Returning to the Blogosphere

After spending the last few months immersed in diocesan ministry, teaching, and writing, I think I’m finally able to give a little time to the blog!  Many have asked if I was giving it up completely, or just for Lent!

So, for whatever it may be worth, the blog is open again!

deacon logo

“In medio stat virtus (et synodus)”: What if the OTHER side is correct?

santa-teresa-de-avila-12sept2012In honor of the great Saint Teresa, whom we remember today, and before reading what follows, take a deep breath.  Exhale s-l-o-w-l-y.  Repeat several times.

Now, given all of the extreme positions being taken by some people in response to Synod 2014’s Relatio post disceptationem, we should all be asking ourselves two questions:

1) Do I find myself agreeing with the extremes on either side?  Do you side with Muller/Burke or with Kasper?  Are you demonizing “the other side” as you define it?  Now, few people may answer that question directly, preferring to say, with St. Paul, “I stand with Christ.”  Honestly, though, every Christian will say that, won’t they, even when they take contradictory positions?

2) IF you find yourself on one of the extremes, I’m curious: what will you do if the “other” side (whichever that is) should become the preferred position taken by the Church?  What if the Church adopts positions which do not precisely correspond with your own?  What will you do?

As a followup to yesterday’s blog post (here), I just hope and pray that ALL of us can find the virtue that stands “in the middle.”  What is necessary now is a proper sense of reason and balance.  Aristotelian ethics, which would later influence St. Thomas Aquinas, held that every virtue is a balance between extremes: courage lies between cowardice and foolhardiness, for example.

Please, fellow Catholics, take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and pray.  As a people of faith, we believe that the Holy Spirit is in charge; we should all act like it!

Holy Spirit


Earthquakes and Tremors: The “Relatio” in Context

Synod2014Yesterday, very early in the morning here in California, my cell phone alerted me to a new message.  My first reaction was to ignore it and go back to sleep, but curiosity won out.  This was when I found out about the just-released Relatio post disceptationem from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.  As the Catholic blogosphere exploded into comments, analyses, cries of outrage, prayers of thanksgiving, “sighs, mourning and weeping” and then the inevitable calls for clarification, I thought I might blog something as well.  By the time I had the time to do so, however, I felt like I was standing in front of a fire hose shooting often conflicting information at full force onto a hot fire of feelings.  What could I possibly add to this maelstrom that could be helpful?

Context.  Every text has a context.

1) Keep the big picture in mind!  Remember that this Extraordinary Synod is only the first step in the process initiated by Pope Francis.  This Synod’s purpose is to study, discuss, debate, and question issues related to contemporary family life, and then to frame the questions to be studied, discussed, debated and questioned by the whole church throughout the coming year.  The results of the year-long process will then become the subject of the Ordinary Synod which is scheduled for October 2015.  More about that later.

Synod2) This relatio is a work-in-progress.  It is not a final document of any standing whatsoever.  It is first a status report, summarizing the conversations held thus far at the Synod.  Those conversations, of course, have been remarkable.  Following the Pope’s opening address in which he asked the participants to speak freely and boldly, they have done so, and it is thrilling to read the results of those conversations thus far.  Second, the relatio is a draft document which is intended to be revised, corrected, amended, and re-written over the next several days.  The final version of the document will be presented to Pope Francis later in the week as the Extraordinary Synod draws to a close.  Third, it appears that the hope of the Synod Fathers (the bishops together with Pope Francis) is that the final document will serve as a guide to the discussions, debates, listening sessions, research and conversations that they hope will happen over the coming year throughout every Diocese.  That is why the questions which are incorporated into the relatio are so important; it is easy to see that these are intended to be asked by every Catholic, lay and ordained, over the next year.  Then, in October 2015, the Ordinary Synod will take up the questions again, aided and informed by the work of this year of discernment throughout the entire Church.  It is, I believe, at that time that we will see certain questions and issues being addressed in more definitive form, both in terms of a final report from the Ordinary Synod and also from the papal magisterium in the form of an Apostolic Constitution or Apostolic Exhortation.  In addition, should changes be desired to the current Code of Canon Law, it is possible that Pope Francis might announce those at that time as well, although he might also choose to give the results of the Ordinary Synod to the Commission he has already appointed to study the canons related to annulments, so that the Synod’s work can inform their work.

SynodThurs23) Be prepared for unpopular changes to the current text.  Since this is a working document, synodal bishops who feel their points of view are not adequately presented will push to change that, and it may appear like a rollback of some of the ideas now being applauded by so many.  This should not be seen as discouraging OR encouraging: it will be an attempt to clarify and, in the end, reflect the complexity of the issues which remain.  It’s the way bishops tend to work.  You can see this in the press briefing offered this morning, in which Cardinal Napier of South Africa complained that the current text did not adequately describe all the positions being taken by the bishops.  He also expressed a reasonable concern that — because of the great explosion of media coverage on the relatio — bishops may now feel they are locked into the current text because any attempt to revise it will be misunderstood.  He’s right, I think: any changes now are going to be looked at very warily by people on all sides of the issues.  Still, the normal process of making revisions to a working document should be followed.

4) Keep an eye on the official synod bulletins and clarifications.  This will add additional context to the process.  John Thavis, veteran journalist on Vatican matters, reported this morning:

Today’s synod bulletin summarizes the reaction among synod participants during a two-hour debate yesterday. On one hand, it said, there was acclaim for the way the document managed to accurately reflect the speeches at the assembly and its general theme of “welcoming” as a key to evangelization. The synod should have the “watchful gaze of the pastor who devotes his life for his sheep, without a priori judgment,” was how the Vatican summarized the favorable reviews.

As for the objections, they were many – although it is hard to say how much support each criticism has among the nearly 200 bishops present.

The official Bulletin lists a number of the objections to the text.  They include everything from wanting a more complete treatment of traditional families to a better treatment of societies which practice polygamy.  It may be expected that the final form of the document presented to Pope Francis at the end of the week will certainly incorporate some of these items.

Empty Tomb5) Remember the distinction between doctrine and dogma.  Doctrines are the teachings of the Church; dogmas are doctrines that we believe to be part of God’s revealed truth.  Doctrines can and do develop over time; dogmas do not, although the way we attempt to express them can change as our human understanding of them deepens.  The church can have a doctrine regarding, for example, the lending of money at interest.  At one time, the Church taught that it was immoral to do this under any circumstances, fighting against the practice of usury (This is why, for example, the Christians in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” had to go to Shylock for a loan: it was illegal to do so from another Christian).  Clearly this is a teaching which has changed over time, as the context changed.  A dogma, on the other hand, would include our teaching on the Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit.  General talk that we often read now concerning the Synod involves “changing church doctrine”.  Some are saying, “We can’t do that because they come from God!”  That would be correct if we’re talking about dogma, and even then the words we use can still be developed, even while the dogma itself remains unchanged.  Plus, are we talking about dogmas in every case here?

Television coverage of Vatican II

Television coverage of Vatican II

6) The Synodal Process in Light of the Second Vatican Council.  Many people have noted that the synodal process (by which I mean the entire process of preparation for this Extraordinary Synod, the Synod itself, with its working documents, then the “intersession” between the Extraordinary Synod and the Ordinary Synod next year, and its documentary results) has a tone reminiscent of the Second Vatican Council.  I would agree that there are certainly many similarities.  A popular pope who calls together bishops of the Church to discuss areas of concern, a group of bishops and others who express horror and concern that “timeless truths” risk being discarded and that the ecclesial sky is falling, other groups who predict wholesale changes to teaching as well as pastoral practice, the world’s media pouncing on every press release, statement and bulleting: ALL of these things were present during the Council.  One of the photographs I often use in teaching about the Council shows the bishops in Council in St. Peter’s Basilica, with a television camera right in the middle of it.  The entire world, still reeling from world wars, economic collapse, living under a nuclear threat and a not-so-Cold War, wanted desperately to hear Good News from the Catholic bishops of the world.

vatII-4The Council proceeded in stages, too, just like this synodal process.  There was an “antepreparatory phase” in which input was solicitied from bishops and others around the world.  There was a “preparatory phase” in which the nearly 9,000 items received were considered and placed in some kind of order, and seventy draft documents were prepared — all before the Council opened.  Then came the Council, held in the Fall months over four years, from 1962-1965.  Not only were these four sessions important: so too were the intersessions — the time between the sessions — in which much of the work continued, bishops discussed matters at home with their pastors and people, research was conducted, and preparations were made for the coming Fall Session.

While synods have been a long standing tradition in the 2000 years of church history, the Council Fathers envisioned a renewed kind of synodal process.  The nearly 3000 bishops at the Council found that the collegial work they were doing in Council was of great value, as they learned about the pastoral needs and responses of their brother bishops around the world.  How could this collegial process be extended in the future, without having to go through the expense and time to call ALL of the world’s bishops together?  Might there be a way to gather a smaller, but representative group of bishops together with the Pope to discuss specific issues of concern.  And the contemporary synodal process was born.  This was understood as a way to extend the work of the Council into the future.  There have been many synods since the Council, but none has captured the imagination of the world like the current event.  Many bishops have complained over the years that synods have not been the source of creative pastoral responses that the Council Fathers had intended; perhaps the biggest change with THIS Synod is that there is a renewed appreciation that these bishops, representing their brothers, and in full communion with the Holy Father, will be able to recommend and even to effect changes in pastoral practice in a way not done before.

There is also a “conciliar feel” to the process itself: the preparation process for this Extraordinary Synod (including the questions sent out from the Synod office, requesting wide dissemination as a way to prepare for the Synod), the fact that there are two synodal events (I do not want to refer to them as “Sessions” such as we use for General Councils of the Church): the Extraordinary Synod this year and the Ordinary Synod next year, with the period in between the Synods to be used for further research, study and development, much like the conciliar “intersessions.”

Nonetheless, while many of us get a kind of “conciliar feel” from the current synodal process, it would be wrong to treat this like a Council.  It is NOT a General (sometimes called an “Ecumencial” (world wide)) Council of the Church.  Some have suggested that perhaps the time is right to hold another General Council, that issues such as those related to the family are too important to be left to a synodal process.  Perhaps this is true, and perhaps this could actually be a recommendation of the Ordinary Synod next year: that the Holy Father consider doing just that — although I doubt that will happen.  My own opinion is that what we are witnessing now is the synodal process as it was originally envisioned and intended by the Council Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.  Let’s see how this works out.

This is an exciting time for the Church: not only because vitally important questions related to marriage and family life are being debated and addressed at long last by church leaders, but also because we are witnessing a renewal in the leadership structures of the church herself.  As Pope Francis has repeated so often since his election, everything — including the structures we use to serve others — must be evaluated in very concrete terms: how well are we able to care for ALL of God’s people?  That is the standard to be applied.  We exist to serve others in need and, as the saying goes, “justice delayed is justice denied.”  The tradition and the history of the Church reveal that we have always had great flexibility in how we attempt to serve, while agreeing on the core truths of faith.

Keep watching!  And, as the Holy Father himself reminded the assembly at Mass yesterday morning before the relatio was released, “be open to God’s surprises”!

Back from Vacation!

The silence here has been due to a conscious decision to “unplug” a bit while taking a couple of weeks to visit family around the country. It’s been a wonderful, life-giving time.  Here’s just one picture with two of our fourteen grandchildren!

photo (18)

I’m back now, however, and intend to get back to many things, including this blog, once I clear a pile of paperwork from my desk!

God bless all here!

Bishops, Blogs and the Clergy: Accountability and Obedience

Holy SpiritThe recent fracas over a blog hosted by a deacon in England has revealed some interesting fault lines in the development of communications strategies in the contemporary Catholic world. Add to the normal ecclesial relationships involved based on our sacramental theology of Holy Orders and canon law, the American penchant for seeing everything through the lens of personal rights and freedom, and you have a fascinating matrix of meaning. What follows is not intended as in any way comprehensive or exhaustive on the subject, but I would like to raise certain things for reflection and consideration.  It is also important to remember that these comments are focused on the Latin Church of the Catholic Church.

First, let’s consider two points about the relationship between a cleric and his bishop.

Point #1: The cleric has become a cleric because he was ordained by a bishop. This ordination has certain effects, both sacramental and canonical.  The sacramental effect configures the ordinand in a particular way with Christ; I will address the canonical effect shortly.  Since 1972 and the revisions made to the sacrament of Holy Orders by Pope Paul VI, one enters the clerical state by ordination as a deacon through the laying on of the bishop’s hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit. (Prior to 1972, one entered the clerical state, not through ordination at all, but through the liturgical rite of “tonsure”; the new cleric was then considered “capable” ( “capax” in Latin) of receiving sacramental ordination. The analogy might be with farming: one first plows a furrow and prepares the land to receive the seed and be fruitful; tonsure was that necessary first step.)

Deacon-2Point #2: During the liturgy of ordination, and prior to the moment of ordination itself, the ordinand makes a series of promises to the bishop. The most dramatic promise comes when the ordinand approaches the bishop, puts his hands in the bishops’ while the bishop asks: “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and to my successors?” (If the ordinand is being ordained by a bishop other than his own, the words are changed slightly to reflect that he is promising obedience to his own diocesan bishop and not to the ordaining bishop.) Through this promise and subsequent ordination, the newly-ordained deacon is sacramentally changed at the core of his being, and also becomes linked permanently in relationship with his bishop and the diocesan church. This particular effect of ordination also has a canonical effect, and is referred to as incardination. For example, on 25 March 1990, I was ordained into the Order of Deacons by His Eminence James Cardinal Hickey, then the Cardinal-Archbishop of Washington, DC. I made the promise of obedience to Cardinal Hickey and his successors, which has now included Cardinal McCarrick and Cardinal Wuerl. Over all of the years since, although I have served in a variety of places outside of the archdiocese as well as within the archdiocese, I have always remained incardinated in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC. That is my ecclesiastical “home”.

Concerning the notion of obedience, this is no mere profession of blind obedience to the bishop, nor is it simply a legal requirement to preserve good order and discipline.  Holy Orders, as we are told repeatedly in Vatican documents on the diaconate and the priesthood, is at its core about relationships: the relationship of the ordained with Christ, the relationship of the clergy with their bishop, for example, and the relationship of the clergy with the people we serve, or with each other. Ordination is not simply about the individual being ordained, but is actually about the entire Church. For example, it is often helpful to state that a person is not ordained “a deacon” or “a priest”; rather, he is ordained into the Order of Deacons or into the Order of Presbyters. We never operate alone: we are called into a community of service. Therefore, obedience sets the standard for this community. Obedience, in its theological roots, refers to listening and hearing (Latin: ob + audire) the Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit working through others, and in the case of ordination, that means recognizing the Holy Spirit working through the bishop. It acknowledges in humility that the ordinand recognizes that, through the Bishop’s own ordination into the Order of Bishops, he has received the Holy Spirit in a unique way, the same Holy Spirit he is about to invoke upon the ordinand. The “promise of obedience” then is a profound theological as well as legal moment of that new relationship. Both our theology and consequently our law abhors the notion of a “vagus” cleric: an “unattached” cleric who is not incardinated somewhere, a cleric who is not somehow attached to a particular Church and exercising ministry under the “oversight” (episkopē” in Greek) of a bishop or other legitimate ecclesiastical superior.

IncardinationBefore turning to this particular example, one more technical point to make.  There are two broad categories of clergy: so-called “secular” (or diocesan) clergy, where the relationship is focused on the particular geographical community known as a diocese, headed by a diocesan bishop.  The other broad category are “religious” clergy, who are members of various religious communities that are most often not geographically restricted.  Vows are made (unlike diocesan clergy who do not make vows) upon entrance into the particular religious community, and the religious superior is not a diocesan bishop, but a religious superior; religious clergy serve wherever their congregation serves, and that might be worldwide.

With this as background we come to the current situation of a cleric and his bishop and the deacon’s blog.

The deacon in the current situation is member of the diocesan clergy, bound by his promise of obedience to his bishop.  Someone asked about Deacon Greg Kandra and his famous “Deacon’s Bench” blog: yes, if Greg’s bishop were to decide that Greg should no longer host his blog, he would be expected to give it up.  As clergy, we surrender a certain amount of freedom which lay people would have in a similar situation.  According to Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium), #18, all clergy exist for one reason: to build up the Body of Christ.  It is one of the responsibilities of the diocesan bishop to assess this “on the ground” and to make determinations about the building up of the Body of Christ in his own diocese.  As clergy, we are public persons.  As such, we cannot really say that “in this activity I am operating as a private person” with regard to the church.  We give that ability up upon ordination.  We now represent Christ and we also represent the Church.  St. Thomas Aquinas famously taught that a cleric acts “in persona Christi et in nomine ecclesiae” (“in the person of Christ and in the name of the Church”).

Dolan at Santa CruceCardinal Dolan, in a recent talk at Rome’s University of Santa Croce during a conference on communications, pointed out that we must “adhere to the best and highest standards. . . .  How we say something is just as important as what we say.”  In this observation he is echoing St. John XXIII, who frequently spoke of the permanence of religious truth on the one hand, and the ways in which those truths are expressed on the other.  How we communicate is just as important as the content of what we have to say.  As a screenwriter once put it, “Is coarseness a substitute for wit, I ask myself?”  Truth is one thing; a Christian should be communicating that truth in a Christian manner; there is no room for “snarkiness”, demeaning characterizations, ad hominem arguments or anything of the like.  This is so much more than just “being nice” to others.  For clergy in particular, it is about doing what “builds up” the Body, not acting in a manner which derides and  tears down the Body.  That’s really the gold standard: When I write, when I speak, am I building up the Body of Christ, or serving to tear it down?

If we are not building up the Body, and we are clergy, then it is the obligation of our bishop or religious superior to take corrective action on behalf of the diocesan church.  So, when we come across a blog hosted by a member of the Catholic clergy, consider the following points:

1) How well is the cleric in question reflecting a positive, constructive, and energetic vision of the Church?  If the blog is characterized by negative, hand-wringing, woe-is-me attitudes about the Church, find another blog to visit!

2) How does the cleric communicate, especially about others with whom he may disagree?  For example, Cardinal Dolan stressed the importance of “never caricaturing or stereotyping those who oppose the Magisterium and bishops at every opportunity.”  Even in the face of  “mean, vicious, and outward attacks,” he said, we must “always respond in charity and love,” he exhorted.  “We follow the instruction of Jesus by not responding back to with harsh words of our own.”  The use of demeaning, sarcastic and mocking language has no place in Christian communication, especially by members of the clergy, and the cleric should be rightly taken to task if this is part of his communication “style”; it’s simply not consistent with being Christ-like in the community.  If you find this on a blog supposedly run by a Catholic cleric, find another one!

3) As public ministers of the Church, no member of the clergy should be reticent about being transparent and accountable about his own ecclesiastical “credentials”: who is his ecclesiastical superior, for example, and how does his blog relate to his overall ministry within the broader communion of the Church?  Obviously, I’m not suggesting disclosing information which might be dangerous to his safety, but certainly his public identity as a cleric in a particular religious community or diocesan church is not unreasonable.  If a cleric is unwilling or unable to provide such bona fides, it will probably be better to visit someone else!

ottawa good friday xviThe bottom line, in my opinion, is the building up of the Body of Christ, the Church.  We clergy do this as part of a larger context, not as a collection of individual ministers, but as a communion of ordained ministers who share in the sacrament of Holy Orders.  It is no coincidence that “communio theology” has become one of the most paradigmatic forms of ecclesiology since Vatican II, an ecclesiology fully embraced by the papal magisterium.  Unlike other forms of Christianity, in which everything revolves around the individual’s relationship with God, our perspective is different.  While we certainly hold for the individual’s profession of faith, we do so as part of the larger Trinitarian communion of disciples.

As summarized at Vatican II, we are the People of God, the Mystical Body of Christ, and the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

It’s all about relationships.


The Canonization Chronicles: Rebuilding Rome (or at least a part of it!)

The pace of life in and around St. Peter’s is really so full of energy and enthusiasm right now, the best word I’ve seen to describe comes from NCR reporter Joshua McElwee — a carnival.  The constuction and preparation of the altar and platform and other structures in the Piazza is one thing.  I’ve lost count of the various national and regional flags, the languages being spoken, and even the number of times street vendors have approached with the finest souvenirs ever made!  Really!  They told me so!

Everything is new and fascinating in this Eternal City right now, at least the parts closest to the Vatican.  New structures have been built, especially the press scaffolds and so on.  Traffic has been completely re-routed around the Vatican, and most of the shops and cafes and restaurants will be closed all day tomorrow because of the press of the crowds.

photo 1It has been another wonderful day with friends and new acquaintances. I had a quick coffee with NCR reporter Joshua McElwee, and then, after meeting with brother deacons Rob Mascini (the Netherlands) and Enzo Petrolino (Italy), I wandered over to the Borgo Pio, one of my favorite streets in Rome, just around the corner from St. Peter’s.  Always a fascinating place people watching!

There was even some nice music for pranzo. . . .

After wandering around this morning and early afternoon, with the temperature rising fast, I stopped outside the Libreria Editrice Vaticana (bookstore) near the Vatican Press Office for a lemonade.  Soon a couple came up and asked me in halting Italian if they could sit down as well!  I answered “sure” in my best Midwestern English, and met a delightful couple from Chicago.  While they are thrilled with the canonizations in a general way, they’re really hoping to encounter Francis.  This seems a very three popescommon response.  People are happy for the two popes being canonized, but in the hearts of many, Francis is already a saint as well, and he’s still with us!  One of the most common images (of which I have many in my bag already) shows the two new saints flanking  Pope Francis who is in the middle and slightly elevated over Pope John and Pope John Paul II.

My new friends told me that this was their first ever trip to Rome, but that they were already looking forward to coming back when things would be less hectic.

Among all the various national groups, the one that stands out are the Poles.  As one person put it to me, “The Poles are back!”  There are signs and songs and shouts all over the place; I can only imagine what will happen tomorrow when Pope John Paul II is announced as “Saint John Paul.”  But Pope John is not forgotten.  I saw several groups of people John’s home diocese of Bergamo: from young and old,  clergy, religious and laity,  all of whom are literally camping in St. Peter’s Square.  Although the police are trying to tell people they can’t do that, no one has yet started removing them either.  It will be interesting to see what happens on that score as well.

I had a delightful conversation with CNS reporter Carol Glatz and then decided to grab a taxi and return to our lodgings and rest for tomorrow.  But, with every respect to my friends and colleagues, the highlight of the day was about to happen, completely by chance.



The Via della Conciliazione is now a pedestrian thoroughfare.  People are simply walking up and down the whole length of the street, and the only motorized vehicles allowed now are related to public safety.  Along the way, I encountered this delightful group of children being entertained by some local workers.  Enjoy the video.  It makes my day every time I watch it!

I have come back to the religious house where I’m staying where they young rector from the Congregation of Mariannhill Missionaries (CMM) and I took a light supper in the kitchen and talked about many things.  Born and raised in South Africa, Fr. Musa is excited about the new energy being found in and about the church.  He won’t be able to attend the canonizations tomorrow because he serves in several parishes on the weekend, but he asked for special prayers at the canonization and promised his in return.  The house has pilgrims from the United States (well, just me), the Netherlands,  and Germany.  There was a young woman from Michigan staying here, according to Musa, but she called him to say that she was going to camp out in St. Peter’s Square tonight.

As for me, I will be getting up at 2:45 AM.  Sister Philomena, the 84-year old dynamo who runs the kitchen, is putting out some breakfast things for me tonight, and Musa is getting up to arrange a taxi at 3:30 AM.  (The taxi company wouldn’t arrange things in advance!).  He said it was his way of participating in the event.  I’ll take the taxi to Saint John Lateran to pick up the bus which will take us to the edge of Vatican City.  There we will be met by officials from the Vatican’s Pilgrimage office at 5:00 AM and escorted to the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina to await the Mass and our service as ministers of communion.

So, it’s off to bed for a few hours sleep.  Tomorrow will be an incredible day!  Oh, and the forecast calls for rain and storms, but only AFTER the conclusion of the Mass.  We shall see. . . .

The Canonization Chronicles: Notes from Friday, 25 April

It was a busy day today, and these scattered thoughts reflect some of the craziness that’s building around here.

Queue for St. Peter'sIt was still another gorgeous Roman day.  As I entered the Piazza San Pietro, it was obvious that the crowds are building in both numbers and intensity.  There were long lines yesterday to get into the Basilica, but nothing like today!  The queue wrapped around the piazza and into the Via della Conciliazione.  The crowds today were often celebrating in parish, organization, or even national groups.  One sizable group had brought in a large wooden cross, secured it in a stand, and serenaded passersby with a variety of songs and hymns for at least an hour.  Other groups were singing around the Square as well.  I would estimate — very unofficially — that the crowd in the Square today was at least triple what was there yesterday — and tonight, a deacon friend from Rome told me that they are now estimating as many as five million people to be “attending” the canonization ceremonies at venues all over town.  One group today was practicing their “John Paul II, we love you” chant, although I didn’t hear a similar chant for Pope John.  The press scaffolding next to the Vatican Communications Office seemed quite crowded today, much more so than yesterday.

double_popesPerhaps the most visible change of all today, however, was the hanging of the tapestries with the portraits of the two new saints from the front of the Basilica.  They’re not hanging together like this; that’s just a camera trick. St. John is on the right side of the Basilica and St. John Paul is on the left side of the Basilica.  The tapestries seem smaller than what I would have expected when you see them against the full size of the Basilica, but maybe that will change for Sunday!

John in LifeBefore going on, I’d like to add a bit about Pope John.  Personally, I am sorry that so many people have forgotten just how popular, inspiring and influential  Pope John was in his day.  When he died on Pentecost, 1963, a proposal to proclaim him a saint immediately, “Santo Subito”, was chanted by the people and circulated among the world’s bishops who were preparing to return to Rome for the second session of the Council.  It was proposed that the Council itself, when back in session, make the proclamation of sainthood (under the leadership of Pope John’s good friend and successor, Pope Paul VI).  Although Pope John was extraordinarily popular and beloved for his simplicity, humor and pastoral concern, the bishops decided that to proclaim him a saint immediately would be unseemly; there also seemed to be a sense that it would be better to wait until “Pope John’s Council” was successfully concluded as his legacy before proceeding further.  Obviously, these are two very different men, and this is not a popularity contest!  Still, I hope that younger people who have really only known St. John Paul II and his recent successors might be inspired by this canonization to study and learn about St. John XXIII and Pope Paul VI.  To understand where we are today on many levels in the Church, a person really needs to understand those two popes of the Council and the first years of its implementation.


As I wandered around the Square talking with people, and later in conversations with friends, there was a general enthusiasm about the leadership of Pope Francis, his genius at linking these two new pope-saints, and his own unique stamp on exercising the Petrine ministry.  The only concern raised was that he has made himself so open and vulnerable that he may be attacked!  The numbers at his Wednesday audiences are stunning, and he has begun the audiences much earlier, arriving in his popemobile sometimes as early as 9:30 AM so he has more time to meander through the crowds before taking his position on the platform for the formal portion of the audience.

St. John LateranFinally, a brief word about the instructions we’ve received for Sunday.  I must leave the monastery in which I’m staying at 3:30 AM for the trip to St. John Lateran.  I have included a picture of St. John Lateran in bright sunshine which I took yesterday; that’s not a view I’ll have at 5:00 AM on Sunday morning!

At some time between 4:30 and 5:00 AM, a special bus will take us priests and deacons who are distributing communion from the Lateran to the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina at the other end of the Via della Conciliazione from St. Peter’s (a week ago, we were told the bus would leave at 5:30; that’s been changed.  Maybe by Sunday, it will change even further.  I intend to be there in plenty of time!).  At Santa Maria we will vest in alb and white stole and wait for the Mass of Canonization to begin at 10:00 AM, when we will make our way out the front doors of the church into the Via della Conciliazione.  Eventually, we will distribute Communion to those communicants in the area.  We have been told to distribute communion only on the tongue (actually, the instructions say “data in bocca” (given into the mouth), in order to prevent someone from taking the Host in the crowd and giving it to another.

I’m going to St. Peter’s tomorrow morning; it will be interesting to see what happens next as the numbers build along with the excitement!

Santa Maria in Traspontina

Santa Maria in Traspontina on the Via della Conciliazione

Getting Ready for Rome and the Canonizations: Initial Thoughts

Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II. (CNS photo)In a few hours I’ll be on a flight heading to Rome for the solemn canonizations of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II on Sunday, 27 April.  It is no hyperbole to say that every journey to Rome is an adventure.  This one will be made even more so because of the great popularity of the two popes being declared saints.

Via_della_Conciliazione_dal_cupoloneI’m on the list, along with dozens (hundreds?)  of other deacons and priests, to assist with the distribution of Holy Communion to the huge assembly which is already gathering in St. Peter’s Square and beyond.  I’ll have more details to report once I get there and pick up my credentials at the Vicariate of Rome near the Basilica of St. John in the Lateran.  To be honest, I have a great hope that I’ll be assigned to serve outside of the Square.  The Via della Conciliazione is always busy, with the shops, cafes, hotels, congregational headquarters and offices, the buses, cars and taxis, and the wall-to-wall people.  I can’t imagine what it’s going to look like on Sunday, but I hope that I’ll be distributing Communion out there in the middle of it.  My guess is that the Via will be full of folks who want to be at the Mass but won’t be able to get into the Square, or weren’t able to get tickets to sit or stand closer to the papal altar.  They will follow the Mass as best they can, and those of us serving will go and serve them right where they are.  Who knows, maybe we’ll be standing on the bank of the Tiber!


I’ve also been thinking about how quickly things can change.  A few years ago I was in Rome for meetings.  A good friend of mine from high school seminary asked me to find some kind of religious item with the image of Pope John XXIII: a medal, a rosary, a small statue.  For folks of our generation in the seminary, Pope John was aJohn XXIII Bust particular favorite for us.  He was as influential on us as Pope John Paul would be to later generations of seminarians.
However, as I wandered around the shops near the Vatican, I was truly amazed to discover — nothing!  I found, of course, plenty of things with Pope John Paul II’s image, and Pope Benedict’s, even items with other popes, like Pope Paul VI and Pius XII.  But there seemed to be absolutely NOTHING remembering Pope John XXIII.  Finally, as I was about to give up, I wandered into a little shop and was waiting for the shop owner to finish a phone call so I could inquire.  While waiting, I glanced into a back room in the shop and found two small statuettes of Pope John!  They were covered in dust and had clearly not been on public display for years.  I think the owner was glad to finally be rid of them.

My guess is that on THIS trip, I’ll find plenty of items for both John as well as John Paul!  I’ll keep you posted!

Along the Tiber

Join Our Team: Super Vinny, Kicking Cancer

Stay Calm and Team VinnyOur grandson, Vinny, who just turned five last week, is about to start chemotherapy.  He had brain surgery just before Christmas to remove a large tumor from his brain, and now he’s moving to the next phase.  His Mom, our daughter Laura, has started a Facebook group to support hiPirate Vinnym, and our other daughter, Jennifer, created the wonderful “poster” for him!

If you want to join and add your own prayers to the group, please check out the Team Super Vinny page here!