Friday, March 27, 2020

“You Are Calling Us To Seize This Trial As A Time of Choosing” – From Rome, A Blessing For the World

(Updated with Pope’s homily.)

 unique act underscoring the gravity of the global crisis at hand, this evening brings an extraordinary urbi et orbi on the steps of St Peter’s at which the Pope will call down God’s blessing from an empty Square on a virus-wracked city and the anxious world beyond.

With the bishops of the world unusually urged by the Vatican to circulate the event to their people, the rite takes place at 6pm Rome, 1pm US Eastern – here’s the livefeed:

Per custom for major papal benedictions – an act normally reserved to Christmas and Easter – tonight’s blessing carries a plenary indulgence for those participating by television, radio or over the internet. As the spreading COVID-induced lockdowns prevent the usual conditions of going to Confession and receiving the Eucharist within a week, the Holy See has already clarified that the intent to fulfill these as soon as reasonably possible is sufficient to obtain the indulgence.

SVILUPPO: A striking reflection drawn from the Gospel passage on the apostles’ fear in a storm-tossed boat, below is the English text of the Pope’s message at tonight’s rite:
“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets, and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel, we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits, and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents, and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves, we founder: we need the Lord like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support, and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross, we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross, we have been redeemed. We have hope: by his cross, we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity, and solidarity. By his cross, we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A Church "At Home" – On Rose Sunday, Our "Altar-ed" State

Before anything else, is everybody OK?

At least so far, here's hoping this deeply uncertain, unsettling road is going as smoothly as it can for you and yours.

Back to the work at hand, perhaps fittingly given this Sunday's Gospel, we are all just hoping to find our way in the dark... yet with it, history is unfolding in real-time.

While the thread began last weekend across roughly a fifth of the American Catholic map, this Sunday sees the nation's largest religious body echoing the life of the country at large: a complete shutdown of public worship, and one without precedent in its likelihood to stretch through Holy Week and Easter.

While many dioceses have aimed to keep churches open for private prayer despite the suspension of Masses, even that is changing quickly, as rapidly-spreading state and local "stay at home" orders increasingly forbid any gatherings, even outdoors. (Of course, as the precise shape of the instructions vary by place – and, often, are progressing in stages – everyone is advised to keep tabs on the situation where you are; as ever, the church is a complement and partner to the civil authorities, not a substitute for them.)

Still, even for the dizzying spiral of this last week and a half – and everything that's come with it – the reality of a people unable to make it to church has freshly emboldened many entities to bring Church to the people. Sure, it's no substitute for the Real Thing, but in a time like this, it's a grace nonetheless – all the more given the hard work and quick planning that's gone into pulling all this together.

Again, the examples are well in evidence out there, but to single out just a few, given last year's March Madness, here's this morning's Mass from the home-chapel of the archbishop of Washington – who summed up the feelings of most in explaining how "I never dreamed as a bishop that one day my best pastoral option would not involve expanding access to the Eucharist, but suspending it"...

...and elsewhere, from the Chancery chapel of Las Vegas:

...from the South, in the empty Cathedral of the 1.4 million-member fold in Dallas: the North, in what's now the Cathedral-Basilica of Canada's largest diocese (itself built by a founding bishop killed by his ministry in a plague):

...y en español, de la Catedral de Los Ángeles – la más grande comunidad de todos nosotros:

*  *  *
To be sure, these days – more like these weeks, if not months, to come – have already brought any number of new and pressing concerns to the fore, at least some of them likely to change the face of this beat forever.

While there'll be a time to pore through it all over the road ahead, for now, the critical concerns we face are twofold – first, the health and safety of the whole Body... and just behind it, how we can best be Church to and with each other amid these constraints.

Lest anyone among us thinks they've got the answers on that front on their own, suffice it to say, you don't – none of us do. But even for the physical "distancing" of these days, finding our way through together isn't just the only way we can make it through this – indeed, it's what "ekklesia" (in English, "Church") means in the first place.

May each of us know every grace we didn't know we needed in these days... and above all, again, please take care of yourselves and those you love – and may we help each other through this as best we can.


Friday, March 13, 2020

Amid Corona's Spread, A Church In Lockdown

By the looks of it, we are entering a moment unlike any in living memory.

Within 36 hours of the million-member archdiocese of Seattle's move to suspend all public Masses at the national "ground zero" of the coronavirus outbreak – a call unseen in the US since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 – six others among the nation's 197 dioceses have followed suit, led by the capital church in Washington and, this morning, the 2.3 million-member archdiocese of Chicago.

For those who haven't been keeping an eye, as an ecclesial service, the Whispers' side-feed – either down your right sidebar or directly accessible here – has been keeping a running tally of the suspensions and other major steps as they emerge. As developments are shifting in real-time – and often contradicting prior guidance in the respective locales – the feed will be updated as further announcements are made... and with Holy Week just around the corner, a situation without precedent is ostensibly at hand.

(SVILUPPO – 4.20pm: In just the two hours since this piece went to "print," the number of US jurisdictions announcing suspensions of Masses has zoomed past a dozen, now including the nation's fourth-largest fold – Boston (reversing its guidance from yesterday) – the million-member arch/dioceses of Detroit and San Diego, statewide across Colorado and West Virginia and, beyond, to Canada's largest diocese in Toronto and all of Quebec.

(Again, the feed is updating in real-time to keep up with the extraordinary pace... and notable among the tide is this late-afternoon insight from Bishop Ed Burns as he indefinitely suspended public liturgies in the 1.4 million-member Dallas church:

*  *  *
In general, while dispensations from Sunday Mass attendance (without their being cancelled) are quickly becoming the national norm, even where these are not explicitly given by competent authority, one's own judgment on risks to health and/or safety are indeed sufficient to lift the obligation, with the common good – in this case, the health of all – always and everywhere being the paramount value.

In other words, as chanceries have never been famous for their common sense, that doesn't absolve you from using yours.

As these pages have always come from the home-office, this scribe'll be here for the duration, doing whatever needs to be done. Ergo, in particular, if there's anyone in your world who can especially use prayers in these days, just say the word.

But most of all, please just take care of yourselves and those you love, and let's keep an eye out for each other – even if just over the wires or by wi-fi, if there were ever a time for us as Church to be family to and with each other, this is it.

*  *  *
Beyond the flood of protocols and contingency planning, late this morning the following reflection and prayer for the nation was issued by the USCCB President, Archbishop José Gomez, likewise the head of the nation's largest diocese, LA's fold of 5 million:
With the worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus, we are confronted once more with the fragility of our lives, and again we are reminded of our common humanity — that the peoples of this world are our brothers and sisters, that we are all one family under God.

God does not abandon us, he goes with us even now in this time of trial and testing. In this moment, it is important for us to anchor our hearts in the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Now is the time to intensify our prayers and sacrifices for the love of God and the love of our neighbor. Let us draw closer to one another in our love for him, and rediscover the things that truly matter in our lives.

United with our Holy Father Pope Francis, let us pray in solidarity for our brothers and sisters here and around the world who are sick. Let us pray for those who have lost loved ones to this virus. May God console them and grant them peace.

We pray also for doctors, nurses, and caregivers, for public health officials and all civic leaders. May God grant them courage and prudence as they seek to respond to this emergency with compassion and in service to the common good.

In this time of need, I invite all the faithful to seek together the maternal intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and I share this prayer with you:

Holy Virgin of Guadalupe,
Queen of the Angels and Mother of the Americas.
We fly to you today as your beloved children.
We ask you to intercede for us with your Son,
as you did at the wedding in Cana.

Pray for us, loving Mother,
and gain for our nation and world,
and for all our families and loved ones,
the protection of your holy angels,
that we may be spared the worst of this illness.

For those already afflicted,
we ask you to obtain the grace of healing and deliverance.
Hear the cries of those who are vulnerable and fearful,
wipe away their tears and help them to trust.

In this time of trial and testing,
teach all of us in the Church to love one another and to be patient and kind.
Help us to bring the peace of Jesus to our land and to our hearts.

We come to you with confidence,
knowing that you truly are our compassionate mother,
health of the sick and cause of our joy.

Shelter us under the mantle of your protection,
keep us in the embrace of your arms,
help us always to know the love of your Son, Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

With Pope's Pick, "Francis" Comes To Atlanta

The clear frontrunner through practically the entire 10-month process, upon receiving the most prized appointment on the current US docket, Archbishop-elect Greg Hartmayer made his first appearance as the Pope's pick for Atlanta just as he did on his debut in Savannah nine years ago: that is, clad in his Conventual Franciscan habit.

Here, fullvid of this morning's relaxed "homecoming" at Smyrna Chancery – the second return of a popular local pastor to a high-profile Stateside post in as many months...

...and afterward, an exuberant welcome at the Cathedral Rectory, the former Archbishop's Residence:

Keeping recent custom due to the 1.2 million-member archdiocese's marked growth, Hartmayer's installation – set for May 6th – won't be in the Cathedral of Christ the King due to space limitations. While Wilton Gregory's 2005 rites were held at the city's convention center, this time they'll take place at one of the Metro's host of large new churches: the 1,500-seat St Peter Chanel parish in suburban Roswell. (In a further reflection of the dominance of the archdiocese's suburbs – where some mega-parishes boast ten permanent deacons or more – the modest house the new archbishop inherits is likewise in a standard development outside the city.)

As for the reception, one of the elect's confreres summed it up simply, saying "He's a kind man." As for the move's provenance, meanwhile, much like Philadelphia's newly-returned Archbishop Nelson Perez, the Atlanta choice is a palpable favorite of the Nuncio to DC, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who's now beginning his final year in office as his 75th birthday approaches next January, and has accordingly taken the docket into overdrive, with no less than six nods in the last week alone.

Having waited until the Southeast's ad limina in mid-February to make his decision for the 404, with today's appointment, Francis has now named a third of the nation's 34 Latin-church archbishops, with two more pending – Anchorage (vacant since Archbishop Paul Etienne's transfer to Seattle last April) and St Louis, where Archbishop Robert Carlson reached the retirement age last June. While Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. likewise turned 75 last summer, he has been confirmed at the helm of the 1.9 million-member Boston church – the US' fourth-largest see – for an open-ended period.

Ergo, after a relative drought of metropolitan picks, as many as four new Stateside archbishops could be in Rome in late June to receive their pallia from the Pope on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. But as Hartmayer reportedly had a cruise booked over those days, well, there goes that.


Wednesday, March 04, 2020

For Atlanta, "Habemus Friar" – In US Docket's "Crown," Pope Sends Franciscan To “Tara”

Just a couple years ago, upon inheriting one of the great estates of American literature, the leadership of a booming Atlanta church aimed to build its Archbishop a mansion commensurate with Catholicism's newfound status in the Capital of the South....

Not long after it emerged, an outcry from the faithful nipped the Smyrna Chancery's designs of grandeur in the bud. Only now, however, is the Pope set to finish the job, placing "Tara" – the crown jewel of the current US docket – into the keep of a Conventual Franciscan more used to sleeping at a Hampton Inn.

At Roman Noon Thursday, Whispers ops indicate that Francis will name Bishop Gregory Hartmayer OFM Conv., the 68 year-old head of Georgia's southern diocese at Savannah, as the Seventh Archbishop of Atlanta, his adopted home – a 69-county fold now comprising 1.2 million Catholics – where the Buffalo-born friar led parishes for a decade and a half until being given the hat in 2011. (Above, Hartmayer is seen with his Savannah predecessor, Bishop Kevin Boland, checking phone-shots after the Pope left his speech to the US bishops at Washington's St Matthew's Cathedral in 2015.)

A successor clearly cherished by his mentor – Wilton Gregory, sent to the capital last April 4th – the charge the Archbishop-elect inherits is a world different from the one his venerable predecessor arrived to 15 years ago this winter.

At least doubled in size since (and four times its population in 1990), today's 404 church – once seen as the US' seat of African-American Catholicism – is, beyond the ongoing "conversion" of transplants from the North, now a majority-minority outpost thanks to a mass infusion of Hispanics and Asians, a remarkably catholic (i.e. universal) reality that culminates each Corpus Christi weekend with the archdiocese's Eucharistic Congress, which draws an annual flood of over 30,000 faithful, making it the church's largest gathering in the American South:

As if this wasn't enough, per usual, more to come... yet as your full-salaried folks will be like vultures on this reporting – and, if history's an indicator, will insult Whispers along the way – the reminder's in order that all this only comes your way by means of your support...

...and if you're looking for this stuff somewhere else, welp, good luck.