Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Divine, Restored

"...and, lo, I am with you alway, even until the end of the world."

The Lord's last earthly words might form the baptistery frieze at New York's Episcopal cathedral, but St John the Divine began a new life earlier today as the mammoth Gothic sanctuary -- the world's largest -- was rededicated following a $41 million restoration undertaken after a 2001 fire gutted a transept and severely damaged much of the rest.

As the Great Organ played again and the Barberini tapestries returned to their original places in the 600-foot nave, the city's Catholic archbishop, Cardinal Edward Egan, led the ecumenical delegation for the morning service, as the state's two senators helmed the civic contingent in attendance.
[A]mong the several thousand people who packed the cathedral on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on Sunday, few could be more thankful than regular congregation members who endured the seven-year cleanup with a mix of patience and exasperation. Year after year, their worship services had been shoehorned behind partitions in different sections and corners of the church to accommodate the work in progress.

“In the beginning, the prayer books smelled of smoke and you’d sometimes sit there and a piece of soot would just float down from the ceiling,” said Sandra Schubert, a longtime member of the congregation of about 400 people.

Some with asthma stayed away.

But most attended services in whichever part of the cathedral the folding chairs had been set up. “If you belong to a church, that is your church,” said Marsha Ra, a retired librarian who was an usher at Sunday’s service. “It’s a community.”

Sunday’s service marked the first time since the fire that most had seen the entire 200-yard-long interior of the cathedral unobstructed by scaffolding or partition walls.

More than that, it was the first time many had ever seen details of the original workmanship of the church. Erected piecemeal between the turn of the century and 1941, the building interior, even before the fire, had acquired a sooty coating of urban plaque.
In that sense, the restoration was like a revelation.

“There is so much light!” said Sylvia Bellusci, a retired social worker who, until the fire, used to give guided tours of the cathedral. “The angels in the columns up there, you couldn’t see that before,” she said, pointing toward the bas-relief on the column capitals about 200 feet up. “The proportions of everything, it just seems so much more clear.”

Longtime churchgoers said the scrubbing of the stone walls lightened them by so many shades that the light now entering the cathedral through its stained-glass windows seemed to be multiplied many times. The stone of the main pulpit, for instance, once a murky gray, now appeared as white as the robes of the children in the choir.

Carved details in the statuary, engravings in the stone corners of chapels — shades of meaning everywhere one looked, they said — had come to life as if for the first time.

Bishop Mark S. Sisk seemed to refer to the phenomenon when he said during his invocation, “Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light.”...
The Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, dean of the cathedral, made the lengthy and painstaking restoration of that house the theme of his sermon, urging his listeners to bring faith and stamina to the many challenges facing the city, the nation and the world.

“Engagement,” he said — in the struggle for peace and social justice — “is the only expression of faith that honors God.”
Having seen the reopened nave some months ago, shortly after the tunnel that closed it off during the reconstruction was broken down, just know it's way more spectacular than it looks in the pictures... especially on a sunny day.

PHOTOS: David Dunlap (1,3); Nicole Benivento(2)/The New York Times


Saturday, November 29, 2008

"In Principio Erat Verbum"

"In the beginning was the Word"... and so, as promised, this First Sunday of Advent begins a new feature here on the pages: the "Word of the Week."

In a nutshell, drawing on the current celebrations of the Pauline Year, the recent call for a "Year of Preaching" and these pages' greatest strength -- namely, their readership -- the intent is simply to shine a light on the Gospel as it's proclaimed on the ground. Hopefully with time, these will combine to reflect the diversity of situations and approaches all present in this Wide World of (One) Church, and be a useful resource, both spiritual and practical, for preachers and pewfolk alike; after all, doctrine and practice, teaching and example, Word and witness, intersect in no place more prominent than the parish pulpit at the Sunday Eucharist... and from ambo and altar, back into the world.

For the record, the idea behind this literally just popped into my head (...and, God willing, may the rest fall into place). But as the thought just so happened to strike while flipping through the homilies section on the new website of St Paul's Cathedral in Worcester, to give credit where it's due and thanks for the unwitting inspiration that brought the series about, our first "Word" comes from the Massachusetts landmark by way of its rector, Msgr James P. Moroney.

Before diving in, though, it might be best to spend some time with this Sunday's Readings first....

* * *
I remember the day that Gerry died, as Mary held his hand. She wept. Oh how she wept as she clung to his body in the hopes of somehow not losing the fifty-seven years of married life they had lived and loved together. The kids tried to console her, but it was of little use. She just needed to cry until she couldn’t cry anymore. The pain and the emptiness was deeper than I could ever imagine.

She spent the next days and weeks longing for Gerry more than she had ever longed for anything ever before. She so wanted him to come back that every creak of the floorboard and shadow around the corner made her heart leap in hope.

I lost track of Mary, but bumped into her again about a year later. She was still sad, but not as desperate as the last time I had seen her. I inquired how she was doing and she told me about the day that made all the difference.

She had gone to Church and she was sitting all alone in the pew staring at the crucifix above the tabernacle, she said. When all it once it occurred to her that it was not Gerry for whom she longed, but God. The God who she prayed would forgive Gerry’s sins. The God who would keep her in his grace until the last day. The God who had gone to prepare a place for Gerry and for her and for all who loved others as he had loved them.

And Her waiting for Gerry was just a shadow of her deepest longing for God, her desire for love, and her desire to live in God and to know peace with him forever.

We all ache for God, and we wait…

The addict in the alley behind the Cathedral waits:
for a God who will come and remove all that enslaves him...

The single mother waits:
for a day when she no longer has to work 54 hours,
a night when she can sleep eight,
a life when she’ll finally know the kids will be ok.

The soldier in a ditch in Iraq waits:
for a morning when there are no more explosions of IEDs,
and every look is not feared as the precursor to an assault,
and you don’t have to bury your new best friends.

The old man in the nursing home waits:
for the day he will no longer be alone,
when pain will no longer be his most constant companion,
and when he can once again rest in the embrace of her whom he loved.

The prisoner on death row waits:
for a place where he will no longer be seen as evil,
for a life that makes sense,
for a time when love can be given and received,
for the coming of a God who will love him.

The investment banker waits:
for the day when he’s not gripped by the fear
that he’s about to lose everything,
for the day when he can count his value
in the quality of his love rather than the size of his profit.

The little child waits
within her mother’s womb:
for a world that will welcome her.
and parents that will love her,
and a country who will protect her.

We all wait in joyful hope, with baited breath, as we gaze toward the Eastern skies in expectation of the one who rises with healing in his wings…

Exiled in a Babylon of our own selfishness, we cry out: “rend the heavens, O Lord, and come down to us!” Yet he waits for us in that confessional, ready to embrace us pick us up on his shoulders and carry us home to himself.

Longing to be loved, orphaned by our infidelity and broken promises, we cry out “Why do you let us wander and harden our hearts?” Yet he waits on that altar, to feed us with himself and to make us sons and daughters of his Father, to live in us that we might live in him.

Frightened that we have been abandoned, strangers in a strange desert, we cry out: “Let us see your face and we will be saved!” Yet he waits for us in the poor, the sick, and the old, ready to console our frightened spirits.

We wait in joyful hope. The part of us that is afraid to confess that secret sin. The part of us that doesn’t think it’s possible to forgive what ‘that one’ did or that God could really forgive me. The part of us that cries in the middle of the night. The part which feels empty and alone. The part that’s overwhelmed and confused. The part which amidst all the din and doubt, waits…waits in silence for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ upon a cloud in all his glory.

Get ready my brothers and sisters. Get ready! “Be watchful! Be alert! Go to confession, celebrate the Sacred Mysteries, and pray! Feed the poor. Go visit the prisoners and the old people in nursing home. Find the one you’ve not yet forgiven and call him right now.

Make your heart a manger to receive your king, for he is coming. He is coming very soon!
* * *
Reflecting his prior incarnation -- namely, a dozen years as the US church's Worship Czar -- Moroney's handbook on The Mass Explained is fresh on the shelves.

For purposes of coordination, though, a couple quick notes for future Words: first, again, the Advent lineup is set and open call for homilies begins with each of the four Masses of Christmas.

Yet already, and gratefully, more Yuletide sermons have flooded in than could be posted for the remainder of your narrator's lifetime, and no words could say enough thanks for the incredible response. Of course, the door's still well open for 'em, but the easiest timetable going forward is that texts for a particular Sunday be beamed over anywhere between the preceding Tuesday and Friday; if all goes according to plan, each week's "Word" will appear at 5pm Eastern Saturday (2200 GMT; Sunday morning in Australia, late-night in Europe, etc.). One will likewise run for holydays of obligation -- and, for the movable feasts of Epiphany, Corpus Christi and Ascension, a preach both on the "universal" date and its transferred observance.

Per usual, more as it gets figured out.

Apologies for the mundane housekeeping, but as with everything else here, it all relies on the input and support of the readership. All thanks in advance to all those so kind to lend a hand, along with everyone who has in every way under the sun these last four years. For whatever it's worth, hopefully this little add-on'll do a bit of good for the lot of us.

Again, a Happy New Year and Blessed Advent to one and all.


Happy New Year

Alright, folks -- confetti up....

...actually, it just begins with this....

But still, you get the idea.

All the blessings of Advent and to you and yours -- time's almost up for those (liturgical) New Year's resolutions, so those of us who haven't come up with one yet gotta think fast.

And to kick it off right: hymns... both ancient...

...and modern....

Buon'anno, church -- may it be a great one for us all, and may we each make the most of it.


Out West, Deja Newman

Right in time for the Confession Hour, further warning that a majority of the Catholic vote is most likely Hell-bound... or just that the Ratzinger Norms have yet again been grossly misinterpreted and applied out of context:
Parishioners of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Modesto have been told they should consider going to confession if they voted for Barack Obama, because of the president-elect's position condoning abortion.

"If you are one of the 54 percent of Catholics who voted for a pro-abortion candidate, you were clear on his position and you knew the grav- ity of the question, I urge you to go to confession before receiving communion. Don't risk losing your state of grace by receiving sacrilegiously," the Rev. Joseph Illo, pastor of St. Joseph's, wrote in a letter dated Nov. 21.

The letter was sent to more than 15,000 members of the St. Joseph's parish. It is one of 34 parishes in the Stockton Diocese, which has more than 200,000 members in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and four other counties.

Illo also delivered this message in a homily....

The Most Rev. Stephen Blaire, bishop of the Stockton Diocese, disagrees with Illo. He said Catholics should not feel compelled to disclose how they voted to their priest.

Blaire said Catholics who carefully weighed many issues and settled on a candidate, such as Obama, who was supportive of abortion rights, were not in need of confession. He said confession would be necessary "only if someone voted for a pro-abortion or pro-choice candidate -- if that's the reason you voted for them."

"Our position on pro-life is very important, but there are other issues," Blaire said. "No one candidate reflects everything that we stand for. I'm sure that most Catholics who voted were voting on economic issues.

"There were probably many priests, and I suspect many bishops, who voted for Obama."

Illo's letter states, "Many Catholics voted for such pro-abortion candidates thinking that their good positions on other issues, such as the war or health care, outweighed their deplorable stand on abortion."

Illo also wrote that Obama "promised Planned Parenthood that the first thing he would do upon taking office is to sign the so-called 'Freedom of Choice Act,' which would grant unlimited access to abortion in all 50 states up until the moment of live birth."

Illo, in an interview Wednesday, explained his reasoning.

"In Catholic teaching, you have to go to confession when you have committed a mortal sin," he said. "Now, what is a mortal sin? It's somewhat complex. No one can say, 'You committed a mortal sin.' I can only say, 'It's a grave matter.' It's my job to look after my parishioners.

"I've gotten a lot of e-mails and phone calls. It's about 12-to-1 in favor of what I said. One person has left the parish. But I got all of these other positive things."
From the original column (emphases likewise original):
Many Catholics voted for candidates on November 4 who stated clearly that they would promote abortion. President-elect Obama, for example, promised Planned Parenthood that the first thing he would do upon taking office is to sign the so-called “Freedom of Choice Act,” which would grant unlimited access to abortion in all 50 states up until the moment of live birth. Many Catholics voted for such pro-abortion candidates thinking that their good positions on other issues, such as the war or health care, outweighed their deplorable stand on abortion. Many discount “one-issue voting,” but if the issue is grave enough, no one would object to “one-issue voting.” For example, if the issue were legalizing slavery, no one would hesitate to vote against a candidate on this one issue. In fact, this election was a largely one-issue vote anyway, and that issue was the economy. What we Catholics, and all people of sound reason, must understand, is that a refusal to protect all human life is a deal-breaker. Abortion is a much graver issue than slavery.

My dear brothers and sisters, I know many were confused about the issues. It is a difficult time for us all, and we are facing new social and cultural issues. Neither have your pastors and bishops spoken clearly and with one voice on these issues. But one thing is clear and certain: we can never vote for a candidate who promises to promote abortion. No one who promotes the killing of unborn people can be entrusted with the public good. “The greatest destroyer of peace in the world today,” wrote Mother Teresa, “is abortion.” It is not the economy, war, health care, poverty, or terrorism. It is abortion. “Human life,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception….the inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of civil society and its legislation.” In other words, this is a civil rights issue, We have to speak for those who have no voice. We must demand honesty from our public officials, who are clearly dishonest when they pretend that the human fetus is not human.

If you are one of the 54% of Catholics who voted for a pro-abortion candidate, you were clear on his position, and you knew the gravity of the question, I urge you to go to confession before receiving communion. Don’t risk losing your state of grace by receiving sacrilegiously. I appeal to your conscience, grounded in Church teaching. To some degree we all have the blood of these children on our hands. I myself have confessed sacramentally, and I confess to you now, that I have not done enough to defend these children. Their blood is on my hands too. We will see them in the next life, and they will ask us why we let them die.

Pope Benedict wrote in 2004 (as Cardinal Ratzinger) that Catholic public officials who "consistently campaign and vote for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" are guilty of grave evil. If they have been warned to abstain from Holy Communion and persist in promoting abortion, he wrote, “the minister of holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” to them. In 2002 he had written that “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program … that contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.”

If you voted for a pro-abortion candidate, I cannot say for certain if you should refrain from Holy Communion. I don’t know what you were thinking. But voting for a candidate who promises “abortion rights,” even if he promises every other good thing, is voting for abortion. It is a grave mistake, and probably a grave sin. No issue can compare with the legalized destruction of a mother’s child. I am writing to you because I love you and I care about your relationship with God. I am also writing because God requires this of me as a Catholic priest….

We do not have to settle for “pro-abortion” candidates. We can and must demand that our public officials protect the inalienable right of all Americans to live and flourish. If every Catholic told assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, for example, that we support him and most of his policies, but that we will not vote for him unless he defends all human life, he would change his position. All of us Catholics, all people of sound reason and good will, can and must simply require our public officials to act reasonably and responsibly in respect to human life.

If you need to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, our priests hear confessions on Fridays from 6:30-7:30pm, and Saturdays from 8:30-9:30am and 4-5pm. May God bless you, our families, our parish, and our nation.
SVILUPPO: More from the area, with video.


"What You Did for My Least Brothers..."

Thought your Thanksgiving was crowded? Well, chances are it wasn't anything like the turkey dinner served up by Las Vegas' Catholic Charities on Thursday... for no less than 2,500:
Cooks started warming the food at 2:30 a.m. Thursday, but the meal had actually been in preparation since September. That's how long it takes to ready 6,000 pounds of turkey, 800 pounds of potatoes, 700 pounds of dressing, 2,200 ounces of cranberry sauce and 2,000 pieces of pie.

One man, who declined to give his name, relished the abundance. Once he cleaned his own plate, he gladly accepted the leftovers from another at the table, and tore into a thick chunk of turkey with his hands.

"I ain't eaten in four or five days," he explained.

The packed dining hall filled mostly with men -- some from the streets or shelters, others from residential programs at Catholic Charities or the nearby Salvation Army or Las Vegas Mission complexes.

They were served by about 150 volunteers, among them first-timer Barb Norton of Las Vegas, a retiree who wants to "give back service to others."

"Thanksgiving is a day that can change their mind-set," she said. "They know that they can be off the streets and be served by others.

"Some of them even had smiles on their faces when they came in."
It's no accident that the Pope's repeated pointers on "concrete charity" as the heart of Christian love have been emerging in the face of these days' monumental economic collapse; no agency in the world provides more relief and nourishment in more places than the church he heads.

In no shortage of its mission-field, though, the downturn has led to a lack of funding for Catholic Charities and its ministries just as those very services find themselves drawn upon -- in some places, deluged -- all the more.

For all the joy and light of the coming season, this time around more of our neighbors will be going without, or with much less than they had last year. An hour or two at a nearby shelter or soup kitchen, a couple gifts for a program that gets a simple toy or a winter coat to an underprivileged kid, or a donation to help keep these in existence and able to keep serving wouldn't just remind us anew of what's really important, but it'd help bring the gift of Christmas itself to the good folks on hard times who need it most.

Remember, too, that when He comes, the crown of Advent doesn't show up in the places that are indifferent, proud, pristine or grand, but where He's least expected, most wanted and where the hope and love He brings are most longed for -- before any others, He comes to the poor, the heartbroken, the outcast and seemingly forgotten.

Wherever we might be, our local Catholic Charities and the untold thousands they serve are ready and waiting for each of us to lend a helping hand this Advent (and beyond)... especially this year, to the extent each of us are able, let's not let God's closest ones down.

PHOTO: Getty Images


In Him We Live... and Move...

It's rather anteclimactic that the liturgical year ends not with a bang, but a whimper... just as it begins in the quiet, a single candle guiding the way.

Along the way, though, this weekend likewise brings to a close the traditional November-long commemoration of those "who've gone before us marked with the sign of faith" -- our family, friends and fellow-travelers who, in time, we'll all follow home.

Last week, in another of the month's reminders of this, a post on these pages included a Washington Times column on the sudden homegoing of Susan Shaughnessy -- a beloved staffer at DC's John Paul II Institute whose death at 30 from a "freak virus" caused shockwaves in the church-circles of the capital and her hometown of St Louis.

As it turned out, Julia Duin's thread of "the Jesus that Susan believed in" from her Times piece became the linchpin of the homily given at Shaughnessy's funeral last weekend. And so, at the close of another month of the departed, as the (liturgical) clock inches toward another 11.59 on New Year's Eve, below is the homily as given by Fr Jose Granados, a professor of patristics at the Washington faculty.

At the end of one liturgical year and the dawn of another, may it remind us all of what matters most, day in and day out, in and out of season.

As ever, emphases original.
* * *
1. Today, before Susan's death, we are left in the darkness with our questions. These are questions regarding the past (Why has this happened?) but especially regarding the future (What comes next?).
This is so because we have seen Susan’s life so full of promises, and we are sad because it seems to us that a promise has not been kept. This is essential for us because it is this promise, the promise of life, the promise we discover in our friendships and in our families, that keeps us going, from morning to evening, knowing that life is worth living. And so we are left in this dark, starry night that Susan so much liked, with the big question: Can we continue to trust in the promise of life, a promise which is ultimately, God’s promise?

2. Someone has written during these past few days about Susan’s death mentioning all the prayers offered on her behalf, referring to our assault on heaven undertaken by so many people during her sickness. This person wrote that the Jesus Susan believed in… was a Healer… someone who hears our prayers. And then, how can this have happened to her? These words are honest and give expression to the same concerns we have in our hearts.

I have been reflecting on these words since I read them. It seems to me that, by pointing to this Jesus Susan believed in, they open up the only real possibility of understanding the meaning of what has happened. This is indeed the answer Jesus offers in the Gospel to the question of Thomas, a question that referred to the meaning of Jesus’ death. He said: “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life”. And so, there is, in Susan's life, an answer to our questions. The answer to the mystery of Susan’s life can be found precisely in this Jesus Susan believed in. It is the same Jesus we believe in, a Jesus able to assure us God keeps his promises. Who is this Jesus?

3. First of all, the Jesus Susan believed in was present in the poor, in those who suffer. We know Susan’s love for the poor and her desire to serve them, to console them in their sorrow. This means that Susan knew that faith in Jesus was not an easy way out of suffering, that faith in Jesus does not eliminate poverty. And, nevertheless, this faith gave her an answer to the question of suffering. For Susan was able to see Jesus in the poor and in this way she understood that the Jesus she believed in is someone who does not leave us alone with our sorrows, but comes to our side and shares them, and by sharing them already gives us an answer, a light in our darkness. The Jesus Susan believed in was inside the world of suffering, transforming suffering into love. For in the end, this is the real thing that matters, that opens our life into eternity beyond death: that we learn to love, that we open ourselves to love and let love transform our lives.

This Jesus Susan believed in does not take away our suffering, but transforms it into a source of love. Perhaps the experience we have had during these days at the hospital is already a token, like a fruit of Susan’s life. One famous writer once wrote referring to his daughter, who was gravely sick at home, that his home had become a Eucharist. Something of this we did experience at the hospital, when we were around a suffering body that gathered us and allowed us to give the best of our generosity and love.

4. In the poor, Susan understood something else: the Jesus she believed in, this same Jesus we see when we pass by the high school she attended, a heart of Jesus with arms outstretched, is precisely a Jesus who calls.

As Vickie told me in Washington right after Susan’s death, Susan always asked God what to do. Before taking a job, going to school or dating someone, she always asked God: “What do you want me to do?”

This means that she understood that in life there is a call, that life itself is a call. That is, she understood that Jesus is not silent but active, present, and calling us from beginning to end, in every small circumstance of our life. It is this Jesus she believed in who has called her now, who kept calling her to this final step.

We can see Susan’s death as something that happened to her, something that fell upon her with the blind force of disease or destiny. But the Jesus Susan believed in offers us a different vision: Her death was a call, the ultimate call of Jesus to follow him home. From what we know of his life we can be sure that she gave a yes to this final call, that she was also willing to follow again her Lord.

We too, if we live our life as a continuous call of God, will be able to see in what happened to Susan a call to us: a call in with Jesus keeps calling us to believe in him, to follow him, to expand our generosity and love, our service to God and neighbor. And in this light we will be able to see also our death as a call, the final call that leads us to the embrace with the Father.

5. It is to this final embrace we hear referred to in the Gospel today. The Jesus Susan believed in told us: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places”. This Jesus Susan believed in, was indeed a Son, someone with total trust and confidence in his Father, able to see his provident hand even in the suffering of the Cross. The Jesus Susan believed in was a Healer, to be sure, but he did not want to come down from the Cross. For he found there the only thing that matters in life: God’s ultimate embrace of love.

And because of this total confidence in the Father, he now has a Home and He is able to offer us a Home, a dwelling place in heaven. He himself has become this dwelling place that awaits us after death.

One of Susan’s favourite books was a poem of hope by the French writer Charles Peguy. In this book she had underlined a sentence Patrick showed me in the hospital. It went something like this: “God says: I love those who sleep. Those who sleep have a pure heart”. And to sleep is proper of the children, of those who, like Jesus, have a Father.

And so Susan went to sleep. She went to sleep a bit early, we could say, for we would have liked to have her here for a longer time. But we also know that she is in good hands, that she went to sleep in the confidence of Christ, the Son. A sign of this confidence is that she received forgiveness for her sins the day before falling sick; just like a child asking for forgiveness before going to bed.

We think of life in terms of activity and productivity, of what we can accomplish or acquire. God thinks in terms of confidence, of trusting in His hand. We think in terms of getting far in life, he thinks in terms of getting close to him. Only from this confidence in God, placing everything in his Hand, can we really transform our life and the world. Only from this confidence, given to us by the Jesus Susan believed in, can we understand what happened to her.

The Jesus Susan believed in, is the Son who allows us to trust in God and His mysterious ways, to place our questions in his hand knowing that the love of the Father is the ultimate answer to them.

6. Finally, the Jesus Susan believed in does not leave us alone. When he ascended into heaven he did not abandon earth. For the Jesus Susan believed in, life was a journey towards Home, towards the Father. He came first to this place to open us a way and in this way allows us to follow him. From heaven he continues to support us, to sustain us, to accompany us in our journey. And if Susan is with Jesus, we know that she has not abandoned us, that she is present in a different, mysterious way, encouraging us in our way to heaven.

The first Christians had a beautiful symbol they engraved on their tombs, a symbol unknown to the pagans: the anchor. With it, they signified that their ship, on its final voyage over the ocean of death, was not without security in its crossing the waves. There was a sturdy device aboard that would firmly secure them on arrival in the final harbour.

This anchor is placed in Heaven, and, as the letter to the Hebrews tell us, is a symbol for Jesus, who has entered heaven before us, opening us a firm path in the ultimate journey of death. And thus, this anchor is not totally like the anchors we let fall into the deep, because this anchor is thrown upwards, similar to what mountaineers employ to climb mountains.

The Jesus Susan believed in is this Anchor. Now Susan has undertaken this last trip and, having entered with Jesus, she can be also for us like an anchor, a firm point in Heaven that we can grasp tight, and in this way be lifted up. As her family, as her friends, Susan will continue to help us, to work on our behalf as an anchor of our hope, in Jesus, that allows us to look upwards. And may also our beautiful memories of Susan be transformed into this anchor, becoming a force that impulses us towards the future, towards heaven.

We don’t know God’s plans; we don’t understand fully why Susan left. But, as children, we are able to place these questions in God’s hands. And we know at least this much. That the ultimate answer is Love and that God’s plan is to lift us up to him, to the Father’s home.

If her death gets us closer to the Jesus she believed in, this will be enough for us; it will be enough to understand the reason of her early departure, to understand that her life and death was full of fruit. This Jesus, being our Anchor above, will be able to reopen again our future, to ensure us that we can continue with hope our way in life. The promise is not broken, it is kept alive in him, it will be fulfilled in the last day. And our life will again be rich in promises, because we will be closer to the Jesus Susan believed in.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine... Eternal rest grant unto them all, O Lord....


In Sacto, Jaime Era Begins

As long expected, this morning the Pope accepted the retirement of Bishop William Weigand of Sacramento, placing the leadership of the Central Valley's 920,000-member church in the hands of one of the Stateside church's rising stars, Bishop Jaime Soto (above).

Weigand, 71, had led the diocese since 1994, during which time its size has beyond doubled and the bishop's life was saved by a liver transplant, whose aftereffects led to his plans for an early exit to undertake a "more contemplative life and ministry." His successor -- who turns 53 on New Year's Eve -- was ordained an auxiliary of his native Orange in 2000 and named coadjutor in the California capital late last year.

Though he got into a bit of a scrap with church gay and lesbian activists for a September speech in support of California's successful same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8, the Columbia-trained, pipe-smoking policy wonk has more of a reputation as a progressive, taking a prominent lead on issues like immigration and HIV/AIDS. The incoming overseer of the US bishops' cultural diversity efforts, Soto's held the conference's porfolio for youth and young adult ministry since 2005. As bishop of the capital city -- and, as a result, the church's lead hitter with the nation's largest state government -- friends expect that it won't take long for "Jaime [to] be very much his own man."

While the transfer of governance took immediate effect upon this morning's announcement in Rome, a planned Mass marking the handover will take place tomorrow at Sacto's Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, and Soto will lead his first parish liturgies there as diocesan bishop next weekend.

PHOTO: Orange County Register


Friday, November 28, 2008

The Voice of Christmas... and Thanksgiving, Too

With a month to go 'til his 25th appearance in the Basilica Booth for the Pope's Midnight Mass, the original Philly Phanatic (and now, in light of recent events, his hometown's proven Cursebreaker/Liberator) Cardinal John Foley celebrated his customary Thanksgiving Mass yesterday for Rome's American community at the Urb's Yank national parish, Santa Susanna.

With thanksgiving to Zenit, the homily fulltext:
My brothers and sisters in Christ:

Happy Thanksgiving! Even though Thanksgiving Day was officially celebrated in Italy several Sundays ago, the observance cannot begin to match an American Thanksgiving Day, the most American of all holidays, especially because it is celebrated by people of all faiths and of all political parties. It is the one day which unites us all.

We may be at war on two fronts: Iraq and Afghanistan; we may be in the midst of the greatest world economic crisis in at least thirty and perhaps seventy years and we may -- according to not always reliable polls -- be disliked more than we have been at any time in our history, but we still have much for which to be grateful.

We have our lives, our families, our faith and many material and spiritual gifts -- not one of which is more important than the Mass.

It is truly a joy to be with you here today, because I do not think that there is a better way of marking Thanksgiving than beginning the celebration with the Eucharist, which itself means "thanksgiving."

In the opening prayer, we have said that we come before God with gratitude for His kindness and we ask Him to open our hearts to our fellow men and women so that we may share His gifts in loving service.

I have always been impressed by the preface developed for the celebration of Thanksgiving Day:

“Once you chose a people
And gave them a destiny
And, when you brought them out of bondage to freedom,

They carried with them the promise
That all men would be blessed
And all men could be free.

What the prophets pledged
Was fulfilled in Jesus Christ,
Your Son and our Saving Lord.

It has come to pass in every generation
For all who have believed that Jesus
By His death and resurrection
Gave them a new freedom in His Spirit.

It happened to our Fathers
Who came to this land as if out of the desert
Into a place of promise and hope.

It happens to us still in our time
As you lead all men through your Church
To the blessed vision of peace.

And so, with hearts full of love,
We join the angels, today and every day of our lives,
To sing your glory in a hymn of endless praise.”

I pray that, as Americans, we may truly be united in giving thanks to God for our fabulous and fruitful land, a land to which -- despite our alleged unpopularity -- people still wish to come in great numbers. I pray that, as Americans, we may be united in giving thanks for our democracy, for our political system; some, myself included, might be deeply concerned about the morality of policies which may be implemented after our recent elections, but no one can deny that probably in no other nation but the United States of America could a man of mixed race who had lived in so many different places have been elected to the highest office in the land. It is a great tribute to American democracy and it is truly a historic occurrence. We give thanks for American democracy, but at the same time we pray for future American policy.

And that is a great fact for which to be thankful. As Americans we enjoy freedom of religion and freedom of speech. We can advocate what we believe to be right, in keeping with our Founding Fathers, that all persons are endowed with the right to life, and we can pray that God may touch the hearts of our newly elected President, of the members of Congress and of our judges to give recognition in human law to what we believe is guaranteed in divine law, the right to life from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death.

Today, as we give thanks for our lives, for our faith, for our freedom, and for our nation, our concluding prayer can be the prayer of our newly elected president: “God bless all of you and God bless the United States of America.”
* * *
Meanwhile, back home in the River City, this "Black Friday" marked the traditional opening of this town's grandest Yuletide ritual: the Light Show at the place that might currently bear a foreign (i.e. New York-based) name, but will forever be known as Wanamaker's.

Now in its 53rd year, the production's evolved over the last decade as successive owners saw fit to cut some of its most-cherished trappings.

Put bluntly, while the loss of the dancing waters -- and, OK, the Magic Christmas Tree, too -- was a crime against humanity, just as sacrilegious was the scrapping of the show's original narration, recorded by John Facenda in 1956.

Macy's might've opted for the predictable flash-value in turning the telling over to Julie Andrews... but no shortage of the hometown crowd still thinks "His Foleyness" should have the honor instead.

PHOTO: St Joseph's Preparatory School


"This is Not Mumbai"

As hostages were freed, assailants were killed, and the death toll in the India attacks rose above 200 -- including the 29 year-old rabbi and his wife who ran the city's Jewish center, among five hostages there -- the city's archbishop Cardinal Oswald Gracias issued a message condemning the three days of violence and praying for the city:
Our words cannot express our shock at this incident; I am deeply saddened by this attack on our city and on our beloved nation as a whole.

The Church in India condemns this attack in the strongest possible terms. Innocent and unconnected people have been killed. Very brave police officers have been killed. Mumbai in the target of different terrorist groups. The Church offers our deepest sympathy to the families of those who lost their dear ones, and the Church in Mumbai places all our medical services to those who have been injured.

We must fight together as a nation and as a united people to combat the terrorists. We must never give up hope because ultimately hope will prevail. It is Christian to always hope. Good will triumph, evil will be overcome, this is our Hope.

Regrettably, senseless violence goes on and there may be reprisals, we – all of us -- must consider creating a feeling of intolerance against divisive forces, against elements that sow seeds of mistrust and suspicion in the minds of our people. We must create a climate where every citizen is alert and such incidents can immediately be reported to the intelligence agencies and enable the government and our security agencies to take steps earlier. The important thing today is to be together.

Mumbai is our city, where mutual tolerance and understandings between cultures and religions has prevailed despite of the attempts to rip apart our city, now we will continue to build bridges of understanding between peoples, cultures and religions. We must overcome evil with good and seek peace.

This terror attack was not an act of the people who love our country, this is not India, and this is not Mumbai. Mumbai is a very tolerant and brave city. India is a great country and very tolerant. These are all misguided people who are brain washed who probably think what they are doing is right and that every thing is ok. It’s terrible what they have done. They’re harming innocent people and disturbing the peace.”

”This tragedy snuffed out the lives of many foreign national and this is a matter of immense shame. India is known for her hospitality, we ask for forgiveness for this aberration done in our city…….but please- do not write Mumbai off, India is a great county, Mumbai is a great city, you are also welcome here.

The people who carried out these deadly attacks, are misguided people, who have been deluded and brainwashed into the ideologies and propaganda of the cause, but this is madness, they bring death, fear , panic and disrupt the harmony and lives of the city and county……darkness of chaos.

But we do not despair, we do give up Hope that Goodness will prevail that God will lead us from darkness of chaos to Light Peace and Harmony.

God Bless our city Mumbai!

God Bless India!
A native of the Mumbai church -- whose 500,000 members form India's largest Latin-rite community -- Gracias was named to its top spot in 2006 on the transfer of his predecessor and patron, the diplomat Ivan Dias, to Rome as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the global church's top post overseeing the missions.

Named a cardinal at last year's consistory, Gracias is the fourth archbishop of Mumbai so elevated since Valerian Gracias -- the first native son ever to hold the post -- received the red hat in 1953. In some form or another, the city's history as a local church dates back to the 16th century.

PHOTO: Reuters


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Coming Soon: Holy Father, Holy Land?

Following in the footsteps of Paul VI and John Paul II -- shown above at the Wailing Wall on his 2000 pilgrimage -- the veil on arrangements for a major PopeTrip is being lifted:
Pope Benedict is expected to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories next year in a trip significant for political and religious relations in the Middle East, Vatican sources said on Thursday....

It also would help to ease recent tensions between Catholics and Jews over the role of wartime Pope Pius XII, who some Jews have accused of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said the pope had accepted an invitation by Israeli President Shimon Peres to visit in May.

A Vatican spokesman said he could not comment on the Haaretz report but Vatican sources said discussions were under way.

The Vatican supports Israel's right to exist within secure borders alongside an independent Palestinian state and hopes a papal trip can help political and religious dialogue aimed at a comprehensive Middle East peace.

A trip by the pope to Israel also would help improve Catholic-Jewish relations, strained recently over Pius XII.

Pius, who reigned from 1939 until his death in 1958, has been accused by some Jews of inaction over the Holocaust during World War Two, a charge his supporters and the Vatican deny.

Many Jewish groups have called on Benedict to freeze the process that could one day make Pius a saint until more Vatican archives on the wartime period are opened, with one Italian Jewish leader saying that making Pius a saint before information is available would open a "wound difficult to heal."

At issue is whether Benedict should let Pius proceed on the road to sainthood -- which Catholic supporters want -- by signing a decree recognising his "heroic virtues." This would clear the way for beatification, the last step before sainthood.

Benedict so far has not signed the decree, approved last year by the Vatican office that oversees sainthood cases, opting instead for what the Vatican has called a period of reflection.

The Vatican says that while Pius did not speak out against the Holocaust, he worked behind the scenes to help Jews because direct intervention would have worsened the situation by prompting retaliations by Hitler.

Last month, the Vatican rebuked one of its own officials who said the pope could not visit Israel as long as a controversial caption critical of Pius remained at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust.

Catholic-Jewish relations also were strained this year by the re-introduction of a prayer used by traditionalists during a Good Friday service that was seen as calling for the conversion of Jews. [The prayer's text was later amended by Benedict himself.]
The current pontificate's first journey to Africa, a March papal pilgrimage to Angola and Cameroon, has already been announced.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Quote of the Day

At today's audience, a Morrison moment....
Often we tend to fall into the same misunderstandings that have characterized the community of Corinth: Those Christians thought that, having been gratuitously justified in Christ by faith, "everything was licit." And they thought, and often it seems that the Christians of today think, that it is licit to create divisions in the Church, the body of Christ, to celebrate the Eucharist without concerning oneself with the brothers who are most needy, to aspire to the best charisms without realizing that they are members of each other, etc.

The consequences of a faith that is not incarnated in love are disastrous, because it is reduced to a most dangerous abuse and subjectivism for us and for our brothers. On the contrary, following St. Paul, we should renew our awareness of the fact that, precisely because we have been justified in Christ, we don't belong to ourselves, but have been made into the temple of the Spirit and are called, therefore, to glorify God in our bodies and with the whole of our existence (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19). It would be to scorn the inestimable value of justification if, having been bought at the high price of the blood of Christ, we didn't glorify him with our body. In reality, this is precisely our "reasonable" and at the same time "spiritual" worship, for which Paul exhorts us to "offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12:1).

To what would be reduced a liturgy directed only to the Lord but that doesn't become, at the same time, service of the brethren, a faith that is not expressed in charity? And the Apostle often puts his communities before the Final Judgment, on which occasion "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Corinthians 5:10; and cf. Romans 2:16).

If the ethics that St. Paul proposes to believers does not lapse into forms of moralism, and if it shows itself to be current for us, it is because, each time, it always recommences from the personal and communitarian relationship with Christ, to verify itself in life according to the Spirit. This is essential: Christian ethics is not born from a system of commandments, but rather is the consequence of our friendship with Christ. This friendship influences life: If it is true, it incarnates and fulfills itself in love for neighbor. Hence, any ethical decline is not limited to the individual sphere, but at the same time, devalues personal and communitarian faith: From this it is derived and on this, it has a determinant effect.

Let us, therefore, be overtaken by the reconciliation that God has given us in Christ, by God's "crazy" love for us: No one and nothing could ever separate us from his love (cf. Romans 8:39). With this certainty we live. And this certainty gives us the strength to live concretely the faith that works in love.
Take it away, Van:

Next up, we can only hope: Into the Mystic... least, it'd be a good fit, no?


Pray for Mumbai

In India, over 100 dead and 250 injured:
Coordinated terrorist attacks struck the heart of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, on Wednesday night, killing dozens in machine-gun and grenade assaults on at least two five-star hotels, the city’s largest train station, a Jewish center, a movie theater and a hospital.

Even by the standards of terrorism in India, which has suffered a rising number of attacks this year, the assaults were particularly brazen in scale and execution. The attackers used boats to reach the urban peninsula where they hit, and their targets were sites popular with tourists.

The Mumbai police said Thursday that the attacks killed at least 101 people and wounded at least 250. Guests who had escaped the hotels told television stations that the attackers were taking hostages, singling out Americans and Britons.

A previously unknown group claimed responsibility, though that claim could not be confirmed. It remained unclear whether there was any link to outside terrorist groups.

Gunfire and explosions rang out into the morning....

lex Chamberlain, a British citizen who was dining at the Oberoi, told Sky News television that a gunman had ushered 30 or 40 people from the restaurant into a stairway and, speaking in Hindi or Urdu, ordered them to put up their hands.

“They were talking about British and Americans specifically,” he said. “There was an Italian guy, who, you know, they said, ‘Where are you from?’ and he said he’s from Italy, and they said, ‘Fine,’ and they left him alone.”

Sajjad Karim, 38, a British member of the European Parliament, told Sky News: “A gunman just stood there spraying bullets around, right next to me.”

Before his phone went dead, Mr. Karim added: “I managed to turn away and I ran into the hotel kitchen and then we were shunted into a restaurant in the basement. We are now in the dark in this room, and we have barricaded all the doors. It’s really bad.”
Don't just pray for peace, church -- live it.

PHOTO: Reuters


Next Up: Bioethics

Recently, every year-end's seen the release of a notable curial document... this time around, reports CNS' John Thavis, the CDF will visit the moral imperatives of bioethics:
A new Vatican instruction on bioethics, prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is scheduled to be published Dec. 12, informed sources said Wednesday.

The document, under discussion for at least two years, is expected to examine ethical issues in biological research and health care that have emerged in recent years, including the cloning and freezing of human embryos, stem cell research and new therapeutic possibilities....

Addressing the congregation in January, the pope said the new problems included the freezing of human embryos, the selective reduction of embryos, pre-implant diagnosis, research on embryonic stem cells and attempts at human cloning.

The pope said the starting point for the church’s reflection remains the same:
The two fundamental criteria for moral discernment in this field are unconditional respect for the human being as a person from the moment of conception to natural death, (and) respect for the originality of the transmission of human life through the acts proper to spouses.
The new document is expected to be unveiled at a Vatican press conference, the sources said.

National Feasts

Once your narrator gets the words right, this space'll have a Thanksgiving meditation of sorts... but in the meantime, for everyone clocking out early and hitting the road, safe travels and a blessed and Happy Turkey Day to each and all and your loved ones -- hope everyone gets to eat up, enjoy the breather and revel in all those things that make the journey beautiful and good.

As musical reflections go, we've got the traditional...

...and the (10,000) "maniac"-al....

Enjoy the holiday, folks -- God love ya and, as always, thanks for every good gift you are in the lives of more folks than you probably realize.

Gobble, gobble... and -- though they're probably gonna lose again -- Go Birds.

(But to think, they came within a hair of being the Turkeys.)


The Most Important "Plug-In" of All

Especially with the New (Liturgical) Year upon us, the papal portavoce offers a reminder we could all use:
“There is an interior and spiritual dimension of life that must be guarded and nourished. If it is not, it can become barren to the point of drying up and, indeed, dying” [Fr Federico Lombardi SJ] said.

“Reflection, meditation, contemplation are as necessary as breathing. Time for silence -- external but above all internal -- are a premise and an indispensable condition for it.”...

“In the age of the cell phone and the internet it is probably more difficult than before to protect silence and to nourish the interior dimension of life,” he observed. “It is difficult but necessary.

“For believers, in this dimension prayer, dialogue with God is developed, life in the spirit, which is more important that physical life itself. Jesus told us not to fear those who can kill the body as much as the one who can destroy our soul."

“What is true for the individual person, is true for the community of the Church, true for humanity," the spokesman continued. "If for each one of us it is essential to know how to preserve dialogue with God in daily life, for the Church it is essential to have the sign and reality of life dedicated to contemplation and prayer, and for humanity it is essential to know there are beacons of light, sages and masters of the spirit.”

Without attentiveness to and cultivation of the spiritual life “you will lose your soul," added Father Lombardi. "And today this is a very grave threat, and it is the most irreparable misfortune.”
For the record, Lombardi does the work of four full-time people, overseeing Vatican Radio and Vatican TV alongside the press office and serving as a top assistant to the Jesuit Father-General.

No question, his observations and advice are useful and a service... but some self-exposition on his own approach to the spirit-work balance would be even more of an aid -- with all those hats he juggles, God only knows how he does it.


A Year Later, the Cardinal Marches On

Hard to believe where the time's gone -- Monday marked a year since the emergent "growth and dynamism" of the church in the American South went global with the historic entrance of its largest fold's leader into the Pope's Senate.

Down in H-Town, however, Dan DiNardo kept to form, not using the day to celebrate, but to shine a light on bigger things as he led a "Pilgrimage for Life":
The mile-long march began outside the Huntsville Planned Parenthood clinic and passed through the Sam Houston State University campus before reaching the Walls Unit, site of the Texas execution chamber. Observers said it likely was the largest such demonstration in Huntsville history....

"We're not here to demand. We're here to pray," said the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese's DiNardo. "There will be no slogans. We'll fall on our knees for intercession."...

DiNardo, speaking at a morning Mass at St. Thomas Catholic Church that began the activities, told the congregation the "Gospel of life applies to everyone, no matter how little or seemingly insignificant."

After DiNardo admonished the group that "we need to make the truth known in a persuasive way — one by one, not always in massive doses of rhetoric," marchers were bused across town to Huntsville's Planned Parenthood clinic....

Among those at the gathering were Florence and George Scheuchenzuber of Magnolia. "We're here hopefully to let people know about our feelings of support of life from conception to natural death," Florence Scheuchenzuber said.

Her husband said he favored capital punishment until two months ago.

George Scheuchenzuber said he revised his thinking on the issue because he concluded the death penalty can end a prisoner's life before he repents and, possibly, finds salvation.

"Murder is murder," he said. "Abortion is murder. And if a grown person kills someone, that's murder." Execution, he said, is murder by the state.

Texas is the nation's leading death penalty state, where 423 people have been put to death since the punishment was resumed in 1982....

For being such emotionally charged ground, DiNardo's concluding remarks [at the execution chamber] were mild.

"We're not here to do anything but pray and witness," he said. "We're here to ... pray for life."
...and CNS has more:
"We know that the announcement of the good news that a child is born at the beginning of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke is not only a reflection on the birth of Jesus, though it is that," Cardinal DiNardo said. "It is reflection on the conception and birth of every human being.

"There is nothing more innocent than innocent human life at its beginnings. Therefore a claim is made on us for the protection of all human life; most especially that most delicate, brilliant and yet frequently violated human life through the act of abortion," Cardinal DiNardo continued.

The Catholic Church and its members are "absolutely committed" to the eradication of abortion, Cardinal DiNardo said. The way to show that commitment is through prayer, he added.

"(We must) beg the Lord to transform first our hearts and then the hearts of all this culture by prayer and persuasion to respect this human life," Cardinal DiNardo said.

The Catholic Church also opposes the death penalty, because at the core of the issue is the same basic question as abortion: the dignity of the human person.

"We are also in Huntsville today in another dimension of the pro-life movement which is guilty human life," Cardinal DiNardo said. "For the last 25 or 30 years the bishops of Texas have quietly tried to persuade, argue and explain to the people of this state and beyond that in fact what is exercised as the death penalty is frequently unjust."...

"None of this is easy, friends. If we thought that we would do it by pure human means then we would be as St. Paul says the most pitiable of all," Cardinal DiNardo added.
Days earlier, DiNardo headed up an ecumenical group in "taking aim" at current Federal immigration policy -- a key issue-point throughout Texas, but especially in the newcomer-heavy Houston church.

Earlier this month, of course, the US bishops elected the "Cardinardo" to the chairmanship of the conference's most prominent policy committee: Pro-Life Activities.

The post might always be held by a red-hat, but it hasn't gone to one so young in almost three decades -- the Southern cardinal turns 60 in late May.


Immunity, Denied

On Monday, in what's being described as a "landmark" ruling, a Federal appeals court green-lighted a sex-abuse suit naming the Holy See among its plaintiffs:
[The] ruling, issued by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, marks the first time a court at so high a level has recognized that the Vatican could be liable for the negligence in sexual-abuse cases brought in the U.S.

The ruling is seen as a breakthrough by those allegedly abused by priests. Investigators and grand juries have found several instances where the church failed to report alleged abusers and covered up alleged misdeeds to protect them.

Jeffrey S. Lena, the attorney for the Holy See, said he was not "presently inclined" to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision.

It remains to be seen whether the Vatican, which is a sovereign state recognized by the U.S. government, will make further arguments that it is immune from U.S. civil proceeding.

Catholic dioceses in the U.S. have paid out at least $1.5 billion to alleged abuse victims, most of this since the scandal broke open nationwide in 2002.

The appeals court found that the church government may be held liable for actions taken in the U.S. based on the Vatican's policies or directives.

"What the court has allowed us to do is proceed against the Vatican for the conduct of the U.S. bishops because of the bishops' failure to ... report child abuse," said William F. McMurry, the attorney for three men who claim they were abused as children by priests in the Louisville, Ky., archdiocese. He is seeking class-action status in the district-court case.

The ruling marks the first time that a federal appeals court recognized that the Vatican could be liable under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a 1976 law that governs when a foreign nation or its agents can be sued, said Marci Hamilton, a constitutional-law scholar who is part of the legal team in the Louisville case.

"If someone can crack that barrier of immunity, it opens the door to other claims against the Catholic church," says Jonathan Levy, a Washington, D.C., attorney who represents concentration-camp survivors in a suit against numerous parties including the Vatican bank. The Vatican, in that case, prevailed in its claim of sovereign immunity.

Mr. Lena, the lawyer for the Holy See in the Louisville case, said Monday's ruling is a small step and one that is far from establishing whether Vatican policy contributed to thousands of incidents of abuse that have been alleged over several decades. "We're miles away from liability," he said. The ruling is "very incremental."
SVILUPPO: For the legal beagles among us, the ruling in full has been posted by the Sixth Circuit.

PHOTO: Reuters


From Culto Central

Long a reader favorite, expect the shot at right to get a "fire sale" level of usage in the coming weeks as the transition of the Vatican's top post overseeing the liturgy enters its closing stages.

Last week, amid continued buzz that he'll succeed Cardinal Francis Arinze as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Spanish primate Cardinal Antonio Cañizares of Toledo was received in private audience by the Pope.

With Arinze having marked his golden jubilee as a priest earlier this month, smart money expects the change-up in favor of the 62 year-old Spaniard -- a former CDF staffer dubbed the "Little Ratzinger" for his oneness of mind with the Boss -- to come early next year, slated to be followed by the widely-reported transfer of CDW's #2, Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, back home to Sri Lanka as archbishop of Colombo.

What's more, though, in an interview with L'Osservatore Romano to mark his 50th, Arinze indicated that the move was afoot to shift the place of sign of peace, likely bringing it back to the moment of the offertory, as happens in the Ambrosian rite.

"The Pope has sought a consultation of the entire episcopate," Arinze said. "Then he will decide." The initiative, he added, was intended to "create a more recollected environment as we prepare ourselves for Communion," noting the common overextensions of the moment that turn it into something more akin to a social hour.

On Saturday, the Nigerian prelate presented the finished Third Edition of the Roman Missal to Pope Benedict in a special audience (left). And next week, the Missal remains on the congregation's radar as its Vox Clara committee on English-language translations gathers at Culto Central for its final meeting of the year.

Possibly on the agenda: the (still ineffable... now gibbet-free) Proper of Seasons, which the US bishops finally approved at their Baltimore plenary earlier this month.

Yet while London remains abuzz over Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's impending papal audience on the selection of his successor as archbishop of Westminster, word behind the scenes suggests that, with "nothing left to lose," the primate of England and Wales might just try and go to the mat on the question of "pro multis."

Bottom line: it's always something... and more often than not, more than just one something at a time.



Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Steel City, Steel Circle

So, lest anyone's wondering how the archbishop of Washington'll deal with the capital's incoming crop, Don Wuerl's homily from today's CBK funeral might well go a long way toward answering the question.

Its fullvideo already posted, the DC prelate's 20 minute preach offers a significant glimpse into his mind on the qualities that define a true public servant.

Having served two decades as his hometown's 11th bishop, today's rites marked the second time since his 2006 appointment to the capital that the archbishop's returned to his "first love" to help lead the sendoff for a Steel City Dem; months after arriving in Washington, Wuerl went home to preside at the funeral of then-Mayor Bob O'Connor, a close personal friend whose son he ordained to the priesthood.

At today's liturgy, the Rosary given the late Lieutenant Governor by Pope John Paul II -- who she referred to even in her state-issued press releases as "The Great" -- topped her coffin, and a photo of the 2003 bacimano was put on the cover of the worship aids.

While political differences were laid aside at the cathedral altar (where even the intercession-readers were bipartisan), in one of your stranger coincidences of timing the National Catholic Reporter published a piece earlier today by another lay don of the Pittsburgh church -- the former Duquesne law dean and chair of the USCCB's sex-abuse review board Nick Cafardi -- blasting what the author termed the "Republican captivity" of Stateside Catholicism.

Away from the political fray, however, following his stint overseeing the diocesan efforts to restore trust amid the outbreak of the scandals, Cafardi (whose widely-publicized endorsement of the Democratic ticket was met by a fierce blowback from church conservatives) released a canonical treatise on the ecclesial response "before Dallas"... which work he dedicated to one person: Donald Wuerl -- who, he wrote, "did the right thing at the right time."

In a nutshell, this is Pittsburgh -- everything and everyone is melded into one big circle... and, more than anything else, that's what the now-archbishop brings back with him to a capital in transition and its challenging waters that lie just ahead.



Monday, November 24, 2008

Daughter of the Church, Mother of the State

It's not every day that the Pope sends his condolences on the death of an American politician, let alone one from the side of the aisle a senior aide of his recently referred to as the "party of death."

But that's exactly what happened on Friday as Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Harrisburg read a papal message lamenting the passage of the "blessed soul" of Pennsylvania's Lieutenant Governor, Catherine Baker Knoll.

This didn't take place, mind you, in the capital's St Patrick Cathedral, but in the rotunda of the Capitol, before an audience of the state's top brass, joined for the day by a special guest-speaker, now in line to become the nation's top diplomat.

Two days later, after a civil funeral that attracted overflow crowds, the body of the highest-ranking woman in the Commonwealth's 326-year history -- who died on 14 November at 78 after a four-month battle with neuroendocrine cancer -- was taken to her hometown of Pittsburgh for a second viewing... not in the usual venues of its City-County Building or the State Offices, mind you, but in the Steel City's St Paul's Cathedral.

It's been said that Her Excellency sought to avoid a full-blast sendoff. But if that was bound to happen regardless, she wouldn't have wanted it to unfold any other way than it has.

Come tomorrow, it's the cathedral's turn to fill, as the Keystone State's cardinal-metropolitan, the city's ordinary and the archbishop of the nation's capital lead a flock of shepherds and CBK's army of tight-knit family and lifelong friends in a final Mass for the soul of the Steel City's self-described "steel woman."

Sure, the rites will recall the accomplishments of a distinguished public servant, the trailblazer who always had the touch of class, a bit of grit and a knack for coming from behind, winning four statewide races over the years, along the way racking up the most votes ever entrusted to any Pennsylvanian listed on a ballot. But to an equal degree, they will give thanks for the life and witness of a former teacher and mother of four, ardent pro-lifer and just-as-staunch Democrat, the boss who treated faithful generations of aides as her own kids and the people not as an electorate to be pandered to, but her family to be cared for -- and, through it all, above all else, remained no mere regular in the pews, but an ever-devoted daily communicant.

For CBK, these things could never be divvied up -- each and all came from the same place.

As Rhoades -- who MC-ed the hourlong state memorial -- put it, "it was Catherine's faith in God that inspired her, and motivated her, to public service." And from generosity to gaffes, quiet deliveries of cakes and groceries to her rectory at home and quilts and DVDs for the wounded soldiers freshly returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, the stories are legion... but for now, suffice it to say that tomorrow's homegoing will be well worth watching, and praying along with.

Scheduled to begin at noon local time (1600GMT), the state network PCN will livestream the liturgy. In the meantime, here below is the text of the Pope's sympathies, as conveyed in a letter to the Harrisburg prelate from the apostolic nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Pietro Sambi:
Having learned with sadness of the recent death of the Honorable Catherine Baker Knoll, Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I wish to convey to her entire family -- and especially to her children Charles, Mina, Albert and Kim Eric -- the heartfelt condolences, paternal affection and spiritual closeness of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

As the Holy Father recently said on All Souls Day, November 2nd, "Today we renew the hope in eternal life truly founded in Christ's death and resurrection. 'I am risen and I am with you always,' the Lord tells us, 'and my hand supports you. Wherever you may fall, you will fall into my hands, and I will be there, even to the gates of death. Where no one can accompany you any longer, and where you can take nothing with you, there I will wait for you, to transform for you the darkness into light.'"

Fervently praying that God, the Father of Mercies, will grant the fullness of eternal life and joy to the blessed soul of Catherine Baker Knoll and spiritual consolation to all those who mourn her passing, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI imparts to her family the Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace in Christ Jesus, our Hope.

Offering my own expression of prayerful sympathy, I remain, with sentiments of sympathy and respect,

Sincerely Yours in Christ,

+Pietro Sambi
Titular Archbishop of Belcastro
Apostolic Nuncio in the United States of America
On a related note, not even this bacimano-light pontificate could keep CBK from getting one with B16 in 2006, three years after she met John Paul II -- a photo every visitor to her office was shown, right alongside the family shots.

As her own home pastor (he of, among many things, ponytail fame) put it, "Scripture has a saying: 'gigantes autem erant super terram in diebus illis' -- 'there were giants in those days' -- and she was one of those giants.

"We won't see her like again for a very long time."

God grant Her Excellency a blessed rest... and ever protect and prosper the Commonwealth she leaves behind.



"Four Decades Late, Beatlemania Sweeps Vatican"... or, "L'Osservatore: 'We Want a Revolution"'

For something like this, just one header can't suffice: precisely on the 40th anniversary of John, Paul, George and Ringo's eponymous release -- usually known as the "White Album" -- no less than the Papal Paper joined in the celebrations:
"Forty years later, this album remains a type of magical musical anthology: 30 songs you can go through and listen to at will, certain of finding some pearls that even today remain unparalleled," it said.

With rock songs like "Back in the U.S.S.R." and "Helter Skelter," ballads like "Julia" and "Blackbird," and dreamlike pieces like "Dear Prudence," the album represents the "creative summit" of the Beatles' career, it said.

What characterized the "White Album" and the Beatles best music in general was an inventiveness that stands in stark contrast with popular music today, the newspaper said.

"Record products today seem mostly standardized and stereotyped, far from the creativity of the Beatles," it said. The modern pop music industry is too willing to sacrifice originality and fantasy in order to satisfy the consumer models it has adopted and promoted, it said.

The newspaper also recalled that the Beatles were recording with rudimentary tools compared to those used by the high-tech recording industry today. Even so, "a listening experience like that offered by the Beatles is truly rare," it said.

As for John Lennon's famous quip in 1966 that the Beatles were more famous [sic -- the actual quote was "more popular"] than Jesus Christ, the Vatican newspaper dismissed it as youthful bragging.

"The phrase that provoked profound indignation, especially in the United States, after so many years sounds merely like the boast of a working-class English youth faced with unexpected success," it said.
For the record, what became known as Lennon's "bigger than Jesus" quote read as follows:
"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."
(And the group that led the charge for the frontman's head, you ask? The KKK. No joke.)

For your full cultural immersion experience, though, a piece of the musical greatness, albeit live:

Now, if that doesn't blow your mind, God only knows what could.

But before any of the superfans get hopped up -- no, this isn't the slower-grade "White" version, known as "Revolution 1," but an outgrowth of it.
And a better one at that.