Wednesday, September 05, 2007

"New Year" = New News

Well, it’s September, and time to get up to speed:
  • Back at the Main Office, the sign on the metaphorical shingle could well read “Back To Work.” As if the first of the month didn’t provide enough signal of its end of hiatus, the Roman Curia’s “new year” was jumpstarted on Monday with a slate of senior appointments, topped by that of the Milanese biblical scholar Gianfranco Ravasi to take the place of Cardinal Paul Poupard at the helm of the Pontifical Council for Culture. Ravasi, 68 next month, was simultaneously named a titular archbishop. Along with other newly-named curial bishops, he’ll be ordained to the episcopacy on the 29th at the same St Peter’s liturgy that’ll make a high priest out of Coadjutor Archbishop-elect Mietek Mokrzycki of Lviv, the longtime deputy papal secretary. For the first time since becoming Pope – and, more precisely, since presiding over the ordination of the ever-rising star Bruno Forte as an archbishop in late 2004 – Benedict XVI will personally confer the episcopate. Given the date’s confluence with the feast of Ss. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the six new bishops could be called “Ratzi’s Angels.” But Mietek – who, before Monday, had the day all to himself – could be forgiven if he thought of the new appointees as “Ordination Crashers.” Not that he would, of course, but still....
  • On this side of the Pond, the transition in the US’ Premier See steps up a notch tomorrow as Cardinal William Keeler presides at an appreciation dinner given by 2,000 of his nearest and dearest in the Baltimore Convention Center. Planned to salute the cardinal’s 18 years as archbishop of Baltimore, the event will raise funds to support a number of the retiring prelate’s cherished projects, including the archdiocesan schools, the life-changing homeless ministry of Our Daily Bread and its employment center (now in an expansive new facility), and an expanded outreach and activity program for his crowning project, the restored Basilica of the Assumption. Though much of the hierarchy will be returning in just over three weeks for Archbishop Edwin O’Brien’s installation, in a unique sign of respect for the 14th head of the nation’s mother church – the first Baltimore prelate elected to lead the American hierarchy, and twice the head of its high-profile pro-life efforts – no less than 30 bishops will be in attendance, alongside 25 members of the cardinal’s family. Tributes will be offered from near and far, and one would hope to hear among them that “Notwithstanding the often delicate and complicated nature of the questions before him, he rarely if ever made a mistake.” That might’ve been President William Howard Taft’s homage to James Cardinal Gibbons on the iconic Baltimorean’s “double jubilee” in 1911… but the more things change in Charm City, the more they stay the same.
  • The praises of lay ecclesial ministry have been sung mightily over the summer… and not from the usual chorus of liberal activists, either. Unless you happen to count Pope Benedict’s recent high-profile appointees in the States among that group. But a few days after the weather gods set Louisville ablaze to welcome him – the mercury hit a record-high 103 degrees on his installation day – Archbishop Joseph Kurtz told the hometown CoJo that “the baptismal call is a call of leadership.” While most of that is fulfilled in the ad extra world, the archbishop noted that “there are a number of (lay) individuals who are called to ministries in the church.” The pan-vocational rainmaker told the newspaper that although lay ministry “does not take the place of the call (to the priesthood)… I see these calls to be moving side-by-side.” He also noted that, in the absence of priest-pastors of its parishes, “there have been, from what I understand, very fine people who have served faithfully as pastoral ministers or pastoral associates within the archdiocese.” (Need anyone be reminded that Kurtz is still very much the Overbrook alum, let it be told that, just before his mid-August installation Mass in Derbytown’s Gardens arena, the archbishop’s request for an amice reportedly sparked a bit of a frantic (but successful) rummage through the closets of the Cathedral of the Assumption… and, even despite the crippling heat, during the post-installation reception in an adjacent tent, Louisville got its first sight of a violet choir cassock in quite some time.) After only three weeks in the Kentucky post, Kurtz has already been blazing trails across his new turf, and the response has been uniformly enthused and positive.
  • Continuing with the lay ministry theme, a rather significant address was given at a Collegeville conference on the topic last month by Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, whose return to his native city in 22 days' time has spurred a rapture of joy and anticipation akin to how the Apple devotees geared up for the release of iPhone. The chair of the USCCB’s Committee on the Laity, Zubik cited the “the indispensable fact that ministry -- all ministry -- both lay ecclesial and ordained ecclesial ministry is a result of God’s call through, within, and for the church.” “Neither form of ministry is dispensable,” he said, emphasizing that “both are intended by God.” Both “if they are to be true to their unique character must work hand in hand,” Zubik said. “Each must never compete against the other. Each must respect each other in essence and degree. Each must be embraced by the other -- never simply tolerated or merely accepted -- as both are intended by Jesus through the Church to reflect, maintain and build up the Church through her four marks: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.” The speech is a must-read, echoing as it does the Pope’s own gentle reminder in July of the Catholicism’s unique niche as “the great ‘et et.’” Money quote: “I find it particularly offensive when anyone refers to lay ecclesial ministry as a reaction to the diminishing numbers of priests. Lay ecclesial ministry is not a stop gap measure. Rather, it is a growing [of] the Church from the rich soil of Communio, Missio, and Covenant.” Message: lay ministers, keep on keepin’ on…. Or, as another participant at the Collegeville conference put it: “The emergence of lay ecclesial ministry over the past forty years stands out as one of the top three or four most important ministerial shifts of the past two-thousand years. It is on a historical par with—and in fact may even eclipse—the changes to the church brought about by the rise of communal forms of monasticism in the 5th century, the birth of mendicant orders in the 13th century, or the explosion of women’s religious communities in the 19th century.”
  • Finally, just in case anyone hasn’t yet gotten the tidings, a Happy Pascendi to you and yours. This coming weekend marks the 100th anniversary of Pascendi Dominici Gregis, the bull of St Pius X which, nine decades before The Waterboy, exhorted that modernism is the devil (or, to use the saintly pontiff's term, "the synthesis of all heresies"). Contrary to what you’d probably think, the milestone for one of the key papal texts of the 20th century hasn’t been prominently observed by the dear folks who’d wish the church never left those “good ol’ days,” but by commentators who veer, just so slightly, to their left: Peter Steinfels treated it in the pages of Saturday’s New York Times and Stephen Crittenden, the guru of Australian religion reporting, devoted a second consecutive edition of his weekly radio program to things Catholic as he focused on the anniversary. Of course, last week’s ABC Religion Report featured an extended interview with Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, the retired Sydney auxiliary whose new release on “sex and power” in the church has caused something of a global stir. Crittenden’s survey of Robinson’s book was last week’s lead piece in The Tablet, and if you’re looking to buy the tome, good luck – it’s been reported that the first printing has sold out… and not just thanks to Aussie readers. Speaking with a well-placed friend on these shores the other night, I asked his take on Robinson and his assertions. “I’d rather not talk about it,” he replied. But a minute later, after telling him that the first run had been exhausted, a mischievous laugh could be heard from the other end of the line. “I’ve got a copy,” he said.
And, lastly, apologies for the couple days’ break. The most emotionally draining week of my life ended with a need to crash and rest, following which a bunch of housekeeping matters and digging out from under the massive load of e.mail had to be tackled before all else. And shortly, after a restful summer spent at home – and the Shore, which is like home – the fall tour schedule begins….

As opposed to last week’s mega-piece – when the only problem was getting the draft down to 4,000-odd words – they’ve been very hard to come by since, especially in trying to summarize the most beautiful celebration of the faith and the church I’ve ever been blessed to be part of, Danny’s funeral liturgy last Friday night. Once that’s sketched out in a sufficiently acceptable form for your narrator’s perfectionist leanings, it’ll go up.

How I wish all of you – especially the many who wrote in with all those beautiful notes – got to experience it.

The shock is still there, the emotions are still raw and, still, a glimmer of hope remains that it was all just a horrific dream. Heartbreaking as it’s been, though, what those of us here, whether in Camden, South Philly, or South Orange have been blessed to see over the last nine days has been nothing less than the very best of the church, the very best of the People of God – your love, your strength, your generosity, fidelity, hope, and the comforting embrace of this communion of ours.

All of that has been a consolation beyond words, and an even more poignant reminder that while we may have laid one of our best to rest amid the deceptive brightness of a Saturday morning, the mission continues. Those of us who’ve been close to the flame in these days go forward from it recommitted and reinvigorated, not just to keep at the work, but to do it even better than we did nine long nights ago. It’s all too easy to lay a rose, make an appearance, say a prayer and pay your respects, but the truest and best respect is paid long down the line by keeping alive all the precious things for which an intrepid soul lived and gave himself to the last.

I’m not the only one who owes Parrillo nothing less.

We didn’t just say “thank you” to Danny last weekend, we said, “thank God for you, for the gift of you in our lives.” As I wouldn’t be doing this work were it not for everything he taught me, I count it and all of you among his many gifts to me, so for your constant stream of prayers, support, encouragement, candor -- and, especially over the last few days, the gift of your patience – I thank you, and I thank God for you, for the gift of all of you, so much.

Keep up the great work – we need it more than ever.