Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Not to abandon us, but to be our hope


“Christ, the mediator between God and humanity, judge of the world and Lord of all, has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us, but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where he has gone, we hope to follow.”

Today’s feast of the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, marks something of an ending – it commemorates the end of Jesus time with us on earth as a man. It has a certain liturgical completeness as it marks 40 days after Easter in balance to the 40 days of preparing for Easter in Lent. But, this feast doesn’t try and explain how the Ascension happened – that is a mystery; instead, it sheds light on what it all means. As we heard in the passage I just shared from today’s Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer, “Christ…has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us, but to be our hope.”

Ascension has two strong qualities – one of hope and promise; and another of challenge and commissioning. Jesus didn’t ascend to an unknown place. Jesus didn’t disappear into the clouds and now no one knows where He is. Jesus didn’t simply vanish from our sight never to be seen or heard from again. No instead, “Where He has gone, we hope to follow.” Jesus attained the goal of all humanity – an eternity in Heaven; an eternity caught up in the loving gaze and grace of God the Father; and eternity of glory and perfection that can only be found in Heaven. And, we – all of us who have been baptized into life in Christ – we hope to follow Him to that place. This is the hope and promise of Ascension.

Just as powerful is this reminder of our own eternal and glorious destiny, is the fact that Jesus has left everything else in our hands until the end of time. As Jesus returns to the Father, He commissions us, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Jesus brought to us the most incredible gifts ever – He brought us the Gospel; He brought us the Sacraments; He brought us the Church. And then, He left them in our hands to proclaim those sacred Words; share those holy gifts; and welcome the world to take part in this great mystery of faith.

Paul, again reminds us of this in the reading from Ephesians, “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call…for us who believe.” We are the hope of the Gospel; we are the hope of Jesus. We must all pick up the call that He has given us to preach the Good News to the ends of the earth. Our mission is to bear witness to the Gospel and to make disciples of all nations.

I saw a bumper sticker recently that said, “Jesus is coming…look busy!” As we get perhaps a bit nervous about so large a mission, we remember another celebration that will be upon us in 10 days – the Feast of Pentecost. Jesus gave us the most tremendous mission in all of history, but He did not ask us to accomplish it on our own. He will send His promised Spirit to empower us from on high by his abiding presence. Our work lies in opening ourselves up to the grace of His Word, His Sacraments, and His Holy Spirit. If we do these things, mountains will be moved by our faith.

“Christ, the mediator between God and humanity, judge of the world and Lord of all, has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us, but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where he has gone, we hope to follow.”

May God give you peace.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The morning funnies

TEACHER: Maria, go to the map and find North America.
MARIA: Here it is.
TEACHER: Correct. Now class, who discovered America?
CLASS: Maria.
TEACHER: John, why are you doing your math multiplication on the floor?
JOHN: You told me to do it without using tables.
TEACHER: Glenn, how do you spell 'crocodile?'
TEACHER: No, that's wrong
GLENN: Maybe it is wrong, but you asked me how I spell it.
TEACHER: Donald, what is the chemical formula for water?
DONALD: H I J K L M N O.TEACHER: What are you talking about?
DONALD: Yesterday you said it's H to O.
TEACHER: Winnie, name one important thing we have today that we didn't have ten years ago.
TEACHER: Glen, why do you always get so dirty?
GLEN: Well, I'm a lot closer to the ground than you are.
TEACHER: Millie, give me a sentence starting with 'I.'
MILLIE: I is..
TEACHER: No, Millie..... Always say, 'I am.'
MILLIE: All right... 'I am the ninth letter of the alphabet.'
TEACHER: George Washington not only chopped down his father's cherry tree, but also admitted it. Now, Louie, do you know why his father didn't punish him?
LOUIS: Because George still had the axe in his hand. ____________________________________________
TEACHER: Now, Simon, tell me frankly, do you say prayers before eating?
SIMON: No sir, I don't have to, my Mom is a good cook.
TEACHER: C lyde , your composition on 'My Dog' is exactly the same as your brother's. Did you copy his?
CLYDE : No, sir. It's the same dog.
TEACHER: Harold, what do you call a person who keeps on talking when people are no longer interested?
HAROLD: A teacher.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Disciples of Hope


“Beloved: Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” These words from the First Letter of Peter today seem to be very appropriate as a follow up to the incredible visit of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI to America last week.

As I’m sure all of you know Fr. Mike and I had the extraordinary opportunity last week to get tickets to both Papal Masses in New York – both the Saturday Mass for priests, deacons and religious at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the Sunday Mass at Yankee Stadium. By the way, did you hear about the controversy at Yankee Stadium over what the Pope was going to wear? In the end, they let him wear his red shoes, but at Yankee Stadium, he was forbidden to wear his Red Sox! Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

The Mass at St. Patrick’s was, for me, the true highlight. It terms of Papal Masses, with only about 3,000 people present, it was intimate. What an incredible feeling it was to concelebrate the Holy Mass with thousands of priests, cardinals and bishops, with the Holy Father as our presider. Add to this the thousands who celebrated and watched the Mass on the streets of New York City, it was a great shining moment for the Church.

People always want to know how close you got to the Pope. Well, during the recessional, the Holy Father walked down the main aisle and then around down the side aisle where Fr. Mike and I were sitting. When he passed, he was no more than one or two feet from me. I, of course, had my camera ready and had to make a decision – do I take the picture or try and reach out and kiss his hand? Given the amount of Secret Service around him, I took the picture and it is a great, close up shot.

“Be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” How wonderfully this letter from St. Peter, the first Pope, ties in with the theme selected by Pope Benedict for this journey: “Christ Our Hope.” Most of us, I think followed this apostolic journey with great interest and hope was the over-arching theme and feeling. I think Pope Benedict, in this trip, really stood out on his own and took fully the reigns of the Papacy and I think surprised everyone when we saw what a kind, gentle, loving, compassionate, wise, holy and truly humble man of God, Shepherd of the Church, Vicar of Christ, he is.

Last Saturday, the Holy Father encouraged us with these words, “As a communion of pure love and infinite freedom, the Blessed Trinity constantly brings forth new life in the work of creation and redemption. The Church, as ‘a people made one by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Spirit,’ is called to proclaim the gift of life, to serve life, and to promote a culture of life…The proclamation of life, life in abundance, must be the heart of the new evangelization. For true life – our salvation – can only be found in the reconciliation, freedom and love which are God’s gracious gift. This is the message of hope we are called to proclaim and embody in a world where self-centeredness, greed, violence, and cynicism so often seem to choke the fragile growth of grace in people’s hearts. Saint Irenaeus, with great insight, understood that the command which Moses enjoined upon the people of Israel: ‘Choose life!’ was the ultimate reason for our obedience to all God’s commandments. Perhaps we have lost sight of this: in a society where the Church seems legalistic and ‘institutional’ to many people, our most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God’s love.”

“Be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” This is the reason for our hope – that God so loved the world, that He gave us His only Son! That God so loved us, that He called us to be holy and blameless in His sight; to be His children; to be His witnesses; to be His Disciples of Hope! My friends, this is our call – we are to embody in the way we live, in who we are, the hope promised us through our faith in Jesus. It should radiate from us into our world! We are called, commissioned in the prophetic words of our Holy Father to be Disciples of Hope!

A few years ago a group of salesmen went to a convention in Chicago. They had assured their wives that they would be home in plenty of time for Friday night’s dinner. In their rush through the airport, one of the men inadvertently kicked over a table which held a display of apples. Apples flew everywhere. Without stopping or looking back, they all managed to reach the plane, just in time. All but one. He told the others to go on without him and went back to where the apples were all over the floor. He was glad he did. The 16-year-old girl, the apple seller, was totally blind! She was softly crying, tears running down her cheeks, as she groped for her apples while the crowd swirling about her. The man knelt on the floor with her, gathered up the apples, put them back on the table and helped reorganize her display. He set aside the bruised and battered ones in a separate basket. When he had finished, he said to the girl, “Please take this $40 for the damage we did. Are you okay?” She nodded through her tears. He continued, “I hope we didn’t spoil your day too badly.” As the man started to walk away, the girl called out to him, “Mister....” He paused and turned to look back. She continued, “Are you Jesus?”

My friends, this is what following Jesus is all about. “Sanctify Christ as the Lord of your hearts.” To be a Christian, to be a disciple of hope, is to be another Christ; to radiate Christ. This is the message of our Holy Father and the challenge he places in our hands.

Let me end with a reflection that I read online of the Pope’s visit: “These have been amazing days, friends, and it became clear that, as in a miracle, the tide had, at long last, begun to turn. [The Pope] might be heading home tonight, but, church, our work is just beginning. It’s been said before but bears repeating: ‘the Holy Spirit is ready -- but the answer depends on us.’ It’s the call of our time, and the work of renewal is already underway in our midst. But it can only happen if each of us go ‘all in.’ Gratefully, it’s not a question of programs, budgets, committees or technologies. All it takes is just one word -- YES. It’s time, gang -- our time. All in, all together, let’s get to it.”

To quote the Holy Father one more time, he said, “As we give thanks for these precious past blessings, and look to the challenges of the future, let us implore from God the grace of a new Pentecost for the Church in America. May tongues of fire, combining burning love of God and neighbor with zeal for the spread of Christ’s Kingdom, descend on all present!”

May God give you peace and fill you with His hope.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Yankee Stadium Mass (in detail)

So I finally have a moment to share some thoughts from Sunday's Mass at Yankee Stadium. So, I'll give you the play-by-play (pardon the pun) from the day. Hey, that reminds me, did you hear about the controversy about what Pope Benedict was going to wear at Yankee Stadium? In the end, they let him wear his red shoes, but they would not let him wear Red Sox! (Sorry, again.)

So, Saturday after the Mass was a day of just basking in the glow of having concelebrated the Mass with the Pope and roughly 2,000 other priests, bishops and cardinals in the morning. Their is something so special about the shared ministry of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ when concelebrating. Usually our only experience that even approaches that during the year comes during the Chrism Mass each year at Holy Week, when all of the priests of the Archdiocese concelebrate together. But, concelebrating a Mass with the Chief Shepherd, the Vicar of Christ, is absolutely amazing. You just feel so connected to something so much bigger than you. The only thing better than concelebrating with the Pope and thousands of other priests - doing it two days in a row!

Saturday night we had a wonderful fraternal dinner with a bunch of friars in the city, and went to bed early to rest up for Sunday. Luckily we didn't have as early a start since Mass was at 2:30 p.m., but we got moving at a decent hour. Since Fr. Mike and I don't know the subways of NYC too well, we hooked up with our local Franciscan parish, St. Anthony of Padua on Sullivan Street ( The pastor there is Fr. Joe Lorenzo. I don't remember if I mentioned this yesterday, but Fr. Joe was vocation director (along with Fr. Mario) when Fr. Mike and I entered the Franciscans - so he is responsible for bringing us in (blame him!). Fr. Joe was also pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Derry, NH ( where I made my Solemn Vows in 1997, was ordained in 2000, and was stationed there from 1997-2004. So, we go way back!

This is Sr. Dolores who is stationed in Brooklyn where she has worked with the poor for the last 28 years. I am always so humbled and impressed by these holy women who so quietly devote their lives to the service of God and the Church. God bless you Sister!

Our ride in was uneventful - it was even a bit weird that there didn't seem to be too many people on the train. We expected more. We found "more" when we got to Yankee Stadium. Suddenly the subway was packed and there was tremendous excitement in the air.
Security was, of course, tight and it took us more than an hour to get into the stadium. But a cool thing was while waiting in line with literally tens of thousands of other people, I ran into two people below that I know. In the picture is John Campbell, a youth minister I've known probably for about 10 years now. With John, was Brian Jones from St. Joseph's in Winsted, another of our Franciscan parishes. It was great to see them.
We finally got to our seats and there was Bill Byrd, a member of our parish who was able to get us our tickets to both Masses (thank you Bill!). Bill got there early, he'd been in the park since about 9:15 a.m. It was after noon by the time we got in. Bill had such a youthful exhuberance about him during the whole experience, it was contagious - like a kid on Christmas morning!

While waiting in line for a Nathan's hot dog, I met this woman below. I think her name was Denise. It is the first time anyone has ever recognized me from my blog! She came up to me and said, "Are you Fr. Tom? I read your blog!" My first brush with web-celebrity! Oh my! She was very sweet!

There was a wonderful concert called a Concert for Hope that really made the waiting go by quickly and enjoyably. The concert just added to the excitement that built throughout the morning and early afternoon. The highlight for me was a long time favorite of mine Harry Connick Jr. But, it was all awesome! Then, on cue at about 2:20 p.m. the Pope arrived and rode around the park in the Pope Mobile. It would be an understatement to say that the crowd went wild!

One of the images that was so powerful both days were the large number of religious women who were everywhere. You can see in the photo below an entire section of habited women (in white) in the upper deck across from us. But, these women were everywhere. We really need to pray for and encourage young women to embrace the life as a consecrated religious. Do you know any woman who might make a good sister or nun? Do me two favors today - first, pray for them; secondly, tell them!

The Mass of course was beautiful - even surprisingly so given the challenge of celebrating Mass with 60,000 people. I know how difficult it can be to find a solemn silence in our church with 500 people - how we did that with 60,000 was surely a grace.

Just one snipped of the Pope's powerful words in his homily:

“Authority” … “obedience”. To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays. Words like these represent a “stumbling stone” for many of our contemporaries, especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom. Yet, in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ – “the way and the truth and the life” – we come to see the fullest meaning, value, and indeed beauty, of those words. The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (cf. Lk 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life. “In his will is our peace”.
You can read all of the Pope's words during this journey (plus video and photos) at:

One of the most beautiful moments was when the "official" concelebrating priests came out onto the dais with their ciboria. What an image of the Church - this was the Church, is the Church - bishop, priest, deacon, people - united around the altar in prayer, in Eucharistic prayer. I wish Fr. Mike and I could have been among that group, but we were not able to get those particular tickets. We were graced, none the less, to be where we were.

At the end of the Mass, the Holy Father departed. You could tell there was a sense in the crowd, like that of St. Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration - "It is good that we are here. Let us set up tents!" We didn't want to let him go.

Pope Benedict came to this country last week as somewhat of an unknown quantity, still a bit in the shadow of his predecessor, John Paul the Great. While no one could fill those shoes, Benedict has put on a pair of his own and filled those just right. I am awed and amazed at the grace through which the Holy Spirit continually selects the right man for the right time.

Benedict this week became Our Pope, and I think we all fell in love with him. I saw a newspaper in New York that said it well. I paraphrase, "Pope Benedict does not have the kind of charisma that John Paul had, but he has a charisma of sincerity." I think that names it well, a Charisma of Sincerity. He loves the Church, he loves us, his flock.

Today, I think each of us loves him and the Church even more. Let this be a renewal, a new springtime, a new beginning for the Church in America and the world.

Viva Il Papa!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A new Pentecost

This is a reflection from a blog that I read regularly called "Whispers in the Loggia." It is a wonderful reflection on the Papal Visit. (

Forgive me, but I need to send up a personal reflection... and hopefully it's of use to one or two of you out there.

The Pope might've finally employed the term "New Pentecost" yesterday morning, but the newness of springtime had already come with him to the canyons of Manhattan.Friday was the season's first genuinely beautiful day in the "capital of the world." But that doesn't explain why something unique could be felt in the Gotham air.Believe me, I've been 'round these parts long enough to know.

Many moons ago, I spent a year living in New York, down on the friendly confines of the Lower East Side. By Providence, that year just happened to be 2002 -- the year everything we thought we knew was turned upside down... the year we came to know the extent to which our leadership had failed us... the year that remains the most painful of my life.

And in its way, this city saved me. Its life filled me with the kind of wonder you can't find anywhere else on this earth, its energy provided a shot of hope and, well, blessed distraction at the time I needed it most. And it was here when, late one fall night of that dreadful year, something snapped inside me and I sat down at the computer and started writing... and writing... and writing... and, after sunrise, looked out onto Union Square and realized that it was what I wanted to do with my life.

I'm not here full-time anymore, but this is still the place that I love more than any other... indeed, the place I call home. And yet, for all the time I've ever spent holding court on Avenue A, watching out for moving platforms and slipping off to the Cloisters, I never felt anything like what rocked the night here on the Pope's first night in town.

Of course, it'd been 13 years since a pontiff had come to this island, and much had changed since the fall of 1995, the first time I ever saw a Pope in the flesh, albeit from a football field away.This time, though, given what's since transpired, it was completely different. At least, it was supposed to be. And, so it was said, not for the better, either.

In my prayer, I've long felt that the ground here in the Northeast has cried out for renewal -- (what should be) panic-inducing levels of participation, low credibility of local leadership, little to no sense of general vocation (along with a concurrent lack of seminarians) and an institutional culture that evolved from administration to management and, in the process, sought to replace fire with a light-bulb can easily lead one to that conclusion. But given the premium on pack mentality of this part of the Big Tent, where change of any sort can seem akin to denying Revelation, it's very easy to feel that you're alone and, ergo, crazy, that everything's fine and you're just connecting dots that don't exist.Not anymore.

A friend in Midtown told me that Friday at St Patrick's was like a Sunday in terms of turnout, people flooding the place. Once I made my own way into town, it was easier than usual to find crosses or rosaries around necks abounding on the streets, and the feeling was just... Good. Encouraging. Supportive. Enthusiastic. All in a way it hadn't felt here, or anywhere around here, in a long time.Later in the evening, while waiting to do a radio interview, I sat by the big fountain behind 30 Rock -- the GE Building, NBC Studios, etc. -- to kill time and just soak up being back here again.It was a picture-perfect night, with just enough haze/smog in the air to give the lights of Times Square a brilliant shade of a "halo" effect.

And then... from the distance... music could be heard. Voices and guitar. Joyous song.

"Holy! Holy! Holy!"

Over and over again.

"Holy! Holy! Holy!"

With each iteration, it came closer.

"Holy! Holy! Holy!"

Repetitive, exuberant chants are no surprise to anyone used to this place -- but from the sound, it became clear that these weren't the Hare Krishnas everyone's used to seeing roam the downtown streets.And then they appeared: Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, Sisters of Life, a host of other orders male and female, cassocked sems and, more than any other, layfolk. Fifty, maybe 70 of 'em. All young. All together. All one. All looking just like me.

"Holy! Holy! Holy!"

Each bore candles, turned heads and kept the singing up, making it a bit louder as the horns and engine-noises of 6th Ave. right by Radio City on a Friday night sought to drown them out.I couldn't help but smile, simply to find that, in the midst of the city some have sought to portray as the global seat of the secularist behemoth, I wasn't alone.

"Holy! Holy! Holy!"

Seeing a beaming onlooker, one perceptive Sister of Life jumped out of the crowd and handed me a prayer-card.

"We're heading down to where he's staying to sing 'Happy Birthday,'" she said. Clearly, no further explanation was necessary."You're welcome to join us."With a studio cameo on deck, I couldn't... and only later did I learn that, from all over the city, crowds like this one were walking, making station stops at the various parishes -- many of which stayed open, many welcoming large crowds of their own into the night -- all to congregate at the Mission House to sing and pray together.In a word, it was... amazing. It blew me away. The contagious joy that marked each face, the light each carried -- not the candles -- broke through a darkness that's long existed on these streets... one that could never be measured in watts or stops of sunlight.

It's common knowledge that the busiest day of the year at the House That Hughes Built isn't Christmas or Easter, or even St Paddy's Day... but Ash Wednesday, when no less than 60,000 penitents pour through its doors. They come from all backgrounds -- CEOs and housecleaners, teachers and technicians, Anglo, Latino, Asian, African... even Hindu, Jewish, Jain and Evangelical. Along these lines, it's been said that, for all the grief and pain of these last years, anyone -- anyone -- who doesn't have a bit of burnt palm on their forehead in the city that day gets looked at funny.

That same sense of identity showed itself last night. But this time, it wasn't Lent they were claiming... but Easter. The New Pentecost. Indeed, their energy, their desire seemed to say that the light-bulb would never suffice and the moment had come to bring the Fire back to the heart of the church in the very midst of this "capital of the world."

(Burn, baby, burn.)

Seeing that felt so good, words still can't describe it. And long after they left, something hung in the air that hadn't in a good while, and never before in my memory. (To back this up, even my cousin on the Upper West Side said she could feel something stirring in the city that day which she couldn't exactly pinpoint.)

It might be a bit presumptuous to immediately say "the Holy Spirit," but whatever it was, it was something.Earlier tonight, I was sitting with a senior official as we compared notes from the last few days. And we both agreed that, for all the concerns, difficulties, delays and what seemed like debacles in the planning and run-up, not only has every expectation of these days been exceeded, but that this experience was "just what we needed." All of us. And hopefully not a few of you who haven't been so blessed and lucky to be here have felt a bit of that over these days, this moment of grace.

Providentially enough, I was sitting by a fountain when that prayer-card came my way. Quoting from B16, its message read thus:

Holy Mary, Mother of God
you have given the world its true light,
Jesus, your Son -- the Son of God.
You abandoned yourself completely
to God's call and thus became a wellspring
of the goodness which flows forth from him.
Show us Jesus.
Lead us to him.
Teach us to know and love him,
so that we too can become
capable of true loveand be fountains of living water
in the midst of a thirsting world.

Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth... of this earth... of this church!

"May tongues of fire, combining burning love of God and neighbor with zeal for the spread of Christ’s Kingdom, descend on all present!"

These have been amazing days, friends, and in that moment by the fountain it became clear that, as in a miracle, the tide had, at long last, begun to turn.His own energy-level at an apex unequaled over his three-year reign, Papa Ratzi might be heading home tonight... but, church, our work is just beginning.

It's been said before but bears repeating: "the Holy Spirit is ready -- but the answer depends on us."

It's the call of our time, and the work of renewal is already underway in our midst. But it can only happen if each of us go "all in."

Gratefully, it's not a question of programs, budgets, committees or technologies. All it takes is just one word -- YES.

It's time, gang -- our time.

All in, all together, let's get to it.

Papal Mass (continued)

Yesterday, during the Holy Father's Mass at St. Patrick's, I was interviewed by Vatican Television, but more locally, I was interviewed by the Waterbury Republican-American. You can read their story here:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Mass with the Holy Father at St. Patrick's

It is now almost 3 p.m. and what an incredible day this has been. We just got back to the Provincial Curia from our Mass with the Holy Father. This Mass was specifically for priests, deacons and religious men and women. I can't remember the last time I saw that many clergy and religious in one place. It was awesome!

So, I'll tell you a bit about my day. We got into the city last night after leaving New Milford following our evening Mass. Today we got up at 5 a.m. to get ready. By 6 a.m., we met a few other friars - Fr. Joe and Fr. Patrick - on the corner and took the subway up to St. Patrick's.

Once we got there, all the clergy gathered at the Palace Hotel where we vested for Mass. There was such a tone of excitement in the air it was contagious. There were religious and clergy of every type. Of course, the Eastern rite clergy always stand out with their spectacular vestments.
Then we had to cross through the metal detectors and headed to the Church.

Pictured here are myself, Fr. Mike, Fr. Joe (pastor of St. Anthony's NYC), Fr. Patrick (our Vicar Provincial Minister)
We finally got inside the church and to our seats at about 7:15 a.m. The atmosphere was electric and it was an excitement that continued to build for the next two hours until the Holy Mass began. Our seats were incredible (Pew 34) which was directly in line with the Ambo and not far from the sanctuary. We were seated right next to a press area (see below) and I was interviewed by Vatican Television (so let me know if you see me my Roman brothers).
The choir began to play it numerous prelude pieces which were all beautiful. After the Cardinals and bishops were seated, Mayor Bloomberg greeted everyone. I have been in his presence a few times now, and he is always a very friendly and gracious man.

And then, probably at right about 9 a.m., they opened the large front doors to the Cathedral. You could hear a pin drop in the Church. And then, from outside, the most incredible roar from the outside crowd echoes throughout the Church - the Pope had arrived. Within minutes, that cry carried over into the Church as the Pope entered through the great doors. In an instant, everyone was on their feet cheering our Holy Father. He came down the main aisle to thunderous applaus and greeted everyone from in front of the altar. (You can see him pictured below greeting everyone.) Then, he went to vest for the beginning of the Mass.

In his hope-filled homily, the Holy Father said, "Let us lift our gaze upward! And with great humility and confidence, let us ask the Spirit to enable us each day to grow in the holiness that will make us living stones in the temple which he is even now raising up in the midst of our world. If we are to be true forces of unity, let us be the first to seek inner reconciliation through penance. Let us forgive the wrongs we have suffered and put aside all anger and contention. Let us be the first to demonstrate the humility and purity of heart which are required to approach the splendor of God’s truth. In fidelity to the deposit of faith entrusted to the Apostles (cf. 1 Tim 6:20), let us be joyful witnesses of the transforming power of the Gospel!

"Dear brothers and sisters, in the finest traditions of the Church in this country, may you also be the first friend of the poor, the homeless, the stranger, the sick and all who suffer. Act as beacons of hope, casting the light of Christ upon the world, and encouraging young people to discover the beauty of a life given completely to the Lord and his Church. I make this plea in a particular way to the many seminarians and young religious present. All of you have a special place in my heart. Never forget that you are called to carry on, with all the enthusiasm and joy that the Spirit has given you, a work that others have begun, a legacy that one day you too will have to pass on to a new generation. Work generously and joyfully, for he whom you serve is the Lord!"

The Holy Father, of course, presided at the Holy Mass. It is always wonderful when priests concelebrate the Mass, but this was almost overwhelming - what a sign of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ as so many priests, bishops and cardinals concelebrated the Eucharist. When we sang the Doxology it was like a chorus.

I think I was most touched by the humility of our Shepherd. It is hard to put into words because it is a sense that is conveyed through his personality, but this is a very humble, prayerful man - one who loves the Church, loves his priests, loves the world he has been called to serve.

At the end of Mass, during the recessional, he walked all around the Church so people could see him closely. You see the picture below in which I was no more than a few feet away from the Pope. I could have grabbed that hand if I wasn't taking the picture.

Below are two pictures of priests eagerly trying to see the Pope and get his picture. Now, this might be a bit irreverant for the Holy Mass, but the reality was the incredible, child-like joy that the Supreme Shepherd engendered in his priests. Overwhelming joy!

Below, the priests and all gathered applaud the Holy Father. (Yes, that's Fr. Mike right there.)

Tomorrow, we head to Yankee Stadium (I had to make a sacrifice) for another Mass. What a pilgrimage this has been. How on fire with God's love I feel. The Vicar of Christ has visited us and lifted us up. May his ministry be blessed! Amen.

You can see more of my pictures at:

Friday, April 18, 2008

Hanging with Pope Benedict XVI

I imagine that most of you have been glued to the television like me watching this incredible and historic visit of our Holy Father Benedict XVI to the United States.

Through the grace of God, tomorrow and Sunday, I and Fr. Mike will be at the two Masses Pope Benedict is celebrating at St. Patrick's (Saturday) and then Yankee Stadium. I feel honored and humbled to be able to concelebrate a Mass with our Chief Shepherd and Bishop of Rome.

His messages have been so hopeful so far. I think of his powerful words yesterday at Nationals Park:

"In the exercise of my ministry as the Successor of Peter, I have come to America to confirm you, my brothers and sisters, in the faith of the Apostles (cf. Lk 22:32). I have come to proclaim anew, as Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, that Jesus Christ is Lord and Messiah, risen from the dead, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, and established as judge of the living and the dead (cf. Acts 2:14ff.). I have come to repeat the Apostle's urgent call to conversion and the forgiveness of sins, and to implore from the Lord a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in this country. As we have heard throughout this Easter season, the Church was born of the Spirit's gift of repentance and faith in the risen Lord. In every age she is impelled by the same Spirit to bring to men and women of every race, language and people (cf. Rev 5:9) the good news of our reconciliation with God in Christ."

I will try and blog tomorrow night after the Mass at St. Patrick's and of course again after Sunday. Please know that you will all be close in my prayers during these Masses.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Pope's Itinerary

Here is the Holy Father's itinerary for his visit to our land this week:

Tuesday, April 15Arrival at Andrews Air Force Base. Greeting by President Bush and Mrs. Bush. Also present will be local dignitaries of the church and the apostolic nuncio.

Wednesday, April 16, 10:30 a.m.President Bush and the First Lady meet the Holy Father on the south lawn of the White House. This is only the second time in history that a pontiff has visited the White House. At the end of the welcoming ceremony, a private meeting is scheduled for the Holy Father and the President, while dignitaries of the two states also meet.

Wednesday, April 16, 5:30 p.m.Private prayer service and meeting with the 350 bishops of the United States at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Before the prayer service, which will be held in the crypt of the Shrine, there will be outdoor photo opportunities of the public welcoming the pope to this national church.

Thursday, April 17, 10:00 a.m.The pope will offer Mass at the new Nationals Park in Washington. This will be the first non-baseball event in the park, and Catholics from around the country are making plans to attend.

Thursday, April 17, 5 p.m.The heads of the more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States and superintendents from the 195 Catholic dioceses have been invited to an address by Pope Benedict XVI on the importance of Catholic education. The address will be on the campus of The Catholic University of America, the only college in the United States operated by the bishops.

Thursday, April 17, 6:30 p.m.Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and representatives of other religions will meet the Holy Father at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, next door to Catholic University.

Friday, April 18, 10:45 a.m.Pope Benedict XVI will address the United Nations, after an early morning flight to New York.

Friday, April 18, 6 p.m.Prayer service with leaders from other Christian denominations at St. Joseph's Church, founded by German Catholics, in Manhattan.

Saturday, April 19, 9:15 a.m.Mass for priests, deacons and members of religious orders at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the heart of New York City.

Saturday, April 19, 4:30 p.m.The Holy Father will meet with young Catholics, including 50 youngsters with a range of disabilities, at St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers. Thousands of young people, including hundreds of seminarians, are expected to participate in a rally/prayer service and to hear the pope speak.

Sunday, April 20, 9:30 a.m.The Holy Father will visit Ground Zero, the site of the disaster at the World Trade Center.

Sunday, April 20, 2:30 p.m.Mass at Yankee Stadium will bring this historic visit to a close. The 200th anniversary of the Baltimore Archdiocese’s designation as an archdiocese, as well as the birth of four dioceses – Boston, New York, Louisville and Philadelphia – will be highlighted during the Mass.

Sunday, April 20, 8 p.m.Shepherd One lifts off from John F. Kennedy airport in the Brooklyn Diocese, heading east to the Eternal City.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Embracing our "sheepliness"


I am a big History Channel buff and I recently saw one of the many programs they do on World War II. This particular program was about the sinking of the German warship Bismarck and it got me thinking about Good Shepherd Sunday which we celebrate today. If you know the story of the Bismarck, it was commissioned by the Germans at the beginning of the war. The Bismarck was meant to be unstoppable. It was the biggest fighting vessel the world had ever seen up to that time, and with it the Germans anticipated they would completely dominate the seas. Very soon after its commissioning, the Bismarck sank many Allied ships and aircraft. Its massive armor plating led to the boast that the Bismarck was unsinkable.

After the Bismarck had sunk the flagship and pride of the British Navy, the Hood, Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously issued the command, “The Bismarck must be sunk!” And eventually it was sunk. But, it didn’t take shock and awe; it didn’t take overwhelming fire power and weaponry. The mighty Bismarck was sunk due to one lone torpedo. A single torpedo hit the Bismarck in the rudder. As a result the battleship zigzagged through the sea, unable to set course for the safety of a German harbor. It was only a short while before the British Navy was able to overtake and destroy it. No matter how large the battleship; no matter how mighty, how strong, how many weapons, how thick its hull, it was doomed without a rudder to direct it.

“The Lord is my Shepherd…He guides me in right paths.” Floundering on the waters of chaos without a rudder, the Bismarck is a modern day image of a world without the direction of Jesus. Without the guidance of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we are all headed toward chaos. But with our Shepherd there is guidance, and direction and purpose to life.

Now, the Gospel today doesn’t speak about mighty battleships, instead it speaks about the other extreme: frail little sheep. During Jesus’ time, shepherds protected their flocks with their own bodies. A sheep pen was merely a wall of loosely connected rocks with a single entrance. At night the shepherd slept across the entrance so that his body protected the sheep from marauders and prevented them from straying. Whether we are mighty like the Bismarck or weak like a lamb, we need to rely on the Lord to protect us to give us direction through the troubles and traumas that we inevitably face in life. Life is too difficult to attempt to make it through safely alone. We need Jesus Christ. We call ourselves Christians because we are followers of the Lord, but we are also Christians because the Lord comes after us, helping us to get into line, protecting us from the elements of life that would destroy us.

The problem that we all have, whether we are sheep or battleships, is that we think that we are invincible; we think we don’t need direction; we think we are the shepherd. This is not true. What we need to remember about our relationship with our Good Shepherd is that our identity with Jesus is as His flock and not as shepherds. Even more, we – as flock – need to listen to Jesus. Listening to Jesus is the source of our unity, and our unity as a flock is necessary. We model our unity in the flock on Jesus’ relationship with God. They are in union with each other and with the Holy Spirit.

In advance of the visit of our Chief Shepherd, Pope Benedict, this week, the U.S. Bishops released just today a survey of American Catholics. It is a survey that reminds us how strongly we need to rededicate ourselves to our sheepliness, to following the True Shepherd. The study showed that only 23% of U.S. Catholics attend Mass every week. The number one reason people don’t attend Mass? “My life is too busy.” 64% of them don’t believe that missing Mass is a sin. I, of course, would direct them to a simple Commandment that remains in force – “Keep holy the Sabbath.” 43% of American Catholics believe that “Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present” in the Eucharist. The report has similarly startling findings in regards to many other core Catholic beliefs. Our Shepherd is looking for us; He doesn’t want us to get lost. If ever we needed to turn again and follow the Good Shepherd, the time is now.

We are dependent upon the Lord. That’s why we pray every day. That’s why we come to church every week. That’s why we receive His True and Real Presence in the Eucharist. His is the strength that gives meaning, purpose and direction to our lives. He is the Gate that protects us and the Shepherd who leads us.

We must learn how to hear the voice of God through the noise and chaos of our world. Discerning the voice of Jesus our Shepherd can be difficult to do in our society. Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep…Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture…I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

May God give you peace.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

American Catholicism Today

The U.S. Bishops commissioned a study of American Catholics in advance of the visit of Pope Benedict this week. The results are challenging, but that's not a surprise. Here is a summary of their results.

One comment I would make is that you see the absolute importance and relationship between maintaining our core Catholic beliefs and weekly Mass attendance. Notice as you read through how the numbers are highest among those who attend Mass weekly. This is not a coincidence.

Belief and Practice among U.S. Catholics - Executive Summary

In December 2007 the Department of Communications of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) commissioned the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate(CARA) at Georgetown University to conduct a survey of adult Catholics in the United States. The focus of the survey is participation in the sacramental life of the Church as well as beliefs about the sacraments.

However, the poll also addresses many other issues of importance to the Church, including other forms of participation in Church life and other teachings of Catholicism.

In February 2008 CARA surveyed 1,007 self-identified adult Catholics from Knowledge Networks large national panel of households, which have been assembled by regular random telephone survey methods.

CARA Catholic Polls (CCP), national random-digit dial telephone polls, consistently estimate that between 22 and 23 percent of the adult population in the U.S. self identifies as Catholic. Taking this proportion of the most recent Census Bureau estimates for the size of the U.S. adult population we estimate that 1 percent of the adult Catholic population is approximately equivalent to 500,000 persons (or more specifically 510,300 as of April 2008).

The two most important of these subgroups are defined by Mass attendance and generation.Various social scientific studies of contemporary Catholics have revealed important differences among generations. Older Catholics, especially those who came of age prior to Vatican II, are typically more involved in Church life and attend Mass more frequently than younger generations of Catholics.

In general, they tend to score higher on most survey items thatmeasure “commitment” to Catholicism. Knowledge about the Catholic faith also varies by generation and is frequently greatest among older Catholics. However, this depends on the topic. For example, knowledge of Church teachings and obligations is usually higher among older Catholics, but knowledge of the Bible is typically greater among younger generations. Agreement with Church teachings is, again, often relatively high among the oldest Catholics, the Pre-Vatican II Generation (born before 1943). To a lesser extent this is also true of the Millennial Generation, Catholics (born after 1981) currently in their mid-20s and younger. Agreement with Church teaching is typically lowest among the generation of Catholics who came of age during the changes associated with Vatican II (born between 1943 and 1960) and among Post-Vatican II Generation Catholics (born 1961 to 1981) though this too depends on the teaching in question.

Frequency of Mass attendance is a strong indicator of the general importance of Catholicism in a person’s life and of his or her level of commitment to living out the faith. Consequently, analyzing survey responses according to frequency of attendance consistently reveals strong differences among Catholics. In general, the more frequently one attends Mass, the more frequently he or she participates in other Church or religious activities, the greater his or her knowledge about the Catholic faith, the greater his or her awareness of current events in the Church, and the greater his or her adherence to Church teachings. Major Findings:

Experience of Sacraments

• Six in ten respondents (61 percent) agree “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement, “Sacraments are essential to my faith.” More than nine in ten adult Catholics (92 percent) have received their First Communion and 84 percent have celebrated the sacrament ofConfirmation. Nearly all weekly Mass attenders and those who have attended Catholiceducational institutions have received their First Communion and have been confirmed.

• Older Catholics are more likely than younger Catholics to have celebrated their First Reconciliation, First Communion, or the sacrament of Confirmation. With each generation the percentage having celebrated each of these sacraments decreases. For example, 99 percent of those of the Pre-Vatican II Generation have celebrated their First Communion,compared to 94 percent of the Vatican II Generation, 91 percent of the Post-Vatican II Generation, and 85 percent of the Millennial Generation. The differences between generations for the sacrament of Confirmation are even larger. Ninety-five percent of those of the Pre-Vatican II Generation have been confirmed, compared to 91 percent of the Vatican II Generation, 79 percent of the Post-Vatican II Generation, and 69 percent of the Millennial Generation.

• Respondents were asked how meaningful each of the seven sacraments are to them. More than eight in ten adult Catholics say the following four are either “somewhat” or “very”meaningful to them: Marriage (89 percent), Baptism (88 percent), the Eucharist (84 percent), and Confirmation (83 percent). Nearly all Catholics (90 percent or more) who attend Mass weekly or more often say all seven sacraments are at least “somewhat” meaningful to them.

• Of the seven sacraments, Catholics are least likely to say the sacrament of Reconciliation is “somewhat” or “very” meaningful to them. Only two-thirds (66 percent) of adult Catholics responded as such (39 percent “very” meaningful).

• When asked which of the seven sacraments was personally “most meaningful” to them, Baptism is selected most often (39 percent). However, weekly Mass attenders are morel ikely to say the Eucharist is personally “most meaningful” to them (52 percent). Catholics of the Millennial Generation are most likely to select the sacrament of Marriage as being the “most meaningful” (43 percent).

• Respondents with children were asked about the importance they place on their childrencelebrating their First Reconciliation, First Communion, and Confirmation. These parentsare most likely to say it is “somewhat” or “very” important that their children celebrate FirstCommunion (81 percent), followed by Confirmation (78 percent), and finally FirstReconciliation (77 percent). Nearly all parents who attend Mass at least once a month say itis at least “somewhat” important that their children celebrate all three of these sacraments.

Mass and Eucharist:

• More than three in ten adult Catholics (31.4 percent) are estimated to be attending Mass in any given week. This is equivalent to 16.1 million adult Mass attendees per week. Twenty three percent say they attend Mass every week (once a week or more often). This has remained unchanged—within margins of sampling error in the last five years. Mass attendance is highest among Catholics who are older, female, married to another Catholic, who have a college degree or more, and who attended Catholic educational institutions—especially a Catholic college or university.

• Nine in ten or more Mass attending Catholics (attending at least a “few times a year”) say the following aspects of Mass are at least “somewhat” important to them: feeling the presence of God (94 percent), prayer and reflection (93 percent), and receiving Eucharist (92 percent). Aspects of less importance include the music (71 percent) and the Church environment and decorations (66 percent).

• Among Catholics who have celebrated their First Communion, eight in ten (79 percent) who attend Mass at least once a week say they “always” receive Eucharist at Mass. By comparison, 66 percent of those attending Mass less than weekly but at least once a month receive the Eucharist this often, as do only 31 percent of those who attend Mass a few times a year or less often.

• A majority of adult Catholics, 57 percent, say their belief about the Eucharist is reflected best by the statement “Jesus Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist,” compared to 43 percent who said their belief is best reflected in the statement, “Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present.” Among all Catholics, members of the Pre-Vatican II Generation are more likely than all other Catholics to believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharist (70 percent compared to 54 percent). Among Catholics attending Mass at least once a month, those of the youngest generation, the Millennials, are just as likely to believe Christ is really present in the Eucharist as Pre-Vatican II Catholics (85 percent compared to 86 percent). Nine in ten of all weekly Mass attenders (91 percent) say their belief about the Eucharist is reflected best by the statement “Jesus Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.”

• Respondents who do not attend Mass weekly were asked about things that might explain why they missed Mass in the last six months. Among Catholics who attend Mass less than weekly but at least once a month, a busy schedule or lack of time (51 percent), family responsibilities (48 percent), or health problems or a disability (41 percent) are the most frequently cited reasons that at least “somewhat” explain why they missed Mass. Among Catholics attending Mass a few times a year or less often, the most common reasons cited that explain at least “somewhat” their missing Mass are that they don’t believe “missing Mass is a sin” (64 percent) and that they are “not a very religious person” (50 percent).

• About a third of respondents (34 percent) agree “strongly” with the statement, “I can be a good Catholic without going to Mass every Sunday.” More than two-thirds (68 percent) agree with this statement at least “somewhat.”

• Eighty-three percent of Mass attending Catholics say it is “somewhat” or “very” important to them that Mass is celebrated in a language they most prefer and 70 percent say it is similarly important that the Mass is celebrated in a way that reflects their ethnic and ancestral culture.

• Only 12 percent of adult Catholics say they “always” attend Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation when these do not fall on a Sunday. Twenty-three percent say they do this “frequently or usually,” 39 percent say they do this “seldom,” and 26 percent say they “never” do this. Forty-one percent of those who attend Mass at least once a week say they “always” attend Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation. Pre-Vatican II Generation Catholics are more than twice as likely as members of any younger generation to say they “always” attend Mass on these days (27 percent compared to 10 percent).


• Twenty-six percent of adult Catholics say they participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation once a year or more often (this is equivalent to 13.3 million adults). Only 2 percent of Catholics do so once a month or more often. Thirty percent say they go to Confession less than once a year and 45 percent say they never do so.

• More than six in ten weekly Mass attenders (63 percent) participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation once a year or more often, compared to 37 percent of those attending Mass less than weekly but at least once a month and only 6 percent of those attending less often.

• Sixty-two percent of Catholics agree “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement, “I can be a good Catholic without celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year” (33 percent agree “strongly”). Even 54 percent of weekly Mass attenders agree at least “somewhat” with this statement.

• Two-thirds of all adult Catholics agree (67 percent) at least “somewhat” that one must make a confession with contrition for the forgiveness of sins. Forty-eight percent agree similarly that acts of penance or fasting are necessary for this forgiveness. More than half (52 percent) agree “somewhat” or “strongly” that by participating in the sacrament of Reconciliation they are reconciled with God and the Church. One in four Catholics agree “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement, “The sacrament of Reconciliation is only necessary for the forgiveness of very serious sins” (8 percent agree “strongly”).

Anointing of the Sick:

• Fifty-one percent of respondents have requested the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick at a time of serious illness, either for themselves or for a family member. This is more common among those of the Pre-Vatican II (53 percent) and Vatican II (59 percent) generations than among those of the Post-Vatican II (46 percent) and Millennial (43 percent) generations.

• Forty-five percent of adult Catholics say that receiving the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick at some point is “very” important to them. Thirty-one percent say this is “somewhat” important, followed by 14 percent saying this is “a little” important, and 10 percent saying it is “not at all” important to them.

• Sixty-eight percent of Catholics who attend Mass weekly or more often say that receiving the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick at some point is “very” important to them. Twenty five percent say this is “somewhat” important, followed by 4 percent saying this is “a little” important, and only 3 percent saying it is “not at all” important to them.

• Women are more likely than men to say it is “very” important that they receive this sacrament (51 percent compared to 39 percent). Pre-Vatican II Catholics are most likely to say this is “somewhat” or “very” important (88 percent).

Ordination and Vocations:

• Thirteen percent of adult Catholics have attended an ordination ceremony for a Catholic priest. Among weekly Mass attenders the percentage is slightly higher (20 percent).

• Fifty-four percent of adult Catholics agree “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement, “Ordination confers on the priest a new status or a permanent character which makes him essentially different from the laity within the Church.”

• Sixteen percent of adult Catholic men say they have considered becoming a priest or religious brother. About one in ten adult Catholic men (9 percent) say they considered this at least “somewhat” seriously (3 percent “very” seriously). The percentage of men who say they considered this “somewhat” or “very” seriously is equivalent to more than 2.2 million individuals.

• Catholic men who attended a Catholic college or university are among the most likely subgroups to say they ever considered becoming a priest or religious brother (40 percent) and did so at least “somewhat” seriously (26 percent).

• Five percent of adult Catholic men say they have considered becoming a permanent deacon (3 percent at least “somewhat” seriously). The percentage of men who say they considered this “somewhat” or “very” seriously is equivalent to more than 760,000 individuals.

• Fifteen percent of adult Catholic women say they have considered becoming a nun or religious sister (5 percent at least “somewhat” seriously). The percentage of women who say they considered this “somewhat” or “very” seriously is equivalent to nearly 1.3 million individuals.

• Catholic women who attended a Catholic college or university are among the most likely to say they have considered becoming a nun or religious sister (41 percent).

• Taking into account men who considered becoming a priest, brother, or a deacon, nearly 4 million adult Catholics, male and female, have considered at least “somewhat” seriously a clerical (males) or religious (males and females) vocation in the Church. Frequency of Mass attendance is not significantly related to any differences in the past personal consideration of vocations among Catholics.

• One in ten adult Catholics say they have encouraged someone they know to consider one of these vocations. Six percent say they have encouraged someone to become a priest, followed by 4 percent offering encouragement to become a deacon, 4 percent encouraging someone to become a religious sister or nun, and 3 percent offering encouragement to become a religious brother.

• Catholics’ current frequency of Mass attendance is related to differences in the likelihood that they have encouraged Catholic vocations among others. Twenty-eight percent of weekly attenders say they have encouraged someone they know to consider a vocation as a priest, deacon, religious brother, sister, or nun. By comparison, 9 percent of those attending Mass less than weekly but at least once a month and 3 percent of those attending Mass less often have encouraged someone they know to consider a Catholic vocation.

• About a third of all respondents (32 percent) said they would encourage their own child(regardless of parental status) to pursue a vocation as a priest, deacon, religious brother, nun,or sister. There is no statistically significant difference between the responses of those who have children and those who do not (34 percent compared to 32 percent). A majority of weekly Mass attenders (55 percent) say they would encourage their own child to pursue a vocation.

Lenten Practices:

• Six in ten adult Catholics say they abstain from meat on Lenten Fridays. This is equivalent to 30.6 million individuals. Slightly less than half of adult Catholics (45 percent) typically receive ashes at Ash Wednesday services. A similar proportion (44 percent) say they try to do something positive (as opposed to giving something up) during Lent. Slightly less than four-tenths (38 percent) say they give up something for Lent.

• Nine in ten adult Catholics who attend Mass weekly or more often (89 percent) abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent. Slightly fewer, 85 percent, say they typically receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. Two-thirds of weekly attenders (67 percent) say they give up something for Lent (besides meat on Fridays) and nearly three in four (73 percent) say they make extra efforts to try to do something positive. Catholics who attend Mass less than weekly but at least once a month are only slightly less likely than weekly attenders to observe Lenten practices.

• Among Catholics who attend Mass at least once a month, those of the youngest generation, the Millennials, are the most likely to observe Lenten practices. More than nine in ten of these Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays (91 percent) and receive ashes on Ash Wednesday (91 percent). About three-quarters of these young Mass-attending Catholics (74 percent) also give up something during Lent (besides meat on Fridays). A similar percentage (75 percent) makes other extra positive efforts.

Other Religious Devotions and Practices:

• About six in ten adult Catholics (59 percent) have a statue or picture of Mary on display in their home (this is equivalent to 30.1 million adult Catholics). This is most common among Hispanics (67 percent) and among weekly Mass attenders (80 percent).

• About a third (32 percent) say they either wear or carry a crucifix or cross and 29 percent say they wear or carry a religious medal or pin of a saint or angel. Fewer, less than one in four, say the same about rosaries (23 percent), prayer cards or coins (20 percent), and scapulars (9 percent).

• Among weekly Mass attenders, 45 percent carry a rosary and 42 percent say they wear or carry a religious medal or pin of a saint or angel. Fewer, less than four in ten, say the same about a cross or crucifix (39 percent), prayer cards or coins (32 percent), and scapulars (17 percent).

• A majority of adult Catholics, 52 percent, say they pray the rosary. Eight percent pray the rosary at least once a week (4 percent say they do so every day). Women are more likely than men to say they pray the rosary at least once a year (62 percent compared to 42 percent). Pre-Vatican II Catholics are most likely to pray the rosary at least once a year (73 percent). Seventy-two percent of weekly Mass attenders say they pray the rosary at least once a year (23 percent say they do so weekly or more often).

• Nearly half of adult Catholics (47 percent) say that their local parish offers opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration. Six percent say their parish does not offer this and 47 percent say they “don’t know.” Three in ten Catholics (29 percent) with local parishes that they know offer Eucharistic Adoration say they have participated in this in the last year. This is equivalent to nearly 14 percent of adult Catholics or approximately 7.1 million individuals.

Other Religious Beliefs:

• More than three in four respondents (77 percent) agree at least “somewhat” with the statement, “I am proud to be Catholic” (56 percent agree “strongly”). More than half (55 percent) agree similarly that, “I think of myself as a practicing Catholic” (33 percent agree “strongly”). More than eight in ten (81 percent) consider their Catholic faith to be important in their daily life (41 percent say that this is either “among the most important parts” of their life or “the most important part” of their life).

• Eighty-five percent of weekly Mass attenders agree “strongly” with the statement “I am proud to be Catholic” (compared to 70 percent of those attending less than weekly but at least once a month, and 39 percent who go to Mass a few times a year or less). Eighty-one percent agree “strongly” that, “I think of myself as a practicing Catholic” (compared to 53 percent of those attending less than weekly but at least once a month and 14 percent who go to Mass a few times a year or less). Nearly all (99 percent) consider their Catholic faith to be important in their daily life (75 percent say that this is either “among the most important parts” of their life or “the most important part” of their life).

• Eighty-three percent of respondents say that helping those in need is either “somewhat” or “very” important to their “sense of what it means to be a Catholic.” Eight in ten say receiving the Eucharist is equally important (79 percent), followed by receiving Confirmation (74 percent), living a life consistent with Church teaching (73 percent), having devotion toMary (68 percent), attending Mass (66 percent), having devotion to the saints (63 percent),and going to Confession (56 percent). In addition, two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) agree “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement, “Helping the poor and needy is a moral obligation for Catholics.”

• Those who have attended Catholic educational institutions are among the most likely to say that “living my life consistent with Church teaching” is “very” important to their sense of what it means to be Catholic. Fifty-four percent of those who attended a Catholic college or university responded as such, as did 49 percent of those who attended Catholic high schools and 46 percent of those who attended Catholic elementary and middle schools. Overall, 37 percent of adult Catholics say this is “very” important to their sense of being Catholic.

• About eight in ten adult Catholics do not doubt the following creedal statements: “There is only one God, a Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (81 percent), that “Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven” (80 percent) and that “Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary” (79 percent). Nearly all weekly Mass attenders do not doubt these beliefs (97 percent each).

• About three-fourths of Catholics do not doubt that “There is a heaven” (76 percent), that “God, the Father, is creator of heaven, the earth, and all we know of the universe” (76 percent), that “Mary, the Mother of God, was immaculately conceived without original sin” (73 percent), and that “Christ will come again at the end of time to judge the living and the dead” (71 percent). Nine in ten or more weekly Mass attenders do not doubt any of these beliefs (90 percent, 93 percent, 90 percent, and 91 percent; respectively).

• Catholics are somewhat less of one mind regarding Hell. Sixty-seven percent of all adult Catholics have no doubt that “There is a Hell.” Seventy-eight percent of weekly Mass attenders say they do not doubt this belief.

Parish Life in a Time of Fewer Priests:

• Only 15 percent of adult Catholics have noticed that the number of Catholic priests has declined in recent decades and report that they have been personally affected by these changes (29 percent among weekly Mass attenders). A majority (51 percent) say they have noticed the decline but say that they have not been affected (54 percent among weekly Mass attenders). A third of respondents (34 percent) say they have not noticed a change in the number of priests (17 percent of weekly Mass attenders).

• Respondents were asked about several things that could be done in their parish if they did not have a resident priest. Two-thirds (65 percent) say they would support sharing a priest with one or more other parishes, followed by more than half supporting bringing in a priest from outside the United States (56 percent), increasing the use of deacons (56 percent), and asking a retired priest to do more (55 percent).

• A third of adult Catholics (34 percent) report that a priest from outside the United States has come to serve in the parish they attend in the last five years. Hispanic Catholics are more likely than non-Hispanics to say this has occurred in their parish (41 percent compared to 30 percent). Those attending Mass weekly are most likely to say this has occurred (55 percent).

• Of those respondents who have had a priest from outside the United States serve in their parish in the last five years, a majority, 53 percent, say they are “very satisfied” with the ministry of these priests, and another 34 percent say they are “somewhat satisfied.” Thus, nearly nine in ten (87 percent) who have had an international priest serve in their parish in the last five years are satisfied with their ministry. Only 11 percent say they are “somewhat dissatisfied” and 2 percent “very dissatisfied” with the ministry of international priests serving in their parish.

Satisfaction with Church Leaders:

• More than eight in ten adult Catholics (82 percent) say they are “somewhat” or “very”satisfied with the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI (31 percent “very” satisfied). Among weekly Mass attenders, 93 percent approve of the Pope’s leadership at least “somewhat.”

• More than seven in ten (72 percent) say they are “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with the leadership of the Bishops of the United States (22 percent “very” satisfied). Among weekly Mass attenders, 82 percent approve of the U.S. Bishops’ leadership at least “somewhat.”

• The current level of satisfaction with the leadership of the U.S. Bishops among all adult Catholics is 14 percentage points higher than in a CARA poll four years ago (58 percent).

The full survy can be read at:

Friday, April 11, 2008

The American Pope

This is a great article that was in last week's Time Magazine. A good read in advance of Pope Benedict's visit to the United States next week.

By DAVID VAN BIEMA, JEFF ISRAELY (Thursday, Apr. 03, 2008)

In 1984, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger dropped by New York City. He was heading home to the Vatican from a conference in Dallas and had saved a day to tour what was then still regularly called the Big Apple. According to Father James O'Connor, who was acting as his chauffeur, Ratzinger sat in the front seat, the better to take in the hustle and buzz of the city. They visited the (Episcopal) Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the medievally furnished Cloisters museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On the way to Kennedy Airport, the car stalled halfway through the Midtown Tunnel, between Manhattan and Queens. O'Connor trudged to the Queens side, where he found a mechanic--who happened to be a Jordanian Catholic, recognized the Cardinal and rushed to his aid. O'Connor recalls Ratzinger, up and running again, saying "There is every sort of person in New York, and they're all helpful." A few minutes later, just after he stepped out onto the curb at J.F.K., someone rear-ended the car, shattering the back window.

Despite such sweet and sour experiences (including one in 1988 that produced the memorable tabloid headline GAYS PROTEST VATICAN BIGGY), the Pope likes New York and what it stands for. "I think he's really fascinated by the city and what it represents," says Raphaela Schmid, a Rome-based German with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who knows him. "It's about people being two things at once, like Italian Americans or Chinese Americans. He's interested in that idea of coexistence."

That observation captures an often ignored side of the German-born Pope Benedict XVI, 80, on the eve of his first pontifical visit to the U.S. The trip, which begins in Washington on April 15 and ends in New York City on April 20, will present most Americans with their first opportunity to take the "new" Pope's measure. Some American Catholics already feel they are familiar with Benedict and his values and coexistence is not an association that immediately crops up.

Benedict clearly lacks his predecessor's charismatic affability and sense of the dramatic gesture. His conservative writings suggest a divergence from a large part of the U.S. laity, whom he regards as victims of the moral relativism he feels pervades Western culture. Given his past role as the Vatican's enforcer of orthodoxy, he might not seem to have any particular affinity for the democratic, pluralistic values that constitute (on our good days) the American brand.

And yet that last perception is particularly flawed. A survey of the 80-year-old Pontiff's writings over the decades and testimonies from those who know him suggests that Benedict has a soft spot for Americans and finds considerable value in his U.S. church, the third largest Catholic congregation in the world. Most intriguing, he entertains a recurring vision of an America we sometimes lose sight of: an optimistic and diverse but essentially pious society in which faiths and a faith-based conversation on social issues are kept vital by the Founding Fathers' decision to separate church and state. It's not a stretch to say the Pope sees in the U.S.--or in some kind of idealized version of it--a civic model and even an inspiration to his native Europe, whose Muslim immigrants raise the question of religious and political coexistence in the starkest terms. Says David Gibson, author of The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle with the Modern World: "As he tours the U.S., it's important to underscore that his philosophy has more consonances with our culture than meet the eye--some very profound."

What, if anything, does this American attachment mean, either about him or about how he sees America's place in the world? It does not necessarily translate into uncritical support for the Bush Administration's foreign policies or into willingness to overlook the U.S. Catholic Church's sexual-abuse scandal. But an examination of his lifetime of visiting and writing about the U.S. helps provide insight into what drives the Pope: his intellectual curiosity, his search for national models that can accommodate Catholicism as the vibrant minority in a position that he feels may be its next world role and his firm commitment to combine faith with practical reason. It is also a rather touching valentine and a testament to Benedict's surprising openness toward a very different culture that he sees us as the world's best example of how such things can be done.

Out of the Ruins

The Pope's admiration for the U.S. has deep roots. Unlike John Paul II, who was intellectually and theologically fully formed when he met his first Americans, Ratzinger first observed them when he was 18. As a defeated German soldier, he spent three months in a pow camp but was then allowed to return home and witness one of the great modern acts of charity, the rebuilding of Germany by an occupying force that could just as easily have exacted revenge. Cardinal William Levada, the Californian whom Benedict tapped as his successor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), says, "He's of a generation that remembers, gratefully."

Ratzinger's next American exposure came during the momentous Second Vatican Council in Rome, from 1962 to '65. Then in his early 30s, Ratzinger was a theological wunderkind who made his name behind the scenes. The U.S. delegation, meanwhile, was embroiled in a contentious debate over religious freedom. Conservatives opposed it: states must sponsor faith, and the faith should be Roman Catholic. The Americans argued that religious liberty was morally imperative and--from experience--that in a multireligious state, Catholicism could best thrive when the government could not play favorites. The council sided with them, and Ratzinger, anticipating a world composed of jostling religious pluralities, heartily approved. In a 1966 analysis, he wrote, "In a critical hour, Council leadership passed from Europe to the young Churches of America and [their allies]," who "were really opening up the way to the future."

After Vatican II, Ratzinger embarked on a more conservative path. The embrace of religious plurality, in his view, did not extend to an acceptance that all roads to salvation are equal or to a license for democracy within his church. During 24 years as the prefect of the CDF, Ratzinger earned the nickname "God's Rottweiler," savaging suspected heresies, mostly liberal ones, and ending the careers of several old Vatican II allies. Americans were not exempt.

But he also came to respect the way Catholic leaders in the U.S. went about their business. A current (non-American) CDF official notes that the U.S. church is the only one that keeps a "serious" doctrinal office rather than an unthinking rubber stamp or an old-boys' club; when conflicts arise, its bishops are actually prepared to discuss them. Moreover, says Levada, "he seems to recognize that we're plain speakers. We don't hide behind words."

The Pope also admires the Americans' role as, in the words of one cleric, "intellectual first responders," especially as the country's great network of Catholic hospitals wrestles with novel problems of medical ethics. "Through the great sphere of worldly experience that the Church has in America," Benedict wrote, "as well as through her faith experience, decisive influences can be passed on." He has shown his comfort with the direct and thoroughly American approach by appointing Americans to the No. 1 and No. 3 spots in his powerful former office.

The most rapt expression of the Pope's enthusiasm for the U.S. came in a high-minded 2004 dialogue with the president of the Italian Senate, Marcello Pera, published as the book Without Roots. It bemoans the European Union's refusal to acknowledge Christianity in a draft constitution, and Pera wonders about bringing back some kind of multidenominational "Christian civil religion." In response, Ratzinger cites Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America and makes the case that America's Founding Fathers were pious men of different denominations who wrote the First Amendment prohibiting state establishment (that is, sponsorship) of religion precisely because sponsorship would stifle all non-established creeds--which they hoped would achieve full and varied flower.

Of course, no such bloom would occur if the American soil were not already faith-saturated. But Ratzinger believes in America's "obvious spiritual foundation," its natural, Puritan-instilled DNA. He is well aware that this is eroding; he thinks we watch too much TV and fears that American secularization is proceeding at an "accelerated pace." But he insists that there is a "much clearer and implicit sense" in the U.S. than in Europe of a morality "bequeathed by Christianity." He has also given earnest thought to the mechanics of this civil religion, specifying that to affect the moral consensus, it is not enough for Catholics to rub shoulders with other Christians; they must translate their concerns from doctrinal language into a "public theology" accessible to all.

His American Flock

It may be that Benedict, who has sometimes seemed ready to trade a larger, lukewarm flock for a small, fervent one, is studying how to be small effectively. Says a church official whose thoughts usually reflect his boss's: "The American church has always had to live the minority experience, and that's where the universal church is headed." In fact, the American church has not really shrunk much. At 24% of the population, Catholics remain a pivotal voting bloc, especially in swing states like Pennsylvania, where they appear to favor Hillary Clinton by sizable margins. A recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that a quarter of the country's cradle Catholics had left the fold. But they are being replaced by a few converts and a lot of (Mass attending!) Hispanic immigrants, and remarkably, such churn is about par across the American religious landscape.

Although the Catholic priest shortage continues in the U.S., the priest-abuse scandals have not sparked a massive parishioner exodus. (Benedict is expected to address the topic on this trip, but there have been no leaks as to how.) Perhaps out of relief that he has been writing encyclicals about love and charity rather than heresy, U.S. Catholics seem to be treating him a lot like former Pontiffs: handing him a 70% approval rating while continuing to ignore church teaching on birth control and abortion.

In any case, Benedict often seems less interested in scolding American Catholics than in talking up "new religious communities ... being formed who quite consciously aim at a complete fulfillment of the demands of religious life." In the U.S., that could mean schools like Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif.; Christendom College in Front Royal, Va.; and Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Fla. The numbers are tiny--the three colleges combined claim some 1,200 undergrads--but they are precisely the kind of eruptions of non-state-related religious vitality at which he thinks we excel.

There are times when Benedict's love affair with American religious pluralism seems a bit naive, especially when it clashes with his nonnegotiable doctrinal stands. Without Roots had wonderful things to say about Protestantism as the genius of American religiosity and burnished the alliance between Catholic conservatives and American Evangelicals against abortion. But in 2000 and more acidly in 2007 (after he became Pope), the Vatican released documents describing Protestant churches as suffering from ecclesiastical "defects," adding that "it is difficult to see how the title of 'Church' could possibly be attributed to them." Some of Benedict's new allies were a bit stunned.

When Benedict zings the Protestants or his proxies zap scientific atheists, he is actually engaging in cultural pluralism American-style, which resembles a political talk show more than a stately seminar on the Bill of Rights. The desire to keep talking while airing real differences may also be influencing his policy toward Islam (which, as the Vatican noted in March, has just replaced Catholicism as the world's most populous faith). After a startling 2006 speech in which he quoted a source calling Muhammad evil, prompting enraged extremists to burn churches and kill a nun in Somalia, Benedict entered into a dialogue with Islamic clerics who sent an open letter expressing a more conciliatory if sometimes critical response. None of the parties are departing from their theology, but out of frankness, a tenuous bridge seems to have been built.

This may hold some implicit lessons about how Benedict feels the U.S. and its allies should interact with Islam. The Pope has refused to accept pre-emptive war as just, and a confidant recalls him shaking his fists and shouting "Basta!"--Enough!--back in the early days of the Iraq war. He may be trying to model a clash of civilizations without bloodshed. As Roberto Fontolan, the Vatican-savvy spokesman of the lay group Communion and Liberation, puts it, "Let's not talk about dogma. Or whether my God is better than your God. Let's talk about reason that we both have as a gift from God. What does it tell us?"

Benedict's Quest

Reason is a word that surfaces repeatedly in conversations about the Pope and the U.S. Benedict's critics regularly accuse him of Vatican II revisionism--of downplaying the idea that Catholics may legitimately balance church teaching against the demands of their conscience. More broadly, they accuse him of minimizing the degree to which the Holy Spirit led the council to make substantial changes in the faith. But he remains true to the Vatican II precept of complementing blind piety that prevailed in the church before the 1960s with the rationalism of the Enlightenment and thus with modernity.

He is hardly the first: John Paul II described faith and reason as the twin wings that lift the church. And yet a balanced takeoff has remained elusive. The U.S. is one of the few places where it seems to happen regularly. "America is simultaneously a completely modern and a profoundly religious place. In the world, it is unique in this," says a senior Vatican official. "And Ratzinger wants to understand how those two aspects can coexist." Almost all the things the Pope likes about us--our faith in the real value of plainspokenness, our pluralistic piety and even our wrangles around applying religiously grounded moral principles to increasingly abstruse science--can be understood in light of this quest. If he finds answers in the U.S., they could help define his papacy.

When he arrives on U.S. soil on April 15, we in the press will no doubt be parsing Benedict's every sentence for his opinions on U.S. policy or remonstrance of American morals. But the most important waves emanating from this contact may reverberate well beyond tomorrow's news cycle. John Paul II and the U.S. played as anticommunist co-leads on the 20th century stage. This Pope, more a student of global drama than an eager protagonist, knows that rising religious conflict may be the 21st century's great challenge. He also appears to sense that American power alone won't solve it--but that the power of American values still might. In rummaging through our founding precepts for a path for his own purposes, he might find something important for us to remember too.,9171,1727724,00.html

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Were not our hearts burning?


A mother tells a story that many parents can relate to. For year she had prayed that her two sons would return to the faith. Then one Sunday morning in church she couldn’t believe her eyes. Her two sons came in and sat across the aisle from her. Her joy and gratitude overflowed. Afterward, she asked her sons what prompted their return to the faith.

The younger son told the story: One Sunday morning, while vacationing in Colorado, they were driving down a mountain road. It was raining heavily and suddenly they came upon an old man without an umbrella. He was soaked through and through and walked with a noticeable limp. Yet he kept trudging along down the road. The brothers stopped and picked him up. It turned out that the stranger was on his way to Mass at a church three miles down the road. The brothers took him there. Since the rain was coming down so hard, they decided to wait for the stranger to take him home after Mass. It wasn’t long before the two figured they might as well go and wait inside. As the two listened to the reading of scripture and sat through the breaking of the bread, something moved them deeply. The only way they could later explain it was: “It felt so right, like getting home after a long, tiring trip.”

The story of the two brothers and their encounter with the stranger on the Colorado road bears a striking resemblance to today’s gospel. The two disciples travelling along the road to Emmaus had once followed Jesus with hope and joy. They truly believed he was sent by God to establish God’s kingdom. Then came the stormy hours of Good Friday - all their hopes and dreams got smashed into a thousand pieces. Totally disillusioned, they left Jesus in an unmarked tomb and returned to their former ways.

It was against this background that they met the stranger on the Emmaus road on Easter Sunday morning. The disciples listened to him. They watched him break bread. And something moved them deeply. The stranger was not a stranger at all. It was Jesus. He was alive and risen.

Almost the identical thing happened to the brothers on the Colorado road. There was a time when they followed Jesus closely. They truly believed he was the Son of God, sent by God to redeem the world. Then came stormy days for them; perhaps all their hopes and dreams smashed into a thousand pieces too. Totally disillusioned they too left Jesus and went on their way. It was against this background that they met the stranger on the rainy Sunday morning. He spoke to the brothers about Jesus not by using words but by his simple, dedicated example. As they listened their hearts began to burn within them. Then during the breaking of the bread in the church, they discovered the Jesus they had lost.

For us too, we sometimes have stormy periods in our lives when our faith is smashed or weakened. During those times perhaps we have fallen away from the church and the practice of our faith. But then one day we met someone – a stranger perhaps. And it was through the stranger that we found Jesus again, in the midst of his church, in the breaking of the bread.

And so today’s gospel contains an important message for all of us – especially for those still searching for Jesus, or for those who have lost Jesus. Sometimes we hear people say, “I believe in God, and I believe in Jesus but I don’t believe in the church.” Whenever we hear this we should recall another traveller on another road. We should recall Paul on the road to Damascus, as we hear in Acts, “Suddenly a light from the sky flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him ‘Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you Lord?’ he asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you persecute,’ the voice said.”

Paul was confused. He had not persecuted Jesus. He had persecuted only His followers. Then it dawned on him; Jesus and His followers are one. They were like a head and a body. Trying to separate Jesus from His church, the community of His followers, was like trying to separate our own head from our body.

If we were to find the risen Jesus today, it will be the way the disciples found Him on the road to Emmaus. It will be the way the two brothers found Him.

Lord Jesus, look kindly on those who have left you behind for dead in the some unmarked tomb. Come to them as you did to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Explain to them the scriptures again. Stir up in them the fires of faith that still smoulder in their hearts. Sit down with them at table.

Show yourself to them again, in the midst of your church in the breaking of the bread.

May God give you peace.

Changing the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 20, 2019: When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a pract...