Saturday, March 31, 2007

"A People of Unction"

While, as previously mentioned, the suspension of posting will generally continue through this Week that is Holy, we'd be remiss to proceed without a plug for the Chrism Mass.

Though the rubrics prefer that the annual celebration -- the one big get-together of the year in most local churches -- be held on Holy Thursday morning, such are the exigencies of most dioceses (and their desire for the greatest possible participation of the lay faithful) that it's more commonly held earlier in the week, even before Palm Sunday in some places. At the Mass, each presbyterate renews its commitment to priestly service, the year's supply of the Oils of the Sick and the Catechumens are blessed, and the Holy Chrism that gives the Mass its name is consecrated. (As seen at right, the latter rite calls for the bishop to breathe upon the chief oil, used at ordinations of priests and bishops, confirmations, baptisms and the dedications of churches and altars.)

This is all a long way of saying that, if you don't already make it a point to be there, you should. But not everyone can, of course, and if you're one of those -- or even if you aren't and could use a pre-game -- you can still experience it... even though it isn't your own diocese's... except if you live in Utah.

Some weeks back, the exemplary liturgical and technological chops of the diocese of Salt Lake City were highlighted here after the installation of Bishop John Wester. And yet again, the Cathedral of the Madeleine and the Intermountain Catholic (with its enormous staff of... three) are showing the rest of us the way, in more ways than one: Salt Lake's Chrism Mass was held Thursday night, and the webstream of the whole shebang is already up and running. So watch, pray, enjoy, immerse yourself in the sounds of the Madeleine Choir, and another winner of a Wester homily, to boot. (Solidifying the gold standard even further, video podcasts of the Madeleine liturgies are also downloadable on iTunes.)

On a housekeeping note: while, in keeping with custom, general posting will remain suspended through Holy Week, in keeping with another tradition forgotten the other day, full English translations of B16's Chrism and Triduum homilies will be up on the page as quickly as they can be produced. (Many thanks in advance if anyone could help ease the load by lending a hand with those.)

To all of you, your loved ones and those you serve, all wishes and prayers for a moving and Blessed Holy Week.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Lent's End: Mulligans... and Slow Motion

So the first speaking tour wrapped a couple nights back in Wilmington.... And I'm still tired.

Thanks to everyone who showed -- they tell me it made for a "stellar" Theology on Tap crowd -- and to the diocese's Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, which was kind (bold?) enough to invite Philly's homegrown enfant terrible down I-95 for a memorable evening (for the guest chatterbox, at least).

Speaking of Delaware Catholicism, great piece in this week's Dialog (pdf) on diocesan pastoral councils. (Yes, fellow Northeasterners, they do exist.... Just sparsely on our turf.) Thank God for those places which allow them to flourish, thrive and be of great benefit, both in the service of their local churches and as a gold standard for the rest.

Elsewhere along the path, I've given myself two weeks worth of attempts to find appropriate words to thank and praise Denver -- the place where, six years ago, the second stage of my ecclesiastical journey began and where the hand of Providence seems to have its way with me with an intensity it doesn't manifest anywhere else. And still, words fail. I've got a lot of emotions and song lyrics, but, for once, nothing of my own... at least, nothing sufficient.

Then again, what's new?

I don't know whether to chalk the Providence bit up to the altitude, the archbishop, or what; all I know is that it happens, and that I always leave there changed, the better for the experience, eternally grateful, and with a clearer picture of things and an encouraged spirit to forge ahead along the path marked out in the shadow of the Rockies. So to everyone whose paths crossed mine in that magical place (when I wasn't cooped-up in the room hammering out the talks), whether during post-confab, Mass or karaoke, thanks for charming and sustaining my life as only, so time has taught me, the church in Northern Colorado can.

On the threshold of his tenth anniversary as its shepherd, this debt is owed especially to Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap., whose friendship has been a source of encouragement, example and enrichment in my life since his early days in the Mile High City (when I was a freshman in high school). It's a bond that seems to baffle some, but that he's put up with me and served as my episcopal "conscience" for as long as he has is further proof of what so many already know, the contagious depth of his love for the church and his commitment to its rising generation. I can never thank him enough for all he's taught and given me through the years, and I know ever more with time that I've still so much to learn from him.

Luckily -- or not, depending on how one views these things -- through the wonders of technology, you, too, can experience the fun. Well, 2/5 of it.

As a devoted collector of "bootleg" concert recordings, I'm still somewhat gobsmacked to find myself on the opposite end of the mic. But such is the state of things that two of the events were captured for webcast -- the audio of the Denver ToT and video of the St Joseph's University's blogfest alongside Amy Welborn and Commonweal's Grant Gallicho have been posted. Thanks, too, to Jean Torkelson of the Rocky Mountain News and Tracy Kmetz of the Denver Catholic Register for being kind with their accounts of a rookie's maiden gig. (Kmetz, in particular, was a joy to spend a good deal of time with behind-the-whispers; she even got to hear a bunch of the war stories... off-record, of course.)

As for the feeds, think of it this way: in this penitential season, just in case anyone else has been slacking off, listening or viewing will subtract weeks off Purgatory. At least, that's how I see it.

Thanks again to everyone who made the various treks a blessed and humbling experience. Next stop: Madison, WI at April's end.... More as it draws closer.

* * *

This past Sunday, we began the period of Lent that, once upon a time, was referred to as "Passiontide." Of course, Passion Sunday was collapsed into Palm Sunday with the liturgical reforms, but from the readings of the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we find that as these days of grace intensify into their home stretch, one last chance -- a mulligan, if you will -- still exists for those of us who, to this point, haven't been the best at our observance of these Forty Days to step up to the plate and start over.

Ever the procrastinator, I'm grateful to no end for this little opening, one which gives special meaning to the term "grace period." And, forgive me, but I need to take advantage of it to the utmost extent.

At last Tuesday's panel, the three of us seemed to agree that a strength of the blogosphere, a key to its credibility, is that it's written not by institutional automatons, but living, breathing, feeling, believing human beings. In its own way, though, each strength is a weakness, and this one in particular can sometimes belie the fact that, every so often, these beings need a breather or a break.

They say I have a bit of influence in these parts, and I know myself well enough to know how intensely bizarre and unmerited that is. But if that's indeed the case, then I'm compelled to put it to good use and remind anyone who needs reminding that we can let no story, no speculation get in the way of the Mystery to which these two weeks provide the run-up, and that living in the news cycle can be an overly convenient distraction, both from What we celebrate, and the work we need to do to prepare for It. As I often ask myself, and with good reason, "How can I do anything worthwhile for anyone else if my bedroom's a mess?"

I doubt this is the case for anyone else. But it is for me, both literally and figuratively.

A commitment to timeliness, accuracy and balance is one thing, but keeping the bedroom clean is, arguably, just as, if not more, important. Because it's been easier to deny this and keep plugging away, I've staved it off in the past. But just as Lent derives from the word for "Spring," I'm far behind on the necessary upkeep, both of room and spirit.

On Ash Wednesday, I promised myself a week's retreat at some point during this season's course. Again, ever the procrastinator, I've finally made good on this -- said downtime began Sunday, and the customary suspension of publication for Holy Week will be observed. Bottom line: don't look for anything new on these pages this side of Easter.

I've always kept a great admiration for those among this readership -- and there are many of them -- who take a Lenten fast from news and, instead, devote that time to an increase in prayer, good works and, most importantly, self-examination. And the latter can sometimes be a bit harder than wondering what the rest are up to, eh?

For my part, what I've come up with so far is that, simply put, I'm tired, tapped-out across the board, and needing to breathe a bit. Keeping on in said state is no way to experience Lent, let alone live the Triduum that marks the essence of who we are and what we do, day in and day out. Much as I'd be keen to trudge through regardless, I know I can't, and trying to do so would be irresponsible -- not to the reportage, but to those things which are even more important.

Candidly, the increase in readership these past months has brought a significant increase in responsibility and the pressures that come with it. (Just as candidly, they haven't brought a correlated increase in financial security, but such is life; I'm still enjoying the ride and never cease to be overwhelmed by it.) While I've done my best to handle these as seamlessly as possible, there's no more better time to step back and be still than this "crowning of the year," whose climax continues to give us life, meaning and hope, just as it once did for the great and intrepid ones who came before us, on whose shoulders we stand, and whose witness we're called to imitate and build upon, that we might see them again one day and join them in the Pasch's fulfillment.

Clearly, you can use the time you'd normally spend perusing these pages doing whatever you will. But, if anyone's taking suggestions, I'd ask that you'd employ those few minutes of your day, week, whatever, for a better purpose, whatever it may be. Two thousand years of commentaries and meditations abound on what we're about to celebrate anew. Any one of those beats whatever you find here by miles, and would be of incredibly more benefit than the daily buzz.

But even more than that, a big part of what makes us who we are is our unique sensibility of being a sacramental people, a lot for whom the seemingly abstract and distant becomes real and, in our midst, is suffused with grace and able to serve as a means of communion, both with those around us and with A Certain Someone Upstairs. In this vein, there are a lot of people out there -- and sometimes we can be so wrapped up with our own pieces of the scenery that, even unconsciously, we lose sight of 'em -- who could use a little boost, a bit of presence, the extension of a kind word or just a bit of time. Sometimes this isn't easy, and sometimes, too, it takes just a tad of sacrifice of self, but along the lines of Sunday's Angelus, it's these hidden moments unknown to the rest that, more often than you'd think, can have a decisive impact on the lives of others. These are the little "yes"ses we're called to give, and most of the time, such is the case that we might not even know we're giving them.

"Give God permission," was Blessed Teresa of Calcutta's famous and frequent advice to others. Whatever you end up doing these next two weeks, there could be no better way for each of us to put a bow around this Lent than to at least step up the effort to do that, in whatever form it might take, for whatever part of our lives where we might need it. In my case, it means a step back, a look around -- and, most of all, a good, long look up as opposed to the hours of downward glances at the keyboard. For what it's worth, I'd like to think that these pages owe their... well, whatever they are to that permission, the grace that has sustained me far beyond my limits to keep saying "yes" to this road, with all its joys and gifts, and all its moments of suffering and loneliness.

I've only realized that this work has been onto something thanks to the gift of all of you: your infinite kindnesses, support, encouragement, candor, wisdom, humor, criticism, friendship, interest in and love for the church and, most of all, the many, many prayers, without which things never would've come this far. It's been a wild ride, an intense one which has been the fount of blessing after unspeakable blessing. And the beauty of it is, no matter where we're at, what we do or how far along the road we find ourselves, we're all in this together. Especially over these days, may we never fail to keep that in mind.

I'm not the best, hardest-working or holiest at what I do or how I live, but I know that I am the luckiest. You know you've got my heartfelt prayers, and remember that I rely ever more on every last drop of the ones you're all so good to send my way.

Thanks as always, and all blessings for the rest of Lent. See you again in a bit and God love you lot forever!


Monday, March 26, 2007

Introducing Father Crunk

Since hearing of him some months back, I've had a keen interest in Fr Ricardo Bailey of the archdiocese of Atlanta, whose multiform ministry's been profiled on the "Today" show and Ebony magazine, among other media hotspots.

Known as "Father Crunk," Bailey, 33, serves as a parochial vicar in a suburban parish and Atlanta's assistant director of vocations. But his claim to fame has come in the form of regular appearances on a Top 40 station's morning drive-time show, where he riffs on pop culture, the news, and whatever else he can weave the Gospel into.

And now -- not soon enough -- Bailey's gotten the BustedHalo treatment.
For those who may be hip-hop impaired, “crunk” is a type of hip-hop music that originated from the South. A fusion of the words ‘crazy’ and ‘drunk,’ “crunk” music is meant to be more high-energy than the typical hip-hop beat. You might not expect the man holding court as “Father Crunk” to be a Catholic diocesan priest, but the 33-year-old, whose real name is Father Ricardo Bailey, is the Parochial Vicar at Holy Spirit Catholic Church and the Assistant Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. A priest for almost four years, the Atlanta native has strived particularly to impact the lives of young adults and he’s willing to meet them where they are, even if it means preaching from the pulpit of Q100, an Atlanta all-hits radio station, where he’s known as “Father Crunk.”

Initially approached by show producers to pray for the parish’s losing high school football team, Father Bailey’s appearance received such a tremendous response from listeners that he was asked to come back for a regular segment. These days, as a regular guest on “The Bert Show,” he uses the Gospel to comment on tabloid fodder and other pop culture obsessions....

BustedHalo: What do you consider is the main challenge facing the Catholic Church today?

Fr. Ricardo Bailey: I believe the challenge facing the Roman Catholic Church today is the continued challenge to be relevant to the wider society as well as continuing to do the work of evangelization. We need to continue to imitate the ethos of the Incarnation that calls all of us as the Body of Christ to enter into the very fabric and essence of the world that we live and work in.

BH: Reaching young adults is a challenge for most religious denominations. What is your strategy?

RB: One of the ways that you reach young adults is to meet them right where they are. However, that means that we do not “water down” the Church’s teachings in any form or fashion, but we use modern images, “baptize” popular music and lingos and then bring the Gospel message in a manner that will not alienate or even make people feel that they are not loved or even welcomed into the Church....

BH: Tell us why the goings-on in Hollywood are prime fodder for your segments.

RB: As the producers of “The Bert Show” say so eloquently, there is so much dysfunction in Hollywood that totally amazes all of us on the other side of the movie and television screen. While it is true that we all are influenced by the way people in Hollywood make decisions and do certain things, we know that it is totally weird. Therefore, rather than scratching our heads and just dismissing it, we try to learn form that dysfunction and apply real lessons that will empower us in our lives to make good and intelligent decisions....

BH: What’s next for “Father Crunk?”

RB: I would say that we all must remember that I am a Roman Catholic priest and I love every minute of that. I intend to keep listening to the Lord and doing what He and my Archbishop (the Reverend [sic] Wilton Gregory) call me to do. I pray that I can serve the Lord and His Church until He calls me home. Therefore, I guess I can say those words that Archbishop John F. Donoghue said to me when he ordained me to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the words said to every new priest when he places his hands in those of the ordaining Bishop: “May the Lord who has begun the good work in you, bring it to fulfillment.”


Blessed Annunciation!

As it's more geared to today than yesterday, and given the prayer's provenance from this feast, here's a translation of Benedict XVI's talk at yesterday's Angelus.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

March 25th recalls the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This year, it coincides with a Sunday of Lent, and is thus celebrated tomorrow. However, I'd like to dwell now on this stupendous mystery of the faith, that we meditate upon each day in the recitation of the Angelus. The Annunciation, recounted at the beginning of the Gospel of St Luke, is a humble occurrence, hidden -- no one sees it, no one knows it, besides Mary -- but at the same time decisive for the history of humanity. When the Virgin says her "yes" to the news of the Angel, Jesus was conceived and with Him began the new age of history, which would be then sanctified in the Pasch as "a new and everlasting Covenant." In reality, the "yes" of Mary is the perfect reflection of that of Christ himself when he entered the world, as the Letter to the Hebrews writes interpreting Psalm 39: "Here, I come -- as is written of me in the scroll -- to fulfill, o God, your will" (Heb 10:7). The obedience of the Son is reflected in the obedience of his Mother and so, in the encounter of these two "yes"es, God was able to take on the face of man. And so the Annunciation is also a Christological feast, celebrating a central mystery of Christ: his Incarnation.

"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to your Word." The response of Mary to the Angel is carried forth in the Church, called to render Christ present in history, offering its own availability that God might continue to visit humanity with his mercy. The "yes" of Jesus and of Mary so renews itself in the "yes" of the saints, especially the martyrs, who've been killed for the cause of the Gospel. I underscore this by recalling that yesterday, 24 March, the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, the Day of prayer and fasting for missionary martyrs was celebrated: bishops, priests, religious men and women and laity taken down in the exercise of their mission of evangelization and human advancement. These missionary martyrs, as this year's theme says, are "hope for the world," as they testify that the love of Christ is stronger than violence and hatred. They didn't seek martyrdom, but were ready to give their lives to remain faithful to the Gospel. Christian martyrdom only justifies itself as the supreme act of love to God and to one's brothers.

In this Lenten season, we more frequently contemplate the Madonna who on Calvary sealed the "yes" pronounced at Nazareth. United to Jesus, the Witness of the Father's love, Mary lived the martyrdom of the soul. Let us invoke her intercession with trust, that the Church, faithful to its mission, gives to the whole world a courageous testimony to the love of God.

Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae....


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Confession On the Comeback?

That's what one Left Coast paper's saying:
Although fewer people sought absolution in the post-Vatican II era, it appears as though confession, also known as the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation, is on the rise in the Diocese of San Bernardino.

The Sacrament of Penance allows Catholics to confess their sins to a priest through a screen in a small closed confessional, under cover of darkness. They were then granted absolution from the priest.

But some things about confession have changed. The pitch-dark stalls of the confessional are mostly a thing of the past. Today, some confessionals have windows and many seeking confession face their priests.

Not all confessions are private anymore, either. Some of the devout partake in communal penance services.

The Rev. Michael Manning, pastor of St. Anthony's Church in San Bernardino, said he has seen the numbers rising at weekly confession services every Saturday and for seasonal penance services....

It isn't just older Catholics who are coming to confession, either. It's a good mix of young and old alike, Manning said.

"I think what's going on is we're living in a world that has become much more sensitive to our spiritual life and afterlife," he said. "The whole challenge of the afterlife is very strong in movies and television, and I think the media is simply mirroring the concerns of people these days. People are realizing they need more.

"There's an awareness of fragility of our own lives, with the war and the accounts of so many people who are dying. The security we once had we don't have any more with the gangs, violence and the war."

Rice agreed and said events such as Sept. 11, 2001, the war in Iraq and the sexual abuse that occurred within the church may be driving people back to confession.

"I think people are just looking for answers as to why these things are going on," she said.
At this morning's Angelus, Pope Benedict announced his presence at an event he was supposed to preside over (but didn't) last year: a communal penance service (Rite II) in St Peter's Basilica, with ample opportunities for individual confession and absolution.

The service is scheduled for this coming Thursday, and the youth of the diocese of Rome were offered the pontiff's special invitation.

It'll be Benedict's first public appearance in "The Box"; the late Pope John Paul II heard the confessions of laymen in the Basilica on most of the Good Fridays of his pontificate.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Scenes From a Sesquicentennial

As you know, last weekend marked the 150th anniversary of the American College Louvain, and quite the party was had.

The ACL site features a wrap-up of the festivities, and the homily (.pdf) given on St Patrick's Day by Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Snips o' Darth:
I want the very celebration of the liturgy in which we are now engaged to give shape to my remarks. We have just heard the Word of God, and we are about to celebrate the Eucharist, and someone ordained in the line of apostolic succession is standing here preaching. Do not these very facts already tell us a great deal about the nature of theology? They do if we reflect on them and let them shape our “way of thinking.”

Sound theology must derive from an awareness of what wonderful mysteries are taking place during the celebration of the liturgy. These wonders begin with the proclamation of the Word. The Word of God recalls the wonderful deeds of God in the history of salvation. But this is not a question of mere memory. Whenever it is proclaimed, the Word of God becomes a new communication of salvation for those who hear it. The event from the past that is proclaimed becomes “event” for the listening assembly. And ultimately all the events of Scripture merge into the one event that encompasses them all; namely, Christ in the hour of his Paschal Mystery. The moment of listening to the Word in the liturgy—the Word which proclaims ultimately the Lord’s death and resurrection—becomes in the very hearing an event of salvation for those who listen, nothing less than the same event which the words proclaim. This is the liturgical reality. But that this is so, and how it can be so, and how we can deepen our understanding of it—all that is the task of theology. Theology thus derives, in part, from the Word of God as read in the liturgy; and it is meant to return us to an ever deeper love and understanding of that Word as we celebrate it in the liturgy. Apostolic preaching—that is, the preaching of the bishop or of the priest or deacon ordained by him—is meant to be the guarantee in the liturgical assembly that this kind of theology is nourishing the Christian people. “The faith that comes to us from the Apostles”!

But that is not all, for in a marvelous way the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which follows the Liturgy of the Word, echoes the pattern of the Word becoming flesh in the mystery of the Incarnation. All the words of the Law and the Prophets become concrete reality in the Word made flesh. Echoing this pattern, the scriptural words proclaimed in the liturgy become sacrament; that is, the ritual actions and words performed around the community’s gifts of bread and wine proclaim in their own way and at an even deeper level—at a more concrete level—the one and only event of salvation: the Lord’s death and resurrection. And they proclaim that past event as the very event of the community’s present celebration. The bread and cup are a “communion,” as St. Paul says, in the body of Christ, in the blood of Christ (1 Cor 10,16). That is, the bread and cup put the celebrating community into participatory relation with the event of salvation history, an hour which does not pass away.

Theology must speak of these things. Theology exists because of these things. The theologian must be capable of understanding them more deeply, explaining them, defending them against error, indicating ways to proclaim them, lifting the community’s minds and hearts up toward them. The Scriptures must be expounded in this way, and not left at the level of an exegetical exercise which explains the text only in its original historical context. All the texts must be brought to the event that encompasses them: the Lord’s death and resurrection. That through the Eucharist about to be celebrated we have communion in the very same death and resurrection—this too must be proclaimed and explained....

It would be my hope—for this seminary and indeed for the whole Church—that doctrine might become a more vital and active dimension of a priest’s ministry and preaching—not doctrine merely as this is usefully discussed in speculative schools and learned writing, but rather this doctrine brought to life by continual nourishment from its eucharistic source, this doctrine as the precise and beautiful formulation of the deepest sense of what is happening in the liturgical assembly when the Word of God is proclaimed and the eucharistic rites are celebrated....

The most important doctrines remain the same through the ages and need to be approached again and again by theology and in our preaching; namely, the divine and human natures of Christ; their union in the divine person of the Son; and the mystery of the Holy Trinity which Christ reveals in his Paschal Mystery. I am not suggesting that theologians and preachers ought simply to stand up and talk more about these things. Rather, I am drawing our attention once again to the fact that these doctrines are the deepest sense of what the Scriptures proclaim and that this deepest sense was discovered precisely when the Scriptures were proclaimed in the liturgical assembly and when the Scriptures became sacrament in the eucharistic rite.

PHOTO: American College of the Immaculate Conception


"Did Jesus Laugh?"

No, that's not the latest basic-cable documentary seeking to air new "shocking discoveries" on the Good Lord in the run-up to Easter, but a question explored in the latest edition of America by its own Jim Martin SJ, continuing his Lenten Crusade for Cheer.

As the thought of Christ being completely human as well as completely divine still causes a tad of discomfort among some of the faithful, and some others get their glee in anger and point-scoring, be forewarned that biases might be challenged (albeit with truth).

The piece is subscribers-only, but here are some snips:
Joy has a distinguished heritage in the Christian spiritual tradition. It is easy for most Christians to imagine someone like St. Francis of Assisi smiling. More recently, Pope John Paul II and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta were often captured by photographers smiling and even laughing. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., said, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” Yet lightheartedness is still an unwelcome guest in some church circles. Many Catholics have met church officials for whom being a religious leader seems to mean being deadly serious. Catholic spiritual writing often focuses on finding God through suffering but far less often on finding God through joy. Some Masses belie the term “celebration.” Are joy, humor and laughter considered inappropriate for serious Catholics? If so, why?...

While the Gospels show Jesus as clever, especially in his telling of the parables, few places in the New Testament present him as humorous. Some scholars suggest that this reflects the predominant Jewish culture, which prized seriousness about God, a topic not to be taken lightly. Yet if the Evangelists were intent on painting an appealing portrait of Jesus, why omit his sense of humor?...

There is no way of knowing how much of Jesus’ humor was expunged from or left out of the Gospels. But Professor Levine noted that Jesus laughs frequently in some noncanonical Gospels. The church fathers, moreover, intent on combating heresy, would likely not have seen the genre of humor as appropriate.
Plus ça change....
In his book Man at Play, published in 1972, Hugo Rahner, S.J., carefully traced the notion of playfulness throughout Greek, Roman and early Christian thought. Rahner noted that while Aristotle encouraged a healthy balance between humor and seriousness, some early Christian writers favored a far more serious approach to life, as they were concerned with facing the dangers of the world and the evils of Satan. St. Paul warned in the Letter to the Ephesians to avoid “smartness in talk.” St. Clement of Alexandria inveighed against “humorous and unbecoming words.” And St. Ambrose said, “Joking should be avoided even in small talk.” St. Augustine, on the other hand, recommended occasional joking, and St. Thomas Aquinas recommended play, opining that there is a virtue in playfulness, since it leads to relaxation.

Father Rahner recognized the need for lightheartedness in the church. In the last chapter of his book, he wrote, “Not everything in our civilization is in the hands of the devil, and thundering from the pulpit is not always in place.”

Just a few years earlier, Elton Trueblood, the Quaker theologian, tackled the topic in his book The Humor of Christ (1964). His analysis of the paucity of humor in the New Testament took a different tack. First, contemporary Christians are overly familiar with the stories and may overlook their inherent humor. He recounted how his four-year-old son heard the Gospel image of the speck of dust in your neighbor’s eye and the log in your own and laughed uproariously.

Trueblood also noted the emphasis the Gospels place on the Passion, with the crucifixion narratives almost overwhelming the Resurrection. Finally, writes Trueblood, there may be a failure of imagination about Jesus of Nazareth. The fact that Jesus wept does not mean he never laughed. He must have laughed, suggests Trueblood, as do most people who tell clever and amusing tales.

Another tantalizing explanation for the dearth of humor and playfulness in the church is advanced by Barbara Ehrenreich in her new book, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. Ehrenreich posits that leaders, particularly in European cultures, were frightened by enthusiasm and collective joy, which they saw as primitive or hedonistic. When the lower classes assembled to enjoy themselves and strengthen their camaraderie and friendship, they often made fun of the ruling class as a way of asserting their own authority and threatening prevailing social structures.

Ehrenreich suggests that the church fathers may have set aside the parts of Jesus’ message that embraced what she calls a “sweet and spontaneous form of socialism” for something more serious. Spontaneity threatens the status quo. Because of the subversive nature of humor, many in authority deemed it unacceptable.
I don't believe that last sentence one bit.
Some residues of humor may still be traceable in the way the Evangelists wrote and edited the Gospels. But as Professor Levine notes, we may be so familiar with these stories that we miss the humor. She points to the story of Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12), who sits in the window ledge of a room where St. Paul is still talking near midnight. Eutychus dozes, falls out the window, drops to the ground and is presumed dead, until Paul examines him, discovers he is alive and continues talking until dawn.

Many Christian saints and blesseds have celebrated humor and laughter, which run like common threads through their lives, disproving the stereotype of the dour saint. In his biography God’s Fool, the French novelist Julien Green speaks of the joy of St. Francis of Assisi that “spilled over into the hearts of thousands of men and women.”

Stories about the humor of saints reach back to the Roman martyrs. In the third century, St. Lawrence, who was burned to death on a gridiron, is said to have called out to his executioners: “Turn me over. I’m done on this side!” Some saints were known specifically for their sense of humor. St. Philip Neri, called “The Humorous Saint,” hung at his door a little sign: The House of Christian Mirth. “Christian joy is a gift from God flowing from a good conscience,” Neri said.

St. Teresa of ávila specifically warned her sisters against a deadly serious religiosity. “A sad nun is a bad nun,” she said. “I am more afraid of one unhappy sister than a crowd of evil spirits.... What would happen if we hid what little sense of humor we had? Let each of us humbly use this to cheer others.” A more contemporary example is Blessed Pope John XXIII, whose most famous sally came when a journalist innocently asked, “Your Holiness, how many people work in the Vatican?” John replied, “About half of them.”

Married Bishops... Now

Last week, at the same time he sent Archbishop Ternyak home to Hungary, the Pope accepted the resignation of the country's military ordinary, Bishop Tamás Szabó.

As is usually the case, the reasons behind the departure of Szabó, 50, were not announced at the time of last week's announcement... but they've since come to light:
Hungary's Catholic military bishop has resigned because he wants to marry a woman he met in the church's renewal movement, media reported Friday....

Szabo told national news agency MTI: "I do not want to talk about my private life, I don't think that is a public matter."
In related news, Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo -- who does think his private life is a public matter (and a very public one, at that) -- has embarked on a monthlong trip to Brazil in advance of Pope Benedict's May trip there to plug his "Married Priests Now!" movement.

After the release of B16's Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation last week, it didn't take long for the excommunicated Zambian prelate to chime in his reaction to the pontiff's reaffirmation of mandatory celibacy for Latin-rite priests; in Sacramentum Caritatis Benedict "reaffirm[ed] the beauty and the importance of a priestly life lived in celibacy as a sign expressing total and exclusive devotion to Christ, to the Church and to the Kingdom of God," and "therefore confirm[ed] that it remains obligatory in the Latin tradition."

From his vacation home in Korea -- the homeland of his wife, Maria Sung, and of his new patron, the Unification church founder Rev Sun Myung Moon -- the controversial cleric said that the Pope "is still in denial about the harm enforced celibacy has done and is doing to the priesthood." True to form, Milingo went provocative, asking "if the Holy Father [is] promoting homosexuality to preserve celibacy for priests" by employing a "nuptial metaphor," which the archbishop ended up misinterpreting to make his point.

Whatever the case, it doesn't seem that Szabó will be joining the group one cleric's nicknamed "Married Milingo Now!"


Restoration... of the "Non-Administrative" Kind

In an attempt to quell the turmoil (#1, #2) of the last 36 hours that's roiled a nacent town in Florida, Ave Maria University president Nicholas Healy sent the following e.mail to his faculty, staff and students early last evening:
We expressed yesterday that the separation of Father Fessio from the University's administration had nothing to do with our shared commitment to our mission as a Catholic university ex corde ecclesiae. As a sign of our esteem for his great gifts and abilities, we have asked Father Fessio and he has agreed to continue a relationship with us. This will include the following:
(i) He will be designated a theologian in residence and maintain a room on campus.

(ii) He will join us for the Commencement exercises.

(iii) He will teach the planned summer program for high school students.

(iv) He will explore a semester abroad program in Rome and how our Austrian semester abroad program might be continued. It is expected that in developing plans for study abroad programs Father Fessio will be spending a significant amount of time in Europe.

(v) It is anticipated that beginning in the spring semester, Father Fessio will assume teaching responsibilities at AMU, although the precise schedule for the teaching hours will need to be worked out.
We are pleased that we can confirm the continuing association with Father Fessio and his commitment to the ongoing development of Ave Maria University in a non-administrative capacity.
Compare and contrast with Wednesday's statement....

Photos of the demonstrations, etc. at this page.

Louis Granato


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Father of Princes and "Kings"

As many of you know, the Pope's Wednesday general audience attracts a catch-all of the world that rivals, if not beats, Times Square.

Not only was that the case again yesterday, but it could possibly be said that it took on a new level given the presence of the legendary boxing promoter Don King -- who, as ever, donned the mitre that God (aided by whoever does King's hair) gave him.

True to form, the impresario of the canvas ended up with a ringside seat for the main event:
"Faith is the thing that carries us through," the 75-year-old King said as he walked through St. Peter's Square, waving Italian and Vatican flags and signing autographs.

Don King Productions spokesman Alan Hopper said the Vatican visit was arranged through a boxer King represents — Italian super welterweight champion Luca Messi, whose brother Alessandro is a Catholic priest.

King was seated in the front row of a special section on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica. He was able to hand the pope the gift and the letter as Benedict drove slowly by in an open jeep at the end of the audience.
"The gift," you ask? A title-belt, of course:

There's no shot of B16 accepting his gift, but by the looks of him, the Fluff was in top form, too:

Especially after the occurrence, however, the question remains: "Who's his next TKO?"

PHOTOS 1-2: Reuters/Dario Pignatelli
PHOTO 3: AP/Pier Paolo Cito


Bishop Smith Goes to Edmonton

At January's end, whilst doing the (ecclesiastical) star-gazing during Archbishop Thomas Collins' installation in Toronto, one couldn't help but notice the bishop of Pembroke standing solidly head and shoulders above the other prelates grouped on either side of the cathedra.

Sure, Richard Smith is tall. But, me being me, I took it as a bit of an omen....

This morning, the Pope named the 47 year-old Smith as archbishop of Edmonton, succeeding the aforementioned TC.

The appointment is but the latest step in a rapid rise for Smith, currently president of the Ontario bishops and also spiritual advisor to Canada's highly-influential Catholic Womens' League (CWL). A native of Halifax, where he served as vicar-general prior to his 2002 appointment to the northern Ontario diocese of 65,000, he was a professor of theology at St Peter's Seminary in London in addition to serving simultaneously as pastor of three communities. A Roman alum, he earned his doctorate in theology from the Greg in 1998.

When Smith addressed the Pope in the name of his confreres on the Ontario ad limina last fall, this readership was advised that the Pembroke prelate "seems to have the makings of a rising star" and "might want to keep an eye on him."

Suffice it to say, message received.

Word from the north deems the appointment an "inspired" one and another Luigian triumph. For his part, the archbishop-elect said this morning that his move "gives rise... to mixed feelings."

Edmonton was moved upon quickly following Collins' January departure for Canada's most-prominent ecclesiastical post. The Pembroke opening is the third one pending in Ontario, alongside the vacant archdiocese of Kingston and the archdiocese of Ottawa, where Archbishop Marcel Gervais has announced that his successor will be in place by June's end.

As Collins' road didn't end in Edmonton, Smith's buzz has already indicated likewise. But that can wait for another time.

Diocese of Pembroke


More from Naples

That's a photo from the ground as published in today's Naples Daily News... and here's the story:
Fessio’s dismissal came one day after recent statements he made were published in an article in the California Catholic Daily titled, “Hey, Hey, Baby Gay! What Do You Do? What Do You Say?”

His statements were also published on March 2 on the personal Web site of one of the country’s preeminent evangelist leaders, the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr.

In the article, Mohler suggested that there was a “possibility that a biological basis for homosexuality may be proven,” the Associated Press reported. Mohler’s argument was endorsed by Fessio.

According to the California Catholic Daily article, “research strongly suggests that sexual preference is biologically determined in animals, and possibly in humans.”

“Same-sex activity is considered disordered,” Fessio said. “If there are ways of detecting diseases or disorders of children in the womb, and a way of treating them that respected the dignity of the child and mother, it would be a wonderful advancement of science.”

University officials wouldn’t comment on the article. It is unclear if Fessio’s statements were connected to his dismissal.

A 4:30 p.m. private convocation was held Wednesday inside Stella Maris, a chapel and multipurpose room, where students and faculty learned more about Fessio’s dismissal.

Students and faculty began gathering earlier Wednesday afternoon to protest the firing at Ave Maria’s interim campus at the Vineyards community in North Naples.

About 100 students prayed outside the student union building, many holding rosaries. A few wept.

Many students said they were upset, especially some seniors who said they wanted to graduate with Fessio present.

“The idea of walking in May without him there is just unbearable,” said Mary Jones, 27, a senior.

Jones and many other students demanded an explanation of why he was fired.

“The father deserves one and the student body deserves an explanation as well,” she said.

After the convocation, Jones was among many students who remained dissatisfied with the lack of specific explanation of why Fessio was fired.

Rebecca Craig, 20, a junior, said that what staff told students and faculty at the private convocation was “meaningless.”

More than 100 students and staff gave a standing ovation, calling for reconsideration.

“I think it’s unanimous we all love Father Fessio,” Anthony Jay, 22, a senior, said.

Jay started praying the first rosary, but soon started crying and couldn’t finish it.

Ave Maria was set to open one phase of its main campus later this year. It will be the first Catholic university in the United States in 40 years.

Garrett Hubbard/Naples Daily News


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Fessio: "A Great Burden... Lifted"

A local paper tracked the ex-provost of the hour down for his first public comment....
“Obviously, I think it was a mistake, but I am not in charge,” [Fessio] said.

Fessio said he was asked to a private meeting this morning with chancellor Tom Monaghan. At the meeting, Fessio said he was asked to resign his position with the school, clear his office and leave campus by the end of the day.

“I asked for a reason but was not given one,” Fessio said....

Fessio said his exit from Ave Maria University should free him up to focus more energy on his other endeavors.

“A great burden has been lifted off my shoulders,” Fessio said.”Now I can pray and work for the Lord’s vineyards in other ways.

“The Lord has a plan. It will be revealed."...

Fessio said he hoped the university would continue moving forward.

“We have attracted some very fine students, both in terms of academics and in their commitment to faith,” Fessio said. “A lot of students came by my office today, and I told them all to just keep doing what they are doing.”

Fessio said his ouster should not be percieved as a sign of further shake-up at the school.

“I’m probably just a lightning rod,” he said. “I tend to stick out in a crowd.”
The hourlong general session of faculty and students took place 90 minutes after a meeting of the new campus' senior staff, at which the university's official statement (found below) was hammered out. A standing-room crowd packed a hall that seats around 300, as university president Nicholas Healy and other top officials offered their reflections. As with the earlier demonstration, the audience was largely pro-Fessio, with two standing ovations given the absent former provost -- the first of which came following a question from the floor asking for his reinstatement.

A senior university official said that one crux of the "irreconcilable differences" cited as the reason for the requested resignation was a divergence on liturgical tastes; Healy and much of his leadership team take their cue from the evangelical Charismatic school of the Franciscan University of Steubenville (to which they maintain close ties), while Fessio's crowd gravitated toward a more solemn manner of ritual. The Jesuit's Latin Masses -- Novus Ordo, celebrated ad orientem -- were reported to have drawn large numbers, while similar crowds were had for monthly Healing Masses celebrated by priest-in-residence Fr Richard McAlear, a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

According to a sign hoisted during the impromptu protest which formed immediately after news of Fessio's ouster broke, the new score in Naples was said to be "Healy 1, Benedict 0."

And speaking of the latter, allies of his pupil communicated the developments to the Holy See shortly after learning of them.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the Holy Father knew [what happened] before going to bed tonight," one said.


Trouble in Naples

Months of tension at the Florida campus of Ave Maria University, the private Catholic institute founded by businessman Tom Monaghan, have come to a head.

A one-line report from points south said it all:

"Fr. Fessio asked by Tom Monaghan to resign. Protest forming by students."

An hour ago (2pm EDT), the following e.mail from Fessio was sent to the university community:
To the Ave Maria University community:

I have been asked to resign my position as provost and leave the campus immediately.

I will miss Ave Maria and the many of you whom I hold dear.

Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
An impromptu protest of students numbering about 50 -- a quarter of the school's student body -- formed in front of the office of university president Nicholas Healy. As the students prayed the Rosary, the group then headed in the direction of Fessio's cabana. Shortly thereafter, their number was placed at 100.

According to a source on the ground, Fessio gave a "tearful" address to the students, then departed.

The Jesuit academic, founder of San Francisco's Ignatius Press and a doctoral student of Joseph Ratzinger was said to be informed of Monaghan's decision this morning. Reportedly, no reason was given for the move.

Background/local coverage here.

SVILUPPO (4.26pm): Ave Maria's PR firm has issued the following statement from the university.
March 21, 2007 -- Father Joseph Fessio, S.J. was asked to step down as Provost of the University as a result of irreconcilable differences over administrative policies and practices.

There has never been any difference in our commitment to our mission or to the Magisterium of the Church. Nor is there any diminishment in our commitment to maintaining the highest quality of scholarship.

We are grateful for the enormous contributions Father Fessio has made to the development of Ave Maria University, especially to the liturgical and intellectual development of the institution. We look forward to him serving the University in an advisory capacity in the future.
A general meeting of faculty and students is slated to begin at 4.30pm local time. Staff have been asked not to speak with the media.

SVILUPPO 2: Further developments in a new post.

SVILUPPO 3: (Thursday, 22 March) "As a sign of... esteem for his great gifts and abilities," AMU announces Fessio's agreement to a "continuing association" with university "in a non-administrative capacity."

Ave Maria University


Benedictine Rule: You Pick Your Successor

On the morning George Niederauer was appointed archbishop of San Francisco, a call from the mound reminded -- as if anyone needed reminding -- that the new pontificate was a whole different ballgame.

"Someone's crying 'round here," the caller said.

Why? Nothing personal, it's just that the die had been cast -- in a break from the practice of the prior regime, departing prelates would get the successors of their choosing.

As you can see, some over there aren't terribly enthused about this development. But fifteen months on, what's clear is that the top of the scorecard now reads three for three.

First, there was Levada's successful push for Niederauer, his classmate and friend of five decades. Then, leaving Mumbai for the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Ivan Dias set the wheels in gear for his former auxiliary Oswald Gracias to head India's largest local church in his stead. And this morning, Cardinal Claudio Hummes OFM exhibited his clout as Pope Benedict named Bishop Odilio Pedro Scherer (pictured), the Clero head's auxiliary in São Paulo, as its new archbishop. The appointment comes in advance of the pontiff's wheels-down in Brazil's largest diocese in early May to open the mega-plenary of the Latin American episcopal conference, the CELAM, at the national sanctuary of Aparecida.

As head of the largest local church in the country that's home to the world's largest Catholic population, the archbishop of São Paulo invariably moves to the front of the line for a cardinal's red hat.

Ordained a bishop in 2001, the 58 year-old archbishop-elect is wrapping a four-year term as general secretary of the Brazilian episcopal conference. In December, Benedict XVI named him to the top leadership of the CELAM plenary. From 1994 until 2001, Scherer served as an official of the Congregation for Bishops, working in a Roman parish and as a chaplain to Franciscan sisters in his spare time.

A Gregorian alum who earned his licentiate in theology in Rome, his appointment to head the archdiocese of São Paulo and its 5.2 million Catholics returns its top post to a secular cleric, ending almost four decades of Franciscan leadership; before Hummes, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns OFM had helmed it for 28 years. Arns' advocacy for the poor made him a favorite of the Pauline era and a revered figure for the worldwide Catholic left.

Archdiocese of São Paulo


Faith, Reason, and Another Moment of Zen

At this morning's general audience, the war on relativism topped the talk:

In a cold morning with few sunny breaks the Pope spoke to 40,000 people who had gathered in St Peter’s Square. He presented again a “great figure of the early Church,” i.e. St Justin from Nablus, philosopher, martyr and the greatest apologist of the 2nd century, “one of those ancient Christian writers who defended Christianity from the heavy accusations levelled by pagans and Jews;” someone who at the same time had “the missionary vision to propose and present the contents of the faith using a language and mental categories that were understandable to his contemporaries.”

Born in the Holy Land around 100 AD, this is what he did. He was a philosopher “who at the end of his long journey in search for the truth found the Christian faith.”

In Rome he founded a school where he taught the Christian religion for free. Denounced for this, he was beheaded around 165 under the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

Justin, the Pope said, “led an implacable critique of the pagan religion and its myths, seen as diabolic tricks on the path of truth.”

In his Apologies Justin illustrated “the divine project of creation and salvation which is realised in Jesus Christ who is the Logos, the creative Reason,” to which each man is participant. It is the same Logos that manifested itself in the Jews and that was present as ‘seeds of truth’ in Greek philosophy.”

Justin, in other words, “marks the decisive option of the ancient Church for Reason rather than the religion of the pagans which Christians viewed as idolatry.” For this reason, John Paul II in his encyclical Fides et ratio called him a “pioneer of positive engagement with philosophical thinking—albeit with cautious discernment [. . .]. Although he continued to hold Greek philosophy in high esteem after his conversion, Justin claimed with power and clarity that he had found in Christianity ‘the only sure and profitable philosophy.’”

Christianity is therefore “the historical manifestation of Logos in its totality. From that follows [the idea] that all that is beautiful that anyone expressed belongs to us Christians,” said the Pope.

In other news, the Pope took a rare Wednesday private audience -- and for a notable group, to boot: the theology faculty of the University of Tübingen, where then-Fr Joseph Ratzinger served for a five-year stint that, arguably, was the most transformative period in his life and thinking.

And, despite his "repeated request," Cardinal Joseph Zen SDB -- Benedict's on-the-ground point-man on things Chinese -- has announced that, for the time being, the pontiff will not accept his age-induced resignation as bishop of Hong Kong.

"His Holiness Benedict XVI has decided that I carry on as the Bishop of Hong Kong and, in that position, do whatever I can to participate in the concerns for the Church in China in collaboration with the Holy See until it will be arranged otherwise," he said.

Zen, head of the 250,000 Catholics in the territory, did not say how long this would mean until he can retire and his spokesman declined to comment.

Nevertheless, Zen said he was willing to obey the Pope's decision.

"Obedience is fundamental duty grounded in our Sacramental Ordination. I look up to the example of St Joseph and submit myself to the will of God," he said, but he called on the Holy See to find his replacement soon.

The Shanghai-born Zen has been at the forefront of the move to improve diplomatic ties with Beijing. In January, the Vatican said it was setting up a permanent commission to handle China affairs.

Given his red hat a year ago this week, the "Viagra of Hong Kong" turned 75 in January.


...The Morning After

Good show, gang, good show.
Great panel last night at St Joe's in Philly alongside Amy Welborn and Grant Gallicho, with Bill McGarvey doing the moderating honors. A bevy of McGarveys, delegation of my own clan, and even my first boss in journalism honored the blogosphere with their presence.

Video should be up shortly -- in the meantime, thanks to everyone who showed, asked some great questions, hung around... etc. etc. etc. Seems a chock-full two-hour-plus program barely scratched the surface.

We should make a tour of it. To everyone on Hawk Hill, all thanks again for a wonderfully memorable, enjoyable evening.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Festina Zeppole!

Oh St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interest and desires. Oh St. Joseph, do asssist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers. Oh St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me, and ask him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for me.
-Ancient Prayer to St Joseph
(say for nine mornings, you'll get whatever you want)

Happy St Joseph's Day to one and all. The image you're seeing at left is the prayercard I was given in sixth grade by one of my guardian angels and keep with me always, and the prayer above is what's found on its reverse.... (The full story on that was put up on this feast last year.)

In the little corner of the world where I was raised -- somewhere, I pray, you'll all get to experience at some point (if, for no other reason, to find that everything you see on The Sopranos is, indeed, real) -- the leitmotif of this onomastico of the patron of the universal church isn't so much marked by thoughts of the wider communion or statues buried upside-down in front of houses on the market, but queues out the bakery doors for the once-a-year goodies known as zeppoli, the St Joseph's Cakes.

Feast your eyes:

No, you can't reach through your monitors and nab one. Maybe one day, but not yet. Sorry. (That's the vanilla creme there -- they also come in ricotta and chocolate-filled varities.)

Leave it to the Italians -- smack in the midst of Lent, these things are downright sinful. Then again, such is the love our people have for the Lord's foster-father that you'd think (and, no lie, some really do) that he was born somewhere in Abruzzi.

We're assimilated enough here that we don't do the custom of saint's days to the extent they do over in the Old Country, but there I was, sitting around the Boss' table earlier today with la suprema, herself, a gaggle of aunts and my Uncle Joe -- my confirmation sponsor, whose name I took -- stuffing my face with the goodness.

"Why did you bring a whole box?" my aunt was asked.

"Rocky'll eat 'em -- just watch," she said.

As you know, I always try to meet the expectations of others. Rarely, however, is it as enjoyable as this.

God love him, my second godfather -- one of the most patient, humble, generous people God's ever gifted the earth with, so good that my father keeps telling him that he's gonna get taken up "body and soul" when his day comes -- has diabetes, and he's not terribly keen on his patronal treats to begin with. But every year without fail, the people of his parish, neighbors, former co-workers, the old ladies he drives to doctor's appointments, etc., all bombard his house with string-wrapped box after string-wrapped box of the Joemas treats.

It's always my custom to visit... and then start chipping away at the intake.

This year, the venue was moved, and my grandmother asked me after Unc left why I didn't remind her that it was her first son-in-law's name day when he was there. So we were treated to ten minutes of "Now you tell me?!"

And then, as she does, she forgot that she forgot and began to pride herself on remembering that she wished him a happy St Joe's.

"See, I don't forget everything."

With stories like that, hopefully you see why I don't like staying on the road for too long.

Now that we've all made our annual donation to Varallo's -- the bakery whose owners literally got to have their cake and eat it, too, buying up 12 rowhouse lots across two streets to build a full-sized villa in a sea of rowhouses (complete with Padre Pio shrine) -- the coast to Holy Week is clear.

Almost, that is; the solemnity of the Annunciation is still at hand... albeit on a delay. As 25 March falls on a Sunday this year and nothing overtakes the Sundays of Lent, the Lord's conception is getting bumped back to the 26th. Coupled with today's observance missing its first vespers in light of the Sunday precedence and next week's doing the same, by force of rubric 2007's mid-Lent celebrations are a bit more subdued... not to mention that we haven't come up with an Annunciation Day pastry.


Still, it could be worse -- there are those years (rare though they are) when the Annunziata's proper date falls in Holy Week and our Savior's gestation calendar gets completely thrown off. In those cases, the solemnity is pushed all the way back to the Monday of the Second Week of Easter. Of course, though, the Gift of Gifts still arrives in time for the end of the December shopping season.

Hope all you Joes and Josephines out there had a beautiful feast -- and remember well that the Fluff (Happy Joe that he is) is in your midst....

Buon onomastico, Santo Padre -- Blessed Joemas to all!


Levada: Ma Vie en Rouge

A year ago this week, at the first consistory of his "serene and luminous" pontificate, the CDF Pope completed one of the more remarkable ascendancies in recent Vatican history by conferring his first red hat on William Levada, his successor at the Holy Office and the highest-ranking American ever to serve in the administration of the universal church.

Almost two years after the famous 3 May 2005 private audience in which Levada was offered the job, not a few still find themselves trying to get over the new Pope's selection of the former archbishop of San Francisco to take his place as the top guardian of church teaching. And it hasn't gone unnoticed, either, that Cardinal Ratzinger's cherished top two aides at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- the secretary Archbishop Angelo Amato SDB, and the undersecretary Fr Augustine DiNoia OP, also an American -- have so far remained at Palazzo del Sant'Uffizio as opposed to pushing the Ratzinger revolution forward at higher rank in the other dicasteries of the Roman Curia.

Then again, with the cardinal-prefect having spent 18 months settling into the office where he served as a staffer from 1976-82, the gifts for his lieutenants will likely be in the offing sooner rather than later. Still, again, it's been historic; if you told someone a couple years back that two of the CDF's three top posts would soon be held by Yanks, you would've been looked at funny. That it's happened serves to burnish Benedict's trailblazer cred, and that he's got a keener eye on things US than some might think... and also than some might like.

Continuing his cycle through the media gauntlet -- begun last month with an extended interview for a Belgian journal -- the successor of the "Grand Inquisitors" of old talked to CNS' John Thavis in Rome on a variety of topics, including the abuse crisis (for which the CDF has particular competence), the challenge of addressing new developments in technology and bioethics, and most especially his first "Notification," released hours before the interview concerning the Basque theologian Jon Sobrino SJ.
The study of Father Sobrino's works began well before Cardinal Levada arrived at his position, at a time when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict XVI -- was at the helm of the doctrinal congregation.

On March 15, the congregation said some of Father Sobrino's writings on the nature of Christ were "erroneous or dangerous" and conflicted with church doctrine.

Cardinal Levada said Father Sobrino was given ample opportunity to consider and respond to the critical review.

"The congregation works very slowly in reviewing a theologian's work, perhaps too slowly in many respects. It attempts to guarantee fairness for the theologian and put aside any idea that somebody is being railroaded," the cardinal said.

Theologians under review can have their own theological or canonical adviser. Any critique is based not on anonymous accusations but on the theologian's published works or public statements.

"Often the question is whether a theologian really believes something that is contrary to the faith, or whether he has expressed his thinking badly or partially," Cardinal Levada said.

Ultimately these questions are examined by a group of theological peers that routinely advise the congregation, then by the cardinal and bishop members of the congregation, and finally by the pope for his final judgment, the cardinal said.

"We don't publicize this process, because in some instances, I say gratefully, we have not had to come to a public notification. If a theologian acknowledges an error or a too-partial presentation and agrees to make an adequate correction in a subsequent book or article, then we'll consider the matter closed," he said.

So far, the cardinal said, that has not been the case with Father Sobrino, and so a public warning was necessary. Although Father Sobrino is 69 and currently not teaching, he remains an influential voice in Catholic theology, Cardinal Levada said.

"New generations of theologians and young believers need to have an accurate understanding of what the faith is. And here is a well-known, prominent Catholic theologian who does not give an accurate understanding of the faith, and we think someone has to correct it," he said....

With a permanent staff of only 36 people, the congregation is limited in what it can tackle at any one time. That's one reason documents and decisions are not churned out quickly, but take years to develop.

Currently, for example, the congregation is re-examining bioethics developments with an eye to updating its landmark 1987 instruction, "Donum Vitae" ("The Gift of Life").

"The principles of 'Donum Vitae' remain entirely valid, but there are new questions posed by technology and research -- in stem cells, to give just one example," Cardinal Levada said.

A separate question under study by the congregation is natural law, the term the church uses to describe the set of universal ethical or moral truths that form a common ground for all religious faiths and political systems.

Rather than embark on a new document, the congregation wrote to Catholic universities around the world asking them to focus their academic resources on the question of natural law, by sponsoring symposiums and other events. The idea was to get centers of Catholic learning involved in promoting a concept that is essential to understanding the church's position on issues like abortion, marriage, human rights and religious violence.

In dealing with fundamental issues of faith, Cardinal Levada said, the congregation must look sometimes at questions related to evangelization in the modern world: Is announcing the Gospel of Christ somehow an imposition on people?...

Pope Benedict, of course, can help set the agenda. Cardinal Levada meets with the pope almost every week, and said he finds the pontiff "keenly interested" in details of the congregation's affairs. But the pope also respects the autonomy of the prefect, he said.

"He's very interested in these things, but he does not try to micromanage in any sense. I take into consideration any indications he wants to give. But it's not like I'm looking over my shoulder," the cardinal said....

Since 2001, by decision of Pope John Paul II, the doctrinal congregation has been responsible for the handling of cases of clerical sex abuse against minors. That created an enormous amount of new work, and the congregation's disciplinary section had to be expanded.

Cardinal Levada said many cases are still being processed, but the number is finally tapering off.

"I think you could say the crisis dimensions (of the case load), caused by the situation in the United States, are behind us," he said.

A native of California, Cardinal Levada was archbishop of San Francisco for 10 years before the pope called him to Rome. He had one big advantage coming into the job: He had worked on the staff of the doctrinal congregation in 1976-82 and had been a bishop-member since 2000.

The cardinal studied with a language tutor after returning to Rome and found that his Italian came back nicely. That's important, he said, because most of the routine business is handled in Italian.
In his travels, the cardinal-prefect gave the closing talk at the biennial seminar for US bishops on bioethics last month in Dallas. Levada returns to the States next month, this time to receive an honorary doctorate from Cleveland's John Carroll University, where he'll give his first major talk since leaving for Rome and the congregation.

The title of the 24 April lecture is already circulating: "Where Do I Find Hope?"



The Answer Is Blowin' in... The Tablet

So the world press really went to town on the whole JP + Dylan = Ratzi No-No bit. While much of the inkage was either straight accounts or a blurb in the gossip sections, leave it to my paper to break the mould, and gratefully so.

This week's Tablet top feature comes from committed Dylanite/rockstar/editor of BustedHalo Bill McGarvey, whose affinity for both His Bobness and His Holiness is no secret.
For Catholics like me - and, trust me, there are millions of us - who have been profoundly moved, nourished and simply entertained by Dylan's music and countless other elements of pop culture, the Pope's comments were baffling and distressing. Fortunately, the then Cardinal Ratzinger's arguments did not win the day back in 1997 and Dylan appeared as scheduled. Of course John Paul II used the event to his advantage (as he so often did), engaging people by preaching about the movement of the Holy Spirit using Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" as his metaphor.

It is a strange feeling today to be part of a faith community whose leadership does not seem to value the cultural sensibilities of a considerable portion of its flock. For a Pope who has such a deep devotion to the works of such a classical giant as Mozart to have so little appreciation for one of the most important figures in twentieth- and twenty-first-century music is troubling and points to a lack of understanding of the scores of spiritual seekers - of which Dylan is a charter member - whose faith journeys might be somewhat messy. Benedict's apparent suspicion of popular culture is a sad reminder that the Church sometimes has a tin ear with regard to the endless ways that the Holy Spirit continually operates within culture to help us recognise the sacred in the most unexpected places....

Other artists who I became passionate about seemed, like Dylan, to be pilgrims completely alive to the world. In my mind, this was true discipleship. At a time in my life when my capacity to feel far outstripped my abilities to understand and articulate, the music not only spoke to me; in a way it spoke for me.

It spoke of hope: "Oh the fishes will laugh/ As they swim out of the path/ And the seagulls they'll be smiling./ And the rocks on the sand/ Will proudly stand,/ The hour that the ship comes in" ("When the Ship Comes In"). It talked of love: "Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm,/ When the rivers freeze and summer ends,/ Please see if she's wearing a coat so warm,/ To keep her from the howlin' winds" ("Girl From the North Country").

In retrospect, although I was raised a Catholic, I now realise that my first religious experience came through music. I had no illusions that any of the artists who moved me were "prophets", much less gods. I did however have a sense that through them I was able to catch some refracted ray of truth - something universal that can be hinted at only in great works of art.
McGarvey will, of course, be coming home to moderate tomorrow night's blogfest on Hawk Hill.


"Why Am I Always On a Plane or a Fast Train?"

Forgive the absences; the scurrying up and down the Northeast Corridor continues....

Back from DC -- sweet crowd, great time and an honor to share the stage with three great minds of today's scene last night. Thanks to everyone who showed and hung around; it's always a joy to be back on the calm and picturesque shores of "Lake Jordan."

Now, a quiet evening of posting before tomorrow at St Joe's and Thursday in Wilmington.

Then... crash. And Youngstown. And my sister's Super Sweet 21st. And, finally, the Week that is Holy. And quiet. And moving to no end.

On a side note, I know I've been terribly lackluster in acknowledging many, many notes, e.mails, etc., each of which is a gift and many of which have contained gifts. Then again, being lackluster in most things, it's par for the course. Until I get all of the thank-yous shipped out, know that I've been taking a backpack full of the kind words on the road, doing my best to scribble out what I can when I can. Just reading such kindness means more than any of you who've sent it in so many ways could ever imagine.

In the meantime, hope your Lenten journeys are going well. Before you know it, we'll be There.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Louvain at 150

This weekend, a good bit of the traveling scene has descended on the heart of Belgium to celebrate the sesquicentenary of the American College of the Immaculate Conception at the Catholic University of Louvain.

On 19 March 1857, the college's history says that the bishops of the United States established it "with the dual purpose of training young European men to serve as missionary priests in North America and of offering to American seminarians the philosophical and theological riches available at Europe's oldest Catholic university." While the founding of the American College preceded that of its Roman counterpart by almost three years, as with many sibling relationships, the elder plays the role of the unassuming, low-profile one.

Topping the list of attendees are two princes of the church: Cardinals William Levada, prefect of the CDF, and Godfried Danneels of Mechelen- Brussels, each of whom is presiding at celebratory liturgies. At this afternoon's civic reception, Levada appeared in his cardinalatial ferraiolo and biretta, while Danneels donned a simple overcoat over his house cassock. Also in for the weekend is Archbishop Karl-Josef Rauber, nuncio to Brussels and -- even more importantly -- fifth widow of Benelli.

The festivities began yesterday, as ACL rector Fr Kevin Codd defended his doctoral dissertation in ecclesiastical history. Appropriately enough for a priest of Spokane, it's a study of the role played by missionaries trained at the college in the birth of the church in the Pacific Northwest from 1857 to 1907. Having held the rector's post since 2001, at the end of his term in July Codd will be succeeded by Fr Ross Schecterle, a priest of Milwaukee currently on the formation team at the college's younger, better-known sibling.

Representing the American hierarchy are Bishops Tod Brown of Orange, his auxiliary Dominic Mai Luong and Luong's fellow New Orleanean, Crescent City auxiliary Roger Morin. None are Louvain alums -- an episcopal caucus that got a recent boost with the appointment of Morin's new collaborator, NO auxiliary Shelton Fabre (Class of '89).

Other living bishop-graduates of the American College include Archbishop Patrick Pinder ('79) of Nassau in the Bahamas, Bishops Edward Braxton ('75) of Belleville, Robert Mulvee, emeritus of Providence, auxiliary of Manchester Francis Christian ('68) and David Ricken ('80) of Cheyenne. A onetime staffer at Clero, Ricken's been called a rising star among the US bishops; he serves as chair of Louvain's de facto board of trustees, the USCCB's Committee for the American College.

Arguably, however, the college's greatest legacy to the church in the US remains its formation of the cleric considered the most influential figure in the four-century history of American Catholicism.

By his own admission, it was at the American College that Fulton J. Sheen first desired the episcopacy, saying a Hail Mary to that end at each of the Seven Dolors painted on the wall of the city's St Michael's Church whenever he passed. There, he earned the university's highest degree -- the famed agrégé -- and with the highest distinction, to boot.

Returning to his native land, his prayers eventually answered, the captivating prelate took to the airwaves, serving to eviscerate almost singlehandedly what remained of centuries of prejudice and confusion that plagued the church in this land, so completing the journey of American Catholics from the suspicion and persecution of the ghetto to the confidence and clout of the cultural mainstream.

"There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church," the product of Peoria who became a New Yorker once said. "There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing."

Sure, they may remember Erasmus more fondly and more often ten miles outside Brussels. But for the church in the States, Sheen was Louvain's richest yield. His cause for beatification continues, and here's a clip of the great one in the work.

In thanksgiving for a century and a half of many gifts, all wishes to the ACL community for a very Happy Anniversary.

American College of the Immaculate Conception


Patsmas Joy... and Grief

To the children of Eire scattered across the sod o' the earth, a blessed and happy St Patrick's Day.

For what it's worth, it'd normally be more blessed and happy here in the East if we weren't digging out from a freak snow and ice storm yesterday.... So much for the rite of spring, clearly, but the 246th parade has stepped off in New York. And the photo above comes from Savannah, Georgia, another venerable Irish settlement that's home to the US' second-largest parade -- now in its 184th year.

(Trivia for you: such is Savannah's Irish cred that it's got an FBI bishop, the Cork-bred Kevin Boland... whose brother, Bishop Raymond Boland, led the diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph until his retirement in 2005... and the diocese of Birmingham before that... which is currently awaiting a new bishop... but won't be waiting much longer.)

...and, yes, the Chicago River went green again. Viz:

Yet, for all that, one bit of news in the paper this morning was especially hard to believe. It's not raining here, but the word was enough to put a damper on the day.

Seemingly since time immemorial here in the River City, the Irish community has been nourished and championed by its longtime chief chaplain, Fr Kevin Trautner, whose silver jubilee as a priest was honored with his turn as grand marshal of the city's St Patrick's Day Parade in 1999.

Two days after marching in Philadelphia's parade, Fr Trautner died of a heart attack at 59 on Tuesday. In a stroke of timing that'd be incredible if it weren't so heart-rending, the faithful gathered and the pipes swilled at his suburban parish on this St Patrick's Day, not to mark the feast Trautner loved so much, but his Mass of Christian Burial.

May the choirs of angels lead him into Paradise... and all the harps of Heaven be strumming at full tilt.

PHOTO 1: AP/Stephen Morton
PHOTO 2: Reuters/John Gress