Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Bishop Mitch Goes to “Rome” – Pope Taps Mass. Prelate For St Louis

As the Vatican’s working year wends toward its close at month’s end, a cycle interrupted by a historic outbreak is making up for lost time, and wrapping up with more than one bang.

Accordingly, Roman Noon this Wednesday brings another “end-of-school” treat, as the Pope named 61 year-old Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Springfield (Mass.) as the Tenth Archbishop of St Louis.

The first East Coast figure to inherit the “Rome of the West” since the Brooklyn-born John Joseph Carberry – the last of three (non-baseball) cardinals on Lindell Blvd. – arrived in 1968, the archbishop-elect succeeds Archbishop Robert Carlson, who reached the retirement age of 75 last June after 35 years on the bench.

Now home to some 550,000 Catholics, the 175 year-old archdiocese – the mother church of the American West: a vaunted center of Catholicity dating to its initial settlement by the French – might not have much in common with Rozanski’s most recent assignment in the Berkshires, but indeed bears a stark resemblance to his hometown of Baltimore: similar in size and the inflections of Southern culture, both titanic venues of Catholic history on these shores, with the enduring legacy of a massive institutional presence to prove it. And the similarities don’t end at the church’s walls, either – with Ferguson just over St Louis’ western line, six years since Michael Brown was murdered by a police officer there, the current national moment merely underscores the cities’ shared thread of high-profile racial injustice, the brutality and tensions of which have extended into our own time.

In that light, it’s especially notable that Francis has sent a prelate with a warm and fuzzy pastoral style, an empathetic listener with a premium on conciliation – traits already well-affirmed by the bench, which chose Rozanski to helm its ecumenical and interfaith efforts over the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. Yet earthy as he is, Mitch – a "lifer" in the trenches before becoming an auxiliary to Cardinal William Keeler at 45 – won’t so much sweep onto the Mississippi's western bank with a flourish as much as he’ll be overawed by it.

Indeed, in the thinking of some, Rozanski’s healing traits had marked him out over recent months as a contender for the roiled, bankrupt diocese of Buffalo – an idea bolstered by his Polish heritage given the community’s prominence in Western New York. That he’s instead been sent to a far more prominent and happier charge (and the pallium that comes with it) isn’t simply a vote of confidence in his talents, but likewise a reflection of St Louis’ ongoing need for bridge-building of a different sort.

A solid moderate in the tradition of his hometown mentors – Keeler and his Baltimore predecessor, Archbishop William Borders – the notion of Mitch Rozanski as successor to now-Cardinal Raymond Burke (who led the St Louis church for four tumultuous years, 2004-08) is enough to make one’s head spin. Not that the archbishop-elect is some sort of raving leftist – far from it – but simply that the excoriating style with which Burke polarized the archdiocese to the point of instability, outrage (and, in the case of one parish, a formal schism) would be antithetical to Rozanski’s low-key, dialogue-heavy approach. On this front, as the remnants of Burke’s high-octane, Francis-skeptic ecclesiology endure in influential pockets of St Louis Catholicism, reinforcing the cohesion in diversity of the local church remains a formidable challenge.

Much as the destination is a surprise, Rozanski’s name has been floated for several major openings over the last year, including Washington and Philadelphia, yet as recently as three weeks ago, another name was tipped for this appointment.

Even so, St Louis hit “jackpot” with this pick – Cardinal fans, you’re gonna love this guy. He’s coming to you with an open hand and a heart of gold, and this scribe knows you’ll respond in kind, just as Whispers’ STL crew always has for this shop. It’s simply a wonderful match – the only thing missing is a branch of Royal Farms (Baltimore’s home of the World’s Best Fried Chicken)... all told, be good to him, and he will assuredly be good to you.

Having first flown to Baltimore to tell his parents of the move, the archbishop-elect will be in St Louis this morning for the usual 10am press conference (video), which have now resumed after the COVID-induced lockdowns. Per the norms of the canons, Rozanski must be installed within two months of today’s appointment. 

(SVILUPPO: Per the in-house Review, the handover is slated for August 25th, the diocese's patronal day as the feast of St Louis, King of France.)

At said installation in the mammoth, all-mosaic "jewel-box" named for the city's patron, it’s likely that the Tenth Archbishop will likewise be invested with his pallium as head of the church in Missouri – a rare doubling-up of the twin rites.

While the world's newly-named metropolitans are usually expected to join the Pope on the 29th’s feast of Saints Peter and Paul to receive the symbol of their office, the hurdles of international travel mid-pandemic is set to prevent most of this year’s class from being on hand for the moment. Regardless, the US’ contingent of five new archbishops – Paul Etienne of Seattle, Nelson Pérez of Philadelphia, Atlanta’s Gregory Hartmayer OFM Conv., the Vincentian Andrew Bellisario of Alaska’s newly-merged archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau, and now the “Arch-Mitch” – is Francis’ largest to date over his seven years in office.

With today’s move, the reigning pontiff has named 13 of the nation’s 32 Latin-church metropolitans.

* * *
Of course, today’s handoff isn’t this week’s only blockbuster for the Stateside bench – capping years of anticipation among not a few church-folks, yesterday saw Francis give the hat to the longtime top prospect to enter the nation’s episcopal ranks.

All of 49, Msgr David Toups of St Petersburg has established himself as a bona fide rockstar, from a well-regarded stint at the national church’s Clergy office, to pastoring one of the Southeast’s marquee parishes (Tampa’s booming Christ the King), to nearly a decade as rector of the region’s lone major seminary, where he oversaw a rare expansion of a US formation-house in recent times – and raising the eight-figure construction budget to make it happen.

To be sure, the “if” of Toups becoming a bishop was never in question – it was only a matter of “where”… and after years of sparring among the Great Powers, we have our answer: he’s taking his talents to Beaumont, Texas, an extremely comfortable fit given its place on his native Gulf Coast, and a tight-knit, diverse community that’ll make for an ample proving ground for his considerable skill-set, all the more given its not-so-seldom experience of damaging hurricanes, to which he’s already well-accustomed.

In contrast to Rozanski, Bishop David will take Beaumont by storm – and the rest of Churchworld will be watching. Indeed, looking at his path to this point – Roman formation, a critical DC posting that put him on the wider radar, then presiding over marked growth and vitality at an A-list American seminary (and turning his charismatic Rector’s Conferences into a book) –the parallels are almost eerie to the trajectory of his own rector at the NAC: Tim Dolan, who likewise was rocketed onto the bench at the close of his seminary tenure. One significant difference, however, is that Toups is two years younger than was Dolan at his own appointment in 2001 – and unlike the now-cardinal-archbishop of New York, he’s starting out as a diocesan bishop as opposed to an auxiliary.

With public worship already well resumed in Texas, the bishop-elect will be ordained on August 21st. Yesterday’s press conference in the Cathedral-Basilica of St Anthony was notably the first in-person rollout since the COVID lockdowns pushed the events to virtual form:


Wednesday, May 06, 2020

"True Shepherds Don't Live For Themselves" – In Atlanta, "A Call To Action"

Always slated to be American Catholicism's Main Event of 2020 – yet now, an even more poignant and notable one amid the pandemic that's robbed it of a congregation – from Atlanta's empty Cathedral of Christ the King, the homecoming of Friar Gregory Hartmayer as the Seventh Archbishop of what's become a 1.2 million-member church in the "Capital of the South."

The Installation Mass set to begin at 12.30pm Eastern, here's the livefeed:

...and the worship aid for the drastically slimmed-down rites:

As ever, more to come.


Friday, May 01, 2020

Same "Mother"... Different Church

Fifty days into a Stateside Church in lockdown, this first of May brings the latest edition of a ritual as old as American Catholicism itself.

A practice employed both in hours of celebration and crisis over the last four centuries, the throes of  a pandemic that’s now claimed 65,000 lives across the US will see the nation’s bishops re-consecrate these shores to Our Lady, this time as "Mother of the Church" – a title declared by now-St Paul VI at the close of Vatican II and re-emphasized by the reigning Pope, who gave Mater Ecclesiae a universal feast on the Monday after Pentecost.

The distinct linkage of the Stateside fold to the Mother of God dates to the settlement of Maryland (the lone Catholic colony) on Annunciation Day 1634, a tie bolstered nearly two centuries later under the nation's founding bishop, John Carroll of Baltimore, who dedicated the new people's first Cathedral to Mary Assumed into Heaven, the venue in which Immaculate Conception would be declared the national patroness in 1846.

Yet even for reflecting that vaunted heritage, today's rite likewise underscores a markedly different era: far from the hierarchy's Anglo cradle, the consecration will be led on the opposite coast, in Los Angeles – another place named for the Madonna, whose 5 million faithful (their number doubled in three decades) now comprise the largest US diocese of all time – due to last year's ascent of the first Latino ever to lead the national bench, the Mexican-born Archbishop José Gomez.

With many, if not most diocesan bishops set to replicate the act from their respective quarantines, the brief liturgy in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels begins at Noon Pacific (3pm Eastern); as ever, here's the livefeed:

...and the text of the Prayer of Consecration itself:
Most Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, you are the fairest fruit of God’s redeeming love;
you sing of the Father’s mercy and accompany us with a mother’s love.

In this time of pandemic we come to you, our sign of sure hope and comfort.
Today we renew the act of consecration and entrustment carried out by those who have gone before us.

With the love of a Mother and Handmaid,
embrace our nation which we entrust and consecrate once again to you, together with ourselves and our families.

In a special way we commend to you
those particularly in need of your maternal care.

Mary, Health of the Sick,
sign of health, of healing, and of divine hope for the sick, we entrust to you all who are infected with the coronavirus.

Mary, Mother of Consolation,
who console with a mother’s love all who turn to you,
we entrust to you all those who have lost loved ones in the pandemic.

Mary, Help of Christians,
who come to our rescue in every trial,
we entrust to your loving protection all caregivers.

Mary, Queen and Mother of Mercy,
who embrace all those who call upon your help in their distress,
we entrust to you all who are suffering in any way from the pandemic.

Mary, Seat of Wisdom,
who were so wonderfully filled with the light of truth,
we entrust to you all who are working to find a cure to this pandemic.

Mary, Mother of Good Counsel,
who gave yourself wholeheartedly to God’s plan for the renewing of all things in Christ, we entrust to you all leaders and policymakers.

Accept with the benevolence of a Mother
the act of consecration that we make today with confidence, and help us to be your Son’s instruments
for the healing and salvation of our country and the world.

Mary, Mother of the Church,
you are enthroned as queen at your Son’s right hand:
we ask your intercession for the needs of our country,
that every desire for good may be blessed and strengthened, that faith may be revived and nourished,
hope sustained and enlightened,
charity awakened and animated;
guide us, we pray, along the path of holiness.

Mary our Mother,
bring everyone under your protection
and entrust everyone to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.


Sunday, April 12, 2020

On Easter Day, "This Is A Different 'Contagion'"

Again, Buona Pasqua – Happy Easter – to one and all, especially those among us seeking its light, joy and hope all the more this year.

A couple hundred feet, but really a world away from its usual site in the flower-laden "garden of the Resurrection" outside, again from a starkly empty Altar of the Chair, here's the video of the final event of this extraordinary Holy Week at the Vatican – the Pope's Mass of this Easter Day...

...which, as ever, was followed by the traditional Urbi et Orbi message and blessing – again, one which took place against the kind of backdrop never before seen, an all the more staggering visual (top) as it made for Francis' lone moment of the week in the mammoth nave of the Basilica:

Dear brothers and sisters, Happy Easter!

Today the Church’s proclamation echoes throughout the world: “Jesus Christ is risen!” – “He is truly risen!”.

Like a new flame this Good News springs up in the night: the night of a world already faced with epochal challenges and now oppressed by a pandemic severely testing our whole human family. In this night, the Church’s voice rings out: “Christ, my hope, has arisen!” (Easter Sequence).

This is a different “contagion”, a message transmitted from heart to heart – for every human heart awaits this Good News. It is the contagion of hope: “Christ, my hope, is risen!”. This is no magic formula that makes problems vanish. No, the resurrection of Christ is not that. Instead, it is the victory of love over the root of evil, a victory that does not “by-pass” suffering and death, but passes through them, opening a path in the abyss, transforming evil into good: this is the unique hallmark of the power of God.

The Risen Lord is also the Crucified One, not someone else. In his glorious body he bears indelible wounds: wounds that have become windows of hope. Let us turn our gaze to him that he may heal the wounds of an afflicted humanity.

Today my thoughts turn in the first place to the many who have been directly affected by the coronavirus: the sick, those who have died and family members who mourn the loss of their loved ones, to whom, in some cases, they were unable even to bid a final farewell. May the Lord of life welcome the departed into his kingdom and grant comfort and hope to those still suffering, especially the elderly and those who are alone. May he never withdraw his consolation and help from those who are especially vulnerable, such as persons who work in nursing homes, or live in barracks and prisons. For many, this is an Easter of solitude lived amid the sorrow and hardship that the pandemic is causing, from physical suffering to economic difficulties.

This disease has not only deprived us of human closeness, but also of the possibility of receiving in person the consolation that flows from the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation. In many countries, it has not been possible to approach them, but the Lord has not left us alone! United in our prayer, we are convinced that he has laid his hand upon us (cf. Ps 138:5), firmly reassuring us: Do not be afraid, “I have risen and I am with you still!” (cf. Roman Missal, Entrance Antiphon, Mass of Easter Sunday).

May Jesus, our Passover, grant strength and hope to doctors and nurses, who everywhere offer a witness of care and love for our neighbours, to the point of exhaustion and not infrequently at the expense of their own health. Our gratitude and affection go to them, to all who work diligently to guarantee the essential services necessary for civil society, and to the law enforcement and military personnel who in many countries have helped ease people’s difficulties and sufferings.

In these weeks, the lives of millions of people have suddenly changed. For many, remaining at home has been an opportunity to reflect, to withdraw from the frenetic pace of life, stay with loved ones and enjoy their company. For many, though, this is also a time of worry about an uncertain future, about jobs that are at risk and about other consequences of the current crisis. I encourage political leaders to work actively for the common good, to provide the means and resources needed to enable everyone to lead a dignified life and, when circumstances allow, to assist them in resuming their normal daily activities.

This is not a time for indifference, because the whole world is suffering and needs to be united in facing the pandemic. May the risen Jesus grant hope to all the poor, to those living on the peripheries, to refugees and the homeless. May these, the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters living in the cities and peripheries of every part of the world, not be abandoned. Let us ensure that they do not lack basic necessities (all the more difficult to find now that many businesses are closed) such as medicine and especially the possibility of adequate health care. In light of the present circumstances, may international sanctions be relaxed, since these make it difficult for countries on which they have been imposed to provide adequate support to their citizens, and may all nations be put in a position to meet the greatest needs of the moment through the reduction, if not the forgiveness, of the debt burdening the balance sheets of the poorest nations.

This is not a time for self-centredness, because the challenge we are facing is shared by all, without distinguishing between persons. Among the many areas of the world affected by the coronavirus, I think in a special way of Europe. After the Second World War, this continent was able to rise again, thanks to a concrete spirit of solidarity that enabled it to overcome the rivalries of the past. It is more urgent than ever, especially in the present circumstances, that these rivalries do not regain force, but that all recognize themselves as part of a single family and support one another. The European Union is presently facing an epochal challenge, on which will depend not only its future but that of the whole world. Let us not lose the opportunity to give further proof of solidarity, also by turning to innovative solutions. The only alternative is the selfishness of particular interests and the temptation of a return to the past, at the risk of severely damaging the peaceful coexistence and development of future generations.

This is not a time for division. May Christ our peace enlighten all who have responsibility in conflicts, that they may have the courage to support the appeal for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. This is not a time for continuing to manufacture and deal in arms, spending vast amounts of money that ought to be used to care for others and save lives. Rather, may this be a time for finally ending the long war that has caused such great bloodshed in beloved Syria, the conflict in Yemen and the hostilities in Iraq and in Lebanon. May this be the time when Israelis and Palestinians resume dialogue in order to find a stable and lasting solution that will allow both to live in peace. May the sufferings of the people who live in the eastern regions of Ukraine come to an end. May the terrorist attacks carried out against so many innocent people in different African countries come to an end.

This is not a time for forgetfulness. The crisis we are facing should not make us forget the many other crises that bring suffering to so many people. May the Lord of life be close to all those in Asia and Africa who are experiencing grave humanitarian crises, as in the Province of Cabo Delgado in the north of Mozambique. May he warm the hearts of the many refugees displaced because of wars, drought and famine. May he grant protection to migrants and refugees, many of them children, who are living in unbearable conditions, especially in Libya and on the border between Greece and Turkey. And I do not want to forget the island of Lesvos. In Venezuela, may he enable concrete and immediate solutions to be reached that can permit international assistance to a population suffering from the grave political, socio-economic and health situation.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Indifference, self-centredness, division and forgetfulness are not words we want to hear at this time. We want to ban these words for ever! They seem to prevail when fear and death overwhelm us, that is, when we do not let the Lord Jesus triumph in our hearts and lives. May Christ, who has already defeated death and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, dispel the darkness of our suffering humanity and lead us into the light of his glorious day, a day that knows no end.

With these thoughts, I would like to wish all of you a happy Easter.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

On A Unique Easter Night, "Be Strong, For With God Nothing Is Lost!"

Surrexit Dominus Vere, Alleluia – Buona Pasqua a tutti!

Happy Easter to all... yet even if the event and its message is the same, this time the feeling and the scene are all too different.

Again from an empty – and, per this night's custom, darkened – St Peter's, the fullvideo of tonight's "Mother of all Vigils":

...and the Pope's homily – a call for a virus-stricken world to "not yield to fear":
“After the Sabbath” (Mt 28:1), the women went to the tomb. This is how the Gospel of this holy Vigil began: with the Sabbath. It is the day of the Easter Triduum that we tend to neglect as we eagerly await the passage from Friday’s cross to Easter Sunday’s Alleluia. This year however, we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday. We can imagine ourselves in the position of the women on that day. They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly. They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts. Pain was mixed with fear: would they suffer the same fate as the Master? Then too there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt. A painful memory, a hope cut short. For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.

Yet in this situation the women did not allow themselves to be paralyzed. They did not give in to the gloom of sorrow and regret, they did not morosely close in on themselves, or flee from reality. They were doing something simple yet extraordinary: preparing at home the spices to anoint the body of Jesus. They did not stop loving; in the darkness of their hearts, they lit a flame of mercy. Our Lady spent that Saturday, the day that would be dedicated to her, in prayer and hope. She responded to sorrow with trust in the Lord. Unbeknownst to these women, they were making preparations, in the darkness of that Sabbath, for “the dawn of the first day of the week”, the day that would change history. Jesus, like a seed buried in the ground, was about to make new life blossom in the world; and these women, by prayer and love, were helping to make that hope flower. How many people, in these sad days, have done and are still doing what those women did, sowing seeds of hope! With small gestures of care, affection and prayer.

At dawn the women went to the tomb. There the angel says to them: “Do not be afraid. He is not here; for he has risen” (vv. 5-6). They hear the words of life even as they stand before a tomb... And then they meet Jesus, the giver of all hope, who confirms the message and says: “Do not be afraid” (v. 10). Do not be afraid, do not yield to fear: This is the message of hope. It is addressed to us, today. These are the words that God repeats to us today, this very night.

Tonight we acquire a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: the right to hope. It is a new and living hope that comes from God. It is not mere optimism; it is not a pat on the back or an empty word of encouragement, with a passing smile. No. It is a gift from heaven, which we could not have earned on our own. Over these weeks, we have kept repeating, “All will be well”, clinging to the beauty of our humanity and allowing words of encouragement to rise up from our hearts. But as the days go by and fears grow, even the boldest hope can dissipate. Jesus’ hope is different. He plants in our hearts the conviction that God is able to make everything work unto good, because even from the grave he brings life.

The grave is the place where no one who enters ever leaves. But Jesus emerged for us; he rose for us, to bring life where there was death, to begin a new story in the very place where a stone had been placed. He, who rolled away the stone that sealed the entrance of the tomb, can also remove the stones in our hearts. So, let us not give in to resignation; let us not place a stone before hope. We can and must hope, because God is faithful. He did not abandon us; he visited us and entered into our situations of pain, anguish and death. His light dispelled the darkness of the tomb: today he wants that light to penetrate even to the darkest corners of our lives. Dear sister, dear brother, even if in your heart you have buried hope, do not give up: God is greater. Darkness and death do not have the last word. Be strong, for with God nothing is lost!

Courage. This is a word often spoken by Jesus in the Gospels. Only once do others say it, to encourage a person in need: “Courage; rise, [Jesus] is calling you!” (Mk 10:49). It is he, the Risen One, who raises us up from our neediness. If, on your journey, you feel weak and frail, or fall, do not be afraid, God holds out a helping hand and says to you: “Courage!”. You might say, as did Don Abbondio (in Manzoni’s novel), “Courage is not something you can give yourself” (I Promessi Sposi, XXV). True, you cannot give it to yourself, but you can receive it as a gift. All you have to do is open your heart in prayer and roll away, however slightly, that stone placed at the entrance to your heart so that Jesus’ light can enter. You only need to ask him: “Jesus, come to me amid my fears and tell me too: Courage!” With you, Lord, we will be tested but not shaken. And, whatever sadness may dwell in us, we will be strengthened in hope, since with you the cross leads to the resurrection, because you are with us in the darkness of our nights; you are certainty amid our uncertainties, the word that speaks in our silence, and nothing can ever rob us of the love you have for us.

This is the Easter message, a message of hope. It contains a second part, the sending forth. “Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee” (Mt 28:10), Jesus says. “He is going before you to Galilee” (v. 7), the angel says. The Lord goes before us, he goes before us always. It is encouraging to know that he walks ahead of us in life and in death; he goes before us to Galilee, that is, to the place which for him and his disciples evoked the idea of daily life, family and work. Jesus wants us to bring hope there, to our everyday life. For the disciples, Galilee was also the place of remembrance, for it was the place where they were first called. Returning to Galilee means remembering that we have been loved and called by God. Each one of us has our own Galilee. We need to resume the journey, reminding ourselves that we are born and reborn thanks to an invitation given gratuitously to us out of love, there, in my own Galilee. This is always the point from which we can set out anew, especially in times of crisis and trial. With the memory of my own Galilee.

But there is more. Galilee was the farthest region from where they were: from Jerusalem. And not only geographically. Galilee was also the farthest place from the sacredness of the Holy City. It was an area where people of different religions lived: it was the “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Mt 4:15). Jesus sends them there and asks them to start again from there. What does this tell us? That the message of hope should not be confined to our sacred places, but should be brought to everyone. For everyone is in need of reassurance, and if we, who have touched “the Word of life” (1 Jn 1:1) do not give it, who will? How beautiful it is to be Christians who offer consolation, who bear the burdens of others and who offer encouragement: messengers of life in a time of death! In every Galilee, in every area of the human family to which we all belong and which is part of us – for we are all brothers and sisters – may we bring the song of life! Let us silence the cries of death, no more wars! May we stop the production and trade of weapons, since we need bread, not guns. Let the abortion and killing of innocent lives end. May the hearts of those who have enough be open to filling the empty hands of those who do not have the bare necessities.

Those women, in the end, “took hold” of Jesus’ feet (Mt 28:9); feet that had travelled so far to meet us, to the point of entering and emerging from the tomb. The women embraced the feet that had trampled death and opened the way of hope. Today, as pilgrims in search of hope, we cling to you, Risen Jesus. We turn our backs on death and open our hearts to you, for you are Life itself.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

For A Scattered Church, The "Supper" Awaits

Even as the liturgical shutdown of most of the Western church approaches the one-month mark, in a particular way, this is the night when the hit really sinks in.

With a disorienting Lent now completed on this Holy Thursday afternoon, the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper opens the Paschal Triduum – always the summit of the Christian year, but this time with an even greater intensity and range of emotion due to circumstances without precedent in modern times.

Again, here's hoping you and yours are all getting through OK – as ever, all prayers from here toward that end. While the livestreams abound for tonight's rites, we return to the focal point of this one Body: an empty St Peter's Basilica, as the Pope leads the Evening Mass at the Altar of the Chair from 6pm Rome (Noon Eastern).

For reference, here's the libretto, and here, the on-demand feed:

As ever, more to come – for now, may these days be as graced as they're surreal for each of us.

SVILUPPO: As Francis kept to his custom for this night of giving an unscripted homily, a full English text isn't immediately available. That said, the spontaneous text focused on the witness of priests and medical workers amid the pandemic.

While the Pope's message to the priests of the world would normally be given at the morning Chrism Mass on this day, the COVID spread led the Holy See last month to postpone the annual rite past Easter for the diocese of Rome, extending the same ability to every local church worldwide.


Sunday, April 05, 2020

On Palm Sunday, "Life Is Of No Use If Not Used To Serve Others"

It is a Palm Sunday – the beginning of a Week – like the Christian world has never seen: far from the usual teeming crowds, full choirs and vivid scenes, this time, the pandemic-induced lockdown of most of the world has necessitated a feast of sparseness.

Above all, that was the case this morning in Rome, where the Pope's usual outdoor Mass for over 100,000 pilgrims packed into St Peter's Square – led by scores of prelates toting 4 foot-tall branches – was all stripped away, replaced by a small group of "essential" ministers (above) at the Altar of the Chair, the secondary "chapel" space in the apse of the Basilica, where Francis will celebrate all the rites of this Holy Week effectively by himself.

Here, the video of today's liturgy (with English translation):

...and Papa Bergoglio's homily – notably a longer text than the "brief" meditation demanded by today's rubrics, but extended here so as to address the newly-emerged suffering of the wider world.

(Emphases original:)
Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). Let us allow these words of the Apostle Paul to lead us into these holy days, when the word of God, like a refrain, presents Jesus as servant: on Holy Thursday, he is portrayed as the servant who washes the feet of his disciples; on Good Friday, he is presented as the suffering and victorious servant (cf. Is 52:13); and tomorrow we will hear the prophecy of Isaiah about him: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold” (Is 42:1). God saved us by serving us. We often think we are the ones who serve God. No, he is the one who freely chose to serve us, for he loved us first. It is difficult to love and not be loved in return. And it is even more difficult to serve if we do not let ourselves be served by God.

But – just one question – how did the Lord serve us? By giving his life for us. We are dear to him; we cost him dearly. Saint Angela of Foligno said she once heard Jesus say: “My love for you is no joke”. His love for us led him to sacrifice himself and to take upon himself our sins. This astonishes us: God saved us by taking upon himself all the punishment of our sins. Without complaining, but with the humility, patience and obedience of a servant, and purely out of love. And the Father upheld Jesus in his service. He did not take away the evil that crushed him, but rather strengthened him in his suffering so that our evil could be overcome by good, by a love that loves to the very end.

The Lord served us to the point of experiencing the most painful situations of those who love: betrayal and abandonment.

Betrayal. Jesus suffered betrayal by the disciple who sold him and by the disciple who denied him. He was betrayed by the people who sang hosanna to him and then shouted: “Crucify him!” (Mt 27:22). He was betrayed by the religious institution that unjustly condemned him and by the political institution that washed its hands of him. We can think of all the small or great betrayals that we have suffered in life. It is terrible to discover that a firmly placed trust has been betrayed. From deep within our heart a disappointment surges up that can even make life seem meaningless. This happens because we were born to be loved and to love, and the most painful thing is to be betrayed by someone who promised to be loyal and close to us. We cannot even imagine how painful it was for God who is love.

Let us look within. If we are honest with ourselves, we will see our infidelities. How many falsehoods, hypocrisies and duplicities! How many good intentions betrayed! How many broken promises! How many resolutions left unfulfilled! The Lord knows our hearts better than we do. He knows how weak and irresolute we are, how many times we fall, how hard it is for us to get up and how difficult it is to heal certain wounds. And what did he do in order to come to our aid and serve us? He told us through the Prophet: “I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them deeply” (Hos 14:5). He healed us by taking upon himself our infidelity and by taking from us our betrayals. Instead of being discouraged by the fear of failing, we can now look upon the crucifix, feel his embrace, and say: “Behold, there is my infidelity, you took it, Jesus, upon yourself. You open your arms to me, you serve me with your love, you continue to support me… And so I will keep pressing on”.

Abandonment. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says one thing from the Cross, one thing alone: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). These are powerful words. Jesus had suffered the abandonment of his own, who had fled. But the Father remained for him. Now, in the abyss of solitude, for the first time he calls him by the generic name “God”. And “in a loud voice” he asks the question “why?”, the most excruciating “why?”: “Why did you too abandon me?”. These words are in fact those of a Psalm (cf. 22:2); they tell us that Jesus also brought the experience of extreme desolation to his prayer. But the fact remains that he himself experienced that desolation: he experienced the utmost abandonment, which the Gospels testify to by quoting his very words.
Why did all this take place? Once again, it was done for our sake, to serve us. So that when we have our back to the wall, when we find ourselves at a dead end, with no light and no way of escape, when it seems that God himself is not responding, we should remember that we are not alone. Jesus experienced total abandonment in a situation he had never before experienced in order to be one with us in everything. He did it for me, for you, for all of us; he did it to say to us: “Do not be afraid, you are not alone. I experienced all your desolation in order to be ever close to you”. That is the extent to which Jesus served us: he descended into the abyss of our most bitter sufferings, culminating in betrayal and abandonment. Today, in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts, Jesus says to each one of us: “Courage, open your heart to my love. You will feel the consolation of God who sustains you”.

Dear brothers and sisters, what can we do in comparison with God, who served us even to the point of being betrayed and abandoned? We can refuse to betray him for whom we were created, and not abandon what really matters in our lives. We were put in this world to love him and our neighbours. Everything else passes away, only this remains. The tragedy we are experiencing at this time summons us to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less; to rediscover that life is of no use if not used to serve others. For life is measured by love. So, in these holy days, in our homes, let us stand before the Crucified One – look upon the Crucified One! – the fullest measure of God’s love for us, and before the God who serves us to the point of giving his life, and, – fixing our gaze on the Crucified One – let us ask for the grace to live in order to serve. May we reach out to those who are suffering and those most in need. May we not be concerned about what we lack, but what good we can do for others.

Behold my servant, whom I uphold. The Father, who sustained Jesus in his Passion also supports us in our efforts to serve. Loving, praying, forgiving, caring for others, in the family and in society: all this can certainly be difficult. It can feel like a via crucis [a "way of the cross"]. But the path of service is the victorious and life giving path by which we were saved. I would like to say this especially to young people, on this Day which has been dedicated to them for thirty-five years now. Dear friends, look at the real heroes who come to light in these days: they are not famous, rich and successful people; rather, they are those who are giving themselves in order to serve others. Feel called yourselves to put your lives on the line. Do not be afraid to devote your life to God and to others; it pays! For life is a gift we receive only when we give ourselves away, and our deepest joy comes from saying yes to love, without ifs and buts. To truly say yes to love, without ifs and buts. As Jesus did for us.