Sunday, December 20, 2015

Losing one's faith -- and finding Christ?

R.E.M. - "Losing my religion"

John Janaro, author of "Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy" (highly recommended) has this beautiful blog post up: "An Open Letter to My Dear Former Students."

Read it!
Some people have left the Church. I know that. You have found that the old inspiring speeches and the charge of "Instaurare Omnia in Christo" and even a solid (but by no means complete) education have been inadequate for the complexity of the world you now live in. And the questions of life are larger than you had realized. 
I'm sorry, of course. At a college, we can only do the best we can with educating and building up a constructive environment. We teachers and administrators have our own idiosyncracies [sic] and limits. We are sinners. Please forgive us. 
But there is nothing in this world that can address the complexities and answer the questions that are not just intellectual but that constitute the depths of you as a person. Only Jesus can do that. The real Jesus: that tremendous Person who loves each of us with a wild and unpredictable love. 
Sometimes when people "lose the faith," they are actually going through a phase of life in which what they're really "losing" are their own reductionist ideas. They are finding that it's not enough to know philosophy or theology as a collection of logically connected terms. It's not enough to have ideas about God. They are finding that they cannot live life with a mere conception of God, Christ, and the Church that is devoid of mystery, relationship, and the freedom of love. 
We can become disoriented when we are stripped of our illusory images and false self-confidence. But we can also allow a space to open up within us where the Mysterious One who is beyond-all-things can really begin to speak. We can rediscover Jesus and what it means to belong to Him in the Church.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A trip to the post office ... and down memory lane!

Things have been settling down to a routine in my new surroundings enough for me to design and print my Christmas card. Vistaprint's Indian website had attractive rates and superfast delivery. Today, I took the first bunch to the central Post Office in Baroda in Raopura, figuring this would give the mail a little bit of a heads up on its trek back to the US.

Selling postage stamps is only a tiny part of what goes on at an Indian post-office. Minuscule part, actually. None of the windows actually said anything resembling "stamps." It turns out that these are sold at the "Information and Facilitation" window. The rest are for customers of the Post Office Savings Bank, Life Insurance and other such products.

"We Committed to Quality Services"
(Once. It didn't work out though ... Heh) 

Friday, December 11, 2015


Presidential hopeful Donald Trump's remarks on Muslim immigration ("a total and complete shutdown on all Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on") have sparked a firestorm. I shared my thoughts on Facebook a few days back (with a vigorous discussion ensuing in the combox).

Much to my astonishment, Catholics whose ideas I normally appreciated and valued, were supporting this proposal: no, it wasn't unconstitutional, the President has the authority to restrict the entrance of aliens (the legal term for non-citizens), and it was prudent in light of national security. Islam really only leads to violent jihad. The only good Muslim is a jihadi who kills infidels. The Qu'ran says so clearly. All Muslims therefore are potential terrorists. If it prevents only one terrorist (or potentially radicalized terrorist) from killing one American, it would be worth it.

I am not going to attempt to respond to these arguments here. Here I simply want to envision how things might look if Mr. Trump's proposal actually came to pass, that is, if the United States actually enacted legislation that barred any non-American adherent of the Islamic religion from being admitted to the country, until we "figure out what is going on" (Presumably this is not a short time period. The War on Terror is, after all, a long term war.)

Consular officials in a vast swathe of countries in Asia and Africa now no longer have any major work, since the vast majority of the populace is no longer eligible for a U.S. immigrant or nonimmigrant visa.

The Department of Homeland Security is hiring extra staff for a variety of tasks: printing up a whole set of new forms, for instance, with space for a new category: religion. New personnel are being trained to enforce removal proceedings of a vast number of people already in the United States whose admissibility has been revoked. Muslim visitors, students and businessmen currently within the U.S. have been given 30 days to leave. Universities, while lamenting the state of affairs vehemently, are not refunding foreign Muslim students for tuition and other expenses already paid. Some enterprising lawyers are putting together a class action lawsuit. Muslim Legal Permanent Residents (those with "green cards," i.e. immigrants), as well as asylees, and refugees, have been given 90 days within which to pack up their affairs and voluntarily remove themselves from the US. No exception has been made for Americans married to non-American Muslims. Those who had applied for naturalization before the day the law went into effect are permitted to continue. The rest are out of luck.

Let's look at the aviation industry. Several major airlines have stopped flying to the U.S.: Qatar, Kuwait, Gulf Air, Saudia, Garuda Indonesia, Royal Jordanian, Etihad, Emirates, PIA etc. Their crews are almost entirely Muslim. Airlines of other countries (Air India, British Airways, KLM, Malaysian Airlines, Qantas, Air Canada) are now devoting resources to ensure that no Muslims are scheduled to work on flights to the US.

Ordinarily, it is the responsibility of airlines to make sure that passengers have the necessary documents for legal admittance to their destination. An airline faces stiff fines, and has to fly the inadmissible person back at its own cost, if it makes a mistake in this area. Airlines are spending heavily to train gate agents, check-in agents, supervisors, customer service personnel, ticketing agents, etc. to properly identify Muslim travelers from countries whose citizens do not ordinarily need a visa to travel to the U.S. for short visits. Extra Customs & Border Patrol officers are being sent to key airports overseas to help airlines with this complicated task, even elsewhere. What if a Muslim Indian has a valid 10-year visitors visa issued years ago? She should be identified and barred, before she gets on the plane! In most places, airlines are setting up separate check-in counters for travelers to the United States, so that their religion can be properly identified.

It is the first day after the new U.S. law has gone into effect. Let's imagine the scene at a major airport somewhere in the world. A vast crowd is milling around the newly labeled check-in counters for the flight of a major airline to the U.S. Large signs point travelers to a "Religion Identification Area." A separate counter has been designated for U.S. citizens. Various posters are taped to pillars and kiosks everywhere, with the new U.S. policy explained: "Under U.S law, if you are not a U.S citizen, and are a member of the Muslim religion, you may not enter the United States." At the entrance to the airport is a large banner: "Please note: Muslims not allowed into US."

A harried check-in agent, flanked by a nervous supervisor, and a U.S. CBP official, talks to passengers as they approach the counter in the Religion Identification Area.

Agent: Name?
Passenger: Usman Abdul.
Agent: Religion?
Passenger (Hesitates): Muslim.
Agent: Sorry Mr. Abdul, you cannot board the flight.
Passenger: But I am going to visit my brother's family! I go every year!
Passenger: Sorry Mr. Abdul.

Agent: Name?
Passenger: Sara Suleiman, with my daughter Fatima and son Daniel.
Agent: Religion?
Passenger: Christian.
Agent: Really?
Passenger: Yes. Well, you see, I grew up Muslim, but I accepted Jesus some time ago.
(Agent looks to CBP official)
Agent: Do you have any proof?
Passenger: Umm. You know, most of my family don't know that I converted. It would be very difficult. So I didn't register anywhere. I just go to the church. Here, I can call the Pastor.
CBP Official: M'am, under the new guideliens, we need written proof of religion. Acceptable documents, when there is a doubt, are a baptism certificate, a letter from a recognized leader in an organization recognized by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. I'm afraid I cannot let you board the flight.

Agent: Name?
Passengers: Samir Nasser
Agent: Religion?
Passengers: Maronite.
Agent: (confused pause -- looks to CBP official)
CBP official (consults iPad and frowns): Christian? With that name?
Passenger: Yes! Would you like me to recite the Our Father?

Agent: Names?
Passengers: Ahmed and Reshma Khan, with sons Imran (10) and Mohammed (7)
Agent: Religion?
Passenger: I'm Muslim, she's Hindu.
Agent: She can travel. I'm afraid you cannot, sir. What religion do the children profess?

Agent: Name?
Passenger: David Coleman Headley
Agent: Oh, go right ahead sir. 

Yes. This is what will make America great again.

(Samir Nasser is actually a Maronite Archbishop. As to David Headley -- there's a tale. He's in there at the end for dramatic effect. In the envisioned scenario, as an American citizen, he wouldn't be subject to this scrutiny.) 

Friday, November 27, 2015

To Delhi via Dubai: The United Ultra Long Haul Experience

This trip report will focus on my first major flight with United Airlines. (I've flown the old Continental long distance a couple of times, on their US-India nonstops. This while CO was still with SkyTeam.)

This past Sunday, I had occasion (see post below) to need a last minute ticket to the Subcontinent. Fares in coach on SkyTeam were through the roof. I had a bunch of Avianca LifeMiles stored up (a good way to get affordable business class fares internationally). Not really expecting to find award travel availability, I went to the LifeMiles website anyway. I needed a flight late in the evening on Sunday, that would let me take the morning Masses in my parish, and give me enough time to get to Hartsfield, 90 minutes away from Athens. Flights out of Atlanta, Miami and Chicago were unavailable. Out of Boston, there was a weird connection via Geneva and Zurich, on Swiss Airlines. It looked risky: short layovers at both airports? I don't think so. United's popular (and lucrative) Newark-Delhi flight was available only a few days ahead. Air India (EWR-BOM/JFK-DEL) was unavailable, though I could have shelled out more points and flown First Class a few days later. And then, I plugged in Washington Dulles. IAD-DXB on UA, connecting to AI on to DEL, with an ~4h layover. Bingo! A few minutes later I had booked that flight, followed by a decently priced flight from Atlanta up to Dulles on Delta.

The 4+ hour layover at Dulles was more than enough to pick up my bags from the belt off the Delta flight, and hike them over to United's premier check-in counter, which was practically deserted. "This is a one way, sir? When are you returning?" I said I wasn't sure. "Well, we have to put in something for immigration." I pointed out that I had permanent residency status in India (Overseas Citizenship of India) and showed her my card. "Oh that's all I needed to know!" A few minutes later the bags were checked through to Delhi and I received the boarding pass for the first leg. I would have to go to the transfer desk in Dubai to get my Air India boarding pass. I headed out to the curb, and was picked up by a classmate from seminary. There was more than enough time for a leisurely dinner nearby.

The United lounge at C17, IAD

Thursday, November 26, 2015

What is this love? It is Christ

This past Sunday, I returned to India to take care of my ailing mother. I had asked for a leave of absence from pastoral ministry starting in early 2016. Circumstances dictated that I advance that date a little. I left the parish with very little notice, and received an outpouring of love, support, prayers and sympathy, for which I am ever grateful. I'm most grateful to Archbishop Gregory, our Bishops and my pastor, for their generosity and kindness at this difficult time.

This is the message that I shared on my Facebook page, on Sunday.

Happy Thanksgiving!

"It is not good for man to be alone." (Gen 2:18) With these words, the Sacred Scriptures point to the destiny of the human person, that he is made for interpersonal communion.

In this life, we only get a foretaste of the intimacy that is the life of the Most Holy Trinity, which is the destiny of every human being. Married persons experience it in a particular and deep way, in their complete and total gift of self to each other, and the way that intimacy brings forth life -- in the children the Lord sends them, or in other ways in their lives. For us parish priests, a particular manifestation of that intimacy is the bond with our parish, our family. This weekend, I was reminded of just how deep that bond is.

We are made for a life of deep love, of communion, of loving and being loved, of knowing and being known. Our society has truly forgotten this, as we wall ourselves up in our individual bubbles, as we buy into that false promise that only by "expressing our self" do we truly find ourselves. Man truly finds himself only in a sincere gift of self, in giving himself away. "He who loses his life will find it."
My few short years at St. Joseph have underscored this truth of the Gospel. I am so grateful to this beautiful parish, to the numbers of dedicated souls, in love with the Lord, yearning to love God and neighbor more and more. Thank you. It aches me to leave so abruptly. The tears shed that I saw mean more to me than you realize.

What is this love? It is Christ -- it is the gift of the Son, returning all to the Father, in the Holy Spirit. We are meant for this kind of life. We are meant to live a companionship, to belong to each other. I thank the Lord for revealing that in a new way in my time with y'all.

Please God, our paths will cross again. Until then, we will be united in our faith, in our prayers, and in the mystery of communion that is the Holy Eucharist, the heart of the Church.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Virgin Atlantic Experience: Part III

Airbrakes deployed, with KATL below.

LONDON-ATLANTA, November 17, 2015
VS103, Airbus A330-300, Economy Cabin, Extra Legroom Window Seat

On a cool, grey, cloudy morning (does London have any other kind?), I arrived back at Heathrow's Terminal 3, and went into the Virgin Atlantic check-in area, to an Upper Class check-in desk. The barcode for Upper Wing access was added to my boarding pass, and my passport checked. I took the elevator (sorry, lift!) up to the second floor (um, first floor!), and this time, found the Upper Wing door, and scanned in the bar code to access the security screening area. There were no lines, and I was through in about five minutes. A short walk through brightly lit Duty Free shops, and I was at Virgin's Lounge H, with about 80 minutes to spare before boarding. I ordered the English Breakfast (poached egg, Cumberland sausage, baked beans, toast, mushrooms, tomato. Yum!) and tea, followed by that Delhilicious cocktail that I quite liked, and viewed with astonishment my Facebook newsfeed that was blowing up over the question of resettling Syrian refugees in the United States.

The Virgin Atlantic Experience: Part II

THE RETURN: DELHI-LONDON, November 16, 2015
Boeing 787-9, Premium Economy Cabin

I arrived about two hours prior to scheduled departure (1400) at Terminal 3 of Delhi's Indira Gandhi International airport. There wasn't much of a crowd around the Virgin Atlantic check-in area. I was directed to the Upper Class check-in desk (no customers ahead of me). The agent offered me a reasonably priced paid upgrade to Premium Economy up to Heathrow. I accepted: a good and fairly economical opportunity to check out their much vaunted PE product. At Delhi, Delta Platinums get Priority check-ins, but no lounge access. I cleared immigration (which can take forever at peak international departure times at night. In the middle of the day, it was smooth and quick), and got a sandwich at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Company. One of the offerings was intriguing:

The Virgin Atlantic Experience: Part I

Recently I had to make an urgent visit to the Subcontinent for personal family reasons. The most economic last-minute travel option that also afforded me Delta SkyMiles credit was Virgin Atlantic. (The nearest was Lufthansa. I'm glad I didn't abandon Delta & partners, given their recent labor trouble.) The route involved multiple stops (ATL-JFK-LHR on the way out, on Delta metal, connecting to VS for the LHR-DEL segment) and long layovers in London -- 11 hours during the day on the way out, and about 15, overnight, on the way back.

The first interaction with Virgin was their call center. I called in to see if I could get decent seats on the VS metal segments. The representative was friendly and downright jovial. "You're a Delta Platinum? No problem. No charge for the extra legroom seats." I got an extra legroom middle seat on the LHR-DEL leg, and windows on the two VS segments on the return. He then asked the origin of my name, and proceeded to share this his wife was of Indian origin. It's a kind of informality about ethnicity and provenance that would be unthinkable in the US. And finally, "It's your first time? You'll love it. You'll never fly Delta again!"

VS300, Boeing 787-9, Economy Cabin, Extra Legroom Middle Seat

A visit to the Brompton Oratory on Remembrance Day

An impressive facade
Recently, I had some more international travel, where I ended up with a long layover in London on a Sunday (thanks to Virgin Atlantic. Feel free to read my trip reports on the VS experience). I decided to take advantage of this and visit the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, better known as the Brompton Oratory. Once the biggest Catholic Church in London, that distinction passed to the Westminster Cathedral in 1903. I'm a bit of a Newmaniac, and of course, the name of this community comes up regularly in certain Catholic circles, so it was a no-brainer as to how I'd spend this layover in the British capital. (Newman, actually, wasn't a part of this community; he was with the Birmingham Oratory, which I'd visited on a Newman pilgrimage during a seminary break, back in 2012). The day before my travel, I called the number for the Oratory and was connected to the head sacristan, who said they would be very glad to have me there, and of course I could offer a Mass on the Lord's Day!

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Prepare for judgment!

[Posted originally on Facebook. A meditation, that grew from listening to the Dies Irae by Antonín Dvořak] 

The month of November is a time to pray especially for the dead. It is also a time to meditate on the Four Last Things: Heaven, Hell, Death and Judgment.

In our Catholic circles we don't often talk about the Judgment anymore. Read the saints and the preachers of ages past, and they always warned of the Judgment. I read in a Facebook post earlier today the comment, "I believe in Jesus the Redeemer. Not Jesus the Judge." Convenient, perhaps. But false.

One day we will be called to give an account of our life. Yes, the Lord is merciful, and His mercy, as St. James puts it, triumphs over judgment (Jas 2:13). However, His mercy IS His judgment, because with God, all is one simple ACT. To the unrepentant sinner, His mercy will appear as judgment, and a most terrible judgment. We should never presume upon His mercy, and thus be complacent with sin. Presumption itself is sinful, and is an abuse of the Lord's patience, and love which has as its goal, our conversion.

As we prepare for the Year of Mercy called for by the Holy Father, we should also examine our lives with respect to our own particular judgment, and let us not be fooled, there WILL be a particular judgment, no matter what the world says. The Gospel gives a good examination of conscience in the twenty fifth chapter of St. Matthew: visiting the sick, the imprisoned; feeding the hungry and clothing the naked -- the source of what the Church has called the corporal works of mercy. However, it would be a terrible blindness to think that that this is opposed also to personal moral conversion. Or that because I have been kind to strangers, or to the poor, it excuses sinfulness in my life elsewhere. There is no opposition between virtue and the works of mercy. In fact, the works of mercy make no sense without personal virtue, and the constant battle against sin. The Lord wants us to be holy (1 Thess 4:13). He wants to present the Church to the Father without stain or wrinkle or blemish of any kind! (Eph 5:27)

Yes, this is all a work of grace (Eph 2:8). But that doesn't mean it is not also our effort, a striving, a struggle. The same St. Paul who speaks so eloquently about grace, also wishes to win a crown (1 Cor 9:24), and fight a fight (1 Tim 6:12), and pummels his body and makes it a slave (1 Cor 9:27). We are to walk in a manner worthy of our calling (Eph 4:1). There are many things that will exclude us from the Kingdom, if unrepented (1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21)!

Today I was at the house of a poor family -- the mother had died very tragically and very unexpectedly, leaving behind a wake of bewildered sorrow. The readings for the Vigil for Funerals remind us to always be prepared, to be awake and prepared. We never know how much time we have.

How would you fare if you this earthly life of yours were to end today? Would you be ready to face the Just Judge and his terrible Judgment seat?

Ven. Fulton Sheen tells us that we fear death because we do not prepare for it. Let us prepare for our death! We should die every day! Die to self, to evil, to selfishness, to sin! Let us be well prepared to meet the Lord, with our lamps well prepared, and lit with oil (Matthew 25:7, 10).

What does it profit a man if he were to gain the whole world, but lose his soul (Mark 8:36)? From the Lord who puts this to us, may we never hear, "Truly I tell you, I do not know you!" (Matthew 25:12)

This terrible interpretation of the Dies Irae (sadly, no longer used at Requiem Masses) by Dvořak is a powerful meditation on the Judgment. May it serve as a preparation for us for our own Judgment.

Ven. Fulton Sheen on the Judgment

Sunday, November 01, 2015

The Aeroflot Experience: Part II

The morning sky at Sheremetyevo 
Moscow Sheremetyevo to New York Kennedy, SU 100, October 30, 2015 

[This post is the next installment of "The Aeroflot Experience: Part I"]

Most of the 100 or so folks onboard SU 2401 from Rome turned towards the signs for baggage claim and passport control. I followed the sign to international transfers. There is a passport inspection station, then a security check. Despite the early hour, the duty free shops were open.  (I strolled through the alcohol section. There was, of course, a bewilderingly wide selection of vodka brands. I couldn't find Stolichnaya, however!) My next flight was in the same terminal (D). There are two lounges, close to each other: the Jazz and the Blue lounge. I chose the Jazz lounge for my 4h50m layover. It was relatively empty, with a decent selection of drinks, but fairly limited food options. I found a spot with two adjacent swivel chairs, where I could stretch out. After some rehydration and juices, and plugging my phone in to charge, I slept for a solid two hours. When I awoke, the place was very crowded. The WiFi couldn't keep up, and I kept getting booted off the network. At about 9:00 am, they called for the boarding of SU 100 to JFK. (In my haste and sleepiness in departing, I left my phone charger behind. Could've been my phone!) There was a long line in the general boarding section. I cut ahead to the SkyPriority lane, and was soon heading down the jetway to the gleaming Airbus A330. The layover experience at SVO was painless. The airport appeared to be like any other major international airport in Europe, and nothing at all like the few memories of my 1989 visit to the USSR!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Aeroflot Experience: Part I

An Aeroflot A321 flying as SU2401, FCO-SVO, Oct. 29, 2015
Rome to Moscow, SU 2401, Thursday, October 29, 2015.

Months ago, I was looking for an affordable one-way trip from Italy to the US in late October. The SkyTeam majors: Delta, KLM, Air France and Alitalia, like so many other major carriers, tend to have exorbitant one way fares. However SkyTeam member Aeroflot, the Russian airline, offered a very affordable one-way fare, and that too in their new Comfort Class (a separate Premium Economy product, such as the cabins onboard Alitalia and Air France). Aeroflot has decent reviews, and is a far cry from its Soviet days, and it seemed like a fun new aviation experience, so I booked the ticket.

[I actually have flown Aeroflot once before, in fact precisely during the Soviet era, back when I was in high school (1989, to be precise). That has to be a blog for another day, however. Also, I need to find the few photos I have from that trip for a TBT post!]

Eucharistic Miracles: A visit to Lanciano

Monstrance containing the miraculous Host, Lanciano
In the High Middle Ages, a veritable explosion of Eucharistic miracles occurred. (This site lists all the known ones -- and they date back to the earliest years of the faith, and have continued to occur into our own day and age.) It seems that Providence responded to increasing doubt about the Real Presence with such singular interventions. The practice of Eucharistic Adoration grew at least in part in response to this wave of doubt, and in 1264, Pope Urban IV established the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, for the public veneration of the Consecrated Host, and the Angelic Doctor himself composed the liturgical office for the feast. Here's a map (PDF link) of all the known Eucharistic miracles in Italy.

Raphael: "The Mass at Bolsena" (Wikimedia) 
Lanciano, near the southeastern Adriatic coast of Italy houses one of the earliest such miracle (PDF link) known, precipitated by the doubt of a Basilian Monk in the 8th century (some 400 years prior to the other famous Italian ones). While celebrating Mass, the Host turned into flesh and dripped blood. The miraculous product was carefully preserved. In the 13th century, the care of the church passed to the (relatively) newly established Franciscan Friars, the Conventual branch of which continues the custody of the miracle. The present monstrance housing the miracle dates from the middle of the 18th century. In the 1970s, scientific tests done established that the miracle is indeed human flesh, a bit of heart tissue, with the blood group AB. Pilgrims continue to be drawn to this, and other, miraculous sites. Last week (Monday, October 26), I had the opportunity to visit Lanciano.

Close up of the miraculous Host
A beautiful, quiet and uneventful 2h40m drive — leaving the chaotic morning traffic of Rome, and the nondescript suburbs of the Eternal City, followed by a slow climb to the Apennines, the central spine of the Italian peninsula, breathtaking views, and many tunnels cutting through the mountain rock — and one is on the Adriatic coast. Highway A50 runs fairly close to the shore between Pescara and Bari, and periodically the shimmering blue of the sea peeks through the hills and pastures.

Lanciano is a picturesque hilltop town, with winding, cobbled streets in the historic Centro. I find an easy parking spot in the main square, not a hundred yards from the Church of St. Francis, the site of the miracle. A large group if Italian pilgrims arrives at the same time. Inside the main church, Mass is underway — in English! I find the sacristan who informs me that there are three English-speaking groups in the church right now. The Italians will have Mass in the crypt (the site of the miracle itself). There is an Indonesian group expected in about 20 minutes, and I could concelebrate with them. The Church closes at 12:30 for the afternoon. I go and wait and pray in the chapel of St. Clare, right behind the display containing the monstrance with the miracle. A large group of Filipinos arrive — they kneel and bow and sign themselves in front of the monstrance. Several pray and touch the glass case reverently. Tablets and phones and cameras appear.. The Americans and Irish finish their Mass. The Indonesians don’t show up. An elderly Franciscan friar sets up the altar in the same chapel for me to say Mass.

Of course, since the altar is set up versus populum, I end up offering the Holy Sacrifice with my back to the miraculous host behind me. Idiotic! However, given the time crunch, I didn’t want to try and explain to the elderly Franciscan that I’d like to reverse the altar settings.

The Franciscans had everything set up for a Mass in English for the Indonesians — however, their photocopy of the Missal was of the now superseded 1970 ICEL translation. So, for the first time that I can recall, I offered Mass using the text of the current (2010) edition of the Roman Missal in English found on the iMissal app on my phone! [If I’d known this was going to be the case, I’d have asked for an Italian Missal. The Sacristan seemed a little surprised at my request for a Latin Missal …]  The Mass was for, appropriately, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

Offering Mass using my phone to get the correct translation!
It was such a joy and blessing to offer the Holy Sacrifice at this sacred place, where the Lord’s mercy powerfully intervened to strengthen the Church’s belief in His abiding and Real Presence in the Eucharist!

After Mass, I had a few minutes to visit the crypt (where the miracle actually took place), in the excavated ruins of the original Basilian Church — it was a bare room with stone walls, and a stylized modern cross and square altar added recently.

Remains of the 8th century chapel where the miracle occurred. 

I have now had the privilege of visiting the sites of two Eucharistic miracles: Balsenna-Orvieto (with the Atlanta NACers in 2012), and now Lanciano.

Piazza near the Church of St. Francis, Lanciano

Corporal with miraculous Precious Blood, from the Miracle at Bolsena, Cathedral of Orvieto (2012).

[There has also been a Eucharistic Miracle in India -- in 2001, in the Archdiocese of Trivandrum, Kerala! And a very famous one in Buenos Aires in 1996, the former See of the current Pope.]

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Air Choice One Travel Report: Chicago O'Hare to Burlington, IA

[Ignore what Google says about the cost. My ticket cost $56!]
UPDATE: Landing Video on YouTube now.

On a trip to visit classmates from seminary across the Midwest, I stumbled across Air Choice One, a small, regional communter airline, that offers flights to regional airports under the Essential Air Service program. For about $56, I was booked on a flight from O'Hare to Burlington, IA, on a little Cessna Caravan.

In the weeks leading up to the flight, I enjoyed some reports from previous travelers: this blog, and this video, for instance.

On the day of the flight. I called the number listed for Chicago operations, and was told that the flight was on time. I showed up at Terminal 3 of O'Hare at about 5:40 pm for a 7:00 pm departure to Burlington. Air Choice One's check-in counter is located at the far left end of the terminal, next to Spirit Airlines. There was no one ahead of me at the counter. Check-in was routine (except I was asked my weight). A carry on tag was added to my backpack, and a regular baggage tag for my check-in luggage.

The check-in bag had to be dropped off at a nearby TSA X-ray screening point, after which I entered the long line for security (a rarity for me, since I am normally TSA Pre-Checked when I fly Delta). By about 6:15 pm, I cleared security and visited the restroom, as the airline's website advises. At counter L10B (next to a crowded Spirit Airlines boarding area), I was told to wait next to doorway 9. They were waiting for a connecting passenger to come through, and would start boarding as soon as she showed up.

The crowded Spirit Airlines boarding area, from doorway L9, ORD Terminal 3
At about 6:50 pm, an agent lined up all the passengers on the two Air Choice One flights (going to Burlington, IA and Decatur, IL), in order of seating, Row 1, Row 2, Row 3 and Row 4, and then lead us down a set of stairs to the tarmac. There were two Cessna Caravans parked next to each other. The Burlington passengers were directed in to the one on the left. You drop your bigger carry-on bag before boarding (my backpack, but not my camera bag. Others carried purses, or any smaller hand-held personal item). We climbed up the narrow stairs, in order of seating, by row.

Walking on the tarmac 

Blurry photo of the boarding process 

The pilots were already in their seats. The captain turned to us to give a very brief welcome and safety message -- pointing out the exits, their heights off the ground, the location of the fire extinguisher, the flight time to Burlington (about 90 min with headwinds), and that it would be bumpy at take off and landing because of headwinds. He was interrupted by the ramp agent yelling weight distribution issues through the window. Then she turned to me and said,, "You ... sir ... yes, you, the heavy set guy in Row 3, we need you to switch seats with the lady in Row 2." Gee thanks. "That would be me!" I said, and raised my hand, eliciting chuckles from my fellow travelers. Unfortunately, Row 2 faced the rear of the aircraft, so I didn't have a clear view of the pilots and the instrument panel. The seat did swivel (but did not recline), so during the flight, I could crane my neck to get a forward view.

View from my window [Before being moved to Row 2].

The seats are nice and wide, and plush leather. 
A few minutes after 7, the door was closed, the engine started, and we were off! We taxiied about 10 minutes and then lined up onto runway 28R. The single prop engine roared to full thrust, and we hurtled down the runway, taking off after a short take-off roll. Take off was indeed bumpy, and we lurched and bounced, gaining altitude as the airport slowly receded. Flaps went up at 1000 feet, and a few minutes later, we stabilized at our cruising altitude of  6,000 feet. From that point on the flight was quite uneventful. The twinkling lights of Chicagoland gave way to the relative darkness of northern and central Illinois, punctuated by small clusters of light. The seat recline was either broken, or disabled, so I didn't try to sleep (also, given the face-to-face seating, I didn't really have much space to stretch my legs). All my fellow passengers slept. I read a book, and periodically twisted around to get as much of a view of the instrument panel as I could.

Missing recline button. 
[Cropped close up of the instrument panel. It took several shots on my Nikon D5300, set to manual focus (not wanting the autofocus light to distract or draw attention to me!), to get this shot. You can see the altimeter reading 6000 feet.]

About 10 minutes prior to landing, the Captain announced our descent and approach into Burlington. We slowly lost altitude. I craned forward, and saw as the runway (12/30? I can't be sure), came into view, as we bumped and bounced out of the night sky, lined up, and coasted past the threshold onto the runway (altitude, if I recall correctly, around 700' MSL). We turned off the runway to park in front of the tiny terminal building. The Captain thanked us for our business, and asked us to remain seated until the door was opened, after which we disembarked, picked up our carry on baggage, and walked to the terminal. Barely five minutes later, our checked-in bags were delivered to the terminal door.

All in all, it was a fun ride. Everyone was courteous, but, at least to me, seemed functional, efficient and somewhat cold. I missed Southern warmth!

On the ground in Burlington!

The deserted terminal at Southeast Iowa Regional Airport (KBRL) 
View of the terminal from the parking lot

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pope Francis, Dialogue and Affirmative Orthodoxy

On a busy day in the parish, the only real Pope news I managed to catch was the address he gave to the U.S. Bishops at Midday Prayer at the St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington. I stopped and read the whole thing, and it seriously moved me. There is so much in this homily, and I highlighted three points earlier. The emphasis on dialogue in the address struck me, and these are some more fleshed out thoughts on the subject.
Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16).
And then,
The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society.  I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly.  The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it.  Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue.  Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain.  Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing. (Emphases added.) 
Dialogue is a word that is regarded with suspicion by many younger American clergy, and other Catholics (who get labelled "conservative."). This is borne out of our experience of an approach to dialogue that seems to compromise truth, that becomes a method towards relativism, and an underlying assumption that truth claims are divisive, and that truth itself is inaccessible.  Speaking in 2004, in the twilight of John Paul II's papacy, at the now disappeared "Common Ground" initiative (started by Cardinal Bernardin during a time when "polarization" in the Church was causing anxiety in some circles), John Allen's analysis of this suspicion towards "dialogue" among younger Catholics is fairly accurate:
[W]e must foster a spirituality of dialogue that does not come at the expense of a full-bodied expression of Catholic identity. There is no future for dialogue if convinced Catholics sense the price of admission is setting aside their convictions. ... Today, I would assert that the strongest single impulse in the Christian community pivots on identity - the desire for a robust assertion of what it means to be a Christian. You can't explain the phenomenal success of "The Passion of the Christ" without understanding this impulse. It is perhaps most strongly felt by younger generations whose members did not acquire a strong sense of identity either in the home or in school, even Catholic schools. Hence the spirituality of dialogue needed is one that combines a vigorous assertion of identity, opening up our distinctive language and rituals and worldview to those who hunger for them, without ending up in a "Taliban Catholicism" that knows only how to excoriate and condemn.
The following year, Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope, and the emphasis on shoring up Catholic identity got a huge boost in the U.S. Church. I think it is unfair to suggest, as many (within the Church!) do, that this project only ended up with a so-called "Taliban Catholicism" that "knows only how to excoriate and condemn." In 2005, as a generally clueless lay campus minister, I stumbled upon the Evangelical Catholic initiative out of Madison, WI, and attended their annual conference (In fact, I was there when St. John Paul II died), and was struck by the joy, enthusiasm, and zeal of young, committed, orthodox Catholics, on fire, eager to reach out, but hardly focused only on excoriating and condemnation. This wasn't "Taliban Catholicism," but what John Allen, again, called Pope Benedict's Affirmative Orthodoxy, "a tenacious defense of the core elements of classic Catholic doctrine, but presented in a relentlessly positive key."

There are some, I think, who would see in this call by Pope Francis, a call to a shift in tone and style. I think it would be a mistake to understand this as a shift to precisely as that kind of dialogue that requires the sacrificing of convictions as the price of admission. It seems more appropriate that this is also "affirmative orthodoxy" in a Franciscan key. Francis has never suggested an abandonment of solid commitments. Consider this from his address to the Brazilian Bishops over World Youth Day in 2013: "What is needed is a solid human, cultural, effective, spiritual and doctrinal formation." In the same paragraph he urges the Bishops to invest personally in quality formation for their future priests, and not to be satisfied with simply delegating this task.

Of course, Pope Francis, quite famously in that early interview with Fr. Spadaro SJ,  a harbinger of his free-wheeling style, said this,
We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

Predictably, everyone had a spittle-flecked nutty over this. But listen to these words now:
And when you have so little time you can't say everything you want to say about “no.” Firstly you have to know what we really want, right? Christianity, Catholicism, isn’t a collection of prohibitions: it’s a positive option. It’s very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today. We’ve heard so much about what is not allowed that now it’s time to say: we have a positive idea to offer.
That was Pope Benedict, in response to a question as to why he didn't speak at all about homosexual marriage, abortion or contraception at ... the World Meeting of Families in Valencia in 2006!

Pope Francis clearly said today that he is speaking in continuity with his predecessors. His call to humble parrhesia, to be a Church that speaks from a position of poverty, is one that is eminently in line with his immediate predecessor.
One might say that a church which seeks above all to be attractive would already be on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for itself, does not work to increase its numbers so as to have more power. The Church is at the service of Another; it does not serve itself, seeking to be a strong body, but it strives to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths, the great powers of love and of reconciliation that appeared in this figure and that come always from the presence of Jesus Christ. In this sense, the Church does not seek to be attractive, but rather to make herself transparent for Jesus Christ. And in the measure in which the Church is not for herself, as a strong and powerful body in the world, that wishes to have power, but simply is herself the voice of Another, she becomes truly transparent to the great figure of Jesus Christ and the great truths that he has brought to humanity. (Emphasis added.) 

but we fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us.  
Consequently, only a Church which can gather around the family fire remains able to attract others. And not any fire, but the one which blazed forth on Easter morn. (Emphasis added.)
The first is Pope Benedict, on his Apostolic Voyage to England in 2010. The following two are from today's address by Pope Francis.

No, they're not the same person. There's a lot that is different, yes. But, this call to dialogue is not the same as a call to endless conversations about nothing, or a relativistic abandonment of truth claims. It is, as the Pope says, the method for boldly proclaiming the Gospel in an effective way, in a way that it will be heard better. It is not enough to be content with simply proclaiming an uncomfortable truth. It has to be, first of all, lived. It has to be proclaimed in humility, not in condescension and arrogance. It has to be within the context of a relationship of trust and love, and always, appealing to the freedom of the recipient. While the Lord certainly had harsh words (pace Pope Francis!), though they were mainly directed to the religious leaders of his time (but not always. Go read Luke 16:16, for instance), his way of approaching people was to always awaken their freedom. And yes, there had to be, eventually, a decisive response. But simply, so to speak, dropping a grenade of an inconvenient truth, and then walking away, is not how He operated.

In 2005, I encountered FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, for the first time at that Evangelical Catholic conference in Madison. Since then, they have grown tremendously. Few movements in the Church in the United States embody the affirmative orthodoxy that was so close to the heart of Pope Benedict, and that also animates Pope Francis, as FOCUS. They are solidly orthodox, committed to a clear Catholic identity, passionate about Jesus Christ and His Gospel, yet willing to go out, willing to risk an accident in the street, to encounter people as persons first, to emphasize relationship over ideological positions. And the fruit that has been born is tremendous. Earlier this year, Curtis Martin gave a rousing talk to the U.S. Bishops on evangelization. I think Pope Francis would have thoroughly approved. 

The Pope's Address to the US Bishops

Image from the NYT story.
The Holy Father's address to the U.S. Bishops is remarkable. (As is the fact that the only English text I can find right now is hosted by the New York Times!)

Three initial thoughts: the call to dialogue (a word that, among younger clergy, and some Catholics is regarded with suspicion. It brings to mind an attitude of dilution, and as a means to relativizing all truth claims). However, I urge a close, open read to these words of the Holy Father, and his focus on the means of proclaiming the "bold speech" (parrhesia) of the Gospel:
The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you should offer it. Do not be afraid to set out on that “exodus” which is necessary for all authentic dialogue. Otherwise, we fail to understand the thinking of others, or to realize deep down that the brother or sister we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the closeness of love, counts more than their positions, distant as they may be from what we hold as true and certain. Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.
Then, there is the stirring call of Bishops to be fathers to their priests, and then this list of temptations facing priestly ministry. Honestly, I could just hear the Pope, such a father!, speaking this to me and it brought tears to my eyes:
Let this closeness be expressed in a special way towards your priests. Support them, so that they can continue to serve Christ with an undivided heart, for this alone can bring fulfillment to ministers of Christ. I urge you, then, not to let them be content with half-measures. Find ways to encourage their spiritual growth, lest they yield to the temptation to become notaries and bureaucrats, but instead reflect the motherhood of the Church, which gives birth to and raises her sons and daughters. Be vigilant lest they tire of getting up to answer those who knock on their door by night, just when they feel entitled to rest (Lk 11:5-8). Train them to be ready to stop, care for, soothe, lift up and assist those who, “by chance” find themselves stripped of all they thought they had (Lk 10:29-37).
And third: just how much his speech, his talk, is permeated by the Gospel, by references to the Gospels, and to the person and personality of Jesus.

[This was first posted this afternoon on Facebook.] 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tracking Pope Francis into the US

Courtesy Popeemoji
This afternoon was spent tracking the arrival of the Holy Father's plane, with the call sign AZ4001, on Flightradar24. (Within the US, the Holy Father's aircraft, an American Airlines plane, will have the callsign "Shepherd One." According to that CNN piece, however, it's number will not be made public, and so it won't be trackable on public flight tracking websites.)

It was such an exciting moment, to realize that the Pope was over American Airspace!

The plane did several 360s over eastern North Carolina, just south of Greenville. Presumably, it made good time from Santiago de Cuba, and was waiting for the officially published landing time of 1600.

The plane is out of the holding pattern and descending
[This didn't prevent some from ascribing sinister motives: I first saw Catholic Vote say it (without attribution to the source in the headline) on Facebook, and then saw the link to the Atlantic that reported that the President was running late and had asked the Pope's flight to be delayed! (CV initially put it rather bluntly that Obama had ordered the Pope into a holding pattern, generating a number of outraged comments on Facebook). Both places have since updated their stories to indicated this was nothing untoward or impolite. The plane was early, and landed around 1600, and the President was waiting, with the Vice President, and several members of the U.S. hierarchy, to greet the Pope.]

I had a window open with the air traffic control feed for Potomac Approach via LiveATC. Around 345 pm I heard, "Alitalia four zero zero one heavy, cleared runway one left approach," and a confirmation  from the pilots! And then, "Alitalia four zero zero one heavy, contact Andrews tower!" A quick switch to the live feed from the Washington Post on YouTube (the source of all the following screenshots), after AZ4001 landed at Andrews Air Force Base.

He's on the ground! 

The first glimpse of the Holy Father on U.S. soil, to raucous cheers from the gathered crowds!

Ciao! Pope Francis drives away in a Fiat 500L, with SCV 1 plates. (The car looked so tiny in the midst of the giant vehicles in the rest of the motorcade!) 

An uncommon sight: POTUS hobnobbing with the U.S. Bishops. To the right of Michelle Obama is Cardinal Di Nardo of Houston. To the right of POTUS, looking rather short, Bishop Loverde of Arlington; in front of him, Bishop Holley of Washington DC. The handshake is with Archbishop Lori of Baltimore.
I cheered and clapped loudly at the first glimpse of the Pope (luckily, almost everyone else had left for the day at the office ...:)) ... the figure of the Pope, the visible center of unity of the Church, the Vicar of Christ ... it arouses such a deep filial affection and love in a Catholic's heart! (I recall feeling exactly the same on seeing Pope Benedict on television during his 2008 visit to the U.S.)

It was an exciting few hours, and it was fun sharing it on Twitter and Facebook, and chatting on WhatsApp with my friend Harry (with the State Dept. at our Embassy in New Delhi), a fellow devout Catholic and aviation buff, who was up late being as nerdy as ever.

PETER IS HERE! Welcome Holy Father!

Please pray for a safe visit, and that the Lord shower many graces on our country as we pay close attention to the Vicar of Christ's words and actions while he is with us.

UPDATE: The full-transcript of the Holy Father's remarks to the press on the flight from Cuba are now available. Here's one little bit:
I’m sure that I haven't said anything more than what’s written in the social doctrine of the Church. On another flight, a colleague asked me if I had reached out a hand to the popular movements and asked me, “But is the Church going to follow you?” I told him, “I’m the one following the Church.” And in this it seems that I’m not wrong. I believe that I never said a thing that wasn’t the social doctrine of the Church. Things can be explained, possibly an explanation gave an impression of being a little “to the left”, but it would be an error of explanation. No, my doctrine on this, in Laudato si', on economic imperialism, all of this, is the social doctrine of the Church. And it if necessary, I’ll recite the creed. I am available to do that, eh.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Memories of a previous Papal visit to North America

(Image from the Archdiocese of Toronto blog.)
In 2002, I was a (lay) campus minister at the St. Thomas More Center at the University of South Carolina, in year two of what would be a nearly five year long stint there. The Holy Father, that is St. John Paul II, was coming to North America for World Youth Day. There were no plans from STM to go to WYD. The Diocese of Charleston's Youth Ministry office had organized something, but it was well beyond the budget of a layman in the Church's employ!

A few weeks out, my buddy Carl, from Charleston and I decided we'd go on our own. We registered at the WYD portal online, and were assigned accommodations at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto, with the Newman Center there as our location for the WYD catecheses. [We lucked out in that we had dorm beds, and a hall bath and shower. So many others slept on gym floors in parish halls!] We found relatively cheap airfare to Toronto and back, and off we went. [Our flight connected in Philadelphia, I recall, and was oversold. We volunteered, were booked in First on a later flight, which actually ended up arriving earlier than our original flight!]

Thirteen years out, a lot of the details are hazy, but I do recall just what an amazing atmosphere it was -- it seemed that everyone was Catholic! I recall the early morning breakfasts at the Newman Center, and walking around downtown Toronto, and Tim Horton's and the CN tower, and Carl trying to speak Spanish after a few beers. Our catecheses were lead by (then) Bishop Dolan (newly appointed to Milwaukee, Bishop Roach (later head of ICEL), and Archbishop Exner (from Vancouver; retired in 2004). I don't recall much of content, but do remember the hand gestures to the P&W songs that preceded the catecheses. ("Yes Lord, Yes Lord, Yes Yes Lord!" -- I didn't like it then either ... :))

On Day 1, we got early to the fairgrounds where the Pope would make his first scheduled appearance at the opening Vespers. We wandered around, and then parked ourselves against a chainlink fence. A little later, much to my surprise, I heard my name being yelled. On the other side of the fence, a little distance away, there was another fence, and on the other side of that, a large group from upstate South Carolina. Two of our students from STM recognized me and were yelling and waving. Small Catholic world!

We didn't realize it at first, but that fence marked out the path of the papal motorcade. When we realized it, we hugged the fence, and guarded our position fiercely, as the crowds around and behind us grew. I recall that electrifying moment when the Popemobile approached -- first the motorcycles with police, the the Secret Service (or whatever they call them in Canada), and then the white vehicle. There were screams and yells, and everyone pushed against the fence. The Holy Father was looking away from us, but I got a few good photos and a great video clip. My heart filled with so much emotion, so much love! I loved this man, even though I had never met him. He represented the very center of the Church, a visible icon of Jesus Christ! I screamed at the top of my lungs and joined in the chants of "Viva il Papa" and "JP2 we love you!" I will never forget that.

There were other highlights as well. The giant closing Mass at an abandoned airfield outside Toronto, and walking miles and miles (sorry kilometeres and kilometers) to get there. Meeting up with a group from Carl's parish in Marietta (St. Ann's) and camping next to them overnight. It rained at night, and it was miserable, and water trickled through the tent, and the circle dances and music and drums and festivities went on all night. The porter-potties in the morning were truly horrendous. It continued storming through the morning, and then the Papal helicopter arrived, and the rain stopped and Mass began, and just as the Gospel was proclaimed (or perhaps it was when he started his homily), the clouds parted, and a ray of sunshine burst through and illuminated the stage.

Holy Communion was truly amazing (even though, I tend to be a little skeptical of distributing Holy Communion widely at giant papal mega-Masses; the risk of sacrilege and profanation is just too high.) ... a lay extraordinary minister (or perhaps it was a religious sister) stood at one point, and, like spokes going to the center of a wheel, lines formed all around her, and she turned and communicated each person at the front of each line. The Communion chant was "Nada te Turbe" (the beautiful poem by St. Teresa of Avila, set to simple Taize chant), and it felt like I was in heaven, and I wept openly.

That evening, hanging out with the group from St. Anne's at their hotel downtown, I spied a man lying on the sidewalk outside the lobby. It seemed like a homeless man, drunk. He wasn't very coherent. Then a, um, rather scantily clad lady approached and started talking to him. This lady-of-the-night knew him, and asked if I had some money for a cab fare for him. I went back in and we collected enough money, and then she called a taxi (I really don't recall if she had a cell phone or not!) and we put him in the cab and gave the cabbie the address. It was a strange little encounter, and, therefore, still in my memory.

I've scoured all my old photos on my hard drive, and any physical albums I still have, but I cannot find a single photograph from this memorable event. I have photos from 2001, but somehow, nothing from WYD. That video clip of JPII was on an analog video camera, with 8mm tapes. I have no idea where, in my many moves since then, it's gone.

However, I'm still in touch with one of those two students I mentioned above. She's actually a pretty well known Catholic blogger, and she will be one of the presenters at the upcoming World Meeting of Families with Pope Francis this week. She just wrote a great blog about how to prepare to go to a Papal mass event (heh), and shared her experiences from WYD 2002. And she kindly sent me a photo she found as she was preparing to write that post. This is yours truly, yelling at their group, across the fence, in Toronto in 2002. Thanks Lacy!

I have more bulk now, and a lot less hair. Carl, behind me swigging water, looks exactly
the same today as he did then, sonofagun!
A visit from the Holy Father is a time of such grace. I look forward to our parish pilgrimage, some 108 people, actually from all across the Archdiocese, who will be going up to Philadelphia this coming weekend to encounter Francis, Bishop of Rome. I have heard stories of how WYD in 1992 in Denver changed the lives of folks, and the same about WYD in 2002 and later. How will the Lord move us, through Pope Francis, in 2015? 

Get ready to be uncomfortable!

Get out of your comfort zone!

This is a great piece by Dr. John Cavadini of the NY Daily News
What if, even just for the period of his U.S. visit, we were to allow ourselves, each in our own way, to follow his rhetoric into a zone of discomfort? Would we, oddly, find ourselves meeting there?
Read the rest.

This week, my dear fellow Catholics in the US, let us all pray for the Holy Father as comes to our shores. It is going to be an exciting time and a time of great grace and opportunity, as the Successor of St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the Supreme Pontiff, the Servant of the Servants of God, or as he prefers to call himself, Francis, Bishop of Rome, will be in our midst.

The media will of course look at everything from solely a social and political angle, and attempt to squeeze him into this or that mould. The narrative of a bold reformer, unlike his stodgy predecessors, the only Pope to have every kissed a baby and smiled at anyone, is already deeply entrenched. Read what the Holy Father says, from reliable sources (the Vatican, EWTN, the USCCB). I wouldn't trust AP, Reuters, the AJC, the NYT, the WaPo in their reporting one bit. Nor the TV stations.

But really, let it be. Don't fret The whole nation (indeed the whole world) will be looking at the Holy Father. And he will, as he always does, so simply, so disarmingly, invite us to look at Jesus Christ.

And pray that you are able to hear his words directed at you. If you hear him say something and think, "Aha! He got those people good over there! Those crazy [fill-in-the-blank-label], who think they're Catholic/good/right, but ... " well, we're doing the same thing. We're wanting to fit him into our own preconceived notions and ideas. We're judging others, and, really, condemning ourselves, and not actually facing reality and looking at what the Lord is doing right now!

The Lord and His Gospel transcend all this. And He always calls us out of our complacency and comfort, to live a life of service, of sacrifice, of love. To seek the good of others, to pursue justice, to give our lives away.

And in His goodness, the Lord is sending His Vicar, this charismatic, enigmatic, beloved Pontiff our way. He wants us to be attentive, to be receptive, like Our Lady, to this opportunity, to this event, to this moment of grace.

So, pray hard, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. And be prepared to be uncomfortable!

[First shared on Facebook, Sept. 20, 2015] 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Early ecumenism right here in Athens

Our redoubtable journalist parishioner Pete, shared this little bit today. St. Joseph Parish in Athens is 142 years old, making it one of the oldest parishes in the Archdiocese.

It is remarkable to think that in an era of anti-Catholicism, the local citizenry of Athens gave financial support to build a Catholic church in town.

This is a snippet from the Northeast Georgian, from September 12, 1873.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Abortion, excommunication and mercy: a response to Damon Linker

Damon Linker, once an editor at the conservative magazine First Things, writes this thought-provoking piece in The Week today: How Pope Francis is perpetuating the Catholic Church's radical anti-abortion position.

Here's the main point.
Of all the extra-ecclesiastical sins, crimes, and acts of cruelty and intentional evil that the members of the human race have devised and enacted down through the millennia, only abortion rises to the status of a sin so grave that it leads to instantaneous expulsion from the church — an expulsion that can only be reversed when a local bishop makes a one-off exception or the Bishop of Rome declares a special time-limited period of absolution. 
An outside observer (and maybe a Catholic layperson or two) might see this as yet another example of how a church run exclusively by celibate bachelors just so happens to end up treating women as at once purer and requiring a greater degree of paternalistic oversight than men.
Therefore, he concludes, the truly merciful thing that the Holy Father could do would be to eliminate this singling out of abortion, and treat it, well, simply like any other homicide. (Incidentally, in the Code of Canon Law for Eastern Churches, all homicides incur a penalty of excommunication already -- that is, abortion isn't singled out.)

I first saw the article linked on the timeline of a Facebook friend, who added that Linker tends to engage Catholic doctrine before trying to critique it. That has been my experience as well. However, Linker misses some very important facts concerning the complicated reality of abortion and canon law.

First of all, there seems to be no awareness of the fact that the gesture the Pope seems to be making (and I put it thus, because there is some ambiguity regarding what he has stated that needs clarification. More on that below), is already the canonical practice at least in most of the United States and Canada, and possibly in other parts of the world. The Holy Father is universalizing (albeit, right now, just for the period of the Jubilee), what is the canonical and pastoral reality in many parts of the world, i.e. every priest who has the faculty to hear confessions, also receives the faculty to remit the penalty of latae sententiae excommunication incurred by the procuring of an abortion (or being involved formally in that crime).

There's really a whole complex raft of canonical issues that surround abortion -- the fact that it's a sin, as well as a canonical crime that carries a particular penalty: latae sententiae excommunication. This is often, but incorrectly, translated as "automatic excommunication" by even reputable Catholic sources. Latae sententiae - Latin for "the sentence having been carried out" - is one of the ways in which the penalty of excommunication is applied. (The other main way is what is known as ferendae sententiae, i.e. a declaration by competent authority that someone has incurred the penalty.)

Basically not every woman who commits the grave sin of abortion is actually excommunicated. The law gives many exceptions, for age (under 16), being forced or coerced (hardly uncommon), and being ignorant of the penalty. So if a woman truly does not know that there is the penalty of excommunication applicable, she does not incur the penalty. Of course, she commits an objective evil, and is guilty of grave sin. (However, remember too, that culpability for grave sin can be diminished by factors that diminish the freedom and knowledge of the subject.) Calling it "automatic" therefore, is a real stretch, as was pointed out to me by another priest-friend on social media this week.

Why is this one of the few so-called "reserved sins?" I don't know the history of abortion and the penalty of latae sententiae excommunication. I don't know if the 1983 code softened older penalties in the 1917 code (I'm not a canonist). However, one thing comes to mind. The law is a teacher, and the penalty may be there to underline the particular gravity of this sin, because it destroys life at its source (ab ortu). As always, the Church is very understanding of human frailty and merciful in how these penalties are applied and lifted.

For a good summary of the various canonical questions surrounding this issue, as well as the ambiguities in the papal statement (it was a letter, not a legislative text), I recommend this excellent piece from the Register, by canonist Benedict Nguyen. The eminent blogging canonist Dr. Ed Peters argues that latae sententiae excommunications are no longer useful in today's context. The 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law reduced their number drastically. He suggests they should be removed entirely (for instance, here). It should also be pointed out that the Eastern Churches do not have a tradition of latae sententiae excommunication. (In the East, abortion remains a sin that requires the Bishop's permission for absolution, as far as I know. How that is handled practically, I do not know.) Peters has also argued that the Roman Church impose the penalty of excommunication (not latae sententiae) for all homicides (i.e. follow the canonical practice of the East) -- the opposite conclusion, somewhat, from what Linker argues. Peters' treatment of the story as it broke on Sept. 1 is also worth reading.

According to a friend who is a canonist, the procedure for a person seeking reconciliation in the case of those places where the priest does not have faculties (i.e. not in most parts of the the United States), would go something like this: If a woman (or anyone complicit in the act) approaches a confessor without the requisite faculties, they are advised to come back at a mutually convenient time (allowing for the preservation of anonymity), while the priest contacts the Bishop to get the necessary faculties, so he can lift the penalty and then impart absolution. (This would also, incidentally, be the procedure if a particular case required recourse the Apostolic Penitentiary.) Everything is handled in the internal forum, i.e. preserving anonymity (if the penitent so wishes), as well as the seal of the confessional.

On Tuesday, when this story broke, social media was abuzz with the various attempts (some truly awful) by the secular media to grapple with this issue, and a lot of us were trying to figure out what exactly was being conceded. My friend and fellow Atlanta priest, Fr. Joshua Allen at the Georgia Tech Catholic Center wrote a beautiful post on Facebook (which, though public, cannot be linked outside FB), the bottom line of which is this: for a woman (or anyone else) wondering if they have been forgiven of this sin in the confessional: yes you have. It is not the penitent's responsibility to understand these complicated details of canon law. God is always merciful, and the smallest bit of contrition is always met with mercy. Quote:
To any of you who have been confused or hurt by the reporting on the Pope's comments, I am truly sorry, as is basically every priest in the world. The last thing anyone would want, from Pope Francis to the newest priest on the block, is for someone to begin questioning whether their previous confessions and reception of God's mercy were real. The most recognizable attribute of our God is MERCY...there are no sins that cannot be forgiven when brought with a humble and contrite heart to one of God's ministers of mercy.
Finally, speaking as a confessor -- this sin comes up not infrequently. And more often than not it is a sin from the past, that has been repeatedly brought to the sacrament. The scars it leaves are truly horrendous, and there is such a need for healing. The various post-abortive ministries (such as Rachel's Vineyard) truly do great work. And it is in that vein, with the heart of a father, that the Holy Father wants to make it easier for women to receive the healing they need. That is eminently appropriate for a Jubilee of Mercy.

Disclaimer: I am a parish priest, not a canon lawyer.