Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The "Taz" Is Taken – US' Top Prospect Talley Lands In the Bayou

Even if Lord only knows how Louisiana's 43,000-member diocese of Alexandria nabbed the top pick in the Episcopal Draft, the surprise result's nonetheless come to pass: at Roman Noon this Wednesday, the Pope named Bishop David Talley – the 66 year-old Atlanta auxiliary desired for no shortage of open sees – to the southern Louisiana church as coadjutor to Bishop Ronald Herzog, who reaches the retirement age of 75 next April.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory's junior deputy in overseeing the million-member North Georgia fold for all of three years, keeping with Talley's reputation as the "Tasmanian Devil" – a moniker coined by the staff of his last pastorate, "because he's always running full speed ahead, in a good way" – the quietly kind, hyper-relational Southern Baptist social worker-turned-Rome-trained canonist has come into a staggeringly high level of regard on the national scene, with a cult following that runs deep even among the oft-skeptical USCCB staff. (To be sure, one could see it coming – as a collaborator at Talley's 5,000-family parish wrote on his departure as auxiliary, "I cried... more like bawled, when I heard the news that I was losing my favorite Pastor.")

Along those lines, it's been no secret that today's nominee was headed somewhere, but figuring out the "where" has produced an unusually concerted tug-of-war over the last year: some sought him for Memphis, others St Petersburg, others still for Arlington – the latter two roughly 20 times the size of the Louisiana slot where he's ended up. Yet given reports of concern over the state of morale in Alexandria, he's ostensibly been sent where his skill-set could accomplish the most good.

On a historic note, as the 20th anniversary of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin's death approaches in November, today's appointee is the first auxiliary sent out of Atlanta since 1972, when the future Chicago cardinal was named archbishop of Cincinnati (hence the placeholder). Given the remarkable dynamism and scope of a 404 fold spanning 69 counties and grown sixfold since 1990 – often boasting the US' largest RCIA classes, to boot – it doesn't take a rocket-scientist to expect a petition for a new auxiliary to join the already deep pile of major Stateside outposts awaiting assistant hats, some of which have been pending for two years or more.

Having already switched SEC gear at this morning's rollout to his new presbyterate (above), Talley's Mass of Welcome is set for November 7th. While today's nod doesn't impact the nation's diocesan docket, it bears reminding that just two US Latin sees – Salt Lake and Dallas – stand vacant, with another nine led by a prelate serving past the retirement age until a successor is chosen.

To help fill in the picture, here's Talley's homily before the usual crowd of 30,000 at this year's edition of Atlanta's Eucharistic Congress over Corpus Christi weekend...

 ...and the following comes from these pages' 2013 report on his appointment as auxiliary:
Born a Southern Baptist – and, ergo, just the latest of several adult converts (Swain, Conley, Bevard) named to the bench by B16 – the bishop-elect spent over a decade as a case-worker for abused children before being ordained from St Meinrad in 1989. Given the nominee's pre-seminary background, Talley's being shortlisted by the global church's emblematic figure of "zero tolerance" and restoring trust sends a deeply potent signal, especially amid developments elsewhere into the present.

After returning from the Gregorian with a JCD, the new auxiliary served by turns as Atlanta's vocation director, judicial vicar, chancellor and at the tribunal before entering parish work full-time in 2003. On another front, meanwhile, even before his degree in the canons, Talley becomes one of just a handful of US bishops to hold a master's in social work; the others include the USCCB vice-president, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, and Bishops Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Paul Bradley of Kalamazoo and the Philadelphia auxiliary Timothy Senior. Unlike Talley, each of the others had run Catholic Charities in their respective hometowns before becoming bishops.

Having led the building of a 900-seat, 36,000 square-foot church for the 2,500-family flock of his last pastorate, in 2011 Talley was sent to the even more massive St Brigid's in Johns Creek, home to nearly 5,000 families and – so the parish website says – no less than seven permanent deacons. The page likewise features a full archive of Talley's weekly bulletin columns, which chronicle all the "happy problems" of a church busting at the seams.  
Known among his own as a fixer of difficult situations and a "dynamic, caring" figure who "gets people excited," the local reaction to today's move was described as "over the moon" – as one op put it, "Couldn't have happened to a better priest." (At right, the bishop-elect is shown reacting to an ovation from his people at the dedication of their new church.)

Before the appointment of the ever-smiling, Colombian-born [Luis] Zarama – who came to the archdiocese as a seminarian – in 2009, the Hotlanta church (which spreads across some 22,000 square miles) had not received an auxiliary since 1966, when Msgr Joseph Bernardin of Charleston was named at 38 to aid the ailing Paul Hallinan, the son of Cleveland who became the Southeast's first archbishop four years earlier.

Like many of the local clergy until recent times – legions of "FBI" notwithstanding – all but one of the subsequent Atlanta prelates hailed from points North or Midwest, and only with today's move can the 404 boast its first native-Georgian bishop.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"Peace Alone Is Holy, Not War!" – In Francis' City, Pope Gathers World Against "Paganism of Indifference"

Thirty years since the now-canonized John Paul II infuriated his right flank (in perpetuity) by convening representatives of the world's faiths for a common prayer for peace in the city of St Francis, the first Pope to take the name of the Poverello of Assisi repeated the act today, sharing the stage with a host of ecumenical partners – led by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby – alongside delegates from each of the other major religious traditions in what was termed a "Thirst For Peace."

Capping a three-day congress organized by the Sant'Egidio community (the Rome-based Catholic movement which often takes the lead on social-justice concerns) while the different faiths separated for an afternoon hour to pray according to their own rites around the hilltop Basilica of St Francis, Papa Bergoglio's daylong swing featured a shared lunch for the attendees and twin reflections by the Pope – the first at the dedicated worship for Christians within the church, then a closing address for the entire assembly in the hillside square adjoining the saint's burial-site, with its breathtaking views of the Umbrian countryside.

Midway through the fourth year of his pontificate, today's trek marked Francis' third trip to Assisi, the second in just the last six weeks following a low-key stop in early August to mark the 800th anniversary of the "Pardon" sought by St Francis to all who visited the Portiuncula chapel he built, which was subsequently extended to the entire church on its patronal feast of Our Lady of the Angels. With plans for a May trek to Milan having been postponed until 2017 due to the Jubilee, the Poverello's town – which has long credited its freakishly low crime rate to Francis' enduring spirit – has been the only Italian venue the Pope has visited over this Holy Year.

*   *   *
Here, the Vatican translation of the Pope's meditation at today's Christian prayer gathering....
Gathered before Jesus crucified, we hear his words ring out also for us: “I thirst” (Jn 19:28). Thirst, more than hunger, is the greatest need of humanity, and also its greatest suffering. Let us contemplate then the mystery of Almighty God, who in his mercy became poor among men.

What does the Lord thirst for? Certainly for water, that element essential for life. But above all for love, that element no less essential for living. He thirsts to give us the living waters of his love, but also to receive our love. The prophet Jeremiah expressed God’s appreciation of our love: “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride” (Jer 2:2). But he also gave voice to divine suffering, when ungrateful man abandoned love – it seems as if the Lord is also speaking these words today – “they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (v. 13). It is the tragedy of the “withered heart”, of love not requited, a tragedy that unfolds again in the Gospel, when in response to Jesus’ thirst man offers him vinegar, spoiled wine. As the psalmist prophetically lamented: “For my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Ps 69:21).

“Love is not loved”: this reality, according to some accounts, is what upset Saint Francis of Assisi. For love of the suffering Lord, he was not ashamed to cry out and grieve loudly (cf. Fonti Francescane, no. 1413). This same reality must be in our hearts as we contemplate Christ Crucified, he who thirsts for love. Mother Teresa of Calcutta desired that in the chapel of every community of her sisters the words “I thirst” would be written next to the crucifix. Her response was to quench Jesus’ thirst for love on the Cross through service to the poorest of the poor. The Lord’s thirst is indeed quenched by our compassionate love; he is consoled when, in his name, we bend down to another’s suffering. On the day of judgment they will be called “blessed” who gave drink to those who were thirsty, who offered true gestures of love to those in need: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

Jesus’ words challenge us, they seek a place in our heart and a response that involves our whole life. In his “I thirst” we can hear the voice of the suffering, the hidden cry of the little innocent ones to whom the light of this world is denied, the sorrowful plea of the poor and those most in need of peace. The victims of war, which sullies people with hate and the earth with arms, plead for peace; our brothers and sisters, who live under the threat of bombs and are forced to leave their homes into the unknown, stripped of everything, plead for peace. They are all brothers and sisters of the Crucified One, the little ones of his Kingdom, the wounded and parched members of his body. They thirst. But they are frequently given, like Jesus, the bitter vinegar of rejection. Who listens to them? Who bothers responding to them? Far too often they encounter the deafening silence of indifference, the selfishness of those annoyed at being pestered, the coldness of those who silence their cry for help with the same ease with which television channels are changed.

Before Christ Crucified, “the power and wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24), we Christians are called to contemplate the mystery of Love not loved and to pour out mercy upon the world. On the cross, the tree of life, evil was transformed into good; we too, as disciples of the Crucified One, are called to be “trees of life” that absorb the contamination of indifference and restore the pure air of love to the world. From the side of Christ on the Cross water flowed, that symbol of the Spirit who gives life (cf. Jn 19:34); so that from us, his faithful, compassion may flow forth for all who thirst today.

Like Mary by the Cross, may the Lord grant us to be united to him and close to those who suffer. Drawing near to those living as crucified, and strengthened by the love of Jesus Crucified and Risen, may our harmony and communion deepen even more. “For he is our peace” (Eph 2:14), he who came to preach peace to those near and far (cf. v. 17). May he keep us all in his love and gather us together in unity, that path which we are all on, so that we may be “one” (Jn 17:21) as he desires.
...and his subsequent outdoor remarks to close the day with the entire interfaith group:
Your Holinesses,
Distinguished Representatives of Churches, Christian Communities, and Religions,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I greet you with great respect and affection, and I thank you for your presence here. I thank the Community of Sant’Egidio, the Diocese of Assisi and the Franciscan Families that have prepared this day of prayer. We have come to Assisi as pilgrims in search of peace. We carry within us and place before God the hopes and sorrows of many persons and peoples. We thirst for peace. We desire to witness to peace. And above all, we need to pray for peace, because peace is God’s gift, and it lies with us to plead for it, embrace it, and build it every day with God’s help.

“Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:9). Many of you have travelled a great distance to reach this holy place. To set out, to come together in order to work for peace: these are not only physical movements, but most of all movements of the soul, concrete spiritual responses so as to overcome what is closed, and become open to God and to our brothers and sisters. God asks this of us, calling us to confront the great sickness of our time: indifference. It is a virus that paralyzes, rendering us lethargic and insensitive, a disease that eats away at the very heart of religious fervour, giving rise to a new and deeply sad paganism: the paganism of indifference.

We cannot remain indifferent. Today the world has a profound thirst for peace. In many countries, people are suffering due to wars which, though often forgotten, are always the cause of suffering and poverty. In Lesbos, with our beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, we saw the sorrow of war in the eyes of the refugees, the anguish of peoples thirsting for peace. I am thinking of the families, whose lives have been shattered; of the children who have known only violence in their lives; of the elderly, forced to leave their homeland. All of them have a great thirst for peace. We do not want these tragedies to be forgotten. Rather together we want to give voice to all those who suffer, to all those who have no voice and are not heard. They know well, often better than the powerful, that there is no tomorrow in war, and that the violence of weapons destroys the joy of life.

We do not have weapons. We believe, however, in the meek and humble strength of prayer. On this day, the thirst for peace has become a prayer to God, that wars, terrorism and violence may end. The peace which we invoke from Assisi is not simply a protest against war, nor is it “a result of negotiations, political compromises or economic bargaining. It is the result of prayer” (John Paul II, Address, Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, 27 October 1986: Insegnamenti IX,2 [1986], 1252). We seek in God, who is the source of communion, the clear waters of peace for which humanity thirsts: these waters do not flow from the deserts of pride and personal interests, from the dry earth of profit at any cost and the arms trade.

Our religious traditions are diverse. But our differences are not the cause of conflict and dispute, or a cold distance between us. We have not prayed against one another today, as has unfortunately sometimes occurred in history. Without syncretism or relativism, we have rather prayed side by side and for each other. In this very place Saint John Paul II said: “More perhaps than ever before in history, the intrinsic link between an authentic religious attitude and the great good of peace has become evident to all” (Address, Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, 27 October 1986: Insegnamenti IX,2, 1268). Continuing the journey which began thirty years ago in Assisi, where the memory of that man of God and of peace who was Saint Francis remains alive, “once again, gathered here together, we declare that whoever uses religion to foment violence contradicts religion’s deepest and truest inspiration” (Address to the Representatives of the World Religions, Assisi, 24 January 2002: Insegnamenti XXV,1 [2002], 104). We further declare that violence in all its forms does not represent “the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction” (Benedict XVI, Address at the Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World, Assisi, 27 October 2011: Insegnamenti VII,2 [2011], 512). We never tire of repeating that the name of God cannot be used to justify violence. Peace alone is holy. Peace alone is holy, not war!

Today we have pleaded for the holy gift of peace. We have prayed that consciences will be mobilized to defend the sacredness of human life, to promote peace between peoples and to care for creation, our common home. Prayer and concrete acts of cooperation help us to break free from the logic of conflict and to reject the rebellious attitudes of those who know only how to protest and be angry. Prayer and the desire to work together commit us to a true peace that is not illusory: not the calm of one who avoids difficulties and turns away, if his personal interests are not at risk; it is not the cynicism of one who washes his hands of any problem that is not his; it is not the virtual approach of one who judges everything and everyone using a computer keyboard, without opening his eyes to the needs of his brothers and sisters, and dirtying his hands for those in need. Our path leads us to immersing ourselves in situations and giving first place to those who suffer; to taking on conflicts and healing them from within; to following ways of goodness with consistency, rejecting the shortcuts offered by evil; to patiently engaging processes of peace, in good will and with God’s help.

Peace, a thread of hope that unites earth to heaven, a word so simple and difficult at the same time. Peace means Forgiveness, the fruit of conversion and prayer, that is born from within and that, in God’s name, makes it possible to heal old wounds. Peace means Welcome, openness to dialogue, the overcoming of closed-mindedness, which is not a strategy for safety, but rather a bridge over an empty space. Peace means Cooperation, a concrete and active exchange with another, who is a gift and not a problem, a brother or sister with whom to build a better world. Peace denotes Education, a call to learn every day the challenging art of communion, to acquire a culture of encounter, purifying the conscience of every temptation to violence and stubbornness which are contrary to the name of God and human dignity.

We who are here together and in peace believe and hope in a fraternal world. We desire that men and women of different religions may everywhere gather and promote harmony, especially where there is conflict. Our future consists in living together. For this reason we are called to free ourselves from the heavy burdens of distrust, fundamentalism and hate. Believers should be artisans of peace in their prayers to God and in their actions for humanity! As religious leaders, we are duty bound to be strong bridges of dialogue, creative mediators of peace. We turn to those who hold the greatest responsibility in the service of peoples, to the leaders of nations, so that they may not tire of seeking and promoting ways of peace, looking beyond self-serving interests and those of the moment: may they not remain deaf to God’s appeal to their consciences, to the cry of the poor for peace and to the healthy expectations of younger generations. Here, thirty years ago, Pope John Paul II said: “Peace is a workshop, open to all and not just to specialists, savants and strategists. Peace is a universal responsibility (Address, Lower Piazza of the Basilica of Saint Francis, 27 October 1986: l.c., 1269). Sisters and brothers, let us assume this responsibility, reaffirming today our “yes” to being, together, builders of the peace that God wishes for us and for which humanity thirsts.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Doctor Is In – In "Mercy" Doubleheader, Pope Visits NICU, Aims To Treat "Narcissism"

While photos of the Pope's monthly Mercy Friday stop – this time, a stealth visit to bless the patients of the neonatal ICU of a Rome hospital (and a hospice for the terminally ill) – indeed came close to breaking the internet as the weekend began, per usual, the key news of the cycle wasn't merely elsewhere, but focused on "infants" of a different kind....

Before keeping up his Jubilee commitment to personally perform the works of compassion, Francis met this year's crop of his own chosen offspring – the 150-odd new prelates from throughout the developed world gathered for the annual "baby bishop school," which introduces the fresh appointees to each other, as well as the wider trends, challenges and openings which will shape their respective ministries. And keeping with his own thread of reserving the most extensive and urgent talks for the shepherds he oversees, Big Brother delivered a detailed, intense call for the rookies – not to mention their elders – to embrace "mercy as the summary" of the message they seek to present, warning them that "the people of God [who] have the sense of God" flee the church "when they 'sense'" that their ecclesial leaders are "narcissists, manipulators, defenders of their own causes, [and] preachers of vain crusades."

(Does the news have your attention now?)

In the Pope's mind, episcopal ministry today "is not about attracting to oneself: this is a danger! The world is tired of lying charmers. And I allow myself to say: of 'fashionable' priests or 'fashionable' bishops."

Instead, saying the appointees were "'fished' from the heart of God to lead his holy people," Francis called the bishops to "be pastors that are able to return home with your own, of arousing that healthy intimacy that enables them to approach you, to create that trust that allows the question: 'Explain it to us.'

"It is not just any explanation," he said, "but of the secret of the Kingdom. "

"It is a question addressed to you personally. The answer cannot be delegated to someone else."

Along the same lines, addressing a similar course last week for new bishops from the world's mission territories, Papa Bergoglio issued another potent warning: in that case, against the fracturing of the church.

"Divisions are the weapon that the devil has most at hand to destroy the church from within," Francis said. "[Satan] has two weapons, but the main one is division, the other is money.

"Please, fight against divisions," he urged, "because it is one of the weapons that the devil has to destroy the local church and the universal church.... The church is called to be able to put herself always above tribal-cultural connotations and the bishop, [as] visible principle of unity, has the task to build the particular church incessantly in the communion of all her members."

By the pontiff's standard, the chattering class of the Stateside Church must be Satan's favorite playground, all the more amid the hysterics of election season. In any case – with thanks to the CatholicTV impresario, now Auxiliary Bishop Bob Reed of Boston – for the shot, here's the US contingent at this year's course:

Front row (all from left): Bishops Shee – er, Reed; James Checchio (for now) of Metuchen; Mario Dorsonville, (successor of Brown Papi, favorite of the "Vice-Pope" and) auxiliary of Washington, and (every Mom's darling) Mark O'Connell, auxiliary of Boston;
Second row: (Ecumenist-in-Chief/Son of Dulles) James Massa, auxiliary of Brooklyn; (human sunshower) Brendan Cahill of Victoria, David Konderla of Tulsa (Whoop), Steven Lopes of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter (at 41, the "baby of babies"), and (Mini-K-Far) Greg Kelly, auxiliary/administrator of Dallas;
Third rowEd Deliman, auxiliary of Philadelphia (our last hope); (aspiring EGOT) Robert Barron, (Fourth Tenor) Joe Brennan and (male Mother Teresa) David O'Connell, the three amiauxiliaries of Los Angeles; and James Powers, the native son tapped to lead Wisconsin's Superior diocese... who – having pastored three parishes at once, in addition to doubling up as vicar-general and judicial vicar until his appointment – might just have it a tad easier now (at least, if all the candles really worked).

As the links above double as the summary of a year's work, they should keep you lot occupied for a good while... if they don't, Lord knows, nothing ever will.

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For good measure, the dual rookie courses were far from the only time Francis' drive for his kind of quality-control on appointments surfaced over the past week.

Over its latest three-day meeting with the Pope – their 16th since being tasked with advising on the reform of the Curia (and, behind the scenes, a good bit else) – the Gang of Nine cardinal-consiglieri drilled at length into the shape of the process which identifies and vets candidates for the episcopacy.

Formally known as the "Council of Cardinals," the usual post-summit briefing said the group "amply reflected on the necessary spiritual and pastoral profile to be a bishop today." As Francis himself hammered home his desired identikit in a landmark 2014 speech to his rebooted Congregation for Bishops, the ongoing press is intended to decisively unmoor the process from its longstanding premium on pedigree and "predictability" (read: Roman/Chancery experience, and no rocking of boats) in a potential prelate toward a priority for finding figures whose traits veer more toward an openness to creativity, proven pastoral depth and a contagious evangelical witness. (Sound familiar?)

On a context note, the shift is likewise another amp-up of a project begun by Benedict XVI: freshly armed with his marching orders for the US by Papa Ratzinger, a decade ago the late "Super-Nuncio" Archbishop Pietro Sambi (blessings and peace be upon him) memorably warned the Stateside bench that he had begun his mission by trashing a good many of the recommendations they had sent in, due to an insufficient pastoral experience of the picks.

Ever one to put a fine point on things, Sambi went on to declare to the bishops that "Your successors will not look like yourselves." In other words, the overhauled "Star Search" is another of the areas where – as B16 admiringly told to his longtime collaborator Peter Seewald in their new interview book (which'll release in English come November) – the successor has shown the practical heft to effect the reforms the now Pope-emeritus sought, but couldn't fully attain.

Back to Francis, the Pope again turned to the topic in meeting yesterday with his Nuncios spread across the globe, as the papal ambassadors had their Jubilee gathering in Rome.

Recalling his address to the group following his election, Papa Bergoglio reiterated his desire for "witnesses of the Risen One and not carriers of resumes; praying bishops, familiar with things 'above' and not weighed down by those 'below'; bishops able to enter 'with patience' before the presence of God, so as to possess the freedom of not betraying the Kerygma entrusted to them."

In sum, as the pontiff put it, "bishop pastors, not princes and functionaries. Please!" ...or – as he added for full effect – "If you always go fishing in an aquarium, you won't find them!"


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

On Triumph of the Cross, Pope Leaves No Doubt: "Father Hamel Is Blessed"

Six weeks after Fr Jacques Hamel was murdered at the altar during morning Mass in a savage attack claimed by the Islamic State, the 85 year-old French cleric was commemorated today at another intimate “parish” Eucharist – the Pope’s daily liturgy in the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sancta Marthae, during which Francis expressly placed the priest’s killing as the newest of "this chain of martyrs" who, over two millennia, have "suffer[ed] in prison, with death, torture, for not denying Jesus Christ.

"This cruelty that asks for apostasy is – let’s say the word – satanic," the Pope said, emphatically repeating twice more that "to kill in the name of God is satanic."

Yet while the pontiff made no bones about the magnitude of Hamel's example during his homily, he later confirmed a major point he merely hinted at in the preach: in a private conversation with Hamel's ordinary, Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen – who led a diocesan group of 80 attending the Mass – the French prelate later told reporters that Pope had called for a local devotion to the assassinated priest, a statement which (despite the lack of a formal process) is tantamount to beatification, the step before sainthood.

Though martyrs are traditionally beatified without the requirement of a first miraculous healing, in practice the declaration comes only after the usual, years-long examination and affirmation of the person’s heroic virtue in life, then a formal finding by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints of their martyrdom in odium fidei ("out of hatred for the faith").

According to Lebrun, Francis insisted that a photo of Hamel (above) be placed on the altar for the Mass, explaining afterward to the archbishop that "he is already [a] blessed." In light of the judgment, the Pope likewise encouraged the prelate to place images of Hamel in his churches – again, a privilege normally reserved for those whose cultus has officially been recognized through their beatification, hence the oft-used phrase that a saint or blessed has been "raised to the altars."

Clearly aware of that centuries-old understanding, Lebrun said the pontiff added that "if anyone says you don't have the right to do it, tell them the Pope gave you permission."

While it is unclear whether Francis – who has previously exercised his prerogative to effect several "equipollent" canonizations, thus formalizing widely-recognized sainthoods without the usual second miracle – will move to make his comments official with a legal document, as beatification normally sees the blessed's life marked with the assignment of a feast day, Hamel's would need to be celebrated on a date other than that of his 26 July murder due to the calendar's conflict with the feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus.

Beyond the sheer emotion of the priest’s murder and the unique Vatican tribute, the significance of Francis' memorial Mass was made even more auspicious by its choice of timing: today’s feast of the Triumph (or Exaltation) of the Cross, the ancient celebration of the instrument of Christ’s suffering and death, which was instituted following several events related to the cross' reputed finding in the 4th century. Most pointedly of all, however, given the circumstances of Hamel's assassination and the history of the cross' discovery by St Helena, the mother of Constantine, this feast is likewise an observance linked at its very core to the Christianization of Europe.

Signaling Francis’ intent for the Mass to be joined by a congregation outside its walls – and, indeed, for his own message to be heard – Vatican TV aired and streamed a Domus liturgy live in its entirety for the first time. Much as the standard drip of heavy excerpts from the pontiff’s unscripted morning homilies continues to spark all kinds of reactions on a regular basis, a full daily preach from Santa Marta has only been released on one other occasion: the July 2014 Mass the Pope celebrated for victim-survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, at which Francis begged forgiveness for the crimes and pledged the enhanced accountability of superiors in their handling of cases.

Here's the on-demand video of today's Mass....

...and, via Zenit, an English translation of the Pope's brief yet potent homily – one originally given in Italian, then repeated on the spot in French:
Today, the Church celebrates the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ. We understand that it is a mystery.

This mystery of annihilation, of closeness to us. Being in the condition of God, Paul says, [Jesus] does not hold on to a privilege of being like God, but emptied Himself, taking on the condition of servant, becoming similar to human beings. He humbled himself, and was obedient unto death, even until death on a Cross.

This is the mystery of Christ. This is a mystery. That is martyrdom for the salvation of men.

Jesus Christ is the first martyr, the first One Who gives his life for us. And from this mystery of Christ, begins the whole history of Christian martyrdom, from the early centuries until today.

The early Christians confessed Christ by paying with their lives. The early Christians who were asked to confess other gods, to say that ‘our god is true and not yours,’ when they refused to do this, were crucified. This story is repeated through today. Today, in the Church, there are more martyrs than martyred Christians in the past.

Today, there are Christians martyred, tortured, slaughtered, because they do not deny Jesus Christ.

In this history, we get to our Father Jaques: he is part of this chain of martyrs. Christians who today suffer in prison, with death, torture, for not denying Jesus Christ, show precisely the cruelty of this persecution. This cruelty that asks for apostasy is – let’s say the word – satanic.

How much I would like that all the confessions would say: to kill in the name of God is satanic.

Father Jacques Hamel was slaughtered on the cross, just as he was celebrating the Sacrifice of Christ. A good, meek man, of brotherhood, who always was trying to make peace, was assassinated, as if he were a criminal. This is the thread of satanic persecution, but there is one thing of this man who has accepted his martyrdom there, that makes me think so much about the martyrdom of Christ on the altar. One thing that makes me think so much …

In the midst of the difficult time that he lived in the midst of this tragedy he saw coming, he did not lose the clarity of accusing and say the name of the assassination. And he clearly said: “Go away, Satan!”

He gave his life to not deny Jesus, gave his life in the same way Jesus [does] on the altar. And from there, he accused the author of persecution: “Go away, Satan!”.

May this example of courage, along with the martyrdom of his life to empty himself to help others, help us to move forward without fear. We must pray, eh! He is a martyr, the martyrs are blessed … We must pray he gives us brotherhood, meekness, peace, and even the courage to tell the truth: to kill in the name of God is satanic.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

On 9/11, "God of Love, Comfort and Console Us, Strengthen Us In Hope"

In the annals of the modern papacy, it is essentially unheard of for the same non-liturgical text to be employed by successive Popes.

There is, however, one exception – and it's rooted in the memory of this very morning. So to mark this 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, here's the Prayer at Ground Zero first used by Pope Benedict XVI on his 2008 visit to the site...

...the moment then reincarnated in turn by Pope Francis at last year's interfaith service during his own pilgrimage to the newly-built memorial:

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths
and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.

We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here—
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and
Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives
with courage and hope.

We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in
Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.

Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.
Even if it's the case that, once the Pope speaks another's words, history takes them as his own, given the unique nature of the Ground Zero Prayer and its historic use across pontificates, we'd be remiss to not pay a long-overdue tribute to the eminent churchwoman who gave it to Benedict, Francis and us all, yet has never once claimed credit for it: the venerable Sister of Charity Janet Baxendale, who penned the text as worship chief of the archdiocese of New York.

* * *
Back to today, in the place whose standing as The Nation's Church was powerfully reaffirmed in the aftermath of destruction, yesterday saw the FDNY's commemoration of the milestone in St Patrick's Cathedral, the Cardinal-Archbishop presiding (service begins at 15-minute mark):

Meanwhile, in a reflection of the shifted balance of pulpits in American Catholicism's top rank, the following statement was issued this morning from Rome by Francis' lead North American adviser, Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. of Boston, on the eve of the next meeting of the pontiff's "Gang of 9":
Anniversaries, be they of joyful, sad or tragic events, are times of reflection, moments of gratitude or sorrow accounting for lessons learned and hopes for the future. The fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a day which warrants prayerful attention in the Catholic community and deserves thoughtful reflection in our nation as a whole.

The first priority for our Archdiocese is remembrance of those lost in these unconscionable attacks. The celebration of the Eucharist reminds us that the light of Christ is not extinguished by darkness and evil. This Sunday we pray in a special way for the innocent civilians and the public safety first responders whose lives were taken when hijacked planes were used as means of destruction in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, and for the families and loved ones of the victims. We also remember all those in the military, government service who have made the ultimate sacrifice of service in the international conflicts which have engulfed the world since September 11, 2001. As Catholics our prayer extends to all who people who have died in these conflicts and to the tens of thousands of refugees driven from their homes and lands.

This fifteenth anniversary also recalls the meaning we attribute to 9/11 and its consequences. In the first instance, it was a terrorist attack on civilians which violated all established moral and legal norms of conduct. The events of that day also illustrated for our country and others a fundamental vulnerability to modern acts of terrorism. Since then, many nations have experienced similar forms of violence. These numerous attacks and the responses of large scale military operations have been further complicated by appeals to religion as a motivating factor in terrorist violence. These appeals have no defensible foundation or justification. Notably, Muslim leaders have time and again repudiated the call to violence. The responses to terror by the United States and other nations are based in an established moral-legal foundation, but they have also caused large scale civilian casualties and in specific cases have had devastating consequences for entire countries.

Full and appropriate consideration of the tragic events of 9/11 goes beyond the scope of a single day, even this anniversary. However, there are fundamental principles which should inform all of our reflection and analysis:

·Religion cannot and should not be placed in the service of wars of terror or aggression, the use of deadly force is morally justifiable only in circumstances of defense of life and safety.

·All religious leadership, regardless of denomination, should actively seek and advocate to resolve conflicts through peace and reconciliation.

·Refugees and migrants have rights which must be recognized and as best possible provided for by states, international organizations and religious communities.

·Restoration following the conflicts of the last fifteen years will require both meaningful international cooperation and significant financial and humanitarian resources from public and private sources.

On this day of remembrance, we join with all people of good will in commending those lost on September 11, 2001 to the mercy of our loving God as we renew the commitment to work for a society based in compassion, justice and peace.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

"May She Be Your Model of Holiness!" – With The World Watching, Mother Teresa Declared Saint

In each standard Holy Year of the last century, the Popes have successively used the quarter-century observance to yield the church's biggest stage to a lone woman, recognizing in her a spirit of sanctity which has captivated her age and beyond.

Indeed, all but one were contemporary figures – and, even now, each remains widely celebrated across the generations to follow: in 1925, Pius XI highlighted the figure of Therese of Lisieux, canonizing the 24 year-old "Little Flower" all of 28 years after her death; in 1950, Pius XII elevated the Italian "martyr of purity" Maria Goretti within a half-century of her stabbing, before the most massive crowd ever seen for a rite of the kind, the first ever to be held outdoors (and before a throng famously led by the saint's own mother); in 1975, Blessed Paul VI aimed to honor both the United States and the ecumenical movement by making Mother Elizabeth Seton the country's first daughter raised to the altars, and in the Great Jubilee of 2000, John Paul II – now, of course, a saint himself – capped his personalization of the papacy with the sainting of Sister Faustina Kowalska on the Second Sunday of Easter, the core feast of the Polish nun's visions of the Merciful Jesus, which generations of the Curia had held as suspect and aimed to suppress until Karol Wojtyla's own ascent to Peter's Chair.

And so today, amid an Extraordinary Jubilee dedicated to the Father's mercy, the line continued with Pope Francis' formal pronouncement of what the world long ago determined about one of the most admired and recognizable figures of the 20th century....

(Translation of formula:)
For the honor of the Blessed Trinity,
the exaltation of the Catholic faith and
the increase of the Christian life,
by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, and

of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul,
and our own;
after due deliberation

and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and
having sought the counsel of many of our
brother Bishops: 
We declare and define
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
to be a Saint
and we enroll her among the Saints,
decreeing that she is to be venerated as such
by the whole Church.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and
of the Holy Spirit.
* * *
On the eve of the 19th anniversary of the Albanian-born missionary's death, Italian reports estimated the crowd in St Peter's Square at 120,000, a smaller-than-expected figure likely owed to the security fears hanging over this Jubilee Year. In any case, even for the passage of time, few canonizations have attracted the level of attention today's rite has received across the globe, and given the moment's significance as affirming the new saint's universal veneration among the faithful, it'd be hard to think of a recent moment that reflects the concept as clearly as this.

In Rome, the four-day festival of prayer, concerts and speeches wraps up with a Mass tomorrow in St Peter's to mark the first feast of Saint Teresa – an observance which, to date, has only been added to the liturgical calendar in her adopted India, but may be generally celebrated elsewhere each 5 September upon petition to the Holy See by the relevant episcopal conference.

That said, considering the massive focus on today's event – not to mention the enduring, widespread affection for the new saint – pastors may, at their discretion, deem it suitable to bring this special edition of the feast-day to their communities at Monday's daily Masses: the Common of Virgins (white vestments) is used, with the following proper Collect....
who called Saint Teresa, virgin
to respond to the love of your Son thirsting on the cross

with outstanding charity to the poorest of the poor,
grant, we beseech you,
by her intercession,
to minister to Christ in his suffering brothers.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
* * *
And here, the on-demand video of this morning's Canonization Mass (worship aid, with translations):

With the English text of the Pope's homily, in which he predicted that – even for her sainthood – "we'll just keep spontaneously calling her 'Mother Teresa'":
“Who can learn the counsel of God?” (Wis 9:13). This question from the Book of Wisdom that we have just heard in the first reading suggests that our life is a mystery and that we do not possess the key to understanding it. There are always two protagonists in history: God and man. Our task is to perceive the call of God and then to do his will. But in order to do his will, we must ask ourselves, “What is God’s will in my life?”

We find the answer in the same passage of the Book of Wisdom: “People were taught what pleases you” (Wis 9:18). In order to ascertain the call of God, we must ask ourselves and understand what pleases God. On many occasions the prophets proclaimed what was pleasing to God. Their message found a wonderful synthesis in the words “I want mercy, not sacrifice” (Hos 6:6; Mt 9:13). God is pleased by every act of mercy, because in the brother or sister that we assist, we recognize the face of God which no one can see (cf. Jn 1:18). Each time we bend down to the needs of our brothers and sisters, we give Jesus something to eat and drink; we clothe, we help, and we visit the Son of God (cf. Mt 25:40). In a word, we touch the flesh of Christ.

We are thus called to translate into concrete acts that which we invoke in prayer and profess in faith. There is no alternative to charity: those who put themselves at the service of others, even when they don’t know it, are those who love God (cf. 1 Jn 3:16-18; Jas 2:14-18). The Christian life, however, is not merely extending a hand in times of need. If it is just this, it can be, certainly, a lovely expression of human solidarity which offers immediate benefits, but it is sterile because it lacks roots. The task which the Lord gives us, on the contrary, is the vocation to charity in which each of Christ’s disciples puts his or her entire life at his service, so to grow each day in love.

We heard in the Gospel, “Large crowds were travelling with Jesus” (Lk 14:25). Today, this “large crowd” is seen in the great number of volunteers who have come together for the Jubilee of Mercy. You are that crowd who follows the Master and who makes visible his concrete love for each person. I repeat to you the words of the Apostle Paul: “I have indeed received much joy and comfort from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Philem 1:7). How many hearts have been comforted by volunteers! How many hands they have held; how many tears they have wiped away; how much love has been poured out in hidden, humble and selfless service! This praiseworthy service gives voice to the faith – it gives voice to the faith! – and expresses the mercy of the Father, who draws near to those in need.

Following Jesus is a serious task, and, at the same time, one filled with joy; it takes a certain daring and courage to recognize the divine Master in the poorest of the poor and those who are cast aside, and to give oneself in their service. In order to do so, volunteers, who out of love of Jesus serve the poor and the needy, do not expect any thanks or recompense; rather they renounce all this because they have discovered true love. And each one of us can say: “Just as the Lord has come to meet me and has stooped down to my level in my hour of need, so too do I go to meet him, bending low before those who have lost faith or who live as though God did not exist, before young people without values or ideals, before families in crisis, before the ill and the imprisoned, before refugees and immigrants, before the weak and defenceless in body and spirit, before abandoned children, before the elderly who are on their own. Wherever someone is reaching out, asking for a helping hand in order to get up, this is where our presence – and the presence of the Church which sustains and offers hope – must be”. And I do this, keeping alive the memory of those times when the Lord’s hand reached out to me when I was in need.

Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded. She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that “the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable”. She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime – the crimes! – of poverty they created. For Mother Teresa, mercy was the “salt” which gave flavour to her work, it was the “light” which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.

Her mission to the urban and existential peripheries remains for us today an eloquent witness to God’s closeness to the poorest of the poor. Today, I pass on this emblematic figure of womanhood and of consecrated life to the whole world of volunteers: may she be your model of holiness! I think, perhaps, we may have some difficulty in calling her “Saint Teresa”: her holiness is so near to us, so tender and so fruitful that we'll just keep spontaneously calling her “Mother Teresa”. May this tireless worker of mercy help us increasingly to understand that our only criterion for action is gratuitous love, free from every ideology and all obligations, offered freely to everyone without distinction of language, culture, race or religion. Mother Teresa loved to say, “Perhaps I don’t speak their language, but I can smile”. Let us carry her smile in our hearts and give it to those whom we meet along our journey, especially those who suffer. In this way, we will open up opportunities of joy and hope for our many brothers and sisters who are discouraged and who stand in need of understanding and tenderness.