Romero, politics and all

With the Romero beatification happening this weekend, Our Sunday Visitor has kindly been pushing my set of articles, first published 2 months ago, via social media. You’ll find there a summary of Romero’s dramatic story, as well as sidebars on Rutilio Grande, the controversy surrounding the decision to recognize him as a martyr, and the political and social context in which the whole thing played out.

They’re all worth another look as we observe this rather historic moment. (John Allen, Jr., calls it “arguably the most important beatification of the early 21st century.”) But if I may, let me encourage you to scroll all the way to the sidebar called “Politics at play in Archbishop Romero’s Assassination.” It’s one of the more interesting aspects of the entire picture and essential to really getting what Romero was about.

A win

BoselliThe Association of Catholic Publishers has announced the winners in its 2015 Excellence in Publishing Book Awards, and Goffredo Boselli’s The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy: School of Prayer, Source of Life has won second place in the “Resources for Liturgy” category. It’s an excellent book, and the honor is, without question, Fr. Boselli’s. But I’m proud to have been the translator of the book. Congratulations to Fr. Boselli!

Q&A: Struggle, Condemnation, Vindication

I had fun a couple of years ago, just before the release of my book Faith Meets World: The Gift and Challenge of Catholic Social Teaching, doing my own quirky little interview with myself about the book on this blog. You can read that here. I decided to give it a go one more time, in these days just prior to the release of Struggle, Condemnation, Vindication: John Courtney Murray’s Journey toward Vatican II. Here goes.Struggle, Condemnation, Vindication 4

Why did you write this book?

About six years ago, I read something about John Courtney Murray and decided I wanted to understand him a lot better than I did. That’s when I found that the best, most recent book about him and his work was published in 1976. That’s Donald Pelotte’s Theologian in Conflict. There are certainly some more recent things, but they’re almost all about specific aspects of his thinking, not narratives that “tell his story” in any detail. And it’s a great story.

Then I realized that there were a lot of information and resources available today that weren’t when Pelotte wrote his book. So before you knew it, I was digging in to a long period of research and writing. And I had a heck of a lot of fun doing it.

Do you have a favorite part of Murray’s story?

I have a lot of favorite parts, both about Murray himself and about several of the other people in the story. I could go on at length! But I suppose if I had to pick just one moment, it’s the image of Murray returning his library books.

It was 1955. After a period of time under Vatican scrutiny (“There are people after my head,” he had written to a colleague), he had just been refused permission to publish an article by the censors in Rome. His Jesuit superiors saw the writing on the wall and told him it’s time to take a break from writing about religious freedom, before you get yourself in serious trouble with the Vatican’s Holy Office. And Murray, with humility and obedience, agreed to it. One of the first things he did was return to the library every book he had related to the topic. It was his concrete way of saying, even to himself, I’m done with this.

It’s not often that returning books to the library carries such a flavor of heroism, you know? (And only a decade later, an Ecumenical Council of the universal Church, in a dramatic act of development of doctrine, enshrined in Church teaching basically the same ideas that he had been silenced for writing about.)

What was the most interesting part of writing Struggle, Condemnation, Vindication?

That might have to be exploring the copious personal journals of Joseph Fenton. Father Fenton was Murray’s main theological “nemesis,” if you will. He kept journals for decades. It’s easy to see him as “the bad guy” of the story, when it’s seen from Murray’s point of view and from the point of view of history. But he was a real person, too, a priest and theologian, who was, we must presume, doing the best he could as he understood God and what God teaches the Church. And as the man chosen to be the personal theological expert to the Church’s primary theological watchdog, Cardinal Ottaviani, at a historic moment in the Church’s life, Fenton must have felt like he was doing that pretty well.

But he ended up so disappointed and bitter about the direction the Council took, and what ended up in its documents, that he left Rome early, not bothering to stick around for its historic closing events. I’d love to have been able to talk with him over drinks as he sat at the airport waiting for his flight back to the United States that early winter of 1965, and at many other times as well. Reading his journals is the next best thing.

So how is this story relevant to us today?

Well, in a lot of ways, for sure. I’ll name one. When the 2014 synod on the family happened in Rome, I had just finished writing this book. I was very struck by the nature of the conversation about a few controversial issues — especially about the possibility of allowed some divorced-and-remarried people to receive Communion at Mass. What struck me was that the reasons voiced by those opposed to the idea were so similar in content and tone to the opposition that Murray encountered from Cardinal Ottaviani, Fr. Fenton, and others. Murray’s proposals were (or seemed, anyway) contrary to long doctrinal and theological tradition. They would confuse the faithful and jeopardize their faith.

Now, there may well be ideas and practices about which that would be true. But the Murray story teaches us clearly that just because someone says that’s the case, or just because that might seem to me to be the case, does not mean it’s the case. Something that seems — even to someone with advanced theological degrees, even to the Church’s highest ranking prelates — contrary to Scripture, tradition, and doctrine might not be. It might just be a new way of looking at problem, a new way of answering a question because we realize we’re able to ask the question from a different direction. And it might be a legitimate development of doctrine.

Are you still getting up at 4:30 am to write?

Yep. I said a couple of years ago that I was doing that with the help of Colbie Callait. These days, it’s more often with Rihanna. That set she did at the Concert for Valor is excellent (at least the first two songs; I love her singing in “The Monster,” too, but can’t stomach Eminem), and then there’s “FourFive Seconds,” with Paul McCartney and what’s-his-name. Good stuff.

How do I get a copy?

Thanks for asking! I know the default approach of many folks today, understandably, is Amazon, and you can get it there, of course, and I’ll thank you if you do. But if you care to make sure more of your purchase goes to supporting the little people who are doing important work, and for whom every bit of revenue means a lot, I’d encourage anyone to buy either directly from the publisher — in this case, Liturgical Press, which is also (full disclosure) my employer — or from an independent bookseller. So you might consider getting it here, here, or through your local bookseller.

Caller on the private line

On this day of Cardinal Francis George’s funeral, don’t miss this story about him told (here) by Msgr. James Moroney, now rector of Boston’s St. John’s Seminary:

During the years he served as chairman of the USCCB Committee on the Liturgy I had the privilege of flying to Chicago to meet with him for an hour or so every month to discuss current liturgical questions.  One day, in the course of our meeting his private line rang.  He looked at his watch and excused himself, saying this would probably take a while.  He then greeted someone on the phone, telling his caller how glad he was to hear from her.  The next twenty minutes consisted of questions about how she was doing, quiet listening to her stories and strong interjections reminding her to “take her meds.”

When he returned, Cardinal George explained that his caller was a woman he had met at random after a confirmation years before.  She has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic and had so enjoyed his gentle and patient listening to her that she asked for his private number, which he gave to her, with the agreement that she would call him only once a month on a given day.  And once a month the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago sat there like the good priest he was and listened to her struggles, encouraging and shepherding her in the model of Christ the Priest and Shepherd into whose image he had been molded.

Thanks to Michael Sean Winters for pointing it out.

Good deal

Liturgical Press is offering a nice deal on my new book, which will be available in three weeks. Order now and get 30% off, plus free shipping. Wow! Click on the image below to enlarge for details. Or just go here to order or to get more details on the book. To get the discount with your order, use the promotion code MURRAY.


‘There’s something about Francis’

Well there’s an eye-catching headline: How Pope Francis awakened the faith of a CNN anchor. The anchor in question is Carol Costello, who currently hosts CNN Newsroom every weekday morning. The opening line is a grabber, too: “I remember the day I stopped praying.”

The day in question came when Costello — born and raised Catholic but, at 27, lapsed — experienced what most folks would agree was a minor slight, a bit of an interpersonal fumble on the part of a parish secretary who clearly was off her game that day. But it came in the context of Costello’s intense grief from the death of her young brother by cancer, and what goes on in the heart and psyche during times like that does not always follow rules of reason and logic. (It reminded me of a wise maxim I occasional mention to my kids and remind myself: “Always be kind — you never know what someone else is going through at a particular moment.”)

A quick Wikipedia check tells me Costello is 53 years old today. So she quit praying over a quarter century ago, and had stopped going to church before that. And now, apparently, she’s doing both again, thanks to Pope Francis.

There’s lots to say and explore about this, of course. But one thing that caught my eye and that I think is well worth mentioning is this: Costello’s account of her return to faith, prayer, and liturgy makes clear that she is not in the least under the impression that Francis has or is trying to change a single doctrine or approve a single act that previously has been considered a sin. She writes: “There is something about Francis that’s reawakened my faith. And it’s not because he opened the floodgates to allow sin in the eyes of the church. He still argues against things I passionately support, but I find myself — like many other lapsed Catholics — enthralled.”

We all — particularly “conservative” Catholics who have been most critical of Francis — should take note. The stirring in Costello’s soul has happened despite this. Francis’s humility and Francis’s tone did the work of evangelization, and it broke through her intellectual differences with him.

This reflects comments I have heard over and over again (often by media commentators): “Francis isn’t changing any doctrine, and yet…” “Francis is a conservative in many ways, and yet…” They belie the empty criticism that Francis is confusing the faithful or approving sin.

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, perhaps those who have been making such false accusations should do a little repenting.