Happy Easter (and more)! (UPDATED: Google’s Chavez commemoration)

Happy and blessed Easter!

“Jesus no longer belongs to the past, but lives in the present and is projected towards the future; he is the everlasting ‘today’ of God,” said Pope Francis last night.

While we’re at it, happy birthday to Cesar Chavez! Besides his birthday, March 31 is also the anniversary of the day he quit his job, in 1962, in order to establish a labor union for migrant farmworkers.  (My article marking the event and its legacy, published last year in America magazine, is here.)

And finally, happy birthday to me. (In case you’re interested, Easter has fallen on my birthday, March 31, twice before in my lifetime, in 2002 and 1991. Last time before that was 1929. Se Dio vuole, I’ll see it happen one more time, in 2024. After that, it won’t happen again until 2086.)

UPDATE, 4/1:Screen shot 2013-03-31 at 11.05.39 AM

It seems Google has been widely criticized for marking Cesar Chavez’s birthday yesterday with his portrait in their homepage logo. I mentioned Chavez’s birthday here too yesterday, along with (and of course in second place to) my Easter greetings.

Big kudos to Matthew Schmidz at the First Things blog for his post, “Why It’s Fitting to Remember Cesar Chavez on Easter Sunday,” not least because he has offered his defense of Google in a forum where he was bound to draw the ire of many readers (and that he has!). Mr. Schmidz’s post is worth your time not only for his insightful comments, but for the two fascinating links he provides.

Speaking of readers’ reactions, one comment left in the combox for the Schmidz post is good for an April Fools Day laugh (though it’s intended in all seriousness, I’m afraid):

With respect to you, Matthew, to your meditation on Chavez, and to the man himself, isn’t it obviously provocative, on the morning most closely associated with Christ, to be featuring someone named Cesar? Isn’t it an undoubted nod to the duality “Caesar and Christ,” a choice of opposites acknowledged by everyone from Will Durant to the writers of the Star Trek episode about 20th-century Rome? And however the editors of Google wish to mask their choice of some kind of Caesar, aren’t they showing us that they their choice is for something other than Christ?

The comment makes about as much sense as suggesting that those who voice their appreciation for the presidency of George W. Bush are in fact masking deep anti-American sentiments, because everyone knows that America was founded in opposition to the oppressive rule of another guy named George — England’s King George III.


Pope Francis, washing feet, and Catholic orthodoxy

At our parish Holy Thursday Mass, several teen girls were included among those whose feet were washed by the presider. In one of my occasional efforts to get my kids thinking about what we do and believe as Catholics, I leaned over to my 15-year-old son, sitting beside me, and whispered, “You know, we’re breaking the law of the Church right now.” It got a mild reaction on his face, but not much more, so after a moment, I decided to push the provocation just a further.

“But that’s okay,” I said, “because it’s kind of a stupid law anyways.” That provoked a quick double-take from him that almost made me chuckle. (What? Dad’s saying something the Church says is stupid?? Not something he’s heard much.)

“What law?” he whispered back.

“Tell you after Mass,” I said.

I know some will say it was inappropriate for me to suggest to my young son that any “law of the Church” is stupid (and yes, I know we’re talking about liturgical rubrics and not canon law, but to speak of “rubrics” to my son would have been meaningless!). And maybe they’d be right. But you can bet my son asked about what law we’d broken when we got home, and that led to a worthwhile chat about one of the most beautiful and compelling rites of the Church’s liturgical year. No small feat.

Anyway, I felt a little better about my comment when I read the next morning that the Pope himself is apparently not so fond of the rubric we ignored at our parish, the one that says those whose feet are washed in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper are to be men.

Since this news came out, we have seen a strong reaction by more than a few “traditionalists” who are troubled by our Pope’s choice. From the folks at the Rorate Coeli blog come comments like: “[T]he Holy Father is setting a very negative example.” “Pope Francis has managed to do more damage in 2 weeks than any Pope in the Church’s history.” “Everything he has done so far regarding the exterior signs of the Papacy would appear to be dismantling papal authority.”

The most troubling among them, to me, is this one from the same blog’s comment box:

I am a young, recently ordained priest. Tonight, I planned on preaching about the Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood.

How can I speak about such things – the self-offering of Christ, the 12 viri selecti – when our Holy Father is witnessing to something different?

I feel like going up to the congregation and saying, “I don’t have any idea what the symbolism of the washing of the feet is. Why don’t we just all do what we want.”

How hard this is for young priests.

This sentiment, which I’m afraid is shared by other young priests this weekend, is a sign of a problem within the Church today that goes much deeper than one might at first think. It reveals the problem that lies hidden in the hyper-orthodoxy movement that is so strong today. I say this as one who sees the Church’s magisterium as a gift of God and who sees our recent popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, their lives and their ministry, as great gifts themselves.

I’d like to delve deeper into this here, and I will one of these days — probably after I work my way through two other larger projects currently in the works and needing completion. But suffice it to say, for now, that what many in recent years have suggested to be authentically orthodox Catholicism is not really that. There has been an inaccurate picture of the scope of Catholic doctrine on offer. In short, orthodox Catholic doctrine includes a lot more than some would have us believe.

We see this in the comment of the young priest above. I’m not talking about an understanding of liturgical rubrics as divinely revealed, but an understanding of the Holy Thursday rite of footwashing as being primarily or even exclusively about the sacrament of Holy Orders. This is distorted and just plain wrong, and it comes to us not from Catholic doctrine, but from a narrow and clericalized version of doctrine that in fact betrays authentic Catholic doctrine and the Gospel it presents.

Yes, I understand there are important links between Holy Thursday and the sacrament of Holy Orders. But to miss or ignore what the footwashing rite says about the love that each and every one of us are called to, by our vocation as followers of Christ, is to do violence to the Church’s liturgy and to the Gospel.

Our parish Holy Thursday Mass, the one I mentioned above, opened with the song “Here at This Table.” (It’s by Janet Sullivan Whitaker and Max Whitaker. Listen and read the lyrics are here.) The beautiful chorus of the song goes:

Come and be filled here at this table.
Food for all who hunger
and drink for all who thirst.
Drink of his love, wine of salvation.
You shall live forever in Jesus Christ the Lord.

As I sang it, I was moved by that last line as we repeated it several times: You shall live forever in Jesus Christ the Lord.

I thought: There it is, right there in the opening song of the first Mass of the Triduum, there is what these awesome days are all about — our living forever in Jesus Christ, the incredible work he did for our salvation that it might be so.

May our liturgy, our preaching, our living always make that Gospel radiantly clear to the world and never obscure or distort it.

(I’ve went on at length here, and I’ve revised this several times in the hopes that it makes sense, is doctrinally sound, and does not come off as a rant. What do you think?)

“The mystery of the moon”: Bergoglio on the Church in the world

One thing I like about walking the dog very early is that the world is quiet and dark, which allows for an experience that’s just a bit more contemplative. That was certainly the case this morning, at 4 am. The full moon shone brightly in a clear and cold night sky.

So I was pleased to have just read (because I often can’t resist checking a couple of blogs as I put on my boots before heading out with Tiger) about the remarks Cardinal Bergoglio offered to the cardinals of the conclave in the days before they elected him pope earlier this month. The cardinal archbishop of Havana has published notes he scribbled from the talk. Here’s a snippet (h/t to Fr. Imbelli at dotCommonweal):

3. – When the Church is self-referent without realizing it, she believes she has her own light. She ceases to be the mysterium lunae and gives way to that very great evil which is spiritual worldliness (according to De Lubac, it is the worst evil that can come upon the Church). The self-referent Church lives to give glory only to one another. In simple terms, there are two images of the Church: the evangelizing Church that comes out of herself; the Dei Verbum religiose audiens et fidente proclamans, and the worldly Church that lives within herself, of herself, for herself. This must give light to the possible changes and reforms which must be made for the salvation of souls.

4. – Thinking of the next Pope, he must be a man that from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the Church to come out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother who lives from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.

(Regarding the Latin, mysterium lunae = the mystery of the moon. Henri de Lubac (1896-1991), an influential theologian of the Second Vatican Council and later a cardinal himself, wrote of the church’s role in the relation to Christ being like the moon’s in relation to the sun, having no light of its own, but always reflecting the light it is “given” by the sun. Dei Verbum religiose audiens et fidente proclamans are the first words of the Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. They can be translated: “Hearing the word of God with reverence and proclaiming it with faith.”)

Besides his reference to de Lubac’s “mystery of the moon,” I love Bergoglio’s reference to “the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.” For most of us, even to think about engaging in evangelization is uncomfortable at best. Bergoglio is clearly a man who knows by experience what is truly good about the Good News that the Church proclaims.

More on then-Cardinal Bergoglio’s talk here.

On the anniversary of Archbishop Romero’s death

Today marks the 33rd anniversary of the killing of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Romero was shot down March 24, 1980, by a paid assassin acting on behalf of military officials (specifically right-wing leader Major Roberto D’Aubuisson) of his native El Salvador.

Here’s a pair of interesting links to mark the day. The first is a National Public Radio report aired three years ago. It includes some interesting details about the assassination itself, including information from a journalist’s interview with the man who most likely was the one who pulled the trigger of the gun that killed Romero and who lives in hiding. That’s here.

Then there’s a First Things article, posted on that publication’s blog earlier this month. Emphasizing ways that Romero has been misunderstood and mischaracterized (by people from a variety of positions), it includes interesting details on Romero himself, including these two snippets:

Even a man as saintly as Dom Helder Camara—the bishop who defended Brazil’s poor against the country’s military dictatorship—believed that Marx should do for Christianity in the twentieth century what Aristotle did for medieval Thomism. By contrast, in a 1978 homily Romero said: “Since Marxist materialism destroys the Church’s transcendent meaning, a Marxist church would be not only self-destructive but senseless.”


Few know that Romero received spiritual direction from an Opus Dei priest and personally knew the future saint and Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva. When the latter died in 1975, he wrote a letter to Paul VI asking the Pope to jumpstart his canonization process, writing: “Monsignor Escriva . . . was able to unite in his life a continuous dialogue with Our Lord and a great humanity; one could tell he was a man of God, and his manner was full of sensitivity, kindness, and good humor.” As recommended by Opus Dei priests, Romero wore a cilice on Fridays as a form of self-mortification until his death.

The entire thing is here.

Last year on this day, I linked to a Vatican Insider article that referred to the possibility of a Romero canonization as a “lost cause” — this despite Pope Benedict’s high regard for the man (Benedict publically spoke of Romero as  “a great witness of the faith” who is “worthy of beatification”).  A year later, we have a new pope, one who is clearly intensely interested in social justice issues, who said within the first days of his pontificate that he “would like a Church which is poor and for the poor,” and who is himself from Latin America. It will be interesting to see what develops.

Pope Francis identifies “one of the most dangerous threats of our times”

Prior to the conclave that elected Pope Francis, more than a few Catholics nurtured hopes for a pope who is a culture warrior — someone to enter the fray over “conservative” issues like gay marriage, sexual promiscuity, and contraception.

Those who are looking for a culture warrior (I’d suggest it to be a woefully narrow and inadequate concept of a pope) may have found momentary hope the other day, if they heard or read the address that Francis delivered to representatives of other churches, ecclesial communities, and religions. In his comments, he identified an issue that he views as “one of the most dangerous threats of our times.”

I’ll bet that phrase caught the attention of many and perhaps had them imagining the battles ahead to be relished. But they were surely disappointed quickly, because the grave threat to which the Pope pointed is not generally one of those that they have in mind as a target. (Gay marriage? Contraception? Government health care mandates?)

For the sake on context, I offer the full paragraph of the statement (bold/italics mine):

The Catholic Church is aware of the importance of the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions – this I wish to repeat this: the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions – this is attested evident also in the valuable work undertaken by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The Church is equally aware of the responsibility that each of us bring towards our world, and to the whole of creation, that we must love and protect. And we can do a lot for the good of the less fortunate, for those who are weak and suffering, to promote justice, to promote reconciliation, to build peace.. But above all, we must keep alive in our world the thirst for the absolute, and must not allow the vision of the human person with a single dimension to prevail, according to which man is reduced to what he produces and to what he consumes: this is one [of the] most dangerous threats of our times.

Reducing ourselves to what we produce and consume. Now that’s a vision that permeates American culture.  We call it capitalism. And since it’s eating away at our souls, perhaps those who long for a culture warrior are on the right track after all.

Somehow I just don’t think that’s the battle they have in mind, though! But it sure would be interesting to see, not least of all because I think that who lines up on which side of things would be rather different than the arrangements we see in many of the other culture wars (and intra-ecclesial wars) that are currently being fought.

Now at Commonweal: my article on poverty in Appalachia

Though I worked for two years in a role of service to people living in poverty in Mingo County, West Virginia, I can still say, without hesitation or any exaggeration, that the people of that region gave me and my family far more than I ever gave to them.

Before my family and I left West Virginia a couple of years ago, one of that region’s strongest forces for good, Sr. Janet Peterworth, OSU, asked me to remember to be a voice, in my new home, for the people of Appalachia.

For both of the above reasons, the new article of mine that Commonweal has posted this week is little more than a partial payment on a debt. “A Judgment upon Us All” is posted here.