Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"Come, Take the Risk of Being More" – For Cupich's Chicago, A Vision of Francis' Church

18 NOVEMBER 2014

Bienvenido, Witam, Mabuhay, Dobro došli, Welcome

I am delighted and honored to be your archbishop.

So many of you in this cathedral today have come - from near and so very far - friends and family, brother bishops and priests, religious, lay women and men. Former parishioners and pastors from Omaha, Rapid City, Spokane have joined us as well. Your being here consoles me with the hope that our friendships will continue to endure in the years ahead. Last night, I had a chance to welcome my brother bishops, and now I am pleased to greet our papal nuncio, Archbishop Viganò. We all know how demanding your schedule is, Archbishop, and so we offer our thanks to you, not only for being with us today, but for all you do to so ably represent Pope Francis, our Holy Father, who is well-loved and who makes us proud.

When it came to selecting a date for the installation, November 18 seemed to be a great fit. The Commemoration of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul gives me a chance to recognize all immigrants, as I recall my own immigrant grandparents who helped establish my home parish of Saints Peter and Paul in Omaha. Additionally, the Church’s calendar today celebrates St. Philippine Duchesne, someone the Native People honored with the name Woman Who Prays Always. She reminds us of the extraordinary contribution women religious have made and continue to make to the church and society. I intend to honor and give thanks for all these people today, especially for family and immigrants, Native Americans and religious sisters – all of whom have shaped so much of our faith, our lives and our Church ministries.

But I have to admit, I had a bit of a panic attack when I saw the Gospel provided in the Lectionary for this day, which we have just heard. I realize this new responsibility is going to be demanding, but seriously folks, I don’t do “walking on water.” I can barely swim. So I hope this image in today’s Gospel is not reflective of anyone’s expectations.

In all honesty, what intrigues me about the readings for today, is how the Gospel and the first reading from Acts complement each other in the language and symbolism they share in common. The Gospel recounts Jesus, during his earthly life, walking on water, inviting Peter to join him, and Acts witnesses to how Paul and the Church, animated by the Spirit, following the resurrection, now cross the seas to evangelize and invite the Gentiles, all people, to encounter and to walk with the Risen Christ. That interplay of the two texts is so rich and captures something St. Leo the Great wrote centuries ago (cf., Catechism of the Catholic Church 1114- 1115).

Pope Leo remarked that everything which was visible in Jesus' words and actions during his hidden life and public ministry has passed over after Christ’s resurrection into the sacraments and the life of the Church. That truth is on full display in the readings today, to the point that the Gospel is more than an account of Jesus walking on water, more than a story of Jesus revealing his divinity to the disciples by a stunning show of power. Read alongside the story of Paul’s missionary journey, this Gospel text becomes a point of reference to understand the meaning of the resurrection, how the Risen Lord is working in our midst today, and how disciples in all ages, how the Church in our time, should view its mission.

Simply put, we are to join Christ in seeking out, inviting, and accompanying, by abiding with those to whom he sends us. Each one of those aspects of our mission, seeking out, inviting and accompanying deserves a closer look.


Jesus’ walk across the waters is intentional. He has come to seek out and to save the troubled, those who are lost. But, this scene from Matthew’s Gospel offers us a new insight; it gives us a glimpse into what compels him to take up this mission. Jesus, we are told, has been on the mountain, in the quiet intimacy of prayer with his Father. That experience of sharing life with the Father is what moves him, prompts him to go out and seek others, so that they too may have this life. He is so driven in this mission that nothing stands in his way, not even the obstacle of crossing over water on his own. Sharing his life in the Father with us is the source of his enthusiasm and determination, is his motivation for seeking out the disciples and is the reason why he has come into the world.

We see a similar kind of drive and enthusiasm in people from time to time, where something so transformative and life giving happens to them, leaving them with no alternative but to spend their life sharing their experience with others. I have seen this kind of enthusiasm in great teachers. Their drive and incentive goes way beyond getting through the curriculum or earning a paycheck. What inspires the really good teacher is the transformative experience of insight that comes in learning. Really good teachers delight in seeing the light of discovery go on in their students’ eyes and they never pass up the chance to make that happen,
Marie Walsh was such a person. I brought her communion on First Fridays during my first years as a priest. A retired English teacher, she never passed up a chance to share her knowledge of literature and language. Marie suffered from diverticulitis, and could only take a small part of the host. One day, after giving her the Eucharist and a sip of water, she began to cough and so I said “Marie would you like to lay down.” She sharply muttered something, which I didn’t catch, and so I asked her, “Marie, what did you say?” She held the back of my neck, and with a laugh in her voice scolded me: “I said ‘chickens lay eggs; people lie down.’” She was correcting my grammar! It didn’t matter if she was in great pain or frail, she was going to make sure I spoke proper English.

We face in our day the formidable task of passing on the faith to the next generation, of evangelizing a modern and sometimes skeptical culture, not to mention inspiring young people to serve the Church as priests and religious. It all seems so daunting, as daunting as walking on water. We are at sea, unsteady in our approach faced with these concerns. Catechists and educators are on the front line of this struggle. So, too, parents and grandparents wonder if they are going to be the last Catholics in their family. Likewise bishops and priests find that the Good News is increasingly difficult to proclaim in the midst of great polarization in church and society.

Jesus tells all of us today to go back to where our journey of faith began, to be in touch with the joyful experience of being transformed by the intimacy God offers us, to be willing to share it with the next generation. Young people have always been attracted to authenticity of life, where words match deeds. Let’s not be afraid to let our young people know about our life with God and how it began. Like Marie Walsh, let’s stay close to them, so close that we can hold them by the neck, and tell them what it means for us to believe, and share with them how the Gospel has brought joy and meaning to us and transformed our lives. Such witness of personal faith many times has made the skeptic take a second look, has inspired vocations, and in my experience, animates our advocacy on behalf of human dignity with joy and compassion, purifying it of anger, harshness and fear.

The authenticity that comes in making our own baptismal calling the starting point for all we do is also demanded of me as your archbishop, particularly as I reach out to those who have been sexually abused by Church leaders. That starting point will always be needed for me and my brother bishops to keep fresh the serious duty to honor and keep the promises we made in 2002. Working together to protect children, to bring healing to victim survivors and to rebuild the trust that has been shattered in our communities by our mishandling is our sacred duty, as is holding each other accountable, for that is what we pledge to do.


Jesus seeks out, but then he invites. “Come,” he says to Peter, “walk on the stormy waters with me.” Peter’s response is a brave act for an experienced fisherman. But, it is the kind of daring and boldness required today, the courage to leave our comfort zone and take an entirely new step in our faith journey, both personally and as a community. There is resistance in each of us to take that risk. We can be self-satisfied where we are. Pope Francis tells us that the temptation is to think and say “I’m religious enough, I’m Catholic enough, or for Church leaders to resist needed reform by claiming “we haven’t done that before” or “you cannot say that.”

We all have some anxiety and hesitancy to change, and I’ve noticed that many times in life we deal with the tension by joking about our resistance to change, to grow, to become more, beyond the minimum and enter more deeply into life with God. A friend who is a baseball fan tells me that when he thinks about getting into heaven, he is counting on being able “to slide in to home plate on a steal.”

One hot sultry day, I was boarding a plane and was struggling to put my carryon bag into the overhead bin. The people behind me weren’t happy with me holding up the line as the air- conditioning wasn’t on. Finally, the man next to me, put his bag down, took mine in hand and effortlessly shoved it in the compartment, leaving me somewhat embarrassed. Then, to my surprise he said at the top of his voice for all to hear, “Well Father, will that get me to heaven?” I was so flustered, all I could think to say was, “Gee, I hope not on this flight!”

Jesus invites us, not only to take the risk of leaving our comfort zone, but also to deal with the tension involved in change, not dismissively but in a creative way, and to challenge each other to do so. Maybe, we hear that challenge today as a call to leave behind our comforting convictions that episodic Sunday Mass attendance is good enough, that we don’t really have to change our habitual bad behavior, our unhealthy dependencies, our inordinate attachments, because we can get by as we are, because they have not gotten us into any serious trouble yet, or just because we are afraid of the unknown.

Pope Francis is giving voice to this invitation in our day, by inviting the Church to come and walk with Christ, as he is always doing something new. It is an invitation to leave behind the comfort of going the familiar way. He is challenging us to recognize that Christ is always inviting us to more, to greater things. It is the kind of invitation our bishops’ conference is making to our nation to be what it has always promised to be, to protect the vulnerable, poor and weak, to treat immigrants with justice and dignity, to respect life and to be good stewards of creation. It is the invitation of Jesus, “Come, take the risk of being more.”


Finally, Jesus gets into the boat. I have always thought that it took more courage for Jesus to get into that boat with those disciples than for Peter to get out of it to walk on water. There was fear, doubt, jealousy even anger in that boat – a lot of unresolved conflicts as a therapist might say.

But, it is in the incomplete, the in-between and in the brokenness of our lives where Jesus comes to share his life in the Father with us. His coming to be with us, his communion with us is not for the perfect, but is for the salvation of souls, for the lost, the forlorn, and those who are adrift. His communion is not just a quick visit, but he wants to be with us to the point of making our lives the dwelling place, the home where he and the Father abide. After going to the mountain to pray, to be with his Father, he comes into our messy lives with his Father in hand, to share our lives where we are.

It is that grace of the indwelling of the Spirit, the love of the Father and the Son, which has always been the source of real, ongoing and sustainable conversion. It is the grace of mercy, totally undeserved and unearned, that brings about real lasting change and transformation and gives life.


So, we as a Church should not fear leaving the security of familiar shores, the peacefulness of the mountaintop of our self-assuredness and walk into the mess. A military chaplain recently told me that soldiers easily know where to find him in the battle encampment because the chaplain’s tent is most often next to the medical tent.

While Pope Francis is famous for urging the Church to be a field hospital and pastors to know the smell of the sheep, Blessed Pope Paul VI expressed a similar sentiment with an inspiring message to my classmates nearly forty years ago on their day of ordination. This is what he said:

“Know how to accept as an invitation the very reproach which perhaps, and often unjustly, the world hurls against the Messenger of the Gospel. Know how to listen to the groan of the poor, the candid voice of the child, the thoughtful cry of youth, the complaint of the tired worker, the sigh of the suffering and the criticism of the thinker. But, ‘Never be afraid.’ The Lord has repeated it.” (Homily, June 29, 1975)

Of course as our papal nuncio reminded the bishops just last week, St. John Paul II began his pontificate with Christ’s comforting words to the disciples, "Do not fear." Archbishop Viganò then added: “we must not be afraid to walk with our Holy Father (Pope Francis) and to trust in the infinite value of following the Holy Spirit as our First Teacher in guiding the Church.”

That is the urging of the Word of God today. Just as Jesus left the peacefulness of his mountain top prayer to embrace the disciples in all their too human and fallible journey, so now the Church in our day is called to be faithful to its mission, the mission taken up by Paul and Peter, by putting aside her fears and the allure of false securities, and leap into the turbulent but creative waters of life in the world with the guidance of God and the charge of the Gospel.

Not being afraid is the gift that separates the disciple before and after the resurrection as we see in the responses of Peter and Paul through the readings today. Yet, it is providential that Peter experienced the terror that stormy night, for he could then uniquely witness for the Church in all ages through his successors, the power of the resurrection to vanquish all fears, disappointments, hesitations and doubts.

Peter could then witness how the resurrection is not just a past event, but an ongoing reality. He could remind us that what Jesus did in crossing the sea, he did again, by crossing from death to life, from eternity to our time, as he continues to make that crossing with us in our day. He could tell us that Jesus came back from the dead for us, to be with us. That is the reason we are not afraid – because we are not alone.

That is why now in our day Peter in his successor, Pope Francis, urges us to take up the task of crossing the seas to seek out, to invite and to accompany others, because the Risen Christ is in the boat with us.


On Installation Day, Into the Whirlwind

The Ninth Archbishop hasn’t taken his chair yet... but already, change is afoot in Chicago – as Black Church classics filled Holy Name Cathedral before last night’s prayer service, a rather amazed friend sidled up to observe that “We’ve never had Gospel music here before.”

Shock though that was, given Blase Cupich’s background in liturgical theology, the ritual choices were anything but an accident. That “All Are Welcome” – the anthem of inclusion equally beloved by progressives and abhorred by more traditional folks – marked his first trip up the aisle was an even more pointed signal, as was the reinforcement of his homily when the African-American spiritual "Them Dry Bones" was sung as the recessional.

As the Chicago clergy packed the pews – while, outside, a phalanx of bundled-up police shut down the surrounding streets on a blustery, bitterly cold evening – the scene before the door-knock felt more than a little like New Year’s Eve as the anticipation built. Then again, rare is the holiday party that sees Rahm Emanuel casually working the pews by himself, no security in sight.

While the prolonged, clearly heartfelt ovations that washed over an ailing Cardinal Francis George were all the more poignant coming from a famously independent presbyterate with which he's often been at loggerheads, the tensions of the last 17 years were evident nonetheless in the nickname for Cupich quietly circulating among the brothers: "Archbishop Rolaids," so dubbed as he's felt to be bringing "relief."

Only once the service wrapped up did the ultimate sign of the change of command take place as workers removed the carving of the cardinal's coat of arms from above the cathedra's place in the center of the sanctuary. The successor's shield wasn't immediately hung in its place.

* * *
Before eight cardinals, some 105 bishops, parish representatives and a "tribe" of family and friends who've converged from Rome, Washington, Omaha, South Dakota, Spokane and beyond, the Installation Mass begins at 2pm Central.

In testimony to the enduring clout of the archbishop and the church he leads in this Windy City, all five of Chicago's major TV stations are running the Mass live and commercial-free, so the streaming will abound (and, of course, one of them will be placed here at the hour). Already, the graphics and packages that've rolled out through the transition are more in keeping with a royal wedding or presidential inauguration than the arrival of a shepherd.

Notably, such is the demand for seating in Holy Name that priests who hadn't indicated their attendance by last week were told there'd be no room for them. As previously relayed, not until tomorrow will the new archbishop meet the 600-plus permanent deacons – the largest diocesan contingent of the order in the global church – at one of two prayer services for the constituencies who serve the 2.3 million Catholics of the nation's third-largest diocese.

In a small, private gathering just prior to today's Mass, the complete civil ownership of the archdiocese's $3 billion in assets will fall to Cupich when, before a judge, he makes his declaration of office as "The Catholic Bishop of Chicago, A Corporation Sole," thus inheriting the most centralized and complex apparatus in the American church. (Because of the legal arrangement – one which, for the last several decades, the Holy See has urged US dioceses to move away from – Cupich has reluctantly admitted to friends that "I'll never drive a car again" as being at the wheel in an auto accident could put the archdiocese's holdings at stake.)

Several minutes later, on being taken to the chair, it is extremely telling that the archbishop has chosen to receive the crozier of an earlier George – the legendary Mundelein, the last non-archbishop named to the post 99 years ago, whose quarter-century tenure as the first "Cardinal of the West" transformed Chicago Catholicism, creating both the Americanized ethos and institutional behemoth which remain its defining traits into the present.

As for what the choice of insignia entails for the next chapter, beyond last night's preach, what's been termed a "monumental" homily will provide our first in-depth glimpse. That said, the first parish on Cupich's calendar is of keen significance – on Sunday, the new arrival will head straight into the "belly of the beast" by visiting St Agatha's: the poor, largely African-American community that was the last assignment of Daniel McCormack, the predator priest whose 2006 arrest spurred a tide of settlements amid disclosures of over 20 victims.


Monday, November 17, 2014

"Spirit, People, Land" – On Installation Eve, Cupich Gives "God's Agenda" for Chicago

As prepared for delivery, below is the fulltext and video of Blase Cupich's homily in Holy Name Cathedral at tonight's prayer service on the vigil of his installation as the Ninth Archbishop of Chicago.

* * *

It is only polite to begin with an expression of gratitude for the warm welcome I have just received in such a personal way from various representative officials of church and state. But before I do that, I ask your kind understanding as I attend to the important and happy task of publicly recognizing the dedicated service to the Church and to this City, of a native son of Chicago, who has distinguished himself both here and abroad as our Bishop’s Conference President, who always responded with a generosity that motivates and inspires and who has been unfailingly gracious and cordial to me, especially in these days. The Provincial of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate put it well in a recent letter to his confreres, “we are grateful for Cardinal George’s prophetic ministry in favor of the sanctity of life and dignity of the poor and marginalized. He has faced a broad spectrum of issues...and in doing so he has always brought great intelligence, insight, strong conviction and a pastoral heart to every issue and situation.” And so, on behalf of all of us, all those whose faith and lives have been enriched by your witness and your ministry, I want my first words on this occasion to be “thank you Cardinal Francis George.”

All of you have warmly greeted me, elected officials, public servants, community leaders and diplomats, ecumenical and interfaith representatives, archdiocesan brothers and sisters representing ethnic groups, various offices and committees, religious women and men, and my own brother bishops and brother priests of Chicago. I am grateful for your welcome to this city and to this cathedral. In fact, I feel so much at home here that now I in turn welcome you not only to this cathedral, but into my heart. That is the kind of greeting I have learned from the Lakota people in South Dakota, whose welcome always comes as an exchange from one heart to another.

We are honored to have our Holy Father Pope Francis with us in the person of our Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. Welcome Archbishop and thank you for taking time from your demanding schedule to be with us. He is joined by other brother bishops from across this country and the world. All of your obligations are terribly exacting, especially at this time of the year, and my welcome to you comes with a sincere thanks for the heartwarming gift of fraternal support your presence means to all of us.

Finally, I welcome my family, my eight brothers and sisters and spouses, nephews and nieces, and extended family members, who for the most part are occupying this entire right side of the Cathedral!


On Saturday, September 20, the day my appointment by Pope Francis was announced, the first question at the news conference was: “What’s your agenda? What are your priorities? What’s the first thing you want to accomplish?”

I really wanted to respond: “Getting through this news conference!”

But, as for my agenda, if I have learned anything over these past four decades as a pastor, I know it is a disaster for me to have my own agenda. That is not because I don’t have dreams and hopes, or that I want to ignore the challenges and trials of life. Rather it is because I have learned that my agenda is always too small; it’s prone to be self-serving, and ultimately unworthy of the people I am called to serve. No, the agenda has to be God’s, which is beyond our imagining and our abilities. And unlike our priorities, God’s agenda has staying power, it endures.

We see that kind of divine agenda occupying the attention of Ezekiel, a prophet who oftentimes addresses the leaders of the people, pressing them to be attentive to how God is working in the world, so that they can also join in the restoration, the building up and bringing life to the people they serve.

This night, Ezekiel speaks of God’s work in the dryness that not infrequently afflicts human existence. His immediate concern is to inspire new life in the people living in exile, by offering a vision of the new city to be built by God. They have suffered the humiliating defeat by Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. The people are scattered and disconnected, with hopes broken and barren. They are like dry bones strewn carelessly to rot in an abandoned field under the scorching sun of oppression.

While the circumstances may be different, this kind of dryness is present in our modern times, a dryness that eats away at our hopes and leaves us disoriented. It is the dryness elderly and sick persons can experience when their strength gives way and their bones become unsteady, to the point that they begin to question their worth, their sense of purpose and even the faith that has heretofore directed their lives. We see that dryness caked on the faces of the homeless street people, in the fatigue of the underemployed worker cobbling together three or four low paying jobs to make ends meet, but also in the hectic pace of the successful business owner whose long hours in the office leave little time for family meals and sharing, for rest and recreation.

T. S. Elliot captures all of this so well in his epic poem, The Wasteland, where he describes how our modern lives easily become:

"A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, And the dry stone no sound of water.”
All that’s left is “fear in a handful of dust,” and a life “in rats' alley / where the dead men lost their bones".

We, who are public servants, pastors, leaders know well this kind of dryness that ails the human soul and fatigues both body and spirit. We come face to face with it in the service to our citizens and the ministry to our parishioners.

But, we who serve in public life as leaders also experience our own dryness, in the tedium of attending to administrative details, which most often go unnoticed or unappreciated, in the frustration we feel as we are called upon to face enormous challenges with limited energies and shrinking resources, and whenever opportunities for real improvement are squandered by petty squabbles and divisive discourse. We both as church and civic leaders know that kind of dryness. Like Ezekiel we can look over the landscape of our life and service and lament, “how dry these bones are.”

But, the prophet draws our attention to this rather bleak scene, not to chastise or criticize, to dishearten or discourage. Rather, by crisscrossing, north and south, east and west through the vast field of dry and scattered bones, this representative, this voice of God, is consoling us with the message that the Lord of Creation, is with us, is walking through this dryness with us, the dryness we face each and every day as leaders.

And so, let us for a moment walk together with Ezekiel tonight and listen attentively as he encourages us with the three words he speaks: Spirit, People and Land – three words of comfort, words to encourage, words to help us keep our focus on all that God is doing, so that our ways may be God’s ways.


What should not go unnoticed as Ezekiel speaks in the Spirit over the dry bones is that there is still a responsiveness, a receptivity, a sensitivity in this lifeless heap of bones. There is still something that remains, beyond the dryness and death that has smothered these dismembered skeletons. All that is needed is for the prophet, the leader in their midst, to speak in a way that inspires, to speak to the deep yearnings of the people we serve, because it is God who is keeping alive their legitimate aspirations, even when there seems to be no hope. That is why it should be beneath our dignity as leaders to speak in ways that appeal to the fears and anxieties of people rather than the hopes and yearnings God has planted in their hearts.

And when it comes to speaking to each other in moments of deep disagreement, this does not mean that we should shy away from stating our position or making our point. “We cannot engage in real dialogue unless we are conscious of our own identity,” as Pope Francis reminds us. But then he adds: “Nor can there be authentic dialogue unless we are capable of opening our minds and hearts, in empathy and sincere receptivity, to those with whom we speak....We are challenged to listen not only to the words which others speak, but to the unspoken communication of their experiences, their hopes and aspirations, their struggles and their deepest concerns...If our communication is not to be a monologue, there has to be openness of heart and mind to accepting individuals and cultures.”
That is a message for all of us, for me, for my brother priests working in parishes and other ministries, and for elected officials and public servants.

But, civil discourse is needed not just so we can get something done for the common good, but because of the impact that failing to do so has on society.

Recent studies on the involvement of young people in religion and public life bear out a common factor that discourages their participation – the harsh rhetoric and lack of comity and civility within each group and in the way leaders in both groups treat each other. A good friend of mine, who is with us tonight, advised me when I became a seminary rector, to place a high priority on developing a faculty, a team that modeled to students how adults should act. As Msgr. Lawrence Purcell, former rector of the North American College put it, “you will teach them more about a collaborative model of ministry in this way than anything you say.”

It is not surprising that parishioners, citizens and the public become uneasy and disaffected with community and public life when they see leaders speak in ways that incite fears rather than inspire hope. There is collateral damage in such tactics. But, there is an even greater promise of really accomplishing something that lasts, done by God’s grace, when we speak with the deliberate and unified aim of bringing dry bones to life. Such a commitment to civil and respectful discourse is about meeting God half way as He keeps the aspirations of those we serve alive in the struggles they face in life.


Ezekiel also invites us to look for where God is working to build up the people. Notice that the spirit evoked brings about a rattling of the bones, not to assemble skeletons as individuals, but as a vast army. There is a dryness in many people’s lives because they have little experience of being connected in society. For them, the only economy that counts is one that depends on connections they never had and never will. So many are left unconnected because of poverty spread across generations, racism or not having mentors to guide and inspire them about the value of education, hard work, and the self-discipline needed for personal stability.

Already in the short time I have been here, I have been edified by the great work so many of you are doing through various charities, apostolates, labor unions, the business community, government programs, schools, volunteer and civic groups and you should be encouraged to know that helping people get connected, experience being a part of society, is where God is active, working and gracing you in your dedicated ministry and labors. You are using your connections to help those disconnected and that is the work of God.

Our aim should be to make sure that everyone has a place at the table of life, the mother needing prenatal and postnatal care and protection for herself and her child, the former inmate seeking a fresh start, the drug addict who needs someone to help her take one day at a time, the father and mother who want their children to have the educational opportunities other families have – this is the vast army God is inviting us to raise up with him.
Central governments in the Church and the state have enormous power to create bonds, stimulate cooperation and motivate people to work together on the local level. That has always been my approach, seeing the diocesan offices as being at the service of our parishes, to animate them while uniting and building bonds among ourselves as one local Church.


The Hebrew term Ha Aretz, is not just about real estate, turf, or dirt, but it refers to the land on which God’s people live with stability, and a sense of belonging. God’s desire to bring about this sense of belonging is present in the aspirations of every migrant and immigrant, and that is why they need to be respected, treated with justice and welcomed. God is at work in giving people a life of stability, a feeling of being at home, and of living in an environment that satisfies the desires God has placed in their hearts. The work of comprehensive immigration reform is not important because it is on my agenda, but because it is on God’s.

But, there are others who feel little sense of belonging and stability. Many youth have no dreams, no real aspirations, no sustaining hope. And so they turn to a destructive world of drugs, gangs, and lethal violence.
There are no easy answers to this, but I am aware that good people within our parishes and in the city are working imaginatively to address this issue. I admire the creativity of bringing gang members together for sports and in other venues to ease growing tensions. I believe that shoring up and strengthening family life and education are also essential ingredients.

You will find in me a ready partner, but also one who believes that this work is not inconsequential, is not an option, because again, it too is on God’s agenda.


For me it is quite humbling as I come to offer servant leadership to this local Church to be associated with lay women and men, clergy, religious and bishops who continue to have an enormous impact in society. That is especially so as I now follow two great predecessors, Cardinal Bernardin and Cardinal George, both intellectual and spiritual leaders, but most of all pastoral men who both have been models of faith and trust in God in having to deal with serious illness as they valiantly continued to shepherd the people of God.

But, it is also true that United States has benefitted from the talents and leadership of many Chicagoans over our nation’s history, contributing common sense Midwestern values in touch with the real lives of people. We are a city that is unafraid to walk through the dry bones.

Tonight Ezekiel encourages us to continue doing so because that is where God is and where God’s agenda begins. It is an agenda that encourages me as I begin my service to welcome new friendships with other leaders in our parishes, in the business community, labor and government, because I recognize the enormous opportunity and promise that God is putting before us as we use our connections to help the disconnected, all the while respecting each other’s challenges.

It is an agenda that has its origins in the very creation of the world, for God’s plan all along has been to make this tiny speck of cosmic dust in the vast universe a land, a home for us all.

Spirit, People and Land – these are God’s words to comfort and encourage, words to help us in this graced time and blessed city to keep our focus on all that God is doing, so that our ways may be God’s ways.

And, the promise tonight is that if we keep these three words close to our hearts, all the while remembering our proud heritage of contributing to the good of the nation, then not only will we get things done, but we will probably end up rattling some bones.

PHOTO: Richard W. Raho


The Blase Begins

So, now it's confirmed – the Pope's coming to this scribe's hometown next year... and if you're surprised, well, you haven't been paying attention.

Back to the main story of the moment, even if Francis himself isn't touching down at O'Hare today, over these next 30 hours The Revolution he's driving will take hold in its most potent form on these shores as Blase Cupich is installed as the Ninth Archbishop of Chicago – for the helm of the nation's third-largest diocese, the most significant personnel pick Papa Bergoglio will have among the American hierarchy's top rank.

As the world awaits the very significant homilies to come at tonight's Liturgy of the Word and tomorrow's Installation Mass, we'd be remiss to not start in without the talk that arguably aligned the stars toward the stunning move – the then-Spokane bishop's June response (text) to Francis' "Vice-Pope" at a Washington symposium on the conflict between libertarianism and Catholic social teaching.


Sic Transit Kabuki Theater – At Long Last, Francis Confirms US PopeTrip

After a year of all-but-formal word, it's finally official – in his opening talk this morning to an all-star conference on the defense of marriage arranged by the CDF, the Pope announced that he was "happy to confirm that, God willing, in September 2015 I will go to Philadelphia for the eighth World Meeting of Families."

Its first edition in North America, the Vatican's global event for the domestic church was awarded to the roiled River City empire in June 2012 by Benedict XVI amid his final months in office to serve as an encouragement to a famously-devoted flock that was – and, indeed, remains – blown out of the water amid seismic revelations of sex-abuse and the Chancery response to it, on top of massive parish and school closings and a long-term deficit that, at its worst, reached into the range of $300 million. While Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. has made significant headway in tackling the most daunting set of challenges an American prelate's faced in the last half-century, a sweeping reboot of attitudes and structures alike will still take some years to be fully achieved.

Slated to take over the Pennsylvania Convention Center for the bulk of its events, the World Meeting – for which registration was recently opened – will culminate with Francis' presence over the long weekend of 25-28 September. A full schedule for the days is only expected to emerge from Rome over the spring at the earliest. In the meantime, Francis will be visiting Turkey over US' Thanksgiving Weekend, and addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg next Tuesday before embarking on a weeklong pilgrimage to Sri Lanka and the Philippines – his second to Asia – in mid-January.

As reported here long ago, the expected itinerary of Jorge Bergoglio's first-ever US trek is likewise a near-lock to include Washington and New York – and with them, a very possible leg in Mexico – before the pontiff heads back to Rome to open the Ordinary Synod on the Family, which will conclude the global church's two-year process of discernment on its pastoral response to the situations faced by today's faithful in their lived experience.

While Round Two in the Aula will begin a week after Francis' final Mass in Philly, for a Universal Pastor who explicitly abhors the notion of "a bishop behind bulletproof glass," the most colorful discussions of all might just come about between the Vatican advance team and the Secret Service, who've historically been more paranoid about guarding the Roman Pontiff on Stateside soil than even the President.

Perhaps most historically of all, meanwhile, for a Pope who seems more attached to the embattled predecessor he recently beatified than any other, it is deeply telling that Francis' first voyage to the US and UN will come a week before the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI's 13-hour trek to New York on St Francis' Day 1965.

Of course, that was the first papal voyage to North America. And now, the journey will be repeated by the first American Pope.


For Chicago and Beyond, "The Resolute Urgency of Now"

Thirty-two years ago, John Paul II's bull appointing Joseph Bernardin as archbishop of Chicago famously called the place "maxima" – "the greatest" – a nod to the near-century for which the Windy City church reigned as Stateside Catholicism's largest outpost.

On hearing the line proclaimed during the rites at Holy Name, a certain disgruntled cardinal was said to have exclaimed "Maxima forsa sed non optima" – "The largest, maybe, but not the best."

At least, that was the story as Pio Laghi told it. And now, all these years later, it is a surreal twist of history that – even if Chicago is no longer the "maxima" among us – a very different Pope has chosen Laghi's favorite son as his own "optima": barring the unforeseen, the most consequential choice Francis will place in the American hierarchy's top rank.

If you love or simply just respect this beat and what it represents, we've come to a moment as moving as it's meaningful in the life of the nation's largest religious body, its influence all the more palpable in the nation's third-largest city: a place where The Archbishop – in time, again The Cardinal – is outranked in public clout only by its Mayor.... After all, this is the turf where a half-century of chief shepherds made their rounds in the car marked with Illinois License Plate "1."

Bearing the blunt object he's termed a "hammer," Blase Cupich hits the doors of Holy Name Cathedral at 7 tonight to announce his entrance at the seat of the 2.4 million-member archdiocese, thus opening a new chapter in the life of this local church and the wider fold beyond.

While Tuesday's Installation Mass will be amply broadcast and streamed far and wide, this evening's kickoff Liturgy of the Word – featuring the welcome from ecumenical and civic leaders alike and a message geared to the presbyterate – won't.

That said, fear not – your Whispers will be on-hand to witness the moment and cover it around, along with the rest of these days. As always, though, the work simply could not happen without this readership's support – and if you don't, well, then I can't....

Between last week in Baltimore and the days to come, you can probably imagine how the house has dived into the kind of red ink that would've made Mundelein's head explode (and we don't have the luxury of bond issues). Still, if news is going to be the name of the game here, the nature of this moment requires the investment for the sake of the product. And if the result means something to you, then I'm gonna need your help with pulling it off without going bankrupt.

Lastly, there is almost too much to work with here – at least, for one brain to process and try to beam out while taking it all in. Then again, this is the easy part – we get to watch, but somebody else has to do the job. So as the shadow of Peter now falls on the Ninth Archbishop in the form of a herculean, thankless task, we'd all do well to pray for the "Thunder" sent to rekindle this house for a new generation... and right with him, the epic, venerable, unforgettable genius now embarking on a role as unique and pioneering as his mind: the first native son to lead his home-diocese, soon to become the first-ever Archbishop-emeritus of Chicago.

Lest anyone forgot, Church, everything is grace... and may these days be an outpouring of It and more for the City of Big Shoulders, and the rest of us looking in from near and far alike.

Archbishop, the time for shock is over – time to lead now, Blase... and above all, to believe, that the rest of us can too.

Billy, sing us in:


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fisher of Men – In Sydney, This Is The Day The George Has Made

It's been said here before, but bears repeating – this week sees the arrivals of the twin appointees likely to be Francis' most significant English-speaking picks in the course of his entire pontificate... and fittingly, the festival began with quite a splash.

In spectacular fashion, yesterday in Sydney saw the homecoming of the city's Ninth Archbishop. And given all the expectation that's surrounded Anthony Fisher for a decade, that the promise would pay off at the tender age of 54 only added to the palpable sense of history in St Mary's Cathedral, as a phalanx of Australia's leaders joined Fisher's parents and a teeming standing-room crowd to witness the beginning of a tenure that could extend to the year 2040. Indeed, that the cathedra of Oz's preeminent post is a replica of King Edward's Chair – the coronation seat of the British monarchs in Westminster Abbey – merely added to the perception of triumph.

After prayers (right) at the tomb of St Mary MacKillop – the foundress who, in 2010, became the first Australian to be canonized – the Dominican friar-cum-Oxford bioethicist was swept by car to the country's most prominent house of worship, where he was greeted on the front steps by a delegation led by Aboriginal representatives. (Unlike installations in the US, Canada and Britain, the Mass notably began at 7pm local time for the convenience of the faithful who wanted to come.) Much like Fisher's combination of sweeping intellect and boyish charm, meanwhile, the liturgy that followed had something for everybody, as fanfares and chant were mixed with guitar-driven praise and worship music.

Despite a decade-long rise through the hierarchy as his predecessor's star protege, Fisher has conspicuously sought to distance himself from Cardinal George Pell over the rollout for his arrival, and the Vatican's new, all-powerful Finance Czar was just as strikingly absent from the event. Still, beyond the choice himself, the long arm of Francis was reinforced in the room by the front-and-center presence of Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the beloved British-born Nuncio now preparing to depart for Rome as the Pope's newly-chosen "foreign minister," again becoming the first native English-speaker ever to hold the critical post.

Over recent days, it's been extraordinary to hear the level of enthusiasm and support with which a normally cynical and raucously irreverent Aussie crowd has showered Fisher (shown above with his mother) over the course of the transition – and to be sure, maybe even more of the same surrounds Blase Cupich as he arrives in Chicago today to complete his journey to the chair of Mundelein, Bernardin and George. Keeping to Sydney, though, the state of its local church has been put in glaring, even visceral terms – to use one well-placed perception, the 700,000-member archdiocese "is a basketcase, and [its] priests are the walking wounded" – all the more as an ongoing Federal inquiry into institutional sex-abuse has put the church's historic response to cases under a high-profile microscope across Australia.

On practically every front, the scene set a high bar for an inaugural message, but the Oz crowd has routinely cited Fisher as one of the finest preachers they've got... and in the potent homily he turned out, it showed – video and fulltext are below, and the complete Mass is streaming on-demand via the Catholic social media portal Xt3.

* * *

12 NOVEMBER 2014

Your Excellency Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States; Your Grace Archbishop Denis Hart, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference; brother bishops, priests and deacons; fellow religious;

Your Excellencies and Reverends, the representatives of other churches and major faiths;

Your Excellency, General David Hurley, Governor of New South Wales; Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells representing Prime Minister Tony Abbott; Former Prime Minister John Howard; Senator Jacinta Collins representing the Federal Opposition; Premier of New South Wales, the Hon. Mike Baird, with several Cabinet Ministers; Shadow Treasurer Michael Daley, representing the State Opposition; Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore;

Other political, judicial, professional and education leaders; brothers and sisters in Christ:


When Father John Joseph Therry named the first Catholic chapel of the colony of New South Wales "St. Mary, Help of Christians," he chose a title that marks the intersection and sometimes collision of three great ideas that shape the human soul in our age: Christianity, Islam and secularism.

In the sixteenth century, amid serious tension between Christianity and Islam (in the form of the Holy League and the Ottoman empire), Pope St. Pius V called on Europe to pray the Rosary for peace and security. In the nineteenth century, when secularism (in the form of the French Revolution and Napoleon) also sought to smother the Church, Pope Pius VII called for the same. Two centuries ago this very year, he was liberated and the Church again survived against the odds. The next year he introduced the commemoration of "Help of Christians" to the calendar, and adding one more to that long line of Marian titles that began in tonight's Gospel with Elizabeth calling Mary "Mother of my Lord" and "Most Blessed of all women" (Luke 1:39-56).

Much might be said about these three cousins - Christianity, Islam and secularism, their family resemblances, differences and tensions. Extremist strains of each have sometimes threatened the security of the others; at other times they've coexisted peaceably and collaborated in various ways.

As a Catholic bishop I profess faith in the person of Jesus Christ. His Gospel is heir to much of Judaism and became the basis of a new Western civilization and a great missionary endeavour to bring faith and worship, education and healthcare, welfare and pastoral care, to the ends of the earth, even as far as colonial Australia. But as we heard in our first reading tonight, the Woman of the Apocalypse that is Israel, the Church, the Virgin Mother, has not always had it easy, even when bringing forth the Prince of Peace (Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6, 10).

The infant Church in Australia had a special reason to honour Mary: in the years when Catholic priests and Masses were forbidden, the laity kept the Faith alive by public recitation of the Rosary. The first Catholic church - which became the cathedral once Bishop John Bede Polding arrived in 1835 - was built with the pennies of poor Irish and British Catholics, but also the assistance of that enlightened Governor, Macquarie, and some Protestant worthies. It is an early example of respect for religious liberty, of collaboration between church and state, and of harmony between believers.

These are, I believe, among our nation's greatest strengths and the presence tonight of diverse political and religious leaders is testament to that. We must be eternally vigilant to protect these aspects of our national life. To people of other faiths or none I hold out the hand of friendship and collaboration, and to those suffering at home or abroad for their faith I commit to working for peace and harmony.


Sydney's first bishops were Benedictines; I am a Dominican. My order was founded eight centuries ago "for preaching and the salvation of souls." The early friars were rather ambivalent about their own becoming bishops. When the Dominican scientist-theologian St. Albert the Great was named Bishop of Regensburg, the Master of the Dominicans, Humbert of Romans, wrote:

"I would rather you were dead than a bishop ... Why ruin your reputation and that of the Order by letting yourself be taken away from poverty and preaching? However troublesome you find the brethren, don't imagine things will be better once you have secular clergy and powers to deal with ... Better to lie in a coffin than sit in a bishop's chair!"
Paul in our epistle anticipates and answers Humbert, reminding us that Christ graces some to be apostles or evangelists, others to be pastors or teachers - some, like himself, to be all these things - but all "speaking the truth in love" and so building up the Church (Ephesians 4:1-16).

The responsibility of the pastor is a grave one in any age, but in our time that has been aggravated by the shameful deeds of some clergy and serious failures of some leaders to respond. I have personally found it harrowing as a bishop to listen to survivors tell me their stories, to hear how abandoned they felt and how they continue to suffer.

To survivors of abuse and all affected I say: the Church is - I am - profoundly sorry for what happened. All young people must be cherished and protected. The Church can do better and I am committed to giving a lead in this area. I pray that the Church will emerge from this period of public scrutiny humbler, more compassionate and spiritually regenerated. Only then will we regain credibility and trust in many people's eyes. To those who've become disconnected from the Church in recent years because of our failures or for some other reason I say: come back home, give us another chance, and help us be a better Church. We need your insights, enthusiasm and prayers.


When the newly-pregnant Mary greeted her kinswoman, the Gospel relates that the child leapt in Elizabeth's womb. Poets have the foetal John the Baptist doing somersaults for joy at the coming of the Saviour; iconographers have him leaping into kneeling position; either way, it can't have been very comfortable for his Mum! But the scene captures the excitement we all should feel at encountering Jesus Christ. Already this unborn boy glimpsed his vocation as a finger pointing to Christ.

It took me rather longer to grasp! As a child in the Lakemba and Lane Cove parishes in Cardinal Gilroy's time, our class was given Brother Davy's The Christian Gentleman, with a preface by the Cardinal. Its advice on etiquette with Governors, Premiers and Nuncios seemed of little relevance - little did I know! Through my adolescence at Riverview and Sydney University, Cardinal Freeman was archbishop and he washed my feet one Holy Thursday night; I never dreamt I'd one day be washing the feet here - a reminder that I am "to serve, not to be served" (John 13:1-17; Matthew 20:25-28).

As a young cleric in Sydney and Melbourne in Cardinal Clancy's time, I never guessed I would one day stand on the shoulders of those great men, all the way back to Polding. I gratefully salute our recently-deceased father, Ted Clancy. I likewise acknowledge Cardinal George Pell, whose auxiliary I was for seven years and who before his appointment to Rome achieved so much in education, chaplaincies and seminaries, in centres for formation, retreat and pilgrimage, and through the Sydney World Youth Day with which I was privileged to be associated.

What a joy to return in this new way! I've lived or worked in the South-West of Sydney and the lower North Shore, the upper North, inner city and the East, and lately the West of this great city. I love its people. Pope Francis says pastors should smell of their sheep. This is not a comment upon clerical hygiene: it is an insistence that we are from and for our flocks. Pray, therefore, that I will always be a shepherd for Sydney after the heart of Jesus Christ.


Tonight I've looked back to the origins of this cathedral, diocese and national church. Looking forward, we have much to build on. Above all, we have Jesus Christ as our foundation stone and the many works inspired by His Spirit over the past two centuries.

The Church in Australia now has around 10,000 hospital beds, 20,000 aged care places, 700,000 school desks, and assists countless people through parishes, CatholicCare and St. Vincent de Paul. 5.5 million Catholics, in 1300 parishes and every walk of life, contribute in myriad ways to our nation. Peaceful democracies, affluent economies and cohesive societies don't just happen: they depend upon a complex of ideals, practices and institutions and in this country these are largely a Judeo-Christian inheritance, however under-appreciated that often is. There is much to be done to renew that social capital and I commit the Church in Sydney to that task.

What will this Archdiocese look like when, God willing, I retire in 2035? My hope is for a Church in which the Gospel is preached with joy, the wisdom of our tradition mined with fidelity, the sacraments celebrated with dignity and welcome, and the seminaries, convents and youth groups teeming with new life; a Church in which our parishes, chaplaincies and educational institutions are true centres of the new evangelisation, our laity theologically literate and spiritually well-formed, our outreach to the needy effective and growing, and God glorified above all. That will depend hugely on three factors: our clergy and religious; our families; and our young people. Let me conclude with a brief word to each.

Despite demoralising revelations from the past and exhausting demands in the present, we are still served today by many generous priests, holy religious and courageous seminarians and I greet those of the Archdiocese tonight with great optimism and fondness. It is a privilege to join you labouring in this vineyard. It is my hope that many new labourers will join us going forward. I pledge myself tonight to pray with you and for you, to listen and learn from you, to lead and support you as father as best I can, and work with you as brother in our joint mission.

Tonight I also promise to devote myself to supporting marriage and family at a time when this crucial institution is much misunderstood and under such pressure. I am the first Archbishop of Sydney lucky enough to have both parents present at his installation and I thank God for the love and support of Colin and Gloria these fifty-five years past. It was in their domestic church that first I heard the Gospel of life and love. With all my heart I thank them, my siblings and the rest of my family and friends, for loving me so well, and being willing to share me now with a new family of about 600,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese.

I also greet those lay faithful, including my collaborators in parishes, schools, universities and agencies. St. John Paul II called you to be prophets of truth, agents of a new evangelization for a new millennium. Pope Benedict XVI called you to be objects of beauty, like precious gems refracting the glory of God and drawing all eyes to Him. And now Pope Francis calls you to be exemplars of goodness, "missionary disciples" like Mary reaching out to her cousin and our suffering world, showing all "the mercy promised to our ancestors." With her namesake St. Mary MacKillop, you must make it your special care to transmit that faith and mercy to the young.

And to those young people of Sydney, I say with special affection: open your hearts to the adventure of the Gospel. In my bull of appointment you heard tonight the Holy Father refer to you as spes Ecclesiae, "the hope of the Church." I am depending on you to lend me all your energy and idealism. Never buy the lies that nothing is true, all is relative, your ideals illusory, your good works in vain. With God on your side, my young friends, who can be against you?

Tonight's celebration takes us back to the days of Therry and Polding, through subsequent generations, to that youthful Church still emerging in this third millennium of grace. As I take up this new charge, I ask you all to reflect upon your personal calling to build up the Church and community. Join me in saying a Marian YES, unconditionally, to God. With St. Mary Help of Christians let our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our Saviour. For the Almighty works marvels for us: Holy is His name!


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"To These, O Lord...."

After one of the most moving and powerful days the Stateside bench has experienced in recent memory, much as the preceding was already lined up for this 11th day of the 11th month, the emotion of the tribute now fits the moment all the more.

And with it, especially as this Fall Classic takes place in the context of the Stateside bench's 225th anniversary – celebrated last night with a brilliant liturgy in the "cradle" of this American Church – keeping this house's custom on national feasts, below is the Prayer for the Nation written and first delivered in August 1791 by John Carroll – the founding shepherd of what Pope Francis emphatically calls "our Holy Mother Hierarchical Church" in our midst....

We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Francis, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance.

To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Live from "Opening Day"

.(9.15am) Good morning from Baltimore and this 96th edition of the "Fall Classic" – the US bishops' November Plenary.

This first public day having started with closed-door meetings of the conference's 15 regions, the open session on the floor doesn't get underway until 10.15 Eastern; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz's first turn at the annual Presidential Address should begin around 11, following the customary opening day remarks from the Nuncio to Washington, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.

Before breaking for lunch, the four US delegates to last month's Extraordinary Synod will brief the body on the assembly. The meeting adjourns at 3pm due to the evening Mass to mark the American hierarchy's 225th anniversary in the nation's first cathedral, the Basilica of the Assumption.

Livestream, etc. to come once the Floor fires up... even more than usual, though, what's been happening outside camera range is the most fascinating thing of all. More on that and all the rest in due course.


Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Hammer Falls... And Then Some

Foreseen for weeks, it's now come to pass – at Roman Noon this Saturday, the Pope named Cardinal Raymond Burke as patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, removing the Wisconsin-born prelate from his role as the church's "chief justice" as head of the Apostolic Signatura, where he's served since 2008.

Arguably the most polarizing figure on the global Catholic stage due to his outspoken, unstinting conservatism in matters of liturgy and church teaching, the move caps a yearlong dismantling of Burke's clout, which began last December with the 66 year-old's sudden yanking from the membership of the Congregation for Bishops, where he helped facilitate the most controversial US appointments of Benedict XVI's pontificate. While the cardinal rejected the description in one of his many recent interviews, even his champions have termed the former archbishop of St Louis as the leading face of "opposition to the new orthodoxies" in the age of Pope Francis.

In a surprise choice for Burke's replacement at the Signatura, Francis tapped his "foreign minister," the Corsican Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, 62, who's served as Secretary for Relations with States since 2006. Yet with the diplomatic role become ever more crucial given the Argentine Pope's concerted forays into geopolitical affairs, today's most significant move is neither of the above, but the even more astonishing choice of Mamberti's successor at the helm of the Holy See's foreign service: Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher (right), 60, the Liverpool-born Nuncio to Australia, who becomes the first native English-speaker ever to hold the post.

A three-decade veteran of the diplomatic corps, Gallagher's first assignment at ambassador level was in Burundi as successor to Archbishop Michael Courtney, who was shot and killed in a December 2003 attack reportedly planned by senior officials in the war-torn country.

Since arriving in Canberra in late 2012, Gallagher has proven an immensely popular figure on the Aussie scene, and one whose ecclesiology is said to line up squarely with Francis' emphasis that ecclesiastical desk-holders work to keep their rootedness in pastoral life and ministry.

Set to conduct Wednesday's all-important installation of Anthony Fisher OP as archbishop of Sydney, a planned December celebration for the 100th anniversary of the Vatican's diplomatic presence in Australia will now double as Gallagher's farewell Down Under. For his opening stroke in Rome, meanwhile, the new Secretary for Relations will take the lead alongside Cardinal Pietro Parolin in advising Francis on his next "State of the World" speech – the traditional New Year's greeting to the diplomatic corps, given in early January.

* * *
Returning to Burke, having gone into overdrive during the recent Synod on the Family to protest any prospect of change to the church's existing pastoral practice toward couples in irregular situations – as well as stoutly defending the existing annulment process amid Francis' recent moves to probe its effectiveness – whether intentional or not, the timing of the cardinal's "exile" to the Rome-based Malta post is almost certain to be taken as an added provocation by his allies among the US bishops, as the announcement coincides with the prelates' arrival in Baltimore this weekend for Monday's start of their November plenary.

Then again, following the cardinal's recent comments that the church under Francis "is like a ship without a rudder" and affirming "the risk" of a schism over the Pope's decisions following next year's Ordinary Synod, one senior US prelate termed the steady stream of polemics a form of "public suicide."

In any case, the wheels of the cardinal's transfer from the church's lead tribunal have been in motion for over a year. From the first months after Francis' election, as Burke went unconfirmed by the new Pope at the Signatura, Whispers ops indicated the top canonist as a top choice to become Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre once Cardinal Edwin O'Brien reached the retirement age of 75 last April.

Much as that match would've killed two birds with one stone as the US boasts the lion's share of the millennium-old order's membership and Burke's well-known homesickness for the States, the prospect would've inevitably been shot down by Francis' domestic brain-trust, for whom even a Rome-based foothold on these shores for Burke was still too close for comfort. In the end, Burke now becomes the first non-European to serve as chief chaplain of the thousand-year-old Order of Malta, which is always headed not by a cleric, but a celibate layman elected in a Conclave who holds the title Sovereign Prince. (The current Prince-Grand Master is Fra Matthew Festing, the second Englishman to occupy the office.)

Having taken the unorthodox step of confirming reports of the Malta move in an on-record interview during the Synod, just last weekend, Burke was the star attraction in St Peter's for one of his favorite causes, as he celebrated Mass in the Extraordinary Form to close an international pilgrimage of devotees of the pre-Conciliar liturgy.

In a pointed message to the gathering, the now Pope-emeritus Benedict expressed his pleasure at the "full peace in the church" which he restored to the Tridentine books with 2007's Summorum Pontificum, adding his praise that the rites were being "celebrated by great cardinals."

With Burke's effective demotion, for the first time in three decades, no US prelate leads an office of the Roman Curia as traditionally understood. As Francis' reform of the governing apparatus is expected to roll out in early 2015, it nonetheless bears reminding that – alongside his seat on the Pope's supreme council of nine cardinal-advisors – Boston's Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. now heads up the newly-created Pontifical Commission which reports directly to Francis on the church's response to clergy sex-abuse and the care of survivors.


Thursday, November 06, 2014

"Jesus Wanted It This Way" – Amid Landmark Days, The Pope on The Bishops

Much as the coverage over time has shown a mix of genuine understanding and agenda-induced invention alike, it's no secret that a key storyline of the Rule of Francis is the relationship between the Pope and his bishops... at least, the ones he's inherited.

Sure, there's nothing new under the sun – a sense of qualms among some of the Apostles about Peter and his means of wielding the Keys stretches back to the church's very foundations. Still, in recent times, it's very new: for all the talk of Vatican II of late, in reality you'd have to go back to the infallibility debates of Vatican I (1869-70) to find the last time the Catholic world saw such an exposed contrast of thought among its leaders on the papacy.

In the current context, however, there is one key difference: the fights over what became Pastor æternus focused on the role of the Petrine office. This time around, the flashpoint is the man who holds it.

It's against this backdrop that the next two weeks will see three very significant moments in the English-speaking church. This weekend, a US episcopate that – fairly or not – has become widely perceived as an influential center of skepticism, if not barely-veiled resistance to the reigning Pope will gather for its Fall Plenary in Baltimore, with the public sessions opening on Monday.

Along the way, the fortnight to follow likewise brings the installations of the two archbishops likely to figure as the most significant appointees Francis will make in Anglophone Catholicism through his entire pontificate: Anthony Fisher in Sydney – Australia's premier post – and Blase Cupich in Chicago, the latter formally launching a stunning, Pope-driven ascent that now sets the leadership of the Stateside church's three largest dioceses in place for the next decade.

Atop all that, these days likewise bring a sense of history beyond its first draft. This November 6th marks 225 years since Pope Pius VI established a diocese for the 13 new States with its seat at Baltimore (right), naming John Carroll – a member of the suppressed Jesuits and cousin of the lone Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence – its first bishop.

At the time, the Catholic community of the United States comprised some 25,000 sometimes persecuted, oft-misunderstood members from what's now Maine to Georgia, served by all of 22 priests. Thanks to the rich foundations laid and great sacrifices made by the founders and their successors – lay, professed and ordained together; immigrants and natives in equal measure – that first flock would grow to more than 70 million today. In our time, though, the legacy of that witness is far too often endangered, or simply taken for granted: where those who came before us believed, stuck together, accomplished much yet sought no credit, enough of this ecclesial generation has fallen prey to a lethal strain that makes a religion of its politics, tears each other down, achieves next to nothing and expects applause for it. That might make for an entertaining country club, but may this milestone above all remind us how much more this Church is called to be... and, indeed, how much of the inheritance we've received, a gift that's only come at so great a cost, has only come to be squandered by us.

All that said, back to the episcopate and its head. As the scene of these days begins to unfold, it was rather conspicuous that the Pope chose the topic of communion in the church between him, the bishops and their people as the focus of yesterday's General Audience.

Then again, that wasn't an accident – if you've been reading your way through these last 20 months, you'll know the degree to which Francis tends to use his talks to telegraph his mind on relevant events that've figured on his radar. That yesterday likewise brought the release of new regulations just approved on Monday to tighten up the existing norms for the resignations of bishops – including a firm warning that, in some circumstances "the competent authorities" (i.e. the Pope or deputies acting in his name) "may deem it necessary to request that a bishop present his resignation from pastoral office" – merely reinforces the point: that is, as he teaches, so will he govern.

At the same time, however it can't go discounted that in the course of yesterday's brief preach, Papa Bergoglio twice employed the line from Ignatius he's often used in speaking of the church's "true face" – a governing concept which serves to short-circuit the fantasies of the many supposed "defenders" who've sought to portray Francis less as Simon Peter than Simon Bolivar.

Given the confluence of it all, we'd be remiss to not start the coming cycle anywhere else than with the Pope's reflection on a passage from the first chapter of Paul's letter to Titus, which was read to the crowd before Francis began the talk – the cited verse and English translation of the catechesis are both run below.

* * *
A bishop as God’s steward must be blameless,
not arrogant, not irritable, not a drunkard,
not aggressive, not greedy for sordid gain,
but hospitable, a lover of goodness,
temperate, just, holy, and self-controlled,
holding fast to the true message as taught
so that he will be able both to exhort with sound doctrine and to refute opponents....
Dear Brothers and Sisters, buongiorno!

We heard the things that the Apostle Paul says to the Bishop Titus, how many virtues we bishops must have, we all heard, no? And it’s not easy, it’s not easy because we are sinners. But we entrust ourselves to your prayers so that we can at least hope to be closer to the things that the Apostle Paul advises for all Bishops. Do you agree? Will you pray for us?

We have already had occasion to point out, in the previous reflections, how the Holy Spirit has always filled the Church with an abundance of gifts. Now, in the power and grace of his Spirit, Christ does not fail to give rise to the ordained ministries, in order to build up the Christian community as His body. Among these ministries, that of the bishop stands out. In the Bishop, assisted by priests and deacons, it is Christ himself who is present and who continues to take care of his Church, ensuring his protection and guidance.

In the presence and ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, we can recognize the true face of the Church: she is our Holy Mother the Hierarchical Church. And really, through these brothers chosen by the Lord and consecrated by the sacrament of Holy Orders, the Church exercises her motherhood: she generates us in Baptism as Christians, when we are born again in Christ; she watches over our growth in the faith; she accompanies us into the arms of the Father, to receive His forgiveness; she prepares us for the Eucharistic table, where she nourishes us with the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Jesus; she calls upon us the blessing of God and the power of His Spirit, sustaining us throughout the course of our life and envelops us with her tenderness and warmth, especially in the most delicate moments of trial, suffering and death.

The Church’s motherhood is particularly expressed in particular in the person of the bishop and in his ministry. In fact, as Jesus chose the Apostles and sent them out to preach the Gospel and shepherd his flock, so the bishops, their successors, are placed at the head of the Christian community, as guarantor of their faith and as a living sign of the presence of the Lord among them. We understand, therefore, that it is not a position of prestige, an honorary role. The Bishop is not an honorary role it is a service. Jesus wanted it this way. There should not be room in the church for a worldly mentality. A worldly mentality speaks of a man who has an ‘ecclesiastical career and has become a bishop’. There should be no place for such a mentality in the Church. The Bishop serves, it is not a position of honor, to boast about. Being Bishop means keeping ever present the example of Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, came not to be served but to serve (cf. Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45), and to give His life for His sheep (cf. Jn 10:11). The Bishops who are Saints - and there are many in the history of the Church - show us that one does not seek this ministry, one does not ask for it, it cannot be bought, one accepts it in obedience, not in an attempt to climb higher but to lower oneself, just as Jesus "humbled himself and became obedient unto to death, even death on a cross"(Phil 2,8).

It is sad when we see a man who seeks this office and does all he can to get it and when he gets it does not serve, instead goes around like a peacock and lives only for his vanity.

There is another precious element that deserves to be highlighted. When Jesus chose and called the Apostles, he thought of them not as separate one from another, each on their own, but together, that they might be with Him, united as one family. The Bishops too are a single college, gathered around the Pope, who is the guardian and guarantor of this profound communion that was so dear to Jesus and His apostles themselves. How beautiful it is, then, when the bishops, with the Pope express this collegiality! And try to be the servants of the faithful, the servants of the Church! We recently experienced this in the Assembly of the Synod on the Family. Just think of all the Bishops throughout the world who, despite living in places, cultures, sensibilities and traditions that are different and distant from each other, - One bishop the other day told me that to come to Rome it took a flight of 30 hours – even distant from each other, when bishops feel part of each other and become an expression of the intimate bond, in Christ, in their communities. And in the common ecclesial prayer all Bishops together listen to the Lord and the Spirit, thus being able to pay greater attention to man and the signs of the times (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 4 ).

Dear friends, all of this makes us understand why the Christian communities recognize the Bishop as a great gift, and are called to nurture a sincere and profound communion with him, starting with the priests and deacons. There is no healthy Church if the faithful priests, deacons are not united around their bishop. This Church not united around their bishop is a sick Church. Jesus wanted this union, of all faithful with the Bishop. The priests and deacons too. And this in the knowledge that it is in the Bishop that the relationship of each Church with the Apostles is visible and with all the other communities, united with their bishops and the Pope in the One Church of the Lord Jesus, that is our Holy Mother the Hierarchical Church.