Back in the 1940’s and 50’s, bishops, priests and theologians were for the most part very relaxed about the Church. Most of them thought that everything was just fine and they never dreamed that an explosive development was coming down the pike that would be known in history as the Second Vatican Council.
However, there had been certain glimmers of approaching change and they first began to appear in the liturgical life of the Church. In the Western Church, everything was in Latin, not just the Mass and the Sacraments, but it was the working language of the Church. It was really a good thing for people who traveled a great deal. If you were a Frenchman attending Mass in the Congo, you were right at home with the Latin, but for most of the faithful the Latin language served as background music. They understood nothing but found it comforting.
Pope Pius XII had worked hard to encourage theologians to go back to the scriptures and he unleashed a very strong surge of dramatically improved scripture studies. Scripture would soon be overlapping in the world of liturgy and question began to be asked about certain things that might be accented too much or not enough.
Liturgists began to organize, liturgical and scripture scholars began to communicate more effectively, and suddenly there came to be a sense that not all was well in the inner-life of the Church.
In 1958 a wonderful, fulsome, Italian bishop from the Alps was elected to the Chair of Peter and he took the delightful name of Pope John XXIII.
He had been listening to that questioning and wondering himself about the need for updating the inner-life of the Church and then finally he did it. He called for a meeting of all the bishops of the world to come together under the dome of St. Peter’s and to pray, study, test, debate and decide on how the Church could more effectively move forward. In calling the Council, it generated an explosion of excitement and hope. The bishops answered his summons and met for several months a year for four years. Needless to say, the first issue that they took up was the sacred liturgy and they published an extraordinary document that would have awesome repercussions around the world.
Let’s take a look at that subject tomorrow.
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I have been putting this blog out for over three years and have had a consistent policy regarding the weekends. I attempt to make some meaningful remarks regarding one or another of Sunday’s scripture excerpts. That comes out on Saturday and then, following God’s direction in the Third Commandment, I do nothing on Sunday.
This week, however, I am going to let the scriptures take care of themselves. They are well able to do that and I would like to talk about today’s regular liturgical feast. Across the world today we celebrate the great names of St. Peter and St. Paul.
The Church has always kept these two men side by side because they are the key apostles in the first generation in the life of the Church. Peter was not just an apostle. He was the leader of the other apostles. While Paul was not one of the original twelve, he was certainly so filled with faith, zeal and effective missionary work that he declared himself an apostle and the Church has accepted that from the first century.
I think that we can take inspiration from these two wonderful men. They centered their lives on Jesus of Nazareth and the sacrifices in carrying out their missionary activities. Both experienced misunderstanding from others in the Church. Finally, both will die very close to each other in the year 66 in the first Roman persecution of this new community of Jesus’ followers, which at first was called “The Way.”
In addition to inspiration flowing from the example that they have given us, I think we can also find encouragement by the fact that as great as they were they both were very human. Peter was impetuous and at times inconsistent. Paul could be given to braggadociousness and anger. He fired two of his closest co-workers and had a face to face run in with St. Peter. I think that knowing about these very human blemishes is wonderful. We can draw inspiration and encouragement from Peter and Paul and all the saints without having to think that they were perfect. Their imperfections make their holiness even more important
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Well, I think that people are beginning to calm down regarding the latest successor of St. Peter. His media coverage has been astounding and he has been well-received all over the world. The one exception to that is that a number of well-known conservatives in Buenos Aires have expressed disappointment about his election fearing that he will not continue to foster the Latin liturgy as did John Paul II and Benedict XVI. This pope is so down to earth, so simple and so humble that one might worry as to whether or not this is some type of effort to win over a suspicious communications world but the fact is we know a lot about him as he has lived over the years as a Jesuit priest, a religious superior and as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. He has always manifested simplicity, always lived humbly, always been gentle and kind and so we have every reason to think that this will be the approach that he will take as he exercises the office of the Bishop of Rome and universal shepherd.
Pope Francis will be closely watched. I certainly am reading everything I can get my hands on in terms of how he operates, how he functions, what his goals will be, how he will carry them out. I want to lay one out on the table right now and hope that he will give an early indication of how he will deal with certain problems.
One of the most painful issues of the last 30 years, and maybe before that but I wasn’t here then, is that the Vatican will lean over backwards to avoid disciplining a bishop. This is really regrettable and is the cause of much of the problems and scandals in the United States and Western Europe over the last three decades. I have been a bishop since 1979 and during these years I am only conscious of four bishops being removed from office in the United States. Three were for financial ineptitude and the fourth was on a charge of sexual impropriety with a seminarian. There may have been others but I am not aware of them.
We live in a world that expects people who uphold responsible positions to act responsibly and when they do not there should be a price for it. Despite all of the agonizing episcopal mistakes in the area of sex abuse over the last thirty years, not a single bishop has been disciplined for the crime of covering up. The Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph Missouri has been convicted for failure to report child abuse yet he remains in office. What was the criteria Rome was using when that first occurred last year? Cardinal Law retired to Rome but he was not so much removed by the Holy See as he was driven out of office by the Catholic people of Boston. Not everybody thought that his new situation in Rome could be considered a punishment.
I am watching this issue of episcopal accountability and so is everyone else. Let’s pray that Pope Francis deals effectively with this extraordinarily important issue.
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Do you remember him? It has been only a matter of weeks since Joseph Ratzinger, aka. Benedict XVI, took the historic and generous step of resigning from the Chair of St. Peter. During these few weeks, the sudden arrival of a startlingly friendly, relaxed, smiling Pope, in the person of Francis (not Francis I…yet) has overcome the media of the world. Yet, many people already seem to be forgetting his very important predecessor.
Benedict XVI was an extraordinary person- wonderfully erudite, compulsive and generous worker for his Lord. He assumed the burden of the papacy in his mid-70′s. He also is following a pope who for twentyfive years had dominated the world stage. There is nothing wrong with that, but Benedict was essentially a scholar, committed to teaching- not administration. Benedict’s teachings are important now and will be important twenty years from now, long after people stop snickering about the factor that it was “the butler who stole the correspondence.”
His encyclicals, Charity in Truth, Saved by Hope, and On Christian Love-God is Love, provide us with beautiful spiritual reading, and present a theme of deep spirituality and profound committment to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. This theme was clearly and forcefully embodied in the life that Benedict XVI lived as priest, bishop and pope.
While in office, Benedict XVI was criticized by some for being almost as conservative as John Paul II, and it was especially noted that he encouraged a wider use of the Tridentine liturgy (the Latin mass). Interestingly, I mentioned the other day, that some people are already criticizing Pope Francis, and one of their great concerns is that he discouraged the use of the Latin mass in Buenos Aires.
May God Bless Pope Benedict XVI and reward him for his goodness.
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February 24th, Second Sunday of Lent
Jesus of Nazareth is a real human being. The apostles who worked with him during his public life were also real human beings with different temperaments, personalities, talents, etc. It is only natural then that Jesus dealt with the apostles in different ways. We can guess at those ways but we will never know exactly the motivation that caused our Lord to act in such a way in specific situations.
Those thoughts are brought to my mind because of today’s Gospel which in the life of the Church is called the Feast of the Transfiguration. The majority of the apostles are left behind in the valley. For some reason Jesus goes away with Peter, James and John. This is really a dramatic scene. The four of them ascend high up on the mountain. Suddenly Jesus looks different, awesomely different! The texts say that his clothes became dazzlingly white and he is no longer alone. There is Moses to one side and Elijah on the other. They also appeared in glory and were having a conversation with Jesus about the fact that he was about to fulfill ancient prophecies. It is an awesome scene but Luke gives it very few words. The visitors soon disappear and the three apostles are headed down the mountain again. From within a mysterious cloud they hear a voice saying, “This is my son, my chosen one. Listen to him.” The apostles were shocked into silence and did not report this scene until after the resurrection.
What is the purpose of this event? Anyone could come up with a number of explanations. Was Jesus just preparing these chosen apostles for something that would be more awesome in the future, namely his resurrection and an awareness of his divinity? Was he uniting his life and work with God’s dealings with his people in the Old Testament which is symbolized by both Moses and Elijah? Maybe it was just to remind you and me of two facts: that life is mysterious and God is near.
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I really love to read Church history. It is an extraordinary 2,000 year old story and, of course, still very much in the process of unfolding before us. If you had to pick 10 or 12 of the most important single days in the history of the Church, what would you choose? Obviously, the birth of Jesus and his resurrection would dominate the list but what about the rest of us? How would our brothers and sisters fit into that dramatic story?
For me, one of the most dramatic and important stories in Church history is the fact that an aggressive Jewish religious leader got knocked off his horse. I am talking about Paul of course, St. Paul or Paul of Tarsus as he described himself. Paul was a very committed activist Jew who was offended by that new faith started by one of his fellow Jews, Jesus of Nazareth. The synagogue was attempting to slow down the growth of this new faith. Paul was more than willing to help. He was a witness pushing the martyrdom of St. Stephen and was on his way to Damascus with orders to arrest Christians that were beginning to appear there. Then,
Paul hears a mysterious voice inquiring, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul still doesn’t know what is going on and he asks, “Who are you Lord?” The voice answered, “I am Jesus and you are persecuting me.” Paul was then directed by the mysterious voice to go into the city and learn about Jesus and what had been happening because of him. The rest is history. Saul’s name would be changed to Paul and in some limited sense he is always counted among the apostles (13?).
Peter was the rock upon which Jesus built the Church. Peter was the foundation along with the other apostles which was so necessary in that first generation. However, Paul is the great missionary. He is the one who will enable the Christians to break out of the traditional Jewish frame of reference and reach out to the whole world. Paul’s conversion and missionary exploits provide us with the living out of the symbol of the coming of the three mysterious Eastern kings to the stable in Bethlehem. His work is a concrete manifestation of the Epiphany and the liturgy of the Church manifests our appreciation of the greatness of Paul by always linking him with St. Peter.
Peter and Paul – what a pair.
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24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Gospels are nothing less than the Word of God. Given that reality, one should not be surprised that much of it makes extraordinary reading, and today’s gospel is an excellent example. It places before us a dramatic scene- one from the point of view of the Christian story that is simply amazing. Let’s take a look: Jesus has begun His missionary activity, is moving from village to village, drawing great crowds who are filled with awe at his power. Then, when things quiet down, He turns to the apostles and asks them a profound question.This question was important to the apostles, and it is important to you and me. Jesus asks these twelve men, “Who do the people say I am?” They begin to chatter among themselves, coming up with this name and that name, and then looking at the twelve face to face, He asks an even more important question- “Whom do YOU say that I am?” And then Peter, always forceful and fast, blurts out from his heart, “You are the MESSIAH”. This is the first proclamation of that reality. Jesus is the Savior for which God’s people have been waiting for centuries.
Peter had the right answer! The question is do we? I believe with all my heart that the voice of Jesus of Nazareth rings down through the centuries and each and every one of His followers is asked that question. Who do YOU say that Jesus of Nazareth is? A great deal hangs on your answer. Give the correct one.
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August 26th, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today, when you hear the word “scandal” we almost always connect it with disappointment or a letdown relating to some religious person or program. We are scandalized when the pastor marries the church secretary but the original meaning of the word is quite simple. A scandal is something that causes you to stumble, to falter, to not be able to go forward. In today’s Gospel as we are winding down the 6th chapter of
St. John, we have a classic act of stumbling.
Jesus has been talking at great length about the fact that he will continue to abide with us in the mystery of the Eucharist and that he himself will be the food that will bring us to eternal life. This shocked many of his listeners. Jesus does not back down. Six times he repeats the basic thesis that he is the bread of life and that he will nourish us as we continue to journey after him.
The sentence reflecting the scandal is really sad.
“From this time on many of his disciples broke away and would not remain in his company.”
Our Lord does not apologize. He does not say they misunderstood. He just keeps repeating the truth of his continued presence among us. There are two things: that it is some of his disciples who are leaving and then Jesus turns to the apostles and says, “Will you also go away?” And Peter replies,
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We are convinced that you are God’s holy one.”
Let us stand beside Peter each day of our life.
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How many times have you been in an awkward situation and in order to get out of it, you’ve used the expression “I’ll have to rob Peter to pay Paul.” That humorous description grows out of an ancient tradition that closely unites these two of the most important of the apostles. Peter, of course, is first. Jesus Himself described Peter as a rock- a foundation- or, in modern English, a slab on which the Church was to be built. While Paul is not one of the original twelve, he is certainly the most important after Peter (and shyly conferred the title “apostle” upon himself, and no one has challenged it since!)
These two men stand head and shoulders above anyone else in that first generation of believers. They were both missionaries. Peter moved across the middle East and worked his way to Rome. His decision to locate in Rome has had an extraordinary influence on the Church for the next 2000 years. Rome is the “capitol” of the church because Peter was there. Peter presided over that small community and would die in the first persecution which broke out in the year 64 A.D. Paul would be caught up in that same persecution and he also would be executed, but not until after completing an amazing series of missionary journeys, most of which centered on what we call modern day Turkey. Both men are authors in the New Testament. Peter will write a few short and meaningful booklets, but Paul will practically produce a library with thirteen books credited to him for authorship (though some is controverted with the scripture scholars.)
These men have so much in common, but they were also so different. They were magnificent and helped the church get off to a strong start.
I am drawn more to Peter than to Paul. In his writings, Paul comes through as supremely confident and judgmental, whereas Peter, as we see him both in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, suffered humiliation after humiliation, giving him a real insight into his own frailty and limitations.
Let’s hear it for both men! Happy Feast Day to St. Peter and St. Paul!
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Catholicism sees itself as an enormous family of faith. I mentioned in an earlier blog that one of the things that I love about day-to-day Catholicism is our firm belief in the Communion of Saints; that those of us here on earth, and those who have gone before us and are with God, can be united by prayer and the saints assist us by their intercession before the throne of God, and by the example that they had given to us while they were among us. Through this firm belief about an interaction between heaven and earth, there has developed a secondary belief or practice; namely, that saints with whom we feel a special relationship, either because they are our patron or they did the same type of work that we did, are concerned about and respond to our requests that they join their prayers to ours as we worship the infinite God. St. Thomas More is the patron of lawyers. St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine are patrons of scholars. Black teenagers have St. Charles Lwanga. It is interesting – it is almost like having a lobbyist in heaven!
The above facts are going to affect the way the liturgy manifests itself in the next few months. Pentecost and several of the major Christological feasts are behind us and we are going into that second half of the year, which simply passes by the rather bland title, “Ordinary Time.” We say it is ordinary because the exciting seasons that centered on the coming of Jesus, his saving work, his resurrection and return to his heavenly Father are all behind us. The mood of these seasons will not appear again until December. However, the Church doesn’t want us to fall asleep so it scatters into the liturgy the lives of wonderful men and women who have gone before us and the Church asks us to look at them, to use their example, to attempt to walk in their footsteps the way that they walked in the footsteps of Jesus, and to live lives that are based on faith.
A joint feast, marking two of the most extraordinarily lives, is soon coming up. I am talking about the Feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul, which we will celebrate on June 29th.
Peter and Paul – the Catholic Church always puts them together. They are the basic rocks, bricks, slabs, foundation on which the Church of the first century would be built. Peter would work in the Jerusalem area and then move on to Rome while Paul would cover a great deal of the eastern half of the Mediterranean. They laid a marvelous foundation and they brought the message of Jesus to the people of that period and ultimately both of them would die for their faith in Jesus Christ. Paul would be decapitated and, tradition has it, that Peter would be executed upside down, as he did not feel worthy to die in the same way as his Lord.
How blessed we were to have them among us and how much we need men and women today to imitate their burning desire to tell the world the joyous news of Jesus of Nazareth.
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