Thursday, January 29, 2015

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

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

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

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

Come on, you already know it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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29 JANUARY 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can we say the same?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Future of Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Chicago

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

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

A Proud Past

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

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

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

The Present Moment

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

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

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

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

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

Proud but Humble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"I Am Not A Politician, I Am A Pastor" – Seeking "Peace" and "Justice," Burlington Begins

SVILUPPO – 29 January, 2.50pm: Fulltext/video of Coyne's Installation preach are now published.

(28 January – 7.30pm) On the eve of his installation as the tenth head of Vermont's statewide diocese, Bishop Chris Coyne delivered the following homily tonight at Vespers – which doubled as his reception by the Green Mountain State's civil, ecumenical and interfaith leadership – in Burlington's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Featuring some unscripted additions, fullvid likewise below.

My friends, I cannot begin to tell you how pleased I am to be here this evening with you as I take possession of this cathedral. I welcome the governmental and civic leaders who are here and thank them for their gracious presence. Please know of my continuing prayers for you and all our civic leaders as you seek to govern in the state of Vermont. I’ve been told that Vermonters can be somewhat free-spirited and free-thinking. I’m not sure if that’s true... oh it is? Well good luck then.

I am especially glad to have joined in prayer with my brothers and sisters within the ecumenical and interfaith community. I am aware that this cathedral is only one of many places of worship within this city, places where prayer and worship are lifted up to God, places where charity is encouraged and enacted, places where the human person reaches for an encounter with the Divine. With the representatives of the Christian churches and communities I join this week in a time of prayer for unity among Christians, praying in the words of Jesus Himself “that all may be one.” While there are things that divide us, there are also many things that unite us, most especially our love for the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior. To my colleagues in the interfaith community, the shared belief we have in the Divine One and the common mission of care for the poor, sick, and needy in our midst unites us in charity and honors the One that we serve. I pledge myself to work with you on those things about which we agree and speak the Catholic Church’s faith to those matters about which we disagree.

I am not a politician. I am a pastor. I am not a policy-maker. I am a preacher and teacher of the Catholic Faith. My desire is to teach what the Church teaches, to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ, and inform the consciences of my fellow Catholics about what we believe and why we believe. While I always seek to foster the common good of all, I recognize that I do so as one within a diverse and multi-faceted culture of which the Catholic Church is only one faith among many.

It seems to me that the reading that we just heard from the Letter of James is quite appropriate for this task. It was not a reading I chose but one that is prescribed for the Feast of Saint Thomas Aguinas, which we Catholics and a number of other Christian communities celebrate today. My hope is to be “wise” in the manner of which James writes: peaceable, rich in sympathy and the kindly deeds that are the fruits of wisdom. I can’t make any guarantee about being docile though. It is just not in my nature.

I’m a student of history, having received my doctorate in Sacred Liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome. The P.I.L, as it is called, is famous for its use of the historical-critical method for the study of liturgy. One necessarily had to become versed in Church history in order to understand the development and meaning of the Church’s liturgical practices. One thing I’ve learned is that in the encounter between human beings there is often not that much new under the sun. What I mean is when looking for wisdom on how to work together or get along or live in community or any number of interpersonal endeavors, the best place to look is often to the wisdom of the past. So in considering what I might offer for our consideration tonight, my thoughts turned to a writing that is close to our New England heritage. It is the sermon preached by the lay leader John Winthrop in 1630 as the Puritans were preparing to land in what is now Massachusetts. It is entitled “A Model of Christian Unity.” I know, I know. This text has often been used, on the one hand, by politicians to support the idea of “American exceptionalism” – that we are a “city on a hill” for all to follow in the great experiment that is America – and on the other hand that Winthrop’s intention in the new world was to establish a Puritan theocracy, but I think we can set those concerns aside and consider Winthrop’s preaching on unity in love or fraternal charity as a binding force for the establishment of mutual cooperation.

Winthrop preached that the bond of charity among Christians was a necessary part of their community, “as the sinews and other ligaments of a natural body are to the being of that body” and that it was “a divine, spiritual nature” - free, active, strong, courageous and permanent. Winthrop believed that having this "bond of love" for one and other would unite a group of people that would be blessed by God and impact the world (as they knew it) in a positive manner. “Despite the diversity of people, living in mutual charity could unite people of completely different socioeconomic backgrounds to work together and better the world”.

I would offer that we can move beyond Winthrop’s particularly Christian leitmotif into the broader context of interfaith, even non-religious relationships. It begins, I believe with the golden rule - to do unto others as I would have them do unto me - but then moves beyond a kind of mutual exchange of personal value – “you do for me, I do for you” – to one of charity, meaning seeking the “good’ for the other person, and seeking nothing in return. The hope is that the “other” will respond in kind, that my neighbor will seek what is good for me as I seek what is good for him or her.

Today’s gospel text from the Common Lectionary gives us the parable of the sower:

“A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and the birds came and ate it up.
Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep.
And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it
and it produced no grain.
And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit.
It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”

I have always considered one interpretation of this text to be an allegory for the works of charity and service. Each of us is the sower who sows good deeds. Some of our deeds are appreciated. Some are simply received by some as their “due.” Some don’t want or welcome our help at all. But then there are those persons who accept our good act as it is and then become people who also become sowers. But the point is that the sower does not seek anything in return. He or she just sows because it is the right thing to do, because it brings light instead of darkness, because it serves the common good.

All of this engages us in the broader question of what is best for the common good. The golden rule urges me to feed the hungry person because that is what I would want it if I were hungry. An act routed in communal charity and aimed at the common good urges me to look even further, to the roots of and possible solutions to poverty. It is best summed up in the familiar adage, “Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach them to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.” My hope and prayer is that we can all work within a unity of charity that probes the deeper questions of how to further both the individual and the common good while seeking only that that good be returned in kind.

Finally, allow me to end my reflections this evening by referring to the last line of the reading from James: “The harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” It is often difficult for us to agree about how we are to pray together. Different canons, creeds, and confessions can complicate things very quickly. When we try and worship as one, we most often end up with a compromise that leaves no one happy. Yet, I think there is one thing about which we can agree, not so much as to how we are to pray but for what we are to pray: peace – for an end to violence and hatred and bigotry and prejudice and war. If we do nothing else in our common gathering than to pray for peace and pray that we may each be peacemakers in our own way within our own faiths and our own beliefs, then we are doing something of the good, of the divine, of God. I commit myself, once again, to strive to be a “peacemaker,” someone who prays for peace, advocates for peace, and seeks to live in peace with his brothers and sisters and I pray that my actions may bring forth a harvest of justice for all God’s creatures. May God bless us all in that endeavor.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"We Need To Be the Field Hospital, Not Judge Judy" – On March Eve, O'Malley's Call: "Pro-Life" Means Pro-Poor

Forty-two years since abortion was legalized in the US by the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, the defense of the unborn remains the paramount public cause of the Stateside church.

Yet even as the annual March for Life in Washington to mark tomorrow's anniversary of the ruling has always provided the most significant platform on the issue both for the movement's base in the trenches and the horde of hierarchs on-hand to lead them, that's become all the more the case over these last two years in which the head of the USCCB's pro-life apparatus has suddenly emerged as the principal North American adviser to the Pope – and, by extension, the Vatican's most influential American power since John O'Connor bestrode the earth, if not longer still.

Over the 21 months since that confluence came to pass, its clout and profile have been flexed selectively and with keen discernment... but both this year and last, rarely has their full force shown itself more than on this night.

Against that backdrop, as he presided over the ever-teeming army of the faithful overflowing the nation's largest church – the capital's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – for the last time as the bench's Life chair, below is Cardinal Seán O'Malley's "State of the Movement" homily at tonight's national Vigil Mass (video thanks to our friends at Boston's CatholicTV):

The post always given to a cardinal to reflect its prominence, later this year the USCCB's lead policy portfolio – and with it, the celebrating duties for the succeeding editions of this Mass – will fall to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York for the next three-year term.

In the Stateside church, the Roe anniversary is observed as a day of prayer and penance "for the legal protection of unborn children."

Below, the fulltext of O'Malley's homily as prepared for delivery.

* * *

In Boston, there is a popular diner near the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. One of the items on the menu is called “The Emergency Room” consisting of bacon, sausages, eggs, pancakes, french toast, hash browns. The clientele are people from the hood, a few Archie and Edith Bunkers, Ralph and Alice Kramdens, cops and priests. It’s the kind of place you could invite Pope Francis to. Juke box music from the 50’s and 60’s adds to the atmosphere.

While having dinner there last week with Fr. O’Leary and Fr. Kickham, the phone rang. I presumed it was a telemarketer. It was Oprah Winfrey.

I almost had to order “the emergency room”. She called to tell me she was reading my blog and wanted to thank me for the comments I had published on the blog.

You have to feed the blog. I had shared some reflections about the film Selma. To me, one of the very moving aspects of the film is to see how people of faith came together to witness to the dignity of every human being made in the image and likeness of God. They were Protestant, Catholics, Jews, Greek Orthodox, standing together courageously. One of the ministers from Boston, a 38 year old white man, Reverend James Reel, was beaten to death leaving behind a wife and four small children. He had served for four years here in Washington D.C. at All Souls Church on 16th Street, just across from my offices at the Spanish Catholic Center. At the time of his death he was working for the Quakers in Boston as director of a housing program focusing on desegregation. Martin Luther King called him the defense attorney of the innocent in the court of public opinion. Today that is our job.

The quest for human rights and solidarity brought together people of faith to try to repair the world --to use the Jewish expression. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis says, “No one should demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanction of personal life without influence on societal and national life… The Church cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.”

We are called upon to build a better world. “The Church’s social thought”, says Pope Francis, “offers proposals, works for change and constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ.”

In the history of our country, people of faith have worked together to overcome racism and injustice. Now we come together to be the defense attorney for the innocent unborn and the vulnerable elderly and all those whose right to life is threatened. We shall overcome.

As a matter of fact, we are overcoming, but it is a well kept secret.

We have all heard of Greek Mythology and Roman Mythology. I want to talk about some American Mythology.

There are many myths that are circulating and cause a lot of harm, especially since our politicians often espouse them. First of all, you will hear that abortion is a woman’s issue; secondly, that most Americans are pro-choice, pro abortion; and thirdly, that young people are overwhelmingly in favor of the pro-choice position.

Earlier this month in an op-ed on the editorial page of the New York Times entitled "The Abortion Stereotype," Razib Kahn observes that in polling done over the last 20 years, women have been consistently more pro-life than men.

Despite the impression that a solid majority of Americans back legal abortions, the Gallup polls indicate that about the same number of Americans identify as pro-choice as do pro-life, but in fact 58% of Americans oppose all or most abortions. If abortion depended on the ballot box rather than an activist court, it would be greatly reduced.

Studies have shown that women are more pro-life than men. Certainly the maternal instincts and closeness to the source of life, dispose women to be more protective of children. So, despite the talk about “the woman’s body” and the “woman’s choice”, oftentimes the big supporter of abortion is the man who is quite happy to invest all reproductive responsibility in the woman. This creates a situation in which men can easily rationalize their irresponsibility towards women who opt not to have an abortion.

According to the Allan Gutmacher Institute, 80% of all abortions are sought by single women. With abortion as an option, a man can compel a woman to have an abortion by denying his responsibility or threatening to abandon her if she “chooses” to give birth. For the unwilling father, an abortion is a bargain compared to monthly child support payments.

Even a majority of so-called pro-choice Americans actually favor informed consent for mothers, abortion bans in the third trimester, bans on partial-birth abortions, required parental consent for minors, 24 hour waiting periods and even abortion bans in the second trimester. These are polls by Gallup, CBS and the New York Times, not by EWTN, Catholic University and the Vatican.

Another myth proclaims young people are more pro-choice, to use the terminology. Once again the polls are unanimous in showing that young Americans are the most pro-life segment of the American people.

Upon her resignation in 2012, NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) President Nancy Keegan stated that there is a large “intensity gap” among young people on the subject of abortion. We have already seen that the majority of young people are pro-life. An internal poll by NARAL shows that 51% of pro-life young people see abortion as an important electoral issue, while only 20% of pro-choice young people see abortion as an important electoral issue.

Gallup in 2010 declared that “pro-life is the new normal”. Congratulations, you are normal.

But you know there are some people who are using these American myths: that the majority of women, the majority of Americans, the majority of young people are pro-choice. It is a lie that is being foisted on the American people to try to convince people to embrace abortion with the flag and apple pie. We need to make sure that our political leaders are brought up to date and begin to take the pro-life ideals of Americans seriously.

It is good to recall that even if all the myths were true that the American people, women and youth were overwhelmingly in favor of abortion, that would not alter the sacredness of human life and our absolute obligation to protect and defend this most precious gift that is life.
In the first reading from the book of Exodus we heard about the two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who resisted the orders of the Pharaoh to kill the babies. They were convinced of the sacredness of each and every life and were willing to submit themselves to the wrath of the Pharaoh rather than abort one innocent child.

Recently, addressing a group of Catholic doctors in Rome, the Holy Father, Pope Francis stated: “If the Hippocratic Oath commits you to always be servants of life, the Gospel pushes you further: to love life no matter what, especially when it is in need of special care and attention. The Holy Father warns the health care workers that “The dominant thinking sometimes suggests a ‘false compassion,’ that which believes that it is helpful to women to promote abortion; and act of dignity to obtain euthanasia; a scientific breakthrough to ‘produce’ a child and to consider it to be a right rather than a gift to welcome.

The compassion of the Gospel is that which accompanies in times of need, that is, the compassion of the Good Samaritan who “Sees, has compassion, approaches and provides concrete help.”

The Holy Father tells the doctors: “Your mission puts you in daily contact with many forms of suffering. Fidelity to the Gospel of Life and respect for life as a gift from God sometimes requires choices that are courageous and go against the current, which may become points of conscientious objection.”

The Holy Father is reminding our Catholic Healthcare workers that they must be like the valiant midwives who refused to kill the Hebrew babies at the behest of the Pharaoh.

One of the greatest challenges to people of faith in our culture is the erosion of conscience rights, the space we need as a Catholic community to carry on our ministries and works of mercy without violating God’s law and our conscience.

In a certain way the Rich Young Man in today’s Gospel reminds us of many young people today, who are asking serious questions about the meaning of our existence, why we are here and what we should do with our lives? What is true success? What is happiness?

Not only does the Rich Young Man ask the right questions, but he is asking the right person, Jesus Christ: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

When I ask confirmation candidates or classrooms I visit: How did Jesus answer the Rich Young Man? Invariably, I am told: Jesus said: “Go sell what you have, give the money to the poor and come and follow me.” That is correct, but it is not the first thing Jesus says. Jesus says if you want to inherit eternal life, keep the commandments. And the first commandment Jesus mentions is: “Thou shall not kill.”

This story of the Rich Young Man appears in all the synoptic Gospels. And Jesus’ answer always begins with: “Thou shall not kill.”

We are all here today because we are convinced that human happiness and inheriting eternal life require us to embrace this commandment: “Thou shall not kill or to express it positively, “Thou shall protect human life.”

The second command Jesus mentions: “Thou shall not commit adultery.” To express this positively, “practice chastity in your life.”
We know that unwanted pregnancies often end in abortion. Many unwanted pregnancies are the result of a culture that is always encouraging promiscuity.

People who favor legal abortion claim they want to reduce the number of abortions. One of the logical ways to reduce the number of abortions would be to discourage the promiscuous behavior that is rampant in our culture. There are many instances of positive social changes that have been brought about by public consensus reinforced in advertising, educational efforts and use of mass media.

The campaigns against smoking and the public backlash against the promotion of tobacco in movies and on TV has done much to curb smoking and has contributed much to a healthier America.

The glamorization of promiscuity needs to be reversed by having people speak out against it the way people object to demeaning media portrayals of women and African-Americans. Like these, it is not a matter of passing laws but of changing what we deem as acceptable in society.

So Jesus’ first two instructions for happiness are: “Thou shall not kill, Thou shall not commit adultery.” Protect innocent human life, embrace the discipline of chastity which protects the transmission of life.

Jesus goes on to tell the Young Man to honor his mother and father. An important part of discipleship is respecting the family, nurturing relations, preserving the Family as the sanctuary of Life.

The Rich Young Man proudly proclaims that he had observed the commandments from his youth. That is really impressive. Not every Catholic can say that. Unfortunately, the Rich Young Man was so busy congratulating himself that he was totally unprepared for what followed. Jesus says thanks for keeping the commandments, but that is not enough. Jesus tells him: “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell everything that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.”

The young man said to himself: I am keeping the commandments, Thou shall not kill – I’m pro-life. Thou shall not commit adultery – I follow the discipline of chastity, and now I have to help the poor with my money? It is too much.

The Rich Young Man thought it was either/or, but Jesus is telling us it is both/and. We follow the commandments, we are pro-life and we help the poor.

The Gospel says he went away sad for he had many possessions. How dangerous money can be when it becomes our master. Jesus said: “How hard it is to enter the Kingdom. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Chesterton once said that ever since Jesus made this statement, scientists have been trying to breed smaller camels and engineers are trying to make bigger needles!

Part of the Gospel of Life has to be about loving and helping the poor. Indeed, reducing poverty will also reduce the number of abortions. Poor and low income women account for more than half of the abortions performed each year in our country.

Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium says that just as the commandment “Thou shall not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shall not kill” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have a throw away culture that is now spreading.

The Holy Father warns us both at Lampedusa and in Evangelii Gaudium about the globalization of indifference. He says, “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor as though they were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”

The Pro Life movement in the Catholic Church is about overcoming that indifference, indifference to the suffering of a woman in a difficult pregnancy, indifference to the voiceless child who is destined to be part of the statistic of a million killed in the womb each year, indifferent to the poverty and suffering of so many.

Indifference is our greatest enemy. We see the antidote in today’s Gospel. The Lord looks at the confused young man, and St. Marks writes: “And he loved him.” The confused young man went away sad because he did not realize how much the Lord loved him. Had he even suspected I am sure he would have given the money away gladly, but in his insecurity and fear, he leaves. He goes away sad.

Christ has given us the formula for joy in the Gospel. We must learn to look on people with love. An attitude of judgmental self righteousness is not going to change peoples’ attitudes and save babies. We need to be the field hospital not Judge Judy. We need to be the merciful face of Christ in the way we promote adoption, aware of how difficult it is for birth mothers to choose that option. We also need to expand our outreach in Project Rachel to those whose lives have been devastated by abortion.

To change people’s hearts we must love them and they must realize that we care about them. They need the witness of our love and our joy. To evangelize is to be a messenger of joy, of good news.

The rich young man went away sad. He needed to meet someone like St. Francis, another rich young man who was filled with joy after kissing the leper and giving all his money and clothes to the poor.

As Pope Francis reminds us: “When St. Paul approached the apostles in Jerusalem to discern whether he was running or had run in vain”, the key criterion of authenticity which they presented was that he should not forget the poor. This important principle, namely that the Pauline communities should not succumb to the self-centered life style of the pagans, remains timely today when a new self-centered paganism is growing. We may not always be able to reflect adequately the beauty of the Gospel, but there is one sign which we should never lack: the option for those who are least, those whom society discards.”

To me, Mother Teresa is the model of the pro-life movement because she witnessed to the preciousness of life by her care for the poor. Her first ministry was collecting the dying people on the streets of Calcutta to take them to an old abandoned Hindu temple so that she and her sisters could take care of them so that they could die with dignity, surrounded by love. She called this “doing something beautiful for God.”

What must characterize the pro-life movement is a special love for the poor, the marginalized, the suffering, and especially human life that is in danger of being discarded.

When Helen Alvaré worked our Pro-life office she always told the Bishops: “Be positive. We are not against anything, we are for something. We are for life.”

At times we might be tempted to curse those who advocate for abortions and promote and defend this barbaric practice. But Paul tells us: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”

One of the wisest pieces of advice in Evangelii Gaudium is found in Paragraph 168. As for the moral component of catechesis, which promotes growth in fidelity to the Gospel way of life, it is helpful to stress again and again the attractiveness and the ideal (of the Gospel Way of Life). In light of that positive message, our rejection of the evils which endanger that life can be better understood. Rather than experts in dire predictions, dour judgments bent on routing out every threat and deviation, we should appear joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel.

We shall overcome the indifference only by love. A love that will allow us to see in every unborn child a precious gift, a fellow human being.
We must direct our love and attention to wherever life is most threatened and show by our attitudes, words and actions that life is precious, and we must not kill.

We must work tirelessly to change the unjust laws, but we must work even harder to change hearts, to build a civilization of love. Solidarity and community are the antidotes to the individualism and alienation that lead people on the path of abortion and euthanasia.

The rich young man left in discouragement because what Christ asked of him was difficult. The challenges we face are great and discouragement is our greatest enemy.

But know that Jesus is looking on us with love, His love should energize and unite us. No sacrifice is too great, we must not count the cost, but press on with the full assurance that We shall overcome.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Who Will Carry The Light If We Do Not?"

For all the ups, downs, long days and wild curves that come with life on this beat, moments like this aren't just amazing to cover and behold: they're the summit of what all this is all about.

As no less than Francis himself observed this morning, though, in this age of media over-saturation, "we have so much information but maybe we don’t know what to do with [it].... So we run the risk of becoming museums."

"This is the challenge that life offers you," he said, "to learn how to love. Not just to accumulate information without knowing what to do with it, but through that love, [to] let that information bear fruit."

Given the scope of this shop, to each and every one of us, let these words serve as a reminder, a challenge and – if we're really going to be Ignatian about it – an examination of conscience.

On a related angle, it is exceedingly rare for a papal liturgy – especially one on the road – to see a uniquely scripted ritual not rooted in any recognitio-ed book. Then again, it should come as no secret to anyone here that the outward-reaching, joy-filled, life-giving, "missionary discipleship"-driven Asian church is the embodiment of Francis' Evangelii Gaudium "dream" in its living the ecclesiology of the peripheries to which Peter's 265th successor has called the entire Body of Christ.

Ergo, in the Catholic ground zero of the continent 60 percent of humanity calls home, it was perfectly fitting – and no accident whatsoever – that the largest crowd a Pope has ever seen was sent forth and commissioned by him with a specially-written rite of light...

...and so, from the Luneta, from Tacloban, from all the Philippines, may Its glow and Its call spread to reach the very ends of this earth:

For those who missed the lyrics the first time, have at 'em:

For God so loved the world
He gave us His only Son
Jesus Christ our Savior
His most precious one
He has sent us His message of love
And sends those who hear
To bring the message to everyone
In a voice loud and clear

Let us tell the world of His love
The greatest love the world has known
Search the world for those who have walked
Astray and lead them home
Fill the world's darkest corners
With His light from up above
Walk every step, Every mile, Every road
And tell the world! Tell the world of His love!
Sure, the words might sound like the theme-song of Francis' pontificate. That they were instead written for the now-surpassed Pope-Record event two decades ago in the same place yet again shows how, in reality, there's actually little new to this moment... well, except for those who've just opened themselves to see it.

* * *
Indeed, folks, these days have been a priceless experience – even more than usual, such a joy and gift to share it all around.

Even for the grace it is, the reminder's in order that doing this work means having equally great bills to pay for it – and lest anybody forgot, the only means we've got to keep at it is your generosity and support....


"Witness the Joy of The Gospel in Asia and The Whole World!" – In Luneta, The "Francis Wave" Reaches Record Crest

Twenty years and three days since 5 million Filipinos converged on Manila's Luneta Park for the largest event in papal history, the islands' exuberant, ever-youthful church did it again this Sunday evening – and this time around, even whipping winds and downpours from the outer bands of a tropical storm couldn't stop them.

Calling it "the most fabulous number [of people] we have seen," at the press conference following this afternoon's Mass, the VatiSpox Fr Federico Lombardi SJ said local authorities had provided the day's attendance figure as 6 to 7 million. As the president of the nation's bishops, Archbishop Soc Villegas, said at the liturgy's close, Francis' "love" – and, with it, the faith of the 85 million-member Pinoy Church – had shown itself to be "typhoon-proof."

Beyond taking the all-time record from the final day of John Paul II's 1995 visit in the same place, it is significant that today's mass of humanity did not come in the context of a World Youth Day, which had been the case for both the prior title-holder and Francis' draw of 3 million at the closing of 2013's WYD on Rio de Janiero's Copacabana beach.

What's more, while John Paul's last trip to Asia was commonly understood as a "farewell" to a Pope who was entering the pantheon of legend in his 17th year on the Chair, Francis has now presided two of the three bigggest papal crowds ever within the first two years of his Petrine ministry. (On a domestic note, it bears recalling that the twin largest WYD turnouts had something else in common: the two smallest delegations from the United States for the church's triennial "Olympic event.")

In the end, the weather – which saw Metro Manila placed under a low-level typhoon warning (and the Pope again don the same yellow poncho as the crowd) – only ratcheted up the intensity of the singing, cheering "oceanic" throng, which took to doing what was re-christened the "Francis Wave" during lulls in the long afternoon, most having been on-site or walking toward it from well before sunrise. Adding to the ecstatic yet reverent chaos, meanwhile, this Sunday was likewise the feast of the Santo Niño, the devotion to the Baby Jesus which is the most prevalent popular piety in global Catholicism's famously devout third-largest outpost, by far the premier bastion of the faith on the world's largest continent.

As the faithful were encouraged to bring their statues of the Christ-child by the visit's organizers, at points it looked as if at least a million of the little Niños alone dotted the scene... or, put another way, there seemed to be almost as many statues being held up as the ubiquitous cellphones and tablets frantically trying to capture the Pope as he passed.

Before the Mass, the Pope met for some 20 minutes with the father of Kristel Padasas, the 27 year-old Catholic Relief Services worker who was killed by a fallen piece of scaffolding after yesterday's emotional Mass in Tacloban amid the storm conditions there.

Having closed with a unique commissioning rite to send forth the Pinoy Church as a light to the world, below is the Vatican feed of the entire liturgy, including the Pope's ride-arounds through the crowd before and afterward:

...and using the figure of the Santo Niño as his springboard, Francis' homily as delivered:

“A child is born to us, a son is given us” (Is 9:5). It is a special joy for me to celebrate Santo Niño Sunday with you. The image of the Holy Child Jesus accompanied the spread of the Gospel in this country from the beginning. Dressed in the robes of a king, crowned and holding the sceptre, the globe and the cross, he continues to remind us of the link between God’s Kingdom and the mystery of spiritual childhood. He tells us this in today’s Gospel: “Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it” (Mk 10:15). The Santo Niño continues to proclaim to us that the light of God’s grace has shone upon a world dwelling in darkness, bringing the Good News of our freedom from slavery, and guiding us in the paths of peace, right and justice. The Santo Niño also reminds us of our call to spread the reign of Christ throughout the world.

In these days, throughout my visit, I have listened to you sing the song: “We are all God’s children”. That is what the Santo Niño tells us. He reminds us of our deepest identity. All of us are God’s children, members of God’s family. Today Saint Paul has told us that in Christ we have become God’s adopted children, brothers and sisters in Christ. This is who we are. This is our identity. We saw a beautiful expression of this when Filipinos rallied around our brothers and sisters affected by the typhoon.

The Apostle tells us that because God chose us, we have been richly blessed! God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Eph 1:3). These words have a special resonance in the Philippines, for it is the foremost Catholic country in Asia; this is itself a special gift of God, a special blessing. But it is also a vocation. Filipinos are called to be outstanding missionaries of the faith in Asia.

God chose and blessed us for a purpose: to be holy and blameless in his sight (Eph 1:4). He chose us, each of us to be witnesses of his truth and his justice in this world. He created the world as a beautiful garden and asked us to care for it. But through sin, man has disfigured that natural beauty; through sin, man has also destroyed the unity and beauty of our human family, creating social structures which perpetuate poverty, ignorance and corruption.

Sometimes, when we see the troubles, difficulties and wrongs all around us, we are tempted to give up. It seems that the promises of the Gospel do not apply; they are unreal. But the Bible tells us that the great threat to God’s plan for us is, and always has been, the lie. The devil is the father of lies. Often he hides his snares behind the appearance of sophistication, the allure of being “modern”, “like everyone else”. He distracts us with the promise of ephemeral pleasures, superficial pastimes. And so we squander our God-given gifts by tinkering with gadgets; we squander our money on gambling and drink; we turn in on ourselves. We forget to remain focused on the things that really matter. We forget to remain, at heart, children of God. That is sin: [to] forget at heart that we are children of God. For children, as the Lord tells us, have their own wisdom, which is not the wisdom of the world. That is why the message of the Santo Niño is so important. He speaks powerfully to all of us. He reminds us of our deepest identity, of what we are called to be as God’s family.

The Santo Niño also reminds us that this identity must be protected. The Christ Child is the protector of this great country. When he came into the world, his very life was threatened by a corrupt king. Jesus himself needed to be protected. He had an earthly protector: Saint Joseph. He had an earthly family, the Holy Family of Nazareth. So he reminds us of the importance of protecting our families, and those larger families which are the Church, God’s family, and the world, our human family. Sadly, in our day, the family all too often needs to be protected against insidious attacks and programs contrary to all that we hold true and sacred, all that is most beautiful and noble in our culture.

In the Gospel, Jesus welcomes children, he embraces them and blesses them (Mk 10:16). We too need to protect, guide and encourage our young people, helping them to build a society worthy of their great spiritual and cultural heritage. Specifically, we need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected. And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to life on the streets.

It was a frail child, in need of protection, who brought God’s goodness, mercy and justice into the world. He resisted the dishonesty and corruption which are the legacy of sin, and he triumphed over them by the power of his cross. Now, at the end of my visit to the Philippines, I commend you to him, to Jesus who came among us as a child. May he enable all the beloved people of this country to work together, protecting one another, beginning with your families and communities, in building a world of justice, integrity and peace. May the Santo Niño continue to bless the Philippines and may he sustain the Christians of this great nation in their vocation to be witnesses and missionaries of the joy of the Gospel, in Asia and in the whole world.

Please don’t forget to pray for me! God bless you!
The most ambitious papal trek since 2002 in terms of its scheduling – and all but assured of being the most significant of 2015's planned PopeTrips in its levels of participation, intensity and fervor – Francis' weeklong journey in Southeast Asia ends Monday morning local time as his return flight for Rome departs at 9.45 (8.45pm ET Sunday).


Saturday, January 17, 2015

"Have I Learned How To Weep?" – In Manila, A Day For the Ages

Eighteen months since the first Latin American to occupy Peter's Chair drew 3 million to Rio's Copacabana Beach, this Sunday in Manila is almost certain to witness the largest crowds of this pontificate in the very same place where, 20 years ago this week, John Paul II presided over one of the most mammoth gatherings in human history.

Francis' day beginning having begun with a 9.30 am local (8.30pm ET Saturday) outdoor meeting with young people on the campus of the capital's University of Santo Tomas, below is a livestream an on-demand feed from the Filipino magazine Rappler....

Having (again) taken his prepared text and reworked it heavily on the fly with unscripted remarks, below is the Pope's address as delivered – the context is Francis' response to the four young people who, keeping with his custom for meetings with the young, delivered testimonies of their lives and experiences earlier in the encounter:

Dear Young Friends,

When I speak spontaneously I do it in Spanish, because I don’t know the English language. May I do it? Thank you very much. This is Fr Mark [Ed.: Msgr Mark Miles, the Gibraltar-born head of the Secretariat of State's "English Desk"], a good translator.

First of all, a sad piece of news. Yesterday, as Mass was about to start, a piece of scaffolding fell and, upon falling, hit a young woman who was working in the area and she died. Her name is Kristel. She worked for the organisation preparing for that Mass. She was 27 years old, young like yourselves. She worked for Catholic Relief Services as a volunteer. I would like all of you who are young like her to pray for a moment in silence with me and then we will pray to Our Mother in Heaven. Let us pray.

(Prays) Hail Mary…

Let us also pray for her parents. She was an only child. Her mother is coming from Hong Kong and her father is here in Manila.

(Prays) Our Father…

It is a joy for me to be with you this morning. I greet each of you from the heart, and I thank all those who made this meeting possible. During my visit to the Philippines, I wanted in a particular way to meet with young people, to listen to you and to talk with you. I want to express the love and the hopes of the Church for you. And I want to encourage you, as Christian citizens of this country, to offer yourselves passionately and honestly to the great work of renewing your society and helping to build a better world.

In a special way, I thank the young people who have offered words of welcome to me.

To Jun and Leandro Santos II and to Rikki, thank you very much. There’s only a very small representation of girls among you. Too little. Women have much to tell us in today’s society. Sometimes we are too “machistas” and we don’t allow enough space to women. But women can see things from a different angle to us, with a different eye. Women are able to pose questions we men are unable to understand. Look out for this fact: she is the only one who has put a question for which there is no answer. She couldn’t put it into words but expressed it with tears. So when the next pope comes to Manila, please let there be more girls.

I thank you Jun for talking about your experience so bravely. As I said, the heart of your question has no reply. Only when we too can cry about the things you said can we come close to answering that question. Why do children suffer so much? Why do children suffer? When the heart is able to ask itself and weep, then we can understand something. There is a worldly compassion which is useless. You expressed something like this. It’s a compassion that makes us put our hands in our pockets and give something to the poor. But if Christ had had that kind of compassion he would have greeted a couple of people, given them something, and walked on. But it was only when he was able to cry that he understood something of our lives.

Dear young boys and girls, today’s world doesn’t know how to cry. The emarginated people, those left to one side, are crying. Those who are discarded are crying. But we don’t understand much about these people in need. Certain realities of life we only see through eyes cleansed by our tears. I invite each one here to ask yourself: have I learned how to weep? Have I learned how to weep for the emarginated or for a street child who has a drug problem or for an abused child? Unfortunately there are those who cry because they want something else.

This is the first thing I want to say: let us learn how to weep as she has shown us today and let us not forget this lesson. The great question of why so many children suffer, she did this in tears. The response that we can make today is: let us really learn how to weep.

In the Gospel, Jesus cried for his dead friend, he cried in his heart for the family who lost its child, for the poor widow who had to bury her son. He was moved to tears and compassion whe n he saw the crowds without a pastor. If you don’t learn how to cry, you cannot be a good Christian. This is a challenge. When they posed this question to us, why children suffer, why this or that tragedy occurs in life – our response must be either silence or a word that is born of our tears. Be courageous, don’t be afraid to cry.

Then came Leandro Santos II and his question. He also posed a good question: the world of information. Today, with so many means of communication we are overloaded with information. Is that bad? No. It is good and can help. But there is a real danger of living in a way that we accumulate information. We have so much information but maybe we don’t know what to do with that information. So we run the risk of becoming museums of young people who have everything but not knowing what to do with it. We don’t need young museums but we do need holy young people. You may ask me: Father, how do we become saints? This is another challenge. It is the challenge of love. What is the most important subject you have to lean at university? What is most important subject you have to learn in life? To learn how to love. This is the challenge that life offers you: to learn bow to love. Not just to accumulate information without knowing what to do with it.. But through that love let that information bear fruit.

For this the Gospel offers us a serene way forward: using the three languages of the mind, heart and hands – and to use them in harmony. What you think, you must feel and put into effect. Your information comes down to your heart and you put it into practice. Harmoniously. What you think, you feel and you do. Feel what you think and feel what you do. Do what you think and what you feel. The three languages...

Can you repeat this? To think. To feel. To do. And all in harmony...

Real love is about loving and letting yourself be loved. It’s harder to let yourself be loved than to love. That is why it is so difficult to come to the perfect love of God. We can love Him but we must let ourselves be loved by Him. Real love is being open to the love that comes to you. The love that surprises us. If you only have information you are not surprised. Love surprises because it opens a dialogue of loving and being loved. God is a God of surprise because He loved us first. God awaits us to surprise us. Let us allow ourselves to be surprised by God. Let us not have a computer psychology that makes us think we know it all. All answers on computers - but no surprises. The challenge of love. God reveals himself through surprises.

Think of St Matthew. He was a good banker. But he let people down because he imposed taxes against his own people to give to the Romans. He was full of money. Jesus passed by, looked at him and said: “Follow me”. He couldn’t believe it. It you have the opportunity, see Caravaggio’s picture of him. Jesus calls him and those around say: “Him? He betrayed us! He is no good! He hoards money!” But the surprise of being loved overcomes him. The day when Matthew left home for work, saying goodbye to his wife, he couldn’t imagine he would come home without money and have to prepare a feast for the one who loved him first. God surprised Matthew more than the money he had. Allow yourselves to be surprised by God. Don’t be afraid of surprises. They shake the ground beneath our feet and make us insecure, but they move us forward in the right direction.

Real love allows you to spend yourselves, to leave your pockets empty. Think of St Francis who died with empty hands and empty pockets but with a full heart. Remember: no young museums, and wise young people. To be wise use three languages: think well, feel well and do well. And to be wise allow yourselves to be surprised by the love of God. That will guarantee a good life.

Rikki came up with a good plan for what we can do in life with all young people’s activities.

Thank you, Rikki, for what you and your friends do. I’d like to ask you a question: you and your friends help others but do you allow yourselves to receive? Answer in your heart.

In the Gospel we just heard, there was a beautiful phrase, for me the most important of all: Jesus looked at the young man and he loved him. When you see Rikki and his friends you love them because they do good things. Jesus says something very important: you lack one thing. Let us listen to this word in silence: you lack only one thing. (Repeats)

What is it that I lack? To all of you who Jesus loves so much, I ask you: do you allow others to give you from their riches to you who have not? The Sadducees, Doctors of the Law, in the time of Jesus, gave much to the people, they taught the people the law, but they never allowed the people to give them something. Jesus had to come to allow himself to feel compassion and to be loved.

How many young people among you are like this? You know how to give and yet you have ever learned how to receive. You still lack one thing. Become a beggar. This is what you still lack. Learn how to beg. This isn’t easy to understand. To learn how to beg. To learn how to receive with humility. To learn to be evangelized by the poor, by those we help, the sick, orphans, they have so much to give us. Have I learned how to beg? Or am I self-sufficient? Do I think I need nothing? Do you know you too are poor? Do you know your own poverty and your need to receive? Do you let yourselves be evangelised by those you serve? This is what helps you mature in your commitment to give to others. Learn how to open your hand from your very own poverty.

There are some points I have prepared. The first, I already told you: to learn how to love and to learn how to be loved. There is a challenge which is a challenge of u. This is not only because your country more than many others is likely to be seriously affected by climate change. There is the challenge, the concern for the environment. And finally, there is the challenge for the poor, to love the poor, with your bishops. Do you think of the poor? Do you feel with the poor? Do you do something for the poor? Do you ask the poor to give you the wisdom they have?

This is what I wish to tell you all today. Sorry if I haven’t read what I prepared for you but there is a phrase that consoles me: that reality is superior to ideas. The reality that you have is superior to the paper I have in front of me. Thank you very much. Pray for me!