Monday, April 29, 2019

"Midnight Sun" to "Emerald City" – From Alaska, Pope Launches Etienne To Space (Needle)

(Updated 7.30am ET with first official comments.)

As it turns out, the Vatican can indeed handle “Prime” shipping.

Less than 72 hours after Whispers’ broke news of a coadjutor in the works for the million-member archdiocese of Seattle, at Roman Noon this Monday, the Pope appointed Paul Etienne – the 59 year-old archbishop of Anchorage, long seen as one of the US bench’s key rising figures – as successor-in-waiting to Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who, as reported here Friday, petitioned for an early transition late last year at age 66 in light of long-standing spinal issues that’ve increasingly challenged his mobility.

Even before Etienne’s name emerged over recent days, ops apprised of the process projected that the coming understudy would take the reins from Sartain after a roughly year-long apprenticeship. Yet regardless of the handover's precise timeframe, the move only serves to bolster a decade’s worth of rock-star buzz surrounding the Indiana-born pick – whose stock among his confreres has risen even further amid the last year’s crisis footing – now bringing him into an assignment where his considerable talent can be harnessed to its fullest potential.

As biography goes, the following is taken from these pages' 2016 report on Etienne’s transfer to Alaska’s top post:
A son of rural southern Indiana, Etienne (pron.: "A-chen") hails from an almost-storybook ecclesial clan: one of six siblings, three became priests, and his sister is a Benedictine. For his part, the archbishop-elect's vocation had its fits and starts – needing a break from the seminary, the future prelate managed a shoe-store before his first brush with church officialdom as a lay employee of the US bishops in planning the mammoth Papal Visit of 1987, when John Paul II cris-crossed the country for two weeks.

Ordained in 1992, Etienne was immediately placed in vocations work alongside parish ministry, pastoring four churches alongside a stint as vice-rector of Indianapolis' college seminary. Only underscoring his love for life on the land, the 2009 phone call with word of his appointment to Wyoming famously came while the nominee was surrounded by power tools, cutting down trees on family property for his day off. (As the new Alaskan's mentor tells it, the priest-brothers gave each other hunting rifles as ordination gifts, to boot.)

A fly-fishing rod ever tossed in the back of his truck – and tipped as a rising star from the get-go – the road-warrior bishop has brought Wyoming two qualities that are exceedingly difficult to pull off for a statewide fold spanning 100,000 square miles: cohesion and action. While interminable hours behind the wheel to reach every place went a long way toward doing the trick, technology's provided a useful assist, with Etienne taking to a blog (and, with time, a Twitter feed) that, beyond keeping the locals updated on his travels, often veered into reflections on prayer and things in the news.

This morning, with the nominee said to be "shaken" over the move, the new archbishop's page carries a simple message to Wyoming: "I love you."
Back to the present, while the archbishop’s Northern exposure has been markedly brief, that’s unsurprising on at least two fronts: first, the need in Anchorage for a quick, decisive shot of energy has already been met, and most ops felt it a matter of time before a larger post came up (with this month's other Washington nod likewise cited as a possibility). Just as much, however, the challenge of pastoring a mammoth, 140,000 square-mile turf – a more sprawling mission-field than 46 of the 50 states – proved a daunting test even for Etienne’s well-honed ruggedness, so much so that friends have expressed frequent concern for his well-being from the assignment's early days.

Here, the “Emerald” church he’ll inherit is considerably more cross-able – less than a fifth the land-size of Anchorage... and, for good measure, a quarter that of Cheyenne. Yet what Seattle lacks in (relative) travel-time, the hub of the Pacific Northwest more than makes up for in terms of population, prominence and challenges alike, each of these ever more increased over the last two decades.

For one, this past weekend’s fatal collapse of a construction crane – which killed four people in the streets below – underscores the prime reality of Seatown’s current moment. Over recent years, Seattle has led the US in its concentration of high-end construction projects; while the respective 90s-era booms of Microsoft and Starbucks began the arc, the explosion of Amazon from the mid-2000s onward has put it on steroids.

Just since Sartain’s arrival in 2010, the population of the King County-based metro area has spiked another 15 percent, and the expansion of the e-commerce behemoth with its lucrative jobs has seen median house prices in the city skirt the $800,000 range. Indeed, the fallout has already made an imprint on the national conversation – as scores of cities sought to court Amazon last year while the company scouted a location for a second headquarters, activists in a host of potential sites warned that a similar tide in the chosen locale would destabilize, or even destroy, long-standing communities; such was the outcry in New York that the company reversed course on its decision to give half of the planned “HQ2” to Long Island City in Queens. In Seattle’s case, the infusion of wealth has brought a notable uptick in homelessness due to cost-of-living spikes, even as the city became the first major US jurisdiction to adopt a minimum wage in the range of the $15 an hour rate increasingly touted by progressives as a “living wage” standard.

In ecclesial terms, while today’s Seattle church is roughly three times its 1990 size (in one critical metric, its number of infant baptisms outpace funerals by more than 2-to-1), the sense has lingered that the dynamism of its trenches has not been reflected at the top – or, as one op portrayed the scene, a diocese “longing for leadership.”

With the boyish, energetic Etienne in hand, that concern is effectively vanquished.

In particular, once he steps into office, it’ll fall to the incoming archbishop to re-establish a public presence for the role. Ever since the tumultuous days of 1986-7, when Rome stoked an international firestorm by imposing an auxiliary bishop with special faculties – namely, one Fr Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh – as a means of curtailing the authority of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen due to complaints from conservatives, the successors of “Dutch” (who died last July at 96) have been historically reluctant to take on a high profile, instead preferring a low boil and an internal focus.

To be sure, the reticence is arguably due as much to a heavily secularized local culture as to the long shadow of the Hunthausen clashes. Nonetheless, having had the itch to ramp up the church’s media outreach in Anchorage, Etienne – who, in Cheyenne, became one of the first bishops to take on a significant digital presence – now has an environment fully suited to follow through on it.

Above all, though Seattle hasn't taken much of a hit in terms of the fallout of abuse – almost a rarity in the Northwest, where several dioceses long ago declared bankruptcy in the wake of hundreds of lawsuits – Etienne made waves amid the latest throes of the scandal last summer, when he made the first substantive proposal by a US prelate on strengthened norms for the accountability of bishops, saying at the time that while "it is accurate to say that most regular, church-attending Catholics still trust their priests, who minister and serve the People of God faithfully... the same can no longer be said of bishops.

"We have lost the trust of many of our priests and people," he said, "and we must act wisely in the face of this present challenge in the hopes of regaining that trust."

Prepared with the process-obsessed eye of a onetime USCCB staffer, Etienne's plan was so well received – at least, among the bench – that it formed the de facto core of the protocols on which the body was supposed to vote last November, until the motion was scuttled by an order from the Vatican announced in the meeting's opening minute. Yet even if those votes failed, later that week the bishops rapidly elevated Etienne onto the all-important Administrative Committee – the 30-man group which sets the conference's agenda and consults on policy between the twice-yearly meetings of the whole.

All that said, if the new arrival has one weak suit, the Seattle appointment will bring Etienne’s first assignment in a Latino-heavy context: at least one third of his new archdiocese is Hispanic, and while the Mexican-born Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo has heroically carried the load for 14 years, figures submitted for last year’s national Encuentro relay that each of Seatown's 14 Latino priests serve at a ratio of one per almost 18,000 Spanish-speaking Catholics (some six times the national average across demographic groups).

As coadjutors aren’t installed per se, a Mass of Welcome traditionally marks an understudy’s arrival in contrast to a full-on Installation; along the same lines, no rite signifies a coadjutor’s ascent to a diocese’s helm as the succession takes immediate effect upon the vacancy of the see (in this case, at the moment when Sartain’s retirement will be granted).

Per an early report, Etienne’s reception in Seattle's magnificent St James Cathedral – by practically any measure, the US' most vibrant diocesan seat – is slated to take place in early June, prior to the USCCB Summer Meeting in Baltimore, at which the bench’s latest accountability proposals are slated for final debate and vote. The incoming archbishop turns 60 later in the month.

Once this transition is carried out, with today’s pick, Francis will have chosen exactly a third (read: 11) of the US’ 33 Latin-church archbishops over his six-year pontificate. Given the pending cycle at hand, meanwhile – its specifics reported here last week – the reigning Pope will have five more metropolitan seats come open before the end of this year… and even before the “domino effect” of the vacancies spurred by those promotions kick in, Francis will be able to name the heads of some 30 Stateside dioceses (one-sixth the nation’s total) by summer 2020 simply on account of current openings and posts whose occupants are already or will soon reach the retirement age of 75.

Again, a generational wave is indeed at hand – and today’s as good a foretaste of it as you’ll find.

SVILUPPO: Per an early release from Seattle Chancery, confirming the reporting above, Etienne's Mass of Welcome is slated for Friday, June 7th; the USCCB Plenary begins the following Tuesday, the 11th.

In his first public comments on his move to seek retirement a decade ahead of schedule, Sartain wrote that he "began praying" about seeking a coadjutor some 18 months ago in light of his spinal issues, then formally petitioned Francis for his early succession last September.

Upon the understudy's arrival, “Archbishop Etienne and I will finalize the date later this year on which he will formally succeed me as Archbishop of Seattle,” Sartain said. “In the meantime we both look forward to working together to serve the Lord.”


Friday, April 26, 2019

Octave Notes

Before anything else, again, a Blessed Easter to one and all – here's hoping you've been able to enjoy these easy Octave days, especially all of you who busted your tails to get the rest of us through Holy Week; thanks as ever for your precious work!

It's one of the ironies of ecclesial life that, once the Lord awakens from the tomb, Churchworld needs a recharge – at least in some places, even more than usual this time around. If anything, though, that juxtaposition is a healthy reminder of how far we have to go.

In this scribe's case, this Easter has doubled as the end of a very long and difficult year – one which calling "turbulent" is to put it mildly. To finally have a bit of breathing space to clean up and begin to decompress is a gift, and I need to take advantage of it while it's yet possible.

That said, the gears are still deep at work behind the scenes.... And along those lines, Whispers can report two significant US moves likely to come before the Vatican's summer recess kicks in at June's end.

First, after years of a worsening back condition (exacerbated by three failed surgeries), at the age of 66, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle has requested a coadjutor with an eye to his early retirement – and house ops indicate that the process to find a successor-in-waiting for the now million-member fold has entered its final stretch.

(Note to Seatown press: if you try asking the Chancery for comment, you won't get one; as these pages attempted said task before Holy Week – April 9th, to be precise – Whispers' request for an official response remains unanswered... just as most of this crowd blew clear past the first prod in that direction as Palm Sunday began.)

A son of Graceland once fiercely touted by Cardinal Francis George as his preferred heir in Chicago – and in that light, the anointed preacher at the legendary USCCB chief's funeral – Sartain's move to leave office a decade ahead of the legal age comes as a shock in itself. Yet unlike most shipments involving Amazon's home-turf, the Seattle succession isn't assured of Prime delivery – Rome being Rome, quite the opposite. Nonetheless, the package is indeed in the works... and given the history of sudden Vatican interventions on the Space Needle, even if Catholicism in the “Emerald City” is a radically altered entity from its shape in 1986, one can hope that the move ahead will not stoke a similar war.

At the same time, another massively important choice on tap is likewise an unexpected addition to the docket: another coadjutor, here for San Bernardino – the 1.9 million-member church in Southern California's Inland Empire, where Bishop Gerald Barnes reaches the retirement age of 75 in June 2020 and has requested a sped-up transition.

Its Catholic population boomed some eight times over since the diocese's founding 40 years ago – and with growth continuing at a marked clip amid the higher cost of living along the coast – San Bernardino is a notably unique pastoral context: long before the lead writer of the Latin American bishops' 2007 Aparecida Charter came to the papacy, this one SoCal fold had deeply integrated a mission-driven, "grassroots" ecclesiology, which has arguably served as the catalyst for a remarkable degree of consistent vitality.

As for who lands the Inland post, several ops have noted the decade-long trend of Texans being given more California seats than the natives themselves, so that's the going expectation at this point. However, even compared to its immediate surroundings, San Bernardino is sufficiently sui iuris – read: a law (or, in this case, culture) unto itself – that no prior precedent might apply.

Looking more broadly, only after those two can the looming Big Five be broached: while premature chatter's already been running for months over the coming 75th birthdays of the archbishops of Boston, St Louis and Philadelphia – all posts of outsize historic influence – as well as that of the bishop of Brooklyn (the nation's largest non-metropolitan outpost), with the 1.2 million-member archbishopric of Atlanta now added to the mix, the mid-range cycle that'll stretch into next year is set to afford Francis his best shot yet at reshaping the American hierarchy's top rank, its sum total making for a generational wave that even a future pontiff will have a hard time turning back.

But that's long in the future – at this rate, Lord only knows what'll happen tomorrow.

*  *  *
For now, one last bit of news: as first reported in Whispers24/7 Side-Feed late Monday, a letter sent the following day to the priests of Washington confirmed that the 21 May Installation of DC's Seventh Archbishop – now known as "Wiltcoming" – has been moved from the capital's St Matthew's Cathedral to the far more ample Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception due to the intense demand for seats.

Suffice it to say, they wuz warned – if only the brides hadn't been threatened.

Anyways, as that day will bring an epic convergence of history, symbolism and substance, you know these pages will be on hand to cover it....

At least, that's the plan – as camping out on-site for the DC nod already blew a $900 hole in this shop's budget, the usual bills are under significant strain, and no further layout is possible....

At least, not without this readership's support:

As ever, all thanks... and, well, just as you've now seen things you wouldn't anywhere else, when it comes to the 50 Days ahead, all this is barely scratching the surface.

If nothing else, send prayers.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

On Easter Night, "In My Life, Where Am I Going? What Is The Stone I Need To Remove?"

20 APRIL 2019

The women bring spices to the tomb, but they fear that their journey is in vain, since a large stone bars the entrance to the sepulcher. The journey of those women is also our own journey; it resembles the journey of salvation that we have made this evening. At times, it seems that everything comes up against a stone: the beauty of creation against the tragedy of sin; liberation from slavery against infidelity to the covenant; the promises of the prophets against the listless indifference of the people. So too, in the history of the Church and in our own personal history. It seems that the steps we take never take us to the goal. We can be tempted to think that dashed hope is the bleak law of life.

Today however we see that our journey is not in vain; it does not come up against a tombstone. A single phrase astounds the woman and changes history: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Lk 24:5). Why do you think that everything is hopeless, that no one can take away your own tombstones? Why do you give into resignation and failure? Easter is the feast of tombstones taken away, rocks rolled aside. God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the “living stone” (cf. 1 Pet 2:4), the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new, tooverturn our every disappointment. Each of us is called tonight to rediscover in the Risen Christ the one who rolls back from our heart the heaviest of stones. So let us first ask: What is the stone that I need to remove, what is its name?

Often what blocks hope is the stone of discouragement. Once we start thinking that everything is going badly and that things can’t get worse, we lose heart and come to believe that death is stronger than life. We become cynical, negative and despondent. Stone upon stone, we build within ourselves a monument to our own dissatisfaction: the sepulcher of hope. Life becomes a succession of complaints and we grow sick in spirit. A kind of tomb psychology takes over: everything ends there, with no hope of emerging alive. But at that moment, we hear once more the insistent question of Easter: Why do you seek the living among the dead? The Lord is not to be found in resignation. He is risen; he is not there. Don’t seek him where you will never find him: he is not the God of the dead but of the living (cf. Mk 22:32). Do not bury hope!

There is another stone that often seals the heart shut: the stone of sin. Sin seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but then leaves behind only solitude and death. Sin is looking for life among the dead, for the meaning of life in things that pass away. Why do you seek the living among the dead? Why not make up your mind to abandon that sin which, like a stone before the entrance to your heart, keeps God’s light from entering in? Why not prefer Jesus, the true light (cf. Jn1:9), to the glitter of wealth, career, pride and pleasure? Why not tell the empty things of this world that you no longer live for them, but for the Lord of life?

2. Let us return to the women who went to Jesus’ tomb. They halted in amazement before the stone that was takenaway. Seeing the angels, they stood there, the Gospel tells us, “frightened, and bowed their faces to the ground” (Lk 24:5). They did not have the courage to look up. How often do we do the same thing? We prefer to remain huddled within our shortcomings, cowering in our fears. It is odd, but why do we do this? Not infrequently because, glum and closed up within ourselves, we feel in control, for it is easier to remain alone in the darkness of our heart than to open ourselves to the Lord. Yet only he can raise us up. A poet once wrote: “We never know how high we are. Till we are called to rise” (E. Dickinson). The Lord calls us to get up, to rise at his word, to look up and to realize that we were made for heaven, not for earth, for the heights of life and not for the depths of death: Why do you seek the living among the dead?

God asks us to view life as he views it, for in each of us he never ceases to see an irrepressible kernel of beauty. In sin, he sees sons and daughters to be restored; in death, brothers and sisters to be reborn; in desolation, hearts to be revived. Do not fear, then: the Lord loves your life, even when you are afraid to look at it and take it in hand. In Easter he shows you how much he loves that life: even to the point of living it completely, experiencing anguish, abandonment, death and hell, in order to emerge triumphant to tell you: “You are not alone; put your trust in me!”

Jesus is a specialist at turning our deaths into life, our mourning into dancing (cf. Ps 30:11). With him, we too can experience a Pasch, that is, a Passover– from self-centredness to communion, from desolation to consolation, from fear to confidence. Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear, but raise our eyes to the risen Jesus. His gaze fills us with hope, for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly, and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged. This is the one, non-negotiable certitude we have in life: his love does not change. Let us ask ourselves: In my life, where am I looking? Am I gazing at graveyards, or looking for the Living One?

3. Why do you seek the living among the dead? The women hear the words of the angels, who go on to say: “Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee” (Lk 24:6). Those woman had lost hope, because they could notrecall the words of Jesus, his call that took place in Galilee. Having lost the living memory of Jesus, they kept looking at the tomb. Faith always needs to go back to Galilee, to reawaken its first love for Jesus and his call: to remember him, to turn back to him with all our mind and all our heart. To return to a lively love of the Lord is essential. Otherwise, ours is a “museum” faith, not an Easter faith. Jesus is not a personage from the past; he is a person living today. We do not know him from history books; we encounter him in life. Today, let us remember how Jesus first called us, how he overcame our darkness, our resistance, our sins, and how he touched our hearts with his word.

The women, remembering Jesus, left the tomb. Easter teaches us that believersdo not linger at graveyards, for they are called to go forth to meet the Living One. Let us ask ourselves: In my life, where am I going? Sometimes we go only in the direction of our problems, of which there are plenty, and go to the Lord only for help. But then, it is our own needs, not Jesus, to guide our steps. We keep seeking the Living One among the dead. Or again, how many times, once we have encountered the Lord, do we return to the dead, digging up regrets, reproaches, hurts and dissatisfactions, without letting the Risen One change us?

Dear brothers and sisters: let us put the Living One at the centre of our lives. Let us ask for the grace not to be carried by the current, the sea of our problems;the grace not to run aground on the shoals of sin or crash on the reefs of discouragement and fear. Let us seek him in all things and above all things. With him, we will rise again.

(Ed. Note: Vatican translation; all emphases original.... Lui è risorto – Buona Pasqua a tutti! Happy Easter to one and all!)


Thursday, April 18, 2019

"The Church Wants The Bishop To Do This... That He Must Be The Greatest Servant"

Keeping the custom he began as archbishop of Buenos Aires and has faithfully maintained through his six-year pontificate, earlier tonight the Pope began the Paschal Triduum by celebrating the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper at another site on the "peripheries" – this time, choosing a prison in Rome's suburbs.

While Francis famously abolished the Missal's traditional restriction of women from this liturgy's ritual act of the washing of the feet, the nature of the facility saw the pontiff perform the act on 12 men for the first time since his 2013 election.

Arguably the most-cited visual moment of this pontificate over time, here's video of tonight's iteration of the rite...

...and a house translation of the Pope's brief homily – which, uniquely for a major occasion, he always delivers off the cuff:
I greet you all and thank you for your welcome.

A couple days ago, I received a beautiful letter from some of you who aren't here today, but they said some beautiful things and I'm grateful for what they wrote.

In this prayer, I'm very united to everyone: those who are here and those who are not.

We've heard what Jesus did. It's interesting. The Gospel says how "Jesus, knowing that the Father had taken everything into his hands," while Jesus had all the power, all of it. And then, he begins this gesture of the washing of the feet. It's an act that slaves did in that time, because there wasn't asphalt in the streets then and people had dirty feet when they arrived; when they came to a house for a visit or for lunch, it was the slaves who washed their feet. And Jesus does this: washes the feet. It's the act of a slave: He, who had all power; He, who was the Lord, does a slave's work. And then he urges them all: "Do this also amongst yourselves." That is, serve each other, be brothers in service, not in ambition, not like one who dominates over the other or tramples the other – no – but be brothers in service. You need something, some service? I will do it. This is brotherhood. Brotherhood is humble: it's always at service. And I will make this service – the Church wants the bishop to do this each year, once a year, on Holy Thursday – to imitate the act of Jesus and likewise to do well in his example for himself, that the bishop might not be the most important, but that he must be the greatest servant. And each of you should be servants of each other.

This is the rulebook of Jesus and the rules of the Gospel: the way of serving, not of dominating, of making evil, of humiliating others. Service! Once, when the apostles were fighting among themselves, they talked about "which one is the most important among us," and Jesus took a child and said: "The child. If your heart isn't the heart of a child, you cannot be my disciples." The heart of a kid, simple, humble but a servant. And he adds on something interesting that we can link with tonight's act. He says, "Stay alert: the heads of nations might rule, but it cannot be so among you. The greatest among you must serve the least. Who feels himself greatest should be the servant." All of us too much be servants. It's true that, in life, there are problems: we fight each other... but this should be something passing, a fleeting thing, because in our heart there always has to. be that love of serving the other, of being at somebody else's service.

And may this act I make tonight be for all of us an act that helps us to be better servants of each other, better friends, better brothers in service. With this in mind, let us continue with the washing of the feet.

Pope To Priests: Learn From The "Crowd"

18 APRIL 2019

The Gospel of Luke, which we just heard, makes us relive the excitement of that moment when the Lord made his own the prophecy of Isaiah, as he read it solemnly in the midst of his people. The synagogue in Nazareth was filled with his relatives, neighbours, acquaintances, friends… and not only. All had their eyes fixed on him. The Church always has her eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, the Anointed One, whom the Spirit sends to anoint God’s people.

The Gospels frequently present us with this image of the Lord in the midst of a crowd, surrounded and pressed by people who approach him with their sick ones, who ask him to cast out evil spirits, who hear his teachings and accompany him on the way. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me” (Jn 10:27-28).

The Lord never lost that direct contact with people. Amid those crowds, he always kept the grace of closeness with the people as a whole, and with each individual. We see this throughout his public life, and so it was from the beginning: the radiance of the Child gently attracted shepherds, kings and elderly dreamers like Simeon and Anna. So it was on the cross: his Heart draws all people to himself (Jn 12:32): Veronicas, Cyreneans, thieves, centurions…

The term “crowd” is not disparaging. Perhaps to some people’s ears, it can evoke a faceless, nameless throng... But in the Gospel we see that when the crowd interacts with the Lord – who stands in their midst like a shepherd among his flock – something happens. Deep within, people feel the desire to follow Jesus, amazement wells up, discernment grows apace.

I would like to reflect with you on these three graces that characterize the relationship between Jesus and the crowd.

Saint Luke says that the crowds “looked for Jesus” (4:42) and “travelled with him” (14:25). They “pressed in on him” and “surrounded him” (8:42-45); they “gathered to hear him” (5:15). Their “following” is something completely unexpected, unconditional and full of affection. It contrasts with the small-mindedness of the disciples, whose attitude towards people verges on cruelty when they suggest to the Lord that he send them away, so that they can get something to eat. Here, I believe, was the beginning of clericalism: in this desire to be assured of a meal and personal comfort without any concern for the people. The Lord cut short that temptation: “You, give them something to eat!” was Jesus’ response. “Take care of the people!”

The second grace that the crowd receives when it follows Jesus is that of joy-filled amazement. People were amazed by Jesus (Lk 11:14), by his miracles, but above all by his very person. People loved to meet him along the way, to receive his blessing and to bless him, like the woman in the midst of the crowd who blessed his Mother. The Lord himself was amazed by people’s faith; he rejoiced and he lost no opportunity to speak about it.

The third grace that people receive is that of discernment. “The crowds found out [where Jesus had gone], and followed him” (Lk 9:11). They “were astounded by his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority” (Mt 7:28-29; cf. Lk 5:26). Christ, the Word of God come in the flesh, awakens in people this charism of discernment, which is certainly not the discernment of those who specialize in disputed questions. When the Pharisees and the teachers of the law debated with him, what people discerned was Jesus’ authority, the power of his teaching to touch their hearts, and the fact that evil spirits obeyed him (leaving momentarily speechless those who tried to trap him by their questions; the people liked that).

Let us take a closer look at the way the Gospel views the crowd. Luke points out four large groups who are the preferred beneficiaries of the Lord’s anointing: the poor, the blind, the oppressed and captives. He speaks of them in general terms, but then we are glad to see that, in the course of the Lord’s life, these anointed ones gradually take on real names and faces. When oil is applied to one part of the body, its beneficial effect is felt throughout the entire body. So too, the Lord, taking up the prophecy of Isaiah, names various “crowds” to whom the Spirit sends him, according to what we may call an “inclusive preferentiality”: the grace and the charism given to one individual person or a particular group then redounds, like every action of the Spirit, to the good of all.

The poor (in Greek, ptochoi) are those who are bent over, like beggars who bow down and ask for alms. But poor too (ptochè) was that widow who anointed with her fingers the two small coins which were all she had to live on that day. The anointing by the widow to give alms went unnoticed by the eyes of all except Jesus, who looks kindly on her lowliness. Through her, the Lord can accomplish fully his mission of proclaiming the Gospel to the poor. Paradoxically, the disciples heard the good news that people like her exist. She – the generous woman – could not imagine that she would “make it to the Gospel”, that her simple gesture would be recorded in the Gospel. Like all those men and women who are the “saints next door”, she lives interiorly the joyful fact that her actions “carry weight” in the Kingdom, and are worth more than all the riches of the world.

The blind are represented by one of the most likable figures in the Gospel: Bartimaeus (cf. Mt 10:46-52), the blind beggar who regained his sight and, from that moment on, only had eyes to follow Jesus on his journey. The anointing of the gaze! Our gaze, to which the eyes of Jesus can restore the brightness which only gratuitous love can give, the brightness daily stolen from us by the manipulative and banal images with which the world overwhelms us.

To refer to the oppressed (in Greek, tethrausmenoi), Luke uses a word that contains the idea of “trauma”. It is enough to evoke the parable – perhaps Luke’s favourite – of the Good Samaritan, who anoints with oil and binds the wounds (traumata: Lk 10:34) of the man who had been beaten by robbers and left lying at the side of the road. The anointing of the wounded flesh of Christ! In that anointing we find the remedy for all those traumas that leave individuals, families and entire peoples ignored, excluded and unwanted, on the sidelines of history.

The captives are prisoners of war (in Greek, aichmalotoi), those who had been led at the point of a spear (aichmé). Jesus would use the same word in speaking of the taking of Jerusalem, his beloved city, and the deportation of its people (Lk 21:24). Our cities today are taken prisoner not so much at spear point, but by more subtle means of ideological colonization.

Only the anointing of culture, built up by the labour and the art of our forebears, can free our cities from these new forms of slavery.

As for us, dear brother priests, we must not forget that our evangelical models are those “people”, the “crowd” with its real faces, which the anointing of the Lord raises up and revives. They are the ones who complete and make real the anointing of the Spirit in ourselves; they are the ones whom we have been anointed to anoint. We have been taken from their midst, and we can fearlessly identify with these ordinary people. They are an image of our soul and an image of the Church. Each of them incarnates the one heart of our people.

We priests are the poor man and we would like to have the heart of the poor widow whenever we give alms, touching the hand of the beggar and looking him or her in the eye. We priests are Bartimaeus, and each morning we get up and pray: “Lord, that I may see”. We priests are, in some point of our sinfulness, the man beaten by the robbers. And we want first to be in the compassionate hands of the good Samaritan, in order then to be able to show compassion to others with our own hands.

I confess to you that whenever I confirm and ordain, I like to smear with chrism the foreheads and the hands of those I anoint. In that generous anointing, we can sense that our own anointing is being renewed. I would say this: We are not distributors of bottled oil. We anoint by distributing ourselves, distributing our vocation and our heart. When we anoint others, we ourselves are anointed anew by the faith and the affection of our people. We anoint by dirtying our hands in touching the wounds, the sins and the worries of the people. We anoint by perfuming our hands in touching their faith, their hopes, their fidelity and the unconditional generosity of their self-giving.

The one who learns how to anoint and to bless is thus healed of meanness, abuse and cruelty.

By setting us with Jesus in the midst of our people, may the Father renew deep within us the Spirit of holiness; may he grant that we be one in imploring his mercy for the people entrusted to our care and for all the world. In this way, the multitude of the peoples, gathered in Christ, may become the one faithful people of God, which will attain its fullness in the Kingdom (cf. Prayer of Priestly Ordination).

(Ed. Note: Vatican translation; all emphases original.)


Monday, April 15, 2019

Notre Dame In Flames

Amid global shock over tonight's devastating fire at Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral – a landmark of such cultural significance worldwide that the US' major networks have interrupted their programming with live special reports – with the blaze still out of control, here's a livefeed of ongoing coverage from the English-language broadcaster France24:


Sunday, April 14, 2019

This Holy Week, "Let Us Resolve"... To Focus

Even if these last six weeks have flown, at least for some of us, "Lent" began last June 20th... and far and wide, that experience and its ongoing fallout makes for a Holy Week backdrop of a kind unknown in nearly two decades.

Looking around, the intensity of said context isn't hard to find. Nonetheless, these days aren't merely supposed to be "Holy" on the dead letter of a calendar – if there's a time for the Church (read: the People of God) to truly live up to its name, this is it... and may all of us especially know that grace over these days ahead.

In that light, if it's Palm Sunday here, that can only mean one thing... well, two.

First, the now-traditional warhorse to draw us into the Mystery – just one of many gifts from the folks in DC through the years....

...and as always – but now for the first time since the launch of her cause for beatification was approved by acclamation of the Stateside bench in November – the last word of the Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, given from her deathbed on the eve of Holy Week 1990, days before her homegoing at 53 from bone cancer:
Let us resolve to make this week holy by claiming Christ’s redemptive grace and by living holy lives. The Word became flesh and redeemed us by his holy life and holy death. This week especially, let us accept redemption by living grateful, faithful, prayerful, generous, just and holy lives.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by reading and meditating Holy Scripture.

So often, we get caught up in the hurry of daily living. As individuals and as families, reserve prime time to be with Jesus, to hear the cries of the children waving palm branches, to see the Son of Man riding on an ass' colt, to feel the press of the crowd, to be caught up in the "Hosannas” and to realize how the cries of acclamation will yield to the garden of suffering, to be there and watch as Jesus is sentenced by Pilate to Calvary, to see him rejected, mocked, spat upon, beaten and forced to carry a heavy cross, to hear the echo of the hammer, to feel the agony of the torn flesh and strained muscles, to know Mary’s anguish as he hung three hours before he died.

We recoil before the atrocities of war, gang crime, domestic violence and catastrophic illness. Unless we personally and immediately are touched by suffering, it is easy to read Scripture and to walk away without contacting the redemptive suffering that makes us holy. The reality of the Word falls on deaf ears.

Let us take time this week to be present to someone who suffers. Sharing the pain of a fellow human will enliven Scripture and help us enter into the holy mystery of the redemptive suffering of Christ.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by participating in the Holy Week services of the church, not just by attending, but also by preparing, by studying the readings, entering into the spirit, offering our services as ministers of the Word or Eucharist, decorating the church or preparing the environment for worship.

Let us sing, "Lord, have mercy," and "Hosanna." Let us praise the Lord with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength, uniting with the suffering church throughout the world -- in Rome and Northern Ireland, in Syria and Lebanon, in South Africa and Angola, India and China, Nicaragua and El Salvador, in Washington, D.C., and Jackson, Mississippi.

Let us break bread together; let us relive the holy and redemptive mystery. Let us do it in memory of him, acknowledging in faith his real presence upon our altars.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by sharing holy peace and joy within our families, sharing family prayer on a regular basis, making every meal a holy meal where loving conversations bond family members in unity, sharing family work without grumbling, making love not war, asking forgiveness for past hurts and forgiving one another from the heart, seeking to go all the way for love as Jesus went all the way for love.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by sharing holy peace and joy with the needy, the alienated, the lonely, the sick and afflicted, the untouchable.

Let us unite our sufferings, inconveniences and annoyances with the suffering of Jesus. Let us stretch ourselves, going beyond our comfort zones to unite ourselves with Christ's redemptive work.

We unite ourselves with Christ's redemptive work when we reconcile, when we make peace, when we share the good news that God is in our lives, when we reflect to our brothers and sisters God's healing, God's forgiveness, God's unconditional love.

Let us be practical, reaching out across the boundaries of race and class and status to help somebody, to encourage and affirm somebody, offering to the young an incentive to learn and grow, offering to the downtrodden resources to help themselves.

May our fasting be the kind that saves and shares with the poor, that actually contacts the needy, that gives heart to heart, that touches and nourishes and heals.

During this Holy Week when Jesus gave his life for love, let us truly love one another.

To one and all, every blessing of the days ahead – may we make this a truly Holy Week.


"He Overcomes The Temptation to Act Like A 'Superstar'" – In Jesus' Passion, "The Meekness of Silence"

14 APRIL 2019

Joyful acclamations at Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, followed by his humiliation. Festive cries followed by brutal torture. This twofold mystery accompanies our entrance into Holy Week each year, as reflected in the two characteristic moments of today’s celebration: the initial procession with palm branches and the solemn reading of the Passion.

Let us enter into this movement, guided by the Holy Spirit, and thus obtain the grace we sought in our opening prayer: to follow in faith our Saviour’s example of humility, to heed his lesson of patient suffering, and thus to merit a share in his victory over the spirit of evil.

Jesus shows us how to face moments of difficulty and the most insidious of temptations by preserving in our hearts a peace that is neither detachment nor superhuman impassivity, but confident abandonment to the Father and to his saving will, which bestows life and mercy. He shows us this kind of abandonment by spurning, at every point in his earthly ministry, the temptation to do things his way and not in complete obedience to the Father. From the experience of his forty days in the desert to the culmination of his Passion, Jesus rejects this temptation by his obedient trust in the Father.

Today, too, by his entrance into Jerusalem, he shows us the way. For in that event, the evil one, the prince of this world, had a card up his sleeve: the card of triumphalism. Yet the Lord responded by holding fast to his own way, the way of humility.

Triumphalism tries to make it to the goal by shortcuts and false compromises. It wants to jump onto the carriage of the winner. It lives off gestures and words that are not forged in the crucible of the cross; it grows by looking askance at others and constantly judging them inferior, wanting, failures... One subtle form of triumphalism is spiritual worldliness, which represents the greatest danger, the most treacherous temptation threatening the Church (De Lubac). Jesus destroyed triumphalism by his Passion.

The Lord truly rejoiced with the people, with those young people who shouted out his name and acclaimed him as King and Messiah. His heart was gladdened to see the enthusiasm and excitement of the poor of Israel. So much so, that, to those Pharisees who asked him to rebuke his disciples for their scandalous acclamations, he replied: “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Lk 19:40). Humility does not mean denying reality: Jesus really is the Messiah, the King.

Yet at the same time the heart of Jesus was moving on another track, on the sacred path known to him and the Father alone: the path that leads from “the form of God” to “the form of a servant”, the path of self-abasement born of obedience “unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8). He knows that true triumph involves making room for God and that the only way to do that is by stripping oneself, by self-emptying. To remain silent, to pray, to accept humiliation. There is no negotiating with the cross: one either embraces it or rejects it. By his self-abasement, Jesus wanted to open up to us the path of faith and to precede us on that path.

The first to follow him on that path was his mother, Mary, the first disciple. The Blessed Virgin and the saints had to suffer in walking the path of faith and obedience to God’s will. Responding with faith to the harsh and painful events of life entails “a particular heaviness of heart (cf. Redemptoris Mater, 17). The night of faith. Yet only from that night do we see the dawn of the resurrection break forth. At the foot of the cross, Mary thought once more of the words that the angel had spoken about her Son: “He will be great… The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:32-33). On Golgotha, Mary faced the complete denial of that promise: her Son was dying on a cross like a criminal. In this way, triumphalism, destroyed by the abasement of Jesus, was likewise destroyed in the heart of his Mother. Both kept silent.

In the footsteps of Mary, countless holy men and women have followed Jesus on the path of humility and obedience. Today, World Youth Day, I would like to mention all those young saints, especially the saints “next door” to us, known only to God; sometimes he likes to surprise us with them. Dear young people, do not be ashamed to show your enthusiasm for Jesus, to shout out that he is alive and that he is your life. Yet at the same time, do not be afraid to follow him on the way of the cross. When you hear that he is asking you to renounce yourselves, to let yourselves be stripped of every security, and to entrust yourselves completely to our Father in heaven, then rejoice and exult! You are on the path of the kingdom of God.

Festive acclamations and brutal torture; the silence of Jesus throughout his Passion is profoundly impressive. He also overcomes the temptation to answer back, to act like a “superstar”. In moments of darkness and great tribulation, we need to keep silent, to find the courage not to speak, as long as our silence is meek and not full of anger. The meekness of silence will make us appear even weaker, more humble. Then the devil will take courage and come out into the open. We need to resist him in silence, “holding our position”, but with the same attitude as Jesus. He knows that the battle is between God and the prince of this world, and that what is important is not putting our hand to the sword but remaining firm in faith. It is God’s hour. At the hour that God comes forth to fight, we have to let him take over. Our place of safety will be beneath the mantle of the holy Mother of God. As we wait for the Lord to come and calm the storm (cf. Mt 4:37-41), by our silent witness in prayer we give ourselves and others “an accounting for the hope that is within [us]” (1 Pet 3:15). This will help us to live in the sacred tension between the memory of the promises made, the suffering present in the cross, and the hope of the resurrection.

(Ed. Note: Vatican translation – emphases original.)


Thursday, April 04, 2019

Wilt to DC: "I've Been Sent Here As A Pastor – I Haven't Been Elected To Congress"

WASHINGTON – For those who missed the local rollout of today's mega-move, here below is Archbishop Wilton Gregory's full debut before the capital church this morning at DC Chancery:

On a quick logistic note, the date of the installation has been moved to Tuesday, 21 May due to a scheduling conflict for the Western bench. All told, a hefty turnout of the American hierarchy is expected for the capital rites, both to support its former President... and, indeed, to thank him for taking the job so they didn't have to.


For Crisis-Hit Capital, The Healer-in-Chief – In Francis' Ultimate US Move, Wilton Goes To Washington

WASHINGTON – Over the last nine months, as this capital church has become the local nexus of the gravest crisis modern American Catholicism has known, the stakes facing its next leader have only ever increased. And now, a process that turned longer and more unwieldy than expected has reflected that reality, producing the figure who, in the minds of many, became the only possible choice – and a historic one, to boot.

Six months since the Pope reluctantly granted Cardinal Donald Wuerl's long-delayed retirement after the scandal's first throes engulfed his tenure, at Roman Noon this April 4th, Francis has tapped Wilton Daniel Gregory – the 71 year-old archbishop of Atlanta best known as the face of "zero tolerance" in leading the US bishops' response to the 2002 crisis – as the Seventh Archbishop of Washington, now home to nearly 800,000 Catholics amid three decades of marked growth.

Of course, the date is auspicious, and seemingly not coincidental. Nearly four years since the pontiff cited Dr Martin Luther King as an exemplar of the American Dream in the first-ever papal address to Congress, today marks the 51st anniversary of Dr King's assassination in Memphis – and that it brings the emergence of the figure now virtually certain to be the first African-American to enter the College of Cardinals gives this appointment a symbolic storyline beyond the crisis: in itself, a feat few other choices could've accomplished at the outset.

Between the high local anger and intense wider focus on the DC church over the scandals – and even without that, the challenge of dealing with the nation's searing political polarization in the exacerbated context of the capital – it bears repeating that this is a job nobody wanted (and anyone who might've tried angling for it would, in essence, be immediately disqualified). Indeed, not since the 2003 appointment to Boston in the wake of Cardinal Bernard Law's fall amid the crisis' first national round has an American pick been so closely watched or seen as a make-or-break move far beyond the diocese in question.

What's more, however, as one leading op told Whispers as the process wended on, unlike any prior US opening of this magnitude, the stakes here were such that "Every man being mentioned is looking at every decision he's ever made," with many ruling themselves out from the glaring spotlight. That mindset was echoed by another top source, who noted that while a prelate who tried to decline a major appointment like this would normally be prodded to accept, in this case, "if somebody doesn't, no questions would be asked."

For his part, after 14 years of near-bliss at the helm of an Atlanta fold now boomed to 1.2 million members (six times its 1990 size) – and, having been named an auxiliary of Chicago at 35, spending more than half his life as an active bishop – the sense in Wilt-world is that the eventual choice was initially no less reluctant should the call come his way. Over the first several months of the vacancy, that expectation simply didn't figure in his mind. However, once Wuerl's already-tenuous standing took a further hit in January after reports that the cardinal hadn't disclosed his full knowledge of allegations made against his predecessor, the now-laicized Theodore McCarrick – and given Gregory's private frustration that much of the current bench "still doesn't get it" in its attempts to respond to the crisis – as the process wore on and the conversation increasingly turned toward him, in the end, accepting the move wasn't a choice because of how much was riding on it, both for the Stateside church and for Francis himself.

For the third time in a row, the Chair of St Matthew's has gone to a well-seasoned prelate who's leaving a diocese larger than Washington for the banks of the Potomac. Still, that's not merely a reflection on the prominence of the Federal District, but the increasing complexity of its local church in light of a significant growth-spurt.

With a vibrant inner-city scene comprised of gentrifying parishes and historic ethnic enclaves – anchored by a Black Catholic community that's long been a political powerhouse – and teeming parishes in the Maryland suburbs marked by overflowing schools and ten or more weekend Masses in three or four languages, the pastoral reality of today's DC Catholicism is far more Atlanta than the Mid-Atlantic.

While this reality has largely gone overshadowed through the succession in light of the towering challenges of the crisis and the political tightrope, with the archdiocese even now scouting out locations in its far suburbs for the potential construction of new parishes, having planned and opened several dozen mega-churches across North Georgia's 69 counties, the new archbishop arrives particularly well-equipped for this critical aspect of the job, not to mention the traffic that comes with the sprawl. At the same time, as an appreciation of and ability to engage with the increasing diversity of the DC fold has been a top quality sought by some of the locals – so much so that, for the first time for Washington, a facility in Spanish was felt to be a prerequisite – if you've ever seen the procession at Atlanta's annual Eucharistic Congress (which draws over 30,000 parishioners to the city's convention center every Corpus Christi weekend), you know that box is checked.

On another front, today's appointment shatters another major historic precedent. From the inception of a permanent conference of bishops on these shores a century ago, the ascent of collegial governance has been accompanied by a paranoia over giving too much clout to any one hierarch. In its Stateside incarnation, that's meant the unspoken norm of keeping the archbishop of Washington out of the gears of the USCCB, which has made for an enduring tension between the conference and the archdiocese.

Of course, Gregory's already served his three years in the president's chair – and, having overcome formidable resistance both at home and in Rome to enact what became the Dallas Charter, no presidency has been as consequential before or since. Nonetheless, following November's formation of an unprecedented "task force" comprised of the conference's former presidents to guide the bench's handling of the crisis, Wilt's already been returned to the catbird's seat, and today's move will only serve to burnish that influence.

A 10am press conference has been called at the Washington Chancery to formally introduce the archbishop-elect – Whispers is on the ground with full coverage to come.

Gregory's Installation is slated for Tuesday, May 21st, a subsequent change from the previously-announced 17th due to scheduling conflicts.

SVILUPPO: And here, fullvideo of this morning's press conference.


Tuesday, April 02, 2019

To Young People, "The 'Now' of God"

[Almost three years in the making, the first-ever magisterial text on young people is now released....]





Christ is alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youth to our world. The very first words, then, that I would like to say to every young Christian are these: Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive!

2. He is in you, he is with you and he never abandons you. However far you may wander, he is always there, the Risen One. He calls you and he waits for you to return to him and start over again. When you feel you are growing old out of sorrow, resentment or fear, doubt or failure, he will always be there to restore your strength and your hope.

3. With great affection, I address this Apostolic Exhortation to all Christian young people. It is meant to remind you of certain convictions born of our faith, and at the same time to encourage you to grow in holiness and in commitment to your personal vocation. But since it is also part of a synodal process, I am also addressing this message to the entire People of God, pastors and faithful alike, since all of us are challenged and urged to reflect both on the young and for the young. Consequently, I will speak to young people directly in some places, while in others I will propose some more general considerations for the Church’s discernment.

4. I have let myself be inspired by the wealth of reflections and conversations that emerged from last year’s Synod. I cannot include all those contributions here, but you can read them in the Final Document. In writing this letter, though, I have attempted to summarize those proposals I considered most significant. In this way, my words will echo the myriad voices of believers the world over who made their opinions known to the Synod. Those young people who are not believers, yet wished to share their thoughts, also raised issues that led me to ask new questions....