Sunday, May 24, 2015

"The Holy Spirit Renews the Earth" – On Pentecost, The Church Is "Born"... And "Sent"

A liturgical feast on a par with Christmas – indeed, the moment which marks the commissioning of Christ's own as leaven in the world – on this Pentecost, Church, Happy Birthday to one and all.

Having spoken of the Holy Spirit's critical, daily role in ecclesial life with greater frequency and intensity than his recent predecessors, at a morning Mass in St Peter's for this 50th day of Easter, the Pope delivered the following brief, yet potent homily (emphases original):

“As the Father has sent me, even so I send you... Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:21-22); this is what Jesus says to us. The gift of the Spirit on the evening of the Resurrection took place once again on the day of Pentecost, intensified this time by extraordinary outward signs. On the evening of Easter, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and breathed on them his Spirit (cf. Jn 20:22); on the morning of Pentecost the outpouring occurred in a resounding way, like a wind which shook the place the Apostles were in, filling their minds and hearts. They received a new strength so great that they were able to proclaim Christ’s Resurrection in different languages: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). Together with them was Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the first disciple, there too as Mother of the nascent Church. With her peace, with her smile, with her maternity, she accompanied the joyful young Bride, the Church of Jesus.

The word of God, especially in today’s readings, tells us that the Spirit is at work in individuals and communities filled with himself; the Spirit makes them capable of recipere Deum [receiving God], capax Dei [with the capacity for God], as the holy Church Fathers say. And what does the Holy Spirit do with this new capability which he gives us? He guides us into all the truth (cf. Jn 16:13), he renews the face of the earth (Ps 103:30), and he gives us his fruits (cf. Gal 5:22-23). He guides, he renews and he makes fruitful.

In the Gospel, Jesus promises his disciples that, when he has returned to the Father, the Holy Spirit will come to guide them into all the truth (cf. Jn 16:13). Indeed he calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth”, and explains to his disciples that the Spirit will bring them to understand ever more clearly what he, the Messiah, has said and done, especially in regard to his death and resurrection. To the Apostles, who could not bear the scandal of their Master’s sufferings, the Spirit would give a new understanding of the truth and beauty of that saving event. At first they were paralyzed with fear, shut in the Upper Room to avoid the aftermath of Good Friday. Now they would no longer be ashamed to be Christ’s disciples; they would no longer tremble before the courts of men. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they would now understand “all the truth”: that the death of Jesus was not his defeat, but rather the ultimate expression of God’s love, a love that, in the Resurrection, conquers death and exalts Jesus as the Living One, the Lord, the Redeemer of mankind, the Lord of history and of the world. This truth, to which the Apostles were witnesses, became Good News, to be proclaimed to all.

Then the Holy Spirit renews – guides and renews – renews the earth. The Psalmist says: “You send forth your Spirit… and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps 103:30). The account of the birth of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles is significantly linked to this Psalm, which is a great hymn of praise to God the Creator. The Holy Spirit whom Christ sent from the Father, and the Creator Spirit who gives life to all things, are one and the same. Respect for creation, then, is a requirement of our faith: the “garden” in which we live is not entrusted to us to be exploited, but rather to be cultivated and tended with respect (cf. Gen 2:15). Yet this is possible only if Adam – the man formed from the earth – allows himself in turn to be renewed by the Holy Spirit, only if he allows himself to be re-formed by the Father on the model of Christ, the new Adam. In this way, renewed by the Spirit, we will indeed be able to experience the freedom of the sons and daughters, in harmony with all creation. In every creature we will be able to see reflected the glory of the Creator, as another Psalm says: “How great is your name, O Lord our God, through all the earth!” (Ps8:2, 10). He guides, he renews and he gives; he gives fruits.

In the Letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul wants to show the “fruits” manifested in the lives of those who walk in the way of the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22). On the one hand, he presents “the flesh”, with its list of attendant vices: the works of selfish people closed to God. On the other hand, there are those who by faith allow the Spirit of God to break into their lives. In them, God’s gifts blossom, summed up in nine joyful virtues which Paul calls “fruits of the Spirit”. Hence his appeal, at the start and the end of the reading, as a programme for life: “Walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:6, 25).

The world needs men and women who are not closed in on themselves, but filled with the Holy Spirit. Closing oneself off from the Holy Spirit means not only a lack of freedom; it is a sin. There are many ways one can close oneself off to the Holy Spirit: by selfishness for one’s own gain; by rigid legalism – seen in the attitude of the doctors of the law to whom Jesus referred as “hypocrites”; by neglect of what Jesus taught; by living the Christian life not as service to others but in the pursuit of personal interests; and in so many other ways. However, the world needs the courage, hope, faith and perseverance of Christ’s followers. The world needs the fruits, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as Saint Paul lists them: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22). The gift of the Holy Spirit has been bestowed upon the Church and upon each one of us, so that we may live lives of genuine faith and active charity, that we may sow the seeds of reconciliation and peace. Strengthened by the Spirit – who guides, who guides us into the truth, who renews us and the whole earth, and who gives us his fruits – strengthened in the Spirit and by these many gifts, may we be able to battle uncompromisingly against sin, to battle uncompromisingly against corruption, which continues to spread in the world day after day, by devoting ourselves with patient perseverance to the works of justice and peace.
* * *
As a coda to the above, the events of a (liturgical) year ago today bear recalling – the moment when, before an ecumenical gathering of 50,000 Charismatic Christians at Rome's Olympic Stadium, Francis knelt to be prayed over in the Spirit, tongues included....

...and amid which, the Pope offered the following spontaneous prayer:

Lord, look upon your people as we await the Holy Spirit.

Watch over our young people, watch over our families, watch over our children, watch over our sick, watch over our priests, consecrated men and women, and us bishops.... Watch over us all. And grant us that holy inebriation, the drunkenness of the Spirit, which enables us to speak all languages, the languages of charity, ever close to our brothers and sisters who need us.

Teach us not to quarrel among ourselves to get a little more power; teach us to be humble, teach us to love the Church more than our own 'team,' than our internal squabbles; teach us to have a heart open to receive the Spirit.

Lord, send forth your Spirit upon us! Amen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Be Pastors, Not 'Pilots'" – For the Bishops, The Pope's "Global Vision"

Once upon a time – indeed, not all that long ago – the most crucial and in-depth speechifying a Pope would routinely offer was the ad limina addresses to the endless groups of bishops making their five-yearly visits to the Home Office, each talk meticulously crafted with an eye to the state of the church on their own turf.

Now, of course, the scene has been upended, and the daily flood of homilies, messages, spontaneous gestures and off-the-cuff Francisims has scattered the focus of papal communication far from their traditional programmatic core. Even so, when the Bishop of Rome has some words for the bench he gets to watch up close – the Italians whose primate he is – attention must be paid. Accordingly, at the start of the CEI's annual spring plenary last night in the Synod Hall, Francis' brief remarks gave a further glimpse of the standard he seeks in the 5,000-odd shepherds of the local churches and, needless to say, the successors he names in their stead.

In the Italian context, the headline of the talk was yet another papal push for the prelates to be neither "afraid nor useless in [working to] denounce and defeat a widespread mentality of public and private corruption, which without any shame manages to impoverish families, retirees, honest workers, Christian communities, and throws away the young."

Much as Francis' latest domestic bomb-drop on 
public graft and organized crime served to further his campaign among the cause's necessary ground-troops, it was but one paragraph of a wider, potent reflection on the "ecclesial sensibility" required of bishops – both as individuals and a collective – which, the Pope said, served to comprise a "global vision," returning to emphasize "not just Italy: global" thanks to the "countless encounters" he's had as pontiff with the national leaderships of the wider church. (Here, it likewise bears recalling that Francis is the first Pope who's served as president of an episcopal conference, having been elected to lead the Argentine bench during his years as archbishop of Buenos Aires.)

In ministry today, Francis said that "our Christian and episcopal vocation is that of going against the current: to be joyful witnesses of the Risen Christ in transmitting joy and hope to others. Our vocation is to listen to what the Lord asks of us: 'Comfort my people, says your God.'

"In fact, to us comes being asked to comfort, to help, to encourage, without any distinction, all our brothers and sisters oppressed by the weight of their crosses, to accompany them, without ever tiring of working to lift them up anew with the strength that comes only from God."

Another aspect of the Pope's desired sensibility, he said, is a "concreteness," a part of which which "manifests itself in our pastoral choices and the preparing of documents – our own – where the abstract technical-doctrinal aspect should not prevail, so much that our guidelines aren't intended for our people or our country, but only for some scholars and specialists." (Ostensibly as a model of his desired kind of collective statement, Papa Bergoglio would likely have in mind the widely-acclaimed 2007 Aparecida Charter of CELAM – Latin America's continental mega-conference – whose drafting he led.)

On the second facet of the attribute, Francis said a "concrete" ecclesiology is found in "reinforcing the indispensable role of laity prepared to take on the responsibilities within their competence.

"In reality," he said, "the laity who have an authentic Christian formation shouldn't need a pilot-bishop, nor a monsignor-pilot, nor clerical input to assume their own tasks at every level, from the political and social spheres to the economy and the legislature! Instead, they need a Pastor-Bishop!"

The other key quality laid out was "collegiality," something the Pope said was in a state of "widespread weakness" in "some parts" of the global church. Among other examples, Francis cited the habit of arranging "a conference or event that, giving the floor to the same old voices, drugs [orig.: "narcotizza"] the community [into] approving the same choices, opinions and people.

"Instead," he added, "let us be transported toward those places where the Holy Spirit is asking us to go."

Closing the talk, Francis voiced his hope that the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy would "grant us the grace to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which we're all called to give consolation to each and every man and woman of our time."

*   *   *
While Papa Bergoglio hasn't yet had a shot at naming a new head to any of Italy's major dioceses, Francis has still upended the native bench with his unprecedented delivery of three voting red hats to the "peripheries" of the Bel Paese, including now-Cardinal Francesco Montenegro of Agrigento, whose "last in line" Sicilian archdiocese includes Lampedusa – the land's end destination for African migrants seeking entry into Europe, tens of thousands of whom have died making the journey, where Francis chose to make an emotional first trip outside Rome following his election.

In the process, the Pope has bypassed the traditional "cardinalatial sees" of Turin, and above all Venice, whose patriarch's chair served as the springboard of no less than three 20th century pontiffs (Saints Pius X and John XXIII, and John Paul I). In addition, given the uniquely Italian custom of the conference's president serving not by election, but papal appointment, while Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa formally remains at the CEI's helm, the B16 pick is widely thought to have been eclipsed as the body's premier figure by its new secretary-general, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, the longtime parish priest who Francis plucked for the post in late 2013 from an obscure diocese in the country's Mafia-racked southern tier.

Meanwhile, given a 400-man Stateside bench whose response to this pontificate ranges from exuberance to exasperation and everything in between, last night's remarks just help set the stage for what could well be considered the most significant ad intra moment of the coming American PopeTrip: Francis meeting with – and, yes, speech to – the US bishops, which is currently set to take place on the visit's first full day, 23 September, in Washington's St Matthew's Cathedral.

Even if much of the six-day itinerary has gradually emerged over recent months – topped by the announcement of a first-ever papal address to a joint meeting of Congress – after two separate tours of proposed DC, New York and Philadelphia stops by Vatican advance teams in late February and March, the trip's full schedule is expected to roll out sometime in June.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

"The Church Which 'Goes Forth'...."

Evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary mandate of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). In these verses we see how the risen Christ sent his followers to preach the Gospel in every time and place, so that faith in him might spread to every corner of the earth.

The word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him “to go forth”.... The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, that he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.

Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord gets involved and he involves his own, as he kneels to wash their feet. He tells his disciples: “You will be blessed if you do this” (Jn 13:17). An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance. Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time. Faithful to the Lord’s gift, it also bears fruit. An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds. The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear. The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed. Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.

I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”....

There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s “fidelity to her own calling,” any new structure will soon prove ineffective.

I dream of a “missionary option” – that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her [own] self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself.
–Francis, Bishop of Rome
Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel")
24 November 2013
On this feast that established the church's missionary character at the core of its being in every age, a Blessed Ascension Day to one and all – at least, for those in the Northeast, Nebraska and Vatican City itself.

As for everywhere else, buona... um... Thursday – just read this again on Sunday. Whatever the date in this schizoid scene, though, its paramount lesson lies elsewhere: that when said "missionary impulse" is ignored, neglected or merely given lip-service, it quickly becomes evident in the sight of the world.


Tuesday, May 05, 2015

"Lord, You've Taught Us To Be Merciful...."

As what's likely to be the cornerstone ad intra initiative of the Rule of Francis gains steam toward its December opening, at a noontime briefing this Tuesday in the Holy See Press Office, the following prayer for the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy – penned by the Pope – was released (line-breaks as provided in text)....
Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.
Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
made Peter weep after his betrayal,
and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.
Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:
“If you knew the gift of God!”

You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:
let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.
You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:
let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,
and restore sight to the blind.

We ask this through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy,
you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.

Monday, April 27, 2015

For "Land of Enchantment," A "Francis Appointment"

Via the CBS affiliate in Albuquerque, KRQE, here's fullvid of the afternoon presser at which a clearly relieved Michael Sheehan presented his successor in Santa Fe, Archbishop-elect John Wester:

While Wester will hold another media briefing in Salt Lake on his return there tomorrow, the New Mexico pick couldn't resist bringing the mainstay of Utah Catholicism along for the ride: accompanying the new archbishop was Msgr J. Terence Fitzgerald, the legendarily formidable "prime minister" of the Salt Lake church for generations until his retirement in 2011.

As Wester explained it, Fitz had come along "to help with some of the details" – in other words, to oversee yet another transition... one whose completion in Utah will bring the arrival of his sixth bishop.


And the Turquoise Goes To... Utah – Pope Lifts Wester to Santa Fe

And all of a sudden, everything was filled: at Roman Noon this Monday, in the fourth move on a US diocese within the last six days, the Pope named Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City as the twelfth archbishop of Santa Fe, granting Archbishop Michael Sheehan's retirement after 22 years of rebuilding New Mexico's 320,000-member marquee church.

Nearing the end of his three-year term as chair of USCCB Communications, the 65 year-old archbishop-elect had been the most frequently-mentioned Anglo among the potential choices for Santa Fe. A smooth, low-key conciliator in the tradition of his hometown church of San Francisco, Wester's elevation to an equal-sized, but more prestigious charge given its pallium – given the attributes of the "Land of Enchantment," quite possibly the most coveted appointment in the West – clearly bears the fingerprints of his mentor, Cardinal William Levada, as the onetime archbishop by the Bay-turned-CDF chief approaches his final year on the membership of the Congregation for Bishops before his 80th birthday in June 2016.

In succession to the eminently-regarded Sheehan, the nod represents a keen mandate for stability and continuity in the life of one of Stateside Catholicism's most historic and picturesque outposts. In that, it is a complete turnabout from the circumstances of the last Santa Fe appointment in 1993, when the East Texas-born prelate was parachuted in to clean up a moral and administrative disaster following revelations that his predecessor, Archbishop Robert Sanchez, had engaged in sexual misconduct with young women beyond a pattern of keeping abusive priests in ministry that, in his wake, saw the archdiocese rocked with over 200 lawsuits – a drip of decades-old discovery whose resolution continues into the present. (The first Hispanic to be made a US metropolitan in modern times on his appointment as archbishop in 1974 at age 37, Sanchez died in 2012 after two decades in seclusion following his high-profile fall.)

That said, it's one thing to stanch an ecclesial mess... it's all the tougher to make something happy from it. And with a determined gentleness, the departing archbishop – who celebrates a public Noon Mass in his Chancery most days – has been able to accomplish just that. Having  risen as a key lieutenant in the birth of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (as the now-USCCB was previously known), then as rector of Dallas' ever-growing Holy Trinity Seminary, a fitting victory lap for Sheehan is already on tap: next month, the archdiocese's ordination class of seven men will be Santa Fe's largest in decades, and given the timing of the transition, the archbishop will get his wish of doing the honors himself.

Back to the successor, beyond the sheer spread of Utah's 85,000 square-mile statewide church, the lead storyline of Wester's near-decade in Salt Lake has been an extraordinary level of growth that's seen the diocese's Catholic population roughly quadrupled over the last two decades, now surpassing 300,000. As the bulk of the growth has sprung from a boom in the state's Hispanic population, the succession to the new archbishop will return even more pointedly to the fault-line that marked Wester's own transfer to the heart of Mormon Country: the tension 
in the trenches between LDS and Catholics in ministering to the Latino influx. While the two faiths enjoy a remarkably strong relationship at the level of their respective leaderships – a trait dating to the hard-scrabble early days of Utah Catholicism – the delicacy of the situation at the grassroots was understood to have nixed any movement for the naming of a Hispanic to the post last time. Ergo, whether the preference for diplomacy can again overcome an even starker demographic reality will arguably make for the key question of the coming Salt Lake appointment.

On another key front, Wester's employed the church's helm in one of the nation's most conservative states to advocate several counter-cultural positions in the local debate. Entering a charged fray at many statehouses in the post-Obamacare era, in an editorial last year, he urged the Utah legislature to support the local expansion of Medicaid, citing the church's pro-life message. Elsewhere, the diocese joined the LDS leadership in backing the recent landmark state law barring discrimination against gays and lesbians, while Wester blasted Gov. Gary Herbert in March for signing a bill allowing the continued use of firing squads in executions in lieu of lethal injection.

Named an auxiliary of San Francisco in 1997 under then-Archbishop Levada, the archbishop-elect is the second protege of the "godfather" of the US church's progressive wing – the SF emeritus John Raphael Quinn – to be given a bigger berth in recent months, alongside Bishop Robert McElroy, who was installed as head of the million-member San Diego diocese earlier this month.

The local presser slated for 2pm Mountain time today, Wester's installation in the "Land of Enchantment" is slated for June 4th in the Cathedral-Basilica of St Francis. At June's end, meanwhile, the incoming archbishop will join Chicago's Blase Cupich in Rome as the duo form the US contingent for the Mass at which – in a change from prior practice – the Pope will bless the year's crop of the pallium, but without placing the lambswool band on the shoulders of each new metropolitan.

Intended by Francis as an act of enhanced "synodality" given the garment's role in the local church, archbishops will again receive the symbol of office in their cathedrals, returning to the ancient custom ended in 1984, when John Paul II decided instead to reserve the rite to himself on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul in the Vatican basilica.

While this year's change – a "Pallium Mass" without the actual distribution of it – is a halfway measure, it is understood that a ceremony with the new archbishops is only taking place at all this year due to plans already made by several archdioceses for pilgrimages with their freshly-named heads, and the Roman event is expected to be completely discontinued after this instance. On a related note, no date has yet been set for the liturgy in Holy Name Cathedral that'll see Cupich receive his pallium as head of the province comprising Illinois. For its part, the Santa Fe province encompasses the five dioceses of New Mexico and Arizona.

This morning's appointment marks the fourth US archbishop named by Francis, after Cupich, Michael Jackels of Dubuque in May 2013 and Leonard Blair of Hartford the following October.

With today's move, a milestone is reached – for the first time in memory, the number of diocesan bishops on these shores serving past the retirement age of 75 is zero. The extraordinary scenario will remain the case until Bishop William Murphy reaches the milestone atop Long Island's 1.5 million-member fold of Rockville Center on 14 May, followed later that week by Bishops Michael Jarrell of Cajun Louisiana's Lafayette church and Terry Steib SVD in the booming outpost of Memphis.

After the on-deck trio, another six Stateside diocesans will age out before the end of 2015, most prominently Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington and Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington come fall, setting the stage for a complete changing of the guard of the two sees covering the metro area of the nation's capital. Salt Lake now joins all of two other Stateside chairs currently vacant, Superior and Kansas City.


Friday, April 24, 2015

In Greensburg, The Rebuilding Begins – Pope Ships Harrisburg JV to Southwest PA

(Ed. Note: Updated 11am ET with bishop-elect's statement.)

6am ET – After the rocky road of Bishop Lawrence Brandt's 14 years at the helm of the diocese of Greensburg, one way of expressing the widespread hope in Southwestern Pennsylvania's coal country was that their next bishop would come bearing power.

Suffice it to say, mission accomplished.

At Roman Noon, the US' longest-pending diocesan handover was resolved as the Pope tapped Fr Edward Malesic, the 54 year-old judicial vicar of Harrisburg and pastor of Holy Infant parish in York Haven, as fifth bishop of the 165,000-member Greensburg church. A onetime Vatican diplomat and chancellor of Erie before his appointment in January 2004, Brandt's retirement was accepted 13 months after reaching the canonical age.

Seen above on the site of his parish's planned new church and religious ed. building, the bishop-elect comes as a surprise choice. That said, given the Greensburg fold's heavy concentration of folks of Eastern European descent, a bishop with Slovenian roots – the first Slav to lead the diocese – will make for a particularly auspicious first impression.

A product of the Josephinum, Malesic earned his licentiate in the canons at the Catholic University of America. Through his priesthood, the appointee served as a campus chaplain at no less than four colleges – another prominent attribute for the Greensburg church in light of its most prominent institution, the Benedictine-run St Vincent's College in Latrobe, whose major seminary is a key hub for priestly formation far beyond diocesan lines.

As previously noted, the "perfect storm" of significant parish and school consolidations over Brandt's tenure coupled with the bishop's austere style has made for an intense outbreak of tension among clergy and laity alike, the scene so roiled that a local petition website was launched to plead for a more "collaborative" next shepherd. Against that backdrop, even as further planning cuts and their bruising fallout are an inevitable part of life for every Northeastern and upper Midwest diocese, in this instance, the need for healing is particularly paramount.

Brandt will introduce his successor at a 10am presser at the diocesan retreat and conference facility named for Greensburg's second bishop, William Connare. Malesic's ordination has already been announced for Monday, 13 July, in Blessed Sacrament Cathedral (above).

Between today's move and yesterday's naming of the Houston vicar for clergy Fr Brendan Cahill, 51, as bishop of Southeast Texas' Victoria diocese – more on that shortly – all of one Stateside prelate remains in office beyond the retirement age: Michael Sheehan, the venerable archbishop of Santa Fe for nearly two decades, who turns 76 in July.

With the twin moves of the last 24 hours, the domestic appointment docket is ever more the thinnest in memory – far from the days of 15 to 20 dioceses undergoing transitions at once, with just two vacancies currently pending, all of three local churches now await their next head. That's not to say the months to come will be completely quiet, however – the lack of a diocesan backlog points to something that's already gotten underway: a flood of long-delayed selections of auxiliary bishops, especially for points South and West.

SVILUPPO (11am) – Delivered at one of the more joke-filled appointment pressers of recent years, here's the Opening Day statement of the bishop-elect:

Last Monday I was running a few errands and in between I was sitting at my desk in the parish. The phone rang and I saw the caller ID. It said, Vatican Embassy. My stress level went up immediately. The light started to blink (‘on hold’). My secretary came in and said that there was a man who sounded Italian asking to speak with me.

They say that if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans. I had told God my plans – many times before. When I answered the phone that morning I could hear God laughing in the background.

The papal nuncio, archbishop Vigano was simple and direct. He said Pope Francis would like to appoint you as Bishop of Greensburg. Do you accept.? I admit it. I did take a while, but in the end I said that I trust the Lord and I respect our Holy Father and with great trepidation I say yes. I am reminded of a magnet I have on my filing cabinet that says “Leadership is the ability to hide your panic from others.”

I am both greatly honored and deeply humbled by the decision of Pope Francis to appoint me as the fifth bishop of the great Diocese of Greensburg. This is an office that I never strove for nor expected – thus my shock.

But now that reality is setting in, I must thank God who has blessed me so much in this life and in the priesthood. It has been quite a journey so far and I suppose there is much more to come – and the people of Greensburg are going to be a huge part of my journey from now on. I am grateful to Pope Francis for placing his confidence in me. I do not feel deserving of it, but I am accepting of it. I love Pope Francis, and the way he has asked us all to examine and deepen our personal relationship with God. I give him my loyalty and devotion.

Thank you, Bishop Brandt, for welcoming me so warmly. When you called me last week you told me that I am inheriting a gem of a diocese. I know that you have worked hard to keep it sparkling during times of change. The Catholic community here owes a debt of gratitude to you. Thank you Bishop Brandt.

When I first found out that I was coming here, I googled Greensburg and I learned that it is one of the top places to retire. So it is good that you will stay close by in your retirement. I know that you will be a source of wisdom and guidance as I learn how to be a bishop – you already have been such a help.

I want to thank Archbishop Vigano, the Apostolic Nuncio, who was so patient with me when he informed me of the pope’s decision several days ago: and I was brought to silence. Archbishop Chaput, our metropolitan archbishop, has also been so kind to me. And, my own Bishop, Ronald Gainer in Harrisburg has been extremely helpful during the early days of this massive transition for me. I have only worked for him for less than a year – but he has been a tremendous mentor for me.

The people of the Diocese of Harrisburg have formed me in my faith from my early childhood and in the priesthood. Every parish and community that I have lived in and served has taught me something more about what it means to be a Christian. I am grateful. I especially want to thank the Tribunal Staff of Harrisburg and the staff and people of Holy Infant Parish, in York Haven, the place where I have served as pastor for the past 11 years. I will need them more than ever over these next few weeks – and I promise to bring back some Pittsburgh Steelers memorabilia. Perhaps even a terrible towel or two.

And finally I thank my parents who gave me life and passed the Catholic Faith on to me even when I gave them a hard time about it as a teenager. Thanks for not giving up.

I come to Greensburg as a stranger. But Greensburg isn’t completely unfamiliar to me – I have spent some time here for a few annual retreats at St. Vincent’s Archabbey and St. Emma’s Monastery. I know that these and other religious communities will be great spiritual assets for me moving forward. I have done a bit of reading about the Diocese in the last several days and I already get the sense that this Church is blessed with great Catholic institutions and great people – hard working priests, deacons, religious men and women, and laity who are generous in every way possible.

You will be my needed collaborators. Together, we will work to build up the Kingdom of God in our Diocese. 
Now, you are most likely wondering, who is this guy from Harrisburg. I am sure that my name has been googled more than once this morning, just like I googled Greensburg.

In short, as Pope Francis said of himself, I too am a fellow sinner. But because I am a fellow believer I have also received the mercy of God – I want to proclaim that. God is good. With God there is mercy and fullness of redemption. I am very much looking forward to celebrating the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy, recently announced by Pope Francis.

Plain and simple, I am a disciple of Jesus. I believe that he gives life – and I believe that he gives peace. I believe he founded the Catholic Church I love so much. I believe that he is with us now and in a special way he is sending the Holy Spirit upon us to create us anew. He is the source of my joy.

My episcopal motto which comes from the beginning of Psalm 100 is a reflection of the joy that we should have in the Lord. It will be “Serve the Lord with gladness.”

You are also as unknown to me as I am to you. But I know that people are inherently good, that if you love them they will normally love you back. And if you challenge them, they are often up to the challenge. I believe that there are people with deep faith everywhere and I expect I will find great faith within the four counties that make up the Diocese of Greensburg, just as I have found it over and over again in the Diocese of Harrisburg.

Over time, we will get to know each other better. I believe that we can learn from each other, listen to each other, and have the respect for one another that comes from the dignity that each and every human being has from conception until natural death.

I look forward to working together with all of you and to continue the ongoing work of the New Evangelization. With God’s help we will do good things together to build up God’s Kingdom in this part of His earth and to serve the needs of the most vulnerable among us, especially the poor and the poor in spirit.

Please be patient with me as I find my way around and as I discover more of the strengths and challenges of this local church. You will soon begin to learn my strengths and limitations too.

Please pray for me and I promise to pray for you. Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

"The Only Thing We Take With Us Is What We Have Given Away"

As the biggest farewell for an American cardinal in nearly 15 years reached its climax earlier today in Chicago, below is fullvid of the poignant funeral homily for Francis Cardinal George given by his cherished protege, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle: