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I recently uncovered a sliver of positive news buried beneath the stories about celebrity shenanigans, murders and kidnappings, the high unemployment rate and the stagnant economy, and TV shows about serial killers and serial sex – this daily tsunami of sin and misery.
The story told of a mining town in Bolivia that built a statue of the Blessed Mother and the Child Jesus almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty.
Just moments into the discussion, I knew where it was going. A group of women had gathered over coffee, and for reasons that now escape me, the topic turned to the homeless.
"You know what I don’t understand?" one woman began rather stridently. "Where are their families? Why should their care be left to government hand-outs and charities?"
"Yeah," several women agreed. "Don’t the homeless have families to care for them?"
If the conclave of 2005 was about continuity – extending the legacy of John Paul II by electing his closest theological advisor as his successor – the conclave of 2013 was about governance.
The College of Cardinals came to Rome convinced that the incapacities of the Roman Curia over the previous eight years had become a serious obstacle to the Church’s evangelical mission; their experience in the General Congregations prior to the conclave hardened that view. So the cardinals elected a proven reformer whose age on assuming the papacy meant that he wouldn’t have to play a long game, but could move swiftly to repair what needs repairing in what Blessed John Henry Newman allegedly referred to as the "engine room" of the Barque of Peter.
What needs repairing, down there below decks?
According to a Jewish proverb, "God could not be everywhere, so he made mothers." This is a fine, enduring sentiment. I do think, however, that by reversing the statement, we come closer to the truth: "God could be everywhere and proved it by creating mothers." This image is consistent with the American novelist William Makepeace Thackeray’s comment that "‘Mother’ is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children."
A mother is not a substitute for God, but acts more like a medium that transmits God’s beneficence to others. One might object, of course, that fathers also do this. This is true enough. But there is something of special privilege about the way a mother reveals the presence of God. It is as if she had had, in some mysterious way, a face-to-face experience of God. This claim may be more plausible if we understand Mary’s role as the spiritual prototype of all mothers.
Before another Easter season is history, I thought that a column on Easter customs, practices and traditions could be helpful. There is so much superstition and confusion about such topics in the secular media, as well as academia, whose biases and preferences are not trustworthy.
First, Easter is the summit of all liturgical celebrations; it outranks all other Christian feasts and festivals, with a special post-Easter Octave. "Easter" is our English word for the great festival of Resurrection from the grave. Hence, everything about Easter itself is especially sacred. Problems arise for the most part when various peripheral aspects of the Greatest Festival are discussed or applied.
Which brings up the topic of "the Easter Rabbit," which became the target of various journalistic pieces recently (as usual). According to Father Francis X. Weiser, the initial reference to the "Easter bunny" appeared among the peoples of Northern Europe and Christian Asia. Rome, he says, adopted the symbolism about two centuries later. The Easter Rabbit, while never seen as a religious ikon, was nonetheless an ancient reminder of fertility. Indeed, the rabbit and hare have long been associated with Easter festivities linked to children, and "candy-like" replicas date at least from two centuries ago, in Germany, for example.
It was Sunday afternoon and I was asleep. At least, I think I was asleep. The next thing I remember, my daughter Meredith and her husband Chris were lurking over me. Meredith was grinning and bobbing up and down on her toes. "Mom, Mom, Mom, um, Mom, guess what? Mom! Mom! Guess what?"
Grogginess lured me back into slumber. . . . Did somebody say something?
"Mom, I’m pregnant!" Meredith squealed, too impatient to wait for me to figure it out on my own.
Did she say she’s pregnant? In my stupor, I mumbled some profound sentiment, like, "Wow." They had begun the journey to parenthood.
I’m on the train platform suffering a sneezing fit because the guy next to me smells like Irish Spring soap, and even though I’m surrounded by commuters, no one utters "bless you." And I know no one will utter "God bless you" because we live in a secular society that’s hostile to the mention of God.
The guy on my other side, with a shaved head and tattoos, is wearing headphones so he doesn’t even hear me sneezing.
When Pope Francis stepped out onto the central loggia of St. Peter’s on the night of March 13, I thought of the man I had met in his Buenos Aires office 10 months before: Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., who was looking forward to laying down the burden of leadership and devoting himself to prayer, reflection and study.
Now, because Benedict XVI decided to renounce the Chair of Peter and do what Cardinal Bergoglio wanted to do, the old-school Argentine Jesuit is now Benedict’s successor. His acceptance of the cross that is the papacy was an act of humble obedience by a man who had bent his will to the divine will for over a half-century.
It is indeed a great joy to again have a pope. This joy is particularly great for those of us who live and work at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. The North American College was founded to give American seminarians and priests the opportunity to study in the heart of Catholicism and, while doing so, to develop a special love for and loyalty toward the Holy Father. For me and my 250 brother seminarians, this was fulfilled in our deep love for Pope Benedict. He was our father, who led us always to Jesus with great humility and courage.
Pope Benedict XVI – Joseph Ratzinger, the theologian Pope. When one recalls the incomparable role of great theological minds who appeared almost out of nowhere to lead the Church during Vatican Council II and its aftermath, Benedict, the humble scholar, will always have a place alongside Romano Guardini, Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, Karl Rahner, Karol Wojtyla, and, of course, Hans Urs von Balthasar (whose greatest work postdated the Council). It is as if these towering men were deliberately called and assembled by the Lord, somewhat after the fashion of artists like Michelangelo, Raphael and Bramante; or Bach, Beethoven and Mozart – each group concentrating on a centuries-altering task.