Friday, December 30, 2011

In Philadelphia, The Shake-Up Begins at Home -- Chaput To Sell Archbishop’s Residence

In the most concrete sign yet of his plans to thoroughly reshape the beleaguered church he’s inherited, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. is giving up the mansion at the city’s edge which his predecessors have called home for the last 75 years.

Less than four months after taking the reins of the 1.2 million-member Northeastern “supertanker,” Chaput reportedly decided to seek a buyer for the historic, 12,600 square-foot Cardinal's Residence and its 8.9-acre grounds over recent weeks, according to archdiocesan sources. No official announcement of the move is expected to be made.

Seen by many locals as the quintessential symbol of the “complacency and pride” that have long marked the city’s ecclesial culture, the property's placement on the market is said to have received “strong support” both from Chaput's Finance Council and Council of Priests, who were consulted on the move over the last six weeks. As the value of a successful deal is almost certain to exceed the canonical threshold for a bishop’s alienation of diocesan property on his own initiative (currently $7.5 million for larger US dioceses), a transfer of ownership would require the approval of the Holy See.

Home to the city's top prelate since 1935, when Cardinal Dennis Dougherty purchased it for $215,000, it is unclear where the current occupants of 5700 City Avenue -- the Capuchin prelate, a duo of priest-aides and the two Sisters of Mercy of Alma who staff the household -- would relocate on the completion of a sale.

During his 14 years as archbishop of Denver, Chaput lived alone in a cozy, Mission-style rancher on the campus that housed his seminary and the diocesan offices. Before Dougherty’s move to the antebellum house on Philadelphia's border with suburban Montgomery County, a half-century of the city’s archbishops were based at what's now the Rectory of the Cathedral-Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on Race Street, in the heart of the urban hub. The archdiocese’s four active auxiliaries live in former rectories or convents that had been vacant in their respective geographic regions.

While the adjacent St Joseph’s University has sought for decades to expand across Cardinal Avenue by acquiring the residence parcel -- even placing a standing offer for the property in the mid-2000s -- an open bidding process is expected to be held. Despite having spent $92.5 million in 2005 to buy and adapt a 38-acre parcel across the street, the Jesuit-run school is still considered the most likely party to make the winning offer for its neighboring diocesan plot. That result would echo the most prominent house-sale by an American hierarch in recent years: Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s $172 million, three-part deal with Boston College for the famed Brighton Chancery compound, whose 65 acres served as the nerve center of the New England archdiocese for over a century.

On at least one account, the timing of Chaput’s first major Philly move is notable: a week from today (6 January), the archbishop will receive the recommendations of a year-long Blue Ribbon Commission studying the future of Catholic education in his new charge, which is likely to propose the most significant closing and consolidation of schools undertaken to date by an American diocese. In addition, a strategic planning effort to gauge the viability of the archdiocese's parish configuration was recently begun, and is expected to see the closing or merger of a sizable chunk of the 267 churches at the process' conclusion in the first half of 2013.

Once upon a time, meanwhile, in an age now past, New Year’s Day would bring the residence’s grandest function hosted by its buyer, at which attendees would be briefed on the state of the archdiocese.

Seven decades later, the message of 2012 is already shaping up to be starkly different: the reality of a Philadelphia Catholicism far removed from the booming empire of which Dougherty would annually boast.

According to one official appraised of the plans, the ninth archbishop “wants a simpler, more frugal and more zealous spirit in the church, and he's willing to begin witnessing it at the top.”


Thursday, December 29, 2011

So, gang, this week was supposed to be quiet....

Suffice it to say, though, the news intervened.

As experience goes, that's pretty much par for the course, but the downtime Fire Sale can pick up again next week.

For now, be prepared for not just one, but two significant briefs set to drop tomorrow. In the meanwhile -- especially as these are the kind of things you won't be able to find anywhere else (at least until it's too late)... and not just as the house's Year-End Bills are rather daunting, to boot -- the reminder's in order that these pages keep coming your way solely by means of their readership's support.

Ergo, as you're able to help the shop stay afloat, don't forget the guitar case....

Not to put too fine a point on it or anything but, church, it's either this or the lights get turned off.

As ever, every little bit helps. All thanks in advance... and, yet again, here goes nothin'.

Back to cracking away. But to those among us leaving early for another long weekend, all the gifts, joys and blessings of the New Year to you and yours. And in keeping with the age-old custom of this fold, albeit a day early, let the traditional song of thanks for the year now passing ring out:

To one and all, God love you and yours and bless you with every good thing in the New Year and always. And as these pages head into Year Eight, as they say, here goes another one... and hopefully, thanks to you, even more still.

For all of it, as always, stay tuned.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

And Now, The Fun Part....

Just to be clear: much as that shot is indeed from the neighborhood, it is not the Home Office....

Still, we're not terribly off by much.

Again, gang, hope you and yours are still having a beautiful, joyous and Merry Christmas, with all its blessings, peace and good stuff.

As downtime seems to be on a Fire Sale these days -- things already blipping the wires, all set to go up in the very first days (even hours) of 2012 -- this scribe is taking a very needed breather while it's still possible and, admittedly, finally hitting the wall from this most intense of years.

So it seems, that was bound to happen sometime. Good thing it didn't wait 'til next week.

On a quick side-note, it was somewhat disconcerting to see "Goodbye Christmas" -- the technological equivalent of tossing out the tree? -- trending on Twitter in the last hours of the 25th.... Because, well, how can you say "goodbye" to something that just arrived?

Moral of the Story: we've gotta do a better job of living the Octaves as what they are -- namely, The Day X 8. In the meanwhile, with the functions and formalities now behind, simply being able to bask in the Bambino's sweetest stocking-stuffers -- the best of family and friends, good food and a bit more sleep than usual -- makes for the happiest part of this time of year, and hope you're getting to experience much of the same wherever you're at.

Lastly, one big reason why most of us look to and love these days as we do are the traditions they bring. And along those lines, the gear-up's already well underway for the happiest of 'em all....

And as there's at least one person out there who's been waiting to see these guys, release the wenches:

Church, what a year. And as that Gate begins to swing open again, here's to the best and brightest of everything in the next one.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

"O Emmanuel... Come to Save Us!"

25 DECEMBER 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world!

Christ is born for us! Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to the men and women whom he loves. May all people hear an echo of the message of Bethlehem which the Catholic Church repeats in every continent, beyond the confines of every nation, language and culture. The Son of the Virgin Mary is born for everyone; he is the Saviour of all.

This is how Christ is invoked in an ancient liturgical antiphon: "O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, hope and salvation of the peoples: come to save us, O Lord our God". Veni ad salvandum nos! Come to save us! This is the cry raised by men and women in every age, who sense that by themselves they cannot prevail over difficulties and dangers. They need to put their hands in a greater and stronger hand, a hand which reaches out to them from on high. Dear brothers and sisters, this hand is Christ, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary. He is the hand that God extends to humanity, to draw us out of the mire of sin and to set us firmly on rock, the secure rock of his Truth and his Love (cf. Ps 40:2).

This is the meaning of the Child’s name, the name which, by God’s will, Mary and Joseph gave him: he is named Jesus, which means "Saviour" (cf. Mt 1:21; Lk 1:31). He was sent by God the Father to save us above all from the evil deeply rooted in man and in history: the evil of separation from God, the prideful presumption of being self-sufficient, of trying to compete with God and to take his place, to decide what is good and evil, to be the master of life and death (cf. Gen 3:1-7). This is the great evil, the great sin, from which we human beings cannot save ourselves unless we rely on God’s help, unless we cry out to him: "Veni ad salvandum nos! – Come to save us!"

The very fact that we cry to heaven in this way already sets us aright; it makes us true to ourselves: we are in fact those who cried out to God and were saved (cf. Esth [LXX] 10:3ff.). God is the Saviour; we are those who are in peril. He is the physician; we are the infirm. To realize this is the first step towards salvation, towards emerging from the maze in which we have been locked by our pride. To lift our eyes to heaven, to stretch out our hands and call for help is our means of escape, provided that there is Someone who hears us and can come to our assistance.

Jesus Christ is the proof that God has heard our cry. And not only this! God’s love for us is so strong that he cannot remain aloof; he comes out of himself to enter into our midst and to share fully in our human condition (cf. Ex 3:7-12). The answer to our cry which God gave in Jesus infinitely transcends our expectations, achieving a solidarity which cannot be human alone, but divine. Only the God who is love, and the love which is God, could choose to save us in this way, which is certainly the lengthiest way, yet the way which respects the truth about him and about us: the way of reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation.

Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, on this Christmas 2011, let us then turn to the Child of Bethlehem, to the Son of the Virgin Mary, and say: "Come to save us!" Let us repeat these words in spiritual union with the many people who experience particularly difficult situations; let us speak out for those who have no voice.

Together let us ask God’s help for the peoples of the Horn of Africa, who suffer from hunger and food shortages, aggravated at times by a persistent state of insecurity. May the international community not fail to offer assistance to the many displaced persons coming from that region and whose dignity has been sorely tried.

May the Lord grant comfort to the peoples of South-East Asia, particularly Thailand and the Philippines, who are still enduring grave hardships as a result of the recent floods.

May the Lord come to the aid of our world torn by so many conflicts which even today stain the earth with blood. May the Prince of Peace grant peace and stability to that Land where he chose to come into the world, and encourage the resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. May he bring an end to the violence in Syria, where so much blood has already been shed. May he foster full reconciliation and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan. May he grant renewed vigour to all elements of society in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East as they strive to advance the common good.

May the birth of the Saviour support the prospects of dialogue and cooperation in Myanmar, in the pursuit of shared solutions. May the Nativity of the Redeemer ensure political stability to the countries of the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and assist the people of South Sudan in their commitment to safeguarding the rights of all citizens.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us turn our gaze anew to the grotto of Bethlehem. The Child whom we contemplate is our salvation! He has brought to the world a universal message of reconciliation and peace. Let us open our hearts to him; let us receive him into our lives. Once more let us say to him, with joy and confidence: "Veni ad salvandum nos!"


Saturday, December 24, 2011

"He Has Appeared"

24 DECEMBER 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to Titus that we have just heard begins solemnly with the word “apparuit”, which then comes back again in the reading at the Dawn Mass: apparuit – “there has appeared”. This is a programmatic word, by which the Church seeks to express synthetically the essence of Christmas. Formerly, people had spoken of God and formed human images of him in all sorts of different ways. God himself had spoken in many and various ways to mankind (cf. Heb 1:1 – Mass during the Day). But now something new has happened: he has appeared. He has revealed himself. He has emerged from the inaccessible light in which he dwells. He himself has come into our midst. This was the great joy of Christmas for the early Church: God has appeared. No longer is he merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of him on the basis of mere words. He has “appeared”. But now we ask: how has he appeared? Who is he in reality? The reading at the Dawn Mass goes on to say: “the kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” (Tit 3:4). For the people of pre-Christian times, whose response to the terrors and contradictions of the world was to fear that God himself might not be good either, that he too might well be cruel and arbitrary, this was a real “epiphany”, the great light that has appeared to us: God is pure goodness. Today too, people who are no longer able to recognize God through faith are asking whether the ultimate power that underpins and sustains the world is truly good, or whether evil is just as powerful and primordial as the good and the beautiful which we encounter in radiant moments in our world. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed”: this is the new, consoling certainty that is granted to us at Christmas.

In all three Christmas Masses, the liturgy quotes a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, which describes the epiphany that took place at Christmas in greater detail: “A child is born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace. Wide is his dominion in a peace that has no end” (Is 9:5f.). Whether the prophet had a particular child in mind, born during his own period of history, we do not know. But it seems impossible. This is the only text in the Old Testament in which it is said of a child, of a human being: his name will be Mighty-God, Eternal-Father. We are presented with a vision that extends far beyond the historical moment into the mysterious, into the future. A child, in all its weakness, is Mighty God. A child, in all its neediness and dependence, is Eternal Father. And his peace “has no end”. The prophet had previously described the child as “a great light” and had said of the peace he would usher in that the rod of the oppressor, the footgear of battle, every cloak rolled in blood would be burned (Is 9:1, 3-4).

God has appeared – as a child. It is in this guise that he pits himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace. At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors’ rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord: O mighty God, you have appeared as a child and you have revealed yourself to us as the One who loves us, the One through whom love will triumph. And you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you. We love your childish estate, your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: manifest your power, O God. In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors’ rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours.

Christmas is an epiphany – the appearing of God and of his great light in a child that is born for us. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, not in the palaces of kings. In 1223, when Saint Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas in Greccio with an ox and an ass and a manger full of hay, a new dimension of the mystery of Christmas came to light. Saint Francis of Assisi called Christmas “the feast of feasts” – above all other feasts – and he celebrated it with “unutterable devotion” (2 Celano 199; Fonti Francescane, 787). He kissed images of the Christ-child with great devotion and he stammered tender words such as children say, so Thomas of Celano tells us (ibid.). For the early Church, the feast of feasts was Easter: in the Resurrection Christ had flung open the doors of death and in so doing had radically changed the world: he had made a place for man in God himself. Now, Francis neither changed nor intended to change this objective order of precedence among the feasts, the inner structure of the faith centred on the Paschal Mystery. And yet through him and the character of his faith, something new took place: Francis discovered Jesus’ humanity in an entirely new depth. This human existence of God became most visible to him at the moment when God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The Resurrection presupposes the Incarnation. For God’s Son to take the form of a child, a truly human child, made a profound impression on the heart of the Saint of Assisi, transforming faith into love. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed” – this phrase of Saint Paul now acquired an entirely new depth. In the child born in the stable at Bethlehem, we can as it were touch and caress God. And so the liturgical year acquired a second focus in a feast that is above all a feast of the heart.

This has nothing to do with sentimentality. It is right here, in this new experience of the reality of Jesus’ humanity that the great mystery of faith is revealed. Francis loved the child Jesus, because for him it was in this childish estate that God’s humility shone forth. God became poor. His Son was born in the poverty of the stable. In the child Jesus, God made himself dependent, in need of human love, he put himself in the position of asking for human love – our love. Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light.

Francis arranged for Mass to be celebrated on the manger that stood between the ox and the ass (cf. 1 Celano 85; Fonti 469). Later, an altar was built over this manger, so that where animals had once fed on hay, men could now receive the flesh of the spotless lamb Jesus Christ, for the salvation of soul and body, as Thomas of Celano tells us (cf. 1 Celano 87; Fonti 471). Francis himself, as a deacon, had sung the Christmas Gospel on the holy night in Greccio with resounding voice. Through the friars’ radiant Christmas singing, the whole celebration seemed to be a great outburst of joy (1 Celano 85.86; Fonti 469, 470). It was the encounter with God’s humility that caused this joy – his goodness creates the true feast.

Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half metres high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half metres has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God’s house on horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down. It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our “enlightened” reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of Saint Francis – the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions – the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby. In this spirit let us celebrate the liturgy of the holy night, let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart. And let us also pray especially at this hour for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God’s kindness may shine upon them, that they – and we – may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of his Son in a stable. Amen.

PHOTO: Reuters


The 25th day of December, the first of the Moon:

Countless centuries past from the creation of the world,
when, in the beginning,
God created the heavens and the earth
and formed man in his own image;

Likewise many ages since after the Flood,
when the Most High extended the rainbow across the heavens
as the sign of his Covenant and of peace;

In the 21st century since the migration of Abraham, our father in faith,
from Ur of the Chaldeans;
the 13th century after the exodus of Israel from Egypt, led by Moses,
roughly a millennium from the anointing of David as King;

In the 65th week, as prophesied by Daniel,
the 194th Olympiad,
the 752nd year of the foundation of the City of Rome,
the 42nd year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus,
the whole world being at peace:

the eternal God,
eternal Son of the Father,
seeking to consecrate the world by coming into it;
conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having followed since his conception,
in Bethlehem of Judea
was born of the Virgin Mary
and became man.

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.


Grand Traditions

Again, church, to you and yours, every blessing, joy and good gift of this Holy Night!

As Christmas at its happiest always entails a sense of home, as most of you are likely too aware, for this scribe that means this River City -- the wonder of my world and, beyond a doubt, the great love of my life.

What a year it's been for us here -- the end of everything we knew, and the beginning of a road ahead as different as it will easily, and quickly, prove itself better. Still, even for everything that's already changed, or shortly will, at least some things gratefully remain the same.

Ergo, from our home to yours -- and especially for all you expats missing the place in these days -- a rare clip of this town's most cherished Christmas tradition, the Wanamaker Light Show, in its pre-Macy's Extraordinary Form with the Dancing Waters...

...and as a bonus, its 100th Year drawing to its close, the Yuletide sounds of the heroic instrument that is "The City's Voice":

When it comes to grand traditions and Voices of Christmas, though, especially this year, we yield the last word to the greatest of them all... who many of us already miss so much:

PHOTO: Live Nativity at Race Street Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia


Friday, December 23, 2011

O Emmanuel....

O Emmanuel,
king and lawgiver,
desire of the nations,
Savior of all people,
come and set us free,
Lord our God.....
...and with that, friends, the long walk of these weeks reaches its end, for the Dawn is finally at hand:

Again, to all of you and your loved ones, every wish for a blessed, peaceful and joyous Christmas!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

O Rex Gentium....

O King of all the nations,
the only joy of every human heart;
O Keystone of the mighty arch of man,
come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.
Six down... One "O" to go.

...and as a bonus, a house favorite:

Meanwhile, speaking of Georges -- in this case, an ecclesiastical one -- could an extra-special Epiphany gift be headed his way?

As ever, time will tell... needless to say, though, the prospect already seems to have sparked quite a Christmas clamor in Rome.


At Curial Christmas, Again, "The Crisis of the Church Is The Crisis of Faith": B16's "Year in Review"

Keeping with longtime Vatican custom, this morning the Pope received the heads of the offices of the Roman Curia for their annual exchange of Christmas greetings.

As has been his practice from his pontificate's start, however, the occasion saw Benedict XVI deliver his impressions on the year just past within the church.

The ad intra "Year in Review" always finds its external counterpoint on the other side of the Christmas season as the Pope delivers the traditional New Year's greeting to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See in early January, an event that's become widely known as the Vatican's assessment of the "State of the World."

Here, an official English translation in full of B16's talk today.

* * *
Dear Cardinals,
Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The occasion that brings us together today is always particularly moving. The holy feast of Christmas is almost upon us and it prompts the great family of the Roman Curia to come together for a gracious exchange of greetings, as we wish one another a joyful and spiritually fruitful celebration of this feast of the God who became flesh and established his dwelling in our midst (cf. Jn 1:14). For me, this is an occasion not only to offer you my personal good wishes, but also to express my gratitude and that of the Church to each one of you for your generous service; I ask you to convey this to all the co-workers of our extended family. I offer particular thanks to the Dean of the College, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who has given voice to the sentiments of all present and of all who work in the various offices of the Curia and the Governorate, including those whose apostolate is carried out in the Pontifical Representations throughout the world. All of us are committed to spreading throughout the world the resounding message that the angels proclaimed that night in Bethlehem, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will" (Lk 2:14), so as to bring joy and hope to our world.

As this year draws to a close, Europe is undergoing an economic and financial crisis, which is ultimately based on the ethical crisis looming over the Old Continent. Even if such values as solidarity, commitment to one’s neighbour and responsibility towards the poor and suffering are largely uncontroversial, still the motivation is often lacking for individuals and large sectors of society to practise renunciation and make sacrifices. Perception and will do not necessarily go hand in hand. In defending personal interests, the will obscures perception, and perception thus weakened is unable to stiffen the will. In this sense, some quite fundamental questions emerge from this crisis: where is the light that is capable of illuminating our perception not merely with general ideas, but with concrete imperatives? Where is the force that draws the will upwards? These are questions that must be answered by our proclamation of the Gospel, by the new evangelization, so that message may become event, so that proclamation may lead to life.

The key theme of this year, and of the years ahead, is this: how do we proclaim the Gospel today? How can faith as a living force become a reality today? The ecclesial events of the outgoing year were all ultimately related to this theme. There were the journeys to Croatia, to the World Youth Day in Spain, to my home country of Germany, and finally to Africa – Benin – for the consignment of the Post-Synodal document on justice, peace and reconciliation, which should now lead to concrete results in the various local churches. Equally memorable were the journeys to Venice, to San Marino, to the Eucharistic Congress in Ancona, and to Calabria. And finally there was the important day of encounter in Assisi for religions and for people who in whatever way are searching for truth and peace, representing a new step forward in the pilgrimage towards truth and peace. The establishment of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization is at the same time a pointer towards next year’s Synod on the same theme. The Year of Faith, commemorating the beginning of the Council fifty years ago, also belongs in this context. Each of these events had its own particular characteristics. In Germany, where the Reformation began, the ecumenical question, with all its trials and hopes, naturally assumed particular importance. Intimately linked to this, at the focal point of the debate, the question that arises repeatedly is this: what is reform of the Church? How does it take place? What are its paths and its goals? Not only faithful believers but also outside observers are noticing with concern that regular churchgoers are growing older all the time and that their number is constantly diminishing; that recruitment of priests is stagnating; that scepticism and unbelief are growing. What, then, are we to do? There are endless debates over what must be done in order to reverse the trend. There is no doubt that a variety of things need to be done. But action alone fails to resolve the matter. The essence of the crisis of the Church in Europe is the crisis of faith. If we find no answer to this, if faith does not take on new life, deep conviction and real strength from the encounter with Jesus Christ, then all other reforms will remain ineffective.

On this point, the encounter with Africa’s joyful passion for faith brought great encouragement. None of the faith fatigue that is so prevalent here, none of the oft-encountered sense of having had enough of Christianity was detectable there. Amid all the problems, sufferings and trials that Africa clearly experiences, one could still sense the people’s joy in being Christian, buoyed up by inner happiness at knowing Christ and belonging to his Church. From this joy comes also the strength to serve Christ in hard-pressed situations of human suffering, the strength to put oneself at his disposal, without looking round for one’s own advantage. Encountering this faith that is so ready to sacrifice and so full of happiness is a powerful remedy against fatigue with Christianity such as we are experiencing in Europe today.

A further remedy against faith fatigue was the wonderful experience of World Youth Day in Madrid. This was new evangelization put into practice. Again and again at World Youth Days, a new, more youthful form of Christianity can be seen, something I would describe under five headings.

1. Firstly, there is a new experience of catholicity, of the Church’s universality. This is what struck the young people and all the participants quite directly: we come from every continent, but although we have never met one another, we know one another. We speak different languages, we have different ways of life and different cultural backgrounds, yet we are immediately united as one great family. Outward separation and difference is relativized. We are all moved by the one Lord Jesus Christ, in whom true humanity and at the same time the face of God himself is revealed to us. We pray in the same way. The same inner encounter with Jesus Christ has stamped us deep within with the same structure of intellect, will and heart. And finally, our common liturgy speaks to our hearts and unites us in a vast family. In this setting, to say that all humanity are brothers and sisters is not merely an idea: it becomes a real shared experience, generating joy. And so we have also understood quite concretely: despite all trials and times of darkness, it is a wonderful thing to belong to the worldwide Church, to the Catholic Church, that the Lord has given to us.

2. From this derives a new way of living our humanity, our Christianity. For me, one of the most important experiences of those days was the meeting with the World Youth Day volunteers: about 20,000 young people, all of whom devoted weeks or months of their lives to working on the technical, organizational and material preparations for World Youth Day, and thus made it possible for the whole event to run smoothly. Those who give their time always give a part of their lives. At the end of the day, these young people were visibly and tangibly filled with a great sense of happiness: the time that they gave up had meaning; in giving of their time and labour, they had found time, they had found life. And here something fundamental became clear to me: these young people had given a part of their lives in faith, not because it was asked of them, not in order to attain Heaven, nor in order to escape the danger of Hell. They did not do it in order to find fulfilment. They were not looking round for themselves. There came into my mind the image of Lot’s wife, who by looking round was turned into a pillar of salt. How often the life of Christians is determined by the fact that first and foremost they look out for themselves, they do good, so to speak, for themselves. And how great is the temptation of all people to be concerned primarily for themselves; to look round for themselves and in the process to become inwardly empty, to become "pillars of salt". But here it was not a matter of seeking fulfilment or wanting to live one’s life for oneself. These young people did good, even at a cost, even if it demanded sacrifice, simply because it is a wonderful thing to do good, to be there for others. All it needs is the courage to make the leap. Prior to all of this is the encounter with Jesus Christ, inflaming us with love for God and for others, and freeing us from seeking our own ego. In the words of a prayer attributed to Saint Francis Xavier: I do good, not that I may come to Heaven thereby and not because otherwise you could cast me into Hell. I do it because of you, my King and my Lord. I came across this same attitude in Africa too, for example among the Sisters of Mother Teresa, who devote themselves to abandoned, sick, poor and suffering children, without asking anything for themselves, thus becoming inwardly rich and free. This is the genuinely Christian attitude. Equally unforgettable for me was the encounter with handicapped young people in the Saint Joseph Centre in Madrid, where I encountered the same readiness to put oneself at the disposal of others – a readiness to give oneself that is ultimately derived from encounter with Christ, who gave himself for us.

3. A third element, that has an increasingly natural and central place in World Youth Days and in the spirituality that arises from them, is adoration. I still look back to that unforgettable moment during my visit to the United Kingdom, when tens of thousands of predominantly young people in Hyde Park responded in eloquent silence to the Lord’s sacramental presence, in adoration. The same thing happened again on a smaller scale in Zagreb and then again in Madrid, after the thunderstorm which almost ruined the whole night vigil through the failure of the microphones. God is indeed ever-present. But again, the physical presence of the risen Christ is something different, something new. The risen Lord enters into our midst. And then we can do no other than say, with Saint Thomas: my Lord and my God! Adoration is primarily an act of faith – the act of faith as such. God is not just some possible or impossible hypothesis concerning the origin of all things. He is present. And if he is present, then I bow down before him. Then my intellect and will and heart open up towards him and from him. In the risen Christ, the incarnate God is present, who suffered for us because he loves us. We enter this certainty of God’s tangible love for us with love in our own hearts. This is adoration, and this then determines my life. Only thus can I celebrate the Eucharist correctly and receive the body of the Lord rightly.

4. A further important element of the World Youth Days is the sacrament of Confession, which is increasingly coming to be seen as an integral part of the experience. Here we recognize that we need forgiveness over and over again, and that forgiveness brings responsibility. Openness to love is present in man, implanted in him by the Creator, together with the capacity to respond to God in faith. But also present, in consequence of man’s sinful history (Church teaching speaks of original sin) is the tendency that is opposed to love – the tendency towards selfishness, towards becoming closed in on oneself, in fact towards evil. Again and again my soul is tarnished by this downward gravitational pull that is present within me. Therefore we need the humility that constantly asks God for forgiveness, that seeks purification and awakens in us the counterforce, the positive force of the Creator, to draw us upwards.

5. Finally, I would like to speak of one last feature, not to be overlooked, of the spirituality of World Youth Days, namely joy. Where does it come from? How is it to be explained? Certainly, there are many factors at work here. But in my view, the crucial one is this certainty, based on faith: I am wanted; I have a task in history; I am accepted, I am loved. Josef Pieper, in his book on love, has shown that man can only accept himself if he is accepted by another. He needs the other’s presence, saying to him, with more than words: it is good that you exist. Only from the You can the I come into itself. Only if it is accepted, can it accept itself. Those who are unloved cannot even love themselves. This sense of being accepted comes in the first instance from other human beings. But all human acceptance is fragile. Ultimately we need a sense of being accepted unconditionally. Only if God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being. If ever man’s sense of being accepted and loved by God is lost, then there is no longer any answer to the question whether to be a human being is good at all. Doubt concerning human existence becomes more and more insurmountable. Where doubt over God becomes prevalent, then doubt over humanity follows inevitably. We see today how widely this doubt is spreading. We see it in the joylessness, in the inner sadness, that can be read on so many human faces today. Only faith gives me the conviction: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being, even in hard times. Faith makes one happy from deep within. That is one of the wonderful experiences of World Youth Days.

It would take too long now to go into detail concerning the encounter in Assisi, as the significance of the event would warrant. Let us simply thank God, that as representatives of the world’s religions and as representatives of thinking in search of truth, we were able to meet that day in a climate of friendship and mutual respect, in love for the truth and in shared responsibility for peace. So let us hope that, from this encounter, a new willingness to serve peace, reconciliation and justice has emerged.

As I conclude, I would like to thank all of you from my heart for shouldering the common mission that the Lord has given us as witnesses to his truth, and I wish all of you the joy that God wanted to bestow upon us through the incarnation of his Son. A blessed Christmas to you all! Thank you.

PHOTOS: Pool/File


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

O Oriens....

O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light,
sun of justice:
come, shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.
* * *
For those among us heading out early, just a quick word to wish every blessing, joy and good gift of the Holy Night to you and yours -- travel safe, have a blast, and see you once you're back.

...and lest anyone could use it on this shortest day of the year, a foretaste of the Light just ahead -- at least, in sound:



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

O Clavis David....

O Key of David,
O royal Power of Israel
controlling at your will the gate of Heaven:
Come, break down the prison walls of death
for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death;
and lead your captive people into freedom.

Monday, December 19, 2011

O Radix Iesse....

O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.


Especially at Christmas, "God's Sign is Simplicity"

So, folks, welcome to a week that can easily be chaotic... and, well often, for all the wrong reasons -- the 11th-hour frenzy over gifts, cards, celebrations, travels and menus; squaring away the church decorations and music, lining everything up for the Kids' Mass or bracing for the crowd's handling of the New Book....

You get the idea. Who knows, it might even apply to many of us right now -- the way the "Holiday" cycle rolls in our time, it's almost too easy a place to get to.

Ergo, just in case -- or even if not -- take a minute to put it all aside.

Don't worry -- it'll all still be there when you, we, get back. As these last days unfold, though, maybe a thread or two from the following might help keep the clamor in check.

* * *
Nothing miraculous, nothing extraordinary, nothing magnificent is given to the shepherds as a sign. All they will see is a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, one who, like all children, needs a mother’s care; a child born in a stable, who therefore lies not in a cradle but in a manger. God ’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty. Only in their hearts will the shepherds be able to see that this baby fulfills the promise of the prophet Isaiah, which we heard in the first reading: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder" (Is 9:5). Exactly the same sign has been given to us. We too are invited by the angel of God, through the message of the Gospel, to set out in our hearts to see the child lying in the manger.

God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby – defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practice with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him.

The Fathers of the Church, in their Greek translation of the Old Testament, found a passage from the prophet Isaiah that Paul also quotes in order to show how God’s new ways had already been foretold in the Old Testament. There we read: "God made his Word short, he abbreviated it" (Is 10:23; Rom 9:28). The Fathers interpreted this in two ways. The Son himself is the Word, the Logos; the eternal Word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the Word could be grasped by us. In this way God teaches us to love the little ones. In this way he teaches us to love the weak. In this way he teaches us respect for children. The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children who suffer and are abused in the world, the born and the unborn. Towards children who are placed as soldiers in a violent world; towards children who have to beg; towards children who suffer deprivation and hunger; towards children who are unloved. In all of these it is the Child of Bethlehem who is crying out to us; it is the God who has become small who appeals to us. Let us pray this night that the brightness of God’s love may enfold all these children. Let us ask God to help us do our part so that the dignity of children may be respected. May they all experience the light of love, which mankind needs so much more than the material necessities of life....

And so we come to the second meaning that the Fathers saw in the phrase: "God made his Word short". The Word which God speaks to us in Sacred Scripture had become long in the course of the centuries. It became long and complex, not just for the simple and unlettered, but even more so for those versed in Sacred Scripture, for the experts who evidently became entangled in details and in particular problems, almost to the extent of losing an overall perspective. Jesus "abbreviated" the Word – he showed us once more its deeper simplicity and unity. Everything taught by the Law and the Prophets is summed up – he says – in the command: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt 22:37-40). This is everything – the whole faith is contained in this one act of love which embraces God and humanity. Yet now further questions arise: how are we to love God with all our mind, when our intellect can barely reach him? How are we to love him with all our heart and soul, when our heart can only catch a glimpse of him from afar, when there are so many contradictions in the world that would hide his face from us? This is where the two ways in which God has "abbreviated" his Word come together. He is no longer distant. He is no longer unknown. He is no longer beyond the reach of our heart. He has become a child for us, and in so doing he has dispelled all doubt. He has become our neighbour, restoring in this way the image of man, whom we often find so hard to love. For us, God has become a gift. He has given himself. He has entered time for us. He who is the Eternal One, above time, he has assumed our time and raised it to himself on high. Christmas has become the Feast of gifts in imitation of God who has given himself to us. Let us allow our heart, our soul and our mind to be touched by this fact! Among the many gifts that we buy and receive, let us not forget the true gift: to give each other something of ourselves, to give each other something of our time, to open our time to God. In this way anxiety disappears, joy is born, and the feast is created. During the festive meals of these days let us remember the Lord’s words: "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite those who will invite you in return, but invite those whom no one invites and who are not able to invite you" (cf. Lk 14:12-14). This also means: when you give gifts for Christmas, do not give only to those who will give to you in return, but give to those who receive from no one and who cannot give you anything back. This is what God has done: he invites us to his wedding feast, something which we cannot reciprocate, but can only receive with joy. Let us imitate him! Let us love God and, starting from him, let us also love man, so that, starting from man, we can then rediscover God in a new way!

And so, finally, we find yet a third meaning in the saying that the Word became "brief" and "small". The shepherds were told that they would find the child in a manger for animals, who were the rightful occupants of the stable. Reading Isaiah (1:3), the Fathers concluded that beside the manger of Bethlehem there stood an ox and an ass. At the same time they interpreted the text as symbolizing the Jews and the pagans – and thus all humanity – who each in their own way have need of a Savior: the God who became a child. Man, in order to live, needs bread, the fruit of the earth and of his labor. But he does not live by bread alone. He needs nourishment for his soul: he needs meaning that can fill his life. Thus, for the Fathers, the manger of the animals became the symbol of the altar, on which lies the Bread which is Christ himself: the true food for our hearts. Once again we see how he became small: in the humble appearance of the host, in a small piece of bread, he gives us himself.

All this is conveyed by the sign that was given to the shepherds and is given also to us: the child born for us, the child in whom God became small for us. Let us ask the Lord to grant us the grace of looking upon the crib this night with the simplicity of the shepherds, so as to receive the joy with which they returned home (cf. Lk 2:20). Let us ask him to give us the humility and the faith with which Saint Joseph looked upon the child that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit. Let us ask the Lord to let us look upon him with that same love with which Mary saw him. And let us pray that in this way the light that the shepherds saw will shine upon us too, and that what the angels sang that night will be accomplished throughout the world: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." Amen!
--B16, Christmas Homily, 2006

...and, where all else fails, there's always our time's most-heeded Angel of the Incarnation:

However your week to come's shaping up, gang, here's hoping the simplest gifts that are the truest and best of Christmas await you and yours.

All that said, we now return to the "Holiday" frenzy, already in progress....


Faith Amid the Floods

As a coda to Saturday's brief on Simbang Gabi, thanks to a friend in the Philippines for sending this shot, showing us that not even the aftermath of the typhoon and flooding that struck the islands' southern part over the weekend could keep the Novena Masses from being held, nor the faithful from turning up.

According to estimates yesterday from the local Red Cross, at least 650 people were killed in the tropical storm, with another 900 still missing. Catholic Relief Service additionally reports that some 50,000 people are holed up in evacuation centers among the total population of 125,000 affected.

Beyond high winds and heavy rain, reports indicate that the rapid movement of the floodwater has proven dangerous in many areas, with most of the casualties believed to have been swept away by the storm-induced currents.

At his Sunday Angelus, the Pope noted the disaster, expressing his prayers "for the victims, [who are] largely children, the homeless and the many dispersed."

Of course, may we all back that up. And just as much, especially in this season -- and, this year, the tough times that mark it for many -- may we each do a little more to keep an added eye out for anyone just around us undergoing their own floods or storms in life, to help them feel even more the light, comfort, hope and joy these days are supposed to bring to everyone... but above all, to the ones most in need of its lift.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

O Adonai....

O sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.
(2 down... 5 to go.)


Saturday, December 17, 2011

O Sapientia....

O Wisdom,
O holy Word of God,
you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care.
Come and show your people the way to salvation....
...and with that, church, the Latin tradition's "Story of 'O'" begins.

Two-minute warning, seven seconds on the shot-clock -- call it what you will, the message is still the same: the beginning of Advent's end is upon us.

Meanwhile, especially given this Sunday's Gospel, we likewise have a fitting modern complement:

As ever, gang, buona domenica a tutti... and in a special way, every blessing, grace and sought gift of this Big Prep Week to you and yours.


"The Challenge Before You": On the New Evangelization, Part 7,358

Bolstering what's become his pontificate's most concerted pastoral priority even further, earlier today the Pope addressed the ad limina gathering of the bishops of New Zealand and the Pacific on the New Evangelization, the focus toward which will only increase in the New Year with next October's Synod of Bishops dedicated to the re-presentation of the faith in the Western world.

Here, the bulk of B16's talk:
With gratitude to Almighty God, I note from your reports the many blessings which the Lord has bestowed upon your Jurisdictions. I am also aware of the challenges to the Christian life which are common to all of you, in spite of the many social, economic and cultural contexts in which you work. You have mentioned in particular the challenge set before you by the secularism characteristic of your societies, a reality that has a significant impact on the understanding and practice of the Catholic faith. This is seen specifically in a weakened appreciation for the sacred nature of Christian marriage and the stability of the family. In such a context, the struggle to lead a life worthy of the our baptismal calling (cf. Eph. 4:1) and to abstain from the earthly passions which wage war against ours souls (cf. 1 Pet 2:11) becomes ever more challenging. Yet we know that, ultimately, Christian faith provides a surer basis for life than the secular vision; for “it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of humanity truly becomes clear” (Gaudium et Spes, 22).

Thus, the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization was recently established. Since the Christian faith is founded on the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, the new evangelization is not an abstract concept but a renewal of authentic Christian living based on the teachings of the Church. You, as Bishops and Pastors, are called to be protagonists in formulating this response according to local needs and circumstances in your various countries and among your peoples. By strengthening the visible bonds of ecclesial communion, build among yourselves an ever stronger sense of faith and charity, so that those whom you serve, in their turn, may imitate your charity and be ambassadors of Christ both in the Church and in the civil arena.

As you face this historic challenge, you must do so under the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit, who also calls forth, consecrates and sends priests as “co-workers of the Order of Bishops, with whom they are joined in the priestly office and with whom they are called to the service of the people of God” (Rite of Ordination of Priests). Dear Brother Bishops, I encourage you to have a special care for your priests. As you know, one of your first pastoral duties is to your priests and to their sanctification, especially those who are experiencing difficulties and those who have little contact with their brother priests. Be a father who guides them on the path to holiness, so that their lives may also attract others to follow Christ. We know that good, wise and holy priests are the best promoters of vocations to the priesthood. With the confidence that comes from faith, we can say that the Lord is still calling men to the priesthood, and you are aware that encouraging them to consider dedicating their lives fully to Christ is among your top priorities. In our day young people need more assistance with spiritual discernment so that they may know the Lord’s will. In a world affected by a “profound crisis of faith” (Porta Fidei, 2), ensure too that your seminarians receive a well-rounded formation that will prepare them to serve the Lord and love his flock according to the heart of the Good Shepherd.

In this context, I wish to acknowledge the significant contribution to the spread of the Gospel made by the men and women religious present throughout your region, including those active in pastoral, catechetical, and educational fields. Together with those living a contemplative life, may they remain faithful to the charisms of their founders, which are always united with the life and discipline of the entire Church, and may their witness to God continue to be a beacon that points towards a life of faith, love and right living.

Likewise, the lay faithful’s role in the well-being of the Church is essential since the Lord does not expect pastors “to undertake by themselves the entire saving mission of the Church” (Lumen Gentium, 30). I understand from your reports that your task of spreading the Gospel often depends on the assistance of lay missionaries and catechists. Continue to ensure that a sound and ongoing formation be afforded them, especially within the context of their associations. In so doing, you will equip them for every good work in the building up of the body of Christ (cf. 2 Tim 3:17; Eph 4:12). Their zeal for the faith under your continued leadership and support will surely bear much fruit in the vineyard of the Lord.

My dear Brother Bishops and Priests, as I have had this opportunity to discuss with you the New Evangelization, I do so mindful of the recently proclaimed Year of Faith, which “is intended to give a fresh impetus to the mission of the whole Church to lead human beings out of the wilderness in which they find themselves” (Homily, 16 October 2011). May this privileged time serve as an inspiration as you join the entire Church in the ongoing efforts of the New Evangelization, for although you are spread among many islands and we are separated by great distances, together we profess “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all” (Eph 4:5-6). May you continue to be united among yourselves and with the Successor of Peter. Commending you to the intercession of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, and assuring you of my affection and prayers for you and for those entrusted to your pastoral care, I willingly impart my Apostolic Blessing.
As the New Evangelization is likewise the leitmotif of the ongoing ad limina of the US bishops, on a related note, the Stateside pilgrimages will pick up again in mid-January with Region IV, comprising the provinces of Baltimore, Washington and the archdiocese for the Military Services.

So far -- at least, as of earlier this week -- the last group to have received its visit-dates appears to be Region VIII (St Paul-Minneapolis), which is slated to head over in late February.

The first American Report of Benedict's pontificate is expected to be wrapped up by the end of June.

PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano


Before Dawn, The Countdown Begins....

On a liturgical note, even as the time-honored "O" Week marking Advent's final lap doesn't begin til Vespers on this dawn's other side, it's worth recalling that the Novena toward Christmas is already entering Day Two.

While the latter practice is kept as a private devotion in most locales -- and usually to a sparse extent, at that -- there is, of course, one massive exception: the famously-devout Philippines, now the world's third largest Catholic outpost, where the nine days of Masses for Simbang Gabi overfill glowing churches beginning at 3am... and often (as seen above) push congregations outside as the buildings can't fit everyone.

To boot, the pre-Christmas tradition once birthed what's likely the only McDonald's ad inspired by Catholic liturgy:

Reverent, no?

Much like Advent's other anchor feast in the wider Catholic world, as has been well-noted here over the years, the Filipino Novena has become a key marker of the modern reality of the Stateside church, to say nothing of its future.

Though Asians constitute roughly four percent of the nation's faithful -- in raw numbers, about 3 million or so of the whole -- consistent data over recent years has shown the community's disproportionate contribution to priestly and religious vocations on these shores, which is currently running some four times the size of the group's share of the pews.

Of course, the booming Hispanic ascent is well-known as it zooms toward becoming American Catholicism's majority bloc. Citing the needs of his local church, though, as a senior Northeastern prelate asked during a recent chat that touched on vocations, "Where I can find Chinese?"

To be clear, he wasn't seeking General Tso's, but seminarians to serve a growing community.

Accordingly, for the second time this week, the nation's largest cathedral -- LA's 4,700-seat Our Lady of the Angels -- was jammed again under cover of night, this time by the Filipino diaspora, as the most massive diocese in the five-century history of the Stateside church launched another year of its Simbang Gabi, led by Don José, his predecessor and auxiliaries:

In the LA church, this year's Novena is being marked in a majority of its 288 parishes. Yet while SoCal is the leader, it's anything but the exception -- for another year, a parol-lit procession through midtown Manhattan heralded the Novena's New York kickoff...

...culminating again in a packed St Patrick's Cathedral (shown here from a prior edition):

...and maybe if all this were somehow infused with politics, scandal or conflict, it'd finally begin to get the attention it deserves -- firstly among the Catholic chattering classes, let alone the wider world.

Well, either that, or maybe we'd be wise to focus less on following heat than celebrating and affirming the great examples of light abundantly present in our midst.

PHOTO: Reuters(1); St James Cathedral, Seattle(2)


Friday, December 16, 2011

"Euntes In Mundum," v. 3.0

And so, at the end of a long, very emotional day 'round these parts, to the Ninth Archbishop -- the father and architect of the next era of Catholic Philadelphia -- belongs the last word....


Goodnight, Sweet Prince....

...and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

PHOTO: The Catholic Standard & Times


"John Is the Voice, But the Lord Is the Word"



16 DECEMBER 2011
"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us!"

It is the celebration of that mystery of the Incarnation that we await this beautiful Advent season, as we long to hear those inspired poetic lines from the Prologue of the Gospel of John the Evangelist on Christmas morning.

It is the mystery of the ongoing Incarnation, especially manifest in the life and ministry of John Patrick Foley, that unites us in grateful, reverent, supplicant prayer this Advent afternoon in Philadelphia.

Early last Sunday morning, I had just begun the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours for the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, when I took a call from Cardinal Justin Rigali, who, with characteristic thoughtfulness, telephoned to tell me of the passing of Cardinal Foley.

When I then returned to my breviary, it was this line from St. Augustine, the second lesson for that day's office, that greeted me:

"John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts but for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives forever."

So whatd'ya say, everybody, we pay our friend Cardinal Foley one final tribute and concentrate right now, as he would plead for us to do, not upon him, but instead upon the Eternal Word, the Word made flesh, the Way, the Truth, and the Life: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word.

Because, make no mistake about it, love for Jesus and His Church was indeed the passion of John Patrick Foley's life, no? -- the only dictionary required to translate the meaning of the life and ministry of this remarkably lovable, simple, humble, wise, holy man.

After all, it was into the dying and rising of Jesus that John Foley was baptized, as St. Paul teaches us in this afternoon's Liturgy of the Word;

It was with the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist that John Foley was daily nourished for the last seven decades;

It was on the lap of the bride of Christ, Holy Mother Church, so alive in the vibrant and coherent Catholic culture of this great Archdiocese of Philadelphia he so cherished, that John Foley was raised, formed, and educated;

It was into the priesthood of Jesus Christ that John Foley was ordained, assuming, not only in soul but in his very person, reconfigurement to Jesus Christ the Head and Shepherd of the Church;

It was as a successor to the apostles, those intimate friends of this Jesus, that he was consecrated as a bishop;

It was to the service of this Church universal, the Mystical Body of Christ, under the pastorate of the successor of St. Peter, that John Patrick Foley served most famously for the last twenty-seven years;

And it is now to the tender and unfailing mercy of this Jesus that, with immense love and gratitude, we commend this loyal son of the Church.

Yes, love for Jesus and His Church was indeed the passion of his life.

Philosopher that he was, he'd enjoy a syllogism here:

The Eternal Word was incarnate in Jesus Christ;

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

That mystery of the Incarnation continues in and through the Church.

But John Foley, ever the philosopher and the debater, would remind us of the remaining step in this syllogism: namely, that each of us is also called to continue the mystery of the Incarnation through His Church in our own lives.

As God the Father asked the Virgin of Nazareth, to whom Cardinal Foley had such filial devotion, at the Annunciation, so does God still ask each of us: "Will you give my Son flesh? Will you supply the Eternal Word with a human nature? Will you allow the Incarnation to keep on going?"

We genuflect at the reply of Mary: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord! Be it done unto me according to Thy Word!"

And this afternoon we praise God's grace and mercy for the humble, obedient reply of John Foley: a yes for seventy-six years; a yes to what he described as "God's whisper" to him to become a priest; a yes to God's plan in recent years that entailed splinters of the cross as he gradually bowed to leukemia.

Cardinal Foley, effective pedagogue that he was, would remind us of the scholastic maxim, grace builds on nature.

And what an appealing nature John Foley provided to God so the Incarnation might go on!

A courtesy that was so impeccable and a thoughtfulness that was so unfailing that we might not be surprised to find his photograph in the "pictionary" for the entry on "a gentleman."

A natural sense of humor that was so spontaneous and so constant that I once said to him, "John, if I did not know for a fact that you were a teetotaler, I'd swear you had a couple shots of grappa under your filattata before breakfast every morning!"

A holiness in "His Foleyness" that was evident without being overbearing;

A depth to his intellect which could express itself with warmth and childlikeness;

A sparkle in his eye, a smile on his lips, a lilt to his laugh... and one too many puns!

All an attractive nature upon which God's grace built, and which God's Word assumed, to keep the mystery of the Incarnation going.

Archbishop Chaput, bishops, priests and people of this noble Archdiocese of Philadelphia, this only child of John and Regina Foley considered you his family; never did he stop talking about and bragging about this Archdiocese of Philadelphia, (as much as many of us begged him to!); so to you go our condolences for what is really "death in the family."

And to you goes this encouragement: hold your heads high! A local Church that can give us the likes of such a noble, gentle man, whose "message went out to the ends of the earth," is a Church which can endure and come out even stronger in the face of woe and tears.

The "Vatican's Voice of Christmas" may now be silent; but the Incarnation that made radiant the darkness of that night called silent will never go still, because the example of friends such as John Patrick Foley inspires us to emulate him and his true Regina -- his blessed Mother Mary, in providing God a human nature.

Yes, "John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts but for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives forever."

And our prayer now is that this Voice and that Word are eternally united.

(Text adapted according to delivery; emphases original.)

Fr Daniel Good


Everything Ends... Everything Begins....

And so, Phils fans, the time has come for the last goodbye...

...and as it seems, not just for the best of us.

At the close of a surreal year that saw its priests, people and Rome alike combine to effect revolution, history will likely recall this Friday as the end of The Era -- the symbolic final act of the uniquely distinctive culture which has defined Catholicism in Philadelphia for 181 years.

The reality of the shift will be hammered home to a staggering degree over the weeks and months to come. Lest anyone doesn't believe it still, just watch. And buckle up.

* * *
In the presence of six cardinals -- Keeler, Maida, McCarrick, Rigali, DiNardo and Wuerl -- some 50 bishops, 300 priests and a packed Cathedral-Basilica, the Funeral Mass of John Cardinal Foley is set to begin at 2pm local time (2000 Rome, 1900GMT) after a half-hour's procession.

For those at a distance, livestreams of the liturgy will gratefully abound: from the archdiocesan website, the local ABC and Fox affiliates, Telecare and CatholicTV, Salt + Light and EWTN. However you tune in, a worship aid is available for download. (And for those watching via mobile devices, iOS streams are available from each of the latter three.)

As previously noted, the cardinal's successor as Grand Master of the Holy Sepulchre, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, will be principal celebrant, with the USCCB President, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, serving as homilist.

The sendoff to close with Foley's entombment at dusk in the Crypt of the Pharaohs, a rare tour of the sub-Altar space was given yesterday by the Cathedral's Rector, Msgr Arthur Rodgers:

While its last internment took place in 1996 with the burial of John Cardinal Krol, the 48-niche Crypt has only seen four commendations in the last half-century.

Keeping with local custom, the two surviving archbishops-emeritus of Philadelphia each chose their own spaces on their respective retirements.

* * *

On the first leg of the formal farewell, a steady stream of friends and admirers made the trek to St Charles Borromeo Seminary through Thursday, the 10-hour lying in state reaching its end with a Mass celebrated by the cardinal's onetime student, fellow Curialist, longtime close friend and spiritual directee, Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Thomas.

As Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. presided in choir, Foley's successor as the Vatican's Media Czar, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, concelebrated, as did Archbishop for the Military Services Timothy Broglio and, in a poignant hometown cameo, Bishop Joseph Galante of Camden -- ordained from Overbrook two years behind Foley, and a cherished brother and collaborator of his for the three decades that followed, both in Philadelphia Chancery and the Roman Curia.

In a homily by turns personal and spiritual that took the cardinal's motto as its springboard, Thomas closed thus:
Every night before John Foley went to sleep, he had a devotional practice. After praying night prayer, as he closed his eyes to go to sleep, he would picture himself at the Last Supper as the Apostle John, resting his head on the chest of Jesus.

Dear Cardinal Foley, this evening, as we celebrate the memorial of that Last Supper, we pray that, as you have fallen asleep in death, you may awaken to the heavenly banquet, where you find yourself resting your head on the chest of Jesus for eternity. As son, cousin, neighbor, priest, mentor, bishop, cardinal, and friend to so many, John Foley, by God's grace, strove to live his life "For the Greater Glory of God."

In this city which Cardinal Foley so loved, as in many cities, there are publications each year which seek to highlight the best cheese steak, the best soft pretzel or the best restaurants. One might say that John Patrick Foley was the best of Philadelphia, the best of the priesthood, and the best of the Catholic Church.

For the reflection of Christ's humility, integrity and joy found in John Foley, priest and bishop, we offer thanks to the Lord this evening. For Cardinal Foley, we beg that, by the help of the Lord's mercy, he may be "free from sin and safe from all distress", "as, (in this Advent Season), we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ." And for ourselves, we beg the grace that, whether bishop, priest, deacon, seminarian, lay faithful, younger or older, we might live lives of humility, integrity and joy "For the Greater Glory of God" -- "Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam!"
At an earlier point, the senior auxiliary evoked what's become the cardinal's famous nickname among his own -- "'His Foleyness,' as he was affectionately known" -- adding in an aside that "it's doubtful anyone called him that to his face."

To be sure, at least one of us did, in every conversation over these last years. And every time, the response was always the same: a big laugh, and those same four words -- "Oh, God help you!"

But now that you're even closer to Him, dear Foleyness, don't forget how much that help is needed still and ever more on this end.

Thank you for being such a wonderful friend, support, counsel and Cursebreaker always...

...and as an earlier archbishop of New York once farewelled your beloved mentor on another Friday long ago in this town, "Know how much we love you. And we will miss you... we will miss you. Pray for us!"

PHOTO: Nancy Wiechec/Catholic News Service