Sunday, November 13, 2011

Plenary Eve

…so yet again, church, away we go.

Greetings from Baltimore and the annual November Meeting of the US bishops, set to formally begin up that escalator tomorrow, even if its preliminary committee work is already well underway.

This week's plenary continues a rite of autumn which stretches back to 1919. Only in its 93rd edition, however, will it be presided over for the first time by an archbishop of New York.

Accordingly, the centerpiece agenda item of this Fall Classic won't be a contentious liturgy matter nor even the standard release of a major document -- both of which are conspicuously absent from this year's agenda (at least, as it stood late yesterday) -- but Tim Dolan's first "State of the Church" address from the bench's helm, which'll come early on Opening Day. Likewise of note is this meeting's doubling as the debut of the freshly-named Nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who was to arrive on these shores yesterday, "marching orders" in hand after a Monday audience with Pope Benedict.

Beyond the dual talks of President and Nuncio, some interesting elections for committee chairmanships will offer significant snapshots of the body's current leanings; the bishops are expected to launch a permanent policy arm on issues pertaining to the recent Federal health-care reform, and reports will be given on matters ranging from marriage to Project Rachel to Anglicanorum coetibus. Above all, though, the frame of this meeting -- likely to resonate in Dolan's address and elsewhere -- is almost sure to be the battle for religious freedom, taken up by the bishops in the wake of several recent developments in law and policy that, on the whole, are seen as constituting a grave threat to the protection of conscience rights long assured to the church and other faith groups.

Discussions on the high-stakes topic are scheduled both during the two days of open session, and as part of an abbreviated closed-door executive session, which is slated to begin late Tuesday and end before lunch on Wednesday, 24 hours earlier than the plenary's traditional adjournment. Yet after reports emerged earlier this weekend of a quiet Tuesday meeting between Dolan and President Obama on the bishops' concerns, how any results of the sit-down might impact the tenor of the discussions remains to be seen.

Established over recent weeks and given a membership that includes many of the conference's heaviest hitters, the bench's new ad hoc Committee for Religious Liberty will have its first meeting late tonight.

As ever, more here and on Page Three (either click this or, from the main page, down your right sidebar) as it pops up.

For all of it -- well, as much as one set of eyes and ears can pick up -- as always, stay tuned.

* * *
Before anything else, gang, on a personal note, just a quick word to say that, after a turbulent month behind the scenes, it's a gift -- almost a relief, really -- to be back at the keys.

Many have asked what's been doing amid the recent downturn of posts. As indicated earlier, this scribe's energies were taken up on the homefront. In a nutshell, after 34 years of 3am workdays, my father was effectively forced out of his job in early October, then fell ill days later amid the stress of the transition.

Gratefully, everything's beginning to level out, and -- at least, aside from an ongoing torrent of tests and a lot of logistics still being sorted through -- Dad seems to be in the clear (even if he's got a worrisome cough that won't go away). Still, it's just been a very intense, even trying moment, one that hasn't left me with much time or brain-space to even think about what's on the beat.

Again, it's a relief that things have eased up enough to be here -- even more than the news, the raft of friendly faces who converge every year during these days in the Premier See are a priceless joy and blessing to have in your life. And admittedly, after the tumult of these last weeks, I've been looking forward to those meet-ups even more this year than most.

See, much as many have perceived the ride of these years to have been primarily about the news -- and, of course, that's been a big part of it -- in reality, it's the community in whose context these stories unfold that's always been paramount… and whatever happens from here, the friendship, goodness, warmth and embrace I've found in that community -- this church, the home we all share together -- will forever be the greatest gift and honor of this ride. Sure, there are tough stories and tough days… with a crowd like this, though -- whether across the street or on the other side of the globe -- you really can't go wrong.

In a normal year, this November Meeting would usually be the month's big ticket story. This year, though, it's third, ranking behind two other threads set to heat up after this week: the US' ad limina visit, which'll see two more groups go over by month's end… and, of course, the Mother of All 800lb Gorillas -- the Third Edition of the Roman Missal in English, set for full implementation in North America and across much of the Anglophone world in less than a fortnight's time.

Ergo, folks, much as the last month's been fairly quiet, only now is it really getting interesting again… and particularly because this week's costs ring up around the better part of $2,000 -- on top of all the usual bills and debts this work brings about -- the reminder's in order that these pages come your way solely by means of your support...

...or, for those who'd prefer to lend a hand via snail-mail, checks can be sent to PO Box 63890, Philadelphia PA 19147-7890. To be sure, as there remains no such thing as "Whispers, Inc." they're best made out to the undersigned.

As ever, all thanks in advance. And to the donors and friends who've kept the prayers and support up in the midst of the storm, thanks to the heavens for keeping this one vertical amid the storm -- you have no idea how good you've been, and how much it'll mean always.

God love you lot forever and, again, greetings from the traveling Mothership... enjoy the week ahead -- as ever, here goes nothin'.