Deacons and Synod 2015

Synod Press ConferenceAt a recent press conference (6 October 2015) held in Rome highlighting some of the points raised thus far in the Synod, Father Thomas Rosica summarized one particular area of special concern for deacons.  As phrased by Father Rosica, some Synodal Fathers were asking, “How can the permanent diaconate come to the aid of so many people who are in need of mercy?  Are there new ways of using the permanent diaconate and those who are permanent deacons to be real ministers and bearers of mercy?”

Here is a link to the full press conference.  Father Rosica’s brief questions on the diaconate begin at about 24:08.

Before going on, let me point out that by focusing on this particular issue I am not ignoring other and far more substantive matters before the Synod!  However, deacons are not often mentioned in a context such as this, so it seems important for those of us interested in the diaconate to stop and take a closer look.

thomas-rosicaFirst: this was a summary given by Father Rosica.  It suggests that the questions may have been present in the interventions by several bishops, but we don’t know any other details.  Therefore, the phrasing of the summary is Rosica’s alone and we want to be cautious not to read too much into it as we would if it were contained in some kind of magisterial document!

DurocherSecond: Although Father Rosica doesn’t allude to the intervention of Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec (who was also present at the press conference but remained silent on this point), I’m guessing that it was within the context of “how can permanent deacons be real ministers or bearers of mercy?” that the Archbishop may have offered his intervention that there should be a conversation about women deacons.  From what I’ve seen so far, however, there’s no way to confirm that.  So, I do not wish to sidetrack onto that specific question in any case, because I think that Rosica’s questions themselves have foundational importance to how we understand and employ the diaconate in general.

Third: Although the Synod is, of course, focused on the family, notice how the questions on the diaconate refer in a particular way to mercy itself, so these are very broad based questions that suggest important opportunities for the diaconate in general, not simply within the context of the family.

So, to the questions.

new way“How can the permanent diaconate come to the aid of so many people who are in need of mercy?”  My first reaction to this question was to think of all the ways deacons already are coming to the aid of so many people!  In fact, I admit to a bit of defensiveness: What did the bishops (or, perhaps this was Father Rosica’s misperception) think we were already doing?  But then I settled down and thought, “What more COULD we be doing?”  And, of course, “How effectively are we already doing this — or not?”

  1.  Are we truly ministers of mercy?  If yes, how precisely are we doing that, across the spectrum of Word, Sacrament, and Charity?  Am I full of mercy when I preach and teach?  Am I full of mercy when we celebrate baptisms and weddings and all the myriad liturgical and sacramental ministries we’re involved in?  Am I full of mercy when offering a helping hand to the sick, marginalized, and the dying?
  2. After this examination of conscience, are there specific ways — more intentional ways — of conveying God’s mercy to others.  What are the very concrete ways (the “concrete consequences” of the deacon’s ministry referred to by Herbert Vorgrimler) we can be better at this?  After all, if the bishops (or Father Rosica) don’t perceive that we’re already doing this, then that perception is problematic and we need to work to fix it.

The second way Father Rosica phrased the question was interesting, too:

“Are there new ways of using the permanent diaconate and those who are permanent deacons to be real ministers and bearers of mercy?”

Here I sense several significant opportunities:

First: Notice the distinction he makes between the diaconate itself and those of us who are deacons.  This suggests that there is interest in the very nature of the diaconate, the fundamental core of the Order.

Second: What are the possible “new ways” of using the diaconate?  Taking just one example: might there be a re-opening of the question of deacons anointing the sick under certain circumstances, perhaps?  Most of the ways we can be used are already included in our canon and liturgical law, so something “new” would seem to be suggesting a willingness to look at things not previously considered.  I am using Anointing of the Sick only as an example here; I am not promoting it or suggesting that this is what is being suggested at the Synod.  But if the bishops are open to looking at “new ways” of using deacons, what might come up in the discussions?

Pope-Feet-2_2522628bThird: When Father Rosica alludes to deacons becoming “real ministers and bearers of mercy,” the first thing I thought of was what is happening with our priests in this regard.  Remember that the Holy Father has found new ways for priests to extend the hand of God’s mercy through sacramental reconciliation, and that he’s even identifying priests to go around the world to offer reconciliation.  Again not wanting to read too much into Father Rosica’s words here, but what additional responsibilities — what “new ways” — might the bishops find for deacons to take on?  Again, I am not proposing anything, and in particular, I am not suggesting that we start hearing confessions!  However, the questions here are most intriguing, and it will be interesting to see what the bishops might discuss.

If for no other reason then, these questions give us much to pray over and to ponder in the days and weeks ahead.  How can we deepen and extend our existing activities even more to convey God’s mercy to all?

Reflections on the Pope in DC, Part Three: The Speech to Congress

Pope-in-Congress-2-512x300The Pope and the Congress of the United States.  Who could ever have imagined such a scene?  After all, it hasn’t been all that many years since it was considered impossible for a Catholic to ever be elected President!  And here was “the Pope of the Holy See” (as he was announced to the members of Congress) standing there between two other Catholics, lawmakers from opposing political parties, about to deliver an historic address.

Much has already been reported about the speech.  The steady drumbeat of “the common good” punctuated the Pope’s remarks as he schooled, supported, and challenged the legislators in their mission.  He also took the opportunity to address all U.S. citizens through our shared “historical memory”, invoking Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.  Truly a stunning list and, undoubtedly, one which is simultaneously affirming and challenging.  American politicians of each party are fond of aligning themselves with Abraham Lincoln, and most would also include Dr. King today.  But certainly most of our lawmakers would perhaps not even recognize the names of Day and Merton and, if they did, would find them uncomfortable!  The Pope detailed his reasons for recalling each of them, summarizing:

Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.

Let’s consider some highlights from the pope’s own words:

Abraham_Lincoln_seated,_Feb_9,_1864Abraham Lincoln:

This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.

In addressing the current polarities found in public life and discourse throughout today’s world, the Pope challenged the popular tendency to sharpen those polarities:

But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Such a challenging assertion!  Do we, indeed, as a people, reject this temptation to polarity, both in our public political discourse and even in our religious discourse?

We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. . . .

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.

dr-martin-luther-king-1Martin Luther King, Jr.:

In recalling the great “dream” of Dr. King for equality of all persons, the Pope expanded upon it:

We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. . . .

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

The Pope’s invocation of the Golden Rule resulted in a standing ovation from all present in the chamber, and it was here that he pointedly addressed issues of life itself, including the death penalty:

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule alsoreminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

Dorothy-DayDorothy Day:

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded theCatholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

While acknowledging that much progress has been made, the Pope reminded us all that “much more still needs to be done” to assist those who are trapped in a cycle of poverty.”

Included in this renewed sense of social justice for all was a strong call for economic and ecological reform, again and always for the common good.  There is also a steady stream of quotations from his encyclical Laudato Si’ punctuating this entire section:

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).

In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

This powerful section linking and expanding what we include in the category of “social justice” was particularly powerful and moving, challenging all to develop that “culture of care” for all of God’s creation!

merton-photoThomas Merton:

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. . . .  Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

In this spirit of dialogue, the Pope explains to the lawmakers both HIS role as pontifex: a bridge-builder, and THEIR role as political leaders:

It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces.

As we saw above:

Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.

The Pope calls us all to spiritual greatness, recognizing our God-given identity and responsibility:

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

Challenging.  Supportive.  Hortative.  Inspirational.  Imaginative.  Pope Francis struck every note, creating a chord of compassion, commitment to the common good, and collaborative leadership.  It will be wonderful if not only our political leadership will take his words to heart but indeed all of us!

Reflections on the Pope in DC, Part Two: The Cross and the Hill

1000Just when you think things couldn’t get more exciting, Pope Francis takes things to a new level.  That’s the way it felt in Washington the day after the Canonization Mass at The Catholic University of America.  The pope, of course, was about to do something no other pope had ever done before: address a joint meeting of the United States Congress.  But before turning to that address in the next post, I want to offer some personal observations surrounding the event.

220px-Farr-Portrait-2013On a personal level, the pilgrims from the Diocese of Monterey were blessed by the great generosity of Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA, 20th District) and his staff.  Mr. Farr not only obtained tickets for a diocesan-sponsored pilgrimage group; he invited Monterey Bishop Richard Garcia to attend the pope’s speech in the Gallery of the Chamber itself.  Retired Monterey Bishop Sylvester Ryan was seated in a caucus chamber, and still another room was prepared for additional visitors from his District, and still others were outside watching on Jumbotrons.  So, pilgrims from the Diocese were found everywhere that historic day.  Once more, a very public “thank you” to Congressman Farr and his entire staff!

IMG_0734 (2)My own responsibilities that day included a very special mission.  Some weeks ago at the Vatican, the Pope was shown the actual cross worn by Father Junipero Serra over his Franciscan habit.  He asked that it be made available during the Mass of Canonization, so Bishop Garcia personally carried the relic to Washington, where he provided it to the papal Master of Ceremonies.  The day after the Mass — which was the same day as the Pope’s speech to Congress — was the first time we could retrieve the relic for its return to the Carmel Mission where St. Junipero is buried.  Since the Bishop had to head into the Gallery, he asked me to pick up the cross.  So, after driving the bishops to Capitol Hill on Thursday morning, I returned to the Basilica and met with Msgr. Rossi, the Rector.  The cross had been safely preserved in the sacristy where the Pope had vested for the Canonization Mass, and I carefully returned it to its box for the Bishop to transport it back to California.  Mission accomplished, I returned to Capitol Hill and was able to see the last half of the Pope’s remarkable address [see the next post].

IMG_1814Following the papal address, Congressman Farr and his staff laid on a light lunch for all of us, and then he gave a few of us a brief tour of the House, including the part of Statuary Hall containing the statue of St. Junipero Serra; the only other State represented by a saint is Hawai’i, with its statue of St. Damien of Molokai.  In an interesting bit of trivia, the masking tape was still on the floor in front of the statue of St. Junipero showing where the Pope and the Congressional leadership had stood only moments before.  The Congressman, as indeed all of us, had been moved by the positive tone of the pope’s address.  He remarked that it was exactly the kind of message our lawmakers needed to challenge them out of the overarching negativity and polarization that seems to have frozen them into indecision and inaction.

It was on this wonderful, positive, and very personal note that we left the Hill.  Some of us departed Washington shortly thereafter, some of us returning to California, while some of the bishops headed off to New York and/or Philadelphia.

Let’s now take a closer look at the remarkable address Pope Francis delivered to the Congress.

Reflections on the Pope in DC, Part One: “Siempre Adelante”!

24B5572900000578-0-image-a-78_1421328465237“Keep Moving Forward”: Siempre Adelante!

During the papal Mass at the Catholic University of America last Wednesday, Pope Francis ended his homily by quoting St. Junipero Serra’s motto, “Siempre Adelante!”  Indeed, as has become a cornerstone of his teaching, the pope’s entire homily was about not remaining bottled up inside ourselves or our churches or our ecclesial institutions, but about going out to meet people where they actually are and not, as he would echo in New York, where we would like them to be.  He spoke of the joy associated with living out this pilgrim spirit and, with power and poetry, he challenged:

Go out to all, proclaim by anointing and anoint by proclaiming. This is what the Lord tells us today. He tells us:

A Christian finds joy in mission: Go out to people of every nation!

A Christian experiences joy in following a command: Go forth and proclaim the good news!

A Christian finds ever new joy in answering a call: Go forth and anoint!

These last few days have been remarkable on so many different levels and the impact of the Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis of Rome will be felt, studied, pondered and — we pray to God! — experienced for years to come.  In keeping with his charge to keep moving forward, he himself has left Cuba, Washington, and now New York.  As I write these words he has just landed in Philadelphia on the last leg of his North American sojourn.  Each and every stop along the way has significance, both in itself as well as in relationship to his whole overarching vision of the church as the loving outstretched hands of God’s own mercy.  We, the Church, are servant-missionaries, going out to encounter others in their own sitz-im-leben, their own particularities of life, their own existential realities, and caring for each other there.  As Christ Himself told his followers: “Be not afraid,” and, “Put out into the deep.”

IMG_1780I was so blessed to be able to participate as one of the corps of deacons assigned as ministers of Holy Communion during the papal Mass at the Catholic University of America.  As a deacon of the Archdiocese of Washington who is currently serving in the Diocese of Monterey (the home of our newest Saint), and as a former resident of the District and student at CUA, just arriving back in town was a thrill.  But experiencing the pope on such familiar territory was electrifying and beyond words.  It will take a long time for its full impact to sink in.  These are a few initial recollections.

The day began early.  Even though we’ve lived in Washington many times over the years, trying to gauge the impact the pope’s travels through the District would have on public transportation was nearly impossible.  The Catholic University campus was scheduled to open at 10:00 AM, with Mass beginning at 4:15 PM.  Concelebrating priests and assisting deacons were told to be checked in and at our staging areas by 2:00 PM.  My traveling companions and I decided to forego the Metro and splurge on a taxi, leaving at 7:00 AM.  Traffic was light and we made great time.  Michigan Avenue was closed at Trinity Washington University, so we got out and walked toward Catholic University.  We hit the first security checkpoint at 7:30 and there we waited until they opened at 10:20.  The mood was good, however, and people were just excited about being in place instead of stuck in traffic across town!  There were pilgrims gathering from all points of the country.  People of all ages, colors, languages and backgrounds were lining up.  IMG_1748There were also sisters, some very young and others in their wisdom years, as well as priests and deacons (perhaps most noticeable by our ubiquitous little bags carrying albs and stoles for the Mass!).  The weather was wonderful, although by mid-morning, the temperature and sun began to bake a bit.  Some sisters found temporary relief under some nearby trees!

As a former career Navy officer, I was also struck by the sheer volume and diversity of the security forces assembled around the checkpoint: TSA, Homeland Security, the Secret Service, DC police, FBI, and others who left their uniforms and windbreakers at home to operate more subtly.

At 10:20 we began going through the checkpoint and, with the exception of being able to leave our shoes on, the procedure was exactly like going through security at the airport; in fact, that’s probably because the officials handling it were all TSA!  Belts off, jackets off, bags checked, and on and on.  However, everyone, including the TSA personnel, were in great spirits and full of excitement (unlike most lines at the airport!).

IMG_1272Once through we made our way to our assigned entrance point.  Priests and deacons had to check in with our own coordinators to receive additional instructions about where to vest and so on.  Then there was time to wonder around the familiar campus and check out the venue.  The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the best known feature of the campus and, of course, the papal Mass was going to be celebrated right outside in order to accommodate as many people as possible.  Even though the Basilica is the eighth largest church in the world, it was no where close to being adequate for the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 pilgrims who were gathering.

There were volunteers everywhere, most of them very excited and happy students, who directed folks to tents for water, cookies, and nutrition bars, and the Basilica Gift Shop had set up a couple of huge tents in front of Mullen Library.  I made my way to our assembly point for deacons and checked in.  It was a wonderful reunion, since many of the deacons gathering were brother deacons from the Archdiocese of Washington, along with a small contingent of deacons from the Diocese of Monterey and, of course, from other dioceses around the country.  I showed the Monterey group around a bit, and we had lunch together sitting on a curb along with some undergraduates taking a break from their own escort duties.

IMG_1293As we reassembled in our staging area, we found out how this was going to work.  We deacons would remain in the building during the first part of the Mass.  We could follow the Mass through the windows or on a TV located in the building.  We were introduced to our teams as well.  Each of us had an assigned “escort” who was, in most cases, an undergraduate student from CUA.  The escort would have an umbrella to hold over us during communion, not so much for us, but to show people where the communion ministers were actually located!  In addition to the escorts, we had team captains for each section who helped get us where we needed to be and help with crowd control.  It was all very well organized.  Long before the Mass began, every one of those chairs was filled with students and deacons.  And that was just one of the rooms being used.

And then, the Pope arrived.

IMG_1310Look, I’m a teacher, and I love being around students.  Here we were, assembled in a hot, humid classroom.  But the students (as well as most of us deacons) all had their cell phones out, tracking the pope’s location. Their own excitement and love for the man was palpable — and noisy!  “He’s just left the nunciature!”  “They’re approaching the USCCB!”  “They just left the USCCB — can you see him yet?”  “There he is!  There he is!”  “Francis!  Francis!”  They were standing on chairs, they helped each other find space at the windows, and I have never seen such joy, as they saw Francis make his way in the popemobile along the same paths that they walked every day to classes.  I have to admit, I was pretty much an undergraduate at that moment myself — it was surreal to see this man, this Pope, on such familiar territory.

The Mass itself was glorious.  Several things stood out, for me at least.  The canonization of Junipero Serra, the subject of concerns raised by some Native American groups, was handled beautifully.  In fact, not only did Native Americans participate in the canonization itself, the first reading of the Mass, from Isaiah, was proclaimed in Chochenyo, a native language previously declared to be a “dead” language, which has now been restored. IMG_1772 In fact, the man who proclaimed that reading was himself one of those responsible for restoring the language and here it was being heard again publicly for the first time by millions of people watching around the world!  After the Mass, the Pope met with nine Native American tribal leaders from California, including descendants of the Peoples with whom St. Junipero had served.  One of those leaders was Andy Galvan, who had helped present the relics of the saint during the Mass.  A fascinating and passionate man, he eagerly recounted his meeting with the pope as well as his pride in his cousin, who had proclaimed that first reading during the Mass.

Another part of the Mass which I will always remember took place during the pope’s wonderful homily.  A number of hosts had been consecrated at an earlier Mass to facilitate the distribution of communion during this Mass.  During the homily, Masters of Ceremonies brought a ciborium to each deacon so that we would be ready to form our procession and get to our communion stations.  Picture this: we were seated listening to the Holy Father speak of “going out” and of bringing Christ to all peoples where they actually are, and calling us all to a joyful mission, and all the while we were holding the Eucharistic Christ in our own hands, ready to do just that in a very real way.  For me, and I believe for all of us deacons assembled that day, this was a profound moment.

communionPerhaps another point to ponder for deacons.  It was interesting that it was the Order of Deacons who distributed Communion that day.  We were not able to sit outside with the bishops and priests in front of the Holy Father, but were instead staged inside with our student-escorts and team captains.  But then the Order of Deacons emerged from that building and processed to all points of the assembly to serve, as we should, the People of God.  It was the deacons who were called to serve in a particular way at that Mass.  As the ordained servants of the People of God, we were focused on carrying out that service.

As always, distributing Holy Communion is a joy: we experience the Christ who is really present under the sacramental forms of bread and wine, and we also experience the Christ who is really present in the people coming forward.  Some people dropped to their knees to receive, other stood and received on the tongue and others on their outstretched hands: all were reverent, joy-filled, and happy.

IMG_1309As people left the campus after the Mass, some of us stayed behind to speak with the media and to enjoy the afterglow before finding our way back to wherever we were staying.  It had been a long day, but a glorious one.  And all who were there left, I believe, with a renewed sense of mission.

A mission to “keep moving forward”: Siempre adelante!

In the next blog, we’ll reflect on the Pope at the Congress of the United States.

The Pope in DC: On the Ground and “Concrete Consequences”

IMG_1740I watched the Pope’s Alitalia touch down at Joint Base Andrews (what old-timers like me still refer to as Andrews Air Force Base) from the media center established in a Crystal City hotel.  What a great moment to see him arrive!  Several of us were there in support of Bishop Richard Garcia, the Bishop of the Diocese of Monterey in California.  As the Bishop of the Diocese in which Father Junipero Serra is buried, he has been a popular interviewee by the media.  It has been a real treat to watch him navigate those waters with skill, wit and humor.

Back at our hotel, more and more bishops were pouring into the registration area, and the USCCB staff set up a nerve center in support of the bishops.  It was wonderful to see some old friends from the staff and the bishops.  They have a full day tomorrow, beginning with security screening here at the hotel prior to boarding their assigned buses.  They will head to Morning Prayer with the Holy Father at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on Rhode Island Avenue.  Then they will have lunch with him, eventually getting to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of The Catholic University of America on Michigan Avenue.  There are then a variety of options for the bishops following the Mass!  They’re in for a very full, rich, and tiring day.

As early as they’re starting, though, our little team is heading out toward Catholic University even earlier, since we have to find our own way there, and the street closures are, well, profound!  DC is a small town and with the Pope heading to several different venues throughout the day, navigating the District — on a workday no less! — will be a challenge.  We’re hoping to have a taxi drop us off at Trinity University down the street from CUA, and then walk to the campus.  Somewhere during that trip, I’ll be giving an interview to CBS on the cell phone!

IMG_1732The campus opens mid-morning and the deacons and priests who are assisting and concelebrating will check in and be given our specific assignments.  I’m hoping to be in the vicinity of our pilgrimage group from the Diocese of Monterey, but there’s no way to predict that.  The challenge, of course, will be AFTER the Mass. Once the Pope departs people tend to want to rush away, but that will not be possible.

For those who are here, the challenge will be to remember that this is an historic moment with and for our Holy Father Francis, despite whatever happens.  Patience, patience, patience!  What’s even more important is to focus less on the “event” vibe that naturally surrounds such a moment, and really listen to Pope Francis and his challenges to us.  It will be joyful, but it will not be an end unto itself.  May this Mass renew us in our own vocations of service to those who are most in need around us.  The great German theologian Herbert Vorgrimler once wrote that the role of the deacon is to offer our communities “concrete consequences” to the Eucharist in which we share.  That challenge will be offered to us by Pope Francis tomorrow.  He, too, will ask that all of us Catholics, regardless of ministerial role, identify and provide the “concrete consequences” of tomorrow’s Eucharist to the world around us.  As the motto for this Apostolic Journey puts it, “Love is our Mission”!


The Pope in DC: Preparatory Thoughts

Ever since the Pope announced his first-ever visit to the United States, preparations began.  Then, as his plans expanded from Philadelphia to New York to Washington, DC, matters became even more hectic.  Then, the surprise announcement of his intention to canonize Franciscan Junipero Serra during his time in Washington, and the jump was made into hyperspace.  Today, in Washington, all of those preparations could be seen coming together.

In front of BasilicaIt was a cloudy, cool day by Washington standards, and later in the afternoon, the clouds opened and, as one hotel worker remarked, it felt like Winter had arrived, not the Fall!  I am here for several reasons.  I am a deacon ordained and incardinated into the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, so this is my home archdiocese in ecclesial terms, and it is good to be back here on that level alone.  In fact, as a DC Deacon, I have served here on the Archdiocesan staff as well as on the senior staff of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  So, when we took the Red Line to the Brookland/CUA Metro stop this morning, the closest stop for the Catholic University, and right across the street from the USCCB, I felt immediately back at home.

But the other reason I’m here is to accompany and assist the Bishop of Monterey in California, Richard J. Garcia, on whose staff I serve currently.  Soon-to-be Saint Junipero Serra founded many missions in California, and seven of them are located within the Diocese of Monterey, with Serra himself buried in the sanctuary of his favorite mission at Carmel.  The bishop was asked to come to Washington a bit early to meet with numerous press outlets to speak of the canonization and its meaning for Catholics today.  He asked me and a couple of our priests to assist with the interviews so much of the day was spent responding to those press requests.IMG_1737

It was wonderful to watch the preparations on the campus of the Catholic University.  I did my doctoral work here, and watching the students going about their normal business while others were setting up chairs, workers putting the final touches on the altar and sanctuary on the East side of the Basilica, and technicians conducting never-ending sound checks: it was all very exciting.  Eventually we headed back to our hotels to get ready for tomorrow.  Our pilgrimage group has made it safely, and we’ll meet with them for breakfast tomorrow before they head out on their DC adventures.  Other clergy and laity are also heading in, many of whom will be helping with the Papal Mass on Wednesday.

IMG_1732As I’ve written before, it will be important to keep in mind all of the “moving parts” of the Pope’s visit, which has already begun — in Cuba.  That part of the trip is closely linked, intentionally I am sure, to the pastoral visit to the United States.  The Pope will pray with the bishops of the United States on Wednesday morning at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, have lunch with them at the St. John Paul II Cultural Center near the Catholic University, and then the Mass later in the afternoon.  Then the next day, Thursday, the Pope will address a joint session of Congress, the first time a pope has ever done that.  While Californians are focused on the canonization of Father Serra, I think most Washingtonians, and perhaps most Americans, are more interested in the Congressional address, which promises to be an exciting challenge to every part of the American political spectrum.

And then, of course, the Pope leaves for New York and Philadelphia.  I hope simply to reflect and report on my impressions of the DC portion of the apostolic journey.

For now, please keep Pope Francis in your prayers, that he travels in safety and good health, and that his mission of spreading the Good News is met with joy and enthusiasm!

The Pope Puzzle: Keeping the Big Picture in Mind: UPDATE

24B5572900000578-0-image-a-78_1421328465237Pope Francis is on the move.  On the eve of his impending Apostolic Journey to these shores, he created some historic mainstream media history with his virtual audience last Friday on ABC’s 20/20.  See the video here, and selected commentary here and here.  He has extended universal faculties to all priests, not only to forgive the sin and guilt of abortion but to lift the associated sanction for it as it exists under current canon law.  Now, earlier today, comes the announcement that tomorrow two documents will be released conveying canonical changes affecting the marriage tribunal processes involving declarations of nullity.  UPDATE: Here is a link to the Latin text [a Vatican translation in English is not yet available] for the Latin Church; and here is a link to the Latin text for the Eastern Catholic Churches.   With the Ordinary Synod on the Family just around the corner in October, this is an interesting bit of timing, to say the least.  Finally, the apostolic journey itself contains so many diverse elements that it is easy to focus on one or two to the exclusion of the others!  In short, the Pope has tossed a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table and, as with all puzzles, it is helpful to keep the original “big picture” in mind as we try to fit the pieces together.1000piecePuzzle_03-1024x679

The Big Picture: Evangelization

Proclaiming Christ to the contemporary world: that has been the mission of the Church since that windswept morning on the Mount of Olives when Christ ascended to the Father.  As has been said, “It is not that the Church has a mission, but that the mission has a Church”!

Pope Francis is — like St. John XXIII — a man with a sharp sense of history and continuity.  Everything he has done since his election has demonstrated this, as I hope this essay will in part illustrate.  What he is doing now is logical, historical, and consistent with the work of his predecessors.  Consider some initial examples.

ROMA 7 Dicembre 1962 - CONCILIO VATICANO II. Papa Giovanni XXIII parla in occasione della chiusura della prima sessione del Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II. ANSA ARCHIVIO / 28342-1

St. John XXIII ushered in a renewed focus on evangelization when he announced the Second Vatican Council in January, 1959.  By the time the Council convened in October, 1962, evangelization had become the cornerstone of the project: how could the Church be a more effective witness of Christ in the contemporary world, especially following the violence, devastation and death inflicted on humanity during the first half of the Twentieth Century?  Blessed Paul VI, John’s successor, convened a Synod on Evangelization in 1974 and declared a Holy Year in 1975 to focus on as a way to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the closing of the Council, referring to the Council itself as “the great Catechism of our time.”  In his landmark apostolic exhortation on evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul wrote:

There is no doubt that the effort to proclaim the Gospel to the people of today, who are buoyed up by hope but at the same time often oppressed by fear and distress, is a service rendered to the Christian community and also to the whole of humanity.

Pope-Paul-VI-imageFor this reason the duty of confirming the brethren – a duty which with the office of being the Successor of Peter . . .  seems to us all the more noble and necessary when it is a matter of encouraging our brethren in their mission as evangelizers, in order that, in this time of uncertainty and confusion, they may accomplish this task with ever increasing love, zeal and joy.

Referring back to the Council, he wrote:

We wish to do so on this tenth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, the objectives of which are definitively summed up in this single one: to make the Church of the twentieth century ever better fitted for proclaiming the Gospel to the people of the twentieth century.

Pope Paul mentioned that this theme was not a new one, and that even prior to the Synod on Evangelization, he had told the Cardinals:

“The conditions of the society in which we live oblige all of us therefore to revise methods, to seek by every means to study how we can bring the Christian message to modern man. . . .” in a way that is as understandable and persuasive as possible.

The pope then gave three “burning questions” with the 1974 Synod had dealt with:

In our day, what has happened to that hidden energy of the Good News, which is able to have a powerful effect on man’s conscience?

To what extent and in what way is that evangelical force capable of really transforming the people of this century?

What methods should be followed in order that the power of the Gospel may have its effect?

Basically, these inquiries make explicit the fundamental question that the Church is asking herself today and which may be expressed in the following terms: after the Council and thanks to the Council, which was a time given her by God, at this turning-point of history, does the Church or does she not find herself better equipped to proclaim the Gospel and to put it into people’s hearts with conviction, freedom of spirit and effectiveness?

Now consider the challenges posed by Pope Francis in his own first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, in which he picks up these same themes and asks his to evaluate our own existing ecclesial structures and to change them, even eliminating those which are no longer effective in conveying the joy of the Gospel.  It is not insignificant that a preponderance of his references in that part of the document are drawn from St. John XXIII and Paul VI.

The bottom line here is simple, direct and graphic: the proclamation of Christ to the world is our mission, and we do that with joy, courage, hope and mercy.  In fact, mercy is not simply one of several attributes associated with evangelization, it is the heart of evangelization itself: God loves us and showers us all constantly with mercy, and there are no exceptions and no one is excluded from God’s mercy.  We who claim to be disciples can do no less in imitation of Christ.

With evangelization as the foundation, let’s turn to recent events, especially the upcoming Apostolic Journey.

The Apostolic Journey #1: It’s not all about the USA

The first thing to consider is how the Pope views his trip.  Is he coming to United States?  Of course, but that’s not where it begins.  The official title of his sojourn is, according to the Vatican website: “APOSTOLIC JOURNEY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS TO CUBA, THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND VISIT TO THE UNITED NATIONS ORGANIZATION HEADQUARTERS on the occasion of his participation at the Eighth World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.”

Cuba? Cuba??  I can hear some eyes rolling: Aren’t there direct flights from Rome to Washington or New York?  Is this all part of President Obama’s new relationship with Havana?  Is the Pope taking sides in such political issues?  Is the Pope a Democrat??? [I know that we must be careful here; I hope readers realize that I’m trying to be somewhat humorous in those questions!]  Rather we must again look at history.

jfk-nikitaIt’s 1962.  Following the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, the US and Cuba entered a new level of tension when the Soviet Union began installing nuclear-capable missiles on the island.  The week after the opening of the Second Vatican Council in October 1962, the crisis exploded, and we were all on the brink of disaster.  Behind the scenes, both President Kennedy and Premier Krushchev approached Pope John XXIII for whatever assistance he could offer in mediation.  Working both publicly and behind the scenes, John did just that.  In fact, you can listen to one of his public efforts from Vatican Radio here.  Once the crisis had passed, due in no small measure to the pope, he decided that he had to write what many now consider his most significant encyclical, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth).  This was a direct result of the missile crisis.  Since that time, popes have worked to continue to ease the tension between our two countries.  3hw5z9i

The fact that Pope Francis is beginning his apostolic journey with a visit to Cuba is most significant.  I am convinced that we will hear more about Pope John XXIII and his efforts from Pope Francis and the longstanding desire of the papacy that peaceful solutions be found.  When he arrives in the United States, It think it is a safe bet that he will “report” on his visit to Cuba, especially perhaps, in his speech later at the United Nations.

Proclaiming Christ in the world today: Evangelization.

The Apostolic Journey #2: It’s not all about the big ticket events

Take a good look at the agenda for the apostolic journey here.  Notice the times throughout that Pope Francis will be visiting with young people, with the poor, with immigrants, with prisoners and the ill.  I hope that the media will not simply keep their cameras focused on the huge papal Masses and the public addresses to the Congress and the United Nations — as critical as those will be.  At the heart of the pope’s visit, however, will be those far more intimate and direct contacts he will have with people most in need of God’s healing and merciful touch.  Much as we saw in the recent 20/20 “virtual papal audience” this is where the pope feels most at home, and where he feels he — and we — need to be!

Proclaiming Christ in the world today: evangelization.

The Apostolic Journey #3: The Canonization of Junipero Serra

Living and working right now in California, in fact, in the Diocese in which Father Serra is buried, it has been fascinating to watch the reactions to this canonization.  I was born and raised in central Illinois, and all we learned were the basics: that Spanish Franciscans led by Fra Junipero Serra had established a series of missions along the California coast during the Spanish Colonial period in the late 18th Century.  That was pretty much it, or at least as much as I remember.  Now, of course, we have become much more attuned to the complexities of this matter, with many native peoples objecting vigorously against what they characterize as an oppressive and murderous regime.  Father Serra himself is sometimes even cited as a culprit or even as a “devil” in this regard.

Old-Mission-San-Fernando-Rey-de-Espana-father-Junipero-Serra-16Other Native peoples, however, support the canonization.  In particular, there have been very fruitful conversations between church authorities and the leaders of the Peoples who are descendants of the groups who were actually involved in the situations described.  They are actively involved in promoting and in planning for the canonization itself.  A number of respected scholars of the period, the peoples, and the archaeology, continue to examine the evidence in a comprehensive and nuanced way.  For me at least, it has been this this renewed sense of dialogue and scientific and historical research that has made the event of the canonization of Junipero Serra fruitful.  Several of these scholars even admit that when they began their work on the missions that they were negative toward the mission system but, after their analysis, actually come to hold the opposite view: that, in fact, the missions served a positive role in the history of the region and its peoples.

But the bigger issue, perhaps, the “big picture,” needs to be remembered.  To declare someone a saint has never meant that the church considers that person to be perfect in every way.  Pope Francis understands that.  He has been highlighting people who have left their own homeland, left their previous “comfort zones”, and preached Christ.  Last January,the pope canonized Father Joseph Vaz, an Indian-born priest who came to Sri Lanka during the 17th century, at a time when Dutch colonists conducted a brutal persecution of Catholics. It was on the papal plane flight leaving Sri Lanka that embarked reporters asked the pope about the canonization.  He replied that he was seeking to hold out examples of courageous evangelization, and for that reason, he hoped to canonize Junipero Serra during his visit to the United States.  The ultimate message, then, is not to portray Junipera Serra as a perfect, sinless man.  The pope hopes that the known positive aspects of his life and ministry will inspire today’s Christians to leave our own comfort zones to offer Christ to the modern world.

Proclaiming Christ in the world today: evangelization.

The Apostolic Journey #4: The Speech to Congress

This will be a particularly fascinating and historic event!  Reports out of Washington suggest that some legislators are concerned that the pope’s address will result in unseemly behavior, as members of one political party rise to applaud certain items in the address while the other party remains seated.  It has been suggested the no one rise during the speech itself and then applaud only at the end of it.  In any case, we may be assured of one simple fact.  The pope will challenge each and every member of Congress, as well as all of us who will be following along.  He is neither Republican or Democrat, and he will undoubtedly be an equal opportunity prophet: preaching against abortion and for immigration reform; criticizing any economic systems (including capitalism) which harm the human person and challenging the lawmakers to find ways to help the poor and those caught in despair.  When considering the normal camera angles used for similar events (such as the President’s annual State of the Union address), it will be most interesting to see the pope at the podium, flanked by Vice President Biden on the left and Speaker Boehner on the right.  Both men, as Catholics, might well offer interesting visual responses to the challenges to the topics sure to be raised by the pope.

Proclaiming Christ in the world today: evangelization.

The Apostolic Journey #5: The Speech to the UN General Assembly

Here we have another interesting papal precedent.  It was fifty years ago, almost to the day, that Pope Paul VI addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations.  During that famous speech, which would have great influence on the Second Vatican Council, which was at the same time completing its own work on the section of Gaudium et Spes dealing with war and peace, Pope Paul passionately reminded the Assembly:

These are the words you are looking for us to say and the words we cannot utter without feeling aware of their seriousness and solemnity: never again one against the other, never, never again!

Was not this the very end for which the United Nations came into existence: to be against war and for peace? Listen to the clear words of a great man who is no longer with us, John Kennedy, who proclaimed four years ago: “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.” There is no need for a long talk to proclaim the main purpose of your Institution. It is enough to recall that the blood of millions, countless unheard-of sufferings, useless massacres and frightening ruins have sanctioned the agreement that unites you with an oath that ought to change the future history of the world: never again war, never again war! It is peace, peace, that has to guide the destiny of the nations of all mankind!

And in a classic comment, he proclaimed, “If you want to be brothers, let the arms fall from your hands. A person cannot love with offensive weapons in his hands.”

It seems very safe to predict that Pope Francis will make direct references to Pope Paul’s address, and that he will build upon it.  His message will be, like Pope Paul’s, about the responsibilities that nations have to their people and indeed all people.

Proclaiming Christ in the world today: evangelization.

The Apostolic Journey #6: The World Meeting of Families

Finally we come to the event which initiated the pope’s visit to the United States in the first place. Naturally we will see and hear the pope offering inspiration and encouragement to the assembled families.  While he may not get into specifics, it would seem natural that he might aver to the upcoming Synod on the Family.  He will certainly speak of the multiple stressors on the family today and challenge all in attendance to strengthen the family and offering his own personal and prayerful support.  The family will also be presented as the domestic Church, echoing Vatican II, reflecting in itself the loving nature of God and God’s own relationship with God’s creation.

Proclaiming Christ to the modern world: evangelization.

And so, as we head into this remarkable journey with Pope Francis, may we all keep the completed puzzle in mind: It is all about how WE, today, carry the merciful Christ into the world today.  Our Holy Father is giving us a stunning demonstration of how that looks on a global scale: EVANGELIZATION!