Two Good Priests Among Many

Conclave Mass 2005 St Peters
Mass “Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice,” April 18, 2005


“I am the good shepherd,” says the Lord.

Exactly ten years ago last Saturday, two men sat together under the dome of St. Peter’s basilica. Since that day, both of these two men have become very famous. It was the Mass to begin the papal conclave in 2005, concelebrated by all the Cardinal electors. One of these two men soon became Pope Benedict XVI. Eight years later, the other one became Pope Francis.

That day, the first of these two men actually gave the homily. Cardinal Ratzinger was then the Dean of the College of Cardinals, so it was his duty to preach the sermon at the beginning of the conclave. In his homily, he made the point that Christ had brought a time of jubilee, the ‘year of favor,’ to the earth. Pope Francis cited the same idea when he recently declared that we as a Church will celebrate a jubilee year, a Year of Mercy, beginning this December.

Christ has revealed the face of the Father, by dying on the cross for us. Now we live in the time of grace, the time of sincere love, the time of divine mercy. Cardinal Ratzinger said that in April 2005. Pope Francis said it in April 2015.

Pope John Paul II with Cardinals Ratzinger and Bergoglio
Pope John Paul II with Cardinals Ratzinger and Bergoglio

I know it might make me sound nostalgic and old, but I think it’s a good idea for us to imagine both Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Bergoglio concelebrating that particular Mass on April 18, 2005.

They both grieved the loss of a beloved friend who had died two weeks earlier. They both, I am sure, could hardly imagine the world without Pope John Paul II.

I am also sure that neither Cardinal Ratzinger nor Cardinal Bergoglio had any serious thought at that moment about becoming pope himself. They were praying fervently at the holy altar, praying that Christ the Good Shepherd would guide them, together with all the Cardinals, to do their sacred duty well.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily that day made a mark on me personally. Of course I was paying attention to everything, watching all the Youtubes, and reading all the translations of everything. It was in that homily that Cardinal Ratzinger gave his famous diagnosis of the “dictatorship of relativism,” the contemporary tendency to tolerate everything except the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must have the courage to preach the truth with love, he said.

Now, I myself don’t claim to be any kind of particularly respectable priest. I hope I teach orthodox doctrine, since I hardly have anything else to offer. I have above-average skills in solving crossword puzzles, but that’s about the extent of my talents. So I don’t hold myself out as any great shakes.

But I can honestly say that I have been, and am, willing to die for the fact that there is such a thing as truth, such a thing as The Truth. And that Jesus Christ teaches it, that Jesus Christ is it. If the dictatorship of relativism asks me to choose between Christ the Truth and more days on this earth, I hope to shout Viva Cristo Rey while they shoot, God help me.

Pope Benedict, that day before he became Pope Benedict, was saying: ‘The truth is that Christ brings the Father’s loving mercy.’ Now, ten years later, Pope Francis is saying, ‘The truth is that Christ brings the Father’s loving mercy.’

Benedict Francis kneelingNewspapermen, breathless anchorwomen, and other associated television chatterers have a tendency to paint a bad Pope Benedict/good Pope Francis picture. Meanwhile, plenty of bloggers, magazine columnists, and experts on the Sacred Liturgy, like to paint the good Pope Benedict/bad Pope Francis picture.

But I really think we should meditate on the two of them concelebrating that particular Mass on that particular day, April 18, 2005. Let’s see them there, beneath the huge dome, among their brother Cardinals, praying the Mass at the tomb of St. Peter. Praying that the merciful Lord would guide His Church into the future, so that all the people of the world could reach true fulfillment as children of God.

Neither of them were praying, “Lord, make me the pope!” We can say that for sure. And we can likewise be sure that neither of them were praying, “Lord, whatever you do, don’t make Bergoglio pope!” or “Don’t make Ratzinger pope!”

I think we can imagine that they were both humbly praying something like, “Lord, give us the shepherd we need. May Your holy will be done. Give us the loving shepherd, after Your own Heart, that You have chosen.”

Now, how do we know so clearly that they both prayed more or less like this, in their innermost hearts, on that day? Because we know what they both are, deep down. We know what they both have in common, which makes their differences, real as those differences may be, seem small.

Both of these two men, Ratzinger and Bergoglio, Pope-Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis—both have lived their long lives as devout Catholic priests. They are both the same, fundamentally: prayerful, dutiful priests. They both have really only wanted to do one thing: shepherd the flock according to the Heart of Christ. I, for one, admire them both and love them both very much. Above all, because they are such beautiful priests.

Let’s thank the Lord especially at Mass on Good-Shepherd Sunday for all the prayerful, dutiful shepherds He has given us in our lives. None of us would be here right now, if it weren’t for the shepherds we have had. The priests who gave us our sacraments of initiation, who have heard our confessions, and who have fed us from the holy altar with the medicine of immortality, the flesh and blood of Christ our God. Thank you, Lord, for guiding us through the shepherds you have given us!

And Viva Papa Francesco!

See the Chimney, Believe in the Trinity

Christ blessing Savior World el Greco

As the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself. (John 5)

Today we feel faithful anticipation about the future. We pray that the Lord will give the universal Church a good new shepherd to unify us and govern us.

We do not yet know who our new pope will be. But one thing we know for sure: When he gives his first pontifical blessing from the loggia of St. Peter’s—when he extends his hand toward us, toward the entire world, with his first gesture of fatherly love—he will invoke the name of the Blessed Trinity. He will bless us in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.

It will do us some good, I think, during these days of fevered excitement about what’s happening in St. Peter’s Square, to focus on the central mysteries of our faith, the truths which we genuinely believe, in the full sense of the word.

The ritual of electing a new Sovereign Pontiff has so many aspects that are strange and arcane to the modern observer, one might be tempted to think that we Catholics ‘believe’ in smoke signals from the Sistine Chapel.

sistine-chimneyBut the stove and the chimney do not constitute mysteries of the holy Catholic faith.

The great mystery of our faith, the mystery of the Trinity, which the new pope will instantly declare and affirm when he blesses us, without giving it a second thought—the mystery of divine love:

That God the Father has a Son, eternally begotten before the ages, Who became man in the fullness of time; that the Father and the Son love each other with an eternal and infinite love, the divine Spirit, Whom the Son pours out upon us from heaven—we believe this.

We can explain the chimney and the smoke. Nothing genuinely mysterious there. Nothing really mysterious about the pope’s white cassock, or about the fact that he will start it all off by speaking Italian. Italy is a great place; Rome is a special city. But there’s nothing literally divine about it.

There is something literally divine, though, about Jesus Christ. There is something literally divine about the Holy Spirit Who sanctifies and gives endless life. And there is something indubitably divine about the heavenly Father Who Christ came to reveal to us.

We Catholics love our pope, above all, because he is the great guardian of the mystery of the Christian faith. Whoever the new pope turns out to be, he will be, first and foremost, a Christian among Christians, a man who believes, like we do, in the Trinity and in the Incarnation—that is, a man who believes in Jesus, and in His Father, and in His Spirit.

Via webcam, we can see the Sistine-Chapel chimney. We cannot see the triune glory of God. But Jesus taught us to believe in it. With the old pope and the new pope to come, with all the popes of the past and all the popes of the future: we believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The Only Real Way to Handicap: Bernini

Dodeci Apostoli
Church of the Twelve Apostles, Rome

The Cardinals of the Roman Church possess the prerogative of electing the successor of St. Peter because: they “have” parish churches in the Roman metropolis. They are “Cardinals” precisely because the Pope has made them honorary rectors of parishes in Rome. The clergy of Rome elects their bishop = the Cardinals elect the Pope.

For me, there is only one really reliable system for predicting which of the papabile will emerge on the white-smoke-filled loggia when the conclave concludes:

Have I prayed in their Roman parish?* And did I find any artwork by Bernini there?

1. Marc Card. Ouellet has a beautiful church just a couple hundred yards from St. Peter’s Basilica. Carmelite parish. Very prayerful little place. But no Bernini. Ergo: Ouellet will not be the pope.

2. Cardinal Scola of Milan has the fabulous Church of the Dodeci Apostoli. Relic of St. James in the confessio. Absolutely gorgeous place. Could spend the rest of my life praying there.

Sant'Anrea Quirinale
Sant’Andrea Quirinale
But: Do I remember any Bernini sculptures in the church? Negative. Scola will not be the pope.

3. Current front-runner Odilo Card. Sherer of Brazil has the thoroughly en-marbled, eliptical Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, where the tomb of St. Stanilaus Kostka, SJ, is located.

Have I prayed there? Yes, fervently, at the tomb of the young saint who was briefly my patron (when I was a Jesuit novice).

Bernini? Well…He’s the architect of the whole bleeding building.

Does that count? Not sure…

San Giorgio in Velabro
San Giorgio in Velabro

4. And Card. Ravasi? He has the stunning, classical San Giorgio in Velabro. Located in a very prayerful part of town, at the foot of the Aventine Hill.

Two problems: 1. I have never so much as seen this church. 2. There is nothing that even suggests “Bernini” within a quarter mile of the place.


Cardinal Ranjith

5. What about Malcolm Card. Ranjith, former Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship? As we can see from the above, he is probably the best candidate, so far as parades go. (And for other reasons, too.)

Bernini sculpture in the Fonseca Chapel of Card. Ranjith’s titular

Now, I cannot claim ever to have prayed at St. Lawrence “Inside” the Walls. But I did say a prayer outside the church, because I was out for a walk, and wanted to pray, but the church doors were locked at that moment. (This was back in the year 2000.)

Anyway, I think we could say that the prayer part is covered.

Plus, there’s a chapel by Bernini inside.

Ergo: Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith of Colombo, Sri Lanka, will be the next Pope.

* Don’t think any of the Cardinal-bishops have a chance, so no need to consider the prayerfulness or Bernini-ness of their little Roman ‘dioceses.’

Springtime 2013


Rejoice, Jerusalem. Rejoice because the Lord lives, and He loves His children. We rejoice even in the hardest times, even in the most uncertain moments, because God has made one thing absolutely clear: He wills to deliver us from evil. He wills to bring us home to Him.

Did the prodigal son have pure, spiritual motives when he decided to return to his father’s house? Doesn’t seem like he did. He wanted to eat the pig-slop, but no one gave him any. Hunger, not noble contrition, drove him back home.

Rembrandt Prodigal SonDoesn’t mean that he did not love his father. He simply had not yet learned everything that love involves. He came back home looking for food, and he found food and love. He came looking for a tiny exception to the rigor that justice required, since by right he had no claim whatsoever. He found boundless mercy and a completely fresh start.

We find ourselves, dear brothers and sisters, living at a time when the relationship between the Church and the world will be refreshed. A new start will be made. I don’t think we go too far if we say that this springtime of 2013 opens before us as pregnant with possibilities as the springtime of 1963, the first spring of the Second Vatican Council. That spring saw a papal transition, too. Blessed Pope John XXIII finally succumbed to his illness, and Paul VI became the new pope.

Continue reading “Springtime 2013”

Wait a Minute… (Plus: Good, Good News)

Big East Georgetown

conclaveWait just a second here, Divine Providence.

Are you trying to tell me that the conclave and the Big-East tournament will start on the same day?

Lord, are you trying to give me a heart attack?

…That said, we could wind up with a Jewish Pope next week for all I care, because:

The Big East HAS BEEN SAVED!!!!!


From “Sports on Earth:”

[The Big East’s] backbone runs straight up and down I-95, as it should.

[Due to football-motivated conference aligment, disussed before HERE,] the Big East was in danger of becoming one of those great classic rock bands who lost the rights to its name because it fired the bass player who came up with the name. Georgetown-Villanova-Seton Hall-Providence deserved better than to become Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe.

yesThe Big East is about East Coast city schools where basketball is king…They have the downtown, what’s-football vibe… The Catholic angle has always been the spice, not the stock. The Big East is a basketball conference for basketball schools and basketball fans, not a Frankenstein lumbering after football dollars.

So now the husk of football has been sloughed off. The Big East is a beautiful butterfly with a shaky jumper but sharp elbows again.

Two thoughts, perhaps not of equal importance, but both of profound significance:

1. May the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church do the will of God.

2. Syracuse v Georgetown

Wickedness vs. Patience

John XXIII Vatican IIWhat did the wicked tenants do? (Click the link to read the parable.)

They rebelled. The owner had planted and equipped an orderly vineyard, a beautiful farm where it was delightful to work. Justly, the owner expected to receive his produce from the land he himself had developed. He had provisioned his tenants, we can be sure, with more than enough to live on. When the owner sent his messengers, and then patiently even sent his son, he asked for no more than his rightful due.

But the grasping, impatient tenants rebelled. Blinded by selfishness, they could not see that they owed their entire livelihood to the good management and foresight of the owner. The tenants did not want to co-operate. They wanted to rule. But their blind lust for power gave them only chaos and death.

Now—if you are like me, you woke up this morning wanting news about:

1) when we would have a new pope and

2) when the federal-budget sequester would end.

I can make no comment whatsoever on the second subject. And I know I said a couple weeks ago that I thought we could look forward to having a new pope by Holy Week.

But, you know what? Maybe we won’t. Maybe the Cardinals will not decide things quickly. Maybe they will argue, and disagree with each other, and take a long time.

st-peters-sunriseLet’s remember what happened in the fall of 1962, over fifty years ago now. The Second Vatican Council convened for its first session. Over 2,400 bishops met together in St. Peter’s Basilica. They sang together and prayed together. It was beautiful. Then they proceeded to argue and disagree with each other for two months. They did not reach the required 2/3 majority on anything. Anything. The first session closed in early December with no official teachings whatsoever.

Pope John declared with glee: The Council will have to have a second session! Praised be God for allowing us to show the world that the shepherds of the God’s Church love each other–and God, and the truth–enough to argue about it ad nauseum. All will be well. Good things take time. As they say, Rome was not built in a day.

A young priest, at the Council as a theological advisor, agreed. Heading home for Christmas, and looking forward to more intense debate in 1963, the priest said:

The fact that no text has gained approval is evidence of the great, astonishing, genuinely positive, truly epoch-making result of the first session.

Continue reading “Wickedness vs. Patience”

Rounding out the Regular

sistine-chimneyPerhaps some impious sacristy-rats are busying themselves speculating about the next Roman Pontiff.

But we leave such things in the hands of Almighty God. Our job is to pray, not lay bets.

That said…Maybe you want to handicap the rest of the Hoyas regular season?

A lot will be riding on what happens in Rome, of course. But we can trust God to take care of that one. Meanwhile, we have to root as hard as we can for the right team to win the Big East. There’s an awful lot of MoJo riding on each of these remaining regular-season games.

Let me know what you think.

Missa Pro Pontifice Homily

Today (in our humble parish cluster) we celebrate Mass for Pope Benedict.

We love him. We wish him health and grace. We feel grateful for everything he has done to help us. He has served the Church with humble diligence for a very long time, quietly applying his capacious and disciplined mind to the problems at hand. We pray that God may reward him.

st peter medalionLet’s take note of the dates of a couple feast days. The Holy Father announced his resignation on February 11, which is the feast of…

Our Lady of Lourdes. Because so many sick and handicapped people have been healed at the shrine in Lourdes, February 11 has become the international Day of the Sick. So it’s hardly a co-incidence that the Pope chose to announce his resignation due to age and infirmity on that day.

Also, during the Pope’s final week in office, we will mark the 1,976th anniversary of the day St. Peter began to exercise his office as bishop of Antioch, Syria–the city that coined the term “Christian.” He took his “chair” there on February 22, AD 37. Later, Peter moved to Rome, and the Apostolic See moved with him. We can hardly think that Pope Benedict just co-incidentally decided to relinquish St. Peter’s chair a few days after the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair.

Now, as the Lord warned in the gospel, perhaps we should fear the Ninevites who repented at the preaching of Jonah. We would rightly fear their rising up and condemning our generation–unless we try to understand the papacy from a genuinely spiritual point of view.

The big news from Rome has filled the airwaves with journalists rattling on about this or that aspect of the contemporary condition of the Church, all of which the new pope will inherit: Growing in the southern hemisphere. Reeling in Europe. Governed by an intransigent bureaucracy. Still confused by Vatican II. Stacked with reactionary Cardinals. Riddled with a liberal conspiracy. Afraid of new technology. Over-reliant on contemporary trends. Under-reliant on nuns. Patriarchal. Scandal-plagued. Too worldly. Too otherwordly. Etc. Etc.

Pope Benedict shoesNow, all of this informed commentary could be for the good, I am sure. But I think our faith demands that we look at this papal transition in a different light. Let’s not waste mental energy on what this or that new pope might or might not do, or should or should not do. Rather, let’s focus on the simple reality of there being a pope on earth at all.

Everything a pope does or doesn’t do pales by comparison with the simple fact that he is. That there is a father on earth for all the sons and daughters of God.

I may be one of the best Catholic priests with parishes in Franklin and in Henry County. Maybe the best—but certainly the worst. Bad or good doesn’t matter, though–compared to being. Maybe it’s not ideal when people have to complain to each other about how boring Father is. Sure: not ideal. But what if there were no Father? That would be indescribably worse.

Just so, the great miracle is that the whole world has a pope.

Maybe the pope says or does things I don’t understand. Maybe he’s the worst pope in business right now. At any rate, he is definitely the best.

But whether I understand him, or think he’s too professorial, or too liberal about Islam, or too German, or not tech-savvy enough, or smiles really sweetly, or has nice shoes, or writes amazingly thought-provoking books—that’s all fine and dandy. Maybe the new pope will be like that; maybe he won’t.

Does not really matter. The main thing is that he is. That he loves us and we love him. And that we rest secure in Christ’s one Catholic Church by being the people who have a Holy Father. Am I in the Church Christ founded? Well, let’s see…am I with Pope? Is he my Holy Father? If so, then Yes.

We thank you, Lord, for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict. And we thank you in advance for the next pope, too. We pray that, by Your grace, You will keep us united in faith, hope, and love.

Providential Conclaves

The Holy Spirit guides the ultimate outcome of all papal conclaves.

white smokeMany of us exulted with inexpressible joy at the speedy conclusion of the Conclave of 2005.

The Conclave of 1903 was likewise an occasion to glorify the Provident Hand of God.

The “Sage of Baltimore,” H.L. Mencken, anticipated that Conclave in this way:

…We had another Methodist in the office, a reporter named Stockbridge, but he was so pleasant a fellow that no one held it against him…When, in July 1903, Pope Leo XIII died, and the cardinals began hustling to Rome to elect his successor, an office wag put the following notice on the city-room bulletin-board:

The Right Rev. Jason Stockbridge, D.D.,
Bishop of Sodom and Gomorrah in partibus infidelium
Subject to Democratic primaries

The good Lord, however, chose differently. Pope St. Pius X was elected.

menckenPius died eleven years later, on August 20, 1914. We keep his Memorial at Holy Mass today.

Pope St. Pius X defined and refuted the heresy of which H. L. Mencken was certainly guilty, the heresy of Modernism. The Pope explained the problem in his encyclical Pascendi.

Not long ago, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Pascendi. It seemed like a good occasion to contrast the truth of the Holy Faith with the dictatorship of relativism. I gave the following homily:

Continue reading “Providential Conclaves”

264th Succession

Today we have two anniversaries on the same day. The events did not originally happen on the same day—they happened two weeks apart.

jp_iiI am talking about four springs ago. Easter Saturday night, Pope John Paul II breathed his last.

During his pontificate of 26 ½ years, he had visited some forty countries of the earth. Each time, he came back to Rome. But on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday he set off for the heavenly country, never to return.

I don’t know about you, but it was one of the saddest days of my life. We all knew the day would come. But John Paul II was the Holy Father, the only Pope many of us could remember. I still miss him.

Nonetheless, God always provides. Two weeks passed. The Cardinals came from all over the world to Rome. John Paul II was buried a few feet away from St. Peter. Then the Conclave began in the Sistine Chapel…

ringThe next day white smoke billowed and bells rang. The Lord had used the Cardinals to choose a new Holy Father: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI on April 19.

So today seems like a good time to try to answer this question: Why do we have a Pope?

The Lord Jesus established the Papacy. He said to Simon the fisherman, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.”

On his own anniversary of election to the See of Peter, Pope St. Leo the Great explained the ministry of the Bishop of Rome:

Saint Peter does not cease to preside over his See, and preserves an endless sharing with [Christ] the Sovereign Priest. The firmness that [St. Peter] received from the Rock which is Christ, he himself, having become the Rock, transmits it equally to his successors, too; and wherever there appears a certain firmness, there is manifested without doubt the strength of the Pastor…Thus there is, in full vigor and life, in the Prince of he Apostles, this love of God and of men which has been daunted neither by the confinement of prison, nor chains, nor the pressures of the crowd nor the threats of kings; and the same is true of his invincible faith, which has not wavered in the combat or grown lukewarm in victory.

There is only one Pope. The rest of us are under his pastoral care. It is not for you or me to judge how the Pope ‘popes.’ Our role is to love him, pray for him, and listen to him.

Unless you have been on the moon for the past four years, you know that Pope Benedict has often been criticized in the secular communications media. First, the Pope was accused of being mean to Muslims, then of being unfair to homosexuals, then to Jews, and then to Africans suffering with AIDS. There have been more stupid cartoons about the Pope in the Washington Post than there have been about Jim Zorn and Manny Acta combined—and they deserve it much more.

manny-actaDoes the Pope have a sophisticated media machine, with slick handlers telling him what to say and how to say it? No. Is it possible that sometimes he wishes he had put things differently? Certainly. But is the Holy Father guilty of malice or close-mindedness as people have suggested on t.v. and in the press? Of course not. As anyone who knows him can attest, Pope Benedict is one of the gentlest and most learned men on earth.

Last month the Pope wrote a personal letter to the Bishops. Apparently some of them had publicly questioned the Holy Father’s priorities. To explain himself, the Pope recalled his first days in the See of Peter. He wrote:

I believe that I set forth clearly the priorities of my pontificate in the addresses which I gave at its beginning. Everything that I said then continues unchanged as my plan of action. The first priority for the Successor of Peter was laid down by the Lord in the Upper Room in the clearest of terms: “You… strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:32). Peter himself formulated this priority anew in his first Letter: “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15).

In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God. Not just any god, but the God who spoke on Sinai; to that God whose face we recognize in a love which presses “to the end” (cf. Jn 13:1) – in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.

The Pope is a sinner like everyone else. His critics attack him, however, not because he teaches error, but because he teaches the Gospel. It is not the Pope’s job to be popular. It is his duty to be faithful.

If the Roman Papacy were a human institution, it would have died out long ago. But it has survived for two millennia. We lost a holy servant of God on the Feast of Divine Mercy, 2005. But then the ministry of St. Peter was renewed–for the 264th time–on April 19th.

Let us rejoice and give thanks. May Pope Benedict live long and prosper. May God keep us united together in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

St. Peter's tomb, under the High Altar of the Basilica
St. Peter's tomb, under the High Altar of the Basilica