going to introduce you to somebody who is really smart:"

He produced Fr. William Smith. He had understated it. I immediately placed him in my constellation of "brains" of whom there were three, Scalia, Smith and one other. Shortly thereafter, I had the apostolic audacity to call him on the phone and announce to him that he needed spiritual direction. From me! The laconic response: "No problem." We talked every Tuesday night for 2-3 years. He never said no! to any request made of him. It was/is a huge heart disguised as a cool martini. I loved him for his heart, his mind and his love for the Church. He was not afraid to speak truth to error. He dotted his i's and crossed all his t's. I will find his wake and funeral and weep over them. I will include him in every Mass until my memory completely caves in!! Amen.

Now Venditti who among others had him as professor of morals:

"If you're not up on your theological journals, you probably wouldn't recognize his name—unless you caught him on the Charlie Rose show or the odd episode of "Good Morning America"—; but, for those involved in the defense of Catholic doctrine, particularly the Gospel of Life, he was a guiding light. In the classroom, Father Smith (he wasn't a monsignor then) never made you learn; from him, you always wanted more. You left his class with the same feeling you had leaving the table after a good meal: looking forward to the next one after due digestion. And while the information came fast and furious, it was presented so simply and straightforwardly that, by the end of the class, all the questions you had jotted down to be asked when the lecture was over were already answered. Nor was there any tickery or attempts to show how clever he was—that perennial curse that infects so many academicians—; he wanted you to understand, and, if you didn't, he counted it a personal failure on his part, not yours. "This will be on the exam," he would often say; and there it was on exam day, in exactly the same words as in the lecture. You couldn't help but learn. But the humility and singleness of purpose that characterized Msgr. Smith in the classroom were only offshoots of the personal qualities of the man and the priest; and it is unfortunate that those who knew him—or knew of him—only through his scholarly legacy in defense of human life and Catholic moral teaching, never heard him preach or lived with him. The priest-professor who glides into the sanctuary in the local parish because he's been assigned to help there on the weekends gets a bad rap, usually well deserved, as he dazzles the faithful with exegesis which would confound St. Jerome; but, in the pulpit, Msgr. Smith would speak only of eternal realities, and in such a way that one recounted the words of the emissaries of the Prince of Kiev in Constantinople: "We did not know if we were in heaven or on earth." To live with him was to live with a friend from the first day you moved in. Shy and not given to the social graces, he was nevertheless as comfortable to be with as pair of flannel pajamas (once he realized that you meant him no harm); and in the seminary, he was quick to defend anyone whom he perceived was being persecuted for faithfulness to the Church and her Divine mission. There are many good and holy priests laboring in the vineyard today who would not be there if not for Msgr. Smith standing up for them in trying times before evaluators and authoritarians who saw their roll in the seminary in service to their own agendas. It is not insignificant that he passed from us at the same time as the anniversary of that disastrous Supreme Court decision that made the murder of the inconvenient legal. But it would be remiss to ignore the fact that, even in pro-life circles, Msgr. Smith was often an unwelcome guest, not unlike the crazy uncle you have to invite for Thanksgiving because he's family. With him, it was nothing less than all of Catholic teaching, not just the soup of the day; and often it seemed that he was a lone voice crying in the wilderness the awful truth that it's primarily artificial contraception that is at the root of the murder of unborn children; and while Catholic bishops and theologians risk nothing to stand up for the fight against abortion, you can count on one hand those who have spoken fearlessly and continuously about the mortal sin of artificial birth control, and that myth of casuistry that so often masquerades under the title of "conscience" in Catholic pulpits and confessionals. Msgr. Smith was among them. With the stroke of a pen yesterday, President Obama condemned millions of innocent children to death on our dime, as he rescinded, by Executive Order, the "Mexico City Accords" that prevented American tax dollars paying for abortions overseas. What he didn't count on was our own secret weapon: a torpedo fired into heaven from earth, which will reign down the light of truth on the unrighteous, already present in the hundreds of priests and lay people who have been schooled in the Gospel of Life by the best defender human life ever had. May Christ our God richly reward his servant, the priest William, with eternal blessings; and may his memory be eternal! "

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