Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Our Church Is Changing" – Amid Philly's Hispanic Growth, Bensalem Makes A Bishop

Years in the making, it's finally come to pass: for the first time, Philadelphia has a Spanish-fluent bishop... yet one who'll likewise please the Anglos as he's not coming in from outside.

At Roman Noon this Tuesday, the Pope named Msgr Ed Deliman, 69 – a lifer in the trenches and currently pastor of St Charles Borromeo in Bensalem, just over the city's northeast edge – as the 27th auxiliary of the 1.1 million member church, the first such appointment given Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. since his arrival five years ago.

A member of the last mammoth class to be ordained for the River City – 1973's group of 45 priests – Deliman is the first of the storied crew been elevated to the episcopacy. Widely known and deeply well-regarded for his dedication, kindness and hard work amid oft-difficult situations, the bishop-elect's ministry over seven pastorates has been concentrated in two settings: the violence and drug-wracked heart of the nation's poorest major city, or tending to the burgeoning pockets of Hispanic influx around the five-county archdiocese, which have rapidly mushroomed over the last two decades. Yet even as the Latino presence has experienced a significant uptick across the turf, it still only comprises some 20 percent of what's long been the nation's least-Hispanicized major fold, though the bloc continues to grow at a remarkable pace with each passing year.

With the boom reflected in the three critical areas of immigration, baptisms and RCIA classes, landing a Latino – or, as it turned out, a fluent Anglo – has been the top priority of the auxiliary search from its very outset. On a context note, as the Hispanic appointee pool of future US bishops is almost always drawn from a national list, given a scenario that now sees the community comprising a near-majority of the nation's 70 million Catholics while claiming just 15 percent of Stateside priests, demand for a Latino prelate has overwhelmingly outstripped the available supply, a crunch that's not infrequently led to A-list battles over who receives one or another prospect.

With the move, Philadelphia – its Irish-dominated Establishment famously allergic to outsiders – remains the last major US diocese which has never received a bishop from a "minority" community, as well as the lone domestic outpost whose auxiliaries have only ever been chosen from within its own presbyterate. On another front, however, the traditional identikit of a Philly auxiliary – a priesthood mostly spent in the Chancery rungs – has been dispensed with for the first time since 1981, when then-Msgr Louis DeSimone was made the archdiocese's first bishop of Italian descent from a ministry completely rendered in parishes, where the legendary pastor – still spry and active at 94 – remained for the duration of his active days.

Along these same lines, between Deliman's lack of an office background and the demand he'll face to be present among overflowing communities which span the field from the city's core to the rural, agrarian edges of the five counties, the shape of the bishop-elect's portfolio upon his 18 August ordination remains unclear and will largely be his to determine. For the time being, the appointee will remain as pastor at Bensalem, where his efforts to pull off a challenging 2013 merger of Latino and Anglo churches were tracked by CNN in the run-up to September's papal visit.

At the time, today's pick put the reality of things this way: "The face of our Church is changing. The face of our nation is changing. The face of this parish is changing."

And so, this 65th anniversary of the death of the first Philadelphia cardinal – Dennis Dougherty, the native son who reigned in omnipotent glory for 33 years – brings yet another turning of the page, and with it a different age's palpable sign that, going forward, the way "things have always been" is largely no more again.

* * *
On the wider docket, today's nod is one of several long-pending auxiliary files tipped to be filled either by the end of the "Vatican year" in late June, or shortly after the Curia returns from its summer hiatus: other dioceses awaiting new assistant hats include Baltimore, Houston, Miami and Orange, the latter three sees understood to require a specialized "type" of nominee to fill specific needs.

As previously noted, with Archbishop Christophe Pierre soon to arrive in Washington to begin his mandate as Nuncio to the US, some added delays are likely as the Frenchman familiarizes himself both with the existing files and the lay of the land, all the more amid the impending moves on the all-important Eastern trio of Rockville Centre, Arlington and Newark, each formidable in numbers and influence, and all practically certain to go to existing bishops, which will set off a chain reaction to fill the seats they've left behind.

All that said, here's fullvid of this morning's strikingly bilingual presser for Deliman – the happiest gathering of its kind this place has seen in quite some time....


Monday, May 30, 2016

"To These, O Lord...."

More than any other, this solemn morning on which the US commemorates its fallen in our service is arguably the most fitting moment of all to recall the Prayer for the Nation written and first delivered in 1791 by the founding shepherd of these States, John Carroll of Baltimore....
We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

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

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

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

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

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

To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.
To one and all, hope it's been a beautiful, easy and safe long weekend. For what it's worth, much as the last fortnight's been fairly quiet, the month ahead will more than make up for it.


Friday, May 13, 2016

In "Humbled, Exposed" Twin Cities, "God Is Calling Us To Let Go of Everything But Jesus"



13 MAY 2016

My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Those words from today’s Gospel resonate in my heart as I reflect on God’s goodness in bringing me so unexpectedly to this day. It is overwhelming to know of the prayers that are being offered for me this afternoon — and for this local Church as we together strive to make the Lord’s love and mercy known in this part of His vineyard.

Our Gospel today, as well as the Feast that we celebrate, helps us to focus on God’s extravagant love for the lowly, the little ones. It’s beyond anything that Mary or Elizabeth, sensing new life surprisingly within them, could have imagined. It’s beyond anything that the simple children of Fatima – Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco – could have ever imagined. Our God is indeed a God who surprises us with His love, sustains us with His love, challenges us with His love—it’s a love that changes everything.

In one of my favorite Churches in Rome, the Chiesa Nuova – only in Rome could a Church that’s 400 years old be known as the “new church” – hangs a painting by the renaissance master, Federico Barocci, that depicts the moment of the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth that we heard about in the Gospel this afternoon. As Mary, carrying Jesus within her, gently touches the arm of Elizabeth, a brilliant light breaks into a world that is otherwise dark, lackluster and undefined, the world that has long been waiting for God to fulfill his promise. Barocci clearly understood what Mary proclaimed: we have a God who loves the lowly and indeed exalts them. God’s love is the game changer.

The Scriptures remind us how much God loves to make his power shine through our weakness. You’ll remember how he whittles down Gideon’s army from 3,200 to 300, so that it would be clear that the victory that they would win was the result not of their might but of his providential care. Or who could forget the scene where Samuel is called to anoint one of Jesse’s sons and has to pass over the strong and mature in favor of the youngest, David, no more than a lad. When they go into battle with the Philistines, it’s David—diminutive, inexperienced, ill-equipped David—whom the Lord uses to show His might.

It’s no accident that when Jesus sends his disciples out two-by-two, he sends them out without even a walking staff, or a bag, or money or a change of clothes (I suspect that in 2016 the command would be “without cellphone, internet, legal counsel, PayPal and Uber”). The Lord wants it to be clear that it’s not our things, our degrees, our resources that make the difference – but only Him, “only Jesus.”

Over the course of the past 11 months, I’ve come to believe that God the Father is calling us as a Church to let go of everything other than Jesus. The circumstances in which we find ourselves have left us humbled and exposed, and at times the object of public scorn and reproach. The bonds of communion that have long been the strength of this local Church have been tested and challenged as we come to grips with our past and strive to make plans for the future.

I consider it a great blessing that so many of you have recognized this moment as an opportunity for us to place our trust more completely in the Lord who has “shown his mercy from age to age,” and have called me to embrace rather than resist the purification that gives us the opportunity to be the Church that Christ desires us to be, the Church that Pope Francis calls us to be, that evangelizing Church, that “poor Church for the poor,” the Church of the Lucias, Jacintas and Franciscos of the World, the Church that is the field hospital for those in pain.

It’s been a blessing for me that I so consistently find our laity, our consecrated brothers and sisters and our clergy to be proclaimers of hope who are willing to embrace sacrifice so that with our Archdiocesan patron, St. Paul, we might “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties” knowing that it is when are weak that we are strong (2 Cor. 12:10) and believe that we can “do all things through Him who gives us strength” (Phil. 4:13).

In the listening sessions last Fall, the Faithful who gathered consistently shared their hope for a Church that is more transparent, more accountable, more collaborative, more reconciling, more engaged in the work of evangelization. I’m all in… but like you, I recognize that we’re going to have success only to the extent that we can stay focused on Jesus and only Jesus—and embrace his call to humility and simplicity and finding Him as we serve those most in need . We’re blessed to have this glorious Cathedral on Summit and Selby, but we can’t ever lose the passion and focus of those Pilgrims to the Northland who first brought the faith to Pig’s Eye. If they, by God’s grace, could build, I’m confident that we, by that same grace, can rebuild.

As you’ve probably realized already in these past 11 months, the Lord has once again set the stage for the victory to be clearly His. He’s given you a shepherd with more than his share of faults and failings, a shepherd who still has so much to learn about this local Church and region and its history and its culture, a shepherd who has never yet eaten Lutefisk, a shepherd whose feet don’t even reach the ground when he sits on the cathedra. But with your help, your prayers, and especially with God’s grace, I’m confident that we can together begin the process of healing, of evangelizing, of reconciling, or rebuilding, brick by brick, stone by stone.

The commemorative card that you have received today bears a portion of a prayer composed by Blessed John Henry Newman, a prayer that I learned from the Sisters of our soon-to-be-saint, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I hope that you will take it home and allow it to touch your heart as it has touched mine. May it be our fervent prayer this day and always:
Dear Jesus,
help me to spread thy fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Thy spirit and love.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly
that all my life may be only a radiance of thine.
Shine through me and be so in me
that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me


Pope To Tulsa: "Gig 'Em. Again" – Aggie Pastor Named OK Bishop

Over recent years, it's become no secret that one of US Catholicism's most vibrant centers of life and vitality is found deep in the heart of Texas. While that's now come to apply to the whole state – where, late in the last decade, Catholics surpassed Southern Baptists to comprise the largest religious group – in a particular way, among the Lone Star church's brightest spots is the Catholic Center at Texas A&M: a place that routinely leads the country in numbers of graduates entering seminary and religious life (roughly a dozen this year alone), and where the standing-room only crowds for weekday Mass would easily pass for Sundays (if not Christmas or Ash Wednesday) most anywhere else.

And so, barely three years after the first time the pastor of St Mary's was named a bishop, it should come as no surprise that lightning's struck twice for the Aggies: at Roman Noon this Friday, the Pope named Fr David Konderla (above), the 55 year-old lead chaplain in College Station since 2005, as fourth bishop of Tulsa, retiring Bishop Edward Slattery nine months after the longtime head of the 60,000-member church turned 75. Given the prominence of the assignment the bishop-elect leaves behind, however, who ends up being sent to Aggieland's storied "vocation factory" feels about as crucial, if not even more.

Notably, the Tulsa pick is just the latest of several Francis has given to priests who've been college chaplains at some point in their ministry, clearly seeing that experience as a critically important mission-field for the church's future on these shores. (Indeed, another among the group is Archbishop Bernie Hebda, who formally takes the reins of the beleaguered church in the Twin Cities later today.) Meanwhile, in just the latest boast for a diocese whose energy level is widely reputed to be off the charts, Konderla is the fourth Austin priest to be elevated since the turn of the decade, following last year's selection of a first-ever auxiliary, now Bishop Danny Garcia, and two others tapped to lead their own sees: Bishops Michael Mulvey, the onetime vicar-general, sent to Corpus Christi in 2010, and Mike Sis – likewise Austin's second-in-command after launching the rise of the A&M juggernaut – named to San Angelo in late 2013, and whose crozier was memorably made by today's appointee from the limbs of a tree on the St Mary's property.

According to an early-morning drop from Austin Chancery, the bishop-elect will be ordained and installed on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, 29 June. With Konderla already in Tulsa for the announcement, the Oklahoma diocese announced that the appointee will help distribute food to the poor at a Catholic Charities center before today's noontime presser.

With the nod, just one Stateside Latin diocese stands vacant – Salt Lake City, now pending for over a year – with another six led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age pending the arrival of their successors. The latter group is led by Long Island's 1.6 million-member fold based in Rockville Centre, where Bishop William Murphy turns 76 tomorrow. And then, of course, there's the question of Newark.....

Developing – more to come.


On "Deaconesses," A Commission Doesn't Equal The Result

Weeks after closing out one years-long process that served to convulse much of the Catholic conversation, the Pope has opened the door to another live-wire discussion: at a Q&A yesterday with some 900 members of the Union of International Superiors General – the umbrella-group for the leaders of women religious orders worldwide – Francis accepted a sister's proposal for a commission which would study and "clarify" the history of women's service in diaconal roles in the church.

Even as the hours since have made for an Olympic-grade onslaught of Rohrshach tests reflecting the many reactions to the charged question, the only clear thing at this point is that there'll be a commission. To use a similar example, given the labyrinthine path of Papa Bergoglio's Curial reform task-force – now in its fourth year, a far "easier" work than a diaconal commission would face – no one should be holding their breath on a result for either anytime soon.

In addition, it bears particular underscoring that the host of variables at hand break down onto two very important fronts: first, given the immediate emergence of rival factions on the question, the personnel named to the panel – and the early-church scholarship the group will admit – will be critical to the outcome... and in the event the commission should find that the historic deaconesses indeed had some kind of standing in holy orders – and, if so, one almost certain to be distinct from that of men – the shape of an analogous role today would need to be fleshed out.

Notably, it is from the patristic era that one of the church's critical understandings of the diaconate is derived: the 4th century reflection of St Hippolytus that deacons are ordained "not to the priesthood, but to the ministry" – a differentiation which is immensely significant given the Catholic tradition's affirmation of priesthood as reserved to men alone, something Francis has frequently reiterated as a "closed door." What's more, the timing is significant amid the specter of two related upcoming events: first, at month's end, Francis will preside over a Jubilee event for the world's deacons, several thousand of whom will be in Rome for the festivities; and down the line, in what's become by far the global church's largest outpost of permanent deacons, the US church recently began planning a major national observance of the 50th anniversary of the restored order, which occurs in 2018.

Back to yesterday, while the bulk of coverage has focused on the surprise announcement of the commission, the entire session provided some remarkable words from the pontiff on the role and leadership women should exercise in the church, including a clear statement that – even if the non-ordained of either gender are precluded from preaching at Mass – "it's not a problem" for "a religious or laywoman" to "do the preaching" in a celebration of the Liturgy of the Word, as well as revealing that he had recently named a woman religious as secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (the second-ranking office, normally held by a bishop), but that the unnamed appointee had declined the post.

All that said, since Francis is routinely apprised in advance of the questions he'll be asked in these dialogue sessions, even as the notion of a commission wouldn't have been as spontaneous as it might appear, the Pope's setup immediately preceding the question – namely, a firm warning against the "danger" of clericalism, making explicit reference to the diaconate – was likewise no accident.

In light of the fracas that's erupted since the story went viral, in a tweet posted this afternoon in Rome, the Sostituto of the Secretariat of State Archbishop Angelo Becciu – in essence, the Curia's "chief of staff" – said that Francis "had phoned me with surprise about... deaconesses!

"He's thinking about a commission," Becciu added. "Don't jump to conclusions!"

Given the attention surrounding the topic – and, indeed, to present the many issues treated in their full context – below is a house English translation of the first two exchanges which addressed the role of women in the church, as released this morning in the Vatican transcript:
Q: Pope Francis, you have said that "the feminine genius is necessary in all expressions of the life of the Church and society," and still women are excluded from the decision-making processes in the church, above all at the highest levels, and from preaching at the Eucharist. An important obstacle to the Church's full embrace of the "feminine genius" is the link that either decision-making processes or preaching have with priestly ordination. Do you see a way to separate from ordination the roles of leadership and preaching at Mass, so our Church might be more open to receiving the genius of women, in the near-term future?

Pope: There are different things here that we have to distinguish. The question is linked to functionality, it's linked much to functionality, while the role of the woman is otherwise. But I'll now respond to the question, then we can talk about it.... I've seen that there are other questions that go elsewhere. It's true that women are kept out of the decision processes of the Church: not excluded, but it's a great need to include women there, in decision-making. We must go ahead. For example – truly I don't see a difficulty [with this] – I believe that in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace going forward the secretary might be a woman, a religious woman. Another was proposed and I appointed her, but she preferred not to do it, that she might go to another part and do other work in her Congregation. So it must go forward otherwise, because for many aspects of decision-making processes ordination isn't necessary. It's not necessary. In the reform of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus [Ed. on the composition of the Roman Curia], in terms of the dicasteries, when there's not jurisdiction [involved] that comes from ordination – that is, pastoral jurisdiction – it'll go unwritten that it can be a woman, I don't know if as head of the dicastery, but.... For example, migrants: at the dicastery [pontifical council] for migrants, a woman could go there. And when there's the need – now that migrants are entering into [a larger, merged] dicastery – for jurisdiction, it'll be the Prefect who can give this permission. But ordinarily it can go forward, in the execution of decision-making. For me, the forming of a decision is very important: not only the execution, but also the process of it, and it's there that women, whether consecrated or lay, can enter into reflection on the process and in discussion. Because woman looks at life with her own eyes and we men can't see it so. It's the way of looking at a problem, of seeing everything, in a woman is different relative to how a man sees it. These must be complementary, and in consultations it's important that women are there.

I had the experience of [looking at] an issue in Buenos Aires: seeing it with the presbyteral council – therefore, all men – it was well treated; then, seeing it with a group of religious women and laity enriched it so much, so much, and improved the decision with a complementary vision. It's necessary, this is necessary! And I think that we should go forward on this, then the decision process will play out.

Then there's the issue of preaching in the Eucharistic Celebration. There's not any problem that a woman – a religious or lay – does the preaching in a Liturgy of the Word. It's not a problem. But in the Eucharistic Celebration it is a liturgical-dogmatic issue, because the celebration is one – Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist, it's united – and he who presides is Jesus Christ. The priest or the bishop who presides does it in the person of Jesus Christ. It's a theological-liturgical reality. In that situation, there not being the ordination of women, they can't preside. But it can be studied more and explained more than what I've just said quickly and a bit simply.

Instead, in leadership, there's no problem: in this we should go forward, with prudence, but seeking solutions.... There are two temptations here, of which we must look out for.

The first is feminism: the role of woman in the Church isn't feminism, it's a right! It's a right of the baptized with the charisms and gifts that the Spirit has given. It doesn't need to fall into feminism, because this would reduce the importance of a woman. I don't see, in this moment, a great danger regarding this among religious women. I don't see it. Maybe at one time, but in general it isn't there.

The other danger, which is a very strong temptation and of which I've spoken of a lot, is clericalism. And this is very strong.

Let's think that, today, more than 60 percent of parishes – of the dioceses I don't know, but maybe a little less – don't have a financial council nor a pastoral council. What does this say? That that parish and that diocese is guided by a clerical spirit, only by priests, that it doesn't have a synodality of parish life, a diocesan synodality, which is not a novelty of this Pope. No! It's in Canon Law, it's an obligation of the pastor to have the advice of laity, for and with the lay men, women and religious for pastoral care and economic matters. And they don't do this. And this is the danger of clericalism today in the Church. We must go forward and treat this danger, because the priest is a servant of the community, the bishop is a servant of the community, but not the boss of a business. No! This is important. In Latin America, for example, clericalism is very strong, very deeply marked. The laity don't know what to do, they don't ask things of the priest... It's very strong. And for this the awareness of the role of the laity in Latin America has greatly been halted. Some of this is salvaged a bit only by popular piety: because the protagonist is the people and the people have done it on their terms, and among the priests this doesn't interest them much, and some don't look well upon this phenomenon of popular piety. But clericalism is a negative attachment. And it has an accomplice, because it takes two, like the Tango takes two... that is: the priest who wants to clericalize the laity, the religious, the laity who asks "please let me be clericalized," because it's more comfortable. This is curious. In Buenos Aires, I had this experience three or four times: a great pastor, who comes and tells me "You know, I have an amazing layman in the parish: he does this and this, he knows how to organize things, he does things on his own, he's really a valuable man.... So do we make him a deacon?" That is to say: do we "clericalize" him? "No! Let the layman remain a layman. Do not make him a deacon." This is important. This can happen to you too, that many times clericalism keeps you from the right development of things.

I will ask – and maybe the President [of UISG] will make it happen – that the Congregation for [Divine] Worship might explain this well, in a deeper way, what I've said a little briskly on preaching in the Eucharistic Celebration. Because I don't have the sufficient theology and clarity to explain it now. But one needs to distinguish well: preaching at the Liturgy of the Word is one thing, and this can be done; the Eucharistic Celebration is another, here there's another mystery. It's the Mystery of Christ present and the priest or bishop who celebrates in persona Christi.

For leadership it's clear.... I believe this can be my general response on the first question. Let's see what the second one is.

Q: Consecrated women already work much with the poor and the marginalized, teaching catechesis, accompanying the sick and dying, distributing Communion, in many countries they guide public prayer in the absence of priests and in some cases give the homily. In the Church there's the office of permanent deacon, but it's only open to men, married and not. What keeps the Church from including women among permanent deacons, as was the case in the early Church? Why not set up a commission that can study the question? Can you give us an example of where you see the possibility of a better inclusion of women and consecrated women in the life of the Church?

This question goes into the sense of "doing": consecrated women already work so much with the poor, they do many things... they "do." And it touches the issue of the permanent diaconate. Someone will want to say that the "permanent deaconesses" in the life of the Church are mothers-in-law. [Pope, crowd laugh] In effect it's there in antiquity: there was a beginning... I remember that it was a theme that quite interested me when I once came to Rome for meetings and stayed at the Domus Paulus VI; there was a Sirian theologian there, great man, who wrote the critical edition of the translation of the Hymns of Ephrem the Syrian. And one day I asked him about this, and he explained that in the first days of the Church there were some "deaconesses." But what are these deaconesses? Were they ordained or not? The Council of Chalcedon (451) speaks of them, but it's a bit obscure. What was the role of the deaconesses in those times? It seems – this man told me, he's now dead, he was a great, wise, scholarly professor – it seems that the role of the deaconesses was to help in the baptism of women, the immersion, they baptized them, for decorum's sake, also doing the anointing of the body of the woman, in baptism. And also something else that's curious: when there was a marital trial because the husband hit his wife and she went to the bishop to make a complaint, the deaconesses were tasked with seeing the wounds left on the woman's body from her husband and reporting back to the bishop. This I recall. There are some publications on the diaconate in the Church, but it's not clear how this was done. I believe that I will ask the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to refer me to its studies on this theme, because I'm only responding to you in a basic way, from what I remember from this priest who was a scholarly and valid researcher, on the permanent diaconate. And otherwise I would like to set up an official commission that can study the question: I believe it will do the Church good to clarify this point; I agree, and I will talk about doing something of this kind.

Then you say, "We agree with you, Holy Father, that many times you've spoken of the necessity for a more incisive role of women in decision-making processes in the Church." This is clear. "Can you give us some example of where you see the possibility of a better involvement of women and consecrated women in the life of the Church? I will say something is coming later, because I see that this is a general question. In the consultations of the Congregation for religious, in the assemblies [of communities], consecrated women must move forward: this is sure. In discussions on the many problems that come up, consecrated women must move forward. Something else: a better involvement. At the moment, concrete things don't come to my mind, but always that which I said earlier: to seek the judgment of the consecrated woman, because woman sees things with an originality different from that of men, and this enriches it: whether in consultations, decisions, in making things concrete.

These works that you do with the poor, the marginalized, in catechesis, accompanying the sick and dying, they are very "maternal" works, where the motherhood of the Church expresses itself ever more. But there are men who do the same, and do it well: professed, hospitaller orders... And this is important.

Then, on the diaconate, yes, I accept and it seems useful to have a commission that will better clarify this, above all with regard to the first days of the Church.

Regarding a better involvement, I repeat what I said before. If there's something to make concrete, I ask you now: over what I've said, is there something more you'd like to ask that'd help me think? Let's keep going.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

On Ascension Day – Or Not – The Church Retains Its "Option"

To one and all in the Northeast, Nebraska, The Vatican – and anywhere else this is still Ascension Thursday – a blessed and buona festa with all its joys and graces....

...to everyone else, well, re-read this on Sunday.

Given the unique patchwork of how American Catholicism observes this 40th Day of Easter (or doesn't), it bears recalling how the split decision – and its still-resulting confusion – owes itself to a 1994 vote granted by Rome to the bishops of each of the nation's 33 Latin-church provinces: a concession which followed a five-year "experiment" that initially allowed the five Westernmost jurisdictions to move their Ascension date to the weekend.

To put it mildly, no shortage of things have changed since then, above all the makeup of the bench. Indeed, it's hard to think of more than five still-active prelates (of some 250) who would've cast a vote on this question, and all but one of them are now in very different provinces than they were at the time.

More to the point, the last two decades have brought something of a tidal shift across the board, even as its wake has pulled in two very different directions: in the Northeast, where 1994's ample numbers of priests and people have largely been obliterated due to aging and atrophy, the region's historic premium on tradition – and, to be sure, the ever-sacred Holy Day Collection – is a lot more costly these days... while even as a thousand and more new communities have bloomed to points South and West, amid presbyterates that've either grown or, at best, barely kept pace to serve the boom, in many places said epochal ascent has brought a more deeply-rooted sense of Catholic identity to the fore, one in which days like this make for a particular flashpoint, and a very desirable one to maintain at that.

In other words, since there's no need whatsoever for the prior generation's judgment to hold today's Church hostage, the Ascension Day vote can be retaken at any time... and if it were, one way or another, odds are the resulting map would look rather different. It wouldn't exactly be rocket-science to pull off, either – the majority of diocesan bishops in any given province would be able to petition for a change on their respective turf. Toward that end, the exigencies of a different Church in a different age make this question feel like something at least worth discerning anew, that the needs and aspirations of God's People in our situations today might best be served as they are, instead of as they were two decades and an ecclesial age ago.

All that said, in the grand scheme of things, the date is but window dressing. For all the hand-wringing that remains over when this feast is (or isn't) celebrated, to engage in that while missing out on what the day actually means – and the responsibility and work that it requires – only creates yet another vapid distraction from the lone thing that matters most....

Evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary mandate of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). In these verses we see how the risen Christ sent his followers to preach the Gospel in every time and place, so that faith in him might spread to every corner of the earth.

The word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him “to go forth”.... The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, that he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.

Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord gets involved and he involves his own, as he kneels to wash their feet. He tells his disciples: “You will be blessed if you do this” (Jn 13:17). An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance. Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time. Faithful to the Lord’s gift, it also bears fruit. An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds. The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear. The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed. Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.

I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. “Mere administration” can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission”....

There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s “fidelity to her own calling,” any new structure will soon prove ineffective.

I dream of a “missionary option” – that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her [own] self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself.
–Pope Francis
Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel")
24 November 2013

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

In Metuchen, The Mission Begins

A few weeks ago, when the newly-named Bishop Jim Checchio got a personal moment to thank the Pope for his appointment, Francis asked for his pick's ordination date and kept repeating it to himself "so I can remember to pray for you then."

So it seems, the Man in White didn't just recall the date, but he must've somehow gotten wind of the motto Checchio chose – at the monthly General Audience for Jubilee pilgrims on Saturday, Francis focused his talk on the same four words: St Paul's exhortation to "Be reconciled to God."

As the beginnings of an episcopal ministry go, it's all been rather auspicious... then again, for the rector who led the Pontifical North American College through an extraordinary decade of growth and vitality, it was always bound to be.

And so, just a week after the son of Camden marked his 50th birthday, at the close of one of the largest ordinations these shores have seen in recent years – featuring five cardinals, 60 bishops and some 300 priests – below are the prodigal Jerseyite's inaugural remarks this afternoon on coming home (albeit up the Turnpike) and landing in the reins of the 680,000-member Metuchen diocese:

On a historic note, as this summer marks 15 years since the last time a NAC rector was returned home to receive the hat, it's worth highlighting that said figure – now the Cardinal-Archbishop of New York – was duly present for today's rites, seated alongside his predecessor atop The Hill, now the Cardinal-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher.

In other words, wherever the road may lead from here, this isn't where the story ends.

Along those lines, part of today's drama will have to wait – but not too long – as a certain piece of it begins to unfold in full over the weeks and months ahead.