It was just about this time two years ago tonight – a couple minutes after 7pm in Rome – when the expected dose of black smoke to close a crapshoot Conclave's first full day seemed to be taking a bit longer than expected...
...and then, all of a sudden, It came – and It wasn't black:
...and that was just the first shock:
(Habemus Papam on start; Pope appears at 11-minute mark)
Brothers and sisters, good evening! You know how the duty of the Conclave is to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother cardinals have gone to take him from the edge of the world... but here we are. I thank you for your welcome – the diocesan family of Rome to your bishop: thank you! And before anything else, I'd like for us to pray for our bishop-emeritus, Benedict XVI. Let us pray together for him, that the Lord bless him and Our Lady keep him in her care.... Our Father.... Hail Mary.... Glory Be....
And now, together, let us start this road: bishop and people. This [new] path of the church of Rome, which "presides in charity" [over] all the churches. A path of brotherhood, of love, of trust between us. Let us pray always for ourselves: one for the other. Let us pray for all the world, that we all might know a great fraternity. I wish you that this journey as Church, that we begin today and on which my Cardinal-Vicar [of Rome] will help me, might be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city! And now I'll give you my blessing... but first – first, I ask you this favor: before the bishop blesses his people, I ask that you pray to the Lord that he might bless me: the prayer of the people, seeking God's blessing for their bishop. In silence, please pray over me.... *Pope Bows to crowd* Now I give my blessing to you and all the world – to all men and women of good will.... Brothers and sisters, I leave you, but only for now. Many thanks for your warm welcome. Please pray for me often!
I'll see you soon – tomorrow I want to go pray to Our Lady [Salus Populi Romani – her shrine at St Mary Major], because she's the one who cares for Rome.
Good night and sleep well!
And now, on to "the third of Our Pontificate".... Yet again, predict at your own risk.
A "Jubilee of Mercy" – On 2nd Anniversary, Pope Calls Extraordinary Holy Year of "God's Forgiveness"
While it was already well-noted that the Pope was marking the hour of the second anniversary of his election with a focus on his favorite sacrament – leading a Lenten Penance Service with individual Confessions in St Peter's – Francis upped the ante considerably moments ago with a surprise announcement of immense significance: his indiction of an "Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy" as a moment for the entire church to spread the word of God's forgiveness, beginning on December 8th.
Set to include the opening of the basilica's Holy Door – the Jubilee ritual which normally only takes place every quarter-century – the Pope said the Year of Mercy will run until the end of November 2016. The intended opening day for the observance coincides with the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II.
A practice dating to 1300, while the church observes an ordinary Holy Year at the 25-year marks of each century as an equivalent to the ancient Jewish custom of jubilee – a designated time of forgiveness, renewal and celebration – the last two extraordinary Holy Years were held in 1933 and 1983, respectively marking the 1,900th and 1,950th anniversaries of Jesus' death and resurrection.
The news given under embargo to the press prior to the service, on going public with the plan from the pulpit, Francis received a spontaneous ovation from the crowd in attendance.
Following the announcement, as he did at last year's Penance rite in an unprecedented public moment for a pontiff, Francis again knelt to make his own Confession to another of the priests stationed around St Peter's (below) before receiving penitents in his own booth.
Tonight's event in the basilica marked the global opening of "24 Hours for the Lord" – the second year of a Vatican-sponsored "festival of forgiveness" which, at the Pope's direct behest, urged the dioceses of the world to provide an ample number of churches where Confession would be available around the clock to open this Fourth Weekend of Lent.
Here below, the Vatican's English translation of the Pope's homily featuring the announcement of the Holy Year (emphases original):
This year as last, as we head into of the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we are gathered to celebrate the penitential liturgy. We are united with so many Christians, who, in every part of the world, have accepted the invitation to live this moment as a sign of the goodness of the Lord. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, in fact, allows us with confidence to draw near to the Father, in order to be certain of His pardon. He really is “rich in mercy” and extends His mercy with abundance over those who turn to Him with a sincere heart. To be here in order to experience His love, however, is first of all the fruit of His grace. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, God never ceases to show the richness of His mercy throughout the ages. The transformation of the heart that leads us to confess our sins is “God's gift”, it is “His work” (cf. Eph 2:8-10). To be touched with tenderness by His hand and shaped by His grace allows us, therefore, to approach the priest without fear for our sins, but with the certainty of being welcomed by him in the name of God, and understood notwithstanding our miseries. Coming out of the confessional, we will feel God’s strength, which restores life and returns the enthusiasm of faith. The Gospel we have heard (cf. Lk 7:36-50) opens for us a path of hope and comfort. It is good that we should feel that same compassionate gaze of Jesus upon us, as when he perceived the sinful woman in the house of the Pharisee. In this passage two words return before us with great insistence: love and judgment. There is the love of the sinful woman, who humbles herself before the Lord; but first there is the merciful love of Jesus for her, which pushes her to approach. Her cry of repentance and joy washes the feet of the Master, and her hair dries them with gratitude; her kisses are pure expression of her affection; and the fragrant ointment poured out with abundance attests how precious He is to her eyes. This woman’s every gesture speaks of love and expresses her desire to have an unshakeable certainty in her life: that of being forgiven. And Jesus gives this assurance: welcoming her, He demonstrates God’s love for her, just for her! Love and forgiveness are simultaneous: God forgives her much, everything, because “she loved much” (Luke 7:47); and she adores Jesus because she feels that in Him there is mercy and not condemnation. Thanks to Jesus, God casts her many sins away behind Him, He remembers them no more (cf. Is 43:25). For her, a new season now begins; she is reborn in love, to a new life. This woman has really met the Lord. In silence, she opened her heart to Him; in pain, she showed repentance for her sins; with her tears, she appealed to the goodness of God for forgiveness. For her, there will be no judgment except that which comes from God, and this is the judgment of mercy. The protagonist of this meeting is certainly the love that goes beyond justice. Simon the Pharisee, on the contrary, cannot find the path of love. He stands firm upon the threshold of formality. He is not capable of taking the next step to go meet Jesus, who brings him salvation. Simon limited himself to inviting Jesus to dinner, but did not really welcome Him. In his thoughts, he invokes only justice, and in so doing, he errs. His judgment on the woman distances him from the truth and does not allow him even to understand who guest is. He stopped at the surface, he was not able to look to the heart. Before Jesus’ parable and the question of which a servant would love his master most, the Pharisee answered correctly, “The one, to whom the master forgave most.” And Jesus does not fail to make him observe: “Thou hast judged rightly. (Lk 7:43)” Only when the judgment of Simon is turned toward love: then is he in the right. The call of Jesus pushes each of us never to stop at the surface of things, especially when we are dealing with a person. We are called to look beyond, to focus on the heart to see how much generosity everyone is capable. No one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one. Its doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness. The greater the sin, so much the greater must be the love that the Church expresses toward those who convert. Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. For this reason, I have decided to call an extraordinary Jubilee that is to have the mercy of God at its center. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord's words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (cf. Lk 6:36)” This Holy Year will begin on this coming Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and will end on November 20, 2016, the Sunday dedicated to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – and living face of the Father’s mercy. I entrust the organization of this Jubilee to the Pontifical Council for Promotion of the New Evangelization, that [the dicastery] might animate it as a new stage in the journey of the Church on its mission to bring to every person the Gospel of mercy. I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this Jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time. From this moment, we entrust this Holy Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she might turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey.
Hard as it is to believe, it's almost 15 years since New York was last here... sure enough, though, even as St Patrick's Cathedral was said to be "packed" for last night's vigil and the full pomp of the state funeral is again on display, this isn't May 8th, 2000 – it's a different world, and arguably even more, a different church.
With at least five cardinals and 30 bishops on hand, the burial liturgy of the Big Apple's ninth archbishop begins at 2pm Eastern after a half-hour procession (worship aid); both the city's ABC and CBS affiliates will livestream the rites from the "nation's parish," whose front half is currently racked with heavy scaffolding as part of the cathedral's years-long, $175 million restoration.
In keeping with Cardinal Edward Egan's desired plans, the Mass will be framed around the 1897 Requiem written by Lorenzo Perosi, an Italian cleric and protege of the future St Pius X who led the Sistine Choir from 1902 until his death in 1956 – a year before Egan's ordination in Rome. In an encore of the memorable close of the cardinal's Installation Mass in June 2000, the soprano Renée Fleming – Egan's favorite singer from his beloved Metropolitan Opera – will return to perform his sendoff, joined this time by the Met tenor Matthew Polenzani.
After the final commendation, the chanted In Paradisum will signal the final procession to the cathedral's crypt behind and beneath the high altar, where Egan will be entombed alongside all his predecessors going back to New York's first archbishop, John Hughes, the Irish-born strongman who envisioned the "cathedral of suitable magnificence" in Midtown as the symbol of his faithful's ascent, but didn't live to see it completed.
In more recent history, meanwhile, at the last two funerals of Gotham cardinals – John O'Connor in the aforementioned May 2000 and the Jesuit legend Avery Dulles in December 2008 – the exit of the casket from the cathedral saw applause erupt from the congregation: a sign of respect for the deceased usually seen only in Europe.
From New York comes the shocking news that Edward Cardinal Egan – the city's ninth archbishop and one of the global church's preeminent canonists, whose nine year tenure successfully tackled a host of urgent, unglamorous challenges, but saw many of the mega-diocese's most faithful left bruised in their wake – died suddenly this afternoon of cardiac arrest.
A month shy of his 83rd birthday, according to the archdiocese the Chicago-born cardinal was taken ill at his apartment in the city's Kips Bay neighborhood following lunch, and was rushed to the nearby NYU Langone Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 2.20pm.
Named to succeed John Cardinal O'Connor within days of the titanic Philadelphian's death in May 2000, on his retirement nine years later, Egan boasted of being the first New York prelate to "get out alive" – that is, the first occupant of the chair in St Patrick's Cathedral and the residence at 452 Madison to leave both to his successor in a manner that wasn't his casket. (Above, the cardinal is shown on one of the happier nights of his administration: the 2008 Al Smith Dinner when the event's tradition was maintained with the presence of both presidential nominees at their sole joint appearance outside the debates. Below, Egan is seen introducing Benedict XVI to his close friend, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, outside St Patrick's during the then-Pope's visit in April 2008.)
While Egan's years in office witnessed historic tumult and controversy – and at times, extraordinary levels of rancor from below – on fronts ranging from 9/11 and New York's vaunted finances to clergy sex-abuse, parish closings and relations with his priests, in retirement the devoted opera buff and classically trained pianist who bitterly disdained the media during his tenure came into a new warmth and popularity as he began to open up in unexpected ways and often lent a quiet hand with the yeoman's work of the pastoral trenches. And with it, what might be the cardinal's greatest legacy likewise came to fruition in these last years, when the figure who was only "discovered" in Rome after Egan was forced to return home after the World Trade Center attacks was elected Pope.
Six years since Egan handed over the reins, Cardinal Timothy Dolan has scheduled a 3.30pm press conference in the "nation's church," in whose tiny underground crypt the Big Apple's Ninth Archbishop will be laid to rest alongside his predecessors. Funeral arrangements remain to be determined.
For San Diego, Francis Looks Left – SF Aux. McElroy Plucked for Border Post
Ed. Note: The appointment reported below was formally announced by the Vatican at Roman Noon on Tuesday, 3 March.
* * *
It's being called the "Cupich appointment of the West," and not without reason – resolving the highest-profile vacancy on the current US docket, at Roman Noon tomorrow the Pope is slated to name Bishop Robert McElroy, the 61 year-old auxiliary of San Francisco known as one of the Stateside bench's most outspoken progressives, as the sixth bishop of San Diego and its 1 million Catholics in the nation's seventh-largest city.
As reports of the appointment quietly circulated for much of last week, three Whispers ops appraised of the move confirmed the news over the weekend. Coming just shy of six months since the premature death of Bishop Cirilo Flores after a brief struggle with cancer, as reports here at the time indicated, the succession was indeed fast-tracked given both the relative freshness of the consultations leading up to Flores' own selection in early 2012 and the diocese's still-unsettled state from its 2007 bankruptcy amid a torrent of sex-abuse lawsuits, which was settled for $197 million.
While the projections of timeline panned out, the choice of a relatively junior auxiliary – even one hailed as among the "leading intellectual and pastoral lights" of the bench's rising generation – is a significant surprise. That's anything but to say, however, that McElroy isn't ready for prime time – a Harvard undergrad with doctorates from both Stanford (in political science) and the Gregorian (moral theology), the San Diego pick served as vicar-general to his mentor, the retired San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn, before 14 years as a pastor during the tenure of then-Archbishop William Levada.
Beyond his assisting role until now in "The City," the bishop is notably a member of the influential Administrative Committee of the USCCB – the 30-prelate group that is the body's ultimate authority outside of the plenary session – as the regional delegate for the sprawling turf comprising California, Nevada, Utah and Hawaii (i.e. the area covered by the Golden State's twin provinces).
Already a familiar figure in the pages of the Jesuit-run America magazine while still a parish priest – including a 2005 piece where he memorably shredded the then-nascent movement to bar Catholic office-holders from receiving the Eucharist over their support for legal abortion – in 2010, McElroy was named an auxiliary to then-Archbishop George Niederauer, a move that clearly enjoyed the blessing of Levada, who by then was CDF prefect and oversaw the appointment from his perch on the Congregation for Bishops (where he remains into the present). Given the spotlight of the current context on questions of religious freedom, it bears reminding that McElroy's Stanford degree has its focus on religious liberty as conceptualized by John Courney Murray and integrated into Catholic tradition with Dignitatis humanae, Vatican II's declaration on the topic, whose title the bishop took for his episcopal motto.
The auxiliary's move south intriguingly coincides with a tense period in San Francisco, as Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone's planned addition of doctrinal and morality clauses to the teachers' contract and policy handbook at the archdiocese's high schools has garnered loud protests in the famously liberal enclave (at left, the archbishop – himself a San Diego native – and his auxiliary are shown praying the Rosary at a 2013 pro-life rally). Yet even as McElroy's new assignment lacks the pallium that comes with the helm of California's first metropolitan church, San Diego's fold is more than twice his hometown's size.
The third appointment Francis has made to date to a US diocese of a million or more – after Bernie Hebda to Newark in 2013 and, of course, Blase Cupich to Chicago last September – McElroy's progressive leanings in the border post could augur a clash with a local political sensibility where Republicans run strong, above all thanks to the presence of several military installations and retirees of the services who remain in the area. (In a 2011 America piece, the incoming bishop lamented what he termed the US' policy of "war without end.") On a more pointed angle, as the nominee has arguably been the strongest voice among the Stateside bishops in echoing Pope Francis' calls for a "poor church" and warnings against income inequality, sending him to the diocese that's home to Mitt Romney's recently-completed "dream house" featuring a car elevator is a storyline all in itself.
Word from San Diego indicates that a 10am presser tomorrow has already been called. According to two ops, McElroy's installation has been scheduled for Wednesday, April 15th.
With the Pope and Curia on the road and off the grid for this week's Lenten retreat, the beat's been unusually quiet... but don't worry – it won't be for much longer.
In any case, beyond fresh stories, the coming weeks are likely to bring an uptick of wider focus on the Vatican as Francis marks his second anniversary on Peter's chair. Eventful as the last two years have been, though, it remains the case that the most surreal and extraordinary moment of all hasn't been because of Papa Bergoglio, but the one that made him – the moment two years ago today when the Pope left office alive for the first time since before Europeans settled the Americas and the "new" St Peter's was built.
Indeed, as head-spinners go, nothing in the current context – arguably nothing we've seen, ever – can compete with those 17 days in February 2013 between Benedict XVI's announcement of his resignation on the 11th and his departure from the Vatican at dusk on the 28th. Even if the modern information cycle holds its choicest rewards for the bright, shiny thing of the day – however fleeting it is – this moment deserved and still deserves more enduring attention than it got... and not just because, at some point in time, the reigning pontiff has quietly signaled his determination to follow suit and concretize the renunciation of the papacy in life as a matter of course.
Ergo, let's go back to the scenes of that unbelievable night: first, B16's emotional, masterfully choreographed farewell from the Apostolic Palace and the chopper out...
The 265th Bishop of Rome's last word from the balcony at Castel:
"Thank you – thank you from my heart! Dear friends, I'm happy to be with you, that I can see the Creator's beauty around us, and all the goodness you've given to me – thank you for your friendship and your affection! You know that this day of mine hasn't been like those before. I'm no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic church – at least, at 8 o'clock I won't be – now I'm just a pilgrim beginning the last part of his journey on earth. With all my heart, with all my love, with my prayer and all my strength – with everything in me – I'd like to work for the common good of the church and all humanity. I feel your kindness so much. Let us always move together toward the Lord for the good of the church and of the world. Thank you for bringing yourselves [here] – with all my heart, I give you my blessing…. Thank you and goodnight!"
...and at 2000 hours Rome time, the stand-down of the Swiss Guard from the door of the papal "Camp David" at the moment the resignation took effect:
Keeping the age-old custom, the Pope kicked off Roman Lent with the traditional evening Mass at this Ash Wednesday's station church, Saint Sabina on the Aventine Hill, receiving his own ashes from the hand of the Dominican basilica's cardinal-titular, the long-retired Missions chief Josef Tomko.
Having already issued a plea in his pre-released Lenten message that the church use these 40 days to be converted from "indifference" into "an island of mercy," Francis deepened the theme with tonight's homily, its English translation below:
As God's people today we begin the journey of Lent, a time in which we try to unite ourselves more closely to the Lord Jesus Christ, to share the mystery of His passion and resurrection. The Ash Wednesday liturgy offers us, first of all, the passage from the prophet Joel, sent by God to call the people to repentance and conversion, due to a calamity (an invasion of locusts) that devastates Judea. Only the Lord can save from the scourge, and so there is need of supplication, with prayer and fasting, each confessing his sin. The prophet insists on inner conversion: “Return to me with all your heart” (2:12). To return to the Lord “with all [one’s] heart,” means taking the path of a conversion that is neither superficial nor transient, but is a spiritual journey that reaches the deepest place of our self. The heart, in fact, is the seat of our sentiments, the center in which our decisions and our attitudes mature. That, “Return to me with all your heart,” does not involve only individuals, but extends to the community, is a summons addressed to all: “Gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. (2:16)” The prophet dwells particularly on the prayers of priests, noting that their prayer should be accompanied by tears. We will do well to ask, at the beginning of this Lent, for the gift of tears, so as to make our prayer and our journey of conversion ever more authentic and without hypocrisy. This is precisely the message of today’s Gospel. In the passage from Matthew, Jesus rereads the three works of mercy prescribed by the Mosaic law: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Over time, these prescriptions had been scored by the rust of external formalism, or even mutated into a sign of social superiority. Jesus highlights a common temptation in these three works, which can be described summarily as hypocrisy (He names it as such three times): “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them ... Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do ... And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men ... And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites. (Mt 6:1, 2, 5, 16)” When you do something good, almost instinctively born in us the desire to be respected and admired for this good deed, to obtain a satisfaction. Jesus invites us to do these works without any ostentation, and to trust only in the reward of the Father "who sees in secret" (Mt 6,4.6.18). Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord never ceases to have mercy on us, and desires to offer us His forgiveness yet again, inviting us to return to Him with a new heart, purified from evil, to take part in His joy. How to accept this invitation? St. Paul makes a suggestion to us in the second reading today: “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:20)” This work of conversion is not just a human endeavor. Reconciliation between us and God is possible thanks to the mercy of the Father who, out of love for us, did not hesitate to sacrifice his only Son. In fact, the Christ, who was righteous and without sin was made sin for us (v. 21) when on the cross He was burdened with our sins, and so redeemed us and justified before God. In Him we can become righteous, in him we can change, if we accept the grace of God and do not let the “acceptable time (6:2)” pass in vain. With this awareness, trusting and joyful, let us begin our Lenten journey. May Mary Immaculate sustain our spiritual battle against sin, accompany us in this acceptable time, so that we might come together to sing the exultation of victory in Easter. Soon we will make the gesture of the imposition of ashes on the head. The celebrant says these words: “You are dust and to dust you shall return, (cf. Gen 3:19)” or repeats Jesus’ exhortation: “Repent and believe the gospel. (Mk 1:15)” Both formulae are a reminder of the truth of human existence: we are limited creatures, sinners ever in need of repentance and conversion. How important is it to listen and to welcome this reminder in our time! The call to conversion is then a push to return, as did the son of the parable, to the arms of God, tender and merciful Father, to trust Him and to entrust ourselves to Him.
"Our Credibility Is At Stake" – In Blockbuster Preach, Pope Tells Cardinals Jesus "Reinstates the Marginalized"
In times past, the closing act of a Consistory saw the Pope concelebrate Mass alongside only the new cardinals he elevated the day prior. These days, however – having routinely expanded the long tightly-held privilege for most major Vatican liturgies – Francis has made it his standard practice to close out his elevations of the newest red hats with the entire, 200-member College vested around the altar of St Peter's.
On another front, this weekend's elevation of 20 new cardinals serves as evidence that Papa Bergoglio's setting a pattern with the intakes and the preceding consultation of his entire "Senate" – a once-a-year reunion of all the cardinals, both to hear them at length on key issues and add to their number. Of course, the timing is by no means coincidental, with the events held in proximity to the feast of the Chair of Peter precisely to underscore the intrinsic link to the papacy which once saw the cardinals described as "pars corporis" – "part of [the Pope's] body" – and with it, their role as the body from which the Bishops of Rome are chosen and have almost exclusively been drawn for 1,600 years. (This year, the feast's date of the 22nd sees the Petrine observance overtaken by the First Sunday of Lent.)
Given just his second opportunity to face the College as a whole since his election, experience has amply shown that Peter's 265th successor would seek to use the moment for all it was worth. What emerged this morning, however, exceeded even that standard, and already, is roundly being deemed among the landmark texts of this two-year pontificate.
"Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean"… Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out his hand and touched him, and said: "I do choose. Be made clean!" (Mk 1:40-41). The compassion of Jesus! That com-passion [Ed.: etym. "suffering-with"] which made him draw near to every person in pain! Jesus does not hold back; instead, he gets involved in people’s pain and their need… for the simple reason that he knows and wants to show com-passion, because he has a heart unashamed to have "compassion". "Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed in the country; and people came to him from every quarter" (Mk 1:45). This means that Jesus not only healed the leper but also took upon himself the marginalization enjoined by the law of Moses (cf. Lev 13:1-2, 45-46). Jesus is unafraid to risk sharing in the suffering of others; he pays the price of it in full (cf. Is 53:4). Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: he reinstates the marginalized! These are the three key concepts that the Church proposes in today’s liturgy of the word: the compassion of Jesus in the face of marginalization and his desire to reinstate. Marginalization: Moses, in his legislation regarding lepers, says that they are to be kept alone and apart from the community for the duration of their illness. He declares them: "unclean!" (cf. Lev 13:1-2, 45-46). Imagine how much suffering and shame lepers must have felt: physically, socially, psychologically and spiritually! They are not only victims of disease, but they feel guilty about it, punished for their sins! Theirs is a living death; they are like someone whose father has spit in his face (cf. Num 12:14). In addition, lepers inspire fear, contempt and loathing, and so they are abandoned by their families, shunned by other persons, cast out by society. Indeed, society rejects them and forces them to live apart from the healthy. It excludes them. So much so that if a healthy person approached a leper, he would be punished severely, and often be treated as a leper himself. True, the purpose of this rule was "to safeguard the healthy", "to protect the righteous", and, in order to guard them from any risk, to eliminate "the peril" by treating the diseased person harshly. As the high priest Caiaphas exclaimed: "It is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed" (Jn 11:50). Reinstatement: Jesus revolutionizes and upsets that fearful, narrow and prejudiced mentality. He does not abolish the law of Moses, but rather brings it to fulfillment (cf. Mt 5:17). He does so by stating, for example, that the law of retaliation is counterproductive, that God is not pleased by a Sabbath observance which demeans or condemns a man. He does so by refusing to condemn the sinful woman, but saves her from the blind zeal of those prepared to stone her ruthlessly in the belief that they were applying the law of Moses. Jesus also revolutionizes consciences in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5), opening new horizons for humanity and fully revealing God’s "logic". The logic of love, based not on fear but on freedom and charity, on healthy zeal and the saving will of God. For "God our Saviour desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:3-4). "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" (Mt 12:7; Hos 6:6). Jesus, the new Moses, wanted to heal the leper. He wanted to touch him and restore him to the community without being "hemmed in" by prejudice, conformity to the prevailing mindset or worry about becoming infected. Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences! For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family! And this is scandalous to some people! Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity. He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp (cf. Jn 10). There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost. Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking. The thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person, and the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation. These two ways of thinking are present throughout the Church’s history: casting off and reinstating. Saint Paul, following the Lord’s command to bring the Gospel message to the ends of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19), caused scandal and met powerful resistance and great hostility, especially from those who demanded unconditional obedience to the Mosaic law, even on the part of converted pagans. Saint Peter, too, was bitterly criticized by the community when he entered the house of the pagan centurion Cornelius (cf. Acts 10). The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement. This does not mean underestimating the dangers of letting wolves into the fold, but welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world. The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those essentially on the "outskirts" of life. It is to adopt fully God’s own approach, to follow the Master who said: "Those who are well have no need of the physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call, not the righteous but sinners" (Lk 5:31-32). In healing the leper, Jesus does not harm the healthy. Rather, he frees them from fear. He does not endanger them, but gives them a brother. He does not devalue the law but instead values those for whom God gave the law. Indeed, Jesus frees the healthy from the temptation of the "older brother" (cf. Lk 15:11-32), the burden of envy and the grumbling of the labourers who bore "the burden of the day and the heat" (cf. Mt 20:1-16). In a word: charity cannot be neutral, antiseptic, indifferent, lukewarm or impartial! Charity is infectious, it excites, it risks and it engages! For true charity is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous! (cf. 1 Cor 13). Charity is creative in finding the right words to speak to all those considered incurable and hence untouchable. Finding the right words… Contact is the language of genuine communication, the same endearing language which brought healing to the leper. How many healings can we perform if only we learn this language of contact! The leper, once cured, became a messenger of God’s love. The Gospel tells us that "he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the word" (cf. Mk 1:45). Dear new Cardinals, this is the "logic", the mind of Jesus, and this is the way of the Church. Not only to welcome and reinstate with evangelical courage all those who knock at our door, but to go out and seek, fearlessly and without prejudice, those who are distant, freely sharing what we ourselves freely received. "Whoever says: ‘I abide in [Christ]’, ought to walk just as he walked" (1 Jn 2:6). Total openness to serving others is our hallmark, it alone is our title of honour! Consider carefully that, in these days when you have become Cardinals, we have asked Mary, Mother of the Church, who herself experienced marginalization as a result of slander (cf. Jn 8:41) and exile (cf. Mt 2:13-23), to intercede for us so that we can be God’s faithful servants. May she - our Mother - teach us to be unafraid of tenderly welcoming the outcast; not to be afraid of tenderness. How often we fear tenderness! May Mary teach us not to be afraid of tenderness and compassion. May she clothe us in patience as we seek to accompany them on their journey, without seeking the benefits of worldly success. May she show us Jesus and help us to walk in his footsteps. Dear new Cardinals, my brothers, as we look to Jesus and our Mother, I urge you to serve the Church in such a way that Christians - edified by our witness - will not be tempted to turn to Jesus without turning to the outcast, to become a closed caste with nothing authentically ecclesial about it. I urge you to serve Jesus crucified in every person who is emarginated, for whatever reason; to see the Lord in every excluded person who is hungry, thirsty, naked; to see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith, or say that they are atheists; to see the Lord who is imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper – whether in body or soul - who encounters discrimination! We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalized! May we always have before us the image of Saint Francis, who was unafraid to embrace the leper and to accept every kind of outcast. Truly, dear brothers, the Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is at stake, is discovered and is revealed!
One of global Catholicism's most prominent chroniclers, Rocco Palmo has held court as the "Church Whisperer" since 2004, when the pages you're reading were launched with an audience of three, grown since by nothing but word of mouth, and kept alive throughout solely by means of reader support.
A former US correspondent for the London-based international Catholic weekly The Tablet, he's been a church analyst for The New York Times, Associated Press, Washington Post, Reuters, Los Angeles Times, BBC, NBC, CNN and NPR among other mainstream print and broadcast outlets worldwide.
A native of Philadelphia, Rocco Palmo attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. In 2010, he received a Doctorate of Humane Letters honoris causa from Aquinas Institute of Theology in St Louis.
In 2011, Palmo co-chaired the first Vatican conference on social media, convened by the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Social Communications. By appointment of Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap., he's likewise served on the first-ever Pastoral Council of the Archdiocese, whose Church remains his home.