On the road again — but not too far!

lectionarySorry I haven’t posted in a couple of days, but we have been preparing for our annual retreat for our current deacon candidate class, coming up next weekend, during which they will be installed in the ministry of Lector by the bishop.  I’ve also headed to the neighboring Diocese of Fresno to facilitate their annual Clergy Convocation.  Today I met with Bishop Armando Ochoa and the presbyterate of the Diocese.  Since tArmando Ochoahe diaconate is still relatively new in the Diocese, we spent the day talking about the diaconate in general and responding to questions and concerns that the priests had.  But this is all preliminary to the matters we’ll work on tomorrow: pastoral planning in the Diocese.  Tomorrow the deacons join us and we’re going to talk about the annual pastoral planning process we’re developing in the Diocese of Monterey and see how a similar process might help in Fresno.

So, as the clergy of the Diocese prayerfully discern their next steps in strategic pastoral planning, please keep all of us in your prayers!  Please pray for our deacon candidates and their families in Monterey, and for our neighbors in Fresno!

“That All May be One”: International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

banners_semana-oracion-unidad1-EN largeThis week (18-25 January) we observe the annual International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  You can read the message from Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Cardinal-President of The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity here.  There are many resources available for our use throughout this week, including these from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This initial reflection on the Week is just that: a starting point.  Much more remains to be developed.  For now, let’s start at the beginning, which is quite simple yet profound: We Christians are already united — in a common baptism!  Before getting into our differences, let’s start at our point of unity.

While some folks seem to get more than a little nervous about things like this, it is important to remember that our concern for unity goes all the way back to Christ himself:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,  I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  (John 17: 20-24)

paul-athenagorasThis year we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s landmark document on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, which gave added impetus to Catholic participation in the effort.  It is also the fiftieth anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras.  Pope John XXIII, from the beginning of his papacy in 1958, had made Christian unity a goal.  On 5 June 1960, during the early preparations for the Council, Pope John established a “Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity” as one of the preparatory commissions for the Council, and appointed Cardinal Augustin Bea as its first President. This was the first time that the Holy See had set up an office to deal uniquely with ecumenical affairs.

 [From the Vatican web site:]  At first, the main function of the Secretariat was to invite the other Churches and World Communions to send observers to the Second Vatican Council. Already, however, from the first session (1962), by a decision of Pope John XXIII, it was placed on the same level as the conciliar commissions. The Secretariat thus prepared and presented to the Council the documents on ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio), on non-Christian religions (Nostra aetate), on religious liberty (Dignitatis humanae) and, together with the doctrinal commission, the dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum).

As a kind of introduction to the week’s prayer, consider some insights from the Council itself.  From Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, we read the following:

baptisms-570x27915. The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. . . .  We can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. In all of Christ’s disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. (17*) Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about. She exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the earth.

This week we stress that unceasing prayer for unity.  But it also serves to remind us that we believe in the very real power of our common baptism, and that we already are in communion, even if it is not yet a perfect communion, with other baptized Christians.  The Decree on Ecumenism builds on this idea:

AllSaints3. . . .  In subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church-for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church-whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church-do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. . . .  But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.  Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.

Sean and AnnePerhaps, during the coming week, we can begin our prayer by celebrating the common foundation we share. Our communion may be imperfect, but it is no less real. For example, a recent photo of Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley being blessed by Methodist pastor Rev. Anne Robinson during an ecumenical prayer service has created quite a stir around the internet.  Some people have been scandalized; others have questioned the Cardinal’s judgment, and still others have praised it.  Even canonist Edward Peters had to weigh in to clarify concerns and allay some fears.  Read his comments here.  As he points out: “No canon or liturgical law prohibits baptized non-Catholics from making the Sign of the Cross nor from using Holy Water in accord with its character. Thus, one Christian making the Sign of the Cross on another Christian’s forehead (in explicit commemoration of one’s baptism or not) is simply something to be explained to those not used to seeing it performed by a female Protestant minister on a Catholic cardinal. . . .”  In short, then, I think the image of this blessing of one Christian by another has really little to say about whether one is ordained or not; rather, it should be a powerful witness to all Christians of the common character of our shared baptism.

Certainly, many things still divide Christians.  But if we can start from a common foundation, future steps toward full communion seem far more achievable.

When Catholic Blogs aren’t, well, Catholic: UPDATE

Francis ad orientem

Pope Francis “ad orientem”

File this in the “something to think about” category.

When Pope Francis recently announced his picks for the red hat, he did so during a Mass in the Sistine Chapel in which he faced the East: ad orientem.  The headline of a popular putatively Catholic blog read, “For the record: Francis Turns Toward God — 2”.  The reason for the number “2” is that it was the second time the Pope had celebrated ad orientem, and the blog had similarly reported that first celebration as “Francis turns toward God.”  On another blog, a priest-commenter reported that ad orientem actually meant “toward Christ”!  In both cases, the whole context was that this was a significant theological development on the part of the Pope, a pope who apparently was signalling his doctrinal or liturgical orthodoxy by choosing to celebrate ad orientem. Who could possibly object to such reverence?  Obviously, to be a good Catholic, we must celebrate this way, right?  Who wouldn’t want to “turn toward God” or to “face Christ”?  Real Catholics are the ones who face the East (ad orientem) because that’s where God is, right?

Unfortunately for folks who might be taken in by that line of reasoning, this is NOT what the Catholic Church actually teaches.


Ad Orientem

versus populum 2

Versus Populum

Catholic teaching and practice, from the very beginning, reflected great diversity and practice on all of this.  In some ancient churches, there was an East-West orientation, and the priest and people would together face the East, where the sun would rise, analogous to God spreading light upon a darkened world.  However, there is also significant architectural evidence that this was not a universal practice, with the architecture of other churches facilitating a versus populum (toward the people) orientation.  Eventually, the ad orientem orientation became prevalent, but the option to celebrate versus populum remained a permissible option.  The point here is that traditional Catholic theology never made the claim that God was only accessible via one orientation or another.  Traditional understanding was that priest and people were together in praying to God during the Eucharist.  This was true whether facing East or facing the people.  The concerns of some Catholic conservatives today seem to rest on the idea that facing the people somehow makes the Mass a kind of “performance” by the priest, and that versus populum  is one small step from a Broadway production focused on people and not on God.

Let’s review.

1) Traditional Catholic theology emphasizes that God is everywhere.

2) The Church prefers, in accordance with the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, that the Mass be celebrated versus populum whenever possible, but ad orientem is certainly permitted, especially if the architecture of the sanctuary makes that preferable.  Vatican II also teaches that “the full, conscious and active participation” of all the faithful at Mass is to be the number one priority when considering liturgical reform (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy).

deacon proclaiming Gospel

Christ present in many ways during Mass: the Proclamation of the Word, for example.

3) This same document, which as a Constitution of a general council of the Church is among the highest magisterial teaching documents of the Church, also addresses how Christ is present in the Mass:

To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical
celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, “the
same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross”,
but especially under the eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that
when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. He is present in His word, since it
is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly,
when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in
my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20) .

Back to these blog headlines and comments.  First, the language of the headline permits the inference by those who wish to make it, that the Pope — until now — has been oriented AWAY from God, but has now seen the error of his ways; I’m sure the writer would vehemently deny such a claim, but the language permits such an inference, whatever the original intent of the writer.  Second, the language suggests that God exists in a certain direction and not in another (specifically, versus populum).  The state of the Pope’s personal spirituality is beyond the scope of this blog, certainly!  However, the second suggestion flies directly in the face of actual Catholic teaching.  It is a shame that people might be misled — whether deliberately or not — to think that this represents Catholic teaching.

To recap: the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church permits, and always has, Masses celebrated both ad orientem and versus populum, although contemporary liturgical law favors versus populum.  The entire Catholic Church believes, as expressed by the world’s bishops and confirmed and promulgated by Pope Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council, that Christ is present at Mass in the people assembled, in the proclamation of the Word of God, in the person of the ordained ministers, especially the priest, and in a special way under the forms of bread and wine.

We owe it to each other to try to be as accurate about these things as we can.  Our Catholic Tradition is simply too rich and pastoral practice too diverse to try to box it into categories that reduce the very Catholicity we seek!

UPDATE:  A reader e-mailed me with a question about the tabernacle, suggesting that this might be why the priest would face ad orientem: because that was the direction of the tabernacle containing the reserved Sacred Species consecrated during previous Masses.  However, this is not the reason for ad orientem.  Examining the ancient churches of Christianity, one finds that tabernacles were located in a rather wide array of places: sometimes on the altar itself, sometimes in separate locations altogether: the priest never adjusted his orientation because of the location of the tabernacle.  They didn’t then; they shouldn’t now.  That’s never been part of the liturgical theology of the Church.

versus populum

“Da mihi, Domine, fortitudem Tuam”

prayerI recently responded to a posting on another blog.  The experience, on a human level, was not pleasant in the least; on a spiritual level, it was good because it brought me to prayer.  “Give me, O Lord, your strength!”  Always a good thing.

It also reminded me of the internet resolutions I made earlier this month.  Read them here.  Other bloggers have offered excellent tools for reflection, such as my friend and brother deacon, Greg Kandra, who offers a great Examination of Conscience, here, and, through Greg, I’ve found another resource by Cara Joyner, here.

In addition to my own earlier list, and drawn from this most recent experience, I want to build on Cara’s five points:

Before posting, she asks:

  1. Am I seeking approval?
  2. Am I boasting?
  3. Am I discontent?
  4. Is this a moment to protect?
  5. Is it kind?

competence1These are wonderful and appropriate questions.  I would like to add two more, to make a “holy seven”:

6.  Am I competent to address the issue?  Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but not all opinions carry the same weight or value.  I might have an opinion about the latest influenza strain.  How nice for me!  But a medical doctor who posts her professional opinion on the same subject gets the nod!  I’m not saying folks have to have a degree in order to comment or to have an opinion.  But what I see so often is that if a person has an opinion, they presume that it must be the final word and that their opinion is the only one that is true or that matters!  I have frequently taught logic and critical thinking courses.  As we find out in class, when two people disagree on something, we may conclude any number of things: a) one is correct and the other is wrong; or, b) both are correct but in different ways; or, c) both are wrong.  All a disagreement tells us is that there is a disagreement; the veracity of one position over another is something else again.  That is where “competence” comes into play, along with an ability to think critically and honestly.  So, when sharing my opinion, I must be brutally honest with myself: What is my level of competence or incompetence in writing on an issue?  The anonymity of the internet often communicates a false confidence and competence: a person can claim many things which can not always be verified in fact: that a person is a priest or deacon, for example, or that he or she holds this or that academic degree, or that they were just talking about this very issue with the Pope last week!  That’s why it can be very helpful, when offering opinions, to provide verifiable information which supports one’s position.  There are any number of blogs for example in which the blogger claims certain ecclesiastical status (priesthood, for example) but then proceeds to act in ways which would cast serious doubt on the veracity of such a claim.

angryatcomputer7. Do I know when to exit the field grace-fully?  When discussing contentious subjects online (or anywhere else, for that matter), do I know when to shut up?  Not only that, can I do that with the grace and gentility of spirit and discourse that should mark a disciple of Christ?  Or, as Cara asks, “Is it kind?”  Again, the anonymity of the internet not only grants an inflated sense of self, it adds a perceived level of protection which permits a person to say anything they like; things they would never dare say in person.  Sometimes it’s just better to walk away, as Christ did, with sadness of heart, than to remain and escalate into un-Christian behavior.


It simply seems that many people have simply forgotten — or have never known — how to discuss, analyze and even argue with respect, civility, docility and humility.  One may argue passionately without rudeness; emotionally, without nastiness; critically, without condescension.


“Give me, O Lord, your strength!”

From the Beginning: Deacons in Cameroon

It’s always good to keep things in perspective.  One way to do that is to consider often overlooked history.  For example:Cameroon Map

The Catholic bishops of the world assembled at the Second Vatican Council voted overwhelmingly in 1964 to renew the Order of Deacons as a ministry permanently exercised.  Bishops who expressed particular interest in this renewed Order came largely from Western and Eastern Europe (the majority) followed by bishops of Latin America and Africa.  Following the Council, in 1967,  Pope Paul VI implemented this decision when he promulgated Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem.

One of the things the bishops had agreed upon was that the decision whether or not to have (permanent) deacons had to be made by a petition from the appropriate episcopal conference to the Holy See.  Following the Pope’s motu proprio, five episcopal conferences immediately requested and received permission to ordain deacons (and the United States wasn’t one of them).  The Conferences from Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, and Cameroon.  (For those interested, the bishops of the United States studied the issue for a year and then in 1968, requested and received permission; the first deacons in the US were ordained in 1969.)

Germany had the first ordinations, on 3 November and 8 December, 1968.  But also on 8 December 1968, seven men were ordained deacons for the Diocese (now Archdiocese) of Douala in Cameroon.

Cameroon?  Why?  Context is critical.

191610-advent-procession-bamenda-cameroonColonial Cameroon achieved independence between 1955 and 1960.  Pope John, of course, had announced on 25 January 1959 his intention to convene the Council, and the early preparations began.  In Africa, the face of Catholicism, especially its episcopal leadership, was changing rapidly.  The first native African bishop in all of Africa had been ordained in Rome by Pope Pius XII in 1939; he remained the only African bishop on the continent until 1951.  Then, between 1951 and 1958 (the end of Pius XII’s papacy), 20 more were ordained, and in 1960, Pope John named one of them, Archbishop Rugambwa of Tanzania, the first native African cardinal of the church. One of those bishops was Thomas Mongo, a 41-year old priest of the Diocese of Douala, who became auxiliary bishop, and then two years later, in 1957, the diocesan bishop of Douala.

It was in this capacity that Bishop Mongo attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council.  He served as diocesan Bishop until ill-health forced his early retirement in 1973 at the age of 59; he lived a very simple life of service until his death in 1988.

Bishop Mongo of Douala

Conference in honor of Bishop Mongo whose portrait is visible in front of the panel

By all accounts, Bishop Mongo was known as a gentle and attentive leader, committed to building up the community among his people and their priests (and then, his deacons).  Unlike many other bishops, he had no advanced university education.  One biographer highlighted his exceptionally collaborative style by noting that among his closest aides, throughout his entire time as diocesan bishop, he had only one vicar general, chancellor and finance officer.  Today he remains revered as the “Father” of the Archdiocese of Douala.  Though he suffered from poor health through most of his tenure, he was famous for his focus on the poor of Cameroon, especially the children.  He worked personally in building homes for the poor, paid school fees for poor children, and even gave up his own car, preferring to walk or to ride along with someone else.  He was also the first bishop in all of Africa to ordain permanent deacons to assist him in all of this community building.  The bishop was also well-known for his political activism, an “artisan of peace” who actively engaged in political debates concerning Cameroon’s future.  In particular, he preached that the country “should be placed in God’s hands, retain its African identity and not be a replica of France.”  He opposed colonial rule and condemned any political action that would deprive people of their rights.

Deacons are still being ordained in Douala, with the latest report I have seen about an ordination in 2013.  While they are not great in numbers (approximately 20, from what I can find), they are part of the foundations of the contemporary diaconate, and we can all learn from our “founders”!

Cameroon Deacon 2013

A Simple, Lovely Gesture: Cardinal Loris Capovilla


Retired Archbishop Capovilla under Portrait of John XXIII

Pope Francis has now announced his selections to be named Cardinals at the next Consistory on 22 February 2014.  There were no real surprises in the list, but there was an unusual tribute paid to Pope John XXIII, who will be canonized in company with Pope John Paul II next April.  On the list of new cardinals was the name of Loris Francesco Capovilla, formerly a priest of the Archdiocese of Venice and long-time secretary to Cardinal Roncalli during his service as the Patriarch of Venice and then during his tenure as Pope John XXIII.

Roncalli and Capovilla and Pacelli

Last Audience with Pope Pius XII. Cardinal Roncall and Father Capovilla, 1957

Loris was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Venice in 1940.  When newly-appointed Cardinal Angelo Roncalli arrived in Venice in 1953 to take over as Patriarch, he tapped Fr. Capovilla to be his priest-secretary.  He accompanied the Cardinal to Rome on many occasions, including Roncalli’s trip to Rome for Conclave following the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958.  Following his boss’s election to the papacy, Fr. Loris remained at his side until Pope John’s death on the feast of Pentecost, 1963.

Father Capovilla was ordained a bishop in 1967 and retired in 1988.  He now resides in a community named after the birthplace of his old friend.  Over the years, he has been an invaluable resource for scholars studying the ministry of Papa Giovanni, and his selection to be a Cardinal is simply one more sign of Pope Francis’ own devotion to Pope John.  The pope, of course, already waived the necessity of a second miracle to be attributed to Pope John, and coupled his canonization with that Pope John Paul II.

roncalli e capovilla

Capovilla walking in the Vatican Gardens with Pope John

Amidst all of the armchair analysis of the other cadinalatial selections and their possible impact on the Church, this particular selection is a simple, lovely gesture of humility and respect.


Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII

The Community of “Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII”