Free sample

A free9780814683224 excerpt (the introduction and chapter 1) of my new book, Struggle, Condemnation, Vindication: John Courtney Murray’s Journey toward Vatican II, is now available here. Just click on “Sample/Preview.” The book will be available in about a week!


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.

‘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.

Young priests aren’t poor

A new article published at La Stampa‘s Vatican Insider website notes that ordinations to priesthood are up almost 25% this year over last year. That’s cause for thanksgiving.

I was a little amused, though, to read about this aspect of the issue in the article:

A uniquely American problem, however, is that of the debt from the “student loans”, money leant to them to help them pay their tuition fees and living costs and that is only repaid after graduation. “More than 26% of the priests ordained have student debt, at the time of entering the seminary the average owed per capita is 22,500 dollars”, explained Father W. Shawn McKnight, executive director of the Secretariat. He said that in the future they will need to find a way of helping future priests reduce their debts.

Sorry, but if the concern is repaying student debt, I’d say priesthood is the way to go. I’d be willing to bet that most young diocesan priests are paid more (when you factor in the free housing, insurance, groceries, etc) and have more disposable income than most other young people in their first 5 or 10 years out of college or graduate school.

In OSV: What’s a Jubilee all about?

Pope Francis has declared the celebration of an extraordinary holy year, a jubilee of mercy, to begin November 8, 2015. A new article I’ve written on the long and rich history of jubilee years — from the book of Leviticus to the ministry of Jesus to our own century — is now in Our Sunday Visitor. You can read it here.

Upper Big Branch, five years on

As we all celebrated Easter Sunday yesterday, 29 families observed the fifth anniversary of the death of their loved ones in one of the biggest mine disasters to happen on U.S. soil in decades. The Upper Big Branch Mine explosion happened April 5, 2010. It was the day after Easter that year.

In the days and weeks that followed, we learned that mine owner Massey Energy had been cited repeatedly for safety violations at the mine, and that these citations had resulted in absolutely no change in any operating procedure that almost surely could have averted the tragedy.

Coal boss Don Blankenship — who at the time was a powerful, larger-than-life figure who dominated West Virginia business and culture like a titan — is currently awaiting trial, set to begin April 20. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to violate safety standards, falsifying coal dust samples and defrauding federal financial regulators.

I’ve blogged before about Blankenship and the Upper Big Branch disaster, here. Let’s pray for the families of the 29 miners who died five years ago.