Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Week Called Holy

In case you've been wondering, everything's fine on this end – this time around, Lent just called for a bit more breathing space than usual...

...and now, already, here we are: the days All of This Is All About.

To one and all, your loved ones and those you serve, may every grace and goodness of the journey ahead be yours... and as the language we use for it only can only go so far, let us truly make this Week holy.


In Holy Week, "God's Way Is Humility"

29 MARCH 2015

At the heart of this celebration, which seems so festive, are the words we heard in the hymn of the Letter to the Philippians: “He humbled himself” (2:8). Jesus’ humiliation.

These words show us God’s way and, consequently, that which must be the way of Christians: it is humility. A way which constantly amazes and disturbs us: we will never get used to a humble God!

Humility is above all God’s way: God humbles himself to walk with his people, to put up with their infidelity. This is clear when we read the the story of the Exodus. How humiliating for the Lord to hear all that grumbling, all those complaints against Moses, but ultimately against him, their Father, who brought them out of slavery and was leading them on the journey through the desert to the land of freedom.

This week, Holy Week, which leads us to Easter, we will take this path of Jesus’ own humiliation. Only in this way will this week be “holy” for us too!

We will feel the contempt of the leaders of his people and their attempts to trip him up. We will be there at the betrayal of Judas, one of the Twelve, who will sell him for thirty pieces of silver. We will see the Lord arrested and carried off like a criminal; abandoned by his disciples, dragged before the Sanhedrin, condemned to death, beaten and insulted. We will hear Peter, the “rock” among the disciples, deny him three times. We will hear the shouts of the crowd, egged on by their leaders, who demand that Barabas be freed and Jesus crucified. We will see him mocked by the soldiers, robed in purple and crowned with thorns. And then, as he makes his sorrowful way beneath the cross, we will hear the jeering of the people and their leaders, who scoff at his being King and Son of God.

This is God’s way, the way of humility. It is the way of Jesus; there is no other. And there can be no humility without humiliation.

Following this path to the full, the Son of God took on the “form of a slave” (cf. Phil 2:7). In the end, humility also means service. It means making room for God by stripping oneself, “emptying oneself”, as Scripture says (v. 7). This – the pouring out of oneself - is the greatest humiliation of all.

There is another way, however, opposed to the way of Christ. It is worldliness, the way of the world. The world proposes the way of vanity, pride, success… the other way. The Evil One proposed this way to Jesus too, during his forty days in the desert. But Jesus immediately rejected it. With him, and only by his grace, with his help, we too can overcome this temptation to vanity, to worldliness, not only at significant moments, but in daily life as well.

In this, we are helped and comforted by the example of so many men and women who, in silence and hiddenness, sacrifice themselves daily to serve others: a sick relative, an elderly person living alone, a disabled person, the homeless....

We think too of the humiliation endured by all those who, for their lives of fidelity to the Gospel, encounter discrimination and pay a personal price. We think too of our brothers and sisters who are persecuted because they are Christians, the martyrs of our own time – and there are many. They refuse to deny Jesus and they endure insult and injury with dignity. They follow him on his way. In truth, we can speak of a “cloud of witnesses” – the martyrs of our own time (cf. Heb 12:1).

During this week, let us set about with determination along this same path of humility, with immense love for him, our Lord and Saviour. Love will guide us and give us strength. For where he is, we too shall be (cf. Jn 12:26).

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[Ed. Note: Beyond the start of Holy Week, this Palm Sunday marks the 30th observance of World Youth Day in Rome and most of the global church. Having become the church's "Olympic event" since its inception, WYD is transferred to the summer only in the years when the roughly triennial global celebration is held on the road in the presence of the Pope; its next edition is slated for Krakow – the hometown of its founder, now-St John Paul II – in the last week of July 2016.

[Speaking of the Polish Pope, this Holy Thursday marks the tenth anniversary of Karol Wojtyla's death at 84.]


Friday, March 13, 2015

Two Years – And 2,000 Surprises – Later

While the "Pope of Chaos" kept to perfect form on his second anniversary – releasing yet another interview (his second of the week) before tonight's bombshell announcement of an extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy beginning in December – given the moment, let's go back to the start.

It was just about this time two years ago tonight – a couple minutes after 7pm in Rome – when the expected dose of black smoke to close a crapshoot Conclave's first full day seemed to be taking a bit longer than expected...

...and then, all of a sudden, It came – and It wasn't black:

...and that was just the first shock:

(Habemus Papam on start; Pope appears at 11-minute mark)

Brothers and sisters, good evening!

You know how the duty of the Conclave is to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother cardinals have gone to take him from the edge of the world... but here we are. 

I thank you for your welcome – the diocesan family of Rome to your bishop: thank you! And before anything else, I'd like for us to pray for our bishop-emeritus, Benedict XVI. Let us pray together for him, that the Lord bless him and Our Lady keep him in her care....

Our Father....

Hail Mary....

Glory Be....

And now, together, let us start this road: bishop and people. This [new] path of the church of Rome, which "presides in charity" [over] all the churches. A path of brotherhood, of love, of trust between us. Let us pray always for ourselves: one for the other. Let us pray for all the world, that we all might know a great fraternity. I wish you that this journey as Church, that we begin today and on which my Cardinal-Vicar [of Rome] will help me, might be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city!

And now I'll give you my blessing... but first – first, I ask you this favor: before the bishop blesses his people, I ask that you pray to the Lord that he might bless me: the prayer of the people, seeking God's blessing for their bishop. In silence, please pray over me....

*Pope Bows to crowd*

Now I give my blessing to you and all the world – to all men and women of good will....

Brothers and sisters, I leave you, but only for now. Many thanks for your warm welcome. Please pray for me often!
I'll see you soon – tomorrow I want to go pray to Our Lady [Salus Populi Romani – her shrine at St Mary Major], because she's the one who cares for Rome.
Good night and sleep well!
And now, on to "the third of Our Pontificate".... Yet again, predict at your own risk.


A "Jubilee of Mercy" – On 2nd Anniversary, Pope Calls Extraordinary Holy Year of "God's Forgiveness"

While it was already well-noted that the Pope was marking the hour of the second anniversary of his election with a focus on his favorite sacrament – leading a Lenten Penance Service with individual Confessions in St Peter's – Francis upped the ante considerably moments ago with a surprise announcement of immense significance: his indiction of an "Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy" as a moment for the entire church to spread the word of God's forgiveness, beginning on December 8th.

Set to include the opening of the basilica's Holy Door – the Jubilee ritual which normally only takes place every quarter-century – the Pope said the Year of Mercy will run until the end of November 2016. The intended opening day for the observance coincides with the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II.

A practice dating to 1300, while the church observes an ordinary Holy Year at the 25-year marks of each century as an equivalent to the ancient Jewish custom of jubilee – a designated time of forgiveness, renewal and celebration – the last two extraordinary Holy Years were held in 1933 and 1983, respectively marking the 1,900th and 1,950th anniversaries of Jesus' death and resurrection.

The news given under embargo to the press prior to the service, on going public with the plan from the pulpit, Francis received a spontaneous ovation from the crowd in attendance.

Following the announcement, as he did at last year's Penance rite in an unprecedented public moment for a pontiff, Francis again knelt to make his own Confession to another of the priests stationed around St Peter's (below) before receiving penitents in his own booth.

Tonight's event in the basilica marked the global opening of "24 Hours for the Lord" – the second year of a Vatican-sponsored "festival of forgiveness" which, at the Pope's direct behest, urged the dioceses of the world to provide an ample number of churches where Confession would be available around the clock to open this Fourth Weekend of Lent.

Here below, the Vatican's English translation of the Pope's homily featuring the announcement of the Holy Year (emphases original):

This year as last, as we head into of the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we are gathered to celebrate the penitential liturgy. We are united with so many Christians, who, in every part of the world, have accepted the invitation to live this moment as a sign of the goodness of the Lord. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, in fact, allows us with confidence to draw near to the Father, in order to be certain of His pardon. He really is “rich in mercy” and extends His mercy with abundance over those who turn to Him with a sincere heart.

To be here in order to experience His love, however, is first of all the fruit of His grace. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, God never ceases to show the richness of His mercy throughout the ages. The transformation of the heart that leads us to confess our sins is “God's gift”, it is “His work” (cf. Eph 2:8-10). To be touched with tenderness by His hand and shaped by His grace allows us, therefore, to approach the priest without fear for our sins, but with the certainty of being welcomed by him in the name of God, and understood notwithstanding our miseries. Coming out of the confessional, we will feel God’s strength, which restores life and returns the enthusiasm of faith.

The Gospel we have heard (cf. Lk 7:36-50) opens for us a path of hope and comfort. It is good that we should feel that same compassionate gaze of Jesus upon us, as when he perceived the sinful woman in the house of the Pharisee. In this passage two words return before us with great insistence: love and judgment.

There is the love of the sinful woman, who humbles herself before the Lord; but first there is the merciful love of Jesus for her, which pushes her to approach. Her cry of repentance and joy washes the feet of the Master, and her hair dries them with gratitude; her kisses are pure expression of her affection; and the fragrant ointment poured out with abundance attests how precious He is to her eyes. This woman’s every gesture speaks of love and expresses her desire to have an unshakeable certainty in her life: that of being forgiven. And Jesus gives this assurance: welcoming her, He demonstrates God’s love for her, just for her! Love and forgiveness are simultaneous: God forgives her much, everything, because “she loved much” (Luke 7:47); and she adores Jesus because she feels that in Him there is mercy and not condemnation. Thanks to Jesus, God casts her many sins away behind Him, He remembers them no more (cf. Is 43:25). For her, a new season now begins; she is reborn in love, to a new life.

This woman has really met the Lord. In silence, she opened her heart to Him; in pain, she showed repentance for her sins; with her tears, she appealed to the goodness of God for forgiveness. For her, there will be no judgment except that which comes from God, and this is the judgment of mercy. The protagonist of this meeting is certainly the love that goes beyond justice.

Simon the Pharisee, on the contrary, cannot find the path of love. He stands firm upon the threshold of formality. He is not capable of taking the next step to go meet Jesus, who brings him salvation. Simon limited himself to inviting Jesus to dinner, but did not really welcome Him. In his thoughts, he invokes only justice, and in so doing, he errs. His judgment on the woman distances him from the truth and does not allow him even to understand who guest is. He stopped at the surface, he was not able to look to the heart. Before Jesus’ parable and the question of which a servant would love his master most, the Pharisee answered correctly, “The one, to whom the master forgave most.” And Jesus does not fail to make him observe: “Thou hast judged rightly. (Lk 7:43)” Only when the judgment of Simon is turned toward love: then is he in the right.

The call of Jesus pushes each of us never to stop at the surface of things, especially when we are dealing with a person. We are called to look beyond, to focus on the heart to see how much generosity everyone is capable. No one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one. Its doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness. The greater the sin, so much the greater must be the love that the Church expresses toward those who convert.

Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. For this reason, I have decided to call an extraordinary Jubilee that is to have the mercy of God at its center. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord's words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (cf. Lk 6:36)”

This Holy Year will begin on this coming Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and will end on November 20, 2016, the Sunday dedicated to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – and living face of the Father’s mercy. I entrust the organization of this Jubilee to the Pontifical Council for Promotion of the New Evangelization, that [the dicastery] might animate it as a new stage in the journey of the Church on its mission to bring to every person the Gospel of mercy.

I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this Jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time. From this moment, we entrust this Holy Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she might turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

In New York, The Last Goodbye

Hard as it is to believe, it's almost 15 years since New York was last here... sure enough, though, even as St Patrick's Cathedral was said to be "packed" for last night's vigil and the full pomp of the state funeral is again on display, this isn't May 8th, 2000 – it's a different world, and arguably even more, a different church.

With at least five cardinals and 30 bishops on hand, the burial liturgy of the Big Apple's ninth archbishop begins at 2pm Eastern after a half-hour procession (worship aid); both the city's ABC and CBS affiliates will livestream the rites from the "nation's parish," whose front half is currently racked with heavy scaffolding as part of the cathedral's years-long, $175 million restoration.

In keeping with Cardinal Edward Egan's desired plans, the Mass will be framed around the 1897 Requiem written by Lorenzo Perosi, an Italian cleric and protege of the future St Pius X who led the Sistine Choir from 1902 until his death in 1956 – a year before Egan's ordination in Rome. In an encore of the memorable close of the cardinal's Installation Mass in June 2000, the soprano Renée Fleming – Egan's favorite singer from his beloved Metropolitan Opera – will return to perform his sendoff, joined this time by the Met tenor Matthew Polenzani.

After the final commendation, the chanted In Paradisum will signal the final procession to the cathedral's crypt behind and beneath the high altar, where Egan will be entombed alongside all his predecessors going back to New York's first archbishop, John Hughes, the Irish-born strongman who envisioned the "cathedral of suitable magnificence" in Midtown as the symbol of his faithful's ascent, but didn't live to see it completed.

In more recent history, meanwhile, at the last two funerals of Gotham cardinals – John O'Connor in the aforementioned May 2000 and the Jesuit legend Avery Dulles in December 2008 – the exit of the casket from the cathedral saw applause erupt from the congregation: a sign of respect for the deceased usually seen only in Europe.


Thursday, March 05, 2015

Cardinal Egan, Dead At 82

From New York comes the shocking news that Edward Cardinal Egan – the city's ninth archbishop and one of the global church's preeminent canonists, whose nine year tenure successfully tackled a host of urgent, unglamorous challenges, but saw many of the mega-diocese's most faithful left bruised in their wake – died suddenly this afternoon of cardiac arrest.

A month shy of his 83rd birthday, according to the archdiocese the Chicago-born cardinal was taken ill at his apartment in the city's Kips Bay neighborhood following lunch, and was rushed to the nearby NYU Langone Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 2.20pm.

Named to succeed John Cardinal O'Connor within days of the titanic Philadelphian's death in May 2000, on his retirement nine years later, Egan boasted of being the first New York prelate to "get out alive" – that is, the first occupant of the chair in St Patrick's Cathedral and the residence at 452 Madison to leave both to his successor in a manner that wasn't his casket. (Above, the cardinal is shown on one of the happier nights of his administration: the 2008 Al Smith Dinner when the event's tradition was maintained with the presence of both presidential nominees at their sole joint appearance outside the debates. Below, Egan is seen introducing Benedict XVI to his close friend, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, outside St Patrick's during the then-Pope's visit in April 2008.)

While Egan's years in office witnessed historic tumult and controversy – and at times, extraordinary levels of rancor from below – on fronts ranging from 9/11 and New York's vaunted finances to clergy sex-abuse, parish closings and relations with his priests, in retirement the devoted opera buff and classically trained pianist who bitterly disdained the media during his tenure came into a new warmth and popularity as he began to open up in unexpected ways and often lent a quiet hand with the yeoman's work of the pastoral trenches. And with it, what might be the cardinal's greatest legacy likewise came to fruition in these last years, when the figure who was only "discovered" in Rome after Egan was forced to return home after the World Trade Center attacks was elected Pope.

Six years since Egan handed over the reins, Cardinal Timothy Dolan has scheduled a 3.30pm press conference in the "nation's church," in whose tiny underground crypt the Big Apple's Ninth Archbishop will be laid to rest alongside his predecessors. Funeral arrangements remain to be determined.

Developing – more to come.


Monday, March 02, 2015

For San Diego, Francis Looks Left – SF Aux. McElroy Plucked for Border Post

Ed. Note: The appointment reported below was formally announced by the Vatican at Roman Noon on Tuesday, 3 March.
* * *

It's being called the "Cupich appointment of the West," and not without reason – resolving the highest-profile vacancy on the current US docket, at Roman Noon tomorrow the Pope is slated to name Bishop Robert McElroy, the 61 year-old auxiliary of San Francisco known as one of the Stateside bench's most outspoken progressives, as the sixth bishop of San Diego and its 1 million Catholics in the nation's seventh-largest city.

As reports of the appointment quietly circulated for much of last week, three Whispers ops appraised of the move confirmed the news over the weekend. Coming just shy of six months since the premature death of Bishop Cirilo Flores after a brief struggle with cancer, as reports here at the time indicated, the succession was indeed fast-tracked given both the relative freshness of the consultations leading up to Flores' own selection in early 2012 and the diocese's still-unsettled state from its 2007 bankruptcy amid a torrent of sex-abuse lawsuits, which was settled for $197 million.

While the projections of timeline panned out, the choice of a relatively junior auxiliary – even one hailed as among the "leading intellectual and pastoral lights" of the bench's rising generation – is a significant surprise. That's anything but to say, however, that McElroy isn't ready for prime time – a Harvard undergrad with doctorates from both Stanford (in political science) and the Gregorian (moral theology), the San Diego pick served as vicar-general to his mentor, the retired San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn, before 14 years as a pastor during the tenure of then-Archbishop William Levada.

Beyond his assisting role until now in "The City," the bishop is notably a member of the influential Administrative Committee of the USCCB – the 30-prelate group that is the body's ultimate authority outside of the plenary session – as the regional delegate for the sprawling turf comprising California, Nevada, Utah and Hawaii (i.e. the area covered by the Golden State's twin provinces).

Already a familiar figure in the pages of the Jesuit-run America magazine while still a parish priest – including a 2005 piece where he memorably shredded the then-nascent movement to bar Catholic office-holders from receiving the Eucharist over their support for legal abortion – in 2010, McElroy was named an auxiliary to then-Archbishop George Niederauer, a move that clearly enjoyed the blessing of Levada, who by then was CDF prefect and oversaw the appointment from his perch on the Congregation for Bishops (where he remains into the present). Given the spotlight of the current context on questions of religious freedom, it bears reminding that McElroy's Stanford degree has its focus on religious liberty as conceptualized by John Courney Murray and integrated into Catholic tradition with Dignitatis humanae, Vatican II's declaration on the topic, whose title the bishop took for his episcopal motto.

The auxiliary's move south intriguingly coincides with a tense period in San Francisco, as Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone's planned addition of doctrinal and morality clauses to the teachers' contract and policy handbook at the archdiocese's high schools has garnered loud protests in the famously liberal enclave (at left, the archbishop – himself a San Diego native – and his auxiliary are shown praying the Rosary at a 2013 pro-life rally). Yet even as McElroy's new assignment lacks the pallium that comes with the helm of California's first metropolitan church, San Diego's fold is more than twice his hometown's size.

The third appointment Francis has made to date to a US diocese of a million or more – after Bernie Hebda to Newark in 2013 and, of course, Blase Cupich to Chicago last September – McElroy's progressive leanings in the border post could augur a clash with a local political sensibility where Republicans run strong, above all thanks to the presence of several military installations and retirees of the services who remain in the area. (In a 2011 America piece, the incoming bishop lamented what he termed the US' policy of "war without end.") On a more pointed angle, as the nominee has arguably been the strongest voice among the Stateside bishops in echoing Pope Francis' calls for a "poor church" and warnings against income inequality, sending him to the diocese that's home to Mitt Romney's recently-completed "dream house" featuring a car elevator is a storyline all in itself.

Word from San Diego indicates that a 10am presser tomorrow has already been called. According to two ops, McElroy's installation has been scheduled for Wednesday, April 15th.

As ever, more to come.