Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Empty Chair

The Chair is empty.  That is what sede vacante means after all.  No one sits on the Chair of Peter today and for an uncertain number of days.  This is always a time of mixed emotions for Catholics; a time of uncertainty and unease.  But, it is also a time of hope and expectation; a time of dreams and desires for what the future might hold; what the future can hold.  It is a time that will remain a "time inbetween" until we hear two more Latin words: Habemus Papam, We have a Pope!

There is speculation now about whether or not the Cardinals will move the date of the Conclave sooner.  One of the Pope Emeritus' final actions was to allow for the possibility of shortening the standard 15 day waiting period. They probably will do that.  The reasoning behind the move would be to get the  new Supreme Pontiff in place before Holy Week which begins on March 24 with Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion.

There's almost an arrogance in the notion that it will all happen like clockwork, though, if you really think about it.  There is the old saying, "We plan and God laughs."  What if God has something else in store for us?  What if God wants to shake things up a bit?

When you look at the history of Conclaves, they are not always orderly affairs.  True, Pope Benedict was elected in a Conclave that lasted just over 24 hours.  Blessed Pope John Paul II was elected in three days on the eighth ballot in 1978.  The shortest ever was in 1503 where the Cardinals took just a couple of hours to select Pope Julius II.  But, the Conclave that eventually elected Pope Gregory X in 1271 took two years, two months and nine days to reach that decision; and it was only reached after the Cardinals were reduced to a diet of bread and water and the roof of the building they were meeting in was removed!

The point is just this - once the doors of the Sistine Chapel are locked anything can happen. That' just how the Holy Spirit rolls.  And that, for me, is the wonder and the excitement and the nervousness and the beauty all wrapped into one that is so special about our Holy Roman Catholic Church - especially in these moments.  And, I think it is one of the things that perhaps just confuses people about us darned Catholics some times.

Whether we are a conservative or progressive Catholic; Latin Mass or Folk Mass - that empty Chair makes us uncomfortable.  We need Peter to be the glue that binds us - even if  he does so uncomfortably.  Even when it is a Pope that we have great hopes in or one that we wish could lead differently, every Pope is still our Pope.  We need the Vicar of Christ that points us in the right direction; that helps us to remain together as one flock.  Though we are many, we are still one, under one Shepherd.

In John's Gospel, Jesus reminds us, "I will not leave you orphans." We take comfort in that and yet, still we wait.  From sede vacante until habemus papam, we wait.  I don't know about you, but I choose to wait with hope.  This, I think, is a moment unlike any that has preceded it.  And because of its unprecedented nature, anything can happen.  Just as Blessed Pope John 23rd (a Third Order Franciscan, by the way), was an unexpected breath of fresh air that ushered in the Second Vatican Council, my hope is that this moment of emptiness or vacancy is going to be filled with the unexpected.

The Holy Spirit has a way of working through us despite our own faults and failings and my hope and prayer is that this incredible moment will be a time where something extraordinary will take place. Certainly we've already seen something of that in the resignation of Benedict XVI - a move so unexpected and unprecedented that the next Conclave will already be different than any previous one.

My other hope is that our new Holy Father be marked by qualities of compassion and kindness, by love and joy.  That he be a Pope who smiles and laughs and understand ordinary people and their ordinary struggles - as Our Lord did - and that he can connect with them on an every day level so that they can see that the 2,000 year old faith of the Catholic Church is not distant, is not out-of-touch, is not irrelevant, but is the very Truth of God and can speak to the regular moments of their life and make a different in how they live.

In the Book of Revelation, Christ seated up the throne declares, "Behold I make all things new."  The time of sede vacante can be a time of uncertainty, but it can also be a time to be made new.  The Cardinals gathered in General Congregations - the meetings in advance of the Conclave - can be open to the Fresh Air of the Holy Spirit let in by Benedict's resignation.  They can choose a man - perhaps even someone unexpected - who will renew us once again in the freshness of the Gospel; set our hearts on fire for Christ; help us to fall in love once again with His Church.  Our Catholic history is full of such holy men and women. From St. Paul through St. Augustine to St. Francis and St. Clare to St. Catherine of Siena to St. Patrick and into our own time to people like Dorothy Day, Blessed Mother Teresa and Blessed Pope John Paul II.

That Chair sits empty once again.  We wait between sede vacante and habemus papam. And we wait with hope and expectation.  A hope that the unexpected can happen. That the Spirit will breath new life once again. That the New Evangelization will pour out and overflow. That once again, even after 2,000 years of faithful following, we can once again be made new.  St. Francis of Assisi said near the end of his life, "Let us begin again, for up until now we have done nothing."

Indeed, let us begin again and let us be made new.

Pope Benedict's Final Message to Cardinals

Dear beloved brothers: I welcome you all with great joy and cordially greet each one of you. I thank Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who as always, has been able to convey the sentiments of the College, Cor ad cor loquitur. Thank you, Your Eminence, from my heart. And referring to the disciples of Emmaus, I would like to say to you all that it has also been a joy for me to walk with you over the years in light of the presence of the Risen Lord. As I said yesterday, in front of thousands of people who filled St. Peter's Square, your closeness, your advice, have been a great help to me in my ministry. In these 8 years we have experienced in faith beautiful moments of radiant light in the Churches’ journey along with times when clouds have darkened the sky.

We have tried to serve Christ and his Church with deep and total love which is the soul of our ministry. We have gifted hope that comes from Christ alone, and which alone can illuminate our path. Together we can thank the Lord who has helped us grow in communion, to pray to together, to help you to continue to grow in this deep unity so that the College of Cardinals is like an orchestra, where diversity, an expression of the universal Church, always contributes to a superior harmony of concord. I would like to leave you with a simple thought that is close to my heart, a thought on the Church, Her mystery, which is for all of us, we can say, the reason and the passion of our lives. I am helped by an expression of Romano Guardini’s, written in the year in which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council approved the Constitution Lumen Gentium, his last with a personal dedication to me, so the words of this book are particularly dear to me.

Guardini says: "The Church is not an institution devised and built at table, but a living reality. She lives along the course of time by transforming Herself, like any living being, yet Her nature remains the same. At Her heart is Christ. "This was our experience yesterday, I think, in the square. We could see that the Church is a living body, animated by the Holy Spirit, and truly lives by the power of God, She is in the world but not of the world. She is of God, of Christ, of the Spirit, as we saw yesterday. This is why another eloquent expression of Guardini’s is also true: "The Church is awakening in souls." The Church lives, grows and awakens in those souls which like the Virgin Mary accept and conceive the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. They offer to God their flesh and in their own poverty and humility become capable of giving birth to Christ in the world today. Through the Church the mystery of the Incarnation remains present forever. Christ continues to walk through all times in all places. Let us remain united, dear brothers, to this mystery, in prayer, especially in daily Eucharist, and thus serve the Church and all humanity. This is our joy that no one can take from us.

Prior to bidding farewell to each of you personally, I want to tell you that I will continue to be close to you in prayer, especially in the next few days, so that you may all be fully docile to the action of the Holy Spirit in the election of the new Pope. May the Lord show you what is willed by Him. And among you, among the College of Cardinals, there is also the future Pope, to whom, here to today, I already promise my unconditional reverence and obedience. For all this, with affection and gratitude, I cordially impart upon you my Apostolic Blessing.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Final Blessing of Pope Benedict XVI Wednesday General Audience

Franciscan Poverty is Mystical/Sacramental

NOTE: I just finished reading The First Encounter With Francis of Assisi by Damien Vorreux.  This is a beautiful introduction to the life and thought of Our Holy Father Saint Francis and a quick read (73 pages).  But the beautiful language really struck me and got me thinking about the Franciscan view of poverty in a whole new way. Here are some thoughts that are stuck with me today from this work:

People often ask about the Franciscan approach to poverty and how we live out the vow.

For St. Francis, poverty was not something ascetical or stoic, it was something mystical.  Poverty is not ascetical; not an attempt to simply live a life of external lack; not a mere superficial attempt to have less or nothing.

Poverty is not stoic or apostolic; a freeing of oneself to be available to love more; to love chastely or to be apostolically available for ministry.  These are all good things, but this is not poverty for St. Francis.

For the Saint, poverty is mystical.  Poverty, like all things, are an opportunity to conform your life to the life of Christ - this time a conformity to the Poor Christ.  Poverty, then is sacramental, even Eucharistic.  Just as in the Eucharist, "we become what we receive," so too our mystical pursuit of poverty we become more like Christ as we imitate Him in His poverty.  St. Francis contemplates and imitates the Christ whom he loves as he lives a poverty that is not on the outside, but is on the inside transforming and changing him as every mystical or sacramental moment ultimately does.  That is Franciscan poverty.

- FT

The Pope and Saint Francis | America Magazine

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This guest blog comes from Tom Washburn, OFM, a Franciscan who blogs at A Friar's Life:
The pope has resigned or retired. That statement really takes a while to settle in. Writing in the New York Times, Fr. Jim Martin noted that "Rare is the person who will voluntarily relinquish immense power." In the last few weeks, we have become experts in church history, learning about Gregory VII, Celestine V and other popes who have resigned. Yet perhaps we should also be looking at the humble Saint of Assisi and founder of the Franciscan Order. After all, it isn’t only popes who resign. St. Francis resigned too! When St. Francis resigned as leader of the Franciscan Order, he offered a lesson in holiness, humility and power. I think these are things that Pope Benedict is teaching us as well and will, in the end, be his most lasting legacy.
We know we live in a world that highly values power and authority and seeks these things among supreme goals in life. “Climbing the ladder” is one of the things that you do to be successful and it is no different in the church. Just as in most spheres of life, so too in the church, people often seek positions that bring prestige and authority. Consider, then, the radical example of St. Francis. He stepped down from the top job of the order he founded.
Let me sketch a brief version of the life of St. Francis. He was a member of the emerging middle class in early 13th Century Assisi. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant with dreams that his son would attain glory on the battlefield and perhaps enter the ranks of the nobility, thus elevating his family to a higher level. But then occurred a series of encounters with God that changed everything. The Voice spoke to Francis, "Who is it better to serve, the master or the servant?" Finally, Christ from the cross in the Chapel of San Damiano on Assisi's outskirts spoke, saying, "Francis, rebuild my church."  
The young troubadour would leave behind his quest for earthly glory and embark on a quest for God. Others began to follow. In 1209, the then 12 "lesser brothers" sought and received the approval of Pope Innocent III to begin more formally this new way of Gospel living. By 1220 there were more than 5,000 friars living the Franciscan way of life with St. Francis as the General Minister or head of this new and expanding Order. And precisely at this great moment of success for this new venture, the Holy Man of Assisi, did something radical in the eyes of the world— he resigned as head of the Order and let someone else lead. In perhaps the ultimate embrace of the poverty he so highly valued, he did not allow himself to own or possess even this movement that he himself had created, but in humility let it be handed off into the loving hands of other brothers. Even the Order was not his. He was merely, for a time, its steward.
I think Pope Benedict has a Franciscan heart and understands this reality well. When meeting with the priests of Rome recently, the Pope said, "I am strengthened and reassured by the certainty that the Church is Christ's." The Holy Father knows that the church never belonged to Benedict. Like St. Francis, Benedict was merely its steward for a time. St. Francis realized something similar. He understood that he never intended to create such a thing as a Religious Order, but simply wanted to live the life of the Gospel and if others wanted to join him in doing that, what a wonderful thing. 
Today, the Holy Father teaches us that no matter what we have in terms of time, treasure and talent—whether it be great or more meager—we are mere stewards of the gifts that come from God. They were never ours to begin with. They are the talents given by the Master who will one day ask what we have done with them. We are called to be humble stewards and not mighty lords.
Each of the last two popes now have taught us something so powerful in the way the ended their papacy. Blessed Pope John Paul gave us an incredible witness to the dignity of human life, suffering so publicly in his final days, reminding us that even a life of pain and illness is one that is full of dignity and grace in the eyes of God. And now Benedict shows us that even when the world heaps upon us the greatest of honors and power, we can still assume them in poverty and in humility and put them aside when our work is done.
St. Francis wrote in his Admonitions, "'I did not come to be ministered to, but to minister,' says the Lord. Let those who are set above others glory in this superiority only as much as if they had been asked to wash the feet of the brothers; and if they are more upset by the loss of their superiority than they would be by losing the office of washing feet, so much the more do they lay up treasures to the peril of their own soul."
It makes you wonder, perhaps Pope Benedict  reflected on the example of Il Poverello as he discerned his humble and holy decision.
St. Francis of Assisi, pray for the church, pray for Pope Benedict and pray for our next Holy Father.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

It's Not About Celibacy: Blaming the Wrong Thing for the Sexual Abuse Crisis | Huffington Post

NOTE: This is such a welcome article from friend and excellent writer Fr. Jim Martin, SJ.  I am so tired of hearing people blame celibacy for the churches woes and faults!  If someone wants to have a discussion about whether or not priests should be allowed to marry, that is a worthy discussion, but it has nothing to do with the abuse crisis.  Celibacy does not cause pedophilia!  One of the ways that you can know that is by the numbers.  Under the worse-case scenario of the church scandal, 96% of priests have NOT abused.  That's not an excuse for the approximately 4% that have abused. It is wrong, will always be wrong. But, that doesn't deny the fact that most priests do NOT abuse. Most priests do NOT violate their vows.  Most priests simply do their jobs and love doing their job.  Should priests be allowed to marry?  Talk about it - but not in relation to the crisis; talk about it on its own merits.  Read this article for the clearest exegesis of the issue that I've heard in a long time - FT

Rev. James Martin, S.J.

Many factors underlie the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. Here is an extremely brief summary. Improper screening of candidates for seminaries led to some psychologically sick men being ordained as priests. When some bishops received reports of sexual abuse, the reports were tragically downplayed, dismissed, or ignored. The crimes of abuse often went unreported to civil authorities, out of a misguided concern for "avoiding scandal," the fear of litigation, or an unwillingness to confront the priest. Grossly misunderstanding the severity of the effects of abuse, overly relying on advice from psychologists regarding rehabilitation, and privileging the concerns of priests over the pastoral care for victims, some bishops moved abusive priests from one parish to another where they repeatedly offended.

That is an enormous simplification that leaves out many important causes. In general, though, that is a fair summary of some underlying reasons for these crimes. (Note that I say "reasons" and not "excuses." There are no excuses.)
In an abbreviated form, this was also the conclusion of an extensive study by the National Review Board, an independent group of Catholic laypersons who reported to the U.S. Catholic bishops in the wake of the abuse crisis that engulfed the American Church beginning in 2002. The Board's analysis led to the "zero-tolerance" policy adopted by the American hierarchy.
One thing you don't see on the list of factors is celibacy. Because celibacy does not cause pedophilia. But that hasn't stopped otherwise thoughtful pundits and commentators, and among them even some Catholics, from opining on celibacy as a cause of the crisis.
Around the same time as the National Review Board released their findings, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice concluded a nationwide study, reporting that around four percent of American priests between 1950 and 2002 had been accused of abuse. Even one case of sexual abuse is too much, but that figure is half that of the overall percentage for American males, which, according to Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, is one in ten. (In a recent Newsweek article, Margaret Leland Smith, a researcher at John Jay, estimated that the figure is closer to one in five.) "We don't see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else," Mr. Allen told Newsweek.
And, as Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea, a psychologist and expert on child sexual abuse, and Virginia Goldner, also a psychologist, noted in a hard-hitting book entitled Predatory Priests, Silenced Victims, the sexual abuse of children has also occurred among Protestant ministers, Jewish rabbis, Islamic clerics, Buddhist monks, and Hare Krishna officials.
None of this has stopped commentators from excoriating priestly celibacy as a primary cause of sexual abuse.
But doing so makes little sense. For one thing, if four percent of American priests were accused of abuse, it means that 96 percent of priests have not been accused of anything and are leading healthy, productive lives in the community. (Bluntly put: if celibacy causes abuse, why aren't the other 96 percent of priests pedophiles?) For another, 30 percent of abuse takes place within families, yet few sane people point to marriage as a cause of child abuse. When schoolteachers abuse children, few sane people say that teaching leads to pedophilia. Many widows and widowers, not to mention some single men and women, are celibate. No one suspects them of pedophilia.
So why is the celibacy of Catholic priests singled out?
The critique of priestly celibacy has to do mainly with its unfamiliarity. Voluntarily refraining from sex is unnatural, so the thinking goes; it shuts down a natural part of life and thus leads to unhealthy behaviors. It is unhealthy, critics say; therefore, priesthood attracts only unhealthy people. It is impossible, others aver, so any priest who says he is celibate must be lying. Most people don't know priests, sisters, or brothers, and we sometimes demonize those whom we don't know. It's easy to stereotype out of frustration and fear.
So let me speak about celibacy as a celibate male. (Technically, diocesan priests make a promise of celibacy -- a promise not to marry. Members of religious orders vow chastity. But in essence, the two commitments work the same way, and the terms can be used interchangeably.)
One of the many goals of celibacy is to love people as freely as possible and as profoundly as possible. That may seem strange to those used to defining religious chastity negatively -- that is, as not having sex. But this has long been the tradition of the Church. Besides its other roots, religious chastity was meant as another way to love others and serve the community. As such, it may have something to teach everyone, not just priests, brothers, and sisters.
For Jesuits -- to take the religious order to which I belong -- chastity frees us to serve people more readily. We're not attached to one person exclusively, so it's easier for us to move to another assignment. As the Jesuit Constitutions say, chastity is "essentially apostolic." It is supposed to help us be better "apostles," to be freer to respond to the needs of those around us. So chastity is supposed to be about both love and freedom.
Obviously, celibacy is not for everyone. (If it were, the world would be a much smaller place.) The overwhelming majority of people are called to romantic love, marriage, sexual intimacy, children, and family life. Their primary way of loving is through their spouses and children. It is a more focused, more exclusive, loving. That is not to say that married couples and parents do not love others outside their families. Rather, the main focus of their love is their family.
For the Catholic priest or person in a religious order, the situation is the opposite. You make a promise of celibacy or pronounce a vow of chastity to offer yourself to God as fully as possible and to make yourself available to love as many others as possible. Once again, this is not to say that married and single men and women cannot do the same. Or that clergy in other religions cannot do so. Rather, this is the way that seems to work for us. It is simply another way.
This may even offer an insight for a culture that sees sex as the best way, or the only way, to express love. Chastity and celibacy say that there are other ways. Some of the most loving people I know are chaste men and women, who show me their love through nonsexual ways: spending time with me when I'm down, sharing their joys and sorrows with me, even listening to me complain. Healthy chastity is a reminder that it is possible to love without being in an exclusive relationship and without being sexually active. There are many ways of loving, besides sex, through actions just as meaningful.
Who is more loving: the head-over-heels couple with an active sex life; the committed middle-aged couple who have sex less frequently due to the demands of family life; or the tender elderly couple who, because of illness, are not sexually active at all? Who is more loving: the married man who loves his wife, or the single woman who loves her close friends? Who is more loving: the healthy celibate priest who works long hours for his parishioners, or the sexually active wife who adores her husband?
The answer is that they are all loving. In different ways.
This is not to deny that some priests were clearly tempted to "hide" their sick sexual predilections and designs to prey on children by retreating to a celibate lifestyle as a kind of protective ecclesial cocoon. But that doesn't mean celibacy causes pedophilia, any more than marriage does, or parenting does, or teaching does. Nor does it mean that celibacy is the best way of organizing the priesthood, or that it will always be the rule for diocesan priests; the Catholic Church has already begun to accept married male clergy from the Anglican Communion as priests. Nor does it mean that an all-male clergy hasn't over the centuries fostered a secretive culture that privileged concerns for priests over those of lay people. But that has more to do with power than celibacy per se. Nor does it mean that having women, and married men and women, in Church leadership roles would not have forced a more vigorous prosecution of sexual abuse cases. But once again, none of that means that celibacy per se leads to an individual becoming an abuser.
Stereotypes about celibacy are more confounding when one reflects -- even for a moment -- on the lives of some of history's most beloved celibate religious figures: St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, Pope John XXIII, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Mother Teresa, and, for much of his life, Mahatma Gandhi. More to the point: by most accounts, Jesus himself was celibate. (One indication: the Gospels talk freely about his mother, his brothers, and his sisters. If he had a wife, not mentioning her would be odd.) Jesus may have done so to express his personal commitment to his mission; perhaps out of knowledge that his peripatetic life would have been difficult on a spouse; or even to spare his wife from the eventual suffering he may have foreseen.
Jesus was celibate. That doesn't mean he was a pedophile. Neither am I. And neither are the vast majority of priests.
Stereotypes about celibate priests are as wrongheaded as those about any other religious practice that people don't fully understand, or stereotypes about any other unfamiliar group of people. You probably don't practice celibacy, you may not agree with it as a way of life for the clergy, and you may not understand it completely, but that doesn't mean you should condemn it -- much less blame it for a problem with far more complex roots.
The Rev. James Martin is a Catholic priest and author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.

What do you call a retired Pope? Now we know!


By Joshua J. McElwee | National Catholic Reporter | February 26, 2013

In his final days as the leader of the Catholic church, Pope Benedict XVI is focusing on prayer and is taking few audiences, the Vatican spokesperson announced Tuesday.
He is also packing up his belongings and preparing to move to Castel Gandolfo, a small Italian town to the west of Rome, said Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi.
When his resignation takes effect at 8:00 PM Rome time Thursday, said Lombardi, the Swiss Guards will no longer protect the pontiff, as they are charged with guarding only the pope.
At that time, said Lombardi, Benedict's official title will be: "His Holiness Benedict XVI, Roman pontiff emeritus."
Lombardi said the pope will continue to wear a white cassock, but no longer will be seen in red shoes. Instead, the pope has decided to wear a pair of brown shoes given to him on the 2012 papal visit to Mexico.
His fisherman's ring, which contains the pope's formal seal, will also be destroyed.
“It will be broken at a particular moment, when that will happen is up to the college of cardinals," said Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica, who provided English translation of the press conference.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Catholic Church at Crossroads | NPR

NOTE: This is an interesting and thoughtful piece both by NPR and by Mary Elizabeth Williams.  While I may not agree with all the points, I think it accurately represents where many American Catholics are today and so it raises the question of how do we re-evangelize? How do we bring them home? How do we reform ourselves? What needs to change? What cannot change?  

I know that my number one concern and greatest hope in the election of a new Pope is for someone who can present the Truth of the Gospel and our Faith with love and joy and compassion - something that I think we've done an increasingly poor job at especially over the last few decades. Someone who can proclaim a Gospel of Inclusion; a Gospel of Salvation for All; a Gospel that invites rather than excludes.  Rather than proclaiming to others that they don't fit in our Church, we need to be inviting them into the glory of a life lived with Christ.  We need to be where Jesus would be and He most certainly wouldn't be elbow-to-elbow with the rich and powerful; He would be knee-deep with those on the margins; those looked at with prejudice by our society; those who hear messages that differ from - you are special; you are mine; you are loved!  We increasingly present the Truth in anger, as exclusionary and as a message of negativity.  I think this needs to be the heart of the New Evangelization that Bl. Pope John Paul II called for.  We know the Gospel - we've forgotten love and joy and compassion.  This is a good place to begin a dialogue. - FT

Here is a link for the NPR audio report: Catholic Church at Crossroads: Demographics, Social Issues Pose Challenges

Here is the accompanying text from NPR

When Pope Benedict XVI said he was stepping down, he broke a tradition that had been in place since 1415. The pope, who gave his final blessing Sunday, leaves the Catholic Church in the midst of changing social views and demographic shifts among its followers.
American Catholics' social views tend to diverge from the Vatican's, and the once-Europe-focused church now has its largest support in Latin America. Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing rapid growth in its Catholic population.
Change In The U.S.
Today, about 1 in 10 American Catholics born into the religion has left it, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center poll. Pew reports that more than half of them say they are unhappy with the church's stance on abortion and homosexuality. About 70 percent say they simply drifted away.
When it comes to the next pope, American Catholics generally want to see more modernity, says Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute.
"About 4 in 10 say the church should preserve its traditional beliefs and practice," Jones tells NPR's Jacki Lyden. "But a majority — 53 percent — says the church should either adjust its traditional beliefs and practices in light of new circumstances or adopt modern beliefs and practices."
Mary Elizabeth Williams, a writer for and a self-described liberal feminist, says she won't be leaving her Catholic faith, despite differing with the church's leadership. Williams wrote about her conviction in a Salon article this month titled "No Matter What I'm Still Catholic."
"There's this idea that Catholics have to toe the line. But the great example I get from Christ is to make trouble and ask questions," she says. "That to me is the ultimate manifestation of Catholicism."
Although other American-born Catholics are leaving the faith, immigrants are keeping the numbers up.
"Catholics have lost the most adherents of any religious group, but they're been buoyed on the other hand by immigration because a great number of immigrants to the country are Hispanic and are Catholic," says Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute. "So the net of that dynamic is effectively zero, but it hides, I think, a lot of volatility underneath the surface."
A New Focus?
North America is home to about 8 percent of the world's Catholics. So when the College of Cardinals meets to elect the next pope, its members will grapple with a church that increasingly resonates in the Southern Hemisphere.
"Back in 1910, nearly two-thirds of all Catholics resided in Europe, now today, that number has dropped to only 24 percent," Jones says. "The largest single block of Catholics is in Latin America and the Caribbean, so we have a very different center of gravity just geographically speaking and ethnically speaking than we've ever had."
But of the 100-plus Cardinal electors meeting in Rome, more than half are from Europe. The average age is 72, but they cannot be older than 80, by Vatican decree.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, 82, was one of the cardinals who elected the current pope, but he won't be a part of selecting the next one because of his age.
"We cannot be unaware of the changing face of the church," he says.
McCarrick says the next pope will have to be aware of the church's needs in South America.
"We constantly have to bring ourselves up to date. Not changing our doctrine, because that comes to us from the Lord," he says. "But changing in a certain sense the emphasis that we must put on some things rather than others."
Catholicism In Africa
The region where Catholicism is growing the fastest is in Africa. Several African names have been suggested as possible successors, a chance to better represent the "global south."
Jacques Bahati hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo and a long line of Catholics. He's also a policy analyst with the Africa Faith and Justice Network, a Catholic advocacy group.
Bahati says Catholicism has taken firm root in his home country because Rome let parishes adapt the traditional Mass to their own cultural preferences.
"Over there at home, we like to drum, we like to sing, we like the people to be engaged in many ways during mass," he says.
Nigerian Aniedi Okure, executive director of Africa Faith and Justice Network, says religion and life "dovetail into each other" in Africa.
"So religion punctuates most of the things people do," he says, adding, "It becomes something that is a central part of their life, something that informs what they do — morning, noon and evening."
The NPR story also referenced a article by Mary Elizabeth Williams. That article is below:


No Matter What, I'm Still Catholic 
By Mary Elizabeth Williams | | February 12, 2013

When Pope Benedict announced Monday that he was stepping down from the job,  he wasn’t, as one-third of Americans who were raised Catholic have already done, walking away from the church entirely. He was just giving notice on the professional side of it. But his choice, coming as it did just two days before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the most sacred and thoughtful time in the Catholic year, seemed designed to provoke that familiar, recurring question among many of us who fill the pews on Sunday mornings: What am I still doing here? I found myself wondering yet again why I, a feminist and eternal Christopher Hitchens fangirl, in spite of everything supremely messed up and awful in the church, still call myself a Catholic.
It helps, significantly, that I grew up in a relatively untroubled period in modern Catholicism — an era of post Vatican II ecumenicalism, progressivism and guitar masses. It was a church that even now, on some deeply rooted level, I sort of believe was founded by the Canadian ambassador from “Argo” in an afro. Who, by the way, is totally gay. 
I went through eight years of Catholic school, and while it was often a mixed bag, I credit it for giving me a genuinely moral education. In Catholic school, I was taught, every day, to articulate what my values were and then put them into practice. At home, I learned from my aunt, the woman who co-raised me and the most devout human being I’ve ever known, to associate faith with the difficult but rewarding work of generosity, compassion and forgiveness. My aunt challenged me to be vulnerable, she expected me to be loving. Within my young heart, Catholicism spoke to my inherent attraction to the mystical. It’s never been for me about talking to an old man in the sky. It’s instead been about believing that we’re part of something bigger, and striving for connection to it. And even though now I still get it all wrong a lot of the time, I can’t ever deny that the better aspects of my character were all forged in my Catholic upbringing. I don’t apologize for that, and I don’t quantify it. Anything decent or good in me isn’t despite my Catholicism. It’s right there within it.
Benedict wasn’t my pope any more than George Bush was my president. I don’t vote for either of those goobers. I didn’t like the things they said and did, or their records as leaders or decent humans. So in case you’re wondering, I am consistently outraged by the corruption and abuse of power that has gone on within the church, and heartbroken over the lives that have been callously shattered because of it. I am appalled when an institution that should be a force for peace and progress instead focuses on promoting intolerance. I’m furious when rigid dogma leads to senseless death. That’s why I tackle these issues regularly in my writing. My religious upbringing trained me to speak out against injustice and exploitation, and hey, if that means making a stink about the way the church conducts itself, I guess I can thank Catholicism for showing me how to do it. Because if your whole enterprise was founded by a troublemaking, authority-questioning outsider, you shouldn’t be surprised if that’s what you get from his followers.
You might likewise get people like the Nuns on the Bus, the movement of American Catholic Sisters who told that nice Catholic boy Paul Ryan that his budget plan was a hateful slam against the poor. You might, relatedly, get the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, who work closely with the needy and were condemned last year by the Vatican for not being sufficiently vocal enough about birth control and homosexuality. They, meanwhile, continue to espouse“open discussion of church doctrine.” You might get my small, multiethnic parish that’s run by Capuchin friars, an order “dedicated to the service of real human needs and the proclamation of God’s love.” They do clothing drives and hurricane relief, and I’ve yet to hear our pastor say anything intolerant or exclusionary, ever.
Last Halloween, after Hurricane Sandy shut down our traditional neighborhood celebration in our park, the pastor offered families the use of the Catholic school’s gym for the festivities instead. There was no request for a fee, no implicit indoctrination. That’s why what ultimately drove me in disgust off our local Yahoo parenting group were the responses from people I’d considered friends who were so open in their contempt and distrust of the offer, and who said flatly they wouldn’t bring their children into “a church.” Aside from the fact that it was a school, at the same location where they’d have to do their voting a few days later, the saddest thing about it was the bigotry it revealed. I take a whole lot of guff on a consistent basis from the so-called faithful who like to tell me I can’t be a Catholic and believe the things I believe. But frankly I have been just as condescended to, judged and ultimately bored by mean-spirited, know-it-all Catholic bashers in my life as I have my fellow Christians.
It’s an often lonely place here in the quiet land of LGBT-loving, pro-choice, liberal Catholics. Some days I like to imagine it’s a little party just for Stephen Colbert, Joe Biden and me. But it’s not: 60 percent of American Catholics say they don’t strongly adhere to the church’s stance on abortion, and even more don’t subscribe to its position on same-sex marriage. Nearly 80 percent think you can practice birth control and not attend Mass regularly and still be a good Catholic, while only 20 percent believe in the necessity of an all-male, celibate clergy. You can call us Cafeteria Catholics if you like, but it doesn’t change our principles or our hopes for reform. And you can say the church is unchangeable, but it’s revised itself plenty over 2,000 years. This is a body that once decided slavery didn’t contradict natural law, so don’t rule out the possibility of further enlightenment.
I’m trying to raise my daughters to be skeptical and questioning, to figure out for themselves what they believe and to be accepting of those whose beliefs are different. As they grow and go out into the world for themselves, I don’t require them to stay in the church. But I hope they get from it what I did, that they can take the best and be solid enough in themselves to leave behind the rest. I hope they’ll always take some time each week for the rituals of reflection, and of extending to their neighbors a wish for peace. I hope they live as Paul taught, in a loving way that “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
For her first communion last year, my younger daughter recited a payer she had learned in Sunday school. They were the words of St. Francis. And I don’t really care if you’re Catholic or not, they’re just a damn good guideline for living. “Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console,” he says, “to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love.” That’s what I aspire to in my life, that’s what I want for my children. And it’s what I will never, ever stop fighting for in my church.
Mary Elizabeth Williams
Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Liturgical Questions when there is no Pope

If you're a liturgy geek like me, you might be wondering what do we do in the liturgy later this week when we enter the sede vacante, (litterally "vacant seat") - this time when we will have no Pope between Pope Benedict's resignation which is effective at 2 p.m. (Eastern time) on Thursday, February 28, and remains effective until the Conclave successfully elects a new Holy Father.

The USCCB Secretariat for Divine Worship has put together some helpful information on this as well as a variety of prayers, intercessions, etc. that can be used.  You can find those all here: LITURGICAL NOTES AND RESOURCE MATERIALS FOR USE UPON THE RESIGNATION OF THE POPE

But, they can really be summed up by saying this.  When we have no Pope, you make no mention of the Pope in the Eucharistic Prayer and simply dropped the section that makes reference to the Holy Father.  So for example, using the second Eucharistic Prayer:

Eucharistic Prayer II

Remember, Lord, your Church,
spread throughout the world,
and bring her to the fullness of charity,
together with N. our Bishop
and all the clergy.

We simply omit "N. our Pope" that would normally go before "N. our Bishop" until such a time as we have a new Pontiff.  The same holds true for the other Eucharistic Prayers.

Before Thursday, you might want to take the option of celebrating one final votive Mass for Pope Benedict before his resignation is effective. There are Mass formularies provided in the Roman Missal under "Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occassions" #2 "For the Pope."

Once the resignation becomes effective, there are also another variety of beautiful votive Masses at your disposal that are wonderful ways to connect liturgically with the historic events that will be unfolding in Rome.  In the same section of the Roman Missal there is a Mass "For the Election of a Pope" #4.  There is also a Mass "For the Church."  And certainly as the Cardinals gather in Conclave the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit would be another appropriate option.

These are rarely used Mass formularies, so take the time int he weeks ahead to use these beautiful prayers and to connect locally with what is taking place in the Church globally.

May God bless and guide the Church!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tabor and Olives: The Agony and the Ecstasy


Tonight, of course, are the Oscars and this is a great year for film.  With movies like Lincoln, Les Mis, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook  and Zero, Dark, Thirty all up for Best Picture, it is one of the most competitive years in memory.  I think Argo will probably take the award for best picture tonight, even though I’d personally rather see Lincoln win.  

But, as I was reflecting on our Gospel today, I was thinking about another Oscar-nominated film from many years ago that you might recall called Mask.  It came out in the mid-1980s starring Cher and Eric Stoltz based on the true story of 16-year-old Rocky Dennis.  Rocky had a rare disease that caused his skull and the bones of his face to grow larger than they should resulting in a terribly disfigured face.  His grotesque appearance caused people to shy away from him and others to even mock and laugh at him.

Through it all, Rocky never pitied himself or gave into anger.  He had the courageous ability to simply accepted his appearance as part of his life.  There is a poignant scene in the  movie where one day, he and some of his friends visited an amusement park and went into the “house of mirrors.”  As they walk through they begin to laugh at how distorted their bodies and faces look.  But, suddenly, Rocky sees something that startles him.  One mirror distorts his misshapen face in such a way that it appears normal – and even strikingly handsome.  For the first time, Rocky’s friends see him in a whole new way – they see from the outside what he is on the inside: a truly beautiful person.

I think something like this happens to Jesus in our Gospel today.  During His Transfiguration, the disciples also saw Jesus in a whole new way.  And just like Rocky’s friends, for the first time, they saw from the outside, what Jesus is on the inside: the glorious and beautiful Son of God.  And this raises a question for us.  Why is the Transfiguration of Jesus placed among our Lenten readings which are usually somber; instead of being placed among our Easter readings which more typically deal with the glory of Jesus?

The answer lies in the context in which the Transfiguration unfolds.  It occurs right after Jesus tells the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die.  When Peter heard that news, he cried out, “God forbid Lord!  No such thing shall ever happen to you.”  That news seemed too much for the disciples to bear and Peter, James and John were probably in need of a spiritual shot in the arm after that shocking news.  And maybe this is why the Church gives us the Transfiguration in the midst of Lent, too.  We too can use a spiritual shot in the arm before we begin to turn our attention to the suffering of Jesus on Good Friday.

But, I think there’s also another reason why the Transfiguration is placed here in the midst of Lent.  It’s because the Transfiguration bears a striking similarity to another moment - the Agony in the garden.  Let’s look at how these moments are alike.  First, both take place on mountains – the Agony on the Mount of Olives; the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.  They are both witnessed by the same three disciples: Peter, James and John.   They both take place at night.  And, in both instances, while Jesus remains awake and in prayer; the disciples fall asleep.  

That’s how they are alike.  But, in the ways that each encounter is different are ways that ultimately complement each other.  You see, on Mount Tabor the disciples saw Jesus in a moment of ecstasy, when His divinity shone through in a way that it had never done before.  But, on the Mount of Olives, they saw Jesus in a moment of Agony, when His humanity shone through in a way that it had never done before.  Mount Tabor and the Mount of Olives reveal in striking contrast both the humanity and the divinity of Jesus.  These two mountain events are the inseparable sides of the same coin.  They together show us the total Jesus in a total way: His humanity and His divinity; fully God and fully man.

And it is right here that these two mountain events contain an important message for all of us. Like Jesus, we also have a twofold dimension.  There is in each one of us something that is human and something that is divine. There is in each one of us through our birth a spark of Adam and through the grace of our baptism a spark of God. Like Jesus on Mount Tabor, we too experience moments of ecstasy, when the spark of God shines through us so brightly it almost blinds us. We can feel so close to God that it feel as though we can reach out and touch Him – how often the Eucharist is the very pinnacle of these moment.  During these moments, we marvel at how beautiful life is, we love everyone, we hug our friends and family and have the grace to forgive even our enemies. 

On the other hand, like Jesus on the Mount of Olives, we also experience moments of Agony. During these moments, the spark of Adam surfaces so sharply in us that the spark of God can feel like it is flickering out.  During these moments, life can feel miserable, like no one loves or cares for us, we find fault with our friends and we curse our enemies.  We sometimes can even doubt if God is there; we can doubt that He hears us; we can wonder if we’ll ever feel His presence again. 

When these moments of Agony and ecstasy come, it is good to recall these two mountains: Tabor and Olives.  We should recall that Jesus also experienced these same highs and lows in his life.  And we should remember something more important – that on both occasions, during His ecstasy on Tabor and in the midst of His Agony on Olives, Jesus prayed.  Prayer was the way He responded to the heights of glory with the Father. Prayer was the way He responded to the depths of Agony that lay before Him.  And if this was how Jesus responded, it should be the way we respond too.  And, if we pray, like Jesus during His Transfiguration, we too will hear our Father say to us, “This is my Chose One.”  And, if we pray, like Jesus during His Agony, we too will experience the touch of our Father’s healing presence in the midst of our sorrow and distress; comforting us, caring for us, letting us know that it will be alright; that this too shall pass.

My friends, may our loving and compassionate God be with us in glory, as well as in sorrow and may our Lenten journey be constantly making us a people who turn to Him always and especially in prayer.  

May the Lord give you peace.

Changing the impossible

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