Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Love Calls Us Higher": In First Message, Card. Wuerl Tackles Talk

In his first released text since being elevated to the Pope's "Senate," Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington pointedly took for his topic the responsibility of "both truth and love" in the ecclesial conversation.

The piece will be published in Thursday's edition of DC's Catholic Standard... here, meanwhile, the gist:
No community of human or divine origin, political or religious, can exist without trust. At the very core of all human relations is the confidence that members speak the truth to each other. The covenant between God and his people also obliges us to a relationship of truth. It is for this reason that God explicitly protected the bonds of community by prohibiting falsehood as a grave attack on the human spirit. "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16). To tamper with the truth or, worse yet, to pervert it is to undermine the foundations of human community and to begin to cut the threads that weave us into a coherent human family.

Christians must not only speak the truth but must also do so in love (Ephesians 4:15). It is not enough that we know or believe something to be true. We must express that truth in charity, with respect for others so that the bonds between us can be strengthened in building up the Church of Christ.

Even while there may be disagreements within the ecclesial community on policies and procedures, there is a presupposition that we are all one in our faith. One of the reasons why we should find it easy as a Church to arrive at consensus is because it is Christ who calls us together in the first place. We are already one in what we believe, in our loyalty to the Church and in our commitment to live by God's commandments.

The call to truthfulness is far from being a denial of freedom of speech. Rather it is a God-given obligation to respect the very function of human speech. We are not free to say whatever we want about another but only what is true. To the extent that freedom is improperly used to sever the bonds of trust that bind us together as a people, it is irresponsible. The eighth commandment obliges us not only to avoid false witness but also to tell the truth. We have an obligation to ascertain that what we say is really the truth.

To speak the truth requires personal self-discipline and conscious effort. We must search out the facts and avail ourselves of the information necessary to make a judgment based on truth. It is a disservice when one's opinions, positions or proposals are based on unverified gossip, unsupported rumor or partial information when all the facts are readily available to us. Serious research and study are demanded in serious matters.

Because we live in a society that sometimes treats lightly the importance of truth, those who engage in Christian discourse need to be keenly aware that simply because something is said in the public media, on the radio or television or printed in a newspaper or magazine, does not necessarily make it true and reliable. To base one's judgment on such sources alone is to enter into the realm of rash judgment and its ruinous effects not only to individuals but also to society itself. If we choose to speak, we ourselves must accept the responsibility to discover the truth.

We are called to a higher level of respect for the truth and for each other than is often witnessed on some radio and television talk shows. The intensity of one's opinion is not the same as the truth. Speaking out of anger does not justify falsehood. Frustration or disappointment does not condone a lack of charity. The Catechism reminds us, "respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury" and calls "rash judgment," "detraction" and "calumny" offenses against truth (2477).

At the heart of who we are as Church is Christ's call to love one another. Whatever diminishes love diminishes the Church. A measure of our love for God and for each other is how well we deal with frustration and disappointment. Both are a normal and frequent part of life. They need not lead to anger, rash judgment or their public expression but rather to tolerance, trust and patience after the example of Christ. Love calls us to a higher standard as a part of God's family.
* * *
While we're at it, it's worth recalling that the red hat is but the crowning personal milestone among several the capital's fifth cardinal has been marking of late.

A week before the 20 November Consistory, Wuerl celebrated his 70th birthday... and even more notably, Friday sees 25 years since his appointment as a bishop.

On 3 December 1985, the then-45 year-old rector of Pittsburgh's St Paul Seminary was given what most observers consider the Stateside bench's most delicate and controversial assignment of the 1980s, for which he was ordained a month later by the now-Venerable Pope John Paul II.

After a Vatican-chartered commission of US bishops relayed concerns to Rome over Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen's handling of matters of doctrine, worship and morals at the helm of the church in Seattle, the beloved prelate whose outspokenly progressive ways saw him win a sizable following as the "peace bishop" was given Wuerl as his auxiliary, with the Holy See -- in an exceedingly rare move -- giving the latter full, ordinary jurisdiction over several aspects of the archdiocese's life, among them oversight of liturgy, seminary formation, the tribunal and relations with priests who had left active ministry.

Against the backdrop of an already-roiled ecclesial scene, the intervention sparked outrage among much of the liberal-minded Seattle fold, not to mention a sizable chunk of the nation's bishops. As a result, no shortage of its reactions were inevitably borne by the young prelate, who became widely cast -- in some quarters, demonized -- as the "Vatican enforcer" tasked with dismantling Seattle Catholicism as the home-crowd had built it.

Within a year, the arrangement fell apart, and Wuerl returned to Pittsburgh, becoming a "bishop without portfolio" for a year, when he was tapped to head his hometown diocese. The archbishop was given a coadjutor and restored to full powers of governance, handing off to the late Tom Murphy on his 70th birthday in 1991. (Today, Hunthausen remains alive and well at 89, resides in his native Montana.)

On practically every side, though, what've become known as the "Hunthausen Wars" are remembered as a particularly painful moment. In some instances, they created wounds that took years to even begin to heal -- so much so that, in Wuerl's circles, "Seattle" was long considered an unspeakable word... even if, so it's said, the person he left the West on the warmest terms with was Hunthausen, himself.

Then again, time and its changes have their way of healing all things... and sure enough, two days shy of a quarter-century since Wuerl received the appointment that became his "baptism by fire," the circle completes itself: for his first Stateside function presiding in scarlet, the new cardinal will be present "in choir" at St James' Cathedral for tomorrow's installation of Seattle's fifth archbishop.

More on Peter Sartain to come... for now, though, this angle of the story proved too poignant to pass up.

PHOTOS: Reuters(1); AP(2); Getty(3)


Live from the Metroplex

Before all else, with the Stateside bench's first ad limina of this pontificate drawing ever closer, it's worth noting that the bishops of the world's fourth largest Catholic country -- the Philippines, home to some 60 million of the faithful -- are currently in Rome for their first taste of the "Benedict treatment."

Slated to make the now seven-yearly pilgrimage in three groups between now and March, Monday saw the first papal address to the influential Pinoy prelates -- its focus on the church as "leaven in the world" -- which conspicuously included the following passage:
A specific area in which the Church must always find her proper voice comes in the field of social communications and the media. The task set before the whole Catholic community is to convey a hope-filled vision of faith and virtue so that Filipinos may find encouragement and guidance on their path to a full life in Christ. A unified and positive voice needs to be presented to the public in forms of media both old and new, so that the Gospel message may have an ever more powerful impact on the people of the nation. It is important that the Catholic laity proficient in social communications take their proper place in proposing the Christian message in a convincing and attractive way. If the Gospel of Christ is to be a leaven in Filipino society, then the entire Catholic community must be attentive to the force of the truth proclaimed with love.
* * *
Along those lines, even before the USCCB heard its latest presentation on digital media at this month's Fall Classic, the bench's uptake of various platforms was already becoming ever more impressive, a trajectory topped by a reality -- unthinkable not all that long ago -- that's seen the heads of three of American Catholicism's four largest outposts now take on blogs of their own, not to mention multiple others of distinction from locales further afield.

And now, at the start of the new church year, another entry's come, yet again from the booming heart of Texas, where Catholics surpassed Evangelicals as the state's largest religious group midway through the last decade.

Joining his blogging confrere in the Dallas Metroplex -- now the nation's fourth-largest metro area... and, in time, likely to become the hub of a third province in the Lone Star State -- Bishop Kevin Vann has launched his contribution, Shepherd of Fort Worth, both in English... y español.

A career pastor before becoming B16's first diocesan appointee on these shores, beyond the 630,000-member church -- spread across 28 counties of North Texas -- Vann's page is especially worth keeping up on the wider scene as the 59 year-old prelate is currently engaged in two key USCCB initiatives on the national front.

In light of the area's long history as a hotbed of Rome-bound Episcopalians -- their pioneer parish located in the Fort Worth diocese -- Vann serves on the three-bishop commission dealing with the implementation of Anglicanorum coetibus in the States (led, of course, by the newly-elevated Cardinal Wuerl), as well as the bench's effort to repair ties with the Catholic Health Association, which famously broke with the conference earlier this year on throwing its support behind the Federal health care reform package, defying the bishops' well-noted concerns over the final bill's opening to public funding of abortions.

Sure, the side-assignments might get the chattering classes' blood pumping, but not even the K.Vann's committee work can outshine the growth and vitality he gets to preside over at home; nearly quadrupled in size since 1990, parishes are bursting at the seams in the Fort Worth church, the diocese now counts 30 seminarians (a figure that, per capita, LA would need 250 men in formation to match, and New York 125 -- and neither come close)... and last month, in conjunction with its 1.2 million-member counterpart in Dallas, the twin dioceses marked the US' designated World Youth Day with a crowd of some 7,000 young people for a Sunday Funday at the local Six Flags, capped with an open-air Mass... whose homily the newly-blogging prelate preached on his iPad.

* * *
On a personal note, your narrator got to see all this up close a couple months back, on a trip South to speak at the annual Ministry Conference arranged by the University of Dallas, in conjunction with the two dioceses -- who, it must be said, arguably enjoy the closest working relationship of any local churches on these shores.

As if the above wasn't impressive, there's more: restricted to 67 churches due to a scarcity of priests -- so much so that, as one cleric put it, "we're forbidden to die" -- the average parish-size by registration in the Dallas church runs just shy of 20,000; such is the shortage that the long-awaited two auxiliaries named earlier this year have been pressed into emergency service as pastors.

During the days, another priest of the Plex reported a turnout of 1,700 for his parish's largest Sunday Mass, with over 300 kids preparing for First Communion; just off the UD campus, Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving has seen its enrollment double in the last three years, and San Antonio's bi-lingual Assumption Sem can now boast over 100 students for the first time in a half-century; the Dallas church alone welcomed over 3,000 adults at Easter... and at the Conference itself, what began as a gathering of 800 attendees in 2007 has rapidly ballooned, this year's drawing a crowd of some 6,000, most of whom memorably (and movingly) dropped to their knees on a hard arena floor during the two-day event's closing liturgy (above).

However you cut it, the boom is impressive. In the context of four centuries of the faith on these shores, though, the Southern shift is nothing short of revolutionary. And fittingly enough, this year's Dallas keynoter was the watershed figure of the church's Lone Star ascent (and, all around, the "face" of B16's remaking of the American bench): the Cardinal of the South....

(Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4)

These days, it doesn't take much looking around to find no shortage of talk about no shortage of things, most of which are claimed to have some epochal degree of importance.

Yet when the books are written on ecclesial life in this time and place (and, in spades, they will be), odds are that, at best, today's "headlines" will be relegated to footnotes in the face of the dominant reality of this moment in the American Catholic journey: an age when scandals and politics raged, a complacent Old Guard fled, feuded and, most of all, faded, and a dominant "empire" -- once celebrated far and wide for its ability to regiment everything -- suddenly became powerless at reversing its own decline...

...while far from the historic hotspots, over the course of decades, the new spirit brought by an even older faithful quietly took root and believed, set to work and grew, and watched their welcome and witness transform what, not all that long ago, was an oft-persecuted and misunderstood minority into an energetic force in the public square and the ecclesial realm alike.

And as its fruit, a half-century in the making, the tide has turned -- as never before, the South and West stand at center stage in the life of the Stateside church.

Of course, much more about this to come over the next Ten Days as, under cover of night, the next generation of the nation's faithful return for another edition what's become US Catholicism's "Super Bowl."

PHOTOS: Reuters(1); Edward A. Ornelas/San Antonio Express-News


Monday, November 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.
--Servant of God Dorothy Day

* * *
Hailed as a "prophetic figure" in the story of the Stateside church, today marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Day -- the much-celebrated convert and mother of the Catholic Worker movement -- whose cause for beatification was opened in 2000.

Then again, as she once said in life on the topic, "Don't call me a saint -- I don't want to be dismissed so easily."

More quotable Dorothy here.


Of Homecomings... and Hat Parades

With Consistory Week now in the books, the newest far-flung members of the College of Cardinals have returned home. Yet even if the galero hasn't been conferred during the elevation rites since 1965, that didn't keep Sri Lanka from rolling out a record-sized one as the second Roman "prince" in its history, Colombo's Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, arrived back on Saturday.

Led by the overwhelmingly-Buddhist country's prime minister, much of the island's political, cultural and pan-religious establishment turned out to greet Ranjith as his flight touched down in the capital. As native dancers performed and monks of other faiths prayed, thousands thronged Colombo's streets -- many decorated to celebrate the occasion -- as the new cardinal was paraded through on his way to a thanksgiving stop at the country's patronal shrine of Our Lady of Lanka, where the new cardinal prayed at the tomb of the first Sri Lankan raised into the papal "Senate," Thomas Benjamin Cooray.

An Oblate of Mary Immaculate who served at the helm of the Colombo church from 1947-76, Cooray was created a cardinal in the 1965 intake -- the last to receive the time-honored ceremonial "red hat" that still surmounts the rank's coat of arms... and, apparently, his successor's homecoming float.

Cooray built the massive basilica, which was dedicated in 1974. He died in 1988, and just last month, Ranjith opened the cause for his predecessor's beatification.

Spread across eleven dioceses, Catholics comprise just under 10% of Sri Lanka's 20 million residents.

* * *
Speaking of cardinals and their hats, it appears no one noticed the latest switch-up to come from the Office of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, which rolled out another "development of tradition" at last weekend's festivities.

Since time immemorial, the mitre worn by members of the College of Cardinals in the Pope's presence (and for concelebrations in general) has been the traditional all-white, but with a quietly distinctive twist: in deference to the rank, cardinals have donned the "damasked mitre" of white-on-white silk, with red tassels on the back.

One of the few pieces of insignia to survive the Conciliar reforms completely intact, even more than its look, the mitra damasco (shown en masse at left) was conspicuous by its size -- such was the headgear's height that, in many cases, the gap between its front and back peaks (usually "open" on a mitre) proved close to nonexistent, which, at least for some cardinals, was said to have made its use a painful experience.

Seemingly in response to the complaints, the damasco was tweaked into a more manageable form at the 2001 consistory -- same style, but significantly smaller (above) -- and was immediately adopted by practically the entire College. Now, however, in the spirit of the "Papal Pallium," the papal MC Msgr Guido Marini and his team have apparently moved to make another innovation, debuting a complete revamp of the red-hats' liturgical headdress:

And, well, time will tell how it catches on, both in Rome and on the road.

* * *
Lastly, it took a while, but English translations have finally emerged of B16's powerful twin homilies at last weekend's ceremonies... so, here, snips from the preach at the Consistory itself:
No one is master in the Church but all are called, all are sent out, all are reached and guided by divine grace. And this is also our security! Only by listening anew to the word of Jesus who asks, “come, follow me”, only by returning to our original vocation, is it possible to understand our own presence and mission in the Church as authentic disciples.

The request of James and John and the indignation of the other “ten” Apostles raised a central question to which Jesus chose to answer: who is great, who is “first” for God? First of all Jesus looks at behaviour which “those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles” risk assuming: to “lord it over them”.

Jesus points out to the disciples a completely different conduct. “But it shall not be so among you”. His community follows another rule, another logic, another model: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all”.

The criterion of greatness and primacy according to God is not domination but service; diaconia is the fundamental law of the disciple and of the Christian community, and lets us glimpse something about “the lordship of God”.

And Jesus also indicates the reference point: the Son of man who came to serve. In other words he sums up his mission in the category of service, not meant in a generic sense but in the concrete sense of the Cross, of the total gift of life as a “ransom”, as redemption for many, and he points it out as a condition of the “sequela”.

It is a message that applies for the Apostles, for the whole Church, and especially for those who have leadership roles in the People of God. It is not the logic of domination, of power according to human criteria but rather the logic of bending down to wash feet, the logic of service, the logic of the Cross that is the root of all exercise of authority.

The Church in every period is committed to conforming to this logic and to testifying to it to make the true “lordship of God” shine out, that of love.

Venerable Brothers appointed to the cardinalitial dignity, the mission to which God calls you today and which qualifies you for an even more responsible ecclesial service, requires an ever greater willingness to adopt the style of the Son of God who came among us as one who serves (cf. Lk 22:25-27).

It is a question of following him in his humble and total gift of himself to the Church, his Bride, on the Cross. It is on this wood that the the grain of wheat — which the Father let fall into the earth of the world — dies, in order to become a ripe fruit.

This is why it is necessary to be even more deeply and firmly rooted in Christ. The intimate relationship with him that transforms life increasingly in such a way that it is possible to say with St Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20), constitutes the primary requirement if our service is to be serene and joyful and to bear the fruit that the Lord expects of us.
...and Sunday's Mass of the Rings:
In today's Gospel we see that everyone asks Jesus to come down from the Cross. They mock him, but this is also a way of excusing themselves from blame as if to say: it is not our fault that you are hanging on the Cross; it is solely your fault because if you really were the Son of God, the King of the Jews, you would not stay there but would save yourself by coming down from that infamous scaffold.

Therefore, if you remain there it means that you are wrong and we are right. The tragedy that is played out beneath the Cross of Jesus is a universal tragedy; it concerns all people before God who reveals himself for what he is, namely, Love.

In the crucified Jesus the divinity is disfigured, stripped of all visible glory and yet is present and real. Faith alone can recognize it: the faith of Mary, who places in her heart too this last scene in the mosaic of her Son's life. She does not yet see the whole, but continues to trust in God, repeating once again with the same abandonment: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord” (cf. Lk 1:38).

Then there is the faith of the Good Thief: a faith barely outlined but sufficient to assure him salvation: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” . This “with me” is crucial. Yes, it is this that saves him. Of course, the good thief is on the cross like Jesus, but above all he is on the Cross with Jesus. And, unlike the other evildoer and all those who taunt him, he does not ask Jesus to come done from the Cross nor to make him come down. Instead he says: “remember me when you come into your kingdom”.

The Good Thief sees Jesus on the Cross, disfigured and unrecognizable and yet he entrusts himself to him as to a king, indeed as to the King. The good thief believes what was written on the tablet over Jesus' head: “The King of the Jews”. He believed and entrusted himself. For this reason he was already, immediately, in the “today” of God, in Paradise, because Paradise is this: being with Jesus, being with God.

So here, dear Brothers, is the first and fundamental message that the word of God clearly tells us today: to me, the Successor of Peter, and to you, Cardinals.

It calls us to be with Jesus, like Mary, and not to ask him to come down from the Cross but rather to stay there with him. And by reason of our ministry we must do this not only for ourselves but for the whole Church, for the whole People of God.
Speaking of texts, while yesterday afternoon saw Cardinal Donald Wuerl's Mass of Thanksgiving in Washington on his return to the capital, his first message on these shores has yet to emerge.

Then again, the DC cardinal's "real" homecoming is still two weeks off; on 12 December, the 11th bishop of Pittsburgh will return to his hometown for a celebration in the Steel City's St Paul's Cathedral.

Luckily, however, Wuerl's American counterpoint in this class is nowhere near as bashful, so the full, footnoted text of Cardinal Raymond Burke's Thanksgiving sermon on his elevation lit up the wires almost within minutes of its delivery last Monday in the chapel of the Pontifical North American College.

Among other points, the now scarlet-clad "chief justice" mused that "the cardinal has a particular bond with the virgin martyrs," adding for good measure the story of St John Fisher, who received the red hat behind bars amid his refusal to assent to Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy -- or, as Burke called it, the earthly ruler's "angry rebellion against the law of Our Lord."

In light of the new cardinal's prior statements on the domestic state of affairs -- among them, that American society "is abandoning its Judeo-Christian foundations, the fundamental obedience to God’s law which safeguards the common good, and is embracing a totalitarianism which masks itself as the 'hope,' the “future,” of our nation"...

...suffice it to say, complete the sentence.

PHOTOS: Archdiocese of Colombo(1,2); AP(4,5); Reuters(6)


Sunday, November 28, 2010

"The Waiting": B16 on Advent... and AIDS

At today's noontime Angelus, B16 tackled Advent's dominant mindset in a memorable meditation... channeling Tom Petty in the process:
I'd like to dwell briefly on this suggestive theme of "waiting," as it speaks to a profoundly human aspect, in which faith becomes, so to say, one with our flesh and our hearts.

Waiting -- standing by -- is a dimension that crosses all of our existence: personal, family and social. This waiting is found in a thousand situations, from those little, everyday ones all the way to the most important things, those which completely, deeply, wrap us up. Among these, let us think of the waiting for a child by a couple; those of a relative or friend who comes to visit us from afar; let us think, for a young person, of the waiting for the result of an important test, or a job interview; in emotional relationships, of the waiting for one's encounter with their beloved, of the response to a letter, or the acceptance of an apology... It could be said that man is alive while he waits, that in his heart hope is alive. And from these waitings man comes to know himself: our moral and spiritual "stature" can be measured by that for which we wait, by that in which we hope.

Each of us, then, especially in this time that prepares us for Christmas, can ask ourselves: what am I waiting for? What, in this moment of my life, reaches out of my heart? This same question can place itself in the context of family, of community, of nation. What do we wait for, together? What unites our hopes, what do we share? In the time preceding the birth of Jesus, so strong in Israel was the anticipation of the Messiah, of the Sacred One, descendant of King David, who would finally liberate the people from their moral and political slavery and inaugurate the Kingdom of God. But no one would ever have imagined that the Messiah could be born of a humble girl like Mary, betrothed to the just man Joseph. Neither had she thought of it, though in her heart the waiting for the Savior was so great, her faith and her hope so ardent, that He could find in her a worthy mother. From the first, God himself prepared her, even from before the ages. There is a mysterious correspondence between the waiting of God and that of Mary, the creature "full of grace," totally transparent to the design of the Most High's love. Let us learn from her, the Lady of Advent, to live our daily duties with a new spirit, with the sense of a profound waiting, one only the coming of God can quench.
* * *
Meanwhile, considering the recent media melee/ad intra foodfight occasioned by the Pope's comments on condoms in his freshly-released chat-book, something worth watching in the days ahead in light of the fracas is the degree to which Benedict will maintain his pontificate's well-established practice of an annual appeal to mark World AIDS Day -- observed by the church and civil society alike on 1 December.

As the pontiff duly noted in Light of the World, "the church does more than anyone else" in its global care efforts for many of the over 40 million stricken with HIV/AIDS "because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering."

From practically all sides, said work yet again went ignored amid the latex-wrapped storm of discourse that shrouded the Vatican over the last week... along those lines, though, given the particular ecclesial context of this World AIDS Day, here's a recap of B16's annual statements for the observance:

General Audience, 30 November 2005:
Tomorrow, 1 December, is World AIDS Day, a United Nations initiative planned to call attention to the scourge of AIDS and to invite the International Community to a renewed commitment in the work of prevention and supportive assistance to those afflicted. The figures published are alarming!

Closely following Christ's example, the Church has always considered care of the sick as an integral part of her mission. I therefore encourage the many initiatives promoted especially by the Ecclesial Community to rout this disease, and I feel close to persons with AIDS and their families, invoking for them the help and comfort of the Lord.

Angelus, 26 November 2006:
This coming December 1 marks World AIDS Day. I wish greatly that this occasion promotes an increased responsibility for the care of this illness, together with the pledge of avoiding each instance of discrimination toward the many stricken with it. Calling the comfort of the Lord upon the sick and their families, I encourage the many initiatives that the Church maintains in this area.
General Audience, 28 November 2007:
World AIDS Day will be celebrated this coming 1 December. I am spiritually close to all who suffer from this terrible disease as well as to their families, especially those afflicted by the loss of a spouse. I assure all of them of my prayers.

I would also like to urge all people of good will to multiply their efforts to prevent the spread of the HIV virus, to oppose the contempt that often affects those who have the disease and to care for the sick, especially when they are still children.
Angelus, 29 November 2009:
[This coming 1 December sees the world day against AIDS.] My thoughts and prayers go to every person afflicted by this disease, especially the children, the very poor, and all those who are rejected. The Church does all it can to fight AIDS through its institutions and workers. I urge everyone to make their own contribution through prayers and actual care, so that those suffering from the HIV virus may experience the presence of the Lord, source of comfort and hope. Lastly, I hope that, through more coordinated efforts, we may be able to stop and eradicate this disease.
Needless to say, anyone interested in the "other shoe" might want to keep an eye for what happens at Wednesday's Audience.

PHOTOS: Reuters(1); AP(2)


Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Years of Grace

Countdown time, church:






OK, so Times Square it ain't... then again, it isn't supposed to be.

As this First Sunday of Advent brings with it the start of another church cycle -- the "new year of grace," as the time-honored expression goes -- every wish of its richest blessings to you and yours.

That said, for the (literally) 1,900th time or thereabout, away we go... again.

* * *
Beyond its usual significance, this ecclesial "New Year's Day" is making news on two added fronts: first, with the implementation of the new Roman Missal in English coming a year from tonight on these shores, in most of the Anglosphere this afternoon saw the traditional "turning of the ribbons" toward the front of the Sacramentary one last time, as the 1973 translation enters its final cycle in use.

(In New Zealand, meanwhile, the new texts have made their global debut in the pews this weekend, albeit partially: the people's parts of the revised rendering have come into force there on this First Sunday, the rest to follow upon its release.)

Elsewhere, in Rome and across the Catholic world, at B16's behest tonight sees a first-of-its-kind observance: a global Vigil for All Nascent Human Life, which the pontiff marked at First Vespers in St Peter's and many local churches have planned special commemorations of on relatively short notice.

The Pope's homily at tonight's Vatican Vigil is posted... and additionally, Benedict released a "Prayer for Life," relayed here below in its Holy See draft translation:
Lord Jesus,
You who faithfully visit and fulfill with your Presence
the Church and the history of men;
You who in the miraculous Sacrament of your Body and Blood
render us participants in divine Life
and allow us a foretaste of the joy of eternal Life;
We adore and bless you.

Prostrated before You, source and lover of Life,
truly present and alive among us, we beg you:

Reawaken in us respect for every unborn life,
make us capable of seeing in the fruit of a mother's womb
the miraculous work of the Creator,
open our hearts to generously welcoming every child
that comes into life.

Bless all families,
sanctify the union of spouses,
make fruitful their love.

Accompany the choices of legislative assemblies
with the light of your Spirit,
so that peoples and nations may recognise and respect
the sacred nature of life, of every human life.

Guide the work of scientists and doctors,
so that all progress contributes to the integral well-being of the person,
and no one endures suppression or injustice.

Gift creative charity to administrators and economists,
so they may realise and promote sufficient conditions
so that young families can serenely embrace
the birth of new children

Console married couples who suffer
because they are unable to have children
and in Your goodness provide for them.

Teach us all to care for orphaned or abandoned children,
so they may experience the warmth of your Love,
the consolation of your divine Heart.

Together with Mary, Your Mother, the great believer,
in whose womb you took on our human nature,
we wait to receive from You, our Only True Good and Savior,
the strength to love and serve life,
in anticipation of living forever in You,
in communion with the Blessed Trinity.
PHOTOS: Getty(2)


Friday, November 26, 2010

The Black Friday (Flash) Mob

And so, like clockwork, early today -- or, in ever more places, barely after dark last night -- saw the beginning in earnest of the Christmas/Holiday/Advent/End-of-Ordinary-Time Shopping Season.

See, the retailers don't really care what it's called, so long as the ledgers are flush.

Anyways, here in the River City, Black Friday always hearkens back to a happier, easier age -- every year come today, in a way essentially none of us do the rest of the time anymore, the town heads back in droves to the sprawling urban store that, whoever its latest owner, will forever be known as Wanamaker's....

Just, for the most part, not to shop.

It's true -- once the largest retail space in the world, the mammoth square-block landmark (now a Macy's) recalls the days before "doorbusters" and, all around, an era when the sales were the least compelling reasons to enter the temples of commerce: the building's Grand Court still features twice-daily concerts by the organ reputed to be the largest in the world... and, above all, this time of year's main attraction: The Light Show (video) which, for anyone who grew up within a hundred-mile radius, is this community's definition of "Christmas" more than anything else (even, admittedly, the decades-old nightly live creche at 4th and Race) -- something so traditionally sacrosanct it has its own, much-lamented "extraordinary form"... and, in a perfect world, would be narrated by the native-born "Voice of Christmas," himself.

Anyways, all this is backdrop to a "random act of culture" the Wanamaker Grand Court saw some weeks back -- one that's gone viral to no small degree since... and, well, it just seemed like a fitting Black Friday treat/moment of sanity.

For the record, it wasn't in praise of the bargains...

...given the sing-in's lead-in, though, one can't help but think that someone from the local church crowd had something to do with it.

Again, hope you're all enjoying the long weekend... and for those of this crowd keen enough to have taken on the malls today, may your reward have been equal to the effort.

PHOTO: Reuters(1)


Thursday, November 25, 2010

American Feasts

Among other things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving: just a little over two weeks now 'til the Stateside church's Biggest Night returns.

Lest anyone forgot, it ain't Christmas.

(For the record, the above clip was filmed at about 5am last year... in Walla Walla, Washington.)

* * *
In the meantime, having gotten through yet another of the church-beat's more manic cycles in memory, the November Sprint has reached its close (whew) -- and with it, no better time could come for the annual American shot of family, football, turkey (and tryptophan) that is Thanksgiving.

By now, no shortage of this readership has seemingly hit the road. To everyone still around, though, every wish for a blessed holiday and long weekend, filled with all the rest, warmth and goodness there is under the sun, and whatever else you're looking to enjoy over the days ahead.

Above all, to one and all, thank you -- for all you are and all you do "out there," for making these pages part of your days along the way... and, to what feels like no end, blessing this scribe with the gifts of your friendship, wisdom, goodness and example in as many ways as there are the number of you.

Through the wild ride of these years, gang, that's been and remains a gift beyond all price -- one that, most of the time, feels impossible to sufficiently live up to. But even for everything this spirit of closeness has done to keep things encouraged and moving 'round here -- fits, flaws, foibles and all -- at the heart of things, it's been, it is, more still: a lifetime's worth of grace... and no words could ever say thanks enough for that: thanks to you and, indeed, thanks to God for the gift of you.

God love you lot forever -- and, again, a Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving, and safe travels to those on the road.

All that said, it's been a long fortnight, church... time to crash.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Judgment Day" at Hand: US Ad Lim Eyed for Late '11 Start

As the Fall Classic ensued last week, more than a few high-hats couldn't help but ask around if they should get to finally preparing their Quinquennial Reports, almost three years late.

Supposed to be held every five years, the last ad limina visit of the Stateside bishops took place from April to December 2004. As the Americans were the last major group to be received for the mandatory Roman "check-up" in the reign of John Paul II, with the nine-month-long Brazilian visit seeing its last group make the pilgrimage earlier this month, the US is now the last major episcopal conference still to receive the "Benedict treatment" -- the reigning Pope's more hands-on style of assiduous reading of the extensive Quinquennials, accordingly pointed questions in his meetings with the individual bishops, and straight-shooting addresses to the respective groups.

The delays have been born of a combination of B16's enhanced dedication to studying up on local matters in advance of the visits, a global episcopate now numbering more than 5,000 for the first time, and the human reality of an 83 year-old pontiff's need to pace himself.

Apparently, however, the wait is over.... Well, almost -- during the Plenary, Page Three readers would've seen a quick report that reliable ops had tipped the US ad limina to begin sometime around late 2011 or early 2012... and now, Catholic News Service's Rome chief John Thavis relays that the former is, indeed, being eyed around the Vatican as the visit's launch, pointedly adding that the region-by-region series will take place squarely against the backdrop of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Either way, as the Quinquennials do take the better part of a year to assemble, above all it'd probably be wise to start in.

* * *
On a related note, as the visit will only be the second since the eruption of the clergy sex-abuse scandals -- and the first since his 2008 PopeTrip laid out his gameplan of a "new Pentecost" for the Stateside church -- in their freshly-released interview-book, it bears relaying that Peter Seewald asked B16 whether American Catholicism had "already surmounted the crisis."

"That might be an exaggeration," the Pope replied, "but, for one thing, it is aware of its fragility and of the problems and sin that are present in it."

Likewise on the up-side, Benedict added that "there is an internal awakening to the need to overcome all these things and to live out and embody Catholic identity in new ways in our time."

Recalling his visit to New York and Washington -- highlighted especially, he said, by "magnificent liturgies" and "a joy of being Catholic in the air that was quite incredible" -- the pontiff said he thought "even non-Catholics were surprised" that his trek "was not some kind of challenge, but that it revitalized the positive energies of the faith."

* * *
In the public portion of the 2004 US visit, John Paul II devoted each of his speeches to the nation's bishops to various aspects on the renewal of the Stateside church in the wake of the scandals -- an ecclesial reboot which, in his concept, could only begin with a fresh "witness of conversion" from the episcopate.

Lest anyone could use a review, here are links to the talks, listed in order of their delivery:
  • Region XIV -- Atlanta, Miami; 2 April
  • Region IV -- Baltimore, Washington, Military Services; 29 April
  • Region VI -- Cincinnati, Detroit; 6 May
  • Region XI -- Los Angeles, San Francisco; 14 May
  • Region X -- Oklahoma City, San Antonio; 22 May
  • Region VII -- Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee; 28 May
  • Region XIII -- Denver, Santa Fe; 4 June
  • Region XII -- Portland in Oregon, Seattle, Anchorage; 24 June
  • Region I -- Boston, Hartford; 2 September
  • Region III -- Newark, Philadelphia; 11 September
  • Region II -- New York; 8 October
  • Region IX -- Dubuque, Kansas City in Kansas, Omaha, St Louis; 26 November
  • Region V -- Louisville, Mobile, New Orleans; 4 December
  • Region VIII -- Saint Paul and Minneapolis; 10 December
PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano(1); Pool(2) Mazur/Catholicchurch.org.uk(2)


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"I'm Not 'Archbishop of America'": From the President's Desk

A week since his stunning, historic election to lead the Stateside bench -- and three weeks since Archbishop Tim Dolan waged (then dropped) his latest campaign against the "anti-Catholicism" of the New York Times -- the Grey Lady scored the first extended interview with the new Chief:
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, elected president of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops last week, said Monday that the bishops faced the urgent task of stopping the huge exodus of Roman Catholics from the church of their birth.

He said the bishops would not stop speaking out on political issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration. But he said there was now a movement among them to confront internal problems like the “sobering study” showing that one-third of Americans born and baptized Catholic have left the church.

“The bishops are saying we need to make sure our house is in order as a church. We need to recover our vigor,” Archbishop Dolan said. “Then we can be of better service to the world and to our culture.”

In an expansive interview in the front parlor of his residence on Madison Avenue — the only news interview he has granted since he spoke to a Catholic television station after last Tuesday’s election — Archbishop Dolan discussed his surprise at his election, whether the bishops will push for repeal of the health care overhaul and what Pope Benedict XVI said about condoms.

“The Pope didn’t say, ‘Oh good, you should use a condom,’ ” Archbishop Dolan said, referring to a controversial comment the pope made in a book that is being released worldwide on Tuesday....

“You get the impression that the Holy See or the pope is like Congress and every once in a while says, ‘Oh, let’s change this law,’ ” he said. “We can’t.”

He was most animated on the topic of disaffected Catholics. Archbishop Dolan leaned forward as he cited recent studies finding that only half of young Catholics marry in the church, and that weekly Mass attendance has dropped to about 35 percent of Catholics from a peak of 78 percent in the 1960s.

He said he was chagrined when he saw a long line of people last Sunday on Fifth Avenue. “I’m talking two blocks, a line of people waiting to get into ...” he said, pausing for suspense. “Abercrombie and Fitch. And I thought, wow, there’s no line of people waiting to get into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the treasure in there is of eternal value. What can I do to help our great people appreciate that tradition?”
The USCCB president's comments on ecclesial attrition conspicuously echoed those of a critical mass of his confreres on the tone and agenda that emerged from their plenary last week.

As he departed Baltimore, Bishop Robert Lynch of St Petersburg -- a former general secretary of the bishops' conference -- wrote on his blog that this November Meeting's doings "seem, to my mind... to [have spent] a lot of time 'navel-gazing' – talking about budgets and assessments, etc." as opposed to thinking "about the number of people who are leaving the church and the possible reasons for this."

Put even more bluntly, in a conversation at the Fall Classic's edge, another ranking prelate admitted that -- with many of the same concerns at heart -- had he been watching the body's televised sessions from the outside, he thought the bishops "would've looked like fools."

"At some points," he said, "I couldn't help but think to myself, 'What are we doing?'"

* * *
It's not the kind of thing the Times would've known to seek out, but as Dolan was talking with the nation's paper of record, the latest edition of Pastores Dabo Vobis ("I Will Give You Shepherds") -- the Gotham prelate/former NAC rector's monthly letter to his priests -- was circulated via e.mail to the New York presbyterate.

In it, Dolan thanked the priests for their congratulations on his election, but sought to reiterate at the same time that (emphases original), "I am still first and foremost, 100% Archbishop of New York: not, never, can’t be, don’t want to be 'Archbishop of America.' No such creature exists!

"My passion for this archdiocese will not, I trust, be dimmed at all by this added duty," the new president added, "but I sure appreciate your promise of prayers!"

While the note largely dealt with temporal matters, it likewise included some pointed pastoral counsel.

Here, some snips (again, emphases as rendered in the original):
A good friend of mine was a very successful shoe salesman who was so effective that he now owns his own company and is a self-made multi-millionaire. He gives a good talk on “the priest as salesman,” and claims that “evangelization” is only a fancy word for marketing! Anyway, he was just in for a visit, and read me the riot act on how utterly frustrating it is to get through -- either in person or by telephone -- to our priests and parishes. He went on at length telling me that no wonder people are drifting away from the Church. They might show up, but the doors are locked and the parish buildings a ghost-town; they try to call the rectory and get nowhere; or try to contact their parish priest and can’t get through. Before you think he was picking on parishes, I need to tell you that he had equally bad grades for the Cardinal Cooke Center [i.e. Chancery], and berated me for being next to impossible to reach.

After years of trying my best to stay in touch with my priests, I’m afraid he has a point. It is very difficult to get through to some parishes or reach some priests. To get a cheerful, helpful, welcoming live voice is rare. Some parish electronic messages are literally “bloopers.” In attempting to reach a priest recently, his parish telephone message informed me of the Holy Week schedule! Another one bluntly told me to call back during “normal business hours,” namely, 10 to noon, 1 to 3! Normal?

Do we in our parishes exhibit a warm, welcoming, helpful atmosphere, or is it more “lights are out and nobody’s home”? When I was a parish priest in St. Louis, Archbishop John L. May mandated that every parish should have a large “welcome” sign with the name of the parish identified. This came after he had visited a parish surrounded by no trespassing signs!

My friend has a point: he concluded that if it was as hard getting in touch with him or his shoe salesmen as it is with some of us, he would be in a homeless shelter instead of a mansion on Lake Michigan.

My first pastor as a newly ordained priest was also on the clergy personnel board of the archdiocese, and a vicar (we called them “deans”). As such, he often had to do “referee” work with priests in parishes. I remember two particularly wise observations he made: one, “The true mark of a priestly gentleman is how he treats his predecessor and his successor.”; two, “For your first year in a parish, the only thing you should change is your socks.” Two sound proverbs.
In another part of the missive, Dolan relayed the impressions of a recent consultation from his archdiocesan Pastoral Council about the people's feelings on their priests:
-- they love you;
-- they worry that you have too much to do, especially in areas they consider less than essential to your primary duty to care for souls; namely, money, maintenance, and personnel, and that you are too reluctant to seek their collaboration;
-- what they most appreciate about you could be categorized as “human characteristics”: friendliness, approachability, reliability, openness, availability; and yet they also prize in you what we could call virtues: vibrant faith, reverence and joy at the sacraments, buoyant hope, compassionate charity -- especially for the sick, elders and children, poor, emotionally struggling, and grieving -- a man of obvious prayer and understanding of the life of the spirit;
-- they enthusiastically welcome our international priests, but are frustrated because sometimes they cannot understand them;
-- their major criticism of us? Poor preaching! Too long, can’t be heard or understood, boring, and wandering.

I found their remarks interesting and helpful, and trust you will as well.
PHOTOS: Philip Kamrass/Albany Times-Union(1); Hilton Flores/Staten Island Advance(2)


"The Quality of Our Love": With "A Renewal Vision," Archbishop Gustavo Begins

The expectations upon him as high as the heavens, 53 year-old Gustavo García-Siller took the reins of the Stateside church's traditional "Hispanic seat" -- the 750,000-member archdiocese of San Antonio -- this afternoon in a rousing Mass whose energetic vibe only served to underscore further the Mexican-born prelate's standing as, by far, El Norte's youngest archbishop.

Fittingly for a Missionary of the Holy Spirit, the tri-lingual liturgy -- where, in a first for the US, even part of B16's bull of appointment was delivered in Spanish -- employed the Votive Mass of the Paraclete... but another spirit was equally invoked during the celebration at Alamotown's St Mark's church: Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro, the Mexican Jesuit martyred 83 years ago today by a firing squad while holding a crucifix in one hand, a rosary in the other.

As one longtime Gustavoite put it last night, "He just has this way of bringing you into a circle of love." Now, the grouping (already immense from the beloved prelate's host of ministry-fields over 26 years of priesthood) includes another three-quarter-million -- a historic, diverse, growing fold in the nation's seventh-largest city.

To see what they're in for, here below is fullvid of a homily that, after a few minutes' wind-up, got so forceful it whipped the zucchetto off the Arzobispo's head:

SVILUPPO: No video of it exists, but on its blog, San Antonio's Today's Catholic has posted the text of the archbishop's homily at last night's Vespers in the Plaza outside San Fernando Cathedral, reported to have drawn a crowd of over 2,000.

The paper's commemorative edition welcoming García-Siller is likewise up for downloading.

PHOTO: Edward A. Ornelas/San Antonio Express-News


Monday, November 22, 2010

A San Antonio, El Nuevo Pentecost

As the most rapturously-received appointment these pages have ever witnessed begins to take effect, the installation of Archbishop-elect Gustavo Garcia-Siller MSpS in San Antonio is beginning at this hour with a rare rite: an outdoor Holy Hour for an open-invite crowd of at least 1,500, held in the Plaza outside San Fernando Cathedral.

Given the small size of the historic sanctuary -- the spot on which the nation's seventh-largest city was founded in 1731 -- the 53 year-old prelate (now the nation's youngest archbishop by a half-decade) decided to move his opening act into the streets "to connect with San Antonio"; to that end, Garcia-Siller made his invitation via a full-page ad in Alamotown's mainstream daily paper, the Express-News.

Hailed, beloved and able to spark unusual amounts of enthusiasm across seemingly every ecclesial divide to a genuinely rare (indeed, perhaps unique) degree, the successor to incoming LA Archbishop José Gomez will formally take possession of the 750,000-member church -- Stateside Catholicism's traditional "Latin seat" -- at a 2pm Central Mass tomorrow at St Mark the Evangelist, the city's largest parish. EWTN will livestream the rites.

Meanwhile -- complete with hovering choppers above and Gustavoites come from as far as Ohio -- here's a preview of tonight's prayer-service as aired on a Santone TV station:

And for anyone who still needs an intro to the Man of the Hour, here, the Chicago farewell of the low-profile auxiliary who chose to be known as "Bishop Gustavo":

San Antonio is the first of two metropolitan churches on these shores that'll welcome new heads over the next week; 1 December sees the installation of Seattle's Peter Sartain -- at 58, the second-youngest of the nation's 34 archbishops.

PHOTOS: Bob Owen/San Antonio Express-News


On Communion, "God-Centered Thinking": Cardinal Burke Makes First Ruling

While all the world (or so it seems) has been fixated on the Pope's catechesis on condoms these last 30-odd hours, what for ad intra purposes could be seen as an even more significant set of comments seems largely to have slipped under the radar... even if they merely came from the church's freshly-Porporato "chief justice."

In a nutshell, anyone who thought the red hat would see Raymond Cardinal Burke take an eased stance toward what's become his signature concern -- the public square in general... and above all within it, the admission to the Eucharist (or lack thereof) of Catholic politicians who defy church teaching on the legalization of abortion -- might want to think again.

Sure, there's already been evidence of the cardinalate's effecting an enhanced Burkean boldness: the very day the former St Louis' archbishop's name was announced by B16 as a member of this Consistory class, the prefect of the Apostolic Signatura recorded a half-hour video interview to help Catholic voters on these shores form their consciences in the run-up to the Midterm Elections.

Now, however, in a sit-down with Vatican Radio that aired as Elevation Day dawned, the Wisconsin-born master canonist upped the ante, taking his interpretation of Canon 915 to a previously unseen level... even if the printed summary of the encounter failed to convey the full thrust of the thought.

In that light, here, from the session's fullaudio, a transcription of the Radio's first question to the neo-Cardinale, and his reply:
Q. You’re known as a man with very firm ideas about the moral rectitude of those who profess Catholicism -- ideas that don’t always sit comfortably with everyone -- and I’m thinking of some of the remarks you’ve made about pro-abortion politicians, for example, receiving Communion -- the Holy Eucharist -- in the United States. Have you ever felt discouraged that people aren’t just getting the message?

Burke: I think it’s only natural to be tempted to discouragement, and I’ve had those temptations -- for instance, on the question of a person who publicly and obstinately espouses the right of a woman to choose to abort the infant in her womb receiving Holy Communion, strikes me as something very clear in the 2,000 years of the church’s tradition -- she’s always firmly held that a person who is publicly and obstinately in grave sin should not approach to receive Holy Communion and, if he or she does, should be denied Holy Communion.

Why? First of all, to avoid for the person -- himself or herself -- committing a sacrilege: in other words, receiving the Sacrament unworthily, and also because the holiness of the Sacrament itself demands that one be in a state of grace to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Therefore, when I set this forth, really -- and it’s not a new idea on my part -- and if I’m firm about it I have to say that that is in line with the constant tradition of the church.

[Emphasis added] It is discouraging that either members of the church claim not to understand this, or they claim that in some way there is an excuse for someone who is publicly and obstinately in grave sin to receive Holy Communion. I look at it this way: this response on the part of many in the church comes from living in a society that’s completely secularized, and the thinking that is marked -- the God-centered thinking which has marked the discipline of the church -- is not easily understood by those who are bombarded day in and day out with a kind of God-less approach to the world and to many questions.

And so I try not to get discouraged but to try to continue to speak the message in a way that people can understand. I try not to be -- and I don’t believe that I have been -- harsh or angry in my teaching. Certainly, I always could’ve been more effective in it, but try to speak the truth with love as the Holy Scriptures say, but also to realize that one has to continue to proclaim the message in season and out of season, and whether it’s being warmly received or not being received or being resisted or criticized doesn’t excuse the bishop or the priest from teaching clearly or steadfastly.
Answering a follow-up question, Burke admitted that the matter proved a "difficult" one, but stood his ground, saying that "when a bishop takes appropriate pastoral measures in this regard, he's also helping very much brother bishops, and also the priests."

* * *
Needless to say, the new red-hat's convinced-and-convicted stand has long had him on a collision course with no shortage of other top hierarchs at home -- his fellow cardinal of this intake from the States long prominently among them.

Now, though, thanks to another of this eventful week's major movements in Churchworld, the lead domestic player who views things differently is an equally-outspoken president of the US bishops.

In a February interview with New York's ABC affiliate to mark the first anniversary of his appointment to Gotham, the church's next St Louis Cardinal set his line on the question thus:

And, well, just further proof that we're in for quite the ride these next three years.

PHOTO: AP(1); Reuters(2)