Wednesday, February 26, 2020

"Even In the Church, We Have Let So Much Dust Collect" – As Lent Begins, Pope Seeks Conversion "From Dust to Life"

As these 40 Days begin again – and with them, the biggest crowds of the year converge in most places – a fruitful and Blessed Lent to one and all.

While the Pope gave a practical guide to living the season well at this morning's weekly Audience, per immemorial custom, this Ash Wednesday's principal rite doesn't come until evening with the penitential procession on the Avventine Hill and Mass at the basilica of Santa Sabina, the first of Rome's stational churches.

Even beyond the ashes sprinkled on his head, today's traditional rubrics give the Roman Pontiff a further, uniquely pointed "memento" of his mortal weakness – known as the "papal simplex," the "penitential" miter donned by a Pope on this day is the one in which, in time, he will be buried. (It's likewise employed on Good Friday.)

Here, Francis' homily at tonight's liturgy:
We begin the Lenten Season by receiving ashes: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return (cf. Gen 3:19). The dust sprinkled on our heads brings us back to earth; it reminds us that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We are weak, frail and mortal. Centuries and millennia pass and we come and go; before the immensity of galaxies and space, we are nothing. We are dust in the universe. Yet we are dust loved by God. It pleased the Lord to gather that dust in his hands and to breathe into it the breath of life (cf. Gen 2:7). We are thus a dust that is precious, destined for eternal life. We are the dust of the earth, upon which God has poured out his heaven, the dust that contains his dreams. We are God’s hope, his treasure and his glory.

Ashes are thus a reminder of the direction of our existence: a passage from dust to life. We are dust, earth, clay, but if we allow ourselves to be shaped by the hands of God, we become something wondrous. More often than not, though, especially at times of difficulty and loneliness, we only see our dust! But the Lord encourages us: in his eyes, our littleness is of infinite value. So let us take heart: we were born to be loved; we were born to be children of God.

Dear brothers and sisters, may we keep this in mind as we begin this Lenten season. For Lent is not a time for useless sermons, but for recognizing that our lowly ashes are loved by God. It is a time of grace, a time for letting God gaze upon us with love and in this way change our lives. We were put in this world to go from ashes to life. So let us not turn our hopes and God’s dream for us into powder and ashes. Let us not grow resigned. You may ask: “How can I trust? The world is falling to pieces, fear is growing, there is so much malice all around us, society is becoming less and less Christian…” Don’t you believe that God can transform our dust into glory?

The ashes we receive on our foreheads should affect the thoughts passing through our minds. They remind us that, as God’s children, we cannot spend our lives chasing after dust. From there a question can pass into our hearts: “What am I living for?” If it is for the fleeting realities of this world, I am going back to ashes and dust, rejecting what God has done in my life. If I live only to earn money, to have a good time, to gain a bit of prestige or a promotion in my work, I am living for dust. If I am unhappy with life because I think I do not get enough respect or receive what I think is my due, then I am simply staring at dust.

That is not why we have been put in this world. We are worth so much more. We live for so much more, for we are meant to make God’s dream a reality and to love. Ashes are sprinkled on our heads so that the fire of love can be kindled in our hearts. We are citizens of heaven, and our love for God and neighbour is our passport to heaven. Our earthly possessions will prove useless, dust that scatters, but the love we share – in our families, at work, in the Church and in the world – will save us, for it will endure forever.

The ashes we receive remind us of a second and opposite passage: from life to dust. All around us, we see the dust of death. Lives reduced to ashes. Rubble, destruction, war. The lives of unwelcomed innocents, the lives of the excluded poor, the lives of the abandoned elderly. We continue to destroy ourselves, to return to ashes and dust. And how much dust there is in our relationships! Look at our homes and families: our quarrels, our inability to resolve conflicts, our unwillingness to apologize, to forgive, to start over, while at the same time insisting on our own freedom and our rights! All this dust that besmirches our love and mars our life. Even in the Church, the house of God, we have let so much dust collect, the dust of worldliness.

Let us look inside, into our hearts: how many times do we extinguish the fire of God with the ashes of hypocrisy! Hypocrisy is the filth that Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that we have to remove. Indeed, the Lord tells us not only to carry out works of charity, to pray and to fast, but also to do these without pretense, duplicity and hypocrisy (cf. Mt 6:2.5.16). Yet how often do we do things only to be recognized, to look good, to satisfy our ego! How often do we profess to be Christians, yet in our hearts readily yield to passions that enslave us! How often do we preach one thing and practice another! How many times do we make ourselves look good on the outside while nursing grudges within! How much duplicity do we have in our hearts... All this is dust that besmirches, ashes that extinguish the fire of love.

We need to be cleansed of all the dust that has sullied our hearts. How? The urgent summons of Saint Paul in today’s second reading can help us. Paul says: “Be reconciled to God!” He does not simply ask; he begs: “We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). We would have said: “Reconcile yourselves with God!” But no, Paul uses passive form: Be reconciled! Holiness is not achieved by our efforts, for it is grace! By ourselves, we cannot remove the dust that sullies our hearts. Only Jesus, who knows and loves our heart, can heal it. Lent is a time of healing.

What, then, are we to do? In journeying towards Easter, we can make two passages: first, from dust to life, from our fragile humanity to the humanity of Jesus, who heals us. We can halt in contemplation before the crucified Lord and repeat: “Jesus, you love me, transform me... Jesus, you love me, transform me...” And once we have received his love, once we have wept at the thought of that love, we can make the second passage, by determining never to fall again from life into dust. We can receive God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance, because there the fire of God’s love consumes the ashes of our sin. The embrace of the Father in confession renews us from inside and purifies our heart. May we allow ourselves to be reconciled, in order to live as beloved children, as forgiven and healed sinners, as wayfarers with him at our side.

Let us allow ourselves to be loved, so that we can give love in return. Let us allow ourselves to stand up and walk towards Easter. Then we will experience the joy of discovering how God raises us up from our ashes.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

In Philly, "Begin To Hope"

SVILUPPO: Given the lack of a homily text – and, well more, the inability of large parts of the presbytery to even hear the preach as it was delivered – here's the fullvid of the Inaugural Word on its own.

On a side-note, until go-time, nobody had any clue of where the Archbishop would give it from... for the answer, to repeat an earlier line here, the "Encuentro" is strong with him.

*  *  *
(Philadelphia Noon, 18 February 2019) 

From Whispers' home-church to yours, all blessings and peace...

...and now, continuing two centuries of what this place does best, It's Showtime.

A watershed moment on any number of fronts for American Catholicism's "Last Great China Shop," live from the Cathedral-Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul, today's Installation Mass of Nelson Perez as his hometown's Tenth Archbishop – feed begins at 1.30pm Eastern (1930 Rome):

...and again, a scrollable copy of the 45-page Mass-book:


In River City, The "Rising Son"

Some months ago, as the process which led to today wended on, one of the contenders told Whispers that "I would have to be psychotic to say 'Yes' to your place."

Given the enduring challenges at hand, odds are this bishop wasn't just speaking for himself. But for those of us who already know and love this city and its Church – and, indeed, are the most clear-eyed of all about the situation here – there would never be any such qualms: not out of a sense of ambition, but of devotion.

And amazingly, that sense would end up carrying the moment.

To be sure, the first return of a Philadelphia priest to the Chair of St John Neumann in over a century was anything but a certain prospect. But seeing how this scribe's own have reacted to it these last three weeks, it's suddenly become hard to conjure how any other choice could've been made. If anything, the effect just the news alone has had echoes the sense expressed by Romano Guardini in the wake of a world war: "An event of incalculable importance has begun – the church is awakening in souls."

Just a few months after taking Nelson Perez out of Philly as a bishop, Benedict XVI used the same phrase in his last address as Pope. As he explained the thought in another text, Guardini "meant to say that no longer was the church experienced and perceived as merely an external system entering our lives, as a kind of authority, but rather it began to be perceived as being present within people's hearts – as something not merely external, but internally moving us."

If that doesn't lay out the "conversion" upon which the 10th Archbishop's mandate rests, nothing ever could. Still, that its motion is already in evidence after 15 trying, brutal years of crises and scandals – compounded by the most sweeping institutional contraction ever seen in an American diocese – is nothing short of extraordinary.

Only today, however, does the work begin.

Thirty years since his priestly ordination in the Cathedral-Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Nelson's Installation in the same place begins at 2pm Eastern (procession from 1.40) – the livefeed will be on Whispers' main page then.

As you might imagine, after the intensity of the yearlong process followed by a historically quick handover, this Philadelphian's brain is a bit fried, but the experience has been worth the trip.

For now, one last thought before the finish line.

From time immemorial, it's been Whispers' custom to note the unique import of February 22nd for American Catholics – on the latter side, it's the feast of the Chair of Peter, the premier feast marking the role of the Pope, while in the States, it's the civic equivalent thereof as Presidents' Day, timed to coincide with George Washington's birthday. (As ever, the civil holiday was observed on Monday.)

Long as that link's been made here, only in our time have the two histories fully converged: on his 2015 visit to Philadelphia, the reigning pontiff became the first Bishop of Rome to visit Independence Hall, where Francis saw the chair from which Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention of 1787 (left).

Given the carving on the back of the seat, at the drafting's close, the future first President was led to remark that it represented "a rising, and not a setting, sun."

And now, thanks to Francis' decision for this place, as of today, we'll see it again, this time over St John's Chair – the new coat of arms has the very same symbol on it.

While the official description attributes its placement to the Perez clan's roots in Cuba, there's a hidden meaning as well: a stealth nod to Nelson's first pastorate, St William's on Rising Sun Avenue in the Northeast.

Clearly, all this didn't fall into place overnight. But it's no coincidence, either – as our Seventh Archbishop always taught his sons, there is only Providence...

...and after three decades living this beat in this place, to see another of these sons now come home as his successor is about as fulfilling as it gets.


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation

of the Holy Father

to the People of God
and to All Persons of Good Will

The beloved Amazon region stands before the world in all its splendour, its drama and its mystery. God granted us the grace of focusing on that region during the Synod held in Rome from 6-27 October last, which concluded by issuing its Final Document, The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.

2. During the Synod, I listened to the presentations and read with interest the reports of the discussion groups. In this Exhortation, I wish to offer my own response to this process of dialogue and discernment. I will not go into all of the issues treated at length in the final document. Nor do I claim to replace that text or to duplicate it. I wish merely to propose a brief framework for reflection that can apply concretely to the life of the Amazon region a synthesis of some of the larger concerns that I have expressed in earlier documents, and that can help guide us to a harmonious, creative and fruitful reception of the entire synodal process.

3. At the same time, I would like to officially present the Final Document, which sets forth the conclusions of the Synod, which profited from the participation of many people who know better than myself or the Roman Curia the problems and issues of the Amazon region, since they live there, they experience its suffering and they love it passionately....