Seems a shame to name a hurricane after such a lovely place, where they have Michelangelo’s David, Fra Angelico’s Annunciation, the Medici Palace, the Duomo…
Today the Blessed Mother received the ancient name of the woman who sang the canticle of Hebrew freedom, after they crossed the Red Sea dry shod.
A lot of our loved ones have the same name. We rejoice today especially for the gift that all our beloved Marys are for us.
Let’s also remember: Every Christian name is sacred. When someone receives a name at the baptismal font, it’s forever—a name for eternity, a name written in God’s book.
Mary lived Jesus’ beatitudes. She had no earthly authority or wealth. She suffered and wept for justice, for the truth, for love of God incarnate. She hoped in nothing other than God.
Now she reigns in eternal splendor. She reads the eternal book with all our Christian names written in it. Can we not imagine that she runs her lovely finger along the lines of that book, passing her fingertip across each of our names, her heart filled with tender love and encouragement for the one she has in mind at that moment? Let’s imagine her, and let it dispel all our fears about anything.
In Act iv, scene 3, of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macduff weeps. He has exiled himself in England. But his heart turns to his native Scotland, which suffers under Macbeth’s rule. “O Scotland, Scotland… Bleed, bleed poor country!”
Down here in beautiful southwest Virginia, we live a relatively carefree life. But: “O Washington, my poor native local church!”
Let me begin with the questions we have. When I say “we,” I mean all of us who prayed daily, at the altar, for “Theodore, our bishop” (then-Cardinal McCarrick). In other words: “we” means all practicing Washingtonian Catholics older than twelve years of age. He was our Archbishop, so we have a personal interest in his case.
Where is he?
When will his trial begin?
With what, exactly, will he be charged? Who will testify against him?
Who will judge the case?
When will all this information be given to us? Who will give it to us?
Honest questions, I think. Straightforward and perfectly reasonable. You would imagine that the sitting Archbishop of Washington would provide the answers.
But no. Evidently, these questions do not enter his mind. He has other concerns.
Cardinal Wuerl’s diocesan chancellor gave an interview today. She made it pretty clear that the Washington Pastoral Center no longer takes an active interest in the details of the McCarrick Affair.
Because now we have the Wuerl Affair. Cardinal Wuerl wrote to the priests of Washington yesterday. Did he offer clear answers to the questions above? No. Did he offer fatherly comfort and encouragement? Far, far from it.
Rather, he inflicted on a group of men, minding their own business, a self-interested pre-buttal to the attacks that fell upon him in Pennsylvania today. A grand jury had studied six Pennsylvania dioceses, including Cardinal Wuerl’s home, Pittsburgh. And they issued a report.
No one accuses Cardinal Wuerl of abusing anyone himself. But he, by his own admission, operated according to “evolving” standards of how to deal with child sexual abuse. (Translation: I did not necessarily always do… what any normal father would have instantly known was the right thing to do.)
So, now the question is:
What did the Catholics of the Archdiocese of Washington do to deserve this? In 2001, here comes a ticking time bomb of an Archbishop, from New Jersey. Then, in 2006, a new Archbishop from Pennsylvania, also with a exploding skeleton in his valise. Both bombs set to go off in the summer of 2018.
My heart aches for the Catholics of Pennsylvania who have to deal with a mountain of painful reading. But I can’t say much about that, since I don’t know much about it.
One thing I can say:
The church in Washington desperately needs a father who can help her recover from the wounding shock of McCarrick’s dishonesty and apparently profound perversity. But she does not seem to have such a leader.
Cardinal Wuerl insists that the Pennsylvania grand-jury report criticizes him unfairly. But his very self-centeredness at this moment, when all his thoughts should bend to his wounded local church; his defensiveness and incapacity to express any real sorrow and pain–he’s tone-deaf now. He was probably tone-deaf then, too.
…Our Lady watches over us from heaven. We believe in her, and her Son, and in the Father. We will survive. Dangerous and inept prelates come and go; they do not touch our faith.
Someday, may it please the Lord, we American Catholics will have leaders who focus on the people who hurt. Leaders who care about justice. And respect our intelligence. Who think and talk like honest men, not like nervous bureaucrats.
The pearl of great price: divine mercy. Reconciliation with God, with the truth, with justice and peace. Friendship with Jesus Christ, living in His beating Heart.
St. Alphonsus Liguori died 231 years ago today, outside Naples. The Italian province of Liguori lies in northern Italy. But St. Alphonsus’ name is like the name of a fellow I knew in Washington named Brian Boston. As far as I know, homeboy had never even been to Boston. St. Alphonsus Liguori was no Liguorian; he was a Neopolitan, a southern Italian. His relics lie in a basilica near the foot of Mount Vesuvius.
Guess who was there last month–at the tomb of the founder of the Redemptorists, the patron saint of priest-confessors?
St. Alphonsus and his companions dedicated themselves to preaching about death, judgment, heaven, and hell. I believe they always carried a crucifix in their belts, to hold up during their sermons. St. Alphonsus gave his priests a principle that I myself have always tried to follow: Be a lion in the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional.
Another American priest visited St. Alphonsus’ relics not long ago. A Redemptorist, once the Superior General of the Order. Now the Archbishop of Newark, NJ. Joseph Cardinal Tobin. He prayed at the basilica in January 2017.
Now: If my home Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. has suffered a wound because of the McCarrick scandal—and it has, to be sure–then the Archdiocese of Newark… must have two collapsed lungs. Living on a ventilator.
McCarrick served as Archbishop of Washington for 5½ years, ordained about 40 priests, confirmed maybe 1,000 young people. (That last number is a guesstimate.*) He served as Archbishop of Newark for almost fifteen years. Ordained 400 priests there. Must have confirmed at least 3,000 young people.
Washington has a deep wound. Newark… must need a double lung transplant.
So let’s pray. For the Archbishops of Washington and Newark. They have a task ahead of them that I would not wish on anyone. The bishop saint who died 231 years ago today–may he intercede.
Everyone living in the huge wake of McCarrick’s broken life—and that is a lot of Catholics on the East Coast—all of us need a miracle of reconciliation and a fresh start. Pray for us, St. Alphonsus!
* As I recall, McCarrick’s globe-trotting ways got in the way of his doing a lot of Confirmations. His auxiliary bishops did the lion’s share of the confirming during his Washington years. I imagine the same was true in Newark. So I base my estimate on 200 confirmations a year (two or three Confirmation liturgies). This is of course nowhere near the total annual number of confirmations in the Archdioceses in question. And I could be way off.
The hot July sun shone over the taxi lane at Leonardo da Vinci airport. I had just swallowed my first caffè lungo at the bar outside passport control. (Airplane travel had deprived me of the six hours when I usually sleep.) On my way to St. Peter’s…
A Dutch tourist next to me in line, as we waited on the St.-Peter’s-Square cobblestones in the heat, bought an eight-euro parasol from a north-African huckster. We were headed for the metal detectors tucked into the Bernini colonnade.
Once you get out of the sun, up the steps, and through the huge church doors, you discover that the Basilica has a climate of its own.
I kissed the foot of St. Peter’s statue, as countless tall pilgrims before me have done. (People of normal height reach up and touch the foot with their hands.) Then I prayed at the top of the blocked steps that lead down to the confessio, the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles.
Wow–they have installed a new, worthier altar in the apse, beneath the reliquary of St. Peter’s Chair. And the ushers in here have gotten a lot stricter: you must turn off all cellphones and iPads to enter the Blessed Sacrament chapel. (Bravo.)
But: No priests on-duty to hear confessions in the northern transept like there used to be. And they have built a wooden platform extending forward from the papal high altar that makes the bases of Bernini’s baldacchino columns look cramped. (Really?)
I wove my way through the phalanxes of tourists to the tombs of Pope Sts. Pius X, John XXIII, and John Paul II. The summer sunlight flowed through the clerestory windows and formed perfect spotlights on the basilica floor for Japanese and Filippino photo ops.
Logistical difficulties kept me away from St. Paul Outside the Walls. I had a kind driver–but I shared him with another passenger, an Italian with whom I traveled fairly widely–who also had demands.
I made it to the Pantheon, however–also full of the whole world, touring Rome. And a lot cooler inside than it was outside. The white sunlight flowed in through the large open oculus above.
Here lies Vittorio Emmanuele–not a saint of the Church’s reverence; an enemy, in fact, of another pope-saint whose footsteps I crossed by accident later in my trip. But the Father of Italy died with the sacraments. May he rest in peace.
St. Thomas Aquinas returned to his beloved Naples in 1272 to teach the truth about God at a newly founded seminary. At that point in his life, he enjoyed enormous fame as the world’s pre-eminent clarifier of theological terms.
St. Thomas knelt one night in prayer before an icon of the crucifixion of Christ. The Lord spoke to Thomas from the cross. “You have written well of Me. What reward would you have for your labor?”
Thomas was then 48 years of age. He would die within the year, but no one on earth knew that.
Thomas answered Jesus, “Non nisi te, Domine. I want no reward but You.”
The crucifix icon hangs in a side chapel of the Church of San Domenico Maggiore–a Baroque oasis of utter silence in the pullulating, hot streets of the Naples’ University district. They keep St. Thomas’ arm in a reliquary in the sacristy next door.
Around the corner, in the ugly, dark early-Gothic revival Church of Santa Chiara, lies the sepulcher of St. Ludovico of Casoria, canonized by Pope Francis in 2015. In a suburb of Naples which I passed on the train, this 19th-century Franciscan spent himself in fighting the faithlessness of the age, by building little institutions to care for the poor.
A few crowded blocks away: The Duomo of St. Mary, Assumed into Heaven. Here the blood of Naples’ illustrious martyr-patron, St. Januarius, often liquefies miraculously on the anniversary of his death during the persecution of Diocletian. Or when the pope visits the basilica.
The confessio under the high altar here offers a quiet, cool, subterranean place to pray in peace. Above, the apse mimics St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, with a copy of the Holy-Spirit dove window. But instead of a chair, the Pietro Bracci sculpture depicts Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven.
Downtown Naples smells like the ancient port city that it is. From here Spaniards ruled a vast empire. The Palazzo Reale has statues of an august kingly line, from Roger the Norman to Vittorio Emanuele.
Across the Piazza del Plebiscito, the church of St. Francis of Paola looks like the Pantheon in Rome–because Napoleon wanted it built that way, in his own honor. Across the street stands the colossal Galleria Umberto, a 19th-century shopping mall flooded with sunlight through a glass roof.
In 1750, the Savoys who ruled here decided to move the seat of government inland, to protect themselves from sea attack. They built the largest palace on earth, the Reggia Caserta. Never been to Versailles myself (the model for the Savoy palace) but this one is pretty amazing.
They dedicate one enormous room to the perpetual display of the royal Nativity set…
In 1848 an Italian nationalist assassin stabbed the Pope’s Interior Minister to death in the Apostolic Chancery in Rome. Pope St. Pius IX left Rome for some months to preserve his safety. He stayed at his home in Gaeta, and in Naples, and here. They built him this little chapel:
Speaking of Neopolitan suburbs: they stretch endlessly from the city to the mountains. In one of them, I ate an interesting dinner with the niece of one of Naples’ auxiliary bishops, and her family. (Everyone in this world is connected within six degrees of separation, remember?)
Anyway, her husband has a friend with a singular passion: to run an American diner. We ate hamburgers at the Firefly Diner, San Prisco, Italy, beneath a photo of Johnny Cash.
In the other direction from Naples, across the bay by ferry: the Isle of Capri. An ancient bishop named Constantius gave his life in martyrdom here. And the Carthusians built a monastery, so old it looks modern.
The monks died out long ago. A Romantic German painter, full of strange spiritual ideas, lived in the monastery and covered canvasses with his grim visions of a vegetarian God.
South of Naples and Mount Vesuvius, the Tyrrhenian Sea hugs the Italian peninsula in a series of blue bays. The renowned Amalfi Coast lies on the north side of the first bay, the Gulf of Salerno. In the middle of this coastline, which stretches from Sorrento to Solerno (serviced by one, winding highway through hills pitching into the water) lies Amalfi town.
These days the well-to-do come here to play (if they can’t afford Capri). But centuries ago, they brought St. Andrew here to rest.
In 1206, after the Fourth Crusade, the western army brought the sacred relics, which had resided in Constantinople, back to Italy.
Amalfi town’s piazza surrounds a statue of St. Andrew holding his X cross. The Duomo sits 62 steps above, with the tympanum mosaic shimmering in the sunlight.
The cathedral has an ancient secondary nave, and a cloister, and a colorful campanile. They have transformed the simple “basilica of the crucifix” into a museum of precious sacred objects.
From here you to descend to the crypt below. And there lies St. Peter’s brother, surrounded by marble.
To the east, the ancient city of Salerno commands the Gulf like a count presiding over his dominions. You can walk the Lungomare Trieste and gaze at the water. Plus, they have closed the Via dei Mercanti to motorized vehicles, making for a lovely, peaceful walk from the train station to the Duomo, past coffee bars and gelaterias, then up the hill through narrow, ancient streets to the basilica that houses St. Matthew’s remains.
This church is relatively quiet. What tourists there are–a Spanish family and a German one, with boys in the jerseys of their favorite World-Cup stars–are here because they have the Catholic faith.
Under the bright and hot main nave, which has two 12th-century pulpits and an ancient apse mosaic, lies the Evangelist in his marble crypt.
They oriented the crypt cross-wise, to make the tomb a double-chapel, so that two Masses could take place over the saint’s relics at the same time. Today, one side is set-up for a wedding.
This particular afternoon, it’s quiet and cool. I pray with inexpressible delight in the company of the man who wrote down the Sermon on the Mount.
Upstairs Pope St. Gregory VII rests in the east transept.
In addition to my main goals–visiting saints and talking to Italians–my trip had two little “themes.”
First: The spiritual battle in Italy against “Modernism,” “Americanism,” “Enlightenment-ism.” That is, against the alternate religion which believes in a fundamental change having occurred, since the mysteries of salvation were entrusted to the Apostles by Christ.
The adherents of this myth imagine different turning points. Like the lifetime of Isaac Newton, or Galileo, or Copernicus, or Albert Einstein or Steve Jobs. Or the year 1776, or 1789, or 1914, or 1968.
But the fundamental idea is the same: Now things are different; now we know better; now the ‘old ways’ must change, because they no longer serve the purpose.
This mythology dominates the life of Italy today, to be sure. But it encountered a few resolute Italian churchmen in the 19th and 20th centuries, sons of Italy who did not fear to fight the myth of Modernism, using the resources at their disposal. Popes Sts. Pius IX and X top that list. (Much more to come on this topic as time moves forward, dear reader.)
Mussolini fell from power in July 1943. The Germans occupied Italy. Americans, Brits, and Poles landed in the south and marched north. In December, they met the German “Winter Line.”
There’s a medieval castle in this town, where the locals took shelter during the battle. (I recommended to the tour-guide that she read Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, which is available in Italian.)
The Allies managed to break the German line, at great cost. My host, Mr. Angelo Andreoli, himself a veteran of the Italian military, along with his wife Maria Christina Verdone, have collected artifacts from the battle site, and from survivors in England, America, and Poland.
Dear reader, I have run out of time to recount these adventures. I’m glad to be home, and back to work. I’m sure that additional reflections will sneak up on you in upcoming homilies. For now, Arrivaderci, Roma e Italia.
Late in the evening, April 10, 1983, in the little bathroom of our upper-northwest Washington, D.C., house:
My brother and I came to blows.
It didn’t amount to much. But it was the worst fist-fight we ever had. And the last one we ever had.
The New York Islanders had just eliminated the Capitals from the Division Semi-Finals. As my poor, long-suffering brother brushed his teeth, I stood beside him, mocking the choke-artist Caps ruthlessly, with every ounce of my twelve-year-old obnoxiousness.
He finally spit out his toothpaste and took a swing at me. I had it coming, big-time. He beat me, like a man possessed with a vision of justice. We wound up in the bathtub, and I begged him for mercy that I didn’t deserve.
Since that day, now over 35 years ago, my dear brother has longed–with some of the most fundamental fibers of his being–for the Caps to bring home the Cup.
Do it, guys. For him.
[POST-SCRIPT, Six hours later: They did it! Caps win!!!!!]
Rocky Mount, Virginia, and Greensboro, North Carolina are the same distance from each other as Nazareth, Galilee, and the Judean hillside town where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived. And, of course, our Lady had no Nissan Juke to use on a well-maintained four-lane highway.
Now, exactly nine weeks have passed since… Holy Thursday. So today we would keep a Solemnity in honor of the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. But here in the U.S., we will keep Corpus Christi on Sunday instead.
Corpus Christi and Visitation Day go perfectly together. Because:
The Lord visited Elizabeth and Zechariah–and baby John the Baptist in the womb; Christ came in the flesh to their home. But you couldn’t see Jesus at that moment, because He still dwelt in His mother’s womb.
Likewise, the Lord visits us in the Holy Mass. He comes in the flesh, to every Catholic church or chapel, whenever we carry out the ceremony which He instituted on Holy Thursday. He bridges a gap of much more than eighty miles; He brings heaven to the earth.
But He veils Himself from our eyes. Like He did in Mary’s womb. The Holy Mass, the altar, the tabernacle–like our Lady’s womb, during those nine months: a place where Christ dwells, but hidden.
This is the fasting that I wish: Setting free the oppressed. (Isaiah 58:6)
Almighty God liberated His chosen people from slavery in Egypt—the Passover. Our Christian religion rests squarely on that event. We can consider our religion from a million different angles. But from all of them, our Christian understanding of reality arises from God liberating slaves.
Last week I spent a few days of precious vacation in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. I wound up doing some extensive reading on the 1822 Denmark Vesey Rebellion, a secretly planned slave uprising, which got thwarted by the authorities at the last minute.
Historians do not agree on the potential extent, or likelihood of success, that the rebellion might have had, if it had proceeded as planned. But this much seems perfectly clear: In the spring of 1822, the city of Charleston and its surrounding environs had two completely unconnected universes of communication.
The white universe regarded the enslavement of Africans as a normal, unobjectionable part of everyday life. The black universe—at least that part of it involved in planning the rebellion—regarded the wholesale killing of whites in a sudden, decisive military enterprise as altogether justified, for the sake of taking political control of the city and establishing a legitimate social order, free of slavery.
What Charleston did not have was a bridge of communication between these two universes. No one cleared the air by declaring openly: “Slavery is wrong, and killing is wrong. Let’s peacefully re-organize everything on the basis of the dignity of the human individual.”
Maybe a common agreement on that principle could have provided a starting-point for ending the incredible, unendurable tension in the Charleston air that spring. It could have saved many lives and immeasurable misery. And no genuinely sane and reasonable person could disagree with such a principle.
But such was the fog of mind that clouded the town that no one enunciated the principle openly, and no one agreed with it, and no one co-operated with others based on it.
Now… Yes, this is Trump Country, southwest Virginia is. But, dear fellow Catholics of southwest Virginia, we have many, many Dreamers among us. Many DACA recipients, and many more DACA-eligible. Many Americans, who were born in Mexico, but who have lived here through all or most of their upbringing. They speak English better than they speak Spanish; they understand math and the internet better than you or me; this is their home, this land.
Does the government of the state of Virginia, or of the USA, have any right to treat these friends and neighbors of ours any differently than everyone else? To deprive these young people of the right to drive a car, to study, to work, to go to the doctor—to even live here?
We are talking about young people in our parishes, people whom we all know. Altar servers, religious-ed teachers, members of the choir, high-school classmates. The idea that any of these people have less of a right to live and thrive here; the idea that Providence or Fate wills for them to inhabit a lower tier of society, with fewer rights—that idea is patently and obviously not admissible to a Christian mind. It is a profoundly objectionable idea; we execrate it.
And yet it is the reality with which the Dreamers among us must live every day. Can’t plan for the future. Can’t join the army. Can’t safely take out student loans. Can’t obtain professional certifications to be a beautician or a nurse. Can’t know for sure if I’ll be able to live in the same country as my younger brother or sister, who was born here.
Ain’t right. We as a people will not get to a better future this way.
Dear Dreamers, We, the American electorate—We acknowledge that we bear ultimate responsibility for the fact that you find yourselves in this situation in mid-February, 2018. We are sorry. We want something better for you, and for us.
Nathaniel Russell, born in Rhode Island in 1738, had a great knack for organizing commercial shipping. He moved to South Carolina and married into a wealthy family. He built a grand house and entertained graciously. One of his daughters married the Episcopal Bishop. [SPANISH]
Russell’s Charleston home has become an evocative museum that takes you back two hundred years. Visiting the place gives you an intimate feel for how well-respected, prosperous city gentlemen lived. Russell was known as a scrupulously honest businessman, diligent in paying his taxes. He was altogether honorable.
Just one thing: He made a lot of his fortune by buying and selling other human beings as slaves. In 1772 he wrote to a fellow sea-merchant: “There have been a great many Negroes imported here this summer and many more expected. They continue at a very great price.”
Now: Should this properous, honorable South-Carolina gentleman have known better? Should his conscience have accused him for enriching himself by buying and selling people as if they were animals? Is it fair for us to apply our morals to a man who lived three centuries ago? After all, no civil law prohibitted his business. To the contrary, the laws of of South Carolina made it almost impossible to free a slave. The enslavement of Africans had become an established institution.
But a man who lived under Russell’s own roof knew better. The blacksmith, a slave named Tom. Tom Russell participated in the planning of a thwarted slave rebellion, led by the famous Denmark Vesey. Tom was hanged right alongside Vesey by the Charleston City Council in 1822. What motivated the would-be rebels? The idea that Holy Scripture teaches that slavery runs contrary to the laws of God.
You can’t erase God’s truth, no matter how hard you might try. Something blinded Nathaniel Russell to the obvious. He had built his comfortable house not just on sand, but on sin. The grave, detestable sin of human slavery ran like rainwater through the streets of his town.
But this Charleston gentleman was no rank, malicious villain. He only wanted what we want: material security, a comfortable life for himself and his family, beautiful things around him. His neighbors admired him greatly and sought his friendship. We can hardly imagine that, when he lay on his deathbed at age 82, in the year 1820, he suffered any pangs of conscience over his business dealings. The evil of slavery had become too familiar.
But at the very moment when the owner drew his last breath in his comfortable bed, down in the back yard, Tom the slave knew the truth–that he was no animal, and that his enslavement at this rich man’s hands was wrong. You can’t erase God’s truth.
Be merciful to us, O Lord! We sinners stumble through life with huge blinders on. For all we know, we oursleves may have graver evils to answer for than all the well-liked Nathaniel Russells of history. Like him, we could know better, if only we took the trouble to look into it–to study Your Holy Word, and make it the absolute rule of our lives.
Help us to purify our hearts and minds. We confess that we can never truly become good without Your help. We know we don’t deserve the grace of compunction and deeper conversion to the truth. But we beg for it anyway!
They built an amazing new cathedral in the diocese of Raleigh, NC.
It sits out in the suburbs, with land for more buildings someday.
When you walk in, you can hardly believe that God found a way to get something like this built in 2016-17. It seats 2,000.
With side aisles lined with saints.
They put St. John Neumann (resting in Philadelphia) in place before the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
And a memento mori St. Francis.
Try not to mind the goofball in his driving duds…
The statues seem a little lifeless to me. But the Stations…stunning.
Gold bas-relief images of the Evangelists’ symbols flank the tabernacle…
And a Michelangelo-esque dome illumines the crossing and transepts…
May the faithful of Raleigh glorify God here for the next thousand years.
In 2005, I visited Rome with a dear friend, priest of the Diocese of Raleigh. We had the privilege of meeting Cardinal Ratzinger just a few weeks before he became Pope Benedict.
At that time, I had Washington, D.C., for my home–and the Cardinal had certainly heard of Washington. But when he asked my friend about his home diocese, His Eminence had to admit that he had never heard of Raleigh, N.C.