Monday, September 22, 2014

Are we looking at the American Pope Francis in Chicago? | John L. Allen Jr. | CRUX

In American Catholic terms, Chicago always has been a land of giants. There have been nine Catholic archbishops in the Windy City, and for better or worse, they’ve all been larger-than-life figures.
In the early 20th century, Cardinal George Mundelein was an FDR enthusiast who mobilized the resources of the Catholic Church to respond to the Great Depression, and frequently sparred with the infamous “radio priest,” that Rev. Charles Coughlin, over his anti-Semitic and quasi-fascist demagoguery. The archdiocesan seminary in Chicago today bears Mundelein’s name.
To take another example, Cardinal John Cody, who ruled Chicago with an iron first during the 1960s and ’70s, was a lightning rod described by the priest-novelist Andrew Greeley as a “madcap tyrant.” Cody’s notoriety was also flavored with scandal He is alleged to have funneled large sums of church money to support a woman believed by many to have been his mistress.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the prelates who have ruled Chicago have been impossible to ignore.
More recently, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin embodied the progressive reform energies unleashed by the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s. During the 1970s and ’80s, Bernardin played a key behind-the-scenes role from Chicago as a power-broker in the national bishops’ conference, leading it to oppose the Reagan administration over military policy and to embrace the cause of the poor.
In many ways, Bernardin was the American John XXIII, the “Good Pope” who called Vatican II.
By contrast, Cardinal Francis George is more the American Benedict XVI, a brilliant intellectual committed to a robust defense of Catholic identity and tradition. During his own run as president of the national conference, George led the bishops in their fight with the Obama administration over the contraception mandates imposed as part of health care reform, framing the issue in terms of religious freedom.
All of which brings us to 65-year-old Blase Cupich, appointed by Pope Francis on Saturday to succeed George as the ninth Archbishop of Chicago.
The question is, are we looking at the American Francis?
There’s nothing a pope does as fundamental to shaping culture in the Catholic Church as appointing bishops, and that’s especially true for major pace-setting venues around the world. Chicago is on a short list with Milan, Paris, and Westminster as spots where popes have a chance to put their stamp firmly on the church in a wide chunk of the world.
To date, Francis has made a handful of those tone-setting choices, in Cologne, Germany; Madrid, Spain, and Sydney, Australia. His pick for Chicago brings the total to four, and by now we have a fairly clear picture of what Francis wants.
  • First, he wants moderates rather than ideologues, men who will defend church teaching but whose first instinct isn’t political confrontation, and who keep lines of communication open with all camps.
  • Second, he wants bishops of the “Social Gospel,” meaning leaders with a special concern for the poor, for immigrants, and for those at what he’s called the “existential peripheries” of the world.
  • Third, he wants men who see themselves as pastors rather than bureaucrats or diplomats, shepherds who, in his memorable image, “carry the smell of their sheep” because they’re close to the ordinary people they’re called to serve.
By all accounts, that’s what Francis has got in Cupich, an Omaha native whose previous job was as the bishop of Spokane in Washington.
Cupich is identified with the moderate wing of the American bishops, which has always been uncomfortable with the perception that Catholicism had become the new leader of the religious right. He irked some pro-life activists, for instance, by asking his priests and seminarians not to pray in front of Planned Parenthood abortion clinics, seeing it as an unnecessarily provocative gesture.
The new archbishop is also a man of the church’s social mission, with a clear commitment to reaching out to the suffering. Among other things, he’s led a committee within the bishops’ conference dedicated to reform on the child sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the church, saying a few years ago that he’s come to see the encounter with victims as a “template” for everything he does as a priest and a bishop.
On a personal level, Cupich is known as gracious and accessible. Actually, one of the few reservations people had about him when his name was mentioned for Chicago was whether he has a big enough personality to play on that stage.
Of course, people had the same question about Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires prior to his election as pope, and we know how that turned out.
By virtue of Chicago’s history, and because from here on in Cupich will be known as Francis’ man — his first major appointment in America — the success or failure of the Francis revolution on these shores will rest to some extent on Cupich’s shoulders.
Seeing if he grows into the role will, therefore, be the primary Catholic drama in the Windy City for a long time to come.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

"You mean he gets away with it?"

My Mom & Dad

Six years ago, I received the most spectacular phone call of my life. My Dad, who was 68 years-old at the time, called me and said exactly two words to me: “I’m ready.” I knew just what those words meant. My Dad, who many of us had prayed would become a Catholic for many years was finally ready to accept the grace of Baptism in his life. To this day, the absolute honor of my priesthood was the opportunity to Baptize, Confirm and give First Communion to my own Dad. My Mom served as his sponsor, or godmother, and leading up to the day of his Baptism the three of us would gather and talk about issues of faith as part of his catechesis to prepare him to enter the Church. During one of these sessions, my Mom said, with some satisfaction, “You know what Scott? Now, you have to go to confession!” However, her satisfaction was quickly deflated when I explained that actually he didn’t – that baptism forgives all of his sins. I would, of course, invite my Dad to make a good examination of his conscience, to call to mind specifically all of the things that he would like God to forgive, but for him, Baptism would be his sacrament of reconciliation for everything up to that point. Mom’s response? “You mean he gets away with it?”

Of course, this made me think of today’s parable of the workers in the vineyard who all received the same reward no matter when it was that they came to work in the field. We know how the story goes, some are there all day “bearing the burden of the day and the heat”, some are there about half the day, some come at the very end – but all receive the same reward. And, those that got there early are not very happy about it. “You mean they get away with it?”

The answer – indeed, they do. Indeed, we do. Whether we came to the Lord early or late or over and over again, there really isn’t anything we can do to earn what Jesus gives us in offering us salvation. Jesus isn’t rewarding us for a job well done. Instead, Jesus gives us this parable today so that we might be more profoundly aware of the great generosity of God, who despite our unworthiness still desires to bring us to Himself anytime we come, early or late or over and over again. Jesus asks us to ponder a simple question today: Do we see ourselves as family with a common purpose or do we see ourselves as a competitive individuals, each with their own agenda? We call ourselves brothers and sisters. Why then do we often see and treat one another as rivals and competitors?

Family, I think, is the key to understanding today’s parable of the workers. For the early-bird workers who ended up being reprimanded by the landowner it was all a business affair. Their working in the vineyard was preceded by a detailed contract regarding their wages: a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. The latecomers were less legalistic in their approach. They took the job trusting in the landowner’s word of honor. “He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’” And, the ones employed in the sixth, ninth and eleventh hours were told nothing whatsoever about payment. “He said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’“ There is no employer-employee contract here. Everything is based on trust. These later workers approached the work with a family spirit.

This parable reminds us that the Kingdom is really a family much more than a society. A society is characterized by us-and-them, by rivalry, competition and the survival of the fittest. A family, on the other hand, is all “US” and no “them.” It is characterized by love and compassion, not competition. If the latecomers were family members of the early birds, the early birds would have rejoiced with them at their good fortune rather than grumbling.

Today we are invited to think about our own notions of the Kingdom of Heaven and God’s generosity and challenged to see God’s promised Kingdom truly as a family where our joy and our greatest desire is to see everyone with us in Heaven – no matter when they finally turn to the Lord; just like God does.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a family drawn together by the love of their Father, lead and guided through the example of Jesus their Brother, motivated out of their love for each other, driven by their desire to help one another, called to be holy, working towards eternal life, saved and transfigured and united as one.

May the Lord give you peace.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

God always restores hope | Pope Francis

“Closeness and compassion: this is how the Lord visits His people. And when we want to proclaim the Gospel, to bring forth the word of Jesus, this is the path. The other path is that of the teachers, the preachers of the time: the doctors of the law, the scribes, the Pharisees … who distanced themselves from the people, with their words: they spoke well. They taught the law well. But they were distant. And this was not a visit of the Lord: It was something else. The people did not feel this to be a grace, because it lacked that closeness, it lacked compassion, it lacked that essence of suffering with the people. 

When God visits His people he restores hope to them. Always. You can preach the Word of God brilliantly: there have been many excellent preachers throughout history. But if these preachers have failed to sow hope, that sermon is useless. It is mere vanity. And so we ask for the grace that our Christian witness be a witness that brings the closeness of God to His people, that closeness that sows hope."

- Pope Francis, daily homily, September 16, 2014

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...