Posts Tagged ‘Pope John Paul II’

Pastoral Planning Since Pentecost

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

The readings from God’s Holy Word in the Bible during this bright Easter season are most enlightening and encouraging.

A facet I enjoy a lot, especially evident in our selections at Mass, and in the Divine Office we clergy and religious daily pray, is the narrative, particularly in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Paul, Peter, James, and John, about the growth and structuring of the infant Church.

So, the apostles, disciples, and faithful women and men had to pray for guidance, then debate, and finally make tough decisions about such things as preaching the Gospel outside of Jerusalem (Who would go? Where? What language?); taking care of the “widows and orphans” (thus the development of deacons); the flow of the liturgy and other sacraments; attracting new converts and preserving the faith of those already in the fold; how to relate to pressing cultural and social issues, bringing the light of the gospel to the public square; and, how best to spend the offerings of God’s People.

One legitimately asks: hasn’t the Church been into strategic pastoral planning since Jesus ascended to His heavenly Father?

It’s hardly novel.  Our current Making All Things New is only the 2014 chapter of an opus which began to be composed in 33 a.d.

That’s why we’ve stressed from the start of our present round of planning that it’s more than a question about buildings, addresses, closings or merging.  Yes, some of this will be called for, and the sound recommendations from our pastors, clergy, religious, and people are now “on the table,” to be further prayed over, refined, and finalized.

But, driving all of this is the same set of values we sense in our Easter readings: is the invitation of Jesus, and the truth of His message, being extended effectively in our preaching, religious education of the young, faith formation of adults, and our schools? Are the poor and rich being served?  Are the “fallen away” being welcomed back?  Do God’s people have available to them the spiritual sustenance of prayer and the sacraments? Are the offerings of God’s People being spent well, or squandered?

Some are tempted to observe (and the press readily reports it!) that this strategic pastoral planning is all the result of a new, unprecedented crisis in today’s Church, caused by such things as mismanagement and stupidity by bishops and priests; the stubbornness of the Church to change settled teaching (woman’s ordination) or discipline (priestly celibacy) to correct the shortage of vocations; the loss of money paid to victims and attorneys due to the sex abuse nausea; or the mistakes of past bishops and pastors in overbuilding and over-expansion.

Baloney!  There’s not much radical, dramatic, or crisis driven in sound, patient, prayerful pastoral planning.  It’s been going on since Pentecost.

Thanks to all of you leading and cooperating in this current phase!  It’s not easy, but it’s sure essential.  And you’re in good company with the apostles and first generation disciples.

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.

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.

John Paul II Priests

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Here’s an excerpt from a piece I wrote for the Knights of Columbus published at Headline Bistro:

For John Paul II, Jesus Christ is the answer to the question asked by every human life. His existence on earth was a daily response to the invitation given the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, “Come, follow me.”
Thanks to his Christ-centered life, millions more made Jesus the focus of their lives. They would converse with the Lord in prayer, gaze upon Him in the Eucharist, serve Him in the poor, find His other disciples in the Church, and ask Him what He wanted them to do with their lives. For a number of them, the reply was, “be a priest.”

You can read the rest here.

Joyful News

Friday, January 14th, 2011

The news that Pope John Paul II, beloved the world over and especially here in New York, will be declared “Blessed” by Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday, May 1 is an occasion of great joy and grace.

Soon-to-be-Blessed Pope John Paul visited New York three times – twice as Pope, and once when he was the Cardinal-Archbishop of Krakow, and so in many ways we consider him to have been an honorary citizen of what he famously referred to as “The Capital of the World.”  His visits to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, his celebration of the Mass in Yankee Stadium and Central Park, his visit to Saint Charles Borromeo Church in Harlem and to Saint Joseph Seminary in Yonkers are still fresh and vivid in our minds. (The New York Times has a slideshow of Pope John Paul II’s final visit to New York.)

Of course, Pope John Paul literally travelled around the world during his pontificate, and I know that people in all corners of our globe also consider him to be an honorary citizen of their city and nation as well.  Everywhere I’ve travelled on behalf of the Church, even in places like Alaska, Ethiopia, Syria, Haiti, and Lebanon, I hear stories of his visits from people whose eyes still sparkle with grateful memories.  And, the millions of people who had the opportunity to meet him, to shake his hand, to spend a few minutes in his company, certainly had the same experience that I did – that for those moments he was focused completely and totally on you, and that he truly saw in you a reflection of the image and likeness of God.

Another cause for celebration today is the announcement of the finding of heroic virtues for Father Nelson Baker, a priest of the Diocese of Buffalo, who is in the process towards possible beatification and canonization.  Father Baker was known for his tremendous works of charity during his 60 years of priesthood.

I invite you to join me in praying that, if it be God’s will, Pope John Paul and Father Nelson Baker will both soon be raised to the altars and be declared blessed and eventually saints of the Church.

Preacher to the World

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Today marks the 30th Anniversary of the death of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, and I am honored to be the principal celebrant and homilist at the Mass to commemorate his life.  A large gathering of priests, bishops, and cardinals are expected to attend.  What a marvelous tribute to this devoted, tireless, holy son of the church whom Pope John Paul II called “Preacher to the World” in the Sanctuary of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the very place I will be preaching tonight.

Earlier today I recorded my weekly radio program for the Catholic Channel on Sirius XM Satellite Radio, and had as my guests Bishop Daniel Jenky, Bishop of Peoria, which was Archbishop Sheen’s home diocese, Monsignor John Kozar, national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith which Archbishop Sheen headed for years, and Monsignor Hillary Franco, one of Archbishop Sheen’s close collaborators and friends, and currently pastor of one of the great parishes of the Archdiocese, Saint Augustine’s, in Ossining, New York.  The program will air Thursday, December 10 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, and then various times throughout the weekend.

In my homily, I relate this story of a chance encounter I once had with Archbishop Sheen.


It was a damp winter day in 1973 when I was walking through St. Peter’s Square, then a seminarian at the North American College, only to see a small but excited crowd near the obelisk.  Over I went only to see in the middle of the dozens of excited people himself, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.  Among the handshakes, flashbulbs, and autographs, someone shouted,

“What are you doing in Rome, Archbishop Sheen?”

“I just came from an audience with Pope Paul VI,” he replied.

“What did the Holy Father say to you?” inquired another in the crowd.

Archbishop Sheen blushed a bit and replied, “The Holy Father looked at me, took my hand, and said, ‘Fulton Sheen, you will have a high place in heaven’.”

“What did you say back?” pestered another.

“Well” responded our man with that familiar sparkle and grin,” I replied, ‘Your Holiness, would you mind making that an infallible statement?’”

Which I propose to you is the key message of Fulton J. Sheen: He wanted to get to heaven; he wanted to bring the world with him.

You can read the full text of my homily here.

UPDATE: Emily Marlow, producer of “A Conversation with the Archbishop,” forwarded me some photos from yesterday’s taping.


With Rob Astorino and Monsignor Hillary Franco of Saint Augustine’s in Ossining, NY

Bishop Daniel Jenky, Bishop of Peoria

Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria

Monsignor John Kozar

Monsignor John Kozar, National Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith


Msgr. Franco, Msgr. Kozar, Bishop Jenky, me, and Rob Astorino

U.N. Prayer Service

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Many people have written to me to ask for the text of my remarks at the Prayer Service at Holy Family Church last September 14 that marked the beginning of the United Nations General Assembly.  I thought you might be interested in them as well.

Archbishop Migliori, Bishop Sullivan, Father Robbins, brother priests, colleagues in the clergy, Secretary General and Mrs. Ban Ki-Moon

Esteemed ambassadors, United Nations delegates and staff
Distinguished guests one and all:

I can only hope you realize what a joy and an honor it is for me as the still-new Archbishop of New York to be with you in prayer as we anticipate the opening of the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

It is a privilege for us to devote one of our parishes, this Church of the Holy Family, to the pastoral care of so many collaborating in the noble mission of the United Nations.

Thank you for the inspiration you give as you bow your heads in prayer to commence a new season of labor on behalf of world peace, promotion of human rights, care for those in peril and distress, and the furthering of justice. You are, in the words of Pope John Paul II, “a moral center where all the nations of the world feel at home, and develop a shared awareness of being a ‘family of nations.’”

It seems an indelible part of the human spirit to dream of a better world, to yearn for it and work for it; but it seems part of our nature as well to realize that such dreams, yearning, and efforts will be futile and frustrating without the help of the creator and sustainer of all the nations, who put those dreams, aspirations, and plans in us to begin with. Pope Benedict XVI said it well a year and a half ago when he observed, “The founding principles of this organization — the desire for peace, the quest for justice, respect for the dignity of the person, humanitarian cooperation and assistance — express the first aspiration of the human spirit.”

We’ve heard a reading from the Scriptures considered sacred by Jews and Christians, the first book of the Bible, Genesis. It’s the familiar episode of the Tower of Babel.

Please believe me that I make this comment more out of admiration than criticism, but would there be an institution on earth better able to appreciate the curse of the Tower of Babel than the United Nations?

Literally, you daily hear the babbling of dozens, hundreds of languages.

And daily do you sense the confusion, conflict, and cacophony, not only of words, but of agenda and interests that so often seem to clash and crush.

One of my prayers this evening is simply that you will never let this Babel discourage you; one of my prayers is that of thanksgiving that you persevere in your crucial work through all of this.

Yet, we also realize that, while humanity is indeed fractured by the Babel of different languages and interests, there is also a voice, a tongue common to us all.

Often, this can be detected through a smile, a song, an embrace, an extended hand.

Often, it can be heard in the common nature that speaks a language that does not require a dictionary or a grammar, what our American philosopher Thoreau called the “oversoul.”

This voice is often not so much heard but sensed, groaned at times, prayed at its best.

This tongue speaks of help and hope, of mercy and tenderness, of fatigue over war, of longing for simple decency, dignity, and duty; this voice speaks in the eyes of a mother nursing a child or holding the body of her dead soldier-son.

This language wonders at times if anyone else can hear it, but is confident that God can, and trusts that many others hear it, too.

This language expresses itself in tears and in smiles, in sighs and groans, in poetry and liturgy. It’s as old as the Tower of Babel yet as new as Pentecost, when all understood God’s word of salvation and mercy.

This is the official language of the United Nations, that needs no translation at all. It tells us, as did Jesus, that “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the earth;” as did St. Francis of Assisi, to “start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible; and suddenly, we are doing the impossible”; it tells us, as did the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that “the human person is at the heart of all institutions, laws, and workings of society.”

Tomorrow, you begin to speak that language once again, not, we pray this eve, a Babel but a benediction.

May the Lord who has begun this good work in you now bring it to completion!