Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jim Wallis Book Hype: Embracing the Market Economy?

Coming during the week prior to Easter, I naturally thought the email I received from Sojourners — which I have been reading for my Lenten penance religiously — would contain some spiritual admonishment. “Just one week until … ” the subject line said. Am I at fault for thinking my mind was going to be directed to the good news of human redemption in the Resurrection of the Lord just a few days hence?

Ironically, the organization that so regularly decries free markets and denounces profit-making was merely hyping Jim Wallis’ new book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good. Wallis, as far as I can tell from his previous efforts, wants us to believe that you are on God’s side as long as you are on Jim’s side, because that is God’s side when it comes to economic life.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fr. Robert A. Sirico Comments on the Election of Pope Francis

Fr. Robert A. Sirico has released the following statement on the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope:

“Pope Francis is a man of great spirituality who is known for his commitment to doctrinal orthodoxy as well as for his simplicity of life,” Fr. Sirico said. “Like Benedict XVI, he combines concern for the poor with an insistence that it’s not the Church’s responsibility to be a political actor or to prescribe precise solutions to economic problems. In that regard, he’s a model for all Catholic bishops and clergy throughout the world.”

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Vatican Smoke Signals

Here’s a curious tidbit regarding the fumata, the white or black smoke that will rise from the Sistine Chapel’’s chimney signaling whether a pope has been elected or not.

“It is sometimes hard to distinguish the actual color of the smoke, such as in 2005”. Back then, I knew for sure there was a successful vote for pope when I saw the fumata in the middle of the afternoon session, even though it was difficult to tell if it was white or black.

Here’s why. Cardinals cast two ballots in the morning and another two ballots in the afternoon. However, if a pope is successfully elected after the first of the two ballots, then their votes are burned and white chemicals are added to report a positive outcome. “Otherwise, they wait to burn both ballots all in one fumata.

At the very end of the morning or afternoon the smoke can be white or black. But if we see the fumata mid-morning or mid-afternoon, then it has to be white for a successful election.

Monday, March 11, 2013

At the Vatican Conclave: The Lull before the Storm

ROME — For all the ‘Vaticanisti’ (journalists specializing in the Vatican) sitting around Rome and interviewing one another for the last several weeks, the wholesale consumption of high blood pressure medication took a precipitous drop on the announcement Friday afternoon that the Conclave to elect the new pope would occur on Tuesday, March 12, one day later than I had predicted several weeks ago.  Now is the lull before the storm. A Mass praying for the election of the pope will be followed by the first voting session of the Conclave in the early evening.

With many media outlets waiting for that date to be announced, the remaining hotel rooms left in Rome will be gobbled up, and by Monday evening we can expect an influx of the rest of the 5000 journalists accredited to the Holy See to cover the event.

It is difficult not to compare the lead up to this Conclave to the last one I had the opportunity to witness eight years ago.  Then, of course, one of the monumental figures of the twentieth century had passed from the scene after a long and highly visible bout with Parkinson’s disease.  By the time I had arrived to provide commentary at the BBC location above St. Peter’s Square, the body of John Paul II was being translated (an elegant way of saying the body was ‘moved’) from the Apostolic Palace where the pope lived and died, to beneath the Bernini colonnades in the center of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was a slow, mournful and moving sight.  By the time the body of the Polish pope was laid in state at the foot of the papal altar lines, long line, began forming down boulevard leading to the basilica.  The crowds would grow in the following days to estimates ranging from three to four million pilgrims to pay the last respects the John Paul II.

As I arrived in Rome earlier this week, there was, of course, no pope laying in state, not papal funeral in the offing.  The main events were the general congregation of cardinals becoming better acquainted with one another in anticipation of their votes, and developing priorities for the future of the church.  Rome did not appear filled to the brim as I had seen it eight years ago, or evening in other periods of tourism, canonizations or sporting events.

The fact that cardinals are vowed not to discuss in any detail the deliberations meant there was very little real news to be had.  I saw a reporter in the famous Gammarelli tailor shop interviewing the four generations of the Gammarelli family on what it is like to be the papal tailor, asking the same questions one can find in most guide books.

So this is the mood presently in Rome as we wait for the Conclave to begin. Even during the Conclave there will be no hard news to report as the Cardinals will be completely cut off from the world, both the Sistine Chapel where the actual voting takes place, and the Casa Santa Marta, where the cardinals will reside as of Monday evening, are all technologically jammed.

What to expect when voting actually begins on Tuesday evening:  Expect black smoke Tuesday.  This first vote will in effect enable the cardinal to determine, who, in fact, the front runners are.  As it will take 77 votes out of 115 to elect a new pope, any candidate with more than 40 votes will attract a great deal of attention – by the cardinals that is, because those of us on the outside won’t even know about it. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tradition Guides Selection of New Pope

The whole world is watching as leaders consider new pontiff

Add to this the rumors of financial and sexual scandals among men vowed to chastity, the entire scene becomes a veritable perfect storm. Shakespeare might have condemned it "as improbable fiction" were it portrayed on a stage (Twelfth Night). But this is real life.

Behind the sets and grandeur of Bernini's colonnades and under the frescos of Michelangelo sit human beings, much like other human beings, with all the same foibles, ambitions, vices, as well as sincere piety and hope for the future of an institution they do indeed love, have given their lives to and, yes, even sometimes betray.

And so we come to both the drama and the reality of the election of a new pope. As has already been widely noted, this election is rare in that a successor is being selected even while his predecessor is still alive, something that last occurred almost two centuries before Columbus set sail to find new trade routes to the Indies.

To say the retirement of a pope is a break with tradition is an understatement, and this is made all the more notable in that it has been undertaken by a man most noted for his adherence to Tradition.

But there is tradition and there is Tradition in the Catholic religion. What Benedict XVI was bound to, indeed what any member of the faithful is bound to, is the Tradition of the Apostles, that is, orthodoxy or 'right belief" — doctrines and dogma (that's right, even in this age of inclusivity, Christians still make truth claims expressed in their creeds and doctrines). All this is to say that Benedict, while embracing an option available to him that had been rarely exercised, is not abandoning the Tradition. Canon Law provided for this possibility, and for reasons explained by the Pope Emeritus himself, and speculated upon by pundits and conspiracy theorists of all stripes.

Still, the potential consequences of such a decision are complex and forms part of the discussion that is taking place among the College of Cardinals in their General Congregations, which began Monday. Such General Congregations, a normal part of the process leading up to a conclave, gives all cardinals (including those over 80 who are not electors in the conclave) an opportunity to assess the state and needs of the church as well as one another.

Probably the topic of most speculation since the announcement of Benedict's resignation is who the next pope will be. No one, not even the most well-informed Cardinal or Vatican journalist, has a clear answer to that question. Anyone telling you otherwise is dreaming. From one pontificate to the next, the difficulty of predicting the outcome varies. This time, for a number of reasons, a prediction is as difficult as can be. A quick conclave, over in four ballots (which is what it took to elect Benedict), is unlikely.

The first is that the usual decline in health of a pope provides a period of sifting: Inquiries into the background, experience, competencies and style of those who might be pope (termed papabili, literally "popeable"). Benedict's abrupt resignation eliminated both that gestation period and the time the cardinals would have over the traditional nine days of mourning, celebrating masses together in Rome. Instead, the cardinals have gone directly into the General Congregations.

A second factor is that unlike the transition from John Paul II to Benedict, there is no obvious front-runner, no single cardinal that universally stands out as an obvious successor.

What does all this mean for the days ahead? Time. Time for the sifting process to allow the cardinals to get to know one another in this new light; time to get to the bottom of the problems related to the spirituality and governance of the Roman Curia (the bureaucracy that is supposed to help formulate, administer and communicate the decisions of the pope), which, even before the "Vatileaks" exposure, was well-known for its rivalries and cronyism; and time for the actual election process itself, due to procedural changes introduced since the last conclave, now requiring a two-thirds vote of the cardinals to elect a pope for up to 33 ballots.

In the next two weeks or so, you will hear much of the media asking a rotating list of questions as to the profile for the next pope: Will he allow priests to marry, ordain women, permit contraception? Such questions, while of interest to those mildly intrigued or bemused by the church, nonetheless betray a fundamental misunderstanding of how authentic Catholics see themselves.

For them, the church is not some kind of hybrid spiritual-political movement needing to be attentive to its constituencies priorities and preferences, one that was started to respond to various trends in society and culture. The church does see not see itself an institution or a club that must alter its beliefs to reflect the lifestyles of its members or clients. The church is not something Christians design or make up, but something that Christians inherit. It is seen as the revelation of God requiring a loving acceptance of the truth it discloses to the world. People are free to reject that truth, of course. But the church exists to propose (not impose) its claims. In this sense, the church does not reflect or so much respond to culture as it creates culture, centered on Christ and his intransigent claim on the human heart.

For some, this will be repulsive. I hope it, at least, will be informative. But for others, for millions upon millions down the two millennia, it will constitute one's highest call.

I suspect that the cardinals meeting in Rome will be looking to find one of their number sufficiently grounded in this view of existence, in this Tradition, who they believe will be confident and even winsome in communicating these ancient claims to an increasingly secular and skeptical world; a man who will have sufficient insight into the human condition to enable him to uncover the many competent and even saintly gems that exist within the Curia — along with the backbone to eliminate the others. I suspect they will look for a man of sufficient dedication, passion and charity who will emulate the flawed fisherman whose shoes he will fill.

This article originally appeared in The Detroit News