Posts tagged: Pope Francis

Fiftieth Anniversaries Surround Us

By , April 16, 2014 5:48 am

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Have you noticed that we are surrounded by a very plethora of anniversaries marking the 50th anniversary of this or the 50th anniversary of that. If it tells us anything at all, it should be that the 1960’s were an extraordinarily important period. It is fifty years since the riots in Watts, fifty years since the death of Jack Kennedy, fifty years since Lyndon Johnson led the change in America by the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It is also fifty years since the first session of the Second Vatican Council.

These American events are being rather well marked but for some reason the Catholic bishops of the United States have done little or nothing to remind the 60 million of us that the Council was an extraordinary event widening horizons, creating hope and helping to lead us into the future. Maybe one of the reasons why it has not been spotlighted so much in this country is that many of the younger bishops would just as soon forget it! That is a tragedy but it is not an enduring tragedy. The Council is being brought back to life by our magnificent leader Pope Francis.

A few days ago I started a series of blogs on the documents of the Council. Since I find it so refreshing to go back and study them, you may appreciate or enjoy at least a brief mention to various segments of them as I plod through the next few weeks.

The other day I stressed that the first and most exciting of the Council documents was the one on the sacred liturgy and how it got started. Now I would like to go very briefly through certain segments of this document that has touched each and every one of us in this country and actually every Roman Catholic across the world. I break Roman Catholics into two groups about the Council. Older men and women who remember it taking place fifty years ago connect it with a time of change and tension and the most visible thing they remember is that Latin ceased to be imposed on the Universal Church and all the countries of the world were able to use vernacular language. Imagine – the Church decided to put worship into a language that the worshipers understood. What a breakthrough!

To discuss the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy would require volumes and believe me many volumes have been written about it. With the constraints of this space, I want to simply break it into two key components. Many subdivisions are possible.

The first thrust of the document centers on the fact that the Eucharist is the absolute center of the Church’s prayer life. Certainly, the other sacraments are important and they draw us closer to Jesus and private devotions and prayers of individuals are very valuable. However, it is in the Eucharistic liturgy that the entire Church prays and we pray in unison and with one faith and one heart. The Eucharist is the center of the Church and it unites each and every one of us together. We are believers.

Secondly, the liturgical document calls forcefully and urgently for a resurgence in the study of sacred scripture and more effectively integrating scripture into the Eucharist liturgy and all the other sacraments as well. I am happy to report that this early Council directive has been rather well implemented. While there is much work to be done, it is a very measurable accomplishment.

In the meantime, what we need is millions of small groups across the world taking time out of their lives, day by day and week by week, to study God’s word, to see their own lives in relationship to it and to be guided by that word. We are a long way from there but I think we are moving in the right direction. For that I thank God.

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The Pilgrim Church

By , April 10, 2014 8:58 am

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Several times in the last week or so, I have gone back to re-read and meditate on one of the great documents of the Second Vatican Council, the one on the Church which Latin title is Lumen Gentium, Light of the Nations. The document spent a great deal of time on major components of this mystical organization; for example, dealing separately with bishops, clergy and the laity, but it pulls them all together with a wonderful title that had not been used too much in recent years. The Council Fathers reminded us that ours is a pilgrim church. We are wounded and, to some extent, lost people traveling across the desert.

When I was in the seminary in the ‘50’s, the theology textbooks did not stress that idea. Actually, they went in the other direction and theologians claimed that the Church is a perfect society. Don’t have a heart attack! Those writers knew that there was much sin and weakness inside the Church, but it held that the Church is perfect in that it had everything needed to attain its goal, namely to present God’s message to the human family; that message coming from God the Father through the Son and guided by the Holy Spirit. We wouldn’t dare use language like that today, but it is wonderful to put our arms around the idea that we are a pilgrim Church. That means that we travel lightly and not with too much baggage.

What an example we are receiving from this marvelous new shepherd, Francis. Look at those two little rooms in the Vatican Hotel. I wonder who is staying in that lavish apartment up on the sixth floor of the palace. Let me stop myself for a minute. Over the last 25 years, I have been in the papal apartments several times and I agree with Pope Francis. They are cold and bleak and I wouldn’t want to stay there either. The pope is giving the bishops of the world a good example of how to be a pilgrim but not everybody gets it. We saw a rather thick-headed German bishop removed from his diocese because he wasted vast amounts of money on his residence and just last week we saw the sharp criticism of two American bishops, not from the Vatican but from the American media. Both were guilty of inordinate spending on their residences. One, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, immediately apologized for his foolishness and plans to leave to a more proper residence. The other bishop, Archbishop Myers of Newark, felt that he was being unjustly criticized. All he did was put a $500,000 addition on his 4,500 square foot house.

Let’s hear it for the pilgrim Church. Onward through the fog and over the sand.

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More On Lumen Gentium

By , April 4, 2014 4:46 am

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I offered a few comments the other day on that extremely important document, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), and I talked about the fact that there are many aspects of the Church that qualify the Church itself as being a mystery. The document goes on to discuss the structural nature of the Church, namely that it is hierarchical and the great reality of the Church’s membership, namely that it is overwhelmingly, yes overwhelmingly, made up of lay people.

In the few paragraphs that I have here, I can’t do a dissertation of the fact that the Church we see in the New Testament enjoys various levels of responsibilities. Jesus called the apostles and he sent them forward to preach his message. Once they established a community of faith in a given area, the apostles provided leadership, coordination and direction. After establishing a church, Paul put men that he had ordained in charge of those churches since he had to keep moving to spread the Gospel. Therefore, I have no doubt that the Church is by its very nature hierarchical but I think that over the centuries, especially in the second millennium, the hierarchical aspects of the Church have been exaggerated, made too rigid and regretfully counterproductive.

Our blessed new Pope Francis has been working hard in his first year to awaken us to the need to strip down the exaggerated signs of hierarchy and prestige that at times have been abused in the Church. And he is making great progress.
Next in Lumen Gentium comes the section on the laity. The document makes a great step forward and that is about the best that could be done at that time. However, what we are seeing now is a wonderful, glorious change where the laity across the world are beginning to assert responsibilities, opportunities and challenges that flow from baptism and confirmation.
These two entities are currently interacting and we can be sure that we will see a certain amount of friction.

Onward through the fog.

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The Church is a Mystery

By , April 2, 2014 5:43 am

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The Second Vatican Council is now a little more than fifty years behind us. What an awesome event it was, and how it challenged the Universal Church to endeavor to review its ministerial effectiveness and make needed adaptations so that its ministry to the human family could be more effective. For about half of those fifty years, there was real progress and then a reaction set in. While most of the work of the Council was still on the drawing boards, determined efforts to slow it down were strong and destructively effective.

Then comes Pope Francis! All over the world, there is renewed hope that we will begin to move forward forcefully, not only to revivify the work of the Council, but to move with faith and confidence into a yet unknown future.

I have often encouraged people to go back and restudy the more powerful documents that emanated from the Council between 1962 and 1965. While we are in this recovery period, I am going to make sure that I do the same thing myself. The first document that I have gone back to is the awesomely important one called the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) . It was promulgated in November of 1964. It is a rather lengthy document and, given my always limited space here on this blog, I will have to practice verbal discipline, which is always difficult for an Irishman, especially since we are still quite close to St. Patrick’s Day.

The first important position point is the fact that the Council Fathers reminded Catholics across the world that the Church, begun by Jesus of Nazareth, guided by the Holy Spirit and inviting the whole human family into it, is in fact an awesome MYSTERY while at the same time, the Church, in terms of its membership, is all too human and there is nothing mysterious about that.

The Church is a mystery in that it originates in God’s plan. It is set up by Jesus of Nazareth. He begins it himself by teaching tens of thousands of people for three years and calling them, and all of us as well, to walk in his footsteps. The Church is a mystery because its prime director is not this bishop or that pope or the local pastor, but nothing other than the Holy Spirit who sanctifies it by its presence and guidance. The church is mysterious in that its inner life is formed, not by organizations, structures, leaders or plans, but by the saving grace of Jesus of Nazareth.
In our day by day life, going to Mass on Sunday, seeing our grandchildren baptized, receiving the Eucharist or the other Sacraments, we need to be conscious that we are living and acting and being affected by this mysterious reality, the Church itself.

As we move forward towards Easter, let us try to concentrate more clearly on the awesomeness of this mystery.

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Reaction From The Right

By , March 28, 2014 5:12 am

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Many times I have pointed out in this space that Pope Francis is manifesting great determination to make the day-to-day structuring in the Church more sensitive and more effectively pastoral. He has done that time and time again, not only by his words and directions, but also by his simple, loving manner of dealing with the people.

He has convened the bishops of the world to a special Synod to be held in Rome in October of this year and he has let us know that the Synod must consider many pastoral problems, not the least of which is the question of committed Catholics, living in civil unions, being denied the Eucharist as they are today. I have been raising this topic for my entire priestly life and so I am thrilled to see that the Church is going to make an effort to deal with this important issue.
Do not be surprised, however, that the right wing is manifesting vigorous opposition to any changes in our present pastoral policies. Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, who is head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has stated that this change cannot be made. Happily, other bishops, including Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga in Honduras, have challenged Cardinal Müller pointing out with a bit of humor that since Cardinal Müller is a German Theologian, he can only see black and white and never anything in-between. Other Church leaders are also supporting the possibility of a pastoral solution to this long-time problem.

Now comes Dr. Robert Fastiggi, a professor of systematic theology at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary. Fastiggi does not challenge the pope directly but rather goes after Cardinal Walter Kasper who gave a lengthy talk to introduce a February 20-21 discussion by the College of Cardinals on family life. Cardinal Kasper is conscious of the fact that priests all over the world are providing pastoral solutions based on individual cases rather than using the formality of an ecclesiastical Tribunal and there seems to be a greater acceptance of this temporary solution. Fastiggi challenges that and states that an ecclesiastical Tribunal could handle these cases more effectively studying them from afar and on the basis of written documents rather than a priest in direct contact with the couple. My guess is that Fastiggi thinks that the world operates with the neatness and simplicity of a classroom.

Onward through the fog, but the fog is beginning to lift thanks be to God.

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Pope Francis Moves On

By , March 24, 2014 5:19 am

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To say that I am thrilled with the direction that our Holy Father Pope Francis is providing to the Universal Church would be an understatement. Time after time during his first year, he has made moves and decisions that have thrilled and encouraged me.

First, he appointed eight cardinals from seven different countries, only one of them from the Vatican, to be a special committee to guide him in the restructuring of the Church. If you appoint a committee to restructure the Church, you are admitting that the Church needs restructuring and oh, how it does!

Next, Pope Francis sent out an extraordinary document to all the bishops of the world entitled The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) and he asked the bishops to consult with ALL the people in their dioceses about their views on many aspects of the best way to conduct evangelization today. Regretfully, most bishops have not followed up on that as yet.

The position of Secretary of State is crucially important and that is the area where Pope Benedict XVI was having the most difficulty before his resignation. The new man is Cardinal Pietro Parolin and he is viewed by everyone as an excellent appointment to be the number two bishop in Church leadership. Then he gave the new Secretary of State a much heavier responsibility by announcing the convening of a world-wide Synod of Bishops in the Vatican this coming October. This will be a unique gathering. It is not being called a Council and since the Second Vatican Council we have had Synods of Bishops every four or five years, but regretfully these have proven to be ineffective and were attended only by a few elected bishops from each country. This gathering is convening ALL the bishops of the world. It will certainly be historic.

Now comes yet another message from our Holy Father. It was directed to the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican office responsible for the selection of bishops from around the world. In this 3,000 word text, Francis told the cardinals that they should not look for bishops based on any “preferences, likes or trends” and likewise should not seek prelates who are mainly concerned with doctrinal matters. The Church, Francis said, needs,

“Guardians of doctrine not so as to measure how far the world is from the doctrinal truth but to appeal to the world, to charm it with beauty of love and to seduce it with a freedom bestow by the Gospel.”

“The Church does not need apologetics for its causes nor crusaders for its battles, but sowers, humble and confident of the truth…trust its power.”

Wow! Thanks be to God. The main thrust of the document is that our Holy Father is calling for only priests who are real shepherds, totally committed to the sheep and not bureaucrats who will run chancery offices neatly. God bless you Francis. We are all praying for you.

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Another Step in the Right Direction

By , March 3, 2014 4:04 am

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For many centuries there was a powerful structure inside the Vatican known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition. Regretfully, that Congregation frequently lived up to its title. Happily, both its title and its modus operandi has softened over the last few decades but until the election of Pope Francis it had the final say on everything coming out of the Vatican. The CDF reviewed virtually everything published by other congregations and councils. That had the effect of enabling the Curia to speak with one voice and that unity, in my opinion, came at great costs.
In January, Pope Francis gave a detailed presentation on the role of the CDF when he spoke to the Congregation’s members. He supported their role in “promoting and protecting the doctrine of faith” but went on to warn the Congregation against the temptation “to domesticate” the faith and to reduce it to abstract theories.

Lately, a number of important bishops and cardinals have spoken out publicly in opposition to the way that CDF operated and that was unheard of until this new atmosphere in the Church generated by Pope Francis. Father Thomas Reese, S.J., the former editor of America magazine, summarized the situation very well when he said,

“Since the early times of the church, the temptation has existed to understand the doctrine in an ideological sense or to reduce it to an ensemble of abstract and crystalized theories (Evangeli Gaudium, 39-42). In reality, doctrine has the sole purpose of serving the life of the People of God, and it seeks to assure our faith of a sure foundation. Great, in fact, is the temptation to appropriate to ourselves the gifts of salvation that come from God, to domesticate them — perhaps even with a good intention — to the views and the spirit of the world. And this is a temptation that is constantly repeated.
Theirs is a “delicate task” that is always to be done in collaboration with local bishops and episcopal conferences. Pope Francis wants a kinder and gentler CDF that seeks always to have “a constructive dialogue, respectful and patient with authors,” he said. “If truth exacts fidelity, the latter grows always in charity and in fraternal help for those called to mature and clarify their convictions.” In other words, the congregation should be “distinguished for the practices of collegiality and dialogue.”

If the Congregation would operate in such a manner, it would be a wonderful change for the better. Let’s pray that Pope Francis can bring this off.

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Challenges in the Trenches

By , February 28, 2014 5:02 am

Image: M. Poloskey


Pope Francis has sent a questionnaire to every bishop in the world asking them to involve themselves in an in-depth study and analysis of Catholic thinking and practice in regards to marriage and family life. This is a major component of preparation for a special Synod which will be held in Rome in October. Some reports are coming in early and what they reveal should not surprise very many of us.

The Swiss bishops published a report based on 25,000 responses. It was very similar to expressions coming from the German bishops.

“Most of the baptized have an image of the Church that on, the one hand, is family friendly in attitude while at the same time, considers her sexual morality to be unrealistic.”

Both the German and Swiss reports said that Catholics in their country accept the Church’s vision that marriage is a lifelong union of a man and a woman, open to having children, and they hope to realize that vision in their own family. However, they consider the Church’s public position to be unrealistic in terms of premarital sex, remarriage after divorce, and contraception.

The Freiburg Diocese encouraged divorced and remarried Catholics to speak to a local priest about their situation suggesting that their status could be resolved as a matter of personal conscience. The bishops said that most remarried people do not regard their original unions as null and void but rather as having failed, and they consider the existing annulment process “to be dishonest.”

The Swiss bishops said that about 60% of the participants in the consultation support the recognition and church blessing of homosexual couples. However, the traditional teaching has strong support and this issue generated a sharp division among the people.

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Loving Criticism

By , February 27, 2014 5:24 am

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Father Thomas Reese, S.J. has long been one of my heroes. He did a magnificent job while he was editor of America magazine, the lead publication of the Jesuits in the United States. Reese was forced out of that office because he had the misguided idea that both sides should be presented in theological disputes. It was a loss for America and a disappointment to its readers.

Father Reese is now writing a weekly column in the National Catholic Reporter and last week he made some very interesting observations. His comments were serious and critical but as they are coming from a man who has tremendous appreciation for Pope Francis, I think they need to be taken very seriously by our Holy Father.

Father Reese is an expert on Vatican structures and modes of operation, and he has written several books on the subject.
Reese points out that the men heading various posts in the Vatican bureaucracy should be seen essentially as staff persons. In point of fact, however, for centuries these roles have been given to cardinals and archbishops. The staff ought to be working for all the bishops of the world but if a bishop from Paraguay or a religious superior from Romania wants to deal with them, it is a little more intimidating if he is facing a cardinal on a problem of miscommunications. It is a fairly well-established fact that cardinals do throw their weight around as they see themselves in very close proximity to the Holy Father and not just bureaucratic staff.

The Holy Father is in the process of setting up a wonderful communication system with the archbishops and bishops of the world. It would be more effective and more efficient for the papal staff to see themselves as servants of the bishops of the world and not their masters on issues dealing with the Vatican

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The Pope..What is He?

By , February 17, 2014 5:57 am

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Last week, Gail Collins began her regular New York Times column with the statement that Pope Francis was the most popular man in the world. She did concede, however, that Rush Limbaugh was not going to go along with the rest of the human race!
The pope is somewhat mysterious. What is he? Magic? Mysterious? Miraculous? Of course, we all know that a major aspect of the prominence of the pope is the extraordinary speed of modern communication. One unusually funny remark, one simple act and most of the world knows about it almost instantly. When these acts continue to be surprising and beautiful you can understand the interest in audiences spread across the world.

There are two recent pictures that made a special impression on me. One was the photograph of the pope embracing and kissing a young boy suffering from cerebral palsy. Another shows the pope kissing a man disfigured by severe tumors. Think of what that did for parents and relatives across the world who are burdened with the fact that someone they love is disfigured or disabled. May God bless Pope Francis.

What about ourselves? It is all well and good to say that we are happy that we have a kind and sensitive leader of the Universal Church but isn’t it more important that we follow his example in our day to day lives? We all have the opportunity to do so.

How do we react when we see someone with a badly disfigured face suffering caused by an extreme skin disease? How do we respond when we find ourselves in a situation with a person who is hobbling with great difficulty on two crutches? Do we show any unease when we find ourselves talking to someone with a serious speech impediment?

For most of us, there seems to be an implicit desire to be with and surrounded by people who, at least as far as their public appearance is concerned, are normal and look pretty much like the rest of the people around them. Without being overly ostentatious, I think it is important that we be aware of the fact that millions of our fellow citizens, and especially across the world, are disfigured, deformed or visibly handicapped in some manner.

We ought to be conscious of those who don’t fit our cookie cutter image of how the people around us should look must travel with these burdens day by day and year after year. It is very important that the followers of Jesus Christ really take a page from Pope Francis’ notebook and make sure that we never add to the discomfort or actual suffering of those who fit in this category. Every situation, every set of circumstances are differing so it is up to the individual follower of the Lord to see how they can bring dignity and encouragement to those around them.

This is not only to be done in terms of our spiritual lives. There is a very important place for it in civil rights as well. Our nation took a step forward in 1990 when it adopted the Americans with Disabilities Act but sadly Congress has refused to ratify the international agreement which would extend that to individuals worldwide. That is a mistake that could be corrected if more of us were aware of this discrepancy between our values and our policies.

Last week, America magazine challenged church communities to undergo a process of self-examination. “Too many Catholic schools and churches do not have adequate resources for people with disabilities. Elevators, song books in Braille, better sound systems for the hearing impaired, sign language interpreters – developments like this would send a strong signal that all are welcome in our church communities.”

If you want to make a contribution in this area, contact the National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities, 415 Michigan Avenue, NE, Suite 95, Washington, DC 20017, (202) 529-2933, ncpd@ncpd.org.

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