“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”

Some Wonderful Resolutions for the New (Internet) Year

The great God-googler, Mike Hayes over at BustedHalo.com, has put together a wonderful list of New Year’s Resolutions based on the teaching and example of Pope Francis.  Do yourself a treat, if you haven’t already, and go read the whole list here.  So, I hope that Mike won’t mind if I do a riff from his list, with particular emphasis on how we Catholics “live” on the internet these days.  The National Catholic Reporter, for example, as well as many bloggers and others, have decided to disable comments on their websites because the language used in responses crosses the line of courteous, let alone CHRISTIAN, discourse.  With a profound nod to Mike, therefore, I’d like to reflect on his seven resolutions as they might apply to internet courtesy.  My friend and brother deacon, Greg Kandra, did something similar during Advent with an Internet Examination of Conscience; read it here.

But first, a bit of fun.  As I have made clear here and elsewhere, I have a profound admiration for Pope St. John XXIII.  Mike posted a picture of Pope Francis as part of his blog post; is it just me, or is there not a remarkable similarity between Francis and John (in more ways than one)?

Pope Francis or John XXIII pope-john-xxiii-during-ecumenical-council

Here’s Mike’s list of resolutions, based on the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelium gaudium:

Resolution #1: Be Joyful

Joy, as I pointed out in an earlier reflection on the Exhortation, is “the infallible sign of God’s presence” (to quote Teilhard).  If we truly believe the Truth of the Gospel, we should be filled with Joy and gratitude at the very core of our being!  There should be no such thing as a “sourpuss” Christian.  I resolve to reflect such joy in this blog.  I also hope that in the words used and responses to other posts will always be characterized by that joy.  I ask that visitors to this site try to do the same.

Resolution #2: Share Your Joy

The Pope is so right: We must not only BE joyful; we should all share that joy.  We should be the kind of Christian who says, “I’m good; the rest of you are on you are on your own!”  That’s one of the goals of this blog.  I am proud of our great Tradition, and I become quite frustrated at attempts to restrict the Tradition to one or another theo-political point of view!  I resolve to do my best to present the joy of the Gospel from the point of view of the whole of Scripture and Tradition.  This will be guaranteed to arouse the ire of extremists on either side of the spectrum, but so be it.  More about this later in the list.

Resolution #3: Exclude No One and Restore Dignity

The Pope has always stressed, as have his immediate predecessors, that God excludes no one from his love, and the salvation is open to all who come to God.  Perhaps it’s simply our flawed human nature that leads us to want to choose sides, one over and against another.  “We’re right and good; you’re wrong and bad.”  Another way to think about this is the tendency to have an “us versus them” attitude.  Some websites and blogs — even Catholic ones, even Catholic ones hosted by clergy! — seem to thrive on exclusionary language, mocking others who may disagree about things.  I resolve not to do such things here and invite people who may feel I have crossed such a line to draw my attention to it so I can correct it.

ThinkResolution #4: Diet From Devouring

While the Pope’s emphasis in this regard is largely economic, I think there’s a clear application to cyberspace as well.  A famous Catholic priest-author was once said to have “never had an unpublished thought”!  There’s simply no need to respond to every little thing (or big thing, for that matter).  I resolve to post only on things that are of particular interest or concern.  On the other hand, if folks would like to raise certain topics or suggest lines of inquiry, just let me know!  The questions would be “do I want to post on this?” and “Do I need to post on that?”

Resolution #5: Serve, Don’t Rule

OK, as one of my own teachers once opined, “The job of a professor is to profess!”  However, all such opining here is, I resolve, designed to serve the common good.  Ii hope that this blog can be a service for others, not a platform for bloviating.

Resolution #6: Practice Non-Violent Communication

Words matter; they can heal, they can hurt, they can destroy.  I resolve to attempt a level of discourse that reflects healing, peace and harmony.  Again, should readers find the language here offensive, please let me know.

Resolution #7: Combat the Tendency Toward Extremes

Extremism is almost always problematic.  As the old adage has it, “virtus in media stat”: Virtue stands in the middle.  As before, I resolve to avoid extremes and promote balance in all things.  There are so many sites in which extremes are promoted in language and attitude; I hope NOT to be one of them.  It seems to me that culturally we have lost civility and balance in discourse.  When we disagree with someone, there is a tendency to demonize them.  I hope that here we can disagree with courtesy and respect.

Thanks, Mike!

Monsignors and Serving the People of God UPDATED


A Ceremony “Robing” New Monsignori

Big “insider baseball” church news was the decision of Pope Francis to eliminate all but the lowest “rank” of Monsignor, and then to restrict even that form to diocesan priests over 65.  There have been all kinds of interesting reactions to this news!  One one side of the spectrum are those who find the move refreshing and a good first step at eliminating a sense of medieval-ism and careerism within the clergy; on the other, heads are exploding over this smack to the side of the clerical heads of those who found becoming a monsignor an affirmation of their personal and ecclesial worth.  One priest-blogger criticized that this decision was not made by the Pope in any kind of consultative manner and that perhaps it would be best for such matters to be dealt with on a local (diocesan) level.  Sorry, Father, it couldn’t work that way: “Being a monsignor” was always a PAPAL prerogative; it was his “gift”, although bishops would nominate men for the honor.  As the maxim has it, “he who gives, takes away.”  Furthermore, the pope DID consult on this decision.  He put a months-long moratorium on making any new monsignors, and I think it’s safe to assume he discussed this with his special group of Cardinal-advisors at their recent meeting.  This shouldn’t have surprised anyone at all!

For those new to this kind of thing, what are we talking about here?

First, Christ didn’t name “monsignors” (monsignori if you want to sound like Father Z).  This was a creation by church leadership as the “course of honors” (cursus honorum) developed through the post-Constantinian marriage of church and state which lasted until the American Revolution.  Just as secular honorifics and structures were created, they were paralleled in church honorifics and structures.  The word itself simply means “my lord”, and in some countries, it is actually a title used for a bishop.  It has absolutely NO connection to the sacrament of Holy Orders, although it is restricted to men who are in the Order of Presbyters.  As a deacon, of course, I never had any hopes of ever being a Monsignor anyway!  But people should understand that if their pastor went from being called “Father” to “Monsignor”, it didn’t mean that he had any more “sacred power” than a simple priest.  It was purely an honorific, usually given to two broad categories of priests: those who were younger and being signaled as those who might someday become bishops, and on those older men whom the bishop wanted to thank for a ministry well served.  As one priest-friend put it when he became a Monsignor, “I asked the bishop why he had done this.  He told me he wanted to thank me.  I asked him, ‘Why not just take me to dinner?’ I can’t even spell ‘Monsignor’!”  Later, my friend was named a bishop.  After his episcopal ordination, he e-mailed me that “at least I can spell ‘bishop.'”

Second, a bit of contemporary perspective.  As I’ve written about before, I’ve been around church and ministry for my whole life, and was in the seminary myself for high school and college (1963-1971).  Even before that time, the majority of the priests I knew in my diocese detested the idea of becoming a Monsignor.  On the one hand, we had a great Monsignor in our parish, and we all loved him.  He was Monsignor Patrick O’Connor Culleton, ordained in Dublin in 1901, came to our Diocese in Illinois early on, and became pastor at our parish in 1920; he remained pastor there until his death in the late 1950’s.  He was the pastor when a young newly-ordained priest named Fulton Sheen came to the parish for his first assignment.  Sheen always said that the Monsignor was the holiest priest he’d ever known.  But the younger priests — most of them anyway — wanted nothing to do with this kind of honorific, claiming that it was a relic of a time gone by that had no relevance whatsoever in the Church serving in the modern world.  It made no difference at all when one was marching for civil rights, or visiting people in an inner city slum.  In short, monsignori were seen as belonging to a different era in the life of the church.

The bishops at the Second Vatican Council agreed.  They were dead set against retaining structures and processes that no longer served any practical, pastoral use in the life of the church, and they directed the Holy Father to streamline things.  Pope Paul VI took this task on, and in 1972, the whole sacrament of Holy Orders was restructured, eliminating in the Latin Church the Rite of First Tonsure, the four minor orders and the major order of the Subdiaconate.  The diaconate was now to be exercised permanently and could be opened to both celibate and married men.  The same pope also reduced the number of “classes” or “ranks” of monsignori.  No one really knows just how many classes there were!  Some sources tally fifteen different classes of monsignor, others have twelve or thirteen.  Popeprotonotarios_zpsc9e4a1b2 Paul reduced them to three only.  Now, Pope Francis has reduced this list to one, and then only for diocesan priests over the age of 65.

What difference will this make?

1) On a practical level, absolutely none.  A priest is a priest is a priest.  That’s always been the case, sacramentally.  This doesn’t change that.  The best news is that priests don’t have to go out and buy all the fancy rig that was associated with being a monsignor.

2) For those men who actually wanted to be monsignori (and, at least in my humble experience, that’s been thankfully a very small number!), it will mean that they can now refocus their efforts on being the best priests they can be without waiting for a title or new clothes.  In honor of their non-selection as monsignori, perhaps these men could join their deacons and lay folks in paying an extra visit to a homeless shelter or in lobbying for a change in unjust laws or for immigration reform.  I’m not saying that these men are not doing good things already; but if they’re not going to have to worry about being a monsignor, they’ll be free to focus on other things.  Like getting the smell of the sheep on their clothes.

Cassock_purpled_zpsc36574403) There IS a negative side to this.  Our good priests DO deserve some kind of recognition and support for their ministry; all people who serve do!  We do need to support our priests and acknowledge their service and commitment.  Some bishops, out of a lack of any other ideas, thought that at least by getting the pope to name a priest a monsignor, this could be a small way of doing that.  But here’s a chance for some grass-roots creativity and initiative!  Being a monsignor was no way to recognize anyone, and in some men it just created more difficulties that it was worth.  What CAN we do, in a positive way, to acknowledge someone’s service?  No one who serves AS CHRIST SERVED needs or wants recognition.  The only human recognition Christ got was to be nailed to a cross, after all.  Still, as human beings, it’s nice to know when something we’ve done has been effective.  What can we do, what can YOU do, to show appreciation to ALL who serve in the name of Christ and in the name of the Church?


As I continue to follow the various blog responses to this issue, I was struck by something.  It seems to me, anecdotally and not based on any scientific analysis, that most of the folks OBJECTING to the loss of new monsignors are people who are converts to Catholicism.  By and large, so-called “cradle Catholics” like myself are all in favor of it; those who have come later to the Church seem to be suffering the loss.  File in the “interesting, for what it’s worth” categories.

Happy New Year!