Happy Thanksgiving


‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight
‘Till by turning, turning we come round right.

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A Bishop with an Orientation Problem


In his November 21, 2014 diocesan newspaper column, titled “Looking to the East,” James D. Conley, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska explained his orientation concerns.

Appointed Bishop of Lincoln by Pope Benedict in 2012, he is very in sync with the old-times-theology of his predecessor Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz as well as that of his mentor Archbishop Charles Chaput from Philadelphia.

Bishop James will go public, this Advent, with his orientation problem and explained it this way:

Since ancient times, Christians have faced the east during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to remember to keep watch for Christ. Together, the priest and the people faced the east, waiting and watching for Christ. Even in churches that did not face the east, the priest and people stood together in the Mass, gazing at Christ on the crucifix, on the altar, and in the tabernacle, to recall the importance of watching for his return.

The symbolism of the priest and people facing ad orientem—to the east—is an ancient reminder of the coming of Christ.

More recently, it has become common for the priest and the people to face one another during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The priest stands behind the altar as he consecrates the Eucharist, facing the people. The people see the face of the priest as he prays, and he sees their faces….

But the symbolism of facing together, and awaiting Christ, is rich, time-honored and important. Especially during Advent, as we await the coming of the Lord, facing the east together—even symbolically facing Christ together at the altar and on the crucifix—is a powerful witness to Christ’s imminent return….

During the Sundays of Advent, the priests in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ will celebrate the Mass ad orientem. With the People of God, the priest will stand facing the altar, and facing the crucifix.

When I celebrate midnight Mass on Christmas, I will celebrate ad orientem as well. This may take place in other parishes across the Diocese of Lincoln as well.

In the ad orientem posture at Mass, the priest will not be facing away from the people. He will be with them—among them, and leading them—facing Christ, and waiting for his return.

Very interesting. Eucharist reverts once again to being the priest’s action; and the people are reduced to pious spectators of the priest’s derrière….

And so, according to the Bishop of Lincoln, it is better for the Eucharistic presider to gaze upon a lifeless crucifix rather than look into the faces of very alive men and women out there in church.

Etiquette in almost every cultural tradition says one does not turn his or her back on people….More surprising for a bishop, it seems to me, is an apparent dismissal of the broad-based significance of the Incarnation and the presence of Christ in the community of faith.

In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus says: “Where two or three are gathered, there I am…” When one looks into the faces of the women and men gathered for liturgy, an ordained minister is looking into the face of the living Christ. Even the almost-forgotten (and not yet canonized) Pope Pius XII understood this when he wrote his encyclical about the “Mystical Body of Christ.”

Perhaps the bishop from Lincoln has a problem with eye contact? Looking at people eye-to-eye does have certain ramifications….

People who face other people eye-to-eye generally value warm and personable friendships. They are seen as leaders who are personally engaged with people; and they are perceived as trustworthy, honest, and sincere.

As I review biblical imagery, it is clear to me, at least, that turning one’s back on other people is a dangerous sign. It often indicates deception in human relationships and goes hand in hand with turning one’s back on God.

But…on the other hand, I am not from Lincoln, where life may be different.

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A Casual Attitude Towards Catholic Teaching….


According to a Catholic News Agency report published this week, young American Catholics are “exhibiting an alarmingly casual attitude towards accepting church teaching.”

So is this a failure by young Catholics to understand church doctrine or a failure by church doctrinaires to understand young Catholics?

What puzzles the bishops is that young American Catholics “feel completely Catholic even while disagreeing with the church,” according to Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami. At the most recent meeting of the U.S. Catholic bishops in Baltimore, he summarised the responses given by young people to a survey conducted on behalf of the U.S. bishops.

For more than three years, a USCCB research group conducted a study about finding more effective ways to communicate Catholic belief. Researching a variety of segments of the U.S. Catholic population, they examined motivations, challenges, and expectations facing people in the U.S. Church. Young adult Catholics – those still in the church — stood out for their insistence on being part of the church while exhibiting a “causal disregard” for parts of Catholic teaching. If any Church teachings conflict with their own perceptions, Archbishop Wenski said, young people simply “tune out” the teachings. “They agree to disagree with the church.”

Furthermore, the archbishop observed, young Catholics are sensitive to language that could imply judgment. “For them, language like ‘hate the sin love the sinner’ means ‘hate the sinner.’”

Perhaps many bishops didn’t get the message; but shifting attitudes among young Catholics were pointed out by the Pew Research Center last year. Fully 85% of self-identified Catholics ages 18-29, for example, said in a 2014 Pew study that homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with just 13% who said it should be discouraged. Older age groups were less likely to favor acceptance; but even among Catholics ages 65 and older, 57% said that homosexuality should be accepted.

One of my bishop acquaintances observed that our bishops need to teach more effectively. He would like to revamp parish and school catechetical programs so that they put more emphasis on church teaching.

I would suggest, frankly, that our bishops revamp their own leadership styles and put more emphasis on communication that starts with listening.

Speaking of listening, I wonder how many bishops were really listening to the Scriptures during their festive liturgy in Baltimore’s famous basilica. The first reading was from the letter to Titus (1:1-9), which told the assembled bishops to “appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you, on condition that a man be blameless, married only once, with believing children….”

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A Burkean Flashback : Flashback Catholicism


This weekend we have a bit of a flashback to an earlier posting about Cardinal Raymond Burke. One of my readers, a good friend in London, suggested that I re-post an earlier piece about the former Archbishop of Saint Louis and  recently-removed Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

Cardinal Burke has become a strong critic of theologians, like Cardinal Walter Kasper, who would argue that change has been and must be an important part of Catholic belief and practice. Burke is in fact a strong defender of what I would call “flashback Catholicism”……..more anchored in the late medieval past than the third millennium.

Flashback Catholicism is at the heart of the storm, now blowing through the Vatican — and certain foreign outposts with flashback archbishops like Philadelphia — as “progressives” battle “conservatives;” and people like Cardinal Raymond Burke accuse the Pope Francis of fostering confusion about church teaching.

Catholic chaos? A Catholic crisis? Or just maybe Catholicism at an historic crossroad? The challenges are there and they are very real. Writing in the New York Times this week, James Carroll phrased it this way: “The joyful new pope has quickened the affection even of the disaffected, including me, but, oddly, I sense the coming of a strange reversal in the Francis effect. The more universal the appeal of his spacious witness, the more cramped and afraid most of his colleagues in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church have come to seem.”

Carroll’s solution is, I suspect, the only real solution for the growing Catholic dilemma: “…(a) Such retrieval of the centrality of Jesus can restore a long-lost simplicity of faith, which makes Catholic identity — or the faith of any other church — only a means to a larger communion not just with fellow Jesus people, but with humans everywhere. All dogmas, ordinances and accretions of tradition must be measured against the example of the man who, acting wholly as a son of Israel, eschewed power, exuded kindness, pointed to one whom he called Father, and invited those bent over in the shadowy back to come forward to his table.”

But now…….another kind of Burkean flashback:

Looking Sharp for Jesus

Best Dressed Cardinal in Rome for 2011

Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke

February is World Fashion Month. It is with feelings of great emotion that I announce that Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke — born and raised in Wisconsin, USA — has won the 2011 “Look Sharp for Jesus Award.” The judges found him one of the best dressed members of the Roman Pontifical Court. There is of course no cash connected with this award because — well — we just don’t think he needs it after what his threads cost all of us in the church.

Raymond Leo Burke — “Ray” to most of us — was born June 30, 1948. Heck,  John Greenleaf was already riding his tricycle when little Ray was in diapers…… Ray is the current Cardinal Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. That’s a big job for a big man.  Ray previously served as Archbishop of St. Louis (2003–2008) and Bishop of La Crosse (1994–2003).

Aside from his judicial expertise and his great fondness for the medieval liturgy of the Council of Trent, Ray is quite the party boy in Rome. Wherever he goes, people stand in awe at his expertly crafted and tailored episcopal dress.

Various young ecclesiastics around the world — and no small number of seminarians at the Pontifical North American College in Rome — are saving their pennies to “dress like Ray when I become a bishop.”

Here is a  quick consumers guide:

You need a big hat — called a mitre. Ray has quite a collection.

This colorful head cover is one of Ray’s favorites. “THE hat” for special occasions, like going out with the Pope. It cost Ray only $8,340.

On less formal, but certainly still very  important occasions, the Cardinal Prefect prefers his simple gold bonnet. This one below was a great buy at $1,042.

But a mitre does not make a bishop…or a cardinal…..Pontifical GLOVES do the real trick.

These beauties — great in a suddenly unexpected  Roman snow storm or for shoveling snow back in Wisconsin — were a great buy at $1,390.