Friday, April 17, 2015

"You Are My Legacy"

Over 17 years as cardinal-archbishop of Chicago and the American hierarchy's "thinker-in-chief," there's precious little in the life of the nation's largest religious body that Francis George didn't somehow touch, much of its impact long to remain.

Yet even as every facet of that massive contribution will be pieced up and pored over everywhere you look over the week to come, as the shock of his death today still sets in, it just feels the best thing is to yield the stage to the man himself for one last time.

Three days before becoming the first Windy City titan to seat his successor in the chair of Quigley and Mundelein, his beloved Stritch and Bernardin, the Eighth Archbishop delivered this parting word from the cathedra in Holy Name, remaining in it to preach due to weakness:

SVILUPPO – 9.30pm ET: In late word from Quigley, the Funeral Mass has been set for Thursday, 23 April – St George's Day – at Noon in Holy Name, following two days of lying in-state in the cathedral beginning at 1pm Tuesday.

Defying over a century of Chicagoland tradition, George elected to not be interred with his predecessors in the grand episcopal mausoleum at Mt Carmel Cemetery in Hillside. Instead, per his wishes, the cardinal will be buried alongside his parents in a family plot at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines. While seating at the final liturgy is by ticket only, the cemetery rites are open to the public.

Keeping with Vatican custom on the death of a cardinal, the Pope's condolence telegram to Archbishop Blase Cupich will release at Roman Noon (5am Central) Saturday.


"A Man of Peace, Tenacity and Courage"

Here below from the courtyard of Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral, Archbishop Blase Cupich's formal announcement of today's passing of his predecessor, Francis Cardinal George:


The Maestro Departs – Cardinal George Dies at 78

The American hierarchy has lost the figure widely seen as its intellectual giant of the last generation.

Francis Eugene George – the first Chicago native to become the Windy City's cardinal-archbishop, then the first to retire from the post late last year – died shortly before noon local time amid his third bout with bladder cancer. An Oblate of Mary Immaculate with twin doctorates in social psychology and theology whose rise from the academy to his order's Roman leadership then through the Stateside ranks arguably made for the most unlikely path ever to result in a US cardinal, George was 78.

After less than a year as archbishop of Portland, the native son was a surprise choice in April 1997 to succeed the iconic Cardinal Joseph Bernardin at the helm of the nation's third-largest diocese, going on to receive the red hat nine months later. As president of the USCCB from 2007-10 – the first cardinal in three decades to hold the post – George's conciliatory abilities and esteem across the bench's polarized divide were able to forge an almost miraculous consensus that carried the body through a host of turbulent moments, most notably the cataclysmic tension felt by many prelates in the wake of Barack Obama's election to the presidency in 2008.

Afflicted with childhood polio – the pronounced limp from which remained throughout his life – George's 17 years in his hometown chair (his ministry's lone assignment in Chicago) were dogged by no shortage of controversies and challenges. Amid an epic shift of the 2.3 million member fold's demographics to the cusp of a Hispanic majority, the prelate who introduced himself at his installation as "Francis, your neighbor" often found himself at loggerheads with the famously independent presbyterate, all while the national eruption of the clergy sex-abuse scandals saw the vaunted Corporation Sole mired in years of lawsuits and settlements. While George's genius and serenity through years of health scares earned him the hard-won respect of the local crowd, the cardinal's constant emphasis on saying "what I think" as opposed to "how I feel" made for a spirited, usually contentious relationship with much of the press corps.

Yet "in the end," as George himself said at the 2013 funeral of his unlikely friend and opera companion – the celebrated novelist and Sun-Times columnist Fr Andrew Greeley – "everyone was forgiven": as they entered Holy Name on the eve of his successor's installation last November, the most prolonged, raucous ovation wasn't at the sight of the incoming archbishop gliding up the aisle, but that of the first-ever emeritus struggling up a ramp to the sanctuary, guided by his ever-faithful longtime secretary, Fr Dan Flens.

The author of a landmark 2001 pastoral letter on racism – a text which drew viscerally from his experiences in the Jim Crow South – having articulated a dire vision of the church's future in American society in later years while seeking to surmount Stateside Catholicism's damaging ideological turf-war, the cardinal was reportedly hard at work on a final book over recent months and said to be "driven" to complete it in the time left to him.

A favorite of St John Paul II – whose Lenten retreat George preached in 2001 – the cardinal's Roman standing rose even further in the reign of Benedict XVI, a fellow theologian (and German speaker) under whom the Chicagoan became the preeminent US-based voice in the Vatican's mind.

Five months after handing over the reins of the Chicago post in unprecedented fashion to Blase Cupich, the Ninth Archbishop is slated to make a formal announcement of his predecessor's death at 2pm Central in the courtyard of Holy Name. (Video posted.)

While the funeral timetable remains to be determined, the archbishopric of Chicago is unique among the US' major posts in that its occupants are entombed not in a Cathedral crypt, but at a towering mausoleum (below) some 20 miles outside the city at Mt Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, after a lengthy cortege from the Near North Side traditionally brings the nation's third-largest city to a halt.

With George's passing, the number of Stateside electors in a hypothetical Conclave falls to ten. This Sunday, the bloc will again diminish to nine as Philadelphia's Cardinal Justin Rigali marks his 80th birthday, while in the first half of 2016, the respective age-outs of LA's retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and the former CDF chief Cardinal William Levada will make for a combined loss of four American seats in just over a year, leaving a contingent numbering seven.

Given Pope Francis' drastic makeover of the geographic distribution of the 120 electors in the College of Cardinals, it is expected that at least half of the lost voting slots will not be restored to these shores, ending a seven-decade custom of US cardinals comprising roughly ten percent of the papal electorate, a practice whose roots date to the end of World War II and was successively maintained by the grateful European Popes who've followed until now.

SVILUPPO: After two days of lying in-state, the Funeral Mass has been scheduled for Thursday, 23 April, at Noon. Per his wishes – which only emerged on the release of the arrangements – George will not be laid to rest alongside his predecessors, but with his parents in a simple suburban ground-plot.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

In San Diego, “Accompany” Man Begins – For Opening Preach, McElroy Runs Pope’s Playbook

Between the vaunted pedigree of Harvard, Stanford and the Gregorian – not to mention the lauds of admirers who've termed him the "American Martini" – over the weeks since his January appointment, the expectations on Bob McElroy going into his installation as San Diego's sixth bishop have reached levels approaching Beatlemania.

Even so, when the 61 year-old's moment came this afternoon (above), the inaugural result was impressive, all the more considering the trajectory – an auxiliary of a 450,000-member archdiocese taking the reins of a local church of a million, in the spotlight of the nation's seventh-largest city and an American Catholic chattering class which often shows a weakness at discerning the difference between the Gospel and its secular politics.

Pope Francis' third selection for a Stateside diocese of seven-figure size, it's no secret that the San Diego pick is one of the pontiff's most outspoken admirers and advocates among the Stateside bench – an attribute which arguably played a part in the surprise push which landed McElroy in the post. Accordingly, having handled his Appointment Day presser as one big, conspicuous echo of Bergoglio's ecclesial "paradigm," the installation preach took it up a further notch as the new arrival rooted himself in Francis' pastoral mandate of "accompaniment," going on to lay out "three central challenges... placed before us at this moment."

Though his challenge was explicitly directed at California's southernmost fold, it doesn't take much effort to see it extending to the wider church. Ergo, beginning with the recent tale of the two climbers who successfully scaled the "impossible" Dawn Wall of El Capitan, below is fullvid of McElroy's potent 18-minute preach:

All that said, it is curious that – for a border outpost whose Hispanic population is said to stand in the 40 percent range – the new Padre opted to deliver the homily entirely in English.

While today's rites marked the second handover of a million-member US flock in less than six months, a third could take place as soon as later this year: amid the lightest domestic appointment docket in memory (three on-deck retirements, all of one vacancy), Bishop William Murphy marks his 75th birthday on 14 May, at which point the clock starts ticking for Long Island's diocese of Rockville Centre and its 1.5 million Catholics.

Yet even the all-suburban mega-fold won't be the premier US seat to come open in 2015 – that comes in mid-November, when Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington reaches the resignation age.

SVILUPPO: In pre-Mass comments reported by the local Union-Tribune, McElroy pushed back on a move currently afoot in the California legislature to remove the statue of soon-to-be Saint Junipero Serra from the US Capitol's Statuary Hall, calling the Franciscan missionary a "foundational figure" of the Golden State.

With each state entitled to two likenesses of famous residents in the Capitol, the Sacramento effort has sought to replace Serra's niche with that of Sally Ride, the San Diego-based astronaut who was the first woman to enter outer space.

Amid controversy over the treatment of Native Americans in the missionary era, Serra's canonization without a second miracle will take place in Washington during this September's PopeTrip on Francis' own initiative. The 18th century friar will become the second saint enshrined in the building, joining St Damien deVeuster – Hawaii's beloved "leper priest" – who was canonized in 2009, fifty years after the 50th state sent his statue to Washington.

While Father Damien's feast is marked nationally on May 10th, today marks the 126th anniversary of the Belgian-born missionary's death from what's now termed Hansen's disease.


Saturday, April 11, 2015





Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him. The Father, “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4), after having revealed his name to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6), has never ceased to show, in various ways throughout history, his divine nature. In the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), when everything had been arranged according to his plan of salvation, he sent his only Son into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, to reveal his love for us in a definitive way. Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God.

We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.

At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives. For this reason I have proclaimed an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy as a special time for the Church; a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective.

The Holy Year will open on 8 December 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. This liturgical feast day recalls God’s action from the very beginning of the history of mankind. After the sin of Adam and Eve, God did not wish to leave humanity alone in the throes of evil. So he turned his gaze to Mary, holy and immaculate in love (cf. Eph 1:4), choosing her to be the Mother of man’s Redeemer. When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive. I will have the joy of opening the Holy Door on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. On that day, the Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instils hope.

On the following Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, the Holy Door of the Cathedral of Rome – that is, the Basilica of Saint John Lateran – will be opened. In the following weeks, the Holy Doors of the other Papal Basilicas will be opened. On the same Sunday, I will announce that in every local Church, at the cathedral – the mother church of the faithful in any particular area – or, alternatively, at the co-cathedral or another church of special significance, a Door of Mercy will be opened for the duration of the Holy Year. At the discretion of the local ordinary, a similar door may be opened at any Shrine frequented by large groups of pilgrims, since visits to these holy sites are so often grace-filled moments, as people discover a path to conversion. Every Particular Church, therefore, will be directly involved in living out this Holy Year as an extraordinary moment of grace and spiritual renewal. Thus the Jubilee will be celebrated both in Rome and in the Particular Churches as a visible sign of the Church’s universal communion.

I have chosen the date of 8 December because of its rich meaning in the recent history of the Church. In fact, I will open the Holy Door on the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. The Church feels a great need to keep this event alive. With the Council, the Church entered a new phase of her history. The Council Fathers strongly perceived, as a true breath of the Holy Spirit, a need to talk about God to men and women of their time in a more accessible way. The walls which too long had made the Church a kind of fortress were torn down and the time had come to proclaim the Gospel in a new way. It was a new phase of the same evangelization that had existed from the beginning. It was a fresh undertaking for all Christians to bear witness to their faith with greater enthusiasm and conviction. The Church sensed a responsibility to be a living sign of the Father’s love in the world.

We recall the poignant words of Saint John XXIII when, opening the Council, he indicated the path to follow: “Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity … The Catholic Church, as she holds high the torch of Catholic truth at this Ecumenical Council, wants to show herself a loving mother to all; patient, kind, moved by compassion and goodness toward her separated children.” Blessed Paul VI spoke in a similar vein at the closing of the Council: “We prefer to point out how charity has been the principal religious feature of this Council … the old story of the Good Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the Council … a wave of affection and admiration flowed from the Council over the modern world of humanity. Errors were condemned, indeed, because charity demanded this no less than did truth, but for individuals themselves there was only admonition, respect and love. Instead of depressing diagnoses, encouraging remedies; instead of direful predictions, messages of trust issued from the Council to the present-day world. The modern world’s values were not only respected but honoured, its efforts approved, its aspirations purified and blessed … Another point we must stress is this: all this rich teaching is channeled in one direction, the service of mankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need.”

With these sentiments of gratitude for everything the Church has received, and with a sense of responsibility for the task that lies ahead, we shall cross the threshold of the Holy Door fully confident that the strength of the Risen Lord, who constantly supports us on our pilgrim way, will sustain us. May the Holy Spirit, who guides the steps of believers in cooperating with the work of salvation wrought by Christ, lead the way and support the People of God so that they may contemplate the face of mercy....


Wednesday, April 08, 2015

First, "The Window"... Now, The Door

When you've been on this beat long enough, time only seems to fly ever more quickly.

Along these lines, hard as it is to believe, ten years ago today this 1.2 billion-member fold were sheep without a shepherd – a moment all the more powerful for the many of us who, after a 27 year reign, were experiencing it for the first time.

For a fleeting few hours, the world stopped that Friday morning (fullvid). At least 4 million thronged the streets, led by the largest gathering of heads of state and government anyone could recall in one place, all to say farewell to a figure who changed the course of history by accepting a simple call: "Follow me."

Fittingly – and many would say, providentially – the 264th Bishop of Rome returned to "the Father's House" on the eve of the Second Sunday of Easter, which he designated as the church's preeminent moment of focus on Divine Mercy.... And now, powerfully, the thread returns – this time around, the same liturgical moment (this Saturday evening) brings the formal declaration of the first Holy Year since 2000: an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy that will (repeat: will) have programmatic consequences in the life of the church, and which might just end up being the culminating initiative of the entire Rule of Francis.

Given the intense backdrop, we'd be remiss to not go back to the start, especially for those who've forgotten....

In other words, just watch:


Saturday, April 04, 2015

On Easter Night, "Entering The Tomb... Entering The Mystery"

4 APRIL 2015

Tonight is a night of vigil. The Lord is not sleeping; the Watchman is watching over his people (cf. Ps 121:4), to bring them out of slavery and to open before them the way to freedom.

The Lord is keeping watch and, by the power of his love, he is bringing his people through the Red Sea. He is also bringing Jesus through the abyss of death and the netherworld.

This was a night of vigil for the disciples of Jesus, a night of sadness and fear. The men remained locked in the Upper Room. Yet, the women went to the tomb at dawn on Sunday to anoint Jesus’ body. Their hearts were overwhelmed and they were asking themselves: “How will we enter? Who will roll back the stone of the tomb?...” But here was the first sign of the great event: the large stone was already rolled back and the tomb was open!

“Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe...” (Mk 16:5). The women were the first to see this great sign, the empty tomb; and they were the first to enter...

“Entering the tomb”.
It is good for us, on this Vigil night, to reflect on the experience of the women, which also speaks to us. For that is why we are here: to enter, to enter into the Mystery which God has accomplished with his vigil of love.

We cannot live Easter without entering into the mystery. It is not something intellectual, something we only know or read about... It is more, much more!

“To enter into the mystery” means the ability to wonder, to contemplate; the ability to listen to the silence and to hear the tiny whisper amid great silence by which God speaks to us (cf 1 Kings 19:12).

To enter into the mystery demands that we not be afraid of reality: that we not be locked into ourselves, that we not flee from what we fail to understand, that we not close our eyes to problems or deny them, that we not dismiss our questions....

To enter into the mystery means going beyond our own comfort zone, beyond the laziness and indifference which hold us back, and going out in search of truth, beauty and love. It is seeking a deeper meaning, an answer, and not an easy one, to the questions which challenge our faith, our fidelity and our very existence.

To enter into the mystery, we need humility, the lowliness to abase ourselves, to come down from the pedestal of our “I” which is so proud, of our presumption; the humility not to take ourselves so seriously, recognizing who we really are: creatures with strengths and weaknesses, sinners in need of forgiveness. To enter into the mystery we need the lowliness that is powerlessness, the renunciation of our idols... in a word, we need to adore. Without adoration, we cannot enter into the mystery.

The women who were Jesus’ disciples teach us all of this. They kept watch that night, together with Mary. And she, the Virgin Mother, helped them not to lose faith and hope. As a result, they did not remain prisoners of fear and sadness, but at the first light of dawn they went out carrying their ointments, their hearts anointed with love. They went forth and found the tomb open. And they went in. They had kept watch, they went forth and they entered into the Mystery. May we learn from them to keep watch with God and with Mary our Mother, so that we too may enter into the Mystery which leads from death to life.


Thursday, April 02, 2015

This Triduum, "Let Us Enter Into the Mystery"

As the most sacred moment in the life of Christians begins tonight, below is the Vatican's English translation of the Pope's primer for these days given at yesterday's General Audience....

To one and all, may this Triduum be a brilliant experience of grace, richness, comfort, strength and newness of life.

* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters, buongiorno!

Tomorrow is Holy Thursday. In the afternoon, with the Mass of the Lord's Supper, we will begin the Easter Triduum of Christ's passion, death and resurrection, which is the culmination of the whole liturgical year and the pinnacle of our Christian life as well.

The Triduum begins with the commemoration of the Last Supper. Jesus, on the eve of his passion, offered his body and blood to the Father under the species of bread and wine and, which he gave to the Apostles as nourishment with the command that they perpetuate the offering in his memory. The Gospel of this celebration, recalling the washing of the feet, expresses the same meaning of the Eucharist under another perspective. Jesus – like a servant – washes the feet of Simon Peter and the other eleven disciples (cf. Jn 13:4-5). By this prophetic gesture, He expresses the meaning of his life and of his passion as service to God and to his brothers: “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve” (Mk 10:45).

This also occurred in our Baptism, when the grace of God washed us of sin and clothed us in Christ's nature (cf. Col 3:10). This takes place every time that we celebrate the memory of the Lord in the Eucharist: we enter into communion with Christ Servant by obeying his command – to love one another as He has loved us (cf. Jn 13:34; 15:12). If we approach Holy Communion without being sincerely ready to wash the feet of one another, we don't recognize the Body of the Lord. It is the service, Jesus gives himself entirely.

Then, the day after tomorrow, in the liturgy of Good Friday we shall meditate on the mystery of Christ's death and adore the Cross. In the final moments of his life, before giving up his spirit to the Father, Jesus said: “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). What do these words mean, when Jesus says: “It is finished”? It means that the work of salvation is finished, that all of the Scriptures have found their total fulfillment in the love of Christ, the immolated Lamb. Jesus, by his Sacrifice, has transformed the greatest iniquity into the greatest love.

Over the course of the centuries there have been men and women who by the witness of their lives reflected a ray of this perfect love, full and undefiled. I would like to recall a heroic witness of our times, Don Andrea Santoro, a priest of the Diocese of Rome and a missionary in Turkey. A few days before being assassinated in Trebisonda, he wrote: “I live among these people so that Jesus can live among them through me... only by offering one's flesh is salvation possible. The evil that stalks the world must be borne and pain must be shared till the end in one's own flesh as Jesus did.” May the example of a man of our times, and so many others, sustain us in the offering of our own life as a gift of love to our brothers and sisters, in the imitation of Jesus.

And today too there are many men and women, true martyrs who offer up their lives with Jesus in order to confess the faith, for this motive alone. It is a service, the service of Christian witness even to the pouring out of blood, a service that Christ rendered for us: he redeemed us to the very end. And this is the meaning of those words “It is finished”. How beautiful it will be when we all, at the end of our lives, with our errors and our faults, as well as our good deeds and our love of neighbour, can say to the Father as Jesus did: “It is finished”; not with kind of perfection with which He said it, but to say: “Lord, I did everything that I could do. It is finished”. Adoring the Cross, looking to Jesus, let us think of love, of service, of our lives, of the Christian martyrs, and it will do us good too to think of the end of our lives. Not one of us knows when that will be, but we can ask for the grace to be able to say: “Father, I did what I could do. It is finished”.

Holy Saturday is the day on which the Church contemplates the “repose” of Christ in the sepulchre after the victorious battle of the Cross. On Holy Saturday the Church, yet again, identifies with Mary: all her faith is gathered in Her, the first and perfect disciple, the first and perfect believer. In the darkness that enveloped creation, She alone stayed to keep the flame of faith burning, hoping against all hope (cf. Rm 4:18) in the Resurrection of Jesus.

And on the great Easter Vigil, in which the Alleluia resounds once more, we celebrate Christ Risen, the centre and the purpose of the cosmos and of history; we keep vigil filled with hope in expectation of his coming return, when Easter will be fully manifest. At times the dark of night seems to penetrate the soul; at times we think: “there is nothing more to be done”, and the heart no longer finds the strength to love.... But it is precisely in the darkness that Christ lights the fire of God's love: a flash breaks through the darkness and announces a new start, something begins in the deepest darkness. We know that the night is “most night like” just before the dawn. In that very darkness Christ conquers and rekindles the fire of love. The stone of sorrow is rolled away leaving room for hope. Behold the great mystery of Easter! On this holy night the Church gives us the light of the Risen One, that in us there will not be the regret of the one who says: “if only...”, but the hope of the one who opens himself to a present filled with future: Christ has conquered death, and we are with Him. Our life does not end at the stone of the sepulchre, our life goes beyond with hope in Christ who is Risen from that very tomb. As Christians we are called to be sentinels of the dawn, who can discern the signs of the Risen One, as did the women and the disciples who ran to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week.

Dear brothers and sisters, during these days of the Holy Triduum let us not limit ourselves to commemorating the passion of the Lord, but let us enter into the mystery, making his feelings and thoughts our own, as the Apostle Paul invites us to do: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5). Then ours will be a “Happy Easter”.


"Are We Ready To Serve Like This?" – Live from Prison, The Lord's Supper

Keeping the custom he began as archbishop of Buenos Aires, below is the livefeed on-demand video of the Pope's Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, held this year with the prisoners of Rome's Rebibia detention center in the facility's "Our Father" Chapel....

On an important content note, as Francis tends to preach off the cuff at this liturgy, a homily text won't be immediately available upon delivery. (SVILUPPO 1: A full English translation of the ad-libbed homily is available via Zenit.)

SVILUPPO: The signal act of the Holy Thursday liturgy – and, in Francis' reign, a flashpoint of controversy among traditionalists given the Pope's choice to include women in the rite – below is video of the washing of the feet, which saw weeping on the part of several of the prisoners picked to take part, a group which poignantly included a detained African migrant boy in the arms of his sobbing mother....

In a tweet this morning, the Pope looked forward to the moment and called the church to follow suit:


To Priests, On "Our Weariness... Our Pastoral Tiredness"

2 APRIL 2015
“My hand shall ever abide with him, my arms also shall strengthen him” (Ps 89:21).

This is what the Lord means when he says: “I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him” (v. 20). It is also what our Father thinks whenever he “encounters” a priest. And he goes on to say: “My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him… He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God and the rock of my salvation”’ (vv. 24, 26).

It is good to enter with the Psalmist into this monologue of our God. He is talking about us, his priests, his pastors. But it is not really a monologue, since he is not the only one speaking. The Father says to Jesus: “Your friends, those who love you, can say to me in a particular way: ‘You are my Father’” (cf. Jn 14:21). If the Lord is so concerned about helping us, it is because he knows that the task of anointing his faithful people is not easy, it is demanding; it can tire us. We experience this in so many ways: from the ordinary fatigue brought on by our daily apostolate to the weariness of sickness, death and even martyrdom.

The tiredness of priests! Do you know how often I think about this weariness which all of you experience? I think about it and I pray about it, often, especially when I am tired myself. I pray for you as you labour amid the people of God entrusted to your care, many of you in lonely and dangerous places. Our weariness, dear priests, is like incense which silently rises up to heaven (cf. Ps 141:2; Rev 8:3-4). Our weariness goes straight to the heart of the Father.

Know that the Blessed Virgin Mary is well aware of this tiredness and she brings it straight to the Lord. As our Mother, she knows when her children are weary, and this is her greatest concern. “Welcome! Rest, my child. We will speak afterwards…”. “Whenever we draw near to her, she says to us: “Am I not here with you, I who am your Mother?” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 286). And to her Son she will say, as she did at Cana, “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3).

It can also happen that, whenever we feel weighed down by pastoral work, we can be tempted to rest however we please, as if rest were not itself a gift of God. We must not fall into this temptation. Our weariness is precious in the eyes of Jesus who embraces us and lifts us up. “Come to me, all who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). Whenever a priest feels dead tired, yet is able to bow down in adoration and say: “Enough for today Lord”, and entrust himself to the Father, he knows that he will not fall but be renewed. The one who anoints God’s faithful people with oil is also himself anointed by the Lord: “He gives you a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit” (cf. Is 61:3).

Let us never forget that a key to fruitful priestly ministry lies in how we rest and in how we look at the way the Lord deals with our weariness. How difficult it is to learn how to rest! This says much about our trust and our ability to realize that that we too are sheep: we need the help of the Shepherd. A few questions can help us in this regard.

Do I know how to rest by accepting the love, gratitude and affection which I receive from God’s faithful people? Or, once my pastoral work is done, do I seek more refined relaxations, not those of the poor but those provided by a consumerist society? Is the Holy Spirit truly “rest in times of weariness” for me, or is he just someone who keeps me busy? Do I know how to seek help from a wise priest? Do I know how to take a break from myself, from the demands I make on myself, from my self-seeking and from my self-absorption? Do I know how to spend time with Jesus, with the Father, with the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, with my patron saints, and to find rest in their demands, which are easy and light, and in their pleasures, for they delight to be in my company, and in their concerns and standards, which have only to do with the greater glory of God? Do I know how to rest from my enemies under the Lord’s protection? Am I preoccupied with how I should speak and act, or do I entrust myself to the Holy Spirit, who will teach me what I need to say in every situation? Do I worry needlessly, or, like Paul, do I find repose by saying: “I know him in whom I have placed my trust” (2 Tim 1:12)?

Let us return for a moment to what today’s liturgy describes as the work of the priest: to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to prisoners and healing to the blind, to offer liberation to the downtrodden and to announce the year of the Lord’s favour. Isaiah also mentions consoling the broken-hearted and comforting the afflicted.

These are not easy or purely mechanical jobs, like running an office, building a parish hall or laying out a soccer field for the young of the parish… The tasks of which Jesus speaks call for the ability to show compassion; our hearts are to be “moved” and fully engaged in carrying them out. We are to rejoice with couples who marry; we are to laugh with the children brought to the baptismal font; we are to accompany young fiancés and families; we are to suffer with those who receive the anointing of the sick in their hospital beds; we are to mourn with those burying a loved one… All these emotions…if we do not have an open heart, can exhaust the heart of a shepherd. For us priests, what happens in the lives of our people is not like a news bulletin: we know our people, we sense what is going on in their hearts. Our own heart, sharing in their suffering, feels “com-passion”, is exhausted, broken into a thousand pieces, moved and even “consumed” by the people. Take this, eat this… These are the words the priest of Jesus whispers repeatedly while caring for his faithful people: Take this, eat this; take this, drink this… In this way our priestly life is given over in service, in closeness to the People of God… and this always leaves us weary.

I wish to share with you some forms of weariness on which I have meditated.

There is what we can call “the weariness of people, the weariness of the crowd”. For the Lord, and for us, this can be exhausting – so the Gospel tells us – yet it is a good weariness, a fruitful and joyful exhaustion. The people who followed Jesus, the families which brought their children to him to be blessed, those who had been cured, those who came with their friends, the young people who were so excited about the Master… they did not even leave him time to eat. But the Lord never tired of being with people. On the contrary, he seemed renewed by their presence (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 11). This weariness in the midst of activity is a grace on which all priests can draw (cf. ibid., 279). And how beautiful it is! People love their priests, they want and need their shepherds! The faithful never leave us without something to do, unless we hide in our offices or go out in our cars wearing sun glasses. There is a good and healthy tiredness. It is the exhaustion of the priest who wears the smell of the sheep… but also smiles the smile of a father rejoicing in his children or grandchildren. It has nothing to do with those who wear expensive cologne and who look at others from afar and from above (cf. ibid., 97). We are the friends of the Bridegroom: this is our joy. If Jesus is shepherding the flock in our midst, we cannot be shepherds who are glum, plaintive or, even worse, bored. The smell of the sheep and the smile of a father…. Weary, yes, but with the joy of those who hear the Lord saying: “Come, O blessed of my Father” (Mt 25:34).

There is also the kind of weariness which we can call “the weariness of enemies”. The devil and his minions never sleep and, since their ears cannot bear to hear the word of God, they work tirelessly to silence that word and to distort it. Confronting them is more wearying. It involves not only doing good, with all the exertion this entails, but also defending the flock and oneself from evil (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 83). The evil one is far more astute than we are, and he is able to demolish in a moment what it took us years of patience to build up. Here we need to implore the grace to learn how to “offset” (and it is an important habit to acquire): to thwart evil without pulling up the good wheat, or presuming to protect like supermen what the Lord alone can protect. All this helps us not to let our guard down before the depths of iniquity, before the mockery of the wicked. In these situations of weariness, the Lord says to us: “Have courage! I have overcome the world!” (Jn 16:33). The word of God gives us strength.

And finally – I say finally lest you be too wearied by this homily itself! – there is also “weariness of ourselves” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 277). This may be the most dangerous weariness of all. That is because the other two kinds come from being exposed, from going out of ourselves to anoint and to do battle (for our job is to care for others). But this third kind of weariness is more “self-referential”: it is dissatisfaction with oneself, but not the dissatisfaction of someone who directly confronts himself and serenely acknowledges his sinfulness and his need for God’s mercy, his help; such people ask for help and then move forward. Here we are speaking of a weariness associated with “wanting yet not wanting”, having given up everything but continuing to yearn for the fleshpots of Egypt, toying with the illusion of being something different. I like to call this kind of weariness “flirting with spiritual worldliness”. When we are alone, we realize how many areas of our life are steeped in this worldliness, so much so that we may feel that it can never be completely washed away. This can be a dangerous kind of weariness. The Book of Revelation shows us the reason for this weariness: “You have borne up for my sake and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev 2:3-4). Only love gives true rest. What is not loved becomes tiresome, and in time, brings about a harmful weariness.

The most profound and mysterious image of how the Lord deals with our pastoral tiredness is that, “having loved his own, he loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1): the scene of his washing the feet of his disciples. I like to think of this as the cleansing of discipleship. The Lord purifies the path of discipleship itself. He “gets involved” with us (Evangelii Gaudium, 24), becomes personally responsible for removing every stain, all that grimy, worldly smog which clings to us from the journey we make in his name.

From our feet, we can tell how the rest of our body is doing. The way we follow the Lord reveals how our heart is faring. The wounds on our feet, our sprains and our weariness, are signs of how we have followed him, of the paths we have taken in seeking the lost sheep and in leading the flock to green pastures and still waters (cf. ibid., 270). The Lord washes us and cleanses us of all the dirt our feet have accumulated in following him. This is something holy. Do not let your feet remain dirty. Like battle wounds, the Lord kisses them and washes away the grime of our labours.

Our discipleship itself is cleansed by Jesus, so that we can rightly feel “joyful”, “fulfilled”, “free of fear and guilt”, and impelled to go out “even to the ends of the earth, to every periphery”. In this way we can bring the good news to the most abandoned, knowing that “he is with us always, even to the end of the world”. And please, let us ask for the grace to learn how to be weary, but weary in the best of ways!


Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Week Called Holy

In case you've been wondering, everything's fine on this end – this time around, Lent just called for a bit more breathing space than usual...

...and now, already, here we are: the days All of This Is All About.

To one and all, your loved ones and those you serve, may every grace and goodness of the journey ahead be yours... and as the language we use for it only can only go so far, let us truly make this Week holy.


In Holy Week, "God's Way Is Humility"

29 MARCH 2015

At the heart of this celebration, which seems so festive, are the words we heard in the hymn of the Letter to the Philippians: “He humbled himself” (2:8). Jesus’ humiliation.

These words show us God’s way and, consequently, that which must be the way of Christians: it is humility. A way which constantly amazes and disturbs us: we will never get used to a humble God!

Humility is above all God’s way: God humbles himself to walk with his people, to put up with their infidelity. This is clear when we read the the story of the Exodus. How humiliating for the Lord to hear all that grumbling, all those complaints against Moses, but ultimately against him, their Father, who brought them out of slavery and was leading them on the journey through the desert to the land of freedom.

This week, Holy Week, which leads us to Easter, we will take this path of Jesus’ own humiliation. Only in this way will this week be “holy” for us too!

We will feel the contempt of the leaders of his people and their attempts to trip him up. We will be there at the betrayal of Judas, one of the Twelve, who will sell him for thirty pieces of silver. We will see the Lord arrested and carried off like a criminal; abandoned by his disciples, dragged before the Sanhedrin, condemned to death, beaten and insulted. We will hear Peter, the “rock” among the disciples, deny him three times. We will hear the shouts of the crowd, egged on by their leaders, who demand that Barabas be freed and Jesus crucified. We will see him mocked by the soldiers, robed in purple and crowned with thorns. And then, as he makes his sorrowful way beneath the cross, we will hear the jeering of the people and their leaders, who scoff at his being King and Son of God.

This is God’s way, the way of humility. It is the way of Jesus; there is no other. And there can be no humility without humiliation.

Following this path to the full, the Son of God took on the “form of a slave” (cf. Phil 2:7). In the end, humility also means service. It means making room for God by stripping oneself, “emptying oneself”, as Scripture says (v. 7). This – the pouring out of oneself - is the greatest humiliation of all.

There is another way, however, opposed to the way of Christ. It is worldliness, the way of the world. The world proposes the way of vanity, pride, success… the other way. The Evil One proposed this way to Jesus too, during his forty days in the desert. But Jesus immediately rejected it. With him, and only by his grace, with his help, we too can overcome this temptation to vanity, to worldliness, not only at significant moments, but in daily life as well.

In this, we are helped and comforted by the example of so many men and women who, in silence and hiddenness, sacrifice themselves daily to serve others: a sick relative, an elderly person living alone, a disabled person, the homeless....

We think too of the humiliation endured by all those who, for their lives of fidelity to the Gospel, encounter discrimination and pay a personal price. We think too of our brothers and sisters who are persecuted because they are Christians, the martyrs of our own time – and there are many. They refuse to deny Jesus and they endure insult and injury with dignity. They follow him on his way. In truth, we can speak of a “cloud of witnesses” – the martyrs of our own time (cf. Heb 12:1).

During this week, let us set about with determination along this same path of humility, with immense love for him, our Lord and Saviour. Love will guide us and give us strength. For where he is, we too shall be (cf. Jn 12:26).

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[Ed. Note: Beyond the start of Holy Week, this Palm Sunday marks the 30th observance of World Youth Day in Rome and most of the global church. Having become the church's "Olympic event" since its inception, WYD is transferred to the summer only in the years when the roughly triennial global celebration is held on the road in the presence of the Pope; its next edition is slated for Krakow – the hometown of its founder, now-St John Paul II – in the last week of July 2016.

[Speaking of the Polish Pope, this Holy Thursday marks the tenth anniversary of Karol Wojtyla's death at 84.]