Friday, December 25, 2015

The 25th day of December, the fifteenth 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 from the exodus of Israel out of 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,
The Eternal Son of the Father,
seeking to consecrate the world by coming into it;
conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and 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.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

"Today, The Son of God Is Born, and Everything Changes"

24 DECEMBER 2015

Tonight “a great light” shines forth (Is 9:1); the light of Jesus’ birth shines all about us. How true and timely are the words of the prophet Isaiah which we have just heard: “You have brought abundant joy and great rejoicing” (9:2)! Our heart was already joyful in awaiting this moment; now that joy abounds and overflows, for the promise has been at last fulfilled. Joy and gladness are a sure sign that the message contained in the mystery of this night is truly from God. There is no room for doubt; let us leave that to the skeptics who, by looking to reason alone, never find the truth. There is no room for the indifference which reigns in the hearts of those unable to love for fear of losing something. All sadness has been banished, for the Child Jesus brings true comfort to every heart.

Today, the Son of God is born, and everything changes. The Saviour of the world comes to partake of our human nature; no longer are we alone and forsaken. The Virgin offers us her Son as the beginning of a new life. The true light has come to illumine our lives so often beset by the darkness of sin. Today we once more discover who we are! Tonight we have been shown the way to reach the journey’s end. Now must we put away all fear and dread, for the light shows us the path to Bethlehem. We must not be laggards; we are not permitted to stand idle. We must set out to see our Saviour lying in a manger. This is the reason for our joy and gladness: this Child has been “born to us”; he was “given to us”, as Isaiah proclaims (cf. 9:5). The people who for for two thousand years has traversed all the pathways of the world in order to allow every man and woman to share in this joy is now given the mission of making known “the Prince of peace” and becoming his effective servant in the midst of the nations.

So when we hear the story of the birth of Christ, let us be silent and let the Child speak. Let us take his words to heart in rapt contemplation of his face. If we take him in our arms and let ourselves be embraced by him, he will bring us unending peace of heart. This Child teaches us what is truly essential in our lives. He was born into the poverty of this world; there was no room in the inn for him and his family. He found shelter and support in a stable and was laid in a manger for animals. And yet, from this nothingness, the light of God’s glory shines forth. From now on, the way of authentic freedom and perennial redemption is open to every man and woman who is simple of heart. This Child, whose face radiates the goodness, mercy and love of God the Father, trains us, his disciples, as Saint Paul says, “to reject godless ways” and the richness of the world, in order to live “temperately, justly and devoutly” (Tit 2:12).

In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this Child calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential. In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God’s will. Amid a culture of indifference which not infrequently turns ruthless, our style of life should instead be devout, filled with empathy, compassion and mercy, drawn daily from the wellspring of prayer.

Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, may we too, with eyes full of amazement and wonder, gaze upon the Child Jesus, the Son of God. And in his presence may our hearts burst forth in prayer: “Show us, Lord, your mercy, and grant us your salvation” (Ps 85:8).

(Ed.: Emphases original.)


"This Is the Wonder of Christmas!"

“To celebrate Christmas in a fruitful way, we’re called to dwell in its 'places' of wonder. And what are these places in daily life?

There are three. The first place is the other, who we recognize as a brother, because from when the birth of Jesus happened, every face then carried the imprint of the Son of God, above all when it’s the face of the poor, because from poverty God entered into the world and, first of all, it was with the poor that he let himself be surrounded.

Another place of wonder – the second – in which, if we look with faith, we’re shown wonder is in history. Many times, we believe we’re seeing it the right way, and instead we risk reading it backwards. For example, it happens when we think it determined by the market economy, ruled by finance and business, dominated by the powers that be. Instead, the God of Christmas is one who “reshuffles the cards”: he likes doing that! As Mary sings in the Magnificat, it’s the Lord who casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly, fills the hungry with good things and sends away the rich empty-handed. This is the second wonder, the wonder of history.

A third place of wonder is the church: to look upon it with the wonder of faith means not limiting oneself to consider it only as a religious institution, which it is, but to feel her as a Mother who, despite spots and wrinkles – and we have many! – shows forth the shape of a Wife beloved and purified by Christ the Lord. A church that knows how to recognize the many signs of faithful love that God continually sends her, a church for which the Lord Jesus will never be a possession to be jealously guarded – those who do this err – but always comes with him to encounter and which awaits with trust and joy, giving voice to the hope of the world. The church that calls out to the Lord: 'Come, Lord Jesus!' The mother Church who always has her doors and arms thrown open to welcome everyone. Indeed, the mother Church who leaves behind her own doors to seek with a mother’s smile all those at a distance and bring them to the mercy of God. This is the wonder of Christmas!

At Christmas, God gives us His whole self in giving his Son, his Only one, who is all his joy. And only with the heart of Mary, the humble and poor daughter of Zion, become Mother of the Son of the Most High, is it possible to rejoice and bask in the great gift of God through his unforeseeable surprise. May she help us to understand this wonder – these three wonders: the other, history and the church – of the birth of Jesus, the gift of gifts, the undeserved gift who brings us salvation.

Meeting Jesus will make us feel this great wonder too. But we can’t have it, we can’t meet Jesus if we don’t look to encounter him in others, in history and in the church.
–Pope Francis
20 December 2015
...and even as these wonders never cease to surround us, may we know the grace not just to see them, but to share them, on this Holy Night and ever beyond.

Christus Natus est, venite adoremus... Buon Natale a tutti con tutte le grazie – to one and all, those you love and those you serve, every wish for a joy-filled, blessed and Merry Christmas, whose Child's gifts of hope, light and peace know no end.


Monday, December 21, 2015

"We Are Servants, Not Messiahs" – At Curial Christmas, Pope's Call To Action... and the "Pharmacy"

Always one of the most anticipated speeches of the Vatican calendar – at least, over the last two pontificates – after delivering a searing diagnosis of "15 diseases" to the superiors of the Roman Curia at last year's traditional Christmas "greeting," this time around the Pope (while battling a flu that kept him seated) chose to focus on "antibiotics" to fight the illnesses which, he said, remained "evident" in the ranks through 2015.

Amid the ongoing specter of "Vatileaks II" – and, indeed, a course of remaking the church's central government which has proceeded much more slowly than expected – Francis pledged to his principal collaborators that "the reform will move forward with determination, clarity, and firm resolve." The heart of the address, however, was – in an return of the format he employed in closing October's Synod – an acrostic "catalogue" of 24 necessary virtues for effective service in the church, a slate shaped from the word "Misericordia": in English, "mercy," a nod to the Extraordinary Jubilee Year now underway across the global church.

Yet perhaps most conspicuously of all, Papa Bergoglio closed his reflection with a prayer often attributed to the newly-Blessed Oscar Romero, but which (as he noted) was instead "pronounced for the first time by Cardinal John Dearden" – Detroit's titan of the Vatican II era who, as the founding president of the modern-day USCCB, was the de facto "godfather" of Stateside Catholicism's progressive apogee of the 1960s and 70s before passing the torch to his protege (and lead deputy in building the conference), the future Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

That said, it likewise bears mention that the prayer Francis cited wasn't actually written by Dearden, but one of his top Motor City aides, then-Fr Ken Untener, who famously ingrained the Conciliar-pastoral mentality into the diocese of Saginaw over 24 years as its head until his death at 67 in 2004. And not to put too fine a point on it, but the notion of the Sovereign Pontiff using a prayer penned by Untener (and to school his Curia, no less) will be enough to knock some folks over with a feather today.

Back to Rome, given per usual with the almost dire drivenness of tone Francis reserves for his "marching orders" to ecclesiastical officialdom – and just before he again asked the forgiveness of the Holy See's rank-and-file employees for "the scandals in the Vatican" – below is the Vatican's English translation of the Pope's talk this morning:
Dear brothers and sisters,

I am pleased to offer heartfelt good wishes for a blessed Christmas and a happy New Year to you and your co-workers, to the Papal Representatives, and in particular to those who in the past year have completed their service and retired. Let us also remember all those who have gone home to God. My thoughts and my gratitude go to you and to the members of your families.

In our meeting in 2013, I wanted to stress two important and inseparable aspects of the work of the Curia: professionalism and service, and I offered Saint Joseph as a model to be imitated. Then, last year, as a preparation for the sacrament of Reconciliation, we spoke of certain temptations or "maladies" – the "catalogue of curial diseases" – which could affect any Christian, curia, community, congregation, parish or ecclesial movement. Diseases which call for prevention, vigilance, care and, sadly, in some cases, painful and prolonged interventions.

Some of these diseases became evident in the course of the past year, causing no small pain to the entire body and harming many souls.

It seems necessary to state what has been – and ever shall be – the object of sincere reflection and decisive provisions. The reform will move forward with determination, clarity and firm resolve, since Ecclesia semper reformanda [the church ever renews herself].

Nonetheless, diseases and even scandals cannot obscure the efficiency of the services rendered to the Pope and to the entire Church by the Roman Curia, with great effort, responsibility, commitment and dedication, and this is a real source of consolation. Saint Ignatius taught that “it is typical of the evil spirit to instil remorse, sadness and difficulties, and to cause needless worry so as to prevent us from going forward; instead, it is typical of the good spirit to instil courage and energy, consolations and tears, inspirations and serenity, and to lessen and remove every difficulty so as to make us advance on the path of goodness.”

It would be a grave injustice not to express heartfelt gratitude and needed encouragement to all those good and honest men and women in the Curia who work with dedication, devotion, fidelity and professionalism, offering to the Church and the Successor of Peter the assurance of their solidarity and obedience, as well as their constant prayers.

Moreover, cases of resistance, difficulties and failures on the part of individuals and ministers are so many lessons and opportunities for growth, and never for discouragement. They are opportunities for returning to the essentials, which means being ever more conscious of ourselves, of God and our neighbours, of the sensus Ecclesiae and the sensus fidei.

It is about this return to essentials that I wish to speak today, just a few days after the Church’s inauguration of the pilgrimage of the Holy Year of Mercy, a Year which represents for her and for all of us a pressing summons to gratitude, conversion, renewal, penance and reconciliation.

Christmas is truly the feast of God’s infinite mercy, as Saint Augustine of Hippo tells us: “Could there have been any greater mercy shown to us unhappy men than that which led the Creator of the heavens to come down among us, and the Creator of the earth to take on our mortal body? That same mercy led the Lord of the world to assume the nature of a servant, so that, being himself bread, he would suffer hunger; being himself satiety, he would thirst; being himself power, he would know weakness; being himself salvation, he would experience our woundedness, and being himself life, he would die. All this he did to assuage our hunger, alleviate our longing, strengthen our weaknesses, wipe out our sins and enkindle our charity”.

Consequently, in the context of this Year of Mercy and our own preparation for the coming celebration of Christmas, I would like to present a practical aid for fruitfully experiencing this season of grace. It is by no means an exhaustive catalogue of needed virtues for those who serve in the Curia and for all those who would like to make their consecration or service to the Church more fruitful.

I would ask the Heads of Dicasteries and other superiors to ponder this, to add to it and to complete it. It is a list based on an acrostic analysis of the word Misericordia, with the aim of having it serve as our guide and beacon:

1. Missionary and pastoral spirit: missionary spirit is what makes the Curia evidently fertile and fruitful; it is proof of the effectiveness, efficiency and authenticity of our activity. Faith is a gift, yet the measure of our faith is also seen by the extent to which we communicate it. All baptized persons are missionaries of the Good News, above all by their lives, their work and their witness of joy and conviction. A sound pastoral spirit is an indispensable virtue for the priest in particular. It is shown in his daily effort to follow the Good Shepherd who cares for the flock and gives his life to save the lives of others. It is the yardstick for our curial and priestly work. Without these two wings we could never take flight, or even enjoy the happiness of the “faithful servant” (Mt 25:14-30).

2. Idoneity and sagacity: idoneity, or suitability, entails personal effort aimed at acquiring the necessary requisites for exercising as best we can our tasks and duties with intelligence and insight. It does not countenance “recommendations” and payoffs. Sagacity is the readiness to grasp and confront situations with shrewdness and creativity. Idoneity and sagacity also represent our human response to divine grace, when we let ourselves follow the famous dictum: “Do everything as if God did not exist and then put it all in God’s hands as if you did not exist”. It is the approach of the disciple who prays to the Lord every day in the words of the beautiful Universal Prayer attributed to Pope Clement XI: “Vouchsafe to conduct me by your wisdom, to restrain me by your justice, to comfort me by your mercy, to defend me by your power. To thee I desire to consecrate all my thoughts, words, actions and sufferings; that hencefore I may think only of you, speak of you, refer all my actions to your greater glory, and suffer willingly whatever you appoint”.

3. Spirituality and humanity: spirituality is the backbone of all service in the Church and in the Christian life. It is what nourishes all our activity, sustaining and protecting it from human frailty and daily temptation. Humanity is what embodies the truthfulness of our faith; those who renounce their humanity renounce everything. Humanity is what makes us different from machines and robots which feel nothing and are never moved. Once we find it hard to weep seriously or to laugh heartily, we have begun our decline and the process of turning from “humans” into something else. Humanity is knowing how to show tenderness and fidelity and courtesy to all (cf. Phil 4:5). Spirituality and humanity, while innate qualities, are a potential needing to be activated fully, attained completely and demonstrated daily.

4. Example and fidelity: Blessed Paul VI reminded the Curia of “its calling to set an example”. An example of avoiding scandals which harm souls and impair the credibility of our witness. Fidelity to our consecration, to our vocation, always mindful of the words of Christ, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much” (Lk 16:10) and “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes” (Mt 18:6-7).

5. Rationality and gentleness: rationality helps avoid emotional excesses, while gentleness helps avoid an excess of bureaucracy, programmes and planning. These qualities are necessary for a balanced personality: “The enemy pays careful heed to whether a soul is coarse or delicate; if it is delicate, he finds a way to make it overly delicate, in order to cause it greater distress and confusion”. Every excess is a symptom of some imbalance.

6. Innocuousness and determination: innocuousness makes us cautious in our judgments and capable of refraining from impulsive and hasty actions. It is the ability to bring out the best in ourselves, in others and in all kinds of situations by acting carefully and attentively. It consists of doing unto others what we would have them do to us (cf. Mt 7:12 and Lk 6:31). Determination is acting with a resolute will, clear vision, obedience to God and solely for the supreme law of the salus animarum (cf. CIC can. 1725).

7. Charity and truth: two inseparable virtues of the Christian life, “speaking the truth in charity and practising charity in truth” (cf. Eph 4:15). To the point where charity without truth becomes a destructive ideology of complaisance and truth without charity becomes myopic legalism.

8. Honesty and maturity: honesty is rectitude, consistency and absolute sincerity with regard both to ourselves and to God. An honest person does not act virtuously only when he or she is being watched; honest persons have no fear of being caught, since they never betray the trust of others. An honest person is never domineering like the “wicked servant” (cf. Mt 24:48-51), with regard to the persons or matters entrusted to his or her care. Honesty is the foundation on which all other qualities rest. Maturity is the quest to achieve balance and harmony in our physical, mental and spiritual gifts. It is the goal and outcome of a never-ending process of development which has nothing to do with age.

9. Respectfulness and humility: respectfulness is an endowment of those noble and tactful souls who always try to show genuine respect for others, for their own work, for their superiors and subordinates, for dossiers and papers, for confidentiality and privacy, who can listen carefully and speak politely. Humility is the virtue of the saints and those godly persons who become all the more important as they come to realize that they are nothing, and can do nothing, apart from God’s grace (cf. Jn 15:8).

10. Diligence and attentiveness: the more we trust in God and his providence, the more we grow in diligence and readiness to give of ourselves, in the knowledge that the more we give the more we receive. What good would it do to open all the Holy Doors of all the basilicas in the world if the doors of our own heart are closed to love, if our hands are closed to giving, if our homes are closed to hospitality and our churches to welcome and acceptance. Attentiveness is concern for the little things, for doing our best and never yielding to our vices and failings. Saint Vincent de Paul used to pray: “Lord, help me to be always aware of those around me, those who are worried or dismayed, those suffering in silence, and those who feel alone and abandoned”.

11. Intrepidness and alertness: being intrepid means fearlessness in the face of troubles, like Daniel in the den of lions, or David before Goliath. It means acting with boldness, determination and resolve, “as a good soldier” (2 Tim 2:3-4). It means being immediately ready to take the first step, like Abraham, or Mary. Alertness, on the other hand, is the ability to act freely and easily, without being attached to fleeting material things. The Psalm says: “if riches increase, set not your heart on them” (Ps 61:10). To be alert means to be always on the go, and never being burdened by the accumulation of needless things, caught up in our own concerns and driven by ambition.

12. Trustworthyness and sobriety: trustworthy persons are those who honour their commitments with seriousness and responsibility when they are being observed, but above all when they are alone; they radiate a sense of tranquillity because they never betray a trust. Sobriety – the last virtue on this list, but not because it is least important – is the ability to renounce what is superfluous and to resist the dominant consumerist mentality. Sobriety is prudence, simplicity, straightforwardness, balance and temperance. Sobriety is seeing the world through God’s eyes and from the side of the poor. Sobriety is a style of life which points to the primacy of others as a hierarchical principle and is shown in a life of concern and service towards others. The sober person is consistent and straightforward in all things, because he or she can reduce, recover, recycle, repair, and live a life of moderation.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Mercy is no fleeting sentiment, but rather the synthesis of the joyful Good News, a choice and decision on the part of all who desire to put on the “Heart of Jesus” and to be serious followers of the Lord who has asked us to “be merciful even as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Mt 5:48; Lk 6:36). In the words of Father Ermes Ronchi, “Mercy is a scandal for justice, a folly for intelligence, a consolation for us who are debtors. The debt for being alive, the debt for being loved is only repayable by mercy”.

And so may mercy guide our steps, inspire our reforms and enlighten our decisions. May it be the basis of all our efforts. May it teach us when to move forward and when to step back. May it also enable us to understand the littleness of all that we do in God’s greater plan of salvation and his majestic and mysterious working.

To help us better grasp this, let us savour the magnificent prayer, commonly attributed to Blessed Oscar Arnulfo Romero, but pronounced for the first time by Cardinal John Dearden:

Every now and then it helps us to take a step back
and to see things from a distance.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is also beyond our visions.
In our lives, we manage to achieve only a small part
of the marvellous plan that is God’s work.
Nothing that we do is complete,
which is to say that the Kingdom is greater than ourselves.
No statement says everything that can be said.
No prayer completely expresses the faith.
No Creed brings perfection.
No pastoral visit solves every problem.
No programme fully accomplishes the mission of the Church.
No goal or purpose ever reaches completion.
This is what it is about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that others will watch over them.
We lay the foundations of something that will develop.
We add the yeast which will multiply our possibilities.
We cannot do everything,
yet it is liberating to begin.
This gives us the strength to do something and to do it well.
It may remain incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way.
It is an opportunity for the grace of God to enter
and to do the rest.
It may be that we will never see its completion,
but that is the difference between the master and the labourer.
We are labourers, not master builders,
servants, not the Messiah.
We are prophets of a future that does not belong to us.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

@CuriaBishop – Culminating "Culture" Shift, Social Media Nabs Vatican Hat

While this week before Christmas has seen two Stateside nods slip under the door, the Pope's saved the best present for last: at Roman Noon this Saturday, word came that Francis had appointed Msgr Paul Tighe, 57 (left) – the Dublin-bred #2 at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications since 2007 – to the new post of adjunct secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, elevating him to the episcopacy in the process as titular bishop of Drivasto.

For starters, the move comes as a surprise, arriving in the face of widely-held expectations (his own included) that – with the Vatican's communications entities now being consolidated into a single Secretariat led by three Italians and, for "balance," an Argentine – Tighe would be heading back to Ireland. Most of all, however, given the bishop-elect's longstanding role as the relentless architect behind the Holy See's sometimes turbulent embrace of and adaptation to a "new media" world, that he's sticking around instead (and with a hat, to boot) has the feeling of a watershed moment.

In any event, if you're trying to reform a culture – or advance a new one – the quietly warm, wiry and energetic nominee is the kind of guy you'd want to have around: after all, as Francis' designated coordinator of the blue-ribbon Patten Commission tasked with charting the reform of the Vatican's media operation, Tighe did the very un-Curial work of presiding over his own obsolescence....

Or so he hoped.

To briefly recap a long, eventful decade, it bears recalling how the first throes of digital media were mostly greeted in Vatican circles with ignorance at best, paranoia at worst – and even today, in at least few quarters, some things never change. In the main of the Curia, however, the premium on a fortress mentality carried the day until the chaotic fallout of the 2009 Williamson case, when the lessons learned from the debacle of B16's de-excommunication of a Holocaust-denying traditionalist prelate (whose residency in Argentina is instructive to more recent developments) included a fresh approach to the cyber-world.

As a result, after years of being sidelined in its pleas for a more digital-friendly Vatican, the PCCS suddenly found a new openness to a shift of strategy – to no shortage of displeasure from the Old Guard – with Tighe landing in the driver's seat. By 2011, the council scored a torrent of global attention with its move to hold the Vatican's first ever conference on social media during the beatification of Pope John Paul II – a Tighe idea whose widespread response stunned the organizers' very modest expectations – and by late 2012, five years after the attempt at a first platform (called Pope2You) was epically botched due to a lack of top-level interest and support, the Communications council was the conduit behind the smooth, very successful launches of the share-based portal and the Pope's own @Pontifex Twitter presence, both of them tapped into being by Benedict himself in moments that went viral and then some. Along the way, Tighe has taken to the road to hammer home the "Gospel of New Media" as a frequent speaker in church forums ranging from institutionally-hidebound officialdom to the digitally emergent new generation, sharing the stage with this scribe on more than a few occasions.

Alongside Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi and two other bishops already on-hand at Culture, "adjunct secretary" is a freshly created post for the council, which isn't being collapsed into the new, sprawling Secretariat for Communications. Ergo, while the shape of the nominee's new duties remains to emerge, it stands to be expected or at least hoped that, as a bishop – and one with less of an administrative workload, to boot – Tighe's role as voice and presence for the church's digital reality will only increase.

In the meantime, to put it mildly, his many friends rejoice... and as ways go of marking 11 years since these pages began as a shot in the dark, indeed, how sweet it is.

SVILUPPO: Having had time to reflect on the move, given the simple reality (that is, oddity) of a fourth bishop being added to the masthead of a dicastery with all of 15 staff, something seems to say that, in due course, another shoe of some sort will drop....

Lest anyone forgot, Curia reform-in-piecemeal is the leitmotif of these days. If that's a stumbling block for some, well, the days when Jesus walked the earth would've been a right nightmare for you... starting with the circumstances under which He was designed to be born.

That said, as all his manifold appearances stack up, Bishop-elect Paul's latest major talk – a keynote to his home-crowd on the 40th anniversary of the Irish bishops' national communications office – serves as a fitting, even fiery, sum-up of the man and his mission:


Sunday, December 13, 2015

"An Invitation To Joy" – Across the Globe, "This Begins The Time of The Great Pardon"

Let us pray.

O God, all-powerful and merciful Father,
you grant your Church a time of grace, penance and forgiveness,
that she might have the joy to internally renew herself
by the work of the Holy Spirit
and to journey ever more faithfully in your ways
in announcing to the world the Gospel of salvation.
Open once more the door of your mercy
and welcome us one day into your dwelling in heaven,
where Jesus, your Son, has gone before us
and lives and reigns forever and ever.

* * *
With that prayer – and, in an add-on not seen at Tuesday's universal rites, the Veni Creator invoking the Holy Spirit – the Pope opened this Jubilee of Mercy for his local church with this morning's push on the Holy Door of Rome's cathedral, St John Lateran, echoing the act that's taking place this weekend in all the 4,000-plus dioceses of the world (most of which have designated Holy Doors at several churches beyond their respective cathedrals.)

In his brief yet pointed homily, while hinging per usual on this Gaudete Sunday's readings, Francis drilled further into his vision for the Extraordinary Holy Year, calling it "the time of the great pardon" and emphasizing that "before the Holy Door... we are asked to be instruments of mercy, knowing that we will be judged on this.

"God does not love rigidity," the Pope said.

Here, the Vatican translation of the text – which, in a rarity for a liturgy, included some off-script additions:
The invitation extended by the Prophet to the ancient city of Jerusalem is also addressed today to the whole Church and each one of us: "Rejoice ... exault!" (Zephaniah 3:14). The reason for joy is expressed with words that inspire hope, and which can look to the future with serenity. The Lord has annulled every condemnation and chose to live among us.

This third Sunday of Advent draws our gaze towards Christmas, which is now close. We cannot let ourselves be taken in by weariness; sadness in any form is not allowed, even though we have reason (for sadness), with many concerns and the many forms of violence which hurt our humanity. The coming of the Lord, however, must fill our hearts with joy. The prophet Zephaniah, in whose very name is inscribed the content of this announcement, opens our hearts to trust: "God protects" His people. In a historical context of great abuse and violence, especially by men of power, God knows that He will reign over his people, who would never leave them at the mercy of the arrogance of their leaders, and will free them from all anxiety. Today, we are asked not to let our “hands grow weak” because of doubt, impatience or suffering.

The Apostle Paul takes with force the teaching of the prophet Zephaniah and reiterates: "The Lord is near" (Phil 4,5). Because of this we should rejoice always, and with our affability give all witness of closeness and care that God has for each person.

We have opened the Holy Door, here and in all the cathedrals of the world. Even this simple sign is an invitation to joy. It begins a time of the great forgiveness. It is the Jubilee of Mercy. It is time to rediscover the presence of God and his fatherly tenderness. God does not love rigidity. He is Father; He is tender; everything done with the tenderness of the Father. We too, like the crowds asked John, "What do we do?" (Lk 3:10). The response of the Baptist was immediate. He invites us to act justly and to look after the needs of those in need. What John demands of his representatives, however, it is what is reflected in the law. We, however, are prompted toward a more radical commitment. Before the Holy Door we are called to cross, we are asked to be instruments of mercy, knowing that we will be judged on this. He who is baptized knows he has a greater commitment. Faith in Christ leads to a journey that lasts for a lifetime: to be merciful, like the Father. The joy of crossing through the Door of Mercy is accompanied by a commitment to welcome and witness to a love that goes beyond justice, a love that knows no boundaries. It is from this infinite love that we are responsible, in spite of our contradictions.

We pray for us and for all who pass through the Door of Mercy, that we may understand and welcome the infinite love of our Heavenly Father, recreates, transforms and reforms life.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

En Vivo de La Iglesia US: Sábado Gigante

(Del Santuario Nacional a Des Plaines, Illinois – Chicagoland)
Padre de Misericordia,
que has puesto a este pueblo tuyo
bajo la especial protección de la siempre Virgen María de Guadalupe,
Madre de tu Hijo,
concédenos, por su intercesión,
profundizar en nuestra fe
y buscar el progreso de nuestra patria
por caminos de justicia y de paz.

Por nuestro Señor Jesucristo, tu Hijo,

que viva en re contigo en el Espiritú Santo,
es Dios, por los siglos y de los siglos.


(Medianoche en la Catedral de Los Ángeles – con 5 millones de católicos, ahora la diócesis más grande en toda la historia de la Iglesia US.)

Y en estos primeros días de este Año Jubileo, que roguemos las palabras familiares en moda especial: "Dios te salve, Reina y Madre de misericordia, vida, dulzura y esperanza nuestra, Dios te salve...."

Morenita Madre de Tepeyac, Santa Emperatriz de toda la America, hoy en tu día y siempre, gracias de corazón por todos tus milagros en las vidas de tus hijos, por tu cariño y fuerza al nuestro lado, y tu regalo de la nueva vida para el Pueblo de Dios en esta tierra del Norte.

Virgen de Guadalupe – amadísima guía y compañera, Rosa Dorada de nuestro presente y futuro como Cuerpo que tu naciste – proteja tus hijos tan fieles, que su dignidad en los ojos de tu Hijo sea siempre más respetado por todos, que nadie sea extranjero ni en esta Iglesia ni en sociedad, y que todos nosotros podamos conocer la libertad de los hijos de Dios.

Querida Señora – Madre de Dios, Madre de la esta Iglesia, Madre de nuestra Esperanza, Madre de Misericordia – ¡ayudanos!


Tuesday, December 08, 2015

O God,
who reveal your omnipotence above all in mercy and forgiveness,
grant that we might live a year of grace,
a fitting time to love you and our brothers and sisters
in the joy of the Gospel.

Continue to pour out on us your Holy Spirit,
that we might never tire of turning with trust
to the gaze of him who we have pierced,
your Son made man,
the shining face of your endless mercy,
the safe refuge for all of us sinners in need of pardon and peace,
of the truth that frees and saves.

He is the Door,
through which we come to you,
the inexhaustible source of consolation for all,
beauty that never sets,
the perfect joy of life without end.

May the Immaculate Virgin intercede for us,
the first and splendid fruit of the Paschal victory,
the luminous dawn of the new heavens and new earth,
the happy harbor of our earthly pilgrimage.

To you, Holy Father,
to your Son, our Redeemer,
to the Holy Spirit, the Comforter,
be all honor and glory
forever and ever.


On Immaculate Conception, the Madonna as "Victory of Mercy"

And so, a busy Jubilee Year began with just the first of many packed days to come.

Keeping the tradition of his predecessors, as night fell on Rome the Pope made the trek to a packed Piazza di Spagna for the annual "homage" to the Immaculate Conception statue there – a beloved rite among the natives that's become the city's rough equivalent of Santa's arrival at the end of a US Thanksgiving parade, marking the start of the Christmas festivities. Fullvid:

With the wake of last month's Paris attacks (coupled with an ongoing ISIS threat on the Vatican) having spurred a remarkably heavy security operation in Rome for the Holy Year – Italian reports indicated a team of some 3,000 military and police on hand for this morning's opening rites – Francis kept to his preference of working the crowd at length following the brief Marian ritual, walking the length of the square to greet the elderly who lined the throng's front flank in wheelchairs.

For his own tribute to the Immacolata – enshrined atop a pillar in the midst of the city's shopping hub – the Pope's prayer this year touched on refugees, the life of the family and the Year of Mercy now underway:

Virgin Mother,
On this day, the feast of your Immaculate Conception,
I pay homage to you in faith and love
On behalf of God’s holy people who live in this city and diocese.
I come before you in the name of families, with their joys and troubles;
On behalf of children and young people, exposed to life’s challenges;
On behalf of the elderly, laden with age and years of experience;
I come especially
On behalf of the sick, the imprisoned,
And those who struggle.
As a leader I also come here for the sake of all those
Who have come from far-away lands in search of peace and work.

There is space for everyone beneath your cloak,
Because you are the Mother of Mercy.
Your heart is full of tenderness towards all your children:
The tenderness of God, who, by you, became incarnate
And became our brother, Jesus,
Saviour of every man and every woman.
Looking at you, Our Immaculate Mother,
We see the victory of divine mercy
Over sin and all its consequences;
And hope for a better life is reignited within us,
Free from slavery, rancor and fear.
Here, today, in the heart of Rome, we hear your motherly voice
Calling all of us to walk towards that door,
Which represents Christ.
You say to everyone: “Come, come closer, faithful ones;
Enter and receive the gift of mercy;
Do not be afraid, do not be ashamed:
The Father awaits you with open arms.
He will forgive and welcome you into his house.
Come, all those in search of peace and joy.”

We thank you, Immaculate Mother,
Because you do not make us walk along this path alone;
You guide us,
You are near us and help us through every difficulty.
May God bless you, now and forever. Amen.
Back at the Vatican, meanwhile, tonight saw a big splash of a spectacle tied to Francis' eco-cyclical Laudato Si and the ongoing global climate change summit in Paris – the projection onto St Peter's Basilica of Fiat Lux (Let There Be Light), a light-show sponsored by a host of environmental groups to encapsulate both the wonders of "our common home" and the dangers facing it....

With the St Peter's Holy Door now open – and as many as 30 million pilgrims projected to pass through it over the next 11 months – on Sunday morning (the day set for the Jubilee's opening in the dioceses of the world), the Pope will push through the portal of Rome's cathedral, St John Lateran, following suit at St Mary Major on the New Year's Day feast of Mary, Mother of God. At St Paul's Outside the Walls, however – where St John Paul II opened the Holy Door in 2000 during an ecumenical prayer service – the honors won't be done by the pontiff, but the basilica's Wisconsin-born archpriest, Cardinal James Harvey, at a Sunday rite.


"Grace Can Transform the Heart" – On Holy Year's Launch, "We Have To Put Mercy Before Judgment"

Buona festa a tutti... and now, again, time for history – for this 1.2 billion-member Church spread across the globe, an unprecedented moment to witness together.

From 9.30am Rome, here's the Pope's outdoor Mass in the Square marking the inauguration of this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, with the opening of the Holy Door in St Peter's at the liturgy's close (worship aid):

The liturgy is the first of two major events for this solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – keeping the longtime custom of the Popes to mark the feast, Francis will head to Rome's Piazza di Spagna at 5pm to lead the annual prayer beneath the statue of Mary Immaculate at the heart of the shopping district, a moment that's come to double as the kickoff for the city's Christmas celebrations.

SVILUPPO: And in his homily at the launch of the Jubilee, Francis wove together today's feast, the half-century mark since Vatican II's close likewise reached today and the Holy Year now beginning from it to challenge the church to embrace anew "the spirit of the Samaritan" (emphases original)....

In a few moments I will have the joy of opening the Holy Door of Mercy. We carry out this act – as I did in Bangui – so simple yet so highly symbolic, in the light of the word of God which we have just heard. That word highlights the primacy of grace. Again and again these readings make us think of the words by which the angel Gabriel told an astonished young girl of the mystery which was about to enfold her: “Hail, full of grace” (Lk 1:28).

The Virgin Mary was called to rejoice above all because of what the Lord accomplished in her. God’s grace enfolded her and made her worthy of becoming the Mother of Christ. When Gabriel entered her home, even the most profound and impenetrable of mysteries became for her a cause for joy, a cause for faith, a cause for abandonment to the message revealed to her. The fullness of grace can transform the human heart and enable it to do something so great as to change the course of human history.

The feast of the Immaculate Conception expresses the grandeur of God’s love. Not only does he forgive sin, but in Mary he even averts the original sin present in every man and woman who comes into this world. This is the love of God which precedes, anticipates and saves. The beginning of the history of sin in the Garden of Eden yields to a plan of saving love. The words of Genesis reflect our own daily experience: we are constantly tempted to disobedience, a disobedience expressed in wanting to go about our lives without regard for God’s will. This is the enmity which keeps striking at people’s lives, setting them in opposition to God’s plan. Yet the history of sin can only be understood in the light of God’s love and forgiveness. Sin can only be understood in this light. Were sin the only thing that mattered, we would be the most desperate of creatures. But the promised triumph of Christ’s love enfolds everything in the Father’s mercy. The word of God which we have just heard leaves no doubt about this. The Immaculate Virgin stands before us as a privileged witness of this promise and its fulfilment.

This Extraordinary Year is itself a gift of grace. To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them. It is he who seeks us! It is he who comes to encounter us! This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy. How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy (cf. Saint Augustine, De Praedestinatione Sanctorum, 12, 24)! But that is the truth. We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgement will always be in the light of his mercy. In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love, of tenderness. Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved. Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things.

Today, here in Rome and in all the dioceses of the world, as we pass through the Holy Door, we also want to remember another door, which fifty years ago the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council opened to the world. This anniversary cannot be remembered only for the legacy of the Council’s documents, which testify to a great advance in faith. Before all else, the Council was an encounter. A genuine encounter between the Church and the men and women of our time. An encounter marked by the power of the Spirit, who impelled the Church to emerge from the shoals which for years had kept her self-enclosed so as to set out once again, with enthusiasm, on her missionary journey. It was the resumption of a journey of encountering people where they live: in their cities and homes, in their workplaces. Wherever there are people, the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel, and the mercy and forgiveness of God. After these decades, we again take up this missionary drive with the same power and enthusiasm. The Jubilee challenges us to this openness, and demands that we not neglect the spirit which emerged from Vatican II, the spirit of the Samaritan, as Blessed Paul VI expressed it at the conclusion of the Council. May our passing through the Holy Door today commit us to making our own the mercy of the Good Samaritan.

Monday, December 07, 2015

My Jesus Mercy

Over the decade and more these pages have been around, especially after the last three years, there really aren't many firsts left to be had.

Even if anything "new" is special, what's just ahead is truly extraordinary: the last time it happened, after all, came at the turn of a millennium by the hand of a saint....

...but this time, it'll all be in Italian.

As never before, tomorrow the entire world will be able to witness the beginning of a Holy Year in the moment as the Pope launches the Jubilee of Mercy for the global church by pushing open the Holy Door of St Peter's at the end of a 9.30am Mass for the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a moment even more intended to mark the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II.

Whether by happy Providence, a striking sense of calculation – or, perhaps, a bit of both – the inauguration of this first off-cycle Jubilee ever dedicated to a theme instead of a specific event likewise falls on the 1,000th day of Jorge Bergoglio's ministry as 266th Bishop of Rome. Along those lines, it is deeply telling that – having cribbed an Argentine grandmother's note at very his first Angelus that, without God's forgiveness, "the world wouldn't exist" – Pope Francis made "experiencing God's mercy" his global intention for this December in the monthly papal petitions which he submitted to the Apostleship of Prayer in early 2014, a full 14 months before his declaration of a Holy Year at a Lenten Penance service during which he (again) broke protocol to go Confession himself before guiding others through theirs.

Having spent his Petrine ministry to date showing doors to the world where many thought only walls existed – and journeying to three continents he'd never previously seen in the effort – for Francis, the Catholic "Doorbuster" special that begins (not coincidentally) on Rome's traditional Christmas-shopping launch represents the intended centerpiece of his pontificate: in his own words, no less than a "revolution"... and just its start at that.

While what'll ensue in the global, programmatic sense remains close to the vest – standard procedure for a Supreme Pontiff who's largely been able to steer clear of his Curia's leak-prone ways – perhaps this Jubilee's most feverishly awaited (or feared) part is already on the clock: amid the loud, yet mostly esoteric clamor in the wake of October's Synod on the Family as its papal last word is in the works, Francis' stated prayer for March 2016 begins with a call "that families in need may receive the necessary support."

As – admit it – that's news to you, 'nuff said for now... and whatever other curiosity exists, remember the counsel of the dear Sisters: "Leave room for the Holy Spirit." ( plus ça change.)

Indeed, in no shortage of ways, this has been a breathtaking year on this beat and then some – and just as exhausting, to boot. The months to come aren't looking to let up much if at all... especially given the costs involved in covering these last few months, though, keeping on here for whatever lies ahead means keeping after the bills this work racks up.

Not that that's easy, but as ever, it is this readership's part.

For just one example, the live text-feed run here over the climactic day of last month's USCCB plenary rang up $850 in server costs due to the traffic that clicked in here for it.

Put simply, folks, when you're reading or watching anything here, this scribe is paying for it... and this latest hit's come on top of the usual costs of covering Plenary Week, on top of what remains to be paid from the PopeTrip, on top of whatever's left over for this scribe's wage, benefits and life, to say nothing of what's yet to come.

Nobody ever said extraordinary times were inexpensive. All that said, though, it's another needed reminder of how Whispers keeps coming your way solely by means of this crowd's support...

Back to the story, in the broad frame as this Jubilee begins, a certain moment looms large in this sinner's mind.

Eerie as the scene now feels, it wasn't all that long ago when Francis George stood over the casket of Andrew Greeley – albeit in very different ways, each a giant of the Stateside Church, but both united, among other things, in knowing that their time wasn't long.

Noting how the celebrated priest-author would take his professor-archbishop to the opera, the long-titanic Francis recalled learning which work was Greeley's favorite....

"And once we were talking about it and I said 'Andy, why do you love La Traviata so deeply?'

And he didn't pause at all. I expected him to say the glorious music, the marvelous melody; instead he said, 'It's the most Catholic of the operas, because in the end – in the end – everyone is forgiven.'"
And so, to one and all, may this Year and its graces be yours in abundance... buckle up.