Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mary, Virgin and Mother,
you who, moved by the Holy Spirit,
welcomed the word of life
in the depths of your humble faith:
as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One,
help us to say our own “yes”
to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,
to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

Filled with Christ’s presence,
you brought joy to John the Baptist,
making him exult in the womb of his mother.
Brimming over with joy,
you sang of the great things done by God.

Standing at the foot of the cross
with unyielding faith,
you received the joyful comfort of the resurrection,
and joined the disciples in awaiting the Spirit
so that the evangelizing Church might be born.

Obtain for us now a new ardour born of the resurrection,
that we may bring to all the Gospel of life
which triumphs over death.
Give us a holy courage to seek new paths,
that the gift of unfading beauty may reach every man and woman.

Virgin of listening and contemplation,
Mother of love, Bride of the eternal wedding feast,
pray for the Church,
whose pure icon you are,
that she may never be closed in on herself
or lose her passion for establishing God’s kingdom.

Star of the new evangelization,
help us to bear radiant witness to communion, service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth, illuminating even the fringes of our world.

Mother of the living Gospel,
wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones, pray for us.
Amen. Alleluia!
Evangelii Gaudium, 288
* * *
In 2013, The Pope resigned. And weeks later, the 266th Bishop of Rome would be called to The Chair from beyond Europe – or, as he put it, "from the end of the world."

The last time any generation saw either moment, America had yet to exist on the map, this Earth was predominantly judged to be the center of the Universe, and only the rival families constantly warring for temporal dominance on the Italian peninsula (playing the church as their ever-coveted pawn) had the luxury or desire to know the provenance of the pontiff.

For all the rest, however, 
one thing alone mattered: "He is Peter."

And the more things change, clearly, the more they stay the same.

In two millennia of the Christian story, not since the Resurrection and Ascension have two moments like these at the very core of it all collided at once. Ergo, Church, before we go any further, let us appreciate and reflect on this surreal moment which we've somehow been given the grace to witness and be part of, and let us pray that we might have the stuff to live up to it going forward.

At the Gate of a New Year – and, to be sure, all the unpredictable moments 2014 will again bring – our traditional hymn of thanksgiving would normally be the Te Deum. This having been anything but an ordinary cycle, though, we'd seemingly be wiser to focus anew on the gift of the Rock given us at the beginning: the Foundation saddled upon a "lowly, and yet chosen" man – just the latest thrust into the Shoes of the Fisherman to guide our shared path ahead....

...sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum.



Sunday, December 29, 2013

"We Look to the Family" – Francis Gives 2014 Centerpiece An Early Start

At the Noonday Angelus on this feast of the Holy Family, the Pope turned his sights to the New Year and his already-indicated focus for 2014 on the life of the family.

Of course, the centerpiece of the push is next October's Extraordinary Synod on the "pastoral challenges" facing the domestic church, the responses to the preliminary survey for which are due in Rome from the global episcopates by the end of January, and among the US bishops must be submitted to Washington by this Tuesday.

In addition, however, Francis said today that the family focus will figure at what's now apparently become a two-day consultation of the College of Cardinals in advance of the February 22nd Consistory that'll see Papa Bergoglio elevate his first batch of cardinals. (Current expectations have the biglietto of the cardinals-designate being announced on Epiphany Day, 6 January.)

Following a talk that linked the struggles of today's "exiled" migrant clans to those of the refugee family of Nazareth, the Pope offered the following prayer he wrote "to entrust to Jesus, Mary and Joseph" – whose traditional emblems form his coat of arms – "this work of the Synod" and the other related initiatives; the text is the Vatican's English translation....

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendour of true love,
to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer.
On a related note to all of the above, this year's focus dedicated to those who exist in the shadows – the undocumented, children and the victims of human trafficking – the US church's 2014 National Migration Week begins, per custom, on next Sunday's transferred observance of the Epiphany.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The 25th day of December, the twenty-second 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 from the foundation of the City of Rome,
the 42nd year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus,
the whole world being at peace:

Eternal God,
Eternal Son of the Father,
seeking to consecrate the world by coming into it;
conceived by the Holy Spirit,
nine months having passed 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.

* * *
So, there's the traditional Christmas Proclamation... and here, something a little more recent:

I can read [the sign] there, written large: "The poor aren't able to wait!" Beautiful! And this makes me think that Jesus was born in a stable, he wasn't born in a house. Then he had to flee, to go to Egypt to save his life. Only finally did he return home to Nazareth. And I think today, even while reading that sign, of the many families without a home, whether they never had one or they've lost it for any number of reasons. Family and home go together. It's really difficult for a family to move forward without having a home of their own. In these days of Christmas, I invite everyone – individuals, social entities, authorities – to do everything possible so that every family might have a home!...

To one and all, I wish you a Christmas of hope, of justice, and of brotherhood – buon pranzo e arrivederci!
–Pope Francis
22 December 2013
Buon Natale a tutti – again, to you and yours, every blessing of this First Day and the Octave ahead, with all its light, happiness and peace.

Gesù è nato... e Bergoglio è Papa. Whatta year.

Merry Christmas!


"Bambino, Bring Peace" – In Francis' Christmas Prayer, A Call To Be "Moved"

If it's Roman Noon on Christmas Day, that can only mean one thing.

Live On-demand from St Peter's Square, the Pope's Urbi et Orbi In Navitate Domino – Francis appears at the 10-minute mark and (the usual conditions being observed), watching the blessing at its close confers the plenary indulgence...

And here, the English translation of the text (unscripted add-ons given in brackets):
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours (Lk 2:14)

Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, buongiorno e Buon Natale!

I take up the song of the angels who appeared to the shepherds in Bethlehem on the night when Jesus was born. It is a song which unites heaven and earth, giving praise and glory to heaven, and the promise of peace to earth and all its people.

I ask everyone to share in this song: it is a song for every man or woman who keeps watch through the night, who hopes for a better world, who cares for others while humbly seeking to do his or her duty.

Glory to God!

Above all else, this is what Christmas bids us to do: give glory to God, for he is good, he is faithful, he is merciful. Today I voice my hope that everyone will come to know the true face of God, the Father who has given us Jesus. My hope is that everyone will feel God’s closeness, live in his presence, love him and adore him.

May each of us give glory to God above all by our lives, by lives spent for love of him and of all our brothers and sisters.

And peace to mankind

True peace is not a balance of opposing forces. It is not a lovely “façade” which conceals conflicts and divisions. Peace calls for daily commitment, starting from God’s gift, from the grace which he has given us in Jesus Christ.

Looking at the Child in the manger [the Child of peace], our thoughts turn to those children who are the most vulnerable victims of wars, but we think too of the elderly, to battered women, to the sick.... Wars shatter and hurt so many lives!

Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fueling hatred and vengeance. Let us continue to ask the Lord to spare the beloved Syrian people further suffering, and to enable the parties in conflict to put an end to all violence and guarantee access to humanitarian aid. We have seen how powerful prayer is! And I am happy today too, that the followers of different religious confessions are joining us in our prayer for peace in Syria. Let us never lose the courage of prayer! The courage to say: Lord, grant your peace to Syria and to the whole world!

[And to nonbelievers too, I invite you to desire peace – that kind of desire makes one's heart bigger – so all of us together, whether in prayer or in desire, but all of us together, might seek peace.]

Grant peace to the Central African Republic, often forgotten and overlooked. Yet you, Lord, forget no one! And you also want to bring peace to that land, torn apart by a spiral of violence and poverty, where so many people are homeless, lacking water, food and the bare necessities of life. Foster social harmony in South Sudan, where current tensions have already caused numerous victims and are threatening peaceful coexistence in that young state.

You, Prince of Peace, in every place turn hearts aside from violence and inspire them to lay down arms and undertake the path of dialogue. Look upon Nigeria, rent by constant attacks which do not spare the innocent and defenseless. Bless the land where you chose to come into the world, and grant a favourable outcome to the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Heal the wounds of the beloved country of Iraq, once more struck by frequent acts of violence.

Lord of life, protect all who are persecuted for your name. Grant hope and consolation to the displaced and refugees, especially in the Horn of Africa and in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Grant that migrants in search of a dignified life may find acceptance and assistance. May tragedies like those we have witnessed this year, with so many deaths at Lampedusa, never occur again!

O Bambino of Bethlehem, touch the hearts of all those engaged in human trafficking, that they may realize the gravity of this crime against humanity. Look upon the many children who are kidnapped, wounded and killed in armed conflicts, and all those who are robbed of their childhood and forced to become soldiers.

Lord of heaven and earth, look upon our planet, frequently exploited by human greed and rapacity. Help and protect all the victims of natural disasters, especially the beloved people of the Philippines, gravely affected by the recent typhoon.

Dear brothers and sisters, in this world, in this humanity, today is born the Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. Let us pause before the Child of Bethlehem. Let us allow our hearts to be moved, [let's not be afraid of this – do not be afraid of letting your heart be moved! We need this! We need to let our hearts be moved.]  Let us allow ourselves to be warmed by the tenderness of God; we need his caress. [God's caress never wounds us; God's caress gives us peace and strength. We need his caress!]

God is full of love: to him be praise and glory forever! God is peace: let us ask him to help us to be peacemakers each day, in our life, in our families, in our cities and nations, in the whole world. Let us allow ourselves to be moved by God’s goodness.
After giving his blessing, the Pope added a final statement:
To you, dearest brothers and sisters come together from every part of the world in this Square, and to the many from so many countries linked to us through the media, I repeat my wish: Buon Natale!

On this day, enlightened by the Gospel hope that sprung from the humble manger in Bethlehem, I invoke the Christmas gifts of joy and peace for everyone: for children and the elderly, for the young and for families, for the poor and the marginalized. O Jesus born for us, comfort all those who are being tested by illness and suffering, and support all those who've dedicated themselves to the service of their neediest brothers and sisters.

Buon Natale a tutti!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"He Is Our Peace" – From Rome, A Francis Christmas

Nine months after his election, Pope Francis presided at his first Christmas Night Mass at 9.30pm Rome time (3.30pm ET/12.30 PT) on the Eve.

Now available on-demand, here's the Vatican feed of the rites:

And here, Francis' homily (emphases original) from the Mass – which, with over a billion viewers expected to tune in, is traditionally the world's most-watched religious event....

1. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1).

This prophecy of Isaiah never ceases to touch us, especially when we hear it proclaimed in the liturgy of Christmas Night. This is not simply an emotional or sentimental matter. It moves us because it states the deep reality of what we are: a people who walk, and all around us – and within us as well – there is darkness and light. In this night, as the spirit of darkness enfolds the world, there takes place anew the event which always amazes and surprises us: the people who walk see a great light. A light which makes us reflect on this mystery: the mystery of walking and seeing.

Walking. This verb makes us reflect on the course of history, that long journey which is the history of salvation, starting with Abraham, our father in faith, whom the Lord called one day to set out, to go forth from his country towards the land which he would show him. From that time on, our identity as believers has been that of a people making its pilgrim way towards the promised land. This history has always been accompanied by the Lord! He is ever faithful to his covenant and to his promises. “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). Yet on the part of the people there are times of both light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience, and rebellion; times of being a pilgrim people and times of being a people adrift.

In our personal history too, there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows. If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light; but if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us. “Whoever hates his brother – writes the Apostle John – is in the darkness; he walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 Jn 2:11).

2. On this night, like a burst of brilliant light, there rings out the proclamation of the Apostle: “God's grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race” (Tit 2:11).

The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.

3. The shepherds were the first to see this “tent”, to receive the news of Jesus’ birth. They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks. Together with them, let us pause before the Child, let us pause in silence. Together with them, let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us, and with them let us raise from the depths of our hearts the praises of his fidelity: We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable.

On this night let us share the joy of the Gospel: God loves us, he so loves us that he gave us his Son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness. To us the Lord repeats: “Do not be afraid!” (Lk 2:10). And I too repeat: Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient, he loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is our peace. Amen.

* * *
In the other half of the traditional Christmas with the Pope, Francis will give his Urbi et Orbi greeting from the central balcony of St Peter's at Roman Noon on the Day itself.

That'll run here too at the designated hour... once it's over, though, we're going dark for the Octave to enjoy the gift of these days with family and friends. Hopefully you're in for no less over the week to come, and even more.

Again, to one and all, may every blessing and all the light of the Lord's Coming be yours on this Holy Night and throughout the New Year. May we know love, joy, peace, and especially where it's needed most, may we always know hope.

Buon Natale a tutti – Merry Christmas!


Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Christmas In The Grand Tradition"

River City-folk and expats, having found this after years of longing – and, indeed, griping – no words are necessary, especially as none could suffice....

Friends, Gang, Church, Christus Natus est pro nobis, venite adoremus! To each of you, your loved ones, and all those you serve, every wish for a peaceful, joyous, Blessed and Merry Christmas; may you know every grace and gift of the Holy Night and these days ahead throughout the year to come and always.

In Francis' first turn at the Mass of Christmas Night as Bishop of Rome, the Eve liturgy in St Peter's begins at 2130 Rome time (2030 GMT, 3.30pm Eastern, 12.30 Pacific) Tuesday. See you then. For now, though, with the shortest day of the year upon us, already, the light begins to break....


And, well, when it comes to "grand traditions" and a "holiday greeting card" from these parts, we'd be remiss to not yield the sign-off where, even now, it rightly belongs: to the beloved father, brother and friend to so many of us, who went on from this place to become the world's "Voice of Christmas" for 26 brilliant years....


At Christmas "Greeting," Pope Cites When the Curia "Hinders the Spirit"... And the Church

Over the pontificate of Benedict XVI, the traditional "Christmas greeting" to the Roman Curia became one of the year's most anticipated speeches as the now Pope-emeritus both recapped the closing cycle and mused on topics of his interest. Among the group, perhaps the emblematic talks are 2005's watershed address on the interpretation of Vatican II, which aimed to lay the groundwork for one of his most controversial projects – the reintegration of the SSPX – and 2010's reflection on clergy sex-abuse in the wake of that year's European outbreak of the scandals, which a media frenzy attempted to drive right up to Joseph Ratzinger's doorstep.

Like so much else this time around, it was unclear what Pope Francis would do with his first turn at the speech today... but given the Argentine pontiff's habit for dropping rhetorical bombs at any time – especially when top officials are present – most observers went into this morning's appointment expecting more, not less. While the result was much briefer than Benedict's elegant, detail-rich meditations in years past, the new Pope's usual "three words" on this occasion still packed a considerable punch. (Above, Francis is shown high-fiving young members of Italy's influential Catholic Action, who he received in an audience last night.)

Beyond the difference of content, on its own the stark contrast of visuals made for a fitting underscore of the change this year has brought to Peter's chair. Before, Papa Ratzinger would don his choir robes (the Santa-esque winter mozzetta of velvet and ermine, with the lace rochet) as one of the more towering antique papal thrones was brought out and placed atop a two step pedestal, but this time Francis – who appeared considerably more drawn and tired last Christmas than he has since his election – kept the modern, white-upholstered wood Popechair at floor level, along with continuing his usual practices of giving his remarks while standing, wearing nothing more than the house cassock, from which he's recently ditched the use of the three-button oversleeves on the arms. (The oversleeves were abolished for all other prelates in 1968, but retained until now by the Roman pontiff.)

While today's address has come to be known as the Pope's annual comment on the "State of the Church," the Vatican's Christmas observance is bookended by its geopolitical equivalent – the New Year's greeting to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See which crystallizes the papal take on the "State of the World." Its drafting ostensibly headed by the new Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin – the lone official name-checked by Francis today, with the unscripted aside that he "needs our prayers" – the "World" speech will be given in early January.

Below, the Vatican's English translation of the Pope's text this morning.

Your Eminences,
Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Once again the Lord has enabled us to journey through Advent, and all too quickly we have come to these final days before Christmas. They are days marked by a unique spiritual climate made up of emotions, memories and signs, both liturgical and otherwise, such as the crèche. It is in this climate that this traditional meeting takes place with you, the superiors and officials of the Roman Curia, who cooperate daily in the service of the Church. I greet all of you with affection. Allow me to extend a special greeting to Archbishop Pietro Parolin, who recently began his service as Secretary of State, and who needs our prayers!

While our hearts are full of gratitude to God, who so loved us that he gave us his only-begotten Son, it is also good to make room for gratitude to one another. In this, my first Christmas as the Bishop of Rome, I also feel the need to offer sincere thanks to all of you as a community of service, and to each of you individually. I thank you for the work which you do each day: for the care, diligence and creativity which you display; and for your effort – I know it is not always easy – to work together in the office, both to listen to and to challenge one another, and to bring out the best in all your different personalities and gifts, in a spirit of mutual respect.

In a particular way, I want to express my gratitude to those now concluding their service and approaching retirement. As priests and bishops, we know full well that we never really retire, but we do leave the office, and rightly so, not least to devote ourselves more fully to prayer and the care of souls, starting with our own! So a very special and heartfelt “thank you” goes to those of you who have worked here for so many years with immense dedication, hidden from the eyes of the world. This is something truly admirable. I have such high regard for these “Monsignori” who are cut from the same mould as the curiales of olden times, exemplary persons. We need them today, too! People who work with competence, precision and self-sacrifice in the fulfilment of their daily duties. Here I would like to mention some of them by name, as a way of expressing my esteem and my gratitude, but we know that, in any list, the first names people notice are the ones that are missing! Besides, I would also risk overlooking someone and thus committing an injustice and a lack of charity. But I want to say to these brothers of ours that they offer a very important witness in the Church’s journey through history.

This mould and this witness make me think of two hallmarks of the curial official, and even more of curial superiors, which I would like to emphasize: professionalism and service.

Professionalism, by which I mean competence, study, keeping abreast of things. This is a basic requisite for working in the Curia. Naturally, professionalism is something which develops and is in part acquired; but I think that, precisely for it to develop and to be acquired, there has to be a good foundation from the outset.

The second hallmark is service: service to the Pope and to the bishops, to the universal Church and to the particular Churches. In the Roman Curia, one learns – in a real way, “one breathes in” – this twofold aspect of the Church, this interplay of the universal and the particular. I think that this is one of the finest experiences of those who live and work in Rome: “to sense” the Church in this way. When professionalism is lacking, there is a slow drift downwards towards mediocrity.

Dossiers become full of trite and lifeless information and incapable of opening up lofty perspectives. Then, too, when the attitude is no longer one of service to the particular Churches and their bishops, the structure of the Curia turns into a ponderous, bureaucratic customs house, constantly inspecting and questioning, hindering the working of the Holy Spirit and the growth of God’s people.

To these two qualities of professionalism and service, I would also like to add a third, which is holiness of life. We know very well that, in the hierarchy of values, this is the most important. 

Indeed, it is basic for the quality of our work, our service. And I want to say here that in the Roman Curia, there have been and there are saints; I have said this in public more than once, to thank the Lord. Holiness means a life immersed in the Spirit, a heart open to God, constant prayer, deep humility and fraternal charity in our relationships with our fellow workers. It also means apostleship, discreet and faithful pastoral service, zealously carried out in direct contact with God’s people. For priests, this is indispensable.

Holiness in the Curia also means conscientious objection to gossip! We rightfully insist on the importance of conscientious objection but perhaps we, too, need to exercise it as a means of defending ourselves from an unwritten law of our surroundings, which unfortunately is that of gossip. So let us all be conscientious objectors; and mind you, I am not simply preaching! Gossip is harmful to people, our work and our surroundings.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us feel close to one another on this final stretch of the road to Bethlehem. We would do well to meditate on Saint Joseph, who was so silent yet so necessary at the side of Our Lady. Let us think about him and his loving concern for his Spouse and for the Baby Jesus. This can tell us a lot about our own service to the Church! So let us experience this Christmas in spiritual closeness to Saint Joseph.

I thank you most heartily for your work and especially for your prayers. Truly I feel “borne aloft” by your prayers and I ask you to continue to support me in this way. I, too, remember you before the Lord, and I impart my blessing as I offer my best wishes for a Christmas filled with light and peace for each of you and for all your dear ones. Happy Christmas!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Just Bring It – On His 77th, Francis' "Action Plan"... and Birthday "Hope"

While the shop was bogged down with a Christmas-sized appointment drop, Tuesday saw the 77th birthday of the 266th Bishop of Rome... and to mark his first cumpleaños in the driver's seat, Francis went on yet another joyride – well, as much of one as he can have these days.

(For the record, the 186,000-mile used Renault famously given the Pope in September by a rural Italian pastor is already parked in the Vatican's transport museum, which features the carriages and cars of pontiffs through the ages. As Papa Bergoglio's come to employ the midnight blue Ford Focus for his usual ride, something just as exceptional has largely gone ignored – the car never carries the "SCV 1" license plate historically reserved for the Pope, which has been used by every... well, until now.)

After Birthday Mass and breakfast with the staff of his Domus-home and four homeless men found with their dog outside the Vatican (below) by the new Papal Almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski – who Francis rapidly whisked into the ancient post on learning of the veteran Polish MC's impromptu nighttime ministry to the poor in the surrounding streets – the first Jesuit Pope fulfilled a centuries-old aspiration of his religious family by inscribing the name of Blessed Peter Faber, the first companion of Ignatius and Francis Xavier, into the company of the saints, short-circuiting the normal canonization process.

In his August interview with Antonio Spadaro SJ for Civiltà Cattolica – the complete, six-hour transcript of which will soon be published in English under the title My Door Is Always Open (Bloomsbury) – Francis spoke of Faber as a "model" for himself, both as a Jesuit and now in the governance of the universal church.

The Pope said he admired Faber for his ability to "dialogue with all, even the most remote and even with his opponents; his simple piety, a certain naïveté perhaps, his being available straightaway, his careful interior discernment, the fact that he was a man capable of great and strong decisions but also capable of being so gentle and loving."

As the Italian Jesuit explained it, for Francis, the new saint exemplifies the figure of "'the reformed priest,' for whom interior experience, dogmatic expression and structural reform are intimately inseparable." Accordingly, the title Spadaro gave the first blockbuster papal interview – "A Big Heart Open to God" – came neither from the Jesuit Constitutions nor anything of Ignatius', but from the spiritual diary of Peter Faber.

To cap off the festivities, yesterday's General Audience (fulltext) saw a return pilgrimage of Papa Bergoglio's hometown soccer-squad – los Cuervos (the "Crows") of San Lorenzo Almagno – who brought the pontiff their championship trophy from Argentina's Premier Division three days after claiming it.

A lifelong booster of the team, San Lorenzo dedicated its win to the Pope. In return, they got prima fila (front row) at the final audience of the year, plus a private half-hour with their honorary chaplain afterward.

On a related note, the prefecture of the Papal Household revealed earlier this week that Francis' 30 Wednesday gatherings since his election have seen the attendance of over 1.5 million ticketed individuals within St Peter's Square itself. The figure doesn't include the non-ticketed overflows down the Via della Conciliazione which have made the Wednesday turnouts almost routinely swell beyond 100,000. The figures for the new Pope's Sunday Angelus appearances – which, earlier this year, required a last-minute reroute of the Rome Marathon away from the Vatican due to the newfound throng – remain to be released.

Francis' double-sevens comes with equally perfect timing, as the close of a stunning year brings even more incredible developments to Peter's doorstep. As it's impossible to summarize the whole of these months in any succinct form, though, we'll just have to pick one moment – even if, the way all this is rolling, something tomorrow could upend the cycle all over again.

Indeed, that's happened more times since the evening of 13 March than we could count.

Needless to say, to single out any one thing from this year-long thrill-ride is anything but easy. Sure, the outside world has been fixated on the images of these months, yet even for as moving and extraordinary as they've been, the focus here is different by definition: the preaching and teaching that'll be translated into policy, the message that informs and is formed into ecclesial substance.

Sure, the textbook on that front is Evangelii gaudium. The sweeping Apostolic Exhortation laying out the program of this pontificate might be the most readable (and, yes, shocking) papal document in memory... "Francismania," however, apparently has its limits – even within the church, getting a wide audience to take up what's actually in its pages has proven a more fraught exercise than overhauling the Curia will ever be.

Long story short, folks: it's very easy to "read" events through the opinions of whatever teachers tickle your ears. The problem is, it's even more stupid – at least, if you ever seek to think for yourself.

That said, perhaps the best convergence of the Pope's program and the short attention-span of our "throw-away" information culture dates back to late July in Rio, over what became the first American Pope's triumphant "homecoming" at the long-scheduled World Youth Day.

The scenes were surreal from the get-go, culminating in a crowd estimated at 3 million – the largest gathering in the continent's history – for the finale on Copacabana Beach. Along the way, though, Francis carved a slot in his schedule for the Argentine pilgrims to the event, who became the largest foreign delegation... just only after the Conclave.

Some 25,000 crammed into Rio's modern, stadium-like cathedral that Thursday afternoon, while another 35,000 couldn't fit and were easily heard shouting and cheering amid the rain outside. The cathedra had been adorned with the papal arms, but Francis went nowhere near it, bounding instead to the pulpit, where the Pope gave the following spontaneous message, with all the intensity one would expect from being able to let loose in his native tongue for the first time in four months....

Um, I wanted to say something – to express my hope for what'll happen from [this] World Youth Day: I hope for noise. Noise here, OK. Here in Rio there will be plenty of noise, sure thing. But I want noise in the dioceses, I want for it to go out, I want the Church to go out into the streets! I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything of clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves. The parishes, the schools, the institutions are made for going outward ... and if they don’t, they become an NGO, and the Church cannot be an NGO! May the bishops and priests forgive me if some of your noise creates a bit of confusion after this. But this is my advice. Thank you for whatever you can do.

Look, at this moment, I think our world civilization has gone beyond its limits, it has gone beyond its limits, because it has made such a cult of the money-god that we are now faced with a philosophy and a practice of exclusion of the two ends of life that are most full of promise for a people. They exclude the elderly, obviously. You could easily think there is a kind of hidden euthanasia, that is, we don’t take care of the elderly; but there is also a cultural euthanasia, because we don’t allow them to speak, we don’t allow them to act. And the exclusion of the young. The percentage of our young people that are without work, without employment, is very high and we have a generation with no experience of the dignity gained through work. This civilization, in other words, has led us to exclude the two peaks that make up our future. As for the young, they must come forward, they must assert themselves, the young must go out to fight for values, to fight for these values; and the elderly must open their mouths, the elderly must open their mouths and teach us! Pass on to us the wisdom of the people!

Among the Argentine people, I ask the elderly, from my heart: do not cease to be the cultural storehouse of our people, a storehouse that hands on justice, hands on history, hands on values, hands on the memory of the people. And the rest of you, please, don't put yourselves away from the elderly: let them speak, listen to them and go onward. But know this, know that at this moment, you young people and you elderly people are condemned to the same destiny: exclusion. Don’t allow yourselves to be excluded. Got it? That’s why I think you must work.

Faith in Jesus Christ is not a joke, it is something very serious. It is a scandal that God came to be one of us. It is a scandal that he died on a cross. It is a scandal: the scandal of the Cross. The Cross continues to provoke scandal. But it is the one sure path, the path of the Cross, the path of Jesus, the path of the Incarnation of Jesus. Please, do not water down your faith in Jesus Christ. We dilute fruit drinks – orange, apple, or banana juice, but please do not drink a diluted form of faith. Faith is whole and entire, not something that you water down. It is faith in Jesus. It is faith in the Son of God made man, who loved me and who died for me.

So then: make your voices be heard; care for the two edges of the people: the elderly and the young; do not allow yourselves to be excluded and do not allow the elderly to be excluded. Secondly: do not “water down” your faith in Jesus Christ. It all flows together naturally. "What must we do, Father?" Look, read the Beatitudes: that will do you good. If you want to know what you actually have to do, read Matthew Chapter 25, which is the standard by which we will be judged. With these two things you have the action plan: the Beatitudes and Matthew 25. You do not need to read anything else. I ask this of you with all my heart.

Well, I thank you for your closeness. It hurts me to see you all penned in, but let me tell you something – I've been feeling this myself, if I'm going to confess from my heart. What an ugly thing it is to be penned in. I openly admit it, but still, I understand it. I would've liked to come closer to you, but [I know] that for security reasons, it just isn’t possible. Thank you for coming, thank you for praying for me; I ask you from my heart, I need it. I need your prayers, I need you to pray for me, I need it very much. Thank you for it.

OK, I want to give you my blessing now.... But don't forget: bring the noise; take care of the two ends of life, the two ends of our people's story: the elderly and the young; and do not water down the faith. And now let us pray, so as to bless the image of the Virgin, and then I will give you the Blessing.
On a translation note, while the word "lío" was officially rendered by the Vatican as "noise" or in other, more sensational places as "a mess," the intended expression in English would be more akin to "a ruckus" – or, as one Latin friend put it, "[to] raise hell."

Either way, Church, remember: it's only just beginning.

Virgin most holy and immaculate,
to you, the honor of our people,
and the loving protector of our city,
do we turn with loving trust.

You are all-beautiful, O Mary!
In you there is no sin.

Awaken in all of us a renewed desire for holiness:
May the splendor of truth shine forth in our words,
the song of charity resound in our works,
purity and chastity abide in our hearts and bodies,
and the full beauty of the Gospel be evident in our lives.

You are all-beautiful, O Mary!
In you the Word of God became flesh.

Help us always to heed the Lord’s voice:
May we never be indifferent to the cry of the poor,
or untouched by the sufferings of the sick and those in need;
may we be sensitive to the loneliness of the elderly and the vulnerability of children,
and always love and cherish the life of every human being.

You are all-beautiful, O Mary!
In you is the fullness of joy born of life with God.

Help us never to forget the meaning of our earthly journey:
May the kindly light of faith illumine our days,
the comforting power of hope direct our steps,
the contagious warmth of love stir our hearts;
and may our gaze be fixed on God, in whom true joy is found.

You are all-beautiful, O Mary!
Hear our prayer, graciously hear our plea:
May the beauty of God’s merciful love in Jesus abide in our hearts,
and may this divine beauty save us, our city and the entire world.

–Pope Francis
Omaggio all'Immacolata
Piazza di Spagna
8 December 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

After 19-Month Wait, Portland Gets the Verdict – Boston's Deeley to Helm Maine Church

A century ago, Catholicism's ascent in New England began with the arrival in Maine of a Boston-born Roman powerhouse, one credited by many with inventing the model of episcopacy that became the national standard. Now, in the same place, it falls to another with a similar profile to take on the less glamorous end of the cycle.

Then again, he's got the grit for it.

In the fourth US appointment of the last six days, at Roman Noon this Wednesday the Pope named Bishop Robert Deeley, 67 – ordained an auxiliary of Boston less than a year ago – as the 12th bishop of Portland, overseeing Maine's 200,000-member statewide diocese.

Until now the lead vicar-general of Red Sox Nation, the nominee succeeds Bishop Richard Malone, who was transferred to Buffalo in May 2012 after eight years at the helm in the Pine Tree State. As the wait became Stateside Catholicism's longest-standing vacancy, Malone has done double duty throughout, remaining Maine's apostolic administrator alongside his duties in Western New York. (What took so long is something to ponder – Deeley's name has been tipped for the post at least since June, with several well-placed expectations at the time that the announcement would come before the August recess.)

The principal aide to Francis' chief North American counselor, Deeley spent the decade prior to his 2011 return home as the top deputy on the CDF team which executed Cardinal Ratzinger, then Pope Benedict's sweeping purge of priests credibly accused of sex-abuse, a push which procured the dismissals of over 3,000 offenders from the clerical state across the global church.

Indeed, such was the Maine pick's critical role in the project that Deeley's elevation as bishop by Benedict in November 2012 came virtually in tandem with that of his boss on the abuse team, the Maltese lion Charles Scicluna, who was sent home to be an auxiliary on the island after 11 years as the Vatican "district attorney" tasked with leading the clean-out. It's only in retrospect, however, that the significance of the twin moves can fully be grasped: having clearly determined his will to resign by that point, Papa Ratzinger moved to shield both men in case his successor were given to revenge for the banishment of abusers, providing both Scicluna and Deeley the "protection" of the episcopacy yet placing them in sufficiently inconspicuous roles to ride out a hypothetical storm.

Lest that sound outlandish to some, remember well that the cardinal-electors were only placed under the pre-Conclave media "blackout" once the US delegation started speaking openly about the importance of the next Pope's keeping a zero-tolerance line on the cases. Back to the present, meanwhile, between his own background and ties to "Super"-Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap., Deeley is likely to play a role in the new Pontifical Commission on the church's response to sex-abuse, which Francis chartered (and O'Malley presented) earlier this month.

Seen as a formidable character on all sides with a pastoral sense that's noticeably deepened over recent years, the Maine pick – his brother Kevin also a Boston priest – comes into a charge that's been especially hard-hit by the Northeastern church's titanic challenges of these times: a painful drip of abuse revelations followed by traumatic waves of parish closings, and then, last year, the legalization of same-sex marriage (one of the nation's first three instances where redefinition took place at the ballot box).

As one friend wedded to the situation summed it up, "It's a dying church...." Ergo, the question becomes "What's the turnaround?" Or is there one? With today's choice often described as more comfortable being the frontman than a deputy, it apparently won't be long before we find out.

The traditional 10am presser already called, Portland Chancery has announced the installation date as Friday, February 14th.

As the Last Hurrah of the prior "Thursday Table" continues, with today's move the number of vacant Stateside Latin churches falls to seven, the longest wait now belonging to Wichita, which came open last 8 April on the appointment of Michael Jackels (another alumnus of Ratzinger's CDF) as archbishop of Dubuque.

At the same time, it's worth noting that two other dioceses in the Boston province will be filled in the New Year due to retirements – Bishop Tim McDonnell of Springfield turns 76 on Monday, and Seán O'Malley's own successor in Fall River, the native son Bishop George Coleman, hits the big 7-5 on February 1st.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Green Bay Goes UP – Packerland VG Doerfler to Marquette

Another Tuesday... and, well, the hits just keep on comin'.

Fresh off yesterday's sweeping reboot of the Congregation for Bishops, at Roman Noon the Pope named Fr John Doerfler, 49 – vicar-general of Green Bay and a former administrator of its Cathedral – as bishop of Marquette, the 50,000-member church encompassing Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

In the post, the Rome-trained moral theologian and canonist succeeds Archbishop Alexander Sample, the UP native who was sent to the Pacific Northwest as archbishop of Portland in Oregon last January. Having become B16's last major US appointee, at 53, Sample is the youngest of the nation's 33 metropolitans. (In a tweet this morning, the archbishop called his new successor "a good friend" and exclaimed "praise God!")

Notably, today's appointment came more a touch more quickly than usual – just over recent weeks, the nod to Fort Worth took 14 months to fill, and the other Portland (Maine's statewide diocese) remains the nation's longest Latin church vacancy nearly 19 months after Bishop Richard Malone's transfer to Buffalo. In any event, the short wait here could be chalked up to any number of factors; whether it'll likewise be the case for Michigan's other opening – Gaylord, in the wake of the Newark ascent – remains to be seen.

Of course, the UP nod comes amid Pope Francis' reconstitution of the Hat Shop, which takes immediate effect on yesterday's installation of a new membership by half.

Any final moves advised upon by the Thursday table's former makeup should be announced before the end of the month. However, it is conspicuous that, already, the Marquette nominee has a pedigree linking him to the new guard at Bishops – Doerfler served as #2 to Northeast Wisconsin's former shepherd, Bishop David Zubik, before his 2007 return home to Pittsburgh as successor to Donald Wuerl, a move widely thought to have been the wish of the DC prelate. (Zubik had been Wuerl's top deputy before his appointment to Green Bay in 2003.)

In his introduction to Marquette today, Doerfler spoke of his familiarity with the turf he inherits – he's gone cross-country skiing there in the past.

Back to the policy side, however, given the enduring public impression that Francis has effected some sort of "change" to church teaching on homosexuality – most recently seen yesterday in the Pope's selection as "Person of the Year" by the flagship LGBT magazine The Advocate – it's worth noting that Doerfler's bio lists the bishop-elect's involvement with Courage, the church-sanctioned support group for Catholics who seek to live chastely with same-sex attraction. Likewise a much-favored apostolate of Cardinal Raymond Burke, Courage was recently at the center of a bitter public scrum in New York as a Catholic high school postponed a scheduled talk by one of the group's chaplains after a high-profile outcry. (Beyond Courage, Doerfler has likewise served as a chaplain to Legatus, the international fellowship for Catholic executives seeking to live the faith in the workplace. Given the ministry's founding by Tom Monaghan – the visionary CEO of Domino's Pizza/Ave Maria fame – it's not exactly Call to Action.)

One hundred and sixty years after the Slovenian missionary Frederic Baraga became the UP's founding shepherd, Doerfler's ordination as Marquette's 13th bishop has been slated for 11 February, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

With today's move, eight Stateside Latin-church sees remain vacant, with another four led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age of 75.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Francis' Flush – At Bishops' Table, Pope Runs the Wuerlpool

Honestly, it's an even bigger deal than that.

While a Franciscan "flush" of the membership of the Congregation for Bishops has been expected for months, the move's execution came with a flourish at Roman Noon as the Pope reshuffled roughly half the prior makeup of the all-powerful "Thursday table" that recommends nominees for episcopal appointments in the developed world.

Topping the slate of his new picks, Francis tapped Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington to join the body's membership. Already a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on B16's nod, the ever-assiduous, 73 year-old DC prelate (a veteran of the Curia from his early days overseeing the Congregation for the Clergy as priest-secretary to Cardinal John Wright) becomes the table's lone resident member on these shores...

...because in yet another show of his Wuerl-esque eye on the Curia he's inherited and aims to drastically reform, Papa Bergoglio simultaneously bumped both Cardinals Justin Rigali (emeritus of Philadelphia; the Congregation's secretary from 1989-94) and Raymond Burke (the Holy See's Wisconsin-born "chief justice," whose public outspokenness and effectiveness in moving appointments alike have long stoked either adulation or discontent in the church's polarized blocs) from the Congregation's roster. Likewise among those shuffled out was Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, the formidable president of the Italian bishops' conference.

For those who enjoy what Italians do best, that Wuerl – already known to be a sought-out figure in Francis' orbit – has replaced Burke, his historic rival and cardinal-classmate, on the Congregation's membership is nothing short of extraordinary. With today's nod, the District cardinal becomes the first shepherd of the nation's capital to have a seat at the Curia's most significant table of all; until now, only prior archbishops of New York, Boston and Philadelphia have known the role.

Along with Wuerl, the Pope gave a nod to the West by confirming the now-retired CDF prefect, Cardinal William Levada, in his membership at Bishops. An LA native, Levada, 77 – who became the highest-ranking US prelate in Vatican history when Benedict named him as his own successor at the "Holy Office" after his 2005 election – now spends the bulk of his downtime at a long-held condo in Long Beach.

A "raving moderate" just like Wuerl, Levada is believed to have had a key role in convincing Benedict to name The Donald to Washington in 2006. A year after Papa Ratzinger's election, the move marked the now-retired Pope's first major US appointment.

Back to the Bishops' table, among others newly named to it include the neo-Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the UK's top prelate – Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster – the new head of the ever-rising Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, and Francis' trusted prefect of Religious, Brazilian Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz.

As previously noted, Francis has already announced his first Consistory to create new cardinals for next 22 February. The gathering will be preceded by what's apparently become a two-day summit of the entire College.

The Senate's first meeting with the Pope since his election, the plenary's agenda is believed to be centered on the reform of the Roman Curia.

Alongside the shake-up of the membership, Francis reconfirmed Cardinal Marc Ouellet as the Congregation's prefect. In September, the pontiff stunned observers by naming the Brazilian Msgr Ilson Montanari – a 54 year-old junior minutante (desk clerk) – as Bishops' new archbishop-secretary following Baldisseri's transfer to the Synod post.

The move comes on the installation day of one of Francis' most prominent US picks to date, now Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford.

More to come.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Gaudete in Domino

And as this "Rose" Sunday of Advent dawns, its perfect reflection....

Meanwhile, for the general benefit amid these days, below is the full Messiah – Handel's Oratorio (libretto) in a 2008 performance by the London Symphony Orchestra; after BBC intro, Overture at the 3:30 mark:

Hope these days are treating you beautifully, folks – buona domenica and enjoy.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

In Jackson and Beyond, "What Does It Mean To Be Catholic?"

Alongside this Thursday's "Merry Sis-mas" in Aggieland and beyond, at Roman Noon today the Pope launched Fr Joseph Kopacz, 63 – a career pastor and onetime vicar-general of Scranton – way down South as bishop of Jackson.

To be sure, it's the kind of long-haul move we haven't seen in a while. Still, as the most beloved, celebrated and prophetic daughter of the 50,000-member Northern Mississippi church our Upstater inherits went largely unheeded when she was called forward – and we're just shy of 25 years from that summer day when, in a sweltering Seton Hall gym, she bore a contagious, electric witness before the Stateside bench – especially amid this feast born from the "embrace" of a culture precisely for the purpose of evangelizing it (sound familiar, Church?), even now, leave it to Thea to commandeer the stage....

Again, this coming June marks a quarter-century since the above preach was given. Even so, trying to find a better summary of Evangelii gaudium than this would prove a useless task.

If only she lived to see it.