Saturday, May 31, 2008

"He Called Them Forward"

After Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles ordained the nation's largest priesthood class for the year -- 12 candidates for the nation's largest diocese -- earlier today in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, a friend in attendance sent the following brief:
[Mahony] reminisced about the one thing the seminary never prepared him for all those years ago: that God is the God of surprises. He then reviewed his priestly life and spoke of each surprise and how God gave him just what he needed not only to endure but even to grow more joyful. The cardinal seemed to reveal the wellsprings that he has tapped into, especially during the abuse crisis, when he said that the most important lesson he ever learned about prayer was from Sister Wendy Beckett: "The essential act of prayer is to stand unprotected before God."

My highlight was when, before the final blessings, the cardinal asked for a stack of the prayer cards for priestly vocations (distributed and prayed throughout the archdiocese). He then stood and asked if there were any young men in the congregation who had been moved enough by the ordination to feel that they might be being called then and there. He called them forward and at least twenty young men came down into the sanctuary. We applauded. The cardinal welcomed each one and gave them the prayer and said that all would stand and pray this prayer for them. We all applauded again and then we prayed.
Then the cardinal suggested to the newly ordained that, at the end of their first Masses of Thanksgiving, they should make the same invitation because “the grace of vocation flows powerfully at the time of ordinations.”
...and may it do so not just in LA ...and not just for the call to orders, but for every vocation that exists within these walls.

In those immortal words from Dunwoodie, friends, "What is God whispering to you?"

PHOTOS: Sr Nancy Munro CSJ/The Tidings


In the Northeast, "Grand Closing" Continues

At this weekend's Masses in the diocese of Allentown, the next great wave of Northeastern reconfiguration has begun rolling out.

According to early estimates from the six-county church in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, the rounds of closings and mergers -- slated to begin in mid-July and run through 2010 -- will see the 275,000-member diocese slash close to 50 of its 151 parishes.
At St. Patrick's in McAdoo, congregants cried at the news. At St. Andrew in Catasauqua, they collectively sighed. And at St. Joseph's in Mahanoy City, they applauded.

Catholics attending Mass tonight and Sunday are finding out the fates of their parishes as priests announce which churches are closing and which will survive an anxiously-awaited restructuring of the Allentown Diocese.

The Diocese has not said how many churches will close and is expected to issue a news release of the details Sunday.

"Thank God, the tension is over," Monsignor Anthony F. Wassel told parishioners at St. Joseph's, which is remaining open but being merged with five other churches into a new parish called Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. "We're going to be one parish."

The changes are likely to affect most church-going Catholics in the area as buildings close, parishes merge, and priests -- even at some unaffected parishes -- are transferred.

"You should consider yourselves to be the founders of your new parish as your grandparents and great-grandparents were founders of this parish," Allentown Bishop Edward P. Cullen wrote in letters read at affected parishes.

Fewer priests and declining numbers of parishioners in some areas have prompted the closures. Small ethnic churches and parishes in Carbon and Schuylkill counties are expected to be especially hard hit. Parishes with weak finances and infrastructure also are vulnerable.
Necessitated by decades of significant demographic shift, a future of even fewer priests, and a present of Mass attendance that, in many places, borders on the abysmal, the long-awaited Allentown changes (accompanied by a significant reshuffle of its active clergy, along with a notable number of retirements) are but the latest realignment undertaken in what's become the faded flagship of the Stateside church.

In recent years, among others, the abuse-battered Boston archdiocese shuttered 67 parishes in 2004, New York moved on a relatively pain-free elimination of 31 parishes in 2006 (whilst opening five new churches in its growing northern suburbs, and expanding several others), the diocese of Camden revealed plans to cut its number of parishes from 124 to 66 (keeping several non-parish churches open as auxiliary worship sites) in early April, and this weekend, the Buffalo diocese is completing its announcement of the closing of 77 "weekend sites" (read: parishes).

From the latter, a diocesan YouTube features Bishop Edward Kmiec talks up the changes:

It might not be pretty, folks -- church -- but it's got a name: reality. And for too long in this part of the world, it's either been avoided, or dismissed as some sort of delusional "negativity."

It's not always an easy thing to accept, but it gives us something to work for, and something to build anew.

Remember, the ones who came before us and began the project in this place two centuries ago -- whether traversing hills on horseback or walking miles in dirt to get to a ramshackle church or a Mass-hosting home on the sporadic Sundays a cleric was relatively nearby, or both -- had it way tougher... persecution and prejudice included.

Far be it from us to act or feel more indignant, entitled or "worthy" than they... all we've been is way more spoilt.

PHOTO: Kellie Manier/
Allentown Morning Call


Golden Ted

This afternoon, 50 years to the day of his priestly ordination, Washington's Cardinal Theodore McCarrick will mark the milestone with a public Mass in DC's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

If the record's any indicator, the man is one of the most-accomplished Stateside prelates of the post-Conciliar era -- his tour of duty's seen him serve as secretary to the Cardinal-Archbishop of New York, dean of students at CUA and president of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, auxiliary bishop of his hometown, founding ordinary of Metuchen, archbishop first of Newark, then in the nation's capital, always doubling up his plate with a boatload of other commitments, as if the day jobs alone weren't demanding enough.

But whether his audience has been heads of state or disaster victims on the road, grade-schoolers or Tim Russert at home, those who know him well and admired him from afar have always cited the cardinal's sense of simplicity and modesty -- the famous homespun kindness -- as his defining quality. Along the way, it raised untold millions for the help the church, the neediest and the common good, earned widespread affection, esteem and credibility in the public square... and, of course, brought the Pope to New Jersey... and Our Lady of Kazan to the Vatican.

Needless to say, the heights have been quite high. For most others, they'd be dizzying. But not even these could keep the prelate known to everyone from reporters to donors to his aides as "Uncle Ted" from keeping close to the ground, still buying his jackets from a Hertz Rent-a-Car closeout sale (the company's patches still sewn in the liner), shirking the French cuffs in favor of his beloved tab shirt and sweater-vest, heading out on the first plane to be present for victims of natural disasters the world over with help and consolation, or even -- as his confreres went into lockdown mode over the first waves of the abuse crisis -- pulling a couple dusty folding chairs off a stack to sit down with a reporter and talk frankly about the scandals on-record.

He's allegedly been "retired" these last two years, but for the Ted, that just means he's been freed to take on his longtime moonlighting gigs -- diplomat, humanitarian, fund-raiser, policy-wonk, pilgrim -- full-time.

Asking after the cardinal's schedule shortly after his return from a week in Greenland a couple months back, a friend heard him rattling off commitments: a Red Mass in New Hampshire, two weeks in India and Nepal, a stop in Rome on the way home. But still, he knew he couldn't miss Monday morning at the USCCB plenary, the time when the body's "seniores" -- the retired bishops -- are traditionally introduced.

"If you miss that," he said, "they think you're dead."

They'd make an exception in his case, but he made it anyway. And, sure enough, a couple minutes into the coffee break, he was on the road again.

The Canons say that, both collectively and individually, the cardinals are "especially" entrusted with "the daily care of the universal church." And, well, you'd be hard-pressed to find another among the bunch who takes the charge as seriously as the seaman's son who never knew his Dad; the slight, unimposing figure whose embrace over a half-century ended up spanning the globe.

As his global family gathers 'round in the capital, the jubliarian reminisced in the pages of DC's Catholic Standard:
The cardinal speaks in family terms of the man he asked to preach at his anniversary Mass, his successor leading the Archdiocese of Washington, Archbishop Donald Wuerl. "He's been a very gracious brother," he said.

And joining Cardinal McCarrick at the Mass will be many men that he calls his "sons" - the priests and bishops he has ordained over the years and remains close with. Since being ordained a bishop 31 years ago, he has ordained more than 320 priests and 12 bishops.

"One of the reasons the Lord has blessed us with vocations is, we all realize we're a family," he said, adding that he always tried to get to know each of his seminarians personally before he ordained them.

Fifty years later, he can smile about his own ordination day, but it wasn't so funny back in May 1958. "A disaster happened at the seminary the day before," he said, remembering that about one-half of the 32 men about to be ordained priests for the Archdiocese of New York fell deathly ill the day before, probably from food poisoning. The night prayers of the men about to be ordained took on special meaning, as the sound of ambulances could be heard at the seminary during the night.

"I was fine, thank God! Of the 32 to be ordained, some looked like death warmed over. Everybody got through," Cardinal McCarrick remembered, adding, "I was afraid when they prostrated (during the ordination), they wouldn't get up." The men were ordained that day by New York Cardinal Francis Spellman.

Humorous memories aside, moments from his ordination and the subsequent ordinations he presided at remain special to him.

He remembers at his ordination when his name was called, and he responded in Latin, "Ad sum."

"You say, 'here I am,' 'ad sum.' Now they say, 'present.' That's the real call. That's the vocation. I'm here to serve, to do whatever. That's a special moment (in the ceremony)," he said.

Lying prostrate reminds the man about to be ordained a priest that he is giving himself totally to the Lord, Cardinal McCarrick said. "I'm here because I want to give you (God) everything."

A famous prayer from St. Ignatius of Loyola remains among his favorites:
"Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,

my memory, my understanding

and my entire will,

All I have and call my own.

"You have given all to me.

To you, Lord, I return it.

"Everything is yours; do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace.

That is enough for me."
Interviewed recently at Redemptoris Mater, the mission seminary in Hyattsville that he established for the Archdiocese of Washington and where he lives in his retirement, Cardinal McCarrick said he experiences God's love every day. "I'm amazed at the goodness of God, the mercy of God. Here I am, 50 years a priest."
After his ordination, he dreamed of being a parish priest, but God had other plans for him, he said. "In 50 years (since) I've been ordained, I've only had two years of parish work," he said. As a young priest, he even turned down a Rome assignment, because he thought it would take him from parish work. "There's an old saying, 'If you want to make God smile, make plans!'"...

The cardinal said his greatest surprise in his 50 years as a priest has been to see "how good God is. A priest is able to see the goodness of God in awesome ways."

When he retired in the summer of 2006, Cardinal McCarrick said he prayed that he could continue to do three things:

¥ to work for peace in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, where he continues to visit four or five times a year, working with religious leaders in that effort;

¥ to help with dialogue between Islam and the Catholic Church, which he said is "so important for peace in the world, and for the future of the world;"

¥ and to continue to serve the poor, work that he continues as a board member for Catholic Relief Services, traveling around the world on that agency's behalf. "The poor have been such extraordinary examples in my life," he said, noting he experienced the poor as a young bishop in Harlem and he witnesses the plight of immigrant families today as a retired archbishop. "These are people so close to the Lord," he said of the poor.
On his Golden Anniversary and always, God love the Eminent Jubilarian -- now and forever, our Ted.

PHOTOS: Washington Catholic Standard(1); Paul Morse/The White House(2); David Ryan/Boston Globe(3)


Friday, May 30, 2008

The Heart of a Bishop

As ordination or installation homilies go, the one given by Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. at today's liturgy elevating his new auxiliary, Bishop James Conley, might just set a new record for brevity -- a page and a half, all told.

But what it lacks in length, it makes up for in oomph.

Here, the fulltext:
As I was preparing my thoughts on the readings for today, I heard from a friend whose latest child was just born with Trisomy 18.

Trisomy 18 is a genetic condition with very serious mental and physical side effects. Most of the children born with it don't survive for very long. For many families it can be a very hard experience. But what struck me about my friend and his wife was not how burdened they were by the news -- but just the opposite.

It's as if someone had punched a hole in the wall of their everyday family life, and instead of fear or bitterness, out poured a river of unselfish and indiscriminate and unexplainable love. My friend and his wife love their new daughter not in spite of the child's flaws or in spite of the short time she will be with them, but because these things make every moment more precious. I'm not even sure they're aware of how deeply they love their little girl, because you have to be on the outside of that kind of love looking in to really see how intense and beautiful it is.

This is the kind of love Bishop Conley will be called to today. The lance of a Roman soldier punched a hole in the sacred heart of Jesus, and out poured the love that gave birth to our faith and to our Church. Bishop Conley is called to have his own heart pierced so that God's love can pour out for the weak, the poor, the hungry, the unborn and all his people. The heart of a bishop is no longer his own. It belongs to Jesus Christ. It should burn with the love of a husband for his local Church; a brother for his priests and deacons, and a father for his people and those consecrated in religious life.

The love of mothers and fathers is both instinctive and deliberate. It's instinctive in the sense that sometimes it makes no sense at all. It's irrational. There's no "gain" in loving a child who, by the measure of the world, is a failure or defective. The love of a parent is also deliberate in the sense that a mother and father will use all of their skill and all of their intelligence, and sacrifice nearly everything they have, to try secure the safety and happiness of that same wounded child.

This is how we need to read Deuteronomy today. This is what Scripture means when it says that the "Lord has set his heart on you and chose you," even though Israel is the smallest of all nations and completely unworthy of God's attention. There is no "rational" basis for God's choice of Israel -- or his choice of us. The only motive for God's love is His own interior identity, the tenderness of a father's heart; a father who treasures his children simply because he does. As St. John says in today's epistle, "God is love," and the nature of love is to give itself away radically. When Christians say that "God is love," we don't merely mean that God loves His people "a whole lot," but rather that God Himself is the essence of love, a relationship of love, from all eternity.

Christian life comes from the nature of God Himself. We believe in one God who is three Persons sharing one nature. This foundational belief is not just an exercise in theology. It's central to Catholic life. The Trinity gives a framework to all Christian thought and action. For Catholics, God is a living community of love -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit-and in creating us, God intends us to take part in that same community of mutual giving. All of Christian life comes down to sharing in the exchange of love within the heart of the Trinity, and then offering that love to others in our relationships.

Pope John Paul II once wrote that love is the "fundamental and innate vocation" of every human being. This vocation -- or "calling" -- is the heart of the Christian faith. We are created by the God who is the source of love itself; a God who loved the world so deeply that He sent his only Son to redeem it.

In other words, we were made by Love, to receive love ourselves, and to show love to God and to others. That's why we're here. That's our purpose.

Love always has implications that translate into actions. "Love" is a small word, but for Christians, it always unpacks into a lot of other words: truth, repentance, forgiveness, mercy, charity, humility, courage, justice. These are action words, all of them, including truth, because in accepting Jesus Christ, Scripture says that we will know the truth, and the truth will make us free (Jn 8:32) -- not necessarily comfortable or respected; but free in the real sense of the word: able to see and do what's right. Our freedom is meant to be used in the service of others. And that's why working to defend the poor, the homeless, the disabled, the unborn child, the immigrant, the infirm and the elderly is always, always an act of Christian freedom.

Through your episcopal ordination, Bishop Conley, you are to be an icon of God's radical love through your teaching, your leadership and your fatherly tenderness to God's people.

In the Gospel today, Jesus says, "I give praise to you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, you have revealed them to little ones." Jesus himself is the first among "the little ones" to whom the Father reveals the "hidden thing" that guarantees all human happiness. The hidden thing is this: The more fully you give yourself away in love, the more fully God's love replenishes itself - and you -- with greater love. As God loves his Son; as Christ loves his Church; as my friend and his wife love their imperfect but beautiful little girl; so you are called to love God's people: unconditionally.

"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." As we continue our celebration of the Mass, we ask God's blessing on Bishop Conley that he will love and lead God's people with a "a bishop's heart," the heart of a father, the heart of Christ himself, who is love incarnate and the Word of God made flesh.

Obama's "Pastor Disaster," Catholic Edition

After a torrent of press coverage over an uber-political outburst attacking Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton by Fr Michael Pfleger -- the longtime Chicago activist pastor -- from the pulpit of the Windy City's Trinity United Church of Christ (Barack Obama's church) last weekend, the city's archbishop (and USCCB president) Cardinal Francis George has released a statement within the hour saying that "to avoid months of turmoil in the church, Fr. Pfleger has promised me that he will not enter into campaigning, will not publicly mention any candidate by name and will abide by the discipline common to all Catholic priests.

"The Catholic Church does not endorse political candidates," George said. "Consequently, while a priest must speak to political issues that are also moral, he may not endorse candidates nor engage in partisan campaigning." The cardinal added that while "words can be differently interpreted, Fr. Pfleger’s remarks about Senator Clinton are both partisan and amount to a personal attack. I regret that deeply."

No stranger to controversial comments -- at a neighborhood rally this time last year, Pfleger pledged to cheers that his community would "snuff out" a gun store owner and legislators who opposed gun control measures -- Obama said late yesterday he was "deeply disappointed" by the priest's "divisive, backward-looking rhetoric."

A close friend of the likely Democratic nominee's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and of the Illinois senator, Pfleger was reported to have resigned from a campaign-backed "Catholics for Obama" committee earlier this month.

SVILUPPO: From the archives, a visit to Pfleger's church (with Mass) by Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan...


The Boom, Lowered

Lest any doubt remained, a decree (fulltext) released yesterday from the CDF announced formally that the parties directly involved in a woman's attempt to be ordained incur latae sententiae (read: automatic) excommunication:
"Both the one who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive a sacred order, incur an excommunication 'latae sententiae,'" or automatically, said a decree from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The brief "General Decree Regarding the Delict of Attempted Sacred Ordination of a Woman" was published on the front page of the May 30 edition of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. It said it "comes into force immediately."

U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the congregation, who signed the decree, said it was published "in order to protect the nature and validity" of the sacrament of holy orders.

While only a handful of cases of the attempted ordination of women occur each year, the ceremonies themselves are given widespread publicity as are the decrees of excommunication that have been pronounced by the bishop of the place where the ceremonies are held.

Dominican Father Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary of the doctrinal congregation, told Catholic News Service May 30 that the decree explicitly applies what canon law says about the offense of attempting to enact a sacrament.

"The problem is not that all of a sudden there was a tsunami of attempted ordinations of women," Father Di Noia said, but that the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches "never anticipated that such a thing would happen."

The decree was needed "for the good of the church and to ensure bishops have a common way of responding" when such ceremonies are held in their dioceses, he said.

Father Di Noia said the decree makes clear the fact that the people directly involved in an attempted ordination of a woman excommunicate themselves automatically; it is not a penalty imposed by the local bishop or the universal church.

Since the excommunication is not imposed, there is no possibility of appeal, he said: "The only recourse is repentance.

"The church has said it is authorized to ordain only baptized men and in that way is following the example of Christ," he said.
Meanwhile, amid what its prefect (US Cardinal William Levada) termed "the contumacy of schism," the congregation has likewise upheld the excommunications levied by Archbishop Raymond Burke of St Louis against the board of the breakaway St Stanislaus parish, which had hired its own priest after the board elected to call its own shots.

With a background of the St Stan's situation, Burke announced the decision in his column for today's St Louis Review:
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith gives two reasons for its decisions. The first reason is the failure of the members of the Board of Directors to observe the time limits set by law for the presentation and pursuit of a recourse, and their negligence in fulfilling what is formally required to pursue a recourse.

The second reason is the evident fact that the members of the Board of Directors of Saint Stanislaus Kostka Corporation have committed the delict of schism and persist in the delict. As the letter of the Congregation explains, the Board of Directors have made what was Saint Stanislaus Kostka Parish, a parish of the Roman Catholic Church, into "an independent entity capable of appointing its own clergy apart from the hierarchy of the Church." The letter observes how the former Saint Stanislaus Kostka Parish was gradually "removed from the jurisdiction of the local Ordinary." In other words, the actions of the members of the Board of Directors demonstrate their refusal to submit themselves to the legitimate authority of the Church (cf. can. 751).

The decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes clear that the actions of the Board of Directors have broken communion with the universal Church. Frequently, especially in the communications media, the difficulties of the Board of Directors have been presented as a disagreement with me as Archbishop of St. Louis and have been reduced to a personal conflict between them and myself. As their pastor, I have been obliged to call them to reconciliation and repentance for the good of the salvation of their souls and the good of the whole Church. In doing so, I have acted in accord with what the teaching and discipline of the Catholic Church require. My actions have nothing to do with any personal conflict but, rather, with the integrity of the Catholic faith and its practice, which I have the solemn responsibility to safeguard and promote.

Clearly, the finding of the Congregation is most serious for the members of the Board of Directors of Saint Stanislaus Kostka Corporation. It touches upon the eternal salvation of their souls. For the Congregation, and also for me, the matter is of the deepest pastoral concern. The Congregation, therefore, indicates two possible responses of the members of the Board of Directors.

If the members of the Board of Directors believe the decision of the Congregation is unjust, then they may appeal the decision to Ordinary Session of the Cardinals and Bishops who are members of the Congregation, which takes place each Wednesday, Feria IV in Latin, within thirty "useful days" from the day on which they receive a copy of the Congregation's letter. In Church law, the "useful time" which a person has to exercise a right does not run when the person is unaware or is unable to act (can. 201, §2).

The other possible response of the Board of Directors is to withdraw from the state of schism, in which they have placed themselves, and to be reconciled with the Church. As the Congregation points out, reconciliation with the Church necessarily includes repentance for the grave harm which their schismatic actions have caused to individual souls and to the whole Church.

The decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asks that I, as Archbishop of St. Louis, assist the members of the Board of Directors of Saint Stanislaus Kostka Corporation to accept its decision and offer them, on the Congregation's behalf, "special pastoral care and kindness." I have been and continue to be committed to the reconciliation of the members of the Board of Directors with the Roman Catholic Church. From the beginning, extraordinary efforts have been made by the Archdiocese of St. Louis to keep Saint Stanislaus Kostka Corporation within the communion of the Church. I will continue those efforts.

What is clear, however, is that reconciliation can only take place through the acceptance of the Church's teaching and discipline, in its integrity, which we all are held, in obedience, to accept and follow. Reconciliation, in the present case, must be a return to the recognition of the legitimate authority of the Church's pastors, that is, the Holy Father, the Archbishop of St. Louis, and the parish priest.

From the Rooftops

From Toronto, the Mediafest talk of the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli:
Our message is always the same -- Jesus of Nazareth must always be at the heart of our proclamation -- but how we present him to a changing world and how we communicate his message needs to be continually reformulated and adapted to the moment and the context.

Seven years ago, the Holy Father, John Paul II, issued a message for World Communications Day on the theme: "Preach From the Housetops: The Gospel in the Age of Global Communication." In it, he notes: "In all cultures and at all times -- certainly in the midst of today's global transformations -- people ask the same basic questions about the meaning of life: Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? Why is there evil? What is there after this life?

"And in every age the Church offers the one ultimately satisfying answer to the deepest questions of the human heart -- Jesus Christ himself, 'who fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his high calling.' Therefore, the voice of Christians can never fall silent, for the Lord has entrusted to us the word of salvation for which every human heart longs. The Gospel offers the pearl of great price for which all are searching."

It is clear then, that the Church must use all the resources at its disposal and in the best ways possible to reach out to all people through the communications media, and especially to those searching for meaning. At the same time, we must never lose sight of the importance of the witness of personal example and one to one communication.

In the Acts of the Apostles, there is the account of the Deacon Philip who asked the Ethiopian he met on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza: "Do you understand what you are reading?" And the Ethiopian answered him: "How can I, unless someone guides me?" Philip then spoke about Jesus in response to his questions about the messianic Lamb, as announced in the prophet Isaiah's words he was reading.

In the same way, we in the Catholic media should be ready and available to accompany others searching for meaning on their journey in life, and in this way proclaim to them the Good News of Jesus. It is a call to service and to dialogue with the culture in which we find ourselves.

In that passage in the Acts of the Apostles, we also read that the road from Jerusalem to Gaza was a desert route. I think the image of the desert is a powerful metaphor for the emptiness people may feel in their own lives at times, or for the cultural environments in which they live. I would hope that in our own media work and our interpersonal encounters, we can help quench the thirst for meaning in these deserts by being attentive to others and by our willingness to be at the service of culture, leading to the discovery of the salvation that comes to us from Christ.

I am convinced that within the human heart there is a deep yearning for God -- something I like to call a "nostalgia for God." I spoke about this recently at a meeting of European media and public relations experts where I was invited to speak about religion and communication.

I noted that: This feeling is most immediately felt when the human subject confronts the reality of his or her own solitude. It is in moments of solitude that the individual is unable to avoid a consideration of the ultimate questions concerning life and death and the point and purpose of his or her personal existence. It is perhaps for this very reason that so many humans seek to avoid such moments of solitude and are tempted to lose themselves in the world of constant communications and perpetual "busy-ness."

The question that the individual confronts in the depths of his or her own solitude is a question about the very essence of their own existence. In the final analysis, the individual is confronting a question that is not merely the product of his or her own reflection but one that issues from beyond the existence of any one individual. It is this very question that mysteriously grounds the being of the individual.

If we are not attentive to this dimension of human existence, if we are deaf to the echo of the question which reveals itself in a desire for a destiny that can shape human life, we can never establish an authentic human relationship. True communications between humans -- and it is precisely as communicators that we come together -- demands an openness to this basic yearning.

I would like to conclude with words of Pope Benedict XVI in his message for this year's World Communications Day: "Let us ask the Holy Spirit to raise up courageous communicators and authentic witnesses to the truth, faithful to Christ's mandate and enthusiastic for the message of the faith, communicators who will interpret modern cultural needs, committing themselves to approaching the communications age not as a time of alienation and confusion, but as a valuable time for the quest for the truth and for developing communion between persons and peoples."
The theme of this year's convention is "Proclaim It From the Rooftops."

...and the first part of that phrase is?


Thursday, May 29, 2008

In the Rockies, Conley Friday Dawns Early

Having passed its halfway point in the fields of Iowa, the Festival Express (17 days, five ordinations, two installations... and a Ted with a Golden Jubilee) now heads Westward... where a little piece of Rome'll be making a cameo appearance at its next destination.

On paper, it might simply be the ordination of an auxiliary bishop of Denver, but tomorrow's rites elevating James Douglas Conley -- longtime Vatican official, beloved pastor in his native Kansas, cult figure, college chaplain, proud citizen of Jayhawks Nation, convert -- to the episcopacy are looking to be the one event of this traveling circuit most eagerly followed by the folks in the Pope's backyard.

For a decade, after all, the 53 year-old bishop-elect worked among them, manning the English desk at the Congregation for Bishops -- a job that led Conley's principal consecrator to crack that the ordinand "has a lot of experience making bishops, but no experience being one." Of course, that'll change after tomorrow's afternoon liturgy at Denver's Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, when the born Presbyterian received into the church when he was 20 becomes, as Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. put it at a Vespers service earlier tonight, "not only a preacher and teacher of Jesus Christ, but a successor of the Apostles and an icon of Christ Himself."

Given the crush of family, friends and co-workers past and present -- all led by his mother -- attendance in the 800-seat cathedral for tomorrow's Ordination Mass will be by invitation-only. Held in one of the Mile High City's larger churches, tonight's service, however, were open, and at this hour the prayers continue with a public adoration vigil stretching through midnight in the Christ the King Chapel at St John Vianney Seminary.

The long-awaited successor to now-Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio, who was plucked from the Rockies in late 2004, the incoming auxiliary is only the fifth the 400,000 member Colorado fold has received in its 140-year history as a local church. (On Monday, Gomez will preside over his second episcopal ordination: that of his new auxiliary, 41 year-old Oscar Cantu.)

Having chosen John Henry's Newman's motto as his own and with tonight's Vespers opening the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Conley's homily tonight intertwined the calendar with his new office, adding in the figure of his historic mentor to boot:
I first encountered the Sacred Heart of Jesus nearly 30 years ago, shortly after my conversion to the Catholic Church. I had just graduated from college and had spent the following winter at a Benedictine monastery in France, trying to figure out just what God wanted me to do with my life. After a wonderful extended pilgrimage with these holy monks of Saint Benedict, two of whom are with us this evening, I had pretty much discerned that I did not have a vocation to be a monk. So I left the monastery to visit and pray at some of the famous Catholic shrines in France.

I had heard about the apparitions of the Sacred Heart to Saint Margaret Mary, and so I set out on foot with backpack in tow, for Paray le Monial. I ended up hitch-hiking most of the way, and I arrived at the little French village in the late afternoon in the pouring rain. I had not made any prior reservations, of course, and so I did the logical thing. I knocked on the door of the Rectory where the parish priest lived. He was a kind old priest, and he told me that there were some empty rooms over in the old seminary which had since closed down.

He gave me a key, and I made my way over to the seminary. I found one of the rooms and changed out of my wet clothes. The room was very old, but it was warm and dry. There was a small wooden desk against one wall, and so I sat down and began to write a letter to my mother.

I pulled out the desk drawer, and the only thing in it was a small crucifix -- this crucifix. I took the crucifix in my hand and turned it over. And there on the back of the crucifix, in French, was engraved a date. The date was June 6, 1878. I thought nothing of it until I realized that the present date was also June 6 -- of 1978, exactly 100 years later to the day, from the date on the back of the crucifix!

I didn’t have a clue as to the date’s significance, but I did know that the crucifix was meant for me – and so I took it with me and have kept that crucifix to this day.

For me, this story from Paray le Monial, the home of the Sacred Heart and the coincidence of the date on the back of the crucifix, was an affirmation that Jesus loved me, that he laid down his life for me and that his guiding hand was with me, even though I didn’t know where he was leading me. It came at a time in my life when I wasn’t sure where to turn to next. It gave me the confidence to forge on, in faith and in trust, knowing that God was watching over me and guiding me and that I was on the right path.

Every time we look at a crucifix or a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we should be convinced that God loves us. He sent his only son who died for us to save us. He continues to draw us into the love of his Sacred Heart. He beckons us to lay down our lives in service to the Lord and to each other.

And this is the vocation of a bishop, to lay down his life, like Jesus the Good Shepherd, for the good of the flock entrusted to his care – to love his people, with the heart of the Good Shepherd.

In doing so, in the words of Saint Paul from tonight’s reading, the bishop sanctifies himself and the church, “making her holy, purifying her in the bath of water by the power of the word, to present himself a glorious church, holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort.”

John Paul II once wrote that while it is an honor to be called to the episcopate, a bishop is not chosen “for having distinguished himself among many others as an outstanding person and Christian... the honor comes from his mission to stand at the heart of the Church as the first in faith, first in love, first in fidelity, and first in service.”

He goes on to say that because of this role: “a bishop is called to personal holiness in a particular way so that the holiness of the Church community entrusted to his care may increase and deepen”....

How does one do this? I have chosen for my episcopal motto “Cor ad cor loquitur” (heart speaks to heart). This isn’t an original quotation. I stole it from my mentor, the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, the great 19th century English convert to the Catholic faith. My first encounter with Newman was during my sophomore year in college when I had to write an essay on an English prose writer, and I chose Newman. It wasn’t even a religious essay. My mom typed the paper for me. I’m not sure she remembers that. But it began for me a life-long love affair with Newman that continues to this day. In fact, tomorrow, May 30, will mark the 161st anniversary of Newman’s ordination to the priesthood which took place in Rome on May 30, 1847. For me, this is another sign of Newman’s influence in my life.

But that line, “heart speaks to heart”, was not even original to Newman. He borrowed it for his motto when he was named a cardinal in 1879, from a letter written by the great 17th century spiritual writer and Bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales.

These words “heart speaks to heart” can first be understood as the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Heart of God, speaking to our heart, calling us to holiness, leading and guiding us to the Father.

But “heart speaks to heart” can also describe a type of pastoral charity where an individual leads another individual to God, through love and kindness. One heart at a time, person to person, heart to heart.

Newman believed that, next to the power of supernatural grace, the greatest influence over the human soul is the example of goodness in another person.

We might think of the people in our own lives who have shaped us the most. Perhaps our parents, a teacher, a priest, a good friend, someone we wanted to emulate. This happens every day. It is through friendship that we are moved to rise above our own weakness, our own vanity and pride, to embrace holiness and virtue, to strive for goodness, truth and beauty. I think we have all experienced this in our lives.

And ultimately, it is the example of love and virtue in Jesus, the friendship of the soul with Christ, that draws us to want to lay down our lives for our beloved, to do great things, to love in a heroic way.

In his address to young people and seminarians at Saint Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York, on April 18, Pope Benedict spoke these words to the young people: “I urge you to deepen your friendship with Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Talk heart to heart with him”.

Even though Newman was a great believer in a faith rooted in dogmatic principles, he writes that no one ever died for a proposition, but thousands have laid down their lives for a person, the person of Jesus Christ.

This is what a bishop is called to do, to lay down his life for his flock. Like the good shepherd, a bishop must lay down his life for his people.
In his own reflections on the episcopacy penned earlier this week, Chaput pointed to the figure of the early doctor of the church St Athanasius, known in his time as "Athanasius contra mundum" -- "Athanasius against the world."

"He never gave up," the archbishop wrote. "He always had courage. He had the truth, and the truth won. And in the end, he became one of the best-loved bishops and greatest Doctors of the Church—and the Catholic faith we take for granted today, we owe in part to him.

"That’s the vocation of a bishop. That’s the vocation Bishop-elect Conley will take up on behalf of God’s people. But that’s also the vocation of every Catholic believer fully alive in Jesus Christ."

Assisting the Denver prelate at tomorrow's ordination will be the bishop-elect's boyhood friend, Bishop Paul Coakley of Salina, and Conley's now-former ordinary, Bishop Michael Jackels of Wichita.

The new bishop will celebrate a public Mass of Thanksgiving in the cathedral Sunday morning.

PHOTO: Brian Brainerd/Denver Post


Welcome to Iowa

At his installation Mass today in Des Moines (videosnip/homily), Bishop Richard Pates upstaged Iowa's Catholic lieutenant governor:
[Lt. Gov. Patty] Judge read an introduction with some highlights of Iowa, including the Iowa caucuses. Judge said she and Gov. Chet Culver "welcome your voice in these social and political debates."

"We will work closely with you in the protection of all human rights," the new bishop said. "Particularly the right to life."...

Judge, a Democrat, supports abortion rights. Pates' statement received a standing ovation from the crowd.
After what the wire termed the arena liturgy's lone "discordant note," there was some humor in the intro to Pates' homily:
It is a great consolation to me that I come to the Church of Des Moines as its ninth Bishop. Such lengthy genealogy provides perspective. My predecessor bishops, each in his unique way, has made a difference. Even if I should blow it badly, the Diocese will go on. The 10th, 11th and 12th bishops will just have to work a little harder.
PHOTO: Diocese of Des Moines


In Blessed TO, "Blessed TV!"

This weekend, close to 500 church communicators have gathered in Toronto for the Catholic Media Convention -- the recently-merged annual gathering of ecclesiastical "old media" headlined by the Catholic Press Association. Serving as twin hosts in Canada's media capital -- home to an energetic B16 appointee who's one of the global church's most camera-friendly prelates -- are the national weekly Catholic Register and the first-fruit of TO's 2002 World Youth Day, Salt + Light TV.

As CNS' Jim Lackey blogs away from the event, one of its main speeches was delivered this morning by the director of the Holy See Press Office/supremo of Vatican Radio and CTV, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi. The talk was the first major address given in English by the commonly-termed "papal spokesman" who, in his spare time, serves as a top assistant to Jesuit Father-General Adolfo Nicolás... and received an honorary degree from the local Jesuit college earlier in the week (Lombardi's shown above on one of his home-turfs: the Aula or briefing room of the Press Office).

CNSBlog has the fulltext of The Portavoce's extensive talk on "When the Pope Speaks to the World," snipped below:
A few days after the conclusion of an apostolic trip, the three or four people responsible for Vatican media who travelled in the papal entourage, would always be invited to a working lunch with Pope John Paul II and the Monsignor from the Secretariat of State who followed the international print media coverage of the trip. The Pope wanted to know how the trip had been presented in the media. He wanted to reflect with his collaborators on what messages had gotten through and what hadn’t. He wanted to know whether his message had reached the broader public or not.

He did this every single time, even after his one hundredth trip, when one would have thought he already understood how the media function… It was always a pleasant lunch, of course… but it was definitely a working lunch. The Pope knew exactly what he wanted from this kind of meeting and he never let the conversation digress very far from the main issue.

After his election, when Benedict XVI heard about his predecessor’s tradition in this regard, he decided to do the same. So after every voyage we have an informal conversation about how the trip was communicated in the media. This approach impresses me deeply. It says a lot about the two popes’ relationship with the media, about their attention to the media as a dimension of everyday life, about their awareness that the media are fundamental and necessary for spreading any message. It is a peaceful and humble awareness that tries to understand and apply the dynamics of communication in today’s world without fear, without conditioning.

Pope Benedict knows, just as John Paul II did, what he wants to say and what he should say. Neither of them would ever adapt their message, either out of fear or out of love for the media. And both of them truly cared whether or not the message was understood....

During a conversation with a group of German journalists shortly after his trip to Valencia, Spain, for the World Day for Families, one of them asked Pope Benedict why he chose not to mention the fact that the Zapatero government was so aggressive toward the Christian vision of the family. The Pope replied, saying he had only twenty or thirty minutes to give two speeches and that he had chosen to use that time positively to express the beautiful idea of the Christian Family. When there is time for more ample and elaborate discourses, then we need to recall the negative points as well. But it is always necessary to have a criterion, a hierarchy in expressing the Christian proposition. Evidently, that which is positive takes first place. It is no accident that the Pope’s first Encyclical was on Love, the second on Hope. No accident either that his first book was about Jesus, who shows us the face of God.

When he speaks to young people too, right from his homily at the inaugural Mass of his pontificate, Benedict XVI insists that ours is not a religion of prohibitions, of “no’s!” Rather, it is based on the great “yes!” of love. The pedagogy of holiness, the presentation of concrete, attractive models of sanctity, of fulfilled Christian lives, which John Paul II promoted in a very obvious way, and which Benedict XVI continues to promote in a more moderate form, is in this same line.

As communicators, we must not let ourselves be taken in by the myth of a communication that thinks it needs to be polemical in order to be effective. There is good news out there, and there are good examples that can attract attention - Mother Teresa knew how to attract many by the beauty of her charity and holiness.

Of course we must be realistic. We have to know how to recognize and denounce the evils, the risks and the dead ends present in contemporary culture. In this, Benedict XVI is clear and decisive. In this, he refuses to compromise. His critique of relativism, subjectivism, individualism, of materialism and hedonism, is frequent and frank, especially as regards current tendencies in European culture. He is convinced that values are at stake which are extremely important for humanity, for society and the future. He is convinced that the manipulation of life and the distorting of the proper relationship between a man and a woman pose very serious risks for humanity. He is convinced that closure to a transcendent horizon causes us to lose our basic points of reference and he maintains that it is his duty to say so with clarity.

We must be careful though, not to let ourselves be imprisoned in a prevalently negative outlook, as many of the media that have a prejudicially diffident vision of the Church try to do, sometimes intentionally. If our contemporaries perceive us simply as adversaries of the new, we will be cut off from the conversation on which the future will be built.

Once again, it seems to me that the speeches of Benedict XVI during his recent visit to the United States are a particularly effective example of the balance between the positive message and the clear identification of evils, divisions, weaknesses and dangers. The best way is the one that avoids the traps of naïve optimism and those of radical pessimism, which does not believe in the presence and the power of the workings of grace....

As we all know, a crucial point the Pope was expected to address when he came to the United States was that of the clerical sexual abuse crisis. For months, people were asking whether he would say anything at all, how he would deal with the question, whether he would avoid it. It was obvious he couldn’t avoid the subject altogether, since it was a problem that had marked the life of the Church so painfully in recent years. The first public indication that the Pope was going to speak about it came in the interviews given by the Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, the week before the Holy Father’s departure. When I collected the questions proposed by journalists travelling on the papal flight, in order to show them to His Holiness, two days before he was to leave for the States, I wasn’t surprised to see that questions regarding the clergy sexual abuse issue were the most often submitted.

Questions proposed by Spanish-language journalists regarding immigration ran a close second. The Pope’s decision to respond during the flight - speaking off-the-cuff in English - surprised even me. His honest and courageous words instantly won him the respect and esteem of countless numbers of people. You all know what happened next. You heard the Pope’s various remarks on the subject. You also remember his meeting with some of the victims and the decision to hold the encounter in the most discreet and respectful manner possible. Though it was private, this gesture completed the Holy Father’s words and made them even more credible. It is a general principle that we ought to keep in mind when considering the effectiveness of communication, a principle in which the Church has long centuries of experience in her liturgy: words and actions complement one another.

It is vitally important to tell the truth with clarity and simplicity. Every ambiguity, every reticence and, worse still, every intentional concealment of the truth, will exact a dear price in the end. The vicissitudes connected to the sexual abuse crisis were the weightiest proof of this. The Pope understood that to heal the wounds of the past there was need for the kind of sincerity that is absolutely devoid of uncertainty. We are all grateful to Pope Benedict for this....

The Church continues to offer us a vision of the good that social communications can perform in the service of society and the human person. The titles of the Church’s documents on the subject are all optimistic: Miranda Prorsus, Inter Mirifica, Communio et Progressio, Aetatis Novae, The Rapid Development….

One evening, John Paul II was participating in a prayer vigil with Roman university students. Together with the Vatican Television Centre we’d organized complicated two-way TV link-ups with several different cities. At one point the Pope exclaimed: “What a wonderful thing this television is! It allows me to talk with my young people in Krakow even when I am here in Rome… Blessed TV!”. I was deeply struck. The Pope taught me to have a positive Christian vision of television, something I usually thought of as a source of various problems and evils! His was a prophetic vision, a vision that sees beyond what things are, and that helps us make them what they should be: in the service of good and of the human person. We must never get discouraged as we perform our service!

Pope John Paul II wrote in his final apostolic letter on communications, “Rapid Development”: “The communicator is not only one who practices his work, but someone who “lives” his work. As communicator, the person transmits a view and, therefore, becomes a witness. Communicators must be witnesses of values that are good for society. Communications and the media become instruments at the service of peace, at the service of the development of human society.”

Let us continue to work together at the service of peace, at the service of the development of human society.

God bless you all!
Again, it's well worth a full read.

In what's believed to be a first, B16 sent a message to the Toronto gathering, where the Vatican delegation's being led by Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, the president of the Pontifical Council f0r Social Communications along with his predecessor (the "patriarch" of the Catholic press), Philadelphia's own John Cardinal Foley.

And then, the Italian press lit up with talk that the Pope would himself take to the airwaves....

While the CMC veers Establishment in its membership, a parallel event for Catholic New Media will be taking place in late June in Atlanta.

And someday sooner rather than later, may the two become one.


Reclaiming the Promise

The Mayor of New York might've done the honors for last week's 252nd Commencement of your narrator's alma mater... but in a keen counterpoint to Michael Bloomberg's wisdom from Wall Street and City Hall 102 miles up I-95, the Baccalaureate Address a day prior fell to the River City's most-loved ecclesiastical treasure: Sister of Mercy Mary Scullion, founder and head of Project H.O.M.E. -- the independent agency that, over two decades, has helped cut the city's homeless population in half by giving the poorest of our poor the care, confidence, skills and opportunities to have life to the full, including a home of their own.

It might not be the Big Speech on Franklin Field, but following in the footsteps of Georgetown's famed Augustinian Jim O'Donnell and the late great Jaroslav Pelikan (my beloved professor... one of the kindest, humblest, most luminous souls I've ever been blessed to know... memory eternal), suffice it to say, the Bac Talk is quite the gig to get. And in her turn at the Irvine pulpit, saying that "the promise of America is still unfulfilled, but still beckons," Scullion's master-class drew upon the twin teachings of the Good Lord and the Great Ben (Franklin -- Penn's founder) on the imperative of working toward a truly common good in our own day and on our own turf:
You are beginning a journey that is important, rewarding and complex. It will take you into a world that most often measures the value of a person by his or her productivity alone, while discarding the seemingly unproductive along the way. It is a journey into a society so mesmerized by its view of success that it considers real only that which can be seen and touched and weighed and measured, a society in which human and spiritual values have almost vanished from its consciousness.

As future leaders, you face particular challenges and tough choices. Our society has become largely a culture where even the most lofty professions are often driven by billable hours and well-financed interests. Our legal, financial, political, health and educational systems were established with high ideals: preserving basic democracy and human rights. Yet, largely through the influence of money and power, those ideals degenerate to the point that they are often used to blunt human rights and individual liberties. In the worst cases, these professions are used to promote greater inequities of power and wealth.

The mission of the University of Pennsylvania challenges you to turn the abstract theories that you have learned here into the living, breathing expressions of truth, human dignity and social justice. Your education, your intelligence, your inherent talent should not be sold to the highest bidder and as Virginia Woolf warns, “Do not commit adultery of the brain because it is a much more serious offense than the other.” But rather use your gifts for the advancement of humankind.

My experience has convinced me that the men, women and children who sleep on our city streets are a prophetic presence in our midst; they represent a profound symbol to our society, warning us that something has gone radically wrong.

You may remember the old adage about the canary. “The birds were brought into the mines in cages and hung from support beams near the miners. If the canaries began to fall dead from their perches, the miners would evacuate the mine: deadly coal gas was present. This gas was without smell or taste but it could kill and did. The canaries with their high rates of metabolism would fall before the humans. Their death was an accurate prediction of what would happen to the miners if they remained and if the gas was not pumped out of the mine and replaced with good air.”

In much the same way, homelessness is symptomatic of an advanced disease within. The men, women, and children who are homeless represent the first wave of the sweeping forces that are drastically changing our society and ultimately threatening the larger social fabric.

We need to realize that what is at stake in our response to homelessness is not just the specific circumstances of people who are homeless. It is no less than the very basic health and vitality of our entire community.

Ultimately, the issues homeless and poor people face are our issues: decent, affordable housing; quality education; employment at a livable wage; a health care system that is accessible to all; healthy communities that nurture healthy families; freedom from discrimination.

When we see a person on the street we can no longer pass by and piously say, “There but for the grace of God go I”—but rather “There go I.” As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. challenged us: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Dr. King, speaking at the National Episcopal Cathedral in Washington DC in 1968, in one of his last sermons, offered these reflections on a famous Gospel parable of Lazarus and the rich man: “The rich man didn’t go to hell because he was rich; he didn’t realize that his wealth was his opportunity. It was his opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus. The rich man went to hell because he passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him. He allowed his brother to become invisible ... He sought to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty. And this can happen to America, the richest nation in the world—and nothing is wrong with wealth—this is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether American will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.”

Think about the world you want to live in … the world you want your children and grandchildren to live in … Is it OK with you that 40% of the teens entering 9th grade this year, will not graduate from high school in four years? Is it OK with you that people are being killed on the streets of Philadelphia in record numbers? Is it OK that our jails are the largest mental health hospitals? Is it OK that 400 to 500 hundred people live on our streets daily and are you OK with the fact that over 1,000 kids are living in city shelters tonight?

The Hebrew Bible was understood as God’s revelations of how the human community was to live. It was the vehicle whereby the community could adjudicate conflict, regulate use of resources, resolve inequities, repair harm, and restore relationships. The whole purpose of the Bible was nothing less than to bring about God’s vision of justice and shalom for the human community and show us how we could live according to God’s will and delight. A particular concern of the Hebrew Bible was to protect widows, orphans, the poor, and any other who did not have power or influence in the community and were subject to exploitation.

Jesus, contrary to much overly simplistic Christian theology, did not overthrow the law, but pointed to the ultimate purpose of the law, which was mercy, justice and compassion. Like the prophets before him, Jesus showed that the law bore God’s special concern for those who were poor, powerless, and socially marginalized. He challenged and condemned those religious authorities who wielded the law for their own aggrandizement and for social control—the very opposite of its purpose.

This past December a woman who worked in Suburban Station lost her job. She lived in a precarious housing situation and shortly after losing her job she became homeless and ended up living on the streets. She lost all of her fingers due to frostbite. After being hospitalized due to frostbite, she left the hospital for the streets in a state of trauma. She sought shelter but all she could find was a place on a couch in a woman’s safe haven. Try eating without fingers and doing the most basic self care. What started out as a serious problem of losing one job turned into a nightmare. It is hard to comprehend the suffering and the urgency that homelessness is until it happens to you or to someone you care about. We have to learn to care again about the common good as Benjamin Franklin did so well.

As I said earlier, the promise of what America can be still beckons. Part of that promise is that we become a truly just and compassionate society, where every person is treated with dignity and respect, where every person is valued and has access to affordable housing, quality education and health care, and the chance to use his or her gifts to make a decent living and contribute to society. We are still far from that promise, but like our forebears who refused to give up on this society, who struggled to end slavery, to enfranchise women, to welcome immigrants, to open up economic opportunity, to dignify labor, to extend political participation — we too will not give up. We too will actively work to fulfill America’s promise of meaningful opportunity for all. We will insist that part of the promise of America is that we commit to ending the scourge of poverty in this land of plenty. We must reclaim Franklin’s deep commitment to the common good, which is at the core of this historic university. As we say at Project HOME, none of us are home until all of us are home. Working to end homelessness and poverty is not an impulse of charity or liberal politics. It is ultimately seeking to heal ourselves and our society as a whole. As Lila Watson, an aboriginal Australian activist says, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Pursue truth, knowledge, justice and compassion. They will take you to new and unexpected places. Trust in God and in a higher power, for our prayer today for you is:

“Glory be to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” Amen.
Citing her as an example of "good news" in a world that needs it, NBC News once profiled Sister Mary as "the nun who won't take 'no' for an answer"....

God love her, and all those among us who've given themselves to the service of "these least ones"... and, of course, as always, "Hurrah for the Red and the Blue" -- my debt to it is never-ending. Literally.


On the Trail

Another day, another event....

This Thursday finds the circuit moving to the heart of the Heartland, as Bishop Richard Pates formally takes the reins of the diocese of Des Moines. Yet while more than 2,500 packed into San Fran's St Mary's Cathedral for yesterday's ordination of Bishop Bill Justice, today's Mass installing the 65 year-old former Twin Cities auxiliary will take place in the 18,000-seat Hy Vee Hall, a local landmark.

Once a cherished aide of the then-Apostolic Delegate Archbishop Jean Jadot for six years back in the 1970s, the ninth head of the Iowa diocese of 91,000 succeeds the beloved Bishop Joseph Charron, who retired early last year due to the effects of an inflammatory rheumatic disorder. In an unusual add-on, attendees at the open-to-all liturgy are being asked to bring a donation of money or food for the poor.

Festivities began earlier tonight with a Vespers service in St Ambrose Cathedral. Homily snip:
On this eve of my installation as the ninth bishop of Des Moines my mood is reflective. It hearkens back to those moments of intimacy that Jesus shared with his close friends on the eve of his death and the birth of the Church when he prayed not only for them but us as well.

On that occasion Jesus spoke of his relationship with the Father and the Spirit and that what he was about was not to end in the here and now. But it was to be extended into eternity. The means of arriving at this desired goal was to remain connected with him and remain in his love. And we manifest love for him by doing what he commanded. His command is to love one another and to remain faithful in unity. If we live in such a way we are assured that the spirit, the very spirit of God dwells in us.

Like Paul, we recognize that all are given gifts for the benefit of all in order that God’s desire – our sharing in his love - might be experienced as widely as possible. Thus, I look forward to exercising ministry with you in the Spirit as Jesus envisioned it....

Constituting the Church of Des Moines are all of us who have been initiated into the life of the Lord Jesus, profess the one faith and are emboldened to strive to be light and salt for the world in which we live. We thus stretch the unity and love that we experience in community to all. May our commitment to this vision intensify in the days ahead.

The Church of Des Moines seeks to be in relation with all, our fellow Christians, all believers, citizens of this city and Iowa, political and business leaders and those who enhance cultural life. Count us as partners in the pursuit of the common good, social justice, the uplifting of the human spirit. Let us work together to fulfill our human potential for the benefit of all.
At the end of Vespers, Pates announced that he had asked Msgr Stephen Orr -- the diocesan administrator during the interregnum and longtime vicar-general before that -- to continue as his second-in-command.

"In his inimitable and appreciated candor," the incoming bishop also noted that Orr responded by saying "I will do whatever you want, but I have been doing this for 16 years – so somewhere along the line you might keep that in mind."

* * *

Looking forward for a minute, late next week (i.e. two more ordinations and a Golden Jubilee away) will finally see Day One for the new head of Arkansas' statewide diocese, Bishop-elect Tony Taylor of Little Rock.

The more vesturally-inclined might still be fixated on why his appointment-day press conference saw everybody in house cassocks as opposed to the usual suit-up, but the challenges soon to face the 53 year-old bishop-elect are even more pressing, many driven by a booming Latino influx that's seen Razorback Country's Catholic population more than double over the last decade... not to mention all the little things that tend to pile up after an almost 25-month vacancy of the bishop's chair.

A Rome and Fordham-trained scriptural theologian who led a 95% Hispanic parish in Oklahoma when he got the call, the first Sooner elvated to the episcopacy since 1972 -- when John Sullivan (later bishop of Kansas City-St Joseph) was named to lead Nebraska's diocese of Grand Island -- Taylor will be ordained a week from today in Little Rock's Convention Center by his former ordinary, now metropolitan, Archbishop Eusebius Beltran.

With an eye to next week's events, Arkansas' political weekly gets an impressive jump-start on the coverage with a lengthy profile of the state's seventh bishop:
Taylor's first words to Arkansas, at the announcement of his appointment as bishop, were in Spanish: “El humilde heredará la tierra.” “The humble shall inherit the earth.”

He continued, in English, to explain: “Jesus' preferential love of the poor and marginalized was courageous, not timid, and so must we also be if we are to be his faithful servants.”

Taylor went on to say that, while individual priests in the Arkansas diocese had spoken out about immigration issues, administrators here have generally avoided the issue. That would change, he said, adding: “I certainly speak out very clearly about what the gospel says about human dignity and human rights.”

Last year, Taylor joined the archbishop of Oklahoma City and nine other priests in signing a “pledge of resistance” to Oklahoma's HB 1804, a law that suspends or revokes business licenses of employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants and makes it a felony to transport or shelter them.

In a statement of “defiance” addressed to Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, the archbishop and priests wrote: “Our faith tradition instructs us to do good to all peoples. There is no exemption clause for those persons who do not have documentation of their citizenship status. We will not show partiality to those who are in need of humanitarian assistance.”

For Taylor, his decision to sign the “pledge of resistance” was never in doubt. “Our lives are not compartmentalized,” he says. “It's not that we have one part of our life that's where we live our faith, and another part that's outside our faith. Our lives are a whole.”

Indeed, the whole of the new bishop's life, since his birth in Texas in 1954, might be seen as preparation for the challenges that now await him in Arkansas.

As the oldest of seven children, he was close to his grandparents, two of whom were converts to Catholicism. His father's mother had been raised a Protestant, and his mother's father was born a Jew.

“Each of them had paid a price for their conversions, in terms of rejection by their families. It made religion not so taken-for-granted in our family.”...

Taylor was ordained in 1980, at the age of 26. Back in Oklahoma he found a growing need for masses said in Spanish, as Anglo parishes there began absorbing new Hispanic members. He learned that the church served not just as a spiritual base, but “as a home” for people separated from their native lands and families.

In the late 1980s, Oklahoma's archbishop interrupted Taylor's pastoral work to send him to Fordham University in the Bronx, to earn a doctorate in biblical theology. Taylor focused his dissertation on the parables Jesus told about the relationships between servants and their masters. In his own life, he says, “I like to tell people that, if Jesus is the shepherd, I'm the sheep dog — at the service of the flock and at the service of the master.”

For the past 19 years, Taylor has served as a pastor in Oklahoma City, first founding a new parish made up mainly of young suburbanites, and most recently, at Sacred Heart, the city's second-oldest parish, a church that had been declining, but which has experienced renewed vitality as its membership has grown and become 95 percent Hispanic.

“The two parishes are different in socio-economic terms,” Taylor says, “but the human element is largely the same. They have the same dreams for their families. They bring similar talents to the community.”

During this time he learned to balance the demands of his priestly life through friendships with other priests and sports. Racquetball became his favorite. A longtime opponent describes Taylor as a fierce and untiring competitor.

In addition to his pastoral duties, Taylor served as vicar of ministries for the archdiocese, a role in which he oversaw personnel issues regarding priests. About a fifth of Oklahoma's Catholic priests are themselves immigrants, having come mainly from India, with a few others from Africa. Most of the foreign-born priests work in smaller, more rural parishes, he says, and many have special needs arising from homesickness and isolation.

Taylor says the situation in Arkansas is similar. Nearly a fifth of the 53 priests serving the Little Rock Diocese also have come from abroad; in this case, however, most are from Africa, and a few from India.

(Forty-four priests from religious orders also serve the diocese, and the clergy are assisted by 95 permanent deacons.)

As a pastor, Taylor believed that the poor and those with the greatest need had the greatest claim on him. As Oklahoma moved towards passing one of the harshest anti-immigrant laws in the country, the “sheep dog” became an outspoken immigrants' advocate.

“The church does not engage in party politics or support candidates,” he explains. “But we do have an obligation to speak the truth as we see it with regard to moral issues. Social issues have an impact on public policy, and that's where politics and morality touch. It's my responsibility to do what I can to make sure that public policy is well informed.

“An example would be that we have certain God-given, inalienable rights as humans that do not come from the state. They come from God, and the state does not have the power to deny them.

“We saw this in the civil rights movement. Rights that come to us as human beings, the state does not have the authority to impede. That's the current issue today in terms of immigration. The state has the authority to establish borders for the common good, but it does not have the authority to prevent the right to immigrate when circumstances require.

“For example: Parents have the obligation to provide for their children, and if they cannot do so in a way that's in keeping with their basic human needs, they have to do so in whatever way they can, and that includes emigration.

“Another thing is that people have a God-given right to participate fully in the life of the community where they live. So people who immigrate must not be relegated to second-class status where they live, where they work, and where their children are being raised. That would argue against having an extended permanent resident situation, rather than a citizenship option.

“These are topics on which the teaching of the church is not ambiguous. My role is to express as clearly as I can what the teaching of Jesus has to say about these and other moral issues. But as far as specific legislative solutions, that's not my role.”
A blogger on a Catholic website, noting that Taylor had chosen Jesus' words “The humble shall inherit the earth” as the motto for his bishopric, wrote: “Sounds like liberation theology to me.” The reference was to a school of Christian thought, popular especially in Latin America, that views Jesus Christ as both Redeemer and Liberator of the oppressed. It regards political activism to achieve justice for the poor as an appropriate part of the Christian mission.

Officials of the Catholic Church have rejected some elements of liberation theology — particularly those that are viewed as reflecting a Marxist ideology. Taylor says he also rejects those ideas.

“Marxist analysis is predicated on a world view that is contrary to the world view of faith,” he says. Though he embraces the belief that “God has a special love for those most in need,” he says he's regarded as being “pretty traditional as far as church teaching goes.”

In that regard, Taylor says he opposes laws that permit abortion and the execution of criminals. Taylor served as priest and confessor for Eric Allen Patton, who was sentenced to death for murdering a woman, Charlene Kauer, in 1994. He was with Patton when he was executed in 2006.

In a sermon delivered three days later, Taylor described the experience of witnessing Patton's death, “a death which occurred on Aug. 29, the day we commemorate the beheading of John the Baptist, another man killed in cold blood by the state, just like Jesus and the two criminals executed on either side of him on Good Friday, 2,000 years ago.”

Early last year, as the Oklahoma legislature neared passage of the law known as HB 1804, Taylor organized a workshop for members of his parish to “let them know what they might expect and dispel false rumors. Initially, there was a lot of fear.”

He adds, “We also reinforced the commitment among parishioners who are citizens to take the concerns of their brothers and sisters with them when they go to vote, and to remind the citizen-children to look at how your parents are treated, so that when you get to be 18, you be sure to vote.”

Some of the parish's Hispanic members did join the flight from Oklahoma that has spurred some efforts to repeal parts of HB 1804 out of concern for industries — especially agriculture — that experienced a resulting shortage of workers.

In Taylor's parish, however, most Hispanic families stayed put, though he says, “I think people have put their affairs in order. They have firmed up who their children should go to if their mom and dad aren't there when they come home from school.”
At his first public appearance as bishop-elect, Taylor said his first reaction to the call informing him of his appointment was, "Oh my gosh!"

What he said was his second thought was a bit more profound: "What's going to happen to my parish?"

As of last report, a horde of buses making the five-hour trip from Sacred Heart to next week's ordination are near-capacity.

PHOTOS: Diocese of Des Moines(1); Diocese of Little Rock(2,3)