Sunday, March 03, 2013

College of Cardinals...elect a vivacious global Pope!



     This column is written with great respect and deference to the Venerable College of Cardinals, entrusted during the unprecedented, sede vacanti, by a Pope with the knowledge, experience, and wisdom to know when it was time to retire.  While, I do not claim status as a “Vatican Watcher,” the pontificate of Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is a pivotal period in the life of the Catholic Church as well as a historical snapshot into the state of ecclesial and secular affairs. As Cardinal Ratzinger, the notorious task of policing the Catholic Church’s moral and doctrinal abnormalities marked his tenure.  He governed the Church in the background, and was indeed the most logical candidate presented by the Holy Spirit to the College of Cardinals as the leading candidate. John-Paul II, a global idol spread the Gospel, kissed the ground of countries he visited and tried to reconcile a global Church divided by a myriad of internal and external issues which included the demise of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Eastern Communist bloc, the resurgence of nationalism in  Europe, with the caveats of the strengthening of Islamic influence, insurrection within and outside of the Catholic Church and a universal gravitation towards the lures of secular humanism and rampant materialism. As Pope, John-Paul managed to administer an internal Curia, still loyal to the Old Italian manner of governing the Church and the constant intrigue associated with discredited members of the hierarchy through either high crimes or misdemeanors or outright felonious activities such as the Vatican  Bank scandal and untold other sub signum events that will become known to historians of the future.
     With remarkable courage, John-Paul taught us how to live a qualitative and productive life as our Pope with a dehabilitating disease, ultimately riddling his body with physical incapacity and medical maladies, that taught us an additional lessons; namely the love of life, the dignity and value of each and every human person and how death regardless of ecclesiastical title brings us all home to the Lord.  John-Paul’s papacy was long.  It was productive and it was exciting.  As Catholics, the uniqueness of a non-Italian Pontiff in centuries provided the theological and secular bridge that perhaps united the world of medieval Europe, with the turmoil and triumph of the modern age, along with all of the growing pains associated with the Church’s journey from Trent to Vatican II and the dawning of a new century. In charity, and with great respect John-Paul suffered for us, the Church and with his own physical deterioration, however his exemplary example as a model for physical suffering inspired and motivated the world to at the least greatly respect the octogenarian Pope’s dignity, academic acumen, and determination to complete the task to which he was elected.
     In contrast, on his election as John-Paul’s successor, Joseph Ratzinger as the newly installed Benedict XVI told the world that his papacy would not be one of a long duration. This brief declaration by the new Holy Father was considered briefly, and most of the world felt Benedict would exit the papal throne in the same manner his predecessors did, through physical death.  However, in true Germanic fashion, Pope Benedict freely abdicated his papacy through retirement and stunned not only the College of Cardinals, but also indeed the entire global society.  The last papal resignation occurred almost six centuries ago, and the outcome was not exactly a transition of dignity or charity. Benedict XVI’s resignation (which preferably should be called a retirement) is illustrative of the great changes the Catholic Church vehemently needs to coexist with the postmodern world with an evolving culture of transforming proportions.
     The upcoming conclave, which in itself is a misnomer (Cardinals are no longer under lock and key during their deliberations). The sede vacante is still warm; its last occupant moving to another papal residence and Benedict peacefully and deliberately renounced his office as Bishop of Rome.  He departed the Vatican, by a helicopter provided by the Italian Air Force, not in the usual triple casket destined for a sarcophagus beneath the foundations of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Additionally, he has plans to pray, read, write, play his beloved Mozart and perhaps adopt a kindle of kittens in the new papal retirement home An astute theologian, Benedict XVI was one of the primary architects of the drastically needed reforms of the Second Vatican Council and perhaps in some sense anticipated the need in the future for a Pope to retire. The Teutonic mind thinks ahead, and virtually 50 years since the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the sudden ending of Session II (due to the death of John XXIII), Benedict decided to retire with great dignity and grace, still with the ability to positively contribute through academic research, prayer and study to the life of the vibrant and growing Church. Providentially, this seems a significant personification of his periti status as an architect of Vatican II, and distinctively German in the absoluteness of his freely made decision.  Two Popes, both having witnessed the atrocities and  dehumanizing effects of the Second World War mark the conclusion of the post war world and heralds the beginning of a new age of prominence for the role of the Catholic Church.
     Benedict’s retirement has shaken the College of Cardinals into a pragmatic realization that the Catholic Church is most emphatically a global institution. As such, it also needs to continue the departures from normal operational procedures and transform itself through the Holy Spirit into a modern institution calling all peoples to faith, holiness and global peace and unity. The next Successor of Peter needs personal vibrancy, stamina and the ability to speak with the authority of Christ to the entire world, segregated by social, political, military and theological strives. Ideally, the new Pontiff with be multilingual, multicultural and sensitive to the great transitions Christianity is undergoing from a strictly European and Northern Hemisphere experience of faith, to one that has permeated the continent of Africa, the countries of South America and the entire Pacific rim.  While Latin used to unite the Church, multilingual and multicultural traditions are spreading the Gospel in a New Pentecost, virtually peoples of all tongues and cultures. It is precisely this renewed Pentecostal Catholic Church the new Pope will prayerfully lead and guide as the People of God.
     The College of Cardinals has a daunting task. Their selection needs to be a man of diplomatic authority, knowledge of cultural and religious differences and the willingness to proclaim theological reconciliation between all Christians, our cousins in faith the Jewish People and often envisioned as adversaries in faith the Islamic world. That does not even take into consideration, the needs to reconcile generations of conflict between the Church and Science and negative responses of geopolitical proportions, including the role of women, the inclusion of dispensed priests, and the acceptance of moral norms that were never considered at the Council of Jerusalem or any subsequent councils since then. Additionally, the threats of nuclear annihilation, disproportionate allocation of global resources and the threats of pandemic diseases and potentially disastrous examples of hunger, human rights violations and above all the dangers of secular atheism.    
     The Bishop of Rome needs to evangelize young people, restore legal and fiscal transparency to all of the Catholic Church’s activities and yes, confess wrongdoing, seek reconciliation and collectively resolve a theological and moral transformation that will not only inspire the world, but unite the world into a global People of God, the notion envisioned by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago.
     Despite the perceptions of immorality and injustices, society is seeking a great voice to restore fidelity in the Divine, in man and in the capacity of man to live in a world of peace and harmony despite accidental differences imposed by political dynasties and profit making interests in the world’s natural resources.  The capacity to achieve these objectives, however, in electing a new Pope the College of Cardinals needs to “man up,” and recognize the distinctive need for a new aggiornamento of the Holy Spirit, which when ignited properly will transform the planet to one of global communications, interactions of peoples and the acceptance of universal precepts of moral rights and dignities deserved by all peoples that seek God.
     Benedict’s pontificate leaves us with the great adage: God is Love. His potential successor, most likely already in Rome needs to emerge and transform the Catholic world order that in entirely inclusive of all peoples, in peace and love with a strong voice, ultimately to faith in God and the dignity of all mankind.
Veni Creator Spiritus! Come Holy Spirit! Give us a global Pope with faith, tenacity and courage to change the world.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sede vacante...Come Holy Spirit





Sede vacante...almost.



  

 The great history of the Catholic Church has been marked with many events that have transformed the world. From the Apostles meeting in the Upper Room, with Mary, the Mother of God, Pentecost, the Council of Jerusalem, Ephesus, Trent, Vatican I & Vatican II, the Holy Spirit has always guided and led the Catholic Church in mysterious ways. Today for the first time in almost six hundred years, the Successor of Saint Peter, Pope Benedict XVI has relinquished his claim to the See of Peter. Thankfully, His Holiness is visibly capable of enjoying days of retirement, while he settles into the routine of Pope Emeritus. Most importantly, Benedict’s retirement illustrates the great gravity of the papal office and the need for a perhaps younger, stronger and with globetrotting abilities.  The old adage of course is,” Ubi Petrus est, ibi Ecclessia est.”  Where Peter is, there is the Church! The truly monumental gesture of relinquishing the authority of perhaps the last sovereign monarch in the world, illustrates strongly the pervasive and changing nature of the Catholic Church as ever growing, ever evolving and ever moving towards the final celestial existence in eternal communion with God and the saints.
   Pope Benedict, as a periti at the Second Vatican Council convened 50 years ago was indeed of the architects of the Church’s life and mission in the modern world.  His advocacy of following the mandate of Blessed John XXIII’s call for aggioramento quintessentially became the Church’s mandate and Joseph Ratzinger, through his scholarly writings and keen sense of the dynamics of ecclesiology have indeed set the path for the Church of the 21st century and beyond. As the enforcer of dogmatic teachings during the reign of John-Paul II, Ratzinger was the consummate and always faithful guardian to the proper interpretation of the deposit of faith. In faithful service to John-Paul II, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger assisted the Universal Church, come into a new epoch of theological understanding through the physical deterioration of John-Paul’s health as his papacy waned into history. The lesson taught by John-Paul II was simple, life from the very moment of conception until the natural end of human life is sacred and has a purpose. Edified by his life and papal ministry, John-Paul was proclaimed Blessed shortly after his death and given to all of us as a sign and symbol for healing and health for the physically infirmed.
      In continuing the mission of John-Paul II, Benedict XVI showed the world that chronological age has nothing to do with the effectiveness of a successful pontificate. As Pope, Benedict engaged in   travels that a younger man might not endure. He however, more than any Pope in modern history utilized the communication of the written word as the central focus, through his scholarship to draw all peoples to the Word Incarnate, God’s infinite love among us. While innovations such as the internet, facebook and twitter became part of the papal routine, the message always focused on the infinite love God has for all of creation and therefore all humanity.
   Most significant to the notion of love is also the action of reconciliation. Benedict XVI, through the establishment of an Anglican Ordinariate sought to reconcile adversaries initiated by Henry VIII. He permitted the restoration and celebration of the pre-Vatican II liturgy, now known as the Mass of Blessed John XXIII, and most importantly sought the deepening of theological commonalities with the Orthodox Church, separated in a Petrine principle for centuries. In effect, the title of pontifex maximus, bridge builder has always been the unique gift presented by Joseph Ratzinger, then Benedict XVI as the optimistic builder of bridges to reunify, restore and reinvigorate the role of the Church in the modern world. Perhaps the greatest bridge constructed by Benedict XVI is the transitional bridge of papal resignation and or retirement. The act, unprecedented in the modern age is indicative of an aging Pope passing the Word to a younger and more robust Successor of Peter more capable to reinvigorate and restore the Church to global prominence as the mediator of hope and faith as society often falls into nihilistic values and solipsism, limiting the transformative power of the Holy Spirit in calling the world into a new age of geopolitical harmony, only available through the reconciliation of the great faiths of the world.
     Pope Benedict’s pontificate can be summarized by a single word, caritas!  Love.  In the great priestly prayer of Jesus in John’s Gospel, the Lord asks that, “They love one another!”  As the voice of the Holy Spirit, Pope Benedict XVI has emphatically stressed the need for global love of God, our neighbor and each other as the critical component of the Gospel message. The pontificate of Benedict XVI began with Joseph Ratzinger himself indicating a short papacy. Traditionally, a short papacy is terminated by the physical death of the Pope.  Benedict XVI revolutionized and transformed the nature of the papal office with his untold expression of love through the free will and self-imposed retirement.  Such a papal action will provide precedent for the life of the Church and the constant manifestation of love as experienced within the Most Holy Trinity.
Thank you for your wisdom.  Prayers for a healthy retirement.  Commendations for such a radical manifestation of personal love for Christ’s Church.  Ad Multos Annos, Holy Father, Benedict XVI! Love and peace as you chart the office of Pope emeritus as a living and loving advisory source for the new Successor of Peter in the unbroken line of succession.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Squeaky Kneeler

Book cover image

    

     Proverbially, the squeaky wheel gets the oil.  However, in the case of a recently read book, A Squeaky Kneeler (squeaking on,) by Michael Robinson not only provides credibility to old adage, but also should indeed replace the application of oil with grace and perseverance.  This book celebrates the squeaky musings of Michael Robinson, a former Capuchin in the Franciscan Order and turns the somewhat disturbing “squeak,” into an opportunity to realize the infusion of God’s love and grace into the ordinary events that happen in each of our lives daily.  Kneelers, virtually unknown since the Second Vatican Council were integral to the prayer life of clergy, religious and faithful Catholics throughout the world. Today, the liturgical furniture makes rare appearances usually during the Sacrament of Penance, or in front of various shrines in order for pilgrims to stop, pray and meditate on the saint’s virtues and pray for God’s continued insistence. However, kneelers conform to the knees of the person that utilizes it and becomes not only a place of prayer, but a comfortable place where an individual can meditate, pray, contemplate or just observe the daily events that happen in their lives.  The kneeler is a virtual observation point for both the soul and provides a place from which one is able to observe the works and actions of the world and persons around them.  Michael Robinson uses the imagery of a “squeaky kneeler,” to provide glimpses into his own personal thoughts and insights regarding the actions of people and events going on around him.  Primarily, a kneeler is a place of prayer and contemplation.  Mike Robinson utilizes his “squeaky kneeler,” as a platform to recollect on events and individuals that deeply  have affected his life and continue to provide this service through the continued squeak of the responsive  kneeler each time the author either recalls critical events from the past or “squeaks,” regarding contemporary events that now effect him as a husband, father, author and a continuing important part of the People of God, all of whom are squeaking in our own ways about untold events known only to God and as intercessions for His Divine Guidance.
     There are positive and annoying aspects to a squeaky kneeler and the same can be applied to the lessons learned in our lives through both positive and negative experiences.  However, both ends of the spectrum of experiences are collectively the sum total of our physical and spiritual journey in faith as we live, learn and love as part of a larger community of faith, the Church. The squeak from each of us transforms from a cacophony of annoying tones into a well-orchestrated symphony of a collective praise of human lives in our pursuit of a better understanding of God’s existence.  Through recounting people, places, thoughts and events Michael Robinson inspires all of us to become, “squeaky kneelers,” that produce noises that could be considered annoying into harmonic sounds that ultimately provide life lessons for ourselves and all of the people we encounter on our Catholic eschatological journey towards Christ Jesus and participate in the final orchestration of Divine harmony with God through eternal life.
     Michael Robinson incorporates all sorts of experiences, with good Catholic theological principles into this well written and intimately disclosing work of his journey in life and faith.  He talks about his adoring dog, Rudy as an inspirational example of the canine’s fidelity, while his master (Michael) seeks professional and personal inspiration, direction, and practical employment in his life.  Which of us, has not relied in the unconditional fidelity of a canine companion, or for that matter the unconditional love of the Father as the constant motivation through His grace to continue on and deal with the triumphs and tragedies of ordinary and often difficult difficult moments of our daily lives.
     Mike Robinson even applauds the smallest events in life as transformational, the presence of a mouse in the house (which in itself could be the squeaky sequel to this book, to the engineering genius of Steve Jobs that was the inspirational power behind modern word processing and the entrance into the computer age of typography, to even the most mundane observation of the movements of clouds as indicative of positive influences and great, “squeaks,” that radically transform  the daily perceptions of our lives.
In reality, the work by Mike Robinson makes me laugh, cry, giggle and even gives me the opportunity to correlate similar events that I have experiences as a Catholic seminary student, a teacher, graduate student and author. Clearly, as indicated by Michael Robinson, SQUEAKS are intended to call attention to significant and important events that affect our personal, spiritual, and professional lives.  While the most basis kneeler, seems innocuous in the larger reality of life and the world, the need for kneeling in order to reflect on the majestic events happening all around us makes us aware of the endless line of influential individuals, events and activities that contribute to the great fabric that constitutes our temporal fabric of humanity, gifted to us for only a limited time by the Creator.
     Unfortunately, I have never personally met the author of the book. However, seemingly we share a similar and almost unconventional view of what we consider philosophically, theologically, spiritually, and humanly important as we live our lives.  Most importantly, Mike Robinson effectively uses the effects of pervasive love and faith in God, His Church and most importantly his loving family as the catalytic components that make Mike Robinson a man of thought and deep love, similar to Saint Anselm and the famous axiom, “Fidens quarrels intellectum,” (Faith seeks understanding!)  While we may not always achieve understanding about all of the significant and seemingly insignificant events that make the fabric of our lives a reality, Mike’s observations motivate me to keep vigilant, be persistent and grow to love, “squeaks,” however they manifest themselves in life, whether through people, events, pets and even the most insignificantly perceived opportunity to share grace and love by being both a “squeaker,” for others and most significantly a, “kneeler,” calling everyone to take time to live, love, pray and most importantly put away the WD40 and SQUEAK loudly to proclaim God’s glory and our desire to participate in His Divine live. Even if the disharmonious squeaking from all of our collective kneelers is not always the song of the melodic choirs of angels, with which we are most familiar.
     Mike Robinson’s book provides me personally with a reflective view of the importance of love, family and faith as the integral part of our daily lives as Catholics.  When you read the book, certainly, you will encounter similar sentiments and laugh, giggle and love when you pick out your antidotal favorite stories to integrate into your squeaking kneeler.
Mike’s book is available at Amazon.com.

 Hugh J.McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist.  Hugh studied both philosophy and theology at Philadelphia's Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary.  He also holds a B.A. in Philosophy from that institution. Hugh also studied at Villanova University in Villanova, Pa, holds an M.A. in Catholic historical theology, and is in the process of earning an M.S. in Church Management.  Additionally, Hugh is a part-time student at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. and anticipates completion of his studies in Catholic liturgical historiography.  Additionally, Hugh has plans to pursue an Ed.D at Immaculata University in Immaculata, Pa. Hugh writes frequently for multiple Catholic News Outlets on a regular basis, and has finished two books, to be released in Fall of 2013, The Stained Glass of Paula Himmelsbach-Balano and American Catholics during the American Revolution. 
Hugh is a member of the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, with the rank of Knight.  Recently, Hugh has been presented as a candidate for membership in the Knights of Malta. Hugh resides in Delaware's Brandwine Valley with his wife and daughter.





Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI...Papa Emeritus!





Yesterday, the Holy Father, Benedict XVI announced he would renounce his claim to the See of Peter and retire for reasons of personal health.  This monumental action startled not only the Catholic world, but also indeed the global community.  It is the first time in almost six hundred years that a Bishop of Rome relinquished their Papal See and retired. Pope Benedict’s decision to acknowledge the personal limitations of his health and as an octogenarian should be acclaimed as a monumental and most pragmatic event for the life and vitality of the Catholic Church.  The strain and activities of the papacy are most certainly laborious for any one individual, especially a seasoned theologian that has well passed the retirement age required for bishops, under the current Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Pope John-Paul II.
Currently, the Code of Canon Law prescribes that prior to a bishop’s 75th birthday; they should submit a letter of resignation for consideration of the Holy Father.  While the Code requires the submission of a bishop’s letter of intent and a declaration of their 75th anniversary, the Holy See has no implicit or explicit responsibility to immediately accept or reject the request. Pope Paul VI precipitated this practice of initiating the retirement of bishops at 75 and members of the College of Cardinals at 80 in the waning years of his lengthy pontificate.
The moto proprio of Paul VI, and the codification of these requirements in the revised Code of Canon Law are prophetic and insightful contingencies, built into the government of the Catholic Church intended not to discriminate against elderly bishops and cardinals of the Church.  Quite the contrary, the inclusion of these directives into the revised Code Law is not intended to discriminate against the elderly members of the Colleges of Bishops and Cardinals, but rather intends to protect their personal vitality and ensure the effective continuity of the Church’s government with as little interruption as possible. Prior to these directives, Bishops and Cardinals served in their official capacities until they either died or were incapacitated by issues of health that prohibited their active ministries.  The provision to retire for bishops and cardinals is a modern innovation since 1974, and it has worked well and created a new category of bishops, Bishops Emeriti, namely retired bishops and cardinals that continue in their capacity to administer Sacraments, but are without administrative duties.  They retain their titles and all of the honorifics accorded to their ecclesial rank, and provide great counsel and assistance to their successors.
Perhaps now it is most appropriate to bestow the title of Pope Emeritus on Benedict XVI, retain the formal address of Your Holiness and permit him to continue to wear the traditional white cassock of a Pope. Typically, this protocol is established with former United States Presidents, they are still addressed as Mr. President and are provided with official staff and administrative support.  In our American Republic, no one mistakes them for the duly elected current President of the United States, they are indeed a vast resource of knowledge, experience, and perceptive that is invaluable to the new President if their counsel is requested.
In the case of Benedict XVI, no one would even consider his continued use of the title, Your Holiness would diminish any authority from his elected successor, and it would lend a modern appreciation to the manner in which papal transitions are made. In some manner, it is comforting to have a Pope Emeritus, not as someone standing in the wings to usurp papal power, rather as a paternal and guiding influence for the counsel of the newly elected Pope. Historically, elected popes have no one to offer counsel and confide in another individual that has previously held the esteemed office of Bishop of Rome. Benedict’s retirement should be viewed as not only a historic event, but also a great opportunity to evolve the perceptions of the Papacy as not just an office headed by a terminal Pope, but a viable living office and role that requires the vitality and physical abilities of a man with a global message and mission.  Remarkably, this resignation announced by Benedict XVI provides a transformational perspective on the great role and responsibility of the Pope in the modern world. Most significantly, it accentuates the teachings of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council that accentuate embracing the modern world and all of its innovations to spread the Gospel message.  Joseph Ratzinger, an architect of  the Second Vatican Council regardless of his health issues, may well indeed illustrate an sublime architectural component of his vision for the changes of the Second Vatican Council, as Father Ratzinger that he is only now revealing and disclosing through his papacy and pending retirement.
My suggestion is not that the Holy Father is implementing a preconceived idea from fifty years ago.  However, the possibility remains that the work of the Holy Spirit is still in progress, because of the great Ecumenical Council, which celebrates its 50th anniversary of the Council’s start in 1962.  The evolution of the papacy since John XXIII indeed has grown to a responsibility of global significance and great political and social influence. The New Evangelization called for by Pope Benedict XVI could quite possibly include an evolution of the role of the papacy into an international diplomat of global proportions that leads the world’s moral and ethical view through positive integration of the Church as a major influence on the geopolitical stage of a world that is no longer isolated but integrated through technological innovations of communications and science.
The New Evangelization of Benedict XVI is in reality a call for the Catholic Church’s transformation into a universal voice for all peoples that seeks global harmony through the message of tolerance, peace, and diversity of all peoples and cultures.  Pope Benedict XVI, through his retirement is embracing the need for the Church to saturate itself in the modern world as defined in Gaudium et Spes, which realizes the Catholic Church as an emerging global influence on human moral and ethical developments radically changed through the development and introduction of the advances of the sciences and multiple technologies.  Pope Benedict XVI a few weeks ago became to first pontiff in history to use Twitter as a pastoral resource.  Perhaps, that “tweet” was the electronic flame of the new evangelization initiated by Pope Benedict to restore the global society with a component of morality and ethics and the acceptance of Divine Providence as part of our human and eschatological existence.
Benedict XVI’s retirement and transition to Papa Emeritus should be considered as a monumental development in the role of the papacy and the Church in the activities of the post-modern world and is indicative of the dramatic call for aggiornamento proclaimed 50 years ago by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, and Joseph Ratzinger as one of its principle architects.
His retirement is well deserved and earned after decades of faithful service to the message of the Gospel. It should also be considered as an opportunity to revitalize all peoples from secular humanism and the limitations of materialism to a new exploration of faith through whatever manner the Almighty manifests Himself to the peoples of the world.


Χαίρετε ἐν κυρί πάντοτε!
Gaudete in Domino semper!