Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Amid the "Oil Change and Tune-Up," A Warning Light: "Francis Is Calling Us"

Merry Chrismas to all... and to all, well, start your engines.

As this Tuesday of Holy Week brings the largest batch of Chrism Masses on these shores, this is always an especially graced moment. Still, one prelate who faced delivering his most important message of the year ahead of the Pope's word to Rome probably echoed the mind of many others on musing that "I just wish I knew what Francis was going to say" come Thursday morning.

For what it's worth, guessing ain't much use – we'll see in 36 hours, and we'll all see it together.

Whatever happens, it bears recalling that as the last papal Holy Thursday made for two of the most evocative moments of this new journey to date – the almost exhaustively-quoted call for pastors to bear the "smell of the sheep"... and the video of the evening's Mandatum in a juvenile prison – this second round brings a high bar to match, let alone clear. Yet even before the Big Man gets his turn, the deck of messages is already filling up.

Along those lines, below is the Chrism homily given this morning in Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross by Francis' "regional assistant" for North America, Cardinal Seán O'Malley, OFM Cap.:


Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Who Am I? Where Is My Heart?"

13 APRIL 2014
This week begins with the festive procession with olive branches: all the people welcome Jesus. The children, the young people sing, praising Jesus.

But this week proceeds into the mystery of Jesus' death and his resurrection. We've heard the Passion of the Lord. So it'll do us well to ask ourselves one question: Who am I? Who am I before my Lord? Who am I before the Jesus who enters Jerusalem amid celebration? Am I able to express my joy, to praise him? Or do I keep a distance? Who am I before the Jesus who suffers?

We've heard many names, many names. The group of rulers, some priests, some Pharisees, the teachers of the law, who decided to kill him. They waited for the chance to apprehend him. Am I one of them?

We've likewise heard another name: Judas. Thirty pieces of silver. Am I like Judas? We've heard other names: the disciples who couldn't understand any of it, who fell asleep while Jesus suffered. Has my life fallen asleep? Or am I like the disciples, who didn't understand what betraying Jesus meant? Like that other disciple who wanted to settle everything with the sword: am I like them? Am I like Judas, who made a show of loving and kissing Jesus, only to hand him over, to betray him? Am I a traitor? Am I like those rulers who rushed to hold the tribunal and seek false witnesses: am I like them? And when I do these things, if I do them, do I believe that I save people with this?

Am I like Pilate? When I see that the situation's tough, I wash my hands and don't know to take my responsibility and I let them condemn – or do I condemn – people?

Am I like that crowd which didn't know whether it was taking part in a religious gathering, a trial or a circus, and chooses Barabbas? For them it's all the same: it was more fun to humiliate Jesus.

Am I like the soldiers who strike the Lord, spit on him, insult him, enjoying themselves by humiliating the Lord?

Am I like the Cyrenian who was coming home from work, was tired, but had the goodwill to help the Lord carry the cross?

Am I like those who went before the Cross and taunted Jesus: "If only he had more courage! Come down from the cross, and we'll believe in Him!" They taunted Jesus....

Am I like those courageous women, and like Jesus' Mamma, who were there, suffering in silence?

Am I like Joseph, the hidden disciple, who carries the body of Jesus with love to give it a tomb?

Am I like the two Marys who remain before the Tomb crying, praying?

Am I like those leaders who went to Pilate the following day to say: "Be on guard – this one said he would rise, so don't let them be fooled again!" and blocked his life, blocked the tomb to defend doctrine, so that life could not come out?

Where is my heart? Which of these people am I like? May this question accompany us all through this week.

[Ed. Note: Homily delivered unscripted – house translation.]


This Holy Week, "Let Us Be Drawn Toward Him... Let Us Be Healed By Him"

Yet again, the journey begins in triumph....

...and as ever, how quickly it changes. Still, it's only a shadow of the other side of this Week – and lest anybody forgot, the days now upon us are what all the rest is all about.

To one and all, every blessing, grace and goodness of this Holy Week – here's to the richest and most beautiful one you've ever known.

*  *  *
As it begins, two reflections do well to set the scene.

First, from last Tuesday at the Domus, the Pope's preach....

It is impossible for us to free ourselves from sin on our own. It’s impossible. These doctors of the law, these people who taught the law, didn’t have a clear idea on this. They believed, yes, in the forgiveness of God but considered themselves strong, self-sufficient and that they knew everything. And in the end they transformed religion, their adoration of God, into a culture with values, reflections, certain commandments of conduct to be polite and they believed, yes, that the Lord can pardon them, they knew this but they were far removed from all this.

Christianity is not a philosophical doctrine, it’s not a program for life survival or education, or for peacemaking. These are consequences. Christianity is a person, a person raised on the Cross, a person who annihilated himself to save us, who became sin. Just as sin was raised up in the desert, here God who was made man and made sin for us was raised up. All our sins were there. You cannot understand Christianity without understanding this profound humiliation of the Son of God who humbled himself and became a servant unto death, even death on a cross, in order to serve us.

The Cross is not an ornament that we must always put in the churches, there on the altar. It is not a symbol that distinguishes us from others. The Cross is mystery, the mystery of God who humbles himself, he becomes "nothing." He becomes sin. Where is your sin? "I don’t know, I have so many here." No, your sin is there, in the Cross. Go and find it there, in the wounds of the Lord and your sins will be healed, your wounds will be healed, your sins will be forgiven. The forgiveness that God gives us is not the same as cancelling a debt that we have with Him, the forgiveness that God gives us are the wounds of his Son on the Cross, raised up on the Cross. May he draw us towards Him and may we allow ourselves to be healed by him.
...and here, 25 years after she delivered the most thorough analysis you'll find of the new Rule of Francis happening only now in our midst, keeping with long tradition 'round these parts, the final call of Sr Thea Bowman at the end of her struggle with bone cancer, given days before her death at 52 on 30 March 1990:
Let us resolve to make this week holy by claiming Christ’s redemptive grace and by living holy lives. The Word became flesh and redeemed us by his holy life and holy death. This week especially, let us accept redemption by living grateful, faithful, prayerful, generous, just and holy lives.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by reading and meditating Holy Scripture. So often, we get caught up in the hurry of daily living. As individuals and as families, reserve prime time to be with Jesus, to hear the cries of the children waving palm branches, to see the Son of Man riding on an ass' colt, to feel the press of the crowd, to be caught up in the "Hosannas” and to realize how the cries of acclamation will yield to the garden of suffering, to be there and watch as Jesus is sentenced by Pilate to Calvary, to see him rejected, mocked, spat upon, beaten and forced to carry a heavy cross, to hear the echo of the hammer, to feel the agony of the torn flesh and strained muscles, to know Mary’s anguish as he hung three hours before he died.

We recoil before the atrocities of war, gang crime, domestic violence and catastrophic illness. Unless we personally and immediately are touched by suffering, it is easy to read Scripture and to walk away without contacting the redemptive suffering that makes us holy. The reality of the Word falls on deaf ears. Let us take time this week to be present to someone who suffers. Sharing the pain of a fellow human will enliven Scripture and help us enter into the holy mystery of the redemptive suffering of Christ.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by participating in the Holy Week services of the Church, not just by attending, but also by preparing, by studying the readings, entering into the Spirit, offering our services as ministers of the Word or Eucharist, decorating the church or preparing the environment for worship.

Let us sing, "Lord, have mercy," and "Hosanna." Let us praise the Lord with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength, uniting with the suffering Church throughout the world -- in Rome and Northern Ireland, in Syria and Lebanon, in South Africa and Angola, India and China, Nicaragua and El Salvador, in Washington, D.C., and Jackson, Mississippi.

Let us break bread together; let us relive the holy and redemptive mystery. Let us do it in memory of him, acknowledging in faith his real presence upon our altars.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by sharing holy peace and joy within our families, sharing family prayer on a regular basis, making every meal a holy meal where loving conversations bond family members in unity, sharing family work without grumbling, making love not war, asking forgiveness for past hurts and forgiving one another from the heart, seeking to go all the way for love as Jesus went all the way for love.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by sharing holy peace and joy with the needy, the alienated, the lonely, the sick and afflicted, the untouchable. Let us unite our sufferings, inconveniences and annoyances with the suffering of Jesus. Let us stretch ourselves, going beyond our comfort zones to unite ourselves with Christ's redemptive work.

We unite ourselves with Christ's redemptive work when we reconcile, when we make peace, when we share the good news that God is in our lives, when we reflect to our brothers and sisters God's healing, God's forgiveness, God's unconditional love.

Let us be practical, reaching out across the boundaries of race and class and status to help somebody, to encourage and affirm somebody, offering to the young an incentive to learn and grow, offering to the downtrodden resources to help themselves.

May our fasting be the kind that saves and shares with the poor, that actually contacts the needy, that gives heart to heart, that touches and nourishes and heals.

During this Holy Week when Jesus gave his life for love, let us truly love one another.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Francis: On Abuse, "We Have To Be Even Stronger"

Meeting this morning with the Paris-based International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE), the Pope set aside his prepared text to make the following comment:
I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests, quite a few in number, obviously not compared to the number of all the priests, to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children. The Church is aware of this damage, it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, we have to be even stronger. Because you cannot interfere with children.
According to Vatican Radio, the off-script was one of several spontaneous additions to what had been a brief, fairly perfunctory draft. Despite BICE's French base, Francis unusually departed from his preference for Italian to give the talk in his native Spanish.

The Pope's most direct statement yet on the clergy sex-abuse scandals which have roiled broad swaths of the Catholic world for nearly three decades, Francis' message comes three weeks after his appointment of the first eight members of a new Pontifical Commission intended to aid the church's efforts for the protection of children. Led by Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. of Boston, the group – proposed by the "Gang of Eight" to Francis and given the go-ahead at their December meeting – includes three women, among them the prominent Irish survivor Marie Collins.

Unlike prior Vatican bodies chartered to tackle the issue, the new organ answers directly to the Pope. While the members were expected to begin contact by phone or email, the timetable of the commission's initial meeting in Rome has yet to emerge.

Since the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was granted oversight of the church's "purification" of credibly accused clergy in 2001, the office has processed the removal of over 3,000 priests from ministry, whether through dismissal from the clerical state or a sentence to a restricted life of prayer and penance.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

"You Bring the Best Outta Me, And I'll Bring the Best Outta You" – In Albany, Post-Hubbard 101

Up the Hudson from Gotham, in the capital church of the Empire State, there are middle aged pastors who, all their lives, have only ever known, walked with, lived and served under one bishop....

That is, until today.

On the flip-side, meanwhile, for the one tasked with following the longest episcopal reign modern American Catholicism is ever likely to know – a titanic 37-year tenure in the chair first held by the nation's founding cardinal – expectations were naturally just as high that this Opening Day would make a splash... and in his maiden turn before the crowd in Albany, Bishop Ed Scharfenberger did just that.

As starts go, it was, in a word, impressive – deeply so. (And while we're at it, an unusually live mic that let the principal consecrator's animated off-script commentary make the rounds deserves a very grateful honorable mention.)

The talk beginning with the beloved last Nuncio's famous first words to many of his appointees, here's something no one's been able to say since 1977 – Church, meet the new bishop of Albany:

More to come.

PHOTO: Skip Dickstein/Albany Times-Union


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

"At The Heart of It All Is Love"

As this Tuesday brings the 75th birthday of Edwin Cardinal O'Brien, we'd simply be remiss to let the moment pass without a due word.

Bronx-born and West Point-trained, while the 15th archbishop of Baltimore has spent the last three years largely off the domestic scene as Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, today's milestone bears reminding that his has been one of the more consequential ministries in the modern history of the Stateside church, a journey best explained by the turns come his way over 49 years of priesthood: Vietnam veteran and Army captain, communications chief for one archbishop of New York and secretary to another, Rector of the Pontifical North American College and Dunwoodie (twice), Shepherd of the 1.5 million American Catholics in uniform worldwide, 14th successor to John Carroll in the Premier See of these shores... only then to become John Foley's choice to follow him in leading the millennium-old protectors of the Sacred Places and the Lord's own in the Holy Land, and finally, in his own right, a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church.

As some will undoubtedly seek to project stereotypes formed elsewhere onto this story, well, you've clearly never seen Ed O'Brien struggle to compose himself on being made to leave an assignment – a people – he's come to love... and indeed, if you're going to wonder about his style of living, just remember that this is the guy who opted to take a simple apartment among Sulpicians over American Catholicism's "White House."

Especially given the current context, the space between a supposedly acceptable reflexive and the prevalent, mostly unremarked-upon reality seems to offer a useful lesson. Because, see, it's exceedingly come to pass that the discourse of these days rewards the "values" of politics, polarization, self-promotion and controversy over those of humility, fidelity and consistent witness.

When said dynamic infests a forum supposedly informed by faith, the effects aren't merely counterproductive, but utterly toxic – far from either attracting or giving life, it bears the fruit of division, demoralization, exhaustion and bitterness. And so, as the Week which, more than any other, made Jerusalem, its sacred sites and the Church they birthed Holy comes again, may we know the grace to live up to the better angels the days ahead should inspire in us, and to spread the Light that'll soon be rekindled, instead of further aiding the omission or commission that serves too often to snuff It out in the midst of a world that seeks mightily to believe.

Accordingly, today brings a moment to acknowledge the work and witness of an under-sung light among us – a cherished friend to many back home... and even more, one of the most incisive ecclesial voices of our time.

As examples go, the ultimate proof-text is O'Brien's installation homily in Baltimore, given on 1 October 2007 – the feast of the Little Flower – in the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. Its resonances only become more significant with time, the fulltext follows.

*   *   *

“My dear people of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and beyond, and those joining us by television and radio – It is an honor to be your servant. It is a privilege to be your bishop. Yet as Augustine said to the people of Hippo some sixteen centuries ago, (and I would adopt his sentiments) my deepest satisfaction, my strength, and my consolation amid the challenges that await us all, lie in the fact that I am a brother in Christ to so many of you here. Please pray for me, that I may be a good servant of this local Church. Please pray for the Church of Baltimore, that together we may all grow in the grace of our baptism – that we may all grow in faith, in hope, and in love.

I thank His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, for honoring me with this appointment and for giving me the opportunity to stand in an episcopal line that includes Archbishop John Carroll and Archbishop Martin Spalding, James Cardinal Gibbons and Lawrence Cardinal Shehan, Archbishop William Donald Borders and William Cardinal Keeler, and all the other archbishops who have made the growth of the Church in Baltimore their care.

And if some find it puzzling, even ironic, that the Holy Father should choose a native son of New York to be Archbishop of another part of the American League East – well, perhaps that is a reminder to us all of what the author of the Letter to the Hebrews meant when, pointing to the new and eternal Jerusalem, he reminded us that we have, here on this earth, “no lasting city” [Heb. 13.14].

And that, my friends, is why I have been sent among you: to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the truth about the world and the truth about us – the truth that leads us to our true and common home, the New Jerusalem, the “city of the living God” [Heb.12.22].

I am reminded, as I arrive here in Baltimore, that we are, indeed, surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” [Heb. 12.1]. In what is now the State of Maryland, the roster of those witnesses reaches back almost four centuries, to the landing of a small company of Englishmen on St. Clement’s Island on March 25, 1634. It was the feast of the Annunciation, marked by the celebration of the first Mass in Mary’s Land. As the revered patroness of our Archdiocese, may it always remain Mary’s Land.

In granting the Archdiocese of Baltimore the title of “Premier See,” the Holy See meant to honor this history. It is a history that has been of decisive importance for the Catholic Church in the United States. It is a history that has shaped our beloved Country. And it is a history that played a significant role in the life of the Catholic Church throughout the world. For the Maryland Act of Religious Toleration, adopted in 1649, was an important step – if a limited step – on the hard road that eventually led not only to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution but also, I believe, to the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom.

Maryland was home to the great majority of the tiny Catholic population in the United States at the time of our Declaration of Independence. Here, through the work of men like Archbishop John Carroll and his cousin, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Catholics demonstrated that they, too, could pledge their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to the cause of American liberty. And we have done so in every era since, without reservation.

In the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Catholic people of the early Republic demonstrated by deed as well as by argument that there was no inherent contradiction – as many bigots charged – with being completely Catholic and proudly American.

Here, began to recede what the distinguished historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., once described as the “deepest prejudice in the history of the American people” – anti-Catholicism.

Here is where Catholics learned to defend the religious liberty of all – a defense that contributed much to the noble tradition of interfaith tolerance and collaboration that has long marked this community.

If, as Pope John Paul II often taught, religious freedom is the first of human rights, then the Catholic people of the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland have, over more than two centuries, played a crucial role in securing one of the foundation stones of the American house of freedom. As new voices are raised in our land today, voices suggesting that moral convictions informed by Catholic faith are unwelcome in the American public square, let all of us recommit ourselves to a robust, informed, and determined defense of religious freedom as the first of the rights of Americans – a right that supports and sustains all of our efforts to shape public policy according to the first principles of justice.

And if the Maryland tradition of Catholicism and its commitment to religious freedom have been important for the United States, that same tradition has also played an valuable role in the life of the universal Church. Our dear friend, the patriarch of Catholic historians, the late Msgr. John Tracy Ellis, recounts that when the ninth archbishop of Baltimore, James Cardinal Gibbons, went to Rome to take possession of his titular church of Santa Maria in Trastevere on March 25, 1887, he preached a sermon in defense of the American relationship of Church and state. This helped accelerate the process of Catholic reflection that eventually led to the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom.

That seminal document on religious freedom in turn, reflected the insights of both Maryland’s theological scholarship – the work of Father John Courtney Murray who taught in our Archdiocese at the old Woodstock College—and the interventions of Baltimore’s Archbishop, Lawrence Cardinal Shehan during the third and fourth sessions of Vatican II. And if the Council’s teaching on religious freedom, in its turn, gave Pope John Paul II the weapon with which nonviolently to defeat European communism, well, that too was a fact of history with great resonance here, given the large numbers of Central and Eastern European Catholics who have for so long been a vital part of this Archdiocese.

It is in the light of this great tradition of religious freedom and ecumenical and inter-religious cooperation – which I pledge to continue – that I greet in a special way the leaders of other Christian communities here with us today, as well as our friends and neighbors from the Jewish and Muslim communities. And it is in light of this great tradition that I wish to offer a word of tribute to my predecessor, Cardinal Keeler: Thank you, Your Eminence, for all that you have done—surely to guide the growth of our Catholic community these 18 years, but also to remind us of and so energetically and effectively to promote the Maryland tradition of religious freedom. What a principled, kindly and generous force you have been—and with God’s help will continue to be for our Church and for the common good.

Recalling our noble history as a local church helps define the challenges that press upon us in the future.

The work of this Archdiocese takes place through 151 parishes with their schools of religious education, served by 517 priests and 1,113 religious. Our 87 Catholic schools serve 35,546 children and teenagers of all faiths. More than eleven thousand students of all faiths are enrolled in the undergraduate and graduate programs of our excellent Catholic colleges and universities that call the Archdiocese of Baltimore their home. At present, 28 seminarians are preparing for priestly service in an Archdiocese that has given many of its priestly sons to the service of the Church throughout America, and indeed throughout the world. One of them, I am grateful to say, is with us today –from Rome, the Major Penitentiary of the Catholic Church James Francis Cardinal Stafford, who has described for me in detail and with great affection his former role of urban vicar of this Archdiocese.

What bishop could fail to make his priority the increase of vocations to ordained priesthood? It will surely be my priority.

The seminarians on hand today offer convincing witness that young men – and some not so young – are willing to make the great sacrifice – to imitate Christ’s single hearted love for his Spouse, the Church. All of us should have the confidence, in the name and power of Christ, to challenge more men by personal and direct invitation to become Shepherds after the heart of Christ.

As we write a new chapter in the history of the Archdiocese of Baltimore today, I offer a special challenge to the young people of this Archdiocese: Be generous, be radically generous, in offering your lives to Christ as priests; in following what Saint Paul calls the “more excellent way” [1 Cor.12.31] as women and men in consecrated religious life; as teachers in our Catholic schools, and in work in our social service agencies. As John Paul II said to you in so many ways, in so many venues around the world, never settle for anything less than the spiritual and moral greatness of which, with God’s grace, you are capable.

At the same time, I offer a challenge to every Catholic in the Archdiocese: the challenge to a deeper, more prayerful, more active involvement in the life of your parish and of this local Church. To those of you who have remained faithful to the Church: thank you for your fidelity and generosity. I look forward to meeting you and to drawing on that deep reservoir of faithfulness and selfless service in the years ahead. To those of you who may be on the edges of our Church or who may have been estranged from the Church: please consider the arrival of this newcomer among you an invitation, from me personally and from the entire Archdiocese, to come home to the Church, and to the demanding yet life-giving Gospel of Christ. We shall welcome you with open arms and full hearts. We want you, we need you if this local Church is to be the model Christ means us to be: a model of dynamic orthodoxy; a model of worship; a model of theological creativity in fidelity to the truths of Catholic faith; a model of compassionate social service to, and effective advocacy on behalf of, the poor, the immigrant, the dispossessed, the addicted, the lonely, the frightened and the despairing.

That, too, is part of the great Maryland tradition: to take with utmost seriousness the biblical teaching that every human being is possessed of a dignity that uniquely comes from being made in the image of God, and to turn that conviction into action on behalf of those whose human dignity is threatened, or diminished, or altogether denied.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus sees His divine image in each of us. And that same God is offended when that image is defaced – defaced by degrading poverty, defaced by unjust discrimination, defaced by addiction and by the crime that feeds those addictions, and defaced by the horrific sexual abuse of the young.

For the times when the Church has failed to do its utmost to curb these evils, we ask God’s forgiveness and yours. I pledge, today, that I shall make every effort to ensure that whatever sins of omission or commission have been committed in the past will have no place in our future.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus is also offended when the first principles of justice are violated, and the weakest and most vulnerable of our fellow human beings are imperiled. “Seek justice,” the Lord tells his beloved people of Israel through his prophet Isaiah [Is.1.17]. “Do justice,” God instructs Judah through the prophet Jeremiah, “...and do no wrong to the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place” [Jer.22.3].

It was that passion for justice that led priests of this Archdiocese to take leadership roles in the defense of the civil rights of African Americans in the early 1960s. It was that passion for justice that led Lawrence Cardinal Shehan to face down jeers and catcalls when he testified before the Baltimore City Council in 1966 on behalf of open housing legislation. And it is precisely that same passion for justice that is at the root of the Catholic Church’s combined defense of the right-to-life from conception until natural death.

The right to life is the greatest civil rights issue of our time. This is the issue that will determine whether America remains a hospitable society – committed to caring for women in crisis and their unborn children, committed to caring for those with special needs, committed to caring for the elderly and the dying – or whether America betrays our heritage and the truths on which its Founders staked their claim to independence.

In addressing these issues of life over the past four decades, the Catholic bishops of the United States have not – repeat, not – made “sectarian arguments.” The bishops have made moral arguments that can be known by anyone willing to think through the first principles of justice. It is worse than a tragedy, it is a scandal, that too many of our fellow-citizens, including our Catholic fellow-citizens, seem not to have grasped these first principles of justice or have turned their backs on them.

I pledge that I shall make every possible effort to continue and intensify the defense of the right to life that has been waged by my predecessors.

And I pledge more. No one has to have an abortion. To all of those in crisis pregnancies, I pledge our support and our financial help. Come to the Catholic Church. Let us walk with you through your time of trouble. Let us help you affirm life. Let us help you find a new life with your child, or let us help you place that child in a loving home. But please, I beg you: let us help you affirm life. Abortion need not be an “answer” in this Archdiocese.

The Church’s commitment to the dignity of human life is also the foundation on which this Archdiocese has built a historic record of work for the poor. That work, to which so many of our priests, religious, and laity have given and still are giving their lives, has touched and enriched hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children over the decades. That work has also, we must all concede, not had the results for which we might have wished, in the revitalization of this city of Baltimore.

Our city has been in crisis for decades. In 1966, Cardinal Shehan told the priests of Baltimore that, “If we don’t save the city, we can forget about the Church in the Archdiocese.” In human terms, that remains as true today as it was forty-one years ago: for to write off large parts of the city as hopeless and beyond redemption is to disregard tens of thousands of lives made in the image and likeness of God. Such disregard might be very unlikely to find forgiveness on that last day, when each of us makes an account of our stewardship, as indeed we will.

It simply cannot be the case that Marin Luther King’s dream, so magnificently articulated at the Lincoln Memorial before a crowd that included then-Archbishop Shehan, is destined to decay into the nightmare of once-flourishing neighborhoods destroyed by drugs and violence.

It simply cannot be the case that the sacrifices of so many African American families across too many decades of discrimination must go for naught.

It simply cannot be the case that the urban ministry of which the Archdiocese of Baltimore was a pioneer should or must, finally, fail, from lack of energy, lack of resources, and lack of vision.

We cannot allow this as a people, as a Church. We cannot allow large parts of our city to die. We cannot allow thousands of our neighbors to live lives of hopelessness and despair. I have no master plan for urban revitalization. But I pledge to you today that this Archdiocese will make every effort to insure that the dream that animated Dr. King and so many others of us does not die – for realizing that dream is central to the preaching of the Gospel which is the core of the Church’s existence. As I welcome you civic leaders of City, County, State, and Nation, and thank you for your presence, I pledge my commitment and collaboration in rebuilding this as a City worthy of all God’s children.

In the Gospel reading we heard a few minutes ago, our Lord speaks, as he so often did, of the “Kingdom of heaven.” It’s an image we have heard so frequently that we may have lost sight of the richness of its meaning especially for the poorest and most vulnerable. The “kingdom of heaven” is not something for the indeterminate future, a kind of Christian Oz in which we hope eventually to find ourselves. When Jesus tells his disciples and his challengers that the kingdom “is in the midst of you” [Lk. 17.21], he is telling us that, if our faith is great enough, we can live, here and now, in anticipation of that kingdom come in its fullness. Jesus, after all, is that Kingdom “in our midst.” Do we recognize him and respect him in ourselves? Do we recognize him and reverence him in every neighbor?

If our faith is great enough, we can move mountains: even the seemingly unmoveable mountains we face in both our personal lives and our life as a civic community.

[In Spanish: To the growing Hispanic community of our Archdiocese: For all the Spanish-speaking members of our communities, I offer my devoted and special greeting, and great thanks for the richness and the many contributions you bring to our Church and wider community. You carry with you a strong sense of family values and love for work. It is a privilege for me to work with you to spread the love of Christ across our diocese, especially to the poor and those who've recently come among us.]

The bishop exists to strengthen the faith of those who believe, and to call to faith those who have not yet been given this great gift. Everything I shall do among you as Archbishop of Baltimore will be directed to this end: the building up of faith in the City of Baltimore and the nine surrounding counties which reside within the precincts of this first American diocese, so that we may know that the kingdom of heaven is, indeed, among us.

May I conclude on two personal notes: The past 10 years have been a source of many graces for me. The call to serve as Archbishop for our Nation’s military has confirmed and renewed my faith in America’s integrity, goodness and self-sacrificing spirit. I thank those military members present and their families who are here today and through you I thank all our active duty families as well as those who serve our Veterans administration. Yours is a culture of generosity the likes of which has no equal in our land. You and the chaplains in your midst have never ceased to inspire me. You will always share a place in my heart and in my prayer.

And I cannot resist the hope, with so many of our bishops and priests present, that you in the military and your families will have many more Catholic chaplains to serve you—as you truly and so desperately deserve.

And the second note. The editor of our fine weekly, the Catholic Review interviewed me at length some weeks ago and left with an armful of photos used in this week’s beautifully produced special edition. As he was leaving, I happened to spot my St. Mary’s High School yearbook, Dulces Memoriae and handed it to him with the thought that there might be a human interest angle in it. Indeed, there was, unfortunately!

One of his staff gleefully informed me days later, that they discovered my Junior year report card tucked into the binding of the yearbook. And my lowest grade that year was in religion.

Even my Irish imagination had a little difficulty in putting a good spin on that but I did come up with one and it might have some relevance as I begin my ministry as your Archbishop.

Knowledge of the faith is so very important, but what you do with that knowledge is ever so much more important. Likewise the talents and gifts that God gives us – how do we spend them? And at the heart of it all is love – how selflessly do we express it? St. Therese our patron this day gives us the prayer that might be ours: “My God, I desire to love you and make you loved by others.”

I come to you no genius, and with limited talents and abilities. Nor do I know how many years of my life remain to serve as your Shepherd. But I pledge to you before God and his people: Whatever I am, and all that I have I give to you. And until that day when He calls me to judgment, I will seek to serve you with the whole-hearted love of Jesus Christ.


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Bishops at The Border

Following in the footsteps of a Pope who made his first trip out of Rome to Europe's "isle of tears," today sees a USCCB pilgrimage to the "Lampedusa" of these shores, in what's arguably the most evocative act to date of the bench's ongoing push for immigration reform.

Led by Francis' principal North American adviser – Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. of Boston – below is a livefeed of the eight-man delegation's outdoor Mass at the US-Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona, slated to begin at 9am local time, Noon Eastern....

SVILUPPO: Delivered almost entirely in Spanish, below is the English fulltext of O'Malley's homily, as prepared for delivery....

For 20 years I worked in Washington DC with immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and from all over Latin America. The vast majority did not have the advantage of legal status. Many came to the States in great part fleeing the violence of the civil wars in Central America.

I often share the story of my first days at the Centro Católico when I was visited by a man form El Salvador who sat at my desk and burst into tears as he handed me a letter from his wife back in El Salvador who remonstrated him for having abandoned her and their six children to penury and starvation.

When the man was able to compose himself, he explained to me that he came to Washington, like so many, because with the war raging in his country it was impossible to sustain his family by farming. So a coyote brought him to Washington where he shared a room with several other men in similar circumstances. He washed dishes in two restaurants, one at lunchtime and one at dinnertime. He ate the leftover food on the dirty plates so as to save money. He walked to work so as not to spend any money on transportation, so that he could send all the money he earned back to his family. He said he sent money each week, but now after six months, his wife had not received a single letter from him and accused him of abandoning her and the children. I asked him if he sent check or money orders. He told me that he sent cash. He said: "Each week I put all the money I earn into an envelope with the amount of stamps that I was told and I put it in that blue mailbox on the corner." I looked out the window and I could see the blue mailbox, the problem was it was not a mailbox at all, but a fancy trash bin.

This incident helped me to glimpse the hardships and humiliations of so many immigrants who come to the States fleeing from poverty and oppression, seeking a better life for their children. Sadly enough many immigrants spend years without the opportunity to see their loved ones. How many rural areas are peopled by grandparents taking care of little grandchildren because the parents are off in the United States working to send money back home.

Many of the priests and bishops with me have much more experience of the border. However I did bury one of my parishioners in the desert near Ciudad Juárez who was murdered there. We know that the border is lined with unmarked graves of thousands who die alone and nameless.

Today's Gospel begins with a certain lawyer who is trying to test Jesus. The lawyer is an expert in the laws, but he is hostile to Jesus; he seems to want to know how to attain eternal life, but his real intent is to best Jesus in a public debate. Jesus responds to the man's question by asking "What stands written in the law?" The lawyer answers artfully with the great commandment: love of God above all else and love of neighbour as oneself.

Jesus says "You answered correctly. Do this and you will live." God's love and love of neighbour is the key to a good life. The amazing thing about the Gospels is how love of God and love of neighbour are intimately connected.

The lawyer is a little embarrassed so he asks another question to appear intelligent and perceptive. The question is so important: "Who is my neighbor?" This wonderful question affords Jesus the occasion to give us one of the great parables of the New Testament - the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

In Jesus' day the term "Good Samaritan" was never used by the chosen people. Indeed it would seem a contradiction of terms. How could someone be both a Samaritan and good? The Samaritans were the despised foreigners, heretics and outcasts. Yet Jesus shows us how that foreigner, that Samaritan, becomes the protagonist, the hero who saves one of the native sons who is rescued not by his fellow countryman and coreligionists but by a stranger, an alien, a Samaritan.

Who is my neighbour? Jesus changed the question from one of legal obligation (who deserves my love) to one of gift giving (to whom can I show myself a neighbor), and of this the despised Samaritan is the moral exemplar.

Jesus is showing us that people who belong to God's covenant community, show love that is not limited by friendship and propinquity but a love that has a universal scope and does not look for recompense.

The parables function either to instruct or to shock. This parable was to jolt people's imagination, to provoke, to challenge. The usual criteria for evaluating a person's worth are replaced by that of unselfish attention to human need wherever one encounters it.

We come to the desert today because it is the road to Jericho; it is travelled by many trying to reach the metropolis of Jerusalem. We come here today to be a neighbour and to find a neighbour in each of the suffering people who risk their lives and at times lose their lives in the desert.

Pope Francis encourages us to go to the periphery to seek our neighbour in places of pain and darkness. We are here to discover our own identity as God's children so that we can discover who our neighbour is, who is our brother and sister.

As a nation of immigrants we should feel a sense of identification with other immigrant groups seeking to enter our country.

The United States is a nation of immigrants. Only the indigenous Native Americans are not from somewhere else. So the word of God reminds us today that our God wants justice for the orphan and the widow and our God loves the foreigners, the aliens and reminds us that we were aliens in Egypt.

Because of the potato famine and political oppression, my people came from Ireland. Thousands upon thousands perished of starvation. On the coffin ships that brought the Irish immigrants, one third of the passengers starved. The sharks followed the ships waiting to devour the bodies of those "buried at sea." I suspect that only the Africans brought on the slave ships had a worse passage.

Frank McCourt of Angela's Ashes fame, wrote a play called The Irish and How They Got That Way. In one of the scenes the Irish immigrants are reminiscing saying: "We came to America because we thought the streets were paved in gold. And when we got here we discovered the streets were not paved in gold, in fact they were not paved at all, and we found out we had to pave them."

The hard work and sacrifices of so many immigrant peoples is the secret of the success of this country. Despite the xenophobic ranting of a segment of the population, our immigrant population contributes mightily to the economy and well being of the United States.

Here in the desert of Arizona, we come to mourn the countless immigrants who risk their lives at the hands of the coyotes and the forces of nature to come to the United States. Every year 400 bodies are found here at the border, bodies of men, women and children seeking to enter the United States. Those are only the bodies that are found. As the border crossings become more difficult, people take greater risks and more are perishing.

Last year about 25,000 children, mostly from Central America, arrived in the US, unaccompanied by an adult. Tens of thousands of families are separated in the midst of migration patterns. More than 10 million undocumented immigrants are exposed to exploitation and lack access to basic human services, and are living in constant fear. They contribute to our economy by their hard work, often by contributing billions of dollars each year to the social security fund and to Medicare programs that will never benefit them.

The author of Hebrews urges us to practise hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. He urges us to be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment. We have presently over 30,000 detainees, most of whom have no criminal connections. The cost of these detentions is about $2 billion a year.

The system is broken and is causing untold suffering and a tenable waste of resources, human and material.

We find in those prisoners, neighbours, fellow human beings who are separated from their families and communities. The sheer volume of the cases has led to many due process violations and arbitrary detentions.

At Lampedusa Pope Francis warned of the globalization of indifference. Pope Francis, speaking at the borders of Europe, not a desert, but a sea, said: "We have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the Priest and Levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road and perhaps we say to ourselves: 'Poor soul' and then go our way. It is not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people living in a soap bubble, indifference to others."

Our country has been the beneficiary of so many immigrant groups that had the courage and the fortitude to come to America. They came fleeing horrific conditions and harbouring a dream of a better life for the children. They were some of the most industrious, ambitious and enterprising citizens of their own countries and brought enormous energy and good will to their new homeland. Their hard work and sacrifices have made this country great. 
Often these immigrants have been met with suspicion and discrimination. The Irish were told "they need not apply"; our ethnicity and religion made us undesirable. But America at its best is not the bigotry and xenophobia of the "Know Nothings", but the generous welcome of the New Colossus, that mighty woman with a Torah, the Statue of Liberty, the Mother of Exiles who proclaims to the world:

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp," cries she with silent lips, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" (Emma Lazarus)

We must be vigilant that that lamp continues to burn brightly.
PHOTO: George Martell/Archdiocese of Boston


Friday, March 28, 2014

In the Confessional, A Penitent Pope

Asked by Italy's most-prominent daily earlier this month for an assessment of his first year as Pope, Francis demurred, saying "I only do that every fifteen days, with my confessor."

Even if he's taken all the sacraments for his latest general audience series, over the last 54 weeks, Papa Bergoglio's spoken of none more frequently or urgently than Confession, Penance, Reconciliation – whatever you call it. And for a Pope who continues to be both championed and castigated as some sort of raving iconoclast, the ecclesial Left's post-Conciliar ambivalence at best toward "the box" should serve as a reminder that the reality of things is rather more complex than the chattering-class polarities of these days tend to admit.

Indeed, were the buzz to hold water, a truly "progressive" Pope would've already wound back his predecessors' crackdown on the "third rite" of the sacrament – the liturgical name for general absolution without individual confession, which had become prevalent in some quarters over recent decades until Rome took to enforcing the condition that the practice was intended only for situations where massive numbers of penitents were in imminent danger of death or another insurmountable reason. With Francis – who has attributed his own conversion to an experience in the Confessional – any return to "box"-free absolution is about as likely as the restoration of the tiara.

Even that, however, was merely a prelude for what happened in the Basilica tonight. At a Lenten service with the second rite of penance – the communal examination of conscience with individual confessions – Francis took it on himself to back up his words with example.

Fullvideo below – the camera pans away at points, but keeps returning....

The footage is indeed unprecedented – while John Paul II routinely heard the confessions of 12 laymen every Good Friday in St Peter's and B16 spent some time administering the sacrament in a Madrid park at World Youth Day 2011, no Pope has ever been seen as a penitent.

After his turn on the other side of the sacrament, Francis spent another 40 minutes hearing confessions.

The exercise wasn't just one for the Vatican – the penance service doubled as the global kickoff of "24 Hours for the Lord," an initiative of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization that asked the dioceses of the world to provide round-the-clock opportunity for confession in at least one church at some point over this fourth weekend of Lent. (In Rome, the church of Spirito Santo in Sassia right outside the Vatican walls was slated to open its doors for the night once the Vatican service ended.)

While Francis plugged the event as "a feast of forgiveness" at his Sunday Angelus – and the dioceses were reportedly alerted in February – as of press time, only two US churches are known to have joined the effort: San Antonio and Juneau. The PCPNE has expressed the intent that the "24 hours" will become an annual opportunity over the days around Laetare Sunday.

In general, meanwhile, beyond starting this Friday off with another Domus Mass homily on Confession, by midmorning the Pope did it yet again, telling a conference arranged by the Apostolic Penitentiary that the Confessional "is not a court of condemnation, but the experience of forgiveness and mercy!"

"In all the dioceses and in the parish communities," Francis urged it as "very important" that "the celebration of this Sacrament of forgiveness and salvation is particularly taken care of."

According to CARA figures, just 14 percent of US Catholics partake of the sacrament more than once a year. While many local churches have aimed to turn the tide – most prominently by adopting "The Light Is On For You," which sees every parish in a diocese open for confessions on each Wednesday evening of Lent – experience shows two things: first, the awareness and effectiveness of "Light"-style initiatives tends to be blunted unless all the dioceses in a given media market take it up together, and contrary to what many might think, confessions actually increase to the degree that a parish expands opportunities for them beyond the usual hour or less on Saturday afternoons.

In any event, it's worthwhile to recall that all of 17 months ago at the 2012 Synod, several prelates highlighted Penance as "the sacrament of the New Evangelization," while others urged that the church's effectiveness in re-sparking the faith required "a new humility."

Sure, those assessments have come to life in a powerful way over the last year... but perhaps today saw them resonate even more than before.