October 11th – Feast of St. Pope John XXIII
“All powerful and ever living God, you called St. John XXIII to guide your people by his word and example. With him, we pray to you; watch over the pastors of your Church, with the people entrusted to their care, and lead them to salvation.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen!
From the Liturgy of the Hours, Morning Prayer, Common of Pastors.
It is very rare for any information to come out on what happened during a Conclave that elects the next Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. It appears, however, that Gerard O’Connell, Vatican Correspondent for the Jesuit magazine, America has found such a crack in the wall of silence. The information he gathered is now contained in a book he has written “The Election of Pope Francis: An Inside Account of the Conclave That Changed History.” It being published by Orbis Books, and I hear it will be in the stores in late April , 2019. An excerpt from the book was posted, March 22, 2019, on the America magazine website.
In the excerpt, Mr. O’Connell describes what took place in the Sistine Chapel during the first ballot of the Conclave, the preparations for it, how the ballots were marked, the ceremony involved in casting a vote, the counting of the ballots, and the disposal of the ballots, describing the elaborate system of creating the right smoke from the burning ballots in the stove, so that the crowd in St. Peter’s Square would know if a new Pope had been elected or not. There was a surprise for the cardinals when the results were announced; of the 115 cardinals present in the Conclave, at least 23 of them received at least one vote. Keep in mind, a two-thirds majority of cardinals voting was required for election. Reading the vote tallies, reported by Mr. O’Connell, one name stood out for me; Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM CAP, an American, who came in fourth, with 10 votes!
It was not too much of a surprise to see that voting result. In the days leading up to the Conclave, the Italian press took notice of a Cardinal, who most of the time in Rome wore the brown robe of a Franciscan Friar. The American news media began to pick up the story. And soon Cardinal Sean was considered one of the papabile, the first American in my memory. Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, 74, is a member of Franciscan Order of Capuchin. Ordained to the priesthood in 1970, he studied at the Catholic University of America, and graduated with a MA in religious education, and a Ph.d in Spanish and Portuguese literature. After some years as an university professor, he began ministering to the Latinos living in Washington D.C. He would eventually be appointed episcopal vicar for the Hispanic, Portuguese, and Haitian communities in the Washington, D.C. archdiocese. In 1985, he became Bishop of St. Thomas, V.I. In 1992, he was installed as the Bishop of Fall River, MA. It was there that he addressed the sexual abuse by clergy scandal, that was coming to light in the Diocese. He would be sent to the Diocese of Palm Beach, FL.,in 2002, to address again a clergy sexual abuse scandal coming to light. He would be at Palm Beach for only a year, when he was sent to the Archdiocese of Boston, MA. The Archdiocese had been rocked by reports in the Boston Globe, of clergy sexual abuse, and cover up by Church officials. The Archdiocese was also going through an, in my opinion, ill considered process of consolidating parishes, that caused additional trauma to parishioners.
Since his appointment in 2003, Cardinal Sean, again, in my opinion, has been a key person, pushing the Catholic hierarchy acknowledge the facts of clergy sexual abuse, and caring for the victims of that abuse. He was appointed by Pope Francis to an advisory council of Cardinals, called to come up with recommendations to reform the bureaucracy of the Vatican. He chaired a commission of clergy and laity, including survivors, to examine how the Vatican has failed to respond to the crisis, put forward corrections. When both Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis visited the United States, Cardinal O’Malley arranged to have them both meet with American clergy sexual abuse survivors. Now, word has been leaking out that there is tension between Cardinal O’Malley and Pope Francis over the slow pace of reforms being implemented. Some Vatican observers felt is was significant that the Cardinal did not play any significant role in the planning of the meeting of heads of the national conferences of bishops to discuss the issue of clergy sexual abuse in the world wide Church. That said, he did address the gathering about the issue.
With Pope Francis seeming to still be in good health, it is way too early to discuss a future Conclave, but, aww heck, let’s go for it. Now Cardinal O’Malley is 74 years old, chances are good he will be one of the electors in the next Conclave. Question is will he once again be considered one of the top papabile. Conventional wisdom is that it will be unlikely, the Cardinals of the Southern Hemisphere and Asia would never support the election of an American Pope. Still, conventional wisdom went out the window with the election of Pope Francis! The Holy Spirit always wins out!
“Hear, O Lord, the sound of my call; have pity on me, and answer me. Of you my heart speaks; you my glance seeks.
Your presence, O Lord, I seek. Hide not your face from me; do not in anger repel your servant. You are my helper: cast me not off.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27
We have experienced many tragedies in our world, in our country, in our community, and in our Church. Our world has been shaken by the massacre of innocent Muslims in New Zealand. Our country continues to experience natural disasters. Communities in my home State have witnessed shocking violent crimes. And the Church still struggles with the effects of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.
And we speak out, where is God in all this? We seek the Lord to come to our aid; to give us comfort. The truth is that he is always with us. He is present in ones who give us help and comfort. He speaks through those who speak up for the poor and forgotten. And we feel his Presence, when we are still, and listen for his voice.
There is an opinion out there that President Trump, and his statements and actions, have been sucking the media oxygen from other newsworthy stories that are in the world. Case in point, the fact that Pope Francis is visiting the United Arab Emirates, the first Catholic Pontiff to visit the Arabian Peninsula.
Conventional wisdom is that he is making this visit to promote cordial relations between the two largest international faith communities in the world. Speculation has it, that in trying to establish friendlier relations with Arab leaders, the Pope is trying to improve the lot of minority Christian communities that exist in the majority Muslim nations. John Allen, Jr. of Crux Now, has some good analysis of this trip.
It can be said that Pope Francis is walking in the footsteps of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi. Francis lived during the time of the Crusades, when Muslim armies had occupied Jerusalem and the rest of the Holy Land; and Christian kings, knights, and common soldiers were marching to reconquer them. Much blood had been spilled during battles and massacres. And the slaughter showed no sign of ending.
Onto this stage of hatred and killing, came this barefoot Italian holy man, dressed in a patched brown robe, with only a few companions. He traveled to Egypt and went first to the Crusader camp. It is written that Francis was horrified at the conditions he found. Soldiers who were suppose to be on a holy quest, were boasting of the Arabs they had killed, of the wealth they had plundered, and the women they had abused. He saw the sick and the wounded, and supposedly work in what they called hospitals, to care for them. He became more determined to end this war, by going, unarmed, into the Muslim camp, convince them to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and negotiate a peace with the Crusaders. Anyone of the Crusaders who may have heard this plan would have thought that Francis was either suicidal, mad, or both. They fully expected to see his head on a pike soon.
In what could only be considered a miracle, Francis found himself before the Sultan, who could not figure out who he had before him. Francis did not threaten God’s wrath, but instead he spoke of God’s love. He proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of a loving God, in whom all people were one. Francis showed respect to the Sultan, and a desire to stop the slaughter on both sides. Ultimately, Francis failed to convert the Sultan, but he did win his respect. As a token of that respect, the Sultan gave an ivory horn to Francis, which is said to be on display in the Basilica dedicated to him in Assisi. Francis is also said to have received a pass that allowed him to visit the Holy Land. What the Crusaders could not win by force of arms, Francis achieved by only loving the Sultan and his people.
Pope Francis is now on the Arabian Peninsula, hoping that by showing respect and love in the same way, he will be able to win peace in the region, and tolerance for his flock. Through the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi, may God make it so.
On this January 6, 2019, many Christians will be in church, celebrating the Epiphany of the Lord. We are celebrating the moment, when three magi, wise men, came from the east and proclaimed to the leaders of Jerusalem that the birth of the Messiah had been revealed to them. They had traveled from a far land, to see with their own eyes, this wonder. Their belief in this revelation was so strong, that they were willing to make this risky journey, guided only by a unique star, to a foreign land. And the Gospel gives no indication that they were disappointed at what they found. Finding a small child, with his peasant mother, in a simple village house; they “did him homage.”
We are all seeking that intimate encounter with Jesus Christ, with our God and Savior. Sometimes, that life journey may take many years; sometimes, the encounter can happen in just an instant. We find that we need to give up our own preconceived images of Christ; let the Holy Spirit guide us on our journey; and be open to what the Scriptures will reveal to us. And above all, open ourselves to the experience, the wonder of the Eucharist; which in a real sense, is food for the journey we are on.
There have been others, who have also been on this journey before, who, by sharing their own experiences, can help guide us on ours. Some of my favorites, Francis and Clare of Assisi, who made living the Gospel of Jesus Christ an intimate part of their lives. Teresa of Avila, founder of monasteries and mystic. Caryll Houselander, laywoman, artist and mystic; who had a vision of Christ in every passenger of a train she was on. Thomas Merton, author, monk, and mystic. Despite being in a monastery, he was always on a journey, seeking our Risen Lord. And finally, I would recommend Sister Wendy Beckett, who recently passed away. Hermit, art historian, media star; she brought a fresh look at art, with both a scholar’s and mystic’s eye.
I am still very much on journey, seeking the Lord. I have sometimes gone off course, sometimes felt like not going any further. But always, I feel that tugging to continue on; something many pilgrims feel, to finish the journey. I still am not sure what I will find; I have faith that when I truly see the Lord, with eyes of faith; I will bow and do him homage.
It has been several months, since last my fingers touched a keyboard for this blog. Now that I have something to say, my laptop will not load the WordPress page for it. So I am using my IPhone, and my thumbs this morning.
It is safe to say that current news involving the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is beginning to wear me down. Living in the Boston area, the so called epicenter of the crisis, I have struggled to be both a faithful Catholic, and a supporter of accountability. I, perhaps foolishly, thought that, at least in Boston, we had begun to turn a corner and begin to rebuild the community.
Then came the report of the Pennsylvania grand jury, and other reports from other cities, states, and overseas. The amount of news of the inability of the Pope and bishops to get a handle on the situation was another blow to my “spiritual” gut.
Perhaps the among the things that has kept me from drowning in a sea of depression has been my interest in Church history. I am well acquainted with both the glorious and inglorious moments in the life of the Church. We are a world-wide community of both saints, great and small; and sinners. Many of us are to a lesser or greater degree, both. And there have been dark, indeed, some very dark moments, that the Church has risen up from and shined.
Another saving factor has been my prayer experiences. Moments when the Holy Spirit breaks through my shell of indifference and depression; and the Light of the World blazes forth within! There are moments when I am joined with others in worship, when the Presence of Christ is felt deep within me.
There will more dark moments in the life of the Church that will be revealed. We need to be open to those moments, move through the pain, sense of betrayal, and doubt. As we seek healing for ourselves; we need to be healers and reconcilers for others.
We need to hold on to that faith, and believe in the promise Jesus Christ made to the first disciples, and to us, that the powers of Hell will not prevail against His Church!
Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the life of St. John XXIII, was Pope, Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, from 1958 to 1963.
Born Angelo Roncalli, in the Italian province of Lombardy, to a family of sharecroppers, in 1881. He would be ordained a priest in 1904, serve as an stretcher bearer and chaplain in the Italian army, during World War I. After the war, he would be a bishop’s secretary, papal diplomat to Bulgaria, Turkey, and France. During World War II, he would use his diplomatic and ecclesial status to help hundreds of Jews escape the Holocaust.
He was appointed Patriarch of Venice, Italy, and made a Cardinal, in 1953. In 1958, after the death of Pope Pius XII, he joined other Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, to elect the new Pope. After eleven ballots, Cardinal Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope. As is custom he took a new name, and became Pope John XXIII.
He was expected to be a “caretaker” Pope, his papacy was to be short and uneventful. He shocked everyone when in 1959, he summoned the world’s bishops to what became the Second Vatican Council. He would not live to see it’s conclusion, dying of stomach cancer in 1963.
I have no memories of his pontificate. As an altar server, I witnessed the steady changes that came in the liturgy. When I was in high school, I came across a book listing his memorable sayings, including his more humorous ones. I became attracted to this Pope from the Italian countryside. In seminary, I read his spiritual journal, “Journal of a Soul,” and encountered the deeply spiritual Pope John. And I have read, or at least tried to read his social justice papal encyclicals “letters,” especially his famous “Pacem in Terris.” I am finding that this letter still has something to say for our times.
Recently, I learned that there is something St. John XXIII and I share; we are both Secular Franciscans. He joined the OFS during his seminary days, I joined in 1988. So to my fellow Franciscan, I ask his intercession for our troubled Church, that the Holy Spirit will guide us into living the Gospel life more fully.
We are currently in the most serious times in the recent life of the Catholic Church. In Rome, in the United States, and other parts of the Catholic world; stories of the cover up of misdeeds of an American Cardinal, involving Pope Francis; the findings of a Pennsylvania grand jury on clergy abuse of children; and reports of sexual misconduct in an Archdiocesan seminary have filled the air ways. And we now have bishops calling for the resignation of Pope Francis.
And in the midst of all, I cannot yet put fingers to keyword, and write my own reactions, my own reflections on what is happening now! How does all this negative news affect me? Because I am, as a deacon, a member of the clergy; although our lives are divided among family, work, and service to the Church. I am not really that plugged in to the clerical culture. So how do I react, one foot in Church “culture;” the other in the “real’ world? I have not quite figured that out yet, so my fingers are still. For the moment.
Even in the best of times, it has been difficult to write and post anything on this blog recently. This is especially true these past days. I may have been like many of my American Catholic brothers and sisters, thinking that we, as a Church, at least in this country, were beginning to climb out of the clergy sex abuse hole.
Then came two gut punches that shook our complacency; the results of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury investigation, and charges of sexual misconduct and harassment at the Archdiocese of Boston seminary. It speaks to a total failure of the hierarchy to act; and to come clean about those failures to act.
It appears also that this is not just an American Catholic problem; that there are other tragedies, in other countries, to be revealed.
It speaks to a need for lay action, for laity to demand independent investigation, accountability and reform. We can no longer be silent, we need to demand that those who accept the role of “shepherd” in a diocese, take the care of their people as primary; and not the pomp and circumstance!
I am writing this on my IPhone, started this morning because I felt compelled to write something about what is happening in the Church. I am finishing it now on a home bound train. I hope to write more about my feelings on this; my fears, anger, distress, and, yes, hope!