Sunday, October 13, 2019

"Let Us Ask To Be 'Kindly Lights' Amid the Encircling Gloom"



13 OCTOBER 2019

“Your faith has saved you” (Lk 17:19). This is the climax of today’s Gospel, which reflects the journey of faith. There are three steps in this journey of faith. We see them in the actions of the lepers whom Jesus heals. They cry out, they walk and they give thanks.

First, they cry out. The lepers were in a dreadful situation, not only because of a disease that, widespread even today, needs to be battled with unremitting effort, but also because of their exclusion from society. At the time of Jesus, lepers were considered unclean and, as such, had to be isolated and kept apart (cf. Lev 13:46). We see that when they approach Jesus, they “kept their distance” (Lk 17:12). Even though their condition kept them apart, the Gospel tells us that they “called out” (v. 13) and pleaded with Jesus. They did not let themselves be paralyzed because they were shunned by society; they cried out to God, who excludes no one. We see how distances are shortened, how loneliness is overcome: by not closing in on ourselves and our own problems, by not thinking about how others judge us, but rather by crying out to the Lord, for the Lord hears the cry of those who find themselves alone.

Like those lepers, we too need healing, each one of us. We need to be healed of our lack of confidence in ourselves, in life, in the future; we need to be healed of our fears and the vices that enslave us, of our introversion, our addictions and our attachment to games, money, television, mobile phones, to what other people think. The Lord sets our hearts free and heals them if only we ask him, only if we say to him: “Lord, I believe you can heal me. Dear Jesus, heal me from being caught up in myself. Free me from evil and fear”. The lepers are the first people, in this Gospel, who called on the name of Jesus. Later, a blind man and a crucified thief would do so: all of them needy people calling on the name of Jesus, which means: “God saves”. They call God by name, directly and spontaneously. To call someone by name is a sign of confidence, and it pleases the Lord. That is how faith grows, through confident, trusting prayer. Prayer in which we bring to Jesus who we really are, with open hearts, without attempting to mask our sufferings. Each day, let us invoke with confidence the name of Jesus: “God saves”. Let us repeat it: that is prayer, to say “Jesus“ is to pray. And prayer is essential! Indeed, prayer is the door of faith; prayer is medicine for the heart.

The second word is to walk. It is the second stage. In today’s brief Gospel, there are several verbs of motion. It is quite striking is that the lepers are not healed as they stand before Jesus; it is only afterwards, as they were walking. The Gospel tells us that: “As they went, they were made clean” (v. 14). They were healed by going up to Jerusalem, that is, while walking uphill. On the journey of life, purification takes place along the way, a way that is often uphill since it leads to the heights. Faith calls for journey, a “going out” from ourselves, and it can work wonders if we abandon our comforting certainties, if we leave our safe harbours and our cosy nests. Faith increases by giving, and grows by taking risks. Faith advances when we make our way equipped with trust in God. Faith advances with humble and practical steps, like the steps of the lepers or those of Naaman who went down to bathe in the river Jordan (cf. 2 Kings 5:14-17). The same is true for us. We advance in faith by showing humble and practical love, exercising patience each day, and praying constantly to Jesus as we keep pressing forward on our way.

There is a further interesting aspect to the journey of the lepers: they move together. The Gospel tells us that, “as they went, they were made clean” (v. 14). The verbs are in the plural. Faith means also walking together, never alone. Once healed, however, nine of them go off on their own way, and only one turns back to offer thanks. Jesus then expresses his astonishment: “The others, where are they?” (v. 17). It is as if he asks the only one who returned to account for the other nine. It is the task of us, who celebrate the Eucharist as an act of thanksgiving, to take care of those who have stopped walking, those who have lost their way. We are called to be guardians of our distant brothers and sisters, all of us! We are to intercede for them; we are responsible for them, to account for them, to keep them close to heart. Do you want to grow in faith? You, who are here today, do you want to grow in faith? Then take care of a distant brother, a faraway sister.

To cry out. To walk. And to give thanks. This is the final step. Only to the one who thanked him did Jesus say: “Your faith has saved you” (v. 19). It made you both safe, and sound. We see from this that the ultimate goal is not health or wellness, but the encounter with Jesus. Salvation is not drinking a glass of water to keep fit; it is going to the source, which is Jesus. He alone frees us from evil and heals our hearts. Only an encounter with him can save, can make life full and beautiful. Whenever we meet Jesus, the word “thanks” comes immediately to our lips, because we have discovered the most important thing in life, which is not to receive a grace or resolve a problem, but to embrace the Lord of life. And this is the most important thing in life: to embrace the Lord of life.

It is impressive to see how the man who was healed, a Samaritan, expresses his joy with his entire being: he praises God in a loud voice, he prostrates himself, and he gives thanks (cf. vv. 15-16). The culmination of the journey of faith is to live a life of continual thanksgiving. Let us ask ourselves: do we, as people of faith, live each day as a burden, or as an act of praise? Are we closed in on ourselves, waiting to ask another blessing, or do we find our joy in giving thanks? When we express our gratitude, the Father’s heart is moved and he pours out the Holy Spirit upon us. To give thanks is not a question of good manners or etiquette; it is a question of faith. A grateful heart is one that remains young. To say “Thank you, Lord” when we wake up, throughout the day and before going to bed: that is the best way to keep our hearts young, because hearts can grow old and be spoilt. This also holds true for families, and between spouses. Remember to say thank you. Those words are the simplest and most effective of all.

To cry out. To walk. To give thanks. Today we give thanks to the Lord for our new Saints. They walked by faith and now we invoke their intercession. Three of them were religious women; they show us that the consecrated life is a journey of love at the existential peripheries of the world. Saint Marguerite Bays, on the other hand, was a seamstress; she speaks to us of the power of simple prayer, enduring patience and silent self-giving. That is how the Lord made the splendour of Easter radiate in her life, in her humbleness. Such is the holiness of daily life, which Saint John Henry Newman described in these words: “The Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not... The Christian is cheerful, easy, kind, gentle, courteous, candid, unassuming; has no pretence... with so little that is unusual or striking in his bearing, that he may easily be taken at first sight for an ordinary man” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, V, 5).

Let us ask to be like that, “kindly lights” amid the encircling gloom. Jesus, “stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as Thou shinest: so to shine as to be a light to others” (Meditations on Christian Doctrine, VII, 3). Amen."

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On an editorial note, for obvious reasons, pride of place among today's new saints belongs to John Henry Newman – the convert turned cardinal whose seeking witness has inspired Christians across all sorts of divides since, and whose elevation to the altars has spurred a remarkable, priceless moment of unity on seemingly all sides.

A hundred and twenty years since his death, now become the first English confessor to be canonized since the Reformation, today's rites have made for a "fourth spring" for Newman... or a fifth or more.

Whichever one it is, the primer on St John Henry belongs to one of his leading American exegetes – now Cardinal Thomas Collins, the head of Canada's largest diocese at Toronto – who made "Newman 101" the focus of his August keynote to the Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus, the global church's largest lay fraternity:

Yet lastly, and above all, as Benedict XVI closed on beatifying Newman in Birmingham nine years ago last month:

"What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that [Saint] John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven...."


Monday, October 07, 2019

"In Search of New Pathways" – On Day One, A Synodal Splash... or Several

(Updated with summary of opening talks.)
For those just waking up, what a morning you've missed.

Though today brought the working start of Francis' fourth Synod in six years, none of the others began like this – at 8.30, the Confessio of St Peter's in front of the first Apostle's tomb was ringed with several hundred representatives of the Amazonian peoples and their songs, joined by a healthy number of the 185 voting prelates....

And then, the Pope appeared, taking the group with him in procession to the Aula:

In a way, the striking moment – whose optics, intentionally or not, palpably evoked a boxer heading to the ring – heightened the sense that something quite different was at hand. But in reality, it's all going according to script.

More to come... but for those who can't wait, the page's real-time feed had the major developments as they whizzed by.

Here, two among others:
*  *  *
Having yet again highlighted their enduring "tag team" dynamic at yesterday's Opening Mass, while the Pope's first intervention this morning in the Aula largely stuck to the broader concept of synodality and its optimal means of fulfillment, Francis left the bulk of this gathering's programmatic details to his "beloved" Cardinal Claudio Hummes – for whom, at 85, this Synod represents the culmination of a long journey on several fronts.

Accordingly, 13 years after the Brazilian Franciscan arrived in Rome to a Curial slapdown after comments he gave on priestly celibacy as the new prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, in his extensive first report, the Relator-General (in rough terms, the "showrunner") of the three-week event upended the usual moderation expected of the role, laying out the intended aims in stark, if not hair-raising terms:
The subject of the Synod we are inaugurating is, “Amazonia: New Pathways for the Church and for an integral ecology.” The theme addressed follows the broad pastoral guidelines characteristic of Pope Francis for creating new pathways. From the very beginning of his papal ministry, Pope Francis has emphasised the Church’s need to move forward. The Church cannot remain inactive within her own closed circle, focused on herself, surrounded by protective walls and even less can she look nostalgically to the past. The Church needs to throw open her doors, knock down the walls surrounding her and build bridges, going out into the world and setting out on the path of history. In these times of momentous changes, the Church must always walk next to everyone and especially those living on the margins of humankind; an “outgoing” Church. Why outgoing? So as to turn on the lights and warm the hearts of those who help people, communities, countries and all humankind to discover the meaning of life and of history. These lights are above all the announcement of the person of Jesus Christ, dead and risen, and of His Kingdom, as is the practice of mercy as well as charity and solidarity above all towards the poor, those who suffer, the forgotten and the marginalised in today’s world such as migrants and indigenous peoples.

It is moving forwards that makes the Church loyal to its true tradition. Traditionalism, which remains linked to the past, is one thing, but true tradition, which is the Church’s living history, is something else through which every generation, accepting what has been handed down by previous generations, such as understanding and experiencing faith in Jesus Christ, enriches this tradition in current times with their own experience and understanding of faith in Jesus Christ.

The light means announcing Jesus Christ and untiringly practising mercy in the Church’s living tradition. It means showing the path to be followed in moving forwards inclusively in a way that invites, welcomes and encourages everyone, with no exceptions, as friends and siblings, respecting the differences between us.

“New pathways.” One must not fear what is new. In his 2013 Pentecost homily, Pope Francis already expressed the idea that, “Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build, programme and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences... (...) We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind our all too narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own. Yet throughout the history of salvation, whenever God reveals himself, he brings newness - God always brings newness -, and demands our complete trust.” In the Evangelii Gaudium (no. 11), the Pope portrays Jesus Christ as “eternal newness”. He is always new, He is always the same newness, “yesterday, today and forever” (Heb 13, 8) He is what is new. That is why the Church prays using the words, “Send forth your spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.” So we must not fear newness, we must not fear Christ, the new. This Synod is in search of new pathways....

The Church’s mission today in Amazonia is the Synod’s central issue. This is a Synod of the Church for the Church. Not an inward looking Church, but one integrated in the history and the reality of the territory – in this case Amazonia –, attentive to calls for help and the populations’ aspirations and the “common home” [the creation]. A Church open to dialogue, especially interreligious and intercultural dialogue. A Church that is welcoming and wanting to share a synodal path with other churches, religions, sciences, governments, institutions, peoples, communities and persons. A Church respecting differences, with the intention of defending and promoting life for the populations in the area, above all those who originated there, while preserving biodiversity in the Amazon region. An updated Church, “simper reformanda”, according to the Evangelii Gaudium; an outgoing missionary Church, explicitly announcing Jesus Christ, welcoming and communicative, merciful, poor, for the poor and with the poor. Therefore a Church with a preferential, encultured, inter-cultural and increasingly more synodal attention paid to the poor. A Marian Church, fuelled by devotion for the Most Holy Virgin Mary, according to many local titles, especially that of Maria de Nazaré, whose festivity brings together millions of pilgrims and faithful every year in Belém do Pará.

Inculturation of the Christian faith in the various different cultures is necessary. As St. John Paul II says about the missionary mandate of the Christian faith in the various different cultures, “The need for such involvement has marked the Church's pilgrimage throughout her history, but today it is particularly urgent.” (Redemptoris Missio, 52). Together with inculturation, the evangelisation of the peoples of the Amazon also requires paying particular attention to inter-culturality, because it is there that cultures are many and diversified, although they continue to share a number of common roots. The task of inculturation and inter-culturality lies above all in the liturgy, in interreligious and ecumenical dialogue, in popular piety, in catechesis, in daily coexistence in a dialogue with autochthon peoples in social and charitable works, in consecrated life and urban pastoral care....

The Son of God too became a man and his human body comes from the earth. In this body, Jesus died for us on the Cross to overcome evil and death, he rose again among the dead and now sits to the right of God the Father in eternal and immortal glory. The Apostle Paul writes, “For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him (...) whether those on earth or those in heaven.”(Col. 1,19-20). In Laudato si’ we read that, “This leads us to direct our gaze to the end of time, when the Son will deliver all things to the Father, so that “God may be everything to everyone” (1 Cor.15:28). Thus, “the creatures of this world no longer appear to us under merely natural guise because the risen One is mysteriously holding them to himself and directing them towards fullness as their end” (LS, 100). It is thus that God has definitively connected Himself to His entire creation. This mystery is accomplished in the sacrament of the Eucharist. This Synod is held within the context of a serious and urgent climatic and ecological crisis, which involves our entire planet. The planet’s global warming caused by the greenhouse effect has resulted in an unprecedented, serious and pressing climatic imbalance as stated in the Laudato si’ and the Paris COP21, where practically all the countries in the world signed the Agreement on climate that for the moment has remained almost unimplemented in spite of its urgency. At the same time, the planet is experiencing galloping devastation, depredation and degradation of the earth’s resources, all fostered by a globalised, predatory and devastating technocratic paradigm reported by Laudato si’. The earth cannot take this anymore....

Another issue consists in the lack of priests at the service of local communities in the area, with a consequent lack of the Eucharist, at least on Sundays, as well as other sacraments. There is a lack of appointed priests and this means pastoral care consisting of occasional instead of adequate daily pastoral care. The Church lives on the Eucharist and the Eucharist is the foundation of the Church (St. John Paul II). Participation in the celebration of the Eucharist, at least on Sundays, is essential for the full and progressive development of Christian communities and a true experience of the Word of God in people’s lives. It will be necessary to define new paths for the future. During the consultation stages, indigenous communities, faced with the urgent need experienced by most of the Catholic communities in Amazonia, requested that the path be opened for the ordination of married men resident in their communities, albeit confirming the great importance of the charisma of celibacy in the Church. At the same time, faced with a great number of women who nowadays lead communities in Amazonia, there is a request that this service be acknowledged and there be an attempt to consolidate it with a suitable ministry for them.
(Notably, the conclusion of the above paragraph brought a pronounced round of applause in the room.)
In conclusion, to comply with the working dynamics of this synodal assembly, I wish to suggest a number of core issues: a) The outgoing Church and its new pathways in Amazonia; b) The Church’s Amazonian face: inculturation and inter-culturality in a missionary-ecclesial context; c) Ministries in the Church in Amazonia: presbyterate, diaconate, ministries and the role played by women; d) The work done by the Church in looking after our “shared home”; listening to the earth and to the poor; integral environmental, economic, social and cultural ecology; e) The Amazonian Church in the urban reality; f) The issues concerning water; g) others.

I would like to conclude by inviting everyone to allow themselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit during these days of the Synod. Allow yourselves to be enveloped by the cloak of the Mother of God, Queen of Amazonia. We must not allow ourselves to be overcome by self-referentiality, but by mercy when faced with the pain expressed by the poor and the earth. We will need to pray a great deal, to meditate and discern a real practice of ecclesial communion and a synodal spirit. This Synod is like a table that God has prepared for His poor and He is asking us to serve at that table.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

"The Church Is Always On the Move" – At Synod's Launch, Pope Seeks "Daring Prudence," Not "Status Quo"

In the run-up to the Special Synod for Amazonia, a general consensus of previews have begun to grasp that this month's event could well make for "the most charged moment of Francis' push for an enhanced synodality in the church."

If one looked closely enough, however, that was clear upon its announcement by the Pope on 15 October 2017 – the day from which the quote is taken.

Two years later, with the gathering's planners seeking "new paths for the church" – and the pontiff's critics treating the talks as yet another round of Armageddon – it's no stretch to say that the next three weeks have the ability to not merely define the balance of this pontificate, but the shape of the church's way forward. Indeed, that the elevation of new cardinals just 24 hours ago isn't the runaway lead Vatican story of this month (or even this week) highlights the stakes, or at least the perception thereof.

While Francis' programmatic introduction to the gathering – and just as importantly, the extensive opening report from the Synod's Relator-General, the Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, that'll serve as an initial baseline – will come at tomorrow morning's first session in the Aula, this Sunday brought the event's formal start with a Mass in St Peter's (video), which doubled as the closing celebration of the weekend Consistory.

As a first marker for the weeks at hand, it helps to recall one of Benedict XVI's final talks, given after the then-Pope announced his resignation, but before he left office. In his annual address to the priests of Rome on 14 February 2013, Papa Ratzinger reflected on Vatican II (at which he was present as a theological adviser) noting the distinction between "the Council of the Fathers – the real Council" and "the Council of the media."

The depictions of the press coverage were "almost a Council apart," Benedict said, "and the world perceived the Council through the latter, through the media. Thus, the Council that reached the people with immediate effect was that of the media, not that of the Fathers. And while the Council of the Fathers was conducted within the faith – it was a Council of faith seeking intellectus, seeking to understand itself and seeking to understand the signs of God at that time, seeking to respond to the challenge of God at that time and to find in the word of God a word for today and tomorrow – while all the Council, as I said, moved within the faith, as fides quaerens intellectum [faith seeking understanding], the Council of the journalists, naturally, was not conducted within the faith, but within the categories of today's media, namely apart from faith, with a different hermeneutic. It was a political hermeneutic: for the media, the Council was a political struggle, a power struggle between different trends in the Church."

As this week brings the 57th anniversary of Vatican II's own Opening Day – now celebrated as the feast of its architect, St John XXIII – that counsel is ever more pertinent to this age and the Synod ahead, all the more as Francis habitually appeals for the gathering to be experienced as a "protected space" and "not a parliament."

What’s more, however, the notion of the Synod as the child of the Council – and quite possibly the ultimate realization of Vatican II – might just see a new fulfillment over the weeks to come.

In that spirit, here's the Pope's homily from today's launch Mass – given the ramp-up, a charge as loaded as one would expect:
The Apostle Paul, the greatest missionary in the Church’s history, helps us to make this “synod”, this “journey together”. His words to Timothy seem addressed to us, as pastors in the service of God’s People.

Paul first tells Timothy: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim 1:6). We are bishops because we have received a gift of God. We did not sign an agreement; we were not handed an employment contract. Rather, hands were laid on our heads so that we in turn might be hands raised to intercede before the Father, helping hands extended to our brothers and sisters. We received a gift so that we might become a gift. Gifts are not bought, traded or sold; they are received and given away. If we hold on to them, if we make ourselves the centre and not the gift we have received, we become bureaucrats, not shepherds. We turn the gift into a job and its gratuitousness vanishes. We end up serving ourselves and using the Church.

Thanks to the gift we have received, our lives are directed to service. When the Gospel speaks of “useless servants” (Lk 17:10), it reminds us of this. The expression can also mean “unprofitable servants”. In other words, we do not serve for the sake of personal profit or gain, but because we received freely and want to give freely in return (cf. Mt 10:8). Our joy will be entirely in serving, since we were first served by God, who became the servant of us all. Dear brothers, let us feel called here for service; let us put God’s gift at the centre.

To be faithful to our calling, our mission, Saint Paul reminds us that our gift has to be rekindled. The verb he uses in the original text is fascinating: to rekindle, literally, which means stoking a fire (anazopyrein). The gift we have received is a fire, a burning love for God and for our brothers and sisters. A fire does not burn by itself; it has to be fed or else it dies; it turns into ashes. If everything continues as it was, if we spend our days content that “this is the way things have always been done”, then the gift vanishes, smothered by the ashes of fear and concern for defending the status quo. Yet “in no way can the Church restrict her pastoral work to the ‘ordinary maintenance’ of those who already know the Gospel of Christ. Missionary outreach is a clear sign of the maturity of an ecclesial community” (BENEDICT XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, 95). For the Church is always on the move, always going out and never withdrawn into itself. Jesus did not come to bring a gentle evening breeze, but to light a fire on the earth.

The fire that rekindles the gift is the Holy Spirit, the giver of gifts. So Saint Paul goes on to say: “Guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit” (2 Tim 1:14). And again: “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and prudence” (v. 7). Not a spirit of timidity, but of prudence. Someone may think that prudence is a virtue of the “customs house”, that checks everything to ensure that there is no mistake. No, prudence is a Christian virtue; it is a virtue of life, and indeed the virtue of governance. And God has given us this spirit of prudence. Paul places prudence in opposition to timidity. What is this prudence of the Spirit? As the Catechism teaches, prudence “is not to be confused with timidity or fear”; rather, it is “the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (No. 1806).

Prudence is not indecision; it is not a defensive attitude. It is the virtue of the pastor who, in order to serve with wisdom, is able to discern, to be receptive to the newness of the Spirit. Rekindling our gift in the fire of the Spirit is the opposite of letting things take their course without doing anything. Fidelity to the newness of the Spirit is a grace that we must ask for in prayer. May the Spirit, who makes all things new, give us his own daring prudence; may he inspire our Synod to renew the paths of the Church in Amazonia, so that the fire of mission will continue to burn.

As we see from the story of the burning bush, God’s fire burns, yet does not consume (cf. Ex 3:2). It is the fire of love that illumines, warms and gives life, not a fire that blazes up and devours. When peoples and cultures are devoured without love and without respect, it is not God’s fire but that of the world. Yet how many times has God’s gift been imposed, not offered; how many times has there been colonization rather than evangelization! May God preserve us from the greed of new forms of colonialism. The fire set by interests that destroy, like the fire that recently devastated Amazonia, is not the fire of the Gospel. The fire of God is warmth that attracts and gathers into unity. It is fed by sharing, not by profits. The fire that destroys, on the other hand, blazes up when people want to promote only their own ideas, form their own group, wipe out differences in the attempt to make everyone and everything uniform.

To rekindle the gift; to welcome the bold prudence of the Spirit; to be faithful to his newness. Saint Paul now moves on to a final exhortation: “Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, but take your share of suffering for the Gospel in the power of God” (2 Tim 1:8). Paul asks Timothy to bear witness to the Gospel, to suffer for the Gospel, in a word, to live for the Gospel. The proclamation of the Gospel is the chief criterion of the Church’s life, it is her mission, her identity. A little later, Paul will write: “I am already on the point of being sacrificed” (4:6). To preach the Gospel is to live as an offering, to bear witness to the end, to become all things to all people (cf. 1 Cor 9:22), to love even to the point of martyrdom. I am grateful to God that in the College of Cardinals there are some brother Cardinals who are martyrs, because they have experienced in this life the cross of martyrdom. The Apostle makes it quite clear that the Gospel is not served by worldly power, but by the power of God alone: by persevering in humble love, by believing that the only real way to possess life is to lose it through love.

Dear brothers and sisters, together let us look to the crucified Jesus, to his heart pierced for our salvation. Let us begin there, the source of the gift that has given us birth. From that heart, the Spirit who renews has been poured forth (cf. Jn 19:30). Let each and every one of us, then, feel called to give life. So many of our brothers and sisters in Amazonia are bearing heavy crosses and awaiting the liberating consolation of the Gospel, the Church’s caress of love. So many of our brothers and sisters in Amazonia have given their lives. I would like to repeat here the words of our beloved Cardinal Hummes: when he arrives in those little towns of Amazonia, he goes to the cemetery to visit the tombs of missionaries. It is a gesture on the Church’s behalf for those who gave their lives in Amazonia. And then, with a little shrewdness, he says to the Pope: “May they not be forgotten. They deserved to be canonized”. For them and for all those who have given their lives and those who are still giving their lives, and with them, let us journey together.

In Wilton's "Supreme" Turn, "A New Season Filled With Hope"

Noon ET, 6 October 2019As things turned out, perhaps it's a good thing that Wilton Gregory didn't make the cut for the red hat this time. After all, that would've been the one thing that could've kept him from his first chance at what's arguably the ultimate act of his new post.

Well before the Pope announced yesterday's Consistory, this was already Red Weekend in the nation's capital.

With tomorrow's start of the new Supreme Court turn, this Sunday before the First Monday in October always brings the traditional Red Mass in St Matthew's Cathedral, which invariably attracts a quorum of the Court at the front of a crowd brimming with Cabinet secretaries, Congressional leaders, lower judges and, all told, the top tier of the District's legal and political worlds, Catholic and non.

Arranged by DC's John Carroll Society of Catholic lawyers and now in its 67th year, the Red Mass marks the supreme turn of the city's archbishop as high priest of "official Washington." However, with its preaching duties normally entrusted to distinguished prelates from across the map, only in his first and last years in office does the occupant of St Matt's take the pulpit for himself.

That said, even before today, Gregory had already preached the Red twice – first in 2002 as USCCB president (amid the first round of the abuse scandals), then in 2015, notably in the wake of SCOTUS' redefinition of marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. This time, however, he's no visitor, but the defining US pick of Francis' pontificate....

At least, so far.

Per custom, Chief Justice John Roberts – the first Catholic to oversee the judiciary in a century – led the congregation, with Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer, and retired Justice Anthony Kennedy rounding out the SCOTUS delegation. Among others, Attorney General William Barr was also in attendance.

In keeping with the customs of the Court, the Mass is not filmed and tight restrictions are kept on photography. For security reasons, meanwhile, the attending justices no longer join the bishops in the recessional.

On a context note, while the five-member Catholic bloc retains a majority of the Court, notably absent from today's rites was the junior of “the brethren,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose longtime involvement as both a coach at one of Washington's most prominent parochial schools and volunteering with the archdiocese's Catholic Charities played an outsize role in his introduction to the country ahead of last year's bruising confirmation fight.

Back to the ambo, nearly five months into his tenure – and said to be palpably "re-energized" at 71 by the challenge of the roiled, yet vibrant capital church after a historic year of crises – here's Gregory's homily today:
Dear Esteemed Guests and Treasured Friends in the Lord,

I am pleased to offer this year’s Red Mass for the People of God in the Archdiocese of Washington as your new Archbishop. It represents for me an important opportunity to acknowledge publicly the uniqueness of this assembled congregation which is comprised of so many individuals who represent the most prestigious offices of legal justice in our nation. By your presence, each one of you pays tribute to the venerable community of faith which is this local Church. And we, in turn, join with you in praying for God’s Blessings upon all the distinguished members of the Judiciary, Civic, and Legal Community throughout our nation at the beginning of a new judicial term.

New beginnings are always good for the soul. Each year at this time, the legal world opens a new judicial session and that also should inspire us to give thanks for the gift of this particular component of our freedom that is captured and operative in the courts of our land and in the opportunity to pursue justice as a legitimate expression of our freedom and hope. It might easily occur in the midst of the many other activities in which we are daily engaged that we could overlook or underestimate the beginning of the new judicial term in the face of the demands of the particular personal moments in our lives. Yet we would do so only at our own peril.

Every court in the United States remains an enduring and irreplaceable manifestation of our freedom as a nation and as a people. Distinct from the legislative or executive branches of our government, your enduring value is primarily to be found in your careful and balanced pursuit and impartial application of the twin virtues of justice and mercy under the laws of our country. For that very reason, we join you today in asking God’s own blessing upon the new judicial term that we are beginning.

The artistic renditions of the symbol of Justice that are so often found on the grounds of or nearby our court buildings have been wisely selected from classical imagery. The statue of a woman wearing a blindfold and often holding an ageless balancing scale is a frequent and apt symbol of what justice must be for all of us – evenhanded and without bias and prudent in attempting carefully to weigh all sides of an issue. That she is also depicted as a woman, beautiful and alluring, delicate and nurturing cannot be overlooked either. Justice in our courts must seek to display all of those qualities only hinted at through this symbol. The impartial feminine figure declines to be concerned about or even take notice of the appearance of wealth, age, gender, or power – she only mulls over the merits of the issues that she carefully balances on her scales of justice.

Themis is the name of the Greek Goddess of justice that we see most frequently – and Justitia is her Latin name. Whatever we may perhaps choose to call her; she is the symbol of a reality that apportions some divine attributes. You members of the legal world must hold forever before your eyes and hearts this image that is so often identified with the reality of divine justice.

There are godlike attributes represented in this statute that cannot and should not be easily dismissed. Justice is a divine characteristic of God Himself. Whether we are Christian, Jewish, or Muslim in heritage – we all believe that God is perfectly Just and always Merciful. And those of you engaged in the administration of justice can and must never completely remove those divine qualities from your service and your calling.

Saint Luke wrote the passage that we just heard saying that Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit. Those who are blessed with that same Spirit find reasons to take heart and comfort in facing the tasks that are theirs. We begin another judicial season asking for a generous outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all who serve us in the realm of our legal structures. May each one of you rejoice in a spirit of integrity, courage, and wisdom each day of this new year of legal justice and human compassion.

Your work in the field of justice is a blessing for the people of our society – reflecting those qualities that Isaiah the Prophet announced in our first reading. God Himself blesses His people through the works of justice and mercy which flow from and should be found in every court in our nation. Since God’s people long to be invited to bless His holy name through the experience of justice and mercy that they encounter in the courts of our land. How often in God’s Word do we find reference to lawyers and judges who can and do represent God’s own plans – or who unfortunately manage to thwart God’s design.

We begin a new judicial season always filled with hope that honesty and integrity will prevail and that the laws of our nation will be properly applied and observed. Those who work in the legal world carry a heavy burden and you must constantly work relentlessly to ensure that truth and fairness are not denied to any plaintiff or defendant.

Paul, the Apostle, comforts us all with the reminder that “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness.” We must humbly begin this new judicial term with the sure awareness of our human weaknesses that ultimately must be resolved through the works of God’s Spirit.

This theme is also echoed in Luke’s Gospel that reminds us that in spite of all of our best plans and lofty designs, we are ultimately safeguarded by Divine Providence. Therefore, as we pray for all those engaged in the administration of justice for our country, we remind ourselves that we stand as humble servants of a power far greater than our own modest skills and talents.

We pray for all of the members of the judiciary and legal world because yours is the tremendous responsibility of attempting to reflect God’s perfect justice and mercy in interpreting the laws of our nation and for all those who will come before you during this next year including those who may have engaged in a horrendous crime, to those whose language, culture, race, or religion are not your own, as well as those who are at precarious moment on the spectrum of human life. None of them are unimportant and all of them approach you for what they hope will be a sign and an expression of God’s truth. May this new judicial season bring you increased wisdom and prudent judgments. May this new legal calendar bring our nation a boundless new hope and confidence in our freedom as a people. And may God be glorified in all that you do in all the myriad courts and legal corridors of our land in attempting to reflect His always more Perfect Justice and Mercy.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Pope's "Keywords" for New Cardinals: "Compassion"... and "The Ability To Be Loyal"

While the replenishment of the College of Cardinals has become considerably more routine under Francis than his recent predecessors – a Consistory every year or so as opposed to every three in decades past – today's sixth intake under Papa Bergoglio nonetheless brings a unique milestone for this pontificate: with the elevation of 10 new electors, the reigning Pope's picks now constitute a majority of an eventual Conclave.

Having already made themselves heard in a flood of interviews and other coverage marking their new profile, the group's ability to impact policy will come in short order, as Francis assigns each neo-Porporato to a couple of dicasteries, where their input and votes reflect the sizable, yet oft-overlooked role of the cardinals in the daily governance of the universal church.

With St Peter's brimming with well-wishers from around the globe, this is always the Vatican's happiest day – and, outside of a Conclave itself, its most consequential one. For several of the new scarlet crop, however, sharing the moment with the folks at home will have to wait a few weeks – three of the class' far-flung picks have been named as members of the Amazon Synod, which opens tomorrow with a morning Mass, while this intake's most-highlighted choice – the Pope's Migration Czar, now Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ – is an ex officio participant as the gathering's secretary and one of its key planners.

Here, a livefeed fullvideo of today's rites, as ever in the context of the Liturgy of the Word:

And in his homily, the pontiff employed another "c"-word as one of two qualities to which the new cardinals – and the entirety of his "Senate" – are called:
At the heart of the Gospel, we have just heard (Mk 6:30-37) is the “compassion” of Jesus (cf. 34). Compassion is a keyword in the Gospel. It is written in Christ’s heart; it is forever written in the heart of God.

In the Gospels, we often see Jesus’ compassion for those who are suffering. The more we read, the more we contemplate, the more we come to realize that the Lord’s compassion is not an occasional, sporadic emotion, but is steadfast and indeed seems to be the attitude of his heart, in which God’s mercy is made incarnate.

Mark, for example, tells us that when Jesus first passed through Galilee preaching and casting out demons, “a leper came to him begging him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean’. Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’” (1:40-42). In this gesture and with these words, we see the mission of Jesus, the Redeemer of mankind. He is a compassionate Redeemer. He incarnates God’s will to purify men and women afflicted by the scourge of sin; he is “the outstretched hand of God”, who touches our sickly flesh and accomplishes this work by bridging the chasm of separation.

Jesus goes out in search of the outcast, those without hope. People like the man paralyzed for thirty-eight years who lay beside the pool of Bethzatha, waiting in vain for someone to bring him to the waters (cf. Jn 5:1-9).

This compassion did not appear suddenly at one moment in the history of salvation. No, it was always there in God, impressed on his paternal heart. We see it in the account of the calling of Moses when God spoke from the burning bush and said: “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry… indeed, I know their sufferings” (Ex 3:7).

God’s love for his people is drenched with compassion, to the extent that, in this covenant relationship, what is divine is compassionate, while, sad to say, it appears that what is human is so often lacking in compassion. God himself says so: “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? … My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender… For I am God and no mortal, the holy one in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hos 11:8-9).

Jesus’ disciples often show themselves lacking compassion, as in this case, when they are faced with the problem of having to feed the crowds. In effect, they say: “Let them worry about it themselves…” This is a common attitude among us human beings, even those of us who are religious persons or even religious “professionals”. The position we occupy is not enough to make us compassionate, as we see in the conduct of the priest and Levite who, seeing a dying man on the side of the road, pass to the other side (cf. Lk 10:31-32). They would have thought: “It’s not up to me”. There are always justifications; at times they are even codified and give rise to “institutional disregard”, as was the case with lepers: “Of course, they have to keep their distance; that is the right thing to do”. This all too human attitude also generates structures lacking compassion.

At this point we can ask ourselves: are we conscious – we, in the first place – of having been the object of God’s compassion? In a particular way, I ask this of you, brother cardinals and those about to become cardinals: do you have a lively awareness of always having been preceded and accompanied by his mercy? This awareness was always present in the immaculate heart of the Virgin Mary, who praises God as her “Saviour”, for he “looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” (Lk 1:48).

I find it helpful to see myself reflected in the passage of Ezekiel 16 that speaks of God’s love for Jerusalem. It concludes with the words: “I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, in order that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done” (Ezek 16:62-63). Or again, in that other prophecy of Hosea: “I will bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her… There shall she respond as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt (2:14-15).

Do we have a lively awareness of this compassion that God feels for us? It is not something optional, or a kind of “evangelical counsel”. No, it is essential. Unless I feel that I am the object of God’s compassion, I cannot understand his love. This is not a reality that can be explained. Either I feel it or I don’t. If I don’t feel it, how can I share it, bear witness to it, bestow it on others? Concretely: am I compassionate towards this or that brother or sister, that bishop, that priest? … Or do I constantly tear them down by my attitude of condemnation, of indifference?

On this lively awareness also depends the ability to be loyal in our own ministry. This also holds true for you, brother cardinals. The readiness of a cardinal to shed his own blood – as signified by the scarlet color of your robes – is secure if it is rooted in this awareness of having been shown compassion and in the ability to show compassion in turn. Otherwise, one cannot be loyal. So many disloyal actions on the part of ecclesiastics are born of the lack of a sense of having been shown compassion, and by the habit of averting one’s gaze, the habit of indifference.

Today, let us implore, through the intercession of the apostle Peter, the grace to have a compassionate heart, in order to be witnesses of the One who has looked with favor upon us, who chose us, consecrated us and sent us to bring to everyone his Gospel of salvation.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

For Buffalo Meltdown, Rome Sends A Ram – Malone Under Full-On Vatican Probe

A year since Bishop Richard Malone's assistant left her Chancery post to go public about the Buffalo prelate's handling of abuse cases – and has since stated that the prelate should be in jail – the Holy See has finally moved to send in the cavalry on a "free-fall" situation which has only grown ever more untenable.

Just before close of business this Thursday, a rare press release from the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington conveyed word of the Vatican's appointment of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio – the formidable longtime chief of Brooklyn's 1.8 million Catholics – as Apostolic Visitor to the beleaguered fold in Western New York, armed with the mandate to conduct a far more sweeping investigation than most would've anticipated.

While the Pope's May release of Vos estis lux mundi – his global accountability norms on abuse cases – quickly saw the Buffalo situation viewed as the natural test-case for the new procedures, an Apostolic Visitation is essentially limitless in scope, both in terms of the Visitor's ability to access any material he needs across the life of a diocese, and likewise in probing concerns outside Vos estis' strict realm of abuse by a bishop and/or his response to allegations.

For Buffalo, that the Vatican opted for the fuller process signals an awareness that local controversies over Malone's stewardship far preceded (and still extend beyond) the ongoing abuse eruption – which, in turn, has produced separate alarms over the bishop's management of broader priest personnel issues and Christ the King Seminary – and likewise that the diocese's financial and legal state will require at least a degree of attention.

Six weeks into New York State's yearlong "window" suspending the civil statute of limitations on abuse litigation – including for public institutions – the 750,000-member Buffalo church has become the most sued defendant statewide; as of last week, local media reported that the diocese has been cited in 168 cases, 80 percent of the total of the abuse docket for New York's western county courts.

In that light, Malone has openly maintained that the diocese's move to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a distinct possibility. Notably, however, though a Visitor enjoys the Vatican's full authority to conduct his investigation without any local interference, DiMarzio's faculties would not allow him to intervene in the governance of the Buffalo church over the course of the process.

Beyond the flood of civil cases, the Buffalo diocese is likewise under a yearlong FBI investigation – which has yet to yield any charges – as well as the ongoing review of all New York State's eight dioceses by its attorney general in concert with local prosecutors.

A North Jersey native who first came to prominence as a top aide to then-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark – whose own serial abuse saw him laicized earlier this year – DiMarzio (above) has thrived in the rough-and-tumble atmosphere of a changing Brooklyn, the US' largest non-metropolitan church, where he's served since 2003. Seen by his locals as "no-nonsense" and "a bit impatient" in his own governing style, with a doctorate in sociology under his belt, the newly-tapped Buffalo investigator is known to have an affinity for reports and a bent for being "methodical" and "comprehensive," all of which will aid the product he'll have to produce: an ample report to the Congregation for Bishops detailing the situation, with recommendations for action.

Keeping with his usual speed, Whispers has learned that DiMarzio is expected to be in Buffalo within the next week. In standard practice, the bulk of a Visitation's on-site work involves the investigating team's review of salient files and extensive interviews with a cross-section of concerned parties across the diocesan landscape, especially those with firsthand knowledge of the issues in focus.

While no timeline can be firmly projected at this stage, it would make sense that the investigation would be completed in time for the New York bishops' long-slated ad limina visit to Rome in mid-November, when all the traveling prelates are required to meet with the top officials at Bishops, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors – and, above all, for two and a half hours with Francis himself – during the weeklong "checkup," the US' first in the current pontificate.

As history goes, of the three prior Stateside bishops placed under Visitation over the last decade, only one remained in office after the investigation concluded. In 2011, amid furious protests in the wake of Bishop Richard Lennon's rapid closing of scores of parishes, the Cleveland prelate sufficiently assuaged his Visitor that he was able to stay on for five years, seeking early retirement in late 2016 due to the onset of dementia. After Bishop Robert Finn's 2011 conviction for failing to report a priest found to have possessed child pornography in his diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph – and, more generally, a tenure long regarded by many in the Missouri diocese as polarizing – the findings of a 2014 Visitation saw Rome seek his resignation at 60, which was promptly submitted. By staggering contrast, last year's investigation of the roiled Memphis church – which Bishop Martin Holley destabilized in less than two years with en masse reassignments of priests and a hostile governing style – saw the Pope forcibly remove Holley from office after the bishop refused to resign, an unprecedented scenario for a US prelate.

Given Malone's repeated pushback on calls for his own departure – an outcome which some 86 percent of Buffalo's Catholics seek, according to a recent poll by the city's newspaper – it is notable that, by empowering a full Visitation instead of a Vos estis probe, Rome has given DiMarzio the purview to sketch out a broader indictment. (Among other potential instances of malfeasance or poor judgment that only the former process could cover, Malone reportedly blocked his public email account from receiving messages after developments in the ongoing crisis saw parishioners attempt to register their anger at him.)

In a statement upon today's announcement – and curiously issued in the third person – Buffalo Chancery said Malone "welcomes an Apostolic Visitation" and expressed "heartfelt gratitude" for those involved in it.

For his part, DiMarzio's formal comment pointedly expressed the hope that his assignment would allow "that justice might be served and God's mercy experienced." And in an added prod – reflecting the frustration with which no shortage of the US hierarchy have viewed the Buffalo situation – the incoming Visitor likewise appealed to the intercession of "Our Lady, Untier of Knots," the German folkloric title for Mary that is a longtime favorite of the Pope's.

After 22 years on the bench, DiMarzio reached the retirement age of 75 in June. Though Cardinal Seán O’Malley OFM Cap. likewise marked that milestone over the summer, Francis’ lead North American adviser is expected to remain in post as archbishop of Boston for the mid-range future, making Brooklyn the largest opening on the pending US Docket.

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As a good few folks have been asking about the Appointments Desk, keep in mind that cases like the one reported above are sucking up the bandwidth that'd normally belong to the Docket.

Still, as Saturday afternoon (Rome time) brings the elevation of 13 new cardinals, and the Amazon Synod opens on Sunday, it's all just getting started...

...and with thanks to everyone who's already lent a hand with the bills, just as the key elements of these intense weeks are only now underway – and the caseload spiked yet again tonight – if this scribe can't pay for the costs of the work, the job simply can't be done.

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SVILUPPO: As a busy weekend and beyond gets underway, lest anyone can use the reminder, Whispers' real-time newsfeed is available along the page's right sidebar for desktop users, and here for phone-based readers.

In that vein, an addition to the above from it:
... and another:

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

At Synod Central, The Future Comes Early

While peak cycle wasn't expected to kick in until Saturday's "Scarlet Bowl," as ever, the Pope has his ways of upending things.

Four days until the heavily-awaited Synod on Amazonia opens, Francis began charting the next chapter for what's arguably the cornerstone of his governing vision at Roman Noon today, naming the Maltese Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo (above) as successor-in-waiting to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, 79, the pontiff's field marshal in making the Roman Synod a more consultative and participatory organ, often with striking results.

Now the Synod's Pro-Secretary General, Grech, 62, will lose the prefix upon taking Baldisseri's place when the Italian cardinal turns 80 next fall. Before the turn of the millennium, the use of "Pro-" before a title was routinely employed to indicate that the holder of a post that ex officio belonged to a cardinal had not yet been given his own red hat. Until today, the distinction has never been used for the purposes of an heir apparent in a transition of office.

With the move, Malta – overwhelmingly Catholic, yet with fewer than half a million residents – now has two natives in key Vatican posts; still the island's top prelate, Archbishop Charles Scicluna has been doing double duty over the last year as an adjunct secretary at CDF overseeing its handling of abuse cases while remaining at the helm of its capital see at Floriana.

By contrast, Grech's Roman post will be full-time. Notably, however, the incoming Synod chief was not elevated to archbishop with the nod. (On a related note, Grech’s ascent adds to what was already a banner week for the Maltese at the Vatican: on Friday, the Pope will ordain another son of the island, Msgr Antoine Camilleri, as an archbishop-nuncio. Until now the Holy See’s “deputy foreign minister” since the end of Benedict XVI’s reign, the 54 year-old has emerged as the frontrunner to become the Vatican’s mission-chief at the United Nations headquarters in New York – one of papal diplomacy’s most prominent and intensive postings – which formally opened yesterday with the transfer of Filipino-born Archbishop Bernadito Auza as Nuncio to Madrid.)

While the Augustinian scripture scholar Prosper Grech was made a cardinal by Benedict XVI at his penultimate Consistory in 2012, as he was already over 80 – and thus ineligible to vote in a Conclave – Mario Grech is now in position to become the first Maltese cardinal-elector in two centuries. (Whether the two Greches are related is unknown at press time, but it is notable that Mario Grech served as a lead co-consecrator at his elder's ordination as a bishop, which took place in Malta prior to Prosper Grech's elevation.)

A canonist by training – who worked as a staffer at the Roman Rota during advanced studies – Grech (seen above with Scicluna) was a pastor at home upon his appointment to lead the island's second diocese in 2005.

On attending the 2014 Synod as president of Malta's episcopal conference, the gathering's incoming chief mused that "listening" to gays and lesbians made him realize that they "feel wounded by the language directed towards them in certain texts, for instance in the Catechism of the Catholic Church." Meanwhile, having been targeted by Francis' conservative critics over the Maltese church's guidelines on the implementation of Amoris Laetitia, the bishop was forced to deny reports fomented in traditionalist circles that he would suspend priests who refused the Eucharist to civilly remarried couples.

More recently, Grech took on the tone of anti-immigration rhetoric in Europe, declaring last year that those who "harbor resentment" toward migrants "are not Christian" and created misperceptions of the church as "tarnished by 'the stench of racial prejudice.'"

As "coadjutor" to the Synod's helm, Grech will take part in the upcoming assembly. And as of today, he'll walk in to a clean slate – for the first time in three years, no future convocations of the Synod are currently in process once the Amazon gathering wraps. Yet underscoring the key role of the Synod in this pontificate – and the critical import of its impending edition to the Pope himself – the Holy See announced yesterday that a Friday rite in the Vatican Gardens will consecrate this month's event to St Francis of Assisi, the pontiff's chosen patron.