Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Te Deum Laudamus..."

Before anything else, a quick pagekeeping note: not to build the suspense or anything, but the house is calling Italian privilege on the Year-End/Churchman package; as some'll remember, last year's took a couple extra days to shake out, and that made all the difference... so just enjoy your champagne, down the grapes, watch the bowl games and we'll pick up where we left off on the other side.

That said, some are well-aware of it... but for those of us who aren't, the tradition of the Latin church commends the public singing of its great hymn of thanksgiving -- the Te Deum -- on this last day of the year to acknowledge The Giver of the graces received over its course.

For some of us, 2008's been an incredibly blessed and joyous ride... just as many of us will recall it as a difficult, trying, even painful year. Yet regardless of where we each fall along the scale, the fact that you're reading this means you're alive, you can see, the power's on and, ostensibly, so is the heater -- so for these and every other blessing we've got, let's all give thanks.

In an easily-joinable, modern and moving rendering (lyrics) of the ancient hymn, our Te Deum is led from Singapore.

Let the church sing:

* * *
Closer to home, however, it sounds just a tad different....

That's right -- major scare averted, for the 108th time, It's On.

To you and yours, here's to every blessing, joy, good gift and fulfilled hope in the New Year -- and all thanks for being part of the unforgettable pilgrimage this past year has been.

See you in 2009... 'til then, cue the Frogs:

From Mummerville to the ends of the earth, buon anno
, gang.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Grand Traditions

So, after the traditional Stephensmas source-lunch in town, your narrator finally made it to Wanamaker's for the greatest of all River City Christmas gifts: the annual Light Show...

...only to find that it had been desecrated.

See, probably since before the Christkindl was even born, the show's been constructed around its all-out climax of "Deck the Halls." And while, to its credit, the mega-chain that took over the place a couple years back has pumped heavy gelt into redoing the figures and restoring the old Magic Christmas Tree, said owners deigned to overhype the latter's return by tossing the old finale in favor of "O Christmas Tree."

To put it nicely, the result was like expecting a Mass... and getting a chicken-slaughter instead.

Forgive the mini-rant -- just one of those many things only the water ice-slurping, Tastykake-gobbling, Birds-loving Pharaohites among us would understand.

That said, thanks be to YouTube for a glimpse of the spectacle as our kind were raised with it:

And as the blessed Octave winds down, continued wishes for all the best of Christmas to one and all.


No Truce, No PopeTrip

Amid Israel's stance that its recent days of airstrikes on Gaza are just the beginning of "long weeks of action" and the prospect of retaliation by Hamas grows, a growing buzz suggests that B16's already-announced May pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Jordan could be shelved:
Vatican sources have said a worsening of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict could alter the pope's travel plans.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told Vatican Radio Dec. 27 that the latest escalation of violence was a provocation by both sides, and showed that both Hamas and Israel were caught up in a mentality of conflict.

"Hamas is a prisoner of a logic of hatred, Israel of a logic of trusting in force as the best response to hatred. They need to keep looking for a different way out, even if it seems impossible," Father Lombardi said.

The spokesman said Israel's attack on Gaza was notable for its intensity and the number of victims.

"Certainly it will be a very hard blow for Hamas. At the same time, it's quite probable that there will be innocent victims, in fact many of them; hatred will increase and the hopes for peace will once again fade," he said.
At his Sunday Angelus, the pontiff pleaded for peace:
Addressing pilgrims at his noon blessing at the Vatican Dec. 28, the pope urged serious dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians as the only way out of the "perverse logic of conflict and violence."

He called for a restoration of the truce in Gaza, and said the international community has a particular responsibility to leave nothing untried in helping both sides out of the current "blind alley."

"I am deeply saddened for the dead, the wounded, the material damage, and the sufferings and tears of the people who are the victims of this tragic sequence of attacks and reprisals," the pope said.

"The earthly homeland of Jesus cannot continue to be a witness to such bloodshed, which is repeated without end! I implore the end of this violence, which must be condemned in all its forms, and a restoration of the truce in the Gaza Strip," he said.

The pope called for a fresh demonstration of "humanity and wisdom in everyone who has responsibility in the situation."
On a related note, earlier today the Holy See released its annual list of pastoral workers killed in the line of duty during 2008.

Numbering 17 clerics, two religious and one lay volunteer, nearly half hailing from Asia, the group was led by the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul Paulos Faraj Rahho, who was kidnapped and murdered in March by a band of Islamic militants in the northern Iraqi city.

Given the situations roiling so many parts of the globe in these days, it's worth reminding that Thursday's observance of the church's World Day of Peace may be reflected in the liturgy by using the Sacramentary's Mass for Peace and Justice with its readings in place of the propers for the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.



For Bishop Barry, a Family Affair

Clearly, freshly-mitred DC auxiliary Barry Knestout is more used to being the bishop's secretary than the bishop, himself.

Yet even while the bench's newest member adjusts to life with the crozier-crook facing outward, his St Matthew's Cathedral ordination yesterday was one for the books:
In remarks after Communion, Bishop Knestout, who is 46, thanked his family for their love and support, and he especially thanked his parents for their example. His father, Deacon Thomas Knestout, died in 1997, and the new bishop's mother, Caroline, is a retired nurse and attends daily Mass.

Addressing his mother, the new bishop said, "You and Dad have given your children the most precious gift you could give: faith, and that continues to bear fruit."

In his opening remarks, Archbishop Wuerl also thanked the new bishop's family, saying, "As this is a joy for you, it is a joy for us."

The new bishop's family of faith in the Archdiocese of Washington greeted him warmly with applause during the Mass, after he had processed through the cathedral giving them a blessing, and after his remarks. The 1,200 guests at the episcopal ordination included parishioners from St. Pius X, his home parish; from St. John the Evangelist in Silver Spring, where he served as pastor; from the Church of the Annunciation in Washington where he now is in residence; and from many other parishes, including St. Bartholomew in Bethesda and St. Peter in Waldorf, where he served as an associate pastor in his early years as a priest.

Serving as co-consecrators at the Mass were Washington Auxiliary Bishops Francisco Gonzalez and Martin Holley. Eighteen bishops participated in the ordination, including Baltimore Archbishop Edwin O'Brien and Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde, the spiritual leaders of the two neighboring dioceses. Several other participating bishops had special connections to Washington, including retired Auxiliary Bishop Leonard Olivier; Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., who worked closely with the new bishop when both served the late Cardinal James Hickey; retired Bishop David Foley of Birmingham, Ala., a Chevy Chase native and formerly a longtime priest and administrator in Washington.

Four cardinals also participated in the episcopal ordination, including Cardinal William Baum, Washington's archbishop from 1973-80 who confirmed the future bishop; and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the archbishop emeritus of Washington whom the new bishop had earlier served as a priest secretary. Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan priest who earlier led the Spanish Catholic Center in Washington, also participated; as did Cardinal William Keeler, the archbishop emeritus of Washington. About 170 priests, 40 deacons and dozens of women and men religious also attended the Mass.

In his homily, Archbishop Wuerl noted that the second reading from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians "reminded us that Christ is our Hope," and he pointed out that Bishop Knestout had chosen "Christ Our Hope" as his episcopal motto. That was the theme of Pope Benedict XVI's April visit to the United States, and then-Msgr. Barry Knestout, who served as co-chair of the Papal Visit Committee in Washington.

"As Pope Benedict XVI taught us in his encyclical, Spe Salvi, and as he repeated here in our archdiocese at the Mass at Nationals Park on April 17, 'the one who has hope lives differently. The one who has hope has new life,'" Archbishop Wuerl said in his homily. The archbishop later added, "May you show that joy of ministry that clearly radiated from the face of Pope Benedict throughout his time here in this nation and our archdiocese. While we still have much to do, we live in hope because we know and rejoice in the wisdom that Christ has already overcome the world."

In his remarks after Communion, Bishop Knestout asked people to pray for him "that I might be an effective instrument of His faith, His joy and His hope... May God be in our hearts and give us the joy and hope of Christ this Christmas time and always."

Archbishop Wuerl in his homily encouraged the new bishop to follow the apostles' mission of bringing the "saving power of Christ into this world" by teaching the faith. "Your first responsibility is that of teacher,"the archhbishop said....

Eight members of the new bishop's family brought up the offertory gifts at the Mass, including his mother, two brothers, two sisters and a niece and two nephews.

In his homily, Archbishop Wuerl noted that the crosier "is a sign of your responsibility to keep watch over the whole flock so that some day when our waiting in joyful hope is complete you may be able to present to Christ those with whom you have journeyed as shepherd and teacher."

Archbishop Wuerl noted the example of St. Thomas Becket, the martyred archbishop of Canterbury. "To serve the Church is to serve Christ -- proclaim the Gospel and guide God's holy people, because to give yourself to the Church is to give yourself to Christ," he said.

Noting the bishop's role "to teach, to lead and to sanctify," the archbishop said, "As you face the challenges of episcopal service, we pray that you will always be sustained by God's grace."
The first of Uncle Ted's "alums" elevated to the episcopacy, Knestout is but the third son of the capital to serve as a bishop in its local church.

The first was the "Lion of New Orleans" Philip Hannan -- the eulogist at JFK's funeral in the very same DC cathedral, who remains well and kickin' at 95, in his 53rd year as a successor of the Apostles. A decade following his 1965 promotion to the Crescent City, the TV-producing prelate and World War II chaplain was followed by the well-loved Bishop Thomas Lyons -- a Northwest native who died in 1988 aged 64.

In other District news, Wuerl spent part of his Christmas visiting a parishioner shockingly beaten with a baseball bat in his church's parking lot before Midnight Mass.

PHOTO: Rafael Crisostomo/The Catholic Standard


Home for Christmas

Minnesota always tends to be cold at Christmas... but two recent losses in the ranks there have made this season even more stinging than usual.

Benedictine Brother Dietrich Reinhart -- the "visionary" president of St John's University, Collegeville since 1991 -- died yesterday morning at 59 after a battle with cancer:
Enrollment rose 9 percent under his leadership. The endowment grew to more than $145 million. A capital campaign exceeded its $150 million goal.

But when people talk about Brother Dietrich Reinhart, longtime president of St. John's University, they mention few numbers.

Instead, they describe his incredible vision for the Catholic school in Collegeville, Minn. -- one that will last long after his death.

Reinhart, 59, became St. John's 11th president in 1991 and retired in October after announcing that cancer had spread to his lungs and brain. In a letter to the school's board of regents, he described the situation as "impossible, but not hopeless."

He died Monday morning in the retirement center at St. John's Abbey.

For his inaugural speech in September 1991, he chose a topic "that, surprisingly, is not easy to talk about" -- the identity of a Catholic college. It's a theme he'd delve into, in conversations and speeches, throughout his presidency.

"The task before us is to make explicit the values at the heart of our schools," he said in May. "Powerful values that were pervasive when monks and sisters predominated on our faculties, and have lived on as sources of inspiration as monastic colleagues have become fewer and fewer in number."

Scholars note that some Catholic colleges define themselves by what they're not, rather than by what they are, said Bill Cahoy, dean of St. John's school of theology. They are not Protestant, for example, not secular.

Others are intent on being "wide-open" and in the process lose their identity, he said.

Under Reinhart's leadership, St. John's strove to be certain of its Catholic identity, but hospitable to people of other faiths.

"Not open in spite of being Catholic, but open and inclusive because we're so rooted in Catholicism," Cahoy said. "There's something about that that's very monastic."...

In an interview taped this month, Reinhart expressed gratitude for being part of an institution with service at its core and excitement about the "great place" that St. John's would be in 2025. The completed video, including that interview, had been planned for a tribute in January commemorating his retirement, spokesman Michael Hemmesch said.

During that interview, Reinhart, with a soft voice and a smile, said that the school's "best days are yet to come."

"That's my mantra for St. John's," he said. "Our best days are yet to come."
A major project of Reinhart's tenure has been the decade-long making of the St John's Bible -- the first full-size, illuminated edition of the Scriptures in modern days.

The Benedictine was on hand in Rome last April as a copy was presented to Pope Benedict, who called it a "great work of art."

Meanwhile, in the Twin Cities, the loss of Emilie Lemmons -- a columnist for the archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis' Catholic Spirit who blogged about new motherhood and the 16-month journey with soft-tissue sarcoma that claimed her on Christmas Eve at 40 -- has been felt far and wide:
"Thank you for sharing your words of insight," a reader of her last column wrote on the Web site of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Dec. 27, three days after Lemmons died. "So, here, even after you are gone, you will continue to touch new lives."

Lemmons wrote in her monthly column for The Catholic Spirit and in her blog -- Lemmondrops -- about her struggles with terminal cancer, the guilt she felt about leaving her two young sons motherless, the resentment she felt about the prospect of dying at such a young age, and how she had endeavored to place the outcome of her life in the hands of God, so that she could live in the present and enjoy the time she had left with the people she loved.

"Emilie would tell you she was not courageous, but everyone who saw her go through this, or read her words, would definitely call her courageous," Pat Norby, Catholic Spirit news editor, told Catholic News Service Dec. 29, just hours before Lemmons' funeral Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. "When you read her column or blog, you can see what a spiritual person she was and how she continued to struggle and know who God was in her life. I trust that is who she is with today."

Born in Portland, Ore., to Vincent and Nancy Ast, she earned a degree in English literature from Columbia University in New York, taught English for the Mississippi Teacher Corps and was a writer for the Delta Democrat Times in Greenville, Miss., before joining the staff of The Catholic Spirit Feb. 16, 1998, Norby said.

"She was a great reporter, who won wonderful awards from the Catholic Press Association," Norby said. "She was a wonderful professional writer, reporter, a wonderful mother and spouse. She was a great friend to so many people."

Shortly after Lemmons' son Daniel was born in August 2006, she decided to leave her full-time position at The Catholic Spirit, but continued to freelance for the newspaper and eventually began writing her monthly column, "Notes From a New Mom," and her blog, said Joe Towalski, editor of The Catholic Spirit.

"In many ways, her columns resembled her blog posts," Towalski wrote in an upcoming column in honor of Lemmons. "The writing was personal. Over time, it was apparent that parenthood and then her devastating illness were changing the way she viewed life and faith. It was a journey she was willing, thankfully, to share with Catholic Spirit readers."

Past blog posts and columns reveal that Lemmons was diagnosed with sarcoma -- an aggressive form of cancer of the connective tissues -- during her 2007 pregnancy with her second son, Benjamin. After his birth in March 2008 she learned from her doctors that, in her case, the illness was not curable through medication or surgery.

"More recently, Emilie wrote about her up-and-down struggles with cancer," Towalski said in his tribute column. "She submitted her last column to The Catholic Spirit just a few weeks before she died -- a reflection on searching for Advent joy from a 40-year-old woman facing stage 4 cancer that was getting worse."

Lemmons' final column talks about how releasing her fate to God allowed her to live in peace.

"What if I trust that even if I die tomorrow or next month or next year things will somehow work out?" she pondered in her column. "What if I allow myself to put the outcome in God's hands and just live intensely in the present, absorbing and embracing life as it happens? It's not indifference or admitting defeat; it's seeing the bigger picture."

Hours after Lemmons' death, her husband Stephen posted the news on the Lemmondrops blog. A short time later readers began posting messages of sympathy. Most of the messages stated that her writing inspired them to embrace the joys of everyday life.

Monday, December 29, 2008

In the Capital, "Barrypalooza"

Later today, the high-hat circuit's final event of the year'll take place in Washington's St Matthew's Cathedral as 46 year-old Barry Knestout is ordained an auxiliary bishop of the 580,000-member Capital See.

Led by 22 bishops and 150 priests, a full complement is expected to be on hand for the 2pm liturgy as Archbishop Donald Wuerl elevates his top lieutenant to the fullness of the priesthood. Trained as an architect, the bishop-elect -- a former secretary to the late, saintly Cardinal James Hickey (and oft-mistaken as the younger twin of his predecessor in said post) -- is believed to be the first son of a permanent deacon named to the episcopacy... an example Knestout recently recalled in the capital's Catholic Standard:
Sometimes as a teen, new Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout missed the Washington Redskins' games on Sundays, because his dad, Deacon Thomas Knestout, would "drag us along," bringing Barry and another brother with him as the deacon ministered at a state hospital serving people with mental and physical disabilities.

"As a teen and a kid, I didn't always appreciate the importance of that witness," said Bishop Knestout, who added that he does now.

"As I look back on that, I realize the tremendous gift that was shared in that work," said the new bishop, reflecting on the example of his father, who died in 1997.

Deacon Thomas Knestout worked as a cryptologist for the National Security Agency and served for many years as the director of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate for the Archdiocese of Washington. Known for his resonant voice and happy demeanor, he was active in the Charismatic Renewal prayer movement for many years.

A New Jersey native, he met his future wife Caroline on a blind date, on a crabbing trip on the Delaware Bay. She later joked that the biggest crab she caught that day was her future husband. They were married for 43 years and had nine children.

In addition to raising her family, Caroline Knestout also worked over the years as a nurse and in prenatal care at Prince George's Hospital in Cheverly, and as a school nurse at Fox Hill Elementary School in Bowie.

Bishop Knestout described his mom as "the heart of our family," who emphasized the importance of attending Mass, praying together and sharing family meals. She also played a key role in family celebrations over the years as her children received the sacraments and reached milestones in their lives. "My mom has always been a very steady, pragmatic person," he said, noting she offered an example of "steady fidelity to family and friends." Her "care and love for us" was always present, the bishop said.

In an interview just before his son Barry was ordained to the priesthood in 1989, Deacon Knestout said that he and his wife were proud of all nine of their children. "They practice their faith - all of them. That gives us a great sense of accomplishment," he said. "We haven't given them wealth. We haven't built up a family empire. What we have given them is their faith... There's nothing of greater value we could have given them."

Deacon Knestout preached at the first Mass of his son, Father Barry Knestout, in 1989 at their home parish, St. Pius X in Bowie. Later, Father Barry Knestout would in turn preach at the first Mass of his brother, Father Mark Knestout, in 1998....

The words and example of Bishop Knestout's parents still resonate, such as when his father once told him, "The mark of a man is not how well he does things he enjoys, but how well he does the things that are difficult, the challenges of life."

He remembers how his dad was a man devoted to his family and to his faith, and demonstrated "the willingness to sacrifice for a greater good, for the good of others."
Ergo, as the bishop dons the pontifical dalmatic before his chasuble, that behind-the-scenes moment in the run-up to today's liturgy will understandably have more resonance than usual.

On another historic note, at the close of its bicentennial year, today's ordination will give Mount St Mary's in Emmitsburg its 50th bishop-alum. Go Mounties.

PHOTO: Paul Fetters/Archdiocese of Washington


Sunday, December 28, 2008

"The Child of Bethlehem"

Lest anyone missed it, CNN's compiled a winning montage of music, video and homily-clips (with Great One translation) from B16's Midnight Mass:

On another note, this year's changes to the liturgy saw it moved outside the Main Event, but a longtime favorite 'round these parts is the chanting of the Kalenda -- the formal, oft-neglected "Christmas Proclamation" whose magic tends to get lost in translation (at least, in the settings out there for its rendering in English).

Year after year, out comes the papal chapel's workhorse cantor -- an amice-clad layman... the only guy in creation who could pull off the epic chronicle of Salvation's arrival so masterfully... and, year after year, without fail, hits nothin' but pure bullseye.

For the unfamiliar who'd like to catch it, footage of the moment from last year's Mass is available... just in two parts: click this one and fast-forward it to the 9:00 mark, then hit this one for the second half.

Sure, it'll take some clicking around, but you might just find it worth your while....
Today, the twenty-fifth day of December[, the 27th Moon],
unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth
and then formed man and woman in his own image.

Several thousand years after the flood,
when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant.
Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;
thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.

Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;
one thousand years from the anointing of David as king;
in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.
In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome.

The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
the whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.

The nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.


From a Far Country

The triple-wide top feature in this Sunday's New York Times was a notable one for the beat as the Grey Lady related that one in six priests in ministry on these shores hails from abroad.

In the long frame of history, it's worth recalling that only in 1913 did Rome see fit to remove the US' status as a mission church under the jurisdiction of the Propaganda Fide... and not even a century later, here we are again.

While the Times' Laurie Goodstein did her on-ground reporting in western Kentucky's diocese of Owensboro -- home to some of the nation's highest Sunday Mass attendance, yet no ordinations in the last five years -- it's a good moment to shine a light on the mother and head of the "import churches": East Texas' diocese of Tyler, where half the clergy are foreign-born... including the vicar-general, Msgr Xavier Pappu, a son of India's Tamil Nadu state named top aide to Bishop Alvaro Corrada del Rio SJ a year after his 1999 arrival in America.

Home to 55,000 Catholics spread across 42 parishes in 33 counties, Tyler's overseas recruitment has borne considerable fruit. While its contingent of foreign clergy hovered at 60% a decade ago, the growing diocese now boasts its own complement of 24 seminarians -- a figure rivaling, or even exceeding, the old bastions of the Northeast.

* * *
The overseas wave changing the Stateside church's consecrated ranks doesn't end with its priests, and one need look no further than the weekend papers to reinforce the point.

For now, just three Stateside locales feature the presence of the growing, Rome-based Apostles of the Interior Life. Founded in 1990 by Susan Pieper, an American expat, and formally recognized by the Urb's diocese six years later, the core of the Apostles' charism is spiritual direction; its sisters, who spend four hours a day at prayer, take five years of formation at the city's pontifical faculties of philosophy and theology.

Part of the University of Kansas' campus ministry since 2003, a Jayhawk Nation paper profiles the "living joy" of its migrant community of three (above):

“Interior life is the life of our spirit, of our soul, and so our community wants to pay attention to this part that is more hidden,” says Sister Elena Morcelli, an apostle.

This life involves thoughts, desires and emotions.

“We try to recognize how those are from God and lead us to God,” Morcelli says....

Morcelli is quick to note that the apostles’ casual, everyday attire isn’t a statement against traditional Roman Catholic sisters’ habits.

“It’s not like a choice against the habit, or we want to hide ourselves,” she says. “We want to live a life that people live, in a very simple, sober way.”

The job requirements, so to speak, of apostleship involve four elements. The first is a strong prayer life — a minimum of four hours a day. This includes the rosary, Mass and other liturgical services, Morcelli says.

“Those are really the gems, the pearls, of our day,” she says. “This is where we get our oxygen, our motivation.”

The second element is the apostolate, or their activities on campus or in the center. The third is ongoing formation, or time in theological study.

Fourth, the apostles use community life, or meetings with other sisters, as Morcelli says, “to witness together the joy and the beauty of the love of Christ.”...

Morcelli estimates that each year, the sisters see about 100 students regularly — about 30 to 40 students per sister.

No exact figures are available on the number of Catholic students at KU. The Rev. Steve Beseau, the center’s chaplain, puts the estimate at 4,000. Each week, 1,000 students attend Mass at the center.

Beseau says the apostles are witnesses to joy, community life and prayer. “Apostle,” he says, means one who is sent — and these have been sent to teach the interior life.

“They don’t give in to worry,” he says. “Even when bad things happen, it still falls under the providence of God.”

The apostles have room and board from the center, and they live on donations such as money, clothes or furniture. They send any surplus donations to Rome to support those studying to become apostles, Morcelli says.

“People at times kind of wonder, but we want to show them that we are normal people, but yet with a different call,” she says.

For Morcelli, that call involved coming to Lawrence from Italy, with no knowledge of the culture and little understanding of English.

“On the human level, it was just like, ‘You’re doing what?’ It was totally insane,” she says. “Here everything is just so perfect, organized and efficient, almost like a machine. We Italians are more laid-back and enjoying some time.”

She says the sisters brought with them “not Italian style, but really Jesus’ style, where Jesus wants us to experience the joy of life.”

“It’s not like Italian versus American type of thing, but this concept of holy leisure and joy — breaking the craziness of this machine,” she says.

Becca Ashley, Olathe senior majoring in Spanish education, has spent all four years of her time at KU under Morcelli’s spiritual direction.

“You meet them, and you see their joy, and you see how utterly happy they are, and you say, ‘I want that,’” she says. “And you don’t have to become an apostle of the interior life to have it.”

Ashley says the apostles taught her how to live in joy as Mother Teresa described it, to put Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last — J-O-Y.

“I understand who I am and who I’m supposed to be because I understand more that I was created to live in this joy; I was created for a specific purpose,” she says.

Morcelli would agree. She says consecrated people are created to be a sign — “a sign of joy, a sign of hope, a sign of life that has a meaning that goes beyond what we see here,” she says. “So whatever we do, we try to be this sign.”

PHOTOS: James Estrin/The New York Times(1); Thad Allender/Lawrence Journal-World(2)


Family Notes

As the Octave continues, more glad tidings of Christmas to one and all... and some briefs from recent days:
  • As a Christmas storm bore down on the Irish church, the central figure of the Isle's latest abuse-related tumult used his Midnight Mass to admit to "errors" and accept "full responsibility" for mishandling cases, but won't consider resigning his post. Once private secretary to three Popes and the Vatican's lead liturgical MC, Bishop John Magee of Cloyne faced loud calls to stand down following a church-chartered inquiry's conclusions last week that the Cork diocese's child-protection efforts were "inadequate and in some respects dangerous" and that its youth "have been placed at risk of harm" as a result. Along the way, as Magee's supporters sought to pin the furor on the media, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin implied in a statement that the Cloyne findings had damaged the credibility of the post-crisis national protocols for youth safety, threatening to break rank and enact a stronger system in the capital if "serious doubts" on the policy's "coherence and consistency" persisted, all as the national press led its Christmas Eve editions with reports that the bishops had begun distancing themselves from the onetime Vatican high-flier and that the Cloyne findings had set the Irish bishops' decade-long efforts at restoring trust back "decades." Following news coverage of a perceived difference of strategy between the Dublin prelate and the island's primate, Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, over a proposed marriage bill and subsequent disclosures that Martin spent in the area of €500,000 (US$700,000) on renovations to the historic Archbishop's House, the Cloyne Report marks just the latest round of difficult press the scandal-scarred bench has taken in recent weeks, with more likely to come: the final report on what Martin himself has termed a "staggering" number of cases in the Dublin church is expected shortly after its inquiry closes in late January.
  • Meanwhile, on these shores, the "Long Lent" likewise continues to take its toll: as part of its bankruptcy proceedings, Alaska's diocese of Fairbanks reported receipt of 288 allegations against 40 individuals over the last sixty years. Elsewhere, over 24 hours last week the archdiocese of Chicago paid out $2.6 million in settlements to two survivors who sued over abuse that occurred within the last two decades (as one of the accused responded by suing his accuser for slander); keeping with Bishop Sal Matano's unique strategy of letting its cases proceed to trial, Vermont's diocese of Burlington was handed a $3.6 million civil judgment last week (bringing the grand total of jury-awarded damages owed Vermont survivors to $12 million... with 25 more cases to go) as, in Maine, Bishop Richard Malone of Portland appealed an ecclesiastical tribunal's recent decision in favor of an accused cleric to the Apostolic Signatura, the church's highest court. Closing out a year in which he met for the first time with clergy sex-abuse survivors, the Pope included a remembrance of victims in his homily at Midnight Mass.
  • Over their final Christmases in their respective sees, the occupants of English-speaking Catholicism's two most prominent posts addressed the global economic crisis in their Yuletide messages: Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster focused on the downturn's fruits of "humiliation" and a "breakdown in trust" in his Midnight homily, while Cardinal Edward Egan of New York viewed these days through the prism of the Great Depression from the pulpit of St Patrick's Cathedral. Earlier in the week, the Gotham prelate joined in the launch of a city effort to channel aid to the unemployed and vowed to "fight" to keep his archdiocese's Catholic schools operating at full tilt; even before the downturn's most recent spirals, enrollment in New York's system had already fallen 5% this year. In other departure-related news, Cardinal Joseph Zen SDB announced over the holiday that B16 had agreed to accept his retirement as head of the 350,000-member Hong Kong church in short order. Long a scourge of the Communist authorities, while Zen's designated successor John Tong is seen as more amenable to Beijing, the cardinal said he'll devote his freed-up energies toward a closer monitoring of church affairs on the Chinese mainland. Bishop of what's been called the "world's busiest diocese" since the 2002 death of Cardinal John-Baptist Wu, the "Viagra of Hong Kong" turns 77 next month.
  • Barely four months into his pastorate of the US Virgin Islands, Bishop Herbie Bevard's celebrated knack with the books has already become even more of an asset after word that the diocese of St Thomas lost close to $2 million by investing in Bernard Madoff's $50 billion "Ponzi" scheme. The island church's savings and endowment funds for its schools included in the wipe-out, after his own investigation found that diocesan officials had done sufficient due diligence and research before making the move, Bevard said the now-arrested former NASDAQ chair was "just very successful at fooling people."
  • Lest any doubt remain with the Inauguration 23 days hence, the Holy See is optimistic about working with the Obama administration. In comments at a Rome foreign policy conference, while Cardinal Pio Laghi twice cautioned that "one must wait to see how [it] acts with regard to the fundamental commitments... to protect the family and the sacredness of human life from conception to the tomb," the founding nuncio to Washington added that "the Vatican does not fear" the new West Wing, citing the positive aspects it'll bring to the table on issues ranging from health care, aid for the poor and support for the middle class to "the defense of Christians" persecuted across the globe and returning the US' foreign policy to a first emphasis on peace. And he even had a kind word for the new VP, to boot. An occasional tennis partner of "Bush 41" who became a personal friend of the outgoing First Family during his decade (1980-89) at 3339 Massachusetts Ave. NW, in early 2003 Laghi was sent to the White House by John Paul II to lobby the current President Bush against a US operation in Iraq. As 2009 marks the silver anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Pope's House and the White House, the current DC nuncio Archbishop Pietro Sambi will attend the 20 January swearing-in of the 44th President. Meanwhile, the president-elect's transition team met with its Catholic base of support last week and -- on a family note beyond the water's edge -- around a million Spaniards gathered in Madrid on this Holy Family Sunday for an outdoor Mass and rally protesting the social policies of the Zapatero government. From Rome, Benedict XVI devoted a graf of this morning's Angelus catechesis to the event, speaking in Spanish to tell the Madrid crowd that "the Pope is on your side" and praising the gathered for "giving the world a beautiful testimony of how important the family is for the human being and all of society."
  • And, lastly, half the nation might've gotten a "White Christmas," but two local churches on these shores are celebrating something even rarer -- and, round these parts, more coveted: a Purple Christmas. Last week, papal honors for six clergy and 18 laity were conferred in Florida's diocese of St Petersburg, and three new monsignori were announced for Long Island's diocese of Rockville Centre. Congrats to one and all.
All that said, buona domenica a tutti -- and hope you're all getting a good breather. More as the news allows.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Grace of Christmas: "To All" and "For All"

Official English fulltext of B16's noontime Urbi et Orbi Christmas Message (emphases original):
"The grace of God our Saviour has appeared to all" (Tit 2:11, Vulg.)

Dear brothers and sisters, in the words of the Apostle Paul, I once more joyfully proclaim Christ’s Birth. Today "the grace of God our Saviour" has truly "appeared to all"!

It appeared! This is what the Church celebrates today. The grace of God, rich in goodness and love, is no longer hidden. It "appeared", it was manifested in the flesh, it showed its face. Where? In Bethlehem. When? Under Caesar Augustus, during the first census, which the Evangelist Luke also mentions. And who is the One who reveals it? A newborn Child, the Son of the Virgin Mary. In him the grace of God our Saviour has appeared. And so that Child is called Jehoshua, Jesus, which means: "God saves".

The grace of God has appeared. That is why Christmas is a feast of light. Not like the full daylight which illumines everything, but a glimmer beginning in the night and spreading out from a precise point in the universe: from the stable of Bethlehem, where the divine Child was born. Indeed, he is the light itself, which begins to radiate, as portrayed in so many paintings of the Nativity. He is the light whose appearance breaks through the gloom, dispels the darkness and enables us to understand the meaning and the value of our own lives and of all history. Every Christmas crib is a simple yet eloquent invitation to open our hearts and minds to the mystery of life. It is an encounter with the immortal Life which became mortal in the mystic scene of the Nativity: a scene which we can admire here too, in this Square, as in countless churches and chapels throughout the world, and in every house where the name of Jesus is adored.

The grace of God has appeared to all. Jesus – the face of the "God who saves", did not show himself only for a certain few, but for everyone. Although it is true that in the simple and lowly dwelling of Bethlehem few persons encountered him, still he came for all: Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, those near and those far away, believers and non-believers… for everyone. Supernatural grace, by God’s will, is meant for every creature. Yet each human person needs to accept that grace, to utter his or her own "yes", like Mary, so that his or her heart can be illumined by a ray of that divine light. It was Mary and Joseph, who that night welcomed the incarnate Word, awaiting it with love, along with the shepherds who kept watch over their flocks (cf. Lk 2:1-20). A small community, in other words, which made haste to adore the Child Jesus; a tiny community which represents the Church and all people of good will. Today too those who await him, who seek him in their lives, encounter the God who out of love became our brother – all those who turn their hearts to him, who yearn to see his face and to contribute to the coming of his Kingdom. Jesus himself would say this in his preaching: these are the poor in spirit; those who mourn, the meek, those who thirst for justice; the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake (cf. Mt 5:3-10). They are the ones who see in Jesus the face of God and then set out again, like the shepherds of Bethlehem, renewed in heart by the joy of his love.

Brothers and sisters, all you who are listening to my words: this proclamation of hope – the heart of the Christmas message – is meant for all men and women. Jesus was born for everyone, and just as Mary, in Bethlehem, offered him to the shepherds, so on this day the Church presents him to all humanity, so that each person and every human situation may come to know the power of God’s saving grace, which alone can transform evil into good, which alone can change human hearts, making them oases of peace.

May the many people who continue to dwell in darkness and the shadow of death (cf. Lk 1:79) come to know the power of God’s saving grace! May the divine Light of Bethlehem radiate throughout the Holy Land, where the horizon seems once again bleak for Israelis and Palestinians. May it spread throughout Lebanon, Iraq and the whole Middle East. May it bring forth rich fruit from the efforts of all those who, rather than resigning themselves to the twisted logic of conflict and violence, prefer instead the path of dialogue and negotiation as the means of resolving tensions within each country and finding just and lasting solutions to the conflicts troubling the region. This light, which brings transformation and renewal, is besought by the people of Zimbabwe, in Africa, trapped for all too long in a political and social crisis which, sadly, keeps worsening, as well as the men and women of the Democratic Republic of Congo, especially in the war-torn region of Kivu, Darfur, in Sudan, and Somalia, whose interminable sufferings are the tragic consequence of the lack of stability and peace. This light is awaited especially by the children living in those countries, and the children of all countries experiencing troubles, so that their future can once more be filled with hope.

Wherever the dignity and rights of the human person are trampled upon; wherever the selfishness of individuals and groups prevails over the common good; wherever fratricidal hatred and the exploitation of man by man risk being taken for granted; wherever internecine conflicts divide ethnic and social groups and disrupt peaceful coexistence; wherever terrorism continues to strike; wherever the basics needed for survival are lacking; wherever an increasingly uncertain future is regarded with apprehension, even in affluent nations: in each of these places may the Light of Christmas shine forth and encourage all people to do their part in a spirit of authentic solidarity. If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart.

Dear brothers and sisters, today, "the grace of God our Saviour has appeared" (cf. Tit 2:11) in this world of ours, with all its potential and its frailty, its advances and crises, its hopes and travails. Today, there shines forth the light of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High and the son of the Virgin Mary: "God from God, light from light, true God from true God. For us men, and for our salvation, he came down from heaven". Let us adore him, this very day, in every corner of the world, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a lowly manger. Let us adore him in silence, while he, still a mere infant, seems to comfort us by saying: Do not be afraid, "I am God, and there is no other" (Is 45:22). Come to me, men and women, peoples and nations, come to me. Do not be afraid: I have come to bring you the love of the Father, and to show you the way of peace.

Let us go, then, brothers and sisters! Let us make haste, like the shepherds on that Bethlehem night. God has come to meet us; he has shown us his face, full of grace and mercy! May his coming to us not be in vain! Let us seek Jesus, let us be drawn to his light which dispels sadness and fear from every human heart. Let us draw near to him with confidence, and bow down in humility to adore him. Merry Christmas to all!
PHOTO: AP/Alessandra Tarantino


"You Can No Longer Fear Me, You Can Only Love Me"

Here below, the fulltext English translation of Benedict XVI's homily from Midnight Mass in St Peter's:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down upon the heavens and the earth?” This is what Israel sings in one of the Psalms (113 [112], 5ff.), praising God’s grandeur as well as his loving closeness to humanity. God dwells on high, yet he stoops down to us… God is infinitely great, and far, far above us. This is our first experience of him. The distance seems infinite. The Creator of the universe, the one who guides all things, is very far from us: or so he seems at the beginning. But then comes the surprising realization: The One who has no equal, who “is seated on high”, looks down upon us. He stoops down. He sees us, and he sees me. God’s looking down is much more than simply seeing from above. God’s looking is active. The fact that he sees me, that he looks at me, transforms me and the world around me. The Psalm tells us this in the following verse: “He raises the poor from the dust…” In looking down, he raises me up, he takes me gently by the hand and helps me – me! – to rise from depths towards the heights. “God stoops down”. This is a prophetic word. That night in Bethlehem, it took on a completely new meaning. God’s stooping down became real in a way previously inconceivable. He stoops down – he himself comes down as a child to the lowly stable, the symbol of all humanity’s neediness and forsakenness. God truly comes down. He becomes a child and puts himself in the state of complete dependence typical of a newborn child. The Creator who holds all things in his hands, on whom we all depend, makes himself small and in need of human love. God is in the stable. In the Old Testament the Temple was considered almost as God’s footstool; the sacred ark was the place in which he was mysteriously present in the midst of men and women. Above the temple, hidden, stood the cloud of God’s glory. Now it stands above the stable. God is in the cloud of the poverty of a homeless child: an impenetrable cloud, and yet – a cloud of glory! How, indeed, could his love for humanity, his solicitude for us, have appeared greater and more pure? The cloud of hiddenness, the cloud of the poverty of a child totally in need of love, is at the same time the cloud of glory. For nothing can be more sublime, nothing greater than the love which thus stoops down, descends, becomes dependent. The glory of the true God becomes visible when the eyes of our hearts are opened before the stable of Bethlehem.

Saint Luke’s account of the Christmas story, which we have just heard in the Gospel, tells us that God first raised the veil of his hiddenness to people of very lowly status, people who were looked down upon by society at large – to shepherds looking after their flocks in the fields around Bethlehem. Luke tells us that they were “keeping watch”. This phrase reminds us of a central theme of Jesus’s message, which insistently bids us to keep watch, even to the Agony in the Garden – the command to stay awake, to recognize the Lord’s coming, and to be prepared. Here too the expression seems to imply more than simply being physically awake during the night hour. The shepherds were truly “watchful” people, with a lively sense of God and of his closeness. They were waiting for God, and were not resigned to his apparent remoteness from their everyday lives. To a watchful heart, the news of great joy can be proclaimed: for you this night the Saviour is born. Only a watchful heart is able to believe the message. Only a watchful heart can instil the courage to set out to find God in the form of a baby in a stable. Let us ask the Lord to help us, too, to become a “watchful” people.

Saint Luke tells us, moreover, that the shepherds themselves were “surrounded” by the glory of God, by the cloud of light. They found themselves caught up in the glory that shone around them. Enveloped by the holy cloud, they heard the angels’ song of praise: “Glory to God in the highest heavens and peace on earth to people of his good will”. And who are these people of his good will if not the poor, the watchful, the expectant, those who hope in God’s goodness and seek him, looking to him from afar?

The Fathers of the Church offer a remarkable commentary on the song that the angels sang to greet the Redeemer. Until that moment – the Fathers say – the angels had known God in the grandeur of the universe, in the reason and the beauty of the cosmos that come from him and are a reflection of him. They had heard, so to speak, creation’s silent song of praise and had transformed it into celestial music. But now something new had happened, something that astounded them. The One of whom the universe speaks, the God who sustains all things and bears them in his hands – he himself had entered into human history, he had become someone who acts and suffers within history. From the joyful amazement that this unimaginable event called forth, from God’s new and further way of making himself known – say the Fathers – a new song was born, one verse of which the Christmas Gospel has preserved for us: “Glory to God in the highest heavens and peace to his people on earth”. We might say that, following the structure of Hebrew poetry, the two halves of this double verse say essentially the same thing, but from a different perspective. God’s glory is in the highest heavens, but his high state is now found in the stable – what was lowly has now become sublime. God’s glory is on the earth, it is the glory of humility and love. And even more: the glory of God is peace. Wherever he is, there is peace. He is present wherever human beings do not attempt, apart from him, and even violently, to turn earth into heaven. He is with those of watchful hearts; with the humble and those who meet him at the level of his own “height”, the height of humility and love. To these people he gives his peace, so that through them, peace can enter this world.

The medieval theologian William of Saint Thierry once said that God – from the time of Adam – saw that his grandeur provoked resistance in man, that we felt limited in our own being and threatened in our freedom. Therefore God chose a new way. He became a child. He made himself dependent and weak, in need of our love. Now – this God who has become a child says to us – you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.

With these thoughts, we draw near this night to the child of Bethlehem – to the God who for our sake chose to become a child. In every child we see something of the Child of Bethlehem. Every child asks for our love. This night, then, let us think especially of those children who are denied the love of their parents. Let us think of those street children who do not have the blessing of a family home, of those children who are brutally exploited as soldiers and made instruments of violence, instead of messengers of reconciliation and peace. Let us think of those children who are victims of the industry of pornography and every other appalling form of abuse, and thus are traumatized in the depths of their soul. The Child of Bethlehem summons us once again to do everything in our power to put an end to the suffering of these children; to do everything possible to make the light of Bethlehem touch the heart of every man and woman. Only through the conversion of hearts, only through a change in the depths of our hearts can the cause of all this evil be overcome, only thus can the power of the evil one be defeated. Only if people change will the world change; and in order to change, people need the light that comes from God, the light which so unexpectedly entered into our night.

And speaking of the Child of Bethlehem, let us think also of the place named Bethlehem, of the land in which Jesus lived, and which he loved so deeply. And let us pray that peace will be established there, that hatred and violence will cease. Let us pray for mutual understanding, that hearts will be opened, so that borders can be opened. Let us pray that peace will descend there, the peace of which the angels sang that night.

In Psalm 96 [95], Israel, and the Church, praises God’s grandeur manifested in creation. All creatures are called to join in this song of praise, and so the Psalm also contains the invitation: “Let all the trees of the wood sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes” (v. 12ff.). The Church reads this Psalm as a prophecy and also as a task. The coming of God to Bethlehem took place in silence. Only the shepherds keeping watch were, for a moment, surrounded by the light-filled radiance of his presence and could listen to something of that new song, born of the wonder and joy of the angels at God’s coming. This silent coming of God’s glory continues throughout the centuries. Wherever there is faith, wherever his word is proclaimed and heard, there God gathers people together and gives himself to them in his Body; he makes them his Body. God “comes”. And in this way our hearts are awakened. The new song of the angels becomes the song of all those who, throughout the centuries, sing ever anew of God’s coming as a child – and rejoice deep in their hearts. And the trees of the wood go out to him and exult. The tree in Saint Peter’s Square speaks of him, it wants to reflect his splendour and to say: Yes, he has come, and the trees of the wood acclaim him. The trees in the cities and in our homes should be something more than a festive custom: they point to the One who is the reason for our joy – the God who for our sake became a child. In the end, this song of praise, at the deepest level, speaks of him who is the very tree of new-found life. Through faith in him we receive life. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist he gives himself to us – he gives us a life that reaches into eternity. At this hour we join in creation’s song of praise, and our praise is at the same time a prayer: Yes, Lord, help us to see something of the splendour of your glory. And grant peace on earth. Make us men and women of your peace. Amen.
Via Vatican Radio.

PHOTO: Reuters

I behold a new and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the Shepherd's song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.

The Angels sing!
The Archangels blend their voices in harmony!
The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise!
The Seraphim exalt His glory!
All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice.

And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, he had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God.

This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became he God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His Incarnation has he departed from the Godhead.
And behold,
Kings have come, that they might adore the heavenly King of glory;
Soldiers, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;
Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child-birth into joy;
Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin, beholding with joy, that He Who is the Giver of milk, Who has decreed that the fountains of the breast pour forth in ready streams, receives from a Virgin Mother the food of infancy;
Infants, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouth of infants and sucklings, He might perfect praise;
Children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;
Men, to Him Who became man, that He might heal the miseries of His servants;
Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;
Priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech;
Servants, to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our servitude with the reward of freedom;
Fishermen, to Him Who from amongst fishermen chose catchers of men;
Publicans, to Him Who from amongst them named a chosen Evangelist;
Sinful women, to Him Who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant;
And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world.

Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ. For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp.

And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing: Glory to God in the Highest;

and with the shepherds: and on earth peace to men of good will.
--St John Chrysostom
Homily for the Navity of the Lord


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bethlehem in Rome... and Vice Versa

Continuing his custom for Christmas Eve, earlier tonight the Pope lit a candle for the intention of peace in his study window as the creche in the Piazza below was unveiled in a sunset ceremony.

In his first Christmas Message as the church's new head in Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Fouad Twal has formally announced that a papal pilgrimage to the Holy Land will take place in May.

While no precise dates were disclosed, recent reports tipping the trip for 8-15 May have received no denial from the Holy See.



Merry Christmas, by George

YouTube tidings from the Chief -- Cardinal Francis George OMI of Chicago, the USCCB president...

...and for those seeking a Yuletide moment of Zen, greetings from the cardinal-bishop of Hong Kong:


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An "Ecology" in Full

Given the controversy born from yesterday's remarks on gender by the Pope in the context of his Christmas "greeting" to the Roman Curia, a fulltext of said message would, of course, be useful.

The way the Vatican's translators tend to work, however, an official English rendering of the 11-page talk mightn't show up 'til midway through the next pontificate.

That said, we're in luck: a guerrilla translation of the entire address has surfaced from across the Pond, prepared by the coadjutor of Lancaster, Bishop Michael Campbell.

The first Augustinian friar named to the English episcopate since the Reformation, B16 tapped Campbell, 67 -- a missionary, teacher and parish priest prior to his appointment -- as successor-in-waiting to Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue earlier this year.

A specialist in the Scriptures and the Semitic languages, the bishop is expected to take the reins of the 110,000-member see in the west of England next summer.

And now, the PopeText....

* * *
Address of the Holy Father Benedict XVI
to the Roman Curia
on the occasion of their Christmas Greetings

Sala Clementina, Apostolic Palace
Monday 22nd December 2008

Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and Presbyterate,
Dear brothers and sisters!

The birthday of the Lord is at hand. Every family feels the desire to be reunited, to savour the unique and unrepeatable atmosphere which this feast is capable of creating. Even the family of the Roman Curia also finds itself here, this morning, in accordance with an appealing custom, thanks to which we have the joy of meeting and exchanging greetings in this particular spiritual season. I offer my sincere greetings to each one of you, full of recognition for the valuable collaboration offered to the ministry of the Successor of Peter. I thank most sincerely the Cardinal Dean, Angelo Sodano, who offered the good wishes of everyone present, and also of all who work in the different offices, including the Papal Representations.

Earlier I referred to the special atmosphere of Christmas. I like to think that this is, as it were, an extension of that mysterious joy, of that intimate elation, which surround the Holy Family, the Angels and the shepherds of Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born.

I would describe that as “the atmosphere of grace”, having in mind the words of St. Paul in the letter to Titus: “The grace of God our Saviour has appeared to all mankind.” (Ti 2:11). The Apostle declares that the grace of God has appeared to the “whole of humanity”: I would add that in these words the mission of the Church is disclosed, and in particular that of the Successor of Peter and his collaborators, to make their contribution so that the grace of God, of the Redeemer, might become ever more visible to all, and that everyone might attain salvation.

The year just concluding has been rich by way of retrospective glances on important moments in the recent history of the Church, but also rich in events which carry within them pointers to direct our journey towards the future. Fifty years ago Pope Pius XII died, fifty years ago John XXIII was elected Pope, Forty years have passed since the publication of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, and thirty years since the death of its author, Pope Paul VI. The message from such events has been recorded and reflected upon in many ways in the course of the year, and I do not intend to delay again at this time. This backward glance through memory, however, takes us even further back, beyond the events of the last century, and precisely in this way has pointed us towards the future: on the evening of the 28th June, in the presence of the ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I of Constantinople, and of the representatives of many other Churches and ecclesial Communities, we were able to inaugurate in the Basilica of St. Paul’s outside the Walls the Year of St. Paul, recalling the birth of the Apostle of the gentiles two thousand years ago. For us, Paul is not a figure of the past. By means of his letters he continues to speak to us until the present day. And whoever enters into dialogue with him, find himself impelled towards Christ crucified and risen. The Pauline Year is a year of pilgrimage, not only in the sense of an external journey towards places associated with St. Paul, but also, and above all, in the sense of a pilgrimage of the heart, together with Paul towards Jesus Christ. In a word, Paul teaches us that the Church is the Body of Christ, that the Head and the Body are inseparable and that there can be no love for Christ without love for his Church and her living community.

Three specific events, during this year now coming to a close, come particularly to mind.

First, there was the World Youth Day in Australia, a great celebration of faith, which united more than 200,000 young people from every part of the world, and brought them close not only exteriorly – in the geographical sense – but, thanks to the shared joy of being Christians, it also brought them closer in an interior fashion.

Apart from this, there were journeys, one to the United States, the other to France, in which the Church made herself visible before the world and for the world as a spiritual force which points the pathways to life and, by the witness of faith, brings light to the world. Those indeed were days which radiated brightness; they radiated confidence in the value of life and in the commitment to good.

Lastly, there is the memory of the Synod of Bishops: Pastors from all over the world were gathered around the Word of God, which was raised up in their midst; around the Word of God, whose supreme manifestation is found in Sacred Scripture. That which in our daily living we have paid attention to, we have cultivated anew in all its sublimity: the fact that God speaks and answers our questions. The fact that he, albeit in human language, speaks in person and we are able to hear him, and through hearing, come to know and understand him. The fact that he enters into our lives and we can go out of our lives and enter into the vastness of his mercy. So we have been newly made aware that God in his Word addresses himself to each one of us, speaks to the heart of each one of us: if our heart is disposed and our interior hearing open, then each individual can discover the word addressed appropriately to him. But precisely if we hear God speaking in such a personal manner to each one of us, we understand also that his Word is present so that we can draw closer to each other; so that we can discover the path out of what is solely personal. This Word has constructed a common history and wishes continually to do so. Thus we are freshly made aware that – precisely because the Word is so personal – we can understand it in correct and total fashion only in the “we” of the community established by God: always full conscious that we can never completely exhaust it, that it has something new to say to every generation. We understood for sure that the biblical writings were composed at determined periods and therefore constitute in this sense something of a book from a past age. But we have seen that their message does not stay in the past nor can it be confined in it: God, in truth, always speaks to the present, and we have heard the Bible in a manner that is full only when we have discovered this “present” of God, which we call now.

Finally, it was important to experience that there is a Pentecost in the Church today, i.e. that it speaks in many tongues and this not only in an exterior fashion in the sense of there being represented in it all the major languages of the world, but it a still much more profound sense: in the Church are found all the different experiences of God and of the world, the richness of cultures, and only thus there appears the vastness of human existence and, departing from it, the vastness of the Word of God. Yet we have also learned that Pentecost is still “in via”, on the way, and so far incomplete: still to be found are a multitude of languages which yet await the Word of God found in the Bible. Also moving were the numerous witnesses of faithful lay people from every part of the world, who not only live the Word of God, but also suffer because of it. One precious contribution was the address of the Rabbi on the Sacred Scriptures of Israel, which in fact are our Scriptures as well. A significant moment for the Synod, rather for the journey of the Church as a whole, took place with when the Patriarch Bartholomew, in the light of the orthodox tradition, opened up for us a way to the Word of God with a penetrating analysis. Let us now hope that the experiences and attainments of the Synod will have an effective influence on the life of the Church, on a personal relationship with the Sacred Scriptures, on their interpretation in the Liturgy and catechesis, as also in scientific research, lest the Bible remain a Word of the past, but that its vitality and actuality may be read and revealed in all its vast and significant dimensions.

The themes of the actuality of the Word of God, of God himself in this very hour of history, also figured in the pastoral journeys this year: their true meaning can only be to serve this actuality. On such occasions when the Church is perceived publicly, alongside the faith arises at least the question about God. This public manifestation of the faith brings along all those who seek to understand the present time and the forces operative in it. In particular, the phenomenon of the World Youth Days is always the subject of analysis, in which there the attempt is made to understand this kind of event, so to speak, of youth culture. Australia had never seen before so many people from every continent as during the World Youth Day, not even at the time of the Olympics. And if beforehand the fear existed that the presence of such a mass of young people could bring with it some risk to public order, paralysis of traffic, upset to daily routine, provocation to violence and the occasion for drugs, all of this was shown to be without foundation. It was a feast of joy – a joy which finally embraced the reluctant: in the final analysis, no one felt threatened. The days became a celebration for everyone, rather only then did we take full account of what a feast was – an occasion in which everyone is, as it were, outside of themselves, beyond their very selves, and in truth with themselves and with the others. What and wherefore was the nature of this success of the World Youth Day? What were the forces which drove it? Popular analyses tend to look on these days as a variant of modern youth culture, like a kind of rock festival, modified in church wise, with the Pope like a star. With or without faith, this festival is at root always the same thing, and so the question of God can be sidelined. There are also Catholic voices which move in this direction, seeing it all as a great spectacle, even beautiful, with having little significance for the question of faith and the presence of the gospel in our time. They could be moments of festive ecstasy, which however when all is said and done leave things as they were, having no bearing in any depth on life itself.

With this, however, the peculiar nature of such days and the particular character of their joy, their creative force for communion, find no explanation. Above all, it is important to take account of the fact that the World Youth Days do not consist of one single week in which they become public and visible to the world. There is both a long external and internal journey leading to them. The Cross, accompanied by the image of the Mother of the Lord, goes on pilgrimage in different lands. Faith, in its own way, feels the need to see and to touch. The encounter with the cross, which is touched and carried, becomes an interior encounter with Him who died on the cross for us. The encounter with the Cross arouses in the depths of youth the memory of that God who willed to become man and suffer with us. And we see the woman whom He has given us as Mother. The solemn Youth Days are only the culmination of a long journey, along which they meet one another and together they go to Christ. In Australia, not fortuitously, the long Way of the Cross through the city became the culminating event of those days. It recapitulated once more all that had taken place in the preceding years and pointed to the One who unites us all together: the God who loves us to the extent of the Cross. And so even the Pope is not the star around which everything happens. He is simply and solely Vicar. He defers to Another who stands in our midst. Finally, the solemn liturgy is the centre of everything, because there takes place in it what we are unable to accomplish and of which, however, we are always in expectation. He is present. He enters into our midst. Heaven is rent, and this makes the earth glow. It is this which makes life joyful and open and unites one to another in a joy which cannot be compared to the joy of a rock festival. Friedrich Nietzsche said on one occasion: “The ability is not to be found in organising a festival, but in finding people who can enjoy it.” According to Scripture, joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22): this fruit was abundantly visible during those days in Sydney. Just as a long journey preceded the World Day of Youth, so successive journeys flowed from it. Friendships were forged which encouraged a single, diverse style of life and supported it from within. The great Days have, not as their ultimate reason, the intention to create such friendships and in this way they bring about areas of life in faith, which are simultaneously arenas of hope and of a charity experienced.

Joy as the fruit of the Holy Spirit – with this we come to the central theme of Sydney which, precisely, was the Holy Spirit. In this retrospective glance I would like to refer, by way of synthesis, to the orientation implicit in such a theme. Keeping before our eyes the witness of Scripture and of Tradition, four dimensions of the theme “Holy Spirit” are easily recognised.

1. The first is the affirmation which we find at the beginning of the account of creation: there we hear of the Creator Spirit which hovers over the waters, creates the world and constantly renews it. Faith in the Creator Spirit is an essential part of the Christian Credo. The fact that matter carries within itself a mathematical structure, is full of spirit, and forms the foundation on which the modern natural sciences rest. Only because is structured in an intelligent fashion is our spirit competent to interpret it and to actively refashion it. Because this intelligent structure proceeds from the same Spirit Creator which has given us the spirit to us, it brings with a task and a responsibility. The ultimate foundation for our responsibility towards the earth rests on our beliefs about creation. The earth is not simply our possession which we can plunder according to our interests and desires. It is rather a gift of the Creator who has designed its intrinsic laws and with this has given us the basic directions for us to adhere as stewards of his creation. The fact that the earth, the cosmos, mirror the Creator Spirit, clearly means that their rational structures which, transcending the mathematical order, become almost palpable in our experience, bear within themselves an ethical orientation. The Spirit which has formed them, is more than mathematics, he is the Good in person, using the language of creation, and points us to the way of right living.

Since faith in the Creator is an essential part of the Christian Credo, the Church cannot and should not confine itself to passing on the message of salvation alone. It has a responsibility for the created order and ought to make this responsibility prevail, even in public. And in so doing, it ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air as gifts of creation, belonging to everyone. It ought also to protect man against the destruction of himself. What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man, understood in the correct sense. When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected, it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic. It is a question here of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man and therefore to the destruction of the same work of God. That which is often expressed and understood by the term “gender”, results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator. Man wishes to act alone and to dispose ever and exclusively of that alone which concerns him. But in this way he is living contrary to the truth, he is living contrary to the Spirit Creator. The tropical forests are deserving, yes, of our protection, but man merits no less than the creature, in which there is written a message which does not mean a contradiction of our liberty, but its condition. The great Scholastic theologians have characterised matrimony, the life-long bond between man and woman, as a sacrament of creation, instituted by the Creator himself and which Christ – without modifying the message of creation – has incorporated into the history of his covenant with mankind. This forms part of the message that the Church must recover the witness in favour of the Spirit Creator present in nature in its entirety and in a particular way in the nature of man, created in the image of God. Beginning from this perspective, it would be beneficial to read again the Encyclical Humanae Vitae: the intention of Pope Paul VI was to defend love against sexuality as a consumer entity, the future as opposed to the exclusive pretext of the present, and the nature of man against its manipulation.

2. Finally, I add a few more remarks on other aspects of pneumatology. If the creator Spirit is manifest above all in the silent grandeur of the universe, in its intelligent structure, faith, beyond this, tells us something unexpected, that this Spirit speaks, as it were, also in human language, has entered into history and, as a force which shapes history, is also a Spirit who speaks, rather he is the Word which comes to meet us in the writings of the Old and New Testament. What this might mean for us, Saint Ambrose has marvellously expressed in one of his letters: “Even now, when I read the divine Scriptures, God walks in paradise” (Ep.49:3). By reading the Scriptures we also today can, so to speak, wander in the garden of Paradise and meet the God who walks there: between the theme of the World Youth Day in Australia and the theme for the Synod of Bishops exists a deep interior bond. The two themes “Holy Spirit” and “Word of God” go together. Reading Scripture we learn moreover that Christ and the Holy Spirit are inseparable from one another. If Paul, in an arresting synthesis, states: “The Lord is the Spirit” (2 Cor3:17), not only does there appear in essence, the Trinitarian unity between the Son and the Holy Spirit, but also their unity where the story of salvation is concerned: in the passion and resurrection of Christ the veils of the merely literal sense are torn and the presence of God who is speaking becomes visible. By reading the Scripture together with Christ, we come to sense in human words the voice of the Holy Spirit and we discover the unity of the Bible.

3. With this we have arrived at the third dimension of pneumatology which consists, precisely, in the inseparability of Christ and the Holy Spirit. In rather beautiful fashion this is shown in Saint John’s account of the first appearance of the risen Lord to his disciples: the Lord breathes on his disciples and in this way gives them the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the breath of Christ. And just as the breath of God in the morning of creation transformed the dust of the earth into a living being, likewise the breath of Christ gathers us into ontological communion with the Son, makes us a new creation. For this reason it is the Holy Spirit who makes us say with the Son: “Abba, Father” (Jn20:22; Rom8:15).

4. As the fourth dimension, there arises spontaneously the connection between Spirit and Church. Paul, in 1 Corinthains 12 and Romans12, explains the Church as the Body of Christ and in this way as an organism of the Holy Spirit, in which the gifts of the Holy Spirit mould individual members into a single living entity. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Body of Christ. By belonging to this body we find our role, we live as one for another in dependence on one another, living in the depths of Him who lived and suffered for us all, and by means of the Holy Spirit draws us to himself in the unity of all the sons of God. “Do you also wish to live from the Spirit of Christ? Then be in the body of Christ.”, says Augustine in this regard.(Tr,in Jo.26:13)

And so with the theme “Holy Spirit” which guided the days in Australia and, in a more hidden fashion, also the week of the Synod, the whole extent of the Christian faith becomes clear, a breadth which from the responsibility for the created order and for the existence of man in harmony with creation leads, through the themes of Scripture and the history of salvation, to Christ and beyond to the living community of the Church, in its ordinances and responsibilities and also in its vastness and freedom, which finds expression both in the multiplicity of charisms and in the Pentecostal image of the multitude of languages and cultures.

Joy is an integral part of the feast. A feast can be organised, joy no. It can only be offered as a gift; and, in fact, has been given to us in abundance: it is by this that we are known. Just as Paul described joy as the fruit of the Holy Spirit, so likewise has John in his gospel connected closely the Spirit and joy. The Holy Spirit gives us joy. And he is joy. Joy is the gift in which all the other gifts are included. It is the expression of happiness, of being in harmony with ourselves, that which can only come from being in harmony with God and with his creation. It belongs to the nature of joy to be radiant, it must communicate itself. The missionary spirit of the Church is none other than the impulse to communicate the joy which has been given. May it always be alive in us and so be radiated on the world in the midst of its tribulations: such is my wish at the close of this year. Along with a lively thanks for all your labours and endeavours, I wish you all this joy which comes from God and may it also be given to us abundantly in the New Year.

I commend these wishes to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Divine Grace, requesting that we can live the Christmas festival in joy and in the peace of the Lord. With these sentiments I sincerely impart to you and the great family of the Roman Curia the Apostolic Blessing.

* * *
Again, all thanks to the bishop-translator for his yeoman's labours.