Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Addio, Bevy -- Amid a Storm, Philadelphia Cardinal Dies at 88

He was the ultimate man of the law. How bitter the irony, then, that his days would end under a cloud of court scrutiny.

At 9.15 tonight, Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua -- Seventh Archbishop of Philadelphia, founder of the Catholic world's first diocesan ministry dedicated to the pastoral care of migrants, arguably the father of modern canon law in the United States -- died in his sleep at his apartment at the city's St Charles Borromeo Seminary.

Retired since 2003, the cardinal was 88. He had been suffering from cancer and dementia over recent years.

Born in Brooklyn to Italian immigrants who would raise ten children, the future cardinal's grit, smarts and relentless work-ethic singled him out from an early age. Known as "Tough Tony" to his seminary students and "Bevy" among friends, his sense of discipline and prominent hatred of cheese often concealed a softer side, one that led him to night school in his 50s to study for a civil law degree in order to serve the needs of a new generation of migrants.

Ordained in 1949 and named chancellor of Brooklyn in 1976, Bevilacqua became an auxiliary to Bishop Francis Mugavero in 1980, was tapped to lead the diocese of Pittsburgh three years later, and in late 1987, was introduced as the successor to John Cardinal Krol as head of the 1.5 million-member Philadelphia church.

Blessed John Paul II elevated Bevilacqua to the College of Cardinals at the consistory of 28 June 1991, conferring on him the title of St Alphonsus on Via Merulana, the mother-church of the Redemptorists. Eight years earlier, his star had been set on its trajectory after the then-auxiliary spearheaded the American implementation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, followed quickly by his successful mediation in the case of Mary Agnes Mansour, a Michigan nun who stoked the local hierarchy's protest by taking an appointment as head of a state agency. (Under the agreement, Mansour was released from her community and remained at the department's helm.)

For all the light of his seemingly omnipresent, fiercely energetic prime, significant shadows would come to envelop Bevilacqua's 15-year tenure over the decade following his retirement.

Over a five-year span, two Philadelphia grand juries would excoriate his administration's handling of allegations of clergy sex-abuse, the second of them indicting his longtime head of clergy personnel, Msgr William Lynn, whose trial on charges of conspiracy and child endangerment is scheduled to begin in March.

While neither panel would ultimately indict the cardinal, the 2011 grand jury indicated that it "reluctantly decided not to recommend charges" against him.

Saying it had "no doubt that his knowing and deliberate actions during his tenure as archbishop also endangered thousands of children in the Philadelphia archdiocese," the inquest declined an indictment in light of Bevilacqua's delicate health and "lacking" substantiation that the cardinal "was aware of all of the information that Msgr. Lynn received."

Not expected to any imminent extent, Bevilacqua's death comes a day after a city judge reaffirmed a ruling that deemed the cardinal as competent to testify at the combined trial for Lynn and three suspended or laicized clerics accused of abuse. Though he had been deposed by lawyers over two days last November in a session recorded at his seminary apartment, the bench's Monday ruling did not rule out calling Bevilacqua to testify in court.

His long-formidable physical and mental strength initially rocked by the double blow of retirement and the first grand jury -- before which he was summoned to testify a dozen times -- the famously high-profile prelate lived in isolation over his final decade, only appearing on occasion at diocesan events, and largely sealed off even from most of his longtime personal friends.

For a certain cherished few, though, the fold-up notes would still come in that inimitable flowing hand, even as it got shakier with time.

Eventually, these, too, would come to their end... and now, at the close of it all, it's hard to think of anything other than how the pain of what happened, both along the way and since, is just a tragedy all around.

* * *
According to reports, seminarians at the Overbrook house first learned of the cardinal's death by the tolling bell, summoning them to St Martin's Chapel to receive the news and for a communal recitation of the Rosary. As late reports burned up cellphones and the internet, a TV news helicopter hovered over St Charles' Faculty Wing as Bevilacqua's body was carried out and placed in a hearse, the auxiliary bishops and archdiocesan officials looking on. (Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. is currently away from the archdiocese.)

Likely to include some delicate calls given the controversies of recent years, funeral arrangements are pending. Bevilacqua had, however, chosen his burial niche in the crypt of the Cathedral-Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul at the time of his retirement. And in the meanwhile, all of six weeks since the River City church bade an affectionate farewell to its most beloved of sons, it bears noting that no American see -- or, for that matter, Catholicism writ large on these shores -- has ever witnessed the sendoffs of two cardinals in so short a space of time.

As ever, more to come.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

On the Authority of God

Drawing as ever from this Sunday's readings, B16's food for thought at today's Angelus....
Dear brothers and sisters!

This Sunday's Gospel (Mk 1.21 to 28) presents us with Jesus, on the Sabbath day, as he preached at the synagogue at Capernaum, the small town where Peter and his brother Andrew lived on the lake of Galilee. In his teaching, which arouses the wonder of the people, following the liberation of "a man with an unclean spirit" (v. 23), who recognizes in Jesus as the "saint of God," that is, the Messiah. In a short time, his fame spread throughout the region, which he travels announcing the Kingdom of God and healing the sick of all kinds: word and deed. St. John Chrysostom observes how the Lord "alternates [his] speech for the benefit of those who listen, moving on from wonders to words and again passing from the teaching of his doctrine to miracles" (Hom. on Matthew 25, 1: PG 57, 328).

The word that Jesus speaks to men immediately opens access to the will of the Father and the truth about themselves. It was not so, however, for the scribes, who struggled to interpret the Holy Scriptures with countless reflections. Furthermore, to the efficacy of the word, Jesus united the signs of deliverance from evil. St. Athanasius observes that "commanding and driving out demons is not human but divine work ', in fact, the Lord "distanced men from all diseases and infirmities. Who, seeing his power ... still doubted that he was the Son, the Wisdom and Power of God? " (Oratio de Incarnatione Verbi 18:19: PG 25, 128 BC.129 B). Divine authority is not a force of nature. It is the power of the love of God who created the Universe and, in becoming incarnate in His only begotten Son, in coming down to our humanity, heals the world corrupted by sin. Romano Guardini writes: "The whole life of Jesus is a translation of power in humility ... Here is the sovereignty that lowers itself to the form of a servant" (Power, Brescia 1999, 141,142).

For man, authority often means possession, power, control, success. For God, however, authority means service, humility, love; it means entering into the logic of Jesus who stoops to wash the disciples' feet (cf. Jn 13.5), who seeks the true good of man, who heals wounds, who is capable of a love so great as to give up his life, because he is Love. In one of her Letters, Saint Catherine of Siena writes: "We must see and know, in truth, with the light of faith, that God is the supreme and eternal Love, and desires nothing else but our good."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

On Gotham's Feast, Scarlet Timbits

It might be another 23 days 'til the Scarlet Bowl -- that is, B16's induction of 22 new members into his "Senate" -- but given today's onomastico of the archbishop of New York, it seems fitting to mark St Timothy's Day by debuting the elevated arms of the soon-to-be Cardinal Dolan.

On his impending reception of the red hat, the Tenth Archbishop of the place the Vatican views as the "Capital of the World" will become the eighth occupant of St Patrick's Cathedral to join the Sacred College in the footsteps of John McCloskey -- the first cardinal created across the Atlantic -- who received his biretta in Fifth Avenue's Downtown predecessor in 1875.

For purposes of context, Canada's first ecclesial "prince," Archbishop Elzear-Alexandre de Taschereau of Quebec, was elevated in 1886, and Latin America's founding cardinal, Rio de Janiero's Joaquim Arcoverde de Albuquerque Cavalcanti, got his galero in 1905.

Speaking of history, the Stateside church reaches a very significant milestone at next month's Consistory -- come the elevation of Dolan and Cardinal-designate Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore, the Bronx and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, the number of all-time cardinals from these shores will stand at 51.

Given O'Brien's precedence on Benedict's biglietto of nominees -- which puts him in line to receive his red hat first -- he technically enjoys the distinction of becoming the 50th American cardinal. There is, however, a quintessentially Roman flip-side: as the successor of Foley is likely to be made a cardinal-deacon by virtue of his Vatican post, as a residential archbishop, Dolan will enjoy the higher rank of a cardinal-priest... at least, for the next decade.

While each member of the College carries equal responsibilities and privileges, cardinal-deacons may seek to enter the presbyteral class after ten years. From the US, Cardinals Avery Dulles, William Levada, "His Foleyness," Raymond Burke and Francis Stafford were likewise elevated into the diaconal rank over recent years; the latter was bumped up in 2008 after passing the 10th anniversary of his elevation.

As if the USCCB president didn't already have enough to celebrate these days, Dolan turns 62 on February 6th. The cardinal-designate is currently in the Holy Land on a pre-elevation retreat with a group of New York priests.

* * *
To weightier matters, the leitmotif of Dolan's Red Dawn has found itself colored by an unexpected thread in the wake of last Friday's Obama administration move to mandate coverage of contraceptives in benefit plans over the religious-freedom objections of a broad spectrum of Catholic leadership, joined by that of other faith-based groups.

Of course, the Gotham prelate quickly took the lead in voicing a reaction he later described as "terribly let down, disappointed and disturbed." Asked earlier this week by a Big Apple TV outlet whether the move had roiled the already-turbulent waters between the bishops and the White House, as perhaps only he could, Dolan shot back that "You bet we got a disagreement."

The question came in the context of a Tuesday night lecture sponsored by Fordham University's Law School, its planned venue swapped for a hall at Lincoln Center in light of a heavier than anticipated crowd.

Given his pre-consistory schedule, the cardinal-designate's talk on "Law and the Gospel of Life" is likely to be the lone major speech of Dolan's transition into the College. Along those lines -- and especially given the heightened interest thanks to both the red hat and conscience battle -- you'd think that a high-profile Northeastern Jesuit university would have the resources and gumption to somehow share the event with a wider audience in ways beyond a bare-bones press release.

Yet as, for whatever reason, a touch of savvy seems to have eluded the Rose Hill mix, here's Dolan's prepared text:

Along the way, before heading to Washington for Monday's March for Life, the cardinal-designate tied a pressing state of poverty into the pro-life equation, launching a diocesan-wide food drive during his Sunday Mass at St Patrick's.

“I just challenge everybody: Put another chair at your table and feed somebody who’s hungry,” Dolan said.

In an earlier aside, though, noting the food baskets that had been brought up during his cathedral liturgy, the cardinal-to-be couldn't help but remark that "I’ve been distracted by that can of chili all during Mass."


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"An Integral Element" -- For Communications Day, B16 Leads With "Silence"

Keeping with the Vatican's longtime custom on today's feast of the patron of writers and journalists, St Francis de Sales, this Roman Noon brings the release of Pope Benedict's message for the church's 46th World Communications Day, this year's B16-picked focus on the need for silence in effective communications work alongside that of words.

In this relentless age of digital media, suffice it to say, making space for the former can often feel like the greatest challenge of all.

While the pontiff's reflection on the topic rolled out this morning -- and the next Day's theme is always announced on the preceding 29 September feast of the Archangels -- this year's World Communications Day doesn't actually occur until May 20th: always the Sunday before Pentecost, now celebrated in most of the global church as the transferred solemnity of the Ascension.

Moreover, "that the varied apostolates of the church with respect to the media of social communication may be strengthened effectively," a call for an observance on their role to be held "each year in every diocese of the world" was the lone initiative of its kind to be agreed upon by the Fathers of Vatican II, as sketched out in the Council's decree on the media, Inter Mirifica (par. 18).

Here below, the Pope's WCD fulltext.

* * *



24 JANUARY 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As we draw near to World Communications Day 2012, I would like to share with you some reflections concerning an aspect of the human process of communication which, despite its importance, is often overlooked and which, at the present time, it would seem especially necessary to recall. It concerns the relationship between silence and word: two aspects of communication which need to be kept in balance, to alternate and to be integrated with one another if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved. When word and silence become mutually exclusive, communication breaks down, either because it gives rise to confusion or because, on the contrary, it creates an atmosphere of coldness; when they complement one another, however, communication acquires value and meaning.

Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible. It is often in silence, for example, that we observe the most authentic communication taking place between people who are in love: gestures, facial expressions and body language are signs by which they reveal themselves to each other. Joy, anxiety, and suffering can all be communicated in silence – indeed it provides them with a particularly powerful mode of expression. Silence, then, gives rise to even more active communication, requiring sensitivity and a capacity to listen that often makes manifest the true measure and nature of the relationships involved. When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary. Deeper reflection helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge. For this to happen, it is necessary to develop an appropriate environment, a kind of ‘eco-system’ that maintains a just equilibrium between silence, words, images and sounds.

The process of communication nowadays is largely fuelled by questions in search of answers. Search engines and social networks have become the starting point of communication for many people who are seeking advice, ideas, information and answers. In our time, the internet is becoming ever more a forum for questions and answers – indeed, people today are frequently bombarded with answers to questions they have never asked and to needs of which they were unaware. If we are to recognize and focus upon the truly important questions, then silence is a precious commodity that enables us to exercise proper discernment in the face of the surcharge of stimuli and data that we receive. Amid the complexity and diversity of the world of communications, however, many people find themselves confronted with the ultimate questions of human existence: Who am I? What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope? It is important to affirm those who ask these questions, and to open up the possibility of a profound dialogue, by means of words and interchange, but also through the call to silent reflection, something that is often more eloquent than a hasty answer and permits seekers to reach into the depths of their being and open themselves to the path towards knowledge that God has inscribed in human hearts.

Ultimately, this constant flow of questions demonstrates the restlessness of human beings, ceaselessly searching for truths, of greater or lesser import, that can offer meaning and hope to their lives. Men and women cannot rest content with a superficial and unquestioning exchange of skeptical opinions and experiences of life – all of us are in search of truth and we share this profound yearning today more than ever: "When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals" (Message for the 2011 World Day of Communications).

Attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God. In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives. It is hardly surprising that different religious traditions consider solitude and silence as privileged states which help people to rediscover themselves and that Truth which gives meaning to all things. The God of biblical revelation speaks also without words: "As the Cross of Christ demonstrates, God also speaks by his silence. The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the incarnate Word …. God’s silence prolongs his earlier words. In these moments of darkness, he speaks through the mystery of his silence" (Verbum Domini, 21). The eloquence of God’s love, lived to the point of the supreme gift, speaks in the silence of the Cross. After Christ’s death there is a great silence over the earth, and on Holy Saturday, when "the King sleeps and God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages" (cf. Office of Readings, Holy Saturday), God’s voice resounds, filled with love for humanity.

If God speaks to us even in silence, we in turn discover in silence the possibility of speaking with God and about God. "We need that silence which becomes contemplation, which introduces us into God’s silence and brings us to the point where the Word, the redeeming Word, is born" (Homily, Eucharistic Celebration with Members of the International Theological Commission, 6 October 2006). In speaking of God’s grandeur, our language will always prove inadequate and must make space for silent contemplation. Out of such contemplation springs forth, with all its inner power, the urgent sense of mission, the compelling obligation "to communicate that which we have seen and heard" so that all may be in communion with God (1 Jn 1:3). Silent contemplation immerses us in the source of that Love who directs us towards our neighbours so that we may feel their suffering and offer them the light of Christ, his message of life and his saving gift of the fullness of love.

In silent contemplation, then, the eternal Word, through whom the world was created, becomes ever more powerfully present and we become aware of the plan of salvation that God is accomplishing throughout our history by word and deed. As the Second Vatican Council reminds us, divine revelation is fulfilled by "deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them" (Dei Verbum, 2). This plan of salvation culminates in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the mediator and the fullness of all revelation. He has made known to us the true face of God the Father and by his Cross and Resurrection has brought us from the slavery of sin and death to the freedom of the children of God. The fundamental question of the meaning of human existence finds in the mystery of Christ an answer capable of bringing peace to the restless human heart. The Church’s mission springs from this mystery; and it is this mystery which impels Christians to become heralds of hope and salvation, witnesses of that love which promotes human dignity and builds justice and peace.

Word and silence: learning to communicate is learning to listen and contemplate as well as speak. This is especially important for those engaged in the task of evangelization: both silence and word are essential elements, integral to the Church’s work of communication for the sake of a renewed proclamation of Christ in today’s world. To Mary, whose silence "listens to the Word and causes it to blossom" (Private Prayer at the Holy House, Loreto, 1 September 2007), I entrust all the work of evangelization which the Church undertakes through the means of social communication.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2012, Feast of Saint Francis de Sales



Sunday, January 22, 2012

"It Is Not Weakness To Show Compassion... But Clear We Must Be"... Immediately

For the 37th year running, Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception pushed the fire-code to its limit tonight as the National Vigil for Life kicked off in advance of tomorrow's March, marking the the Supreme Court's 22 January 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.

The nation's largest church packed in with nearly 20,000 people (and an overflow crowd downstairs), by longtime custom, the presiding duties for the evening Mass fell to the US bishops' chair for Pro-Life Activities, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, making his final turn at the rite of his three-year term. Come autumn, the key committee seat -- invariably held by a cardinal in reflection of its prominence -- will be taken up by Boston's Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap., who'll lead the commemoration of Roe's 40th anniversary.

Four years after his first March-day preach from the Shrine pulpit -- and two days since the controversial White House decision mandating contraceptive coverage in benefit plans for religious institutions -- here's fullvid of the Southern cardinal's homily... which, given his chairmanship's coming close, doubled as a farewell to the post:

Come liturgy's end, the Shrine traditionally becomes the capital's largest hostel for the night, as pilgrims with nowhere else to go camp out on every available inch of its extensive floor-space.

On a scheduling note, much as tonight's opening Mass is traditionally the main pre-March draw, this year's might just find a rival in its morning counterpart -- the USCCB President, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, will celebrate and preach the Vigil's closing Mass early tomorrow.



"Suffering Is the Thread" -- For Philadelphia and Beyond, Chaput's Keys to Life

Prominent as he's become over recent years, Philadelphia's ninth archbishop didn't exactly make his name on rebuilding broken dioceses.

Thanks to a strength of character and conviction shown on the wider scene, however, that's just the mandate Charles Chaput has been given to face in his charge of four months, where early January's recommendations by a Blue Ribbon panel for the closing and consolidation of 49 Catholic schools -- a third of them now under appeal -- are merely the first of several hurdles awaiting on the home-front over the coming year and beyond.

As previously noted, the pile of towering challenges -- among them the "hostile" fallout of the schools plan and a looming shake-up of parishes, the ongoing limbo of 21 suspended priests whose fates will soon be decided, a dire financial picture only beginning to come to light, at least seven abuse-related civil suits, and the March criminal trial of four current and former clerics charged with abuse and cover-up in the wake of a second grand jury, all of it underscoring the need for a wholesale renewal of an ecclesial culture -- is considered in church circles to be the most difficult plate an American bishop has been handed in the last half-century, and quite possibly even longer.

To address it all, in his longest taped sit-down to date with local media, six months since his appointment -- and with the Cardinal's Residence already on the market -- Chaput laid out the scene early this morning on the River City's CBS affiliate:

Money quote, Phils fans: "We have to get over thinking it's always going to be the way it was."

And in this most change-resistant of places, on a Sunday whose readings spoke of "the world in its present form passing away," but heralding a new one in which "the time of fulfillment" has come and "the kingdom of God is at hand," you couldn't ask for a keener echo to today... and, indeed, the difficult, yet very promising, road ahead.

* * *
True story: once upon a time, not all that long ago, a certain native Philadelphian stepped up at a hometown dinner to sing a very pointed show-tune: "This Nearly Was Mine," from South Pacific.

Accordingly, much as the voice behind the song had already gone on to become archbishop of New York -- and, arguably, the last American Catholic leader to enjoy the almost-unchallenged secular clout of what's now a bygone age -- those who knew John Cardinal O'Connor (left) were almost beyond aware that he never lost the ways of a Southwest Philly goldleafer's son. Along the way, JPII's man in the "Capital of the World" just so happened to become the most powerful and iconic champion of the pro-life cause on these shores, a golden legacy whose fruits live on in abundance almost 12 years after his death.

Given that history, it was especially fitting that, earlier today -- on his first January 22nd wedded to the fallen "paradise" for which O'Connor never stopped longing -- the Last Lion's longtime protege would give the keynote speech at a Georgetown University conference for the movement's next generation which bears the cardinal's name. (As a Navy chaplain just returned from Vietnam, O'Connor earned his PhD in political science from the nation's oldest Catholic college in 1970.)

Its key thread dedicated to the right to life of special needs kids -- a frighteningly high number of whom are aborted given today's pre-natal testing -- here, the fulltext of Chaput's talk in Hoyaville:

PHOTOS: Reuters(1)


Friday, January 20, 2012

"A Foul Ball, By Any Standard" -- On Conscience "Edict," "The Bishops Vow To Fight"

First posted on the website of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the following video response to this morning's Obama administration move to mandate contraceptive coverage in benefit plans across the board was released minutes ago by the body's president, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York:

...and here, the bench's full statement on the Federal move:


Unconscionable to force citizens to buy contraceptives against their will

No change in limited exemption, only delay in enforcement

Matter of freedom of conscience, freedom of religion

WASHINGTON—The Catholic bishops of the United States called “literally unconscionable” a decision by the Obama Administration to continue to demand that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all health plans. Today's announcement means that this mandate and its very narrow exemption will not change at all; instead there will only be a delay in enforcement against some employers.

“In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The cardinal-designate continued, “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty."

The HHS rule requires that sterilization and contraception – including controversial abortifacients – be included among “preventive services” coverage in almost every healthcare plan available to Americans. “The government should not force Americans to act as if pregnancy is a disease to be prevented at all costs,” added Cardinal-designate Dolan.

At issue, the U.S. bishops and other religious leaders insist, is the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for the conscience of Catholics and all other Americans.

“This is nothing less than a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights,” said Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairperson of the board at Franciscan Alliance, Inc., a system of 13 Catholic hospitals. “I have hundreds of employees who will be upset and confused by this edict. I cannot understand it at all.”

Daughter of Charity Sister Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, voiced disappointment with the decision. Catholic hospitals serve one out of six people who seek hospital care annually.

“This was a missed opportunity to be clear on appropriate conscience protection,” Sister Keehan said.

Cardinal-designate Dolan urged that the HHS mandate be overturned.

“The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand,” he said. “The Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust regulation. We will continue to study all the implications of this troubling decision.”

Conscience, Denied

In quickly-breaking news of conspicuous timing -- read: with Monday's March for Life in Washington just around the corner -- both the AP and Washington Post are reporting that the Obama administration has turned back calls for a wider conscience exemption, which would've allowed religious groups to opt out of funding contraceptives and sterilization procedures for their employees under the new Federal health-care law.

The decision represents a significant setback for the US bishops, who made a considerable push for a wider loophole from the mandate for birth-control coverage over recent months, citing religious liberty grounds. The church's opposition to the proposed policy garnered support from an unusually broad coalition of Catholic voices, including more progressive factions which had previously clashed with the hierarchy by taking a warmer approach toward the Democratic White House, whose pro-choice stance on legalized abortion has become a flashpoint in the national fold's daily life.

According to the reports, only one concession is being granted to faith-based groups -- an extra year's grace period to adjust their policies into compliance with the new government regulations. In what's likely to become a widespread outcome of the move, however, the president of Notre Dame, Holy Cross Fr John Jenkins, warned late last year that the "impossible position" of meeting the mandate would require Catholic entities to "discontinue our employee and student health care plans in violation of the church's social teaching."

More to come... but for now, lest anyone was expecting a quiet Roe/March weekend in DC, looks like it'll be anything but.

SVILUPPO: At 1pm Eastern, the following statement formally announcing the decision was issued by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius:

In August 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services issued an interim final rule that will require most health insurance plans to cover preventive services for women including recommended contraceptive services without charging a co-pay, co-insurance or a deductible. The rule allows certain non-profit religious employers that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraceptive services. Today the department is announcing that the final rule on preventive health services will ensure that women with health insurance coverage will have access to the full range of the Institute of Medicine’s recommended preventive services, including all FDA -approved forms of contraception. Women will not have to forego these services because of expensive co-pays or deductibles, or because an insurance plan doesn’t include contraceptive services. This rule is consistent with the laws in a majority of states which already require contraception coverage in health plans, and includes the exemption in the interim final rule allowing certain religious organizations not to provide contraception coverage. Beginning August 1, 2012, most new and renewed health plans will be required to cover these services without cost sharing for women across the country.

After evaluating comments, we have decided to add an additional element to the final rule. Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law. Employers wishing to take advantage of the additional year must certify that they qualify for the delayed implementation. This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule. We intend to require employers that do not offer coverage of contraceptive services to provide notice to employees, which will also state that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support. We will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns.

Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families, it is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women. This rule will provide women with greater access to contraception by requiring coverage and by prohibiting cost sharing.

This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty. I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services. The administration remains fully committed to its partnerships with faith-based organizations, which promote healthy communities and serve the common good. And this final rule will have no impact on the protections that existing conscience laws and regulations give to health care providers.

According to Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter, President Obama made a morning phone call to the USCCB president, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, to personally deliver advance word of the decision.

A response from the conference is ostensibly in the works.

SVILUPPO: Given both in a statement and a video-message from the body's chief, the USCCB response is posted.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

"The Most Cherished of Freedoms": On Religious Freedom and the Public Square, B16 Talks The States

As the US' bishops ad limina visit continues, this morning saw the second papal address of the 15-group trip: to the prelates of Region IV, which encompasses the provinces of Baltimore, Washington and the archdiocese for the Military Services.

Breaking from the traditional practice, as part of the gradual curtailing of his schedule in light of his age, B16 will only give five speeches to the USCCB group on its first Roman check-up of the current pontificate. The first of the talks was given to the bishops of Region II (New York) in late November.

On a related note, the dates for the second half of the US visit -- previously up in the air for months given the final scheduling of Benedict's 23-28 March visit to Mexico and Cuba -- are now set. The schedule finally communicated earlier this week, the ad limina will conclude in mid-May with Region XV, the recently-established group encompassing all the eparchs of the various Eastern churches with jurisdictions on these shores.

Next week brings the visit of the South's Region V (Louisville, Mobile, New Orleans), with the Midwest's Regions VI (Detroit and Cincinnati) and VII following suit before Ash Wednesday late next month. The next of Benedict's speeches is expected to be given to the latter -- the bishops of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin -- during their leg, which coincides with the days leading up to the 18 February consistory for the creation of new cardinals.

Here below, the Pope's today text to the mid-Atlantic group... which, in a sign of its significance, was recorded in fullaudio by Vatican Radio.

* * *
Dear Brother Bishops,

I greet all of you with fraternal affection and I pray that this pilgrimage of spiritual renewal and deepened communion will confirm you in faith and commitment to your task as Pastors of the Church in the United States of America. As you know, it is my intention in the course of this year to reflect with you on some of the spiritual and cultural challenges of the new evangelization.

One of the most memorable aspects of my Pastoral Visit to the United States was the opportunity it afforded me to reflect on America’s historical experience of religious freedom, and specifically the relationship between religion and culture. At the heart of every culture, whether perceived or not, is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good, and thus about the conditions for human flourishing. In America, that consensus, as enshrined in your nation’s founding documents, was grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God. Today that consensus has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.

For her part, the Church in the United States is called, in season and out of season, to proclaim a Gospel which not only proposes unchanging moral truths but proposes them precisely as the key to human happiness and social prospering (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 10). To the extent that some current cultural trends contain elements that would curtail the proclamation of these truths, whether constricting it within the limits of a merely scientific rationality, or suppressing it in the name of political power or majority rule, they represent a threat not just to Christian faith, but also to humanity itself and to the deepest truth about our being and ultimate vocation, our relationship to God. When a culture attempts to suppress the dimension of ultimate mystery, and to close the doors to transcendent truth, it inevitably becomes impoverished and falls prey, as the late Pope John Paul II so clearly saw, to reductionist and totalitarian readings of the human person and the nature of society.

With her long tradition of respect for the right relationship between faith and reason, the Church has a critical role to play in countering cultural currents which, on the basis of an extreme individualism, seek to promote notions of freedom detached from moral truth. Our tradition does not speak from blind faith, but from a rational perspective which links our commitment to building an authentically just, humane and prosperous society to our ultimate assurance that the cosmos is possessed of an inner logic accessible to human reasoning. The Church’s defense of a moral reasoning based on the natural law is grounded on her conviction that this law is not a threat to our freedom, but rather a "language" which enables us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more just and humane world. She thus proposes her moral teaching as a message not of constraint but of liberation, and as the basis for building a secure future.

The Church’s witness, then, is of its nature public: she seeks to convince by proposing rational arguments in the public square. The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation.

In the light of these considerations, it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.

Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society. The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level.

In this regard, I would mention with appreciation your efforts to maintain contacts with Catholics involved in political life and to help them understand their personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith, especially with regard to the great moral issues of our time: respect for God’s gift of life, the protection of human dignity and the promotion of authentic human rights. As the Council noted, and I wished to reiterate during my Pastoral Visit, respect for the just autonomy of the secular sphere must also take into consideration the truth that there is no realm of worldly affairs which can be withdrawn from the Creator and his dominion (cfr. Gaudium et Spes, 36). There can be no doubt that a more consistent witness on the part of America’s Catholics to their deepest convictions would make a major contribution to the renewal of society as a whole.

Dear Brother Bishops, in these brief remarks I have wished to touch upon some of the pressing issues which you face in your service to the Gospel and their significance for the evangelization of American culture. No one who looks at these issues realistically can ignore the genuine difficulties which the Church encounters at the present moment. Yet in faith we can take heart from the growing awareness of the need to preserve a civil order clearly rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, as well as from the promise offered by a new generation of Catholics whose experience and convictions will have a decisive role in renewing the Church’s presence and witness in American society. The hope which these "signs of the times" give us is itself a reason to renew our efforts to mobilize the intellectual and moral resources of the entire Catholic community in the service of the evangelization of American culture and the building of the civilization of love. With great affection I commend all of you, and the flock entrusted to your care, to the prayers of Mary, Mother of Hope, and cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of grace and peace in Jesus Christ our Lord.

PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

As previously noted, gang, greetings from a blessed breather... the first decent down-stretch this scribe has had -- or so it seems -- in a good while. (October, maybe?)

As some have asked, everything's fine. It's just pretty rare to get a quiet spell like this between cycles, so best to take the time while it's here. This point next month, of course, things'll be rather wild... and that's just the top line of it.

Even for the stillness, there are some things taking shape for down the line, but no need to get too far ahead of 'em. In the meanwhile, hope you're keeping warm, safe and happy these days, and your New Year's off to a blessed and beautiful start.

As ever, more to come... well, once the news dictates.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Call and Answer

Due to the unusually curtailed liturgical calendar to close out Christmas -- i.e. Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord on consecutive days -- the Stateside church's customary opening duo of annual themed weeks are happening concurrently as opposed to back-to-back.

As previously noted, the first of these is National Migration Week, which invariably trails Epiphany to evoke the traveling Magi. Yet the other -- by no means less important -- is Vocations Awareness Week, always launched from the Baptism feast to underscore how, whatever it might be, one's "project of God" in life is the full fruit of the baptismal call in each of us.

At first glance, of course, these initially break down into states of life. Yet even they don't come close to fleshing out the richness of the tapestry of calls, works, and ways to serve... because, well, there are as many of those as the number of us, and Lord knows how many of them remain to be discovered or reach their fullest potential for the good and life of the whole.

So along those lines -- in the hope of affirming the calls already found, and maybe even nudging along one or two still to come to the fore -- here's a favorite piece written for this week from the "Best of" collection....

For what it's worth, hope it helps.

* * *
Friends, again I ask you, what about today? What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you? The hope which never disappoints is Jesus Christ. The saints show us the selfless love of his way. As disciples of Christ, their extraordinary journeys unfolded within the community of hope, which is the Church. It is from within the Church that you too will find the courage and support to walk the way of the Lord.

Nourished by personal prayer, prompted in silence, shaped by the Church’s liturgy you will discover the particular vocation God has for you. Embrace it with joy. You are Christ’s disciples today. Shine his light upon this great city and beyond. Show the world the reason for the hope that resonates within you. Tell others about the truth that sets you free.
--Pope Benedict XVI
Greeting to Young People
St Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie
New York
19 April 2008

As some might know, this is National Vocation Awareness Week. And hopefully it isn't news to anyone, but this is of universal importance to all of us as every single one of you has a vocation.

Now, don't panic: this doesn't mean you're to drop everything and make for the nearest seminary or convent. If that's what you're feeling called to do, though, then go for it(!), thanks for your "yes"(!) and know you've got all our prayers and support!

For somewhere around 99% of this Church, however, our vocation lies elsewhere. These tend to be categorized but, in reality, that's only the beginning; indeed, the easy part.

Truth be told, there are as many wildly diverse, desperately needed vocations out there as there are the number of us -- and whatever form it might take, what you (yes, YOU!) are called to do, the gift you've got to share, is something no one else can bring to life as well or as fully as you can.

And, thing is, much as some might not realize it, think it too crazy or needless or (worst of all) try and fight these movements of the Spirit, try as you might, the call is in you -- and it's there for a reason.

Whatever it might be, the signs are universal: it's what makes you burn, brings you joy, makes life good, gets you up in the morning (sometimes keeps you awake in the night, too) and -- even with the knowledge that it'll never be fully perfect nor without its sufferings, burdens and trials -- you really can't see yourself doing any other thing with your days and giving it everything you've got.

In a nutshell, your call is that one thing above the rest which makes you happy and gives life to you and others. You'll know it simply by finding it and knowing you can't be anywhere else -- and in some cases, even now, even if you don't think you know or have found it, somewhere down deep inside, it's already there and maybe just needs a little extra figuring out.

Many of us have been blessed to find this "project of God" in our lives, summon up the courage to try and -- warts, limitations, sins and all -- start down the path. Something seems to say, though, that just as many of us either haven't found it or, for one reason or another, are holding back from it.

For those of the latter bunch, a simple word of advice from one who's been there: whatever the call is, whatever's keeping you from moving with it, don't be afraid -- just do it, because you never know what'll happen until you let it fly... and in case you could use an example of what can come to pass when you do, well, you're reading this right now, aren't you?

So, friends, "what about today? What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you?"

As with every other good thing, only in the silence can we truly hear and know its answer, and only then can we begin to move closer to the place we each belong.

"What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you?" And if you've already heard it, well, what're you gonna do about it?

Even for those of us well-set along our paths, our seeking and listening days are never really behind us. So in that light, once the latest round of chaos is all sorted out -- and because, once it's found, every vocation needs its nourishment and renewal -- these pages are going quiet for a few, that the daily feed of what's doing elsewhere doesn't distract this scribe from hearing the most important Whispers of all. In a wild time, so it seems, that's all the more necessary.

God love you lot forever... and in a special way this week, wherever we might find ourselves along the road, Happy Listening.

* * *
In making good on the gifts of the promise, the trust, the one Spirit in many forms who's been given to us, we’ll carve as many trails as there are the number of us here.

Specifics aside, though, one last tip for the road… OK, two: friends, always be happy and always say ‘yes.’
In every age of the journey, joy is the sign of the Spirit, of realizing God’s will for us. This is especially true when the picture might look bleak or things seem challenging, because not even the bleakest outlook nor the most uphill of hurdles is ever greater than the power of God, and the power of His people working together.

And lastly, never forget that none of us got here alone – we are, all of us, the fruit of people who said “yes” to God, “yes” to His work, and “yes” to us. That “yes” opens the doors to life, to every good thing, and never more when it leads us down a path we wouldn’t have expected. So, gang, never be afraid, always enjoy the ride, and just like those who got us here, you will bear amazing fruit.

Fellow pilgrims, Church of God, it’s a blessing to share this vineyard with you. I know you’ll love and serve in it well always, and I pray that as you journey on, you’ll have all the fun and every blessing there is in the world.

Enough talking – Lord knows there's too much to do out there, so at long last, let’s get to it.
Lectio Magistralis
Aquinas Institute of Theology
St Louis
7 May 2010


On Philly Schools, The Fallout Continues

Picking up another of last week's rippling threads, emotions are still running high across the Philadelphia church in the wake of Friday's announcement (video) that 48 Catholic elementary and high schools had been slated for closure or consolidation in June.

Stacking out at a loss of four of 17 high schools and 44 elementaries of a current 156 should the plan be fully implemented, the recommendations of the archdiocesan Blue Ribbon Commission have sparked vigils in city streets and rallies on suburban athletic-fields, as pastors report feeling the fury of "lynch mob" parishioners, administrators discern appealing their fate, students walk out in protest, and all of it still tops the news in the nation's fourth-largest TV market.

The 68,000-student system's enrollment down 35 percent within the last decade -- now standing at just 28 percent of its early 1960s peak of 271,000 -- much as last week's move would make for the most sweeping overhaul of Catholic education in the history of the American church by far, it's merely the biggest shake-up of an apparatus that had already shed close to 40 additional schools over the last several years in annual increments. Among the previously-closed venues were two city high schools which had each borne the distinction of being the global church's largest secondary institution in their respective primes, and
Southwest Philadelphia's vaunted Most Blessed Sacrament, whose student body of nearly 4,000 through the postwar years comprised the world's largest Catholic elementary school. (Barely a century after its founding, MBS parish would likewise shut its doors in 2008, with all of 80 people left.)

In other words, what's come to pass isn't merely the day of reckoning for any venerable, old-guard education system, but the very one which had been the Catholic world's most prolific engine of the work through most of the 20th century.

With at least 1,500 teachers set to be affected by the Blue Ribbon proposals, either by moving to a new school or losing their jobs, pastors and administrators of impacted entities were given their first in-depth briefing on the mechanics of their mergers at a Tuesday meeting that, unsurprisingly, is said to have turned heated at points. At the same time, the details of an appeal process were rolled out, reflecting the concerted intent of Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. that an opportunity for reviewing the 16-member commission's recommendations be provided should the group have erred on "issues of fact."

The appeal window having come as a seeming surprise to archdiocesan officials, any requests for reconsideration are expected to be taken up quickly, with final decisions tipped to emerge by mid-February.

Having closed all of two schools over his 15 years as archbishop of Denver -- where he spent a prior decade as a parish priest and Capuchin provincial -- Chaput inherited the Blue Ribbon panel and its mandate on his arrival last September.

Much as the numerous dimensions of the story have echoed widely across broadcast and newsprint, coverage and reaction have been dominated by what's likely the most surprising proposed casualty of the list: a complete shuttering of the two-in-one operation of Monsignor Bonner-Archbishop Prendergast High School, which occupy separate single-sex buildings on a campus in Drexel Hill, just outside the city's western edge, but have shared an administration since 2007.

As a result of their recent merger at the top, Bonner and "Prendie" are now counted as one entity by the archdiocese, and the overwhelming expectation going into the Blue Ribbon report had been that the twinned schools would be consolidated into a single, co-ed unit in one of the buildings.

Their property first utilized as an orphanage in the 1920s, the schools' roots date to the 1950s-era flight of white Catholics from the city's western neighborhoods. Yet while images of grief-stricken kids and emotional gatherings have been splayed across front pages and the airwaves since Friday, the duo's combined current enrollment stands at around 950 students -- a drop of more than half in the last decade, and an 86 percent plunge from a peak student-body just shy of 7,000 in the early 1960s. In making its recommendation for total closure, the Blue Ribbon report additionally cited the $900,000 annual maintenance costs of the plant, the most expensive upkeep of any archdiocesan school.

Amid a sudden deluge of support from their alumni and the wider community, Bonner-Prendie administrators were said to be "moving toward" making an appeal as of mid-week.

Notably, with the proposed closures of the Drexel Hill outpost and its next closest counterpart, the city's century-old West Catholic -- the alma mater of, among others, New York's legendary John Cardinal O'Connor -- in one fell swoop, Catholic secondary education would vanish from a 12-mile (by driving, half-hour) stretch across the congested hub of the city and its inner-ring suburbs, where the sum total of the closings have exacted their biggest bite.

* * *
The final bell for 30 percent of its schools makes for just the first major blow of what promises be a historically challenging and dramatic 18 months for a local church long seen as American Catholicism's "last great china shop."

In the coming weeks, final decisions are expected on the fates of the 21 priests placed on administrative leave in the wake of last February's grand jury report, marking the end of a yearlong "second review" into allegations of misconduct or boundary violations previously lodged against them. Despite the claims, the men had remained in ministry until the civil inquest's explosive aftermath, when their mass suspension on Mardi Gras made for the largest single removal of American clerics from ministry in the quarter-century history of the nation's clergy sex-abuse scandals.

Then, in March, the criminal trial of three other suspended or laicized priests accused of abuse in the late 1990s is slated to begin, alongside the day in court of Msgr William Lynn, the former clergy-personnel chief whose indictment by the grand jury made him the first US church official to be charged with a cover-up.

Their cases compiled into a single proceeding, the trial is expected to last around three months amid an intense media atmosphere. As of last count, seven civil lawsuits related to the archdiocese's handling of abuse reports are likewise pending. And from there, warnings of a significant, albeit unspecified outbreak of "budget discipline" have already started to swirl in Chancery circles in advance of the next diocesan fiscal year, which begins on July 1st.

Along the way, the historic Cardinal's Residence (above) -- placed on the market by its latest occupant at the New Year -- is likely to be sold and vacated for its new owner. And even as the new archbishop was preparing to address the school closings, the next major plank of reorganization was quietly rolled into gear last week as a video from Chaput on parish planning was sent to pastors and began circulating on the internet.

Its preparations begun in late 2010, while the parish study is only now beginning in earnest, common estimates anticipate that upwards of 60 of the 266 churches serving the five-county fold could be closed or merged by the realignment's targeted completion in mid-2013. At present, some two-thirds of the parishes are said to be in some form of financial hardship. In the process, statistics reported by the Blue Ribbon commission have indicated a 55 percent drop in Catholic marriages witnessed locally between 1985 and 2010, and a nearly 40 percent tumble in baptisms over the same period.

According to earlier indications from the archdiocese's planning arm, given the decline in the number of active clerics due to deaths and retirements, the current parish structure -- its last major tinkering in the early 2000s -- would be limited to one priest each, regardless of a community's size, by later this decade. To meet the 1.2 million-member local church's current needs in the future, three times the number of today's seminarians would reportedly be required.

All around, the "perfect storm" of the months to come will result in a drastic reshaping of ecclesial life in these parts... then again, this crowd already knew that.

SVILUPPO: In Thursday's edition of his weekly web-column, Chaput focused on the report's fallout, noting that while the intensity of reaction was to be expected, "No family can run on nostalgia and red ink."

The system's needed reconfiguration "can’t be done without suffering, and nobody wants to be the cause of other good people’s pain," the archbishop wrote.

"But the work needs to be done. It can’t be delayed."

Meanwhile, as late chatter reports plans for a "human chain" to surround the cathedral and chancery to protest the closings tomorrow afternoon, one exurban priest from a religious community is attempting a novel approach to short-circuit the commission's recommendation to fold his school: declaring that the call is tantamount to "taking away [his] canonical rights" as pastor, and asserting that "the ultimate decision regarding recommended closures and consolidation continues to rest with" him, not the archdiocese.

On a related note, the first meetings to consider appeals were held earlier today.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Live from TO, At Last: The Cardinal

Returning to our coverage of Red Dawn 2012, as a foretaste of a post in process, here's fullvid of the Elevation Day presser given by the head of Canada's largest local church, now Cardinal-designate Thomas Collins of Toronto:

Again, more to come... but at long, blessed last, let it be said: Thank You, Lord.

So, folks, suffice it to say that last Friday's Double-Bomb has proven itself a bit tougher to bounce back from than expected -- at least, if the shop's going to keep up to snuff....

Then again, when the least notable major stories in a 48-hour period are Rome's appointment of the next head of a roiled, million-member diocese and an American bishop's unprecedented admission to having fathered children, perhaps that's bound to be the case.

The needed catch-up sleep now blessedly in the can, everything's up and running again. Yet as the product doesn't exactly come out of thin air, you'll find it when it's good to go, with the quality you've hopefully come to expect from these pages over time.

For now, all thanks for your patience, prayers, encouragement, support and every good thing. And soon enough, as ever, here goes nothin'....



Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Quote of the Day

We... wish to let those of you who lack proper authorization to live and work in our country know that you are not alone, or forgotten. We recognize that every human being, authorized or not, is an image of God and therefore possesses infinite value and dignity. We open our arms and hearts to you, and we receive you as members of our Catholic family. As pastors, we direct these words to you from the depths of our heart.

In a very special way we want to thank you for the Christian values you manifest to us with your lives—your sacrifice for the well-being of your families, your determination and perseverance, your joy of life, your profound faith and fidelity despite your insecurity and many difficulties. You contribute much to the welfare of our nation in the economic, cultural and spiritual arenas....

In your suffering faces we see the true face of Jesus Christ. We are well aware of the great sacrifice you make for your families’ well-being. Many of you perform the most difficult jobs and receive miserable salaries and no health insurance or social security. Despite your contributions to the well-being of our country, instead of receiving our thanks, you are often treated as criminals because you have violated current immigration laws.

We are also very aware of the pain suffered by those families who have experienced the deportation of one of their members. We are conscious of the frustration of youth and young adults who have grown up in this country and whose dreams are shattered because they lack legal immigration status. We also know of the anxiety of those whose application process for permanent residency is close to completion and of the anguish of those who live daily under the threat of deportation. This situation cries out to God for a worthy and humane solution.

We acknowledge that, at times, actions taken in regard to immigrants have made you feel ignored or abandoned, especially when no objection is raised to the false impressions that are promoted within our society. Through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops we have testified before the U.S. Congress for change in our immigration laws and for legislation that respects family unity and provides an orderly and reasonable process for unauthorized persons to attain citizenship. The new law should include a program for worker visas that respects the immigrants’ human rights, provides for their basic needs and ensures that they enter our country and work in a safe and orderly manner. We will also continue to advocate on behalf of global economic justice, so that our brothers and sisters can find employment opportunities in their countries of origin that offer a living wage, and allow them to live with dignity.

Immigrants are a revitalizing force for our country. The lack of a just, humane and effective reform of immigration laws negatively affects the common good of the entire United States.

It pains and saddens us that many of our Catholic brothers and sisters have not supported our petitions for changes in the immigration law that will protect your basic rights while you contribute your hard work to our country. We promise to keep working to bring about this change. We know how difficult the journey is to reach the border and to enter the United States. That is why we are committed to do all that we can to bring about a change in the immigration law, so that you can enter and remain here legally and not feel compelled to undertake a dangerous journey in order to support and provide for your families. As pastors concerned for your welfare, we ask you to consider seriously whether it is advisable to undertake the journey here until after just and humane changes occur in our immigration laws.

Nevertheless, we are not going to wait until the law changes to welcome you who are already here into our churches, for as St. Paul tells us, “You are no longer aliens or foreign visitors; you are fellow-citizens with the holy people of God and part of God’s household” (Eph 2:19)....

We see Jesus the pilgrim in you migrants. The Word of God migrated from heaven to earth in order to become man and save humanity. Jesus emigrated with Mary and Joseph to Egypt, as a refugee. He migrated from Galilee to Jerusalem for the sacrifice of the cross, and finally he emigrated from death to life in the resurrection and ascension to heaven. Today, he continues to journey and accompany all migrants on pilgrimage throughout the world in search of food, work, dignity, security and opportunities for the welfare of their families.

You reveal to us the supreme reality of life: we are all migrants. Your migration gives a strong and clear message that we are migrants on the way to eternal life. Jesus accompanies all Christians on our journey toward the house of our Father, God’s Kingdom in heaven.

We urge you not to despair. Keep faith in Jesus the migrant who continues to walk beside you. Have faith in Our Lady of Guadalupe who constantly repeats to us the words she spoke to St. Juan Diego, “Am I, who am your mother, not here?” She never abandons us, nor does St. Joseph who protects us as he did the Holy Family during their emigration to Egypt.

As pastors we want to continue to do advocacy for all immigrants. With St. Paul we say to you: “Do not be mastered by evil; but master evil with good.” (Rm 12:21).
* * *
Led by B16's key appointees to Los Ángeles and San Antonio, a month since the US' 33 Hispanic bishops issued the above-quoted landmark letter to the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants and the church at large, these post-Epiphany days see American Catholicism's annual observance of National Migration Week.

The 2012 Week dedicated to the theme of "Welcoming Christ in the Migrant," this year's national slate of events culminate with a three-day USCCB conference on immigration as a "50-State Issue" beginning tomorrow in Salt Lake City.

Complete with its own papal message, meanwhile, the global church holds its World Day for Migrants and Refugees for the 98th time this coming Sunday, the universal focus this year on "Migration and the New Evangelization."

PHOTO: Getty


Monday, January 09, 2012

On Baptism

“What happens in Baptism? What do we hope for from Baptism? You have given a response on the threshold of this Chapel: We hope for eternal life for our children. This is the purpose of Baptism. But how can it be obtained? How can Baptism offer eternal life? What is eternal life?

In simpler words, we might say: we hope for a good life, the true life, for these children of ours; and also for happiness in a future that is still unknown. We are unable to guarantee this gift for the entire span of the unknown future, so we turn to the Lord to obtain this gift from him.

We can give two replies to the question, "How will this happen?". This is the first one: through Baptism each child is inserted into a gathering of friends who never abandon him in life or in death because these companions are God's family, which in itself bears the promise of eternity.

This group of friends, this family of God, into which the child is now admitted, will always accompany him, even on days of suffering and in life's dark nights; it will give him consolation, comfort and light.

This companionship, this family, will give him words of eternal life, words of light in response to the great challenges of life, and will point out to him the right path to take. This group will also offer the child consolation and comfort, and God's love when death is at hand, in the dark valley of death. It will give him friendship, it will give him life. And these totally trustworthy companions will never disappear.

No one of us knows what will happen on our planet, on our European Continent, in the next 50, 60 or 70 years. But we can be sure of one thing: God's family will always be present and those who belong to this family will never be alone. They will always be able to fall back on the steadfast friendship of the One who is life.

And, thus, we have arrived at the second answer. This family of God, this gathering of friends is eternal, because it is communion with the One who conquered death and holds in his hand the keys of life. Belonging to this circle, to God's family, means being in communion with Christ, who is life and gives eternal love beyond death.

And if we can say that love and truth are sources of life, are life itself -- and a life without love is not life -- we can say that this companionship with the One who is truly life, with the One who is the Sacrament of life, will respond to your expectation, to your hope....
--Pope Benedict XVI
Homily on the Baptism of the Lord
Sistine Chapel
8 Janaury 2006

...and five years later, that off-the-cuff reflection's still a winner.

Even if the die-hards among us keep the decorations up straight through to Candlemas, with today's feast, the Christmas season draws to its liturgical close. But as Baptism always marks a beginning, we'll hear more about its echoes over the course of the week to come.

In the meanwhile, buona festa to one and all.

PHOTO: Getty