Saturday, February 28, 2015

Two Years Later

With the Pope and Curia on the road and off the grid for this week's Lenten retreat, the beat's been unusually quiet... but don't worry – it won't be for much longer.

In any case, beyond fresh stories, the coming weeks are likely to bring an uptick of wider focus on the Vatican as Francis marks his second anniversary on Peter's chair. Eventful as the last two years have been, though, it remains the case that the most surreal and extraordinary moment of all hasn't been because of Papa Bergoglio, but the one that made him – the moment two years ago today when the Pope left office alive for the first time since before Europeans settled the Americas and the "new" St Peter's was built.

Indeed, as head-spinners go, nothing in the current context – arguably nothing we've seen, ever – can compete with those 17 days in February 2013 between Benedict XVI's announcement of his resignation on the 11th and his departure from the Vatican at dusk on the 28th. Even if the modern information cycle holds its choicest rewards for the bright, shiny thing of the day – however fleeting it is – this moment deserved and still deserves more enduring attention than it got... and not just because, at some point in time, the reigning pontiff has quietly signaled his determination to follow suit and concretize the renunciation of the papacy in life as a matter of course.

Ergo, let's go back to the scenes of that unbelievable night: first, B16's emotional, masterfully choreographed farewell from the Apostolic Palace and the chopper out...

The 265th Bishop of Rome's last word from the balcony at Castel:

"Thank you – thank you from my heart!

Dear friends, I'm happy to be with you, that I can see the Creator's beauty around us, and all the goodness you've given to me – thank you for your friendship and your affection!

You know that this day of mine hasn't been like those before. I'm no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic church – at least, at 8 o'clock I won't be – now I'm just a pilgrim beginning the last part of his journey on earth.

With all my heart, with all my love, with my prayer and all my strength – with everything in me – I'd like to work for the common good of the church and all humanity. I feel your kindness so much.

Let us always move together toward the Lord for the good of the church and of the world. Thank you for bringing yourselves [here] – with all my heart, I give you my blessing….

Thank you and goodnight!"
...and at 2000 hours Rome time, the stand-down of the Swiss Guard from the door of the papal "Camp David" at the moment the resignation took effect:


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pope's Lenten Prayer: For "The Gift of Tears"

Keeping the age-old custom, the Pope kicked off Roman Lent with the traditional evening Mass at this Ash Wednesday's station church, Saint Sabina on the Aventine Hill, receiving his own ashes from the hand of the Dominican basilica's cardinal-titular, the long-retired Missions chief Josef Tomko.

Having already issued a plea in his pre-released Lenten message that the church use these 40 days to be converted from "indifference" into "an island of mercy," Francis deepened the theme with tonight's homily, its English translation below:

As God's people today we begin the journey of Lent, a time in which we try to unite ourselves more closely to the Lord Jesus Christ, to share the mystery of His passion and resurrection.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy offers us, first of all, the passage from the prophet Joel, sent by God to call the people to repentance and conversion, due to a calamity (an invasion of locusts) that devastates Judea. Only the Lord can save from the scourge, and so there is need of supplication, with prayer and fasting, each confessing his sin.

The prophet insists on inner conversion: “Return to me with all your heart” (2:12). To return to the Lord “with all [one’s] heart,” means taking the path of a conversion that is neither superficial nor transient, but is a spiritual journey that reaches the deepest place of our self. The heart, in fact, is the seat of our sentiments, the center in which our decisions and our attitudes mature.

That, “Return to me with all your heart,” does not involve only individuals, but extends to the community, is a summons addressed to all: “Gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. (2:16)”

The prophet dwells particularly on the prayers of priests, noting that their prayer should be accompanied by tears. We will do well to ask, at the beginning of this Lent, for the gift of tears, so as to make our prayer and our journey of conversion ever more authentic and without hypocrisy.

This is precisely the message of today’s Gospel. In the passage from Matthew, Jesus rereads the three works of mercy prescribed by the Mosaic law: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Over time, these prescriptions had been scored by the rust of external formalism, or even mutated into a sign of social superiority. Jesus highlights a common temptation in these three works, which can be described summarily as hypocrisy (He names it as such three times): “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them ... Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do ... And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men ... And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites. (Mt 6:1, 2, 5, 16)”

When you do something good, almost instinctively born in us the desire to be respected and admired for this good deed, to obtain a satisfaction. Jesus invites us to do these works without any ostentation, and to trust only in the reward of the Father "who sees in secret" (Mt 6,4.6.18).

Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord never ceases to have mercy on us, and desires to offer us His forgiveness yet again, inviting us to return to Him with a new heart, purified from evil, to take part in His joy. How to accept this invitation? St. Paul makes a suggestion to us in the second reading today: “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:20)” This work of conversion is not just a human endeavor. Reconciliation between us and God is possible thanks to the mercy of the Father who, out of love for us, did not hesitate to sacrifice his only Son. In fact, the Christ, who was righteous and without sin was made sin for us (v. 21) when on the cross He was burdened with our sins, and so redeemed us and justified before God. In Him we can become righteous, in him we can change, if we accept the grace of God and do not let the “acceptable time (6:2)” pass in vain.

With this awareness, trusting and joyful, let us begin our Lenten journey. May Mary Immaculate sustain our spiritual battle against sin, accompany us in this acceptable time, so that we might come together to sing the exultation of victory in Easter.

Soon we will make the gesture of the imposition of ashes on the head. The celebrant says these words: “You are dust and to dust you shall return, (cf. Gen 3:19)” or repeats Jesus’ exhortation: “Repent and believe the gospel. (Mk 1:15)” Both formulae are a reminder of the truth of human existence: we are limited creatures, sinners ever in need of repentance and conversion. How important is it to listen and to welcome this reminder in our time! The call to conversion is then a push to return, as did the son of the parable, to the arms of God, tender and merciful Father, to trust Him and to entrust ourselves to Him.

Lord, Be Merciful To Me, A Sinner

To each and all of us in need of mercy and conversion, may these 40 Days be a fruitful journey of grace, change and goodness.

Blessed Lent, Church – whatever each of us needs doing, we've all got something to tackle over these days. Ergo, let's make it count.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

"Our Credibility Is At Stake" – In Blockbuster Preach, Pope Tells Cardinals Jesus "Reinstates the Marginalized"

In times past, the closing act of a Consistory saw the Pope concelebrate Mass alongside only the new cardinals he elevated the day prior. These days, however – having routinely expanded the long tightly-held privilege for most major Vatican liturgies – Francis has made it his standard practice to close out his elevations of the newest red hats with the entire, 200-member College vested around the altar of St Peter's.

On another front, this weekend's elevation of 20 new cardinals serves as evidence that Papa Bergoglio's setting a pattern with the intakes and the preceding consultation of his entire "Senate" – a once-a-year reunion of all the cardinals, both to hear them at length on key issues and add to their number. Of course, the timing is by no means coincidental, with the events held in proximity to the feast of the Chair of Peter precisely to underscore the intrinsic link to the papacy which once saw the cardinals described as "pars corporis" – "part of [the Pope's] body" – and with it, their role as the body from which the Bishops of Rome are chosen and have almost exclusively been drawn for 1,600 years. (This year, the feast's date of the 22nd sees the Petrine observance overtaken by the First Sunday of Lent.)

Given just his second opportunity to face the College as a whole since his election, experience has amply shown that Peter's 265th successor would seek to use the moment for all it was worth. What emerged this morning, however, exceeded even that standard, and already, is roundly being deemed among the landmark texts of this two-year pontificate.

With October's climactic Synod on the Family clearly in his sights and using this Sunday's potent Gospel as his springboard, below is the Holy See's English translation of Francis' blockbuster preach at today's liturgy (emphases original):
"Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean"… Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out his hand and touched him, and said: "I do choose. Be made clean!" (Mk 1:40-41). The compassion of Jesus! That com-passion [Ed.: etym. "suffering-with"] which made him draw near to every person in pain! Jesus does not hold back; instead, he gets involved in people’s pain and their need… for the simple reason that he knows and wants to show com-passion, because he has a heart unashamed to have "compassion".

"Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed in the country; and people came to him from every quarter" (Mk 1:45). This means that Jesus not only healed the leper but also took upon himself the marginalization enjoined by the law of Moses (cf. Lev 13:1-2, 45-46). Jesus is unafraid to risk sharing in the suffering of others; he pays the price of it in full (cf. Is 53:4).

Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: he reinstates the marginalized! These are the three key concepts that the Church proposes in today’s liturgy of the word: the compassion of Jesus in the face of marginalization and his desire to reinstate.

Marginalization: Moses, in his legislation regarding lepers, says that they are to be kept alone and apart from the community for the duration of their illness. He declares them: "unclean!" (cf. Lev 13:1-2, 45-46).

Imagine how much suffering and shame lepers must have felt: physically, socially, psychologically and spiritually! They are not only victims of disease, but they feel guilty about it, punished for their sins! Theirs is a living death; they are like someone whose father has spit in his face (cf. Num 12:14).

In addition, lepers inspire fear, contempt and loathing, and so they are abandoned by their families, shunned by other persons, cast out by society. Indeed, society rejects them and forces them to live apart from the healthy. It excludes them. So much so that if a healthy person approached a leper, he would be punished severely, and often be treated as a leper himself.

True, the purpose of this rule was "to safeguard the healthy", "to protect the righteous", and, in order to guard them from any risk, to eliminate "the peril" by treating the diseased person harshly. As the high priest Caiaphas exclaimed: "It is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed" (Jn 11:50).

Reinstatement: Jesus revolutionizes and upsets that fearful, narrow and prejudiced mentality. He does not abolish the law of Moses, but rather brings it to fulfillment (cf. Mt 5:17). He does so by stating, for example, that the law of retaliation is counterproductive, that God is not pleased by a Sabbath observance which demeans or condemns a man. He does so by refusing to condemn the sinful woman, but saves her from the blind zeal of those prepared to stone her ruthlessly in the belief that they were applying the law of Moses. Jesus also revolutionizes consciences in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5), opening new horizons for humanity and fully revealing God’s "logic". The logic of love, based not on fear but on freedom and charity, on healthy zeal and the saving will of God. For "God our Saviour desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:3-4). "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" (Mt 12:7; Hos 6:6).

Jesus, the new Moses, wanted to heal the leper. He wanted to touch him and restore him to the community without being "hemmed in" by prejudice, conformity to the prevailing mindset or worry about becoming infected. Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences! For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family! And this is scandalous to some people!

Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity. He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp (cf. Jn 10).

There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost. Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking. The thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person, and the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation.

These two ways of thinking are present throughout the Church’s history: casting off and reinstating. Saint Paul, following the Lord’s command to bring the Gospel message to the ends of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19), caused scandal and met powerful resistance and great hostility, especially from those who demanded unconditional obedience to the Mosaic law, even on the part of converted pagans. Saint Peter, too, was bitterly criticized by the community when he entered the house of the pagan centurion Cornelius (cf. Acts 10).

The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement. This does not mean underestimating the dangers of letting wolves into the fold, but welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world. The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those essentially on the "outskirts" of life. It is to adopt fully God’s own approach, to follow the Master who said: "Those who are well have no need of the physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call, not the righteous but sinners" (Lk 5:31-32).

In healing the leper, Jesus does not harm the healthy. Rather, he frees them from fear. He does not endanger them, but gives them a brother. He does not devalue the law but instead values those for whom God gave the law. Indeed, Jesus frees the healthy from the temptation of the "older brother" (cf. Lk 15:11-32), the burden of envy and the grumbling of the labourers who bore "the burden of the day and the heat" (cf. Mt 20:1-16).

In a word: charity cannot be neutral, antiseptic, indifferent, lukewarm or impartial! Charity is infectious, it excites, it risks and it engages! For true charity is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous! (cf. 1 Cor 13). Charity is creative in finding the right words to speak to all those considered incurable and hence untouchable. Finding the right words… Contact is the language of genuine communication, the same endearing language which brought healing to the leper. How many healings can we perform if only we learn this language of contact! The leper, once cured, became a messenger of God’s love. The Gospel tells us that "he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the word" (cf. Mk 1:45).

Dear new Cardinals, this is the "logic", the mind of Jesus, and this is the way of the Church. Not only to welcome and reinstate with evangelical courage all those who knock at our door, but to go out and seek, fearlessly and without prejudice, those who are distant, freely sharing what we ourselves freely received. "Whoever says: ‘I abide in [Christ]’, ought to walk just as he walked" (1 Jn 2:6). Total openness to serving others is our hallmark, it alone is our title of honour!

Consider carefully that, in these days when you have become Cardinals, we have asked Mary, Mother of the Church, who herself experienced marginalization as a result of slander (cf. Jn 8:41) and exile (cf. Mt 2:13-23), to intercede for us so that we can be God’s faithful servants. May she - our Mother - teach us to be unafraid of tenderly welcoming the outcast; not to be afraid of tenderness. How often we fear tenderness! May Mary teach us not to be afraid of tenderness and compassion. May she clothe us in patience as we seek to accompany them on their journey, without seeking the benefits of worldly success. May she show us Jesus and help us to walk in his footsteps.

Dear new Cardinals, my brothers, as we look to Jesus and our Mother, I urge you to serve the Church in such a way that Christians - edified by our witness - will not be tempted to turn to Jesus without turning to the outcast, to become a closed caste with nothing authentically ecclesial about it. I urge you to serve Jesus crucified in every person who is emarginated, for whatever reason; to see the Lord in every excluded person who is hungry, thirsty, naked; to see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith, or say that they are atheists; to see the Lord who is imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper – whether in body or soul - who encounters discrimination! We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalized! May we always have before us the image of Saint Francis, who was unafraid to embrace the leper and to accept every kind of outcast. Truly, dear brothers, the Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is at stake, is discovered and is revealed!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

"An Honor, Not An Honorific" – At Scarlet Bowl, Pope Calls Cardinals to "Kindness"

The most consequential moment this beat knows outside the Conclave itself, below is the on-demand fullvid of today's 11am Consistory (5am ET, 11pm Tonga) in St Peter's at which the Pope formally inducted 20 prelates from across the globe into the College of Cardinals... and to follow along, here's your multi-lingual worship aid:

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Having shattered what no less than a Vatican statement termed the "chains" of his Senate's traditional makeup with his picks from the "peripheries" of the Catholic world, as one op summarized what Francis had done going into today: "What's amazing isn't that these [new cardinals] can elect the next Pope – it's that one of them can be the next Pope."

And in the event that should happen, well, two words suffice: "Game over."

Perhaps that most epochal aspect of all this has been why you haven't seen it anywhere else – when you live in the proverbial "belly of the beast," it is simply too much – in some quarters, indeed, too upsetting – for most to wrap their heads around.

In any case, given the certainty of a future Conclave and the church's direction left for it to determine, the path charted out by the first Latin American on Peter's chair represents the ultimate shock to the system a half-century since the internationalization of the College began under John XXIII.

As the first retired Pope in seven centuries looked on for the second time in a row – and, likely due to a dearth of far-flung pilgrimages, the Basilica crowd was conspicuously more silent than at past intakes – The Hand That Gave The Hats (to the Ends of the Earth) delivered the following homily, here in its official English translation:

Dear Brother Cardinals,

The cardinalate is certainly an honour, but it is not honorific. This we already know from its name – “cardinal” – from the word “cardo”, a hinge. As such it is not a kind of accessory, a decoration, like an honorary title. Rather, it is a pivot, a point of support and movement essential for the life of the community. You are “hinges” and are “incardinated” in the Church of Rome, which “presides over the entire assembly of charity” (Lumen Gentium, 13; cf. IGN. ANT., Ad Rom., Prologue).

In the Church, all “presiding” flows from charity, must be exercised in charity, and is ordered towards charity. Here too the Church of Rome exercises an exemplary role. Just as she presides in charity, so too each particular Church is called, within its own sphere, to preside in charity.

For this reason, I believe that the “hymn to charity” in Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians can be taken as a guiding theme for this celebration and for your ministry, especially for those of you who today enter the College of Cardinals. All of us, myself first and each of you with me, would do well to let ourselves be guided by the inspired words of the apostle Paul, especially in the passage where he lists the marks of charity. May our Mother Mary help us to listen. She gave the world Jesus, charity incarnate, who is “the more excellent Way” (cf. 1 Cor 12:31); may she help us to receive this Word and always to advance on this Way. May she assist us by her humility and maternal tenderness, because charity, as God’s gift, grows wherever humility and tenderness are found.

Saint Paul tells us that charity is, above all, “patient” and “kind”. The greater our responsibility in serving the Church, the more our hearts must expand according to the measure of the heart of Christ. “Patience” – “forbearance” – is in some sense synonymous with catholicity. It means being able to love without limits, but also to be faithful in particular situations and with practical gestures. It means loving what is great without neglecting what is small; loving the little things within the horizon of the great things, since “non coerceri a maximo, contineri tamen a minimo divinum est”. To know how to love through acts of kindness. “Kindness” – benevolence –means the firm and persevering intention to always will the good of others, even those unfriendly to us.

The Apostle goes on to say that charity “is not jealous or boastful, it is not puffed up with pride”. This is surely a miracle of love, since we humans – all of us, at every stage of our lives – are inclined to jealousy and pride, since our nature is wounded by sin. Nor are Church dignitaries immune from this temptation. But for this very reason, dear brothers, the divine power of love, which transforms hearts, can be all the more evident in us, so that it is no longer you who live, but rather Christ who lives in you. And Jesus is love to the fullest.

Saint Paul then tells us that charity “is not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way”. These two characteristics show that those who abide in charity are not self-centred. The self-centred inevitably become disrespectful; very often they do not even notice this, since “respect” is precisely the ability to acknowledge others, to acknowledge their dignity, their condition, their needs. The self-centred person inevitably seeks his own interests; he thinks this is normal, even necessary. Those “interests” can even be cloaked in noble appearances, but underlying them all is always “self-interest”. Charity, however, makes us draw back from the centre in order to set ourselves in the real centre, which is Christ alone. Then, and only then, can we be persons who are respectful and attentive to the good of others.

Charity, Saint Paul says, “is not irritable, it is not resentful”. Pastors close to their people have plenty of opportunities to be irritable, to feel anger. Perhaps we risk being all the more irritable in relationships with our confreres, since in effect we have less excuses. Even here, charity, and charity alone, frees us. It frees us from the risk of reacting impulsively, of saying or doing the wrong thing; above all it frees us from the mortal danger of pent-up anger, of that smouldering anger which makes us brood over wrongs we have received. No. This is unacceptable in a man of the Church. Even if a momentary outburst is forgivable, this is not the case with rancour. God save us from that!

Charity – Saint Paul adds – “does not rejoice at the wrong, but rejoices in the right”. Those called to the service of governance in the Church need to have a strong sense of justice, so that any form of injustice becomes unacceptable, even those which might bring gain to himself or to the Church. At the same time, he must “rejoice in the right”. What a beautiful phrase! The man of God is someone captivated by truth, one who encounters it fully in the word and flesh of Jesus Christ, the inexhaustible source of our joy. May the people of God always see in us a firm condemnation of injustice and joyful service to the truth.

Finally, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. Here, in four words, is a spiritual and pastoral programme of life. The love of Christ, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, enables us to live like this, to be like this: as persons always ready to forgive; always ready to trust, because we are full of faith in God; always ready to inspire hope, because we ourselves are full of hope in God; persons ready to bear patiently every situation and each of our brothers and sisters, in union with Christ, who bore with love the burden of our sins.

Dear brothers, this comes to us not from ourselves, but from God. God is love and he accomplishes all this in us if only we prove docile to the working of his Holy Spirit. This, then, is how we are to be: “incardinated” and docile. The more we are “incardinated” in the Church of Rome, the more we should become docile to the Spirit, so that charity can give form and meaning to all that we are and all that we do. Incardinated in the Church which presides in charity, docile to the Holy Spirit who pours into our hearts the love of God (cf. Rom 5:5). Amen.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

And Now, The Main Event – As Curia Reform Talks Begin, Francis Wields "The Supreme Law"

After months of anticipation, this Thursday morning saw the Pope's intent to reform the Roman Curia kick into its most advanced gear yet as Francis convened the entire College of Cardinals to consult the entire 200-man "senate" on his intended shake-up.

Beyond the critical focus of the discussion itself, the Consistory talks in the Synod Hall are of even keener import as the session marks the Vatican debut of the 20 cardinals-designate (15 of them electors) who will be formally elevated on Saturday, most of them called to the College from the underrepresented "peripheries" of the global church. As a result, even if the speaking turns from the cardinals during the official sessions are based on seniority, over coffee-breaks and other informal chances for conversation, getting familiar with the mind of the new intake is likely to be a prime matter of interest for the veteran red-hats.

The plenary session of the College is but the latest – and, indeed, the climactic – stage of several other meetings which have wended through the last week: last weekend saw sessions of Francis' newly-formed Council for the Economy and Commission for the Protection of Children, while Monday opened the eighth meeting of what's now the "Gang of Nine," the central "kitchen cabinet" of cardinals charged with advising the Pope on the Curia reform and his Petrine ministry all told.

Though the consensus of the talks can't be forecasted in advance, it bears reminding that immediately after last year's Consistory consult – and even as those talks didn't focus on Curial reform – Francis swiftly executed his most significant structural change to date, creating the all-powerful Secretariat for the Economy with complete oversight of the Holy See's financial and personnel matters, and calling the formidable Cardinal George Pell to Rome as its first prefect.

Accordingly, it's been anticipated that Papa Bergoglio has another something of the kind already up his sleeve and ready to be unleashed following the weekend's events. In that vein, then, it bears reminding that in each of the three specialized organs he's established – the Economy Secretariat and its supervisory council, and the abuse commission (all with direct reports to himself) – the leadership of the new entities has fallen to a member of the "C-9."

Though simply speculation at this point, it would be no surprise if the shift revealed this time involved what's apparently become the most "gelled" aspect to date of a Curial re-tinkering: the long-advanced proposal to consolidate several pontifical councils into two new Congregations "for the People of God" and "Life and Justice." At the same time, it's notable that over its latest three-day session, the "C-9" was briefed at length by Msgr Paul Tighe, the #2 of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications who's done the legwork of the "Patten Commission" – the task-force led by the former BBC chairman Lord Patten of Barnes, entrusted with the sweeping work of charting a full restructure of the Holy See's sprawling media apparatus.

As ever, more to come. In the meantime, Francis himself kicked off today's talks with a general overview of the reform effort, again urging the cardinals to speak with parrhesía – the evangelical "boldness" he's repeatedly cited as a key to healthy collegiality in governance.

Below is Vatican Radio's English translation of the Pope's remarks:

Dear brothers,

"How good, how delightful it is to live as brothers all together!" (Ps 133,1).

In the words of the Psalm we give praise to the Lord who has called us together and gives us the grace to welcome the 20 new cardinals in this session. To them and to all, I give my cordial greetings. Welcome to this communion, which is expressed in collegiality.

Thanks to all those who have prepared this event, especially to His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals. I thank the Commission of nine Cardinals and the coordinator, His Eminence Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga. I also thank His Excellency Marcello Semeraro, Secretary of the Commission of Nine Cardinals: Today he will present a summary of the work done in recent months to develop the new Apostolic Constitution for the reform of the Curia. As we know, this summary has been prepared on the basis of many suggestions, even those made by the heads of the Dicasteries, as well as experts in the field.

The goal to be reached is always that of promoting greater harmony in the work of the various Dicasteries and Offices, in order to achieve a more effective collaboration in that absolute transparency which builds authentic sinodality and collegiality.

The reform is not an end in itself, but a means to give a strong Christian witness; to promote a more effective evangelization; to promote a more fruitful ecumenical spirit; to encourage a more constructive dialogue with all.

The reform, strongly advocated by the majority of the Cardinals in the context of the general congregations before the conclave, will further perfect the identity of the same Roman Curia, which is to assist the Successor of Peter in the exercise of his supreme pastoral office for the good of and in the service of the universal Church and the particular Churches. This exercise serves to strengthen the unity of faith and communion of the people of God and promote the mission of the Church in the world.

Certainly, it is not easy to achieve such a goal: it requires time, determination and above all everyone’s cooperation. But to achieve this we must first entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit, the true guide of the Church, imploring the gift of authentic discernment in prayer.

It is in this spirit of collaboration that our meeting begins, which will be fruitful thanks to the contribution which each of us can express with parrhesía, fidelity to the Magisterium and the knowledge that all of this contributes to the supreme law, that being the salus animarum ["the salvation of souls"]. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

And The Óscar Goes To... The Altars – Romero, Blessed At Last

Just shy of 35 years since Don Óscar Romero was assassinated while saying Mass in a hospital chapel, earlier today the Pope capped the lengthy fight for the church's recognition of the late archbishop of San Salvador by ratifying his martyrdom "in odium fidei" ("out of hatred for the faith"), thus clearing the final procedural hurdle to Romero's beatification without the need for a first miracle.

While the decree was essentially a formality given Francis' on-record intent to move the long-stalled cause – especially after the unanimous vote last month affirming Romero's martyrdom by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints – the timing of the necessary final step particularly reflects the Pope's determination to see the process through as well as his oft-discounted dedication to popular piety: today marks the memorial of St Ansgar, the 9th century bishop of Hamburg whose name translates in Spanish as Óscar, hence it's Romero's patronal feast... and with it, already St Óscar's Day.

In addition, according to the El Salvador-based Super Martyrio site, this 3 February is the anniversary of Romero's 1977 appointment as archbishop of the country's capital.

Having assiduously reported every curve of the Romero cause, the Salvadoran outlet said that while the process had indeed long been blocked in Rome "on suspicion of doctrinal irregularities and ideological exploitation by the Left," its resistance did not come from Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but "from the Vatican Curia," principally in the figures of two Colombian cardinals, Dario Castrillón Hoyos and the late Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, whose respective ascents both reflected what became a staunch doctrinal and cultural conservatism in the face of liberation theology's dominance in the trenches of the Latin American scene.

His elevation long a cause celebre among the church's social-justice wing given Romero's outspokenness as archbishop on behalf of the downtrodden and against the state-condoned murders of clerics and others who advocated for them, despite earlier speculation that Francis would reserve the beatification rites to himself – whether on a visit to El Salvador or at a Mass in Rome itself – and even that he might move for an immediate canonization, the Pope himself nixed the theories on his return from Manila in mid-January, when he joked during the in-flight presser that "there will be a war" between the Vatican's Saint-making chief, Cardinal Angelo Amato SDB, and the cause's postulator (lead coordinator), the Curia's Family Czar Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, over "which one will celebrate the beatification," indicating that it would take place on Romero's home-turf.

The martyrdom vote by Causes of Saints now understood to have been the cause of his last-minute backing out of a scheduled US trip in early January, Paglia will lead a briefing on the beatification tomorrow morning in the Holy See Press Office. To date, no indication on the timeline for the ceremonies has yet emerged.

Once the rites have taken place, it's worth reminding that – at least, in the conventional understanding of things – beatification admits the public veneration of the Blessed on the local level solely in the place(s) where the person lived and served; only canonization extends the local cultus to the universal church. That said, in cases like Romero's where, beyond a blessed's primary mission-field, a genuine "cult following" is evident (in the way that coined the term), other episcopal conferences may move to petition Rome to add the feast to their national calendars.

In other words, as the soon-to-be Blessed Oscar's following indeed runs rather strong among diverse elements of US Catholicism – and almost as much, amid the ongoing scrutiny from some quarters over the degree of the Stateside bench's affinity for Francis and his missionary orientation for the church – a USCCB move to add Romero's feast to the domestic calendar would serve as a potent signal that the bishops have indeed signed up to this pontificate's songbook.

In any case, while the 24 March anniversary of Romero's murder has no other conflicting feasts, the date's frequent occurrence during Holy Week (which would prevent it from being observed in any fashion) suggests that another option will be sought. The archbishop's anniversary is now marked by the United Nations as a global day "for the right to truth concerning human rights violations and for the dignity of victims."

All that said, given the prominence of the moment, below is the text of Romero's final homily on 24 March 1980 – the preach cut short by an assassin's bullet:

* * *
You have just heard in Christ’s gospel that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and that those who try to fend off the danger will lose their lives, while those who out of love for Christ give themselves to the service of others, will live, live like the grain of wheat that dies, but only apparently. If it did not die, it would remain alone. The harvest comes about only because it dies, allowing itself to be sacrificed in the earth and destroyed. Only by undoing itself does it produce the harvest....

This is the hope that inspires us as Christians. We know that every effort to better society, especially when justice and sin are so ingrained, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.... Of course, we must try to purify these ideals, Christianize them, clothe them with the hope of what lies beyond. That makes them stronger, because it gives us the assurance that all that we cultivate on earth, if we nourish it with Christian hope, will never be a failure. We will find it in a purer form in that kingdom where our merit will be found in the labor that we have done here on earth....

Dear brothers and sisters, let us all view these matters at this historic moment with that hope, that spirit of giving and of sacrifice. Let us all do what we can. We can all do something, at least have a sense of understanding and sympathy....

[I]t is worthwhile to labor, because all those longings for justice, peace, and well-being that we experience on earth become realized for us if we enlighten them with Christian hope. We know that no one can go on forever, but those who have put into their work a sense of very great faith, of love of God, of hope among human beings, find it all results in the splendors of a crown that is the sure reward of those who labor thus, cultivating truth, justice, love, and goodness on earth. Such labor does not remain here below but, purified by God’s Spirit, is harvested for our reward.

The holy Mass, now, this Eucharist, is just such an act of faith. To Christian faith at this moment the voice of diatribe appears changed for the body of the Lord, who offered himself for the redemption of the world, and in this chalice the wine is transformed into the blood that was the price of salvation. May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain --- like Christ, not for self, but to bring about justice and peace for our people.

Let us join together, then, intimately in faith and hope at this moment of prayer....

[At that, a postscript reads thus: "A shot rang out in the chapel and Archbishop Romero fell mortally wounded. He died within minutes, on arriving at a nearby hospital emergency room."]


Thursday, January 29, 2015

"I Call Every Seeking Soul" – Vermont's New Bishop, Free At Last

Even for all the tools now easily available, it remains a fact of ecclesial life that most Catholics don't hear from their bishops often, let alone every day.

For tens of thousands across the globe, however, the mostly lacking – put bluntly, insufficient – state of things makes it all the more significant that Chris Coyne has become a familiar, easily accessible daily shepherd to a broad flock... and perhaps most effectively of all on several fronts, a prelate who can reliably be heard from without ever asking for money.

Through a host of platforms over his four years in episcopal ministry, the global church's first blogging priest-made-bishop has engaged his cyber-fold with a personality whose quirky sense of humor (viz. above) and devotion to Dunkin' Donuts, Florence Henderson, the Food Network and free hotel wi-fi have all become prominent in their own right, each roughly as well known as his keen distaste for....

Come on, you already know it.

And yet, despite all that, a well-honed outreach done not out of calculation but simple fun and the sake of the Gospel has had one palpable hitch: being second-fiddle in the diocese – even if the bench has tapped him to lead the USCCB's communications arm – a certain reticence is rightly expected of an auxiliary bishop.

Not that he's been "bitter" about it – in all truth, he hasn't. But today, with the 56 year-old's installation as tenth ordinary of Burlington and head of Vermont's 120,000-member statewide church, the days of reserve are over... and in his preach at the afternoon Mass, the prodigal New Englander marked his homecoming with a splash. (Indeed, all that remains now is the seeming inevitable: Tommy Tiernan's arrival as the diocesan spokesman.)

Granted, the rollout has already been ramping up – since his Christmas appointment, Coyne's returned with a new fervor to his redesigned blog, as well as adding in yet another element: a series of "on the road" videos shot from his dashboard-mounted iPhone while driving around, all on top of a very concerted introduction in the local press that's served as a model for how it's done. (Given the attention Coyne's road videos have garnered, it bears noting that the concept was directly inspired by the first-ever blogging priest tapped to lead a diocese: Tyler's Bishop Joe Strickland – the long-suffering, wildly-beloved native son named to head his home-flock in 2012 – who fittingly began taping at the wheel on the Guadalupe feast.)

With polls routinely citing the Green Mountain State as the US jurisdiction whose residents are least attached to organized religion of any other, the Sant'Anselmo grad made a pointed and significant choice for his Opening Day liturgical texts, opting to use the little-known Mass for the New Evangelization, which the Holy See commissioned for the 2012 Year of Faith.

On a personal note, this scribe was supposed to be in Burlington for today's rites, both to be thoroughly entertained and, above all, to support a brother and friend who is one of Whispers' own more than almost anybody else. Alas, the non-blizzard that ended up skirting these parts earlier this week torpedoed the travel plans, a turn of events that – like deflated footballs, Philadelphia clericalism and Starbucks coffee – is clearly of the devil. In that light, even more thanks to Fr Bob Reed and all our friends at CatholicTV for the gift of being able to see the moment in real-time and share it around.

All that said, while Mama Rita glowed in the front pew of St Joseph's Co-Cathedral as no less than "Brown Papi" credited her middle boy's return to her intercession with the Pope, below is Coyne's launch-preach back home in his new charge – a text that conspicuously doesn't use the words "New Evangelization," even as its call and Spirit are written all over it.

* * *

29 JANUARY 2015

There is an inscription that was found on a bell that hung in the tower of a church in Northern Wisconsin that read:

“To the bath and the table,
To the prayers and the Word,
I call every seeking soul.”

The ringing of church bells was once something with which Vermonters were very familiar. Whether it was in the small towns of the countryside or the competing calls of the churches of the cities, the Sunday morning call of the bells “to the bath and the table, to the prayers and the Word” were a constant reminder of the presence of God in our midst.

The bells still ring out. Not so numerous and not so often, but they still ring out, their meaning captured in the words of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “for bells are the voice of the church; they have tones that touch and search, the hearts of young and old, one sound to all … [The Bells of St. Blas.] Yes, the bells still ring, the bells still search but not many are answering the call. “Come,” the bells say, “Come and worship with us. Come and hear what God has to say. Come to the table and the bath, to the prayers and the Word.” But not many seem to come anymore. Yes, most of churches are still places of worship and communion where folks still gather, but many of those gatherings grow smaller and grayer every year. Folks look out and say, “Where are the young people and the families? Where have our friends and neighbors gone? Why are there so few answering the call of the Church to the life of the Good News?” In response, one could respond with fatalism, with a shrug of defeat, and a kind of long-term communal hospice as door after door after door of our churches close and the Body is finally laid to rest.

And yet, I like many of you, do not stand here in this cathedral without hope, without the conviction that this need not be. Now more than ever, our community needs to hear the call of the “Good News” proclaimed to a culture that seems to hear so many other voices.

John Henry Newman, now Blessed, once spoke to the wreckage that was the Catholic Church in 19th c. England. After years of being legally banned from public life and worship in England, the Catholic faith was finally a legal religion once again. In the face of continuing anti-Catholic prejudice and in the midst of Church with little to build upon, Newman preached his famous sermon entitled, “A Second Spring.” The very title itself invokes hope. He spoke:

“What! those few scattered worshippers, the Roman Catholics, to form a Church! Shall the past be rolled back? Shall the grave open? … Shall shepherds, watching their poor flocks by night, be visited by a multitude of the heavenly army, and hear how their Lord has been new-born in their own city? Yes; for grace can, where nature cannot. The world grows old, but the Church is ever young…. One thing alone I know — that according to our need, so will be our strength… We shall not be left orphans; we shall have within us the strength of the Paraclete, promised to the Church and to every member of it.”
“We shall not be left orphans, we shall have within us the strength of the Paraclete.” Jesus’ promise of the gift of the Spirit to his disciples is our inheritance as well. In this power, we are not left orphans but are sons and daughters, brought into the communion of love that is the sublime essence of the Trinity. This is the Spirit that St. Paul writes in our reading from Colossians that allows us to put on “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience … forgiving one another,” binding it all with Christian love. If we fallible and broken humans can unite in such charity, is that not a sign of both hope and a witness that invites others to join us.

There is cause for much hope here in the gift of the Spirit and our communion with the Father. And yet … this is not something new. The gift of the Spirit and the sublime adoption are realities that we already possess and have possessed throughout the history of the Church. So … how does this answer the present challenge we face here in Vermont and elsewhere, that of declining membership and a cultural trend away from revealed religion to a personal spirituality at best or no belief at worst?

The gospel we just heard proclaimed points the way. Jesus stood in his home synagogue in the midst of his relatives and neighbors and proclaims himself the one about whom Isaiah prophesized to bring healing to the blind, liberty to prisoners and glad tidings to the poor. His voice rings out as both a challenge and an invitation when he says, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” It is a challenge that is immediately rejected by some as he is forced out of Nazareth by those irate at his words, but it is also an invitation that some hear and accept as they follow him on the way. Jesus does not stay in the synagogue but he goes out. His voice does not simply ring out from a place of worship like a bell stationary in a church steeple, calling people to come to him. He goes out to them. He goes out to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God and the offer of eternal salvation.

Just before I left Indiana to come here to Vermont, I was having lunch at "A Nice Restaurant" in New Albany (that's the restaurant's real name, btw) and I was seated right next to a table occupied by two twenty-something young ladies. Now I'm not one to normally eavesdrop on others’ conversations. I tend to read my book or newspaper while by myself, but my ears perked up when I heard one of them say, "Catholic Church." It turns out they were talking about how she had been looking for a faith community to join and had finally joined the mega-church down the street but only after first trying out a Catholic Church. It was what she said about her reason for not staying that really floored me: "It was like they mourn their religion." Wow ... You know the saddest part about that statement? I know what she is talking about ....

No one wants to join a church that lacks joy. When people who leave the Catholic Church to join other churches are asked why did you do so, the number one answer is “They made me feel welcome” followed by “I find the services joyful and uplifting.” If we are going to call people to our churches and they do happen to come in , what are they going to find? People who have the joy of the “good news” in their hearts, people who are welcoming and encouraging, who celebrate the Church’s liturgy with care and commitment or a people who “mourn their religion. Friends, both inside and outside we have to be about the "Good News."

Besides getting our own selves and our own houses in order, brothers and sisters, I challenge myself and you to follow the Lord’s lead to “go out.” We are no longer the Church of the establishment in which if we just open our doors and ring the bells people will come. That is not happening. In fact, we are opening our doors and people are not coming. They are leaving. We have to change the paradigm to that of a missionary Church, one that has to go out and engage the wider community in our ongoing acts of Christian mercy and in our words and conversation. Pope Francis calls us to move out to the peripheries. He tells us, his priests and bishops, that it is time to leave the sacristies and go out into the fields as good shepherds who take on the smell of the sheep. In his recent trip to the Philippines, Pope Francis’ challenge to do so was echoed in the words of farewell to him spoken by Cardinal Tagle at the final Mass in front of an estimated 7 million people. The Cardinal said that the Filipinos want to follow Francis “to the peripheries — to the shanties, to prison cells, to hospitals, to the world of politics, finance, art, sciences, culture, education, and social communications.” They want to follow Francis to those venues, he said, “to bring the light of Jesus.”

Can we say the same?

Did you notice the other challenge in Cardinal Tagle’s words, beyond just the call to go out to the peripheries. It was the one to bring the “light of Jesus.” Now, there’s a challenge. You know, we can only bring to someone else what we ourselves possess. Bringing the light of Christ. What a challenge.

One time when I was in Italy, one of my classmates invited me to come to his hometown in southeast Italy for a weekend. While we were there we climbed up into the bell tower of his church because he wanted to show me the view and the bells. The view was spectacular and the bells were big. We climbed down a few levels and he began to pull the rope to ring the bells (goodness knows what the neighbors were thinking). It was loud, but more than that, it was physical. Every time the largest, deepest bell sounded, you could feel the vibrations through your whole body. They say that bass notes travel farther than high notes. It’s like that car with the sound system turned up loud and you hear the “thump, thump” of the bass notes long before you hear anything else as the car gets closer. The lower notes are foundational. The sound of the deep bell calling out is the sound with the deepest roots. The sound of the “light of Christ” within us must be that deep, that foundational. It permeates our very being so that our faith is not just a layer that we put on over lives but is instead, a way of life, a way of being in the world. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not simply what I believe. It is who I am. It is the deepest bell of my soul. I cannot bring the light of Christ to others unless I first possess it myself, deeply.

My favorite poet is Robert Frost, the first poet laureate of the state of Vermont. He is buried down south in Bennington. Frost wrote many poems with which we are very familiar – “The road less travelled,” “Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening,” – but my favorite is his poem “Directive.” In it he speaks of a walk in the woods that leads him to the ruins of a place that once was: “There is a house that is no more a house, upon a farm that is no more a farm and in a town that is no more a town.” Not much is left - some stonewalls, a few chimneys and cellar holes with trees and vegetation now taking ownership of the ruins. His destination is the remains of a certain house and the brook that was once the source of water for the house. Next to it he has stashed a broken cup that he uses to slack his thirst. Here, though, Frost - gazing at the remains of the hope of small town and all that it once embodied and stood for - picks up the broken cup as “a broken drinking goblet like the grail” and proclaims, “Here are your waters and your watering place. Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.”

Here is our water and our watering place. Here is the bath and the table, the prayer and the words where we are made whole in the love of Christ. Ours is not a place of ruin and lost hope. It is a place of forgiveness, nourishment, and instruction. It is a place of salvation. The bells still ring out from the steeple of this church, even though it is a bit broken and in need of repair. But when the bells ring out from our steeples they are the voice of Christ - He is the bass, midrange and treble that sounds and reverberates in the lives of all whether we know it or not. His bass notes rumble through life moving all to the works of mercy, His midrange voice calls us to be with Him and enjoy his company, His treble notes teach us about a life here as well as above with one He calls Father and teaches us to do the same. They are still bells of invitation to come to Him, yes, but now we hear them as well as an invitation to go out with Him in the power of the Holy Spirit, to spread the Good News of that His Kingdom is at hand at that He, Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of the world. The “bells are the voice of the church” – the Mystical Body of Christ - “they have tones that touch and search, the hearts of young and old, one sound to all...” One sound to be brought to all.


"We Are Humbled" – For Catholic Schools, The Future Needs "New Partners"

Now a cherished tradition of this last week of January, as Catholic Schools Week is observed across the nation – and these days, even beyond – the place of the church's education apparatus at the core of the American Catholic legend (and far beyond the pews at that) bears grateful recalling... all the more given the degree to which this priceless, indeed heroic legacy finds itself under siege.

According to CARA stats, the period from 2010 to 2014 saw the biggest crunch to date in the US' presence of Catholic elementary schools – amid almost 500 closings, a nearly 8 percent drop to just shy of 5,400 nationwide. On the bright side, while earlier cycles' gradual decline of secondary education appears to have stabilized in the range of 1,200 schools, like so much else on these shores, the figures mask what's increasingly become a tale of two Stateside churches: a slow, ongoing fade in the surpassed empires of the Northeast and Upper Midwest, while new high schools have begun to emerge at an impressive clip for the burgeoning Catholic presence in points South and West.

All told, between diocesan and order-run entities, today the nation's Catholic schools serve almost 2 million students – 800,000 more when colleges and universities are thrown in. Then there are the stats everybody loves to hear: nationwide, Catholic education sees 99 percent of its high schoolers graduate while saving taxpayers some $20 billion a year. Still, especially on the K-12 front, the challenges of the future only grow steeper on all sides, ranging from spikes in benefit premiums and maintaining aging buildings in often poor and violent cities to the lure of well-subsidized public education in the suburbs (an aspect ironically due to the assimilation Catholic schools largely made possible), all while the latest generation of the church's immigrant parents often find the option out of reach for their children due to its ever-increasing costs.

* * *
To date, no "silver bullet" has been found to successfully solve the crises.... Then again, the reality's always been there – but just like any other work in the church, so long as it keeps falling on deaf ears that the effort requires a more substantive investment from the faithful than their nostalgia, demands and decibel levels, nothing will change. So at least until that does, one aspect of the very charged scene now merits even closer watching.

Much as it infuriates some folks that the ninth archbishop of Chicago is a relatively out-of-the-box thinker, Blase Cupich's penchant for finding the unconventional yet workable goes a long way toward explaining how he landed Stateside Catholicism's Appointment of the Decade.

While the approach is key on any number of fronts, none looms larger than education – with 84,000 students in 244 schools, the Chicago archdiocesan system is by far the nation's largest private education apparatus. (For purposes of comparison, despite an even larger Catholic population, the New York church's schools have 15,000 fewer kids.) Accordingly, as these pages reported when the nod broke, it was no accident that the bishop-chair of the NCEA was being sent to the Windy City, with finding a way forward for the schools that could be imitated elsewhere quite possibly the most crucial facet of his mandate – and indeed, the one with the most far-reaching implications.

Already, Chicago's revered Big Shoulders Fund awards $12 million in grants and scholarships annually within the archdiocesan system, but even that level of stable infusion doesn't ensure long-term sustainability. To that end, before his retirement Cardinal Francis George had chartered To Teach Who Christ Is, a four-year capital campaign strictly for local Catholic education, whose staggering $350 million goal represents the largest fundraising project in memory undertaken by a US diocese.

While the campaign is slated to wrap in late 2016, another fresh curveball recently surfaced – after six years at the schools' helm, Dominican Sr Mary Paul McCaughey retired as Chicago's superintendent last month, keeping the plan she had made prior to the transition of archbishops. Amid the sky-high stakes in what's quickly become a majority-Hispanic archdiocese (a demographic all the more dominant among its young families), a national search for McCaughey's successor is already underway.

Fresh on the heels of his most extensive interview since taking the chair, all this served as the backdrop for Cupich's most significant address since his installation homily in November: a Tuesday morning talk on the future of Catholic education in Chicago at a Schools Week breakfast for 400 in the city's famous Drake Hotel.

With the city's and schools' leaders alike on hand and the now-customary phalanx of media packed in, below is the archbishop's fulltext and video of his outlook for the nation's largest Catholic system.

* * *

The Future of Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Chicago

It is very energizing for me to look around the room this morning and see so many willing partners already invested in our Catholic Schools. All of you have my deep admiration and gratitude, not only for attending this breakfast, but also for the obvious commitment you have to our families, students, faculty, staff, administrations and parishes, which make up the communities within our school system. These first few weeks of my service as the Archbishop of Chicago have convinced me that there is no challenge or issue facing us for which we do not have the needed human and other resources. Your being here today steels me in that conviction.

The organizers of this event have asked me to address the topic The Future of Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Chicago; however, before I get into the future, I think it is good to say a few words about the past. My aim in doing so is to highlight how far we have come and to draw attention to the need to redouble our efforts if we are going to be true to a proud heritage. I will end my remarks by speaking about the opportunities and the urgency of this moment for all adults to partner together for our children. As Catholics, this is a moment for us to adapt to new developments and challenges with a humility that is equal to our pride in order for our Catholic schools to build on the legacy handed on to us, a legacy that has benefitted our faith and civic communities.

A Proud Past

We are here today because of what happened 130 years ago this past fall. The Bishops of the United States, 75 in all, met for the Third Council of Baltimore from November 9 to December 7, 1884, and among other things decreed the following with regard to Catholic schools:

  • Parochial schools are an absolute necessity and every parish is obliged to have a school.
  • Pastors are obligated to establish a Catholic school in their parishes.
  • Parents are required to send their children to a Catholic school unless they get permission from the bishop.
  • Schools should be free if need be.
The decrees about schools from the Council of Baltimore were fairly well followed as the rule, not just the norm, until about the early 1970s - at least that was my experience growing up in Omaha, Nebraska. When parishes were established no permission to build a church was given by the archbishop until the school was up and running. I am sure many of you had the experience of attending Mass celebrated in school halls or gyms in newly established parishes until the Church could be built.

Of course much has changed over these 130 years; consider these comparisons: In 1884, the Catholic population numbered about 3 million; today, it’s 70 million. There were 127 parishes in 1884; today, 17,000. One hundred and thirty years ago there were 59 schools with 22,000 students; today 1300 high schools with 612,000 students and 5500 elementary schools with 1.4 million students.

The Present Moment

Yes, we are here because of that legacy of commitment made 130 years ago and renewed in every generation since then. But we are also here today because we, our Church and society, have benefited from that legacy and want to see it continue and prosper. Undoubtedly, the world and the Church are much different than in the days of the Baltimore Council and some of these decrees seem out of touch with reality. Let’s start with the most obvious one. Parents are required to send their children to Catholic schools unless they get my permission. I don’t seem to be getting any traction on that one; I guess they didn’t get the memo!

While some aspects of these decisions by the bishops 130 years ago seem outdated, we should focus on what is at the heart of their commitment to Catholic schools. It was a three-fold conviction: first, that education is mediated by communities in which the adults sacrifice and make demands of each other for the benefit of children; second, that adults are linked to a tradition of passing on faith and knowledge that works; and third, that there must be an intentional aim of giving youth the tools to be the next generation of adults who will continue that legacy for the good of the Church and society.

In short, we have an educational system not only that works but is designed to perpetuate itself for the benefit of our faith communities and the civic order. Just one set of figures brings home our claim that our system works and contributes to the greater good: 95% of the children who attend our schools graduate from high school and these graduates statistically are four times more likely to vote in elections. That might be a wake-up call for some here today.

My point is simple. Our system of education works; it benefits society and deserves support so that it can continue. We are proud that the Archdiocese of Chicago school system has the largest number of National Blue Ribbon schools of any system of schools, public or private, in the country. We are equally proud that each year the Archdiocesan family, through the Annual Catholic Appeal and our parish contributions, provides over $30 million dollars of financial support to our schools, and that is beyond the good work other organizations like the Big Shoulders Fund, religious communities, other foundations and partners are providing. Financial aid is needed because of the large number of financially needy students we educate. We value that diversity; it makes us better.

Tuition assistance has allowed young people in need to attend our schools. It has given them a chance to achieve so much in the world, such as four of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices who attended Catholic schools, three of whom received some form of tuition assistance.

Proud but Humble

While there is justifiable pride in how far we have come, there must be an equal humility as we move into the future.

We are humbled that we have come so far because of the great sacrifice that religious women have made since the early days of the Church in this country. They built our school system and we should never forget that;

We are humbled that this legacy of sacrifice continues today in people like Katie Olsen and her colleagues. Presently we are able to operate at lower costs, sometimes at half the rate of other school systems, because our teachers and staff take a fraction of the salary allotted in other school systems. They are continuing the sacrifice begun by the religious sisters and we should not forget that either; 

We are humbled by the increasing attraction our school system has for minorities and low income families, who have the aspirations of all parents, to better the lives of their children;

We are humbled by the challenges of shifting demographics that place pressures on our parishes and schools, calling for creative and imaginative solutions that go beyond past parish boundaries;

We are humbled that much of our infrastructure built decades ago has to be a factor in making decisions about the future; and

We are humbled that today people relate to their parishes differently than in the past, due in part to greater mobility in the work force and the loss of ethnic loyalties that once bound communities together. This new kind of relationship, at times, can cause tensions as pastoral leaders try to understand how their schools fit into the mission of the parish.

Yes, there are challenges that humble us, but they are nowhere near the ones that faced the Church 130 years ago. We have the human and other resources to address them, but we need to do this together and, in all humility, invite new partners.

Making our system of education stronger, and particularly more available to families in need of financial aid, is at the heart of the To Teach Who Christ Is Campaign. Its aim is to bolster and sustain the tuition assistance we provide to tens of thousands of children who attend our 240 schools, served by over 7,000 tax paying teachers.

Despite these private efforts, we still need other partners, simply because our school system each year attracts more and more families who are in need, many minority families, many of whom are not Catholic. We educate them not because they are or ever will be Catholic; we educate them because we are Catholic and we have a proven product, are good at it and they know it.

Yet, there is a limit to how much we can do. While it is true that nationwide Catholic schools save taxpayers over $20 billion each year, it is also true that the likelihood of continuing this legacy is in doubt without some adjustment that will give families a choice through government cooperation. There are promising signs that many citizens in this country and in our state recognize in greater numbers the benefit of giving school choice to families. They see that we can educate children in quality programs for less, that we have a good product, and that our students grow up to be good citizens. But the contrary is also true. If the state were to lose more Catholic schools, it will increase the burden on taxpayers. I am aware that many good people associated with Ed Choice, which I fully support, are working with many of our elected officials on legislation that will provide tax incentives for individuals and corporations to increase donations to scholarship providers for parochial schools, and also provide significant additional dollars to public and charter schools.

I want to be clear. This is not about pitting private/parochial schools versus public and charter schools; the effort aims to support all three sectors so that all families have access to a high quality school, no matter what sector they choose. Recently, a reporter asked me if I felt as though the Catholic schools were not getting enough credit for the way they help public school budgets, taking the costs of so many students off the tax rolls. My answer was simply: “I don’t think in those terms. As far as I am concerned, no matter what school they are in, they are all our children.”

That is my invitation to all the citizens of this state and especially our elected officials. Let’s remember that they are all our children. We bring to the table our tradition of challenging each other as adults to sacrifice and make demands of each other for the benefit of our children. We bring to the table our tradition of passing on faith and knowledge that works for the benefit of our children and society. We bring to the table our tradition of intentionally aiming to give youth the tools to be the next generation of adults who will continue that legacy for the good of the Church and society. We ask others to join us in that tradition and vision by supporting the To Teach Who Christ Is Campaign and by partnering in the efforts to give all parents and families a choice when it comes to the education of their children.

We are proud of the past, but we are equally humble about the future. In humility, we recognize that we have many reasons to be thankful for the sacrifices of so many in the past. We also understand that new partnerships are necessary to continue the legacy handed on to us. I welcome the challenge of making the case for new partnerships and the opportunity to invite you to join me in building on all that we have received. Your presence today makes me proud but keeps me humble in knowing none of us can do this alone. Thank you for your support.