Posts Tagged ‘Pope Benedict XVI’

A “Used-to-be” Lent

Thursday, March 20th, 2014
This time of the year, these forty days of preparation for Holy Week and Easter, I often hear folks over fifty-five or so reminisce about how Lent“used-to-be.”“Remember the tuna casseroles and grilled cheese sandwiches?”

“I used to long for Sunday when I could have a piece of the candy I had given-up for Lent.”

“Did I ever love the Stations of the Cross on Friday.”

“Remember how tough it was not to eat between meals?”

“I can still recall dad reminding us to make a good confession before Easter.”

“Mom used to love her sodality meetings, and dad his night of cards and a couple beers at the Holy Name evenings at the parish, but those were all cancelled during Lent.”

“Remember the ‘rice bowl’ to help feed the starving sitting on the kitchen table where we’d put our pennies saved from buying treats.”

“And remember how we used to so enjoy Easter, after forty days of sacrifice and penance; it was like we were entering a new life and the sun of spring with Jesus risen.”

A lot of that these days, what I call “used-to-be Lent.”

Because, I wonder if we’ve lost it . . . has Lent become a thing of the past?

Now, don’t get me wrong!  I don’t want to go back to the “under-pain-of sin” mandatory fast and abstinence of pre-1967 Catholic life – – although I sure remember Pope Paul VI, as he lifted mandatory fast and abstinence (keeping it only on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent), expressing confidence that mature Catholics would now freely embrace penance and self-denial.

Nor do I suggest that there aren’t a good number of Catholics who still take Lent very seriously with their acts of sacrifice, more fervent prayer, and added deeds of service and charity.

Yet, I am still moved to wonder if, as a Church, we have lost the wonder of Lent, that these forty holy days have gone the way of holy days of obligation, fasting before communion, and no meat on Friday.

And all our kids hear about is how Lent “used-to-be.”

So, for instance, I’m at a great parish in the archdiocese and notice that they’re having a big dance on . . . the first Friday of Lent!

So, I’m at a huge banquet for over a thousand men, mostly Catholics, where the liquor flows and the steaks are medium-rare on . . . a Friday of Lent!

So, I’m at Mass in a parish where they sing the Gloria and have alleluias all over the place on . . . a Sunday of Lent!

I admire how our Jewish neighbors take their “high holy days” in the fall so seriously, especially the days of penance, fasting, and contrition . . .

Our Islamic neighbors fast all day and deepen their prayers for a month at Ramadan . . .

And here, my Catholic people write me for a “dispensation” on one of the six measly Fridays we’re asked to abstain from meat (big sacrifice these days!), if they even bother with the dispensation at all.

Am I being too gloomy here?  You know me well enough to realize I’m hardly puritanical or a crab.  All I’m asking is:  have we lost Lent?  Is it all now nostalgia, a museum piece, in the attics of our souls, as we tell our kids and grandkids how Lent “used-to-be”?

Lent didn’t just used to be . . . it’s needed now more than ever!

Let me ask you, is there anything different at all in your life, in the rhythm of your family and home, in your parish, this Lent?

Is it too late to get it back?

Update from Rome: Preaching the Truth with Love

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

This comes from Rome, where the sun is shining brightly, the sky is deep blue, the breeze is warm, the wine flows, and the pasta is al dente… and you are jealous!

It has been a full week.  Last Thursday and Friday, the entire College of Cardinals met with Pope Francis to discuss marriage and family.  The cardinals spoke as pastors, very aware of the threats to marriage and family, attacks from culture, the state and entertainment, for instance; but also of the beauty, nobility, and poetry of God’s grand gifts of husband, wife, father, mother, and children.  How can we propose to the world anew the grandeur of family, and defend marriage, without wringing hands and manning the barricades?  How better can we preach the truth with love?

The cardinals also pushed the image of the Church as family: God, our Father; Mary, our mother; Jesus, our older brother; the saints, our elders; our fellow Catholics, our siblings.  Like any family, we have our dysfunction, but we come to our supernatural family for rebirth in baptism, nourishment at the Eucharist, reconciliation in penance, maturity in confirmation, solidarity in prayer and charity.  We are born into this family of the Church, and we long to die in her embrace.

The consistory itself, welcoming the nineteen new cardinals and their people from all over the world, took place on Saturday and Sunday. Pope-emeritus Benedict ”stole the show,” with his humble, unexpected presence, quietly joining the rest of us in prayer.  It had been a year since we had seen him, and he brought joy to our hearts.

Yesterday and today I’ve been at meetings to plan the Synod of Bishops slated for October, 2014, and October, 2015, both on the topic of — you guessed it — marriage and family. It’s very clear that Pope Francis wants to use these synods — meetings in Rome among the Pope and elected delegates from bishops around the world, along with clergy, sisters, and laity present as experts and observers — as a regular and respected form of his governance and teaching.  He is big into listening, as was clear to us as he sat with ears open in the two days of consistory, and our meetings for synod preparation.

With all this going on, I have not had much time to savor the sun, sky, breeze, wine, or pasta!

So, tomorrow, I’ll be home again after this week in the Eternal City, happy to be with you, yet relishing a return here the Sunday after Easter for the canonizations of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II.

A February Consistory & Other Updates

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Just a few items to share with you.

For one, late tonight I leave for Rome, summoned there, along with my brother Cardinals from around the world, by Pope Francis.  Your intentions accompany me, and I already look forward to returning back here in a week.

What brings us over is the consistory for new cardinals, to occur this Saturday, February 22, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter.  We “upper-classmen” are always there to welcome “freshmen”!

People wonder about the significance of even having cardinals anymore, and, occasionally, I do myself.

But, shortly after this new group of cardinals was announced last month, I met two Haitians working in the parking garage.  These men are grateful immigrants from beleaguered Haiti.  They ran up to me, ecstatic, with tears in their eyes, sharing with me their joy and pride that Pope Francis had named a Haitian bishop to the College of Cardinals!  To see their happiness convinced me that this ancient title still has relevance.

The Holy Father is a wise shepherd.  He realizes that naming a cardinal can be an act of encouragement and affirmation to a struggling people, a sign of solidarity with the Church Universal.  It sure worked for those two Haitians I met.

Prior to Saturday’s ceremony and Sunday’s Mass, Pope Francis has asked all the world’s cardinals- – including the new ones- -to come together Thursday and Friday to discuss “Marriage and Family”, a topic close to his heart, already chosen as the theme for the upcoming Synod of Bishops to take place in Rome October 2014 and 2015.

Since I was elected to the Permanent Council for the Synod of Bishops, I must remain in Rome Monday and Tuesday for all day meetings of that council.

Two, you know how I always try to alert you to any potentially negative publicity about the Church, or about me.  Well, there could be some.  My home archdiocese of St. Louis just complied with a court order to release the documents regarding cases there of sexual abuse of minors.  (Cardinal Egan already did that here a decade ago, sharing all of the information we had on abusive priests with proper district attorneys, something we continue to do today.)

Anyway, since I was an auxiliary bishop in St. Louis for a year (2001-02), and vicar for priests for nine of those twelve months, I would anticipate that my name will again be highlighted in the press.  I sure have nothing to hide, and am very much at peace with law enforcements officials reviewing the files.  In fact, we already released all the documentation to them a dozen years ago!

This will be, I suspect, a repeat of last year’s attempt by the same tort lawyers to muddy my name.  A year ago, they contended- – remember?- -that while Archbishop of Milwaukee I had “hidden funds”, and they had even deposed me.  Nothing of course ever came of it, although the ever-compliant press here gave me headlines about being deposed.  (The headlines were much smaller when the Judge eventually ruled that I had acted properly.)  However, knowing how their attorneys operate, and some reporters here cooperate with them, I would anticipate some attempt at bad publicity again.  I’ll keep you posted…

Finally, there was good news recently in our pro-life movement: the city health department reported a drop in the city’s abortion rate.  That’s good news!  The somber news is that New York City still has twice the national average of abortions.

What I also find troubling is the conclusion of the health department that this is due to increased use of IUDs and other chemical and implanted contraceptives.  Really? No proof is offered.  I guess some of the welcome decline could be due to that.  But is it too much to conclude that another reason for the decline is that more and more mothers and fathers see abortion for the tragedy that it is, the unjust taking of an innocent, fragile, human life?  Perhaps, too, its became more and more people see that casual, promiscuous sex hardly leads to health or happiness, and are now acting virtuously?  I know it’s hard for some to accept- -unless you believe in human freedom, its beauty, genuine choice to wait for marriage, and that the human person is not a slave to passion and cultural pressure.

Thanks for listening!

Standing Up for Persecuted Christians in the Middle East

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Recently I read this moving piece on the plight of Christians in the Middle East. It is our duty to stand up for them as is eloquently outlined by Johnnie Moore, author and Professor of Religion and Vice President at Liberty University, on FoxNews.com:

I wept as I heard their stories, and I wondered why Christians around the world weren’t incensed by it all.

Ironically, that meeting in Jordan was not convened by Christians, but by Muslims who cared about the plight of their Christian neighbors.

At one point, Jordan’s strong and kind king said that “it is a duty rather than a favor” to protect the Christians in the region, and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, a senior adviser to the king, acknowledged that “Christians were in this region before Muslims.” He said, “They are not strangers, nor colonialists, nor foreigners. They are natives of these lands and Arabs, just as Muslims are.”

While I was deeply encouraged by the tone of these Islamic leaders, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “I wonder how many Christians in the West even care about those in the East?”

In that moment, I decided I would be their advocate.

Read the rest here.

Michael Garvey on What Being Catholic Is All About

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Recently I came across one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time on what it really means to be a Catholic by Michael Garvey of Notre Dame University.

He writes that the Church is,

“a conglomeration of Eucharist-addicts. To admit or, perhaps better, to “confess” that we remain in the Church is no more than to acknowledge our need. We are blessed because of that need, according to the Beatitudes, but we shouldn’t be under any illusions about who we are and what the Church is made of. Right at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, the genealogy of Jesus Christ gives that long list of occasionally unpronounceable names to emphasize a truth put memorably by the Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe: “God’s plan is worked out not in pious people, people with religious experiences, but in a set of crude, passionate and thoroughly disreputable people. Jesus belonged to a family of murderers, cheats, cowards, adulterers and liars — he belonged to us and came to help us. No wonder he came to a bad end and gave us some hope.”

You can read the whole piece here.

Respecting Life in New York

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Sunday is always colorful, interesting, and inspirational at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, as thousands from all over the world crowded in for prayer, to light a votive candle, or to worship at one of a dozen Masses.

Last Sunday seemed even more so.  I started the day meeting the leadership of our Knights of Columbus, the largest volunteer organization in the country.  We spoke about our common efforts to protect the innocent, fragile life of the baby in the womb, but also about their sterling work to assist poor, mostly immigrant children attend our first-rate inner city Catholic schools, and their touching initiatives on behalf of our “special kids” with physical and mental challenges.

It was frigid outside as I processed to the Cathedral for 10:15 Mass, and I noticed a larger than usual number of police officers.  When I asked why, I was told that a Fundamentalist sect had warned that they would protest in front of St. Patrick’s, to blast the Church for being “gay-friendly,” for welcoming people with same-sex attractions, and for the teaching of the catechism that gays were God’s children, with an inherent right to dignity and respect.  Nothing new – – these fringe folks had picketed us before.

Sunday’s was a special “Right-to-Life” Mass, penance for the tragedy of abortion on demand, and recommitment to the civil right to life for the baby in the womb.  The Knights were there, as mentioned earlier, and the Mass as SRO with others in the pro-life movement.  The Sisters of Life were there, for instance, with mothers and their babies who had gotten through a “problem pregnancy” with the sisters’ love.  A high school basketball team from California, on their way to a championship game, then to D.C. for the renowned March for Life on Wednesday were there, and there was the police officer, his wife, three other children, and their new baby, whom I would have the joy of christening after Mass.  That beautiful new baby had Down’s Syndrome, reason enough for an abortion, as 90% of such babies are aborted, in this culture Pope Francis calls “throwaway.”  Not for this loving family!

After the moving Mass, back out to the cold, in yet another “Pro Life” project, the Feeding Our Neighbor initiative, sponsored by Catholic Charities and the United Jewish Appeal.  Last year, 900,000 meals were provided the hungry by the food donated in parishes and synagogues last Sabbath and next.

A reporter asked if the scheduling of the event had anything to do with the Birthday of Reverend Martin Luther King.  I replied that the date was chosen since it’s the coldest time of the year; when a lot of the food donated at Christmas had already run out; because it was close to the January 22nd Respect Life observance, and to feed the hungry was sure pro-life; and, yes, because Reverend King preached the Bible, that all are God’s children, made in his image and likeness, and that wherever life was threatened – – violence, poverty, hunger, discrimination, abortion – – God’s People defend it.

On the way back into the Cathedral, I greeted many of the great folks from the Dominican Republic, now proud New Yorkers, jamming St. Patrick’s for their feast of “Our Lady of Altagracia.”  I know so many of them as Catholics active in immigration reform, pro-life, curbing of gun-violence in their neighborhood, and keeping our inner-city schools open for their kids.

A good Sunday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral . . .does any of this seem “extremist” to you?

The Good Old Days

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

A string of good popes!

In recent memory, all of the occupants of the Chair of St. Peter have been virtuous, good, even saintly men.

Only the naïve will consider that statement a “no-brainer.” Why? Because this has not always been the case.

We have had more than one bad pope! There are books written on them! We have had drunks, philanderers, tyrannical, bloodthirsty rogues whose exploits would make a truck driver blush.

Come to think about it, the first one, St. Peter, was no gem, as he denied even knowing Jesus, three times, at the very moment the Lord could most have used a loyal friend.

No wonder, one of the best histories of the papacy around is entitled Saints and Sinners, since we’ve had our share of both. And, no surprise, the word “Borgia,” the name of a family that gave us more than one medieval pope, connotes corruption and immorality.

What’s remarkable, of course, is not that there have been knavish, scandalous popes — there sure have been! — but that the Church keeps on going in spite of them.

No surprise there, if you trust the promise Jesus made that “I will be with my Church all days, even until the end of the world.”

In our time, though, the successors of St. Peter have been men of sanctity and honor, real luminaries for the Church and the world.

I’m just thinking of the pontiffs I’ve known:

Pius XII, who died when I was eight, was a man of piety, asceticism, diplomatic skills, and theological erudition. I remember my third grade teacher commenting, as we dropped to our knees to pray the rosary upon hearing of his death in 1958, “We’re all spiritual orphans now, and I don’t know who could ever take his place after his nineteen years as our Holy Father!”

The Holy Spirit was not as worried, and we got Blessed John XXIII. When he died in 1963, my hometown newspaper had an editorial cartoon showing the globe, with the face of a man, crying.

Then came Paul VI, who led the Church courageously and wisely through the final years of the council, and the decade of its implementation keeping us from “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

We can hardly remember the brief thirty-three days of Pope John Paul I in September, 1978, except that he captivated us with his warmth, smile, and sincerity.

But we sure recall with awe and devotion the twenty-seven years soon-to-be-Saint John Paul II filled the “shoes of the fisherman.” It was no hyperbole when shouts of Santo Subito (“a Saint now!”) filled the square at his funeral, or that God’s people began to refer to him as John Paul the Great. And today’s his feast day.

His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, was just what we needed after Pope John Paul II, and challenged us with insightful teaching worthy of the vicar of Christ. We’re still in awe of his act of humility in resigning the office of Peter lest the Church suffer from a fragile pontiff.

And now? Viva il Papa! The world has fallen in love with Pope Francis, who has already been hailed as “the world’s parish priest.” If I had a dollar for every New Yorker, Catholic and not, who has told me how much he or she loves our current Holy Father, I’d pay off the big repair bill of St. Patrick’s Cathedral!

So, face it: we’ve had quite a few popes throughout our 2,000 year run that have been real lemons, hardly worthy of the high dignity of the office. Thank God Jesus is in charge!

But, in our memories today, we’ve had great, holy, and good popes. These are “the good old days” for us as Catholics.

It’s About Jesus

Monday, February 25th, 2013

“But why didn’t he say anything about his reasons for stepping down, or his plans for the future, or any personal reflections about his own legacy?”  asked the journalist after Mass yesterday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

This reporter had gotten up early to watch the last Sunday Angelus address Pope Benedict XVI would ever give, to 100,000 people in Saint Peter’s Square at noon in Rome.  He had spoken of Lent, the Transfiguration of Jesus (the gospel for Sunday), and prayer.

“Because,” I replied, trying to provide an answer to the journalist’s fair-enough inquiry, “Popes don’t talk about themselves.  They are really no longer themselves!  That’s why they change their name.  They take literally what Saint Paul wrote, that “I live now – - no, not I – - Christ lives in me.”  They speak not of themselves but of Jesus.  That’s why!”

“And you,” the reporter courteously persisted, “you didn’t say a word about your plans, your departure for Rome, your thoughts or observations.  We got here to cover your 10:15 a.m. Mass, and you only mentioned the Pope in one prayer, and didn’t say anything personal.”

“Same reason,” I responded.  “The Mass is about Jesus, not about me.”

That could be the most profound lesson this great professor-pontiff has taught the world.  His heroic and humble decision of a week ago to step-down from the Chair of Saint Peter is a lesson:  in the end, when all is said and done, it’s not about office, prominence, prestige, prerogatives.  It’s not about me at all: it’s all about Jesus and His Church.

Tomorrow, though, I do leave New York for Rome.  I take you with me.  When I have the privilege of bidding farewell to the Holy Father this Thursday, the day he leaves, I’ll tell him that we – - you and me – - love him, pray with and for him, and thank him.

I’ll miss you.  Sure, this will be awesome for me.  But, I really like being your archbishop.  And I’ll be eager to get back home to you.  Besides, I can get a good bowl of pasta here in New York, too.

Please God, I’ll be home by Palm Sunday.  Not a day will go by that I will not think of you here with love, prayer and gratitude. If I’m in Rome longer, please send peanut butter.  You can’t get it there.

Advocating for Gun Control

Friday, February 15th, 2013

It’s been an extremely full week in terms of news, with Monday’s surprising announcement from Pope Benedict, and Wednesday’s start of Lent.  But I wanted to be sure to take a moment to highlight the President’s call for sensible steps on gun control in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, as well as similar actions by Governor Cuomo here in New York State, and Mayor Bloomberg in New York City.

Gun control has been much on my mind since the Newtown killings, and, in particular, seeing the devastating effects that gun violence can bring when I celebrated the funeral Mass at Saint Mary of the Assumption parish in Katonah for Anne Marie Murphy, a brave teacher who died in that horrible tragedy, protecting her little student.

Advocating for gun control is not something new for the Church.  The Holy See has continuously been a strong voice in opposition to international arms trading, the world’s version of gun control; it’s even in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the official teaching of the Catholic faith (see numbers 2315-2316 in particular) .   Here in the United States, the bishops have for decades supported measures to get handguns off the streets, and to ban assault weapons.  To cite but one instance, in Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration, released in 2000, the bishops reiterated their support for legislative efforts that seek to protect society from the violence associated with easy access to deadly weapons. “As bishops, we support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer (especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children and anyone other than the owner), and we reiterate our call for sensible regulation of handguns.”

That’s why I found myself nodding in agreement when the President said, “I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence.  But this time is different.  Overwhelming majorities of Americans — Americans who believe in the Second Amendment — have come together around common-sense reform, like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun.  Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals.  Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because these police chiefs, they’re tired of seeing their guys and gals being outgunned.”  It’s also why I was very much in favor a month ago when our own New York State legislature, heeding the call of Governor Cuomo, passed NY Safe, (New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act) the most comprehensive gun control bill in the country.

Whenever I mention my support for gun control, the calls and emails come in, telling me that I’m naïve, reminding me of the Second Amendment to our Constitution, and arguing that the only thing gun control measures will accomplish is to keep guns out of the hands of honest, law-abiding people.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on what should be in each specific bill, and I will never be an authority on the number of bullets that should be in an ammo clip, or the proper way to conduct background checks before selling someone a firearm.  That’s the proper responsibility of our legislators, and, should constitutional questions arise, of our courts.  However, there can be no denying that, in the wake of Newtown, Aurora, Blacksburg, Tucson, Columbine, and almost countless other horrific and senseless deaths by guns, that something must be done.

For me, regulating and controlling guns is part of building a Culture of Life, of doing what we can to protect and defend human life.  The easy access to guns, including assault weapons, that exists in our nation has contributed towards a Culture of Death, where human life and dignity are cheapened by the threat of violence.  No law, no piece of legislation, will ever be able to protect us from every act of aggression, or from the harm that can come from an individual bent on killing.  But, we must do what we can to minimize the opportunities for such acts, by limiting the easy access to guns – and, I would add, by increasing funding for programs to treat those who suffer from mental illness, especially those that might lead someone to commit mass murder.

I have a long list of things to pray for this Lent.  Asking God’s help that our elected representatives in Washington and in state houses across the country have the courage and the wisdom to pass meaningful and effective gun control bills, will certainly have a prominent place in those prayers.

A Messenger from God

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Let me share with you a wonderful blog that was published in the Huffington Post a few days ago. Stephen White, the author, writes about the Pope’s role in the Catholic Church. I found his piece interesting and thought you would too!

Here is an excerpt:

Religion, we are told, is an escape — an attempt to explain away the pain and suffering and impossible contradictions of human life. Religion, we are reminded, is full of stuff we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better. Or worse. Religion is something we tell others in order to control them. It’s not belief in God, per se, that disturbs our sophisticated, post-modern sensibilities. It’s religion; especially of the organized sort. So we’re all spiritual, but fewer and fewer of us are religious.

Our culture’s complicated relationship with organized religion is closely tied to our culture’s complicated relationship with truth. We love our truth, all right, but we treat truth a lot like religion — it’s fine, so long as everyone else keeps their truth to themselves. Tolerance — which our culture values over all other virtues — consists in not imposing your truth on someone else.

The problem with this well-meaning attempt at tolerance is that it is unsustainable. It’s self-cannibalizing. If there is only your truth and my truth, but no Truth, then there is no common ground upon which to meet one another. Either I’m right, or you are, and since there’s no middle ground, the matter is only ever settled when one side wins and the other side loses. A world without truth isn’t a world liberated from conflict; it’s a world without the possibility of reconciliation.

Click here to read the whole blog.