Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cleaning Days

Remember, gang, Lent is the "desert"... and with B16 & Co. on retreat, the rest of the scene largely tumbleweeds for now, gratefully the chance is here to make the best start into it.

In the Eastern church, this first leg of the journey is known as "Clean Week" -- a time to get one's house in order, in every sense of the word, so that the path ahead can be its most fruitful. There's a great wisdom to that, and 'round here, the need for it is even greater than usual this Lent.

As ever, things'll start popping again in time... but for now, there's a good bit of dusting and Windexing to be done, literally and figuratively. To the extent you've got yours, too, hope it's going smooth and happily. And, well, back to it.

PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Forget the Primaries and Oscars -- In the Church, It's "Election Day"

Much as the word "Lent" derives from the Old English for "spring," for this crowd, one of the 40 Days' most powerful signs of new life is upon us again this weekend.

In dioceses around the globe, this First Sunday of Lent brings the Rites of Election -- the local welcomes for the catechumens and candidates for full communion who'll complete their journey into the fold at the Easter Vigil.

Normally, the Stateside church receives some 150,000 new members every year through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), a parish-based, usually lay-led effort that's become one of the great all-around success stories of ecclesial life: a labor of love whose volunteer catechists form a significant chunk of the many, many unsung heroes in our midst.

While most of the rites are held in the cathedral of a local church -- often with several editions to accommodate a diocese's full complement of converts -- some places either spread the event out, holding multiple editions across their geographic regions... or, alternatively, everyone's brought together for one Mega-Rite in a secular space big enough handle the crowd.

To be sure, the tide of "Elections" always makes for a day of high spirits and great hope for the road ahead. At the same time, though, the sobering flip-side of today's stats still bears recalling.

According to recent data, for every adult who joins the nation's 70 million faithful, no less than four "cradle Catholics" leave, and now comprise a full tenth (read: 30 million) of the entire American population. Meanwhile, with an estimated 31 percent of those who remain coming to the parish on any given Sunday nationwide, that means close to 70 percent of the Stateside Church -- in other words, a group just shy of 50 million people -- stays home from the Sunday liturgy. (And that's leaving aside a tumble of sacramental rates almost across the board.)

As the throngs of Ash Wednesday almost universally thin back to more typical levels these next few weeks until Palm Sunday, and especially in the context of Lent -- that is, when the church is called back to reflecting on and re-mastering the pure, simple essence of the journey -- something seems to say that this crucial reality needs to be thought about, talked about and, yes, asked about well more, and taken even more seriously, than it already is.

But not even that heady challenge can obscure this Sunday's standing as a day of hope. And so, to any and everyone among us taking the leap this weekend, a thousand welcomes from far and wide -- and, please, just know how much we're all the better for your coming.

Thanks for your "yes," and where it exists, apologies for the mess. As ever, the fridge is stocked, so grab whatever you'd like... and above all, if there's anything the rest of us can do to lend a hand, don't ever be afraid to ask.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Now, This Is Coming Home": In Gotham, A Red-Letter Day

A hundred and forty-seven years ago, history happened in downtown New York: for the first time in the 1,500-year line of clergy to bear the title "Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church," the symbol of the office was sent across an ocean, destined for the head of the city's archbishop.

Four years after receiving his scarlet biretta in the Old Cathedral on Mott Street, John Cardinal McCloskey would dedicate a new St Patrick's, two decades in the making, three miles to the north.

As it rose, the massive Gothic replacement for the humble founding seat was still seen as his predecessor's "folly." Today, though, it'd be a tall order to find anyone who'd posit a different spot as the best-known, and arguably most-loved, house of worship on these shores.

And yet, for all the days The House That Hughes Built has seen since 1879, precious few have been anything like this.

Riding home on a skyscraper-high wave of Roman rapture and Gotham glee following the most high-profile elevation of an American cardinal in recent times, the seventh New York prelate to follow in McCloskey's stead formally marked his own return to Fifth Avenue today with a Big Apple-sized flourish.

It took not one, but two ticket-only events -- each overflowing the 2,700-seat cathedral -- to fully pack in Timothy Cardinal Dolan's official welcome wagon, and the USCCB president responded by sending his normally high intensity levels into overdrive.

To lay out the day, a brief word on each of its twin ceremonies, with fullvideo of two very different messages from the new cardinal.

* * *
Focused more on the ad extra side of the 2.6 million-member archdiocese's life, the homecoming's first liturgy -- Midmorning Prayer from the Divine Office -- attracted a significant cadre of ecumenical leaders and, to a particular degree, public officials.

Just in the two front pews, among the politicos present were Dolan's prime opponent in last year's battle over New York state's eventual legalization of same-sex marriage, Governor Andrew Cuomo; the state's senior US senator, Chuck Schumer, the city's Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who tweeted a congratulatory photo) and two of his three predecessors, Ed Koch and David Dinkins; the city's Police, Fire and Education chiefs, and the City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, an openly-gay Catholic who's reportedly set to wed her longtime partner in a civil ceremony later this year.

Dedicated to the red hat's meaning for the city and its church, here, the cardinal's opening reflection of the day:

* * *
Five hours later, after a reception lunch for the first group, an early Vigil Mass saw the streets around St Patrick's shut down for the procession, as hundreds of onlookers -- the curious and committed alike -- crowded behind barricades to watch.

While the morning rite was relatively simple, with over 40 bishops in attendance, the second event felt distinctly reminiscent of Dolan's Easter 2009 installation as the Tenth Archbishop... well, with one exception -- having made his mark on the city over the three years since, the anxieties of receiving a newcomer were gone and, this time, the room seemed to buzz with a pure exuberance.

Except, perhaps, from the Man of the Hour.

Leaving aside his usual preaching-spot in the cathedral's High Pulpit to pace around the sanctuary instead, the cardinal's second message bore in on this Sunday's Gospel -- and, for everything that the red hat might mean, whether around town and in the church, avoiding the temptations that come with it.

Here, once he's fully wound-up, what just might be the most intense public homily Tim Dolan's ever given, all of it off the cuff:

And with that especially potent Last Word, the work begins, and the curtain comes down on an elevation few church-watchers will forget anytime soon.

Indeed, everybody, it might be a good while before we see the likes of this one again... even if, for the gossips, even the events of these days apparently haven't been enough.

PHOTOS: Reuters


For New York's Cardinal, A "Red Light Special"

While much has been made of Rome's memorable kvelling over the neo-Cardinale of New York this last week, with the Eminent Tim's return home from the consistory, now it's his own turf's turn.

And by the looks of it, the Eternal City's been trumped.

After a proposal to light the Empire State Building in red to celebrate the elevation of the Big Apple's eighth "Prince of the Church" was declined (to the fury of the papers; at right, the cover of today's Daily News), the builders of what'll soon be Manhattan's tallest skyscraper -- the 1,776-foot One World Trade, still under construction adjacent to Ground Zero -- quickly moved to flip the switch last night.

According to reports, the tribute will continue every evening for the next week. Notably, while a private group controls the Empire State lights, the One World Trade decision was made by its government-chartered owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Capping a week where his elevation even proved grist for Howard Stern and David Letterman alike, the "Red Light Special" comes just in time for Dolan's local celebrations of the red hat, which begin in St Patrick's Cathedral later today.

The 10.45am Midmorning Prayer and 4pm Mass will be limited to ticket-only crowds.

Today's rites are just the kickoff of a thanksgiving tour that'll continue around the 2.6 million-member Gotham church during Lent before going national after Easter.

On 28 April, the new cardinal will head back to his former charge of Milwaukee for a Mass at the Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians on Holy Hill, which was named a minor basilica on his recommendation in 2006. Then, a week later brings what'll likely be the most emotional return of all, in the cathedral-basilica of Dolan's hometown of St Louis -- the "Rome of the West," of course -- where he was ordained an auxiliary bishop in August 2001.

SVILUPPO: A full report on today's homecoming liturgies, including fullvideo of both Dolan homilies, is now posted.

PHOTOS: Chris Sheridan/Catholic New York(3)


Friday, February 24, 2012

"Gone Fishin'"

Much as the whole of Lent calls for a spirit of prayer, penance, generosity and renewal, it's no secret that Fridays have a special pride of place on the journey.

If they didn't, why else would we have the Filet-O-Fish?

After Ash Wednesday itself, this Friday and the five to follow bring us again to what's arguably the last great remaining public manifestation of mass-scale Catholic identity, between (at least, in the English-speaking church) the obligatory abstinence from meat and, in no shortage of locales, the traditional start of the weekly fish-fries that turn the season's individual practice into a beloved community-building act.

Still, much as their customs remain cherished and widely held, even if they're just six days each year, the temptation to let Lenten Fridays become rote still remains, and something seems to say we need to .

There's a reason they're here, after all, explained by another popular ritual of these Fridays to come: the Stations of the Cross, whether on one's own or come nightfall with a group. And however we might mark this Day Three beyond the basics, it all goes back to that: week by week, an intensifying of the road toward The Sacrifice, a "Death on a Friday Afternoon," that each in their own way -- and even with the inevitable stumbles along the path -- these days' little "deaths" of self-denial might find us led all the more to newness of life on their other side.

In other words, one by one, these Fridays make for a moment too important to lose. So in the hope of delving into it head-first, let's return again to the most moving mini-Passion we'll ever hear -- Isaiah's prophecy of the Suffering Servant as arranged by Handel, performed by the alto soloist Virginia Warnken and the Choir and Orchestra of Trinity Church in New York....

And with a vintage reflection on how to live the call of these days to their fullest, here now, a word from our Shepherd:

On a Calendar Note, late weekend brings the beginning of the Pope's annual Lenten Retreat with his Curia, to be given this year by the head of Africa's largest diocese, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, on the theme "Communion of the Christian with God."

During the weeklong gathering, Vatican business essentially grinds to a halt, so expect the news-cycle to slow down accordingly; truth be told, B16's far from the only one who could use a "desert" getaway right now.

All that said, on to the First Sunday... and, again, all the strength, hope, results and richness of the walk to you and yours.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Into the "Desert"

From yesterday's General Audience, B16 on the Lenten journey....
A spiritual context is described by this recurring number forty, one that remains current and valid, and the Church, precisely through the days of Lent, intends to maintain its enduring value and make us aware of its efficacy. The Christian liturgy of Lent is intended to facilitate a journey of spiritual renewal in the light of this long biblical experience and especially to learn how to imitate Jesus, who in the forty days spent in the desert taught how to overcome temptation with the Word of God. The forty years of Israel’s wandering in the desert present us with ambivalent attitudes and situations. On the one hand they are the first season of love between God and his people when He spoke to his heart, continuously indicating the path to follow to them. God had pitched his tent, so to speak, in the midst of Israel, He preceded it in a cloud or a pillar of fire, ensured its daily nourishment showering manna upon them, and bringing forth water from rock. Therefore, the years spent by Israel in the desert can be seen as the time of the special election of God and adherence to Him by the people. The time of first love. On the other hand, the Bible also shows another image of Israel's wanderings in the desert: it is also the time of the greatest temptations and dangers, when Israel murmured against God and wanted to return to paganism and builds its own idols, as a need to worship a closer and more tangible God. It is also a time of rebellion against the great and invisible God.

This ambivalence, a period of special closeness to God, of first love and of temptation, the attempted return to paganism that characterized Israel in the desert, we find once again in a surprising way even in Jesus' earthly journey, of course without any compromise with sin. After his baptism of repentance in the Jordan, in which he takes upon himself the destiny of the Servant of Yahweh God who renounces himself and lives for others and places himself among sinners, to take upon himself the sins of the world, Jesus went to stay in the desert for forty days in deep union with the Father, thus repeating the history of Israel and all these rhythms of forty days a year. This dynamic is a constant in the earthly life of Jesus, who always seeks moments of solitude to pray to his Father and remain in close and intimate communion with Him alone, and exclusive communion with Him, and then return among the people. But in these times of "desert" and special encounter with the Father, Jesus is exposed to danger and is assailed by temptation and the seduction of devil, who offers him another messianic way, far from God's plan, because it passes through power, success, dominion and not through the total gift on the Cross. This is the alternative, messianism of power, of success, not messianism of gift and love of self.

This ambivalence also describes the condition of the pilgrim Church in the "desert" of the world and history. In this "desert" we believers certainly have the opportunity to profoundly experience God, an experience that makes the spirit strong, confirms the faith, nourishes hope, animates charity; an experience that makes us partakers of Christ's victory over sin and death through the Sacrifice of love on the Cross. But the "desert" is also the negative aspects of the reality that surrounds us: the arid, the poverty of words of life and of values, secularism and the materialist culture, which shut people within a horizon of mundane existence, robbing them of all reference to transcendence. And this is also the environment in which the sky above us is obscured, because covered by the clouds of egoism, misunderstanding and deception. Despite this, even for the Church of today the time of the desert can be transformed into a time of grace, because we have the certainty that even from the hardest rock God can bring forth the living water that refreshes and restores.

Dear brothers and sisters, in these forty days that will lead us to Easter may we find new courage to accept with patience and with faith situations of difficulty, of affliction and trial, knowing that from the darkness the Lord will make a new day dawn. And if we are faithful to Jesus and follow him on the way of the Cross, the bright world of God, the world of light, truth and joy will be gifted to us once more: it will be the new dawn created by God himself. May you all have a good Lenten journey!
Again, to one and all, hope yours is off to a great start.


Old Church, New World

As new media moments from last weekend's Consistory go, this one's hard to beat: during a lull in Saturday's "courtesy visits" to the new red-hats, the freshly-elevated archbishop of Berlin, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, took to checking a soccer score on his iPhone.

According to a caption on the capital church's Facebook page -- thanks to Georg for the shot -- the Cologne native was keeping an eye on his hometown side's match against Nuremberg.

Its jerseys featuring a silhouette of the city's famous cathedral, FC Köln lost 2-1.

A protege of the Nordrhein's Cardinal Joachim Meisner -- the closest top German cleric to Pope Benedict, and himself a onetime occupant of the Berlin chair -- Woelki was named archbishop of the relatively small Berlin fold in July, just prior to the German pontiff's September state visit to his homeland.

All of 55, with his elevation, the Opus Dei-trained theologian and former seminary rector is now the youngest member of the College of Cardinals, replacing another German -- Joseph Ratzinger's 58 year-old successor in Munich, the motorbiking sociologist Cardinal Reinhard Marx -- as the junior prelate of the papal "Senate." (On a related note, just turned 62, New York's new Cardinal Timothy Dolan is the seventh youngest of the now-214 member "club," and Galveston-Houston's Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, 63 in May, is tenth.)

Der Deutschepapst already having tapped the young clerics to fill half his native turf's four traditional cardinalatial sees, Germany's other two prime ecclesial posts are likewise soon to turn over: head of the Mainz church since 1983, the longtime head of the country's bishops Cardinal Karl Lehmann turns 76 this spring, and Meisner -- who's led one of global Catholicism's wealthiest dioceses since 1989 -- is now 78.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Yet again, church, our Lenten journey begins....

And for a more upbeat take on this Opening Day of "spring training," an earlier clip from the neo-cardinale of New York:

To one and all, here's to a blessed and meaningful Ash Wednesday, and a promising start to the 40 Days ahead.

May this Lent be a time of real change and great richness for each of us. And to everyone among us in ministry setting into what, for many places, has come to be the most hectic and crowded day of the year, all the best of luck.

As the new rite for the distribution of ashes puts it, may we know the grace in these days to "Repent and believe"...

...and on that note, folks, away we go.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Remember That You Are Dust...."

And now, the focus shifts....

Everybody ready?


Meet the Bishop

Via San Jacinto -- that is, Houston Chancery -- a video introducing the freshly-named auxiliary of the 1.5 million-member church in the nation's fourth-largest city, Bishop-elect George Sheltz:

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo will formally present Rome's long-awaited H-Town deputy at a 10am Central presser.

His father a permanent deacon, according to an official release, the bishop-elect would become the second deacon's son to be raised the episcopacy on these shores, following the Washington auxiliary Barry Knestout, who was ordained in late 2008. Additionally like Knestout, a brother of Sheltz's was also ordained a priest; Fr Anton Sheltz died at 53 in 2003.

Given the demands on the South's first-ever red-hat at the helm of one of the nation's ten largest dioceses, today's appointee -- currently DiNardo's Curia chief after spending most of his four-decade priesthood in parish work -- has already been performing the episcopal duties of Confirmations and installing pastors, so an exceedingly smooth transition is expected.

SVILUPPO: Here below, Sheltz's statement on his appointment....
The Vatican announced this morning that I am to be the new Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. I am moved and humbled by the news that His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, has chosen me to serve in this capacity, in a place that has always been my home.

It has been a profound joy to serve as a parish priest in this Archdiocese, where I was born, raised, educated and nurtured in faith. I always wanted to serve simply as a parish priest, and I happily did so for 36 of my 40-plus years of priesthood.

In 2007, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo invited me to serve the priests and personnel of the Archdiocese in a special way: first, as Director for Clergy Formation and Chaplaincy Services, and then, in 2010, as Vicar General, Chancellor and Moderator of the Curia. I am most grateful to Cardinal DiNardo for the opportunity to serve alongside him in these leadership roles.

I am indebted to Bishop Vincent Rizzotto, whose life as a pastor has inspired me, and to Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, who was my pastor when I was a young priest. Archbishop Fiorenza mentored me, molded me and shaped me into the priest I am today.

I am thankful to the Basilian fathers, who educated me at St. Thomas High School and were so instrumental in encouraging my vocation to the priesthood.

I am sad that my parents, the late [Deacon] George and Margaret Sheltz, and my brother, the late [Father] Anton Sheltz, cannot be with us on this joyous day. But I take comfort in knowing that my sister, Mary Margaret, and I continue to feel their love and support.

I look forward to continuing to work with the priests, deacons, religious women and men and lay faithful in this great Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. You are the face of the living Christ, and together we must work to make the person of Jesus known to youth, to our families, to the poor, to the sick and the suffering.

I ask for your prayers, patience and collaboration as I assume the responsibilities given to me. May God bless you all.

In H-Town, Finally, Merry Auxmas

And at long last, Houston, we have liftoff....

At Roman Noon today, the Pope named Msgr George Sheltz, 65 -- a veteran, highly-regarded pastor who's served as vicar-general of Texas' 1.5 million-member marquee see since 2010 -- as the first long-awaited auxiliary bishop to Cardinal Daniel DiNardo... with another likely to be tapped in due course.

Elevated to metropolitan status in 2004 after its Catholic population grew sixfold over the prior three decades, what's now the largest diocese in the Lone Star State -- one of the nation's ten largest -- has lacked an active auxiliary since Sheltz's predecessor, Bishop Joe Vasquez, was named to the booming diocese of Austin in January 2010, leaving the Stateside church's first-ever Southern cardinal alone at the helm of the church in the nation's fourth-largest city.

Just like before, though -- six years ago today, liturgically speaking -- the move comes right in time for the famous H-Town Rodeo.

Of course, as ever, more to come.

SVILUPPO: From one parish priest to another, the Cardinardo's statement on the naming of his new auxiliary:
It is my great pleasure to congratulate Bishop-elect Sheltz on his appointment to be the new Auxiliary Bishop of Galveston-Houston.

As a parish priest and pastor for 36 years, Bishop-elect Sheltz has been a calm and kind shepherd to so many of our Catholic faithful at churches across the Archdiocese. More recently, as Vicar General and Chancellor, he has ably assisted me in the governance of this local Church. His serene demeanor in every administrative and pastoral situation signifies a man who is strong in his faith in the Lord and in the Church.

I join the people of Galveston-Houston in rejoicing over the Holy Father’s appointment of Bishop-elect Sheltz to this position. I look forward to working with you as my chief collaborator in this growing, diverse Archdiocese. May God bless you and guide you as you love and lead the Church with the heart of Christ.
According to early word from the San Jacinto Chancery, Scheltz's ordination in the recently-opened Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart will take place sometime in "late April," the exact date apparently still to be determined.


Monday, February 20, 2012

So it sounds, gang, Rome's not sending the Stateside church into Lent empty-handed....

In other words, see you at "Noon."


On President's Day, "The Atmosphere of Liberty"

Yet again, this third Monday of February is officially observed here in the States as Washington's Birthday, but known far better as President's Day.

Of course, the observance commemorates the 22 February 1732 birth of the "Father of the Country," George Washington. While Washington's birthday has been marked as a national holiday since at least 1796 -- the final year of his presidency -- subsequent years saw Abraham Lincoln's 12 February birthday added to the calendar as a separate civil observance. In the late 1960s, the Lincoln holiday was suppressed, but Washington's anniversary widely became dubbed "President's Day" in the years since.

In keeping with the house custom on the great feasts of state, it wouldn't be President's Day 'round here if we didn't revisit the famous "Prayer for the Nation" written and first delivered in 1791 by the father of American Catholicism -- the nation's first bishop, John Carroll of Baltimore:
We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope N., the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state , for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance.

To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.
In 1790, Washington addressed a letter to American Catholics expressing his supportive hope "that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their Revolution, and the establishment of your Government, or the important assistance which they received from a nation [i.e. France] in which the Roman Catholic faith is professed."

Aided by the contribution of the early church on these shores -- a community that then numbered some 25,000 souls (served by 22 priests) scattered across the 13 new states -- the first Commander-in-Chief said that, "America, under the smiles of a Divine Providence, the protection of a good government, and the cultivation of manners, morals, and piety, cannot fail of attaining an uncommon degree of eminence, in literature, commerce, agriculture, improvements at home and respectability abroad."

The founding father added his prayer that "the members of your Society in America, animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity, and still conducting themselves as the faithful subjects of our free government, enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity."

And perhaps in these days, quite possibly more than last year, odds are the significance of that hope -- and the value many American Catholics can find in it -- has increased.

* * *
Given the threads of recent news-cycles, however, there's more.

Of course, the moment brings a high-stakes conflict on the question of church and state. And amid it, in a shining occurrence of history, the successor of Carroll -- who knew Washington, was championed by Franklin; indeed, a cousin of the lone Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence -- has been elevated to the College of Cardinals.

The year isn't 2012, but 1887. The setting, meanwhile, lies an ocean away from Washington, and the mother-church which included the capital for 150 years.

Lest anyone forgot, ecclesiastical Rome in the late 19th century was no enthusiastic observer of the prior century's sea-change of governments. These were, after all, the days when the Popes lived as self-declared "Prisoners of the Vatican" following the seizure of the States they governed, memories of Napoleon's abduction of Pope Pius VI still ran fresh, Bismarck's Kulturkampf in newborn Germany saw bishops jailed, clerics banished and religious orders legally suppressed, and the sometimes violent anti-Catholicism of American Protestants -- highlighted by the burning of Northeastern churches and the dumping into the Potomac of a stone donated by Pius IX for the construction of the Washington Monument (inside which, the most hysterical maintained, the pontiff had been smuggled across the Atlantic to complete his alleged master plan to take over the country and reign from the White House) -- was enough to sour the Vatican on the pluralist polity of these shores.

Given that backdrop, maybe today's chief domestic concern suddenly doesn't seem so visceral to some. In the broader sweep of history, though, a seemingly forgotten part of what makes it precisely that is the degree to which the path toward the Magisterium's eventual detente with and embrace of secular Western democracy was paved by... the foundational assurance of religious freedom in the United States.

Decades ahead of John Courtney Murray and a full century before Dignitatis Humanae developed the principle into Catholic Tradition -- regardless of what the SSPX might say about it -- the first significant shift of the evolution was made on the centenary of the Constitution, as a new American cardinal accepted one of Rome's oldest churches as his own, and used the experience of his homeland to make what was, for the time, an extraordinary case.

Considering both the era's ecclesial and political contexts, an address of the sort would've widely been considered as an inadvisable move. A junior cardinal from a suspect land advocating a concept that, from their experience, the natives would undoubtedly deem toxic could've made for more than enough to exile Americans from the old "caput mundi" for generations.

Such was the intensity of James Gibbons' patriotism that he did it anyway... and ended up reaping a whirlwind.

Next month marks the 125th anniversary of the "heroic" speech given by the Premier See's first cardinal as he took possession of his titular church, Santa Maria in Trastevere, on Annunciation Day, 1887. And as that milestone nears, another of Carroll's successors has now taken his seat in the Papal "Senate."

The moment would've been worth recalling just on those alone. Yet amid the tensions and stakes of the times, the reminder seems all the more needed.

Here, Gibbons' text:
The assignment to me by the Holy Father of this beautiful basilica as my titular church fills me with feelings of joy and gratitude which any words of mine are inadequate to express. For, as here in Rome I stand within the first temple raised in honor of the ever-blessed Virgin Mary, so in my far-off home, my own Cathedral Church, the oldest in the United States, is also dedicated to the Mother of God. This venerable edifice in which we are gathered leads us back in contemplation to the days of the catacombs. Its foundation was laid by Pope Calixtus in the year of our Lord, 224. It was restored by Pope Julius in the fourth century, and renovated by another Supreme Pontiff in the twelfth.

That never-ceasing solicitude which the Sovereign Pontiffs have exhibited in erecting these material temples, which are the glory of this city, they have also manifested on a larger scale in rearing spiritual walls to Zion throughout Christendom in every age. Scarcely were the United States formed into an independent government, when Pope Pius VII established a Catholic hierarchy and appointed the illustrious John Carroll the first Bishop of Baltimore. Our Catholic community in those days numbered a few thousand souls, and they were scattered chiefly through the States of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland. They were served by a mere handful of priests. But now, thanks to the fructifying grace of God, the grain of mustard seed then planted has grown to a large tree, spreading its branches through the length and breadth of our fair land. Where only one bishop was found in the beginning of this century, there are now seventy-five exercising spiritual jurisdiction. For this great progress we are indebted, under God and the fostering vigilance of the Holy See, to the civil liberty we enjoy in our enlightened republic.

Our Holy Father, Leo XIII, in his luminous encyclical on the constitution of Christian states, declares that the Church is not committed to any form of civil government. She adapts herself to all. She leavens all with the sacred leaven of the Gospel. She has lived under absolute monarchies, under constitutional monarchies, in free republics, and everywhere she grows and expands. She has often, indeed, been hampered in her Divine mission. She has even been forced to struggle for her existence wherever despotism has cast its dark shadow, like a plant shut out from the blessed light of heaven. But in the genial atmosphere of liberty she blossoms like a rose.

For myself, as a citizen of the United States, and without closing my eyes to our shortcomings as a nation, I say, with a deep sense of pride and gratitude, that I belong to a country where the civil government holds over us the aegis of its protection, without interfering with us in the legitimate exercise of our sublime mission as ministers of the Gospel of Christ. Our country has liberty without license, and authority without despotism. She rears no wall to exclude the stranger from among us. She has few frowning fortifications to repel the invader, for she is at peace with all the world. She rests secure in the consciousness of her strength and her good will toward all. Her harbors are open to welcome the honest emigrant who comes to advance his temporal interests and find a peaceful home.

But, while we are acknowledged to have a free government, perhaps we do not receive the credit that belongs to us for having, also, a strong government. Yes, our nation is strong, and her strength lies, under the overruling guidance of Providence, in the majesty and supremacy of the law, in the loyalty of her citizens and in the affection of her people for her free institutions. There are, indeed, grave social problems now employing the earnest attention of the citizens of the United States, but I have no doubt that, with God's blessing, these problems will be solved by the calm judgment and sound sense of the American people, without violence or revolution, or any injury to individual right.

As an evidence of his good will for the great republic in the West, as a mark of his appreciation of the venerable hierarchy of the United States, and as an expression of his kind consideration for the ancient See of Baltimore, our Holy Father has been graciously pleased to elevate its present incumbent, in my humble person, to the dignity of the purple. For this mark of his exalted favor I beg to tender the Holy Father my profound thanks in my own name and in the name of the clergy and faithful. I venture to thank him also in the name of my venerable colleagues, the bishops, as well as the clergy and Catholic laity of the United States. I presume also to thank him in the name of our separated brethren in America, who, though not sharing our faith, have shown that they are not insensible—indeed, that they are deeply sensible—of the honor conferred upon our common country, and have again and again expressed their admiration for the enlightened statesmanship and apostolic virtues and benevolent character of the illustrious Pontiff who now sits in the Chair of St. Peter.
One of the great bridge-builders of Catholicism's Stateside pilgrimage, from The Cathedral Carroll Built -- itself raised as a shrine to American religious freedom -- Gibbons served as de facto chaplain to Presidents of both parties, and even a trailblazer of warm ecumenical and interfaith relations, for nearly four decades following his elevation to the College.

Given the accomplishments and turbulence that fill the scene 125 years later, as it didn't just emerge from a vacuum, the milestone seems an especially good moment to look beyond the haze and reflect.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

The "Apple" of Tim's Eye: From Rome, The Cardinal Talks New York

Returning again to the "star" of this Consistory, in keeping with an emphatic point of his major Vatican speech on Friday -- that his charge is anything but "some neo-Sodom and Gomorrah" -- Cardinal Timothy Dolan served up the following Valentine message to Gotham, which ran in the pages of this Sunday's New York Daily News, the city's most widely-circulated paper:
I’ve become a New Yorker.

And I like to brag about the beauty and the virtue and the goodness that I see in the New York community.

I bristle and cringe when people who aren’t New Yorkers caricature New Yorkers as cold and unfriendly and rude and almost atheistic and pagan.

I’m saying, wait a minute.

I’ve been honored to be a citizen of New York for three years and I find New York to be one of the most loving, welcoming and embracing communities around!

New Yorkers welcome people.

They welcomed me.

So the church cooperates with that in welcoming the immigrant, for example.

New Yorkers pitch in and help people in trouble.

Look what happened after 9/11.

So the church builds upon that with helping people who are out of jobs, helping people who are sick, helping people who are hungry, and having trouble paying their bills.

New Yorkers work for justice whether that be in labor or whether that be in civil rights.

So does the church work for justice when it comes to the rights of refugees, when it comes to the rights of the unemployed, when it comes to the rights of the unborn.

New Yorkers traditionally go in for the underdog. So does the Archdiocese. So does the Catholic Church go in for the underdog, whether they be homeless, or the baby in the womb or the person dying at Calvary Hospital.

The Church is able to cooperate hand in hand with New York.

The Catholic Church in New York is not looked upon as some outsider.

New York is a place where religion is welcome, where the contribution of the faith community is a cherished part.

That’s the recipe that makes New York such a warm, vibrant, welcoming culture.

The Church in New York is looked upon as a neighbor, as somebody familiar walking down the street. And that’s beautiful.
Given the continuing perception among many at the Vatican of the Big Apple as the capital of the West's "dictatorship of relativism," with the city's eighth cardinal riding a skyscraper-high wave of Roman acclaim after the last week, the message above seems as intended for his hosts of these days as it is for the folks at home.

Speaking of the Gotham press, while the tabloid News' front cover was filled with an image of the singer Whitney Houston's coffin being carried from her funeral yesterday, the rival Post -- which famously covered Dolan's appointment as archbishop by blaring "GODSEND!" on its front-page -- returned its Sunday lead to the new cardinal.

Waving the biretta after yesterday's rites of creation (top), an ever-exuberant Dolan told reporters that "this is the hat I want to put on the Empire State Building and home plate at Yankee Stadium."

Meanwhile, in yet another sign of the Pope's favor for his hand-picked Consistory keynoter, a late-day Vatican briefing on Friday included an unusual direct quote from B16's closing remarks to the private session, according to which the pontiff praised Dolan's address on the New Evangelization as "stimulating, joyful and profound."

The following morning, as a beaming Benedict placed the biretta on the new cardinal's head, Dolan said afterward that the Pope thanked him again for the Friday talk.

Looking down at his new robes, the cardinal added, "And I said, 'Well, Holy Father, thank you for this!'"

Set to return home in time to preside over Ash Wednesday in St Patrick's Cathedral -- by far, the busiest day of the year at the Fifth Avenue landmark -- the eighth cardinal to hold the House That Hughes Built will celebrate locally with two ticket-only liturgies in Midtown next weekend.

PHOTO: Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News(1); Getty(3)


At the Consistory, A Changing of the Guard

Keeping with longtime custom, the American Cardinals present at this Consistory gathered around the group's newest members for an updated "family portrait" at the Pontifical North American College following yesterday's rites.

To be sure, a few are absent: Chicago's Cardinal Francis George and Philadelphia's retired Justin Rigali -- both in Rome for the weekend -- didn't make the shot, while Detroit's twin emeriti Adam Maida and Edmond Szoka ostensibly stayed home, as did Cardinal Edwin O'Brien's Baltimore predecessor, Cardinal William Keeler, whose condition kept him from making the trip.

With the creation of O'Brien and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a significant milestone has come to pass: not even seven years after Pope Benedict's election, for the first time, a majority of the Stateside bloc able to elect his successor are now appointees of the reigning pontiff.

Of the US' 12 cardinal-electors in a hypothetical Conclave, seven have now been chosen by B16, and their effect is only set to grow over the next five months. By late summer, the American voting group drops to ten as New York's retired Cardinal Edward Egan reaches the ineligibility age of 80 on April 2nd, followed by the onetime Denver archbishop and Vatican official Francis Stafford on 26 July.

By contrast, as of today, the average age of Papa Ratzinger's seven picks sits at just a few weeks over 67. Yet even if the nation's traditional complement of two new cardinals was maintained at this Consistory, the Stateside church actually lost three electors since the last intake in November 2010: the Vatican's longtime "Voice of Christmas" Cardinal John Foley died last December at 76, while Keeler and Boston's scandal-felled Cardinal Bernard Law both turned 80 during 2011.

To be sure, the same effect is being felt in the wider College -- by year's end, Benedict will have the openings to have tapped just shy of two-thirds of the cardinal-electors: in other words, the supermajority needed to make the next Pope.

* * *
In each of his four additions to the College of Cardinals, Benedict has chosen his US nominees according to a consistent rubric -- one head of a domestic archdiocese (by turns, Sean O'Malley, Daniel DiNardo, Donald Wuerl and now Dolan), and a prelate based at the Vatican (William Levada, Foley, Raymond Burke, now O'Brien).

With at least 16 more electoral slots to open over the next year on age grounds alone, the next Consistory is almost certain to be held by Spring 2013, and -- according to some -- possibly even before the end of this year.

However, under the traditional protocols for the elevation of American cardinals, the queue for a red hat from these shores is suddenly nonexistent. With Dolan and O'Brien now in the "purple" -- the Italian term for cardinal red -- everything's caught up for the next several years.

Given that unusual scenario, were even the first part of Benedict's pattern to hold next time around, a US prelate would need to be named to head a Curial office in the interim. As the move placing O'Brien, 72, in line -- his appointment last August to lead the Order of the Holy Sepulchre -- stoked widespread surprise among the hierarchy, it's entirely possible that the soon-to-be 85 year-old pontiff has another unexpected move up his sleeve. (On a side-note, the American presence in the Vatican's top tier is likely to decrease by one later this year with the expected retirement of the CDF prefect Cardinal William Levada, who turns 76 in June. The LA native and former San Francisco archbishop will, however, retain his key dicastery memberships until reaching age 80.)

On the other hand, the residential side of the equation is likely to prove even trickier. Once Egan turns 80, another US-based cardinal won't lose his conclave rights until Rigali ages out in April 2015, and with the former's successor and latter's protege -- namely, Tim Dolan -- now elevated, the distribution of red hats to their customary American destinations is now at its full complement.

As previously noted, the scenario opens the door to either of two unusual possibilities -- at least, under the "rules" long in place.

In one potential course, the Pope could extend the red hat to a Stateside city that's never previously seen one.

Of course, Benedict did that in 2007 when -- in order "to recognize the growth and vitality of the church in the southern United States" -- he elevated DiNardo, head of the 1.5 million-member fold in the nation's fourth-largest city. Texas' unprecedented red hat marked the first time since 1953 (when Pius XII elevated Los Angeles' Archbishop James Francis McIntyre) that a new region of the country was given representation in the College.

Were the pontiff to continue reflecting American Catholicism's dramatic demographic shift of the last half-century by similarly shuffling around its scarlet, the most likely contenders for the honor are widely thought to be the heads of the Southeast's two largest dioceses: Archbishops Thomas Wenski, 61, the Harley-riding, famously intense polyglot and policy wonk who now heads the 1.3 million-member Miami church, or Wilton Gregory, 64, the finessed, eminently-regarded president of the US bishops during the 2002 eruption of the clergy sex-abuse crisis, now the leader of an Atlanta fold that's grown sixfold since 1990, today comprising a million Catholics.

The son of Polish immigrants to South Florida, while the Dolanesque Wenski is claimed as an adopted son of the Cuban and Haitian communities with whom he's worked closely for decades, the Chicago-born Atlanta prelate -- the standout protege of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin -- would become the first African-American cardinal.

In the second possible scenario, while the nation's historic "cardinalatial sees" are now each assured of a vote should a papal election arise over the next three years, two of those electors -- Rigali and LA's Cardinal Roger Mahony, 76 next week -- have recently retired from running their archdioceses, but still enjoy Conclave privileges. Accordingly, if Benedict opted to maintain the historic configuration of red hats on these shores, he could break custom by expediting the elevations of their respective successors, whether LA's Archbishop José Gomez, 60, or the new Angeleno prelate's mentor, now Philadelphia's archbishop, the Capuchin Charles Chaput, 67.

Born in Mexico and now a naturalized citizen, the Opus Dei-formed Gomez now leads the largest diocese in the four-century history of American Catholicism, its 5 million members forming a bigger crowd than LA's runners-up in New York and Chicago combined. In addition, the sitting Pope is believed to be quite intent to place the historic red hat on the head of the US' first Hispanic cardinal, crowning a Latin ascent soon to boast a majority of the nation's 70 million faithful (one that, already, comprises 60 percent of the Stateside fold younger than age 30).

At the same time, even beyond his signature approach in the public square, Chaput's well-burnished record of tackling daunting assignments from Rome -- first leading two high-stakes Vatican investigations, then last year's crucial appointment to a Philadelphia church brimming with scandals and challenges -- signals a level of Benedict's trust that's arguably unparalleled among the American bishops, as well as indicating the pontiff's considerable esteem for the diligence and sensitivity with which each mission has been carried out.

In this, a parallel can be drawn to O'Brien (above), who won high marks in Rome as an equally thorough, effective hand -- in his case, on the key matter of priestly formation -- first as a rector tasked with heavy lifting at the NAC (now the largest American seminary) before overseeing the 2005-6 Apostolic Visitation of the 225 US seminaries, and then serving as Dolan's lead deputy for last year's on-site examination of the Irish church's two houses.

While the new grand master of the Holy Sepulchre -- the second non-European ever to head the thousand year-old order -- now has his primary residence in Rome, it's emerged that the 72 year-old cardinal will keep a Stateside base, not in his native New York, but in Baltimore, where his stewardship of the Premier See wraps up on the installation of his yet-unnamed successor, a choice on which the field is believed to remain very wide open.

Among O'Brien's global cadre of knights and ladies dedicated to supporting the church's works in the Holy Land, a majority live in the US.

PHOTOS: Whisperazzi(1); L'Osservatore Romano(2-4); Getty(5)


"The Rock That Is to Prevail": At Cardinals' Mass, the Pope on Peter's Chair

With this Sunday being observed in the Vatican as the feast of the Chair of Peter -- its usual date of February 22nd superseded by this year's Ash Wednesday -- the meaning of the celebration focused on the authority of the First Apostle and his successors took center stage as the Pope concelebrated Mass with the 22 new cardinals he created yesterday.

Looming over the Main Altar of the Vatican basilica stood the emblematic symbol of the Petrine office, referenced by the 265th Roman pontiff in his text: the massive Bernini sculpture of the chair, completed in the 1660s and held aloft by two key doctors of the East (Athanasius and John Chrysostom) and the West (Ambrose and Augustine). To mark the feast, over 100 candles dotted the massive reliquary, which is claimed to hold the original seat of the first Pope. Likewise, the famous Bernini statue of the Apostle in the nave of the church named for him was, per tradition, decked out in the papal attire of a cope, alb and papal tiara (seen above).

According to the ancient ecclesiology of the office, the College of Cardinals is constituted as "pars corporis" -- "part of the Pope's body" -- that is, a key component of his ability to govern the universal church, hence the common occurrence of Consistories to add to the ranks during this feast.

The feast of the Chair was first celebrated in the middle of the 4th century. With that brief background, here's the Vatican's English translation of Benedict's homily.

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

On this solemnity of the Chair of Saint Peter, we have the joy of gathering around the altar of the Lord together with the new Cardinals whom yesterday I incorporated into the College of Cardinals. It is to them, first of all, that I offer my cordial greetings and I thank Cardinal Fernando Filoni for the gracious words he has addressed to me in the name of all. I extend my greetings to the other Cardinals and all the Bishops present, as well as to the distinguished authorities, ambassadors, priests, religious and all the faithful who have come from different parts of the world for this happy occasion, which is marked by a particular character of universality.

In the second reading that we have just heard, Saint Peter exhorts the "elders" of the Church to be zealous pastors, attentive to the flock of Christ (cf. 1 Pet 5:1-2). These words are addressed in the first instance to you, my dear venerable brothers, who have already shown great merit among the people of God through your wise and generous pastoral ministry in demanding dioceses, or through presiding over the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, or in your service to the Church through study and teaching. The new dignity that has been conferred upon you is intended to show appreciation for the faithful labour you have carried out in the Lord’s vineyard, to honour the communities and nations from which you come and which you represent so worthily in the Church, to invest you with new and more important ecclesial responsibilities and finally to ask of you an additional readiness to be of service to Christ and to the entire Christian community. This readiness to serve the Gospel is firmly founded upon the certitude of faith. We know that God is faithful to his promises and we await in hope the fulfilment of these words of Saint Peter: "And when the chief shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory" (1 Pet 5:4).

Today’s Gospel passage presents Peter, under divine inspiration, expressing his own firm faith in Jesus as the Son of God and the promised Messiah. In response to this transparent profession of faith, which Peter makes in the name of the other Apostles as well, Christ reveals to him the mission he intends to entrust to him, namely that of being the "rock", the visible foundation on which the entire spiritual edifice of the Church is built (cf. Mt 16:16-19). This new name of "rock" is not a reference to Peter’s personal character, but can be understood only on the basis of a deeper aspect, a mystery: through the office that Jesus confers upon him, Simon Peter will become something that, in terms of "flesh and blood", he is not. The exegete Joachim Jeremias has shown that in the background, the symbolic language of "holy rock" is present. In this regard, it is helpful to consider a rabbinic text which states: "The Lord said, ‘How can I create the world, when these godless men will rise up in revolt against me?’ But when God saw that Abraham was to be born, he said, ‘Look, I have found a rock on which I can build and establish the world.’ Therefore he called Abraham a rock." The prophet Isaiah makes reference to this when he calls upon the people to "look to the rock from which you were hewn ... look to Abraham your father" (51:1-2). On account of his faith, Abraham, the father of believers, is seen as the rock that supports creation. Simon, the first to profess faith in Jesus as the Christ and the first witness of the resurrection, now, on the basis of his renewed faith, becomes the rock that is to prevail against the destructive forces of evil.

Dear brothers and sisters, this Gospel episode that has been proclaimed to us finds a further and more eloquent explanation in one of the most famous artistic treasures of this Vatican Basilica: the altar of the Chair. After passing through the magnificent central nave, and continuing past the transepts, the pilgrim arrives in the apse and sees before him an enormous bronze throne that seems to hover in mid air, but in reality is supported by the four statues of great Fathers of the Church from East and West. And above the throne, surrounded by triumphant angels suspended in the air, the glory of the Holy Spirit shines through the oval window. What does this sculptural composition say to us, this product of Bernini’s genius? It represents a vision of the essence of the Church and the place within the Church of the Petrine Magisterium.

The window of the apse opens the Church towards the outside, towards the whole of creation, while the image of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove shows God as the source of light. But there is also another aspect to point out: the Church herself is like a window, the place where God draws near to us, where he comes towards our world. The Church does not exist for her own sake, she is not the point of arrival, but she has to point upwards, beyond herself, to the realms above. The Church is truly herself to the extent that she allows the Other, with a capital "O", to shine through her – the One from whom she comes and to whom she leads. The Church is the place where God "reaches" us and where we "set off" towards him: she has the task of opening up, beyond itself, a world which tends to become enclosed within itself, the task of bringing to the world the light that comes from above, without which it would be uninhabitable.

The great bronze throne encloses a wooden chair from the ninth century, which was long thought to be Saint Peter’s own chair and was placed above this monumental altar because of its great symbolic value. It expresses the permanent presence of the Apostle in the Magisterium of his successors. Saint Peter’s chair, we could say, is the throne of truth which takes its origin from Christ’s commission after the confession at Caesarea Philippi. The magisterial chair also reminds us of the words spoken to Peter by the Lord during the Last Supper: "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Lk 22:32).

The chair of Peter evokes another memory: the famous expression from Saint Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to the Romans, where he says of the Church of Rome that she "presides in charity" (Salutation, PG 5, 801). In truth, presiding in faith is inseparably linked to presiding in love. Faith without love would no longer be an authentic Christian faith. But the words of Saint Ignatius have another much more concrete implication: the word "charity", in fact, was also used by the early Church to indicate the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the Sacramentum caritatis Christi [the sacrament of the love of Christ] through which Christ continues to draw us all to himself, as he did when raised up on the Cross (cf. Jn 12:32). Therefore, to "preside in charity" is to draw men and women into a eucharistic embrace – the embrace of Christ – which surpasses every barrier and every division, creating communion from all manner of differences. The Petrine ministry is therefore a primacy of love in the eucharistic sense, that is to say solicitude for the universal communion of the Church in Christ. And the Eucharist is the shape and the measure of this communion, a guarantee that it will remain faithful to the criterion of the tradition of the faith.

The great Chair is supported by the Fathers of the Church. The two Eastern masters, Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Athanasius, together with the Latins, Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine, represent the whole of the tradition, and hence the richness of expression of the true faith of the one Church. This aspect of the altar teaches us that love rests upon faith. Love collapses if man no longer trusts in God and disobeys him. Everything in the Church rests upon faith: the sacraments, the liturgy, evangelization, charity. Likewise the law and the Church’s authority rest upon faith. The Church is not self-regulating, she does not determine her own structure but receives it from the word of God, to which she listens in faith as she seeks to understand it and to live it. Within the ecclesial community, the Fathers of the Church fulfil the function of guaranteeing fidelity to sacred Scripture. They ensure that the Church receives reliable and solid exegesis, capable of forming with the Chair of Peter a stable and consistent whole. The sacred Scriptures, authoritatively interpreted by the Magisterium in the light of the Fathers, shed light upon the Church’s journey through time, providing her with a stable foundation amid the vicissitudes of history.

After considering the various elements of the altar of the Chair, let us take a look at it in its entirety. We see that it is characterized by a twofold movement: ascending and descending. This is the reciprocity between faith and love. The Chair is placed in a prominent position in this place, because this is where Saint Peter’s tomb is located, but this too tends towards the love of God. Indeed, faith is oriented towards love. A selfish faith would be an unreal faith. Whoever believes in Jesus Christ and enters into the dynamic of love that finds its source in the Eucharist, discovers true joy and becomes capable in turn of living according to the logic of gift. True faith is illumined by love and leads towards love, leads on high, just as the altar of the Chair points upwards towards the luminous window, the glory of the Holy Spirit, which constitutes the true focus for the pilgrim’s gaze as he crosses the threshold of the Vatican Basilica. That window is given great prominence by the triumphant angels and the great golden rays, with a sense of overflowing fulness that expresses the richness of communion with God. God is not isolation, but glorious and joyful love, spreading outwards and radiant with light.

Dear brothers and sisters, the gift of this love has been entrusted to us, to every Christian. It is a gift to be passed on to others, through the witness of our lives. This is your task in particular, dear brother Cardinals: to bear witness to the joy of Christ’s love. We now entrust your ecclesial service to the Virgin Mary, who was present among the apostolic community as they gathered in prayer, waiting for the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14). May she, Mother of the Incarnate Word, protect the Church’s path, support the work of the pastors by her intercession and take under her mantle the entire College of Cardinals. Amen!


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Long day, folks.

Once the torrent begins to ease after this morning's Non-Ring Mass, more recap/analysis, etc. For now, buona notte e buona domenica a tutti.


For the Redbirds, A Whirlwind Day

The formal ritual of elevation might now be in the books, but the rest of this Consistory Day in Rome traditionally takes the form of a goose-chase. Or, here, Redbird-chase.

You get the idea.

Once the new cardinals are set loose from St Peter's, the freshly-elevated porporati tend to be swarmed by well-wishers before fanning out across the Vatican and the wider city for time with their respective delegations. Keeping the longtime custom for Stateside red-hats, for example, Cardinals Edwin O'Brien and Timothy Dolan are spending the afternoon receiving their guests at the Pontifical North American College -- where, in a notable subtext to this intake, the latter succeeded the former as rector in 1994.

With the duo's elevations, the number of NAC chiefs who ended up in scarlet has doubled in a day to four, in the footsteps of Boston's first cardinal, William O'Connell (rector from 1895-1901), who was elevated in 1911, and Washington's James Hickey (1969-74), a member of the Consistory Class of 1988. (Speaking of history, in the shot above, O'Brien -- the 15th holder of John Carroll's chair -- is wearing the pectoral cross of his Baltimore predecessor, the Stateside church's founding bishop.)

From their personal events, a rushed lunch is shoehorned into the schedule before the new red-hats are whisked back to the Vatican, where -- in another reflection of the College's close tie to Peter's successor -- the doors of the Apostolic Palace are flung open to the public for a general reception from 4.30 to 6.30 in the evening.

With the cardinals stationed around the building's various state rooms, the traditional open-house for "courtesy visits" is the only time anyone can enter the Bronze Doors and ascend the Scala Regia, so the crowd tends to feature a decent number of art-gazing natives among the buzzing pilgrims.

Given the size of this year's class, however, only the new cardinals of the Roman Curia -- and not even all of them -- have been given the coveted slots in the Pope's House; the rest of the bunch are slated to be on the other side of St Peter's in the modern, now solar-powered Paul VI Audience Hall. While Dolan and Toronto's Cardinal Thomas Collins will be set up in the main space where Benedict XVI holds his Wednesday gatherings and other large events, O'Brien's been given a spot in the building's atrium. Per custom, each cardinal hands out prayer-cards to commemorate his elevation, and by each station stands a small table intended to display the greeter's new red biretta.

From there, the groups break up for dinner and, in most cases, an early night. While the Pope's concelebrated Mass with his new appointees begins at 9.30 Vatican time tomorrow morning in St Peter's, for the third of three indoor consistories in a row, reports have already emerged that at least hundreds of pilgrims -- some of whom were said to be queued up before dawn to get into this morning's ceremony -- were shut out of the basilica and forced to watch the event on the large video-screens set up in the square.

In prior instances of this, the excluded (including members of some new cardinals' families) all had tickets, but the distributed number of passes ostensibly exceeded the roughly 10,000-seat capacity of the world's second-largest church. Before B16 moved his elevations inside at his second intake in 2007, they had been held in the Piazza from 1998, taking place in the 7,000-seat Audience Hall prior to that.

Before the advent of mass pilgrimages accompanying the designates, consistories historically occurred in the Hall of Blessings above the narthex of St Peter's, or in the Sistine Chapel.

The formal events for the new crop of the College wrap up on Monday, when the Pope receives the cardinals and their groups for one mass audience. More than most Consistory Weeks, Rome is expected to clear out quickly afterward with Ash Wednesday, and the residential prelates' task to lead Lent's opening rites at home, all of hours away.

Not much later, the new class' added workload will begin to evidence itself. Within the coming weeks, the new cardinals younger than 80 will receive their memberships to several dicasteries of the Roman Curia, their dockets individually determined by the pontiff to reflect which offices can benefit most from their particular strengths and experiences. And for most cardinals, the new role tends to bring a fairly sizable uptick both in mail and invitations, all of which has to be balanced with a "day job" that's often fairly intense on its own.

All that said, there is one last Roman ritual awaiting each member of the class -- "taking possession" of his assigned titular church. The simple parish Mass launching a new cardinal's ministry as honorary pastor of his assignment now usually takes place within a year.

PHOTOS: Getty, Reuters