Thursday, September 19, 2019

Coming Soon: A Cultural "Revolution"?

Even if the Pope's choices for his latest crop of cardinals came again as a surprise, now that the list has begun to sink in, it really shouldn't have been... if anything, last time gave us the perfect prism to see the "why" behind the "who."

Between an intervening torrent of scandal and what's become the standard frenzy of a never-ending newshole, some might feel as if the end of May 2018 is ancient history, but it isn't. At that time, reflecting on his own exceptional ascent to the papal Senate – a first in the modern era for his centuries-old post – the pontiff's cherished Almoner, now Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, set his call to the College in this memorable frame:
"It's almost as if Francis is wanting to say [that] those who take seriously the words of Jesus in the Gospel – feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the prisoner, receive the stranger – these are my principal collaborators."
To be sure, for Francis, that accolade is hardly the sole province of the men in red. Still, when it comes to explaining this Consistory's elevation of the Vatican's lead hand on migrants (himself an immigrant) despite being a simple priest – and, among others, Papa Bergoglio's second pick whose ministry saw him sentenced to a Communist labor-camp (part spent in Siberia at that) – you'd be hard-pressed to find a more apt summary of what we're seeing at work.

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The first major event of the Fall Cycle at hand, the October 5th Consistory can't be viewed in a vacuum, but instead as part of a piece – a sizable element of both the usual ten-week rush of activity that marks the start of a new working year and, on the whole, as another critical building-block of a pontificate which aims to reorient the world's largest religious body at its topmost level well beyond Francis' days on Peter's Chair. Indeed, across multiple fronts, the weeks ahead will arguably serve as a lasting indicator of that sea-change – initially as a gauge of its chances of success, then more broadly, offering some initial glimpses of what its long-range impact will look like.

To fully grasp this, one needs two things that modern news consumption (read: the Cookie Monster-esque gorging that often passes for it) invariably serves to undermine: a sense of focus and a sense of perspective. At least in this case, they're not in opposition to each other; first, it's necessary to block out the distractions from the central element... then place the pieces of said element in a long frame – and without that, you'll never have the picture of everything as it is, even as it always remains a work in progress.

Accordingly, every cycle has a certain leitmotif – the one main thread around which all the rest (well, the things of long-range significance) can be wrapped. Last year, clearly, that distinction belonged to crisis management on an unprecedented worldwide scale, which touched practically every major development from the States and Australia to Chile, India, Malta and, above all, Rome itself. This time, however, while the scandals boil on – with further significant developments to come –  the key element is something different: a thread far less likely to score a similar degree of outside attention, yet one whose  tensions within the walls, to say nothing of its potential for far-reaching consequences, are no less great.

Again, remember the focus in the long frame – six years ago last week, as the new Pope marked six months in office, these pages ran a piece on how Francis' ascent made the events of 9/11 a concrete turning-point in the Catholic world.

Fresh as it was then, the concept took no less than a dozen years to be fulfilled, but the driver behind it was the Synod of Bishops, which was already – and strikingly – emerging as an outsize component of the first American Pope's concerted effort to reboot both the concept of papal governance and, with it, the tone and shape of the post-Conciliar church.

With that history on-record, what ensued over Francis' first two Synods in 2014-15 shouldn't have come as the surprise it did – at least, in parts elsewhere. And now, that recent months have seen the term "Amoris Laetitia" barely register in the church's broader discourse seems to indicate how, for all the pixels spilled and convictions flared over the 2016 text, the once-raging battle over it has largely flamed out.

Ergo, six years later, here we are again: another 9/11 come and gone... another Synod on tap. But what's ahead isn't just "another something": this time, the gathering's focus represents the major strike for one of this pontificate's keenest projects – and even more than before, it's not just this Pope's reign at stake.

From the inception of Francis' papacy – first in small signs, then gradually building out – the inculturation of the Gospel has been at the heart of Jorge Mario Bergoglio's re-imagining of the church in the modern world. And if it sounds ironic that a lifelong homebody whose injured lung mostly kept him from seeing the world would take this as a priority, well, it should.

Nonetheless, where Vatican II and Paul VI began – and, indeed, John Paul II proceeded – in terms of opening the liturgy to vernacular languages and local customs that reflected the sacred in ways unknown to Western Europe, yet again, Francis is aiming to finish the job, taking for his "test pilot" a region he's already familiar with: the seven-nation spread of the Amazon basin, whose top clerics and enduring realities he's long known from his years in CELAM, Latin America's regional mega-conference of bishops (itself a model facilitator for what Bergoglio's kind of inculturated church looks like).

Two years in the making, the Special (read: Regional) Assembly of the Synod for Amazonia opens on 6 October, its Pope-chosen theme a provocative call for "New Paths for the Church." More pointedly, the Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes – the "good friend" who inspired Francis' historic choice of name, and this gathering's linchpin figure from its inception – told the Vatican-approved Jesuit journal Civiltà Cattolica in June that "one act of inculturation [i.e. of Europe] does not suffice" for a global communion, explaining how the priority of "a truly indigenous church" (as opposed to a "church for the indigenous") presupposes that "there is no need to have a synod just to say what has already been said. Synods serve to identify new paths when the need is perceived.

"We have a great need for new paths," Hummes said, "not to fear new things, not to obstruct them, not to oppose them. We have to avoid bringing along old things as though they were more important than new ones." At the same time, the Franciscan prelate – a former prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy – made no effort to disguise how the Synod's "entire process has and will have universal repercussions."

Building upon that thread, just last week, another of the gathering's key organizers – the increasingly omnipresent Michael Czerny SJ, long Francis' "social justice warrior," now the first simple priest tapped to receive the red hat in nearly a half-century – likewise took to Civiltà to further underscore that, given the Synod's mandate, "'New paths for the Church' also means deepening the 'process of inculturation' and interculturality. And for this it is important that the original peoples make the church 'their own'... thus the process of inculturation is up to them.

"Being temporary" – and hence outsiders – the cardinal-designate added that "missionaries must accept a secondary role and give priority to the protagonism proper to the evangelized indigenous community."

To reiterate the duo's emphases, especially as parts of the wider discourse are already steaming with concern or even panic over next month's gathering, if there were any credible way to divine its outcomes in advance, no Synod would be necessary. In other words, especially with this Pope, it is imperative to mind the axiom that "process is process" – and thus, all the clickbait or agenda-driven innuendo in the world can never be conflated nor confused with the ecclesial reality that'll only ensue in a slow drip of long days once the three-week Synod actually convenes, let alone the post-event discernment leading up to the Pope's last word which, according to Czerny, is slated to appear early in 2020.

Accordingly, while the Amazon Synod's working document (the Instrumentum Laboris) has raised alarms among conservatives over its proposals that "for the most remote areas of the region, the possibility of priestly ordination be studied for older people, preferably indigenous, respected and accepted by their community, even if they have an existing and stable family," as well as to potentially "identify the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women" – both of which would've been taboo not all that long ago – it bears recalling that only before Francis did a Synod's "baseline" text reasonably glean the shape of the event's result.

What's more in terms of unknowables, the complete composition of the Aula (Synod Hall) itself, both in terms of the voices in it and their according votes, remains to emerge as the customary list of papal appointees has yet to be released. As this Synod will be Francis' first where the bulk of the elected delegates are almost entirely from one geographic area – the standard procedure when the gathering is focused on a particular region – how the pontiff fills out the room from the rest of the global church is even more important than it'd normally be.

And while we're at it, an even broader sweep of history bears recalling: as next year brings the 40th anniversary of John Paul II's decision to create the groundbreaking Pastoral Provision to enable the priestly ordination of married ex-Protestant clergy – and these very weeks mark a decade since Benedict XVI expanded the same indult with his creation of the Anglican ordinariates – to see the coming talks as suddenly auguring the "end of mandatory celibacy" would be ignorant at best, if not intentionally disingenuous or exploitative.

Still, odds are the Synod's main fireworks will end up on a completely different front – or several – that can't be sensed just yet. As the whole exercise of inculturation is geared toward seeking perspectives outside the range of European or North American norms and expectations, that's precisely the point.

Just like the Consistory, the Amazon Synod is merely a part of the coming cycle's emphasis on the interplay of cultural realities with ecclesial life. Among other relevant threads on deck between now and Advent:
  • the challenges and opportunities the church faces in a changing US culture will be center stage as the Stateside bishops begin their first ad limina visit to Francis and his Curia in early November; 
  • over those same days, the bench is likely to affirm the dramatic evolution of American Catholicism's cultural makeup – and its according shift of style and focus – with the watershed elevation of Los Angeles' Archbishop José Gomez as the first Hispanic to be elected as President of the US bench (thus becoming the de facto leader of the nation's largest religious body); 
  • already addressed at length by the Pope in a sprawling late June letter, the scope and nature of the "binding synodal process" chartered by the German bishops (even as the body remains divided over it) has merely begun to be an ecclesial football between Rome and the leadership of global Catholicism's wealthiest outpost;
  • and just before Thanksgiving, the Pope will fulfill his lifelong dream of going to Japan: a place of immense historic meaning for Bergoglio's own Jesuit community and a personal fascination for the man himself, yet more critically in the global sense, one of the faith's most venerable workshops for integrating a distinct local culture and its circumstances into the experience of a local church. (Given that latter element, coming as it does during this cycle – in light of the ferocious battles of times past between Rome and Asia's bishops and theologians on the very topic of inculturation – the timing of Francis' pilgrimage is no accident whatsoever.)
On the whole, these developments – and fleshing each out as it deserves – won't make for a daily rush of bright, shiny yet ultimately fleeting objects: if anything, this is the stuff that will matter for the long haul.

In more ways than any of us know at press time, we're in for a very interesting ride. And while one can hope that there's sufficient interest in it to keep at unfurling it here, as ever, the work can only happen by means of your support.

Again, all thanks – as this piece is the fruit of years of prep and a month in the drafting, may the effort – indeed, the process – not have been in vain...

...and just to be clear, if you think this is the only long-frame at hand over these weeks, well, think again.

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Just like that, though, such is the key thread that there's already more... at least to start.

For one, lest some can use the refresher, as Evangelii Gaudium – the enduring "blueprint" of Francis' pontificate – approaches six years since its release, the new Pope's sweeping comments on inculturation made for what was arguably the document's most widely-ignored point, especially in proportion to its potential impact.

Here, the most relevant section from Francis' 2013 text (paragraphs 115-118):
The People of God is incarnate in the peoples of the earth, each of which has its own culture. The concept of culture is valuable for grasping the various expressions of the Christian life present in God’s people. It has to do with the lifestyle of a given society, the specific way in which its members relate to one another, to other creatures and to God. Understood in this way, culture embraces the totality of a people’s life. Each people in the course of its history develops its culture with legitimate autonomy. This is due to the fact that the human person, “by nature stands completely in need of life in society” and always exists in reference to society, finding there a concrete way of relating to reality. The human person is always situated in a culture: “nature and culture are intimately linked”. Grace supposes culture, and God’s gift becomes flesh in the culture of those who receive it.

In these first two Christian millennia, countless peoples have received the grace of faith, brought it to flower in their daily lives and handed it on in the language of their own culture. Whenever a community receives the message of salvation, the Holy Spirit enriches its culture with the transforming power of the Gospel. The history of the Church shows that Christianity does not have simply one cultural expression, but rather, “remaining completely true to itself, with unswerving fidelity to the proclamation of the Gospel and the tradition of the Church, it will also reflect the different faces of the cultures and peoples in which it is received and takes root”. In the diversity of peoples who experience the gift of God, each in accordance with its own culture, the Church expresses her genuine catholicity and shows forth the “beauty of her varied face”. In the Christian customs of an evangelized people, the Holy Spirit adorns the Church, showing her new aspects of revelation and giving her a new face. Through inculturation, the Church “introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her own community”, for “every culture offers positive values and forms which can enrich the way the Gospel is preached, understood and lived”. In this way, the Church takes up the values of different cultures and becomes sponsa ornata monilibus suis, “the bride bedecked with her jewels” (cf. Is 61:10)”.

When properly understood, cultural diversity is not a threat to Church unity. The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son, transforms our hearts and enables us to enter into the perfect communion of the blessed Trinity, where all things find their unity. He builds up the communion and harmony of the people of God. The same Spirit is that harmony, just as he is the bond of love between the Father and the Son. It is he who brings forth a rich variety of gifts, while at the same time creating a unity which is never uniformity but a multifaceted and inviting harmony. Evangelization joyfully acknowledges these varied treasures which the Holy Spirit pours out upon the Church. We would not do justice to the logic of the incarnation if we thought of Christianity as monocultural and monotonous. While it is true that some cultures have been closely associated with the preaching of the Gospel and the development of Christian thought, the revealed message is not identified with any of them; its content is transcultural. Hence in the evangelization of new cultures, or cultures which have not received the Christian message, it is not essential to impose a specific cultural form, no matter how beautiful or ancient it may be, together with the Gospel. The message that we proclaim always has a certain cultural dress, but we in the Church can sometimes fall into a needless hallowing of our own culture, and thus show more fanaticism than true evangelizing zeal.

The Bishops of Oceania asked that the Church “develop an understanding and a presentation of the truth of Christ working from the traditions and cultures of the region” and invited “all missionaries to work in harmony with indigenous Christians so as to ensure that the faith and the life of the Church be expressed in legitimate forms appropriate for each culture”. We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their Christian faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history, because the faith cannot be constricted to the limits of understanding and expression of any one culture. It is an indisputable fact that no single culture can exhaust the mystery of our redemption in Christ.
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As a further backgrounder, the theme of integrating local culture into the mission of evangelization again loomed large four years ago. Yet despite coming as it did on the eve of Francis' lone US trek, the heightened relevance of the period didn't mean folks got the hint.

In retrospect, the signs were all there much more than they seemed in the moment, even as the day itself was remarkable in real time... and the record here duly reflects it.

On his first trek back to Latin America following the release of Evangelii Gaudium – and, in what would prove to be a "tell" of the Pope's future plans, at the edge of Amazonia itself – the following is Whispers' report on Francis' Mass in the Ecuadorean capital of Quito, published here on 7 July 2015.

While it's rare for this scribe to completely re-up a piece from the Archive in a new report, again, in ways that couldn't have been imagined at the time, the content has held up quite well... and as ever, the headline says it all:

"Our Faith Is Always Revolution" – In Quito, Francis' "Mission" In Black and White
7 July 2015 – Another day... another crowd of a million....

...and yet again on this Latin American homecoming tour, another powerful message from the Pope to reiterate one of his core priorities.

In the second homily of a papal trek whose messages are quickly shaping up as a crash course in "Francis 101," yesterday's Synod salvo in Guayaquil was followed up this morning by an emphasis on a missionary church in the Ecuadorean capital, Quito. And with it, amid the ongoing "fantasies of [his] many supposed 'defenders' who've sought to portray Francis less as Simon Peter than Simón Bolívar" – the 19th century leader of Latin America's liberation from colonial rule – the man himself aimed right at the difference between the two, then reaching beyond to the very "cry" of Jesus.

As context goes, today's focus – couched in a votive Mass for the Evangelization of Peoples (fullvid) – springs directly from the twin foundational texts of Jorge Bergoglio's ecclesiology: Evangelii gaudium, Francis' sweeping governing manifesto whose "dream" of a church driven to live "a missionary option" provides the sole roadmap through which this pontificate can genuinely be understood, and its predecessor, the 2007 Aparecida Charter of the Latin American bishops (its drafting led by the then cardinal-archbishop of Buenos Aires), which presented a vision of a church engaged in "permanent mission" and, with it, the foreshadowing of what the newly-elected Pope would famously term "a church which is poor and for the poor!"

Here, an additional note: for someone who recently admitted to not having watched television in nearly 25 years and previously said he couldn't operate a device that "has more than two buttons on it" – in the cited instance, a CD player (when his cherished opera recordings stopped being pressed on vinyl) – Francis' sense of effective settings and optics in a multimedia age is uncannily well-targeted. In that light, with today's second reading in the indigenous language of Quechua and the Pope clad in a striking black-on-white patterned chasuble of native origin, the pontiff served to viscerally underscore what's arguably the most consequential ad intra push in Evangelii gaudium (a point most Anglophone "experts" completely missed): namely, its cited "imperative... to inculturate the Gospel" – a work through which, once achieved, "the diversity of peoples who experience the gift of God, each in accordance with its own culture... expresses [the church's] genuine catholicity and shows forth the 'beauty of her varied face.'"
After decades of wrangling between Rome and the bishops of Asia and Africa over the latter's incorporation of evocative local understandings into their churches' witness, like too much else that watershed call remains largely ignored... and as his first US trek draws ever nearer, seemingly no less than Francis himself grasps that simply being heard – let alone heeded – might just take a miracle all its own.

Against said backdrop – his chosen Gospel the John 17 account of the Last Supper – here's the Vatican translation of today's preach:
The word of God calls us to live in unity, that the world may believe.

I think of those hushed words of Jesus during the Last Supper as more of a shout, a cry rising up from this Mass which we are celebrating in Bicentennial Park. Let us imagine this together. The bicentennial which this Park commemorates was that of Latin America’s cry for independence. It was a cry which arose from being conscious of a lack of freedom, of exploitation and despoliation, of being “subject to the passing whims of the powers that be” (Evangelii Gaudium, 213).

I would like to see these two cries joined together, under the beautiful challenge of evangelization. We evangelize not with grand words, or complicated concepts, but with “the joy of the Gospel”, which “fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. For those who ac­cept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, loneliness, and an isolated conscience” (ibid., 1). We who are gathered here at table with Jesus are ourselves a cry, a shout born of the conviction that his presence leads us to unity, “pointing to a horizon of beauty and inviting others to a delicious banquet” (ibid., 15).

“Father, may they be one... so that the world may believe”. This was Jesus’ prayer as he raised his eyes to heaven. This petition arose in a context of mission: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world”. At that moment, the Lord experiences in his own flesh the worst of this world, a world he nonetheless loves dearly. Knowing full well its intrigues, its falsity and its betrayals, he does not turn away, he does not complain. We too encounter daily a world torn apart by wars and violence. It would be facile to think that division and hatred only concern struggles between countries or groups in society. Rather, they are a manifestation of that “widespread individualism” which divides us and sets us against one another (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 99), they are a manifestation of that legacy of sin lurking in the heart of human beings, which causes so much suffering in society and all of creation. But is it precisely this troubled world, with its forms of egoism, into which Jesus sends us. We must not respond with nonchalance, or complain we do not have the resources to do the job, or that the problems are too big. Instead, we must respond by taking up the cry of Jesus and accepting the grace and challenge of being builders of unity.

There was no shortage of conviction or strength in that cry for freedom which arose a little more than two hundred years ago. But history tells us that it only made headway once personal differences were set aside, together with the desire for power and the inability to appreciate other movements of liberation which were different yet not thereby opposed.

Evangelization can be a way to unite our hopes, concerns, ideals and even utopian visions. We believe this and we make it our cry. “In our world, especially in some countries, different forms of war and conflict are re-emerging, yet we Christians wish to remain steadfast in our intention to respect others, to heal wounds, to build bridges, to strengthen relationships and to ‘bear one an­other’s burdens’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 67). The desire for unity involves the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, the conviction that we have an immense treasure to share, one which grows stronger from being shared, and becomes ever more sensitive to the needs of others (cf. ibid., 9). Hence the need to work for inclusivity at every level, to strive for this inclusivity at every level, to avoid forms of selfishness, to build communication and dialogue, to encourage collaboration. We need to give our hearts to our companions along the way, without suspicion or distrust. “Trusting others is an art, because peace is an art” (cf. ibid., 244). Our unity can hardly shine forth if spiritual worldliness makes us feud among ourselves in a futile quest for power, prestige, pleasure or economic security. And this on the backs of the poorest, the most excluded and vulnerable, those who still keep their dignity despite daily blows against it.

Such unity is already an act of mission, “that the world may believe”. Evangelization does not consist in proselytizing, for proselytizing is a caricature of evangelization, but rather evangelizing entails attracting by our witness those who are far off, it means humbly drawing near to those who feel distant from God in the Church, drawing near to those who feel judged and condemned outright by those who consider themselves to be perfect and pure. We are to draw near to those who are fearful or indifferent, and say to them: “The Lord, with great respect and love, is also calling you to be a part of your people” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 113). Because our God respects us even in our lowliness and in our sinfulness. This calling of the Lord is expressed with such humility and respect in the text from the Book of Revelations: “Look, I am at the door and I am calling; do you want to open the door?” He does not use force, he does not break the lock, but instead, quite simply, he presses the doorbell, knocks gently on the door and then waits. This is our God!

The Church’s mission as sacrament of salvation also has to do with her identity as a pilgrim people called to embrace all the nations of the earth. The more intense the communion between us, the more effective our mission becomes (cf. John Paul II, Pastores Gregis, 22). Becoming a missionary Church requires constantly fostering communion, since mission does not have to do with outreach alone… We also need to be missionaries within the Church, showing that she is “a mother who reaches out, showing that she is a welcoming home, a constant school of missionary communion” (cf. Aparecida Document, 370).

Jesus’ prayer can be realized because he has consecrated us. He says, “for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth” (Jn 17:19). The spiritual life of an evangelizer is born of this profound truth, which should not be confused with a few comforting religious exercises, a spirituality which is perhaps widespread. Jesus consecrates us so that we can encounter him, person to person; an encounter that leads us in turn to encounter others, to become involved with our world and to develop a passion for evangelization (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 78).

Intimacy with God, in itself incomprehensible, is revealed by images which speak to us of communion, communication, self-giving and love. For that reason, the unity to which Jesus calls us is not uniformity, but rather a “multifaceted and inviting harmony” (Evangelii Gaudium, 117). The wealth of our differences, our diversity which becomes unity whenever we commemorate Holy Thursday, makes us wary of all temptations that suggest extremist proposals akin to totalitarian, ideological or sectarian schemes. The proposal offered by Jesus is a concrete one and not a notion. It is concrete: “Go and do the same” he tells that man who asked “who is my neighbor?” After having told the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus says, “Go and do the same”. Nor is this proposal of Jesus something we can fashion as we will, setting conditions, choosing who can belong and who cannot; the religiosity of the ‘elite’. Jesus prays that we will all become part of a great family in which God is our Father, in which all of us are brothers and sisters. No one is excluded; and this is not about having the same tastes, the same concerns, the same gifts. We are brothers and sisters because God created us out of love and destined us, purely of his own initiative, to be his sons and daughters (cf. Eph 1:5). We are brothers and sisters because “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! Father!” (Gal 4:6). We are brothers and sisters because, justified by the blood of Christ Jesus (cf. Rom 5:9), we have passed from death to life and been made “coheirs” of the promise (cf. Gal 3:26-29; Rom 8:17). That is the salvation which God makes possible for us, and which the Church proclaims with joy: to be part of that “we” which leads to the divine “we”.

Our cry, in this place linked to the original cry for freedom in this country, echoes that of Saint Paul: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). It is a cry every bit as urgent and pressing as was the cry for independence. It is similarly thrilling in its ardor. Brothers and sisters, have the same mind as Christ: May each of you be a witness to a fraternal communion which shines forth in our world!

And how beautiful it would be if all could admire how much we care for one another, how we encourage and help each other. Giving of ourselves establishes an interpersonal relationship; we do not give “things” but our very selves. Any act of giving means that we give ourselves. “Giving of oneself” means letting all the power of that love which is God’s Holy Spirit take root in our lives, opening our hearts to his creative power. And giving of oneself even in the most difficult moments as on that Holy Thursday of the Lord when he perceived how they weaved a plot to betray him; but he gave himself, he gave himself for us with his plan of salvation. When we give of ourselves, we discover our true identity as children of God in the image of the Father and, like him, givers of life; we discover that we are brothers and sisters of Jesus, to whom we bear witness.

This is what it means to evangelize; this is the new revolution – for our faith is always revolutionary. This is our deepest and most enduring cry.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

To Everyone's Surprise, The Scarlet Is Served – Keeping To "The Peripheries," Pope Names 13 New Cardinals

The Fall Cycle that begins today was always looking to be unusually full... and all of 12 hours in brings its first shot from left field, likely the first of many over the next 10 weeks.

Bucking projections that didn't see a new crop of cardinals coming until late November at the earliest, at today's Angelus Francis announced his sixth Consistory to top off the College of Cardinals, naming 13 prelates – ten younger than 80 and thus eligible to enter a Conclave – to be elevated to the papal "Senate" on Saturday, October 5th.

Yet again, the makeup of the group – which the pontiff said was intended to "express the church's missionary vocation" – defies prediction and highlights his cherished "peripheries," with the first-ever red hats being given to outposts including the small European city-state of Luxembourg and Morocco in North Africa alongside the now-traditional seats of Havana, Jakarta, and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose nearly 7 million faithful comprise Africa's largest diocese. In addition, the elevation of Matteo Zuppi – the 63 year-old archbishop of Bologna – brings the scarlet to one of Italy's historic "cardinalatial sees" for the first time in Francis' seven-year pontificate.

Perhaps most notably of all, today's list sees the elevation of a simple priest into the ranks of the cardinal-electors – the Canadian Jesuit Fr Michael Czerny, 73 (above), who's served since 2016 as an under-secretary of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development charged with overseeing the church's response to migrants and refugees: a post which saw the Pope break the Curial flow-chart to make Czerny report directly to himself.

While Jesuit priests older than 80 – usually distinguished theologians (Avery Dulles, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, et al.) – have routinely been given the red hat over the last half-century without being ordained bishops prior to the Consistory, Czerny is the first Jesuit not already a bishop to be elevated with a Conclave vote. Given said status and, with it, that the cardinalate is specifically tied to his Curial role, the Czech-born migrant is not likely to receive a similar dispensation from the episcopate and will be ordained a bishop at some point over the next month. (For clarity's sake, the elderly Jesuits were released from the requirement to be bishops in light of the Society's unique vow against seeking honors.)

Here, the list, in order of announcement, which dictates the seniority of the new designates upon their entry into the College:
  • Archbishop Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot MCCJ (Spaniard), 67, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; 
  • Archbishop José Tolentino Calaça de Medonça (Portuguese), 53, Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church; 
  • Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, 69, of Jakarta (Indonesia);  
  • Archbishop Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez, 71, of Havana (Cuba); 
  • Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, OFM Cap., 59, of Kinshasa (DR Congo); 
  • Archbishop Jean-Claude Höllerich SJ, 59, of Luxembourg;
  • Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini Imeri, 72, of Huehuetenamgo (Guatemala);
  • Archbishop Matteo Zuppi, 63, of Bologna (Italy);
  • Archbishop Cristóbal López Romero SDB, 67, of Rabat (Morocco);
  • Fr Michael Czerny SJ, 73 (Czech-Canadian), Undersecretary of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development;
And the trio older than 80, "distinguished by their service to the church":
  • Archbishop Michael Louis Fitzgerald M.Afr (English), 82, retired Apostolic Nuncio to Egypt;
  • Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius, 80, emeritus of Kaunas (Lithuania);
  • Bishop Eugenio Dal Corso (Italian), 80, emeritus of Benguela (Angola)  
The official Vatican News site has released biographical sketches in English for each of the cardinals-designate.

Keeping the custom he established with his first class in 2014, the Pope blindsided his choices by not notifying them ahead of the announcement; by initial indications, many of the designates again seem the most surprised folks of all.

*  *  *
Among the group of "emeritus" picks over 80, the most pointed choice is easily Fitzgerald – long regarded as one of global Catholicism's keenest experts on Islam (to the point of being fluent in Arabic) – whose 2006 transfer by Benedict XVI from the Vatican's top post for interfaith relations to Cairo was widely viewed as a demotion, a departure that would mark the beginning of a prominent deterioration of Catholic-Muslim dialogue worldwide until Francis set to improve the ties upon his election. In another Francis-esque touch, America reported that Fitzgerald has been quietly serving in parish work in England over the last year after initially retiring to Jerusalem.

Once the new intake are formally invested with the biretta and ring, the voting College will have 128 members – eight above the standard maximum set by St Paul VI. However, that figure will return to 120 in November 2020 just on the basis of veteran cardinals turning 80.

Most critically of all, with the new class, Francis has reached a key tipping point – following the Consistory, the reigning Pope will have created 67 electors, giving his oft-unconventional picks a majority of the future Conclave for the first time...

...and lest anyone forgot, that's not merely significant because the cardinals choose the next Pope, but as one of them will be the next Pope.

As ever, more to come.


Sunday, August 04, 2019

"Fraternally, Francis" – To the World's Priests, Pope Sends Thanks Amid Scandals' "Pain"

Thanks to the quirks of the calendar, today isn't the feast of the patron of parish priests, St John Vianney – with few exceptions, the Sunday supersedes the memorial of the Cure of Ars. However, that today marks the 160th anniversary of the famously tireless French pastor's death at 73 brought the release of a surprise letter from the Pope to all the 400,000-plus priests of the world: the first-ever missive to the global rank-and-file which specifically, and intensely, expresses a pontiff’s appreciation for their continued witness in the face of the burden placed upon them by the church's ongoing torrent of abuse crises.

Even for today's non-feast, that the 5,000-word text emerged as the guys were fulfilling their defining role at Sunday Mass is more fitting than the Vianney timing otherwise would've been.

While now-St John Paul II made an annual practice of sending a global letter to priests in advance of Holy Thursday over his 27-year reign – always a long, meandering reflection on their vocation – Benedict XVI abandoned the practice shortly after his 2005 election. As instant global communications had made the John Paul letter something of a redundancy, in recent times, the Holy Thursday Chrism homilies given by B16 and Francis (now available worldwide within minutes of delivery) have effectively doubled as their yearly message to the worldwide presbyterate.

As for the rationale behind today’s text, to put it mildly, the scope of suffering, shame, embarrassment, even persecution, felt by innocent workaday clerics amid years of revelations of sins and crimes within their ranks – and, above all, the offenses of their superiors – has been immense and exacted an according toll. As one priest remarked some years ago after wearing his collar while visiting a scandal-tarred US city, "You could just feel people looking right through you" on the street, to say nothing of the many others who've been openly cursed at, spat upon or seen children quickly rushed in the opposite direction from them in practically every public setting due to a widespread misperception of guilt by association.

At the same time, the feeling of victimhood among the brothers has come from a second, even more potent angle – a pronounced sense of being "thrown under the bus" by their bishops, with many (if not most) priests feeling there would be little to no regard for due process toward them were they ever to be accused.

In this vein, Francis' letter today notably addresses the slings from both sides, with the pontiff emphasizing the latter concern in one of his ever-critical footnotes, saying that "Spiritual fatherhood requires a bishop not to leave his priests as orphans; it can be felt not only in his readiness to open his doors to priests, but also to seek them out in order to care for them and to accompany them." (Along these lines, it is a significant detail that today's letter was published not from St Peter's – the Roman Pontiff's base as the church's universal pastor – but St John Lateran, his seat as diocesan Bishop of Rome and the headquarters of the local church.)

With a world of appreciation to the many unsung "Men in Black" in our midst, below is the official English translation of today's letter, divided into four parts and written originally in Spanish – the native tongue Papa Bergoglio uses when he wishes "to speak from my heart."

On a final context note, this text arrives on the effective "eve" of the Pope's own Golden Jubilee of ordination, which he'll mark on December 13th.

*  *  *
To my Brother Priests.

Dear Brothers,

A hundred and sixty years have passed since the death of the holy Curé of Ars, whom Pope Pius XI proposed as the patron of parish priests throughout the world.[1] On this, his feast day, I write this letter not only to parish priests but to all of you, my brother priests, who have quietly “left all behind” in order to immerse yourselves in the daily life of your communities. Like the Curé of Ars, you serve “in the trenches”, bearing the burden of the day and the heat (cf. Mt 20:12), confronting an endless variety of situations in your effort to care for and accompany God’s people. I want to say a word to each of you who, often without fanfare and at personal cost, amid weariness, infirmity and sorrow, carry out your mission of service to God and to your people. Despite the hardships of the journey, you are writing the finest pages of the priestly life.

Some time ago, I shared with the Italian bishops my worry that, in more than a few places, our priests feel themselves attacked and blamed for crimes they did not commit. I mentioned that priests need to find in their bishop an older brother and a father who reassures them in these difficult times, encouraging and supporting them along the way.[2]

As an older brother and a father, I too would like in this letter to thank you in the name of the holy and faithful People of God for all that you do for them, and to encourage you never to forget the words that the Lord spoke with great love to us on the day of our ordination. Those words are the source of our joy: “I no longer call you servants… I call you friends” (Jn 15:15).[3]

“I have seen the suffering of my people” (Ex 3:7)

In these years, we have become more attentive to the cry, often silent and suppressed, of our brothers and sisters who were victims of the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience and sexual abuse on the part of ordained ministers. This has been a time of great suffering in the lives of those who experienced such abuse, but also in the lives of their families and of the entire People of God.

As you know, we are firmly committed to carrying out the reforms needed to encourage from the outset a culture of pastoral care, so that the culture of abuse will have no room to develop, much less continue. This task is neither quick nor easy: it demands commitment on the part of all. If in the past, omission may itself have been a kind of response, today we desire conversion, transparency, sincerity and solidarity with victims to become our concrete way of moving forward. This in turn will help make us all the more attentive to every form of human suffering.[4]

This pain has also affected priests. I have seen it in the course of my pastoral visits in my own diocese and elsewhere, in my meetings and personal conversations with priests. Many have shared with me their outrage at what happened and their frustration that “for all their hard work, they have to face the damage that was done, the suspicion and uncertainty to which it has given rise, and the doubts, fears and disheartenment felt by more than a few”.[5] I have received many letters from priests expressing those feelings. At the same time, I am comforted by my meetings with pastors who recognize and share the pain and suffering of the victims and of the People of God, and have tried to find words and actions capable of inspiring hope.

Without denying or dismissing the harm caused by some of our brothers, it would be unfair not to express our gratitude to all those priests who faithfully and generously spend their lives in the service of others (cf. 2 Cor 12:15). They embody a spiritual fatherhood capable of weeping with those who weep. Countless priests make of their lives a work of mercy in areas or situations that are often hostile, isolated or ignored, even at the risk of their lives. I acknowledge and appreciate your courageous and steadfast example; in these times of turbulence, shame and pain, you demonstrate that you have joyfully put your lives on the line for the sake of the Gospel.[6]

I am convinced that, to the extent that we remain faithful to God’s will, these present times of ecclesial purification will make us more joyful and humble, and prove, in the not distant future, very fruitful. “Let us not grow discouraged! The Lord is purifying his Bride and converting all of us to himself. He is letting us be put to the test in order to make us realize that without him we are simply dust. He is rescuing us from hypocrisy, from the spirituality of appearances. He is breathing forth his Spirit in order to restore the beauty of his Bride, caught in adultery. We can benefit from rereading the sixteenth chapter of Ezekiel. It is the history of the Church, and each of us can say it is our history too. In the end, through your sense of shame, you will continue to act as a shepherd. Our humble repentance, expressed in silent tears before these atrocious sins and the unfathomable grandeur of God’s forgiveness, is the beginning of a renewal of our holiness”.[7]

“I do not cease to give thanks for you” (Eph 1:16).

Vocation, more than our own choice, is a response to the Lord’s unmerited call. We do well to return constantly to those passages of the Gospel where we see Jesus praying, choosing and calling others “to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message” (Mk 3:14).

Here I think of a great master of the priestly life in my own country, Father Lucio Gera. Speaking to a group of priests at a turbulent time in Latin America, he told them: “Always, but especially in times of trial, we need to return to those luminous moments when we experienced the Lord’s call to devote our lives to his service”. I myself like to call this “the deuteronomic memory of our vocation”; it makes each of us go back “to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched me at the start of the journey. From that flame, I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters. That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good and gentle joy”.[8]

One day, each of us spoke up and said “yes”, a “yes” born and developed in the heart of the Christian community thanks to those “saints next door”[9] who showed us by their simple faith that it was worthwhile committing ourselves completely to the Lord and his kingdom. A “yes” whose implications were so momentous that often we find it hard to imagine all the goodness that it continues to produce. How beautiful it is when an elderly priest sees or is visited by those children – now adults – whom he baptized long ago and who now gratefully introduce a family of their own! At times like this, we realize that we were anointed to anoint others, and that God’s anointing never disappoints. I am led to say with the Apostle: “I do not cease to give thanks for you” (cf. Eph 1:16) and for all the good that you have done.

Amid trials, weakness and the consciousness of our limitations, “the worst temptation of all is to keep brooding over our troubles”[10] for then we lose our perspective, our good judgement and our courage. At those times, it is important – I would even say crucial – to cherish the memory of the Lord’s presence in our lives and his merciful gaze, which inspired us to put our lives on the line for him and for his People. And to find the strength to persevere and, with the Psalmist, to raise our own song of praise, “for his mercy endures forever” (Ps 136).

Gratitude is always a powerful weapon. Only if we are able to contemplate and feel genuine gratitude for all those ways we have experienced God’s love, generosity, solidarity and trust, as well as his forgiveness, patience, forbearance and compassion, will we allow the Spirit to grant us the freshness that can renew (and not simply patch up) our life and mission. Like Peter on the morning of the miraculous draught of fishes, may we let the recognition of all the blessings we have received awaken in us the amazement and gratitude that can enable us to say: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). Only then to hear the Lord repeat his summons: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be fishers of men” (Lk 5:10). “For his mercy endures forever”.

Dear brother priests, I thank you for your fidelity to the commitments you have made. It is a sign that, in a society and culture that glorifies the ephemeral, there are still people unafraid to make lifelong promises. In effect, we show that we continue to believe in God, who has never broken his covenant, despite our having broken it countless times. In this way, we celebrate the fidelity of God, who continues to trust us, to believe in us and to count on us, for all our sins and failings, and who invites us to be faithful in turn. Realizing that we hold this treasure in earthen vessels (cf. 2 Cor 4:7), we know that the Lord triumphs through weakness (cf. 2 Cor 12:9). He continues to sustain us and to renew his call, repaying us a hundredfold (cf. Mk 10:29-30). “For his mercy endures forever”.

Thank you for the joy with which you have offered your lives, revealing a heart that over the years has refused to become closed and bitter, but has grown daily in love for God and his people. A heart that, like good wine, has not turned sour but become richer with age. “For his mercy endures forever”.

Thank you for working to strengthen the bonds of fraternity and friendship with your brother priests and your bishop, providing one another with support and encouragement, caring for those who are ill, seeking out those who keep apart, visiting the elderly and drawing from their wisdom, sharing with one another and learning to laugh and cry together. How much we need this! But thank you too for your faithfulness and perseverance in undertaking difficult missions, or for those times when you have had to call a brother priest to order. “For his mercy endures forever”.

Thank you for your witness of persistence and patient endurance (hypomoné) in pastoral ministry. Often, with the parrhesía of the shepherd,[11] we find ourselves arguing with the Lord in prayer, as Moses did in courageously interceding for the people (cf. Num 14:13-19; Ex 32:30-32; Dt 9:18-21). “For his mercy endures forever”.

Thank you for celebrating the Eucharist each day and for being merciful shepherds in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, neither rigorous nor lax, but deeply concerned for your people and accompanying them on their journey of conversion to the new life that the Lord bestows on us all. We know that on the ladder of mercy we can descend to the depths of our human condition – including weakness and sin – and at the same time experience the heights of divine perfection: “Be merciful as the Father is merciful”.[12] In this way, we are “capable of warming people’s hearts, walking at their side in the dark, talking with them and even entering into their night and their darkness, without losing our way”.[13] “For his mercy endures forever”.

Thank you for anointing and fervently proclaiming to all, “in season and out of season” (cf. 2 Tim 4:2) the Gospel of Jesus Christ, probing the heart of your community “in order to discover where its desire for God is alive and ardent, as well as where that dialogue, once loving, has been thwarted and is now barren”.[14] “For his mercy endures forever”.

Thank you for the times when, with great emotion, you embraced sinners, healed wounds, warmed hearts and showed the tenderness and compassion of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:25-27). Nothing is more necessary than this: accessibility, closeness, readiness to draw near to the flesh of our suffering brothers and sisters. How powerful is the example of a priest who makes himself present and does not flee the wounds of his brothers and sisters![15] It mirrors the heart of a shepherd who has developed a spiritual taste for being one with his people,[16] a pastor who never forgets that he has come from them and that by serving them he will find and express his most pure and complete identity. This in turn will lead to adopting a simple and austere way of life, rejecting privileges that have nothing to do with the Gospel. “For his mercy endures forever”.

Finally, let us give thanks for the holiness of the faithful People of God, whom we are called to shepherd and through whom the Lord also shepherds and cares for us. He blesses us with the gift of contemplating that faithful People “in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance, I see the holiness of the Church militant”.[17] Let us be grateful for each of them, and in their witness find support and encouragement. “For his mercy endures forever”.

“I want [your] hearts to be encouraged” (Col 2:2)

My second great desire is, in the words of Saint Paul, to offer encouragement as we strive to renew our priestly spirit, which is above all the fruit of the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Faced with painful experiences, all of us need to be comforted and encouraged. The mission to which we are called does not exempt us from suffering, pain and even misunderstanding.[18] Rather, it requires us to face them squarely and to accept them, so that the Lord can transform them and conform us more closely to himself. “Ultimately, the lack of a heartfelt and prayerful acknowledgment of our limitations prevents grace from working more effectively within us, for no room is left for bringing about the potential good that is part of a sincere and genuine journey of growth”.[19]

One good way of testing our hearts as pastors is to ask how we confront suffering. We can often act like the levite or the priest in the parable, stepping aside and ignoring the injured man (cf. Lk 10:31-32). Or we can draw near in the wrong way, viewing situations in the abstract and taking refuge in commonplaces, such as: “That’s life…”, or “Nothing can be done”. In this way, we yield to an uneasy fatalism. Or else we can draw near with a kind of aloofness that brings only isolation and exclusion. “Like the prophet Jonah, we are constantly tempted to flee to a safe haven. It can have many names: individualism, spiritualism, living in a little world…”[20] Far from making us compassionate, this ends up holding us back from confronting our own wounds, the wounds of others and consequently the wounds of Jesus himself.[21]

Along these same lines, I would mention another subtle and dangerous attitude, which, as Bernanos liked to say, is “the most precious of the devil's potions”.[22] It is also the most harmful for those of us who would serve the Lord, for it breeds discouragement, desolation and despair.[23] Disappointment with life, with the Church or with ourselves can tempt us to latch onto a sweet sorrow or sadness that the Eastern Fathers called acedia. Cardinal Tomáš Špidlík described it in these terms: “If we are assailed by sadness at life, at the company of others or at our own isolation, it is because we lack faith in God’s providence and his works… Sadness paralyzes our desire to persevere in our work and prayer; it makes us hard to live with… The monastic authors who treated this vice at length call it the worst enemy of the spiritual life.”[24]

All of us are aware of a sadness that can turn into a habit and lead us slowly to accept evil and injustice by quietly telling us: “It has always been like this”. A sadness that stifles every effort at change and conversion by sowing resentment and hostility. “That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life of the Spirit, which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ”, to which we have been called.[25] Dear brothers, when that sweet sorrow threatens to take hold of our lives or our communities, without being fearful or troubled, yet with firm resolution, let us together beg the Spirit to “rouse us from our torpor, to free us from our inertia. Let us rethink our usual way of doing things; let us open our eyes and ears, and above all our hearts, so as not to be complacent about things as they are, but unsettled by the living and effective word of the risen Lord”.[26]

Let me repeat: in times of difficulty, we all need God’s consolation and strength, as well as that of our brothers and sisters. All of us can benefit from the touching words that Saint Paul addressed to his communities: “I pray that you may not lose heart over [my] sufferings” (Eph 3:13), and “I want [your] hearts to be encouraged” (Col 2:22). In this way, we can carry out the mission that the Lord gives us anew each day: to proclaim “good news of great joy for all the people” (Lk 2:10). Not by presenting intellectual theories or moral axioms about the way things ought to be, but as men who in the midst of pain have been transformed and transfigured by the Lord and, like Job, can exclaim: “I knew you then only by hearsay, but now I have seen you with my own eyes” (Job 42:2). Without this foundational experience, all of our hard work will only lead to frustration and disappointment.

In our own lives, we seen how “with Christ, joy is constantly born anew”.[27] Although there are different stages in this experience, we know that, despite our frailties and sins, “with a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, God makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and start anew”.[28] That joy is not the fruit of our own thoughts or decisions, but of the confidence born of knowing the enduring truth of Jesus’ words to Peter. At times of uncertainty, remember those words: “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail” (Lk 22:32). The Lord is the first to pray and fight for you and for me. And he invites us to enter fully into his own prayer. There may well be moments when we too have to enter into “the prayer of Gethsemane, that most human and dramatic of Jesus’ prayers… For there we find supplication, sorrow, anguish and even bewilderment (Mk 14:33ff.)”.[29]

We know that it is not easy to stand before the Lord and let his gaze examine our lives, heal our wounded hearts and cleanse our feet of the worldliness accumulated along the way, which now keeps us from moving forward. In prayer, we experience the blessed “insecurity” which reminds us that we are disciples in need of the Lord’s help, and which frees us from the promethean tendency of “those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules”.[30]

Dear brothers, Jesus, more than anyone, is aware of our efforts and our accomplishments, our failures and our mistakes. He is the first to tell us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:28-29).

In this prayer, we know that we are never alone. The prayer of a pastor embraces both the Spirit who cries out “Abba, Father!” (cf. Gal 4:6), and the people who have been entrusted to his care. Our mission and identity can be defined by this dialectic.

The prayer of a pastor is nourished and made incarnate in the heart of God’s People. It bears the marks of the sufferings and joys of his people, whom he silently presents to the Lord to be anointed by the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the hope of a pastor, who with trust and insistence asks the Lord to care for our weakness as individuals and as a people. Yet we should also realize that it is in the prayer of God’s People that the heart of a pastor takes flesh and finds its proper place. This sets us free from looking for quick, easy, ready-made answers; it allows the Lord to be the one – not our own recipes and goals – to point out a path of hope. Let us not forget that at the most difficult times in the life of the earliest community, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, prayer emerged as the true guiding force.

Brothers, let us indeed acknowledge our weaknesses, but also let Jesus transform them and send us forth anew to the mission. Let us never lose the joy of knowing that we are “the sheep of his flock” and that he is our Lord and Shepherd.

For our hearts to be encouraged, we should not neglect the dialectic that determines our identity. First, our relationship with Jesus. Whenever we turn away from Jesus or neglect our relationship with him, slowly but surely our commitment begins to fade and our lamps lose the oil needed to light up our lives (cf. Mt 25:1-13): “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me… because apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:4-5). In this regard, I would encourage you not to neglect spiritual direction. Look for a brother with whom you can speak, reflect, discuss and discern, sharing with complete trust and openness your journey. A wise brother with whom to share the experience of discipleship. Find him, meet with him and enjoy his guidance, accompaniment and counsel. This is an indispensable aid to carrying out your ministry in obedience to the will of the Father (cf. Heb 10:9) and letting your heart beat with “the mind that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). We can profit from the words of Ecclesiastes: “Two are better than one… One will lift up the other; but woe to the one who is alone and falls, and does not have another to help!” (4:9-10).

The other essential aspect of this dialectic is our relationship to our people. Foster that relationship and expand it. Do not withdraw from your people, your presbyterates and your communities, much less seek refuge in closed and elitist groups. Ultimately, this stifles and poisons the soul. A minister whose “heart is encouraged” is a minister always on the move. In our “going forth”, we walk “sometimes in front, sometimes in the middle and sometimes behind: in front, in order to guide the community; in the middle, in order to encourage and support, and at the back in order to keep it united, so that no one lags too far behind… There is another reason too: because our people have a “nose” for things. They sniff out, discover, new paths to take; they have the sensus fidei (cf. Lumen Gentium, 12)… What could be more beautiful than this?”[31] Jesus himself is the model of this evangelizing option that leads us to the heart of our people. How good it is for us to see him in his attention to every person! The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is nothing else but the culmination of that evangelizing style that marked his entire life.

Dear brother priests, the pain of so many victims, the pain of the people of God and our own personal pain, cannot be for naught. Jesus himself has brought this heavy burden to his cross and he now asks us to be renewed in our mission of drawing near to those who suffer, of drawing near without embarrassment to human misery, and indeed to make all these experiences our own, as eucharist.[32] Our age, marked by old and new wounds, requires us to be builders of relationships and communion, open, trusting and awaiting in hope the newness that the kingdom of God wishes to bring about even today. For it is a kingdom of forgiven sinners called to bear witness to the Lord’s ever-present compassion. “For his mercy endures forever”.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” (Lk 1:46)

How can we speak about gratitude and encouragement without looking to Mary? She, the woman whose heart was pierced (cf. Lk 2:35), teaches us the praise capable of lifting our gaze to the future and restoring hope to the present. Her entire life was contained in her song of praise (cf. Lk 1:46-55). We too are called to sing that song as a promise of future fulfilment.

Whenever I visit a Marian shrine, I like to spend time looking at the Blessed Mother and letting her look at me. I pray for a childlike trust, the trust of the poor and simple who know that their mother is there, and that they have a place in her heart. And in looking at her, to hear once more, like the Indian Juan Diego: “My youngest son, what is the matter? Do not let it disturb your heart. Am I not here, I who have the honour to be your mother?”[33]

To contemplate Mary is “to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness. In her, we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong, who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves”.[34]

Perhaps at times our gaze can begin to harden, or we can feel that the seductive power of apathy or self-pity is about to take root in our heart. Or our sense of being a living and integral part of God’s People begins to weary us, and we feel tempted to a certain elitism. At those times, let us not be afraid to turn to Mary and to take up her song of praise.

Perhaps at times we can feel tempted to withdraw into ourselves and our own affairs, safe from the dusty paths of daily life. Or regrets, complaints, criticism and sarcasm gain the upper hand and make us lose our desire to keep fighting, hoping and loving. At those times, let us look to Mary so that she can free our gaze of all the “clutter” that prevents us from being attentive and alert, and thus capable of seeing and celebrating Christ alive in the midst of his people. And if we see that we are going astray, or that we are failing in our attempts at conversion, then let us turn to her like a great parish priest from my previous diocese, who was also a poet. He asked her, with something of a smile: “This evening, dear Lady /my promise is sincere; /but just to be sure, don’t forget / to leave the key outside the door”.[35] Our Lady “is the friend who is ever concerned that wine not be lacking in our lives. She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who understands all our pain. As mother of all, she is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice… As a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love”.[36]

Dear brothers, once more, “I do not cease to give thanks for you” (Eph 1:16), for your commitment and your ministry. For I am confident that “God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the “living stone” (cf. 1 Pet 2:4), the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new”.[37]

May we allow our gratitude to awaken praise and renewed enthusiasm for our ministry of anointing our brothers and sisters with hope. May we be men whose lives bear witness to the compassion and mercy that Jesus alone can bestow on us.

May the Lord Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin watch over you. And please, I ask you not to forget to pray for me.



Rome, at Saint John Lateran, on 4 August 2019,

Memorial of the Holy Curé of Ars.


[1] Cf. Apostolic Letter Anno Iubilari (23 April 1929): AAS 21 (1929), 312-313.

[2] Address to the Italian Bishops’ Conference (20 May 2019). Spiritual fatherhood requires a bishop not to leave his priests as orphans; it can be felt not only in his readiness to open his doors to priests, but also to seek them out in order to care for them and to accompany them.

[3] Cf. SAINT JOHN XXIII, Encyclical Letter Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia on the hundredth anniversary of the death of the holy Curé of Ars (1 August 1959): AAS (51 (1959), 548.

[4] Cf. Letter to the People of God (20 August 2018).

[5] Meeting with Priests, Religious, Consecrated Persons and Seminarians, Santiago de Chile (16 January 2018).

[6] Cf. Letter to the Pilgrim People of God in Chile (31 May 2018).

[7] Meeting with the Priests of the Diocese of Rome (7 March 2019).

[8] Homily at the Easter Vigil (19 April 2014).

[9] Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 7.

[10] Cf. JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO, Las cartas de la tribulación (Herder, 2019), 21.

[11] Cf. Address to the Parish Priests of Rome (6 March 2014).

[12] Retreat to Priests. First Meditation (2 June 2016).

[13] A. SPADARO, Interview with Pope Francis, in La Civiltà Cattolica 3918 (19 September 2013), p. 462.

[14] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 137.

[15] Cf. Address to the Parish Priests of Rome (6 March 2014).

[16] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 268.

[17] Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 7.

[18] Cf. Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera, 13.

[19] Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 50.

[20] Ibid., 134.

[21] Cf. JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO, Reflexiones en esperanza (Vatican City, 2013), p. 14.

[22] Journal d’un curé de campagne (Paris, 1974), p. 135; cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 83.

[23] Cf. BARSANUPH OF GAZA, Letters, in VITO CUTRO – MICHAŁ TADEUSZ SZWEMIN, Bisogno di paternità (Warsaw, 2018), p. 124.

[24] L’arte di purificare il cuore, Rome, 1999, p. 47.

[25] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 2.

[26] Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 137.

[27] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 1.

[28] Ibid., 3.

[29] JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO, Reflexiones en esperanza (Vatican City, 2013), p. 26.

[30] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 94.

[31] Meeting with Clergy, Consecrated Persons and Members of Pastoral Councils, Assisi (4 October 2013).

[32] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 268-270.

[33] Cf. Nican Mopohua, 107, 118, 119.

[34] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 288.

[35] Cf. AMELIO LUIS CALORI, Aula Fúlgida, Buenos Aires, 1946.

[36] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 286.

[37] Homily at the Easter Vigil (20 April 2019).


Monday, July 22, 2019

Wheel(ing) In Motion

(Updated with developments.)

So, after an epic week out West, this scribe was looking to come home and finally ease into something of a summer – a gift which eluded us last year....

Alas, three days after a historic set of sanctions on a US prelate, not so much:

Ergo, here comes another long night in the shop... and lest anyone forgot, as the work has its bills – even before the overtime of this latest curveball – as ever, Whispers can only keep coming your way thanks to your support:

Once things fully calm down, the donors are owed a good, long behind the scenes briefing. For now, all thanks – and, welp, here we go again.

See you early.

SVILUPPO: And just as quickly as it began, there goes the night.
Summarizing the broad shock among Whispers ops over the reported Wheeling pick, one ranking cleric – who's long known the choice as "a very shy, pastoral, quiet, holy priest" – sent this scribe three letters on seeing the news....


Asked to explain the sentiment, the op replied that – given the roiled scene amid a year-long drip over Bransfield's moral and fiscal turpitude – he felt Brennan might just be "in over his head."

That's one way of sizing up the scene, and no shortage of others have echoed it tonight.... Yet on the other hand, living history can recall several instances of an "old man in a hurry" with nothing to lose – above all, a Pope elected at 76, who's now brought this move to pass.

As for which one it'll be, we'll have our answer in the morning.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

"The Hour of Power," Roman Edition

CHRIST CATHEDRAL, ORANGE COUNTY – "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad."

For a quarter-century, that verse of the Psalmist was Dr Robert Schuller's sign-on from this crystal sanctuary as he began his Sunday broadcasts across the globe... and now, it's fitting to return to it on this day, as one of American Christianity's most prominent and cherished venues begins its second incarnation as a Catholic church and the seat of this 1.5 million-member diocese, now one of the US' ten largest.

Beginning with a 10am local pre-show, here's the livefeed:

The most complex ecclesial rite of all, the Dedication Mass is expected to run approximately three hours.

While today's grand opening marks the fifth launch of a Stateside cathedral since 2008, you'd have to go back even further to find one as significant as this: to September 2, 2002, when the debut of Los Angeles' $190 million, 5,000-seat Our Lady of the Angels altered the Downtown landscape of the nation's Western hub, likewise signaling the culmination of the LA church's rapid emergence as the largest fold American Catholicism has ever known.

On another context note, only after this date was set in 2017 did the locals realize a "magical" confluence of events – as it happens, today marks the 64th anniversary of the opening of the even better-known shrine down the street: Disneyland.

Ergo, it's doubly meaningful that – as with the respective cathedral anniversary of each local church – every July 17th in Orange will be marked as a proper feast, with the texts of the Dedication Mass employed that day across the diocese.

In a rarity for a new diocesan seat on its Opening Day, the wider community will get its first chance to enter Christ Cathedral tonight; with all 2,100 seats (and 1,000 overflow spots) all long taken for this morning's rites, the general public is invited to see the space for themselves from 5-8pm, while an open-air festival takes place in the plaza outside.

And with that, it's been a long wait – away we go.


The Crown Jewel – Today in The OC, The Church Comes Home

“Holy is the Church,
the chosen vine of the Lord,
whose branches fill the whole world,
and whose tendrils, borne on the wood of the Cross,
reach upward to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed is the Church,
God’s dwelling-place with the human race, a holy temple built of living stones,
standing upon the foundation of the Apostles with Christ Jesus its chief cornerstone.

Exalted is the Church,
a City set high on a mountain for all to see, resplendent to every eye
with the unfading light of the Lamb,
and resounding with the sweet hymn of the Saints....
CHRIST CATHEDRAL, ORANGE COUNTY – Once upon a time in America, a Catholic bishop and a secular architect joined forces to envision a radical concept in church design: a temple open to the world around it through the use of clear glass.

The materials sent a message – the Church need not shelter itself behind its imported encrustations, keeping the pluralistic, free society outside at bay… If anything, in this unique setting, she came with an open hand to take her place among the community at large, to help build it up and make it thrive. In sum, the place was meant to say in structure that God’s People had nothing to fear from daylight.

In its original sense, this idea doesn’t refer to what’s happening now, but to the Cathedral of the Assumption in Baltimore – built by the founding Bishop John Carroll and the Capitol designer Benjamin Latrobe, the nation’s first diocesan seat, and the one place every American Catholic can genuinely call home. And today, on the eve of the Assumption’s bicentennial, in the heart of the largest province Carroll’s heirs have ever known, his vision has met its match.

Forty-three years ago, when Rome spun off Orange County from the mothership of Los Angeles as its own local church, the one-county see numbered some 350,000 members. Now become the nation’s sixth-largest civic seat, its Catholic population has boomed to almost five times that. Yet even as it erupted into one of the Stateside church’s densest and most diverse outposts – bigger than Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia and Seattle among others – the diocese has been an ecclesial nomad, the downtown parish-turned-bishop’s seat quickly overwhelmed by the rapid growth, its major events subsequently imposing by need on its already hectic larger parishes. But today, at last, they’ve now got a “common home” to call their own – one explicitly intended from its birth to emphasize man’s intrinsic link to the creation around him.

To be sure, Orange’s fire-sale acquisition of the Crystal Cathedral and its 33-acre campus has been a failsafe conversation-starter in US church circles ever since the diocese emerged victorious from the 2011 court-fight over the prime property a mile from Disneyland. Regardless, as the long, sometimes challenging journey to today gradually began to bear fruit – first in giving the diocese a ready-made nerve-center in rapid order, then becoming an ad intra “destination” in ways the previously envisioned built-from-scratch compound in Santa Ana never could’ve dreamt of being, it’s become increasingly clear to the locals that this most unlikely of moves has been, as many here have said through the years, no less than “an act of providence.” (Indeed, on handing his creation over to the Orange church, the Crystal’s builder, Dr. Robert Schuller, told then-Bishop Tod Brown and his priests of his longtime hope “that this place would someday return to the mother church.”)

Given the worldwide outpouring of shock and grief upon the Holy Week fire at Notre-Dame, it’s curious that some folks still wonder why cathedrals are necessary. Clearly, their great-grandparents and beyond who sacrificed their pennies to build them felt rather differently. Here, the folks have waited for this day, they’ve believed in it, and even grown some more along the way – already, the dozen weekend liturgies in the 1,000-seat temporary “parish” invariably swamp the space, and with the 2,100-seat centerpiece now complete (in a place where the average parish comprises ten times that number), it’s a pretty safe bet that the regulars won’t be able to count on too much stretching space for long.

All that said, the decade of planning and renderings has come to an end, and it's time for the "Hour of Power" – the Mass of Dedication of Christ Cathedral begins at 10.30am local (1.30pm Eastern, 1930 Rome) today, and you can find the livefeed here at that hour.

To Bishop Kevin Vann and his top-shelf crew, who’ve devoted untold hours over these many years to reach this moment, kudos on a job well-done – thanks to all of you, today, this “periphery” of the City of Angels is the center of the American Church.

SVILUPPO: Livefeed link, etc.