Saturday, February 28, 2015

Two Years Later

With the Pope and Curia on the road and off the grid for this week's Lenten retreat, the beat's been unusually quiet... but don't worry – it won't be for much longer.

In any case, beyond fresh stories, the coming weeks are likely to bring an uptick of wider focus on the Vatican as Francis marks his second anniversary on Peter's chair. Eventful as the last two years have been, though, it remains the case that the most surreal and extraordinary moment of all hasn't been because of Papa Bergoglio, but the one that made him – the moment two years ago today when the Pope left office alive for the first time since before Europeans settled the Americas and the "new" St Peter's was built.

Indeed, as head-spinners go, nothing in the current context – arguably nothing we've seen, ever – can compete with those 17 days in February 2013 between Benedict XVI's announcement of his resignation on the 11th and his departure from the Vatican at dusk on the 28th. Even if the modern information cycle holds its choicest rewards for the bright, shiny thing of the day – however fleeting it is – this moment deserved and still deserves more enduring attention than it got... and not just because, at some point in time, the reigning pontiff has quietly signaled his determination to follow suit and concretize the renunciation of the papacy in life as a matter of course.

Ergo, let's go back to the scenes of that unbelievable night: first, B16's emotional, masterfully choreographed farewell from the Apostolic Palace and the chopper out...

The 265th Bishop of Rome's last word from the balcony at Castel:

"Thank you – thank you from my heart!

Dear friends, I'm happy to be with you, that I can see the Creator's beauty around us, and all the goodness you've given to me – thank you for your friendship and your affection!

You know that this day of mine hasn't been like those before. I'm no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic church – at least, at 8 o'clock I won't be – now I'm just a pilgrim beginning the last part of his journey on earth.

With all my heart, with all my love, with my prayer and all my strength – with everything in me – I'd like to work for the common good of the church and all humanity. I feel your kindness so much.

Let us always move together toward the Lord for the good of the church and of the world. Thank you for bringing yourselves [here] – with all my heart, I give you my blessing….

Thank you and goodnight!"
...and at 2000 hours Rome time, the stand-down of the Swiss Guard from the door of the papal "Camp David" at the moment the resignation took effect:


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pope's Lenten Prayer: For "The Gift of Tears"

Keeping the age-old custom, the Pope kicked off Roman Lent with the traditional evening Mass at this Ash Wednesday's station church, Saint Sabina on the Aventine Hill, receiving his own ashes from the hand of the Dominican basilica's cardinal-titular, the long-retired Missions chief Josef Tomko.

Having already issued a plea in his pre-released Lenten message that the church use these 40 days to be converted from "indifference" into "an island of mercy," Francis deepened the theme with tonight's homily, its English translation below:

As God's people today we begin the journey of Lent, a time in which we try to unite ourselves more closely to the Lord Jesus Christ, to share the mystery of His passion and resurrection.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy offers us, first of all, the passage from the prophet Joel, sent by God to call the people to repentance and conversion, due to a calamity (an invasion of locusts) that devastates Judea. Only the Lord can save from the scourge, and so there is need of supplication, with prayer and fasting, each confessing his sin.

The prophet insists on inner conversion: “Return to me with all your heart” (2:12). To return to the Lord “with all [one’s] heart,” means taking the path of a conversion that is neither superficial nor transient, but is a spiritual journey that reaches the deepest place of our self. The heart, in fact, is the seat of our sentiments, the center in which our decisions and our attitudes mature.

That, “Return to me with all your heart,” does not involve only individuals, but extends to the community, is a summons addressed to all: “Gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. (2:16)”

The prophet dwells particularly on the prayers of priests, noting that their prayer should be accompanied by tears. We will do well to ask, at the beginning of this Lent, for the gift of tears, so as to make our prayer and our journey of conversion ever more authentic and without hypocrisy.

This is precisely the message of today’s Gospel. In the passage from Matthew, Jesus rereads the three works of mercy prescribed by the Mosaic law: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Over time, these prescriptions had been scored by the rust of external formalism, or even mutated into a sign of social superiority. Jesus highlights a common temptation in these three works, which can be described summarily as hypocrisy (He names it as such three times): “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them ... Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do ... And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men ... And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites. (Mt 6:1, 2, 5, 16)”

When you do something good, almost instinctively born in us the desire to be respected and admired for this good deed, to obtain a satisfaction. Jesus invites us to do these works without any ostentation, and to trust only in the reward of the Father "who sees in secret" (Mt 6,4.6.18).

Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord never ceases to have mercy on us, and desires to offer us His forgiveness yet again, inviting us to return to Him with a new heart, purified from evil, to take part in His joy. How to accept this invitation? St. Paul makes a suggestion to us in the second reading today: “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:20)” This work of conversion is not just a human endeavor. Reconciliation between us and God is possible thanks to the mercy of the Father who, out of love for us, did not hesitate to sacrifice his only Son. In fact, the Christ, who was righteous and without sin was made sin for us (v. 21) when on the cross He was burdened with our sins, and so redeemed us and justified before God. In Him we can become righteous, in him we can change, if we accept the grace of God and do not let the “acceptable time (6:2)” pass in vain.

With this awareness, trusting and joyful, let us begin our Lenten journey. May Mary Immaculate sustain our spiritual battle against sin, accompany us in this acceptable time, so that we might come together to sing the exultation of victory in Easter.

Soon we will make the gesture of the imposition of ashes on the head. The celebrant says these words: “You are dust and to dust you shall return, (cf. Gen 3:19)” or repeats Jesus’ exhortation: “Repent and believe the gospel. (Mk 1:15)” Both formulae are a reminder of the truth of human existence: we are limited creatures, sinners ever in need of repentance and conversion. How important is it to listen and to welcome this reminder in our time! The call to conversion is then a push to return, as did the son of the parable, to the arms of God, tender and merciful Father, to trust Him and to entrust ourselves to Him.

Lord, Be Merciful To Me, A Sinner

To each and all of us in need of mercy and conversion, may these 40 Days be a fruitful journey of grace, change and goodness.

Blessed Lent, Church – whatever each of us needs doing, we've all got something to tackle over these days. Ergo, let's make it count.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

"Our Credibility Is At Stake" – In Blockbuster Preach, Pope Tells Cardinals Jesus "Reinstates the Marginalized"

In times past, the closing act of a Consistory saw the Pope concelebrate Mass alongside only the new cardinals he elevated the day prior. These days, however – having routinely expanded the long tightly-held privilege for most major Vatican liturgies – Francis has made it his standard practice to close out his elevations of the newest red hats with the entire, 200-member College vested around the altar of St Peter's.

On another front, this weekend's elevation of 20 new cardinals serves as evidence that Papa Bergoglio's setting a pattern with the intakes and the preceding consultation of his entire "Senate" – a once-a-year reunion of all the cardinals, both to hear them at length on key issues and add to their number. Of course, the timing is by no means coincidental, with the events held in proximity to the feast of the Chair of Peter precisely to underscore the intrinsic link to the papacy which once saw the cardinals described as "pars corporis" – "part of [the Pope's] body" – and with it, their role as the body from which the Bishops of Rome are chosen and have almost exclusively been drawn for 1,600 years. (This year, the feast's date of the 22nd sees the Petrine observance overtaken by the First Sunday of Lent.)

Given just his second opportunity to face the College as a whole since his election, experience has amply shown that Peter's 265th successor would seek to use the moment for all it was worth. What emerged this morning, however, exceeded even that standard, and already, is roundly being deemed among the landmark texts of this two-year pontificate.

With October's climactic Synod on the Family clearly in his sights and using this Sunday's potent Gospel as his springboard, below is the Holy See's English translation of Francis' blockbuster preach at today's liturgy (emphases original):
"Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean"… Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out his hand and touched him, and said: "I do choose. Be made clean!" (Mk 1:40-41). The compassion of Jesus! That com-passion [Ed.: etym. "suffering-with"] which made him draw near to every person in pain! Jesus does not hold back; instead, he gets involved in people’s pain and their need… for the simple reason that he knows and wants to show com-passion, because he has a heart unashamed to have "compassion".

"Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed in the country; and people came to him from every quarter" (Mk 1:45). This means that Jesus not only healed the leper but also took upon himself the marginalization enjoined by the law of Moses (cf. Lev 13:1-2, 45-46). Jesus is unafraid to risk sharing in the suffering of others; he pays the price of it in full (cf. Is 53:4).

Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: he reinstates the marginalized! These are the three key concepts that the Church proposes in today’s liturgy of the word: the compassion of Jesus in the face of marginalization and his desire to reinstate.

Marginalization: Moses, in his legislation regarding lepers, says that they are to be kept alone and apart from the community for the duration of their illness. He declares them: "unclean!" (cf. Lev 13:1-2, 45-46).

Imagine how much suffering and shame lepers must have felt: physically, socially, psychologically and spiritually! They are not only victims of disease, but they feel guilty about it, punished for their sins! Theirs is a living death; they are like someone whose father has spit in his face (cf. Num 12:14).

In addition, lepers inspire fear, contempt and loathing, and so they are abandoned by their families, shunned by other persons, cast out by society. Indeed, society rejects them and forces them to live apart from the healthy. It excludes them. So much so that if a healthy person approached a leper, he would be punished severely, and often be treated as a leper himself.

True, the purpose of this rule was "to safeguard the healthy", "to protect the righteous", and, in order to guard them from any risk, to eliminate "the peril" by treating the diseased person harshly. As the high priest Caiaphas exclaimed: "It is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed" (Jn 11:50).

Reinstatement: Jesus revolutionizes and upsets that fearful, narrow and prejudiced mentality. He does not abolish the law of Moses, but rather brings it to fulfillment (cf. Mt 5:17). He does so by stating, for example, that the law of retaliation is counterproductive, that God is not pleased by a Sabbath observance which demeans or condemns a man. He does so by refusing to condemn the sinful woman, but saves her from the blind zeal of those prepared to stone her ruthlessly in the belief that they were applying the law of Moses. Jesus also revolutionizes consciences in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5), opening new horizons for humanity and fully revealing God’s "logic". The logic of love, based not on fear but on freedom and charity, on healthy zeal and the saving will of God. For "God our Saviour desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:3-4). "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" (Mt 12:7; Hos 6:6).

Jesus, the new Moses, wanted to heal the leper. He wanted to touch him and restore him to the community without being "hemmed in" by prejudice, conformity to the prevailing mindset or worry about becoming infected. Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences! For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family! And this is scandalous to some people!

Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity. He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp (cf. Jn 10).

There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost. Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking. The thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person, and the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation.

These two ways of thinking are present throughout the Church’s history: casting off and reinstating. Saint Paul, following the Lord’s command to bring the Gospel message to the ends of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19), caused scandal and met powerful resistance and great hostility, especially from those who demanded unconditional obedience to the Mosaic law, even on the part of converted pagans. Saint Peter, too, was bitterly criticized by the community when he entered the house of the pagan centurion Cornelius (cf. Acts 10).

The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement. This does not mean underestimating the dangers of letting wolves into the fold, but welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world. The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those essentially on the "outskirts" of life. It is to adopt fully God’s own approach, to follow the Master who said: "Those who are well have no need of the physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call, not the righteous but sinners" (Lk 5:31-32).

In healing the leper, Jesus does not harm the healthy. Rather, he frees them from fear. He does not endanger them, but gives them a brother. He does not devalue the law but instead values those for whom God gave the law. Indeed, Jesus frees the healthy from the temptation of the "older brother" (cf. Lk 15:11-32), the burden of envy and the grumbling of the labourers who bore "the burden of the day and the heat" (cf. Mt 20:1-16).

In a word: charity cannot be neutral, antiseptic, indifferent, lukewarm or impartial! Charity is infectious, it excites, it risks and it engages! For true charity is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous! (cf. 1 Cor 13). Charity is creative in finding the right words to speak to all those considered incurable and hence untouchable. Finding the right words… Contact is the language of genuine communication, the same endearing language which brought healing to the leper. How many healings can we perform if only we learn this language of contact! The leper, once cured, became a messenger of God’s love. The Gospel tells us that "he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the word" (cf. Mk 1:45).

Dear new Cardinals, this is the "logic", the mind of Jesus, and this is the way of the Church. Not only to welcome and reinstate with evangelical courage all those who knock at our door, but to go out and seek, fearlessly and without prejudice, those who are distant, freely sharing what we ourselves freely received. "Whoever says: ‘I abide in [Christ]’, ought to walk just as he walked" (1 Jn 2:6). Total openness to serving others is our hallmark, it alone is our title of honour!

Consider carefully that, in these days when you have become Cardinals, we have asked Mary, Mother of the Church, who herself experienced marginalization as a result of slander (cf. Jn 8:41) and exile (cf. Mt 2:13-23), to intercede for us so that we can be God’s faithful servants. May she - our Mother - teach us to be unafraid of tenderly welcoming the outcast; not to be afraid of tenderness. How often we fear tenderness! May Mary teach us not to be afraid of tenderness and compassion. May she clothe us in patience as we seek to accompany them on their journey, without seeking the benefits of worldly success. May she show us Jesus and help us to walk in his footsteps.

Dear new Cardinals, my brothers, as we look to Jesus and our Mother, I urge you to serve the Church in such a way that Christians - edified by our witness - will not be tempted to turn to Jesus without turning to the outcast, to become a closed caste with nothing authentically ecclesial about it. I urge you to serve Jesus crucified in every person who is emarginated, for whatever reason; to see the Lord in every excluded person who is hungry, thirsty, naked; to see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith, or say that they are atheists; to see the Lord who is imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper – whether in body or soul - who encounters discrimination! We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalized! May we always have before us the image of Saint Francis, who was unafraid to embrace the leper and to accept every kind of outcast. Truly, dear brothers, the Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is at stake, is discovered and is revealed!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

"An Honor, Not An Honorific" – At Scarlet Bowl, Pope Calls Cardinals to "Kindness"

The most consequential moment this beat knows outside the Conclave itself, below is the on-demand fullvid of today's 11am Consistory (5am ET, 11pm Tonga) in St Peter's at which the Pope formally inducted 20 prelates from across the globe into the College of Cardinals... and to follow along, here's your multi-lingual worship aid:

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Having shattered what no less than a Vatican statement termed the "chains" of his Senate's traditional makeup with his picks from the "peripheries" of the Catholic world, as one op summarized what Francis had done going into today: "What's amazing isn't that these [new cardinals] can elect the next Pope – it's that one of them can be the next Pope."

And in the event that should happen, well, two words suffice: "Game over."

Perhaps that most epochal aspect of all this has been why you haven't seen it anywhere else – when you live in the proverbial "belly of the beast," it is simply too much – in some quarters, indeed, too upsetting – for most to wrap their heads around.

In any case, given the certainty of a future Conclave and the church's direction left for it to determine, the path charted out by the first Latin American on Peter's chair represents the ultimate shock to the system a half-century since the internationalization of the College began under John XXIII.

As the first retired Pope in seven centuries looked on for the second time in a row – and, likely due to a dearth of far-flung pilgrimages, the Basilica crowd was conspicuously more silent than at past intakes – The Hand That Gave The Hats (to the Ends of the Earth) delivered the following homily, here in its official English translation:

Dear Brother Cardinals,

The cardinalate is certainly an honour, but it is not honorific. This we already know from its name – “cardinal” – from the word “cardo”, a hinge. As such it is not a kind of accessory, a decoration, like an honorary title. Rather, it is a pivot, a point of support and movement essential for the life of the community. You are “hinges” and are “incardinated” in the Church of Rome, which “presides over the entire assembly of charity” (Lumen Gentium, 13; cf. IGN. ANT., Ad Rom., Prologue).

In the Church, all “presiding” flows from charity, must be exercised in charity, and is ordered towards charity. Here too the Church of Rome exercises an exemplary role. Just as she presides in charity, so too each particular Church is called, within its own sphere, to preside in charity.

For this reason, I believe that the “hymn to charity” in Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians can be taken as a guiding theme for this celebration and for your ministry, especially for those of you who today enter the College of Cardinals. All of us, myself first and each of you with me, would do well to let ourselves be guided by the inspired words of the apostle Paul, especially in the passage where he lists the marks of charity. May our Mother Mary help us to listen. She gave the world Jesus, charity incarnate, who is “the more excellent Way” (cf. 1 Cor 12:31); may she help us to receive this Word and always to advance on this Way. May she assist us by her humility and maternal tenderness, because charity, as God’s gift, grows wherever humility and tenderness are found.

Saint Paul tells us that charity is, above all, “patient” and “kind”. The greater our responsibility in serving the Church, the more our hearts must expand according to the measure of the heart of Christ. “Patience” – “forbearance” – is in some sense synonymous with catholicity. It means being able to love without limits, but also to be faithful in particular situations and with practical gestures. It means loving what is great without neglecting what is small; loving the little things within the horizon of the great things, since “non coerceri a maximo, contineri tamen a minimo divinum est”. To know how to love through acts of kindness. “Kindness” – benevolence –means the firm and persevering intention to always will the good of others, even those unfriendly to us.

The Apostle goes on to say that charity “is not jealous or boastful, it is not puffed up with pride”. This is surely a miracle of love, since we humans – all of us, at every stage of our lives – are inclined to jealousy and pride, since our nature is wounded by sin. Nor are Church dignitaries immune from this temptation. But for this very reason, dear brothers, the divine power of love, which transforms hearts, can be all the more evident in us, so that it is no longer you who live, but rather Christ who lives in you. And Jesus is love to the fullest.

Saint Paul then tells us that charity “is not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way”. These two characteristics show that those who abide in charity are not self-centred. The self-centred inevitably become disrespectful; very often they do not even notice this, since “respect” is precisely the ability to acknowledge others, to acknowledge their dignity, their condition, their needs. The self-centred person inevitably seeks his own interests; he thinks this is normal, even necessary. Those “interests” can even be cloaked in noble appearances, but underlying them all is always “self-interest”. Charity, however, makes us draw back from the centre in order to set ourselves in the real centre, which is Christ alone. Then, and only then, can we be persons who are respectful and attentive to the good of others.

Charity, Saint Paul says, “is not irritable, it is not resentful”. Pastors close to their people have plenty of opportunities to be irritable, to feel anger. Perhaps we risk being all the more irritable in relationships with our confreres, since in effect we have less excuses. Even here, charity, and charity alone, frees us. It frees us from the risk of reacting impulsively, of saying or doing the wrong thing; above all it frees us from the mortal danger of pent-up anger, of that smouldering anger which makes us brood over wrongs we have received. No. This is unacceptable in a man of the Church. Even if a momentary outburst is forgivable, this is not the case with rancour. God save us from that!

Charity – Saint Paul adds – “does not rejoice at the wrong, but rejoices in the right”. Those called to the service of governance in the Church need to have a strong sense of justice, so that any form of injustice becomes unacceptable, even those which might bring gain to himself or to the Church. At the same time, he must “rejoice in the right”. What a beautiful phrase! The man of God is someone captivated by truth, one who encounters it fully in the word and flesh of Jesus Christ, the inexhaustible source of our joy. May the people of God always see in us a firm condemnation of injustice and joyful service to the truth.

Finally, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. Here, in four words, is a spiritual and pastoral programme of life. The love of Christ, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, enables us to live like this, to be like this: as persons always ready to forgive; always ready to trust, because we are full of faith in God; always ready to inspire hope, because we ourselves are full of hope in God; persons ready to bear patiently every situation and each of our brothers and sisters, in union with Christ, who bore with love the burden of our sins.

Dear brothers, this comes to us not from ourselves, but from God. God is love and he accomplishes all this in us if only we prove docile to the working of his Holy Spirit. This, then, is how we are to be: “incardinated” and docile. The more we are “incardinated” in the Church of Rome, the more we should become docile to the Spirit, so that charity can give form and meaning to all that we are and all that we do. Incardinated in the Church which presides in charity, docile to the Holy Spirit who pours into our hearts the love of God (cf. Rom 5:5). Amen.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

And Now, The Main Event – As Curia Reform Talks Begin, Francis Wields "The Supreme Law"

After months of anticipation, this Thursday morning saw the Pope's intent to reform the Roman Curia kick into its most advanced gear yet as Francis convened the entire College of Cardinals to consult the entire 200-man "senate" on his intended shake-up.

Beyond the critical focus of the discussion itself, the Consistory talks in the Synod Hall are of even keener import as the session marks the Vatican debut of the 20 cardinals-designate (15 of them electors) who will be formally elevated on Saturday, most of them called to the College from the underrepresented "peripheries" of the global church. As a result, even if the speaking turns from the cardinals during the official sessions are based on seniority, over coffee-breaks and other informal chances for conversation, getting familiar with the mind of the new intake is likely to be a prime matter of interest for the veteran red-hats.

The plenary session of the College is but the latest – and, indeed, the climactic – stage of several other meetings which have wended through the last week: last weekend saw sessions of Francis' newly-formed Council for the Economy and Commission for the Protection of Children, while Monday opened the eighth meeting of what's now the "Gang of Nine," the central "kitchen cabinet" of cardinals charged with advising the Pope on the Curia reform and his Petrine ministry all told.

Though the consensus of the talks can't be forecasted in advance, it bears reminding that immediately after last year's Consistory consult – and even as those talks didn't focus on Curial reform – Francis swiftly executed his most significant structural change to date, creating the all-powerful Secretariat for the Economy with complete oversight of the Holy See's financial and personnel matters, and calling the formidable Cardinal George Pell to Rome as its first prefect.

Accordingly, it's been anticipated that Papa Bergoglio has another something of the kind already up his sleeve and ready to be unleashed following the weekend's events. In that vein, then, it bears reminding that in each of the three specialized organs he's established – the Economy Secretariat and its supervisory council, and the abuse commission (all with direct reports to himself) – the leadership of the new entities has fallen to a member of the "C-9."

Though simply speculation at this point, it would be no surprise if the shift revealed this time involved what's apparently become the most "gelled" aspect to date of a Curial re-tinkering: the long-advanced proposal to consolidate several pontifical councils into two new Congregations "for the People of God" and "Life and Justice." At the same time, it's notable that over its latest three-day session, the "C-9" was briefed at length by Msgr Paul Tighe, the #2 of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications who's done the legwork of the "Patten Commission" – the task-force led by the former BBC chairman Lord Patten of Barnes, entrusted with the sweeping work of charting a full restructure of the Holy See's sprawling media apparatus.

As ever, more to come. In the meantime, Francis himself kicked off today's talks with a general overview of the reform effort, again urging the cardinals to speak with parrhesía – the evangelical "boldness" he's repeatedly cited as a key to healthy collegiality in governance.

Below is Vatican Radio's English translation of the Pope's remarks:

Dear brothers,

"How good, how delightful it is to live as brothers all together!" (Ps 133,1).

In the words of the Psalm we give praise to the Lord who has called us together and gives us the grace to welcome the 20 new cardinals in this session. To them and to all, I give my cordial greetings. Welcome to this communion, which is expressed in collegiality.

Thanks to all those who have prepared this event, especially to His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals. I thank the Commission of nine Cardinals and the coordinator, His Eminence Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga. I also thank His Excellency Marcello Semeraro, Secretary of the Commission of Nine Cardinals: Today he will present a summary of the work done in recent months to develop the new Apostolic Constitution for the reform of the Curia. As we know, this summary has been prepared on the basis of many suggestions, even those made by the heads of the Dicasteries, as well as experts in the field.

The goal to be reached is always that of promoting greater harmony in the work of the various Dicasteries and Offices, in order to achieve a more effective collaboration in that absolute transparency which builds authentic sinodality and collegiality.

The reform is not an end in itself, but a means to give a strong Christian witness; to promote a more effective evangelization; to promote a more fruitful ecumenical spirit; to encourage a more constructive dialogue with all.

The reform, strongly advocated by the majority of the Cardinals in the context of the general congregations before the conclave, will further perfect the identity of the same Roman Curia, which is to assist the Successor of Peter in the exercise of his supreme pastoral office for the good of and in the service of the universal Church and the particular Churches. This exercise serves to strengthen the unity of faith and communion of the people of God and promote the mission of the Church in the world.

Certainly, it is not easy to achieve such a goal: it requires time, determination and above all everyone’s cooperation. But to achieve this we must first entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit, the true guide of the Church, imploring the gift of authentic discernment in prayer.

It is in this spirit of collaboration that our meeting begins, which will be fruitful thanks to the contribution which each of us can express with parrhesía, fidelity to the Magisterium and the knowledge that all of this contributes to the supreme law, that being the salus animarum ["the salvation of souls"]. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

And The Óscar Goes To... The Altars – Romero, Blessed At Last

Just shy of 35 years since Don Óscar Romero was assassinated while saying Mass in a hospital chapel, earlier today the Pope capped the lengthy fight for the church's recognition of the late archbishop of San Salvador by ratifying his martyrdom "in odium fidei" ("out of hatred for the faith"), thus clearing the final procedural hurdle to Romero's beatification without the need for a first miracle.

While the decree was essentially a formality given Francis' on-record intent to move the long-stalled cause – especially after the unanimous vote last month affirming Romero's martyrdom by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints – the timing of the necessary final step particularly reflects the Pope's determination to see the process through as well as his oft-discounted dedication to popular piety: today marks the memorial of St Ansgar, the 9th century bishop of Hamburg whose name translates in Spanish as Óscar, hence it's Romero's patronal feast... and with it, already St Óscar's Day.

In addition, according to the El Salvador-based Super Martyrio site, this 3 February is the anniversary of Romero's 1977 appointment as archbishop of the country's capital.

Having assiduously reported every curve of the Romero cause, the Salvadoran outlet said that while the process had indeed long been blocked in Rome "on suspicion of doctrinal irregularities and ideological exploitation by the Left," its resistance did not come from Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but "from the Vatican Curia," principally in the figures of two Colombian cardinals, Dario Castrillón Hoyos and the late Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, whose respective ascents both reflected what became a staunch doctrinal and cultural conservatism in the face of liberation theology's dominance in the trenches of the Latin American scene.

His elevation long a cause celebre among the church's social-justice wing given Romero's outspokenness as archbishop on behalf of the downtrodden and against the state-condoned murders of clerics and others who advocated for them, despite earlier speculation that Francis would reserve the beatification rites to himself – whether on a visit to El Salvador or at a Mass in Rome itself – and even that he might move for an immediate canonization, the Pope himself nixed the theories on his return from Manila in mid-January, when he joked during the in-flight presser that "there will be a war" between the Vatican's Saint-making chief, Cardinal Angelo Amato SDB, and the cause's postulator (lead coordinator), the Curia's Family Czar Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, over "which one will celebrate the beatification," indicating that it would take place on Romero's home-turf.

The martyrdom vote by Causes of Saints now understood to have been the cause of his last-minute backing out of a scheduled US trip in early January, Paglia will lead a briefing on the beatification tomorrow morning in the Holy See Press Office. To date, no indication on the timeline for the ceremonies has yet emerged.

Once the rites have taken place, it's worth reminding that – at least, in the conventional understanding of things – beatification admits the public veneration of the Blessed on the local level solely in the place(s) where the person lived and served; only canonization extends the local cultus to the universal church. That said, in cases like Romero's where, beyond a blessed's primary mission-field, a genuine "cult following" is evident (in the way that coined the term), other episcopal conferences may move to petition Rome to add the feast to their national calendars.

In other words, as the soon-to-be Blessed Oscar's following indeed runs rather strong among diverse elements of US Catholicism – and almost as much, amid the ongoing scrutiny from some quarters over the degree of the Stateside bench's affinity for Francis and his missionary orientation for the church – a USCCB move to add Romero's feast to the domestic calendar would serve as a potent signal that the bishops have indeed signed up to this pontificate's songbook.

In any case, while the 24 March anniversary of Romero's murder has no other conflicting feasts, the date's frequent occurrence during Holy Week (which would prevent it from being observed in any fashion) suggests that another option will be sought. The archbishop's anniversary is now marked by the United Nations as a global day "for the right to truth concerning human rights violations and for the dignity of victims."

All that said, given the prominence of the moment, below is the text of Romero's final homily on 24 March 1980 – the preach cut short by an assassin's bullet:

* * *
You have just heard in Christ’s gospel that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and that those who try to fend off the danger will lose their lives, while those who out of love for Christ give themselves to the service of others, will live, live like the grain of wheat that dies, but only apparently. If it did not die, it would remain alone. The harvest comes about only because it dies, allowing itself to be sacrificed in the earth and destroyed. Only by undoing itself does it produce the harvest....

This is the hope that inspires us as Christians. We know that every effort to better society, especially when justice and sin are so ingrained, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.... Of course, we must try to purify these ideals, Christianize them, clothe them with the hope of what lies beyond. That makes them stronger, because it gives us the assurance that all that we cultivate on earth, if we nourish it with Christian hope, will never be a failure. We will find it in a purer form in that kingdom where our merit will be found in the labor that we have done here on earth....

Dear brothers and sisters, let us all view these matters at this historic moment with that hope, that spirit of giving and of sacrifice. Let us all do what we can. We can all do something, at least have a sense of understanding and sympathy....

[I]t is worthwhile to labor, because all those longings for justice, peace, and well-being that we experience on earth become realized for us if we enlighten them with Christian hope. We know that no one can go on forever, but those who have put into their work a sense of very great faith, of love of God, of hope among human beings, find it all results in the splendors of a crown that is the sure reward of those who labor thus, cultivating truth, justice, love, and goodness on earth. Such labor does not remain here below but, purified by God’s Spirit, is harvested for our reward.

The holy Mass, now, this Eucharist, is just such an act of faith. To Christian faith at this moment the voice of diatribe appears changed for the body of the Lord, who offered himself for the redemption of the world, and in this chalice the wine is transformed into the blood that was the price of salvation. May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain --- like Christ, not for self, but to bring about justice and peace for our people.

Let us join together, then, intimately in faith and hope at this moment of prayer....

[At that, a postscript reads thus: "A shot rang out in the chapel and Archbishop Romero fell mortally wounded. He died within minutes, on arriving at a nearby hospital emergency room."]